Notes From The Cactus Patch

Tall Tales and Ripping Yarns from Texas

Archive for the month “April, 2021”

A Performance to Remember


Pictured here is my 17th cousin, Carmalita “Cookie” Zevon. In Texas, if we are unsure of our relations, everyone becomes a cousin. It’s a big state with a small gene pool.

In the fall of 1958, the first beatnik-style coffee house opened its door in Fort Worth Texas. Calling itself, “The Cellar,” I can assure you that Fort Worth did not welcome its presence or the caliber of inhabitants it attracted. Cousin Carmalita, who preferred the name Cookie, was a perfect fit and secured a gig as the first waitress at the new establishment.

Being 8 years younger, I and the other cousins had limited interaction during her teenage years, but I know from the sordid family stories and the “almost out of earshot whispers” that she was a real hellion of a girl.

Immersing herself in books by Kerouac and Ginsberg that glorified the new lifestyle created by the “beat generation,” Cookie began dressing in black tight-fitting clothing.

Waist-length black hair and a resemblance to a young Ava Gardner didn’t endear her to the Sandra Dee girls club at school, which resulted in a cliquish form of petulant bullying, so Cookie dropped out of Paschal High School at sixteen to live in sin with her next to worthless hoodlum boyfriend; a motorcycle riding teenage hubcap stealing thief from the north side of town. This decision resulted in her instant banishment from the family.

Polled by a phone-in family vote, she was christened the “little trollop.” Her name was not to be spoken at gatherings, and her mother requested all photographs containing images of Cookie be returned to her for proper disposal by fire. Her father, unable to watch her sweet sixteen birthday present, a Ford Fairlane convertible sit abandoned in his driveway, sold it to Frank Kent for next to nothing. The rebellious type was not tolerated well in the 1950s, especially in Texas, and our extended family.

The Cellar grew in popularity and crowds of the literary unwashed and self-appointed poets made it their rightious digs. High octane coffee and bad poetry create a tolerated misery for the sake of being cool.

Cookie grew tired of the bland poetry readings from ancient books and tried her hand at writing. Engulfed in her rebellion, and possessing a heart full of childish resentment, it didn’t take long for her to dish on everyone and everything she felt had “done her wrong.” Her parents were the main course in her cauldron of teenage hate. She petitioned the club owner to let her perform a personal poem about her life, and he agreed.

Saturday evening is reserved for the serious night dwelling “hip beats.” They convene and hold literary court to any who will listen. Mixed groups of the hairy educated gather around small tables arguing about poetry, politics, sex and the meaning of life. Old Crow adds the extra kick to the java. An occasional strange cigarette makes the rounds.

Cookie senses the time right and takes the stage cradling a cardboard box under her left arm and a large pair of sewing shears in her right hand. She sets the box on the floor next to a tall stool. Tears stream from her sad eyes, forming dark streams of melting mascara onto her peach pale cheeks. A tinsel thin string of snot drips from her left nostril resting on her upper lip catches the spotlight, bathing her face an ethereal glow. She gags a few times, composes herself and begins her poem.

Retrieving her favorite childhood doll baby from the box, she places the doll on the stool, produces a small meat-cleaver and beheads the poor toy. A gasp erupts from the crowd. Earlier, for maximum effect, she filled the doll’s plastic head with Heinz Ketchup and potted ham to simulate blood and brains. When the doll’s head is guillotined and bounces onto the table nearest the stage, the ketchup splattered patrons recoil in horror. A beautiful 8×10 glossy photo of her parents is pulled from the box and cut to shreds with the sewing shears. She produces a Girl Scout uniform and rips it to pieces, throwing the all American remnants of the uniform into the audience.

Cookie leans into the microphone, takes a drag from a Pall Mall, and in a low growl says ” I never liked dolls or toys, but you made me treat the little shits like real people. I fed them imaginary food, bathed them in imaginary water, changed their tiny poopless diapers, and dressed them in stupid clothes, and for that I hate you and I cut my hair.” With that statement, she grabs a chunk of her beautiful lady Godiva length hair and removes a large portion with the sewing shears. She continues ” I didn’t want to be a Bluebird, but no, I had to be like the other girls on our street, you know I don’t like the color blue, and for that, I hate you and I cut my hair.” Whack, another large section falls to the stage. ” you hate my boyfriend because he is a bad boy, and he is all that, but I love him and want to spend my life on the back of his ratty-ass motorcycle holding a nursing baby in each arm as we travel west to find the meaning of life.” She then whacks the left side of her hair to within inches of her scalp. The audience is on the verge of bolting, fearing her next move may be severing an artery and expiring in front of them. A voice from the back of the room yells “this chick is crazy.”

Cookie ends her act and exits the stage leaving a pile of black hair mixed with ketchup and photo paper. The crowd of poets and hip cats give her a lukewarm reception. This performance was too unhinged for the normally unshakable.

That performance at the Cellar that night was the debut of what would come to be known as “Performance Art.” Carmalita Cookie Zevon performed once more before she and her boyfriend and a nursing baby rode west on a ratty-ass motorcycle to find the meaning of life. We can assume they found something.

Faster than a speeding…


I wrote and published this story back in 2018. Any kid that has ever dressed up in a super hero costume can relate to my true experience. Thinking back to that time in the mid 1950s, I now realize my neighborhood buddies didn’t care if I died right there in front of them while attempting this stunt. We were all bullet-proof and somehow had nine lives. It was all about the show, as I soon found out.

Surfing Netflix and Amazon Prime a few nights ago, I was surprised how many movies feature superheroes. Sure, the two originals are there, Superman and Batman, but then there are at least a dozen others. Did I sleep through some cultural entertainment shift?

The original Superman television series premiered in 1952, and by 1953-54 every kid in my neighborhood pretended to fly while fighting for truth-justice-and the American way. The girls wanted to be Super Girls, but the boys wouldn’t allow it. Superman was a man’s man, so they had to settle for Lois Lane.

The family that possessed the largest television screen was the meeting point where the gang gathered to watch our hero. My Father purchased the largest black and white television available, 15 inches, so our den was the destination.

There he stood in his padded super suit, cape flapping in the wind, a steely look on his all-American face. What a man! Only years later did we notice the slight paunch, the double chin, and the bad teeth.

At Leonard Brothers department store in Fort Worth, you could purchase a genuine Superman cape for $4.00 or for $20.00, a kid could have the full outfit, which included a blue stretch top and tights, a red speedo, and super boots. The kids in our neighborhood couldn’t afford the suit, so they settled for whatever fabric they could find for a cape.

I was the lucky one. My Aunt Norma, a seamstress extraordinaire made me a custom-fit Superman suit. It was a beauty; dark blue stretchy top with little super muscles sewn in, blue tights with a red swimsuit, gold fabric covers to over my PF Flyer tennis shoes, and the bright red cape with the super “S.” I was in super heaven and the envy of all my pals. We immediately planned a flying demonstration, and I was the vehicle. Our home, the only two-story house on the block was the designated launch point.

After gathering in my den for our afternoon viewing of Superman, the gang rushed to our backyard, awaiting the flight. I sneaked upstairs, squeezed into my super suit, and slipped through a window onto the roof.

The usual gang of six had suddenly swelled to thirty or so kids of all ages. “How can I fly in front of strangers? What if the suit doesn’t work?” I was getting a severe case of “cold feet.”

The roof grew higher with every breath as I inched my way to the peak. Looking down to the yard, it may as well be the grand canyon. I was shaking like a wet dog, and a dribble of pee leaked down my leg. A kid in the crowd yelled, ” What’s wrong kid…chicken.” That did it. I was by-golly flying today.

I crossed myself and ran down the slope of the roof. A millisecond before launch, my Mother yells from the window, “don’t you dare do that.” It was too late. My six-year-old super legs launched me into thin air. I hear theme music, feel the air under my cape and below, my pals, a look of wonderment on their faces, cheer me on to super glory.

Instead of gaining height and accelerating to supersonic speed, I made it twenty feet or so then dropped straight down, landing in the midst of the admiring crowd. Our thick lawn saved me from certain paralysis.

My Mother was on me like a duck on a Junebug. Jerking me up by my super cape, she proceeds to whip my little butt with a flyswatter; the only weapon she could find. I was mortified; young Superman receiving a whooping from his super Mom. The crowd dispersed, leaving me sitting in the grass in my super shame.

The next morning; miraculously recovered, I am sent out to play with my pals. Walking through the back gate, I noticed a bit of my super cape hanging from under the garbage can lid. My super days are over.


When the Band Plays the Last Song


Two weeks ago, John Payne, my friend of twenty years, and fellow bandmate was laid to rest. The last song was played, Happy Trails closed the show and JP has left the building.

Our story started two decades back when my old friend Danny Goode, and former bandmate from the 60s, called me after a thirty-year gap and wanted to have lunch.

The next day, over Whataburger’s, he asked me if I would be interested in playing with a rock band that he and two other friends had put together. I said I might be interested, but I didn’t own an electric guitar, an amp, a strap, or even a guitar pick and had not touched an instrument since 1990. He made a call on his cell, and after a brief muffled conversation, he told me everything was arranged. We were to meet at Jordan’s house on Saturday.

That Saturday, I met John Payne, lead guitar, and Jordan Welch, percussionist. John apologized for not having much time to put together the loaner equipment, and he hoped it would be alright. In my spot was a vintage Fender Twin Reverb amplifier with guitar picks and a cold beer sitting on top. The loaner guitar was a 1960s Gibson Les Paul. I told John that I think this gear would be more than adequate. I knew then, that John probably had more vintage gear than Guitar Center.

We played half a dozen songs, and I knew this grouping of four had something special. We all had been playing for decades and the musicianship was there. What was surprising, is our three-part harmonies. We sounded like the Ethel Murman Tabernacle Choir; it was borderline scary. We took a break and consumed a cold one to calm ourselves. We all sat in Jordan’s den, grinning like a Raccoon caught in a trash can.

The three amigos asked if I was in? Well hell yeah! I was then told there was a gig in North Richland Hills on Saturday night; be there at 7 sharp to set up. John said It was sort of a supper club and bar situation. And away we go.

Arriving at the “supper club,” I noticed the sign on the building read “Tuckers Catfish Café.” Okay, so it’s a seafood restaurant. After parking in the back, I give the secret squirrel knock on the rear door. A series of four or five deadbolts unlock the door parts, and I see Johns’ face peering through the door crack. He asked if I paid that guy holding the paper bag a few bucks to guard my car; if I didn’t, it would be wise to do so. So I did. The paper bag held a 40 oz Miller, and I paid the nice fellow five bucks.

It took a few minutes for my eyesight to adjust to the darkened conditions of the room, but I made out the obligatory small stage in the corner stacked with equipment, the wood parquet dance floor, a trash can full of dancing sawdust, a ceiling-mounted disco ball, shuffleboard, numerous vintage neon beer signs, and a cardboard streamer reading Happy New Year 1965. The place was also one living, breathing ashtray.

John comes over and says, ” well, what do you think of the place?” I should have been more diplomatic, but I blurted out, ” John, this place ain’t no supper club, it’s a beer-joint.”

John is smiling ear to ear, ” yeah, I know, ain’t it cool.” In a way, yes, it was cool. I hadn’t played in a beer joint in decades, so this would be my homecoming of sorts. John clearly dug the place to his bones.

The gig went much better than we expected, and the next few weeks were spent kicking around a name for this outfit. Finally, Jordan comes up with ‘The American Classics Band,’ taken from the brand of drumsticks he uses. Sounds good, everyone’s happy, and we become an official band.

That night, I had no idea what my time with these three amigos would bring, but I was up for the ride; and man was it a ride.

John requested that I call him JP. I did, and we eventually became good friends. He and I loved country and bluegrass music. Not the new stuff, but the classic 40s and 50s songs. We knew many of the same country pickers, and he was a fiddle player, like my father was, so the two of us had things in common, which carried over into the band’s dynamics.

We practiced every Thursday night for ten years, and became such a tight band that we read each others minds like little Yoda. There was not a song we couldn’t play or put our spin on.

Eventually, the practices became more about friendship and less about the playing. Sure, the music was always there, the bonding agent that kept us together, but many nights, there was more fellowship than picking. A bit of beer and some bourbon always appeared from a paper bag.

We helped each other through hardships; the death of a spouse, the death’s of two sons and other problems that happen in families, but the music and the friendships were always there, always strong and enduring.

Twenty years fly by, and Danny, Jordan and myself find ourselves without our friend John, and we know there will be no more music for us. It’s not in our bones, and somehow it wouldn’t seem right without John. We are old men now, all of us in our 70s, but we well remember when this ride for the four of us started, and how it has effected, and shaped our lives.

Play on JP, play on.

“A Beach Day in Texas, 1969”


Port Aransas 1969

The beach in Port Aransas around 1967

I first published this story almost a year ago. My good friend Danny asked me to republish it because it’s one of his favorites. I have added a picture of the beach in Port Aransas from around 1967. The guy in the foreground carrying the longboard is Pat Magee, a local resident who won many surfing championships and opened his own surf shop in Port A around 1968. Any day in the summer during the late 60s, there would be a line of vans and cars two deep parked between the pier and the South jetty, since that was the favorite surf spot. I was fortunate to have been a part of that.

The hint of daylight gives enough lumination for me to find my way down the steep steps of my family’s beach house. Grabbing my surfboard, wax, and a few towels, I load my supplies into the back of the old Army jeep and leave for the beach. The old vehicle takes time to wake up, and it sputters down E Street, doing its best to deliver me to the water’s edge.

Port Aransas is quiet this morning. Fisherman and surfers are the only souls moving on the small island.

As I drive to the beach, taking the road through the sand dunes near the jetty, the morning dew on the metal surface of the jeep, pelts me like fine rain. The salt air is heavy and I can see the cloud of mist rising from the surf long before I reach the water. The seats are cold on my bare back and legs. The vehicle lacks a windshield, allowing bugs to hit my face and chest. Texas is a buggy place. That’s a fact we live with.

I park near the pier and see that two of my friends Gwen and Gary are kneeling in the sand, waxing their boards. I am usually the first to arrive but today they beat me by a few minutes. I join them in the preparation. We are quiet. This will be a good morning and making small talk might interfere with our zone.

The Gulf of Mexico is glassy and clear. The swell is four feet, with a right break. We enter as a group of three and paddle out past the second sand bar.

Sitting on my surfboard, I see the first half of the sun rising over the ocean and feel the warmth on my upper body. A tanker ship is a few miles offshore. The smoke from its stack gives us a point to paddle to.

Today will be hot, and by noon, these beautiful waves will evaporate into a slushy shore break full of children on foam belly boards. But this morning, the three of us are working in concert with our beloved Gulf.

We ride for hours. The ocean is feisty this morning. The waves are doing their best to beat us, but we show them who the boss is. The beach fills with other surfers, and now the line-up is crowded,, and we ride into shore. Gary and Gwen leave, and I make my way home to go fishing with my father. The Kingfish await.

Gary and Gwen are gone now and have been for some time. Gary lost in Vietnam, and Gwen from an auto accident the next summer on his way to the island. If they were still here, I would like to think that we would have kept in touch and shared our surfing stories around a good glass of bourbon at Shorty’s Bar. Three old men telling lies.

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