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    Sugar Land
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    Psychedelics, politics, spillways, electricity, muddy Southern rivers, nightmares, train hopping, hawks, owls, tomcats

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  1. Here's one from deep in my Addicks Archives: The architectural masterpiece shown below--the log cabin I built behind Addicks Dam in the summer of 1976--a collaboration with my best friends. We worked for many weeks during the sweltering summer heat and humidity, risking encephalitis, and using only my small double-bladed hatchet to chop down dozens of hackberry trees and water oaks. After the first two days our hands were so blistered and bloody that we wrapped them in our T-shirts in order to continue work and meet our construction deadline. Our cabin was located in the most secluded place we could find, a sacred spot in the deepest woods, bordered by a cottonmouth-infested swamp and nearby Langham Creek which I renamed Dead Cow Creek because the first time exploring there I discovered a dead cow that had perished while thrashing up the bank, apparently during a thunderstorm the night before. The steer's bleached horns glinted in a shaft of sunlight, while its eyes, reduced to dark sockets, stared blankly at a looming wake of turkey vultures. We used a rope to drag the logs--some weighing in excess of 300 lbs--to the cabin site. One of the trees we felled harbored a giant bee hive and we were chased by an enraged swarm for about a quarter mile through the woods. For chinking between the logs we hauled buckets of mud from Dead Cow Creek, about 150 yards away. Looking now at the picture of the cabin I have to laugh at how we put the smallest diameter logs on the bottom. We made no measurements, and the notches were poorly done, leaving copious amounts of space between logs. Our building methods were inefficient in the extreme, for an immense ground had to be covered to get anything at all unless blind chance intervened, and we were a sorry witness of our own doings, not knowing that just a little theory and calculation would have saved us 90% of the labor. Therefore I would have to give us a C- or a D for engineering; but for sheer determination and hard work, an A+. This spot became our favorite location for camping. One of our pastimes at night was building a large camp fire into which we would toss unopened cans of Wolf Brand Tamales. After a few minutes, pressure would build up as the cans began expanding and making a rapid "tinking" sound, followed by a colossal explosion that would completely obliterate the camp fire, leaving behind an impressive crater. In the morning we always laughed hysterically at the shrapnel and chunks of tamales--some of them still steaming--that were plastered on tree trunks as far away as sixty yards. Dragons live forever but not so little boys; over time our cabin became a forgotten relic, slowly consumed by lichens, moss and termites, as we went off to high school, discovered girls, played sports, and worked part-time jobs. One day, about two weeks after hurricane Alicia struck Houston, I decided to hike back into the woods to see if anything remained of our little cabin. There it was, still standing, though slightly tilted, seven years after that magical summer. . .
  2. I miss the MKT "Katy" Railroad, one of the crown jewels of railroadiana. I can still see and hear an old red caboose trailing off in the distance, past Westchester Junior High School, disappearing into beautiful pastureland. Spent a lot of time around the tracks along Old Katy Road. The side track between Igloo and Parker Bros gravel was one of my favorite spots. Railroads are not a good place for kids to play and I remember finding things--scary things--that didn't belong there: A doll's head, a woman's high heel shoe, a broken switchblade; old gloves, whiskey bottles and empty chewing tobacco pouches were a mainstay. Train hopping became one of my favorite pastimes. One day, while train watching at a side track that served Levitz Furniture off of Brittmoore, the engineer signaled me to come on board. This was around 1973 or 1974. He introduced himself as Lonnie Yancey. He gave me a ride for a short distance along Old Katy and I got to blow the horn crossing Brittmoore. Who knows, maybe that train you waited for on that summer day had me blowing the horn. That is one of my fondest memories to this day. Around 2008 I decided to try and find Lonnie. I called every Yancey in the phone book. I figured he was long gone, and almost gave up, when I got a call from his brother in Smithville. Lonnie was alive and well and still living in Spring Branch off of Malibu Drive. I visited him a few times and always brought him a can of his favorite snuff--Copenhagen original. We traded stories about the MKT, including the time I saw an 18-wheeler smashed by a train at the Brittmoore/Old Katy crossing. I was 12 years old when that happened and my two school buddies and I had to go to court downtown to testify for the railroad. I confessed to Lonnie that I had hopped his train numerous times and he said that's why he gave me a ride, hoping to keep me from losing a leg. Lonnie was a star quarterback at Smithville High School. He was a decorated Marine, earning a Purple Heart for battling the Japanese in Okinawa. His wife was a librarian at Memorial High School. Here is a beautiful photo he gifted to me--taken around the exact year he gave me a ride in his GP-7 locomotive. He liked to pass the time waiting on sidetracks by crocheting, as seen in the photo. Lonnie passed away in 2015. I still think of him every time I hear the beautiful music of a train trailing off in the late-night distance. . .
  3. In the mid-'70s, cattle were abundant behind Addicks Dam, and they kept the terrain well-manicured. It was much more open and pristine than it is now, with grassy meadows, live oak groves, and large remnants of rice fields. During the '70s a magic mushroom pandemic was occurring and Addicks Dam--often shrouded in a thick early morning mist--provided the ideal habitat for Psilocybe cubensis. The mushrooms grew there like wildflowers, so abundant at times that they outnumbered Indian paintbrushes, and you could fill up a pillow case in less than half an hour. The cattle belonged to an old rancher named "JT" who would often cruise along the top of the dam in a light blue Ford pickup, squinting through mirrored sunglasses for hippies picking mushrooms. It was a perverse kind of sport for him and he enjoyed interrogating anyone he saw, as well as giving an obligatory warning sermon about how "them mushrooms are the devil's toadstools, come straight up from hell." He had a bulbous nose and weather-beaten cheeks with white stubble that shot out in helter skelter clumps. His belt buckle was the size of an ashtray--replete with a gold bucking bull--and his boots were black with sadistically pointed silver tips. After an encounter with JT we decided to hunt mushrooms under the safe cover of darkness. Our favorite spot was just off Lamb Road, not far from the legendary Blue Light Cemetery, accessed by a crossing a cattle guard and squeezing through a home-welded iron gate that was adorned with a peculiar inverted star set within a circle. There was a nearby cattle chute and the area was always obliterated with cow pies. One night in June 1976, after three days of torrential rains, we decided to head out to Lamb Road to pick some mushrooms. It was clear and a magnificent full moon hung dead above us. The pasture was swampy, peopled with curious shadows, as we marched along to the distant hooting of a pair of barred owls. After about ten minutes of walking, we noticed what appeared to be small lights flickering through the trees, maybe 80 yards away. Cautiously we made our way closer, using the massive trunks of live oaks as cover. The lights turned out to be a large circular clearing bordered with red candles; within the circle, five people dressed in black robes and hoods sat cross-legged. In the middle stood a tall figure dressed in a blood-red robe and wearing a strange mask that resembled a goat's head. Next to the red-robed figure was a small steer tethered by a rope and stake. Everyone was swaying and chanting. This ain't no Ku Klux Klan rally, I thought. With morbid curiosity we watched as the figure in the red robe raised a long black dagger and shouted, "Zarkelt! Venda-har!" He swiftly brought down the dagger in a wide arc and plunged it into the steer's head. The steer made a horrible high-pitched groan and fell in a spasmodic heap. The moon and candles provided ample light and we could see the steer's eyes rolling crazily in their sockets. Again and again, without mercy, the red-robed figure brought the dagger home. When the steer was finally dead the dagger was passed to the left, and each person held it up as if showing it to the moon. In this manner the dagger made its way around the circle until it was returned to the figure in the red robe. Suddenly, one by one, they all began removing their hoods. What I saw next, blew my mind. A gray-haired woman in her fifties--the assistant librarian of my high school--took off her hood. Another hood came off revealing a man in his thirties with a glistening blood blister above one eye that stared off at a furious and complicated angle. Lastly, the red-robed figure slid off his goat's head mask. It was none other than JT, the rancher. Horrified, we backed away, being careful to avoid stepping on any dead branches. When we were safely out of sight we bolted for a nearby barbed wire fence. My friend reached it first and wasted no time going through it, leaving a swatch of his t-shirt clinging to a rusty barb.
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