Category Archives: Springdale

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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Just a Moment

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Because I skipped walking the day before, I loaded an unintentionally melancholy playlist on my phone instead of listening to TED or anything noteworthy. The hour was too early and my enthusiasm was too high but the darkness was beautiful. I walked the width of Springdale, down Emma, and a circuitous path toward nowhere in particular.

Someone I once knew too well called yesterday and told me that his days were now numbered and that he was tired of the pain and mediocre tenor of life. Like these things always do, it left a bruise on me that wasn’t readily apparent.

So, I left for a long walk this dark morning.

I found everything I wasn’t looking for.

I walked so far that I texted my wife to see if she was up. 30 minutes later, I tried Uber to discover that no one wanted to drive around Springdale at that hour. Another 30 passed and I decided that I would wait for Uber’s system to either get me a ride or kick me off the system. A driver pinged me in less than 5 seconds. My legs were numb at that point, so I leaned against the utility pole on the street and watched the sun come up above the skyline somewhere near the roofline of AQ Chicken.

 

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As I sat in the back seat of the stranger’s car, I was surprised by how far I had walked, mile after mile. The raccoons had greeted me across from the Apollo Theater, and someone’s tiny tuxedo kitten ran and jumped on my side as I warmly rubbed it and whispered to it. I left him purring underneath the front bumper of his owner’s truck. A solitary worker moved in the darkened interior of Neal’s Cafe. Several empty storefronts looked out upon me as I traversed Emma.

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In the distant geography beyond, I knew that the person who called me yesterday was awake and restless, shuffling through his memories and attempting to reconcile his time.

There are no easy answers and no direct path to peace. But, there is time enough to walk and to look out upon the unknowable expanse of people and places around us.

 

Springdale Horror House Afternoon

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By way of preface, I live in a relatively new neighborhood. It abuts an older area behind my house. As a bona fide weirdo myself, I can only say that a couple of the people behind me would be ideal characters in any movie plot involving dysfunctional and possibly homicidal misfits. When I was having internet fiber cable installed, I only had a few seconds to warn the crouched technician as one of the eccentric neighbors made his slurred and erratic approach toward us and the fence line.
“Pretend that the ‘Adams Family’ is real. You’re about to meet all of them rolled into one person,” I told him. The technician quizzically looked up and then over at the approaching person. “Wow” was his description of the encounter afterward. “I’ve seen a lot in my years.”
This afternoon, I went outside to chase a squirrel from my bird feeders. Like most houses with questionable pedigree, the residents of one of the houses behind me strive to let the yard grow wild, possibly in hopes of concealing whatever might go on there. I’m constantly battling the encroachment of the foliage and critters which call it home. Everything about the house indicates that its current trajectory will land it on an episode of “Hoarders” or “Crime Scenes of America.”
While I’m not positive that the sounds originated from the yard in question today, I froze as I stood in my small backyard. Even if I were given 20 guesses, I’m not sure I could have determined the real origin of the squawks and murmurs I heard as I went outside. The overcast sky and rain-filled air didn’t add anything wholesome to the fact that the back of my neck was tingling as I listened.
I went back inside and found my Nikon digital camera in hopes of capturing the unnatural sounds just as much as the visual if anything ran out of the house missing an arm or shouting in an unknown language. While finding a clear space in the overgrown foliage, I noticed something unusual: a 3-foot blue and white bunny rabbit hanging by a rope about 10 feet from the dark porch.
“Oh hell no!” I told myself as I went back inside and pretended it was just a normal day in East Springdale.
I enjoy a good horror movie but choose not to be the guy getting told “Don’t go in there!” by those watching.

Downtown Dummies – An Art Installation Sponsored by Prank Sinatra

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I keep lists of jokes, ideas, and amusing things to amuse my amusing self. Last year while I was walking before sunrise in downtown Springdale, I burst out laughing with one of them.

I’ve been secretly fantasizing about an idiotic prank for quite a while. I’ve browsed on eBay, Amazon, and retail clearance websites trying to get a reasonable cost to purchase several dozen mannequins. The best cost I could devise was about $750. Three weeks ago, I could have purchased an entire lot, clothing included, from a defunct retailer.

After purchasing all the mannequins and keeping them in a self-storage unit, I’d rent a U-Haul. Early in the morning, I would drive around downtown Springdale and strategically place the dummies in key places. (Benches, leaning on walls, astride Spring Creek, behind patrol cars, etc.) It occurred to me that I could create a story if I was creative enough in my implementation. (With the epilogue involving me getting bailed out of jail, I presume.)

I even had a list of explanations if I were caught. I’d say, “It’s an art project for the Revitalization District.” Or, I’d say, “Look at that!” and as the person looked, I’d run like hell in any possible direction.

If I keep my movements low-key, no one will think twice about dummies downtown. There are always several standing or loitering around down there and several have been elected to keep the city running. Just kidding, Doug. I’m a big fan, with the exception of that horrendous city logo – the one which invokes an image of the floor of a New York City Taxi when I look at it.

I’ve had more fun thinking about doing this than you might expect.

I’ll probably never do it now, especially after sharing it with everyone.

If there’s anyone out there reading this, though, it would make an excellent prank.

It would also make a beautiful art project if it were planned with care.

Read With Caution – But This Story Doesn’t End In the Manner You Imagine

 

I’m writing this story in one sitting, one draft, and without polish.

I don’t know who they were or where they were from, the couple that forced my day into an uncomfortable U-turn. I’m still a little nauseated, an hour later. When I came home, I immediately took a shower and did my best to avoid throwing up. The perfume or cologne of the couple is still on me, even after. My “What Would You Do” moment did call me to action, though. It also exposed my hardened view of so many things. The older man of the couple demonstrated an incredible amount of patience in the moments we shared. I am hesitant to tell any part of the story as even the most gently expressed truth often wounds people in ways which are unintended.

My wife and I capriciously decided to find a Mexican food place to eat today on the 4th. We drove by several and found all to be closed, one of which we missed by 30 minutes. On a whim, I turned at the last moment to check Las Palmas. My wife and I smiled at each other when we saw the mismatched cars aligned in the parking lot.

While we were eating, a woman and her children were behind us. The older boy regaled his table with stories involving vomit, bathroom misadventure, and the sort of thing one would expect from such a tender idiotic mind. Dawn was especially taken with the stories, given that the back of her head was a foot away from the mouth sharing the stories as fajita-scented smoked wafted in the air.

The restaurant had some unusual characters in it. The oddest was an unlikely couple seated in front of me and to the right, back against the bathroom area. The man seemed to behave almost like a caregiver. The woman, a painfully thin middle-aged woman, sat with her face mostly turned away from me. She was wearing a summer dress and several things seemed not quite right about her. In front of her was an almost empty margarita glass, the frosted and salt-rimmed kind one typically finds in Tex-Mex places. Toward the end of my meal, the antics seemed to grow more pronounced, much like a play in which the actors start to feel the audience respond to their comedy. I watched as the woman tried several times to get the straw of her drink to connect with her mouth. I was wrestling with the question of whether the woman had a mental condition. The margarita seemed incongruous to such a hopeful conclusion, however.

As Dawn sat across from me telling me stories, I found myself increasingly looking past her at the strange couple by the bathroom. I watched in horror as the woman tried to stand, much like a confused flamingo might do if its frail legs were tied to bowling balls. The man with her grabbed her as she started to pitch forward into the basket of chips of the Latino man seated nearby. He had her purse in one hand and somehow managed to grab her like a striking cobra.

“She’s going to fall!” I fiercely whispered to Dawn. “Don’t look,” I added, as she, of course, turned her head to look. (It might as well be a law in these situations, much like the involuntary cringe in one’s neck as someone shouts, “Watch out!”) I didn’t know it, but I was finished eating for the day.

After six or seven additional dramatic steps, the woman simply collapsed onto the hard tile floor, her male companion helpless to stop her. It sounded like a half-empty bag of potatoes as she hit the floor. My heart stopped for a second.

I locked eyes with the Latino man who had been seated near them. He looked down and away. Because I didn’t want John Quiñones and his crew from “What Would You Do” to jump out of the pantry and stick a camera in my face, I jumped up and ran over to help lift the woman. I didn’t know that my call to action was going to be so graphic or consuming.

“She’s got a bad leg and is going to have surgery on it,” the man told me. My heart hurt for him a little bit at that moment. I could feel his pain. I knew then that the woman was drunk and probably had a little pharmacological help mixed in.

Being careful of my back, I helped pick her up. I wanted to sit her in a chair for a moment and to give her time to get her bearings. The man with her forged ahead, trying to walk her, so I continued to lift and assist. Everyone inside was now looking at us. The restaurant had come to standstill.

We somehow managed to get her near the door despite the constricted walkway between tables. We were basically carrying her by this point. I wanted to sit her on the door side bench while the man went for the car. Instead, he said he’d never get her back up if she sat down there. Despite the voice in my head threatening me to continue, the man and I kept walking and made it outside. It’s hard to change course once you’re swept up in what seems to be impossible momentum.

I assumed his vehicle was the one two spaces from the door, given the woman’s condition, one which I assumed was normal for her. “Is this one yours?” I asked him.

“No,” he replied. “You’re not going to believe this, but THAT one is mine.” He pointed to the literal edge of the parking lot. The vehicle was some type of conversion Jeep, and the bottom of the door was more than two feet from the ground. I should have run. If I could go back in time, I’d go back and slap myself for not doing so.

The woman continued her best to succumb to gravity and fall to the pavement as we fought against it, moving slowly across the parking lot. She mumbled incoherently as the man continued to ask her to use her legs, to hold herself up, to move forward. I assumed everyone in the restaurant was pressed against the tinted windows, watching us do the impossible. I could hear the opening bell of Rocky in my head. My back sent warning shots to my brain. I couldn’t put the woman down, though, because the pavement was incredibly hot. The man seemed relentlessly insistent on marching to his vehicle, even if he had to drag all of us there by sheer willpower.

As we neared the Jeep, I got one arm from her and opened the door. It was going to be impossible to get her in there given the access available past the door. I knew then that the woman was most certainly not in such dire straits before her meal. Whatever medical condition was present before her arrival was at most responsible for no more than 10% of our current predicament.

We tried everything to get the woman up. She stopped responding to basic motor commands. At one point, the man ripped the belt from his cargo shorts in an attempt to fashion a lifting harness for her hand. We lifted her up and down no fewer than ten times. It was blistering hot in the parking lot. I knew it was burning the woman with each attempt, if not breaking her legs. I asked about an ambulance and should have insisted on calling one.

Honestly, though, I cannot express the pain I felt for the man as he struggled with a total stranger like me. He struggled to maintain his composure and sanity as the situation became more and more outrageous. I knew how sharply he was feeling the concern for the woman, while simultaneously being embarrassed and upset. He told me I could leave and that he appreciated the help. It made me wince even more.

On our last attempt, the woman’s sundress went completely up to the waist, leaving her exposed. I could not imagine a worse predicament for either the man or the woman. The woman, though, wouldn’t know it had happened unless someone tells her later.

After a long interval, Dawn came outside and watched as we continued to struggle. I wanted to both run and burst into tears. The man agreed that he might have to call an ambulance, even though I knew as he said it that he wouldn’t, for a variety of reasons.

The woman was curled into an unnatural ball in the passenger seat and floorboard, her limbs in seven distinct directions. The man was pushing at the small of her back, trying to keep her inside. He couldn’t do anything about her dress being around her waist.

“I’m not going to call an ambulance if you don’t want one, sir,” I told him, putting my hand on his back. He was in great shape for being in his late 50s or early 60s; It probably explains why he was still making the attempt.

We gave one more try to push the woman far enough inside. It looked impossible, but she was ‘inside’ in the most loosely defined way possible. The man told me he’d pile her in there like a spilled bag of oranges if he had to. Without exaggeration, I think about 15 minutes passed between the first time I picked the woman up from the floor and leaving.

I said a few things to get him to reconsider. I don’t remember exactly what I said because I was upset, whether I showed it much or not. As Dawn and I left, we drove around the lot so that I could see that the man hadn’t dropped her. Thankfully, he was standing by the Jeep, looking at the ground, a look of despair on his face. I was trying to picture what it might look like when he got her back to her house or his house or wherever they would end up.

I turned right and went the long way around, trying to convince myself to go ahead and call the police or an ambulance. If a police officer had been patrolling, I would have. None was to be seen. It was a relief in a way. Those two people have unimaginable problems in their lives. I don’t know who they are – or even the man’s name.

Dawn told me as we drove away that the woman walked into the restaurant without assistance. It confirmed my suspicion that alcohol had mixed with something else.

I can’t tie this story up into a neat little bow yet. I’ll let you know how mad I become at myself for helping. I’m glad I helped when someone needed it. I feel a deep sadness for the man who was put into that situation. I know nothing about who he is or his relationship to the woman. The not knowing makes it easier for me to avoid anger at the woman. My youthful exposure to so much alcoholism and addiction sometimes brings up a vengeful eye in me and it is something I struggle with when I’m around the consequences of someone who desperately needs help but won’t accept it.

I forgot to mention one key detail: it was an unfortunate choice of days for the woman to fail to wear underwear.

What’s The Buzz?

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This morning, I walked a route I’d never taken before. The block behind me can’t be accessed directly, so I walked the circuitous path out of my neighborhood and around. Despite previously driving down the dead-end road behind me and seeing it on Streetview, I never noticed a spur sidestreet jutting from it, truncated as it points South. Unknown places are a treat, especially in the early morning before life startles everyone from their cocoons.

As I rounded the bushes on the entrance, I saw a man walking toward me. I could smell marijuana in the air as if someone with low self-esteem and a bad haircut had used it as a perfume by mistake. Keep in mind that it was still mostly dark and I was walking in a strange place. I felt like Donald Trump might if he were accidentally transported to a library.

By the time I was within a few feet of the approaching walker, he took a drag from what looked like a vape pen and exhaled. Marijuana wafted through the air. The man said, “Hey,” and kept walking.

Tempted to shout, “Police” and run for my life as a prank, I instead kept walking, the distance between us growing.

For the remainder of my walk, I pondered the question, “Who smokes marijuana at 5:00 in the morning, especially when no convenience store lurks nearby?”

Maybe the man in question is getting his exercise and buzz simultaneously, having just completed a ‘GTD’ seminar.

P.S. The photo isn’t the man in question. It’s what I picture in my mind when I think of how it should have looked.
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A Springdale Morning’s Anecdotes

With the lengthening days, my inability to sleep soundly in the mornings once again dragged me from the bed and out into the morning. I chose to walk a byzantine and unplanned path through the bowels of Springdale’s downtown.

The brightest and most vivid storefront at 4 this morning was that of “Mr. Taco Laco.” I pitied those who would work there later today as the throngs of goofy Americans crowd in, each trying to eat their weight in appreciation of Cinco de Mayo, a dubious excuse to imbibe.

I stopped and admired the neon promise of salvation at the next corner. I was about to snap a photo of it but the inclination passed as I remembered that the worst logo in modern American history was just across the street. As I walked past it, I considered buying a large black sheet to hang over it, one to conceal its hideousness. The Chamber of Commerce is the furthest thing from a comedy club, though, so perhaps I’ll continue to just imagine doing so.

The store near the corner barbershop on Blair Street caught my attention. Despite the hour, its lights were blazing. The mannequins all seemed trapped in mid-step, waiting for me to pass and begin their secret dance. The store was strangely lit, like an aquarium.

As the theme song from “Stranger Things” started, an image of “The Langoliers” came to me. Though I was the sole owner of the morning, I knew that soon the streets would begin to hum with people as they began their days. I think the feeling was amplified by the empty and newly-renovated Tyson hatchery building. Its front was dark and I could see empty tables and chairs awaiting their occupants, each one preoccupied with whatever business they might be engaged in.

As I turned on to Grove Street, I surprised a man standing on the landing of his upper story converted apartment. He was smoking. The converted house he lived at was one I had lived in almost 30 years ago. Knowing the people who would need to live in such a place, I knew that his day was probably not going to be filled with pleasurable pursuits. When I lived on the lower floor of that place, the upstairs neighbor loved blaring “Opposites Attract” by Paula Abdul. He played it a dozen times in a row, day after day. He was one of the meanest and ugliest people I’d met and he certainly didn’t look like a person who would listen to Paula Abdul; his preference, based solely on his looks and personality, should have been a drum track against the backdrop of people screaming. (Not Top 40 material, I would imagine.)

When I passed the creekside behind the Montessori School, the one which began as First Baptist Church and then served as a drug rehab facility for years, the thickening mist on the creek rose to about shoulder height. As I passed the curve behind the fire station, I didn’t see the opossum until my foot was next to him. I did a stupid dance backward and the possum scrambled away. Unfortunately for him, he chose to run forward and was trapped against the black wire fence as it ran up to the underpass of the railroad trestle above it.  I stood for a moment under the train tracks, unable to see where my new friend had hidden.

About 100 feet further along, a skunk was hunkered down on the rise to my left. He didn’t pay me any attention as I whispered, “Here, kitty kitty” to amuse myself. I survived another day without being sprayed by a startled skunk. I’ll tell my wife later that it’s a certainty that I’m going to get sprayed at some point. Walking in the deep dark has its benefits and dangers.

Crossing Johnson Street, I remembered a rainy Friday afternoon long ago when I was driving too fast and failed to stop soon enough at a stop sign. I hit the driver door of a souped-up Honda. The driver had borrowed his roommate’s car without permission and I had rewarded his bravery by hitting him. The owner never filed a claim. The policeman who came to the scene was a little irritated at me. Not because of my excessive speed, but rather due to his dashed hopes. He had spotted what he thought were empty beer cans in the back floorboard. He had excitedly reached for one with an “Aha!” expression about to pass his lips. The cans were non-alcoholic beer cans. I couldn’t help but laugh. And laugh some more. He ticketed me and I didn’t complain because I deserved it. The officer should have received a commendation for not screaming at me as I smiled at his diminished glee of catching me in the act of driving while drinking non-alcoholic beer.

The aura of older homes in the dark streets always appeals to me. The defects are hidden, the owners tucked away in slumber. I pass the houses, seeing only the splendor of the intricate woodwork, covered porches, and elaborate trim inside the living rooms.

The Great Tortilla Chip Famine of April 26th

 

My wife Dawn & I have a ritual of eating Mexican food on Thursday, when possible. Since we are eating considerably healthier than what used to be the case, there are times when it feels as if we are at risk of starvation by the time we reach the magical doors of the selected Mexican eatery. Today was such a day. Dawn has lost a lot of weight in the last weeks and I had to make another hole in my belt earlier this week. To say that we were anticipating our trip of culinary indulgence would be an insult to the word “exaggeration.” I was salivating so much on the way to the restaurant that I thought I might need to hang my head out the car window as I drove, much like a large and enthusiastic dog might. I had my extra bottle of Tajin seasoning next to me. (If you don’t know what Tajin is, please accept my words of pity and condolences for you.)

My stomach was not only growling but also filling out complaint cards of protest. A few things to note… We tip exceptionally well. I have tipped over 100% at some Mexican restaurants. If the staff plans just a little, they only need to visit our table once. (When it’s just us two, we never want a refill, for example.) Also, my favorite food in the world is pico de gallo, eaten in bulk and by using the food shovel of a chip to consume it. I constantly tell staff to feel free to charge me for an order of chips and salsa as most of the time the entrees aren’t interesting to me. I’ll order one for appearances but my heart belongs to pico de gallo and chips and salsa.

We’ll forgive any recipe disaster, including eyeballs in our rice or long dark hairs in our cheese sauce, as long as there are sufficient chips and salsa. I’ve been known to keep the wrong food if it’s brought to me or pay the bill even if I’ve been over-charged. Mexican food is that important to my mental well-being.

Today, we went to our ‘go-to’ eatery. In a bizarre twist, it wasn’t busy. It started out great but deteriorated from there. In a nod to those suffering First World Problems, we only had one less-than-full basket of chips. Given the volume of pico de gallo I requested, I hadn’t anticipated such a dramatic turn of events. The precise math necessary to calculate chip-to-pico enjoyment is difficult but it can be best summed up by the words “always over-estimate.”

We hit the bottom of our chip basket well ahead of schedule. Dawn and I exchanged horrified looks, as we had missed our opportunity to beg for a refill when the waitress walked away. As far as I know, she may well now be featured on a milk carton, so quick was her exit and noticeable her subsequent absence. Given the lack of chips, I had no choice except to eat from my actual entree. This is an unconscionable abomination. So disinterested am I in the entree selection that I’ve started almost ordering randomly.

For my selection today, my plate included a ‘chicken enchilada.’ Like the expectation of a loud scream or being startled by some unseen animal or person at the beginning of a horror movie, it did indeed contain that most vile concoction of shredded chicken, the kind that always smells like putrid chicken-in-a-can and looks like what a buzzard might regurgitate to its young. It is a rare thing to find shredded chicken anywhere that I can’t almost see the smell-waves emanating from it. Shredded chicken is too chickeny, in other words.

As we finished our available selection of edible portions on our plates, I noticed that it seemed as if our table must have an invisible solar eclipse above it. No one would look our direction. I stacked our plates on the outer edge of the table, an invitation to the perplexing “let me make room for you” offer that staff inevitably makes, even though the plates are never in fact in our way. No one succumbed to this universal call for retrieval. The plates and utensils remained there, stacked and immobile, adjacent to the forlorn and long-empty chip basket.

“We might as well go. We’re like people wearing Trump hats in here,” I told Dawn.

We both managed to avoid breaking out in tears. Our mouths watered with the mirage of further tortilla chips and salsa.

We drove home in silence, both of our faces locked in somber reflections of the meal that almost was.

Just kidding about that last part. We speculated about every possible scenario for the ‘why’ of The Great Tortilla Chip Famine of April 26th. My best guess is that on a sufficiently long enough timeline, you’ll not only be cheated out of enough chips and salsa, but also have to endure the presence of that vile ‘food’ known as shredded chicken.

P.S. I took my shredded chicken home in a folded napkin as an experiment. I threw it to a pack of wild dogs near the edge of Sonora. The dogs became so enraged at me for putting it anywhere near them that they almost tore my left arm before I could run and dive back into the relative safety of my wife’s Honda. As I drove away, I watched the dogs paw at the ground and bury the remains of that monstrosity known as shredded chicken.