Well, there’s the late Phil Harris singing “Mama’s on the Warpath.”
The younger set probably remembers Phil Harris best for his voice of “Baloo” the bear, in Disney’s Jungle Book. The baby boomers probably best remember him for “The Thing,” or maybe “That’s What I Like About the South.” I remember his great show at the Minnesota State Fair, and the many tunes he put on the Hit Parade before Jack Benny hired him for his weekly radio show.
Besides big band music Harris’ shtick was his “drunk act.” That was one of the best such acts in the business. He would sure keep his audience in stitches for a half hour at a time. He gave good value for the price of admission. Let me add that Harris was much less a drinking man than he let on. As they say, “A drinking musician can’t get past the first bar.”
Yep, Phil Harris was probably the best known whiskey baritone in the business when I was a kid. Had a big band, used to make the ballroom circuit, with a few State Fair spots thrown in for variety.
The first time I heard The Thing was the day I tried to ride some of the foolishness out of Bogie, one of Tag Taggert’s horses. Tag “rode the range in a Ford V8,” but he kept horses for fun and let anyone he considered reliable ride them. It kept the horse from forgetting what Tag was feeding it for!
That little favor to Tag made me think I was crippled for life. I haven’t been that sore or that dirty, before or since. I think I mentioned the day Sheila Reid came in the Jackpot skint from one end of the other. She had lost enough hide to resole an elephant, and enough more to half sole a rhinoceros, and Sheila wasn’t that big to start with.
When they asked her why she was wearing a square yard of tape and gauze, Sheila said she’d been riding a real polite horse. It let her go over a fence first! I knew all about that little stunt because Bogie had done it to me.
Yessir, I had my share of soaring without wings, courtesy of my friend the brand inspectors horse. (Bogie was named after the actor. Tag’s wife said he looked like Bogart. Humphrey Bogart did have a sort of a horse face, at that!)
Now, what brought all this reminisce on in the first place was something on the toob. A jugheaded idiot was collecting the Screen Actors Guild minimum, “guesting” on the “News,” supposedly giving a police officers view of things.
You have to understand that Windy Bill has never been a cop, or much of anything else. He joined a police farce, and about halfway through training decided he’s not cut out to write tickets, he’s cut out to be a union organizer. And he didn’t feel like working his way up the ranks so he started his own police union! His “police organization” has just about sixteen hundred members.
Wholly involuntary members, from what I can understand from the several members of his union that I know. And he takes their dues and his $1700.00 per appearance Screen Actors Guild pay with a smile, just as often as he can.
Anyhow, this play cop was on the boob toob, deponing that no law abiding citizen had any reason not to stop when ordered to by a “police officer.” In theory, he’s right. But let me tell you two things. First, these days I want to see the markings on the car – there are too many crimes committed by criminals with blue lights.
Second, there’s plenty of times when a someone with the most innocent of intentions just don’t want to see no po-leece! Period.
One of the several times in my life when I didn’t want to see no po-leece, no shurf, no highway pe-troll, nor nobody else, was when Bogie pitched me over a barb wire fence into French’s pasture. I rolled about twice and fetched up in a puddle covered with green scum.
I climbed back over that fence covered with stinking green slime; feeling my way because I was mostly blinded; thanking God that it was only about three hundred yards to Sand Creek and Tag kept a bar of Octagon Soap in his saddle bags. And a towel! And a bottle of liniment! And I threw in a few extra thanks that Bogie would stay ground tied.
I led that horse to water and he acted like it hurt his feelings to follow me. It hurt my feelings to walk, but I wasn’t about to mess Tag’s saddle up! It took me the better part of an hour to get me and my clothes clean enough to make a trip to my room to take a regular bath tub full of the hottest water Mrs. Baker’s antique “Volcano” could heat. Until I was clean clear through I darn sure didn’t want to see no police! Nor nobody else.
Now, I didn’t blame Bogie. You ride a horse, you are supposed to keep a leg on both sides and your mind in the middle. If I had been doing my part, I would have stayed between cantle and horn, where I was supposed to.
My mind was straying. I don’t remember where but at that age I probably had a gal on my mind. There were several gals around that were well worth looking twice at and thinking about later. But after that I paid attention when I rode that bronc – and I put quite a few miles on him. He was a good horse but any flash, like the sun on a wire, would cause him to try to unload. Some sudden, at that.
But anyway, talking to folks here and yonder I get the
idea that everyone has at least once found himself in a fix that would have been a whole lot worse for the presence of an ossifer of the law! And I have had my share.
I stepped out of a Pennsy freight car one dark night and discovered that the nice soft bank I was jumping on was covered with four foot tall blackberry bushes. About forty acres of them, with spines in abundance! I didn’t want any police obstructing my search for my war bag – and I didn’t want to show my over exposed stern in public until I could find a spare set of seat covers.
I have locked my keys in my truck twice and had to burgle my own wheels. I liberated a gallon of French’s “Lost Weekend” moonshine one time, too. That would have been real hard to explain because my monthly paycheck was a county voucher, drawn on the Sheriff’s account.
They called French’s tipple “Lost Weekend” because a couple of drinks and you lost the weekend! I don’t know what he put in that stuff besides pears, sugar and yeast, spuds, and wheat, but it was some potent. One drink and your buddies would wonder which was the deepest, biggest, and roundest. Your eyes or a post hole! Two drinks and you either slept a while, or you got up and did wonders!
I saw Billy Peet, the laziest Indian in Oklahoma, set a half mile of fence posts, string the wire, pull it double tight with a come-along, and staple it down. By himself. On one pint of Lost Weekend. And not only not remember, but claim he was too honest to take money for something he didn’t do!
Getting Billy to dig a post hole was a wonder. Getting him to build fence for a day was a miracle. But, you know, Billy wouldn’t take another drink of Lost Weekend! Said it made him too tired when he drank that stuff! He also claimed two drinks of it would raise blisters on your hands.
Of course, some of the folks that took two drinks took the second one at gunpoint, because it was hell for stout. You take a sip of Lost Weekend and it would burn all the way from the tip of your tongue to the end of your – AHEM!
It was so stout that Ol’ Hardman swore to me that he left a glass full of pneumonia cure made with French’s Finest mixed on his porch while he visited the privy, and when he came out he saw a hummingbird taking a sip.
Hardman swore he followed that hummingbird down to Jacobs, where the kids were growing game roosters for a 4H project, and that bird whipped every rooster on the place. Of course, I can’t say here what else he said that hummingbird did – but if Hardman was telling anything like the truth the Jacobs kids should have gotten some real long billed biddies in their next hatch! Biddies that would have been really hard to keep in the coop!
I “liberated” some because a friend of mine was down with lung rot, pneumonia, and what the croaker had available wasn’t doing him no good at all. A water glass full of hot whisky, lemon juice, and sugar isn’t in the Pharmacopeia, but it seems to do about as well as the drugs that were available. (And to tell the truth, the drugs that are available now!) At least that’s what I poured down him and he was up and feeblin’ around in a couple of days. Chasin’ women in a week – and that’s a sure sign of a cure.
I have drunk whisky, and rum, and gin. I tried some rice wine that kept me drunk for a week. I drank some arrack, what the Hindu’s claim will make a rabbit whip a tiger. I tell you true, I never drank anything more potent than French’s bootleg whisky. Or anything that tasted worse. Except the time the doctor gave me a ‘scrip for ox gall. And I’m not sure gall tasted worse than French’s.
At that time, Oklahoma was the wettest dry state in the nation. And the law was well aware that French was distilling his water of life. But before Big Peters took office he told French as long as he didn’t sell any of his snakebite cure – and as long as it didn’t cause the law any trouble – he wasn’t interested. So French ran off a gallon every now and again and stayed on the good side of the law.
French figured Bill Peters would be four years and out. French didn’t take into account how much people appreciated good law enforcement you could depend on to do what’s right. Bill didn’t necessarily act according to the letter of the law, because lawyers run for office so they can make laws to make lawyers money. Bill did what was fair and proper under the circumstances.
Let me tell you – Billy Peet’s legally wedded wife came looking for Big one day. The usual story – house full of kids and no support. In those days, that was a lot less against the law than it is now. ‘Fact, most law enforcement people then or now wouldn’t have done the first thing about Billy’s wife and children going hungry.
These days the law refers victims of neglect or abuse to welfare. And if your life’s been threatened, there’s no use to tell the police. They will tell you to get a court order. As if a wife beater will obey any court order out of sight of the judge!
If you are on the recieving end you better make sure your burial insurance premiums are paid up and get on the right side of God because the shysters have the police tied up forty ways from Sunday. Either that or find a twelve gauge and learn to use it.
But it wasn’t that way with Big Peters. Big went looking for Billy. Found him, too! I heard Big picked Billy up by the scruff of the neck and shook him but I wasn’t there. I do know Billy went to the oil patch and the biggest part of his pay checks came addressed to his wife via Bill Peters.
Billy’s wife quit running into doors and bruising her face all up. His kids lost that lean and hungry look. And when Billy came home – he brought something for the wife besides a hangover, and some more somethings for the kids.
And when he came home Billy’s wife and kids acted glad to see him. Like they were supposed to. And Billy came up to the Courthouse and thanked Big Peters publicly for putting his moccasins on the right trail. That was one thing about Bill Peters. If it was his business to fix it he fixed it. And if the Legislature said it wasn’t his business he fixed it anyway!
What you did behind your doors pretty much wasn’t any of his business. What you did where other people could see better be strictly on the up and up. If Big was told something he kept it quiet and checked it out. He didn’t waste any time, but he didn’t go off half cocked, either. And Big Peters believed the punishment should fit the crime.
The most common crime was public drunk and possession of ardent spirits. Ardent spirits was anything over two percent alcohol. Judge Ross started at ninety days and if the cure didn’t take you got a years worth of second chance. Prisoners loaded gravel trucks with grain scoops. And if you were not in good physical condition when you went to jail, you were when you got out!
And you didn’t ever, not never, want to come back. It wasn’t that you were treated badly. You got more to eat than most prisoners cared to eat, from the Jackpot, as good as any grub in town, and plenty of good healthful exercise.
Visitation was every evening from 7:00 to 9:00 winters, sundown to 10:00 summers, and from 1:00 to 5:00 on Sunday. If the Sheriff was convinced you were gentle, and you were married, there was a room they called a “temporary cell” where you could have an hour’s privacy. And you got taken to Church every Sunday morning and evening, whether you wanted to or not. None of that was according to the “Code of the State of Oklahoma, as revised.” All that was according to Peters!
No, it wasn’t harsh treatment that made people stay out of jail. Most prisoners ate and slept better in the jug than they did at home. And some of them saw more of their wives and families while they were in the Callaboose Arms Motel than while they were “free.” No sir, it was just that the work was so durn regular that made folks stay away! Sunup to sundown, Monday to Saturday!
Over in Arkansas, Cummings Prison had “Black Annie.” Black Annie was a black leather strap, and the prisoners lived in deathly fear of spending an evening with the lady. I hear the percentage of Cummings prisoners who came back to Cummings was less than fifteen percent. I don’t know what the percentage of backsliders Big Peters rest cure had, but it was mighty low.
Now, speaking of the Jackpot, I don’t remember ever mentioning how the place got its name. The faded sign said “CITTY CAFE, E. TEN EYCK, PROP.” That was sure enough confusing. Strangers used to detour fifty miles to eat at the Jackpot and then they couldn’t find the place.
Like the time the four preachers stopped me and asked for directions. I was sort of hiding out, trying to stay clear of Lizzie Cooter at the time. That was just after Lizzie peed in the well at Brother Cook’s Church Raising. Lizzie adulterated the church’s drinking water, just before dinner on the ground!
All her friends cut her dead, and she acted like she wanted to take up with me. The thought of cuddling up with that well stacked red headed gal was sure interesting, but the thought of how mad the Lane Cooters, Junior and Senior, would have been was enough to make me lose interest in the proposition.
Adding that to the fact that Lizzie had a temper like a cage full of wildcats – and the idea of having the Cooter twins for in-laws sure enough made me lose interest. I figured it was just about time to make myself scarce. Like that banker who lost interest and just faded away!
I was watching for Lizzie, but these preachers snuck up on me! Of course, I didn’t know they were preachers. As long as they kept their mouth shut they were just four guys who shopped the black suit rack.
The first time I knew these preachers were in the world was when a loud voice assaulted my ears. T’was no trouble to match voice to profession. This bellow had that HEEE HAWWWW, that jackass rhythm some preachers get.
“YOUNG man AHHH, WHERE IS THE AHHH, JACKPOT CAFE AHHH? WE HAVE AHHH, HEARD OF THE AHHH, EXCELLENCE OF AHHH, IT’S PROVENDER, AHHH, AND WE WISH TO, AHHH, PARTAKE THEREOF,” the voice said, real loud. I turned around and there was a nice shiny black ’48 Hudson with four preachers inside!
I got them turned around and headed in the right direction in a flash. Then I decided the Jackpot was such a good idea I decided to break my fast there. So I put one foot in front of the other and went.
When I got there the preachers were in booth five. I sat down in six, where I could see Lizzie Cooter coming and maybe barricade myself in the biffy if I could not make it out the back door.
Well, the preachers had enjoyed a fine meal. They were just at the point of putting a cuppa joe down on top of it for tamping. And they were talking Church business. One preacher, with a voice like a can of oil, was lamenting that the peons in his district didn’t want to leave the Catholic Church because his church didn’t have confessional. No confession, no conversion! So oily voice was in favor of putting in a confessional right then.
The loud mouth who startled me was wholly in agreement. Their church should have a confessional. It was “AHHH, NECESSARY THAT, AHHH,” their church have a confessional! In order to lead the poor straying lambs to God and increase the weekly offering, of course.
“And, AHHH, let me be the first to AHHH, confess my sins. My major sin is, AHHH, the desires of the flesh. There’s AHHH, an attractive young widow AHHH, who works at the proving grounds AHHH. She looks better every Sunday. She is so attractive and friendly that I AHHH think of her night and day. Just last Sunday AHHH, she said she wished I would drop by AHHH, her home for coffee.!”
The oily voiced one began his song. “A desire for other people’s property is my failing. I hardly ever call on a parishioner without coming away with some small token of my visit. I have taken ash trays, salt cellars, and all sorts of small things. I fear that I shall soon begin taking money and other valuables.”
The third preacher took up the refrain. “I been drinkin’ whisky since I was ten. I used to slip whisky out of my Uncle’s jug and pee in the jug so’s to cover my tracks. He was always fussin’ about how salty and weak the whisky got when he let a jug get old. All because of me. I’ll drink anything. Whisky, gin, shine, anything. I guess you could call me a hard down sot drunk!”
The fourth preacher started his song. I thought he sounded rather pleased, too, as he said “I’m mighty glad you didn’t call on me first. You see, my deadly and overriding sin is a terrible compulsion to engage in idle gossip.”