My worst moment in life

Now that it’s many years since I entered service in the U.S. Coast Guard at the old Government Island on San Francisco Bay, it is perhaps good–or bad–to mentally survey the tattered remnants of my wild youth in a big city situation–a country boy thrown into the relentless machine of San Francisco like 170-pounds of dirty laundry.

One story that surfaces is the authentic one that happened when I was about 23, whizzing around South Louisiana, about to end my four years of active duty in the Coast Guard. In the summer of 1981, I was tossed into the slammer speeding through a little Cajun country speed trap town in South Louisiana.

With no ID of any kind on me, and a lot of beer all around me, listening to “Urgent” by Foreigner and wanting to urinate like a racehorse, the small-town cop cursed me as he followed me to the jail, believe it or not, sort of like Mayberry.

“And turn down that goddamned hippie music!” he screamed as he drove and pointed, to the station not far away, as it turned out. My horror was short-lived, though intense.

I wasn’t charged until we walked into the jailhouse, where the sheriff was, and they never handcuffed me. Finally, the sheriff reviewed the deputy’s report and he pointed at me with a big diamond on his little finger and asked me, “Where I stole the car?”

Woah! Wait a minute. I borrowed the car — paying $20-$40 for the weekend —from a sailor buddy. It was his dad’s Mercedes Benz, but he didn’t mind me borrowing it. His dad was some rich guy somewhere. Not listening, the sheriff said there was “no way a sailor like me, age 21, could afford a Mercedes like that.” So, he tossed me in the slammer. Damn.

I was headed to Grand Isle to meet relatives, including my uncle, who was Adolph A. Flores Jr., M.D., a big-shot surgeon and physician in New Orleans and one of his patients for years, at that time, was Mafia Boss Carlos Marcello. He had a nice home on Grand Isle and lots of relatives on the island. And he treated my uncle, his heart doctor, like family.

With my one legal call, I telephoned the Sea Breeze Motel, where all my relatives were staying the weekend of a big fishing event, the annual “Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo”. The girl answering the phone was a Marcello relative and I relayed the message that I’d been arrested for car theft but I borrowed it from a Coast Guard buddy from my base. She called her daddy’s right-hand man, though I didn’t know about it. His right-hand man was a bodyguard and Marcello loyalist.

A few minutes later, as I was sitting on an old wooden chair —made out of Cypress from the swamps — the sheriff’s phone rang and he swatted a mosquito buzzing near his ear just out of sight.

“Sheriff. Yeah. Car theft. Yessah,” he said, eying me with a slight smirk–betraying his growing contempt.

“We done arrested him? What y’want me do? Let him go?! Damn. Well….,” he said, turning and pushing up his glasses with more diamond-encrusted fingers. “Yes, sah. You got it. We’ll get him moving.”

Funny how my worst moment in life can be remembered almost word for word all these years later. We’re talking about an event that happened in the summer of 1981 when I neared what would become the apogee of my stupidity. No driving license, no military ID, and nothing but beer cans in the car, as I was speeding through a marshland of South Louisiana.

I waited after the phone was hung up, never counting the number of diamond rings. But they were somewhat dazzling, if not a strange juxtaposition of that dirty hand with such pretty and expensive jewelry paid for by no telling what kind of crimes.

“FLORES!” the sheriff shouted even though I was only a few feet away. He was clearing the decks for effect, to make an impression on the other “hardened” men waiting for their time to be officially wasted–for anywhere from two to 90 days. Often on a chain gang.

I jumped up, and he handed me a paper, and said to sign it, and pushed the form and a pen in my direction on his desk. I signed it.

“Now, get the hell out of my parish, and don’t let me catch you speeding through this here town of Golden Meadow! We got your name boy. If we want you, we got you!” he shouted as I waved opened the door and walked out of the small, brick air-conditioned bayou building. The sheriff’s deputy hadn’t even moved the dark, shiny Mercedes from where I’d parked it an hour before.

A half-hour later I was in a Grand Isle evening scenario, greeting relatives on the one side, and getting chewed out by relatives on the other side. As for Carlos Marcello, I never forgot his “assistant” holding the key that unlocked my jail term. Every year I sent a gift to that mystery man for Christmas, to a vine-covered address near the Mississippi River south of New Orleans. With no return address.

I would be released from the confines of my enlistment that fall, and somewhat reluctantly packed up my small Garden District bachelor pad near Tulane University and loaded the car, shook my uncle’s hand, and said goodbye to that four years of both heaven and hell. A 23-year-old short-timer counting down to zero, and headed back home to the family farm in Texas. Later, I would get highly involved in Naval Operations as a journalist and that was a very brightly colored “career” as well.

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