Wednesday, October 29, 2014

On the Bayou -- Homestore Part Three

(Today's posting is dedicated to Rick Shambaugh, who left us way too suddenly last night. Rick was an editor at Chiat/Day and assisted on the commercials. As well as countless others. He made us all look better than we were. His tireless work ethic was only surpassed by his easy, gentle nature. He will be missed.)

April 16, 1999 -- Lac De Allemands, LA

Last night, we arrived in New Orleans to film the second installment of Home Movie. Today we are heading south and west to the deep Bayou to meet Wild Bill Tregle, who lives on a custom built house boat in the middle of German Lake (Lac de Allemands).

I have only known two Wild Bills in my life. And have found that if you insist people address you by the name Wild Bill you'd had better live up to the moniker.

Louisiana Wild Bill certainly did.

I should also mention that as I write this I am listening to the haunting title sequence from True Detective. I can think of no other music that better sets the stage for our adventure in this massive swamp the Mississippi built.

WB is larger than life.

Of course we knew that from the research tape we had seen months earlier. During that interview atop his ramshackle home/boat, Bill was answering questions and eating fried chicken -- he ate a lot of fried chicken. To punctuate one of his pithy, homegrown retorts he casually flung the half eaten drumstick over his shoulder and into the murky waters where it was snapped up by a waiting alligator.

That's when we knew we had to have WB for our film.

Bill doesn't live exclusively on the houseboat. He spends considerable time at his sister's house along the shore. It's here that we set up base camp for the three days of filming. And it's here Bill shows us how he earns his keep -- hunting alligators and selling the heads to alligator-head needing tourists.

In the killing shed there were thousands of these alligator melons and they gave off a miserable odor that was one part formaldehyde and one part Clorox bleach.

Bill explained how he and his buddy would get out on the lake in the early morning hours, snag an unwitting gator in a rope snare, and drag the poor bastard close to the stainless steel low-slung boat. Then Bill would take out his trusty 44 and blast a hole in the gator's skull, right between the eyes.

Later, they would patch up the hole with spackling compound and paint it dark green. And replace the eyes with black marbles.

Barry Bumpkin and Tina Tourist from Akron, Ohio would never be the wiser.

Next to the shed, was Zam's Restaurant and Curios Emporium.

I spent hours going through this fascinating collection of oddities curated from the deepest corners of Creole Country. I almost purchased some incredibly insensitive memorabilia that I found interesting simply because it was so politically incorrect.

But following a phone call with my wife, decided against it, when she rightly said, "You're not bringing n*gg*r toothpaste or any of that Southern racist shit into the house." In retrospect it's just as offensive as people who collect swastikas and various Nazi memorabilia.

When lunchtime came, we were directed towards the restaurant, where we would be eating with the snaggle-toothed locals. It's probably wrong, and maybe lazy, of me to use a cliche like snaggle-toothed, but no other words seem to pack as much pungent truth.

We entered through the rear of the restaurant and mistakenly got a first hand look at the kitchen where our food was being prepared. There wasn't a hair net in sight. And the chefs, er…cooks, were all smoking cigarettes and drinking beer.

I happened to glance at the fryer and the hot black oil looked as if it had been drained directly from the underbelly of a 67 Chevy Impala -- the one on cinder blocks covered in Spanish moss under the cypress tree.

But damn, if that wasn't the best tasting fried chicken I ever had in my life. I was so pleasantly surprised, I ventured beyond my comfort zone and sampled the alligator. Which, not surprisingly, tasted like chicken. Really good Louisiana fried chicken.

Sadly, Bill passed away last year. I wish I had the chance to meet him again. He was a one-in-a-million character.

While digging around the internet, I found Wild Bill appeared in some print advertising for Southern Comfort. It was classic gallows humor with the kind of acerbic headline I wish I had written.

Coming up tomorrow, a trip to Chicago and an interview with one of the judges from the Miss World Nude Contest.

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