Thursday, October 24, 2013

Let Me Take You, Baby, Down To The River Bed



WAIST DEEP IN THE BIG MUDDY. I dove off of the bow of the 22’ Galaxy walk around, from the little prow out front where the anchor sits; off and out and down, headfirst about 5-6 feet into the brown, soupy, and surprisingly cold water.

The boat belonged to a friend of mine, whose daddy owned a local fast food franchise, I think it was. My friend was one of those kids who wasn’t too bad a guy, but put off a lot of people just by being a rich kid; so ironically he was a bit of an outsider, socially. Naturally enough, we became friends. I had a tendency back then to collect people like that – outsiders, misfits, weirdos, etc. Come to think of it, I still do.

I was solid with the ‘in’ crowd in school – from elementary on up – and truthfully, I suppose I was a regular member for the most part. But at the same time I found quirky, unpopular people interesting, too; and so I cultivated friendships with kids outside the social whirl as well as within it. I sat at the same table at lunch most days, with a bunch of my ‘in’ friends, but occasionally I’d feel compelled to sit somewhere else. Often I’d go sit at my younger brother’s table, on the other side of the cafeteria. He was two years behind me in school, and he and a bunch of his stoner friends sat together, not eating much, killing time before easing on out to the huge field between the cafeteria exit at the back of the school and the baseball field where, along with at least half of the people in second lunch, they’d chain smoke cigarettes and weed before the fifth period bell.

My brother got a kick out of it when I sat with him, and his estimation among his friends rose when I did. Those kids thought I was ‘cool’ just because I was older, if nothing else; and if sitting with them made them feel good and gave my brother some cachet, too, I was all for it. I don’t think I really bought into the adulation part, but then again, maybe I did, a little. I was, like, seventeen at the time. Being thought of as ‘cool’ back then was the pinnacle of achievement.

Anyway, sometimes I’d sit with my brother, and sometimes I’d kind of wander around and work the room, like a politician does. Whether I bought into what was projected onto me or not, let me tell you it is a nice feeling to randomly drop in somewhere and realize the people there are glad to see you, just glad you are there with them.

There was some nobility in all this on my part, I suppose; but on the other hand, I sometimes struggled with reconciling my dual set of friends/acquaintances, and I’m sorry to say I was a bit ashamed of my oddball friends sometimes, when the cool crowd was around.

Anyway, wandering around the cafeteria hanging out with the not-quite-so-cool kids was how I met my friend John, the one with the boat. Sometimes we’d ride around after school in his 1976 Corvette Stingray, with the T-tops off and the stereo turned up, drinking aimlessly. When spring came he would invite me over to swim and party at his house. It was a really nice house, with a big pool out back. So I started hanging around there a lot. After awhile, I wouldn’t even call first; I’d just drift in, whether John was there or not. If he wasn’t, I’d still go on in like I lived there, get something out of the fridge, then head on back to the pool house to change. His family was cool with this, by the way. His little sister was in junior high school then, that age where older guys were ‘dreamy’ and acting silly about it with one’s friends was the norm. I got the sense his parents thought it was great that John had a real friend who wasn’t hanging around just to mooch off of him (well, except for using the pool). After awhile, they pretty much treated me like an adopted son over there. That was sometimes preferable to what I was getting at home at the time, so I began going over to John’s house pretty often, and our friendship deepened.

During and after high school it was popular in the summertime to hang out on the Neches River on the weekends, if one wasn’t going to the beach or out of town. I didn’t have a speedboat or a jet ski – well, my dad had a 18’ run-about he used to fish out of, but I wasn’t allowed near it. I knew people who did have boats, though. I’d ice down a cooler of refreshments, put a couple of packs of Kents in a watertight Tupperware sandwich thing, and head for the public boat landing at Collier’s Ferry, or further down at the yacht club or Riverfront Park downtown. Just sit out there on my cooler for awhile, working on the tan and draining a few cold ones. Before long, someone I knew would cruise by, see me, and circle back around to pick me up. We’d ski or tube or just drink, and try to ingratiate ourselves with all the nice looking, bikini-clad women that seemed to be everywhere out on the river on those afternoons.

The main recreational area on the river was above the Port of Beaumont, north of the IH10 bridge; and on the particular day I am thinking of, we’d gone even further upriver, up above Lakeview on the Orange County side. There is a huge salt-water barrier there now; but before there had been a sandbar, where the main part of the river makes a fairly sharp turn. It was popular back then to run one’s boat aground on the sand in the shallow water, and then wade over to the sandbar, which was basically like a small beach. Lawn chairs, music, coolers of beer, Frisbees, women – it was the scene of an impromptu, kick-ass party on most weekends.

That day, we were slowly easing upriver, above the country club. It was wise to slow it down in that stretch. The channel was deep enough in the middle, but in the spring, during runoff, logs and even whole trees might wash down and snag and/or lie submerged around there. The water was muddy and tannin-colored, but still clear enough to see obstructions through, if you weren’t going too fast.

I looked around, and we had on board, besides my friend and myself, a couple of other friends of ours. College friends; we were all 19-20 then. And, we also had five or six 14-16 year old high school babes with us. West End upper middle class stuck-up lovelies; with tanning-booth tans, and gym-tight asses and legs and tits everywhere. The girls would get stupid drunk on maybe two beers, and then run around the boat in skimpy 1970s-style bikinis, causing a lot of commotion ... rubbing up against us older guys and stuff. It was all a bad fucking idea from the get-go, and we knew that, but it seemed inevitable. And we were drinking, too, so on that day in particular, common sense and good judgment were at a low ebb.

We’d set out that morning, the four of us guys, to ride around the lower reaches of the river, around a big jump and slalom course in a side channel, and ski for a few hours. Then we planned to cruise upriver and party away the rest of the day. And our plan was going along pretty well. We skied and swam and rode around all morning; and by the time we were ready to pack it in and head upriver, all of us needed to piss. Rather than diving back into the river or getting the boat off in some slough and peeing over the side, I suggested we ride down to the Civic Center. They had nice public restrooms there, right on the dock; and meanwhile we could see if there were any shapely babes hanging out down there who wanted to go for a ride out on the river.

***************

SHIP OF FOOLS. When we arrived at the Civic Center, we moored the boat along the boardwalk, and climbed out and took turns using the public facilities. I had noticed a group of girls on the dock when we first pulled up. It was obvious they were looking for a ride, and obvious to me they probably wouldn’t have much trouble finding one. As we got closer to the dock, though, I could see they were high school freshman age or thereabouts, so in my mind I immediately discounted any thoughts of us being the ones to pick them up.

Today, if I met an attractive woman five or so years my junior, I wouldn’t think twice about it. But in teen-age, five years was a huge difference and, after all, a gateway to statutory rape, if the age spread was enough. I knew some guys never looked at it that way. But I was operating on the faulty assumption that my friends had some common sense among them.

I'd forgot to factor in the beer, though. Before I knew what was happening, some of our crew had talked up the girls and convinced them they should ride with us. So they all piled in - ass-over-tea kettle, so to speak - and before long we were underway again, heading upriver toward the sandbar.

It didn’t help things any that one of those girls was an acquaintance of mine. Our families had been close at one time – her father and mine were in the same firm for awhile – and we spent a lot of time with them back in those days. I’d practically watched this girl grow up, from a little kid to what she had become, which was pretty fucking awesome, a gorgeous young woman. Her name was Lynne, and I had always considered her as sort of a little sister to me, I guess. So, when she sat her drunk, barely-covered self down in my lap on the boat that day, and put her arms around my neck, and pushed her decent-sized ... womanhood into my chest ... and started kissing me on the ear and neck and cheek and – a few times – on the lips, well . . . She had started off in a kidding way, but I began to realize at some point she wasn’t really kidding anymore. That is when I knew for sure I was in trouble.

By the time we made it to the party upriver, there was other illicit activity of a semi-sexual nature beginning to occur on the boat, I noticed. I had managed to cool Lynne’s jets somewhat by then, but she was still in my lap, arms around me, rubbing the back of my neck. To be honest, I was having conflicting thoughts and emotions about her, and what she was doing to me when she thought no one was looking ... which is a nice way of saying that, for all my high-mindedness, I was sorely tempted to forget all that and just go with the flow, with Lynne. Which would have been a disaster, ultimately. Which I knew. Even so, I had yet to make it out of the woods at that point.

We beached the boat on the sandy bottom, and everyone scrambled to get out and go to the sandbar. Lynne was taking her time getting off of me, and just as she was getting up, she turned and kissed me in earnest, full-on, and everything. Wow. It was about then I decided I needed to cool myself off and clear my head, so I told her I’d be over to the party in a minute, and edged up onto the prow of the boat. The water was shallow around us, but I knew from previous experience there was a small, deeper pool in front of me, created by eddies in the river as it worked itself around the bend there. So I dove off head first, down into the cool, brown water.

It was early in the summer, when the river normally ran languid, but I noticed right away the current was surprisingly strong. I was still under water, trying to gauge how far it had carried me since I’d jumped in. Around the time I guessed I was even with the back of the boat, I came up for air. I was surprised to see I was 30 yards beyond where I’d guessed I was. By the time I swam toward the east bank into shallow enough water to stand up, I’d been carried downstream another 30 yards or so, and the boat and the people on the sandbar seemed to be far away.

I stood there for a moment, to catch my breath, and I tried to decide what to do. I didn’t think I could swim all the way back to my friends, against that current. I decided to edge my way along the bank, mostly in the river because everything on the bank was overgrown and would be difficult to navigate fully dressed, much less in a pair of canvas shorts, no shirt, no shoes. Generally, the current was stronger in the middle of the channel. I could hardly feel it, wading along the bank. My biggest worry was not stepping off into some hole, or beating myself up on cypress knees, which were everywhere.

I’d progressed maybe 20 yards, and could hear more clearly the voices coming from the sand bar and make out individual figures, when Lynne saw me, and waved. I could see her talking to one of my friends and pointing to me, and he waved and yelled something. I sped up my pace a little, and was just edging further out into the river to get myself around an overhanging cottonwood tree, when I heard and saw commotion on the sandbar. Damn it! The Orange County sheriff's department periodically raided the sandbar on weekends, mainly checking for underage drinking. I could see people milling around, and saw a couple of deputies scrambling down the bank above the sandbar. Crap!

My group of friends had charge of five underage girls, all of them drunk as hell. In addition, upon request I’m sure, a couple of the girls had removed their bikini tops. I was pretty sure the deputies spotted that, right away. So we were not only liable for contributing to the delinquency of those minors, we might be up for some charge having to do with underage sex, too. I hung back behind the cover of the tree to watch and, sure enough, I saw people being ‘cuffed and hauled up the bank. There wasn’t going to be a mere citation and/or warning that day. One of the deputies waded out and secured our boat to the bank. I assumed they were going to impound it.

As much as I cared about the people being hauled off, I didn’t move from my hiding spot. I couldn’t see the point of going to jail with them. One of the deputies stood out on the edge of the bar and gazed along the surface of the river, looking for stragglers I guess; but he didn’t look as far down as where I was. I was pretty sure I was in the clear. I hadn’t left anything on the boat except a cooler, which didn’t have my name on it. I knew none of my friends would say anything. I figured the best I could do for them at that point was find some way back downriver to the public launch, where my car was; then see about bailing them out of jail.

Turns out, getting back downriver was easy. There had been a few other boats at the bar with us, and once the deputies figured out who had the teenage girls, they let the other boats go. I waited until one was almost on top of me. As it was swinging out to go around the bend, I stepped out and waved it down. It was some people I didn’t know, but my friends had been partying with them on the sandbar. They picked me up, no problem, and brought me back downriver and let me off.

All the while, I kept thinking about before, when I had been standing in ankle-deep water, in the leaves and branches of a cottonwood tree, watching as, in the distance, my friends were being arrested. I was absolutely still. It was in order to avoid detection, mostly. But really, I had been absolutely still, hardly even breathing. I realized I hadn’t just been hiding from the Orange County sheriff’s department; I was hiding from The Big Overseer, as well. The Big Sheriff. I didn’t want Him to see me there, hiding in the bushes, instead of stepping out. I didn’t want Him to know about the girls, or some of the thoughts that had been running through my head, earlier that day. Whenever I did something good, I wanted Him to know. But even then, it would be pointed out to me there was some selfish motive on my part. I surely did not want to know what He thought about the events of that day. Even though I had eluded the deputies, I couldn’t revel in my good luck. Because I knew, no way around it, there would be repercussions. I never got off scot-free.

Meanwhile, as I stood in the cover of the tree, it occurred to me that for that moment, I was completely alone in the universe. An rank outsider, looking in. There would be short-term consequences for my friends, admonishments from parents as they bailed their kid out and began making arrangements to have the charges reduced, or dropped altogether. But they would also have a bond, getting thrown in jail together; and they would laugh and tell stories about it later. I wouldn’t be part of that, except on the periphery. I couldn’t decide if it was worth it, to be left hiding in the bushes, undetected and unarrested. And all alone.

I thought a little bit about Lynne, too. Our brief encounter on the boat that day on the river was mostly benign, thankfully. We just had a little too much beer, is all. We would go back to being friends again, once we got over the embarrassment of it all; and I am sure we’d laugh about it one day, privately - our little secret. Nothing to it, just some youthful, drunken shenanigans, no need to give it any more thought or weight than that. No need to think about it at all.

But, you know? In a way, Lynne slipped through my fingers that day. I had the sense that we had maybe blown any chance of getting together, later on, when we were more age-appropriate. I hadn’t realized, but I was harboring some latent feelings for her I guess, strong feelings. As, apparently, she was for me. She was a beautiful girl and, having known her for so long, I thought the world of her.

Really, though, the moment she came onto me that day, we were done. No matter what my reaction was. It would have been wrong, wrong, wrong for me to pursue her sexually, at that point. I knew that, and I suppose I could have congratulated myself for having the will, even though drunk and being strongly come onto, to resist the urge. But, really, I was not so sure. If there hadn’t been a raid, and that day had gone on as we had planned, and I kept on drinking, and Lynne kept molesting me, would I have had the will then? I know myself; if I had enough desire built up, and was drunk enough, I could have come up with some excuse in my head . . . an excuse to temporarily bulldoze all my morals and make ragged, sloppy love to this sweet girl, who I had thought of for years as almost a sister. That’s how fucked up I was then.

It was no wonder I was left on the outside, looking in. It was where I deserved to be.

***************

I MIGHT LIKE YOU BETTER IF WE SLEPT TOGETHER. I mentioned earlier about standing in the river, concealed in the heavy foliage of a leaning cottonwood tree, and how I felt like I was totally alone and an outsider, watching my friends in the distance on the sandbar, being arrested.  That instance was a brief and over-dramatic realization; but to be honest, since I was a kid, I always felt like a bit of an outsider. It wasn’t a black and white, cut-and-dried thing. There was a lot of ambiguity to it. Just a fleeting thing.

In general, I was a well-adjusted kid, outgoing and popular. It came to me naturally; I didn’t really have to work at it. I was blessed with what I guess most people considered decent looks. I was pretty smart, pretty funny, and pretty good at athletics. I was pleasant and at ease with most people, and always had a pretty good grip on my temper. I was blessed, plainly put.

And yet, since my earliest memories, I always felt like I was missing out on something, like everyone else knew something I didn’t. I subsequently studied just enough psychology, in college, to be dangerous; and now I think a lot of my early achievement was driven by a desire to avoid feeling like the outsider that, deep down, I knew I really was. It seemed when I accomplished things, I was more accepted, more popular. Being good in school got me into fights on the playground sometimes, but I figured out that, everything else being equal, women preferred a guy who had something on the ball, intelligence-wise, over one who did not. Plus, it kept my parents and teachers off of my back. Being good in sports also helped with the girls, plus it often meant some acceptance by the older kids in school and in the neighborhood I couldn’t have got, otherwise. And so on.

I think my childhood insecurities sprung from some things going on at home, to be honest. I know that now; I had no idea back then. Either way, I couldn’t have done anything about it. You play the hand you are dealt, you know? Take the bad with the good. I had a poker-playing, black Irish uncle who told me that all the time. I loved my uncle, but he drank like a fish, and that was the only advice he ever gave me that made any sense, or was useful to me in any way. Most of his advice was along the lines of, “When you get the woman home, have her make you tea before you take her back to the bedroom and slam her good.” Just random stuff like that, after he’d been pulling on the pint of Jameson’s in his coat pocket all afternoon. “OK, Uncle Joe. I’m only in second grade, but thanks for the tip.”

But the playing one’s hand thing was good advice. That is how it became an adage, a bromide, an old saying. As tired as they sometimes are, there is almost always some truth in those things.

On the other hand, I thought it was kind of weak, as advice goes – that you played the hand you were dealt was self-evident, yes? What the hell else were you going to do? When I was young, I wasn’t capable of recognizing the slight nuance in that statement of advice, the implication. I couldn’t hear the unspoken part of it, which was that you played your hand, whatever it was, in good spirit. No whining about one’s fate, or one’s station in life. Just play your hand, win or lose; then move on.

Without understanding it all back then, that is basically what I went ahead and did. I had a really good childhood, for the most part. It was only occasionally that the outsider feelings would come up. I often discounted them, at the time. In fact, I'd mostly forgot about all that.

That one day on the river remains a vivid memory, and I am not sure why. We spent dozens of days like that, on that river ... with pretty much the same results. Yet I only remember those other days in bits and pieces. I could say the raid on the sandbar made that one day stand out, but the truth is that raid happened mostly to my friends. It didn’t have that much of an impact on me.

The only other thing to consider was my awkward encounter, uninitiated by me for once, with a pretty girl in a skimpy bathing suit who was drunk and horny and all over me. No big deal, stuff like that had happened before, and probably would again.

Of course, that time was different because I actually knew the girl. And I cared about her. I cared about her so much, in fact, it surprised me. I did not realize how strong my feelings for her were. How would I have? I only saw Lynne rarely in those days. She was a sophomore in high school, I was a college freshman. We lived in different worlds. In a sense, she had grown up and gone her way and I had grown up and gone mine, and I really didn’t know her anymore at all. If we did cross paths somewhere, we would exchange greetings and smile; but we were smiling about things that had happened years before, back to when she was a pre-schooler and I was a family friend, an older boy who gave her some of my attention, pushed her on the swing set, admired her crayon drawing of a horse. That is what we smiled about when we met. It had nothing to do with who we were when we bumped into each other later, at the 7-11, or McDonalds. By then, we’d both grown up, and had grown apart. Or, that is what I thought.

If my friends and I had not chosen to go to Riverfront Park to piss that day, if I had not had the idea to do it in the first place . . . there is a chance I would never have run across Lynne then. She and I might have kept on growing separately, with no residual feelings for each other we knew of. Then maybe four or five years later we would have seen each other again, in a more intimate setting, and maybe we would have realized we had these strong feelings for each other, so different from the ones we had as children. If so, we could have done what is to me the sweetest thing in this life two people can do. We could have fallen in love, together. We could have jumped into that mighty river together, and held on tight to each other, and just let it take us where it would.

Eventually, later on, Lynne and I talked. It was around six months later, at Christmas time. I went to her house one evening with some of my family, to exchange gifts with her family; and to drink bourbon in coffee mugs and in general bring good cheer to the season. At some point the dads went into another room to watch TV, and the moms became engrossed in a conversation about something or other, and the other kids wandered off to various destinations in the rest of the house. And Lynne took my hand, and we went into an alcove off of the main foyer downstairs, and sat on a love seat (ironically), and we each talked and listened to each other about our feelings for each other before and after that afternoon on the river; and we talked about our impressions of where the minor chaos of that day had left us, afterward.

***************

I turned off the television, which I had not been watching, anyway. It was dark in the house, and quiet. I had been sitting up late again. I felt a tinge of sadness, realizing everyone else had turned in. I hadn’t even realized. I walked through the house, checking deadbolts and turning off lights. I tripped over a pair of Crocs in the den, dammit. My son wears them when he goes out to check on his dog before he goes to bed. That boy is always leaving his stuff everywhere, wherever it lands. He has always done that, since he was little.

I looked in on Walter, the red betta fish my other son won at the State Fair, back in March. He brought Walter home in a bag of water, and I didn’t even want to waste the money and effort to get a proper fish bowl. I didn’t think that fish would last until the end of the day. But of course, I was on my way to Petco, my son in tow, before I knew it. Just a little 2- gallon plastic aquarium, and some rocks and fake weeds and a little stone bridge, and a small water pump and filter setup. We put all that together and dumped Walter in there, and right away he started swimming around like he owned the place. Since then, he has thrived; and I feel a little guilty each evening when I look in on him. He doesn’t know, but I had no faith in him. Walter didn't know any better, and just went on living.

I turned into the hallway and heard a muffled thumping sound coming from one end of the hall, from my high-schooler’s room. He falls asleep with the stereo on. I used to try to go in there and turn it off, but every time I did, as soon as I switched the sound off, my son would bolt upright in his bed and ask me what the heck I was doing. After awhile, I just left it alone. As long as his door was shut, it didn’t disturb anyone else. I walked to the other end of the hall, past my younger son’s room, and opened the door into mine. It was pitch dark; and as I shut the door behind me, the darkness just engulfed me. I wasn’t used to it. It was like I’d stepped off into an abyss, and it took my breath away. I felt as if I were falling helplessly, spinning around and around, like that guy in the opening sequence of The X-Files. I didn’t know if I would ever stop.

That Yuletide evening, years and years ago, Lynne and I sat down and talked about a day we both got drunk and stepped outside of ourselves for a bit. She apologized for coming onto me that day, and I told not to apologize too much, that in truth I kind of liked it. We laughed, but of course some things were being revealed. I think we ended up resolved that we’d each continue our separate lives, and whatever happened, happened. But I got the feeling that was basically it, as far as Lynne and I went. I had never even looked at her in a romantic way before that anyway, and it should have been easy for me to just move on. Yet for some reason, I had a hard time with it. I came away from our meeting that evening very sad.

That sadness eventually passed, and Lynne and I both went on with our lives, to marriages and kids and all that entails. I am pretty sure we forgot about each other along the way. So I was kind of startled and pleased when I bumped into her in H-E-B not too long ago. I hadn’t seen her in a long time, or talked to her in longer. She is a middle-aged mom now, but she still looks pretty damn good. At the store we fell into easy conversation, discussing our families, and the families we’d gone on to start ourselves. Then, the weirdest thing, when we ran out of small talk, we fell right into a conversation about the day we almost had a fling, out on the river, way back when.

We talked around it for awhile; and then this sweet girl, who I’d known for most of her life, whose virtue I fought (myself) mightily to preserve one day all those years ago, smiled at me and said, “You know, you should have just fucked me that day. We didn’t get together later on, anyway; so at least we’d have that. It’ll never happen now.”

Goddamn it to fucking Hell. Even when I try to do right, I do wrong.

But I am not feeling sorry for myself. Got to keep playing the hand I was dealt, right Uncle Joe? That last conversation with Lynne at H-E-B keeps replaying itself in my mind. I am 51 now; but still in decent shape. No grey hair. Most of my scars are psychic in nature, and don’t show. Lynne is 47 or 48, and looks great, to me. What I am saying is, there is time.  I hope she doesn’t think about me nearly as much as I think about her - usually late, while I am trying to fall asleep.

Okay, yeah I do.

Whether she does or doesn’t, there is one thing in this life I have learned for sure, and I am trying everything I can think of to communicate it to her, telepathically or cosmically or whatever it takes.

Never. Say. Never.

***************

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Out Where The Great Black Rivers Flow




All my achievements in days of yore
Range from pathetic to piss-poor
But all that's gonna change
           
Because here comes sunrise
Yeah, here's your sunrise

I was driving along, late at night, with nothing serious on my mind.  Just a vaguely pleasant feeling of having accomplished something, of having done well and of seeing satisfying results come from my efforts.

I was coming from the hinterlands, from one of the outlying towns that was ancillary to the city I was now driving back into.  Earlier that night in the city I had met an outlier girl, from one of the outlying towns.  She had a sweet smile and gorgeous pale green eyes.  All legs and hips and tits and long-ish blond hair, and these fucking eyes that just mesmerized me, and drew me in closely to her.

After a time, we had ended up back at her place, back in her outlying town.  Just one side of a duplex, with two small bedrooms and a living area/kitchen, one bathroom I think, and not much else.  I heard the not unpleasant sound of freight trains rumbling by in the night, somewhere nearby, at regular-seeming intervals.  There was a full sized bed, in a smallish bedroom.  My outlier girl was on the bed, lying on her right side, with her face up very close to mine on the pillows.  She was looking at me intently, into my eyes, while I stroked the smooth skin on her back gently with the tips of my fingers.  It was as if she was trying to discern something, I couldn’t imagine what, as she lay there, staring into my eyes.

It was weird, but when we were really up close like that and I looked back at her in the semi-darkness, her face and eyes and visage in general took on a somewhat different appearance than normal.  The feeling I got observing this was very pleasant and intense, and I seemed to see it especially if she was being brought to some level of pleasure at the time.  I had the oddest impression that she was a chameleon of some sort.  Her entire being seemed to change in some slight but basic way when she was brought to the brink of physical ecstasy.

I was thinking about that as I drove along in the night.  Soon, I approached the Purple Heart bridge that would bring me back into the city.  As I began to make my way up the incline of the bridge, my own heart was beating evenly, and I felt pleasant and happy and at peace.

Then, as I was crossing over the bridge, I caught a glimpse of the great, black river flowing in the darkness underneath.  Ambient light from the city was playing off of the surface of the water here and there.  It startled me a little at first.  The river was basically benign in appearance, but at seeing the vast blackness beneath me, and the mysterious, unknowable river flowing through it, I was quickly robbed of my feelings of pleasantness, and peace.  Instead, I was filled with a vague sense of dread.  All our superficial happiness is forever being eroded away, by a silent black river that flows and flows down beneath us, out of sight and out of mind.  A great, black river that can occasionally be spotted, when a bit of light glints off its surface.  It is a bit chilling to be reminded that the river is down there, always flowing, always eroding.

As I came up over the crest of the bridge, I spotted the city laid out below, and saw on the distant horizon the earliest hint of dawn. Because of the odd combination of streetlights and lighted advertising along the highway mixed with the natural light just beginning to eke its way into the darkness, the city seemed to look a bit softer than it normally did.  And upon noticing, my mood began to soften, as well.  I had crossed the great black river, and was descending into a zone of familiarity and relative comfort.

Oh, I might from time to time consort with an outlier girl, and lie with her for awhile in her bed in her house in her outlying town, out in the hinterlands.  But in the end, even if it was the very end of the night, I always made my way back through the darkness, back across the wide, black river.  Back to home.

It is funny how a seemingly random arrangement of concrete and steel, glass and wood, blight and indifference and ugliness, can become so familiar over time they become pleasing to us, almost beautiful in their way.  These cold materials, arranged as they are and as we have seen them arranged for years and years, take on an aura of intense familiarity, and comfort, and safety.  As I descended to the foot of the bridge that night, and then continued on, to make the long curve around downtown, and out toward the residential areas on the west side of town, the dread I had so recently felt when crossing over the river receded.  A warm feeling of comfort slowly came over me to replace it.  I was home.  I had made it home, once again.

And somewhere out across the great black river, on the other side, in one of the outlying towns out in the hinterlands, there lay a beautiful outlier girl, her beautiful green eyes glistening in the semi-darkness of her small bedroom, in her half of a small house.  Her eyes were moist, but she was not crying.  She was in fact smiling, though mostly to herself; but if one looked closely, one could see on her lovely face, framed by her long, blond hair, a hint of her beautiful smile.  She was smiling, inside and out, because she knew that at about that same moment, this guy she’d met that night, and had brought home with her for awhile, was returning to his place in the city, beyond the great river.  And he was thinking that he’d returned safely to home.

To home.  Of course, home is where the heart is, as they say.  And at the thought of that, the beautiful outlier girl smiled to herself again, and then rolled over onto her side and pulled the covers up over the naked top half of her as she sank her head into her pillow.  She was happy, and at peace.  She slowly closed her eyelids over her beautiful eyes, robbing the universe of their light, at least for a little while.  And she fell gently to sleep, to the sound of a lone freight train rumbling by, somewhere out in the darkness.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Little Jenny On The High Wire



“Jesus Fuck! What am I gonna do?!” I was in the mens room of the bar inside the Gallagher’s restaurant, fronting up a urinal. Leaning into it, actually. My joint was resting in my right hand, and my left forearm was resting against the wall above the urinal. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I needed $20, like, right away; and I had no fucking idea where I was going to get the money from. But I had to have it before I left that restroom, that was for sure.  And even though I was full of bourbon and really, really needed to go, there was no way I could whiz long enough to save myself from my fate. Unless I could somehow manage to piss out twenty bills, that is.

By then, I had been a clerk at one of the larger law firms in town for a couple of years. I had initially got the job through family connections, and I liked it because it was easy, and there was always a lot of gorgeous women around – legal secretaries, court reporters, all the babes working in the county clerk’s office, etc. Also, the law clerk job paid way better than the menial jobs most of my college friends had. I was able to go to school full time, pay rent and utilities for a small, austere apartment, and pay a new truck note and insurance, and still have enough left over to party a little bit, and wine and dine some of those attractive women I was always seeing, as I perambulated around in my job. All solely on the income from an after school job at the law firm.

I had even managed to get my employment classified as an internship; and since I was technically a pre-law major, it earned me three credit hours a semester, just for going to work. I had to write a 2-3 page paper at the end of each term about an interesting case I’d done work on, and I would get an A.  Sweet.

One summer, I think it was 1980 but I’m not sure, I had the assignment to get up early one morning and drive one of our partners, and an attorney co-consul from another local firm, and his assistant, to Houston Intercontinental so they could catch a plane to New York.  It was basically just a chauffeur’s job, but I did all kinds of shit like that for my firm. I figured it was a blow off day – drive our partner Paul’s LTD Brougham and everyone on board over to the airport, dump them off, then tool around Houston for awhile before heading back to Beaumont, taking the long, roundabout way back; down I-45 South through Galveston and the Bolivar Peninsula, then back up FM 124 to I-10. I figured I’d stop along the way at one of the places along the seawall in Galveston, for fresh oysters on the half shell and a few beers, before catching the ferry across to Port Bolivar. Just an easy, pleasant day, and all on the law firm’s dime.

That is what I did, too. It was a nice, sunny, uneventful but fun day, mostly. The only thing that made it remarkable, and kept it in my memory, was the co-consul’s assistant. She was a year or two older than me, a not necessarily striking but really decent-looking blonde. Her name was Jennifer, and the other firm’s attorney I was chauffeuring, the one she worked for, was her dad. His name was Dave, and he was some big deal partner in the most prestigious firm in town, and he and Paul (and Jennifer) were off to New York take or sit in on depositions, in a deceptive trade practices suit I never really understood the details of.

It turns out what I had imagined would be a quiet, mundane trip over to Intercontinental that morning was anything but. For one thing, Dave turned out to be the loud, garrulous sort, used to holding the floor, and he jabbered non-stop from Beaumont to Humble, while meanwhile filling the passenger compartment of the LTD with thick cigar smoke, from the fat heater he kept jammed into one corner of his mouth. Also Paul, who was generally quiet as a monk around our offices, apparently had another side to him. The whole way over, he was in the front seat with me, telling me stories about his acid-taking days at Stanford in the late 1960s, and about how he and his wife Lettie – who was quite attractive in a middle-aged kind of way (and quite flirty with a certain law clerk at the firm’s occasional social get-togethers) – used to practice “free love” and all this shit, before they settled down to the straight-laced upwardly mobile genteel life, with three kids and a big fancy house in the tree-lined West End. Meanwhile, he was changing tapes in the 8-track player after every song.

The cacophony from Dave in the back and Paul in the front, the loud music, and the cigar smoke – sometimes so thick I could barely see out of the windshield – were distracting and a bit off-putting, actually.  Several times along the way I stole a glance in the rear-view mirror at Jennifer in the back seat, to see how she was taking it all. She seemed to be doing all right, and she caught me looking a few times, too. When she did, she would just roll her eyes in her dad’s direction. I felt like we formed sort of a silent bond that morning, drawn into kinship through our mutual suffering.

When we finally got to the airport and I let everyone off at the terminal, there was a minute or two while all the luggage was being taken care of, etc., and I went over to Jennifer and we laughed for a minute about Dave and Paul. Then she told me they’d be back from NYC by the end of the week, and would I call her then? And I told her that, yes, I surely would. As soon as she got back.

***************

We were naked on the sectional sofa in Jennifer’s living room, in each others arms and panting a bit; after having made love for quite awhile, it seemed like. Right there on the sectional. The thing was, Jennifer’s house was two stories, and the living room was in the middle. The upstairs was all bedrooms, and the upstairs hallway had a railing all around on the inside, where one could stand and look down on the living room, which was sort of a two-story atrium, I guess. When Jennifer had suggested we do it right there, in the living room, I had balked. I like sex as much as anyone, but I am not a sexual thrill-seeker, or risk-taker. I don’t need the chance of being caught in the act to get me off. Still, when she insisted … I found I was not really distracted by the risk factor once we got going, and I will admit the thought of her dad or mom or one of her siblings getting up in the middle of the night to take a piss and looking over the railing and seeing naked Jen and I down there, going at it hammer and tongs, so to speak … it may have actually added a little to the arousal factor for me. I am not saying it did, but I am not saying it did not.

That was on our first date, by the way, after Jen had got back from her New York trip.  I had picked her up from her house and we’d gone straight to a bar, and what I found out right away was that my date liked to drink. A lot. That only endeared her to me more, and before long we were both three sheets to the wind and headed back to her house, for some sloppy, high-risk sex on her parents’ living room sectional. Most of our dates that summer followed a pattern similar to this.

We lay there in each others arms that first night, post flagrante delicto I guess you could say, on that sectional; and as Jennifer buried her face into my shoulder, I gently traced my fingertips across her naked back, all along the lines of the multiple scars that were there, and my mind drifted back …

We had gone to the same elementary school, way back when, though Jen was a few grades ahead of me, and I don’t think we really knew each other then. One day I was sitting in class, maybe second grade, looking out the windows at the street that ran past the north side of our school, and I noticed there was a lot of commotion down at the corner, cars stopped and stuff. The next thing I knew there were a couple of ambulances screaming by down that street, and then they stopped at the corner, too. It turns out the fourth graders had been at recess or something, and Jennifer had wandered out into that street and had been run completely over by a car.

I didn’t remember everything about the accident, but I had heard that the girl who was hit had broken her back in several places and had lost a lot of blood, spilled right out onto that street in front of our school. I heard she nearly died – it was touch-and-go for several days. But she hung in there and, remarkably, endured a series of surgeries on her back that eventually made her whole again. If you didn’t know her history, you might not even realize what had happened to her. I knew, because I was there, as a barely-conscious-of-it 9 year old. And because 10 years later I held her naked in my arms, and traced the ridges of scars along her back (which she seemed to enjoy, by the way.) Other than that, she was left with an almost imperceptible limp, the result of one leg being slightly shorter than the other (after the accident.)

She was also left with, I thought, a bit of sadness in her. A bit of world-weariness. I cannot really explain it, and I never talked to Jennifer about it. I just felt like there was some darkness in her; and I was attuned to that, being the bearer of so much darkness, myself. And I guess it was a good thing in the long run that Jen and I were only together for part of one summer, while she was home from school (Vanderbilt, I think.)  Her darkness, and her serious devotion to John Barleycorn, fit perfectly into my fucked up view of the world at the time, and I was quickly enthralled by her, and I could easily see us falling in love; or more likely into a terminal embrace that might not have eventually killed one or the other of us, but surely would have left us both worse for the wear. As clueless and lost as I was back in those days, I still had the sense that someone dark and fucked up like me should not be seeking out a woman with the same traits; though I almost always did, anyway. I’ll admit, I still find that sort of thing attractive. Even though I know now and knew then that what I need is someone bright and good, to offset my darkness. But I guess part of me was always looking to do the worst thing for myself, to jump off into the deep end with someone like-minded, not caring one fucking bit where we ended up.

I still have some of that in me, too.

But all that is really too heavy to be putting off on Jennifer. I liked dating her that summer. It was so … easy. Go out somewhere, get loaded, then go home and make love, for hours.

Once during that time I had gone down to the beach for the day with friends. We sat down there all day drinking beer and getting seriously fucked up. We finally headed back to town at dark. On the way back it suddenly struck me that it was Jennifer’s birthday, and I hadn’t got her anything, even a card. What to do? What to do?

When I got home I took a quick shower and then, still smelling of the coconut oil that had apparently seeped down into my skin, I hauled ass for the liquor store. I got there about ten minutes before they closed, and bought a fifth of Jack Daniels Black Label. The liquor store guy fished around in the drawer behind the counter and found a slightly disheveled red stick-on bow for me, and I put it on top of the bottle of Jack. Then I headed for Jen’s house. When she opened the front door, I handed her the fifth without saying anything, except for a sheepish and mumbled, “Happy Birthday”. She took the bottle and looked at me, blinking; and then she started to cry, it looked like. She was so happy that I remembered her birthday, and gave her a fifth of a gallon of her most favorite thing in the whole world. I couldn’t believe how smoothly I managed it, how easy it was. Neither could I believe the supremely positive effect my perfunctory gesture had on Jen. That night, she started taking off her clothes almost as soon as we got in my Jeep, almost before I could get off of her street, even.

Jennifer was a Jack Daniels aficionado, for sure. She told me later, half-jokingly I think, that one of the main reasons she chose Vanderbilt was because it was only 70 miles or so from Lynchburg, where the Jack Daniels distillery was. When she first got up there, her and her friends made the pilgrimage every weekend, for the distillery tour, and especially for the hospitality room afterward. I mean, I loved whiskey and all, but she really, really loved it.

That’s how we ended up in the bar at Gallagher’s one night. Back then, Gallagher’s was a chain, some kind of franchise operation. It was supposed to be an Irish steak house or something, although I don’t recall ever having eaten there. And the bar in the restaurant was about what you’d expect. Not much, no décor or atmosphere or anything. No business to speak of. It was briefly popular only because they’d instituted a 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., 3-for-1 happy hour on Thursday nights. Instant atmosphere. Suddenly plenty of business.

We were meeting friends there that night, and I figured a 3-for-1 deal would save me some money, especially the way Jennifer put away the whiskey. Once we’d got there and settled in, I started ordering 3-for-1 call drinks, JD and water, and I was getting blitzed. What I didn’t realize was that Jen was bypassing the 3-for-1 deal, and ordering two fingers of Jack on the rocks, neat. Expensive drinks, and she was putting them away, too.

That night sort of went like most of them did back in those days – it started off fun and coherent, and then somewhere along the way it veered off into chaos. It ran off the road and got stuck in a mud hole full of craziness. And, I loved that so much. I loved chaos in my life back then. I think it was how I got away from some of the stuff going on that I didn’t really want to deal with.  There was a song on Ric Ocasek’s solo LP, which came out a few years later … “Keep It Out Of Control”. That was my modus operandi. The more fucked up and crazy and dissonant and chaotic my life was, the better.

Of course, even then, reality would pop up here and there. Like at the end of the night at Gallagher’s, when the waiter brought the tab for me to settle up, and I realized it was $15 more than what I had in my pocket. I excused myself for a moment to go to the men’s room to take a piss, and try to get myself together.

After having moped at the urinal for awhile, I was at the nadir of my despair, and I realized I would just have to go back out there and face the music, and admit to the waiter (and my date) that I could not cover my bar tab. I was about to gather myself up and go do it when a friend of mine named Gary came staggering into the restroom to take a piss. “Hey, man,” he said.

“Hey, Gary, do you want to save my life?” I said.

“Yeah, man. Sure.” he said. “What can I do?”

“Loan me twenty dollars.”

“Sure, no problem.” He reached into his wallet and pulled out $20 and handed it over.

“Dude, really. You just saved me, “ I said, and then I went on to thank him profusely.

Then I marched back out into the bar and settled up my tab and even left a smallish tip. My girl was impressed with me, I imagined; though in reality she was barely coherent by that point. No matter.



***************

I called Gary the next day and thanked him again, and promised to pay him back on my next payday. Twenty bucks was no small change to a poor college student back in those days.

But Gary said to forget it, that he owed me at least that much for the night I’d saved him. I could not recall what he might have been referring to, and so he reminded me.

One night a few years prior, when we were high school juniors, Gary had simultaneously got hold of the new Rush LP, 2112, and also a quarter-lid of Oaxacan that was supposed to be really kick-ass. His parents were out of town that weekend, so several of us gathered at Gary’s house, along with his little sister, who Gary was supposed to be baby-sitting, to smoke cheeba-cheeba and listen to this new album everybody thought was so great. (I thought it sucked; but I figured kick-ass weed could make almost any record sound good, even Rush; so … ) Then Gary realized he did not have any papers to roll with, and no pipe or anything else to employ as a smoking apparatus. Party plans ruined, except I had wandered out into his garage to his dad’s work bench, and found a piece of pipe, called the J-pipe I think, a pre-fab piece used for putting together a P-trap under a sink. I took that back into the house and got some aluminum foil out of the kitchen drawer to cover the opening on the short end of the “J”, and then I poked holes in the foil. Then we put a clump of weed onto our impromptu foil screen, and lit it. Sucked on the long end of the “J” and, voila!, we had a pipe to smoke weed with.

It worked pretty well, except for at first, when you would suck and get smoke from the Oaxacan mixed with dust that had accumulated inside the pipe over however long the time was it had sat on Gary’s dad’s work bench. After a few pulls, though, it was pretty much cleaned out, and everything was copacetic. It was agreed by all, in the easy hyperbole that often characterizes the conversations of dedicated pot-smokers, that my McGyver-like inventiveness had truly saved the day.

And Gary said it was easily worth $20 to him, what I had done; and that he had been waiting for the occasion to pay me back.

And, you know, God works in mysterious ways, I guess. He put Gary in that restroom to take a piss and give me the twenty dollars I so desperately needed to pay off my bar tab, while simultaneously giving Gary the opportunity to pay me back for piecing together a means to smoke ganja at a party at his house one night, several years before.

Yep, the Lord works in mysterious ways. And one day, when He has some time, I’d like to sit down with Him and talk about that a little.

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Peace In Our Time


I saw a squirrel running across the street today, with a full slice of pepperoni pizza in his mouth.  He had the crust end in his teeth, and the pointed end out ahead of him. Hauling ass.

That has to be an omen of some kind, a portent of something. Only, I have no idea what; and I have even less of an idea of how to look it up and find out.

At the time, I was on the way to my ex uncle-in-law’s house, to bring him a tubing plum set for an IV pump, the kind with the cartridge at the end of the tube, instead of a filter.

Long story, but I’ll get to it …

***************

The universe is fucked up, man; fucked up in some basic ways. We look out into space and we see the smooth, starry sky, the Milky Way, the evenly expanding universe. But there are anomalies, rents in the fabric here and there. There are folds in the otherwise smooth surface that throw everything off. I don’t know the reason why.

It’s just fucked up, is all. And I intend to get to the bottom of it, if I’ve got to go to Mars and back to find out.

***************

Dusk was approaching, and the evening air was cool, dry, and comfortable. I was sitting on the deck in the backyard of my new house, post-cookout, savoring maybe my fourth or seventh Miller Lite pint of the day. Who knows? I don’t usually count.

I’ve been on a serious Stones kick lately, and I had Let It Bleed playing over the outdoor speakers, pretty loud, too. As Keith Richards launched into the searing, apocalyptic opening chord run of “Gimme Shelter”, I had a shiver run all the way through me. It wasn’t the weather that gave me goose bumps. I looked up and saw my next door neighbor, Ted, sitting in an adjacent lawn chair, a beer in his hands, his eyes closed and his head nodding slightly, to the music. He was smiling.

In the whole great universe, there are many wonderful things to see. I was thinking about that, sitting there rocking to the music, and I’d closed my eyes by then, too. I imagined a vivid image taken from outer space, from the kind of spy satellite that can take vivid pictures of the most minute details of things down on the earth.  For some reason, on this day, out of all the awesome things on the planet they could zoom in on and look at, the guys operating the satellite decided to zoom in on my postage stamp-sized backyard (I recently moved into a garden home, of all things) in the tree-lined west end of Beaumont, near the Gulf of Mexico, in southeast Texas.

And what they saw, in vivid detail, was two middle-aged guys sitting in lawn chairs, beers in hand, eyes closed and heads bobbing in rhythm to something, some type of music, it seemed.  It was probably the least important thing going on, on the entire Earth at that moment.  Seriously, the satellite guys should have been looking for nuclear plants in Iran, or Al Qaeda camps in the Sudan, or something. Somehow, though, they found the sight of these two guys in lawn chairs, perfectly at peace, with the weather, with their lives, and their beers, and whatever the fuck music they were listening to … they found the sight of Ted and I so compelling for some reason that they couldn’t pan away, while meanwhile trucks full of weapons grade plutonium were rolling across the desert north of Tehran …

People are forever seeking inner peace; and they’ll climb to the mountaintop, move to the desert, blast themselves out and up amongst the stars, trying to find it.

And good luck to them, too.  It is just that … some of us have found out you don’t always have to go very far to find inner peace. Sometimes it comes to you in un-beautiful places, in mundane surroundings. Not while viewing a breathtaking vista in the Himalayas, not amongst the austere, terrible beauty in the heart of the Sahara or Gobi, not out in the desolate reaches of outer space, looking back longingly at our blue, blue world … no, sometimes you may find your inner peace right where you live, in the smallest events, in the simplest details.  The reason I shivered at the beginning of “Gimme Shelter” is because the perhaps unlikely combination of 60 degree weather, Keith Richards playing lead guitar on one of the best songs ever written by anyone, a little Miller Lite, and my friend Ted, brought to me a profound feeling of well-being and peace, right there on my 10 x 10 deck in my small backyard, in the wild west end of Beaumont, TX, USA, Planet Earth, Milky Way, Universe, 77707. I didn’t need sherpas or a Land Rover or a Saturn 5 rocket to find it. Just a couple of nine-packs of these bad-ass Miller Lite pints in aluminum bottles, a kick-ass outdoor stereo system (that came with the house), the second of four straight awesome fucking LPs by the greatest band of them all, and my neighbor Ted, who I have known for maybe two months now.  That’s it.

The say you can see God in the tiniest details. I am not going to say you cannot. But, if so, then maybe God can see us in the tiniest details, too.

Ponder that over your next nine-pack, whilst listening to the Stones, in your backyard, with your neighbor. Then tell me if I am right, or if I am wrong.

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Sunday, August 04, 2013

Liz And Me

The night air was fetid. It was thick with humidity, and infused with malodor. One’s olfactory senses were assaulted by a combination of smells – from rotting vegetation, to chemical refining, to the byproducts of cattle production. It was late spring-early summer, and we were parked on a grassy spot alongside Dishman Rd, out among the rice fields and canals and farms (and chemical refineries) out west of town.  We were in the front seat of my 1971 Buick Skylark … sky blue, with a white textured vinyl top. Fat Firestone 60s, raised white letters, and chrome mags.  We had the stereo playing on the auxiliary; but with the engine (and air conditioner) off, it had got a bit stuffy inside the car, and we’d rolled down all the windows in hopes of capturing a refreshing zephyr blowing across the nearly treeless, nearly featureless landscape.

But, no luck. The air that night was still, and there did not seem to be any sort wind to speak of. Just a sticky, moist blanket of humidity, which quickly enveloped us, once the windows were down. Along with it came various aromas, wafting in; the dank, vaguely sulfurous smell of nature decaying part of itself, and the stench of men and their processes, working steadily to decay the rest of it.

I will have to admit, at that moment my mind was mostly elsewhere, and not dwelling much on existential ideas or the nature of decay, or of mankind’s role in all of it. I was seventeen years old, near the end of my junior year in high school, and I was sitting in the front seat of my car with my girlfriend.  Her name was Liz, and she was fourteen almost fifteen. A freshman.

Liz and I had been hanging out in the West End earlier that evening.  It was a weeknight – a school night – and after a time we determined that no one else in our peer group was out and about; so we rode around aimlessly for awhile, drinking beer and maybe smoking a doobie or two, listening to music on the 8-track player. I had picked Liz up around 7:00 that evening, after dinner. Her (single parent) mom thought I was just the greatest, a wonderful guy for her youngest daughter to be dating. I told her Liz and I were going to the library to work on a research paper, and she smiled widely and bussed me on the cheek as we went out the front door.

As always, Liz looked great when I picked her up that night. She was one of those girls who did not spend a lot of time on makeup or hair preparation or picking just the right outfit to go out in.  But, she didn’t need to.  She just looked good, naturally.  She would hit the makeup a touch, drag a brush once or twice through her straight, shoulder-length brunette hair, and throw on something, whatever – on that particular night, flared Levis, white Dr. Scholl’s sandals, and an off-white, rather sheer peasant top, with (after we left her house) no bra on, underneath. She was of medium height, and slender, with everything else on her in even proportions. She had the nicest, heart-shaped backside, which I never got tired of looking at when she was lying on the living room floor watching TV or something. Liz was mostly of mixed British ancestry, except for her paternal grandmother, who was from France, a WWII war bride. So Liz had a little of that French thing in her, and … ooh la la. She always looked like a million dollars to me. We had begun dating midway through my junior (her freshman) year, and she would be my steady girlfriend through the rest of my high school days, and even for awhile after that.

I loved practically everything about Liz. She was mature beyond her years, and beautiful. Smart, and funny. Quite limber. She liked to drink, and get high. In other words, Liz had almost all the things one would want in a girlfriend.

About the only thing we did not agree on was music. I had and have a fairly wide range of music I will listen to, but at the time I was in my rebellious, teen-aged phase – a phase I have not entirely grown out of, to tell the truth – and my main musical focus was heavy blues rock, the Rolling Stones and all their various descendents. Meanwhile, Liz favored the sort of folky, sensitive singer-songwriter types. She would put up with my Aerosmith and Foghat and Trapeze and Savoy Brown and the like for awhile, and then I would in turn try to tolerate a moderate amount of Dan Fogelberg and James Taylor, etc. Or - another one I just now remembered - named Jimmy Spheeris. Kind of a folky hippie, a real navel-gazer. Boy, did he suck ass. I used to cringe when I heard him coming on over the stereo. But, I would hold my tongue and force a smile, while meanwhile trying to keep my brain from turning to mush. It is funny, how much really crappy music a guy will listen to, in the name of love. Or in the name of lust. Whichever.

The one area of truly common ground Liz and I had, musically, was Todd Rundgren. I liked Todd a lot, since his Nazz days; and I was pleased and surprised to find out Liz was a huge fan, too. There is no explaining it, but who cares? We had something we could listen to together, and both enjoy. Maybe Rundgren was our number one lowest common denominator?

Anyway, that’s what we had playing in the 8-track in my car that night. Todd Rundgren. Something/Anything? probably. We had it turned up fairly loud. Even with the windows down, we were unlikely to be bothering anyone with the noise. The place where we were was ground zero for taking one’s date “parking”, as it was called then. One of the main attractions was that the area was sparsely populated. Also, it was just outside the city limits; so while I guess it was still technically within the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the city cops, one hardly ever saw one out there. No county cops, either. Nice.

While we had Rundgren playing – hopefully something like “You Left Me Sore”, although I really don’t remember – we were meanwhile heavily engaged in the time honored sport of blind teen-aged lust, there in the front seat of my car. Without going into explicit detail, I will say we’d been at it for awhile, we were both somewhat less than fully clothed, and we were engrossed in attempting a difficult and rather complicated gymnastic maneuver, just about the time I looked up and saw the flashing red and blue lights out of the back window of the Skylark.

“Goddamn! Fuck!” That was all I could get out, but it was enough to spur us both into quick and furious action, untangling ourselves from each other while Liz got her blouse back on in record time, and I pulled up and zipped my jeans. Just then the Beaumont cop poked his head and flashlight into the driver’s side window, and asked us just what the hell we were doing.

I mumbled something about just talking and getting some fresh air, and I thought I saw the slightest sympathetic smile flicker across the cop’s face. I sure hoped so.  All I could think about was the half gone lid of Maui Wowie in my glove box, and the half-drank 12-pack of Budweiser on the floorboard between my girlfriend’s feet. My 14-year-old girlfriend, that is.

The officer walked around to the passenger side and asked Liz to get out of the car. Sometime in the midst of the earlier goings-on she’d flipped her sandals into the back seat somewhere; but now, not wanting to draw any further attention to the interior of the car, she got out barefoot, and walked across the rough gravel and detritus on the road’s shoulder to back behind the car, where the cop wanted to question her. I watched her intently. She didn’t freak out at the prospect of being questioned, and she didn’t flinch at all walking barefoot across that gravel and caliche and roadside flotsam and jetsam. I felt a sense of intense pride welling up in me. She was very fucking brave.

Liz told me later the cop asked her some basic questions – her name and age, where we’d been that night, did she know me and was she there of her own volition, etc. After that she walked back across the rough ground to the passenger side and got back into the car. The cop came back around to my side. He said he could understand us just wanting some privacy to talk and enjoy the night air, and he appreciated it that we were good kids, and not out doing anything illegal. He said he hated to bother us at all, but up the road a farmer had a cow get out, and it was running around loose out there and had almost been hit by traffic a couple of times already, and had we seen any loose cattle going by?

“No sir, we sure haven’t,” was all I could come up with at the time. “Well, if you do, please report it,” he said. “Now, y’all have a good night.” With that, he walked back to his cruiser, got in, and drove off down the dark road, into the night.

Liz and I sat in silence for awhile, kind of stunned. Eventually, she told me how badly it hurt her bare feet, walking around out there; and I told her I knew it hurt her and I knew why she endured it, and I thanked her. I told her that cop was nice not to bust us, but I couldn’t figure out why he felt compelled to make up the story about a loose cow as an excuse for checking us out. He was almost apologetic about it. It was weird.

We went on like that for awhile, and drank some of our by then warm beers. I didn’t think either one of us would be in the mood for romance anymore, after all that. But after awhile, Liz moved over and got in my lap, and we began kissing. Tentatively at first, then more deeply. It wasn’t long before I was fully engaged again. I was thinking about how much fun Liz was, how most girls would have been completely undone by the cop’s visit, and would have asked to be taken home right away. Not my girl. I was thinking about this and just beginning to slide my right hand up under her blouse, when I had the strongest sensation we were being watched by someone, or something.

I don’t know where that sense comes from. My guess is it originates in the brain stem, where all the primal instincts reside. Anyway, the hair was standing up on the back of my neck. I don’t know if she sensed this or not, but right then Liz pulled back from me a little bit. I had turned a quarter-turn in the front seat, to the right, so that Liz could sit in my lap. The driver’s side window was behind me, but Liz was straddling me and looking directly at it. And her eyes got really big and scared-looking. All I could think about was the Zodiac killer, or that guy up in Texarkana they never caught. Either way, we were history, Liz and I. Two young lovers, alone in a car out in the sticks, just enjoying life and each other … only to have their lives senselessly snuffed out, by some mutated serial killer.

That is what I was thinking in the time it took me to wheel around and see for myself what terrible thing was at my window, come to murder me and my baby. My brain stem was in overdrive by then, and as I was turning I was also trying to figure out a way to put myself between whatever the horrible thing was and Liz, to find some way of sacrificing myself to give her at least a chance to get away. All this was going through my mind, along with a large jolt of adrenaline, when I turned around to confront our attacker.

And what I saw, of course, was a fucking cow. Or rather the big, stupid-looking head of one. Part of it was sticking through my window, and that bovine-looking motherfucker just stood there, looking bored, and chewing his cud or whatever, staring at us.

Just then, Liz let out a scream, or more of a yell, really. Either way, it startled the steer, and he banged his nose pulling his head back out of my car. Pretty goddamn funny, though I’ll admit it was a few minutes before I could come down off of my fight-or-flight buzz, and really laugh about it.

But I did. We did. After we watched the ass end of that cow as it clip-clopped on down the asphalt road into the darkness, following the same path the policeman had awhile before, off into the night … after that, we laughed. We laughed really hard about the events of that evening; we laughed together, from down deep. I don’t know what-all Liz was laughing at exactly, but in my mind it was funny on a couple of levels. Most prominently the visceral one – seeing that cow jerk his head out of my car in fear was really fantastic. But also, I was thinking that maybe some greater force, or existential being, or maybe even Jesus or one of those guys, was really, really determined that Liz and I would not have sex that night, and went to these hilarious, ridiculous lengths to ensure we did not. And, if so, he/she/it got its way, too. After that second jolt to the senses, we were done for that night, lustfully speaking.

But it’s the funniest thing, maybe the funniest thing … sitting there in my front seat together, collapsing in laughter into each others arms, laughing about this totally retarded thing that happened to us – I don’t think I ever felt closer to Liz than I did on that night. My feelings for her were deeper than even if we had actually made love. Soul deep.

It was too bad we didn’t get to reach the zenith of our mutual physical attraction that night in my car. Though there would be other nights, a lot of them, it was always a negative to miss the opportunity.

On the other hand, we got a terrific story out of the deal, one that I (and I am sure Liz) have told and re-told many times. Including me. Here. Now. So, one cannot say something positive did not come from it.

Everything has a bad side and a good side, I guess. Depends on how you look at it.

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Let's Make A Deal

I will never forget the time this guy Lynn and I figured out how we were going to make the Big Score. Get rich, and tell everybody to fuck off, baby! I got mine!

Actually, our plan would net us $15,000 for roughly half a day’s work, if it came off. My share of fifteen G’s wouldn’t have put me on Easy Street for life; but for a poor, struggling college student, c. 1981, it would have been a nice little chunk of change. There were many ways I could have used spent that money.

I was about to give up on college by then, anyway. I’d made the Dean’s list my first couple of semesters, but after that I had started sliding, for various reasons; and I was about to go on academic probation, if not suspension. I’d been hit by a shit-rain of personal setbacks, and had got deeper into the hardcore partying lifestyle at and around the school, and my academics, such as they were, took a backseat to everything else. In fact, presuming we made the big score, my nascent plan was to ditch school altogether, and take off for the Caribbean. Find a quiet island somewhere, establish myself, and then just go as far as my money would take me. I didn’t plan beyond that – I figured nature or my guardian angel or whatever would take care of me when the time came, come what may.

It is probably needless to say, but things didn’t come off exactly as we’d planned. If they had, I’d probably either be dead by now – dead, but at peace; either that, or I’d be sitting on a beach on St. Kitts, where I would’ve been the last 30 years, happily wasting away in the bright sunshine.

Anyway, Lynn was a guy I knew in college. His girlfriend was friends with my girlfriend, and so on and so forth. Both girls, Lynn’s girlfriend and mine, were little sisters to a fraternity that Lynn was a member of.

What was I doing hanging around with these PKE’s? Or with any other fraternity, for that matter? I was then, am now, and probably forever will be an extremely un-Greek-type person. There was no active animosity against the fraternity/sorority thing. It just wasn’t my style. My indifference didn’t stem from some sort of rejection, either – I had been rushed by two fraternities; the Sig Epp’s, who were pretty seriously trying to get me to join, for some reason, and the Sigma Nu’s. If I’d been inclined to join any of them, the Sigma Nu’s would have been probably been it. They were by far the funkiest fraternity on the campus at the time, in some ways pretty close to the Animal House model. But I already knew most of those guys and partied with them already, so I really didn’t see the point in formalizing the association. Plus, I didn’t want to join anything where I would be compelled to go to meetings and shit. Perform civic duties. Fuck that.

My dad and my brother were in fraternities. SAE’s. So its not like I wasn’t familiar with Greek thing. I guess I could’ve pledged SAE at UT as a legacy or something. Not that I was inclined to . . . but I didn’t go to UT right off, anyway. I wanted to work pretty much full time and start college locally, then after a couple of semesters, once I’d got a feel for it and had saved up some money, I’d transfer to UT. It wasn’t that hard to do in those days.

In the meantime, that summer between high school and college, I got involved with this girl I’d met down at the beach. She was still in high school, a year younger than I. By that time I’d moved out of the house and into my own place; and once school started up again, this girl would stop by my apartment every morning on her way to high school, sometimes in her cheerleader uniform and shit, at like 7:15 a.m. She would let herself in and make sure I got up in time to make my first class out at Lamar U . . . by climbing in bed with me and inducing me to perform all sorts of unnatural acts with her, all of this before 8:00 in the morning. It was a pretty good deal, I thought at the time. I didn’t care about her all that much, it was very much a one-way affair. I am not proud of that, but sometimes you find yourself in a situation where, no matter what you do, it looks like you are going to get the better end of the deal. You can either fret over it, or just enjoy it. Maybe it is some kind of cosmic payback for all the times you’ve been fucked over in the past. Whatever. I chose to enjoy my little situation, even though I knew it might not be exactly noble of me.

Anyway, that whole summer and fall was a fond memory, of me and this high school cheerleader girl, cavorting around and having fun; until somewhere in there, among all our goings on, I’d forgot to protect us properly. It was near mid-semester when she let me know she was knocked up.

********************

Like I said, my original plan had been to screw around matriculate at Lamar U. for a year, then transfer up to UT. Getting a schoolgirl pregnant kind of fucked that all up. Anyway, by the time I would’ve got to Austin, I looked kind of like Duane Allman, maybe; the only fraternity I would’ve been fit for by then was if they had a Rastafarian frat, or maybe one for Deadheads. I assume they didn’t, and I never made it to UT as an undergrad, anyway. And I was destined to go through college as an unaffiliated independent. Fine with me.

The frat little sister I was dating was named Carla. She was a part-time receptionist at the same law firm I interned at. Sweet, dark-eyed Port Arthur girl, half-Cajun, half-Hispanic. She was slender and had long, dark hair and was tall and leggy and gorgeous. And, she was wild as hell.

Naturally, I was immediately in her thrall. We started dating, and it seemed like almost every time we went out, it turned into some kind of disaster – one time, she passed out and started turning blue at a Parliament-Funkadelic concert at The Summit; a few weeks later, I got pulled over at the beach by the DPS for DWI (I wasn’t drunk, which they finally figured out); somewhere in there, she fell in the Neches River and nearly drowned during a radio station sponsored raft race; and so on.

But we were so attracted to each other, we just kept at it. Maybe we were both terminal then. I probably was; and if you are in a terminal mode of some sort, it is bad juju to get involved with someone in the same frame of mind. The two of you will tend to feed off of each other. You’ll be in this tight embrace, thinking you are having a great time, not noticing the downward spiral you have fallen into.

It was so weird dating Carla. I felt like I was along for a ride I had no control over. If you asked me at the end of it if I’d loved her, I would have said I didn’t know. Sometimes I think I really didn’t even know her. We were fucked up too much of the time to really develop any kind of a lasting relationship. As soon as something went really wrong – in this case a screwed up cocaine deal that nearly got the both of us killed – we were destined to shatter. And we did. Into a million little pieces, it seemed like at the time. What is odd is, I find myself at times thinking of her wistfully. Rather like thinking fondly of a near-miss train wreck. Nostalgia can be a strange thing.

To be honest, there are a lot of things I don’t remember from that time. I doubt Carla does, either. That may be a good thing. We were just fucked up all the time - me, Carla and her best friend, Cathleen, who was pretty hot, and had a boyfriend named Lynn, who may have been wilder than the rest of us put together. All I do remember is a lot of fun, right up to the day it stopped being fun, almost forever.

********************

Lynn was friends with a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy . . . I forget how far down the line he was removed, but anyway the guy at the end of the chain was a big cocaine dealer – a distributor, actually – out of Galveston or Houston, I forget which. Lynn’s friend said there was a quantity of coke being ferried into Sabine Pass on a shrimp boat, an offload from a much larger shipment anchored out in the Gulf somewhere. There had been some problem with organizing a plan to get the shipment from Sabine Pass to further down the chain of distribution. Lynn related to me this proposal as it was presented to him. Someone was needed to pick up the cocaine in Sabine Pass and then take it to a storage facility in League City or Dickinson somewhere, where it would be delivered to some guy who was a big-time street dealer in Houston. That guy, assuming everything was in order, would hand over a bag of cash that would then be delivered back to Galveston, where the delivery guy would receive his cut, again assuming everything was in order. And that was it.

Lynn said the payoff was $15,000. He said if I would drive he would give me $10,000, and he’d take $5,000. That seemed awfully generous; and there were other questions I had about the whole thing, but something – probably the thought of 10 G’s in my hot little hands – told me to forget my reservations, and just agree to do it.

When we got to the Coastal dock in Sabine Pass that Saturday morning, it was barely light. The air was thick with humidity and the smell of the ocean. It was 6:30 a.m. or thereabouts, and the sun wasn’t quite up yet, but it was already hot and sticky.

I could hear noises coming from the Western yard next door, where a big semi-submersible was being refitted. Apparently they were running extra shifts to get it done. It is kind of funny, in retrospect – that was at the height of the early 1980’s oil boom, and people were working frantically to get rigs up and operating out in the Gulf. Within three years, the whole thing went bust, and these same docks were surrounded with out of service rigs everywhere, it was like a fucking graveyard.

I wasn’t aware of any of that at the time. I was aware of the acid in my stomach churning with nervousness as Lynn and I stood out on the dock next to my Trans Am. I could hear the girls talking and laughing in the car, and then – just faintly at first – I could hear the churning of an engine, somewhere out on the water.

Shortly, a big shrimp boat came into view, chugging into the dock. It had been out on an all-night trawl somewhere, out in the Gulf. The boat was Vietnamese, but as it neared the dock I could hear conversation in Spanish and, sure enough, there were Mexicans on the boat, too. Pretty unusual at the time, it seemed to me. As soon as the boat was tied off, Lynn recognized someone on the deck and went right over the gunwale and onto the boat. As I watched with some apprehension, Lynn and this guy disappeared down an interior stairway to the hold.

I had initially been pretty gung-ho about this deal, but as it got nearer I began to have some trepidation. It bothered me that I was relying on Lynn for everything. I liked him well enough, but he was absolutely disorganized, and his personal life was a mess; yet he was organizing this complicated drug transaction? It had been his idea to let the girls come along, for the ride. I thought it was a terrible idea, but I got outvoted on it. Now here we were down on this dock, with my partner and some dealer down in the hold of a boat, retrieving our haul, and it suddenly came over me we were totally out of our element. Just some fucked up college kids, and now we were dealing with the real thing. The Vietnamese on the boat were watching every move I made – basically trying to get a cigarette lit in the stiff wind – and I was thinking that to us, this was kind of a lark, but those guys were dead serious. And even if we got out of this situation intact, I couldn’t imagine who or what would be waiting for us at the other end.

My good sense was finally kicking in, but way too late. My partner was down in this boat somewhere, and he’d made who knows what kind of commitment to some drug overlord I had no idea of. But there was no way, nowhere to run by then. We would just have to ride it out, and hope for the best. But I resolved right then and there that, come what may, I’d never put myself in a situation like that again. If I got a chance not to.

Finally, Lynn and his buddy emerged from the boat. Each had two large, brown paper-wrapped bundles, about the size of full grocery bags. They hurried across the dock and I popped my trunk. It was a tight fit, but they got the bundles shoved in there, and I quickly shut the trunk again. Lynn’s friend hurried back to the boat, which was already beginning to back away from the dock. Lynn and I jumped in the car, and I fired up the Trans Am and we got the hell out of there. We hadn’t said a word to each other, the whole time.

********************

We left the docks in Sabine Pass and pulled out onto Highway 87 and headed west, along the coast. It was a straight shot – from Sabine Pass to High Island and then down the Bolivar peninsula to the ferry. Probably 50-60 miles altogether. I could drive it in my sleep.

The section of 87 between High Island and Sabine Pass was washed out by a storm sometime in the mid-1980s, as it had been many times before. Only the last time, the DOT or whoever decided not to rebuild it again. There had been talk of maybe raising that section up, like a causeway, but there were environmental concerns, not to mention it would have been crazy expensive. So the whole section of road – thirty miles of highway, or more – had basically been abandoned to nature.

You can still drive it, but it would be a good idea to have a four-wheel drive with plenty of ground clearance. Whole sections of the pavement are still there, but much of the old road is covered by loose sand, some of it quite deep. The whole place is part of a nature preserve now, so maybe it is just as well.

Still, I miss being able to just drive that road. The beach in Chambers and Jefferson County never was really developed, and once you got past McFaddin Beach, it was basically desolate, all the way to High Island. Especially on an overcast, gloomy day, it was bracing to ride along that road for miles, the open ocean in clear view on one side, the black clouds roiling up over the flat grasslands of the coastal plain on the other. I’d be in my car, listening to the stereo, cruising along, completely surrounded by my two favorite things in nature – the ocean, and rain. It was so comforting, about the closest one could come in this world to feeling like being back in the womb.

I wasn’t feeling comfortable at all that day, driving down Highway 87 toward High Island in the morning sun, with two loud, chattering women in the back seat, a partner in the front seat who insisted on changing the music on the stereo halfway through every song, and enough cocaine in the trunk to get us all put away for multiple years.

We talked about what to do next. We weren’t due in League City until 3:00 that afternoon, which meant we had 5-6 hours to kill in the meantime. We could either stay on the Bolivar side and hang around at the beach or something, or go ahead and cross the bay on the Galveston ferry early, before the traffic, and hang out on the Galveston side.

We opted for Bolivar. We felt more comfortable with it. I don’t know what we would have done in Galveston, but I knew of an unoccupied-for-the-weekend beach cabin in Singing Sands at Crystal Beach, and I knew where the key to it was hidden. I felt a little better after we decided to head for the cabin at Crystal Beach to chill out for a few hours, before doing the rest of our deal, on the other side of the water.

We got to the cabin about 8:00 a.m., and sure enough, I found the key. While I went up and opened up the place, I could hear the girls and Lynn messing around in the screened in area underneath the cabin. Once I opened some windows and turned on the water, I laid on top of one of the double beds in the large main room, and thought how beneficial it would be to get a few hours of sleep. I hadn’t got much the night before. I was laying there on my back, just drifting into that nether land between wakefulness and sleep, when Carla came upstairs and said they were going for a walk along the beach. I told her to go ahead, I needed a nap. So she kissed me just hard enough to arouse me a little – on purpose, I think – and then flip-flopped on out of the room and down the stairs outside. I lay there, temporarily distracted by impure thoughts; but before very long I fell into a deep, restful slumber.

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