Sunday, December 24, 2006

On the Road

Rest on the Flight”—Luc Olivier Merson 1879

I think I may have sent a cropped version of this painting as a Christmas card once and it has always haunted me. There are many paintings on this subject, and most of them have way too many Italian trees and rocks. This is the real desert, where there is nothing. A place that has tested and tempered the resolve and faith of holy men for thousands of years. The blind sphinx looks skyward, the exhausted Mary dozes in his arms which I hope still hold the day’s heat. Joseph is out cold, and the donkey is trying to get some sustenance out of the few dried grasses.

This is a family that is well and truly down on their luck. Mary is pregnant by someone, not Joseph. Joseph is a carpenter, a useful skill, but not a highly paid or reliable one, and one that relies on a local customer base and word of mouth. The Romans, in an effort to control and tax the people of Judea, have ordered that everyone has to go back to the town where they were born. So Joseph packs up his very pregnant wife on a donkey, probably leaves his tools and certainly his shop behind, and heads for Bethlehem. Since everyone else is on the road, all the motels, campgrounds and etc are full and they end up in a barn. This makes for a charming crèche scene with the animals and the nice clean straw and all, but no one’s choice for a place to have a baby.(Although it is a pretty irresistible piece of PR).

Before Mary has had time to recover from the birth and the visitors and gawkers, it turns out that a revolutionary plot has been uncovered by the Romans and they are killing all Jewish boy babies, just in case. Off the family goes in the middle of the night to hide out in Egypt.

Perhaps they are headed my way, on the road in a decrepit car, no money or food, hiding from creditors or even the law. Maybe they are already here.

Wishing you a bright light for these dark nights, good food, good company in a warm place. Hoping the year to come will bring us all closer to peace in the world and in our hearts.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

San Antonio

Mr. Pickled was evicted for not working off his rent. He left a lot of furniture of the cheapest sort and poop (dog, I hope) in the shower.

Mr. Creased Jeans has not been sleeping here lately, so Sally must have been replaced in his affections.

The traveling salesman in #11 left after a half-hour lecture on reincarnation (He was a Native American in a past life, although various tribes don't agree, and aren’t as welcoming as he would like.).

A Mr. Bob Cat is supposedly trading the use of that piece of equipment for rent, but yesterday, someone came to look at it to buy it. And a new and different noisy diesel pickup is parked at #3. Later on, after an attempt to pay the owed loan bills on the Bobcat, the boss drove it hard, using it as a bulldozer to clear trees. It will soon disappear, I fear, and its owner believes someone is sneaking into his cabin and moving things around. It did disappear, and the boss doesn’t know it yet. Mr. Bob Cat will soon be on the road.

We had our first rain, a whopping great thunderstorm. We are now having a Blue Norther, this AM it was 23 when I woke up. The Texans are grousing about it, but as it will be 55 by lunch time, I don’t mind.

At the Dollar Store, I was seduced by a $1 bag of birdseed, made two feeders out of an OJ carton and a milk jug and now we have birds. They soon ate all the sunflower seeds out of the mix and disdained the cracked corn, so I had to spring for the $3 bag of sunflower seeds instead, and rehabilitated a proper plastic feeder someone left behind. We have a pair of cardinals, 2 tufted titmice, and 2 chickadees. Mr. (I assume) Titmouse is very possessive of the feeder, even driving off the Mrs. now and then. We also have a solitary wren who isn’t sure what the fuss is about since I am not handing out any bugs.
And a big Jay, without the white, have to look him up. He is much bigger than the regular ones, too big for the feeders actually. Also a little fat green warbler person, and several thrushes and sparrows.

The tree in front of our west window looks sort of like an apple tree and sort of like a scrubby birch. It had green leaves when we got here, and then over night the leaves went yellow, and were all blown away by the thunderstorm. Some of the other shrubby trees and the live oaks are still green in a tired sort of way, and the cactus is a faded jade color.

We went to San Antonio for the day and saw the Alamo. You have to go see this if you are here, or everyone looks at you funny. It is the remains of an old mission, in a lovely park, and in front is a big piazza where lots of people are sitting around. As usual, I am not all that thrilled with celebrating death and particularly last stands where everyone is slaughtered. I know, I know, they were all heroes, many had Walt Disney movies about them and etc. We waited a long time to go in, and there were flags and plaques about who and why. The heroes were so out numbered that it is sickening to look at the diorama with all the tiny Mexican soldiers. All right, I’ll stop.

San Antonio responded to a devastating flood back in 1921 with a stupendous engineering feat. A big dam up stream, of course and various gates below, but also an underground tunnel deep beneath the city that acts as a sort of giant storm drain to take the excess water away. This means that the actual river course can be turned into an endless park, with landscaped paths and steps and corner parks. It isn’t more than 75 to 100 feet wide, and is well below the street level. It winds right through the down town area, and nearly every bridge has stairs down to it, so you can drop out of the scurry and traffic noise and wander along the river. A lot of the stone work is interesting and the pocket parks have beautiful plantings.

A loop has been set aside and has restaurants along both sides, and huge cypress trees shading it. The restaurants have mostly outdoor seating, and tour boats go by frequently, so there is a very Venetian quality to the whole thing. It is thick with tourists in the loop area, and the loop runs inside a huge snazzy shopping mall, and then inside a big hotel. Maybe Venice and Disneyworld all together. Away from the central area, the River Walk passes unseen below industrial areas, and to the south of the city through an Historical District where stately homes have lawns that come right down to the path. There it is very quiet and peaceful and even on a warm weekend, practically deserted. Very civilized.

We did three urban geocaches along the River Walk, ate in one of the restaurants, and did a little Christmas shopping in the fancy mall.

We have been trying out various towns to go to for our weekly shopping, and find that everything in TX is 20 miles away. From where we are living, or from where we are at the moment. This is an odd feeling when we think of ourselves as within the San Antonio area, the airport is only 30 minutes away, (20 miles?) Since I have spent most of my life in the shadow of the major metropolitan areas of the Northeast, I guess I expect things to be closer. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be so peaceful and so unregulated this close to NYC. There are scads of housing developments in all the hills around here. You can see mansions on top of the hills and the scars of their light tan driveways in the scrub. Only at night when you can see the lights do you realize how many houses there are. The gates to these developments make you think there are McMansions in there, but the few we have explored are more modest.

Last night we went to a very amusing Christmas party of San Antonio area geocachers. A lively and outgoing bunch of people of all ages, there was a very unrehearsed singing contest, a geocache related tree ornament contest and a piñata for the many kids. Even the ones who appeared to be shy got into the act. Geocachers are all members of the Rikki Tikki Tavi Society: “Run and find out!”, so no matter who they started out to be, they end up as outgoing and fun. It turns out many of them already knew Don from the Geocaching on-line world.

Their house was in one of those developments with the promotional and pompous grand gates, and was not a palazzo, just a home with kids. There were so many deer on the road on the way home that it looked like a commercial enterprise. I don’t know what they can be eating.

I am gearing up for Christmas, enjoying the cooking of many cookies in my new kitchen, organizing cards and mailing presents. I have bribed myself to get everything done BEFORE I get to play with the tree and the decorations. Since we are in a sort of nest of trailer trash, I am longing to go nuts with twinkle lights and giant inflatable reindeer.

Monday, December 04, 2006

A Better Day Next Thursday

This is our family code for soap opera-like occurrences in real life. I did have a time in my life when I watched the afternoon soapy doings, and did get caught up in the ramped up level of emotional emergencies. I was home with little children, no car and no neighbors, overworked and bored to tears. I do see the pull of escaping into a world where everyone LOVES or HATES or engages in other full tilt fantasies, real life is more often vanilla or no ice cream at all.

Once in a while I meet people who manage to live like that, or happen to, magnets for trouble. It seems to me that emergency personnel need a level of adrenaline in their lives, for which we all should be grateful. I wonder about the emotional junkies, is it just fate or a self-produced inclination towards accidents? At any rate, we have a larger than life example right here in River Campground (not its real name)

Sally (not her real name either) is a slender attractive brunette in her 40’s who lives here in one of the cabins with her not quite right daughter. She has a husky Lucky Strike voice with a Texas twang to it, which is usually amazed and astonished at something. She dresses 20 something, and looks pretty good in it. Although I am sort of the CG Mom, she usually only goes to the gentlemen for help, which is needed on a regular and tearful basis.

The first story she will tell you is about how she fell through a plate glass window at her birthday party some years ago, and nearly severed her arm on the shards. She has the scars to prove it, and enough nerves and maybe ligaments were cut that she has limited use of her right hand. Lots of operations and lots of therapy (but she refused blood transfusions) and now she is trying to get disability money on top of her welfare check. Clearly she can’t work, and she fears aloud and often that she might hurt herself or even her daughter trying to do things with her maimed arm.

At the office that would give her disability money, she got mad and kicked a table and threw her back out.

The daughter, who is about 6, is either going to be a tough cookie survivor or come to a bad end. We hear tales of her violent behavior in school, and although she is hollered at on a regular basis, seems to do what she pleases most of the time. Sally hints that someone they knew molested the daughter and that there is a court case about it ongoing. One evening, the daughter went with the assistant manager (the only sane, sober, reliable cast member) to his nephew’s birthday party. When they were not yet due for another 20 minutes, she came to my door in tears that something awful had happened. A phone call was made but the daughter was home in plenty of time.

I don’t know for certain Sally drinks,(although I suspect so) but we could have our own AA meeting right here and probably should. She hangs out with, and on, Mr. Creased Jeans. He sucks it down pretty good, and last weekend he got rowdy and “wrecked her cabin”, but “ they had a long talk and are buddies again.”

Two trailers down, Mr. Blue Pickup has a campfire every Friday night and tells louder and perhaps funnier stories as he gets drunker. I think he may have scared off his neighbors, the Mr. & Mrs. Motorhome Building a House, as they left suddenly last Saturday.

Three or four days ago, some of Sally’s Valium turned up missing. So far this incident makes little sense. She says she was passed out and that Mr. Pickled Contractor came into her cabin, using a key, and stole some of her drugs, but not all. This was met with a little bit of skepticism, but she called the Sheriff anyway. She has at least 3 dogs in there, none of whom have any use for Mr. Pickled, and he is the last person we would let have a key to anything. The Sheriff took down all the particulars, including the false address, license and registration numbers on the sign-in sheet of Mr. Pickled, and one of the pill bottles for fingerprints.

Mr. Pickled is in trouble here anyway, since he is supposed to work 20 hours a week to pay for his cabin, and has not. He smells of stale beer, has blue eyes that don’t seem to aim where he is looking and generally appears pretty scary. Not the person I would choose to accuse of stealing my drugs. And apparently, he is well known to the law here east of the Pecos.

Yesterday, the assistant manager came to me for ice. It seems that Sally was trying to hang up or move a rug that had dog poop on it. Her hand slipped and she punched herself in the eye and knocked herself unconscious. The assistant manager found her crawling on his porch saying she couldn’t see or walk and would he carry her home? (he did not) She was spotted with an ice pack several times and last I saw she had a bandage over the eye and she was going to call her Dr. and see if he was open (on Sat. after Thanksgiving)

Earlier that morning, Mr. Pickled drove up to his cabin, picked something up and went away. I heard Mr. Creased Jeans calling the Sheriff. His cell phone doesn’t work inside his trailer and he may be a little deaf because all his calls are pretty public.

Understand, that a lot of this is hearsay, and a lot reported by Sally to various people, so there is a chance it is an exaggeration in places, but it is entertaining and a little pathetic whatever the real truth might be. Which is beside the point, as the level of fantastic awfulization is the real point of the story.

Sunday update. She did get to medical attention yesterday, and then to one hospital and then to another. And while being operated on for the eye (maybe a detached retina) something wrong with her heart has been discovered. The saintly assistant manager is looking after the daughter, and I figure you, dear reader, think I am making all this up. Stay tuned.

Wed. Although she checked herself out of the hospital 2 days early, missed another surgery, she can now sort of see. We only have her word for what happened, stitches in her cornea ? a partially detached retina. She is talking about suing the Dr who refused to give her directions after she got lost in San Antonio, the Dr apparently feels she was uncooperative.

I think I have related enough of this tale, although I am sure that there will be worse and more of it.

Wishful Thinking

The cabin addition that we are to build here at this campground has changed its proposed size 6 times at last counting. Since this is Texas, we don’t worry about frost or snow loads, and there is apparently no building inspector and certainly no plans on paper. The project is beginning to resemble boys building a fort in the woods.

The shack we are adding onto is dilapidated, rotting in some places and far from square or level. Right now it is being used to store a lot of “perfectly good stuff”. There is a lot of that lying in heaps in various corners of the property.

It is implied that we are on the Guadeloupe River, and while that is technically true, you have to walk a ways to the one distant corner of the property that does touch it.

The RV and cabin areas are crowded together in a clearing above, out of the flood plain. The cabins are one small room and run down. Of the 12 of them, two are used for storage and near collapse, 6 of them are rented to people who are down on their luck: a pair of well pickled construction guys, a divorce victim, single mom with kid, dad and mom with kid, and mom and dad with two kids. All nice if forlorn, although we are watching our tools because of the pickled guys. There are 6 full hook-up RV sites, us, a construction guy who always wears cowboy boots and a big hat with his creased jeans, a couple in a motor home who are building a house in the area, and two more fifth wheels with people who apparently have a job to go to. We have by far the most presentable rig, and the least amount of stuff around it.

There are 6 water and electric sites, but no one in them. And down in the oak grove by the dried up creek that leads to the river, there is a tenting area that sometimes has folks on the weekend. this is by far the nicest area of the campground, I would happily rough it down here in the Airstream.

The Lodge was once a snack and bait shop and is heading to be a nice place someday maybe. I was working on fixing it up a bit, but an exotic dancer with 3 dogs has rented it.

We are supposed to work a total of 15 hours a week to pay for our site and then get paid for anything above that. There is no shortage of things that need doing, but what to do about them changes by the hour.

Actually, I find it a great relief to have no rules, dogs run loose and poop everywhere, I put up a clothesline in the trees, the lawn doesn’t exist except in theory. It’s all very relaxed and funky. Since the owner can’t decide what we should do, we can pretty well do as we please, especially when he goes back to Houston to his art gallery and leaves us in peace.

This weekend turned into a sort of Three Stooges movie. The owner was bragging that the place was full and that the big party would be arriving at 3:00 PM on Friday. So I hurried up and cleaned the one cabin I hadn’t done. The owner was using it to shower in, which I didn't know, so I pitched his shampoo and razor (he did tell me to clean it....) The party that rented the 3 cabins didn't show up until 9:30 PM and were way too many people for 3 cabins which have one double bed and one futon in them. There is only one fold up cot that isn't buried under piles of “perfectly good” mattresses, shower enclosures, and moribund window shades. Plus some of them didn't know to bring sheets and towels. I have a basket of shabby sheets and spreads that I keep handing out to construction workers who show up without, but they just sleep on the bare mattress. So I got that basket for them.

Anyway they all got settled for the night. Next day one cabinful left, took all their stuff and I was told by the sort of assistant manager that they were gone for good. ( no surprise, this place is pretty seedy) That was cabin #6, so I figured Don’s grandson who was visiting could go in there for the night instead of on our floor. At about 7:00 PM a young couple showed up for a cabin, and the owner showed them # 6. So I figured, I would put the grandson in #12. BUT, #6 was dirty, of course, so the young couple refused it and went into #12, and I put him into #6. At about midnight, a lady from the original party knocked on #6 because the lights were on and said she thought they had the use of it for the whole weekend. I had told him he might have to move, but the lady gave up.

We were a little nervous about putting the grandson in there, without paying, and sneaked him out, and off he went. About noon, I got a call from the owner off at lunch that #12 had no hot water. And neither it turned out did #11, which apparently shares a heater. I flipped all breakers in the area, since the source for electricity in these cabins might come from anywhere. The young couple cut short their tryst and left in disgust. They were first shown a dirty cabin and then one with no hot water. And surely will tell anyone who listens that this place is a dump.

We are beginning to think we should have a plan B for the winter. The weather here is great, 70’s in the day, 40-50 at night, but I am afraid that it is just a matter of time until the owner does something so stupid that we won't be able to stand it here. As it is, he is stretching our patience.

And apparently his parent’s patience too, since his father bought this place for him and expects to get paid something every month. The owner is 52, looks as thought he was an exceptionally beautiful child, and seems to be rudderless. It is really better than a movie because there is no danger music or other foreshadowing of the plot and we can look forward to endless unexpected twists and surprises.

The other event of note is that, for complicated accounting reasons, Don had to buy a new trailer. So we traded the 1998 Jayco in for a 2006 model. It has a rear kitchen big enough to run a restaurant out of, but not the two huge closets in the bath area. It has less bedroom closet and drawer space but much better space in the compartment underneath. The bed is king-sized, which I think takes up room that I would rather have for storage. We told them to take out the overstuffed and opulently upholstered sofa bed and built ourselves a nice double desk in front of a huge window. I am gradually getting rid of the Las Vegas Madame style valances and it looks pretty good. As always moving and resorting stuff was exhausting and it will take at least another week to reliably find things.

I am looking out into a sunny, ruined pasture that has the alien dinner plate sized cactus in it, and scrub trees beginning to grow up. There is a falling down weathered building of some sort, and sheets of old tin roofing. Mr. Creased Jeans feeds corn to the deer, so they are very tame and wander in at all hours, and a pair of cardinals appear now and then. Through the trees, I can see a bluer distant hillside, implying the carved out path of the river down below.

It is absolutely quiet here at night and very quiet during the day. It has not rained since we got here, they are 11" short of normal. There is hardly any wind, which feels strange after the endless pushing and hustling on the high plains. Although nothing is frozen, and the trees here don't shed their leaves, there is the same sort of breath held, gone to sleep feeling of winter. It may be that if it rains, life will jump on that opportunity.