Ken Diercouff is retired from laboratory work. He lives with his wife, Monica, in Corpus Christi. He has lived here for eight years. He enjoys reading, barbequing and fishing. He and his wife visit their children and grandchildren across the country as they can.
A little too much salt. Surely too sweet. This wasn’t the best margarita I’ve ever had, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Why do they have to mess with the best drink in the world? But no complaints today. How could anyone diminish a day spent floating and in this iconic sulfur pool, the toasty rays piercing the very thin autumn air of Colorado. They tingled my peachy, office-white skin. After another methodical stir, I killed the drink. One more? Sheila and I used to share a float, not a care in the world, having a few too many of these. It was a green turtle float built for two. We would huddle together, staring off in the horizon, mountain peaks etching the tapestry. Her head rested softly on my shoulder.
Lizz Fraga Cosgrove has a BA in English from UT Austin. Her adventures this lifetime include being a teacher, a paralegal, an event decorator, a writer, a wife, a mother, a caregiver but most importantly a Light Seeker.
I’m running late again…
My morning writing, that attempted to become my afternoon writing,
has manifested itself into my evening writing.
I don’t ever desire to be late…
I don’t ever take pride in being late…
But I do take ownership of the relationship I have with Late.
Late and I are very familiar, comfortable companions – sometimes I follow her around, sometimes she follows me - but no matter who is trailing whom, we always seem to be no more than an arm’s length from one another.
Sometimes Late is my enemy – on my wedding day she showed up, uninvited, in the form of me trying to get myself, the bride, and my four young daughters, the bridesmaids, dressed and to the ceremony on time.
Sometimes Late is my best friend – the day of my mother’s funeral she showed up as a mourning dove who had somehow made her way into my home, into my mother’s bedroom and perched herself on the headboard of my mother’s bed – the bed in which she took her last breath…
She forced me to forget about the schedule to be met that day and allowed me to stare into her eyes and remember how much my mother loved feeding the birds in our yard – those days when time didn’t matter and Late was always welcome.
Somehow when you know the time is limited…
when you know each day is a gift…
when you pray for every hour to feel like an eternity…
You also pray for Death to be best friends with Late.
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Sister Lou Ella is a former teacher and librarian. She is a certified spiritual director as well as a poet and writer. Her poems have appeared in numerous magazines such as America, First Things, Emmanuel, Third Wednesday, and new verse news as well as in four anthologies: The Night’s Magician: Poems about the Moon, edited by Philip Kolin and Sue Brannnan Walker, Down to the Dark River edited by Philip Kolin, Secrets edited by Sue Brannan Walker and After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events edited by Tom Lombardo. She was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2017. Her first book of poetry entitled she: robed and wordless was published in 2015. (Press 53.)
after a poetry reading
i was asked today where my poems come from
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Lucas Diercouff was born in Denver, Colorado. He was a Combat Medic with the U.S. Army with tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. Shortly after, he attended New York Film Academy in Burbank, CA where he received a BFA in Filmmaking. He is a member of the Veterans in Media and Entertainment and alumni of the WGF's Veteran Writing Project. His first short film 'Strawberry Barbara' screened at LA Shorts Fest and he has been involved in film productions ever since. His writing has been recognized in the UK Film Festival, BlueCat, and ISA's Emerging Screenwriters competitions. While his focus has largely been screenwriting, he is eyeing a novel and making Texas his home for the foreseeable future.
HARVEY TATE REPORTING: “This footage can give you…the heebie-jeebies! The Gulf of Mexico has RECEDED approximately one hundred feet from the shore! As you can see from this home video, it happened almost instantly. Like a drain pulled from a bathtub! What COULD have possibly caused this? What does this mean for the WORLD? When we receive more information we will pass that along. Wait. Are you kidding me? Is that a surfer?”
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Mariah Michelle Hinojosa graduated with a Bachelors degree in Communication from Texas A&M University Corpus Christi and lived in the small town of Taft for most of her life. Currently, she lives in the Austin area with her husband, Nathan, and daughter, Aurora. Mariah loves to write and has written many pieces since she was a small child. She also enjoys reading, spending time with her family and learning about the world. Her dream is to be a published writer and a Communication Director for a non-profit organization.
Isn’t it funny
Is just words
In a way
That makes us feel
Like the words
Transcend the emotion
And pierce us
In a way
The same words
Isn’t it funny
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Nick Martinez is a native of San Antonio, Texas, where he attended UTSA and obtained a Bachelor’s of Art in English. During high school and his time at UTSA, Martinez discovered a love for writing and academics. His love of academics brought along his desire to obtain a Master’s of Arts in English, which he obtained from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi in December 2015. Outside of writing, Martinez teaches high school English at the sophomore and senior level. Martinez currently resides in George West with his wife and two cats.
The concrete broke and fell into the sewer with a loud crack that was heard for blocks. In the sewers a young man and a young woman struggled forward. They gagged with the stench. Blood coated their clothes and stained their arms and necks.
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Nikki Ikonomopoulos works as an artist, web/graphic designer and writer throughout the South Texas Coastal Bend. Her love of nature shows through the multiple roles she takes on in life. As an artist she works in many mediums including painting, drawing, sculpture, mosaic and more. Her art works including murals, portraits, ink drawings and online store can be viewed at www.alphaomegaart.com. Nikki also operates online resource guides local to South Texas which can be viewed at www.coastalbendattractions.com. After the impacts from Hurricane Harvey she launched a FREE booklet published bi-annually which can be viewed online at www.portaransaswildlife.com or picked up in one of several locations through out the South Texas Coastal Bend. Some of the profits from that book are donated to benefit local organizations that help protect wildlife. As a creative soul she loves the natural beauty that inspires life.
Whispering wind screaming so loud, calling your promises throughout the deaf crowd.
Listen close & hear the sound, your feet will plant firmly into the ground.
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Raven Yoder is majoring in English with a focus in Writing Studies at TAMUCC. She produced a Haas-award winning research paper, presented “Coinage for Caring,” at the 2019 TAMUCC graduate conference, and has published multiple original poems. She works as a writing consultant and has also served as Assistant Editor of Fiction for TAMUCC’s literary journal, The Windward Review. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring nature, reading, and spending time with family in Waco, Texas. Learn more about Raven by viewing her portfolio
The Feeling of Yellow
Nineteen years ago, a time when my knees barely rose above the willowy grass of our lawn, found me cowering in the doorway of our house, my tiny body consuming the fiery heat of the late afternoon sun. From a vantage point I was much accustomed to, I watched my mother. My frightened eyes peeped timidly upwards where they were soon shocked into attention. A loud bang rattled the room, and I screamed as the walls shook and wood splintered to the floor around my feet. My mom was a recognizable savage. Her rage filled the air, and the chair she’d thrown laid in mangled pieces not even inches from where I’d stood.
And even at two years old, I was used to these eruptions. These volcanic explosions of fury and fervor were the only impressions I had of my mother—the only side of her I saw and the only one I knew. And even then, I was haunted by them, assuming, in my innocence, that the release of her demons was my fault. It wasn’t until many years later that I understood: it wasn’t only the demons to blame, it was the spirits.
From the time of that first memory, an air of mystery and anarchy permeated my thoughts and surrounded my mother. Her sporadic appearances became only added to the charade and secrecy she portrayed. She was a being only present some birthdays and Christmases, but one omnipresent in the confused consciousness of my cluttered young mind. ‘Mother’ became synonymous with ‘dread.’
That day the chair splintered, my mom taught me how yellow felt. The sun sucked up the color, introducing me to a liquid and hazy hue. Where the sun should caress, it burned. Much like my mother, where it should enlighten and inspire, it ruined and scalded. Yellow whispered provision and renewal but its touch was scorching isolation.
I wish I would have known fences then. I didn’t yet know how to shield myself from suffering. I didn’t know there were things in the world that warranted boundaries at all. And I didn’t learn until later how to form fences. But what I did know even at my young age: yellow was a lie.
If I stood within the little diamonds that formed the chain-link and stretched my neck to the point of strain, I could almost see over the top of the fence and into my neighbor’s yard. The yard was sparsely decorated and always empty. But it held one thing that captivated my attention: an old yellow wooden swing. I didn’t know then that the swing would introduce me to a home that held me better than my own.
I was five when they moved in. I watched as the once barren yard became a miniature amusement park. They added a tire swing, a zip line leading to shallow waters, and a tree house.
Again, I stood in the chain-link, hands raw and red, and wished there were no boundaries.
Through the fence, I called to the blonde boy. “Can I use your swing?” He was currently rocking back and forth on the yellow board I so envied.
The boy shrugged. “I guess, but it’s my turn right now.”
That reluctant statement was all the confirmation I needed.
I finished my trek over the fence and looked behind me. A jungle met my eyes. The bushes barricaded any real view. But the glowing summer jasmine drifted towards me in the breeze, and the bamboo towered behind the wooden shed in the middle of our yard. I had never seen my yard from a visitor’s viewpoint before. But I had an entire amusement park now. Why would I want a jungle?
I turned back to my newfound adventure and found the brash blonde looking at me with crossed arms. “I guess you can have your turn now,” he said, his hand stopping the swing’s sway.
The painted yellow board creaked as it swung me higher. Higher than anywhere I’d ever been before, towards Heaven’s light. The breeze caught my hair, causing the long golden waves to tremor and fall. Up here, the glimmering sun rays caught me with eyes wide open before releasing me into my new reality.
Summers stayed and strayed, leaving in their wake little memories with my new friends: tomboy madness and bunkbed secrets, home-grown garden suppers set inside the lawn-mower-created homemade baseball field on the lawn. There were zip-lined brigades to the shallows at the edge of the yard and tree-house carvings and codes that all disappeared, secreted behind our lips, once we crossed the kitchen’s watery linoleum tiles.
I learned a sense of adventure fences never could confine, and the sunshine was the right shade again: a pale and inviting saffron that saturated my very bones.
Chicken Wire: From A Viewpoint Across the Fence
The finish rubs off in your hands, cheap chicken-wire plastic yielding to iron. Fingertips rusty and red, you guide the wire around its new partner: damp wood embraces the weakened, feigned fibers.
Sunshine has birthed this day, and you think it forged her, too. Today, she smells of lavender and sweat swirled with a spice and sweetness you can’t quite put your finger on. Her hair glints violet in this afternoon’s summer. She was blonde long ago, but you think she looks better this way, more real. Occasionally, she pushes her hair over her shoulders in your direction as if it wasn’t already magnetic enough. As if you weren’t already hopelessly welded to its shimmer.
The heat kisses her cheeks crimson, and you know that, later, once she’s washed the day off and her cold palms find her face, she’ll tell you she should have worn sunscreen. And you told her so. Had told her that the lemon summer wouldn’t hesitate to cook everything in its path, including her. Her stubbornness should bother you—especially when it hurts her—but, instead, it pours through you like honey: warm and lilac.
Your eyes braze her body, fluid hips yield to sharp ribs that soothe. She stiffens and turns at the waist, purposely accentuating the curves your hands cradle like a Catholic holds a rosary.
She smiles. And her cheekbones display it well. Her happy coaxes her spine straighter and lightens her russet eyes. The same smile that encapsulates and enchants strangers is yours. All yours. Damp earth stains the crimson stain across her cheeks. Yet, somehow, she seems even more warm this way. Like she is honey, too.
The chicken wire hugs the post, its new home, and you hammer in the nail that you hold. Minutes ago, she wouldn’t stop asking you to let her help.
“It’s our garden after all,” she whines, emphasizing the second word.
You wouldn’t hear of it. She could accidentally hammer her finger instead. Her fragile, lily white fingers grip your arm in case the hammer slips. And, even though she hurts herself, you’d never let anything touch her. Lilies, iron, and sunshine were never meant to coexist.
Fences for Miles
I hold tighter, mesh my solvent elbows with the lines of his chest. Maybe, if I hold tighter, it’ll stop his ribs from shaking. Blue so deep it claws its way out in sputters and sobs. An overflowing well: the brim is clouded with murky tears and phlegm-coated words. If he is midnight right now, I am amber. His light in the dark—but I am trying to illuminate my own onyx: splashes of dandelion against a dripping, draining dusk.
Light sparks, flickers, fades. And I am leaving here today. Putting miles of fences between him and I, later and now. He talks, and I cannot hear—words are writing themselves over and over and over again in my head. I’m listening to their slow sprint, their scrawl on the slick velvet canvas of mind over matter: “Maybe if I hold him tighter, it’ll stop his ribs from shaking. Hold him tighter. Tighter. Hold him tighter.”
I don’t pray except during the last eighteen seconds when I’ve been begging God to give him some peace. Plead, wait, hold. Feel amber melt midnight. Pause, wait. Hold. Tighter. Their sprawl is artifice—slipping sharp against silk. I cannot hear him—these words have pulled me too far away into another abyss altogether. But all of the darkest darks look the same.
I listen to rhythm, wager with Myth, and tense in the too-loud dandelion-drenched air. Wisps of shadows sneak in, drench an embrace already flooded with collapsed faces. I want to stay his yellow, but I can’t even be my own.
Roger Lawrence lives in Corpus Christi. He founded the Navy Office of General Counsel for the Chief of Naval Air Training Command. In that capacity he represented the Blue Angels and the National Museum of Naval Aviation. As a sailor, he earned a Coast Guard rescue. He is barred from every golf course in South Texas.
The December cold fronts this year have forced small rodents to seek the warmth of our garages and yards in the Garden Court subdivision of Corpus Christi, Texas. We’re a small, gated community on a half-street adjacent to a swath of coastal marshland along the Oso Creek estuary. For our rodent neighbors, Garden Court is a welcoming refuge area that is just a short march from the marshy bottoms.
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Sarah K. Lenz’s nonfiction has appeared in Crazyhorse, Colorado Review, The Fourth River, The South Dakota Review, Entropy, and elsewhere. Three of her essays have been named Notable in Best American Essays. In 2015 she received the New Letters Readers’ award in nonfiction. She holds an MA in Literature from Boise State and an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing from Georgia College. She teaches composition and literature at Del Mar College, and hosts writing workshops at the Corpus Christi Writer's Studio. Find her on the web at writersstudio.org
Whenever I saw her tricycle, with its giant reflectors and ugly metal basket, parked under the pine trees by the pool house, my heart sank. Painted royal blue, her trike was the same shade as my family’s ancient and embarrassing Plymouth. (Everyone else drove minivans.) Whenever my mom dropped me off, I’d slam the Plymouth’s door extra hard.
The Tricycle Lady disgusted me. I’d see her pedaling around town, handlebars quivering, her body jerking and lurching, her bones twisted with some kind of palsy. She might have been retarded, too. It was hard to tell. She wore her dark hair in a Pixie cut that made her seem a lot younger than she must have been, but the sagging skin around her mouth gave her away. As she churned the pedals her skirt rode up, exposing milky thighs scored with blue veins.
A peculiar creature among the kids playing Marco Polo, the Tricycle Lady began her swims with a dive off the low board and plunged under the rope dividing the deep end from the kiddie section. From there she’d Aussie-crawl the width of the pool to the ladder and hoist herself out. Cutting through the chlorinated water with smooth buoyancy, she looked almost graceful. On dry land she was a mess of clunky limbs.
Even when submerged, the Tricycle Lady got on my nerves. She never strayed from her path. If you got in her way she’d crash right into you. The thought of her deformed flesh stroking mine struck terror in my thirteen-year-old heart. Like the other kids at the pool, I gave her a wide berth. Some even made a game of it, standing neck-deep directly in her path, then scattering like minnows as she neared. On the pool deck, she’d drag her clubfoot back to the low diving board and start all over again.
For as long as I could remember she’d been a fixture at the pool, but it wasn’t until the summer before eighth grade that it started to bug me. That’s when it occurred to me that she had no clue how repulsive she was.
Unlike her, I knew perfectly well how repulsive I was, and had been doing my best to fix it. I did a hundred sit-ups a day to flatten my round tummy and endured the stench of Nair (razor bumps—so disgusting!). I’d stopped swimming, since it smeared my mascara. Still, Mom dropped me off every afternoon at the pool, where I’d sunbathe by the chain link fence. If I got lucky I’d catch a glimpse of Clint Philips. He lived in a two-story Craftsman right across the street from the pool. Sometimes he’d play basketball or jump on his trampoline in front yard, executing somersaults that made my heart do a backflip. From his dimpled smile to his chiseled calf muscles, Clint represented my ideal of physical perfection.
That afternoon I waited only a few minutes before Clint appeared, riding his BMX in lazy loops up and down his driveway. I longed to call out to him, but I knew he was out of my league, being both a grade ahead of me and just too popular. The last time we had spoken—the week school let out for summer—was in band class. I’d knocked over a music stand, almost hitting him with it. My best friend, Kimberly, who knew Clint from the First Christian Church, had called me earlier that day to tell me she’d seen him at youth group flirting with Shandra, the most popular girl in our school.
I heard his mother yell, “Clint, telephone!” He dropped his bike and disappeared into the house. It was probably Shandra calling. No sooner did Clint leave than the Tricycle Lady rounded the corner of the pool deck, hobbling straight toward me. Three boys practicing cannonballs dashed in front of her. One of them must have tripped her, because a second later, she fell in a puddle a few feet from me, smacking the wet concrete next to me like a dead fish. Her arm struck me across my calf as she tried to catch herself. In a split second she had violated my personal space. I jumped back, startled by the feel of her cold, wet skin.
“Sorry,” she said.
“It’s okay.” I said, automatically, but as I watched her jerk to her feet, I realized it was okay. My mind rushed to that day in band when I tripped and embarrassed myself in front of Clint.
“Are you all right?” I asked. I still gripped my towel protectively.
She grunted an answer I couldn’t understand, turned toward the diving board, and began her route again. As I watched, she seemed like the bored polar bear I’d seen at the Henry Doorley Zoo, the one who relentlessly swam the same loop over and over, stroke by identical stroke. Was the Tricycle Lady’s repetitive behavior a coping mechanism? Like the polar bear, did she feel imprisoned by her disability? Or maybe it was a symptom of some mental illness like OCD?
My dry hair and swimsuit suddenly felt parched in the July sun. I longed to plunge into the water myself. I didn’t know how to dive, but I went to the low-board anyway. I pinched my nose closed and jumped like a lead weight, feet-first, into the deep end. I broke the surface of the water, and as I cut across the pool with an awkward front crawl, I felt the rush of pleasure from the cool water and the light buoyancy of my limbs. When I reached the edge of the pool where it was shallow enough to stand, I stood up and wiped the stinging chlorine-water from eyes. Smears of black mascara and eye makeup inked my fingertips. I looked around, suddenly fearful that someone from school would see me. As I scanned the pool for my classmates, I saw the Tricycle Lady again back at the diving board. She smiled, closed her eyes, and leapt for it: an amazing, arched dive, so streamlined it raised only the smallest splash.
At that moment I knew it wasn’t mental illness that compelled the Tricycle Lady. It was bliss. I’d seen it wash over her face just before she dove. Her routine, I suddenly realized, was admirable because she was doing something for the sheer pleasure of it, regardless of what anyone who saw her thought. I had a hard time remembering the last time I’d done something like that for me, without thinking about what Clint or Kimberly or even Shandra would think.
I grabbed the handrails of the poolside ladder, hoisted myself out of the pool, and walked back to the diving board, taking my place in line. This time, I told myself, I’m doing this just because it feels good.
Shannon Dougherty has English and creative writing degrees from Southern Methodist University and the University of Texas at Austin. Her poetry has appeared in Acorn, Modern Haiku, Oyster River Pages, and The Chaffin Journal. She has lived in Corpus Christi for fifteen years.
Kept fed, the bull alligator
basks on the grass
by the pretend stream
like a child’s abecedarian picture book
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Sydney Spangler is a senior English student at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi pursuing a minor in creative writing. She is the managing editor of the Windward Review, a literary journal showcasing the unique narratives of South Texas, the Coastal Bend, and the border, and a writing intern for Marketing and Communications at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
When I was a child I would take a straw and blow air into my chocolate milk until the bubbles overflowed, making a mess of the table. I was six years old and sitting in the kitchen alone. My parents liked the phrase, “Children are not meant to be seen not heard”. They slept in separate bedrooms; I was faced with two doors instead of one. There was no open-door policy. I spent my time in books and television and toys. Looking back now, I was lucky to have parents who would buy dolls and stuffed animals for a little boy.
My favorite stuffed toy was a beanie baby named Trumpet. He was a Christmas gift from some aunt I never met. I received him in the second grade. At that time, I slept with my mother. She would scare me at night. Her eyes watching me in the dark, a protective gaze that felt predatory. I kept Trumpet by my side. At night, I would tuck him in; a silent “I love you” exchanged.
Comradery was not something my parents excelled at. My father’s interactions with me were minimal. My mother’s interactions were threatening.
My father worked nights. Sometimes, on a Saturday, he would take me to the park. I was always too scared to play with other children—afraid I would somehow disappoint at basic human interaction; afraid of their gaze as I struggled to connect. We would sit on a bench and watch the kiddos play tag. My dad, sitting next to me with a cap shielding his eyes from the sun, would tap me on the arm, “Tag. You’re it,” before getting up and faux running away. Eventually I would break away from my father and play with the other kids or find myself sitting in a wooden enclosure, like a hideout, where kids would graffiti on the wood. Phone numbers, stick figures, S luvs M. Bffs 4eva. Call me if you wanna have a good time. Hidden by wooden bars, I watched children live.
“Let’s go to the swings!” my dad would call out.
I didn’t like heights, but my dad would push me forward propelling me towards the sky. It was scary. I was frightened as my body approached the top, my little grubby hands gripping the chains like it was a matter of life or death, but I appreciated the view. The blue sky seemed limitless; my body—my small little child body—soared.
William Henneberger is a first amendment advocate and borderline-diabetic liberal with $43 dollars in the bank. He used to go by Billy but is now called Wil – yes, with one “L”.
For a hot second, he was a television newswriter and producer for Corpus Christi’s CBS affiliate.
A baker’s dozen years ago, he professionalized the zine he started in college, to its current newsprint version. He has since acted as publisher, “editor”, graphic designer, salesperson, and writer for The Vent Daily: A Monthly Publication, which consists of highbrow satire, lowbrow comedy, and (unibrow?) celebrity interviews.
Wil’s favorite suicided writer is David Foster Wallace, even though he has only read his short stories. His favorite living (at time of print) writer is Chuck Klosterman.
He has impregnated his legal wife twice, in 1998 and in 2006 and is very proud of the results. Wil’s life is defined by a constant struggle with the fact that he has a younger, thinner, more successful brother.
I love Tom Cruise. So what if he’s nuts or part of some religion crazier than all the other crazy religions? When I look at Mr. Cruise I see a go-getter, a winner who conquered dyslexia and Katie Holmes. Say what you will about the zealous movie star, but I will always be a fan, and not just because of my family’s odd connection to that charming man.
If I had to praise one thing about this Federal Prison camp it would be the individual showers, but if I had to praise two things, the second would be the Recreation Department. Some long-time guests of the Federal Bureau of Prisons say that Rec is better behind the fence at the larger, low-security prison down the street or even at other camps, but for a short-timer like myself it’s hard to complain. Sure, the Trivial Pursuit set was from 1995, but any later edition might put those who have been ‘down’ (incarcerated) for the last 20 years at a disadvantage.
My favorite leisure activity on the inside was playing pool, which accounts for my early purchase of this 1980’s hit by Warren Zevon. There is no Google in prison so I’m operating by memory alone, but in my mind Werewolves of London was part of the Color of Money soundtrack. Specifically, played over one of several Scorsesian montages of pool-hustler Vincent (played by, yes, Tommy Cruise) doing his thing. His thing being sinking shot after shot and swinging his pool-cue around like a certain reptilian-martial-artist-inventor. I listen to Werewolves of London on repeat through my headphones while I play the sport of criminals. Now if I could only make a shot.
According to my mom, once upon a time my old man was a fairly successful pool hustler. She speaks fondly of the times she would head out of the bar just before a game concluded to position the car for a quick getaway. I remember my dad first introducing me to this geometric art in the bar owned by his mother. During an early 80's Christmas visit to my Depression-era Grandparents double-wide trailer home, dad and I walked the fifty yards to Penny's Place where I stood on a crate to reach the velvety green plane. My old man gave me my first English lesson before the professional drunks arrived. The novelty of this adorable scene must have worn thin because I don’t recall playing much pool with my dad as I grew older. If he was trying to avoid his misspent youth, he could have at least given me some pointers in that too.
In the month between finding out my prison date and turning myself in, my top priority was to spend as much time as I could with my children, especially my 8-year-old daughter. We watched all 6 Star Wars movies (my picks) plus Ponyo, Spirited Away and Annie (hers). We practiced pitching for kickball and I took her to her first Pool Hall. I'm sure it is the prison-time talking but one thing I’ve decided in here is that when I get out I'm going to turn my daughter into a billiards prodigy. She seemed to enjoy the game and took to it well. I’m also pretty sure I’m the only idiot father sending her letters from prison, explaining the rules of 9-ball. I can already imagine the Color of Money reboot with Tom in Paul Newman’s role and introducing Suri Cruise as Lillian, the young pool shark hustling for enough cash to bail her dead-beat-dad out of the slammer. You’re welcome Hollywood.
In 1985 my dad was an extra in Top Gun. The Tony Scott adrenaline rush was filmed in part, at Miramar Base near San Diego, CA, where we were stationed for the greater part of the 80’s. Toward the end of the movie when the crew of the Aircraft Carrier surrounds Maverick to celebrate whatever vague mission he had accomplished, one of those unidentifiable sailors is the man who squirted me out 30-some odd years ago. The background role was no big deal, certainly unpaid and nothing that would qualify him for S.A.G. membership, but dad did bring home an autographed photo of the actor. That leads me to believe that under the right circumstances he might actually express some appreciation for the Arts, specifically if his dead-beat son was to ever write a book or maybe a Top Gun remake starring Suri Cruise as a young hotshot fighter pilot, taking on the rogue nation that has her daddy locked up (I'm in a very particular headspace these days).
Most likely, my apparent daddy issues are part of the reason I've always wished to excel in the art of sticks and balls. On the outside my allotted billiards time diminished, due to the distractions of everyday life. I never practiced enough to get great. I could win 7 out of 10 games when I played anyone in my circle and I was content with what my dad might call mediocrity. Surely he can still easily put me in my place over that green felt, if he ever took the time to try… (one tear).
In prison camp I spent 2-3 hours a day playing pool. The winner held the table so a good portion of these hours consisted of waiting for my next game. To get in line you knock on the table and find out who is last in line. There are two worn-out but functional tables and about twenty inmates who played regularly (ten who played daily). I learned in my skateboarding days that if you want to get good at something it's best to practice with people who are better than you. With this in mind I had no problem getting destroyed by a big black inmate named Ross. (I’m still talking about pool, sicko). I could beat Ross about twenty percent of the time but my dormant geometric skills were awakening, and he could see that I was no joke. He started to give advice at a ratio of one tip for every three insults. Ross was a good friend and while we ended up here through very different criminal ventures, we had a lot in common, like watching independent films, political views, and misguided intelligence. A couple of months into my sentence, Ross broke his arm, yet continued to run the table on me regularly.
If prison pool isn't your preference there are plenty of other options from board games to ball games to leather play, I mean leather craft, even spinning. The recreation department for someone with a relatively short sentence seems bottomless, but I understand how these activities could stale over the years.
Sedentary time killers include Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble and my personal favorite, Risk. No Monopoly—I heard that was because the money could be used as some form of prison currency. No game of Life, probably since we've already lost at life—no need to rub it in. Just remember when you check out a game, those dice better be in the box upon return. The recreation boss cop does not take kindly to bathroom corner crap games. There are also some random 1000 piece puzzles. You can assemble the one of cute little kittens and get a sorry excuse for a YouTube fix.
Dominoes, chess sets and playing cards can be purchased through commissary. Pinochle cards can also be brought at the store but since I don't have the slightest idea what pinochle is, I'm not going to mention it any further. Table games are only allowed after four pm. By 6:30 it's almost impossible to find a flat surface not being used for some kind of play. If a locker is empty, turn that baby on its side and shuffle up. After some new friends taught me how to play Gin Rummy and spades, among several other games, I realized how quickly you could burn through four or five hours. Anything you can learn to eat up the month/year is very much appreciated in Prison camp.
Health conscious prisoners have an even greater selection of activities to maintain weight and physical condition. The track and exercise equipment are available all day long. If your prison camp job only takes an hour or two you can take advantage of your free time. Most of us, however, work until three p.m., which is when the Rec Yard explodes like an inmate at a conjugal. (Sorry that was uncalled for. Conjugal visits don't even exist anymore; that was just gratuitous sexual imagery. I have a problem.)
Prisoners look at you strangely if you opt to stay indoors in the afternoons or weekends. Even the guys who don't participate in team sport will at least go walk the track once in a while. Then you have the guys who really walk the track— ten to fifteen miles a day. However, much like in the Old West, not many people run for fun. With hours and days and months and years of exercise time, it's common knowledge to go for a low impact routine.
Another link in the Tom Cruise connection chain: my younger brother was an extra in the War of the Worlds reboot. He was in a group of background actors who, along with Tom and a Fanning progeny, were running through a field to escape death by alien laser-beam. I don't want to infringe on a story that isn't mine, but you get the point: my family must be cosmically bound to the greatest actor of most Tom Cruise movies.
Aside from walking/running you can also pick from a variety of sports according to the season. Basketball is mostly six on six pick-up while football, volleyball, softball, and futbol are more organized. With only 200 campers, the sport leagues usually consist of about four teams who go 'round and 'round with one another. Handball is the most popular sport, basically racquetball without the racquets and against only one wall. I tried it a few times but wasn't willing to callous the palms of my prissy little creative-class hands. There were racquets available but getting by in prison requires one to fine tune the art of minimalism.
If you prefer a little less cardio you can demonstrate your hand-eye coordination at the horseshoe court(?) field(?) sandbox(?). I'm going with sandbox. If tossing footwear still stresses your heart rate, you might need to take it easier and roll some bocce ball, the only game with benches incorporated into the court. Not to brag, but those benched ballers say I'm a natural, a real bocce phenom.
For anyone who hasn't yet given up on his bodies, working out is a big deal. Some campers build their entire routine around their regimen. I get it; if you’re losing years of your life inside, you want to make the most of the time you will have in the free world. Staying healthy and living longer is the only way some inmates can gain back the five, ten, or twenty years some guys have paid for their crimes. I'm lucky enough to have dropped weight simply from the lack of fast food. Either that or the couple of times I went to softball practice really paid off.
I've never been in a Tom Cruise film, but I’m darn sure going to try and keep this odd new tradition going, and hopefully even pass it along to my son. Still, if missing Maverick is my lot in life, maybe getting Goose is a good enough consolation for this gander. When I was 11 years old, watching one of my dad’s softball games on Naval Air Station Kingsville, one of the young sailors next to me asked if I had seen Top Gun. Of course I had. He informed me that Goose from the movie happened to be in the stands, spectating. Amazed, I scrambled for pen and paper and politely approached him for an autograph. He signed my scratch piece of paper. I was ecstatic. What were the odds of Goose being in Texas and at my father’s softball game? I gave it about as much thought as any kid with just over a decade of Earth residency would. Cut to, one divorce and two custody battles later I was almost an adult, properly jaded and much more cynical about life and all of its serendipitous celebrity sightings. I found myself wondering about this bizarre encounter and figured I now had the where-with-all to find out if that really was Maverick’s co-pilot and Meg Ryan's beau or if 11-year-old me was just being pranked by a couple of trashcans. It didn't take much detective work. I dug the autograph out of the bottom of a drawer and immediately felt my first ever dose of mortification as I read on the torn-edged slip of paper, not the signature of actor Anthony Edwards, but instead the printed word; “GOOSE”.