Wednesday, October 18, 2017


Ladies and gentlemen, the stories you are about to read are true. No names have been changed, since none have been provided.

I suppose we all have in our pasts that one job that was a wee bit quirky, one that we perhaps took out of necessity or curiosity, but one that we would never retain for any extended period of time. Such was the case with my brief involvement among members of the Shelby County Deputy Sheriff's Association.

In the winter of 1978, knowing that my time in Memphis would be limited, I started looking for a job that would get me through for a short time while I lived at home and saved some money. I was having no luck finding anything, so I answered an ad in the paper for a "delivery" job. I thought that at least, this would be interesting. The job was with the Shelby County Deputy Sheriff 's Association, which appeared to be loosely affiliated with local law enforcement. I went in for a brief interview and was hired on the spot. That should have been a clue as to what lay ahead.

The Deputy Sheriff's Association, known by insiders as the "DSA," cold-called people for donations, and my job was to deliver promotional materials to those who had donated, namely bumper stickers. For that, I would receive a small cut of each donation. The average contribution, generally made over the phone, was about sixty to seventy dollars in today's money. For that, the donor would receive a rather handsome green bumper sticker to affix to their car or home window, or anywhere else they decided to stick it. Many donors assumed that if they displayed the sticker on their cars, they would not be pulled over by traffic cops, although I'm not sure that this rule held in all cases. Regardless, people paid, and they got stickers.

My first day, I was handed a stack of stickers and a list of addresses. This was way before any kind of GPS mapping, so I kept a big spiral bound city map on which to find all the destinations. I would look up the street name, then find the page showing a detailed neighborhood map, and take it from there. On the first few days, I probably delivered five or six stickers each day with no issues. I delivered to both businesses and individuals, and truly, it was a chance to really explore the city in a way I never had. Most of my deliveries to businesses were made during the day, leaving most home deliveries to the evening. This was interesting in many ways, not the least of which was that it took me into neighborhoods I otherwise would not have explored.

One afternoon, I had a delivery to Pooh's Lounge, which was located on Vance Avenue, in the red light district of Memphis. I drove up in front of Pooh's, locked my car, and ambled in, rather clean-cut looking, if I do say so myself. I made a bee-line for the bar to deliver the sticker that the owner had purchased and noticed that an immediate hush fell over the lounge, which was occupied at the time by only about five or six patrons. I heard murmurs of a nature that suggested I should leave the building, but I stood patiently (and warily) at the bar while the bartender presumably went to get the owner. After several minutes, she re-emerged and told me to come back later, because the owner was not there and she could not write a check. I thanked her and left hurriedly, returning to the association's East Memphis office and chastising the two quasi-redneck DSA phone solicitors who had sent me to Pooh's. I told them I wasn't going back, so they said they would. It's worth noting that a few days later, the two of them went together, met the owner, got the check, then returned saying how the place had been so scary.

Another afternoon, I drove up to a nice home on a large piece of land in North Memphis. A long driveway led up to the door of a well-maintained Colonial style home. I rang the doorbell, and a middle-aged woman came to the door, dressed in a flowered robe. She appeared to be very pleasant, although rather tired, as if she had just awakened. After I had introduced myself and told her why I was there, she excused herself, saying that she was going to get her checkbook. She was gone for a couple of minutes and then suddenly reappeared at the door, this time screaming at me incoherently at the top of her lungs. I had no idea what was going on, but before I had time to decide whether to stay or flee, her husband drove up alongside my car in the driveway. He quickly came up to the front porch, introduced himself, and apologized for his wife's unusual behavior. He said, "I'm so sorry...she has problems." He went into the house, produced a check, then thanked me. I left the house with a mixture of relief and sadness, wondering if the woman's condition had been long term, or if it had surfaced only recently. Regardless, I thought about what they must be going through.

Daytime deliveries might take me to neighborhoods I'd never visited, but at night, things took on a whole new perspective. I always had this feeling that even though the fundraising efforts for the DSA were completely legitimate, they were still discretionary on the part of the donors, and I also imagined that not everyone might appreciate a personal visit to collect a donation check, particularly after hours. Such was the case one evening on Wales Avenue.

I had friends who lived on Wales, and I visited their home often. The neighborhood was not by any means affluent, but neither did it appear dangerous. One chilly winter evening, I was assigned a delivery to a home at the other end of the street from where my friends lived. When I rang the doorbell, a man whom I would guess to be in his early sixties came to the door. When I told him I was with the DSA, he said that he had indeed donated and would be glad to write me a check. He asked me to come inside, since it was so cold. I was more than a little intimidated by the two Dobermans who had accompanied the man to the door, but he reassured me that they were harmless. Both dogs had just had their ears cropped and were still bandaged.

Things began to take a turn for the weird when the man commanded one of the dogs to sit up on a chair. He leaned forward to the dog's face and said, "Here, baby...give Daddy a kiss." The dog licked him all over his face while he made "kissy" noises. As odd as this was, I had the feeling that it was a regular occurrence; nevertheless, it was unsettling. The man then asked me to wait while he got his checkbook, which he said was in the back bedroom.

When he reappeared a couple of minutes later, the man held a pistol in one hand and a box of bullets in the other. He looked me straight in the eye and said, "This is my checkbook. Now, get outta here." I looked him straight back in the eye and told him he was crazy as hell and then fled, literally. I gunned the engine of the Chevy Malibu and returned to my house, shaken and stirred.

A few days later, I was talking to my friend who lived at the other end of Wales Avenue. After he'd heard my account of what had happened, he said, "Which house was that?" When I told him, he said, "Oh, didn't...that guy is really crazy."

My tenure with the Deputy Sheriff's Association was necessarily limited. After several weeks of exploring neighborhoods hither and yon, I thanked my boss, quit the job, and made preparations to move to Chicago, where I found a position in the accounting office of an engineering firm several days after arriving. That job led to my involvement with information technology, which ultimately became my career.

Every time I see one of those sheriff's association stickers on a car, I get the heebie-jeebies. I can only hope that most solicitation now is done either over the phone or online, and that collateral materials, whatever they may be, are delivered by mail. On the other hand, I did seem to acquire a penchant for urban exploration, which continues to this day. But now, I'm the one who chooses where I go.

Stay safe out there.