“Four be the things I am wiser to know: Idleness, sorrow, a friend, and a foe. Four be the things I’d been better without: Love, curiosity, freckles, and doubt. Three be the things I shall never attain: Envy, content, and sufficient champagne. Three be the things I shall have till I die: Laughter and hope and a sock in the eye.”
― Dorothy Parker, The Complete Poems of Dorothy Parker
“These people were the first to master a new kind of late twentieth-century life. They thrived on the rapid turnover of acquaintances, the lack of involvement with others, and the total self-sufficiency of lives which, needing nothing, were never disappointed.” ― J.G. Ballard
My journal entry from Thursday, April 29 1999, comparing the beach in South Texas to the one I had just visited in North Carolina.
Galveston vs. Carolina Beach
Carolina Sweet, thick iced tea, coming to your table sugared. Mint and Magnolia blossoms.
Galveston is a Mezcal town, Bitter and Crazy, with a worm.
In Galveston the seashells are common, piled in drifts. They are all bleached white. In Carolina they are rarer, but beautifully multicolored.
At Carolina Beach the waves slide in with a low rumble and a hiss, moving from glossy patches of reflected sunlight into green walls of translucent glass. They fall lazily onto the sand to fade as lines of white melting foam. Green waves – White foam – Amber sand, Undulate back and forth under the civilized Deep South Sun.
In Galveston the Gulf waves are angry, crashing, powerful violence – smashing with an incredible din. The sun beats mercilessly on it all. The surf stirs the fin dark sand into a gray soup carrying all sorts of flotsam and jetsam; salt smelly Sargasso seaweed, telephone poles, ship’s trash, detritus of the continent brought thousands of miles down the Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico.
The Texas seabirds are loud, insistent, relentless; packs follow a poor morning visitor with his breakfast muffin – cawing Hitchcockian mass of beaks, claws, and wings – waiting for an opening – a chance at a snack.
In Carolina even the gulls are polite and discrete. They float on the breeze or caterwaul in the distance waiting ’till they can eat in private. Maybe behind a dune.
“They waited for the elevator. ” Most people love butterflies and hate moth,” he said. “But moths are more interesting – more engaging.”
“Some are, a lot are, but they live in all kinds of ways. Just like we do.” Silence for one floor.
“There’s a moth, more than one in fact, that lives only on tears,” he offered. “That’s all they eat or drink.”
“What kind of tears? Whose tears?”
“The tears of large land mammals, about our size.
The old definition of moth was, ‘anything that gradually, silently eats, consumes, or wages any other thing.’
It was a verb for destruction too. . . .”
― Thomas Harris, The Silence of the Lambs
The last paragraph of my journal entry from April 4, 2003, describing how I felt when I returned from a long work trip cleaning up a toxic waste site in the swamps of southern Louisiana.
I remember how I felt when that job was over and I flew back home. I had become so used to the swamps, to the green and the water – to the alligators and the snakes – that it began to feel like it was the whole world. I gazed out the window of my plane at the hard concrete and the terminal buildings of DFW airport, the metal planes and the masses of people – a sight I’d seen a hundred times but that seemed suddenly strange and alien after being in the swamp for so long. It took me a long time to feel normal again… or at least as normal as I ever feel.
“Anybody can look at a pretty girl and see a pretty girl. An artist can look at a pretty girl and see the old woman she will become. A better artist can look at an old woman and see the pretty girl that she used to be. But a great artist-a master-and that is what Auguste Rodin was-can look at an old woman, portray her exactly as she is…and force the viewer to see the pretty girl she used to be…and more than that, he can make anyone with the sensitivity of an armadillo, or even you, see that this lovely young girl is still alive, not old and ugly at all, but simply prisoned inside her ruined body. He can make you feel the quiet, endless tragedy that there was never a girl born who ever grew older than eighteen in her heart…no matter what the merciless hours have done to her. Look at her, Ben. Growing old doesn’t matter to you and me; we were never meant to be admired-but it does to them.”
“I had three pieces of limestone on my desk, but I was terrified to find that they required to be dusted daily, when the furniture of my mind was all undusted still, and threw them out the window in disgust.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden & Civil Disobedience
From my online journal (blog) The Daily Epiphany, from July 4, 2000, Tornado of Bats
Mostly we walked around the parking lots looking at license plates. Lee is still obsessed with getting all fifty states on his little license plate collection and I had told him the National Park would be a good place to find some more states. It was, we found a cornucopia of vehicles from all over. We were able to finish it all out except for what we knew would be the three most difficult states: Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Delaware.
Lee also was very overjoyed to find a dead rattlesnake in a drainage ditch.
The sun began to creep across the horizon, Candy and Nick came back, and we walked back to the natural cave entrance to watch the evening bat flight. They have constructed a good-sized stone amphitheater at that point and it was filling up fast.
The entrance sits in a sort of hollow and heads almost straight down in a large opening. The Ranger described it as toilet-shaped. As the hour grew later and later everybody became restless waiting for the bats to show. The Ranger explained that nobody knows how the bats, deep down in the depths of the cave, know when it is twilight outside and their arrival wasn’t always like clockwork. A thick cloud of pesky gnats was also driving everybody nuts.
Finally the Ranger announced that the bats were starting to come out and we all sat back to watch. The bat flight at Carlsbad is impressive. The bats don’t simply fly out of a hole and into the sky. They come up into that toilet-shaped area and go round and round in a vortex until they gain enough speed and altitude to stream out over the desert. They swirl in a tornado of bats.
It is an amazing sight and an even more amazing sound, the faint whir of hundreds of thousands of pairs of tiny wings. A gray flittering cone contrasted against the rock and cactus. I sat dumfounded at the beauty of it and the desert sunset.
The only thing that distracted the enjoyment was the idiot crowd. So many people were surly and restless and noisy – yapping and getting up and walking around – it was difficult to listen to the subtle sound of the bat wings. Most amazingly, they kept taking flash pictures. Again and again, the Ranger lectured us before the flight began, “No Flash Pictures! No Flash Pictures! If you have an automatic camera, the flash WILL GO OFF AND SCARE THE BATS, put it up! Put it up!” she’d say. Once the bats started flying, every thirty seconds or so… off would go a flash.
I doubt that the puny flash would upset the bats as much as the Ranger implied, but it is beyond belief that these idiots were doing this. One – she told us not to. Moreover, what are the morons taking a picture of? You can’t take a still picture of a bat flight – especially with a disposable camera. The bat flight is a moving, subtle, dark phenomenon. It was simply the jerk reaction of a tourist to snap a photo whenever confronted with wonder.
We sat around for maybe an hour until it became so dark the bats were almost invisible – we were one of the last ones to give up and leave the amphitheater. We drove back to our campsite at the tacky tourist hamlet outside the park. We were very tired and hungry – thank goodness a restaurant in the hotel was still open and served us watery spaghetti and a stale salad bar.
Wonder of wonders – as we walked through the darkened parking lot, there were only a couple of cars left, but Lee shouted with excitement, “Hawaii! Hawaii!” Sure enough, one of the cars had Hawaii license plates. Lee was tickled pink that he made this discovery, a car with Hawaii license plates in the middle of the night in the middle of the desert in southern New Mexico.
“In youth, it was a way I had, To do my best to please. And change, with every passing lad To suit his theories.
But now I know the things I know And do the things I do, And if you do not like me so, To hell, my love, with you.” ― Dorothy Parker, The Complete Poems of Dorothy Parker
From my January 1, 2000 Blog, The Daily Epiphany
The sidewalk in front of our house is a colorful litter. Multicolored confetti, including little plastic words “2000” “Happy New Year” and “Party.” Some torn conical hats and crushed paper horns. Gobs of awful Silly String cover my favorite tree, the tiny bald cypress that the city gave us, it was only a couple inches tall when I planted it, people teased me about it – now it’s almost five feet tall and finally looking like a tree. The colorful sprayed plastic string radiates out from the tree all over the yard, the plastic caps from the cans still litter the winter flowerbeds.
I should have cleaned the mess up today, but I thought I’d leave it. I walked out there with my bowl of black-eyed peas and rice and picked up one little confetti piece, one that said “2000,” and put it in the pages of a book for safekeeping.
“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life
From my blog, The Daily Epiphany, Friday, July 10, 1998
Over my lunch hour the “low gasoline level” alarm went off in the MiniVan. It’s a gentle, yet jolting alarm; a soft, insistent “bo-ing” and accompanying orange light in the symbol of a gas pump. My head hurt.
I drove a block down and filled up the van with gas.
The gas station was one of the new ones that offer everything under one roof. Twenty pumps, cold drinks, car wash, hot food, air and water, pizza, oil and washer fluid, magazines and lottery tickets, toys and office supplies, maps and pornography. An entire civilization springs up in this little store with its spreading shade-wings across the hot tarmac. An oasis, a tacky colorful monument to American Capitalism run by a family of Pakistanis.
I finished pumping and walked to the store to grab some juice and pay. As I was walking I could see through the glass door a sign hanging from the ceiling. It was bright red neon; near the back of the building, yet very visible and obvious. It said: ZEN FOOD
I was tired and hot and my brain was fuzzy. I allowed my thoughts to believe the evidence of my eyes. Why would a cheap-ass convenience store offer Zen Food? What is Zen Food anyway?
A momentary fantasy floated through my brain of exotic, delicious, far-eastern culinary delights. Spicy colorful mixtures, displayed on steam tables, savory herbs and succulent vegetables prepared with ancient recipes and exotic skills. I allowed myself the luxury of imagining for a moment I had stumbled on something special, a precious mystery hidden away in the most common of locations – a gas station.
As I entered the store it was obvious that an advertisement hanging from the ceiling, an inflatable pack of cigarettes, had concealed the first three letters of the sign: FRO
I pulled a V-8 out of the freezer. The day suddenly seemed hotter, barren, a little more bleak and a lot more ordinary.
“Think of the fierce energy concentrated in an acorn! You bury it in the ground, and it explodes into an oak!”
― George Bernard Shaw
From my blog (I called it an “Online Journal” then), The Daily Epiphany, Tuesday, September 22, 1998
We had this big ash tree in the back yard. Not a very good tree. It had obviously been cut down once before and sprouted back with these multiple trunks splayed out in all directions. A “junk tree,” it grew fast and weak. Invaded by borers, several big limbs had already fallen off.
The final straw was the summer’s drought. This ash had a shallow root system and was way too close to the house. It sucked water out from under our foundation, helping to worsen the cracking and moving as the drying expansive clays pulled out from under the slab. The tree did provide some nice shade, but the live oak I planted a few years ago is growing up, it will be a stronger, longer-lived tree.
Ordinarily, I would cut it down myself. About a week of work. But I don’t have the time or energy. We gave in and hired a crew to remove the tree and grind the stump, three hundred fifty bucks. Today was the day.
Poor Lee was upset. He is still young enough that all things, especially living things have personality and soul and are valuable. Lee didn’t want us to kill the tree. I explained about the foundation and the fact that it would give us a lot more room in the backyard, but he wouldn’t give in until I agreed to let him plant an acorn.
I came home from work to find an enormous pile of wood and leaves along the front of our house, waiting for the city to come pick it up. It is amazing how different the back yard looks. Bigger and wide open. Almost naked. Lee was out there collecting sawdust, the soft remnants of the ground up stump, in a big bowl that he conned Candy out of.
O beautiful was the werewolf in his evil forest. We took him to the carnival and he started crying when he saw the Ferris wheel. Electric green and red tears flowed down his furry cheeks. He looked like a boat out on the dark water. ― Richard Brautigan
When I was in high school and living in Nicaragua a carnival used to come to Managua a couple times a year and set up in the dusty field across the highway from our school. It has a lot of memories to me, not all of them exactly and completely good. The thing is, a Third World Central American carnival leaves a lot to be desired in cleanliness, maintenance, and safety. The smell of ozone from electrical arcing was mixed with the fume from the spicy food, and the miasma of people getting sick from the crazy nauseating rides – all probably bought second-hand when they failed safety inspections from more civilized carnivals – and only washed off with a thrown bucket of water through the hot humid tropical night air.
Still, it was a magical time and place. Maybe are carnivals are.