Sherman Did

The Street Hustle


This is a story about a story, an urban myth, and a tall tale.  This story wasn’t earned, as Sgt. Brad Colbert said in Generation Kill (miniseries).  It was a gift given in a game of calling bullshit and I have been re-telling it as my own for 12 years.


In 1992, I found myself a regular at a now defunct West Village bar.  (The bar is still there, same name, layout and food.  It is, however, a sports bar that caters to the basest elements of the area.  Gone are the days when it embraced it’s bohemian past.)  The barman Harry and I were chatting one busy Friday about what we did on the Spring Break between our senior year in high school and freshman year in college.  Coincidentally, we had both been to an Eric Clapton concert and had a rather boring time.


The next Sunday, I popped in for a few pops with Harry.  The same Spring Break conversation came up but this time he told me he was arrested in Georgia for mouthing off to a local sheriff.  Remembering our chat from two days earlier, I reminded him that he told me about going to an Eric Clapton concert.


“Are you calling bullshit,” he asked.  I admitted I was, although unsure which of the stories he told me was the truth.  “Finally,” he exclaimed.  “I’ve been waiting for two years for someone to tell me that story was bullshit.”  We both got a laugh out of it.  The more I thought about Harry’s tale about being detained for the weekend in Georgia after mouthing off to the local sheriff was preposterous.  Who could actually believe a local diner would feed the criminals, drunks and stupid kids being held in the local jail?


Harry had been told the story by a bartender he worked with when he first started behind the bar in New York.  When Harry called bullshit, the other bartender admitted the story was a fabrication and he told Harry he had to re-tell it until someone called bullshit.  “The story is yours now,” he told me.  “You have to tell it until someone calls bullshit on you.”


When I started behind the bar twelve years ago, I started telling the story to entertain my guests and no one has called bullshit, not a soul.  I have told it with outrageous exaggerations and I have told it straight, I’ve told it to people after I told them I went to see that Clapton concert and I’ve told it five different ways to the same people over and over again.  Not a soul has come forward to tell me it was fraudulent.  For the sake of the oral tradition of storytelling, I enter my take on this urban myth in the permanent record.


The story:


The year was 1987.  Three friends and I were doing the spring break thing in Daytona Beach, FL.  On Saturday, we have to start making our way back to Detroit for school on Monday.  I was the least hung-over i.e. I only had a headache so I pulled the first shift behind the wheel. 


Someplace in a rural county south of Macon in I-75, I was pulled over for speeding – I was doing 90.  The sheriff, whose belly protruded over his pants and had chewing tobacco dripping down his cheek ripped my driver’s license out of my had.  “No one has ever gone that fast through my county before boy, nobody,” he exclaimed.


Sherman did,” I replied.


The next words out of his mouth were “Boy, get out of the car.”


We ended up detained for the weekend.  We were the only people in joint, save for the local drunk.  The town, the apparent county seat was so small it had a diner, a movie theatre, a barber shop, hardware and clothing store combined and the county jail.   We were each allowed to call our parents, with my call purposely being pushed to the end.  When I got into the sheriff’s office, he had my parents on the speaker phone with two attorney’s, one in Detroit and one that was hired by Mom and Dad in Atlanta to get me out the mess I was in.  With the sheriff listening in, my parents and both lawyers lit into me.  When the Old Man asked what it was that I had actually said, I told him ‘Sherman did.’


Of course, Dad was European and didn’t quite understand the colloquial nightmare I had incited.  Mother took it upon herself to explain to the Old Man exactly what I had done by opening my big mouth using Gone with the Wind as a reference point.


“What the f*** is wrong with you,” he screamed.


“Boy, hold your forefinger a millimeter from your thumb,” the Atlanta attorney told me.  “You are that close to being Leo Frank.”


Over the course of the two days we were detained, the powers that be had no idea what to do with us and didn’t actually have the facilities to feed us.  The local diner sent us take out three times a day and on Sunday night and the sheriff took us across the street to see Star Wars. 


During the course of the weekend, the sheriff and I got to talking about me going to NYU.  He told me about the time he and the wife took a vacation in the city.  They were rather mystified by the Village.


Lot’s of fags in the Village boy.  With a smart mouth like yours, you best be careful you don’t end up on the business end of a blowjob,” he scolded me.


On Monday, after I had signed an apology to the county, the state of Georgia and the south in particular, we were allowed to go on our way.  Thanks Mother, who was a big wig in the Birmingham School District, all we had to do was show up for school on Tuesday; we would be marked present for both days and would be sent home to get some rest.  My three buddies were sent home.  I was detained again, however, so the entire faculty of my rich kid high school could each get turn to yell at me. 


It takes a village, right?


I am a bartender, which makes me as much entertainer as psychiatrist and legal drug dealer.  Over the years I have told this story, I have gotten a perverse pleasure waiting to see if some would finally tell me I was full of it and then watching as people laughed while I put the tale through various twists and turns.  But, after lo these twelve years, I wanted someone else to own the damn story already.  There has been no one who has stepped up to take it from me.  At first, I thought I was still getting over on the people I told it to, and then I thought they weren’t paying attention.  My latest theory is everyone who hears it from me, is just being polite. 


When I told my good friend Dave Bergen about this post and that the story was an urban myth, he was shocked.  “I’ve heard it hundreds of times and I always thought it was so out there it had to have happened.  Classic, a 12 year running practical joke,” he laughed.


That’s the thing with storytelling in general, the more outrageous the story, the more people are apt to believe it’s true.  Bob Dylan was right; steal a little and they throw you in jail/steal a lot and they make you king.


Have you ever heard me tell this story in a bar?

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