Date: January/February 2014
A Southern Missive: Containing special news, interviews, reviews, and articles, written by Rickey E. Pittman—award-winning author, storyteller, college writing instructor, folksinger, and songwriter.
About the Bard of the South: Rickey E. Pittman
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The Latest news from http://www.bardofthesouth.com/
The Bard of the South has been booked for the main stage at the 2014 World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Monday, March 17. Jim Belushi will be the celebrity Grand Marshal for this event. Read more about the event here: You can listen to some of the Bard’s Scottish and Irish music samples here:
New Original Songs by the Bard of the South
“Miss Rio Grande Valley”- So many beauties have come from the Rio Grande Valley. Here’s a song about a man who falls for a beauty queen! (Model for single release cover is Tyler Zimmerman, Miss South Texas) Preview and spend the 99 cents to order the song here: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/rickeypittmanbardoftheso3
“The 13th Floor” – If you’re superstitious or if you’ve heard about the wild nightlife of Dallas, you are sure to like this song! (Model for single release cover is Amanda Brady) Preview and spend the 99 cents to order the song here: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/rickeypittmanbardoftheso4
These songs (along with other originals) will be on the Bard’s 4th CD, which should be available by Summer 2014. The CD’s theme is songs of Texas and the Rio Grande Valley.
The Bard’s calendar is filling up for the spring! Book the Bard of the South for your own school, library, organization, festival, church, banquet or other event. His positive, energetic presentation of stories and songs are sure to delight and edify those in attendance. His rates are reasonable and he pays his own travel and lodging expenses.
( 5.) This Week’s Article
Advice to High School Students on Making Money in the Future
After living as long as I have, reflecting back on the smart and dumb choices I made, I decided to write a blog of advice to young folks listing ideas on how they can make their financial future more secure than mine has been. These are just ideas on how to make you employable, and I know these ideas may not be suitable for all. Just take these suggestions as advice.
1. Learn at least one trade. According to William Barclay, the Jewish rabbis had a proverb: “He that does not teach his son a trade, teaches him to steal.” I talked once to a successful contractor about how to learn various different trades. He said, “If I wanted to learn bricklaying, I’d find a mason, tell him I’d work for him as an apprentice for two weeks for nothing. And if he liked my work, he could hire me or recommend me. There are many trades our society will need for many years in the future, including, electric, cable, plumbing, carpentry, painting, auto mechanics (I’ve paid mechanics more than I have doctors!) and music (private instruction).
2. Learn sign language for the deaf. Not only is this a service that will benefit society, it is a service that can make you money. Courts, hospitals, churches, and media often use translators.
3. Become fluent in a second language. If you intend on staying in the U.S., I would suggest Spanish, though certainly there are so many different ethnic groups coming into our nation with big population pockets in various parts of the nation, so if you wanted to specialize in one of those, I’m sure there would be opportunities for you as well in legal courts, schools, individual tutoring, and other translation opportunities. I predict that excellence in Arabic or Korean languages would be of value to the government and military in the future.
4. Start a saving’s account early and put something in it every month and never touch it. Let your money make money.
5. Make sure you are skilled in keyboarding (old word is typing) and in general computer skills. This is an expected skill in today’s society.
6. Get certified in specialization areas such as a notary, teaching, substitute teacher (a substitute teacher in Texas for example can easily make $30,000 a year), lifeguard, EMT, real estate, nursing, paralegals, welding, commercial and truck drivers. I’m sure there are many others areas I could list.
7. Read. I would suggest you read about entrepreneurs and bios of successful people. These readings will not only give you ideas but will inspire you. Build up your personal network of people you know. Never burn bridges. Keep up with those contacts. This is a fast-changing world and friends tend to be willing to provide friends with economic opportunities.
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Apollo Descends: A Short Story by Rickey E. Pittman
I remember all the ruckus about that movie they called The Fight Club. Shoot. I live on a farm outside of Hendrix, Oklahoma, where we been having barn fights rougher than that since Indian Territory days. Fights where the blood is real, and the bruises deep, and where a man can make one careless move and be stove up for a month.
My daddy said the old Chickasaw masters had some white man vices in them and enjoyed watching their slaves duke it out with slaves from other plantations and ranches. Well, after General Stand Watie surrendered to the Federals in 1865, slavery ended in Indian Territory, but the barn fights didn’t stop. No, sir. The rich Chickasaws switched to gamblin’ on their sharecropper and field hand fighters. They knew a poor man will do about anything for a chance to climb out of his misfortune. They’d throw a little money to the winners so they could feel better about using them so, but the fighters didn’t mean nothin’ to them. Barnfights were their recreation. They didn’t lose a bit of sleep over broken jaws, busted hands, or bruised ribs. The Chickasaws called the fighters Southern Gladiators and talked with admiration of how these men were fightin’ for a better life, but I think they just wanted to get the poor man’s hopes up with such talk and keep the gristmill turning so more fighters would come their way. I’ve watched many a man step in this gristmill, saw many a man make some money and win a woman’s eye, but I never saw one that could fight himself enough to get out of the fightin’ once he got the big head and started winning.
I know about the barn fights because my son Phorbas was a barn fighter for a long time. No one could whip him till ole Sol came along.
That was a long time ago. I’m an old man now, but I still come to the fights. I can spot the old hands. The moment a fighter steps up to the scratch line and peels off his shirt and I see his scars and the way he carries himself, I can tell how tired, how drunk, and how scared he is. Most new fighters are rattled, unsettled by the blood and ruthlessness of it all. There’s a new fighter tonight, a big white boy, and I can tell he ain’t scared at all. When the boy’s face turned, I saw how his eyes were the same as a wild-eyed dog that you knew was bout to bite you. He’s one of the mean ones who are always fightin’ with something, even if it’s just himself. He weren’t drinkin’ like the others, just leaning against the post, arms crossed, with almost a bored look on his face. Just like Phorbas used to do. I reached in my overalls pocket for a wad of bills, thumbed through them, and decided to bet on him tonight. Directly, he looked me right in the eye, half-smiled, and nodded his head. Yes, sir, he and I knew this would be his night.
Mr. Rainwater sponsors the barn fights now, just like Mr. Colbert used to do when Phorbas was on this earth. I saw him across the room collecting money, and I walked over to him.
“How you doin’, Jacob?” he said.
“I’s fine Mr. Rainwater, I’s fine.”
“You bettin’ tonight?” he asked.
“Yessuh, I’m goin’ to bet on that white boy yonder. Who is he?” I handed him fifty dollars.
“Some boy from West Texas. And he’s an arrogant son of a bitch. You’re the only one bettin’ on him so far. If you win, you’ll win big.”
“He reminds me of Phorbas years ago.”
“That’s what I just said.”
I looked at him. “Phorbas weren’t always that way, Mr. Rainwater. I made him that way, getting him started in these barn fights.”
“Phorbas was a man who made his own choices, Jacob. We got to let them grow up on their own, even if they do make a mess of it. He was a good fighter—none better, till ole Sol rose up. He’s in the pen now.”
“Who’s in the pen?”
“Ole Sol. The law sent him down to Huntsville after he killed a man in a barn fight in Athens, Texas.”
“Don’t bother me none that he’s in the pen. He should have gone to the pen for what he done to Phorbas.” I opened my pocketknife and cut a sliver from the Bull of the Woods tobacco plug and slipped it into my mouth.
“That was a most unfortunate night, Jacob,” Mr. Rainwater said. “Yeah, Phorbas was a good fighter, till all his winning went to his head. He messed up when he started drinkin’ and livin’ hard like all these others here. Started thinkin’ no one could beat him. But there’s always someone who can whip you. Always is.”
“Yes, suh. Always is.”
Phorbas believed anybody could be whipped—anybody but him, but I should’ve told Phorbas that he was wrong, that there ain’t no mortal man who can’t be whipped somehow. I guess deep down, I didn’t want to believe no one could whip him, and he was making so much money that I sure didn’t want to discourage him none. That was over twenty years ago, when Phorbas had his first fight, but I remembered it well.
* * *
PHORBAS and me were plowing a new acre of land I’d won from my bets the last winter. One morning after our breakfast of leftover fried cornmeal mush and sorghum syrup, we walked down to the field. I put Phorbas to plowing while I snaked logs out of the field with our other mule. Phorbas righted the plow and got right to work. He weren’t no lazy boy.
“Come on, jenny,” he said. He snapped the reins and the mule moved forward, and the iron blade he had filed the night before bit into the black bottomland dirt. Directly, the plowshare hung up on a stump root. “Hold, jenny,” Phorbas said. He lifted the plow handle, and I could see the blade was bent nearly straight back. After he laid the plow on its side, he pounded the blade with his grapefruit-sized fist until the metal bent back to its original shape. He righted the plow, jackhammered the point into the ground, and said, “Go on, mule,” and then went right back to work.
“Lord, have mercy,” I said. “Phorbas!”
Phorbas reined the mule to a stop and turned toward me. “Yessir?”
“Stop working and get you a drank.”
He walked over, and I handed him a dipper of water. I studied him a minute, picturing that big fist of his connecting to someone’s head and making us a passel of money. Phorbas was a big boy—nearly six-foot tall, with muscles like I never had. He could lift a 480 pound cotton bale by himself and pitch hay bales for ten hours on the hottest of days.
I let him take a good drink, and then I said, “I’m mite proud of you, Phorbas, graduatin’ from high school and all. You learn anything from all those fights you’s always getting in at school?”
“I learnt it’s best to not get hit yourself.”
“You never lost a fight, did you?”
“Not even close, daddy. Most of them I only had to hit once and they went down. Ain’t nobody round here to fight no more.”
“A man can always find someone to fight. What if I was to enter you in a little boxin’ match so we could make a little money? Let you use up some of that extra nervous energy you got.”
“I don’t know. How much money you talking about?”
“How much you making workin’ for me?”
“I ain’t makin nothin’ workin’ for you.”
“Be a whole lot more than that.”
Phorbas grinned. “Shore. Making some money would be good for a change.”
“You finish up the field. I got some business in town,” I said. “You get cleaned up a little. We might go back later.”
“Yessir,” Phorbas said. “I ain’t been to town in a long time. And you ain’t never took me in on a Saturday night.” Phorbas wiped his bare chest with the rag he had looped on the plow-pole.
“Well, after tonight, you’ll know where I been going.” I took my mule to the barn, and walked down what we call Peanut Trail toward Kemp. When I reached Mr. Colbert’s store, I stepped inside and pulled an orange pop out of the icebox. I laid down a quarter for the pop. “Mr. Colbert, I want to talk to you about the fight tonight.”
“Sure. You wanting to bet?”
“Yessir, I got me a little money I can put down. I want to bet on a new fighter.”
“Who’s that, Jacob? Who? Big John from Stillwater is the only new fighter I heared of.”
“No, suh. I want to enter my boy Phorbas into this here contest. You reckon he can make some money at one of these fights?”
“If he wins, he can walk out with a pocketful. But pshaw, Jacob. Phorbas, big and strong as he is, ain’t no barn-fighter. He ain’t ever been in a fight like this before. Barn fightin’s not at all like a schoolyard fight. Odds won’t be in his favor.”
“Phorbas ain’t a schoolboy no more. I learnt that today. He’s ready.” I laid
down fifty dollars. “I want to bet this on him. Phorbas is gonna win tonight.” I pushed the stack of bills toward Colbert.
Colbert picked up the money, then shook his head. “You ain’t got enough money to be throwing it away like this, Jacob.”
“I earned every cent of this money, and it’s mine to throw away if I’m a mind to.”
“Alright. But I think this is about a hair-brained scheme as you ever come up with. And Phorbas is the one who’ll hurt over it.”
“We’ll see you tonight,” I said.
Phorbas and I ate a supper of cornbread, turnip greens, and purple-hull peas, then walked down the highway together. We had walked about a mile when I said, “Folks say there’s a black boy from Stillwater who calls hisself Big John. He be comin’ to the barn fights and bragging he cain’t be beaten. This afternoon I bet some money that you could whip him. This here’s a chance for you to make some good money. Those hands of yours are a gift from the Lord. You think you can handle this boy?”
“I ain’t found no man yet I couldn’t whip.”
We cut up the dirt road off the Kemp Highway that led up to Hebert’s farm. We walked behind his house to the barn where the fighters and the gamblers had gathered.
Mr. Colbert was there, and he held a clipboard on which he had the fighters matched. When he saw us, he said, “Phorbas. You and Big John are the two newest fighters. You go first. Let’s see what you got, boy.”
While the men in the barn were cheering and placing last minute bets, Big John slowly circled Phorbas. Big John’s hands moved continuously in a circular motion in front of him. Phorbas’ elbows were pressed against his body, the fists close, protective of his face. At first, Phorbas circled with him, but then he set himself, dropped his hands, and didn’t move at all,. When Big John moved in, Phorbas’ front hand snapped out and that big fist of his flattened that Stillwater boy.
The crowd got real quiet, looking at Big John lying there on the floor, like they couldn’t hardly believe the fight was already over.
Mr. Colbert nudged big John with his boot, then held up Phorbas’ arm. “Here’s the winner. Pay up gentlemen.” He pointed at me. “Give this boy’s money to his daddy there. Let’s get Big John out of here.”
“What’s they going to do with Big John?” Phorbas asked.
“They’ll put him out along the road somewhere,” I said.
“What if’n he needs a doctor?” Phorbas said.
“He can get to one tomorrow, I reckon. Ain’t our concern, Phorbas. That’s the way it is in the barn fights.”
“What if’n a man was to die?”
“Then they’d leave him in front of a funeral home. They got undertakers at the fights now and then. They be glad to get the business.”
“A hurt or dead man shouldn’t be done like that, just throwed out like he weren’t no good.”
“Ain’t no good way for a man to die, Phorbas,” I said. “But don’t you worry about it none. There ain’t no one in the county that can whip you.”
Then I’ll be durned if Mr. Colbert didn’t do something strange. He pulled me aside and said, “ Tell Phorbas not to knockout a man so quick. Drag it out next time, play the crowd. Know who’s betting on him. He’ll make more money. Some of the men like to watch a spell before they bet.”
Phorbas didn’t pal around with many, but he did have one white friend that he favored. Called himself Brandon. He was a strange sort of bird with wild hair like that Mr. Don King I saw once on Mr. Colbert’s television. Neither Brandon nor Phorbas had a regular job. Phorbas said there weren’t no need to wear himself out with shift-work at the Pillsbury plant when he could make enough money in one night of fighting to buy all the whiskey and women he wanted for a month. I wanted to make life easier for Phorbas when I got him into this fightin’, but looking back, I don’t think he was suited for it. Phorbas turned mean and kept getting into scraps with people in town who didn’t know about his fighting abilities. That temper and mouth of his got him put in the Bryan County caboose a few times and he was fined pretty heavy. Eventually, Phorbas got so wild I could hardly recognize my own boy. He got a notion to look like someone he called Jimmy Hendrix, so he let his hair bush out like Brandon’s. He said that once he retired from fighting, he wanted to learn to play guitar soon as he found someone who would teach him.
Brandon helped Phorbas get ready for the fights by giving him water and wrapping his hands. Phorbas was mighty particular about his hands, so he never would fight bare-knuckled. Brandon would wrap each of Phorbas’s hands with some strips of soft leather, once around his knuckles, then a diagonal wrap across palm, then he would tape or tie it off. Brandon had told him that was how the ancient Greek fighters did it. Whilst they got ready, they talked about who Phorbas would fight that night. The last time I saw my boy fight, the night he fought ole Sol, I was sitting behind him and I heard them talking.
“I ain’t looked at the roster. Who am I fighting tonight?” Phorbas asked Brandon.
Brandon tore off a piece of tape with his teeth and wrapped it around the leather on Phorbas’s wrist. “You got one white boy,” Brandon said. “He looks burned out and I don’t think he will give you any trouble. He’s got too big a belly to be a boxer. And his shins are too thick, so he won’t be able to move round much. I think he’ll go down quick. The other one’s name is Sol. He’s a black boy who’s been winning fights over in Athens and Bonham. I’d shore watch him close. He’s near as big as you, Phorbas. That’s him over yonder.”
Phorbas eyed the black man across the room. Sol had a woman in his lap and a bottle of beer in his hand. He locked eyes with Phorbas and hooted, “That’s it! Give me some of that padding. I mean to retire you out good. Yes sir, this is probably your last barn fight. They’ll find you in your car on the highway in the morning.”
“Aw, Sol, I think he’s kinda cute,” the girl said.
“You hear that, meathead?” Sol said. “My no-good sister thinks you’re cute. But my folks used to drop her on her head now and then, so I wouldn’t pay Diane here no mind.”
“That high yellar is an arrogant son of a bitch, ain’t he, Phorbas?” Brandon said. “Why don’t you just fight bare knuckle tonight? Ain’t no reason to worry bout padding your blows on this man.”
Phorbas pounded each fist twice into the palm of the opposite hand. “I ain’t worried bout protecting his face. Just don’t want to break my hand. If I break my hand, I can’t fight no more and can’t make no money.” Phorbas coughed.
“You wheezing again?” Brandon said. “You better lay off those Kools.”
“A few cigarettes ain’t gonna kill me. A man’s gotta have a few vices. I ain’t lost a fight yet, have I?”
“No, and I don’t reckon you oughta start tonight neither. But I know you’re hungover, so you ain’t gonna be at a hundred percent tonight, and this boy from Athens might be trouble. I was listenin’ to some of the farmers. They’s thinkin’ your luck’s going to run out.”
“Aint no luck to winning a fight,” Phorbas said as he stood and moved up to the scratch line. He and Sol eyed each other for a spell. Neither got in a real hurry, just circling each other, tapping out in the air, blowing once in a while like a deer that jumped out of a thicket.
Ole Sol sure knew how to box, almost like he had been the one to invent the sport. A natural—fast, strong, and vicious—just like Phorbas was. He knew things that Phorbas didn’t. I lost a bunch of money that night. After the fight, two of Mr. Hebert’s friends helped me load Phorbas into my old Chrysler, and I drove him to Mr. Smith’s funeral home up in Achille. Mr. Colbert offered to tote him up there for me, but since I was his daddy, I thought it was right for me to do it.
Yes, sir, that was a long time ago, but I ain’t forgot that night yet. Much as I like coming to these barn fights, ever time I see a strong man go down, I think of my boy, and how Phorbas crumbled when Ole Sol laid into him. I saw him going down in my head again just as this new white boy flattened his third opponent for the night. The noise of the crowd softened inside my head, and it was no longer night. For a moment it was like I looked right into the sun. Then I could see the fields and the blue sky, and I was chasing a little Phorbas round the tree while his grandfather and the other field hands were picking strawberries. Then I saw an older Phorbas pitch one hay bale after another up on a flatbed truck. I was mighty proud of Phorbas. Before Phorbas went out on his own and before he started drinking so hard, he used to say that he couldn’t have had a better daddy. I ain’t made up my mind about that yet.
Good Lord! That West Texas boy’s done knocked down another one . . . I reckon I’ll go home with some money tonight.
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