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The Rooster


B
y Bill Fullerton




If asked, the majority of adults living in Kisatche Parish back in 1968 would have claimed to be devout, anti-drinking, teetotalers. A surprisingly large percentage of these God-fearing, north Louisiana folks would have been telling the truth.

About ten percent of the rest would have called themselves social drinkers. Such citizens might take a discrete sip from an occasional glass of wine or even a cocktail. These activities occurred most often at home, but were sometimes seen at the local country club.

Then there was everyone else. These folks suffered the misfortune of living in a parish that was, with one exception, dry. In some mysterious way, an obscure clause in an old state law concerning veterans bonuses allowed Hawthorn to be a“wet” town. It was the one place on an otherwise arid landscape where the sale of alcohol was legal. As a result, Hawthorn was a very “wet” town.

There were many watering holes in Hawthorn. The Rooster, located just inside the protective city limits, was the busiest. Depending on one’s attitude towards drinking, the place was either an oasis or an eyesore.

The building resembled a weathered cigar box. A large assortment of signs covered the unpainted, windowless front wall. Some were sheet metal painted in vivid colors. The dominant motif however, was garish neon. Day and night, the signs extolled the virtues of beers such as Jax, Pabst, and Falstaff plus cheap bourbons and blended whiskies. To some, these signs were just decorative. Others suspected they were all that kept the walls upright.

Even the bar’s most loyal patrons would admit it possessed little charm during the day. A few might argue that things improved after dark. Then the lighted signs, the constant flow of cars and trucks, the sounds of country music coming through the building’s thin walls all combined with an occasional brawl to give the place a distinctive atmosphere.

The Rooster’s rundown exterior gave potential patrons fair warning about the interior. There was a jukebox next to the front door. A short bar with several worn stools occupied the opposite wall. Smaller versions of the outside signs plus a string of Christmas lights provided most of the illumination around the bar. In the dim light next to the cash register was an old, printed sign. “You’re white today because your ancestors practiced segregation.”

This same lighting scheme extended into the large dance area. It was lined with plastic covered booths and small, scarred tables. The place had a pervasive odor of beer, cigarette smoke, hair tonic, cheap aftershave, and testosterone.

The bartender and owner was a thin, balding man. According to the framed, honorable discharge certificate on the wall behind the bar, his name was, Sam No Middle Initial Spillers. If asked while in one of his rare good moods, he might explain that he picked up those unique middle names in the service. Before then he’d never worried about his parents not giving him a middle name. But during World War II, the Navy insisted he adopt at least a middle initial. Sam refused. No one, including the damn U. S. of A. Navy, had any right screwing around with a man’s name. This obstinate defense of individual naming rights moved the Navy to award him three middle names.

For a successful bar owner, Sam had a remarkably sour outlook and viewed everyone with suspicion. To those who would listen, he’d explain that all customers were potential trouble. “It’s like this. Guys get into fights and tear up the place. And often as not, gals are why guys get into fights. And fights are bad for business ‘cause everybody always stops drinking to gawk.”

It was his long-standing policy to stop fights as soon as possible. To do this, he invoked a crude but swift form of justice. The moment someone threw a punch, Sam would reach for a very large blackjack. He’d then apply it, with considerable force, to the head of the nearest combatant.

The law of averages being what it is, about half the time the blackjack connected with the wrong skull. The victim being some otherwise innocent customer trying to defend himself. This might seem like an injustice to some. However, it never bothered Sam. “You see, odds are they’re both at fault. This way I’m protecting my other customers and my property.”

Moral arguments aside, the threat of this arbitrary approach to peacekeeping served its purpose. The well-grounded fear of Sam’s blackjack justice meant most would-be warriors took their disputes outside to the parking lot.

When he noticed Bebe at the door, Sam paused behind the bar to light a Camel. Out of the corner of his eye he watched her check out the place, then come towards the bar. Why was she wearing that sexy little party-type dress instead of her usual boots and jeans? But it didn’t matter what she wore. Guys always stopped drinking and stared whenever she came in the door.

Sam liked to think that, unlike other men, his appraisal was more professional than glandular. To him, Bebe Boudreaux was a short, cute, package of walking trouble. It was even worse if she and Darrell Ray were fussing.

Somebody once said she and Darrell Ray had never been on a real date, much less gone steady. That seemed strange. But it didn’t change things. Everyone knew they’d spent a whole lot of time together over the last few years. That must mean something. And with Darrell Ray’s reputation as a fighter, plus the Rhodes brothers to back him up, no one wanted to risk hustling Bebe when the two of them were all lovey-dovey.

Of course, if they weren’t getting along, all that changed. The other young bucks would start swarming around her like damn flies to honey. Sooner or later, and most of the time it was sooner, the redneck Romeos would start fighting. Every time she showed up there’d be another fight. It was terrible for business. But then she and Darrell Ray would make up and it’d all blow over.

Sam couldn’t remember hearing any talk about them squabbling. On the other hand, it’d been weeks since he’d last seen them together. So he wasn’t sure what to expect as he watched Bebe pause to talk to someone.

Bebe’s name came up often during afternoon bull sessions. Whenever it happened, Sam would always grouse that women like her were more damn trouble than they were worth. Despite this jaundiced opinion, he couldn’t help but like the little coon-ass.

Not a lot of gals with her kind of looks came in. The few that did always acted like they were too damn good for his joint. Most of ‘em just ignored him. Those that didn’t were even worse. They’d act like he was a damn house nigger.

Bebe was different. She never pulled any of that high-tone shit and always stopped to talk. Just like now.

“Hi Sam. How’s business?” Bebe gave him her brightest smile.

“Worse than ever. Guess nowadays everybody’s doing dope instead of drinking.”

She motioned toward the crowded dance floor. “Looks like a pretty good crowd to me.”

“Yeah. But it would be even better if I could ever get the place fixed up.”

“You’re right, Sam. And I’m doing my best, I really am, to convince Daddy to extend you that credit.”

“Thanks for the help.” The local banks didn’t want to lend him the money to re-model. Sam kept hoping Jack Boudreaux would let him have the building supplies he needed on credit.

He reached for a glass. “You want your usual?

“You always remember my bourbon and Tab.” She beamed and began fishing around inside her purse.

“Some things are hard to forget,” he said. To his way of thinking those things included her fine, young ass and this disgusting drink she always ordered.

He set the plastic glass on the bar and waved away Bebe’s feeble attempt at paying. Leaning close, he spoke in a low voice so other customers wouldn’t hear. “Keep your money. Put it in the jukebox if you wanna. But for God’s sake, don’t play anything by Buck Owens.”

There were three things Sam couldn’t abide, uppity niggers, guys with long hair, and music by Buck Owens and the Buckaroos. No one, including Sam, knew for sure which was first on his list.

Bebe laughed and agreed. Picking up her drink, she said bye and turned away. Sam watched as she gazed through the thick smoke to where Darrell Ray was sitting. For an instant they looked at one another. But instead of going over to him, she must have decided he should come to her. After giving him a nod and a little smile, she moved, slow and sexy as hell, over toward the jukebox.

Sam’s face broke into a rare grin. He didn’t know whether to envy Darrell Ray or feel sorry for him. When Bebe reached the jukebox, he turned toward another customer. “


Copyright Bill Fullerton

* * * * *

Bill Fullerton has been a country grocery store clerk, oil field roustabout, infantry soldier, paper pusher, out-of-work, and a newspaper columnist. He's now trying to add published novelist to his resume. His short fiction has appeared in such otherwise respectable publications as: Rose & Thorn, Deadmule, New Works Review, USA Deep South, Chick Flicks, Writer's Resources, Nibbler, and Muscadine Lines.

A humor submission of his was named "Story of the Month" by Long Story Short which also ran an excerpt from his second novel, We Danced to Ray Charles, a coming-of-age, mainstream love story, that was named a semi-finalist in last year’s Faulkner competition.

Visit his blog at: http://billsbilge.blogspot.com/



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