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.”

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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…

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.

Yep.

Yep.

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?

_MG_6342_Oak_Tree_at_Sunset_Bandera_Tx_3[1]

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….