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.