Recounts Norris Shelton’s younger years growing up in Eddy Allery as a hell-raiser.
by Norris Shelton
"Alley Rat" reminds us of the deep human need for a sense of place ...
... no matter how dire the circumstances.
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them,” wrote Henry David Thoreau in “Walden.” There are others, however, who virtually scream aloud as they speed down life’s emergency lane, oblivious as to where they are headed, but in a reckless, all-fired hurry to get there, all the same. Most of us, comfortably or not, fall somewhere in between, but Norris Shelton is a genuine screamer. Alley Rat is his story.
Born in Tallapoosa, Georgia, in the late ’30s, the author was part of a large colored family. His parents were poor and uneducated yet convinced there were better times ahead and were determined to seek a better life for their brood. To break away from the insufferable conditions they live under in the Deep South, the family stealthily flees their rural subsistence in search of a quite modest American dream: to live and let live. As migrants often do, the Sheltons gravitate to the back streets of the slums, not by choice, but because that’s where they find the only affordable housing for the almost penniless clan. Yes, there will be much more opportunity in the city of Louisville, Kentucky — a real chance for success, but also for collapse.
Inheriting a legacy of poverty and perplexity, and often on the wrong side of the law, the author, a self-proclaimed alley rat, starts out not believing in much of anything; he has little hope for a bright future, and, predictably, stumbles into and out of trouble, at home and abroad.
At the age of 16, the streetwise young maverick is already a two-fisted, hard drinking skirt chaser. Violence and mayhem have become the norm in his daily life in the city. Cursed with a violent temper, one night he has a fit of anger, breaks his girlfriend’s neck, and takes flight out of state, evading a warrant for attempted murder. It’s the beginning of a marathon run that has him continually glancing over his shoulder.
Living under cover with the police never far behind, eventually he evades civilian authorities by enlisting in the Army. For more than two years, he blunders into and out of trouble, loan-sharking, bootlegging, getting into fistfights, going AWOL, drinking too much, and raising all kinds of off-duty hell. At his post, though, he is the model enlistee, emerging as a highly-skilled American soldier. He learns to love the Army, but the Army views him as a seething, die-hard rebel.
During a tour overseas, he initiates an escapade he deems to be a just crusade for racial equality: He instigates a race riot that results in all military personnel throughout Germany being restricted to base for weeks. When restrictions are ultimately lifted, Shelton and his sidekick — still under suspicion for being ring leaders of the turmoil — are denied passes. Defiant and emboldened, they go AWOL and start an altercation that escalates into pandemonium and leads to a nightclub being burned down. Both cool their heels a long spell in the stockade. Ultimately, even the Army has had enough and drums him out with a court-martial. While this run is over, an old chase resumes.
Back in civilian life in his hometown, the author begins singing for a local band in popular Louisville area bars. Now in the spotlight, he is surrounded by women, and the chase is on again — but with a mind-boggling twist: Forever the aggressor, he discovers he’s now the prey! Becoming the hunted, not the hunter, he learns, is a startling role reversal. Nonetheless, it’s a wake-up call that leads him to taking time for introspection.
As the story rumbles along, Shelton experiences an epiphany about his “Alley Rat” mentality. In due course, he is arrested on the long-standing, attempted murder charges. Has he come full circle, or is this just another of the countless laps of the extended rat race? To fully understand what the author sees when, at long last, he takes a profound personal look in the mirror, we need to jog alongside this intractable runner as he retraces his life through the pages of “Alley Rat.”
Alley Rat is the second literary work by Louisville businessman/author Norris E. Shelton. Released in 2007, the 376-page book is published under the auspices of American Slaves, Inc., an organization whose mission is to facilitate the efforts of the descendants of American slaves to overcome the persistent aftereffects of slavery by educating the descendants of slaves as to who they are and the benefits of being who they are.
Alley Rat is available in hard cover (ISBN: 978-0-9765417-2-1) at $26.95. Ask for it at your local bookstore, or call (502) 939-6688
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