Thinking back …

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YESTERDAY MORNING, after hard work in the yard, I was sitting at the dining room table after second breakfast, cereal. My child bride had returned to her pastry workshop, so I was alone, gazing out the window toward the distant Alamo Wall.

With elbows on the table, I placed my face into my hands, closed my eyes and thought. What a high pile of memories.

Three-quarters of a century of breathing combined with an adventuresome, sometimes reckless personality lead to all kinds of crap, most still alive in the cranium.

Three wives, two countries plus a Caribbean island, two languages, planes, parachutes, motorcycles, hot-air balloons, mind-altering materials, a number of jobs but only one of any duration. I did stick with that, which was good, and why I’m here right now.

Dancing in clover.

I wonder about people who live in a more linear fashion. Finish school, a real profession, marriage, have kids, grandkids, buy a home and stay put for decades. Take vacations every year to places like Paris, then head home again.

Yes, I know far fewer folks live like that these days, but many still do.

I ponder if I would have preferred that. Some moments of my life have been pure terror. Try two divorces for starters. Once I had a small plane spin out of control, but it got leveled off. Once I flew into a cloud bank with no training on how to deal with that. And once I overflew a rural runway and ended up in the weeds.

Drive a motorcycle drunk? Count the times. Other stuff so absurd I’m not even going to share. Yet, there I sat at the table, full of cereal, low-fat milk and chia seeds while my child bride was baking brownies, and the sun was shining in a cool, blue sky.

Thoughts in the night

TWO DECADES AGO when my mother was about 80, I asked her what entered her mind at night during those moments when she was awake, those intervals we all have.

I was curious about what old people with lots of history thought in the dark night.

New ImageIf we’re worrying about something before going to bed, that’s what we’ll be focusing on, of course, but at times we awake when there’s nothing worrisome in our lives. Usually, we slip back into our dreams easily, but not always.

I forgot what my mother told me, but I recall it was nothing notable. I thought she’d be remembering the Great Depression or the time she eloped at midday with my father in Athens, but she didn’t mention anything like that. I would have remembered.

Well, now that I’m pretty old myself, I know what old people think, at least what I think. I have a few set skits for those moments. I think, for instance, of a photo of me standing on Cesery Boulevard in Arlington, Florida, posing with a baseball bat as if someone were pitching a hardball at me. I was about 9. I have lost that photo.

But it lives in my mind.

I sometimes think of my very small bedroom in that Cesery Boulevard home, the twin bed, and getting up mornings, stepping across the narrow hallway, and opening the folding canvas door into the kitchen where my mother would be smoking a cigarette. Maybe she’d just downed a Miltown to get her through another day.

What I have thought of more frequently than anything the past 25 years is the moment my last wife told me she was leaving. I was standing in her office door in our Houston home one evening, and she was sitting on the floor going through files.

She mentioned fairly casually that she had found an apartment in Montrose and was moving out. She was shockingly nonchalant. She didn’t even look at me.

Since we had never discussed the possibility of divorce, this was like a meteor. I remember the moment in detail a quarter of a century later. And here is the strange part. Conjuring up that memory during an insomniac spell almost instantly returns me to sleep.

You would think it would be precisely the opposite.

But I’ve just recently noticed that I’m not using that memory anymore as a substitute sleeping pill. The 25-year-old habit has died. I do still think of the kid with the baseball bat, and mornings walking from my small bedroom into the little kitchen and seeing my mother, but not the moment my wife announced she’d had her fill of me.

A single Tylenol will also send me to dreamland, but where’s the drama in that?

Photographic memories

I’VE LABORED the last few days switching photos from one internet provider (SlickPic) to another (Flickr). There were over 500 shots, so it took quite a while, especially since I passed some of them through a service that gussied them up.

I reduced the 500+ to 425 but only 248 are visible to the public. You can see them here.

When my second wife kicked me to the curb in 1995, I left behind almost all photos taken during the 19 years I spent with her. And when I moved to Mexico in 2000, I culled even further. Most photos I have now were shot since I moved south.

But not all.

There are lots, and almost all are digital, i.e. online, nowhere else. One reason I moved to Flickr, which is far better than it used to be, is that it’s free (up to a point), and the photos will not vanish one year when I fail to pay. That could happen when I’m dead, and I want my child bride to have access to them.

During this process I came across some photos I’d not noticed in years, and I’m going to show a few to you. The first was taken in Mexico City in the 1970s. I was sitting with a French friend I’ve known since we met in the Air Force in 1963. He is a legal immigrant.

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Atop the Torre Latinoamericana in Mexico City.

That’s me on the left, of course. I weighed about 225 pounds. Nowadays, I weigh about 165, making me rather skinny at 6′-3″ tall. I prefer the adjectives svelte, lean or trim. Skinny doesn’t sound good. I trimmed down around 1980 with a bit of effort.

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Felipe in drag.

And here I am beardless, a bit earlier than the above photo. I’m in the French Quarter of New Orleans, an extra in a movie titled Octoroon. The movie won no Oscars. Quite the contrary. It went straight to drive-ins. I was only in the first scene, walking down a sidewalk.

Oddly, I’ve always wanted to be an actor, and would have done theater work in New Orleans or Houston except for the fact that my newspaper career always had me working evenings, and that’s when theaters present plays. I never had a chance.

Thwarted by fate. I coulda been somebody!

And here is a photo of me and my mother that was taken during a visit to Georgia shortly after I relocated to Mexico. She died in 2009 at the age of 90.

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Now let’s look way back to 1956. Here I am in, I think, the 7th Grade. I’m the kid in the middle. The boy on the right is Larry. A few years later, he lost a leg in a grisly highway accident during a nighttime hayride.

Are you old enough to remember hayrides?

Another boy, a friend of mine, was killed in that same accident. I had been invited to go, but I didn’t, and I don’t remember why. Luck, I guess.

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Look at those multicolored loafers I’m sporting.

It’s been a fun few days looking at the past.

Tube Steak’s mystery vacation

(The following is a true story. The names have not been changed to protect the innocent because who is innocent and who is not is unknowable.)

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AT A CONSIDERABLE distance in the past, I lived alone in a slave quarter apartment on Dauphine Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

Alone as far as human companionship is concerned, which is not to say I lacked human companionship on occasion, especially of the female variety because this being decades ago I was young and quite the manly looker.

I still hold my own in the geriatric category.

I lived with a fellow whom I kept in a cage. He was a small parrot, and his name was Tube Steak. I don’t recall his specific species in the avian world, but he was smaller than your usual parrot, but about twice the size of a parakeet.

One morning, on leaving for work, I left the kitchen window open. It must have been a pretty day, and there were banana trees in the small patio that grew up to my second-floor apartment, which consisted solely of one largish room, a small bathroom and a tiny kitchen. A bachelor pad. I was between wives.

There was a small balcony that overlooked the lush patio, and I occasionally purchased a burlap bag of oysters, invited friends over, and I’d shuck the mollusks, which we enjoyed with cold Dixie beer.

Tube Steak exhibited no interest in raw oysters or Dixie beer.

But, as I said above, one morning I went to work, leaving the kitchen window open, not thinking of the cat that I knew lived in the patio below. Neither did I think of his being a second-story man which, of course, all cats are.

When I returned in the afternoon, the cage sat on its side on the floor, the sliding bottom was open, and Tube Steak was gone. I reached the logical conclusion that the cat had entered via the kitchen window and made off with my bird.

Sadly, I retrieved the cage and stashed it in the closet.

About two weeks later, I was sprawled on the bed for a nap with the French doors opened onto the balcony. It was not an oyster-and-Dixie day. I was alone.

And then I wasn’t. Tube Steak walked through the door from the balcony. He did not fly in. He strutted in, right there on the floor. He seemed no worse for wear. He appeared unconcerned, offering nary an explanation.

I pulled the cage from the closet. Tube Steak hopped in, and life returned to normal with one exception. On leaving for work, I shut the kitchen window from that day forward.

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(Note: What brought this to mind was another bird yarn that I read yesterday, The Myna Bird by Ray Clifton, an Alabaman who wanders in the woods and writes good stories to boot.)