brothers, part 34

Five o’clock in the Texas morning,
I got a long, long ride.
— the prophet michael murphey


Hi, Rick. You don’t remember me, but I’m your brother Gary. We collaborated on comic books a long time ago. I was the better artist. But that’s not why I’m here.

I miss you.

I miss all those times I didn’t call you. I miss never going to visit you. I miss knowing you would always be there, just in case I needed you. OK, I was a crappy brother. Sorry. But I think I caught a couple of typos in your column once, so maybe it all balances out.

We’re having a bit of a bad stretch here. Mo’s Uncle Joe, coolest guy on the planet, just died. BK is slowly climbing farther up on the roof. And now the word on the street is that you’re not doing so great. I’m a journalist, remember. I find these things out.

I spend so much time these days not knowing what to do when I think of you. Laugh? Cry? Scream? Pretend I’m OK with the cycle of life? I can’t. I don’t want you to go.

But I think you should.

I’ve been listening to “Texas Morning” on repeat lately. That was always the perfect song for you. How many five o’clocks did you see on Texas mornings? I was lucky to ride shotgun on a bunch of them. Terlingua and Marfa and Big Bend and Luckenbach and the Guadalupes and that first time we drove into Austin. Bluebonnets and prickly pears. Peeing on a fence that turned out to be electrified (explaining those years where your voice was such a high pitch), cutting down another after we were trapped in a pasture (you wired it back together after we left). Texas morning. The perfect name for a newspaper columnist who loved endless roads more than anything in the world.

I love you in the way you can only tell a brother after it’s too late. And it’s going to be impossibly hard without you.

But it seems like time for you to head out for the next adventure.

You can keep writing and rewriting and editing, but there comes a point when you need to pull the story out of the trusty Royal typewriter and send it to press.

I have no idea what’s on the other side. Maybe nothing. Maybe bluebonnets. Maybe you come back as a puppy on a farm in Ballinger. What the heck. It’s worth a try.

Or maybe there’s an old dirt road there and it’s always five o’clock on a Texas morning. Isn’t that as close to heaven as you’d want to get? You can get the land cruiser adjusted while you wait for Mike and me. Maybe pick us up somewhere around Vancourt. Bring Granddad. He’ll have some stories. Surely heaven has a Sonic.

I know you can’t read this, but maybe you can feel it. We always had pretty great brother telepathy.

If so, get the heck out of this joint. Start driving and don’t look back. You’ve got a long, long ride.

your dear and worthless brother,
gary

-30-

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you can’t have it both ways

Everything’s so confusing
just before your mind’s made up.

– the prophet brent babb

I’m running on the gumbo loop, just minding my own business (a tiny jogging entrepreneurship), when I see it up ahead: autumn.

We’re in early January, so it seems a bit late for fall to arrive. But we don’t adhere to daylight saving time in Arizona, so I suppose this is just another casualty.

The leaves are beautiful. And very, very dead.

But I’m reminded of the wisdom of Chance the Gardener:

“In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.”

Running is like that. Build up, crash, rest, peak, plummet, projectile vomit, sashay, swear it off forever, untangle cramp, celebrate the finish line, start all over again. Live, die, repeat as necessary.

Why?

I guess it’s for the season reasons trees bloom and leaves change and birds come and go each year to see it all happen. They don’t much think about it; it’s just the cycle of life. Although I keep crashing on my cycle and find running to be less traumatic for my ribs.

I’m running 3 miles a day this week, pretending to know I remember how. The cat is staging a triumphant comeback, apparently having overheard Mo’s phone conversation with the vet about taking her in. I look ahead on the calendar, fighting the urge to pencil in May and September while reminding myself that this week is all there is.

I run through the leaves and the memories. It’s all good. We have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again. And then the seasons of our lives will continue long after we’re gone, blooming gloriously each year through the memories we have left with others.

And yet. Everything IS so confusing just before your mind’s made up. I hope my mind gets made up soon.

The prophet Babb was right. You can’t have it both ways …

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i wish the world was flat like the old days

So this is the new year
And I have no resolutions.
— the prophet benjamin gibbard

It’s the first day of the year. Mo says she’s opting out and embracing Chinese New Year instead. Year of the tiger. Insert Calvin and Hobbes metaphor here.

I was running around the dog loop today, thinking about the race I was supposed to be finishing right about now. It’s butt cold, and I’m remembering why I never much liked to run it anyhow. What kind of crazy people stage a race in sub-60 temperatures? A triumphant return morphs into a couple of laps in the cold, another 170 bucks down the drain. I’m thinking we should move to the desert to get away from this icy weather. Someday.

When I was a kid, Ma would make us eat a black-eyed pea for good luck on New Year’s Day. She had no reason to suspect COVID back then, I suppose. I always hated those things, but I loved Ma, so I dutifully continued the tradition over the years.

We were too scared to go into the store for provisions today, so we opted for the Wendy’s drive-thru and a Medium Chocolate Frosty instead. This could be a new tradition.

How does one look back or look ahead these days? An endless series of “it’s not as bad as it was” sitting next to “I wonder if it’s going to get worse.” How would one make resolutions in these times?

And so I just lean on the lessons I’ve learned from running over the years.

■ Run the mile you’re in. Don’t worry about next week or next month. Just make it through the weekend.

■ Stop looking at the watch and run by feel. It’s all arbitrary anyhow.

■ Never take your run or your health or your best friend or your cat for granted. You never know. Stretch often; hug more.

■ If you have to walk, walk like you mean it. This could be the best life metaphor ever.

■ Life is like a 24-hour run. There is no DNF. You just stop at some point. And that’s alright. If you have to cross the rainbow bridge, we’ll be OK. Wait for us on the other side.

■ Eat more Frosties. You can never have too much good luck.

So this is the new year …

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mo sheppo, birding expert

me: What kind of bird is that?

mo: A white one.

me: Well, sure. But what about the other one?

mo: Also a white one.

Mo is a genius. I should probably write these names down so I don’t have to keep asking.

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long ago and far away

And in between what might have been
and what has come to pass
A misbegotten guess, alas,
and bits of broken glass
— the prophet taylor



Today is the day.

For most people, Jan. 1 is the time for new beginnings. For me, it’s whatever Monday the new yearly journal begins with. And that day is today. I might have mentioned that already.

I have been keeping a yearly running log since the days of the Jim Fixx journals back in the dark ages. It’s a ritual I can’t imagine going without. Each day, I write down my miles and time. Over the years, it’s become more complicated, with Vo2 max and effort levels and pygmy goat estimates, but the idea is the same. Painstakingly write down a bunch of numbers I’ll never look at again.

Maybe it’s a Dorian Gray thing. As long as I have these 365 days staring ahead of me, I can’t die.

In 2004, I made the switch to adulthood and got a Day-timer, which is basically a running log without motivational quotes. Instead, I got pages for my “expense account” and a “planning calendar” and a section for “birthdays and anniversaries.” As if I actually did anything or knew anyone. I would use those pages to doodle, while maniacally recording the daily runs. Garmin and Strava came along, providing an online log and making the whole process pointless. And yet, I persisted.

Until.

A couple of years ago, the Day-timer disappeared. They apparently were not able to build a successful business model based on selling me one attache planner a year, and did away with the model. I was screwed.

Many trips to many stores later, I finally found an acceptable replacement, a Moleskine Weekly Notebook. It has everything I could possibly want. Namely, a calendar. One that starts on Monday and ends on Sunday, the way the Old Testament meant things to be. It’s the same size as the old Day-Timer, so they stack up just fine. Still black, simple. Just right.

Except.

It wants me to be a hipster.

In the front of the book, between the yearly calendar and the weekly calendar, there is A Bunch of Stuff.

Global Holidays. Moleskine assures me that it cares about precision and checks all dates carefully. But Moleskine doesn’t realize we’re locked down for the next decade or so, and not particularly interested in what day Papua New Guinea celebrates the new year. This is followed by two pages of time zones. See previous point about travel.

The next pages offer measures and conversions, since there might not be an internet connection in Papua New Guinea, and then a page for shirt sizes in various countries. If you’re interested, a 14 1/2 shirt in the U.S. is the equivalent of a 14 1/2 shirt in Great Britain. I assume this pertains to button-up shirts, which I have not worn since the Great COVID Lockdown of 2020.

You need the dialing codes for Afghanistan? That would be 53. Papua New Guinea is 675, although why would you ever call Papua New Guinea?

And then, the intimidating part. A blank page labeled simply “travel planning.” Ummmm, did I mention the COVID thing? Followed by a page for “My extraordinary moments this year.” And then, “My inspiring journeys.” They suggest using their enclosed stickers to help decorate this page. I hope there are cookie stickers, since my inspiring journeys are mostly to the kitchen to steal from Mo’s Secret Graham Cracker Stash.

And then, mercifully, it finally arrives at the weekly calendars, where I enter my runs each day and ponder my inspiring journey to Afghanistan by way of Great Britain to pick up a size 14 1/2 shirt that one could not obtain in the US of A. I should probably save a sticker to put on the shirt.

It’s a fine running log, soft and friendly like a new puppy, and it has left no puddles I’m aware of.

I’m on my third one now and I’m happy, despite my dearth of inspiring journeys and button-up shirts.

It is a really, really nice notebook, just right for a young hipster trapped in the body of an old runner.

And as I look at it, the blank pages staring back at my hopefully, waiting for my extraordinary moments to commence, I realize.

It really IS too nice to write in.

Where’s Jim Fixx when you need him?

I should write that down somewhere.

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