Category Archives: Personal

A Road By Another Name

Last week, I discovered that South Hewitt Springs road is the same one as a county road by a number which escapes me. It seemed blindingly obvious once I walked off of it onto Parsons Road. Due to a condition I refer to as “being old,” I hadn’t made the connection coming from the other direction. There are times when I set off walking not sure where I’m going or that the road I’m following comes out somewhere recognizable. Dawn has joked that I’m going to end up on a milk carton; this would be doubly amusing given my aversion to drinking milk. It would be triply hilarious if I accidentally wander inside a cow pasture and get tenderized by the hooves of a herd of dairy cattle.

As I cut through Parsons Road, a very elderly man was inching his way from an outbuilding back to his house. While he wasn’t 100 years old, he walked as if he personally had carried the last 3 generations on his back. I guessed that he was 90+, which means he has 40-something years on me. I wondered how many miles I might traverse before my body gives out. Life already feels long to me. To look back after 40 more years is going to look like an infinite encyclopedia, its pages laid carefully end-to-end, without end, so to speak.

I’d like to think in 10 more years, I will have walked every street, lane, avenue, and road in the city of Springdale. It seems more likely as I continue to discover places which have been previously hidden in plain sight.

PS: When I got home, I used a map to find the house of the elderly man on an aerial overlay and then used this to find the owners on actDataScout. (DataScout superimposes an overlay with the owner’s names and property limits directly in your browser. It is a powerful tool.) You might be thinking that this leads to more questions than answers. In this case, you would be correct. After my eavesdropping incident earlier in the week, I didn’t resist my curiosity this time. The problem with knowing a little, though, is that I always want to know more.

Below, I’ll put a sample screenshot of what you can see if you use the mentioned website. Before you have a privacy-induced nervous breakdown, please stop and remember that this information is already publicly available, without charge. I’ve written about it before but sometimes people think I’m exaggerating or have omitted some crucial step.


Wasps, And Wasps Behind Walls


On the way home today, I followed my instincts and pulled over somewhere I had not yet walked, a place not aligned with pruned trails nor convenient walking. I left my car parked in a place better suited for vertigo-afflicted mountain goats and started walking. Most of the road was built without regard for humans; vehicles were the intended possessor of the asphalt strips I chose today. I knew that off in the distance as I reached an affluent area, the sidewalks would magically appear. It’s strange that it is more likely that roads will have sidewalks in the very neighborhoods where people seldom use them and yet, among those who are in need, they are absent like one’s written family tree at a reunion. I decided that if a vehicle didn’t wish to move slightly over as I walked, that I would fling myself into the thorny underbrush in deference to their overwhelming mass.

As I reached the immaculately-maintained area of the Cleverly Hillbillies, I heard voices tinged with venom. Two voices went from indistinct to perfect diction after about twenty steps. It was apparent that they were sitting in the unseen backyard of their property, oblivious to the world outside. The neighborhood is one of those with an elaborate stone and brick wall, one reaching 8 or 9 feet high. I think that perhaps those two people arguing beyond the great stone wall near the Italian-villa neighborhood would be embarrassed to know that I could hear the intimate and complex shadings of their traded barbs. It seems as if this million-dollar wall somehow had failed to provide the promised happiness they sought when they were younger. I shouldn’t judge because I can’t know for certain that this type of argument isn’t routine and that the verbal daggers I was hearing were imaginary. My experience tells me, however, that this verbal duel was both routine and viciously new. I wish they would sell their mansion and argue on a beach. At the least, the sand in their feet would overlook a new perspective, even if they still turned toward one another to punch each other verbally.

I briefly considered yelling, “Shut up! You’re rich but you sound like my neighbors, the ones who can’t even afford a trip to Bethel Heights.” I very much wanted to match faces to the disembodied voices wafting from over the tall wall. I took a golf pencil from my pocket and made a small “X” on the gray stone of the nearest vertical column holding the immense structure vertical. I did so because it occurred to me that I could then return and use the address on the other side to discern names, then faces, then details of their lives. Being modern people, I had no doubt that much of the superficial nature of their lives would reveal itself to me. While they might have their privacy settings on social media locked to prevent unwanted eyes, they had forgotten that beyond their high wall, the one purportedly providing security and distance from the world, had also made them drop their guard against people walking the street beyond it. I was able to hear them in their most intimate moment, teeth bared in anger at one another. As soon as this idea of discovery struck me, I abandoned it, knowing that the mystery of the unhappy lives on the other side was more compelling to me than knowing their stories. I left them behind, their voices still crescendoing and ebbing in turn.

It seems absurd to know that a couple of people of decent wealth took time out in the middle of their day on Tuesday to rant at one another, doesn’t it? Not that Wednesday is the ideal day for such a thing, either. It occurs to me that I should send them a postcard to let them know that I hope their marriage survives. Would such a card help or hinder this effort?

So, I walked on, alone, in the middle of the day, the sun watching me as I made my progress along the new territory. The sidewalk was lined on both sides with beautifully-coiffed trees, their overhead limbs creating an austere canopy above me as I moved. It was strange to enjoy the tranquility of these trees, knowing that the residents behind the security wall paid a monthly reminder to keep it so elegant. I wondered, “Who owns it? He who pays for it or he who enjoys it?”

Before I turned to make my way back, a red wasp emerged from the recesses of a green trash container on the edge of the road. It flew directly toward me; had I not been looking directly at it, I’m sure I would now have a bright red stinger emerging from the tip of my nose. As it was, I reacted with grace. I’m kidding. I shrieked involuntarily and flailed around as if someone had just thrown a cupful of spiders into my knickers. I’m certain my idiocy was apparent as I writhed around to fight off the ongoing approach of the wasp as it buzzed around my head. I ran away from the red demon and kept walking.

Like most delicious stories of vengeance, however, this ended badly for the miscreant wasp. While it had forgotten me, I had not forgotten him. As I approached the scene of the initial (and unreported attack), I watched the confines of the green container closely. I crept up from the rear with my hat upraised. As I peered on the far side, I could see that the wasp was about to launch after me again. I swatted and scored a direct hit on the bastard, knocking him to the ground. Since I couldn’t Mike Tyson his ear, and not only because wasps don’t have ears), I jumped and reduced the wasp to particles. Victory was mine. It didn’t occur to me until much later that it could have ended badly had there been more than one wasp at the container. The aura of vengeance was therefore reduced by the uncertainty that the wasp I killed in revenge might have been an innocent bystander at the same container. I hope the owners of the trash receptacle were watching me from their windows. Perhaps if so, they are at this very moment writing a story regarding the ridiculous of a grown man waging war via his hat with flying insects.

PS: I wanted to use the marker in my pocket to draw a tiny outline of the wasp’s body on the pavement, as a warning to other wasps. While amusing, I had my doubts the owners of the driveway would see the humor in such a thing.



Don’t Hate Me Because You Missed Out on Wisteria Lane – Again

Dawn and I used a portion of our vacation time to spend some time of quiet reflection at some of the best cabins in the 4-state region:  Wisteria Lane Lodging. The owners don’t compensate for me being so laudatory, although PepsiCo does pay me to not talk about their products. I love the cabins at Wisteria. For someone who enjoys the internet, it is quite relaxing to have no phone, no internet, and no mundane concerns while being surrounded by deep woods.


The above picture doesn’t do the porch justice. The porch overlooks the bottom of the valley as a creek winds below. It spans the entire valley-side of the cabin and is wide enough to keep the weather at bay. With a porch swing, it’s almost perfect. Unlike other places, you can use the grill during any weather, except perhaps a tornado.

For reasons of national security, Dawn wouldn’t let me participate in the next picture, citing “overwhelming historical untrustworthiness” and something else she mumbled as she pointed the camera at herself and the taser at me as I attempted an approach to be immortalized in her picture.


P.S. I didn’t get many pictures of Dawn, both due to her subtle “no” and “you had better not” hand motions, very similar to the one people might use to indicate an impromptu throat slitting. In addition, she displayed an allergy to what I would call “clothes.” It’s not like she cavorted or pranced around sans clothing, but she insisted on wearing the clothes that no one except spouses and emergency medical technicians get to see us wearing. (Also known as “comfy clothes” in some circles.)

We were staying at Cabin #4, which is the definition of privacy and seclusion. We could have practiced yodeling at all hours and no one would have noticed.

The picture below is an example of several I took, after Dawn’s insistent editing skills of redaction imposed themselves on my beautiful pictures. She says this picture captures her essence like none other I’ve ever taken of her.


The next picture is of me, wearing an ensemble from the 2016 Versace Collection. It looks like I am sniffing paint, which is ridiculous. Everyone knows the only way to sniff paint is to use a paper bag. (Although I’ve been told I look stupid because I put my entire head inside the bag and then spray the can directly into my face.)

Because Dawn and I wanted to do something different with our visitor’s stones, I maximized our effort by using a primer coat on each of the stones. It’s much easier than it looks and made a huge difference in the result.


Note to all sane people and children under 30 years of age: I was only kidding about sniffing paint. If you’d still like to see me with my head shoved into a paper bag, however, send me $20 and I’ll make your dream a reality.



Dawn loved the fact that I finally got around to doing our visitor stones differently. Instead of just doing one, we did 6. The last one is one I made, to be the head of the long snake of rocks. It’s several feet long. I cleaned them and primed them the day we arrived. We went out on the long porch the next morning as the mist rose from below, scattered our paints and brushes, and laughed as we drank coffee, the cool air enveloping us. The head stone says “Time flies” in Spanish, with the year in Roman numerals.

The only potential downside is that future visitors might be envious of the scope of our stones for this visit. If they attempt to surpass my effort though, they should be warned: I will return and do 100 the next time. Just kidding – I’d probably stop at 30 or 40.

Dawn snapped this next one of me as I prepared to work my magic in the culinary portion of the evening. She claims that I’m prone to “weird hands” in these poses, although she uses a more endearing moniker for the pose.


Not to brag or anything, but Dawn was happy with all the meals I made, even when I made things that started with the warning, “I’m not sure if this will be edible or thrown at miscreants on the sidewalk.” We didn’t take any pictures of our prepared food, out of respect for the privacy of the food that perished for our survival. Dawn took pictures of the fridge, as she couldn’t believe the variety of food we bought.

We resembled religious fanatics at the SunFest grocery store on Holiday Island, preparing our larders for the end of the world. We were like Noah-Of-The-Grocery as we stuffed two of everything in inventory into our cart. I felt like a pack mule pushing around our spoils as we headed to the register.


Saturday morning, I got out early and marched the roads around Wisteria Lane. Even the downhill portions of the road were, in fact, uphill. I know this sounds impossible, but when you get to be my age, the impossible supplants both the unlikely and improbable when it’s least convenient. I saw some interesting things and had some great thoughts running around in the middle of the wild. As the roads were dry and dusty, I also had the grace of good luck, as I met no one on the roads during my entire trek.


The above picture is to prove that all roads were paradoxically uphill. The sunlight comes a little later to the deep valleys where the cabins at Wisteria Lane are situated. It was worth the hiking to see it from a few different angles.

As for the next picture, I apologize for the weird HDR-esque quality. I tried using the filters on my phone until a prompt popped up and asked, “Are you high?” It was actually much darker than is evidenced by this picture. I loved the accidental result so much that I couldn’t bring myself to edit it out. In the distance, someone is clearing an immense amount of brush and trees. It was so tempting to venture out through there and stand in the middle of it. It would have been easy to imagine I had traveled back in time had I done so. Except I couldn’t be certain that sound of shotguns wouldn’t chase me back out.

People in those parts don’t subscribe to “Tomfoolery Quarterly, so it seemed safer to admire the torn earth from a distance.



For fun, one of the projects I finally completed was making the “Blair Witch” stick symbols and hanging them from the canopy of trees. I bought some twine in Eureka Springs. While at the cabin, I meandered around the basin amidst the invisible snakes and collected a nice pile of hearty tree falls and snapped off relatively straight portions of their limbs. I then used the twine to tie the sticks together in the infamous “stick man” pattern. Dawn was very much interested in how my project might turn out, but she, of course, wanted nothing to with the process, preferring to remain high above on the cabin-length covered porch of our cabin. Even I eagerly found new discoveries in the trees, Dawn only offered commentary, leaving all the progress to me.

Not that anyone who knows me is going to worry about my views about witchcraft, voodoo, or omens, but in case you do, don’t worry about it. Not only because all such beliefs are both stupid and entertaining, but because my efforts were geared toward a good laugh. The idea of making several of these and placing them around someone’s house was amusing to me, especially if they are prone to being supersticious.

When I finished, I placed them up in the trees, like so…




I imagine that it would have been hilarious had I fallen and snapped my neck. Imagine the obituary and the endless possibilities of creativity for any headline writer tasked with summing up the cause of my stupidity and demise.

I left the stick figures hanging in the trees. I hope that whoever cleans the cabins doesn’t have a minor nervous breakdown from all of them – or that the next visitor to these great cabins doesn’t notice them until their first morning at the cabins. Mayhem might indeed ensue under either of those scenarios.

I apologize in advance if anyone falls off the porch or gets scared by my bucket list project with the sticks. I’ve been meaning to do this for the last dozen visits, even as I constantly joked about all the vampires roaming the woods near Wisteria Lane.


Above, I stopped and took a selfie as I cleared the apex of the largest hill. Again, it’s darker than it looks.

Even as I type these words, I miss it already. Some places seem to exist exuberantly outside of time and Wisteria Lane is just such a place. For being so close to home, it is an appreciated privilege for there to be such a place available to me.

Dawn didn’t drown me in the hot tub, push me over the edge of the porch, or hand me the exposed wires of a toaster during this peaceful weekend. I guess I did okay. She’ll let me know, I presume.

If I awaken tomorrow to find a Blair Witch stick figure on my front doorstep, I’ll assume it is the owner of Wisteria Lane starting her own haunting, to repay my capriciousness.

Of Skunks and Autumn

I make friends quite easily, no matter how many legs they have.

This morning, I could hear a visitor approaching from behind as I walked, its claws clicking the pavement in a strange pattern. I assumed it was either small animal or a demure middle-aged woman with poor nail hygiene who decided to walk the dark trails without shoes. (It’s Springdale – you never can be certain.) Despite previous history demonstrating that it’s ill-advised to assume, I was certain it was a small dog, enjoying some early morning freedom after it had tunneled under a fence or chewed a leash loose.

More than once as I walked I could see eyes in the brush or in the clearings ahead. Like humans, most animals scurry away when they detect my presence. I saw no other human beings in the dark as I walked. It’s fun to imagine that there are dozens of them beyond the reach of my vision, either zombies or those suited for jobs such as purchasing clerks, engineers, school administrators, or bank tellers.

The small dog continued to pace behind me. I didn’t want to startle it so I refrained from turning on my phone light. As I walked out of the canopy of trees, lights dimly reached me. I walked a few more paces and stopped to say hello to the dog as it came very close. It was an adult skunk, its thick black and white fur puffed around its face.

Before you say something ‘adulty’ like “It could have rabies,” you are of course correct. Given last year’s election results, however, I’ve abandoned logic for a system I refer to as “winging it.” I had the sensation that the skunk sought some sort of interaction as it too stopped about 3 feet away from me, sitting on the grass next to the trail. For a brief second, the part of my brain dedicated to self-amusement thought it would be fun to lean over and place my headphones on the head of the skunk to determine if he understood music in Spanish and the stylings of Maria Conchita Alonso. It was at that point it occurred to me that the skunk could have rabies. I don’t mind the idea of the painful rabies shots if I were to be bitten, but I make it a point to avoid any avoidable interactions with nurses, long known to be associated with all manner of ill luck and tragedy. (This joke sponsored by National Nurses Week.)

I wished the skunk well and continued walking. The skunk decided to continue to scurry along behind me so I slowed my pace to see how long it might follow me. It ran behind me for at least 200 paces. I finally stopped and tried to take a picture of it. I have a beautiful photo of absolute darkness and shapes devoid of any recognizable structure to show for it. In other words, it looked exactly like 90% of all vacation photos ever taken and most action plans devised by one’s boss.

Since I was walking in another new place, there were a few places where I was able to practice faith in the continuity of things, as I couldn’t see the ground. I walked and tried to use the less-dark places to determine the path. I felt as if I were walking on a literal metaphor for life at that point. Above, the bright stars shone and the leaves rustled. It was my moment and mine alone. It is the last day of summer and I walked mile after mile to pay homage to the approaching cooler days, the kind which demands that you sit at the kitchen table to read a few pages of a good book, only to find yourself 9 hours later, living inside that great book and within your own mind. Summer is a time when extroverts rule the earth, whereas fall belongs to introverts, writers, avid readers and other strange beings.

It was just me. And the skunks. I’m not sure who was getting the better bargain.
On the way home, I had to wait a few moments as a snarl ensued ahead. Dozens of lights, the kind that always signal that someone is unexpectedly having a bad day, were blinking in synchronized alarm. As I neared the point of interest, I could see a man lying on the ground in the middle of the street as a few of our city’s finest attended to him. It looked like he had either been hit by a vehicle or that he had watched 5 minutes of the national news, both of which tend to result in such a trauma.
Don’t look at the calendar to confirm Autumn’s arrival. Go outside when it the sun sets and breathe deeply. You can already detect the slightly fetid smell of encroaching decomposition. The acceleration has commenced.

Nasal Spelunkers and Weight Loss

Personal story. My apologies if I fail to express my ideas in a way that doesn’t cause consternation.

This one started with a new oven, all because I wanted one which would accommodate the pans I already possessed as I changed my eating habits. Living near the best produce market in Northwest Arkansas helped motivate me, too.

No, it really began when even stretch-waistband slacks began to scream as I tried to put them on. Shrieks of pain from one’s clothing is a sure sign that your bathroom scale indicating, “One person at a time” is no accidental aberration. As I joked when I made badges of dishonor a few weeks ago, you know you’re getting large when you sit down in the bathtub and the water rises in the toilet.

(Another one of my favorite self-deprecating jokes is that I was so large that it took 2 dogs just to bark at me.)

Luckily, a co-worker of mine was finally ready to stop jawing incessantly about needing to stop looking like the ‘before’ picture in every weight-loss ad. He knew his gut instinct (pun intended) to drop major weight was correct when Goodyear contacted him to rent ad space on his back. So, after months of cajoling and bitching, he agreed to form the now-infamous 2017 Invitational Blubber Loss Challenge with me and one other v̶i̶c̶t̶i̶m̶ friend/participant. The rules were simple: meet monthly goals or face a creative backlash of penalties, ones rooted in public acknowledgments and perhaps embarrassing requirements. I created a Facebook page to post the goings-on and updates as we passed each monthly milestone. Or millstone, as has been the case for one unlucky participant. Here’s the link: 2017 IBLC Facebook page.  This group challenge was the perfect catalyst for me to frame my overwhelming urge to change some things. Today, I challenged my 6-month goal 3 months early – and won.

My love affair with potato chips and “no thought” foods had won the skirmish, battle, and war with alarming decisiveness in my life. I could feel the impending knock at the door, a rap executed with folded skeleton fingers emerging briefly from an ancient black smock. Weight is a much different issue at 50 than it is at 20 – and only partially because we’ve become so adept at the rationalizations which permit us to slowly transform from elliptical in shape to circular. Example: any container with only one opening is in fact just one serving, no matter how large it might be.

Statistics tell me that this recent win against obesity will be short-lived. Almost all weight loss is followed by a sharp walk back up the valley wall. It is almost a certainty that those pounds I divested will come back to visit me. None of us like to admit we’re human with voracious appetites. And bad judgment. We like to ignore the warning light on our dashboards until we see smoke.

But I’ll shake hands with a temporary win. It is enough to sustain me for a while. I pick up four one-gallon jugs of milk, knowing that the heavy weight of these 4 jugs is how much of me I’ve sloughed off in 3 months. It doesn’t seem possible. That I should lose another amount equal to the first is a bit debilitating if I think too long about the implications.

Even as life conspires against me with a buffet of delights I know that I’m not done. Even though my recent success was couched in a competition with others, I’m really at war with myself. Those kinds of wars aren’t won: they stay within us, intermittently coming forth to remind us that nothing remains as it once was.

Part of my own admonition was the prohibition of gyms or workouts. Instead, I decided to move a lot more and to walk more. I didn’t care about FitBits, counting calories, or elegance. There’s too much process in the way we spend most of our lives already. Instead, I focused on working to spend more time in the kitchen and eating differently. I allowed myself to eat things that fall into the forbidden zone on diets, even if I did eat them with considerably less frequency. Much to my surprise, I discovered how much I had missed seeing places right in my own backyard, across town, and in between. I’ve walked hundreds of miles in the last 3 months and learned just as much in those miles as I’ve been rewarded with weight loss.

(Note to self: it is amazing how many people think they aren’t visible to onlookers. Whether you are a nasal Spelunker or secret smoker, chances are that strangers are seeing you, whether they wish to or not. People walking slowly tend to have time to really see what’s around them.)

I apologize to my wife and neighbors as I’ve experimented with exotic spices and foods, some of which may or may not be featured in “Poison Quarterly.” I’ve eaten such a variety of delicious things lately. It’s a lot of work thinking instead of devouring. Even though I’m a vegetarian at heart, it’s a lot more work to even try it seriously.

I don’t want pats on the back. The brutal truth is that I allowed myself to get way too fat. At 250, there’s a lot more going on that simply eating potato chips. To lose 12% of that in 3 months has been worth it and I’m not saying otherwise. But come see again in 3 months, 6 months, or a year. Will I be less than 200 and holding? Or will I be swimming in bacon-filled deliciousness?

I should have never allowed myself to get above 200. It’s easy to look back and slap myself mentally. As with all problems in life, the real meat of the question is, “What do I differently so that it never happens again?” I’m working on that answer.

Meanwhile, I’m going to go cook something which will probably smell like burned pigeons to innocent bystanders. I’ll let you know how it goes. I’d like to thank the Springdale Fire Department in advance for their service if they are called to my house.

521 Place

There was something interesting about this afternoon’s weather. It was cooler than expected with a strong breeze at times. The sky was overcast, adding the perfect touch of faux-Autumn to the mix. My feet felt so light that I was almost detached from them. As I’ve walked more and more, there are days when I’m certain I could walk until nothing except bloody stumps remained. It would not have surprised me to turn and discover a band behind me, merrily playing a tune as I walked. Having said that, it might become a little annoying after a while, though. The band – not the bloody stumps for feet.

I walked along a few roads I hadn’t walked in 20 years, back in another life when I lived in that area of Springdale, in a place I called “521” in my head, in Spanish, for reasons I’ve long forgotten. 521 was the house number but beyond that, I can’t recall the weird reason I recited it in my head like a mantra. In those days, I ran and walked them so much that I knew the average number of steps each required to traverse and the potholes which deceptively hid from view at any speed. To see the disrepair that my former residence is now in was a harsh sight. The best days for that place are long gone, forever. Prosperity was only a brief visitor to that little area and its address was stricken from the record for any future return. Springdale has a lot of surprises up its sleeves but absent a massive gentrification or conversion to public property, these places people still call home will only lean in and fall inward as time marches on. I realize that the way I’m describing it reflects a lot about my privilege in life, but I’m not sure that I can express the declining feeling of these places without an honest expression from my own viewpoint.

I walked under one of the trail’s railroad crossings, being lucky enough to be deafened by the train’s horn blast and the timing of it passing over me as I stopped to feel the vibration building and passing above me. Passing under the overhead rails before stopping, I imagined (as I always do) that the train was going to slowly roll over and derail above me, much in the same way I sometimes stare at the approaching apex of a large bridge I’m driving over and wonder if the road will still be there on the other side. There’s a fancy French phrase to describe looking into the void, “L’appel du vide,” that describes the small urge to jump into the canyon below and even though it’s not an exact fit, it’s similar to the what I’m describing.

At the other end of the lesser-used end of the trail, I stopped to watch a plane thunder off the runway at the airport. It was easy to imagine the pilot peering down on me and the places surrounding me, wondering why I paused to watch him or her as they escaped the clutches of the ground.

At the other end of the lesser-used end of the trail, I stopped to watch a plane thunder off the runway at the airport. It was easy to imagine the pilot peering down on me and the places surrounding me, wondering why I paused to watch him or her as they escaped. Ever since the early 90s when the plane fell out of the sky on me, I have appreciated the tendency of planes to not always stay up there. Turning back to my walk, I marveled at the sheer quantity of empty and colorful beer cans along the wooded and grassy side of the trail. It reminded that people use the trail for different things; for some, it is an access to nature, simply by slithering through breaks in the deteriorated wooden fencing. It was easy to picture the various places in the brush where adolescents could make bad life choices.

I listened to a sociology talk today, in Spanish, one detailing the complexities of those who dare to be themselves, no more and no less. I’m going to paraphrase here. The speaker said several uninteresting things and without warning, said something along the lines of, “It’s part of the loss of religion. Instead of the focus on the power of the mystery and our quest for love, it instead has so often morphed into a litany of certainty, of being right. Of lists of creeds, of fingers pointed toward the things which are wrong. But mostly of being right and of creating boundary spaces between ourselves and others. As individuals, we do the same thing with our own identities.”

Not bad for a slow Tuesday afternoon.

Sporadic Moments



There is no point to this post, no more than any other thing in our daily lives.

This morning, I sat gleefully rewarding the little finches in the cool morning air with little pieces of Cheerios. They seemed confused by the texture. I heard a foot scrape repeatedly with an unusual syncopation on the stones of the path. As I looked up, I locked eyes with an older gentleman. His hair was uncombed and his face was grayed and scruffy. His eyes were deeply shrouded in what I can best describe as a hard life. I imagined I could see his past behind his eyes, years of harsh unexpected surprises queueing behind him. His clothes were torn and his pants were covered in grime, the kind you seldom see on Tide commercials, the ones inhabited by bright, cheery folks with ample time to devote to pristine laundry. I nodded and said, “Good morning, sir” to him as he crossed in front of me, even as he held my gaze for a longer second than I expected. Then, I smelled his passing and I felt about as bad as anyone could feel for the next few seconds as I watched him shuffle his way out of my sight. Out of my life, he went. Something about his eyes reminded me of my dad at one of his low points. The birds were still chirping, though.
I went to eat Tex-Mex for lunch. Really, I went to eat a mound of pico de gallo cleverly disguised as a meal. The place my wife and I chose was Acambaro, the one with the interior uglier than my sister and with service so inconsistent that its rhythm would be impossible to transform into a musical. Despite the ceilings evoking an abandoned drug house, the pico de gallo there of late rivals the plates served at Olympus.
On our way back home from my culinary indulgence, we traversed Butterfield Coach Road, a wide, expansive multi-lane busy street on our side of town. A rider sans helmet was atop a rickety moped, trailing a long rope which had apparently been used in the 1920s for nefarious purposes. Attached to it was a young male striding a skateboard, wearing stylish sunglasses but also no helmet or protective gear of any kind. The moped was pulling the future organ donor at about 35 mph. Apart from the brazen illegality of it and the sheer audacious stupidity, I made a note to nominate these two citizens for a Darwin’s Award upon my return home. In their defense, they were certainly demonstrating the unholy trinity of carpe diem, Yolo, and narcissism. I can’t say I didn’t laugh or admire their total brazenness. My wife and I both had a chuckle at the idea of a Springdale policeman rounding the curve behind us and seeing the duo as they proudly gave him something to do.
Later, I drove over to the Willie George Park by the Tyson Parkway. I had never walked this part of the area in the daylight, which means I had something in common with Edward Cullen. I turned South and walked toward the terminus of Hylton Road where it was unpaved. I began to smell it as I neared it: a house that easily could be the predominant example for Hoarders. This house has so much detritus of cars, boats, furniture, and treasures in the yard that it seemed as if a tornado had thrown the contents of an entire backwoods flea market into its yard. The smell was a combination of mold, failed genetic experiments and bad dreams. I am not one who can be described as having a weak stomach. With the blistering sun overhead though, I felt my stomach preparing to file a formal written complaint if the smell didn’t lessen. I didn’t attempt to look into the windows, in fear that something other than a human face might appear from inside. The dirt road didn’t seem to be welcoming to visitors. That house had all the appeal of a recently-cooked bag of rats. I’ll wager that no adherents to any fringe religion had dared traverse the complexity of that house’s yard – and if they had, their skeletons still remained there, in limbo.
I walked back toward the car and then remembered that I had also never visited the canopied trail area on the far side while the sun was overhead. I walked around and stood on the trail, listening to the million tiny cymbals of noise the insects created for me. I had the trail entirely to myself. Walking back, I stood in the middle of the vast sports field with no one nearby, as the sun watched me from overhead. I couldn’t believe that Springdale continued to create these spaces for me to witness.

Surely other people know that these worlds exist in the middle of their lives.

A Memory Overcomes Me



As the sun beat down and the creek noisily flowed away from me, I glanced up to see the array of monuments to lost mortality on the bluff to my right. It’s deceptive how the trail sprints like a careless runner through the middle of things. I pictured Jimmy standing up there, waving, telling me to keep walking even if they sun cooked away my enthusiasm. That’s how time works sometimes, hurling the most pleasant of hallucinations upon us.

There’s no lesson or moral to this story, just an observation about the overlap of memory. Maybe it’s because Jimmy is up there on that bluff, his own rock and etched tooth raised against the August afternoon breeze. He wouldn’t waste his time lecturing me; he’d turn up the radio and let the music waft through the air. As I walked past, Cristian Castro sang, “…que el tibio abrazo que no volverá …” It wasn’t Jimmy’s kind of music, but he’d laugh and say, “Whatever floats you away, dude.”

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


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.