Sunday, July 8, 2018

Man Bites Tail Off Rattler & Triggers My Memories Of F.J. Danforth

So this guy and his neighbor allegedly get into an argument. Must have been pretty heated since, later on, he reportedly caught a rattler then bit its tail off (the rattling end of the snake) and let it go in the other guy's abode. He evidently got caught by his intended target right after the act and the other guy found and dispatched the snake. More at the source.

Crazy fucker he seems to be but then I remember F.J. Danforth - one of my first, and absolutely the best, of my supervisors when I was a trainee Border Patrol Agent (and one of the best supervisors I have ever had in any job). That was way back in the age of my enlightenment about just about everything.

Danforth was a no nonsense guy who had a good deal of, shall I say crusty curmudgeonly worldly experience. He was the head firearms instructor for our station and knew his guns and how to shoot and maintain them. He was mechanically inclined. He was a obstinate old coot, and could argue a point if he wanted to argue which he rarely did so. He was also on of the better shots, with a revolver and rifle, that I have ever known and I have literally met some legendary shooters - of which group maybe he should have been one. In other words - he just about literally could shoot the balls off of a gnat without killing it. On the other hand he used great restraint when it came to violence (when I knew him) although he would not hesitate to resort to it if necessary.  

He also was the teller of what for awhile I had thought were tall tales but he put me to shame for my ever having thought so all without trying to shame me.  While at the range, and sometimes over beers or dinner at my and my girlfriend's place, or at his place, he would tell tales about the escapades and endeavors of his youthful adult years.

For instance, he would tell me about the covert work he did for the U.S. Government in Laos or maybe it was Cambodia or Thailand - damned if I can recall which - but it was the one in which we supposedly had zero military presence during the Vietnam war (or damn maybe it was WWII - my memory is hazy on it but I am pretty sure it was the Vietnam War). His facial expression, even his whole countenance, would change - soften a bit - become excited as well - as he  recalled those days gone by maybe 10 to 15 year prior to the telling. The things he talked about seemed far cumulatively fetched and while I tried to believe him and sorely wanted to believe him - after him telling me over and over again that someday he would show me photographs without him doing it for so long - I doubted his veracity. There was just no way I could see that one man could have done what he had done without him somehow having pictures, writing a book or getting someone to produce a movie about his exploits but Danforth being Danforth was in some ways very humble and secretive about his past.

So, how was it that he told me his tales. I suppose because he saw something of his younger himself in me an we connected. I imagine it was a bit of wildness, my love of adventure, my willingness to get right into the muck & mire to sort something out and my love of firearms. It all started - that is the telling of the tales started - one day at the range when Danforth spied me taking a gander at a damned big herpes zoster on the corner of his lips as we were BS'ing and cleaning up the range after a qualification. I suppose I had indeed looked at it, it was hard to miss when you were standing there talking to him and it was staring back but I wasn't judging or even wondering about it - I was just amazed at the size of it. Anyway, he pulled me aside and sad to me ' I bet you're wondering how I got this...well there was this harem...' and the tales blossomed as did our friendship.

The story he told was amazing, at least for a young guy like me who was just making his way out into the world on is own. He had bee assigned to a covert military intelligence operation. I think it was in Thailand but as I said one of the three I mentioned above, as a military liaison with the King of that country. As it tuned out and as best I remember, he spent a lot of time with the king's son who enjoyed the amenities of royal living such as tiger hunts (on which he took Danforth) and a harem (yes just as you imagine it). Well, he got it - or so he believed - from one or more of the harem girls. It was a great story but a story.

One of his other stories was of the tiger hunts. He told it in the detail of a Rudyard Kipling tale with all the flamboyance of one of those stories but also with tobacco juice sometimes trickling out of the corner of his lip when he would suddenly smile a bit over one of those memories. And he talked about some of the military operations he carried out but never went into much detail on them pretty much saying he was there to assure that the U.S. got all the assistance it could from that government without letting it be known that we and they were allies. Scret military operations - harems - tiger hunts with a prince from elephant backs and from machans set up in trees - and the number of tigers he said were taken in one hunt alone was astonishing.

The amount of sheer adventure and debauchery was amazing. The life he described was of the most desirable sort to me at the time so I list4ened intently. Yet, it got to he point that after hearing those stories for about two years or so without never seeing anything to back them up - I had to wonder - was he as full of shit as others thought him to be. Yeah, he told others some of those stories but not many. You had to be on his A-list for him to even talk to you for just about anything other than work related stuff but like I said, somehow I was on it. We tolerated his telling of wat may have or not have been tall tales for several reasons: first of all they were excellent stories and even if only stories he told them well - better than most authors could do. Secondly, he was a good man at heart with maybe a black spot here and there or at least some shady spots but who cared - he was a good friend and as I said a good man. Third, if he liked you - he was generous toward you - not only with hi stories as he also gave out practice ammo to the agents he liked more than to others.

I remember getting a shitload of 308 WIN from him - a few cases - that he supposedly had used at practice shoots out in the desert. Those practice shoots were seemingly held much more seldom than he had led his bosses to believe but it seems he got ammo each time he said he was holding one and it never went to waste. Then there were the other practice shoots. They were, in reality, coyote hunts. Sadly I never participated. It was not that I was not invited but I wound up having work or something else interfere with my free time and never go to go. I knew guys who went and they had pictures, piles of dead coyotes - sometimes 20 - 30 of them in one day. One time, while out east of Calexico, I think south of 11-9 (a code for a location on the All American Canal) I came across a pile of about 20 or so coyotes rotting in the desert sun. That was about 2 days after his previous rifle shoot for which he had acquired 308 ammo from the range supplies. When it came to coyotes, the man could call and bait them in like drunken sailors drawn to a sale at Bangkok whorehouse. Then there was the shotgun and 357 magnum ammo. Who would not listen to a guy telling you of his adventures, whether you believed him or not, when free ammo was flowing and coyotes were dropping like flies.

Then one day it happened. Danforth came to our place for dinner with a couple of other of our friends. He brought along an old tattered cardboard shoebox. When he opened that box and showed us the contents my jaw must have dropped to the floor and I truly felt ashamed of myself for ever having any doubt about the stories he had told me. Mind you, it was never that I came to the point of thinking him an outright liar but I sure had a hard time believing he had not at least exaggerated some. Wound up, I had been dead wrong. Let me just say - truth be told - he never gave enough detail in his stories to account for his adventures from what I saw of the pictures he had in that box. WOW he had led on heck of a life.

There were 35mm photos, those old square shaped photos from roll film I think was called 126, pictures taken with brownie and Polaroid cameras - he had to have 50 to 75 photos at least and they backed up, in glorious imagery, everything he had told us. One of the first shots, if not he very first picture he showed me, was of him in uniform - sitting there in the middle of about 15 negligee clad women. He had at least a few shots with some of the girls in various states of undress. It was easy to see how that zoster came to be.

Then he pulled out some photos of the tiger hunt(s). Him on elephant back sitting in one of those things with all the fancy frills that would be on royalty's elephants. Photos of him in a machan aiming down with a rifle. There too were pics of the dead tigers laid out one next to the other from a single hunt. There were several shots like that seemingly from different tiger hunts. Photos of him and the prince abounded (or maybe it was the king but I am pretty sure it was one the kings sons - you have to bear in mind this was about 34 to 36 years and several thousand shots ago for me). He also had pics of him with guerilla groups of local natives, all armed to the teeth. And of course there were pictures of the palace (not only those in the harem) and all I could say was wow.

I don't remember if I let onto him that I had thought he had exaggerated. I think I did but I did not have to. In his best matter of fact manner, with a sly little smile on his face, he came right out and told me he knew I and everyone to whom he told his stories had thought he had been telling tall tales. So he brought the proof. We had a good time that evening over some drinks and a fine meal and those pictures were probably one of the best desserts I have ever been served even though they left more than a smidgen of the taste of humble pie with me. I never doubted him again and I was ashamed  had ever done so.

So - how did the guy biting the tail off of the rattler and then reportedly leaving it in his neighbor's dwelling remind me of F.J. Danforth. Well, it was a dark and damned hot summer night, on the midnight shift, out in the west desert.... Probably everyone from the Calexico, CA Border patrol Station was out there on a hunt of our own that night. We were all there, instead of on patrol in town and elsewhere, because I had cut sign of a group of tonks (there is a story in why illegal aliens were called tonks but that is for another telling) illegal aliens. Everyone had been bored to ears - things usually slowed down an awful lot in the summer months going from a few thousand arrests per month during the spring to maybe a couple of hundred in each of July and August; so, all of them had headed my way once I called in the group ofillegals to the station radio operator. We were all eager to see some action and have some fun and after not too long a time we caught most if not all of them.

While I was standing there, after the arrests, talking to my assigned rtainee, Danforth walked over toward us but stopped several feet away and suddenly shot his foot out as if about to stomp on something but then at the last moment slowed the downward travel of his foot and put it gingerly but firmly on top of something on the ground. He then stooped and one handedly grabbed at something. Damn it was a snake and Danforth had it by the tail with its head still under his foot.  My trainee, just about slithered out of his own skin and may have shit himself. He was a wussy who was deathly afraid of snakes. Hell, he turned about as white as milk when he realized it was a rattlesnake. There were a gazillion sidewinders in that desert and lots of Western Diamondbacks too - this one was a sidewinder. Danforth asked me for a knife which I handed him and with his free hand he took it and in a flash cut off he snakes rattle. With its head still pinned under his boot, he grabbed the now free tail end again, lifted up his foot, and flung the snake by its tail as far as he could underhanded out into the night.  

When I asked why in hell he had done that since we worked out there he said something to the effect of: 'When you work out here you wear boots - unlike your asshole trainee who is wearing Oxfords! Tonks are either barefoot or wearing huaraches' (sandals with bottoms made from old tires). I will only admit to merely nodding with a big smile on my face. My trainee from that night never again wore Oxfords to work - he got himself a nice high pair of boots. All those years later - after his exploits in SE Asia - Danforth was still doing things that I was sure would wind up being told to someone else in years to come in tales they may have thought were pretty darned tall but were no brag - just fact.

Danforth retired before I left Calexico. He moved back to the Northwest, I think to Oregon or Washington state where he had been living before he joined the patrol. I and some few others helped him load a flatbed trailer he pulled behind his truck. He made several trips back and forth from his house (on Hwy 98 as I recall) to the north country with that trailer before finally departing. When he packed the last load, the day he left for good, that trailer was low to ground with the weight of the load. How is it that the Grateful dead put it: "Now I don't know, but I've been told it's hard to run with the weight of gold. Other hand I have heard it said, it's just as hard with the weight of lead."!  That's from New Speedway Boogie and man it could be about Danforth, his life style and that trailer being loaded with lead. He must have had at least 50 cases of 308 ammo loaded onto it along with 357 ammunition too. Damn, one way or another, he had acquired a lot of 308 ammo. My guess is that he must have held an awful lot of rifle practices out in the desert to which no one showed up.

He had a wife (never met her I think she lived up north when Danforth was in the BP) and he had at least one son whom I also never met. As I recall he had other jobs one of which was lumberjack an he may also have been a lineman but my memory is vague on that. He passed on way too young, in his young seventies after having been retired from the Patrol for several years. I still think of him now and again. Damn - I miss him a lot - he was one heck of a good mentor and had quite the effect on the young adventure seeking border patrol agent who I was back then. He was a good friend too even though we lost contact once he moved on into retirement. I guess, I nor he were the best at keeping in touch.

Despite losing touch, I carry some of him ith me today - he had that much of an effect on me. I guess the best way to describe that old cantankerous codger (at least I thought one's mid-fifties was old back then) is to say - he was a man among men and his life was one hell of an adventure - a little time in the military or an intelligence agency - a little time in a harem - a little time hunting tigers - a little time in the BP - a little time collecting ammo for retirement - a little time cutting off rattler's tails - a little time being my friend - and a lot of time living his life to tell his tales to guys like me.

RIP my friend but also rest assured that when they say 'you live as log as someone remembers you' you most definitely still live today as far as I am concerned! 

All the best,
Glenn B