On Supercuts

They’ll come from wherever they started, only to return there or somewhere not dissimilar. For just under fifteen dollars, they come to rejuvenate themselves. Whether it is a weekly visit or a mandate from a parent fed up with a suburban rebellion, people come to Supercuts in varying degrees of anticipation. What they are anticipating is the transformation that will assuredly be the visit’s result. It is a change that polite society expects of its residents, but what is at work in the process? As they enter, some wear a look of uncertainty, a look that bespeaks a distrust of the shear-holders inside. Others bear a hopeful brightness.

Is it an act holding no more meaning than filling up a tank of gas, or does this process of cutting back growth hold ties to a more significant mortal cycle? It isn’t evident that the Supercuts clientele is thinking about this. A couple of exits with sunshine smiles and giggles of joy were haircuts all they received inside? Possibly, the transformation they have experienced will grant them the opportunity to be intimate as strangers. Perhaps pillow talk will refresh rusty manipulations of joints with zeal, the husband’s short-cropped hair reminiscent of their first meeting.

A man with short hair enters and leaves twenty-five minutes later, and though he looks the same save about an eighteenth of an inch, he looks younger, lighter, and more fun. After he leaves, there is a much younger man who has lost a great deal of hair. Holding a bag of products, he appears to stare off into his future. It is as though he is unable to know himself in life without the hair he had spent so long on procuring.

Perhaps such surface changes don’t equate to the transformation written about by mystics the world over. Still, as each person enters only to leave with a markedly different face on, it seems that the change is occurring. One can only imagine that on the other side of the glass door, these individuals wait, deliberating to some degree on how their appearance contributes to the way people see them. Human beings like to know that they have many options in life. Supercuts present these people with the only real option left open, and that is how they choose to handle the inevitability of change.

Every strip mall in America holds myriad examples of people paying to somehow or another change themselves. Then if the only real consistency in life is that of constant change, salvation is found is in the embrace of this metamorphosis. So whether they walk to the chair accompanied by a funeral march or the resounding exclamation of rebirth, Supercuts offers its patrons an opportunity to prepare for the final and most complete change of all. Then the difference between a good haircut and a bad one is simply a question of faith in those wielding the clippers.

Flashbulb Chronicles – The 1st Ten

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Beyond our most immediate social structures, we all eventually find inspiration from broader spheres of influence. Sometimes it is not even clear that such processes of worldmaking are at work. However, if forced to account for our matrices of meaning, we would not only be surprised by what we found but bemused by the degree to which wisdom finds us most when we require it.

By the second week of September 2014, a five-year run of painful surgeries and recoveries had swallowed my world. Achieving a new level of isolation, my sense of self was at an all-time low, so I sought to rebuild the internal structures wrecked by the pain and struggle.

The names at first popped into my head seemingly at random, though there’s little chance of that, their selection was unmotivated, much like the faces I’ve seen since childhood flashing in my mind’s eye before falling asleep.

Looking back at five years of entries – over 1,700 – my search for motivation and insight from a rather wide range of interests is evident, starting, of course, with Bill Russell and the game of basketball, which has captured my imagination since I was a boy.

Though he retired five years before I was born, Bill Russell’s mythos loomed large in our household. Part of a decade spent arguing for the Los Angeles Lakers’ supremacy over my father’s Boston Celtics, so I’ve always known to listen when it came to Bill Russell.

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“The idea is not to block every shot. The idea is to make your opponent think you might block every shot.”- Bill Russell /Monroe, Louisiana / February 12, 1934,/ 9 Likes

 

Henri Matisse was one of the first artists’ names I would remember as a child, deeply moved by the Cut-outs of his later years. He passed away in 1954 as Russell was becoming the most dominant player in college basketball, handling racism with grace and integrity every step of the way.

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“Derive happiness in oneself from a good day’s work, from illuminating the fog that surrounds us.” – Henri Matisse
31 December 1869 – 3 November 1954 (84) / Le Cateau-Cambrésis, France / 24 Likes

The old artist never stopped working and passed quietly at 84. Isadore Duncan, the dancer who inspired him and was once his neighbor in Paris, departed mortality quite shockingly, at 50, when her long hand-painted silk scarf got caught in the wire-spoked wheels of the car she rode in, throwing her abruptly to her demise.

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“You were once wild here, don’t let them tame you.” – Isadora Duncan May 26, 1877 – September 14, 1927 – San Francisco, California

Discovered during my freshman year in college, while I was assigned something very different, Thomas Mann quickly became a literary touchstone. A few years later, I was pleasantly surprised as a senior when I took a class on Charles Dickens and George Eliot and found that Eliot rang a similarly subversive bell for me as a reader.

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“A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” – Thomas Mann
6 June 1875 – 12 August 1955 (80) / Lübeck, Germany / 19 Likes, 1 Share and 1 Comment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“If we had a keen vision and feeling of ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow, and the squirrel’s heartbeat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.” – George Eliot
22 November 1819 – 22 December 1880 (60) / Warwickshire, England / 18 Likes, 1 Comment

Both Roland Kirk and Fellini were uncompromising artists who composed spectacular pieces that left audiences in awe. For Kirk, blind and black, critics may have undervalued the complexity of his work, while Fellini’s has impacted generations across all forms of media.

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“I didn’t ask my mother to buy me a trumpet or a violin, I started right on the garden hose.” – Rahsaan Roland Kirk
August 7, 1935 – December 5, 1977 (42) / Columbus, Ohio / 13 Likes, 1 Comment

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7) “Money is everywhere but so is poetry. What we lack are the poets.” – Federico Fellini
January 20, 1920 – October 31, 1993 (73) / Rimini, Italy / 9 Likes

Like the Italian filmmaker, Coco Chanel’s influence has far exceeded her creative output. I first came across the name as a boy in the library reading about Pro Wrestler Gorgeous George incorporating Chanel No. 5 into his elaborate ring entrances, only to learn in more recent years of her Nazi intrigue during WWII.

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“Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.” – Coco Chanel
19 August 1883 – 10 January 1971 (87) / SaumurMaine-et-Loire, France / 11 Likes

The theme of simplicity has remained consistent as I’ve sought to remind myself not to overcomplicate my life or writing. William Morris, the 19th-Century English polymath, was devoted to a sense of balance and order that led him to resist the pollution and greed of the Industrial Age. Likewise, Gloria Steinem’s skills at cutting to the truth of an issue elevated her from a writer into a political voice for the Feminist movement.

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“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” – William Morris
24 March 1834 – 3 October 1896 (62) / WalthamstowEssex, England / 12 Likes

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“Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.” – Gloria Steinem
March 25, 1934 / Toledo, Ohio / 13 Likes

It was a month before I would meet my eventual eye surgeon. My struggles with my mood worsened alongside my vision until I was quite challenging to be around. In that first week, somewhere in those 139 responses, I saw glimmer enough of hope to perpetuate the habit.

 

Medical Mystery Tour Vol. 4 – Fear of the Unknown

The twists of my medical adventures became even more bizarre in a saga that lasted for several months. Once again, a mystery would change the course of my life, bringing me further into the family of my close friend Yinka Ogunro. A close confidant through thick and thin, our shared love of music has been a beacon over time. For nearly twenty years, he’s enthralled me with tales of his inventive namesake father – an upper extremity orthopedic surgeon known by most as “Dr. O.”

The first time we met, Dr. O spent twenty minutes trying to dislocate my shoulder, which I thought was the source of my recurring pain. With natural, conversational curiosity, he administered a battery of tests with the loose focus of a jazz drummer setting up his kit. He referred me to a nerve specialist who electrically tested the nerves in my arms. The problem was not the shoulder, so I took my films to a spine doctor who prescribed a series of neck injections, which proved helpful but left me with residual pain. For this, they gave me a TENS or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, a unit that uses pulses to alleviate pain.

I returned to Dr. O’s office because the pain doctor had denied the electricity’s connection to the now constant pain engulfing my arm. In his first analysis, Dr. O didn’t know what to make of it. Knowing what I know now, I believe the hemangioma – a sort of vascular cluster – had always been there. But there was no way for me to know that not everybody’s funny bone shot lightning into their pinkie finger. I imagine further that all of the steroids I had taken for previous maladies had helped it gain size.

They outfitted with an arm brace that locked my arm at nearly a right angle, which necessitated the use of a sling. He prescribed large red anti-inflammatory pills to keep the jagged, inflamed pain at bay until the good doctor could get a better insight into what was going on. Seemingly without warning, I could be overcome by extreme jolts downward from the elbow of heat, electricity, or even icy cold. There was an upheaval of every activity in my daily life. There were frequent office visits – including sensation tests, which demonstrated that I was losing significant feeling down the arm and into the outside fingers.

As a writer, my hands have always been instrumental in processing the ideas at the heart of whatever words I may endeavor to write. First, I compose black scribbles on loose-leaf paper. Next, I utilize the wrist’s rotational joint for the keyboard, deepening what the pen began.

I don’t know if Broca or Wieneke discovered the area where my issues of adapting my writing process originates. The speaking collided with my dependence on music to train my focus. Where I could modulate the pace, volume, and intensity of my tunes to suit my writing needs, my voice invariably made me more anxious and unresolved.

A group of us were standing on my cousin’s porch when my girlfriend pointed out a protrusion beneath my elbow that “didn’t look right.” It was like a push-button of pain, and her noticing it changed the course of treatment dramatically. When I showed Dr. O the mass, he manipulated it, moving my arm into different positions, and finally suggested an MRI might reveal our culprit. Back in the tube, my arm was isolated, which kept me in an awkward position. I was, however, becoming adept at slipping my mind out of my body as the machine blurrged around me – the hint of a popular country radio station fluttering beneath it.

Two months before my imminent surgery to remedy the worsening situation, my girlfriend and I rescued a little black dog with smoky grey bits. He was six pounds and eight weeks old, a little dirty but full of love. Immediately, I called him “Mingus” after the composer and bass player, Charles Mingus, who’s Beneath the Underdog has been hugely influential. With one bad arm, I did my best to keep up with my new friend, fighting off the isolation that can accompany pain from an unknown source.

The mass had grown into the ulnar nerve, and its presence was causing all sorts of confusion. As Dr. O explained it, the nerves are like the bundles of wires used in suspension bridges, and the surgeon would tease the hemangioma out tediously. He booked a surgical center with the best optics, drafting Yinka’s younger sister, Shade, to handle the four-hour procedure. Her young eyes and small hands left an elegant scar along the curve of the joint.

The next year, as my eyes were beginning to fail, the problems of the ulnar nerve returned. Every couple of months I’d have another MRI to monitor its progress. Eventually, he referred me to a Radiation Therapist at the Cancer center, ultimately prohibited by the proximity to a significant nerve prohibited. It remains in a happy medium near the nerve but not choking its internal circuitry.

He described the nerve as a bundle of wires that required the surgeon to tease the growth out very carefully to minimize damage. There’s no way to avoid a lengthy period for the nerve to recover any sense of normalcy; five years was the expected timeline. And that would be if the hemangioma didn’t grow back, which it eventually did.

Medical Mystery Tour Vol. 3 – Turning the Screws

Fresh out of graduate school, I was working on my first ghostwriting job during the summer of 2004. The research was exceptionally engaging and allowed me the opportunity to dust off little-used past coursework like Latin, German, Roman History, and Legal Ethics. The return to my hometown allowed me to resume participation in my favorite regular basketball games around town. Saturday mornings before nine in Eastwoods Park near the UT campus, I played with a group comprised primarily of lawyers and philosophers who I had met through the record store.

Back at it for most of the summer, I was also in a Sunday evening game and had a couple of friends who met up during the week. A streaky jump shooter at best, I was always eager to set picks and make the extra pass. My natural focus, however, had always been defensive, intending to maintain cohesion between the five positions and feeding fast breaks off the glass. Defense consists of a lot of habits and choices; therefore, the more aggressive we become, it follows that our decisions are less sophisticated. And in one fleeting down court inbounds of the ball, I would become another statistical illustration of such a notion.

Developed over years of staying engaged with the middle foreground and its periphery, the instinctual break on the ball is frozen in time, and it would live on in infamy. Everything about my play on the long pass was well executed, the jump and the timing, but somewhere along the way, I’d forgotten to account for my landing point. The other regular game was in a nicely appointed gym; perhaps the alternating venue had my sensibilities twisted. But ultimately, there are good reasons players don’t often press full court in pick up games. After breaking up the pass, I contorted my body to avoid colliding with my opponent; as I did so, my right great toe met the concrete.

A rookie ghostwriter at the time, I had no insurance to speak of, and therefore I did nothing to attend to the painfully jacked-up toe. I kept up with ice and taped the toe for support; years later, I would realize how futile such attempts had been. This incident was the formal conclusion of my basketball life, which had begun in the explosive aftermath of Michigan State beating Indiana State in the 1979 NCAA Championship. The game, however, has lived on within me even though my body can never play again. Watching basketball is a joyful experience as I recall the lessons of the game, especially during years where I relied on a cane to make the trip to the kitchen.

Nearly four years later, my knees forced me into the insurance market as they began to breakdown (https://theflashbulb.wordpress.com/2019/08/21/medical-mystery-vol-2/). Throughout this process, I lived in the upstairs apartment of a large split house, which had me up and downstairs, limping and generally putting a lot of wear and tear on my lower extremities. Between each of the knee surgeries, usually, as I was rehabbing and getting myself back into shape, that right great toe would flair up and cruelly shut me down again. When I asked my knee surgeon about the very swollen toe, she scoffed at any surgical fix and left me hopeless.

The process of becoming hobbled was one that came along in phases and delivered me just far enough from average to dislodge me from any consistent social strata. For years I was at the whim of the crumbling foundations of my poorly engineered body, but books, films, music to carry my restless mind out into the world surrounded me. Reams of paper could account for myriad false starts on my literary works, which seemed to stagnate alongside my mood.

A year after my third knee surgery, we moved into a one-story house on the Near Southside of Fort Worth. My foot only flared up a couple of times, and I was becoming more active riding my bike and shooting hoops solo a couple of times a week. But the year ended with a historically regrettable decision: walking bourbon-fueled in inappropriate footwear over a mile in the dark of night to see the live music beckoning to us on our porch. A quarter-mile into the trip, something in my foot had busted loose, and all I had was more bourbon to offset the rising tide of pain overtaking me. By the time we arrived at the venue, neither my mind nor my body could stand up, and there was quite literally nowhere to sit down. It was a long quiet, much slower trip home and seven long, painful months before I would find any relief.

My purgatory would become a podiatrist’s office in a strip mall, where I found no cure, but instead was given foam for my shoe and prescriptions to combat my body’s growing revolt. The doctor took X-rays and assured me that surgery was an option if it were necessary. But alas, when these methods fell short of improving my condition, I took my business and x-rays to an Orthopedic Surgeon specializing in foot and ankle reconstruction.

Within five minutes, my surgeon relieved me; it didn’t hurt that he carried himself with the looseness of a Big Band leader. Digital x-rays were quite the time travel from the podiatrist’s office, and as we looked at them in his spacious office, I finally saw the adversary. As we booked the ensuing procedure, he explained the truth about podiatrists, “I wish those guys wouldn’t load people up with meds like this. You know they aren’t doctors, right?” I thought mine was incompetent, but it would seem I’d fallen into a typical error loop.

The surgeon rebroke the bones and reshaped them so that the right great toe stood straight with the assistance of titanium screws after crookedly crowding its longer neighbor for eight years. Throughout the process, I tried my best to continue covering local music. The week before I went in, I caught Loudon Wainwright at The Kessler (https://wordpress.com/post/theflashbulb.wordpress.com/45) and the week after I had a big show booked which I attended. It was a glorious night with a packed venue, and despite my medicated state and cane, I still found ways to dance all the same.

A year later, I returned to have the screws removed because I could feel their heads emerging beneath the skin. As my surgeon looked over the file, he commented quite emphatically, “That toe was quite a mess,” before scheduling the procedure for his main office in Dallas. The screws come out much like one would expect with a medical-grade screwdriver and repeated ratcheting of my foot. As he set to work on the first screw, he asked if I could feel what he was doing. When I acknowledged that I could, he called for more of the deadening agent, which he applied quite liberally before picking up his tool again.

Medical Mystery Tour Vol. 2 – Further Dislocations

Before my eyes began failing, I had already become well-practiced in the process of degeneration, procedure, and recovery for a decade. It was another of my congenital disabilities, a pair of bipartite patellae, where the saga of my surgeries began. A dislocated knee during 7th-grade football tryouts tipped us off to the fact that the kneecap had never appropriately fused; instead, it remained two separate bones. Most importantly, as I would mythologize later, I beat the kid next to me on the track, which had just enough of a dip in it to pop my kneecap out.

Ten years ago, while moving a 7-foot couch into my upstairs apartment, something began to break down in my left knee. The process of removing a pair of posts on the screened-in porch was intensive. Before we got the massive piece of furniture through the kitchen, my knee began to swell to the size of a large grapefruit, and I remained on the couch for the next six weeks.

Most of the next year was spent nursing the knee before I finally sought an orthopedic surgeon nearby to check it out. When the first x-rays came back, I commented about how the smaller chunk looked like a ship leaving the harbor of the more substantial piece. The most significant concern about removing the wayward bone for the surgeon was the 7-inch incision required. I waived off any issues about scars, but he wasn’t sure the procedure was necessary, choosing instead to do a basic arthroscopic clean-up of the damage.

Almost immediately after the first surgery, it became apparent more work was required. The first procedure had cleaned up the wreckage but did nothing to hinder the patella’s further separation. When I returned with a nearly melon-sized knee, the surgeon showed me a series of rather intimate pictures as evidence of how nicely he had cleaned out the joint. Of course, these were images taken during the procedure and did nothing to explain my body’s extreme reaction. Throughout this frustratingly idle process, I was limited to reading and watching movies, which allowed my usual quote harvesting to intensify and acted as a welcome distraction from the pain.

After three frustrating meetings with my surgeon, I tracked down Dr. Barbara Bergin – the orthopedic surgeon who had diagnosed the malady twenty years earlier. Our visits became frequent because my insurance refused another surgery nine months, my only recourses were Hydrocodone and regular draining of fluid build-up. During this period, I learned about her trading a cowboy riding lessons for hand surgery, which led to competitive cut riding, and, eventually, a novel she based around her experiences. I rarely left the house by this point, because I needed the assistance of a cane; therefore, my interpersonal skills deteriorated with each passing month.

Between the first and second surgeries, I had signed on to develop story ideas for an upstart production company. However, hovering somewhere between pain and painkillers left my mind lacking clarity, and I became increasingly challenging to be around. Emotionally frazzled, I left a trail of questionable choices and confused dealings as I lived in a perpetual state of limbo. Unsurprisingly, I was giddy as a schoolchild when Dr. Bergin finally asked, “Are you ready for me to pull that thing out yet?” A month later, I was in my gown, learning about my cocktail of anesthesia as they wheeled me into the OR.

I had asked the nurses if I could have the extracted chunk of my knee cap, and it was there when I awoke in a cup on the table. That first laugh was a very long time coming — almost like seeing a defeated adversary – the conclusion of the nightmare saw a return of a more friendly version of myself. Many of my friends asked to see the bone, which I kept in the freezer; I would always indulge them by pulling it from the fridge and saying, “You can touch it if you want.”

Those three years initiated a period of personal transformation driven by the breaking down of my body. In my early 30s, I expected to spread out and challenge myself, but instead, I was comparing notes with my mother about her knee replacements and researching pain management. A large percentage of my energy was spent doing mental health upkeep. At times, I could trick myself by focusing like a sommelier on ways to describe the various types of pain stimulating my central nervous system. At times, it was as though the pain’s intensity overwhelmed my visual field, where I would see blobs of color. Tracing the dynamism of the pain along the nerve could have jagged electrical bolts or feel heavy and sludgy like lava.

With each recovery came a renewed sense of vigor, I bought a stationary bike to help me get back in shape. With each new round of swelling – when gravity and mobility become far more adversarial – life moved towards an Olympic level of absurdity. I am the sort of person who refuses assistance as a way of life; many of my falls, tumbles, close calls, and near misses were due to an irrational pigheadedness. But I found it helped to laugh as often as possible upon unintentionally finding the floor.

Only one procedure was needed to care for the issues in the right knee. For all three of the knee surgeries, I lived upstairs in an old house, which meant I was regularly hopping up and down. My bedroom was in a loft in a converted stairwell, which led to a few tumbles. As a result, my lower back and neck had taking beatings as well. Hobbled for over two years, the limping had awakened a big toe pulverized years earlier, and soon after that same toe would become an ordeal all its own.

For more than three years, everything revolved around my problematic patellae, and it became clear I was missing out on a great deal of life. My friends were getting married, having children, and starting businesses while I was a moody shell of my former self. At times I found myself feeling despondent, but for all that was lost, I have gained the appreciation of simple glories. Like the moment you successfully regain a normal gait and return to walking without limitation after not knowing if such a thing were possible.

Medical Mystery Tour Vol. 1 – To Seek Better Thoughts

I grew up telling the story of how at two, my mother noticed, while I was in the bathtub, that my right eye did not move in unison with its neighbor-conspirator. Instead, it sank when I looked upward and veered when my gaze returned downward as I played with a collection of Tupperware containers in the tub. But, as it often is, the truth is more brutal; in actuality, the alarm was sounded by my consistent collisions with door jambs throughout the house, including some significant whacks to the head. The subsequent surgical procedure functions more like mythology to me now: a very new method transplanting muscle from the stronger eye to the weaker one; my sitting up on the gurney and waving to those I passed on the way to the OR. Regardless, I will always vividly remember the subsequent years of eye patches.
Five years ago, the right eye began sinking again; and after all the reading and writing, the left eye was pulling away from its moorings. Minute discrepancies between the two eyes would grow to nearly full-time double vision – punctuated by the jagged teeth of migraines. Where once I had digested books swiftly, I now struggled through twenty pages without resting. Unable to keep the lines on the page straight, reading became arduous and exhausting. Research for big projects no longer reasonably fit within my skill set. What once took a week grew toward a month-long endeavor.

More than one ophthalmologist has explained that besides tailor and jeweler, writing may be the worst occupation for eyes. I’ve also learned that I have never quite seen what I thought I saw. Visual information – distinct and non-coordinated streams from each eye – was a fictional approximation figured by my visual cortex from the wayward data streams. Depth perception faded, and household accidents increased. My world grew darker. I withdrew into a crooked visual world, forced to accept the world was not what it seemed.

No longer could I ignore my vision issues, and a process of behavioral modification re-examined the role digital media had in my life. Before the first two procedures, I limited my writing time to 20-minute windows, which restricted the use of my eyes, and I rested them religiously between sessions. By this point, I was regularly walking into things because I could not accurately judge where they were. Ice packs, eye patches, and plenty of squinting are all employed, hoping for more continuous time working through another element of a project.

The surgeon repositioned muscles in both eyes, altering as well the opening of each eyelid. For 72 hours, I was in darkness with bandages over my eyes – dependent upon assistance. Once the freshly re-built muscles grew tired, cubism broke out, starting at the periphery and eventually overtaking the fovea – responsible for processing details. What began as a glitch in the system led me through a menagerie of disturbing facial configurations, ultimately, though, pain and dislocation ruled this period.

Tiger By the Tail – Rooting the Who Dey Way

The Dallas Cowboys were born when my father was a student at The University of Texas in Austin, thus defining each season’s moods in our household for a lifetime. When I joined the party in the middle 70s, both teams were at the peak of prominence. UT had the “Tyler Rose” Earl Campbell; the Cowboys had everybody’s All-American Roger Staubach, Too Tall Jones, and Tony Dorsett. Coaches Tom Landry and Darrell Royal are central figures in the worship of many homes throughout Texas.

But as my young mind learned to love the game of football, I struggled to conjoin myself emotionally to a single squad. It mystified me how a group of strangers in Dallas or even on the nearby college campus could determine my father’s happiness. These weekly lessons were enhanced by NFL Films’, which beautifully illustrated the professional game’s transformation into the sophisticated aerial attacks.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VPLmxtiVOe0

Much to my father’s chagrin, I could, therefore, become engrossed with opponents, even divisional rivals like Joe Theisman and Art Monk of Washington, Lawrence Taylor of New York, or Reggie White of Philly. Increasingly, I found myself reading about earlier generations, drawn to legends like Slingin’ Sammy Baugh, Ray Nitschke, and Jim Brown. In November of 1985, the real-world ramifications of my fandom and this violent sport collided when Lawrence Taylor ended Theisman’s football career as he sacked him from the blindside.

Despite the violence, I was inspired by the intensive choreography of play design, just as I was intrigued by the composition of classical music my father loved. On the other hand, there were awe-inspiring moments of unbelievable acuity like the virtuoso players I heard on his jazz records at home. As with music, the more I learned, the less I could realistically devote myself to a single genre, band, or team. Nor did I like the emotional ramifications of bearing the slings and arrows alongside one or two groups as it occurred in our household.

While living abroad, I decided to keep up with the NFL by playing Fantasy Football. Keeping up with my team allowed me to follow the league with a focus on statistics, eventually help me win the 2001 Championship, with help from players like Rich Gannon and Tony Gonzalez. However, once stateside, the virtual joy was riddled with disconcerting conflicts, as when players on my team faced off against one another. If I had neglected those feelings, I would have ultimately become isolated, celebrating a set of conditioned choices I made to start the season. It felt too self-serving, running counter to the way I learned to love professional football.

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In the years following Jerry Jones’ termination of legendary Cowboys’ head coach Tom Landry, there had been few consistencies in the league as fun as Brett Favre. Back in Austin for the holidays during graduate school, I watched his infamous Monday Night Football game against the Oakland Raiders the night after his father passed away. It was like nothing many fans had ever experienced, at G&S Lounge strangers bonded as he completed over 70% of his passes for four touchdowns and nearly 400 yards. And as many males in American culture, the filter of sports undoubtedly connected our profound experience to a vibrant palette of emotions typically outside of the masculine vernacular. And time slows down in those moments when you feel the whisper of history on your neck while watching a field general become a Maestro.

Like the old gunslinger, left everything on the field, after migrating from Green Bay through New Jersey and back to the Minnesota Vikings, I was ready for a home base of my own as a fan. In a violent playoff game, the New Orleans Saints battered Favre, and his squad lost a heartbreaker that left me raw. The next season, his body was no longer willing. I found myself watching another quarterback wearing purple, TCU’s Andy Dalton, who led his Horned Frogs to a perfect 13-0 record.

Because Dalton’s leadership throughout his senior season was spectacular, it was easy to hitch my wagon to whichever team drafted him. And, in the second round, after gifted former juggler AJ Green, the Cincinnati Bengals took Andy Dalton. I was struck immediately by the attention given to his fiery red hair, as opposed to what I saw as a field general with a lot of intangibles.

In the seasons since the Bengals have seen highs and lows and there’s never a shortage of exciting moments. Each season, I follow the draft coverage for new names and faces and anxiously await the schedule. Three years ago, in December, we made the pilgrimage to Paul Brown Stadium for a Monday Night Football showdown with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. It was cold and rainy, we bought striped ponchos, and we screamed the “Who Dey!” chant alongside an unruly crowd, the intensity of which never wavered. Earlier, we rode Segways through downtown Cincinnati with our Airbnb host PJ, drank two-dollar PBRs out of glass boots, and eventually threw down Skyline Chili dogs. As we parted ways, he pointed us into the Tailgate, showing us where to grab a beer on the road.

Shortly after, I had surgery on my eyes, and during the absolute darkness, I often returned to our victorious march as a Who Dey Nation. This collective has led to friendships with other fans; I am often stopped by folks with some connection to Cincinnati whenever dressed in orange and black. I even bought a Reds hat and loosely followed a terrible season to appreciate more deeply the lives of those folks in the Jungle with us. People often ask me why I would choose this team. The only correct answer is, “Who Dey think they gonna beat them Bengals?!” To which they must reply, “Noooobody!” Because, as I have learned, the measure of fandom is not the quality of the team at any given moment; instead, I derive it from how well fans love their squads.

Flashbulb Chronicles – Birth of a Ritual

By late Summer 2014, I was already five years into my own personal Medical Mystery Tour. Three knee surgeries, screws in my foot, and a mass extracted from my ulnar nerve, which had been an incredibly taxing experience through more than half of 2013. As I crammed away ghostwriting a book on health optimization – weighing the relative benefits of Gabapentin vs. Glutamate – I began to feel my eyes failing. Just a little at first, double vision, then more difficulty reading for longer than 20 minutes. But the work involves staring at a screen for as long as I can muster, ultimately, migraines can shape the way you think about social media.

Despite my withdrawal, online and in the real world, I did not want to lose touch with folks I’d come to value. I began posting quotations alongside black and white images of the speakers to whom the words were attributed — collected over a life-long devotion to significant bits of language, wisdom, insight, or courage. Resonating with my continued struggles, they inspired me to see beyond my limitations. 

As the vision problems led me through a series of surgeries, I grew more involved with the simple little snippets, pleased to imagine those who engaged with them collected into social settings. Recovery demanded I spent plenty of time with my eyes closed, so it was a necessity to occupy my mind. The game was to trigger the bulb in my head where a kernel of satisfaction would blossom as friends and colleagues responded. With each little interaction, my search for new strands of words grew more compulsive.

Perhaps, there were those driven away by my quotidian habit. I remained in a Purgatory of double vision and uncertainty, so I chose to focus on the positive feedback. Old friends reconnected with messages of encouragement, “You should make a book out of the quotes,” or, “This is one of my favorite interactions with the platform.” A cousin in Brooklyn sent a holiday card, mentioning her appreciation of the quotes. Parents of friends and friends who had become parents commented, and soon enough, recognizable groups emerged.

As disparate as members of my network could be, so too were the speakers of the quotes; nevertheless, the words became building blocks towards fresh neuropathways. There was room for everyone when I began, starting with an 11-time NBA Champ. From there, the list encountered a French painter, Italian filmmaker, legendary dancer, master of German Letters who openly challenged the Nazis, and a blind jazz virtuoso. The Brit who wrote under a man’s name, buried with the dissenters at Highgate; the French Fashion designer, doubling as a Nazi spy; Groundbreaking 19th-century English designer; and the spokeswoman for the Feminist Movement.

Interactions manifest as likes, shares, and comments, which fortified me throughout my vision struggles when, at times, my thoughts seldom deviated from whether or not the problems were permanent. The process eventually led to thoughtful conversations between the speakers and commenters. Darkness becomes preferable when vision cannot be trusted; accustomed to short cycles of sleep, I grew into someone who frequently sought cover. Socializing became more difficult. Without the distractions of visual stimuli, one’s mind may naturally drift towards the dungeon; attending to the quotes functioned as meditative koans — like raking the sand. The subsequent engagements filled me with better thoughts and motivated my continued writing, no matter how difficult it was.

Life has often felt like a protracted fever dream, from one surgery to the next. One year after my last procedure, it has been beneficial to reflect on the impact this process has had on my world during a difficult period. For five years, I have posted more than seventeen-hundred quotations. The unique moment of each post leads to a bounty of signs and symbols, which perpetuates my faith in creativity as our most vital tool in the face of adversity – personally and culturally. The Flashbulb Chronicles will follow this process and look more deeply at the quotes, the speakers, and their impact on the world of ideas.

Flashbulb Flashback // Saved By The Crack Pipes / 1.16.13

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Good shoes are invaluable, more so than most any accouterment. One must not be satisfied with comfort; finding the right feel is the real moral of the story. The sound of the heel against the pavement, the best shoes, allows you to feel the earth beneath the floor. Footwear does not dignify itself until it has proven itself to be vital across a path of unwavering distance. Perhaps the creases along the forefoot recall a drunken night walking home in the rain. That vitality aids us in getting past obstacles while ennobling us towards future endeavors.

Leaving Los Angeles for The Violet Crown proved less distance than anticipated, with celebrities becoming the norm amidst the crane-stacked urban wiles. Late that summer, I stood in a field between Sheryl Crow and Los Lonely Boys as both flogged away at SRV tributes and felt disgusted by the business of the whole thing. Weird wasn’t what it once was as the phrase Keep Austin Weird dominated the conversation.

Working in a record store requires blinders as much as it does focus, and there can be times when releases blur together, or at least, that’s how it worked for me. But what stands out most from that weird era was the music of The Crack Pipes. Once Emperor Jones released Beauty School, few mixes left my hands without a tune from the gentlemen I was calling Revival Rock. While the terminology was less than ideal, both on record and especially live and in person, I felt revived from a listless sleep.

When I was a kid, I learned to use smelling salts because my mother had fainting spells. I would turn the little metal cap while she was busy and take the burn until I couldn’t take it any longer. That’s the feeling that best describes the band, who meltdown rock and roll, and recast it with a delicate balance between the soul’s articulate heart and the delightfully loud noise of punk. With the voice of Ray Pride burning at its core, the quintet runs on a high-octane soul. At a time when I was getting burned out, The Crack Pipes, stacked with talent, reinvigorated the heart of rock and roll. “Our sound is a result of us pouring everything we love into a blender and hoping we get people’s ears drunk,” Ray explains.

Bridging guitarist BillySteve’s Chicago Blues with drummer Mike Corwin’s love of noise, you can find Ray melding it together. Bass player Nick Moulos (check out Party Lines) grew up ripping skate punk in Austin, even playing with Tim Kerr from The Big Boys. “We all got along really well from the very beginning, and no one is the crazy perfectionist super boss,” Ray adds.

But beyond influences, my sense of “revival” stems further from the religious connotation of raising the spirit. Whether catching them at my favorite Austin record shop, Trailer Space or down at Mohawk, the enthusiasm with which The Crack Pipes hit the stage whips every room into a crazed throbbing mass. As though a bomb ticking before an explosion, coloring every show in my memory by high-energy revelry. After one such show at Emo’s, fueled by the feedback and glory of the closing collapse, I declined rides and walked a rainy mile to my car. The smile never left my face.

The shoes I wore that night have been with me for almost seven years now only had them resoled once. They continue to fit, no matter what the situation. If you were to walk around in them, they wouldn’t fit your feet as they match mine.

Flashbulb Flashback: Taylor Craig Mills / Totally Classic, Man // 10.30.13

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When I arrived in Fort Worth, I read the skies like my ancestors and found The Moon. Behind the bar, there was a gentleman who carried himself with ease. After the bourbon was poured, we exchanged pleasantries. Such were my early months knowing Taylor Craig Mills. We’d see one another at shows. That handshake, the nod of the head or tip of his Open Road Stetson, the little things showed presence; from gestures like a kind word, or a short-and-sweet anecdote, everything was in its right place. And when I heard him sing at 2012 Weekly MAF, his Mills & Co. performing a divine set in the cool darkened oasis of The Durty Crow, it stopped me in my tracks. Mills’ voice set against lush arrangements gave one the sensation of time slowing.

Mills is a storyteller in the Texas tradition, able to conjure the wilds of our state’s longing as well as the isolation of that Lone Star. 2012’s Don’t Ever Look Back Twice is a bounty of sculpted layers, rife with characters caught up in the perpetual grind. Star-crossed lovers and tragic subplots line the hallways of these tunes, swelling with enigmatic pathos echoing long after the music stops.

Opening with a haunting whistle, the album is as evocative as a collection of short stories and has been in heavy rotation since making its way to my ears last year. When we met up at The Aardvark late in the summer, it was Mills who asked the first question, “So what are we doing here?” Soon we were talking about his first band, with his brother, called Voight. During those early musical experiences, he realized, “Songs have the best reach to the human heart.” It was this thesis that eventually launched Mills&Co. in 2010. Then came Our Souls To Keep, the album’s closing tune with the meditative refrain, “Don’t let it go to your head,” and he’d found his sound.

Folks who had known him for years were astounded to hear what he’d been working on, and the scene responded positively. Tom Urquhart and Tony Diaz from KTCU’s Good Show allowed him to record a demo in their studio, getting twenty-two songs down in the first session. Soon he would join Blackbox’s roster of artists and find even more fans.

Mills & Co’s sound centered on the front man’s true tenor, a vocal ability often wasted in traditional rock forays. Developing material for the project, he sheepishly approached friend Jeremy Hull, bass player for cowpunk masters Holy Moly, followed by drummer Joe Carpenter. “I thought the warmth of Jeremy’s bow worked well with my voice.” Filling out the lineup, Mills turned to Kris Knight formerly of Handclaps and Harmonies[i], giving him a keyboard player with a strong head for harmony. “I wanted a more natural feel. No matter how strong your voice is when you’re battling lead guitar and amps you get drowned out and people miss the point of everything.” Whether seen as a two, three or four-piece the songs always resonate.

In addition to his own music, Mills and Knight joined Un Chien, allowing our mustachioed hero to return to his bass player roots, “Its fun to play my part and not have to worry about everything else.” The band destroyed their Joy Division set at Rock Assembly 2013, Mills nailing Peter Hook’s melodic bass lines. Recently signed to Hand Drawn Records, their full-length debut releases December 6th.

Taylor Craig Mills continues to write new tunes for the next Mills & Co. record, telling me four songs have already made their way onto set lists. He will continue to find new ways of connecting with people, “I’ve done the rock and roll show and that’s a blast. But the reason I became a musician was to have an effect on somebody. Sometimes it’s a song that makes your night, week or even your month better.”