From the edge of the swamp

Location: marengo, il, United States

Tuesday, December 28, 2004


Hans, who is nineteen, lives in Malaysia. He and I met on-line several years ago, and I broke one of my big rules back then of “getting involved”.

He spoke to me at the time of a concern he had of being found out by his dad. Hans had just chosen to become a Christian. He went on to say that his father had threatened to kick him out of the house if he ever found another Bible in the boy’s possession, but Hans had his mind made up; he wanted to learn more about this thing called Christianity. So we talked at length, me trying to help in my meager way.

Being raised in a land where such a choice could have dire consequences led me to befriend him later on, and when he eventually asked me to mentor him, I agreed, although I voiced some reservations. But after explaining I was not an ideal sort to lead, and that I was simply a regular guy with no deep spiritual knowledge or special insight, and that there were many, many more-qualified people for the job, we came to an agreement of sorts. He now addresses me as Dad.

Hans has every quality a son should possess. He is bright. He is most handsome. He has a great sense of humor. And although he might deny it, he is both industrious and wise beyond his years.

I, as a dad, am less. That is, I am not the most-attentive sort. I have six sons of my own who will attest to this statement, if pushed. Oh, I love them, but I don’t show it like I probably should, or could.

Hans and I communicate sporadically by Email. We have both exchanged pictures of our immediate families. His parents, sad to say, divorced a year ago. His Chinese father remains distant and aloof. His mother, who is British, herself converted to Christianity not too long ago, so she still has close ties to her son.

I got reports from Hans as he struggled with the oppressive school system in Malaysia, and his tyrannical teachers. I let him know he was lucky to not be here where the greatest danger was to fall into the wrong crowd and become a mall rat or a Goth, or learn to indulge in fast food and video games. He laughed and said they have all of that and more.

He told of how his mum had been asking quiet questions about his religion. And when he graduated, he and I celebrated with Emailed high-fives. He now plans to attend a university in Australia, and study medicine.

The latest report I heard on the news says Kuala Lumpur, the capitol city where Hans lives, suffered only minor damage from the horrendous tidal wave that hit south Asia on December 26. I Emailed him yesterday, but no response has been received so far.

I pray Hans is well.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Unexpected Meetings

I keep running into the pair of them. First the woman; then the man.

Both act nice enough. They each appear well-groomed, civil and polite; very professional, yet not over-ambitious in the least. I don’t know either one of them, though.

She stood up as I parked. When I headed toward the book cart in her charge, the older woman laid a protective hand across several of the stacks, as if to steady the load, while she began steering the pushcart in my direction. It seemed like a moment of pleasant surprise for her.

“Don’t forget to have Alicia call in the directorial numbers for these.”

“Oh, sure. Of course.”

And I went on to work as she busily headed in another direction.

That evening I left the garage to drive home. Somewhere around 38th Street and the downtown area I came to a stop for a red light. That’s when he approached. He had a hand tugging on the brim of his hat and an arm wrapped around his waist as he leaned into the wind. The tails of his coat flapped as he advanced rapidly on my car from over my left shoulder, and he almost collided with my front fender.

Still keeping a hand on his hat, the younger man glanced up at me, and then stopped immediately as he realized who I was.

“Remind Alicia to call in those key numbers.”

I waved to him and nodded, and then he trudged off.

Later, I casually mentioned both experiences to my wife.

She looked at me from across the table, and then she replied,

“Hmm. Alright.”

Cry Me a Rib

Icy. Icy heart. O icy, icy heart
Oh, I see
I see heart
I see time

Yes, I see time left to bare the ass of my soul
To blog through the deep and bitter coal
Let me lift the skirts of my sorrows
To bare the ass of my soul
Yes, bear my ass, for the whole world must witness
What a sight to soar, eyes

Poor ass
Pour, poor ass
Poor world
Pour, poor world

Rent out the vaulted ceilings of my heart
Hurl across time and space
Poor thee, forth; tour de force
Pour forth and so forth
Plumb the debts
Carve into the deep
Naked I weep
Naked I sleep
Yes, naked I sweep
And naked I go
O naw to the forlorn bone

Cry me a rib or
Cry me a rib or I'll fly a quiver, over-used.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Merry Christmas

That-cat is in the closet again. He likes to run in there and hide and sit and stare when I open the door, like, “What are you doing, opening the door? Can’t you see I’m hiding here?”

“Oh, excuse me, That-cat.”

So I shut the door and walk away and leave him alone till he wants to come out and be a part of my world once more and pretend to be my friend again. Understand, it’s all part of an act.

“Look!” I mock. “That-cat is back.”

“Jerk-face. What are you doing up?”

“I made you a Christmas card.”


“I stuck it in your door so you’d see it.”

“I have to take my contacts out and go to bed.”

“I’ll wake you up in the morning.”

“Okay. Fine.”

“I love you.”

“Yeah, I love you too. Now get to bed.”

Thursday, December 23, 2004

The Box

Manufacturer’s recommended prescribed amount: Ingest one serving to relieve temporary boredom; two for slightly better comprehension. Take before bedtime, and prior to Christmas Eve. Avoid over-dosing. Large amounts may cause allergic reactions such as disdain or mild grimacing, while in a few cases, retching may be experienced, although no deaths have yet to be observed or reported. Some may show signs of emotional upheavals, which could lead to swelling of the eyes and some leakage, but these weak symptoms usually pass. Unless taken along with the aforementioned warnings, the manufacturer disavows all future claims of bodily injury or mental disturbance. Merry Christmas.

This year’s been busy with real non-essentials, though that does not include work
I pause as I look at that word “nonessential”, and feel somewhat like a jerk
My God, my wife, my kids and my friends matter most when I think seriously
It sure bears repeating again and again…the best things in life are free

(The box, it’s empty. There’s nothing
Inside for you to see
Shake it, attempt to destroy it
It’s priceless, forever and free)

I’ve spent lots of time here lately; it seems, rethinking my options and gifts
Just what would please? How much does it cost? Am I leaving someone off the list?
I fret and I ponder and toss ideas out as time grows short and I fear
Another occurrence, another repeat of mistakes I’ve made through the year

(This box is light as a feather
It’s wrapped and ready to go
Oddest thing is you have it by now
Or didn’t you already know?)

Fortunes, like weather, are forever shifting. You’ll hear as I cry at the cold
Thanks for enduring my whining. It’s funny…I truly do love the fresh snow
But this gift I have, it won’t disappear and it’s stylish I’m told, and quite tough
There’s plenty for you and for all concerned, yet you’ll never get quite enough

(The box is full, but looks empty
For nonce what I say is so true
It’s mine! ‘Tis mine! It’s all mine, I say!
And yet, it belongs all to you)

Now unwrap it slowly. Don’t rush or you’ll rip it. It can be destroyed, you know
By rash behavior, indiscriminate words, cold, or by being ignored
This small disclaimer I add for myself, for I’ve done what I've stated above
This small box I give you with judicious trust…I’m offering you my love

(The box, it sets on the table
Quiet, unobtrusive and true
It won’t go away; it is here to stay
In your heart. I love you)


The old Negro man stood patiently by, listening to decaying rhythms of a huge locomotive as it slowed and hissed to a rest. An engineer from the train then stepped off into a cloud of turbulent mist. Next to the mighty steam engine a wooden water tower rose from the floor of a Georgia swamp, and while he attended to replenishing needed water for his thirsty machine, the old Negro slowly climbed aboard a passenger car.

He carried a dead raccoon slung over one shoulder. The few commuters paid scant attention to the old gentleman making his way down the aisle, or to the peculiar burden he brought. Clutching the tail of the animal, he walked toward the rear of the car. A man dressed in a suit sat alone in the last seat. He lowered a newspaper to stare at the approaching sight. Their eyes met, so the old man stopped to ask.

“Want to buy a coon?”

The refined chap shook his papers and snorted.

“My good man. What in heaven’s name would I want with a coon?”

“You would eat it, sir.”

The gent glowered up at the old man.

“Eat a coon? Why, I would rather eat a dog first.”

The elder Negro smiled.

“Sir, if you is raised to eats dog, you eats dog.”

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Just a Moment

Reunions of any nature have never been a subject of interest, and in particular, the high school get-together. In this life-time I have been able to destroy enough illusions with little or no help.

But odd as this might sound, it came as no shock to be suddenly transported back in time where I found myself standing outside the boy’s room of my former school, circling my bicycle for an appropriate spot to park the thing.

I did fret at that point about leaving my spiral notebook laying in the basket. Would it be safe there? Safe from being misshapen for a brief minute or two?

Then I noticed a fellow down the hall walking toward me. Oh, I instantly recognized his rotund shape. Not even his trim beard could throw me off. And of course Larry’s eyes lit up when he saw me standing beside the bike.

Forgetting all about my beloved journal, I stepped away from my bicycle to go greet this long-past acquaintance. He halted a few feet away to study me as I approached. Displaying a toothsome grin, he leaned slightly first to one side, and then to the other. Then he chuckled and spread his arms for what appeared would become a big bear-hug.

“So here is the famous one everyone has been talking about.”

Well. What could I say then? That I had to pee really bad?

“Hi, Jerry.” Sounded safe enough.

But then instead of the hug, he reached inside his coat and brought out a necklace of some sort. From there he proceeded to make me very uncomfortable, since he insisted on placing it around my neck. That took more time than I care to describe now, but as he finished the connection and stood back to beam at his gift, I did emit a heart-felt sentiment.

“I am touched.”

Before he could answer, a group of girls passed by us giggling.

“Hi, Larry,” They all called out to him.

See why I hate the idea of reunions?

I recall standing at a urinal next, feeling both relief and some embarrassment. But like the juicy details of most dreams, the rest have vanished now, so I won’t invent anything for a good ending.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Muddy Feet

The Good Lord knows how much I hate reading poetry, yet if He laughs when I write it, then I keep Him in stitches.

Muddy-footed countenance
Tells me where you play
Running in and out
My house all day
Careless as the breeze
Careless; there you go!
Careless is a muddy-footed smiling happy child

Lest I go and ruin
That muddy-footed smile
Lest I take away
Your happy-all-the-while
Careless as a bug
Careless; there we go!
Careless is a muddy-footed smiling happy dad

Swilled Tea

Things were going fine with the ladies meeting at Denny’s until that big-boned waitress interrupted.

“Any of you gals want more tea?”

She stood there holding the pitcher, blowing a strand of hair from one eye.

The chatter had died even before Sally picked up her half-empty glass. She turned in her seat, smiling as she held her tumbler up for a quick top off.

Snatching her glass, the woman transferred the drink, ice and all, back into the pitcher. She then swirled the container around three times. The group sat politely during the pouring of the drink. Not a sound could be heard save for plummeting ice.

And after placing the filled tumbler in front of Sally, the woman turned and left the hushed table.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

The Trouble at Black Oak, part two

Lost my way just the other day…ended up in Arkansas

The next day we caught a lift that took us to Memphis. Around mid-morning, silver girders supporting a massive suspension bridge over the Mississippi River came into view, and the kid leaned forward to get a better look. As we approached the entrance to the structure he turned around to ask me,

“Hey, dude. Let’s get out up here, okay?”

After our kind gentleman drove away, the kid and I stepped over the guardrail and into a willow thicket, and from that point we searched to find a way down to the edge of the river. Breaking free of the grove, we stopped first at a ledge on a bluff that overlooked the Big Muddy. The grove muted all sounds from the roadway behind our backs , while the open space before us presented a magnificent vista, so we sat down and rested there awhile.

A gentle current of warm air stirred the surrounding trees tops, while small clouds sailed far above our heads. A rain crow cooed repeatedly from somewhere close by. Several yellow skippers flirted with tall milkweeds as the kid pulled out his worn letter and began reading the pages to himself quietly.

Seating myself on a luxuriant bed of grass, I spent some time studying a line of barges moving cargo upstream. A pair of tugboats worked at the far end of the long procession, guiding their heavy-laden row with flawless precision. Just after sighting the figure of a lone man aboard one of the two vessels, the kid rattled his papers and stood up suddenly.

“Dude, I’m going exploring some.”

He slipped the letter into the back pocket of his jeans, and then turned to follow a trail down the hill where he disappeared into more willows.

I leaned back on my elbows and kept an eye on the flotilla’s tedious progress until I heard the kid returning through the brush. For some unknown reason he thought it essential to whisper loudly,


I looked to my right but saw no one.

“What?” I said. I didn’t yell, but I didn’t bother speaking softly either.

“Come check this out.”

An armful of willow tendrils pushed aside, and then the kid stepped out where I could see him.

“Dude, you got to come take a look at this.”

He was half out of breath with excitement, or maybe from exertion, but how was I to resist? I got up and followed him down the steep bank.

The footing became softer where the ground leveled out, and the smell of the river reached my nose as we weaved our way through the last yards of overgrowth. Parting low-hanging branches, we stepped into the half-light of a small clearing. Walled with taller willows, a glimpse of the river shone between two trees near the bank. The bare earth between them sloped gradually down to the water where a small dock floated. The place gave an impression of being well hidden, but it also had a troubling kept look.

“So what do you think, dude?”

The platform appeared to be anchored securely, and the kid hopped out on the thing. I stood back while he tested it for support. A few feet away an aluminum skiff had lodged itself in a tangle of drooping branches, where it bobbed rhythmically over tame waves of the river. A length of rope hung between its stern and the dock.

“I don’t know. It looks nice and private, I guess.”

“Dude, it is. I done checked around.” He bounced on the dock a few times.

“There’s no houses around or nothing that I could find.”

I took a couple of steps and joined him on the raft.


“So? Dude, we can take that boat there and go for a ride down the river. What do you think?”

The intent look on his face let me know he was serious as a judge. But without trying to sound harsh I told the kid what I thought.

“I think it’s a bad idea.”

He squatted at the edge and grabbed the line, and then he tugged on it twice before the boat broke free.

“How come?” He hauled the boat up to the side of the dock, and then he sat there holding loops of the wet rope, staring at the craft while he listened.

“There’s a couple of reasons. First of all, look inside the boat. How do you expect to go anywhere without paddles? Take off like that, and we’ll never get back here.”

That piece of information seemed to stun him. He stayed hunkered down while he chewed his lip some and studied, but then he never asked what the other thing was. He eventually dropped the rope and watched the skiff go careening backwards into the willow branches again, but he looked let down.

I sat and took off my shoes and socks. Putting them aside, I then swung my legs over the edge and into the fluid waters. The kid did the same. For awhile we sat there kicking our legs without saying much.

He slipped his vest off after a bit, and I watched him turn and carefully place the garment across his shoes. Then without warning he leaned forward and tumbled headfirst into the water. Before I knew it he got swallowed up by the mighty river, but then a few seconds later his head broke the surface. He sputtered once, and then let out a loud whoop.

“Dude, this feels great! You got to come on in.”

Well, swimming I could handle. It was bad enough to be trespassing on someone’s private dock, but that wasn’t the same thing as stealing.

Afterwards we lazed on the dock to dry out and watch more barges going by. When we felt ready to go, we slipped our shoes back on, and after a steep climb we stood on the shoulder of the highway again. The first car that came along slowed down and stopped. We trotted to the waiting vehicle as the kid said to me,

“This looks like a good sign, dude.”

In a way he was right. The man took us all the way to the Black Oak exit where he dropped us off around seven that evening.

Held my thumb high as the day went dragging by, trying to get away from the law

We hurried up the exit ramp to a two-lane highway that would take us to this land of hippies and the good life. There wasn’t a car in sight in either direction, so we began walking. We both felt a spirit of good expectations, having high hopes one would come along soon.

The first one flew past about a half an hour later. Fifteen minutes passed before a pickup shot by, and it never slowed either. A third one honked as it went by, but they kept right on going too.

That was the last of any cars we saw for the rest of the evening.

“This doesn’t look so good.” I told the kid as the sun slipped behind a thin row of clouds on the horizon.

“What do you mean?” He asked.

My feet hurt. My legs were weary from all this walking, and my patience had now faded along with the light. As far as the eye could see, flat fields stretched away to the skyline. I had a hard time picturing anything resembling a mountain within a hundred miles from here.

And he’d been talking my ear off about hippies till I had become sick of it. By now I was about half-convinced the kid was plain crazy, or even worse, that I was even crazier for listening to him in the first place.

“Getting a ride around here is going to be impossible. That’s what I mean.”

“Why do you say that, dude?”

“Look around you, dude.” I snapped.

“This is farm country. I grew up in a place that looks exactly like this, and if I know anything, it’s how these people are. We’d never get a ride around here during the daytime, much less at night.”

“You know we don’t have all that far to go,” He replied.

“That’s not what I mean,” I said, and I pointed up ahead to a grain elevator.

“Look. You see that?” I asked him.

“Yeah,” He said. “So?”

“So when we get there, I’m going to find me a nice place to sleep. And in the morning, I am getting the hell out of here.”

We walked the last mile in silence, and we arrived at the elevator right at twilight.

Three dusty grain trucks sat parked between the road and the elevator. I felt right at home climbing up into the cab of one. The kid followed me over, and then he crawled up in the next one. Feeling a lot better about the decision I made, I locked both doors and stretched out on the bench seat. Then I closed my eyes.

I had almost drifted off to sleep when I heard a muffled voice say,

“Hey, dude.”

I opened my eyes, but I didn’t respond. When he tapped on my window I raised up on one elbow.

“What?” I managed. All I wanted to do was sleep.

“This truck’s got keys in it.

Well, that got my attention then, so I sat up.

“Are you kidding?” I rolled down the window wondering, what was he thinking now?

“Dude, we can take this and go on up the road, and we can be there in no time. I just know it’s not all that far from here.”

He was mighty wound up, that much I could tell. But I didn’t say anything.

“You want to come or not?” He asked.

I thought about it for a split-second.

“No,” Was the best I could do for the moment.

He turned around to leave, so I laid back down after rolling the window up again. A minute later his engine started up with a roar. I lay there in the dark with my eyes opened and listened as the truck lurched forward and died. Then it fired up again, but this time he managed to get the beast moving. I closed my eyes and listened as the whine of shifting gears and the motor faded away into the distance.

I awoke next, startled by sounds of tires skidding on gravel, and both eyes opened wide.


I sat up again and looked out through my window. A thick cloud of dust rolled through the beams of headlights as the engine of his truck idled noisily next to mine.

“I found them!” I heard his muffled but keyed-up voice exclaim. I rolled my window down one more time as he leaned his head out of his and pointed back down the road.

“I just seen them, dude. Hippies, everywhere! You just got to come see. Dude, you just got to.”

I have to admit that his excitement had some affect on me. I hated to leave my warm spot, but if he had in fact found this amazing place...

I gave in and got in his cab. He turned the truck around then, and we both headed down the road for magnetic Black Oak.

We drove for about fifteen minutes. Little points of lights sparkled here and there out on the dark horizon, but before too long before I started seeing more lights twinkling up ahead. He slowed the truck as we passed the city limits sign, and then he pointed to a place up the road.

“There it is, dude. I told you we’d find them!”

The kid was about to come out of his seat. He actually bounced up and down when we passed a few closed buildings. But the only place that I could see lit up was a Dairy Queen a block away. And as we drove past the place, I noticed a handful of kids and a couple of adults seated at an outside picnic table.

We cruised right on by, and as we did he turned his head to gawk at the group. Then he exclaimed,

“Dude! Look at all them hippies! I told you my brother never lied.”

Relieved that he kept on going, I slouched down in my seat. It seemed like it took the longest time to pass through the downtown area, but I stayed quiet the whole time. What was there to say?

I mentally kicked myself for how gullible I had been. I was about to tell the kid to turn around and take me back to my truck when the one we were in one sputtered a couple of times, and then the thing coughed and died. As we rolled silently to the shoulder I hissed,

“Kill your lights.”

Great, I think. Here we are out in the middle of nowhere and this damn truck decides to runs out of gas. All I could picture was a mob of angry farmers with pitchforks and a long length of rope.

We both sat there in the still darkness until I spoke up.

“Dude,” I said. “This is it. We are in big trouble now.”

He didn’t argue with me over that. But he did ask what we ought to do next.

Get as far away from this truck as we can, that’s what. When these farmers find their truck that we stole, they will kill us first and call the cops later.

We climbed out of the stalled vehicle and headed on foot back towards town . Hopefully no one would notice or remember seeing two men walking.

Then a small miracle occurred. A car filled with teenagers pulled over and offered us two a ride. But then as soon as we got seated, one asked if we would get them some beer. That was the price for a ride, one of the lads announced.

Since they were all under age, they needed someone with an ID. Since I had an ID and a powerful desire to get out of here, I agreed.

“Drive us to a liquor store.”

A few miles later I bought them a case of cold beer.

Twenty minutes later they dropped us off at the same bridge from where we had started. They drove off acting drunk and happy, so the kid and I retired to the ledge under the bridge where I slept soundly till dawn.

I woke up stiff but pleased. After stretching for a few minutes, I hopped from my bed and scooted halfway down the slope where I sat and watched a few cars fly by. I glanced up the road and spied a little diner not too far away. The kid was still asleep, so I headed for the place alone.

Two men sat at a counter inside, drinking coffee and talking. A lone waitress stood behind the counter holding a coffeepot in one hand while she listened. I waited over by the register and stood.

“Yeah, there was two of them,” One of the men was saying.

Both men wore overalls and both had on straw hats. The waitress gave them her full attention and hadn’t noticed me yet.

“The cops are out looking for them all over the place too.” He told her.

One man stirred his coffee slowly while he spoke. Both of them looked like they were in no hurry to go anywhere.

The waitress asked, “Just what did these two guys do?”

The thought crossed my mind to run out the door right then. I already knew what they did, but I ignored the notion and forced myself to stand still.

The man telling this story seemed to be enjoying the attention of the lady. He also wanted to drag it out, I could tell, so he took his time in telling every little detail.

“Well,” He drawled, “It was all over the news this morning. Me and Ray here heard it on the radio in the truck coming over here.”

He pronounced the word as ray-joe.

His friend nodded in agreement, and then he slid his cup over to the waitress. The first man stopped speaking as she poured the coffee, but he continued his tale while she wiped up a small spill on the counter.

“They was in prison for murdering a man over in Osceola.”

The waitress set her coffee pot down on the counter and exclaimed,

“You don’t say!”

“Yup.” He nodded. “And they both went and broke out of prison last night.”

His partner nodded.

“But they’ll catch them two boys, just you wait and see.”

I had a vision of the kid and me dressed in stripes.

Ray finally spoke up and said,

“Oh yeah they will. We passed three different patrol cars on the way over here.”

I had Ray and his friend pictured leading the mob with the waitress carrying the rope, when she noticed me standing at the register.

“What can I do for you, hun?” She asked me so sweetly that it made me more nervous. By this time my mouth was so dry that all I could do was hold up two fingers and point to the pot.

I paid her for two coffees to go and she handed my change. I managed to stuff the coins in my pocket without my hands shaking, while all that I could imagine was her gawking at me like she thought I was one of the escapees.

It took some effort to walk out the door easy-like, but as soon as I got away from the building I rushed over to the bridge. I climbed the embankment and found the kid sitting on the ledge yawning. After handing him a cup, I told him what I had just overheard back at the diner.

“We need to split up,” I said when I was done. “Or we might get picked up.”

“But that’s not us, dude,” He laughed.

His innocent expression told me that I wasn’t getting through to him.

“Look,” I said. “If cops stop us they’ll find out what we did for sure. You want to go to jail?” He looked down at his feet and said no.

“It’s just too risky for us to hitchhike together now.” I added.

I asked who should go first. He said he would, so he finished his coffee and hopped down off the shelf. We shook hands, and then he made his way down the slope and stepped over the guardrail.

The last time I saw the kid he had his thumb up in the air walking backwards down the shoulder of the interstate. I stayed up on the ledge and took my time finishing my cup.

A half-hour later I jumped down and went to the highway below. I looked up the road both ways. I saw no cars in either direction, and I saw no kid. Satisfied with the latter part, I spent the remainder of the day trying to get a ride out of that place, plus worrying the whole time until I did.

Friday, December 17, 2004

The Trouble at Black Oak, part one

To imagine practicing the fine art of hitchhiking might conjure up some awful romantic notions to the unskilled amateur sitting at home. Adventure beckons. Excitement looms. Unseen horizons lay waiting to be discovered. And of course, meeting new people is part of the plan, not to mention the cheap transportation.

But this is part of the problem with the idea of romance. It encourages flawed thinking, not based on much more than a whim or a wish. It is an absurd notion and a dangerous notion; it is a silly notion and a totally laughable idea.

Thumbing on down to another town, hitchin’ my way back to you

I should have never left the woman, but I did. I should have kept up my car payments, but I didn’t bother with that either. Nevertheless, the weather felt good that day, so maybe that gave me hope. In any case, hitchhiking seemed the way to go, and the time felt right to try to make amends.

I got lucky and hooked a ride heading for Dallas right away. A car pulled over and stopped, so I ran to catch up. An older man sat behind the wheel, and two passengers were seated in the back seat. I slid in front, and then shut my door before turning to offer the driver a thanks for the lift.

The vacant look on his face suggested either fatigue or boredom. He took a lengthy look over his left shoulder before getting back on the highway. Then we rode in silence while he maneuvered the car over into the far left lane.

“I picked these guys up for company away back,” He motioned toward the rear seat with his head.

“I figured I might as well stop for you, too.” He never looked at me once while he drove, nor took his eyes off the road.

I repeated my honest appreciation once more, and then keeping my gym bag in my lap, I shifted around to say hello to the other two. The one sitting directly behind me had a neatly-kept beard, and the fellow sat with both of his arms protecting a large metal-framed backpack riding in his lap. He tilted his head out from behind the load to nod once.

The other one leaned with his face pressed against the back window, gazing out like he was off somewhere else. He turned and looked as if to size me up before replying,

“Hey, dude. How’s it going?”

He was just a young kid, but he held a solemn and intense air that made him appear almost aloof. He wore an old pair of blue jeans along with a leather vest, but no shirt.

Traffic on the freeway thinned out a little by the time the bearded fellow spoke up and told the driver,

“I get off up here where it says Duncanville.”

He wrestled his backpack over to the seat between him and the kid, and then he hung on to it while the driver guided the car back over to the slow lane. We got to the shoulder and came to a stop beneath an overpass while the other cars whizzed on by.

I opened my door and leaned up next to the dashboard. He pushed my seat forward to climb out, and then he reached back in to get his pack. Carrying it with both hands, he turned around and walked away from the car without saying a word.

I slammed my door shut, and then we all sat there for a moment, watching him as he trekked toward another road that veered off to the right.

“Talkative son of a bitch, wasn’t he?” The driver said, as he glanced in his rearview mirror.

A semi roared past, causing our vehicle to rock in its powerful wake.

“That’s the most he said the whole time he’s been riding with me.”

As soon as it was clear to do so, he drove us back onto the freeway. It took him a mile or two to get over in the left lane again.

“I hope you two characters can talk more than him.” He pointed to his radio. “The damn thing went out around Clovis, and the silence is killing me.”

I looked back at the kid in the rear seat and grinned. He half-smiled at the driver and me both. In a few minutes he scooted over to the middle of the back seat. From there he asked me where I was headed, so I told him.

“Virginia. How about you?”

“Black Oak, Arkansas,” He said. “Ever hear of it, dude?”

“Well, yeah,” I said. “I heard of a band called that.”

He nodded then and told me there was a town called Black Oak, too.

“I got a brother that lives up there. He just wrote me this letter a week ago,” He said. “And he told me to come on up and see him.”

He fished a folded envelope out of his vest pocket and looked at it for a second. Then he leaned forward to the back of my seat, and he held the thing up so I could see it too. Pointing to the return address that read Black Oak, Arkansas, he added excitedly,

“He’s living in a hippie commune there.” Then he leaned back in his seat again and folded his arms.

“It’s up at the top of a mountain.” He stated next, like that was an important fact.

“No kidding,” I replied.

He leaned to stuff the letter back in his pocket while I bent over to stash the gym bag down at my feet. The driver rolled down his window and laid his left elbow on the ledge.

I had never been to Arkansas before, and I’d never heard of this place either. I turned around in my seat so I could see him better.

“A hippie commune, huh?”

“Yeah, dude,” He said, and his eyes got wide. “It’s for real too. Nothing but hippies live there, and all they do is party.”

The wind began whipping his hair, so he reached up and held it down with his hand.

“In Arkansas?” I asked incredulously.

This was starting to sound pretty far-fetched, but one never knows. I had already met some peculiar people in the last couple of months, so I listened to him tell his tale.

“I’m serious, dude,” He said. “My brother’s been there for over a year now, and he’d never lie to me.”

He looked out the window and studied the road signs that were going by.

“Hey, dude!”

He leaned forward and put both hands on the top of the seat behind the driver.

“My exit’s coming up here in two miles.”

He leaned back again and kept going on about how great this place was while the man began changing lanes.

“He said it’s like a party up there all the time.”

He patted his letter once, and then craned his neck over the driver’s shoulder, making sure the man didn’t miss his turn-off.

“How you mean?” I asked him.

“Dude, this is what he told me about the place and that’s why I’m going.”

He had a cocky expression on his face as he explained.

“It’s all sex, drugs and rock and roll. Nobody works there or nothing.”

The man began slowing down while the kid kept talking.

“They just sleep all day long and party all night. You want to come with me?”

I glanced over at the older gent and back to the kid. I guess he saw the way I perked up at his query, so after the driver pulled over to the side of the road and stopped, the kid and I both got out and left that lonely fellow behind.

I don’t know how far I walked trying to lose these lonesome blues

A green sign over the road above told me we stood on the shoulder of Interstate 30, heading towards Texarkana. Cars shot by as the two of us started walking, staying close to the guardrail. He walked facing the front, his left thumb held high. I stepped backwards, holding mine up as well.

“This is going to be great, dude,” He told me as he combed his hand through his hair. “You’ll see.”

I had willingly volunteered to come along with him, even though I held some doubts. I wasn’t sure about this Black Oak place for one thing, but the kid offered better company than the older guy did, plus I was headed in the right direction to Virginia.

“I hope so,” Was all I could muster.

We caught two or three short rides that day and almost made it to Texarkana before nightfall. I told the kid we should find a place to sleep so we didn’t get stuck overnight in the city, and he agreed.

Our last ride that day dropped us off at the end of an exit ramp near a stop sign . We stood there on the side of the road while the man drove off, and we waited until his tail lights disappeared from sight.

It was almost dark by the time we climbed over the guardrail. From that point we walked down a steep embankment to go up under the bridge that crossed over the freeway. There we found a wide cement ledge near the top, safely hidden from view. Several steel girders supporting the overpass divided the ledge into several sections. We each claimed one, and after laying down on the hard surface, we both fell asleep.

Lay my head on this concrete bed for a long and restless night

I came awake at daylight. Starving for food and coffee, my back felt stiff and sore. Swinging my legs over the side of the ledge, I stretched and did a few twists to work out my kinks. Cars down below zoomed by our spot, but I doubted anyone could see us up here as fast as they traveled. I heard the kid’s voice coming from the section next to me saying,

“Hey, dude. You awake yet?”

A small café sat next to the service road not too far away, and it appeared to be open already. I told him yes and I was hungry, so we walked over to the place and went inside. A waitress came over to our table and gave us a menu apiece. I ordered me a cup of coffee first. The kid told her he wanted a glass of water.

She returned right away with our drinks. I then ordered a fried egg sandwich while the kid asked if he could have a saucer, so she went to get him one. She came back and set it down in front of him, and then she left to turn in my order.

I added sugar and stirred my coffee. Then when I laid the spoon down he asked to borrow it. Sure I said, and slid it over to him.

The kid picked up a bottle of ketchup from the middle of the table and poured some into the saucer. Then he picked up the salt and pepper shakers and began dousing the red glob with a healthy amount of both additives.

I sipped my coffee and kept a curious eye on him.

Next he started mixing the stuff around with the spoon.

I sat the hot cup down and looked the kid in the eye. He kept stirring the soupy mix until I asked him point-blank,

“Man, what in the world are you doing?”

He picked up his water glass as he looked at me and said,

“Dude, I been on the road for five days now.”

He took a long drink before setting the tumbler back down, and then he licked his spoon.

“And this is all I been living on.”

Then he calmly laid a napkin in his lap and began eating the red concoction.

We left shortly after he filled up on sauce and I paid for my meal, and the both of us walked back over to the entrance ramp leading to the freeway. The traffic flowed sparse. The few lifts we managed to get came from local people who were kind enough to take us a mile or two before they dropped us off again, so it took us the bigger part of the day to make it ninety miles past Texarkana.

Around seven that evening we caught a ride with a fellow who said he was going all the way to Little Rock. We slid into the front seat of his pickup truck, grateful to go with him.

“Where y’all headed?” He asked us right away, so we told him where but I didn’t mention why.

“I ain’t never heard of no Black Oak.” He replied.

He had an empty Doctor Pepper bottle he kept between his legs. He grabbed the thing around the neck and picked it up and spat in it once while he drove. I noticed two tins of chewing tobacco lying up on his dashboard.

“Y’all not going to the races tonight?” He asked, and the kid shot back,

“What races?”

“It’s right up the road here about twenty miles. I’m going right by if y’all want to stop and see it.”

The kid acted interested, and he asked him,

“What kind of races is it, dude? You mean like drag races?”

The driver spit in the bottle again and put it back between his legs.

“It’s stock cars. I go all the time when I can.”

The kid leaned forward and asked,

“A quarter mile track?”

“Nah,” He answered. “It’s just a oval dirt track. But it’s real popular around here.”

The kid acted eager and claimed he’d never seen one before, but he’d sure like to. I said I had seen lots of races, but sure, why not. So when the exit came up the man took it.

He went a few miles before dropping us off. The kid and I got out next to a dirt road that led up over a hill. Beside the road a large hand-painted sign pronounced the event. We could hear the sounds of motors revving up in the distance as soon as we got out of the truck.

“Y’all have a good time.” And he waved holding the bottle as he drove off.

We walked up the road to the top of the hill. From there we overlooked row after row of parked cars on a grassy field below. Beyond that we saw the grandstand. A cloud of dust floated in the air above the track, while bright stadium lights illuminated the event against a black sky. A tremendous noise coming from the track sounded as loud as thunder.

The kid and I hurried past the parking lot to a ticket booth up ahead. On the way I asked him if he had any cash. He shook his head and suggested we talk our way in. The race had already started by the looks of things, he said, and they just might let us in for free. I had the money to pay, but I said sure, go ahead and ask. He did too, and it didn’t take him long before the lady waved us both through, just like that. The kid sure had him a silver tongue, or the lady had a big heart.

The bleachers were about half filled, so we had no trouble finding a good spot down on the front row. I went back to the concession stand and bought a large box of popcorn and two drinks. Him and I snacked and enjoyed the free show for about an hour before the last race got started. Everyone then began cheering loudly and clapped as the announcer read off the list of each driver who entered the track.

Tow vehicles sat parked out in the middle of the field. Scores of cars or pickup trucks with attached trailers sat parked there, along with a dozen or more people watching the event from the tops of the vehicles, so there were lots of witnesses around when the accident happened.

A red pickup truck sat directly across the track from us. Parked facing away from the bleachers, it had a long low trailer hitched to its rear bumper. The end ramps of the trailer had been folded down earlier, allowing the race car it hauled to dismount. The short platforms were still in the down position and resting on the ground.

Two guys and a girl sat perched up on top of the cab. Two more people sat on the sides of the bed watching the race, while a man with no shirt sat in the bed with his back next to the cab. He had his hands folded behind his head. Every head out there would swivel each time the cars roared by.

Several cars crowded close together as they thundered around the curve to our left. A cloud of dust shrouded the pack behind the leader. Then one car skidded, and it slammed into the wall. The auto rebounded, but it hit another vehicle. Both of those cars began to fishtail as the others hit their brakes, but then someone bumped into another car just as they came out of the curve.

You could hear the crowd as we all held our breaths – this was what we had all come to see.

But that last maneuver caused another car to spin out of control. It made two full circles before straightening up, but by then it was headed directly for the low trailer. Everyone in the bleachers gasped.

One of those slow-motion moments took over next.

Five of those spectators scrambled off the truck and ran for cover. The one man leaning against the cab went to get up as the racecar shot toward the trailer, but he had no time to get out of the way.

The car slammed into the ramps at the foot of the trailer, and then it shot almost ten feet up into the air. It seemed to hover there before it came crashing down with a loud bang, landing square on the bed of the pickup truck.

People rushed over immediately. In moments the driver jumped down safely to the grass, but the crowd stayed quiet instead of the usual cheering. No one yet knew the condition of the man pinned beneath the racecar.

The small crowd gathered around the back of the pickup. Some bent down and tried to peer under the bed, but after a while and a lot of neck-craning you could tell they weren’t having success.

Minutes later a tow truck pulled up, so the search ended and all stood back. The driver hopped out and secured a cable to the rear of the racecar before running back to his cab. Then he eased the tow truck forward until the racecar began to slide away from the cab, inch by slow inch.

One man lying on the roof of the pickup raised up suddenly and waved for the tow truck driver to stop. Several more people climbed up on the roof. A moment later a man wearing no shirt wiggled his way out through the narrow gap. Someone grabbed his arm and pulled.

When he stood up on the roof, the crowd recognized who he was, and they went wild. He didn’t have a scratch either. He stood there and took a few bows while the audience cheered and applauded, and then he jumped down and melted into the crowd of rescuers and disappeared.

We sat in the bleachers for some time afterwards, and we rehashed the incident with other spectators while racecars left or got hauled off the track. As the last of the cars left the dusty arena, one fellow sitting next to us made an offer to drive us back to the interstate. We took him up on it, and the kid and I slept well under another bridge that night.

Dreaming of one to keep me warm; tell me that ain’t right

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Feed? What feed? I gave the thing a brownie.

Some imaginary day, someome will truely invent the simple idea I had back in the mid-sixties.

Yes, kiss my grits, Gore, you poser, for my vision shewd me a consolidated unit, a simple-to-use package, a multi-functional in purpose and scope device, and (did I say?) simple to use. Any idiot could work the thing; imagine that.

But, no! Ding-dongs with larger brains got to it first, and the eggheads ruint the pie for us commoners. Rue the ding-dong day, dammit.

"Hee-hee-hee. Let's rename all the funtions. Off and On really sucks, soo...Hey, how about "integrated access pathway", or "reverses functional modulating directional indicator"?

"Na, Bill. Those are too apparant; let's try some more. How's this sound? Queizzle-drob?"

"Now we are cooking! Hand me those pliers, dwarf-mate."

Wednesday, December 15, 2004


I have labored hard to dig this hole, and now must rest from such bothersome toil, and go wash up.

The deceased Bon Adventure presently lays in state for any and all who wish to pay their final respects, after which I must implore brother Allen to step forward, if he would be so kind and gracious, and come up with a eulogy before we lower the spent form into its quiescent place.

He knew the man as well as I. Now, does anyone own a fiddle?

My Hero Goes Half-naked

As we speak of memories while this good year draws to an end, one odd story to share comes to mind; but not of the holidays of the moment, but more of family, heroes and events. Permit me to depart from the norm for the present, as I recount an inappropriate detour through the deep south. Come along as I return to Georgia, set in the late forties.

A day-trip into Claxton assured my two younger sisters and me of some things different. Not long after one of us won the contest by first sighting a distant water tower, father pulled over and stopped at a roadhouse on the edge of town. Once inside, the dark cool interior offered us a strange world filled with extraordinary sights and more eccentric folk.

Running across the floor to claim an empty barstool, and dodging a woman hurrying her tray filled with beverages, we passed by a shuffleboard table by the door. There, two odd characters slid a metal disc from one end to the other over a slick grit-covered surface, while both hurled funny insults to each other.

Father stood among some of the locals to exchange greetings before he and mother found a booth and ordered beer for mother and him, and fizzy ice-filled glasses of cokes for us three.

While spinning away on my stool, I noticed on the wall colorful and glowing neon signs advertising brands of beer; some designed as kinetic waterfalls, some with tilted bottles, pouring a continual stream of golden brew.

Then on a long shelf up behind the bar, colorful dinky birds there performed a hypnotic and magical dance for us. I had to stop and watch. They each perched on individual shot glasses that held a blue or red or green liquid. The plastic birds sat rocking back and forth, looking content with their capture. But each time they swayed, they traveled a little farther, bringing their beaks down closer to the drink.

Then at one point a bird would lean forward and dip its tiny yellow bill into the glass. The little bird would pause for a moment as if taking a sip, then mysteriously upright itself to begin its dance all over again.

The contents of the glass never diminished, but the friendly bartender only smiled and winked when we asked why.

At one end of the bar where we sat twirling, a metal rack displayed bags of potato chips and salted peanuts for sale. A bowl filled with hard-boiled eggs took up space next to them. Pickled pigs feet, nasty-looking things, seemed to float inside of a large jar while our parents relaxed with their cold glasses of beer and took part in the noisy conversations. Then after a time, they gathered us up, and with lots of goodbyes, we headed into Claxton.

Closer to town stood the tobacco auction barn. Periodically the modern low metal building overflowed with people, exotic sounds and smells. On those occasions we followed close behind our parents, not wanting to get lost among the throngs attending this popular event.

Farmers dressed in work clothes and wives with children in tow moved about constantly amidst garbled chatter that rose and fell, while the hefty odor of fresh-cut tobacco leaves saturated the air, its sweet pungent smell tingling noses.

At various times auctioneers would sing out their rapid and swift chants, yet somehow their voices managed to rise above all the din and confusion. I listened but failed to grasp a word of what they said.

Done with that, mother took us shopping. A brand new store had opened. It went by the unusual name of Piggly Wiggly. What this name had to do with groceries we never understood, but it was fun to say out loud.

Afterwards she took us next door into a peculiar place of ice and fog-breath. Here a company rented lockers to the community where individuals could store wire baskets filled with frozen meats.

Passing through a small lobby, we entered a large frigid room filled with row after row of small metal doors. We were warned not to touch the ice-covered walls. Giant fans hummed and circulated arctic air throughout the room, and after Mother picked out her cuts of meat, we became as anxious to leave as we had been to enter. The hot upholstery of the car felt wonderful after the freezer trip.

A quick visit to the Tos Bakery followed the frozen food locker. The delectable smells of fresh-baked pastries reached out to tempt anyone foolish enough to pass by this place. A small bell mounted over the front door announced our presence with its cheerful tinkle. Then a mad rush to a glass display case gave us agonizing moments to decide among the vast array of fresh-made delights it contained. The world-famous boxes of fruitcake the bakery had stacked on exhibit sat ignored, for we preferred the staggering choices of sweets.

But after all the standard begging and pleading for more than one item, a decision came, and we left the store either biting into a large cookie decorated with white frosting and red stars, or hesitantly removing an arm or a leg from an unfortunate gingerbread man.

Claxton held all these things and more, but the town’s main attraction sat next to the bakery. Inside the front doors of a white stucco building, a long red carpet led past a popcorn machine. It ended at a thick red velvet curtain.

Pushing past the curtain, we shot down the aisle to front row seats where we became lost in the adventures of Hollywood heroes and villains. We gobbled down popcorn as newsreels of soldiers and planes and tanks flickered on the large screen, followed by cartoons of talking mice, dogs and cats. Then a lion with a frightful roar or a lady wearing a blindfold and holding a sword aloft caused us to sit back and take notice – the main feature was about to begin.

Occasionally, my favorite cowboy Hopalong Cassidy appeared on the silver screen. Dressed in black, he rode a white horse and he never ran out of bullets.

Or maybe Lash La Rue took command. He favored a bullwhip that deftly removed guns or knives from the hands of first-surprised and then-defenseless adversaries. It also enabled him to climb buildings or tall cliffs to rout them out.

We thrilled to the sensible adventures of Superman as he cleared Metropolis of crime. I believed with all my heart that he was invincible to bullets. Being from another planet, it made perfect sense. I really thought he could fly too, as well as see through walls with his powerful x-ray vision. I knew it never hurt to get punched in the face by the bad guy because he always looked at them and laughed.

I especially liked the part when he took a gun away and bent it with his bare hands. The criminal always appeared shocked by this particular stunt; but then again I knew criminals weren’t all that bright.

However, I always thought Clark Kent's disguise looked weak, and I wondered why his friends never caught on. That always puzzled me.

Still, he did excite me.

But by far, the best of all the heroes was Tarzan, the ape-man.

He dressed simple and lived outdoors. He could out-swim crocodiles, he traveled through the jungle on handy vines and he carried the largest knife I had ever seen. I felt close to this man, for I did these things myself.

My sisters and I had discovered a huge tree back in the woods. It was an ancient hardwood, and grapevines hung from its upper regions. It sat on a slight incline in the deep forest, and its lower branches grew close and parallel to the ground.

The dirt below this magnificent tower lay soft and bare of undergrowth. The huge low limbs made comfortable perches for us to sit on, and there we played for hours, pretending to be the shipwrecked Swiss Robinson family living in this readymade tree house of ours.

Sometimes it became a sailing ship where fierce pirates forced us to jump overboard, or walk the plank after they had captured and enslaved us. We fell to many horrible deaths and were devoured by countless hungry sharks or vicious crocodiles. At times I bravely saved a sister; sometimes we let one die.

But the tree presented us with a problem. Most of the grapevines were too small to swing on, or they grew in inconvenient places. However, one in particular came close to perfection. It grew firmly rooted in the soil, and the mighty vine rose to great heights from the slope down below. It hung just out of my reach from a favorite perch on one of the larger limbs. More than an inch thick, its girth resisted all efforts to dislodge the thing from its roots with our hands.

That vine tantalized me.

If only I could free it, I thought, we could swing just like our hero.

Tarzan would solve this problem with his sharp and trusted blade, I imagined, so I slipped away to the house and returned to the tree with the largest one I could find. I pilfered one of my mother’s favorite huge butcher knives.

And after hacking at the base of this vine I set it free at last. Three cheers echoed through the trees.

A moment later my sisters stood on the ground below, watching me expectantly. After I climbed up to the launch site, one grabbed the loose end of the vine and swung it toward my out-stretched hand.

As I stood there getting ready to swing I observed my intended route. The path of travel seemed clear enough. I looked up and tugged hard on the vine. It felt solid, so I leaned back against the main trunk, and then with a Tarzan yell I eagerly leaned out over the empty space below and shoved off.

Gravity instantly propelled the vine and me forward and downward. As the forest rushed past us, my feet briefly touched the ground, grazing the side of the sloping hill. But we kept going. Everything around us became a blur as we sped onward, completing the arc far away from where we started.

The ride stopped just short of another tree where the vine and I hesitated for a split second. Then immediately we began swinging back the other way. All I could do at this point was hang on tight. I looked back over my shoulder to see where we were headed, and we almost made it back to my perch. My feet missed the spot by inches.

So I held on until the thick pendulum and I finally came to a stop. I then shimmied down the vine to the ground where more cheering greeted me. What a ride that was.

Mother has passed away and is dead now, so I can tell this without fear the shock will kill her.

I had once seen Tarzan swinging half-naked through the jungle with that knife clenched firmly in his teeth.

And so did I, mom. So did I!


Tuesday, December 14, 2004


Way Bon Adventure concentrates on the girl of his dreams. Somehow she has managed to be in charge of their wild ride together. The young lass has also captured his attention in a most spellbinding way.

He sits behind her so close that he feels each lively shift of the female hips between his inner thighs. Black ringlets of her lengthy hair bounce up and down with every movement of her head. She whispers softly over her shoulder as her dark locks dip and bob. She gestures slightly with one hand; her curls sway back and forth magically.

These movements begin to unsettle him. Something is not right, he thinks.

He leans to his left to meet a blast of fierce wintry wind that strikes his face with incredible force. His eyes sting and begin to water from the frigid air. He tightens his grip around her curved waist and lays his head forward to rest among her tousled tresses.

The motions of the stallion rock him peacefully. The gait of the animal feels both comfortable and reassuring.

Then out to his left he notices people walking across the landscape. All seem to be heading in the same direction as the horse, the girl and he. They tread ghost-like and with purpose, intent on a task unclear to Bon Adventure. Not a single person regards the galloping pair.

Easy Lee comes gliding by. The teen stands comfortably on a long hand-fashioned skateboard, and he waves to the pair once. He half-smiles from beneath Eli’s black bowler hat before dissolving into the crowd. Off to one side a lone individual carries a dog cradled in his arms. The animal seems to be either asleep or dead; its coat drips foam from a recent bath.

Far beyond the foot traffic Bon Adventure catches sight of trees. A number of the oaks form a straight line, but each of the ancients appears stubby and unnaturally pruned.

The walkers leisurely approach a ridge of low-lying hills up ahead. Above in the sky, bright pin-points of light appear without warning . Within seconds hundreds dot the heavens. The crowd becomes agitated, and then in unison they begin trotting toward the hills as the lights float toward the earth.

From high overhead the lights drift close and closer. As they descend the shapes grow larger, becoming recognizable as elongated sections of petrified wood.

One in particular comes near enough to identify its unmistakable features. The object throws off sparks from its entire surface. It crackles and pops noisily as it sails by overhead.

In the distance one abruptly collides with the ground where it explodes. A staggering sound reverberates over the scene. The crowd panics and runs, leaving both riders and their steed far behind.

Trixie’s voice cuts through the mad dash, which startles Way.

“Coffee’s ready if you want a cup. I have to leave for work soon.”


The low rumbling noise came to his attention after he switched channels. Half-awake as he was, Bon Adventure quickly flicked the button to escape the wails of some unheard-of group Letterman uses to close out his show. Stopping at a sedate interview, he lays the control on the couch cushion and listens as two men seated at a table drone together. A few minutes pass before he becomes aware of the idling noise outside.

Not many cars pass by his house during the course of a normal day. But after nightfall the street turns into a ghostly deserted place. Even ordinary foot traffic dies down before ten o‘clock, so his mind becomes fixed on the intrusive sound. He looks at the clock above the television. It reads eleven-thirty.

Without getting up from the couch, he reaches over to part an end curtain that frames a large picture window. He peers outside at the dark scene.

There at his curb he sees headlights casting their twin beams down the road. They point west, illuminating a small portion of his street. A row of amber lights mounted on the roof of a pickup truck glow softly. He cannot tell if anyone is inside the cab of the truck, so he releases the curtain and goes back to staring at the tube.

The engine outside continues to rumble on. Bon Adventure clicks the remote control twice to increase the volume coming from the television. Outside the truck idles for five more minutes. Then ten minutes go by.

He gets up off of the couch during a commercial and goes to the front door. Cool night air hits his face as he stands close to the screen. Switching on the front porch light, he stays at the storm door, staring out at the mysterious vehicle. After hearing no voices, nor seeing a soul in or around the truck, he flips the light switch off and returns to the couch to sit.

At the next commercial Bon Adventure gets up to go visit the bathroom. He enjoys peeing in the dark, so he avoids turning on lights. There is no reason to, since the bathroom window next to the stool looks out onto the street. Neighbors could watch him all too easily, plus his aim is accurate.

His right forearm rests on the window sill. He can scarcely make out the bed of the pickup as it sits and runs leisurely.

As soon as Bon Adventure flushes, four paces take him to the dim hallway. Ten more and he turns right into a low-lit kitchen. A fluorescent light over the kitchen sink hums while it glows. Trixie always forgets to turn it off in the morning. Her husband leaves it on for the rest of the day because for the rest of the day he intends to do dishes. Sometimes he does.

For now, the counter is cluttered with a few dirty ones. The drain basket in one sink was emptied earlier, except for one single spoon. Bon Adventure removes it. Now at least the sink is in order. One yogurt remains in the fridge. He takes it and shuts the door, and then he returns to sit on the couch.

The annoying truck outside continues to idle.

This is good yogurt, he thinks. It’s not too sweet and just thick enough.

Bites of tart peach roll over his tongue. Then the spoon pauses in mid-air.

A shadowy figure travels through his peripheral vision. Bon Adventure looks sharply to his left. But on the other side the picture window he sees no more movement. The figure simply vanished. He leans and reaches for the remote to kill the sound. There on the couch he devours the remainder of his yogurt bathed in silent flickering light.

Outside a door slams shut with a thud. The motor of the truck revs loudly one time; then once again. Bon Adventure holds the empty cup still while licking his spoon clean . The rumbling noise slowly pulls away from the curb. In a few seconds it gurgles and fades away as the truck makes the turn down at the corner. Some dark stranger next guns the engine hard, which causes tires to squeak against the night pavement.

Bon Adventure’s street, his beloved quiet Street of Tranquility, once again becomes serene.

And so does he.

Once he locks the front door, he clicks the television off. There is little worth watching after midnight. Spoon goes to the kitchen counter to spend the night. Cup goes in the garbage.

In the den Bon Adventure ensures both the garage overhead door and a side door are closed and latched right. He then rolls a security bar for the sliding glass door in place, using his big toe. The deck beyond the door lays partially lit with faint moonlight. He stands there for a moment, and then he tests the door once.

Back to the kitchen to turn off the one remaining light; from there he shall go to bed.

Bon Adventure reaches behind the coffee maker for the light switch. Then in that act he freezes when he hears an unknown male voice. The voice is drifting in through an open window near the kitchen table. It floats in on nocturnal air, weaving around the Pin oak tree that has grown steadily for fifty years between the house next door and his.

The light over the sink clicks off. Bon Adventure then softly makes his way across the kitchen to the window. The faint words he hears muttered outside are brief. Someone mumbles something somewhere on the shaded driveway of house next door. He cannot make out any individual shape in this moonless part of yard, yet he knows the house across the driveway is supposed to be vacant.

So here is another curious thing for Bon Adventure to consider.

The previous tenants and their two little boys moved out last week, which took them four days to accomplish. The empty house now sits available for rent. Bon Adventure spoke with the landlady only two days ago, plus he saw the For Rent sign out in the yard.

And just this morning he made his son David take back an abandoned piece of furniture the boy had dragged home from the curb over there.

“We have enough junk already, son.”

But no one thought to keep Bon Adventure informed of new occupants moving in. All he can do now is wonder.

What sort of people move in at midnight? Are these Gypsies? Or could they be thieves who take more than the advantage of the hour? Should I bother the realtor right now and ask her if she rented to these midnight shufflers? Or should I call the police to let them sort it out?

He hears the indistinct voice speak, but this time it seems to come from the other end of the drive.

There are no lights on over there. Darn if I can see who is talking. But there is that blasted truck again.

The pickup truck has returned. And once more it sets parked out in front of the Bon Adventure home, idling away the time while filling the night air with noxious noise.

It just smells like trouble to Bon Adventure. Trouble at the edge of the little swamp in peaceful Hoohooville.

Monday, December 13, 2004

The Sand Dollars, part two

A cosmic hippo bounds unhurried and deliberate throughout air-conditioned inner space, dancing to sliding passages of fretless bass and well-timed banjo. It keeps us amused while I guide our packed-to-the-ceiling van the last twenty-five miles of the trip. Individual beachfront houses slowly give way to the rolling dunes of Padre Island as we crest the viaduct over Laguna Madre. Ali notes a lack of colorful windsurfers that typically dot the shallow bay. Only white-capped ripplets carpet the stretch of open water as a stiff warm breeze buffets our progress.

It’s too early for the tourist season. At the entrance to the national seashore, a deserted booth greets us. Set in the center of a winding two-lane blacktop, it echoes this lonesome truth, so we sail pass by the hut unchallenged.

Covering the next few miles of curves as solitary travelers, all noses but mine press tight against glass windows, searching for the first glimpse of cresting waves. Most of the dunes on the barrier island lay hidden under thick grasses, bent hard toward the mainland by constant caresses of off-shore currents of air. In spots, little rivulets of sand blow across the roadway in front of us, snaking over the black surface as they scurry to the landward side.

“Just up ahead. Keep an eye out, kids.”

“Look over there! I want to go climb that one, dad.”

Ali leans forward in her seat.

“There’s the entrance, right around that curve. I see the ocean! I saw it first!”

Bumping through a rough cut in the dunes, we stop the van to view our surroundings. Not a car in sight. No people anywhere. Farther down the beach a slight haze envelopes the southern vanishing point . To the north some distance away a lone pavilion glistens in the sun. A few gulls stand watch close to the water. Far out to sea, a long strip of dark clouds hug the horizon. Above our heads, the sky looks empty and clear.

“This is perfect! What do you say we go find us a campsite?”

Cheers go up, so the van inches forward while the Flecktones continue to play jazz.

To our right lay low hills of the ever-changing dunes. Ahead of us, a hard-packed road leads to the south end of the island, some eighty miles away. Ever an eye to explore, I set us in that direction.

“You just passed a good spot. Isn’t that about where we camped before?”

“I don’t think so. These dunes look way too small here. Let’s keep going awhile.”

Joel with his eagle vision then informs me from the back seat,

“Look, dad. More seaweed.”

Piled almost a foot high, a familiar yellow-brown tangle of gulfweed lays in a continual band between us and the surf.

“Now, that’s pretty odd. It looks like the same stuff we saw up at Galveston.”

David laments from the way-back seat.

“I want to get out.”

A mile later we spy a pickup with a camper off in the distance. Several miles past we see another, parked close to the small hills of over-grown dunes. Eight miles beyond we count three more such vehicles before turning around to head back. No giant dunes are sighted. The piled seaweed goes on unending, and I voice my disappointment.

“This is so different.”

Alicia reminds me,

“It’s been a few years, dear.”

Choosing a clean site nearer the pavilion, we stop in the evening shade of a scrub-covered dune to set up our tents. A dome for us and a dome for the boys won’t take long, but corralling them to help can wait while they do some quick exploring. The wind yanks hard at my door as I get out. Loose papers fly out of Ali’s door and the fun begins. For the next thirty minutes she and I manhandle our tent while I curse the incessant wind.

“This is ridiculous! Hold that edge while I dig deeper holes for sand anchors.”

Before the kids get too far I yell to them.

“Joel! Get over here and help you mother hold the tent. Eli, hand me some empty soda cans. David, you take this bucket down to the beach and fill it half-way with water. All you can carry. And hurry! Go!”

Eli holds on to his hat.

“Eli, you and Joel sit on the edge over there. Where is that ball of cord? And the scissors -- find the scissors!”

Burying soda cans packed with wet sand works as efficient anchors to keep the tent from blowing away. This baby is going nowhere, I think. The end result looks suspicious, though.

“What is with this damn wind anyway? I don’t remember it ever being this strong.”

I stand back to catch my breath, and then we all stand huddled close to the leeward side of the van and stare. Our dome tent pulls hard against heavy nylon tie-downs that disappear into the sand. The relentless wind suddenly caves in one side of the tent. The strain is just too much, but yet the tent refuses to fly off.

David pipes up next.

“It looks like a banana, dad.”

The nylon siding snaps and pops, but the tent maintains its preposterously concave shape. Ali moans.

“We can’t sleep in that. What are we going to do?”

I go to close the rear hatch on the van.

“One thing we are going to do is find a shovel. Will you look at the sand that has piled up in here!”

Rolled sleeping bags and loose shoes are hastily removed and shook, and then just as hurriedly thrown back in. I slam the lid to announce,

“We are getting a motel for tonight. Tomorrow will be a better day.”

“What about the tent? Won’t somebody steal it? What if the wind rips it up?”

I glare at wind-whipped old banana.

“I don’t care. Let’s get out of here.”

Back toward town and right at dusk we find the first place with a vacancy sign lit up, so we take it.

Seedy and run-down, the motel is at least close to the beach plus it’s windless inside. A hot shower sounds promising too. Ali runs in to fie the paperwork while the boys and I sit silent in the rocking van to wait.

She returns with bad news.

“I got bad news.”

“What? No rooms?”

“No, I got us a room.”

She shows me a key.

“The man said the weather has been like this for a week now. I asked him if it was supposed to clear up, and he said it’s expected to be like this for another week. Some big storm out in the Gulf is causing all of this.”

And she slams her door shut.

“Have I got some beer?”

“Yes, but it’s not in the cooler yet. I can get you some ice, but where’s the machine located, I wonder?”

A few sandy suitcases get hauled in to the room.

“Not on the bed. Not on the bed!”

Eli calls out from inside the bathroom.

“Dad, there are no towels.”

“Joel, go to the front desk and ask for some fresh towels.”

The water goes on in the shower.

“Dad, where is the soap at?”

I call Joel back and give him more instructions. Ali returns empty-handed and mad.

“There’s no ice! What kind of place is this?”

David sits in a chair, swinging his legs and grinning.

“Mom, it’s the Bates Motel.”

“Okay. Where is the remote for the TV?”

I take two beers and go outside for a cigarette. It’s been a day worth contemplating.

A young man opens his door two rooms down. Light spills out onto the sidewalk where he stops to stretch. Noticing me, he comes to borrow a smoke. I offer him a hot beer which he gladly takes. He works here, he tells me as he squats down beside me, and we discuss the situation with the weather. He bums two more cigarettes as I crush my can and get up to go inside. No remote still, so another trip to the office. I soon fall into a dreamless sleep while Ali and the kids watch the flickering images on the tube.

Ali shakes me awake next.

“The wind has stopped! The wind has stopped!”

The wind always stops blowing during the night, but I don’t say anything. We go back to town to find a restaurant after checking out, and we have breakfast. Anything loose outside flutters and flaps by the time we are done, but it’s a new day, so we return to Malaquite to enjoy it as much as possible.

“They didn’t take our tent!”

“Who would want an old banana tent?” I ask.

I am ready to leave as soon as we arrive, but the boys need some time, so we park. David heads for the surf, and I follow while Joel and Eli speed off for the dunes. Ali sits in the van with a book, keeping one eye on us as we cavort in the waves. Ten minutes and I am done.

Ali closes her book as I walk back to join her.

“I tell you what.”

She keeps one hand tight on her beach hat as I slide in the back seat to find a snack. Finding a cold soda, I move around to the drivers’ seat. One foot on the sand, I lean the seat back before opening the can.

“Look. Why don’t I run back into town and get us all some Whataburgers for lunch, and you and the boys can stay here. David is having so much fun.”

She is right, so I take my soda and go sit on the wet beach to let waves eat at the sand beneath my bottom while David digs up the beach, looking for all the sources of tiny bubbles. The older boys return shortly, carrying driftwood poles and one sea bean.

“When are we going to build a fire, dad?”

“Why don’t you two go swim?”

Alicia returns an hour later with the goods.

We finish while gulls fly in and land close by. They stand in a loose group and watch us nervously until one of the boys pilfers the picnic basket and comes out with a loaf of bread.

“David! Want to feed seagulls?”

“Hey, you do that away from the van.”

Scores of the birds hover close above hands and laugh as bits of bread get tossed in the air. No gull gets nabbed by David, though it isn’t from a lack of trying. The beggars quickly leave us in peace when we run out of food. The boys then head off for a walk down the beach while David goes to build wet sand castles. Ali and I sit in the hot car out of the stiff breeze.

“Let’s go soon. This is too much.”

She lays down her novel.

“I know. All this planning. Who knew things would turn out so horrible?”

David yells at me.

“Dad, take me out swimming.”

He is smeared from head to toe with wet sand. A huge gob rests at the top of his head.

“Why don’t you go ahead. At least he is having the time of his life. I can wait here and read.”

I hate to say this to her, but what is the point in being miserable?

“No, let’s just go. We could stop down at the pavilion before we leave, and we can let him swim there maybe. Hey, remember the cold showers?”

We gather up the boys who don’t bother to complain, and promptly leave blustery Malaquite behind. The gang waves goodbye to the forlorn banana tent as we go past, all amazed that it still exists.

A mile down the road we find the huge parking area for the pavilion empty and wind-cleared. Parking close to the entrance, the boys take towels and run for stairs that lead up to a large veranda, and they quickly disappear around a corner. We catch up with them on the seaward side, but they are soon off down a second set of switch-back steps, heading for the beach again.

Ali and I join them, but claim one of several shaded picnic tables. Again, this section of beach is deserted except for my brood. She sets her purse and towel on the table, and lays the book aside while we talk for awhile. The boys are playing together in the waves.

“What are we going to do for the next ten days?”

“I was thinking. Why not drive on up to San Antonio, and we can stop by and see where Joel will be going to boot camp. We can stop along the way somewhere and camp if we see a good spot. You know, just take our time and see some of Texas.”

Ali is the eternal optimist.

I stand up and take off my glasses. I can hardly see through the sticky salt film anyway.

“I’m going in one last time. You coming?”

“No, you go ahead.”

I leave her to read and go to join my three sons. Just before I hit the cooler edge of the beach, a glint in the sand catches my eye. Reaching down, I pick up a tiny golden seagull, dropped there by someone. Simple and elegant, I stick the object in the pocket of my swim suit and walk on into the waves.

Two small dots some distance away now bob up and down. It’s Joel and Eli. One suddenly comes up out of the water; Eli hurls himself headlong into an on-coming wave. Joel copies his move. David lays stomach-down in several inches of water to my front, so I walk by and kick a spray of water over him. He dog-paddles in a half-circle madly as a small wave approaches, and then he jumps up to catch up to me.

“Let’s go out real far, dad.”

I tease him with tales of sharks, but I keep my eyes peeled too. After teaching him the simple art of body-surfing, I stand in water no deeper than my waist to watch him. He puffs his cheeks and sputters with the first wave, but he gets the hang of it fast. He keeps it up while I feel the sand slip from under my feet as waves recede, and then I feel something familiar. I reach into the water and grasp the object with my fingers.

“David! Check this out!”

He has almost reached the shore, but he turns over on his back and yells what.

I feel another under the other foot, so I pick it up.

“Come here quick!”

He comes running but falls down, partly on purpose. He laughs and spits a stream of salt water from his mouth while he glides into the next small breaker, and then he paddles towards me. By this time I have four more, and feel another under my big toe.

“You got to help me, Davy. Come quick. I found a whole bunch of sand dollars here.”

For the next five minutes we uncover and pick up scores of the echinoderm discs.

“How many do we get to keep, dad? Are they alive? Can they bite?”

He and I deposit our catch on the shaded table. Ali lays down her book and marvels at our find while David rests his chin close to one circular creature.

“Dad, it’s moving! Look!”

I reach in and take out the little seagull. With a smile I slide it over to my wife.

“I got you a gift. Happy anniversary.”

“Oh, wow. Oh, this is so beautiful. Where did you find this?”

Joel and Eli appear soon, eyes reddened and happy.

“You guys ready to head out?”

Eli starts to shiver.

“Where are the showers, mom?”

Ali and I exchange silent grins.

“Up the steps there is a shower in the men’s room. We’ll meet you up top.”

The pavilion she and I remember exist no longer. This newer one, sitting high on its bluff of sand, overlooks the wide expanse of the Gulf of Mexico, and serves as a final stop for fool-hardy adventurers that choose to drive the rough road to the extreme tip of North Padre Island, as well as those who only want a safe place to sit and enjoy a restful view of the sea. While unfamiliar to us both, it remains much nicer than the old one. But replacing the former spectator area that fell victim to ravages of time and weather, it yet holds a gift in store.

Alicia and I climb the flight of stairs, pausing to take one more long look over our shoulder. Then at the top of the stairs we notice a couple that occupy one of the tables in the middle of the shaded veranda. A young bearded man lays stretched out on one bench. He has a cap shading his eye. A young woman, her golden hair a mess from the wind, sits on the other side, half-turned and staring out to sea. She smiles as we walk by.

Eli comes out of the restroom, leaving wet foot prints behind. He scowls for all to see.

“That sucks!”

We seat ourselves at another table as Joel emerges from his shower with David in tow.

I toss him the keys.

“Go get the cooler, and stick some beers in it.”

“But all the ice is melted, dear.”

“Then just toss some beers in and bring it.”

The man sits up and sets his cap on backwards. We introduce ourselves. Joel returns, hauling the cooler. The four adults sit and sip on warm beers while swapping stories as the three boys check out the snack bar.

Moze, he goes by. “Me and Sara live in that first camper down the beach,” And he holds his can up and points to the south. “We been out here a month,” He tells us. “Don’t know how come we ended up in this God-forsaken place, but we just love it. Got no place else to go, anyway.”

“Yeah, he lost his job, so we packed up and moved out here on the beach, just me and him.” She snuggles close and hugs her Moze.

We tell them the story of how we met here years ago, and they offer us and our marriage a toast. “I used to pick up soda cans and sell them at the snack bar,” I tell them. “That’s one way I survived.”

“Hey, that’s a thought, Sara. Maybe we could do that.”

He finishes his beer. “That ya’lls tent down there?”

We all laugh as Ali recounts the last two days. “Say, you guys want that thing, you are welcome to it.”

Their eyes light up. “Aw, man. I am so tired of sleeping in that crowded camper. You sure you don’t need it?”

Somehow it seemed fair. We got ourselves free sand dollars, and they got themselves a free tent. Best of all, we got to share.

The Sand Dollars

The wife and I talked about this trip for over a year. The romantic aspect of returning to visit Padre Island where we first met twenty years ago beckoned to us both, while our three boys showed a bigger interest in camping out near sand dunes, riding the surf of the Gulf of Mexico or combing spacious shorelines, looking for treasures that might wash ashore there daily. In fact, we all did.

They, these beach-poor children of mine, had listened to all of our tales that we told them as they grew, and of my times spent there and their mother’s chance meeting of the sun-bronzed beach bum she eventually married. To sleep once more under a Texas sky, to trudge slick-washed beaches barefoot and hold hands again, to climb and hurl oneself down huge wind-swept dunes piled high by steady ocean breezes, or to possibly catch the elusive scallop and later steam a batch of the tasty morsels over a blazing sparking campfire encouraged everyone to help scrape enough money together to finally realize this dream.

The timing of events came together perfectly. Joel had enlisted in the Air Force the month before. His basic training got underway at the end of June while Ali’s summer break from school began on the first of the month. Our anniversary fell on the fourth, so I scheduled myself off the calendar for three weeks, leaving plenty of time for us to drive from Chicago and back without rushing.

Then Alma called. That kid sister of mine is a nut for anything involved with the beach, so she got an invite to join our fun. Then her eldest son James and his new girl friend heard about it. One of her daughters had a few days to spare, so she volunteered to come along too. Shaking my head at the prospect of fitting everyone plus luggage and tent and coolers and bedrolls inside our seven-passenger van, we nonetheless got underway in due time. Things will work out; they usually do somehow.

It takes two days to drive down to East Texas. Outside of Nacogdoches a neon sign reads “Alligator Annie’s”. Our van pulled off the main highway there to climb up a washed-out rut of a driveway that leads to my sister’s piece of property.

The place almost resembles a giant Monopoly board, complete with live animals. One large tin-roofed house sets among a stand of tall conifers, while spaced apart in her grass-and-sand backyard set several other dwellings of differing shapes and sizes. Cats and dogs run free, or lounge in the sun. A prissy tiny long-haired thing greets us with mighty yaps and a slobbery dog-grin while we spill out of the van and stretch before going inside. But then Alma shoots out the back door to greet us half-way, and we all stand in the shade of her pines and hug. Soon after a round of her sweet iced tea, James and Tracie arrive in his pickup truck.

“Howdy, Ma. Hey, Uncle Hess. Hi, Aunt Alicia. This is Tracie, ya’ll. Good grief, look at your kids! Man, they got big, didn’t they?”

We unfold maps, gauge routes and catch up on the latest news while the boys search for lizards. David takes to the dog, Swamp Baby, and Swamp Baby bites him a few respectful times. Somehow they cope.

“Anyone have to pee before we leave?”

Alma pulls her door shut and locks it. After telling her animals to keep an eye on the place, she says to me,

“We have to stop in town first. I need to sign some papers at my bank before we take off. It won’t take long, I promise.

She gives me a helpless look as I envision another little house arriving here in the near future, riding on the back of a large trailer. She has history, this short sister of mine. But my spirit raises as she mentions two more things.

“You follow my truck into town, and then we can stop at Whataburger right after I’m done. We can drop by and pick up Susan last.”

Oh, the smile on her face. Man, and the smile on mine.

Not only is the passenger problem suddenly and tactfully dealt with, but I am promised another fat Whataburger, my second one for the day. Now if a reader has never eaten one of these things, I would be forced to recommend a visit to the inner borders of Texas for just that reason. It cannot be justified here with any type of words that I have ever owned, so I won’t even try. I only mention it now to torture my over-wrought taste buds, who themselves are kindly returning the torment. Let’s move on.

We bumped down the hill behind her red truck. A green one bounced after us with James at the wheel. Tracie waved to one of the boys in the back seat as our caravan then picked up speed on the main highway, heading due south.

Texas is huge. Texas is too damn big, actually. It can’t be driven across in one day, and for two, the trip has to be driven fast and forever. We set an easy goal to reach Galveston late in the evening of that day, which put us half-way to Padre Island. A motel for the night sounded reasonable. James wanted Tracie to at least see Galveston Island before they headed back the next morning, while we planned to continue down the coast to Corpus Christi for the second leg of our journey.

He never counted on getting busted.

After a big meal in Galveston, the group gathered around an outdoor pool where we passed the evening lounging and watching all the fun. Later he excused himself and Tracie, saying he had a spot down by one of the docks he wanted to show her. The moon down there is brilliant, he claimed, as we all winked and hooted at them both.

The next morning, after checking out and over breakfast, he recounted how they had slowly cruised the wharf area, searching for a place he remembered from summers ago, when a patrol car passed them going the other way. James saw the brake lights go on, but the black-and-white turned a corner and disappeared from sight behind a warehouse. Feeling uneasy, he told Tracie maybe it’s time to just leave, when the car suddenly appeared behind him again. Emergency lights flashed for a moment, and then stopped.

“Oh, boy.”

The officer, looking the part of a lean Texas Ranger, bent over and stared inside at the couple, and then he asked from behind mirrored sunglasses,

“What ya’ll doing down here?”

James usually slants to his right when he drives, with his left hand on the wheel. He turned and replied to the officer,


The man stood up some and shot back,

“You’re what?”

James gave the man a doe-eyed innocent look.

“We’re just piddling, officer.”

The officer stood up straight and adjusted his glasses, giving the truck a once-over.

“Well, you can’t be piddling down here. I suggest you move it on out and find you somewhere else to piddle.”

“Yes sir.”

“And don’t let me catch you down here again. You got that, son?”

“Yes sir. We were just leaving, anyway.”

Tracie almost wet her pants, trying not to laugh.

From our booth we could see the ocean across the highway and the kids began getting antsy, so we hurried through our breakfast, paid the bill and prepared to go search for a good spot to let them get their feet wet for the first time. The wind had picked up during the meal; outside we walked to our vehicles as flagpole halyards beat snappy rhythms to hurry us along.

“Piddling weather,” James yelled, as he opened Tracie’s door.

Some miles farther south Alma made a sharp turn onto a shell-encrusted road and stopped. Doors flew opened and there went the boys, running head-long for the surf with their mom and her red basket of towels not far behind. Alma and Susan, and then James and Tracie trailed along, leaving me by myself for a moment.

Texas may be big, but it isn’t all that crowded, so I stood outside next to the van with the driver’s door open, and slipped out of my jeans and into a swimsuit before another car came along. I stepped back into my flip-flops to avoid the burning sand, and then walked the short distance to where the pounding waves rumbled.

Leaving the roadway with its miles of scrub grass on either side, I stepped out of my shoes, leaving them in a safe place. Then before me I saw a band of yellow-brown seaweed. It meandered up the beach to my left for as far as the eye could see. To the right lay the lumpy ribbon as well, stretching to infinity. I could barely hear the squeals of David over the strong breeze as Eli chased him along the water’s edge, throwing gobs of wet sand at his smaller sibling.

The weed felt pleasantly rubbery as I crossed, and then I had to stick out my tongue as Alma yelled from behind her camera,

“Smile for me, brother!”

“How disgusting is this? There must be tons of this stuff here. And see how far it goes?”

The waves deposit things on the beach. This day’s smelly load was just another in a line of odd things seen, so we grumbled about it while the kids joyously learned the taste of the sea. After a half-hour of high wind and salt-coated glasses, we gathered up sandy towels, collected our sand-filled shoes, swapped a few more laughs with our relatives before they drove north, and then our small band took the southern route for Padre.

Men don’t need maps, so I got us lost a few times. I can’t understand how they can change a simple road to make it go in unseemly directions at times, nor can my wife understand why I won’t listen to her telling me it’s “that way”, so I suppose we are even on that deal.

After stopping in Corpus to buy more needful items, and after an hour of finding the moved stores to buy such items, and after complaining about the crazy city planners gone mad since my last time in this fair town, we arrived.

Padre Island. Far away from humanity. Beyond the bounds of crowded insanity. Sparse of humans, miles of emptiness, owned by the laughing gull and home to the wind. Be quiet, children. For we are about to enter paradise.

To be continued