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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smith boys breaking stuff

In our defense, they shouldn’t leave mallets next to shiny things. We were clearly set up.

Luckily, my legal training (one season of watching L.A. Law until I realized Jimmy Smith spells his name Smits and therefore is likely NOT a wealthy relative I should be kissing up to) is correct, the oldest brother is always held liable.

Or maybe we can pin it on Jimmy Smits.

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brothers, part 8

He’s looking for something.

I can’t help him find it.

I had no idea it was possible to be this heartbroken.

He’s looking.

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lost in translation

It’s 4 in the morning. Or maybe 5. I’m not sure what time zone I’m in. Did we spring forward? I think my spring may be broken.

I’ve been driving for six or seven hours, which in dog years doesn’t translate, since dogs don’t drive.

Another eight hours or so to go. Just an endless stretch of I-10, so no thought process needed. It’s the driving equivalent of a point-and-shoot camera, which in dog photography years doesn’t translate, since dogs don’t shoot photos.

In the distance are the lights of Las Cruces, a neon oasis with the promise of a new state on the horizon.

The truck stop coffee isn’t kicking in. I can feel myself drifting off. The mix of reality and dreams are lulling me, a dangerous siren song while hurtling along at 80 miles per hour.

I consider stopping. Maybe a rest area nap. A short break to recharge, a pause between the endless repeats of Dreamboat Annie. I have now listed to the album about 200 times on repeat, which in dog listening years doesn’t translate, because dogs don’t much care for Heart.

But stopping would require thinking in the place of the mindless exercise of staring at relentless white stripe. I don’t want to think. It’s all too much, and too little. Better to just drive.

I splash water on my face, throw back the last of the lukewarm coffee, and point the Honda toward the endless outskirts of El Paso.

Onward thru the fog. Even on a clear night.

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i can see those visions dancing

All these ghosts I have driven out,
driven them from my house

It’s a simple life I lead
still got a lot to learn about

— the prophet willy porter

It’s a Crappy Day at work. One doesn’t go upper case unless it’s Really Crappy. I’m editing papers in cities i’ve never heard of. Hell, I haven’t even heard of their states. Delaware? Is that even a real place? (Mind flashes back to the day at the Austin American-Statesman when, in an unfortunately Very Large headline on page 3, I discovered it’s not spelled Deleware. Who knew?)

Amid a flurry of early East Coast snow deadlines even though it’s 75 where I reside, I have lost the will to live. But it’s kind of dark in the place where I edit and it’s probably on the floor somewhere.

And then, for reasons that remain a mystery to me, I crank up Willy Porter’s Dog Eared Dream.

I used to buy an album a week, back when people still bought music. Yes, I’m old. I would loiter for hours in the record store. Sometimes I bought stuff I knew, sometimes I bought staff picks, sometimes I bought albums just because I liked the cover. Willy was one of those.

But about a minute into the album, I was smitten. Fantastic guitarist, great songs. It instantly became my Favorite Album of the Week. I might have explained that upper case thing earlier.

Mo and I heard him live once opening for the Cranberries, in a set that was far too brief given his warmup to the warmup status. He was the highlight of the evening, even after Dolores O’Riordan nailed us with a stuffed skunk.

That was a long time ago, back when we still had a democracy. I haven’t listened to him in a million years. Until tonight.

Now I’m singing along and doing the Reformed Baptist Head Nod and feeling so damn happy. An album takes you back to a moment in time, a simpler era when I edited one paper in one city where I actually lived. Such a wonderful memory.

I’m not whining. I have a job. I have a best friend and an indifferent cat. And I have a Willy album on Spotify whenever I need him.

It’s a simple life to lead. Still got a lot to learn about.

Like maybe how to spell Delaware.

Thanks, Willy.

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my expensive church service

Father forgive us for what we must do
You forgive us and we’ll forgive you
We’ll forgive each other ’til we both turn blue
And we’ll whistle and go fishing in the heavens
— the prophet john prine

There are basically two kinds of races: those that feature a nun with an air horn, and those that don’t. This was the first kind.

It was an OK day. I didn’t throw up on any members of the clergy (note to self: have “Exorcist” pea soup scene surgically removed from brain), and shockingly didn’t finish last in my age group. Bonus: The entry fee helps the nuns build a monastery. Win-win-win. I’m going to heaven for sure.

I often wonder why we run insanely expensive organized races in the age of Garmins when you can go out anytime on your own and stage a Gumbo race for free.

But I suppose it’s like going to church. You can worship at home, but there’s something special about that gathering.

A uniting of kindred souls, True Believers. A morning fellowship of suffering and reveling and reflecting. An occasional rebirth to recharge the batteries before heading back to Walden. A celebration of life.

Maybe it doesn’t matter what the religion or distance or surface is. The important thing is to believe in something. Anything.

Me? I believe in running. And nuns with air horns.

Amen.

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hanzo huraches and me

Days full of rain
Sky’s comin’ down again
I get so tired
Of these same old blues
Same old song
Baby, it won’t be long
‘fore I be tyin’ on
My flyin’ shoes
— the prophet van zandt

The last thing I remember, “I Love Lucy” was on. It was dark. I think it was early morning. Or maybe late at night. It’s hard to tell the difference in the dark.

I have a vague recollection of dropping Mo at the airport. Or was that a dream? It’s hard to tell if that’s her under the blankets or just more blankets. Lucy has concocted a scheme to save Ricky’s job as a movie star. They’ve just written 500 fan letters to the studio. And then everything goes black.

When I wake up, I’m looking at the shoes. I ordered them because they seem a lot like the Piranhas that no longer exist. A link to the past. A new incarnation of an old friend, even if I was always skeptical of reincarnation. Although I always liked Shirley Maclaine and opening carnation milk with the little triangle can opener. I miss triangle can openers. And “I Love Lucy.” Although I may or may not have just seen it.

I know it’s silly for a 12-minute mile guy to buy 6-ounce flats for 120 bucks. But there’s something about lightweight, low-drop, virtually invisible shoes that make my soul happy. And besides, that’s only $20 per ounce, less than a Samuel Adams Utopia.

I try them on at home (the shoes, not the beer), and they seem maybe OK. Don’t shoes ALWAYS seem OK when you try them on at home? They’re racing flats, so they have that “we’re going to be uncomfortable so you’ll want to get out of us as quickly as possible feel,” but in a good way. But I’m not sure. Some shoes you can put on and know you’re home. This is more like a Motel 6 room with a heater that may or may not cause you to wake up at 3 a.m. with frostbite. I hope Lucy is showing at 3 a.m., just in case.

I wear my regular shoes to the course, not wanting to mess the new guys up too much in case I need to return them. The regular shoes are puzzled. I’m loving them. They’re the best shoes I’ve run in for a long time. So why exactly are we auditioning someone else? I’m hoping it’s a rhetorical question, because I have no answer.

I pull on the shoes. They’re snug, but peppy. They feel OK on the sidewalk, not really getting in the way or doing much of anything. Things are OK past the soccer fields, around the pond, past the parking lot. And then.

The universe sends me a message. There in the grass, is a sign. The cosmos are calling BS. My left big toe is rubbing just a bit. Maybe I could tape it, I think, which is clearly stupid. They’re a hideous blue color with little ninjas all over them. The tongue appears to be made of plastic. And the laces are approximately 7 feet long. I want so badly to love these shoes. But I hate them.

Why would a black-and-white TV show constantly make jokes about the star’s red hair?

Why would the flotrack guys stage a race that combines speed-chugging a 40-ounce malt liquor followed by a 40-yard dash?

Why WOULD birds suddenly appear every time that guy was near? I suppose many of life’s mysteries are meant to be just that.

I finish a mile and sit on the tailgate, putting on the old shoes and remembering why I love them. I wonder why I’m always looking for something that’s not there. It’s not the shoes’ fault, you moron. I wonder if running through wet asphalt is covered under the return policy. I wonder if Ricky kept that movie gig, and if Mo is still under the cover in bed. I wonder if I can call all running shoes Hanzo Huraches, even if they’re not. I really like that name. I just hate that shoe.

I wonder if tomorrow will be the day. Maybe. Follow Thoreau, Dr. Sheehan said. Follow Thoreau. Or maybe it’s all just BS. Thanks a bunch, universe.

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