THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HOOTER MCCORMICK -- WHAT FRIENDS ARE FOR

by: Wes Ishmael

Lonnie Johnson had plenty of phobias if you paid close attention, or if you'd known him since he was a kid like Hooter and the gang had.

There was Lonnie's penchant for cleanliness, for one thing. While appreciated by his feed store customers and by his wife, for the most part, Lonnie's rules for a spot-free world crossed into the obsessive in some areas. For instance, if you wanted to eat anything in his backroom, you'd better have a napkin handy. If you spilled some Coke or dribbled some iced tea, you'd better be ready to grab a mop.

Sometimes the boys would send a wife and child in to order some feed, making sure the kid had a huge, sticky sucker in hand. They'd peer in through the plate glass, taking bets on how long it would take Lonnie to trade some trinket for the offensive lollipop.

“Our youngest kept us in give-away flashlights, for years,” Peetie remembered. “By the end, he'd just act like he was going to unwrap his sucker and Lonnie would ask him what color flashlight he didn't have yet.”

Step into the feed shed attached to Lonnie's store and you were struck immediately by the military precision of it. Every stack of bags was square and precise, stacked no higher than 5', on pallets exactly 12” apart. The concrete floor was always swept to a like-new polish. The contents of hay and commodity shed out back were just as precise. It was the same inside the store, of course, from glove rack to medicine chest.

“He still has nightmares about that time him and Hooter shared a room at the cattlemen's convention,” Charlie remembered. “Every morning at breakfast Lonnie looked like he'd been shell shocked.”

Heaven help the odd mouse that decided to spin the wheel for a free ride at Lonnie's feed store. He kept traps set and poison spread. If Lonnie ever found mouse pellets and no carcass he'd been known to sit in darkened silence with a flashlight and modified BB gun. Rumor was that Lonnie had the most extensive collection of mouse hides south of the Red River, tanned and filed by date, of course.

For all of that, nothing made Lonnie knead the Mail Pouch in his cheek faster or harder than flies.

“It's because of his mama telling him that old ditty about flies being the devil's ears and eyes,” Peetie said.

“It's because they can sp-sp-sp-spr-carry germs,” hiccupped Delmar Jacobs.

“It's because he's a nut case,” reckoned Izzy.

Whatever the foundation of Lonnie's fly obsession, it was a reasonable bet that no one else had spent more time or spared less expense to keep a few thousand square feet free of the pests.

Every weather-stripped door inside and out was kept shut. Like a gate at the ranch, Lord help anyone who left one open. Lonnie had even constructed an anteroom entry to the store for the purpose of fly prevention. To get into the store you opened the outer screen and main doors, walked five feet and then opened the main screen and outer doors.

The windows were nailed shut, even though they were encased by heavy gauge screens.

“If there's ever a fire, I reckon he'll just go up the chimney,” Izzy would chide.

There were industrial grade electric bug zappers scattered strategically around the store and feed shed. Listen hard and every 15 minutes you could hear an arsenal of automatic pesticide misters whispering death to any wayward intruder. Look close and you could see the handle of a massive fly swatter sticking out one of Lonnie's overall pockets.

“I'll bet a fly couldn't last for 15 minutes if it ever made it inside that place,” mused Cousin Charlie one day while the boys watched Lonnie recharge his pesticide tanks.

“I don't know,” Peetie said, casting a critical eye on the defense system. “I'll bet a real dedicated and lucky one could make it a half day.”

“Whether he started the day here or not, I'll bet you could find a fly in here on a summer day at 3 o'clock, what with all of the folks coming and going,” Izzy said.

Hatching the Plan

“What about 4 o'clock on a winter day?” wondered Hooter.

“Huh?”

“Well, supposing we wanted to give Lonnie the best shot at them? By their nature, you'd figure they'd be slower during the winter and there wouldn't be as many of them, so he couldn't say we tried to overload the system,” Hooter said.

Izzy piped in, “It's the middle of winter, Sherlock. Where are we supposed to get flies, if you've got in mind what I think you do.”

“You might recall that stage our youngest went through when he was goofy over lizards,” Peetie said. “We bought those big Blue Bottle flies through the mail. I'll spring for a double order.”

As the day neared for what would become known as the great Blue Bottle infestation of 2012, the boys sowed a subtle thought with Lonnie. Gathered around the coffee pot in his store a week before, Charlie mentioned, “You boys see anything about those new flies that are supposed to be making it up here out of South America?”

“Can't say as I have,” Peetie said nonchalantly. “What about them?”

“You know those kind we get here that have the shiny backs? I guess they look just like them. But the breeding rate of these is about triple. Plus, they're supposed to be able to sting you, kind of like a mosquito.”

“You don't say,” Peetie replied. “What are the called?”

“Ojos de Diablo.”

Peetie grinned. “The devils eyes, huh? Well, we don't have to worry about that, not sitting in Lonnie's store anyway. Ain't that right Lonnie?”

“Huh?” Lonnie acted like he hadn't heard the conversation, but the boys could see the hairs sticking up on the back of his neck. Plus, the next day Delmar reported that Lonnie had been cleaning the nozzles on his pesticide misters.

     

The Price of Knowledge

The plan called for smuggling the flies into the feed store inside pill bottles, about 50 every hour. Between the speed of the flies, though, and the boys' inexperience trying to gather them into the pill bottles, no one was ever sure exactly how many made it inside the store. It didn't really matter.

Soon as Peetie set loose the first batch, the bug zappers started their sporadic zapping.

“Lord what was that?” Peetie said, ducking in a hurry.

“Huh?”

There were tiny black streaks darting everywhere. Without panic, Lonnie began hunting them with a flyswatter. When he got the first one, Peetie said casually, “The warm snap must have revived some…What do they look like?”

With eyes a mite wider than usual, Lonnie dangled one by a flattened leg.

“You don't suppose,” Peetie said. “Nawww, couldn't be. Well, I gotta go.”

It was Charlie's turn next. He heard the occasional zap, but it looked like Lonnie had pretty well cleared the initial wave. Charlie set his flies free. Same routine, including the question about what they looked like.

“You know, those look just like those ojos de Diablo I told the boys about last week. Naw. I'll bet they're just regular old flies. Haven't any of them stung you have they?”

Lonnie cringed and went to swatting with extra gusto.

Next came Delmar and then Izzy, who said the flies were everywhere when he left. “It's a good thing he has that outer room thing, otherwise some of them would have got out.”

Now it was Hooter's turn. The flies were indeed everywhere. So was, Lonnie, darting this way and that, flailing and swatting, spraying and growling.

“I tell you what, Lonnie, you don't get these flying rodents under control, someone's gonna call the health department on you.”

Lonnie never even stopped to tell him what he could do with his advice.

“I just came in for some bug spray,” Hooter said. “But it's plain to see what you're selling isn't much count.” Lonnie never even heard him. Soon as Hooter left, though, the ‘Closed' sign went up.

Hooter caught up with the boys across the street. “The last time I saw him, he was cussing a blue streak, running around with the hose of his shop-vac in one hand, that overgrown flyswatter of his in the other and a hotshot in his back pocket.”







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