Bob Zibilich

G. Taylor

Gorman Taylor

“Where I come from we call that sort of fellow an O.B.K.” I must have looked perplexed, because my friend Gorman quietly continued. “Yeah, you know; O.B.K.—Oughta Been Killed,” my friend and former prosecutor Judge Gorman Taylor explained to me. We were sharing our experiences as young prosecutors, and I had just finished my tale of Mabel and Vick Bezou.

The story I related to Gorman described how Mabel stabbed Vick to death on Christmas Eve night at The Canal Bank Inn that served the workers of the industrial West Bank of Jefferson Parish, La, and the trial that resulted from the killing.  Many patrons saw Mabel dispatch Vick with her six inch butcher knife in the lively river front joint that smelled of marijuana and stale booze. Forensic evidence confirmed Mabel’s fingerprints on the knife and Vick’s blood type splattered on Mabel’s dress.

Vick and Mabel lived “common law” for many years and brought four youngin’s into the world. Vick had a history of being mean and abusive to Mabel and the kids. Mabel had no history of violence, but did carry a knife in her purse for protection since she couldn’t afford a Saturday Night Special.

The cogent legal question in this case was: On the night in question did Mabel have a sufficient, legal justification to use her knife in self defense?  A Grand Jury said she didn’t, so my boss assigned me the task of trying Mabel for murdering Vick.

Butcher Knife

Butcher Knife

Bob Zibilich was a friend of mine and one of the best, if not the best, trial lawyer I ever encountered. Every time I stepped into a courtroom with Bob, he taught me a lesson or two. His lean six-foot-four frame, long, wavy brown hair tinted with grey, a shaggy aristocratic mustache, and tweedy clothes made him an imposing figure. His deep, warm, resonate baritone voice reminded one of a grandfather reciting Aesop’s fables to his grandchildren.

The Jesuits formally educated Bob in Greek, Latin and the classics, and even persuaded him to try the seminary for a brief while. Despite his astute education, he communicated in any vernacular with ease and grace. Not pretentious nor condescending, Bob was always warm, sincere and truthful. People, especially juries, instinctively liked and trusted him.

As was the custom in Mabel’s neighborhood, her friends and relatives put on a community “fish-fry” to raise money for her defense. Bob’s defense was going to be simple–justifiable homicide in the exercise of the ancient right of self-defense. Put more crudely, Bob intended to convince the jury that Vick was an O.B.K.

The day before trial, after Judge Cocke ruled on all pretrial motions, Bob and I repaired to the local watering hole, Whitesides, to imbibe, listen to courthouse gossip, and tell tales. Young lawyers kept Bob’s glass full as long as he would tell courtroom stories, which could be all night. I gave up around midnight when Bob was just getting into high gear.

The next day we came to court before the appointed time. It wasn’t wise to show up in Cocke’s court even a minute late. I sat at the counsel table, nursing the mother of all hangovers and promising God I wouldn’t do that again if he would just relieve me of my misery. Bob came strolling in, chipper as usual, and looking as though he had just stepped out of a photo session for Esquire magazine. I knew he must have been hurting as much as me, but the rascal didn’t show it.

We went through the voir dire process with the jury venire (pool of prospective jurors) and selected twelve solid citizens to decide Mabel’s fate. I gave my opening statement and now it was Bob’s turn to explain his defense to these twelve fine people. Bob rose to his full six-foot-four, with nary a note in his hand, strolled behind me, patting me lightly on the shoulder as he went by, and stood directly in front of the jury.

“My name is Bob Zibilich, and I am here representing Mabel Bezou who is charged with murdering her common law husband Vick Bezou.”

He then turned in my direction and extended a hand toward me and said to the jury, “Tom, here is the Assistant District Attorney and he will bring many witnesses and much evidence to show you that Mabel did, in fact, kill Vick on Christmas Eve at the Canal Bank Inn  here in Jefferson Parish. That’s Tom’s job and he will do it well–as he always does.”

Bob went on, “After Tom does his usual good job and proves to you beyond any reasonable doubt that Mabel stabbed and killed Vick… the only thing I can do is show you WHY Mabel had to kill Vick.”

Bob went on to explain his theory of self-defense and why Vick needed a good killing because of his continual and recent battering of Mabel and her children. By the time Bob got through with his opening statement I even sat there thinking to myself, “That no-good S.O.B Vick needed a good killing.”

We tried the case for two days and concluded final arguments and instructions to the jury on Wednesday evening. The jury deliberated for four hours and concluded Mabel had acted in self-defense and rendered a verdict of Not Guilty and set her free. Bob had convinced them that Vick Bezou was indeed an O.B.K.

Mabel’s neighbors and friends had another fish-fry to raise money for her and her kids. I later learned that she eventually took up with a kind, hard-working man who was good to her kids and helped bring them up. As far as I know, she stopped carrying a butcher knife and never got in trouble with the law again.

The Case Fell to Me

As Far As I Know

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Dolphin Divers

In the Swamp

In the Swamp

“This here scar is where my sister jugged me and took my pack of cigarettes,” I told them.

“This’n here is where Auntie Bueler’s good-for-nothing jailbird boyfriend shot me with his little old 22 pistol,” I explained. Here we was at Thanksgiving, sitting in this cold swamp at Morrison Springs in Florida, and these crazy folks with me wanted to know all about how I got this scar and that scar. I got so many scars I can’t remember how I got them all.
Anyways, I went along telling them ‘bout my scars because the nutty old Judge who brung us to this scary place seemed to pay attention to my story, and I thought it was smart to please him. There we was, me, Gerard Haber, five other juvenile delinquents, the weird Judge, his assistant scuba instructor, Mr. Raymond Solaris, and one of the teachers from our special school, Mr. Morris. All of us freezing our asses off in this swamp. One of the other kids, a scrawny little old girl, kept complaining, “I’m cold, and I ain’t going in that cold water.” It was so cold we had to build a fire to warm up our wetsuits that had gotten stiff as a board.  I guess all of us kids was there for the same reason: to con the old Judge into not sending us to Juvie Jail.

The old Judge had this idea that he could keep us kids from stealing, beating up on people and smoking dope ifin he could just teach us to read better and show us how to get jobs. He built us two big old schools where they taught us all kind of stuff, like how to read better, cook, work on cars, take care of plants and yards, work with animals, and work on oil field crew boats and fishing boats. You see, down where we come from there was  lots work to do on boats. Anyways, the old Judge had’em build a big old deep swimming pool so’s he could teach those of us kids who stayed out of trouble how to SCUBA dive, and work on boats. Said he got the idea from some people he knew down in Florida.

Scuba Equipment is Cool

Scuba Equipment is Cool

Learning to use SCUBA equipment was real fun and kept most of us out of trouble for a while. Those who was just hell-bent on getting in trouble, got kicked out of our SCUBA club. We did have some badass kids in our club, but nothing we did seemed to surprise the Judge and Mr. Ray. I remember one day, after SCUBA class we were standing in the parking lot and the Judge said, “Ah, damn, I locked my keys and wallet in the pool locker room.” Now they had built this place with special locks and all because it was in the neighborhood where most of us kids stayed. I am here to tell you that place could get pretty rough. One of our class, a quiet kid by the name of Dave, who was on probation for burglary, said, “Don’t worry, Judge, I’ll get them for you.” In about three minutes, Dave came back with the Judge’s keys and wallet. The old Judge just said, “I don’t even want to know how you did it, Dave.”

After much talk, we agreed to call our club ‘The Dolphin Divers.’ I thought ‘Tiger Sharks’ was a good name. Others wanted to be called ‘Killer Whales’ and some said we should be ‘Barracudas,’ you know, real scary animals. The old Judge explained how intelligent, playful, and friendly to man the Dolphin was. He told us there were stories of how Dolphins had even helped rescue drowning seamen. I think, some of the time, the old Judge was just funning us, but he was partial to the name ‘Dolphin Divers,’ so we settled on that name to please him. It growed on us after a while. We even got jackets and hats with Dolphins on them. As I already said, pleasing the old Judge seemed the smart thing to do. It got us in a swimming pool and out of jail for a while.

But this SCUBA training was tough and some of the kids said “to hell with it” and dropped out of the club. This didn’t seem to bother Mr. Ray and the Judge, because they told us things was going to get even tougher and they wanted only the best of us to stay. Sure enough, it did get tougher. They made us swim with them mask, fins and snorkel and then swim some more. But, I’ll have to say, they swam every stroke with us just to show us it could be done. The mask always leaked water in our faces, but they taught us over and over how to clear the mask until it came natural to us.  We spent a lot of time in class reading manuals, but some of us couldn’t read so good-they say I have something called dyslexia-so we had video instructions, telling us all about pressure under the sea, breathing compressed air and what it could do to you ifin you didn’t breathe right and come up slow. They taught us about how to operate our equipment and take care of it. We even learned how to talk with our hands underwater.

We learned to share our air with one another. They called it buddy breathing. They would take us all six of us to the bottom of this deep pool with our scuba equipment. Then they would come down and turn the air off our tanks one at a time until all six of us was breathing off one regulator. This took some team work, talking with your hands, and staying cool.

Learning to Scuba Dive

Learning to Scuba Dive

They told us about the animals we would see in the sea, and which ones was no danger and which ones not to fool with. We kids talked a lot about sharks and barracudas, but the Judge and Mr. Ray said most of them wouldn’t hurt you ifin you left them alone. One kid asked, “What if we come up on a great white shark?” The Judge said, “We have a procedure for that…you stick your head between your legs.”.One of the kids asked, “Why would you do that?” The old Judge said “That’s so you can kiss your butt goodbye, cause if that great white wants to eat you, he is going to eat you.” He went on to tell us we would not be diving with any great whites. Then there was more swimming, until we were finally able to swim half a mile in under eighteen minutes. We swam so much every day our fingers looked like prunes when we got out of the pool.

After we got good enough with our equipment and swimming, the Judge took us on his sailboat to practice snorkeling in Lake Ponchartrain. All of us kids acted brave, and talked big talk when the Judge took the boat out to where we could hardly see land. Some of us had never been on a boat, much less a sailboat that far out. Everybody got pretty quiet when the Judge and Mr. Ray anchored the boat and said we was all going to get into the water and swim about a hundred yards up current. There was a little chop on the water. It definitely was not smooth like the pool, but things went OK going out and we all seemed pretty calm. Coming back was another deal. When we turned around to swim back, the boat looked like a toy boat miles away. Everybody started to breathe hard and we all sounded like one of them old steam locomotives I use to see in old picture shows. I could hear whistling sounds coming form our snorkels on our way back. We all got back fine. But, getting on a sailboat from the water, with your gear, even with a ladder, took a little doing and we had to help one another.

The Judge's Sailboat

The Judge’s Sailboat

The only time we could go on our check out dive was over the Thanksgiving holidays, so that’s how we ended up in this cold swamp, but what the hell, none of us had any turkey dinner to come home to anyway. Our Thanksgiving dinner would a come from the corner Pack-a- Sack ifin we was lucky.

We first dove in Morrison Springs, then went a few miles away and dove in Vortex Springs. The water was cold and our wetsuits never got dry before we had to put them on again. The water was so clear you could see the bottom thirty or forty feet down like you was looking through a window pane. At first, this kind of takes your breath away, because you feels like you are hanging in mid air. Mr. Morris tried to go diving with the old Judge in Vortex springs, but freaked out when he got over the deep part. The judge got him back to the shore, but Mr. Morris decided scuba diving was not for him.

Learning to Scuba Dive

Learning to Scuba Dive

We tried to get a boat trip in the Gulf of Mexico, but the weather was too bad, so we got in our bus and went to Gulf Shores, Alabama, and stayed the night in a motel hoping the weather would get better. The next morning, they took us to what they called a breakfast buffet, where we could eat all we wanted. That place surely lost money on us. One of the kids, Malcolm, was about six feet tall and about two hundred pounds of pure-dee muscle and bone. He could eat like a horse. I thought he was going to kill himself eating the sausage patties and scrambled eggs. Next he took in on the pancakes and syrup. We all did a good job on that buffet.

The weather was not good offshore, but the old Judge knew about an old boat wreck just off the beach in about eighteen feet of water. The surf was a little rough and the water was cloudy so Mr. Ray and the Judge decided they would take us to the wreck one by one and hold our hands at all times. I went with the Judge, and when we got down to the sunken boat, we could only see ‘bout four feet even with our strong lights. The old wreck had all kinds of holes in it but they had taught us not to stick our hands in places we couldn’t see. We all carried diving knives for safety and to use as tools, but were told if we ever took them out for any other reason, we were out of the club, period. I remember some of the people around the school, who didn’t approve of what the Judge was doing saying, “The Judge is teaching them what…and gave them knives too?”

I took my knife out of its scabbard on the calf of my leg and started to poke in some of the holes. The Judge was still holding on to my left hand when this big old fish jumped out right into my face. I wet my wet suit and started to shoot to the surface, but the Judge held on to me and started laughing so hard in his regulator I thought he was going to strangle and drown his fool self. When we got back to shore he told me my eyes had gotten as big as coffee cups. We had a good laugh about what had happened. We would talk about it when I came back to visit him after I got off probation and got a job on a riverboat as a deckhand.

I don’t know how the other kids got along in life, but I did pretty good after I got away from my crazy family and got on the river. I remember the old Judge telling me on that trip to Florida, there was no shame in having a crazy family. And, according to him, I had no obligation to love them or even put up with them. The only thing I should do was to take care of myself, get a job I liked, and do the best I could in life. Things haven’t been perfect in my life, or even very good some of the time, but I haven’t ended up a jailbird or dopehead like a lot of my family and friends.

I heared the old Judge turned Juvie Court over to some younger judge and moved to Florida with his wife near those cold sinkholes he took us to that Thanksgiving.

The Judge, Ray and Dolphin Divers

The Judge, Ray and Dolphin Divers

 

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Mike and Panda Bear

Brothers

Little brothers are always a problem. But precocious little brothers with vivid imaginations can be downright vexing and embarrassing, especially when you are seven and they are three. During our childhood spent at our grandparents’ house on the banks of the Ouachita River in West Monroe, Louisiana, my brother Mike developed a most useful strategy. He invented imaginary playmates. Mike and his new found “friends” would have long conversations in the shade of the huge pecan trees next to the house. They would converse in different dialects, most of which I didn’t understand. This didn’t bother me at the time. It didn’t even seem strange at the time, probably because there were no other kids around to observe Mike’s conversations. And didn’t all kids do this to some extent anyway?

Oh, occasionally I heard grownups make mention of what an imagination Mike had, but I thought they were complimenting him on being so smart.

Morgan Drew, a traveling salesman friend of the family came to visit and brought me a Charlie McCarthy mannequin and Mike a stuffed panda bear. Mike promptly named his bear Pandy.

Pandy stood about a foot-and-half tall with a white face and a soft brown and black body. Pandy had dark brown supplicating eyes and a smile with a slight hint of a smirk. As inscrutable as his master, Pandy was a sturdy little rascal, which he needed to be because he became Mike’s constant companion. To be sure, Mike had other playmates, like Stanley, the family German shepherd. And then there were the doodle bugs, the centipedes and the chameleons which, to my knowledge, didn’t have specific names. Other assorted toy soldiers rounded out the playgroup, but Pandy always presided over the gathering.

Mike cared for Pandy in the most loving ways. He saw to it that Pandy got plenty of imaginary food and that he had a blanket over him when he went to imaginary sleep. Mike and Pandy, and the other creatures, would have long sessions of activities and conversations in the shade of the old pecan trees. These talks were most animated and expressive. Mike would talk to Pandy in Mike’s natural voice, but Pandy would respond to Mike in an entirely different dialect and voice. I envied this ability. I couldn’t get Charlie McCarthy to talk to me this way, no matter how hard I tried.

Mike and Tom

Mike and Tom

Mike’s play time with Pandy and his other “friends” could go on for hours. Some of the other creatures had different tasks. For example, Mike would make carts out of small match boxes. He would then fashion a harness out of string and gently place it around the neck of one of his chameleons and encourage it to pull a cart loaded with marbles. Mike would gently move the doodle bugs around like bowling balls.

During the World War II era, every child had an extensive collection of toy soldiers, which could be mobilized into war games. Pandy would preside over the battles, supreme commander style, between the Allies, Germans and Japanese. General Pandy even had his own jeep fashioned from an old Coca Cola crate.

In 1943, Dad moved the family, including Pandy of course, to New Orleans so he could work at one of the good paying jobs in the shipyards.     Our family rented half a duplex next to the Latuso family. Their house sat on a double lot with lots of shade trees–which provided refuge from the brutal New Orleans sun. The shade also provided a venue to play marbles, mumbley peg, stickup, and other childhood games. These were the games most kids played, but this refuge also gave Mike and Pandy space to build new vehicles and invent their own unique games. They lived in their private fantasy world for hours on end, making plans for future adventures.

The Latusos were of Sicilian decent and had a boy and two girls. The youngest girl, Lana, was small with great dark brown eyes, light hair and olive skin. Lana was a beauty. She was smart and quiet and just a little younger than Mike. Lana, Mike and Pandy became great friends. They were inseparable the first summer we were in the City That Care Forgot. Unlike Mike’s older brother, Lana had no trouble whatsoever understanding and speaking panda language. Lana, Mike and Pandy would spend many hours in the shade of the trees having three-way conversations, seemingly in accord with one another. Their sessions rivaled in intensity the strategic planning of military leaders preparing for battle or corporate executives plotting a hostile takeover.

Brothers in Metairie

Brothers in Metairie

The sessions with Mike, Pandy and Lana went or through our first and second summer in our new home. Most of the playtime with Pandy occurred outside under the trees in the dirt, which, over time, made for a grungy Pandy. But baths were out of the question. Since Pandy had to get transported everywhere, and I do mean everywhere, he was getting pretty travel-worn, and pieces were coming off him. Mother had to sew on an ear, and do extensive surgery to his right arm. One of the button eyes went missing and the replacement eye was a bit off-color. Mike seemed to accept the off-colored eye, saying “I’ve seen dogs with different colored eyes.”

By the end of the second summer, raggedy, filthy Pandy became a topic of conversation with the older kids. Lana staunchly defended Mike and Pandy. And would fight with anyone who sought to ridicule either. Most of our older friends had come to accept Mike, Pandy and Lana’s unique relationship and behavior. However, as new kids joined our neighborhood “gang”, they would make mocking comments to me such as “Hey boy, your brother is weird. He talks to a stuffed bear.” If they introduced me to some of their friends, it would always be with the caveat, “his brother talks to a stuffed bear.” I had become known by all as the Brother-of-Boy–Who-Talks-to-Stuffed Bear, like a Native American in a Saturday movie matinee.

The Metairie Gang

The Metairie Gang

This situation became unbearable. I implored Mother to do something. Mother would speak to Mike, but Mike would still converse with Pandy. I told Mother that all the kids were talking about Mike and Pandy and suggesting, nay, saying that Mike was strange. I had used the word ‘strange’ thinking this would shock mother into action. But even so, Mike’s attachment to Pandy remained resolute. Attempts to part them only led to great consternation and crying.

I was in a quandary.  I didn’t know where to turn. I was a desperate boy and this situation required desperate measures. In the dead of night I went to Mike and Pandy’s bed and slipped Pandy from under Mike’s sleeping arm. I secreted raggedy, dirty old Pandy in the attic of an old storage shed in the back yard. How was I to know that the following month kids, playing with kitchen matches, would accidentally burn down the shed?

Of course, Mike was beside himself when he awoke and found Pandy missing. Mike cried a lot. I even feigned searching for Pandy with mother and Mike, but I knew Pandy had been accidentally cremated and was now in Panda Heaven.  Mother consoled a lot and promised to get Mike a new panda bear. This would not do. Panda himself was gone and couldn’t be replaced by some imposter.

I remained silent. I never confessed my hurtful deed. After seeing Mike’s pain, my shame eroded into guilt. I tried to use the bath of the confessional to wash away the guilt. That didn’t work. I often wondered who got hurt worst by my kidnapping Pandy, Mike or Me.

About forty years after I parted Mike from his faithful companion and confidante, I was having lunch at Tavern On The Green in New York City. While paying my bill upon exiting the restaurant, I noticed they had stuffed panda bears for sale. They looked exactly like Pandy. I got one for Mike. I gave it to him the following Christmas with a full confession and request for forgiveness.

Mike and Tom in Cozumel

Confession is indeed good for the soul.

My Brother Mike

My Brother Mike

My brother Mike is a genius.

His imaginative mind has helped this country send men and women into space and create a space station.

Mike has always been my hero.

I Love Him Like a Brother

Like a Brother

I love Him like a brother.

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DAVE

I sat in the right seat calling out altitude and looking for runway lights. Tommy McKithen sat like a stone statute in the back seat. Dave calmly spoke to the tower and lined up the two needles on the ILS (instrument landing system). We were in a cocoon of pure white rain as thick as wet cotton.

“Seven-hundred-feet-no lights”, I informed Dave. “Five-hundred-feet-no lights”, I continued to advise. “Three-hundred-feet…runway lights dead ahead”, I announced happily. Dave greased his Stinson Voyager onto Runway 10 at Moisant airport in New Orleans in a blinding rainstorm. Dave needed to get home so he could fly right seat to Houston for Eastern Airlines the next day.

As a sixteen-year-old in the New Orleans squadron of the Civil Air Patrol, I had just soloed a J3 cub and been with Dave many times when he slid his little blue Voyager gracefully onto a runway while discussing the works of Saint Thomas Aquinas or some other philosopher. He was the best pilot I flew with in those days. Dave also instructed us kids in the CAP squadron in the basics of aerodynamics, navigation and meteorology, all the while throwing in information about current findings in the world of parapsychology or whatever other scientific discoveries had occurred recently.

Civil Air Patrol Drill Team

Civil Air Patrol Drill Team

Once, he took a couple of us with him to visit his friend at the Benedictine Abbey north of Covington, Louisiana.  Later in life, I learned Dave had studied for the priesthood near Cleveland, Ohio. While at the Abbey in Covington, Dave went into the chapel and, to my astonishment, began to play the great organ with passion and dexterity. One of Dave’s priest friends approached me and said, “Dave does justice to Bach, don’t you think?”

After entering college, I lost track of Dave for about four years until my former wife and I invited Dave to be a part of our wedding party in 1955. Neither of us had seen Dave during that time when he developed alopecia and lost all of his body hair. On the night of the wedding rehearsal at Holy Name of Jesus Church on the Loyola University campus, Dave’s late arrival was announced by the roar of his motorcycle. We all looked up in silent disbelief to see this ghostly figure wearing cowboy boots strolling down the aisle toward us.
Dave’s skin glowed chalk-white with not a bit of hair to give it texture. With no eyelashes or eyebrows, his face looked like the beginning of an artist’s portrait where only the deep, dark eyes had been painted in on stark white canvas. Dave had plopped an outlandish red toupee, which must have come from his back pocket, atop of his completely bald head. His appearance startled all of us.

“You know I would like to be in your wedding tomorrow, but I may have to take a flight to Houston. I wish you well,” Dave said. This was Dave’s way of telling us, “You really don’t want this freakish looking fellow standing in your wedding and I am letting you off the hook.”. We would have been happy to have him, but of course he didn’t show up.

Civil Air Patrol Drill Team in New York

Civil Air Patrol Drill Team in New York

Dave drifted back into my life in 1960 when he came to my law office with two members of the Cuban Revolutionary Forces and asked me to represent them in a suit in which their landlord sought to evict them from premises on Canal Boulevard in New Orleans. Dave explained, “I am helping to train these folks in military tactics at a site north of Lacombe, Louisiana. Come out and visit our training camp, Tom.” I declined that invitation, but did represent the two Cubans in their eviction case.

From time to time, Dave returned to my office seeking pro bono representation for someone. During these visits he talked vaguely about his current activities. On one occasion he asked, “Do you know ‘The Little Man’—Carlos Marcello?”

I replied, “I only know him by reputation, but have never met him.”

Dave asked, “Would you like to go to Churchill Farms (Marcello’s secluded camp in a swamp south of Westwego, Louisiana) and meet him?”  I declined that invitation also. These conversations with Dave about Marcello led me to believe, with a great degree of certitude, that he knew the Mafia boss well and that Dave was probably the man who flew Marcello back into the country after Bobby Kennedy “deported” him.

Dave Ferrie was a strange, enigmatic man. I know that Jim Garrison, Oliver Stone, and probably many others, thought he had something to do with President Kennedy’s assassination. I don’t know about that, but I do know Dave trained Cuban Revolutionary Forces and associated with Carlos Marcello. Beyond that, I know that Dave was curious about everything, and flew an airplane as smoothly as Lindberg and played an organ like an angel.

Civil Air Patrol in New Orleans

Civil Air Patrol in New Orleans

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THE HONORABLE HORACE T. WELLINGTON

A View of New Orleans from the Westbank in Gretna

The Honorable Horace T. Wellington fought with me from the get go in the homicide case I tried before him. I could not figure out why. Had we not been Assistant District Attorneys in the same office for three years before the Honorable Horace was elevated to the bench by the good citizens of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana? True, the Honorable Horace had tried just enough cases to preserve his credentials as an Assistant Prosecutor, but never ventured into the deep waters of serious, controversial cases. The Honorable Horace kept a low profile.

In close conversations with select friends at lunch at Whiteside’s Restaurant, across the street from the Courthouse, the Honorable Horace expressed his opinions freely on most any subject. He also, in subtle ways, reminded us at his table that he came from better stock than us. Was his father not a member of the prestigious New Orleans Cotton exchange?    Had the Honorable Haorace inherited the same position from his sire? Did he not attend Ivy league schools? Did the Honorable Horace not own race horses and go to the Kentucky Derby and hob nob with the elite of the King of Sports each spring? Had the Honorable Horace not acquired a home in the elite country club neighborhood of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana? In his own mind, all these attributes and many others set the Honorable Horace apart from the rest of us mere mortals.

But why was he fighting me on this particular case? I had tried cases before him on many other occasions and he spared me this kind of grief, despite the fact that I did have to spend time educating him on the law and criminal procedure. Why had he now decided to take me on in open court?

True, this was an unusual homicide case. The Honorable Hoarace had not tried many homicide cases either as an ADA or Judge. This case called for the death penalty should the defendant be found guilty. Through eyewitness testimony, physical evidence, scientific evidence and admissions made by the defendant Nunzio Occipinto, I intended to prove that Nunzio, who was eighteen years old, did administer to James Norton, who was sixteen, a class 1 narcotic drug of Methadone. James Norton died as a result of ingesting the Methadone given to him by Nunzio. At that time, the Louisiana Criminal Code mandated the death penalty for anyone over eighteen giving anyone under seventeen a class 1 narcotic.

The strange aspect of this case was that Nunzio traded some of his Methadone with James for some street drugs James was holding. During this period, our society was engaged in the Methadone maintenance cure experiment, whereby folks addicted to street drugs were provided methadone in hopes they could relieve their addiction to hardcore street drugs. It seemed that Nunzio preferred his more familiar street drugs to the puny methadone the state provided him. In any event, Nunzio negotiated the trade with James and James ended up dead.

As is normal, the first day of the trial was taken up with selecting a jury that could find for the death penalty if I proved the case beyond any reasonable doubt. The jury could come back with a guilty verdict but without capital punishment. Since most jurors in my jurisdiction were reluctant to impose the death penalty, no matter what they might say in the voir dire examination, I did not expect to get a capital punishment verdict. But, I also did not expect to have to fight with the trial judge to just get a verdict of guilty.

During the whole trial, the Honorable Horace would sustain the defense attorney’s ridiculous objections while sarcastically scolding me before the jury, insinuating that I was handling my prosecution unprofessionally.

At one point the Honorable Horace overruled one of my objections and announced in front of the jury that he had a good mind to dismiss the case. That was my breaking point. I was angry, but I dare not show the jury how infuriated I was with the judge. I had l had long sense learned that juries don’t like angry attorneys. So I smiled and politely asked for a side bar and requested that the jury be excused so defense counsel and I could discuss some procedural issues with the the Honorable Horace.

When I approached the bench, the Honorable Horace shuffled papers on his bench and avoided eye contact with me. This three day fight with the Honorable Horace continued to vex me. When I approached the bench with the defense counsel,  I reminded the Honorable Horace, “I know your Honor is aware that only the Assistant District Attorney can dismiss the case. You don’t have the authority to do this. Of course you can direct a verdict at the end of the trial, but you do this at your own peril.”  This infuriated the Honorable Horace. He shuffled papers more vigorously, and looked anywhere but in my eyes and then blurted out, “Alright, but let’s get along with this silly trial.”

After four days of trial, the jury found Nunzio Occipinto guilty of the charges, but found, as I expected, that the death penalty was too harsh. The Honorable Horace imposed a three year sentence, which meant that Nunzio would be back on the bricks in about one year.

The fight with me during the whole trial and light sentence mystified me until months later I learned that Nunzio’s father, a well known horse trainer, and the Honorable Horace were good friends. Nunzio’s father even trained one of the Honorable Horace’s horses.

Of course the Honorable Horace should have recused himself from this trial. But, alas, on rare occasions, even judges don’t do the right thing.

Old New Orleans Fairgrounds

Posted in Collards, Crawfish and Crooks | 1 Comment

WHAT WE CALL SOCCER, BUT THE WORLD CALLS FOOTBALL

I have spent the last two weeks gazing at my TV trying to understand and appreciate the game we call soccer and the world calls football. Why not? Brazil has almost broken itself spending a gazillion, billion dollars building eight magnificent stadiums to present to the world the 2014 FIFA World Cup series.

I watch the matches in awe, marveling that the game has not produced more crippled, brain dead players. Eleven grown, strong young men hurl their bodies at one another at breakneck speeds, viciously banging heads, kicking one another and sometimes a multi-colored ball. They are not allowed to use their hands or arms to touch the ball, but they can bang the hell out of it with their heads. Talk about concussions. I cannot imagine this practice is good for the brain. As the players run around with hands at their sides, kicking the ball, they remind me of giant penguins waddling around in Antarctica.
I am still trying to learn the rules, if there are any, and what the markings on the field signify. I am now informed that the game is played on a pitch, not a field. Time of the match is another mystery. I understand that teams play for forty-five minutes then go out of the hot sun and, I guess go inside for a shower, rubdown and lecture. They return to the field and pay for another forty-five minutes. But wait, at the end of forty-five minutes, some official decides to add on a few more minutes to the game. The exact number of additional minutes remains a secret until the end of what I would call “regular time.” I suppose this time is to make up for time spent attending to injured players or players doing masterful acting jobs of faking injuries. It appears to me that some players should get some sort of award for their acting abilities.

If things are not settled at the end of ninety minutes, plus injury and acting extra time, an additional thirty minutes is tacked on to the match. If things are still not settled, then the match goes into a penalty kick situation, where five payers from each team try to make a short kick past the opposing team’s goal keeper. Whoever gets the most points wins. I don’t know what happens if there is a tie here, but I am sure I will learn.

Of course, players get serious injuries. When this occurs, brawny men rush out on the pitch carrying a man-sized, orange plastic basket that looks like something one would find in a morgue. They lay the injured player in the odd contraption and carry him off the pitch like a half of beef. Sometime, as soon as the player is deposited out of the fray, he jumps up out of the orange basket and gleefully greets his fellow players on the sidelines.

The game does seem to have some rules, but I have not yet figured them all out. I do know that the referee does call fouls. There seems to be several classes of fouls. Some seem to be more like misdemeanors and others like felonies. I have discerned that things are serious when the yellow card comes out of the referee’s pocket. I don’t know what constitutes such a grievous breech of conduct to get one thrown out of the game. I do notice that players from opposing teams console their opponents just after they have knocked billy hell out of him. Their apologies seem less than sincere, and seem only to be given to avoid a foul call on themselves. However I was fortunate enough to see my beloved Ticos, Costa Rica, with only ten men on the pitch, out do Greece in a 5-3 penalty shootout.

Sometimes when there is a foul, the referee spots the ball on the field where the foul occurred and marks the spot with what looks like foam shaving cream. This allows the aggrieved player an opportunity to get a free kick at the opposing goal. It seems that if there is a grievous foul near the goal, The fouled player gets to go one on one with the goal keeper to try to make a point.

I have learned that soccer is a game of anticipation. Very few goals are actually scored, but players run up and down the field like antelope without stopping. Unlike our football, soccer is nonstop. The clock keeps running and there are no timeouts for forty-five minutes at a time. The teams transition from offense to defense continually in seconds. Incidentally, if a team does not get a score, that is not recorded as a zero, it is referred to as, nil. When one team does score there is much jubilation and the teammates of the payer scoring the goal pile on him several players deep. It is a wonder the hero is not smothered by his happy brethren.

Yesterday, I heard a sportscaster say that some techie folks had tracked some players at the ongoing World Cup and found that it was not uncommon to find that some of these well fit, young men run in excess of ten miles during a match. That is while getting kicked by opponents and bouncing the ball off their heads all along. I conclude this a young, tough person’s sport.

I have not yet learned the names of positions the players play, but I can figure out the position of goalkeeper. I have also heard the terms striker and fullback, but I still can not spot them on the field. The goalkeeper has to be a quick, large person because the ball comes to him a supersonic speeds. The goal he must protect seems to be about ten feet tall and twenty feet wide. A lot of space for a man to cover.

Soccer coaches fascinate me. Most come to the game looking much like our American basket ball coaches. They prance up and down the sidelines attired in designer suits and expensive shirts and ties. They wring their hands and rub their heads vigorously when things go wrong for their teams, but engage in manly, enthusiastic embraces with fellow coaches when their team scores that rare goal. They also seem to shout a lot at their players.

Soccer fans rival, or even exceed, our football fans’ energy with their zany exhibitions of bizarre costumes and body decorations to support their teams. All this energy seems to be fueled by great quantities of alcoholic beverages.

Alas, just yesterday, I was sad to see the USA  team lose to the bullies from Belgium –  2 to 1. I am still counting on my friends the Ticos from Costa Rica to come through for me.

My friend and renowned tennis coach Fernando and I spent last Saturday afternoon watching our beloved Ticos get beat by the Dutch in penalty kickoffs after playing extra time. In the last two minutes, the Dutchmen used one of the three substitutions they are allowed to bring in a giant to defend their goal. This Godzilla like man must have been eight feet tall and had an arm span of an orangutang. He successfully defend their goal.

Fernando, a former soccer player from Chile had the patience to solve for me some of the mysteries of soccer. I now know how to spot an off sides, but according to Fernando, these calls, and fouls called by the officials are very “subjective.” In fact, Fernando suggested that the officials should have worn the Dutch colors in their match with our dear Costa Rica team.

Poor Brazil, the host country. I have just watched the crazed Germans humiliate the Brazilians by making an unprecedented five scores in less than thirty minutes. Seems like the Germans could have been good visitors and shown a little mercy. The final score turned out to be a humiliating 7 to 1 in favor of the Germans.

I look forward to this coming Sunday when the Germans and Argentina have the final shoot out in Rio. The dismayed Brazilians don’t know who to pull for. They detest Argentina and don’t care to seem them win on Brazilian soil, but they can not convince themselves to pull for the Germans, who skunked them in their own country. In Latin America, this kind of  humiliation is referred to as “Falta Respecta.”

Well it is over. Germany just bested Argentina by one goal in the last eight minutes of extra time. I am worn out and now must take a siesta.

In any event I have a new appreciation for the game we call soccer and the world calls football.

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Dead Beat Dads

DEAD BEAT DADS

While on the Juvenile bench, dead beat dads were the bane of my existence. It is a wonder I did not stroke out while dealing with them.

First, let me explain who Dead Beat Dads are. They are the scoundrels who refuse to support the children they sire.  They have every excuse under the sun why they cannot contribute even a modest sum to help support their children. They are the bar room cowboys who saunter into their favorite watering hole in their designer jeans, Stetson hats, and five hundred dollar western boots, (though they have never set astride a horse in their lives) to entertain their good-for-nothing friends. They assert without fear “I will never give that bitch a dime of my money no matter what that stupid judge says.” They don’t mention that “that bitch” is doing the best she can to raise the three young’uns HE fathered.

When they do appear in court, they arrive in a more modest attire, but they cannot resist wearing their gold necklaces, expensive watches and having a package of cigarettes in their shirt pockets. I never understood their stupid need to display their jewelry, but they do. I have seen fishermen from Lafitte wearing enough gold around their neck to drown them should they fall over board from their shrimping boats.

Lafitte Shrimpers

Lafitte Shrimpers

When I explored the nasty habit of smoking cigarettes, I found this unhealthy habit cost  almost enough to feed their kids. Who knows the costs of booze they consumed to salve their conscience for not feeding their kids?

When dead beat dads appear before the bench, they have every excuse in the world why they cannot afford a paltry sum to help feed and clothe their children. After my first year on the bench. I had heard every excuse the human mind could invent. After that time I began offering the offenders before me this out: “If you can provide me with a valid excuse I have not yet heard as to why you cannot support your children, I will consider it. Otherwise the only valid excuses are if you are dead or so mentally or physically ill you cannot work. But since you have made it to court here today, the first excuse is out.” I never did hear a new valid excuse.

To the utter amazement of the DBDs before me I frequently asked the question, “How many time a day do you eat?” After fumbling for words, the response that usually came from the obese person before me was “I only eat once a day.” My response would be, “Well most of us here in the United States of America, including your children, have gotten into the habit of eating three times a day.”

New Orleans food

New Orleans food

To my utter amazement, some DBDs would try to explain away their conduct by telling me that they had a new girlfriend to take care of. My retort would be, “You can have all the girlfriends or even boyfriends you want, but you still have an obligation to help support your children–which I intend to enforce.”

Those who thought themselves to be tough when they swaggered around their bar room friends were not as tough as the run-of-the-mill criminal who populated our local jail. I used jail sentences for Contempt of Court sparingly and only for short terms, because our jail was overcrowded with real bad guys, and locking up a DBDs gave him an excuse for not finding a job. But short stays in The Gretna Hilton, as we called our jail. was necessary for some.

I remember one hapless lad who informed me that he had no intention to pay the back child support he owed because he had a new girlfriend who was now with child herself. I found him in Contempt and ordered him to spend ten days at The Gretna Hilton, with the intent to release him in a few days. When Ronnie, my bailiff returned to Court after escorting the young man to jail, he told me that as they entered the jail, a large fellow from one of the top tiers yelled down to the somewhat puny DBD, “You gonna be mine tonight.” Ronnie said the DBD turned white and asked permission to call his girlfriend. That afternoon a very pregnant girlfriend showed up at court with $650 in back child support, asking for the release of her soon-to-be spouse. I told her we appreciated the money, but her beloved would have to spend two more nights in jail just so he could sort out his options.inmate

We collected weekly from DBDs. Early on, when it came time to set an amount and time at which we could expect the money in our court, the DBDs would offer every excuse why the money could not possibly arrive on a day certain. I finally adopted the procedure of simply asking the DBD, “You name the day we can expect your money.” After much hemming and hawing they would finally give me a day.

After a couple years of remonstrating with DBDs I decided to create a magistrate system to deal with these contrary folks. I persuaded the Louisiana Legislature to create the magistrate system for my court. The magistrates would wear black robes and look like judges. They would deal directly with the DBDs and make recommendations to their sitting judge as to the amounts of and times of payments. Of course, the sitting judge routinely accepted the recommendations of the magistrates and signed an order to that effect.

Judge Tom in the courtroom

Judge Tom in the courtroom

The magistrate system worked well. My first magistrate was Felicia Higgins, better known to all as FiFi. FiFi was the mother of a young child, and a former school teacher turned lawyer. She was married to an attorney. FiFi’s father was a retired Coast Guard Commander who also had a law degree. FiFi had the advantage of attending such fine schools as Sweetbriar while her father was stationed in Washington. Being smart and a military child, attending fine schools and living around the world, FiFi had seen and heard it all. She was stern, but fair with DBDs and suffered not their lame excuses. She was dogged about collecting child support.

We hired Jay, a local attorney as a second magistrate to deal with DBDs. Energetic about his responsibilities almost to a fault, Jay invented creative ways to milk money from the hapless dads appearing before him. Once he reached deep into the legal arsenal of Black’s Law Dictionary and came up with an obscure, and not-necessarily-on point, writ which he employed to have the bailiff to remove the gold chains from a DBD’s neck in order to satisfy delinquent child support. Our Court now had gold chains in our possession. We could not figure out how to convert them to cash to send to the destitute mother, so I had Jay make a deal with the DBD to return his gold in exchange for currency.

When I left the bench, our Court was collecting and disbursing to needy mothers and their offspring in excess of twelve million dollars a year. I guess DBDs still clutter up the dockets of Juvenile Courts all over this affluent country of ours, while I enjoy the company of grandkids here in paradise.

Sailing 12' O'Day with grandkids

Sailing 12′ O’Day with grandkids

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SHORTY THE SHOE SHINE GUY

He was not a boy, but he was short. Shorty stood about five four and was about as many inches around his mid section. The mahogany skin of his fifty-year-old moon face wrinkled when he smiled. Shorty smiled a lot. When he smiled the gold tooth that replaced his upper incisor shown like a star on a dark night. A small patch of black hair lay listlessly atop the furrowed valleys of his brown shoe leather scalp.

Shorty’s shoe shine stand stood across St. Charles Avenue from the United Fruit Building where I worked as a law clerk for the last two years I was at Tulane Law School. The good uptown, traditional folks at Phelps, Dunbar, Marks, Claverie & Sims expected me to look sharp while in their employ; therefore Shorty and I got to know one another pretty well. He insured that my cordovan Bass penny loafers met muster with my boss, Mr. John Simms, himself.

United Fruit Company Bldg.In the mid 1950s, Shorty charged 25 cents for a good single color shoe shine. Of course,  a two-tone shine coast all of 35 cents. In addition to honing my shoes to where they became mirrors on my feet, for my 25 cent shine I always had the pleasure of a fifteen minute information-filled conversation with Shorty. When I said something he pretended to agree with he would acknowledge by saying, “Yes Sir, that sure enough be so.” Sometimes he would declare, “Well Sir, can you beat that?”

Shorty had constructed his two-seater stand from hardwood shipping crates that had housed  products shipped from all over the world to the Walnut Street Wharf near Shorty’s uptown home. The stand remained unpainted; it just weathered in the New Orleans heat and humidity. The wrought iron seats atop of the stand came from the demolished Union Pacific Rail Road Station at the foot of Canal Street. The four cast iron feet rest, upon which I placed my feet while Shorty lavished on paste with his bare hands, had seen their better days at the fancy barbershop in the old, renovated Monteleon Hotel. Shorty’s stand took up only maybe 100 square feet in a covered space next to a paved parking lot.

Shoe Shine Stand

When Shorty shined, his customers engaged him in good natured banter, but Shorty, being a whole bunch smarter than his station in life indicated, also listened when it was wise to listen.

Since Shorty’s stand stood beneath the tall commercial buildings of New Orleans, the business and professional elite of the Queen City made up most of Shorty’s customer base. In between jovial small talk with his customers, Shorty listened intently to the business men discuss the goings on of the day. Shorty had befriended a stock broker customer and made small periodic investments through him based on information he picked up daily at his stand.

Everybody conceded that Shorty’s shine was the best in town. Shorty had his own concoctions of shoe pastes and potions that he applied with his bare hands. Then came the big brush that just smoothed out the thick paste. Different brushes for different colors, of course. Next came the rag that Shorty popped, emitting a crack like a bull whip before he vigorously stroked the well worn cloth across the toes then the heels of his customers’ shoes. He did this in rhythm with the jazz music constantly playing on his small second-hand radio. The final touch came when Shorty sprayed his secret magical potion of liquid spit on your shoes and finished them off with final swipes of the rag that, naturally, matched the color of your shoes. Your shoes truly glistened when you stepped down from Shorty’s stand.

Your Shoes Truly Glistened

Shorty always had shoes to shine that customers would drop off at his stand then pick up at the end of the day. I have often wondered how many pairs of shoes the diminutive, energetic man would shine in a day.

One day in spring when I came for my semiweekly shine, I found Shorty talking to an attractive  woman a few years younger than me. Shorty introduced me to Lucy, his oldest daughter. He then told me, “Lucy will we graduating from high school at the top of her class the end of this month then she will be going to Xavier University in the fall. Her Maw and I are mighty proud of her and her other five brothers and sisters.”

After leaving my job at Phelps, Dunbar to fulfill my obligations on active duty to Uncle Sam, then to work off my law school debt in the oil patch of Eastern Venezuela, I returned to New Orleans to start my own law practice.

One day when I had to make an appearance in Civil District Court in New Orleans, I decided to treat myself to a shine at Shorty’s. By now I had not seen Shorty in almost ten years, but I thought he must surely be a permanent fixture at his St. Charles Avenue stand. I arrived at Shorty’s location only to find no Shorty and no stand. Only vacant space where the stand had once stood. Seeing that the parking lot was still in business  I asked Jake, the lot manager about Shorty. This friendly man told me, “Oh, Shorty gave up the business about a year ago. Said he was getting too old for the shine business.”

I asked, ”What is he doing for a living now?”

Jake just just chuckled and replied, “Shorty don’t need to do nothing. You know he be a rich man. Over the years he made some good investments that paid off well.”

I walked off thinking, “Here I am a young lawyer struggling to make a living. Did I embark upon the wrong profession?”tom and betty

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Camp Gordon

WWII Barracks

WWII Barracks

The hot summer of 1953 found us ROTC cadets from colleges all over the country housed in barracks at Camp Gordon outside Augusta, Georgia. During June and July young officers, some of whom served in World War II, tried their best to teach us how to become officers and gentlemen in the United States Army.

First Lieutenant Frank Mortimer pulled the duty of shaping up our platoon of cadets into officers and gentlemen. Lt. Mortimer wore tiny steel rim glasses that barely covered his dark black eyes. He stood no more than five foot six inches and was as lean as a sugar cane stalk. Lt. Mortimer’s jump boots, in which one could see his reflection, and the wings he wore on his chest verified he had completed parachute training at Fort Benning, Georgia. The Ranger patch sewn on his right shoulder told us he had signed up for rugged Ranger training in the swamps of Florida. Lt. Mortimer was all spit-and-polish. His stiff, starched uniform clung to him as though it had been painted on his scrawny body. Lt. Mortimer had found a home in the Army and resented those of us who were just there to serve out our time, then say goodbye to the Army.

Only years later would Camp Gordon attain the dignity of becoming Fort Gordon. In 1953 the wooden barracks built during the great world conflict with Germany and Japan provided only the basic needs. Each cadet had a bunk, foot locker, and a small metal cabinet for hanging clothes. We shared a latrine with some forty other guys. The privacy of college days lay behind us. These conditions caused some tempers to flare on occasion.

Inside the barracks at Camp Gordon

Many of my brother cadets grumbled about the chow at the mess hall, but I found the hearty food– day old bread, all the eggs, steak, potatoes you could eat, and unlimited milk– to my liking. Sure it was starchy, but being from New Orleans I thrived on starchy.

Camp Gordon, situated among the steep red hills and pine trees of northeast Georgia was not the most hospitable place for humans. However, this environment seemed to suit rattlesnakes well.

As one would expect summers were hot even–for us boys raised in the south. The summer of 1953 was no exception. Our fatigues, which were constructed of a fabric known as herringbone twill, were as heavy as the canvas of our pup tents. We were required to wear these garments during all training. Training started each day at dawn with the daily dozen exercises. The salt tablets we had to take regularly came forth in our sweat and caked on our fatigue jackets, rendering them stiff enough to stand alone. I anticipated that some of the Yankee boys from Wisconsin, Michigan, New York and New Jersey were going to succumb to the heat, but these fellows were tougher than  I thought and they survived.

I got along fairly well except for a couple of screw-ups. I peeled many potatoes on KP ( kitchen police)  duty for running a jeep into a pine tree on a night exercise and bending it up a bit. I peeled more potatoes for getting lost in the woods at night on a bivouac and falling asleep up side a pine tree. I peeled more potatoes for, as a lark, handcuffing a buddy to the center pole of a mess tent while on maneuvers, only to find that nobody had a key for the cuffs. But for the most part all of us came away from this experience with a better understanding of what would be expected of us as officers.

KP potato peeling

Peeling potatoes on KP

We boys from the south and our Yankee compadres got along fairly well despite the language barrier. I was bunked next to a young, brash fellow by the name of Regan, who called New Jersey home. A short, skinny, pale, feisty lad, Regan had a tendency to run his mouth when he would have been better off just listening. I just attributed this lack of social decorum to him being a Yankee.

Also in our barracks were three fellows who would become football legends. Bart Starr, Harlon Hill, and Bobby Bowden–all of whom came from Alabama. Of course, at that time we did not know that Bobby Bowden would become the Hall of Fame coach of Florida State and guide his team to 377 wins–with 33 winning seasons. We did not know that Bart Starr would play for the Green Bay Packers, who were coached by the legendary Vince Lombardi. Starr would become one of the greatest quarterbacks of all times. We did not know that Harlon Hill would become one of the greatest receivers to ever play for the Chicago Bears. They were just guys like us and we were all in the same boat at Camp Gordon in 1953.

Bart Starr at Alabama

After about a month of training in the hot Georgia hills, and some of us peeling many pounds of potatoes for our transgressions, it came time for our first leave to go into Augusta and raise a little hell. We were to leave the post on Friday afternoon and return the following Monday.

To this day, I don’t know what precipitated the argument between Regan and Harlen Hill. But late in the afternoon on the Friday we were to depart for leave, there came a hell of a ruckus in the middle of our barracks. When I arrived to see what was going on, I saw the five foot six, red-faced Regan, staring up at the six foot four Harlen Hill. They stood chest to belly while Regan shouted obscenities up to Hill’s dark angular face that revealed his Native American heritage.

Young Bobby Bowden

Bart Starr and Bobby Bowden stood next to Hill and tried to defuse the situation. Bowden tried his best with his quick wit and compelling speech to calm down the situation. By breaking up the fight between Regan and Hill in the barracks and insuring that we all got leave, Bobbie Bowden showed the leadership skills that would serve him well in his illustrious career.

Harlon calmly took the verbal abuse and told his diminutive adversary, “ I don’t want to fight you here. It will get us all in trouble, but if you still want to settle this issue, I will meet you just outside the gate as soon as we are released for the weekend.”

Chicago Bear Harlon Hill

After things calmed own, and the onlookers to the confrontation dispersed, I got Regan aside and told him, “Are you crazy, man? Did you see that man? He is built like an oak tree. He will tear you limb from limb if you try to fight him. If I were you I would go apologize to him right now.”

I never did ask Regan what the argument was all about. I assume he decided not to fight Harlon Hill, because Regan showed back up in the barracks the following Monday unscathed.

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Drive In Movies

At the Drive In

Going to a multiplex movie theater with its plush seats and costly tickets to watch a movie on a big screen with five hundred strangers just doesn’t equate to the experience of spending an evening in the quintessential American source of culture and entertainment, an old-time drive-in theater. Neither can watching DVDs or Netflix on TV at home.

1935 Chevy

Woe to the young folks who have never experienced the thrill of stuffing their 1935 Chevy jalopy full of friends—some secreted in the trunk to reduce admission costs—and hit the open air drive-in theater on the edge of town on a Friday night.

No comfy reclining seats in an air conditioned building that costs millions of dollars—just the smelly old seats of your Chevy. No black top parking area to retain heat—just dirt pushed into grassy ridges to give you a better angle to see the enormous screen. Scratchy speakers you hung on your window afforded some semblance of audio reproduction. It was important, however, to remember to put the speaker back on its stand before you drove off lest you accidentally, or illegally, owned a speaker or got caught and had to pay for it.

Hot summers in the south attracted all manner of insects to invade your car while you watched a movie, but the resourceful folks at the drive-in sold you ingenious things to rid yourself of pests. The one I liked best was a little coil of black something or another that you lit with a match. It burned slowly and emitted a white smoke which was neither friend of insect nor human.

If an evening of hot petting with your best girlfriend worked up an appetite, you could visit the concession stand that had an endless stock of junk food. In addition to ordinary cold drinks, candy and popcorn, you could gorge yourself on hotdogs, hamburgers, pizza pies, fried chicken and ice cream—all in the privacy of your own dark, cozy car.

When you were young, your parents could take you to the drive-in in your pajamas which enabled you to snooze during some boring adult melodrama. If you had more energy, you could join other kids in PJs at the little playground out behind the concession stand.

When I was about fourteen, my sixteen-year-old cousin, Robert and I went to the drive-in in Monroe, Louisiana on his new Honda motorcycle. It was a sweltering summer night so cold beer seemed in order. Robert, a preacher’s son, somehow convinced the cashier at the store he was getting the beer for some adults. Off we went through the streets of Monroe with me on the back of the motorcycle holding onto a sack of perspiring Dixie beer and clutching the machine with my legs, like a cowboy riding a bucking horse. All went well until we hit the raised railroad tracks near Louisville Ave.

Teenage Tom and friend

Teenage Tom and friend

The unexpected jolt propelled me straight up like a sky-rocket. I landed on my rump in the dark street. Since we were going to a late show and it was after business hours, there was no traffic. I was not badly hurt, but there I lay sprawled out in the street with full cans of beer rolling about all over the place. My biggest fear at that moment was being seen by a neighbor in my small town and being reported to my parents–or worse–to Robert’s Preacher Dad. I had heard some of Uncle Roy’s sermons. They were full of hellfire and brimstone and contained many threats of burning for eternity for grievous offenses such as drinking.

Robert helped me gather up our precious cargo and we arrived at the Drive-in in time for the second feature. By now the beer was hot and well-shaken. When we opened the first one it spewed a geyser of white foam with the force of Old Faithful itself. The respectable families in cars on both sides of us glared at the two of us sitting on the ground, leaning up against a motorcycle and guzzling beer. Looking back, I am sure they must have prayed that their little ones in their PJs would not grow up to become the derelicts they saw that night.

We made it home in one piece, undiscovered and unpunished. My older cousin and I would experience other adventures together without any serious consequences at the time. He later became an accountant and moved to Houston. I saw little of him after we became adults.

He died about ten years ago. According to one aunt who keeps up with all family gossip, Robert drank himself to death.

I guess the old adage that “God takes care of fools, babies and drunks” applies only to us lucky ones.

McGee gang, North Louisiana

Tom Pat (l) and Cousin Robert (r)

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