Monday, February 29, 2016

Possums Under the House

It was a hot sunny day, with me chasing some important jobs, mostly without even shade. I was happy to get home. Shizumi, my neighbor, nearly ruined it, asking me to load up a mattress and turn right around and drop it off at the Teams location, all the way back in Tomball. I begged off, wanting nothing but a cold drink and a quiet half hour in my chair.
Well, Effie had told me there was a dead animal under our floor, but I persisted in not believing in her extrasensory depth of smell. That is, until I came to the door after work today and the stench assailed even my nearly dysfunctional nostrils, both inside and outside the confines of our mobile home. 

I went right to work; that is, spent fifteen minutes locating a bit for the electric screw gun so that I could open up the vent hole and another ten stringing a drop light; then went right to work. Whisking away spider webs and holding the light like a torch, I followed the drone of many flies to the inner skirting behind the add-on porch. As I pulled away the panels, one caught on a pvc pipe and separated it at the joint. Simultaneously, I saw the body of the possum as a flood of water rushed me and my electric light. After scrambling literally for my life, I went and dug out a wrench for the water meter. The meter box was full up to the top with mud. It required five minutes of digging to expose the cut-off valve. Well, I got the possum in a bag, right when Effie came up in her Toyota, and she sprayed everywhere with lysol while I sprayed the dozens of aggressive flies that still wanted meat. Then I drove off to find some pvc glue.

Well, I got off work at five, and at nine was able to turn the water back on. We boiled a package of wieners and ate them on bread, using just mustard as a condiment.
And, how was y'all's day?

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Closing a second blog.

I have had two blogs running, but, my preoccupation with the novel I am writing keeps me from attending the other one, these days. It is an experimental daily comic panel, using my own crude artwork and made up captions. I am posting the entries I like here, deleting the rest.











Saturday, February 27, 2016

Don't Force It. Get a Bigger Hammer.

I am continually amazed at folks who try to put together jigsaws without the, for me, obligatory hammer and scissors. Then there are the handymen who can put together the new pc desk without any pieces left over. How do they do that? Is it just me or does everyone break their new flashlight the first time they change the battery? And how is it possible to weedeat along a wire fence without exhausting the supply of string the first four feet? How do you shave with an electric razor? They just glide over my whiskers and I end up using the old Bic. While we're at it, could someone please explain why my five year old grandson can operate every bit of electronic equipment in the house better than I can?

Next door lady: "My refrigerator leaks inside." I find leaking food containers, remove them.
Next day she says: "It kept on leaking so I bought a new one."
Two days later: "My new refrigerator leaks just like the old one did." I find a plastic milk jug full of water with a steady drip drip at its bottom.
At least I am not the only one who can't master the modern technology.

Oops. Ran over a dog.

I was motoring down Main Street, about to enter greater Tomball, when a a dog happily trotted out into the street, seeking to follow its owner. It was under my wife's Corolla by the time I saw it coming. Immediately, I braked and brought the car to a stop on the shoulder. There was a commotion under there, and we saw it out and running for home, not even limping. Whew. Next day, the Mrs. drove by the house, and saw the same dog, looking healthy. Its owner had hold of its collar, apparently afraid to trust it to keep out of the street. They have no fence around the house.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Beginner's Dilemma

When first I undertook to write fiction, I encountered many roadblocks to moving the narrative. One very difficult maneuver was the act of exiting a room, or merely relocating to another part of the room. The entire story would be stymied, because I could not make a character perform the simplest function. Truth is, it's still a mystery to me. As I tell the story, the characters saunter, go, wend, stagger, waltz, leap and lope. Often, they simply walk. Like magic.

Adjectives are hard for me. Finding just the right ones, knowing when and how many to use. Here I tend to favor Grisham and Hemingway. They don't overly juice up the language.

What I learned these past months, is that a story need not have the social significance of To Kill a Mockingbird, or the genius of language of Dickens or Shakespeare, to be a good read. It mostly takes characters you care enough about to see how it all ends.    

Thursday, February 25, 2016

A Good Horse Runs at the Shadow of a Whip

How's the rewrite coming along?

Much slower than I had imagined it would. But, the central character's life has radically changed, all in a day. I am struggling to explain it adequately. If the reader cannot buy my explanation, the novel is dead before it gets born. I am one who will give up on reading a book very quickly and I write with the knowledge that any reader has this option. Good news. I think I may have gotten beyond this situation, yesterday. The only part that may see it recur is in the final two chapters.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Random Thoughts

 1. I think Helen of Troy's face may not have been so pretty, after it launched a thousand ships.

 2. I think women can be beautiful and desirable without looking like a model or famous actress.

3. I think men getting hit in the testicles is not at all humorous, no matter how many times I see it happen in comedies.

 4. I think if the law so supposes, the law is a ass.

 5. I think dogs are people too.

6. I think it's time that America's money flows evenly, instead of all up or all down.

 7. I think that babies are my favorite people.

8. I think that money may be overrated, but I need all of it I can get if I am to survive in my encroaching old age.

9. I think that hard physical labor for the aging is therapeutic and I feel better after working like a dog all day than if I rest.

10. I think that no subject should be immune to humor.

11. I think of music as food of the emotions; I listen to as much of it as I can.

12. I think swimmers are awesome; I can barely stay afloat, despite the fact I've been swimming all my life and also did a hitch in the Navy.

13. I think the fact birds are warm blooded means their dinosaur ancestors most probably became warm blooded at some point. 

14. I think James Joyce wrote one of the finest, most dazzling novels ever.

15. I think my first grade teacher, Miss Jeffreys, was a wonderful lady, and I hope she had a marvelous personal life.

 16. I think Roosevelt will always be my favorite president.

17. I think a race of beings that creates weapons of mass destruction negates the notion of progress in evolution.

18. I think Henry Fonda had to be my favorite actor of all time.

19. I think Ramblin' Jack Elliot is a hoot.

20. I think my brother's road rage will one day kill him.

21. I think hot Lipton tea is good enough for the likes of meself, sweetened with raw honey.

22. I think Lone Star beer makes a superb Superbowl beverage, along with Bob's Texas Style Kettle Cooked Potato Chips.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

When Nobody Votes but the Fanatics

I don't push a party or candidate here. The blog was not begun for politics. But I have to say I am concerned and even frightened that nobody wants to vote anymore, except for fiercely motivated fanatics, the kind who mostly stand for positions I don't approve of. I will allow that I am a FDR Democrat. I find it unconscionable that Americans are permitting the wholesale destruction of our entire social fabric:the safety net, the infrastructure, wages, education, medical care, by not bothering to protest by voting for candidates who promote the public good. The candidates that do get elected mostly are the kind that in years past could not get a nomination to run, even.

I don't mean to scold.

Most readers who come to my page are an unknown quantity to me. I suppose most come through curiosity, to learn about a writer bringing his novel to life. Sorry for the rant. I am concerned for the republic and I am concerned, because the politicians I complain of would likely try to censor a novel like the one I am working on. While espousing freedom, such cretins actually seek thought control over the ones they consider unruly or not moral enough.

It is my personal opinion that there is not a lot of difference between the serving Democrats and Republicans, and that it is individuals of conscience, such as Warren and Sanders who serve as examples of what to strive for. That being said, I advise that you select candidates who will actually work for you and not themselves, in alliance with big money interests.

Monday, February 22, 2016

I Am Not so Old Yet

Just worn down, some.

When I think about how old and worn out my body has gotten, I remember my grandfather, who was 24 years older than I am the last time I saw him alive. I probably should wait a little longer before I start complaining too much. 

The big problem is inertia. When the old slow down too much they tend to stop moving.

Exercise body and brain, daily, and feed it well, seems a given. But there is a matter of constitution that often makes me see there is a little bit more. My grandmother never did exercise or even stood up that often. I am not sure what she ate. Whatever somebody else decided to feed her, it seems. She lived to be much older than me. 

Karma? 

A good constitution, luck and looking out for oneself. Anything else? I have not a clue. I will just say, in parting, look with respect upon the old, because you will join the ranks much sooner than you expect. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The War Prayer - Mark Twain

I think it is nice to revisit Twain's words, from time to time.

The War Prayer

by Mark Twain

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory with stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener.
It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety’s sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.
Sunday morning came — next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams — visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender!
Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation:
God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest,
Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!
Then came the “long” prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory —
An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher’s side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, “Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord and God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!”
The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside — which the startled minister did — and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:
“I come from the Throne — bearing a message from Almighty God!” The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. “He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import — that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of — except he pause and think. “God’s servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two — one uttered, and the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this — keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon your neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain on your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse on some neighbor’s crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.
“You have heard your servant’s prayer — the uttered part of it. I am commissioned by God to put into words the other part of it — that part which the pastor — and also you in your hearts — fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard the words ‘Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!’ That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory — must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!
“Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth into battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended in the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames in summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it —
For our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimmage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!
We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.
(After a pause.) “Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits.”
It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Sunflower Sutra

There are those who think of me as a poet. I am not one of them. James Joyce also tried to write poetry. Some of his works are adequate, but, if I am not mistaken, he saw himself as a failed poet. Ginsburg, in my view, wrote some true poems, plus an array of failed or near poetry. Sunflower Sutra paints a very good abstract of himself and Kerouac, and his "sunflower" vision, and to me it is a great poem, one of his best. Allen Ginsburg is the sort of writer I like to revisit every so often to shake up my own vision a little. Not so that I would emulate other writers in my own work, you understand, but, because the mind can otherwise grow dull.

Sunflower Sutra

I walked on the banks of the tincan banana dock and sat down under the huge shade of a Southern Pacific locomotive to look at the sunset over the box house hills and cry.
Jack Kerouac sat beside me on a busted rusty iron pole, companion, we thought the same thoughts of the soul, bleak and blue and sad-eyed, surrounded by the gnarled steel roots of trees of machinery.
The oily water on the river mirrored the red sky, sun sank on top of final Frisco peaks, no fish in that stream, no hermit in those mounts, just ourselves rheumy-eyed and hung-over like old bums on the riverbank, tired and wily.
Look at the Sunflower, he said, there was a dead gray shadow against the sky, big as a man, sitting dry on top of a pile of ancient sawdust—
—I rushed up enchanted—it was my first sunflower, memories of Blake—my visions—Harlem
and Hells of the Eastern rivers, bridges clanking Joes Greasy Sandwiches, dead baby carriages, black treadless tires forgotten and unretreaded, the poem of the riverbank, condoms & pots, steel knives, nothing stainless, only the dank muck and the razor-sharp artifacts passing into the past—
and the gray Sunflower poised against the sunset, crackly bleak and dusty with the smut and smog and smoke of olden locomotives in its eye—
corolla of bleary spikes pushed down and broken like a battered crown, seeds fallen out of its face, soon-to-be-toothless mouth of sunny air, sunrays obliterated on its hairy head like a dried wire spiderweb,
leaves stuck out like arms out of the stem, gestures from the sawdust root, broke pieces of plaster fallen out of the black twigs, a dead fly in its ear,
Unholy battered old thing you were, my sunflower O my soul, I loved you then!
The grime was no man’s grime but death and human locomotives,
all that dress of dust, that veil of darkened railroad skin, that smog of cheek, that eyelid of black mis’ry, that sooty hand or phallus or protuberance of artificial worse-than-dirt—industrial—modern—all that civilization spotting your crazy golden crown—
and those blear thoughts of death and dusty loveless eyes and ends and withered roots below, in the home-pile of sand and sawdust, rubber dollar bills, skin of machinery, the guts and innards of the weeping coughing car, the empty lonely tincans with their rusty tongues alack, what more could I name, the smoked ashes of some cock cigar, the cunts of wheelbarrows and the milky breasts of cars, wornout asses out of chairs & sphincters of dynamos—all these
entangled in your mummied roots—and you there standing before me in the sunset, all your glory in your form!
A perfect beauty of a sunflower! a perfect excellent lovely sunflower existence! a sweet natural eye to the new hip moon, woke up alive and excited grasping in the sunset shadow sunrise golden monthly breeze!
How many flies buzzed round you innocent of your grime, while you cursed the heavens of the railroad and your flower soul?
Poor dead flower? when did you forget you were a flower? when did you look at your skin and decide you were an impotent dirty old locomotive? the ghost of a locomotive? the specter and shade of a once powerful mad American locomotive?
You were never no locomotive, Sunflower, you were a sunflower!   
And you Locomotive, you are a locomotive, forget me not!
So I grabbed up the skeleton thick sunflower and stuck it at my side like a scepter,
and deliver my sermon to my soul, and Jack’s soul too, and anyone who’ll listen,
—We’re not our skin of grime, we’re not dread bleak dusty imageless locomotives, we’re golden sunflowers inside, blessed by our own seed & hairy naked accomplishment-bodies growing into mad black formal sunflowers in the sunset, spied on by our own eyes under the shadow of the mad locomotive riverbank sunset Frisco hilly tincan evening sitdown vision.

Berkeley, 1955

Friday, February 19, 2016

The True Story of Baldilocks (could have been a love story - wasn't)

Sometime in 1955, my family took up residence on the property of a distant aunt of my step father. Appie was an old time Virginian, transplanted to Fresno, some twenty years before. She was a stern old woman, but kind. She took to my Mom as to a new-found daughter. Her home faced a south-side street, and there were two houses on the strip of land behind it. In between those extra buildings stood an outhouse. The larger back residence had been tucked near the fence, just yards from a vineyard. We stuffed ourselves into it, all twelve of us, and proceeded to make the best of a tough situation. The schools we attended were thoroughly integrated, and I appreciated the diversity. In the evenings, we crowded into Appie's house, to watch that new-fangled thing called television. 

She went along with us on viewing much of what we liked, but drew the line with Disneyland, except when it featured Davy Crockett. "I can't go no more of it," she'd say, switching channels. "No wonder they call it Dizzyland." Her truest love became Gunsmoke, when that show transferred over from radio.

It made for a satisfying evening, sitting among the adults, breathing the blue air, so turned by the cigarettes each one chain smoked. Even getting bitched out for squirming on the plastic covered sofa could not dampen the spirit.

Across the fence, on the left side, lived a Mexican family, every bit as large as our own. The bigger kids over there were all girls, and we about broke our necks, getting out to stare at them on bath day. The fat old mama washed them in a tub, behind the house, then they paraded, single file, naked and dripping, around, in through the front door. The lone exception, the oldest, was Theresa. She was my age, and it soon became obvious she liked me. A lot. When she chased other boys, to sock them, she would say to me, "I'm not going to hit you." I often found her by the fence, waiting for me, but I was not that nice to her.

She was fourteen, slender, and her skin had that fresh, translucent quality, so common with very young women. Her nose looked slightly flattened, and she was buck toothed. But, her overall appearance made her mouth not seem so bad. I did like the girl, but I also felt that we could not be close friends. 

Her grandfather, the occupant in the big house out front, shaved Theresa's head to rid her of lice. I guess that's what prompted my two oldest brothers and I to begin speaking of her in derisive terms. As we joked about her bald head, I recalled a name out of a comic strip. "Baldilocks," I said. And it stuck.

She laughed at me one time, saying, "You go to the dump and bring back junk." It was true. Beyond the vineyard, a dump beckoned, with boxes and bags of family refuse. We dug through the cleaner boxes, looking for books and anything of value. She would have come, too, I'm sure, but her parents usually kept a tight rein on her.

On Halloween night, my brothers and I would be out until after nine PM. We always would fill a galvanized tub, beyond heaping, with penny candies, gum balls, popcorn balls and the like. That year, I went home early, though I can't recall why. My oldest half brother filled me in, the next day. He described a boy backing Theresa against a tree, and her laughing, "Stop that f-king me."

There were evenings she serenaded me. "Don't be cruel. Oo oo oo," she sang.

One late evening, she stood close to the fence, and my fingers began probing her clothing. "No." She backed away.

Then she beckoned me come over, and we could hide in the outhouse. I leaped the wires with the steadying help of a post. What followed was an awkward bit of groping by a boy with no knowledge of the other sex. After a few minutes of it, I knew to get home before we were seen. 

As I stepped down on my property, the mother happened in the driveway. Hearing her call Theresa by name, I ran for the house.

For a period of hours, I lived in dread. By the time I got home from school the next day, it seemed I must be in the clear. As I walked near the outhouse, however, Theresa's father called at me over the fence. He leaned against the wire, with both arms thrust through, waving and reaching, as if to grab and throttle me. "Come here. Just you and no one else."

His wife called on him to get away from there. "He was f-king her," he began shouting.

"No," said the mother. "It was not that."

Mom heard the commotion and came outside. 

"I'm going to call the police," he threatened.

"Why don't you," she replied. Then he quieted down and went back to the house.

It was not many months after that, we moved to Texas. I did not expect ever to see Theresa again, but, I did. In 1965, after I left military service, I stayed for a time with Appie. Appie was frail, now, and she tired easily. One day, I came out of her house, and there sat Theresa, across the fence, with her three children. She had gotten very fat, and her teeth now protruded as they had not in an earlier time. She looked my way, and turned to the kids. I heard her tell the oldest one that she had one time been in love with me. 

Later that year, after I went home to Texas, Appie died. Everything moved quickly, and she was buried before I could think about going there to say a final good-bye.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

NYC, '68

I arrived in Greenwich Village, and waited about two weeks before my brother came to New York to join me. It was 1968, the year I turned twenty six. Out of the Navy just over three years, I still had demons tormenting me, the same ones that had made a feast out of my childhood. I just hadn't been able to shake them off. Walking McDougal Street, wondering how people I read about found each other . Knowing I didn't fit in if I knew. My hotel was a tall one, with no elevator. It was a long trip, and I soon planned my activities to avoid going in or out unnecessarily. When my brother came to town, his first act was to go deeper into Manhattan and rent us a better home. I never saw him wrinkle his nose at a place like that, before or since. 

One morning, I had gone to the Manpower center, but the man behind the desk chewed me out when I approached to ask about possible work. "All these people are in front of you. Fill out the form and take a seat out there. If we need somebody when your turn comes, I will call you."

I was miffed. As I sat on the bench, facing the rear of the room, someone leaned in front of me.

"Are you interested in a job?"

Turns out, the man was intrigued, because I was sitting in opposition to the flow of Manpower's whole operation.

He was, he told me, Vince- -his last name eludes me, after nearly four decades- -and he owned a panel truck. Advertising in the Village Voice to rent one truck and driver, for $50 hr.. He needed someone to assist with labor, in the event customers were willing to shell out an additional $4 hr. And, it happened that virtually all of them were adverse to doing their own work. 

We drove the streets of Manhattan, the Bronx and perhaps Brooklyn. He kept telling me he thought I reminded him of George Gobel. "I'm not like that guy," I said. "People are always ascribing traits to me, based on what subjective fantasy they are engaging. I've been accused of being like James Mason, and before that, Frankie Avalon. Women are always telling me I am just like their boyfriends. None of it's true." 

Doubtful at first, Vince became a believer, later that same day. The customer, a woman near my age, told us I was identical to her boyfriend. Every word I spoke elicited the response, "Stop, you're blowing my mind."

This job was wonderful, in the beginning. Vince; solicitous, generous. When my brother arrived, he invited us over for a steak dinner. That man fed us meat the size of a platter. We staggered off to our beds that night, with guts straining and miserable. 

He was, I learned, harshly judgmental of others, and he relied on his knowledge of Astrology to form these conclusions. He smiled at the customers, asked their birth sign, then whispered in my ear the entirety of the job, "That one's no good." He filled in all their bad traits, based on the fact of their birth. 

Once, he took me with him to visit with his mother, in the Bronx. On the drive over, he filled me in on his family history. "My parents are Jamaicans," he began. "Black people there are as prejudiced as white people are over here. Parents expect their children to marry light skinned people, the lighter the better. My mother is very light. She ran away to New York to marry a man with black skin."

She was really light. Her flesh had an almost alabaster hue. Compared with her, I was the dark one. Vince had a milk chocolaty color. 

He told me on the drive back that he had attended an all white college, where he was popular. The white kids always complimented him and assured him he could go far. Eventually, he turned against his background, and ended owning the truck business. 

Vince's closest friend was some sort of a priest. One hell of an example of a priest. Once, after a night spent partying, he recalled he had to be at a church affair. A wreck, of hangover and fatigue, he showed up, only to be told the event was cancelled. He conversed with church members a while, and came back to where Vince and I waited, in his Mercedes. "Those bastards," he said. "I thought they would never leave."

My brother's business in New York was with the art industry. He applied for jobs involving his skill, but kept getting rejected. One night we went to a performance by The Fugs. During the singing of Kill For Peace, Tuli Kupferburg held a doll with a torched face. He bayoneted the doll, and, at the end of the piece, jammed a chocolate bar in its face. Brother said Tuli seemed to be looking directly into his eyes the whole time.

Vince wanted me to see how civil rights demonstrations were conducted, and he paid my way onto a bus with Jesse Jackson, for an adventure in D. C. It is an episode I have recounted elsewhere on this blog. Whenever he would see a successful, or just semi successful, black person, he would remark, "Yes; but, what is he doing for his people?" Hearing a few of his tirades, my brother began calling him, behind his back, Daddy Warmonger.

Once, a white panhandler approached the truck and demanded money. Vince told him in no uncertain terms to beat it. The guy persisted, and began grabbing at our cargo in the back of the truck. "And you people want peace," he sneered.

Vince clipped his jaw, causing him to drop down hard on his rump. "Oh," he said, as he sank. 

Discouraged, my brother returned to Kansas City. I stayed on, thinking my place with Vince was secure. He put me up in his extra bedroom. Gradually, though, I began to detect little criticisms, possibly based in Astrology, or maybe he thought of me more and more as a white establishment guy. Whatever, he went back to Manpower and picked a new helper. He rented a sleazy apartment for me for one month and abandoned me there. Compared to this one, the hotel in the Village was first class. The first evening, a girl down the hall knocked at my door and solicited me. Got up in the morning and went out in time to see a man shitting on the sidewalk. Oh yeah. I went out and found a job at Schrafts and later in the week moved to a clean apartment in Brooklyn, on 31st Street.

A few weeks later, I was in formation with a group of anti war demonstrators, in the middle of the street, when, who should approach, but Vince. When he caught my eye, he began walking my way. I did a deliberate back turn on him, however, and he vanished. Never saw him again.

I flirted with the idea of becoming a member of the Peace and Freedom Party, a fledgling party that withered almost immediately after inception. Also joined the SDS, but quickly became disillusioned and gave them back my membership card.

I made friends, of a sort, with some of the people around me, but was essentially alone. I walked the streets a lot, visited the Teddy Roosevelt Museum a few times, but the mass of humanity was beginning to wear away at my equilibrium. It made me unable to hold conversations, and I developed a phobia about being in public. I tried to hide in a coat when walking on the streets. 

My new friends in Brooklyn were a childish, infighting bunch. I stayed around them, until Martin Luther King was assassinated. One of the so-called friends jumped up with a grin. He kissed his hand, as if kissing the man off, then ran away to celebrate with his buddies. I began making plans to leave, and did so a week or two after Robert Kennedy was shot down.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Darby and Darby's Mama

I guessed this man I hired weighed nearly five hundred pounds. He was handsome in the face, he spoke well. Darby mostly sat in the pick up truck and sent his boy, Jason, to run the crew each time I hired them. They would tear off the shingles and clean the roof, and my men and I would re-roof it. After two years and a few dozen jobs like this, we had gotten close. I knew of his and his wife's medical problems. I had been horrified at his tale of how the FBI crashed through the door and put guns in their faces, merely because somebody had told them he looked like a fugitive featured at the Post Office. I learned that Darby came from Arkansas, and that, despite his cool manner and well modulated voice, he practiced a rock bottom fundamentalism. I valued his friendship enough to overlook it when he derided my favorite brand of music, sneering the words, "peace and love." Jason worried me on the job, slugging whiskey from a silver flask, speaking of killing abortionists at times. 

I thought I knew most of Darby's business, but he surprised me one day. He had not previously spoken of his mother.

"My mama lives in the back yard. I built her a cabin there, because her Alzheimer's has gotten so bad, she can no longer live with the family. I need you to do some work for her."

Never one to turn down any job, I packed up my tools that following week and met Darby at his front door. He ushered me into the kitchen, where he held me up long enough to detail the job and explain about his mama.

"It's strange to listen to her talk about her son, and she don't even know it's me she talks about. … She took to walking across the street, repeatedly, without looking, going to the house over there and thinking it's hers. … I fenced the back yard and put her there, so I could take care of her. I can't afford to put her in a private facility. … This door is the only way to get to the back yard."

He opened it up and led me to a plain little shack, but one with all the amenities, including air conditioning. He introduced me to Urlene and left so I could get to work. 

Urlene followed me to the bathroom, where the commode water tank was choked up with weeds. "Those kids keep doing that," she said, exasperated.

She said she had to work and went into the yard, leaving me to deal with it. I looked behind her as the door closed and saw with a shock that "those kids" had been sitting in high chairs at the kitchen table the whole time. They were dolls, a normal girl one and another that had been made identical, but now, with the hair chopped off, had been converted to a boy.

I got the toilet restored to working order, and moved on to repair a broken door latch. It was a simple matter to replace it and reset the striker plate. By the time I relocated to work on the kitchen faucet, Urlene returned. 

"I've been working," she said, proudly holding up a perfectly excavated and cleaned specimen of a weed. It was about eighteen inches tall, from the tip of the root to the highest leaf, perfect in every detail. I marveled that not a bit of root had been damaged, no leaf crushed or left dangling, no speck of soil clung to it. She placed the unfortunate plant on a book shelf in the living room, then came back to watch me and make conversation. Walking past the dolls, she spoke to the boy.

"Did you eat your corn?"

Well, she didn't pursue the conversation much and pretty soon it was time to go.

* * *

We had hurricane Alicia that year, and the next months were busy. Darby's wife had to have some surgery, but everything went rather smoothly. Once, I revisited Urlene to do a minor repair. She had put something in her mouth the day previous, and her lips were puffed up like a blow fish.

"I had to put her in a state run facility," Darby confided after that. "She's turned violent. When we give her a bath, she says, 'Those are my clothes,' and fights us for them. I didn't want to do it, but I can't pay for something better for her."

I didn't have any more roof tear-offs for several weeks. When I met Darby next, he showed me photos of Urlene in the "home." Her face, near one eye, was badly bruised. There was a cast on her arm. "I'm trying to get her out," he said. "They told me I can't do it."

The next time we spoke, Urlene was dead.

* * *

Darby managed to get on some kind of a program that paid for a home and pretty much relieved him of needing to work. I didn't understand the nature of it and didn't ask. He moved to the far side of Houston, so I never saw him again.

For a time, Jason did his father's work, but he showed so much instability, I feared to rely on him. Besides, the nature of my work evolved away from the need of his services, and I soon had to cut him loose anyway.


I occasionally wonder about Darby. I wish I had gotten his address. Oh, well. Maybe it's best I don't know.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Long Shadows

Most of Grandpa's hair had been trampled out by the ages. What was left huddled in nervous fringes about the ears and neck. This I noted anew that sultry July evening, when the shadows were lengthening and I and my wife entered the Three Rivers nursing home. We discovered him in a wheelchair, aimlessly poking about the room. His chair cut a corner and caught one of two beds, dragging it more centrally on the floor.

He rolled into a corner, bumping the walls, backing off and smacking them again. Observing the half dozen mini-crashes that followed, I fancied him a voyager, piloting a wooden craft through stormy straights, fighting to break into open waters. The metal frame vibrated with the old man's energy, denoting a perfect symbiosis of flesh and machinery. There was ample time to observe and make mental notes, for Grandpa seemed totally unaware we had come in for a visit. I became so focused on the saga unfolding before me that I unintentionally snubbed my step-grandma, a passenger on the bed that traveled. Grandma, who could not sit up on her own, employed a bank of pillows to elevate her head enough to see about the room. She had the wit to summon the would-be Odysseus back from the sea of imagining by calling his name.
"Johnny." 

On the third try, he wheeled around and confronted me. It was a reunion seventeen years in the making. I drank in the bald pate that wrinkled into a sun-ravaged brow, scant eyebrows, prominent Dutch nose hanging like a decayed monument over a mouth drawn in by shriveled tissues, wrapped on toothless gums. His ears were huge, because all the rest of him had shrunk. Grandpa gazed up from his seat with eyes wider than an owl's. They made great red circles, with dark, dried-out balls at the center. I detected not a glimmer in those orbs, no hint of recognition. He turned to Grandma for help.

"Clara, who is this?"

"It's one of Sadie's boys."

"I'm Mitchell."

Grandpa was bewildered. His attention fluctuated between me and Grandma, in the end tossing the burden of it back at Grandma.

"Who is this, Clara?"

"He's one of Sadie's boys." 

"Is this someone you knew before you met me?"

"No; he's one of Sadie's boys."

The conversation limped in this vein for several minutes. At last, on determining that he was not going to recognize me, I told my grandparents I had to go, but that we would return the following day. To my wife, Katy, these two were strangers. Through the whole encounter, she stood silently by the door. She now preceded me into the hallway. I bent over Grandma's bed.

"I'll see you tomorrow."

Her eyes were closing as I passed through the door. With one last glimpse at the old man, who still looked about in utter confusion, I pulled the white slab shut and walked away. Had I not been at a loss how to cope with it, I would right then have completed my mission, which was far more complex than a simple visit. Next time, I intended to pursue it to a conclusion.

We drove the brick-oven hot streets to my Aunt Mary and Uncle Andy's decaying trailer home, where we spent the night. Early enough, we prepared for the grueling ride to Houston, with first a quick looking in on Grandma and Grandpa. Expecting a repeat of yesterday's encounter, we pulled into the parking lot and approached the main entrance. One of the residents, a lanky, grizzled old boy, who reminded me somewhat of Uncle Andy, had come into the sunlight and stepped out of his trousers. One of the attendants flew down the steps, frantic to dissuade him. We were recognized and smiled at as we passed the desk. On both visits, the staff made us feel welcome and reassured as to the quality of professionalism within the organization. I turned the brass colored knob.

Grandpa sat squarely before me, staring hungrily at the center of the entrance-way. It is my opinion he had planted himself there all morning, hoping I would keep my word to return. Over my greeting he piped an important announcement.

"I couldn't talk to you yesterday, but I can, now."

"Hey, I'm glad. Morning to you, Grandma."

"Where're the rest of the boys?" He sounded like the Grandpa of old, referring to my six brothers.

"Scattered everywhere."

His head swiveled to survey the room. He felt a need to explain their situation.

"It costs us five dollars a day to live here. We've been in this place three years. I don't have to stay, but she - I came to be with her."

Perhaps that was true, Grandpa, when you were new here. Now, you'd be somebody's burden.

He joined me in examining a collection of family photos thumb tacked to a wall. His crooked finger indicated a young person wearing a suit.

"That's me."

It was in fact his son, Robby, who looked just like him there.

Grandma took me by surprise. "Is Rusty dead?"

I regarded her tired features with mixed pity and tenderness. Poor Grandma. Flat on her back, she looked worn and resigned from the world and had been like that since I first knew her, at age fourteen. The several times I saw the woman on her feet she went shopping. What I'm saying is, the present situation was no great change of lifestyle.

"Rusty was killed in a wreck in 1969."

No need to dredge up the fact my brother got murdered.

"I thought he was dead."

But our focus remained on Grandpa, whose eyes had gotten lustrous. I contemplated his once powerful hands, grasping the rubber of the wheels, but now were withered claws. When young, they wrested homes out of the raw materials of the building trade. I had been with him, once upon a time. He gave me my first job. For seven dollars per day I worked through eight and ten hour ordeals in the south Texas weather - miserable in cold, rainy winters, broiling in godless summers, often bedding on top of two-by-fours laid across saw horses. His spine straightened, as he recalled his days in the sun. He continued transforming and reverting to the Grandpa I knew, and he rhapsodized, building a monologue which we were content to harbor in chairs and merely listen to. Because he tended to mumble, I rarely understood much that he said. My voice was like his, and he was hard of hearing, so you can imagine the conversations we had.

"I built over a thousand houses." He grinned, looking at Katy and I as though we were a whole stadium-full of listeners. "That was enough, wasn't it?"

He focused on episodes and issues my brothers and I would remember. And then it started. Interlaced with the tales were barbed references to me. "Mitchell didn't like it …" It would seem he hadn't a clue which of my clan sat before him, freeing him to take potshots - and yet, a glimmer of recognition lurked, covertly, somewhere inside that pea brain of his. Else, why single me out, of all my brothers, and remind me of a whole lifetime of issues? In 1957, the merry old fart borrowed my mom's rent money, two days before due date, without coming back or ever mentioning it again. He formed a habit of blatantly keeping my wages as his own. Four times I worked for him; four times he kept whole paychecks. 

The summer we operated out of Crystal City was when Grandpa crossed the line. Rusty and I, along with three Mexicans, were his crew, throwing together shell houses, laboring a full seven days for weeks on end. After the first couple of pay periods, we got increasingly short-changed. Manuel, a fellow carpenter, insinuated himself into our confidence, ferreting out our discontent. The gossipy asshole passed all information to Grandpa and passed Grandpa's words on to us. He told us, one day, "I asked how he was going to pay all that money. He answered, 'I won't. I'll just say I charged it up to room and board.'" 

Once, I strolled past their conversation, as Grandpa told Manuel, "Mitchell thinks he's number one. He ain't number nothin'." I truly believe he spoke without justification, yet I kept quiet. One reason I did, Rusty was the figurehead in my family. I kept my cool because he was so darned unshakable. No confrontations, no sulking, solely because of him. Rusty had been forced to grow up early, taking on the feeding of our entire family at the age of sixteen. I bided, roiling inside, smooth as a quiet pond on the outside. When big brother told me, "We're going home," I applauded and packed my bag, for it never seemed sweeter. In the old "Gray Ghost", Rusty's '52 Ford convertible, with radio blaring, we shuttled home. 

After about a week, Grandpa made a pit-stop of his own, since Grandma lay at home while he pursued the trade. Then, wondering if Rusty or I were interested in coming back to Crystal City, he waltzed into the house, bubbling with good cheer. He effervesced across the room, finally foaming over to me. "Hmm," he grunted, grinning, tapping his feet at mine in a game called "I'll make him move." Angrily, I turned away, for, when he did not offer money, forgiveness got murdered.

"Well, if you want to be that way about it …"

At the moment, I did. From that juncture Grandpa severed the tie of grandfather to grandson with me, for the rest of his life undercutting me at each opportunity, never acknowledging my first wife and children, spreading malicious gossip. "Screw 'im," I figured. Our families drifted apart, not caring who lived, who died.

In the succeeding years, Rusty became involved with a woman engaged in a bitter divorce. Her husband ran them over with a ¾-ton pickup truck. Mom grieved herself to death over it and I eventually divorced, soon thereafter to marry Katy. Seventeen years beyond my mother's funeral, we found ourselves getting regaled by my grandpa, who was ninety-seven. I had a task to perform, just as soon as the old bastard quit talking, as, eventually, it had to end.

He wound to a close, then posed as we snapped a few photos.

"Grandpa," I said, standing over him
 …
He allowed me to hug him - hug a set of bones, really.They were the frame of a big human being, but the human being was slowly abandoning ship. I in that moment accomplished my mission. All the anger, hurt, humiliation and betrayal went down like a row of palm trees in a hurricane. My hatchet was buried.

"I love you, Grandpa."

He had not received such a hug in all his years, guaranteed.

"See you Christmas," I promised.

"Bring the rest of the boys," he said eagerly.

During the course of the visit he had seemed to drop thirty years. Now he was reluctant to turn back. We left him there, waiting for Christmas.

* * * * *

I never saw him again. He developed a painful condition which nearly cost him his life several times. Each time the doctors revived him, but could not stanch the pain. So then they let him die to be at peace. We visited Grandma one last time. She appeared to drift in and out of consciousness, not really able to respond to us. At one point she looked up and said to me, "You have a house. Over there?" She shut her eyes then and appeared to be sleeping. I kissed her cheek

"We're going to leave you now, Grandma. I just want you to know that we love you and we're happy we got to see you."