Real-life Horror #3: Anti-MaimHalloween approaches, which means it's time once again for another installment in our Real-life Horror series.
Picture a one-story wooden high school building in East Texas during the early 1950s. While reading science fiction magazines in the study hall, I would occasionally glance at the wart on my right thumb. I had tried various ointments and rumored remedies, but nothing worked. The wart remained.
The chemistry class was an oddity, taught by a young man with a lot of enthusiasm but not much knowledge of chemistry. He would make an impressive entrance with a big smile and say something like, "Hey! This is quite an experiment we will be doing today. Doc Hawkins and I did it last night, and it actually works!"
The chemistry classroom was way at the back of the building, and in the rear of that classroom was a small storeroom, never locked, where the chemicals and other equipment were kept. When I saw the giant-sized jug of sulphuric acid, I immediately knew it could be the solution to my wart problem. But I was baffled by the delivery system. How could I get the acid from jug to wart without becoming a member of the Nub Club? The jug was too large and heavy to tilt without splashing sulphuric acid around.
One day, when no one was in that area of the building, I went into the storeroom and stared at the jug until the answer came to me. I walked outside through the back door of the building and found a long thin wooden stick. Back in the storeroom, I unscrewed the cap as sulphuric fumes wafted free. I inserted the stick and pulled it out. Did I simply put the stick on my thumb? No. That seemed unwise, as I could imagine the acid continuing through the wart and dissolving the bone in my thumb.
By 1954, I had read many EC Comics, so I considered myself fairly expert re body mutilation. Instead of holding the stick over my thumb, I held my thumb over the stick. I very lightly touched the acid to the wart for a fraction of a second and quickly pulled my thumb away. I capped the jug and threw the stick outside. The self-operation was 100% successful. The wart shriveled into nothingness and vanished, with only a tiny trace of a scar.
The phrase "Nub Club" is sometimes heard in Vernon, Florida, a town of the Walking Maimed. According to Ken Dornstein in his book Accidentally, on Purpose: The Making of a Personal Injury Underworld in America (1996), almost 50 men in Vernon and nearby areas collected insurance for faked accidents and self-mutilation. Insurance investigator John J. Healy offered a horrific description of desperation in Vernon that reads like a Graham Ingels EC story: "To sit in your car on a sweltering summer evening on the main street of Nub City, watching anywhere from eight to a dozen cripples walking along the street, gives the place a ghoulish, eerie atmosphere."
On June 20, 1984, according to the Associated Press, the Vernon City Council was discussing the firing of the town's only police officer. As a former schoolteacher spoke in protest, council president Narvel Armstrong gaveled him down and adjourned the meeting.
The next part would be hard to believe if weren't on tape. A cameraman for WMBB in Panama City happened to be there, and his footage shows Armstrong, then 46, a slight woman with a white blouse and a helmet of brown hair, walk past another woman and backhand her in the head. You see a barefoot young man join the fight. He pins the teacher against a wall and stands over him. The teacher raises his hands to shield his head, but it does not work. The barefoot man's right fist is tireless. He clocks the teacher six times before the camera turns away. Later you see the teacher's face covered in blood.
You see an older man fighting too. He is thick at the middle, balding, wearing khakis. He punches a woman while the barefoot man holds her arm. He assists in the thrashing of the teacher. You see his right hand whooshing through the air, connecting with flesh, and you look for his left hand but it is gone. In its place is a metal hook.
Errol Morris, who made the classic documentary Vernon, Florida (1981), commented on the town's insurance-obsessed inhabitants, "They literally became a fraction of themselves to become whole financially." Morris originally arrived in Vernon to film the story of mutilations and loss limbs, but according to the biography at his website, the film "had to be retooled when his subjects threatened to murder him."
Bhob, I love that story. I can picture your whole delivery and crisp analytical style. I miss all your adventures. You must share with people the "mummy with the glass eye" story, the "bully and the flashbulb" and the "bully and the moon" "only male cheerleader in Texas." stories. Too classic for only a handful of people to know.