It won’t be long now, a matter of hours actually, when I visit the Ville for the very last time. In honor of that occasion, it’s only right that I devote the next couple of installments to the first time I ever set foot on those hallowed grounds.
I was probably 16 years old when Ed Thorpe (aka Max) began singing the praises of the place when he was both a gunfighter in the Ghost Town and a Palace performer in the days before the Showboat sailed into port. He asked if I wanted to come out and see what it was all about. At the time, Ed was staying out in the legendary trailer in the town's Gazette building on weekends. (Why was the trailer legendary? That's another topic
entirely. Let's just say that not all of the action in the Ghost Town took place out on Main Street.)
Anyway, I came out to visit on Saturday afternoon and got the two-bit tour of the place. I was completely fascinated that something like this existed in virtually the same town I had lived in my entire life, but never had set foot until that day. Ed was using the Gazette building to take olde tyme photographs that, as I recall, wasn't very lucrative. He probably made about two nickels and button the entire time. After awhile, the call of nature beckoned and Ed asked me to watch the place when he went off to the can.
While waiting for him, I heard slow, lumbering footsteps on the porch and the jingle-jangle of metal, not unlike Jacob Marley's Happy Christmas greeting to Ebeneezer Scrooge. Suddenly, the meanest son of a bitch I ever saw in my life appeared in the doorway. He wore a black hat, a sheriff's badge and a set of jail keys hanging over the butt of his pistol. He looked a lot like Richard Boone's pissed off brother while he stared at me with total contempt, as if he had once stepped in something that resembled me. He literally growled at me.
'"WHERE IS HE?"
His voice shook the interior of that little shop and me right along with it. With a voice that sounded like I had just lost every hormone I had grown at that point in those formative years, I croaked, "He went to the bathroom....." at the same time I was doing the same right then and there. This mean old son of a bitch sneered at me and mercifully loped away, leaving me to quiver in fear like a chihuahua.
That was my first encounter with Sheriff John Hoffman, a man I eventually was proud to call my friend. Even then,he still scared the crap out of me, but at least I was on his good side and he wouldn’t have shot me unless he felt I really deserved it..
Soon after I cleaned myself up, I sat front row center for my very first gunfight on Main Street. This was after the announcement over the PA system: "Folks, in about five minutes, there's going to be gunfight on Main Street just like in the days of yesterday. So if you take seats along the porches and general store, but stay off the streets because that's where all the action takes place. In about five minutes..."
THAT I believe is the verbatim spiel by none other than Gene "Fast Fester" (Don't you you mean FAT Fester?) Meechum, who was as close to a Smiley Burnette double as John was to Richard Boone. Gene even had the same dumb Burnette hat. The gunfight in question was the one and only SADDLE DROP, which I can also recite verbatim I'm sure. The cast was John, Fester, Ed as Fester's sidekick and Crazy George Lindstrom as Doctor Percival P. Hackemgood.
Fester: I paid forty dollars for that saddle.
Sheriff: When…forty years ago?
Well...it wasn't Ibsen, but then again, Ibsen couldn't write a decent gunfight to save his life. Still, this cornball outdoor skit lit a spark in me, one that never went out. Sitting on that porch with splinters in my ass and a mouth full of peat dirt planted the seed right then and there for me. I knew I wanted to be a part of this place. I just had to be.
Little did I know what else was in store for me that day.
TO BE CONTINUED