WHITE GUYS IN THE CHECKOUT LINE

By Randy Reynolds


I grabbed an energy drink from the cooler and got in line behind a man holding a fifty pound sack of Ol’ Roy on his shoulder.

He turned toward me and said, “This may take a while. She’s got two baskets piled high and you and me are paying for it.”  With a nod of his head he indicated the large woman in front of him wearing tight workout pants, baggy sweatshirt, and bedroom slippers.  She had two buggies piled high with groceries.

“I bet you anything she’ll try to pay with food stamps,” he said.  “People like that get my goat.”

He looked at me intently, as if expecting an answer, but I don’t talk food stamps with white guys in line at a Walmart in the South. Like the coward that I was, I shrugged and said, “I know what you mean.”

Not even trying to keep his voice down, he said, “Laying around in bed all day, too lazy to work, sponging off the government, living large on my tax money.”

The old woman, still unloading her second buggy, looked up and said, “They’re not called food stamps anymore. It’s SNAP—the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.”

“Well, it’s food stamps to me,” said the man with the dog food. “And you’re paying for it with my tax money.”

I wanted to look away, but the rheumy eyes of the old woman held my attention.

“It’s not your business, sir, but just so you know, we’re not getting rich on food stamps.  I have eight kids and two adults besides me under my roof and we get four dollars a day per person.  That’s a dollar thirty-three per meal per person.”   She pointed to his bag of dog food.  “You can’t hardly even feed a dog for that.”

“Well, there’s plenty of jobs out there.  You should go get one, and try working for a living for a change.” 

“I have a job, sir.  I work at a nursing home, Lexington House.  I worked eleven to seven last night and I’ll be there again tonight.”

“What about the other adults in your house?  Why don’t they have jobs?”

“Because one of ‘em has A.L.S., Lou Gehrig’s disease, and barely gets around any more and the other is nine months pregnant.  Not that it’s any of your business.”

The dog food man turned to me and rolled his eyes.

I said, “What kind’a dog you got?”

“Black lab.”

“Labs have a sweet disposition,” I said.

“Oh, yes.  Smart, too.”  He dropped the dog food onto the conveyer.

Ahead of us, the cashier gave the old woman a receipt and helped place bags of food in the two buggies. I heard the old woman say, “M’am, will you watch this basket while I take the other one to the car?”

The cashier said, “Sure.”

“Just get it out of my way,” said the dog food man, pushing the closest buggy forward with his foot.

The buggy hit the old woman in the thigh.  “I intend to, sir, just give me a moment.”

“This is ridiculous!” said the man.  “Can’t we get this line going?”

“I don’t want this drink anyway,” I said, setting the energy drink on the conveyer belt behind the dog food.  “Excuse me, sir.”  I squeezed past him and said, “Ma’m, I’ll take one of those baskets for you.”

The old woman said, “God bless you, sir. I hate to be such a nuisance, but…”

“No problem,” I said.  “We all need a little help now and then.”


As I placed her groceries into a van with a wheelchair rack on back, she tried to give me a dollar. “No, ma’m, that’s not necessary. Put it away.”

“Well, I don’t know how to thank you.”

“No thanks necessary.”

“What did you say your name was?”

“Randy.”

“Well, Randy, I’m Jeanelle,” she said.  “I hope God will bless you for helping out an old woman.”

I smiled. “I’m sure He will,  ma'm.”

The man with the bag of Ol’ Roy came down our lane in the parking lot. I half-expected him to stop and inspect Miz Jeannelle’s grocery bags to make sure that her purchases were in line with what he thought a SNAP recipient should eat.  I smiled and gave a little half-wave to acknowledge him, the kind of thing Southerners do even if they’ve only met a person once, casually, in the check-out line at Walmart. But he looked right through me, scowling, and walked on by. 


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Postcript:  I purposely avoided mentioning the race of Jeanelle, knowing readers would picture her according to their own imaginations, but she was white. So is a large plurality of SNAP recipients.  For the facts and fictions surrounding SNAP, I recommend this website:  http://www.attn.com/stories/1746/myth-busting-who-is-on-food-stamps


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WHEN NEWS IS COMEDY

by Randy Reynolds

Like Wolfman Jack eating a popsicle while his voice was going out over the airwaves in American Graffitti, I pre-recorded my voice in advance of the Randy Reynolds Show each morning in the late ‘90s and early 2000’s on Oldies 104. Unlike the Wolfman, though, I didn’t sit there eating popsicles while my pre-recorded voice was entertaining the audience. I used the recording as a second entity on the show—the cartridge-tape and I talked back and forth to each other.

I came in early each day, usually around 2 a.m., to write and record I.B.’s bits in a wild voice with a Cajun accent. By showtime—6 a.m.—I’d have downed the first two of the ten pots of Community Coffee I would make each day.  (Most of it got cold in the cup as I got distracted by my show prep, so I threw out more than I drank, hence the ten POTS of coffee per day, 250 or more pots per month.  My boss, Mark Jones, may have paid for more coffee service than any business of equal size in the world; but, hey, it got him a TOTALLY-LOCAL crazy-funny most-talked-about highly-rated workaholic morning show that was easy to sell except for the occasional boycott or cancellation so he bore the expense gracefully. )


I.B. talked about real things--expose's that I got from tipsters and whistle blowers from all walks of life and from every level of government in Rapides Parish, especially my many close friends in the police departments of Alexandria, Pineville, and surrounding municipalities. Practically all my friends back then were cops. For reasons sometimes selfless, sometimes self-serving, they and my other sources flooded me with tips, many of which—the ones I could verify--ended up on the air.
I spent almost all my waking hours for several years verifying-- making sure that every word out of I.B.’s mouth was true, hence the 10 pots of coffee per day and the nights of writing till midnight and going to work two hours later to record our expose's as humorous skits.  

I started each report with a helicopter sound-effect, under the pretense that I.B. was my "traffic reporter" even though he never actually got around to doing any traffic reports. Then came I.B.'s trademark yell, "Aaaaiiiyyyiiieee! " and we went into our schtick and exposed another boondoggle… 5 days per week, 51 weeks per year, (52 weeks one year.)

A few examples: 
When the mayor says, "Alcohol has never touched my lips", I.B. says, "That's because he drinks it through a straw." And when the water pumps malfunction at a city water tower, I.B. jokes about it, says the tower is filled with Miller Lite and the mayor must be going there to drink because there's straws all over the ground. The mayor and city council then bestow legitimacy upon I.B. by passing (and publishing in the newspaper) an official resolution denying this cartoon character's "accusation" that the mayor has been drinking Miller Lite from the water tower with a straw!

Newspaper coverage of the city council's fight with I.B. causes our audience shares to grow. Advertising revenues for the station increase dramatically. And the phone starts ringing off the hook with people calling in news tips for I.B. Flyin'. Some are jokes, like the "bit" that started it all--a water-tower filled with Miller Lite. Other tips concern real issues that don't get reported by the timid local news media --or "news meteors" as I.B. calls them.

When four hard-partying off-duty Alexandria, Louisiana, cops on a beer-run drive their pickup onto a sidewalk and get out to beat up a small time drug user and then charge him with carjacking, assault, attempted murder of a police officer, and about 7 other things, I.B. has a field day! All the other "news meteors" buy the official story that an unarmed young man tried to carjack a vehicle with four cops in it. I.B.'s laughter (and commonsense) fuel so much public outrage that it's the police, not the accused carjacker, who get bound over for trial on assault charges. When the guilty verdict comes in, the whole courtroom explodes with applause, shouts and prayers. That young man would likely be in Angola State Penitentiary today if I.B. hadn't refused to bite on the official story.

In the I.B. voice, I announce 75 reasons why a 21 year old Leesville, Louisiana, murder suspect held for three years without a grand jury hearing could not have committed the gruesome crime he is accused of. The young man (Joey Hilton) is released from jail on Christmas Eve after a deal between I.B. and the District Attorney. The deal is simply for I.B. to "lay off" the D.A., (that is, stop making jokes about him,) and the D.A. will release Joey Hilton. (I.B. may have been the first cartoon character ever to make a deal with a real D.A. ) On Christmas Eve, 1998, after three years behind bars for a murder he didn't commit, Hilton is released. He and his mom come to the station and I interview them live on the morning show. It's the most emotional show I've ever been involved in...the kind of stuff 60 Minutes and 20/20 are famous for. What Joey and his mom really want is to meet I.B. Flyin' and thank him in person, but I tell them he's up in the chopper and will have to call them later.

When a state senator's daughter uses his office to run a pyramid scheme, when city government cuts and sells the timber on state-owned property, when a mayor's wife brokers a secret deal for the city to buy some church property at ten times the going rate, when the police chief's sons commit crimes, when the city council buys a fire engine that's too big to fit inside the fire station, when the city dams up a National Scenic Waterway to increase property values in a favored subdivision, when a city crew hooks up sewage pipes to a drinking-water main, when a mayor gets caught having sex in his office, and another mayor spies on his police department, and a cop's drug dog dies in a hot patrol car while the peace officer is having some afternoon delight, and two police horses get electrocuted because their riders take a coffee break and leave the horses tied to a metal light pole in a thunderstorm, when the school board and city spend millions on unnecessary "studies"...

I.B. blows the whistle on them. It sounds like comedy, but it's all true. As I.B. demonstrates every morning, News IS Comedy in Central Louisiana.

The types of things that I.B. fought with ridicule and laughter are happening in your town, too. But they aren't a part of anybody's official record. The kinds of things I.B. exposed usually go unrevealed and unpunished because, in most places, there is no investigative reporting, no public ombudsman to connect the dots. But, for a while, in Central Louisiana, there was.
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There aren't many locally-owned stations or papers left, since Congress removed limits on how much media one company can own.  





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THE MAYBERRY SYNDROME

by Randy Reynolds
This night’s revival meeting in Hartwell, Georgia, had been, like all H.R. Appling services, a spectacle to behold. After giving it everything he had, preaching, shouting, dancing, praying, singing, playing his accordian, healing the sick, forcing people to the altar, H.R. (my maternal grandfather), was exhausted and hungry now driving home to LavoniaGeorgia.

“I’m so hungry I could eat a horse," he said.

His son-in-law-Gene Reynolds, an aspiring minister who had worked half the day selling insurance before making the trip to Hartwell with H.R., said, “They got a place up here in Royston we can stop at, if I remember correctly. Used to be on my coffee route."

“A pound of bologna, some crackers, cheese, and buttermilk would hit the spot right now,” said H.R.

“Amen!” said Gene.

H.R. and Gene’s conversations were usually about one of two things:  religion or baseball.

“I see where the Sox beat the A’s last night,” said Gene.

H.R.’s favorite player in this year of 1950 was his second cousin, Luke Appling of the Chicago White Sox, a 20 year major-leaguer whose career was winding down.  “Did Luke play?”

“Got a hit and an r.b.i.,” said Gene.

“They got him playing first base again?”

“Nope. Pinch hit.”

“Getting twenty five thousand dollars this year and they hardly ever play him,” said H.R.

Gene whistled. “I don’t even know what I would do with twenty five thousand dollars.”

“If you go into the ministry, you ain’t never gonna have to worry about it. Ain’t no preacher never gonna make that kind of money,” said H.R. 

They passed a sign that said ‘WELCOME TO ROYSTON HOME OF BASEBALL'S IMMORTAL TY COBB.’  A second sign a little further on read, 'Whites Only Within City Limits After Dark.'

“Ty Cobb’s so rich he’s been giving away hospitals all over this part of Georgia,” said Gene. 

“Wish he was paying tithes at my church,” said H.R.

The red lights of two police cars and an ambulance lit up the gas pumps and parking area of the old store as they approached, so H.R. parked his new Buick off to the side, away from the pumps.

“Great day in the morning!  Must have been an accident!” said Gene.

H.R. shielded his eyes with one hand.  “Well, let’s see if the place is still open. I’ve got to have me some nourishment.”

The old man behind the counter saw these two guys come in with their shined shoes, Sunday suits, bow ties and hats and apparently thought they were detectives from the police department.  “I done told the other officers everything I know.  It was justified,” he said.

H.R.’s voice carried the ring of authority.  “Well, tell it again. From the start.”

The old man pointed to the gas pumps and said, “That Buick with the New Jersey license plate out there? Nigger was driving it.  Pulled in here for some gas.  After dark.”

H.R. and Gene looked toward the commotion at the pumps.  

“Another customer, old boy that comes in here all the time, he seen it was a nigger in Royston after dark and went out there and shot him. Pow! Right in the head.”

“Who’s those people they’re puttin’ in the police car?” asked H.R.

“Woman and three little kids that was in the car with him.”

“He was killed in front of his family?” asked H.R.

“Well, yeah! He was in the city limits after dark!  And look at that fancy car, would ya? Prob’ly stole it.”

More than sixty years later, Gene told me, “Little place over there, they didn’t have professional ball or anything. All they had was good revivals and trials. I just happened to go to a few of those trials to kill time on a slow afternoon, you know.”

He attended the short trial of the white man accused of killing the black man caught in Royston after sundown. The defendant said, “Some robberies had been happening in Royston. I thought he musta' been the one that done ‘em.”

He was found not guilty.

Gene sat through a trial involving a white-on-white killing—a wealthy farmer shot his son-in-law in the back with a shotgun and admitted it.

The verdict was not guilty.

A third trial he witnessed was about a black-on-black killing.  An unarmed man killed his attacker in a fight and plead self-defense.  

The verdict was guilty and he was sentenced to die in the electric chair.

Gene said, “In those little old country towns like that they had some strange things that happened some times. You know, a lot of prejudice involved there.” 

The people who lived in these small American towns often reflect on what an idyllic childhood they had. I've heard older whites say that their childhood spent in places called Covington, Gainesville, Bainbridge, Royston, Monroe, Alexandria, McComb, Hammond, New Iberia, and Bogalusa, was like growing up in Mayberry.  Which makes me think that Mayberry (as an avatar for the happy place we grew up in when America was "great") wasn't all it was cracked up to be.

While the white drunkard Otis was sleeping one off in an unlocked cell from which he was free to come and go as he pleased, I imagine a black guy caught drinking, gambling, loitering, or walking while black was handcuffed in the adjoining cell where Andy and Barney worked him over with a rubber hose.

Mayberry tolerated Ernest T. Bass when he threw rocks at houses, but I suspect the black guy that did the same was convicted of a felony and given 10-20 years at hard labor.

When a bully stole Opie's lunch money, he was taught to fight back; but a black kid who fought back was sent to juvie.

When Charlene Darling flirted with a white guy, the Darlings broke out the washboard, jug, and banjo and had a hoedown.  When she flirted with a black guy they had a lynching.

When a rich white guy pulled up to the filling station in a fancy car, Gomer called him "sir" and cleaned his windshield, checked under the hood, and aired up his tires.  When a rich black traveler pulled up in a similar car after dark, Goober shot him behind the left ear with a .22.

I know so many people who grew up in these towns that they fondly reminisce about and conflate with Mayberry, little realizing that Mayberry--like a significant portion of America's history--was a fairy tale.

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GRAND THEFT AUTO

by Randy Reynolds

The first caper of my car theft career was a simple matter. It happened in Gainesville, Georgia, 1952. I was almost three. My dad was 21. He left me alone in the car with the motor running while he darted into the dry cleaners about fifteen feet from the curb. His last words to me were, “Don’t touch the gear.”

As soon as he was gone, I touched the gear and it was game on.

As Dad picked up his suits another customer came in and said, “Whoever owns that car outside better hurry  — it’s headed down the hill!”

Dad ran out of the laundry and saw the ’52 Buick traveling backward down Myrtle Street with me standing in the front seat gripping the steering wheel. Face to face with me, he ran as fast as he could, but the distance between us lengthened with each step as the car picked up speed.

The chase came to an abrupt end when I made a sharp right turn onto Main Street, ran over the curb, bounced the Buick off a guy-wire and came to rest against the side of a building.
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My next adventure in a car that didn’t belong to me was more a case of fraud than grand theft auto. I lied to get my Uncle Wint to lend me his car so that I could attend a party behind my dad's back. Wint had moved from Georgia to Covington, Louisiana, and lived at Pine Knoll, the Lee Road version of a country club. I walked from the parsonage on Kenzy Fitzgerald Road, all the way to Uncle Wint’s rented house near the second hole of the golf course. I gave him a cockamamie story about how Daddy would have lent me his car but he had to see someone in the hospital and that I was expected at a school-teacher's daughter's birthday party and it was an emergency because I had to bring the records.  (As if any kids my age would have wanted to hear the kind of records I owned or could "borrow" from the radio station where I had a weekend job!) 

Wint couldn’t have believed a word I was saying but he just smiled that sly smile of his and handed over the keys to his ’64 Buick wagon.

The party of 14 and 15 year olds was just getting underway when the phone in the girl's house rang. It was for me.  My dad ordered me to take the station wagon back to my uncle and find a way home, and his tone left no room for argument. I briefly considered disobeying him, but as soon as I hung up the phone, the girl I was there to see asked me to dance and that seemed more frightening than facing my dad, so I made up some excuse and hurried home to take my punishment.
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The next time I stole a car it really was grand theft auto. My cousin Stanley Appling and I met two girls at the Georgia Camp Meeting and had a great time sitting in someone’s unlocked car throughout the evening service. (Which was sort of like stealing a car, though we didn't take it anywhere. We just sat in it.) Stanley and his girl took the front seat, me and mine had the back where we fell in love over suicide snow-cones (a mixture of all flavors.) After the service in the tabernacle was over and car owners streamed into the parking lot, we scrambled out of the car and went our separate ways, but I told the girl in parting that I'd come see her tomorrow, never mind that she lived in Doraville and we were spending camp meeting week with my dad's parents in Gainesville, about an hour's drive away.

Plan A was to borrow my Aunt Katrina’s car in Gainesville, and I pitched the deal to her while she was hanging out the wash on the clothesline between the smokehouse and Papa’s barn. I said, “Do you remember all those times when you were younger and I kept a lookout for you while you smoked Salems behind the smokehouse?”

She narrowed her eyes against the smoke of the Salem in her mouth and laughed.

“Well, now you can pay me back,” I said. “If you’ll loan me your car, it’ll make us even.”

She wasn’t about to do it, but she wanted to get the whole story. “Why do you need a car?”

“Stanley and I met two girls last night and I promised one of them I'd come see her.  It's just a little ways; over in Doraville.”

Her reaction began with her favorite word— one she used at least 90 times a day on a good day and twice as often on a bad one: “Sh*t, that’s fifty miles away, Randy!  You can’t drive that far, honey!"

I told her that I was disappointed in her and went back to the house to execute Plan B, the one where I would steal Daddy's car keys.  It turned out to be easier than I had anticipated. Daddy had left his pants hanging on a bedroom door as he napped. It was a simple matter to swipe the keys from a pocket and speed off to see Diane in Doraville.

Having never driven in traffic any heavier than that our home in rural St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, should have been traumatized by the crowded expressways, but I was in love and mere traffic couldn't keep me away from my girl.

When Daddy realized his car had been stolen, Katrina told him my plan, he called Cousin Stanley to find out the girl's name, and then called the State Patrol to report a stolen car.  Then he called me at the girl's house and told me the State Patrol was on the way to take me to jail.  I covered the 50 miles back to Gainesville in just over thirty minutes.
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The punishment he meted out didn’t discourage me from stealing his car again a few weeks later at the Louisiana Camp Meeting. (Camp meeting seemed to always fill my spiritual need to meet girls and steal cars.)

The evangelist told everyone in the tabernacle to stand and lift their hands to Heaven and when my mother did so, I lifted the car keys from her purse. Then I invited a girl named Gayla on a date.

We sneaked into the car from different directions and drove out of the campground with the headlights off and Gayla crouching low in the seat. Having recently heard my Covington High School classmate Karen Goodwin read a how-to essay on "necking," I parked the car on a secluded road and tried to experience what, in young Miss Goodwin's telling had sounded so commonplace among my fellow sophomores, but it soon became clear that even First Base was out of reach. Thinking that refreshments would make up for whatever I lacked in charm, I tried that approach and was surprised to hear that my date  knew the word "yes" after all (as in, "Yes, I'd love a root beer float!") so we cruised down to Frances Barker’s drive-in and ordered root beer floats that we drank en route back to the campground while listening to the Beach Boys on the radio.

I parked the station wagon and we furtively went our separate ways, arriving back in the building just as the sermon was ending. I stood off to the side till some people started shouting, dancing in the aisles and running to the altar. As soon as my mother closed her eyes and lifted her hands in praise, I slipped into the row behind her and, unnoticed by revelers and supplicants, returned the keys to her purse.
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The only other car I ever stole was when Daddy tried to ground me and I ran outside and started up the Volkswagen he was allowing me to buy from him. He got his hand on the car door, but I released the clutch and spun away on the wet grass of the front yard.


I drove it to work at WARB where, in due time, one of Sheriff Red Erwin's deputies showed up and lectured me for as long as it took for one side of Frank Sinatra’s September Of My Years album to play. I spun him a yarn about how nobody but the FBI could arrest me because I was an announcer on duty at a federally licensed radio station. He said that could be arranged, that he would call the FBI if he had to, but went on, instead, to preach a nice little sermon about obeying my father. I was especially touched by his description of what jail would be like, so I promised him I'd take the VW straight home after work and would not steal any more cars. 
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