A few nights back, I was awakened by bright static flashes against my eyelids. Lightening from afar brings a storm.
I lay in my bed, eyes now open for most of an hour, cataloging the most intense flashes through the window curtains, waiting for the following thunder to announce the wind and rain. The anticipation of a storm is pure dope for a weather nerd. I’ve been addicted for most of my life.
The television weather folk had been hawking this storm for days prior. Warnings, interviews with people on the street, getting every drop of drama out of their forecast. The cute weatherwomen and stern weathermen called for Apocalyptic conditions favorable for tornadoes and various end times hi-jinx. This would be no more than a typical spring supercell thunderstorm. Texans take their weather as seriously as the Alamo, Willie Nelson, and BBQ.
It’s a well-known semi-historical fact that Colonel William Barrett Travis predicted the cold and rainy weather during the siege of the Alamo. General Santa Anna, relying on his hungover weathermen, expected spring break conditions in San Antonio, and didn’t dress accordingly.
My first solid memory of bad weather happened when my grandmother carried me into her storm cellar as a vicious thunderstorm attacked the family farm; I was four years old. Every summer after that, there were numerous trips to the safety of that dank dirt storm cellar. Two cots, a pile of quilts, and a kerosene lamp were enough to see us through a siege. Shelves of canned fruit and vegetables lined the walls. Winters food pantry for when the land is at rest and for us to dine if the storm lasted more than a day.
If you are a farmer in Texas, the weather “is your life.” It will make or break your crop season with no warnings or apologies.
My Grandfather was a typical old-school pioneer farmer that possessed an active and painful weather bone in his left leg and a working man’s knowledge of the stratosphere. My grandmother was equally blessed with a pinky toe that swelled when a storm was brewing. Together, not much got past the two.
Grandmother would stare at a tiny cloud in a pure blue sky and remark, ” it’s gonna come up a cloud tonight.” She was rarely wrong.
During my summer visits to the farm, against my young will, I was dragged by my Grandfather to the domino parlor daily and subjected to hours of bullshit and weather talk from the old farmers in Santa Anna, Texas.
Old men in straw hats, bib overalls, and a cheek full of Redman tobacco ruled the world in those times. It was all about the weather and when will it come, how bad will it be, and how much rain could be expected? I usually fell asleep with drool running down my cheek after an hour. Then, it was back to the farm while my grandmother limped around the house because her weather toe was swollen. Good Lord. The family was a meteorological wreck.
Thank God, the family gene skipped my sister and me, so we depend on our local televisions weather personalities.
With the world in hellish turmoil, with no credible end of the torture in sight, a Christian person would think that this would be a perfect time for the Lord God to make an appearance, or at the least, throw us a bone. I would be satisfied with a fireworks display or something on television, but God doesn’t work that way; it appears he likes to keep us on the hook. Again, it’s a biblical thing.
My first remembered experience with religion was in my sixth year. A Fort Worth boy, dragged to the Poly Baptist Church to witness the near-drowning of my young father while being Baptized by a zealous preacher named Reverand Toby.
Someone in my family, an aunt or a cousin or all members thereof, thought that father’s soul needed saving, or at the least, a near-drowning to ensure his path to Heaven would be an honest one. I suspect it was his mother. She was a championship sinner with no way to redemption, so sacrificing her only son to Baptism might also gain her entry to God’s domain as a parental guest. Quite inventive she was. I also suspect that the bottles of hooch and the 38 special in her traveling suitcase would also be overlooked as she accompanied him through the pearly gates.
The Sunday of the Baptism was as hot as I can remember. The small church, a wooden frame affair, was surrounded by trees, so no breeze entered. Religion and suffering are one and the same. July in Texas is considered the perfect month for all the above. It’s a preview of Hell to come. Something to remember the next time one thinks about committing many deadly sins.
There I sat next to my mother, my less than a year old sister on her lap. My clothing was sweat-soaked, and I could have wet myself and not have known it. The summer heat radiated from the floor to the bottom of the wooden pew. Hell was just below us, just in case we wained from the word being preached, and for a moment lost our grip on believing; Satan could reach up and drag us down. It was all very convenient. I had no concept of sin or what it took to reach the depths of Hell. Of course, kids don’t bother with such nonsense.
An hour of Preacher Toby pacing the floor from wall to wall. The chorus of big-haired women behind him, punctuating his performance with Amen’s and Haliluahs at the appropriate times. The pulpit held the preachers’ Bible; it rested there, of no use to him. He didn’t need no leather-bound Bible; he knew everything required to scare the liver out of everyone in that church.
The sermon concluded, and the Baptismal commenced. Father was the last on the list.
Mother had dressed him in a new white shirt and black tie. He resembled the television star Steve Allen. The shirt was starched to the point of cardboard, allowing him minimal movement. One would think if a person was to be dunked in a tank of water, a swimming suit or at the least, a robe would be appropriate wear. But, nope, Baptist like it real; fully dressed in your best clothes, shoes, watch, and wallet included.
Father’s name was called. Entering the pulpit from behind a velvet curtain, he climbed into the Baptising tank. I found it odd that a church would have a small swimming pool at the alter. A waist-deep concrete tub full of unpurified water. How would one know that the occupants didn’t release a stream of pee into the sacred water in their moment of personal repentance? It’s a natural response akin to pissing in a swimming pool or a lake. Father stood in the holy waters awaiting his deliverance. He carried the look of a trapped man; no escape route was available, so his fate was sealed.
Preacher Toby wasted no time. He asked Father if he was ready to accept Jesus and be bathed in the Holy waters. Father mumbled a few words, and the preacher pushed him back into the waters of the sacred Jordan. Minuets passed along with lovely words and passages, and still, Father was immersed in the Holy waters. A hand, then an arm, then two reached up, flailing about. Finally, a leg broke the surface, and a shoe flew off. Still, Preacher Toby continued his blessing.
Looking back, it was common knowledge that father was a country musician and made his living playing in the beer joints along Jacksboro Highway. Preacher Toby figured since my father was a fully certified sinner, an extra dose of saving was needed.
With no assistance from Preacher Toby, my father made it to the surface with seconds to spare. Sputtering and coughing, on the verge of death, he rolled over the side of the cement pond and lurched toward the side door of the church. Holding my baby sister, my mother grabbed me by my bony arm, and we made a hasty beeline to the car. Father was there waiting. Dripping wet and defeated, he looked like death on a china plate. Mother drove us home.
I’m not sure what this recount has to do with the current state of our world, but I felt the need to share it.
Religion is a slippery slope for most folks. You either believe, or you don’t; there is no maybe or middle ground. But, the forces of good are believed to be greater than those of evil; it’s written in the book. So, we need an intervention or a sign from God that one evil man will not dictate the end. But, if that is the plan, let it be quickly done and with a gracious smile.
Two nights ago, my wife ate spicy food for supper. I noticed she tossed more than usual during our 8-hour sleep and yelped a few times. Likely a nightmare.
Over our morning cup of coffee, she says that in her dreams, she was attacked by thousands of small snakes that had found their way into our home.
I told her it was likely the spicy food nightmare syndrome. I had heard this explanation on Dr. Phil, or maybe it was Dr. Oz, or perhaps in the checkout line at the grocery, but it was from specialists that tend to know these things. She thanked me for my observation and threw away the Salsa and the leftover packed in Tupperware.
Her dream jogged my memory, which at this age, is welcomed. I am fortunate to have a street-rat-crazy family on my father’s side, so many stories are waiting to be recounted.
Back in the mid-fifties, my late father’s late cousin, Woody, and his late wife, Zennia, lived at the end of a gravel road named “Jungle Lane.” The street was a perfect fit for Zennia, a prolific collector of tropical plants, resulting in her house looking more of a Tarzan movie set than a home. She was also a Tarot card madam, an amateur Botanist, and an aromatherapist. Woody worked as a plumber and mowed the yard.
Zennia orders a rare and deadly plant from her favorite magazine, “Plants Have Feelings Too.” It’s shipped from Burma by boat and will arrive in Fort Worth in June.
The plant arrives via delivery truck on June 15th. Lush and green with large leaves drooping to the floor, the plant is a monster standing at 7 ft and weighing in at 100 pounds. Two men and a dolly struggled to place the beast in Zennia’s living room.
Zennia, being quite the chef, prepares a Burmese dish of Pork Chunks on a bamboo Stick with wafting brown rice and grilled organic vegetables to celebrate the new arrival. She made good use of the sacred Burmese Eden’s Wort, a rare jungle spice made from the powdered bark of the even more rare Eden tree. Woody hates spicy foods and eats a Bologna sandwich and a beer.
Full of Pearl beer, Bologna and Pork Chunks, the two retired early.
Woody, always the early riser, makes his way to the kitchen around 5:30 am, brews a pot of coffee, and returns to the bedroom with a cup for Zennia. Then, switching on the bedside lamp, he screams and drops both cups of coffee, breaking Zennia’s favorite Howdy Doody cup and scalding both feet.
Zennia lay peacefully on her back, hair rolled in Spoolies, wearing her favorite flannel jammies. The once lovely face is swollen and blueish. A large green snake is coiled around her neck, flicking its forked tongue and hissing at Woody.
Zennia is a goner. Woody can do nothing for her, so he contacts the police and asked them to please bring an ambulance and someone from the Zoo; his wife was murdered by a large snake. He thought about shooting the snake with his 12 gauge, but then it would have made a mess of poor Zennia’s face, and then the relatives would have a shit-fit at her funeral because she was messed up. So he decided to let the police and the zoo folks take care of the reptile. He thought Zennia might be pulling a stunt so he poked her leg. The reptile tried to bite him. No stunt. She’s dead. He notices the snake has blue eyes.
Four police officers, two ambulance attendants, a Herpitoligist from the Fort Worth Zoo, and the coroner with a ride-along priest show up thirty minutes later. The few neighbors on the block stand watching the show.
The policemen and the coroner confirms that Zennia died from acute strangulation caused by the constricting movements of the murderous snake. The Herpitoligist said it’s a Burmese Python, but not just any regular one. This is the rare ten-banded, articulating, shape-shifting, smooth-skinned, blue-eyed deadly poisonous “Garden of Eden Python,” a direct descendent of the evil viper that tempted Adam and Eve. Only three are believed to be left alive, and the reptiles can live up to 800 years, and of course, they are endangered and carry a high fine of 10 grand if the serpent is harmed or upset. The priest says that since Adam and Eve are involved and the Bible, the Holy Father in Rome should know of this discovery. It is now gone Biblical.
The Herpatoligist says the snake was likely hiding in the plant when it shipped from Burma and was appraising its new habitat when he found poor sleeping Zennia. Most likely, it was attracted to the odor of the Burmese spices used during supper. The Burmese Eden Tree is the preferred habitat of the deadly reptile, so the spice made it feel right at home. Having not eaten in a while, Zennia was the perfect meal, already seasoned to perfection.
Woody doesn’t give one shit about all this, his wife is dead, and the snake won’t budge. The snake boy says he can’t remove the reptile here but will need to transport the body and the snake to the Zoo.
Desperate, Woody agrees. The convoy loads Zennia and the accompanying snake in the ambulance, and they depart.
Three days later, the snake won’t budge an inch, Zennia is getting ripe and Woody needs to have her funeral and internment. The best he can do is have the service in the snake house at the zoo. Friends and family observe the service from behind a glass window. The zoo choir sings the theme song from the movie “Doctari.” Zennia is buried between the Gorilla enclosure and the Zebra exhibit. The snake is still alive and has its own special exhibit.
My wife stares at me like there is a third eye on my forehead. She thinks the story is bullshit, but I tell her it’s all quite true, and then I explain the moral of the story. “Be careful what you eat because it might cause something else to kill you.”
I first met Billy Roy on a Monday morning in September of 1957 when Mrs. Edwards, our third-grade teacher, introduced him to our class. He stood next to her, arms crossed with a sour-ball look on his face.
I knew this kid was trouble. He hadn’t done a thing to anyone yet, but he had that weaselly look about him; beady eyes, no chin, and partially bucked front teeth and a bad haircut, giving him the appearance of a hillbilly.
Our teacher says he is from Hamburg, Germany, and his father is an officer out at Carswell Air Force Base. Billy Roy, she says, is a German and an American citizen but doesn’t speak good English quite yet. So then, what is he, an American boy or a Nazi transplant? We kids knew all about those guys, having watched World War II movies on channel 11 and playing war with our BB guns. We always whopped the Nazis and the Jap’s. We took care of the Mexicans too when we defended the Alamo.
As luck would have it, Billy Roy now lives in my neighborhood, three houses down from my best buddy, Skipper, so after school, the gang calls an emergency meeting to figure out how to deal with this infiltrator.
It’s decided to give the “new kid” a chance to prove his salt; he would be allowed to hang with us until deemed worthy or fell flat on his face.
Our parents got word of our secret plan and told us, “we had better be nice to Billy Roy, or we would wind up at the “Dope Farm.” Someone ratted us out; most likely, it was Georgie; he’s afraid of everything and can’t keep a secret. He is also a known titty-baby.
“The Dope Farm” is a juvenile detention institution that our parents use as a threat when we act up. It keeps us in line. The stories about the place give us nightmares; it’s Sing-Sing for children. One of my older cousins spent some time there and later when he was supposedly rehabilitated, he robbed a Piggly Wiggly at gunpoint dressed as a woman.
Saturday came, our day to ride our bikes to Forest Park diamonds for pick-up baseball games. Our group of eight depart from Skipper’s house at 8:30 am. Billy Roy is standing on the sidewalk as we approach his house.
Skipper stops and asks Billy Roy if he has a bike and a glove; in broken English, he states he has neither of those items.
Georgie, the titty-baby, then says in a snarky tone, “if you don’t have a bike and don’t play baseball, you can’t be part of our gang.” The word’s spoken, the gauntlet laid. It looks as if Billy Roy might be out. Everyone gives him “the look” as they ride by. I feel a little bad for the kid.
Billy Roy keeps to himself during the next school week, eating his sack lunch alone and staying inside during recess. We can care less. He can’t tote his salt.
Saturday morning, 8:30 am, the same scenario. We leave Skippers’ house on bikes, heading for the ball diamonds. As we approach Billy Roys’s house, he comes flying out of his garage on a brand-spanking-new Schwinn Hornet bike. A chrome headlight and tail-light adorn the bright red and white bike—the sun’s reflection off the chrome fenders that cover the white sidewall balloon tires is blinding. Hanging on the handlebars is a new double-stitched “Plug Redman” Rawlings baseball glove, and sitting on his little head is a genuine New York Yankees ball cap.
Skipper skids to a stop and the rest of our bunch almost wreck our bikes trying to miss him. What is going on here?
The gang is in awe and more than a tad envious. This kids’ been here two weeks, doesn’t play baseball, can’t speak English, is likely a German spy, and here he is riding the Caddillac of bikes and now sports new ball equipment. Some snot-nose in our neighborhood is as rich as King Faruk, and it isn’t us.
Skipper, the wise leader of our bunch, surveys the scene, then tells Billy Roy that he can come along with us to the baseball diamonds since he now has the required items. So he rides at the end of our pack and struggles to control his expensive bike. He crashes a few times but catches up. Unfortunately for our intern, things don’t go well at the ballpark.
After educating Billy Roy on holding and swinging a bat, he’s bonked square in the forehead with a 40 mile per hour hardball. He’s out like a corpse.
The umpire, some kid’s father, drags him over to the bleachers and pours a cup of cold water on his head. Billy Roy wakes up, staggers about for a minute, and acts as nothing happened. We are impressed, he’s tougher than we thought.
Around the fourth inning, Billy Roy tells us that he is going home. He’s a bit dizzy and wobbly after his bonk and can’t participate in the rest of the game. We get it. He departs, driving his fancy bike from curb to curb like a blind drunk.
After the game, which we won, we gather our stuff left in the dugout.
Stevie says he can’t find his Cub Scout knife. Freckled Face Bean can’t find his Roy Rogers watch, and Skippers’ decoder ring is missing. My almost new pack of Juicy Fruit is also gone. Good Lord! there’s a thief amongst us. Georgie, the titty-baby, is the likely culprit; but he says he can’t find his dental retainer, so he’s cleared. That makes Billy “the Nazi” Roy the perpetrator. There is an ass-whoopin’ brewing. With retribution in our hearts, we haul-ass to Billy’s house.
Mrs. Roy answers their door. We demand to see Billy, so she brings him to face us. He stands behind the screen door for protection. But, of course, he denies it all until Skipper tells him to step onto the porch so he can whoop him. Billy steps onto the porch, but before Skipper can get a lick in, Billy pulls a switchblade knife from his pocket. He pops the blade and waves it at Skipper. Yikes! Not only is the little Nazi a thief, but he’s also a West Side Story hoodlum. We leave the porch and the guilty Billy Roy to his young life of crime.
After the incident, Billy Roy, to us kids, is a fart in the wind.
Having ruined his reputation in our neighborhood, he starts hanging with some older hoodlum boys from across the railroad tracks; we call them “the hard guys.” We are sure they will wind up at “The Dope Farm” sooner or later, and now young Billy will join them.
A few days before Christmas vacation, Billy Roy is missing from school for almost a week. We figure he has the bird flu or polio.
The next day, a rumor around the neighborhood, and now our school is that Billy Roy and two of the “hard guys” were pinched for holding up our small neighborhood grocery store with a Mattel Fanner 50 cap pistol.
We all agreed, that the bonk from the baseball injured his kid brain and turned him into a criminal. Last we heard, Billy and the two “hard guys” were off to the “Dope Farm.”
I can’t bring myself to watch our faux president give a speech. So, I didn’t. Instead, I watched the 4th episode of 1883. But I did catch bits of it on Youtube after the fact, and even then, I cringed and felt a tad oily. I realized that I, at 72 years old, am a domestic terrorist, right up there with the Antifa, BLM, and those crazy boys, the Taliban.
According to that pod person in the white house and Pelosi, I meet all the criteria; a Christian..yep, a gun owner..yep, a white man..yep ( although I am mostly Cherokee American Indian), an American patriot..yep, so I am a terrorist, and also a white supremacist, and a racist. I had no idea I was so damn evil. So it’s better to know now before I pass on.
I vowed after January 1st, I would limit my exposure to such political theater and nonsense in an attempt to lower my blood pressure and perhaps live a bit longer on this planet, which is doomed because most of Europe and about one half of the United States thinks a 16-year-old Swedish screaming savant is an expert on all things weather, climate change and the second coming of Baby Jesus. Sweden gave us ABBA, most of the folks in Minnesota, and Swedish Meatballs, and that’s about it. I’m really sorry that the cow flatulence from Texas ruined the ozone layer above Sweden and robbed her of her childhood.
If Jesus is coming down to kick our sinful butt’s, the ass whooping will likely start in Washington DC and then move on to the west coast, leaving most of America’s heartland alone, except for maybe Austin.
My late father’s late uncle, Harvey, was Biden’s doppelganger of a sort; although he more resembled Ernie Kovaks than Biden, He had the same temperament. I remember him as a demented screaming hot-mess in his twenties, and he lived to be eighty-five or so, perfecting his behavior into an act that the family immensely enjoyed during get-togethers on holidays. Hours of yelling and ranting about nothing, in particular, gave us children an excellent performance, which we much preferred to afternoon cartoons. He did take a piss in the gas floor heater one Christmas during our holiday luncheon, which cleared the house for a few hours, and he tried to roast his cat on a charcoal grill. Still, other than those few incidents, he was everyone’s favorite crazy uncle living in the basement. Today, with the proper handlers, he could have been president.
Poor Ronnie Spector, she passed away “being no one’s baby.” Maybe she’ll send a selfie taken with Clarence, the angel, to Phil Spector, who is most likely roasting in Hell.
Betty White won the contest. She lived to 99 and was a few days short of 100. She outlived everyone she ever worked with or knew. Bad assed gal. Maybe she and Paul Lynde can get an act going and headline at “Sonny’s” Bar and Grill, located right off the main paved in gold highway next door to “Angels Wing Cleaning Service.”
After further and exhausting genealogy research, I found that I may indeed be related to Will Rogers, Chief Quanah Parker, Belle Star, and Butch Cassidy, but not the Sundance Kid. A decade ago, a fellow with the Sons Of The Alamo lodge, a dedicated member of whom did a run on our family tree, and these folks showed up. Queen Elizabeth is in there somewhere on down the tree and Odin the Viking king. I mentioned my family tree to my buddy Mooch, and he said, ” I got ya beat Lil’ buddy. I’m related to Golda Mier, Goldy Hawn, Old Yeller, Golden Earing, Wyatt Erp, King Faruk, Annie Oakley, The Hulk and Batman.” So yeah, I guess he does have one up on me.
I’m an old-school reader. An Amazon tablet rests in my desk drawer but has gone untouched for four years. Electronic devices don’t allow me the same experience as holding a book made from cardboard and ink printed on recycled paper. Technology is fine, for some, but for the written word. No.
It starts with the jacket. Most nowadays are in color, printed on shiny paper with the author’s name as large as the title, a nice photo or drawing, and a few lines of publisher praise to capture your attention and to make you feel the $30 plus dollars you paid wasn’t in vain. It’s a dance of sorts, but our money has been collected, so it’s best to continue the waltz.
Then comes the preface or the dedication to loved ones, friends, or contributors. Some are short, sweet, and curt and fail to credit the deserved; others ramble on until I lose interest.
Truman Capote snubbing Harper Lee’s dedicated research with “In Cold Blood” comes to mind. A few excluded words of thanks ruined a lifelong friendship. He wasn’t the first, but his pettiness was unforgivable.
I notice the typeset and spacing information, the font, the Library of Congress notes, the printing dates, and then the first paragraph that sets the tone for the next few hundred or more pages.
Ernest Hemingway said a book should begin with ‘one true sentence.’ He knew it was a waste of the authors and their readers’ time if it didn’t. His advice has taught me well.
My wife, a Registered Nurse, retired last August. Soon after, she underwent major back surgery, and during her recuperation, she re-discovered her love of reading. So now, in place of watching television until the late hours, we both retire early, prop ourselves on our bed pillows, and read our books late into the night.
I recently revisited ” In Cold Blood,” Capote’s masterpiece that so affected his life that he never fully recovered to write another novel. I enjoyed it more this time around than thirty years ago. It was a butt whooping to the end. Every chapter contained a piece of his soul.
Anthony Doerr’s two newest novels are commanding reads. My wife and I have read both, and she is on the verge of starting his third. I am reading Amor Towels and find his storytelling to be in the style of Steinbeck and Hemingway. I was once a James Elroy fan, but his last two books were an effort from start to completion. He is on my rest list for now.
Besides ” Fun With Dick and Jane,” the first real books I read were Mark Twain’s ” The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and then his follow-up “The AdventureHuckleberryberry Finn.”
I come from a family of non-readers, so my love for books comes from somewhere, possibly my elementary school librarian or my father’s sister, Norma. She was a voracious reader that leaned toward romance schlock, Cormac McCarthy, and Micky Spillane noir. I am thankful to both for their influence and guidance. It was aunt Norma that, introduced me to Thomas Wolf. I returned the favor with Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut.
My wife and I are relieved that the year 2020 is behind us. It won’t be missed. No tears from this household, only two middle fingers pointed skyward. Our ages allow us to forget what we wish to and remember the best. I believe 2022 will be our year of reading dangerously. We may, holding hands and a frosty cocktail, step out onto that literary ledge and take the leap; attempt to leave our comfort zone and take a chance or three. Time is of the essence, my eyesight is on the fritz, I have a blister on my thumb, and the books keep coming.
As a child growing up in 1950s Texas, I never understood the need to put myself behind an eight-ball with proclamation’s I had no way of keeping. New Year resolutions were the worst of them all.
My parents made them by the dozens and broke them without batting an eye.
My mother was the worst of the family bunch. Every year, on the eve of midnight, she would make a grandiose announcement to the family, usually after a few glasses of sparkling Cold Duck wine or too many Old Crow eggnogs. She made many resolutions in her day, but her yearly favorite was “kicking the ciggies.” She smoked like Bogart, one in each hand with a third, lit and waiting in the ashtray. My father, a lesser smoker, was a rank beginner compared to his bride. As a result, our household had more ashtrays than dishes. My sister and I also enjoyed the mild smoke from the ever-present Chesterfield cloud that hung in every room. Mother finally kept her favorite resolution at the age of 74, with some help from emphysema.
So, here I am at 72, and for the first time, I am considering making a New Year resolution or two.
I’ve been kicking around the less painful ones, easy things like giving up red meat or sugar. But then, Ovaltine contains sugar, and there is no way I can sleep without my hot Ovaltine, usually taken between 1 and 2 am, which is also my writing hours so that one is out. But, on the other hand, red meat can give me gastronomical grief, and I like fish more so that one is still doable.
Abstaining from distilled spirits? Now that’s tough, but it seems to be the national favorite.
It’s immensely satisfying to hold a crystal snifter of Jamesons or Tullamore Dew while sitting on my patio admiring the beauty of our local mountain, Comanche Peak. Good Irish whiskey settles my nerves and fuels my literary creativity. Jack Kerouac and Truman Capote will attest to that. Reaching old age without dying is hard work, and suitable rewards are in order. So unless I plan to stop writing and live out my final days as a nervous wreck, that one is kaput.
Attending a non-denominational house of worship with my bride. I can do this one with a few exceptions. Firstly, how does the word “none” go with denominational? There are hundreds of organized religions out there, just pick one and go with it.
Secondly, I’m old school church. I need to hear “the word of God,” not some big-haired pastor with an expensive haircut using the bible as a Cliff Notes report. I don’t dance hip hop in the isles, or clap, or sing songs projected on a screen, or enjoy hearing a choir of off-key screeching women whining about their personal tradgadys to the accompaniment of a Led Zepplin tribute band. I need that old-time religion to soothe my soul. The bubble-haired lady playing that Hammond B3 organ; that old rugged cross hanging on the wall next to the velvet Last Supper painting. A yelling red-faced slobbering preacher that points to me and says I’m going to Hell in a used Honda if I don’t change my sinful ways, and then expects money for admonishing me in front of strangers. Uncomfortable seating is a must. I can’t be a Baptist again, that would require me to give up my Irish whiskey, so it’s best to move on to another resolution or consider becoming a Catholic.
Improving my health. Maybe the easiest one of all, except for the sugar Ovaltine thing and the Irish whiskey thing. I possibly can do this one and make it stick. I beat the snot out of Cancer, so what’s left that could get me?
My doctor is young and hip. He wears one of those Apple watches that keep you alive and listens to TED talks in his wireless earbuds and drives a Tesla. He recommends, walking, hiking, biking, going to the gym, meditating, using fewer medications, and eating less of everything that tastes like food.
I reminded him that I need a knee replacement and major back surgery, so the walking, biking, hiking, and gym are out. Using fewer meds? He’s the idiot that put me on them. Sorry doc, I am not eating bagged weeds, Kale, plant-based meats, or gluten-free anything. Lactose-free milk is as woke as I get. I could only achieve a meditated state after a pipe full of Maui Wowie and Cat Stevens on the stereo.
By writing my resolutions down, I realize that nothing has changed since I was a kid. I’m not standing behind that eight-ball at this age.
A personal recount of my childhood Christmas memories.
Riding a ceiling-mounted “Rocket Train” to nowhere around the basement of a department store doesn’t seem like a Christmas thing, but that’s what thousands of other Texas kids and I did every year in the 1950s.
Leonard Brothers Department Store occupied two square blocks of downtown Fort Worth real estate and was known as the Southwest’s Macy’s. They offered everything the big shot stores in the East carried, and then, hundreds of items no retailer in their right mind would consider.
If you had a mind to, one could purchase a full-length mink coat with optional mink mittens, the latest women’s high-fashion clothing line from Paris France, an Italian cut-crystal vile of Elizabeth Taylors spit, James Dean’s signature hair tonic, Rock Hudson’s autographed wedding photos, a housebroken Llama, an aluminum fishing boat and motor, a new car, a pole barn, a nice two-story craftsman home “build it yourself kit” delivered to your lot, chickens, barb wire, hay, horses and cows, a 30-30 Winchester rifle, a 40 caliber autographed General George Custer Colt pistol, a bottle of good hootch and a Ford tractor. That’s about as Texas as it gets.
The Christmas season in downtown Fort Worth was internationally recognized for its innovative and wonderous decorations. The righteous city fathers figured the best way to out-do Dallas, a full-time effort, was to line every building with white lights from top to bottom and install large glowing decorations on every lamp pole, street light, and building façade available. If that didn’t make you “ooooh and ahhhh,” then you needed to go home and hide in a closet.
A week, or so, after Thanksgiving, my parents would take my sister and me downtown to see the decorations and visit the Leonard Brothers Department Store. Santa just happened to be in their basement taking advanced verbal orders from every crumb cruncher that could climb the stairs and plop on his lap.
My sister, in between screams and crying fits, always asked for the latest doll. She was scared senseless of “HO-HO,” but she somehow managed to spit out her order. Like clockwork, every year, I asked for a Daisy BB Gun with a year’s supply of stainless silver ammo ( for killing werewolves), a full-size Elliot Ness operable Thompson Sub Machine Gun, or an Army surplus Bazooka with real rockets and a long, razor-sharp Bowie knife encased in a fringed leather holster. It was a 1950s boy thing; weapons were what we longed for. How else could we defeat Santa Anna at the Alamo or win World War II, again? Our neighborhood may have sported the best-supplied “kid army” on the planet, and jolly old Santa was our secret arms dealer; parents non-the wiser. I finally got the BB Gun, but Santy was wise enough to not bring the other request.
Walking down the stairs to the store’s basement was the thrill I waited for all year. There, hanging above my head, was the beautiful red and silver tinseled sign, “Toy Land,” kid nirvana, and the Holy Grail all in one room. The smell of burned popcorn and stale chocolate candy wafted up the stairs, and I could hear the cheesy Christmas choir music and the sound the Rocket Train made as it glided along the ceiling-mounted rails. I almost pissed my jeans.
Hundreds, if not thousands of parents jostled down isles of toys, pushing, grabbing, snarling like a pack of wild dogs fighting for that last toy; the holiday spirit and common courtesy was alive and well. The queue of kids for the Rocket Train snaked through the basement like a soup line.
There, sitting on his mini-mountain top perch, sat old red-suited Santa Claus and his elfin apprentices, herding kids to his lap at break-neck speed. Each child got about fifteen-seconds, a black and white photograph, and then it was off the lap and down the steps. Kids were fast in those days; we memorized and practiced our list weeks before our visit for maximum impact. “Ho-Ho” had better be writing this stuff down. Kids don’t forget, squat.
Two Santa visits, four Rocket Train rides, and three popcorn bags later, our family unit departed Leonard’s for the new and improved “Leonard’s Christmas Tree Land,” located across the street from the main building. Thanks to the demolition of several winos infested abandoned buildings, the new lot was now the size of Rhode Island and held enough trees for every person and their dog in Texas.
Thousands, if not millions of fresh-cut trees awaited our choosing. Father, always the cheapskate, chose a sensible tree; not too big, not too small, yet full and fluffy with a lovely piney aroma. My sister and I pointed and danced like fools for the “pink flocked” tree in the tent, that cost the equivalent of a week’s salary. My parents enjoyed our cute antics. The sensible tree was secured to the top of our Nash Rambler station wagon, and we are homeward bound.
Pulling into our driveway, it was impossible to miss our neighbors extravagant holiday display. We had been away from home for 6 hours and returned to a full-blown holiday extravaganza that made our modest home look like a tobacco road share-croppers shack.
Our next-door neighbors, Mr. Mister and Mrs. Mister were the neighborhood gossip fodder. The couple moved from Southern California for his job. He, an aircraft-design engineer, and she, a former gopher girl at Paramount Studios. The Misters reeked new-found money and didn’t mind flaunting it. They drove tiny Italian sports cars and hired a guy to mow their lawn. His wife, Mrs. Mister, always had a Pall Mall ciggie in one hand and a frosty cocktail in the other. Father said she looked like a pretty Hollywood lady named Jane Mansfield, but Mother said she resembled a “gimlet-assed dime-store chippy.” I got the impression that the Misters were quite popular in the neighborhood.
Their Christmas display was pure Cecil B. DeMille. A life-size plywood sleigh, with Santa and his reindeer, covered the Mister’s roof, and 20 or more automated Elves and various holiday characters greeted passersby. Twinkling lights covered every bush and plant in the yard, and a large machine spat out thousands of bubbles that floated through the neighborhood. This was far more than Fort Worth was ready for.
The kill-shot was their enormous picture window that showcased a ceiling-high blue flocked tree bathed in color-changing lights. There, framed in the glow of their yuletide decor, sat Mr. and Mrs. Mister with their two poodles, Fred and Ginger, perched on their expensive modern sofa, sipping vermouth martinis like Hollywood royalty. This display of pompacious decadence didn’t go unnoticed by my parents.
Father hauled our puny tree into the living room and began unpacking lights for the decorating that would happen tomorrow evening. Mother hurried my sister and me off to bed. Visions of spying Elves, sugar plum pudding, and dangerous weapons danced in my head; Christmas was upon us.
Sometime after 10 PM, Father got hungry. Searching for sandwich fixings in the kitchen, he found a bottle of Jim Beam bourbon. Then he found a fresh half gallon of Egg-Nog, which of course, he enjoyed with the bourbon. While searching for bread to make the ham sandwich, he found two “Lux Laundry Soap Flake” boxes, with a dish-towel in each one. Then by chance, he discovered the food coloring. This gave him an idea for our sad little tree.
I awoke in a start. The sun was shining in my face, which meant I was late for school. I ran into the living room and was stopped in my tracks.
Our formally green tree was now flocked in thick pink snow, as were the curtains, the fireplace mantel, two chairs, the coffee table, and my father, who lay on the couch, passed out, with a half-eaten ham sandwich on his chest. My Mother sat a few feet away, sipping her coffee and smoking a Winston; my Louisville slugger lay on her lap. I was reluctant to approach her, but I had to know.
I timidly put my hand on her shoulder and asked, “Mom, is Dad going to be alright?” She took a sip of coffee and a drag from her ciggie and said, “well, for right now, he will be, but after he wakes up, who knows.”
Marjorie Mae has a dozen chickens living on her small farm on the outskirts of San Angelo, Texas. Normal Texas folks don’t think much of chickens except when they eat their eggs or have a piece of it fried or baked. Marjorie Mae is different; she treats her chickens like real folks; all of her fowl have first names and are somewhat educated.
Gilda, Ruby, Tootie, Francis, Lucille, Ethel, Jessie, Rea, Poochie, Piddle, Bebe, and Poteet. Call any one of them by their given name, and they come running like a spotted pup. She rather prides herself on being the keeper of educated farm fowl. She isn’t sure about the depth of their education, but they seem smarter than most run-of-the-mill barnyard chickens.
One day, walking by her barn on the way to the chicken coops to gather eggs, she hears piano music. She instantly recognizes the out-of-tune sound of her ancient broken-down upright piano that’s been stored there for ten years. Unfortunately, her husband Wilfred doesn’t play, so she figures a hobo or possibly an escaped felon from the prison farm must be hiding in her barn, twinkling the ivories. She grabs a 20 gauge from the house and marches off to confront the interloper.
As she gets closer, she realizes this is not some rube pecking around on her piano, but an educated musician, like herself, that knows their way around the 88 keys. So she slows her advance to a near stop to listen a bit more. She can’t be sure, but that sounds like Mozart’s Concerto No. 3 in B minor, but the piano is old and out of tune, so it could be anything short of a barn cat walking on the keyboard.
When she reaches the barn door, the music stops, then starts again. The beautiful haunting notes of Moon River float from within the dark depths. Whoever this trespasser is, she wants to meet them and have a bite of lunch at her kitchen table; hobo or felon, she opens the sliding door and enters the barn.
Thirty steps to the center of the barn, behind the frozen-up Ford tractor, is her dust-covered piano. The tarp cover is haphazardly thrown to one side. In the low light of the barn, she can’t see anyone, yet the playing continues. Finally, the culprit is discovered when she gets within five feet of the piano.
Her Sussex Speckled Hen, Rea, is standing on the keyboard, pecking the keys with her beak and both feet. Not the corny huckster trick pecking you see the chicken at the county fair playing on the toy piano for a quarter, but calculated and coordinated movements that are producing beautiful music. The first thing that comes to her mind is, “I’m going to be rich.”
I’m into the second week of my month-long summer visit to my grandparent’s farm in Santa Anna, Texas. It’s a hot night, and everyone is sitting on the covered front porch drinking sweet iced tea and Pearl beer. My two uncles, Jay and Bill, are visiting for a few days from Fort Worth and are putting the finishing touches on a case of beer they bought this morning at the Dino station. July is beer drinking season around here. It’s considered a main food group but must be served iced-cold to gain the nutritional value from the barley and hops.
Bill gets up from his chair and reaches into the Coleman cooler, extracting another Pearl; he uses his feed store church key and a pen knife to pop the cap. Then, looking out over the Santa Anna mountain, he says to no one in particular, ” I heard this morning there’s a piano-playing chicken over by San Angelo.” Uncle Jay, his brother, immediately replies, ” bull-shit, there ain’t no such thing as a piano-playing chicken. I bet you twenty dollars it’s a can of crap.”
The two brothers are the biggest storytellers and liars in Southwest Texas and will bet on anything. The more far-fetched and unbelievable, the better. Uncle Bill says we are leaving for San Angelo in the morning. I’m excited about this one.
After getting directions from the feed store and a man standing on a street corner, we head towards the farm of Miss Marjorie Mae. She is already a local celebrity and is the gossip fodder of the town. We arrive at her farm around 10 AM.
Marjorie answers her screen door, and uncle Jay states that we are here to see the piano-playing chicken. She says, ” it’s ten bucks a carload and I can’t promise you she will be a play’in if there are eggs to lay, she will most likely be doing that first; she’s a chicken you know.”
We are led to the barn, the door is opened, and there, glistening in the sunlight is a hand-polished upright piano. A silver candelabra and swirled glass vase of fresh flowers rest on top. Marjorie collects the ten bucks from uncle Bill. Jay pokes him in the ribs and whispers, “this is all bull-shit so you might as well pay me now. ”
Marjorie emerges from the barn carrying a fat Sussex Speckled Hen. This chicken is downright gorgeous for a barnyard critter. Its feathers are fluffed up into a fuzzball, and its toenails are painted bright red. A gold nametag hangs around the fowl’s neck. I can tell my uncles are duly impressed, as I am.
The hen is placed on the keyboard and immediately launches into a jive-inspired rendition of Glen Miller’s” In The Mood.” Finishing that tune, she plays a classical number and then goes right into ” Moon River, ” closing with the theme from ” A Summer Place.” My uncles are tapping their feet and laughing like deranged mental patients. Finally, the hen hops down from the keyboard and struts back into the barn; the show is over.
Uncle Bill thanks the lady for her hospitality. As we leave, he asks her name. She replies, “Marjorie Mae Mancini.” Bill inquires if the chicken has a name. She says, “oh yes, that’s Hen-Rea Mancini.” I kid you not.
I miss Blackie Sherrod and Dan Jenkins; two of the greatest sportswriters and humorists of our time. Authors, comedians, and good old boys that drank martini’s with the rich folk at Colonial Country Club and then afterward got a dice game going with the black caddies behind the superintendent’s shack.
Against my wishes and my common sense that told me not to, I did get the vaccine; both shots, in my left arm. Unfortunately, the second jab left me sick for 36 hours.
I lay on my sweat-soaked deathbed dreaming of cold ice water with a lemon wedge and banana pudding topped with vanilla wafers. The CVS lady that jabbed me the second time said I might have vivid dreams with a high fever, but she never mentioned food cravings.
I don’t plan on a third or fourth, or fifth shot. I’m done. It’s clear the vaccine does not work as intended, at least not in most countries. I will stay home, avoid crowds and all that BS from last year, but no more jabs for this old guy. I have Netflix, Amazon Prime, a jail-broke Firestick, good Irish Whiskey, and Becker wines, so I’m good.
I have an uneasy feeling that the government may have inserted super-duper-micro-tracking devices and Alexa-inspired listening bugs into the vaccine. I can’t prove it, but it’s a premonition that came to me in a nightmare a few weeks back. My wife had the same dream, so either we are spending too much time together, or some Twilight Zone stuff happening here.
My sister and her husband flew to Frankfurt Germany, to see their incredible Christmas Markets a few days ago. WTH? We have lovely markets here with plenty of lights and decorations, and you don’t risk getting killed by a terrorist. They said the risk is worth it since they got a sweet deal on plane tickets last year; buy one get one free. My brother-in-law is partial to warm German beer, and my sister likes strudel. She asked if I wanted a souvenir; I said bring me an autographed picture of Adolf.
They are fully vaxed, with punched cards, tattoos, baby pictures and all that, and reams of medical records offering more proof than anyone would require, so hopefully, they will make it back to Texas before Germany shuts down. I did advise her to find a friendly Bavarian family to live with if they can’t return home anytime soon.
I learned this afternoon that another caravan of 9,000 well-equipped and well-fed Haitians is on its way to the Mexico/Texas border. Apple has an 18 wheel tech truck traveling with the invaders if their $1500 iPhones or IPads break down. Add that to the other caravan that is a few days away, and you have enough folks to populate a Texas border town.
President Demento is thinking about re-instating the Trump law to stay in Mexico. The Mexican El Presidente’ is panicking. No crossings mean no payoffs from the Cartels and no economy. It’s either that scenario, or the Texas Rangers Cutting Horse Team, the Texas National Guard, and The Sons of The Alamo will be waiting for the invading hordes as they gather on the banks of the Rio Grande. I may go down to watch the battle and wave the 1824 Texas flag. We can open carry firearms with no license here in Texas, so you never know what might happen if some gun-slinging Bubba says “hold my beer and watch this.” It happens all the time.
Biden is now touting that he and the Pope have been good friends for decades. Joe B says he liked all the Pope’s routines when he was on Saturday Night Live. Father Guido Sarducci couldn’t be reached for comment.
The newest rage in urban America is flash mobs breaking into department stores and cleaning out their expensive merchandise. Of course, the cops yawn and have another donut. Not my job, man; I’m defunded. After cleaning out a Gucci Store in Beverly Hills, one mob did a choreographed dance routine to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and streamed it live on Facebook.