On Pleasant Converstions with your Mother.

Or, What do I say, and What do I leave out?

Well, Gracious Reader, I’m home in Dallas on something I never thought I would take. Not Peyote buttons, but almost as unlikely. A business trip. Me. It’s a pretty weird feeling, though it’s slightly different a normal business trip, if there is such a thing. I drove my own car, for one thing, as it is also a delivery. Anyway, none of that really matters as far as this conversation goes, none of it except that it’s a trip to Dallas, and therefore I am (pocketing my hotel per diem and) staying with my folks. Staying with Mom is a lot like staying in a hotel, actually. The room that I sleep in is extremely clean, extremely generic, and I don’t have to make the bed. There are also free breakfasts, and cable TV, though for my stone age parents, this is a new thing. Sadly, there is no Wi-Fi, so it’s like a kind of lame hotel, but whatever. It’s nice to get caught up with Mom, and we’ve joked a little about the fact that we’ve seen a lot of each other lately, since I started this job, as the more regular schedule lets me come “home” more often. Sometimes I even get paid to do it.

But it’s been interesting this time in a new way, because it’s the first time I’ve been home on a weekday that wasn’t some sort of holiday week in maybe 10 years or more. It’s the first time I’ve seen my parental units going about their day to day lives, and it’s a little bit odd. Mom washes her hair in the kitchen sink, for example. She also almost never cooks anymore, since it’s just the two of them, and they no longer eat at the kitchen or dining room table. They eat in the living room, in front of the television. Easting in front of the TV was one of the great joys of moving OUT of my mother’s house when I was 18, and now I come home and it’s their daily M.O. Weird. I don’t want to tell her that I think her daily life is weird, though, that just seems rude, and I am very glad to see her, as she is my best friend in the whole world.

There are things, though, that I wonder about whether or not I can talk to her about, still. We are pretty open, mind you, we talk about things that only two people as close as we are can talk about. So far, I revealed the funny moment that I had with one of my roommates recently that I wouldn’t be able to recount here, out of respect for her privacy, but I am pretty sure is not the kind of story most people tell their mothers. My best friend’s little sister was once horrified that I openly discussed, in the presence of my mother, the fact that my serious girlfriend and I used birth control while we were together. This was, in her mind, an admission to my mother that I engaged in S-E-X, and was somehow an awful person. My mother, meanwhile, is no idiot, was not remotely harboring the mistaken impression that I was a 28 year old virgin, and is, in point of fact, proud of me for being responsible and open with my partner at the time. Mama didn’t raise no fool.

But there are things I don’t tell her still, likely for her own good. I try to be positive around her, and not let her see that there are parts of me that are still vulnerable. I’ve made a serious effort to stop talking about Jessica with her, as it only make my mother dislike her all the more. Mom never liked her, I don’t think, but only in that way that all Mother’s think no woman is good enough for their son. Then, when things were bad with Jess and I, Mom got my side of the story, could tell that I was in pain, and made her mind up pretty quick. But I’ve found that the more that I vent about these things with Mom, the more she just cements herself in one place on the matter, and I know my thoughts about it are changing, so I don’t want to gravitate towards one spot, even if it is Mom.

There are other things, too, that it becomes unusual to talk to Mom about these days. The new things in my life are coming fast and furious, and she’s so averse to taking risks or doing things that she feels are frivolous. If she knew some of the things I am planning to do in the next couple of weeks, she’d shake her head in disbelief and disapproval, I am sure.

I think I am writing this, and addressing it directly to you , Gracious Reader, for this reason. Mom reads the ‘Wrangler (when Ron will let her,) and she’s just about the only filter that it has ever had. There are things you haven’t gotten to hear because I didn’t want Mom to hear them. There was one other filter once before, a friend whose wounds I didn’t want to salt, but mostly the only person I ever hold back for, here, is Mom.

And I think, sooner rather than later, that this is going to change. “Write without Fear” is something I really, really believe in, especially in this type of open publishing. To not do so is disrespectful of you, Gracious Reader, not fair to my own voice, and frankly, cowardice. If I’m not afraid to write and speak, and willing to do so to the rest of the planet, from spammers to friends, ex-lovers to current lovers to employers to nieces and nephews, then I shouldn’t be afraid of Mom. If people who do read are afraid of me, or object or agree or whatever, they have a spot here to say so, and I opened it to them for a reason. Clouds are difficult to wrangle, and I can use all the help I can get. I’ve never been afraid of disagreement or argument (ask Mike), but I have been afraid to some degree of Mom’s disapproval.

Except that she’s Mom. She disapproves and still loves, unconditionally. So no more Mom filters, because I love her, too. I remembered to day that no matter how much I think I can’t, if I really need to, I can talk to her about anything. It’s really nice to be home.

On the passing of a great actor

Or, possibly the most self serving tribute ever written.

So for a long time, I was writing a comedy screenplay about two best friends. These guys were loveable losers who worked in a video store and were extreme movie dorks. The video store was the kind of place that all movie nerds love, loaded with funky special feature sections, a great directors wall, every indie film ever made, and plenty of pretentiousness. In other words, for those of you who live in Austin, it was I Luv Video. The original location of I Luv Video on Airport Blvd., long closed, actually inspired this idea in me, to be honest. The most endearing quality of these fellas is that they can describe any film ever made in the perfect voice and signature lingo of the guys who do voice over work for movie trailers. These two guys, after a crazy mishap gets them evicted from the dump they live in, are forced to leave town. They decide this is their Carpe Diem moment, and they pull up stakes and head for Hollywood, hoping to make it big.

However, as we all know, dreams are easier dreamed than lived. They get to Hollywood, and of course, they try everything they can to get in to the movie business. In short order they become failed actors, writers, directors, they can’t get work as extras, one of them gets fired as a grip, the other gets kicked off a set after pretending to be the Best Boy. However, a local Hollywood big wig overhears them doing their Preview Voice shtick, and before you know it, they get discovered. Thus, their 15 minutes of fame ensues, and they become the two hot guys in Hollywood doing voice over work for trailers. Lot’s of comic hilarity, blah, blah, blah, they fight over the same girl, blah, blah, blah, and eventually their 15 minutes ends, they are better friends for it, and they decide to open a video shop to the stars in LA much like the old shop they used to run but even more pretentious, and they all live happily ever after. It was a good excuse to write 6 or 7 pretty ridiculous fake movie trailers that these guys would do the voice over for (including a hilarious Adam West / William Shatner buddy cop movie that really ought to get made). It also had a fantastic final scene that is going to take a lot (more) explaining, involving the great, and as of yesterday sadly deceased, Charlton Heston.

The video store where these guys work, like I Luv Video in Austin, had sections devoted to famous actors. I one section, all of AL Pacino’s movies, in another, all of Harrison Ford’s, etc. Each was labeled with a 3X5 index card with the actor’s name neatly typed on it. However, the staff at I Luv Video, and thus the guys in the film, were hard at work with their Sharpie markers on these signs, editing them with their own insightful funny jokes. The sign on the Harvey Keitel section had the following addendum … Who’s that no talent jackass who desperately wants to be Pacino or DeNiro but isn’t? Oh yeah, it’s … HARVEY KEITEL. Stuff like that.

So, in the final scene of the film, tentatively titled Preview Guys, Charlton Heston is browsing for movies in their new LA hipper than thou video store, and he comes across his own feature movie section, complete with index card. The card, of course, has been edited, and Charles stops for a moment to read it. It says the following,

I’ll bet you didn’t know this but … CHARLTON HESTON … gives great head!

Chuck just reads this, looks around in disbelief for a moment, then chuckles to himself, and in that perfect voice, says, “Heh heh heh, Yes I Do.” Then, literally as the credits roll on the film, Chuck stops the poor teenage clerk reshelving DVD’s and asks him, “Did you write this?” and before the poor bewildered kid can even answer, Chuck starts beating the ever-living HOLY SHIT out of him. The credit’s continue rolling over the scene of Charlton Heston going absolutely fuck-tard bonkers on this poor teenager, DVD’s flying and chaos reigning everywhere. Charlton Heston did several spots late in life that clearly showed he was not above poking fun at himself, and I still firmly believe that had this movie gotten made and I brought this one part to Heston and his agent and asked, that he’d have done the scene.

I guess now, we’ll never know for sure. R.I.P., Mr. Heston.

On Everyone wanting to live in my ‘hood.

As usual, at some point during any given day, I have a conversation with someone about the millions of folks who seem to need to invade our fair city. I told many many people that got infected with SXSars that we Austinites were immune to it, and in fact intentionally spreading it to keep the Californians from wanting to move here. Then today, I had the conversation again, over a morning chat with a digital neighbor, and though I usually object to this type of blogging, it was too funny not to share with everyone, and too long to twitter. The conversation was as follows:

MKST: According to the paper this morning, everybody’s moving to Austin and San Antonio.
CWRNGLR: Everybody? I better clean up the house …
MKST: just don’t invite them over.
CWRNGLR: well, if Everybody, you know, in the WORLD ends up here, may not have much choice…
MKST: true dat.
CWRNGLR: “Balthazar, more tea? How are your scrambled eggs this morning, Javier? Why yes, Quentin, the Van Gogh on the wall IS a forgery, don’t tell the neighbors! HAHAHAHA!”
MKST: k, that’s funny.
CWRNGLR: just me hosting the whole WORLD at my house…

The odd bit was that I actually had a hard time coming up with appropriate sounding foreign names for all the folks who have suddenly crammed themselves into my house. For whatever reason, all the names that popped into my head were Russian. Weird. The conversation ended with …

MKST: I like that you’re serving tea.

On Testing

1,2 … 1,2 … Alan Soresby, Alan Soresby … is this thing on?

Here’s where Alan would yell, “WHAT!!?!?!!”

… and we’d all laugh.

Looks like I finally got the issues with the ‘Wrangler sorted out. I should be ashamed for not being a very good geek, but I tried to swap the hosting and I screwed up the whole thing. As I might have mentioned long ago, I know SQUAT about web design and code and whatnot. I’ve often said, I didn’t build this megaphone, I just holler into it. This is a place for me to talk, vent, think out loud, and tell stories. So, a very short story about the first sentence of this post.

Long, long ago, I worked in a bar that had a little bit of live music. West Texas is great for that, and a lot of the music that Austin considers it’s own was actually born out in those lonely flat spaces. I had a friend by the name of Wade Parks who wrote songs and played raucous country music in bars and even let me sing with him a little, now and then. Wade and I knew a fellow named Alan Soresby, who owned one of the few things in life I have ever truly envied, as far as possessions go. Alan had a black t-shirt that read, “In a perfect world, Steve Earle would Rule Nashville,” written in white letters over a white outline of the state of Tennessee. Wade used to sound check his microphone with just that sentence, “Check 1,2 … 1,2 … Alan Soresby, ” because of course it has a lot of the right syllables for sound checking. “Sibilance” and “Alan Soresby” aren’t all that phonetically different, after all. The thing was, Alan was almost always hanging around the bar somewhere during these sound checks, and could never resist acting as though Wade were speaking directly to him.

I really miss those guys, those days, that life sometimes. I was a much simpler person then than I became, and I am simple now in a way that doesn’t have that kind of purity. I don’t want to go back to that world, because it wouldn’t mean as much if I tried it again. Lubbock was a part of my all important heroes training, it made me very much what I am, and I was meant to be there, I know it. But I always yearn to hear Wade say it again and then do his off-beat cover of “Big Wheels”, and I never approach a microphone without thinking about it. Sarah Beth recently asked me what Cloudwrangler meant, and I told her the original idea, the concept that writing is like trying to grab something ethereal and other-wordly and make it real, hold onto it and show it to others. It does mean that, but it also has a little to do with me, coming out of those lonely flat spaces, spaces sometimes filled with clouds that stretch forever, and trying to make something of myself from them. Now that the ‘Wrangler is back, it seems right to test it with those words, words that to me always meant a friend was going to try and wrangle a cloud or two of his own, with music that made us all smile and sing along and wish for that perfect world. So, let’s make sure from now on, in this space, we do our best to get things right by starting from a good place.

Check 1,2 … 1,2 … Alan Soresby, Alan Soresby … 1,2.

On a hard blow to the gut.

I have seen Van Gogh’s Sunflowers right up close, and the paint is so think and lush and wonderful you want to lick it. I have seen Monet’s water lilies in exactly the same way, close enough to touch. I have seen Rembrandt’s and Pollock’s, and they are dazzling and spectacular. I’ve stood on the beach and looked at the deep swelling gray of the Pacific Ocean in the morning light, endlessly in motion and gorgeous. I’ve seen diamonds the size of bird’s eggs, and been in the presence of the Crown Jewels. I’ve seen London by starlight, Chicago sparkling after a hard rain, and San Francisco at dawn, and those are the exact right moments to be in those places. I was there when my niece was a newborn, tiny and perfect and beautifully fresh. I have hiked the Rockies on striking blue summer mornings and seen views from those mountain tops that make me feel, to this day, the touch of God.

And then, today, I am reminded once again of the single most beautiful thing I have ever seen, and it’s none of those things. It quite literally took my breath away, and my heart is still racing, and I am so, so scared that that will never change.

On taking a deep, cold breath

I once consumed a small quantity of liquid oxygen, which, until I actually saw it, I didn’t believe existed. It’s used in jet planes, though for what I can not tell you. I only know that it doesn’t stay liquid naturally, and that you have to consume it almost instantly before it evaporates. It is ungodly cold, and you don’t so much drink it as breath it in all at once. It is the coldest deepest breath of air I have ever taken.

If you’ve ever been skiing or boarding, you might understand this. If you ever walked out of the August in Texas heat and into an industrial deep freeze, you might understand this. If you’ve ever emerged from a camp cabin into a strikingly cold winter day, you might know this feeling. Taking a sudden deep breath of extremely cold air is an absolutely amazing feeling. It is crisp and cleansing, it has a distinct taste in your throat, and it opens your head and your chest like a balloon. It makes your mind race, and is a very brief euphoric rush. It was, quite frankly exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.

For the last two days, I have been taking in great deep breaths of icy cold air, it seems. It’s scary and an unbelievable rush and very different from anything I have felt before, anywhere. I like it, so far, but I am not sure if I can stand it for long, or if I am ready for it at all. But I have to try it, I think. I hope it doesn’t evaporate, at least not yet.

On Kites

I met a lovely young women lately who got me to thinking about kites. She was cutting my hair, and we were making the small talk that a barber and her client make. She’d probably rather I called her a stylist, I’m sure, but the words get stuck, sometimes. Then again, from our short conversation, I got the impression that she’d be OK with whatever term I used. She was talking to me about simple things, her man, and something whimsical that she had done when she felt the need to get away for a little while.

On a windy day, she had gone to the park to fly a kite.

They weren’t fighting, and she wasn’t grief stricken or lonely or sad. She just knew it was a windy day.

I want that in my life, the chance to stand in the wind and make something fly. I want to be in a world away from pain and sadness and regret. I want to look at a sky like a great blue bowl, with a bright red dancing flame in it, a kite on a string in the wind. I want to feel the wind rush past my ears, to take something simple and make it work, make it live, even. I want to look up, look forward with a sense of wonder and happiness. I crave that, I crave some relief.

Two days ago, in a metaphorical sense, I tried to build a kite. The next day, with help that appeared as a welcome surprise, I actually considered that it might fly.

Then last night, I dreamt of an old addiction, and it was so real, so vivid and frightening I could barely stand it. There were blue skies in that dream too, but no wind, not a breath of fresh air. There was deep syrupy happiness that wasn’t real, just a dream of a past that was, a future that could never happen. Part of me never wanted that dream to end. Another part of me absolutely was clawing at the sheets, straining to get out of that dream and back to the real world, even though there has only been pain in the real world, and the dream was the sweet release of addiction, no matter how false. I woke up stricken and huddled in my heavy blankets and literally, shaking.

But I went and stood on the front porch, and thought about kites. If I am going to build a new kite and make it fly, I’ll need some things. String, I think, I want to make very sure that I don’t lose it. Less practical, I’ll need patience and understanding, for kites are strong in some ways, delicate in others, fragile and brave at the same time. I’ll need help as well, I’ve never done this before.

More than that, I’ll need wind. I know that there isn’t much I can do about that but have faith that it will come.

I think, as I was standing out on the porch this morning, I felt the wind on my face a little.

On Blankets

The first things we all know in life are blankets. Infants are wrapped in a blanket before even being wrapped in their mother’s arms. Men have been making them from animal skins since they first climbed down from the trees and felt the bitter chill of winter. They are such a part of human existence and human experience that we often neglect them, take them for granted. Others are fussed over, worried over, named and renamed in a thousand ways. Tyler said it, “Why do guys like us now what a duvee is? It’s just a blanket.” Others are lovingly crafted, sewn, quilted together piece by piece, some ornately constructed in rigid patterns, others wildly put together in crazy designs that please the eye and the heart.

Yet no matter how they are made, we use them for the same thing, most often. We wrap ourselves in them. Blankets were most of our first best friends, a security that we knew and believed in perhaps because, even more than our own mothers, it was the first thing we ever knew. All our lives they have a deep meaning that never leaves us. We are comfortable in our blankets, we snuggle in them, and wrap up in them when we are sick. We long for them after a hard day, we pull them lazily across ourselves when stretching out for a nap. We need them, in some ways more than we need anything else.

We have symbolic blankets as well, things we wrap ourselves in for warmth, protection, and comfort in emotional ways that we often do not realize. The warm blanket of love is the first that springs to mind, but there are others. The thick deep blanket of sadness is another, a dense wrapping of regret and bitter guilt that I often pull about myself, sink down into, wallow and snuggle in. I do it because it seems that it’s the only blanket that I have, and the bitter chill of the darkness outside can only be kept at bay if I keep it tightly wrapped around me. I huddle inside it, shivering despite this blankets heavy weight, its all-encompassing thickness. Its warmth isn’t real, but it feels, some days, like all the comfort there is in the world. I may walk around with my head up, as far as appearances go, but my soul is a withered and freezing plainsman, wrapped in a tight bearskin, aged and dying and utterly sad. I’d give anything for another blanket, a blanket of warmth and love, but there are none right now, I’ve foolishly thrown mine away, and I know of no one I can ask to give me another. I must search, find my own new blanket to wrap myself in, perhaps wrap another up with me one day, but I know, for now, I am alone in the bitter wind of the world with a blanket so heavy I can hardly bear it, a blanket that, despite its weight, bears me no warmth.

Or, perhaps the best way to shed this blanket of depression and guilt is this. I must learn to find the courage to live without a blanket for a while, to stand in the cold bitter wind and simply endure. I hope that I can.

On Exercise, both physical and mental

I made a handful of New Year’s Resolutions this year, and thus far, as of Feb.1, I am sticking to them, all of them. One of the big ones was something I have been saying I needed to do for a long time, start getting some exercise. I have always been bone skinny, thanks to the super high metabolism I inherited from my father. OR SO I THOUGHT! Now that Dad’s stopped smoking, he’s getting down right chunky, and I too have learned that age catches up with you.

The first year I moved to Austin, you could count my ribs. Between that time, in 2000, and the end of last year, I put on 30 pounds. Like I said, I was too skinny before, now I am too fat. Thus, my goal is to lose half that much, and more than that, to get into better shape. In this New Year I am trying to be a better person, to remake myself in a lot of ways, and this feels like the first step, the building blocks of the foundation, for me. Make a physical better me, and go from there, I have decided.

I’ve never had much patience for the gym, I hate the feeling of being a gerbil on a wheel. Plus, let’s face it, I haven’t had ANY exercise in forever, since I broke my shoulder playing hockey like 5 years ago. So I’ve been starting slow. Basic calestenics and now, running. And it HURTS. I started it in the morning, and originally I was using the rush to combat my depression, which is at it’s worst in the mornings. I’ve been gradually pushing myself, doing always as much as I’ve done before, then pushing myself to do 5 more push-ups, 10 more sit-ups, to keep trying until it hurts.

I also have always thought of this page as something like that, a mental workout of my writing muscles. They too are badly atrophied, as I have said, and so I am trying to use this space to get them limbered up again. And thankfully, like the physical exercise, it hurts. That’s how I know it’s working. Hopefully there will be some new kinds of things here, not just brain dumping and venting and wallowing in my own sadness. I need to start writing fiction again, and that badly scares me. I have a great many fears lately, but one of the scariest things in the world has always been a blank piece of paper. It’s also one of the sexiest things in the world, the most desirable. The blank page fills me with fear and promise at the same time. I’m working hard to get back to the way it used to feel, the top of the roller coaster scary, as opposed to the I am gonna die scary. I have to learn to push through it, to take the pain and enjoy it, like those last 10 push-ups.

Becasue this is the kind of pain that’s helpful, and that’s so much better than the other pain in my life.

On the words of Ranger Captain Augustus McCrae

It’s been a tough weekend, but overall a better one. Anything beats wallowing in my own regret and shame, like I did all last weekend and most of last week. Keeping it light has been the goal, do simple, enjoyable things, and try not to dwell. A good friend recently told me “You have to try to do the best you can with the things you can control, and not worry about the others.” Not easy advice to take, that. I can’t, in good conscience, just think solely about myself because I have many things to atone for right now, many wrongs to try and live up to, since I can’t make them right. But I can find some solace in the words of one of my heroes.

“The only way to live, as I see it, is to learn to love the little every day things, Like a cool drink of whiskey of an evening, or a glass of buttermilk, or say, the company of a feisty gentlemen like myself.”

Gus McCrae and I have spent a lot of time together, lately, and reading has been good for me.
Today, for me, it was book stores, hitting golf balls, and cooking. It still hurts, and it still hurts mostly because I hurt other people, but today, it’s a little better. Not a lot, but a little, and it will have to do for now.