Sunday, October 18, 2015

It's Sunday and No Shots Fired, No Officers Down

My friend Annie made me a prayer flag this summer.  It sat in one of those catch-all spots we all have in our homes for a month or two, waiting on me.  I considered it daily and wondered what it's meaning would be for me.

The answer came, of course, in due time.  Now the flag hangs, somewhat awkwardly, on the edge of my patio where I see it over and over again through the course of a day.  Or a night.  It blows in the West Texas wind, threads of the prayers stripping themselves free to travel on air.

Spirituality helps me keep things together, all my important pieces in place.  I've gone back to church as a means of centering myself.  And, possibly more importantly, as a way to fight my natural tendency towards isolation.

I've enjoyed the Catholic church we've attended sporadically for the last few years, but it isn't where I should be.  As much as I love Pope Francis and the rituals of mass, I can't fully embrace the faith.  The Episcopal Church is a much better fit for me.

You may have read my first experience with the Episcopal Church in Fake Cow City?

Quite quickly attendance there has become a habit.  Although the crowd is tiny at best, I've enjoyed watching the different personalities.  A few of the regular attendees are people I've known slightly for several years.  Others are completely new to me, but not new to my experience when it comes to people watching.

A new cross adorns the peak of the roof, above the dark Gothic doors.  It seems as if replacing their old, droopy-armed icon has been a point of pride and a symbol of hope for rebirth of a slightly old and droopy congregation.

There will be a blessing of the cross on All Saint's Day.  The Bishop was supposed to preside but had to beg off.  Evidently bishops can't perform a proper blessing a couple of days after having surgery on one's blessing-arm.  The small group is disappointed, but not devastated and the blessing will continue under the more than capable auspices of Mother Michelle.

When she made this announcement last Sunday, the Reverend Michelle suggested a meal as a means of celebration following the service.  As the members murmured their agreement, she said we would "trust the power of the potluck" and celebrate together on November the First.

The Power of the Potluck.

No one trusts this ancient magic any longer.  Not the young yoga-pant-wearing mothers or the old blue-haired grandmas.  Not anyone.  And I don't understand why.

I first noticed this at my last job.  We'd decide to have a lunch to celebrate a birthday or holiday or just because.  Someone would suggest a pot luck and then watch the fur fly.  If there wasn't a sign up sheet and a menu, normally God-fearing people would freak right the hell out.  They couldn't handle the unknown - the possibility of disparate side dishes or inadvertently meatless repasts.

No one remembers that this never happens.  That is the power of the potluck.  It always works.  Ever since there was enough bread and seafood in that one kid's lunch pail to feed those five thousand, it has always worked.

Oh, we of little faith.

We want to plan, to control.  We want certainty and rules.  We want to know everything that's going to happen.

We fear mystery.  We fear others and what they may or may not do to/for us.  We fear fucking everything.

This Sunday the priest had to be in Dallas to conduct a funeral.  Morning prayer was held in her absence.  During the announcements, the defacto church hostess announced she would provide taco soup for the All Saints Day meal.  She asked if the rest of us would bring appropriate side dishes or desserts.

I held my breath and waited, knowing it was in vain.

After a moment's pause, a moment in which I hope we considered the freedom of a fearless existence, there was a murmur of general agreement.  It was settled.  A menu, a plan, a talisman against...something.


I will be out of town that day.  As much as I will enjoy my trip, I would like to see the blessing.  It would be a new experience for me.  I would enjoy getting to know the congregants better.  But I won't miss the lunch.

I never liked taco soup anyway. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

And They Said the Priest Is Gregarious

I should be an Episcopalian.  I've known that for years and just haven't done anything about it.  It's not especially easy to be one of those in this part of the world.  Not especially hard, either, but not easy.  My world has shifted pretty dramatically in the last seven days and it seemed like now would be the perfect opportunity to correct this oversight and join up with the smells and bells crowd. 

The closest Episcopal church is 20 miles away in Fake Cow City.  I checked the website and found the service starts at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday.  Perfect time.  I'd been sloughing off of services at the Catholic Church I'd been nominally attending partly because it started at 9:00 and I had to be to intentional about getting out of bed to get there on time.  Truthfully, that isn't the only reason I was seldom attending church, but it's as valid as any of the others. 

Sunday morning I got dressed, hopped on my motorcycle and rode west.  When I got to the church I was surprised to find that no one was there.  I must have had the time wrong, but no.  I checked the sign out front and it said 10:00 a.m. in big bold letters.  Checked my phone - 9:48 a.m. 

I circled the block and saw two cars parked on the side, towards the back.  I groaned.  Great, just great.  I rode around the block.  I needed a crowd, somewhere I could be inconspicuous and just go along with the flow, not standing out. 

After circling the block, I came up on the two cars again and pulled off into the parking lot.  A moment's thought and I decided take the plunge.  I'd probably regret it, but I'd come this far and I was damn well darkening the church door before heading back home.  I started to park next to them, but the cars were on an incline that would have asked far more than my kickstand could reasonably be expected to provide.  I made the block again.

This time I parked in front of the church and removed my helmet.  My hair was everywhere all at once.  (I really need a haircut, but the earliest appointment I could get was October 9th.  October 9th!  Honestly!  There cannot be enough blue-hair traffic in my county to fill a hairdresser's schedule three weeks in advance, even though the county is named after a barber!)

After corralling the wayward tresses with a hair band, I slung my back pack on my shoulder and climbed the stairs to the Gothic doors.  As I reached for the handle, I paused and glanced back at the bike. 

This is America, the South and it's the year 2015. 

I was about to enter a small church service carrying an incongruously firearm sized bag.  I was dressed in biker boots and a leather jacket.  And we've already mentioned my crazy lady hair.  Briefly I considered leaving the bag on the bike, but that was akin to leaving your purse on the hood of the car while doing your grocery shopping at Wal-Mart.  So, trusting that my middle-aged white-lady status would trump the crazy ass church shooter vibe, I opened the doors. 

It was at that moment that I realized how seriously non-high church Fake Cow City really is.  Episcopalians are few and far between.  I found myself striding down the aisle closer and closer to the front than I'd had any intention of sitting. 

"Come on in," a friendly woman waved me forward.  "There are plenty of seats!"

There were more than plenty. There were all of them. 

Only three people occupied the space, all crowded around the lectern.  One man and two women, all in their late 50's, early 60's. 


The friendly woman met me in the aisle and introduced herself.  The man was her husband and he would be doing the readings.  Their companion was going to read a sermon.  The priest was not present this week.  She serves one week a month at a much larger church in another city, so they do only morning prayer on the weeks she is gone. 

Some of the parishioners don't especially care for the morning prayer service and this accounted for the sparse gathering that morning.  "Although," she explained somewhat sheepishly, "for us, seven is a full crowd."

I managed a breath and a smile and parked myself on the nearest pew, about a quarter of the way back from the front.  My back pack landed heavily with a suspiciously metallic thump, on the pew beside me.  I have no idea what made the metallic sound but when it happened, I involuntarily glanced at the man at the pulpit.  He glared at me.  Seriously glared.

His wife and their friend blathered on gregariously and more than conquered my initial uncomfortableness, but the guy and I?  We'd shared A Moment. 

The three of them had been debating vigorously the readings for the day.  As in, which ones were they to do.  The wife thought she'd printed them for the husband to read, but they'd been lost somewhere along the way and he was not the sort to improvise.   He did not have an improvisational cell in the whole of his being.  Not one.  The lack of a ritualistic road map proved problematic. 

I watched an listened and tried to figure out how it could possibly matter one way or another when it had been just the three of them present when the scope of the liturgical tragedy was discovered and initially discussed.  They could have read pretty much anything.  Or nothing.  And it wouldn't have really mattered. 

(Perhaps I have a ways to go before achieving full-on Episcopalian sensibility.  Maybe a long ways.)

As the husband and the companion were debating the scripture choice, the wife engaged me with lots of friendly questions.  I could see the husband keeping a cautious eye on me from his pulpit perch.  When I told her what I did for a living - that I was the chief probation officer for four neighboring counties - the man visibly relaxed.  I caught his eye and grinned. 

"Oh, I'm glad to hear that," he said, referencing my occupation.  "Then you'll understand this."

He reached into the lectern and pulled out a .45 automatic which he brandished in my general direction before laying it on top his copy of the Book of Common Prayer.  "Some day someone may come in here shooting.  But they aren't going to get out of here alive."

He did.  Yes, he did.  He pulled a gun on me right there in front of God and everybody. 

But I had the best time and we're buds now and I'm pretty damn sure I'm going back again next Sunday. 

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Mike the Bike

One of the patterns of my life for the past three years has been a fairly pleasant commute.  My department covers four counties running along and below the Caprock Escarpment.

From Wikipedia: The Caprock Escarpment is a term used in West Texas and Eastern New Mexico to describe the geographical transition point between the level high plains of the Llano Estacado and the surrounding rolling terrain. In Texas, the escarpment stretches around 200 mi (320 km) south-southwest from the northeast corner of the Texas Panhandle near the Oklahoma border. The escarpment is especially notable, from north to south, in Briscoe, Floyd, Motley, Crosby, Dickens, Garza, and Borden counties. 

Four of those counties are mine and getting to my various offices is almost always a refreshing drive.  The problem has been the wear and tear on my car.  Mileage payments cover the cost of fuel, but don't really provide for buying a new set of tires each year, the depreciation of high mileage on a new vehicle, etc.  A couple of months ago I convinced myself that the best solution for this was to buy a motorcycle.  Obviously.  

Mike the Bike is my new best friend.   

It's summer in Texas and that means most of the time I'm riding in shirt sleeves.  Some mornings I throw on a windbreaker, but not often in the last couple of weeks.  I need to buy a new leather jacket for the cooler months.  Inexplicably, the one I wore ten years ago is too small.  Who knew leather would shrink up like that, just from hanging in the closet?  

I bought a new 'big shirt' this weekend and wore it for the first time today.  The shirt doesn't go too well with my full-face black helmet, but that's ok.  I wasn't going to wear the windbreaker just for fashion's sake.  Comfort out-ranks fashion these days.  

I likes me a full-face helmet because I am not at all impressed with the sensation of bugs in my teeth.  There are some drawbacks, though.  Vision is slightly curtailed with this helmet.  Peripheral vision is not bad, but I can't glance down without lowering my head.  If I need to see me feet for some reason, I have to actually look down by dropping my head, rather than just glancing down. And the full helmet is hotter.  Way, way hotter.  

It wasn't terribly hot this morning when I first got on the bike and rode through town.  Riding from one side of town to the other took all of three minutes.  And that's because I had to stop and wait on a car to pass before I turned on to the highway.  Once I got up to highway speed the wind felt a little chilly.  The thin cotton shirt wasn't blocking any air at 70 miles an hour and I was a bit shivery.  

Regardless, it was a gorgeous morning.  The clouds were plentiful enough to be interesting.  The cotton fields are just starting to bloom.  The air smelled fresh and clean.  Traffic was fairly light, as usual.  A few of us headed in to town for work.  A few farmers headed out of town for the same reason.  A few truckers headed through the town on their way to somewhere else.  

The road curves as you enter the north side of the county seat.  The speed limit drops to a sedate 35 miles per hour.  About a half a mile through town is the county's only stop light.  Today I got lucky and it was green - I didn't have to stop, just slowed down a bit.  The convenience store on the corner was doing a brisk beverage and gasoline business.  

A block further on I turned left and rode past the funeral home, two banks, a beauty shop, a CPA, the radio station and the drug store.  I stopped at the intersection between the pharmacy and bank before riding the last half block to the courthouse.  The County Judge lets me park my bike under the covered pavilion so my seat is not so scorchingly hot when I leave at five o'clock.  

I coasted up the short sidewalk, past the 'No Vehicles Allowed Beyond This Point" sign and around the interior of the pavilion before parking.  The pavilion sits at the south end of the courthouse, next to the sheriff's office.  I dismounted then worked to wrangle the helmet's chin strap free. It's always kind of a chore, and once I get the helmet off, my hair blows all around. 

It was then that I looked down.  

And saw my shirt.  Unbuttoned all the way to the waist.  Blown back off of my chest, leaving my bra and torso, in all it's pale, rolly-poly glory, fully exposed. 

I was more than a little surprised.  

And then offended.  

I rode half naked for 15 miles and right through the busiest intersection in the county and - evidently - not one person noticed.  No one honked.  No one leered.  No one even freaking waved.

I don't know quite how to take that.  Either our rural society is much more open-minded that I'd previously imagined or my naked torso is completely and pathetically uninteresting.  

All I know for sure is if I ever get a titty tattoo it's gonna say "Honk If You Can Read This".  

And now I have to ride home...

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Hear Us Roar

I am the president of the Lion's Club.

Yeah.  Let me give you just a minute to let that sink in.

It's not like I wanted to be president of or even wanted to join the club.  But the third time Jo, the county treasurer, hit me up about it, she caught me in a weak moment and I said yes.

Joining a small town civic club is much the same as joining a small church and my warm body was quickly foisted into a leadership/grunt-work position.  I started at the bottom of the hierarchical totem pole last year and this year made a miniscule upward movement before Tommy, the club treasurer and the only person who did any of the administrative work, decided to retire.   Once the dust settled - boom! - I'm president.

Every Thursday we gather at the Cassey Event Center for lunch.  The center is a fellowship hall without a church attached.  We share Juanita the Cook with the Rotary Club.  The Rotarians rotarianate on Wednesdays.

There are a couple of people who belong to both clubs.  One out of an abundance of civic pride and one for business contacts as well as fiscal responsibility since dues for both clubs are cheaper than eating out for those two meals each week.

Club meetings are basically of just me and a bunch of old guys having lunch and listening to someone talk about something.  Sometimes I learn stuff.  Sometimes I don't. There are actually three female members including me.  One is the local CPA.  She's too busy to make more than a handfull of meetings a year.  The other owns an important retail business in the community.

The business owner usually makes only the last half of the meeting.  She works long hours and is very busy and she normally has to eat on the run. When I first joined the club I was appalled with how the men treated her.  They acted as if they could barely tolerate her - ignoring her suggestions or blatantly dismissing them.

Their attitude really bothered me.  I found it to be disrespectful and rude.  I tried to cultivate a relationship with her myself, letting her know I valued her input.  Now a couple of years later I find that I...barely tolerate her - ignoring her suggestions or blatantly dismissing them.

A more regular attendee is the insurance agent who likes to eat cheap and belongs to both clubs.  He  is also a big wig in the Llano Estacado Honor Flight.  It's a veteran's program that flies aging vets to Washington DC to see monuments to their dead compatriots and absolutely nothing else, evidently.  It's sort of a big deal.  He is very, very proud of this.  He mentions it rather a lot.

Since most Thursdays it's just me and the old guys, I have to entertain myself at these meetings.  In the interests of same, I've started a drinking game.  Any time Mr. Insurance can deviate a conversation into discussion of the Honor Flight, I chug whatever is remaining in my glass of tea.

I've drunk a lot of tea.

Jimmy is the multi-club member who is simply awash with civic pride.  His father actually started the Lion's Club in 1928. 

Yeah.  1928. 

Jimmy is 94 years old. He kind of bullies us all into being better people, but he's disgusted by the lack of participation of the younger generations.  Jimmy is used to doing business in the Mad Men era and before.  Back when everyone had a secretary and a wife at home, there was a lot more inclination to civic involvement.

Jimmy still has a powerful personality but at age 94 he is deaf as a post and nowadays his only job is to pray at our meetings.  There are a couple of reasons for this, one being that when called on he can deliver a flowing and flowery invocation.

The main reason for his status as chief benedictor is that he knows the spot int he program where the prayer always happens.   He can't hear much of anything, especially not female voices.  Apparently my voice is stereotypically female and even though he can't hear a word I'm saying, he knows when I look at him, following the pledge of allegiance, he's on.

At that point, Jimmy totters to his feet, grasps the handles of his walker and yells.

I kid you not.  He yells.


It reverberates.  Dogs begin to howl outside.  Dishes quake in the kitchen and Juanita grabs the tea pitcher that someone set too close to the edge of the counter.


Richter scales record a momentary blip from two states over.  The steeple on the Baptist church teeters just a bit and windshield cracks widen and spread all over town.


We damn well pray. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

I Deleted The Department's Financial Records on Friday

This week’s events include the following snippet of conversation:

The Judge:  “Thanks for the candy.”
Me:  “Thanks for not sending me to jail.”

You know those bits of paper that the sheriff brings you now and then?  The one’s with the funny little Latin name?  Subpeonas?  Subpeonae?  Muchos Subpeonos?   

A deputy visited my office a couple of weeks ago with one of those little mandates clutched in his meaty little mitt.  My presence was ordered for a upcoming proceeding in the northernmost county of the jurisdiction.  

After a week and a day spent out of the office for training and a holiday that I had forgotten the county observed, (Who’s off for Columbus Day, anyway?  Hell, the banks barely even take that holiday.) I decided to go straight on to my office in the southernmost county on Tuesday morning, rather than stopping to check in with my main office, in the middle-most county.  The middle county office is the one that had the subpoena sitting right in the middle of my desk so I would be sure and see it first thing when I got to work.  

The only thing that saved me for stern judicial rebuke was that the defense attorney also forgot about the hearing.  And instead of using my tactic of confessing to one’s own special brand of dumbassery and apologizing profusely, he chose to try blaming the Judge’s secretary for not notifying him of the hearing.  That didn’t work out so well for him.  

I owe that lawyer some flowers.  

That’s how my Tuesday morning went.  Tuesday afternoon started with me driving back to work following lunch with the court reporter, who’d made it home from all the way across the district after the aborted hearing.  We stuffed our faces and when I got back to the office afterwards, there was a pickup and a stock trailer parked across the street, next to city hall.  That’s normally where I park when I return from lunch, so this time I parked next to my office.

Half an hour later, I got a call from the Chief of Police.  

The Chief shares a first name with Supergirl.  But that, coupled with a penchant for law and order, is where the resemblance ends.  She is short and solid - compact.  Her close-cropped, mousy, brown hair is turning grey at a pretty quick clip.   She wears a heavy gun belt, a shapeless uniform the color of her hair and large plastic-framed glasses.  

And she’s got a hell of a voice.  

When this woman opens her mouth, Lee Marvin comes pouring out.  Lee Marvin with a horribly draggy Texas drawl.  I kid you not.  Lee-effing-Marvin.

I’d seen her earlier that morning.  She came by to give me some papers to deliver to the District Attorney.  I’m sort of like the pony express for offense reports and such.  This morning the Chief had a cold and sounded like Lee Marvin with corks stuffed in her nostrils.  She was taking a sick day and heading home.  

When I answered the phone, she drawled my name and said, “I realize we have much more important stuff to worry about in this town.  I really do.  But I’ve had a complaint that your car is parked illegally.”  

“Well,” I said.  I thought about it for a moment.  “I suppose my car is parked illegally.”  The ‘as if it really matters’ remained unspoken but not unheard.

She paused for a beat.  “Yeah.”  

“Ok,” I sighed.  “I’ll go out and move it.”

“Thank you, so much.”  She sniffled.  “You’re a doll.”  

Lispy Lee Marvin just called me a doll and hung up the phone.  I had to smile.  

I stood, stretched the kinks out of my shoulders and went outside, car keys dangling from my fingers.  Stepping to the curb, I looked left.  Then I looked right.  Then, since my office is on the corner at a four-way stop sign, I looked in front of and behind me.  

Then I looked in all four directions again, just to make sure.  

Mine was the only vehicle for at least two blocks in any direction.  

I sighed, grasped the keys more securely and stepped off the curb.  Once opened the door of my criminally positioned vehicle, I firmly planted my posterior in the driver’s seat.  I buckled the shoulder belt, adjusted my mirrors and looked both ways.  Just in case.  

Then I executed a Shriner-worthy U-turn and whipped the thing across the street and into a legally parked position at the curb right across the street from my office.  I got out of the car, and stepped back up on the curb, listening to the silence of the empty streets.  

And then I went back to work.  

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Lunch Lady

The Turn Around Cafe closes soon.

For the past two years I've eaten lunch there every couple of weeks or so.  The food is good and the atmosphere is...unconventional.

The owner is lean, lanky, and prone to wearing hospital grade support stockings with her cut-off denim shorts. Her long ponytail is mostly grey.  She's quick on her feet and even quicker to swish a damp rag across a spattered tabletop.  She's also more than a little bit caustic.

The Turn Around sits on a corner at the edge of town, about a block from where the street dead ends.  The building started out as an old filling station.  The office area has been converted into the non-smoking dining room.  There's a sign on the front door that says "ring the bell".  The "dammit!" is implied.

The sign refers to a doorbell located just inside the door.  When you enter, you have to push the button so the bell rings in the kitchen to let the owner/waitress/cook know you are there.  Four tables fill the cramped space; you can take your pick.  Three of them seat four people and one old, yellow, Formica and chrome surface seats six.  If you want a menu, you have to get it your own damn self from a stack on the counter.

Eventually the owner/waitress/cook will appear from the back give you the daily special spiel. The special is always meat, bread, vegetable and cake.  It's good lunch-lady food.  Nothing fancy, just good, solid eats. There is only one problem.

Nine times out of ten, in my experience, the vegetable is Lima beans.  I hate Lima beans. 

Once she spouts the special you will be informed, with a scowl and a lip curl, that you could also order off the menu.  She hates menu orders as much as I hate Lima beans.

Generally I chance it, face her wrath, and order a burger.  She makes a mean burger and her French fries are pretty epic.  But it pisses her off something fierce when you don't eat the special.

Evidently no one else likes Lima beans either.  I usually get there a little early, just before the noonday crowd, so I can to watch the steam rise and her blood pressure visibly surge as diner after diner eschews the special in favor of menu fare.

By the time the last table is filled she's slinging napkin-wrapped silverware at menu-ordering noshers and and all but throwing the menus at late-comers pushing the bell button on their way through the door.

Once I saw her refuse to even tell a customer what the special was because he wouldn't want it anyway and would just order a burger.  So, he was getting a burger and that was that.  He meekly agreed.

Today we watched  the crowd dwindle and change for a little longer than usual.  One of the tables was occupied by two electrical construction company supervisors from out of town.  The waitress  easily bullied them into the special.  They even ate most of their Lima beans.  Once they'd sopped the last of the gravy and left, the men at the other two tables exchanged looks and laughed.  "Brand X," one sneered.  "Wouldn't trust 'em,"drawled the other.  My friend Sherri explained the hometown guys were both employed by the local electrical utility.  Both home-towners managed to avoid the Lima beans.

A few moments later, three more young men opened the squeaky door and tentatively made their way to the vacated table.  They were out-of-towners; laborers, young and hungry.

The waitress heard them, eventually, as they didn't see the small, handwritten 'ring the bell [dammit!]' sign.  She entered the dining area with a heavy sigh, grabbed a stack of menus from the counter (which the newbies didn't realize they were expected to pick up themselves) and flung them onto the table. 

"The special is chicken strips with gravy, a roll, Lima beans, and strawberry cake.  Or," she leaned intimidatingly over the table and growled at them, "you can order off. the. menu."

"C-can we have a minute?" the table's spokesman managed.  Another of them reached timidly towards the stack of menus. 

She slapped the table with her order pad, making all three jump.  "Fine," she hissed.  "I'll be back."

The 'I'll be back' would have made Schwarzenegger cringe  and I thought the table spokesman might tear up and cry.  The tiro appeared to want desperately to get up and leave, but were obviously too afraid to move for fear of reprisal.  And possible retribution.

Sherri and I about fell out of our chairs, trying not to laugh out loud.  Good times, y'all. 

Alas, however, all good things must come to an end.  The Turn Around closes at the end of this month.  The owner is moving out of town, following her husband to his new job.

The Turn Around still smells like a gas station.  The non-smoking dining room reeks slightly of diesel fumes.  The bathrooms are still outside, remnants of a time when the key to such retreats came attached to a tire rim or a cinder block.  The smoking area is the actual garage area of the gas station.  It's much larger than non-smoking, I believe, but I've never been inside.  I can only imagine the heady aromas that must fill the air in there.

Fortunately all is not lost. Two of the Turn Around's most loyal customers have bought the business and plan to keep it open.  My fingers are crossed, but I have my doubts as to whether or not they'll be able to reproduce the same high quality food.

After all, The Turn Around Cafe made Texas Monthly's top 40 list of small town cafes a few years back. 

I am hopeful, however, that the new owners won't serve Lima beans.

And, in a shining stroke of good fortune, the cafe is staying open an extra week or two past it's original closure date while the new owners secure title insurance.  The owner is keeping it going for lunch.  When Sherri asked about it, the owner said she is through cooking supper -  no more nighttime meals these last two weeks.

So if you require sundown sustenance, you are on your own. 


Have I mentioned her name is...Joy?