Category Archives: Personal

Springdale & Brinkley Hold Lessons

This post evolved from a simple comparison of my geographical past. It grew to encompass parts of me and as such, is very personal. If you will pardon my generalizations and laziness toward exact writing, you might find something interesting.

I didn’t come to Springdale until the early 70s. My dad dragged our recently reconstituted family up here for the promise of a steady job, away from the geography which took the blame for so much of my dad’s heartache. His time in prison in Indiana and his involvement in the death of one of my cousins (unrelated to prison) had broken him of some of his desperate need to remain in his hometown. My dad had a brother here, my Uncle Buck, as well as a few cousins. Our move was prior to the miracle of the interstate reaching its tentacles up to Northwest Arkansas, so all trips to NWA were long, winding escapades. It seemed like we drove for days to reach the mountains of Springdale. I didn’t understand what a ‘hillbilly’ was. All I knew were the fields of Monroe County and the places my grandma and grandpa called home. Being with my dad was the last thing on my wish list.

Years take on a different meaning when I stop to consider that soon enough I will be exactly halfway between 1970 and 2070. Springdale and I both have changed immeasurably since I was young. The area of the Delta from which I came has continued a generally languid, shuffled march toward annihilation while NWA has become a beacon for commerce and lifestyle. It was sheer luck that my dad’s terrible fortune planted my feet here. And while the Delta was once the powerhouse of agriculture but found no clear footing to advance, Springdale and surrounding areas used agriculture as a springboard from which to dive into a diversified future. So many of us here live in houses situated on plots once adorned with grapes, apples, strawberries and all manner of other foods.

It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized that the interstate running through Brinkley wasn’t always there, a fact which should have been immediately obvious. In Brinkley’s case, though, the interstate seems to have provided a convenient escape for the younger generation, as they ventured out and realized that the state had more to offer in other places. In Arkansas’ early history, roads were intensely local, often built to connect small town agricultural markets. For the affluent parts of the state, the interstate gave people and commerce alike the way to merge interests. While lifelong residents of Brinkley might wish to disagree, it is obvious that good roads shone a beacon toward better opportunities in other parts of the state. Brinkley could have been one of the jewels of this state, given its location. Even as I sometimes forget that I once loved the flatlands there, I will admit to its austere beauty.

I also forget that many parts of my early life are inexplicably entwined with those people who I deeply loved and those who were violent caricatures of real people. Geography mixes in my head and sometimes paints an unfair picture of those places, simply because the people walking across my stage were broken people. As we all do, I carry pieces of these broken people in my head, as such slivers are difficult to excise. I can hold the image of standing near a rice field near Brinkley, up to my ankles in mud, laughing; I can also imagine walking alongside a pungent Tontitown grape vine in August, my fingers cleverly stealing unwashed grapes and eating them like candies. I’m not sure which place or memory is more valid, but I do know that being surrounded by people with love in their hearts can make any geography welcoming, while immersion in the minds of lesser people will reduce the world’s brilliance regardless of where one’s feet might be. It’s how City View might have been a place of low resort for many, and a welcome mat for others.

Because of the reduced crucible I survived as a kid, on the one hand, there was so much about this town which remained unknown to me. My life was incredibly small. I could sense that it was an interesting place, though. My family moved over twenty times by the time I had reached adulthood. So many places around Springdale became familiar to me. In many ways, I feel as if this was advantageous to me, giving me a different perspective than someone who was lucky enough to remain fairly rooted in the same place growing up. In my family’s case, our ongoing moves concealed the array of abuse and violence camouflaged inside each respective new residence.

When I was in 2nd grade, I remember asking Mom what it was like attending school with black children in Monroe County. She looked at me like I had been hit with a shovel and said, “I didn’t. We were segregated.” (It was probably a lucky thing for them, though.) I wondered why Springdale was segregated, too, given that there were no black kids in class with me. How was I supposed to know that there were so few minorities living here? I was so naive. Even trying to understand that one of schoolyard buddies Danny was actually from Chile was beyond my comprehension. That’s how reduced my life was without education. Had I been born 100 years ago and remained in Monroe County, I could easily see myself in the role of unapologetic racist. My family would have raised me to believe that it was a certainty.

It’s funny now, my ignorance. In my early youth, I had never heard the word “segregated” except as a muttered curse. For most of the whites in the Delta, segregation was a word equated with government distrust. When I started learning history, it astonished me that there was such a short jump between our Civil War and WWII.

My dad took us back to Brinkley for my 3rd-grade year, to attempt to run a gas station in the no-man’s land on Highway 49 outside of Brinkley. While my home life was a slow-moving mess, school was fascinating. Just as I got acclimated to flat lands again, Dad’s failed business drove us back to Northwest Arkansas.

I remember my Uncle ___ saying that he was jealous of my dad, Bobby Dean because Springdale didn’t have ‘the plague’ of so many blacks. Other family members said the same and I only share this memory reluctantly. Perhaps it’s not wise or fair to generalize about my recollections of prejudice. On the other hand, they are my stories and as a sage once reminded us, perhaps people would behave more appropriately if they knew an observant writer was living amongst them. Truth be told, racism took a back seat when contrasted to the casual violence of my dad. I had a couple of god-fearing aunts and uncles who remind me that we should never be surprised by the sheer hatred some racists harbor in their hearts. One of the prevailing lessons they taught me was that religion could easily be twisted to justify and condone all manner of hate, all the while sitting behind a pearly-white smile and opened Bible. When I was young, I endured many a comment from them regarding my views on homosexuality, race, and language. When I grew up and realized that they were simply unadorned racists, their arguments dried up. The revisionists in life will insist they were great people and in many ways, they were the product of their times; in another way, though, they deliberately refused to change their minds, even as they paid pretense to the societal demands that they keep their boring and unimaginative racism mostly closeted.

Even though so much became second-hand to me, Springdale itself began to break away from its parochial roots; languages and color slowly entered and once inside sufficiently, kicked the door in and changed the fundamental nature of everything here. Even as I learned the town’s geography, it was already changing rapidly around me. In 1970, Springdale’s population was around 17,000. In 2015, it was on the high end of 77,000. (My hometown lost 1/2 of its population in the same time period, by comparison.) No road escaped the necessity of bulging outside of its small borders, and many signs became incomprehensible to the earlier residents. I was lucky enough to be present during many fits and tirades from Springdale residents insisting that hating the presence of another language wasn’t a sign of prejudice. They seem ignorant to almost everyone now, but the angry spew of their spittle was a sight to behold back in the day.

Springdale was akin to a debutante sent away to school in some exotic location; upon her return, she was unrecognizable as the same person. But almost everyone could look upon her and admire the changes. It’s almost impossible to turn back once someone or somewhere has caught a glimpse of the vastness of the world.

I’ve heard many people refer to Springdale as once being a Sundown Town. I don’t remember seeing such signage. On the other hand, I didn’t need to. My family provided all the exclusionary language anyone would ever need. Their distrust for minorities was amplified by our move to a white community. As strange as it is, I remember when my mom started working for Southwestern Bell (AT&T) in Fayetteville as an operator. She often came home, angrily ranting about blacks in her workplace. It was the same language she used in Monroe County except now she had a home base to retreat to, one which seemed to encourage her racism. Mom was an angry person most of her life, so the language was a symptom of her defect more than any commentary on her surroundings. Both my mom and dad fled back to Monroe County in the late 80s, after a long succession of disappointments.

Before I forget to mention it, my mom’s last job was as a custodian for Brinkley schools. The person who treated her the most kindly there was one of the black teachers there, proving that truth is stranger than fiction. Like so many racists, Mom’s racism tended to intensely situational. She couldn’t understand why I, as a white person, would ever stoop so low as to learn another language, much less love its differences. Her life was reduced by her prejudices.

The differences between the racism of Springdale and Brinkley were striking. It wasn’t until I was much older I surmised that Springdale didn’t need to be overtly racist. The whiteness of the faces walking the streets communicated a clear message as to the population. Springdale was a town waiting to be changed both monumentally and one person at a time, whether it saw the tidal wave approaching or not. It confused me how two places in the same state could be so markedly different, yet both have residents generally fixated on differences based on skin color. I’m generalizing of course, but I know that you understand the distinction I’m drawing. Most of Springdale’s residents weren’t prejudiced, of course, just unsure as to how to accommodate the changes to their towns. Racism tends to discolor a disproportionate number of people around it, giving it a larger circle than reality warrants. This circle of influence sometimes gives the wrong impression of tolerance toward prejudice and many of those practicing it become adept at hiding under its umbrella.

It’s strange to me that both Springdale and Brinkley had so much to build upon. Frankly, Brinkley had the advantage when I was young, and if a few visionaries had the temerity to act upon it, it would be flourishing now. Instead, Northwest Arkansas seized these opportunities.

Against the backdrop of economy and money, Springdale acquired deep populations of Latinos, Marshallese, and other minorities. Most of us who were paying attention and curious were amazed at the changes brought to us by different cultures. Since I’m naturally curious, I loved the overlap of cultures and couldn’t wait for it to become entrenched. Others, though, peered at it through narrowly-turned blinds, wondering if the small town they grew up in was gone forever. Thankfully, the answer was ‘yes.’ Change brought a greater viability to our town. The overlaps of other culture became so large that in many cases people felt conflicted about which culture was their primary one. That is the ‘melting’ we claim to honor as a country. The melting works much better when it is in both directions, with those who were here first welcoming the inevitable changes brought by new faces.

The same didn’t happen for Brinkley, despite it attempting a few rebrandings. The remaining base shifted out from under when it lost its Wal-Mart. People continued to flee, even if meant they’d be exposed to a greater variety of cultures elsewhere. For those who left, many have an idealized memory of what it once was. The truth, though, is that it was never really that place. People voted with their feet and the results are the only conclusion which needs no clarification. One day, hopefully, Brinkley will discern a path toward revitalization but all such paths are dead ends without new faces and new opportunities.

Springdale, albeit with a few hiccups still to come, is a place which can be a foundation for everyone to look back upon and feel a sense of community. It defies an easy definition, precisely because other groups came here to stay.

 

 

 

 

An Early Morning Walk in Springdale

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When I went to bed last night, I instinctively set both alarms. Dawn double-checked, both due to her infallible nervous condition and the fact that she has an allergic reaction to klaxons blaring at 4 a.m. on a Saturday morning. (She also dislikes bagpipes and trumpet practice at that hour, too – a lesson I learned the hard way.)

Regardless, the feline alarm started meowing at 3:30 so any concerns about the alarm clock accidentally waking us were misguided. As I was practicing my dedication to the slumbering arts, I foolishly attempted to ignore the cat the first few times he attempted to rouse me from my horizontal and stuporous state. Ten minutes later, Güino upped his game by adding involuntary massage via cat paws to his repertoire. He’s been known to gnaw on exposed toes if necessary. One of these days I’m going to coat my toes in cayenne pepper to surprise him.

I decided to get up and take a walk earlier than I wanted to. I drove and parked near Emma Street in downtown Springdale. It was sublime. Again, I had the feeling that most of the inhabitants of the place had been whisked away by an unseen hand, leaving me the entire run of the place. The new Walter Turnbow park by Shiloh Square is spectacular enough during the day; seeing it without people before the sunrise was both eerie and interesting. I walked the trail in both directions, and only toward the end of my long walk did I meet any other souls on the dark trail. A motley group of youths was long-boarding the long incline toward the rear of the fire station. I could hear the crescendo of the wheels on the concrete long before I could discern their silhouettes approaching against the distant lights. Their laughter and jabber approached and just as quickly swept by, retreating to a whisper.

If you’ve never walked the trails in the dark, they are spectacular, especially the portion running near Bluff Cemetery. It never occurs to me to feel unsafe, either for the unlikely presence of uneven pavement or from nefarious passersby. French fries are a greater danger to me than walking in nocturnal environments could ever be.

I stopped and took my picture by the Chamber of Commerce sign facing Emma Street as my backdrop. The hideous logo adopted by Springdale a while back openly mocked me as I did, its alien crisscross of bizarre tic-tac-toe still reminding me that there is no accounting for taste. (Note: Springdale has done an amazing job these last few years, one worthy of frequent mention. The logo, however, is as inspirational as getting one’s face spritzed by underarm perspiration on a languid summer day.)

So far, each time I’ve chosen to walk somewhere different, I’ve found a little corner of Springdale that had been concealed to me. I appreciate all these people working to make these new places for me.

Robinson Farms and Roasted Everything

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In a weird twist, my favorite fruit and vegetable stand, operated by an older gentleman named Jim (who I’ve written about before), accepts credit cards and now has a Facebook page. (Link at bottom…) Anyone who hasn’t included him on their routes is missing out.

I stopped in today for just a watermelon and departed with tomatoes, a cantaloupe, watermelon, and cucumbers. Once home, I made a plate of cut tomatoes, with a dash of red wine vinegar, curry, Tajin, and a few sprinkles of mozzarella. I’d tell you how good it was, but I would have to slap you for knowing how much I enjoyed it. PS: I ate basil, garlic and onion tomatoes for breakfast, directly from the can. I sprinkled them with Tajin and lemon pepper. I noted that people around me experienced burning eyes and dripping noses but the symptoms seemed to dissipate a few hours later.

I’ve discovered that I love roasted chickpeas. Just to be obstinate, I’ve been experimenting with a variety of roasted items. I made roasted black beans over the weekend. Last week, I bought a new stove with the intention of using it until it catches fire. I do most of the cooking, but my wife Dawn is by far the better cook. Being ignorant of what is supposed to work is half the fun for me. Most of the things I prepare for myself probably fall under the category of “chemical weapons” as far as she’s concerned. I’ve started rating her reactions based on the duration of her eye rolls once she sees what nonsense I’ve been preparing.

To appease my bottomless potato chip and french fry hunger, I’ve been making sliced potatoes in the oven a lot lately. Over the weekend, I made a marinade of sesame sauce and curry. I almost needed CPR it was so delicious. It’s true that the cat almost vomited when he smelled it, but I doubt cats are accustomed to catching sesame-curry mice in their native fields.

I’ve always known how much more I prefer the spices and sauces to the actual entrée, but it’s getting a little ridiculous. At some point, you can expect to find me dipping strips of cardboard into 23 little separate dipping bowls.

I did grill over the weekend. I discovered that there is a word for ‘lazy vegetarian,’ too. The word is “Reducetarian.” Dawn and I are quite fascinated with white meat ground turkey breast. It’s great in everything. Yesterday, I substituted almost all the white ground turkey with roasted corn I prepared in the new oven and tomatoes for my half of the dish.

In case I forget, if you don’t know what “Tajin” is or the incredible taste it can add to both fruit and vegetables, I would recommend it to anyone interested in trying something new. You can get it in single-serving packets or larger bottles. Start with the “Clásico” variety.

The prancing cat has nothing to do with my commentary. But everyone likes prancing cats.

Robinson Farms   (< Click for link.)

Yet Another Note About DWI

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My apologies for the tenor of this.

No matter how often it comes up, I watch in fascination when someone gets a DUI, whether a celebrity, athlete or my second cousin. The whispers, the speculation, the shame. Then, with regularity, comes the backlash. “It’s not your business,” or “You shouldn’t be talking about such things.” Or, “It’s personal.” Drunks get really angry and often their friends and family join in to attempt to silence those who draw attention to their mistake. Part of the process for dealing with DWIs should be the social stigma and open discussion of it all, no matter how uncomfortable it might make people. Yes, the driver made a mistake but is one which involves everyone on the road while he or she is driving impaired.

If you find a cure for diabetes and drink champagne in celebration, it doesn’t lessen the fact that you could easily kill several people driving home from your celebration. You make the choice to drive after imbibing. It is surprisingly easy to drive impaired and many of us could easily make a poor decision and do it. This doesn’t detract from the necessity of us looking our error in the eye and dealing with it. That includes you keeping your mouth shut when someone has something to say about it.

I’ve said it a million times: if you get a DWI and no one is injured, it shouldn’t ruin your life, especially if you are young. (It’s the law that young people have to do stupid things. Older people continue to do them because we can’t help ourselves.) The humiliation and punishments should be enough to teach anyone a lesson which sticks. Part of that lesson, though, should be a huge dose of humility, one in which the person accused swallows their pride and admits publicly that they made a huge mistake, one which risked stranger’s lives on our shared public roads. If you get a second, you deserve a massively higher level of punishment, including mandatory inpatient treatment for several months and possible permanent loss of your license.

My dad killed a cousin in a drunk driving accident. He endured no consequences. Subsequently, he continued to believe that drinking and driving were things that should always be done in combination and he dedicated his adult life to endangering everyone on the roads. Many in my family had multiple DWIs, including my mom and aunts and uncles. I was in several accidents growing up in which adults were drinking. After the first one, all of them should have been put in prison, especially since people were seriously injured in the accidents.

For any of you who think you have the right to silence me in any way when I criticize those who get DWIs – and especially more than one – your opinion is probably because you haven’t seen the carnage of such stupidity scattered over a dimly-lit highway at night, while the officers on the scene both attempt to find an arm missing from the car or call friends and family of those who were killed driving home from a movie. And there are others, those who have received a DWI, those who are secretly furious that they were held to account for their stupidity through driving while impaired. I try not to be too harsh about DWIs but I do get testy when I see people openly defending those who’ve done it more than once.

PS: I have a neighbor across the street who drinks and drives like he’s trying to set a consecutive record. I await the day when his truck goes through the bedroom of one of the houses. He always announces he’s finished his drink because he hurls the red solo cup from the driver-side window.

Leave Souvenirs At Your Friend’s House…

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It’s what friends do…

Quite a while ago, I survived an experience at Whataburger. As a gift, I got this table service # sign card, one with the #13 on it. It has impatiently witnessed my living room ever since, waiting for the perfect home to live out its life, its orangeness daring me to find a better home.

Today, Dawn and I went to visit some friends, people who have a more traditional taste in décor. While no one was looking, I furtively placed the table card in their great room, on the mantle. It might as well have been a headless giraffe, given how incongruous it is against the backdrop of their house.

I almost shed a tear as I departed without my invaluable Whataburger table sign…

Until I laughed, thinking about the confusion this thing will occasion once my friends notice the craziness in their great room. I’m hoping they don’t notice for a week or two – or that someone else sees it before they do.

The Whataburger Bandit strikes again. You’re welcome, world.

The 4th Of Course

 

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I tried to take a long walk this morning, even as the intermittent rain came to say hello. It was foggy and misty and felt like an abandoned world. Most of the houses were quiet, shuttered against last night’s war-like barrage of amateur fireworks. I didn’t find any bloody fingers or stick-impaled eyeballs, which surprised me, given both the age and impaired decision-making from last night’s festivities. Some of the house sidewalks and streets were littered with the corpses of hundreds of dollars worth of explosives. When you live in certain neighborhoods, it is pointless to expect anyone to be sensible about such things. A few of the houses looked like a party had been mysteriously vacated, with all the attendees dropping their beverage cans on the ground, leaving their fireworks in the grass and scattered on the sidewalk.

Last night, I watched the children a few houses down. Though this is Arkansas, I was surprised by the level of shenanigans these kids were exhibiting. It’s hard to surprise me about anything firework-related, as I was one of those kids who had access to literally any fireworks being made. When I was young, we had bottle rocket and Roman candle wars and there was no dare or challenge which went unaccepted when the 4th rolled around.

I always overcome my old-age sensibilities about fireworks. If someone blows off a hand, I will rush out and help them but it is a losing battle to try to curtail fireworks in residential neighborhoods unless one’s house is set on fire. (PS: But I’ll keep the hand as a souvenir.) All things considered, the 4th of July is good for the ER business.

The noteworthy event this morning was the older car which drove by without any lights about 5 minutes into my walk. Whoever was driving didn’t understand the fundamentals of a clutch, either. I could hear both the horrible sounds of grinding metal and the circus-like beat of Norteño music, one of the few genres which holds no appeal for me. About 100 feet past me, the car ran up onto the curb and stalled. A man exited the car and stumbled around to the back as if looking to see how far up on the curb he had driven. He stumbled back and it seemed like his head bounced off the car door as he bent and dropped back into the driver’s seat. I laughed, which probably demonstrates something about my character. The car revved and the clutch screeched as the car jumped off the curb and back into the road. Just as I was about to cringe from observing an impending collision with a car on the wrong side of the wrong, the mysterious car veered back into the middle of the street and kept moving. Instead of succumbing to my curiosity, I turned and walked the other way. I’m assuming the driver made it to wherever he thought he might be going. For my part, I didn’t feel like being a reluctant witness to a property damage report this morning.

In so many ways, the early morning of the 4th is like New Years Day: most of the world is sleeping and momentarily ignorant of whatever bad decisions were made the night before.

One of these days, I’m going to buy several 1,000 or 10,000 pack firecrackers and light them in random places across the neighborhood at about 5 a.m. I’ll choose the houses which have piles of volcanic grenades and fireball launchers left on the public sidewalk or in the street. It’ll be hard for those hypocrites to complain as I laugh at them when they groggily open their doors or peer through their windows, cursing. I did this more than once when I was younger and as mean as it might sound, it never failed to elicit a laugh, even from the ‘victim,’ although the mirth on their part always came later. (“It’s hard to laugh when you’re wearing a bathrobe.”)

Being old has its advantages. I might not stay up to watch the fireworks (which coincidentally look like every preceding firework display ever made), but I will get up at my normal hour to conduct my own fireworks display in your front yard, should you choose to fire off enough explosives to launch a war in the Middle East.

PS: When I was young, I saw the national fireworks display and a few years later got to sit at the literal edge of an ill-advised display at Lake Atalanta, inside the launching perimeter. It’s hard for anything to ‘wow’ me after those.

Another Great Wisteria Lane Weekend

 

By some miracle, our favorite cabin was available this weekend. Two of our f̶a̶i̶r̶y̶ ̶g̶o̶d̶m̶o̶t̶h̶e̶r̶s̶  friends surprised my wife Dawn and me a while ago with a free weekend at Wisteria. (It’s north of both Eureka Springs and Holiday Island.)

While we were hoping for a rainy deluge similar to the last visit, we somehow managed to make a great weekend out of it without much rain. For anyone who hasn’t experienced the quiet serenity of no phone, no internet, no visitors, and no people, it’s not what you would imagine; it’s better. I’ve written before about sitting on the porch swing at the edge of the forest with no one nearby. Not only can you recite Klingon poetry without being interrupted (unless the squirrels start criticizing), but you can sing Bavarian folk songs on the roof if you want to.

During this visit, we investigated such questions as, “Should squirrels eat that much butter?” and “How much meat should a lazy vegetarian actually consume?”

For the friends who gave us the gift of a weekend away, I’d like to say “thanks” again. I’d also like to let you know that I’m available for an entire month of the same at some future point -if you are willing.

Civilization sounds like a truckload of banging pots and pans after being in the middle of nothing for a couple of days. PS: The other advantage is that I didn’t have to see or hear any politician’s names during my foray into the wilderness.

We were surprised when we found out there were open reservations this weekend, so close to the 4th of July. I’m so happy we followed through and checked. We had another great weekend at Wisteria.

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One of the nefarious squirrels is in the middle of this picture, perched vertically along the trunk. I think he’s waiting for more butter and bread offerings.

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(Cabin #4, the edge of the forest, the best of them all…)

 

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(Trying hard to act normal in this picture…)

 

 

 

Wisteria Lane Lodging Main Website

 

You’ll Shoot Your Pink Eye Out

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An eventful Saturday… First, my wife Dawn bought me a nice bb gun, a Daisy Lever Action single-shot one. You’ll note that it features a beautiful pink inlay, one which should keep the police from shooting me accidentally. (Who wants to be part of an investigation wherein an older man like me gets shot while wielding a pink bb gun?) This gun will come in handy shooting varmints, pollsters, and undoubtedly my own left foot. It will also keep those pesky home intruders at bay. I noticed while I walked through the store carrying this bb gun, many people gawked, either in admiration or mirth; it’s difficult to tell when you are proudly holding such a firearm.

I chose to pose with my new firearm in front of my Clint Eastwood painting if no other reason than to demonstrate that I mean business. Everyone knows there are only two types of dangerous people in the world: liberals near tax money and liberals holding firearms. While I may not be able to hurt you with this, I can certainly annoy you while you reload your .357 and ventilate my lower torso. (If you shoot at me and can’t hit my fiendishly large melon head, you have no business holding a gun.) But which one of us will be more stylish during the altercation? I submit that my pink Daisy exudes both more menace and more je ne sais quoi that’s difficult to pinpoint but easily recognized. Seeing my own picture with the bb gun made me almost lose all reason and mail in a membership to the NRA but then I remembered that they pay me to NOT be a member.

Oh, and the second thing was that Dawn and I bought the most expensive ceiling fan we’ve ever purchased. I let her make the final choice so long as that it was a modern design. Given that I was suffering from mild head trauma, I decided that it would be a great idea to attempt an installation. I’ll give Dawn credit: she not only survived this installation in the same room with me, but she restrained herself enough to both suppress her instinct to push me violently off the ladder or flip the breaker while I had the wires wrapped around me, like an electrical anaconda.

There are a couple of circumstances wherein one’s mettle gets tested: (1) watching someone do something ridiculously easy in the wrong way while simultaneously using slow internet and (2) helping a spouse attempt to miraculously overcome the instructions and manufacturing defects while putting together or installing something expensive. In Dawn’s case, she plowed through my ongoing cursing in my attempt to overcome mismatched screw holes, 47 instances of dropped tools, and 15 times I simply couldn’t envision what in blazes the instructions had to do with the step I was currently attempting. It’s true that most booklets are written by sadists.

When we flipped the breaker and turned on the fan the first time, we both felt a sense of victory, both because the circuit didn’t burn across the ceiling and wall like a runaway firecracker fuse – and I didn’t need medical attention, either for being clumsy or for Dawn using the pretext of the installation to send me to the afterlife. We had a couple of major complaints regarding the ceiling fan but both were beyond our control.

In the background of all this, we also had a great late lunch at the diner in Sonora. For the record, I ate a deliciously greasy hamburger, fries and some of the best okra I’ve had in a long time. I also spent the day babysitting the neighbor’s dogs, one of which had so much energy that I wondered if he were going to spin so fast that he would corkscrew into the floor.

To cap off the day, we watched the finale of season 3 of “Fargo,” another brilliant and indirect comedic indictment of everything. Dawn’s initial reaction was one of “What the heck?” while mine was, “That’s almost perfect.” The show ended with the deputy sitting in a holding room with Varga, neither in frame, while not focusing on either the door or the clock nearby. The point was to demonstrate that either scenario and worldview could be correct, and your assumption of “What happens next?” might reveal more about you than one’s observations about the chaos we get involved in during our lives. For me, it felt like the perfect ending of “No Country For Old Men,” which caused some strange reactions.

Mismatched Fingers of Color and Delight

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People are craving the weird and eccentric, even when they may not even know it. Sure, we like pants whose legs are both the same length and houses painted more or less one color – and even food that bears some resemblance to its assigned name. As for me, I’d prefer to live in a world of spilled paint, one adorned with mismatched clothing and polychromatic houses spelling doom for a bored eye. It would be a carpenter’s dream to build in such a world. (But a carpet installer’s nightmare.)

Being around people, though, demonstrates that their eyes are drawn to those things less expected and strange. They may behave differently about it if they feel they are being observed, but the fascination with the novel is undeniable. Given a way to stop and look at something, they usually will, provided life gives them a moment to do so. Too much of our daily life is devoted to cursory swipe-left or swipe-right stimulus, rapid judgments without careful insight. It’s true that we tend to enjoy the feeling or familiarity. I’m not arguing specifically against that tendency, but instead am pointing out that if given a chance, people will frequently step off the known path for a weird stroll. The more they choose to do so, the less appeal the black and white world holds for them.

This week, I had the opportunity to watch and listen to a multitude of voices. When given the chance, I would sit and draw strange things. Some years, I’ve done 20+ feet of artwork along the paper-laden tables in the common areas where people congregate. All of the writing and drawing occurs where people constantly pass by, most taking at least a stolen look at whatever I’m doing. Some projects go quickly, whereas others take hours.

People stop and comment, most of them engaging with humor and relatively striking admissions about art, their lives, or how they wish they were more creative or able to do whimsical things. This week, several asked me if I were an art teacher, a writer, or something impossible to guess; I take these wrong guesses as high praise. We all need a plumber when the tides rise, so to speak, but it is the unseen and shared je ne sais quoi underlying our motivations that truly make the extra step worthwhile.

The passersby perhaps think they are observing me; however, I’m certain I’m getting more from the interaction than they are. The “What in the heck….?” type of reaction never fails to amuse me. I suppose that some expect me to be engrossed in drawing something pragmatic, such as a large intestine with vascular indicators – or a boat sailing along a riverbank filled with somersaulting otters.

One of the teachers who expressed interest in what I was doing asked me, “How do you get the detail so exact?” Her question puzzled me, so I asked in return, “Why do you think I had a vision in mind? Life doesn’t work that way – and even when it does, everything changes once we’re halfway through.” She laughed, “It seems like you were just waiting for me to ask something like that.”

Several people shared their stories with me, while others told me about things which sprang to their minds when watching me draw. All of them had something interesting to say, something which was already perched inside of them, waiting to stretch out into the world.

For those trying to make sense of what I was drawing, I would offer a spontaneous interpretation for each, with my goal being to devise a new explanation for each person asking.

The scale of the picture is much larger than you would imagine: the paper stretched across a full-size cafeteria table. I couldn’t take a picture of it unless I had dangled by a harness from the ceiling. Given that I’m three times the girth of Tom Cruise, I opted to avoid buying the school a new ceiling. This time, instead of leaving all of my work for the puzzled maintenance staff, I cut one piece of it off and brought it home. One person insisted on writing a compliment to the artist, so I brought that, too.

Most years, I leave the tables intact, with whatever I’ve created upon them. No matter how diligently you work, even on a whim, you simply are going to get up from the table one day, without even a glance behind you, and leave this world. Some of us will lament, “Not enough time!” while others will just shrug their shoulders and admit, “I didn’t make enough time.”

I’m hoping that you have color-stained fingers and a mind stuffed to the rafters with strange ideas when it’s your turn to go. You have permission to lead a normal, unflinching life, but it’s possible to lead a normal life and still have your hair full of crazy straws and pockets filled with half-scribbled notes to yourself.

I learned a lot this week, as I always do. I met new friends and shared outrageous jokes. However life is measured, my mind grew a bit, which is more than many days offer.

 

 

Ponder That Day

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Each of you should imagine stepping back in time tonight, no matter how long the leap you contemplate. Before you pause to consider the illogical impossibility of such an act, I’d ask you to struggle to remember a long forgotten voice, a familiar dish being prepared in the kitchen, just as you can almost hear the impatient clang of pans in difficult to reach cabinets or the rough embrace of someone who rarely hugged without the accompaniment of a joyous incantation of your own name from their lips. It could be the sound of an old 45 record as the needle drops unceremoniously and as the music eerily resonates over magnetic speakers, the image of a stretched green or yellow phone cord coming from the dining room – or it could be the hot feel of the seat of an old car as you jumped inside on a summer day, the idea of a seat belt a laughable imposition. All that seemed to matter was the eternal question of “What next?”
 
It is the month of June and regardless of your road to adulthood, most of us shared moments forged in detachment from the pressures of an adult world. If we were lucky, we piled into cars with our own families; if we were not, we joyfully did so with surrogates who gladly served in their absence.
 
Who among us would not leap without question if only to test our memories against those recollected moments? Anyone who would not deserves our envy because their life now exceeds the promise of a remembered life.
 
The advantage of age is that we seem to realize that we will never pause with enough force to appreciate the burn of a summer car seat or to impatiently wait for the break of a new day the next morning when sleep seemed to be an admission of loss.