Candy from strangers
1969 was a very passionate and confused year in America. It was the time of "do-your-own-thing" individualism and the Viet Nam war draft. There other mind-boggling events like the moon landing and riots taking place to keep your world stirred up. I was living in south Florida and that place was beyond crazy on a good day. For teenagers, life seemed uncertain at best.
A small group of enthusiastic teens formed an organization that we called the "Davie Rodeo Club" which was not affiliated with any school (like they are now.) I belonged to a close knit group of bull riders, consisting of myself, Stan, Dubby, and Pollard (he had a first name, but we never used it.)
The four of us were close and always watched each other's back. If one had trouble, the others were there... if you needed money, the others were digging in their pockets. In a time that stressed individuality, we had unity. And we were glad of it.
There were other bull riders in the club as well as bronc riders, bulldoggers, and ropers who hung around with us, but had their own cliques too. The kid whose dad owned the property that we built our arena on was a team roper, but he spent more time with us than the other ropers. It was obvious that we were a team and that was attractive to others who were used to being alone.
We did all the normal teenager stuff; if you can call anything a teenager does "normal." There was the usual dating, dances and school and we did have our own interests outside of rodeo. Bull riding was the common bond between us and it was strong brotherhood. To outsiders it was probably considered an insane passion, but to us it was life.
Pollard was a year older than the rest of us, but in the same grade. A little trouble (probably not so little really) along the way had interrupted his school career and he repeated a year, thus ending up with us. He was never rude or disruptive in class but he was treated like a troublemaker by every teacher in classes that we had together.
We all thought that being underage and drinking beer was OK, with the typical misconception that drinking beer made us cool. The need to seem older and more sophisticated than our peers at school made us do stupid things like that. Some members of our group had more trouble than others with growing out of that bad choice.
Our teenage years are difficult at best, and can be devastating at the worst. Successfully navigating those years was often dictated by who you had around you. If you had someone to either look up to for an example, or listen to for guidance, it made a world of difference. Some of us figured out how we were being “extra stupid” on our own.
It wasn't really apparent to us at first that Pollard had a drinking problem. We were after all still teenagers and a year younger than him. The guy always had a beer on him when he was away from school, but he never seemed to get drunk when we were around him. He started skipping school and going to work instead, more and more all the time. He said it was because he "needed" more money.
Pollard lived by himself in a small three room cottage apartment in Davie. His father had run off when he was young, his brother died in Viet Nam during the early years when we were just there as "advisors," and his mother had problems with alcohol and other substances of her own. His mother being a substance abuser was the one reason why we didn't think that Pollard would get "that way." We were wrong.
If he couldn't get beer or hard liquor, he would drink cough syrup or anything with alcohol in it. Stan caught him straining Sterno through a cloth to drink because he was out of booze and money and needed a fix just like a junkie. We decided right then and there that we were going to put a stop to this before it killed him and/or us (he often drove the car with us in it.)
Pollard wasn't left alone after the Sterno incident, and we wouldn't allow him to take a drink of anything with alcohol in it. It was pretty tense for a long time. There were several fights and we didn't fight fair, we'd gang up on him. We were determined to save our amigo and beat the booze.
After a few weeks it appeared that Pollard was over his craving for alcohol. We were elated, sure that we had won the battle. He told us that he was OK and didn’t feel the need for alcohol any more. It seemed like everything had worked according to our plans.
He had switched addictions and was chewing Redman and dipping Copenhagen or Skoal a lot more, but we figured that was a good trade off. No one thought about cancer much back then... well, the rest didn't. I had lost my grandfather and an aunt to cancer in the previous ten years and the idea of getting cancer bothered me. We thought we had it all fixed, but we were wrong.
Somehow Pollard had hidden a bottle of vodka where we couldn’t find it and was "spiking" his tobacco products with it to get his fix. He repeatedly said that he really wanted to quit and knew that we loved him like a brother and only wanted to help him. He felt the same about us and wouldn't intentionally do anything to hurt us. But alcohol was still ruling his life, in spite of what he wanted... until we found out about the vodka in his tobacco.
That discovery caused a blowout of huge proportions. As always we were “plotting against him," (as he saw it) so he told us all “where to go and how to get there.” We had finally had enough of spending all of our time on him and angrily stormed out of his place and went to Stan's house to discuss what to do next. It was decided to do nothing; the next move was Pollard's.
A week went by and we hadn't seen or heard from Pollard and we were getting worried; the “what if” scenarios kept playing out in our minds. Then on Saturday morning about 11:00 a.m. Stan got a call from Broward General Hospital. He in turn called Dubby and I and we sped to town.
Pollard had gone fishing on the sea wall by the jetties near Dania Beach. When he went to stand up he reached back over his head to grab the handrail that went all along the wall, missed, and fell over backwards. The drop was about ten feet.
He landed on his head on some great big rocks that were jumbled up all along the dry side of the sea wall. The one-point landing split his head open and knocked him completely out. The witnesses said that he didn’t move after he hit.
Fortunately for him there were several other people out there that day and one of them ran to a phone to call for an ambulance. The response was very quick as there was a beach substation less than two miles away. The crew had to climb down into the rocks to get to him and check him over.
Keep in mind that this was 1969 and procedures were not anything like what you see today when a Paramedic or EMT arrives. They picked Pollard up, sat him upright, and put a bandage against his head wound to stop the bleeding. While checking his vital signs they noticed that he had a kind of green pallor about his face.
He just didn't look right to them so they hauled him up the seawall bodily and manually carried him to the parking lot. There they strapped him onto a gurney, loaded him into the ambulance and hit the lights and siren. They didn’t have a clue why he would be green, but they were sure that it wasn’t right and that they had to get him to the ER, ASAP!
What they didn't know (and Pollard was a little too unconscious to tell them) was that he had about half a pack of Redman Chewing tobacco (non-alcoholic version) in his mouth when he fell. He swallowed it all, and I promise you, that will give you a green color!
The call Stan got was from Pollard himself, wanting more chew (or at least some snuff to dip) and he sounded clear and alert. We met at Stan's and then got into Dubby's Oldsmobile and went to the hospital. They indeed did have him registered there, but no, we couldn't see him until after 5:00 p.m. They were running tests on him and would be all day.
So, we went over to Leroy's Coffee shop and drank coffee until we thought the tide had come in and we were about to drown. Then we took a road trip to Boca Raton to see the new Horse Track and finally, we thought we had burned up enough time and drove back to Broward General.
It was only 4:30 p.m. and that grumpy Charge Nurse would rip our heads off if we bugged her again asking to get in early. So, we sat in the car and listened to Dubby's tapes. He was called "Dubby" because he had a speech impediment and could not say the letter "W" correctly. It always came out sounding like "Dubby" and that was a bummer since his first, middle, and last names all started with "W.”
We waited out our time and it seemed like forever because Dubby only had country music tapes in his car. He always claimed that it was because nobody would steal them like they did rock music. I would have gladly given them away to anyone who wanted them, especially when Dubby decided to sing along. The guy was tone deaf and didn’t care what he sounded like.
While we waited we had been watching two little boys, around six and eight years old, playing in their car while the adults went inside. They were obviously brothers and had been fighting most of the time. All of the windows were rolled all the way down in a failed attempt to keep them cool.
The boys had been repeatedly jumping from the front to the back seat and back again. They played with everything in the car; especially anything that they weren't supposed to touch. The cigarette lighter, the ashtrays, the horn, everything was fair game to them.
Before too long they were even bored of fighting with each other. The young boys were just kind of lying across the backs of the seats with that," been there, done that, too bored to bother" look on their kissers. The only thing that they didn’t even consider was getting out of the car; that would have brought the wrath of mom down on them.
Dubby said that it was time to go in and Stan and I gave a cheer. It was less because we now got to go see Pollard, and mostly because it meant that Dubby would quit that infernal noise. He said, "What? Don't you like my singing?" I told him the sounds he made would give a Barn Owl hot flashes and he chased me around some cars. That boy just couldn't take a little friendly critique.
While we were running around cars, Stan had been talking with the two little boys that we had been watching. They wanted to know if we were real cowboys, and Stan said, "Yep," which was cowboy talk for, “Uh huh.” Then they asked him what that was that he was putting in his mouth.
I failed to mention that Stan had a broad mischievous streak. He said, "Candy, do you want some?" The little brother of course said, "Yeah" (which was little kid talk for “Yep.”) Stan gave him a big wad of Redman chewing tobacco, which he quickly jammed into his mouth so his brother couldn't have any of it. I had been the target of his practical jokes in the past myself, so I felt sorry for the kid.
We were almost to the front door when we heard the sound of the involuntary expulsion of foreign matter. The little guy was being dangled out the window held by the ankles by his big brother. He lost his wad of chew and probably his lunch too. I could hear the older one saying, "Don't you get any of that on Momma's car, I ain't getting a beating for you."
We slapped Stan in the back of the head and called him bad names for doing that to that little guy. He said that he just wanted to teach them the lesson not to take things from strangers. I told him that he just convinced those two that all that bad things being said about cowboys were true.
Pollard was wearing one of those silly open-down-the-back hospital gowns and every time he got out of bed his entire butt would hang out. The nurse thought it was cute, which really worried him. She looked like a Marine drill sergeant, and she told him that she was going to give him a sponge bath later. He wanted out of there!
We had smuggled in his chew (which he wasn’t supposed to have) and he promptly loaded up his jaw and eventually had to spit. He looked around for anything convenient to spit in, (that the nurse wouldn't see right away anyway) and settled on the bedpan. It was stainless steel and held quite a bit.
Even though he was able to get up and go to the bathroom just fine, they still put the bedpan next to his bed. It freaked him out that the nurse asked him if he needed help using it every time that she came in to check on him. We of course, picked up on his aversion to her attention and teased him every way that we could think of about their “romance.”
We asked our amigo how he was feeling, really. What we wanted to know more than anything was if alcohol was involved in his accident, but none of us would ask. Pollard said that he was fine, just a cut on his head and they had sewed that up and he was as good as new. He stressed over and over that he couldn't wait to get released... before “Nursey” came calling again.
In a moment of rising bravado I finally asked about his drinking and was he having any trouble needing a drink in there? He told us that after we left him on the day of the big argument, he sat down and took stock of his situation. That day he had come to the conclusion that he had to either quit drinking or die. Pollard said that he thought long and hard about which one he wanted.
He reached the decision that life was worth living and it was up to him to make it work. No one else should have to be responsible for his actions, and he hadn't touched a drop since. He was afraid that he would backslide and was embarrassed about how he had acted. So he wanted to wait until he had a week of sobriety under his belt and knew for himself that he could do it.
According to him he had gone out to the jetties to fish and think about what to say to us, and then fell off the wall. There was a long silence where we thought about what he said and stared at this guy that we cared about, wanting to believe him. It was fair to say that there was a lot of doubt in that room.
Dubby said, "Pretty speech, but if you don't mean it, we're all through with you." Stan and I stared him in the eyes and nodded our agreement.... he got the message.
It was past visiting hours by then, so we were about to leave when Dubby said that he had to go dump the bedpan somewhere, so Pollard wouldn't get caught. The little monster took it to the Godzilla nurse and told her that Pollard had a bowel movement and it didn't look right to him.
When the nurse looked in that bedpan and saw the chew spit and chunks of tobacco leaf all chewed and mashed (it did look awful) she nearly screamed. Dubby had said, "Get out of here quick" but didn’t say why. From the panicked look on his face we knew better than to delay.
She was heading for his room when we took off down the hall, at a very fast, I-wish-I-could-run-now speed. Pollard got to stay an additional night while they analyzed his "sample." He not only got the sponge bath, Nursey gave him an enema as well to "clean him out."
The next day, Sunday, he got "out" all right... when the sample turned out to be chewing tobacco spit they practically threw him out the front door. We were there waiting to pick him up, and give him more chewing tobacco. We knew it was a filthy habit, but still indulged in it anyway.
The good news was that Pollard got off the alcohol completely and the rest of us didn't want much to do with it either. We had seen enough with his struggle to convince us to not let anything get grip on our lives like that. There was a funny (to us) side effect from Pollard’s hospital experience; he said that whenever he took a chew after that it gave him the weirdest feeling, like he had to go to the bathroom.
My family and I moved to Georgia the next year and I lost track of my friends. It is true that all of us have to go our separate ways in life. I like to think that we learned enough from those hard lessons to make better decisions.
I am sure that those other guys are still out there somewhere having fun; and probably at each other's expense if I know them.
Pollard and Stan are gone now, but Dubby is a wealthy business owner with a stack of kids and grandkids. I would bet that he is still playing that crappy music and singing along with it while he plays tricks on his friends.