43 - A Comedian in Texas (and the benefits of Bourbon Whiskey)
The day a highly dishevelled and ridiculous looking Henry Snook first thought he might be a comedian was the day he stood in the dock waiting to be sentenced. Those had been the judge’s words after all. Standing in a strangely lopsided way the pink six inch stiletto, so pink it would send shocking spiralling into space, was so small it screwed up his right foot in a painful ball. Obviously on the wrong foot and pointing outwards, the right footed calf length, hand tooled leather, cowboy boot, with two inch heel, on his left foot, was absurdly floppy being made for a giant that he hoped he would never meet again. Both were brand new. The four inch discrepancy between the height of his right and left feet was obviously the cause of his asymmetrical stance. All the evidence had been heard and the testimony of those involved including the blonde sales girl, the giant, the giant’s wife, the Car Lot owner, the patrolman, the custody sergeant and the owner of the dead steer had been noted.
Even though a bit fiery Henry had been impressed by the way the young prosecutor had presented her case but felt she did dwell a bit too long on the cow which, as they were in Texas, she actually referred to as “the dead steer”. Like an apprentice plasterer given the inside of a cupboard for practice, the young lady was seemingly learning her trade in this minor court. Henry noticed she was mastering the gesticulating hand waving and finger wagging that might litter the set of a Hollywood courtroom saga and the practised pauses in her oration added dramatic effect. She would soon, no doubt, be making an impact on the bigger stage. By contrast the defence attorney assigned to him was a greying, older, dreamy type who kept laughingly looking at him and was more intent upon staring at his fingernails than having anything useful to say except, that is, to enter a plea of not guilty on Henry’s behalf, that Henry found rather amusing given the circumstances, and to attempt to mitigate the charge of shoe theft.
Hoping to quickly wrap things up the Judge, who had been becoming increasingly agitated at the absurd nature of this case, had said to Henry in what Henry later referred to as a Texas drool rather than drawl, “Have you anything you wish to say, Son?” The judge continually chewing a wad of tobacco made Henry think that at times there would be some leakage particularly during an uncontrolled rant. And that is exactly what happened.
Henry, who lived in a world based on naivety, replied in a casual manner, “Yes please, Sir,” and then, being sure he was part of a conspiracy, went on to say without a pause, “Your motorcycle patrolman made me wear these shoes to avoid breaking a so-called local statute and your custody sergeant made me wear them to avoid breaking so-called custody rules and your court bailiff insisted I had something on my feet in court. My right foot is ruined and my plea to remove the shoe ignored. I wish to complain about this treatment.” Immediately he had finished and seeing the look of exasperation on the Judge’s face and the eyes of his attorney cast to the heavens and the smirk on the prosecutor’s face he realised he had made a very serious mistake. He was, after all, in a small Texas town with a very closely knit community that was extremely protective of their establishment and was in the presence of a judge who would have been, many years ago, deemed a hanging Judge.
The Judge stood. He seemed to be vibrating. He leaned forward resting on white knuckled, clenched fists on the front of his bench, looked Henry squarely in the face and, displaying brown stained teeth with a fine spray of brown spittle, yelled in a fit of rage, “Son, you English are unbelievable. You Son are a right joker. A proper comedian. People here abide by the rules and our officers uphold those rules. Son, look at yourself. You're a disgrace and a misfit to boot. You're in no damn position to complain. And, the toe cap of that boot is an affront to women.” He then picked up his gavel and smashed it down with a resounding crash while saying, “Court adjourned for two hours,” and stormed out.
Henry’s only thought at that moment was bemusement at the Texas habit of referring to him as someone's Son. It is what the motorcycle cop had said as well even though Henry was maybe twice his age and, incidentally, he was also a “Boy” according to the custody sergeant even though he was fifty five.
Three days ago the Car Lot owner in his bright blue silk suit, presenting his best salesman’s smile that displayed a perfect set of sparkingly white teeth and suspecting easy prey, had said to Henry in a persuasive, hypnotically smooth voice, “Sure, I can rent you a car, sir. We have a selection of the best in town. May I suggest this one?” pointing to an ancient, bright red Cadillac convertible with stained white top, fraying white wall tyres and very shiny but rust pitted chrome. “Expensive,” he continued, “but well worth the money for such a luxurious experience. Unlimited miles and a full tank.”
Henry was seduced. If he did remember his Grandmother saying to him when he was very young, “never trust a man in a bright coloured bow tie especially if he has a pencil thin moustache,” he now ignored that sound advice and signed on the dotted line found after ten pages of small print that he did not read.
With significant steering play reminiscent of those driving scenes in 1940’s Film Noir movies where the driver is seen with the steering wheel moving inches side to side and with springs that made spongy seem solid, he rocked and rolled and struggled to control the heavy beast as he continued on route to Dallas. He felt sure the car had a mind of its own.
Henry had pulled over in this seemingly nice, peaceful town being attracted by a swanky boot and shoe store. He quite fancied a pair of snappy western boots. Long blonde hair and a beautiful smile greeted him as he entered. He removed his shoes and sat waiting for his selection to try. Next to him was a couple, the man, clearly in charge of a short fuse, trying on boots and the lady, with obvious attitude, pink stilettos. They were in disagreement and somewhat violently. He hated pink and she did not approve at all of the indelicately posed, naked lady on the silver toe caps. Unsure how to handle a quickly developing situation the assistant with the long blonde hair tried to calm things by offering alternatives resulting in a stream of abuse from both the man and lady who were each intent upon the items they had chosen and severely distressing the girl.
Displaying his strong sense of chivalry Henry immediately jumped to her defence saying, “I’m sure there is no need to berate this nice lady. What is the objection to trying something else? It would make sense would it not?”
The man, extremely put out, dissolved into a complete breakdown and basically told Henry to mind his own business but in a much less polite way.
“I’m sure such language is not necessary,” Henry smiled and replied quite cheerfully with his normal innocence. “May I suggest you leave if you are unable to agree.”
That was the final straw. The man stood and, displaying a stature that would put an American Football Lineman to shame, took a swing at Henry who agilely ducked and backed fearfully towards the door. The man threw the size fourteen boot he was holding which Henry caught in his left hand. Then, snatching the pink stiletto from his wife. That quickly followed which Henry caught in his right hand. As the man started towards him, Henry was minded to escape out the door and sprinted the hundred yards or so to where he had parked his car against the kerb. He threw the shoe and boot onto the passenger seat, vaulted the side into the driver’s seat and set off at speed just as the giant was about to catch him. There had been no time to put on his shoes.
Being extremely flustered, Henry accelerated and sped away with the car veering, almost uncontrollably, from side to side. He did not slow down as he left the Town’s limits and it was therefore not long before he heard the siren and looking in the rear view mirror saw a police motorcycle flashing him to pull over.
“OK Son, where's the fire?” the bored patrolman said, staring at Henry through a dark visor.
Dumb old Henry, thinking this old cliche amusing, laughingly replied, “You’ve been watching too many movies don’t you think officer?”
Although Henry could not tell, but anyone else would have suspected, the patrolman was understandably miffed to say the least. “Step out of the car, Son.” the officer replied whilst raising his visor to reveal an expressionless face then spitting out, “Is this your vehicle?”
“A hire car, sir,” responded Henry and presented the documents.
“British I see. Driving too fast. Driving erratically. And no shoes.” Looking at the passenger seat with a mischievous stare he said, “It’s an offence to drive in this county without footwear. Before you can proceed you will need footwear.”
“But I left my shoes in the store in town. Can I go back and get them?”
“No footwear, no driving. It’s the rules hereabouts. Try those, on that seat. Put them on and you can carry on.” This last bit was said with a smirky grin.
With a feeling he had got off rather lightly and not even considering he was the victim of mocking retribution, with footwear in place Henry left a very amused officer in fits of laughter. As he accelerated the heel off the stiletto caught under a tear in the thick pile carpet jamming his foot on the nearly fully depressed throttle pedal. As his speed picked up the bouncing car became more and more uncontrollable. Looking in the rear view mirror he could see the patrolman running to his motorcycle. That momentary lack of attention to the road ahead was enough to put Henry at high speed approaching a quite tight bend that turned the road away from a steep dropping bank. He yanked the steering wheel to the left but at that moment the car decided it was time to take full control. It launched to the right and left the road to fly off the bank heading towards a nodding donkey oil well pump. Fortunately it landed short. Unfortunately it landed on top of a longhorn steer which was instantly crushed by the two and a half ton vehicle. Coming to an abrupt halt Henry was thrown forward over the windscreen to land squarely in a waiting bush which was good enough to break his fall and probably saved him from serious injury.
Appearing through a cloud of dust, the patrolman stood over him as he struggled to untangle himself from the bush, promptly arresting him citing numerous charges and violations.
“Well, Son,” he said, “it seems you have caused yourself a heap of trouble and a dumb place to land and no mistake.” Looking at the car that conveniently hid all but the tail of what had been a prime and valuable steer.
Henry was sat in the back of a patrol car and hauled off to the cells where, in response to his request to remove his footwear, the grinning custody sergeant with the chortling patrol man beside him had said, “Well Boy, those will need to remain. I cannot allow unshod feet in my nice clean cells. It would violate a considerable number of rules in place to protect and ensure the health of inmates and staff.”
By the next day as Henry painfully limped to court his right foot was distressed to say the least but the court bailiff, with the still amused patrolman and custody sergeant close by, had insisted on proper attire in the presence of the judge and that included footwear.
The Judge returned looking somewhat refreshed and revitalised and if his breath could be sampled, full of a very good quality Bourbon which all knew was his favourite tipple. He had stopped chewing tobacco but had developed a slight, slurring stutter.
Having obviously been absorbed in some contemplation and in a totally out of character conciliatory mood due most likely to his inebriated condition he said with a calm but slightly muffled voice, “Well Mr Snook I have given this extraordinary case some serious consideration. I’m tempted to simply throw the book at you as you are quite clearly in possession of one of the dimmest characters I have ever come across. However I do have to take account of the submissions by the various witnesses. It appears you are to be congratulated for defending the lovely sales girl Doris who was verbally assaulted by Big Boy Bobby Brown and his wife both of whom are extremely sorry for their behaviour. It is clear that you did not steal the footwear in question but did, in a kind of fashion, misappropriate them. Speeding you are guilty of although an encounter with Big Bobby is enough to encourage most to beat a hasty retreat. Driving erratically you are guilty of although the fault of this mainly lies with the car owner and the dubious condition of the vehicle. Crashing you are guilty of although there is some mitigation as you were forced to wear inappropriate footwear by the patrolman and then the custody sergeant and court bailiff. It would seem on balance that you have been the victim of various circumstances. I conclude that the charge of shoe theft be dismissed as Big Bobby and his wife have agreed to pay for the footwear. The speeding offence commands a one hundred dollar fine but I find that inappropriate due to enforced panic. The car owner has lodged a claim for compensation of the value of the vehicle as stated in clause 198 (accidents) on page eight of his terms and conditions and has suggested the sum of $45000 as appropriate. This is an outrageous sum for something so highly unroadworthy and is dismissed. The owner of the steer is due compensation and this will be paid in full by the car owner as the condition of the vehicle was the cause of the accident. The patrolman, custody sergeant and court bailiff will be reprimanded for “wilful fun making” and are ordered to pay for foot massage to cure the pain in your right foot and you are awarded five hundred dollars from court funds for the distress you have endured. That I think concludes this case.” Banging his gavel he staggered from the court but turned to say with a final sway, “And, one more thing, I will be having words with the boot makers regarding that obscene toe cap.” He then left to, no doubt, have a long and peaceful nap.
Of course everyone was dumbfounded. The complete about turn from the Judge’s earlier tirade was extraordinary and seemed to demonstrate a natural calming effect associated with Bourbon whiskey. Henry was as bemused as anyone. He had expected to be hit by a very solid hard back, after all in his innocent world he was as guilty as a red handed thief. His defence lawyer was elated as he considered this a victory, his first in over twenty years. The prosecutor was distressed as far from the expected success elevating her career she now risked being consigned to the reject bin.
After a session with Rita the local masseur and ignoring her long list of extras he collected his five hundred dollars, which incidentally paid for a good quality hire car, he continued his journey with a greatly enhanced view of American justice. Oh, and he had no intention of taking up a career as a comic but was looking forward to sampling the proven attributes of the crate of best Bourbon sitting temptingly beside him on the passenger seat.