Y52525225 More from a Texas Sketchbook SAN ANTONIO STREETS IN SUMMERTIME downtown, a thin bony-shouldered young man in a wrinkled white shirt is on the move along the sidewalk by the Greyhound bus station. His cigarette fumes at his side and the metal taps on his dusty black shoes click against the sidewalk. He is loose in the Big City, carrying his tender untried country-boy manhood the way he carries his cigarettewith an air of fierce negligence and unconcern. But it is no use, he gives himself away. His lean, trouserflapped legs cut the hot noonday air too fiercely; they are like bony blades sharpened for combat. And as he crosses cattycorner from the bus station to a small bar across the street, his eyes shoot about him with too much of a furtive, protective scowllooking too hard and not finding anything to see. off San Pedro Street, in a solemn old section of white two-story houses, a small window radio plays tunes from the 1940’s. Behind the rusted screen, shadowed by magnolia trees, Woody Herman elegantly whines “I’m Glad There Is You”his solo curling out to the sidewalk like cool spring waters and taking the edge from the hot afternoon. on West El Paso Street diapered Mexican babies sit spraddle-legged under back yard chinaberry trees, playing with rocks and raising black eyes at the sound of footsteps beyond the green picket fence. Sweat and dirt streak their faces but they never cry. Occasionally one will stop playing long enough to investigate with his fingertip the brown mystery of his navel. in Harlandale, in another back yard and under another chinaberry tree, a tubercular veteran of World War I sits with his shirt and shoes off, long hairs trailing beneath the nipples of his sunken white chest. He is seated in an old paint-peeled kitchen chair, watching two of his banty roosters fight in a shaded dusty clearing. He has tushes and a couple of black decaying front teeth; he shows them occasionally in a lopsided grin as one of the roosters demonstrates a little extra fury and spunk. A cigarette burns deeper nicotine stains against his fingers, and each time he takes a puff he coughs uncontrollably down between his spread-out legs. Afterwards he spits, looks at the stain on the ground, then raises up to watch the roosters fight some more. on North St. Mary’s, on the porches of run-down residential hotels and rooming houses, old men in round hats lean forward on their canes, gazing at shadows blotting the sidewalks and the bare grassless yards. Every now and then cars with double exhausts make the corner nearby and thunder past, hurling heavy flatulent sounds at the old men and the houses and the afternoon. As the cars fade out of hearing locusts in the tall hackberry trees Elroy Bode along the sidewalks begin singing again. and the old bent-over men look toward them a while, vaguely. But they soon lose interest and gaze at things closer in perhaps a gravy stain on one of the black shoes or a crack in the floor. They. sit there, unmoving, the heavy strokes of idleness and old age carving them deeper into their porch swings and the summer afternoon. RABBIT, AT SUNDOWN Once, just at dark, a rabbit fell down and a man saw him’. The man, a rancher, was seated behind an oak tree near a windmill in his pasture. He had been working on the mill that afternoon and had sat down to rest a few moments when the jackrabbit came scooting, along a trail through a group of cedar trees. Daylight had almost completely faded and the rabbit was simply doing what it did many afternoonscome in to get water and nibble in the hay that was scattered around the mill for cattle. The rancher was looking off into spacenot movingso everything seemed quite safe and ordinary to the rabbit. But just as he gal clear of the cedar trees and into the open area around the mill, he saw the rancher looking straight at him. He braked, became confused, and fell, all within an instant, tripping over himself and his long feet in the dust. As he went down the rabbit looked across at the mannot with fear ‘or concern for his safety but in simple amazement at what he, a wholly nimble and healthy rabbit, was allowing himself to do. He was down only a fraction of a moment, just long enough to know beyond doubt that he had truly fallen and there had truly been a witness that he had not dreamed it alland then he was up and gone, zig-zagging in furious shame across the clearing and into a clump of shin oaks and out of sight. NUT She was dressed the way eccentric old Apple Annies usually are: tennis shoes without socks; a long shabby coat full of tatters and holes; a worn scarf that did very little to control the dry wisps of hair that strung out above her forehead. I watched her in the downtown El Paso plaza as she walked about and wrote in a small blue spiral notebook. Standing perfectly still and cradling the notebook in one hand, she would write for ten minutes at a stretch; then after walking a short ways she would stopthe heel of one tennis shoe arrested in mid-stepand bending her head down toward her notebook she would write some more. Most of the bench idlers took her in stride, not paying her much attention. Perhaps they accepted her as one of them selves, only in just a little worse shape. But one grizzle-bearded ex-New Yorker with a huge paunch and a yachtsman’s cap seemed bothered by her: “Look at dat nut,” he would say to whoever was seated beside him. “She oughtta be locked up, runnin off like dat at da mout. It just don’t sound good, somebody talkin like dat in da pahk.” And he would frown, shaking his head and big belly, and then breathe a little harder with his asthma. I was in the park only once when she started on a talking spree, and her pacing was as curious as her monologue : it was as though she was declaiming inside a zoo cage, moving back and forth in a constrained and tireless prowl. She never acknowledged the presence of a passerby, and even when she would halt to specifically address an empty bench or a building across the street she never really seemed to focus on it. She just seemed to be musing violently to herself in the private world of her little . blue notebook and her hates. It was not quite clear what her total complaint wasshe stopped too often in the middle of one tirade to begin another but primarily she was down on Mrs. Roosevelt and the Catholics. She paced along, first talking to her tennis shoes or the pigeons on the grass about “Catholic abominations,” then sliding right on into “old Eleanor Roosevelt” and the New Deal. At one point she enumerated a long list of peoples of the worldEthiopians, Senegalese, Chileans, Koreans, Vietnamese and though I did not ‘get the connection between the list and Eleanor Roosevelt I was surprised at how knowledgeably she rattled off the names. She spoke in a rich, throaty, drawling voice that would have been rather pleasant to listen to if she had not been using it as vent for such venom and hate. She had a crooked front tooth and a kind of Humphrey Bogart slant to her jaw when she spoke, and they helped to give her words an added spit and snarl. She was extremely tanned from years of walking about outdoors, and from a distance her face seemed rather vaguenondescript brown parts sewed together with wrinkles. She resembled, as much as anything, some kind of mad monk whose face, is always kept hidden within the shadow of his dark cowl. Yet when I finally saw her face up close, and clearly, it was not that of an old woman at all. She had paused right next to my bench, not to write in her notebook but just to stare off into her special corridor of space. I looked up, and instead of her face being truly old, it seemed more like a movie starlet’s that had been made up rather poorly to resemble a Bowery grandmother. Somehow the wrinkles were not part of the skin but seemed superimposed almost extraneous to it, like smudges of dirt. And November 27, 1964 7
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