1308 1/2 W. Hickory Street, Denton Texas, Spring, 1963: The movie ‘Hatari’ was unmemorable, but the Henry Mancini song called ‘Baby Elephant Walk’ had been on the radio for weeks and weeks and weeks.
That warm day, an abundance of visitors from the HobNob to my minuscule apartment somehow drove us all to clamber up onto the flat roof. We also had beer. That may have been part of it.
On the front edge of the flat roof, with our feet dangling two stories above Hickory Street, we lined up to tell stories and watch the students and passers-by across the street on the campus.
Michael Murphy had brought his guitar.
You may remember Murphy from later, because in 1975, along with Linda Ronstadt, John Denver, the Carpenters, Doobie Brothers, and Ozark Mountain Daredevils, his pop single was at the top of the charts with lots of airplay across our great nation. His song was about a horse and a blizzard, and some mountains in Nebraska. The song was called ‘Wildfire.’
(Want to hear it? It’s on this musical video from a tv performance.)
That song haunts me still.
Odd, too, because back on that day when we were all sitting along the edge of the roof, Murphy had earlier come busting into the HobNob, grinning and giggling and just beside himself. He’d just sold his first song, for actual money. He’d made $50. That was a *lot* of money.
For a song!
He’d sold his song to the New Christy Minstrels.
Murphy was a handsome kid then, with a square jaw, blonde hair, an engaging smile and a friendly manner. We didn’t know just how good he was. But he was focused. He was going somewhere. And I guess selling an actual song, for actual money, to an actual known group … well, maybe this was something that consoled him, drove him forward, perhaps he heard fate whispering in his ear, ‘You can do this. You can do this. Just keep on.’
But on that day, as was common, he’d brought his guitar, and after he scrambled to the roof, we passed it up to him, and so, sitting on the roof above the street, he played for us, and we sang snippets of popular songs.
The sun was warm, and we had beer and comraderie. I suppose school officials would have been horrified, but nobody noticed us there despite our catcalls and hooting and laughter.
Down below, an ongoing parade of people walking provided more amusement.
Then a very rotund girl came chugging up the sidewalk. It wasn’t that she was fat, though that was unusual in those days. It was something prissy about the way she walked. She was swinging her shoulders as she came, walking all prissy, and moving right along.
From the guitar, suddenly we heard a tune we all knew. Baby Elephant Walk.
We fell apart, laughing.
And that’s how we’ll remember that day, on the edge of the roof above the street, with friends and laughter in the warm sun, and the Baby Elephant Walk.
In one of the last scenes in the fun movie, “Pirates of the Caribbean,” the heroine makes a statement about the leading man. She says, lovingly, “He’s a pirate.”
As you may recall from the movie, that young man started out hating the pirates, and yet, in the course of his adventures, he’s become bolder and he has dared great things, and by golly he has become a pirate. And that’s a good thing.
And so … why is it a good thing to be a pirate?
Henrietta, Texas, 1958: Billy Ray Johnson showed me how. You’ll need a shotgun shell, a bicycle spoke, a Kleenex, and some matches. Follow these instructions at your own risk.
Open the paper end of the shotgun shell — carefully — and take out the shot and the charge of gunpowder. Do not strike or mess with the firing cap on the metal end, because [Read more…]
You are magnetic,
turning every which way with the
shifting polar ice.
Weed, California, September 2011: I was just sitting here thinking that I really miss those days, a few years back, when live telemarketers used to call me all the time.
Because I used to have a lot of fun with them. Perhaps it is evil of me, but my theory is that if they wish to call me up with their agenda, then it should be OK for me to answer the call with *my* agenda.
Their agenda was to sell me something. And almost 100% of the time it wasn’t something I needed.
My agenda was to take a break and have some fun. Here’s what I learned …
How to Create Telemarketer Hell
Here’s what you do: [Read more…]
Hurnville, Texas, Autumn 1955: Born Pfeiffer I. Estlach he was, of German family, but when emigrating to the United States, they’d made the name more ‘American’ by translating it. East Lake it meant, and so Eastlake their name became. Pfeiffer I. Eastlake married my mother’s sister, the beauty, Rosemary, and so became my Uncle Esty.
World War II fell upon them all, and like his peers, Pfeiffer had joined the army. I don’t know where he served, nor how it went for him, save that he came back. He was a small, compact man, slight but durable, with bright blue eyes and blonde hair. If he fought the Germans in the war, I’m sure he gave it his best, for in the photographs he looked very dashing in the uniform. However, I’d guess they would have sent him to the South Pacific, so that he wouldn’t have to shoot some cousin.
As a child I must have first met him at my grandparents farm, for there I most remember him. On this particular Autumn morning we had to find some water, out in a field. Why? I don’t know. He cut a thin green branch from a young tree, and made a Y-shaped wooden device, and on the long arm, he mounted the cap from a fountain pen. Then, holding the two arms inside his hands he paced across the field, watching for the long arm to turn down.
Turn down it did. Dig there we did. Water we found.
Rosemary had given birth to the two boys, Bobby and Danny, and with them I ran through the woods, explored the barns and granaries, trudged the fields. We learned to hunt rabbits, and how to handle rifles. Uncle Esty showed us.
They moved from their Denton home to Wichita Falls, a larger town just up the road from Henrietta where I lived with my mother. Uncle Esty was, at that time, an insurance Agent, and drove a white Studebaker with a red-and-white sign painted on the doors, saying ‘State Farm.’ I asked him why he had a sign on his car.
“That makes it deductible,” he said.
I didn’t know what that meant. Now I do, and I know he probably could have just deducted it without the sign, but scrupulous and exact he was. I suppose he adored Rosemary once upon a time, but she seemed hard on him, hard on the boys, to me. Perhaps it was that my mother was more lax.
Visiting them in Wichita Falls, I learned about chili dogs. I bought a book and hypnotized my cousin Bobby. It seemed amazing, forbidden, dark and mysterious. There were games and tents and ropes and a huge and ugly bulldog named Kip.
Rosemary was the secretary to Dr. Hoggard, the pastor of a big Methodist church, so we were very Christian, oh yes we were. And it was great to spend a weekend there, not because of the church which was huge, cavernous, impressive, and boring, but because afterward, every week, we had lunch at Luby’s Cafeteria!
One Sunday, back at their home after Luby’s, we were changing from our church clothes, and an animated discussion broke out about something. My cousin Dan was imploring Uncle Esty in earnest tones and the two boys and I followed Uncle Esty out the kitchen door and up past the flower gardens to the front of the house, while on the nearby larger street a parade of cars whispered past.
My Uncle Esty unlooped the garden hose and prepared to water the roses. He stopped. Looked down at young Danny.
“Say!” Uncle Esty said, “You don’t have any pants on.”
Danny stopped in mid-sentence, looking down to discover he was wearing only his underwear. He shot a nervous look at all the cars driving past and ran pell-mell back into the house. Uncle Esty turned on the water and began to sprinkle the rosebed.
“Hmm!” he said.
Uncle Esty seemed forever patient to me. He was smart, efficient, worldly. He belonged to the Masonic Lodge and wore the ring. He smoked a pipe.
Of course the boys grew up. They joined DeMolays which is some Masonic thing, and went to high school. I’d graduated and gone off to college, and traveled to other states far away. I read books about esoteric practices like meditation and stress, and drove cars for long distances, and Rosemary died.
Esty was alone for a time, and seemed to shrink. Their house was haunted by Rosemary, who wasn’t there. Esty remained.
Returning for a visit, I stopped to see him. His health had declined, his heart was in trouble. He was the same precise man, but slower and sad, even when he told me that he’d met a dear woman he liked a lot. It had been a close call with his heart. He was trying to move forward. I tried to tell him what I’d read about meditation, and how it might help, and …
“I just do what the doctor tells me,” he said.
Soon after, I heard that he had married the dear woman. And then before long he died.
Bobby and Danny, young men now, were forbidden the house. His Masonic Ring, personal effects, photographs, mementos — all appropriated. The dear woman had it all. Perhaps it was a business with her; I don’t know.
A lifetime of doing what was right, as best he could. Of course he would just do what the doctor told him.
A good man. My Uncle Esty.