The neighbor in the house next door, on the opposite side of the Smiths was a widow in her mid fifties. She went by: Miss Lilly. She wasn’t from a hollow in Tennessee, but you get the descriptive gist. She was a chain-smoker and had a wrinkled hard face. She was sinewy thin, 5 foot tall if that, with straggly hair. Not even a slash of mascara decorated her face. Miss Lilly was a hard-ass and wouldn’t take crap from anyone, including me. When she looked at you, her expression, said, who the hell do you think you are?
I made the mistake of bragging that I was an escape artist… I read a biography about The Great Houdini AND me and saw the Tony Curtis movie. I fancied myself as a younger version of the great one. Saying he could break out of any restraint, Houdini challenged the superintendent of the Boston police, that he could escape the city prison, called The Tombs. After being thoroughly searched, he was manacled in cuffs and leg irons and placed in a locked cell. Not only did Harry manage to pick the locks and escape, he did so naked. And with swift bravado, was out of the prison and down the street in ten minutes. It was a sensation.
I never tried an escape while naked; if you didn’t get out of it, you’d be exposed in more ways than one. But my brother Joe tied me up many times and I always escaped. You would have been impressed had you witnessed it.
The neighbor lady wasn’t impressed in the least and scoffed at my braggadocio. “How much you want to bet, boy! I’ll double it.”
“All I got is a couple bucks worth of coins,” I said.
This was easy money I thought as I retrieved a jar of coins from under my bed and returned to her back porch. She sat there smiling with a long coil of rope in her lap.
“Put them pennies on the rail and get down on your belly then, right there,” she said and pointed to my feet.”
I obliged as she scurried from her perch spider-like and straddled me. I recall, she had a boney ass. Within a minute I was wrapped in her tightly tied web. She had hog-tied me and left me there, squirming in the dust. I caught a glimpse of her varicose ankles below her black Capri pants as she casually scuttled inside. As I rolled and wriggled, I could see her in the window watching me behind a haze of gray smoke and screen. She was laughing. I pulled and tugged at the ropes and could not budge them. Exhausted, I rested and was sweating profusely from both the exertion and the embarrassment. This lubricated my bindings and I was able to free one of the constricting loops.
Houdini could dislocate a shoulder to get out of a straight jacket. If I could only dislocate all four limbs, I could have escaped. After 20 minutes, I was defeated. I rolled over and looked up at the window red-faced and dirt caked and mouthed, “I give!” She wasn’t a lip reader apparently, so I yelped, “OK, I give up….” She feigned deafness and cupped a hand behind her ear. Sounding suddenly soprano, I tried one more time, “ I QUIT!” Miss Lilly shrugged back and shook her head with incomprehension and disappeared from view. She made me lay there another 30 minutes before she came out and untied me. I heard her shake the coin jar triumphantly as she went inside. I crept home. I could never make eye contact with that woman again.