brothers, part 31

Please Papa can I go
Down to Richmond to the traveling show
Please Papa don’t you say I can’t
I just want to see the elephant
— the prophet mcmurtry

I was 50 feet away from one of my favorite singer/songwriters on the planet. It was fate.

James McMurtry had been scheduled to play at a Fancy Boy concert venue in Phoenix. Luckily, it was on a Saturday and I had to work, doing away with the moral dilemma of whether it was safe to attend.

And then.

The venue refused to abide by The Basic Rules of Sanity: proof of vaccination and wearing a mask. Apparently, McMurtry has this weird notion that he doesn’t want his fans or himself to die for an hour and a half of songs, even if they’re some of the finest songs ever written.

So he moved the show at the last minute to a different joint on Friday, my day off. Sold out, I told myself. But no. Tickets were to be had. A small venue, maybe a couple hundred capacity, run by our favorite promoter over the past 30 years. It would be an honor to give them both some money after such a long, hard stretch. And it would be a chance to see McMurtry live, which has never happened.

We came close a long time ago. We were driving from San Angelo to Corpus Christi back when it was OK to be in Texas, when we stopped at Threadgill’s in Austin. The marquee said he was playing that evening. We were just outside. But the show was eight hours later and that drive home is ugly in the wee hours. Another time, we thought. We kept driving.

And this was it.

I ran the idea by Mo. She gave me an encouraging “NO.” I explained that vaccinations were required. She pointed out that I am severely immunocompromised, making me a sitting duck, if ducks can get COVID, and I believe the research thus far is inconclusive. So is that a maybe, I asked hopefully. NO. I mentioned that the new album is glorious. She mentioned that I’m sick. I don’t think she meant it metaphorically, but it’s hard to tell when her eyes start rolling around.

And that was that. Instead, we went downtown to the First Friday art walk. Coincidentally (really!), it just happened to be in the neighborhood of the McMurtry concert. We pulled into the parking lot. The wall separating us from the show, which was just beginning, was right there. I looked at Mo. She looked at me. I’m pretty sure she would have caved if I asked. I didn’t.

And then we kept driving.

Living in a bubble is so hard. I have two years to go before I will finish chemotherapy and build up any sort of resistance. Until then, getting the vermin likely means I’m a goner. Just how much are you willing to risk? We wrestle with that one every day.

And now we’re looking at the Oregon map. It’s the darkest red you can get, what the NYT comfortingly refers to as “extreme danger.” We’re supposed to drive there in three weeks or so. I’ve had a cough for a month. My lymphocyte numbers, the wacky little guys who protect you, are on extended vacation. And I’m dying inside with the fear of not seeing Rick.

Do we say screw it and go see him anyhow? We’ll be careful along the way, and we’re all going to die eventually. Worst case scenario, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad way to go out. Also, they might have pie. I like pie.

Or do we do stay home and delay the trip again, hoping things will get better by spring? Seems like it can’t get worse than it is now. But we’ve said that a lot over the last 75 years since cOvId*  arrived. How long can you live in a bubble before you burst? 

There will be other chances to see McMurtry. I’m not sure how many shows my brother has left in him. I desperately don’t want to miss the last encore.

They’re looking for a few good men
Could be war by summer’s end
Sure would hate it if I went
And never got to see the elephant

Being Smith Boys, Mike and I put off the decision. We’ll wait and see how things are in a few weeks. You never know. Even if you do.

We live behind our masks, inside our bubbles, fighting our fears. What should we do?

Only one thing is for sure.

I just want to see the elephant.

* if you type it cOvId, it seems much more wacky.

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brothers, part 30

I was posting something on the evil Zuckerberg site about a crocheted armadillo, which of course led to a question about the racing soup ladle, which prompted me to look up an old post about its last whereabouts. Which led me to read two replies at the bottom by Brother the Elder.

There are two things you should know about my brother. One: He has always been kind of weird. Two: Hmmm. I guess there’s just one thing you should know.

He replied in Korean, of course. Our dad fought in the Korean War. At least he hung out in Japan and took a lot of shirtless photos. I assume Rick picked up a working knowledge of the language from that. I, however, didn’t, and was forced to rely on my good friend Bartholomew Google to translate.

This is what he wrote.

Followed by this, when I apparently didn’t respond in a timely fashion. OK, not at all. I get a lot of fan mail. Can’t possibly answer it all.

And now, I’m laughing and crying at the same time and wishing desperately that one of these messages would pop up again. Just one.

Sure, I’d still ignore it. But I’d appreciate it a lot more.

사랑해요, 형. 곧 봐요.

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130 days

You can’t be young and do that.
— the prophet mcmurtry

Relentless forward progress, Bryon Powell once said. Or maybe Fozzie Bear. I get my muppets mixed up on hot days.

I’m on the soccer course, a little 0.4 mile sidewalk circle in a Scottsdale park. I like it because it’s quiet; just a few walkers, runners and dogs. No cyclists, no 30 mph electric scooters, no weird lady on a tricycle with her dog that runs in front of you at the last second so its leash trips you. Peace and quiet and James McMurtry on a loop. Hey. Loop. That could be a catchy name for a running site. Nah.

I’m running 13:30s, which is lightning-fast for me lately and a sure sign that the next round of chemo must be around the bend so I can start all over again. In the realm of performing-enhancing drugs, Obinutuzumab is not one the Tour riders will be firing up between stages. Although I used to be a big fan of Ozomatli.

I enjoy the normalcy while I can, gliding along on a sunny day after a week of monsoon storms.

This course has regulars, the way courses always do. And the folks just ahead of me are my favorites.

He’s old, maybe a little older than me. I’m guessing he’s had a stroke, or something that has reduced him to a shuffle. He walks haltingly with his daughter, who clings to him in a way that is part love and part fear. Their pup tags along, miffed by the slow-motion pace but glad to be outside nonetheless.

He can barely walk, moving inches at a time. But he’s walking. They make it to the bench on the far turn where he sits to rest. Camelback looms in the background. Mountains know things.

Back in the days before the Scottsdale track was closed forever by the evil ogres, Mo and I wished we could ask people to fill out index cards to tell their story, given that we’re too shy to actually talk to them. What was with the guy who run in nothing but shorts and a big wool cap? Who was that woman in Lane 1 running lightning repeats? Why did Sprint Guy come out every day with a set of blocks and a camera? We’ll never know. Same with these folks.

But the old guy still sends a message. Speed is relative. Success is survival. Relentless forward progress. A bear in his natural habitat — a Studebaker.

He is moving so slowly. To the guy streaking by me at 5:30 pace, I must look exactly the same way. But we’ll all end up at the same finish line. Although they’ll be out of Gatorjuice and bananas by the time I get there.

We say hello and goodbye on the next loop, and then the run is over. Until the next one.

Getting old is sort of fun, if you squint hard enough. You can’t be young and do that.

130 days. It can happen.

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She says, I’ve got a darkness
That I have to feed, I’ve got a sadness
That grows up around me like a weed
And I’m not hurting anyone.
— the prophet ani

Hole in your shoe? Just keep running.

She’s on the soccer loop again, slowly walking laps in the park on the same course as me. Hands clasped behind her back, casually dressed, totally unassuming.

Except for one thing: She’s incessantly screaming a string of obscenities that would make a sailor blush. Sorry, J.T.


Something isn’t wired right in her brain. She talks constantly to someone who’s not there. Her vocabulary seems to be built largely around the F word, shouted repeatedly, with various phrases and expletives interspersed. She has the innocuous appearance of just another walker, but there’s a glitch in the jukebox in her head, stuck on a song that is in need of a parental advisory label. So, so sad.

It’s easy to tell newcomers on the loop. They’re the ones guarding their private parts as she goes by. “CUT OFF HIS BALLS AND SHOVE THEM UP HIS ASS!!!” I pass her several times, and she’s screaming the same thing on every loop, a phrase I’ve never heard her use before. What is she thinking?

I wonder if she knows what she’s saying or its effect on passersby. Is she in a different place, oblivious to the startled old people and foo-foo dogs sharing the route?

The regulars just give her space. There’s room for everyone here in our little pack of outcasts. She never acknowledges me as she stares straight ahead in her trance. A week of storms has left the park battered and waterlogged, but the sun is finally out. The dark cloud hovering over her never subsides. A darkness that she has to feed.

And yet, she persists.

Nobody’s perfect. We all have our quirks, our problems, our timeworn songs clattering along in the jukebox of our minds. Holes in our metaphorical shoes. What can you do?

Just keep running.

And maybe watch out for your balls. Just in case.

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things i wish i had said, part 93

I was a child in the ’60s
Dreams could be held through TV
With Disney, and Cronkite, and Martin Luther
Oh, I believed, I believed, I believed
Now, I am the backseat driver from America
I am not at the wheel of control
I am guilty, I am war, I am the root of all evil
Lord, and I can’t drive on the left side of the road.

— Nanci Caroline Griffith


1983 kerrville folk festival. swiped photo. sorry.

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