The Great Outback

My friend Luis Villegas—“the fine arts handyman”—came out of his semi-retirement and built a deck for our backyard. We’re getting ready for Johnny Byrd’s wedding to Ailbhe Cormack and at the family party the night before we need a stage from which to declare our love. Lee’s been wanting some sort of boardwalk contraption for a long time, but the wedding pushed the ball downhill. Of course our deck had to be different. It had to be shaped like a piece of pie sitting into the corner of our backyard. A square deck is not what we wanted. Luis was hesitant. He’d had a heart attack and he couldn’t do any heavy lifting. Not to worry, I told him. I’d help, I’d hire our friend Gabriel Espinoza. So Luis thought about it some, drew up the design and did the job, along with Gabriel and me, and it’s miraculous. He even curved two 2”x6”x16’ boards to fit the pie around the outside of its edges. A true mystery. Luis kept mumbling about the Steinway curve. I will tell you sometime how he did it.

I’m so happy with our deck that in the early mornings I drag all my cushions outside do my meditation. The sun is rising, the neighborhood is waking up, the air is cool, and I can see the mountains when I look to the west. And, because the deck levitates above the earth on concrete blocks, the ants don’t come climbing up my legs. Life is good. So a few mornings ago I crossed my legs and sat down on my zafu. The full moon was falling in the dawn sky behind the mountains.  I bowed, straightened my back, head pushing the sky aloft, and sat there in my goofy half-lotus. My breath settled into my diaphragm. Time passed like it always does. Ernie our big black cat nudged me. I keep a wide spot on my zabuton reserved for Ernie. I patted him some and he curled up beside me. This is his morning pleasure. I returned to my sitting. A little breeze.

Then I heard some scuffling off to the side. I didn’t pay attention for a few minutes but after a while I had no choice. Clovis, the young grey tabby cat from next door, had caught himself a bird. A yellow-rumped warbler. Poor thing. Clovis is quick and he likes to perch in the trees when he hunts. We think he carries some Siamese blood in him. Clovis had broken one of the bird’s wings and had the bird in its jaws and was shaking it furiously. Then he plopped it down in the grass and watched it for a while. The bird lay there panting in desperation. Then he flapped wildly his wings and try to drag himself away from his tormenter. His exertions made Clovis wonderfully happy. He pounced on the bird and shook him and pranced around. It was his show for Ernie and me. Ernie simply watched, not moving, with that unattached curiosity and grace that cats possess. I tried to do the same. But of course my mind quickly contorted into a mild ethical turmoil. What should I do? The bird was suffering terribly. It would soon die. I thought maybe I should grab rescue the bird from Clovis’ teeth and kill it quickly. I’ve done this before with wounded birds on the road. Slammed it against the pavement or crushed its head with my foot. Not fun. But quick and to the point. But I didn’t do that. I was just sitting there--correct posture, hands lightly clasped in the cosmic mudra, my breath going in and out--in Clovis’ and Ernie’s territory. This is what they do day and night--hunt and kill birds and eat them. No lesson I could teach Clovis, no bird's life I could save. I was their witness and in a way that was a privilege. I didn’t make any decision. Instead, I went back to my sitting. The intermittent scuffling sound grew faint and disappeared. Fifteen minutes later the alarm bell rang. I looked up. Clovis was no longer there. Only a few feathers remained. Clovis had devoured the bird completely.



So why am sitting on the ground videoing a Tim Hardaway press conference?

Well, I don’t do too much El Paso political stuff on my blog, and Tim doesn’t like to go into that melee either. In fact, his clumsy entrance into a hot national political issue (in 2007 he announced himself to be homophobic) is the reason he was the subject of my amateur video. Tim, like he says in the video, likes to be remembered for “the UTEP 2-step” and “the killer cross-over.” Oh well.

Lee and I do get involved in local El Paso politics from time to time—sometimes the result of our daughter Susie Byrd (our oldest) representing District #2 on City Council. That’s our district, the district she and her two brothers Johnny and Andy grew up in. In fact, Susie, her husband Eddie Holland and our three Hollandbyrd grandchildren live next door. That’s cool by us. Very cool.

Anyway, Pastor Tom Brown—a right-wing religious (Christian) reactionary—is leading an effort to recall Susie. The basic story line is a bit contorted. The City Council voted to extend health benefits to the partners (unmarried, gay, lesbian) of city employees. Most cities already have these rules. Even Southern cities. It’s the right thing to do and it’s good business. Especially for cities competing with other cities to attract new business. Tom Brown and his cronies blasted the Council. And they drafted “a family values” petition and ordinance to do away with the Council’s vote. The ordinance they drafted was vague and confusing, and they refused to edit their proposed ordinance for clarity. But they highlighted “family values.” They gathered enough signatures, the city held a one-issue election (a very small percentage of registered voters participated) and the ordinance passed. The Council then voted to rescind their new ordinance by a slim margin—4 for, 4 against, with the Mayor breaking the tie with a FOR. So Tom Brown and others are now gathering signatures to recall the Mayor, Steve Brown and Susie. (The terms of Rachel Quintana and Beto O’Rourke expired and they are no longer on Council.)

Susie Byrd, Tim Hardaway, Jody Casey-Feinberg and me @ Cinco Puntos

So enter Tim Hardaway. In El Paso Tim’s remembered for those great UTEP teams (1985 through 1989) where he dominated the Western Athletic Conference. I was a big fan. My friend Tom Baker and I used to go watch those games. Two years running they had Tim, Antonio Davis and Greg Foster—all future NBAers—on the same team. The legendary Don Haskins was the coach. We were big fans. I followed Tim’s career in the NBA enthusiastically. I’ve still pissed off at Chris Webber for pouting his way out of his contract with Golden State when they had Tim, Webber, and Chris Mullin. Shit.

But post-career—despite an extraordinary NBA career (perhaps even a Hall of Fame Career)—his reputation took a nosedive. That’s because he’s now too often remembered for saying, “Well, you know I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don't like it. It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States.” He was making these statements during a radio interview and in response to the publication of John Amaechi’s book Man in the Middle where Amaechi announced he is gay.

So in the video he announces his change of heart and he gives his support to the NO RECALL Movement in El Paso. Daughter Susie, and NO RECALL leaders, especially Jody Casey-Feinberg, arranged the press conference. Concurrently they were announcing a NO RECALL Rally for the next Sunday.

Good for Tim. I enjoyed talking to him. He was in town for a charity golf tournament and he had agreed to do the press conference. Beforehand, he came by the Cinco Puntos office and we talked basketball and Susie told him the story I just told you. He talked about his family coming to him after he made his homophobic statement and how they listed friends and relatives who are gay or lesbian. He was taken aback, he said. These were people he cared for. And so he came slowly around the corner toward understanding. Besides, he seemed like a nice guy, one of those guys who spent a lot of time in a gym and whose world too much was defined by coaches and teammates. That’s another kind of closet or cloister or whatever. So when he foolishly made his statement and it was blasted over national sports news shows he had opened some doors that he didn’t know were there.

Good for Tim. I’m glad he did what he did.