aka Junior, had inherited the business from his father after Emil
Sr. was pinned under a livestock trailer while changing a flat.
Had it been on a highway, he may have survived, but the loaded trailer
was behind a barn on private (leased) property and it was days before
he was found. The cows lost some weight, but survived – only to
be driven to slaughter after being fattened at a feed lot.
Both Skrabaneks had played football for their county seat team,
but Emil Sr. taught his son that business came first. “Treat everyone
equally, he said, “but don’t take any checks from those #*&% panthers.”
had the ideal crossroad location. It was also (more or less) equidistant
between two county seats. The two towns provided most of Emil’s
business. Both towns had been high school football rivals dating
back to the days when they wore leather helmets.
The pool-playing, beer drinking clientele would abruptly change
from time to time. It would be a hangout for one team for 18 months
or so and then abruptly switch to another. No one could point to
a reason. It just happened. The old timers that played dominos in
the back room didn’t care who used the pool tables – and neither
did Junior. As long as everyone paid in U.S. currency, everything
Junior kept a phone under the bar. It was a beige “Princess” model
that he had picked up at a garage sale. It had an exceptionally
long extension cord that reached all the way back to the domino
tables – a convenience for Mr. Broussard, the area’s token Louisianan.
“Buddy” Broussard was crippled while changing a tire on a livestock
trailer and never made it back home to Beaux Bridge. It was just
as well since it was rumored he was heavily in debt for a failed
crawfish farm. His wife had him declared legal dead – which in Louisiana
takes about ten days. The arrangement suited Buddy fine.
Junior had tried to get a pay phone installed, but the phone company
said it wouldn’t make enough to justify sending a man from Houston
to collect the money. So Junior had to settle on his business phone.
But he didn’t advertise the fact that it was there.
Still, the regulars knew it was there. Sometimes the phone’s presence
would be forgotten, but every few weeks (or whenever someone got
himself pinned under a livestock trailer) it was remembered. Perhaps
it was the phases of the moon, but sometimes it seemed everybody
and his nephew had to make a call. Junior hinted that he should
be paid for the phone’s use, but nobody took him seriously. The
pool players would use the phone to call their girlfriends or their
bail bondsmen - or both. Kermit Zapalac, who happened to be dating
a bail bondswoman from Brenham,
could make both calls at once.
When they gave the phone back to Junior, the patrons mumbled their
thanks. Junior mumbled back – but it wasn’t “you’re welcome.” They
were aware of Junior’s dirty look, but they kept their quarters
in their pockets – to use in the juke box or the pool table. It
was when the girlfriends and bail bondsmen started calling Juniors
for their lovers or clients - that Emil really got steamed.
never was considered talkative. He spent words like they cost money
and he saw no reason to speak when a nod, a shrug or raised eyebrows
could do the talking for him. Therefore, it was a surprise when
he struck up a conversation with Joe Fraga one evening. Joe was
another guy who didn’t talk much. Their conversation drew even more
attention when Emil opened the cash register and slid a $10 bill
Two nights later, there was a new piece of “furniture” in Junior’s
Place. It sat next to the juke box in the corner. It was (as Groucho
used to say) “A common item – something you see everyday.” What
it was was a newspaper rack – a used one purchased from Joe Fraga.
It was the wire cage type – the one where the front opens down.
It was painted red – just like the ones in Houston.
The paper rack had been dented when it was struck in a livestock
trailer accident, but the mechanism that accepted quarters still
worked. Instead of newspapers – the rack held Junior’s beige Princess
phone – with its extension cord coiled like a fireman’s hose. For
the first time ever, Junior was asking patrons if they needed to
make a call.
© John Troesser
November 9, 2014 Column
More Columns by John Troesser