Some folks in the fishing village of Port Aransas Texas say that Ted first showed up in the early 70s. I remember him being there as early as summer of 1968, pushing his lawnmower around the village, mowing air, and stirring up a dust devil or two. The mower had no blade or very little of one, and most of the time, no gasoline.
Ted was a vagrant; a bum and a lush, but only after 5 PM, he had an image to protect. Ted was also a masterful storyteller; truth or lies, it made no difference, he could put you right there in the heart of the yarn he was spinning. His unkept vagrancy and a mellow low voice gave authenticity to his tale. That talent alone kept Ted in meals and booze contributed by the well-meaning local villagers. Everyone loves a well-told story and is willing to part with something of value as payment.
It was rumored that Ted slept underneath Shorty’s Bar, which at the time was raised to 5 feet above the ground for hurricane flood protection. Lord knows how he fought off the mosquito hoards and the numerous Rattlesnakes if he truly did reside there.
Ted knew that Shorty, the crusty owner of the bar was always good for a few beers and a package of Pork Rinds for sweeping the porch and trash duty. Lunch might be a mis-ordered cheeseburger from The Chicken Coop or a back door chicken fry at Mrs. Pete’s Cafe. Betty’s Liquor Store kept him in Ripple and Mad Dog as payment for unloading inventory or breaking down boxes. The locals watched out for Ted. Every little town has its flamboyant character, and Ted decided he would fill the bill for Port Aransas, briefly stealing the unofficial title from Mr. Jack Cobb, the true-to-life flamboyant owner of The Sea Horse Inn. The two of them unknowingly traded the title from year to year.
Local businessmen and island historians, Spanny Gibbs, the owner of Gibbs Cottages, and Carlos Moore of Bilmores Hardware claimed they knew for a by-damn fact that Ted had worked as a nuclear scientist building The Bomb at Los Alamos Labs in 1945, or maybe it was a Professor of Mathematics at Harvard or both. A mental breakdown or three, and Ted finds himself an amnesiac vagrant wandering the streets of Port Aransas pushing a rusted Craftsman lawnmower. Both are good stories in themselves, but no one factually knew where Ted came from, and he wasn’t telling. Back in those days, Port Aransas was a good place to come if you wanted to drop off the edge of civilization and hide in plain sight. The town was full of guys like him. Shrimp boats always needed a deckhand, asked no questions, and paid in cash.
After watching Ted’s antics for a decade, I finally met the man one afternoon on the covered porch at Shorty’s Bar. Dexter Prince, myself, and my Father were sitting around an outside table having an after fishing trip Lone Star beer when Ted wanders up, lawnmower in tow.
Dexter, never the shy one, tells Ted he’d buy him a six-pack for a good story. Well hell, a sixpack is almost worth his life’s story, so Ted joins us at the table, pops a longneck, clears his throat, and says, ” did I ever tell you about the time I was working on a dive boat sailing out of Vera Cruz Mexico, looking for sunken Spanish gallons full of stolen treasure?” Dexter passes Ted another beer and says, “please go on Ted, I don’t believe we have heard that one.” Truth is, we had never heard any of his stories in person.
The yarn, which lasted the better part of an hour, ended with Ted procuring twenty boxes of Castros favorite cigars from a Cuban shrimp boat that tried to hold up the treasure hunt at gunpoint. Ted made enough money selling the contraband smokes back in Texas, that he took another few months off from building the bomb and stayed in Harlingen, only returning to Los Alamos when Oppenheimer himself flew down and dragged him back to New Mexico. We all knew it was a crock of crap, but damn the man could make you believe anything. Dexter was so impressed, he sprang for Ted’s supper, and my father threw in a bottle of Jack Daniels.
The last time I saw Ted was in the mid-80s. He was ancient and barely moving along Cotter Ave, still pulling that old mower. I should have stopped, bought him a burger, and requested a yarn, but I missed my chance. A year later, no one knew what happened to Ted, he just faded away into the sunset leaving Jack Cobb the surviving winner of the town’s most flamboyant character.