Category Archives: Springdale

Armadillo By Morning

Last night, my wife asked me how I choose where to walk next. I answered honestly that I had no clue. Most mornings, I seldom end up anywhere that I had intended. I could point out that my life has taken the same course, but for the moment, I’ll skip the cliché of a life without compass.

This morning, I lay in bed with the cat nipping my shin and toes for at least an hour. It was too early to get up, so I used my other foot to pet the cat until my calf muscle was insisting that I stop. I felt guilty for having delighted in petting a neighborhood cat last night, one we alternatively name “Marsha,” or “DevilCat.” Last night, as my wife and I sat on the bench in the front of the house, DevilCat darted around the corner and demanded affection. Our own cat Güino peered suspiciously and contemptuously through the bottom of the blinds as the intruder greeted us outside. This is the very same cat who screeched and hissed at the office window yesterday morning at 4 a.m. startling me as I sat there trying to navigate the complexity of getting both of my shoes on the correct feet at such an hour.  DevilCat’s eyes are hilariously large in the dark, like a teenage girl getting to order her first mocha frappuccino at Starbucks.  Marsha the DevilCat, as it turns out, is quite the friendly feline, despite having a demeanor which would frighten Freddie Krueger.

Although I left this morning with the intention of going to Emma to walk and check out the new goings-on (including the crater recently added at the first stop sign), I ended up in Lowell, along Goad Springs Road. North Goad Springs has a beautiful stretch of trail extending for a long distance. For no reason whatsoever, I parked across from the convenience store there, on an empty and graveled area near the road, and walked South instead, on a portion of the trail I had never walked. The trail below my feet was a wide expanse of modern concrete, a vague grey ribbon marked with intermittent yellow dashes that I could barely see. If only life would take a moment to give us such direction, even if only in the most dimly-lit way possible. (I promised clichés, remember?)

The first portion of the road there is dense and people have little cause to drive the road near the trail at that hour. It was a wide open sky, one without clouds but decorated by a hazy sliver of a moon above, in the shape of a cookie bitten once by an overzealous 5-year-old. It’s scenic and quite beautiful during the day; at night it is magnified into something beyond. I think I’m going to need to coin a word describing the overlap of differences between scenes during daylight and night, one which conveys the magic of both isolation and of something just about to happen at every moment. If other worlds exist, they certainly exist in the margins of what we think we see and no time of day is more prehistoric than the swath of minutes before sunrise.

Off to one side of the trail a solitary yard light last cast an orange sherbet glow, creating a diaphanous haze like one sometimes gets over one’s eyes coming out of the pool. I couldn’t see what the light was supposed to be illuminating. For me, it was simply an unexpected orange beacon casting thousands of beams of light into the trees and brush as I walked by.

At the first bridge at the curve at the bottom of the valley, the temperature dropped precipitously as if 17 ghosts sneaked up on me to send a shiver down my spine. (Ghosts always travel in odd numbers, if you were wondering.) It was as the valley hadn’t gotten the message that it was still warm above.

As I exited the valley and began my slow climb it was startling to see on my left a huge reminder of civilization in the form of a multi-floor building off in the distance. It was comprised of 200 stacked and similar brightly-lit rooms, all of them lit unnecessarily.  I imagined that a mischievous janitor had run through the building, flipping all the lights on for his own amusement. In his defense, no one would stop him. Why all the lights were on was a mystery I thought about for a moment and forgot as I moved past.

And just like that, before I’d even settled into the idea of possibly being tired, a huge construction crane towered above me, against the night sky. I couldn’t believe that I had already reached the unlikely intersection of the trail, the interstate, and the area where the new East-West corridor above Springdale met them. As I walked under the interstate, the whump-whump of the vehicles passing above created the otherworldly post-apocalyptic feeling that I had anticipated. It brought to mind a period over 30 years ago in the mid-80s, when the interstate was being built and still referred to as “The Bypass.” We weren’t sure what it was bypassing. And we certainly had no idea that such a road would transform every aspect of our lives in this corner of the state. Even back then, in another incarnation, I spent many nights running, walking and biking on those unfinished lanes, even when they were still just miles of compressed gravel. It’s a memory that I cherish and one that is almost impossible to replicate in today’s more modern world, governed by strange ideas of safety and caution. I owned those roads then and in some way, I still own them. The great cycle of time has provided me with a way to relive those hours in the dark, all the while experiencing new incarnations of the same fleeting feeling of isolation in the midst of so much.

Before deciding to turn back, I walked under the mammoth overpass of the new road, stopping to look straight up and feel the dizzy recognition of immensity. The twinkling stars above it and me provided the perfect backdrop. It would have been the best possible picture to have somehow captured the perspective of it. Providing no catastrophe strikes, in a blink of an eye in the course of time, someone will stand in the same spot, years from now, seeing the same sight I did this morning.

Doubling back and retracing my steps I had forgotten that the cool valley would be waiting for me. It enveloped me in a cool haze. All I can compare it to is that first blast of cool air when you are 8 years old and you’ve been banished to the great outdoors for most of the afternoon.

I stopped to look up at the silver moon that reminded me of an older movie logo, the one with the small boy fishing off the cusp of a bright partial moon. On my right, there was a single solitary tree towering above a bench several feet away from the trail. I thought of some future afternoon, one with a cool breeze, when I might return and sit on that bench, a visit without real motive.

Apart from the impersonal interstate I only encountered two vehicles. One was a white truck which was being driven so slowly I speculated they might have been attempting to go back in time and the second vehicle was a police car out of jurisdiction driving so fast I thought it might be a DeLorean attempting to reach 88 miles per hour. It’s possible that the police car driver was also accumulating frequent flyer miles. I met several armadillos, too, none of which seemed interested in making my acquaintance.

There’s no message in this story, just moments.

As you slumbered, I walked with the moon and made friends with old memories. Or vice versa.

No Law Against 365 Days of Xmas Decorations

Please forgive my passive-aggressive, tongue-in-cheek commentary…

Off the wall observation: Springdale has no law which prevents someone from leaving up holiday lights all year. So, if the POA/HOA doesn’t have one either, this means that I am perfectly fine installing the gaudiest, ugliest, flashiest nonsense that I wish to- and never, ever remove them, no matter how pitiful they begin to look or how many passers-by become strangulated by their hanging presence. This also means that those neighbors who have already decided they were going to do this starting last year are free to continue to do so.

I’m torn about this absence of a rule requiring holiday displays to be removed after a certain period of time. On the other hand, though, it presents a lunatic such as me plenty of room to make the city of Springdale regret this oversight. Who among us doesn’t want to see all the reindeer and a 9-foot Santa 365 days a year?

PS: I’m going to sneak over to a couple of houses and ADD lights to those they left up last year. I might even fix the string of lights a couple of houses down which shorts and arcs sparks across the guttering from time to time. It’s pretty at night, though, so maybe I won’t.

The Morning of Shoes

I walked down the middle of Pleasant Street this morning. It lived up to its name for once. There was a single shoe in the exact middle of the road. It wouldn’t have surprised me to find an unattached foot in it but it turned out to have a pair of sunglasses inside. I tossed it to the sidewalk, hoping that no one with sun allergies was wandering the metropolis sans shoe. I know it’s not safe or smart to walk in the road, especially when every fifth car is probably being navigated by someone smelling of the fumes of a Corona or Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. I’ve often mentioned how liberating it is to own the road and the slumbering town around it. It is a sensation that I already know that I’ll miss when infirmity eventually robs me of my ability to walk the abandoned nighttime roads.

Seeing the high school from every angle certainly amplified the size of the place compared to when I crawled the halls there. It is much more majestic in the deep night, each light inside highlighting a plaque, a shadowy doorway, or polished surface. It was the embodiment of an empty world awaiting its inhabitants, both timeless and anticipatory. It is a haunted place, its souls imprinted there from the thousands of students and faculty who’ve resided within, concentric lives centered upon a collective of buildings with a single purpose.

Walking around business 71, I couldn’t help but intercept a group of young people exiting an eatery. One of the young men had a mostly finished bottle of beer in his hand. He raised it in salute and then turned to laugh with his other friends. I couldn’t imagine drinking at 5 a.m. and still be laughing. It’s a sure sign of old age when a cup of coffee and a comfortable chair defeats the call of the wild and youth. Although they wouldn’t understand the joke, I wanted to yell, “Get off my lawn!” in mock humor.

As I passed McDonald’s, I had the momentary urge to run inside and order 15 breakfast sandwiches and eat them all, without even bothering to take the paper off the outside first. The aroma was momentarily maddening, like when you visit a pizzeria and get your first sniff of the yeasty crust, certain that you will literally die before getting a bite of it. After a moment though, the siren call of the aroma changed and soured in my head to one of cloying grease in a pan of cooling water.

Heading back to my car, my feet demanded that I walk another long circuit, this time around the circumference of Murphy Park, a beautiful place transformed by the recent modernization of its features. As I was watching the geese and the ducklings circling around them near one of the central fountains, I didn’t notice the form seated on one of the trailside benches. He was seated, motionless, a hoodie covering his head against the chilly air. Had he screamed “Boo!” as I approached, I would have undoubtedly needed a new pair of underwear. I said “Guten morgen” instead of “Hello,” and he didn’t reply, move or give any sign that he saw me – or indeed that he was even alive at all. I’ll admit I looked back at least twice as I moved away from him. For all I know, he was the grim reaper, having lost his scythe. I saw no reason to invite any trouble, despite that fact that trouble has me on speed-dial.

Peering into the library from a distance, it occurred to me that I’m a terrible criminal. I’d rather break into the library and sit among the million books than magically appear in a bank vault. At the heart of the matter is the insufficient number of minutes allotted in life. No matter how pronounced my greed to consume even 1% of all the books, life’s stop sign will reach me before I can fulfill such a desire. Even though I love libraries, I still dislike hoarding books myself. I have a very few at home, nestled in a box, ones with names like “Night of the Avenging Blowfish” and titles in Spanish. The best books live a little each day in my mind, memories of other worlds and people. They are far safer there, virtually comforting me.

If you find another solitary shoe in the road in Springdale, pick it up and drive by the park and library. Toss the shoe into the bushes. Just don’t make eye contact with the faceless void of anyone wearing a hoodie.

An Anecdote and Some Thoughts

 

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This morning, I walked on the Elm Springs side of town. Because a social media friend reminded me of him yesterday, I listened to Ludovico Einaudi, a neglected Italian pianist and musical friend I discovered 3-4 years ago. I walked westward for a while and when I looped back, I cut through along Oak Grove road. There’s a beautiful white-planked country church about halfway down the road, and I wanted to see it in the mysterious hours of the morning. Along 48th Street, the next streetlight in front of me went out, probably on a timer, and everything turned to black. Until Macadoodles way ahead, the entire swath was empty – and mine. To my right was the huge expanse of undeveloped land next to the interstate. To my left, more empty land. I turned down my music and stood in the middle of the road in this darkness, watching the bullets of traffic hurl along the interstate, each one undoubtedly destination-focused. After a minute of observation, I turned Ludovico up and continued along the urban sprawl. Even though I had meandered much longer than I intended, I walked across the interminable Wal-Mart perimeter, going down the road which warned, “Street Closed” by way of traffic barriers. I ignored them and walked along the dead end avenue. It ends abruptly fairly close to the interstate as it travels parallel to it. Dawn and I had visited this terminus shortly after the road was constructed; it still has an other-worldly feeling to it in the dark of night. Coming back, I watched the silhouette of a Wal-Mart worker as he used a jabber to collect the never-ending trash from around the store. Even though I was just a dim outline to him, he waved toward me and I responded by waving both arms above my head for no reason whatsoever.
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If you ever feel life is too short, ask a friend who is “taking a break from social media” about his or her reasons. The explanation will be so tediously long that you’ll beg for the sweet release of death.
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“The hurricane became disorganized and weakened, then wandered off course and disappeared” would be an ideal way to describe a typical day where I work.
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Grammar is the comfortable refuge of anyone choosing to write ideas as if everything is “bcc.”
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Also, as the frequency with which a person uses “bcc” increases, so does the likelihood that you should NEVER take this person to an amusement park or with you as you try a new restaurant.
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It’s either comical or tragic to realize that the highlights of your life could be used exclusively as a blooper reel for a documentary on the human condition.
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Never start a fight with someone who has one twitchy eye.

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Minimalism isn’t about taking things away. It’s about posting pictures of exotic living rooms you’d never want to be in, at least judging by 90% of all minimalism websites.

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Part of my healthier eating plan includes potatoes. Potatoes are the bath towels of Xmas gifts. You love them if they are disguised as french fries or buried in sour cream but otherwise, meh. But I love them unconditionally, even in raw chunks. Sliced and roasted though, potatoes are the platform which propels this simple food into the realm of ‘gourmet.’ I’ve eaten so many potatoes in the last few months that I thought I was buying marijuana, as they have names that vegetables shouldn’t have: Yukon gold, Russet Burbank, Duke of York, Kennebec, and… Laura. And then I see news stories like this one, which make me an amateur in spud consumption by comparison: Man Eats Only Potatoes For a Year.

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It’s strange to confirm what I’ve known for a long time: it’s a waste to feel impressed with most people, as they are literally ‘winging it’ about much of what they seem to know and certainly for the decisions they make. We have so much self-doubt only because we know the gaps in our minds and life, while those same chasms in other lives are mostly invisible to us. These sort of revelations also tend to trigger disillusionment toward those we hope might help us live happier lives. There are many people out there to learn from – but beware, as the number of delusional ‘one-answer’ folks tend to shout the loudest from the highest podium.

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I’ve had this crazy idea for years that radio stations should intersperse songs with fascinating bits of trivia or news, very short in length – and not just about music, but about the world, arts, history, and people. I think it would be a spectacular thing that would lessen the monotony of over-the-air radio and get people to talk about different things again. For example, after a Beiber song, we should hear a short anecdote about how to apologize.

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A wise man once said, “To do two things at once is to do neither.” I can see that you agree with this idea; yet, you’re probably reading this, making coffee, and juggling live otters as you nod your head. Isn’t it amazing how we know these simple things and spend our entire lives fighting their application?

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From The Book of Platitudes, Chapter 5, Verse 2: “Thou shalt not assume the role of superior, even when circumstances apparently warrant it.”

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Contradictory Law of Argumentation: As you get older, you inevitably realize that almost all arguments are pointless and stop participating. Logically, then, at some point, only those who haven’t learned anything are the ones still arguing.

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I love you all, but…: expecting people to stop putting their feet on the dash while in the car is pure fantasy. We can’t even get people to stop drinking and driving – much less waving guns in the air from road rage.

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“Your god is a TV channel, one filled with word static and droplets of fear. Mine is the one granting us complete autonomy of this universe, to understand it or not, improve it or don’t, and to stop squandering every opportunity to move forward.” – John The Catalyst

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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.

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Wasps, And Wasps Behind Walls

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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.

 

 

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.
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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.
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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.

5 a.m. Bullhorn

I drove back toward civilization this morning and parked across from Wal-Mart, the retailer that allows us to purchase both bowel medications and oil for our 3-speed bird feeder at 3 a.m. It was that time of the morning before the hopeful sunrise would come and dispel the lingering dubiousness of the night’s secrets, and all the lights seemed bright enough to perform a surgical exorcism in the parking lot. Parking lot lights at this brightness are what someone who had suddenly regained their sight might install in their bedrooms for leisure reading. I’ve long held the theory that such lights actually c-a-u-s-e criminal behavior.
 
As I walked around the side of the building, a small bright green new car approached. It was smaller than a Cube. Its headlights weren’t on and I could already see that it was going to be interesting, as someone who resembled a Halloween skeleton was leaning out of the rear driver window, smoking. As it neared, I could see that a witch was driving, cigarette comically dangling from her mouth. It seemed as if the cigarette in her mouth was touching the windshield. She didn’t turn her head as she slowly passed in front of me. As small as the car was, I could also make out that 5 people were stuffed inside the confines of the vehicle.
 
All the occupants looked like rejected extras from the bad parts of “Breaking Bad.” As the car turned right onto Robinson Avenue from the parking lot, another Ph.D. candidate leaned out from the rear passenger window. He was holding a small red bullhorn and began shouting something at me through the megaphone. Although I couldn’t hear him, I could imagine that he was shouting his favorite words from a Yeats or e.e. cummings poem.
 
At 5 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, the only thing that could have made the moment more surreal would have been if an entire caravan of such crazies exited the parking lot simultaneously.
 
As the car drove away, headlights still off, I waved at the bullhorn-holding man. I wondered what a police officer might think as he pulled over the overstuffed car. He might stop them to advise them to turn on their lights, but he would linger as he became increasingly confused. I can only hope that the gentleman leaning from the window with the bullhorn would do all the talking – using the bullhorn.
 
I know that some of you will assume I’m exaggerating. I’m not. Like the moped pulling the skateboarder with a rope on one of the busiest roads in Springdale a couple of weeks ago, the 4-wheeler doing acrobatics on the sidewalks, or the numerous under-the-influence drivers I’ve witnessed as they’ve performed feats of involuntary agility, this story is true.
 
It’s not that you’re unreasonable for a little disbelief, but the people-of-WalMart website didn’t get created without reason. Perhaps this motley group doesn’t deserve my tongue-in-cheek derision, but on the other hand, I’m not the one who decided to cram into a car in the early morning hours of a late summer Wednesday morning and shout at fellow citizens with a bullhorn.

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

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.