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Bad Karma in Western Kentucky

by Ed Hamilton

It wasn't yet noon, and we were already drunk, me and Karl and my brother Jim. I don't remember if we'd started drinking early, or if we'd just stayed up drinking all night, but anyway, when we pulled into town and saw the Jerry's we knew instinctively that it was time for breakfast.

There were some Japanese businessmen in the parking lot, about ten or fifteen, posing for group photographs in front of the restaurant. One of them would take a picture of the rest, and then he'd get back in line, and another would hop out of the line, and take his own picture of the group.

As we parked and got out of the car, I wondered: who were they? And where had they come from? What the hell were they doing in the parking lot of a Jerry's in rural Kentucky, in a crappy little town in the middle of nowhere?

In my addled state I felt the need to say something to them, something memorable and inkeeping with the with the true spirit and elan vital of Kentucky, a pregnant bon mot for them to carry back with them to the Land of the Rising Sun.

"Yeehaaa!" I belted out. "Chug some liquor!!!" And I raised my beer can to them in salute.

The Japanese businessmen were startled at my outburst. Brows knitted, they stared at me quizzically. Then they huddled and conferred over the meaning of my words. Finally, bursting out laughing - whatever they had decided - they waved to us as we went inside.

My tomfoolery had put us all in a lighthearted and jovial mood. We sat down at a booth and ordered our breakfast. But then something got into us, who knows what possessed us. Perhaps we were just trying to be obnoxious. Anyway, one of us thought of that Charlie Daniels song "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," and we just kept repeating a line from it over and over:

"Jumped up on a hickory stump, and said, boy lemme tell you what!"

That really tickled us, and we kept saying it, in exaggerated southern accents, raising our voices so that all present might share in our mirth:

"Jumped up on a hickory stump, and said, boy lemme tell you what!"

We were nearly rolling in the floor laughing.

It wasn't long before we had our pancakes and sausages and eggs and biscuits laid out in front of us. At intervals, between bites, one or another of us would pipe up with the humorous slogan.

Halfway through my breakfast, I noticed a table of bikers across the dining room. There were two huge men with tattoos up and down their arms, sitting there with there equally large, slightly less tattooed, evil-looking women. They were dressed all in black leather - and they were glaring at us. The one who seemed the most pissed was also the most threatening: a three-hundred pounder, completely bald, with a long, ratty beard.

I was becoming a bit uncomfortable. As Jim and Karl were in the booth opposite me, I was the only one who could see the bikers. But I explained the situation, and suggested that we settle down a bit.

"Hell, they probably like the song," Jim said.

"What could they have against Charlie Daniels?" Karl added.

I explained that they probably didn't object to Charlie Daniels, per se, but just to our general obnoxiousness.

"Bikers can't complain about obnoxiousness either," Jim said.

"Yeah," Karl agreed. "They'd better clean up their own act first."

And they blurted out the slogan in unison.

Stupid drunks.

But I was drunk too, and outnumbered. I figured I was probably imagining things. So I did my best to join in the general fun, and took my turn with the others:

"Jumped up on a hickory stump, and said, boy lemme tell you what!" The bikers stood up and got on their leather jackets. They made a point of walking past our table, which was slightly out of their way. Luckily, we had the good sense not to quote Charlie Daniels at that moment. They glared at us again, more malevolently than ever, as they filed past. When he saw their backs, Carl nearly choked on his sausage: "Oh shit!"

"Oh my God!" Jim said.

"What? What is it?" I said, making ready to turn in my seat.

"Don't look at them!" Jim cautioned, grabbing my arm. The bikers were up at the counter paying their check.

When the bikers had gone out the door Jim and Karl told me what it was, but I didn't believe them: I thought they had to be joking. Then as the bikers walked past the window, I saw for myself. Printed right there on the backs of their jackets was their club name:

S T U M P  J U M P E R S

in big, bold red letters. And beneath their club name, appropriately enough, was a picture of a motorcycle sailing over a stump.

"I wonder if that's a hickory stump," I said, laughing nervously.

More seriously, I wondered why they hadn't kicked our asses. True, there were three of us, and only two men among them, but still we would have posed them absolutely no problem - they probably would have let their women fight us, just for the entertainment value.

Maybe they thought we were some sort of real badasses or something - though little about our appearance warranted this. We wore the standard country attire: jeans and t-shirts, Wildcats ball caps. Karl did have a few tattoos. But what other conclusion could the bikers have reached? When you think about it, who but badasses would dare to publicly ridicule a motorcycle club in the presence of its members?

On the other hand, maybe they were just sick of getting into fights over their stupid, lame-o name. I couldn't see them getting much respect from the Hell's Angels, or the Satan's Slaves, or any of the other clubs with similar, more appropriate names.

We made damn sure the bikers had left before we ventured out in the parking lot, and when we finally did we were all three looking around nervously, worried that they might return - roar up on their motorcycles and beat us to death with chains.

The Japanese businessmen had stopped taking pictures, but they were still out there milling around. Maybe they owned the damn restaurant. We didn't say anything to them this time, but they smiled and waved to us anyway, having successfully worked their ancient, Oriental hex.

© copyright 1998 Ed Hamilton

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