Monday, July 31, 2006

Outta Gas

I am at a gas station today. It is a Sunday. After picking up a fence panel in the morning late July heat and spending the last bits of morning and most of the afternoon at Wickham Park, I stopped for a soda.

I had not intended on staying as long as I had. The festivities were due to start at 12:30. At nearly two pm nothing had started. The autocrat was waiting for people to arrive. Each event held, the time seems to be later and later. People learn to show up later, stay home longer, spend less time in the heat, out of doors. The more they do, the later events start, the later they start, the later people show. The training is simple, effective and penalizes those who show up on time. The worst thing about being punctual is there is never anyone to appreciate it.

So later than I had anticipated, I readied to leave the park. Beth had show up, just coming from work, and I knew Evanne would have a ride home, would not be stranded. That’s all I needed and off I went.

I drove a mile or two to US1 and, at the corner, found a Kangaroo convenience store. Convenience stores seem to have some of the rather strangest names one could imagine for a business. Stop N Go, Circle K, Cash N Dash, whose name simply begs it to be robbed. Kangaroo.

In and Out, that’s another one and that’s what I was, exiting with a bottle of soda and getting into my truck, a short-bed with an eight foot by six foot privacy fence panel laying on and over the bed, held at top and bottom by bungee cords, tight but appearing precarious. Inside, crossing my seat-belt over me as he crossed the parking lot. Passing my truck so closely, tracing the front perimeter in such a way I knew he was headed for my driver-side window. As I position the pad pinching both the lap and shoulder belt together so we short-folk don’t choke on the upper belt, he taps on my window. I roll it down. A bit.

Tattoos over most of his torso and no shirt. Shorts. Several teeth are visibly missing. He’ll want money.

“Hey Brother, Me and my brother are just down here from Kentucky. Man, we came down with some girls…”

At one point, I knew no-one from Kentucky. Lisa moved there and I visited, discovering people actually live there. Lexington is actually on of the most literate cities in the nation, according to the Connecticut State University study done each year. This year, it is twenty-seventh nationally. Just forty-five minutes south, in Berea, over one hundred and fifty years ago, abolitionists set up a college for Appalachian students of any color and anyone in the county can attend free. The Dalai Lama spoke at Berea College in 1994.

The land is beautiful in a way which is beyond description, the east being a land of high natural bridges and mountains which appear as though a child-god created the mountains of mudpies and left the land between. It is a place I have hunted moonshine, hiked to mountain-top potters and saw moonbows in Cumberland Falls.

Kentucky has beer cheese. Beer-cheese grows as you eat it. It is the only food I have ever experienced where there may be more of it when the meal is done than before it starts. It is simple, beer mixed with cheese. Sometimes Cheese Whiz. Eat fast. They also have hotbrowns. A hotbrown is both a cause of and a reason to chance a heart attack. Kentucky is not known for slim residents.

Lisa took me to a small restaurant on a small river with a cable ferry - a raft that holds a car and is pulled by a motor and a cable from a tower on either shore - to enjoy these. Once is enough.

Kentucky is full of Ale-8. It is bottled in Winchester. I have visited the bottling plant and was given a tour. It is much more interesting than one might think. It really is quite an experience. Soda tastes different fresh. You an see the formula being made, tested, refined but don't ask what's in it.

Kentucky is also full of bluegrass music and arts fairs beyond par. It is also full of dry counties where alcohol cannot be bought. Three-fourths of the counties are dry in a state with one of the highest rates of alcoholism.

Now, Lisa is trying to come home. Friends down the street moved from Kentucky because they feel people should be sincere. Their grown daughter just moved from there as well with not a positive thing to say. I know others who have left Kentucky. Apparently so did this person about to ask me for money.

“and now were stuck, bro. What we need is some, hey, you need some fence work? Man, I can do fence…”

I moved this fence panel onto the truck this morning. I picked it up from a freecycler. It took four of us because I had help. I could have done this on my own but accepting help is a blessing, allowing others to help is a blessing. Forget the fact it was full of nails and I was a bit concerned it would be pushed, dropped, nudged or otherwise worried toward me and the nail between my legs, groin height, pointed toward me, would make an unpleasant contact. Evanne was on one end and hers was the one set of hands that did not worry me. She wants Lee to be happy and would make sure I was kept intact.

The other two ladies had no such motivation.

Once home, I moved it from the truck into place.

“work if you need some.” I declined. “We’re stuck and got no money for gas. We came down here with these two girls and, bro, you know how women are, they”

I cut him off, “No, I don’t know how women are to you. I don’t know how you are to them. I know how they are to me. I know my wife more than twenty-five years. She is smart and honorable. The other women I know are kind, compassionate and honorable. If I meet one who isn’t, why would I hang around her? Why would you?”

He stares at me, “Twenty-five years? You aren’t old enough.” In fact, I am.

“A good woman keeps me young. Good friends keep me young. Not following strange women across the country keeps my stress down.”

His jaw opens a bit, “Can I have two dollars?”

I tell him “No thank you.” He processes what seems to be an answer wrong in every way. I have declined him and thanked him. He walks away. Across his back is a tattoo. Scrolled across one shoulder-blade to the next is the word “DEATH" in dark, unfriendly letters.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

My Friend and the Eternal War

Joseph is a soldier. He joined the war before he was old enough and, with faked papers, became a sniper. If you ask Joseph, he has been a soldier as long as he can remember, in his past lives, in his present life even though he is a father, is no longer in the military, cooks, cleans, is a massage therapist. Joseph is still at war.

War follows Joseph. He is randomly shot at, challenged, fought. He is six-four. Impressive. Imposing. Intimidating. Still, things happen to Joseph. Violent things. Hateful and hurtful.

Joseph feels this is normal. Others shake their heads, look with disbelief. To who else do such things happen on such a regular basis? In Melbourne, Florida? Fort White and Gainesville, Florida?

I suggest we get what we expect. Become magnates for what we carry, create our worlds within.

Joseph eschews help, picks up a washing machine by himself, hurts his back, bemoans his misfortune.

I want to fix this but can’t. Joseph is capable of so much compassion, care, kindness. He is the most moral of people, trustworthy. In constant battle.

It is a Saturday night. We have met at Craig’s house to sing, talk, drink coffee, enjoy each other’s company. Evanne, Jack, Beth, myself. We will create sweetness in an evening with our company, our voices. A fat songbook, a dulcimer. It is an evening of pleasantness planned after a difficult week and I know, now, Joseph is coming and the evening will change.

He will talk of war. He will talk over the singing, needing to be heard. There will be bodies, bombs, special forces, politics, shrapnel, combat. I will sing “Peace” by Tom Paxton and he will shout over it about soldiers having body parts cut off, hung in show.

Coffee is served. No-one makes coffee like Craig. He has Kahlúa and Baileys Irish Cream and I ask him if he would not mind preparing my coffee. If I make it, it will not taste the same. He does, smiling, unsatisfied until it is perfect. I appreciate Craig. More and more, as a matter of fact.

We sing, Evanne and I. Joseph comes with his family, long-time friends; beloved, respected, treasured but not always an easy friendship. “Lemmon Tree” is sung in two part harmony and it is sweet, melodic. My voice blends with Evanne’s well and creates one of my favorite sounds. She tells me she cannot sing but her voice in song is a sound of water falling from a height, of children playing at a distance, the sounds of a night-forrest. In harmony it is the sound of peace, the tones sing of friendship, they capture comfort, give it back for all to hold. Suddenly we cannot hear ourselves and Nicaragua is recreated in Craig’s living room. Or it is El Salvador? I use to know this.

I pick up my dulcimer and play “The Water is Wide.” The lap dulcimer is not a loud instrument. I am straining to hear it over a story of conflict, a history of a secret violence. Evanne is singing “Savage Daughter” and I am attempting to learn it on my dulcimer as she sings, but I cannot here the notes over the grenades.

Jeannette, Evanne, Craig and I are singing a shaker hymn, then “How can I keep from Singing”, we try a showtune and always over the notes is a cacophony of gunfire, wounded, the taking of bullets. Hymns of peace in combat with combat.

I think I should be more compassionate, but this is a constancy. At some point, compassion must include oneself and I have heard this as an ongoing saga of bluster and fear. He may be re-deployed. He may have to serve again. I keep my own counsel and say nothing. I only sing louder.

I then do that which I perhaps should not. My birthday is soon. Soon. Joseph is, of course, invited. I could not think of not having him there. I tell him, over his voice, interrupting, next Saturday, there is no talk of politics. I agree with everything he says and still, no talk of politics. My muscles are tight, my stomach hurts. I wish to celebrate my birthday with the living, the breathing. I wish for the dead to be at peace just for a few hours. I pick up my dulcimer and slip it into its bag.

I know we deal with violence. In order to handle violence, we must have a place of peace to hold fast. We can hold it in ourselves. If we can keep peace in ourselves, we bring it into our homes. If we can all bring it into our homes, each home, we have brought it into our neighbourhoods. If we have done that…

And so I should have been able to have handled it, let is flow in and through but it is a practice. It is not perfect. I am not and I spoke up for the first time in a decade. More than a decade.

Last year at my birthday, we were eating cake to stories of street violence, martial arts demonstrations, paramedic episodes. Space around Joseph became wide. In a small apartment, a large man took up more and more space, a wider swath. Is he always like this, I am asked. Yes, he is. He tells me he would take a bullet for me. I have no doubt. I would for him. No question. What I can’t do is take another night of death stories.

It is not that war did this to him. After all, he chose to go before he was of age. This is inside Joseph.

His answer? He will not show up. He will not come to my birthday. He chooses his dead over the celebration of my life. I am more sorry than hurt.

The stories continue. People leave. Joseph wonders if he chased them away. Apologises to Craig.

It is three am. I cannot sleep. I walk into the backyard and hang bamboo shades. I wonder if I should have held my tongue. When is kindness not kind? And what is kindness when it comes to Joseph?

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Play’s the Thing

About three months ago I was asked to write a play. I have never written a play. I had no intention of saying yes.

“I’ve never written a play.”

“Oh, you can do it. I’m sure. You’re a writer.”

“I don’t know how.”

“I’ll send you some web pages.”

“I don’t have time to read them.”

“You have three weeks.”

“To read the sites?

“To get us the play. I need the cast list by auditions in a week. The finished play can take three.”

“I have finals to write and year-end grades.”

“Then I’d better get you the books this week.”

“Did you hear what I said? I don’t think you did. I’m sure of it.”

“There are three of them. I’ll being them Tuesday.”

Talking with Evanne can be like this. Often is. My defenses don’t seem to have much of an effect.

Which is how I found myself with a set of books, stories to adapt and writing a play.

I brought my laptop to work. My lesson plans adapted. My students became test-readers and part of an actual, live language arts project. They proofread, corrected, commented. It was done. I have never written so quickly, so fully engrossed in a project.

I took several stories of the Arabian Nights and adapted them to fit into a version of the Scheherazade story. To do so I needed to create segues as well, narration, ways in and out of the stories told by the queen looking to save her head with the stories that came out of them.

I wanted them funny. I wanted them beautiful and simple. I wanted some nearly silent and others a delight of language and a joy of sight. I wanted elegance and comedy, sweetness and wisdom. I thought I got it.

But how would I know for sure?

They loved it. Some of my stage direction had to be adapted for a children’s theater. Ages four to seventeen. That young, eh?

Some of my stage direction “was too beautiful to cut so we had to make it into dialogue. It reminds me of Tennessee Williams” This is one of the best compliments I have ever received.

An old woman once called me a mensch. As compliments go, it’s hard to get better than that.

And the Theater was much large than I had anticipated. That is I thought it was one of the small summer productions. No, it was in the main theater of The Henegar Center. Another surprise.

I stayed away from casting and rehearsal. I didn’t want to interfere. Once written, what right did I have to tell them what to do? I don’t know their theater, their audience, their business. Two months had passed.

Then I was asked to be a stage manager. Me? You’d make a good one, I was told. Something else I had never done. But why not? It was a summer of firsts. My first CD, my first movie (a short, student film) my first DVD, my first stint running, MCing an open-mic poetry. Why not be a stage manager?

I arrive the day before the play opens. “Scheherazade and the Tales of the Arabian Nights.” I am stage manager, dresser, prop-meister for stage left. I am seeing what I have done come to fruition, come alive in front of me, under the lights, on the stage. This is a shamanic dream during waking.

The children slowly come to realize I wrote much of their play. I have not said anything. They have question after question. How did I think of that? It came from my head. How does that happen? I don’t know.

This is so funny, the oldest actor, seventeen, tells me. The little kids love it but there is so much here my I think is funny too. Where did you learn to do that?

Underdog, I answer. And Fractured Fairy Tales. Rocky and Bullwinkle. Mel Brooks.

Opening day. The theater is sold out. Five hundred seats. I arrive at 8:15. House opens at 9:30. Places at 9:55. Costumes on, last minute glitches, costume malfunctions, pins, props, positions everyone.

The music starts and the lights dim. I can hear the audience laughing, sighing. It works. Kids want to be the hero of one of my segments, a donkey named Chaki. They laugh. People lean forward when the Nightingale sings and dies, rises again and is free, react in surprise when Amira rejects her suitors, discovers her garden again has bloomed in her new desert home. They applaud and applaud.

I had said no. I would not write this. I’m glad I was not listened to. Sometimes it is for the best.

The last show, a full balcony, no where to stand. The end comes and costumes are put away, carried to storage. Props are carried upstairs, downstairs. There is a pervasive sadness about the cast, crew. I feel it over me.

The cast party starts.

I hear there is talk about me. A certificate of thanks of some sort. I look outside the theater doors to the banquet-room across the hall and it is crowded. I walk out, walk toward the crowd.

There is a line for food. It is the first thing I see and I know better. There will be nothing there I can eat, nothing that will be good for me. Day one of the play, between performances, thee was pizza supplied for the cast and crew and I left for food elsewhere, brought it back because I was afraid if I didn’t, people would think I was anti-social instead of just asocial. I sat alone, not wanting to impose myself on anyone. Evanne sees me alone, set apart, and comes over to sit with me. I think she understands but feel I have, by sitting alone, put her in a position where she did not want me to be unhappy. While I was happy for Evanne’s company, I did not want to think her compassion for me took her away from talking with others, visiting, enjoying her lunch.

The next days I brought lunch, took a walk, ate alone and did not impose.

Now, the cast party and what to do. I walk away from the food as I see people with plates of cookies, brownies, worse. I walk to the other end of the room.

I can sit by myself or find someone I know and cling, or feel I am, and then go home and wonder if I had behaved improperly, was a pain. Did they really want to talk. Were they being merely polite. It doesn’t seem worth it. Either way, I feel uncomfortable, unsure, free-floating and anxious. People are tugging at me, congratulating me, asking me things. In the theater I knew what to do; it was clear. When I was writing, I knew what to do; writing is simple - it makes sense to me. Here, I have no idea, I’m uncertain. There is very little potential here for comfort and I’ll wonder later; wonder what people thought, what they are thinking. I don’t know why. This is something I don’t understand.

So I am kind to myself and leave, walk back to the theater, open the doors and enter. It is dark. My eyes adjust and there is nothing left on stage but a bare set and a rug. Perhaps I am not the last one out, but just in case I walk to stage right and take from behind the curtain an tall old lamp with a naked bulb and a long cord. I walk it to center stage, front, and turn it on

The ghost light.

The stage should never be dark. This I understand.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Day of the Manatees

US1 through southern and central Brevard County is an easy drive of sparse architecture and brilliant liquid beauty along the Indian River. The Indian River is wide and shallow, averaging three feet deep and often navigable by foot from the quarter mile to eight miles between bank to bank. Not a river at all, really, but a rod-straight saltwater sound, it is barely separated from the Atlantic by more than a spit of land.

Along the river are salt-marshes, inlets and coves and it was past one of those many coves I drove Saturday morning on my way from Palm Bay, five miles north, to pick up Evanne. That day we were making a kiln of coiled newspaper at my home, breaking into a bag of terracotta clay with about a dozen people to make runes, Tellstones, whatnots small in size. People were due at noon.

As I drove, the shoulder, commonly narrow enough only for an emergency stop, widened into a grass-filled clearing level with the lapping river. Only about forty feet deep and perhaps one hundred feet long, normally empty and affording a view of the wide river and the narrow division of land which broke the ocean and created the sound, today it was bordered, as the trees cleared, by an upright half-sheet of plywood asking, in large caution-orange paint, that we take home one of the many pit-bull puppies available. Behind it were parked what were certainly to be too many cars to be explained by free puppies. Against the shore were clumps of people - adults, children – with cameras, binoculars, pointing fingers off the bank at a space some thirty feet distant.

At fifty miles per hour I can’t see much. Cars, people, cameras and a boiling of water where they point. In the river’s tumult were dark shapes, significant in size, one breaking the surface of the water. While I cannot see what they are, by the time the tableau has taken its place behind me, as the car curves past the Honda dealership, I have figured out what they were; manatees.

I have been here a year. I have not seen a manatee though I hear about them and their friendly nature, their bad breath, the texture of their skin.

I speed up. I am but five minutes from Evanne’s and reach for my phone to call her, to ask her to be ready so, in the truck, we can go back, park, walk to the bank and, I hope, see my first manatees. The phone rings.

“Are we on for today? I figured we were because you said we were, but Jack said I should check.”

I was due to pick her up at eleven that morning. It was ten ‘till.

“I’m four minutes away. Can you be ready? I’ll explain when I get there but I don’t want to talk while I’m driving.”

I drive too fast. She is ready and gets into the truck.

“I think I passed a group of manatees right off the road. I think. I want to stop and see. We have about an hour. If people have to wait a bit for us, for this, they’ll have to wait.”

“Really? I’d love to see them.”

People rush so much. Everything, it seems, is on a time frame. For picking up Evanne on time, by a clock, at a time designated by us and marked by specific numbers on a clock, watch, cell-phone, I chance not seeing the manatees. I drove by them. I think briefly of passing them by again; people are due at my house. I drive back quickly. Too quickly. Time again. This time I stop, pulling over the double-yellow line into the clearing and between two cars.

There is a whirlpool deep with dark silhouettes of bodies long and broad. I can see this through the windshield and open the glove-box to take out the binoculars, the monocular and we get out.

Approaching the water, I hand the binoculars to Evanne. “I asked for a discount on the binoculars, since I can use only one lens, but they just laughed. I don’t see why I should pay for something I can’t use. You turn this to focus.” She takes them out of the case, I twist the wheel between the lenses as she holds them. I take the monocular out of its case and stuff the vinyl into my back pocket. I put it to my right eye and point it out to the roil in the river.

We are two among a constantly renewing eight or ten people watching the spectacle in the water. Three manatees, it appears, one female and two male: mating season. We watch, one then the other, the one again. Breaching, tails slapping the surface, mist blowing from nostrils, grey backs above the water. At once it appears there is a jostling, it appears one has attacked another. We watch. We listen.

Perhaps the female has told one of the males she has had enough. Perhaps has had all she wants. Or one male has challenged, is ready to fight, been rebuked by the female. Then all is calm and they are taking turns again.

The sound skips over the water and mixes with, spurs on the chatter around us .

“It’s a manatee orgy.”

“Manatee gangbang.”

“She’s tired of them and wants a ciggy.”

Snickering, laughing. Rude comments.

I think to myself, talk to myself, I wonder at the anthropomorphizing. Why put them into a human frame? Have we done such a good job of it? After all, they’re the ones making love in the water, having sex in the river, taking turns, out in the open, no worries, no cares, procreating, playing (perhaps), not thinking of tomorrow, not yesterday, just now, in action and moment, life lived as present-tense verbs.

What’s our problem? We want to live, be healthy, or, at least, be comfortable while we live long. We want to live and live and live. Quantity over quality and tomorrow over the moment. We want to have things, more things, one more thing, then something else, another. More and more. We want shelter because we will be more comfortable, live longer if we are out of the cold, out of the heat, out of the sun. Longer, more, tomorrow, worry, next year, better place. Then, we look at the manatees in the river and give them our thoughts, our desires and our reactions when it is we who wish to feel like them, give up the home, live in the water, have sex on the shore, think of nothing and have only now. But for the fear, we would. But for fear of the end, we would. And so, we pretend they are like us as imagining we are them simply begs dissonance, wonder, confusion.

It is quarter ‘till twelve. Evanne reminds me we have people who will be waiting for us. I respond by going to my truck and getting my polarized sunshields - big enough to fit over my glasses. With these, I can cut out the reflection of the water, see through the surface. They are one more thing. I bring them back and hand them to Evanne. We pass them back and forth. Finally, binoculars, monocular are put away. I’m reminded it’s time to go and, back to the truck, we do just that.

We drive way from the water, out to US1, and, as we recross the double-yellow I can still see the swirling of the water in my mirror.

The afternoon comes, the company does as well. Stones are made, a kiln is built. I make a dinner of salmon and steak, both on the grill for hours now, lowly, slowly and vegetables cooked fast in a large, flame-surrounded wok.

Over dinner, Craig tells us about the park nearby, Goode Park, and the manatees. He lays on the dock, the one that floats. His hands lay in the water, waving gently and the manatees come to him and to have their bellies rubbed. Bellies rubbed? I have never heard of that. Manatees again.

I am to do a workshop that evening: a singing workshop. Old Aramaic chants. It is at Goode Park. I picked it because it was close by; six blocks away and I plan to walk there. Goode Park is on Turkey Creek, which connects to the Indian River.

Walk there we do. It is seven in the evening and the workshop starts at seven-thirty. It starts when I get there but I would not start late. I will start on time, by a clock, at a time designated by us and marked by specific numbers on a clock, watch, cell-phone, and, if there are any, I chance not seeing the manatees.

I walk with Evanne and Valerie to the dock and, as we step, it moves beneath us. I see nothing but lay down on my belly, as do the ladies. I put my hands in the water and wave them in and out just under the surface. In and out. Nearly instantly, surprisingly, a nose, four inches across, breaks the surface, closed nostrils open, hot air expelled and it smells of old vegetables., eyes are wide, focused on my face. Eyes like mahogany shooters surrounded by grey flesh. A short-nose elephant in the water.

I reach over and pat the head. It is smooth, warm, comfortable. Round, firm, comforting. Another comes up, sleekly, quietly, graceful in way I have seldom seen and I am thinking how something so impossibly shaped, so ungainly on land could be the utter animation of grace and flow and while I am thinking this another sneaks up, unseen, unheard. So large and so quiet.

I pat it with both hands, rubbing either side of its head. As I do, it snuffles at my palms, left then right, opens its mouth, licks my fingers and moves forward placing its head once more between my hands.

It turns over, deftly, silently as I rub and my hands are on it’s belly: soft, muscular, warm and I rub it as long as it will have until it moves back and my hands are on it’s chest, its flippers are thick, nails large and tough and I can’t help but feel them and I hold its hand. Hand, so much like my hand, five nails, fingers joined by skin and cartilage but five fingers, five nails. A moment passes and the hand I’m holding places, easily moves, mine back onto its chest, making its desire well and clear; it wants its chest and neck rubbed.

It is raised from the water, belly and a portion of its side above the surface, visible. On the grey skin, in the flesh, are four yellow scars, at regular distances, at the same angle, nearly and inch wide and each about a foot long. I would see this again and again as the manatees would come up, each in turn, scars and scars.

And so, our bellies to the ground, theirs to the air, we rubbed them, as long as they would have, into the warm night.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Then and Now in Cocoa, Florida

I had been led to expect a storyteller, in the grand cracker tradition of tall-tales about the land of scrub and swamp. What I got wasn’t a storyteller, but a reminiscer. What I got, was Speedy.

Speedy has a bullet in his leg he got when he was five and his brother, on crutches, shooting mullet to fish for shark, shot a concrete dock instead and a bullet bounced and lodged near his femur. It’s still there. He was five and, for Speedy, that was a long time ago.

Long ago, when the bluebills were so think on the Indian River the ripples of the water were waves of a feathered carpet, so long ago, mullet jumping was not remarked upon by amazed youth and needlefish swarmed. So long ago, the pelicans needed only dip a bill and not dive into the muddy dredged depths. So long ago the Banana River could not be seen through the yellow hands of fruit. All there is now is the water, the name and the memory of Speedy.

Hurricanes did not come but the September Storms did. And why not? It was Florida and to be expected. Mosquito Beaters were hung by doors and used to beat away the buzzers before opening and used to beat away the mosquitoes that got in and plenty always did and a palm placed against a screen would create a living handprint of bloodthirst. And why not? It was Florida and to be expected.

Was it hot? Sure it was but we didn’t know any better, Speedy tells us. All that could be done was to breathe it in and breathe it out and Speedy never noticed. It was Florida and who knew any different?

And the WPA came in and brought jobs, and bridges and dredges. Pineapple plantations came and went along with Zora Neale Hurston and Stetson Kennedy and Jim Crow and The Folkways Project, Folklife Project, Florida Music Project, American Memories Project and Florida Writers Project and public works projects and change upon change.

And then came the war, WWII, and the subs sunk off the coast, torpedoes, blackouts, shipwrecks and who knew the war came so near?

Speedy tells us what you grow up with is what you think is right until someone shows you different. "Maybe cat isn’t spelled c-a-t but who knew" is what Speedy tells us about the civil rights movement and says desegregation was not a big deal and went pretty smoothly but then, says Speedy, he was one side - what it from the other he didn't know. "Might have been rougher," he ads, looking at the only black lady in the room.

He was a reminiscer.

Friday, July 07, 2006

A Day at the Beach

I headed out of the house at 9:30 to pick up my friend for a day at the beach. I am light and burn. Evanne is transparent and will, if given the opportunity and circumstances, frizz away faster than a vampire in special-effects sunlight. So, of course, we headed to the beach where no suit’s needed.

I picked her up about ten. Evanne is not her real name, of course. I changed it to protect her identity. Her real name is Evan. Her father had expected a boy, it seemed, or had the name picked out already and why let a little thing like the gender of a child change an already well laid plan?

My son had a name before he was born. Benjamin. When he arrived, I caught him. I looked at him, handed him to my wife as my daughter, age five, readied to cut the cord. He lifted himself up on my wife’s chest and looked her straight in the eye. She then voiced what I had thought: This is not Benjamin.

We named him Alek. Four years later he was playing with a friend neither I nor my wife could see. We asked him, “Who are you playing with?”

“Benjamin.”

“Who is Benjamin?” We knew the answer. We didn’t expect the answer.

“My brother. We switched,” he stated with a broad, wry smile.

Well laid plans.

Evanne wanted to go to this beach for a while now but had no-one who wanted to go with her. For me this was an easy decision. A day with Evanne is not exactly a kick in the head. For those of you with no sense of sarcasm, remember sarcasm is the statement, as foil (a sharp contrast to point out clear differences), of the opposite of what is well understood as truth. So, I restate: a day with Evanne is definitely an event to look forward to. And looking forward to this I had been; listening, talking, walking with my friend.

Her husband is delighted. He doesn’t want her to go alone, has not been there, has no intention of going there. And, happily, he trusts me. I’m safe. At least, that’s how my wife explains it.

I’m good with that. Being safe has gotten me into some rather interesting situations.

“Help me try this on.” “Does too much of me show in this?” “Is this too see-through?” “How does this thong fit?” Can you help me put this chain-mail bikini on?” “Would you watch my nubile young daughter for me?”

All which, of course, have nothing to do with this. But it was great or making the guys I worked with, went to school with, shake their heads in disbelief.

We were headed to the nude beach.

I love being safe.



“Whoowhoo!! Nude Beach!” That’s Evanne. That’s quite a bit of sound from my four-ten friend.

She is nervous. Has brought clothes just in case. Has looked forward to this and brought clothes just in case. It is deeply ingrained, this feeling that taking clothes off is wrong. I know. I feel it each and every time I go there. I tell her not to worry but, if she wants to leave at any point, just to let me know.

On the way we talk of writing and she asks if I’ll be writing about this. Of course.

In truth, no. I will write in a cursory fashion. I’ll write of the generality, the universality. Most of what we say will never make it here. I won’t let it. It is no value to those who read it but it is priceless to me. And why should my friend think everything we say and do will be for the world? I’m too selfish for that.

Do you want me to change your name?

I would. If she wanted I’d change her name. She tells me no. No need to change her name but, if I want, I can give her a nickname instead. She’d love to see what kind of nickname I’d come up with for her.

I tell her it would take me longer to come up with a good nickname than it would to write the entire piece. Nicknaming is not a direction my brain goes in. I can’t think of a better name for her.

For some people, their names are just wrong. I take a moment to think of their names. Hesitate before calling them. Wondering if I have the name right. Not so with Evanne.

So we headed to the end of Playalinda Beach, the end of road at Canaveral National Seashore. Past lot 13. Perhaps they thought having a lot 13 would scare folk away. It was the busiest of the lots, had the most people. Of course they were happy: No wet suits.


We parked. Took the bags, the two folding cloth chairs, the water and lemonade and walked from the lot to the dune-crossover. Above our heads, the American flag and, directly under it, waving from the same pole, a yellow flag with a bright orange sun sporting dark sunglasses. The sun protected from itself.


She had been covered with Coppertone sunscreen before we left. It was the kind that has the large pink bottle and the small blue bottles that attaches to it. I must assume one solution is the girl sunscreen and the blue is the boy sunscreen. I imagine they are mixed together like epoxy, bind and make an impenetrable shield of reflection. I imagined looking at her and being fried, instantly, by the exponentially magnified ultraviolet.

I told her mine was SPF 2,316.

“Really?’

“No.” What can I say? To nearly anyone else I’d have let that go. To Evanne I tell the truth. “But it is waterproof and I won’t slide off the seat.”

I waited until we were out on the beach and made sure she had any extra she needed. I worried about missing some spots. I always worry and always do. They become evident later.

The sun has heated the sand. We’ve gotten there by eleven to avoid the most direct heat of the day. Neither on of us needs that much sun. Yet, the sand is still too hot to for me as we walk toward the surf.

We move to where the sand has been wet and the temperature is lower. The chairs are set out as we remove shoes. Two towels out of the bag. Shirts. Hesitation. Hesitation. Pants. Sunscreen. I miss some spots. I know it.

I am now comfortable. I am amazed. Not long ago, heavier, paunchier, I’d have worried. Who was looking, how did I look? There was some vanity involved, self-consciousness, and if I admit it, which I shall not, self-loathing as well. But now, lighter, thinner, I know no-one is looking, no-one cares. I am comfortable with myself. Comfortable in this chair. Not perfect, but comfortable and I delight in knowing it was my hard work and persistence which is paying off, now, in my comfort and joy, out in the sun, today, with my friend.

I know Evanne does not care. We would have come out anyway, enjoyed the day, the company, conversation. I admit it's all me and I am out and delighted with myself. A new experience for me. I could get use to this.

We work on fleshing out my RPG character. I’m not quite geeky enough. Not yet. I need to play a Role Playing Game. That will help.

We talk of a video game that I remember as Catman Domine. That’s not the name. It involves funky Japanese music and a sticky ball that picks up cats and batteries so the King's only begotten son can bring light back to the world. A Japanese electro-analogue of Kabalistic Christianity.

I have never played a video game. Not since Centipede. I don’t think this is the one to start with.

The sun is hot. The dunes behind us real, seagrassed, tall. Before us the waves are high, wide, long.

We talk of Russian history, the Tsars, movements to freedom stopped by well-meaning anarchists unknowlingly putting an end to that for which they fought, assassinated with constitutions in their pockets, on their way to dissolving themselves.

It’s time for a walk. We head North on the waterline. The tide is headed in and the chairs disappear in the distance behind us. People are walking. Adults, children, teens. Some by themselves. Some as groups, couples. Some comfortable with each other, some stand at distances, apart, unsure. Mixed couples. Female couples. Male couples. Laughing, holding hands, trading glances between themselves and the incoming waves. Families, lovers, friends.

“Look at that. It’s so sweet. Everyone gets along. No worries about clothing or gender or who’s who. What if it were like that everywhere?”

“Well, then we’d actually take care of things that mattered, like who had no place to live, who had no medical care, instead of who’s living with who and who says they’re married. Imagine that.”

We turn around. How long has it been? As we walk, we move toward the water. The waves are aggressive, they push and pull as the large-grained sand buries our feet, pulls out with each receding wave, grates our ankles. The water is colder than we expect. There is gasping, squealing.

Once back at the chairs we sit. Not in them but far out in front of them, in the place where the waves reach out to the shore. We sit ourselves down upon the sand, legs out, feet meeting the water, inviting, letting the water wash over us, behind up, taking the sand from beneath us. More squealing. The waves hit hard. The tide comes in. We let it move over us, over time.

We stand, move into the water to wash off the sand.

I have been careful to make sure I notice if Evanne starts to turn red, burn, become flush. I know there is no real need to take care of her, but that doesn’t stop me. We all take care of each other. I see some pink in her face, looking rosy. It’s time to go.

Moving toward the chairs, I pick up her shirt, hand it to her.

Sand off the feet, clothes on, chairs away.

We are approached by a fellow who says hello. Asks where we’re from. Have we been here before?

How far up does this section go?

Miles.

We walk to the truck as it begins to rain.



Later that day, I read he headlines. NY and Georgia both dealt with same sex marriage, anything that passed as marriage, anything that gave the semblance of marriage and some, even, making domestic partner insurance illegal; Georgia's Supreme Court overturning a lower court ruling that said that state's 2004 voter-passed ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and the New York Court of Appeals upholding a state law banning same-sex marriages. The court ruled it was up to the legislature to decide, not us. They ducked.

While we walked in the sun at Playalinda.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Circle Game

I was told, recently, I was too old. It is the first time I had been told this and, I must admit, I did not like it.

I am in the best shape I have ever been, am healthy and, it seems, according to one source, too old. One of my favorite lines in music comes from “Poems, Prayers and Promises” by John Denver.

Still I have to smile
It turns me on to think of growing old
For though my life's been good to me
There's still so much to do


On a ride today to South Florida. Ft. Lauderdale. My son opted to go along. I did not ask but he offered and I was glad for the company.

I grabbed a disk of music titled Sing-a-longs I had made a few months ago. We were on our way.

Against the bright sun I put on a pair of Solar Shields, wraparound polarized lenses since, in the car, out of direct sun, Transition lenses do not live up to their name and become all noun and no verb.

Alek will soon be fifteen. In one month. His sister will be twenty-one soon thereafter. I was there when they were born. It was yesterday. This has all been said before and it is what parents go through. This is nothing new.

The disk played. “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac. I sing to nearly everything. I did not make it through as a lump formed in my throat, pressing against my voice, down and down. It was the live version and Stevie Nicks dedicated it to her father. I was glad for my sunglasses as my eyes began, slightly, to moisten.

Can I handle the seasons of my life?
I don't know.....I don't know

Well I've been afraid of changin'because I've built my life around
you
But time makes you bolder, even children get older
And I'm getting older too....


Next came “Circle Game” by Joni Mitchell.


And the Circles, they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return, we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round in a circle game.


I was a gonner. The lump threatened to take over possession of the entire upper half of my body and my dark glasses now hid tears.


So the years spin by and now the boy is twenty
Though his dreams have lost some grandeur coming true
There'll be new dreams maybe better dreams and plenty
Before the last revolving year is through.


We were on our way to visit my father. He has been spending time with his parents. His mother does not remember him and his father needs some relief. Four generations and the Great-grandmother is the child again. The Great-grandfather consoled by his son, the son’s mind moved from his worries by his son and my son keeping me company so, after all is said and the doors are closed and we are on the North road again, he can tell me it’s ok.

As we return, Katell Keinig sings:

Lay me down in a wooded field
Plant a bush above my head
Lay me, lay me down
Don't go writing on my grave
I'll have it said it all before the end
Lay me, lay me down.

And when we're all dead
They won't philosophize
Or feel regret
They'll remember us when we said
We had one hell of a life.


The song ends and I turn the radio off. We talk and do our best to leave nothing unsaid. There is no time like now.

Forth of July in a Foreign Land

It is the forth of July. My wife and I have gone to the local Brevard Community College campus for Freedom Fest and Fireworks. I expected booths with local organizations, political parties, speeches, a parade.

A stage and music was advertised. Jimmy Buffet music, specifically. Appropriate, largely, considering our location and the large Parrothead community here.

We parked in the Home Depot parking lot and followed the masses past the Grocery store and plaza, into the street and waited for the police and crossing guards to stop the cars and wave the throng forward. As a populus, we carried coolers, chairs, babies, packpacks, blankets and totes full of fireworks. Strollers were pushed with their on-board babes by Mamas and Papas and siblings and all together we moved toward the fairground.

The sidewalk disappeared. Once on the college campus, the sidewalk went away. Thee was grumbling, dismayed disbelief and surprise. Strollers and no sidewalks in an area where people are expected to walk from class to class. We walked in the grass skipping over red-ant hills. We walk in the street, pressed to the curb by line of cars searching endlessly for a place to be.

The fairground had a bouncehouse, six food stands with lines into the forties. I know because I counted the people. A booth advertised “Freedom Crafts for Free” and, well… that was it, sav the stage.

On stage was a band playing tropic tinged music which sounded slightly Buffetesque but wrong in some minor way. The singer had a faint Florida accent and we listened to what we thought was “Cheeseburger in Paradise” but somehow was just not right. We stopped in front of the stage..

March to the left/March to the right/We’re marching forward for Jesus Christ

Marching for Jesus Christ/We’ll all go the Heaven won’t that be nice./Give your life to Jesus now don’t think twice/We’re marching forward to Jesus Christ.

I will not take this space quoting the founding fathers and their thoughts on religion. I will state Jesus lives in most of the county and city government here and, the more I hear it, the less I feel I belong. Even our county commissioner has taken a stand with one of them telling non-Christians, in official documents, she feels sorry for them and their unfortunate children.

The remainder of the evening, as the fireworks flare overhead and concussion waves thump our hearts and bolt our bodies to our chairs, we discuss where we could go. Where in the US? What part of the world? And, in this crowd, we feel alone.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Me and the Kids

Austin CIty's Limits Day Five: The Final Day

I have mixed feelings about today. I have enjoyed myself here, walked myself silly, had wonderful food, seen things I've not seen before and could not see anywhere else. Yet, I miss home. I am a homebody. I think of this as I rise. It is 5:15.

I spend a half hour exercising, as I have each morning, and then get ready for my day. I have some time left. I'm packed. I travel lightly. So I go out for a walk.

At seven I meet the gang at the lobby. Judy has asked we go back to the Driskill for breakfast. It's a great place, I'm sure. But it is more expensive than Las Manitas Cafe. I'm not sure about finding food there either. But she was a trooper about the bats, went where I wanted for bar-b-que, walked and walked and walked and... so off to the Driskill we went.

It shined in the new morning. It glowed bronze through the expansive windows, showing it to be mostly empty and we entered and found seats to the left of the extensive dessert display; the centerpiece of the café. It is 7:15.

I found nothing healthy that appealed to me and nothing inexpensive I liked. In the end, I simply decided it was my last day and I would get what I wanted. Ten dollars for eggs and cheese, jalapeño biscuit with chorizo gravy and grits. It's my last day, this place makes Judy happy, it's only four more dollars and I'll fore-go the coffee.

The food came late and we ate faster than I'd have liked. Still, we didn't rush too much. We thought, and correctly so, most people would be late for conference this morning, checking out, settling bills, getting to breakfast late at the last chance to go to the Driskill.

The grits were ok. Nothing special. Instant, perhaps. Loose, the consistency of quicksand, mucilage. I find food is rarely worth what I pay for it or the cost later. This bodes no different.

The eggs were ok as well. Just ok.

The biscuit was, however, stupendous in taste, tremendous in texture though not size and, at this point, I was thankful for the diminutive quality. The gravy was heavy, dark, flavorful, savory, smokey, incredible.

We ate to the scent of coffee and croissants, chocolate and baking cakes. We settled our bills and we were out the door to the softly voiced, and it is a rarity Judy speaks softly, "Thank you."

We walked fast, not quickly. Nearly skipping. We arrived fifteen minutes late. We arrived to only half-full classes and people trickling in.

It was expected we would leave early and little was happening. It was 8:15. We were to meet at 10:00 in the convention center lobby.

I decided to leave at 9:30 and go back to Sixth Street for a belt I saw two days prior. A two inch belt instead of a one and a quarter. A stretch for me. I'd need a buckle. They were large and I think of myself, especially now, as small. It was a chance I felt I was taking with my self-image. It felt dangerous. Like it would bring attention to me and such is always unwelcomed but, why not? Maybe I deserve some attention now?

We are filling out observations, reflections, evaluations. Around the room we discuss strategies, methods and, at 9:15, we are set for a Socratic seminar. I tell the leader I must leave. She knows this. I tell her I want to leave before the seminar as, once a part of it, I could not extricate without causing difficulty to the group. She agrees and I leave at 9:17 heading, with backpack, for Sixth Street.

Before leaving, several teachers want to talk with me. Move, stay, we need teachers. In Florida we are told there is a shortage of teachers as well. Yet, pay is low enough teachers leave for other jobs, schools actually 'record' the shortage and then combine classes to save money. The schools in Florida churn out the teachers but I know many who are not finding work yet Tallahassee has stated they may have to import teachers from Puerto Rico. I thought the teachers I spoke to from Austin, Dallas, Colleen, El Paso and San Antonio were splendid. They spoke of the state test the way we do of it here and of the shortage the same way. Burnout was rampant. Many told me they no longer had curriculum but all taught the same thing, the same day, (within subject area, of course) and it was directly related to the end test. Their plans were handed to them. Many are looking to leave. This has happened to me in some Florida schools as well. I’ve heard enough. Off I go.


In the shop I ask for a black belt in size 32. I ask if I can take mine off and try theirs on with some buckles. Sure, why not?

It is the smallest belt they have and I put it on. I look at the only buckles there I like, not bothering to pay more than a cursory glance, as the night before at the array of biker, suggestive, rockband, etc...

Two dragons in a circle, each feeding into the other. It is the design on my next book, except it is two dragons instead of one being a phoenix. Still, close, very close.

I try it on. It fits. Even with the size 32, I have only one hole left on the belt. The buckle fits; it touches no overflowing stomach, no paunch. How things have changed. Perhaps neither I nor the buckle are as large as I think?

I try to look at it with a hand mirror, aware of how self-conscious I feel holding a hand mirror toward my belt-line, staring. But, it is 9:30 and the shop is empty save the Asian shopkeep: a young lady of mid twenties of thirties. She is use to this.

I decide to take a chance and keep it on. It is inexpensive at $14 for the belt and $11 for a pewter buckle. I put the belt I came in with in my pack and, as I pay, the shopkeep asks, “Are you Buddhist?”

She asks me questions and I try to answer them, she’s telling me her professor at U of T told her explaining Buddhism is too difficult. She wants to know of her heritage and she is asking me, my white, nearly transparent, European self.

We talk for fifteen minutes, discussing Buddhism’s forth wave, engaged Buddhism, the development of the differing types, the core common to it all and the central experience which needs no explanation. I tell her where the temples are in town.

I am aware I have an appointment to keep and stay later than I should. I apologize and leave, nearly running back to the center, through the doors, up the two sets of escalators (the stairs are for emergencies only, silly as that is) to find two ladies approaching the designates spot. I am arriving just in time.

Back to the hotel. Up to the room, toss the few extra things in I need to, and grabbing bags, head back downstairs. Everyone meets and the van soon arrives.

The ride back is a different route it seems and I see things I'd have visited had I a vehicle. It is a faster route and I mention this. I am met with disagreement. The difference, I'm told, is, on the way in, I was quiet, I knew no-one, was watching each second pass. Now, I'm chattering, listening. I was with a crowd then and now I'm with friends and time moves differently in that more fluid medium.

At the airport, in the terminal, tickets verified and, with everyone else in Austin being as friendly as they were, I am not surprised by the jovial manner, the jocularity of the security, x-rayers, friskers and checkers. Thanks for playing, I'm told.

Lunch. I still am regretting breakfast. It is a small airport and there is nothing but meat I can find. A hamburger joint has been suggested and I rationalize this as it is the last day, I can undo anything done, I can start anew, I can eat better, tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.

I reiterate - food is rarely worth it. Can you make the french fries extra well done? They usually are. Usually? Yes. Well, can we make sure they are THIS time as well? Yes sir.

The hamburger is ok, not great. I go back for the missing vegetation I was sure to ask was included when I ordered. The fries are barely cooked. At this point, I don't care. I should have eaten a food bar, a box of raisins, some of the seaweed packets, my own nails.

To the gate and they are boarding. One of us asks if she has a window seat. Yes. But it is a C. Yes. But C is an isle seat. Yes, it's both. Both!?

Boarding, we walk out the door to a short ramp to a set of stairs. Where is the plane? OH! Down the stairs, to the tarmac, over to the plane, up the stairs. Everyone ducks to get in but me. I love being short.

EMB-145 is the plane type. Two seats on one side and one on the other.

As we taxi, Shammeeza is asking me questions about hypnotherapy. I think she is keeping me busy and I appreciate the kindness. It helps. I talk until the wheels leave the Earth and I can no longer speak. We lift off and the plane lurches up and up and up steeply.

It is a two hour flight. We talk the entire time about the trip, our disappointment in our country, where we might go, how teaching is not valued and then we are told we are about to run into turbulence. The plane bumps and I can see what is coming as I look out the window and all there is to the sky is an undifferentiated whiteness.

I am now regretting lunch as well.

I apologize in advance. I am nervous. If the plane drops or lurches, I say, I'll probably grab you. I’ll find your hand, your leg. I tell her it is nothing personal and, out of reflex, I'd probably grab whoever was next to me regardless of gender, size or species.


The plane spends a half hour bumping up and down. I was on a rollercoaster once - just once - and this was very much like that ride. It jutted up, dropped how far down I can't know, shoved abruptly from side to side and all the while, we're fighting feeling ill. The plane suddenly shifts and I can’t tell if it is up or down but it is a shock and I grab her leg, or her hand or... how many times I don't remember.

Later on I'm told she had done the same. We were both nervous enough, who can tell.

Another of our group says, smiling, she's telling my wife. "Not before I do," is my response. "This is all part of the story."

We land still in turbulence. I'd kiss the ground but, who knows what has been on it. Just as long as I'm on it too.

Driving back home, we listen to Busman’s Holiday from Orlando to Melbourne, singing, feeling a bit as we did the night prior on the busy street, feeling alive with music. In Melbourne, we exit the car, grab our bags, no one leaves.

Everyone goes inside to use the bathroom, wait for a ride, keep the connection. Nearly everyone. I stay without. It is raining, unusually cool for the last day of June, the grass has just been cut, shoes would have to come off, I’m tired, reason, reason, reason. In fact I am keeping distance. In fact, I wish to go home.


Shammeeza exits and we leave. We listen to The Indigo Girls and discuss where we might find dinner. Lee is working and so there is no one home to feed. Rocky’s? Closed early. No matter. I thank her, as I drop her off at home, for making this trip the opposite of everything I had feared it would be. As I lift her luggage out, I know I have an ally this year at school.

I think of Austin as I drive toward the ocean. Had I visited before, I'd have thought about it as a place to live. How comfortable it was.

When one belongs no-place, visiting is hard. When one feels comfortable, one feels doubts. I make my home by where my family is. We have settled where it was best. We have work, friends, family. But my internal landscape is bare. I smell lilacs in the summer where there are none growing, feel hills where none are seen. My feet always feel a stranger. My landscape consists of time but not space, is temporal, temporary.

I am now to get re-acquainted with Palm Bay. I will compare. Ultimately, who can tell?

And so I do what is comfortable. My sweetie will soon be home. What would she like for dinner? I remove a knife from the block, the cutting board from the wall. An onion from the refrigerator. I begin to cook.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Austin City's Limits Day Four

I made a discovery today. South Congress and 4th Street. In a small Mexican café, Las Manitas, at seven am, I discovered tacos actually are eaten for breakfast and are not a creation of the frozen/fast food industry. Go figure! It was great, filling, healthy and inexpensive. Egg, cheese, lettuce, and a patio.


It looks to be a small place and I stepped in on my way to the convention center the day before. I had consumed nothing more than a can of V8. Others say they could have had a V8 but there are times I fairly live on them. I walked by at 7:15 and it was half full. I stepped in to find quick, small, dark-haired waitresses, a scent that told me I could have done better than V8 and, upon picking up a menu from a yet-to-be-bussed table, prices that told me my vegetable juice was not the bargain I had thought. One does not buy from a hotel gift-shop expecting a bargain. I told the ladies about this during lunch. They had breakfasted on overpriced Starbucks coffee and muffins and we decided Las Manitas would be tomorrow’s first stop.


There is a before-bed discussion about the time to meet. Bus-ladies say it is a five minute walk. Someone other than me responds that it would not take that long even on hands and knees and when the ladies trade barbs I back up. Bus-ladies win because it is easier and we agree to meet at five minutes to seven to be there as they open.


The day started at six as I went out to stand over the Congress Ave Bridge crossing the Colorado to watch the bats and the sun return.


Every day the sun rises and part of me thinks it's a new sun each day. Each day a new day, a new sun and a new chance to start over. It also seems, despite the sun's slow arc across the sky, the sun in Florida may not be the sun here and, so, I rose to watch a new sun start a new day.


And the bats slowly flitted home to sleep, nestle and hang under the bridge and await a new dusk.


It is five to seven the next morning when I arrive in the lobby to see Shammeeza and Judy waiting for me. No bus-ladies. They called and said they’d be late. They’d meet us. We walk to Las Manitas and arrive just as the doors have been opened. Entering, we are ushered though the room to the kitchen. We stop and the waitress motions for us to keep walking. Perhaps this is a do-it-yourself café?


We walk through the narrow kitchen into a lush courtyard with leaf and flower everywhere, benches, tables and laughter.


Coffee is brought, tacos chosen food comes and the bu-ladies follow. Their food arrives as we are ready to leave and I walk out full, happy, with coffee renewed in a to-go cup and I have spent five dollars including a healthy tip.

My cup of coffee in hand, a bottle of sugarfree mountain dew in my backpack (from the hotel store) and I was ready for the second half of my walk to the conference.

For lunch we headed North to the Red River District. We want pizza. No such luck and find pizza places closed that open only at night. But, we found a coffeehouse and sandwiches where I could have espresso and a vegetable sub. No complaints. Time spent in the Red River District is worth the walk. A new sugarfree mountain dew in my backpack and I headed off again to the conference, me and my buddies but, wait... what is that?


I see stairs heading down and hear the quiet murmur of water. I run down the stairs, backpack on and to the sound of Shammeeza exclaiming "That's why I love him. He's ten again."


Down the steps, there are, in the river, platforms to skip across and I do, of course, and, in the river, a bed.


A creek, really; Waller Creek. It is a creek winding its way under arches, between steps, though alleys - all the way looking at first glance to be filled with brilliant billowing foam.


On a second look, it is white stone, seemingly bubbled and convoluted. I imagine, in times of rain, this is underwater but Austin has over 300 sunny days a year and today is no exception. Today, it seems solid stone foam is suddenly formed; petrified suds. In it, set central, a bed.


Seems like a place for a walk and how far can I walk, in the creek, strolling upon the foam? The answer is quite a ways. But first, a lie down in bed, in the creek, in Austin in the early afternoon.


Then to head back to the conference, stopping at stores along the way - music stores, hat shops, Mexican art galleries - and purchasing what I have been all week; not a blessed thing.

The afternoon comes and we explore. The sour member of our troop is left at the hotel and we are off. Art Galleries, shops, over the First Ave. Bridge to enjoy the creative stenciled graffiti. Dinner of Moroccan food and mint tea, vegetables and couscous.


Our waiter is tall, thin, slow and altogether reminding me far too much of a Looney Toons character. He is nice enough but seems to be lacking an essential ingredient and I suggest he must be a son of the owner. He brings the ladies their appetizers. Mine he forgets. We renew our singing of “Mr. Cellophane.”


He forgets one thing after another. He faces away watching TV. It isn’t been the World Cup, which I could understand. It is prime time TV and he cannot see us.


Couscous, lamb, pita, vegetables. Do I want desert? He asks me specifically. Is the Halva fresh? No, it comes from a small plastic-wrapped package like from he grocery store. I answer no and he walks away to bring us the bill ten minutes later.


I follow, explaining a lady did desire desert and I did not suggest I spoke for her. Is the baklava made here? No. Is it store-bought? No, it comes from a bakery a block away. One baklava please. Four cups of mint tea.


We pay our bill. My tip is a note stating “Slow and steady wins the race.”


And, now, back to our walk.


The Driskill Hotel is a glorious edifice of an era which is fast going away to be replaced with the expedient. But then money can buy patience if it pays well enough. People staying at The Driskill can afford it.


Elegant, appointed, dense with art, alight with the recollection of how things once were, one can go from Edwardian comfort on a setee on the veranda to cowskin, soft and furred, in the Piano bar.


We found some unlocked doors, as I am want to do, and discovered some private club rooms, banquet rooms filled with lemon towers awaiting tomorrow's well-heeled guests, libraries and ornate landings.


I played, by request, Rhett Butler at the bottom of a carpeted, wide staircase to the wafting decent of Scarlet O'Hara, played by Judy, now transformed into a Nubian Queen. An audience gathered and suddenly, every lady was Scarlet.


We wandered the guest floors singing "Money" by Pink Floyd, “Money” by The Beatles and "Money" from Cabaret in four-part harmony. From the Piano bar we heard “Hey Big Spender” as the patrons played stump the pianist.


We wandered up the road further after exiting The Driskill and relieving their cafe of a bit of chocolate cake; small triangular pieces arranged on a plate by the café door. Up the road, we found The Iron Cactus and a band in front playing an array of strange instruments and a few not so strange. Busman's Holiday was the name the four lads went by, ages sixteen through twenty-one, from Bloomington, on tour and a night off, and we stayed and sang with them for nearly an hour.
I purchased a CD for three dollars, turned around a few minutes later and tossed in another seven, exchanging the five song CD with the full collection. Pass it on, they tell us. Copy it, put it on the Internet. Anything so people hear us. I agree.


Music was everywhere, the streets were crowded with people, musicians, peddlers. It was 10:30.


I purchased another CD from them, the one I had just given back and, as the second set ended, we moved on full of song again.


Up the stairs to Maggy Mae's for a rooftop view of Sixth Street. Down again, hearing all the bands from on high blend into one sound of the late night street with the cars, bikes, radios, laughter.


We were told to go the Pete's Dueling Piano Bar and we did, as it was next door. “Bring your out-of-town guests to Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar to embarrass them” the ads said. Inside was a crowd which made movement, once we settled near the stage, impossible.


“Joy to the World” was being sung, pianos high on the stage beside us, and the crowd was being taught rather off-coulor hand gestures for the words. This is new territory for me.


It was a bridal shower crowding the bar and, as the bride was brought on stage to sing and be gestured over, the massed ladies became restless for the few males in the crowd. My male butt was save by the presence of The Nubian Queen and the Indian Princess, Judith and Shemeeza. One cannot say I don't travel in style and good company.


Once out, I told them I had not intended on letting my co-workers get to know me quite this well.


On to the hotel. It is late and there is packing to do. We sang "On the Street where you live." "I have often walked/on this street before." Several times a day this week, as a matter of fact.


"When I fall in Love," "Mona Lisa" and the Nubian Queen and I in "Unforgettable" which we sang in harmony as we entered the hotel grounds in a way, I imagined, that paid tribute to Cole. The doorman held his ears, then the door, closed, laughing. We pointed out the sign that said, "Radisson: Express Yourself" and he opened the door. We were just following the directions, after all.


He asked where we'd been drinking and I told him about the mint tea and he looked unbelieving.


"Were you singing earlier with the cashier in the giftshop?"


"Yes, I was."


And I'm still singing now, even as I type these last lines.


Tomorrow, breakfast, out by seven, conference and out by ten (leaving early) and heading back to the airport.


And back home. Posted by Picasa

Austin City's Limits Day Three

Gotta love a city whose motto, emblazoned on shirts, signs, cups, posters and walls is "Keep Austin Weird." And it seems they do their best to accomplish just exactly that. Busses run 50 cents a ride or a dollar for all day. Downtown and the University areas have 'Dillos: four constantly running, set route, quaint bits of busses that are absolutely free.

I notice the city busses say "Ozone Bay" and remark, during one of our afternoon walks, on what in interesting name that is for an area. I receive a strange look. I also remark how it seems so many busses go there. It must be quite a place.

It is known I don't see well and my traveling companions do their best to accommodate and cover for me. Of course, how to know when a mistake is a mistake, a joke, a misread or just plain "can't see that, huh?" is a mystery. Just tell us when you see something wrong is like asking a person to check their perception with the other, spare set of eyes. The busses say "Ozone Day."

I discovered this later that evening when we ask how late the busses run, as we were about three miles away near the University of Texas and two members of our group were carping of being tired, of not wanting to eat at any of the places we discover because the food has spices, or is yellow, or cooked in clay. We were told they were running until eleven and were free because it was Ozone Day and everyone is encouraged to walk, bike or bus. Ozone Day.

I find folks don't mind taking up the visual slack for me. A good thing, this. Not that I can't handle it on my own, as I have for so many, many years and still do, of course, as I usually do not have others to do reading for me. But, sometimes, it is a trial. In airports with security, too far away for me to see, waving dramatically at me to walk in their direction for check-in. Or, sometimes, when a Précis, quiet in the city traffic, is about to run me down because I'm counting on hearing a car before I see it.

Before The afternoon was, of course, the dreaded banquet. We got out at different times and I found no-one waiting for me. I glided/stepped down the two flights of escalators and out the door to walk across 4th Street to the Hilton to move immediately back onto three sets of escalators which, according to the sign, would take me to the sixth floor and the AVID Banquet. I was one of over two thousand people to enter the room.

I could see neither wall through the throng and the army of penguins carrying trays, pitchers, urns. I walk in, I walk out, grab my cell phone and it rings. Judy. They are inside and have a place for me and know I won't be able to find them. She guides me in by description, telling me what to head for until I see her waving her arms in the air.

Salad is already being set out. A small salad and dressing is on it already. Creamy, white and I don't know what's in it. Then tea, weak and translucent poured over ice. I see the sets of utensils arrayed to three sides of the plate and remember, Left to right, outside to in. Or was that right to left? And what of the utensils at the top of my plate? I resign to using my fingers, or surreptitiously dropping my utensils onto the carpet so it appears I'm using only what is available. Where did they go? Where did what go? I have only this.

The main course comes: chicken crusted in what might have been almonds, might have been cheese. Two spears of asparagus and a roasted tomato.

"Hot sauce?" I hear Judy ask if anyone has seen any. The chicken is rather bland. We have both opened up the top of the pepper and tapped it onto our food.

"Hot Sauce?" I see none and say I'll take care of this. I consider she might have me trained at this point. I ask penguin after penguin but no hot sauce. After a few minutes, someone has told someone and the head waiter comes to our table. He apologizes for the chicken and agrees it is bland, telling us how difficult it is to cook for three thousand people. He is sincere. He has no hot sauce.

He had eight bottles and has searched for them but they have disappeared, he tells us, into purses, pockets, backpacks. He is telling he has no hot sauce in Texas. Finished, coffee comes and it is lukewarm. Speeches come and they are lukewarm. A few are heart-tugging and people get to their feet to applaud.

Desert is being served: a pastry cup filled with heavy cream, six raspberries on top and one half a strawberry beside. Breakfast was a V8. I eat it all. We go back to our afternoon session and heads nod knocking on tabletops.


Keep Austin Weird. Street musicians, street vendors, and a University area that actually looks and feels like one. A sign hung, proudly and boldly from an Episcopal Church announcing "Torture Is Wrong." Right in the middle of it, visible from all directions, is the capitol. Architecturally, there is much to be admired. Much of it is impressive and creative. Some of it makes all the sense we have come to expect from government programs but set in stone. And stone it is, pink granite within and without. It is the White House improved with the offices underground so the effect of the grand edifice is not marred with the actual daily business of government.

It looks as though it should be run with red carpets throughout, but I was told that would be considered ostentatious. Did I spell that right? Perhaps it should be Austintatious? So, no red carpets, nothing ostentatious - just the biggest capitol building outside of D.C. Some of the doors were not locked.

OOPS.


So, I know exactly how messy the senators are. I spent a few minutes in the senatorial lounge. Oh, and they leave the gavel on the bench. I wasn't dressed the part but I think I might make a good senator, albeit, perhaps, the shortest senator ever seen from the second largest state. (They hate to be reminded Alaska is bigger.)


Stars are everywhere. Even the insides of the hinges of the capitol doors have stars on them. Door knobs are starred. Nothing ostentations, mind you. A quiz. I was asked this. What does the capitol have more of than anything else. I answered, "Republicans."

I expected Ann Richards to be guarding her portrait with a shotgun. She was not there. Alas.

After the capitol we headed toward Stubbs. I wanted to go there; I love the bar-b-que sauce and made the connection between the name and the product, and a correct connection it was, too. Judy wanted pork ribs while in Austin and when we heard Stubbs had live music and was in a 160 year old building, an old Mormon settlement, that clinched it. So we both got what we wanted. Well, nearly what we wanted. We wanted to walk but two of the four gals I'm with whined, cried, moaned groaned and complained about the distance. So a silver ‘Dilla’ it was.


We take the bus from U.T. to Tenth Street and Congress. We walk he eight short blocks to our destination. The Redriver district. A hotspot for live music, it is reclaimed from a crack area as business moved in and cooperated with the local constabulary, the patrons squeezed out the dealers and now, it is moving, vibrant, alive, full. Cooperation and lack of fear, an economic incentive and in a few years an area is revitalized and renewed. We've stayed away from Sixth Street where most of the bars are. Boring, to say the least.

We planned this yesterday. I was called by Judy and asked if I wanted to come up to the room so we could plan the next few days. I enter, feeling a bit strange. I work with these people and there is only so much of their lives I want to see. Dirty laundry is not part of that.

Two beds, one on each bed. Two chairs, one in each chair. I stand. I'm asked to sit and the bed is patted at the foot. Judy gets up from one of the chairs and says, "Come on Baby. You can sit here."

One of the gals on the bed says, "What? He can sit in the bed of he wants? What do you think is going to happen? We work with him."

I reply that I hope it is my sense of right and wrong, my personality, their knowledge of what and who I am that tells them I am safe and trusted, not the fact I work with them.

"Of course. I mean, we work with you so we know you."

This is said as Judy waves me to the chair and I take it gratefully. I have he feeling she knows I was uncomfortable and did this not for the comfort of the gals in gals in the room, who are not in any way uncomfortable, but for me. I am grateful for this.

We look over the map, through the visitor books, make calls. What kind of food do you have? A cover charge? What time? Most of the places we all have recordings and refer us to webpages. A few answer.

We call the coffeehouse about the poetry reading. No, none or June. A shame.

We make our plans and, while discussion ensues, Shammeeza says we could be out walking and talking. We have sat too long and our calls are being made on cell phones anyway. She gets up and I, quickly, gratefully, follow. Our afternoon began.

Stubbs was great. I went for an experience and had one; the best ribs I have ever had while we overlooked the stage/bandpit. There is an outside stage as well. Two of them. We ate and enjoyed and then Human Television started to play. Amazingly good.

It is dark within. We were sat near the center of the small balcony above the inside stage with the waiter, a young fellow, welcoming the ladies.

"I understand you are blinded by the brilliance and beauty of so many young ladies," I exhort, understanding, "but there is one gentleman here as well." He apologizes, hands us menus and bring us four waters. There are five of us. Guess who does not get water?

Above me is a ceiling fan. Above it, a dull light. It casts a quick on-off of light and dark on the menu and I can read none of it. One of the ladies asks if she can help read for me. The Shammeeza offers to trade places with me. After I make sure she does not mind, we switch and I can read again.

We order drinks. I ask if the tea is strong and I told it is. Drinks come. It is water. I don't mean it is weak. I mean it is water. Judy tastes it and it is water. I call over the waiter and ask him if a mistake has been made and he tells me that is the tea. I think about a beer, but the local beers seem pale and wanting. I've heard nothing good about them. I ask for diet coke.

He takes orders. Each lady in turn and, as he writes down the last gals order, he leaves. I toss, "Excuse me" into the air after him but he moves away into the next room.

The girls are surprised. I am surprised. I'm invisible. I sing, loudly, "Mr. Cellophane." The chorus teacher tells me she will gladly accept my help with chorus class and boys harmony. She has been told by students, as I tend to sing in class, I should be in chorus. She ells me she sees they were right. I continue to sing.

He returns to bring another table food and I move my chair back into the aisle. I ask him the question of the day. “I know you are blinded by their feminine glory but, do you think, perhaps, maybe, you might notice I'm here and, I don't know, maybe, take my order?

He blushes and apologizes. He can't imagine why he did that. He is sorry and takes my order, rushing off for it to join the others.


The food comes rather quickly. I ask for a fried green tomato. Just one. We don't want a whole order, just one. I tell him it doesn't matter of it came of another plate or followed the five second rule. He laughs, they nearly always do, and within a minute or two we have one which I cut into five pieces.


Ribs, brisket, chipotle cheese spinach, other foodstuffs. I said I'd enjoy myself and probably ate a bit too much. But, once in a while I think, I feel, it's worth it. I can't get this at home and if I go up a pound, I'll go down a pound as well.


Judy and I agree the ribs are the best we have ever had. Not a drop of fat. Peppery. Moist and delectable. This was worth it. Food is food, even if it is good food. Even if it great food. There has to be another reason to go to a place besides the food, to make it worth the trip and the calories. All together, take it from Mr. Cellophane, Stubbs was worth it.

I got pictures of the band. But I also got pictures of me sitting in a tree with the sign poking out between my legs stating "Historic. Do not sit here." I figure I'm helping to keep Austin weird.

We spend about half an hour listening and then head back to the hotel. The day prior we could have been listening to Sonic Youth. Another day, George Thorogood, Billy Idol, Concrete Blonde, Indigo Girls, Willie Nelson.

It is about two miles. It is pleasant out. We talk, laugh, sing. We hear salsa from a club but we cannot find the way in. Judy stands on the sidewalk dancing. This lasts the rest of the way back.

I have come to realize I cannot go and do everything I want tied to these gals. One of them, who, it seems, has become a bit of a buddy; rather a Pagan sort, likes to walk, does not get people who don't take care of themselves... getting along beautifully, is getting as tired of the others as I am as they complain about the walking, won't try any food they haven't had before or can't pronounce, are afraid for our souls, know everything. This is Shammeeza.

I am getting along with Judy. Judy defies description. Proper retribution, some might say.

I'd not think of ditching them, these two. But our other two compadres? We are rather tied and I must work with them so a cut and run tonight is not really in the cards, stars or picture. So we won't get to the museum of art, or out to the Tibetan Temple, or other such places. I have not traveled like this before. This is a new experience for me as I'm either alone or with my wife and, either way, I get to see what I want to see and go where I like. Not so this time. Not so.

So tomorrow we may well play the ditchy game and go for a walk along the 1st street bridge where there is quite a bit of inventive graffiti, in fine detail, of blues singers, Tibetan art, political cartoons and requests to free political prisoners and all this done in the same intricate, detailed stenciling along a walkway attached to the bridge crossing the Colorado near Town Lake.

Tomorrow is my last night here. Last night. Then I get to go home and the joy of coming home is equal to the adventure of being away. It has been fascinating experiencing a new place in depth; a small, small part of a city, like getting to know a tiny but deep pond as opposed to a wide, shallow lake.

And I have experienced a mundane activity - finding one's way around a few block area - with new eyes and new energy; like I was dropped in from the sky and told to get along here. And getting along I am. But there is no place like home. That is a platitude, true, but accurate.

Getting along netted me 23,147 steps today even with the bus-chicks. We'll see about tomorrow. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Austin City's Limits Day Two

22,206 steps today. Not bad considering eight hours of that was spent in a conference room, under florescent lights, in the cold, stagnant air. I could not wait to get outside!Tomorrow they have a luncheon set for us. That worries me as I'll be inside with no place to get food and rather captive so I do fervently hope there is food I feel I can eat. I haven’t the will power to go hungry. I might have the ability to eat only small amounts if I have enough breakfast. I so dislike orchestrated mass meals.I could find no place for breakfast other than Fridays Buffet (nope, especially at THAT price) and Starbucks. I opted for one of the Uncle Sam's bars I brought with me and a box of raisins. The morning session ended and I received an instant phone call from Judy, the Gifted Social Studies Teacher, wanting to make sure I did not get lost and would be able to meet them in an obvious place. Actually, I received several calls from her. We met, though I was planning on finding my own way. I suggested a Mongolian Grill I found during my walk there from the hotel this morning. It is a four block walk I made sure I mapped out for myself the day before so I could find my way without taking the bus provided. A bus? For an able person to walk four blocks? A crowded bus one must wait for and wait in? Yesterday I beat the bus's time, at a leisurely walk, by five minutes.

The Mongolian Grill, and that was its name, was one block away. It was better than finding a place far a field. It was six dollars and easy to get to. We had an hour and a half to eat. A good lunch time except if you are one of five thousand people in a small area all looking for food.

Everyone thought it was great once I and Shemmeeza explained it was mostly vegetables and one could make it as bland as one liked as two of our party will not eat anything ‘ethnic.’ We hurried over.

It was next door to a place called “The Cock Pit” - the logo, a three-blade propeller with each word printed on a blade. Is it a bar for pilots? A fellow exits as we approach the grill and I gather it is not a place for pilots, specifically, unless one was a member of The Village People, and I won’t be going there for any reason I can see.


We entered quickly to stand in line and it was quite a wait but, finally, we snaked our way to the food bar. Taking here and there, piling food on my plate and, somehow, feeling the eyes of the African Amazon behind me, looking down over my head. I wondered how tall she was. Nearly seen feet?

We needed a table. Is it too late as the place fills up with more patrons? Next thing I know my backpack is taken from me and placed at a long table, well within sight, along with another backpack, a large purse and a tote-bag given to one of the participants in our group. It says, AVID, Two Decades of Collage Dreams. I wonder if AVID includes spelling lessons. Or perhaps the person who made it really does dream of collages. I like collages, myself. But what it has to do with our conference…?

Judy is responsible for wresting of may backpack. It is a green Jansport I rolled up and placed in my satchel. I arrived with my laptop backpack with my poetry and some other electronics hanging from my shoulders and my satchel, nearly fifty years old, thick brown smooth leather and a strap none the worse for having gotten caught in the conveyor at the Austin Airport baggage carousel. It is sturdy and easy to recognize. Both important when one are clumsy and nearsighted.

The Jansport is used now, filled with the booklets, papers and materials given to use as I know my laptop will be of no use in the conference. I have left that in the hotel room where I get a wireless Internet signal, regardless of the supposed inability to receive such on the eleventh floor and the Radisson’s desire to have me hook in via phone line for ten dollars a day. I decided to leave it the day before when I discovered how heavy it was. Actually, I walked all through Milwaukee with the laptop in my pack. I did not want to do that again without reason.

Sunday, when we arrived, as check-in was not for two hours, we needed to carry them around with us as the concierge told us he could hold our luggage, give us tickets for them, but was not allowed to hold laptops.

Judy looked tired and I saw no need in us both dragging heavy packs. So I offered to put hers in my pack as well. Thus was the first time of many Judy professed “I love this man.” Just for a laptop? Has no-one been nice to her before? Today, we traveled much more lightly.

We had our massive piles of vegetables and small frozen thin coins of meat. We stood in front of the massive battery of sauces and looked at the recipe board telling us how to make different curies, marsalas, sauces of many types, by taking one ladle of this, two of that, a half of that from the various recessed stainless steel containers making up the four long rows of pungent liquids. Pour it all on.

It all gets cooked on a flat griddle, round, four feet across, with six meals being stir-fried at a time by two people using long, flat blades to move and separate the hills of food. It was masterful. Vegetables, vegetables and more vegetables with any sauce I wanted. Excellent, especially for six bucks!

We eat together and talk pleasantly. I am getting along with these people despite myself.

Later, I felt ill.

Back to conference. Lunch is still weighing heavily both up and down. I wonder what could have been in it to do this. It must have been something in the sauce. No matter and too late. The conference ends a bit after four pm. We all go to the bus and I decide it’s too long, too crowded and too silly. I walk and arrive well before the gang. I went for a walk and a lie-down on the forty-five degree angled grass behind the hotel looking up at the sky and Congress Ave Bridge. Then dinner. I receive another call.

These gals I'm here with are trying to take care of me. I don't want to upset them by ditching them and grabbing a bit of fruit somewhere so I went with them. A Columbian place with nothing I wanted. I settled for chicken potato soup and an arepa. I figure I'm under-fed today having had an oatmeal bar, a small box of raisins and vegetables I had given much of back prematurely. But I'm saving some caloric intake.

I am planning on going to Stubbs tomorrow for Bar-B-Que, then a walk to the Capitol (Largest Capitol building outside of Washington DC) and then on to the University of Texas campus and a singer/songwriter club up there called The Hole in the Wall.

None of us drink and I'm delighted with that.

Tonight we were back to see the bats but earlier this time. It seems one pastime is to watch the bats (Largest Urban Bat Colony in existence) and the other is to walk/drive/bike by and make derisive comments about the people watching the bats. Rather amusing.

Undeniably incredible to see them flood out from under the bridge making flowing black streaks in the dusking sky. Then we walked he short trail to he observatory space under the bridge to see them from a new angle. It is hard to get close for all the people. Bataphernalia is being sold: glowing necklaces, bat pendants, people wearing batty clothing. Amazing.

Then on to Sixth Street by a circuitous rout stopping by The Elephant room to listen to some Jazz. Under the stairs is The Elephant Room, dark and narrow and full of sound. It makes two of our party nervous and we leave after barely a few minutes. Back from the subterranean to the urban.

So many places with live music, right next to each other, each louding out the one a door up 'till it's hard to make one out from the other. But some we got into and the variety of music is staggering. And so crowded. So very busy. So impossibly full, and not one corporate entity around, not one mega-meal chain fast-food monstrosity.

Like Philly and NY, Austin has its areas, districts and each is cool in its own way, has its own things, style, flavour. The amount of culture and art here is incredible.

I could hope, with enough density, Melbourne could do this. The raw art and talent, the culture is there but just not the density needed so that it feeds itself and grows. It does not yet have the critical mass. I want a culture monster!

I am hungry. I was tempted by the dueling pizza parlors we pass on our return, but I was good. I'm rather hungry but being unconscious should take care of that. Soon. We head back into the hotel. It has been a long day. I have writing to do. Then sleep. I say goodnight. I have enjoyed my day. I have enjoyed my company. Posted by Picasa