By Hardy Jackson
I grew up 100 or so miles north of Mobile.
I love it. I love its quirky people. I love the way things are always just a little off plumb. So even though for some time I have resided far from the City-by-the-Bay, I regularly check online sources to read of doing there.
Which always gives me something to think about.
Like the February morning I read an article about how an off-duty Mobile police officer called in to report a man, armed and naked, chasing a woman who was neither.
Setting aside the usual questions like “why was he chasing her?” “Why was he naked and she wasn’t?” “Why was she dressed and he wasn’t?” I had to ask myself, “wasn’t he cold?”
Folks, from experience I can tell you that February in Mobile is generally chilly and damp. Not the sorta climate for outdoor naked chasing. Still, I might have cut the guy a little slack, accepting passion for what it was, if it hadn’t been for the gun.
A February frolic involving a naked man and a clothed woman is a little odd, even in Mobile. Still, unarmed he might have gotten off with only a warning if he had told the police that he was in training for the upcoming Mardi Gras half-marathon or some other Mobile-logical explanation.
However, even in Mobile, even if warm weather, chasing a woman while waving an unconcealed weapon (where would he conceal it?) is frowned upon.
So he got what he deserved – which was incapacitated with a couple of rounds from a “bean-bag shotgun” and carried off to the pokey.
But things like that happen in Mobile.
I don’t know why.
Maybe the woman being chased had his clothes and he wanted them back.
Wouldn’t be the first time that, or something like it, occurred down there.
Happened to Ethel Sanders and James Penn, though in their case the roles were reversed. Penn was naked, pretty much, but it was Ethel who was armed.
Mrs. Sanders was an 81 year old widowed-grandmother who lived alone in a house in Mobile. In the house was a laundry room.
Mr. Penn was homeless.
And his clothes were dirty.
So he broke into the Sanders place, found the laundry room (it was the one with the washer and dryer, he knew it right off), stripped down to his skivvies, and set the clothes to washing.
In the middle of the night.
Not surprisingly, Mrs. Sanders was concerned when she was awaken by the sound of the spin-cycle. So she did what any Mobile lady of her age and circumstances would be expected to do, she grabbed her gun – a .38 caliber pistol — and went to investigate.
And she found Penn, in his underwear, treating her laundry room like it was his own.
So she shot him.
Winged him, actually.
Wounded, Penn still had the presence of mind to grab his clothes (I have some trouble with the visuals here, but that’s probably just me) and scurry away. But not far. Mrs. Sanders called the police who followed the bloody trail and found him nearby.
Now I am not suggesting that Mobile has more of these doings than other towns – it is just that Mobile seems to add a little zip to its deviant behavior.
It might be the salt air. Being a seaport, Mobile attracts the flotsam and jetsam of humanity and gives a home to it. And while many, maybe most, who wash up settle down and become good citizens, there are those who live a little closer to the edge, where most Mobilians seldom venture. Through them, if not directly then at least by association, friends and neighbors develop a habit for handling things a bit differently from the way they might be handled inland – getting naked and chasing a woman being a good example. Shooting a guy for using your washing machine better still.
I figure that because of this connection with the Gulf Stream and trade winds there is something freebooting, buccaneering, before-the-mast, piratical, about Mobilians, even if the closest they have ever been to blue water sailing is a trip to Battleship Park and the USS Alabama.
As soon as Penn got out of the hospital the police charged him with first-degree burglary.
And Mrs. Sanders got upset.
Not at the charge, but because they took her gun as evidence.
Now I know what you are thinking, “what if someone else breaks in to do washing? What will Mrs. Sanders do?”
Not to worry.
The police may have taken her gun, but she still has a hatchet.
Right by her bed.
I love Mobile.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at email@example.com.