Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Cross-Eyed Stanley and the Cushman Eagle

Neil O. Jones


As a youngster I was often full of energy and running near empty on sense. I have thought but for the stars being right, my life and others around me would have been vastly different today. In short, I’m glad I didn’t kill myself or another kid with my unfettered zeal for mischief. When I was twelve, I almost sold the farm to a friend of mine, Stanley.

Stanley was his proper name and the one I called him when I was around his mother. When it was just us guys hanging out, we called him Cross-Eyed Stanley. He was cross-eyed as a boy can be, and being considerate, caring southern boys that we were, we still called him ol’ Cross-Eyed Stanley. If the cruel moniker bothered him, he didn’t let it show. But it was hard to read those eyes that stayed locked west and east.

Cross-Eyed Stanley was a dang good old boy, which meant he fit in well with the rest of us. Those days, late 1950’s in South Oak Cliff, the gang I ran with was always looking for something to get into, break, lose or complicate. Cross-Eyed, like the rest of us, had his weak spot. Let’s just say it was quickly decided that Cross-Eyed would never be the brains of the outfit. Mix that shortcoming in with a big slap of his gullibility, and you see how we all enjoyed having the boy around.

There was nothing the gang enjoyed more than riding my five-horsepower two-speed Cushman-Eagle motor scooter. Going all out down five-mile hill, she could get up to 55 MPH, if the wind was right and you hunkered down flat against the gas tank. I could only keep it running about half the time, but during that good half I felt as close as a twelve-year-old could to flying.

I often helped Cross-Eyed Stanley throw his Dallas Times Herald paper route, a big one that ran north of Ledbetter and between Glendale Swimming Pool and Marsalis Avenue. I’d drive my scooter, and he’d throw. As fast as I could get her to go, he’d keep up, hitting his mark with great accuracy. Right side with a sidearm toss and left side with an over-the-head high throw. If I saw a cat or a dog, I’d wheel close as I could and Cross-Eyed would try to bop him with a paper. This worked the first few times, but soon Fluffy and Fido knew us and would hightail it out of the way before we were in firing range. Every now and then, a new animal came into the neighborhood and had its rite of passage. We’d finish the route and then mess around and take turns spinning donuts and stirring up dust clouds in the gravel with the scooter.

One sweltering Texas summer day, my buddy T-Bone and I were sitting on my front porch staring half-heartedly at the Eagle because it had mechanical problems again. Actually, it ran fine, but the rear brakes, the only ones it had, were gone. It had become so bad that T-Bone and I could wear out a set of black high-top Keds just dragging to a stop and never getting out of first gear. It was hardly worth the effort, and we were bored. Then lo and behold, who should come pumping his bike down the road but ol’ Cross-Eyed himself. Opportunity had presented itself and through a knowing glance, raised eyebrow, smile, and a nod, T-Bone and I knew fun was to be had.

After a usual greeting of arm punching or head scrubbing or cussing each other a little just to show how dang bad we were, the talking turned to the Eagle. Cross-Eyed wanted to ride it, and I had to explain about the brakes. Well, actually, I bent the truth a mite. I told him T-Bone and I had just fixed the brakes, but they were a new kind of brakes. I explained the brakes worked by centrifugal force. “The faster you go,” I told him, “the better it stops.” I already mentioned Cross-Eyed was sort of the last one to get on the bus, so to speak, and I thought this scheme might not work, but I was wrong. It only took a little more lying, and T-Bone a backing everything I said, and Cross-Eyed a looking hard at the scooter before I had him. He was standing up on the kick starter when I reminded him that speed was really needed this time.

Arden Road was steep, so Cross-Eyed was still convinced when the Eagle barely made the uphill grade, as it always struggled. Coming back down again was another considering altogether. T-Bone and I were lying in the grass laughing and pointing and proud of ourselves for our deception. I guess it was about the time we heard him wind out low gear tight and speed shift into high that we both stopped laughing and looked at each other and, without saying anything, knew he was headed straight for crossing busy, high-speed Lancaster Road.

Oh Lord. We had done it now. Stanley (it was “Stanley” at that moment) was going to be splattered on Lancaster Road like a busted horse apple, and T-Bone and I would be convicted of murder and spend the rest of our lives in the pen, breaking boulders into gravel.

Stanley was halfway down Arden Road when I saw him push his right foot down on the brake pedal, once, then twice, then frantic stomping like a man keeping hard time to a fiddle breakdown. I ran to the middle of the road and yelled “No brakes, Stanley. No brakes!” His face was white, and his eyes were bulging and almost straight as he shot past me. He got to the intersection and did a quick left and right look, for all the good it did, except I guess he just wanted to see what it was that was about to puree him on the asphalt. I covered my eyes with my hands and bent over double. I heard the blast of a semi’s air horn and tires screeching, which was enough to kill me outright. Then I heard nothing. No gnarling, twisted metal, just beautiful nothing. Fate smiled as Stanley had streaked straight across between a car going one way and a swerving semi going the other until he coasted to a stop a ways down.

We never told any adults, and it was only three or four days before Stanley would talk to us. He even rode the Eagle again, when it had real brakes.

No doubt about it, Cross-Eyed Stanley was a dang good ol’ boy.

***

Neil O. Jones has completed a book-length collection of stories based on the quirky characters he knew and the challenges they faced in his growing-up years in the 1950s and ’60s in the South Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas. He is published in Perceptions 2005. Neil has taught college English courses for over thirty years. Read more of Neil at www.asouthernjournal.com/neilojones.

© Neil O. Jones

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012