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…

Didn’t We Used to Be Who We Are?

Greetings from the Lone Star State,

Air Travel

Air Travel

Last Monday, I flew down to Texas to spend the holidays with my family.  Flying always feels a bit strange to me, as if I’ve been “beamed” somewhere – magically, like in Star Trek.  In the morning, I stepped into the high anxiety chamber that is LaGuardia Airport amongst so many long faces and frumpy winter coats, then was magically transported to San Antonio International, where people walk slow and easy, wearing t-shirts.  I didn’t feel the miles in between, and feel like I missed so much of America along the way.  But hey, at least I got there quicker.  Zoom.

Courthouse in Jourdanton, Texas.

Them rascals may have stolen the county seat, but they sure built a fancy courthouse.

The other day, my mom and I were driving back to Jourdanton – 35 miles south of San Antonio – where my mother lives.  Jourdanton has a population of around 4,000.  It is the county seat of Atascosa County in the heart of cowboy country.  The earth rises and falls in waves and is covered with brush and giant squirming live-oak trees.  A lot of cattle were driven through the area in the olden times.  Many people here still live like cowboys, even if they don’t ride horses anymore.  Some still do ride, however, and will until the day they die.

However, one can’t say Jourdanton is the birthplace of the cowboy.  Citizens of Pleasanton – Jourdanton’s sister city 5 miles away – will tell you that.  In fact, the town’s official motto is Birthplace of the Cowboy.  It’s impossible to find the exact location (probably Mexico) where the first man (probably Mexican) that could be called a cowboy (vaquero, in Spanish) stood, but citizens of Pleasanton hold to the belief that the Great Stork dropped the first cowboy off on their turf.  So much so that it is a part of their identity.  Or, their previous identity.



Pleasanton was founded first, in the mid 1800’s, and was the county seat for many years.  Jourdanton wasn’t founded until 1909.  However, in 1910, the county seat was switched from Pleasanton to Jourdanton.  There are two different takes on the switch, according to who you speak to, and what wikipedia page you read.  But it’s basically like this:  Jourdantonians say a legal vote was held in favor to switch, and Pleasantonians claim the county seat was stolen from them, the county records being removed from their courthouse by a covert group of Jourdantonians in the dead of night.  As with the actual birthplace of the cowboy, it’s probably impossible to find out for sure which story is true.  But it’s probably like all Old West tales – both versions are false and both are true, the real answer being somewhere in the middle.In the century that has passed since the switch, the two towns have found a way to co-exist.  Jourdanton still has the county seat, along with the jail, and most of the feed stores.  Pleasanton has the newspaper, the movie theatre, and most of the churches.  They seem to serve each other well, while holding on to their individual identities.  Or, they used to.

Cattle used to graze here.

Cattle used to graze here.

The two towns are connected by State Highway 97 and the distance in between the towns used to be noticeable.  However, Jourdanton and Pleasanton are situated smack dab in the heart of the oil and gas fracking boom in South Texas, and everybody’s cashing in.  The once 7 to 10 minute drive of silence amid the magestic live oak trees has been replaced with the noisy shine of capitalism.  Business after business has popped up along every inch of the highway.  Streetlights have been added, and a countless stream of cars and trucks motor down the way – pull in and out of the shopping centers and fast food joints.  Work-out gyms, money lending and title offices, pawnshops, oilfield supply companies, and a ridiculous number of hotels have been built, too.  And, of course, at the heart of all the industry is the gargantuan Castle Wal-Mart – open 24 hours because King Walton knows the peasants don’t sleep.

Peasants' View.

Peasants’ View.

The space between Jourdanton and Pleasanton has been obliterated.  But most people down don’t seem to mind.   In fact, most are excited.  The economy is going like gangbusters.  The oil and gas industry has breathed new life in the two communities, they say.  They say it’s progress and prosperity.  But if this is progress and prosperity, then my own understanding of the terms has been grossly off the mark.  But what do I know?  People down here have seen lean times, and it is a fact that, in America, that healthy life is a wealthy life.  If someone down here chooses to cash in on the oil and gas boom, they can get an insurance policy and go to the hospital that is situated in between the two towns and get treated for the cancer they got in return for living that good life.

The old gunslinging rivalry between Jourdanton and Pleasanton is mostly held only by the older folks of the towns – some still truly and royally pissed off about the theft of the county seat.  But those old folks are pleasantly out of the way of all the joint commerce, tucked away in one of the area’s many nursing homes that have sprung up in the last few years.  But there is no new rivalry – or new form of the old one – for the younger generations to pick up.  There seems to be no identity at all for each town anymore, just something more like the mild amnesia brought about by suburbia.  And how can anyone – or community – fight if they don’t know who their opponent is, or more so, if they don’t know who they are?


Texas Live Oak Tree.

Oil booms mean fast money, and nothing has the time to take root around here.  Everything’s moving along like tumble weeds while the venerable live-oaks are dying.  And as more and more drilling companies clear huge swaths of the Brush Country to set up sprawling oil fields and truck yards – changing the landscape forever – soon it won’t even look like the Old West anymore.  No one will know who they are, or where they are.  And as we hobble about like toddlers, trying to find something sturdy to hold onto, The Old West – that place where misfits could find themselves and call a place home – continues to grow into an indiscernable wasteland, inhabited by Hell monsters nashing their coprorate teeth at you as you drive to something you used to call home but can’t anymore.My mom and I pulled into her driveway around sunset.  As soon as I got out of the car I could smell the fuel from the snake of vehicles on the highway.  The sky was a combination of orange, pink, purple and indigo blue – absolutely mesmerizing, save for the skeleton of a hotel being built.  But I could hear the evening coyotes yelping in the distance.  I pray they always will.

Shrinkng Freedom

Shrinkng Freedom

People are speculating that the current oil and gas boom will last 20 years.  It’s hard to think that far ahead, but I can easily think back, to when I was a boy growing up in Jim Wells County, 2 hours south of Jourdanton.  The county seat was Alice, and it was boom times back then.  One store after another shot up.  There was even a mall, and the two movie theatres usually had lines of people wrapped around them before showtime.  A Wal-Mart sprung up, and it was a high falutin time.  Then the boom busted, simple as that.  Alice whithered in no time.  The businesses went under, and the many empty buildings gave Alice the appearance of a ghost town.  The Fat Cats made their millions and left, but all the working men who took out loans and got mortgages, got married and had babies all went into debt and were left to wander about the emptiness like ghosts.I don’t know if Jourdanton, or Pleasanton – or the mutant creature they have morphed together to form – will face the same fate as Alice.  But people around here are acting like 20 years is gonna last forever, and that’s dangerous, for the Cosmos has no mercy for such folley.  But new ghost towns have always be on the horizon in America…each generation creating a newer Old West, as it gets harder to remember who we are, and easier to forget we’ve been here many, many times before.

Nameless child in an unknown land.

Nameless child in an unknown land.

Be well….