Wednesday, August 29, 2018

And the world moves on

I’m not really sure what’s going on over there next to the Verizon store on South Jefferson. I drove by the other day and there’s just a slab of concrete where there used to be something, but for the life of me I can’t remember what.

The Verizon store used to be a gas station; gas used to come in more than just one flavor; the drive-in is now a trailer manufacturer; drive-thrus are a dime a dozen; and a dime will never again buy you a cup of coffee.

That’s life. Eso es vida. C’est la vie.

The Martin theater is now a church; the old First Baptist Church building is now the place to go for revivals on financial management; the library used to be in the old post office; and let’s not talk about the courthouse – a once handsome old building covered up by years of “let’s get with the times” until it became what it is today, which isn’t all that bad depending on your point of view.

I walked around the courthouse a while back, sat on a bench, drank a tall latte and thought to myself, “This life could be a whole lot worse.”

There used to be a train depot just off the square. Now there’s just an empty plot of dirt and sand that doesn’t know what to do with itself. Last Friday I stood in the middle of what once was the depot’s loading platform, trying to hear the voices of the men who waited for the Cotton Belt steam engine to take them to World War II, but I was 70 years too late. The train and men had long left the station.

Turning south you can still see the old smoke stack for Borden’s. Men and boys would collect milk from local dairy farms and bring it back to the factory to be pasteurized. Milkmen would deliver cold bottles of truly fresh milk right to your doorstep, and nobody was lactose intolerant. Today I put Almond milk in my morning coffee. It’s just not the same.

The ghost of Bull Durham continues to look down on the square, but Rogers Hardware Store is now a pizza parlor; a parking lot displaced The Stephens Hotel years ago; The Texan movie theater stands empty, looking for a lessor; and if I told you where the old Titus County Jail once stood, you would never again believe a word I say.

Thing is, things change. Things come and go. New things replace old things. Old thingamajigs get replaced by new doohickeys. Groovy ain’t cool anymore, and bad got replaced with da bomb long before being dope was litty.

The world moves on, and that’s a good thing.

Bess Caldwell owned a beautiful house that was across the street from Harold Richardson Grocery and Feed Store to the north, and Butternut Bakery to the west. When she died, she willed the property to the city, stipulating that it be turned into a downtown park. Today, Caldwell Park sports a splash pad, a gazebo and is a great place to walk your dog, or visit the Farmer’s Market when it’s in season.

I doubt the change would have bothered dear old Bess one iota.

Dawg Fest Rally

We had a charity car and motorcycle rally this past weekend. This is one of the photos I took.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Another school year begins...

... but without me!

I've been a newspaper reporter / photographer / columnist going on four months now -- and it suits me fine.

I've got more deadlines to meet than ever before, but I can go pee whenever I want to.

I haven't had a single day that was just like any other. And if I want to have a beer for lunch, I order a beer.

Screaming kids? Haven't heard a single one.

Papers to grade? Nada.

Cafeteria or hallway duty? Are you kidding me?

Sure, not everything is rosy. But that's life. C'est la vie.

The other morning I went out to the football field to take photos of the marching band participating in their annual summer band camp. I got kind of hot and sweaty. So....

I headed to the gym and went for a swim.

And today, I took my daughter to lunch. Afterward, she bought us snow cones for desert.

Life is good.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

It's just your point of view

I didn't mow the yard last Saturday. I didn't even think about it. Trim the hedges, water the fescue? They weren't on my list to do. And I didn’t watch “the game” either. I don't know which game I didn't watch, but I'm sure it was a doozy on someone's television, just not on mine. It wasn't even on in the back of my mind.

Iwent to Dallas with my wife; everything else I declined.

I could have gone to the hardware store just to piddle around, I guess. Pick up this or that; lug it home, find out that it's two inches too small, and return it. But I didn't. I would have though, because it's a shame to waste money, even if it costs just a dime or two. But all my pennies were in their proper places.

We took a tour bus with friends all wearing smiles on their faces.

I was the only guy on board, if you don't count Terry the bus driver and Dan who was in charge of the trip. Me and lots of women dressed to the nines, but do you think I cared? Not one little bit of Saturday chores undone could ruin my day. Grocery shopping? I'll take care of that tomorrow. Wash and wax the car? I'll take care of that next week.

We were all eager to see "Love Never Dies," a summer musical sung in English.

"Well, it's Greek to me," I hear you say under your ball cap while you're sweating in the front yard, pulling weeds in the summer sun. "And it's probably all about 'Love' and only a bit about 'Dying,' and I'd much rather step on a nail than go, or spend a night in jail. You know?"

"And it's got that opera singing I just can't stand," someone pipes up to be heard over the cacophony of the third beer commercial in a row. "And if you can't understand a word they're singing, what's the point of going in the first place? Hey, the game's back on. Move your face."

I see your point. Yes I do. But isn't it necessary to sometimes alter your view?

You go watch a musical. She joins you at a monster truck rally. Together you agree: avant-garde belly dancing just ain't your cup of tea. Maybe you take up knitting. Maybe she volunteers to skin a squirrel. It's possible, you have to allow. Don't roll your eyes like that. I ain't talking highbrow. There's nothing wrong with baseball, crocheting, soccer, fine art or ballet; reading a book or listening to Mozart. Watching "Sons of Anarchy" or "Places in the Heart."

So yes, you could change your oil today, fix a faucet or chop up some wood. But instead, why not just change your perspective. Who knows? It might do you some good.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Sock it to me, baby!

Oh, the years we’ve wasted donning white socks and black, sometimes brown if the ensemble screams for it, but never bright orange, or psychedelic candy stripes like the ones I’m wearing today.

“How gauche,” I hear. “How unprofessional,” you say.

Well yes, maybe if you’re a banker or the chief of police, but wouldn’t you trust the mayor just a wee bit more if he went around wearing knee-high rubber ducky socks on purple, or pink stars on fluorescent orange? I know I would.

Just think of the mindless hours we spent separating those “boring” socks – darks in this pile, whites over there – when bright reds covered with pizza slices would’ve given us at least a hiccup, something to ponder, a respite from the endless tedium.

“You can’t wash those with your white shirts. They’ll turn everything into a faded bad acid trip.”

Yes, but we’d be awash in exotic colors the likes of which the world has never seen. Let’s do away with the white oxford. Let the business blue fade from memory. Give me something boldly muted that makes people wonder, “What the heck was he thinking?”

Navy blue socks with palm trees; gray socks bearing pineapples; tropical fish swimming in black; blue hibiscus on white; polka dots for the left foot, stripes for the right. These are not the socks of children anymore. I say they are the socks of men.

“He must be suffering from heat stroke. Somebody call an ambulance.”

No, I’ve just seen the light, thanks to my loving wife who bought me a pair of bright red socks for Father’s Day – bright red socks that remind me of a time when life was simpler, more adventurous, a playground expedition followed by snow cones in the park. But then life crept up one day and declared, “Become a man. Throw away your childish things. Cleave unto all things adult like mortgages and insurance payments. Embrace navy blue, a good all-around color that’s befitting for every occasion. And by all means shun the Star Wars Chewbacca socks like the plague, for they will be your undoing.”

Ah, too late. For my sock collection will remain undone until every last tiresome pair goes extinct through natural selection, leaving behind a drawer full of adventurous foot attire that only the brave would dare to don.

“It might be too late, but does anybody know CPR?”

No need. My heart is so much lighter, now that my feet are so much brighter. I’d recommend it to one and all (buy yourself a cheap pair of silly socks to improve the quality of your life) but most people would never fall for the idea that happiness can be bought for mere pennies on the foot.

There will come a day when I will breathe my last breath, cry my last tear, sing my last song. Is it so appalling to want to live those final days with a smile on my face and Super Mario socks on my feet?

I think not.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

A night hike through the woods

It was close to 10 p.m. on a Friday night and there was a baby 'possum standing in the middle of the trail. Someone was shining a flashlight on him, but he just stood there in the spotlight, frozen, like an amateur Shakespearean actor who has forgotten his lines in mid soliloquy.

I felt like helping out the poor thing by whispering the next line: "'What a piece of work is man, how noble in reason, how…" but who does that sort of thing -- giving lines to a creature that's too young to have even heard of Shakespeare?

Me, it seems.

I asked Chris Caswell why the possum wasn't running away, and he said it was too young to be scared of humans. And I thought, "And too young to have learned to look both ways while crossing a road; to have learned not to open suspicious emails; to play possum, I reckon."

Someone doused the light, leaving the possum to find its own way off stage, and we moved on.

We? Yes, an adventurous band of humans out on a night hike through Lake Bob Sandlin State Park, eager to see what could be seen, hear what there was to hear. We were two park rangers, Chris and Clifford Daily; Chris’ wife Sarah and their two youngsters, Carter and Luke; Kristi from Abilene who was camping in the park; and me, a cub reporter looking for a story and trying to overcome the human instinct of fearing all things that creep, crawl and shriek like a fox in the middle of the night.

Oh, yes. The fox. Of course at the time I didn’t know it was a fox. I just heard it scream out in the woods one night many years ago as I was heading out the door to pull the trash dumpster to the end of the driveway. Needless to say (but I will anyway), the trash didn’t make it, and I cowered inside wondering, “What the heck was that?”

“That’s a bobcat,” said Chris, bringing me out of the memory. And as if on cue, a coyote started howling. The seven of us stood still on the trail listening to the beast sing his song, while the moon and Jupiter danced above the treetops, not paying us any mind.

When the concert was over, Chris said, “Sounded like a male,” and we continued down the pathway, not doubting him one iota.

And those two youngsters? Nary a peep could be heard from them. It was as if walking down a path surrounded by poison ivy, snakes and scorpions was just part of their bedtime routine – put on your pajamas, go brush your teeth, don’t forget your half-a-mile hike through the spooky woods, and then daddy will read you a bedtime story.

During our trek, we thought we saw a snake, but it was only a stick; we saw some poison ivy, and we stayed far away from it; Kristi from Abilene noticed a box turtle laying eggs, and Carter hunkered down next to it to get a better look; and Chris said scorpions illuminated by UV light really glowed in the dark, and he dashed off ahead to look for some.

Who does that sort of thing?

Not me, it seems.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

To see or not to see

I saw a young man pacing by the road the other day. He was wearing a blue baseball cap, and he looked lost and confused. He could have been my son, so I stopped and asked him how he was doing, if he was okay, and if he needed anything. He said he had been standing there for 15 minutes, waiting for his parole officer, but that he was okay. As he walked down the road, I wished him well.

I read about a young woman who was arrested the other day. I saw her mugshot posted on a website, her eyes staring off into the distance. She could have been my daughter, and I couldn’t help but read the only posted comment. It was from her mother who was thankful for the arrest. She asked for prayers in helping her daughter get the help she needed, prayers that she would find her path in life, prayers that would help her fight her addictions. That mother could have been my wife, and I silently prayed for them.

I met an elderly woman the other day who proceeded to tell me part of her life’s story. The sun was blaring down on both of us, but she could have been my mother so I stopped to listen. She told me of the times that were, the things she’d done, the people she once knew; of her bad back, bringing up a family, how she bode nobody ill will. I was sweating, but she didn’t seem bothered by the heat. She commented on how it was a beautiful day outside, wasn’t it? And I agreed, because I loved her like a son should.

The other day, I heard my long-dead father in the voice of an old man who came into the office complaining about not having local stations to watch through his satellite TV service. I’m sure he knew there was little we could do about it, but that wasn’t the point. He just wanted to be heard, to have someone acknowledge his concerns, to feel alive again. I didn’t get up to meet the man. It would’ve been too hard for me to bear.

A while back, I saw a woman standing at an intersection motioning to passing drivers for money, or food. She could have been my cousin, so I stopped and gave her five dollars. There’s no telling how long she had been standing there, no telling if she really needed the money or not, no telling if she was going to spend the cash on that night’s meal or a bottle of wine. It didn’t matter. She would have been my uncle’s daughter, and he would have done the same for mine.

I read a story the other day about a man who had his child taken away from him. Whether he was in the country illegally or not, he could have been my brother, and I felt his pain. He fought hard not to be separated from his young son, but he lost and was locked away in a padded cell. He didn’t survive the night.

We see the world for what it is, and how we’d like it to be. We see people for who they are, and for who they remind us of. We wish for all a better life, and don’t understand why for many it’s always just out of reach.

It rained the other day. I was so thankful, for it hid my tears.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The sound of silence

Monday was a beautiful day. An early June “cold-ish front” pushed through, temperatures outside were so pleasant that staying inside didn’t seem lawful, and, well, I just like Mondays.

Mondays are new beginnings – they’re fancy cars you finally get a chance to drive; they’re new stories you can’t wait to read; they’re piñatas that are just begging to be whacked; they’re new hiking trails to explore, leading who knows where, and do we really care? Hopefully not.

So with all that in mind, I decided to head out to Town Lake, eat my lunch under a shade tree and enjoy the beautiful day – but I only got as far as the downtown square. As I was driving past the courthouse, I heard something I hadn’t heard in a long time; something that was so unexpected that I turned into a parking spot and decided to eat my lunch right then and there.

I heard silence.

At some point back in time (I don’t know when, and I’m not sure anyone else knows either) someone decided to put speakers on the courthouse and fill the downtown area with music. Not a bad idea for the day – fill the empty space with nonstop music like at a shopping mall or Wal-Mart, giving downtown visitors something “snappy” to shop to – but what the “town elders” gave up in exchange was the very thing that makes being outside so spectacular:

The silence.

Of course with all the motion, commotion and locomotion going around and around downtown we could argue that the area is not really silent, but it definitely has its own symphony of sounds that I believe is worth a listen – and since I had the time and opportunity to, I did.

The first thing I noticed while sitting on a bench downtown were the birds calling their own hoedown starting with a promenade left, circle right, swing your girl till morning light. The little birds flew up, then down, and around they went all over town whistling their own arrangement of some Duran, Duran song they had probably heard way too often and much too long, but they made it their own – and it was worth a listen.

Birds are like trumpets and piccolos. Easy to hear, the stars of the show. But just below their warbling, I heard a low rumble of heavy truck tires passing by like a long timpani roll imitating thunder off in the distance and getting further and further away, and then a car started up somewhere like a snare drum roll, just for effect. Seeing that the percussion section was all accounted for (except for a cymbal crash I hoped would make it’s appearance in some other concerto), I headed for Jo’s for a cool drink and to stretch my legs. And everything I heard along the way, was worth a listen.

The walking tap on the sidewalk of a couple’s heels were flamenco dancers baring their souls for all to see; a car’s horn tapped in frustration became a beginner trumpet player starting his solo two measures too soon; another car’s stereo was a marching band’s crescendo and decrescendo as it passed by on parade; and snippets of muted conversations were lyrics sung in French, not really understandable, but worth a listen.

Finally, the sound of car tires softly echoing from the buildings across the way were like gentle waves coming ashore on some sandy tropical beach; and when the bell tower rang the half hour, if a large double-masted schooner had sailed around the corner of West 1st Street and Madison, I would not have been surprised.

I packed up the remains of my lunch, headed back to the office, and started jotting down the beginnings of what you’ve just read. I tried so hard not to sound like a crazy old man sitting on his porch yelling at the next door neighbors to turn down their stinkin’ music, but I am getting older and it’s somewhat expected.

Anyways, if you’re ever downtown and the courthouse music is off, grab yourself something to drink, find a shady place to sit, and enjoy the concert.

It’s well worth a listen.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

The ice cream man cometh

“Ice cream calleth at the most inopportune time and verily our heart’s desire must be met, forsooth,” Shakespeare would have written in some Elizabethan Blue Bell love tragedy many centuries ago; but alas, he didn’t.

But it does. Ice cream calls whenever ice cream chooses. Sometimes we hear its clarion call in the middle of the night, sometimes in the middle of an office meeting, but the other day I heard its distinctive warble in the middle of Heritage Park where I had just finished eating some homemade tacos and really needed something sweet to make my meal complete.

But not just any old ice cream. I wanted something from The Ice Cream Man.

I remember as a kid on hot summer days listening to the music from the ice cream truck way over in the next neighborhood, and I’d sit on the curb and patiently wait for him to come by my house. It was almost like waiting for Santa Claus, but only if you squint your eyes a bit and really use your imagination.

You don’t see many ice cream trucks these days, but those guys pushing the carts – the paleteros – I see them almost every day, and when ice cream calls, well…let’s just say I went searching for some like a Capulet in search of a Montague but without the violence.

So, with ice cream in mind, I headed out of Heritage Park, made my way over to First Street, turned left on Denman, left on 4th – and didn’t see a single soul.

Maybe I was too late? Or too early?

I imagined what the two ladies who were walking their dogs around the block would say if I stopped and asked them, “Excuse me, but I’m looking for some ice cream and…”

“Try Braums, you idiot.”

So I didn’t stop to ask them. I just kept driving and looking around.

My in-laws love to share a story about how they fooled their son, Steve, into believing the ice cream truck was just The Music Truck, rolling around the neighborhoods making people happy.

(Oh, what a different life we’d be living if ice cream trucks dished up music just for the giving.)

One day, when “Little Steve” was about five, he came running into the house yelling, “The music truck sells ice cream!” and of course the jig was all up.

I kept looking for MY ice cream man, scanning to the left and right, not really paying attention to who or what was driving around me, and imagined how I’d explain it to the officer “that I was stupidly looking for ice cream, and I’m so sorry I ran into the back of your patrol car” – when I saw Tony pushing his cart down 9th Street.

Tony, in his blue jeans, boots and wide-brimmed cowboy hat, had probably been out in the neighborhood ringing his cowbell and selling frozen treats all day, probably for years. I stopped him in the middle of the street, took his photograph, and in my broken Spanish asked for a popsicle. It was piña colada flavored, and cold, and satisfied my sweet tooth.

Tony walked on down the street and stopped at the corner. I watched as the neighborhood kids ran out to him, El Paletero, just like I did when I was their age. They poked their heads into the cart, seeing what was available, what to choose, what they could afford – and it reminded me of home.

I waved as I drove away, knowing full well I would return someday.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Change is good

... but I much prefer $5s and $10s.

So there I was, minding my own business, when "the boss people" said my salary was all messed up -- had been for years -- and the only way to fix it was to give me less money for 12 months, then "everything would go back to normal."

Yeah, right.

And then, 12 months later while minding my own business, "the boss people" said my program wasn't generating enough interest so it would be cut, and with it, me. But on the bright side, it's possible we'll have another position for you -- not a promise, just a possibility -- then "everything will go back to normal."

Yeah, right.

So, while sending out resumes, going to interviews, putting on dog and pony shows for possible future "boss people", and generally minding my own business, I was offered a job with a company doing a thing that I had wished for all along.

I'm going to be a bonafide journalist -- and nothing will ever be normal again.


Sunday, March 18, 2018

Triathlon Day without me

It's 6:10 a.m. on a Sunday morning. I should be eating a piece of toast with peanut butter and washing it down with a large glass of water.

I should be putting on my trisuit and checking my sports bag to make sure I have everything I need -- helmet, shoes, socks, sunglasses, towel, swim goggles, race belt.

I should be looking over my bicycle to make sure the race numbers are attached properly and that nothing has been knocked amiss, like stuck brakes or a whopper jawed seat.

I should be jumping up and down with excitement, my heart beating as fast as if I was actually participating in the Triathlon that is set to start in less than two hours.

But I'm not.

I'm at home with a squid-like heart monitor hanging from my neck, it's tentacle wire leads attached to my chest with suction cups, and I have this feeling that at any moment it's going to rip me apart and start to feed.

Over dramatic? Well, maybe a bit.

Thirty-two weeks of training for a Sprint Triathlon down the toilet just because my body decided to "act out" like a teenager who's been caught skipping class with his girlfriend, Rita, but "we didn't do anything, really, we just went to the lake and skipped stones and drank a few beers, it's nothing to get all upset about, everybody does it, just chill."

Last Sunday, after my wife and I got home from watching a movie, I discovered I had lost the peripheral vision in my right eye. To be looking straight ahead and not being able to see my right hand in front of my face was a really weird sensation. And then, when I tried to ask my wife where the ibuprofen was, the words coming out of my mouth came out in a different order than I had intended.

The whole episode lasted less than 20 minutes, but I spent the next two nights in the hospital.

Hospital beds suck!

I'm home now, of course. I've been home since Tuesday. But since spending two nights in the hospital is equivalent to spending two weeks in the hospital, I decided on Wednesday morning that doing a Triathlon at the end of the week -- today, Sunday -- was a bit more than I wanted to handle.

So, Wednesday morning I went for a 1.8 mile walk around the block. Oh, it felt so good to get out and stretch my legs.

Thursday I went to the gym and spent an hour on the treadmill.

Friday I went trail running at Lake Bob Sandlin State Park.

Saturday I went to our local wellness center and swam a bit.

And Sunday, today, I'll probably rest awhile, wash some dishes, and get ready to go back to work after a short but eventful spring break.

Thirty-two weeks of training down the toilet? Well, not really.

I've lost more than 30 pounds.

I feel better than I have in years.

And I'll be ready for the next triathlon that happens in May.

Monday, January 1, 2018

The first post of 2018

No resolutions.
No plans or schemes.
This year will be unlike any other.
No illusions or dreams,

but maybe I'll run a bit,
and maybe I'll knit,
I might even change jobs
or flitter and flit

from one day to the next
not caring of direction,
just go where the wind blows;
but then on reflection,

I have a few goals,
a few lofty desires,
and if I'm real lucky
a few will transpire

and the rest will come crashing down
just like past resolutions.

So I guess I'll just wait
and see how it all comes out,
no rhyme, no reason,
nothing to write home about.

And that is my first post,
the first of the year.
Sort of melancholy, I know,
but I thought I'd try to be a bit more sincere this year.

At least for today.