We Are The Squirrels

Hello Everyone…

It was morning in Austin. Rachel and I had just finished eating breakfast at a place called Biscuits and Groovy – I ate a Philly Nelson, a philly cheesesteak on three buttermilk biscuits, topped with bacon, sausage, onions and chives. It was tasty, but it made the walk back to Rachel’s – rising, falling, curving streets through morning steamy heat – something of an arduous task. But I was having a good time, it was good to see Rachel, and we were strolling along – her little dog, Benny, nosed around trees and bushes at the end of his leash – gabbing about life when we both looked down and saw  a newborn baby squirrel, lying still in the middle of the road.

Cool Blue House

Cool Blue House

The poor hairless little thing brought an immediate halt to our conversation. We knelt down, stared – silently – at the creature to see if it was alive. Just when I thought it was dead, it contorted in one drastic motion, issuing a silent gasp that brought out an audible Oh no!  from both Rachel and I – its spastic jerk resonated in our bodies, like we were connected to the dying creature. It bled from the mouth, which was fixed in a permanent cringe. It’s eyes were still sealed. After it jerked, the creature lay still.

I looked up. The trees above the middle of the road were around 30 feet high. I didn’t think there was any way a full-grown squirrel could survive that high a fall, much less a minutes old infant. About five feet away was what looked to be the splattering of afterbirth. Barely born, already dying. Rachel picked up the squirrel and put it under a bush in someone’s yard. She lay it on a leaf, poured some water on the leaf to keep the creature cool, then lay another leaf over it to keep it out of the sun until it died. We thought about taking it back to Rachel’s – try to save it somehow – but we just couldn’t see Somehow. We left the creature and resumed walking down the middle of the street.

“At that size,” said Rachel, “it’s easy to see we’re made of the same stuff. A human, a dog, a cat, a squirrel. It’s just all many tiny changes that make us different.”

I agreed. Just about anything can be a helpless, hairless dying thing.

I was lucky one, it’d been many years since my helpless hairless baby days. In fact, it was the morning of my 38 birthday. I was generally happy to be alive and well, it was a good morning and Rachel was a good friend. But the image of the dying baby squirrel stuck with me all the way back to Rachel’s. When we finally made it to her place, it went away, but the realization that I’d eaten a Philly Nelson at 9am swooped in to take its place and I had to lay down and ponder over why I would do such a thing. Rachel had a film shoot to go to. Something about fighting in an elephant suit. My pondering led to dozing, then all went black…

Well, if you don't know what happened here, look it up...

Well, if you don’t know what happened here, look it up…

Later in the afternoon, I took another walk – south, through Rachel’s neighborhood and onto the University of Texas campus, then straight to the state capitol building. I use the term “straight” loosely, for I had to maintain my course by hopping from one curving street to the next. But that’s what’s great about Austin. It’s unformed in just about every way. Sure it’s the capitol of Texas and there’s plenty of squares in suits with broad shoulders and perfect hair, but it’s a hippy town through and through. Set in the middle of a state that vehemently defends its identity and borders, Austin is a fountain that brings forth a kind of whacky cosmic mojo straight from the earth below, through you and to the stars above. In some places it’s easier to feel the energy that runs through all things. Maybe it’s just the hills that make it hard to entrench 90 degree angled thinking and streets. Whatever it is, Austin’s one chill electric green and maroon and blue lava lamp, bubbling away in the middle of a showroom full of 60 watt reading lamps. A Cosmic Fillin’ Station in the Universe.

See the squirrel?

See the squirrel?

Squirrels where everywhere. Squirrels in the trees, in the streets. Squirrels chewing on nuts, scurrying across sidewalks, haunched on park benches. I was Squirrel Moses leading the Chosen Squirrels straight to the Ten Commandments that stand just in front of the giant granite Ararat that is Texas‘ state capitol building, which was within sight. Pharaoh was nowhere to be seen, not even a sniper in the University of Texas‘ clock tower as we walked passed. The squirrels squeaked and danced all around their flawed leader as we moved through the campus. The spring semester had ended the week before, but a few student and teacher types still hung around. It was a groovy campus – architecture from several different eras and plenty of greens in between. Statues were everywhere too. Under an old live oak tree stood a bronze Barbara Jordan – holding her glasses to emphasized a point she was making…with tired eyes from the wisdom of knowing those you speak to have to be willing to listen.

Further into the land of statues, more young students buzzed about. I started thinking of my birthday again – started thinking when, exactly, did I go from the youngest guy in my crowd to the oldest? That probably happened sometime before I quit drinking, because after I quit I pretty much stopped hanging out with crowds. Let’s face it, I stopped hanging out in crowds long before I stopped drinking. So when, exactly…? I crawled out of that rabbit hole and focused on my surroundings. There was a statue of Jefferson Davis, and just down the way one of Robert E. Lee – both stood eternally on the wrong side of history, wrong side of humanity, the wrong side of Barbara Jordan. The two Confederates were engaged in an duet, forever singing: It all seemed so right at the time.

Robert E Lee in the background...the squirrel has no idea who he is.

Robert E Lee in the background…the squirrel has no idea who he is.

Standing front and center of the mall of statues was a giant shiny George Washington. He stood straight, facing the Texas capitol, just a few blocks away. Really, spoketh the statue of George Washington, your state capitol just had to be taller than our Nation’s capitol? George crunched his face and shook his head. Then his eyes widened, he took a deep breath, and quoted Jack Kerouac, Texas is undeniable…we were already almost out of America and yet definitely in it and in the middle of where it’s maddest. George spoke no more so the squirrels and I split.

We came upon a foursome of co-eds – two guys, two girls –  who were walking toward a movie theatre between the capitol and the campus, where a huge sign hung, advertising the new Star Trek movie.

“I mean,” said the taller guy, with glasses and curly hair, “it’s obvious that the USS Enterprise was constructed outside of the Earth’s atmosphere. There’s no way it was built in our gravity.”

“Well, yeah,” responded the smaller guy with glasses and curly hair.

The two girls were too cute to be around such boys, but the semester had ended, so why not, right? They were a few steps behind the boys when the girls saw one of my squirrels. After a few coos and giggles, one of the girls tossed a peanut M&M to it and when it turned its nose and ran away the girl screamed, “I hope you f%$king die, squirrel!” If I had a walking staff I would’ve turned it into a serpent and thrown it on her. But I had to get the squirrels to Canaan’s land.

By the time we made it to the capitol building, the giant thing seemed merely a novelty. There were some cool statues and some yellow roses grew out front, but it was far from a Promised land after a long sweaty walk. So I parted ways with the squirrels and headed north, not to Heaven but up Guadalupe Street to check out all the hot girls with short black bangs and tattoos in the vintage clothing stores.

There's something to this photo, but I can't put my finger on it...

There’s something to this photo, but I can’t put my finger on it…

Later that night, Rachel and I went to see a play in a bar on the east side. A few of her friends were in the production. The action took place along the bar, and the audience sat in a line against the wall. Sometimes the action spilled over into the crowd but nobody seemed to mind. The actors were loud and spoke to the audience at times. They drank on stage, spat onstage, and all but one character died. I loved it. Despite its dark tones, it was a celebration of community – we’re here we live. I forgot about that – in Texas, one doesn’t have to take themselves too seriously. In fact, you better not or no one will take you at all and Texas is a really big place to wander through alone.

Throughout the night, Rachel introduced me as her friend “who’s an actor, singer-songwriter playwright and regular writer who used to live in New York and is going out to LA but may move here when he’s through out there” to all her other friend’s. I smiled and shook their hands. Her friends would switch their beer or whiskey to their other hand and shake.

It turned out an actor in the play – Mike, who wrote and performed the songs in the play – was celebrating his birthday too. After shaking hands, we small talked about how cool it was to be born on the same day, then he turned to the bar and ordered another drink. I looked around. I was 38 and in a bar I would love to drink in – if I still drank. I didn’t want to drink, but wanting to or not wanting to never mattered when I did. Mike tapped his hands on the bar. The bartender handed Mike a shot. Mike threw back the shot – something clear. Rachel was facing away from me, talking to a friend. Mike put the glass on the bar, waved at the bartender – another round. Something in his wave – the loose relaxed action – made drinking a good idea again, and in a quarter-second I wanted to drink as much as I could as fast as I could until I developed my own language which Rachel nor everybody else couldn’t interpret. Then I would drink alone until I got kicked out of the bar, then go to another bar and drink until I got kicked out. I would follow this pattern a few more times then drink myself all the way to that dark soundproof shadow between the last bar and Rachel’s front door. There, I would chatter my teeth until dawn then roam about with two different sized eyeballs in the hot morning peering into the gutters of every damned curvy street for my lost debit card as I drip out booze flavored sweat laced with self-loathing and self-pity but if I can just find that debit card I will be normal like you and last night’s trip to Hell’s outer brothels would be downgraded to just one crazy night that folks like you and me have every now and then, right? Please tell me I’m right…because if I see another helpless, dying baby squirrel in the middle of the street before I find my debit card I will beg God to to turn me into a pillar of salt and be done with it. But Mike wandered off into the night and the spell wore off.

A painting of my ego on a wall in Austin.

A painting of my ego on a wall in Austin.

Besides, Rachel wasn’t drinking and it would be rude to put a friend through all that. She was tired and ready to go home – she’d wrestled all day in the heat wearing an elephant costume for Christ’s sake. We went home and watched TV until midnight passed and I began my march toward 39. But for a minute there, my inclinations toward self-destruction seemed so attractive. But I can’t blame Austin for that. That happens anywhere I go.

Be well…

Letting The Cats Meow Forever

Hello Everybody,

This picture doesn't refer to the blog at all, it's just a cool little home made tin man.

This picture doesn’t refer to the blog at all, it’s just a cool little home made tin man.

My mother’s cat passed away three days before I came down to visit. It was a shame. I really liked the cat and looked forward to seeing him. Thomas – that was his name – was a member of the family, a big furry lazy joy to be around and yada, yada. But he also had the run of the place – came and went any time he wanted to, ate anytime he wanted, and every time he wanted to come inside the house he would scratch on the front door’s trim and the nearest human would let him in. He did this for almost ten years. The door’s trim was scarred with deep creases and the rubber seal around the door frame needed to be replaced. I did the repairs.

And I did such a good job that you can’t tell the door was ever scratched up, and the new rubber seal actually seals. But after staring at the door for some time I was overcome by a curious feeling – like the world’s smallest bottomless pit was in my stomach. My mom came up to the door, gave a sad smile. She really liked Thomas – even buried him herself – and the door didn’t remind her of Thomas anymore.

We’re cat people – we love cats. Even my dad loved them. I should say, however, that he hated them for most of his life. I don’t really know what happened – maybe he was just getting older – but it started with hesitant petting, then talking to the cats as he petted them, then feeding them, then – by the time Thomas came around – he let them curl up and sleep on him…if that’s what cats really do when they curl up on you. I’m still not convinced they don’t use humans simply as thrones and slaves.

He would've wanted it this way.

He would’ve wanted it this way.

I picked up my tools, turned around and saw the chair where my dad used to sit – outside, in the evenings. One of my last memories of my dad is of him sitting in that chair. It’s a cool evening after a hot day. He’s looking out at the yard – not doing anything, just sitting there. His left hand dangles close to the ground and of course one of the cats is brushing up against it. My dad pets it with his lazy hanging hand, seeing and thinking a thought I will never know. But now the chair looked like the door – like it was missing something. So did the porch, then the house, then the whole damn day. I felt the microscopic bottomless pit again. Damn the cats and all objects that leave no trace because the next day I drove two hours south to my hometown…

…which is Orange Grove, Texas. I didn’t want to go. I only went to get the cats to stop meowing. When I got there, I did what I normally do – cruise up and down all the streets of the tiny town and not stop. I don’t mean to make it sound like I don’t like the place. I do, I will always call it Home. But it’s like most small towns – much has changed except nothing at all and nothing really ever will. Like yours.

A memory played out on every street corner. A good one. A bad one. A pretty stupid one and Jesus I really did that?! There?! With her?! It was a hot day, but a few people were out in their yards or walking in and out of the gas station, grocery or convenience store. They all looked like people I may or may not have known and I may have known if I knew them or not knew them for certain had I slowed down. But I was content to live with the uncertainty.

There's Orange Grove...see it?

There’s Orange Grove…see it?

But I knew Clarence Moore. He was my father’s closest friend. And he mowing his yard. He wore a straw hat and his mouth was slightly open, breathing in the very hot, dusty air. Mr. Moore is a good man. He’d helped my father through some very hard times due to prison and alcohol. I hadn’t seen Mr. Moore since my father’s funeral in December of 2010. I should stop and say hello, I thought. But I convinced myself I needed to go out to the house where I grew up instead.

I slowed down as I drove by the old house, just outside of town. The house looked the same and for a quick moment I could feel myself walking around it, somewhere around ten years old or so. I’m bored and wishing for some excitement but I only find cats. It’s evening, My mom takes the dinner scraps out to the yard for the cats to eat. I count 14 cats in all. 14 cats. I don’t see my dad around. He’s a Mr. Moore’s, my mom says, you should stop by there 27 years later when you’re passing through. Dammit. I pulled a u-turn on the highway, then headed back to Mr. Moore’s place.

He was still mowing his yard – perched atop his mower like a bird, squinting through the sun and dust. I was about to turn into the driveway when I sped up and headed out of town again. He’s busy, I thought, shaking my head. It’d be a real shame if he didn’t get all his lawn mowed before it got too hot. I was about 10 miles out of town when I turned around yet again. If he’s still outside when I get there, then I’ll stop by. Moments later, he was and I did.

“Hey, come on inside and let’s have a coke,” said Mr. Moore, after a few minutes of not recognizing me.

We went inside and he fixed me a glass of ice and gave me a can of Coca-Cola. “Now, do you want any…sweetener…for that coke?” He asked as he pulled from the cabinet a bottle of whiskey. I declined and thanked him. He poured himself a large Styrofoam cup – all I’d ever seen him drink from since I was five – of whiskey and ice and added one or two drops coke for coloring. Then he sat down and smoked one cigarette after another.

“Well, I’m just about to turn 83,” he said. “I’m not gonna quit now. I’ve lived a good long life and hell I’m not hurtin’ anybody. Hell, I’m right here in this chair most of the time. But I still go to the VFW on Friday nights, play 42 and get drunk.”

As we visited he began to look more and more like he did when I was a kid. He was my first boss – $4 an hour to clean up a shed and a yard and to roll up a bunch of fire hoses. He gave my dad a job cooking bar-b-que after he got out of prison. But as Mr. Moore got younger, I became hyper-aware of the present. The yellow veneer of the old metal kitchen table glowed so bright. The table was cool to the touch. The house was cool but warmer by the door. I smelled the cigarette smoke, felt the condensation on my glass of coke. I felt my age. I had a beard for Christ’s sakes.

Our cats don't waste time.

Our cats don’t mourn very long.

“I tell you,” continued Mr. Moore, “I was so proud of him when he got out of the pen. He never touched the stuff again. And it didn’t matter one bit to him that I still did. He’d just laugh at me and say, You’re still alive? when he’d see me. He was a real friend.” His eyes got wet like they did at the funeral. Then he held up a finger. “You’re daddy was number one…was a good man.”

On my way out, I told Mr. Moore I would visit him every time I came through.

“I don’t care if it’s three in the morning,” he said. “I’ll answer.” I told him I’m not up past 3AM much anymore. “Well, I am” he said, shrugged his shoulders. “I’m am.”

I was about to round the corner of the house when he stopped me.

“Hey!” He was laughing to himself. “I made your daddy swear to me that he would give my eulogy. I told ‘em he should get up at the front of the church or wherever and to tell everybody there, everything, man. All the drinking and wild times. Just let ‘em all have it! He said he would, too.” He laughed a bit then stopped. I waved and got in the car.

I drove to Alice. My grandfather – my mom’s father – lived just south of Alice in the early 1900s. South Texas was bandit country, then. My grandfather and his brothers had to take turns each night keeping lookout for Pancho Villa and other banditos and revolutionaries that were raising hell in Texas at the time. South Texas is basically the same today. It’s a wild and crazy place and the Texans and Mexicans that occupy it will bitch at each other while coexisting in relative peace until an asteroid hits the Earth. Two oceans of culture colliding and the many fringe creatures that are birthed from that kind of violent embrace – banditos, bikers, oilfield roughnecks, rednecks, evangelists and chupacabras – that is South Texas. From Alice, I turned onto Highway 44 toward Corpus Christi to see if any of the oak trees my grandfather had planted along the road – while a member of FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corp in the 1930s – were still standing. There weren’t.

“Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them.”

“Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them.”

From there, I drove to Taft to check out the many giant windmills that grace the area. It was a windy day and they were spinning fast. These huge structures mesmerize me to dizziness and I can’t pass through them without thinking of Don Quixote. After enough literary reflection that got me feeling really, really smart, I left for Sinton – the place of my birth – five miles away. I thought it would be a fitting conclusion to such a meandering day through memory. But when the town appeared on the horizon, I pulled another u-turn and headed toward the Gulf of Mexico.

At Padre Island, beer-gutted, sunburned men hung out by pick-up trucks. Beer-gutted women held cigarettes while dancing about between the trucks and you had to look twice to see that they were – in fact – wearing thongs underneath their tramp-stamps. In some cases, three times. I thought I’d come out to the beach and find calm introspective solitude –  how foolish, trying to create an ocean before reaching its shores. I arrived at a beach where people lived their good life as the waves crashed in, shouting happily to each other with husky voices, running from one car stereo to another. Thongs and beer have a way of bringing people together. At the end of the day on the edge of the country, in the blowing sand and salt air, why not let it all go? If tomorrow comes, so comes the same old social corset. So tonight we love, you don’t even need a name, all it takes is Hello and we love. But I didn’t say hello. I stood at the waves, mute, in my cowboy boots and misanthropy. I was Quixotic.

Too much sanity may be madness. And maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be.”

“Too much sanity may be madness. And maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be.” So…maybe it’s ok to see the beaches before one arrives…

On the ferry from Port Aransas back to the mainland, I leaned out the car window. The sun was low but the heat still lingered. I breathed in hot air as saltwater mist cooled my sand-caked face. Rising, falling. Floating, floating. I came up with some deep and prophetic statement about the nature of life just then, but didn’t write it down. I just floated.

When I got home, I told my mother I stopped by Mr. Moore’s. She smiled, sadly. After I told her I drove down Highway 44 and didn’t see any of the old trees her father’d planted, she gave another sad smile.

Damn cats.

Be well…

Revolution and Decay

Hello Everybody…

Aren't you fascinated, too?

Aren’t you fascinated, too?

Last Thursday, I set out on a little journey to Goliad, Texas, to take pictures of the many old, closed down gas stations along the way – a fascination of mine. I began the journey from Floresville, heading south on State Highway 181. This is one of my favorite drives – gentle hills like frozen green ocean waves and little cracked and rusty 20th Century towns along old railroad tracks. I never get tired of it. With a full tank of gas and Willie Nelson singing about an angel flying too close to the ground, I headed to this very old part of Texas under a giant, gray blanket of clouds that covered the sky all the way to the horizon.

It was a warm and humid day. A sub-tropical haze lay over the land like lace. Every time I got out to take a photograph, the windless air draped itself upon me and I would be sweating by the time I got back into the car. The  humidity filtered all sound from the earth. It was as if I was behind glass, merely observing the day – not taking part in it. From this vantage point on the outside of Time, I was able to grasp decades in a single glance. The gas stations looked like the faces of old stone mute giants – buried to the neck, frowning, wincing at the decisions made by each generation that played about them. One gas station’s door was open – not moving in the dead still day – as if it wanted to tell humanity something very important, but couldn’t because it’s vocal chords were buried.

At Kenedy, I turned onto Highway 239 and drove through sleepy, sleepy ranch land. Cows floated two or three inches above the ground on which they were grazing. Time slowed greatly, only speeding up when I’d see a oil yard – carved out of the lush green land and occupied by tankers and portable buildings. More oil rigs had popped up since I’d last been down the road. Trucks hurried in and out of the oil yards and rigs, and my little digital clock on the radio spun like a slot machine. Willie was singing was singing Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain. It’s a time slowing tune, and countered the speed of the oil business. But it’s a short song, and the clock ran like a stopwatch when it ended, only slowing down when I saw cows again. Over and over – oil fast, cow slow.

Viva the damn Revolution, pardner...

Viva the damn Revolution, pardner…

All along the way to Goliad, there was a sign that read “Independence Trail.” The bulk of Texas’ battle for independence from Mexico was fought in this territory. Texas is big on its history. Its the only state in the Union that requires students to take a state history course and 8 out of every 10 barrell chested, red-necked and goat-teed fellas fillin’ up their pick-ups over at the newer, bigger gas stations of Texas will take a deep breath and blow it out with accompanying words of pride over the fact that Texas was once its own soveriegn country, then they will take another deep breath and tell you to never forget it! The ghosts of such a rich history as Texas’ frequently visit Earth. They hang out on our little planet like it’s a bar on the edge of Heaven, and give their bar-stool testament so often it’s impossible for Texans to forget their history. Don’t get me wrong, they will tweak the hell out of it, even flat out lie about it, but a Texan cannot forget their history.

And in a town so old as Goliad – established by the Spanish in 1749 – it’s only ghosts that fill the spaces between the living in Goliad (Population 1,900). Spanish ghosts, Mexican ghosts, Texan ghosts, American ghosts spin, swirl, backflip and moonwalk from one giant oak tree to another, stoned on the free and plentiful refills of ecto-plasm an old town like Goliad offers.

I parked at the town square and walked around. Time had slowed to its slowest pace thus far on my journey. I could hear the giant oak trees growing as I walked under them. The humidity still blanked out all man made sound. Goliad is the country seat of Goliad County, and in the middle of the town square stood the giant, ancient courthouse. It’s high spire was always on the edge of my vision as I walked by businesses with names like the “Hanging Tree Gift Shop” or the “Hanging Tree Restaurant.” I crossed the street to the courthouse which was totally surrounded by oak trees. I felt a pleasant narcotic calm under the oaks’ canopy – felt the tectonic plates shift ever slower, far below the Earth’s crust as ghosts took part in their communion among the trees’ branches.

Seriously...I saw a ghost moonwalkin'...

Seriously…I saw a ghost moonwalkin’…

Down the street, a pudgy man in shorts walked in the middle of the street. He flipped and flopped as he lurched and looked to be in no hurry to get wherever he was going. A few ghosts fluttered about him like sheets on a clothes line. A lady sat in front of a little clothing boutique – smoking, watching something on her ipad. A bald man paced back in forth on the phone. I breathed slower and slower. I could have stood there for eternity – I was certain – until I felt an odd sensation. Oh, I’m hungry, I thought after a few moments of curiosity over the feeling. Ah, I’m still mortal, time still moves. Before I left, I noticed just the slightest beam of energy connecting me to the fat man, the smoking girl and the phoning man. I liked them, for no reason what’s so ever. Man, I thought, if only more of us – at one time – could see the connection we all have to each other! If I could only buy the world a Coke!

Before hitting the Dairy Queen, I drove out to the site of the Battle of Coleto Creek. During the Texas Revolution in 1836, Colonel James Fannin and his men were surrounded at Coleto Creek by the Mexican army. After an intense battle, the Texans surrendered to the Mexicans. Mexican dictator – General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna – ordered all the captured soldiers to be executed. On Palm Sunday, the 350 or so prisoners were marched out to a field and shot. Colonel Fannin was shot last, after being forced to watch his men die. It takes a while to kill 350 people, I thought, I wander what was going through Fannin’s mind as the shots were fired. I could’ve of swore Earth’s core went cold then and there. But a across the road, a brand new Ford pick-up pulled into the driveway of a house with a TV satellite mounted atop it. Nope, Earth still spun and I was still within the time frame of my life. Ever so faintly, tick…tock…tick…tock.

Come on, you gotta be fascinated now, right?

Come on, you gotta be fascinated now, right?

I headed back to Goliad on Highway 59. A sign appeared every now and then that read “Senator Lloyd Bentsen Highway.” Senator Bentsen had a long and distinguished political career in Washington, rising so high in the party to be the running mate of Michael Dukakis in the presidential election of 1988, and Secretary of Treasury under President Clinton. Yep, Texas was so proud of its son it named one of its roads after him. But another sign appearing at even intervals along the road read “Future Interstate 69 Corridor.” I set my speedometer to the 75mph limit and floated along the smooth, straight future federal pavement.

The car ahead of me was going exactly the same speed. The distance between us stayed the same as we sped down the road. The topography remained the same, small green trees and green grass. Everything was the same for so long it felt like nothing was moving. Then it finally happened. Time stopped. I was suspended in a vacuum where time used to be. In this void, I lost all sensation, but my mind was free to wander the entirety of the Universe. I saw Senator Lloyd Bentsen’s ghost holding his hands up, saying, Aw, shucks, they’re renamin’ my damn highway. Then I wandered up to a giant supernova, then over to a super-massive black hole that was sucking in so many bright and shiny stars. I tip-toed just before its event horizon to see where everything was going – when I find the words, I will tell you what I saw. I leap frogged from galaxy to galaxy for a while. When I took a break to catch my breath, I noticed Colonel Fannin standing alone in some dark matter. He jerked constantly as if he was suffering from Cosmic Parkinsen’s Disease. But as I drifted nearer it was clear to see he was still jerking to the rifle fire that rang out in eternity as his men fell in front of him, forever. I got right up to his face and stared into his mind. Fannin looked at me – his mouth hung open for some time before he spoke. I think, said Fannin, I think…I…

I mean, they even come in pink!

I mean, they even come in pink!

I saw taillights ahead. The car ahead of me had slowed. Time immediately filled the vaccum. I felt the air coming out of the vents and heard Willie singing about a train called The City of New Orleans. The car ahead of me steered around the remnants of a blown out tire from an 18-wheeler. A couple seconds later, I swerved around the ripped pieces of rubber. My stomach growled as I re-entered Goliad. I was back in Time, mortal again.

I stopped at a few more old gas stations on the way home. They were boarded up, overgrown with grass, paint peeled off their cracked walls. But the sun peeked out of the gray clouds just before sunset. The ghosts were easy to see in the sunlight. They were just killing time as cars and trucks raced down the roads. The ghosts gazed into the future of all the racers. I, of course, couldn’t see what they saw, but none of the ghosts looked like they were seeing something they’ve never seen before.

After enough time and gravity, humility fills the vacuum, and rarely are we the worse for it.

Humility, rarely are we the worse for it.

Be well…

Bowling For Enlightenment

Hello Everyone,

The Path to Glory

The Path to Glory

Last Thursday I motored my mothers car onto Texas State Highway 97 and headed toward Pleasanton, Texas. It’s only a five mile stretch, but every inch requires supreme focus, due the many 18-wheelers that run up and down the road, 24/7. I am in Oil! Country, ladies and gentleman. The rigs are either carrying Oil! or fracking water or fracking chemicals or the coil tubing to run both the fracking water and chemicals into Mother Earth to crack her up and free her of her marrow. As fast and often as these rigs run, they still can’t keep up with all the drilling, in these boom times. So the giant steel mammoths race on. To them, the speed limits are funny jokes along the way, and stop lights are outright un-American – or at least anti-Texan, which is more offensive down here in Oil! Country.

Weaving in and out of the line of 18 wheelers are normal size pick-up trucks – Fords, Chevys, Dodges – that seem to have evolved into some kind of jacked-up monster. Hunchbacked, metal and chrome creatures growling as they weave around under the herd of 18-wheelers, as if they are offspring to the Mamma Semi-Trucks, hoping to find a free teat on which to suck.

Shh...it's resting up before the hunt...

Shh…it’s resting up before the hunt…

I successfully navigated my way through the giant herd to Pleasanton and into the parking lot of Eagle Lanes. Yes, folks, I was going bowling. I love bowling, and, even more, I love bowling alleys. Eagle Lanes did not disappoint, either. It looked like every other small town bowling alley I’d ever been to – like it was built sometime in the olive drab 1970’s and remodeled in neon pink 1992. A faded old American flag hung over the lanes, and beside it, a broken Budweiser Clock. The lanes were worn and scarred, the seats had ass-grooves. The house balls were dull and chipped and had been fingered a million times each, I’m sure, and the shoes were shaped to the feet of people who are probably dead by now or awaiting their 5th parole hearing. The computer-scoring monitors looked like cousins to the Direct TV satellites that perch on rusty trailer-houses. And don’t forget the smell of decades of cigarette smoke and fried food. I drank it all in and felt liked I’d found home after losing it for a very long time. Wouldn’t you?

Only one fellow was bowling, and he stopped when he saw me and came over to the counter to wait on me – he was the employee. He handed me my shoes and gave me a lane right in the center. I walked to it like a movie star on the red carpet. Three men sat at the bar watching ESPN. They all smoked, they all had gray mustaches whether they had gray hair or not, and – though I know it’s an exaggeration – I want to tell you they were all wearing khaki Members Only jackets. There was a man and a woman behind the bar. The man was cooking fried food while the woman stood by him and existed. The employee who waited on me popped the top of a Bud Light, went to the pool table, racked ‘em and broke ‘em – the collision of the balls rattled throughout the establishment. Just before I rolled my first ball, the lady behind the bar stared talking, and though I couldn’t understand what she was saying, I knew enough about the frequency to know she wasn’t being mean, or angry, or nice, or anything, really. She didn’t sound surprised, either, and I gathered – from her inflection – that she’d not been surprised since she won homecoming queen in 1986.

20130502_154802It’d been 10 years since I last bowled. Most of the first game was about me coming to terms with that. I only bowled a 113. However, in the 7th frame, I bowled a strike but the computer only gave me a 9, and the score was off from that point on, so I was probably real close to 300.

“Yeah, it does that,” said the employee. “Just go to the next lane.”

I did so, and I bowled three more games to slightly better or worse scores than 113. I didn’t care, I was having a good time. I was also flooded with memories from childhood and high school when I bowled all the time – with old friends that I hadn’t thought of in years, most of whom I had no clue where they were or what they were doing. Then there was the memory of the last time I bowled. New York. Ten years ago. I was on a date with a girl named Kate, she was 22 and I was 28 – it’s easier to remember rhymes. We both tried to bowl our best, but bowling wasn’t why we were there, or at least I wasn’t. Kate was pretty and funny, so I spent all my money. I don’t remember our scores but I remember having fun. We were both left handed, I thought that was so cool. Our balls strayed to the left in the later games, due to fatigue, but we kept bowling anyway. We were both new to the city. New York was like a giant amusement park and the future was…

…guttter ball. It wasn’t even close. I realized I’d played almost two games while lost down memory lane. The computer grinned at me with teeth made of missed spares, and I hadn’t bowled a strike since the first game. At that point I decided to bowl seriously. I didn’t wait for the memory of Kate to abait – boom. I willingly let her go and I focused, dammit. I stared at my mark, breathed deep, balanced my wait, minded my steps, kept my arm straight as I pulled back and…

Ahh…improvement. I’d realized I’d been muscling the ball all afternoon, causing me to veer left. By the fourth game, my arm was tired, but I actually increased my speed by using less muscle and more speed upon approach. Hmm…more pins were knocked down on the first roll, making for easier spares to pick up on the second roll. I didn’t really go for strikes, but got a few anyway, just by tweaking the muscle and speed. Mid-game, I started rushing my approach, which caused me to veer right. I slowed down, which helped, though I naturally wanted to muscled the ball again. But I didn’t. I just paid attention to what was happening after each roll, and adjusted accordingly. By the time I’d had the perfect balance of both speed and power, I was in the tenth frame of my last game. Much like life I, assume.

Doin' it in the middle of the day.

Doin’ it in the middle of the day.

I put my ball back on the rack and took my shoes to the counter. As I waited for the employee to finish his pool game or beer or both, I’d noticed the bowling alley was sprinkled here and there with teenagers. School was out by then and it looked like the teens came to Eagle Lanes to either make out with each other or stare into space. The same men were at the bar, forever in Members Only jackets with eternal gray mustaches and never ending cigarettes. A vending machine ate one of the teenager’s money, and his kicking of the machine attracted the employee’s attention.

“Yeah, it does that,” said the employee, handing the kid a dollar.

The kids looked at me like I was wearing a space-suit. They weren’t unfriendly by any means. They just weren’t anything at all. Same for the employees and the Members Only at the bar. It was quite a beautiful little world. In the small town bowling alleys of America you don’t have to be anything at all. I took a long look around Eagle Lanes before I left. I felt something. I searched for a name to this feeling as I walked out. By the time I’d made it to the door, I’d found it. I felt…alright.

Never look them in the eye...

Never look them in the eye…

But back on the road, I found myself amidst the speeding herd of mamma and baby monsters. My shoulders tensed as I gazed for a safe path with beady eyes under a furrowed brow. It was quitting time in Oil! Country, and the monster family was headed to a happy hour somewhere or to Castle du Mortgage. They sped on, farting their poison that kills all the lower carbon-based life-forms, brutishly weaving in and out of the lanes. There’s never enough speed and never enough power and never enough of anything in this metal animal kingdom. I glanced up at one of the jacked-up trucks as it swerved by. Perched inside it was something like a pigmy, its head just above the steering wheel, its eyes straight ahead,trained on some point in the future. The little pigmy didn’t want to be where it was. It already wanted to be where it was going, and cursed the beast on which it was mounted, whipped it, cursing louder and louder to get to the future faster, to use its strength to crush anything in its path. But no matter how fast or strong the monsters grow to be, they would never get there in time to satisfy the little pigmy. Even too much speed and too much power would never be enough.

Saturday morning, I braved trip to Pleasanton again to get a cup of coffee. While sipping it down, I struck up a conversation with Ron, a grizzled, wrinkled, retired military man and Viet Nam veteran. It was an easy sunny morning, and it was easy to hear Ron tell me of all the traveling he’d done in retirement. He had grandkids all over the country and drives all over to visit them. He loved boxing, too, which was not a surprise to me – Ron looked like he could still put up a good fight. But he was also old and tired.

Hangin' Out After the 10th Frame

Hangin’ Out After the 10th Frame

“Two ex-wives are still around but I lost my last one a while back,” said Ron. “The grandkids are great, and my kids have great wives and husbands, but you just don’t get over losing…her.” He looked outside and took a deep breath. “I don’t know why I’m a bit off today, and thinkin’ about that kinda stuff. Guess I need to just go off somewhere and break down and cry. It’s ok to do that, too. D’you know that?”

He asked me where I was off to as we walked out to the parking lot. I told him I was going with my family out to Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, to visit my father’s grave.

“Hey, there buryin’ me there when I go. Make sure you say hello to me there, after I do.”

“I’ll do that.”

“Well then, I guess I’ll see you again soon.”

“I guess you will.”


Such is Life…

Ron walked to his little PT Cruiser. It had a Viet Nam veteran bumper sticker and a sticker from the Boxing Hall of Fame, in Canastota, New York. He glided easily to the little vehicle – somewhere in the 8th or 9th frame of his life – not muscling his way or rushing to the future, but with a pace that suggested the future could come to him when it damn well pleases.

Be well…