Gracie has passed hands

Panorama view from iPhone; this was a lone car driving by. Just a little less than what’s left of my old Ford Contour.

The evening was cooling off; it had been so warm earlier that day that a couple men snaked me in line at Chick-fil-A to get more ice for their refills, one saying, “On a day like this, ice doesn’t last too long!”

So after a Thursday late afternoon meeting, I sat on a metal bench on Jefferson off Earl Garrett and waited for Karen to pick me up.

Why was I waiting…why was I not driving to meet Karen for tacos or maybe a stroll on the River Trail? you say. These are good questions you ask, because no one here walks but the homeless. (“Strolling” does not count; it is in the category of sauntering. Rf. Thoreau.) Sadly, the answer is that Gracie (my Ford Contour) has run her race and, after only 3.5 months, she has decided to ask me to put as much work into her–a new serpentine belt and power steering pump assembly + labor–as it cost to purchase her.


Loyalty has its limits. (And those limits come quickly when we’re dealing with a 20-year-old car that only cost me $650.)

And so, Gracie made an appearance yesterday on Facebook’s “Kerrville Online Garage Sale” (as well as “The Hill Country Classifieds,” “Bandera Online Without All The Rules,” and three other sales outlets). Within half an hour, I had two offers and also a text from a friend who was floating the sale to another friend. Three hours later, title, cash, and Bill of Sale had exchanged hands.

My buyer was a guy from Ingram, who came with his father. The first offer, significantly lower, was from a guy also from Ingram, whose Facebook page wall showed only his winnings from online casino. His profile photo was a white man in stetson, blonde mustache and no smile. The photo was blurred, which to me was probably more troublesome than anything else. I was a bit worried his might be the only offer, and he would talk me down to $12.95 plus a Shiner Bock. (And I don’t drink.)

The eventual buyer, however, had a Facebook profile showing him hugging a toddler, ostensibly his daughter or a niece. No mention of online casino. Mention of his home improvement business.

When he showed up at Texas Express Lube, where Gracie had been parked since the belt broke two Wednesdays ago, we shook hands and I noticed just how small and uncalloused my hands are. I can hold a small fish taco; this gentleman could grip a large burrito and a Shiner Bock in his hand and still flip the bird to a Yankee car seller if he so chose.

Although he seemed the epitome of kind and friendly, I had not sold a car privately before, and I decided to pretend I knew what I was talking about in the event he turned out to be shrewd:

“Well, ____ , let’s take a look and I’ll show you what you’re dealing with.” I had the hood open within three seconds. “So–” I pointed to where the serpentine belt had been “–the belt broke because the rotor there had been vibrating and threaded the grooves on the belt. The needed work was made complicated because they’d need to support the engine from underneath while replacing the assembly so that it wouldn’t shift and break one of the side mounts.” I had pretty much practiced these lines, and I believe I got away with about 95% believability that I knew the vast majority of words that came out of my mouth. Especially the verbs. The nouns came out at about 50% believability.

I showed him a cosmetic problem inside the car, which he didn’t’ care about. He just wanted the vehicle and was going to do the under-the-hood work himself.

“Howard, I really appreciate this. It’s such a blessing to me. Really came at the right time. The last few months, everything that could go wrong, has.”

Brother, I’ve been there. Glad to help.


Decidedly, a problem…

…When you want to work for an hour from a coffee spot and there’s nothing on this side of the Guadalupe except Denny’s and you don’t want to take the trouble to go across.

Clearly there is a coffee business in someone’s mind called “West Bank,” “Left Bank,” or even “Rive Gauche.”

Kerrville is ready for this.

Listening to birds with Mom

The birds are what I remember the most.

In kindergarten, I would stand with my mother on the front steps of the two-bedroom, white Point O’ Woods cottage we rented, and we would listen to birds I later learned were towhees. They would sing a song of three distinct notes which my mother would mimic in English so that I could remember it:

“Drink your TEEEAA!” she would delightfully command, drawing out the final word, then looking down at me with a smile and closed eyes, hunching her shoulders slightly, as if she and I were part of a holy conspiracy.

Maybe it wasn’t so much the birds themselves, though I do admire them even today. (And some of their cousins aren’t bad eating).

But birds, I suppose, have always meant intimacy.

It was my mother translating the song into a memorable phrase. A few years later, when I was in second grade, it was the Hasidic men, dressed like tired old crows, who’d sit on the green wooden bench inside Central Park at 98th and Fifth Avenue and who used to let me in on their fun of feeding the pigeons bread crumbs. It was the eagle I saw a few summers back, all by myself, at daybreak–when I felt intimate both with the winged mother providing for her offspring and also with the Divine allowing me to be a part of that moment.

The moment froze but had motion; its aroma was eternity.

In eternity, nothing ages. You can move around in eternity. Spread your wings. Fly.

I’m still 5 and listening to birds with Mom, and I’m 55, watching the purple martins fly low to the ground and catch mosquitoes at dusk.

purple martin
Courtesy: Home Depot


Where Jalapeños Go When They Die

Can we talk?

I turned 55 two days ago.

When one passes this milestone in the ‘ville of Kerr, one is entitled to certain “senior” discounts. Discounts of which this Young 55-Year-Old will gladly avail himself.

Here and elsewhere–of course, where the local establishment does in fact honor this Distinctive Earned Right–I can eat more cheaply at:

  • Arby’s
  • A&W All American Food
  • Church’s Chicken (yes!)
  • Chick-fil-A (Proverbs 20:29 says, “The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair,” and since I don’t have gray hair, I’ll take my splendor in the form of my #1 meal at 10% off, thank you very much.)
  • Chili’s (I’ll pass)
  • El Pollo Loco (cable TV scholars believe this to be the real-life chain parodied as “El Pollo Hermanos” in “Breaking Bad,” and was a money-laundering operation for one of the largest methamphetamine operations in New Mexico. I don’t know. I may stick with Chick-fil-A if I’m jonesing for poultry.)

And we’re only at the E’s. The list continues.

For me and people of my Esteemed Age, there are approximately 33 local discounts, from dining to retail to lodging. This is surely the Promised Land that I have entered herein.

But yesterday I had a great lunch with Karen at Rita’s Famous Tacos. The one on Earl Garrett. (Today I had a work lunch at the Rita’s out on Junction Highway, north of town. You use the word “out” followed by the preposition “on” or “in” or the conjunction “where” when indicating a location away from polite society. Like “out on the outskirts of town.” Or, “Johnny, please go out back, behind that bush.” Or, “They live out in Brooklyn.”)

But it is not this word out that vexes me. It is Rita’s quite good salsa roja, which of course must be applied to every breakfast taco and lunch burrito one orders, without fail. It’s kind of what you do. Because of this culinary and cultural discipline, it follows that all consumed food items must eventually return to whence they came. Which includes hot sauce and all the separate ingredients that go into same, whether those ingredients be mild tomatoes or feisty jalapeño peppers. But return they must. The return route might involve metabolizability and a years-long journey, or it can be a quick and direct escape route from the body, involving two main portals.

One portal is quick but doesn’t hurt the surrounding area. One is slower yet does.

When one turns 55, one may want to revisit whether to adhere to the local folkways regarding hot sauce.

Photo taken with Focos
I admit, I *am* intrigued by something called “Jack Fruit.”

Let Me Carry You

“Well, that was an ugly hand!”

“The worst one yet!”

IMG_0176The four women playing bridge at Pint & Plow yesterday laughed knowingly like old friends are wont to, and one dealt the cards for the next hand.

My phone rang, and it was Karen.

“Did Tivy [High School] get a hold of you?”

Her tone made me think immediately of–sadly, I’m serious, in this age–a school shooting.

“No…what’s up?”

She outlined the situation, and I realized the morning–and maybe the afternoon–would not be about me getting work done at this coffeeshop that doubles as an office. In fact, I had not had coffee at home; I’d run out my supply the previous morning and hadn’t stopped at H-E-B for more. (Careful Readers will note that I used the hyphens there, when I’ve omitted them in the past. You’re welcome.) I was nigh halfway done with my very first cup of java when Karen called.

Oh, well.


IMG_0175So this son left school and came with me, and we grabbed lunch at Whataburger, which has a radio ad with a pre-teen, a real one, not an actor, who actually says that a meal there is as close to a home-cooked family meal as you can get. Whataburger is heads and shoulders above the crowd of fast food, but I’ll let that bit of hagiographic copywriting speak for itself.

The women next to us, one of them in her 40s and in nursing attire–lots of nursing work here; it’s as common and nearly as lucrative as hedge fund work in New York City (speaking of hagiography)–were talking about Adonijah and Solomon and the scandals of the Old Testament. This is the talk of Kerrville, and I find it refreshing to eavesdrop on. In New York, if you eavesdrop on the wrong table, you might find it necessary to wipe your ears with alcohol and a cotton swab.

Then there was The Tale Of My Car.

Driving with the out-of-school son to pick up the in-school son, all of a sudden my steering got arthritic. It had been like this for a time, and I finally took the advice of my wife, who said “Check the power steering fluid,” which I did two days ago. (Years ago, knowing I did not grow up with cars, she sent me to the mechanic with our old Volvo but instructed me on my way out the door, “Remember to ask them to check the power window [sic] fluid.” Those of you who know her will know this practical joke is completely in character.)

Yesterday, I had power steering fluid added–I had learned years earlier that most real cars do not have “power window fluid”–and this transformed the ease with which I drove Gracie. (That’s my car, a 1998 Ford Contour.) She was like a vessel newly christened by champagne, and she responded to the slightest urging of her pilot. First thing today when I tried to turn it over, the battery and oil lights came on. It took three cranks to get it running smoothly. And today around 3:15, the battery light was back on, the A/C wasn’t working, and the steering went out, making it hard work to turn corners. After school pick-up, I drove the boys home to drop one of them off and, pulling away, saw a black coil on the street where my car had been parked, engine running.

“I think that’s part of my car,” I said to the remaining son. I got out and walked over. Sure enough, it was part–part only–of a black rubber grooved belt I’d seen when inspecting my power steering fluid reservoir yesterday. I put it into the trunk and told myself I’d stop at Texas Express Lube after dropping my son at his appointment nearby.

When I got to the mechanic, they opened up the hood. Three guys, all looking in, barely letting me get my eyes on what they were seeing, and groaning, “Oh, man.” “You see that?!” “Oh, wow.”

The manager said to me, “It’s amazing you even got here.” Sure enough, I had driven 35 MPH most of the way, even when the speed limit was 55. At one point, I was on the shoulder in a 55 with my hazards going along Bandera Highway south of the intersection of Loop 534, and a State Trooper appeared and then slowed about fifty feet behind me, in the lane, ostensibly to check if I was ok. I gave him a thumbs-up out the window and then pulled into the lane at the intersection.

The serpentine belt had completely broke off. It runs the power steering, the A/C, and a whole bunch of stuff, I’m told. Maybe even the windows, the radio, and my general outlook on life. The new belt is cheap, around $42, but to get at it, they need to take a whole bunch of things to get at the pulley, which also might be broken. [Editor/Writer’s note: today, my birthday morning, I get a call and learn that, yes, the whole assembly needs replacing. The total cost is nearing Gracie’s original sales price of $650. I’m thinking about next steps.]

The good news is that one of the mechanics is interested in buying it.

“My girlfriend’s son needs a car.”

I looked at him–he looked to be about 25–and I did the relational math in my head. My pause allowed him to fill in the details.

“She’s ten years older than I am.” (I had guessed correctly, he was exactly 25.)

“Oh, so she has like a 17-year-old?”

“Yeah. This would be a first car for him!”

*  *  *

I left the car there for the night.

This is the field I was about to walk across–I’ve been reminded many times that no one in Kerrville walks…only the homeless do–to get to where the son’s appointment was.


Reminds me what my father would tell me about his wanting to walk the ten minutes from his aunts’ house on Church Street to downtown Williamston, NC. One of them would say, “Law, Frank! [Lord, Frank!] Don’t walk! Let me carry you over there!” [Drive you there.]


Something Tricky This Way Comes

The day started with a trick played on me by a local Trickster.

Not just any trickster. The kind of Trickster that Lewis Hyde writes about. The kind that is the “playful and disruptive side of human imagination.” The kind that Hyde talks about when surveying mythology and tribal oral tradition, as well as modern artists and thinkers like Picasso, Duchamp, Ginsberg and even Frederick Douglass.

As you recall, Faithful and Dear Reader, yesterday I wrote about PAX’s bagels. Even my wife, a Texan and normally an Alamo-style defender of All Things Texan (even when those Texan Things mimic New York Prototypes), says that the bagels in the Hill Country need some tweaking. She suggests giving the bagel a slight smush with the heel of the hand, and then cutting the bagel across halfwise, making two “sandwiches” of bagel and cream cheese. Know what I mean? If you don’t, then please visit New York.

In any event, Trickster sent me a text this morning, and it contained the PAX logo which, ghostlike, had become animated and spoke to me…DIRECTLY!

My friends… My dear, dear friends, this haunted me. Yet firm I stand on the assessment: smash the bagels (thereby avoiding burning the crown) and cut them in half diametrically.

Tonight, though, another eerie sight. This was outside CVS on Lemos at about 8:25pm.

Why did I insert two near-identical photos?

Because the one on the left was more dramatic; the contrasts were so stark. The right one had that ‘vette in there, and I couldn’t resist. She said, “I love this light.” Richard Rohr in his meditation today quoted Claude Monet: “the real subject of every painting is light.”


First bite of a made-in-Texas bagel

I’m told it’s a bagel. I’ll suspend judgment till the fourth or fifth bite.

Well, it was a bit of a surprise.

When paying for it at PAX, I almost tossed out to the cashier the arrogant and non-essential detail of how I was from New York and knew what real bagels are and I’d be keeping my eye on this one, yada yada yada. But so that you know, Dear Reader, I am from New York and I take my bagels seriously. That said, my ego needs to maintain a little hole in the middle that only humility can fill.

Delivered graciously to my table, the item in question had the height of a hamburger on brioche and the overall look of a cream puff. The kind my mom used to make for New Year’s Eve. Her cream puffs were celestial. One of my best friends tried that and also her apricot mousse–can you imagine the delight?!–and didn’t like either. From then on, I considered him a philistine.

I was afraid that this bagel had been steamed and not boiled. That would be a cardinal sin–the kind often committed by the cheap coffee carts along Manhattan streets in business districts. Those vendors buy the less-expensive steamed bagels from common breakfast fare criminals who, also, would not like my mother’s cream puffs or apricot mousse. They are, each one, infidels.

Actually, the cooked dough had a pleasant, solid bite to it.

But it was indeed puffier than I’d like. Not as robust as you might experience if you were standing on, say, Broadway and 108th Street in front of Absolute Bagels.

And, let’s point out an obvious something.

A bagel, by its nature, does not get its crown burned. Every time I’d bite into it, I’d smell its sad exposure to the negligent hand of its Lone Star State maker.

I’m afraid that Texas bagels will never quite measure up to New York ones. It’s in the water. (Same goes for pizza.) New York City’s water comes from the Croton Reservoir, and anyone who has lived in Manhattan in particular will tell you the tap water is divine.

So, New York’s got bagels and pizza.

But what I became convinced of by my Texan wife is that NYC does not have good Tex-Mex.

And she’s right about that.

Even if she weren’t.


For Karen

I was able to take a photo of this fine feathered friend yesterday while exiting my driveway.

I have been partial to birds for some time now, ever since we lived in what urbanists call the “donut hole” of a shared courtyard with many different brownstone buildings adjacent and to the north of us on New York’s Upper West Side. There we had sparrows, robins, towhees, blue jays, mourning doves, the very occasional catbird, pigeons, of course — more politely called rock doves — and even the cardinal.

This morning, the Hill Country mourning doves are in concert. A cacophony that somehow has its sensical cadence and tune. There are virtuosos among the eight or so I hear, and there are of course the back-up singers.

It was Karen, and here in Kerrville, who introduced me in 2005 to Anne Lamott’s seminal book for writers, Bird By Bird. If you don’t know the book, and if you haven’t heard about the naming of the title, here it is: when Anne’s older brother was about ten and had a long report due for school about birds and had had about three months in which to do it, he was sitting at the table frustrated because he had made so little progress. Their father, a writer, sat down next to him and “put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’ I tell this story again because it usually makes a dent in the tremendous sense of being overwhelmed that my students experience. Sometimes it actually gives them hope, and hope, as Chesterton said, is the power of being cheerful in circumstances that we know to be desperate.”

And if Karen has delivered nothing else in my life — and she has delivered quite a bit more — it has been hope.

So Happy Mother’s Day, Karen.

I would say you are the Mother Hen, but that makes you sound too old and round.

I would say you are a peacock, but no peacock I know goes out into public with her oil paints still sticking to her lips, making her look like Queen Amidala. Or maybe that’s exactly what they do.

I would say you are like the mockingbird, so capable of amazing and often hilarious impressions of coworkers, friends and family. Yet, you don’t “mock” so much as bring out the hidden and wondrous truth of others, showing yourself a sincere friend to so many.

I would say you are a female of many different species, and this is closer to the truth, because typically the females are less preening and not so self-conscious of their looks, for which I can’t understand any real value other than to be painted into forgetful paintings of Mallard Ducks in gold frames that hang on the walls of Republican politicians’ offices.

No. You are closer to the American Bald Eagle. The female and male look alike, but surprisingly the female is a third larger in size. Before you come after me with a jagged paintbrush for this comparison, consider the metaphor of being the one who carries more weight. You are like the eagle I saw a few summers ago at Lake Champion. She flew from the tree line across that small body of water. As she neared my side of the shoreline, she did a 180° arc like a plane expertly piloted and approaching a landing strip and started to descend toward the surface of the water. Effortlessly — but not without the benefit of years of practice — and still riding on the strength of the first beat of her powerful wings, she swooped down to the glassy surface and with her talons grabbed a fish with nary a splash. As I watched, it was both violent and beautiful. The word “ineffable” comes close. Then, with another beat or two, she rose gracefully and guided herself back into the tree line to a nest filled with her waiting offspring.

Happy Mother’s Day.

You have fed us all well. You have protected the nest and been the hunter.

You are fierce and beautiful.

Bozo’s Hair’s on Fire

Quick silent poll: “Should people be allowed to whistle in a relatively closed public place?” To wit: as I am trying to work at Pint & Plow, should the slightly musical wife of the octogenarian gentleman–reading to her from The Daily Times about what the most popular girl’s and boy’s names were in 2017 (Emma and Liam, “Would you believe that?” he says. “Must come from the movies. You can bet the girl’s name wasn’t going to be Hillary.”)–be allowed to whistle at a distance of eight feet from my stationary ears and laptop? And should she be allowed to whistle Elder Joseph’s “Simple Gifts” in fragments and off-key at that? From Simple Gifts to asking whether they should go now to get her prescription–“It’s at HEB, and they said it’s ready”–and back to whistling another fragment.

I know it’s a free country.

But where along the spectrum does this specific liberty of Whistling Off-Key Close To Others Who Are Seated And Working fall in relation to yelling “FIRE!” in a crowded movie house. Which, we would all agree, is a Bozo No-No.

Because, from my seat, I’m about as ready to run.

That fresh-as-a-daisy feel

As you might imagine, walking around in The Philippines and in Hong Kong, where the humidity is at a steady SwimmingPool%, one’s clothes need a good washing before long.

When I had “undergarments” washed at the hotel, it cost slightly more than US$6 per garment. Big tactical mistake. For a few dollars more, I could have invested in the new MeUndies, apparently the new hot thing for what goes on first.

Ok. Lesson learned.

Tonight, Karen and I had what must have amounted to about a thousand dollars worth of hotel washing to do. So I found this Sunshine 24 self-service laundromat that has an open front to Eastern Street here in Sai Ying Pun. It’s super clean and even has a cool feature of having the soap already preloaded in the washer! But it only takes the Octopus card for payment. The Octopus can be purchased at MTR (subway) stations and is used not only for the various modes of transportation, but also for other consumer purchases like food, laundry services, and even coffee at my favorite nearby coffeeshop, which accepts only Octopus or cash. That woman you see at left is just coming back from 7-Eleven, where she had refilled her Octopus card. She had offered to help when I looked disheartened at the instructions, so I paid her HK$60 (a little less than US$8, or the price of one hotel-cleaned undergarment) to use her card to pay for my wash and dry, and she was going to refill it a couple blocks away so she could finish her laundry. She made an extra trip to help me out.

Pretty friendly neighbor, if you ask me.

Now Karen and I can venture off to The Philippines again (tomorrow; first time for her), fresh as a daisy. (Till about 8:30am!)