Author Archives: Juancho

Ground Squirrel Blues

Ground squirrels scamper and scrounge.
Flying squirrels languish and lounge.

You got to wake up tough,
and get that nut,
before a flying squirrel comes back down.

but when that son of a bitch
comes close to the ditch

then you grab him and you drag him down.

Rip his fancy fur coat
right off of his throat

and send his ass back out of town.

I got the ground squirrel blues you can’t blame me.
It’s dirty down under these shade trees.

Every nut that you get,
been gnawed on I bet,

before a flying squirrel dropped it on down.

The Eye of the Beholder

North Tampa is all acne and double chins, pit stains and varicose veins. I drive in circles around a strip mall lot anchored by a yellowing Winn Dixie. Sushi, Thai, Falafel, Subs, Poke bowls and Bubble tea, around I go unable to make a decision. With my father in the hospital I study each restaurant not for what sounds good. but for the underlying disease it will evoke in my own aging body. I go with the middle-eastern spot. It is almost empty. A bear-like man and his daughter in her school uniform are ordering at the counter. I wait behind them, still and dumb as a coat rack. The little girl is taking her time choosing each ingredient for her wrap with serious consideration. Me? I would eat the cold fries and greasy napkins off the lone dirty table.

I wear a sticker on my shirt with a grainy photo of myself, but it could easily be my father. He is on the fourth floor tower of the hospital, and also someplace far more difficult to find. Lost in his own mind after cracking his skull on a tile floor, he is lost in the continuous now. “Where is your car?” He asks. I answer that question over and over in a loop, unable to explain why we can’t walk out together and go home. “Bring me down in this chair to the first floor. Put a towel on the seat. They took my underwear.” Each time I tell him no I feel a little bit more like a piece of shit until I have to leave. Now I stand here, a giant pile of shit, and hungry. It is taking a long time, but I don’t care about anything.

It is my turn and I order. The restaurant is halal, and I take note that I did not step into a strip mall falafel shop, but a community. The man and his daughter speak a language I don’t know with the cook and the manager. I put that placid, friendly white guy face on I use in these settings to communicate I am benign. The bear-like man engages me, asking who is in the hospital. I tell him my father, and the words stick like chalk. He changes the subject. He owns a meat market in Ybor City. I ask his daughter if she works the cash register or is she a butcher? She smiles and says she does sit at the counter and help the customers check out.

Their food is ready and he settles up, wishing me the best for my father.

I pull out my wallet to pay and the proprietor waves my credit card away. “He paid for you. It is enough to make a coat rack cry.

Charlie Rogers’s Big Day Out

She yowled, “MY NAME IS CHARLIE ROGERS!” as she bounded out the door sending squirrels skittering up the old oak tree in the front yard. “What is a Charlie Rogers?” they chattered as the little cat leapt to the rail of the deck. “Me-OW, me-ow, ME-OW! You better watch out! I AM CHARLIE ROGERS AND I’M FROM WALKER COUNTY ALABAMA!” The Barred owls up in the old oak tree turned their big eyes towards one another, both afraid to ask the other the obvious question, when they were saved by the squirrels who all repeated the question at once talking over each other, “What is an Alabama?” The owls laughed nervously mocking the simple-minded squirrels, “What is an Alabama? The squirrels are such dummies! “As if everyone does not know what an Alabama is!”

A raccoon, peeking out from a crook in the old oak tree whispered to the owls, “A Charlie Rogers is a type of cat. A cat is a type of raccoon without thumbs. An Alabama is it’s mama. When a small cat becomes a large cat it is called an Alabama. I know. I see the Charlie Rogers and her mama in their nest at night sitting together.” “We know that raccoon. We are owls in case you forgot. We don’t need thumbs because we have such big, wise, brains.”

“I’M CHARRRRRRRLLLLIE ROGERS!” She mewled with all of her might. “Yes. We all know you are Charlie Rogers now”, said the squirrels, finally catching on. “YOU BETTER WATCH OUT!” She growled at nobody in particular, just announcing to the whole Redberry Farm community that she was now both an inside, and an outside, cat. ‘I CAN COME OUT HERE ALMOST ANYTIME I WANT AND I’LL CHASE ALL OF YOU!”

“Why would you want to do that Charlie Rogers?” said the sweet possum lady with all of her babies on her back. “Are you going to eat us?” “I AM CHARLIE FARLEY ROGERS AND I MIGHT EAT YOU!” The sweet possum lady sucked her teeth at that and nestled down in her hole in the oak tree, “Such a rude little creature!” She huffed and all of her little babies nodded and cowered deeper into their mama’s fur to hide.

“EAT WHOOOOO?” said the owls both hooting with scorn down at the little cat. Charlie Rogers never saw an owl before and her eyes went wide at the sight of the cats with no ears way, way up in the old oak tree. “You mind your manners Charlie Rogers or we might eat you!” With that, an indignant and defiant Charlie Rogers took off running as fast as she could around the house to show everyone she very well could eat them if she wanted to do it. The bells on her collar let everyone in the yard know she was coming so the lizards laid low and the cardinals flew up in the Camellias until she raced by.

“I AM GOING BACK INSIDE NOW SO I WILL SEE YOU ALL TOMORROW AND MAYBE I WILL EAT YOU THEN!” The door closed behind the little cat as she bolted inside and a quiet stillness settled over Redberry Farm. The owls and the squirrels and the sweet possum lady and the raccoon all looked to the the big black and white cat with no tail and raised their furry and feathery eyebrows. “Don’t look at me.” said the big black and white cat with no tail. “I’m just glad she is not inside all of the time now.”

Midland-continued

Before the accident, Manny rode his bicycle to work. The morning it happened, the story was taking over the news across the country. By the time it was over, when Baby Jessica finally emerged from the well in the arms of firefighter Robert O’Donnell, Manny was already in Intensive Care. While waiting for the ambulance, the soap-scrubbed Christian woman who stopped for his crumpled form on the side of the road was praying. Kneeling over him with her hands stacked on his chest, she was not performing CPR, but beseeching a holy intercession on behalf of the young man’s broken body.

Manny never returned to work at the restaurant. Long months of recovery in a county rehabilitation facility, a nursing home. passed as the puzzle of broken bones slowly shuffled back into a functional form. His brain remained in a hazy twilight of conscious hibernation. He awoke to eat. He walked slowly between the parallel bars, a cast of nurses shadowing him, a sheet bridled about his waist for support. Like his body, his brain was negotiating new avenues of moving ketones and lactate from neuron to neuron. When the doctors signed off on his discharge, Manny was outwardly healed, and inwardly re-ordered, his personality and cognitive scope both exponentially more grand.

7 months after the world forgot about Baby Jessica, Manny was just learning again of the miracle.

Three Stores

The Shop-n-Go on Hammock Road set the standard. All other convenience stores are measured against its specifically soothing scent. I can close my eyes and recall it even now, more than forty years later. It is hard to discern exactly what comprised it. A tinge of bleached mop water, menthol cigarette smoke through the air-conditioner filter, withered hot dogs rolling endlessly, lingering tendrils of Opium, Poison, and Drakar Noir. Deeper into the scent there is cardboard, sweat, gasoline, Circus Peanuts, even cash emulsifying into something delicious and enticing.

At first, before puberty, it was a far-flung distant peak to conquer, a Saturday morning excursion requiring some planning. Count up your change, clip your Army canteen to your belt loop, throw a leg over the Mag Scrambler and away you go, one full mile way. Once I got there I would be in no hurry to leave, eating Boston Baked Beans and mastering the esoteric disciplines of Tron, greatest of all arcade games.

The Cumberland Farms on U.S. Highway 19 in Homosassa Springs, near the north end of Sugarmill Woods subdivision, served as a way station from my earliest days of independence driving between Mom and Walt’s home on Anna Maria Island, and Tallahassee. It was situated near half-way in the 300 mile trip, with a turning lane into the pumps. Biscuit sandwiches were always fresh, and the smell of Fabuloso in the bathroom strong enough to get you high. I would tell strangers in the parking lot, “This is the nicest store in Florida, you’re in for a treat.” I had that much confidence in the staff and whomever sat atop the Cumberland Farms franchise. I drove down there once on a rescue mission, to intercede when Walter and his assistant, Sergio, broke down in the old Winnebago. By the time I got there they were hardly in distress. The suffocating July heat had me wincing when I got out of the car. Not those guys, accustomed to the Yucatecan summers they were sitting in the shade, eating grapes and cheese off a paper plate.

The Homosassa Cumberland Farms fell into decline. My last stop there was shocking. It was dingy and fetid. One manic fluorescent bulb flickering in the ceiling. The leathery cashier fared no better, acrid ammonia misting from her pores. I worried for her, and I didn’t want to ever come back. At some point I noticed the sign changed. It’s now USA MART.

I moved to Portland, OR in the mid-nineties, which was an incredible time to be alive. Six of us struck out from Montana, lead by the un-shrinking confidence and vision of Herman Jolly. Mad Cowboy Disease, his melancholy solo masterpiece, was powered by Plaid Pantry coffee and Copenhagen. Now that Cousin Todd is gone, these songs are as close as I can get to the secure feeling I always had in his company, goddamned genius gentleman that he was.

Some of us were there to pursue dreams of making a life with art at the center. I guess I was pursuing a dream of helping friends pursue dreams of a life with art in the center. We split into two households, not half a mile between us. Across from the purple house I lived in, was a 24 hour Plaid Pantry.

The Plaid, as it looked from our front stoop. Pretty convenient.

The Plaid Pantry experience was utilitarian. I don’t remember the staff, or any notable hot menu items. I mainly remember Hamm’s, the beer with a cartoon bear mascot.

We crossed 30th Ave back and forth like tin ducks re-stocking the fridge. I do think they sold pancake mix, my other staple. Portland was a big city to me at the time. The biggest place I’d ever lived. My entire universe ran from that Plaid Pantry to Little Baja, where most of us worked up on Burnside. The Pacific Northwest’s largest importer of piƱatas and terracotta, and don’t you ever forget it. “Gotta Lotta Terra Cotta”, yeah, that was me.

Litte Baja

Juancho

Deep in the ‘Rona Country

I’d researched him for days waiting for him to get my message and return my call. I knew he was an Air Force helicopter medic in Iraq. I knew everywhere he’d been to college. I expected a skilled diplomat, savvy in the handling of distressed family members at his hospital almost a year into this pandemic.

So I was caught completely off guard when he charged me on the sidewalk, veins bulging in his head. His physical stature identical to a vending machine, one fist clenched, the other finger pointed at my face spitting inside his KN95 about me being the one harassing his staff and taking photographs in his hospital.

Apparently it is perhaps not legal to take photographs of hospital employees inside a hospital not wearing a face covering, an action that sounds very unlike me although I can’t be certain I didn’t do it.

After so many fruitless calls, cordial requests, and insistent private online messages requesting a moment of accountability, what choice did I have? What choice would you have if it was your loved one with their back to the wall, certain to not survive should the virus saunter its way from an uncovered nose to their lungs? His dutiful assistant failed to provide the gentleman with the full context of our many interactions and instead provided the miserly synopsis that finally got him out of his chair to find me.

Despite his size and military training he was the one in danger. Motivation to protect one’s reputation stands no chance against the drive to protect one’s family. If he killed me he would need a surgeon to cut my hands from his throat.

Security, roused from their listless stupor, came to his aid, which he quickly dismissed. In between his threats of arrest and my presentation of evidence we grappled our way to a new understanding. Yes, it has been hard. Yes, fatigue sets in, and yes, every single god damn person should have their face covered in a hospital, and hold each other accountable to the highest standard of safety for the patients, if not each other.

As the temperature between us dropped he sighed, “I wish you had just called me first.” I clutched a bench to keep from spinning off the earth from the irony, my phone log a solid line of call attempts dating to last week. “Man” I deadpanned, “thanks for the suggestion. I’ll try that next time.” We exchanged cell numbers and agreed to keep the lines of communication open, as the saying goes.

A box of fresh masks appeared at the front desk, and shortly after he texted me. He thanked me for bringing the issues to their attention, acknowledged they needed perhaps a renewal of pandemic vows so to speak. Most importantly, he inquired as to my loved one’s condition, status, and care plan. He checked in again last night, just before I fell into a hard sleep.

It’s touch and go out there everyone. We have to dig in with our fingernails if we are going to make it through this together. The virus is truly the least of our worries.

Juancho

Craig in Montana is Right

I haven’t kept my word about moving my online world back to the circus. More importantly, nobody wants to read a blog that starts out whining about not writing a blog. While this tiny ember of hope from the election, and real talk of vaccine development is something, 2020 continues to deliver its unmerciful bludgeoning.

There is this one thing I’m stuck on though, so I might as well get it out there.

I feel like I had this recurrent experience and I’m wondering if anyone can relate to it.

If you aren’t familiar, we had a little cat visit us a few months back. We adopted him and named him “Ronie” and he fit right into our little family. I called him Justin Timberlake, because his charisma was just too powerful to deny.

Anyway, one morning way after we let our guard down, Ronie went out in the morning and never came back. It sucks.

So this other event is connected to Ronie disappearing, and it’s this guy Noah.

We met him at our local low dollar golf course, the venerable Jake Gaither aka “The Jake.” Three of us were playing, and as usual it was all backed up and everyone was struggling to get any rhythm going. There was a single dude behind us, and someone suggested we should invite him to join us and do the right thing to tighten up the pace of play. Well, myself and one buddy said, nah, fuck that guy. Let’s just keep going, but then Paul, a real golfer and a gentleman, chastened us and we acquiesced to the invitation.

You see where this is going probably. Noah turns out to be this solid dude. Very Ronie-like in personality. Just a guy from Peoria, Illinois, which is a town name that really lends itself phonically to good story-telling. So Noah has this mighty swing that wooshes by like a freight train, and lord jesus when it connects it is a real thing to see. He’s got the golf jones real bad too, which is contagious, so after a round full of highlight shots from all of us we trade numbers and just like that Noah is in the crew.

This crusty crew does not excel at making new friends, and then just like Ronie, Noah waltzes right in like a breath of fresh air.
Then he left, just like Ronie. Tallahassee didn’t work out for him. Not this time. He’s back in Peoria hanging out on a real goat farm instead of our pretend one at the Jake.

I think this pandemic, and misery in general, creates a lot of movement. As the situation changes, anyone on a margin or edge, is bound to get disrupted and seek a new equilibrium. Until it’s your turn, others will rebound and ricochet off of you in search of that new level ground.

That’s what I think.

-jr

P.S.

I drew this picture while spending some time at the local youth shelter, my old alma mater. I’m sitting with two of the nicest kids, and a staff person. She gets out the big box of art supplies and we all set out to draw something. I’ve got Ronie on my mind, and I’m thinking about how sad Melissa is so I start drawing this picture you see. About half-way through, this twelve year-old boy asks me what it is. I tell him it’s a cat. He says, it looks like an owl. He sees I am crestfallen, and quickly encourages me, “It looks like a cat too.” I ask him what he thinks I can do to fix it. He tells me, “Just keep making it look more like a cat.” He shrugs his shoulders unaware of his genius and returns to his mastery of illustrating anime hair. His advice got the above result.

I’m going to resist the urge to point out the obvious lesson in the homily, but it ain’t easy.

Juancho

Revenge of the Herd

The cattle were lowing in the valley below
dark water was rising, they’d nowhere to go
On the wind did their song fly
of hardship and woe
but no ears did hear it
in the valley below

But the cattle weren’t fearful
The cattle weren’t weak
Together they swam
through the storms raging peak

One by one they did climb
back onto dry land
and set out for revenge
on the lazy cowhand

They found him sleeping
wrapped in his poncho
head swaddled in dreams
Came they creeping on hooves
wading up through the stream

He woke as a bull’s steamy breath
crossed his cheek
A herd set for murder
He dove for the creek

The ranch hand now gone
there was nothing to stop
the herd from marching
to finish the job

As the sun slowly rose
on the grand hacienda
The cattle were charging
in triumphant splendor

Abolition

Monday, October 5, was the birthday of Stetson Kennedy. I thought to honor him by rushing over here and sharing my appreciation, but then I realized absent from social media there is less urgency to get my thoughts and opinions out there. Before I get into the life and work of Stetson Kennedy, let’s check in about the exodus. Melissa asked me how it felt to be off of social media. The overwhelming emotion is relief, like exiting Interstate 65 between Montgomery and Birmingham and just taking U.S. 31 up to Pea Ridge and enjoying the slower pace. My days are longer, and a single thread of thought can develop and grow throughout the day. The books on the shelf are no longer anachronistic decor, but voices whispering to me from faraway places and moments in time. Their pages do not blink with advertising or the knee-jerk opinions of unqualified dolts and bores. “HOLDEN NEEDS TO STOP WHINING AND GET BACK IN SCHOOL, ANNOYING, DO NOT RECOMMEND.”

So if you are wondering what it might feel like, there is nothing to fear. You will feel like yourself, except more so.

Now, William Stetson Kennedy. I searched my site for references to him, and he has a feature in the Clydesdale Hall of Fame, and some cameos in other posts. As a writer he is able, striving for clarity and function over literary device. A social activist born during the first world war, he died mere months before American troops withdrew from Iraq in 2011. I met him just a month before he died.

He was 95 years-old, and the feature act of an art show titled The American Dream. He was gracious with his time, and at least two-hundred of us clustered around him sitting on the floor, or craning our necks to see. A month later, he died.

His books, The Klan Unmasked, and Southern Exposure, are seminal works of the Civil Rights movement of the 20th century. Do they matter now?

As a white man, looking to not make matters worse, or enjoy the mantle of privilege without the responsibility to use it subversively, Stetson is a role model. There are many, many others. James Reeb, John Brown, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and Charles Moore. They all died for the cause of racial equality. Martyrdom is not a requirement though, to apply one’s white skin to the purpose of liberating darker skin. Senator Doug Jones, from Alabama, who sent murderers Thomas Blanton Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry to prison for the rest of their lives for the murder of children at the 16th Ave. Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL is a living example.

It’s great to admire Medgar Evers, Nelson Mandela, and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. I consider it my personal responsibility to defend Rev. Al Sharpton from his moronic detractors, teeth full of bread, necks shiny from grease, as their spittle-soaked recitation of stereotypes and urban legend land on screen or pavement.

Those leaders are not our role models though, as honkies and cracker-ass-crackers. We have plenty of examples who look just like us, and we would do best to learn their stories, and aspire to their ranks.

Juancho

Shutdown

I asked Melissa to hold my hand while I did it because it feels like a betrayal. The greatest fun that Facebook offered was documenting ourselves being happy together, mostly with food, drink, and animals. We recorded countless road trips to Pea Ridge, AL, Savannah, GA, back home to Walker County, and stopovers in Birmingham. That photo of a black and white striped King snake in Joshua Tree and the fantastical landscape of Noah Purifoy’s outdoor museum, I can close my eyes and see them. It is odd though. A thousand or more photographs, but none to hang on the wall, or tuck into a wallet. They are just out there, owned by a corporation, and indiscriminately cluttered with photographs that are without purpose or meaning. Of course she still has all of these memories online, and she is the better photographer because I will readily admit as she puts it, I never “wipe off the hole.” I downloaded the entire contents of my recorded life on Facebook, but the message said it could take a while to get me the file, and ultimately I did not wait for it.

We held hands and I clicked, “delete my account.” The irony is that even still, it is not gone. I am granted 30 days to reconsider, whether I need it or not. I can return without consequence at any time during that period. It doesn’t matter. It’s over.

In these last 48 hours on social media, I really lived it up. There was no time to say proper goodbyes to so many people I value, some whom I may truly lose forever. In that way it is like a death, and like death, it must be accepted.

I tried to listen to the chorus of my better angels, but I put my fingers in my ears to tell someone that reading his political thoughts was like watching a dog eat its own poop. That felt great, probably like that sweet, hot toke on the meth pipe feels great. The comedown is a real son of a bitch, but the ride up is worth it for a while.

Anyway, I do not intend to write about social media ad nauseum. Quite the opposite, I want to gently close that book and put it on the shelf. It is too soon, and I am too close to it to understand what I have done, and what will be different. Time is sometimes called the 4th dimension, and that is the one that grants the best perspective. We shall see.

Juancho