Down with it

This tattoo is making my arm awfully itchy.  Karen reminds me that it’s a sign of healing – cuz getting it is like having a skin irritation or bad sunburn; it first stings and then peels – though it feels right now like having mild poison ivy.


Speaking of which, in the lore of spending my summers at Point O’ Woods on Fire Island was one day when I was biking with my buddy Dave along this rail-less wood walk elevated 3-feet over swamp and which ran between the main path and the path that ended at the yacht club.  It was an arc of about 90 degrees and 100 yards long, with only two walkways jutting off to the right leading to houses, so it was a fairly safe place to bomb along, if you were feeling particularly risky and if you were feeling particularly 14.


What made the path even more risky to the Rapidly Moving Teenager was that the swamp over which the path raced along was covered in reeds and poison ivy.  Mainly poison ivy, and where there wasn’t poison ivy, lots of reeds.


I was bombing along behind Dave and of course when you bomb as a teenager, you usually stand up to get Extra Pumping Power.  He was equally committed to making our way along the path in about seven seconds, yet all of a sudden his chain caught and his back wheel went into an uncontrollable skid.  I, being 14 and committed to racing, was about three feet behind him, pumping while standing up and thinking probably more about either the Pop Tarts we just ate or the bikinis that our female friends were wearing that day, and did not have time to react to this skid.  My bike glanced off his back wheel, careened left and I went over the side into the swamp…and reeds…and poison ivy.  Lots of poison ivy.  With my bike landing on top.  I looked up, and Dave was examining his calf, which I must have hit on my way into the swamp.


I sought help.


He offered none.


I sought some kind of acknowledgement that I was lying in a pile of vegetation that God must have created just to remind us that we are depraved sinners and need to be humbled at times.  At the very least, He must have created it when He was in a bad mood.


Either hours later or maybe after twenty seconds, he reached down and pulled me up to the path.  I biked home, not bruised but interested to know whether showering with soap and water would actually stave off the impending poison ivy the way “they say” it does.


Perhaps this is what the medical textbooks tell you that you must do to neutralize the rash-inducing urushiol that poison ivy contains.  Perhaps I thought that – surely – just because I had fallen in the swamp with my arms and neck and backs of my legs soaking up that urushiol like water to a dry sponge didn’t condemn me to two weeks-plus of scratching and Calamine Lotion-ing and at times lying in bed wishing that my legs – covered practically from thigh to ankle with the rash – would simply fall off even if it meant that I would never surf again or walk or be able to kiss a girl who was over two feet tall.


But heal I did.  And my wife is 5’2”.  And she is down with my tattoo.



photo:  loupiote



She was seated on the downtown N train and sipping a 16-ounce Red Bull through a clear straw.  Nineteen, maybe 20 years old, attractive, thin:  ceramic skin, rose lips, tousled and matted blonde hair.  Yellow t-shirt under a black Members Only jacket, jeans and flip flops.  Oversized rectangular two-tone sunglasses, aimed at the row of seats and people across from her.


She readied herself to get off at 42nd Street and got up, walking past me to stand in front of the door to my left.  She was reading A.M., a free daily newspaper.  It was turned to a page with the headline, “Self-Made New York Millionaire:  ‘I did it in 48 Hours.’”  I looked at the back of her head.  The matted hair was actually a wig.


She might have been an addict.  She might have been a leukemia patient.  She might have been a movie star, fresh out of rehab.

City from a garden

Considering a pastor’s frequent remark that the world began as a garden and will end as a city, I was struck by the sheer nonsense that this poses:  if we agree upon such basics as conservation of mass and energy – which I learned in 8th grade Physical Science with Mr. Dooley, the “P.S.” teacher who also sub-ed as an assistant wrestling coach and who pronounced “pleasure” as “play-zhure” and “measure” as “may-zhure” – if we accept these things and also that the universe is a closed ecosystem, then to grasp that a city – an amalgam of concrete and steel and plastic that churns out refuse as a plant does oxygen – can spring forth from a hillside of daisies, is quite an inhuman feat.

Reflect on it a moment:  view a movie from a sped-up stationary camera over the last umpteen years of human history and watch the cities sprout from molten lava and dust into the shimmering loci of creativity and humanity that they are.  One must, then, see cities as completely natural, as bizarre a concept as that is to Sierra Club lifetime members.

And so it is.  Only with God is this possible.  And not only possible but, we know, inevitable if we read to the end of the Bible.

My friend Terrance, from Montana, once told me he couldn’t square the biblical account of heaven with his own experience.  He grew up with Indians, hunting for deer and fishing for steelhead.  He told me that his Indian friends once chided him for wearing a down parka in the woods during winter hunting expeditions (the Indians all wore wool), because the parka material would make scratching sounds against tree limbs as they walked and alert the animals to their presence.  The wool was silent.  To the Indians, then, nature was most natural, city most foreign.  I wonder how Indian Christians square the concept of a 110-story glass behemoth rising up from a landfill of old bras, diapers, and tuna fish cans:  that this is in some way the trajectory of the world.  I wonder if even I can square that.

Recently I was on the subway and watched a young man sitting across from me.  He is dark skinned, handsome.  He wears a crisp navy blue Yankees ballcap, bill flat, sticker showing size – 7-3/8″ – still on the bill, like it is some kind of validation to cool.  He is aware of this.

This is the city.  This is the antithesis of wearing wool in the woods so the animals remain unaware:  this, rather, is announcing one’s presence and trumpeting it.


graphic:  El Profe

Because McCain and Obama are waiting with bated breath…

I have decided whom I’m voting for as president of the United States.

I consider my vote like a hiring decision: Who has the track record and ability to do the job? The job of keeping us safe and also rebuilding our infrastructure. The job of ensuring equal access and opportunity for all Americans. The job of defending and caring for the weak and the orphaned.

When hiring, one tries to avoid the common mistake of asking hypothetical questions, because then you get answers that often trumpet someone’s unproven abilities. One also listens for core philosophies, to see if the job candidate’s worldview is in sync with the organization. And much more.


But it was apparent at Saturday’s Civil Forum with Rick Warren – in a format that Charles Krauthammer called the “perfect chemical experiment,” with all the variables controlled – that one candidate is clearly a better choice for president.

Both men believe that “evil exists” but one would “confront” it and one would “defeat” it. Which one do you want defending you and your family?

Both men were asked about their track record of crossing party lines to pass legislation. One man came up with one example; the other rattled off example after example. Which man do you think can get things done in partisan Washington?
Both men were asked why they wanted to be president. One man said that his mother warned him not to be mean to others; to put himself in the other’s shoes; he wanted to live in that America. The other said that he wanted to inspire a generation of young people to serve a cause greater than themselves. Which man do you want inspiring your children?
One man was sure in his answers; the other seemed to be either thoughtful or hesitant. A president needs to be both thoughtful and decisive.
One man seemed to know what income level defined being “rich” and hinted that he would make tax-life a little more difficult for them. The other didn’t want to define “rich” as income but rather a combination of quality-of-life issues. Which man inspires you to work hard to earn a good living?
One man is accustomed to making life and death decisions. The other is not.
When asked what was their most gut-wrenching decision, one man answered that it was taking a stand that jeopardized his political future. The other answered that it was deciding to continue to suffer torture alongside a war comrade behind enemy lines rather than accept early release. Whose character do you want in the Oval Office?

If I am hiring a president with my vote, the choice is a clear one.



photo:  mrtambourine



Thin, like a vegetarian

“You’re thinking too much with your rational mind,” he said, very mellow and uncritical, as if we were sitting together over a cup of espresso at The Grey Dog on University Place in the Village.


I had come in to get a consultation on the tattoo, which is scheduled for Tuesday, and had explained that I wanted the Hebrew word “chesed” on my right bicep, a ring of thorns to encircle above it around my arm, and the seghol vowels of the word, which look like inverted triangular clusters of grapes, to be not circles but rather tear-drops.


Lalo, or Lahlo, for that was his name, was an attractive 20- or 30-something white guy who had the ageless quality of an artist.  He could have been a Benetton model at one time.  He wore a cocoa brown ribbed tank-top, baggy army pants, and his brown hair was in dreads.  He was thin, like a vegetarian.


“You need to think about…” and he went on to explain why I needed to consider this artwork in graphic and aesthetic terms, rather than just its meaning to me, in an engaging monologue that, for some reason, I am not able to re-create in linear words here.  Perhaps what he said created more of a mood and a picture and not a complete paragraph of thought.  In other words, he said, don’t just think about what it means.  Get something that looks cool.


Lahlo convinced me – while assuring me all along that it was my decision – that it would look better if I integrated the two elements, thorns and word.  I was the one who used the word “integrate” at the time.  He did not use such a precise word.  I am sure he used ten or more.  (When I arrived home and described to the Lovely K what we had decided, she sighed with relief and said that it would have been awful if we had stuck with my original design, of which she was unaware.)


After agreeing on the look, Lahlo left our sketch in the folder of the artist I had chosen, Matt, for him to see when he got in the next day.  I went to the front and left a deposit with a kind, blonde woman whose mathematics skill and receipting prowess showed me that she was less of an artist – though heavily inked – and, thankfully, someone who could be counted on to make sure administrative matters were well in hand.


The shop is clean, well-lit, and decorated in a way that reminded me of a funky coffeehouse I once visited on Smith Street in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn.  Assorted couches of crushed velvet material, earth tones, 60s-throwback end tables of chartreuse laminate, exposed building elements (heating/cooling vents, beams, plumbing), and wide pine wood flooring.



photo:  berka

A knowing look, a sure step

The 250-watt floodlight on top of the billboard that was aimed at us all but enveloped the Crider’s sign as I looked through my digital camera’s viewfinder, preventing me from getting a good snapshot of the rodeo and dancehall’s name spelled with a hemp rope and outlined by small white Christmas bulbs.


At the plywood kiosk, we paid for two seniors and three adults (kids 12 and under were free) and then secured a picnic table at the far fence and adjacent to the dance floor, which is a circular concrete slab made slick for easier two-stepping in ropers and heels.


Neither Memaw nor Granddaddy cared much for the band, playing more Top 40 Country and emanating a Nashville sound rather than one performing Hill Country favorites like Cotton-Eyed Joe and the Shotish.  Yet they danced, married now 53 years and with five children and 12 grandchildren as their legacy.  They danced with their bodies more closely together than the other couples, who may have met that night, or perhaps had been married for twenty years or less.


The Lovely K and I were able to two-step for the first time in more than a decade.  The last time we did so at Crider’s was the first full summer of our dating, in 1996, when I wore the ankle-high “boots” I’d procured from an East Village NYC cobbler for $20, the benefit of someone who’d had some repair work done on the soles and had neglected to pay his bill.  They fit my feet perfectly; they stuck out at Crider’s.  They certainly lacked any scent of a Texas pedigree.  If it weren’t for Karen’s blind love for me (you’re supposed to chuckle at this line) and the fact that I was useful for getting around the NYC subway system, she would have dumped me like so much Yankee baggage.  Yet she endured my northern ways and my consumption of five Dr. Pepper’s and one Big Red that night when she taught me the favorite step of Texas lovers and friends.


I was almost as out of step this more recent time as that first time.  Yet looking down into her eyes there was understanding and comfort, rather than anticipation mixed with uncertainty.  I stepped on her toes; she maintained her knowing Mona Lisa smile that showed she was at home.


And before we left, we did the Chicken Dance with our three sons, nephew Preston, and Karen’s sister Lynette.  Granddaddy remarked that he never believed he would see his grandchildren dancing at Crider’s, a place he’d frequented as a teenager.  This was as strange to him as it is to me now to contemplate seeing my sons’ children – boys or girls? how many? – climbing the rocks in the East Meadow in New York’s Central Park.


Perhaps that’s one advantage of age:  you get a grander view of time.


And eternity.



photo:  SDM2_ca

I knew they weren’t real pearl

Tonight is our annual pilgrimage to Crider’s, spelled with a rope, the site of the Hunt, Texas rodeo and dance.  Those of you who have read this blog for some time, or those of you from the Hill Country, know why I wrote the first sentence the way I did.


The word “Crider’s” is spelled with an old lariat on a billboard above the entrance.  You pay to get into the rodeo, which starts at eight, and then another amount, nominal, to get into the dance, held on a circular concrete slab surrounded by picnic tables, next to a large live oak tree, and under the stars.


At the Cowboy Store in Kerrville yesterday, I bought a new snap shirt, olive green with a white paisley pattern that shows up well against the darker background, but not as distinct as the snap buttons themselves, which look like pearl.


Karen reminded me that they’re not real pearl.


I knew that, of course.



photo:  farm1