Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Wrong Place, Wrong Time

As the tires lock, the friction of the road against the rubber kicks a dense, blue smoke, and bits of gravel spewing, richocheting and skipping off the pavement.  The lanky middle-aged man with wispy grey hair and awkward glasses, leaps like a Jack-in-the Box from his driver's side door of his late model mini-van, and bounds towards me.  His gate is wide, his arms swinging as if he is a competitive speed walker. "Hmm," I wonder aloud, "why's he in such a hurry?" When he grabs the sleeve of my shirt and wheels me off the porch like a discus thrower, I realize he is in a hurry to assault me.

I was standing on the porch of an historic home in downtown Moss Point, Mississippi.  This antebellum estate, in 1995, was at the center of much debate for this waterfront town nuzzled in the boot heel of the south.  Moss Point town father's wanted to buy it and preserve it, but the owner, who was letting the property rot, was asking for a lot of money.  My job on this lazy, sweltering Sunday was to take a few pictures of the majestic mess for our early news cast.

With my camera in tow, I decide to grab a few pictures from up close, and that meant, on the property, which, of course is a no-no.  This is private property, and I was technically trespassing.  As a young journalist, I was still learning and for some reason had forgotten, one of the most important rules of journalism, "thou shalt not trespass."

When the owner of the home, passing by noticed a gawky young man in a shirt and tie with a camera on his porch, he was not happy.

After he flings me off the weary, drooping wooden stoop, I land firmly on my feet.  The man in his early 60's is spry, he bounds himself from the rotting wooden steps ninja style, and lands on the crumbling sidewalk, knees bent, fists clinched and held high in front of his face, knuckles up, backs of his hands facing me.  Both hands move in circular motion in front of me, like a turn of the century pugilist preparing for a bare knuckle showdown, in a long closed meat packing plant in the Bowery district of New York.  I can almost hear the old timey radio announcer calling the battle, "Jack O'Leary, ready to pummel his opponent with the ol' Harlem Hay maker!"

He lunges towards me as his wife shrieks, "Harvey, No!  Your heart!"  He latches onto my sleeve again, ripping it cleanly at the seam exposing my entire arm from the shoulder down.  If he'd managed to tear off the other sleeve I would have looked like a "Greaser," from the movie "The Outsiders."

I'm shocked that I find myself in a full-fledged showdown, I haven't been in a fight since I was 10, when I got into a grapple with another kid named Chris at Summer camp over the top bunk.  I remember popping him three times in the face, and when he started crying in pain, I began crying, pumped full of fear, adrenaline and shame.

This most recent dust up is quickly breaking down into a farce.  The man, with my blue dress shirt sleeve in his hand begins frantically slapping me with it, then darts his left hand towards my tie and violently jerks it from left to right, dragging my head along with it.  I grasp his wrist, with both hands, and vice grip my palm around the fingers on his left hand, bending his wrist back towards his body, the  leverage forcing him him to his knees, then I reel back with my right fist ready to take what is clearly a clean shot to his nose, when I hear, "Freeze! Police!" as I crane my neck behind me, I see a portly, white haired, Moss Point police officer, lumbering towards the skinny, sweaty mass of testosterone grappling in the blazing, humid, Mississippi sun.  His gun belt is loosely buckled to make room for his ample belly, and as he trips up the curb, he desperately jerks at the leather belt flopping around his waist. As he reaches us, he has both hands on his belt to keep it, gun, cuffs and all,  from dropping with a thud around his knees.

"What IN THE HELL, are you boys doin'?" he blurts in his heavy southern drawl.  "Harvey, Lord, man are you outta yer mind," he scowls at the man,  "and you Chris Jones, gettin' ready to punch an ol' man?  are you fellas crazy." he admonishes both of us.

"He's breaking into my house! He's trying to break into my house!" the man wheezes as his wife cries frantically from behind the couples mini-van, "Bull*&t!" I scream, "this wild beast just jumped on me like a chimpanzee from a tree!"  "God*&^m it boys, retreat!"  I un-cock my fist and let go of his hand, as I feel a warm, slim stream of blood slowly roll down my cheek.  Sometime during our ridiculous rag doll melee he must have nicked me with a fingernail causing a minor injury.

I know this officer.  Let's just say if you put him in a lineup with other officers and asked, "which of these guys likely spends the most time sleeping in his patrol cruiser?" Nine out of 10 people would finger him.
"OK, OK," he runs his fingers through his thick mane of grey hair.  Searching for a way NOT to have to make two arrests and fill out reams of paperwork at the end of his 12 hour shift.

"Chris, you was just knockin' on the door right?" the officer points at me, clarifying the story he just made up, "and Harvey, you was just confused, thought he was gonna burglarize the place right?" He thrusts his finger at my opponent, "It was just a misunderstanding, right fellas?  No harm no foul."  Both of us panting deeply, and dragging the back of our hands across our foreheads, agree, spending the night in jail, would not be a good way to end the weekend.

"Yeah," I say as I dab the blood on my cheek with my index finger "he just got confused."
"Right," Harvey adds, as he wrenches his wrist back and forth, trying to force out the pain, "He's just comin' for a visit, he didnt' mean nothing."

As we shake hands, Harvey hands me my shirt sleeve, "sorry" he says awkwardly as he stuffs the fabric into my hand, and turns towards his bawling wife.  I dab the blood on my cheek with the sleeve then jam it into my back pocket, "Damn, Chris, It's Sunday, I ain't got time for this," the round officer says as he loosens his gun belt and throws it over his shoulder, I'm going fishin' with my cousin in 20 minutes." He shakes his head as he looks at me with a scowl, then his eyes light up, as he remembers, "He's bringing brats!"


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