put up a parking lot

So there I was. The world’s most reclusive guy, under a solemn vow never to make eye contact with another being, pulling in front of a stranger’s house in The Greater Phoenix Metro Area.

I was there to meet the mythical El  Señor, the Don Juan to my Carlos Castaneda. We had met on this blog thing called the Loop and hit it off. There aren’t many people in life who fascinate me. As it turns out, most of them spent some time on an obscure little chat site on Runner’s World.

He went by Senior Runner, or Theo Pocalypse or Justajester or Jim. Never trust people who use aliases. He was in town for a race. Within a few minutes, we went from random strangers to best friends.

I gave him a pair of asics Piranhas (I gave them to three people altogether and all three ended up crippled.) We talked. He played guitar. I stared at him a lot. He was a real person. The internet is weird.

He blessed my Day-Glo Orange Lightweight Racing Soup Ladles (anything else is just a big spoon) ©. One was headed for an undisclosed combat zone, the other to a home in upstate New York. We basked in the warmth of the Phoenix sun. We did friend stuff. I always wondered what friend stuff was.

We ended up at a fast-food Japanese place. The nice lady at the counter looked at us for a minute. “You’re brothers!” she exclaimed. We said yes, yes we are. “I knew it. It’s in your eyes,” she declared.

I guess that’s the way it always was in this joint. We started out as reclusive runners, only to end up as reclusive runners who are friends. Most of the best friends I’ll ever have started out here as nothing more than a weird alias and a cryptic image. And then they snuck up on me and turned into real people whose friendships I will treasure forever. It’s in your eyes.

I love you guys, and I’m honored to have laughed and cried and screamed and made silliness with such a fine group of peeps. I’m sorry the show had to end. On to the next show.

your pal gary

p.s. they discontinued piranhas. Nothing lasts forever …

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brothers, part 5

“Come outside! There’s music!”

Rick has poked his head through the door to lure me out. I am skeptical. There’s a muddy dog waiting to pounce, and I’m doubtful of the prospects of a concert. But Older Brother Subservience kicks in, and I mosey out. As it turns out, you only need a few days in San Angelo to regain your mosey.

As I plop down in a patio chair, I am instantly overwhelmed by the full moon, one Hondo Crouch would have approved of.  “This kind of moonshine makes you crazy if you sleep in it,they say. But I think you’re crazy not to try it,” he said. Rick introduced me to Luckenbach. Rick introduced me to everything.

The moon illuminates the backyard, the quirky environment bathed in shadows and mystery. And sure enough, in the distance, music.

A band is playing at the river stage down the road. They’re good. 90s alternative. Not exactly what I picture when I think of West Texas music, but I guess Doak Snead is in Nashville these days, so this will suffice.

They’re playing STP’s “Interstate Love Song.” I close my eyes and think about the endless ribbon of I-10 that awaits me tomorrow. When I open them, something magical happens.

As the band launches into Petty’s “Last Dance,” Rick, who had been standing near the garage looking up at the moon, begins to dance.

It strikes me that I’ve known him 61 years and I’ve NEVER seen him dance. But he’s great, in an old Southern Baptist white guy kinda way. He’s swaying and bobbing in a style that would fit right in with the spinners at a Grateful Dead show. He mentioned yesterday that we still need to make it to Burning Man one day. It’s winding down this weekend.  Is he channeling?

He asks Belle, his dog,  if she’d like to dance. She responds enthusiastically, jumping up and down and running circles around him. Luckenbach has nothing on our yard. Two souls dancing in the moonlight as summer bows out in West Texas. This might be a dream. I’m good with that.

As the song ends, he fetches a camping chair from the garage and sits down. I ask: Why that chair rather than the patio furniture?

“The seat cushions on those chairs are soaked from the rain,” he says. “Your bottom must be really wet.”

I leap up. He has known for 10 minutes I was sitting in this chair. Sure enough, my butt is totally soaked. It’s dark. I can’t see if he’s smiling. I don’t need to.

We drive to the airport to pick up June. My soggy bottom shivers on the plastic chair in the waiting area.  We drive home, and I pack up the memories for the long drive ahead.

“They won’t believe that we have such a big moon for such a small town,” Hondo said of Luckenbach.

I guess that’s us. Such a big love for such a small family.

And such a wet bottom …

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brothers, part 4

Enjoy every sandwich, the prophet Zevon said. 

I think that applies to walks, too. 

These guys. 

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brothers, part 3

the good news: i think i have mastered the coffee maker.

the bad news: apparently you should NOT wait till smoke starts pouring out of the toaster as an indication the toast is done.

This is likely why Bobo’s is full of helpless looking guys. I sense a conspiracy between kitchen appliance makers and the restaurant industry.

I show it to Rick, hoping maybe he won’t notice

“Huh,” he says. “Maybe the dog will want it.”

The best thing about brothers is you don’t have to pretend. Jerk.

p.s. no, the dog snubbed me too.

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brothers in arms

We’ve searched the garage, and the horrible truth is evident: We can’t find a spear.

Texas’ new law has just gone into effect. It’s now legal to carry long knives, daggers, bayonets, and yes, even spears around in public. I was not aware of a clamoring for spear toting, but then I’ve been gone for a year.

I am filled with the same feeling of dread I had in the 1970s with the arrival of bell bottom pants. Not a fan, but you have to surf the wave when it cones along. Actually I lived in Corpus and we had no waves. Or bell bottoms. But still.

So Rick and I are in the garage, looking through the Smith Boy tool collection for suitable weapons. There are old typewriters and a collection of coffee cans. An assortment of posters from an ancient Kate birthday party. Hammers, at least three band saws (note to self: perfect set for “the texas band saw massacre”), but not a spear to be found.

Thinking Rick might just be overlooking them, I text June.

This makes perfect sense, except I can’t find the bazookas, and I’m unsure if they’re covered by the new law.

In the end, being Smith Boys, we improvise.

We come up with a pick ax, a bolt cutter and a couple of fireplace tools. The plan is to wear them to Uncle Bob’s place. He’s an artist and metal sculptor. Having seen our pitiful collection, he will hammer out some proper swords for us. Genius.

Mike and Laura pick us up. We load our weapons in the back and drive to casa de bob. A delightful visit, a wonderful meal, a tour of the art garden, and we’re off.

Only after Rick and I are back home do I realize that not only did we forget to show our weapons to Bob, but we also left them in Mike’s trunk. Now it’s getting dark, there is thunder outside, and we are armed only with a swifter and a Chihuahua.

Why did someone go to all the trouble of legalizing open carry for spears? Just when you think the Legislature can’t get any more insane … ok, I’ve never really thought that.

We spend the last hour of the evening reading quietly. He’s tearing through the new Dearen book; I’m reading a think piece on how “chainsaw massacre” was a veiled lesson in vegetarianism.  a cool, rainy evening. We could start a fire in the fireplace, but most of the tools seem to be missing.

The Smith Boy theory was always that the pen was mightier than the sword. it will be interesting to see how it fares against the spear.  I’m going to look for those bazookas just in case.

brothers in arms, indeed.

I hope bell bottoms aren’t coming back. Maybe they’ll pass a law …

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Brothers, part 2

It comes and goes.

We’re laughing about something. We’ve spent the day together, hiking and wandering through downtown and watching a high school football game. That comfortable feeling you have with someone you have spent your life with. 

We talk about tomorrow’s trip to see Uncle Bob. He pauses. “How do you know Bob?” He asks.

I’m your brother, I remind him.

His memory comes and goes. One minute we’re talking about the Pinky Outpost, our childhood sanctuary. The next, he’s asking if I ever saw the schoolhouse across the street from Granddad’s store.  His eyes light up when I tell him there’s a new Patrick Dearen book out. He tells me stories about Pat and him hiking. A close call in the mountains when they ran out of water, missed the last bus back to civilization, and then escaped when the driver came back at the last minute to pick something up. Then he pauses to ask if ever met Pat. Yes, I tell him. We all used to go hiking together. 

We walk down a trail in town lined with art. A lifelong lover of bluebonnets, he has concocted a scheme to scatter seeds along the trail, his miniature version of the Lady Bird Johnson campaign.  We plot how to make it happen. I love this idea. 

 I know he is feeling such frustration. When he talks, sometimes he can’t find words. His head is still full of ideas and wonder and hilarity; he just has a harder time communicating them.  And he forgets things. sometimes for a minute, sometimes forever.  i desperately want to make it better, but I can’t. Nobody can. 

He leads me across the college campus. He takes me to the new journalism department, June’s office, the student center. He knows every nook and cranny. Who knew there were this many crannies? He tells me about the time he laid the sod at the large, grassy area in the center of campus. Yes, I know, I tell him. I was there. I’m your brother.

It’s a wonderful day. I am honored to be in his company. Simply the nicest, most decent man you’d ever want to meet. Why has life done this to him?

We go to the opening football game of a little West Texas town. He was famous over the years for his coverage of Friday Night Football. I wonder how long it will take before somebody sees him. As it turns out, four rows.

“RICK! SIT DOWN! HAVE SOME PEANTUS!” A man waves him over. We sit down and he introduces me. “This is my brother Gary,” he tells him. “he worked at the paper too.” And just like that, he knows me again.  But the  guy isn’t interested in me. He gives Rick some more peanuts. “Bought ’em from Jimmy Carter,” he jokes. I am offered none. Yes, i am bitter.  The whole row is excited to see him. The legend lives on.

Our team wins, the moon is bright, the weather is perfect. It’s the high school game I always wanted to go to. The perfect end to a perfect day. 

We sit in the living room at the end of the day. That was great, he says. What happens tomorrow? We go see Uncle Bob, I remind him. That’s right, he says. How do you know him, he asks again.

It’s a good day. I’m OK reminding him who I am when he forgets now and then. And relieved that maybe he will forget the bad stuff. That’s what brothers are for.

My heart is breaking. My heart is full. 

It comes and goes. 

One thing never changes. I love him a lot. 

He’s my brother. 


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We can’t make the coffee pot work.

I punch buttons randomly. Rick looks on helpfully. It’s a fancy pants thing with lots of buttons and timers and a possible nuclear launch sequence. Beats me.

“You’ll get it,” Rick assures me. He then walks over and gets some iced tea out of the fridge. Confident indeed.

We had given up yesterday. Too many buttons, not enough caffeine. We walked instead to a place called Bobo’s. It’s a classic old-school diner. Oil guys sitting at the counter before work. A mishmash of coffee mugs. Three women working furiously eggs and sausage, toast and biscuits, fancy food? Waffles are as exotic as they get.

“Wow. this coffee is good,” Rick remarked as he sampled the first taste.

But that was then. This is now.

I fiddle some more with the buttons. Timer? Clock? Automatic? No idea. I hit a button randomly, get some water and move on with my life.

And so, naturally, a minute later I hear the reassuring gurgle of coffee brewing.

I ask Rick if he wants a cup. Sure, he replies nervously.

Taking a sip, his eyebrows go up. “Hey, this coffee isn’t ….” he begins. But then he corrects himself. “This is good,” he lies.

Smith boys muddle through. And in the end, things work out just fine.

“Do you want some toast,” he just asked.

Do you know how to make the toaster work?” I ask him. “I think we’re OK as long as it doesn’t burst into flames,” he says.

I predict another trip to Bobo’s in the near future …

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