Front porch

Each morning at about seven o’clock, a man with a peach ballcap walks by on the road leading away from the cul de sac that punctuates Stablewood Lane.

He wears the same blue Bermuda shorts, cream shirt, tube socks and white sneakers, and looks straight ahead as he walks. He doesn’t notice me on the front porch, even though the time and stillness of day, and the relative clearing of trees, should allow one’s peripheral vision—that is, his—to sense another human fairly easily. Perhaps he is as focused moving ahead as I am relaxed staying still. I admire his discipline.

Seven o’clock.

By this time each weekday, my father-in-law Earl would have been at work and probably about to see his first patient, slightly more than an hour drive south of here in San Antonio at the Veteran’s Administration outpatient clinic. Every morning at 4:10, with military precision, he’d arise, eat breakfast prepared by his faithful wife of 50+ years (the “plus” sign on longevity like that is a narrative ellipsis of its own), don a mid-thigh long, starched, white medical coat with his name embroidered on it, a buttoned down shirt and tie, cordovan loafers and either gray slacks or dress khakis, and off he’d go. For a number of years since I first met them, every other week he and Ginger would fly down to McAllen—“the valley”—and he’d perform sigmoidoscopies at the VA clinic there as well. He would talk with pride but not boastfulness about how he and his team increased the number of patients seen and effectively treated, yet he lamented how the system both overloaded the staff, and how it had such a surprising disdain for efficiency and excellence.

This was the first summer we’d experienced Kerrville, a town of twenty thousand, without Earl. He died in February at the age of 82. Four months before his death he was still practicing surgery, still getting up at 4:10 most mornings, still rocking the government health care system in his “H. Earl Kilgore, M.D.” white coat and obliging you with his motto, “to cut is to cure.”

There was peace during these mornings I sat on the front porch of their home and watched Peach Ballcap walk by.

What you notice first when stepping onto the 4’ x 8’ limestone slab is the clouds moving overhead. To the left, south, and to the right they often appear thicker than they do directly overhead, where you see mere strands of cotton candy being pulled like threads by a large invisible hand over the roof. They move quickly enough that the illusion of proximity makes you feel like you could reach up and touch one. Grab one of those cotton candy strands and stuff it in your mouth.

The driveway comes in from the right, with a decline of about fifteen feet from the road, and makes a long arc in front of the house and then swoops up again to the street. A “U” shape as you sit there, looking up. The slight rise between the two-foot wide berm planter spanning the front on the other side of the driveway—the open area that allows you to take a deep breath and the space my father-in-law called “the beyond”—almost wasn’t to be.

At the outset of building, Earl and the subdivision’s developer were negotiating the depth of the setback. Earl said he preferred the house to be close to the road, so that he and Ginger could have an extended back yard. The developer wanted all houses set farther back. The latter finally picked up “a large rock” and, walking down the hill of the site’s footprint (part of the “beyond”), he dropped it saying, “The house will be no closer than here.”

“What’s funny,” said Ginger, “is that we’re actually farther back than even where that rock was. We were both happy later when we saw how it turned out. So I’m glad the large rock won the day!”

You’re aware at this hour of the deer and the birds, particularly morning doves, whose hollow coos echo the hilly landscape. The deer, often numbering between five and eight, will graze among the mountain cedar and live oak trees in the beyond. They notice me but with no regard. They’ll be back each night, when we sit out front and bring stale tortilla chips to feed them. The strongest of them is a female who’s come to be called Matilda by the Kilgore family. Matilda has survived in part by chasing off the others, even her offspring, and cornering the market on tortilla chips. Whoever says that nature is not harsh, even among such seemingly gentle creatures, has not closely watched deer during a Texas drought. Ginger found three dead fawns out front just this summer. Only humans can display mercy and kindness for their own sake, and our ability to do so—innate or not—is a gift, and a sporadically exercised one at that. Nature is unblinkingly consistent, and here the buzzards are its primary beneficiaries.

Across the road to the left is a house under construction. The workers arrive just before Peach Ballcap goes by, and judging by the voices there seem to be four or five of them. A rusted dumpster, about head-high, sits to the right of the worksite. Occasional hammering and a table saw can be heard before 7:15, but for the most part a man, probably the foreman, can be heard on his cellphone or calling out to the others through the skeletal floors. A turquoise and white van fires up and then drives away, returning fifteen minutes later, perhaps with breakfast tacos from Rita’s in town, or from the closer Taqueria Jalisco, just across the Guadalupe River and then left, less than a mile on Junction Highway.

The purple martins are back.

I saw these birds first on the grounds of the Kerrville VA hospital. When I met Earl and Ginger in 1995, they were living in a two-bedroom apartment at the VA—this is well after their five children were grown—and then they moved to hospital’s “big house,” a two-story, five-bedroom house which served at various times as an administration building and housing for staff. That second building afforded a gathering point where the out-of-town kids and six grandkids in addition to the three local kids and five additional grandkids could congregate. At Christmas, Ginger would host dinner and a couple dozen additional family members from Austin and Buda. At that point, there was room only for chairs and 8-foot long folding tables, food and unsweetened tea, and funny stories and family news.

Purple martins, Earl told me, require a long open approach to their nests, which is rare in most places, so they’re hard to find but are highly desirable because they are “aerial insectivores,” flying while feeding, on mosquitoes in their case. You watch them swoop low to the ground where the insects are, back and forth like World War I aces in dogfights. Their white underbellies flash toward you, and their forked swallowtails flit open and closed. Nature, both beautiful and unadorned. Unrelenting. Irrepressible. Unforgiving.

The sun has risen enough now that you get a little too warm for comfort. It is nearly 7:30 and probably close to 80 degrees, and the touch of direct rays makes you begin sweating.

Peach Ballcap is typically my only human contact—in an indirect way—on these mornings. Others are voices on the construction site—(I’ve never verified a person there except for one, whose back was to me as he stood urinating next to the dumpster)—or a lost driver once who inched toward the cul de sac and circled back around and then drove off. I can see how people in a monastery with a vow of silence can become a bit eccentric. Even introverts needing solitude need others.

Just now, a black pick-up truck grumbles by headed to the cul de sac… Now turning in to our driveway.

“Morning!” he says when the truck is close enough. Grey beard. Glasses. Black t-shirt. An arm extends out the window and a paper is dropped on the front walk.

Back to him: “Good morning!”

“How you doin’?” Meant as a further reply to my greeting, not really a question. Or at least I think. It’s Texas, after all, and he might really be asking.

“Good! Thank you!”

A wave, and he looks ahead at the arc leading up to the road, driving up through the beyond as the purple martins continue their breakfast.


So far…

Wordle: research notes so far on generosity in cities

My first of three weeks in Texas (with Karen’s family) was largely devoted to researching generosity in large cities (online and in texts), and some of the next two will be as well. That is, when we’re not swimming, eating fried catfish, napping, or looking for deer bones in the woods behind Memaw and Granddaddy’s house.

Not exactly calf fries

Dining at The Lakehouse in Kerrville last night, 7-year-old Teak stared down at my freshly delivered plate of fried catfish. Five pieces of light beige deliciousness.

Always curious at his age about anatomy, human and otherwise, and not knowing much about fish, he pointed to two round objects next to the catfish, both about one inch in diameter.

“Are those the balls?” he asked.

“No, Teak. Those are hush puppies.”

photo: mobtownblues

Bennett’s First Birthday [Part 2]

After floating in the Guadalupe River near Hunt, Texas, looking for arrowheads at the bottom of the shallow water, and while eating burgers at Fuddrucker’s in Kerrville, my three sons were to return to their city of eight 091109.Wade_from_Oklahomamillion in less than a week.

We live on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where in our zip code of 10024 there are more than sixty thousand people. We circulate among a few blocks: our apartment, the kids’ school, our church, the playgrounds we go to, the stores we shop in, are all within a few blocks’ radius. Their friends live within walking distance, which was not the case when we lived in a Massachusetts town of 3,000 for their early years. We might as well be in a town the size of Tuna, Texas (see Part 1), for our lives are nearly as provincial in terms of mobility.

The day before I left for the Texas Hill Country to join the Lovely K and boys, who had been there for two weeks prior, a complaint I had emailed to the headquarters of Gristedes grocery store here in the city was followed up within several hours with an email from them promising a response to my concerns, which ran from spoiled ground beef, to problems with their dairy products, to inattentive and rude staff. Normally, I am not a complainer; rather, I am a compulsive people-pleaser. But I wanted the store to improve for the sake of the neighborhood and for healthy competition among its peers.

The next morning at 7:30, there was a voice mail on my cell phone from the store manager—apparently informed by corporate late the night before—wanting to come by sometime, and by 8:00, as I was rushing to leave for work, there was a buzz downstairs. I ran down the three flights of stairs to greet two men, Sal and Chris, who had walked over to make sure all my concerns were addressed. They asked me about the litany I had emailed, no fewer than five bullet points of bold text written by a sheepish writer sitting in his leather armchair. I had launched long-range missiles, and the marines had shown up at my door to respond.

I started explaining how Karen had purchased some ground beef that was brown, not red, and was rancid.

Sal, a department manager, looked at Chris, a stock clerk, as he said, “I told Bob that he needed to stop flipping my damned meat over on top of itself.” He looked back at me, having started his (convincing) presentation. “When you flip the meat over so that the plastic wrap is the only thing that separates the two packages, the meat turns brown. I keep tellin’ the guy to stop doing that, but he ain’t listenin’. You had mentioned something about yogurt?”

“Oh. Yeah. We’ve bought a number of yogurts that have been…disturbed…when we opened them.”

“What do you mean by ‘disturbed’?”

(Me and my use of euphemisms to avoid conflict.)

“I mean they were all mixed up inside, like they’d been shaken up.”

“Oh!” Shock, and again the look toward Chris. “That’s probably [unintelligible],” as he uttered a man’s name that seemed to explain everything to his coworker—looking back at me now—“our distributor. You see, Chris here is brand new to the store and is on probation for another month. He was worried about his job when the yogurt was mentioned.”

I felt guilty at this point and basically decided to shop at Gristedes at least once more as penance. “Oh, so sorry guys, I didn’t mean to get anyone in trouble.”

“No problem. Ya see, we’ve been having problems with our night crew. Anytime they do something wrong, it affects us in the day. Anything else?”

“Well, there’s probably not much you can do about the pricing difference between you guys and Fairway, right? I mean, they’re hard to compete with.”

(There’s also a world of difference between products, as is the difference between Burger King and filet mignon. But I didn’t want to appear the Upper West Side snob, which I basically am, and decided to keep the discussion on the basis of comparing prices on staple items.)

Chris spoke up for the first time. “Let me tell you, I’m a former Fairway guy. At their upper west side store? If you pull away the produce stands outside, they got baby rats all back behind there.”

OohRah! These guys were playing for keeps. I clarified, “You mean the store at 125th Street?” I.e. not the one at 74th, where we shop.


Well, I had to hand it to them. They took customer complaints seriously, and they also pulled out the heavy artillery against all comers. So what if no one on 84th Street shops above 86th Street. Chris was confessing to the zit on their nose and diverting attention to the oozing boils hidden beneath the Oscar de la Renta dress of their competition.

Sal reminded me to personally see him between 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. at the store and he would set me up with ground beef. Chris would be there after 7:00 a.m. I thanked them and turned to go upstairs and finish getting ready. The men walked off confident, I suppose, that they had gained back another customer. I wrote to the contact at Gristedes HQ and thanked him for the prompt follow-up.


Karen went to Gristedes last night—now almost four weeks since our return from summer vacation, six weeks after my visit with Sal and Chris, to get supplies for our middle son Bennett’s ninth birthday, which is today.

On September 11, 2001, when Bennett turned one, we had planned to have the requisite cupcakes at Noon. It was a Tuesday, and we were living in Massachusetts. It was a weekday, and because we lived on the campus of the graduate school for which I worked, my coming home for lunch from work was a daily benefit.

As with first son Carter, we had planned to let Bennett go crazy with chocolate-covered cupcakes in his highchair as we clicked away with our camera, getting shots of his brown-smeared face the way all 1-year-olds should be remembered.

We did take photographs, but only as the TV in the background showed images that we would watch for hours and days to follow, and as we held the camera steady against our faces—quivering flesh, wet with tears. We sang “Happy Birthday” to Bennett, whose smile revealed two lower teeth and two upper ones as well.

[To be concluded]

photo: Wade from Oklahoma

Bennett’s First Birthday [Part 1]

The Cowboy Store in Kerrville is gone.

Karen had agreed to accompany me on my search for a pearl snap shirt, a semi-annual ritual during our summer and Christmas vacations to Kerrville, her hometown, from New York City,090909.HaMeD!caL mine, and where we live now.

I became somewhat taken with this style of shirt upon seeing it worn by a young buck working at Crider’s (spelled with a rope on an overhead billboard), a rodeo and outdoor dance hall in Hunt, Texas, that recently celebrated its 80th year of operation. Karen had told me early in our relationship that only cowboys and dorks wore snap shirts. Despite her clear delineation of coolness, and regardless of the near impossibility of my venturing into the livestock business, I have never been deterred.

Since my purchase three summers ago of a Wranglers snap shirt—white embroidered cotton with ¼-inch blue vertical stripes—I have been on the lookout both in stores and online for such western attire that can be worn in midtown Manhattan by a man who was born and raised there but wants to bring a little Hill Country to the Big Apple.

My four shirts have come from The Cowboy Store, which country music singer Jason Aldean has pitched on the radio, specifically on KRNH-FM 92.3 “The Ranch” and on KRVL 94.3 “Revolution Radio” before they changed their format from Texas country to classic rock. In fact, I couldn’t say that Billy’s Western Wear, off Sidney Baker Street in front of The Home Depot, was ever on my radar until Karen and I saw that The Cowboy Store was no longer in business. Billy’s is about 100 yards from interstate I-10, which gets you from El Paso to Houston in 10 ½ hours, or to your cousin’s in Beaumont in just under 12. This expanse within one state, however, doesn’t isolate the many small towns and larger cities from one another; rather, it draws them together through a sense of state pride unlike, for example, the dynamic mosaic of California, a state of restless or fleeing transplants from the East Coast, Mexico, the Pacific Rim and Southeast Asia; or New York, battleground between upstate and downstate—New York City versus everything else, even though the city provides Albany with much of its revenue to serve the rest of the state. Texas is one state and has been its own nation. The one thing I’ve noticed Texans don’t laugh at is any slight directed at their state, whether intentional or innocent.

It was this sense of community that allowed the cashier at Billy’s to tell me, when I asked, not only what happened to The Cowboy Store but also the family narrative of their own business, into which she married. To wit, it’s not often you get a Happy Meal at McDonald’s and learn that the fry chef is the granddaughter of Ray Krok. It’s also this sense of community that gives shows like “Greater Tuna” its bite, charm, and poignancy.

Tuna, Texas, the fictional third-smallest town in Texas—losing its second place status “when Irene had triplets,” and a town where all the characters on stage, men and women, are portrayed by four male actors—is kept informed about local and national news by two gregarious and carefree radio announcers who announce such offbeat headlines as when there is a “Nuclear plant disaster!…Six states affected….” Dramatic pause. “Texas not included. And onto other news…” It is the town where Stanley, the sociopath son of a tormented woman whose adulterous husband keeps her weeping over her children’s foibles and dead-end futures, laughs over the coffined corpse of a judge who earlier sentenced him to reform school. Stanley then proceeds, in soliloquy, to confess—after almost 80 minutes of laughs by the audience at the idiosyncrasies of small town life—that it was he who injected air bubbles into the ailing body of the bed-ridden septuagenarian, killing him. Moments earlier, the killer’s aunt, sister to the cuckolded mother, stares down at the judge’s body as she, too, laments to him—to us—that she should have never fallen in love with him years earlier. And then she fulfills a promise. She starts to sing a song, having told him she would sing over his grave. We see that it is those who are deeply alone, who have been abandoned or shamed or dismissed, who are the most hideous in their character. We see the show performed a regional theater troupe that included the local high school science teacher and my father-in-law’s barber, men showing the full emotional expression—exaggerated though it might be—of the men and women of Tuna, Texas. It is delightful, and—in the arcane sense of the word—terrible.

Sartre was wrong. Hell is not other people; hell is isolation. Or perhaps it’s eternal isolation pressed against other people.

And so as you read about pearl snap shirts and dorks—a title I wear at times whether I like it or not—and as you travel down my narrative into murder and vaunted love, you may wonder where the theme of “community” could have diverged into trails of joy and despair.

They diverge when the judge throws the book at the 16-year-old sociopath (when he was but a troubled youth) and he spends only nine months in a reformatory that so thoroughly deadens his humanity that he takes mortal revenge on his enemy.

The trails converge again at the Guadalupe, as my nephew William, along with three school-age sons Carter, Bennett, and Teak drive to Mo Ranch outside of Hunt to swim in the river. They converge as five sun-tanned bodies float in the water wending between limestone cliffs—our goggles are on and we are staring at the river bottom 18 inches down. We are searching for an arrowhead that missed a deer more than a century ago. The father, a man who grew up in the city and knows more about finding an air-conditioned car on the downtown #1 IRT subway than about Indian artifacts, has offered $20 for the first arrowhead found by a boy 10 or under. The race is on and when it seems hopeless that an arrowhead will be found, the oldest son calls for a new challenge. The father, seeking to extend their time on the river—water at about 80 degrees, air at about 92—says he will pay 25 cents for every shell the oldest boy finds, 50 cents to the middle boy, 75 cents to the youngest. (The father is less concerned about economic justice than about quickly finding another reason for them all to stay.) In the end, of course, the cash winnings vary and the temper of one son flares, but 30 minutes later when they are eating hamburgers and recounting their day, they are content. The five males share a circular booth in the corner of a Fuddruckers in Kerrville, miles from the Guadalupe but still on the trail that had converged in the river. They all agree it is the best booth in the restaurant.


A week before I left for Texas to float in the river that afternoon, at eight in the morning, Sal and Chris from the Gristedes grocery store on 86th and Broadway in Manhattan paid me a personal visit because of a complaint I had emailed to the company’s corporate office the evening before.

[To be continued]

photo: HaMeD!caL

Leaving Herald Square

“Hey! Is that a pearl snap shirt?”


“No,” my coworker answered after coming to a stop in the hallway.  We blocked the entrance to his office.  Moments before, I ostensibly had something to do that was more important than admire what I thought was a pearl snap shirt.

052309.ellecer“Oh.” I said.

“But I used to have one. I lost it.”

“I’m sorry.” Awkward pause. “Was it white, like that one?”

“No, blue.”

The conversation went on, in this tantalizing fashion, until he referred me to H&M Clothing, on 34th Street and Broadway, steps away from the office.  Ostensibly, he had something to do that was more important than discuss pearl snap shirts.

I exited 1359 Broadway and walked the two blocks south, my mind anticipating finding pearl snap shirts in New York that were not the $100+ kind sold by Billy Martin’s Western Wear. At said establishment, on Third Avenue at around 62nd Street where — I can attest from having grown up just a mile north — there are no cowboys loitering or yodeling, the purveyors have outfitted with “upscale…Western-inspired” clothing the likes of Madonna and Mikhail Gorbachev. Need I tell you the horror of picturing in my mind Gorbachev riding along the prairie in pearl snap shirts, a tree branch catches the material, the shirt breaks open at the snaps the way the cowboys intended it to (so that they wouldn’t have to sew the button back on), and out pops… Mikhail. This is a scene that Remington did not envision, nor shall I.

And yet, my search for pearl snap shirts in NYC has been as fruitless as has been the search for authentic Tex-Mex cuisine, the most recent outing (twice) to Tequila Chito’s on West 23rd producing somewhat favorable results for me and my dining partners, but I anticipate would not be up to snuff for my wife, whose loving contempt for my last choice has not yet been lived down.

Having ascended the escalator to the third floor Menswear department at H&M, my suspicions were stirred when there was more chrome and black lacquer on the fixtures and racks than oak and pine. In Kerrville, Texas, where I buy all my snap shirts (at the Cowboy Store, where Jason Aldean shops), the guy at the front has a Jesse James-like pointed beard and dons a Stetson. He says, “Howdy!” which is in fact my childhood nickname, and so I feel right at home. Here, in NYC, sales tax is 8.375% and increasing to something like 8.625% (as if they need the five-thousands’ worth); in Texas, while there is sales tax, there is no income tax. I plan — in the future, sometime after retirement, maybe when I’m 90 — to show the statistical correlation between taxation and authentic pearl snap shirt offerings. I know it’s not scientific to come to a study with a conclusion in mind — I am supposed to follow the data — but in this case, there seems to be a preponderance of evidence proving that the overhead for stores like Billy Martin must certainly require the sale of shirts so outlandishly priced that only a rock star or former Soviet leader can afford them. (After all, we know that ommunist leaders are absolutely loaded, because everyone else in their countries is dirt poor.)

I did two laps around the floor, spying only some flat-fronted khakis that the Lovely K would have approved of (but which I didn’t need…I needed a pearl snap shirt) and a couple of dress shirts that were suitable for a meeting of which I have yet to conceive. No snap shirts. On one rack, partially blocked by two large 20-something males whose pants some stranger obviously had rudely and just moments before yanked down to within inches of their knees, I saw a short-sleeved collared shirt made of grey brushed cotton that had a matching thin tie around it. I recalled how my mother made my father a tie of green and white checkered gingham to match a sport coat he had bought at the St. George thrift store on Second Avenue. Yet he wore this set to cocktail parties at Point O’ Woods, Fire Island, where the object was to get drunk while discussing Woody Allen movies and stumble down sidewalks with no fear of powered vehicles running you over. What H&M was selling was clothes that you would have to wear sober enough not to fall onto subway tracks coming home from a rave.  This seemed an inordinate expectation.

The search continues, as it does also for Tex-Mex in New York. But don’t tell Karen.

photo:  ellecer

A writer’s limits

On the day that Mom and I were married, it had been raining.  The men who were in Kerrville for our wedding all went and played golf in the rain that morning, and had more fun than success.  The women did whatever women do on wedding days, which usually means lots of make-up, lots of hair, and lots of conversation.  They also ate brunch and drank things called mimosas.


111508octavineMy most clear memory is standing with the minister at the front by the altar with my groomsmen on one side and the bridesmaids on the other, some 200 people in the pews watching, and seeing Mom come down the aisle toward us.  My eyes were fixed on her.  I burst out crying.  Believe it!  But I got it under control and then she arrived and stood next to me, as serene and confident and happy as I had always known her to be.  I looked like a penguin in my tuxedo; she looked like an angel in white.  But as beautiful as she looked on March 8, 1997, she looks even more beautiful today, because I know her eleven years better.


Sweet, right?  The assignment was for the parent to write about a memory, 6-8 sentences or a couple paragraphs long, and give to our children to read in class during a parent-child exercise.


Well, perhaps it was endearing.  But apparently it was not particularly well written from a 2nd grade standpoint, I learned harshly yesterday morning at Bennett’s “Open School Day,” in which we had a peer-to-peer writing segment, and in which I paired off with Bennett, was most gracious with his piece, and during which he ripped me to shreds.


I packed into Ms. Garetano’s class, Room 2-202 at P.S. 9, at 9:00 sharp along with about 25 other parents.  After the warm-up assignment of using play money to buy items at Bennett’s “store” and see if he could make change from $18.75, or $2.50 and so forth, we got to the main event.


Confessing here my writerly pride, I had assumed that our children were reading aloud our stories to those present.  I was looking forward to hearing the whispers behind me of “Ooh, how witty…how incisive…what brilliance and charm and beauty and connubial love…”  In short, I was thinking I would wow them.  Now, I knew the piece was not my best work.  But I figured that, these being Upper West Side parents notwithstanding, they’d still see the literary genius standing behind the 2nd grader.  They might be hedge fund managers, but I was the blogger among them.


Seems my pride needed to get taken down three notches by a Small Human a few feet shorter than I.


Ms. Garetano told the parents and students to pair off in families and for “Table Leaders to grab two sets of colored pencils and four sets of Personal Revision Forms.  OK, children?  Two sets of pencils and four sets of forms per table.  All right.  Tables 1, 2 and 3, you may go.”  Pause. “Tables 4, 5, and 6, you may go.”


Bennett and I cleared a space on his desk area, and he read through my piece again.  (At this point, I was resigned to missing out on an adulatory crowd, but I still figured blowing away an 8-year-old with my prose was like shooting fish in a barrel.)  He read mine first before I was to read his and prepared to critique my piece by marking up the revision form, which had category headings such as “Did the writer add enough feeling?” “Did the writer use ALL 5 senses when writing?” and “Are there parts that the writer can show not tell?”


He put a check by “Is the writer’s idea a seed idea?” – meaning:  is it specific, and not a “watermelon” or broad idea – and then the proverbial red ink started to spill.


He underlined “fun” in yellow pencil where I had written that the golfers had had “more fun than success.”


“What’s that mark for?” I asked, my smile starting to transmorph into tense facial muscles.


“You gotta ‘crack the word open,’ Dad.”


“What does that mean?!”


“Look–” and he pointed to criterion 4 – “Did the writer ‘crack open’ simple words?” – “you gotta crack that word open.”  Fun.


“OK,” I said, and shut up.


Crack open “fun”…


Well…it was fun that the guys’ challenge that Saturday morning in Kerrville was more to keep the balls out of the puddles rather than in the hole.  And that Wes beaned a house off the third tee and we cackled like kindergartners.  And that Dave K was a maniac in the golf cart and probably had all Yankees thereafter banned from operating machinery south of the Oklahoma-Texas border.  It was “fun,” and I could have cracked it open…more like that.  Bennett was right.


Then the Critic underlined in pink the word “happy” when I wrote that Karen reached the front of the sanctuary and I told the reader that she was “as serene and confident and happy as I had always known her to be.”


“What’s THAT for?!”


He checked off “YES” next to the criterion, “Are there parts that the writer can show not tell?”


Hmm.  How do I show that Karen was “happy.”


I could say that she was smiling, but that was merely an outward indicator.  How did I know that she was happy, know it enough to share it with the reader?  Perhaps it was that she looked stunning, and everyone knew it.  Perhaps it was in my poring over what she knew about me, and seeing her step forward, past all those people, and that she was willing to step before God and take vows to stay with me for the rest of our lives together.  Perhaps it was that, and that her family knew what she knew about me, and that she walked past them nevertheless, looking stunning, to go before God to say those vows.


I don’t know.  I can’t really answer this.  I can’t edit my story yet.  It is a work in progress.



photo:  octavine