3-5-04, 9:00 PM -
So. Laundromat. Halls lozenges. Waiting for the decongestant to kick in. What else can I say?
Actually, it's been a rather action-packed week, as the limeys say.
(oh fuck, they just put Uncle Fucking Kracker on the laundromat stereo...where's my stick?)
Had a hell of a nice show at the Tank yesterday, many thanks to those in attendance. We shall return.
Been pulling that crazy just-for-right-now-to-pay-a-few-bills overtime for the last couple of weeks. It's a little better knowing there's a fixed endpoint, but it still sucks.
(oh good, James Taylor replaced the Antivocalist on the stereo...thank Pete)
Working with a cadre of friendly Catholics on this assignment. How do I find these uni-religious workplaces? Anyway, we have fun. One guy's from Peru and makes interesting sentences. The boss lady's an expert on beer. Which doesn't mean alcoholic, just an expert. I think. Beer tasters don't do the swish-n-spit, so a connoisseur is a little more likely to get blasted in the sampling process.
(will someone stuff a sock in Faith Hill's gullet, or at least turn down that stereo?)
Next to Catholic squad are the Russians. These particular Russians have been over here for a while, so they're not as severe as the ones at the Jewelry Expo. They've introduced me to Cheburashka, the Elmo of the Ural Mountains:
Apparently Cheburashka's very big in Russia, and his jug-eared visage encutes almost every corner of our drafty old SoHo office. So that's how Russians keep from freezing. Teddy bears & vodka.
Found out that I'm around the corner from Magic Hands Freddy, a play featuring our old crane-kicking, Satan-outplaying pal Ralph Macchio (shown above). As far as I can tell, it's being staged in someone's living room, in a nearby strip of row houses. That's where the awning & signs are, anyway. They'll convert pretty much anything into a theater around here. Good thing they don't have sheep pens anymore.
Still getting used to my new haircut. Depending on which angle you catch it from, it's either Tim Robbins at the Oscars or Kurt Russell in Stargate. And if the wind blows too hard, it's Johnny Rotten. I don't think it's supposed to be any of those things. Like I said, I'm still trying to get used to it.
The Wifely seems to know what to do with it, but then I leave the house & total bedlam breaks out up there. And I never know when I'm done with it. It's supposed to be "messy". Well, how do you know when it's messy enough? Or too messy? I just ask Wifely. If she's not there, I got no idea. Guess if it's wrong, I'll just walk around like a goobersmooch until someone arrests me.
3-7-04, 3:41 AM -
Sittin' here at a subway station in Harlem, waiting for a train. Been drinking with Paul & Maja, but I didn't really get my drunk on too heavily. Got this sinus headache what's bunging up the works.
3:45 AM -
Got a train. Entering the 125th Street station, the one suspended up above the road. There's a valley in this section of the island, so the trains just come up from underground instead of tunnelling deeper down.
It seems my dream of an early Spring is shattered, after a week of near-record highs in the 50s & 60s. Back in the 40s now, poor us.
Reading this here Poetry In Motion placard on the billboard up by the ceiling of the train. They put various poems up there to try to culture the rabble, I guess. They did that on the DART rail in Dallas, too, so I don't think it works. This poem today is about a big clown-face-shaped cloud. All righty.
Got pretty deep into the Meaning Of Existence & all that rot over at Paul & Maja's. I can talk that shit all night, but alas, 'tis not wise to be out in Harlem...right about now. Actually, the section they're in isn't bad. Still, 3:45's better than 4:00.
Nearly home. No more poetry. Good.
3-8-04, 6:19 PM -
So today I'm sitting at my desk, looking for bugs in this here website thingy, when suddenly Jeri, the lady who sits next to me, says, "Have you ever been to Bluff Dale, Texas?"
Good lord. Someone else on the planet knows about Bluff Dale, Texas.
So, the backstory:
In September of 1993, I got laid off from my DJ job at KZEE 1220 AM in Weatherford. House cleaning, budget cuts, whatever. I had gone from near-mullet to hippie hair in the two years I'd worked there, and I didn't really fit in anyway.
I still needed a job for weekends while I was going to college, so I combed the Fort Worth phone book and called every radio station I could, asking for employment of any kind. I got through to the station manager at KCYT FM, a radio station I had never heard of in my life.
The reason I had never heard of it was because the transmitter was in Bluff Dale, Texas. Bluff Dale is about an hour southwest of Fort Worth, with a population of no more than 200 at the time.
The station's business office, however, was on the 9th floor of a building overlooking Fort Worth's Sundance Square. The station manager told me it was easy to find; just look for the big white coyote in the window. She was very friendly, liked my voice, and asked me to come in the next day.
The following morning, with great effort, I got myself to downtown Fort Worth by 8 AM. I was escorted into an office that clearly had been decorated by a delusional old woman. Coyotes hung everywhere, all colors and sizes. Some were cardboard, some plaster, and some wooden. I feared a marble or bronze specimen, but if they existed, they were beyond my line of sight.
So this lady (the owner and sole occupant of the office, so therefore the delusional old woman) gave me the scoop: The station barely reached Fort Worth from Bluff Dale, but they were about to get permission to boost the signal, and KCYT was poised to become the top Easy Listening station on the dial within a year. Sounds lucrative, says I, when do I start?
In a manner befitting the best executor of a somewhat perverse Last Will & Testament, she tells me that first, I have to go see the place.
See, here's the deal: The studio was right next to the transmitter and antenna, which were miles and miles away from civilization. They had air talent that trucked out there during the week, but they had to give them the weekend off. Up to this point, they had just shut down for the weekend, but poised as they were on the brink of genre domination, they felt the need to be on 7 days a week.
The solution: Hire one guy to go out there on a Friday night and stay through Monday morning. The broadcasts wouldn't be all night, since their listeners generally went to bed by 9:00. So the station would broadcast from 6 AM to 10 PM, just to be sure. There was a hide-a-bed and a small kitchen in the studio, which by the way was a trailer, and of course there was always Carl.
Oh, yes. Carl.
Carl was the groundskeeper. He lived in a trailer an acre or two away on the station's land, where he did a bit of farming & livestock-raising. We'll return to Carl in a moment.
The money the station manager was offering me was more than I'd been making at KZEE, so I figured I should at least have a look at the prospect. So I left the Office of Coyote Embiggenment, hopped onto Highway 377 South, and headed for Bluff Dale.
As I passed more familiar places like Granbury and Glen Rose, I began to notice an increasing lack of...well, other people. Now, I grew up in the country, so I know about lonely roads. But as I pulled off of 377 at the appropriate exit, I was introduced to a new standard of desolation. There was simply nothing there.
A rusted husk of a trailer glimpsed through trees on a faraway hill, the bumpy feel of an ill-paved road, and buzzards circling up ahead over something that SOMEONE had killed, which actually made me feel a little better.
In rural Texas you get used to directions like, "turn right at the second unmarked dirt road," so right I turned, and a few minutes later found myself driving into a clearing nestled into the scraggly mesquite and pine trees. The clearing sloped up, and at the highest point loomed a large radio antenna, accompanied by a decently-sized, mid-70s model trailer home. So this was it.
Being that it was a weekday, there was a car parked in front of the trailer. An old Toronado, the original puke-colored paint still hanging on to a few corners where the gray metal wasn't showing. I pulled my somewhat more shipshape Oldsmobile Delta 88 up beside it, opened the driver's side window, and turned off the engine.
There are two times in my life when I've known the sound of near-absolute silence. One was on Highway 50 in the middle of central Nevada at midnight, and the other was outside of KCYT in Bluff Dale. It was early September, so there was no wind, and even all the insects had decided it was too hot to make noise.
I stepped out of the car and made my wary way up to the trailer's door. I knocked, the tentative knock of someone who would rather that no one answered. Trailer floors carry sound like New York apartment walls, so I soon heard a pair of heavy boots make their way across the length of the trailer to the door. A curtain parted, and an old grizzled eye peeped out.
"You the fella from town?" a rather sonorous bass voice asked through the screen.
"Umm...yeah," I answered. Who else would I be, I wondered.
The door opened and I found myself face to face with a vision of classic Texas old man fashion. Ostrich-skin boots, tight Wranglers holding up a respectable paunch, snap-up polyester shirt, white Stetson hat, bolo tie, and a belt buckle big enough to serve double duty if someone stole a hubcap off of his Toronado. Add his handlebar moustache to the package, and the whole thing was just over the top enough to make me wonder if he expected tourists now & then.
We said our pleasantries, and Bill (for 'twas his name) showed me the setup. Pretty decent, actually, a little newer than the Stone Age stuff I had been using at KZEE, and mostly automated. The playlists were pre-ordered on a bank of relayed reel-to-reel tape machines, so all the DJ had to do was stop them every now & then for weather, commercials, and station IDs.
The repertoire wasn't my favorite: Johnny Mathis, Perry Como, the Old Cadavers No-Friction Orchestra, etc. This was Easy Listening that had been soothing grandma's heart palpitations well before Mannheim Steamroller ever sucked C.W. McCall's mom's teat. But I was weary from two years of Alan Jackson, Reba MacEntire, and Achy Breaky Heart, so change was change.
The whole thing was starting to look okay, helped by the fact that I got along with Bill pretty well. He was an old cowboy, not an old man dressed as a cowboy, and there's definitely a difference. Gimme the former any day of the week.
My tour over, I commenced a wrap-up conversation and stepped out the door to take in the vista. Damned pretty country, I had to admit, not a sign of civilization in sight. As we talked, a sound began to creep in along the edges of my perception. It came from beyond the trees, getting slightly louder with each passing minute.
At last, through a break in the brush, the source of the sound emerged. A riding lawnmower, John Deere green and as big as they come. Atop the beast was a man, large but not fat. Swathed in overalls and a dingy green army cap, he could've come right out of The Grapes of Wrath. Bill eyeballed him.
"That's Carl. He lives here," he said.
"Yeah, I heard about him," I replied.
Bill turned his eyeball to me. "Really?"
Interesting. "Uhh...yeah. He's the groundskeeper, right?"
Bill's gaze strayed to Carl, then back to me. "Yeah. That's what he does, all right."
Though Carl was now in the clearing, he still hadn't come over to us. He proceeded to mow a pattern through the few dried-up weeds near the road. But he was definitely looking at us. At me, specifically.
"You probably don't get many strangers out here," I said.
Bill looked back out at Carl. "No," he said. "No, he doesn't."
Carl wove his figure-eights larger in the weed field. But somehow he always kept his eye on me.
"Should I go introduce myself?" I asked.
Bill seemed to give the matter a moment's weighty thought. "No, best not," he concluded. "He don't say much, anyway."
Carl, apparently giving up on his figure-eight, turned his mower back towards the break in the brush that he'd come from. I couldn't see his eyes too well at that distance, but the bill of his cap told me he was still looking in my direction.
Bill furrowed his brow and shifted a bit in his boots. "You probably oughta go," he said. "I got some work to do." Somehow I got the impression that he didn't, but I followed his lead.
I shook his hand, stepped into my car and cranked it up. Pulling away towards the road, I looked back. Carl was off of his mower now, standing at the edge of the clearing and following my path with his eyes. His eyes that I'd never seen, but could definitely feel.
Getting back onto the main road, I felt a sudden urge to hit the accelerator. I wanted very badly to get back onto 377, where at least there were other cars. When at last I reached the highway, I felt a sense of relief from something I couldn't quite put my finger on.
I made my way back to Weatherford, and upon hitting the city limits, I came to the realization that one of the last places in the world I wanted to be in the middle of the night was in that trailer, miles away from civilization, an acre away from Carl. I wasn't sure of much else at that point in my life, but I was pretty sure of that.
So today, I'm sitting at my desk in New York City, checking for bugs in this here website thingy. And Jeri says to me, "Have you ever been to Bluff Dale, Texas?"
It actually took me a minute to answer. "Christ," I said. "Why in the hell would you ask me that?"
It turns out that her friend in San Jose had just bought two acres out there, sight unseen, to begin their Great American Country Life when her husband's military service is over next year.
"She says the price was great, and it's only 30 minutes from Dallas," Jeri adds.
"I think they may want to go have a look before they start making too many plans," I reply.
I give her the short version of my tale, adding that there is NO WAY that Bluff Dale is 30 minutes from ANYTHING resembling a major city, and that I hope her friend likes spiders, snakes, and scorpions. This appears to confirm Jeri's suspicion that her friend has lost her everlovin' mind. "No," I say, "She's just never been to Bluff Dale."
If pressed, I doubt that I could find that station again, if it's still there. But if anyone, for any reason, ever asks me to go to Bluff Dale again, they are in for a rejection. Because somewhere in the scrubby, quiet woods of Erath County, a man in overalls and an army cap rides his lawnmower in silence. And I'd just as soon never find out why that scares the bejeezus out of me.