the river
"I'll be glad when we shove off," someone said. That's ferry talk for "set sail." Ordinarily, I would have been on the deck, leaning against the bow rail, facing the wind, and sailing the seven seas. With a properly trained imagination the muddy Mississippi River is just as romantic as the South Pacific. Come on ye bloody pirates and beast of the deep. These aluminum crutches are really swords and spears and I'm not afraid of anything under the shining sun.

But on this cruse it was night and stormy and the ferry was loaded to the max with cars, pickup trucks and eighteen wheelers. I sat confined in the car. I couldn't go forward. I couldn't go backward. I couldn't go, period.

Any time I can't go I have to go. It must be some kind of psychological trigger that goes off in my head when I'm told I can't do something. My parents used to say things such as, "Now, you be careful tonight and don't you go to Red's Place." "OK." Then I'd ask my buddies, "Where's Red's Place? I've never heard of it but it must be cool."

"Where are the restrooms?" I asked the Captain. Yes, ferry boats have captains with the same privileges as if they piloted the mighty Memphis Queen or any other grand paddle wheeler. I'm not sure they can perform marriage ceremonies but they can gamble and get drunk and, to varying degrees of proficiency, do anything else necessary to pilot a majestic river-worthy vessel.

"No bathrooms on this tub," the Captain said. "But Sir. I've got to go," I told him. "Then go," he replied, pointing to the bank. "Bunch of barges coming down stream. We'll be here awhile."

That was reassuring. It would take me awhile to get on the other side of that levy. I swung my legs out of the car and locked the braces. Hut, two, three, four. I goose-stepped off the ferry into the sand. Yeah. I was a real cat back in those days.

Crutches, spears and swords cut deep into sand. I dug my way to the top of the levy where there was a lane that the farmers used to get to the bottom land cotton fields. It was very dark. I was thinking it was too dark to go any further but I had too.

Can you be brave and scared at the same time? By my reasoning, yes. If you're not scared what's to be brave about? If you're not concerned by the possibility of encountering such things as water moccasins or levy gangs, you're just a damn reckless fool.

Now, this was pre ADA and the river banks along the delta were not all that accessible. The Corps of Engineers had not provided any 19 inch high toilet seats.

A few feet down the lane was a large fuel tank barely visible from the lights on the ferry. I went to the darker side of the tank preferring privacy over security. Snakes love river rats. With my feet planted firmly into the sand, I wedged myself into position with my back against the tank. "OK, snake. I'm all yours."

Whoops! The tank rolled, just slightly. But it moved enough to create the mother of all fear in these Raww bones. I could see tomorrow's headlines, "Search continues for man last seen rolling into the river." There will be much speculation as to why his trousers were down around his ankles.

I could hear the gossip, "What was a butt-naked man doing on the levy in the middle of the night? Look, down in the river! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a pervert with disabilities!

I plowed back through the sand, ferry bound, mumbling defiant challenges to the bloody, muddy, gossiping phantom foes. With a properly trained imagination, one learns to survive not only in the shark infested waters of the South Pacific but also in the snake infested bottom lands of exaggerated fear.

by Charley Raww