Tag Archives: Cameron

The Birds

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Cameron was having a bad day.

Slumped in a chair in Tony’s basement, he laid it all out: he got fussed out at work, was short of funds, and had just had a terrible fight with his girlfriend. To close his day, he decided to take a drive in his Jeep. Driving his Jeep, he said, made him happy. But then…

“’Bam! Bam, bam, bam!’ They were pelting the front and the side of my Jeep like little Kamikazes,” Cameron said as I entered the basement for a night of story-swapping and trip-planning.

“Cameron, what are you talking about?” I asked with great interest.

“It was terrible, Joey: I was out driving, and I saw this massive flock of birds walking around on the ground in someone’s yard off to the left,” he told me. “I thought, ‘man, that’s a lot of birds,’ and, right then, they all at once just took off like a big gray cloud. I thought they were going to fly away, but they didn’t; the whole flock just flew right out into the road.”

“Well, what’d you do?”  I asked.

“I couldn’t do anything. They were everywhere,” he said. “I just kept cringing and driving until I got through it. And then I looked in my rearview mirror and saw all these birds laying in the road. A lot of them were dead, and some were almost dead and were flopping about like fish out of water.”

Cameron with Jeep

Cameron, with his Jeep, during happier days.

“Oh that’s awful!” I said.

“Yeah, I felt really bad,” he confessed. “I still feel really bad, but there was nothing I could do. It was like they were all on a suicide mission.”

The Jeep itself was a mess of feather and smeared bird… I don’t know, bird something. Cameron described in grim detail how he heard them desperately beating against the plastic windows of the Jeep, how they’d hit with such force that he’d had to stop shortly thereafter to squeegee off his windshield and readjust the side-view mirrors.

We had all seen birds fly into a closed window, or a pet parakeet fly into a mirror because of the reflection, but we’d never heard of anything the likes of what Cameron had experienced. If I didn’t know him better I would have sworn he was making it up. The thing about Cameron, though is that he never had to make this stuff up.

Despite Cameron’s unintentional bird massacre, we had convened at Tony’s with a mission to plan our trip to Florida in two weeks, so after getting over the shock of Cameron’s incident we got down to business. We left Tony’s basement that night with the satisfaction that another quick weekend vacation had been planned and the knowledge that at least one flock of birds had been infiltrated by a featherbrained cult leader and led into mass suicide.

A few days passed and by the middle of the week Cameron and I once again found ourselves hanging out at Tony’s. As we entered the door, Tony, who was sitting at his computer to the right of us, turned to face us with a look of contained excitement on his face.

“Cameron,” he began, “what day was it that you hit that flock of birds?” He was almost giddy. And Tony’s not a man who gets giddy. It was a little creepy.

Cedar Waxwing

A cedar waxwing, during happier days.

“Saturday,” Cameron said.

“And what road were you driving on when you hit them?” Tony asked.

“Banks Mill. Why?” a concerned Cameron asked.

“Funny thing happened to me at the office the other day,” Tony said. Tony was working as a reporter for the local daily paper, the Sentinel. “I had just got in for the day, and one of the photographers started talking to one of the other reporters about a ‘bird story.’ So, I asked them about this bird story. Seems someone found a massive collection of dead birds along Banks Mill Road on Saturday. The health department is investigating.”

“Really?” I said, not too surprised. This was at the time that the danger of the West Nile Virus to elderly people was a popular news story in Georgia, because the disease is spread by mosquitoes and if there’s two things Georgia has, it’s peaches and mosquitoes.

“Yeah, well, you know one sign that West Nile may be present in an area is finding birds that have died from being bitten by infected mosquitoes,” Tony said.

“Yeah I’ve heard of that,” Cameron said.  “What about it?”

“Well, you see, when you find a dead bird, you’re supposed to report it to the health department, so that they can check it out to see if the bird died of West Nile or not,” Tony said.  “So, you might could imagine the sheer terror one might face upon finding a total of 19 dead birds in one’s yard.”

“Are you saying that…,” I started before Tony interrupted me.

“I’m saying that when I was at the office today, one of our reporters was checking out a story about someone finding 19 dead cedar waxwings on Banks Mill Road,” Tony said.

We all started laughing.  “It can’t be,” I said.

“When did they find them?” Cameron asked.

“Saturday,” Tony chuckled. “I just searched on the Internet for a picture of a cedar waxwing. Is this the bird that flew into your Jeep, Cameron?”

“Yeah, that’s them.” Cameron started giggling.

“Like I said, when you find one dead bird it’s a scare, but 19 is a crisis,” Tony said. “Someone probably came outside and saw all those dead birds and just freaked the hell out. They’re urging old people and children to stay inside if they live near the area where those birds were found.”

“Did you tell your co-worker that those birds committed suicide into the side of your friend’s vehicle?” I asked, knowing that as mischievous as Tony was that he definitely didn’t tell his coworker.

“I thought about it, but the guy said that the workers had already sent the birds off to the University of Georgia to determine the cause of death,” Tony said with a sadistic grin. “They held a press conference. I guess the autopsy results will come back with blunt force trauma as the cause of death?”

The thought of professional public health workers carefully collecting the massacre in little plastic baggies, marking them and sending them to a laboratory made me smile. The likely reaction of the biologist who would determine that all 19 of these birds sent in from Douglas County had been simply hit by a car made me smile wider.

“So, I killed 19 of those little birds, huh?” Cameron said sadly.

Always the optimist, Tony knew just how to cheer Cameron up. “Yeah, but look on the bright side: you single-handedly caused the largest West Nile virus scare this county has ever seen.”

 

Prologue

Driving to Panama City Beach for our weekend away, stopping for one of the many fill-ups the glorified tractor that is a Jeep requires, we spied something peculiar in the springs inside the front wheel well of Cameron’s vehicle. The three of us knelt beside the Jeep, peering at the grayish mash jammed between the coils.

“No way,” Cameron said.

“Awesome,” I said.

“Heh,” said Tony. “That means it was an even 20.”

 

Note:  While searching online for pictures of cedar waxwings to give an accurate description of the birds for this story, I came across a great many articles depicting the habits of the little gray birds. Cedar waxwings are renowned for their voracious appetite and a tendency to eat fermented fruit and berries. When a bird weighing only a few ounces gets a belly full of fermented berries, well, they have trouble flying in a straight line — or just flying at all. 

According to the state of Georgia’s health department on West Nile testing of birds in 2005: “Cedar waxwings, which are never positive, were the third most frequently submitted bird. This bird usually dies from drunken flying into windows or is found dead from alcohol poisoning from eating fermented berries.”

Maybe Cameron won’t feel so bad when he finds out that the birds were FUI (flying under the influence).

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Why Facebook Is Not for Prospective Employers to See

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“Studies have shown that Facebook can be a useful hiring tool. Just a five- to 10-minute perusal of a user’s profile can net more information than a basic personality test. It’s no wonder employers head to the site to check out prospective hires.

“But one problem remains: Many users are now going private, cutting off their profiles from outside viewers. As a result, a new trend has emerged. Employers are reportedly now asking job applicants for Facebook passwords.”
— Reuters

Makes me glad I’m already employed.

Interviewer: I’m looking through your photo albums. Have you ever gone “streaking?”

Ready to go streaking

Cameron, ready to run naked up my driveway.

Me: Yes.
Interviewer: Were you alone?
Me: I was not.
Interviewer: Were you with more than one other person?
Me: I was.
Interviewer: And, was this group comprised of other males?
Me: Mostly.
Interviewer: Uh, was there any, um, physical contact during this incident?
Me: A little – but, of course, eventually they outran me.
Interviewer: I see. And, was law enforcement involved?
Me: Not formally.
Interviewer: OK. So, no arrests?
Me: No convictions.
Interviewer: Ah.
Me: Yeah.
Interviewer: So, tell me about this picture of you and all your friends holding guns.
Me: That was unrelated to the streaking incident.
Interviewer: I’d hoped so. Still, the image makes me wonder what you were up to. It doesn’t appear that you were dressed to go hunting, though you were out in the woods.
Me: We were shooting a microwave oven.
Interviewer: Why?
Me: I’m not real sure. Someone brought it over and said we needed to shoot it. I assumed he thought it had a demon or something.
Interviewer: This didn’t seem odd to you?
Me: Not really. Look, if I’ve learned anything in life, it’s when someone says an inanimate object needs to be shot, you shoot it.
Interviewer: You majored in philosophy in college?
Me: I did.
Interviewer: I see. Well, I’m looking through these vacation photos now, I think. It seems you’re on a cruise.
Me: Yes, we went on one last year. I won it, through a writing contest with Creative Loafing.
Interviewer: Congratulations. But, tell me about these pictures of the naked man in the hot tub.
Me: Oh, awesome! Have you got to the “Caribbean Jesus” picture yet?

Caribbean Jesus

Joey, a.k.a., "Caribbean Jesus."

Interviewer: Not yet… Oh, there it is.
Me: That was great! We cleared the whole deck of the ship!
Interviewer: I’m sure you did. You say you won this trip through a writing contest?
Me: Yeah. It was about a road trip that Caribbean Jesus and I took a few years back. I’m surprised I won – because of the word count limit, I wasn’t even able to talk about the 6-foot-tall lesbian who lived in the closet of the old, dilapidated townhouse where we stayed in Savannah, or about the tiny Asian girl who had the lease and was terrified I would use her toothbrush.
Interviewer: How unfortunate.
Me: I know, right?
Interviewer: Well, sir, thank you for your time. I’m sure we’ll be in touch.
Me: Oh, no – thank you!

Epilogue

Joey, naked, at the top of my driveway: Ah, man, there’s no traffic on Tony’s road!
Cameron, also naked at the top of my driveway: To Douglas Boulevard! <Cameron then disappears into the night.>

A Toast to Cameron — And to Crazytime

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Recently, one of our own joined the ranks of the wed. The courtship was brief, the shotgun was loaded for bear and the wedding was attended by as many people as we could fit on the back porch.

In his sermon/eulogy, Rev. Tony—ordained by the Universal Life Church of Modesto, Calif.—spoke on the subject of insanity, or rather, not pursuing the rational (and safe) path.

Cameron's Wedding

Cameron and his bride, Chesera. With Cameron, it's always crazytime.

“Had we always made the wise and safe decision,” Rev. Tony said, “what stories would we have to tell? We’ve always made the choice to play it close to our vest, to take the option no one in their right mind would take. We even have a name for it: crazytime. Choosing the crazy option defines us; it’s who we are.

“So,” he said, concluding his remarks and taking Cameron and his betrothed by the arm, “let’s get crazy.”

In illustration of Cameron’s propensity for craziness, I prepared before the wedding a list of all the crazy stuff that I could think of that Cameron has done. Easily, my encouragement accounts for somewhere on the order of 98 to 99 percent of this list, which Rev. Tony pulled from his pocket and read aloud prior to the happy couple reciting their vows.

It was a good list. I thought it deserved sharing.

So, in tribute to our dear Cameron and his new missus, we present but a brief, unordered and uncategorized list of Cameron’s craziness:

  • Threw darts at his butt
  • Ate a potentially fatal quantity of off-brand hotdogs
  • Went streaking
  • Catapulted himself across an empty parking lot on a wooden pallet
  • Attempted to drink a gallon of milk in under an hour
  • Smoked concentrated Country Time Lemonade
  • Participated in a contest of self gratification
  • Snorted a line of wasabi
  • Went streaking again
  • Drank a bottle of Karo corn syrup, then vomited foam
  • Participated in another hotdog eating contest
  • Shocked his testicles with an electric flyswatter
  • Tried to drink another gallon of milk in under an hour
  • Participated in another contest of self gratification (but this time for speed and volume)
  • Participated in a green bean eating contest
  • Allowed roman candles to be fired at his bare butt
  • Lit his farts
  • Tried to drink yet another gallon of milk in under an hour
  • Lit my farts on fire, subsequently almost burning down an apartment building
  • Participated in a catfish eating contest
  • Shot bottle rockets out of his butt crack
  • Went streaking—again
  • Ate a gallon of pickles while driving back home from Panama City Beach, which led to him soiling his pants (the first time)
  • Convinced him that, by using a brown eyeliner pencil, no one could tell that one of his sideburns has a one-inch bald patch in it
  • Drank until he passed out and awoke with his pants soiled—again
  • Picked up three underage girls and drove them around Panama City Beach while they stood in his Jeep, without seatbelts, while he was on probation
  • Blew through $500 on strippers and hookers between Tijuana, Long Beach, Calif., and Las Vegas
  • Got wasted in Long Beach, Calif., and wandered off into the ghetto wearing nothing but a pair of bright yellow swim trunks
  • Tried to pace Rev. Tony gulp-by-gulp with a bottle of bourbon—while underage—and ended up crawling into his parents’ room that night (he has no recollection of this)

I hope you will continue to return to squad-blog.com and search through our archives to learn more about the stories behind these terrible mistakes/good times.

It’s always crazytime somewhere.

Dispatches from the Road: Nearly Dead in Panama City Beach – Part II

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Panama City Beach

Joey, Cameron and Surfin' Scott, making their way up the beach.

(Administrator’s Note: This blog is the second of a two-part series. Be sure to read Dispatches from the Road: Nearly Dead in Panama City Beach — Part I as well.)

It’s morning – God only knows what time in the morning – and we’ve woken up and emerged from our tent into the sunlight, where I’ve given Surfin’ Scott (who wouldn’t leave the tent in the morning because he was scared I’d stab him if he startled me) crap for using sun block, which was a bad idea on my part and a brilliant one on his.

After a breakfast of cold Gwantly hotdogs straight from the cooler, with condiments pilfered from a QuikTrip, we headed to the beach with the surfboards.

I do not surf. It’s not been something I ever wanted to do. I tried skiing once, and didn’t take to it. Surfing is for pretty boys with bleached hair. Like Cameron. And to a lesser extent with the hair thing, Joey.

At St. Andrews State Park near Panama City Beach, Fla., the beach is sheltered from the gulf by a long wall of piled rocks that juts out into the blue water. As the tide races around this barrier, it creates some rather impressive waves for redneck surfers who mostly spend a lot of time lying on the bellies on their surfboards out in the water, talking to each other about how cool they are because they surf but who rarely actually, you know, surf.

Snapshots of Agony – Or, the Coriolis Effect

I had my camera. It was new – my first digital camera – and I’d bought the warranty from Wolf Camera that would replace it, so long as I at least came back with the strap that remained around my wrist as, say, a bull at Pamplona snagged it on a horn as it thundered past me. With a limitless supply of photos on a warranty-protected device, I was becoming quite the little shutterbug. I took the camera out into the water and snapped pictures of Cameron and Joey with their surfboards, then retired the camera back on a towel on the beach and enjoyed the warm salt water, the buoyancy of which felt good against my injured ankle.

It was amusing to watch Cameron and Joey chase waves and try to mount one, jumping up eagerly on their boards as the crest raced past them, leaving them behind.

A weak swimmer, and injured to boot, a stayed fairly close to shore, as Cameron and Joey paddled further out to catch the waves as they lurched from the sea.

Panama City Beach surfing

Joey and Cameron, playing in the waves with their toys.

At last, Cameron caught one. And just like that old adage about a dog who chases cars, he didn’t really know what to do once he had it.

I watched him zip toward me, standing proudly on his board. As he drew closer, it seemed evident that he intended to ride this thing out. He’d take it to Orlando if it’d let him. So, I cut to my left. Cameron, with little control over his board, did the same. I cut right. Cameron did likewise. He drew closer. I zigged, he zigged. I zagged, he zagged. At last, just a few feet from me, he lost all control. Cameron went to my right, and the board passed to my left.

Well, it turns out that surfers are actually tethered to their boards by about a six-foot leash, which fastens to the end of the board and around the ankle of the surfer. And that six-foot leash was doing as it was intended, holding Cameron and his board together, even as it clotheslined me in the surf.

The Coriolis effect describes the circumstances that cause something that is turning to go faster, such as how the water in a bathtub spins into a vortex when you pull the plug, or even how it feels like a car is accelerating when on one of those spiraling highway onramps.

It also applies when you have a surfboard wrapped around your throat.

The leash caught me beneath the chin. I grabbed at it, the way a victim grabs at his attackers garrote, which is to say, futilely. The surfboard swung around, my throat serving as the fulcrum, and lapped me once, then twice. By then, the cord was diminished sufficiently to allow the board to hit me in the face. The board wrapped itself around its own leash, tightening its noose.

The blow knocked me off my feet. Because a surfboard floats, it stayed near the surface. My mass did not; and so the experience was somewhat less like choking and more like hanging, as the board kept my head near the surface and gravity pulled my body down into the weedy depths of the Gulf of Mexico.

At last, struggling for air, the world becoming encased in a black fog around me, I felt something: the bottom! I kicked against it and propelled myself up and backward. A wave caught me, pulling the board and me to a slightly reduced depth. I could stand! I found my feet and pressed them into service, heaved myself out of the water and pulled at the choker around my neck, gasping.

I don’t know what was happening to Cameron during all of this. I presume he was upside down in the water, as close to death as I was. He’d led me to believe no different. But he emerged from the waves just as the sweet salt air at last filled my starving lungs. So, I tried to kill him with his surfboard.

Land, Ho

Back on terra forma, limping, head aching from the merciless sun and temporary lack of oxygen, and my flesh starting to sear, we showered in a bathhouse near our site and planned to hit the town that night.

We were going to make a show of it, too. We’d invested in an order of Jolly Roger flags from a cheap online flag site. The flags they sent – black, sure, and with the skull and crossbones – also had emblazoned around them the legend, “Commitment to Excellence.” Which seemed a very peculiar thing to put on a pirate flag. The site made it right by us, however, sending us a double order of proper pirate flags, and so we had plenty. We placed poles on the running bars of the Jeep, flying a Jolly Roger off one side and, as a conversation starter, a “Commitment to Excellence” flag off the other. We affixed a Jolly Roger to the Nighthawk 750 as well, which I insisted on riding, despite my sprained ankle, because of the hell we went through to get it there after damned near losing it in Eufaula.

Toys

How did we ever have such wonderful toys?

Now, it should be mentioned that none of us can recall what happened to Surfin’ Scott during this part of the trip. I don’t believe he was surfing, it haven grown dark. But, we can say definitively that he was not in the Jeep, nor was he on the motorcycle with me. The very prospect of such a thing would have terrified him beyond his senses.

As the sun set, we hit “the Strip,” driving slow up and down with the other cruisers in heavy traffic. Cameron had, in a stack between his seat and his console, a series of signs on poster board that, like the “Commitment to Excellence” flag, were supposed to be conversation starters.

The signs included, “Honk if You’re Horny,” and “I’m Single and Well-Hung,” which was frankly a bold-faced lie on Cameron’s part, but we’d let him have his fun.

This was before Panama City Beach had become an endless stretch of high-rise condominiums from one side of town to the other. At the time, there was still an active – if rickety – boardwalk and an active college party scene, with a vast nightclub that hosted wet T-shirt contests that never turned out to be worth the cover charge.

Somehow, the signs and honking got noticed, and three girls accepted an impromptu invitation to hop on up into the Jeep. They stood in the backseat, shouting, hollering, holding up Cameron’s “I’m Single and Well-Hung” sign. Cameron and Joey were having the time of their lives, glancing up the girls’ shirts as they partied hard in Cameron’s Jeep.

And then, behind me, a loud voice cut through the bacchanalia: “You in the Jeep! Pull on over.” I glanced in the rearview of my Honda at the lightbar of the Panama City Beach Police cruiser.

Cameron pulled into a lot. I rode a little further down and parked. The girls climbed out of the Jeep and lined up alongside it. The cop gave Joey a lot of grief, it looked like from my safe distance. Finally, he let Joey get out of the Jeep and walk away. With a lack of excitement and concern that kind of startled me, Joey strolled over to my bike and said, “Yeah, Cameron’s going to jail.”

Joey explained that the first problem was the girls, who were not wearing seatbelts. Then, the girls, it turned out, were age 15, 15 and 16. So, any thoughts we had of getting them to come back to our campsite were going to be a problem. Also, Cameron had that whole court-ordered class-thing that he had to attend, and had his name in computers as being someone who had to be good and probably not, you know, cross state lines for an established period of time. So there was that.

We waited to see what might unfold, unable to help Cameron. I hung out to see if I needed to ride Joey back to our campsite, should they impound the Jeep, and Joey waited to see if they’d let him drive it away if Cameron was led away in cuffs. Finally, the cop pulled away – without Cameron – and Joey approached the Jeep. The officer said he would let Cameron off with a warning, if he took the girls back to where he picked them up (why he let Cameron continue to ride around with them at all was perplexing, but I think the officer just didn’t want to deal with the paperwork). Apparently, they were staying in a condo near there. With their parents. Since there weren’t enough seatbelts in the Jeep for everybody, Joey was the odd man out, and the poor lad went from a Jeep with the top off and three cute girls in the back on the Panama City Beach strip to riding down back roads on the bitch seat of a fat man on a Honda.

But, hey, at least we still had our Jolly Roger – and our commitment to excellence.

Words with Friends

While students – and, later, loiterers – at the University of West Georgia, Joey and Cameron devised a game called “Phrases” or “Fragments” or something like that. The idea was, you walk along, having an innocent conversation, until some interloper comes within earshot, at which point the conversation would take a violent turn into the macabre.

“Did you ever get that rash cleared up?” “Nah – doctor said he’d never seen it before. Told me to come back if it started oozing worse.”

Please Leave This Door Closed - Tanks

A helpful sign from the locals posted in the shower facilities at the St. Andrews State Park campground. They were right -- you never know what kind of trouble is on the other side. (Tanks for the advice!)

“…so, after I found the pictures online that Bobby told us about, I was like, there’s no way I’m calling her back, but then I slapped my head and went, the hell I’m not!”

And so forth.

In the bathhouse down the lane from our campsite, Cameron and I retired to shower. (Not in the same stall. Not that he didn’t try.) I was badly burned, practically unable to walk, and pretty severely dehydrated. Also, it appeared someone had taken a shit in my shower stall. Damned Florida.

We spoke until we heard someone else enter the shower area. Then, we turned on the “Statements” or “Sentences” or whatever the hell they call it. In the shape I was in, I somehow utterly missed that Cameron left the shower – and that a stranger had occupied his stall.

Said stranger heard all kinds of strange things. I confessed to killing a hooker. In gruesome detail. And then I spoke about how I felt no different doing it than when I killed my whole family. I speculated how long it’d be until the bodies were discovered. I then told Cameron what I was going to do to him when I got him back to the tent, and that if Joey and Surfin’ Scott had anything to say about it, I swear to God, they’d end up just like that dead hooker, so help me.

The stranger said nothing. Nothing at all. As I collected my bath supplies and noticed that the sandals beneath the door of the stall next to mine were no longer Cameron’s, I chuckled. I didn’t apologize. I didn’t try to explain anything. After all, it’s a dangerous world.

Home at Last

We left about midday, packing up and heading back home.

I reclined as best as I could in the passenger seat of the Jeep, still baking beneath the southern sun, riding for hours on a cloudless day in a car with no roof.

Somewhere near Columbus, afraid that I would soon lose consciousness, I placed a call. I asked for aloe, for acetaminophen, and for peace. And I promised myself, I would never be sunburned again.

Promises are made to be broken.

Dispatches from the Road: Nearly Dead in Panama City Beach – Part I

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Panama City Beach surfing

Surfin' Scott, Joey and Cameron, ready to hit the surf in Panama City Beach

I’d never asked my parents for much. And they’d certainly obliged.

But, with a weak signal on my cell phone, I placed a call from somewhere in Alabama. My father answered the line.

“I need your help, please,” I said. “Would you be willing to run down to the drug store? I need some aloe. Desperately. And, would you mind putting it in the fridge for me when you get home?

Oh, and also, some Tylenol. One of the big bottles.”

An old Mexican once told us that you can’t almost die – either you’re dead, or your alive; there’s no in between. We laughed. No, there’s definitely a gray area between life and death.

Returning from a weekend at Panama City Beach, struggling for breath, battered and barely able to walk, and badly burned, I was in just such a gray area.

Now Departing: Good Times

A couple of days earlier, I sat for hours in Cameron’s Jeep in the old city parking lot in downtown Douglasville; the top off, doors gone, lounging in the late springtime sun while Cameron completed a court-ordered class that we’ll let him tell you about in greater detail at some later time.

Panama City Beach

Our destination: a bygone era.

I flipped through the pages of a New Yorker, read some from a book I brought with me, and waited. I watched folks wander up and down the forlorn city sidewalk near the Old Douglas County Courthouse (I capitalize “Old” because, well, that’s what it’s called, according to the turquoise neon sign on the front). Life was good. The next week, I would be starting a new job, helming a weekly newspaper in Dallas after years of working part-time for minimum wage at the daily in Douglas County. I was excited. I would have money – adult money – and health insurance. Paid vacation. My own free-standing executive desk with a large American flag on a pole behind it. The works.

When Cameron emerged from his class, grinning from ear to ear and jogging down the sidewalk to his waiting Jeep, everything was set. It was go time.

The plan was hatched days before. I had to work, Cameron had his court-ordered class that he couldn’t miss – per the terms of his probation – but, Joey having no job and no court-ordered class, was free well before then, as was Surfin’ Scott, who is not to be confused with Pimpin’ Scott, who has been pimpin’ since pimpin’ was pimpin’, which is apparently circa 2003.

Joey and Surfin’ Scott, who along with not being Pimpin’ Scott, also was someone I’d not met but who had heard a great deal about me, left earlier that day for Panama City Beach. Their surfboards stretched between them, occupying the distance between the windshield and back window of Joey’s Camaro, so that it was as though each had their own traveling compartment in the car. In the back was my tent and some camping gear.

The plan was, Joey and Surfin’ Scott would embark early, establish our campsite at St. Andrew’s State Park, and get in some sun and surf while I completed my last day at the Sentinel and Cameron attended his court-ordered class. Then, Cameron and I would leave that afternoon, arriving at Panama City Beach sometime in the small hours of the morning.

We had, in tow, my dad’s old motorcycle trailer and my ‘83 Honda Nighthawk 750 motorcycle, with its purple and black paint scheme that matched the purple and black helmet that I didn’t think I’d wear very much while riding up and down “the Strip.” We’d gone ahead and removed the top and doors to the Jeep, having seen the weather reports for Panama City Beach and determining that we wouldn’t need them anyway. And so, we pulled out of Douglasville with our hair blowing in the wind, our gear in the back and the motorcycle hitched to the rear, heading out for Panama City Beach and the grand adventure that awaited us.

Going to Pieces in Eufaula

As we rode, we kept hearing an ominous “thunk! thunk!” from the rear of the Jeep. Stopping for gas, I inspected the straps securing the motorcycle to the trailer, and found everything to be tight. Must be the wind, we figured, and proceeded on our way.

We motored past the dark windows and quiet front porches of downtown Eufaula, Ala. – one of those towns you pass through and long to live in, with its stately old homes and impressively manicured lawns. On the outskirts of town, as we approached the bridge spanning Lake Eufaula, the source of the “thunk!” at last rendered itself known. With one last mighty “thunk!”, the Jeep lurched, and I looked over my shoulder to see the trailer, with its motorcycle attached, somewhat skipping along behind the Jeep.

Now, for all Cameron’s many faults – and there are many – I’ll give him credit for two distinct areas of skill: he is extremely adept at grooming himself and keeping himself fit, and he is a master at not panicking, even when everyone else is. The picture of Pimpin’ Scott wearing nothing but a McDonald’s bag? Only Cameron could’ve pulled off taking that picture without shrieking and dashing from the room. The heaving a trashcan full of ice water on me as I lay naked and splay-legged in the bathroom floor? Only Cameron kept his eyes on the prize and completed the assault – without shrieking and dashing from the room.

And here, again, Cameron kept his wits about him, deftly navigating the Jeep and, miraculously, the trailer that clung by a single safety chain, not unlike a severed leg still held to the person of its owner by a small strip of sinew, safely to the side of the road. I dashed out into traffic, seized the trailer by its tongue and hauled it in the last few feet after the chain gave way.

The ball itself had come off, still lodged in the socket on the tongue of the trailer. The nut which secured it to the trailer was perhaps mere feet from us, or had been lost some miles back; there was no way of knowing in the dark. Beginning to make plans, Cameron and I took note of the rather astonishing number of dead alligators, flattened across the highway in a rather obvious path, as it seemed they were departing from the marsh on the edge of the lake right along the roadway where we sat and playing gator-Frogger across the road.

We hatched our plan – gators also hatch from eggs – and, securing the latch on the trailer’s tongue with a padlock so as to prevent theft, we sprinted back into down in the Jeep. Surely, we reasoned, there was a Wal-Mart, and lo, a Wal-Mart there was, and blessed be, it was 24-hours. We purchased a new ball, a new adjustable wrench – and a spool of super-strength black duct tape – and rushed back out to the bike and trailer along the highway south of town.

I re-bolted the ball to the Jeep, and we wrapped the nut in duct tape to secure it to the tow bar of the Jeep and prevent the nut from turning, and reattached the trailer, on our way once more, feeling somehow blessed that a potential catastrophe turned out as well as it did.

Hallelujah.

“We got this,” Cameron said as he brought the Jeep back up to speed and we pressed onward to Panama City Beach.

Into the Panhandle

We knew that the days in Panama City Beach promised to be warm and sunny, but we’d not anticipated the nights would be a kind of cool that would turn nipple-blue freezing when riding at highway speeds in a Jeep with no roof or doors.

I was shaking so bad, I spilled my tin of gas station canned herring down my shirt.

Cameron in Jeep

Cameron -- during warmer, sunnier times on that trip

We crossed the state line into Florida, both of us huddled as close as possible to the dashboard, the heat on full-blast and giving very little warmth to the ominous night, without jackets or even a shirt with long sleeves.

I don’t recall the time when we arrived at St. Andrews State Park. It was late. Or rather, early. And dark. We rode softly into the park, past the sleeping canvas tents and dark cars. Along a narrow connecting road, along either side of which was swamp, we heard a familiar sound: “thunk!” Cameron stopped, and I cursed. I snatched the adjustable wrench out of the floorboard of the Jeep (which, being red, had always rather reminded me of my granddaddy’s old Farmall tractor), and leapt out of the raised cab of the all-terrain vehicle.

I landed fine. It was when I took a step that there was a problem. My foot – my left one, where I keep my bad and often-broke ankle – landed rather unevenly on the edge of the pavement. As Cameron would explain later, “I didn’t know what’d happened; Tony was there, then suddenly, he wasn’t.”

I hit the side of the road and rolled helplessly and in agony down the bank into the swamp. I called for help as I tried to drag myself up with handfuls of weeds and sand to no avail. I saw movement in the lights of the Jeep, and Cameron’s silhouette against the side of the vehicle above me. I begged for help out of the tall, moist grasses and weeds, terrified of the alligators, spiders and snakes that no doubt lurked all about me. Above me, Cameron stood and asked, “Are you OK?” not daring to venture further for fear of the alligators, spiders and snakes that no doubt lurked all about me.

I dragged myself up, one handful of dirt and rotten organic matter at a time, out of the swamp and up the bank. I found the wrench in the dark and, on one foot and without a word to Cameron, issued the ball and tow bar a vicious beating. I hopped back to the passenger’s side of the Jeep and pulled myself into a seat. Cameron climbed in beside me.

“What happened?” he asked.

I glowered at him. “I hurt myself,” I said. “Drive.”

My New Surfin’ Acquaintance

We located the campsite and pulled our gear out of the back of the Jeep. I sat in a chair and sought to examine my ankle with a flashlight. Cameron dozed in the Jeep. I have no idea why. Said he wanted to be along or something. The hell with him. I was hurt. I was mad. To hell with all of you.

I finally hopped over and nudged him (probably more like a poke – a violent poke) with my Maglite. He insisted he wasn’t asleep. I told him I didn’t give a fuck, I’m going in the tent and going to sleep.

Surfin' Scott

Surfin' Scott -- a man who was happy to see morning.

We unzipped the tent and found Joey and Surfin’ Scott inside, asleep. As is the custom when two heterosexual men share a sleeping space, Joey was at one end of the tent, which the box said could sleep six or eight people, and Surfin’ Scott was at the other. Both were dead to the world.

I fished my Bowie knife out of my sack and laid down in the tent between Cameron – who quite naturally took the spot alongside Joey – and Surfin’ Scott, whom I’d never actually met. (You must understand that, when nothing separates you and the world put a thin sheet of plastic canvas, and you know that it is an especially dangerous world beyond that canvas, sleeping unarmed is simply a fool-hearted way of passing your slumbering hours.) I clutched my knife to my chest, propped my injured extremity on the sack at my feet, and turned myself off for a few hours.

When I awoke, sunlight was streaming in from the screen skylight at the apex of the tent. Cameron still slumbered next to me, sleeping on his stomach, facing his left, with his hands tucked under his pelvis. Beyond, Joey slept the exact same way. Weird. To my right, Surfin’ Scott’s sleeping bag lay empty – though Surfin’ Scott had not left the building.

I found him balled up in the corner, his knees to his chest, watching me. It was strange. I said, “Mornin’.”

He asked if I was Tony. I told him that I was. He asked me if I was awake. I told him that, yes, I was. He asked if it’d be OK if he stepped past me so he could leave the tent. I said he was welcome to do that, if he so desired.

Turns out, the only stories Cameron and Joey tell about me are the “crazy” ones. The ones about how they found me asleep on a futon one morning, holding a knife in one hand and “The Collected Works of Nietzsche” in the other. The ones about how I ran down on foot an SUV full of frat boys who shouted, “Sherlock Holmes is a faggot!” out the window as they passed me, in my overcoat and hat, smoking a pipe. The ones about how I kept a weapon within reach of every seat in the basement where I lived – a sledge hammer behind the recliner, a tire iron under the couch, a bush blade beside the armchair, and a revolver in the drawer of the desk behind which I sat whenever I had company.

So, when Surfin’ Scott awoke early, eager to hit the early morning tide, he found between himself and the exit a large, sleeping, bearded man, holding a Bowie knife against his breast – a man who kept himself substantially armed, who had no qualms about taking on an SUV full of college kids, who had a tendency to react to disturbances by stabbing and stomping them. And so, he decided to sit perfectly still, and not make a noise, until he was sure it was safe to pass.

As we all awoke and stumbled out into the morning sun, I scratched my furry chest and clawed at the sand that was itching my beard and tried to put weight on my injured ankle. Surfin’ Scott sat on the edge of a picnic table, liberally applying sun block, as the instructions on the bottle told him he should.

“Sun block?” I asked.

“Yeah – you want some?” he said.

“Pussy,” I said, and limped away.

I knew better. But the timing of landing the punch with that word won over my rational side. Sometimes, you do what’s best for you, and sometimes, hell, you just do it for the lulz.Surfin’ Scott, Joey and Cameron, ready to hit the surf in Panama City Beach

Read more in tomorrow’s exciting adventure: Dispatches from the Road: Nearly Dead in Panama City Beach – Part II!

West Memphis Three and H. Rap Brown: A Tale of Two Trials

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Al-Amin

H. Rap Brown, or Al-Amin. I think he probably did it.

When I was in college, a subject of sore debate between myself and an acquaintance on campus – Jack Jersawitz, who is the figure of some local notoriety in Atlanta – was the case of H. Rap Brown, a.k.a., Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, a powerful force from the 1960s who resurfaced in the news in 2000 – my freshman year – for (“allegedly”) murdering a Fulton County sheriff’s deputy who sought to serve Al-Amin with a warrant.

Al-Amin was a former chairman of the Student Nonviolence Coordination Committee and a one-time justice minister for the Black Panther Party. In 2000, he was cited for speeding and impersonating a police officer, and apparently didn’t pay his ticket or go to court. Whether or not he was treated harshly by the justice system at the time of his minor offense is debatable – I could see where the authorizes would have been less gentle given his rather radical history, but then, I could also see where it’d been long enough to let bygones be bygones. Either way, he missed his court date and a couple of deputies were dispatched to his home with an arrest warrant because, well, you gotta’ show up for court.

Things went south. The deputies – the one who survived, anyway – reported that Al-Amin was driving a black Mercedes. They followed him to his home, parked their cruiser nose-to-nose with his car and approached. The occupant of the car opened fire, killing Deputy Ricky Kinchen and injuring Deputy Aldranon English. The weapons were a 9 mm pistol and a .223-caliber rifle. The deputies returned fire, hitting the black Mercedes several times.

An intense four-day manhunt ensued. Finally Al-Amin was apprehended in White Hall, Ala. He was wearing body armor. Nearby, officers found a 9 mm handgun and .223-caliber rifle. They also found Al-Amin’s black, bullet-riddled Mercedes. Ballistics testing matched the guns officers recovered to the guns used to kill Kinchen. During the course of the trial, Al-Amin offered no alibi for his location at the time of the shootout, nor why it was that he suddenly left the state immediately after the shooting.

Conspiracy theorists – including Jersawitz – claimed all the evidence was fabricated. When you’re in the midst of studying philosophy and learning to be a skeptic, you have to admit that there was the possibility that, yes, Al-Amin was set up. But then, you follow that train of thought far enough and you can’t believe anything; you end up like Descartes, doubting everything except your own existence, and even that might be a fevered dream of some wicked god.

After several encounters and rallies on and around campus, the argument seemed to swing from Al-Amin’s innocence to whether or not the deputy had it coming as even his most ardent supporters began to find difficulty in disputing the facts of the case. That’s when I finally made up my mind about it, that Al-Amin was guilty as sin.

The revelation in 2009 that Al-Amin was leading an Islamist sect called Ummah from within the confines of the federal Supermax facility in Colorado seems to have made the 2000 case even stronger. If you’re wondering why over-zealous conservative politicians are so concerned about outlawing Sharia law, Al-Amin is the reason you’re looking for. Ummah advocates for establishing a separate Islamic state inside the United States that would be governed by Sharia law. The revelation of Al-Amin’s new activities came to light after an imam of a mosque in Detroit was killed when he pulled a gun on federal agents who attempted to arrest him on weapons charges.

(Of course, the whole “let’s-outlaw-Sharia-law” thing is just a political rouse; there’s nothing in the Constitution that would permit any court in the land to take into account Sharia law when considering a case. Rather, the First Amendment rather explicitly prohibits it. Politicians who seek to ban Sharia law are simply stirring anti-Islamic sentiment among their constituency and take you for a ride, so don’t buy it. But also be mindful of any religious sect that thinks it wise to somehow secede from the nation; that also has historically ended poorly.)

Since then, my first inclination has been to give the authorities and the courts the benefit of the doubt. (Also, now that I’ve written and published this thought, I’ve officially made myself practically ineligible for jury duty. So, go me.)

A case I’d not been that familiar about until recently was that of the West Memphis Three. I began researching their case online after finding myself for several days in a row behind a car on the way to Carrollton with “Free the West Memphis Three” bumper stickers.

Gotta’ tell ya’, unlike convicted cop killer Al-Amin, this one smells as fishy as a pile of crappie left in the August sun.

West Memphis Three

The West Memphis Three. I'm not so sure they did it.

In 1993, the bodies of three 8-year-old boys – Cub Scouts – were found nude, mutilated, hog-tied and left in a drainage ditch in the Robin Hood Hill section of West Memphis, Ark. The nature of the crime, police said, suggested cult activity, probably something satanic. So, they focused their investigation on a local Wiccan boy, 19-year-old Damien Echols. Echols was described in the New York Times as a “troubled but gifted” teen, who practiced a religion that was hardly understood by the locals in West Memphis.

Did I mention this was in Arkansas?

The investigation into Echols led authorities to Jessie Misskelley Jr., who the New York Times described as “borderline retarded.” They interrogated Misskelley for about 12 hours – long enough to wring a confession out of him. Misskelley implicated Echols and another man, Jason Baldwin, in the murder – although Misskelley’s description of the murders veered wildly from the facts of the case as known by authorities.

Misskelley was convicted largely on the supposed merit of his confession, which itself was so sketchy that it was omitted from the trial that convicted Echols and Baldwin, who prosecutors portrayed as being members of a – say it with me – satanic cult.

Except, we know now, that the confession really wasn’t omitted from Echols’ and Baldwin’s trial. We now know that the jury foreman told his attorney that he wanted a conviction for Echols and Baldwin, and that that the jury foreman and told other jurors about Misskelley’s confession during deliberations to sway undecided jurors.

We also know that the DNA evidence gathered from the crime, which has since been examined using modern forensics techniques that were not available in 1993 when Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley were convicted, doesn’t hold up either. None of the samples match any of the three convicted of the crime. Last year, a court ordered that the evidence be reconsidered.

Echols was, until today, on death row. Baldwin and Misskelley were serving life plus 40 years. In violation of a judge’s gag order, a parent of one of the murdered boys told the media that it was his understanding that a plea deal was in the works – one that could release two (or all) of the West Memphis Three.

He was right.

Today, a judge in Arkansas released the West Memphis Three in a deal allows the convicted murders to acknowledge that the prosecution does have evidence against them while still maintaining their innocence as they have since being charged and convicted. Keeping the plight of the West Memphis Three in our attention have been the advocacy of celebrities and musicians that have made exonerating the convicts a cause célèbre.

The shame in this, aside from the apparent miscarriage of justice in the case of these three men who have now spend almost 20 years in prison, is that this case isn’t on its own unique. For every individual case of an individual or group convicted of a heinous crime – be it Al-Amin, who probably did it, or the West Memphis Three who I believe most likely did not – there are countless others that receive no attention, no celebrity and no second glance. Indeed, our courts rely on plea deals to streamline justice, making it cheaper and easier to cop to a crime you didn’t commit than to maintain your innocence and face a trial with a public defender system that is itself deeply, deeply flawed.

Al-Amin has Jack Jersawitz on his side. The West Memphis Three have Johnny Depp and that guy in front of me on Highway 61 with the bumper sticker. But thousands of others have no one at all.

Dispatches from the Road: Kissing Cousins. Almost

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El Paso at Night

El Paso at night. The dark parts are Mexico.

Cameron, Scott, Tony and I had made the 20-hour non-stop drive from Douglasville, Ga., to El Paso, Texas, without stopping for anything but gas. One of those stops was at a truck stop, which, in a matter of minutes, became Cameron’s 20th (or some other ridiculously high number) building that he’d “conquered.”  (I’ll leave Cameron to share this shame with you at a later time.)

But that’s another story for another day when we all have health insurance and can afford to see a psychologist, especially Cameron.  No, make that especially Scott.  Although Tony’s pretty crazy, so he’s probably the one that needs to see a shrink most desperately. Well, we all four should seek out a mental health professional at some point, but since that’s not a financial option right now, I think putting our thoughts out on the Internet for everyone to read is probably the best option.

Anyway, we arrived in El Paso around 5 or 6 in the afternoon and navigated through the maze of 7/11 convenience stores to our destination, Cameron’s uncle’s house, whom we shall call Uncle Rick. Uncle Rick was married to Aunt Nancy and they had a 12-year-old daughter — Cameron’s cousin — Trixie. (The names here have been changed to avoid allegations of libel. If you’d been there, you’d know what we were talking about, but you weren’t — but you should’ve been. Either way, no one was innocent, but everyone had fun.) Cameron’s grandfather, “Opa,” which we were told was Hungarian for Grandfather but might have been some sort of ethnic slur, also lived there. They were all really great people and their hospitality was unmatched.

We went to dinner and then out to the top of a small mountain to check out some of the beautiful scenery that El Paso had to offer. As we walked and talked we noticed that Trixie was very smitten with Cameron. Nothing too unusual, though; little girls will often have a crush on an older boy, especially one as adorable as Cameron. And it wasn’t as though the two had grown up together, as Cameron’s time in El Paso as a boy was fleeting compared to the criminal record he’s racked up in Douglasville. So, naturally we made fun of Cameron at every chance we got. When we returned to the house we sat in the garage and talked for hours and drank Uncle Rick’s beer until one of the drunk neighbors came over and told Cameron that it was “impossible to almost die,” after overhearing one of our stories in which Cameron almost died. Tony explained later that he’d refrained from beating the man because, after all, it was our first day on the trip and if he got his clothes all bloody then that’d throw off his wardrobe for the whole journey and he’d run out of clothes a day early.  Something no one wanted to happen.

Uncle Rick summoned Tony into a different part of the garage, presumably to show him some of the cool collectibles he had acquired over the years.  Tony was quite excited about this because, like Uncle Rick, he too was old and he and Uncle Rick had really hit it off, having a good bit in common.

Kissing Cousins

The happy couple taking a friendly family stroll.

“You know, Trixie really likes her cousin Cameron,” Uncle Rick said, his fifth or sixth or … twelfth … beer in his hand.

“Well yes I can see that she’s very fond of him. Cameron’s a nice kid. We all like Cameron,” Tony replied.

“No.  I mean she really likes her cousin,” he replied.

“Yeah,” Tony said. “Ummm, we’d noticed. I think she’s just glad to see him again. It’s been a while.”

Uncle Rick smiled. “It’s OK by me,” he said. Tony looked around for something else unusual that he could ask about to change the conversation. Anything would do. Hey, he’d ask, is that a door knob?

I was not aware of this conversation because I had just returned from the bathroom I had flooded. We’re very poor houseguests.

“There was already toilet paper in the bowl.  All I did was flush it down,” I said.  But, as is usually the case when I flood a bathroom, nobody believed me.

With a load of toilet water soaked towels in the washer and most everyone intoxicated past the legal limit we retired for the night. Scott commandeered a couch in the living room, and Tony had a military surplus cot from an old M.A.S.H. unit that he swore someone had died on, while Cameron and I stretched out on two other cots placed cozily next to each other in the middle of the room.  Tony and Scott would later be repaid for taking the good beds in El Paso by being forced to share tiny, soiled hotel beds with each other for the rest of the trip — something Tony still hasn’t quite gotten over.

As Cameron and I lay next to each other with our shirts off (it’s really hot in El Paso — like surface of the sun hot, which is not Burt Reynolds’ hot, but close), Trixie came into the living room. She saw a shirtless Cameron with probably a hint of a sunburn said “Cameron! I’m going to put lotion on your back!”

Scott laughed so hard I thought his giant head was going to explode and create a small mushroom cloud over El Paso. Cameron laughed a “what have I gotten myself into?” laugh. Naturally, I high-fived Cameron, because that’s what you do if you think your buddy is going to score. I mean, it was only Day One, and Tony had considered beating a man to death, Scott’s head was about to burst and Cameron was about to get a rub-down from his prepubescent cousin! This was destined to be the best. Trip. Ever.

Trixie returned and hopped up on the cot alongside Cameron. “Are you ready?” she giggled, squirting the bottle on his back. Cameron smiled — and shuddered.

“Oops!” she said, “I put too much.” She giggled some more. “But that’s OK; I did it on purpose!”

Tony immediately fell asleep as a defense mechanism, similar to how people in horrific accidents go into shock and can’t recall anything about what happened. He swears that’s the last thing he remembers from the night. As far as he remembers, we arrived in El Paso, ate at a Bavarian restaurant and drove immediately to Los Angeles. Nothing else.

Trixie ran into the kitchen to get some paper towels and Cameron just laughed into his pillow. Or maybe he was crying. I couldn’t tell. But I was having a great time. Surprisingly (or maybe not so much), it was the most action any of us got from any women during the whole two weeks.

I stand corrected: it was the most action any of us got for free during the whole two weeks. Cameron had a real good time in Vegas — and all it cost him was a couple of Jeep payments. But, again, we’ll let him share that shame at a later time.

Maybe when we’re in group together. Probably on the mandate of a court order. Either way, it’s going to be great!

Odds are, Trixie’s flirtations were nothing of the sort; she was just happy to be with her hero cousin again. And, naturally, we can think of nothing funnier than the idea of Cameron getting pinned down by his young kin — even if Tony, as his attorney, steadfastly advised against it. Either way, nothing happened.

But then, we did go to sleep sometime…