Friday, June 23, 2006

Big Bus Trip of '68, Part 13

Richard and I arrived in Little Rock early on Saturday morning. His aunt met us at the bus station and took us to her home. We had barely slept on the bus overnight, thus were exhausted and not fully awake as she drove us through the streets of Little Rock. All I can recall is a sleepy glimpse of the state capitol in the dawn light.

She showed us to our beds. I fell into my bed, fully clothed, and slept till noon. Then I sat up, looked out the window, and saw a cemetery right across the street. It was an unusually narrow street, therefore the cemetery was but yards away from my window. I had been too tired to notice the cemetary when I arrived.

Later, Richard and I took a walk in the cemetery. The grass was wet from a heavy rain that had fallen while we slept; it glistened dully in the overcast sunlight, yet glistened nonetheless.

As we looked around, we noticed that the cemetery was unusually ornate; there were a great many statues of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and assorted angels, atop the graves.

Richard surveyed the surroundings and said, “All these cats are going to hell.”

“Who’s going to hell?” I asked.

“Everybody buried here.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because they’re all Catholics," he said. "This is a Catholic cemetery.”

I was taken aback. I said, “Well, maybe Catholics think all Baptists are going to hell.”

“Maybe they do think that, but they’re wrong.”

I couldn't figure Richard out. It had been his idea for us to go to church camp, but after we got there, he hated it. He chafed under the religious regimen far more than me—and he was the one with the devoutly Baptist upbringing, not me. And now—now that we were away from church camp and back in the real world—his uncompromising, deeply-engrained, hardshell-Baptist worldview was reasserting itself, with a vengeance.

We went back to his aunt's house. I saw a newspaper lying on the kitchen table. On the front page was a large photo of James Earle Ray, the accused assassin of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (an ordained Baptist minister, by the way), arriving in handcuffs and bulletproof vest at the Memphis airport. According to the caption, ariving in Memphis ourselves.

We stayed in Little Rock overnight. I did not sleep as well as earlier, now that I knew that, right outside my window was a cemetery full of hundreds of dead people, all lying in the ground alongside me. I thought: What if their spirits should rise up in the night? What if a few of those spirits should drift through the window into this very room and fly around, haunting me?

I closed my eyes tightly. I threw the covers over my head. And I sweated profusely, not daring to open my eyes or pull down the covers, for a very long time. And then, I fell asleep ...

In the morning, we were on the bus to Dallas. The thrill we had experienced on this same stretch of highway a week earlier was now gone, utterly. Gone, and replaced with weariness and irritability. We were getting on each other’s nerves. And we were homesick and hungry. The bus stopped at a café in East Texas, but it was crowded and our stop was short, so there was no time for lunch. I made do with a sack of candy.

In Dallas, we boarded our bus to Fort Worth. As we rode down the Dallas-Fort Worth Turnpike in the late afternoon sunlight, a toothless, bald-headed old man in the seat behind me laughed, shouted to himself, and sang gospel songs at the top of his voice.

The big bus trip ended at the Continental Trailways station in Fort Worth, where our parents met us. Richard and I went to our separate homes, and we were so tired of each other’s company, and so disgusted, and hated each other, that we didn’t see each other again for about four weeks.

The summer wore on. Except for a short trip to visit to my grandmothers in Mineral Wells, the summer was spent entirely in Cleburne, working at my father’s newspaper, reading, watching television, listening to records, working on one of my novels, hanging out with friends, and wandering the sleepy streets, usually in a morose state.

I was morose because I was back in Cleburne, the thrill of being on the road now but a memory. Also, there was this other matter: While in Tennessee, I had had a girlfriend. Now, I was back home and girlfriendless once more.

My diary shows that I greatly romanticized my brief acquaintance with Sheryl. It became a much bigger thing in my mind than it had actually been in reality. In my mind, she was the only girl for me, much better than the local girls, because (1) she was not local and anything not local was automatically better, and (2) she truly appreciated and understood me. If I only I wasn’t stuck in this small town, if only I could be with her, happiness would be mine. But ours was a doomed love affair, doomed by the miles between us, etc. A total fantasy.

I wrote Sheryl. She wrote back. We exchanged school pictures, then Christmas cards. Then the correspondence stopped. We had run out of things to write about—and, anyway, the local girls were turning my head. True, they were local, therefore imperfect, but at least they were real. My fantasies about Sheryl faded away.

But I did not stop fantasizing about the thrill of the road. All through high school, the road continued to call me. I could not wait to repeat the experience of traveling without parental supervision and seeing places I had never seen. I would study maps. I would trace the route of Highway 67, which was only a block from my house, and marvel over the fact that if I got on that very highway and kept driving, it would take me far away from this dull, depressing town. If I went northeast, it would take me all the way to Iowa. If I went southeast, it would take me through the Big Bend country to the Mexican border. And once I was somewhere else—anywhere else but this God-forsaken town—all my problems would be solved. All I needed to do was get on the road …

Well, I left that town years ago, and learned that even if your problems are particular to place, you will always find new ones waiting in the next place. An old lesson we all have to learn. And re-learn.

For the promise of the road always beckons—the promise of the new and strange. Adventure, romance, fortune are always to be found somewhere else, just a little farther down the road.

The road, the glorious road, stretching into the sunset …

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Big Bus Trip of ’68, Part 12

And now I turn the pages to the week of my trip to Tennessee and pick up where I left off. Paul and I have met the girls. It is the next day of church camp …

July 16 - Me and Paul met Sheryl and Diane outside by the tabernacle for morning devotions. I don’t mind the church services now that I have a girl to sit by. -- Sheryl and Paul have entered the instrumental solo contest. Paul tried to talk me into playing a trumpet solo. But there wasn’t anything good to play, and I’d have to join the choir, like Sheryl & Paul did. So I decided not to. – Tonight one of the preachers preached about hell again. He told about a boy & girl that were making out in a car. It was cold so they were running the heater, but the car filled up with exhaust and killed them. They were found in each other’s arms without any clothes on, which he said was a terrible way to go. It sounded like a pretty good way to me, though. -- Paul told me he figured out a way he and Diane could hold hands during service without getting caught. They just sit close together with their arms folded to cover up their hands. He said they held hands all the way through morning service. So tonight I tried to get Sheryl to do it, but she didn’t want to. – After service she told me she thinks Paul & Diane are making a big mistake getting so attached to each other, because after camp is over they’ll never see each other again. --

July 17 - The watermelon hike was today. Richard didn’t go. All he wants to do is stay in the cabin reading comic books. Says he’s sick of the camp and all the church services. – Anyway, me, Sheryl, and Paul went on the hike. We saw a pioneer graveyard. I took pictures but it was cloudy so I don’t know how they came out. –After service tonight we were walking around in the dark behind the tabernacle (just the 4 of us) and a counselor stopped us and got after Paul & Diane for holding hands. Sheryl said, “I told you so” to Diane. – Me and Paul headed back to our side of the camp and stood around talking for a while. He says he and Diane are going to have a hard time saying goodbye Saturday. That’s when most people are leaving, but me & Richard are leaving Friday because we’re supposed to stop in Little Rock and stay with his aunt & his grandfather.

July 18 - Tonight after service Sheryl wasn’t saying much, and she just walked off during the Roundup without saying goodbye or anything. It all began when Paul called me to the side and said that me and him Actually, I’m not too sure what she’s mad about. I feel awful.

July 19 - This morning Paul came by and I went with him up to the tabernacle for morning devotions. I didn’t too much want to see Sheryl again, but Paul said I ought to so I did. Things were okay all of a sudden. She was nice to me again, which made me feel bad because I had to leave. I got everybody’s addresses then we all said goodbye. I felt sad. I probably won’t ever see Sheryl or Paul again. The 5 days there at camp went by so quickly. As we waited in the Murfreesboro and Nashville bus stations it seemed like we had never left them for any length of time. I felt gloomier when we got into Nashville. Richard kept asking me what was the matter but I didn’t want to talk about it. We had to wait a long time for the bus to Memphis. An old man came walking in with one shoe on. He asked us if he was in Chattanooga. We tried to tell him it was Nashville, but he didn’t understand us. After a while, he started telling me I needed a haircut and should comb my hair off my forehead. I just ignored him, and he then started asking Richard what was in his suitcase. The old man was evidently drunk. – Now we’re riding to Memphis. It’s late. I’m going to get some sleep …

There ends the excerpt. It fills in a great many gaps in my memory. I had completely forgotten that Sheryl was mad at me at one point. Why was she mad? The diary does not say, because I never found out.

Richard and I arrived in Little Rock early on Saturday morning. His aunt met us at the bus station and took us back to her home. We had barely slept on the bus overnight, so were exhausted. Richard’s aunt showed us to our beds. I slept until noon, sat up, looked out the window, and saw a cemetery right across the street …

to be continued

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Planned Obsolescence of Privacy

Los Angeles County is testing a remote-controlled, miniature aircraft that will cruise the skies videotaping everything below. In the words of Commander Sid Heal, director of the project, the drone is “virtually silent and invisible.” (LINK)

Naturally, this has raised privacy concerns--concerns which Commander Heal says are entirely unwarranted. “You shouldn’t be worried about being spied on by your government,” he says. "These days you can't go anywhere without a camera watching you, whether you're in a grocery store or walking down the street."

No, Commander Heal. Surveillance cameras are not everywhere. They may be in practically every public place, but they are not in every private place. They are not in backyards, for instance. But that's what these spy drones would effectively accomplish: government surveillance of our backyards.

Supposedly, these drones would only be used to find missing children, lost hikers, and the like. However, we all know it won’t stop there. Once this program begins, it will be expanded; the sky, literally, will be the limit. These drones will fill up the sky and will be routinely used to videotape everything below.

At least now, if you’re skinny-dipping in your backyard pool, you can run for the nearest towel at the sound of a helicopter. But these drones cannot be detected. You will never know whether or not you are under surveillance in your own backyard. In fact, if you are anywhere outdoors, you might as well assume you are always under surveillance.

Of course, it won’t stop with the great outdoors. No, the media will hype some horror story about a missing child hidden in someone's attack and the cry will go up: “Oh, if only x-ray lenses had been attached to the cameras, the child would have been found!” So x-ray lenses will be attached to the cameras.

Or maybe they’ll just install surveillance cameras in private homes and apartments. Sound farfetched? The Houston police chief has already begun promoting this idea. (LINK)

And so it goes, the planned obsolescence of privacy ...

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Girl from Frisco, or How I Spent My (Short) Summer Vacation

The days grow longer still …

I took a short vacation. Didn’t go anywhere. Couldn’t. The money’s not there. Diane badly needs knee surgery and we’re saving up for the $700 co-pay.

The insurance company calls it elective surgery. But in truth, she’s in great pain and if she doesn’t have the surgery soon she’ll be stuck with a permanent disability.

I guess by “elective,” they mean she could elect to be crippled if she preferred.

I hate insurance companies ...

I took a short vacation. Needed some time away from my day job to take care of some personal business. Also thought I would use that time blogging, working on my webcast, and drawing, but ended up taking a vacation from those things as well.

Seems that all I want to do is sit in my studio, drinking limeade, listening to exotica music, and reading old paperback novels. Right now I’m reading The Girl from Frisco by William Heuman.

The only times I go outside are in the mornings when I walk across the street to buy a cup of Dark Magic coffee at the Tiger Mart and in the afternoons when Diane and I swim. Swimming is the only physical activity Diane can enjoy without further damaging her knee, and even then she has to be careful.

When we come back from swimming, I have an exercise buzz, which I occasionally enhance by splashing a little gin in my limeade. But that’s all, just a splash and only a little. I’m drinking less alcohol these days, and feeling better in body and mind. Also losing weight. Wish I'd done this a lot sooner.

The Austin Chronicle will publish a special tribute to my late friend Jack Jackson in a few weeks. This is the same paper that several years ago published a review of Jack’s book Lost Cause in which he was wrongly called a racist. (See last week’s blog entry.)

Anyway, they asked me to contribute to the tribute. They want a short text piece and an illustration. They want to make amends to Jack’s memory by publishing this tribute, and I’m happy to be a part of any tribute to Jack. So I said I would.

Good old Jack.

Jack’s body was found in a cemetery in Stockdale where his parents are buried. His death is being investigated as a suicide. All I know is that he had been suffering from an extended illness. I figure the illness got to be too much for him.

That's the thing I couldn’t bring myself to write in last week’s blog entry. Now I’ve written it. And now I can move on.

I took a short vacation. But I did not take a vacation from the news. I’ve been reading the news every day. I read about the Supreme Court legalizing “no-knock” searches. I read about the suicides at Gitmo—suicides characterized by the Fourth Reich as some sort of terrorist attack on der Homeland. I read about ongoing atrocities in Iraq. I read about the latest sewage spill from Ann Coulter’s mouth. And so much more. So much I can’t list them all here. I don’t have to. You already know.

I read these things, and had nothing to say. For the first time, after years of reading the news, I found myself with nothing to say. I found myself overwhelmed, heartsick, at a loss for words. I had no words but these: “When are we going to move from words to action?”

I took a short vacation. The days grow longer still …

JFK Speaks on Secret Societies