a gift from my mother the day i was born

Oh, I love trash!
Anything dirty or dingy or dusty
Anything ragged or rotten or rusty
Yes, I love trash.
— the prophet oscar the grouch

Can you recycle a Post-it?

I ponder for a second as it hovers over the trash basket. I have a recycle basket and another for everything else. I daily sort stuff into them, though most of the time I’m not absolutely sure if I’m using the right one.

Is yellow paper OK, or should I limit it to white? I’m not sure. The dirty secret at newspapers is that we go through a LOT of paper. I suspect this is because we don’t sell as many copies of the paper as we used to, and we have to do SOMETHING with all the dead trees. Daily, I print the wire budget, the budgets for three or four newspapers, the daily schedule and sundry other reports. We don’t use the word sundry enough in daily conversations. Which is sad, because when I say it, I think of “Sundae” and I like ice cream.

The two waste baskets sit next to each other, which is a good thing because being a waste basket would be a sad, solitary business otherwise. But it’s tricky with paper because I’m a bad shot. I generally have a 50-50 chance of hitting the right bucket. When I don’t, I dutifully fish it out of  the trash and move it to recycle.

Should plastic bottles go into recycling? Nobody explained how it works when I started a year ago, but I have adopted my own theory that the blue tub is for paper only. No, plastic, cardboard, car batteries or breakfast burrito wrappers. Solamente paper, nada mas.  I have a separate system altogether for recycling the actual breakfast burrito.

The Nice Man empties the trash twice a week, so by the time Saturday rolls around, my tub is almost full. It’s a nostalgic little time capsule of deadlines met, deadlines forgotten, endless reminders of events. Paper, paper and more paper. Yes, I have it on the computer, but there’s just something about printing it out and crossing off items as the evening goes by. I’m nostalgic. I love paper.

By the time Saturday evening rolls around, the recycle basket is almost full. And yes, the yellow paper is in there as well. I’m a rebel. The trash basket has a few Dr Pepper bottles (research has shown that Dr Pepper reduces headline errors by 27 percent and makes me think of Ma whenever I drink one) and some burrito wrappers. Want to be a journalist? All you need are Dr Pepper and burritos and a couple of bad puns. All’s farrier in blacksmith wars.

The Nice Man is coming down my row. I look down to make sure all my paper is in the blue bin. I’m ready.

I say hi, and he says hi back. I think he likes the acknowledgement. It would be a sad, solitary business otherwise. Custodial guys work too hard for too little money.

He reaches down, grabs the trash basket and empties it into the big trash can he wheels around. He then reaches down, grabs the recycle basket and empties it into the same solitary trash can. The burrito wrappers and stacks of paper all say hello to each other after having been separated for several days.

I admire my empty baskets for a moment and then go back to grappling with blacksmith puns. I wonder whether the paper plate for my cake is recyclable. I wish I had ice cream with it. I like ice cream. I might have mentioned that already.

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corridos migrantes

People need to know that there are a lot of human reasons behind immigration. You choose the way you approach music and what you are going to do with it. We choose supporting a lot of things we think are right.”
— David Pérez, conga player/humanitarian

We’re looking for the bar, Mo tells the guy standing on Central.

Ah, the bar, he says. Go up this alley, turn right into the other alley and look for the neon sign that says “the bar.”

We’re downtown on a cold Saturday night and the idea of walking through a dark alley that is home to too many homeless peeps doesn’t seem like such a good idea, but we’re on a mission. We go.

Two turns and a couple of dumpsters later, there it is. The guy at the door says we must show our IDs. But Mo, who turned 21 a few years ago, hasn’t brought hers.

There’s an awkward moment while the bouncer, a big guy, wonders what to do. I’m thinking we made it this far, after driving around for a half hour trying to find a hole in the wall, only to be turned away here. I know EXACTLY how Dorothy felt upon finding Oz. If I only had a brain.

But then the guy shrugs and waves us in. We walk down the battered steps into the basement of a dark, ancient building. It’s been brought back to life by the local musical genius without the hassle of modernizing, the building equivalent of an old car that works just fine, so why repaint it.

To the left is the Rose Club, an homage to accidental Gov. Rose Mofford. Silhouettes of random items travel around the bar. Hipsters guard little hiding-spot tables in the corners. An unapologetically bad portrait of Mofford and her beehive is proudly displayed. The place is insane.

Past the hallway into the other room, an old guy on the stage is playing congas along with a Latin soundtrack while the crowd waits. I’m not sure what to expect. And then the band comes out.

I had read about the guitarist/songwriter/bandleader in a New Times interview this week. His name’s Kiki Castellanos. He was born in Nogales, Arizona, moved to Sonora, Mexico, as a kid and now lives in Tucson. He told a story to New Times about how his family didn’t have much money when he was young, but his dad bought him an acoustic guitar on layaway when he was 13 and eventually was able to pay it off. He’s been a guitarist since. He now has a Fender Stratocaster (which he points out was made in Mexico), but says he still uses that old acoustic guitar for songwriting. It has powers. I figure a guy like that is worth risking death in an alley to hear.

His band is Vox Urbana. I’m not sure how to describe their music, but New York Music Daily calls it “psychedelic cumbia,” which works for me. All I know is it was like being on the top of a roller-coaster that starts to dive, and you never want it to stop.

Writing about music is like dancing about architecture, a critic from the Austin Chronicle used to say, so I won’t try to describe it. But picture a guitarist, bass, drums, two saxes, a trumpet, trombone, an old conga player from Mexico City, keyboard and accordion player — some Hispanic, some white — and an array of percussion instruments crammed onto a tiny stage, musicians whirling and chanting while the crowd bobs and weaves in the dark.

The place is packed. The crowd is hopping. The room is hot. The beer is cold. I totally forget that an hour ago I was feverishly working on a newspaper in Alabama. Mo is dancing around like a girl who snuck into a bar without an ID. It’s what life should be.

I’m not a bright guy. I don’t know how to fix DACA and comprehensive immigration reform and sanctuary cities and chain migration and who gets in from where. But I know for sure that the world is a better place when we mix our cultures, borrowing from the rich tapestry of other countries to make ours better. I resent the exclusionist theory that we should keep people out for hateful reasons. Hate less, dance more; that’s my new motto. I don’t care what Norwegian music sounds like.

For an hour in a weird basement bar in downtown Phoenix, while the government ended its first day of a shutdown because some people think hating other people is worth it, the world was a better place. I was happy, because a poor dad in Mexico once bought his teenage kid a guitar and pushed him down the path to a better life.

Make America Great Again? America is already pretty damn great, thank you very much. Sometimes you just have to go through a couple of alleys and enter illegally to get there …

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me talk pretty one day

It’s a big bookstore, the last of those places with the comfortable feeling of a place where it’s ok just to hang out. we go our separate ways once we’re inside.

I loiter around the staff picks, trying out pages at random from various books. I read Sedaris for a while, because, come on, Sedaris. about 10 pages of “it” without a death. A guy making toast and coffee in a way that’s funnier than it sounds. I rummage through the shirts trying to find one that says simply “fictional character” in my size. An obligatory pause at political commentary, A glance at random memoirs.

And then i realize it’s been a long time and i don’t know where Mo is.

But of course, i do. She’s immersed in the art section. admiring, reveling, drawing inspiration.

We drift apart again before meeting up again. She’s waving an old copy of the Great Gatsby and screaming F SCOTT FITZGERALD!!! We steal some bread samples because we’re rebels.

We walk out happy. How could you ever walk out of a bookstore unhappy?

The world will be a sadder place when they’re all gone …

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goodbyes are hard, part 2

he asked if i would stay awhile
and if i needed gas
i said no, thanks anyhow
i don’t drive too fast
— the prophet william gibbons

We were barely into our second cup of coffee before the title of the new car landed on the table. June signed, and I signed, and she handed me four keys to the car. Even I would be hard-pressed to lose four keys. It was mine. And that was that.

It’s great. Air bags, power steering, air-conditioning, a light on the ceiling that not only comes on when it should, but automatically turns off 30 seconds after you lock it. Five digits on the odometer. Real seats. Cruise control. Stereo. IT’S AN ACTUAL CAR!!!

Rick and I took it out for a test drive. We were the Smith Boys all over again. We headed for Sherwood Way and The Drag. We drove up and down like we had so many times during our formative years. We picked up exactly the same number of chicks as we had during high school, that being none. Smith Boys are shy.

It’s an automatic, so no thinking about shifting, and not the constant concern about which pedal I should be pushing down. Rick rolled the window down halfway on the passenger side. There’s nothing like cruising with the wind rushing through the car to make you feel alive. Except of course that it was freezing outside. Rick is annoying in that he dresses in enough layers as to not be constantly cold. I don’t get the whole long pants thing. Oh well.

We drove it to our daily hikes’ trailheads and our excursions around town. It felt odd after so many years to drive a car that didn’t rattle and wheeze and vibrate and make me wonder if THIS would be the time it wouldn’t start. And that rear-view mirror! I reveled in the odd sensation of not fearing impending death.

After a couple of days, Mo came back from her Artist Party in Corpus Christi, and we took her for a drive. The downside to this car is that it’s a two-door coupe with just the suggestion of a back seat. She jumped in head-first and rode with her legs sticking up. It looked comfortable enough.

We went out on the drag again. I counted this as picking up a chick at last, shattering our previous record by one. AND YES, SHE SLEPT WITH ME!!!! 16-year-old Gary would be so impressed. We went to the H-E-B at the end of the drag to buy coffee and cat food (45 years later, one’s priorities for the weekend change).

We drove home, pulled up to the curb, patted the little car on the hood, pulled Mo out by her feet and went inside. It’s a cool car.

The next morning as Mo and I prepared to head back to Arizona, we were barely into the second cup of coffee when I pulled out the title and gave it back to June. I returned the keys, or at least three of them. Did I mention I lose keys?

We waved goodbye to Rick and June and the red car. I just couldn’t do it.

We drove back 837 miles back to the little blue Honda that was waiting hopefully in the parking lot.

Sure, the car has a lot of problems, but so do I. I promised him we’d be friends till one of us died. And a promise is a promise. Besides, Scottsdale doesn’t have a drag. And I already have a chick. What’s the point of a new car? This one works just fine.

Goodbyes are hard. I’m not doing it till I must.

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sometimes you find an old photo of a cat sitting in a window in a dusty mining town and it makes you happy for no particular reason when you look at it so you post it on your blog so you won’t forget it.

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with the sky blue sky
this ride in time
wouldn’t seem so bad to me
i didn’t die
i should be satisfied i survived
it’s good enough for now
— the prophet tweedy

We’re out looking for bluebonnets. Because you never know.

We planted them in October. They won’t bloom till April or May, if they bloom at all. We know that. But we go to take a look anyhow.

The burger place at the trailhead is under new management. We make a mental note and promise to visit later as we park illegally in the lot. Does it really matter who manages a burger place? Do the burgers care?

It’s a beautiful day, finally warming up after 48 hours that made me regret taking the Bowman No Pants Vow. We visited Lone Wolf Bridge and found an unexpected piece of artwork on the other end. It’s a huge metal frame heart with a keyhole. Which wouldn’t be that great, except that people hang locks with the name of their loved one engraved on them. A statement of undying love, I guess. I just know it feels right for this little thing in the middle of nowhere to serve as a remembrance. I wish we had one for Ma. Add to list of mental notes.

The bridge makes for a nice hike. It was a working bridge when I was a kid, and I remember being scared when we drove across it. Visiting today, I remembered why. It’s ridiculously narrow. Only wide enough for a car going one direction, but because of the arc, you don’t know if impending death is upon you till it’s too late. I have no idea how people used to navigate it. But now it’s a pedestrian walkway and we have it to ourselves. It’s a good walk. Walking is what we do.

And so here we are back on the bluebonnet path. It’s been recently mowed. Does that mean our flowers are doomed in the spring? I think it’s a state law that you can’t mow them down, but I’m guessing the mowers won’t be impressed.

We walk along contentedly, smelling the newly managed burgers and dodging kids running a lap around the loop. This is our place now, I suppose. It feels right walking here — home at 3 mph.

Rick stops now and then to stare intently at the ground. Sometimes you have to stop and look or life will pass you by. I think Ferris Bueller said that. Or maybe Thoreau. Or maybe it was Rick.

Of course, there are no flowers yet. Four more months. And it was 18 degrees a couple of days ago, ensuring the only blue things to be found were my toes.

We go to the burger place and try the “dipping sauce” they offer for french fries as an alternative to ketchup. Why do you need an alternative to ketchup? Why can’t some things be good enough. Why do we change for change?

We both switch to ketchup. We both have burgers with mustard and no onions. We both peel off the extra lettuce. It’s like we’re brothers or something.

We go home and get the cat hooked on kitty treats. I listen to Tweedy. He checks the garbage cans.

Life is funny. You know what the reality is. Not all movies are made for Hallmark. The important thing is to enjoy every french fry. Take the memories and lock them away in your heart. Or maybe on a little bridge. And then you look for bluebonnets.

Because you never know …

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the sherwood leafblower massacre. based on a true story.

It was a dark and stormy night. Skipper (in red) had persuaded Carolyn (in the ASU cap) to drive out to Sherwood. “Great courthouse,” he said. She was reluctant, but he was her brother. He would never steer her wrong. She agreed.

It was a small, winding road. A few darkened homes were along the way, but mostly the road was abandoned, a ribbon of eeriness under a starless night. And then.

The car stalled. They stared at the engine for a while, but realized it was beyond the extent of their expertise, that expertise being staring at the engine for a while. They would have to seek help.

Luckily, the courthouse was just ahead. They walked warily up to it in hopes that someone there could help.

But then Skipper become distracted by a cute female they met as they entered the courthouse grounds. A lick and a wag, and Carolyn was on her own.

Carolyn walked up to the courthouse door. It was obviously a bad idea by the ominous music building to a crescendo on the soundtrack. DON’T DO IT, CAROLYN. And still she did.

And then, A CRAZED PERSON IN OVERALLS WITH A LEAFBLOWER JUMPED OUT FROM BEHIND THE FACADE. Was it a classic horror movie development? Or had this been staged by the innocent-appearing but fundamentally devious Skipper all along?

But then, a well-placed kick to an ill-placed area, and the attacker was no more. The classic horror movie ending.

The group piled into the car, which mysteriously started upon their return, and went on to see the sights. Except they forgot the first rule of horror movies:


The nightmare continued. (they had to smell dumpster-encrusted shoes all the way home.)

(Disclaimer: No dogs were hurt in the making of this movie. Although the effects of the weird dumpster sludge on the bottom of running shoes remains to be seen.)

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