Like those made by a master Artist

“Shushi.” Pronounced SHOO-shee. That’s how my dad said it after he took a course in making sushi in…must-have-been 1990, 1991, 1992? Maybe it was as early as during my college years in the ’80s. I know it was at least a few years before he died. He was still generally in a good mood.

It was Dad who had taken me out for my very first sushi. Mid-80s. I’m pretty sure it was at Hiroshi Sushi on Third Avenue between 38th and 39th. I know it was just a block or so down from work, and it was quite near the Irish bar on the corner — now a TD Bank — where my colleagues and I went on Fridays for lunch, have corned beef and cabbage and three mugs of beer ($1 each), and then I’d go back to work and put my head on my desk for an hour or so. I could do that; my office door didn’t have a window.

Dad brought me into Hiroshi Sushi and we walked toward the back. If it’s the same place, the thin corridor of dining room opened up into an alcove with skylights, and it gave you the feeling of being in New York City with its urban sheen but not its cacophony.

I already knew how to use chopsticks, of course — in New York especially, kids learn how to use chopsticks about the time they learn the difference between a Four In Hand and Half-Windsor knot — but he taught me about wasabi and ginger, where to lay my chopsticks when not eating, and also that if we were sitting at the sushi bar itself that I should pay attention to the sushi chef as he did his work, because it was special, almost sacred.

Wags rips a yuppie a new one.

One summer while Mom, Jim and I were at our beach house, Dad took a course in making “shushi.” (Still to this day, I’ve never heard a single person pronounce it like that, and still to this day I wonder if his sushi teacher said it this way.)

He would make it at home, and he did a reasonably good job.

I must admit to you, Dear Reader, that just now I was looking up sushi terms to write a little more precisely — I have always loved good nomenclature since learning sailing terms as a teenager, and part of getting a skipper’s rank was a test on “nomenclature;” even “nomenclature” itself is cool nomenclature…but. Back to it. — I was looking up sushi terms and was reminded (Okay…I pretty much learned for the first time) that “sushi” refers to the seasoned rice itself, not necessarily the final product we’re served (with seaweed, rice, seafood or vegetables). In fact, if I’m going to be very vulnerable right now, I’ll admit that I thought “sashimi” was sushi without the seaweed — that sashimi was simply the fresh uncooked fish sitting on top of rice. Sashimi is in fact the fresh sliced fish all by its glorious self.

All that said, Dad did a pretty fair job of it. He was adventurous with eating. Not with everything, but with eating? Yes. He’d say, when anyone eating with him balked at trying something like salmon roe — which I still won’t eat — “Oh, c’mon! Live dangerously!”

“Live dangerously!” was always a tell that he was smiling inside. That he took great pride in his two sons and his daughters-in-law. That he was enjoying the company of anyone fortunate enough to dine with him.

It is said that people who enter a crowded room are one of two types. One type says, “Here I am!” The other type says, “There you are!” Dad was the latter.

After a while, Dad was neither.

Dad ended himself in 1998, and in looking back I recall that he hadn’t been doing much dangerous living in the kitchen. In his cooking heyday, in addition to sushi he’d have made various Middle Eastern dishes, most of which had no names, dubious ingredients, but were nevertheless quite tasty. He’d make pesto and freeze some of it in ice cube trays, so that when he needed it, he could pop out a block or three and add it to pasta. He always was delayed in getting dinner on the table. Mom would have to remind him to check the broiler for the Italian bread he was toasting: “My love! The BREAD!” The slightly burned loaf would emerge with blackened edges. Scrape, scrape, scrape.

At a certain point, it was he who did most of the cooking, not Mom, because Dad was at home a lot. He got fired when his firm went through a leveraged buyout and the new C-Suite men thought he wasn’t sanguine enough in his sales forecasts. He was a “realist” (his word), born in 1921 and growing up in the Depression and WWII, losing his mother when he was 9 and his father when he was 20, requiring that he quit college in his junior year so he could support his stepmother and three younger half-siblings. But the early Boomer ass-clowns now in charge of Dad’s company had experienced suffering no worse than whether the cuffs of their bellbottom pants got dirty. At the time, I hated them. I suppose I still do. A little.

I ask myself: should I remember Dad as someone whom I saw last as an inert corpse on his bed with an empty bottle of gin on a silver tray at his side and a clear plastic bag over his head; a farewell note nearby? Or should I remember him as the father who’d put me on his shoulders when I was four, wade out into the ocean to where we could both break through the crests of gentle waves after he’d remind me: “Hold your breath.” Should I remember him as dying alone and maybe afraid? (For who can know what went through his mind at the end.) Or should I remember him as someone who was nothing less than heroic in the 1930s and 1940s and 1950s and 1960s and so on and so forth, as he became the mainstay of a family that extended over generations.

Well, Dear Reader, I have to remember him as all of that.

All of that at once, as we all get remembered, or at least as we should be, if those who remember us are being generous. For generosity, in time, is something we tend to outgrow or ignore. Or withhold.

The “worst” among us now were once children who shared an ice cream cone with the family dog. And the “best” among us then sometimes leave final impressions among their loved ones that become secreted away. Rarely discussed. Causing their wives to feel shame.

The contrasting and complementary decisions we make are like tiles placed alongside each other. Like those Dad placed around the edges of a cutting-board he made when I was ten.

Like a mosaic created by a master Artist.

Marvelous. Wonderful.

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.

Quality and quantity.

Above is a photo I took this morning exactly ten minutes after sunrise. I’ve taken more than a hundred of these from the same angle and same time (10 minutes after sunrise) since early February of this year, and at some point I’ll be putting these into coffee table book format.

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.

Be an “Urban Ninja”

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.

Pay attention.

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.

“A thing offered to God”

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.


Philips Sonicare

At night I use a Philips Sonicare rechargeable toothbrush. I love it.

(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.

But wait…

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.

But wait…

That’s not right, either.

That was done already for me at night.

In the morning, I simply wake. Ablutions needed, but no oblation.

“I and the Village,” by Marc Chagall

“No Park Rules” – A ~Butterly Cinquain

The Rules of a Cinquain poem:

They have 2 syllables in the first line, 4 in the second, 6 in the third, 8 in the fourth line, and just 2 in the last line. Cinquains do not need to rhyme, but you can include rhymes if you want to.


Today

is the day of

neon greens and blues, of

waterguns and ‘Time in!’ and

running through sprinklers in

flip flops because park rules say

everyone must wear shoes,

and, occasionally, a scraped knee from

hydroplaning.

And so we went?

While it was only around 70 degrees when my friend Roger and I rode the subway to Yankee Stadium to see our team play the Royals in the 1976 playoffs, the subway system itself always added between 10 and 20 degrees to any trip. But it was on that ride that I experienced one of my fondest moments of adolescence. And one of my fondest moments of living in New York.

A girl, about my age, skin like cocoa, and sporting a reluctant smile, was smashed up against Roger and me and the rest of us — all of us like the proverbial sardines, none of us holding onto anything; there was no need — and she was sweating. I was sweating. Roger was sweating. We were all… you get the picture. But the ride was a teen romance from start to finish. Heavy on imagination and light on action. It started at 86th Street in Manhattan and ended at 161st Street in the Bronx.

One of my least fond memories — and, yes, these vignettes are going somewhere — was not long before we moved from New York to Texas. We lived in a 4th floor walk-up brownstone, cooled and heated by a forced air system through which the neighbor above and below could hear each other fairly easily and with floors that were permeable by sound even if not by grace.

As the tenants on the top floor, we never had to bother with loud neighbors above but rather had to be aware of our noise and its effects on those below. Starting in late 2007, we had in succession three wonderful neighbors below us, who were the epitome of patience. The first was a family of four. The man was an actor, the wife a former Rockette and then Irish dance studio owner. Their son played the violin (and not so poorly), and their daughter, the piano. The only confrontation, if you could even call it that, was when I was putting together our boys’ bunk beds with a electric drill at around 10pm one school night in advance of my family moving from Massachusetts in a few days. My neighbor, having heard the noise through aforementioned forced air vents and tissue-thin floors, rang my doorbell.

I twisted free the deadbolt and opened the metal door and there was a handsome and obviously in-shape man in a white “wife-beater” t-shirt, with his hands on either side of my doorframe. His biceps introduced him.

“Hey, um,” he started. “My kids are trying to sleep”–I learned then both that there were kids living below us and that sounds could be heard–“and I wonder if you could hold off on the drilling until tomorrow?” I of course obliged, and Peter’s family and mine became quite amiable in our several years of living so closely together. You could say we became amiable because of living so closely together.

After the first three tenants came another.

He apparently told the broker he wanted “quiet,” but as Karen later described it–accurately–what he really wanted was silence. This, promised by a broker who knew that a family of five, including three growing boys, was living on the floor above. And, yes, the broker got paid for this. Our new tenant had lived in big cities before, but never in New York. For whatever reason, living in a dense urban environment didn’t suit him, at least not in this brownstone. He stayed less than a year and then moved to another apartment in New York, one in which, I trust, tenants were not allowed to procreate or walk on floors past 8pm. After him we had another tenant who we got along with favorably, until we moved.

And now I come to the point of this sermon.

Living in a dense environment teaches one a lot about oneself, and it foists upon us certain capacities. Capacities that none of us perfects, including the person typing this. God knows full well that as I have tried to write down a fearless moral inventory, my judgmental attitude toward others and its concomitant resentment are clear and present dangers to me. They are obstacles between me and God that I need to ask God to remove daily, because I often can’t see them clearly. I grew up in a small bedroom with a roommate (my younger brother) for 16 years. I learned not to run up and down the hall in our apartment over our neighbor below us. I also learned that if I was in the hall by the elevator and kicked the soccer ball past the goalie (said brother) and scored against the door of apartment 6D, that Mr. Gorman would be out momentarily to scold us. We had to calculate the risk-reward of my winning a soccer game over being chewed out by an old Irish guy with an attitude. I learned that Mrs. Ziffer, a Jewish lady in the apartment next to us and who had escaped from Poland to London in 1939, just in time to get bombed by the Nazis before moving to the States, always had candy. She became like a grandmother who was always a knock away. So when I went to college and shared a dorm room slightly smaller than my bedroom, it was no sweat. When I moved back to New York and had two roommates in an apartment, it was no sweat. When I rode the subway to work and sweated with the other commuters, it was no sweat.

But here in Kerrville, Texas–as elsewhere, especially in dense urban environments–we are told to stay home as much as possible due to the pandemic or, when venturing out we are asked to take precautions like social distancing, wearing masks, and using hand sanitizer, people on Facebook start posting copies of the Constitution and talking about individual rights.

Let me close with these words of Jesus from Luke 9:23. “If anyone would come after me, let him take up his cross daily and follow me, being ready upon my command to bring down that heavy cross on the head of any numbskull dumb enough to try and stop us. ‘GIT YER GUNS UP!’ ”

Wait. No. That doesn’t sound right. Better check me on that.

Eighty years ago, people were asked to “Go. Leave your home and fight. Be willing to die.” And so they went.

Today, people are asked to “Stay. Sit on your couch and watch Netflix. Be patient.”

And so we…

Netflix

How to make hummus last

“HOLLYWOOD” hangs high on the hill over its namesake subsection of Los Angeles to remind any unaware driver headed north on “the 101” where they are.

If you’re coming over the hill on Sidney Baker just past Rio Robles Mobile Home and RV Park, or on Water Street passing Mamacita’s to your right and forget where you are, fear not. You are in “WELLS FARGO.”

The bank has two of the most visible signs in Kerrville, after the symbolic “sign” of the hollow cross overlooking Atkisson Chevrolet, Lowe’s and I-10 (as well as both of the Wells Fargos themselves).

In New York, Trinity Church’s spire was the first architectural detail to define the manmade skyline until the Woolworth Building and a few others came along. So instead of a collection plate with scattered five and ten cents, a store could conveniently collect those. And you’d walk out the door with more stuff than you came in with. At least, that was the prevailing thought.

Today, you can look across from Manhattan to Brooklyn from some vantage points and still see multiple spires. They are nestled in neighborhoods that still have corner grocery stores selling Lotto tickets, cigarettes, and pint-sized whiskey bottles that will fit nicely in a hip pocket. Aside from those, there are countless “storefront churches” that have no spires, sell no goods, yet offer priceless treasure within their doors.

We keep our high-protein, low-fat goodies at Broadway Bank on Main between Clay and Quinlan where, every time you enter, you are greeted by name by a teller or someone behind a desk. There is no bulletproof glass. (There isn’t at Wells Fargo either, by the way.) Karen had an art show last year, and in our mailbox at home was a hand-written card from someone at the bank with the newspaper clipping covering the show. We had missed seeing that story altogether.

I’m in PAX, staring out the copious front windows and across Earl Garrett Street at the SCHREINER sign on its eponymous building. A local entrepreneur (female, I might add, importantly) has created a mash-up of 1950s and 21st Century Kerrville and made it work. As the owner of Pint & Plow likes to say, “Kerrville is the new Kerrville.”

The Downtown Farmers Market in front of the historic A.C. Schreiner home happens later this afternoon. Its maroon banners — best seen while biking or walking — hang from a few lampposts along Water between Sidney Baker and Quinlan. Usually they’ll have live music, beer, a few crafts and a lot of locally-sourced food, including a hummus made in Boerne that “will last a few weeks if you don’t double dip,” the vendor told me.

And he was right.

The top crossbar of the first “E” was apparently the victim of a necessary duct or vent that had to be cut.

On the Manhattan-bound 7 train

On the 7 train

A Chinese woman on the 7 train headed toward Manhattan sat with a red plastic bag between her feet. It was translucent, cheap, and in it were one head of iceberg lettuce and four packs of beef-flavored Raman noodles stacked neatly so that the labels were aligned.

She moved her lips while looking straight ahead. Sometimes soft but indistinguishable words escaped; sometimes her lips moved silently. Wordlessly. Her bottom two middle teeth were shaped like miniature razor clams, turned inward, their top edges chiseled and jagged from use. Her silver rimmed glasses were rectangles with rounded corners. To the outside of each lens were smaller rectangles filled with tiny fake diamonds. Her eyeballs moved delicately beneath thin beige lids—like tiny marbles inside thinning flesh sacks they floated up and down rhythmically with her words. Her hair was black and shiny with a single silver thread woven in unwittingly every quarter inch or so. I could have counted them. Each cheek looked like a side satchel with a tiny pillow in it. She occasionally poked her forehead two or three times and made gestures, doing both with her right hand. Her left hand rested in her lap.

A black man—or maybe it was a woman—with four or five pigtails waterfalling from under a rain hat stared down at her and frowned slightly. His generous lips were slightly pursed, as if to underscore the disapproval that his brow started. His lips looked carved as if from sandstone. He stared, unmoving. His leather coat was the color of cappuccino. He wore gray sweatpants.

A Mexican man of about thirty sitting to the left of the Chinese woman looked asleep. His right hand was folded over the wrist of his right hand. He wore an Abercrombie ballcap and had white EarPods in. He had heavy acne. His face was at rest.

At Times Square, the Chinese woman reached down and took her bag. She exited the subway and walked away in black houndstooth pants.

Burial

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The only kid I knew in high school who died was named Ned. He died of leukemia. And this was actually at the end of 8th grade, before the girls came in 9th grade to join our all-boys class, and before we knew much about leukemia or really much about cancer itself. We were upper east side privileged kids going to an upper west side privileged school and, besides, we didn’t like Ned. He had fair skin, curly brown hair, and didn’t do sports. He wore glasses. He had transferred into Trinity in 7th grade. Died two years later. By 10th grade, he’d been forgotten.

Not until college did I meet anyone who knew someone who died in high school from a car crash. It was my roommate’s girlfriend. Her boyfriend in high school died. She seemed older because of that experience. They were all from Greensboro, North Carolina. Only my high school classmate Bill owned a car, though word was that my other classmate Ben also had his license before the rest of us. That was it. Two people who drove regularly. The rest of us took drivers’ ed in 10th grade so we could get our license at 17, a year earlier than the NY State law of 18. My student driving partner was a girl named Lisbet. Our teacher was a man who described his profession of drivers’ ed as “a vocation, an avocation, a passion,…” and about three more appositives that told us in no uncertain terms that he was oddly and somewhat disturbingly committed to teaching kids to drive.

Yet, he taught us things that have stayed with me. “Brake, mirror,” I still hear silently in my mind as I touch the brakes and look in the rearview mirror to make sure the driver behind me doesn’t smash into my tail. Using my signals is “communication.” And I can’t swing a cat without hitting a tight-lipped driver here in Kerrville. I still remember his formula to perform the perfect parallel parking job, better than any use of a modern review-view cam. (Though, I must admit that those cameras are great when backing up at night or anytime in H-E-B’s parking lot.)

But: death.

That was foreign to me. Not just driving deaths. Any deaths. My friend Danny died when I was 18, in the Central Park reservoir. And then my grandfather died after a suicide attempt when I was 20. Outside of those two meaningful people, I didn’t encounter death much. I remember reading my great-great-grandfather’s diaries from 1855. He wrote, “We buried little sister today.” “Little sister” was apparently either an infant who’d died before being named, or was older but he chose to refer to her in this way, which could have been either endearing or distancing. Either way, death was always present in those days. He later fought in the Civil War. He drew sketches of encampments.

I’ve seen these road-side crosses, often with flowers, along Main Street near Whataburger, Bandera Highway (shown in this photo here), Thompson Drive, and around town too frequent to count. My guess is that a number of the accidents they commemorate involved teens.

“We buried little sister today.”

“Buy here”

In what must be an attempt to upstream Trip Advisor in its flaccid reviews of Kerrville attractions, Yellow Pages has named The Drive Inn (a.k.a. The Drive-In) one of its “Best 30 Drive-Thru Liquor Stores.”

It’s comforting to know I not only have so much choice in drive-thru liquor stores should I decide to fall off the wagon, but that also I could drag my 1998 Ford Contour one hundred yards from Pint & Plow, where I have coffee many days, and pick up a “real” pint. Know what I mean? Wink wink.

It’s also notable to see that celerity with grain alcohol purveyance allows for the elimination of the obviously unnecessary letters O, G, and H, and leave the heavy lifting to the hardworking “U.”

The Drive Inn reminds me of a story I heard in A.A. once. A man who lived in New York City some years ago would walk across the street in his pajamas to the liquor store when it opened at 8am. Then he would convince the store owner to give him a piggyback ride on the return trip to his apartment.

True story.