By Hardy Jackson
Every once in a while I need a dose of sleaze.
Not a big dose.
Just a little to remind me that there is another side of life and in it are experiences which, taken prudently, can enhance your understanding of the human condition.
Besides, sleaze is fun.
New Orleans is my favorite sleaze town. I always feel a bit decadent after a stroll down Bourbon Street.
But New Orleans is far away. And expensive.
So one summer a while back, feeling a little low on sleaze, I went to Ebro.
For those who don’t know, and I bet a lot of you do, Ebro is down in the Florida Panhandle, a few miles south of Vernon where (they say) jobs were once so scarce that folks cut off their fingers so they could draw disability.
And it’s just a little north of the Gulf.
In Ebro there are two cement companies, a logging outfit, a café, a motel, a bait and tackle shop, a post office, five churches, two kennels, and a dog track.
The Ebro Greyhound Park.
Took two vans to get us there. Wife, children and me. Cousin Benny and his girls and his Mama (my Daddy’s baby sister, she was 85). And the Bentons from Puckett.
I had been promising my son I would take him ever since I told him about when my Uncle Buck took me.
I was around fourteen. Uncle Buck gave me $10 and told me that I could pick the dogs and he would place the bets. So I took the ten and after half of the card I had run it up to a hundred. Then I lost it all.
“Uncle Buck,” I moaned like a seasoned pro, “I lost a $100.”
“You didn’t lose a damn thing,” Uncle Buck snorted. “You lost $90 you never had and the other $10 was mine.”
Lesson learned. It doesn’t count till you take it home.
My son was thinking about asking Benny to be his Uncle Buck. But when Benny didn’t bet on a dog named “MyDaughterSarah” even though his daughter is named Sarah and “MyDaughterSarah” came in first and paid $47.20 on a $2 bet, the boy decided to stick with me.
We had fun. We bet on dogs. We calculated odds (depend on me to turn gambling into a learning experience). And we watched the fashion parade that included micro-mini skirts that went past indiscrete and t-shirts with slogans you wouldn’t see at a United Methodist Church youth retreat.
My favorite: “I Love Jesus, but I drink a little.”
Now many of you probably know that slogan originated with one Gladys Hardy– “Nana Gladys” to her family and friends. An 88 year old resident of Austin, Texas, Gladys called the Ellen Degeneres Show to tell Ellen that she needed to move the spiky plant behind her head because it made her look like Alfalfa (remember “Little Rascals?”). She and Ellen got to talking and somewhere in the conversation Gladys uttered those immortal words.
The audience ate it up. Gladys has become a cult figure and even made a little money off her fame – some of which she gives to Meals-on-Wheels.
Now friends, and you are my friends, that t-shirt appealed to me on a number of levels.
First, it gently poked fun at the sanctified and sober who feel the two concepts – loving the Lord and taking a nip – are mutually exclusive. On Sunday morning pews throughout this nation are filled with people who could, and probably should, wear that t-shirt if for no other reason than to set the record straight.
Honesty in advertising, so to speak.
But secondly, what Gladys caught in a single phrase could easily become a slogan for folks for whom a trip to the dog track is about as far on the wild side that they are willing to walk.
Horse racing is the “sport of kings.” Dog racing is the “sport of the slightly sleazy.”
If you did find a t-shirt with the Gladys slogan at Churchill Downs or Belmont, it would be funny because it was so out of place. The wisdom of what it says would be lost in the novelty of it.
But not at Ebro.
At Ebro the Gladys slogan fits right in.
And I will be willing to bet you that come Sunday morning, a goodly number of the people who were there that night, betting and drinking beer, would be in one of Ebro’s five churches worshipping God in the beauty of holiness and nursing a slight hangover.
Truth be known, some of them might be worshipping that morning because they had a hangover – “Oh Lord, please make my head stop hurting.”
So I came away from Ebro richer, not in money, but in the knowledge of the redemptive value of a little sleaze.
And when I am running low again I’ll go back.
Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of history at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.