living with an artist, part 17

I’m watching TV. Mo has fallen asleep in her chair. I look up. There’s a dinosaur sitting on top of the TV with a thimble on its head.

Why? Because she’s an artist. This is what she does.

I thank the art gods for the millionth time for allowing me to be part of her life. And then I steal one of her Klondike bars while she’s sleeping.

Because I like ice cream.  This is what I do.

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listen, let’s not get caught

You shoot off a guy’s head with his pants down,
believe me, Texas ain’t the place you want to get caught.
— louise

“So were you Thelma or Louise?”

The bartender is asking Char about the road trip with her friend Betty, in which they piled into the Studebaker and drove across the country to Colorado and Wyoming and places people drove before Google Maps made it where you just drove without knowing where you were other than in a lake because you were looking at the phone map rather than the world.

Mo and I are playing the role of Betty (Char is calling one of us Betty and the other Boop, although it’s never clear to me which one I am) because the real Betty ended up in the hospital. Today is Char’s 90th birthday.  We are celebrating.

It’s a swanky upscale Scottsdale sports bar at the Fancy Mall. I suppose all you would need to know about Char is that she’s 90 years old and drinking martinis in a sports bar while flirting with the bartender.

He asks again: “Who was Thelma and who was Louise?” Char isn’t sure. “Who drove?” he asks. Betty, Char answers. “So you were Thelma,” he says. She shrugs and slides an olive off her toothpick. I want to point out that this makes me Brad Pitt, but I don’t seem to be much involved in the conversation, and I think the remarkable resemblance speaks for itself.

“I can see why you like this bar,” Mo says as they both stare at the hunky bartender pouring drinks. Char smiles and nods. We seem to be in a Hallmark movie, and I’m the earnest token male sidekick who gets killed when the exploratory party is beamed onto the mysterious planet. Or I could be flipping back and forth between Hallmark and Star Trek.

Somewhere between the first and second martinis, Char sighs. “My 90th birthday,” she says like she still can’t believe it. She looks at us. “This isn’t my last one, is it?” she asks. “I want to live forever.”

It’s been a tough year for her. Cancer and a bad back and the usual stuff that comes with the senior discount. But I can honestly say I have never even entertained the notion.

“Let’s wait till you turn 100 and then we’ll talk, “I tell her. She brightens. Probably the martini.

We’ve known her for a couple of decades now, sort of a surrogate mom.  It’s funny how life takes unexpected turns. She was our neighbor, and then she was a fixture in our lives. When we moved back to Phoenix, we got an apartment next to her in case she needed help, and I’m not sure how we could ever leave her at this point. She’s family.

We’re watching the Diamondbacks on the bar TV. I try to explain to her how the Cincinnati baseball team is the Reds and not the Cardinals and the Cardinals are St. Louis except the St. Louis football Cardinals moved to Arizona and then the Los Angeles Rams became the St. Louis Rams and the New York Giants are football and not baseball because the New York Giants baseball team is now in San Francisco and don’t get me started on the Utah Jazz and this is why we should just be focusing on the tennis match because there are no team names involved and anyhow Nadal is cute as a button and I have no idea whether it was Thelma or Louise who was behind the wheel so there.

We knock off the most incredible a la mode brownie ever for dessert. The bartender says dinner is on him. They pose for a shot together. We toast for the 100th time. “To my birthday!” she exclaims.

Friends are the family you choose, the old saying goes. But I’m not sure that’s true. Maybe sometimes life brings you together for a reason without you choosing at all.  You don’t even have to know what that reason is. You just have to open up your heart. The rest is easy.

I suppose we’ll all get old together. It’s not a bad movie. Stomp the pedal to the floorboard and head off the side of the canyon in a leap of faith. It’s been a good drive. We’ll see where we land.

Best birthday ever, indeed. Still, I can’t wait for the celebration on her 100th.

I hope the bartender is buying.

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“If you’re ever lost, take a right.”
— the prophet steven rowley

“Coffee’s ready,” he says. “It’s Folgers.”

It’s a little after 7 a.m. and I’m sitting in the waiting room of a Honda dealership in a little West Texas town. The new-fangled computer on the new-fangled car decided I needed new-fangled oil before starting the long drive back to new-fangled Phoenix. So here I am.

He and I are the only people in the room. Seems like a nice enough guy in that good ol’ boy kinda way. An incredibly bad sit-com is showing on the TV. “Watch this,” he says. “This guy just asked her out, but he doesn’t know she’s pregnant because she’s holding a laundry basket in front of her belly.” Half asleep, it takes me a minute before I realize he’s talking to me. “Oh, ha,” I offer. I am a master of morning banter.

He watches for a while and then pulls out a dusting device for the red sports car in the room, the only vehicle deemed worthy to hang out inside.

“Folgers,” he tells me again, pointing to the pot. “It’s not fancy, but it’s good.”

I take this as a cue and get up to pour a cup. It’s what I grew up on here in this same city. We would buy Dad expensive, exotic coffee and he would act appreciative, but then on the next visit the Folgers would always be back. It was cheap, dependable caffeine, and you used the empty container to store your nails and screws. What more could you ask for in a breakfast beverage?

The show ends, and he switches to Fox and Friends. A woman is complaining that she wasn’t able to say the pledge of allegiance at a school board meeting.

I taste the coffee. Yep, Folgers. He dusts the red sports car again.

“A lot of people don’t know refrigerators have air filters,” he tells me. I just look at him. What the hell is he talking about? I glance over my shoulder to make sure he’s not addressing this  to someone else. He is not.

“No kidding,” he says. “I used to work at the appliance store. People would come in and say their refrigerator isn’t working right. I would ask them, ‘when was the last time you changed the air filter?’ They’d say, ‘refrigerators have air filters?’ ” He shakes his head. “Some people.” I nod my head in agreement, although I had no idea refrigerators have air filters. I wonder if cars have air filters too. I’m sure my new-fangled computer will alert me eventually.

He seems determined to keep me amused and caffeinated. Maybe mid-30s, work uniform with shorts, sunglasses on the back of his head, tan line showing above ankle socks. Maybe a second-string linebacker in his high school days. I picture him on the local softball team, at the lake with a cooler on a hot summer day, sharing a beer with friends while screaming at the TV when the Cowboys fumble. That’s the thing about West Texas. People aren’t fancy, but they’re good. They’re like the Folgers of humanity.

An hour and a couple of styrofoam cups later, my car’s ready. I tell him thanks and take off.

We load up the cat, drive up to I-20 and take a  left. We drive through Midland and Odessa before pausing at Monahans to lay a nickel on the track. Twelve hours later, we’re home again.

A couple of days later, my sister Jami texts, asking if we’re in Arizona or Texas. Arizona, I say. Oh, good. I just wanted to make sure you were safe, she says.

I have no idea what that means. And then I see the story about the shooting. I think about how we were just on that stretch of interstate, white pickups and semi-trucks and simple people living their lives.

I don’t know why the world has gone to hell. I don’t know why we’re killing each other. But I know West Texans. They’re good folks, even if they don’t change their refrigerator air filters as often as they should. Another day, another massacre. Live and learn and waltz and die.

My heart aches for the millionth time.

I still don’t like Folgers.


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once upon an interstate

I know when night is gone
that a new world’s born at dawn.
— the prophet robert nolan

We’re in New Mexico. Or maybe Arizona. Or somewhere in Texas if I got back on the interstate going the wrong direction. It all looks the same here.

We’re driving into the sunset, which seems romantic enough except the sun is perched atop I-10, blinding me. I ask Mo if she can see anything. Mostly she grips the armrest in terror, which I take to be a good sign.

The sun eventually goes below the horizon and off to China, unless it’s blocked under the tariff deal. I’ve been on vacation and may have missed a tweet or 200.

The sky turns dark red, the ominous color seeming to indicate something disastrous is about to happen.

And then it does.

Looking up the road, we see them. First there are just a few, heading toward a semi-truck in front of us. Maybe it’s a vendetta against FedEx, I reason. But soon, they’re upon us, too.

They’re slamming into us, little kamikaze pilots on suicide missions. Hundreds of them, banging against the car. I look ahead and there is no end in sight. Bam bam bam bam. We run over some, others slam into the passenger side of the car. As a native Texan, I feel horrible about killing them, but what choice do I have?

The barrage goes on for minutes, but it feels like hours. The tiny car sways under the attack.

And then, just as suddenly as it began, they’re gone.

We drive along in silence, wondering if it really happened, or maybe it was one of those hallucinations you have after driving 12 hours nonstop under the influence of truck-stop coffee. Mo checks the photos she tried to take. Nothing.

We finally make it home, exhausted, and fall instantly asleep.

I wake up, thinking about that weird dream I must have had. Walking out to the car on the way to pottery class, I see Mo pointing at the front of the car. Parts of them are in the grille, in the wheel wells, strewn in the parking lot. It was real.

But then, I suppose what happens in the interstate stays on the interstate. At least most of it.

I really should check flight schedules …

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ten second news

When you find what matters is what you feel
It arrives and it disappears.
— the prophet farrar

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TGAEo2019, the end

We need pie.
— Agent K

The last day of the fast was a little dicey. Luckily, I’m normally incoherent, so it doesn’t seem to make a noticeable difference.

It was 107 here today, and being from Phoenix we’re not used to the heat. When the going gets hot, the Smith Boys go to the mall for their daily walk.

The San Angelo mall opened in 1979. It was a big deal back then, when malls were new and exciting.

I had my first Chick-fil-A sandwich there, back before I knew their politics. My girlfriend got a gig as manager of the running shoe store to lure me with discounts. It worked.

I saw the running movie there that inspired me to jump to long distances, and Neil Young’s Rust Never Sleeps in a totally empty theater. I asked if they could turn up the volume. They blasted me.

It was the community center, a place where people went to hang out. It was like a second home.

The mall is still in business these days, a smattering of stores and even fewer customers. But the geography is the same, the turns and corners and smells. It was a nice walk down memory lane. Bonus: Mo got to participate in her first rodeo. Rock seemed to enjoy it.

Today was was hard. I felt dizzy and lethargic and ready for things to be over. And then they were.

We went to a taco shop. I had one breakfast taco and a couple of nachos and I was done. Maybe eating is overrated.

Upside: The fast was easier than I thought it would be. I think I can do it two or three times a year. Downside: I sorta like food. Tough habit to break.

Life lesson: Everything changes. Malls, life, health, Neil Young. But maybe Mr. Young missed that one. Burning out isn’t that great. Fading away works fine with me. Hey hey, my my.

I could use a piece of pie.

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TGAEo2019 Day 4

It’s the fourth day of the fast, but there is no moment of clarity. It’s the same muddled mystery it always is.

We’re watching Mo and Laura paint, but something is wrong. He’s restless, agitated. Something about the counters or the walls or things in his head he can’t express.

So we do what Smith Boys always do when the going gets tough: We go to Sonic.

His mood brightens. He has a large Dr Pepper, and I have a large ice water, which only costs 70 cents. Fasting is a bargain.

We drive around the park and through downtown. He points out things I’ve been looking at for six decades. He seems OK again.

I’m now at a point where food doesn’t matter much. So many other things to worry about instead. I’ve lost 10 pounds as of this morning. So why is my soul so heavy?

I suppose I AM having a moment of clarity. I realize how terribly hard this is for him. And I can’t shake the fear I try constantly to repress: what if I’m next?

And there’s not a damn thing I can do for either one of us.

Might as well dance, the prophet Larkin said. Might as well paint.

My head no longer hurts. But my heart breaks.

It’s always something …

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