LICK THE FLOOR
by Eric Rudolph
January 27, 2004 AD
It had been a rough year and a half, spent hunkered down in the mountain camps of the Snowbird and Tusquitee Mountains. It was a brutal starving time burying food, digging shelters, freezing, hunting,and eating acorns and salamanders. I had barely made it out from under the big search (July 1998 to April 1999) when choppers and dogs regularly combed the woods. The feds were still concentrating their search back in the Nantahala, but after their frustrating failure to find me during the winter, they started to scale back their presence. Special Agent In Charge Woody Enderson was leaving, a new guy was coming in. I had consumed the last of the food I had obtained from George Nordmann in mid 1998. Frustrated that I could not maintain my body weight on acorns, salamanders, wild game, and greens, I made my way out of the Snowbird in the spring of 1999 and set up camp on a nasty scrubby, sun-drenched spur overlooking the town of Andrews. The FBI headquarters was in plain sight, less than a mile away.
Eric's Last Campsite
My plan was to quickly locate a food supply and move this back to my mountain camps as soon as possible. A good, long storage, and easily transportable food source (grain) was located at Marble. However, the grain silos at Marble were empty at that time of year and the crops (corn, wheat and soybeans) were still in the field and wouldn't be harvested until the fall (October). The plan changed to a long wait for fall, and in the meantime I had to camp outside of town and maintain myself on vegetables and McD's garbage. This entailed going out in the wee hours of the morning once or twice a week depending upon the success of my previous mission.
On this particular night the air was cool, fall having started a month before. I was hesitant to get out from under my improvised bed which was made of leaves and plastic. Because my trip was not supposed to last into the fall, I wasn't dressed for the cold, and this night was definitely cold. The mountain trail down to the road was steep and full of obstacles. Having to traverse a trail in the dark without a flashlight was something that was done primarily from memory. Each step must be calculated and correlated with the surrounding shadows produced by the trees and the general landscape. Once you get used to the step count and how the trail looks at night, it becomes fairly easy.
I've even noticed that after having walked a particular trail night after night, you can walk it easier, using the step count, in the dark than if you tried to walk it in the day. This is because at night your step count is done in conjunction with the shadows - the shadows are not there in the day and consequently you lose your place on the trail.
Once down to the road I sat in a clump of bushes and shrubs. The night was bright with a full moon. Just past midnight, as I sat and watched the traffic lessen to the appropriate level, I shivered from the cold. The phases of the moon were very important to my life and I watched the processes like a nocturnal creature. The full moon bathed the valley in a pale white light; the dew was falling and beginning to freeze on the cringing foliage. The moon was a double-edged sword: it made it easier to get around and see, but it also made it easier to be seen. Especially dangerous was the road: when walking along the roads on dark, moonless nights, cars coming from behind were easily noticed by the headlights reflecting on the foliage, and this gave plenty of notice to jump into the nearest ditch. But when the moon is bright, this advantage is erased because you can't see contrast between headlights and moonlight; therefore, I had to keep my head turning to watch for cars coming from behind. If you look at wild animals, such as birds, you'll notice this behavior - they're continually looking around for potential enemies.
Finally, when the traffic died, I made my way down the road to my first stop - the gardens. The gardens were a piece of providence, a real Godsend to have these two big, well tended, and continually stocked gardens, right on the way to town. Probably tended by two retired couples living next door to each other, these gardens were a regular cornucopia of plant life. Bell-peppers, habaneros, cabbage and corn - these gardens had virtually every kind of vegetable growable at this latitude - serious gardeners. Some crops were planted at intervals in order to insure a steady supply of veggies throughout the growing seasons. Because of the frosts, many of the plants were covered with clear plastic tarps. So quietly making my way into the garden, I reached under the plastic to get my weekly take.
I had to be extremely gentle with the frozen plastic, for across the street, on the porch of the gardener's house, was my nemesis: a ten pound bag of canine bile that I named “Fluffy,” waiting patiently on guard for the slightest noise. Every time I would go to the garden, he would be there watching, waiting. Fluffy looked to be a little Yorkshire Terrier. Despite his half-pint size, he was the kind of dog unafraid to confront the largest of creatures with ferocious determination. He had a Shepherd partner that usually stayed on the porch uninterested in the sounds of the night. Not Fluffy; he sat attentive, and every few minutes he would climb down the stairs of the porch and patrol the yard from end to end, stopping every few steps to stare intently into the blackness - waiting, waiting for me. A sound from the garden would sent him into a rage, forcing my hasty retreat. I tried to make friends by feeding him McD's hamburgers but he would have none of my bribery. He hated me, and I hated him, and the battle would continue every time I invaded his territory. This night everything went smooth, and I proceeded to bag my take and put it under the bushes on the side of the road where I would retrieve it on the way back. And then I covered the last leg of my trek down to the intersection.
The intersection was quiet, with an occasional car coming by. The four-lane highway (US 19/64) is intersected by 19 business which leads over the Valley River, past the Save O Lots, into downtown Andrews. Over the bridge that crosses the river is the other half of my diet: Save O Lots, McDonalds and occasionally popcorn from the Theater. And less than 100 meters on the other side of the Save O Lots was the FBI headquarters. I would literally spend the entire summer eating the same food as my pursuers. As they searched the mountains 25 miles away, I kept them at arms' length. To get across the well lighted bridge to the Andrews side was difficult because a car coming from a side street out onto the main-strip would present a potential problem. To get back across from the Andrews side was too risky as well because of the blind spot caused by trees along the interstate: a car coming down the interstate from the west could not be seen until it was right on top of you. The alternative was to cross the river. Despite the fact that one of the worst droughts in recorded history had effected the water level, the river was, at times, a swimming adventure. I had improvised a pair of waders made out of plastic garbage bags and string, and I would put these on and cross the river just upstream from the bridge. Needless to say the rocks were very slippery, and wandering around sleep deprived in the middle of the night is not the best condition to be in in order to cross that river. I had taken the plunge into that damned river a few times before, and I was dreading the prospect of taking the plunge on this night. The river was cold as ice, with a slight mist hanging over the rustling water. The trip across went smooth without a drop of water on me.
Once over my first stop was the green garbage can behind Gibson's Furniture, where I usually found at least one item of interest. Chief among these items were USA Today newspapers - two sometimes three a week. Even though USA Today is a poorly written left-wing rag, this was a good find, for I spent a good deal of my days reading and re-reading these papers. Often as I went about my weekly late night chores, I would think about the articles I had read that day, and engage in debates with myself about the latest issue of interest in the news, or I would invent comedy routines based upon something in the paper that I had found to be funny. In a recent USA Today article, Human Rights groups were protesting the abuse of factory-workers in Vietnam. Apparently Nike shoe factories in Vietnam employ a large number of young females as workers, and these are usually managed by middle-aged, South Korean males who often behave like tyrants towards their workers. One of the accusations involved these managers forcing the girls, when they misbehaved, to run around the factory, and also they were made to lick the floor. On this particular night the dialogue, with myself, was based upon an imagined scene between these abused girls and their tyrant boss.
In my best oriental accent I would run the dialogue back and forth. In a light voice I had the imaginary manager say, “You lick the floor. You run round factory now.” “No, I don't want to lick floor. Oh, prease don't me make lick floor,” lamented the cringing, crying girls. “You run round factory now or you fired,” the tyrant screamed. And on and on this improvised skit would go as I sifted through the garbage. After going through the first can, I headed to the larger pile of trash behind Gibson's, which is made up of old box-spring mattresses, large boxes that had once contained furniture, large pieces of plastic and general trash. What I was looking for on this particular night was a piece of plastic for my improvised leaf sleeping-bag. When I came to the pile, right on top was the very thing: large piece of plastic perfectly draped over the top of a long rectangular box. Pulling the plastic off the box, I proceeded to fold it up, all the while continuing with my running dialogue between the fictitious manager and shop-girl.
“You better lick the floor.”
“No, prease don't make me lick floor.”
Out of the corner of my eye, just as I was finishing this line, the long rectangular box began to slowly open like a coffin lid in a vampire movie, and there in the box was the barely visible figure of a human being. My thoughts started racing, “Was this an ambush? Did someone see me going through the garbage on a previous night, and set this up? This was a 'Barretta' style ambush, a slick agent from the headquarters just a stones throw away has secreted himself in the garbage.” My heart was in my throat as I waited for him to draw a weapon on me, when suddenly the figure spoke.
“Who's making you lick the floor buddy?” said the figure.
His voice came hard and gravely and had probably been damaged by years of alcohol and cigarettes.Suddenly it came to me. “This is a bum, an urban outdoorsman, a homeless person sleeping in the garbage, and I had just 'stolen his plastic roof,” I told myself. Without thinking I said, “Nobody ... nobody is making me lick the floor,” and slowly I moved away back toward the river. “Did he recognize me? will he run and tell?” I thought to myself. I didn't know what to think, but I had to discontinue my foraging and head back to the river crossing. Not bothering with the waders, I made my way quickly back across, sloshing through the cold water, and climbing up the bank on the other side, my half soaked body was beginning to feel the cold. As the cold started to take hold, I fumbled with my binoculars trying to get a look back across the river. There he was,standing on the top of the trash pile - he hadn't moved. It looked good so far, but was he just waiting to catch his breath before leaving. Then after several tense moments, he lit up a cigarette, and every few drags on his smoke, he would let out a few gut wrenching coughs. After finishing his cigarette he lifted the lid on his box, climbed back in, and laid back down to sleep.
As the tension lifted, the cold started to take effect on my half soaked body. Looking like I had just emerged from a fire and was still smoldering, steam billowed off me into the cool mountain air. Off in the distance, coming down the interstate, I could hear the roar of truck tires on asphalt. It was the Mayfield Milk truck. I had been without a watch for some time, so I used manmade and natural signs to determine the time. The sun, moon, birds singing, katydids buzzing, and trucks, cars and people moving -- all acted as my timepiece. And the Mayfield Milk truck told me the morning rush was an hour away. Finally, after struggling to get back up the mountain, stripping off my clothes and climbing into my leaf bed, I quickly fell asleep as dawn began to break. I would have to wait a week before crossing over the river again, but needless to say I began to approach
garbage a little differently.
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