Sunday, March 30, 2008

Escaping Reality

In the Sahara
For the past few mornings I've been learning all about the Sahara Desert from Paul Bowles the American writer and composer who loved Northern Africa, especially Morocco, to the point he lived there for over 40 years of his long 90-year life. One chapter in Bowles's crammed-full-of-great-writing and information little book, Their Heads Are Green and Their Hands Are Blue, is called "Baptism of Solitude." The opening paragraph is classic Bowles:

"Immediately when you arrive in the Sahara, for the first or the tenth time, you notice the stillness. An incredible, absolute silence prevails outside the towns; and within, even in busy places like the markets, there is a hushed quality in the air, as if the quiet were a conscious force which, resenting the intrusion of sound, minimizes and disperses sound straightway. Then there is the sky, compared to which all other skies seem faint-hearted efforts. Solid and luminous, it is always the focal point of the landscape. At sunset, the precise, curved shadow of the earth rises into it swiftly from the horizon, cutting it into light section and dark section. When all daylight is gone, and the space is thick with stars, it is still of an intense and burning blue, darkest directly overhead and paling toward the earth, so that the night never really grows dark." [p 128, "Baptism of Solitude," Their Heads Are Green and Their Hands Are Blue, New York: Ecco Press, 1984.]

It would seem appropriate to escape into a desert given the current condition of the world, except I can't take the heat (how ironic I make such a statement with what's going on in the desert of Iraq right now--the desert in Afghanistan). I'd die the first day there in whatever desert. In the Sahara, it can get 125 degrees Fahrenheit in the day only to drop to 28 degrees Fahrenheit at night. Bowles sez he used to go out into the desert to read and write. It must be wonderful for that, except when the winds come up and fill your nasal passages and covers you from head to toe and covers all your writing and reading with blowing sand.

I grew up on the lone prairie of West Texas, a vast flat almost desert-like extent of land that starts just west of Fort Worth, Texas, and unrolls on out farther west some 400 miles across the southern portions of West Texas on out to far western Texas where the prairie hits the southern tail of the Rocky Mountains that culminates in Guadalupe Peak (El Capitan) the highest point in Texas at almost 8,000 feet. Some parts of this prairie, especially out around Monahans, Wink, Pecos, that area, is almost pure desert, mostly sand--the Pecos Valley used to raise the finest cantaloupes known to man--I don't think so anymore since most of our cantaloupes now come from South America--most of our fruit comes from South America now, especially from Chile. I can recall when fruits from Chile were said to be laced with anti-freeze, a legal way down there of keeping fruit trees from freezing or frosting over during early springs in the Southern Hemisphere. Most of the fruits I buy from my friend the Moslem fruit and nut vendor are tagged that they are from Chile. Every now and then he has organic blueberries from New Jersey, but most of the winter blueberries come from Chile or some come from British Columbia. Blueberries are supposed to be one of the holistic miracle fruits. I've started eating at least one 8-ounce package of blueberries every day along with my two pounds of almonds--combined, blueberries and almonds are supermiraculous, and you know I believe in miracles, right, but still I eat my blueberries and almonds faithfully every day. I still eat steaks, too, though, so I'm a contrary holisticist--in fact, I had a tasty 12-oz. rib eye last night at my favorite Irish pub just up the street--along with mashed potatoes and gravy and a thick onion soup. How devastating was such a meal to my holistic ideals! I didn't give a damn; I love a steak every now and then, like every other day. I know, I know, our cattle are sickly force-fed bulky sad-looking creatures as they are bulldozed onto the killing floors whether they can walk or not--I know there is probably Ebola in our cattle--and I know our cattle are kept alive by tons of antibiotics and vitamins--I know all of this, I was raised out on the prairie, which was at one time a vast grazing land for hundreds of thousands of Hereford cattle that ran from west of my hometown on up high into the Caprock, the beginning of the Panhandle of Texas--short-horned Herefords--a surviving type of cattle who can eat bull nettle and survive--who can eat Gimpson weed and survive--who come herding in at eventide to get some water out of the windmill tank and some salt off the blocks of mineral salt thrown over the floor of their night pens. Range cattle they were called then. Then came feedlot cattle to my part of the world after WWII and these feedlots got bigger and bigger, starting around the cattle auction barns, and eventually feedlots became huge, covering many acres, taking the cattle off the ranges, keeping only the breeding stock and bulls and prize cattle on the ranges and all the fat stock in the feeding pens.

The best steak I ever had? Maybe at the Plaza Hotel in El Paso, Texas, one night after winning big bucks at the Juarez dog track. Certainly at the Lowake Inn Steak House in Lowake, Texas, many times, this little city south of Abilene, Texas, in dry-ass West Texas run by a tribe of Dutchmen--Lowake had an airport it was widely known for its steaks--and the first steak I ever had at Lowake was a Kansas City strip sirloin order (it cost $7.50) that was served to you in a big bowl, maybe 5 strip sirloins in the bowl. You were started off in Lowake with a bowl of soup made from steak drippings and red beans--like a steak chili--then came the platters of steaks and a huge platter of onion rings and then the 16-oz iced mugs of Falstaff beer and off you went on a steak-eating binge. The Porterhouse steaks at Lowake I later learned from personal eating experience were 32-ounces and covered a big platter and were so big their edges draped and messily dripped over the sides of the big platter.

The worst steak I ever had was in Pendleton, Oregon, sheep country, at a steak house-hillbilly radio station (pretty cool idea--the restaurant was inside the radio station and you ate watching the control room and hearing the broadcasts, like I said, mostly hillbilly record playing and advertising jabber in between). My wife and I were driving down from Canada heading back to Santa Fe, New Mexico, back when we were happily married and I had been faithful to her for 3 years, and we started seeing these magnificent signs telling us that it was only 50 miles to the greatest steaks in the USA--then only 40 miles, then only 30 miles, by now both of us were dying for the greatest steaks in the USA, then it was only 25 miles, then 15, 10, 5, and then a huge sign with a giant red arrow that said, "Greatest Steaks in the USA" and was pointing down to this low-level ranch-style building with a huge antenna iron-laddering up over it and declaring down its side the big blue-painted and red-neoned call letters of the radio station, which I don't remember this far into the future. We entered the joint and felt secure--it looked like an idyllic steak house, the lariats on the wall, the giant framed photographs of cowboys roping steers and cattle pens and a railroad siding with cattle being loaded onto cattle cars--and there was a giant cactus in the middle of the room and there was a long bar and a lot of neon beer signs all around plus this big fat jolly dude sitting in a radio control booth playing hillbilly records. Every now and then he'd holler out and when we sat down we heard, "Howdy, you all, where you all from?" I looked around. We were the only ones in the restaurant I suddenly noticed. The hillbilly in the booth was talking to us. "We're from Paris, France," I hollered over to the hillbilly and he started babbling, "Hey, folks, these fine people are from Gay Paree. Inky-dinky-do, Parisiennes--my daddy helped liberate Paris, by golly, so we welcome you all here to Pendleton, Oregon, and I assume you all are gonna have one our great steaks--and we recommend today's chef special, a 16-0z killer sirloin for only $6.95 plus a free mug of Ranier Ale--you can't beat it, folks, whether you're from Paris, France, or from right here in the Pendleton area--everyone in these parts when they think of steak, they think of the radio station steak house." When the waitress came, my wife made out like she only knew Spanish and I tried a little French on the saggy-looking, I assumed, Mormon chick--"I'm sorry, folks, you all are gonna haf to speak a little English or I can't understand you all." We both then started speaking English with our Texas accents. "Wow, I always he'rd you French knew all kinds'a languages--and you actually speak better English than me when you try." With a big laugh she headed off to place our greatest-steaks-in-the-USA order.

The steaks came--with curly-Q french fries, which I hated at the time--and they didn't look to us like the greatest steaks in the USA. First of all, they didn't look like 16-oz steaks, more like 12-oz-ers, and second of all, not only were they not the greatest steaks in the USA but by the time we got the hell out of Pendleton, we unanimously considered them the worst steaks we'd ever eaten--and we had just traveled 12,000 miles around the US and Canada eating Chinese food, seafood, and steaks. We ended up after Pendleton in Burley, Idaho, after spending a full day in Ketcham at Hemingway's grave. In Burley, we booked into a motel right next door to something called, and it's hazy in my memory, the El Rancho Bar and Grill, and soon we were in that southern Idaho cowhand bar eating steaks 10 times better than the greatest steaks in the USA, cowboy steaks we ravenously enjoyed and the next morning as we headed out for New Mexico, the barowner saw us packing our Jag out in the motel parking lot and brought us over a couple of steak sandwiches for the road in a huge paper sack. "On the house," he said as he handed us the big bag of steak delights. Later we ate these steak sandwiches in a city park in Provo, Utah. Um-um good! Washed down with several cold cans of Coors.
 Here's the old Lowake Inn, in Lowake, Texas, looking abandoned--the airfield was in back of this building. <img alt= The old Lowake Inn sitting looking abandoned.
A Lowake steak.
My dad and mom weren't steak eaters simply because in their day and age steaks were for the rich. Yes, we had steaks once a week or so, but they were small cheap cuts if we had real steaks or they were steak cutlets or veal cutlets most of the time. My first real steak as a kid came at the ranch house of my mom and dad's best friends, the Caseys. Old Man Casey barbecued steaks in his special oil-drum smoker out on a deck he'd built out over a huge pond he'd constructed by his main windmill up by the ranch house. We ate steaks out on this deck as the sun was setting in the brilliantly colored western sky that sailed huge and high and darkly coming over us as we ate these wonderful steaks under the high-sky stars. I was a kid, but I knew the flavor of this steak was tickling my kid fancy, the greasy steak juices I mopped up with some ranch-skillet bread--that's all on the plate, a steak and some bread and a bowl of drippings, nothing else except for an oil-drum-barrel-full-of-ice and iced-down Dr. Peppers, Miz Casey's favorite, to which she proudly claimed she was addicted. Dr. Peppers at one time were the Texas National soft drink, there having been formed a Texas company with their main bottling plant in Dallas, just at the south end of Love Field, the once-proud official Dallas airport, which was right in the middle of North Dallas, a heavily populated area.

When I was living on my own finally in Dallas, I was 22, just out of the army, working at my first real job ever, making $127 every two weeks--$254 a month--not a salary one got to eat steak on very much. However, one night my roommate came home from a date and told me about this J&L Steak House and how they had a once-a-week filet mignon special for $2.95 plus a great salad and french fries and all the iced tea you could drink. And I remember those yeah little filet mignons, but wrapped with bacon and grilled to perfection and what wonderful steak dinners I had there over the years until I met my bride-to-be. After our wedding, in her brother's living room, married by her Baptist-preacher father, and her father gave us a hundred dollar bill for his present to us, and we flew out of that living room, still in our wedding clothes, to Ray's Steak House in Big D, and we ate the biggest damn steaks in Dallas on that hundred bucks and had enough left over to plan our move to New Orleans, Louisiana, where we lived for over a year and a half. I don't recall eating a steak in New Orleans--ever! King crab legs, yes! Trout almondine, yes! Boiled crabs, yes! Boiled crawfish, yes (crawdaddies, we called 'em when I was a little tyke)! Red beans and rice with Louisiana sausages cut up in 'em, yes! Filet gumbo, yes! Tujacques roast beef, yes! But steaks? Not any I remember.

for The Daily Growler

thegrowlingwolf: I want to bring notice to you all that Georgie Porgie Bush, our faux "president" who is bent on ruining everything that ever was good about this country, has declared his murderous approval for the NRA-nutjob hunter types to be allowed an open season on grey wolves, especially in our National Parks--We the People's land--opening up these wilderness areas where the wolves live in combatting packs in the most isolated of these park areas to these ruthless hunters who are going to just spasmodically blow hundreds of grey wolves, males, females, pups--blow them to smithereens with AKAs--coming at these wild beautiful beasts on snowmobiles or in Hummers, their AKAs containing huge banana clips of ammunition that can be fired at multirounds a second at a defenseless grey wolf pack--blowing hundreds and hundreds of these once-protected endangered species, which Georgie Porgie took off the endangered list just for this glorious bloodletting occasion--I am, too, sure We the People's government will provide helicopters to herd the wolves into the open so the nutjob hunters can have an easier job of blowing these beautiful animals away. The ultimate reason for this? Bush has promised his rich oilmen part-time rancher buddies--Unka Dick probably has a ranch near Yellowstone Park--I'm sure he'll be out their with his shotgun hunting wolves--don't ya think--or is he still fishing on the Sultan of Oman's yacht?--he's gonna open up more of our National Park wildernesses to cattle ranging. Oh yes, folks, he's opening up those lands to the ranchers and ranchers hate wolves and illegally blow them away every years claiming they attack their animals--and this includes sheepherders, too, don't get me wrong. Bush is also opening up our wilderness by allowing roads to be built into them, which will turn out to be one day logging roads so that lumber companies can go in and log our National Parks. Oh well, I guess I'm just too dumb to see the reason for this madman's ruining our country--and with the approval of 31% of us.

And by the way, I heard a complete sermon by Brother Obama's wild-ass black-aggitatin' preacher Jeremiah Wright--and as a white man, I didn't hear anything in that sermon that wasn't damn-right true about my people who are rich and who do rule this country--like George W. Bush, Jr. Don't ya think Georgie Porgie is a racist? Don't you think Hillbilly Hill from Ark-Can-Saw isn't a racist, too? And Slick Willie? He started this "race" ball a rollin'--hell yeah, sayin', "Don't worry, Hill, I know how to handle the, gotta watch my tongue there--my black child may hear me talkin' like an Ark-kan-sez hillbilly who was born in a lean-to next to the family trailer house--er-ah, oh, I forgot, I was born in a lean-to next to my mother's trailer house...." Don't ya just know it: Bill Clinton's is a racist. Poor Obama; he's got a lot more racism gonna be thrown in his face! Wait'll the Swift Boaters under the Command of War Hero John McCain (even Slick Willie said John McCain was a war hero while Barack Obama is no hero at all) find Obama's mistresses--they found Martin Luther King's mistresses; they found Jesse Jackson's mistresses--you know they're gonna find Obama's, too! And Hillary keeps repeating the words of Lyndon "Big Balls" Johnson who said, "Call him a pig fucker whether he is or not? Let him prove he's not."

a PS for The Daily Growler [Sunday Edition]

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