Luann’s Platter


Maureen and I visited Luby’s Cafeteria last week for lunch. When we walked in, the smells of food brought back memories from my childhood. Back in the 1950s in Fort Worth, there was Wyatt’s and Luby’s. It was always a hard choice for the family. Luby’s had the best deserts, while Wyatt’s always served larger portions. My Dad usually chose Wyatt’s. More bang for the buck. It was the Eisenhower years and things were tight. That’s back when he was still a Democrat. I was just a hungry kid.

We took our place in line, trays aligned on the metal rail. I scanned the extra large menu board for my favorite dish, but couldn’t find it. I panicked. The platter I came for, and have always ordered for decades is “The Luann Platter,” and they damn well better have it. My blood sugar was low and I could feel a rant coming on. Maureen rubbed a drop of “Peace of Mind” lotion under my nose to calm me. Then, in the lower corner of the board, I spotted it. ” The Luann Platter, half portions with a roll – $8.99.” What the hell! It used to be $4.99 with a roll, a drink, and pie? Retired folk cant afford those prices.

I approached the smiling lady server and using my best old man controlled voice said, ” I’m not paying $8.99 for a half portion that was $4.99 with a piece of pie the last time I ate at Luby’s” and slammed my fist on my tray for effect.

Still smiling, she replied, ” Well sir, then you can choose the children’s plate if you are over 65 and or acting like a child, as of which you appear to be. You have a choice of chicken strips, a hot dog or spaghetti with a 2% milk and a fruit cup. That will set you back $4.99 plus tax. And by the way, The Luann Platter has been $8.99 since 2001.”

Oh, she was really messing with me now. Her smile had turned to a slight sneer and her eyes got beady. I leaned over the glass barrier. ” Do you know who Luann Platter is, young lady?” I demanded. ” No sir, was she a famous cook or employee of the month or something?” she said. Good Lord, this girl is clueless.

By this point, two other line servers had flanked the young miss in case I went postal. I faced them and with conviction said,” Luann Platter is the most famous character on the television show, ” King of the Hill.” An animated series that is set in Garland Texas and this dish that you serve is named for her. Don’t you know who Hank, Bobby, and Peggy Hill are?” The three servers had the look of social ignorance on their young faces. It was useless to explain. I collected my platter and we proceeded to the checkout.

We sat in our booth, eating our lunch in silence. The food wasn’t as good as it used to be. The good old days are gone for good. My turnip greens turned out to be Kale; the most evil weed ever cooked. Maureen’s chicken was rubber faux chicken and my corn muffin was doughy and awful. We can scratch this one off of our list.

Leaving the cafeteria, a fortyish blond women in a Luby’s uniform held the door open for us. In a girlish voice she said, ” Ya’ll come back now.” I noticed her name tag read “Luann.”

The Boys in Blue


I have always advocated purchasing things from children. Lemonade, cards, homemade candy and even cookies. It helps them understand capitalism, and having a little jingle in a kids pocket makes them feel good.

Last evening as I sat eating my second box of Girl Scout cookies, it dawned on me that there is a form of discrimination being practiced in the scouting world. The Girl Scouts, Brownies, Campfire Girls and Bluebirds get to sell merchandise for profit. Where does that leave the Cub Scouts? Penniless is where. The little boys in blue are as poor as blind mice living behind the Goodwill store. I hatched a plan. I called an old friend of mine, Marvin, a former scout like myself and ran my sure fire money maker by him.

For the time being, the Cub Scouts are boys. There may be those few that are confused about their assigned gender, but they can work that out later. Most of the scout leaders are men and fathers. Men like manly things, so by deduction the Cubs follow their lead. Selling cookies is not manly. Selling things that men like is.

Following the winning method the Girls have established, the Cubs can set up their display outside of Walmart or any retail establishment that will oblige them. On their tables will be an array of things men like such as; craft bourbon with names like Wolfs Breath, Hair of the Bear, and Webelo’s Firecracker. Beautiful cedar boxes of cigars with the scout emblem burned into the top, (every Dad loves a good stogie and a stiff bourbon after a scout meeting.) On another table, Daisy Red Ryder BB guns and kid size camping hatchets next to an array of extremely sharp knives and Cherry Bombs.

Marvin loved my idea. We meet with the Boy Scouts of America next week. Things are looking up.

You Will Buy My Cookies


Walking into Walmart this morning, I was accosted, not by a panhandler or some poor schmuck with a sob story, but a cute eight-year-old girl selling Girl Scout cookies. She wouldn’t take no for an answer and she “had” all the answers. This little waif, hands on her hips and a defiant gleam in her eye, actually blocked my entrance into Walmart. Standing in front of me like a little David about to punch Goliath, she meant business. I couldn’t bump her out of the way so I was forced to engage her. It was all a grand scheme. Standing behind a table stacked with boxes of cookies were four Mama Bears just waiting for me to decline. They all had that ” Just try to get out of this one,” sneer on their face.

” I don’t have any money,” I pleaded

” We take credit and debit cards,” she chirps. When did this start? Does every kid have a credit card machine in their backpack?

” I’m diabetic and could have a seizure,” I add.

“No problem mister, we have sugar and gluten-free,” she sneers.

I’m trapped. Twenty adults are staring at me as if I am a leper. I hand her my Visa card and she rings up five boxes of cookies and a twenty percent tip to boot. I take my cookies and walk to my car, fearing they will grab me again on the way out. I’ll be having cookies for supper.


Heavy Metal Thunder


I’ve known about the Lone Star Bike Rally for years. A little get together in Galveston for local bike clubs to share stories and show off their expensive motorcycles. Turns out I didn’t know diddly- squat.

This invasion is an assault on the fair city of Galveston, and if not for the income the city will deposit, they would not allow this invasion of big spenders.

Imagine 400,000 people on Harly’s, Victory’s and Honda’s riding around every inch of the city all at once. The noise is maddening and the traffic snarl is epic. These motorcycles are deafening on their own, and now bikers have added hi-tech sound systems to the machines and everyone is on a different channel or mp3 player. Rap, soul, rock, heavy metal, country all at the same time from 400,000 different systems. It sounds like an alien orchestra.

The Strand and Seawall Boulevard are shut down. Where are these people going? A few hours ago, I followed a large pack of around a hundred or so of them down San Luis Pass highway. When they reached Jaimaca Beach, the pack turned around and headed back to Galveston for a repeat.

Gas stations are running out of fuel and ice. Beer is in short supply and the price is rising. One old timer in our condo complex heard that the National Guard may be called up to airlift Budweiser to the C-Stores. This is serious folks.

Every bike club in Texas must be here. Today I saw the following: a group of heavyset bearded guys in top hats and denim calling themselves the “Flying Garcias”, a pack of women riders in black leather calling themselves ” Dykes on Bikes” and a small pack of pastel-colored Vespas where the women were wearing capri pants, head scarfs and Jackie O sunglasses while the men sported madras shirts and Bermuda shorts. Everyone is getting into the act. The two best yet were the guys in Evil Kenival jumpsuits riding classic Triumphs, and a small pack riding vintage 1940s bikes dressed like Marlon Brando from “The Wild Ones”. Very cool.

Too bad I sold my Honda Trail 90 last year or I would be right in the middle of this invasion.

 

Someone Done Messed With Texas


Back in 1985, some cowboy hat wearing, dope smoking senator in Austin came up with a slogan and a television campaign to keep our sacred highways litter free. It was a stated fact, by known experts at TXDOT, that the litter on our state highways and FM roads come from young white males ejecting refuse from their pickups. I didn’t believe that, but that’s what the powers to be in Austin ran up the flagpole. Highway litter is indigenous.  Purveyors of trash have no color, no age or given vehicle type. All citizens are prone at one time or another.

Being an aware driver in those years,  I did, on occasion, witness assorted elderly motorist  throw the following  from their Buick or Cadillac : McDonalds, Dairy Queen or Sonic bags, assorted catheters, used depends, a walker, various canes, a walking boot, Rockport walking shoes, a personal scooter and a dead Chihuahua. On I-35 outside of Georgetown,  a young couple in a gray primer Chevy tagged my windshield with a poopy diaper at 70 miles per hour.   Lets be honest folks, it was everyone in the damn state. The shoulders of our highways looked like an alley in down town Detroit.

The first commercial of the campaign ran during a super bowl and featured Stevie Ray Vaughn playing “The Eyes of Texas” on his beat up strat and then leaning into his mic and speaking “Don’t Mess With Texas”. Yeah Bubba, we believed him because he was who he was. Willie also did a good commercial.  The Red Headed Stranger himself, standing there plucking that raggedy-ass flamingo guitar, pigtails hanging down and singing half a meter behind the music. That was back in the days when he was seriously being considered for a saint hood, so he could have persuaded any Texan to walk barefoot on a trail of broken Lone Star bottles.  Sassy gal, Governor Ann Richards and a cattle call of  Texas born actors and musicians proudly put themselves out there for the sake of garbage.  The campaign was wildly successful and within a few years the appearance of our highways was improved. What a difference three decades can make.

My wife Maureen and I drove to Dallas and Fort Worth this past Sunday from our recently adopted home in Galveston. She, to see grand children and myself to pick up my old Honda CRV from my sisters house in Plano.

Monday morning, I drove past downtown Dallas on I-45 and came upon a stretch of highway over the Trinity River. On either side of the roadway was garbage piled against the barriers. Not your standard trash bags, but sofas, chairs, lawnmowers, a dishwasher, a stove, televisions, a lemonade stand, various bumpers and tires and three cars on concrete blocks, wheels removed. It looked as if a convoy of Waste Management trucks had overturned and not bothered to cleanup the wreckage. So this is what Don’t Mess With Texas has become? City of Dallas, TXDOT…what the hell? A major highway through your city looks like a dump. At that moment, I was glad that we had left Dallas years ago. I was embarrassed for my former town. This carnage went on for at least a mile and as the long bridge ended, I saw a large travel bus parked on the right shoulder. An old bearded man in a black track suit and pigtails  was walking down the side of the highway picking up garbage. I did a double take but kept on driving.

 

 

 

Sea and Cactus


Well…we finally did it! Sold the house in Granbury Texas, packed up and moved to Galveston Island, all in one week. Now we sit on our condo balcony and stare at the ocean which is about a good pitching wedge away from our perch. It rained every day the first week and now, a few days past our second, its much cooler and less humid. Not bad weather for people our age. I assume the weather is what draws people our age, since there are throngs of them in all corners of the island. Could Galveston be the new redneck Miami Beach?  My bet would be yes.

This blog has been Notes From The Cactus Patch for a while, so my dilemma is, do I keep the name or change it? I found one small gathering of cactus about fifteen miles down the island highway, so if that counts as a patch, then the name remains.

Every surfer outside of Texas knows there “aint no surf in Texas”. Well Bub..let me tell you about October 10th. Hurricane Michael paid a visit to the Gulf and kicked the crap out of Florida, but along the way, he provided perfect sets of 8-10 foot  waves here in G-Town. We sat on our balcony and watched surfers at Jimmy’s Pier tear those bad boys up. Every surfer in the region converged on Galveston Island for that one day and it was epic. Being a surfer myself, I ached to be out there with them, but in reality, I probably could not have paddled through the break. I haven’t surfed for 25 years, so I will for now, leave that sport to my son and grandsons.

Now that I am retired ( in my own mind) I will be more diligent in keeping this blog current. I am working on a series of short stories and a children’s book about the Alamo.

More soon….

For the Love of A Dummy


A few weeks ago, I was surfing the net looking for comedy albums and came across one titled “Beverly and Eric Sing”. The album cover was a pretty blonde girl holding a lap dummy and they appeared to be gazing into each others eyes and singing. I studied the girl for a moment and realized that it was my cousin Beverly, whom no one in the family had heard from in many years.   I had heard from another distant cousin that she had reinvented herself and made a stab at a career in singing. So, here she was, singing love duets with a lap dummy. Some things never change.

Beverly was a strange child that seemed to like dolls more than people. As kids, any game we played always included her doll as a participant. We didn’t mind, it was a kid thing. We sort of liked having conversations with a plastic doll.

As she matured, her taste in dolls evolved, and she moved on to Charlie McCarthy type lap dummies.

Every holiday, there was always a dummy seated next to her at the family dinner table. The dummy always ate well. Even if it was the last piece of pie, the dummy got it.  It made no difference that it couldn’t digest anything, she would stuff Turkey and dressing, pies, gravy, biscuits, all the stuff we loved, right down its little wooden gullet until it ran out the dummies hollow back. Dummy poop. It was disgusting.

The family just smiled and cooed, “how cute”. My aunt would always brush it off as “a little phase she’s going through”.

My cousins and I knew better.  Beverly was a psycho.
When she turned sixteen, her dummies began speaking to us as if they were human.

At every family gathering, there was a new dummy and Beverly was often caught nuzzling and smooching on those little wooden devils.

She did try dating real boys a few times, but always took her dummy along for a chaperone. This didn’t go well with the “real boy“, so it was usually one date, no kiss and get the hell out of my car type of thing.

We didn’t see her too much during those years, just a line in a Christmas card from Aunt Bea now and then, sort of ” Bev is doing fine, is on the Debate team” blah blah.

Her junior year of college, Beverly announced that she was getting married to her boyfriend Eric, and she was bringing him home for Christmas to meet the family.

Her parents were extremely excited that she had found love while away at school.

Her mother, Aunt Bea, arranged for a huge surprise party for the betrothed during their visit, and went overboard inviting friends and family to share in their new joy. They were confident that Beverly had turned that corner that led to sanity and a boyfriend with a pulse.

The night she arrived home, everyone was hiding in the den with the lights off.

When Bev walked in, her mother hit the switch and everyone yelled “surprise”.

I was in the other room looking out the window and didn’t see anyone walk up with her, or sitting in the car, so I knew she had been dumped or this was a fabrication.

Everyone hugged, kissed and slobbered over Beverly for a few minutes, then her mother asked, “where is Eric?”

Beverly chirped that he was waiting in the car and she cheerfully went out to fetch him.

All the aunts and the female cousins were so excited, they were about to pee themselves right there in Aunt Bea’s den. I think Cousin Sissy did leave a little puddle, but blamed it on the dog, Chester.

A beaming and radiant Beverly walked in the door carrying a large black leather duffle bag.

Aunt Bea looked at her, then at the bag, then at her again, and proceeded to turn as white as the wedding cookies on the kitchen table.

Beverly unzipped her bag, stuck her hand in and pulled out Eric.

I must say, Eric was quite a handsome lap dummy. He had long stylish hair, with just the slightest hint of moose, a close cropped goatee, and he was sporting a Ralph Lauren sport coat with soft grey wool slacks. Soft black baby loafers with tassels completed the ensemble. Quite a dresser he was.

Eric introduced himself to the family, and was very chatty and engaging. His voice was sort of like the kid in the movie “The Shining“, when he kept saying “red rum”. A bit unsettling to those that saw the movie.

My uncle Doodie stood at the back of the room observing the whole sick scene.

I could tell from his anguished expression that he wasn’t buying any of this.

Finally, Beverly announcing that they were getting married, pulled Eric up close and gave him a big sloppy kiss, with a lot of tongue.

That was it for uncle Doodie.

He charged through the surrounding relatives and grabbed little Eric during mid-kiss.

When he grabbed the dummy, Beverly’s hand, which was inside of Eric’s little body got caught in the string causing Eric’s hard wooden lips to bite down on her tongue. The harder my uncle pulled the little demon, the harder Eric bit.

Uncle was jerking the dummy, Beverly was trying to scream and Chester the dog had joined in, grabbing one of Eric’s legs, jerking it off and running out the back door leaving a trail of cotton filling on my aunt’s new rug.

After a struggle, uncle Doodie managed to get Eric from Beverly, and grabbing a small hatchet from the hearth, proceeded to chop the little dummy into kindling, right there in front of the shocked family.

With every whack of the hatchet, Eric screamed “help Beverly, help your little Eric”.

I must say, that even in the midst of the killing, Bev did a great job with Eric’s voice. I didn’t see her mouth move one time.

Now, poor Beverly, in her distress of watching her true love turned into cotton balls and fire starter, ran screaming to her car and drove away.

It was years before anyone heard from her again.

I called my cousin Poodie to tell him about the album I found on the internet and he filled me in our Beverly’s antics up until now.

Poodie relayed that a few years ago, Beverly and Eric 2, her new husband, had taken a trip to Disneyland.

It appears that during the ride “It’s a Small Small World”, Eric went nuts and hurled himself from the boat into a scene with singing and dancing hula girls.

Beverly, not about to let her man run off with some hussy dummy in a hula skirt, jumped from the boat, and destroyed the entire automated display of little singing hula dummies.

In the mêlée, she accidentally dismantled little Eric, an abrupt end to the marriage.

Aunt Bea reports that  she is happy in the state home, and has now taken on the spirit of Sherri Lewis and Lamb Chop, and keeps herself busy working on a come back show.

I think I’ll buy the album just to hear the duets.

Uncle Nehi’s Nap Camp


 

I read an article in my local paper a few days back about a youngster from Louisiana that fed his pet earthworms small amounts of nuclear waste, which in turn, made them glow in the dark and grow to the size of a state-fair hotdog. 

He is now raking in cash, hawking them on his own late-night infomercial. Every fisherman in the south wants a giant wiggling glowing worm. Every bass needs one. I wondered, what kind of person would come up with such an idea?

My family tree back in the “old country” was chock full of these sorts. Dreamers, schemers, and medicine show hucksters. All died poor except one.

Take my Great-Great-Great Uncle Nehi, a puny Scott with a sweet tooth. He spent his spare time in search of sugary delights. One night, while experimenting with various potions of colored water, fruit, and healthy doses of sugar, he invented “Nehi Soda.” Now It wouldn’t be summer without a grape Nehi and a Moon Pie, would it? His tinkering resulted in the “all American soda.” Soda pop made him wealthy, and he died young from a roaring case of Diabetes, but he died prosperous and happy. 

I always preferred Dr. Pepper, but my parents made us drink Nehi every year on the anniversary of his passing.

If it wasn’t for “dreamers and hucksters,” a beloved section of our economy would not exist. There would be no infomercials on television. Drug stores would have fewer isles full of useful little “as seen on TV” things. People would be wondering how to make their fresh juice or cover that bald spot. How could they make their hair puff out to look like a jelly roll while roaming around town in a snuggly blanket with armholes? Hanging upside down tomatoes would not exist. How would the astronauts write upside down without that nice ballpoint pen? I get a little scared thinking about what life would be like without these gadgets.

This past Saturday, my wife and I enjoyed lunch at a quaint restaurant alongside the Guadalupe River in Gruene, Texas. It was a hot one. A real sizzler. 100 degrees in the shade and we were sitting outside on their covered deck, enjoying the river’s tranquility and cooled by the misters. 

My wife, Maureen, full of food and a cold beer, drowsily commented, “a nap would be nice right now.” I agreed, but there was nowhere to have a nappy except the hot car, so that idea was out.

I summoned our bill and sat staring at the beautiful river, watching the tubers drift by, listening to the lull of bubbling water, I was entranced, hypnotized by nature’s respite.

 My bill arrived, and on the servers plate was an ice-cold Nehi Grape Soda, bound for another’s enjoyment. I hadn’t seen a Nehi soda in decades. 

I was slapped hard by this boy and girls, the Nehi, the river, the need for a nap, and nature, it all hit me at once. I couldn’t speak, and could only croak out “nap camp…Nehi…nappy.” 

Thinking I was having a stroke, my wife whipped out her cell phone and started to dial 911, but stopped when I finally choked out the words, “Uncle Nehi’s Nap Camp.” I had that stupid look that she knows all too well, something akin to “hold my beer and watch this.” She waited for the spiel, of which I was overly anxious to deliver.

Grabbing her reluctant hand, I dragged her down to the river bank. She was scared: I was excited. Invigorated and drunk on the elixir of my vision.

“Why didn’t I think of this years ago” I yelled. “It’s like the boy and his nuclear fishing worms. It’s not too late, seize the minute, make your mark, mark your territory, piss into the wind for a change. People need to sleep, they need a good nap, it’s our right!”

I was so excited I was waving my arms and spinning around like a “tent revival preacher.” I was on a roll. 

I was yelling like a five-year-old on a sugar high, “over there in the trees by the river, we can build cedar post and metal roof pole barns, add ceiling fans and misters and put up some comfy hammocks. We’ll have an outside bar selling Nehi sodas, cold Lone Star beer and baloney, and rat cheese sandwiches. We could have a small barn with little hanging beds for the kids and dogs, and a separate napping barn for in-laws and people you don’t care for. Imagine, napping in a hammock next to the calm river, life doesn’t get any better than that. Right?”

A grizzled old fisherman was sitting by a tree with his cane pole listening to this opera of fools. He piped in, “not a bad idea, sonny boy, but Old Blind Mable tried that back in 1949 and lost her butt. You can’t put a business in a flood plain. This river flooded pretty well every year back then.

Old Blind Mable had a mess of hammocks and people sleeping in them thangs, and the river floods and washes everyone down to New Braunfels, whether they wanted to go there or not. If you got some money to piss away, go ahead, I’ll have a nap here until it rains, then I’m heading to high ground.” My wife looked at me and said: “let’s go home and have a nap, Einstein.”

I was crushed, a broken man, my vision was a pile of raccoon crap, shot down by a crusty old river rat: and my wife agreed with him. No Nehi sodas, no ice-cold Lone Star in a hammock, no nap camp. What the hell.

As we walked back to the car, a large dog came strutting down the street, pulling a kid on a skateboard. I watched them cruise by and thought, “a big skateboard for two, add seats, get some big dogs and rent them to pull people around town, “now that’s a moneymaker.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jacksboro Highway and Memories of the Sunset Ballroom


Jacksboro Highway In the 1950s-Memories of the Sunset Ballroom

By Phil Strawn

Back in the early fifties, for a very short while, my Father, Johnny Strawn, owned the Sunset Ballroom, just a stones throw off Jacksboro Highway, in West Fort Worth Texas.
My Father, a country fiddle player by profession, soon realized that trying to play nightly gigs at other clubs, and managing his own business didn’t work,  so he hired, as his club manager, his childhood running buddy, best friend, and my God Father, “Big” Dick Hickman.

Dick and my Father had grown up together in depression era Fort Worth and managed to remain best friends to their last day. Decades later, they often reminisced, over a good glass of scotch, that ‘they didn’t know they were poor, because everyone had the same amount of nothing that they did”

Dick, besides being the new manager, was also pulling double duty as the clubs bouncer. A job he deplored, but accepted, performed extremely well when required. Being a family man and a peaceful sort, he soon became weary of kicking unruly customers rears every night, so my father, in lapse of good judgment,  hired one of the local tough guys to take Dicks place as the official bouncer and security, A mean little cat, that went by the name of “Toes Malone”

Toes was a likable two-bit-north side thug that had experienced one too many run-ins with the Fort Worth mob. The boys in the mob liked him immensely, and thought he was a funny guy to be around, so when Toes tried to horn in on their action or crossed them in any way, instead of just killing him outright like anyone else, they would shoot, or cut off a body part to teach him a lesson.

After a few major discussions in back ally’s with his admirers, and the loss of an ear, three-fingers and an arm, “Toes” got his new name.

He didn’t give up being a tough guy.  Being the mean little son-of-a-gun that he was, he had the local boot smith, install two small pen knife blades into the toes of his Justin cowboy boots.

He was pretty agile for a one armed cat, and could carve you up like a Winn Dixie rib-roast before you knew what happened to you.

No one messed with Toes. He was the original Bad Leroy Brown of the south.

The patrons loved Toes so much, they would ask him to show his little “toe knives” to their wives just for laughs. He would gladly hoist his boot up on their table and proudly display his shiny little blades to anyone who asked, and tipped a buck or two. The wives, giggling like school girls, would open their pack of Lucky Strikes on his boot tip blades.

He was part of the entertainment, sort of a hoodlum head waiter that would kill you if you complained about anything.

My father said his presence increased business, so in spite of his reputation, he kept him own. He did admit in later years that firing Toe’s would have likely led to his own early demise.

Toes, being a hoodlum to the core, couldn’t help himself, and finally crossed the mob boys one too many times. On a cold December night in 1953, out by Crystal Springs Ballroom, they blew him in half with a shotgun blast.

My Father, saddened by the grisly demise of his entertaining employee, was relieved that he didn’t have to fire him.

Toes didn’t have any real friends, so the memorial was attended by a handful of musicians, the mob boys that killed him, and a few patrons from the Sunset.

On top of  his casket,  sat his little knife boots, and a  nice framed picture of a 10-year-old Toes. A very fitting end. And once again, Dick had his old job back.

The Sunset, as the legend goes, was where the famous Roger Miller goosing incident occurred.

It’s been said it happened at Rosas or any number of clubs in Fort Worth, but I have it from two witnesses, my father and Dick, that it happened at the Sunset.

Roger Miller, one of future “King of the Road” fame, grew up around Fort Worth and Oklahoma and like many stars, struggled many years in the joints before making it big in Nashville. He was a worse than half-assed fiddle player, but a promising song writer, scraping out a living by frequenting the Sunset ballroom, Rosas, Stella’s, Crystal Springs or any other dive that would let him sing and play for a few bucks.

One August night at the Sunset, he was onstage singing a tune and torturing his fiddle for the less than appreciative crowd. The dance floor was full of sweaty “tummy rubbing” dancers doing their best to “not pass out” from the oppressive Texas heat that saturated every corner of the un-air-conditioned joint.

There was one couple dancing, the lady, clad in very tight peddle pushers, was really putting on good show for the boys on stage.

She got her rear-end right up against the stage and, Roger Miller, being the pre-Icky Twerp idiot that he was, couldn’t resist reaching out with his fiddle bow and goosing her backside.

She jumped.. pushed her dance partner away and slugged him in the nose. The injured fellow, with the help of numerous whiskey and cokes, stumbled and fell into a table full of visiting mob boys that turned out to see Roger torture his fiddle.

The ensuing brawl lasted a good ten minutes, clearing out the club. Dick was carrying the fighters out by the collar, two at a time. The mob boys “whooped up” on most everyone within a three table area, and the rest of the people just whooped each other. The Fort Worth police came in, assessed the situation, sat at the bar, had a free coke, took their pay off money and left.

Roger was banned from playing his fiddle at the Sunset, and soon after that incident, he went on to Nashville, and started writing better tunes and working in better dives.

My Mother, fed up with my fathers teetering on the fringe of certain death,  finally told him to sell the place or he would be living there by himself.

Dad sold it to Dick, Dick hated it, and sold it to some mullet, and the club, after becoming an illegal gambling joint in the late fifties, finally ceased to exist and was demolished in the mid-sixties.

In spite of it’s well deserved reputation, most of the great entertainers did manage to play there; Lefty Frizzle, Marty Robbins, Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys, Bill Boyd and the Cowboy Ramblers, Willie Nelson, The Lightcrust Doughboys, and a long cast of other impressive country music acts.

 

One Saturday night, a few weeks before Dad sold it to Dick,  Bob Wills and his band, had a show in Weatherford Texas that was canceled due to bad weather. Not wanting to make the night a complete loss, on his way back into town, he stopped at the Sunset. Bob, being good friends with my Dad, as well as his mentor, took the whole band on stage and did a knocked out impromptu show.  Word on the Jacksboro Highway spread fast, and within an hour, the place was packed to capacity.  I have an old 8×10 black and white picture of Bob and  Dad playing twin fiddles on San Antonio Rose. It was a night he was profoundly proud of, and over the years, spoke of it often.

The old place may have been a dive with a less than stellar reputation, but that long demolished building and that rickety stage saw some of  the greatest musicians in country music.

The Sunset Ballroom, Forth Worth Texas

.

My Veteran


Sunday, The Sabbath, the seventh day of creation, a time for rest and reflection. For more than fifty years I have believed , and find no fault with any of those holy descriptions.

Religious quotes take on different meanings  over the years, and these days, if you took to the street and stopped any male between the ages of 18 and 30, and posed the question ,”what did God accomplished on the seventh day”, without missing a beat, his answer would probably be, ” he created football-what else”. I can’t disagree with that. Historically speaking, It’s plausible that a few thousand years ago ,on some vacant lot in Jerusalem, a group of kids were  tossing around  an inflated camel bladder. That is, until their mothers made them cease the silly game, afraid that they would break their little necks. And with that ancient parental declaration, the game ceased, and was lost to mankind until sometime in the late 19th century. It’s makes a man wonder what else was lost.

A few Sundays ago, I invited a couple of buddies over to watch the big game, Dallas against the Eagles.  Father Frank, our benevolent and supportive priest at ” Our Lady of Perpetual Repentance”,  gave most of the men an early discharge from mass so we could make it home for the kickoff. Quietly, the men filed out of the chapel, exiting to feminine hisses of

” blasphemer, sinners”. As “I departed”, my lovely wife offered me a lip quivering snarl. I thought it best not to point out that she had a piece of bagel stuck in her front tooth.

Arriving home, I warmed up the flat screen and headed for the kitchen. I opened the fridge, no beer. I went to the pantry, no chips, no bean dip, no nothing. I panicked. Thirty minuets to kickoff. I made it to the Sun City “three letter” grocery in record time.

I found the store overrun with packs of wandering males, lost and searching for the items on their list.

The chip isle was a mosh- pit-the dip cabinet was empty-one frozen pizza left, “it‘s mine” I yelled.  Frantically, I headed for the beer section. The bodies were 5 deep, grabbing anything that is cold and alcoholic. I waded into the melee.

Beside me was an old gentlemen, late eighties, in tow to a shriveled up wife of about the same age. He reached into the cooler and pulled out a six pack of his favorite brew and placed it in their cart, next to the frozen dinners and the case of Metamucil. His wife, aghast, announced; ” you know we can’t afford that on our pension, put it right back, now!”. The old man offered a weak defense, ” it’s only a six pack and you know I have to have my beer when I watch my Cowboys”. Not to be. She stared him down and he returned the treasure.

I noticed he wore an ancient Don Meredith jersey and a ball cap with a veterans patch, Airborne, it read, WWII, the real boys- boots on the ground after falling a mile- a soldiers soldier, tough as boiled leather.

You know that feeling, when something needs to be said, but you can’t spit it out?

I wanted to blurt out,  ” don’t let that dried up old Battle Axe take away your beer. Damn, you fought on the beaches and the fields of France, you killed Nazis, dodged bullets with your name on them, thumbed your nose at the Third Reich and Mussolini. You held your mortally wounded  buddies as they drew their last breath, calling for their mother, as they started their journey home. You deserve to have your beer, tell the old Battle Axe to take a hike”.  I couldn’t say it. It would have made no difference, so I grabbed my beer and moved on. I watched them as they shuffled down the isle, he slowly pushing the cart, she berating.

I needed some shampoo, so I made my way over to that isle. There in front of the beauty lotions, stood the old couple. “Ms. Battle axe” was tossing bottles of creams, lotions and astringents into their cart like a conveyer belt, seemed that the pension covered those items.

As I neared their cart, the old man, with perfect timing pipes up, ” you know we can’t afford all those expensive lotions on my pension, put that crap back!”

Battle axe wheels around on her Rockport walking shoe and fired back,” I need these things to make me look beautiful .”

The old veteran, squinted his eyes, snarled his lip and said, ” yeah, well a six pack of beer accomplishes the same thing, and it’s a hell of a lot cheaper.”

Everyone on the isle witnessed their exchange. Their chuckles, impossible to stifle. Embarrassed the old couple, with crimson faces aglow, retreated down the isle.

I caught up with them, and offered my hand to the feisty old fellow. He shook my hand and gracefully accepted my impromptu, sputtering speech of  appreciation for his service. My words finally exhausted, he looked me in the eye, winked, and gave my hand one last shake, squeezing my fingers like a small vice. We both smiled.

Without hesitation, I took my case of beer and dropped it into their cart.

“Battle Axe” piped ” he doesn’t need that”.

In my most polite and official manner,  I  replied, ” It’s compliments of the  Dallas Cowboys, Mam” , and with that, I turned and walked away.

The old veteran yelled out, ” Sonny boy, hey son”

As I turned to face him, he raised a gnarled old fist and yelled ” Go Cowboys”. I returned the salute, and continued on my way.