R.C. HAMPTON

1956-2001

R.C. Hampton died on December 17, 2001 of "natural causes," fourteen years to the day after a rogue wrecking ball severed his spine and rearranged his innards.

R.C. was as picky and persnickety about his writing as I was and sometimes it seemed we fought over every word of every piece he contributed to BENT. He was a remarkable writer because he was a remarkable man. He learned hard lessons the hard way and the truth he found shone forth in what he wrote. He was funnier than just about anyone I know, he could write in a low-down or a high-toned style, he could turn a phrase with the best of them, but best of all he was deeply generous and forgiving and he demanded that you, his readers and his friends, at least try to live up to his loving standards.

Because I admired just about everything he showed me, R.C. and I talked a lot about what kind of writing was appropriate for BENT. He summed up his position on the matter by saying to me once, "Well, look at it this way: I'm queer and I'm a crip, so you should just relax and publish anything I give you."

"Road Trip," the story you'll find here, recounts a time in R.C's life before "the accident," but it reflects an attitude toward life that even a ten-ton wrecking ball couldn't knock out of its author.

Some people, it's said, don't suffer fools gladly. R.C. didn't suffer fools at all. We're all a little bit less foolish for having known him.

Bob Guter, Editor
BENT

 

ROAD TRIP

by R.C. Hampton

 

I'm talkin' about this was a CAR, man.

Three-and-a-half TONS of old Detroit steel stone-cold-empty with no gas in the tank. Five-hunnert-and-seventy-five-cubic-inches of the biggest damned engine I have ever seen. Old Hydra-Flo transmission like they used to make, so you never felt the gear changes. It wasn't quick off the mark, but it kept on climbing after I pegged the speedometer at 120, and it could cruise that way all day and not even breathe hard. First time I saw it, I knew for a fact that it was full of adventures that you remember for the rest of your life.

Casey found it at some dumpy lot on Cornhusker. Said I should go check out this "estate wagon." Knew I'd never go if I'd known it was a damned ambulance.

But when I saw it, there was no goin' back. Sittin' there, shining in the sun... God put it there just for me. Gleaming cocksucker red with white trim. BRIGHT. Tailfins for days. On both ends. A ton of chrome. Massive grille. Big, diagonal dual headlights with those things that look like chrome eyebrows over the top. Huge suicide doors on both sides, and the big door on the back. A 1959 Buick Flexible Ambulance with a light and a siren that looked like a rocket on the top. In '59 ambulances and hearses looked just the same, but for the color. Like the big Caddy "coaches" now.

I talked the guy into trading me straight across for my '69 Karman Ghia ragtop, (now that's another ride I'd like to have again) because that was the last year they made them, and he was more farsighted than me.

The Buick had two air conditioners and two heaters, one for the front and one for the back, and a sound-proof window in between, behind the drivers' seat, I guess so the driver couldn't hear the victims screaming, or something. In the back was a platform for the stretcher, and a chilled compartment for medicine that was great for cooling beers. I got a five-dollar mattress from Goodwill and threw it back there, and there was still room enough left by the back doors for a La-Z-Boy and a beanbag. No shit.

I thought the fucker was haunted. The first time I drove it out of town at night, I saw a ghost face in the rearview mirror. It took me the longest time to figure out it was my own reflection from the headlights and the sound-proof glass. All those images of bleeding bodies in the back, they had me spooked.

We took the meat wagon to Omaha to hijack this jailbait juvenile that Casey had a thing for. The kid knew more mattress moves than all the whores in Times Square, no lie. They were throwing down on the mattress in the back, while I had to navigate that hunkerin' tank back to town through a raging fuckin' blizzard.

I was just getting ready to paint "C's Cold Cuts" on the side when I got a wild hair up my ass and decided to fuck off my job and go back to Alabama. Casey decided to come along, and some friends upstairs at Roach Towers thought it would be a good time to move on too, so we loaded everything up and formed a caravan. Kirk had just gotten the last of his inheritance, and spent it on the single most hellacious party we had ever seen, and a new Sedan DeVille, which he didn't know how to drive.

We all took off one snowy night. We were going as far as Des Moines together and then Casey and I were peeling off for 'Bama. Kirk, that fool, was learning to drive on the way, and whipped around me doin' 85 and spun out on the ice. The Caddy almost rolled, and I just missed it with that big Buick by inches. Kirk didn't get to learn to drive on that trip. He died a destitute junkie a couple years later, but that's a different story.

We left our chums in Iowa with two gallons of orange juice behind the grille chilling, and listened to AM skip radio stations from all over the world driving through the darkness. We stopped in Arkansas to see my friend Jackie and partied like fools for two days, and then headed out the second night. Casey, who'd been wired for a month, crashed and burned big time, but I was too stupid to realize I should stop to rest. I drove from Little Rock to Montgomery stone-fuckin'-cold asleep, no shit. Don't remember a THING.

The next thing I do remember is the sun coming up in my eyes on the bypass around Montgomery, and falling out from sheer fatigue as I ran off the road and missed this black man by three feet. I was out. What must that poor old man have thought? Dawn on a deserted road when what looks lie a red-and-white hearse comes roaring out of the distance to skid to a stop right at his feet. He must've shit. I'll never forget the look on his face before I blacked out.

We had been using my maxed-out Mastercard for gas and food, and when we got to my brother's house I went to the bank and got some cash on the card, hoping that the bank didn't know I was hundreds of dollars past my limit. Thank God they didn't have computers in Alabama then. Hell, they didn't even have picture IDs or vehicle titles for another ten years. We got ourselves a house for ninety bucks a month in a tiny little town called Coffee Springs and took jobs working nights in a cotton mill in Geneva.

Coffee Springs had three buildings in the "downtown," a gas station, a tiny grocery store, and Miss Merle's Golden Bear Cafe. The town's one cop had his office in the corner of the cafe. Through a door at one end of Miss Merle's was a pool table and a sand pile in the corner to spit in, and at the other end two washing machines and two dryers. One of each was broken. There was one phone in Coffee Springs. It was outside Miss Merle's. There was a sign on the edge of town that said that "niggers" could only come into town on Wednesday afternoons, to shop for groceries. It was 1976. That was Coffee Springs.

We were a scandal waiting to happen. We did, but it took a few months.

One sunny day me and Casey, and Tony, that hot as hell jailbird that had my britches permanently in a knot, were idling around Enterprise, my own hometown, and the only town in the whole world with a statue erected to an insect. Really, it's in the history books. It's in the middle of town. A seven foot silver Vestal Virgin on a pedestal holding aloft and adoring a 40-pound bronze boll weevil on a platter, with a look on her face like she could skate across the street on her own lubrication. Fountains, lights, the whole story. Me and the silver virgin, what a pair to come out of Enterprise, Alabama.

Anyhow, we took a notion to run over to Elba, another little burg I once lived in, to take Tony's brother some cigarettes. He was in jail there. Tony later wound up in prison forever himself, but that's a tale of a crime of passion and a treacherous woman and adolescent hormones on overdrive.

We rolled out of E'prise all three of us in the front seat of the big Buick, with room to spare. I had one foot up on the dash, driving with one hand while trying to figure out just where on Tony to put my other one. It was like driving a sofa at 80mph. The big Buick rode the road like a Chris Craft cabin cruiser. There was this load leveler deal in the trick suspension, a mercury-filled tube that shifted the weight of the car as you went into a curve, that kept it tight and steady, so the dips in the road just vanished.

That afternoon I blew up two gearhead rednecks that tried to take the meat wagon. The first kid blew by us in a beefed-up Merc, all jacked up, with a 4-11 rear end. Now, like I said, the Buick wasn't quick, but there was just no stopping it once it started to cook, and it handled like a boat. I had to take him.

It took us a mile or so to catch up, but we were into triple digits when we sailed around him. He and his buddy kicked it in the ass and passed us again. I stuck my foot in it and the wagon hunkered down to the road and ate it up. We waved as we cruised by 'em again, and they had a fit. Smoke was pouring out of the Mercury as they caught up to us a third time. Then their spark plugs burst through the hood. They were road kill.

A few miles on down the road some fool kid in a hot bug passed us by and after we rounded him the bug blew it's sad little motor trying to take us again. Oh, we were hyped. The Buick was great for cruising, the company was charged, and the day held great promise.

One night we all decided to make a run down to Panama City. Eleanor and her teenage lover Steve, Tony's bud, Hot Tony, and Casey and me, we took off flyin'. It's over ninety miles to the Gulf, but we figured we'd wire up the light on the roof. In the swamp country in the south they still use cars like that old Buick for emergency vehicles, so I just jammed my foot on the pump, cut on the light, and cruised. People pulled over and let us by. We made the beach in less than an hour, partied on the sand till dawn.

Oh, but trouble had to find me. After all, I was me and Alabama was, well... Alabama. Casey was gettin' busy with all the local talent. A true slut to the bone, and it was only so long before it all had to catch up to us. One night there was a banging on the door and I opened it to the town cop and six of his sidekicks... and seven guns. They wanted to search the house for drugs. We hadda have 'em. Even though I was local, I had gone North and fell in with Yankee trash. No tellin' what had been goin' on in their clean-living little town since we showed up. They gutted the place.

The next day Casey and me, we went to Geneva County Lake to hang out and catch a fish for supper. Behind in the rent, we were picking up pop bottles for gas money. I was lying in the grass by the lake, reading a book, something no true local would do for fun. Casey was fooling with the big Buick up above me, and knocked it out of gear and it came crashing down right for me. I rolled aside just in time. It ran over my book and into the lake. The shallow end. But still, we had one hell of a time getting that bitch out.

Couple days later, we come back from someplace and Mrs. Sparks was in the house. She was looking around for something she thought her son, who had been running around with Casey, had left there. Casey came off on her. Told her to get the hell out of the house and off of the property. Exact words. She went to the cop. We were in Miss Merle's, who had been feeding us on credit for weeks, when the cop came in and hauled Casey off to jail. The charge was "Abusive Language To a Lady." Where else but Alabama, I ask you? I pasted the cop with a chocolate milkshake, courtesy of Miss Merle, and dared him to take me too. Apparently you can't say "Hell" to a lady, but it's okay to hit an officer of the law with a milkshake.

That "Lady" showed her true colors when I went to beg her to drop the charges. She stood on the porch of her shotgun shack with her old man and his 12-gauge behind her and she said to me, "I don't have to take such mess from a white trash Yankee like Casey Miller. I'm free, I'm white, and," as she spit tobacco juice over my head, "I'm a LADY!" No lie. Then she told her old man to shoot me and had me slapped with a restraining order.

I had to hitch hike to Geneva to try to get the Sheriff to let that fool Casey out of jail. No luck. I hitched to Enterprise to Eleanor's house to use her phone to call everyone in the country I knew to beg money. I was tapped out. We'd been begging food off of Miss Merle for a while. No rent. No gas in the meat wagon, and nobody was giving any handouts. When I got back to the house Phineas Lewis was there for the back rent and was not pleased with me. Big trouble.

I sold the big Buick to a "colored only" funeral home in Enterprise. They needed a hearse and nobody wanted to sell to coloreds. I paid off Phineas, and hitching back from Geneva after I made Casey's bail we decided it was time to move on.

Our last act of protest was to take the mattress from the back of the wagon, write subversive slogans all over it in magic marker, and haul it to the burned-out "nigger lodge" that the KKK had torched years ago. That's where all the local teenagers went to fuck. We thought we'd give 'em a mattress to do it on. After all, it had seen lots of action.

The next morning, as we were hitching to Enterprise with our clothes in a paper bag, the cop tried to bust us again, but we got away. We waited at a gas station in Enterprise for the Greyhound and bought two tickets for as far as we could get on the money we had, then hitched the rest of the way back to Nebraska.

It was a long time before I went back to Alabama. 'Bout a dozen years ago, after my Dad died, I went to my brother's after the funeral and decided to cruise down to P.C., on the Gulf, to see an old "tender friend,"—who, it turned out, had died of a cocaine overdose—and I passed through Coffee Springs. I always felt awful about running out owing Miss Merle Graves for her kindness. She had fed us hamburgers and kept us alive while we were there, even though we were "trash."

Miss Merle had lost the Golden Bear Cafe. She'd given too much credit to too many folks, and too often they'd left her dry. She was way older than I had realized, and she didn't recognize me, but she remembered me right away when I told her who I was. I gave her a check for a couple of hundred bucks, which I'm sure she needed, by the look of things. She cried, and told me she had always thought I was a sweet child, but who ever thought she'd see the money I'd owed? Yeah, whoever would have thought? I'm awful glad I found Miss Merle. Better late than never.

I've run a lot of miles and a lot of roads since then, but damn! Me and that big old Buick, we had us some times!

©1995 R. C. Hampton

.

R.C. Hampton in BENT

Kinyesi, Part One
Kinyesi, Part Two
Puppy Whipped
Radio Ghosts
The Real & the Surreal
V.A. Blues

 

 

BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/March 2002