Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Review: Words of Wisdom from my Old Grandpa

“Never trust a man who won’t eat leftovers.”

“A man who’ll eat tonight’s beans but shun tomorrow’s refried beans will more’n likely steal your cattle.”

“Never apply for a dead man’s job till after his wake.”

“A man who wallows in enough malarkey will never realize he needs a bath.”

“A man with a hair-trigger tongue usually ends up shooting himself in the foot.”

“Don’t take yourself too seriously or you’ll end up sad and miserably.”

“Any fool can act like a cowboy, and usually does.”

“A man can spend his whole life trying to bake a perfect pan of cornbread, and it would not be a wasted life.”

“The meaning of life comes to those who take morning walks around the neighborhood just for the hell of it.”

“Never trust a man who puts his faith in a man he doesn’t trust.”

“A bad egg ain’t never gonna turn good. It’s best to just toss it out before it stinks all over you.”

“You can’t win a fight without first having the courage to put on the gloves.”

“You might not be able to change the world, but you can always find some weeds to pull.”

“You can’t change the world just by pulling weeds. Sometimes you gotta mow.”

“If you really want to change the world, start by planting a garden then work your way up.”

“Never count your eggs before you’ve walked a thousand miles bearing gifts in a pair of borrowed flip-flops.”

“Hard work is good for the soul. Yours. Not mine. So get back to work.”

“Any man who tells you hard work is a sacrifice doesn’t know the meaning of either.”

“It’s okay to be scared, but never let that stop you from doing what’s right.”

“A skunk wearing a bow tie will still stink up your house.”

“If folk are always misinterpreting your words, maybe you need to use some better words.”

“If the goats are out because your fence is falling down, don’t blame the goats.”

“I was the only male your grandma wanted to open, so I made damn sure I wasn’t just full of junk.”

“If you’re unhappy and you know it, wash your hands and have some more BBQ.”

“Even the ugliest bird can fly 1,000 miles to kill two birds getting stoned.”

“A city slicker who’s too scared to ride the Hell Bitch has no business giving advice to those who have.”

“It’s not a sign of weakness to seek help after riding the Hell Bitch. The man who implies that it is, is a damn fool.”

“A rich man too scared to ride his own Hell Bitch will always find subtle ways to demean those poor bastards who weren’t.”

“If you wouldn’t say it in front of your grandma, then keep your damn mouth shut.”

“Real men say, ‘I’m sorry’ and mean it. Cowards never do.”

“Boy, if your cookin’ is anything like your poetry, I’d just as soon eat out.”

“Courtesy ain’t a four-letter word.”

“Always tell the truth, even if it won’t set you free.”

“A good day of honest work can cure a heavy heart.”

“It’s better to be long in patience than long in the mouth.”

“Never apologize for being kind.”

“Winning at ANY cost is never worth the price.”

“Try to make sure your actions and words are always speaking at the same volume.”

“Not all winners are winners, just like not all losers are losers.”

“Don’t be afraid to shine light in dark corners. And when you do, be ready to fight like hell.”

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Wheels on the Bus

“Would you please start off by telling us your name, age, where you live, and what you do for a living.”

Sure. I’m Benny Parker. I’m 63. I live in a double-wide off County Road 1207, and I’m a school bus driver.

“Thank you, Mr. Parker. And how long have you been driving school buses?”

Shoot, going on 40 years I guess. I started off as a mechanic and saw driving a school bus as way to make some extra cash.

“Go on.”

Well, I was born and raised right here in Franklin County, didn’t feel a need to go to college so I learned to be a mechanic. I met Sally, my wife, when she brought her old ’62 Dodge Dart in for an oil change. It was in pretty good condition, maybe could have used a paint job and new tires, but other than that it just needed the oil change. I can’t exactly remember what Sally was wearing, but she also caught my eye. Six months later, we got married.

Before long, the boys came along; Stanley in ’76 and then Cooper in ’78. Money was tight, Sally worked as a bank cashier, and I decided if I drove a bus, I could take the boys to school, bring them home in the afternoon, and make some cash on the side. I’ve been driving ever since.

You know, bus driving isn’t exactly how people make it out to be. It’s not all yelling at kids to sit down, breaking up fights and catching them smoking in the back or having sex. I mean, sometimes it is, but not all the time. A good driver can get those kids to do what he wants them to do just by raising an eyebrow.

I will say my first route was hell, and I almost quit. It was too crowded, it was too loud, and those kids knew I was a rookie. One high school girl, Angie I think her name was, got on the bus one afternoon, went to the back of the bus, and yelled out, “I don’t give a fuck.” I didn’t know what she wasn’t giving a fuck about, but I told her to come sit in the front. She acted like she hadn’t done a thing wrong. The school kicked her off the bus the next day and I haven’t seen her since.

Her younger brother, Alex, I saw every day. A 6th grade bully, a cheater, and a liar.  Had trouble with him from day one. I hear he’s in jail now, and his sister’s a hooker. There were some other doozies on that bus, but those two outshined them all. Luckily, the next year I was assigned to Bus No. 6, and I’ve been driving it ever since

The route is actually the prettiest one in the district. At least I think so. I ride through 43.7 miles of farmland and woods, over creeks, over dales and dusty trails, and I even go through a working cow pasture. Sometimes the cows get up and move. Sometimes they don’t. I get to see deer, hogs, wolves, coyotes, and one time I think I even saw a bald eagle.

One year I gave names to each section of the route: From the school I go eight miles south through the Eye of the Needle, turn right at the Purley Gates, take the Shortcut through the Spooky Woods and head over to the Goat Farm. From there I drive through the Cow Pasture, past the Prettiest House on the Hill, through the Rabbit’s Den, turn right at The Tree in the Middle of the Road, and drive carefully past Blind Man’s Alley. Take a left and through the White Fences, up and over Dead Man’s Rollercoaster, take two lefts and right to Pelican Bay, past the Swimming Pool to Jurassic Park, then back to the school.

There was a point I thought I could drive this route until the day I retired, but since my Sally died in 2000 – from cancer – it’s just become more and more monotonous. Same route, same kids, every day, twice a day, five days a week, around and around in circles, driving mile after mile and always ending up at the same place.

I guess that’s what made me do it.

“Yes. But before we get to that, can you tell us anything about Hazel Goodwin?”

Witch Hazel? Unfortunately that old biddy has been our neighbor for close to 20 years. Complains every morning about my grass not being mowed. Complains every evening my goats are too loud. She drinks too much beer, cusses at the television, and when my boys were still at home, she’d yell at them just for being boys.

Now, you’re not going to believe me, but I swear this is true. Hazel always wore some kind of cloth, or turban, wrapped around her head. And she always had a walking cane in her hand. One day she was yelling at Buster, her black and white spotted dog, and I saw her swing that stick over that dog, and the next day Buster was a black and white spotted cat. Honest, no lie. Since then I’ve called her The Witch of Pelican Bay.

“When was the last time you saw Ms. Goodwin?”

I don’t know. A week or two?

“Ok. So tell us what happened on the morning of May 23 of this year.”

Well, to be honest, I just couldn’t take it anymore. Around and around that old route, not going anywhere, just like the rest of my life. Sally was long dead, my boys had families of their own, and I had never been to Alaska.

So on that morning, I packed everything I would need for a long trip and put it in the front seats of the bus. Sleeping bag, clothes, propone stove, an ice chest full of food. The students who’d usually sit in the front two seats, I told them to just sit back a ways. I told them I was going on a field trip.

The route that morning was just the same as every morning, I picked up those kids, took them to school, and dropped them off at the front door. But instead of heading to the bus barn, I drove straight to the bank and emptied out my account. I figured if I was frugal, slept in the bus and ate light, I’d have just enough money to get me to Fairbanks.

“But things didn’t go as planned, did they.”

Well, at first they did. I had a full tank, a smile on my face, and I was heading to the great unknown. Guys like me, we just don’t do spontaneous things like this, especially when it involves stealing a school bus. I figured by the time they found out I was missing, I’d be halfway through New Mexico, and hasta la vista, baby.

But then little Katherine Sanchez tapped me on the shoulder and scared the shit out of me. She’d fallen asleep and had never gotten off the bus at the school. So that was the end of my adventure.

I could tell she’d been crying, and she said she needed to pee, so I found a Dairy Queen, set her up with some food, and then we headed back. Poor thing was scared to death and kept asking for her mommy. I kept telling her everything was going to be all right.

I had no idea how I was going to explain where I’d been, or why Katherine was on the bus. I figured I’d lose my job, but I was ok with that. The state troopers met me at the county line, and well, that’s why I’m here.

“You know what the parents think.”

Yes, but I wouldn’t have hurt that child for the world. I was just frustrated with my life, wanted to have one more adventure before it was too late, and I really screwed things up, didn’t I?

“Yes, a bit, but we believe you. We don’t think you’d harm that little girl. On the other hand, we found Ms. Goodwin’s remains buried in a shallow grave on the back of her property. Just over the fence from yours. Her cat was sitting on the spot.”

You don’t say? Well I’ll be.

“We’re starting to think that maybe you got tired of hearing her complain, day in, day out. Maybe you held a grudge because she was mean to your boys. Maybe you weren’t heading off to Alaska for an adventure; you were heading out of town because you killed her, buried her, and thought you could get away with it. Mr. Parker, is there anything you’d like to tell us?”

Damn, I knew I should’ve killed that cat.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Zombie Christmas

Do zombies have Christmas on Christmas day? 
Do they open presents and like what they get? 
A baseball, a doll or a little ant farm, 
Or do they grab Barbie and rip off her arms?

Do zombies sing carols like real people do?
Or do they make Carol scream all by herself?
I know that was gruesome, but I’ve got to say,
If zombies have Christmas on Christmas Day,

Merry Christmas 
Please just go away 
Come back tomorrow on Boxing Day 
We’re eating our dinner with family and friends 
Can’t you see we love Christmas Day?

Do zombies kiss zombies when mistletoe
Is hanging from doorways? There’s no way to know,
But if they kiss zombies that seems pretty icky.
To tell you the truth it’s just making me sicky.

Merry Christmas
Please just go away 
Come back tomorrow on Boxing Day
We’re eating our dinner with family and friends
Can’t you see we love Christmas Day?

When good little zombies go off to bed,
And dream about sugar plumbs that dance in their head,
Do they gnarl and gash them and tear them apart?
This song isn’t one for the faint of heart.

Merry Christmas
Now just go away 
Come back tomorrow on Boxing Day
We’re eating our dinner 
                  family and friends
Can’t you see we love Christmas Day?

This is our Zombie Christmas Day.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Thursday took off into the wind...

...stayed in the pattern for most of the day, then stalled on final approach.

There were no survivors.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Thursday, December 15, 2016

A New York driveby

New Jersey Darla helped me tape a sheet of lined paper to my motorcycle’s gas tank. On it were instructions on how to navigate through lower Manhattan – Holland Tunnel, right on Varick, right on West Broadway, left on Duane Street, “and if ya get lost, just give us a call.”

“I really think George Washington Bridge is a better choice for him,” her husband Gregg said.

“No, Holland Tunnel is the best.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“There’s more to see.”

“More traffic.”

“Yeah, if he goes right now, but if he waits a bit…”


“He’ll be fine.”

Monte, their orange and white cat, looked on clueless.

“Well then,” I said, “I guess I’ll take the tunnel?”

I waved goodbye to New Jersey Darla and Gregg and headed toward The Big Apple. I wasn’t really scared, but I had this strange inkling that my 19,000-mile motorcycle ride across America was about to end in some dark Gotham alley, me mugged and beaten. Just another Texan sprawled on the pavement covered with leather and oil for tourists to wonder, “Do you think he’s hurt, George?”

“Nah, this is New York. That’s how they live.”

I didn’t have much cash on me to begin with, but what I did have I gave to the attendant at the Holland Tunnel. She didn’t say much, but I knew in another place and time she’d probably ask, “Mister, you gonna ride that little thing through town? All by your lonesome?”

Yes ma’am.

“Well good luck, but I’ll warn ya – don’t stop at the Drop Dead Pigeon Saloon and engage Boss T in a game of Texas Hold ‘Em. He don’t like strangers just passing through his town.”

Thank ya ma’am.

And with that, I lowered my visor and rode into the hole under the Hudson River. Now, this wasn’t your everyday hole. There were no paneled walls or tiled floors, or polished chairs, or pegs for coats and hats.  This was a highway hole, with silver walls and evenly-spaced lighting. The hole smelled of cheap diesel and stagnant water. On and on it went, 90 feet below the river, and I prayed I’d come out the other side at the very most a little bit wiser, and at the very least, alive and well.

The light at the end of the tunnel turned into an overcast sky which turned into New York City which turned into Frank Sinatra singing, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere,” and I looked down at New Jersey Darla’s instructions and almost missed my first turn.

And then I saw trees.

I had imagined I’d see a lot of things in New York City, but trees weren’t one of them. And if they had trees, I reckoned they had to have squirrels as well. Of course city squirrels wouldn’t be like their poor country cousins. City squirrels would lounge around all day, eating bagels and pizza crumbs, dodging taxis and buses and not worrying a smidge about becoming stew.

I took a right on Varick and immediately thought, “NYC just doesn’t seem as big as it looks on TV.” It’s possible that maybe I was in an older neighborhood, the buildings a bit stooped over with age; geriatric buildings biding their time walking their old dogs in the shady park, waiting for family to visit, or the undertaker.

The City, or at least the portion I was in, was also quieter than I’d expected, like it hadn’t gotten out of bed yet to have its first cup of coffee. I didn’t hear any horn honking or police sirens or tires squealing or pedestrians banging their fists on cars or gun fights during broad daylight – all the typical sounds I’d imagined would be a part of my New York experience.

I glanced over at the sidewalk on the corner of West Broadway and Duane Street and saw two men in conversation.

“Seems a bit quiet out this morning,” said Joey the dishwasher. He dropped his cigarette and crushed it under his toe. He was talking to Harry, a fellow dishwasher.

“Too quiet,” said Harry.

“Boss T seems to be in a mood this morning, which doesn’t bode well for someone.”

“I’m just glad it’s not me,” said Harry. “I saw the undertaker this morning working on a new box.”

Joey lit up a cigarette.

“His Sally sure is a looker,” said Harry. “What, she must be 30 years younger than him?”

“At least,” said Joey. “Rich men have all the perks.”

The light turned green and I turned left at the intersection. I doubted very seriously the two men at the corner were named Harry and Joey, but they were smoking and talking about something, and rich men do seem to have all the perks.

Me? I was far from rich. All I had was a 10-year old motorcycle, a few bags stuffed with stuff, and New Jersey Darla’s cheat sheet for getting through New York.

I stopped at the traffic light at the intersection of Duane and Church, and checked to make sure I was going the correct way. I noticed a city bus was on Church, waiting to cross the street in front of me. When his light turned green, he went into the intersection, but stopped in the middle of it – right in my lane of traffic. When my light turned green, and he was still there blocking my way, I heard the first strains of New York – a veritable honking riot that sounded like a Yankee cry of, “Get your stupid ass out of this is not your goddamn driveway you fucking piece of shit like this everyday and I’m stinking tired of your attitude that you think you fucking own nothing around here, dickhead. Do you want to be another notch on Boss T’s belt? Now move your ass.”

Ah. Music to my ears.

Duane took me to Broadway where the neon lights were turned off for the moment, it being daylight and all, and then led me toward the Canyon of Heroes.

“The Canyon is where important people go, ” Duane whispered in my ear, “but you’ll turn off at Chambers before you get there.”

But can’t I have a look? Just to see?

“No. You ain’t all that important.”

New York has a way of doing that to you; making you feel small, irrelevant, a drifter just making his way through town. No, these lights aren’t for you, these wares aren’t for you, don’t even gander at our women, just keep on moving, stranger. We’ve seen the likes of you before, and you don’t belong.

It’s possible that feeling of unworthiness is just that – a feeling; a reflection of one’s own lack of self esteem when confronted with greatness. And it’s also possible the reality is more attuned with, “Yes, we don’t care a shit about you, but next time, if you stick around for awhile, maybe we’ll put you up for the night and order some pizza.”

But I wasn’t going to overstay my welcome to find out. So I took a left on Chambers and immediately got stuck behind a taxi parked in the lane. A lady was opening the back door, giving instructions to the driver.

“I’ve had enough of this town, Roscoe,” she said. “Boss T only thinks he owns me, but I’ll show him.”

“Hate to see you leave, Sally,” Roscoe the cabbie said, “but I’ll take you anywhere you wanna go. So, where to?”

“Over the bridge to Brooklyn,” said Sally. “I’ll make my way to Port Jefferson, take the ferry to Bridgeport, then head north. I just wanna go home.”

The taxi turned right on Center, and I followed along.

The Brooklyn Bridge was finished in 1883. It spans the East River and is more than 1,500 feet long. The bridge has starred in movies such as “Independence Day,” “Godzilla,” “The Avengers,” and “CSI: NY.” On September 11, 2001, after the attacks on the World Trade Center, the subway service was suspended and New Yorkers used the bridge to leave the island.

I didn’t know all this at the time. I was just happy to have made it to the Brooklyn Bridge without getting lost. And then, as I came into Brooklyn, I got lost.

That moment, when you know you need to turn left on HWY 278, but the flow takes you right toward the waterfall and you think to yourself, “I’ll just float along until I can catch hold of a tree hanging over the rapids, then everything will be fine and dandy, unless I die first” – that was the moment I was really trying to avoid.

But it all worked out in the end.

I took the first exit I came to, made a quick turnaround, headed back up the highway the correct way, and was treated to a spectacular view of the Manhattan skyline – its buildings all lined up along the river like good townsfolk waving goodbye to Sally, and maybe even me, hoping one day we’d come back for a visit.

And maybe, when Boss T and his henchmen are all gone, maybe one day we shall.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Things I'm thankful for

I'm thankful I no longer have goats.

I'm thankful my wife doesn't kill me when I miss trash day.

I'm thankful for cornbread and cast iron skillets.

I'm thankful the grass has stopped growing because I really hate mowing.

I'm thankful for good old fashioned guacamole -- without peas!

I'm thankful my toilets flush when it's rainy.

I"m thankful my old grandpa isn't around to see the mess we've gotten ourselves into.

I'm thankful my phone has an off switch.

I'm thankful the neighbor's dog finally stopped barki...

Damn. Spoke too soon.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Happy Vegan Christmas

I wrote a song called Happy Vegan Christmas. It goes something like this:

Happy Vegan Christmas,
I guess you'll eat your share of beans,
Kale and a ton of iceberg lettuce,
cauliflower, turnip greens.
Is that a tofu turkey?
I guess with gravy it might taste ok,
but if the gravy's not really gravy,
I'm sorry but I have to say:

I prefer some dark meat,
Christmas ham I simply adore.
Dressing with a smidge of giblet gravy,
I could eat all that for evermore.
You can keep your lentils.
I'm sure you'll have a happy Christmas,
but I'll be eating somewhere else.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Thursday, December 8, 2016

I hate Thursdays

Thursday is opening up a Christmas present and finding a one-size-fits-all pair of socks that are too small.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Beautiful, crisp, Sunday morn',

cold hands, hot coffee, 
and the Earth spins on
like it has and will
long after we're gone.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Changing the world...

... one tweet at a time is like using a spoon to fill up the Grand Canyon. But hey, ya gotta start somewhere.