Saturday, March 5, 2011

Booger love Sissy: The back story

Several years ago my friend Steve was driving to the Delta National Forest when he passed a garbage dumpster west of Satartia, Mississippi, on which someone had painted a memorable proclamation: “Booger love Sissy.”

Steve’s first thought was to wonder why anyone would choose a dumpster to profess his love. He second was: OK, the guy was named Booger.

For some reason this roadside glimpse into the heart of a man Steve now calls “possibly the most romantic dumpster graffiti artist in Yazoo County” stuck with him. As random roadside glimpses go, this one had staying power. Steve was preoccupied with the message on the dumpster for most of the day, and found himself telling others about it, always with deadpan delivery, for weeks, then years after. He wondered how the message had been revealed to Sissy -- whether Booger had left it to chance or had driven her out there, perhaps at night, to reveal his true feelings in the glare of the headlights, accompanied by the nervous scurrying of raccoons. Regardless of how Sissy reacted, she would have been reminded of Booger’s love every time she heaved a stinking bag of garbage over the side. Plus, everyone in the area knew.

I shared Steve’s fascination with the public imagery associated with Booger’s love, and came to believe, over time, that I had actually seen it myself. Perhaps I had, since I had visited Satartia several times and was aware of the dumpster, thanks to Steve, but I can no longer be sure. It's possible my brain compressed all of its Satartia dumpster files into one, that once the image of the “Booger love Sissy” dumpster got in my head it became mental clip art. Thanks to Booger’s choice of venues, his profession is part of the public domain.

So it was that recently, as I was telling my friend Chris about seeing it, I began to feel that something was slightly out of whack, as if the narrative feed had changed fonts midway through, indicating some kind of cut-and-paste, which turned out to represent the presence of a secondary source, Steve. At which point I informed Chris, “…well, now that I think about it, it was Steve who first saw it, and then I saw it… later?” Then: “Actually I think just Steve saw it, maybe, and I just remember him telling me about it, but anyway it was there.”

Fortunately, at the time Steve told me, which was perhaps 15 years ago, his memory was fresh. Booger’s profession of love was there for all the world to see. And hearing about it now, Chris’s brain captured the information and accepted the truth that there had once been a dumpster in Satartia that said “Booger love Sissy,” or, as I recollected, “Booger (heart) Sissy.” That's what matters most for the purposes of this story.

Chris and I had arrived in Satartia midway through a day devoted to dismantling a century-old log corncrib on his family’s land in the nearby hills, where he lives. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere in these notes, my friend Chad and I are prone to undertaking projects that involve dismantling, moving and reassembling endangered historic structures, most recently the smokehouse at sadly destroyed Altorf plantation. A week before I had brought Chad to Chris’s family land to see if the corncrib could be saved. Chris had offered it to me to move, because his grandmother had decreed that it should be bulldozed.

It is worth noting that the Altorf smokehouse was Chad’s second smokehouse, even though he doesn’t smoke meats, and that Chris’s grandmother’s corncrib would be my second, though I don’t stockpile corn. Chris’s grandmother seemed not to entirely understand this sort of behavior, or maybe she did. As we looked over the dilapidated structure she asked if I’d also like to have the old mule collars and such that were hanging from its walls, and when I said yes she asked, “What about that old rusty cross-cut saw with no handles?” When I answered in the affirmative she turned to Chris and said, “He’s like that ol’ washerwoman who used to work for us – took whatever we gave her.”

Following that first visit to Chris’s family land, Chad and I had roamed around the countryside scanning for interesting abandoned buildings, of which there were many, and at one point had come upon a rather disturbing trio of men riding around in a low-slung pickup truck. We were stopped on a remote gravel road when the weird guys rolled past, very slowly, the driver eyeing us with an unsettling grin; in back rode a huge man with the largest head and neck I’ve ever seen on a human being, who was reclining against a pillow propped against the tailgate, and who was also grinning. It was very Deliverance-y, if crystal meth had been around back then. Chad and I aren’t particularly skittish about such things, but we remembered those guys when we got out to explore the next abandoned house, and as a result we didn’t tarry. I later told Chris about them and naturally he knew exactly who I was talking about. The guy driving, he said, was named Tater. He added that my general assessment of the crew was accurate. The fact of the slowly roaming Tater would come up later on, in the newly unfolding Booger-love-Sissy saga.

On the day that Chris and I began deconstructing the corncrib, which his grandmother wanted razed because it was tilting and had termite damage, I slipped while prying up a piece of rusty tin and sliced a finger open, which caused me to bleed like a stuck pig all over the place and compelled us to head back to Chris’s trailer to clean up the wound and find something to staunch the flow. At that point I realized that I hadn’t had a tetanus shot since, like, 1979, so I called my veterinarian, Milton, and asked if I really and truly needed to get one now. He said absolutely, the sooner the better, not to wait until even the next day. Which interrupted our day in a way that might have been completely annoying and counterproductive, but as it happened, paved the way for what Chris later described as “the most eventful, interesting, fun and productive day I have had in a very long time.” That is not usually what happens when tetanus looms. Of course, you don’t normally expect your friend to be packing when he gets in the truck to accompany you to the doctor’s office, either. When I asked about the handgun Chris placed on the floor of the truck he said, “Yazoo City is a war zone.” He was referring to crime, and given that Chris experienced combat in Iraq, this struck me as noteworthy. I’ll go ahead and say we encountered no thugs, though the gun, as Chekhov requires, did go off further in the tale. The victim was an armadillo, an invasive species on which Chris’s grandmother has placed a bounty.

Before we left for Yazoo City, where the nearest clinic was, Chris had called the only doctor he knew and told the woman on the phone that we were on our way. But when we got there, after having driven 25 miles, she said they were out of tetanus vaccine, and sent us to another doctor’s office, where we were told that it was going to be a long wait and would cost something like $200, which was unacceptable. I could not help noting that she provided the grossly inflated figure only after asking if I had insurance. When I balked, she suggested that we instead go the state health department. Great, I thought. Now we were talking about a really long wait, and we wouldn’t make any headway on the corncrib. Surprisingly, it ended up taking less than an hour and cost $10, during which we met an older lady who had also injured her finger (in a door) and likewise needed a tetanus shot. She was the only other person there, so the odds of this happening… well, it was strangely in keeping with the day. Anyway, in this case "socialized medicine" totally worked.

On our way back to work on the corncrib we stopped at the store in Satartia, where they serve lunches. It’s the kind of place where everyone knows everybody, and no one uses cash because everyone has a credit account there, and the food is great. Satartia is a very small place on the banks of the Yazoo River, where the hills meet the Delta. As Chris and I were eating lunch I told him my one Satartia story, which involved the Booger-love-Sissy dumpster. He’s too young to remember the dumpster, but was intrigued, and asked the women working in the store if they knew anyone named Booger or Sissy. They said yes, and Satartia being a small place, wanted to know why he wanted to know. He told them about the dumpster. They were young, too, and didn’t remember it. They said they didn’t know if Booger ever dated Sissy, but said they were definitely not together now. This was a bit of a disappointment, but not really much of a surprise.

The ladies didn’t have much more information, and we got interrupted by the brief appearance of the second-string quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs, who hunts in the area and came in to buy a soft drink, during which the two women got palpitations and went on about him after he left, until Chris steered the conversation back to Booger and Sissy. Apparently the message on the dumpster had long since faded away, or had been repainted or whatever. It was gone. But its very evocation stirred interest. So it was that the idea of it, and the glaring absence of it now, sparked interest in remedying the situation. The result was a new can of spray paint and the resurrection of the old dumpster love message, an homage to Booger’s original. I’m not going to say who did it but it seemed, communally, like the right thing to do.

Chris wanted to take a picture of the dumpster homage, which is when he realized he’d left his phone at the Satartia store, so I took one with mine. When we stopped by the store to pick up his phone the ladies were going through his text messages, reading them and giggling.

“Who’s Allison?” one of them asked.

“None of your business,” Chris said.

Back at the farm, Chris and I considered how the reemergence of Booger’s publically-stated Sissy-love might ripple through the community. We also discussed another message that adorned the dumpsters, likewise scrawled in spray paint, apparently by a punctuationally-challenged county worker intent on stopping people from putting tree branches in the dumpsters (which no doubt cause problems with the unloading), which read: NO LIMBS? The question mark had apparently been used when what was intended was an exclamation point. Everywhere you looked across the county the dumpsters asked the same plaintive, cryptic question.

As we discussed these things we realized that the ramifications of the new icon for Booger-(heart)-Sissy extended beyond people thinking, “What, are Booger and Sissy back together?” With just a bit of alarm, but also amusement, we imagined this scenario between him and his presumed current wife:

Her: “You said it was over between you and Sissy! I knew you were lying!”

Him: “It IS over! It’s been over for years!”

Her: “Then why did this just now show up on the dumpster down by the river?”

Him: “I don’t know! Somebody else must have written it!”

Her: “Why would anyone else paint ‘Booger loves Sissy’ on a dumpster? That’s ridiculous!”

Which would be true enough.

I later posted the dumpster pic on Facebook with the caption “courtship.” I wasn’t trying to mislead anyone; the image had once been there, before cell phone cameras, and had essentially been recreated. Whether it was original or not, it now adorned a dumpster in the Delta, and offered an arresting image, an evocation of the past.

I like invoking the past, including for sport. Physical evidence of the lives of others offers clues to life in any time, which is why I'm inclined to preserve old structures such as the two corncribs, a slave cabin, and my house, the latter of which was originally built in 1832, and which I dismantled and moved to prevent its destruction. After reconstructing my house I had to repaint it, which posed a conundrum. On the walls throughout it were penciled messages chronicling the heights of children, the births and deaths of puppies, and yes, professions of love among people long since departed, the oldest dated 1870. I didn’t want to paint over those written memories, which spoke to the lives of the people who had called the place home, so my solution was to trace over the messages with an indelible pencil, which showed through the paint that I subsequently applied, after which I retraced the words in a regular pencil. Therefore the writing is still there, though the argument could be made that it is not, in the most technical sense, authentic. The words and handwriting are, but it was me who actually applied what you see on my walls.

Likewise, though the corncrib was said to be over 100 years old, Chris's grandmother had dismantled it and reconstructed it on her property in the 1970s because, in her view, it made no sense to destroy it (as its then-owner planned to do) when it could still be used to store corn. She had marked the logs with shoe polish, after which she and her oldest son had taken it apart and reconstructed it, which, in a sense, undermined the authenticity of its current locale, while also making me wonder how someone could put so much effort into saving a building, only to decide, 40 years later, to tear it down. But then, I’ve never been 83. It was her call. The point is, the corncrib had not always been there along the old road, and it was soon to become part of a collection of buildings on my property that appeared to have always been there, but hadn’t.

People like me, we hate for things to be forgotten, and that includes Booger’s dumpster message proclaiming his erstwhile love for Sissy. Life is riddled with asterisks, and you can’t always take everything at face value, nor even be sure of all that you see or hear. But the messages are out there, recirculating, and among them, once again, is Booger’s. As my friend Les pointed out, it was a restoration project, of sorts.

My Facebook posting received a lot of comments, ranging from “how romantic!” to one from Foster, with whom I went to high school, who obviously has a keen eye for detail, and wrote: “Suspiciously well formed letters for a guy named ‘Booger’... could be he repeated the second grade a few times or his real name is ‘Hollingsworth the III’ or ‘Alan’.”

For the record, that is not my handwriting on the dumpster.

Later that night I received some breaking news: An email from Chris, who, after I left, had been hauling his garbage to the dumpster near his trailer when who should come rolling to a stop but ol' Tater. Chris, realizing that Tater had the same surname that the ladies at the store had given for Booger, asked if he was related to a guy by that name.

"Hell yeah,” Tater said. “Booger’s my brother.”

Chris then asked if Booger had ever dated a woman named Sissy. Tater said, “Hell yeah, but they ain’t together no more.” He then related, in the crude, vernacular language of guys who spend their days slowly riding around the countryside, grinning, how Booger had commenced engaging in sexual activities indicative of an alternative orientation. What he specifically said was, "Booger sucks dicks now." Then he added, "Got hisself a life partner, too."

No shit, Chris said.

I don’t know which was more newsworthy – that Booger changed his public preferences or that he was Tater’s brother. You can say this much, though: There’s always more to the story, and the story never really ends – not, at least, when you have people like us probing the ruins of a saga that was randomly evoked, years before, on a rural dumpster seen from a passing car.

It was now apparent that the recycled dumpster message held the potential to spark a different set of complications, though somehow I doubt it will. It’s all pretty ephemeral. It's a love story projected onto a dumpster. Whatever the outcome, a rusty dumpster appears to have been the perfect place for Booger to profess his highly perishable love for Sissy in the long ago – a message that, for better or worse, has resumed its rightful place in the Delta landscape, for all the world to see.

A final note: I cannot personally vouch for the existence of said Booger, much less for the accuracy of anything attributed to him, or to others who claim to know him or to be otherwise related. As readers will no doubt conclude on their own, this is a story about imagery and second- or third-hand accounts, neither of which should be construed as representing documented truth. Just sayin'.

1 comment:

  1. Dumpsters are much more the refuse bins to me now. From now on they will also be an institutional love canvas to publicly declare our affection...almost right up there with water towers and overpasses. I have a can of spray paint and I can't wait to see the delight in my wife's eyes when I drive her by my surpise Mothers Day gift.