The Great Love Bug Migration
by Brad Temple
::If you haven’t yet, read The Great Love Bug Migration – Chapter 1::
Like most young men, I was pretty irresponsible and would try anything at least once. I believe my dad called it “thinking I was ten-foot tall and bullet proof”. I played most sports except basketball and had tried a host of other hobbies. Bull riding and ditch clearing didn’t seem to be my cup of tea, but I tried them both during the summer while in high school.
The ditch-clearing job was Dad’s idea of showing his son what real work was all about. I had made that realization during the first few days of the job with the Kenner County Unit System. The ditch-clearing crew consisted of about nine high school aged boys from different backgrounds who were all trying to make a little extra money during the summer. Through some political connections, we were all able to make slightly more money than most of the full-time guys who had been working on the road crew all of their lives. Some folks weren’t too happy about that, but our foreman treated us well and made sure we stayed out of trouble. Killing snakes and finding discarded porn magazines became good ways to get through the monotony of clearing weeds and shrubs around drainage areas.
The bull riding was more or less a materialization of my wild side. A small farm between Herndon and Pitalima allowed folks (mostly kids) to come try rodeo events in a controlled environment. Well, it was as controlled as bull riding could get anyway. I never lasted the required eight seconds to “cover” the bull, but my claim to fame was that I had made it six seconds. And if you have ever ridden a bull, you know that six seconds is a lifetime while strapped atop a one-ton, snot-slinging monster.
I thought about those things as I tried to figure out what college I wanted to attend. Ditch clearing was one thing I wanted to make sure I never did again. Bull riding I might still do if having first drunk enough beer to give me that burst of “courage” needed to climb upon a one-ton, snot-slinging monster. Those were definite deciding factors, but there were more… many more.
Despite my country roots, I was not your typical backwoods redneck. Sure I rode four-wheelers and was a member of a deer hunting camp, but I also read a lot. I was very smart for my age–sometimes too smart for my own good. I also liked to drink and gamble, and I loved women. Mississippi is known for a lot of things; cotton, catfish, and William Faulkner, to name a few. There was one place in particular where I knew I could find most of those things, and that’s where I was going to go.
Dad peered over the morning paper through his reading glasses.
“I can’t believe you said this shit,” referring to the article Peterson had printed in the Journal.
“What, the whole beaver bit?” I asked with a smirk.
“Did he actually believe you?”
“I don’t know, but it was better than the truth.”
“Yeah, I guess it’s better for people to think you’re crazy than just stupid,” he said as he raised the paper back to eye-level.
“Speaking of stupid, you decided on a school yet?” He had set up a trust fund for me, which could be accessed only if I finished college.
“I’ve been thinking about Ole Miss.”
“Ole Miss!” He dropped the paper to his lap and took his glasses off.
“You know what I think about that place, Son.”
“Yeah…Ole Miss is full of a bunch of dope smoking rich boys and spoiled little rich girls,” I said, rolling my eyes.
“That’s right. You think you’re some kind of hippy preppy or something?”
“No, a lot of my friends go there, and they’re not hippies.”
“Where’s Lem going?”
“He’s going to Kenner. I don’t want to go there.”
Kenner Junior College, or 13th grade as we called it, was where the most severe cases of underachievement went to perpetuate their lack of enthusiasm for personal betterment. I could have gone there and made a 4.0 without even batting an eye, but I wanted to get away from my hometown and family for once.
The University of Mississippi, better known as Ole Miss, has been the center of many cultural revolutions in Mississippi. Among them, probably the most noted event is when James Meredith became the first African American to attend the then segregated university. It was quite a time, but I wasn’t around then. At this point, things had changed so much in Mississippi, civil rights were no longer at the forefront of societal concerns. I didn’t care about any of that. I wanted debauchery.
Ole Miss made it into the top 25 party schools in Playboy in the 1980s. It was still a huge party school when I stumbled onto the scene and was no great culture shock to me, even though I came from rural Mississippi. There were plenty of kids from other rural areas, such as the Mississippi Delta, so I wasn’t alone.
Football games and fraternity parties quickly took the place of studying and going to class. Sleeping till noon, smoking gross amounts of pot, and playing golf during the second half of the day also became routine. I managed to slip through with average grades and without even purchasing books.
For money, I worked at one of the local liquor stores, which to no end perpetuated my lack of enthusiasm for personal betterment. The vices didn’t stop there, for another force would call upon me. Like Tolkein’s omnipresent Eye of Sauron, the casinos of Tunica cast their gravitational pull on me. But I was young, and these weren’t obstacles to me. They were merely parts of a whole.
The casinos were still a good 45 minutes away from Oxford, so making the trip usually required a night of heavy drinking to persuade others into coming along. A typical casino night usually started at a bar, where the seed would be planted early. One such night would prove to be a life-changing event for me.
Drink specials were effective ways to bring revelers to the bars in droves, and I frequented those establishments. A couple of my fraternity brothers worked at The Mill, a pub notorious for nightly brawls and drink specials like “penny pitchers” and “dollar-you-call-it”–a true testament to the sense and sensibility of Generation X.
I bellied up to the bar, and a huge mug of Long Island Iced Tea clunked down in front of me.
“Thank you sir,” I said, shaking Neil the bartender’s hand. Neil was one of those “connections” of mine, a scrappy jock/pothead from north Mississippi.
“What y’all gettin’ into tonight, anything good?” Neil asked.
“I don’t know, but I’ll let you know when I find out.”
“Sounds good,” he said. Then he set up two Jaegar shots, and we knocked them back.
The bar was already packed, and half of the patrons were my fraternity brothers–a good bit of them being from back home around Herndon and Pitalima. My friends were all crazy–some stupid–but all of us would stick up for each other in a scrape. And there were plenty of scrapes.
My friend Holt Holland was getting pretty liquored up and belligerent, talking shit to some guys from a rival fraternity. Holt was a tall, lanky sort of fellow but had a beer gut. We nicknamed him “Spider Monkey” because of his drunken antics. He was a pledge, and it was a normal thing to see and was really normal to see Holt doing it. The bars closed early in Oxford so you had to get your fights in while the getting was good.
Another hometown boy, “Dirty,” was helping Holt taunt the rival frat guys, who were becoming increasingly pissed off. I was busy trying to recruit a band of gamblers for later.
The shit-talking had moved to the back patio, and so had most of the customers. Dirty spit in one guy’s face, and it was on from there. As the guy came at Dirty, I grabbed him by his shirt and lifted him a few inches off the ground. Then I ran with the guy in my hands right through an iron gate to the back parking lot. I fell to the ground. My hands were scraped from breaking my fall on the pea gravel. My right big toenail was torn halfway off–a casualty of wearing sandals to a bar and something I would soon after vow to never do again. When I arose from the ground, I saw the poor dumb bastard I had grabbed lying down in the parking lot some 40 yards away getting the absolute shit beat out of him by all of my friends. I limped back inside the gate to the patio where one of the fraternity house-sluts cleaned my wounds with a wet bar napkin.
After the bar closed, I drove over to a late-night party by Neil’s house. It was a typical hot and humid Mississippi night, but they had a small fire going in the middle of the driveway for some damn reason. Holt, Dirty, and some others were also there, bragging about the fight and how many drinks they’d had.
I had some money left over from my student loan refund, and it was burning a ferocious hole in my pocket. I pulled Holt to the side.
“Let’s go to Tunica,” I said.
“Dude, I don’t have any money.”
I held up a wad of cash. “I’ll give you $60 if you go with me.”
“Shit, let’s go then.”
Sixty dollars was a small price to pay for a drunken casino romp with a drinking buddy, and I still had about $600 to myself. So we poured ourselves into my ‘95 Thunderbird at 2 a.m. and disappeared into the north Mississippi darkness.
We rounded the turn out of the Desoto County hills and descended into the flat delta farmland that butted up against the highway all the way into Tunica, a North Delta farm town experiencing a windfall with the emergence of casinos and resort hotels. It was like Vegas, only there were lots of trees and grass, and no hookers. The third largest gaming area in the nation was about to feel the wrath of two drunken good ol’ boys with pockets full of money, searching for the American Dream.
We couldn’t wait to get there. Although Holt and I had been to Tunica several times during our illustrious college careers, each trip was like a maiden voyage, and both of us were giggling like two school girls at the thought of free alcohol and stacks of chips–hashing out our gambling strategies for the night (which was really morning).