Nathan Webb: Memoir: Feb 2022

Southern Legitimacy Statement: Having moved out of the South for the first time in my life, The Dead Mule has been instrumental in alleviating homesickness. It’s been a great reminder of why I consider the South home. As far as a Southern Legitimacy Statement, it’s hard to know where to begin. I’ve been kicked out of multiple high school football games. The only fight I’ve been in was because during a Sunday School class I called someone from Florida a yankee.

Pig in a Blanket

There was something about the principal’s voice that made me anxious. It didn’t matter what was going on, he was always out of breath. Even a simple conversation about the weather made him sound as if he had just been chased by a large animal. Listening to him made me feel like I was going to have to run for my life at any moment. As soon as his voice sounded over the intercom, I subconsciously started scoping out emergency exits.

As a (nominally) good kid, I didn’t think I had ever heard the principal call my name. He already made me nervous, but when he asked for me to come to his office, I immediately started panicking. I had no idea what this could be for. The only trouble I caused was lighthearted, mischievous fun. Helping teachers play pranks on each other, trash-talking on rival school’s message boards and the like. There was that time my friends and I did a drive by paintball shooting, but that was only because this guy had hit my friend’s mom. Vandalism isn’t illegal if it’s for vengeance purposes. The thoughts raced through my mind. What was going on? What could I have done that I was getting called into the principal’s office? Small beads of sweat pooled on my forehead. I could feel my heart pressing against my ribcage. The moment I walked through the door, I blacked out. “Don’t (wheeze) sit down (wheeze.)” “They’re waiting for you at the police station” he said each syllable punctuated with a loud shallow breath.

 Now, our town was a small town. There were just about 2,000 people, so it was almost assured that the rumors were going to start flying as soon as I parked my truck at the police station. I still had no idea what was going on, but I know my reputation had already been ruined. No matter what the truth was, the stories imagined by my friends and their parents were going to be the historical record. I parked at my house and walked the three blocks, just so no one would see my truck in front of the police station. It took everything within me to not walk into the highway. I would have rather ended my life than faced whatever was waiting for me in that squat brick building. The self-destructive impulse grew the moment I saw my dad standing outside the station door. 

There was only one way in and out of the building. (They’re the police. Fire codes don’t apply to them.) There was no way I could avoid him. All I could do was walk up to him and say, “Hey dad.” Hopefully, the oblivious tone in my voice would find some sympathy and I would only be half-murdered for whatever crime I had committed. He stared down at me and with the gravitas that only a father can convey, said, “You know word travels fast in this town. There’s nothing that happens here that isn’t known by the whole town tomorrow.” “Yeah” I sheepishly replied. “That’s why you’re here. Something’s happened and the department needs our help. They need people with discretion.” I couldn’t think of what the police could need help with. There were only three cops in the whole town. One watched for speeding cars at one end of town. Another waited for people to run the stop sign at the other side of town. The third waited at the station just in case some terrorists tried to attack our combination city hall/courthouse/library/community center. Though we lived in a small, peaceful town, nothing could prepare me for the crime scene that waited behind the station doors.

There he was, our police chief, sitting behind his desk. A giant of a man, he stood about 6’4” and weighed somewhere north of 400 lbs. Had he been faster, he would have made a decent offensive lineman for a mid-tier college football team. Here he was, a beast of a man who could snap me like a twig. Yet, he looked frail. His face ran the gambit of human emotion. He was frightened, nervous, pained, and laughing all at once. As soon as I saw what was going on, the anxiety in my body was flushed and replaced by confusion. This man was the embodiment of the law and agent of the state. He was both the enforcer of the law and somehow above the law. The full power of the state was behind him, but here he was, stuck in an office chair. I had been dragged out of school and run through the emotional wringer, just because this beacon of freedom had gotten his behind wedged in between the arms of his brand-new chair and couldn’t get out. 

He looked at me with like a lion caught in a snare. Once powerful, he was now vulnerable, at the mercy of someone who could decide to help him or leave. Before I could comprehend what was before me, I felt my dad place a screwdriver in my hand. “I sent the receptionist on an errand. We’ve got about seven minutes to get him out before they come back and see what’s going on.” I moved like a NASCAR pit crew, sliding underneath the seat. The giant butt hovered over my head like an alien spacecraft bringing impending doom. Each screw I unscrewed loosened the arms trapping the man. Every turn of the Phillip’s head brought him a quarter inch closer to freedom. My dad pulled the officer’s arms, heaving in hopes of delivering him from his ergonomic prison. We were surgeons delivering a 465-month-old baby. Panic set in as I heard the receptionist pull their car into the parking lot. The veins on my hands bulged as I gripped the screwdriver. The final screw slipped out of its mooring, and the arm of the chair glided across the pistol on his hip and fell to the floor.

He shot up to his feet, without saying a word. My dad darted to the front of the station to make distracting small talk with the receptionist. I quietly reassembled the chair, making sure to place the arms as far apart as they would go. The police chief paced around the room, gathering his composure. Slowly the rosy color came back to his cheeks. By the time I had cleaned up and put the tools back in the closet, he seemed to be himself. He would never be the same, but as close to himself as possible. Without saying a word, he shook my hand and showed me to the door. I took a detour to get a cup of coffee on my way back to school. No one said anything. I never got another speeding ticket in that town.