I have a few new publications to list and brag about….
“Baby Never Grew,” a short story at Chagrin River Review. It’s a story that was written for my West Virginia book-in-progress, and then got cut. Maybe I’ll put it back in—it’s worth reading!
“Something Else Finally Happened,” a short story at Amarillo Bay. A story about a writing class—yes, I’ve been in a few of those over the years….
“Beset by Demons,” is in the anthology/journal Tales from the Concrete Highway, published by Workers Write! A cab-driving story, with some bad behavior in it….
I also have a West Virginia story, “Guernsey Cows,” that has been accepted by Kestrel. It won’t come out until the fall, though, and so I’ll hold off bragging about it until then….
The original scary bridge....
I hate crossing bridges—this may be a metaphorical problem as well as a literal, physical one, but since I’m not feeling particularly introspective right now let’s just say that bridges suck….
The bridge that scared me most as a kid was the old suspension bridge that ran between Belpre, Ohio, and Parkersburg, West Virginia. I would always force my parents to stop at the Sohio station on the Belpre side to get Lifesavers candy—I was a kid, somehow I thought the candy would keep the big scary bridge from collapsing. And maybe it did—it never collapsed while I was crossing it. That’s it pictured on the above and to the left—it was torn down in 1980 and replaced with another scary bridge. So much for progress.
On my recent trip to New Orleans I crossed that damn Mississippi River Bridge at Baton Rouge not once but twice—an enervating experience. After the second crossing, my friend JR said “See? You can do it!”
But that’s not the point. Of course I can do it! I just don’t like doing it….
This thing is....
And so the packing for my impending move to Kansas continues, and I came across this t-shirt:
My psychic powers tell me, dear reader, that you have two questions about this object.
The first question is, How Did You Acquire the Shirt?
In October of 2000 I was driving the cab early one morning, and I got a call to the emergency room at St. David’s Hospital. When I pulled up, a guy and two young women came out and got into the car. The guy was wearing a jacket but no shirt, and was carrying this shirt and a plastic bag. One of the young women told me he’d been in the ER to be treated for alcohol poisoning. The plastic bag was a vomit bag. I told them that if he vomited in the cab, there would be a $100 cleaning fee. The girl said he was all vomited out and empty.
So I drove them all back to the frat house, while the young women cooed over “poor Steve.”
Poor Steve indeed. I told them that "Back in my day, we didn't get alcohol poisoning!"
They didn't say anything--either they were speechless, or unimpressed.
And when I cleaned out my cab at the end of shift, I found that the guy had left the shirt behind.
The second question is, Why Did You Hang Onto the Shirt for So Long?
It was a perfectly good shirt. I washed it and even wore it a few times. Then it went into a box the last time I moved. I think for me objects acquire a sort of flypaper-like stickiness that holds onto memories—in this case, a memory of the cab days, and a memory of a drunk-ass kid who couldn't hang. Though there is also no doubt some laziness involved, and a poor job of packing during my 2003 move.
At any rate, I'm pretty sure that I can retain the memory without the shirt.
And the shirt is now in the dumpster….
I was as at the prison and we were writing about lying— about liars and lies told —when an instructor came by the classroom and said that the education building was being shut down, and the inmates needed to return to the units. So I gave everyone a homework assignment and the students left and I began packing up, when one of the students stuck her head back in the classroom and said, “It’s raining! You’ve got to see this!”
We’ve been in a hard, hard drought this year, and then, as of today, 23 straight days of over 100 degrees. It’s been rough.
I went out into the hallway and the instructor said, “Well, it’s trying to rain. Been a long time!”
One of the rules of the institution is that in times of thunder and lightning, inmates are restricted to the units, and so my students went all excited back to the barracks. I closed up my briefcase and went outside—and was half-blinded by dust. We’ve been so dry there’s not much but dirt and dust in this area, and the storm winds were picking up the dirt and blowing it around. I signed out at the security station and went to my car. A few drops of mud came from the sky. There were sudden blasts of cool air—cool!—from downdrafts, followed by the buffets of hot air. I could smell rain.
I drove back through the neighborhood—the sky was sort of open to the north, and stormy in the east and south. In this photo, looking north, you can see a field of dead grass. Texas right now is a sad, khaki-colored state….
Then it really started to rain! Amazing. I made a video of my drive home….
(Remember, I was a professional driver for six years—don’t try this at home!)
I stopped by the grocery store to get some supplies, and people were lined up under the awning gazing heavenward with looks of wonder on their faces.
Readers in damp climates, don’t take for granted the miracle of water from the sky.
And—why not?—some rock and roll….
Just hope I don't have to wait a long time to play this again.....
Years ago I was driving across Tennessee and came down toward Chattanooga just at dusk, and it looked so pretty looming up out of the impounded waters of the Tennessee River. I was moved—and I thought of moving there. I told a girl I knew then about my dream of Chattanooga, but she was unimpressed.
“You probably won’t be any more happy there than you are here,” she said. “Or unhappy.”
Which might have been true. Heck, was probably true. I never found out, though, for I never ran away to Chattanooga. But still—the main impulse is right, I think. Sometimes you just have to pack up and go. Hit the road and leave everyone and everything behind….
Janet put on a jacket and gathered up her purse and a battered Rand McNally road atlas. Seven times in the last eight weeks she had dropped Jay off at Steve's, then set out on long drives out of town, driving eight or ten or twelve hours, thinking, thinking, stopping late for a motel room—twice sleeping in the front seat of her car—then turning back in the early morning and heading home. Each drive—to Dalhart, Clovis, Carlsbad, El Paso, Big Bend, Wichita, Little Rock—she saw as a dry run, practice for when she really left town for good.
The opening scene with Janet and her son is taken from one of my earliest memories, a morning when I was sitting at the table with my mom when we were startled by a sonic boom….
“It's when a plane goes faster than the speed of sound,” Janet said. “You know what that is?”
Jay shook his head.
“Okay, let's say that airplane came busting through the wall just now”—Janet pointed with her cigarette at the wall just behind Jay—“and I yelled 'Get down, Jay!' But no matter how fast I yelled at you, the plane would still run you over, 'cause it would be going faster than my words.”
Jay twisted around in his chair and looked at the wall, as if judging the likelihood of a jet bursting through it at any moment. Then he turned back to his cereal and began eating, every now and then looking up at his mother. He didn't say anything.
Janet thinks, “…at the speed of sound, you could get a long way away, maybe before anyone even noticed you were gone.”
Several people have pointed out, correctly, that Janet’s decision to flee—to bolt and leave her kid behind—would be a selfish one. But sometimes we write about selfish people, and sometimes we are selfish people. Life is like that.
There are jets--RF4Cs, in fact--in this story, and so I'll run this video again....
I drove to Conroe yesterday—drove through the much needed downpour of rain, thunder and lightning sublime!—for the annual Walt Whitman Birthday Celebration (Walt's birthday is of course the 31st, but this is Texas—we can celebrate it whenever we want). It's a great event: Lone Star College brings in Whitman experts for an afternoon lecture/discussion—this year, CK Williams—and then, in the evening, writers gather at a pub to read Whitman poems.
I read “An Old Man’s Thought of School”
An old man’s thought of School;
An old man, gathering youthful memories and blooms, that youth itself cannot.
Now only do I know you!
O fair auroral skies! O morning dew upon the grass!
And these I see—these sparkling eyes,
These stores of mystic meaning—these young lives,
Building, equipping, like a fleet of ships—immortal ships!
Soon to sail out over the measureless seas,
On the Soul’s voyage.
Only a lot of boys and girls?
Only the tiresome spelling, writing, ciphering classes?
Only a Public School?
Ah more—infinitely more;
(As George Fox rais’d his warning cry, “Is it this pile of brick and mortar—these dead floors, windows, rails—you call the church?
Why this is not the church at all—the Church is living, ever living Souls.”)
And you, America,
Cast you the real reckoning for your present?
The lights and shadows of your future—good or evil?
To girlhood, boyhood look—the Teacher and the School.
Drove home under clear night skies with a bit of moon up there—also sublime.
And, so—after Waltfest I went to New Orleans for a reading. Drove, right. And I had to cross over a big-assed bridge at Lake Charles and a bigger-assed bridge at Baton Rouge. What’s wrong with highway designers? Why can’t they give us hovercrafts or tunnels or teleportation or something relaxing to get us across rivers? Bridges, for all love.
I suppose I could have taken a longer way, and gone way north and crossed the Mississippi at Bemidji or someplace, though that would have been impractical. And I still would have had to cross the Missouri on a bridge that is probably pretty big. To be truly impractical I’d have to go up to Yellowstone, and follow the Madison down to the Missouri, then cut across North Dakota to Minnesota to cross the big river…..
But it didn’t happen. And I tightened my grip on the steering wheel and made it across the frightening bridges to New Orleans, and gave a reading at BJ’s Bar, a fine fun place run by poet Lee Grue. Sold some books, made some new friends, ate some good food, and then headed back to Texas across the same big-assed bridges….