Tramp On Your Street, essay by the Legendary Jim Parks


Six Shoot­er Junc­tion – He had a spir­it bag mas­querad­ing as one of those filmy lit­tle white plas­tic num­bers they give you at Wal-Mart to car­ry small purchases.

As the days of the tri­al wore on, he put his hand inside it and rubbed cer­tain objects – a feath­er from a raptor's wing, a piece of jade or agate picked up on a moun­tain slope, a claw of some wood­land crea­ture – and if you looked close­ly, you could see that his eyes were nei­ther open, nor closed. He was in a rap­ture, a near-trance, deep in meditation.

One after­noon, while a wit­ness droned on and the attor­neys leapt like over­heat­ed hounds at points of pro­ce­dur­al and evi­den­tiary arcana pass­ing in the breeze of the still and rank dragon's breath of the court­room, I joined him there for a few moments and saw a steep gorge and a nar­row, pre­car­i­ous path that skirt­ed the chasm in which I was def­i­nite­ly fol­low­ing in someone's foot­steps – and then the moment passed, and when I looked up, Bil­ly Joe Shaver, seat­ed at his place inside the bar, at the defense table, was star­ing me in the eye.

He was there to answer for his part in the kind of has­sle from which only an out­law trou­ba­dour, a word­smith capa­ble of writ­ing about how a cow­boy “filled up his boots with his feet,” or that when Hank sang, he sang every word, “look­ing right straight at me,” could emerge with any degree of aplomb, much less main­tain the cool and calm demeanor of a honky tonk hero.

He was indict­ed for assault with a dead­ly weapon against a man who bran­dished a switch­blade, stirred people's drinks with its keen­ly whet­ted blade, and insult­ed his wife's hon­or by sug­gest­ing in loud tones and a rude man­ner that on a day long before, she was the cause of a for­mer husband's sui­cide by shoot­ing him­self in the head while she was in the next room. This scene had become a rou­tine irri­ta­tion, when­ev­er the cou­ple appeared togeth­er in pub­lic in and around Waco or its south­ern sub­urbs. The old boy who shot him­self had a large family.

The truth emerged, lit­tle by lit­tle, that the defen­dant, who was of an age that if con­vict­ed and sen­tenced to serve a lengthy prison term, would prob­a­bly spend his last days behind bars, was actu­al­ly act­ing in self defense, as his attor­ney Dick DeGuerin had told the jurors in his open­ing state­ment. There was no dis­pute that while he and his wife Wan­da had been out drink­ing a beer at a neigh­bor­hood bar on open mike night, Bil­ly Joe shot their inter­locu­tor in the mouth with a tiny .22 revolver, a der­ringer you could con­ceal in the palm of your hand.

It was the source of the dif­fi­cul­ty, not the lit­tle revolver, but what was com­ing out of the man's mouth; that was not its only ram­i­fi­ca­tion, as it turned out.

Quite sim­ply, once the deed was done, Shaver col­lect­ed his wife, got in his car, and split, head­ed for Austin. He didn't see any need to stick around, and he had his rea­sons. Jurors acquit­ted him of the charge. He lat­er plead guilty to pos­ses­sion of a firearm in a place where alco­holic bev­er­ages are sold and con­sumed, a minor crime that is hard­ly of the mag­ni­tude of a first class felony.

After a con­sid­er­able length of time – way more than a year — I got one of those once-in-a-life­time inter­views scrib­blers rarely see, the one where the per­son the scrib­bler intend­ed to inter­view actu­al­ly inter­views the scrib­bler. It was as if on an ordi­nary jour­ney, bear­ing the wood, bear­ing the water, I crossed paths with the Bod­hisatt­va, who await­ed me at an obscure turn on that pre­cip­i­tous path I had start­ed down so many moons in the past. Howdy, there.

In the hard­ware sec­tion of a local lum­ber yard, I shopped for a work light to use in shoot­ing video, and, absorbed with the task, looked up once again to con­front Bil­ly Joe Shaver lamp­ing me down the length of a con­sid­er­able beak, the kind that labels a man as a breed. His father was a Black Foot.

This time, he was smil­ing, where before on that day in the court, he was frankly star­ing at an intrud­er in his world.

On the time line of the leg­endary, there are infre­quent and obscure dead­lines, syn­co­pat­ing punc­tu­a­tions that are hard to dis­cern – abbre­vi­at­ed moments in time, for which one waits.

I just now remem­ber who you are,” he said, as if resum­ing a con­ver­sa­tion inter­rupt­ed only a few moments before. “You're that old boy from down at Hous­ton, always doing things with words, aren't you?”

Yes, that's me. I remind­ed him we met dur­ing an obscure year at an old and long-for­got­ten bar down­town in the Bay­ou City, not far from the cour­t­house square, where song­writ­ers show­cased their wares sev­er­al decades in the past. We talked about how Elvis dur­ing a per­for­mance made every­one feel like he was look­ing at them, and so did Hank Williams. Many peo­ple who caught their act have said so.

I have some­thing I want you to know about what hap­pened,” Shaver said. “That night I shot that old boy, I didn't say, 'Where do you want it?'”

He paused, let that sink in. His antag­o­nist had invit­ed him to see him out back, and Shaver made a bee line for the door after first going to his car to leave, then chang­ing his mind. He want­ed to let his eyes adjust to the dark­ened porch and pic­nic area after the neon and stage lights of the bar. It was a show down, and not one he nec­es­sar­i­ly pro­voked. Watch this.

In a verse of a song he inscribed, “Wacko From Waco,” he said, “I don't start fights; I fin­ish fights, and that's the way it's always been.” Had I heard it? I pro­nounced the new song smoking.

And, then, out of the blue, apro­pos noth­ing, he said it was not until his chal­lenger drew a pis­tol and aimed it that he defend­ed him­self with his firearm. Blow me down.

And yet, that was nowhere men­tioned in the offi­cers' tes­ti­mo­ny or any of the wit­ness­es',” I replied. “Why didn't you tell them?”

They didn't ask,” Shaver replied. The state­ment hung in the air like Span­ish moss in a mighty oak, the kind ger­mi­nat­ed pri­or to the coro­na­tion of Eliz­a­beth I. He looked as dead­ly seri­ous as any seri­ous man to whom I have ever spo­ken about any seri­ous mat­ter. I nev­er asked him. At least, not with words. He told me.

I've kept that rock in my hand – until now – because I knew there would be a bet­ter time to play it, a time when it would count. There is a rea­son for that. It's a les­son taught by one old boy who does things with words to anoth­er old boy – one who does things with words. I am tru­ly grate­ful. Some­body tell those folks in Austin. Remind them, too. They seem to be in a mood to call the ques­tion, the one about “wear­ing” firearms open­ly, so stip­u­lat­ed in the Texas Constitution.

That's what I thought about while I napped and Bil­ly Joe Shaver and Willie Nel­son sang and played new songs on the David Let­ter­man Show. When it comes to car­ry­ing a gun, there are things you don't tell the cour­t­house clique – unless they ask. So mote it be.

Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 5.28.10 AMJim Parks is a cop shop and cour­t­house print side reporter with a 6‑year his­to­ry of print­ing dai­ly news on var­i­ous social media web­sites. Start­ed in San Fran­cis­co, drift­ed home to Texas and didn't stay at the Hous­ton "Chron­i­cle" long enough to dam­age the rep before mov­ing on to the Deep South and sun­ny Flori­da. Hav­ing returned to the Lone Star State in utter capit­u­la­tion, the blo­gos­phere feels just like home, if not sweet, then cer­tain. Truck dri­ving man, farm­hand, deck­hand, ram­bling man and scrib­bler, don't mess with this critter's food or his woman.

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