Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Night of the Hungry Dog

This seems like a good night to write this. And I'm listening to Tom Jones, so don't judge me. There is finally a Google Earth image of this damnable town where I spent my summer of 1982. I'll call it Bonneville to avoid the true name appearing on Google searches. Suffice to say, of the many college kids in that town that summer in the Wabash Valley, the saying we all share is "At least we didn't drink the Kool-Aid."

It was a bunch of guys and gals from the U of I, promised meals and room and board (pictured above) in this town with a population of 54, miles and miles from the Effingham Greyhound stop on I-57. The guy who promised the meals left town with a girl half his age is the short version. Long version, it started out great. We started a newspaper running stories by residents in Wabash County, and I even had a few poems published. I supplemented my income by writing for the InFARMation section of the Casey Daily Reporter, being paid $50.00 an article, checks I could sadly not cash as the townspeople considered us hippies from Chicago (I was going through my Ned Racine BODY HEAT look at that time, struggling to keep my hair by using Dep hair gel). We even got to use VDTs to write up our stories, in nearby Robinson, when the newspaper offices were closed. And then our meal train left. And money dwindled. I tried to stick it out, as others left, disgusted. Some of us continued to write and illustrate, this was, after all, our first big jump into what amounted to the real world, something to put on the resume besides The Gap. And there are many stories involving this town as June became mid-July, and at one point, after calling my dad almost in tears to come get me, I spent a weekend eating one single box of Saltines and drinking rain water. This is me on the porch, with my stuff, sitting with a dog named Bobo. And, yes, I was wearing parachute pants, so please do not judge me.

The night in question was perhaps the week of July 4th, and a few days later packages were received, cereal and peanut butter and the like. Now look at the overhead shot of the town. The far left building was a general store a hundred years back, and much of the work we did was in a big area inside the place. Go to the right side and the intersection. This is where the Rich family lived, the guy was the unofficial sheriff of the town and neighboring areas like St. Marie and Oogba. Up at the top on the right side of that street, was the yellow house in the photos I have posted. Bob McCoppin and I were the only ones in town that weekend, everyone else had driven off to celebrate the 4th with their families, and this was also the weekend that the guy who drove to the nearest town to bring us food split with the college chick.

I am now going to describe what will remain quite possibly the nadir of my life. Not counting any times involving my mental state of the last few years, no this is different. Bob McCoppin and I were past being simply hungry. And we knew that the Rich family had a dog. We concocted a midnight plan. The town was always dark, no streetlights or cool lighting like you see in movies set in such rural areas so that you can see Resse Witherspoon's butt as she is skinny-dipping or Patrick Swayze as he tells some guy to cool it. No, it was pitch black and we went by visual markers. In this case, the Rich family's bug zapper. And we zeroed in on one thing. Cans of Mighty Dog on a small porch next to a teal bowl for water. We questioned the thought of stealing the dog food, because we knew that Steve Rich owned a gun. Of course, now I realize that, being southern Illinois, everyone likely owned handguns or shotguns.

In and out, we stole one lone can. Went back to the yellow house. And discovered that we did not have a can opener. And so for the next hour, we jabbed at the can lid with pens and a butter knife. Because, of course, we never needed steak knives. Finally, we had a two finger-sized hole in the can. I will not lie, I had saliva forming on my tongue, or wherever the hell it forms. Under the tongue? Your lips? Anyhow.

Bob and I then kept dipping our fingers into the can, it was like getting putty on our fingernails and that was it, and then we started using the pens to pull it out in strings. And we ate a can of cold dog food, licking it off our fingertips like it was an imagined Klondike bar. We went so far as to throw the can, it was evidence, after all, into a field a quarter-mile away.

We were no longer hungry. July, 1982. This was the night of the Mighty Dog.