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It wasn’t far from our house, just a few miles away and ran east and west adjacent to I30 in between Fort Worth and Weatherford, “The Old Weatherford Road” according to the road signs.

On its east end which started in far west Fort Worth just a short distance north of the highway were the subdivisions of cookie-cutter look-alike houses but once you got past those it was a nondescript two-lane road that stretched as far as the eye could see. On each side of it were generic barb-wire fences on the other side of which were fields of Johnson grass, weeds and mesquite trees.

The fields would break occasionally to give way to a majestic ranch-house type of home, probably no doubt belonging to someone who could afford to build their little “JR Ewing” type home away from the city, a doctor, lawyer or judge perhaps, but these were few and far apart unlike the previously-mentioned “cookie-cutter” houses in the subdivisions on the roads east end which were built close together. The road would twist and turn once in a while but for the most part was in a straight line. The local teenagers must have been fond of this road too for the ditches on both sides of the road were always full of aluminum beer cans I would occasionally pick up and when I did I always brought a lot of them home to go sell at the scrap yard.

We loved to drive out there from time to time. It was just outside the city, but not real far away. I would ease off the gas pedal and we would drive slowly down the road, just cruising and taking it easy. We called it “our old country road” and just generally found it very relaxing to take this little drive. We brought our nine-year old grandson from Canada out here and he would sit on the sill of the car window and stick his tongue out as the wind blew in his hair: “Look at me: I’m a dog!” he would say as we all laughed. But like all good things it would come to an end when we saw the gate that led to a large ranch on the road’s west end and we hit a dead end on Aledo Road near Weatherford. I would turn left and get back on I30 heading east and back to Fort Worth.

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We always took our cameras because we never knew what we would see. There was usually all sorts of wildlife to be seen: deer would leap over the fences in front of our car and bolt across the road as coyotes called out in the distance. Cottontail rabbits would run alongside of the road with us. We would see hawks flying overhead or ugly buzzards perched on fences or tree limbs just off the roads. Once we found a huge tortoise crossing the road far from the nearest creek. Another time we pulled up to a bird on a fence singing his heart out to us.

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There were a couple of creeks running adjacent to the road and once just on instinct I stopped the car, got out and peered over a fence just in time to see a heron the size of a large dog spread its wing and take flight. Other times there would be large black-tailed deer sipping water there.

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It was on this same road I snapped the photo of a large owl perched in a tree right off the side of the road. I lived on a 55-acre farm in nearby Parker county for three years in the 1980s and never ever got this close to an owl.

About mid-point down the road there was a very old tree my wife would always make me stop so she could take a photo of it. I never really understood her fascination for this one particular tree, but I always hit the brakes so she could take this photo and now I am so thankful I did. Over the last couple of years I began to get an ominous feeling when we drove down this road and when we drove down it yesterday we saw something that confirmed my gut feelings. Change was coming and it wasn’t pretty.

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As we drove past some of the larger homes on the road I noticed a new sign on the side of the road: LARGE TRUCKS CAUSING ROAD DAMAGE- USE CAUTION. “This can’t be good”, I thought to myself. And sure enough as we drove along I noticed the fence lines alongside of the road now had freshly-cut tree stumps on both sides of them. Where there used to be thick forests areas were now cleared out by bulldozers. Ugly gas wells were on both sides of the road. And adding insult to injury we didn’t see one single living animal along the whole way.

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Where there used to be pastures where horses and cattle grazed looked like the aftermath of a war zone; entire fields had been bulldozed and leveled, the horses and cattle nowhere to be seen. Bundled stacks of green plastic pipe for what I suppose were for future gas and sewer lines were piled up everywhere and when we came around the curve to where the tree my wife always like to photograph was, the tree was still there but everything around it had been leveled and bulldozed flat; the tree looked like a lost child, out of place amidst the destruction. The tree where I took the photograph of the owl was gone as were all the trees that were formerly around it.

When we got to the end of the road there was a huge sign from some realty company: “ COMING SOON: New homes in the $250s!” I steered the car left towards I30 as both our hearts and stomachs collectively sank. “Progress” was now taking our little getaway road away from us and there was nothing we could do about it. We drove towards I30 in near silence.

Realistically I suppose it’s inevitable; damn near everything from Fort Worth to Granbury is paved over as is almost everything else in north Texas is these days. Five years from now there will probably be a WalMart, a Love’s truck stop and a Buccees on that road along with the McDonalds, Raising Canes fried chicken, Wendy’s, Family Dollar, Dollar General, Dollar Tree and the CVS and Walgreens across the roads from each other etc etc etc and I would be foolish to think there’s anything I could do about it but it doesn’t make it any less of a shame. After all one person can’t stop “Progress”

Letting Go Of Childish Things

Posted: January 24, 2016 in The Roper Files

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I’ve got a confession to make; I’m a hoarder.

Didn’t really think about this much until my wife moved in with me; I lived in a two-bedroom apartment at the time. My clutter was filed away in one bedroom; I slept in the other. My second bedroom was cutely referred to as “the Odditorium”; a place where I stashed my enormous collection of records, comics, books, magazines, musical equipment and shelves and shelves of knick-knacks. The walls were decorated with framed portraits of GG Allin and Ed Gein, signed 8X10s of movie and TV actors and signed LP sleeves. A room suitable for an eccentric bachelor indeed.

And then my wife entered my life. One by one things began to change around my humble little apartment. The kitchen began to be used for its original intended purpose. Utensils were pulled out of storage, dusted off and used for (gasp!) actual cooking. My computer, office chair and desk which had for years always been within arm’s reach of the coffee pot, refrigerator and oven were unceremoniously rolled into the living room so the wife could cook in her new kitchen.

Then she started her own website and began to sell books she had written and published herself. At first she was content to work off of a laptop on a TV tray in the living room but as her website grew in popularity and the numbers of books she began to sell grew, she wanted my man-cave for an office.

I cleared off a desk that had become a major catch-all so she could put her laptop and printer on it, got her a comfortable office chair to work in from a nearby office supply store and even installed a large rug on the hardwood floor to roll the chair around on. A fan and a space heater were installed. I tried to make it comfortable for her but she didn’t like the windows I had covered to keep the Texas summer sunlight out, or the crappy view of the wooden fence or the brick house next door (or in other words not much of a view at all really) The prementioned portraits of Ed Gein and GG Allin came down next, not surprisingly.

Eventually as we rearranged the room and she moved in more of her things it became painfully obvious a storage space was going to be needed. We rented a midsize storage unit, I borrowed a pickup truck and trip by trip I began to move stuff out of my apartment and into the storage space.

This is when it began to dawn on me that I had over the course of the last thirty years or so I had managed to rat-hole a LOT of stuff away without much thought as to (A) what I intended to do with it (B) who was I going to leave it to? I had no children. (c) Why was I keeping it? (D) when was I going to do anything with it at all? I had about a dozen large heavy boxes of magazines: National Lampoons, Heavy Metal, Fangoria, Psychotronic, miscellaneous film and music mags and more “adult” magazines than anyone in their right mind would want to admit owning. There was five large crates full of LPs, two large heavy boxes of comic books, boxes of rolled-up posters, tons of cassettes of live shows and no working cassette player in the house. This was ridiculous; I had become a hoarder without giving it a single thought.

As I spent a week emptying out the man-cave and turning into my wife’s new office, my wife brought up the idea of selling some of this stuff on Ebay. We opened an account, rented a PO box and even though it was like pulling my own teeth, I began to cull through the stuff. What could I let go of? I skimmed the comics and magazines for things I thought might sell and in a few brief months we made enough money to go on a Carnival cruise just by selling comics I hadn’t looked at in twenty years. After we went on the cruise however we stopped selling stuff; Ebay itself was a time-consuming affair and we had other things on our minds.

In November of 2014 we packed up and moved out of our now-cramped apartment and moved into a for-real house. The storage space which was supposed to be a temporary measure was now packed full of collectibles and just plain junk. The company who owned the unit also began to slowly raise the monthly rate for the storage and paying the bill became a painful monthly expense. And as if that wasn’t bad enough the company I was working twelve hours a day for announced No More Overtime and cut my hours down to eight a day, putting a real cramp in our monthly budget.

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So once again we are selling things on Ebay, only this time I’m serious. We emptied out a big heavy box of Heavy Metal magazines and sold them for a few hundred dollars. Now I’m starting to slowly inventory the rest of them, digging boxes one by one out of the storage unit and lugging them back to our house. I dig the magazines out one by one, write down on a clipboard what they are, the date of publication and their condition. Then I look them up on Ebay and see what other people are selling them for, knock a dollar off their price and list them.

So far we are doing okay; it’s amazing what sells and what doesn’t. I sold two crumbling issues of Rolling Stone for $25 just because they had John Belushi on the cover. Anything with Traci Lords or John Waters on the cover sells almost immediately. People seem to like anything with Pee Wee Herman or Devine on the cover as well. And I just LOVE getting $5, $10 or even $15 or $20 for magazines I paid $3 for. It’s like pulling money out of the air. Some of these magazines I haven’t opened up and looked at since the late 1980s or early 1990s.

I’ve still got a lot of magazines I find painful to sell. I’ve got a dozen or so HELP magazines that are almost as old as I am, three large heavy boxes of National Lampoons and just cataloging the inventory is a time-consuming business; sometimes I spend all weekend doing it.

But to hell with it; if other people enjoy them and are willing to pay for them then it’s a win-win situation for everyone involved. It makes paying for the storage unit less painful and if I have any money left over, then hooray. Our eventual battle plan is to move to my wife’s native Canada; I’m not getting any younger and America is certainly with each passing day becoming a shitty place to retire.

We currently have Presidential candidates promising us that if elected they will keep pointless wars going FOREVER in the Middle East and to do away with the ACA and while it should be ludicrous to take these bozos seriously as human beings, I’m actually seeing people driving around with bumper stickers with their names on them. Are Americans really stupid enough to actually elect these guys? If so retirement will come early for me and We’re Outta Here. And this is where Ebay just might help make this happen for us; I certainly can’t take this ton of pulp paper with me.

I can’t touch my 401K for another couple of years and every spare nickel and dime helps us get closer to leaving. So far we’re doing okay; I’m making regular trips to post office clutching bundles of 9 X 11 envelopes. I’m not getting rich off of this but a few extra bucks every week certainly helps us pay the bills and stay fed. And these days that’s a balancing act not everyone can deal with, but we’re doing okay so far. Sometimes being a hoarder can actually pay off.

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I’ve written before on this site about the new drive-in theater that has opened near where I live; the Coyote just north of downtown Fort Worth. They opened in 2013 with three screens and business has been so successful for them they have erected a fourth screen in the last year. Since they cater to families anxious to share the nostalgia with their kids, the Coyote pretty much only shows “family films”.

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They are the one, the only, the sole drive-in theater within an hour’s drive of my home. There are three more in North Texas that I am aware of but they are all a considerable driving distance from my house. The Coyote caters hard to families, running mostly PG family movies. Off-duty police officers provide security and they reserve the right to search your vehicle. They have the only drive-in game in town and market themselves as a novelty form of family entertainment.

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We had our nine-year-old grandson staying with us again this summer and two of my wife’s older children spent a couple of weeks with us during the latter half of August. Of course we dragged them to the drive-in theater a couple of times while they were here since drive-ins are even scarcer in Canada than they are here. And boy have I been getting caught up on my “family films”: this summer alone I have sat through MINIONS, INSIDE OUT and most recently we took the kids to see SHAUN THE SHEEP.

Now mind you I actually LIKED Shaun the Sheep in spite of it being a “family film” but as we sat in our lawn chairs broiling in the Texas summer heat (it’s still hot here even after the sun goes down) my mind couldn’t help but drift back to the early 80s when Joe Bob Briggs still had his column in the Dallas Times Herald and the few remaining drive-ins left in the Dallas/Fort Worth area DIDN’T cater to families.

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In the early 80s I had a friend named Tom who purchased a used1976 VW camper van from an attorney. It had a fridge, a 4-burner stove and the top popped open so that six people could watch a movie at the drive in in perfect comfort. We began to scout out the remaining drive-ins in the DFW area.

The drive-ins by this point had endured the advent of cable TV and the mass realization of millions of former film goers that they could run the “audio out” cables on their VCRs into their stereo receivers and turn their living rooms into state-of-the-art theaters. And then there was the video stores which in the early 80s began popping up everywhere; people could rent movies for as little as a dollar. Why drag the whole family to the drive in and pay $4 a head to see THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE or MAD MAX when they could rent the movie for the whole family for a dollar? The drive-ins by the mid 80s were all pretty much in their death throes and they knew it. Eventually they just quit trying; sometimes they would get a pair of movies that became stock features, change the B-features they were paired with from week to week and switch screens every week as if the regulars like us wouldn’t notice. (“Rambo AGAIN?”)

It was about this time we noticed there was a sub-genre of films that would occasionally pop up on the drive-in screen; movies with an extra dose of sex and violence. Some would call them exploitation films; we called them “drive-in movies” though because they were meant to be shown in drive-ins or other such theaters that were desperate to sell admission tickets.

Unless they were showing something everyone wanted to see (a first run of a FRIDAY THE 13th sequel or cult favorites like THE ROAD WARRIOR) it wasn’t unusual for Tom and I to pull into the drive in theater and see the place nearly empty. It was shocking to pull in and see the theater packed in fact on the rare nights that happened.

And security was lax to put it lightly. The only time I ever saw police officers at the drive-in was at the entrance to the four-screen Century in Grand Prairie where officers stationed at the box office made everyone open their trunks and ice chests; weapons and drinks in glass containers were forbidden. A case of beer in aluminum cans? Enjoy the show, boys.

Unlike the Coyote who have a strict policy on outside food and drinks we would load up on our own liquid refreshments before entering and we also would take frozen dinners in those boiling bags and heat them up in a pot of boiling water on Toms stove. Sometimes we fixed our own hot dogs as well but we always made our way to the snack bar for a large tub of popcorn at some point of the evening. No one ever searched our vehicles; they didn’t want to scare off the ever-shrinking number of paying customers with such Gestapo tactics.

One night we pulled into the drive-in and were flabbergasted to see the place packed to capacity for THE RIGHT STUFF. Another night we pulled into a double feature of the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD billed with the infamous BLOODSUCKING FREAKS  only to find it hard to get a parking spot; the place was packed.  As Night ended and Bloodsucking Freaks  began ( BF is basically 90 minutes of nude women being systematically tortured; the management obviously had NO idea just how offensive it really was when they booked it) ; five minutes into the film and the car engines started and the brake lights came on in near-unison as carloads of horrified families sped for the exit. (“ I think the kids done seen enough of THIS one!”) Within mere minutes the drive-in was almost empty we were the sole members of the audience.

However the drive-ins couldn’t afford to exist forever just for the sole pleasure of Tom and I; by the mid 80s the handwriting was on the wall. One drive-in after another closed. First our beloved Cherry Lane, then the Southside Twin. The lone hold-out was the Mansfield which struggled against diminishing crowds until 1992, then they too called it quits. The screens were torn down, the snack bars and ticket booths bulldozed and the properties either became flea markets, WalMarts or were leased to gas drilling companies. It saddened me to see them go, but there was nothing I could do about it.

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For years after that if I wanted to see movies it was either rent them from the video store, wait until they played on cable or just flat out buy them. I got my first DVD player in 2000 and my gigantic VHS collection began to be replaced by a growing number of DVDs, which began to seem like a bad crack habit after a while.

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In 2013 the Coyote was erected with three screens and a fourth added in 2015. Most of what they run are family films with a big emphasis on Pixar and Marvel films. All four lots are usually packed to capacity seven nights a week. It’s a joy and a privilege taking the grandson and my stepchildren to experience the thrill of watching movies under the starry Texas sky.

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But once in a while I still imagine I can see the opening scenes of Texas Chainsaw Massacre flickering in all of their 35mm glory on the screen back-lit by the red glowing Texas sunset on the brand-new screen of the Coyote. Or I can close my eyes and imagine hearing the Ennio Morricone soundtrack of The Good The Bad and the Ugly playing on tinny aluminum speakers as a faint whiff of popcorn drifts through the air. I could try to explain these things to the kiddos but it’s probably best not to even try…

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Yesterday was September 11; the anniversary of one of America’s darkest days. I had an eerie feeling writing the date on some paperwork at my menial job, yet…it was just another day.

Now I mean no offense to anyone. I myself didn’t have any friends or loved ones perish that day and I know it’s a painful day for lots of people and I mean no offense to anyone who did when I say this, but it was just another boring day at work.

And so it seemed apparently to my employers and the majority of my co-workers. At a company meeting one of our newer employees asked: “Are we going to have a moment of silence at 9am?” and one would have thought he asked why there wasn’t a tampon dispenser in the men’s restroom by the response he got. People actually snickered; one guy behind him asked him “if he wanted a hug.”

Even as someone who thinks Bush and Cheney should both be rotting behind bars for the incompetent for the way they ignored warnings of the attack and the way they responded to the actual attack etc I was appalled at the insensitivity of my co-workers and the management. Do these goddam people think about anything besides themselves? Apparently not but I don’t know why I’m surprised…

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I work at a bottom-feeder aerospace company that subcontracts for several major defense contractors I won’t name here but many of them profited heavily from the Iraq war. Companies like Lockheed and Bell Helicopter typically have a one-minute moment of silence at 9am on September 11; we did it for about a year or two after the attacks and then it was just business as usual after that. “You can have a minute of keeping your goddam machines running!”

We all remember where we were that dreadful day; I know I do. Once word got out amongst the employees of the attacks we were all crowded around the mini-TV in the break room watching in shock as the second plane hit. About that time the owner of the company came barging in and started bitching us out for not working. “What in the hell is wrong with you people? You’re all acting like you’ve never seen a plane fly into the World Trade Center before! Get back to work!”

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Okay he didn’t say it in those exact words but he didn’t like paying us to stand around watching TV. And just as the towers started to collapse he went into full Mr Burns mode: “This is an act of war; we’ll be building lots of airplane and helicopter parts NOW…..”

I had to remind myself to close my mouth which I’m sure was ajar at hearing that. We were watching thousands of people die and he’s standing there with dollar signs in his eyes and mentally rolling through stacks of bills like Scrooge McDuck.

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I’m pretty hard to shock or I used to think I was; I like Russ Meyer, HG Lewis, John Waters and Troma Production films. I was an avid reader of underground comics and National Lampoon back in the 1970s. But that day has forever engraved itself in my mind but maybe for different reasons than other people because I was horrified at the insensitivity of the American people as a whole.

Oh for a VERY brief time the American people came together as one. Flags flew everywhere in front of homes and businesses; people had two-dollar made-in-China mini-flags fluttering on their cars like so many General Staff cars. For an even shorter time the whole left-right dichotomy got put aside. But I remember the joke the late great Rodney Dangerfield used to tell about the “guy who was half Polish and half Irish; he wanted to beat somebody up but he didn’t know WHO”

Well 911 turned America into That Guy. A pointless war was launched against a country that had nothing to do with the attack and no one cared. Anyone who muttered a syllable against it was ridiculed and called unpatriotic. And fourteen years later little has changed; and to me that is perhaps the greatest tragedy of all.

Those Sixteen Years Went By Quick

Posted: November 27, 2014 in The Roper Files
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I moved into my current digs just after New Years Eve of 1998. A friend of mine bought this house (actually a duplex) and wanted a stable tenant and he knew I was having problems at the last place I lived (asshole neighbors and repeated break-ins) so he leased one side of the duplex to me and generously gave me a substantial discount on the rent. It’s not far from the local cluster of museums and the area is known as The Cultural District.

It’s a quiet neighborhood for the most part; I’ve had relatively few problems with crime or annoying neighbors but I’ve reached a turning point of sorts and am going to have to move. My back aches just thinking about it; the last time I moved I had a full sized pickup truck and had help from a few people but it took me two weeks to get everything moved from Point A to Point B working after work hours in the evenings. I have accumulated a lot more stuff since then and while I am going to move some things myself over the next month, my wife and I are going to have to hire professional movers; I’m just getting too old for this shit and have too many physical limitations to do it all myself.

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Since moving here I have graduated from a tiny one-person bed to a big wooden Queen bed, acquired a big wooden desk, a 1906 RCA Victrola, about a half dozen bookcases, a big wooden entertainment center; there’s no way in hell I’m moving all of this myself. We’re going to be forced to contract professionals with a large truck. When I moved in here I was a bachelor and the place seemed gigantic. I transformed the second bedroom into a punk rock Man Cave: autographed 8X10s framed on the wall, crates of LPs stacked high, a antique metal comic book display rack full of comics totally unfit for kids,framed portraits of Ed Gein and GG Allin hung on the wall, my amps and guitars always out for practice etc. When my friend sold the house a few years ago he had to bring people in to examine the place; they always had the same look on their faces as visitors to the Addams Family house when they strolled through that room. One particularly hateful prick snarled at me: “If I buy this place, you’ll be out of here in 30 days” on his way out the door but my friend heard him and chose not to sell it to him.

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But in the last sixteen years my peaceful middle-class neighborhood has come under a siege of sorts; wealthy and affluent people have decided to start buying up all the real estate for one reason or another. One wealthy woman has bought dozen of homes and has started running a overnight-leasing operation, renting out houses by the night even though this neighborhood isn’t zoned for that and when anyone complains about it to the City Council she threatens to turn all of her acquired properties into Section 8 housing. Where’s the Manson Family when you really need them? Then some millionaire couple bought a tiny church down the street and transformed it into a super-duper mega non-denominational church. They have kept adding on to it and adding on to it and also bought entire blocks of houses and bulldozed them so they could pave over the blocks for parking lots. I used to know people who lived in those houses; now they are all gone.

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And don’t even get me started on the yuppie scumbags buying up the quaint older homes around here, tearing them down and replacing them with mini McMansions. And the city has just announced plans to build a 15,000-seat “events arena” within walking distance of here. I can’t wait for the clouds of dust and dirt, not to mention both sides of the narrow streets lined with the vehicles of construction workers all week long.

When I moved in here there were two grocery stores, three laundromats and two gas stations all within a five minute drive of here; they’re all closed now. The pub up the street I used to walk over to after work for burgers, steaks or fried fish is now some yuppie beer bar. My two choices for food within walking distance are now a McDonalds and a Dairy Queen with the exception of a cafe that’s always closed on my one day off.

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I’ve put up with pointless never-ending roadwork that moved at a snail’s pace, non-existent Code Enforcement and watching my neighborhood being decimated block by block by millionaires who already have more money than they can possibly count running the neighborhood through a meat grinder so they can make even MORE money, an addiction worse than any narcotic.

While there are millions of homeless Americans wandering the streets and sleeping under overpasses one of my ex-neighbors who seems to have married someone with a lot of money has bought three houses on my street just so she have a place to store stuff for her compulsive hoarding habit. One of them is right behind my house and she’s never spent a dime on it for the last ten years. It’s full of junk and the paint is literally falling off of it right in front of my eyes like snowflakes. She mows the front yard just often enough to keep the city off her sorry ass and lets the backyard go for as long as six months at a time. It’s become a haven for an seemingly endless number of opossums, racoons and stray cats I’m weary of trapping and hauling off to the city park.

My  landlord was nice enough to have my bathroom remodeled and add a big wooden fence around my back yard for more privacy but my kitchen sink sprays water in every direction but down into the sink and it takes forever to wash dishes. My ceiling has a huge crack running from one wall to the other and everytime I ask her about fixing this or anything else she starts making noises about raising my rent.

That’s it; I’m moving. I’m caving in. Throwing in the towel. I give up. It’s been a good ride but it’s time to move on. My serene little neighborhood is fixing to continue being a construction zone for the next five years. What used to be a nice place to live has become a plaything for the Rich and Arrogant and I’m weary of dealing with it.

TWO WEEKS LATER

I’m sitting here typing and it’s done, or close to it anyway. A close friend of ours had a three-bedroom rental house she was looking for good tenants anyway and has kindly allowed my wife and I to move in. It’s across the street from the house I grew up in and I am near my Mom who is getting on in years; it will be good to be near her. I spent two weeks hauling one Tundra-full of stuff from that clown car of an apartment after another on a nightly basis and I still haven’t got it all but I’m slowly getting there. It’s nothing short of astounding how much stuff I had crammed into that tiny three-room duplex. The movers got all the large heavy items this last weekend in two hours: the big oak entertainment center, my 1906 RCA Victrola, the bed, bookcases, the desks etc. The reality of moving always sets in with me when I start taking pictures down off the wall and unplug the TV. It’s real; it’s Happening. I’m actually Doing This…

Getting everything from one address to another is only half the battle; digging everything out of boxes and finding a place for it is another thing entirely. Spent the last week looking like a bum because the razors were in one box and the can of shaving cream was in another. We moved into a larger house and we are still having difficulty finding a place for everything; how could this be? The room I am typing this in has a knee-high pile of look-alike boxes full of books, CDs and DVDs I still haven’t found a place for yet. Going through everything has been a stroll down Memory Lane; souvenirs from Canada, Jamaica, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Cozumel, Yucatan etc The last few years have been like a dream.

I’ve been working sixty hours a week lately for the last two months; today is the second time in two weeks I’ve even seen the new house in broad daylight. The rest of the time I’ve been moving in one car or pickup load at a time after sundown. Sunlight is streaming in the windows as I sip a cup of coffee and thanks to Thanksgiving I have a rare four-day weekend. My loving wife fixed me a delightful steak-and-egg breakfast this morning which was not only a wonderful start to the morning but a delightful welcome to our new home as well. It’s not only a different house but we’ve purchased a new couch for the living room as well as a antique rocking chair; the place looks totally different.

As much as I hated the very thought of moving, it’s done. Aside from one tiny ding in the bed-frame, the damage done was very minimal. It’s been exhausting physically and mentally; I think our new puppy has dealt with the stress of moving better than I have. We still have a few loose ends to tie up but for the most part We’re Here. A new home and a new beginning….

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The Reluctant Grandfather

Posted: September 7, 2014 in The Roper Files

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I haven’t dusted off This Ole Site in the last three months but it’s no exaggeration to say I’ve been busy. It was months in the planning; the logistics of getting him here were tough but my wife’s adorable eight-year-old grandson came down from Canada and spent the summer with us and three months later I am just now able to catch my breath and look back at it; this was a learning experience for all three of us. As a life-long bachelor and newly-married man I was slightly nervous and apprehensive about this. Never once in my fifty-plus years had I ever had any desire to have children. Now all of a sudden I had an eight-year-old in the house; I had no clue as to what I was supposed to do. He didn’t come with an Owners Manual. For the first time in my life I had to curb my bad language and otherwise watch my “Ps and Qs”

His Mom drove him over the border to Seattle and met my wife at the Seattle airport and the two of them flew here to Texas. The two of us had spoken over the phone long-distance but for various reasons we had never met face-to-face. When I picked the two of them up at our local airport he was shy and very reserved; a barely audible “Hi” was about all I could get out of him. That would soon change. He had never been to the US before and stared in silence out the window as we sped down the highway from the airport. Our first stop was at a local restaurant that specialized in seafood; the three of us ate in near silence aside from the loud Cajun music blaring from the PA although he was more than willing to talk about the flight.

When we got back I dug out a stack of DVDs of cartoons from my childhood and was pleased to see him become quickly immersed in my Rocky and Bullwinkle discs; nice to see some things hadn’t changed since I was a kid. He also liked Popeye and Felix the Cat cartoons which surprised me since he seemed to have been brought up on an appetite of Blues Clues and Spongebob Squarepants.

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Over the course of the summer we engaged in a long list of activities that we had planned in the weeks prior to his arrival: like visiting our local  zoo.

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We also took him to the local museums as well as the local tourist traps. We bought him a cowboy hat, we took him horseback riding and tried to introduce him to a variety of the local cuisine. We fed him his first fajita tacos, his first chicken-fried steak and of course lots and lots of Texas barbecue. What were his favorite two things? Mexican cokes and trips to the Dairy Queen down the street for sundaes and banana splits.

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Fortunately he was fairly easy to entertain. He loved when the three of us would pile into my car and go for trips out of town or even when I would go to nearby rural roads and he would hang out the car window like a dog laughing as the hot summer wind blew on him.  He enjoyed shopping at the various local dollar stores. We took him to the newly-opened local drive-in and watched movies under the starry Texas skies in folding chairs.

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On the Fourth of July we watched the local fireworks shows. I took him sliding down the steep grassy levees by the Trinity river on large pieces of cardboard like my parents used to take me to do when I was his age. Some evenings he and I would go for long walks around the neighborhood and just talk and get to know each other.

Besides feeding him properly I also felt an obligation as a temporary parent to set some boundaries. Since he was away from his mother he seemed to feel as if he could make his own rules during the summer and it quickly became obvious we had to step in and teach him otherwise. We took him on numerous trips to the local library where I tried to encourage him to read as opposed to being online all summer long playing video games or watching videos on YouTube. I had only myself to blame for introducing him to Mexican Cokes, but I was horrified to find out that he had a near-unquenchable thirst for Coca-cola. I had a lot of trouble getting him to drink iced tea, milk or fruit juices. Also getting him to bathe and brush his teeth on a regular basis was an uphill battle. I had to remind him on a nightly basis about doing it before he went to bed. And being very much an eight-year-old boy he ate a lot of candy if we let him and we tried to encourage him to eat healthier snacks like dried fruit. My wife bought a dehydrator so we could make dried out banana, kiwi and strawberry chips which fortunately he loved and gobbled down as fast as she could dry them out.

One of the things we did to entertain him on my pauper-level budget was Movie Nights; we would either rent a movie from the local Redbox, check out DVDs from the library or I would just dig one out of my extensive disc collection. Popcorn would be popped and the three of us would sit in front of the TV and enjoy a movie. And as much as I enjoy a good John Waters or Martin Scorcese movie, we had to keep the selection Family Friendly since we now had an eight year old with us.

I got educated on modern day children’s fare this summer. While he had seen both of the Despicable Me films they were new to me and I was forced to sit through the “Buddies” series that Air Bud had spawned but he loved them so I bit my lip and sat through them. I tried with mixed success to show him movies that I had enjoyed when I was his age: the original 1933 KING KONG for example. He seemed to enjoy DUCK SOUP, especially the scenes with Harpo. JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS and SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (two of my childhood favorites) went over with varying degrees of success although he sneered at Harryhausen’s Cyclops. “That looks SO fake!” I tried showing him Japanese sci-fi movies I loved when I was his age and he laughed out loud at the special effects in MONSTER ZERO: “That rocket ship is on a string!” “Godzilla’s just a guy in a rubber suit!” I dug out my TARZAN box set and was dismayed that he didn’t really seem to enjoy the first one but he liked TARZAN AND HIS MATE and he really enjoyed TARZANS NEW YORK ADVENTURE. Out of my entire collection the one film he really seemed to enjoy from beginning to end was PEE WEES BIG ADVENTURE. He stood up and applauded when it was over and asked to see it again. He also enjoyed a copy of MARY POPPINS we borrowed from the library.

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For fear of sounding judgmental and also because it’s none of my business (nor anyone elses) I don’t care to discuss the kid’s life story here but I will say he’s never really had a father figure before in his life. He would hold my hand while we walked through parking lots or parking garages.

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He sat in my lap and we would watch old Warner Brothers cartoons together on my computer monitor. Over the course of three months we began to bond and I’ve got to admit it was touching to come home after work and find WELCOME HOME BRIAN scrawled on the driveway in colored chalk. Or a hand-printed WELCOME HOME 8X11 sheet of paper taped to my computer monitor. In fact the kid would go absolutely bonkers when I came home. My wife told me: “He’s so good for me during the day; then when you come home he gets hyper!” For years when I was a bachelor I would open the door to a stone-cold silence that was in and of itself almost deafening. Now I had an eight-year-old dancing around like a mini-Pee Wee Herman: “Brian’s home! Brian’s home!” And I had to admit I liked it.

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It’s been a week now since the inevitable time when we had to drive back out to the airport and re-unite him with his Mom. Three months is a long time for an eight-year-old to be separated from his mother; we had to do it. It was the right thing to do. She has sent us photos via e-mail and SnapChat of the two of them together grinning for the camera and it’s nice to see those. But the silence that hangs over the house now is deafening. I miss hearing his little voice from the back seat of my car. I miss watching cartoons with him, or going for walks to the convenience store down the street with him. I miss buying him banana splits at the Dairy Queen down the street. For that matter there’s very little I do or very few places I go that don’t remind me of him. When I see parents with their kids in public I see the kids in a whole different light now. And sometimes I wistfully regret never having any children of my own.

I spent a sweaty couple of hours this week cleaning out the back seat of my car, perhaps an attempt to exorcise a certain part of that. He drug his little sandals through every oil puddle in every parking lot we went to and tracked oil on the carpet of my car. The back of the drivers seat was black where he jammed his feet into my back while we were driving. I wiped the seats with Formula 409 and dish soap. I vacuumed up bits of potato chips, cookie crumbs and Willy Wonka’s Nerds from the seat and scrubbed the floor mats with a solution of carpet cleaner, Oxyclean, dish soap and hot water and laid them out in the hot 100-degree Texas sun to dry, then swept them with trusty Shop Vac. I pulled an empty Mexican Coke bottle out from underneath the passenger seat. The wife and I picked up the room he slept in and gathered souvenirs he forgot to pack in his suitcase so we could mail them to him later. Piece by piece, step by step we are getting life as we know it back to normal. But everywhere I look I still see signs of his time here with us.

I think of him when I go to the dollar store, or when I drive past the Dairy Queen. I think of him when I go to the library, the grocery store or even when I step out in the back yard and his swimming pool that was there for three months isn’t there anymore. It made me sad when I drained it, folded it up and put it in storage. Last Labor Day weekend I cleaned out the refrigerator of the leftover popsicles and other snacks we bought for him that he didn’t eat and I walked from door to door with them knocking on doors (“Excuse me do you have children?”) until I found someone to take them off my hands. I’m even still buying Lotto tickets with the six numbers I let him pick out ( he couldn’t do any worse than I have so far I figured) Look at me; I taught an eight-year-old child how to gamble. Would WC Fields be proud of me or what?

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For someone who never had or wanted children I have to ruefully admit that the little guy has left a heart-shaped hole in the soul of this old curmudgeon. The last week he was here we drove him and our new chihuahua puppy down to South Texas and stayed in a rented cabin for three days before returning home and then having to drive him back to the airport. We fed him more barbecue, took him to a ranch where he was given a formal lesson in horseback riding and then we had him here for a brief and final 36 hours before we had to return him to his Mom.

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I teasingly suggested to my wife a RAISING ARIZONA-ish thought about simply not returning him and just adopting him as our own but that was foolish and we knew it. For better or for worse he belonged with his mother and the smiles on their faces in the photos she sent us confirmed that.

It’s been a week now since we drove him to the airport and I’m still trying to sort it all out.; I’m having a hard time accepting he’s gone. I miss the little guy and the wife and I hug each other and try to reconcile each other over his absence. Even our new puppy seems to know something’s changed; there’s no more of the little rascal here in her face and he’s not here to hold her and talk to her the way he was for the two weeks prior. When I sit in my car and start the engine, I still expect to hear his little voice reminding me to put on my safety belt. And sometimes I do….

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During the course of the last twenty or so years just remembering the drive in theater experience has served little or no purpose other than to make me just feel old. Younger people have NO idea what it was like for a community to come together under the stars, sit on the tailgates of their pickup trucks, SUVs and watch a movie. The combined smell of hot buttered popcorn, burning PIC coils, the sound of tinny country music coming from those aluminum speakers mounted on the car windows in between the movies….all of these things have become shadowy fragmented memories in the dusty cob-webbed part of my mind; kids today have no idea what this was like.

During the 80s and early 90s the multiplex theaters, cable TV, home video, the advent of the home theater system and the ease of picking up a movie at the video store collectively nibbled away at any appeal the drive in theater could have ever had for most families and once the drive ins one by one disappeared they turned on each other until only Netflix and Redbox remained standing. Today picking up a movie to take home and slip into the DVD/BluRay player has become as sterile an act as buying a soft drink from a vending machine and considering the average film Hollywood chooses to offer these days is just a tad bit more entertaining.

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I’ve written about this subject here before on my humble little blog. The general response I get goes along the lines of “ I “watched” most of the movies from the back seat” (hyuk hyuk) I’ve driven all over Texas taking photos of what’s left of old abandoned drive ins for years and felt like an archeologist doing it; taking snapshots of decaying screens and crumbling snack bars, slabs of concrete where ticket booths once stood, tiles where the restrooms once were, sawed-off poles where speakers were once mounted.

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Sometimes I get chased off by homeless people who have moved into the empty projection booths and claimed them as their “turf” or security guards who think I am scavenging for scrap metal to sell. I’ve tried in vain to explain to puzzled police officers what I was doing there; my explanation about taking photos of a vacant lot where a drive in used to be from some time before when the still-wet-behind-the-ears police officer half my age was even born doesn’t always “wash” “Come on, be honest; what are you REALLY doing here?” As the late great Rodney Dangerfield used to say: “It ain’t easy being me.”

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The last functioning drive in here in Fort Worth was the Mansfield; I can even remember the last double feature they had: ALIENS 3 and BATMAN RETURNS (goddam I’m feeling old right now) Somewhere around 1992 the owner called it quits, tore down the screens and the snack bar and only a crumbling pile of roofing tiles sits where the ticket booth was today. And here in the second largest state in the US according to http://www.drive-ins.com/ only a mere seventeen drive-ins remain open today. But fortunately one of them includes The Coyote here in Fort Worth which opened last year. Needless to say I’m sure I wasn’t alone when I was skeptical about its potential to be commercially viable for multiple reasons but if the long slow-moving line of cars, trucks and SUVs at the ticket booth last night was any indicator, it might just make it.

As much as I cherish the drive in experience, I had been waiting for just the right movie before I would pry my ass off the futon and go check out the Coyote. To me a “drive-in movie” has to have one or more of three main elements: sex, violence or monsters and so far the Coyote has catered to a family audience showing films like THE BUTLER which was a good film but not by my definition a drive in movie. However this week I folded when I noticed the GODZILLA re-make on the bill. A good cheesy monster movie on the big screen under the starry Texas sky? I am there! We bought tickets in advance online ($16) tossed chairs and a portable radio into the car and off we went.

The Coyote is a three-screen theater on a large plot of land just north of downtown Fort Worth and appears to be a very well-run operation that employs a lot of people. It’s very glitzy with lots of festive colored lights, a huge snack bar, restrooms designed for crowds ( a big plus) and even has a place for bands to play by the snack bar while the crowds wait for it to get dark enough for the movie to start. I remember walking to the snack bar at the Mansfield drive in with my friend Tom back right before they closed and looking at the roof and thinking how cool it would be to have bands playing on the roof (“Rock and Roll drive-in!”) The drive in was miles from the nearest residence and there was no one else to disturb; well the Coyote has taken my idea and run with it apparently.

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The snack bar has a large variety of semi-reasonably priced snacks and even a wet bar for those so inclined. Several off-duty members of the FWPD direct traffic in and out of the drive-in and there appeared to be numerous staff members everywhere to help direct traffic, answer questions and otherwise make sure the evening went well and as planned for everyone. The place was packed when we got there and we had to drive around for a few minutes to find a decent place to park but found one and we got settled in in no time.

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I sat the folding chairs in front of the car, lit PIC mosquito coils, sprayed the wife and I down with repellent (the Trinity river flows not far from the Coyote) , bought a large popcorn and two large drinks ($16 total), positioned the boombox behind us on the car hood and dialed it into the theaters station. Let the movie begin! All around us families were doing pretty much the same thing; I was overcome with a glowing sense of nostalgia looking at the kids sitting on pickup truck tailgates waiting for sundown so the movie could start. The drive-in was packed with a wide cross-section of people of all races and creeds and everyone seemed to be in a good mood. Despite being packed into a small space, everyone I saw was smiling; I didn’t see anyone pushing, shoving or otherwise behaving in any rude fashion whatsoever. The drive-in was in some strange way restoring my faith in mankind. This is the way our society is supposed to work.

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The sun finally went down and the movie began. Godzilla lumbered across the big screen, fought two other monsters and triumphantly sauntered off into the ocean presumably to return for future sequels two hours later. I didn’t for once mind the special effects being CGI instead of the guy in the big floppy rubber suit; it was nice to sit under the starry Texas sky once again and watch monsters on a drive in screen for the first time in over twenty years. My wife and I sat next to each other in our chairs, held hands and smiled at each other as the monsters roared and battled each other on the giant screen. This is the way movies were intended to be watched.