Shut the hell up, for a change

Miriam won’t be seen in public with me these days & I don’t blame her

You’re sitting in your mom’s house, eating too much of her leftover food, playing with the progeny among her things, looking at photos you don’t remember ever having seen before, laughing and crying simultaneously at the proposterous nature of you and your family.

We’re all struggling in some way or other. If you deny that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

Perhaps you like being alone.

Normally the thought of having zero contact with anyone would’ve sounded amazing. You’d have taken that deal in a heartbeat.

Now look at you. How’s that ‘i hate everyone’ stance looking now, you hypocritical fool?

Perhaps you’re rarely alone in your normal daily life with work obligations and family commitments.

And now?

How’re you distracting yourself now?

Perhaps you read articles about an uptick in domestic violence during times like these and think, ‘That could never happen to me. I certainly would never do that.’

Then your husband or partner smacks his lips while he’s eating, like he’s done since right after you both got married to be honest, and you think to yourself, ‘Why isn’t there more domestic violence?’

Your partner knows how to push your buttons like nearly no-one else.

My mother was a master button pusher of mine. She knew exactly where my buttons were.

Very few people have that knowledge that she possessed.

Where my most vulnerable spots are.

Brother Michael & me with the parental unit

At this point, it’s just my brother from the original four of us. He’s much more polite than I’ve ever managed to be, so it’s mostly me offending and then scraping and begging for forgiveness.

It’s a joy, I tell you. But I bring it on myself. If I knew how to act right most of the time, I wouldn’t struggle with people.

Right?

It just so happens that this #covid19 pandemic means for me that I have much more interaction these days with the people I least want to deal with.

Family.

They’re never easy cooped up in close quarters. What would we do these days without connection to the outside world?

To the people we normally tolerate ‘out there’?

Ask my brother Michael about Luling, Texas. We might still be traumatised by that story.

I know I am.

Stuck in a hotel room after we slid on black ice and totalled our van, we got to spend an inordinate amount of quality time together that week. It felt like a month in that godforsaken tiny hotel room.

I’ll never forget my dad accusing one of us of being passive aggressive and my response?

Dude, you’re like a year or two dry and clearly aa isn’t working for you, you old coot. Go back to your psycho babble meetings and learn about projection.

I was a joy, huh?

Want another dark family story?

Our trip driving my stuff home from Cincinnati, after finally finishing school.

Brother Michael and I were so loving toward one another that I almost walked away from the car and took a train.

Dramatic, much?

Ask my wife. I’m a pleasure to live with.

Now, aside from Miriam and our kid, all of you people are here inside my phone.

Both available and not available at the weirdest most inappropriate times.

If you want some advice you didn’t ask for, I’d say shut the hell up for a change.

I assure you I’m trying to practise what I preach.

With questionable results.

Thanks to this virus, we’re all forced to live closer to someone most of us have been running from for years if not decades.

Ourselves.

Brother Michael, Fafa, Nana & me

Taco Tuesdays and this ridiculous overblown virus nonsense

My dad Bill Auvenshine

Passed a texmex restaurant called Casa Olé on our way through Brenham, Texas the other day and it got me thinking. I told my wife the story, and she said, ‘You should write about that.’

Well, I always do what my wife tells me. Right, Miriam? Yeah, ok. That’s not entirely true. I try to at least consider what she says, before I do what I wanted to begin with. Back to the story, though.

Casa Olé was an institution when I was growing up — even went to one years later in Pasadena, Texas of all places with my then girlfriend & her family, I think.

It was the same bad texmex goodness as it’d always been. We ate a lot of that stuff, if I recall correctly.

We used to joke that dad could pay our lunch money with his beer bottle deposits from the Ragin Cagun we lived near in the Gulfton ghetto.

It was no joke.

The things that pass for frivolity when your mom’s then boyfriend, soon to be 3rd husband is drinking himself into a catatonic state on a nightly basis.

People love to talk about what a great man our dad was, and I hope I’m as revered and loved as he was at the end.

The jury’s still out, but I doubt I can make the impact on people’s lives that he did once he put the plug in the proverbial jug and gave up drinking for good.

But when we were little? Me, nine, and brother Michael, seven, hanging out in the Sunny’s parking lot while Bill, mom’s aforementioned dude, was inside playing pacman and swilling Lone Stars.

Where was mom? Teaching night school at UH Downtown, which was one of three gigs she had if you counted slinging Avon.

I still despise Avon. Even the look of one of their bags makes me cringe.

Why weren’t we at home eating chefboyardee Ravioli, which ol’ Bill had become expert at plopping out of a can into our gullets.

Our incessantly growing appetites as we transformed from children toward teenagerhood.

We were mere babes at this point. Nine and seven years old, hanging out at the local convenience store while a man we barely knew got wasted on cheap Texas beer and there we were.

In his charge.

He turned into a fine man, though. That’s all that matters, right? We’re all doing the best we can with the tools we were given.

I shared something I wrote here with a friend and he asked me very nonchalantly when I was going to be getting over my pity party?

Everyone had a rough childhood in one way or another.

Just get over it.

Really.

My wife insists I’m too negative here. She asks something like, ‘This is how you process your grief? Out in the open where everyone can see it?’

I guess so.

Maybe not.

Perhaps I should reconsider.

Here’s the thing, though. Whenever I write something truly raw, somebody thanks me and says my words somehow helped them.

I can’t ever predict how what I write is going to help somebody else. It’s a weird alchemy, if you ask me.

Read that New Yorker article about Prince and he hated that word alchemy. While I understood his point, I have no problem comparing writing to it.

You take something dirty and embarrassing. Something good people wouldn’t share openly. Or good isn’t the right word.

Thoughtful people wouldn’t do what I do here. It might be circumspect and ponderous. That’s what I’m going for, by the way.

Ponderous.

And weirdly, whether it’s clear or not, hopeful. I’m trying to work through this stuff from my childhood, because it makes me hopeful.

That my kid doesn’t have to deal with what I did. She can have a whole ‘nother bag of issues that I’ve hopefully not made worse.

Ponderous and hopeful.

What d’you think? Am I succeeding?

Leave your thoughts in the comments here.

Not on feckbook.

I hate that place.

and the Rockets red glare, as they fell through the air — gave proof for that night that we threw shots of air

My brother, Michael Knowles, and my friend Cay (Cathryn Cummings) and her brother Scott were all disappointed with the Houston Rockets poor showing last night, and I was similarly less than impressed.

I’m reminded of when they won their first of two titles, and I was teaching at a summer clarinet workshop — actually, I was helping a guy do his workshop (can’t even remember that dude’s name).

I was dancing on cars on 59 south in front of the Summit the night before, and then there I was in Klein or Spring the next morning pretending not to be hungover

The next year? I was on my way to Chicago, but I stayed in Houston one last night to watch them lose to the Spurs and make their second title all the more unlikely.

They won — beat the Magic in four, if I remember correctly — which was ironic, because that’s who beat us last night.

The friends who took us to the game were apparently tired after a long weekend, and we could all sigh as we hugged each other goodbye and headed for our respective cars.

The brother, who I only knew as a younger more serious version of my friend when we were younger, went onto seminary and now he serves at a church called Peace down somewhere in Pearland.

My friend, who I’ve been close to since she started giving me rides home in her dad’s old Mustang, has been there with me and for me since we were mere babes. Well, high school babes, but still babes.

My brother was probably watching the game at home and likely turned it off in disgust at some point in the 2nd or 3rd quarter.

It’s hard to do that when you’re in the arena where they’re actually playing.

However, the baby was irritable and I took my cue. I looked around the Toyota Center, smiled at all of my former fellow Houstonians and happily walked outside.

I got in the car and looked up at the city’s skyline.

My city.

The one where I’d been raised, where I’d slept on people’s couches until I was no longer welcome. The one where I slept in my car until the car didn’t run anymore.

The city we returned to from Germany in the mid 70s. Where the flavour of racism was still country fried and not yet so cosmopolitan as it is now.

I remembered the city in my friend Helen’s screenplay for that 90s film Reality Bites and all the true stories that actually made it into the movie.

Finally, I remembered my mother having brought us here, rather than going back to West Texas, where we were originally from, and this being the big city that everyone elsewhere complains about.

When I lived in Cincinnati, people from anywhere in the tristate area (Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana) complained about Cinti.

Where I live now? Munich might be a tourist destination, but it’s anything but beloved by many of the citizens of neighbouring villages. And don’t even get a Berliner or Hamburger started on what a non city Munich is.

It’s a ridiculous thing about humans, by the way. City people are this way and country people are that way.

Really?

Okay, got it.

How about we try this instead:

Most people from x are like y…wait, though. You can’t qualitatively say that, can you? It’s lazy rhetoric, even.

My family came from (seemingly) nothing and amassed a bit of dosh.

It’s being squandered, as we speak.

It’s what people do.

Someone dies, people either fight about or accept the wishes of the deceased and then they move on.

Period.

Oh, but wait.

Here’s where it gets tricky.

This part could be nice, but instead people let their egos rule this next part.

Who loved mom more. Who she preferred and how she showed her love.

My brother and I are fortunate in this respect. She might’ve had an amazing bond with me, but my brother Michael and I were each loved equally best.

We were encouraged to follow our passions, while my dad quietly insisted that we went to actual schools. He didn’t want me going to the music conservatory in St. Louis (even if it did have classes at Washington University), and it turned out he was right.

The music school would coincidentally shut its doors within the year, which proved my dad right without him having to say a word.

So, here’s the rub. They often were right. They knew what was best and they tried to say it in a kind and gentle way.

They weren’t perfect, though.

My dad looked at me as I was trying to start an exercise regimen, and he visibly scoffed.

He insisted, ‘Why bother? You’re just going to trail off and never jump rope again. Why even bother getting started?’

Great message, Dad.

Good talk.

Where’s Oma? Her progeny and namesake looking everywhere for the old lady — how we wish we could get her on the phone just one last time

My small daughter favours her Oma, which often confuses me in the weirdest moments. She’ll make a face that looks like her mama’s mama, but her whole demeanor and physical appearance is such a mix between my wife, Miriam, and my mother, Martha Frances.

As they say, she went to meet her maker a few weeks back, so I’m in Texas dealing with the fallout.

My brother, Michael, and his wife, Sara, and their kids have done so much that Miriam and I are at mom’s house wondering how we can be useful.

One thing I’ve decided is to organise her books. Some I want, but honestly? How many copies of ‘Liturgy for Living’ does one really need? I’ve got one now, if you’d like it. You may have it.

While I respect and honour my mother and her work, I don’t quite understand most of what her books had to do with her actual life. It’s too big a question to answer here, and to be candid even positing the question properly would take a lot of time.

Instead I’ll focus on the books I did find. She assured me while I was on the phone in Munich and she back here in Houston, that she wasn’t afraid of dying.

She insisted she had a few years left if not more. Even the second to last time we spoke, I said goodbye and had the weirdest feeling it’d be the last conversation we had.

I told her, and she responded, ‘Oh, darling. It’s nothing like that. I’ll be here much longer — I’m already feeling better and you and your brother are overreacting.’

Famous last words, eh?

So the next day, she called and the baby was already awake. As was their custom, the baby took the phone and walked away so she could get some alone time with her Oma.

They went in the other room – my mom on the screen thanks to FaceTime – and they proceeded to enjoy each other’s company. My loving and sometimes gentle mother and her namesake an ocean away. Singing and cooing and just being really adorable.

Watching them together sometimes made me think of that scene in The Godfather whereMarlon Brando’s character plays In the garden with his small grandchild.

That was it, though. The phone call. Their, and I suppose our, last conversation. And my kid hogged the phone. She’s only one year old!

I miss my mom, but as soon as I write that I realise everything that comes out of my mouth next is palaver.

Clichés, if you will.

She’s in a better place.

She’s no longer in pain.

She’s finally able to be back with her family that she had missed so much.

I suppose all of those things are true.

I guess.

Somehow.

Yet it doesn’t stop me missing her. Wishing she could be here in person to delight in this beautiful child growing and learning.

I just want to open FaceTime and click on the little green button next to her picture I want to hear her West Texas accent answer, ‘Hello?’

Her voice gentle as I tell her one of my problems, stern if I admit Miriam and I’ve been fighting again, and hopeful when I speak of a new job or opportunity — her voice, that melodious and lovely sound.

How I wish I could just get her on the phone.

Hear her tell me again what she said nearly daily for almost fifty years. Hear her once again profess her love. Once again say it and expect me to say it back, which often annoyed me.

That manipulation. You just told me you love me and now I have to say it back? Why? Every time?

The protestations of a recalcitrant teenager, right? Right.

Say what you want, but I’ll leave this with one last thing. I’ve got few regrets in life, but now I wish I’d responded better to her love. Wish I’d seen it it for what it was.

Her very best. All she could give. All she could manage. Sometimes not up to my standard. Often not the kind or flavour of love I demanded.

Wish I could hear her in person or on the phone assure me of her love. Wish I could say it back.

One last time.

Just one last time.

losing what little grasp of reality I still had, while God was quietly laughing

focus on where you want to go, not where you are

You‘ve got a plan? Really?

Good luck with that.

When I was a teenager, my only two goals in life were not to be an alcoholic like my dad and to avoid English teaching.

Like my mom.

Guess what.

Since moving back to Germany in 2001, after living here as a small child, and finding out my clarinet playing wasn’t an option anymore (the Germans play a different system of clarinet apparently), I had to find a new career.

And start drinking, of course.

When in doubt, drinking is always an option. It takes the edge off. Makes you tolerable. Made me tolerable, at least. Or so I’m told.

Until it didn’t.

About to celebrate another not drinking anniversary and to be blunt, it’s about the best decision I’ve made up until now.

Not judgmental about others and their drinking, at least I try not to be, but for me it just wasn’t working anymore. I was losing what little grasp of reality I still had.

While God looked on. Quietly.

Now? My relationship with reality? Not so good.

As my alcoholic dad used to say:

‘Oh well.’

I wasn’t going to write about this, but then I read something and it touched me.

At that point I thought, ‘Oh, jeez. Am I really going to blather on about something as dreary and boring as how I used to be?’

Apparently I am.

I drank so poorly while back in Texas, that I was banned from quite a few of my favourite drinking establishments.

After driving my 1985 diesel Daimler into the front of a cafe in the Montrose, I apparently offended some of the patrons, as well as a friend of the owner.

A few months later, that same friend happened to be drinking at Valhalla, on the campus of Rice University, and announced in a loud voice as I entered, ‘If that guy’s allowed to drink here, I’m leaving.

Notorious isn’t the right word.

Sad.

I was sad. And sad to watch, purportedly.

As my car deteriorated, while parked in the Fiesta parking lot at W. Alabama and Dunlavy, my closest friends drove by and often considered how I could be helped.

I couldn’t be.

Their help I wanted was for them to spot me a tenner, so I could get some Shiner Bock and a fifth of whiskey.

Incorrigible.

Hopeless.

Without a rudder.

Back to how I began this whole thing.

My plan?

Not to start drinking again, that’s for damned sure.

I’ve been trying for nearly twenty years to move past English teaching as a job thing.

Have worked as a translator, journalist, Texter (as the Germans call a copywriter), dog trainer, babysitter, patent law clerk, stage hand, personal coach and I even spent a few hours doing Premier League colour commentary for an online betting company.

That was a lot of fun, to be honest.

All of it while not drinking.

Now?

I get gigs for translation, and at this point the odd opportunity to write an article comes along rarely.

An editor reaches out and asks if I can write about Pegida or some such nonsense — I always try to be available for such things. They normally fall apart before they ever get out out of the negotiation stage.

Am I difficult? I don’t think I am.

Ask my wife.

Wait, don’t ask her.

Ask my dog instead. She thinks I’m great.

Or she used to, I should say.

Some unemployed people say they’re ‘between jobs’.

Instead, I’m between dogs.

It’s miserable.

So? What’re you gonna do?

Good question.

You tell me.

Maybe write a book. Who would even want to read such a thing?

Maybe go back to northern Spain to walk the Jakobsweg.

Perhaps Miriam, the progeny, our new dog, and I should just go permanently back to our place in Italy and just enjoy the good life.

Make a plan and God laughs.

Sometimes louder than other times.

Can you hear him laughing now.

Softly.

Faintly.

It’s there if you listen.

He’s got quite a sense of humour, that God.

I don’t put anything past him.

That God.

Which side are you on? I used to play for the Dark one, but I’m more and more Jedi the older I get

My brother Michael and I both love Star Wars, but he’s much more obsessed than I’ve ever been. It’s one of his many obsessions, while another that fascinates him is history.

He’s a clever guy, which means you can easily get into a long discussion with him about the newest movie. Or one of the old ones.

We saw the very first of the now 9 or 10 films back in 1977 at the Shamrock Cinema in Houston. I vividly remember that day/evening, because once again we were late.

We were always late in those days. Somehow we got there to the cinema. Somehow. They let us go in late and then stay for the 2nd showing.

So only then did we know how the movie actually started.

As a child, I thought the Dark Side had a lot more to offer. Only with a lot of time and a bit of wisdom have I finally realised that the Dark Side is hypocritical to its core.

I assumed as a younger person that the American government must’ve been the rebels, but I’ve luckily had a change of perspective. In this 21st century, we Anglo Americans are simply the Empire. No matter what you say.

It’s another inconvenient truth. Sadly.