By the time I was five years old, I knew somebody in every bar in four counties. Daddy would bring me along when we couldn’t afford a babysitter, which was most of the time. Bars were really boring for me, so I’d make puppy-dog eyes at a waitress or somebody, and they’d give me a couple times at the pinball machine or whatever. Open up the pool table for free, and I’d set up crazy trick shots that didn’t ever work.
Sometimes that’s what started the fight. Some fella would tell me, “Goddammit, put up them balls, sit down, and be quiet!” Daddy would ask the fella if he had anything to say to somebody his own size. The fella would say, “Yeah, Buddy, I think I do.” And off they’d go.
One time, I was seven or eight, and I decided to help Daddy in a fight. Planned it all out. See, she liked to bite, my mother did, and it hurt like anything. Hell, even getting bit by something a lot smaller, like a cat, hurt like anything. So I figured whenever some fella fought with Daddy, which always happened, I could sneak up behind the fella and bite him to help Daddy win and make him proud. Even bit my own hand to see whether my bite was strong enough to hurt, and it was.
So I was standing there, holding Daddy’s watch, and the fella he was tangling with ended up with his back pocket about six inches from my nose. He wasn’t paying any attention to me, so I figured this was a pretty good opportunity. I said, “You’d better be scared, Buddy, ‘cause I ain’t,” just like Daddy did every time, and I clamped my teeth down around a chunk of his butt as hard as I could. The denim made my teeth slip a little, but I ended up with a pretty good grip of something.
Man, you probably could have heard him screaming and cussing across the river, and the Miss is a mile wide down there. What else you could hear for miles was people laughing. Everybody in the bar laughed like crazy. I even heard Daddy laugh. He told the fella, “That’s my boy. You touch him and you goin’ home in ten different cars.” And a couple other fellas said, “‘At’s right.”
So the fella I was biting begged him to get me off of him, and Daddy Po asked me real nice — and real slow — if I’d be willing to consider maybe, at my convenience, stopping biting this poor bastard.
I didn’t know what he meant by all that, so I said, “Hmm?” with the guy’s butt still in my teeth. That made everybody laugh again.
Then Daddy told me to get off of him, so I did. The fella ended up buying me a Doctor Pepper and he got Daddy so many beers he had to pull over on the way home to throw up.
Note: This is an excerpt from Slater’s forthcoming Southern transgressive novel “Selling Sin at the Hoot-Possum Auction.”