My brother came to Texas a week ago, as he did last year at about this time.
He came for three days of live music. And he came to spend some time with us.
I like to think that we did both. Although by the time he left, the blue sky and sun and sweltering heat (98, 105, 107) had pretty much got the better of all of us. And now I realize that between his coming and going and collapsing into bed after long days, we didn't really spend much time together at all.
On the other had, I know that if he lived here or if I lived there, that's how the weekend might have been. So perhaps it was normal to just squeeze a little time into an otherwise busy schedule.
My brother came to Texas so that we could have a normal weekend in an abnormal kind of way.
9:58:47 PM permalink:  feedback: comments: 
I stopped to rest for the night in a small town east of Amarillo and tomorrow I will be making my way on to the next one. I hope to be in Oklahoma in a few days as I am looking forward to the halfway point and the other half of the trip. This part of Texas is very flat and I can see all the way to the horizon, I can see the next city 15 miles before I get there and I can tell you that is hard on the brain. It really demonstrates how far I have to go. But at the same time it is evidence of how far I have come.
11:00:18 PM permalink:  feedback: comments: 
So what's up with the frogs and the pond and the starry, starry night? I thought you got past that. For heavens sake, get your head on straight, man!
No it's not. Give me a break, what are you whining about?
What are you talking about, plenty? What have you got to complain about? Nothing. You've got nothing to complain about. Look around you!
I do. That's the problem.
Yeah, and then you go on about ponds and cattails and puffy white clouds in the wind.
Come on. If you've got nothing to whine about, what's all this namby-pamby, escapist baloney? We've all got better things to do than listen to that.
So do them.
Don't give me that. I'm just looking out for you.
I'm sure you are.
10:37:57 PM permalink:  feedback: comments: 
I went for a walk in the sweltering heat of September this evening.
We went for a walk along the soccer fields, where the night is lit up by great klieg lights at the tops of tall creosote-soaked poles, where the tires of speeding cars and trucks scream on the highway like jet planes making a final pass, where dead grasses and choking itchy-weeds grow along the chain link fence row.
The whines of tires on the highway. Blazing lights on wooden poles. Choking weeds at the periphery of the fields. This is where we went. In the blazing white light. In the roar of the traffic. Along the weedy fence line with litter blown in. This is where we went.
Somewhere there is a pitch-black, star-filled sky. Somewhere there is a pond with bull frogs sitting among the reeds in the shallow water. Somewhere there is a place that isn't like this. Somewhere. Not like this time. Not like this place. Somewhere. But that somewhere it is very far away.
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At one point less than a week ago, we expected 15 people for the weekend -- friends and family and maybe colleagues fleeing Houston from hurricane Rita.
Can you fit 15 in a house? Of course you can. Wall to wall would be better than the various alternatives. So we expected a crowd, and we figured we'd figure it out when we needed to.
But some of the 15 opted for motels and apartments farther north. And some of the 15 never fled, seeing the crawling traffic on the freeways and knowing better than to try. So for three days, we were only 5.
And in the end, Rita turned to the east.
Houston was spared the fate of New Orleans, and the thousands who fled north turned back and sat in crawling traffic to return to their city and their homes that will largely be intact.
10:08:19 PM permalink:  feedback: comments: 
There was too much inbound traffic for me to turn left into the Racetrack as I drove outbound from downtown. So I resigned myself to expensive gas from the corner gas station back home. When I got there, all they had was premium.
Now I'm a cheapskate. And gas is not exactly cheap these days. Paying for premium didn't really appeal to me. Still -- today was not a good day for the tank to be empty (with hurricane Rita bearing down on the Gulf coast). So I resigned myself to paying too much.
When I got out of the car, I thought I might tell the manager that their sign at the corner was wrong. $2.67 for unleaded (which they didn't have). $2.77 for mid-grade (which they didn't have). And $2.67 for premium (which they did have). But the advertised price was no mistake. The manager smiled and explained the company policy to drop the price of expensive gas when they run out of lower grades.
So I filled up. And having spied some water bottles in their refrigerators, I bought four. And since my bank has an ATM there, I got some cash. And so I felt a little better about the weekend -- even euphoric. I got a great deal on a tank of gas. I got enough cash to last a couple days in dire need. And I managed to find some bottles of water for us to take to the Music Festival today[*].
So happy was I with my fortune, that I got in the car and drove off without taking the gas hose out of my car. The man in front of me was waving wildly. There was a clunking sound at the back of the car. The woman on the other side of the pump (with whom I had shared my cheap-gas-glee) was looking at me with newfound suspiscion. And there was a gas pump hose lying on the pavement in my side view mirror.
You might imagine the look on my face as I got out of my car.
To my relief, the hose was intact, and there was not even a drop of gasoline on the pavement. But I had some trouble getting the pump to give me my receipt. Flustered and embarrassed, I gave up, figuring the pump had given up on me, and walked back to the car to close my gas cap. (My car was straddling two lanes now, creating a nuisance for others.)
Do you want your receipt? a voice asked.
The manager had come out of the store. I can only imagine the claxons that must have sounded as I tried to drag the gas station home with me.
You know these pumps will print out receipts for you.
Thank you, yes, I said.
And I thought to myself,
What does he take me for, an idiot!?
[*] They only let you take in factory-sealed bottles of water, and bottled water has been mighty hard to come by in Texas, lately.
10:58:09 PM permalink:  feedback: comments: 
More national guard convoys driving south today -- water trucks, fuel trucks, cranes, and slant-front trucks that look more like boats.
No water on the shelves at the grocery stores, I hear. Not a bottle to be found. And the parking lots were packed in the afternoon.
Bad traffic on the freeways coming from Houston. Real bad traffic. Like, 19 hours to cover what usually takes 3. In the sweltering heat.
Late tomorrow, rain will come. And wind. And high water along the Gulf.
We'll all be holding our breath and crossing our fingers tightly. From hundreds of miles inland, that's all we can do -- that and hope that it doesn't turn out as badly as it might.
10:09:45 PM permalink:  feedback: comments: 
On the highway today, a national guard convoy passed by heading south, each green army truck pulling a water tank on wheels behind it. They were heading to Houston.
I am thankful that we live this far from there, but if the storm comes ashore there, we'll be holding our breath despite the distance. After all, Rita now consumes half of the Gulf of Mexico.
We've got jugs and bottles for water. We've got cans of food in the pantry and fruit and nuts and bread. And it looks like a crowd of people is heading north to spend some time with us.
And oh, my lucky brother: he chose this weekend to come visit from Chicago.
11:19:13 PM permalink:  feedback: comments: 
He catches small slices of everyday life. Things we all see but almost never notice. But he does. He snaps his pictures, and he posts them.
Concrete pillars holding up highways. Orange barrels along the side. Blue skies. Faded, painted old brick walls. Forgotten buildings fallen into decay. Graffiti on a wall. Graffiti on a railroad car. Surprising billboards staring down at us. Glistening windows in the sun. The (in)famous Chesterton water tower. Overpasses. Underpasses. Cars keep left. Diesel trucks in a row. A hotrod truck in a parking lot. Yellow fire hydrants and liquor store signs. The flag and the sky and high tension lines. Reduced speed ahead.
Happy Birthday, Joe.
11:21:39 PM permalink:  feedback: comments: 
We talked about congruent angles and counter examples and converse statements. He showed me his homework, and we found a few mistakes, and we scribbled the solutions on a piece of paper with a green gel pen.
Then he went to fix his work. He went back into his room and sat down on his futon where (to my chagrin) he often does his homework. He sat back down and erased his mistakes and rewrote the solutions...
...while the dog lay curled up in a ball next to him.
9:28:31 PM permalink:  feedback: comments: 
The people here had forgotten how to smile. At first you might not have known it, but after spending a little time there you couldn't miss it.
The sun beat down on them mercilessly. And when the clouds came, the rain fell in torrents, washing the hillsides away and choking the rivers with mud. But mostly the rain never came.
Their bent bodies labored all day in the fields or in the streets of decaying cities and villages. They had no time to speak. They had no time to look around. In the daily struggle, a casual smile had long since become an unaffordable luxury.
Of course, there were the children. In the cities, they played in back alleys and in abandoned lots among piles of refuse. In the country, they found shady places and ran in circles chasing each other singing songs and laughing loudly.
But the parents didn't smile.
It was into this land that I was sent -- into this land of despair, where the only flower I found was the blossom of a weed spouting from a crack in the road leading to the capital city.
1:15:54 AM permalink:  feedback: comments: 
It was as bright inside the store as it was dark in the parking lot. There were a couple kids near the door and several more at the back. A dad was trying to get his boy to turn off the Nintendo or Sony or whatever it was that they were going to buy. Two guys behind the counter said hello to Ben as we walked in. Ben said something cool back.
We walked over to the Gamecube games rack. He pointed to a used game and tried to tell me why it's a good one. And he pointed to a new one, drawing attention to its low price and suggesting that if I could find it used it would be even cheaper. And then he pointed to an old, used Gameboy game far in the back of a display case.
Those were the suggestions he made for a birthday present. But later, after we caught up with Trudy who had taken advantage of the time to run into the grocery store, Ben suggested a different kind of birthday present.
What I would really like, he said,
is a tube of
It's the best trombone slide lubricant you can get, he explained.
And it lasts for ever! I'd rather have that than any of those games -- that and a pirate action figure, of course.
10:17:33 PM permalink:  feedback: comments: 
When we got home, he dropped his trombone in the foyer and went straight to his room and stripped off his uniform. (Even now, it lies in a heap on the floor.) And then he made a near-naked dash for the kitchen in search of something to drink.
I'm going to have a Gatorade, he said with a tone of desperation in his voice.
It was hot today. And even as afternoon made way to evening and the sun sunk toward the hill that overlooks the football field, the sidewalks and the pavement and the concrete of the stadium threw the heat of the day back at you.
We were hot, but we had a quart and a half of water each, and we sat at the top where there was some breeze to be had. So I can't imagine how hot they must have been -- facing the sun as it descended, the brass section standing for most of the first half, and then the whole band playing and cheering and shouting the second half. I think they got one small water bottle or two the whole game.
So when we got home, he stripped down to almost nothing and made a dash for the fridge. And then he made a dash for a cool wash cloth. And then he plopped into bed.
Hmm... What a good idea!
Austin vs. Schertz game night
House Field, Austin, TX
11:24:33 PM permalink:  feedback: comments: 
There's something I want to tell you, but I don't know quite how to say it.
No. It's not bad news -- far from it. But I don't know how to make a good story out of it. I don't know how to make it musical (so to speak) in the telling.
So let me just tell it, and then I'll go to bed.
When we got there on
Friday Tuesday afternoon, we could hear the bands from a long way off. Inside the stadium they blasted their music as they warmed up. Beating drums. Blaring trumpets. Band after marching band was on the football field in their hot-weather uniforms.
The afternoon sun's light reflected off all the brass -- the sousaphones especially, rank after rank of them in silver and gold.
Directors shouted directions and waved their arms in synchrony for all the kids to see. Some marched in place. Many swaggered with glee. They all held their instruments proudly.
And here's the thing of it...
Amid the brass and percussion. Amid the woodwinds and waving flags. Standing somewhere in the teeming mass of marching band marchers and directing directors, there was a handful of new kids. Kids who had just come into town. Transfer students.
Last week, they fled New Orleans. This week they marched amid the colors with the bands in the sun on a on a field in a stadium with music all around them.
That's the story I wanted to tell.
33rd Annual AISD Marching Band Jamboree
10:10:59 PM permalink:  feedback: comments: 
So the spell checker didn't like ungulated. It drew a red line
underneath and suggested ungulate instead.
What a lame spell
checker, I thought. It can't do the past-participle thing?
Isn't this spelled with a D, David? Trudy asked, as I held my
masterpiece out to her.
A friend once told me that one of the dangers of a large dictionary for spell checkers is that they find too many words -- words that aren't often used and are most often just plain typos.
My spell checker's dictionary's too big.
10:25:04 PM permalink:  feedback: comments: 
One morning as I took a shower, she told me about a dream she had.
She told me about the sky. About the great watermelon she saw streaking from horizon to horizon.
She told me about the moon. About the red ring at its edges that ungulated mesmerizingly.
She told me about a dream. About the sky and the watermelon and the ungulating moon.
And I think I dropped my bar of soap.
Update: Yes, it's undulate. Bad David! See this.
10:00:52 PM permalink:  feedback: comments: 
So I sit at the keyboard and begin writing this note. I sit here after a week of silence not quite sure just what will come out. I have run aground on the rocks of despair and can't find my voice.
Too many issues collide here. Too many problems that need focused attention instead of photo-ops and cynical spin and slap-on-the-back solutions that masquerade as public policy these days.
As lethal, toxic sludge is pumped into Lake Pontchartraine, as Administration spin masters mobilize to avoid the finger of accountability that points in their direction, as insiders descend like carrion crows to scoop up reconstruction contracts, as incompetent pretenders are fully revealed and sent slinking silently back to the beltway, and as we find just how little we got for those billions pumped into the Department of Homeland Security, I see little hope for change.
I come from an era when we flew to the moon. I come from a time when we let freedom ring from every mountainside. That world was far from perfect, but we believed in always doing better. We believed in progress. And as a result, I always thought that we were different.
Katrina and everything that has happened since suggests how badly I was fooling myself.
8:37:32 PM permalink:  feedback: comments: 
When this morning came and the sun began peeking thru the trees in the east and the birds began singing in the trees, I woke with a knot in my stomach and a feeling of anguish in my heart from the last many days. I sat up on the edge of the bed, my head hung in numb sadness, trying to decide what to do next.
This pit in my stomach, this feeling of anguish, this low hanging head is nothing.
After all, the sun was peeking into our home as another day dawned. And a roof was over our heads. And Ben was fast asleep (as he undoubtedly will be for some time to come) in his bed.
No, the pit and the anguish and the sadness and shame are nothing next to what the refugees have been thru and what they have (what they don't have) to look forward to.
So I don't mind the pit, and I can deal with the anguish, but I think I'm going to stay away from this computer for the rest of the day, because these emotions keep morphing into anger, and I just don't know what I might say.
9:01:14 AM permalink:  feedback: comments: 
He will go down as the President who presided over the withering of our country's soul and greatness.
He will go down as the President who made us hang our heads in shame and made the world shake their heads in disbelief, wondering where the hope and light had gone.
He will go down as the President who orchestrated lies for political gain while the wealthy won immense rewards and the social contract was broken.
He will go down as the President who hired spin-masters and incompetent cronies to run the federal government, thinking not of the tasks before them but only of the riches and opportunities their positions bestowed.
He will go down as the President who vacationed and served cake and strummed celebrity guitars while New Orleans began its decent into hell.
He will go down.
Great will be his fall, and history will not be kind.
7:51:31 PM permalink:  feedback: comments: 
The American dream is not for the common man. Ask the common people in New Orleans and all along the Gulf.
The 21st Century American dream is for the wealthy in their stately mansions and their multi-thousand dollar shoes and their Hummers and their executive compensations and their connections to cronies who prowl the halls of power looking for plum appointments and for agencies to eviscerate.
The American dream is for the liars, the drunken coke-heads, the soldier-sons of the rich and powerful who go AWOL with no consequences. The dream is for incompetents and crooks who run corporations and government agencies to advance their private agendas and expand their wallets or those of their friends while the corporations and agencies collapse or wither on the vine.
The American dream is for robber barons reborn,
For feudal lords returning,
For those who seek to erase everything we've accomplished in the last one hundred years.
This is were we are left -- back where we started a century ago:
Power for the wealthy,
Helplessness for the poor, and
Silence from everyone else.
But now it is time to call and end to the silence,
Because the lies must come to an end;
The incompetence must come to an end;
And we must rebuild in the void an image of America that not so long ago was something more than just empty words.
9:45:46 PM permalink:  feedback: comments: 
What was the plan? Show us what your plan was. Lay it out on the table where we can see it in black and white. Don't talk about it. Don't wave your hands in generalities. Show us the plans that you made.
Who did you plan with? Tell us who you talked to when you put your plan together. Don't give us names of offices and bureaucracies. Show us the names, give us the dates when the conversations took place.
What have you done? Don't talk in self-congratulatory platitudes. Don't tell us we all have to stick together. Just give us your list of accomplishments -- of steps that were laid out in the plans, of steps you discussed in your joint conversations with others, and of steps that you took on the ground
- before Katrina made landfall,
- while the storm was battering the city, and
- as the true disaster unfolded and since.
No plan? No preparations? Nothing done right even as bodies were floating in the streets and gangs were marauding and people were crazed with hunger and thirst and desperation?
I think it is time for you to go.
Next time, try hamburgers.
12:58:31 PM permalink:  feedback: comments: 
Smoke rises in the distance. The levies are breached. Water flows into the city. There is no water to drink. No food to eat.
The dead float in the water, and the sick die in the streets. Thousands are alone. In the wreckage. In the mayhem. In the heat. In despair.
So where are the good guys in white hats? Where are the helicopters and the national guard? Where are the blue tarps? Where is the state? Where is FEMA? Isn't this when the good guys come to the rescue and the happy music plays?
No. This is the 21st century. The music isn't happy, and there is no need for good guys anymore.
1:08:09 AM permalink:  feedback: comments: 
I hear they are dispatching a hospital ship from Baltimore to New Orleans tomorrow.
On Friday -- a week after the hurricane turned north, five days after the hurricane hit.
I know I'm being harsh. I know I'm being unfair. But...
To New Orleans.
10:51:49 PM permalink:  feedback: comments: 
And then we hear our President say,
I don't think anyone anticipated
the breach of the levees.
Fodder. That's what he feeds us.
Sheep. That's what they take us for.
10:49:09 PM permalink:  feedback: comments: