WILD PIRATES. Part One. Freak-out in the Bayou


As soon as the sun sank over the bayou, I was confronted with the gravity and the depravity of our current situation. Up until that point, the three of us were having a great time. Rejoicing in the fact that after a fifteen-hour drive Larry Sparrow, Mad Anne Dandy, and Bloody Lynne Flynnt finally arrived in New Orleans. What little sleep we caught was at a truck stop in Birmingham at seven in the morning. MAD had to pry my hands off the steering wheel when we pulled into the State Park. Travel addled and beyond bedraggled and we still had to make camp. A torrential rain tore through two days ago, flooding most of the sites. Tents were assembled amid receding puddles. There I found I wasn’t the only one vying for the dry ground. “Ants in my pants!” I whooped, hollered, and jumped up and down.

“What?!” MAD and Larry Sparrow stopped shocked at my strange and sudden utterance.

“Ants!’ I threw down my tent poles and shook my leg furiously. It didn’t stop the bastards from biting me. At first I thought it was an exceptionally painful sunburn, until I looked down to see all those little red dots crawl up and under my pant leg. Booking to the water spout, I kicked it on full blast, and doused myself. “What?” I looked back to see MAD and Larry Sparrow staring agape.

“You okay?” MAD asked.

“Yeah, I stepped on some ants. I’m gunna change my pants.”

“Shot first?” She offered me a drink.

“Yes please.”

We were taking shots of $2.99 bottles of Rico Bay Rum mixed with dollar store juice jugs while we worked. “Fleur de Leurs” we jokingly called the drinks. It was a surprisingly palatable concoction. We named them after the votive holders/ shot glasses acid etched with Fleur de Lis to mark the momentous occasion of vending at Pyrate Week 2009. We kicked off this business venture cheap, after all we were there for a week. It was a meager dinner of franks and beans. Then we toured the campsites looking for the waterfront cabins that the brochure boasted only to find the tattered remains. Foundations poked out of the murky shoreline. The rest had been demolished in the hurricane. Through the tinted backseat window glass of my mates HHR the view looked even more brackish and ominous in the failing light. Luckily, I couldn’t see what MAD and Larry Sparrow witnessed in the front. Flies, mosquitoes, millions of them. The water was alive there were so many. The surface breathed. The water danced.

“Maybe we should get out of here,” Larry Sparrow said.

“Yeah, no shit.” I added as a grave wave of inexplicable and powerful paranoia began to take hold. We pulled back on to the road and drove past row after row of parked Rvs. Were we the only ones stupid enough to camp in tents here? Where the hell are the other pirates? Families settled in for the night. An retired couple walked their small dog. Alligator bait, I thought morosely. They waved at us as we passed. Larry Sparrow muttered the word “locals” and I unhinged. In my messed up mind he was right, they were locals. We were tourists. Worse, we were pirates and everyone was out to get us. There was a flood of films where hapless holidaymakers that met a fearful fate in a faraway land, films that I’ve never bothered to watch. I couldn’t help but think of my very own bed more than a thousand miles to the north.

“Did you see this place?! Security patrols, padlocks, dump stations, a water park? Where are we? A minimum security prison?!” I couldn’t hold it in any longer. My madness spilled out. “How cold is it supposed to get tonight?”

“43 degrees.” They said dry from the front.

“That’s bloody cold. Say, did you notice any fences to keep us away from the alligators?” I had only seen alligators in zoos and nightmares. “When I booked the campsite at Bayou Segnette State Park, I didn’t really think we camping in the actual bayou.” My voice rose an octave.

“We could just spend the night in the HHR.” MAD added. It was a brilliant idea and it made me wonder if my apparent panic was contagious. Ironically, having grown up in the back woods of Upstate New York, I was a fairly seasoned camper. This was her first time. I wasn’t setting a good example.

“You know, by the time we get our bedding and everything in here we could just go to sleep in the tents.” Larry Sparrow interjected with a voice of reason.

We were having none of it.

“You said so yourself, we we should have a movie night while we’re down here. Why not right now.” There was no way in hell I was leaving the vehicle, except to fetch my bedding. Swiftly and cautiously, I skirted puddles and sidestepped the little holes that littered the uneven ground. I hadn’t noticed them before and dreaded to encounter the creature that bore them. Keeping a weary eye on my surroundings, I pulled the sleeping bags from my cold unused tent. By the time I made it back to safety, the mosquitoes began to swarm. With the hatch open, I kicked into gear, fighting to make sense of the jumble of bedding before the insect invasion got worse. “Okay, this goes here, that goes there and there and-”

“Whoa, relax,” MAD steadied me.

“Mosquitoes,“ I muttered. “There are a hell of a lot more of them than there are of us.”

She left, braved the bayou to visit the head. Content spending the night bundled up safe in a vehicle that resembled a mini hearse, I briefly entertained the notion of venturing out to find our missing mate before our neighbors did. I saw the way they watched us set up our tents. She emerged from the shadows and sealed ourselves in for the night. Bathed in the glow of the laptop we were too exhausted to pick anything we settled on The Simpsons.

My mates slept stretched out vertically snoring loudly. I curled up between the wheel-wells, atop a pile of blankets, hard pressed for sleep and wishing there was something stronger than a Benadryl to knock my crazy ass out. My mind was thrown into override. I tossed about for the remainder of the night. Sporadically sweating and wracked with chills. Comfortable one minute, cramped the next and then everything would go numb. All the while wondering what the hell I was doing there. Unable to retire I took it upon myself to keep watch. Occasionally glancing out the back hatch, on the look-out for undead midget clowns stealing the quarter panels off the HHR. Thanks to a nightmare Larry Sparrow had in Birmingham that very morning I had to look out for those sonsofbitches too. For the sake of reality, I saw the news, stories about “tent cities” springing up as the economy spiraled. With homelessness on the rise, people called parks like this home- desperate people. I on the other hand was desperate to escape.

Morning came and the sun slowly crept up the window glass of the back hatch, baking us. The air was stale, stinking of sweat and our regrettable choice of supper. Ready to claw my way out like a premature burial, I gasped and grasped for the gusty gulf air.

“Mmmf- feet” I mumbled as Larry Sparrow stretched his legs on top of my face. Bound and determined, I crawled over my passed out mates to the hatch, forced it open, and spilled on to the ground. Breathing heavily and stretched out on my back, I saw it was a beautiful day in the bayou. Overhead the Cyprus trees were in full leaves blown by the temperate spring breeze. The morning sun peeled back the untold terrors we encountered during the night, revealing the same safe place that we found when we arrived. “This is a good camp.” The night was not without it’s casualties. The trusty HHR was dead in the water from a drained battery. In order to make room for more cargo it was someone’s brilliant idea to leave the jumper cables behind . It was our creepy RV neighbors who came to the rescue. We returned the favor with ample glasses of Rico Bay. They reprimanded for us watching cartoons with the daytime running lights on all night.

After entertaining every worst case scenario through the night it seemed the rest of our little excursion should be all sunshine and cypress trees. We successfully skirted our duties and didn’t have to check into the vending hall until the following day. Sunday was at our disposal. “So, what do we do?” One of us asked as we sat armed with instant coffee and hand-rolled cigarettes. We stared at each other for a moment. The answer was unspoken, an axiom as true as The Constitution. We said it anyway. “Bourbon Street.”


House Rock

 I nearly drowned at a job interview. Who was I believe that after one trip down that very river years ago would deem me experienced enough to be gainfully employed as a whitewater rafting guide? My plans to escape the continent for the summer, following in suit of my cousin who ran off to South Africa with the Peace Corp., were lofty and unrealistic as were my hopes of heading west. I was still unwilling to let my precious time off go to waste as my sophomore year at art school ended. Growing increasingly despondent about spending another summer languishing in a ghost town when one fateful afternoon I happened upon an ad in a college publication. Whitewater Challengers sought the aide of poor, miserable, and unemployed students such as myself. In my mind, I was already rafting for the summer. Living in a tent in the Adirondack Mountains, an encampment that I already named “Camp RiddaLynn.” A clever play on my middle name. I thought it was very clever.

So you’ve been down the river before?” The owner and operator of this outfitter, a man called “Bone” asked as we sat in his office. It was the second time I met with him and so far he seemed all right.

“Yes. Well once, like three years back. I was roped into going with a church camp.” I confessed. “Is my lack of experience going to be a problem?”

No,” he said assuredly and perhaps appeared a little pleased. “We like new people. We’ll get you suited up and see what you can do.”

What? Now?” I had never been one to back down from a challenge but all my idle fantasies of whitewater rafting for the season came crashing into fruition. Would I be able to rise to the occasion?

Craig will go as your guide.”

Craig stood in the doorway nodding slyly.

I swallowed my anxiety, crossed my arms, and saw no other option. “All right, lets go.”

 Seated in an inflatable kayak and stuffed snugly in a wetsuit and life vest, I adjusted my helmet and gripped my paddle. It looked as if I would navigate the boat down the river alone for my guide was to ride behind in his own vessel. We left the bank and the grip of the current sent us on our way. It was early Thursday morning in April, the water roiled at 6 feet still frothing from winter’s run off. The voyage was more than half-way through and I miraculously managed to stay in my boat. Perhaps, I would make it to the end unscathed, I thought. We rounded the corner confronting a rapid called “House Rock.” My guide and I skirted past the boulder, the namesake of that particular stretch of the Middle Moose River. “You go on ahead,” Craig said and I unwittingly obliged. Partway down the rapid, my boat took a hard turn sideways. Water poured in capsizing it in an instant. Dashed about on the rocks underwater I was besieged by the undertow in what I came to closely know as a hole. Struggling, I surfaced for a second’s reprieve to breathe before the current regained its relentless pull. For a few rounds, I rode the crest to undertow. Strong hands hands gripped my vest tugging me up for air, my eyes met my guide’s before I saw the bottom his boat. Hard-pressed to breathe, I violently kicked and gripped and the river-slick stones gaining purchase on what I prayed to be the shore.

Finally out of harm, I pulled myself up on the rocks. There I sat and sputtered feeling ashamed about the abrupt course of events. My boat, paddle, and even my helmet disappeared from view carried by the current. Regaining my breath, my eyes met my guides again to see his growing look of disbelief. “Sorry, I lost my things.” I muttered.

That was awesome!” he exclaimed. “Tell me that wasn’t awesome!”

Huh?” I stared past him into the rapids. I, the fool who leapt blindly off the cliff defied the river that could have claimed me. “That was awesome…. Holy shit. That was fuckin’ awesome.” He left me on the rocks and went to retrieve the missing equipment. Pulling myself to my feet, I stood there staring into the tumult of churning whitewater that thundered in my ears. I tried to think of a better way to spend a Thursday morning but couldn’t.

Once I regained my things. The rest our route went without event. Back at the base, I changed into dry clothes and went to meet Bone. Craig had already told him what transpired. “I heard you took quite a spill.”

“Yeah, I did. I found a hole.”

“And you kept your head and got yourself out of it.”

“I lost my helmet.”

He smiled and asked when I could start working. 

Gratuitous Violence

There is something insidious about the morning rush. The invasion of headlights coming into view on the crest of a small hill on the edge of the highway, bring a battalion of early commuters arming themselves for the work day with gasoline, cigarettes, coffee, newspapers, energy drinks and lottery tickets. Constant chirping of the door alarm, the beeps and dings of the POS machine and gas pumps pervade the morning air that was so stiflingly quiet no more than an hour ago. With the change machine filled, the trash emptied, all the coffee pots on, the roller grill stocked and the counters clean, I stand behind the register fending off the onslaught. The last two hours of my shift end abruptly as if they were mere minutes. At around five, I resign to my post and abandon hope of completing the rest of the night’s tasks, desperately wishing I had back those hours I spent procrastinating in the beginning of my shift.

The rest of the world wakes when the sun starts to lighten the eastern horizon; I trek home across the parking lot and jump the gully into the housing complex, mentally preparing myself for the next battle- sleep. Even with the new airbed, the bustle of activity behind the counter, the mad cashier dance of exchanging change and pleasantries leaves me too wired to immediately retire. Even in my dreams, it seems, the sanctity of sleep escapes me.

Clown cars of customers cram my unconsciousness. “You can’t reach me here,” I try to remind my sleep self. Unfortunately, it’s too late, they’ve invaded my bedroom and impatiently wait for the jumbo dogs and polish sausages to cook. Hoards of commuters stand outside their cars with nozzles hooked to gas tanks, but no one is there to activate the pumps, so they just beep and beep and beep. Once, I found myself standing in the middle of my room with my arm raised at the ready, “pump one…” I muttered and woke myself up.  I’ve even tried to ID the cat when he wanted in. These phantom episodes of customer service riddled my subconscious for weeks until they came to a particularly gruesome head…

Continued in Dark Days on the Dixie Highway: Diary of a Third Shift Zombie