Grif Stockley: Illegal Motion

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Grif Stockley Illegal Motion
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    Illegal Motion
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Grif Stockley

Illegal Motion



I look up at a black man who has appeared from behind his house which is halfway between mine and Pinewood Elementary on the corner. He shakes his head as if he has had about all of me he can tolerate. I think I know why.

“Woogie! Come on, damn it!” I yell. Like a marble statue, my dog is frozen in the classic posture of an animal doing his business in a neighbor’s yard. Emerging at the east end of this castrated mixture of beagle and melting pot is a soft quarter pounder that would make a St.

Bernard bark with pride.

“We were trying to make the schoolyard,” I explain. As persistent violators of the leash law at all times, Woogie and I escape detection at this time of day only in the dead of winter. On this gloriously mild mid-October afternoon at six o’clock in the evening there is still plenty of light.

“Over the years your dog has dumped enough fertilizer in my yard,” my neighbor says mildly, “to start a nursery.

Actually, I was about to call you.”

“I’m sorry,” I lie, racking my brain for his name. If my memory is like this at forty-eight, I can’t wait for fifty.

Connery? No, Cunningham. Rosa, my late wife, would have known. A native of South America and dark herself, she knew everybody, black or white, on our street. The longer I live in this neighborhood, the fewer “pleasantries there are to exchange. Crime, drugs, racial tensions in the schools, etc.” were supposed to have been solved by now; instead, the problems are worse. Twenty years later, Blackwell County, located in the center of the state, hosts the “Crips” and the “Bloods” and other gangs, almost all black. On our street, mostly a mixture of white retirees and middle-class blacks, it seems as if all we can safely talk about is the latest addition to our medical records, which, as the years pass, are becoming the size of the Dallas phone book.

“I just had anal fissure repair surgery,” Payne Littlefield, my next-door neighbor, recently confided to me.

“I’ve never experienced such pain in my life! …” After a few minutes of this, I’d just as soon watch in silence as Woogie hoses down his rosebush. I was more outgoing and neighborly when my wife was alive, but I realize I’ve become pessimistic about the possibility of lions and lambs even co-existing on the same planet, much less taking a snooze together. When Rosa and I moved to Blackwell County a quarter of a century ago I never dreamed I’d become so wary, but now fear is an emotion I carry around in my back pocket like a wallet.

“It won’t happen again,” I say hastily to Cunningham.

My neighbor, a tall man in his forties who has the gut of an ex-jock, hooks his thumbs in his jeans. He works, I think, at the post office downtown.

“I wanted to find out if you’d be interested in talking about the case of the Razorback football player charged with rape in Fayetteville yesterday. Dade Cunningham is my nephew. His father is inside.”

Dade Cunningham. Now that’s a name I know! Three years ago he was the most sought-after prospect from Arkansas since Keith Jackson signed with Oklahoma back in the early eighties. Lou Holtz had come within an inch of luring Cunningham to Notre Dame, but the pres sure on the kid to stay in-state was tremendous. It would be like Rush Limbaugh announcing he was about to defect to China. Until yesterday, Cunningham, a junior wide receiver with 4.4 speed in the forty-yard dash, was a cinch to be a top draft choice whenever he decided to turn pro. He was on several preseason first team all-American lists and has already had a season most players only dream about. With that kind of future I can’t help feeling a little sorry for him. This morning’s front-page article in the Democrat-Gazette about Cunningham’s re ported rape of a University of Arkansas coed (her name was not given) has to be worth four or five points on the betting line out of Las Vegas for the Hogs’ Southeastern Conference game against Georgia this week. On Satur day, Cunningham caught eight passes for over two him dred yards and two touchdowns against South Carolina in the Razorbacks’ 24 to 17 win.

“Sure, I’ll talk to him,” I say.

“Let me get my dog home and put on some pants and a shirt.” I have just been home from work long enough to get out of my suit, and I am wearing a pair of ragged shorts, a wrinkled yellow T-shirt that advertises “Lobotomy Beer” ( a gag gift from my daughter on my birthday) and Adidas running shoes, which are badly in need of washing. Not exactly a business recruiting outfit.

“Don’t take the time to change clothes,” my neighbor says.

“Just come on back. My brother’s got to drive back to eastern Arkansas as soon as he can. He’s got a sick child at home, and his wife needs him.”

I nod and clap my hands at Woogie, who now that he has relieved himself, is markedly more frisky.

“Let’s go home, boy!” Usually, we walk around at the school while he sniffs the empty candy wrappers and waters the playground equipment. As I walk south to the house, followed by my reluctant dog, I try to remember the article in the Democrat-Gazette.

With the paper withholding the alleged victim’s name and the university claiming privacy under a federal law, the story was mostly about Dade Cunningham’s stats. All I remember off the top of my head is that the victim was a twenty-year-old white cheerleader and the rape was supposed to have taken place off campus. According to the paper, Cunningham claimed the girl consented. Of course, there’s probably never been a rapist who hasn’t argued the act was voluntary. Alleged rapist, I remind myself. There’s a double standard at work here. The media withholds the alleged victim’s name but not the alleged perpetrator’s. What’s sauce for the gander ought to be sauce for the goose, my criminal defense lawyer’s mind tells me. But it doesn’t work that way, and with Cunningham being black, if this case goes to trial he’s got an uphill battle. Unless there’s been a racial migration I don’t know about, Washington County, in the northwest corner of the state, is overwhelmingly white, and I don’t know of a single case in Arkansas where a black male was acquitted of raping a white woman.

Maybe there are some, but they didn’t teach them in law school.

“Sorry, boy,” I say inside the house to my dog, who looks at me with the tragic eyes of one who is perpetually wronged.

“We’ll go later.” Sure we will. He slinks into the kitchen to point out to me his empty food dish. A terribly neglectful master. He misses my daughter. So do I. But if I get this case, it will be a chance to see Sarah more often this year. Actually that still may be hard to do, as busy as she is. Sarah, a sophomore who has aspirations to be a varsity Razorback cheerleader, is cheerleading for the junior varsity (a necessary step, she tells me), and is working part-time for a professor in the sociology department What a great kid. She has every reason to be roy ally screwed up, with her mother dying from breast cancer when she was thirteen and me half nuts during that time. Instead, she’s got her head on a lot straighter than most kids her age I know. They would be crazy not to make her a cheerleader. Part Hispanic, Indian, and black as a result of her Colombian mother’s ancestry, Sarah would not only help solve some cultural diversity problems but she is also a knockout. Voted a campus beauty her freshman year, she is the picture of her mother, who, even at the end of an eight-hour shift at St.

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