By: John Nielsen  

The smallness of my hometown, Evergreen, Alabama, meant a lack of separation. The poor and the wealthy, the educated and the ignorant, the sane and crazy, and the sick and healthy were thrown together in a tiny, rural piece of geography.  

Simple errands around town, for my Mother, almost always meant a 20 or 30-minute disjointed conversation with someone who knew she’d listen. Her children nicknamed her “the crazy magnet”.  

One day, I asked her why we didn’t try to avoid crazy people. 

Mama replied: “We don’t GET to do that.”

I asked, “But why?”

She said, “Because we might learn something from them.”

I didn’t understand.

2020 brought a pandemic. The government indiscriminately gave out money.  When people realized that most of us probably wouldn’t die, they started home improvements and bought houses. That September, my wife and I bought a house on a river near Bayou La Batre.  We needed a paint job, fast, so we could move in.

The man at the Bayou hardware store said, “I only know one available painter, immediately. Peanut Pishon. He does really good work, but he’s crazy. And don’t let him paint drunk. Make sure he brings his wife with him. She keeps him straight.”

“Is that why he’s available?” I asked.

“Yep,” he replied. “I got his address if you want it.”

“Does he have a phone?” I asked.

“Sometimes, but not usually. It's better to go by.”

I pulled up to an old clapboard house on Railroad Street in Bayou La Batre. The lime green paint was peeling away from the wood. A sun-faded, frayed blue tarp covered half of the roof. Smaller blue tarps covered mysterious objects in the high grass of the yard. Old rusty appliances and pieces of lawnmowers stood exposed to the salt air and humidity. A large, freckled, red-haired woman yelled through a big hole in the rusted screen of the front porch.

“If yer here for money, we ain’t got none till next week.”

“No ma’am.  I’m looking for a painter named Peanut Pishon.  I need some painting done.”

“Oh.” she said, “Peanut’s down at Lightning Pointe watching the sky. I’m Sheena, his wife.  Peanut’s an “arteestee” type, so I handle the estimates and the money. Tell me what you want to do.”

We discussed the particulars; she told me the number of gallons to buy and gave me a price.

“Can you start Monday?” I asked.

“Naw, it's football season. Peanut recovers on Mondays. We’ll be there early Tuesday.”

I was about to drive off when Sheena waved me down. I lowered the window. 

“No matter what Peanut says, you pay me. Peanut ain’t any good with money. Oh, and make sure you get the paint up at the Shirley Williams store up at Tillman’s Corner. That paint goes on, better.”

I agreed and drove home wondering what might happen, what Peanut was like, and if these people might eventually kill me and hide my body under a blue tarp. I needed this paint job to happen, though.

Tuesday came and the Pishons showed up in an old white van covered in mildew and rust. He got out of the van and greeted me.  Everything about Peanut was large. He was six and a half feet tall, full-bellied, red-faced, and had the hair and beard of a mountain man. Sheena got out and set up lawn chairs and a little cooler under the Live Oak. 

Peanut spoke in a deep, raspy voice. “Hey, man, we here to get’r done. Come show me how you want it!” We walked through the house and he listened, intently.

“You picked that Dover White. You done good,” he said. “It's got jest a kiss uh yellow in it that goes with everthang.’

“You can pick out yellow color in a white paint?” I asked. 

“Oh, yeah. I’m real good with colors. I think about colors, sex, whiskey, and football…in that order.”

I was unsure how to reply. “What’s your favorite color?” I asked.

“That's easy.  All the colors in a Bayou La Batre sunset.  I watch it eveh sangle day I can get down to Lightning Pointe.”

“Yeah, I’ve watched the ones at Point Clear and Gulf Shores. They’re pretty amazing.”

“Oh, hell, naw.  A Point Clear sunset ain’t got squat on a Bayou Sunset.”

I laughed nervously at the thought of arguing about sunsets with a man who looked like a professional wrestler.  Peanut became serious. He stared into my eyes as he moved inside of my personal space. He pointed his finger at my nose.

“You n’ me are going to watch a sunset at the Bayou.  I’m going to prove it to you. They’s a light that ain’t no other place on earth got.”

“We’ll, we gotta get this house painted first.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” Peanut agreed. “Me and Sheena got to pay for that new baby she’s carrying.

“Oh, congratulations,”  I replied.

‘Well, I’d better git at it. I’ll have it all done by Thursday.”

I walked to my truck to leave. I passed Sheena. “When’s the baby due?” I asked.

“What?” she said. “I ain’t havin’ no baby. Did Peanut tell you that? He’s been tellin’ people that shit since I heavied up. You come with me, rat now.”

I followed Sheena into my foyer. Peanut had watched our exchange. He was lying on my floor, laughing. Sheena kicked him in the thigh, hard. He rolled over in pain.

“Git yer ass up and start making money, you crazy bastard!” Sheena yelled.

She walked me to my car. “Lord, I love that man. I don’t know why. But I do.”

I told her I’d be back after lunch to check the progress. I wondered how Peanut and Sheena could be so strange, but so familiar to me, at the same time.

That afternoon I pulled into the drive. The Pishons were seated, eating sandwiches. There was a third lawn chair for me. I declined a bologna sandwich. We chatted a bit, mostly about sunsets and painting. 

“Well, I’m going to have a look at the paint job,” I said. The Pishons remained outside.

I looked over the walls of the house. I was astounded at how perfect and clean the job was. I was even more surprised with HOW MUCH work had been accomplished. Maybe Peanut Pishon was an artist.

I passed the big front window that faced the oak tree and the Pishons. Sheena was pouring vodka from a Popov fifth into a little cup. I watched Peanut down the vodka and walk toward the house. I sat under the tree, with Sheena, again. “Now, Sheena. Everything looks good, but Peanut can’t drink vodka and paint my house,” I explained.

Sheena’s eyes became teary as she explained. “On weekends, it's whiskey.  The vodka is like a medicine. It keeps the shakes off Peanut. It’s why your house is looking so good. It’s why I’m here. I give him a little taste all along to help him. Look. We need this money. But if you’re not happy at the end, I won’t let you pay us. Is that a deal?”

“It’s a deal if I don’t show up and find him drunk,” I replied.

“You won’t,” Sheena assured me.

Two days later the Pishons had done everything I’d asked. The job was perfect and I happily paid them. Before they drove away, Peanut grabbed my sleeve and pulled me around the back of his van.

“I got problems, but I’m not a bad man. I’m glad we got to finish the job,” he said.

“I know that Peanut,” I replied.

“His eyes became wide. “Sunsets in an hour. Meet me at Lightning Pointe. I want to show you the Bayou Light.”

“I can’t today, Peanut.”

“You’re afraid of me. A lot of people are. You don’t have to be. But if you don’t meet me at Lightning Pointe in an hour, I’m going to show up at this house ever damned day till you do.  You might as well get this done.“

My mind raced thinking about a drunk giant showing up at my door every afternoon. I agreed and called my wife to tell her why I would be a little late. I think, deep down, I really wanted someone to know where to look for my body.

I negotiated the curves and uneven pavement of Shell Belt Road. I passed hundreds of boats in every shape, condition, and color. There were piles of oyster shells, skinny dogs without collars, nets strung over ropes, and more blue tarps over things in yards. There were glimpses and glimmers of water in the channel. I saw high grass on mud flats as the road opened to a panorama of Portersville Bay.  Peanut’s van was already there. He’d positioned himself on the little bluff at Lightning Point.

He greeted me. He was already drunk. We stood quietly for about 20 minutes and Peanut said, “The clouds are just right. The sun’s going to dress em’ up. It’s about to start!”

The western horizon was unworldly for 30 minutes.  Oranges begat pinks and reds. Blues mixed with lavenders and purples. A fall breeze passed. White boats in the channel, holding shadowed men, steered home. They passed through an ethereal glow. I was at peace, there, standing next to an enormous, hairy, drunk man who smelled of sweat, paint thinner, and whiskey. It all seemed perfect.

Peanut and I walked back to our cars in the dark, silent. By his van, he started his loud laugh. He put his arms on my shoulders, and happily shook me.  He said. “See, it's everthang I said it was.” 

Smiling, I agreed. We parted company.

The drive home brought a hundred thoughts of Peanut’s Bayou sunset.  It was amazing and different. All sunsets are amazing and different. That day, in that place, for a few minutes - a crazy, drunk Peanut Pishon showed me his source of peace.  He shared the most beautiful thing he knew, with me. 

Mama was right. I learned something.

Jan 17, 2024
Musings From The Cove

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