Land of many hills

Today, we’re going to take a break from talking about snakes, snakes, or snakes.

Today, we’re going to talk instead about tchoupitoulas. The Tchoupitoulas Native Americans were a tribe of Mardi Gras indians from Louisiana. Tchoupitoulas–pronounced CHOP-ih-TOO-luhs–means “people of the river.” They were related, apparently, to the Cahokia people, which were mound-building people, making structures like this. So, although the Cahokia were to the north of their Louisiana cousins, who celebrated the wild days before Lent, that is, before the Europeans forced them to know what Lent was even about, the mounds were looking a whole lot like Central American mounds, or for that matter even the pyramids, and this might cause my brain to overwork and want to go back to discussion of snakes in dryer vents if I don’t stop that train at this station right now, Mister, thank you very much.

But how does tchoupitoulas relate to Kerrville?

If you go onto Pint & Plow’s website and look at their beer descriptions, which I view as a historian and not an active participant, you’ll see that Sidney Baker Street used to be called Tchoupitoulas. (Here’s where I run into snake-infested narrative territory…where the secret annals of Joe Herring Jr. archives might prove any one of my jots or tittles aforementioned or heretofore an outright lie. In fact, I see that Joe’s writing is syndicated widely, and appears on the site connected to where we live. Who knows but what this True Kerrville Historian might–all in good humor, mind you–put a garden snake in my purple pool noodle? If there’s one there next week, Joe, I know who I’m coming after.)

But back to words.

What’s also cool is that “San Y’bon” is what our part of the Guadalupe River was called. It’s also a beer here. But, again, that’s merely history to me, not an invitation.

My hometown, incidentally, is also next to a river. Actually, it’s nestled between two. There were peoples who lived peaceably there once. One of those peoples was the Lenape of the Delaware River tribe. Lenape means “true people.”

The Dutch and Lenape traded goods four hundred years ago so that the Dutch could use the land, which was also near the Atlantic ocean and therefore good as a port, for commerce. The Lenape, in the culture of native peoples, saw the transaction as a perpetual usage fee of sorts. Perhaps it was “tribute” that the Dutch paid to them, or so they thought. The Dutch, in European culture, saw it as a purchase outright, with ownership transferring to them. To the Lenape, land “ownership” was an oxymoron. Who could own the land, which was there for the good of all?

This transaction concerned an island called by the Lenape “the land of many hills.” That land now has very few hills. It used to be called “Mannahatta,” referred to still as such by Walt Whitman in the mid-19th Century.

Now, it has a Times Square.


Apparently, 16 minutes is necessary

Lunch break is not bringing me solace. Maybe I am reading the wrong news feed.

Because in my Feedly, there’s a story in my Texas folder (which comes after my Philippines folder) of:

  1. A toddler in Abilene being bitten by a rattlesnake…
  2. A man in Corpus Christi being bitten by a decapitated rattlesnake (this is 15 minutes after he severed it with a shovel and the out-of-control head released even more venom than usual), AND
  3. Karen knows someone who’s brother is recovering from a rattlesnake bite.

Isn’t it likely that it’s just a matter of time before one slithers up the toilet pipes when I least expect it? I mean, even a snake head can swim a short distance if we’re on the ground floor.


Multiplied Pain

snake in toiletThe snake tale has been confirmed again by its source.

I didn’t want to believe it, but Karen laughed–again, as we drove off the grounds of Comanche Trace.

There must be something about those oak trees forming a gauntlet, or the ubiquitous deer, or the sprinklers, that tickles her about my near-deathly fear of the creature about which God said long ago, “Cursed are you more than all cattle” (Genesis 3:14), but God also said, “And you [the snake] shall bruise him [the man] on the heel” (later in verse 14). Believe me, God ain’t talking about no “bruise.” A bruise I can take. It’s those fangs I worry about. Specifically, those fangs near a part of me a bit north of my “heel.” Because let’s face it, parts of Genesis are metaphorical, and God really didn’t want to lay the truth too bare for Adam and Eve–I mean, they were still pretty new to the Real Life Department–like that this cursed snake is going to swim up the toilet pipes of their descendants when one of them–a kind, middle-age man who grew up in New York City–is dealing with personal issues in non-heel areas.

Apparently, there are places where the sun don’t shine but the snake do bite.

Yet, Karen laughs.

That’s ok. God “multiplied her pain in childbirth.”

Exposed to snakes

So apparently we have a snake in our garage.

This was one of the worst nightmares of my early days of youth, right up there with the glow-in-the-dark Dracula model that I’d made and stupidly had displayed on my brother Jim’s desk. Staring down at me eight feet away in this tiny Manhattan bedroom we shared.

Four years old, I used to lie in bed at night and freak out because I was certain that if my arm slid off the side while I slept, a rattlesnake would bite me. Sure of it. My dad would come in, gently sit on the edge of the mattress near my waist so that I’d tilt toward him, feel his weight next to me, feel my smallness, and he’s say, “Howd, you don’t have to worry about any snakes in New York City. Besides, we’re six floors up and how would they push the elevator buttons?”

Today, those calming words dispelling childhood myths are meaningless. We live on one floor, with lawn and wildness outside all doors and windows around us. The house is porous. There is no elevator or 6th floor button to act as buffers. I can handle city muggers, crazy cab drivers, and tourists from Iowa, but snakes I cannot abide. No matter that early reports have the reptile measuring at 9 to 15 inches. No matter that it’s a garden snake. This means nothing. It’s alive. That’s everything.

What’s worse is that after trying to talk through my fears with Karen and telling her about the childhood nightmares again, she tells me that there are reports that “they come up through the toilets.”

“Alligators, you mean? Yeah…everyone knows that New York City myth.”

“No,” she retorts. “Snakes.”

“Snakes? In New York City plumbing?!”

“NO!” She’s laughing now, covering her mouth, hiding either the awful truth or a terrible tease. “Here. In Comanche Trace!”

“WHAT??!! Snakes coming up through our toilets?!”

This simply can’t be. I’m already dealing with hemorrhoids.

This is no time for benign neglect. I must take the fight to the asp in its current home, before it gets me in mine.



The only kid I knew in high school who died was named Ned. He died of leukemia. And this was actually at the end of 8th grade, before the girls came in 9th grade to join our all-boys class, and before we knew much about leukemia or really much about cancer itself. We were upper east side privileged kids going to an upper west side privileged school and, besides, we didn’t like Ned. He had fair skin, curly brown hair, and didn’t do sports. He wore glasses. He had transferred into Trinity in 7th grade. Died two years later. By 10th grade, he’d been forgotten.

Not until college did I meet anyone who knew someone who died in high school from a car crash. It was my roommate’s girlfriend. Her boyfriend in high school died. She seemed older because of that experience. They were all from Greensboro, North Carolina. Only my high school classmate Bill owned a car, though word was that my other classmate Ben also had his license before the rest of us. That was it. Two people who drove regularly. The rest of us took drivers’ ed in 10th grade so we could get our license at 17, a year earlier than the NY State law of 18. My student driving partner was a girl named Lisbet. Our teacher was a man who described his profession of drivers’ ed as “a vocation, an avocation, a passion,…” and about three more appositives that told us in no uncertain terms that he was oddly and somewhat disturbingly committed to teaching kids to drive.

Yet, he taught us things that have stayed with me. “Brake, mirror,” I still hear silently in my mind as I touch the brakes and look in the rearview mirror to make sure the driver behind me doesn’t smash into my tail. Using my signals is “communication.” And I can’t swing a cat without hitting a tight-lipped driver here in Kerrville. I still remember his formula to perform the perfect parallel parking job, better than any use of a modern review-view cam. (Though, I must admit that those cameras are great when backing up at night or anytime in H-E-B’s parking lot.)

But: death.

That was foreign to me. Not just driving deaths. Any deaths. My friend Danny died when I was 18, in the Central Park reservoir. And then my grandfather died after a suicide attempt when I was 20. Outside of those two meaningful people, I didn’t encounter death much. I remember reading my great-great-grandfather’s diaries from 1855. He wrote, “We buried little sister today.” “Little sister” was apparently either an infant who’d died before being named, or was older but he chose to refer to her in this way, which could have been either endearing or distancing. Either way, death was always present in those days. He later fought in the Civil War. He drew sketches of encampments.

I’ve seen these road-side crosses, often with flowers, along Main Street near Whataburger, Bandera Highway (shown in this photo here), Thompson Drive, and around town too frequent to count. My guess is that a number of the accidents they commemorate involved teens.

“We buried little sister today.”

Talkin’ ‘bout old men

As promised, Dear Reader, I did some more snooping.

Parking across from the old Texaco fillin’ station on Jefferson behind H-E-B, near the footprint of the old Tortilla Factory restaurant where we used to eat chalupa compuestos — as did, current rumor had it, political consultant Karl Rove — I walked briskly across the street to avoid Kerrvillian drivers who are wholly unused to creatures crossing in front of them who have 50% of the foot capacity of deer, and who therefore are unlikely to reduce their speed concomitant with my handicap.

As I approached the building, it appeared closed. This would have been about 5:45.

I didn’t grow up visiting people on their front porch unannounced, or bringing over a peach cobbler after church for Sunday dinner or, frankly, saying much at all to people on the street, so I didn’t know whether I was treading on private property that would be guarded with a weapon that had a barrel or fangs, or on the contrary whether I’d be greeted by some kindly gentleman in greasy overalls, wiping his hands on a rag and twanging out, “Howdy! How can I help you?!”

I had prepared in either case — except if it was a dog; then I’d run — to say, “Hi! I’m new to town but my wife is from Kerrville–I always get that out first!…” yada yada yada…some such drivel to make myself more palatable. I mainly was going to tell Said Kindly Greasy Gentleman that I was new to town and had driven by a few times and admired this building.

But no one was there.

Inside were two rows of shiny chrome-augmented motorcycles, maybe ten in each row. Motor oil cans and other tin containers from the early to mid-20th century (that sounds so old!) filled the window behind very clean glass.

The truck was a Chevy. Not a Ford. But neither was it a Hyundai.

And it appeared that every detail inside and out was curated, even manicured, right down to the 3-seater vinyl couch with the chrome arm rests that was behind the Chevy, ostensibly for old men to sit in, smoke cigarettes, and talk about the weather.

Fillin’ station

So we’re going to have to address this topic at some time or another, and I’ll spare you the photo.

Deer poop.

First off, encountering deer poop while walking is a little like going on an Easter Egg hunt planned by a blind man. Or like it’s fixed to benefit the fastest kid in the group. It’s all there in a nicely arranged constellation. The other thing I’ll say–and, mercifully, the only other thing I’ll say–is that it’s really not “gross.” You know? It’s almost kind of cute. Like deers’ eyes themselves. Or their tails. Or their snorts that the protective mother deer thinks is so aggressive but which we humans go “Awwwww” to. Deer poop. I almost stepped in it today but thought I’d let someone else benefit from the Easter treasure.

Now, onto a more edifying topic. In fact, an edifying edifice.


On Jefferson Street behind H-E-B–See? There go the hyphens; I’d feel guilty otherwise–is this pretty cool filling station. You can’t even call it a gas station. It’s a “filling station.” Or even a “fillin’ station.” That old Ford truck–which I trust is a Ford, I’ll have to verify; after all, I’m a New Yorker and at thirty paces I might mistake a Ford truck for a Hyundai Sonata–is a dull but country green. It sits there every day, and this location looks almost museum-like. I find it fascinating. And beautiful.

I need to drive by there later anyway, so I plan to go snooping around and see if I can find someone who can tell me the story.

But if you’re a local and your initials are KK, JH, or LLL, and you already know the back story, please don’t go spoiling it for me.


Back to work.

In the valley of love and delight

As I work once again at Pint and Plow, the same octogenarian couple as perpetrated the off-key whistling of “Simple Gifts” as noted earlier is discussing essentialism and structuralism.

I am doing my fundraising admin work, in which advanced philosophy is, “he has more dollars than sense.” I am eavesdropping on minds that have aged like wine.

When true simplicity is gained,

To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed…



Small towns and way too many deer.

That’s what’s on my mind today.

Yesterday, Bennett and I were driving down Barnett and about to take a right onto College Street. A pick-up truck was being pursued by two dogs. There was clearly a lead dog with a vision of glory and a sidekick, happy to suck on any tire it was so fortunate to catch. They raced across the “T” intersection, barking at the truck that was no doubt not in the mood to play. We turned right and, after catching up to the still-hot-in-pursuit canines, I did the thing you’re not supposed to do, which is use your phone while driving and, still less advisable, take a photo out the driver’s side window of two dogs in pursuit of a truck long gone ahead. We were going about 20 MPH max, so I figured…naw, I rationalized that it was ok. That’s where this shot came from. They gave me no nevermind. The vision was ahead.

Small town. Episode 1.

Small town, Episode 2. Today I get a text from a friend who said that Pint and Plow had found Bennett’s wallet. Now, I like Pint and Plow anyway. Jake and Brittany and the crew there are always nice, and their coffee is awesome. Their various rooms are great to get work done in, and I haven’t even commented yet on the quality food or their outdoor area and the occasional live music on the small stage in front. Finding the wallet was gravy. Truth is, Bennett was with me a couple weeks ago after he had a rough day and–as teenagers are wont to do–he lied down on the couch in the area that has armchairs, a coffee table with newspapers, magazines and history books on Kerrville, and on most days, is occupied by people who definitely never lie down on couches in public. It was lost then, because someone found it today under a cushion. Bennett’s wallet had a good amount of money he had earned working over the previous few weekends, and we all had been frantically looking for it and retracing our steps.

“Hope this falls in the plus column for small town living,” my friend texted.

Preach it, brother.

Now about the deer.

I used to love deer.

“Bucolic” was a word I often associated with them, and I heard imaginary flute music in my inner ear when conjuring up an image of one.

Yet down one car since selling Gracie (my Ford Contour to which I gave a name to soften my feelings toward it, which otherwise would have been begrudging thankfulness), Karen and I were driving late last night and there were deer…Everywhere. You who live here know what I mean. Everywhere. Pulling out from our street onto the main street in this development, there were deer on either side, eyes glowing, and I felt oddly like I’d entered a Gentle Zombie Apocalypse. Like they were going to trot toward me and then lick me to death. The scariest part though, and truly it made me detest driving at night, is that they are as stupid as slugs–and I mean that in the most loving way–when it comes to their behavior near roads. On our drive a few miles long, three deer ran across my path with fifty feet of the car. Today I saw the corpse of a fawn on the shoulder of Junction Highway and knew that some other driver had probably been equally cautious as I last night but not so lucky.

I don’t have a solution.

But when driving with my loved ones at night, my motto with deer is the same as it is with zombies: better that I kill them, then they kill us.

That’s why there’s venison jerky.