Saturday, February 02, 2008


My car was in the shop for much of January. Driving to the recycling center on a very cold morning on 28 December, the heater hose blew. Heat damaged the engine, which the mechanic farmed out to a subcontractor to fix. Day after day, the subcontractor promised to fix it the next day; eventually, when the engine finally was fixed, the mechanic fired the subcontractor and put all the king’s horsepower back together again.

I got the car back on 23 January. The mechanic felt guilty and knocked off $200, so the bill was $1,751.34. Oh, well, at least I was able to pay it this year.

With the car back, I figured I’d drive myself crazy. I could drive and find that little, once-town called Big Rock. Or drive to Weeping Mary. Or Athens or Paris or Moscow. All of which are nearby in Northeast Texas. I could drive to Dallas to hear some music. I could drive somewhere and maybe spend some time with people I miss. I could drive deeper into my imagination. I could drive myself to some place and time in history.

A gift from 40 years ago arrived in the mail just before Christmas, a c.d. called Betty Buckley 1967, with the semi-iconic Fort Worth entertainer smiling playfully on the cover. The real gift, though, was the gift of memory: the photo on the back cover of the then-young Buckley in a loose-fitting mini-dress, leaning against a fountain in what looks like some old European city. She reminded me, in that dress, of the college freshman ex-cheerleader I dated for much of 1967 who won a couple of beauty contests and eventually broke my heart.

The world, no better or worse then than it is today, was changing. Che Guevara died in 1967. So did Woody Guthrie, Langston Hughes, Alice B. Toklas, and John Coltrane. Nearly half a million Americans fought in Vietnam, and there was war in the Middle East. That summer, as an intern for United Press International, I covered a KKK rally deep in the forest outside Baton Rouge and, the next day, a civil rights march in that Louisiana capitol where 1,200 national guardsmen kept a semblance of peace. Guardsmen fired only one shot; wind blew the teargas away.

The first song, “One Boy,” on the Buckley album declares that we need one person to be with forever and ever, claiming that’s the way it should be. In “They Were You,” Buckley sings, “when the dance was done, when I went my way, when I tried to find rainbows far away, all the lovely nights seemed to fade away,” while “I Wanna Be Free” is as gentle a break-up song as anyone could sing. Buckley goes on to ask, “Where is Love?” And, “Who Can I Turn To?”

She claims, in the final song, innocent again, that when she falls in love it will be forever.

Buckley said hearing the old recording again “afforded me the remembrance of a girl who loved to sing for the pure joy of it. She was filled with love and hope and couldn’t wait to fly.”

Seeing the photo on the back cover reminded me, fondly, of the one who flew away from me; the music provides context for treasured memories from another time. Thanks, and forgive my own sentimentality in a cynical, ironic world. I could have driven myself to that place and time in history where that ex-girlfriend, my second one ever, and I sat in my apartment. I could have said something else, but didn’t. A few years later, when I was in the Army, I got a letter from that ex-girlfriend, who had married and divorced. She was sad for the mistake she made, for the fact that she (we) don’t always make the best decisions; there was no return address.

I didn’t drive myself anywhere, except for work stuff.

One day in late January the wind blew so hard that it almost knocked my car off the road. It blew me away a couple of times, and I had to go find myself.

The lake behind my hole of a magic castle is mostly gone now. On New Year’s Day, the 70-year-old dam that created a small lake early in the Neches’ journey (the mile-and-a-half long body of water known as Rhines Lake or, for the company that built it, Pure Oil Lake) collapsed, unleashing 9.5 billion gallons of uncontrolled water onto the far end of the land and into the main stream of the Neches, known to some as the last “wild” river in Texas. The fish in the lake, the eagles above it, the cottonmouths and moccasins in and around it, the deer and coyotes, the wild pigs, the dragonflies, and other creatures will feel the fragile impact for, most likely, years.

Which reminds me that sometimes life is like treading water in a whirlpool.

The February issue of County Line magazine, which my sister publishes and I write for, included an article I wrote about an African-American museum, in a small East Texas town, with an exhibit of racial stereotypes. Today, I got a call from a woman in Tyler who found a copy of the issue in her front yard with racist hate literature wrapped around it. She realized the publication wasn’t racist, but thought we ought to know about the incident. I thanked her. I don’t know how many of the magazines the fool stole from a stand and abused in the same way. I called the police, who said I could file a harassment report. I will do that if my sister, the publisher, approves once she returns from vacation.

The hate literature included a Hotmail email address. I notified Microsoft; I don’t know if they can do anything. The hate literature included a post office box. Monday, I will talk to the post office; I don’t know if they can do anything.

I believe in freedom of speech. These sick people can believe whatever they want; when they try to wrap it around something I’m involved with, I will do what I can to stop them without giving them more publicity.

On March 7, Image Warehouse in Athens will host my first photography exhibit. I call it “The $13.80 Foto Sho” because that’s what it cost to put together. I shot the photos with a donated digital camera, processed (and, in some cases, manipulated) them in the software that came with my computer, paid 19 cents apiece for the 20 4X6 prints, and bought five small, inexpensive frames that hold four prints each for $2 each at a closeout sale. The reception will be from 7 p.m. to 7:05 p.m., followed by freeform mingling and, at 8 p.m., music from Wendy Colonna.

In the photos, I look for beauty of one sort or another: a moth on a wall, the interior life of a flower, a favored muse’s moods in four variations of the same photograph, an abandoned house in a “field of light,” fog’s hold on a leafless tree in winter, weathered statues that exist in a sort of random solitude.

For some reason, I am without TV for the second day in a row. I pulled out an old Realistic radio that still works. I listened to the end of Prairie Home Companion and am now listening to readings of short stories. I just heard the reader say that love begins with a fantasy that the loved one will always be there.

To February, the month set aside for love. The shortest and coldest month. To driving yourself, from time to time, crazy. To beauty. And, yes, to love. Unconditional.