Archive for April, 2009

Climbing mountains

It’s hailing. Thunder booms and pebbles of ice ding my helmet and arms as I pedal down the mountain, descending from Columbine Mine at 12,600 feet to Twin Lakes, the low point on the course, which is still 9,200 feet above sea level.

Today is August, 9, 2003. Today is the Leadville 100, the race across the sky.

I’m 55 miles deep into the mountain bike race, and I’ve already crashed twice, suffered through cramps in my calves and thighs, and teetered on the brink of vomiting for at least an hour. It’s been a hard day, and it’s only going to get harder.

What I should be doing right now is concentrating on riding smart, on forcing food down, on picking right lines, on conserving energy, on not getting electrocuted by lightning.

But instead I keep thinking about Sally, my wife, who is waiting at the next check point with an iced bottle of Cytomax, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and mango slices, none of which I’ll want to choke down. I keep replaying the scene from that morning, me pulling together my gear for the race, Sally walking out of the bathroom, Sally showing me a plastic stick the size of a pen.

“Does that line mean what I think?” I had asked.

Sally nodded.

“Holy shit.”

Sally smiled broadly.

“You got that right,” she said. “Holy shit.”

On the bike, I well up, imagining Sally waiting for me in the storm, wondering about the cells dividing and growing in her belly. I’m thrilled and terrified and confused. This race. This hail. That that line on the stick. Holy shit, Holy shit. I’m going to be a dad.

Eight months and two weeks after Leadville, those cells in Sally multiplied and changed and combined and became Eli. In the middle of the night, wailing, covered in slime, Eli arrived, birthed without drugs.

I’m sure I was in shock: Holy shit. Me? A dad? Holy shit. But I bet I was also awestruck: Isn’t he beautiful? Isn’t this all very beautiful?

Eli turns five today. He’s wiry and sensitive like his old man, athletic and smart like his mother. I can’t imagine a better child. And I can’t imagine that life before him, that world of late-night dinners and long bike rides in white sunlight.

I enjoyed that time. I’m grateful to have had it. But I like this better, me riding bikes with Eli on the neighborhood trail, me holding Slade while he coos, me being a dad.

So happy birthday, Eli. Your mom and I are proud of you. We’re awfully glad to have you here.

As to the race? The Leadville 100? I broke and then I broke again, but I kept riding, my gut rotten, my body crushed, a slow flatlander destined to fail.

My goal was to finish in under 12 hours. At Leadville, if you beat 12 hours, you get a belt buckle, your name and time on a sweatshirt, and the pride of being an official finisher. If you finish in over 12 hours, you get jack squat.

With a time of 12 hours, 1 minute and 12 seconds, I got the jack squat.

It burned working that hard, coming that close, and failing. But I knew on August 9, 2003, just as I still know today, that I left every ounce of me on the course.

I’m not ashamed. Not one bit.

And besides, before the race ended, I was gearing up for the looming challenges of pregnancy, child birth, and daddyhood. New mountains were growing in my mind, and soon I would climb them.

Picture dump

I was going to write something about something, but then I decided that the something was boring and that even I wouldn’t want to read it. So I’m sparing you—because I’m nice like that—and posting a scattershot of recent pictures instead.

Here’s Eli and his favorite hat. He likes wearing it to bed.

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Here are the brothers just before Easter.

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Here we are at the Tax Day Party. We left well before things got rowdy, so I can’t give a full report. But word is, nobody was arrested, beaten up, hospitalized, or accidentally blown up.

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Here’s the Pedernales River at sunset at the same party.

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And finally, here is the obligatory kids-in-the-Texas-bluebonnets shot. Notice how the boys look displeased about the whole deal. I’m pretty sure that means they’re smart. Or at least cool.

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Falls the shadow

“I’m scared, Mom and Dad,” exclaims Eli, our four year old, who’s standing on the landing outside his room well after his bedtime. “I’m scared of the monsters.”

Sometimes Sally looks in on him, but tonight I’m the one to amble up the stairs from the living room. As I tuck him back into bed, I assure him he’s safe and remind him that his mom and dad are here in the house. I leave the dogs to comfort the boy and walk back to the living room.

I don’t mention monsters when I talk to Eli. Perhaps I should. Perhaps I should console him by explaining that monsters aren’t real, that they don’t exist.

But that wouldn’t be honest.

The truth is I believe in monsters. And I believe in the Bogeyman.

I keep thinking about Kimberly Saenz. You know about her, I’m sure, the nurse in Lufkin who injected bleach into her dialysis patients, burning them from the inside out, telling jokes as she ignited her patients all along their veins.

No doubt, you know about lots of other monsters, too.

And if you’re honest to the bone, you know that they’re not just out there. They’re in here, in our thoughts and dreams; in our monsterous urges to be cruel, ruthless, and violent; in that savage hiss that instructs us to leap from the ledge.

But how do you tell a four year old and his little brother that the Bogeyman lurks in the park and at the church and on the computer? How do you explain that an invisible beast hides in their heads?

You don’t, I suspect.

You warn about stranger danger. You remind your kids to be smart in the streets. You teach them to fight when they have to fight.

But you don’t mention the shapes without form, the hollow center in the stuff of us. You don’t tell them about the Bogeyman, slouching in the woods, lean, empty, waiting. And you don’t tell them that one day, the Bogeyman will come. One day he’ll come for us all.

An hour after putting Eli back to bed, I make my way up the stairs to check on him. Asleep in his Power Ranger pajamas, the boy spoons with his favorite blanket, blameless and perfect.

Gazing at this fragile child who is part Sally, part me, and all himself, I’m flooded by emotion. I want to linger in this instant, to hold on to this feeling that’s as profound and inscrutable as a river, to always remember this blond-haired boy sleeping in his bed.

And then my mind drifts, and I think about Eli going to kindergarten in the fall, about the hard years ahead for him, about the Bogeyman skulking in the shadows. And standing there in his room with the Matchbox cars scattered on the carpet and the dogs sacked out on floor, my heart starts beating fast and strong, and I clinch my fists.

Thugs. Pedophiles. Monsters. I’ll gut you if you hurt my sleeping boys, I promise to myself. I’ll paint my face red and stab you right in the throat.

I bend down next to Eli to pull the covers up, and I consider murmuring something about protecting him from the monsters.

Instead, as I often do, I whisper, “Sweet dreams, Little Dude. Your Mom and Dad love you. Your Mom and Dad love you very much.”

A fragment of a poem repeats in my head.

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow

I close Eli’s window to keep the night out.

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

I shuffle down the hall to go to sleep.

Redneck Disneyland

Tre, the host of the party, is standing naked on the driveway, holding a shotgun, facing a television set. A handful of people fill in behind him. Tre aims the gun at the TV and fires. Boom. He blows a hole in the set.

One of the onlookers asks, “Tell me, again, why that dude just took off his clothes and shot his television.”

Someone else replies, “exactly,” which doesn’t answer the question at all.

Welcome to the Tax Day Party, Tre and Jana’s annual punk rock white trash bash.

It’s a spectacle we never miss.

Each year, we witness odd, and sometimes terrible, sights at the Tax Day Party, like people streaking in lightning storms, like plastic chairs burning in bonfires, like one-eyed trolls, like fire-twirling circus hippies.

The party takes place over the course of a weekend just after tax day proper at Jana and Tre’s home on 10 acres overlooking the Pedernales River valley. On their 10 acres, you’ll find a disc golf course, peacocks, chickens, cats, dogs, a stone fort, a pool table, a hot tub, fire pits, a big swing, mountain biking, secluded access to the river, and a ranch-style house.

For that weekend, the property turns into a playground and a campground with tents scattered under the clumps of live oaks. It’s like Disneyland for rednecks.

The hosts—free spirits, skate punks, seasoned drinkers, friendly lunatics—set the tone for the annual throw down. The party will start sedate but then someone will say something like, “hey, let’s go skinny dipping,” and Jana and Tre will drop their drawers and jump in the water.

And then others will follow, and then otherwise responsible adults will act increasingly reckless, and before you know it, Tre will be blasting apart a TV at 4 AM, and it will seem natural and normal, like this is what you do, you skinny dip, you crash three wheelers, you climb around in forts, you murder your TV.

This year’s version of the Tax Day Party arrives this weekend, and we’ll be there as usual. For a while, anyway. We’ll show up Saturday afternoon, survey the damage from the night before, splash around in the river, drink a couple of Lone Stars—the official beer of the Tax Day Party—and be back on the road with Eli and Slade before the party churns out of control, which, of course, it will. It always does.

Somebody will get hurt.

Something will be burned to the ground.

And Tre will lose his head and start talking about the witches cackling in the hills, just beyond the pond. He’ll claim they’re casting spells and making witchy plans while they stomp around on porn grass.

And someone will ask, “Porn grass? What does that even mean?”

And if I’m there, I’ll say, “Exactly.”

Because that’s exactly the point of the Tax Day Party. To not make sense. To lose your head. To celebrate nothing in particular deep into the indifferent night.

Trapeze lessons

You know what Sally wants for her birthday? Trapeze lessons. Seriously. My wife who’s pushing 40 wants trapeze lessons.

She’s different people, Sally. Sure, she looks normal and acts grounded, but then I’ll see her walking around in the yard holding a live snake or a tarantula, and I realize that she’s actually pretty far from normal. That happened last week, by the way. Sally picked up a snake and a tarantula.

Speaking of odd, I talked about roofs and crawfish with the guy who played Cleavon in Idiocracy Saturday night at BJ’s birthday party. Turns out Cleavon knows a thing or two about boiling mud bugs. And fixing roofs.

Here’s Cleavon:

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And the party:

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And the birthday dude with Sally:

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We had a fine time at the gathering and stayed till 9:30, which is crazy late for us old timers.

On Sunday, after the Easter festivities in the morning and bike rides and soccer with Eli in the afternoon, I met up with another Idiocracy alum, Omar—AKA Leroy, AKA Mexican Jesus—and our mutual friend Dave.

I haven’t mentioned Dave here before.

To get you up to speed, Dave is loud, obnoxious, generous, usually drunk, and rich. He owns a ticket scalping company, which might be his first legitimate business since he sold the Golden Corral in Lubbock 12 years ago.

My friendship with Dave goes way back, to the late ’80’s, to high school biology, when he tried to sell me a fake ID. Here’s how it started:

Dave: Hey, dude. You want to buy a fake ID?
Me: Maybe. Can I see one?
Dave: Here’s mine. I can make you one just like it.
Me: That’s probably the worst fake ID I’ve ever seen.
Dave: Blow me, loser. I just need to get a better printer and then it will look professional.
Me: Does it actually work, that ID?
Dave: No. Not really.
Me: Yeah, I think I’m going to pass on the ID.

A few days later, Dave tried to sell me Blow Pops for a band fund raiser.

Me: So you’re in the band?
Dave: Not really.
Me: Then why are you pedaling Blow Pops for the band?
Dave: Because I have lots of school spirit, okay?
Me: Oh, I get it. I see what you’re doing there.
Dave: Blow me, loser.

The full story on the Blow Pops is this. Dave bought the candy in bulk at Sam’s Club and then unloaded it to unsuspecting classmates for a profit. That particular venture lasted all of a week before someone ratted Dave out, and he had to make a trip to the office. In high school, Dave made a lot of trips to the office.

Anyway, last night.

Mexican Jesus, the Ticket Scalper, and I caught to the Morrissey show. The Ticket Scalper had procured tickets a few rows from the stage, right in the middle, for the sold-out show. And I paid exactly zero dollars for my high-demand seat.

Before the show, we met at a bar close to campus, downed drinks, and walked right past my college dorm on the way to the concert.

I stood outside that dorm for the first time in years, and memories of the place and the people raced in. I thought about Herman, the guy who kept his urine in a jar in his room. I thought about Amy, the pretty girl who taught me the chicken dance. I thought about Jody, my jumbo-sized roommate, who was nicknamed Pizza the Hut because he could eat an entire large pizza by himself. And I thought about Tom, my other roommate, who just stopped going to class one day.

I wonder what happened to them, to those 18- and 19-year-old kids. I hope they’re still alive somewhere making babies and traveling and doing the chicken dance.

Everybody should do the chicken dance at least once.

As to the concert, it was short but entertaining. Morrissey came off as hostile, bitter, and old.

Pissed off suits him well.

Meditations on Easter—Peeps, the Croup, Code Red Mountain Dew, and Jesus Christ

We’re broken down machines, this family. There’s Eli, who was kicked in the tail pipe by a fever, followed by the croup, followed by a cold. The boy’s been sick for almost a week straight.

There’s yours truly, who ran fever and tore up a knee playing basketball and gimped around for days and days.

And there’s Sally, who complained about her ankle being sore for months. I didn’t pay much attention because much like Rambo and Mr. Crowley, my junior high basketball coach, I believe that pain is just weakness leaving your body. I’m macho and smart like that.

Today, Sally visited an orthopedist who told Sally (a) that her ankle is “deformed,” (b) that he has no idea why it’s so “messed up,” and (c) that he’s amazed she can even walk on it. He recommended two ankle specialists.

“Which one would should I go to?” asked Sally.

“Both,” he said.

So Sally isn’t running right, either.

Slade, on the other hand, is fine. No fever. No croup. No mangled ankle. He still eats like a hungry mule, sleeps poorly, spits up three times a day, and expresses his displeasure (read: yells) when he isn’t being held.

So that’s us. That’s our world right now. Wheezing. Creaking. Yelling. Falling apart.

Easter is almost here, which means we’ll be celebrating Jesus by going to Walmart to buy Peeps and chocolate rabbits. Okay, not Walmart, not really. We don’t do Walmart, which has nothing to do with Walmart’s politics, its impact on local culture, or the way Walmart treats its employees.

No, the reason we don’t shop there is because of the experience. I swear every time I step in that place, there’s a three year old waddling around wearing a diaper and hollering about wanting a Code Red Mountain Dew while his mother yells, “Darrell Deeewayne, you better shut your mouth. You hear me? You shut up, or I’m going to whip your butt.”

And then she’ll whack Darrell, and he’ll wail louder, and he’ll pee into his diaper, and the diaper will drip, and the place will smell like a urinal, and it just kills the fun of shopping at Walmart.

On playing soccer and finding magic shells

Soccer started anew for Eli on Saturday. His team rolled in their first game, and Eli scored twice, including a Hail Mary boot past three defenders who were standing in front of the net.

The kids are mainly oblivious to the outcome of the soccer games. Their parents mainly aren’t. They hang on every kick, cheering like drunk monkeys when their kid’s team scores, becoming still as sloths when the other team returns the favor.

eli soccer march 2009

In every game, you’ll see kids who would rather dance or root around in the dirt than play the game, which, of course, is sweet and fun for everyone but the child’s engaged parents.

It’s like this. . .

It’s mid-game and a girl with pig tails named Madyson has stopped running and is staring at the ground. The scrum is crashing all around her, the ball is rolling past, and her parents are encouraging her: “Run, sweetie, run. You can do it, Madyson. You can do it!” Madyson’s parents are hopeful. They’re upbeat.

Madyson’s coach is, too. He’s talking in her ear and clapping and pointing to the soccer ball she’s supposed to kick.

But Madyson isn’t listening. She’s gazing at the grass, marvelling at a white pebble.

She squats and looks closer. That’s not a pebble, she realizes. It’s a tiny snail shell, a magic one like the one Dora the Explorer found on the way to the volcano. A shell! A magic shell! Madyson is very excited.

Her parents are excited, too. “Madyson. The ball, the ball, the ball,” her dad yells. “It’s over there. Lift your head up. Run. Get the stupid ball.” The ball rolls by her again. Madyson doesn’t notice. Her coach is on the field once more, pleading with the girl and pointing towards the goal.

It isn’t working. The snail holds the pig-tailed girl’s interest. Silly old soccer doesn’t. Madyson scoops up the shell and tucks it inside her pocket. “I found a magic shell!” she exclaims as the other team scores a goal.

Her parents smile tightly through their teeth, and audible only to himself, Madyson’s father mutters, “Goddamn it.”

Later in the game, Madyson stops to pick her nose, and her parents pretend they don’t notice. Her parents are exhausted. It’s well before noon, and they’re ready for a hot bath and a stiff drink.