Everything is turquoise blue. I’m not sure how that made it into the design specifications for hospital waiting rooms but it did. The cold glare of fluorescent lighting mixes with the blue plastic covered chairs and gives a sense of anything but peace. If that was their intent they failed, whoever they are. I’ve spent an hour sitting in this hospital lobby trying to figure out exactly how I got here. Eighteen hours ago I was absolutely fine.

I arrived in Pine Bluff, Arkansas the same way I have arrived in so many other small towns over the last decade. There’s a rhythm to it. I pull in. I check into my hotel. I lower my expectations. I tell jokes. It’s really a short checklist. As I walked into the club for this weekend’s shows however, a new bullet point forced itself into the mix.

Don’t get rabies.

I entered to find the staff fully engrossed in the hunt. A cat, a gorgeous white cat, had crashed through the outer perimeter. The way they made it sound, you would have thought a terrorist operative was loose in the building. A pale flash shot from under a table, followed by a blur of mullet and overalls.

“Sumbitch!” said the Mullet. “He’s fast.”

The rest of the team moved into place. The girl behind the bar tried scare it into the backroom while a 300 pound man with disturbingly saggy pants put on his “plumbing gloves” and grabbed a tablecloth. I stood at the far end of the bar laughing. Suddenly the Big Man lunged at something invisible. From under the bar a hissing, snowy explosion shot upward, landing on a rack of glasses and destroying half of them. The cat’s screech melded with the sound of the shattering glass as the Mullet leapt over the bar. Apparently cornered, the feline sat crouched on top of a Jagermeister machine, inches away from the liquor shelf. With its hair bristling in defiance, it dared either one of the men to try to grab it.

The Big Man already had a plan. “I think… I can… get it,” he started to say. The cat hadn’t had nearly as much to drink as the man had however. They moved at the same time, the lumbering man knocking over the Jager machine and the cat knocking over every bottle of alcohol on the top two shelves. In a beautiful cascade of falling glass and colored alcohol, it sprinted for freedom.

In all honesty, I was really pulling for the cat. I was. Then it dug in and abruptly took a turn in my direction. It rocketed off the shelf, planted its back paws on the Mullet’s head, and shot through the air towards me. It hit the ground in a full run, slid across the bar floor, bounced off the wall, and fired itself directly at me.

If you’ve never had an animal throw itself at your face, it’s hard to say exactly how you would react. If you had asked me prior to this event I would have told you that I would have reacted just like a ninja should. I would simply snatch the cat out of the air with one hand, grabbing it firmly by the back of the neck, safely and harmlessly. If you asked me today though, I would not say such a silly thing.

As the cat hurtled towards me with its claws out I threw my hands in front of my face. It hit with its talons drawn and latched onto my forearm. When I tried to remove it, it struck. Like a cobra. Two gleaming incisors sank into my hand and wrist, driving down to the bone. As painful as it was, the irony of being bitten by the only thing in the entire state with a full set of teeth was not lost on me. Why couldn’t the cat be on meth like everyone else? I could have been bitten by the Mayor of that city and at the worst would only have been gummed to death. This cat though, it had a perfect set of fangs.

I flung the cat off of my arm and watched the blood shoot out of my hand. “Well sheee-it,” said the Mullet. “We thought you was gone be the one to git ‘em.”

“Sorry?” I managed to say. The cat was now hiding somewhere in a storage closet trapped behind a closed door. The girl working the door called animal control, as someone should have done to begin with instead of sanctioning this Feline Redneck Rodeo. Left to wait for the extraction team, I turned my attention to my wounds. The bartender slid a feeble attempt at medical supplies across the bar to me: a Band-Aid and a shot of Jack Daniels. I poured half of the shot on the holes in my hand and then drank the other half. I had just finished covering the injury when the bartender handed me the phone.

“Buffy wants to talk to you,” she told me, and she looked scared.

Buffy was the owner of the bar. I don’t have a lot of experience with people named Buffy, but the name conjured up negative emotions for some reason. As a matter of fact, my only real recollection of that name being used at all, in a non-vampire-slaying way, was when my great aunt used to call her dog. Her dog’s name was Buffy, but Aunt Jewel was somewhere around 114 years old, and she pronounced it “Buff-eh”. She didn’t give it the long E sound it was supposed to have, and she would snap it at the poor dog in a gravelly voice that she had earned by smoking three packs of Marlboro Reds a day for 98 years in a row.

“C’mere Buffeh!” she would growl, and then this poor beat up little black dog would come slinking into the room like some sort of villainous sidekick. So when the bartender handed me the phone and told me it was Buffy, I immediately didn’t like her.

I took the phone. “Um, hello?”

“Tell ‘em you dint git bit.”

My mind tried to process the words, to no avail. “Huh?’

“The Animal Control folks. Tell ‘em you dint git bit or they gon’ lop its head off and send it to Little Rock fer testin’.”

“Look Buffy,” I said, “It’s a little hard to hide when I have blood running down my arm and-”

“Nooooo! They gon’ chop it head off forever! That cat dint do nuthin’. You’re gon’ be fine. Folks get bit all the time ‘round here and don’t nobody die of no rabies. They gon’ put its head in a box and send it off, I’m tellin’ you!” It was like Alice in Wonderland, without the Alice and without the Wonderland… just me and cats with teeth and crazy ladies yelling about chopping off heads.

I’ll be honest; I don’t know the first thing about how you handle a feral cat once it’s been contained. I’m sure that if there is a legitimate concern that the animal has rabies or is infectious, they would be forced to put it down. What I don’t think, is that the State of Arkansas runs around arbitrarily beheading cats. Euthanasia doesn’t include hacking something’s head off with a sword, or scissors, or whatever else Buffy thought they did to something they captured.

More so, if that really is what they do to every animal they catch, then that would mean that there is a Department of Head Receiving somewhere in the great city of Little Rock.  There must be someone whose job consists of unwrapping boxes like the detective in Seven and then classifying their little beasty noggins, and that’s just weird, even for Arkansas.

And I’m pro animal under most circumstances, I really am. If I thought that the cat was going to be shoved into some homemade Southern guillotine I would be the first to step up and say something. I’m not, however, going to stand idly by and let them not run a test on a cat that just chewed on my forearm like a dog bone.

In the next ten minutes the cat was hauled out of the back room hissing and screaming and flashing its claws at anything that came close, the door girl was fired by Buffy for calling animal control, and they started the comedy show. From the back of the room I watched as everyone acted like nothing had happened. A person had lost their job over this. Big Man and the Mullet had long since left. It was just me in the darkness; me, and my fear that I might turn into some sort of zombie-werecat.

So now here I am, sitting in this turquoise room. It is 3:30 in the afternoon on an overcast day in a not-so-affluent suburb, sixty-four degrees and cloudy just like a Pearl Jam video. Somewhere Jeremy is at home drawing pictures, and I am waiting to get shots that will hopefully prevent me from transforming into a rabid Arkansan.

A fat nurse walks out as I contemplate my existence. I may or may or may not have contracted rabies. I won’t know for an hour or so. What I do know is that somewhere in Arkansas there is a horrible woman named Buffy who believes all cats die of decapitation. I know that, and that I never come home with a boring story.

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SLADE HAM is a stand up comedian. He has performed in 22 countries on four continents. When not on stage, he drinks Irish whiskey on the rocks and listens to rock and roll much too loud. One day he hopes to finish his book, host a travel show, and continue to trick the world into paying him to do the things he loves to do. Slade is also an Editor for The Nervous Breakdown's Arts and Culture section. He keeps a very expensive storage unit in Houston, TX.

43 responses to “They Will Send Your Head to Little Rock For Testing”

  1. Amanda says:

    No! They gon’ chop it head off forever! Don’t worry, you’ll be fine…

    I am saying that, forever, starting now. In reply to any and every seemingly dire situation. Really, it is the most perfect response to just about anything.

    • Slade Ham says:

      I think I’m going to start using it myself actually.

      The funny part to me was that she said it in a way that might indicate there was another, more temporary way to remove the head. “They jus’ gon’ chop its head off for an hour or two!”

      • Amanda says:

        Well, to be perfectly frank, it sounds like Buffy might’ve had *her* head off for an hour or two. You know, all Pet Sematary-style, where the head goes back on but the creature just ain’t quite what it used to be.

  2. “As painful as it was, the irony of being bitten by the only thing in the entire state with a full set of teeth was not lost on me.”

    Glorious.

    There is a bar (literally, one bar), in the town my sister lives in in Oregon. It has a name, but I only know it as the Toothless Bar. Thanks for the memories.

    • Slade Ham says:

      I have become completely intrigueded by the “meth teeth” phenomenon. Some of these people were missing random tooth parts. Like half of a tooth would be gone, but the middle half. It’s disgusting yet fascinating.

      I think that Toothless Bar is a franchise.

      • Slade Ham says:

        Yes… I said “intrigueded”. Hahaha, jeez. Clumsy fingers today.

        • A franchise, brilliant. Put a guy out in front of double wide watering the grass (cars on blocks), wearing boxers, a stained wife beater and a cowboy hat and boots.

          Sadly, I would totally go there.

        • Slade Ham says:

          Grass. Hahaha. That’s a noble concept. Any hope of grass in front of this place had long been worn away by the feet of sticky little trailer kids running around in their underwear.

          And I would go there too.

      • Greg Olear says:

        Great piece, Slade.

        Megan beat me to the punch — that was a great line, but there were many (although, to be fair, Arkansas is an easy target). And poor you, getting bit like that.

        I watched the clips on your web site today — pretty funny shit.

        • Slade Ham says:

          To be honest, that line made me feel a bit guilty. I’m clearly not splitting the atom by cracking “Arkansas people are missing teeth” jokes… but I distinctly remember having that thought and felt like it was a disservice not to include it.

          Thanks for checking out the clips, btw. I desperately need to get some current footage up. Hopefully I’ll get the new CD knocked out in March as planned and can loft an hour’s worth of new stuff out into cyberspace.

  3. Kip Tobin says:

    Great stuff, Slade: fluidly written, perspicaciously observed and funny in a very you-poor-bastard(s) sort of way (bastards because of you getting bit by the cat, and just the general sad state of being an Arkansas person at that bar).

  4. Slade Ham says:

    Thanks, Kip. Knowing that I could leave the next day certainly helped me keep it together. I can’t imagine being a resident, faced with that setting every single day. *shivers*

  5. Zara Potts says:

    This was just perfect!
    I have all these amazing visuals crowding my head right now. The cat launching itself at you; the cat getting its head chopped off; Buffy; The bar.. such a wonderful and hilarious story.
    Oh, and I found myself talking aloud the accents as you have written them! I’m sure with my NZ accent they came out wrong, but you nailed it!
    I really hope you came back clear of rabies. I love your stuff, Slade.

    • Slade Ham says:

      Thank you, Zara. I am pretty sure I’m rabieless. I hope the accents came across as funny as they were when I heard them. I’d love to hear the hybrid version with you reading them, haha.

  6. Alison Aucoin says:

    Just read this in the middle of a busy coffee shop. Spit coffee all over myself at “Why couldn’t the cat be on meth like everyone else? I could have been bitten by the Mayor of that city and at the worst would only have been gummed to death.” People are staring at me. Thanks.

  7. Jude says:

    Aware that it was a painful experience, you told this story in such a vivid way that I was right there with you – right down to the accents. I did the same thing as Zara – read aloud (Zara will be laughing at that as she knows what a terrible imitator I am with accents, but I just couldn’t help myself!).

    Nothing quite so frightening as a wild feral cat hissing and clawing its way out of its trapped position.
    “In a beautiful cascade of falling glass and colored alcohol, it sprinted for freedom.” – loved this line; I see it all in my mind so clearly.

    Also loved the opening paragraphs – especially the line ” I lower my expectations” – that line said it all…

    Did you ever find out if the cat carried rabies?

    • Slade Ham says:

      Thanks for the many compliments. You two now have me wanting a podcast of everyone reading in that Southern accent.

      And as far as I know, I have an all clear on the rabies. I’m surprised, knowing my luck.

  8. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    The bar personnel seem skerrier than the cat, frankly. Sorry about your hand, but BRAVO on the story!

  9. “As painful as it was, the irony of being bitten by the only thing in the entire state with a full set of teeth was not lost on me.”

    Like Megan, I have to salute this one.

    And I hope you don’t get rabies. I’d hate to think they were going to cut your head off and send it away for testing.

    • Slade Ham says:

      Me too. I’m a fan of my head. And that thought about the teeth occurred to me even as the cat was biting down. I had been staring at people’s shattered teeth for the better part of the day already, so when that cat flashed his all I could think was, “No way! Good for you cat.”

  10. Phat B says:

    Best way to catch a cat is to wear boots and step on the cat’s tail. It will attach itself to your boot semi-permanently. Then you shoot it with your sidearm…I mean you turn it over to animal control. That’s the ticket.

    • Anon says:

      Sir, I must express offense at your described method. Not only is that a waste of a perfectly good bullet (ammunition has gone up in price and down in availability of late), it’s also risky for the cat-catcher. The round might travel straight down the demonic little creature and shoot off your toe or deflect against its heart of stone and ricochet into your knee. Best to pistol whip it into semi-consciousness, kick it against a safer backstop and then… um… turn it over to animal control.

      • Phat B says:

        It felt so good to be addressed a “sir” in a conversation about killing ca…I mean turning over cats to Animal Control.

        • Anon says:

          I try to be a positive influence in the universe. I mean, aside from the cat thing. And assuming, of course, that you actually are male.

          Sigh. I suppose the operative word above is “try”….

    • Slade Ham says:

      Hahahaha, had I had a sidearm…. We should market a Cat Suit.

  11. Mary says:

    Sitting in the office, laughing out loud, could not ask for a better thing to read this afternoon. Seriously. “C’mere Buffeh!”

  12. Richard Cox says:

    What baffles me is how folks from the remote hills and desolate plains of the south can say with a straight face that they would “never leeuve up aire in Yankeeland when Arkeensaw issa best plaice awwn God’s green earth.” If the rural south really is heaven on earth, why the hell do they ruin the experience with meth?

  13. Slade Ham says:

    I’m split on this actually. I’m from Texas and quite defensive of the Southern people under normal circumstances. I cannot explain the meth however. I’ve never touched it and can’t understand how anyone would. It’s sickeningly popular down here though, on a level I never deemed possible.

    Any meth heads out there that wanna weigh in and explain?

    • Richard Cox says:

      I saw you lived in Houston. I’m a Native Texan as well, and will always be loyal to my home state. That being said, we could definitely stand to lose a few million willfully ignorant folks who reject anything that serves to move our culture forward. And the meth heads.

      I lived in Wichita Falls for a while and meth is really bad there. But so are general education levels. A connection, perhaps?

      • Slade Ham says:

        I agree with you more than wholeheartedly. The South is not always the friend of Progress. And it’s intriguing that you bring up Wichita Falls. It seems to be focused on the border regions between TX, AR, LA, and OK. I’m now curious to look at education levels and compare them to where I seem to encounter these Meth People the most. Intriguing point…

  14. Erika Rae says:

    “Sumbitch” is on a feed loop in my head now. Funny, funny stuff.

  15. Slade Ham says:

    “Sumbitch” is such a phenomenal phrase. It is beautifully indicative of the white trash culture. Share that word with as many people as you possibly can. It’s sticky.

  16. Irene Zion says:

    Okay, Slade,
    granted I got here a bit late, but I’m really pissed at Megan and Simon for pointing out that great line.
    I had every intention of congratulating you on it.
    Well, I guess I still will, even if I’m a Johnny-com-lately.

    But honestly, “The Department of Head Receiving” was excellent. I’m picturing all the bureaucracy surrounding the gathering up and distribution of lopped off heads. Wonderful!

    • Slade Ham says:

      That line certainly seems to have stolen the show… And I’m quite happy you stopped in for the read, Irene, late or not.

      • Irene Zion says:

        It’s totally not my fault that I was late, Slade. I read the start of your piece on my iphone but then I got called into the dentist’s office. Then I had an apple one-to-one appointment and then I had to go searching for the exact perfect tile for the mudroom and by the time I got home you were off the front page and I couldn’t remember who it was who had rabies.
        When you turned up in the little cube, I finally found the story.
        See?

  17. Cara Heath says:

    That was an amazing read. Thank you.

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