Catholicism in 1984, something that didn’t delight me at the time. It was five years before I would finally study and pray my way into the Church behind her. But in the meantime I needed a break, so I took a vacation from work to hitchhike to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I then began a trek with an old Army buddy, Alex, in his Mustang to the World’s Fair in New Orleans. Being then anti-Catholic, it’s odd that the main things I remember from the Fair were the Vatican Art Exhibit and the replica of the Shroud of Turin. From there, Alex and I drove up to Marshfield, Missouri, spent a couple days with my long-time friend, Calvin, and his family; then drove up to Chester, Illinois, to see a common Army buddy, Joe; and then to my sister's home in Wichita, where Alex dropped me off. He drove back home to Albuquerque alone from there, and I began hitchhiking back to Washington State. But all this is only to tell you about the black guy who picked me up in Colorado and took me all the way to Ogden, Utah, and the adventures we had.
Arthur was in the Army, on leave, and driving some distance in his small pickup with cruise control. Since he was in the Army, he was very comfortable in treating me like a buddy and very open and honest in conversation. As we traveled over the mountains and hills, much of his conversation had to do with the constant failing of his cruise control. I remember this well, because it was the first time I had ever heard of cruise control and didn’t understand what in the heck he was talking about.
Maybe I should mention my brief experience with black people. I grew up in N.W. Washington State, where there were very few blacks. My first impression of them was very good. Nat Adams was stationed at the Blaine Air Force Base and he and his wife Katie were active in my Dad’s church. Nat and Katie visited us often, and Nat built a nice picket fence around our yard between the parsonage and the church. These were the only black people I knew in the course of many years, but they were enough to convince me that there’s certainly nothing negative about being a different color.
When I attended Everett Community College, one of my best friends was black. One day the two of us went into a corner grocery store and I saw some candy I hadn’t seen in many years--candy we had always called “nigger-babies.” I happily grabbed up a handful to buy, and my friend saw me and reprimanded me, saying, “Hey, you know what those are?” I smiled big and said, "Yes, they're good," and went to buy them, while he rolled his eyes and sighed.
When I worked at Cessna Aircraft in Wichita, Kansas, one of my best friends was black, and he often drove me to and from work in his old boat of a car. And I was with him the day his steering went out and we managed to survive it without an accident. And it was with him, in my apartment, that I discovered that I hated the taste of the Pink Catawba wine I bought.
In the Army, I was around a lot of black guys, of course, but they tended to stay to themselves, except for Rudy Jackson in basic training, with whom I sat up into the nights to study the Bible. One day I sat across from two black guys who seemed determined to get me to say something that would justify them pounding me. They brought up the subject of evolution and races, waiting for me to say something about whites being more evolved. They were disappointed when I said, “I don’t know what happened then, I wasn’t there; but we’re all here now.”
Other than all that, Arthur in the little truck was it, as he drove me over the bleak terrain. When he got sleepy, he had no qualms in turning the driving over to me while he slept. And when he was awake and not talking about cruise control, he was telling me how he hoped to find a girl when we got to Salt Lake City. I wasn’t sure what this entailed. When we arrived at Salt Lake City that night, he drove to a seedy part of the city and got out and talked with some other black guys, who told him that Ogden would be a better bet. And on the way up to Ogden, Arthur let me know that he was looking for a prostitute.
I had been in some sleazy places before, in back alleys in Korea, etc., but had never felt as uneasy as I felt in the dark, back streets of Ogden, Utah. I remarked to Arthur that I had thought Utah was run by Mormons and wouldn’t have prostitution. He laughed and said, “Prostitution is everywhere, man.” We pulled up across the street from a bar, and Arthur said, “Come on,” as he got out.
In front of the bar were several black guys--no white guys in sight--and I whispered to him, “I’m going to get killed.”
Arthur turned and said with a smile, “No you’re not. You’re with me.”
The guys out front studied me as I followed Arthur into the first black bar I had ever entered. And as he walked around talking with various characters, I played a pin-ball machine. No one bothered me at all. I even saw several friendly faces. Finally Arthur called me and we went outside, where he went over and spoke with the sleaziest character around--an older black man missing some teeth. To my dismay, this man followed us back to Arthur’s truck and got in.
I expected him to stink, but only his mind and talk were offensive. He did most the talking, telling us what kind of sex he liked to do with black women, and the much worse kind of sex he liked to do with white women. Finally Arthur managed to shut up much of this fellow’s talk. His purpose was to direct Arthur to a desirable hooker, and so Arthur (and unfortunately I) put up with him. But it turned out to be a wild goose chase. Supposedly the girl was gone, perhaps with someone else, but I think the old guy just wanted to ride around doing something less boring than standing on a sidewalk. We finally took him back to the bar very late in the night, and Arthur gave up his quest.
I had wondered what I would have done if Arthur did find a prostitute. Micki and I were having an ongoing religious argument, she was becoming friends with people who criticized me, I was fighting depression, and our marriage was at a low; but it wasn’t quite that low. I was on my way home, and would have left Arthur if he had been successful, but I have to say that searching for a hooker in the black slums of Ogden was a unique experience to have had, and interesting enough to have somewhat enjoyed.
Arthur ended up renting a motel room for one, then let me in to sleep the rest of the night on the carpeted floor. And in the morning I said good-bye to this friendly soldier on leave. I stuck out my thumb to meet many other interesting people, finally returning home and into the arms of my wife, and Arthur went his way with his faulty cruise control.
For the complete contents of the Butter Rum Cartoon, click here.