A Night Out

Hayes Carll and Corb Lund at Cain’s Ballroom

It was standing room only. A loosely disorganized mix of chairs, tables, and floorspace. There was a small no-man’s-land in front of the stage where a few people tried half-heartedly to dance from time to time. Most of the crowd was there for Hayes Carll, but to my great satisfaction, there was a vocal contingent of Corb Lund fans present as well. He’s never played in Oklahoma before so we all considered it an opportunity. The Lund fans were definitely cowboy-culture types. When Corb first came in the front door wearing a t-shirt which read “WHERE THE FUCK AM I?”, a table of fans waylaid him to shake hands and pose for pictures –profane t-shirt and all. He disappeared in the general direction of the green room and emerged soon after wearing a plain black t and a cowboy hat that seemed to have been recently sat on. For quite a while. Like all the way from Wichita, maybe. Physically, he was different than I expected. He was taller, leaner, and more muscular, to be exact. Square jaw, big button eyes, dimples, biceps. All the women in the room got that look on their faces that women get sometimes without realizing it. A kind of a dazed smile that says they are happy to be there, and open for suggestions. I almost began to hate him. Then he and the boys began to sing and play. You can’t hate the guy. I knew most of the songs, and his between- song patter was just as unassuming, good natured and authentic as the songs themselves. I leaned against the bar and drank two whiskeys, tapping my foot and looking around. ‘Twas fine.

Before too long, I saw Scott, and a little later he saw me. He was there for Hayes Carll. Corb Lund ended his set to a raucous Cain’s Ballroom applause. I went over to shake his hand, and shake him down for cds (for the show, you know), but missed him. However, when I saw the Corb Lund t-shirt with the sergeant’s stripes I knew it was a must-have. I forced Scott to lend me twenty U. S. dollars with which to buy it. It’s the dumbest t-shirt I’ve ever seen, and the pride of my wardrobe.

While Carll was setting up, Scott and I sat on a bench outside, with the smokers. We struck up a conversation with a Corb Lund fan, and I asked her where she’d even heard of him. “Sattelite Radio,” she explained. I see. It made me think Radio is passing me by on the way to the future.

We heard a roar from the crowd inside. Hayes had taken the stage and everyone was crowded around it whooping and hollering. I stayed for half a song. I could see his face in the spotlight above the bobbing heads. He looked like a man who could use some time off. Might have been the lighting, but I thought he looked really tired. I wrote him a mental prescription: six weeks with no obligations, no booze, no smokes, no dope, a little pocket money, and lots of fresh air –somewhere above 8,000 feet. I bet he’d feel like a new man. Then again, maybe I was the one who was tired, boozed, smoked, doped. I stepped outside and walked past Corb’s drummer who was standing in the street taking pictures of their van in front of the legendary Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I went home to a quiet house and a sleeping wife, made a pallet on the sofa and called it a night.



False Equinox

I woke up Sunday at Six a.m., and I woke up in a hurry. I wanted to witness , or better yet, be party to, the Autumnal Equinox sunrise over my city, and get in a long bicycle ride with Joe. Still drugged from sleep, I assembled a pack of materiel and loaded my bike in the truck. As I filled the Camelback with water, Louise made me a smoked turkey on homemade pumpernickel sandwich, which she placed in my path along with an apple. As I made for the door with a cup of coffee in my hand, I scooped them into the pack and burst out into the cool, still, dim morning. Since Joe and I had casually talked about meeting up early and beginning our ride right after the sunrise, I called him from the truck and asked if he was ready. “Oh, Hell no,” he grumbled.

Relieved (due to time constraints), I told him I’d go on up to Chandler Park Hill and after the sunrise I’d meet him at the Coffeehouse on Cherry Street. I pulled onto I-244 West, and picked up speed. Ah, fresh pavement! Black, smooth and soft. Who doesn’t love it? I watched my rearview mirror warily for the police and the sun.

The sun was scheduled to rise at 7:11 a.m. I stopped alongside Chandler Park’s entry road, which winds up the east face of Chandler Hill, clambered up a dew-wet, mown grass slope, and got positioned at 7:05. Perfect timing. Avery Drive ran due east from the foot of the hill, a long finger pointing in the direction of the approaching sunrise. Facing east, I assumed a Tulsa-style Zazen pose, which is a little more, shall we say, laid back than the Kathmandu style. My viewing spot was on about a thirty degree side slope, which was hard on my Mudra, but I’m a tough Okie.

I didn’t see the sunrise. The cool, clear night had left a layer of fog all up and down the Arkansas River Valley. There was no visible horizon. Avery Drive disappeared into the fog. The Tulsa skyline was undetectable except for the dimmest suggestion of the Jetson’s Tower near the 21st Street Bridge. I couldn’t even see the Sunoco Refinery. It was beautiful.

An invisible sun presumably cleared an invisible horizon as scheduled. I first saw it about ten minutes later as it began clearing the wall of fog, peeking over like Kilroy. Soon the entire sun was visible, but still filtered enough to allow you to look directly at it. To ponder it, to see it as a burning liquid ball with a distinct round outline. To see with your own eyes that it’s true what they say about the sun.

It was only later, while I was thumbing through the Sunday New York Times, waiting for Joe to emerge from his own fog of domestic chaos, ready to ride, that I discovered I ‘d been a day and a minute early. The equinox was to be on Monday, not Sunday. I’d be unavailable. I’ll try to catch it again in the spring.

Eventually, Joe and I were on bikes, rolling up Denver Avenue. We caught the Sand Springs bike trail by the loading docks of the David L. Moss Correctional Center and had an easy ride out to Sand Springs, stopping along the way at the actual sand springs, squeezed in between the Keystone Expressway and the Sand Springs Line railroad tracks. We crossed the river on Highway 97 and lunched under the bridge. The brown river was wide, swift and filled with eddys. We split the turkey and pumpernickel sandwich.

The Annual Pear Blossom Parade

Tulsans are mad for Bradford pear trees. Every Spring, thousands of them burst into showy white blossoms all over the city, all at once, as if someone, maybe Barry Fugatt, had blown a dog whistle command.

The other night it rained softly and silently while the city slept. It was the kind of rain that beads up on every blade of new grass. The rain ended before dawn, chased away by strong gusts blowing up from Texas.

A certain Tulsa couple stepped out into brilliant morning light to find all the Bradford pear trees denuded, and their damp pickup plastered over with little round white pear blossom petals, as was every other vehicle in the neighborhood. It looked as if everyone in town had prepared a float for a big parade. They pulled out of their driveway and drove away at parade speed, he waving left and right, and she blowing kisses, at imaginary spectators lining their route out of the neighborhood.

Accelerating onto the Crosstown Expressway they left their petals behind in a dissipating cloud and got down to the business of merging and swerving and looping around downtown, the Tula skyline stamped against an immaculate Osage Blue sky. Cruising down Riverside Drive with the windows down and Jeff Graham & The Painkillers playing loud, the couple silently agreed (as only longtime couples can) that it wasn’t merely great to be alive; it was great to be alive here, in this place, and now, in this moment!

On their right, the Arkansas River, which can be something of a slacker as rivers go, was for once living up to its full potential, filling its wide channel to the brim, racing through the city, overrunning the low dam at 31st Street. At 91st Street, they pulled into Southwood Nursery to by a Holly tree for their yard. Before they made their selection, they stood for a few minutes in the swaying shade of an incongruous spreading Liveoak (not for sale!) in one corner of the nursery, and soaked up borrowed Texas Hill Country ambiance there in the Oklahoma bottomland.

What is it about a tree in the back of a pickup that makes people stare? Even people with a tree in the back of their own pickup will stare at the tree in yours. They pondered this question while sitting in the sun at Weber’s, sipping the finest root beer in the land, until they realized that they were themselves staring at their own tree in the back of their own pickup and they didn’t know why.

They took side streets home, leaving swirling eddies of pear blossom confetti in their wake.

“Did we miss the big parade?” he asked her as they pulled into their driveway.

“No, I don’t think so,” she replied. “I don’t think we missed it at all.”

Linnaeus Bound

Ah, springtime in Tulsa! Cercis canadensii (redbuds) in bloom, soft breezes laced with the sweet, smoky fragrances of Schizachryiam scoparium (little bluestem), Andropogon gerardium (big bluestem), Tridens flavius (purpletop), and other grasses all engulfed in flame on the surrounding tallgrass prairies, and Asteracaea taraxacum (dandelions) popping open like the photographer’s umbrellas in Woodward Park, which is where we decided to go this Sunday morning and visit poor old Linnaeus, confined there in his specially constructed cell.

What had poor Linnaeus done to get locked up in Tulsa County? We wondered among ourselves as we dashed across busy 21st Street and zigzagged through stands of Photographium nikonii and the pastel rows of Bridalis pseudovirginii. Maybe it was the sheer audacity of presuming to name the flowers. Isn’t that God’s work, after all? Was one of our powerful faith-based institutions behind Linnaeus’s imprisonment?

We climbed the stone steps (provided by Pavestone, as pointed out by a helpful sign attached to the stone) of the entrance to the Linnaeus Teaching Garden. Maybe they were just teaching him a lesson. We strode down the paved promenade (donated by Pavestone, we were reminded by another helpful sign about six feet from the first one), along the low, bench-lined wall (contributed, according to a series of more helpful signs along the way, by Pavestone), and up to Linnaeus’s cell, which was padlocked (Masterlock, we believe), so we could not visit the old fellow. According to a sign on the cell wall (yes, Pavestone), his visiting hours are 10:00 -4:00 TUES -SAT. This would seem to limit his visitors mostly to well-dressed ladies of a certain social position with a passion for gardening, or rather, for gardening tools.

We could see him through the bars, no doubt whiling away his months and years systematically naming and cataloging the many reasons for his wrongful imprisonment. The sound of water splashing over stone (Pavestone?) confirmed what we’d heard about a modest enclosed garden attached to Linnaeus’s cell, in which he was allowed to putter. A humane act by his keepers, we had to admit, but on the other hand we couldn’t help wondering if sweet mornings like this one in his garden behind bars might make Linnaeus’s Aprils all the crueler. Since we all have dayjobs, we may never get to ask the old fellow himself.

We could always go to work for Pavestone. Maybe they open the place up for the Pavestone Employees Annual Company Picnic. We could bring a cake. A cake with a razor-sharp trowel inside.


How To Get A Table

My friend Joe and I walked to the Coffeehouse On Cherry Street one recent chilly, bright day, and wedged into the bottleneck at the cash register. An older gentleman in front of us ordered a decaf.

“Yes, sir. One decaf,” replied the brisk and appealingly bohemian-looking young barista.

“But don’t tell me it’s decaf!” he added with some urgency.

“Oh, no, sir! Of course not! It’ll just be a couple of minutes while I brew a pot of, uh….regular coffee.” She made little quotation marks with her fingers around the word “regular”. While she got his coffee brewing, Joe and I passed the time by admiring the visible parts of her surprisingly tasteful tattoos and scanning the room for familiar faces and available seats. A quick scan located only one visible empty seat –in the midst of a noisy group of caffeinated teenagers who sounded like a large flock of mating shorebirds.

Once we’d completed our purchases, with full cups carefully in hand, we searched through a noisy warren of alcoves and niches furnished with comfy-looking mismatched seats, all taken, and garage sale tables, ending, finally, at a massive dining room table with four chairs, only one of which was being used –by a young man intensely preoccupied with his laptop and his latte.

“Hello, there,” Joe said, all smiles, as we sat. “Hope you don’t mind if we join you!” If you know Joe, you know that wasn’t meant as a question. Not even a rhetorical one.

The intense young man looked up, startled. “Well, actually, I have some friends joining me. Sorry. They–”

“Well,” I said, “If they ever arrive, we’ll be sure and try to make room for them. What’re you working on there?” I nodded toward his laptop –all smiles.

“What? That’s not really—“

“Because we could help. We’re very good. Especially Joe here –this is Joe, I’m Richard—Joe here is actually a professional teacher, so if you need any help there with your assignment or whatever it is—“

“It’s not an—“

“I’m sorry. How presumptuous of me. Here I am offering your professional services, Joe, without even consulting you.”

“Well, you haven’t talked price yet, so no harm done.” Joe looked down his glasses at the two of us.

“So, young man –I didn’t catch your name—you want to talk price? Hmm?”

His startled expression hadn’t changed. He took a deep breath, with a somewhat ragged edge, no doubt from too much caffeine. “All…. I…. want…. is to…. oh, never mind.” He clapped shut the laptop, pulled the plug, stood and left without replying when Joe asked him if we could deliver any messages to his friends.

“Well, that didn’t take long,” Joe observed once we were alone. He put his feet up on the recently vacated chair and took a sip.

Just then, the older gentleman appeared at our table, “regular” coffee in hand, and a hopeful look on his face. As he opened his mouth to speak, I pre-empted him. “Sorry, sir. Our wives are just parking. They’ll be in in a moment. Sorry.” He shuffled off and sat down, frowning, in the midst of the shrill teens, which had a temporary calming effect on them that the rest of us appreciated as we sipped our coffees, and spoke of many things.