BIRTHDAYS ARE A-COMIN'
-- DAYS 18 & 19
-- DAYS 18 & 19
By (c) Russ Barnes. All rights reserved: Text.
July 24, 2008, Thursday. I write like crazy. Plumbers arrive about 9:15. Hurricane rain starts. Gets heavy. Streams all over the place. Texas has no sewers or gutters for run-off. Plumbers work in the rain. Joe shows up about 11:30 a.m. We talk and talk. Story after story. He scrutinizes Murphy. He says, “This dog has improved. Needs to be around a man. Stays outside. Follows tracks. Girls are 'good people'. But a dog needs a man. Any animal that licks its own ass for pleasure can’t be all bad.”
Jacquelyn shows up with four girls. It's Maddy's thirteenth birthday and three friends have come along to celebrate. Joe and I go down to the tank and look for pigs. Nothing moving but the jumping fish. We come back up to the guesthouse. We talk until 11:30 p.m. about aging. He talks about hard-scrabble growing up. About the chicken farm in West Virginia. And the fish in Florida. He talks about growing up hard-scrabble, but it’s really not that different when it really comes down to life, its pleasures and its troubles.
Joe talks about his dad dying. His mother wouldn’t take care of him then. He had a heart attack in a bar. And a guy resuscitated him and broke a rib doing so. Then he had a cancerous pancreas. Joe and Karen were living in Las Vegas at the time. Joe drove all the way to Florida. Put his dad in the back seat with everything he owned, and drove his him all the way back to Las Vegas. Karen and Joe took care of him for a year and a half. He was “a tough mother-f**ker,” Joe says. When his dad died, it It was the hardest thing in his life.
WE DISCUSS DEPRESSION
WE DISCUSS DEPRESSION
I describe my depression at the death of my parents in 1991. Joe says, “depression doesn’t describe it. I have not recovered yet. I just don’t have the faculties I used to. I can shoot a deer at three-hundred yards right between the eyes. But I have trouble gettin’ outa the truck. You know, Russ, this is all just fun. When the fun is gone -- that’s it. The switch will turn off. I said, ”I think I have at least a good twenty years left.” Joe said, “You run that road on your bicycle like you do and you might just make it, Captain.”
“I just don’t want to have to start over again,” Joe said, rather mournfully.
I told him about how I got over my depression. At that time it had to do with the smiles from girls while I crossed over Key Bridge on the sidewalk to Georgetown one day, and then eating two plates of mussels. Appetite back. Joe says, “That's like New Orleans, Russ.”
We talk into the night about girlfriends. Joe says, “Listen to that shit over there in the big ranch house. They’re watching a dancing movie. But it’s a bonding thing goin’ on over there. Those little girls with a mother, giggling and stuff. That’s happy stuff.”
Joe wants to know what was the love of my life. I am puzzled. He says, ”This one woman. Now listen up. I had a practice marriage. Then I married this blond Texas woman, and it is good. I mean good. She is my partner and I love her dearly. Forever. But there was one woman. I’ll never forget her even till I breathe my last breath. I still communicate with her sometime. Unforgettable, Captain.”
FISH, ANIMALS, WOMEN, GRASS, TREES, & DIRT
One thing I realize. I can write better in Texas than I can in Washington. The language is so direct here. It’s fish, animals, women, grass, trees, dirt, water, sky, snakes, food, and the blues. In Washington, language is circuitous. It beats around the bush by passive voice and jargon. Joe says every day, “Life is good in the brush.” And the language reflects that simplicity. I am writing better here.
July 26, 2008, Saturday. I take the dog, Murphy, on a big hike. Take him again down the road to Cow Creek. Me on my bicycle. He heels to my right, next to the front tire. Just fine. It is a stretch for him as he is a back yard dog. I have him way out in the country as I have done with all my dogs. He was so nifty as he was smart enough to get over all the cattle crossings -- which Joe says takes intelligence in an animal.
This was like a twelve mile trip both ways over big hills. I bring water and a bowl for Murphy in my little blue bike carton. We get down to the swimming hole. I strip off my clothes and wade in. Up to my neck. Do the back stroke. Murphy tentative. But he takes the plunge. Swimming all over the place. Jumping back onto land. Shaking off and jumping back in. I am encouraging: “Yee-haa! Go Murphy! Swim!”
We go back uphill. It is a hard pull through this hill country. The sky is tall blue and the green yellow leaves of the live oak make a contrast against the blue sky you can gaze at it all day. These trees are not like dark tall oaks of the east, but rather are all craggy and twiggy and kind of snarly with air-plants living on the limbs. I wave to all the motorists along the way raising four fingers off the right handlebar. That salutation means you know Texas friendly. Murphy and I go through the ranch gate. Up another 1/2 mile. Tough ride for dog and man. Murphy is out like a light after a cool draught of water.
WANNA TAKE MURPHY HOME WITH YOU???
Jacquelyn’s husband, David, shows up to check out the ranch plumbing. He says, “That dog seems awful relaxed.” Well, I guess so. He says, “You can take him back to Washington. Why don’t you? We’ll pay for his airfare.” I say. “Love this dog. But where I live I would have to put him on a leash, and I don’t believe in doing that with a dog. I feel it is cruel. Furthermore he would attack policemen on the street.”
Jacquelyn arrives with her brood and is a bit concerned that I took Murphy on such a hard ride. So is the ranch manager. Well, I think, I friggin' made the journey at 65 years old. So can Murphy at eight and a half months. I say, "The dog is working out. I mean we’re improving his cardiovascular system. He will get better going on these trips. Dogs need to run!" Then Maddy says, "Yeah, it’s just like basketball. He’ll get in better shape." Murphy sleeps practically for two days. Good for him. Texans are known to be tough. But I perceive we guys from western Pennsylvania are pretty tough too.
To be continued tomorrow.