With torrential rain last night and early this morning — “torrential,” that is, contrasted against our standard “none” — you know I’m going to talk a little about the sky. Or skies, as I pointed out recently. Carol Arnold yesterday on Facebook posted a painting of hers inspired by a rainstorm in Junction, Texas. She had been driving home from Marathon.
Marathon is the town you drive through to get to Big Bend’s main visitor center. Yes, you could go through Terlingua but from Alpine, where you’re staying, if not Marathon itself, it makes more sense to go through the latter. You have to go through a border patrol checkpoint, because in Big Bend you can cross into Mexico, most notably by wading into the Rio Grande at the Santa Elena Pass. In fact, you can get to Mexico there without getting your shirt wet.
The drive back from Marathon along I-10 East affords many big-sky panoramas. There are only a few places in the U.S., and even the world, where you can still enjoy a natural panorama. Human settlement, even one with low-rise dwellings, can’t be considered a “panorama.” It would take Nature to restore it.
Click-hold and move the bar above to reveal all of Carol’s painting, and look to the lower right. That swath of dark means someone’s getting dumped on. In Junction, that’s probably the people coming out of McDonald’s just off the highway on their way to or from Mason.
My photo is aimed southwest from Comanche Trace. Planes are probably grounded at the Kerrville-Kerr County Airport. Or if the dump is far south enough, people at Toucan Jim’s restaurant are scampering inside from the backyard dining area, running and giggling as they grasp onto the stems of margarita glasses and the edges of plates with jalapeño poppers. Feeling the sizable raindrops start to cool their skin under their light-colored shirts, now polka-dotted with gray, and knowing it’s only a sudden and short-lived luxury. Table neighbors, strangers just moments ago, glance at each other and smile. They begin friendly negotiations to determine who gets to sit at the bar to finish their meals and who looks for a spot elsewhere inside. Men stand sideways between bar stools and occasionally apologize to the person behind them.
Naturally, I thought I was the smart one. Naturally. I pretty much know my way around Kerrville roads by now. Generally speaking. In almost any setting, I have an intuitive sense of how to get from here to there using shortcuts and a sense of traffic flow that even Google would pay me to consult on. You know: blue, yellow and red areas to tell you where the slow-downs are. I wouldn’t give Apple Maps the time of day. And Waze is too proletarian.
Yesterday ended my traffic flow consulting practice even before my first client signed on the dotted line. But the consolation was that not even Google would have known that the Loop 534 bridge was closed due to the Kerrville Triathlon.
“Wait,” you command (you did use the imperative tense, so I must write it that way). “Didn’t you see those electronic signs? You know. The ones with the digital orange letters on the black background? They were as clear as the Lite-Brite games we had as kids. Are you trying to tell me that your ambition to consult Google made you forget your childhood?!”
For starters, as a game, Lite-Brite sucked.
There were plenty of other games of its era that were better and more worth the time we spent not on Pong. Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, to name just one. To press those right and left-hand jab buttons and finally hear the satisfying grind of your adversary’s ridged and anodized metal neck popping his head upward gave young boys a sense of impending manhood. It was the MMA of 1970s bedroom carpets.
And look at this photo of Lite-Brite. I’m not exactly sure what it’s supposed to be, but my guess would be an outerspace unicorn that just let loose a rainbow fart. That’s way too big to be a wing. But you decide.
Does its low resolution compare with the high-res and creative freedom found in an Etch-A-Sketch? And what about hand-eye concentration? Someone adept at Operation would scoff at those who with limited artistic ability stick colored pegs in a black background any which-a-way — do you see the parallel here? With Lite-Brite, you can call anything “art.” (And, as many of you know, I have to tread lightly on this topic…) But even with Play-Doh: it was great for sculpting and even better as a late afternoon appetizer. It was only after several budding artist-wannabees tried using the colored pegs as tapas that they printed “Choking Hazard” on the box. They should have printed: Only For The Feeble-Minded.
Second, consulting Google would come with lifetime free 100GB storage. So there’s that.
But back to my story.
I went to Daily Donuts yesterday to do the right thing and get donuts and kolaches for the boys. It had little to do with the extra jelly donut I purchased, and you will be hard pressed to find a witness to say otherwise. My boys were sleeping when I returned. So: no loose ends.
Let’s get back to the “return” home part, which for a while seemed to be in doubt and then most assuredly was in doubt.
On the way to Daily Donuts, I took Bandera Highway down to Medina Highway.
“Did you see not only the signs but that the loop bridge was closed?” you ask.
Well, sure! What do you think?! Do you think that a Google consultant with 100GB of free storage and who can compare the bridge-closed sign to Lite-Brite would be so feeble-minded to have missed that? So: yes. But being who I am, I figured coming back would be different. You know: the ol’ doing the same thing thinking the outcome would be different That kind of head-spinning mental agility.
Besides, turning onto S. Sidney Baker from Bandera was a hassle. Like, it took three minutes instead of thirty seconds.
After I got two large kolaches, one with cheese and jalapeño, and six donuts, including two jelly donuts, one which I was actively eschewing, I got back on Main Street. Just so you know, getting on Sidney Baker from Daily Donuts is quicker through the broken concrete parking lot in front of the auto loan place. Google doesn’t show that short cut. You learned it here.
I decided that I’d try my luck with the Loop 534 bridge from that side of the river. On the off-chance. I mean, what if those who live at the VA want to go to Brew Dawgz? Are they expected to drive all the way down to Sidney Baker and then Bandera before they can get a burger with onion rings? Seems a bit much, if you ask me. And what of ordering Papa Johns? Should the driver go to Sidney Baker to deliver to third-shift workers at the hospital? And, getting cold pizza, do you tip? Or do you stiff the guy and contribute to a lowered living wage all because a person in tights riding a $2,000 bike is blocking your delivery guy’s 2005 Honda Civic from getting through? Or if you wanted to go to Gravity Check down Bandera Highway at 9:00am and wait till Noon for it to open?
Truly I say to bikers: Share the road.
Getting from Daily Donuts to home is normally a 5.1-mile and 10-minute proposition. That’s according to Google Maps. And, more importantly, according to me.
On my way home, I approach the Loop and, lo and behold, it’s closed. I slow down and kind of glance at the police officer standing at the intersection as if to say, Seriously?! I just came from downtown and am more than a little surprised, Officer. This is actually the best way home, and my vehicle contains a jelly donut that I eschew but will not eschew in approximately 7 minutes.
Turns out, he ignored my look.
At this point, I made a strategic decision within a millisecond. One must do this while driving. I could go back to Sidney Baker and home the way I came, swallowing my pride, putting my Google contract in jeopardy and adding on the 7-10 minutes that I lost, or I could continue south on Highway 27 and use another crossing.
Pointless of course to turn through the gravel company because it would have led me to Riverside, as would of course the turn onto Riverside itself a bit further down toward Center Point.
Remember those words: Center Point. It’s the key to this whole story. As is the phrase Damn, I spent way too much time eschewing that jelly donut. That, too, is key.
The trick now became how to cross the Guadalupe since they stopped using the wooden ferry 175 years ago. Even then, it’d be unrealistic to expect a ferry made of cedar trees to support a 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe.
I knew for a fact I could cross at the Center Point River Road in a few minutes. I mean, what if I lived right there? Even if they had it closed, could they stop me from bringing donuts and kolaches to my children before heading out to the swimming hole?! No, they could not. (In my mind at least.)
But they could. And they did. And the police officer, hiding his authoritative amusement behind dark glasses, easily ignored my plaintive look.
I continued on.
When I hit Sutherland Lane, a final way to cross over via Center Point River Road, and saw that it too was closed, I admitted defeat and decided it would be a nice drive to go through Center Point itself. I hadn’t been down to San Antonio Street in a while, and I can’t recall when I’ve ever driven from Center Point to Bandera Highway via San Antonio Street itself. (And isn’t it odd that farther north I could have crossed the Guadalupe on foot much more easily and quickly than in car? I’d simply have carried my plastic bag of donuts and kolaches and listened to Joe Rogan on Spotify along the way. This is what the early settlers did, minus the plastic bag.)
To summarize, pride and a desire to have free Google storage space turned into a trip that was four times the miles and three times the minutes it would have taken going home the way I came to town.
But like I said, Lite-Brite sucked then, and it sucks now.
One of the noticeable differences between living in Texas, at least this part of Texas, and New York City, at least the Manhattan part — not that there’s really any other part that can reasonably be called “New York City” — is the sky.
Studying the same scene over and over, I feel a bit like Monet with a camera instead of a brush and with anonymity without the inevitable real estate on the walls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Also, Monet repeatedly studied lillipads, which I can’t do unless I get a GoPro for my camera and paddleboard out into the Guadalupe. Believe me, I’ve considered it.
There are a lot of reasons to appreciate the Texas sky. The two most obvious ones are its quantity — it’s Big-Ass — and quality.
Texas skies are big.
I took this photo on September 4, 2018.
I still remember how I pulled onto Comanche Trace Drive leading into the golf course community where we live and seeing this through the passenger side window.
Comanche Trace Drive is straight once you enter and perhaps a hundred yards long. Through the live oak trees you can clearly see the sunset sky in all its unadulterated beauty.
This was one of those “God-light” varieties of skies — I say “skies,” plural, because no sky here is ever the same; Manhattan skies are pretty uniform — and on that straight stretch of Comanche Trace Drive, I would have been negligent had I not pulled over to the right to take a photo. Hazard lights on, not caring whether someone thought something was wrong with my car, a Hyundai to any other resident’s Mercedes or Corvette.
This photo, the crispness reduced by my iPhone camera and also by uploading it here, is one of my favorites of the Texas, and Kerrville, sky.
While the Comanche Trace Drive photo show the quantity of Texas skies — they seem to go on forever — this one, taken over the Guadalupe River just down Bandera Highway — shows the quality.
And it’s not so much the quality of the sky itself, it’s the quality that the river acknowledges and shows the riverbank admirer.
May 27 of this year demonsrated just how threatening a sky can be.
In and of itself, that’s like “what’s the big deal?”
But that flippant question is second nature to a city kid. Especially a New York City kid who can simply step away from a storm into a pre-war apartment building that can withstand a small nuclear blast, let alone a bad thunderstorm.
Here in Kerrville, skies like this one mean potential hail. Which means a claim with Texas Farm Bureau because the bank still owns part of the car. The part that’s not damaged and would be sold alongside its dimpled neighbors were we to trade up. Which means a $500 deductible and a rental car while ours is in the shop.
See? All sorts of logistical crap goes along with even the clouds here.
A sky like this in New York City, were you even to notice it, means eating our sushi inside the restaurant instead of in the sidewalk cafe.
What I said in my previous posts HERE and even HERE is that with the eyes of a 58-year-old man, I fail to see what younger or more capable eyes see.
So I set out to “see” what I might miss but what neutral, unbiased “eyes” might capture.
I used two tools within an app called Adobe Capture. Aside from being downright fun, it also has commercial potential and is instructive to boot.
The first tool I use to “see” in a sky what my eyes might miss is the app’s feature called “Colors” (on the left below), and the second is called “Looks” (on the right).
The first mechanism that “sees” the sky, of course, is my camera, which never picks up the fullness of what my eyes do, failing as they might be.
I found that Colors gave me only the basic palette. Then I used Looks to further refine what Adobe saw and what my camera saw. Still, it was limited: the peach color you see — once again, bastardized by uploading the photo here — was actually more yellow-orange in the photo and still more vibrant when I saw it with my own two aging eyes.
Which brought me to a conclusion: we humans can see and appreciate more clearly what God has wrought than can technology. Technology is designed by humans to identify, track and archive data.
We, on the other hand, are designed by God to marvel at beauty.
Paddleboarding on the Guadalupe is my replacement for surfing on the East Coast. I’ll confess/complain: it’s a poor replacement. Yes, it has the satisfying feel of being on water, being in the sun, working the muscles, being completely analog without an iPhone within a half mile or more of my hand.
But it lacks the noticeable movement of water around me. Surfing is an invitation or even a dare to come and dance with it. To a large extent, so is canoeing a river that has rapids. Surfing, with its occasional waves that form “tubes” that one can get covered up under and inside, is a return to the salt-water womb — a metaphor that’s not much exaggerated.
Now, the advantage of paddleboarding on a lake-like river as the Guadalupe has formed in Kerrville, however, is that conditions are fairly uniform throughout the year. The variables of course are water and air temperature, which can largely be neutralized with my wetsuit. The variable I can’t avoid is when the river rages significantly above its normal level, which has happened a couple times since I moved here three and a half years ago. Otherwise, it’s placid and navigable. Always.
Yesterday afternoon, I put in at the southern end of Flat Rock Park, just prior to the one-lane bridge that leads to the large open field serving as a dog run. There’s a scored ramp for wheels or river shoes to get traction over the algae clinging to each inch. The rainbow oil slicks circle randomly and then form jewelry around my calves as I slowly shuffle deeper into the water.
Not long ago I showed up and two men were fishing. One was in a kayak about 20 feet off the shore. The other man was standing on the ramp, which was almost completely occupied by his black truck — this is a ramp for putting in and then driving back around the side of the big tree to park, not for using as a parking spot, I might add — holding his rod in his right hand and untangling his line in his left.
Without my glasses, it looked more like he had hauled in a fish, which seemed a happy moment for him and one that required only a slight shift to the right side of the eight-foot wide ramp, so I could make my way down the left.
I said, “Excuse me?” preparing to clarify that I wanted access on the left.
Apparently, the man affected by a tangled line and dying liver believed he had riparian rights, when he had not even littoral rights. (I thought I should flex my NY State real estate salesman license just this once, since it never got flexed before I moved.)
To express myself to you instead with the brevity that Twain or Hemingway encourage but with emotion more suited to Tarantino, the guy wouldn’t move out of the fucking way.
He didn’t acknowledge me, so I repeated my question, which to be fair I should have announced in the indicative case of the verb or even the imperative, since neither of us had rights to the shore or waterway of the Majestic Guadalupe. Admittedly, he could equally have responded using the imperative, “Fuck off.” That rejoinder of course would be the correct verb case for that purpose but would be factually incorrect, because it would assume said rights.
Upon the second question, he looked sideways at me and said, “Really, dude?” I hate it when people I don’t know call me “dude,” especially when they’re angry.
“I just need only about a foot here on the left to slide by.” He had seven feet. To his right was the cooler containing further Liver Death.
“Really, dude?! Can’t you see I’m untangling my line?”
“Oh, sorry; I don’t have my glasses on.” Why I was so accommodating, I had no idea. I had a paddle with a “blade” and metal shaft, like a medieval hatchet, and he had only a skinny bendy stick thing. Of course, he did have a hook. But his line was indeed tangled and the hook had a plastic worm on it, so I figured it would be a fair fight.
(You see how quickly men can devolve to fighting? One has a dying liver and tangled fishing line, and the other has an impatient desire to get on the river at 7:15am when there’s only sun and no wind and the surface is like glass. Selfishness creates a tarbaby.)
He turned back to his line and said, “There’s another ramp right over there.” He tilted his head left toward a break in the reeds and a concrete step leading to another broken step, submerged about 15 inches and surrounded by other rocks obscured by murky water. Not much of a put-in.
I grumbled, did as suggested and had a fantastic session on a beautiful morning.
And then there was coming back in.
He was still there, this time fishing (from the ramp). About thirty feet out, I asked where his line was because I was a stand-up guy and all and didn’t want to paddle over it. He burped its location.
When I started to guide myself toward the ramp, he said, “Just use that other one there.” The ankle-twister.
“I can’t get up that way. I need the ramp.”
“You got in that way. Why can’t you get back up that way?” Made me wonder whether as a kid he had ever lied down on his back in gym class and then tried to do a sit-up. Gravity, asshole.
Now I was pissed. “This is a public ramp.”
“Yeah, but I’m here and you can use that one there.”
I wasn’t going to press it. Tarbaby.
I worked my way up the broken steps and then mouthed off: “You know, this is a public ramp, and you’re taking up all of it.”
He had some last word or another, and I walked back to my truck. It was still a great session. Nothing was going to diminish it.
The above was all a bad memory with a tarbaby at its center. Yesterday, which I digressed from, was delightful. I put in at the same ramp, nodding to a couple other fisherman who also nodded back, and after getting myself wet in the middle of the river I paddled downstream toward the dam. The sun and clear skies made for a mid-90s afternoon. There was a moderate wind against me, not as stiff as some days, but significant enough that it was a good workout. I hopped back and forth between right foot forward and left one, working each quadricep. I developed a blister along the base of my right thumb, which indicated that I hadn’t been on the river enough days and also that I was having a good workout. (It could also mean that I wasn’t holding the paddle correctly. But, no.)
I hugged the right (west) bank, where trees formed a pocket of calm from the wind. A great blue heron lifted off from my right and first flew south and then wheeled around to my left, disappearing behind me.
I reached the dam, touched my paddle to the edge just to say I had, and then turned around to head back upstream, with the wind. At first, there was a breeze against me, and I thought of the “walked five miles to school in the snow, uphill both ways” fib. Soon enough, I had a barely perceptible breeze at my back. The sun fell onto my chest and shoulders. I could watch my triceps flexing as I stroked and realized that in surfing one can’t stop to appreciate the way the body gets toned and challenged during exercise.
These malleable machines God allows us to travel in are certainly marvelous things.
Finally reaching the ramp, I figured I’d paddled about 8,000 feet, according to Google maps. One and a half miles.
I had passed a duck couple on the way back. They were standing on lily pads as far as I could tell.
There was one there already — a Great Egret. As I looked south, down the Guadalupe, I saw three more of the elegant white birds. Their necks started to form question marks as they relaxed and settled in. And then the egret closer to me flew to its siblings. It was replaced by its cousin the Great Blue Heron, which landed on the light-colored rock you see in the center-left of the photo. The tranquility of this place is better told in gray-scale tones than in loud color.
I had heard about this river access from Karen, who heard about it from a neighbor where we live. Apparently, not many people from our housing development know about it. Residents can enter through a gate with a combination lock that gets hot quickly in this sun we all know well. I must confess, while I’d feel somewhat unneighborly if we lived in a gated community, for some inconsistent reason I have no problem having resident-only access to this part of our amazing river. I can list multiple reasons that would sound justified to me (e.g. not wanting to be around loud music), but truth be told I’m getting older — something I’m told happens quite often — and there’s no getting around my being kind of snobby and elitist about this aspect of Hill Country life. I’m going to lean into it.
The photo here was taken shortly after I entered the area, having been the only car there, and walked down onto the treacherous and unstable bleached limestone rock to take a closer look. I’d forgotten the water shoes that Karen had reminded me to take, and since I didn’t want to swim in my sandals, I ventured out in bare feet.
The water closest to the shoreline and maybe an inch deep, was probably close to the air temperature of 93 degrees and uncomfortably warm. I told myself it would be easier once I went a little deeper. Soon enough I found myself walking on hundreds of small shells, each the size of a penny, and I remembered it was one of these shells that my son Teak had landed on when jumping into a different and deeper area of the river. The shell ripped his heel open and ended his summertime swimming weeks ahead of the school year. Cuts take longer to heal for a 58-year-old, and I didn’t want to be dry-docked until I started taking out IRA contributions to pay for getting the stitches removed.
I told myself the river bottom would get better soon.
Small shells gave way to sharp rock and then more sharp rock of a different kind before the water depth even hit six inches. Not only did I wish at this point to have my water shoes, but even my sandals would have sufficed, since the closer I got to the middle of the river, the more it appeared that the darker areas were not indicative of depth but rather of greater concentrations of river moss. [Note to readers, especially those who are from Kerrville: I Googled in vain a more exact or even correct description of what I call “moss.” If I am wrong and you blow up the Comments section below, I must warn you I will be tempted to cook up some egret tenders, and then we will be even-steven.] Therefore, I wouldn’t be able to swim and take the weight off my feet, the heels of which became more and more like cannon fodder to the penny-sized shells waiting for their victim. The underwater terrain was to my soles like free-solo climbing the limestone bluffs would be to my palms.
When I reached the point of turning back, I made a decision to go home and get my river shoes. I had been toying with the idea at almost each step.
In my mind were two paths: “This is so beautiful. I want to get the river shoes and come back.” Or, “This is so beautiful, but (I’m lazy) and I don’t want to make the effort to go get the shoes and come back.” I chose to get the shoes.
This was an uncharacteristic decision, since typically I would have called it a day — a short one — and told myself, “Note to self: next time bring river shoes.”
But yesterday was a “today” that flies as effortlessly as a heron, and one doesn’t know when one will next see a heron like yesterday.
Walking out of Herring Printing yesterday at about 8:40AM, I briefly glanced down the sidewalk to my left, where my car was parked, then looked to my right, toward Sidney Baker, and afterwards proceeded to walk left. You may not know, but this rapid head movement is the building exit strategy of a trained Urban Ninja. And, if you do know this, please pretend you don’t for the purposes of this post.
To the naked eye, this swiveling action looks like a life-sized Yankee bobble-head man wearing nice slacks.
I can assure you, it is not.
Here’s what’s going on: when one exits a building, one doesn’t know what’s happening on the sidewalk in front or to either side of him. There could be a number of things.
There could be a mugger waiting to jump you or a gang waiting to run toward, and outrun, you, because you are 58, have a slight belly, and are carrying printed material. You would rather get mugged and have your cash stolen — who carries cash anyway? (I actually was yesterday.) — than jettison the printed material to add another 2MPH of juice on your stride. These gang members have been vaping in front of the Valero up the street and are quick and dangerous. Until their cotton candy-smelling lungs implode. And then they are actually quite slow. And this is why it is good I didn’t jettison my printed material. Because I’m counting on their having vaped, and vaped A LOT, just before attacking me. THIS is the counter-intelligence that an Urban Ninja alone can access.
Second, someone who has no malicious intent could be walking from one direction or the other and would bump into you. Or, more accurately, you would bump into them. As unlikely as it is that there would be another pedestrian on Kerrville’s sidewalks before 9AM, or even less likely between 9AM and 5PM, you want to take every precaution that you not exit the structure and bump into the other pedestrian. Because, let’s face it, even though you are 58, have a slight belly — which is slowly firming up I might add, despite the smashburgers last night; look, we’re all trying hard here and gimme a fucking break — and carrying printed material that you actually don’t want to jettison under any circumstance whatever; despite all those things requiring commas and a few other punctuation marks and not least of all your patience, Dear Reader, you’re actually a pretty decent guy who doesn’t want to hurt someone else unduly, and you’re also a skilled Sidewalk Navigator who knows how to avoid accidents that others can’t or won’t. For that reason also, you look right.
Finally, you look right because you just never know.
It’s one of those things you just do when exiting a building.
It’s curiosity borne of habit.
The sidewalk is where life happens. Sure, life still happens inside buildings that you are exiting with strategies. But on the sidewalk, between those predictable and circumscribed spaces we call “offices,” “homes” and “coffeeshops with awesome drinks and nibbles” — I’m talking PAX here — are sidewalks where any kind of thing can and does happen. Herring Printing, PAX and the Kerr Arts & Cultural Center are like the brains, heart and lungs of a place. Earl Garrett and Water Streets are its arteries.
Have you talked to the lady who sometimes sits inside PAX with her own travel mug of coffee and has deep creases in her sun-browned face like etches in the limestone that the Guadalupe makes? Most of the time she’s walking along Earl Garrett looking for a shady spot, often on that iron bench next to the ATM at the Texas Hill Country Bank. Some of you have spoken with her. Some of you have seen her from your car. Some of you have seen the red light turning green in front of Francisco’s.
You might also have met David, whose bike carrying everything he owns on a trailer tipped over under the bridge in Louise Hays Park. Or you might have met John, a vet as is David, who painted the corner of Monroe’s with a scene of a train crossing a bridge. It’s hard to tell if the painting is unfinished or just really small, but he was painting it in November 2019 when the air was starting to make his 80-year-old hands a bit stiff with nothing to warm them except the aluminum foil covering a breakfast taco from Mary’s. I’d wager the painting wasn’t finished. Or you might have met Joseph, the young black man who skateboards along Main Street in the rain, heading home in the vicinity of Revival Fire Church. I can say in all truth that I have been to that neighborhood exactly once. I have seen a number of residents from that neighborhood shopping in H-E-B, but I didn’t notice any of them.
At the risk of sounding, well, however this sounds, I’ll summarize it to say that typically I meet people different from me outside of a building and people the same as me inside. Neither one is better than the other. But not using my building exit strategy prevents me from being made the richer by David, John, Joseph and the lady with limestone creases. And you whom I haven’t yet met.
My inside people are my foundation. My outside people are my growth edge.
At top is John in front of Monroe’s. I had his permission to take and use a photo.
Yesterday as I was driving to go paddleboarding, I passed a house on Riverside to reach my “secret spot” in Flat Rock Park on the Guadalupe. The spot was so secret that two guys in a pick-up showed up moments later to fish, while I was unstrapping the bungee cords holding the board to my truck bed. They were cool, and I’m confident they’ll keep my secret spot a secret.
So I was passing this house, and in the front yard were a colorful plastic children’s slide about 3-feet high, some machine parts, maybe a car bumper, a lawnmower waiting to be used on the few blades of grass still hanging on among the trodden earth, and the garbage and recyclable bins both: about two feet apart and facing each other, like they were fixing to chat about all the wonderful items strewn about them.
At the sight, my brain offered me the words, “white trash.”
And it was then I realized that this was no different, maybe even worse, than calling a black person the “n–” word. I can’t even use that word in an instructive context, because the blogging platform I use, WordPress, might “cancel” me.
This article will be the last time you’ll see me write or hear me say, “White trash.” Unless we’re talking about my or your or a neighbor’s trash that consists of unused diapers from the 1950s — which would be better labeled as “garbage” — computer paper that your ink cartridges messed up on (true “trash”), or old white picket fencing which, again, our local town considers “bulk waste” rather than trash.
“White trash” claims that white people who live the way I saw above (an admittedly subjective description that nonetheless many reading this can immediately call to mind) — regardless of whether they are heroin addicts or decorated war veterans or decorated war veterans who are heroin addicts — are somehow not only less than me or a sub-species. They are no species at all. They are “trash.”
Let’s be fair: white people who “live like this” have been known to call others who live like this “white trash.” It’s little different than a black person calling another black person a n—. Once again, avoiding cancellation, even though everyone knows what word that is. Next we will cancel the characters “n” followed by “- – -.”
The river was sunny, but a stiff south-southwest wind made the downstream leg a brutal workout. This was what I wanted. Something to get my heart rate up and sustained for twenty minutes or more as I paddled deep and long and fast. It did the trick. There were two boaters who were fishing between the island and the west bank, so I decided to leave them undisturbed and skirt the island to the east. A snowy egret kept an eye on me and flew off when I was about 20 yards away. A white duck (goose? I didn’t have my glasses on and am blaming my fauna ignorance on blurred vision) and its mate swam to my right among the lilipads, not deterred.
On the downwind and upstream leg, I paddled closer to the east shore, not only because it was prettier than being in the middle of the river, but also because I wanted the owners in the dog run to look over and see this middle-aged man going after it hard on a paddleboard first thing in the morning. I think what they probably saw was a middle-aged man with a slight belly looking out of breath and lacking the hot coffee they were then enjoying.
After loading up the paddleboard and saying goodbye to the very nice men who were fishing — they were indeed really cool; that’s one of the things I love about this small town of Kerrville: kind neighbors — I drove back down the length of Flat Rock Park and then along Riverside, and I saw that my gas gauge was low. Since this 34-year-old truck has a gauge that is more of a “gas estimator” that can be +/- a quarter-tank, I decided to go to Stripes on Memorial and Loop 534.
Stripes itself is staffed mostly by people whom other white people and black people might call “white trash.” They are often missing teeth, sporting tattoos (I better tread lightly there), smokers, putting bumpers in their front yards, cussing thoughtlessly and, let’s face it, probably couldn’t get or maybe wouldn’t want a job other than one in a convenience store or fast food restaurant. The world, and even I at times, sees them as “unlovely.” Deplorables.
I passed the house again and took a couple photos of the front that I was going to use here. I had planned to get out and take the photos in an artistic way, then manipulate them carefully in the Camera+ iPhone app, making them into beautiful BxW photos. I thought: no, that would be rude to stand in front of their house to do that. So I snapped the photos through the dirty window of the truck and thought, “Well, I can still manipulate the photos in Camera+ and use the smudges on the rear window artistically.”
And then I realized I hadn’t stopping thinking about the residents as “white trash.” I was going to take a photo of a place lived in by “white trash” to tell you about here. I thought of them like museum pieces: how was I to describe “white trash” to you if I didn’t have a photo of white trash living? I mean, the outward appearance shows the inner reality, right?
You might think I’m overreacting and using bromides.
But would you agree that during this past election cycle, we’ve had Biden supporters call Trump supporters “Nazis” and Trump supporters call Biden-supporting mask advocates “sheep” and Trump supporters call those on the left “LibTards” and Biden supporters call Trump supporters “insurrectionists”? Granted, those aren’t non-human names, but they are most certainly dehuman-izing. And most thinking people will admit that it’s not Trump who truly brought out these polarizing statements, it’s people whose broken inner nature felt justified to erect a national scaffold on which we could tighten verbal nooses around each other’s necks.
To refresh my politically-correct thought palette, I searched for this scene from the 1968 musical “Hair,” where singers extol the virtues of “black boys” and “white boys.” Whites extolling blacks. Blacks extolling whites. All with very charged words and suggestive images.
What I love about this scene and, in fact, the whole show, is that race and war and gender and sexual orientation (and even sexual acts whose names I’ve forgotten: when was the last time you heard the word “cunnilingus” set to music?) are so casually but sincerely confronted. It’s like eating dinner with hands that are still dirty from the gardening you just finished. Soil on the fingertips that are holding a buttered ear of corn. Earthy. Unafraid. Dare I say, almost morally neutral. If there is such a thing.
Social commentary that is, in some innocent way, unaware of itself.
Today this show would be offensive in so many ways.
Delightfully offensive to my way of thinking. And therefore not in the least “truly offensive.”
But this white person will no longer call other white people “white trash.”
I challenge my black readers, especially famous rappers like Lil Wayne, Young Thug, A$AP Rocky and others — all of those men don’t really read Biscuit Aisle as far as I know — never again to refer to a black person as a “n—.”
Instead, let’s call each other — as this scene in the musical does — “delicious.”
How do morning oblations, the Kerrville Farmer’s market and lamb have to do with “a thing sacrificed to God”?
Oh, dear reader…so much. So much.
Many us, myself included, have morning routines that we call “morning routines.” I call them — inside my head, to myself, not aloud — “morning oblations. Washing myself and getting ready for the day. (I know what you’re thinking; stay with me.)
These “morning oblations” would include, first, making a necessary weight adjustment after a few glasses of water throughout the evening — need I give details? — then hopping on the scale, not to see the effect of the adjustment but rather how my 16:8 intermittent fasting experiment is going (it’s going well), brushing my teeth and then splashing my face with cold water three times and rubbing the back of my neck once with cold water. This wakes me up. Shower, shave, and I’m good to go.
The shower and shave sometimes come later, after yoga, were I to publicly admit that in fact I do yoga.
Later yesterday afternoon I’m at the Kerrville Farmer’s Market at Clay and Water Streets. It’s been offline since COVID shut everything down. (We now have “Before COVID” and “After COVID.” I don’t care what people say, the majority of the country is “over” COVID. We just are.)
The afternoon was sunny and blue-sky cheerful. You could see smiles. (Yesterday morning, I saw the smiles of the ladies at Broadway Bank for the first time in 10 months.)
From local pickles to bread to Boerne-made hummus, food of all kinds was on sale. A yoga teacher reminded us of classes, one for 75 minutes and another for 90.
A band played. Toddlers were strolled and kids played nearby.
About halfway around the semi-circle of vendors was a table offering local meats, including goat.
“Do you have goat cheese?” I asked.
“We don’t.” She described some aspect of the goat farming that made them unsuitable for producing cheese in the wild. Which is all fine and good, because I tend to prefer the plastic-wrapped kind that the goats fart out onto the grocery store shelves.
They also had lamb. I asked about ways to cook it.
“Some people flash fry the meat. My husband likes his well done, though.”
I told her that I’ve been asked at restaurants how I’d like my lamb cooked. I tell her that I stumble, not knowing whether it’s more like beef or more like pork. Somehow, the off-white of lambswool makes me think the whole animal is undercooked. And, let’s get real, have you ever seen lamb sushi?
I rest my case.
Dad made the countertops
Lamb also reminded me of Dad. He’d buy these lamb patties, separated from one another by thin pieces of wax paper. He’d buy like twenty at a time and freeze them in two stacks. When he wanted a patty, he’d take out a stack, separate one off with a butter knife, and then throw it in an aluminum skillet in which he had a thin layer of oil heating. The patty clinked onto the pan and then started to steam as it simultaneously thawed and cooked.
He once gave me The Bachelor’s Cookbook. This was supposed to instill in me both a knowledge of and appreciation for food and cooking.
It did neither.
In fact, I don’t know if I even cracked it open. (This is not my copy to the right. The cover shows a Monopoly-like character who no doubt had servants even during his bachelor years. He probably even had carnivore relations with the cook.)
Later in adulthood, I too would toss those lamb patties into a pan and heat them up to a bit beyond lambswool rareness and enjoy them. I’ve never understood how mint sauce goes with them; perhaps I’ll research that.
But don’t hold your breath.
One of my clearest memories was Dad cooking in that kitchen at 50 East 96th Street on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. He himself had made the countertops, one with a hinged extension that you’d let hang when entering the kitchen to make room, but for extra eating space you’d flip up and lock. Usually for my brother and me. On the other counter, he’d made a two-foot half-inch raised cutting board, with Spanish tiles set around and below it. This was in a rented apartment they had for forty one years.
Today I’d kill for that countertop.
Dad had wanted to be an architect but had to quit college when his father died (his mother had died when he was 9) and help his stepmother raise his three younger half-siblings, with whom he was very close. Instead of building beautiful things, he went into advertising sales and helped raise three beautiful siblings.
This was in the early 1940s and people did that kind of thing.
(I know, I know. You wonder if I’ve lost my way in this post.)
It takes exactly two minutes, because it’s timed to beep four times at thirty-second intervals. You press its button and then gently and thoroughly brush over the four zones: top and bottom, outer and inner. Two minutes. And it does the work for you. I get top grades at the dentist.
Seriously. He’s like, “You get an ‘A.'”
In the morning though, I use my analog toothbrush. Takes about 20 seconds in total, and because I put elbow grease into that act and jerk my head from one side to the other and grimace and flex my biceps, I think I’ve done the same quality job as the Sonicare.
After all, I keep an eye on myself in the mirror as I brush at night and in the morning, and the outcomes should be the same.
Apparently, the 1840s had effective dentists
“Oblation” has largely disappeared from use. As you can see above, it had a slight uptick at the end of 2019, when the Democratic Congress was preparing for the first impeachment of President Trump, and Nancy Pelosi had to brush her teeth a lot more. Whether smiling for the cameras or flashing fangs, she’d need to have them at their whitest.
That’s not at all what oblation means, and it’s not why oblation was used a lot more in the 19th century than since 1900.
Oblation doesn’t mean brushing my teeth in the morning.
Oblation doesn’t mean using Sonicare at night.
Oblations don’t lead us to govern better. Especially when those oblations are in fact ablutions. Then, they are really impotent.
The Latin offerre (to offer) became in late Latin oblatio, which of course in middle English became oblation.
And so there we have our root meaning and the reason that brushing my teeth is not really an “oblation.” An oblation literally means “a thing presented to God or a god.” In a church setting, it means the presentation of the bread and wine.
Brushing my teeth is an ablution. Part of my “morning routine.”
But not an oblation. (I literally have been saying “oblation” to myself each morning, when instead I should be saying ablution.)
For the oblation, I’d have to buy a live lamb at the Kerrville Farmer’s Market, slaughter it and place it on the altar.
That’s not right, either.
That was done already for me at night.
In the morning, I simply wake. Ablutions needed, but no oblation.
This meal of my touted “best steak street tacos” almost didn’t come together. It was 8:11pm two nights ago, and I had promised dinner at 8:00. If I were to deliver on the garlic parmesan roasted asparagus as well, it might push me another 15 or 20 minutes.
I don’t really sweat my day job in nonprofit fundraising.
It’s mealtime delivery that gives me indigestion.
My 17-year-old son Teak and I had gone to the H-E-B grocery store on Main Street, and not only had I decided late in the game to cook steak street tacos, but I also took longer than expected to find everything on my list.
Plus, I was having fun showing my 17-year-old son how to pick produce. Honestly, I didn’t know how much I knew about doing it. It’s like that when you have to talk impromptu about a subject. Of course, the opposite is true. That’s why I rarely go to home improvement stores with Karen.
In any event, during our shopping excursion, I also spotted this foodstuff [pictured at right]. “Impossible” is right. Frankly, they could have used a different color green or a different color altogether to distract the eye from the dog-puke meat color.
The real deal
Before we get to the fajita meat for the tacos — because I didn’t created the recipes for the meat rub or the chimichurri or the asparagus, but I did for a new kind of pico de gallo, one that kicks you in the butt when you’re focused on eating one of your steak street tacos — let’s talk produce.
My pico includes habanero peppers rather than jalapeños.
If you didn’t see this YouTube video I posted the other day, it’s worth a look, even a brief one. Because habaneros are nothing compared to what these Brits put in their mouths with a little sadistic encouragement from the audience.
Like I said, habaneros are maybe second or third, at most, on their docket of digestive death.
But I thought: why make a bland pico with jalapeños when I can go the habanero route instead? It’s a rung higher on the jungle gym. A foot farther out on the tree limb. A step closer looking over that cliff’s edge.
My pico included (I kind of created this loosely, not by a recipe that I tracked, so I can’t give you exact amounts):
roma tomatoes (3)
garlic (or garlic powder; though I supposed I should have minced some while I minced a lot for the steak, chimichurri and asparagus. I must have minced about seven cloves. I almost always have garlic wasting away in my cup on the counter. I don’t now.)
lemon juice (I didn’t remember to get a lime at the store)
salt and ground pepper
So, as you can see, while there was an 3-on-3 showdown between the larger tomatoes and smaller, shrunken habanero, who do you think won with a first-round knockout?
You guessed it.
Habanero was doing that thing of standing on the corner of the ring, looking out at the crowd with its little green stem arms raised and crying out: “¡En vuestros caras!”
The “best steak street tacos ever”?
As a family crowd pleaser, these did their job. There were lots of “yums” going around the table.
Teak has always been a foodie, ever since he had a bite of my fish taco when the family went to St. Croix on vacation. He was maybe on the shy side of 8. He took a bite, chewed and swallowed and, with a faraway look said, “Am I in heaven?”
Eight years old.
I think I’d improve the meal, though, on the meat side. It was pan-seared, and I want to sous vide it and then blacken it on a grill (which we don’t have).
I’ve got the the go-ahead on the grill purchase, so next taco installment should find Teak in seventh heaven.
Karen and I drove through Tarpley in June 2020 on our way to Utopia, Texas. (Who wouldn’t want to drive to Utopia?!)
We had a competent lunch there, and on our way back I stopped to take the above photos at Williams Creek Depot dancehall and live music venue. I learned the other day that my in-laws knew the town well. Pre-COVID, the dancehall probably saw a lot of two-stepping. You know, that bodily function where you are pressed against another human being and there are sounds coming from a raised platform of people blowing spit at tools that augment those sounds, and you and your partner of the opposite gender have controlled vertical seizures with said bodies and many others in a circle around a dance floor. And you do it all in rhythm with those spit-sounds.
It’s called living.
Another way to live is to enjoy (responsibly) a catfish platter at Mac and Ernie’s.
I might as well be upfront about the negatives, because they are so few:
The restaurant is open only Fridays through Sundays. This is not a COVID thing. This is a no-stop-sign remote-area thing.
And it’s also a COVID no-pressed-bodies-or-tool-spitting policy thing.
So there are maybe four tables open inside, and then picnic tables out back. Which, to be honest, I kind of love — the idea of sitting outside under a large live oak tree and eating food. It’s like Central Park without having to take the subway from Brooklyn.
The catfish “platter” is catfish plus french fries. I don’t call that a “platter.” I call it “catfish and french fries.”
But… you do get four pieces of catfish.
And, oh my gosh, let me tell you about the catfish. Listen, I’m not a catfish aficionado, so catfish is catfish to me. One eats from the bottom of Lake Pontchartain and another eats from the bottom of Lake Livingston. All of them spend time at the bottom, so I actually want the breading to make me forget that.
And that’s the beauty of Mac and Ernie’s catfish: the breading. It is delicious in itself, but it’s light enough that you can’t use the fish to finger dip or scoop your tartar sauce. The fish will gently flake apart. You have to break a piece off and with your fork scoop some tartar sauce and smear it on. And the fish is piping hot. From now on, all other catfish that can I can scoop with will be feel like I’m eating a Lilliputian’s shovel.
I got a side salad, and it was worth the $2. It had greens, red cabbage, goat cheese and a deliciously light and tangy balsamic vinaigrette. That, frankly, was unexpected from a restaurant in a no-stop-sign town. You buy a fountain soda and, of course, there are refills. In New York, your server asks you, “Would you like another?” In Texas and most civilized states and towns, you are asked, “Would you like some more?”
The decor is funky.
The orders are placed on an overhead metal conveyer belt like you might see at a dry cleaner or assembly line, carrying the chits around to the staff member. The chit clip has a yellow metal cow on it.
A lunch for two set us back about $24. These days, that’s nothing. With a 25% tip — we would all do well to tip even more than that these days especially — the hour’s drive, wonderful in itself, was well worth it.
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