MAKIN’ A LIVIN’ – 1990 16 YEARS OLD
Brian, Ray, and I were young capitalists and therefore not afraid to work on and off the clock to make a little dough. We had our regular jobs in construction, cutting grass, lifeguarding, gas pumping, selling raccoon pelts, and putt-putt golf course security. Our stolen earnings always tasted sweeter.
Our parents proudly instilled a solid work ethic in all three of us. They took pride in the fact we bought our own cars, clothes, fishing gear, and the endless supply of ammo needed to get us through a weekend. Sure, it upset my mom that we were skinning wild and occasionally not so wild animals for gas money. However, we didn’t drink or do drugs, and the boys in blue had not knocked on her door in years. She was a glass half-full kind of woman.
Most of our regular scores were seasonal. In summer, we were watermelon farmers. Close to Ray’s house were large fields of a variety of crops. We would monitor the melons for perfect ripeness and make sure we planned our harvest before the rightful owner planned his. Once they were ripe, it was time to put on our green jeans, or camo jeans and black shirts in this case.
The quickness and simplicity of this heist was its beauty. We would all three get in a pickup truck fitted with plywood walls — designed by Ray — that looked just like real melon farmer’s. Under the cover of darkness we would approach the farm at around 50 mph. At this point the driver, always Ray, would slide the truck into neutral and kill the engine and lights. I have yet to meet anyone else who had an official getaway driver at sixteen. The truck would hit the embankment at full speed, he would skillfully stick the landing, and then roll the truck another 100 or so feet into the middle of the field; a few melons always lost their lives in the process.
Once stopped, we would leap from the truck and collect our bounty. When the truck was piled as high as humanly possible, Ray would lock the hubs into four-wheel drive and creep out of the field in blackness. After we hit the road, the lights went on and we slid back to his house.
The next day we took back roads to the place we always fenced our contraband, Buckhorn Landing. Buckhorn was a very exclusive club for white trash, a country-country club if you will. I am not sure what the membership dues were, but it could not have been much more than a sleeve of Copenhagen, a jumbo bag of barbeque pork rinds, or a set of old Chrysler tires. While working at this elitist joint, I witnessed a variety of refined acts including but not limited to: a preacher getting a beat down with a golf club over a game of horseshoes, a man pulling a pistol after a heated barbeque debate, and a drunk man drowning after going boating with a one-foot hole in his boat. Needless to say, my mom hated the place; she did not like the idea of us breathing in all that second-hand singlewide.
Although ignorant hillbillies, these folks knew a deal when they saw one. With our volume and low operational expenses we were able to pass our savings on to our customers with half-priced melons. We grossed around $500 a truckload and were fishing by noon. In October we would repeat this play with pumpkins.
Come December, there was not much legal or illegal work for us, and our coffers were drying up. We were discussing our lack of options in the kitchen when my mom walked in.
“Can you believe they want $80 for a Christmas tree down at Piggly Wiggly?” she complained. “That is just ludicrous; this Christmas thing is getting way out of hand.”
Thank you, Marilyn! We now had our Christmas job.
Christmas trees sell for a mint. The plan was the same as the melons, except harvesting them and loading them was a bit more difficult. Obviously, we could not use a handsaw and cut them down one by one, and a chainsaw might sound a little suspicious. Ray had “acquired” a large bush hook from a fireman’s truck; it was a large axe-like device with a blade about a foot long. Using a bench grinder and a whetstone Ray made it sharp enough to shave with. The second problem was that the trees were so bulky you could only load a few on the back of a truck before they fell overboard. We remedied this with sets of bungee cords wrapped around the limbs of each tree.
We would only get one shot at this job so we brought two trucks and one full-sized van to make it count. The farm was down a rural dirt road; good for avoiding the cops, but bad for potentially getting your ass shot by a gun-wielding redneck. There would be two pullers and one chopper. The pullers, Brian and Ray, would jump and grab the top of the tree and pull it over, exposing the trunk of the tree. I would run up with the bush hook and let it eat. Either through superior bush hook technology, adrenaline, or the channeling of Paul Bunyan, I was able to take each tree down with one chop. We packed them tight and used ropes and come-alongs to keep them secure.
Then greed got the best of us. We wanted one more — we wanted Big Pappa. Big Pappa was three times the height of the other trees and we figured it would fetch a hefty price. The only problem was it was 20 feet from the owner’s rusted singlewide. Safety tip: A rusted singlewide trailer on a dirt road in rural Georgia is packing heat — always has, always will. Regardless, the tree was worth the risk.
Once we figured out how to get a clean shot at the base, it took several chops to make it through the trunk. So far, so good. However, when the tree fell, the action started. It must have been the tree farmer’s favorite tree. It was tied up to a good-ole-boy security system which was comprised of lots of strings, bells, and empty PBR cans. The racket woke the man. It was go time. No need for a meeting; we all went into a full sprint, dragging Big Pappa with cans and bells behind us like a newlywed’s car. We were almost to the truck when we heard the door open.
“What the hell is goin’ on out thar?” the man slurred in his saggy, whitey not-so-tighties — possibly the precursor to Calvin Klein’s boxer briefs.
As he went back inside to grab his gun, we hoisted the great tree to the back of one of the trucks. Large plumes of red dust flew behind our three vehicles, and as we reached the first turn we heard gunshots in the distance.
We had hocked them all by 11:00 a.m. and made around $1,500, with Big Pappa bringing in $120 alone. Our biggest score yet. In hindsight, $1,500 might not have been worth dying for, but rational behavior wasn’t one of our strong suits.
Our parents thought us the perfect sons when we brought each of them the pick of the litter. Nothing says Jesus’ birthday quite like giving your parents a hot Christmas tree to put the loot under.