Night Of The Living Entropy

RpodInPark

[Just to give you the right perspective.  We are a small fish in a large sea of RV’s]

[en-tro-py n, pl -pies  1 : the degree of disorder in a system  2 : an ultimate state of inert uniformity]

     —Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary and Thesaurus, 2014 ed.

I recently completed reading Deep South by Paul Theroux.  He is, arguably, the best travel writer working today.  His Great Railway Bizarre set a very high standard for that genre.  In Deep South, he begins by reviewing the styles of other travel writers.  Historically, he says, the wanderer often writes of how hard the journey is and complains a great deal of the difficulties encountered.

“The local food was exotic but I had to close my eyes to take a mouthful.”

“The insects swarmed into my eyes and nostrils and ears in uncountable numbers.”

You get my point.  Theroux was saying that to complain was to miss the point of the journey.  A good book about a great journey is supposed to impart a flavor of the local dialect, food, and geography.  Most importantly, to me, is trying to listen to what a stranger has to say…listen for their story…listen to the local legends of the back roads and byways.

Sorry, but I’m going to turn away from Theroux’s fine advice and complain.  Not about where we have traveled but instead, of how we have traveled.

When people see our r-pod, the words we hear most are: “Oh, how cute is that?!”  I admit that it is indeed cute, but it doesn’t do a thing for trying to fit months of clothes, books and stuff into something that has rounded ends and no room for closets.

While Mariam has been away for a few days in New York City for meetings, I fully intended to work on my novel and have room to spread out and just think.  It didn’t work out that way.

Let’s start with this table I am writing this post from.  This space is either a table (for writing and eating) or its a bed…but it’s not both.  It takes time and effort to make the table into a bed…time I could be out looking at a cow, a horse or listening to a local tell me a tale or two.  So, to save me that effort, I’ve taken the bottom bunk (which is about three steps away from the table/bed, and moved the clothes (remember, no closets) to the table (when I’m not writing or eating), or to the top bunk, which is already piled with…stuff.

RpodTable

[My writing desk and dinner table and bed]

I will admit the lower bunk has a real “mattress” so that my back pain in the morning is not as intense as usual.  But, the back pain has been replaced by the pain on my forehead from knocking it against the bottom of the top bunk.  Laying in bed at night is a particular (and somewhat morbid) challenge.  I propped my head up on a pillow to read.  I looked up and saw the wood panel above me.  I measured the distance from the tip of my nose to the bottom of the top bunk.  I held my fingers apart and measured.  It was just shy of 4″.  I felt like I was the guest of honor at an open casket funeral.  Now I know how Bela Lugosi felt between takes of Dracula, while he waited for the cameras to be moved.  Now I know how Bela Lugosi feels now.

Bunk

[My sleeping arrangements]

BathroomDoor

[There is a bathroom/shower behind these towels]

About fifty feet from where I’m siting, is a large blue mobile home…a bus-like affair.  A woman ties her little black dog to the BBQ pole and goes off to do laundry or drives away to shop.  The dog yelps and barks until she returns.  And, I’m supposed to concentrate on maintaining a narrative line in my novel-in-progress?  I can’t.  I’m easily distracted.  So, I escape to a nearby Starbucks.  We have a ‘card’ so when I buy a Cold Brew or a hot dark roast, I feel like it’s free.  I sat yesterday in an overstuffed leather chair and began to take notes on my characters when a large number of students from the University of Texas at Arlington came in.  At a table near me, three young men were huddled around a laptop.  One of them was telling the other two about his new idea to create a website to help other people find websites.  I realize that this could be the next Zuckerberg, but he didn’t have to tell the entire coffee-house about how many pixels he was planning to use, or what CSS meant.

I came back here.  The dog was inside, but I could still him/her barking…in that plaintive yelp that means: “I’m annoying everyone around here, but I’m so cute!”

I waited for darkness.  There was a beautiful crescent moon in the western sky (I thought I was in the west??).  I decided to do a load of soiled clothes in the nice warm laundry room.  I was hoping to catch the State of the Union speech (our TV has no reception), but a heavy-set woman was watching a martial arts movie.  She had a cough that would frighten a brown bear.  I didn’t want to catch some strange Texas respiratory ailment, so I darted back and forth to the r-pod and the laundry, trying to win a game or two of Scrabble with a high school friend, Jackie B.

Which brings me to our car.  The rear hatchback has been stuck since early December, 2015 while we were in Florida.  Just for fun, I tried pushing the button and much to my surprise, it opened!  I lifted it up and a bag promptly fell out and a bottle of red wine broke on our bumper.  I sprayed WD-40 all over the latch and succeeded in mixing that with the spilled wine.  That’s why I was doing laundry last night.

I didn’t have a banner day on Tuesday.  I wish I was back in Vicksburg, sitting in the back of The Tomato Place and chatting with Mallory, Luke and Angela.  Life was so much simpler a week ago.

But, y’all know where I’ll be on Friday night.  I’ll be in Austin, doing the Texas 2-Step…making strange squeaks with my rubber bottom soles.

My birthday is coming in May.  I want a new and bigger RV…and I want a pair of cowboy boots.  Just like the ones I had when I was five years old.  I wasn’t in Texas, I was in my backyard.  And, my dog, King, didn’t bark…to much.

PinkRoseOfTexas

[“You can’t lose if you close a blog with flowers”. My grandfather once told me.  These are roses,  They’re not yellow, but they’re from Texas]

Advertisements

Don’t Mess With Texas

texascard1

All the tired horses in the sun

How am I going to get any riding done?

–Bob Dylan “All The Tired Horses”

Well this is a fine howdy-do.  There is some good news and some bad news in this here posting.  The good news is that we joined Cosco and promptly spent $139.95 ( + tax ).  The bad news is that I saw Mariam off to the airport to fly back to NYC to attend meetings.  I didn’t hold her hand as she gathered her long skirt and climbed into the stage-coach.  This time, she called Uber.  I’m left here alone, almost deep in the heart of Texas, trying to stay busy and out of trouble.  I plan on working hard on my novel-in-progress, but there are so many distractions here, it’s gonna be hard.

“How am I going to get any riding done?”

Here I am about a hundred miles from the Louisiana state line.

Yes, you read it correctly, I crossed the Louisiana state line and there were no State Troopers after me.  From the things I’ve read, going to Texas is really getting away from somewhere and often not for a really good reason.  Why else are there so many Bail Bondsmen and pawn shops every few hundred yards along all these roads?  I’ve been here two days now, and I have no idea how many people I’ve met who are wanted in six states out west.  And, Texas wants to secede from the Union!  What if they do, and I’m stuck behind enemy lines?

I think I’m in this ‘outlaw’ mode because one of the last touristy things we did was stop in Gibsland, Louisiana and visited the site where Bonnie & Clyde were ambushed.  There are two historical markers there, but one is pock-marked with bullet holes.  It’s located on a lonely stretch of road south of Gibsland.  I stood in the twilight, just steps inside the piney woods.  A bird chirped.  One car passed.  It was spooky and quiet in a way that occurs when you’re standing at the location where people have died a violent death…like a Civil War battlefield or a hanging tree (there’s one in Washington Square Park in NYC).  If would take me months to trace down all the places where Clyde shot down law enforcers, but then, none of those people have familiar names and weren’t made into glamorous characters that looked like Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.  I won’t argue, however, that B & C weren’t folk heroes in their day.

Bonnie&Clyde

Our next stop was Bossier City which is near Shreveport.  Bossier has casinos…and a lot of other interesting attractions.  I was going to walk over to Diamond Jacks Casino to plug-in a few quarters and walk away with the funds to finish our trip in a brand new RV.  I was going to do that, but I didn’t want to walk into a smokey gambling den.  Not that I haven’t spent plenty of time in such places of sin and inequity, but I felt like I was getting the sneezes and didn’t want to plunge into a full-bodied cold.

I do remember that this is a Texas blog…I digressed.

So, I’m sitting in the Rpod on a cold night in Arlington, Texas.  My weather app tells me that it’s colder here than in New York City.

This gives me time to come up with a solution to a problem that has been giving me a saddle sore.  I’m going to learn how to do the Texas 2-Step while we are visiting friends in Austin.  The problem: the only shoes I have with me have rubber-like soles (like for not slipping on the deck of a sail boat…remember, I’m a sailor too!).  And, one has to shuffle during the 2-Step.  I won’t be able to shuffle…all I’ll do with my Dockers is make an embarrassing squeaking sound that will make me the center of attention on the dance floor of The Broken Wheel dance hall.

If any of my readers have encountered this sort of problem, please help me before Thursday!  Even sooner, because it may mean that I’ll have to go to Wal-Mart or Target and buy a pair of shoes with a leather sole.  And, then I’ll only use it for one or two nights….but, maybe not, gosh dang it!  Maybe, just maybe, I’ll get really good at the 2-Step and dance my way across Texas and into New Mexico and Arizona.  They have culture out there too, they must have places to do the 2-Step.

But, I digress again.

Finally, I must apologize for not including a really brilliant illustration to headline this blog.  All I could come up with are two $.35 ( + tax ) postcards from the KOA office.  I haven’t seen a horse in weeks, I think it was someplace in Alabama that I saw a person riding a horse and dragging something.  I hope it was a log.  If it was a freshly cut tree, the scene would be right out of a Budweiser holiday commercial or a Hallmark TV movie about “coming home for Christmas”.  Should I count the dozen paintings of horses on the walls of the Texas Steakhouse where we had our first dinner here?

But, I did see a windmill the other day.  That should count for something.

And, it was actually in Texas.  But it wasn’t spinning gently in the soft southern breeze.  It stood stone-still like a mute sentry to a strange new kingdom, a different way of life, a new landscape.  It was a monument to a dead and obsolete way of using nature for energy.  I have to drive my red Ford Escape about two miles to get a decent cup of coffee at the closest Starbucks.  I’d like to go into an old “Mom & Pop” diner and order a cup of java that is strong and thick enough to float an iPad Mini.

I’d wink at the waitress behind the counter, who had a certain country girl beauty about her, once.  Her name would be Helen, and she would have had that tired look of a woman who worked at one too many truck stops since she was seventeen.  

I’d say: “The usual, Helen, dear, and hold the sugar.  Just touch the coffee with your finger-tip and it will sweeten it up nicely.”

“Oh, you…shush,” she’d say.

But, there are none of these old places in this country of strip-malls and muffler shops.  I could, if I so desired, get my nails done in a hundred different hues in a thousand different spas along Cooper Street.

That’s not a choice that a cowboy of 1897 had.

I did take the Bonnie & Clyde marker photo.  See the bullet holes?  But, the pic doesn’t count, it was taken in Louisiana and this is a Texas blog.

I hope y’all will understand the difficulties I’m having to deal with.

texascard2

A Silent Eulogy: Late But Heartfelt

B:WFlowerSteve

Is it possible that a eulogy can take forty-one years to deliver?

The dreaded answer is yes.  I know because I spoke that eulogy…silently, silently so that only I heard the words.  It was a rambling prayer over a heart-breaking death.  I knew the young man who had died.  In truth, I was with him when he passed away, away into the unknown world that we all dread…whether we admit it or not.

He is interred in the soil of his hometown in sunny and warm Louisiana.  His soul departed on a snowy trail, on a cold night in the mountains of the Adirondacks.

I’ve talked to him, about him and prayed for him for four decades.  Our conversations weren’t all one-sided.  I felt his presence.  I felt his answers.  I’ve felt his forgiving words when I find those occasional moments, when the moon is rising and the air is crisp and the snow is five inches deep…just like it was that night in November of 1974.

Once before, many years ago, I stood over his grave.  I remember that day.  It was unbearably hot in the southern sun.  I thought then of how I was so near him in such an opposition of environments…from when we last walked side by side.  Now, I’ve returned with time heavy in my arms and dried wildflowers of the North Country in my hands.  Now, the temperature is at a mid-point…from that night to this day.  It’s 55 degrees.  There are pine cones on the ground…not a flake of snow within five hundred miles.

Yes, I’ve talked to him and relived our friendship when I stop to recall memories, those sweet and terrible memories.  I’ve spoken to a few people about him, but I have never, until now, written a word about my friend.

I’ve waited too long and kept too many recollections lock away in my heart and brain.  I need to share these with you.

We met in a hallway at the college I attended in Louisiana, or perhaps we met at the Pizza Inn where we worked evenings to earn a few extra dollars.  I have never encountered a more curious individual.  He picked my brain for hours about what life in the North was like.  At the Pizza Inn, we were often left with the task of closing for the night.  But, we wouldn’t simply clean-up and lock-up.  No, after the lights were turned off, and before the ovens were shut down for the night, we would make a pizza, the likes of which was never seen on the menu.  We’d lock the front door and find a booth in the back dining area.  And there, by the light of a single candle (we didn’t want to attract the police who would be checking the locks on the doors of the businesses along the avenue), we would drink beer, eat pizza and talk for hours.  We’d argue.  We’d laugh. We discussed the philosophy of life.  We talked about women.  We talked about racism. (He was the farthest thing from a ‘redneck’ I ever encountered in my years in the 1960’s South.)  More than once, when we left for our cars, the eastern skies were getting light.

Time flew for us when we had important matters to ruminate about.

A few years later, after I graduated and moved back to New York State, we kept up our friendship through letters.  We had a chess game in progress for months, sending moves to each other on post cards.  I don’t remember whose turn it was when our game ended so abruptly.

He was curious about life outside of the South so he moved to Binghamton, where I was living.  He got a job.  I moved to Pennsylvania to begin a career of teaching.  He wanted to join me on a hiking trip to the Adirondacks over the Thanksgiving break of 1974.  I said yes.  I wish I hadn’t.

I will place this humble bouquet against the headstone.  My wife will stand at my side.

I will say a prayer for him to a God who I feel has been too quiet for too long.

My private prayer for the dead will start with his name.

I will say: “Hey, Steve.  It’s been a long time.  Sorry I’m so late.”

O, Southern sun, shine warmly here,

O, Southern winds, blow gently here,

Green sod above, lie light, lie light,

Good night , dear heart, good night, good night.

[This is not Steve’s epitaph, but it could and should be.  I found in on a gravestone of a nine-year old boy named Addison Foster, Jr. in the City Cemetery of Natchez, Mississippi]

HandAt Steve's grave

The Tomato Place And The Perfect Man List

TheTomatoPlace

This is the coldest night of our trip.  After complaining about the heat and humidity of Florida, we’re shivering in the chilly air a few miles south of Vicksburg…still alongside Highway 61.  My trusty thermometer tells me it’s 37 degrees just fifteen inches behind me and through the thin wall of the R-pod.  I push my new CD into the player.  I go straight to Track 6.  It’s Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s version of St. James Infirmary.

Let her go, let her go, God bless her

Wherever she may be

She can look this wide world over

But she’ll never find a sweet man like me…

I tear open the bag of boiled peanuts I just bought.  I finger out a half-dozen and break open the cold shells.  They’re better when they’re hot.

I put a thin fleece blanket over my shoulders and listen to the music.  I settle back in my fleece and think about the place where I just bought the boiled peanuts, the CD of Mississippi Blues, and a Blackberry Oatmeal cookie.    I also think about the felt fedora I nearly paid $35.00 (+ tax) for.

The store and small eating area is called The Tomato Place.  The outside looks like any vegetable stand.  The interior…well, it’s funky and folky and full of items to please the eye.

But, mostly I’m thinking of the young woman who stood behind the counter.  She was the daughter of the owner.  The owner is Luke.  His daughter, the woman behind the counter is Mallary and she told us she recently got married.  I couldn’t turn away from her eyes.  They were chocolate-brown and wondrously expressive.  She touched my arm.

Mallary

[Mallary is the daughter of the owner.  She had the “perfect man list”]

“You know what?  I put away my ‘perfect man list’ and I’ve never been happier,” she said.

“Good for you,” I said.

“I’d love to travel, like y’all, but you know what?  I get to stand here behind the counter and meet people like you and it’s almost like going on a trip,” she told us.

“Certainly saves on plane fares,” I said.

It was getting dark…we had seen the red globe of the sun sink into the flatlands of Louisiana, across the Big River.  It was time to go home.  Time to listen to some blues and eat some peanuts.

It was time to stop looking at the fedoras and the large (!) sacks of peanuts.  And, it was time to let Mallary help the next customer.

But, we had our dinner plans for Tuesday night.  Mallary makes a mean Tomato Pie.

I went back to The Tomato Place on Tuesday morning.  Mallory wasn’t in yet, so I spent a delightful hour chatting with Angela.  Meeting people like Angela and Mallary are a reminder of why I love to travel…and get off the Interstates…and discover little gems like this place.

Angela

[Angela serves a great mug of coffee and has an interesting life]

Where else would I get to see a 50 pound sack of peanuts?

50lbsPeanuts

Where else would I find an object d’art like this record bowl:

RecordBowl

[It’s The J. Geils Band “Bloodshot”]

Or a nutcracker that doesn’t look like a tin soldier?

NutCracker

I sat and read a book for a while in the back room of the dining area.  It was space that had an eclectic assortment of tables and chairs.  The walls were filled with jars of preserves, jams, packages of coffee and syrups.  Soft music played from small speakers.  I could actually think in this little space.  I could concentrate.  I could comprehend what I was reading. Sipping my coffee, I used the quiet to plan this posting and to think of more questions about the lives of these two young women that I met, purely by serendipity, in this little structure that looked as though it was a simple vegetable stand.

Some real treasures, real discoveries and some real people, with a gentle politeness and engaging smiles who willing share brief parts of their lives, are behind the doors that are the most unpretentious.

Out On Highway 61

Highway61:Me

You leave todays newspaper unread on the table next to your front door.  A dozen flies buzz around the hole in your window screen next to the formica table in your kitchen.  They get in despite the wad of toilet paper you use to plug the hole.

You walk home from a bar.  You weren’t the last to leave, but the guy behind you locked the door.  The drizzle doesn’t bother you.  Who needs an umbrella anyway?  The pavement is uneven.  Pools of rainwater reflect the image that’s been buzzing in your brain all day.

Face it, she left you.

But you don’t really care.  You don’t care because you have the blues.  You haven’t been dealt with a royal flush in the Poker Game of Life. You only get jokers and they aren’t even the wild cards.

You got the blues.  And, where do you go when you got the blues?  You head to the birthplace of music in America.  You catch the Shortline out of Port Authority for that slice of real estate that runs from Memphis to Natchez.

You head for the Delta Blues Country of Mississippi.  Gospel, R & B, Rock & Roll and the Blues were born here and that is where you belong.

Cause you got the blues, man…

This is Elvis country.  This is Hank Williams country.  Somewhere in this mystic triangle, two roads intersected.  A poor black kid who couldn’t play the guitar went off one night and met someone at the Crossroads, probably around midnight.  There he traded his holy and immortal soul for the gift to play the guitar…not just any guitar…but the best Delta Blues guitar in the country.

Robert Johnson, legend has it, came back from the Crossroads and could out play any man or woman who cared to challenge him.  He paid his dues, though.  After sneaking out the back door of his house, he promptly went into the back door of another girls house.  His wife found out about his midnight rambling and put poison in his liquor.  He died after crawling across the floor, barking like a dog and foaming at the mouth.

That’s the way the Legend goes.  Maybe it happened.  Maybe it didn’t.  But, that’s what I heard and that’s what I chose to believe.

This is the Blues Highway.  On a map, it’s labelled Route 61.  But, magic happened here.  For some unexplained reason, the poverty and despair of the poor blacks gave rise to a form of music listened to all over the world.  It rose up from the wasted cotton fields and dried-out soy bean fields of Mississippi and Louisiana, filled with hate, prejudice, injustice, hopelessness and violence.  It rose up and became the songs of the chain-gangs, the cotton pickers, the old men on the rocking chairs of back porches who sang and hummed as they swatted at the flies and gnats and sipped cheap gin.

Sorrowful music that somehow gave hope to those who were tied to the soil.  The white rock and roll singers co-opted this music and made it safe for white teenage girls to listen to.

The Great Migration of poor blacks and jobless whites from the rural North, took generations of the folks north, north to the industrial midwest…usually Chicago.

Bob Dylan anointed this road by naming his album Highway 61 Revisited.

I’m on the Blues Highway.  I’m driving Route 61 North.  It’s a 4-lane divided highway for a few dozen miles.  They must have torn down all the juke joints and gin mills to widen the road.  A ghost sign of a long gone motel is here.  An abandoned car wash is there.  I’ll only be driving the section that is noted in my Rand McNally as the Natchez Trace Parkway, but the Trace seems to follow a zig-zag pattern, crossing Highway 61, at different points.  The town welcome sign for Port Gibson is unique.  It has a quote from the great enemy of the Confederacy: “Too beautiful to burn”–U.S.Grant.  Vicksburg is our next stop.  The clay bluffs rise on the eastern shore of the Mississippi just a they do in Natchez.  I had been to this town several times when I attended college in Monroe, Louisiana in the mid-1960’s.  I wonder how much it has changed.  I read somewhere that people of Vicksburg say that the parks, lawns and sidewalks are really graveyards.  The Confederate dead are said to lay in the dirt…the ones that weren’t collected after the Union siege ended on July 4, 1863, when the city surrendered and the dead of both sides were buried in mass graves in the National Cemetery.

Highway 61 has had a dismal past.  But, from all the blood, death, slavery, poverty and cotton…came the music of the saddest kind.

So sad, it can’t help but lift your spirits.  If you got the blues, you got to listen to the blues.  It’s the only cure.

We’re leaving Vidalia, Louisiana just a week or so before an expected flood.  They can’t say exactly how high the crest will be, but the cement pad that our little RV sits on will almost surely be under water.

I just walked over to the levee.  It was dry.  I didn’t see the good old boys drinking whiskey and rye…and this will not be the day that I die.

NatchezSunset

[The Mississippi River Bridge from Natchez looking toward Louisiana]