Monthly Archives: April 2012
Sunday Snippet – The Red Tail
A quick first draft I hammered out on a break from work. There may be something here, but I’m not sure what.
Walter ran through the corn. It was higher than his head and he knew he was invisible. The stalks stood thick, but there was room to run between the rows. He realized he still had the gun in his hand and that it was slowing him down, affecting his gait. He raised the gun to his face and realized that it was giving off a burned smell and that the barrel was hot.
He threw the gun away into the corn.
He wanted to start running again, but Walter had lost his way. The high corn hid him but made it impossible to see where he was going. The noon sun was directly overhead and he realized he didn’t even know what direction he had come from.
So he just ran.
When he was a child, Walter Skopsky’s father gave him a gift. He didn’t know it at the time but that moment was to shape the rest of his life. His father was a struggling alcoholic insurance underwriter and was hunched over his desk balancing the family’s meager bank accounts late one evening – trying to finish so he could reach for his second bottle. Walter was out of paper for his school work and was pestering his father for a sheet or two when the old man reached into a drawer and fell upon a pad of graph paper. He threw it and told his son to leave him alone for the rest of the night.
Walter still remembers the cool, green color of the pad, the thick blue and fine red lines crisscrossing in a grid of such heavenly precision – the repeating pattern of the axis implying an infinite steadiness and surety reaching out past the edges of the sheets into infinity to the left and right, back from the past and forward into the future.
It was the most beautiful thing Walter had ever seen.
A shy, nervous, and delicate boy, Walter took refuge in his graph paper. Once he committed something to the Cartesian Predictability on the single plane he felt he had the world under his control.
He was terrified of the long drives his family would take every holiday to West Virgina – to spend time with his mother’s large, diffuse and complex, intertwined family. The visit was a blur of loud and unpleasant confusion to Walter, but the drive up there and back was horrifying. Walter did not have access to accurate statistics on driving fatalities, but he watched the evening news and read the paper. He knew that a lot of people were meeting a gruesome end on the roads. Walter made guesses as to the percentages of deaths per thousand miles of driving and would graph the family voyage along with his estimate of his odds of dying in a fiery crash.
During the trip he would look from the back seat of the car over his father’s shoulder at the odometer and would then retreat and mark their progress on his graph and reduce his estimate of fatality until, pulling into the weed-infested gravel driveway of his aunt’s doublewide, the two lines would move to zero and he could breath easier until it was time for the trip back.
As the years went by Walter became increasingly unsatisfied with his simple linear graphs. The world was getting too complicated. That was when, on a whim, he fished the teacher’s guide to a set of standardized progress tests given out to his entire grade level out of a classroom trash can. He slipped the guide into his notebook and surreptitiously sneaked it home like it was a set of state secrets. That night he removed the clear cellophane from the unread thin pamphlet and devoured it cover to cover. There, he discovered, for the first time, the concept of the bell curve.
The simple curve resonated with Walter and he felt, finally, that he had learned a concept that explained the world to him. At first the librarian dismissed him, but he kept bugging the woman until she led him to an introductory statistics textbook that had a long chapter on the normal distribution. The mathematics were above him, but Walter began to understand the curve itself in its graphical form, with the large number of “normal” points arranged around the center and the two, rare, special, “tails” extended out to either side.
Walter copied the curve onto an entire pad of graph paper and then began to fill in the areas with highlight markers, so he could still see the lines underneath. He used the most common yellow markers on the vast territory of the center hump of the curve. The top one percent of the tail, he colored green and the bottom one, he colored red.
He stared at that upper green tail and swore he would always be in there, no matter what it took. If he couldn’t make it there – he would move on. He entered into a long period of studying. He would graph his test scores and his mid-semester and final grades – making sure he was in that top one percent. Anything less would be represented by a big blotch in that vast yellow mediocrity of the curve and Walter would be up late at night, sweating in his bed, and staring at that mark of self shame.
In English class one day, they read Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” and Walter wrote a long heart-felt essay about how the two roads led to the left and right areas of his beloved bell curve, and the “Road Less Traveled” led to the right-handed, green tail. He even stapled one of his beloved graphs to the back of the paper, carefully labeled with sections of the poem. He let slip a rare grin of self-satisfaction as he handed in his paper, sure that the teacher would be impressed by his understanding of the relationship between statistics and literature.
Walter was mortified when the paper was returned with a “C-” and the notations, “Well written, but does not make sense,” and, “Does not follow instructions.” Tears welled up in his eyes as he made a mark slightly to the left of center in the vast hated yellow land of the bell curve.
He kept staring at that graph… as time and again he kept ending up in that yellow center. It was horribly frustrating and he became more and more discouraged. Walter needed to be there in that green tail – the top one percent. But, try as hard as he could, he kept falling short. Slowly, inevitably, he began to think about the other end of the graph, the red end. The bottom one percent. What would life be like down there?
It was about that time that Walter’s father fell asleep in his car in the garage with the engine running. There was a lot of talk about whether he had done himself in or had simply made another drunken mistake… his last one. Walter didn’t think it made much difference either way.
In the confusion after his father’s death Walter was able to sneak into his parent’s bedroom and find the black plastic case hidden under the shoe stand. Walter’s father had proudly taught his son how to use the snub nose revolver and the two of them had spent some time out in the country, target shooting at whiskey bottles stuck between strands of barbed wire.
The gun was the only possession of his father’s that Walter cared about. He was able to keep it hidden away under his mattress. Nobody ever payed much attention to his room and after his mother disappeared and he was sent to live with his aunt in West Virginia nobody payed any attention to him at all.
Walter had grown into a tall, lanky, quiet youth. He wasn’t too quick, but he was fast, and he had some stamina. At first, he did well in math, which made his teachers like him and the other kids stay even further away.
He was still making his graphs, and his bell curves, but he had stopped coloring in the green tail on the right hand side. His mind began thinking more and more about the red end to the left and began to rejoice as his marks were drifting lower and lower, moving in that direction.
Finally, one summer he decided to take the plunge. He began thinking more and more about a little gas station out on the highway. A dirt road ran to the east from his aunt’s trailer and was separated from the gas station by a wide, flat, corn field. He was tall, fast, and though it was wide he knew he could run across that field in less than five minutes.
A girl from his high school worked out there on the weekends. Her parents owned the place. She was a senior and a cheerleader and everybody knew who she was though Walter was sure she had no idea who he was.
All Walter had to do was wait until the corn had grown higher than his head.
He didn’t know where he was going, but Walter still ran through the corn. His pockets were stuffed with cash which seemed heavier than it should have been.
Walter realized that this must be what it felt like to be down in the red tail of the bell curve. Lost, running, desperate. This wasn’t what he expected but he wasn’t sure if it was what he wanted. He did know that now he was there, down in the red tail, that he was there for good.
A while back I wrote about our little daytrip down to the Deep Ellum Arts Festival. We always try to go around noon on Sunday because that is when the Pet Parade is, and the guaranteed cornucopia of dogs makes Candy happy. She likes the canines, I get a kick out of the hipster doofuses. The parade was led by a parrot riding a remote controlled toy jeep.
I dug through my files and copied some of the photographs onto a thumb drive to transfer over to Candy’s computer for her enjoyment and thought I’d share them with y’all.
What I learned this week, April 27, 2012
A few weeks back, I wrote a couple of blog entries about the new Museum Tower killing the Nasher Sculpture Center.
The news is spreading. Also, as the city prepares to open their much-ballyhooed park that has been built over the Woodall Rogers freeway – it has been “discovered” that the glare from the tower raises the temperature in the park significantly. Now, everyone is getting pissed off – though not as much as me.
There are some updates:
– D Magazine has done an extensive and interesting article about the tower and the politics behind it. Read this… it is fascinating stuff – even if you don’t give a damn about Dallas:
D Magazine – The Towering Inferno
How Museum Tower threatens the Nasher Sculpture Center and the Woodall Rodgers roofdeck park, two of the most prized assets of the city’s vaunted Arts District.
In the newest news, Dallas Lawyer Tom Luce has been appointed to mediate the dispute.
Dallas Lawyer Will Mediate Nasher vrs. Museum Tower Dispute
Finally, the chairman of the Dallas Police and Fire Pension Trustees has a video saying that they have everything under control. He says they have been unfairly blamed for the problem. – He makes a good speech, but the building is still there – cooking everything within reach of its reflected laser beams. He says he’ll fix it – I’ll believe it when I see it.
It bugs me that he talks about all these architects, consultants, and experts they have hired. How about Renzo Piano, the architect of the Nasher. He has made his opinion very clear and he isn’t happy. It sounds to me like the Dallas Police and Fire Pension fund has hired a bunch of hacks and are trying to convince us they know more that the Pritzker Prize winner.
Nowhere in all of this do I hear anything about the fact the tower ruined James Turrell‘s Tending (Blue).
This whole thing makes me so angry… I better stop and move on now.
H.P. Lovecraft Answers Your Relationship Questions
During the week I sometimes see something cool surfing around and make a note to put a link to it up on my friday blog entry. But a day later the thing has gone viral, everybody knows about it, and I have to take it off.
Here’s one of those – you’ve probably seen it, but if you haven’t, you should.
Never Seen Before Photos of New York City
You can see the online gallery here: NYC Department of Records
( the link if flooded right now… hope it comes back soon, these photos are stunning).
ALL ABOUT COFFEE:
What is Coffee?
The History of Coffee
Ten Steps to Coffee
How to Store Coffee
How to Brew Coffee
The Value of Coffee
Coffee From the World
From the Seed to the Cup
Jackie Collins – on my decision to self-publish
Tomato Bisque and Grilled Cheese! And Beer!
This last Saturday, looking for something to do, I discovered a Food Truck Block Party at the Ginger Man in uptown. So we took the DART train down to the underground Cityplace Station and climbed up to the surface.
The other night I saw a piece on television about how the DC government can’t keep the escalators going to their subway stations. Dallas doesn’t do any better. The Cityplace Station is ten stories underground and customers use six sets of escalators or three elevators to reach the surface. Only one escalator (the lowest up escalator) and none of the elevators were functioning. That wasn’t a problem for us – we could walk the stairs, but it was a real pain for some others. One homeless guy with a huge cart full of his belongings was trapped – he had ridden up the one working escalator up to an intermediate landing and now he couldn’t go any farther up or even back down.
We did reach the surface and as we emerged, blinking, into the sunlight I saw that our timing was perfect. The streetcar was right there. It was the Green Dragon, and it was on the turntable... and it was turning. I have been wanting to watch that thing spin since it was installed and finally I saw it.
We rode the Green Dragon down to Boll street and walked a short distance to the block party. A parking lot next to the Ginger Man was full of about a half-dozen food trucks serving food and desserts. Inside the place was a big crowd, live music, and a large assortment of beers.
Some of the food trucks had made food to co-ordinate with certain special beers being sold at the Ginger Man. The trucks had printed up little guides with the list of beers and what food would go good with each choice. I thought that was cool – sort of like a poor-man’s gourmet wine tasting.
As always, when faced with a choice of food trucks, I chose the one I had never tried before. There was only one new one (I am cutting a pretty wide swath through the still growing Dallas food truck scene) – I had heard of it before, The Little Vessel Grill.
Their menu looked good – a prix fixe – each item was seven bucks. I chose the item on the top of the menu – the Tomato Bisque Soup and Grilled Cheese (Fire in the Hole) – because it was the first item on the menu. Candy chose the second item, the BBQ Pork Sandwich (Barque at the Moon) because… it was a BBQ Pork Sandwich.
It was very good.
We had plans to go some other places, but there were specialty beers to try, other food trucks to visit, and a place full of interesting people (and a few dogs) so we ended up going nowhere else and riding the train back home (after walking down ten stories of steps) as the sun set.
Little Vessel Food Truck Facebook
Little Vessel Food Truck Twitter
Little Vessel Food Truck Home Page
Little Vessel Grille: There Is Artistry In That Truck!
I didn’t feel like it (I was exhausted and my head was pounding) but I went for a little bike ride after work. My bike was in the back of the car so I drove down to the nearby Forest Lane train station – one that the Cottonwood Trail runs by. I changed clothes in the car, which is difficult for me, and pulled the bike out of the hatchback, which is easy. While I was getting my shit together I noticed this advertising sign stuck in the grass border around the parking lot.
This saddens me. Not so much that somebody has started a shuttle service to the local prisons (For Family and Friends) – if there is a need, there should be someone to fill it. It saddens me that there is such a need.
And look at that bus! I can see chartering a van to take my friends and family for an afternoon visit at the slammer… but who could fill up that bus? That thing has a dual rear axle – that’s a serious hunk of bus there. Are they are thinking about more than mere visits? That bus would be useful for a prison break. You could take a whole unit over the fence and drive them to a nice afternoon at a baseball game all for one low price. I wish that was true… over the obvious fact that there are enough folks up the river that you can fill a bus up on visiting day.
Across the parking lot is a cheap gas station that has a constant flow of shady characters moving in and out with bags full of bottles. I guess the people that run the shuttle service figured out (maybe with extensive research and a focus group or two) that friends and relatives of incarcerated jailbirds tend to walk through this lot – maybe carrying their cheap booze to the train. People riding the train with alcohol won’t have a car they can drive to the pen. They would need a shuttle.
I haven’t seen that ad anywhere else.
So I climbed on my bike and went for a short ride. My head never stopped pounding, so I only went a half-dozen miles or so, stopping at a shady bench to read a short story on my Kindle. While I was loading my bike back in the car for the trip home I watched a few folks walk through the lot… but nobody asked for a pen so they could write the phone number down.
A Bit of Dappled Shade
This is the time of the year full of those rare North Texas days of cool mornings and warm afternoons. I can feel the killer heat of summer crouched on the horizon, ready to pounce. But in the meantime, it is so nice, so much of a shame to be cooped up in a cubicle for so many hours. When the whistle sounds, I want to be outside – to capture as much of this time as I can in preparation for the blazing oven season ahead.
There is this spot – the Spring Creek Natural area – where the concrete bike riding trails enter some thick creekbottom floodplain woods and loop around to give a bicycle rider the illusion of being outside of the city for a few minutes.
Candy and I have swapped cars for a few days. The car I have now is a tiny hatchback – much smaller than the one I drive on most days. With the back seats folded, however, I discovered my bicycle can fit in the back without even taking either wheel off. Maybe I’ll keep driving this car and carry my bike with me – get in some quick rides in different parts of the city. Maybe I don’t have to spent my money on a folding bike.
Candy was worried about leaving my bike in the car. “I bought it for used for ninety dollars twenty years ago,” I told her. I remember now, I was saving to buy a bike and then found this one at a pawn shop. I figured it could get me by until I saved enough for a decent one. I guess I have my money’s worth. “You’ve put a lot into it, though,” she said. Well… not really. Tires and tubes, of course. I had to buy a new brake lever/shifter set – but I found that on clearance and paid less than fifty dollars for it. I need to buy a new chain – but those are cheap – the thing has been slipping cogs if I push too hard and I think the chain is worn.
The bike is a hunk of crap – but I’ll take it apart, clean and lube it… one more time.
I rode around the Spring Creek woods, taking it easy. I’d stop every now and then at a place with a bench and read a story on my Kindle. Sometimes I’d check the baseball scores on my phone. That’s a nice way to waste a day.
After hanging out in the dappled sunlight of the woods for awhile, I thought about how nice it would be to have other people do this. We could ride along the central trail along 75 to Eastside and grab a burger, maybe a cold beer, then ride back. Never happen, but I rode the route anyway, just to see if it was doable. A nice little ride, actually. It’s a shock to leave the deep, muffled forest and be suddenly along a screaming eight-lane highway, though the trail makes the ride easy. I didn’t get anything to eat, but sat on a bench at Eastside for a bit, watched the folks come and go before cruising back down into the woods.
I love Mardi Gras in New Orleans but we simply couldn’t afford to go this year. When I’m at a parade, I suffer from “bead frenzy” – where I want to grab those throws, no matter how many tons of cheap plastic beads I have stashed away in the back of a closet. It gets crazy… but that’s the idea. I love grabbing beads, and especially Doubloons… but there is one Mardi Gras throw that I have never caught and always wanted. I wanted a Zulu Coconut.
The Krewe of Zulu – full name Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club – has a long and storied history, intimately intertwined with the racial politics and culture of New Orleans. The legend is that Zulu started out as a satire on and parody of the upper-crust white celebration of Mardi Gras. After its beginings in the first decade of the 20th century, Zulu became the largest primarily African-American parade in New Orleans’ colorful panoply of Mardi Gras Krewes.
Zulu had its struggles over the years. The civil rights movement in the 1960’s threatened the Krewe, but it was able to survive and reformed its image somewhat. Katrina was a terrible shock, both financially and spiritually, but the Krewe fought its way back. Now, the climax of Carnival in New Orleans is on Tuesday, Mardi Gras itself, with the two (arguably) most famous Krewes taking to the streets, The Krewe of Rex, and The Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club.
Through all the changes and decades though, Zulu was famous for one thing especially. The most desirous of all Carnival throws – the Zulu Coconut.
In the early days, long before cheap chains of Chinese-made beads, the parades threw expensive glass necklaces. The folks of Zulu could not afford these and decided to purchase inexpensive coconuts and hand them out instead. Over the years these involved into hand-painted and prized souvenirs.
There is an inherent problem, however, with throwing something as hard and heavy as a coconut from an elevated parade float into the middle of a frenzied crowd. A lot of people were getting hurt. In 1987, Zulu was unable to get any insurance coverage and there was a halt to the throwing of coconuts. The legislature had to step in.
Anywhere else in the country, the government would ban the throwing of coconuts. Louisiana is not anywhere else, however. In 1988, Governor Edwin W. Edwards signed Louisiana State Bill #SB188, the “Coconut Bill”, into law removing liability from injuries resulting from a coconut – enabling the tradition to resume. Instead of banning the coconut, they banned the lawsuits.
They did stop throwing – the coconuts are now, more or less, handed out. Also, they started using imported carefully hollowed out ‘nuts that are a lot lighter (though more fragile). They still are all hand-painted by the Krewe members. There are still lawsuits, but the tradition continues. According to most counts, about one hundred thousand coconuts are handed out on Mardi Gras during the Zulu parade.
Still, they are hard to get. I know people that have been going to Carnival in New Orleans their entire life and never had one on their paws. Most folks I talked to said you had to know someone in Zulu and make an appointment to meet them along the route to get a coconut.
I wanted one… wanted it bad.
I was talking about this to my son Lee, who lives in New Orleans and goes to school at Tulane.
“Oh, yeah dad, I get Zulu coconuts every year, it’s no big deal.”
“You’re kidding me Lee. What do you do with them?”
“Oh, I mostly give them to girls. Do you want one?”
“Yes I want one. I really want one.”
“I’ll get you one next Mardi Gras.”
He went on to tell me his secret method of getting Zulu coconuts, which I will not share here. It is ingenious, simple, and foolproof … and something I don’t want to make public.
So, this year, on Tuesday afternoon, while I was staring at a computer screen at work, a text came in to my phone from Lee.
“Got 2 Coconuts 4 U”
He did drop one later (though I suspect he might have given it to a girl) – and he forgot to bring the other one to Lafayette when we drove there for his Rugby Game – but the other day he came home for a surprise weekend visit and brought me my coconut.
It’s not a thing of beauty – simply a coconut spray painted a bilious gold, with some glitter paint pen decorations and two cheap googly eyes glued on. Lee dropped this one too – I glued a piece back on but it still has one busted hole under one eye.
I love it, though. I need to build a little shelf to display it properly… maybe next to my little monster heads in boxes.
I have always wanted a Zulu coconut.
Sunday Snippet – Historical Fiction
Today’s bit is from a confused collection of text that I have been working on for a long time. It was intended to be a piece of historical fiction – a form I love to read but have never really had luck writing.
I think I’m going to give up the historical aspects of this story and move it into the present day. That means I can remove everything from the past and tell it as a complete lie. Trying to do proper research and insure historically accurate details and language was more time than I wanted to waste and more energy than I wanted to expend.
The following is the end of what I used to mess with and it will have to go. But I thought I’d let you take a read before I send it up to that great delete key in the sky.
“Up, Up!” For the second time in the last day, someone was shaking me and shouting into my face. “We must go now!” It was my father. He was in such an agitated state I almost didn’t recognize him.
It took me a minute to get my bearings, to remember and start to understand why I was in bed yet still dressed. The clock showed it to be late afternoon. My face ached terribly and I gingerly touched my mouth and cheek, feeling the dried blood, which stained my shirt with an irregular dark streak. Father ignored my awful appearance, threw an old overcoat around my shoulders and dragged me out the front door.
The Beauregards and the Carrolltons were waiting there, on horseback. Carson held the reins of two more steeds, one for me, one for my father. Before we could mount, my father grabbed me roughly by the shoulders and shoved his face inches from mine. His usually deep and reserved eyes were swollen and bulged out, his cheeks red as beets, his hair, once carefully groomed, now dirty and wild. With a disturbed cracking and rising voice that I wouldn’t have believed could have come from that cultivated and meticulous man he screamed into my face.
“Listen! Listen to me. No matter what happens, no matter what they say or what questions they ask… remember, nothing could have been done! It was God’s will… an act of God alone!” “Do you understand.”
He said the last three words not like a question but as a statement of fact. With that I was grabbed roughly and pulled onto a horse and immediately the group rode off along the road. The rain had let up; only a light misting remained of the violent storm. Everyone was silent as we moved along behind the row of cottages. I couldn’t look out at the lake, it was screened from view by the buildings and landscaping, plus I had to pay attention as the horse worked his way through the deeply rutted road, maneuvering around the many small ponds of standing water. Before long we emerged before the bridge over the spillway but instead of crossing it to the dam the others were turning onto the rough path that led away into the woods. I followed.
They all halted and turned, staring out over the lake. I halted my horse and turned also. I’ll never forget the chill that struck all the way to my very core — the horrible sight that my eyes saw from that road.
The lake was gone. The view was so shocking and unexpected it took several seconds for my mind to comprehend what I was looking at.
Above the old waterline, everything was as it always was; the cottages lined up, the big lodge house, smoke still curling up against the light rain from its cluster of chimneys. The boardwalks still ran along the edge, extending out to the fishing and boat docks, which still stood in place. The hills still ran up and away, covered with the green growth of spring, the blue mountain mists still licked down the hollows to the old waterline.
Below this line, however, everything was horribly, horribly wrong. The lake was replaced with an enormous black wound in the earth. To look down, down into the gaping maw of mud, to see small rivulets of filthy water still running down the impossibly steep sides was to stare into the very depths of hell. I couldn’t stand it. I turned my head away and looked over at the dam itself and saw that it too, had simply ceased to exist. The huge earthen wall was represented now by two small, steep hillocks at each end of an immense chasm. The dam had been neatly sliced away entire by the unimaginable force of the water confined behind it.
Instinctively, I looked back at our own cottage. The dock still stood, except now it was perched high in the air, on stilted legs above an obscene slick, barren hillside. My sailboat hung from its mooring line at the bow, dangling in mid air, swinging in the breeze. Something else moved down there, and I had to look closely to make out the Italian workmen, wading down into the mud. They were grabbing the stranded fish, the bass flopping around helpless, and stuffing them into canvas bags.
For one second I felt sorry for myself. Our wonderful cottage, my beautiful boat, the summers all ruined. That instant of self-pity was drowned by a clear voice that welled up from somewhere deep within me, a voice of awful clarity in the confusion. That voice simply asked, “Where did the water go?”
The lake had been several miles long and up to seventy feet deep. Millions and millions of tons of water had rushed out in what must have been little more than minutes, carrying with it the untold tons more of earth and rock that made up the dam itself. I shuddered when I thought of the power of that giant wave, of how it would grow in deadly fury as it rushed down the mountainside, picking up trees, rocks, roadway… any thing that stood in its inexorable path.
I thought of the narrow canyon that carried the stream down off the mountain, the very valley that I had fought my way up the day before. There was nothing along that way to halt or even slow down the wave; it would actually focus the power, help it to build up upon itself.
Finally, I thought of the city of Johnstown far below. It was already flooded, waterlogged, completely at the mercy of the disaster that fell from the mountains above. The remains of the lake would descend upon the town like a falling mountain, a moving mountain of water and debris, a flying, boiling unstoppable wave of violent death.
Finally, I thought of Maggie in her little shack, perched right there on the bank by the water. Right where the Conemaugh River opened up into the doomed helpless hopeless city.
I let out a cry, a shriek like that of a pitiful useless animal and began to shake uncontrollably. An icy coldness held me in a merciless grip. I couldn’t move. My father saw my state and, still muttering “Act of God, nobody’s fault, Act of God” grabbed the reins of my horse and led us all away into the woods along the rough path.
And He Carries the Reminders of Every Glove That Laid Him Down
I first saw Simon and Garfunkel in an interview on television – maybe 1965…. At that time they were portrayed as a pair of oddball singers as part of a documentary on the resurgence of American Folk Music. I didn’t fully understand what I was hearing (I would have been eight years old and knew nothing about music) but my instincts told me that it was something special. This was years before “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and a year before “The Graduate” – the duo had not entered the public consciousness yet. Of course, I don’t remember any details but the documentary seemed to feel that the future belonged to these two strange men.
Five years later I remember riding in the car with my father one dark evening in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas (I even remember the stretch of road) when the DJ announced a brand new release by Simon and Garfunkel – and “Bridge Over Troubled Water” came on the crackly AM mono radio for the first time. It was mesmerizing – I had simply never heard anything like that before. In this age of autotuned over-exposed pneumatic digital teeny-bopper corporate shovel-ready cash cow starlets we easily can forget how music was made to move your soul.
I bought the album and listened to it over and over until the vinyl was worn flat and I had to tape pennies to the tone arm to keep it from skipping.
I was especially obsessed with the non-hit music – all of it. “Frank Lloyd Wright,” “Cecilia,” “Keep the Customer Satisfied.” I was also fascinated by “The Boxer.” I studied the lyrics of that song – how the rhythm changes subtly – how the phrases speed up and slow down building to the heartbreaking climax. It was a small piece of amazing writing (but everybody already knows that).
Now, this was the third Thursday that I rode the train downtown after work for the Patio Sessions of free music in the Dallas Arts District. I was excited because this was going to be Holt and Stockslager in a duo tribute to Simon and Garfunkel.
The music was fantastic – actually it was better than fantastic – it was perfect. It sounded like Simon and Garfunkel would if they could play a small, live, simple, intimate, outdoor set. The played all the favorites and a handful of obscure songs. I loved it, simple as that.
My one complaint, as it was last week, was the kids. It was worse this time around. Right from the beginning – a large horde of squealing children – from toddlers to pre-teens – ran boiling back and forth across the reflecting pool directly in front of the musicians.
This went on for the entire two hours of the performance. The parents did nothing to stop this. In fact, one idiot father in a Ranger’s cap ran out and actually dropped a small soccer ball into the roiling clot and then produced a portable plastic bubble machine to excite the rug rats even more.
I tried to ignore the kids and concentrate on enjoying the music but it was impossible. They were right there, kicking their feet noisily across the water, splashing through the shallow film, screaming at each other and running back and forth in front of the singers at top speed.
I would look (glare) at their parents – most of whom were sitting on blankets in groups well back from the water. They were sipping wine and chatting, ignoring the music completely. When they would turn their heads and look at their spawn running around their smiles would beam beatifically and you could read their minds leaking out of their mouths, “OH, look how cute my child is – I am surely the best parent with the best kid in the world! How lucky I am and how great for all these other people to be able to see and enjoy my wonderful creation… my offspring!”
And that’s it. This event isn’t about the music – it isn’t about Simon and Garfunkel. It’s about them.
My kids were as wild as they come – wilder than these hellions. I thought back – would I have let them run around during the concert?
Absolutely not. I would have let them careen around the reflecting pool before the music started and probably allowed them back between sets – but never while the band was playing.
It’s not about discipline or about how to raise your kids. It’s about respect for other people. Just because you’ve squeezed out a pup or two doesn’t make you the king of the world and a mellow concert is not the same thing as a children’s water park.
In a few weeks they are going to have a string quartet play down at a Patio Session. I would love to go to that – to hear them play. It would be the perfect relaxation after another tough week. But I can’t imagine listening to that subtle music with all those damn kids running around the whole time.
I am just a poor boy
Though my story’s seldom told
I have squandered my resistance
For a pocket full of mumbles such are promises
All lies and jests
Still a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest
When I left my home and my family
I was no more than a boy
In the company of strangers
In the quiet of the railway station running scared
Laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters
Where the ragged people go
Looking for the places only they would know
Asking only workman’s wages
I come looking for a job
But I get no offers,
Just a come-on from the whores on Seventh Avenue
I do declare, there were times when I was so lonesome
I took some comfort there
Then I’m laying out my winter clothes
And wishing I was gone
Where the New York City winters aren’t bleeding me
Bleeding me, going home
In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of ev’ry glove that layed him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
“I am leaving, I am leaving”
But the fighter still remains