There were no seagulls at the dump that day. The wind was strong out of the south and you could smell salt on the air. Dry crimson dust devils followed us along the road back to the highway. We had left a half yard of old roofing shingles and retrieved an old Yazoo lawn mower which dad would end up repairing and use for a good many years. He waved goodbye to the hunchbacked old attendant as we passed the gate.
Dad slowly shifted up through the gears, skipping the broken second gear on the tired column shift. The valves protested the too high gear on the dirt road with a loud rattle as blue smoke covered our exit. With the shifting done and the truck nestled in a cozy forty miles an hour dad rolled up his window long enough to light a cigarette. I enjoyed the sharp smell of cigarette smoke and fluid from his old zippo lighter.
I sat up in my seat as dad drove on, ignoring our turn onto Schillinger’s road and continued east, toward downtown. I knew there was nothing in town he wanted at eleven in the morning on a Saturday. He looked at me. “Feel like some boiled peanuts?”
The only place to score boiled peanuts as far as dad was concerned was a bar on the causeway. The peanuts were prepared by a toothless old man called Dumplin’. The peanuts were boiled green, the only way, and seasoned using just salt and shrimp boil. They were first come, first served, and only available in August and September when jumbo peanuts were harvested.
Dumplin’ had retired from the the Army as a private after being shot in the stomach on a cold morning somewhere in Korea. He had dentures but only used them on special occasions. I never understood much more than my name which was and is Bubba, and the occasional gawtdamnitt sprinkled about for emphasis. The rest of his vocabulary was lashed out of his jowls like wet semaphores during a monsoon.
The inside of the bar was dark. Lush with potted palms and festooned with tiki garb and tribal masks, it looked to me like something out of an old movie. Dad sat at the bar with the regulars and handed me a cherry coke and four quarters for the pinball machine. “Hold on baby,” the bartender said rushing from behind the bar. She grabbed a wooden pallet from the storeroom and placed it on the wet floor in front of the pinball machine. “If you stand in that water and play that machine you might get a shock”.
I thanked her and loaded the Playboy pinball machine with quarters. I felt a slight electric tingle as I placed the coins into the chrome slot. Brackish water was lapping at the back door and whitecaps were hammering the seawall. More water began to seep under the door.Wind whistled through the eaves. Hugh Heffner and Barbi Benton smiled down on me from the electric scoreboard.
On closer inspection, I realized with gratitude that the pinball artist had a good eye and was a stickler for detail. The slight suggestion of Barbi’s animated areola assuaged any concerns an eleven year old might have had about devils of alternating current and bay water. I set to work.
The water had reached the top slats of my pallet when I gingerly tugged the plunger as though it were connected to a pound of TNT. I launched the first pinball towards glory when the place went dark. Hoots and catcalls erupted from the bar until dad opened the front door letting in the grey afternoon light. The bartender gave me my quarters back out of her tip jar and dad and I used the old truck to ferry the ladies across the flooded oyster shell parking lot to their cars on higher ground.
As we crossed the Cochran bridge on the way home, five pounds of peanuts nestled between us, dad said “don’t tell mom we went to the bar. If she asks about the peanuts, tell her we went to the farmers market.” So I did.
A few weeks later, I turned twelve. A few more weeks after that, on September 12th 1979, Hurricane Frederic came along and wiped away the bar.. and Barbi forever.