Sunday, January 1, 2012

Of the famous naked man who dusted his broom

Poison run rampant in puffs of powder

A story often told is that one evening Johnson began flirting with a woman at a dance, the wife of the juke joint owner..Johnson was allegedly offered an open bottle of whiskey that was laced with strychnine...Johnson is reported to have begun feeling ill...Over the next three days, his condition steadily worsened and witnesses reported that he died in a convulsive state of severe pain...

From a beer joint in the black lands - “I just don't want no laws putting their hands on me. That's when I really come unglued, when they go trying to put their hands on me.”

It all started when he stepped outside a local tavern in a famously wet town to smoke a J with some new-found friends, and, oh, Lord, the bottom fell out.

Five fractured ribs later and a trip to “the only box that would hold me,” a jail in Milam County where they “Hannibal Lecterize” those who no longer respond to reason, he is sweating out an extended disability leave from his place of work.

There was the inevitable detoxification period at a local hospital, an expensive proposition covered by his employer's insurance plan.

From his perch on a bar stool in neighboring town a little further down the tracks, he tries to sort it all out.

“They tell me I did all kinds of strange things...They tell me some people never come back,” he says, ruefully, shivering just a little - and shaking it off with a long draught of his brew.

For one thing, he got himself totally naked in front of the courthouse in a very respectable old cotton town.

Following this alarming occurrence, there was a full-scale melee with the local police force, one that involved tasers, drugs that make you take 15 minutes to turn your head, and hand to hand combat with multiple antagonists.

From there, he led the cops and deputies on a merry chase, fighting, fleeing, reacting to their attempts to restrain him with total fury.

“I know I was out of jail – for awhile – then I got into it with those old boys in the black suits – and then I was back in the jailhouse – for awhile – then they hauled me on down to that lock box in Milam County where they 'Hannibal Lecterized' me...I had everything but the mask.”

One can only assume he is talking about the 'I love me' coat they call the straitjacket.

How was it done, this matter of his disorientation, his arrest and ultimate hospitalization?

Someone invited him to partake of the yerba buena, the social lubricant of the night life, Texas Tea, Mary Jane, the smokers' circle. That's where this friendly and familiar experience turned deadly.

Sometimes, operatives who don't really have a target's best interests in mind “dust” a joint of marijuana by applying the hog tranquilizer – something developed to control swine while in transit - abbreviated as PCP, to the green, leafy, herbaceous substance. The smoker soon feels the effects of an uncontrollably disorienting drug, something that is beyond his control.

The net result is a psychotic reaction, behavior that closely mimics that of a schizophrenic, behavior in which whatever the mind suggests becomes very real, often very frightening, and ultimately produces rage and an irrational desire to lash out at imagined attackers, people perceived as hostile, or perhaps mocking, derisive.

What possible motive would folks have for such a tactic?

There are the bar wars, the games people play when they compete for business in the workplace, the market for cold brew, the constant struggle for status, licensure, privilege, power, connections.

The tax man finds it hard to profit from sales and possession of the herbs and potions purveyed by the pushers and smugglers.

There is a multibillion dollar industry in smuggling, drug testing, treatment, rehabilitation, insurance and the like.

And, yes, there is a way to win this deadly game.

You don't play. You just don't play.

A word to the wary: drink only from containers you know were sealed and opened in your presence; partake only of substances the source of which is known personally to you; keep your friends handy and your enemies even closer.

They both have their uses and features, their foibles and fateful connections.

As one venerable Texas governor said, “Drive friendly.”

Ooh, la, y'all. And how.

“There are some little old ladies who have volunteered to pray for me,” the man concluded, smiling. "Can't hurt anything."

Meanwhile, "My sons are on the case."

Fellow blues legend Sonny Boy Williamson allegedly advised him never to drink from an offered bottle that had already been opened. According to Williamson, Johnson replied, "Don't ever knock a bottle out of my hand." Soon after, he was offered another open bottle of whiskey, also laced with strychnine, and accepted it. Johnson is reported to have begun feeling ill the evening after drinking from the bottle and had to be helped back to his room in the early morning hours.

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