and disguised locations in order to protect the guilty.
One afternoon the Bluesmobile and I were moseying along a narrow blacktop highway outside a small town. I saw a gravel road, and, being a curious blues bum, I took it.
After a couple of hundred yards and to my delight, there sat a run-down juke joint beside the road. I stopped and went inside. An elderly black man behind the bar was busily transferring cans of beer from stacked cases to the cooler beneath the bar. I introduced myself and stated my blues bumming business. He introduced himself: Walter _______.
I ordered a soft drink and chatted with Walter while he stocked the coolers. A few minutes later, I walked over to the jukebox. There sat blues bum heaven. The jukebox was filled with old blues and soul blues 45 rpm recordsfive songs for a quarter.
"Oh, my God!" I exclaimed. "I can't believe the songs on this jukebox! Walter, where in hell did the amusement company get all these great old records?"
"They didn't," Walter said, raising his head from the cooler beneath the bar and looking at me. "That jukebox is mine."
With a common interest now, the music on that jukebox, Walter and I soon became friends. I stopped by his juke joint at least once a day to shoot the bull and to get my daily injection of Muddy Waters. One day I asked Walter where he lived. "Across the highway," he informed me. "I own all that land over there and all this land over here. 500 acres."
"500 acres! Damn, Walter, that's a hell of a lot of land! How in hell did you get 500 acres?"
That was a hell of a question for me to ask. I suppose shock affected my normally good sense. But it didn't bother Walter. He calmly stated: "I stole it."
Was his strange answer a joke at my dumb-ass white-man question? Not wanting to show my preconceived ignorance any further than I already hadit wouldn't have shocked me if an elderly and poor-looking white man had told me he owned 500 acres of landI dropped the question and the subject.
A few days later, Walter told me he wanted to show me his land. He closed the juke joint, and we got in his beat-up pickup and off we drovedown the gravel road, across the narrow blacktop highway, and down another gravel road.
He showed me his neat frame house and his woods and his pasture and his cows and his fishing pond. He showed me his barn and his big red tractor and his bush hog for clearing land and his plows for plowing land and his big yellow grader blade for smoothing his gravel roads. But when I saw all that, my ignorance rose again: "Walter," I said, "how did you really get this land?"
"I told you. I stole it."
"Come one, Walter," I pleaded. "Tell me the truth. How'd you get this land?"
"I knew this rich white lawyer in (Delta City). One day I went to his office and I sat down in a big leather chair in front of his desk. I says, ‘I know you charge by the hour, and I'm willing to pay whatever you charge.' He told me what he charged, and I says, 'Fine.'
"He says, 'So what can I do for you, Walter?'
"I says, 'You white people steal land. Tax sales and things like that. I want you to teach me how to steal land.'"
Walter told me some of what the lawyer then said. The lawyer was scheming to defraud the government or a bank out of some money. In Walter's question, the lawyer saw a partner in crime and in Walter's minority status, I suspect, he saw the key to the scheme, the plan.
Then Walter said, "Step one of the plan: he deeded me 500 acres." Walter paused, probably for effect. Grinning, he added, "And he had a heart attack and died."
I was dumbfounded.
And Walter said, "See? I stole it."