Wednesday, February 28, 2007


It's hard for me to stay away from home for very long. I've been gone from Waco for a total of four days and I am already planning my early return.

A couple of years ago I became nostalgic. I've always been nostalgic, but a couple of years ago I became especially so and I woke up extremely early and drove to Carthage Texas, which is where my mother grew up and I spent a lot of time as a child. I wanted to stroll down the streets and eat breakfast at the tiny coffee shop just off the square that my grandfather would wake up every morning to walk to. Jason loaned me his laptop and I went to record my thoughts and I came out with a plan to write a book about growing up in church because I was so very cool.

I came to East Texas this time to become a little nostalgic again, but also to write about the last sixteen months of my life since Kyle died. Not because I'm cool, because since that trip a couple of years ago I've realized I'm not, but because I'm afraid I'll forget. In writing I've realized how much I have forgotten, and I want to stop the hemorrhaging of thoughts so I need to get them down.

I've done that, and I've also done things to rake up the nostalgia.

Jason, being a former local East Texas radio celebrity, will appreciate this:

I woke up early and left the amazing House of Damoff to head to Carthage. I discovered my one remaining (non/but you know how it works) relative was out of town, so I went to the tiny coffee shop again to have breakfast. It's run by Mexicans now who served the best Huevos Rancheros this side of the Neches river. Because I ate at a non-Caucasian run establishment, my grandfather did a couple of flips in his grave before I finished eating and visited it.

I walked around the graveyard and wasn't as sad as I had been in years past. I did become amused at a fact I discovered perusing tombstones that was previously unknown to me, which is that my great grandfather was 39 when he married my great grandmother, who had just turned 18. (You go John D., get you some!)

Oh, back to the part Jason would appreciate...

As I was leaving town my radio scanned over to Carthage's own KGAS, (yes, K-Gas,) and I spent the next thirty minutes listening to the "world famous" swap shop. (Note: Everything in deep East Texas is considered "World Famous." I think this has something to do with the proximity to Louisiana, which has a fairly high concentration of French people-- who could conceivably call their relatives in the motherland and tell them about KGAS's Swap Shop.)

On the WFSS (World Famous Swap Shop) callers relay information about goods and services they either need or offer and leave their telephone number for people to contact them. One lady had a couple of feet of linoleum she needed to get rid of and was offering a good price.

Another call went something like this--

Radio Guy: KGAS Swap Shop
Lady: Yeah, I still have this stump over on my property I need grindin'. So if there are any stump grinders, give me a call at 903-888-*78*.
Radio Guy: Alright you heard the number... If you have stump grindin' equipment, give her a call.
Lady: I need this done pretty quick, my little girl just got a divorce and she needs to roll her trailer over onto my property pretty quick. Oh, and I wanted to tell my husband I love him... we've been married 55 years next week.
Radio Guy: Well congratulations! That's wonderful.
Lady: Well, the Lord he has been good to us. But I still need a stump grinder, so call me!

As the saying goes, you can't make this stuff up.

I found the MySpace for the wrestling promotion I mentioned a few days ago. You can check it out HERE. And for Josh, Britt and Jonathan, my Happy Hour buddies, can anyone say "Field Trip?"

So I'm here in Tyler now just galivatin' around. I'll probably visit with my parents this evening then head back to Waco. I miss my dog.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Time Don't Matter to Me...

The greatest song in the world to listen to on a vacation is Dwight Yoakum's Thousand Miles from Nowhere.

It is so, for I speak truth.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Saturday Night Gladiators...

I pulled into Marshall on Saturday evening, past dark. It was windy and hazy. A sandstorm in West Texas earlier in the day had created a cloud of yuck all the way east to the Louisiana state line.

Like most East Texas towns, Marshall is generally quiet on a Saturday night. All the partying is going on in the pastures and honky tonks. The streets were quiet.

On my way to the Damoff’s, my wonderful hosts for this writing vacation I’m on, I turned onto Pope drive and noticed a few dozen cars alongside the road that is home to old abandoned warehouses and a meat-packing plant. In college I drove by this area a million times and can never recall seeing as much activity. I assumed some church had rented a building and there was a Saturday night revival going on, which is typical of these parts.

I had the window down in my car and could hear from one of the buildings a loud pounding. “Boom!” then a split second of metallic shaking. These occurred over and over at small intervals. As I continued my slow, curious drive, I looked up and saw the sign: Professional Wrestling every Saturday Night, 7:30.

I became alive. What was I to do?

You got it, I went in.

Beyond the small front room where I threw down my five bucks and bypassed the concession stand (which only sold pickles and cokes,) was a gutted out warehouse of some kind. The musty air was dimly lit by a couple of bulbs hanging high from the ceiling. In the middle of a crowd of just a few dozen was an old, well used wrestling ring, the kind that as a child I dreamed of owning.

In the back was an unkempt wheelchair bound elderly gentleman, presumably a veteran, as he sported VFW stickers on the back of his chair. The crowd was made of white and black, young and old. We refer to these types as "real" people. They wake up early and go to bed late, spending their hours surviving, without much care for the terms "emergant" "reformed" "Arminian." Calvin is just a guy down at the feed store.

I found a spot to stand, detached from the ones I was observing by a few feet, leaning against the metal wall.

"Pull ya up a chair, you aint headin' no place," screamed the man in the wheelchair. He said it again before I realized he was talking to me. So I went and I sat down and was transported back to another time. A simpler place. The wrestlers were introduced by the ring announcer holding a microphone with a hand held speaker.

They had their characters and some of the drama being unfolded before my eyes was a bit crude for my "more mature" sensibilities. One guy was white and from "Highland Park, Texas" while his opponent was a young African American from "Compton." The Highland Park wrestler taunted the Compton guy with chants of "Homey," and refused to fight until the referee patted Compton down in search of weapons. I shuttered at the baseness of it all.

But the fighting began with some (surprisingly) good (fake) wrestling moves. In the end Compton was victorious. When his hand was raised Highland Park shook his hand and raised the other, in a sign of solidarity.

If only the real world worked that way.

I didn't stay long and I'll tell you why. I watched wrestling incessantly as a child. Occasionally, back in the old days, a wrestler would begin to taunt someone in the crowd and challenge him to a fight. I didn't want this to happen to me out of fear that I would have been swept up into my childhood dreams of wrestling grandeur, entered the ring and break someones leg with my killer figure-four-leglock.
(awaiting a joke from Luke.)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Cheap Things...

(Grey's Stuff, don't look if you haven't watched.)

There are quite a few things to hate, or at least be disappointed with, concerning tonight's Grey's Anatomy. I won't go into those here. Instead I'll try to focus on a moment of beauty.

I've said elsewhere how the Grey's writers are masters of metaphor. Tonight they shunned all that for a more straightforward, if a little weird, storyline. But there was one key place they employed it tonight and this should be used by preachers the world over for years to come.

Christina Yang-- Cold, calculating, become-superb-at-all-costs, Christina Yang has spent her entire life avoiding being close to someone. We found out tonight why-- Her life has been haunted by watching her dad die right in front of her. But lately all that has changed. Her boyfriend almost dies and one of her fellow interns loses his father. Slowly the rough edges began to fall away and we saw a heart in there somewhere.

And then she, quite literally, loses her "person," the name she gave Meredith to avoid using the f-word. (Friend.) Does she complete her transformation? No, she grasps for the last shred of dignity she can find, leaves the hospital to walk the aisles of a dollar store. Everything is a dollar. Plastic chairs, bottles, toys, all a buck.

Life, death, love and beauty rush in and out and all around us and we are grasping like children for the shiny things that are cheap and fall apart and can never make us happy once we leave the store.

Luckily Christina had Burke to shake her back into reality and to bring her back to the world of people and touch and, well, of love.

Even for a disappointing episode, there's still some good stuff in there.

For Everyone Wondering...

From : Catherine Atkinson
Sent : Thursday, February 22, 2007 3:31 PM
To :
Subject : bachelor tally

I just wanted to let you know that you came in 4th place in our top 10 bachelors, with about 10 percent of the vote.

FYI, you received votes from across Texas and even out of state. I think there was 1 vote for you from Thailand!

Catherine Atkinson
Brazos Living editor
Waco Tribune-Herald

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

What was asked...

By the time I hit "PUBLISH" on this post, a cool and gentle breeze will have begun flowing into the brimstone gates of hell, as I'm about to agree with Bill Maher.

The debate rages on about Iraq while Americans are dying left and right. On any given day I could defend the proposition that these are unnecessary deaths and I can just as easily side with those who believe these are sacrifices that are ensuring freedom and safety for future generations. I usually doubt those, like my friend Robert, who say we invaded Iraq for oil, but at times I have my suspicions. Surge or no surge? Yes.

I'm that fickle.

Yet there's something that Maher says that I just can't deny. When it comes to the war on terror, President Bush's fatal flaw isn't that he asked too much from our country. It's that he didn't ask enough. After we were attacked, a wave of civic responsibility and unity overcame us. We were together and together we were asking, "What can we do?"

After Pearl Harbor, the event in our history most resembling 9/11, Americans sacrificed. Industry began manufacturing tanks instead of cars. Families consumed less. Children stashed money away in coffee cans and adults purchased war bonds. Everyone had a part and much was demanded.

There was a small window of opportunity where the American public would have done anything this President asked of us to fight the Islamic extremists. And what did he ask for? Patience. He relied on our military and asked the rest of us to be patient and understand that our soldiers may have to die so we can be comfortable and that our victories will not be like the victories of the past. In short, as Maher has said, he asked "the enemy" to fight our military. He didn't make them fight all of us.

So we went back to obsessing over Britney's bald head.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


I have some advice. If there is a restaurant or retail store you visit on a regular basis, you should let the staff know your name fairly quickly. If you don't, they will make one up for you, and you may not like it. Trust me on this.

Bavarian Phenology came into the store a few years ago on a quest to demean anyone and everyone who came across his path. He told a bookseller that we didn't have anything of substance, but he guessed that was typical since no one in Waco could read beyond a Hallmark greeting card level anyway. He asked for a title which we know doesn't exist because it doesn't appear in our search engine, which has just about every book that has ever existed. He argued for a while. Our bookseller finally asked if there was anything else she could do for him. He said he was looking for a book about certain subject, but that she was probably too dumb to even understand what he was asking about. She asked him to make an attempt. He told her he was looking for a book exploring how the weather patterns in an ancient region in what is now southern Germany affected the migration patterns of a certain bird. She thought about it for a split second and replied "So, you're looking for something on Bavarian Phenology?" The embarrassed look on his faced was worth a million dollars in gold. From that moment on Julius (his real name) became Bavarian Phenology.

I found out the other day that Check Man is really named Carl. But Carl will never be Carl to me because ever since I have been working at B&N Carl has come to our cafe ten minutes before we close on Sundays to purchase a Venti Pepsi and to sit down to balance his checkbook. Occasionally Check Man throws me for a loop and comes in on a Saturday night. I kid you not, when this happens I seriously begin to question whether or not the day is actually Sunday. The first time it happened I freaked out because I thought I had forgotten to go to church. One time Check Man thought he lost his check book and accused me of knowing who took it and of suppressing the truth. He found it at home later and came back to apologize. I suspect Check Man has mental issues stemming from combat of some kind, but he is generally a very nice man.

Our newest I have dubbed "Crazy Crystal on the Head Lady." Crazy Crystal on the Head Lady is the bad parent of a very well behaved 6th grade girl. The reason I know the girl is in 6th grade is because the first time I remember them coming into the store was to find a book about how to succeed in 6th grade. The reason I know Crazy Crystal on the Head Lady is a bad parent is because she came into the store with her daughter at 9:45 p.m. the day before Waco schools began this past fall. Who has their 6th grader out at 9:45 p.m. the night before school? Crazy Crystal on the Head Lady wears a beaded head thingy with a crystal hanging down her forehead. She's crazy, as she occasionally wears a T-Shirt advertising her phone number, which you can call if you want information on obtaining healing crystals. I really shouldn't be this judgemental, but I swear Crazy Crystal on the Head Lady is just plain crazy.

So if you are going to frequent a place, and especially if you are a wacko, you may want to introduce yourself very quickly.

Friday, February 16, 2007

There's a good chance my blogging will be sporadic over the next week or so. At the end of next week I begin a vacation. Because of this I'm working a lot of days in a row, and it's making me tired. I'm working on another installment of telling you about my neighborhood, and will probably randomly post stuff here and there. But I'm tired and need to take a few more naps.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

When it happens...

(Jason and Christy, look away.)

If you're looking for a reaction from me about tonights Grey's Anatomy, well... I'm not sure. I echo what Carney insinuated in his blog: In two weeks the show will either be considered one of the greatest ever, or Shonda Rhimes will be stoned in the square of public opinion. I hope she knows what she's doing.

But what I really thought throughout the episode is this:


In the car
At the park
Walking dogs
Waking up
Having Sex
Picking lettuce
Drinking at a bar
Crying in a hospital
Eating popcorn
Feeling sick
At a church
On the phone
A million other places
A million other verbs
This is where we are
And this is what we are doing
When death occurs

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Dreams of Dance...

What we do with our bodies is one of the great inner dilemmas facing those of us in a UBC worship service. We have our pasts to blame for this.

At the beginning of a new school year, when there were droves of new youngsters packing the pews to experience the "David Crowder Band Church," Kyle would give a short speech trying to lay a framework for how we approach corporate worship when the music is playing. It was equal parts invitation and caution. He suggested the bodily forms of worship will most appropriately be an expression of how God has wired us individually. People who are more or less introverted will likely retreat inward and process the words and music without much observable fanfare. Those who typically express themselves outwardly will probably show the same exuberance when the music begins. Of course none of us fall solely in one of those categories at all times, but it was a good way to understand things.

The caution part was mainly for the extroverts, who have to always be on guard to make sure their movements are an expression of worship rather than a need for attention.

The purpose was to make known that there is no officially sanctioned way to do things, and to encourage authenticity. He wanted people to be true to the way God created them. I thought of this several months ago when Rolling Stone did an article on the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The interviewer wondered aloud whether or not Anthony Kiedis danced so much, even in practice, because it had become his "shtick." Kiedis responded with a statement that has stuck with me, saying it would be fake if he DIDN'T dance.

Now, for the part about our pasts.

I'll be honest, every time I see a hand go up my guard goes up right with it. Having lived through the church "worship wars" of the 80's and 90's (primarily raged in more free church traditions, like Baptists,) I have been majorly affected by the explicit and insinuated dictates some people create to define or describe what "True" worship is. Without a rigid ecclesiastical hierarchy to send down decrees, the most influential voices reign in what passes for acceptable, or spiritual, worship. For Baptist churches seeking to be "relevant" in the mid-90's, these voices were the extroverts. Introverts were either left in the cold or forced to accept the fact that those who moved and shimmied about were a couple of rungs closer to the almighty. We were told that sometimes God doesn't want us to be comfortable. This was code for "If you don't worship the way I do, then you care more about comfort than you do about God."

You know what I'm screamin'.

Yet, to be even a little more honest, it's not just suspicion that causes my guard to go up when bodies are overcome with movement during the music. There's also a little jealousy.

A couple of years ago, during one of these "first Sundays," Singleton made the hilarious comment that he bets we have at least one "spinner" this year. I've laughed about this comment ever since, because I've seen a "spinner." Lost in emotion, the spinner needs a little more surface area to commune with God than the rest of us. The jokes abound but I can't help but believe there is a "spinner" in all of us just waiting to be let loose. I envied this kid a bit when I saw him. My first thought, of course, was that he was just seeking attention. But my position now is , "So What?" Aren't we all seeking attention? Lost in worship or not, he looked like he was having a rip roaring good time.

The difficult thing, as in most areas of life, is finding that balance. Worship, as it is expressed through music, is neither primarily corporate nor personal, but a strange overlapping of both. When Crowder sings "It's just you and me," we should all know by now that it really isn't, and that's why the echoes are important. I dream of dancing and being caught up in emotion, but mainly because I want to be a part of something, not because that's necessarily who I am. But if it's who WE are, then so be it.
(I'm reading a WONDERFUL book right now that has inspired these thoughts. It's by Barbara Ehrenreich, the author of Nickel and Dimed. It's called Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy. I highly recommend it.)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Not the Father...

A couple of weeks after Kyle died I picked Avery and the twins up from school. Avery was five and five year olds still like to hold the hands of adults. When five and a half hits, I have found, it's no longer the thing to do.

So I held her hand and we walked out the door of her wing to go get the boys and the air around Waco was still thick with the sharp blow of loss we had just been dealt. Avery looked up at me, chuckled a little, and said "Everyone probably thinks you're my daddy." I, being the brilliant adult, knew better and told her, "No, I think everyone knows who your dad was."

We picked the boys up then headed out to the playground at which point a lady told me that I had beautiful children.

Avery knows.

Today I picked the boys up and took them to Chic-Fil-A to play on the playground. Some of their friends from school just happened to be there. One of the moms, who lives in the same neighborhood as the Lakes, asked me where Jen was. I told her I have the boys on Monday afternoons while Jen spends time with Avery. When the sentence came out of my mouth I realized one of the other mothers there did not know the story and immediately smelled a divorce somewhere in my past. Her little girl, who has obviously never met a stranger, came up and started tickling me. She yelled to Jude, "Hey, come help me tickle your dad!" I told her, "Oh, I'm not their dad, I'm just their friend," which immediately seemed to send waves of terror through the unknowing mother. She said "Oh, you're not?" I said no, that their dad had (and then I lowered my voice to shield the boys from the news that will be a part of their lives forever) "passed away."

Jude immediately sought to translate what I had really meant to this mother. He looked at me in my solemn declaration, then gently, as if to shield me from the news, turned to the lady and said bluntly, "He died."

Jude knows.

In our Sunday School class this week we learned about the work of Robert Coles, a true Renaissance man who seeks to cut through all the jargon (code word for bullshit) that grown-ups invent to absorb the blows of reality and to just let people tell their story.

And this is what I want: To tell my story and allow others to tell theirs.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Time Has Come...

My Fellow Central Texans,

As you remember, I made THIS ANNOUNCEMENT a couple of weeks ago stating my intentions to form an exploratory committee to research the feasibility of me becoming Central Texas' Hottest Bachelor. Since that time I have met many of you around this great geographic region. I've shaken hands, hugged necks, even kissed a few babies. I've listened to your concerns about the state of bachelorhood in this area and... (long pause to summon up a tear)... I feel your pain.

Not only do I feel your pain but I am determined and committed to alleviating it. That's why I have announced this morning in the Trib, my intentions to become your H.O.T. Bachelor! (hold for lengthy and thunderous applause.) (For you non Central Texans, H.O.T. means "Heart of Texas.") Together we can and will prevail!

You can read the bios and vote HERE.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The lepers in my head...

I knew Kyle's death would leave a gaping hole in my life. I felt that from the beginning. What I didn't know was how much the world would change without him in it.

Sometime around last summer I began to realize that things would not go back to normal. I think I initially acted under the belief that there would be a time of grieving that would gradually end and then we could all return to the way things were. That gaping hole would be there, of course, but we'd all settle back into the roles and places we occupied before that October day. That didn't happen.

I've discovered over the past year or so that death isn't like the removal of a puzzle piece where the rest of the picture remains static, but incomplete. Rather, it's more like a storm blowing through and tearing all the pieces apart. We are torn apart and have to deal with more than just a missing piece. There's a struggle that goes on among all the parts concerning where their new places will be. Some pieces say "I was over there," when they weren't. Others rigidly try to remain put, even though the puzzle has completely changed.

In the midst of all that, I have come to the conclusion that it's a whole new place I'm living in. Like the abducted children we've seen in the news lately, fear grips me at times and prevents me from crying out for help. After a year, two, three, does anyone even notice? What happens when time settles the debris and the story begins to take on new twists and turns, when everyone and everything is unrecognizable?

I realize I'm a couple of years late to this party, but the rendition of U2's One with Mary J. Blige is completely moving. I've been listening to it a lot lately and am struck at the myriad meanings and feelings that emanate from a single song.

One love, one blood, one life you've got to do what you should.

I hear this and I realize that none of us are allowed enough time to stop and rest to figure out how all the rough edges of life and death should be smoothed out. There is no time out.

Just a moving forward.

Friday, February 09, 2007

It's Like That...

And I don't know where to look
My words just break and melt
Please just save me from this darkness
--Snow Patrol Make This Go On Forever (From last night's Grey's)


I love Scrubs and I love Grey's Anatomy. They're the only prime time shows I watch.

If you have also kept up with both, you may have noticed that Scrubs, an NBC show, has been taking subtle pot-shots at ABC's Grey's off and on this season. Little things like talking about how there aren't that many pretty people on the staff of any hospital and insinuating that the device of using the main character's voice-over was a ripoff. Perhaps the harshest came in one of J.D.'s monologues earlier in the season where he said something to the effect that reality never presents us with people whose situations provide us a perfect metaphor to help us understand our own.

And it's true, Grey's Anatomy does this quite often. One character is facing something in their life then along comes a patient whose life situations, while different, gives the doctor insight into what really should be done. Last night it was the little girl, who lost her mom and wet herself and latched on to the first person who looked like they could help, a doctor nonetheless, Dr. Meredith Grey.

Metaphorical mirrors abound in Seattle.

But this is what I love about Fiction of any kind. It's so NOT real, but it makes gratuitous use of literary devices to speak into our every day, dirt-and-sweat lives.

And this is also what I loved about the last fifteen minutes of last night's show (Grey's, that is.) If you ever want a big fat metaphor for the perilous situation the Christian tradition tells us we are all in, then go to and watch the last segment of the show.

Something happened, and things are not as they were. An accident (Scripture would call in sin,) has happened and now we are all going to die unless someone Who is able can help us. Sure there's laughter and relationships and gentle moments, but we are all terminal and about to drown. We need help, and we need it right now.

I think for years the predominant worldview permeating pop-culture is that everything is fine, have fun and celebrate because everything is fine. But it does no good to pretend things are fine when they aren't. That peppy doctor looked shell-shocked in the waiting room because she was ill equiped to deal with real life where everyone needs help.

But, in the case of humanity, help has been granted. David's "Rescue me!" found all over the Psalms turned into Paul's proclamation in Colossians that "God rescued us from dead-end alleys and dark dungeons."

Things aren't fine, but they will be. We just have to work hard.

Alright, enough of the "God in Grey's Anatomy" sermon...

Thursday, February 08, 2007

About Tonights Grey's Anatomy...

Dear Blake and Karla (my friends in Seattle,)

For heaven's sake, get down to the docks now and help out! Get search and rescue to help Izzie lift that damn car off that guy, find that little girl's mom, help O'Malley find that mother's son, and PLEASE jump into the water to save Meredith!

I can't take this.




It'll be a huge tempation for the American public to dismiss the tragedy of Anna Nicole Smith's death because of the cartoon-like persona she put forth in the media. I hope that doesn't happen.

When I first heard the news one of my initial thoughts (after wondering if she'd be buried in Mexia) was with her daughter. With the paternity suit in full swing, this story will heighten the already intense debate going on in our country about what constitutes a family.

What a crazy story...

Me and My Girl Jane...

Isn't she beautiful?

It looks like I'm choking her, but I'm not.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Concord and Cherry...

Outside my door on Neches street, to the east and down the road about 50 yards, is Concord, which runs north and south. Concord connected CR 2010 to Cherry street, which loops around to form a trapezoid of sorts. (Shapes are hard for me to describe. Check out THIS FROM MAPQUEST...just zoom in a little. It's a small town, your bound to find it.)

Where Concord meets Cherry once stood a giant oak tree in the middle of the road, with limbs hovering high above the houses on each side. When I was young someone decided to chop that tree down. It evidently turned out to be a bigger project than expected, as all they could get down was the top of the tree, leaving a six-foot tall stump in it's place for years to come.

The winter of 1983 was the coldest of my life. It was below freezing from just past Christmas until the end of January, causing Lake Palestine to freeze over. Back then there was still a lot of water in the lake and I remember cars driving across it for fun.

I was eight.

The thing I most remember about that winter is the snowman some people built around that stump at the end of Concord. It was massive, rising above the actual stump around two to three feet. It was indomitable, greeting those brave enough to be driving around with it's ominous presence, almost acting as a gatekeeper to our neighborhood.

The phrase "roots run deep" carries significant meaning for many. It does for me. I love that the tree-choppers didn't have adequate tools to wipe out all evidence of that old oak. It lingered for many years, reminding us that, as Rich Mullins sang, we are not as strong as we think we are.

Yet eventually someone in Chandler finally discovered fire. I was in high school and driving home one day when I noticed the charred remains of that old stump clinging to the ground. Even as a young person this angered me. Perhaps to a fault, I've always been someone who wants things to remain the same. (Someone once called me the "advocate for the way things were.") I mourned the loss of that old stump for years.

The corner of Concord and Cherry is wide. There is a patch of asphalt where the stump stood. Because of this the tree refuses to give up ground, as it reminds us that even though nothing is there, something once was. But eventually someone will repave all the streets and all evidence of that old tree will be gone.

This is why I write. I write as an advocate for that tree.

Blake's Blog...

THIS is one of the best things I've read in a long time.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Cherry Street...

We soon shall join the throng
Their pleasures we shall share
And sing the everlasting song
With all the ransomed there

There in celestial strains enraptured myriads sing
There love in every bosom reigns for God Himself is King

-- Our Happy Home, sung by The David Crowder Band

Neches street is less than a quarter mile long and connects Cherry and Concord streets, both of which bring the west side of Chandler to County Road 2010 on the north. When I was growing up there were only three houses on Neches, five if you counted the two on the corner that faced Concord.

It was typically a quiet neighborhood, although at the time my limited perspective made me believe it was the center of the world. Ms. Tucker lived across the street and generally kept to herself, although she was friendly. The Peyton's were our next door neighbors on the east side of the house. They had four kids, all boys. (A daughter would be born after they moved away.)

Split Neches in half and on the East side were ours and the Peyton's houses. On the west, heading to Cherry street, were three or four acres of nothing but trees and underbrush.

Most southern towns have a street that historically acted as a dividing line between blacks and whites, and Cherry street was ours. On the east side of Cherry, just past the woods outside our house were winding roads that led down a small valley in which dozens of trailers and old clapboard homes rested. The people who lived in this neighborhood were all a part of the Faith Tabernacle Church of Deliverance. Their pastor was the Reverend J.D. "Papa" Hamilton. We called their neighborhood Black Town. (The older folks in Chandler called it something else.)

Although Black Town was virtually a part of our neighborhood, we never crossed Cherry Street to wander down the valley. Occasionally someone with an overload of bravado would proclaim they had, but we all knew better.
"Papa's kids," as they were called, all went to school with us. We were friends inside the hallowed halls of academia (the lunchroom,) but we never dared speak to them of the lives they lived after the bell rang. What we did know was that they were only allowed to be with us in a classroom setting. During any school-wide assemblies or field trips they all were taken to another room, along with a few other kids whose parents, based on religious convictions, wanted them to stay away. As time progressed this was always a given, and we rarely asked questions. It was also understood that the children of Black Town would never participate in extracurricular activities. (It's often said by the townsmen that "We could've won state back in (insert year here) if Papa's kids could've played football.")

Their community was often shrouded in mystery. Rumors spread about what went on down there. Cannibalism. Child Abuse. Even, horror of all horrors, sex. What is known is that at the age of 12 most of the children were separated from their parents and moved to a dormitory style dwelling that was overseen by one of Papa's sons. The men, and some of the women, worked in in town(many worked at the Kelly Springfield plant with my dad,) and it is widely believed that the entirety of their paychecks went to Papa Hamilton, who in turn distributed the funds according to his discretion. It also got around that they had their own grocery store (although that theory was later debunked.)

These things go a long way in creating distrust in a group of people who can't see past their front door.

One time when I skipped church after Sunday School to watch wrestling, I stepped outside for some reason and heard a commotion coming from down the hill, just past Cherry Street. I decided to sit on the back porch a while to hear it out. It turned out to be the worship coming from the Faith Tabernacle Church of Deliverance. I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't a little scared at the sounds coming from the congregation. Loud doesn't do it justice, although it was loud. (The actual church was probably a half-mile away from my house.) There was something primal about it. Ancient, almost.

The tambourines and the voices and the clapping and foot stomping carried all the way to Neches and reached a kid who didn't know another way of living and breathing was even an option. These sounds reverberated in a corner of my soul I never knew existed. As I said, I was scared. I'd probably still be a little scared if I heard it again.

But what these people had, at least for a moment, and even with the possibility that it was manipulated hysteria, was what Barbara Ehrenreich calls "collective joy." That feeling that you are part of the whole outside of yourself is a capacity we all possess. Yet when it occurs to a group we are not part of and don't understand, it's easy for us to categorize as "savage," or, at best, "base."

A couple of years ago, in a moment of delayed bravery, I decided to cross Cherry Street and explore this place that once brought so much trepidation and intrigue. The community was much smaller than I had expected, consisting of only two or three roads that ran parallel to each other before rounding out into a complete loop. I saw an old apartment building that was probably the dormitory where some of my classmates lived as teenagers.

J.D. Hamilton passed away a few years ago and in the aftermath much of those in the community began to expand their social boundaries. They now can play sports, much to the delight of Brownsboro Bear fans, who followed a football team well into the playoffs this season. They no longer pool their resources into a communal fund. I guess, if you would, they have become more "normal," whatever that means.

It was in the dead heat of an unbearable Texas summer, so not many people were out and about. The few people I did see were on their porches, mostly the elderly. I waved, which is a requirement anywhere in East Texas when you are behind the wheel. I was received at first with eyes of suspicion, I guess as anyone in any small community would greet a strange car. But once it appeared to them that I was not out selling something, the feeling became more comfortable and neighborly.

I often think about the distance that separates groups of people. It can seem like such an expanse, even if it's just a block down the road. The customs of the people of the Faith Tabernacle Church of Deliverance were, and probably still are, foreign and a little frightening to me. Yet there is a kinship among humanity that cannot be denied. We all seek a closeness to a group of people, a closeness that has no adequate word in language to describe. In this closeness we sing and dance and even sit on porches passing the day, waving at strangers, and in it we hear an echo of a city in which the Streets of Gold are streets that connect, but don't divide.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

My Weekend...

Here's what I've spent my rare three-day weekend doing:

1. Reading.I take home way too many Advanced Reading copies of books, and hardly ever read them. But I decided I am going to start making more use of these free treasures. Angel's Rest is the first thing I've read in a long time that is just good. Not great. Not necessarily riveting. Just a good story. I usually lose interest when something is "just good," and it ends up littering my car and room. But I've decided to push through and I suspect the payoff will be worth it.

2. Taking naps.

3. Discovering the depths of Itunes. I've downloaded the following songs this weekend:
-- Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Day Light by The Oak Ridge Boys.
-- Memories of East Texas by Michelle Shocked. (I read something about the power of songs with place names, and realized I didn't know of any song that spoke of East Texas. So I searched and I found this and it is GREAT. Shocked is a native of Gilmer (county seat of Upshur) and sings of learning to drive "on those East Texas red clay back roads." Check out this lyric-- "Looking back and asking myself 'what the hell did you let them break your spirit for?/ You know their lives ran in circles so small that they thought they'd seen it all/ But they couldn't make a place for a girl who'd seen the ocean.")
-- Worried Man Blues and Can the Circle Be Unbroken by Maybelle Carter.

4. Had Happy Hour on Friday then a nice evening at the Carney's hanging out with people I don't normally hang out with.

5. Today: Church, Lunch, Nap, Read, Superbowl at Holly's.

6. Intermittently throughout the week I walked Jane several times with her new training collar. I've gotten a lot of opinions about this. Thanks for everyone's suggestions. Jane is actually taking to the collar quite well. She hasn't jerked my arm since I started using it and today I think she finally figured out that it's REAL comfortable when she walks right beside me. I think it's going to be great for our relationship because I've been calling her a bitch too much lately. I mean, that IS what she is, but it's not what I meant.

It's been a great weekend, but I'm feeling a little draggy today.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Dog Woes...

Jane is getting big. We haven't been to the vet in a while, but my estimate is that she's somewhere around 55 lbs., and growing by the day. When I take her for walks and she gets hyper, I'm hardly able to contain her anymore. This is why I took the drastic step of buying a training collar for her today. These particular collars have metal studs that grind into a dog's neck if the leash gets too tight, so it encourages them to stick close by.

I'm laying in bed right now already feeling a little guilty for having to begin using it tomorrow. I just have to keep reminding myself that it's for her own good.

In other news, I put in a request for a vacation at the end of this month. My plan is to hole myself up in places East of here and church out some chapters of a book. Not the book I've been talking about for a while, but something different. I'm hoping to spend several hours each day writing. In my free time, if any of you are in the Marshall/Longview/Tyler area, I'd love to visit. I'll have a fairly wide open schedule. I'm hoping to reconnect with some of you during that time.

That's it for now. I've actually got the whole weekend off, which would be prime writing time. I think, though, that I may stay away from the computer and find a book to devour before the Super Bowl on Sunday. If I don't check in, I hope you have a good weekend.


I guess it's possible that Cory is correct in his assessment that I have "moved toward the center" when it comes to the Iraq situation. (You can read some of my thoughts in a discussion at Aaron's blog HERE.) It's hard sometimes to admit when you are moving in the same direction as public opinion, especially when you have held it up as a virtue when our political leaders feel there are some decisions that should be made independent of public opinion.

For the record, I still hold it as a virtue. One of the greatest books I was forced to read in college was Kennedy's "Profiles in Courage." If you haven't read it, you should. It tells the story of major figures from the U.S. Senate who made tough decisions that were extremely unpopular at the time, and that eventually cost most of them their careers. History looks back on these people with admiration because they refused to do the popular thing.

The whole frustrating catch, though, is that we can never know whether or not something is unpopular because it is right (or in spite of the fact that it is right,) or if the sole reason it is unpopular is because it is wrong. History rarely, if ever, gives us the luxury of immediate vindication. We are all forced to cast our lots and endure the excruciating march of time.

I think this is probably why the public at large is moving either to the center or to the left. The great exodus to the winning side is a staple of our particular brand of democracy. A small amount are staying with the president, because if history vindicates them, it will be a SERIOUS vindication. If over time Iraq stabilizes into at least a somewhat functioning and peaceful state, ,history will speak of these patriots as the great foreseers.

But most of us (me included) find it hard to muster the fortitude to keep turning on the news day in and day out and seeing another dozen soldiers were killed. So we move to the center and don't hedge any bets, preferring instead to claim victories from both sides. But does any of this actually honor our soldiers, and do either side ensure that we are protected?

Usually when I write about these things I trail off into incoherent nonsense, without any hope for a resolution. Which is, I believe, quite appropriate in the story of the New World we are all living in. Everyone from every spectrum is waving their flags of victory and virtuosity, all living under the false impression that the answers are easy. But they aren't, and it doesn't do anyone any good to say they are.

So here I am, trailing off...

Thursday, February 01, 2007


(sitting on a couch, fireplace in the background, my dog Jane taking a nap next to me, me staring into the camera...and, ACTION!)

Dear Fellow Citizens of Central Texas,

I have sought to remain out of the public eye as much as possible. My week primarily consists of going from home to work and back. I am happy with this rhythm as it allows me to live in simplicity, which is to say, how God intended it.

Yet I have a firm conviction that when the time is right, and duty calls, It is my civic responsibility to step out of my zone of comfort and actually do something to make this world a better place. Although I haven't sought this, you have spoken and I am listening. This is why I am announcing this morning the formation of an exploratory committee to assess the feasibility of me seeking the office of Central Texas' most eligible bachelor.

I met last night with representatives of the Waco Tribune Herald, who will be administering the selection process. Our time together was extremely productive. I was pleased with the intensity with which they are approaching this very serious choice you will have to make. They did not shy away from the difficult questions, like "what do you do in your free time?," and "for you, what would be a perfect date?" And I did not shy away from answering them.

I know, however, that my opponents will raise other concerns about my candidacy. Before these attacks begin, let me go ahead and address a couple of them right off the bat.

-- Hotness. It is not clear yet whether this competition is for Central Texas' "Hottest" or "Most Eligible" Bachelor. Either way, "hotness" will more than likely play a factor. It is true, I have never, by any stretch of the imagination, been considered "hot." I have a receding hairline. My facial features could be described as plain at best. At my most fit, I'm still a little soft around the midsection.

But there are a few things that fall outside the traditional categories that my other "hot" competitors are probably lacking. The most prominent being my well defined calves. Sure, the only reason these two beasts are so sexy is because of the many years they were forced to carry close to 300 lbs., but that is neither here nor there.

It was pointed out to me last night by a mildly attractive and somewhat fit divorce' at the La Fiesta bar that I have dimples. I understand that someone acknowledging the presence of dimples does not necessarily imply attractiveness. But I can assure you, and my friend Britt, who was there, can attest to this fact, that while the words of her statement were "You have dimples," the implication behind those words were clearly, "Will you please have sex with me tonight?"

Sure, I do not fit the commonly held notion of what "hot" is. But I shower daily. I've learned from my coworker Carol (in several very harsh reprimands) that soap and water are not sufficient facial cleaners. Because of this I have begun to exfoliate, and you can see the difference. The winter months have taken a toll on my briefly trim body, but I will be taking steps to remedy this by returning to the gym. While I will never grace the covers of an Abercrombie and Fitch catalog, or even the Goody's insert in your local Sunday paper, I have a certain understated quality to my look. Everyman. Rugged, even.

--Fashion. Of all my past indiscretions, this is perhaps the gravest. I have no one to blame for my failings in this area except my ignorance and apathy. I went for years not only in the dark about what "tapered" means, but also that they were not an appropriate cut for jeans. I had no idea, until recently, that brown shoes and black pants don't go together. I'm still struggling with issues of tuck and untucked.

Yet I believe the solution to my problem isn't denying it, but accepting it and surrounding myself with brightest and most knowledgeable experts in the field. I am currently taking advice from people who have vast experience in dressing men. Top tier names like Carol Witte and Jen Lake are working around the clock trying to find a way to help me improve in this area.

You don't need me to tell you that these are perilous and trying times. You have all lived for years under the difficult umbrella of not knowing who Central Texas' Most Eligible Bachelor is. I want you to rest assured that I feel your pain. The mountains are high. Treacherous are the paths that lead to the promised land. They are teeming with bands of ill-wishers who would rather us not have a Most Eligible Bachelor. But we will succeed. We MUST succeed. With your help, I will lead us to victory in this epic struggle.

May God bless you. And may God continue to bless the marketing and distribution area of the Waco Tribune Herald, (including those with access to the Trib at