among the towns on signs.
green signs, white text. is there anything more american than highway signage?
partly cloudy, blue skies, harsh sun, rolling hills, beautiful, bales of hay, longhorns, ranches, and lots of flat land, too. i wish i could show you. i wish someone was here to see it with me.
miles and miles of this and then a quick bend around the highway and a (!) traffic light shows up. coming down this hill, you see a mcdonald’s, bush’s chicken, pizza hut, schlotzky’s, autozone, best western, whataburger, h-e-b, burger king, sonic. brand-fuckin-names. the promised land. this is what the modern supply chain did to america.
forty miles from my hometown, i’m in lampasas. the existence of a god, a son, a holy ghost, the divinity of the prophets, the burning bushes and the fat of the lambs.
it all seems more probable tonight.
i say it’s the middle of nowhere, but i know where this is. it’s on all the road signs as you venture away from austin — “cedar park, six miles, lampasas, thirty-something miles.” there was a pretty girl named katelyn terry from lampasas who came to my school in the eighth grade, and she was sweet, innocent, small-town, and i had a crush on her. mr. terry, her father, was a history teacher at our school. never met him.
it’s one of those towns that sounds like texas. it rings like a cowbell in the stands of a friday night football game. (they do that out here in these small towns. they bring bells to the football games to “get rowdy”. i sound so silly saying those words. evidently i’m not cool enough for the big city and not this enough for small towns.)
me having a reason to be in lampasas on any given day is almost as preposterous as showing up here with zero reason. in a gas station full of truck drivers, i stopped to use the bathroom. me, with my long hair, a camera the price of a car, and wearing mostly black, it felt like an opening scene to a film like “dirty harry”. a normal day ready to be turned sideways.
of course, nothing of the sort happened. i pissed. washed my hands, too. i’d bet you a pack of cigarettes those men in those trucks don’t spend two seconds with their hands under that faucet.
the sun beats down, my eyes squint.
their team, the lampasas badgers. their stadium, small — but important. it’s texas. the high school, viewed from satellite, is the largest single development in town. i end up on avenue d, then avenue c, then between avenue b and a. it’s funny. in new york, i live between the same two avenues.
have you ever been to those “sculpture parks”? where the city hall just buys or commissions a bunch of statues and puts them on a little plot of land with a walking trail? i’ve always thought those felt contrived, but it was the only place i felt comfortable parking and walking around in. too many suspicious eyes to walk where one might not usually walk.
a woman was playing basketball by herself, much like i do in tompkins square park, between the same two fucking avenues, 1500 miles away.
i’m now three streets away from the main avenue, past the clean sculpture park, across a random road and walking in what qualifies as a neighborhood. my heart beats faster.
i’ve walked through the marcy projects and queensbridge and avenue d at 2 a.m. in new york city. what the fuck is so scary about this?
a car passes about every minute or so. the fences are all falling apart, as are the homes. windows shattered, shoddy sheds, cut up cars. if i had been raised there. in that house. what would i have done? where would i be?
locals slow down to look at me and i stare blankly at the ground in front of me. i’m sure they have insane people in this town, and i would like to be ignored the same way.
this is worse than a n.y.c.h.a. sponsored, 1990s style crack-dealing housing projects. dangerous neighborhoods in the inner city are never far from something better. this is remote, desolate, and whatever domestic violence, drug abuse, alcoholism, depression, loneliness goes on in there, it never makes it out. fuck a sculpture garden.
then again, still in view behind me, there are pleasant old people pacing around on that well-paved sidewalk, a couple sitting next to the flower bed, happy to be together this evening in peace. what a difference about a hundred yards of distance can make. i walk back.
the sun fell below the horizon and i drove into a sonic. you should read this journal entry i wrote the other day, first, before i go on:
SEPTEMBER 10 2021
excuse my odd thought process.
“look at a map, and we’ll find somewhere to go.”
me, mom, nana, and grandpa found ourselves at russell park, a tiny little beach on lake georgetown. the sun was setting and we looked out on to the water. then we went to blue hole, nearby on another part of the water. took some photos, walked for a bit.
on the way back home, we stopped at sonic and i watched two girls about my age hustling back and forth in and out of that sonic, to and fro, tater tots and slushies ordered and delivered. her nametag read “gabby”, the one who brought our food. she shined a southern-hospitality smile and said thank you for our tip. texas sun is nice at this hour.
life seems so simple here in a small town. allow me to idealize gabby. she grew up here. she’s attending the university just outside of town. this job gives her some extra money to save. she’ll graduate in something like education or nursing, and get a job nearby. many boyfriends will come and go. and then a husband. (city girls seem to hate the idea of a husband. “it’s for those poor, uneducated, dependent small town girls,” they sneer.) and then a kid. (city girls especially hate the idea of a kid, ever. “i can’t be so tied down. i can’t see myself ever caring for another human being like that. it’s too much.”) perhaps divorce papers descend? no. we’re idealizing. she stays with her husband. she takes the kid to school, feeds, loves, teaches, hugs that child. (she’s not like the city girls claim — she paid her bills and ran her own life without him before they met, and continues to work when the kids enter school. it’s no loss of dignity to be a wife. she’s more than that, but since her fashion isn’t striking and her liquor cabinet is bare, they can’t see it.) she loves her husband. he loves her. the pair is often incapable of showing it. they’re imperfect parents. inadequate lovers, too many times. but she and him make a life together. a symbiosis. they make a home worth staying in until death.
is that so idealized? i know people with lives just so. friends of mine whose parents had them as a result of that same old story. and it ain’t so bad. it isn’t very “deep”, whatever that means. maybe it isn’t. but i think it is enlightened, and as it goes with enlightenment, the highly educated, the well-learned can’t see how in such simplicity could come such dumb, stupid joy.
often, i’ve heard challenges to my notion that i “know what i want” in regards to relationships. “how can you possibly know what you want?” i’m often asked.
truth is, i don’t. but i do know what i want at the moment, with all the information i now have.
i’ve learned, so far, that i would like to be with a partner who:
doesn’t have attachment issues
is beautiful/admirable (i like that second word a lot. i like saying and feeling that way: “i admire you. i adore you. i think the world of you.”)
has a sense of humor about life
is mentally stimulating
those sorts of things are my criteria, and they’re highly subjective and i think i overestimate my ability to see those in others. maybe i’m projecting at times, and assuming too often. i don’t know.
maybe i just want to move to a random place and meet the smartest, prettiest, most interesting girl in town and just love her. thus ending my search for an elusive love. i wonder if this hypothetical woman would be down.
there’s a hopelessly romantic concept that you can meet your high school sweetheart and decide to love them for the rest of your life, and godfuckingdammit, you can. i’m telling you — it is possible. it might not be ideal, depending on what you had to choose from at your high school, but the point is that love is a choice, and two can make that choice.
i’m thinking of the couple with two young children in a half empty tex-mex restaurant off the road of an old highway at 9pm on a wednesday. three chubby waitresses who look just like each other are scurrying around, making small talk with the couple about how wonderful the food is. he’s wearing a cowboy hat. her dark hair being played with by her toddler sitting up on the seat of the booth. he loves her and she loves him and they love their kids and if that much is true all is good in the world. half of my metropolitan heart saw these as simple, stupid people, pleased by so little because they could never handle much else, could never have enough taste or capacity to want to be in a place where “all the action is,” could never gain any social status that matters in the world, could never be anything notable.
the other half of my heart is frightened.
that i may be too far gone from this stupid simplicity, too caught up in whether my apartment is nice or my salary big enough, too concerned with nicer clothes and inseam lengths and whether or not my hair sits just so. too deep in this material chase when i really want is to love and be loved.
frightened at how much we all enjoy denying this desire because of how uncomfortable it makes us, as if amassing followers and aesthetically pleasing instagram stories is anymore comforting,
frightened that i may die and not have loved.
the sun hits summer-long tan legs, lakes wake, and creeks flow in small towns for miles from here. i often wonder if i’m looking in all the wrong places for a partner, if sun-kissed small town texans are the way to go, or perhaps the model girls at fashion week are the real catch, i’ll just get rich and hang out around influencers and seduce a trophy wife, maybe a foreigner would have some depth and mystery i might desire, a british girl’s accent may be just the thing to make me fall in love. what do i want?
the sun-kissed small town simpleton texans have something right: so many of them seem to do love in the easiest possible way. find and keep. love and love.
i want a love that would have been there when i had my first shitty apartment in new york city, that $800/month room with three housemates off the halsey street J train, and i want a love that listens to me ramble for hours and doesn’t hate me for it, i want a love that i would do anything for, even if she doesn’t need it, i want a love that disagrees with me, a love i disagree with, a love that far exceeds any opinion on birkenstocks, pharmaceutical companies, or healthy eating. i want a love that exists whether or not we impress the other loves, i want a love that is there through thick and thin, but that’s cliche and it misses a point better made in few words:
i want a love frighteningly simple.
i know one isn’t supposed to want love. i’m not going to apologize for doing so.
anyway, back in lampasas i decided to stop at sonic because i knew i’d find some young people around my age working there, and i thought i could muster up the courage to say hello and ask them about this town, how they grew up here, how it is.
a girl named kylee came up to the car, gave me my side of tater tots, and looked at me for what felt like too long. she asked if my order was correct, and i responded, “yes ma’am.” it felt potent. off she went. she had freckles and i wondered if she’d noticed mine.
so after being a fucking dork and not saying hello properly, i ordered more food. it came up on the screen again: “kylee is coming soon with your order,” and instead, a slightly chubby blonde boy came out with my order. his nametag said aiken. i was a bit disappointed.
but i spoke to him. “is your name aiken? pronounced like clay aiken?”
“i like that.”
i asked, “are you from here?”
“no. i’m from cove, like twenty minutes from here.”
“cove. like, copperas cove.” (zero clue how i knew the name of that place.)
“yeah, copperas cove. are you from here?”
“no. i’m from new york city.”
“well what in the world brought you to lampasas?”
“i’m visiting mom and dad in leander.”
“why aren’t you spending time with them tonight?”
“i’m going back to the city in thirty-six hours, wanted to take a long drive by myself, look at the moon, meet someone, say hello. i’ve been with them for like a week now.”
“oh, right. that’s cool.”
“i found your avenue b here in town. i live on avenue b in new york city.”
“i’m sure it’s a very different street here than it is there.”
he didn’t seem to need to get back to work. he showed me the order number on the receipt, and it was #666.
“you know, i always take out order #666, even if i’m not supposed to take that one out. i always take 666. and it’s because i end up meeting someone like you, ya know?”
this explains why kylee didn’t show up.
“i like that, aiken. that’s cool. the devil’s in town, and he’s from new york.”
“i guess so.”
“so, what are you doing out here? where do you want to go? what do you want to do?”
“me? uh, i don’t know. i graduated high school last year. i’m just working. i hate it here. fuck lampasas.” he asked jokingly, “why? do you have a job offer for me in new york?”
i laughed. he has no idea that my little chuckle was my only way of expressing that i had done so much work, so much writing, so much trying to get to new york city after dropping out of high school here in texas.
“no, i don’t. just curious.” i smiled.
“well, what’s your name?”
“i’m diego. segura.”
“are you online and all that? are you on, like, tiktok? instagram?”
“hah, no. not tiktok. i wish. do you think i could? i’ve written a book, you can look that up on the internet, you’ll find me. diego segura.”
“well cool, i’m going to. i’ll find you.”
“do it. it was nice to meet you, and your friend as well.”
“oh the girl who came out here earlier? she’s an asshole.”
“oh. well, she’s cool. you’re cool. it was nice to meet you both.”
he started to walk away.
“by the way, the food here is shit. just throw it away, go down the street and go to storm’s. it’s the best, it’s drive in. it’s like six blocks away. texas blocks, not new york blocks.” he smiled at that quip.
“alright, duly noted. bye aiken.”
i didn’t go to storm’s. the food at sonic is kinda shit. the moon is pretty. the blue and orange in the mirror as i drove away in the near-dark, that was beautiful. i’ve never had a more vivid experience at a sonic. i wonder if this is all scripted, especially that part with order #666. whoever writes these little stories is funny.
my hands on the wheel are fidgety all the way home and i am restless and i feel as though i have much love to give, much appreciation for the woman shooting the basketball by herself, for the people in the shitty lampasas neighborhoods, for aiken’s unguided gone-with-the-highway life, for the truck drivers.
you motherfuckers, you. no less opaque than anyone, no less far away than the thousands of anonymous faces on the streets and avenues back home. would the sun please rise again and burn me? i would like to feel the warmth of life.