We went into the woods, with supremacists in pursuit.
(Editor’s Note: The following contains liberal use of the “F word,” because the parties involved used the “F word” liberally. In the interest of telling the unadulterated truth as best as I remember, and as entertainingly as possible, I’ve left it as is. Salut!)
“Fuck the Klan!”
All eyes turned toward my passing Bonneville from the patrons of the impromptu market set up in front of the Georgia Peach Museum – a place that sold painted, concrete figures of robed men in pointy hats that might adorn one’s porch, as inconspicuous, as Raymond Chandler would say, as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.
In the seat next to me, Elliott (a.k.a., “BOB”) was just drawing his head back in through the passenger’s window. He stuck his cigar back in his teeth and grinned at me with a look of self-accomplishment. In my rearview, a pickup truck fishtailed as it shot from the parking lot of the hick flea market.
There are a lot of myths and stories about the Georgia Peach Museum, which stands somewhere in the gray area between western Paulding and eastern Haralson counties. It’s made the news before for its owner’s inclination to slap incendiary messages on the location’s roadside marquee, most recently for this bit of political commentary.
As a reporter in the Douglas/Paulding County area, I’d heard several accounts of the Georgia Peach Museum from staff writers and stringers on slow days around the news desk. The lore was that it had been a topless bar or strip club or some such, and to run the impolite operation out of business, the local municipal authorities had passed an ordinance prohibiting such operations. So, to maintain their business model, the bar began calling itself a museum, claimed the ta-tas were First Amendment-protected art, and went on about their day.
(Of course, if you saw this place, you’d never want to see naked the woman who’d be willing to take her clothes off in there, but that’s beside the point; I begrudge no one for getting their jollies how they will, so long as everyone involved is OK with it.)
Along with inflammatory signage, the bar also has played host to several events that included a cross in conflagration and men who have no hair.
On this particular day – a Saturday – there was a market out front. Merchants were selling large rebel banners, summoning the South to rise again and other such foolishness. I’m sure there were also knives. There are always knives.
We were on our way to our friend Kirk’s campsite out in Haralson County. His grandfather had a pretty considerable tract out there and had built a cabin/shack alongside a river that ran along the property. It was a great place to spend a night or two, out in the woods, raising all kinds of sin. (Usually, of course, we just got drunk and passed out around the fire ring, but whatever.) Kirk was leading the way in his Jeep, the windows and doors off, the wind blowing through the cab almost deafening – yet, still not so loud that he hadn’t heard Elliott bellow at the white supremacists as we passed.
And now, of course, there was this young man who was in open pursuit of us, trucking down the Haralson County blacktop.
We pulled into the dirt drive to the property. Two posts with a length of padlocked logging chain strung between them guarded entry to the long, rough, four-wheel-drive-only one lane path down to the campsite. We would park the Bonneville about halfway down, throw our gear into Kirk’s Wrangler, and ride grasping to the bars of his canoe rack for dear life the rest of the way down.
The truck pulled in behind us.
The driver was alone. Elliott and I – large figures (though I not nearly as large as Elliott’s abnormally tall, hulking mass) in long, crazed-woodman style beards with long knives clipped to our belts, climbed from the Bonneville. Kirk sprung from the Jeep and trotted up behind us.
“Jesus,” he said to Elliott. “Why did you do that, man?”
“Because I fucking hate the Klan,” Elliott growled. Couldn’t argue with that. Especially when Elliott had a knife on his hip and the number of witnesses was sparse.
Outnumbered and out-knifed, the man in the truck tossed the shifter into reverse and shot back into the road and lurched off the way he came. We unlocked the chain, drove through, and locked it back behind us.
Down at the campsite, I propped my ankle up on a stump and lit a pipe. The ankle had been rendered weak and given to twists and sprains from a break incurred in a car wreck some months earlier, and here again it was injured, leaving me invalid. This was going to be an immobile expedition for me; a chance to convalesce in nature and away from my parents’ dank, mildewy, pneumonia-inspiring basement.
Kirk, who worked as a staff photographer with me at the local daily, sorted through his assortment of lenses. Elliott rendered logs into kindling by smashing them against still-standing trees and collecting the splintered pieces that flew off. Seriously.
Then, Kirk said he wanted to take his canoe down the river a little ways and take some pictures of frogs.
“I’ll go take pictures of frogs with you, Kirk,” Elliott volunteered. It was a weird thing for a man his size who had just spent the better part of two hours beating trees into toothpicks to say, granted, but that was how he wanted to spend the close of day, and I wouldn’t begrudge him that.
He and Kirk took a canoe down the river, well out of site and earshot, leaving me at the campsite, alone with my thoughts. And our guns. And the whisky.
And, well, I got bored.
I limped over to my bag, pulled out a large plastic handle of Passport Scotch, and limped back to my chair. I unscrewed the top and took a swig. It tasted like the last time I threw up. There was a reason for that. I took another swig. And I thought about the Ku Klux Klan.
The hours grew long and late. The shadows stretched themselves out. The light began to wane. Off in the distance, I heard two solitary, staccato gunshots. I raised my bottle in their direction.
“Goodbye, Kirk,” I said. “Goodbye, Elliott.”
Well, I thought to myself, the fellow knew there were at least three of us. And there, he’s got two. They’re going to be looking for one more. I stood, and limp/staggered around the site. A rusted metal table stood in the campsite. I sat myself behind this, facing the direction of the gunshots. I carefully loaded each firearm, cocked it, and laid it out on the table in front of me, along with the handle of Passport. I would not go gentle into that good night if that good night would not come gentle onto me.
Twilight came. So far, I’d taken up a rifle several times, endangering nothing more than a few noisy squirrels. Then, I heard footsteps rummaging through the thick leaves on the ground. I picked up a rifle – it was only a .22, but a semi-automatic with a large reservoir of shells, it could lay down a lot of fire, quickly – and I called into the darkness as my grandfather, a military policeman during World War II, had taught me.
“Halt! Who goes there?”
Elliott and I, friends since we played 10-and-under soccer together more than a decade before, knew me very well. He knew the command sounded sharp. He also knew that they had left me alone, in the woods, with nothing but booze and guns. He’d sensed trepidation coming up on the site anyway; that I was demanding that they identify themselves was all the incentive he needed to dive face-down into the leaves.
Kirk hadn’t known me so long. “Hey!” he shouted back, “it’s just us!”
“Kirk! Identify yourself!” Elliott warned.
“Huh? Why?” Kirk asked, still strolling right up to the barrel of my rifle.
“Because he’ll shoot you,” Elliott said.
“What? No.” Kirk said. He paused. He thought quickly. “It’s Kirk and Elliott!” he shouted.
“Elliott?” I called back.
“Bob!” Kirk said, invoking Elliott’s nickname – one that would not appear on the license that some Klansmen might have removed from his corpse. Atta boy, Kirk.
I laid down my gun. “You may pass.”
We never did encounter the Klan that trip. Maybe they thought better of it. Maybe they snuck in during the night and pissed in our Passport Scotch. God knows, we wouldn’t have known any different if they had. But at least it gave us something to do as we sat up most of the night, drinking, guns across our laps, each facing a different direction, waiting for the lynch mob until daybreak.
Ah, camping is so relaxing.