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I seem to be abusing my interim status to justify slobbery. It would not take me twenty minutes to straighten this place up but I am resistant to the idea of it. No, really, I can just step over that pile of stuff for now.
Nice time of year. There is so much evergreen flora in the area that you don't really notice it being winter. And although you can't ever around here say there are absolutely no mosquitoes, the mosquitoes are so dormant that you can leave your windows open without screens and that's nice. Air the place out a bit. I had screwed the windows shut in my absence and did not leave my house sitter a screw gun. She smokes so the house was a little smoky.
At the MacDonald's drive-thru yesterday morning the cashier asked me did I have a nice new years and I said it was pretty fun. Did you have a nice one I asked and she said she had, praising the Lord. I said I thought that sounded like a nice way to spend the evening and she said, yes indeed.
In the afternoon, after telling my ex, M, the house sitter, that she need not replace condiments used during her stay here because I literally never cook, I went out and bought cornbread mix and black eyed peas and cooked it up and ate it. While trying to be interested in college football on the television.
When it became clear that not all the young boys from the hood coming in and out of M's house were bad guys, the next door neighbor girls, two sisters, being raised conservatively, started coming over and developed a friendship with M. One of them writes a little and M will give her advice about that. The younger one helps M with chores, is sweet as can be, polite and straightforward, but you do not want to mess with her. The two sisters (and the younger brother) have different fathers. This past week the father of the younger sister was killed in crossfire by the proprietor of a Laundromat on Cleveland St. Her father was the only customer during an armed robbery by two teenagers. There are unanswered questions but the law allows that the two teenagers can be charged with murder while the proprietor may not face any charges at all. One of the teenagers was grazed and took himself to Charity, which received all 275 murdered locals this year, and hundreds and hundreds more wounded, and therefore has a staff pretty familiar with the characteristics of bullet damage to flesh. The kid didn't have the right answers, and as it turned out also had a little weed and coke on his person so…
I try to convince myself that discipline is freedom, which is why I try to write more these days, even when I don't want to or especially when I don't want to. However, I have not made any concrete plans about what to do with all my new found freedom. Though I must start reading more, that would be a good start. And I should pay better attention. Even if it kills me.
Austin In And Out
I must say the story of snorting coke off the ass of the daughter of a famous country and western singer did pique my interest but in the end I just grabbed my sleeping bag off the couch, by the craps table, and exited X street for the last time. Before that:
"Stay chief, be a man, help me get kicked out of here."
"No B, this place and you in it is an anomaly long past due for correction. You should feel blessed the neighborhood let you stay as long as it did. Fifteen years is a good run."
"Yeah it is, I've had a good run, but stay, it'll be fun." His tone revealed a doubt about whether it had been a good run and also if he really wanted me to stay. And he and I both knew that predicting fun is, well, excuse me, but like a crapshoot.
It was midnight and B was planning a warm up craps game before the big end of the year casino night. I'm still getting up early so I had been asleep on the couch when he knocked on the door, duffel bags full of close out merchandise at his feet. He wasn't going to look for another place in town; he was in the wee hours of each night meeting with former clients and disposing of excess baggage, and on the first day of the new year he would depart for places unknown and wait for unknown periods of time until final transactions could be made complete. Then he would leave the country to unite with his lifelong notion to grow cherries in New Zealand, which when he said it it was like he was meaning to leave the planet.
Over the years he had repainted the walls and ceilings throughout with abstract interpretations from the psychedelic recesses of his drug addled mind. Much of it was very pleasant to the eye. He wanted to cut out some sections but I was betting he wouldn't get around to it. It had taken multiple prodding's just to get him to go out in the street and play catch and that was something he liked to do.
He would need special powers to get everything done that needed doing but he doesn't have any he knows about so he would likely resort to his default special ability, procrastination. The ability to postpone what needing doing was really the only power he had most of the time and he made regular use of it.
His roommate was his ex-wife's ex-husband. Each of them had their own child by her and the children when visiting were delightful. The roommate's eight-year-old daughter made sock hats for all of us using B's dingy but clean ("they're clean chief, I promise") socks piled up in a corner of his room. Both men still loved the mother of their children but in equal measure to being afraid of her. "She's got 9-1-1 on speed dial."
B had explained the domestic abuse charge the previous night up on the top level of the Whole Foods parking garage while he smoked a fat joint and I drank an on sale six dollar bottle of Chimay. B is a gentle guy with occasional anger issues but in fairness he is sometimes on the right side of the issue. Besides the domestic abuse charge which he described as a reflexive push after ex-wife punched him in the face, there was a pending charge for threatening an ex-marine. The guy had told the eight-year-old daughter to tell B this very explicit detail regarding his so-called manhood and instructed her to repeat it word for word to B. When B called up threatening to kill the ex-marine the guy taped it and pressed charges. A real pussy. I'm sure the guy does not accurately portray any part of the Marine Corps.
B was already legendary as the gentle, go-easy, cloud-watcher, who twenty years previous had beaten a punk rocker nearly to death with a golf club in the parking lot of this 100 percent Slacker-occupied 20 unit complex near the University at which we all lived. "But I was tripping on acid chief, I'm not normally like that, it's just when I saw what he had done to Janice (at the time his not yet but soon to be first wife) I just lost it." The punk rocker had become angry with Janice for sleeping with B and had punched her in the face and blackened her eye. He had then come around underestimating and threatening B. B was recently returned from an around the world yearlong walkabout to Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, and Thailand and was thoroughly peaced-out. He was always talking about cloud formations. We imitated him, made fun, had fun. That guy never pressed charges though. And never ever came around again.
But that's all to explain how things can get out of hand. I was looking for my drawstring garbage bag of dirty clothes as B half-heartedly asked me to stay. But I was approaching socialization saturation and needed to flee. We had had a good talk the day before, had relived the "heist" in which we "rescued" and transported some property of B's that had been stolen from him. His recitation to the roommate and me reminded me that I had forgotten all about introducing him and Bodine to the idea of Goat Man. B had jokingly made a promise to Goat Man in exchange for having the van start at my remote property outside of Austin. I told B that Goat Man would hold him to that promise. The next turn of the key the van started and Bodine and B left out of there to meet again and again the strange power of Goat Man.
The new owner of the X Street property was probably not as oily as we made him out to be. On our way to the Whole Foods parking garage the previous night we had run into him in the parking lot and B had pitifully and unsuccessfully asked for an extension. I was standing back, in the street, daydreaming at night, not wanting to engage the guy we all knew was someday coming.
Ron introduced me as a former resident of X Street who could tell him some things about the property's history from 20 years ago. I told the guy quickly and politely about the sheep ("I thought it was a goat," B interrupted. "No, a sheep," I corrected) that had been kept penned up in the yard, had escaped one December to roam the downtown streets of Austin, was written up by Kelso in his column under the title Ba Ba Humbug to Development, and had been returned and eventually filmed by a local artist as my good pal and roommate rather ungraciously and inexpertly slit the sheep's throat. It wasn't ritualistic, my friend intended the sheep for a barbecue The sheep's name had been Che' but I didn't tell the guy that. "It was kind of an art piece, but that's probably not the type of history you were curious about. I believe a lot of ordinary stuff happened here too," I finished, while stepping back into the street, eager to get going to the Whole Foods for the beer I could not drink in front of the recovering alcoholic roommate. B continued to make a point for staying and the guy said B would be more than welcome after the renovation was complete but we all knew those words were disingenuous.
"Come on B," I pleaded, "let's go, this is what you get for being a renter."
"You're right chief, I was just…"
"…Dilly-dallying is the word."
That morning while everybody was sleeping I had roamed the old haunts. I had breakfast at the G&M Steakhouse where Gus says, "even the water here has cholesterol. You can eat over there (a derisive nod to the Whole Foods across the street) and live forever, or eat here, die, and go to heaven." I walked up Lamar Blvd. through Pease Park remembering every previous walk, and maybe an acid trip or two during Eyore's annual birthday party. I guess I already knew that my etched nickname and altered girlfriend's name in the cement curb at 24th and Rio Grande had long ago been replaced with an open curb for wheel-chair access. "Damn the needs of others getting in the way of your reveries," B had consoled me.
After returning from my walk B and I and the two kids had watched the battle scene from the Phantom Menace episode of Star Wars. At one point his three-year-old son had lost interest and was "reading" a picture book. B smirked and said, "Son, put that book away and watch TV." The son smiled and put the book away but I don't know if he got the joke.
Keeping Easy Promises
And then there were those years where I moved between this room and Austin. I never spent a full summer here after leaving that first time for college. I spent the first summer in school, hoping to graduate in three years, but I burnt out on all that and ended up dropping out two successive semesters. And after that I was mostly just here for short visits. Back in the late seventies you could fly here to Dallas on Southwest Airlines, roundtrip, for $48. That was only $12 more than the bus and I never really favored travel by bus anyway.
I also hitch hiked here and back quite a few times and eventually my parents got used to it, maybe even riding along vicariously for the thrill of it. I think they understood that there was no point in not being supportive. They did make it clear that financial support was only coming if I was in school and I thought that seemed fair. Besides, I was living pretty comfortably in Austin, living with other slacker friends, or in a truck I had, in a cave at the end of Rio Grande, in condos in mid-construction, in a large doghouse on Blanco with Blueberry the Weimaraner and her nine pups, or in a friend's vacant two-story Victorian that his father provided and in which he would not live because he hated his father. The house had a very nice pool table but I never really invited anyone over to play. And then suddenly I was adopted by a swell young lady who was attending the University and things evened out for awhile. For several years my parents thought I was going to be ok because I had someone looking after me. My mom especially doesn't like for me to be single; she looks at my bachelor uncles in their old age and feels sad for them. I think a person can find sadness wherever they look for it. Possibly the reverse of that is true too.
But I was standing on the side of the highway where the road from Killeen merges into I-35 in Temple and this GQ looking dude in a shiny new dark blue BMW screeches to a halt in front of me. He asked me where I was going and I told him I was going to Austin and as if sensing that sixty miles would not be enough time for small talk AND large talk, he delved right in. It was like he didn't mean WHERE was I going in the geograhic sense but, you know, in the larger sense. I gave him a little bullshit from the mind of a 20-year-old and he told me about being a 30-year-old lawyer on the fast track to unhappiness. Unless you just like to be difficult the guy could only be described as handsome, and while sitting in his cool leather passenger seat I could smell the residual, exotic perfume left behind by his (she could only be) beautiful wife.
He had wanted to be an artist, had studied in Paris, and then had given up childish ideas to become a successful lawyer. And it seemed to be killing him. He all but begged me to stay disaffected even though he and I knew it was not exactly a course and I told him for sure I would, because I really could not, cannot, see any alternative. I wonder if that guy ever thinks about me because I think about him a lot. I wonder if he ever figured out the best trick of all, how to be an artist and a successful member of the mainstream.
Takes More Than A Note
My mom asked me to cash a check for her yesterday but sensing the possible difficulity of such a thing I told her I would rather not. She said she liked to have some cash on hand and I said, here, have some of mine. No, no, no, she did not want MY cash.
The check was made out to Tom Thumb grocery so I went over there. They have a bank inside and I went up to the counter with the check, my ID, and the little handwritten note explaining that I was the son of Clifford Louis. The teller gracefully explained how it would be better if the check were just made out to me, and also better success could be expected if I went to the bank the check was written on. But, of course. While I was there in the grocery I picked up nine bananas and some milk as I had been instructed to do, so the mission was not a total failure.
My mom was fit to be tied and said she would give them a piece of her mind the next time she made it over there. I begged her not to, explaining how I might like to start dating this year and did not want to rule out tellers in far away places. With a fair amount of difficulty and questionable patience on my part I explained about making a new check out to me and how I would go over to the bank itself, which is in the same parking lot with the Tom Thumb. Do you know where it is?, my mom asked me, and I said I thought I did. She gave me somewhat detailed instructions anyway.
The teller in the drive-thru gave me a happy electronic welcome and I was happy right back at her and stuck my check and ID in the little clear cannister. When I pushed the send button the cannister shot so rapidly up the clear tube that I flinched a little. I assured myself that anybody watching could have taken the flinch for a nervous tick or some sort of neural disorder and that I could still be considered a cool dude on some plane, somewhere, somehow.
The teller said, James?
Do you have an account with us?
You'll need to go inside to cash this.
Ok, I said, unclinching my teeth.
Ever since that Mobil station in Rappahannock changed over to a Shell station, who's mid-grade gasoline causes my engine to ping, I've been avoiding Shell gas altogether and pumping anyone elses high octane, no pings, higher zoomability. I zoomed around the corner, parking less than true parallel to the lines.
Can I help you, the teller asked.
I put the check and my ID on the counter.
Can I get two forms of ID, she asked me.
I flicked her one of my Platinum Cards.
Do you have an account with us?
Would you like to open one?
No thank you.
Could I get a thumb print?
I'm sorry, what?
A thumb print, she said, pointing to the little thumb-sized print pad.
You're kidding?, I said.
She said she wasn't and like a criminal drawn to the booking process I printed my left thumb.
I'm sorry, she smiled, I need your right thumb.
Okeedokey, now we're getting somewhere. I pressed my right thumb onto the clear ink pad and then left my invisible mark on the front of the check.
The teller gave me two crummy-looking twenties and a wrinkled ten.
When I got back over here my mom was still thinking about past failures, I said, let it go, she said, but did you give them that note explaining who you were?
Up on the shelf in front of me is Jimenez, Swift, Hemingway, Brecht, Kerouac, Kafka, Joyce, some Kotzwinkle, a large chunk of Brautigan, the minor works of Hesse but including his big hit, Steppenwolf, and my cub scout handbooks. I used to have a vintage Elvis Gospel album up there but things disappear over time.
There was for a few years some mild concern regarding my sanity and during that period conservative elements of the family took action and one or two books disappeared as well, for example, Trotsky's Permanent Revolution, and one of those books that contain supposed satanic verses. To tell the truth I was scared to read that second one, the mad ravings of whatshisname.
Over there to the left used to be what I thought by now would be the complete works of P. K. Dick but that collection is apparently being enjoyed by someone else; no man, I ain't naming you, I'm just saying.
At some point this ridiculous flittering-around lifestlye of mine precluded me from carrying several hundred pounds of books around with me so I just left them here in this boyhood bedroom and started using public libraries.
And then as more time passed other premium books took wing and some less than premium books were added by others where gaps occured and up there now I see titles like How To Live With Yourself And Like It. What a long title that is. I see a Billy Graham biography and scattered throughout two or three books about Hitler.
I do not see that book that was offered during my faithful stint with the Methodist Youth Foundation, How Far Can I Go?, which I thought was going to be, based on the cover teasers, a literal guidebook telling me how far I could go with my girlfriend, but it fell way short of that expectation and I was left to my own fumbling devices, and a less than stellar success rate. And speaking of devices the book had no chapter entitled--Devices, Where, Why, and How.
There's an interesting title over there, 20 Million Careless Capitalists, I know I never read that; and Bulls, Bears, and Dr. Freud is a pretty snappy title also.
I'm not actually reading a lot of book length stuff lately, I just read the titles, so if you ask me if I have read Eleanor Early's, New Orleans Holiday, I will be able to answer honestly, oh yes, I sure did. Try to trip me up by asking what its about and you know I'm going to tell you--300 pages, or so.
Oh Yeah, Hey
It's all a blur now, the passing Waffle House signs, I can't even tell you where I was, but it was probably outside Lafayette, Louisiana. I forgot my reading glasses so I just pointed to that blurry image in the bottom left corner of the the laminated placemate/menu. It turned out to be cheese scrambled eggs, bacon, grits, and raisin toast, with coffee. It was barely 5:30 in the morning which really means nothing at a 24 hour joint.
The waitress called me "sweetie," bumping her up into top tier tip range and I was so happy that they had the chocolate cream pie I didn't even tell her that I meant I wanted it to go and just ate it for my breakfast dessert, forcing down the last few delicious bites.
Back on the road I set the cruise control at whatever the law allowed and danced in place sitting down a few times and did a little stretching when I got stiff over those seven hours before I got really hungry again. I was close enough to Dallas to where I could have waited to see what the cupboards allowed but then I saw the sign for Senorita's famous Mexican food and I salivated to the highway 19 exit. It turned out there were three popular Tex-Mex restaurants at this one little dirtwater miles from nowhere exit, and they were, Senorita's, Juanita's, and the Ranchero. I hit Juanita's, had the large bean and cheese nacho plate, followed with an enchilada plate with rice and beans and throughout snacked on the crispy bowl of chips and delicious salsa (never forget cilantro) and hot, freshly made (by the woman right across the way in front of me) corn tortillas. With iced tea.
I was a little sick after this meal but luckily had prepared with stage one prevention by popping a pepcid AC before going in. Back in the truck I popped a stage two, I call it the pepcid sandwich, acid prevention program. I fought off one or two tidal waves of acid before the meds properly kicked in, then I was good to go.
Shortly, downtown Dallas loomed before me and I exited onto Central Expressway, but south instead of north, so I had to make a U-turn and proceed in the direction of my mom's house, which is in far North Dallas, you might even say Farmer's Branch.
In the cupboards there wasn't exactly what I had in mind for breakfast this morning, oh yeah, hey, Merry Christmas, so I thought I would bop out to MacDonalds for two burritos and coffee but its Christmas you stupid idiot. My mom felt guilty and gave me twenty bucks for food. I looked at her derisively while rubbing the paper between my fingers and barked, "this all you got?" (I'm just kidding, how sacreligious, on Christmas morning no less, shoot me, shoot me dead.)
Alberston's grocery at Forest and Marsh was open though so I got some cereal, a couple of Vanilla Frappuccinos in a bottle, and some whole milk. In the parking lot walking back to the truck I heard this young woman scream out something about her baby on Christmas and then turned around to see her and her young husband and baby in a stroller walking out of the left end of the store over by the small bundles of firewood. She screamed again and picked up a bundle of firewood and since my default has been set for harsh reality I cringed at what I thought could happen but then she just acted like she was going to throw it into the plate glass and her husband voiced his protest and I turned around and ran into my truck.
I heard this young prick yell out to an old man, "hey it's not too late to ask Santa for driving lessons." Turned out the prick was me and I ain't that young.
There used to be in this house a little hand-carved sign that said "the family that prays together, stays together," but I don't see that sign and as if to prove the price of smugly ignoring homilies, there's not too many of us around for Christmas this year. Until this evening when we go over to my brother's house it's just me and mom by ourselves roaming around this big undecorated house. I sneak around a little to see what's up with her, what it's like when she's here alone like she is most days of the year. She naps alot. Standing on the front porch I called her from my cell phone yesterday because she doesn't hear the doorbell that well. She answered the door in her housedress with her gray hair gone wild and she looked a little like the freshly captured Saddam Hussein, without beard. This morning, sleeping to well past sunrise for the first time in weeks, I went down and saw on the dinner table a little scrap of paper with a scrawled red ink message from her long standing paper boy, it said--Merry Christmas Mrs. Louis.
I saw some of the 6th Ward neighborhood boys yesterday, some of whom I used to know and used to hang around with on Sundays, and they all looked good, even in just five months they were taller, fatter, more grown up.
Some have been in and out of jail over the last couple of years but it seems everybody--the kids, the mothers, and the fathers--is out this year for Christmas.
One or two from the old group are sitting on stoops now, assisting those people in the neighborhood that have herbal and chemical dependencies.
"We can make them disappear just by going out on the porch," my two adult friends assured me.
"I hope you will be careful with that, nobody respects you THAT much," I said, and the one friend nodded knowingly and then the two of them mentioned the name of the new scariest bad dude around.
"He's scary," they both agreed.
The football player was standing down by the group that some consider malingerers and he called out and I called back and he came across the street and said, "We won the Conference, Mr. Jim," and I said, "I know, that's so great, you must have had a really great year, graduating from college and playing on a winning team and you're big as a house now so that may come in handy…"
"We were 12-1."
"I know, that's amazing. Are you gonna try it?"
"Well, one of my roommates is an agent so he gonna shop me around…but if it don't…you know, I have the degree for backup."
"I wish I was you."
"Sure, Mr. Jim. Hey, J calling you."
I looked down the ill-lit block and a shadow on a stoop waved to me. "All right J," I yelled. He came down and we shook hands. Even after a life altering multiple wounding he still holds himself up proud and confident and he's always polite. Even years ago before the multiple wounding when he was threatening to burn us out he was polite. He is one you can judge harshly and he is one you can admire and somewhere between those two is the truth of who he is.
Somebody must have shot out all the street lights because it really was dark, just at dusk, and I didn't recognize the little dude at J's shoulder, but then I did. "There you are," I said, and we shook hands but he didn't really say anything; light years have passed since those few years ago when he was an honor student and I'm sure he felt, perhaps correctly, that I know nothing about him. I heard a while later that he had just been bailed out so he was probably a little grumpy from all that. I remember the first time I yelled at him for misbehaving, seems like a lifetime ago.
One of the other kids from that core group of long ago is also working the block, but the other end, the more dangerous end, and is affiliated with a different boss. "He's making real good money," I have been told.
Keeping in mind that there is some temporal limitation to all things good and all things bad I report this last bit. Shelton has a job.
(I tried to post this earlier at the library on Canal in Lakeview but all four computers are non-responsive so I have this to add after reading today's--Tuesday's--paper, and then answering the knock on the porch--she can't climb the stairs.)
"I hate to ask this but can I get ten dollars, I'm so hungry and he ain't been around…?" I always go inside to get the money even though it's always on my person. "Thanks babe, I'll get you after New Years," she said. I bet she really missed me when I was gone. I said to her, "Hey, I was just reading the paper and one of our neighbors, a nineteen-year-old from one block over on Dorgenois, he…"
"Oh, cut that little boy…"
"Yeah, over a Playstation…"
"Uh huh, the police were all up and down here, and running through the alley back there…right after you left, I guess about 2 or so…"
From the Times Picayune Metro section, 12/23/03, paragraph one--"A 19-year-old man was arrested Monday and booked with attempted first-degree murder for repeatedly stabbing a 10-year-old boy who was fighting to keep the man from stealing a Sony PlayStation from his Mid-City home, police said."
In New Orleans
Under an indigo sky Sunday at sunrise I followed glowing white jet trails out of the Shenandoah Valley with the eyelash of a crescent moon and a purple pink and orange cumulus finger pointing the way South. I did not need a map with that kind of help.
I left the big house in Little Washington about five-thirty a.m., drove a good bit, marveled at the deep snow near Bristol, Tennessee, and slept eight hours in a fancy businessman's motel between Birmingham and Tuscaloosa. I saw the first sign for New Orleans about 7:30 this morning, Monday.
I stopped near Meridian, Mississippi at a Waffle House and had eggs and bacon and grits with the decidedly southern, somewhat creole, morning crew, who were all in bad moods. My waitress was wearing a Santa's hat and she checked both dessert cases before breaking the disappointing news to me that I wouldn't be leaving with my to-go request for chocolate cream pie.
Nobody called me baby but that's ok because instead of that I had a real nice conversation with the woman at the gas station next door and she waited a respectful amount of time before explaining to me how to reset the gas pump if I wanted the gas to be pumped faster than it was, which was at a rate about equal to one cent per second. "But you could probably get out of here by noon if you just want to wait it out," she said. I went out and reset the pump and came back in and bought two real-life looking snakes, which she said were a real popular item.
I would not describe the general mood in New Orleans as happy, Christmas around here in the ghetto only brings out the reality of life's constraints on those with lesser amounts of disposable income. But poor kids see all the same shit on TV and want it just as badly as rich kids, and so by these last few days before the big day, parents have had it with demands they cannot meet and might be heard to bark, "No, you is not getting that goddamn bicycle so quit buggin Santa 'bout it cuz he can't hear you, and I'm sick of hearin you."
My neighbor's friend got killed recently on the I-10 and two neighbor men have had serious medical issues in my absence. One broke both his arms and "has to have his wife wipe his ass," and the other guy might have more cancer than a person would like.
The new streetcar line up Canal is not running but is more or less finished and they have also repaved the street itself, which is a very good thing because all the construction equipment had torn it up rather thoroughly.
There was a nice young man named Daniel cutting down the trees on the side of my house when I arrived. I knew it was going to happen eventually, the two big trees up near the front were great shade providers but were actually on the Pentecostal's property. The mulberry and the elderberry trees, which were inside my line were also cut down but I'm not feeling it. Not to say that I won't play the hey you cut down my fuckin tree card later on. Perhaps on a day I feel the need to direct my enmity towards a religious organization. The church is getting ready to put up a fence. Mr. Clarence bought that little square of land to my left and is putting up a fence on that side too. Better Mr. Clarence got it than somebody else, I think.
Tomorrow I might drive to Austin or I might drive to Dallas or I might just lay about here and drive to Dallas on the 24th and when laying about is one of the options I would bet on it.
Holy cow, four-thirty, did I oversleep, or what?
I've been getting up at four for a while now.
I must say after ten straight years in New Orleans this little five month sabbatical in Rappahannock suited me fine, and I do hope to come back in the spring.
Time to unplug, good morning.
Herman's coming off the discount litter today, moving out of Rappahannock, and probably eating table scraps as we squeak.
Thinking about the suggestion of Herman as girlfriend I would say he was not exactly what I was looking for but in the end was a pretty ok cat and I think there was a give and take of respect between us towards the end.
I'm packed, tools and all, except for all this machinery. I'm going to pack the machinery last.
I found a well-referenced hippie who met the owner's needs to guard the hill and he tonight brought over sushi and Japanese beer. We talked awhile and I gave him the keys and showed him what's up with XM radio.. Then he left me to chill for those few hours before I exit Rappahannock. New Orleans for Monday.
I had a dream last night and it wasn't about all of God's little children playing together in a field of daisies, more than that I cannot say. Of course I could say more, and have, but won't.
It doesn't look like the snow is ever going to melt.
I can't think of anything but a fried oyster po-boy, dressed, no pickles. I'm not talking about Pickles, the Santa Killer. I could talk about that but let's just leave it alone. But damn, poor Santa, eviscerated in the LES.
And some garlic mashed potatoes.
And a pickled string bean in a tasty Bloody Mary.
My mom's brownies.
Raining bullets on New Year's Eve.
And all this sweet exhilarating uncertainty has got me groovin.
Kill A Cat, Save An Artist
I fell asleep watching Henry V. Which reminds me of falling asleep at the wheel on the way to Brenham, waking up on the left shoulder of the undivided highway with that sound of gravel crunching under tires and the lack of any other traffic at 3 a.m. being our salvation. My oilfield buddies were asleep. Anybody else want to drive, hey I almost just killed all of us? but they were dead to the world, heh, not even snoring. I kept driving for awhile, hit a kitty with bad judgement while going 70 mph, which woke me up, but soon I became sleepy again so 20 miles out I pulled over, and slept until dawn when the owner of the maroon Monte Carlo awoke and said, where are we?
We were in Texas, but I could have said Montana, another place I fell asleep, but in my own car, and I was in a rest stop in broad daylight. I was in the front seat with my legs stretched out past the open driver's side door when a State Trooper tapped me a few times on the feet with his baton. It seems I had become the worry of other resting motorists, some of whom thought I was dead.
No sir, not dead at all, I said while quickly scanning the mess of my car's interior, searching for any top secret documents I may have left laying about. Luckily, it seems I had safely stored all my top secret documents, the trooper was polite, I soon regained my wits, and continued in an easterly direction, where awaiting me was the chance to save a NY artist from floating away down the Potomac River, and over the Great Falls.
Which reminds me, back in the oilfields (I was on a seismograph crew, a doodlebugger), I tried once to swim across the Colorado River with my boots on. That almost turned out very badly and I won't do that again.
I thought I saw bare footprints in the snow up on the White Oak Canyon trail yesterday and I wondered if maybe there is a local barefoot hiking club. And the idea of clubs always makes me think of the phrase--join, be a part. And then I wonder, right, exactly, which one?
I don't guess hiking several miles in wet boots with a cold has thrown me into a cold and flu season headspin, even though I do feel pretty stupid right now, I mean pretty stupid, and have some histamine I don't really need, or don't really want.
The night before I met a local at a bar who organizes full moon hikes in the park and he told me not to enter the trail from Skyline Drive but from the 231 side so that's what I did. It allows you to hike up to the falls and then down to the parking lot instead of the opposite, which is a hard way to end a hike, going up that is.
At the top I was sweating, exhausted, and unsure why I had made the effort. Many times going up I thought of K. heading for the Castle and felt the pointlessness of it while at the same time the compelling need to continue upward. Was it worth the effort to see the large falls, I don't know?
On the way down I slid and skipped and stepped carefully down rock ledges, but did not fall on my ass. I started laughing at one point, I'm not sure why.
Back in Sperryville I got some white bean and black olive soup (black olive, in soup? yeah, it's different, it's good, try it, the server said) at the deli and then back out in the parking lot I saw the proprietor and she said when you leaving, I said a few days, and she said, walking to her car, well, hmm, you sure kept to yourself.
So you wonder, should you start keeping to someone else?
Be There Now
Scantily clad like a Southerner in a snowstorm and with only my recently acquired Yankee/Canadian merit badge to justify me being in a truck, in the snow, going nowhere, on highway 211, I started fishtailing about forty degrees worth on a straightaway.
I'm cooler than cool though, that's right, ice cold, so I just relaxed and let the truck find its direction, which luckily was straight ahead on down the road. My heart though was palpitating at not so much an alarming rate but enough to make me dizzy with cautious glee. The words to the beat were--I'm not in a ditch, I'm not in a ditch, I'm not in a ditch.
I hated the idea of being stuck up here; I don't get stuck is a thing I lie to myself about all the time.
So I jumped in the truck and headed down the snowy hill which is the easy part. I drove the five or six miles to Sperryville but forget about it, I wasn't having any of that delicious coffee at Rae's this morning, everybody stayed in bed, the parking lot is not even plowed. I headed back to Litttle Washington thinking I'll eat at the diner across from the famous Inn. But dammit those people rest on the Lord's day. That's when I started fishtailing on a straightaway, and I didn't really need coffee after that.
My friend and master of the manor had come out the day before while I was high as a kite and freezing cold up on the new 28 foot aluminum extension ladder I had just bought for the farm. I was cleaning out the gutters, fingertips throbbing and numb, fingernails packed tight with frozen black sludge. I was chipping it out of the gutter with a putty knife, four or five inch sections at a time, trying not to shred my bare knuckles against the metal edges of the gutter, or the metal edges of the roof. It was like a cross between that Milton Bradley game, Operation, and that game we played in the elementary school yard, bloody knuckles.
"I came to take you to lunch," he told me, giving me the once over.
I settled on having him bring me something back, which he did, enough for a couple of days in case I got snowed in. I don't have to tell you he's a nice guy, he just is.
But the next day, yesterday, back from my unsuccessful feeding mission, I could not make it up the driveway again. Fresh snow I thought would not present a challenge, and I had put the weighted buckets in the back of my truck bed the night before. So I walked back up the hill for the cat litter. I fell down once, like Lee Marvin in the final scene of (Ernest Hemingway's) The Killers (which by the way did not have a single word of Hemingway in it, not that it suffered from that.)
Unlike Lee Marvin, I got up again, got in the truck and tried backing down and up the hill a few times to spare using the last of Herman's cat litter. I was successful at this.
In the end, truck back at the top of the hill, I had some kind of green vegetarian roll up for breakfast, instead of the lasagna.
This is my last week here, until Spring, or until after the opening of New Orleans crawfish season at least, and I have a fair amount of work to do, and I'm getting a cold, I think. I don't remember when I last had a cold and I'm unsure about what to do, although sleeping is good so I did some extra sleeping yesterday, in between reading, and watching the excellent, Red, from Kieslowski, and the less challenging but enjoyable, Lilo and Stitch.
Now, tomorrow is supposed to be beautiful, and, with or without a cold, I can't see how I'm going to resist going back up into the Shenandoah one more time, so, I had better get to work, now.
Doak Walker's Backup
Standing next to the tracks in San Antonio I watched my rail riding advisor disappear as the boxcar we shared traveled east. He said he had been backup to Doak Walker at SMU but when later I checked the roster his name was not there. Also I could not find any evidence that black men were attending Southern Methodist back in the late forties. Strangely, this did not make me doubt any of his stories, even the ones that could not be backed up with hard facts because most of what he had told me had served me well, like how to jump off a train without hurting yourself. Unfortunately he had told me this last bit after I had jumped once, and hurt myself.
I had to catch Interstate 10 to Interstate 35, the right side of my face was a black and red scab from temple to jawbone, and I was overall a dirty boy with rail riding grime coating most of my surface.
An amorous Native American picked me up and I told him I would be appreciating the lift but no nooky would be exchanged between us. The offers of man love had shocked me at first but I was coming to understand the game better and this guy was drunk, at eight in the morning, and I had a weapon, and I was tired, and that was that. He dropped me at a place that left me a short walk to I-35, which would take me into Austin.
I was a few days late for the start of the spring semester at the University of Texas. I wasn't a dropout yet, but in retrospect, I was very close. This train trip, it was already starting to wear the weight of a seminal moment in a boy's life.
I don't even think I was hitchhiking, I was just walking to the right spot, when a VW Beetle pulled onto the shoulder. It was Dave, this guy who had roomed next door to me at Kinsolving (a girls dorm) during summer school. He was a few days late for the start of the spring semester too. He asked me what happened to my face and I said I fell off a train and that became the refrain for the casual acquaintance regarding what happened to me. Most people thought I had just gotten my ass kicked and the train thing was me and my dry wit.
He took me to the apartment on West Lynn and Ninth that I was sharing with three other guys. Off campus, bigtime, grown up stuff. I got to see myself in a mirror for the first time in a week (we stayed in an El Paso mission that first night after the train accident and I saw myself there but it was one of those shiny metal mirrors and the detail was lacking.)
My roommates were all gone--presumably attending college--so I had a little time to collect my thoughts, wash up, shave around the scab, get dressed and...go to college?
It was too late for classes but I walked up West Lynn to Enfield, caught the Enfield shuttle bus, and walked the UT campus. I was tweaked, circuits sizzling. I wasn't who I was so who was I?
I entered the undergraduate library and took a seat by myself at a table for four. As soon as I sat down I knew I was done with the college thing.
I had taken another trip right after summer school, in August, with a friend named Billy, and we had hitchhiked together up into Telluride, for the Jazz Festival. That was a life-changing, life-affirming trip too, but more for Billy than for me and it was me telling him to hang in there, don't drop out, when he discussed his doubts about school to me in December, right before I hitchhiked to USC and came back on a train.
I went through the motions for awhile, attended a few classes, tried dropping acid before some of them to see if that would help, but it didn't.
At the end of January my father wrote to say he had opened for me what looked like official mail. As he was handling most of my "business" affairs I did not take issue with his felonious behaviour. He was sure this was a mistake but their was a ticket for me from Los Angeles, or Anaheim maybe, for hitchhiking. Oops, those damn CHiPs, I had forgotten all about that.
Home Away From Home
I went hiking yesterday up in the Shenandoah National Park. It felt like I was the only human up in there. I had to walk along Skyline drive for about half a mile to get back to my truck after the hike and not a single car passed by. I of course was travelling with an entourage of women--Missy Elliot, Gillian Welch, Francoiz Breut, (Miss) Catpower, (Miss) Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Neko Case, (Miss) Belle or Sebastian, and (Miss) Mick Jagger.
I wondered at first who's footprints I was following, a heavy person for sure, their prints had broken all the way through the hard packed snow to the dirt and rock of the path. They were old prints, that you could tell because they had no definite shape, the edges of the snowprints were melted, leaving a design that did not compute inside my humancentric frame of reference. But of course we are not alone and the prints belonged to a bear, this I realized when I saw a print with full definition, so I became super self aware for a few minutes, which did not hurt me.
But was this one last romp and feed before hibernation and am I edible? I can't see serving me up at a dinner party of people, or bears, you were trying to impress.
I just poked myself in the eye so I'm crying a little.
The path turned into a stream once or twice, water flowing out of rock, maybe not THE source, but a source, so I had to sit on a flat boulder at one point and consider it all. Actually there were two streams, both of them just began out of the side of the hill and flowed down the slope into the canyon into which I was descending. One stream was to my left and the other was to my right. The left stream had white water, the right stream, the stream that was actually the path, was more of a flowing trickle.
Just saw a shooting star out the window.
I think it was the Hughes River I kept having to cross, and the water was up a little and some of the large boulders which would normally rise above the clear cold water and act as stepping stones, were submerged. Others were coated with ice. I belabored over the idea of crossing each time, once crabwalking awkwardly over an icy log. Missy Elliot said I look like a bitch doin that, which hurt my feelings, and I told her I would not bring her back out here if she was going to talk like that. Neko Case smirked, she's a hard one to read. Miss Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, she kept wailing that she loved me like no one else did but she would not hold my hand, so I had to question just what was the good of that love.
There was a locked up cabin at the bottom of the canyon, the Corbin cabin it is called, and before and after it remain the faintest signs of a life long ago. A piece of a wall here, a diverted spring there. The park ranger at the Thorton Gap entrance had sold me a map after I asked her to suggest a nice five mile circuit hike and I kept referring to it but as simple as the map was I could not lock into it. It did not seem to relate to anything I cared about but at the same time I did not want to take a wrong fork and end up halfway to Old Rag. Francoiz Breut would look over my shoulder but she doesn't speak much english and when she pointed at the soft, rip proof, water proof map, and said, "we here," I had to wonder if she meant, "yes, here."
Hookey In The Park
Well my 21st century east coast tenure number one is about up, I just emailed someone that I was finishing up here and getting ready to leave next week, which now that I say it, I guess I need to contemplate my movements a little. Okay, done. I'll just do what work I can do and then pack my tools and stuff the day before I leave, and then leave. Assuming nothing weird happens, I'll probably come out this way again in the Spring.
You know, I think it is precisely that place between assuming that nothing weird will happen and knowing that something weird is going to happen is what gets me out of bed in the morning.
In bed this morning I did briefly contemplate that nothing weird was going to happen, ever again, and that we were all (sorry to include you) cardboard cutouts haphazardly positioned and repositioned and sometimes pasted to the manilla paper background drawings of a sweet but slightly demented child. A child with generic talent keeping it all inside the lines.
Yesterday was the first day in a week without snow on the ground and now they are calling for more snow and/or freezing rain off and on over the next week. I guess I've had a fairly good taste of real winter (not Montana or N. Dakota severe but still...), even though I'm leaving two days before winter starts.
I haven't talked to any of my New Orleans bosses in five months. They will be angry. They may not let me work with them. I may not care.
Another fence board blew off in the night. I may fix that later, after I get done playing hookey in the park one last time. One last thing. I have seen that mountain to the north glow red in the morning but right this minute it is glowing purple. Purple mountain majesty, dig?