Category Archives: Springdale

Summer’s Bedrail

 

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In the summer of 1978, my family was living in City View trailer park, a place of infamy I’ve previously written about. Many residents were notorious about not maintaining their lawns. I’d go so far as to say that the word ‘lawn’ would almost be the last word a rational person would use to describe the lots assigned to each tenant. Some, however, took pride in their lots, which confused me when I was younger. In a bizarre twist, my dad usually made my brother and I trim the grass around the bottom of the metal skirt under our trailer with a butcher knife. I know – what could go wrong?

Residents would pile an amazing array of objects next to, under, and at each end of their trailers, often partially hiding the end with the heavy metal hitch on it. This tendency caused at least ten million banged shins and legs, especially playing tag, catch, or football in the yards. During the time we lived at the trailer park, I found a loaded pistol, pornographic magazines, whiskey, potato chips, and other things under the skirting of trailers.

Many of the kids living in the trailer park spent their entire day roaming the park without shoes. I was one of those barefoot savages. My feet were as hard as tire tread.

One of the endless days at the beginning of summer, I jumped down from the back door of my trailer, as steps were an invitation for someone to try to get inside. Even the front steps of most trailers were cheaply made using narrow wood planks and thin metal supports. Most trailers had terrible front steps and none at all in the back, often with both comical and horrendous consequences due to the number of people who attempt a hasty exit or entrance while under the influence of one substance or another. A smart kid knew exactly how to jump from the back door and simultaneously fling it closed again as he or she leaped out. Note: not while a parent was inside. As we all learned, slamming a door was treated by parents as seriously as murdering someone in broad daylight.

My friend Troy had told me to come over and find him. I hit the ground running and by the time I made it to the spot a few trailers away, Troy and the other miscreants took off running from me. I darted around the end of one of the trailers. The grass was at least waist high against the trailer. Because I was attempting to set a land-speed record and catch up, I ignored the danger of the grass. I jumped in the grass as I ran. My right foot landed on something hard and I felt the immediate agony of something cutting into my foot. In my childhood, I stepped on a few dozen nails, broken bottles, as well as an assortment of other things. It went in deeply. Despite my speed, I fell into the grass. I had landed on a long, old-style rusty bed rail. The upturned corner had pierced all the way into the arch of my right foot. I was surprised that it had not passed all the way through my foot and out the top.

I could barely see my foot, so I crawled out of the grass and sat on the ground, looking at the expansive and deep cut in my foot. For a few moments, it didn’t bleed. As I released my foot, the blood spurts and an intense cramp started. I survived my second head trauma a few years before, one which resulted in massive blood loss and almost 200 stitches. This didn’t seem as bad until the cramps started. As the blood pulsed out of my foot, I realized I had to get back to the trailer, so I crawled as fast as I could despite the cramps in my foot.

There is a lot I don’t remember about that day. Someone called my dad at work. Normally, this would signal the end of my life. No one called my dad, not ever, even after a decapitation. It was probably my sister who called. I don’t remember. My dad did not want to come home, even after someone exaggerated the severity of the cut by saying they thought I was dying. It didn’t sway him, however, as his parenting style could best be described as “If he dies, I had too many kids to begin with.”

I do remember that by the time I got out of the trailer, the cheap linoleum looked like a crime scene photo and the rags I had used to try to stop the bleeding were drenched.

Dad came home over an hour later, angry and blustering. He screamed at me to get in the bed of the pickup truck as he got behind the wheel. I managed to climb up, then over the tailgate. My foot registered every bump and pothole in the road between our trailer and the medical clinic over on Quandt Avenue and Young Street. Dad’s dog Duke kept me company during the trip.

I don’t remember who the doctor was who helped me but he was a rapid-fire, no-nonsense doctor. He used a large bottle with a nozzle on it to spray inside the deep cut even as a nurse used her gloved fingers to hold the wound open as far as she could. For good measure, he doused it with a huge quantity of some type of disinfectant, which set off another round of foot cramps. Dad was not in the room with me, which was a huge relief to me. He’s the type who would probably slap a surgical patient for sleeping during the procedure.

The nurse went out to find him and dad returned and stood in the doorway. I’m paraphrasing, but the doctor asked him if he wanted some other kind of treatment. Dad told him no and that the doctor should do whatever took the least amount of time. I’m certain that they were discussing cutting my foot off, given my dad’s mean streak. I figured out later that stitching it quickly might cause some long-term cramping or other risks. Dad went back out to smoke.

The doctor seemed to put an inordinate number of stitches in my foot. Despite the shots to numb my foot, I could feel most of them. He did tell me that the bed rail had almost pierced all the way through my foot. He dressed it and listed off a list of important notes that I couldn’t possibly remember. I didn’t have anything to cover my foot, so the doctor put a plastic bag over it and told me to stay off it for a couple of days and to avoid getting it dirty.

Because dad wouldn’t come back in the room, I didn’t get crutches. Fair or not, a doctor in Springdale at that time wouldn’t have been surprised by a callous father. I think it was almost normal for medical staff to witness parents treat their children like cattle.

My Dad also, of course, didn’t offer to help me as I tried to hobble out to the truck and once again climb in the back of the truck.

When we got to the trailer, dad didn’t get out. I climbed over and managed to get out without screaming. I knew a beating was coming and simply didn’t want it to happen right then. We got the blood cleaned off the trailer floor, not that it mattered. Mom and dad routinely added one another’s blood to the floor at regular intervals.

To add insult to injury, I got a celebratory beating from both my mom and dad later that day, for a confusing mixture of carelessness and the sheer inconvenience of being bothersome. They both waited until they had consumed enough liquid courage to justify a beating. It’s some consolation that their anger toward me for getting injured at least stopped them from beating each other, at least on that night.

My foot secreted a constant ooze of clear fluid tinged with blood, especially after I walked on it. Mom, with her degree in folk medicine, ignored what I told her the doctor said and forced me to sit in a scalding bathtub of baking soda with my foot submerged in the liquid. She then poured undiluted alcohol on my wound until I almost passed out. She also insisted that I not cover the wound, so that it could breathe. Given that she made me literally eat Vick’s vapor rub, I didn’t have much faith in her medical advice. I also couldn’t figure out her idea that a beating might be medically advantageous for me, either.

A couple of days later, my Aunt Ardith convinced my mom to go to the clinic and to find out what was supposed to be done. Mom only went to the clinic to ask out of fear Aunt Ardith could say “I told you so” after they amputated my leg for gangrene. Mom came back with bandages, gauze, and some ointment. Aunt Ardith asked her about the crutches after reading a few of the notes the nurse gave my mom. “He ain’t got no G-D broken leg!” she shouted. Aunt Ardith rolled her eyes. By then, I was walking around without anything covering my foot. I had popped two of the outer stitches after a cramp hit me and I tried to stand up. I think my foot was a little infected by then. Aunt Ardith prepared a foot bath for me as Mom sat and drank a beer. My aunt showed me how to prepare the foot bath and told me to keep the bandage on it and to avoid putting pressure on my foot. No more mention was made of the crutches. I am certain that Aunt Ardith is the only reason I didn’t get a massive infection in my foot.

The next weekend, my cousin Jimmy wanted desperately to go see the movie “Thank God It’s Friday,” a 70s disco comedy, if such a thing is possible. It was showing at the Springdale Malco Twin theatre, on Highway 68 near Harps grocery. As I’ve written before, Jimmy almost always got his way, which worked out in my favor. All of the movies I got to see as a kid were the result of Jimmy, Mike Hignite, or another cousin. Literally, all of them. Aunt Ardith drove us to the theater while Mom sat in the passenger seat drinking her salted beer and smoking. They dropped us off and drove away. At the window, Jimmy got a laugh out of a woman who refused to say “God” in the title of the movie. “I need four tickets to ‘Thank Goodness It’s Friday'” she said several times. Jimmy was tickled that she couldn’t say “God,” but somehow thought that the movie would be appropriate to watch instead. Like many of our memories, I have no reason that adequately explains why I can remember that tidbit, but not other more important details in my life.

We bought two tickets and as I turned to go inside, one of the very young workers at the theater told me I had to put shoes on both feet to see the movie. I couldn’t have put on a shoe if I tried, especially with the thick gauze Aunt Ardith had put on my foot before leaving the house. I wasn’t wearing a sock and we’d never imagine such a thing as a medical boot or shoe. The manager came over, looked at my foot and said, “Get out,” as if I had planned to run inside the auditorium like an angry linebacker. We also didn’t get a refund.

My cousin Jimmy was furious. We went back outside and sat on the curb outside the theater. A few minutes later, someone came from inside the theater and told us we couldn’t sit outside and had to leave. I hobbled with Jimmy down to a payphone. No one answered at his house. As is the case with most of us and the phone numbers of our youth, I’ll never forget their phone number: 751-1551. Unlike my mom and dad, my aunt and uncle lived in the same house for almost their entire adult life, with the same phone number.

We wisely decided that our moms went to the liquor store for replenishments. So, we waited. After an hour, they drove up next to the building and we got in. Aunt Ardith parked the car haphazardly behind some of the other cars and walked up to the ticket window, her Tareyton cigarette still in her hand. I’m not sure what she said, but the manager came back over and immediately regretted it. Mom sat in the passenger seat, shouting obscene and encouraging words of agreement toward Aunt Ardith. The ticket clerk handed Aunt Ardith the money Jimmy paid for the tickets. She was cussing when she got back to the car. Mom threw her Budweiser can into the parking lot and opened another from a paper bag at her feet. She had probably become concerned that she might run out of beer during the very short drive from my cousin Jimmy’s house.

Evidently, my aunt had also demanded an apology from them for forcing us to get up and leave the relative safety of the front of the theater after being turned away for not wearing two shoes. I wondered what the manager would think if he knew that both Aunt Ardith and my mom were drunk. I think the shadowy canopy near the payphone to which we had been banished was far safer than the interior of the car being controlled by two drunk women. This sort of observation would have led to a beating for me. It didn’t occur to me until much later that normal parents would have known not to send a child to the theater without shoes, even if they had a medical reason.

I didn’t see the movie “Thank God It’s Friday” for another 25 years. Compared to a massive cut in the foot, it’s not so bad.

I ended up taking out my own stitches, in the stupid hope of avoiding another beating for the necessary return trip to the doctor.

In the years afterward, I would sometimes have the strangest phantom cramps in my foot where the scar is. The scar diminished in size but would occasionally flare up when I least expected it. Once, I was foolishly ‘jogging’ with Mike Hignite and it stiffened, causing me to fling myself headfirst into the waiting mud. I ran a lot when I was young and it was invariably on my mind to be careful of my foot catching me off guard. Sometimes, it would cramp while I was driving with my foot on the gas pedal.

If I run my finger along the scar on the bottom of my right foot, I can almost imagine that summer day again.

Thank God it’s not Friday, I say.
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P.S. The picture is of Jimmy and me at Dogpatch. The bottom inset picture is another one from the same day.

 

 

 

 

An Ode To A Supermarket

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After our food misadventure on Saturday, my wife and I or my wife and me (depending on whether anyone cares about grammar) whimsically decided to go find the new Harps Food Store in Lowell, the one by Goad Springs Road and Monroe Street. The weather was cold, rainy, and windy; since we survived a visit to one of our “Never Again” eateries, we were feeling adventurous.

The newest Harps is over by the incredible trail system and the nice Workman’s Plaza. (The section of trail on both sides of this location is among my favorites of the entire trail system.)

Upon our exit, we decided to ask that Harps demolish the location in East Springdale and build a replica of the Harps in Lowell. I’m not sure if we were feeling envious or jealous.

For those of you with youth still in your eyes, you should know that finding a great grocery store is right up there with winning the lottery or being able to reach that itchy spot on one’s back.

Dawn even found her much beloved sugar-free Tampico mango punch, a drink I got her addicted to a few months ago. A gallon of it costs less than a regular soft drink and tastes delicious. We walked around this new store, making faces of astonishment and saying ‘Aha!’ with each new discovery. Due to our visit, I even grilled yesterday in the afternoon typhoon. The selections were too good to pass up.

Since our move from one side of Springdale to the other, we’ve missed the Gutensohn Harps. It’s part of the reason we are afflicted with the diabolical Walmart Market on our side of town, the one dedicated to destroying people’s hopes and dreams.

The difference between this new Harps and the one in East Springdale is astronomical, both for presentation and inventory. The fresh salad bar almost made me openly weep. After falling in love with the Kroger Superstore in Hot Springs last year, I’m more likely to cry in a great supermarket than just about anywhere else.

I know it’s unfair, but I’m going to have to ask Harps to demolish the store by my house and build one like the Lowell location. Anything short of that will be a modern tragedy.

Also, the new Harps has a great selection of beer and wine. It’s strange that our East Springdale location doesn’t have it because it’s just plain science that those of us on this side of town have more motivation to drink ourselves into a stupor.

Signed, An Old Dude With Supermarket Envy
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Note: someone wrote to me on social media to say that the East Springdale location doesn’t offer alcohol due to an agreement with a liquor store on the edge of the property.  That was probably the best decision at the time – but is no longer a good strategy. Some people, especially the older demographic of the store’s base, feel a stigma regarding liquor stores. Moving the store slightly would allow Harp’s to build a new store, one with all the amenities in one location. As much as some people despise Walmart Market, having alcohol available tilts the scales for Walmart; otherwise, people have to make two stops, which lessens the benefit of Harps being so much easier to get in and out of compared to the bigger grocery stores.

One of the best things Harps ever did was to rebuild the Gutensohn location in Springdale. I’ll never forget the last remodel or how fascinated I was by the upgrade. The time has come to do the same for East Springdale. While I don’t have access to the profitabillity for the store in East Springdale, I assume by customer volume that it’s underperforming compared to the population density of the area. When I moved from my previous house in another part of Springdale, I knew in advance that I was going to regret it in part due to the lack of an amazing Harps in East Springdale.

If Harps builds a store comparable to the new location in Lowell, I would consider doing all my grocery shopping at the new location, as well a much higher quantity of  ‘on-demand’ shopping for lunch and quick meals. I’ve heard many of my neighbors say the same thing.

I also want to clarify that I have seldom had issues with rudeness from Harps employees, unlike the behavior I’ve suffered from Walmart Market across the street. Even when I encountered a malfunctioning pump that bathed me in gasoline or encountered critically out-of-date refrigerated products, Harps didn’t argue with the the details; they simply wanted to fix the problem. Also, Harps doesn’t have self-serve registers, something that seems stupidly obvious to everyone except Walmart.

Harps is the grocery store I want to flourish, for a variety of reasons. But Harps is continuing to the lose the grocery battle over in my neighborhood. They’re losing for no justifiable reason, too.

Please bring your bulldozer over and fix the one in East Springdale.

 

 

Logo Wars in Springdale

springdale chicken

 

 

My apologies to Springdale residents. Satire is my friend. You should all know that NATO is about to declare war on the city logo.

I still hate the waffle-fry logo. The Explore Springdale variant, however, is awesome. Seriously. I love it. It’s simple and the symbolism is obvious. I might be biased, though, with a name like “X.” I’ve noted that many people happily insist that it’s my name due to illiteracy.

Each time I see the official logo, I wonder, “Why are we being punished?” It’s no accident that Kleenex offered to be our Official Sponsor in 2017.

I can’t prove it, but I suspect that the logo itself will soon be featured in some crime documentary. The demented subject of same will be shown on camera, his hair matted with chicken feathers, insisting “That darned logo made me do it.” Defense lawyers will start calling it the ‘Waffle Logo Defense.’ Even the guy from “Making a Murderer” won’t comment in case it causes him to receive a longer prison sentence.

I’ve resisted using the logo as an excuse to play blind man’s tic-tac-toe on the municipal vehicles afflicted with the logo. Or “no-go,” as the case may be. I do have a case of rainbow markers ready for when my willpower diminishes. The prosecutor* told me it’s just a misdemeanor to deface the logos on city vehicles. Also, while I will have to do community service, they will also give me a city beautification award if I manage to discolor enough of the logos to make Springdale residents happier by seeing fewer of them.

*This post does not advocate defacing city property. In my defense, though, if the property in question displays an official Springdale logo, it’s already quite defaced.

“Beauty Spits In The Eye of the Beholder” springs to mind when I see the logo. “We Lost A Bet” is my second thought, followed closely by, “LSD Is Your Friend.” A friend of mine suggested “A Chicken In Every Pothole.” That last part is humor, by the way. The streets and roads are nicely maintained, in my opinion. But if you drive a convertible, it’s no joke to pass or get behind a chicken truck. It’s my hope that some of the yokels figure out that the new bike lanes aren’t just really small third lanes, too. The screaming is getting fairly loud during peak hours.

We all agree that the logo, Ray Doton’s cowboy hat, and the mayor’s hairstyle are the three biggest hurdles facing Springdale. (The mayor as an administrator is doing a great job, though.) The city itself is awesome unless you live on the East side, in which case your GPS is permanently linked to the destination marked “Elsewhere.” Many people don’t know that we now hold the demolition derby on this side of town during normal traffic hours. So far, no one has noticed.

I would post the city logo here again. The last time I downloaded it, however, I got flagged by Facebook for promoting violence and for displaying graphic imagery. Just imagine that five drunken people got into a fight while playing pixie sticks and then became ill on top of the scattered sticks. It’s a pretty accurate rendering of the logo.

I’m biased, though. I like nice things and beauty, no matter what conclusions you might draw by looking at my face.

I’ve made several versions of logos through the years, some seriously intentional and most stupidly satirical, much like my outlook on life.

In case anyone missed it, I think Springdale is a great city, one making tremendous strides as it leaves behind its past.

That logo, though? I think the guy from Key and Peele is going to make a horror movie based on that thing if we’re not careful.
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See comments for examples of the logos. The chicken in this post is one I created. Please note that I wasn’t chained to expectations such as professionalism, common sense, or attention to detail.
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Document

Here’s the official logo for Springdale. I apologize for the use of obscenity.

 

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Here’s on my simple ones. Boring? Yes. But not terrible.

 

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Here’s the Explore Springdale variant. Note that you don’t want to hurl like a high school partier when you look at it?

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Here’s the “George Clooney” of logos. Its beauty is unrivaled.

Let’s Talk Trash!

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Important note: I realize that I’m not always the smartest person. Not only do I routinely jab my face with a toothpick, but I attempt to place glasses in mid-air where the side table isn’t, fail to duck my head in front of an immobile object, and insist on poking things to see if they are ‘hot.’

In my defense, I stopped sniffing hot glue, at least.

If you live in Springdale, you can read this and either roll your eyes with the federally-mandated “DUH” reaction, or you can admit that you’re like me, ignorant in more ways than should be humanly possible.

At the ongoing risk of sounding stupid, I didn’t know there was NO limit on trash volume for a residence in Springdale. Whether it was based on fact or not, I’d been told by more than one source that the containers were the weekly limit. Like the myth of the guy who actually likes vacuuming the living room, I simply believed it to be true. Shortly after moving to this side of town, one of the employees for Waste Management told me that customers weren’t permitted to leave trash outside the assigned container. Other than the “Aliens Are Real” patch on his shirt, he seemed credible.

A few weeks ago, a couple of issues aligned to cause me to question things. Other than my own confusion, I mean. Despite what I thought I knew, I was still hearing contradictory information about our trash service. I noted that other people were doing strange things about their trash because they didn’t understand there was no limit. For example, one neighborhood family was walking the curb on Monday to find partially empty receptacles to throw their overflow trash inside. While I own my ignorance, I take solace in the fact that I’m not the only bird brain hereabouts. Watching the shenanigans after Christmas convinced me. Note: it’s also possible that I unwittingly bought a house in a cluster of ignoramuses. I’ll take note during the 2020 census.

I contacted Waste Management to put an end to at least one small part of my vast ignorance. It turns out, everything they told me in an email was incorrect. Almost everything: they spelled Waste Management correctly in the email. Please forgive my humor and snark about it. I wrote to them and asked how to go about getting an additional container, regardless of cost. They wrote back and told me that a contract with the City prohibited such an arrangement. Before hearing back from anyone, I had compiled a fairly creative list of possible reasons for such a clause in a trash contract.

I followed up with both the Springdale Water Utilities and the Mayor’s Office. They were immensely helpful and answered questions I didn’t even know I had. And they said “yes” and “no” where it mattered, instead of hedging their bets. It was refreshing. I’ve yet to call, email or contact anyone in the City of Springdale without getting an answer. As you may or may not know, I wasn’t initially a fan of Mayor Sprouse. It was mainly due to his hair. Unfortunately for my previous opinion, he has always responded quickly and professionally in any matter I’ve been involved with, either for me or for other people. It’s a real pain to have to admit being wrong. Not about his hair – it’s still not “Mayoral,” but it is much improved. As to his follow-through, it’s been tremendous. Reading such straight-forward replies made me dizzy enough to consider vertigo medication.

Per Springdale’s agreement with Waste Management, you can put out any quantity of trash you wish to. If you fill your 96-gallon receptacle, all that is required is that you bag the overflow neatly and stack it with your assigned receptacle.

Waste Management must pick it up, regardless of volume. Those assigned to your route might frown if they note you’ve constructed a pyramid of trash bags towering above your container. They’ll still have to pick it up despite their displeasure. At no extra charge.

While it is possible that I am the only idiot to not know this, I’m willing to bet others might not know, either.

I wrote back to Waste Management to let them know they were still sometimes giving out incorrect information and requested a simple inquiry from within their company to discover why. After several days of waiting, they wrote back. Surprisingly, they admitted that I was right about both my questions and that they were changing their information and training methods to reflect the corrected information. They also said they now offer an additional bin, directly billed, at $7.50 a month. They also admitted that I could simply stack my overflow bags next to the bin, at no charge. Now that I know I COULD get another bin gives me a long list of fun, creative ideas to use such a bin – and none of them legitimate.

It’s a shame for Waste Management that they didn’t say “Yes” when I first contacted them. I’d have a bin from them at an extra cost. Their loss.

I hope that the family down the street never learns of this. I can now look out the front window and laugh at them as they scamper about like trash ninjas, seeking space in their neighbor’s trash bins. As for the neighbors who negligently throw things in the general direction of the bins they leave curbside for 17 days a week, I just bought a pallet of glitter bombs to decorate their grass. We’ll be a fabulous neighborhood.

Kudos to Waste Management and the everyone at the City of Springdale for listening and helping me out. Waste Management gets kudos because they listened to me when I asked them to review their internal procedures and FAQs to help out my tribe of ignoramuses.
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Look Up, Not Down?

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“Look up, not down,” said a wise man.

Sometimes, though, it’s a comfort to look back and inward.

To counterbalance the stories of unsolicited violence from my childhood, I’m sharing this picture of my dad and mom.

I’ve mentioned before that I have no pictures of us as a family at our own house. At one point in my life, I focused my attention and determined that I had lived in 20+ different places by my 18th birthday. This tally ignores the temporary places we huddled. Our lives were suspended in alcoholic amber and economic instability. Only when we appeared at other family member’s homes did any corroborating evidence of ‘us’ exist. Despite challenges to the contrary, no one can show me a picture that includes dad, mother, and three children. I don’t flinch from the fact that such photos would probably include cleverly turned profiles to avoid the camera and clues regarding the consistency and temperament of the group being photographed. Later, I learned that I could use photo trickery to unite us, much in the same way I fooled my mind into believing that the bulk of my life was normal.

This picture was taken in the living room at my Uncle Buck’s house on Ann Street in Springdale. To whoever bought the house once both Ardith and Buck passed, I hope that no spirits roam the hallway of that dwelling. I spent a chunk of my childhood there. My cousin Jimmy lived a charmed life, initially untouched by the lunatic gene passed down through the family. Looking back, I can see that it deeply affected Jimmy’s life and choices. This clarity wasn’t always available to me. It is maddening to know that adulthood would conceal this truth from me for so long. In the picture, dad is wearing one of his many Don Williams hats. He alternated hat styles. In my opinion, he seemed to be most natural wearing anything evoking Clint Eastwood. You can see that his hands are greasy from hours of being elbow-deep in something mechanical. Mom had a phenomenal job at SW Bell, a job she landed with the help of my aunt. Both my parents were imbibing at the time of this picture. Let’s be honest, had the picture been taken in church, it’s likely that one of them would have been drinking. had my parents been Catholic, I would joke that one of them would bring a straw for the priest’s chalice. Mom’s beer probably rested on the counter between den and kitchen. It’s hard to see, but mom has a lit cigarette in her hand, which presupposes that whatever drink dad enjoyed wasn’t explosive.

As my Aunt Ardith was trying to take this picture, dad told her, “Take the picture already, #&#(@^#^$%&.” He used his favorite curse word. It should have been engraved on his tombstone. It’s a terrible word and one which to this day I find to be hilarious. I have a book of stories about him and the usage of this word, especially around people who had no context with which to judge its usage. If I ever write a book, I may well title it #&#(@^#^$%&.

On those days when both sets of parents weren’t angry, the level of laughter could lift the ceiling, especially when Aunt Ardith and Uncle Buck joined in. Uncle Buck was an accomplished musician with nice electronics due to his job as a tech at Montgomery Ward. Country music always accompanied the mood. At the time, I despised it, failing to see that all genres have something to offer anyone who is careful enough to notice. The kids in the house could move freely in those moments, unafraid of a squall suddenly building and releasing its fury around us. There were times when each of us was truly alive and glad to be present, even if most the music and conversations of the adults made us wince.

Other times, it was a race to discover who would silently become the most belligerent as the whiskey and beer slowly did its magic act by disappearing swallow by slug. In those moments, we became adept at using unobserved doors to make our escape from their immediate wrath. Even some of those moments, though, were filled with muffled laughter.

I’m guilty of forgetting many of these moments. Anger and violence often evoke a pattern of amnesia and discolor surrounding moments, no matter how vivid their imagery.

It’s strange to look at this picture and know that after each visit, no matter how late, I’d have to climb into a car or in the bed of a pickup and go home with someone drunk. As often as possible, I stayed the night with my cousin Jimmy. For several years, my cousin Jimmy had a waterbed. He cherished that cliché of a bed. There were a couple of times when he would wake up shouting at me. Some people call it ‘wetting the bed,’ although a more apt description would be ‘urinating near another person,’ as it more accurately describes the reaction of anyone else in the bed at the time of the incident. One night, after I had indeed wet the bed, Jimmy was shouting at me. It wasn’t so much the fact that I wet the bed, but that he was going to have to get up long enough to put more sheets on the bed. Jimmy was a grouchy sleeper. He was ranting at me when I looked at him and said, “Hey, it’s a WATER bed.” When Aunt Ardith burst into the room to see what the ruckus was all about, Jimmy was trying to kill me with his prized Dallas Cowboys pillow. I was laughing.

As the golden moments of life crest behind me, I still feel the effects of moments, most forgotten, accumulating behind me. Doubt is winning this war of details.

As you read these words, stop and consider how much of our lives transform in our memories. Jimmy’s dead now, as are his parents. Several years later, he’s still mobile within my memory.

Dad, mom, cousin, aunt, uncle, all of them departed. The place remains. An imprint persists, as long as someone like me continues to remember it. My day approaches, a slow, inevitable slide toward the abyss.

There is a majesty somewhere in this, one born of being a surviving witness to life.

As it approaches, I find myself seeing this picture as an evolving truth.

Look up, not down.
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A Band Story Inspired by True Events

springdale high band trip

Springdale Band Story – Inspired by True Events

While in high school, I was lucky enough to go to D.C. with the Springdale Band. We took several buses on the lengthy drive. One of our buses broke down at one point and all 200 of us had a layover at a house of one of the superintendent’s family. True story. Imagine having to go get fast food for two hundred people and serve it in a single residence. You thought that sharing a microwave and bathroom with four people was complicated, didn’t you?

Once we got back on the road, we were trying to recapture the lost time due to the bus malfunction.

Despite being in a hurry, our band director Ms. Ellison still took the time to instill in us some valuable life lessons. Near Ft. Knox, we passed a small entourage of entertainers from the University of Kentucky stranded on the side of the road. Ms. Ellison asked the driver to stop and pick them up.

There were a couple of guitarists, jugglers, mimes, and a couple of dancers. Most of them were actors and singers, too. We made room for them in the front of the bus. Any break in the routine of being on the road for so long was appreciated.

Ms. Ellison welcomed them warmly and we all talked back and forth with our new visitors. One of the mimes asked the driver about where we were going and the length of the trip. The driver answered and one of the other mimes began to drill him with all manner of intrusive questions. After a few minutes of this, the driver suddenly whipped the bus to the side of the interstate.

“Get out!” he yelled at the mimes. “No more!”

In shock, Ms. Ellison stood up and attempted to calm the agitated driver.

“Why are you kicking our new friends off the bus? They just needed a ride for a few dozen miles.” Her voice rose in irritation. She was a very strong-willed woman.

The driver reached over and used the door lever to throw open the bus door.

Pointing at the door, he shouted, “They have to get off the bus right now!” He’d reached the end of his rope. We were all sitting in silence, watching the events unfold.

Ms. Ellison got directly in his face.

“Why? What’s your problem?” Her face had turned red and her famous riot act recitation was about to commence. We’d seen it before.

“We just can’t go on with suspicious mimes!”
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sterling price again

Ice Water & Nostalgia, All With a City View

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The picture isn’t real, much like each of our collective sets of memories. That’s my dad standing next to me, though. The power of memory and photography grants me the ability to recreate an imperfect idea.

This story, although difficult to believe, is true. Or true-ish. It’s true enough to make you nod your head in recognition of the people and places mentioned. Since I suffered two almost-fatal head traumas when I was young, I’ve learned to sometimes distrust my grasp of the details but also simultaneously cling to the mood that nostalgia brings. I’m averse to taking the direct route, so if you’re seeking linear fulfillment, it’s probably best that you scamper over to something else to amuse you. Young people don’t appreciate the agony of becoming old and being unable to simply tell a story. Stories worth sharing fail to conform to plot development. In my youth, there were no disinterested bystanders. We were all either in the action or trying to hide from it.

This story takes place somewhere around 1978. Even then, we thought the world was moving too fast, as whispers of new highways and industry were everywhere. Springdale had just reached 20,000 people, a 1/4 of what it is today. Out in the world, many things happened that year, yet few touched the residents of Springdale. Inside City View Trailer Park, though, the world was further reduced to minutes, dollars, and wondering what life was like out in the real world. For many years, it was timeless, stagnant and visceral. Faces changed, to be sure, but the circumstances of those living there hinged on the same calculations people still make today when they might run out of money before days in the month. Most little towns have their own versions of City View. It appeared in the newspaper with startling frequency, usually near the words “Police Beat.” My best friend’s mom was immortalized in the Police Beat section, because burglars broke into their trailer and stole some of their belongings in July 1976. It was strange to find it in the newspaper so many years later. I found hundreds of mentions of City View – none of them had positive headlines. No Nobel Laureates sprang from its loins. As in all places, a few great people lived there and avoided being infected by its lunacy.

For those who aren’t familiar with City View, it was a place a family could find an immediate place to live. It consisted of more than a hundred trailers, set on a mostly quadrangular grid with three main streets and two connecting end loops. The further inside your family lived, the more likely you’d find yourself questioning your ability to make good choices, especially on the drinking nights. If you’re picturing a house with a fireplace or windows that were guaranteed to work, you’re being too lenient on the definition of the word. As long as you weren’t concerned about insulated walls or normalcy, City View always answered the eternal question of “How little can I pay and still claim to live on the inside of a building?” In my later years, I often joked that it was impossible to feel the pull of loneliness there because the roaches were always there to keep us company. We all could hear each other’s business, even as we pretended to hear and see nothing.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the principal owner of the City View trailer park was quite wealthy. He bought the Faubus House in Madison County at one point. When I was diving into the details of this story, I discovered he owned trailers very near where I now live and that a tornado had hit the east end of Emma in 1977, damaging trailers he owned there. To be clear, I’m not faulting him for City View’s problems. He could have done much better, of course, but places like City View are almost necessary.

It’s important that you understand two contradictory things. City View Trailer Park could be a hellish place to live, especially if keeping your stuff from being put in the trunk of someone else’s car was important to you. On the other side of the equation, it was a small community on the east side of Springdale, one cloistered from much of the rest of the little town. Close quarters create an intimacy that’s difficult to replicate elsewhere. It was just as easy to make a lifelong friend as it was to be both witness and participant in a brawl at 2:30 p.m. on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Despite proximity to one’s neighbors, it might as well as have been supervised by the Mafia. All manner of questionable human activity transpired there. Despite it all, many families lived there and walked the straight and narrow path. Its areas were inevitably crawling with children and their adventures.

Looking back, I see that the concentration of poor people tricked many of us into believing that all the craziness happening there with a monotonous regularity had more to do with the place than the inhabitants did. As wild as the place could be, it’s no surprise to anyone who knows me that I frequently mention that my parents were almost ideal for the confines of City View. While we lived there, much of the shouting had my trailer at its epicenter. We only left City View because either the terrible wiring of our trailer failed, or my mom burned yet another residence because of smoking. To say that my mom smoked is akin to saying a volcano tends to emit a bit of ash. She burned down several residences in her life. I’ll never forget the sight of approaching the palatial grounds of City View on that early November afternoon to see a plume of smoke. Everyone on the school bus was shouting, both wanting to go see whose trailer burned and in hopes that it wasn’t his or hers. No one died in the trailer that day, but several million cockroaches were rendered homeless. I lost my connection to my best friend that day, too, as quickly as the smoke rose and vanished.

City View was near the skating rink on highway 68 (Robinson Avenue), the one near the airport. I didn’t realize until I was older than one end of the park was directly south of the airfield’s path. Back then, the airport had houses along three sides. 68 morphed in 412 as the dollars changed hands and progress moved along the corridor. There weren’t convenience stores on every corner back then, or easy restaurants on that side of town. The Spe-Dee Mart was the best attraction nearby if you excluded the Pepsi Distribution Center that sat on the corner closest to City View. When I looked up “Spe-Dee Mart” to write this story, the very first story that popped up in the newspaper was from 1977, when a man robbed that very store at gunpoint. I have to admit that I laughed upon reading the words. The cliché of imagining that the man who robbed the store probably lived at City View made me laugh even more. I knew it was dangerous to walk or ride a bike along the highway but for someone as poor as I was, it seemed like another world. In my defense, it was just as likely to be dangerous at my house as it was to be around total strangers in the dark, all of whom were armed with questionable motives. One night, back when Springdale had concrete medians, I had ventured all the way to the intersection of 71. A drunken man in a pickup had pointed a shotgun at me in irritation. He didn’t appreciate that I laughed at him and rode away.

Honestly, there wasn’t much ‘town’ on that side of town, either. There were no trails or sidewalks and all the streets in and around City View all looped and connected back to Powell Street. Even the roads were trying to tell us to leave. On the farthest end, a large polluted pond sat, hoping to trick uninitiated youngsters into foolishly wading into its dark water.

Near that pond, a trailer away, a friend of my dad’s lived with his wife and two kids. Like my dad, he was a rough man. His pleasures were fishing and drinking. Unlike my dad, his laugh came easy and though he worked hard, it was difficult to rouse him to anger. Jerry wasn’t the only inhabitant of City View that I knew. I had a couple of cousins, many school classmates, and the only real friend I made as a kid.

I’m not sure why my dad was home when the school bus dropped me off. He was a mechanic by nature but had learned a dozen trades and done countless jobs. I dreaded reaching the small rickety set of steps leading up to the door. It was impossible to open the door to that trailer without it emitting a high scream of metal protest. I knew it was likely that dad was drunk and that said drinking had probably soured his less-than-stellar mood. I sat on the porch a few minutes and petted my dad’s dog, Duke. My dad owned a long line of Dukes, all of them dark German Shepherds.

Cradling my books like a shield, I flung open the front door. Dad was sitting at the kitchen table with a partially consumed bottle of something in front of him. It was probably Old Charter. I’m sure that in those days, it was distilled from cat urine. I’m basing that only on the intense and penetrating stench it released when the lid came off. He immediately started talking to me in his language of Mumblecorn. If you’re not familiar with Mumblecorn, it’s a dialect of mostly English spoken by people who already mumble, spiced with words in no discernible order. As bad as my dad’s mumbling was, it was a capital offense to be unable to understand him and comply with whatever nonsensical order he might throw my way. In this case, I understand the word “Jerry” and nothing else. I walked down the narrow hallway, tossed my books on the floor, and returned to the kitchen.

Dad unsteadily stood up, grabbed his bottle by the neck and said, “Come on, let’s go see Jerry.” He either said that, or “The world is a paradox, unknowable in its complexity.” It’s impossible to be sure, though I imagine the former is more likely. At any rate, I had to put on an Oscar-worthy performance and pretend to understand his alcohol-induced word salad.

Dad stepped outside and missed the steps directly in front of him. He fell in one long step, all the way down. He didn’t drop his bottle or lose the cigarette, which perennially dangled from his lip. His ugly brown beast of a cowboy hat also didn’t tilt off. I knew better than to assist him up. If I made that error, someone would have to pick me up after he knocked me down. Many times, I would simply disappear by darting around a corner or hiding. It was a relief to discover how often he’d forget me if I weren’t in his direct line of sight.

I climbed over the tailgate of his truck and dropped inside. Duke jumped over, too, and lay down along the cab side of the bed. There was no way I was going to get inside the cab with my dad. Not just in fear I might laugh at him fumbling for the keys and the keyhole, but in fear he’d challenge me to drive, smoke his cigarette, or take a long pull from his whiskey, all of which was a common development with him. I sat in the back, hoping we were heading to the other end of City View instead of out into the world. Being drunk rarely stopped my dad from driving.

Thankfully, we turned to the east. Dad gassed it, screeching the tires, and didn’t relent until we hit the first speed bump. He loved doing that if he had a victim in the back. In my dad’s mind, the back of a truck was tantamount to the back seat of an SUV in today’s world. I rode hundreds of miles, even through the mountains in summer and winter sitting in the bed or clutching the sides in terror. When people post those stupid memes of kids in the back of pickups, declaring, “We survived,” I’d like to punch them in the throat. I had the joy of being in the back of one on a 4th of July when dad wrecked on an embankment going at least 50 mph, coming back from the coldest swim hole in the area, Blue Hole in Tontitown. To be clear, I loved riding in the back of a pickup if a sane person was behind the wheel. With my dad driving, though, any kid in the back would find himself praying to any and every god imaginable in hopes of surviving the trip.

We made it to the end of the trailer park where Jerry lived. His truck was parked in front of his trailer. People like my dad and Jerry didn’t walk if a truck was nearby. Even the idea of walking for pleasure would’ve confused them. I jumped over the back and stood just out of dad’s sight. Dad climbed the steps and pounded on the door. When no one answered, he began shouting, “Jerry, you b@#tard, open the door!” He turned around to find me and I made the mistake of looking in his direction. He waved his arm to beckon me to the door. As bad as the neighborhood was, many people didn’t routinely lock their doors. With people like Jerry and my dad, it would have been unwise anyway. Guns were tucked everywhere, and usually loaded. The door was locked and later I figured out why.

Dad stepped off the porch and walked a couple of steps to the window. He put his bottle on the ground and pushed against the cheap window. It slid up. “Come on. I’ll push you up,” he told me.

I stepped up on dad’s knee as he bent and then lifted up to grip the window. Just as I was about to clear the edge, I heard dad laugh. Before I had time to react, he forcefully shoved me through the window without warning. I hurtled inside and knocked some things off a little table by the recliner in the living room. I got up and opened the door for dad. I could hear noise from the other end of the trailer. By the way, if you didn’t know, using windows as doors was completely normal, and not just because so few of the windows at City View had screens.

Dad looked in the bedroom directly off the living room. He then turned and walked across the living room, then the kitchen, then down the long hallway on the far side of the trailer. He came back, a horrible smile on his face. He took a Camel cigarette from his striped shirt pocket and lit it.

“We’re gonna have us some fun, son.” He then laughed as Roscoe P. Coltrane might have and whooped. I was glad he was laughing because this indicated a shift in mood. The problem was that it was impossible to know how far my dad might go. “Reasonable” was a fake word to him when he was either drinking or pulling pranks. Some of the stories I tell about him sound impossible to me, too.

Before proceeding, it’s important that you understand several other details about daily living. First, many men like my dad and Jerry often kept a pitcher or jug of tap water on the counter or in the fridge. Filters and bottled were unheard of back then. You simply drank directly from the jug. Everyone in the house knew that it was forbidden to put your lips on the jug or pitcher of the man of the house. Second, most trailers didn’t have showers back then. Most had small bathtubs. Bathing wasn’t meant to be comfortable. You were lucky to get your own bathwater. Kids knew the agony of their moms washing their hair for them. At times, we were convinced our moms were ripping our scalps off as they squeezed our hair. As an adult, you had no real choice except to almost lie down on the floor, placing your torso on the narrow lip of the tub and then bending your neck unnaturally under the protruding faucet. Third, most men like my dad and Jerry had guns everywhere, intended for shooting things outside of one’s house.

As dad puffed on his cigarette in the small kitchen, I could see the wheels of mischief churning in his head. He went into the living room and hunched down near the couch. He reached under it and pulled out a short barrel shotgun. I think it was a .20 gauge, though I can’t be certain. He pumped it to see if it was loaded. Indeed it was. My blood ran cold for a second as I realized dad was going to shoot the gun. Based on experience, I knew that it was just as likely he’d do it inside as outside. He put the gun back under the couch and then went back into the kitchen. I stood, watching.

He opened the old yellow fridge door and reached inside. He pulled out a mostly-full pitcher of water. “A-ha. Here it is. This will teach him to lock the door and wash his hair.” Dad was unstoppable at this point.

By the way, I forgot to mention that I wasn’t sure that Jerry had ever actually washed his hair. It was difficult to imagine him having the time or patience to crouch so uncomfortably and waste his time doing so. I know it didn’t make sense for me to believe this. In my defense, most people didn’t consider the fact that a grown man might fire a gun inside someone else’s house.

I didn’t follow dad down the hallway. I did watch in disbelief as he threw his cigarette in the sink, grabbed the sloshing pitcher of water, and then marched down the hallway to the bathroom to say hello to Jerry. I had connected the dots.

Within half a second of my dad darting into the open doorway of the bathroom, I heard both the simultaneous slosh of water as dad threw the entire contents at an unseen target in the bathroom and the most inhuman scream I’d heard to that point in my life. Believe me, I had heard and memorized some ungodly screams of terror and anger. The scream, which poured from the bathroom, could only be accurately measured against the Richter Scale if it were recalibrated to measure both agony and volume. Almost immediately, another scream and a thud filled the trailer

Dad backed out of the bathroom, empty pitcher in hand, laughing and pointing.

“Go##damnit, Bobby Dean! I’m bleeding everywhere!” Jerry’s voice was piercing.

Since dad was laughing, I risked going past him. Jerry was naked, now sitting on the toilet, and had a towel against the back of his head. Blood was on the edge of the tub, on the floor, and running down his back.

“Where are you bleeding?” I asked. He was lucky I personally had a couple of hundred head stitches of my own when I was 6 or 7 – and had felt the inside of my own scalp when it was almost ripped off my head. I’d seen enough blood to know that if I were looking at it while it was coming from someone, no one had been killed. Yet.

“It’s my head. That faucet caught my head after Bobby Dean threw the ice water on me!” Jerry sounded like a wounded mountain lion. My suspicions had proven to be true: dad had thrown the entire pitcher of water directly across Jerry’s rear-end as he hunched over the edge of the bathtub, washing his hair.

I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I said something like, “Aren’t you glad he threw the water on you instead of firing your .20 gauge in this bathroom?”

The look on Jerry’s face seemed to indicate that neither sounded very reasonable to him. He told my dad to stop laughing and to go jump in the pond behind the house. His language was a little more colorful, though, full of words which surpass mere English.

Jerry, of course, didn’t go to the doctor. Back then, you only went to the doctor if you lost an arm and couldn’t find it. He soaked a towel and a shirt in blood as it slowed. He put a ripped piece of a shirt over the flap of scalp and put a ball cap over the top of that to hold it in place. Wherever he and my dad had planned to go was forgotten. They sat in the living room, drinking beer and sips of whiskey. Occasionally, Jerry would idly threaten to kill Bobby Dean. Dad would laugh and ask Jerry if he could get him another glass of ice water, or “ass water,” as he jokingly referred to it.

I’m not sure which had hurt him worse: the huge cut on his head as the faucet scraped all the way to his skull as he jumped up with a buttcrack full of ice water or his back, from attempting to jolt him upright from what amounted to a prone position under the faucet. If Jerry washed his hair for a while, I’ll wager he locked the front door, all the windows, and the bathroom door, too.  And maybe hid all his guns, too.

After a while, I walked back up to the trailer I called home and probably hid in the closet to read.

So, please forgive me as I sometimes forget the idea of scale or appropriateness. My barometer for evaluation was damaged.  Prehistoric man had to be cautious of predators and being gutted while sleeping. Modern men exposed to my dad had infinitely more difficulty attempting to navigate the prognostications of what he might or might not do. “If you dream it, they’ll come” is a well-known mantra of the baseball player. “If you can imagine Bobby Dean doing it, he’s already on his way over,” would be the mantra for my dad.

Based on the scream Jerry produced at the moment the ice water contacted his backside, I’m going to have to say that sinister government agencies should replace water-boarding with ice water crack attacks.

You’ll never forget those screams, even if you had the chance to live in City View Trailer Park, back when time sometimes stood still.

Time eventually started its march once again, even for City View. Springdale mercifully stepped in and vainly attempted to correct some of the living conditions there. For good or ill, it touched thousands of people. For me, it fills a spot in my mind similar to the one occupied by my dad. All the people and places that I called home color everything that I am. City View changed its name, just as I did.

Humor is in the eye of the beholder and time always renders translucent the fondest of memories – and the toughest of circumstances.

Love, X

 

 

A Christmas Parade With a Shadow

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We lined Emma Street last night, each of us impatiently waiting for the bright succession of floats, lights, and hurled candy to pass us by. It was a beautiful and unseasonably warm late November night. Northwest Arkansas’ largest lit Christmas tree came alive slightly before 6 as those in the parade made their way from the rodeo grounds down the revitalized path to downtown. The people involved in the downtown festivities did an incredible job of organizing the various activities. The Shiloh Square was a diverse mass of commerce, shouting, and smiling. With so many children present, it was no surprise to hear the word “No!” at least one million times.

Earlier yesterday, I heard the rumblings of resentment on social media, as people whispered against the Sons of The Confederacy participating in the parade. I limited my commentary to, “I hope people don’t do anything stupid. Or stupider.” As we all know, it’s become increasingly difficult to be civil at times. Given my background, I know how easy it is to make a situation worse, even if we are ‘right.’ No fire burns as brightly as one fueled by righteousness – and none singes with such wild abandon. In the end, it’s hard for us to believe that much of our complaining is no more than the proverbial ‘fart in a thunderstorm.’ I’m not judging the motivations of those objecting, either, because if we look at the actions of each person instead of as part of a collective, we can better determine the impact of something on our lives. Much of our issues stem from piling people into neat baskets. Even though I also know that screaming, shouting, or typing in all caps not only does not advance my argument but weakens it, like so many others, there are times when my brain short-circuits and leaves me incapable of persuasive disagreement.

If the Sons of the Confederacy is a relic, then so too are our family members who subscribe to supremacy and the arguments of heritage. It is often tone deafness amplified to a shout; out of place, out of time. Many are proud to be Southern and I find myself conflicted at times attempting the impossible task of distinguishing between prejudice and pride in others. In my case, I don’t feel Southern or even Arkansan. So much of our life is tribalism. We identify with the people, places, customs, collegiate sports teams, and religions of our geography. Allegiance to and defense of things which are unchosen lead us to strange destinations. I don’t subscribe to any of their memberships.

As someone who has done a lot of genealogy, I’ve discovered that many of us share a mass of common ancestors. One characteristic of those who preceded us is that they did a lot of vile, ignorant things, just as many of us do. I vainly try to read the hearts of those I know to circumspectly decide whether they glorify heritage or hate. I’m not impartial. Even as I hate to find myself judged, I judge others.

If I find myself unable to distinguish motive, I look to my own past and to my own father. His demons fueled a fury that left a wide path of pain behind him. If I cannot separate his humanity from his actions, I’m left with nothing except the certainty of destruction. It’s impossible to elevate him or honor him in the face of his actions. Other people in my situation find a way to love the person in their lives, my father’s equivalent. Some are able to do the same with our national disgrace of slavery and the institutions which furthered them. I don’t know how some people compartmentalize their adoration for Southern heritage without being derailed by what fueled it. I do know, however, that I am foolish if I paint all such people as having hate in their hearts. Just as they can embrace violent fathers or remain in churches which institutionalize abuse, they also embrace an imagined way of life without associating themselves with the violence of slavery. It perplexes me.

Having said that, I squint at public monuments which seemingly glorify our collective lesser nature and past. I distrust by default those who wave the Confederate flag. I wonder what motivates a group of people to build a float that will probably upset the very people who want to be entertained. Even as I do this, I know that I’m making the mistake of generalization when I judge everyone who disagrees. My privilege as a white male does not benefit me when I attempt to add my opinion to the pile. As such, I leave the heavy lifting to those who feel emboldened enough to protest or resist their presence. In short, I’m lazy. Especially of late, it is inevitable that most things will morph into shouting. A world in which the Confederacy is important is not my world. But neither is a world which mobilizes to shout back at those who find value in it. For those who truly feel the need to protest, my heart is with you. I hope you resist the visceral need to shout down those whose arguments are shaded with subtlety. People will say dumb things such as, “No one was offended,” as if they know your heart.

As we leaned against one of the restored buildings along Emma, I told my wife that a controversy was brewing and that I dreaded the inevitable brouhaha on social media. I knew that the next day would bring teeth gnashing and recrimination. I told her I was surprised that such a float would be included in the parade, but that it wasn’t a last-minute decision and that someone had hopefully taken a moment to consider the implications of its inclusion.

As the floats passed, the only misbehavior I noticed was that of several young misfits who were diligently and insistently attempting to make their mothers lose their minds. That a mother might actually smack a child was the most likely genesis of violence. The best float was the one celebrating the movie “Christmas Vacation.” Eddie drove by in a decrepit RV, tailpipe dragging on the pavement and ahead of him, a tree-laden (roots and all) station wagon adorned with a thousand lights.

As the parade ended, my wife and I cut through Spring Street, then on Johnson. The floats had looped around on Johnson after traversing Emma. I was carefully making my way along the edge of the road, watching the uneven ground carefully. “Merry Christmas” enthusiastically yelled a young blond-haired girl. I looked up as I bellowed, “You too!” The float behind her held two of the men dressed as Civil War soldiers. I waved and said, “Have a good night!” They both waved and said, “You too!” Both floats were part of the Sons of the Confederacy. I didn’t wave to endorse any hateful ideology. I waved because those were people and any meanness on my part would serve no purpose other than to solidify the presence of more discord. Time will hopefully do its job and convince people that such affiliation equally creates discord. I waved and greeted the other float participants, too, as each passed me. Especially Cousin Eddie in his RV.

The picture in this post is of one last night. I chose it because while it captures the beautiful lights carefully placed along Emma, it also captures an interloper passing through the frame. A shadow, one not participating, yet present. Whoever that shadowy person might have been, he or she represents the stain of controversy in an otherwise beautiful Christmas parade. Even as we enjoyed the goofy pleasures of a community parade, I knew the shadow would linger in the hearts of many. Many people worked hard for the night we all shared. It’s important that we take the shadow in its proper perspective yet also be grateful that the Springdale we now share is infinitely better than it once was. I truly believe that.

When I write, I lay out my deficiencies in concrete, leaving people to bring their own misconceptions and lives to the words I write. Unlike many, I have ideas which do not reside on permanent foundations; they shift as my understanding changes. In short, I am often wrong. Interacting with people changes me, especially those who temper their knowledge through a filter which demands that we often give one another a huge benefit of the doubt – and to be cautious when we attempt to read the hearts and minds of those around us.

I left with much to think about.

I left hoping that thinking itself would prevail over shouting in the next few days.

Behind me, the enormous lit Christmas tree filled our Springdale downtown with colorful lights. If the Spirit of Christmas is something worth aspiring to, I hope those lights somehow made their way into the hearts of those who share our community, no matter what their hearts might already contain.
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Beware: The Singing Robot

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Three weekends ago, Dawn and I opted to buy groceries at Walmart. It was a fortuitous trip, as several anecdotes arose from that day.

During our visit, we noticed a few instances of people gawking and talking, though we couldn’t see what the tumult might be. Walmart is one of those places where the mundane morphs into the unexpected at the drop of a mouse-filled hat.

After a few minutes, we watched as a 48″ tall robot rolled toward us. Since no cyborgs jumped out to follow it, we assumed the robot uprising hadn’t yet started. This turned out to be one of the robots doing image inventory as it rolled responsively among the startled shoppers and its directed laser counted and cataloged the million things on the shelves.

I could almost picture an elderly lady seeing it and rapidly fanning her face as she uttered, “Well, I do declare!” with a precariously high-pitched Southern drawl.

I went to another aisle and was inspecting the 573 different types of sauces when I saw the robot smoothly roll down my aisle. Behind it, 3 small Latino children were chasing it animatedly, their excited chatter like Spanish-speaking birds. They jumped in front of it to see if it would stop instead of plastering them on the cold floor, which it did. They were asking it questions as if it might answer them. It was adorable.

As they neared me, I had an inspiration.

In Spanish, I told them that it was a SINGING robot and that if they sang to it, it would reciprocate accordingly and perhaps even answer their questions through song.

Just as I said the words, I look up to see their papa approaching. Since it seemed reasonable to double-down on my lunacy, I told them again to sing to the robot.

The dad smiled from ear to ear and nodded. He said, “Yes, sing to it.”

As they started singing, I couldn’t help but laugh. The dad laughed too, even as he exhorted them to sing more loudly to ensure that the robot might hear their tiny, lovely voices united in the most unlikely place for joy.

I watched for a moment, noting the beauty of their enthusiasm. In that place of commerce and on that day, all of us shared one of those fleeting moments of blissful laughter.
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No Worse For The Wear (Or Non-Wear)

This is a true story, one which makes me proud. After you read the story, you’ll be proud to know me too.

This evening, as the darker clouds rolled in to meet the deepening sunset on this beautiful day, I stopped at one of the local liquor stores. (Which, for the uninitiated, is a place one might purchase alcoholic beverages.) My wife remained in the car, probably anticipating more antics from me. Plausible deniability is a virtue after so many years of marriage.

As the magical automatic double glass doors slipped open upon my approach, I entered with a smile. Three employees were near the rear left side of the store. All three proclaimed an enthusiastic version of “Hey, how are you?” to greet me.

Per my usual custom of saying something stupid, I used my cliché “Terrible!” as my reply.

The youngest of the three visible employees, a fresh-faced and enthusiastic man, laughed and said, “You don’t look any worse for the wear, though.”

Smiling even deeper and preparing to raise my voice, I half-shouted back: “You should see me NAKED!”

The younger employee stood with a stupefied expression on his face. The wizened veteran at his side burst out laughing as I continued walking.
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