I saw a school bus yesterday, faux harbinger of cool, soothing autumn, so it's that time again despite the relentless heat. And the solo sculpture show coming up, this time in September, will feature some school bus parts in two or three of my pieces. I don't know where they came from; they've been in my junkyard for years and fared rather well in the weather, still yellow, fairly bright. One shows up in a piece called "We-R-U" from the old sign pieces behind the window. I made this sculpture with the idea it would be implanted in a hillside about 100 ft. from the viewer and would reflect, from its different facets, all day long.
This sculpture and many others may well be the basis for some deft and welcome name-calling from Dallas Art News' twitter account. Having looked at my website they said this: "The work looks like a cross between Rube Goldberg and James Chamberlin." I like that. A lot.
At this point (August 8th) I'm on piece number seventeen with the usual show goal being thirty. I'll be lucky to get to twenty-five in this godawful heat and humidity. Add in the heat from welding and cutting, helmet and gloves, and it gets fairly uncomfortable in the shop, open to the outside, no heating or cooling.
I have more ideas than time, and the going, as I said, is slow. I hope to see those of you who can attend, at the First Friday opening, September 4th, at The Hilliard Gallery, 1820 McGee in the Kansas City art crossroads area. The show will be around through the month.
The books, Ruined Days (novel) and Resume Speed (collection of short stories) are in edit at the publisher. Ruined Days is in its second round and Resume Speed is still in the queue for its first look. I'm hoping that the novel won't descend upon me until the show is up and running; that would be perfect. And it would still have a decent chance of appearing in 2015.
So, in commemoration of that event, here's an excerpt from said novel. It takes place after the protagonist, Travis Meachem, has visited his father, Reno Pete, in Daytona, Florida. His father committed suicide during that visit, being chronically ill, and having delivered a set of instructions to Travis. The instructions implicate his father in the JFK assassination, and indicate there is money to be made with the evidence, if followed correctly.
It was time to go home. Visit Cobb and Vinita. Cobb would give him the straight scoop on this JFK thing and answer some questions. It had been months since he'd been back to see them.
The Marais Des Cygne River and wildlife refuge was some 50 miles south of Kansas City, and wilder than some stretches of the Amazon as far as Travis was concerned. People had disappeared there. Cobb had sixty or so acres back against the refuge, but he actually had 7,500 acres and 550 refuges—the Marais Des Cygne was his for the roaming. Marsh of the Swan in French, it was the flyover and feeding area for thousands of Canada geese and home to countless wild animals. The river wound through it, coursing as wide as a mile in backwater areas, and becoming a deceptively quiet, narrow creek in others. Cobb knew it all. So had Reno Pete. On hot summer nights, the three of them checking trotlines, Reno would slip over the side of the john boat naked but for shorts, and disappear soundlessly into the inky black water, reappear when they would use the humming trolling motor to head back upriver to Cobb’s, a mile away. His old man would meet them on the mud bank, a mud creature himself, teeth in a white grin, sometimes with a catfish, already cleaned. Cobb would just shake his head when Reno was gone, say, “Hope he don’t get snakebit,” and pull another line up from its plastic Clorox bottle bobber to check it.
Their French ancestors, fur trappers, had settled along the Missouri River and The Little Blue, become prosperous traders all the way to St. Louis and New Orleans on the Mississippi. Some few had preferred the Marais Des Cygne, against encroaching civilization and for the replaceable revenue of steady, even flourishing, trapping and fishing. Of the Chouteaus, St. Cyrs, Brouchards, Piccards and the others, all interrelated, some more closely than others, St. Cyrs still carried the blood of those early moody trappers who preferred knives to muskets and a star-filled night to friends.
Travis knew his last name was St. Cyr, like Cobb’s but his old man had changed their name so the relatives wouldn’t be involved in any blowback from his “work.” Sometimes the name was Meachem, sometimes Wood, after a patriot-relative in the war of 1776. Often, Reno’s last name was different from his son's and his wife's last name. It was just something Travis had lived with, confusing though it was in grade schools around the country
He hit the button on his cellphone.
“Cobb. It’s me, Travis.”
“Meat head? I don't know any meat head. 'Cept my nephew."
“Oh, she’s got good days, not so good days. Good right now.”
“Need some help checking trotlines?”
“You and me and Jack should battle some mosquitoes I think.”
“Jack the dog?” All Cobb’s dogs were named Jack.
“Jack the Daniels.”
“I’ll see you in a few hours.”
Travis unpacked and packed again. Cargo shorts, jeans, socks, undershorts, a denim shirt. Showered. Set the AC at 78 and did some minor cleanup around the small apartment. He put stamps on the envelopes to be mailed, set them on top of his suitcase. Dressed in jeans, t-shirt that said “Die Trying,” and black Converse lo-cuts, he thought for a moment, went to the kitchen and pulled a tube of OFF from a cabinet, tossed it in his bag. Pulled a jean jacket from his closet. He dug out some duct tape for his rear quarter window and some shirt bag plastic. After he’d gone out and taped the broken window up satisfactorily, he sat down by the land phone, looked at his cellphone contacts and dialed Melissa’s number.
“This is Mel. We’re not in right now. Leave a message.”
“Mel, huh. Well, Mel, this is Travis. Just saying hi. Out of town for a couple days but I’ll have my cellphone. Just that where I’m going, the reception is iffy. Later.”
He hoped the we she spoke of wasn’t a boyfriend or husband, but then she wouldn’t have given him the number.
He cut over to Highway 69 off of 35, headed south to Linn County. After a few miles he was used to the high frequency thrumming of the taped window, part of a soundscape that included Jim Rome Sports Talk alternating with a Jimmie Dale Gilmore CD. Selling Meacham Hard Flooring LLC was a no-brainer, he thought, especially since he was just going to walk away from it anyway. He was never meant to be a flooring tycoon. He fell into it. Cobb sold walnut and hedge trees to a lumber dealer who'd told him about a flooring business available for pennies on the dollar due to its owner's widow getting remarried. Travis jumped at it, tired of repo and bond work and summons serving. He'd paid Cobb off for the initial investment, made a few bucks even when the real estate market went south.
But it had become grinding drudgery. Even though it was his own grinding drudgery. Bookkeeping, health insurance, taxes, employee turnover, complaints,
The father and son team who were buying Meacham Hard Flooring were both out of work and looking for something to put their savings in that would provide them more security than jobs were these days. He wished them luck. It was a living, but it was a bitch.
He turned off Highway 69 at LaCygne and aimed the Nova at Cobb’s place. It wasn’t far off the beaten path, but might as well be Timbuktu to county appraisers and the sheriff’s department. A game warden had come up missing fifteen or twenty years ago, and no sign since, other than the trolling motor on Cobb's Lone Star with the serial number ground off it. Cobb had never seen him, and that was the story he was sticking to. Could be the guy had stumbled upon some LaCygne Green. Cobb didn’t grow it in rows. It was here and there along fence lines where the planes would never spot it. In among patches of horse weed. Never a cultivated look. But Cobb knew where it was like the back of his hand, every plant. Cobb claimed it was the number two best marijuana in the world due to the rot and peat of the marsh area. A descendant of WWII hemp, It was even extolled in a book of great marijuanas right up there with Kush and Maui Wowee. Travis had no argument about it – it couch-locked him in the nicest possible way. He smiled to think about it. It was weekend stuff, that's for sure.
He rattled across a small, one-lane loose plank bridge with bolted steel beam sides over a muddy creek. Despite the heat and the dry spell, rich greens and jungle-like vegetation rose up from the steep sides of the creek, a tributary of the Marais Des Cygne. He continued down a gravel road for a mile or more, then turned right, into a dirt road that would be unnoticed by any not familiar with the area; barely a cut in the dark tall walnuts and piss elms. The canopy formed by hundreds of years of growth seemed as solid as a tunnel except where bits of light flashed through it where the sun found holes. Travis knew the road well, dust-dry or greasy-slippery. He’d been on it barefoot, on ATVs, dirt bikes, driving Cobb’s big stake-side flatbed loaded with logs or hay, or the International tractor. They’d graveled parts of it from time to time, but the number nine rock just disappeared, as did the creosoted railroad ties they’d filled the ruts with. Nine miles of bad road was not just a figure of speech here. And Cobb liked it that way. He slid to the right to negotiate a high-center, balancing the Nova’s wheels precariously on the narrow shoulder and the road center itself, slipped back into the ruts when he’d passed that trick in the road. There were others. Only good friends and the very determined 4-wheeler could make it in. Only good friends could make it out.
Vinita had never complained about her solitary life with Cobb. He took her to town and church doings as often as he could stand it. Then she began going by herself in the Toyota 4-wheel drive Land Cruiser he bought her when LaCygne Green harvested well, or he sold more trees to the lumber processor. She’d blast through here like a demolition derby driver, head all the way to Kansas City and get a fancy hairdo, a new bag at Saks, and steaks from a meat cutter on Ward Parkway.
He smiled. She had style. Vinita was her own woman. She’d threatened to get a day job, but Cobb talked her out of it, said he’d keep her in hairdos and city trips, just stay on the place and bitch at him to fix things. That was before Cobb began messing with the meth and speed, and Vinita had all her considerable faculties. Now the battery was out of the Toyota, and the light was often dim in her eyes. He wondered if she’d recognize him this time.
He rounded the curve and the road widened. The tree tunnel gave way to open land and sunshine. The late day light was the color of lemonade, the shadows long and graceful on the mowed grounds. The main house was an inviting log structure with a full screened-in porch all the way around it. Cedars and pines formed a backdrop, and the lake was always a bit of a surprise to Travis. It sparkled like an Ozark resort. A dock ran out about 150 feet, and, bobbing next to it were an old johnboat and a 1940's Gar Wood speedboat. He pulled up alongside a dusty pickup as the hounds gathered, those who were interested enough to emerge from under the porch. There was some barking and baying, but it quit as he got out of his car. Some seemed to know him, others wanted a scent, all their long whippy tails going.
“Jack! Hey Jack, and Jack and Jack…” It bowled them over. A human who knew all their names. One or two remembered him.
“Watch them dogs. Them are trained attack dogs,” Cobb said as he slipped up behind him, chopping the air around him in mock karate moves.
“Jesus, Cobb! You scared the shit outa me.”
“Can’t have. If I done that, you’d only be about a foot tall.” He squeezed the back of Travis’s neck painfully and pounded him on the back. “Blue heron,” he said, turning Travis toward the lake by his shoulders.
Travis watched the imposing bird take off from the bank in seeming slow motion, gain flight and glide into the refuge. Across the lake was primordial wild country, an everglades of marsh and miles of waterway and growing vegetation. Cobb said there were catfish in there big as a man. Bird species that hadn’t been seen in this country since the late nineteenth century.
And there endeth the excerpt, the fervent hope being that it was appetizing enough to propel you to Amazon or a bookstore which has decided to give it shelf space. If not, hey I'll write more. Maybe something will appeal. Like L.A. Hardscape, a novel I'm working on. Or more short stories which seem to get picked up by some pretty good lit reviews.
Back to making stuff. Have a great autumn. It's coming, I think.