the quotable mo sheppo, part 36

“If I take drugs, do you think I can paint?”

Funny, I always thought this was a prerequisite for painting.

Still waiting to see if she’ll be able to play piano.

Posted in margarine | Leave a comment

you had to be there

We said goodbye to Rick on the farm in Ballinger. We admired the little stage he and Mike built, the outhouse with Mo’s artwork, the bridge where June said he took his last stroll, the old car still waiting for him. We left some mementos to join his ashes on the hill, and Kate read a few of his Spur Creek Farm blog posts written under his Badger Bob pseudonym. The secret blog, in which he shared the tales of glorious solitude in a tiny West Texas desert oasis, was lost in the digital abyss (typewriters and paper, kids! typewriters and paper!), but Kate was able to hack up a few of them. As it turns out, along with being a fine farmhand and world-class pingpong hustler, he was also a pretty good writer. Who knew? This one was my favorite.

One of the farm’s best – and worst – features is the lack of “connection.” Out there, you have no land lines, no Wi-Fi and very little cellphone coverage (you have to be standing in exactly the right place at the right time.) If you’re by yourself and break an ankle or pause under a falling limb, you may have a long, lonely wait until someone comes looking.

The upside?

The silence is deafening. The 3-D, widescreen view, even better than Blu-ray, almost seems too much. Too colorful. Too big. Too real.

The farm is small and compact. A few fields, a creek (when it rains), a small hill, pastures filled with mesquites and cactus and rocks. At first glance it’s not much to look at. But it’s full of surprises. Wonderful moments. Moments of grace.

A great blue heron lives on the middle creek. Watching it lift off – slowly, at first, skimming the water, then faster and higher – beats any televised rocket launch.

An armadillo lives farther up the hill. He’s cagey and keeps his distance, but if you’re quiet and patient and lucky, you’ll see him snuffling among the cactus, scratching and rustling.

A small tribe of deer visit the creek for water, then spend the afternoon in a thicket. It’s hard to sneak up on them. Get within 50 yards, and they’re off, bounding across the scrubby pasture, then leaping over the fence, more graceful and lovely than any ballet performance.

The best sights are the rarest.

Only once have I seen a horned toad on the farm.

Only once have I seen a red fox.

Only once have I seen a scrawny bobcat.

Rattlesnakes? A dime a dozen. The most memorable was the one who got caught up in a chicken wire fence, half in, half out. I cautiously approached, afraid he might pop out at any moment. It’s the closest I’ve ever been to a snake outdoors. He knew he was in a bad way, but even so, bravely fought back, writhing and rattling, hissing and twisting, defiant to the end.

For the longest, my most memorable moment at the farm was walking through a cloud of monarch butterflies. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of monarchs had settled in a grove at the top of the hill. Alarmed by me, they took to the air, fluttering all around. I swear I could feel the wind from their wings on my face.

Recently, the farm raised the bar. Chopping mesquite on the hill, I heard a peculiar sound. I have no idea how to describe it. It sounded close. Alarmingly close. I scanned the pasture looking for signs. Nothing. Then I looked up.

An even dozen geese in tight formation flew overhead, making an unforgettable squawking honk sound. It seemed to last forever. An amazing sight. I thought I might never see another like it at the farm.

Then another group, so many I couldn’t count them, flew over. Then another and another and another. Some tightly aligned, others spread out.

My first thought was, “If I had my camera, I could put this on the internet.”

But that wouldn’t be the same.

You had to BE there, feet on ground, feeling the sun, smelling the wind. Hearing the high-pitched hellos as moments of grace fly by, one after another, after another.

Posted in margarine | Leave a comment

i’ve seen that road before

The long and winding road
That leads to your door
Will never disappear.
— the evil paul mccartney

He was unforgettable. Except for all the stuff I’ve forgotten.

Our life together was a blur. I remember he would buy 30 pounds of chopped ham for a month’s worth of sandwiches. It was usually the only thing we had in the refrigerator. He loved to sing “I can smell your feet a mile away” when I took off my running shoes. Incense and piles of old newspapers. We were best man at each other’s starter weddings. And in a world where I’ve never had friends, he was a dear one. If guys are allowed to say dear. And I’m fairly certain we are not.

I have no idea exactly how we became roommates or for how long. I do have a vague recollection of fierce baby oil wars and an Easter egg that went two months past its expiration date. A shared innocence in the days we thought we could save the world through journalism, although he was under the illusion that one photo was worth a thousand words. This was before the internet, when a thousand words was a big deal.

We were young and stupid, which looking back on life is the best thing you can possibly be. He introduced me to the Rough Mix album and some band called The Beatles; I coaxed him into a one-race running career in basketball shoes; he may or may not have smoked me. We brainstormed headlines the day we lost John Lennon, kicked an unsuspecting rabbit in Big Bend and survived late night rocket rides to accident scenes in the company Mustang. Mostly, we were friends in a way you foolishly take for granted when you’re young.

And then.

Newspapers sent us different directions, and then other directions, and then others. I’m not much of a people person, so I lost track, content to see his occasional delirious social media rants in a way that reassures you the other person’s life turned out OK.

And then, there he was again at my brother’s going away party. Frightfully old, even as I remain totally unchanged. Same brutal sense of humor, still insisting photos are the key to journalism. Still him.

It’s been forty years, he said, shaking his head in disbelief. Forty years.

You know you have a friend when you can step back into those smelly running shoes four decades later and it feels the same. So many nights I would come home and just the right album would be playing in a cloudy haze. So many escapades. It was the beginning of our lives, and he never took his foot off the gas pedal. I couldn’t have asked for a better co-conspirator. Standing across from him, I felt like we were back there again. Plus I was eating a ham sandwich.

We swapped stories with the other desperados from the old days, remembering our own little stage show of “Fandango” acted out across the expanses of West Texas. Mostly, I couldn’t stop looking at him. It’s been so, so long, and There He Was. It was great. Except for the brother dying part. Always something.

And finally, short of bringing up the unfortunate Baby Jessica incident, there was nothing left to say but goodbye, so we said it. I watched him walk away, guessing this was the last time I’ll ever see him. But maybe that’s the best way to end the show; pull the curtain and bow out, thinking maybe one encore was enough.

In our own little way, we were Lennon and McCartney, two disparate souls who came together at a crucial time, adding the missing parts in the melodies of our lives. I’m still singing those songs today. Life is just a bolo tie, you know.

If you’re lucky in life, you come across someone who fills a spot in your heart you didn’t even know needed filling. If you’re really lucky, he isn’t afraid to douse an entire apartment in baby oil. Still waiting for our deposit. Who won that fight anyhow?

I suppose this was the last verse. And still. That long and winding road will never disappear, if only in my mind.

He taught me a valuable life lesson. If you come across a bunny sitting on that road’s yellow line, for God’s sake snap a photo before you kick it to see if it’s alive. Just in case.

Forty years. Unforgettable …

Posted in margarine | Leave a comment

the quotable mo sheppo, part 35

After a trip to the doctor to get her stitches removed:

4 p.m.: “I think I’m OK without a pain pill.”

4:30 p.m.: “Maybe I’ll try half of a pain pill.”

5:00 p.m.: “I would like the other half of the pain pill.”

5:30 p.m.: “I want a second pain pill.”

6:00 p.m.: “Give me the entire bottle of pain pills or I will hack you up and stuff you down the garbage disposal.”

At some point she will figure out that actual pain pills don’t come out of a Pez dispenser, but it’s funny in the meantime.

Upside: Commemorative Pez dispenser when this is finally over.

Downside: She’s likely to get hooked on Pez. And she’ll have to deal with a clogged garbage disposal.

Posted in margarine | 1 Comment

brothers, part 37

Late last night so far away
I dreamed myself a dream
Well I dreamed I was so all alone
Isn’t it nice to be home again?

— the prophet james vernon taylor

And then you go for a drive. Because that’s what he would have done.

Down the I-20 with a stop at the Toyah High School, because it’s part of “Fandango” and closer than the Rio Grande. Onto I-10, the gateway to Big Bend and Marfa and Terlingua and so many things he loved. Over to the Kent truck stop, because it’s abandoned, and it’s fascinating to watch things change over the years and decades. Not for better, or for worse, just different. Life is like that. Nothing stays the same.

A Dr Pepper and a Mrs. Baird’s pie. A Blue Bell sandwich and Dreamboat Annie. Breakfast tacos and Lowell George. Stops at every damn historical marker, stretches of endless one-lane road offering nothing but solitude and a view of heaven.

Hours and hours of time to think. About life and love, joy and regrets, triumphs and mistakes. You wish you could go back to those days and be a better person, but you can’t. This is who you are now. You hope that’s enough.

You always kept your treasures in Vancourt Store cigar boxes when you were kids. And now he resides in one, riding shotgun on a trip back to the place where the dreams began. You sit on a picnic table in the Guadalupes and watch the sun go down behind those mountains that seem so out of place in the pancake landscape of Texas. You hope he’s glad to be here one last time.

And then you keep driving. Into the darkness, the unknown, the memories, the future.

You cry every now and then as the miles go by, then laugh, then cry again. You ingest way too much caffeine and snooze anyhow while driving along the long stretch to El Paso in those magical hours between dusk and dawn. You wonder when the hurting will end. “The point is, grief may not have an ending point,” the prophet Knapp once said. ” I’ve learned that that’s OK.” Maybe she’s right.

900 miles later, you’re back. It’s hard to believe it’s over.

Over.

You come home to your best friend and your indifferent cat. You place your brother on your desk. You tell him he’ll never be all alone. And neither will you.

Isn’t it nice to be home again?

– 30 –

Posted in margarine | 4 Comments