Happy Birthday

I woke up early this morning, due in part I’m sure to the end of daylight savings time. No one else was stirring, but there was evidence that my hosts had been up. I padded around the quiet house for a bit, not wanting to head out to Camille’s for my morning Media Empire session without touching base with them first. On the stove was a bowl of pumpkin seeds, scooped out of Jack-o-Lanterns the day before, waiting to be roasted.

Tara has been fighting a cold the entire time I’ve been here. I’ve felt vaguely guilty about going out with Jesse while his bride lays at home sick and pregnant, and Tara’s been feeling guilty about not being a better host. All the guilt you need, only half price! Yesterday evening we finally all went out together to a really nice Thai restaurant in Raleigh. The place earned high marks from all of us.

This morning I settled in and read for a while, but I had a hankering for broadband. I was just getting set to leave when Jesse came downstairs, looking tired. After obligatory “good mornings” and whatnot Jesse said, “Tara’s in labor.”

I’m no expert, but I suspect the Panang Beef. There was something about that delicious curry that probably set things off. Pregnant women, take note.

Jesse and I discussed plans for a while and then I headed over here. The roads were empty early on a Sunday morning, and the low sun brought out what color was left in the leaves. The grass lawns around the churches are silvered, heavy with dew. The air is still, as if the world is holding its breath. There is anticipation; change is coming to all of us, and this Indian Summer day is a chance to look back at the good times, to feel the reverberations of the season past, but also a chance to look ahead.

Apparently there’s a chance that the labor is a false alarm, or that things will go slowly, so today may not be the day. I am standing by, prepared to offer what help I can, but in general I think I can be the most help by staying out of the way. I had already planned to head out tomorrow morning, ready to embark on the last leg of my tour, one that may not really qualify as being part of the tour at all, as it will probably not involve any exploration of the continent. I simply need to get to the same city named on my plane ticket—San Francisco. I’ve got a hankerin’ for that Rice-a-Roni.

So, happy birthday, <name to be determined based on gender of child>, welcome to the world, whether today as a goblin or tomorrow as a saint.

Halloween

I went out with Jesse to Joe and Jo’s last night. We sat in the cool, misty night air under the awning on the front patio and enjoyed the smoke-free atmosphere. We talked about a lot of stuff, like being happy and liking beer, about the perfect buzz, about the past and about the future. There was no table service out there, but Kelly brought us one round after I reminded her that we were her favorite customers. How that fact had up until then escaped her I’m not sure. It was a fine evening, and most congenial.

After a while a large group of kids (they seemed like kids to me anyway) gathered on the patio, all in costume. It was a birthday party. I remembered why I like Halloween so much. I’m not into getting all dressed up myself (the time I went as a ho to a Pimp ‘n’ Ho party notwithstanding), but I do enjoy seeing other people all dressed up. Especially people younger and more attractive than I am.

“That girl in the black angel costume is really cute,” Jesse said. “You should hit on her.” I just laughed. Jesse perhaps had been misled by my easy banter with Kelly the waitress and thought I could use that ability to cut a particular woman out of her party and strike up a conversation. I bet you could train a sheepdog to help with something like that. It would make a good beer comercial anyway – you could start with footage from a real sheepdog competition where the dog is separating the indicated sheep from the rest of the herd and cut to some jolly happy outdoor party scene and have a guy indicate which girl he’s interested in. The dog would run off and be cute and adorable and all that, and slowly pull her out of the party so the guy could strike up a happy jolly conversation with her. It has nothing to do with beer, but not many beer commercials do.

But I digress. Something about the beers last night is making it hard for me to stay on one subject this morning. I had no specially trained border collie, and really no urge to even try. Anyway, there is a crucial difference between chatting with a waitress and striking up a conversation with a stranger. The hired help has to laugh at my jokes and at least stay close long enough to see if I need anything. They’re a captive audience. That gives me the time I need to wear them down to the point where someday they actually are happy to see me. I estimate that takes about three and a half weeks of regular exposure.

In fact, this is a measure of just how successful I was with Kelly. I had the camera with me last night, so I decided to take her picture. She was bussing tables on the patio and I held up the camera and said, “Hold still.” She held still and smiled dutifully, but it was gloomy outside and my first attempt didn’t come out well. “Can I move yet?” she asked. “Hold on one more sec,” I said. “Because it’s raining out here,” she finished. I made some big points then. (In my own defense she did come in under the awning and give me another chance to take her picture.)

It will be interesting to see how much the process is further slowed when I’m unable to flash my rapier wit in Czech. (When I put it that way, maybe it’ll help if they can’t understand what I’m saying.) I should be working harder to learn the tongue of my soon-to-be-adopted home. They conjugate nouns there, those wacky czechs.

I wonder if American Culture Poisoning has grown in the Czech Republic to the extent that people dress up for halloween. I hope so. That’s something I’ll miss.

See? I got back to the original topic eventually.

I’ve noticed a lot of people here in the coffee shop with buck teeth this morning.

Request For Proposals

By far the most entries in this blog have been in the category “Jer’s Homeless Tour”. Not surprising, really, since that’s been the center of my life for seven months. In a few days, however, I will have a home again, in faraway Prague, and the name will no longer fit. So here’s the plan: You guys submit suggestions for what the next phase of the journey should be titled, then we can vote on them in a poll, with maximum ballot box stuffing. Jesse already had a suggestion, but I’ll let him post it up in a comment.

So what’s it going to be, guys?

Camille’s

Location: Camille’s Sidewalk CafĂ©, Raleigh, North Carolina

Accelerated regularization does not apply exclusively to bars. Having spent two consecutive mornings at the same place, I am already recognized by at least some of the staff. “Back at the office?” one woman asked me today. Yesterday she had asked whether I was getting a good wireless signal. When I was leaving around noon today she asked, “On your lunch break?”

“See you tomorrow,” I answered.

It’s a nice enough place to spend a few hours, sipping tea and presiding over my media empire. There’s no easily accessible electricity there, which is probably a good thing, because the Internet is there, and that means I’m in constant danger of spending more time farting around than actually writing. Yesterday the discipline was good, today not so much. The media whore had to be appeased.

* * *

Now it is tomorrow, and I am back here. As I walked in the door the woman behind the counter said, “Tea?” even before I reached her. I think that makes me a regular, in only three days. Not bad. I wonder if they’ll miss me when I’m gone.

A V of geese just went by outside, heading south. It’s getting colder here—last night I even wore long pants. Leaves are falling, pushed in restless swirls by aimless breezes. There are pumpkins on doorsteps and the corn fields are brown and dry. It seems appropriate that my trip is also in its autumn. The summer of Jer is coming to a close, turn, turn, turn, and all the leaves are brown.

Went out to a bar last night and watched the baseball game while sipping Old Speckled Hen. A darn fine beer, I assure you, and good conversation to go with it. I haven’t had a chance to just hang out with Jesse for a long time. Jesse’s is a good place to end the tour, talking with an old friend about what this whole adventure has done to me and for me, and talking about the road, the journey, and the destination. Jesse’s much-better-rounded education gives him lots of interesting things to contribute, and his natural creativity leads to interesting jumps.

That’s about it for today; I’m concentrating on a nonfiction piece that I will be submitting for publication if I can get it to not suck. There’s also a couple of bugs in Jer’s Novel Writer for me to fix, and a pacing issue in the final confrontation scene in The Monster Within. If you’re pining for more words from me, I suggest you go back and reread The Cowboy God. I’m pretty happy with that one, despite its warts.

The Cowboy God

The white sign seems to glow in the gray of the rainy afternoon. It stands at the edge of a Texas byway, alone, weeds clinging to the two whitewashed two-by-fours holding it up. COWBOY CHURCH it says in simple red letters. Below the words a red arrow points off to the right into the gloom.

My wet brakes don’t grab at first, but once they boil off the water I slow and turn off the blacktop and look down a long, straight dirt road. No doubt about which way to go. Gently I pull forward, even that little nudge making my wheels spin for a moment before taking hold. The ground is saturated; water stands in a sheet over the mud of the road.

I creep along for a mile or two, glimpsing the road ahead for a fraction of a second with each pass of the wipers before the downpour obliterates my view again. Finally I make out a structure ahead, gray like the rest of the world. In front is a large area clear of weeds; I pull into that. The building is a large steel structure, a barn with a modest steeple at the crown of the roof over the door. I park next to the only other car in the lot, a faded blue Oldsmobile from sometime in the ’70’s. One of its windows is down and water is collecting in the footwell. A Bible lies getting sodden in the front seat. I push it farther over, out of the direct rain. I open the car’s door to roll up the window, but there is no crank handle.

Already wet, I dash up the steps to the front door. In the inadequate protection of the front porch I try to scrape the mud off my shoes. The wind is tossing the rain around and I am getting progressively wetter. This is a cowboy church, I decide, they should be used to a little mud. I slip through the door and close it quickly behind me, the sound overwhelmed by the drumming of the rain on the metal roof.

I am in a vestibule partitioned off from the sanctuary by walls that don’t reach the ceiling. Carved wood doors in front of me lead into the main chamber. To one side is a folding table with mimeographed sheets in various pastels. One stack is of light blue sheets neatly folded in two, with a line picture of the church on the front. Beneath are the simple words “Cowboy Church” and a date, past or future I do not know. Finally, in fancier script it says, “It’s never too late.”

I set the paper back down and square the pile. There’s nothing left but to go inside. The door is heavy but moves easily on its hinges; I close it with a gentle click and turn to inspect the room. I am standing at the back of the sanctuary. Folding metal chairs are lined up neatly in rows across the concrete floor. At the far end of the space is a modest altar. On one side of the room is a cast-iron stove glowing invitingly, near it is a folding table with a pair of large coffee urns. On each side near the front hang long banners of red cloth depicting Jesus doing a variety of good things. The lights are off; the only light comes from a row of small windows down each side of the building and a pair of large skylights. The place lacks the soaring majesty of the great cathedrals and the simple joy of the modern house of worship. This is the Cowboy Church, all right.

I step forward into the Cowboy Church, not sure why I came, not sure what to to.

In the Cowboy Church, pray to the Cowboy God.

“Hello?” The voice comes from the back, behind the altar. There are two doors there, one on each side, leading through another partition to spaces unknown in back. The voice is small, and female. A church mouse.

“Hello,” I say. Suddenly I feel like I’m intruding. I should have knocked. “The door was open.”

The door on the right opens and a figure emerges, small and gray and lost in the gloom. “Of course,” she says. She steps forward into the splash from one of the windows. Her hair is dark and very long. Her skin is pale. She looks moonlit. “Preacher’s not here,” she says.

“That’s all right,” I say. “I’m looking for the Cowboy God.”

She takes another step forward and stops, back in shadow, but I can feel her watching me. After a moment she says, “We got the same God as everyone else.”

I nod slowly, but then shake my head. “No,” I say.

What kind of God would a cowboy create? To whom does a cowboy pray while the rain pours off his hat brim in a steady stream and all he has to look at are the filthy asses of the cows plodding in front of him? It wouldn’t be some great being promising a life of comfort and joy. It wouldn’t hold out the promise of Heaven. A true cowboy sees Heaven every day. If he didn’t he would have packed up and gone to the city long since. The Cowboy God doesn’t bring promises and doesn’t offer hope. The Cowboy God is the kind of God that sits at the next barstool, listening to Willie and sipping Bud from a long-neck bottle. He’s a little run down himself—his back is bothering him from all the heavy lifting and his knee goes out from time to time. Maybe the cowboy’s foot is broke and his shoulder takes longer to get going each morning. It’s not worth mentioning because there’s nothing to be done about it and there’s work that’s got to be done tomorrow. They’ll both be getting up before the sun, and tending to their business. It’s the hardship as much as anything else that makes the cowboy who he is; take that away and you take away his soul.

They don’t say much, the cowboy and his God; not much really needs saying. Each is a comfort to the other, a source of strength. After a couple more beers they shake hands, maybe clap a shoulder, and leave. The cowboy climbs in his truck, the manufacturer more a source of religious fervor than the God he prays to, and he wishes his God a safe journey home and feels in his heart the blessing returned. The cowboy might in a real pinch ask his God for a blessing, but he’ll give the Lord his best wishes every day. The cowboy knows what it’s like to carry a burden.

She’s taken another step forward, into the light of the next window. One eye is as gray as the day outside, the other is lost in shadow. She is trying to look into my soul. “What is it you want?” She sounds suspicious, protective, as if I might be a threat to the Cowboy God. Have I come into his lair to call him out, like some gunslinger in the old west? She stands shyly, her straight hair pushed back behind her ears, her hands clasped in front of her. She is wearing a brown skirt, her legs two pale stakes like the signposts. Over her white shirt is a brown coat that matches the skirt. She stands, afraid, ready to defend her God.

“I just want to ask him a question,” I say.

She relaxes a little but suspects a trap. “Preacher will be back soon.”

“All right,” I say, but I’m not interested in him.

“Can I get you come coffee? I just made some in the back.”

“Thanks.”

While she scuttles off to fetch the coffee I drift over to the comfort of the stove. I look out the window, to where the Cowboy God really lives. “What’s it all about?” I ask. My breath fogs the glass.

“Did you say something?” she asks, bringing me a styrofoam cup filled with steaming black coffee.

I accept the cup. By the window I see that her hair is lighter than I first thought, but here eyes are still gray, and open a little wider than seems natural. Her lips are pale, almost indistinct, and pressed together. Shadows under her eyes give her a weariness that speaks of experience and gives her otherwise youthful face a gravity that makes her age impossible to guess. I sip the coffee. It’s good and strong. Cowboy Coffee, I suppose. “Thank you,” I say. “I was just asking my question.”

“Oh,” she says. Perhaps she is distressed that I could be on speaking terms with her God, that I didn’t talk to the preacher first. More than that she is curious.

The sound of rain had faded so slowly I hadn’t noticed its absence, but now it resumes with more furor than ever. The day grows even darker outside. A clatter begins above, and hailstones thrash the land.

“Guess you got your answer,” she says, the corner of her mouth twitching upward even as she turns away, embarrassed for joking at my expense. I look at her pale profile, glowing white like the sign by the highway had. She is watching me from the corner of her round eye.

“Guess so,” I say, and I think she must be right.

She steps to the wood pile and selects a log, then opens the stove and delicately places it inside. The yellow light gives her face some life as she inspects the fire. “You should wait till the storm passes before you drive,” she says. She almost has to shout to be heard over the hammering on the roof.

Odds and Ends

Shreveport to Chattanooga was mostly freeway. I saw the white stripe flash past in a hypnotic rhythm mile after mile, and wrote stuff in my head. I’m still working on getting the chapter of The Fish written as I felt it within my skull, but it could turn out to be really cool. The rest of the stuff I thought up I can’t start writing until November 1, but my 30-day novel is starting to take shape in my head, and I’m pretty stoked about it. More and more I feel confident that when people ask me what I do I can say, “I’m a writer.” That’s true enough, anyway, even if it does imply that I get paid to write.

Meanwhile, I crossed the 15,000-mile mark outside of Birmingham, Alabama. Safety Dance was playing on the radio. During the day I had been searching for a decent radio station as I moved along from state to state. I heard Turn the Page twice—once as a cover and twice the original version. Here I am, on the road again…

Speaking of radio stations, the best one I know of on this continent is 91 1/2 in Chattanooga. It’s a college station. “We guarantee sixty minutes every hour!” They played some good, good stuff, and quite a variety. I was sorry to pass out of range as I passed through the Appalachians this morning.

Lots of other things happened, the kind of mindless details I do my best not to burden you with. Raccoons should learn to look both ways. I didn’t hit any, but I think I was the exception.

It’s getting harder and harder to keep my hair from blowing in my eyes as I drive. Perhaps a mullet is in order.

On the way over to Asheville today the storage thingie on my fancy camera filled up. I guess that means I really do have to do something about processing all those pictures you guys have been moaning about not seeing. I’ll see what I can do in the morning. I think I got some pretty nice ones today. Highway 64 in Western North Carolina has to go on the list as one of the best drives ever. Honestly, though, I’d recommend driving it on a weekday. Once the camera was maxed out, I wanted nothing more than to enjoy the sinuous asphalt as it wound through the late October headless horseman forest, sending leaves flying in my wake.

Alas, much of the time I crept along behind people doing well under the conservative speed limit. These drivers had no clue whatsoever that they should pull to the side, even when they saw other drivers doing the same thing. I relaxed and enjoyed the drive anyway, but the rare taste of real driving left me yearning for more.

Reading over the last episode I posted, I see a serious omission. The sleeipes caught up with me before I finished, I supposed. I was in the lounge at the hotel, which almost had wireless Internet. No matter, really, I could post when I got back to the room. The bartender was Shelly, who was back after a month and the regulars were all very happy to see her. Slender with long straight dark hair, she had a ready smile and a sense of humor. I sat at the bar where I was advised the signal was strongest with my laptop open and lamented the intermittent, weak signal. There were a couple of other friendly regulars and overall the quiet bar was most congenial. Eventually I was the only customer, and after I talked to Shelly for a while I headed back the room with one last beer. I was enjoying the chat, but I’m in love with enough bartenders already. I decided to get out while the getting was good.

Now I’m at Jesse’s house, and it’s nice. I’m in the nursery, so I better be ready to get the hell out of here if the baby arrives.

A Long Drive Over a Short Distance

Location: Roadside Inn and Suites, Shreveport, Louisiana
Miles: 14540.7

The day woke up before I did, Friday somehow, Thursday missing. Sneaky little Thursday, slipping past without notice, a skunk of a day, a cowardly, conniving little day afraid to show its face when Real Men are checking their calendars. Now it’s time to move on. Past time, really. I wake up antsy. I need the road. I turn down the bike ride so I can pack up and get going.

First, of course, I have to dial in and see how my media empire is fairing. I haven’t been doing that regularly while in San Angelo, but now that I’m returning to my uproots I’m getting back in synch with the blog. It’s funny the care and feeding required. While I am at Bill’s computer the day gets darker and darker. Soon it is dumping rain. Oh, grand.

Rain in San Angelo I’m still not sure what route I’m going to take. Louisiana sounds good, but I need to check a map. The car is at the curb, so during a relative lull I dash out to grab the atlas. No time for shoes, and even had there been time, I don’t think I would have put them on. Splish, splash, out to the car. Open the door, grab the atlas (luckily in plain view) stop to see if the water in the street is going to come up higher than the door. Looks good, so a soggy dash back to the house.

The concrete on the front porch is much slicker than the the walkway. I slip in true Three Stooges fashion, feet sailing up into the air. Luckily I don’t get my arm down to break my fall, or I would have broken my arm. I land hard on my hip and my back. Saying a few choice words I lie on my back, catching my breath and taking inventory. And getting wet, but that’s not important now. The hip is the early contender for being a problem, but seems to be working out. My left little toe hurts. Apparently when the rest of the foot let go, it tried to hold on. Poor, brave, little toe. The world was going to shit but that toe held its post to the very end, trying to stop the inevitable 165 pound disaster.

A toe toast is in order. Tooooooast!

Limping, shambling, I load the car, bid Bill a fond farewell, and off I go, into the teeth of the storm. Actually, I don’t know about teeth so much, but it sure as hell drooled a lot. Maybe the lightning was the teeth. There was plenty of lightning.

The speed limit was 70, I was doing 50 on average. Out there on the highway, rain positively bucketing, windshield wipers largely ineffective, I crept along. As the wiper blade passed in front of my vision I had for the briefest of instants a view of the highway ahead. I could see the tail lights of the cars in front of me, however. That is, until I meet some numb-nuts idiot driving a silver (rain-colored) minivan with no lights on. I start getting the feeling that there’s someone out there in front of me, and I peer extra-hard through the rain to try to get a fix on the stealth vehicle. Sure enough, someone’s out there, poking along at a safe-and-sane speed but completely hidden from his fellow drivers. Once I think I have a fix on him, I follow so no one else would ram the guy assuming no one would be so stupid as to drive in those conditions without tail lights. When the rain gets particularly peltilicious, I wonder just how much the guy will slow down, and if he stopped on the road, would I see him in time. He seems like a stop-in-the-road kind of driver.

Finally we reach a town. Dearly I want to pull up next to him and catch his attention. I want to get him to roll down his window despite the conditions so I can scream at him “Turn on your lights you f%#ing stupid m#%^@ f!#$%!! Turn on your lights before you f&#%ing kill someone, you dumbass [email protected]%*head! (I like cartoon swearing.) I am not to be satisfied. Instead I pull over for gas and brunch. Getting out of the car reminds me that I am not in top shape. I drag myself up, standing in an inch of water, felling my socks saturate, to discover that the gas station is closed. I don’t figure this out right away; the pump is still powered up. No gas comes out is all. Painfully I climb back into the car and move on to the next place.

Suddenly the rain has stopped. The dumbass is somewhere up the road, unaware of his fuming guardian angel, placidly going on his way. Motherfucker.

The delay puts me in Fort Worth and Dallas at the peak of rush hour, compounding my behindness. Somewhere along the way I had managed to put the top down, but in the stop-and-go I must put it back up to keep the now-gentle rain out. Not a problem. I find a radio station that sucks less than the others and creep along, thinking about the New Pantheon and how the pain in my toe is shooting through my foot now.

I leave Dallas behind and as the night closes in I get the feeling. The road feeling. The air is heavy and damp, and the moon shines down. All around me the frogs are singing, punctuated by the occasional rasp of a cicada. The trees are real trees now, the forests dark and mysterious places in the deepening dusk. I interrupt the Mighty Mighty Bosstones covering “Detroit, Rock City” to listen to the night. This is why there are convertibles. I am in the night, smelling its pungency, hearing its raucousness, tasting its mystery. This is the South. A South we didn’t invent, but must come to accept. I am here now.

My good fellow, I tell you what

After Lil’ J’s Sports Bar, I headed back over to the Lone Wolf Pub, known forevermore as Shae’s bar. Shae was behind the bar rather than waiting tables, but she recognized me and welcomed me back. It didn’t strike me right away, but tonight she wasn’t as touchy-feely as she had been. First thought: she’d read my blog. She wasn’t as physical with anyone else either. Second thought: she was sweet on someone in the bar (besides me). Probably none of the above. Maybe she was just too tired, or too busy, or she just approaches bartending differently than she approaches waitressing. I didn’t ask. After writing a little bit at a table I packed up and moved over to the bar. Most of the stools were taken, but there was an empty stool between a tall, slender elderly woman and a snow-bearded man.

Shae was pretty busy, so I was not basking in her radiance the way Bill and I had the night before. No matter, there was Marjorie. She sat with ramrod posture, and when she spoke it was with a patrician English accent. Patrician because along with her excellent diction and hard-to-pinpoint accent there was a world-weary tone, as if she had seen damn near all there was to see. She asked me how I was, and whether I had been in the bar before. I answered, but after that I was struck by some random thought or other and I missed the point when I should have asked the polite counter-question. Silence ensued. By the time I realized my faux pas it was too late. Silence stretched.

Eventually, of course, an opportunity came to hit the reset button and strike up a conversation. She has been in Texas for forty years, and I had to laugh when she said, “I tell you what.” She likes the old songs. Something came up that started her singing one, and I helped her finish the verse. She slapped me on the back with surprising vigor—the point of impact tingled for several minutes. “I love those old songs,” she said again, and I knew she was drunk.

Snowbeard came back from the bathroom and wanted a part of the conversation. He had a way to measure age that he needed to share with me. “I remember when I could pee ten feet,” he said. “Now I just hope I don’t hit my shoes.” We discussed the technical details for a while. I liked the measure; I can still pee for distance.

Marjorie had been waiting for a friend, who finally showed up. Where Marjorie was regal, her friend was overpainted. Where Marjorie was poised, her friend was sloppy. She had just come from another bar. Marjorie introduced me. “You can call me Foxy Roxie,” the friend said. “Hello, Roxie,” I said. She turned out to be all right, but I knew the gentlemen would all be going for Marjorie.

It was soon time to go home, a point where staying will just lead to trouble, and cab rides, and who knows what else. I don’t cross that line without a safety net, and there was none that night. Shae was gone (I caught a shitty picture of her; I’ll try to fix it up and put it here), so there was no longer any reason to stay. Out the door I went.

Bars are full of people like that. For all the ones I’ve met, I’ve missed ten. I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing.

Boy, I Tell You What

Location: A sports bar somewhere in San Angelo
Miles:

You know, this is a nice enough town. Bill has settled right in; he’s even becoming part of the Establishment. Coming up will be his third campaign for mayor. He’s a Rotarian. He volunteers in the community. Yep, Bill is becoming one of them. It’s a large enough town that there are the amenities and while perhaps there aren’t the same cultural opportunities here as in other places at least there is a university to soften the, uh, West Texas Cowboy *cough*redneck*cough* influence.

There are lots of elderly drivers in this town, creeping from light to light and making left turns with agonizing care. The landscape is dotted with small towns, but when people get older and want to be closer to care, shopping, and other old folks this is where they come. I can’t blame them; this would be a good place to be retired.

There is also a wide variety of bars. Bill has shown me several, from the Lone Wolf Pub (which I now call Shea’s bar), which is a fairly divey place but they take their darts very seriously, to the newly-remodeled Oasis which would fit in just fine in downtown San Diego. Not swanky, but nice. Lots of wood paneling, trendy light fixtures turned down low, and whatnot. The modern version of the fern bar.

Those bars all have one thing in common. They don’t open until 4 or perhaps even later. What’s a boy to do? Well, this boy headed to the the mostly-dead downtown. I figured since the government buildings were still down there that there had to be at least one bar. Bureaucrats gotta drink, after all. I went down the main drag, witnessing the destruction wrought by the big box stores and strip malls, a side effect of the automobilization of America. If I was Bill, I would come up with a plan to lure businesses back down there and make that my Mayoral platform. I doubt Bill would agree with the government getting it’s fingers into business’s business.

I found no bar. There was a restaurant that probably would have sufficed, but I was looking for a bar. I drove on, and was suddenly surrounded by giant churches. After the congregation finished praying for their teams, where would they go to watch them? I kept driving.

I don’t know where I am now. I saw the sign for something-or-other Sports Bar. It didn’t look happening, exactly, but there were a couple of cars in front. I pulled up right in front of the reflectorized glass front door and read the hours. Open at 2 p.m. I looked at my clock. 2:05. Pay dirt, baby! I secured my car and went to the door. Locked. With a heavy sigh I turned back to the Miata when I heard the keys rattling in the lock. Praise Jesus. “Sorry about that,” the guy said as he opened the door. “We just barely opened.”

“Dang,” said I, “It’s tough finding a place to drink at two in this town.” The guy sitting at the bar, reading his book and sipping his draft beer, laughed. There is a group of three at one other table and that’s it for the patrons so far, so the bar is not yet smoky. I am currently the only person in here who does not speak Spanish, although everyone speaks English. Televisions surround the bar, while two pool tables in good condition dominate the center of the room. Beer propaganda covers the walls, broken occasionally by Halloween crap. The ceiling is festooned with streamerrs and banners for competing NFL teams and competing beers. The beer selection is limited, but not too expensive. I don’t think they have booze at all. It’s a beer and wine bar, without the wine. As I was typing that, the bartender came over and told me they have free hot dogs. I’m getting to like this place. Lil J’s Sports Bar is the name of the joint. I’ll tell you this, it’s the best bar in town before 4 p.m. on a weekday.

Apologies for the Silence

Just a quickie here to explain my relative silence. The problem is that Bill is such a good host. When I go to the bar he comes to, so I leave my technology behind. Then he’s driving which means I’m not (he won’t fit in my car) which means, well, bring on the Big-Ass Beers! That means when I get home I have lots of things to say but not the fingers to say them with.

Oh, all right. The real reason is the game he has on his computer that swallowed my brain for a few days. But that’s all going to change today. I’m going to a bar and I’m taking my laptop with me, by gum!

On an unrelated note, Squirrel Chatter is at an all-time high, and — AND — yesterday as I was pusing my flat-tire bike (healthy lifestyle courtesy Bill) the Black Squirrel of San Angelo scampered across my path. I am not sure what evil this portends, but please take the necessary precautions.

Finally, Haloscan seems to be having trouble right now. If it weren’t for all the comments already in their system, I would consider switching. Hopefully by the time you read this the problem will be fixed.

In Google We Trust

As those have been around know, sometimes I like to take a look at the searches that lead people to this site. Sometimes I put the search string in pig latin here so the actual search will still go to the intended episode. This episode is not as well cross-referenced as previous ones, but on dialup it’s just too painful to go back and look up the episodes that were hit.

  • XML RSS feed seduction – I’ve always found RSS to be pretty sexy too.
  • horrible accident pictures – I hope that my lovely words overcame their morbid fascination. I probably just fed it.
  • all curse words in pig latin – I guess they couldn’t uckingfay do it themselves.
  • “steve martin” “no pants” – now there’s a real fan.
  • free parking lot sex meps – Ooo! I want one! It’s the word meps that brought them to me.
  • sweaty ass damp pants – no comment
  • spaceshipone escape velocity – get this one pretty often. No, kids, it does not reach escape velocity. Not even close. Not even close to close.
  • rain water and grain alcohol – it’s all about purity of essence
  • stuff that’s in montana like mountains and some other things – it’s the other things that interest me most
  • unkyhay esusjay ontestcay – interest is starting to pick up on that topic again.
  • amy carmay it rest in peace. On an italian search site this blog came up in the top slot!
  • sweaty ass problem – it’s never been a problem for me
  • drunk women get haircuts – a new reality show?
  • JOJO HOW OLD IS SHE – I’m not telling, but she’s been my beer slave for a long, long time. I guess Jojo is also some up-and-coming kid pop star. Just what we need.
  • drink shots get drunk – You’ve come to the right place, baby!
  • Fuck everyone poems – I’m going to have to look around for those myself.
  • 2th birthday game ideas – I’m sure among us we can come up with some good suggestions…
  • my college sex tour – That’s what I’m dong wrong! I’m not going to colleges and having sex!
  • peterbilt bumper chicken lights – for truckers who already have the flashing pink flamingos.
  • elk poop picture – I should have taken some better shots when I was in Yellowstone. Here’s the best I have.

Well! That’s quite a list and there’s lots more I left off. Of course there were the usual searches for culinary advice and squirrel violence, and many for bars, especially the tourist trap in Jackson Hole.

On a barely-related note, the SSDC episode was linked on some site called madville.com on Monday. Wow! by far my biggest day ever, but not one person left a comment.

Episode 7: When It Rains…

Alice was not alone when I got back to the office. There was a man standing on the far side of the room, as far from her desk as possible, whom she skewered with a venomous look for my benefit as I walked in. She didn’t like him.

I couldn’t blame her. He was a big man with a broad face, his heavy-lidded eyes almost bulged over a nose that had been broken more than once. His tailored suit was straining around the middle but it was the bulge from the shoulder holster that got my attention. One of his scarred hands was never far from it, as if he thought there would be a quick-draw contest. If there was, he would certainly have the advantage; my gat was in the safe in the next room.

“There’s another one inside,” Alice said. “Even worse. This one’s just stupid.”

“Watch it, sister,” he growled.

Alice looked back at me. “You OK?” she asked. “I heard there was some trouble.”

That girl could hear cockroaches whispering secrets from across the city. “You don’t have to worry about me,” I said, but I was glad she did. “You know how it is: when it rains it pours. So who is it in there?”

“He didn’t give his name. He’s not a very polite man.” She raised her voice on the last part, to make sure she could be heard through the glassed door. “He said he had some work for you.” She wrinkled her nose. “I’d rather starve.” You gotta admire the spunk in that girl, even though it was sure to get her into trouble someday.

I didn’t want to go in there. I needed time to sort things out, just me and the bottle hanging heavy in my coat pocket. If you don’t stop and think sometimes you get sloppy. I took a breath. “Hold my calls, Doll,” I said. “And don’t antagonize this guy. If he’s as dumb as you say he might try to shut you up. It would cost him plenty, but morons are like that.” He took a step toward me, his face turning purple. “Easy, Boss,” I said, holding up my hands, “Just having a little fun”

“I don’t like your fun.”

“I didn’t ask you to. I didn’t ask you to come in here at all. If you’re going to stay in here bothering my secretary, then take your hat off and sit down like a civilized gentleman.” I gestured to the chair we used on the odd occasion when a client came in. We’d put them in the chair for a few minutes to make them think I was a busy man. He hesitated. “Take a load off, relax,” I said. “We’re all friends here.” The oaf had been taking orders all his life; all I had to do was sound like I was in charge and he buckled. The look he gave me said that he disagreed about us being friends. The chair groaned under his weight. I turned to Alice. “If he bothers you any more, tell him to wait in the hall,” I said.

I was just stalling, I knew. I was dealing with the insignificant problem, the one I knew I could handle, while the real danger waited in the next room. I could turn and leave, skip town and keep running the way I had told Lola Fanutti to run, but I knew that my best escape route included one more visit to the safe in the next room. I couldn’t turn yellow in front of Alice, anyway, even if yellow was the same as smart. I pulled out the bottle and shed my coat. A bottle of liquor in my hand would perhaps disarm my guest, and it was the best weapon I could put my hands on at the moment.

I turned and walked with what I hoped looked like confidence to the door and stepped through.

He was seated in the client chair, facing my desk, legs crossed, savoring a thin cigar. The smoke rose in a thin trail, feeding a layer of haze in the room that filled the cieling but stopped just short of the top of his slick black hair. If Lola Fanutti smelled like money, this man smelled like power. The kind of power that doesn’t even need money, transcends it, the kind of power that simply has to ask for what it wants and expects to be satisfied. If money is an issue, someone else will pay.

“Mr. Cello,” I said. He didn’t stand so I went straight around the desk and sat in my chair. It was subtly taller, but with Cello that didn’t matter.

I had never met Cello before, and I had never seen a photograph, but this couldn’t be anyone else. Presidents had kissed this man’s ass. He was about as close to a King of the World as there was likely to ever be. Sure, there might be some bankers over in Europe somewhere who were more powerful, but they would shun the title, preferring to remain “friends of the king”. Cello had been born in the Bronx, with nothing but a keen business sense and ruthless efficiency. He was the biggest shark in the pool. In the ocean. He’d managed to stay on top for a long time, even as the feds trumpeted victory over so-called “crime bosses”. The man sitting in my office was the boss of the bosses.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Lowell,” he said in an easy, conversational voice.

“To what do I owe the pleasure?” I asked.

“Your secretary,” he said. “I like her. You are very lucky.”

“Sooner or later she’ll come to her senses.”

“When she does, give her my card.” He flipped a heavy white card onto my desk. It shone against the dingy oak.

“I don’t think she likes you.”

He laughed softly. “I need more people who are not afraid of me,” he said. “Which brings me to why I’m here. You have recently accepted a new client who I know very well. Better than you, certainly. I’m sure her story, while touching and plausible, was not entirely accurate. A complex woman, Mrs. Fanutti. One thing she likely told you is certainly true, however; she holds the key to vast wealth and power. Vast enough that even I find it interesting. The fact that she killed a man who was like a son to me motivates me further.”

“You’re wrong about two things,” I said.

“Oh?”

“First, Alice is too smart not to be afraid of you. Second, I didn’t take the job.”

“Interesting. Perhaps I misspoke before. I need people who can be honest with me, even if they are afraid. Your… Alice? She has that courage. You said no?”

“I told Mrs. Fanutti that what she asked wouldn’t work.”

He smiled, and took a slow pull on his cigar. The smoke billowed in twin plumes from his nostrils, then slowly rose into the cloud above. “She is subtle,” he said. “You will work for her, and not because I say so. She will make you want to help her. I wish I had that kind of power over men.” He shrugged. “But that is woman, no? Let me tell you a little more about her.”

Tune in next time for: The Black Widow!

Caught between a rack and a hard body

So much, so much, so much. Driving back from the bar tonight, after spending the whole evening composing what I was going to write, Bill said, “Don’t forget the Lolita factor.” Damn Bill. Damn all who have heard him laugh. Damn me.

Shae, our waitress for the evening, was about the friendliest person I have ever met. She had a way about her that made us feel right at home.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, you all know already that I have a soft spot for any woman who brings me beer. Shae was, honestly, different. She made me feel really special until I saw how she made the regulars feel even specialer. Still, before she was busy she pulled up a seat at our table and we had a chance to chat. Here’s a way I thought of to describe myself that won’t come as a surprise to those who know me: while I am verbally gregarious I am physically introverted. While I can (on a good day) engage strangers verbally, it takes far more than a good day for me to relax and allow familiar touches. Shea uses her hands to reinforce the contact she makes while she talks to you, or just walks past your table. With her, for whatever reason, I was comfortable. One time when she came up behind me she ran her hand up my spine. Boy that felt good. We talked about stuff, Bill making my aimless mission of drifting around the country sound much more important than it really is. We talked about itchy feet. Shea has difficulty staying in one place for a long time.

Shae is an attractive woman. “I don’t normally dress this way,” she said. “Well, I certainly appreciate it,” Bill replied. I must agree with Bill. There was another waitress there as well, young and cute smiley and all, thin and fit and generally hot, but our hearts and minds belonged to Shea. And to the Big-Ass Beers. (They actually call them Big-Ass Beers on the signs around the bar.)

But I’m racing ahead of the story. I’m sitting here now, aware of the smoke in my clothing, trying to figure how to tell you all the things that happend tonight. Triage is clearly in order; just because it was interesting to me doesn’t mean I should write about it.

We were there for a band. The No Dern Clue Mystery Family Revival Band. Bill knows the guy who put together the band, but this was their first public performance. We didn’t really know what to expect, but the guy’s previous bands played what Bill described as “eclectic country rock”. Not this band. I could see it was going to be a pretty big band when we sat down and I started counting microphones. Then the band members started to show up wearing black suits.

We sat and listened to the music, to grumbly growly vocals by the guitarist, to smoky raspy songs when the organ/acoustic/cornet player stepped up to the mike, sometimes singing with the cigarette still hanging out of his mouth, and to the clear tones of the bass player’s voice. The trumpet player could wail, and when he put a little growl into a riff the guitarist would spit right back with a grumble of his own. All the players could solo.

The core of the band was the horn line, however. The trumpet player, a little guy, middle aged, the one in the band that wore the black suit like he belonged in it, could quite simply wail. The sax and the flute were kicking ass, and the trombone wasn’t bad if a little more sterile than the others. Trumpet guy did a plunger solo, and it reminded me of a time when I was listening to amateur jazz in Scotland with Jesse and we were discussing the subpar plunger work. “You gotta feel like there’s a string from the plunger to the audience,” I said, or something like that. You’re trying to hold it shut, but eventually the drag it open.” This guy had that feel, that connection with us.

The band was at it’s best, however, when they were all grinding away together, getting big and ugly at the ends of songs, the red light shining on the bass drum jumping and throbbing like a vampire’s heart as the sound built to a train wreck where all the engineers were Picasso.

The only reason I know I got the name right is the flyer I pulled off the Men’s room door. Just below the name of the band it said “Saturday the 16th”. Half of October is gone. Time sure flies. My trip is almost over, or at least this part of it. I’ll have to come up with another name for the next part of my life.

Shae brought us another round and stopped to chat for a while. The tamale guys came through, and challenged her to a game of pool for some tamales. “Not tonight, hon,” she said. “He just wants to see me bend over,” she said to us, “I don’t need to in this outfit.” She was right about that. Ample amounts of ample chest were exposed. “My daugter saw me in this and said I must be going for the tips tonight.” Shae has a sixteen-year-old daughter, and in defiance of stereotype they get along. And that is the Lolita factor Bill mentioned on the way home. I imagined dating Shae, easy to do when a pretty woman is sa dang friendly with you, and I imagined meeting her daughter, who it only stands to reasin is every bit as pretty as her mother, while saying to myself “Look at her eyes look at her eyes only lookathereyeslookathereyes…” ’cause the last thing you want is for you date to catch you checking out her daughter, or even to think you were.

Oh, but the story gets better – even better than I realized at the time. While the band was playing two very attractive girls came in. I was concentrating on the band, so I paid them little heed. I did notice that they looked pretty young, but sad to say they all look young these days. Shae went over and talked to them, and they left. Here’s the thing I didn’t know at the time. Bill picked it up, but I was oblivious: Shae said to one of the girls, “Don’t call me Mom in here.” Shae then kicked them out. Yikes! That girl I was checking out was Shae’s kid. Luckily for all concerned, I found the mom to be more attractive. She came back over to our table and she said something like “Well, I got to be the bad guy tonight.” Not realizing that she had just kicked out her own daughter, I simply nodded sympathetically. At that point I was much more interested in the band and Shea’s breasts. But her daughter was cute, I’ll grant that. It’s the Lolita factor. When Bill first mentioned it, I had no idea how appropriate it was.

Bill said, “That’s the friendliest waitress I’ve ever met in my life.” Shea was that, hands down.

Big-Ass Beers in San Angelo

Location: Bill’s house, San Angelo, TX
Miles: 141nn.n

Driving between Clovis and Lubbock, I had the thought “Columbus was wrong.” The world is very flat out there. There is a town called Levelland. You can see a long way across the planar plain, and what you see is… telephone poles, power poles, and the occasional silo. The poles march in straight lines across the land, criss-crossing each other’s paths without rhyme or reason.

Windmill at Sunset Past Lubbock, as it started to get dark, the land started to roll a little bit. I rolled with it, cruise control set on exactly the speed limit, along with everyone else. A few people were going a wee bit over the limit, but there were no flagrant violators that I saw. Nevertheless I saw two drivers pulled over by cops. We got law and order in this state, son. It was a relaxing drive, however, as the road was nearly empty after 8:30. They also have early bedtimes out here. The night was dark. No moon and few lights left me imagining what the terrain was like outside the splash of my headlights.

Now I’m here in San Angelo (“The largest city in the country that’s not on an interstate,” Bill tells me.), helping Bill enjoy his weekend, which occurs on Wednesday and Thursday. Bill has been an excellent tour guide, showing me the sights. (In Clovis it was more about the smells.) Last night of course we went to a couple of bars, The Steel Penny and one Bill referred to as 5-point. The name refers to the 5-way intersection outside; the bar is named something else I don’t recall. It was bazooka night at 5-point. Bazookas are big-ass beers, something like 36 ounces. On Wednesday’s they’re both big and cheap. Two of my favorite attributes in a beer. Top it off with free hot dogs and a pretty bartender (did she say her name was Kelly? Kristen?) and you’ve got yourself a good place to hang.

Hang we did. Bill’s friend joined us and did his part to reduce the world beer supply. After a couple of those big ‘ol mofos we pushed on to the Steel Penny, which was pretty quiet but they had a good beer selection and lots of sports on the televisions. We sipped Dead Guy Ale slowly until it was time to head home. A couple of my rival presidential candidates were debating on TV, so we watched them blather on for a while.

Here’s something interesting: if the electoral college splits exactly 50-50, the House chooses the President and the Senate chooses the veep. The voting rules for the House are odd, but Bush would probably win there. The Senate is close, and if the Democrats pick up a couple of seats they would probably install Edwards as VP. What would Bush do without Cheney to give him instructions? I imagine that Rumsfeld would be even more influential than he is now.

But enough of all that silliness. It’s time to go out again. No great big beers tonight, I expect, but a guy’s gotta do what a guy’s gotta do.

Sing a Song for Sarah

How many of these details only seem interesting to me now, while they’re fresh and the free shots are still whispering sweet nothings to my cerebellum? Was Sarah’s sweet smile directed at me or was it for just another customer?

It was directed at me. “I love Billy Idol”, she said. “That was so awesome. Did you see The Wedding Singer?

“I really liked that movie,” I answered truthfully. She flashed me a smile that put Drew Barrymore to shame. Later her boyfriend showed up, and I chose not to notice the crazy mad desire that passed between the two. Although I could tell that I was at the back of Sarah’s mind. Already she was asking herself the difficult questions.

After a less than stellar attempt at Ring of Fire I was flipping through the song book when Sarah came by the table. “You liked the Billy Idol,” I said, “What should I sing next?” She came up with many, many ideas, only to find them not represented in the rather limited song list. Suddenly she exclaimed “Credence!” We flipped, and there were plenty of options. She left it to me to choose which one I would sing.

I looked over the list and realized that I am not John Fogerty. I committed myself to one of the slower ones so at least I cold keep up with the lyrics on the screen. This was going to be ugly. Bill, however, being the driver, was ready to go before my name (or actually, Zebart’s name) was called.