Somewhere in the shed is the long forgotten pile of written material from my youth….then again I may have pitched it some years back. I’m afraid to look. Back in time a deluded woman named Angela had thought some of the stuff was wonderful and typed it up. For the most part though, it was a ragged patch of papers and notebooks filled with illegible scribbles.
Amazingly these bad poems, half-baked ideas and scraps of wishful thinking survived the “Blue Car Flood of ’69” unlike my early drawings, which drifted out to sea. Bad art has a way of doing that ……following one to the grave.
It was the summer of my first year in college. I attended a small school in Corpus Christi…..Del Mar College. I told my parents I was going to stick around Port Aransas for the summer and get a job on a shrimp boat. I bought a blue 1956 Chevy from some guy at the dorm. It had no title and cost $150. I rented a room by the week, complete with cock-roaches.
Firmly fixed in my mind at the time was the need for artists, whatever their media, to suffer.
I recently came across a condensed recounting of that entire summer, replete with burned motorcycles, wrecked relationships, drugs, beer, and insanity….In short, everything a young man would need except for sex. For my purposes here, however, I will restrain myself and stick with the flood.
I tromped around the boat docks a bit trying to get up my courage to ask someone for a job (I HAD promised my parents after all). After a day or two I approached a man on a shrimp boat and mumbled something about work. …. ”We don’t like you beat-nick kids with your beat-nick stuff “ the man said glaring at me and pulling out a knife.
Assuming he spoke for the entire group of shrimp boat captains I decided to explore other options.
Soon after, in what was to be the first of several poor choices, I moved out of the room with the cockroaches. It had been nearly 2 weeks since I had undertaken this new phase in my life.Continually I reminded myself of how happy I was to be free of all entanglements, to do as I pleased, but somehow I remained unsatisfied. I had long known that loneliness and misery would be my destiny as an artist, but upon embracing them, I was ….well, lonely and miserable.
I spent the day contemplating my future. The unhappy shrimp boat man and the move away from shelter had unsettled me. At least I had the trusty ‘56 Chevy and I was young, vibrant, and ready to tackle anything.
I decided to sleep on the beach in my car. The hours drifted by languidly. Stuffed with me in my car were all my worldly possessions. I'm free I reminded myself once again, as I looked around at all my stuff. There was still room in the backseat of the car. As long as I could convince my parents that I was getting educated I could do whatever I wanted. Slowly the day passed. At last the sun started to go down. In the growing darkness it became apparent that there was little to do but play the radio and try to sleep.
High up on the beach where I had parked the car, the heat was stultifying ….the stillness in the air weighed down on me. I could hear the roar of the surf close by. Rather than serenity the noise brought annoyance. Soon the blue car along with all my possessions and me were also accompanied by mosquitoes…..what seemed to be a small village of them. I lay there uncomfortably, thinking, breathing the hot salty air, playing the radio, and swatting mosquitoes. The minutes slowly ticked away.
In what proved to be another poor choice I looked over and noticed a cool breeze was blowing down by the water. “I’ll just move over there” I thought and as I remember it I was half asleep as I drove over to that spot. It worked wonderfully. The car and I began to cool and the mosquitoes stayed on higher ground. I lay down again in the back seat and soon drifted off to sleep.
Creedence Clearwater Revival was playing on the radio…..a song I’ll always remember “ Bad Moon Rising”
I don’t know how long I was asleep but I awoke to a gentle swaying of the car. I don’t remember the radio playing. “This is nice,” I thought and then I began to question why the car was swaying back and forth. I sat up. I looked down. Water was coming in the sides. “Jesus! “I thought, “…..the tide…..The Damn Tide Has Come In!”
I jumped into the front seat and started the car. The blue 1956 Chevy, trusty as ever, started right up. I put it into gear and let out the clutch. I can even now hear and feel the rear wheels turning. Something about the wet sand prevented the car from moving. In fact the car submerged further into the water. It lay in the sand buried up to its axles. Just then, what was to be the start of many larger waves, crashed violently into the passenger door.
The open window, which had recently let the cool breeze in, also allowed the salt water to enter. I got out of the car. Fortunately there was a full moon out that night …..I could see pretty well.
Creedence Clearwater began to play its tune inside my head…..”I see trouble on the way…”
Dry land was only 10 yards or so away. I looked in the car. There lay my now wet worldly possessions…..some of them floating freely in the now violently rocking car. I began the rescue effort immediately, grabbing what I could and wading to shore. I was strangely numb…..no longer contemplating my future, nor my illusions of the suffering I was certain I would soon endure. Perhaps I was too busy living in the moment. The moon provided a warm glow to my catastrophe.
After whatever number of trips from car to shore it took I watched as my drawings …. my first college year of drawings, floated happily into the Gulf. I half-heartedly attempted to grab some. The wet paper turned to pulp. “Art is illusive,” I thought
I found a scrap of paper and a pencil.”If You Want This Car You can Have It,” I wrote, I placed the scrap under the windshield wiper blade then headed for my final journey to shore.
I have no memory of the rest of that night.
I do know that by the next morning I was working on the final poor choice I was to make in Port Aransas that summer. I caught a bus and headed home.