The Corpus Christi Kid
The Corpus Christi Kid appeared one morning in March. He was ready to
go on the payroll. He claimed that he was thirteen years old. It is possible
that this was the truth.
When asked what he could do, he replied that he could drive. When it
was pointed out that he was too young to have a driver's license, he
insisted that he was a very good driver.
Hmmmmm ... What to do with this kid?
He was put to work driving an old four-speed, flat-bed truck down
country roads. He drove to barns and carried out specified cans of farm
chemicals. He drove to fields and flagged them as the aircraft roared
overhead. He hauled fuel in 55 gallon drums. He drove to various little
South Texas towns and bought hamburgers, a dozen to the bag.
He weighed about a hundred pounds. He was very skinny. He was
sun-baked to the color of old saddle leather. He seldom talked. He was
smarter than the average bear. He was a good driver. He was a good
worker. He was amazingly good at following directions. He worked for me
for four summers. He almost never got mad. He almost never got lost. He
almost never wrecked a pick-up truck. He was a pretty good kid.
The Corpus Christi Kid was kin folks. He was a problem kid. He didn't
have a daddy. He was brooding and silent. Nobody could figure out what
he was thinking about. He wouldn't follow rules. He didn't want anybody
bossing him around. He had quit school. He was a trouble-maker. He was
headed for "a bad end."
As it were, I too was known as a man who didn't like other people's
rules. I too was quiet, and bitter, and nobody could figure me out, either.
When I quit college and went to flying crop-dusters, friends and family
foresaw the worst. I, too, was headed for "a bad end." Therefore, the
logical thing to do was to send this kid to me.
That's how he ended up standing on my airstrip one spring morning in
March. We got along just fine.
As it turned out, The Kid became my right-hand man. I was going
through another one of those chronic periods of my life in which I was
always broke. I was operating on the very edge. I had several people who
owed me money, but were slow to pay. Some of them never paid.
Meanwhile, I was doing my best to keep money flowing to the people I
owed money to. I was in the typical position of the small businessman. The
people who owed me money had no reason to get in a big hurry about
paying me. But the people that I owed money to had to be paid on time.
If I failed to pay my fuel bill, I wouldn't get any more fuel. If I failed to
pay my phone bill, my phone was cut off. If I failed to make my payroll,
my help would stop coming to work. If I failed to pay my room rent, I
would be out of a place to live.
Most of the things I needed for daily operation were paid for cash on
the spot. This included everything from truck gas, truck parts, and truck
tires, to nuts, bolts, nails, pipe fittings, pumps, hoses, boots, shirts, socks,
hamburgers and tacos.
The Corpus Christi Kid fit right into this headache of problems. I didn't
have to pay him very much. In fact, I didn't have to pay him at all. If I was
short of money, which I always was, I could just write him his weekly
salary on a piece of paper and hand him an I.O.U. Later, when I finally
started getting into a better cash flow position, I think he was a little
surprised when I actually made good on all those I.O.U.'s.
The Kid simply didn't have any requirement for money in his life. He
was sleeping on my couch, and often in the seat of one of my trucks. I
bought his food, soda pop, toothpaste, underwear, and an occasional comic
book. That's all he really needed to get along in the world. That's all he
The Corpus Christi Kid was also on my payroll 24 hours a day. I don't
mean he got paid for 24 hours a day. I mean that I could send him off on a
job 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I could send him the 150 miles to
San Antonio to pick-up an aircraft part at some machine shop, hand him a
signed check with instructions to "fill in the blanks" if the total did not
exceed "X" amount of money, to call me if it did, hand him 100 bucks for
gas, food, a long shopping list including PVC pipe, brass valves,
miscellaneous repair parts, and assorted hardware, tell him to drop by the
Post Office and pick-up my mail, and to be quick about it.
He would be back by midnight with the correct parts, the correct
paperwork, the correct change, and the correct attitude. I could roll him
out at dawn and he would be ready to do it all over again.
One of the first jobs The Kid was on was one of Bob's big brush runs
east of Laredo. We had several thousand acres lined up over in Duval
County. There were three airplanes on the job, and eight or ten other men
to do the truck driving, flagging, mixing, loading and 40 other things. Bob
had put together a pretty good crew of rednecks and wet-backs. This was a
rough bunch of men.
We were soon working deep in the Texas brush country. We spent the
next several weeks working from dawn to dark, living in cheap hotels,
eating out of our hands, and traveling from one job to another like a
We seldom operated for more than three or four days from a particular
airstrip, and we were repeatedly setting up operations at a new little back
country airstrip that had never been anything else but range land 24
hours before we arrived.
The Corpus Christi Kid blended right in with this bunch and was hardly
noticed. Living with such a rough bunch of men, and working day and
night, you would have thought that there was no humor in his life. But
But there was a problem with The Kid's humor. The problem was that
nobody could understand what it was that made him laugh. Just as nobody
could ever figure out what he was thinking about, nobody could figure out
what he would suddenly be laughing about.
He would sit there, solemn as a judge, through much course horseplay,
then unexpectedly emit a subdued chuckle when there wasn't anything at
all to be amused about.
That summer was The Kid's first exposure to the inside world of men.
And the men he was exposed to were a rough lot, living totally apart from
women or any of the temporizing influences of civilization. He had come
directly from the world of children, Junior High students, fussy teachers,
demanding women, and a life of enforced sanity and restricted behavior.
I'm not real sure about this, but I think he found humor in his sudden
interior view of the intricate way men worked with one another. I think he
sometimes burst into an uncontrollable little laugh when he observed the
absurdity of some of our behavior. I think he was surprised to discover
that men, even men in isolated little bands where the lines of authority
were clearly drawn, still acted in much the same way eighth graders did
establishing positions of dominance.
And I think this insight struck his funny bone.
But I could be wrong.
But whatever the psychology of his behavior, there was one thing for
sure. The Kid would laugh, or smile, or snicker, right out of the clear blue
sky, and nobody could figure out why.
At first this strange behavior was very disconcerting to everybody,
including me. When, right in the midst of some edgy, semi-hostile
argument between two grown men, The Kid would suddenly suppress a
little laugh and kind of mosey off, a taught and uneasy silence would fall
over the group. We would all stand there mystified, eye The Kid
suspiciously, and then eye each other suspiciously.
Every man present would suddenly be caught-up with the conviction
that somebody had been making faces at him behind his back. We would
all fall silent and throw sharp glances at one another.
But after this sort of thing happened a few times, it came to be an
unexpected source of humor for everybody. When The Kid would suddenly
give an uncontrollable little laugh, everyone present would give him a big
howl, accuse him of being nuts, and demand to know what the hell he
thought was so funny.
But we were never told. The Kid would just grow embarrassed, and
more silent than ever.
One night he did give me the barest insight, though. We were working
out of a remote ranch strip south of Freer. At lunch time two of our hands,
both retired Anglos working at this part-time job to pick-up a little extra
cash, got into some kind of stiff argument over something that was
unimportant then, and can't be remembered now.
These were men who had spent their lives around oil derricks, cows,
guns, bulldozers, trucks, and beer joints. They were rednecks, and they
were going at it hot and heavy.
They were standing on a dusty little airstrip and jamming each other in
the chest with an extended index finger. They were not having what
anybody would characterize as a "polite conversation."
Bob and I were both getting uneasy. With a ton of problems already,
the last thing in the world we needed was two men in their 60's getting
into a fist fight right in the middle of our airstrip. It was a job that so far
held out the slight possibility that we just might be able to clear enough
money to meet the payroll that weekend, and broken bones or a cardiac
arrest would have ruined the whole operation.
We were saved by The Kid. Without warning, he suddenly went into a
wild fit of choking laughter. He had hid behind a tank truck and tried to
control his outburst, but it didn't work. That got everybody laughing, and
got The Kid a good cussing from half-a-dozen different men, in two
That night the whole crew piled into a cheap hotel in Freer. The Kid and
I were in the same room. After we were both in bed with the lights out, I
asked him what it was that he found so funny that day.
"Didn't you hear what that guy was saying?" he asked.
"No, I guess I didn't," I said, puzzled that I might have missed
something important. "So what was he saying?"
"Well, he kept saying, 'I'll tell you one thing, Buddy!'", explained The
Kid, and started snickering.
"So what", I wanted to know?
"Well," repeated The Kid, as though his point was self evident. "That's
what he kept saying, 'I'll tell you one thing, Buddy!'"
"So what", I demanded impatiently?
"Well, that's what he kept saying," The Kid repeated, as though I was
some kind of an idiot who couldn't understand simple English. That's what
he kept saying! 'I'll tell you one thing, Buddy!' He just kept saying that. He
just kept saying that over and over and over. 'I'll tell you one thing,
Buddy!' But he never told him anything. He just kept saying that he was
going to tell him something. But he never got around to telling him
anything. He just kept on saying, 'I'll tell you one thing, Buddy!' over and
Then The Kid got real quiet in the darkness, but I could hear him trying
to bite back all the laughter.
I'm not sure, but I think that damn kid was laughing at all of us. I think
he was laughing at me. I think he was laughing at life. But I could be dead
wrong. It might have been that he found humor in things I simply didn't
understand, and never will understand.
I know I never again bothered to ask him what he thought was so