The Last MoonPie Mike Story

4:30 am. The Florida Panhandle sunrise still a ways off. Inky water swirls below the dock bumpers rising and falling, leaving the pale wood slick in the glare of the floodlight aimed at nothing in particular. If I did not know the time, it could be midnight. Bobbing in the water at the end of the pier, rocking slowly back and forth, metallic clinks echoing across the marina as ropes swing in the breeze, the boat waits for me.

When I walked up, Clemons, the man in charge of the rig told me about weather later in the day. He pointed towards the west into a sky so black anything could have been brewing over there and I would never have known it. He checked his weather channel app and spat a ringlet into the liquid below. That weather is out there. I feel it.

My last day as a MoonPie salesman was yesterday. I made my final stop at a little store near Crestview to the north, then drove down here to a motel and got four hours sleep. A man’s last day at work is a surreal combination of angst and relief. And a little fear. I figured the cure would be fishing. It has always cured everything else. And Clemons had an available boat manned by a bald captain named “Squid.” That is the only name I hear anyone use for the man. His first mate is “Grouper.” Grouper is in his late 20’s, tall, rail skinny like a starved goat in a stained t-shirt, and frazzled like one too. I say goat because Grouper makes a sound now and then like a wheezy bleating. Captain Squid looks close cropped, ex-military, except with a little something gone wrong on his record. I figure these are the kind of men I want to ride out a winter storm with. That’s a joke. Perhaps. So I toss in my bag, the last box of MoonPies I have on me and we leave, heading east, then south, and then I have no idea. An unemployed man has no agenda once he boards a boat.

Rain starts almost immediately, stringing in rivulets off the top of the boat. I pull my coat up around my neck. The cold still gets in. The waves roll bigger as we ride into the darkness. It is louder than I had figured. This was supposed to happen later in the day. It is happening now.

What is my sister doing right now? I should have called her and let her know that I left my job back on land with my truck. My neighbor, Hugh, is watching my dogs. I left him some blank checks to take care of them. He’s familiar with each one, especially Rudy. I miss Rudy especially. A large swell rolls in and yanks the boat to the left. I hope it does not scare any red snappers away.

“Oh boy!” yells Grouper.

Squid says nothing. Just sips his Thermos of coffee. He is frowning, his sunburned face illuminated by the instruments. He coughs like a smoker.

All of those people I’ve met over the last few years and all their stories disappear behind me in the churning wake of the boat as the lights from the shore dim and slide below the water in the distance. We are passing an outcropping of land. I catch a glimpse now and then. Houses and people waking. I’m not a sentimental man except when it comes to my dogs. I hope Hugh loves them like I did.

Thunder roils in the distance behind a clobbered electric cloud flecked with bursts of lightning. The smell of brine is strong, the waves frothy. The weather is much closer. My socks are wet. Should have worn better shoes.

I type these words you are reading right now into my iPhone. I am feeling a little sick with the motion and the small screen. I need to go. Amazingly I have one bar left on my service. I have no idea where I’m going. But that is where I am headed, no matter. Then I end with my name, like signing a vague contract for something I do not understand; perhaps something I wish I were not about to buy.

Thank you all for reading my stories. Maybe one day I will return.

Mike

I am about to hit the last button. If this rig goes down in the storm and you never hear from me again, enjoy a MoonPie and hug your dog.

SEND

{ NOTE:  Mike was last seen near Jamaica, so we’re told. And like him, MoonPie wants to thank you for reading his stories. }

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Black Friday at the Junkyard

It never occurred to me that people in the South give Christmas presents scrounged from junkyards until I went to South Alabama and ran into a man called “Hoot.” He is a Junkyard Santa of sorts. So he says. He roams around junkyards with a wrench and pliers and a big sawblade knife on Black Friday while everybody else fights it out at Walmart, Target and Best Buy. He has a claw hammer strung on his belt. He takes bits and pieces of old cars and drops them off to people who need them. And from what I’m told, he is just as likely to come back and help those people install that part on their old car so it will run enough to get them to work, school, church, grocery store or doctor.

“He is a gift from God,” said Henny, a 70 year-old widow living on what’s left of a pension, Medicaid and some charity. “He got my old Falcon running last year and so far, it’s still moving.”
“When you don’t have nothing,” said Leonidas, a man with one eye, one arm and a mouth that made up for both, “well, I reckon you appreciate anything. And Old Junkyard Santa helps a lot of folks around here.”
Hoot is hard to pin down. I ran into him at a gas station and he made me swear to never use his real name “or I’ll hunt you down and use a 78 Chevy tailpipe to straighten you out.” As might be expected, Junkyard Santa comes with a little attitude.
A woman at a church told me he once rebuild the engine of a church bus and never told a soul. Yet somehow she knew.
“He has a reputation as a wayward man,” she said. “But God uses all kinds.”
After I met him, before he could jump in his old LTD and ride off in a plume of blue smoke, I asked why he did what he does.
“I was once a serious mechanic,” he said. “Famous maybe. I made cars go real fast for money. Racing, shine, whatever. Even cops came to me for a little git-up-and-go.”
He looked around and took a chew of Redman into his cheek, spitting shreds as he talked.
“One day I was sleeping off a drunk and woke up in church. Don’t know how I got there, but there I was. It was empty ‘cept me and the pulpit and a little cross on the wall. I heard a little voice say, ‘you better stop your sinning and go do something good.’ So I did.”
Before I could ask him anything else, he said, “I married that little voice a few months later. She was asleep on the pew in front of me. Her name is Angie. She was a lost soul just like me. I guess that’s how a rough man changes.”

I guess so too.

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Just Another Sunday

The place is packed. Two buses of senior citizens just let out in the parking lot. Kids run around playing with toys that look like something my grandmother gave me in 1963. Christmas decorations fill the store. Hungry people fill the restaurant. The aroma of biscuits and bacon mix with cinnamon and cedar. You could not get a rocking chair on the porch even if your name was Hank Junior or Dale Junior or Junior Johnson. It is just another Sunday at Cracker Barrel.

My mother, bless her heart, back when she was alive, loved to go to Cracker Barrel more than any place in the world. She always ordered the Old Timer’s Breakfast, even if it was 8 pm. She lusted after sweatshirts with “Grandmaw” stitched on the front. She wondered how she could find a way to sell them some of the old farm junk we had in the barn to hang from the roof and walls. She played the big checkers near the fireplace and the peg board game on the table.

I must have stopped at twenty different Cracker Barrels at one time or another because she yelled at me when she saw a billboard advertising a location at the next exit. They should have given her a discount for being so loyal.
The night my father died, Momma and I ate at Cracker Barrel after leaving the hospital. It calmed her down and soothed her grief. We shared a MoonPie in the truck on the way home.

The night my Moma died, my sister and I ate at Cracker Barrel in her honor, ordering the same breakfast she always got.

Today I am sitting near the window, next to a family with five kids and a grandmother, all of them forking up stacks of pancakes, their laughter reminding me that I am driving to Georgia alone. On the other side is a couple nearing 90 years old at least. He is close to deaf and she hollers everything she tells him.

“Don’t drink too much coffee or we’ll have to stop in fifteen minutes!” she bellows. He never looks up.

She complains about his country ham and the salt. He smiles and says he would rather die eating country ham than peter out in a nursing home. She looks at me and shakes her head.

I stop and talk to the manager on my way out the door. He reminds me that Cracker sold more than 4 million MoonPies in 2010. I guess he quit counting after that. I admit that 4 million is a big number and I shake his hand and say I appreciate his business and he asks if I am going to write a story about him. I smile and nod.

“If you’ll give me one of those Christmas Cookie Yankee Candles over yonder to put in my truck,” I say. “Gets me in the holiday mood.”

He walks over, grabs a candle and hands it to me. I smile, thank him and leave. If he is reading this, I hope he knows that I held up my end of the bargain. This is that story. And I would like to also tell him that lighting a candle in a truck is not a smart move. I have a seat coated in wax to prove it.

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Rain in Mathews

Outside past the porch, across the small town, up through the creeks and marshes, water and air become one. Street light reflections ripple in the deluge of dappled gray, the October sky undulating like a liquid veil blown by the wind. Behind the trees and falling leaves the Piankatank and the East River and Mobjack Bay blend to form Mathews County, at the eastern edge of the Middle Peninsula. The Chesapeake Bay stretches to the Eastern Shore beyond opaque fog. People gather around us in the warm café.

“It washed my tackle box away,” says the older gentleman sitting across from me. “Saw it leave and go off down the water and it was gone. Sunk.”

A weathered man walks up and stops to talk. Everyone here seems to know each other and no one is a stranger, not even me. Local beer flows, crab cakes and soft shells ride plates carried in threes on shoulders from the kitchen. Coming in with my friends Scott and Dee assures me that we will meet everyone in the place at some point tonight. That is the allure of Southwinds Cafe in Mathews, Virginia, a place that feels so much like home that I look around for my dog now and then.
I have known Scott Witthaus and Dee Briggs for 20 years. I should ask them what they do for a living, but it does not matter and other things are more interesting.

“It’s Thursday night,” says Scott. “I’d hoped Ripley would be here.”

Ripley is a legendary character most likely manning the drawbridge to Gwynn’s Island tonight.

“Had to row from my truck to the house in my homemade boat,” says a man on break from his marine railway over in Deltaville.

“Business slows down when it’s hard to tell the water from everything else.”

“Good fishing here?” I ask.

“When it’s not flooding,” says Dee.

“Caught a red drum off my dock couple days ago,” says the man with the sunken tackle box. “Was about this big.” He holds his hands a foot and a half apart.

“Got a green light under there?” asks Dee.

“Of course,” says sunken tackle box man.

“I bet croakers swim upside down under there thinking it’s the sun,” says Dee.

“They do,” says Scott. “At my place too.”

Tackle box man has the face of a person who has seen a lot of the world and is glad much of it is past.

“You a writer?” he asks.

I nod. It is easier than explaining the MoonPie gig, which often turns into a whole other conversation. And since my truck and all my boxes of MoonPies are out in the sideways storm, I let it go.

“I remember something like work,” he says. “Long time ago.”

A man passes the table on his way to either the restroom or the pie rack and catches hold to a piece of our conversation, which has turned from fishing to music. I am introduced and he grins.

“You playing tonight?” says tackle box man, looking up at my newest friend.
“No. It’s raining too hard to play guitar.”

There is more small talk about the flood and a local music festival coming up in Gloucester, Virginia. People just walk up and sit down at our table and talk for a while. Then the conversation turns to hunting.

“I was in New Zealand last year hunting elk,” says sunken tackle box man. “They cross elk with red deer there. Makes a beautiful animal.”
The scene reminded me of an episode of Cheers: beer, good food, interesting conversation, unique characters, old friends and somewhere outside, others wishing they were here.

The place is clearing out so we pay up to leave. As we walk out the front door, we run into everyone we saw earlier sitting around a small table on the front porch, the night wet and chilly around them. They are talking about rain and boats and fishing and life in a little town surrounded by water while the streets are filling with more of it. Scott decides to stay.

“I love this place when it rains,” he says.

He is not alone.

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Hauling Hay Back In the Day

 

Garrett stood in the warmth of the setting fall sun, his ample belly shading the old school rodeo buckle he had earned on the circuit many pounds ago.

“I’m concerned about today’s youth and for one reason only,” he said. “You caint hardly find no boys to haul hay anymore.”

“I hauled my share growing up out in the country,” I said. “Before I got all urbanized.”

“It was a rite of passage when I was a kid,” he said through a drawl so pronounced the word “riiiiiiite” stretched out like a sail cat run over by a duelly. “You know you were a man when people had faith in you to hoist bales all day and still get in trouble at night,” he said.

Old school, pick-up-a-bale-and-throw-it-to-a-guy-in-a-truck hay hauling is a subject not many young people – even out in rural areas – know much about anymore.

“There is machinery for that,” said a 15 year-old boy near Eufaula, Alabama.

“Now they go to a gym,” said Dwayne, a lean man wearing a cowboy hat and a 40-year suntan. “And pay good money for it too. We used to get our workout following that hay truck. You do that for a year and you’ll look like one of them linebackers at Alabama.

After traveling across five Southern states in one week, asking about hauling hay everywhere I went, I finally found a young person who hauled hay like we used to back in the 1970’s. Her name was Samantha.

“Yeah,” she said matter-of-factly, “I haul hay. Follow my daddy and brother in a truck. We got 200 acres.”

She pulled up her sleeve, smiled and curled her arm up like Mr. Universe, revealing a coffee can-sized bicep muscle.

‘Welcome to the gun show,” she giggled.

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On The Road

 

My father never wanted me to turn out like him. He sold country sausage to country people in country stores while listening to country music. I went with him now and then. It was a country education.

I saw an old woman in Alabama chase down a runaway car, jumping on it like a stuntman, crawling through the window and slamming the brake with her hand while her feet flailed out the driver’s window.

I met a butcher in Tennessee who sang so much like Hank Williams it scared customers. He could yodel like a mule struck by lightning too. That is talent.

We met a 100 year-old woman selling baked goods at a little shed of a store in northern Georgia. Her peach tarts could slow down a mouthy politician. But that is not why I remember her. She had webbed fingers. A young boy remembers things like that. Webbed fingers and peach tarts.

We traveled all around the South at a time of great upheaval and unrest and cruelty and harsh words and hatred. But we saw a lot of love too. Sometimes that part just happened as he drove and talked about when he grew up picking cotton and I listened trying to imagine a dirt floor shack and no shoes and a cow so precious my grandparents brought her in the house at night to keep people from stealing milk. He was a storyteller.

All these years later, after eventually graduating from a school that let me stay long enough to wear the square hat and a robe, I ended up doing pretty much the same thing as he did. And now I am a MoonPie salesman.

But my education did not happen in all those classrooms. It happened on the road. Out in the country. There were tests, most definitely, but a lot more was at stake than a grade. Now if you’ll excuse me, a little store up on the left there is calling my name. I’m told a cashier there is a gator wrestler. The store is next to a swamp. She goes out during lunch sometimes and practices, so they say. I have to see it to believe it. Just more education on the road.

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Destin In the Fall

The other day I heard from some folks back at the Chattanooga Bakery that they were making the largest MoonPie ever for the Battle of the Bluegrass Pulling Series in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Proceeds were going to fight breast cancer. While I’m pretty excited about this big pie, I just wish I could have been there to see it. But I was here in Destin, Florida, sitting on the beach, pretending to work.

Before my boss reads that admission of my laziness brought on by proximity to a beach, I have to add that I was doing a little work: research. Here is what I found out.The beach clears out considerably in October. That is probably not news to most people, but it has always been a phenomenon that interested me. My hotel was cheaper too. Okay, it was more of a motel than a hotel, the kind of accommodation where you park right up next to the door in case you have to leave in a hurry. The beach was not exactly close either. It was nowhere near the beach, actually. It was on a stretch of road known as the bypass. Every good Southern town has a bypass, you know, just like they have a First Baptist Church and a barbecue joint. A Southern town lacking a bypass, a First Baptist Church and barbecue joint needs to reconsider incorporation and just go ahead and take down the city limits signs.

Now and then it all comes together, however, in total perfection. Back in the 70’s, I recall a place in Texas, a little town somewhere near Waco, I think it was, perhaps Marshall. I cannot remember. Texas is a big place. As I was saying, this little town had both a church and a barbecue joint, in the same building, and that building was on the bypass. Let me tell you I did some worshiping that day, and it was just Tuesday.

Anyway, I got my beach-sitting research finished and wrote the conclusions in the soft part of my brain tissue formerly known as memory and drove to the motel, got my key and parked in front of room 32. Pulling my old suitcase out of my truck, I caught site of a big old boy sitting on the curb drinking lemonade and eating a banana MoonPie.

“You like MoonPies?” I said in my friendly salesman voice, which I practice when I’m driving.

“I do,” he said chewing and squinting into the late afternoon sun as it headed over towards Pensacola and Mobile and on west in the direction of Mississippi. “I like pretty much anything edible.”

“I have some in the truck if you want some more,’ I said. ‘All flavors.”

“This flavor is just fine,” he said. “You got any more of these?”

“I have banana, yessir,” I said and walked to the truck, unlocking the door and reaching into the back of the extended cab, extracting a box.

“Did you see where they made the biggest Moonpie in history a few days back,” I said.
No acknowledgement. He was busy smacking a mosquito that had tried to suck on the tattoo of a bird dog pointing at a bear on his massive shoulder.

“Yes they did,” I said. “For a good cause.” No response from big dude.
It struck me how often I run across somebody eating a MoonPie. My first wife used to call that irony. Of course she called me a few other things as well.

“You in room 32?” he said nodding back over his shoulder.

I hesitated, a little unsure if I should be telling a stranger – especially a stranger almost as big as the Toyota parked next to him – where I was staying. But he seemed harmless in a brutal sort of way.

“I’m in 32,” I said.

“Thirty-two,” he grunted. “Franco Harris. Pittsburgh. Best running back ever. Made that Incarcerated Reception against John Wooden and the Raiders.”

“You mean John Madden,’ I said. “And it was the Immaculate Reception, I believe.”

Cranking his cow-sized head around to give me the full benefit of his stink-eye and burping so loud it drowned out an 18-wheeler pulling out of the lot, he studied my face as if reading the stubble on my chin.

“You got some Moonpies for me, right?” he said holding out his hand, a hand just a little smaller than a shovel. After giving him the box of banana-flavored pies, I smiled and walked toward Franco Harris’s number.

“I was just checking to see if you were listening,” he said. “Thanks dude.”
I am pretty sure he thought what he told me was right, but I let it go since he could have eaten me for dinner and nobody would miss me until I was fertilizer.

I got inside, locked the door and turned on the TV. Pittsburgh was playing. More irony. I’m watching Pittsburgh in room 32 on Sunday night. Perfect. And outside is a man bigger than both John Madden and John Wooden together. And I am pretty sure he had recently been incarcerated at some point. He just had that jailhouse nonchalance. So it all made sense in a Destin, Florida kind of way. And if you have ever been to Destin on Spring Break, that will make total sense to you too. Sometimes you bring your own irony.

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Camo Fridays

People have taken to wearing Camo on Fridays, and not just in the South. It is happening everywhere, even in Los Angeles. Watching TV tonight, Uncle Si on Duck Dynasty mentioned Camo Friday. A friend of mine in Florida has Camo Friday at his work too. I heard a mom with two screaming kids at a grocery store in Tallahassee complaining about her husband’s love of all things camo: shirts, pants, hats, recliner, couch, curtains, wallpaper, truck interior, dog collar, underwear.

“He painted the baby’s crib in camo,” she said. “Painted one wall in the baby’s room like that. He found camo diapers somewhere. It’s embarrassing. Looks like my child was born at Bass Pro Shops.”

I have lived in the Deep South all my life and I hate to admit it, but I am not a fan of camo. Never have been. I’m not a watermelon fan either, which, I know, is tantamount to yelling War Eagle at an Alabama game in Tuscaloosa. Just never liked watermelons. But camo is bigger than ever. And some people are downright obsessed with it.

“I have worn camo every day for 32 years,” said Jimbo, a man most likely named James at birth, but given Jimbo as a handle early in life by people who wear a lot of camo.

I met him at a restaurant in Fort Worth, Texas to discuss his love of camo. We sat down to eat burgers. He flipped his camo tie over his shoulder before diving into the burger.

“This tie cost me good money on the Internet,” he said. “Hard to get stains out of a tie. So I flip it.”

“But it’s camo,” I said. “How would you even see the stain?”

“Oh I’d know it,” he said. “Just because I wear camo doesn’t mean I’m a slob.”

We talked about real barbecue, Texas beer, Johnny Football and prickly pears.

“So do y’all have Camo Friday at work?” I asked.

Immediately I felt stupid. His dumbfounded stare made me feel even more so. I should have known the answer.

“Mister,” he said, pausing to pull his tie off his shoulder. “What day is it?”

Rubbing his hands up and down his tie, he stared at he with Texas contempt.

“Thursday,” I said.

“Not Friday?” he said.

“Nope.”

“Every day is Camo Friday, dude,” he said. “I see you aren’t participating.”

“Not a big fan,”I said.

“Then you’re paying,” he said, waving his tie around the table. “For lunch.”

Before we left and before I paid, he ordered three desserts and a large milkshake to go.

I’m thinking I need to get some camo.

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The Legend of Salisbury Steak

Salisbury steak is a wondrous thing. When I was a kid, and astronauts were roaming around space, the idea of a TV dinner, the convenience, the engineering, the efficiency, a meal so perfectly contained in a compartmentalized aluminum container that doubled as both package and plate with no dishes to wash and no leftovers to refrigerate ­– it all just made me smile. Still does.

As beautiful as the idea of a semi-instant dinner custom made to eat while watching the Wide World of Sports, an Apollo rocket launch, Bonanza or Sanford and Son could be, the invention of the Salisbury Steak was even more special, perhaps because it felt like someone in England had officially christened a hamburger patty with a crown of gravy and turned it into royalty. The truth was less lofty as I found out last Monday while visiting a café in East Texas.

“Salisbury steak was invented by Dr. J.H. Salisbury who died in 1905,” said William, a cook wearing what appeared to be most of a Salisbury steak on his once-white apron, as if he had been slapped by one while running through a ketchup and mustard rainstorm. “There’s been a Salisbury steak in this country since around 1897. Germany, Russia, England and Hawaii have their own versions, but it all started with Dr. Salisbury.”

“So he just invented it by slathering a burger patty with gravy?” I asked. “That’s all it took to get such attention back then?”

“Yes sir,” said William. “Didn’t take much back in the day. Hey, somebody invented mac ‘n cheese by just, well, you know, putting cheese on some old tough noodles.”

“How do you know so much about this stuff?” I asked.

“I’m a food historian,” he said. “Amateur, but still know my history.”

I watched him cook my Salisbury steak and longed for him to serve it on an aluminum tray, but it came on a chipped plate with mashed potatoes, enough gravy to drown a good-sized rodent and a side of green beans. Then it hit me to test his knowledge.

“So tell me how MoonPies got their name?” I said, knowing the answer, but putting on my best Alex Trebek face.

He did not skip a beat.

“Well, back in Ireland, they used to make hoecakes, and one day a man named Leonardo Marsh, the Duke of Larnkirk whipped up a frothy cream he called marshmallow,” he said. “The Duke sandwiched it between two hoecakes. Now he loved to eat these things late at night while his wives were all asleep. And before he died, people started calling them MoonPies.”

“Really?” I said earnestly.

“Yes,” he nodded. “And when the Irish came to the South, they naturally brought their MoonPies with them and that’s how it all happened.”

I ate my Salisbury Steak in silence while he worked the lunch counter. When I finished, I had to tell him what I did for a living.

“William, you know I work for MoonPie and that’s not exactly the way MoonPies started,” I said.

“Does it really matter?” he smiled. “You bought the Salisbury steak. That’s what matters.”

Before leaving I told him the real MoonPie story. He laughed and slapped my shoulder.

“Mister, that’s the biggest crock of hooey I’ve ever heard,” he said. Hey, you want some Pound cake? You know how it got its name, right?”

I did not order the pound cake or stay to hear his story. When I left, he was telling a family about the real meaning of the word “casserole.” It just about killed me not to stay and hear his tale.

“You remember Mama Cass?” he said. “Well, she loved to mix up different stuff in a big dish.”

The door slammed behind me. The family listened, chewing. William’s stories might not have been true, but he did make a fine Salisbury steak. Before cranking my truck, I Googled Salisbury steak. He was telling the truth. So I walked back in and asked him to repeat the story about casserole.

“Okay, there was a dentist named Winston Cassidy,” he said. “Lived down in south Georgia. He used to go to church socials all the time and wanted a way to get rid of his leftovers.”

It was a totally different story than what he had started telling the family when I left.

“How about Mama Cass?” I asked.

“She’s a fine singer, ain’t she?” he said, dropping fries into boiling oil.

“Yes she is,” I said.

“Monday, Monday,” he sang. “Can’t trust that day.”

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The Fastest Dog In Eastern Mississippi

“You see him?” said the woman pointing to a dog sitting next to a corrugated tin wall. “That’s the fastest dog in eastern Mississippi.”

Slouched in the dust was a lanky hound that looked more tick magnet than four-legged racer.

“You sure you got the right dog, ma’am?” I said.

“Oh that’s him,” she said. “You just got to know the magic word.”

“And what would that word be?” I said.

“If I say it, he’ll be gone like a stripped-tailed ape,” she said.

“I take it a stripped-tailed ape is pretty fast too,” I said.

“Yessir,” she said. “I believe so.”

I looked at my GPS and wiped sweat from my face with a paper towel I always carry since living in the Deep South requires more than a little sweat wiping for a man who spends a lot of time outside the air conditioned luxuries of an office.

“My dog is pretty fast,” I said, “and I mean no disrespect to yours, but I have to say he doesn’t look too fast all leaned up against that wall with one eye open and the other asleep.”

“He’s not my dog,” she said. “He’s is the community dog. Sleeps all around like my ex-husband. Everybody feeds him.”

“Speaking of food,” I said, “I hear there is a mighty fine barbeque joint around here.”

What happened next defies easy explanation. A puff of dirt exploded from the ground around the dog as canine elbows and knees and feet and ears turned into a whole different animal, twisting and churning and grinding like those big robots in that “Transformers” movie. And then he was just gone in a howl of delight, a trail of red clay vapor pluming down the road towards a cinder block building.

“Well,” said the woman, “you used the word.”

“Barbecue?” I said.

“Yep,” she said. “If you’re hungry, just follow the fastest dog in eastern Mississippi up to that building yonder.”

I did. And I have to give the dog credit, he was not only fast, he knew good barbecue when he heard it.

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