life is funny, part 383

Well I’m a standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona
Such a fine sight to see
It’s a girl my lord in a flatbed Ford
slowin’ down to take a look at me.

Except, of course, I’m in Scottsdale, Arizona.
And it’s an incredibly sad sight to see.
It’s a woman my lord with a grocery store cart
slowin’ down to avoid getting hit by Teslas.

I’m trying out a course I already know I hate. It’s a canal that runs through the Fancy Part of Scottsdale. The part where I’m not normally allowed, but I’m flying under the radar as a pretend runner. I’m standing at the intersection of Scottsdale Road and Camelback waiting for the light. She, on the other hand, did not.

She’s perched precariously halfway across the road. She made it to the median before the light changed, leaving her stranded. A cavalcade of expensive cars is roaring past her in both directions. There’s nothing she can do but stand there.

She has her life in the cart. A sleeping bag, a couple of sacks of clothes, the stuff you accumulate while living out of a mobile home that formerly lived at a Safeway. She doesn’t seem scared or concerned; I suppose this ranks pretty far down on her list of her priorities.

I’m pondering a new pair of bluetooth headphones. I’ve just killed the old ones, or possibly it was a carefully staged suicide. 180 bucks to buy new ones I’ll lose in a week? I guess. It’s only money. And I’m still trying to talk myself into keeping the NB Solas, which I know I already hate. I have a hard life. What’s wring with them? Mo asked helpfully. Not ugly enough? Mo is funny.

As I near the happily ever after stage of life, I increasingly think about how nice it would be to live with nothing. What if you really could fit all of your possessions into a shopping cart? If you’re Cheryl Strayed, you turn it into a career. If you’re a woman at Scottsdale and Camelback, you just try to survive.

I toy with the idea of an improbable race. I cling to the past with some sort of expectation I could get there from here. It’s all so complicated.

“Don’t surrender all your joy for an idea you used to have about yourself that isn’t true anymore,” Strayed said. I like that quote. I find myself so bound to the expectations of the old days. But I know it’s not true anymore. Maybe it’s all a matter of letting go.

The light changes. I walk past her and say hi. She takes no notice, maybe a survival skill or just a way of getting by. I run past the Fancy Sculptures and spring breakers on e-scooters, the Cubs and Brewers and Giants jerseys out for spring training, the megarich out with their sockless loafers and bulging shopping bags.

Who is in charge of writing how we live our lives?  Could there be anything more satisfying than being Pete Kostelnick, running from Alaska to Florida with your life crammed into a baby stroller? Why are we messing with all of this other stuff? Why?

There’s a fat man in the bathtub, Lowell George once wrote. And then he died. “I am at the moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century,” Ignatius J. Reilly exclaimed. “When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip.” John Kennedy Toole wrote this, and then killed himself. Mortality takes on a life of its own when you’re in the middle of an intersection dodging e-scooters.

I finish the run on a course I’ll never use again. I get in my car, which is hiding in the parking lot of the Fancy Shopping Center. I sit there for a while googling reviews of headphones that cost more than she will scrape together this month. I think about what’s ahead for dinner. I think about what’s ahead for the woman. Survival. It’s all so simple. It’s all so hard.

I drive away.

We may lose and we may win
Though we will never be here again

I could really use some cheese dip.

Life is funny.

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just another morning conversation, part 74

mo: i was just watching a movie about piranhas eating pizza.

me: why would piranhas eat pizza?

mo: not pizza. people.

me: oh.

my movie would’ve been more fun.

now i want pizza.

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things i wish i had said, part 80

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brothers, part 10

5 o’clock in the texas morning
I’ve got a long, long ride
— the prophet michael murphey

Dear Rick:

You once named your column after that song. We had so many long, long rides back in the day. Austin, Kerrville, Big Bend, Terlingua, the Guads. I was always riding shotgun, the kid brother you allowed to share your adventures.

I don’t know where this last trip is going. But I’ll be there, embracing your laugh and your goofy expressions and that sense of wide-eyed wonder that still refuses to be extinguished.

Cactus Jack drinks coffee black
Tells me it’s my lucky day

You taught me to love the road. And a good adventure. And a great story. It doesn’t have to be happily ever after. I miss you most when I’m on the endless stretches of Texas highways you loved so much.

I’m sorry this is happening. I’m sorry I spent a week getting your cat addicted to the Fancy Cat Treats. I’m sorry I ate your french fries while you were in the boy’s room. And I’m sorry I’m sitting in a roadside rest area typing a letter you would hate.

But I’m so glad you’re my brother. We’ll figure out the third act.

Outside the sun is up
and the wind blows me like a dixie cup
down the highway

I have an old voice mail from you on my phone. “hi sorry i missed your call. kate and anne are here, so we’re doing a lot of hugging.” The girls are giggling in the background. Such a perfect moment. I’m glad you missed that call.

Well, it’s almost 5 o’clock on a texas morning and I really do have a long, long ride. I wish you were here to share it.

I love you. I’m sorry you’ll never see this. See you soon. We’ll do a lot of hugging. I’ll bring more Fancy Cat Treats. Sorry.

your dear and worthless brother

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arrrrgh indeed

i always wondered what the old saying “beware putting pirate eyepatches on dogs arrrrrgh” meant. now we know.

when you go into a store to buy a couple of eyepatches and your sister-in-law comes walking out with two sombreros and a top hat, you know you’re hanging out with the right people.

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It’s a day to go to Roger Allen’s pottery studio for the first time since he moved on. To walk among his tools in the silence of the still room in back. To gaze at the StarKeepers up front and realize this is all of them; there will never be any more. To see his soul, embodied in a wheel and a chair and a reminder on the door to never take this art thing too seriously.

A day to walk around the Chicken Farm in constant amazement of all the hidden surprises you’ve never noticed. To marvel at how a visionary could have created such an art oasis in conservative West Texas. A day to wish you had signed up for his art class at Central High.

A day to buy Mo a shirt to wear on clay days. What better mojo could you ask for? A day to remember that your dad, not an art collector at all, had a Roger Allen collection displayed proudly in his living room. Because. Roger.

A day to remember the last time Roger came over to talk with Rick, carrying with him the ponytail that had fallen victim to chemo. To remember that after everything, his body was frail, but his spirit was still strong.

A day to celebrate art. To celebrate life. A day to celebrate, because you know that’s what he would want. Here’s to life, the prophet Clyne once said. Here’s to life. Which, as it turns out, is a chicken farm.

And here’s to you, Roger. I know the stars will keep you.

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brothers, part 9

He’s standing at the counter. He doesn’t know what to do.

We’re getting Chinese food, which strikes me as an odd thing to do in West Texas. I am carrying the tray to our table when I hear the woman say, “Who are you with?” He doesn’t know.

I have failed him. I’ve let him down, alone and defenseless. It was just a second, but a second is too long. I run over and walk with him to our table.

He eats in silence, clearly shaken. I only had one job, and I blew it.

His fortune cookie says: “You have a prosperous future ahead.”

I’m helping him pull on his sweatshirt in the morning. We go through the usual ritual everyone endures, trying to differentiate head holes from arm holes, up from down, till suddenly his head comes popping out in the right place.

He flashes that big Rick smile, arches his eyebrows, and in his best high-pitched cartoon voice, cries out, “HELLOOOOOO.” We both crack up laughing.

We go out for Sunday morning doughnuts and bring them home. We eat them and drink Dr Peppers while swapping the newspaper sections between us, the same way we did when we were 6 years old, and 16, and when we were journalists over the decades.

Guy Clark sings to us:

Old Friends, they shine like diamonds
Old Friends, you can always call
Old Friends, Lord you can’t buy ’em
You know it’s Old Friends after all

After a dark, rainy morning, the sun comes out. It’s going to be OK. It must.

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