“Unfortunately, the clock is ticking, the hours are going by. The past increases, the future recedes. Possibilities decreasing, regrets mounting.”
― Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance
Day Four, Thursday, July 13, 2017
Walking in the morning is too hard. My feet ache from all the walking the day before, my leg muscles are stiff and weak from sleeping all night. The morning humidity is difficult to breathe as if the moisture is displacing all the oxygen.
Time oppresses this morning. I can feel the burden of centuries in the teetering live oaks growing out of the sidewalks – their ancient roots beginning to slip and rise, pushing the bricks and slabs of concrete up and aside like they are packing peanuts.
I have seen these trees lying on their sides after a violent storm. Enormous root ball exposed to the air – an obscene display of the oak’s private parts.
How many storms, named and ancient anonymous, have these giant trees endured.
Some of them… I don’t think they will make it through the next one.
I have been through too many storms – some quiet, some loud, and they have left be bent. How many more do I have left?
Not too many, maybe not enough.
When I first moved to Dallas, 36 or so years ago, I lived in the venerable (and still there) Turtle Dove Apartments, off lower Greenville Avenue, behind the Granada Theater.
One of the things I liked to do was to walk up to Greenville and Mockingbird and then down a few blocks to a crackerjack used book store, Half-Price Books. I have a bad book addiction and the maze-like selection of rooms chock-full of tomes of all types was an irresistible draw.
Is there anything more evocative than the paper-and-mold smell of a used book store?
Over the decades I moved and so did the store. It kept outgrowing its present digs and, like a gigantic paper hermit crab, shed its shell and found larger quarters. It moved north to Northwest Highway, settling in to an old Captain’s Cargo store – leaving it with two incongruous sailing vessel type stairways (that location is torn down and an REI landed on the spot).
My addiction was as strong as ever and one day I went to the place only to find giant “Closed” signs plastered all over. Sadly, I turned to my car only to spot giant streamers and “Half-Price Books New Location” signs across the street in a giant new building.
It’s the biggest used book store I’ve ever seen, in an open-plan of comfortable rows rather than the usual maze-like configuration. I’ve been to this big main store hundreds of times over the years, though I’m slowing down now as I try to get my inner hoarder under control and deal with the realization I have more books than I can read in the rest of my life.
Meanwhile, in another story, in 2012 Candy and I stumbled across a group of singers, a jam, at the Bar Belmont in West Dallas. I became their fan.
Over the years, Charli’s Jam has been forced to move around too. As their fan, I followed to various bars and other spots – and enjoyed most every place.
And now, they have settled in to the Big Main Half-Price. The same bookstore I’ve been hanging out in all these years. They perform on Sundays at three PM – I stopped by for a listen and to check out the new digs.
Other than the unavailability of alcohol… it seems like a sweet spot.
For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.
Today’s tip – When Time Stops
You may find that time becomes essentially irrelevant. When the writing session is over, you may find yourself astonished at how much time has actually gone by. Numerous writers said this is exactly what happens to them.
Flow’s timelessness, for some of us, is the best part of the experience, highly valued for its own sake. It feels incredible.
That feeling of timelessness is why we do… anything, really. I’ve never had a feeling of timelessness in the hours spent making sure my TPS reports have proper cover sheets.
The opposite side of this timelessness is how exhausted you can feel when it is over. But it is a kind of good exhaustion – earned exhaustion – spent.
As I’ve said before, I’m not sure I can remember every car I’ve owned – but I can sure remember every bicycle.
My first really good bike was a 1974 Raleigh Super Course – Reynolds 531 steel and stock leather Brooks saddle – that I bought my freshman year in college. It was my major form of transportation for years. I lost it in Dallas in 1982 or so when it was stolen off my second story balcony one winter. I bought a replacement road bike from a pawn shop and rode that thing hard for a couple years until I literally tore the big chainring off.
I was living near White Rock Lake and was riding around the thing almost every day (back then there would be no more than a handful of cyclists on most days – hard to believe now) so I decided to spring for a nice new bike. I’m not sure exactly which year – either 1986 or 1987. I went down to the local bike shop and, remembering my fondness for that old Super Course, bought another Raleigh, a Technium 460.
These were very popular bikes at the time, among the first mass market aluminum bikes. The three main tubes were aluminum, while the rear triangle was steel. What set it apart is that the main tubes were glued together, not welded or brazed. That made some folks nervous – but my glue joints held.
I rode the heck out of that bike. I was young, thin, and pretty fast.
Until my sons were born and I spent a quarter century going to soccer practice and eating at McDonalds.
Then, three years ago, July 2012, I dug my old Technium out and cleaned it up. A few replacement parts and it was as good as new. I still mostly rode my commuter or, later, my folding bike – but I enjoyed having the high efficiency option of the road bike if I wanted to have some fun or try a longer distance.
Then, recently my older son Nick had been riding the Technium, both for fun and transportation. He is young, strong, and fast and was pretty hard on the old bike. He wore out the cranks, chainrings, and wheels. So he took it down to the local bike shop and had it all redone.
But then, only a few days later, he was coming home from work when the drive-side rear dropout broke off. That side of the frame takes the stress of pedaling and after thirty years… that’s a lot of metal fatigue on the thin steel of the dropout.
So it’s adios to my old Raleigh Technium 460. Nick rides a lot and is getting fast, so he picked up a modern entry level road bike (a Specialized Allez) off of Craigslist. He loves it. It is an amazing machine – so much lighter than the old school road bike.
But now I feel there is something missing. I thought about having the frame welded back together – but I’m worried the heat will affect the bonded joints – another frame failure could be a catastrophe. It’s a shame, there are two brand new wheels (27 inch – so they won’t fit on a modern 700c frame) and a lot of good parts there…. I’ve been scanning Craigslist for a vintage frame – maybe I can build something new/old back up.
In the meantime, here’s some pictures of my old Technium.
A year ago, for the month of June, I wrote about an online short story each day for the month. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.
Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.
Today’s story, for day fifteen – Train, by Alice Munro
Read it online here:
There is no greater master of the short story than Alice Munro. I’ve pretty much read everything she has written (more or less) and, although I didn’t remember specifically reading today’s entry, Train, once I was a few paragraphs in, I remembered reading it – though it, like all of her work, is complex and subtle enough it was as good the second time around.
As a matter of fact, it is a story that I think needs to be read twice… with a gap of time in between. It is a story that is told in the details – details conveyed in otherwise throwaway lines of text, lines you won’t notice the first time through.
I have been thinking about one aspect of the story – one that bothers me a little. That’s the idea of a coincidence.
A lot of stories have coincidences – old friends meet, an important item goes unseen until it is needed, disparate paths cross…. That’s fine – you can always say, “the coincidence is needed, without the coincidence there is no story.” Coincidences happen.
However, I think that by this rule, you are limited to one coincidence. One coincidence makes a story – two or more make a manipulation by the author trying to drive a plot.
And I think this story might have two.
There is the big, obvious one. Jackson is working at the apartment building when Ileane comes by looking for her daughter. Read the story to find what the connection between the two is – it’s the relationship that drove the opening scene in the story. This sort of time-shifting and echoes happening across entire lifetimes are specialities of Alice Munro.
But, earlier in the story, Jackson stumbles across Belle. They are two of a kind and end up in a strange relationship that lasts decades. The two of them meeting like that might be a second coincidence.
Or maybe not – because if they were not so oddly and tragically well-fitted for each other Jackson would have simply passed by. I guess that is good enough.
Still, that second coincidence stuck in my craw a bit – a tiny flaw in an otherwise wonderful tale. I shouldn’t think about it so much. No use picking nits in the presence of a master.
There was a road running by. A small fenced field in front of the house, a dirt road. And in the field a dappled, peaceable-looking horse. A cow he could see reasons for keeping, but a horse? Even before the war people on farms were getting rid of them, tractors were the coming thing. And she hadn’t looked like the sort to trot round on horseback just for the fun of it. Then it struck him. The buggy in the barn. It was no relic, it was all she had.
For a while now he’d been hearing a peculiar sound. The road rose up a hill, and from over that hill came a clip-clop, clip-clop. Along with the clip-clop some little tinkle or whistling.
Now then. Over the hill came a box on wheels, being pulled by two quite small horses. Smaller than the ones in the field but no end livelier. And in the box sat a half dozen or so little men. All dressed in black, with proper black hats on their heads.
The sound was coming from them. It was singing. Discrete high-pitched little voices, as sweet as could be. They never looked at him as they went by.
It chilled him. The buggy in the barn and the horse in the field were nothing in comparison.
He was still standing there looking one way and another when he heard her call, “All finished.” She was standing by the house.
I have been suffering from a terrible case of writer’s block and have been spending too much time staring at a blank screen, waiting in vain for some sort of a useful idea to come bubbling up from… well, from wherever useful ideas bubble up from. Of course, the staring doesn’t last very long until it is replaced by silly web-surfing. You know how that goes.
So I was wasting time by GoogleMap StreetViewing (I’m no fan of the current fashion of converting tech nouns into verbs, such as in the phrase of “Netflixing through Mad Men,” but this is what life is in this best of all possible worlds with) places that I used to live and I came up with this shot:
First, it’s interesting that in my old neighborhood they even have GoogleMaps StreetView in the alley. Let that sink in for a minute. Not only did the Google car drive down the street taking photos willy-nilly to post for all to see, but then it proceeded to creep down the alley in back of the houses, doing the same thing. The alleys there were extra-wide (the kids used to cone them off at the end of the block and play roller hockey on the concrete) but… just sayin’.
What I thought was cool is that tree there. The big one in the corner of what used to be my yard.
My son Nick (now in his final classes at Duke University) was a toddler. He was born in East Dallas, a few miles north of this spot, and we moved before our second son, Lee (now a financial analyst in New Orleans) was born eighteen months later. I’m pretty sure the tree was planted before Lee was born, so Nick would have been about a year old.
I took Nick down to the Dallas Arboreteum for a Saturday afternoon. When we arrived, I discovered they were giving out free trees. I picked up a Live Oak planted in a recycled coffee can and brought it home, intending to plant it in the yard of our then-new-to-us home.
It looked substantial in the can, but after digging the hole and getting rid of the container the tree was only about an inch and a half high. It was dwarfed by the weeds that surrounded it. Everybody thought it was ridiculous and that I was an idiot for planting such a tiny sprig.
Still, despite the ridicule (probably because of the ridicule) I stuck it out. I carefully marked out the area around the twig to make sure it wasn’t mowed over or trampled upon. I watered it faithfully and tended it as best I could.
And, wonder of wonders, it grew. Fast. It grew like a weed. I talked to a friend that is a landscape architect and he said, “The smaller a tree is when you plant it, the bigger it will be in ten years.” Something that small doesn’t suffer the shock of transplantation, which sets a tree way back.
A few years later, it was already as high as my head. Putting in a new fence, the wind caught a panel and yanked it out of my hands. It landed on the tall, but still thin tree, smashing it flat. I was horrified.
I carefully raised the reedy trunk back up and staked the tree in position. I expected it to die, but, surprise, it didn’t miss a beat.
And now look at it. It’s one of the largest trees in the neighborhood. When we moved in, the block was thick with fast-growing “junk” trees – put in by the original developer to give quick green. Those have all now (mostly) succumbed to disease and are either gone or skeletal ghosts.
The sturdy oak is still growing.
I’m proud of the fact that I planted that tree (also proud that I got it for free). We moved out about ten years ago, when our kids were in Middle School. Nobody in the neighborhood knows this story, but I do, and that’s what’s important.
It’s also cool that the tree is the same age as my kids. If you have little ones – go out and plant a tree in your yard, or a park, or somewhere that needs one. The decades go by faster than you imagine is possible and a sturdy oak will rise to mark the passage of time with some welcome shade.