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.

Pet Parade

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.

My son Lee (visiting from New Orleans for the weekend) and a new friend.

After a while, do people start to look like their pets?....

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 MagazineThe 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

Grand Central Station

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).



Ten Steps To Coffee

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 Recipes
Roasting Types
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!

The Little Vessel Food Truck

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.

Little Vessel Grill Menu

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!

Eating Out :: DFW Food Trucks, Little Vessels Grill

Nom Nom Nom

Prison Shuttle

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.

i

For Family & Friends

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

The looping trails through the Spring Creek Natural Area converge on a little footbridge over the creek. There is a nice bench there - a good place to rest and get away from the city for a few minutes.

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.