IT WAS A HUGE HUMPY BEAST
The first camel race in the United States was held in Sacramento, California, on April 7, 1864. The dromedaries belonged to Samuel McLeneghan who had paid $1,495 for 35 of them at an auction in Benicia, California. The camels had a curious history, one that began with an American military expedition to northern African nations along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The idea of the expedition and the importing of camels belonged to Secretary of War Jefferson Davis (this is of course the Jefferson Davis who later led the Confederacy, which had no camels that we know of). Davis convinced Congress to go along with this scheme and his vision of a Camel Corps that would carry military supplies across the country from east to west, it being reasoned that camels could carry heavier loads than horses on less food and water (sort of the same idea behind today’s guest worker programs for foreigners).
Unfortunately, the Camel Corps looked better on paper than in reality. The camels did not get along with their fellow animals or people: they stampeded horses and mules, attacked and bit pedestrians and chewed laundry off clotheslines. Camel caravans were only allowed to pass through some towns at night. With the Civil War getting underway (and Jefferson Davis going to the other side), interest in the project flagged and the Camel Corps disbanded. Of the camels that didn’t go to the races with McLeneghan, some joined the circus; some were employed by private companies. Eventually, many were abandoned in the desert. And for years afterward, prospectors and drifters might come rushing into a bar, raving about the strange apparition they had seen in the desert.
DON’T HURRY WORRY ME, PART 2: Blue Denim BARN DANCE
Although it seemed as though hurricane season could have come and gone outside the barn while Randall waited inside, it was just a matter of minutes before Ismelde arrived, slightly flushed and very pretty. She was at once both disarming and demure in his favorite dress, the white one that hugged her the way he wished to.
“Look at those pants,” she said, sitting next to him in the hay. “Aren’t they pretty? And aren’t you pretty in them.” She rubbed his leg, and he shuddered with longing. And emboldened, he rubbed her leg in return, but only the part of her leg that stretched out from under the hem of the white dress.
“They’re so soft,” she cooed, caressing more and more of the blue pants.
“So are you,” he said, letting his hand roam as well.
She smiled at him and whispered in his ear: “These pants are so nice it’s almost a pity you have to take them off.”
“Take them off?” Randall stammered.
“Of course, silly,” she said, giggling. He jumped up and turned away as though he were a coward about to flee the enticing Ismelde. But, confused as he was, he really just wanted to get out of Clarence Henry’s blue denims before the beauty in the hay changed her mind. He let the pants drop, picked them up, and tossed them cavalierly back into the hay. When he turned back to Ismelde he knew she was not going to change her mind because the white dress no longer hugged her. He stared at her, unable to move.
“Come down here with me,” she urged, but before he could comply, a voice boomed from the front of the barn.
“Ismelde,” shouted Titus. “Are you in there, girl?”
“Yes daddy,” she answered, slipping back into the white dress as if she had practiced donning it in a hurry. Randall was not so calm. He didn’t want to be here with or without pants when Ismelde’s father arrived. He just took off at full speed out the back, leaving Clarence Henry’s beautiful blue denims lying in the hay. Ismelde, realizing the pants were still there, crawled through the hay and buried them just as her father appeared.
“Girl, I just don’t understand why you spend so much time in this barn,” said her father.
She lowered her eyes as she pulled the straw from her hair. “Sometimes I just like to be alone, daddy.”
At this point in Chicken’s narrative, someone might ask, Chicken Avery how can you know about this? Randall told me, Chicken would answer and continue with the story.
Later that day, Ismelde carried the blue denims down to Port Elizabeth in a paper bag with the intention of donating them to a needy sailor. At first, she thought she might hide them until Randall returned, but then she realized it might be weeks before he summoned up the necessary courage. She thought of burying the pants, but couldn’t bring herself to just dispose of the delightful denims. No, they’d be just right for some needy sailor.
This story originally appeared in American Way, the inflight magazine of American Airlines. It is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.