Don’t Mess With Texas


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.


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.


A Silent Eulogy: Late But Heartfelt


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 Moonflower


The heavenly fragrance of moon flower permeates the air in the whole garden.

–The Flower Expert website

In the summer of 1965 I was busy preparing to leave my home, family and friends and go off to college.  Actually, only part of what I just said is true.  I was going away to college, that’s true.  But I was not busy preparing for it.  No, I was busy trying to hold on to my old life.  Once you go away to college, that’s it.  Nothing is ever the same…ever again.  I instinctively knew that so I did things to delay my departure…from my home, from Owego and from my youth.

That Spring, I cleared out the debris that had accumulated in a narrow patch of soil between the front porch and a sidewalk that went along the side of the house that faced the RR tracks.  That would be the east facing side of 420 Front St.  That was the side that gave me a clear look at the home of my childhood friend, Jimmy Merrill.

I broke up the cleared soil and planted a row of seeds.  I planted Moonflower seeds from a packet I had bought at J.J.Newberry’s on Lake St.  I had never grown a Moonflower before, but the picture on the packet looked beautiful.  And who couldn’t fall under the spell of anything called a Moonflower.  I carefully read the label and it described how Moonflowers were climbers.  So, I attached a dozen lengths of string from the ground up to the board beneath the front porch roof.  I watered the seeds and then went out with my girlfriend, Mary, to Shangra-La Speedway to watch the stock car races.  Or, we would walk up to the monument of Sa-sa-na-Loft and sit on the bench that overlooked the town.  We couldn’t see my house because of the trees, but we could make out the white back wall of her house on E. Temple St.  I could see the Court House and the yellow busses near the high school.  We watched the trains that passed through town just below where we sat.  I watched as the trains rode over the Tunnel of Love, splashed in white paint, at the bend in Paige Street.  I’ve written before how important that tunnel was.  I stole more than one kiss in that damp passageway.  I can’t speak for Mary, but I was proud when PE & MAW appeared one day on the dingy wall.  It was accompanied by a heart and an arrow.

I kept an eye on the Moonflowers.  They sprouted, just when the packet said they would, and they began to climb the string I had put in place for them.

We went to the Tioga County Fair.  I didn’t win a Teddy Bear for her, but we rode the Ferris Wheel and the Merry-go-round.

There was a small swinging seat on the side of our front porch, just beside the railing that was slowly being covered by the leaves of the Moonflower.  I remember the two of us sitting on the swing while the sky grew black as ink over Cemetery Hill and a spectacular thunderstorm broke out, complete with hail, lightning and the closest thunder you could imagine.  But we were dry and cozy on the swing and the Moonflowers got a healthy drink of water.

We canoed on the Susquehanna, often paddling up to Hiawatha Island, owned at the time by the family of one of my best friends, Pete Gillette. (That was the last summer I ever saw Pete).

As the days drifted into mid-August, I knew my days at home were quickly winding down.  Arrangements had been made for me to get a ride to Louisiana (where I was going to attend college) with Cathy Brown and her family.  Cathy would later become Mrs. Craig Phelps (another of my closest friends who lived across the street).  Even later, Cathy would lose her son and then “Doc” himself.  I miss him terribly.

I never knew if Craig could see the Moonflowers from his house.  It would have been easy if he knew where to look.

The vines of the flowers continued to climb.  My day of departure was coming.  It became a race.  I packed.  The Moonflowers grew.  They grew up fast, like I felt my high school years had done.  My school days flashed by me in minutes, not years.

The days finally arrived.  The Brown’s were going to pick me up in a few hours.  I went out onto the front porch.  The buds were ready to open any minute, it seemed.

I left Owego never seeing the Moonflowers bloom.

A few months later, my relationship with my girl friend ended.  I never got to see the bloom of that flower, either.

The following summer, I found out that all the things I worried about, did indeed come true.  Nothing was ever, ever the same again.

I never planted Moonflowers after the summer of 1965.




The Night They Pulled The Plug in Louisiana

It was a long time ago–perhaps the late 1960’s or early 1970’s.

It was the wrong time, the wrong place and the wrong evening to be holding a pair of tickets to a Steppenwolf concert.

I attended college in the deep south in the mid-1960’s.  In itself, there’s nothing strange about that.  The problem was that I was from Upstate New York—I was a Yank.  Keep in mind that the march in Selma had taken place only a few months before my arrival.  The Freedom Riders (northern agitators) were a recent memory.  The first view I had of my college town was that of a KKK member (in full pointed cap and gown) directing traffic to a rally.  I found out soon that the 100 years since the end of the Civil War was like yesterday to many of my classmates.

I was looked upon with suspicion because I was one of only a few Yanks attending college there at the time.

Louisiana, I learned, was actually two states.  South Louisiana was Cajun country.  Mostly Catholic, the population of the lower half of the state loved a good time–beer, shrimp and the jazz of Bourbon Street.

It was very different in the northern half of the state where my college was located.  This was the heart of the “Bible Belt” south.  Strict morality and antebellum southern charm was the norm.  It would be fair to say that in the time I was there, I could sense a lack of “liberal” attitudes and a strong Baptist belief in the evils of good old rock and roll.

Somehow, the very popular group, Steppenwolf, got itself booked in the local civic center.  And I had tickets.

Their major hit and theme song, “Born To Be Wild”, was to become the key song to “Easy Rider”.  I couldn’t wait to rock out to “Get your motors running…”  A civic center full of youths were of the same mind.  I knew I was in for a rocking’ evening.  Then, only a few songs into the show, things went wrong.

The group was in the middle of another of their hits, “The Pusher”.  When John Kay, the lead singer, sang the words: “Goddamn the pusher man”.  The authorities in charge of the arena decided that such a curse word was not allowable.  They seemed to have missed the whole point of the song which is to curse the pusher–curse the evil.

All they had to hear was “Goddamn”, and that was enough.

We were all on our feet when the music stopped.  The band looked around, searching for a wiring error.  The stage lights went up.  Someone had pulled the plug, literally, on the concert.

Amid the confusion and yelling, the band left the stage.  Someone in a dark suit, looking like a cross between Pastor Bill and a funeral director, took the mike and mumbled something I couldn’t understand.  The house lights were all on.

The audience was not liking what was happening.  The shouting grew louder.  The tension grew.  The anger of the ticket holders rose.

Finally, after about 10 minutes into this fiasco, John Kay and the band returned to the stage.  What he said into the mike, I can still hear to this day.

“Thank you.  But we’re never going to play in this f#@king town again.”

Then they went full-tilt into “Born To Be Wild”.  The house went crazy.  I wasn’t rocking to the music.  I just stood there and looked at the cheap seats behind the stage and on the upper level.  These teenagers were dancing in the aisles—the scene was something like you’ve seen in the film “Woodstock”.  I felt a profound sorrow for these kids—they only wanted to rock out and dance.  They weren’t pot smoking hippies—they were just young teenagers dancing on their seats, starved for some of the ’60s magic.

They looked to me like they were born to be wild…if just for a few minutes.