Homeward Bound: In Houston

for David Solis & Damien Gaffney

Sunlight scorched; almost immediately, shirt dripped with sweat and I retreated into a Starbucks. Inside, told this was dry heat, that humidity would arrive and make this that much worse. People-watched from the window for an hour or two. Lots of gorgeous women wearing loose-fitting clothes, seemingly unaffected by anything else. A few homeless people struggling to even walk properly. One parked himself in front of a trash can and dug through it; his expression turned to glee as he discovered a whole container of food there. I made myself watch, thinking what I had said at the Twitter conference: This is my country. This is not acceptable.

I walked around a bit more: 5 hours before Collegium would arrive, 6 before rehearsal. Went looking for my favorite brand of pens, the finer the tip (0.5 is just acceptable enough for me) the better. I don’t get them up North and I don’t feel like buying $25 worth of stuff from Amazon all the time. Ended up back at the hotel writing about Dickinson, having bought an inferior brand of pen.

Saw a woman drop off her son at the hotel, complaining the whole time about the traffic and worrying about how to get back. A bit too familiar: I love my parents, but my whole life any and every excuse to not do something was offered even while doing that something. Eventually this turned me into being scared of doing things myself while making bad excuses. A good friend has told me I “walk nervous,” and that’s true. – I wonder how Dickinson felt, almost never leaving home. –

After rehearsal, a few of us visited Rice University. Valhalla was neat: an attempt to create a dive bar atmosphere for geeks. Reminded me of Sugar Mom’s in Philadelphia, but without the artsy/trashy crowd (at least on this visit). Of significance was Duncan Hall, but I don’t want to get into the academic debates about schools of architecture. Rather, I’ll say this: the building is awesome. Rice’s campus was awesome. You felt like this school cared for learning, cared for its students, cared to stand for something. I realize that the middle statement is debatable – a quick contrast with my undergraduate years should suffice.

Writing stopped as going around with choir led to lots of neat buildings to behold: an alumni’s home with beautiful wood floors, and despite a lot of nice-looking stuff, a feeling of space and comfort. The church we sang the wedding in: awful acoustics but a Gothic look. Finally, Annunciation, with good acoustics and much beauty and no real comfort: we had a job to do.

In the airport, a reservist heading off to training soon. He had joined shortly after 9/11 because he wanted to serve. He wasn’t bitter about Army life: he talked about how he had seen many new places – Germany, Spain, England, France, etc. and loved them all. He spoke well of his time in Iraq. But he was clear about its limitations: he married a fellow soldier and they were divorced now. He had been in Houston visiting his child. We talked about Transformers, football, Star Trek and watched gorgeous women pass by.

Finally, on the plane, an evangelical professor trying to convince his circles to take the Great Books seriously. Again, no writing: the conversation began by talking about film. He was very excited about the books he was writing and the programs his school had set up. I heard a lot about Dante. At this point, I wasn’t a terribly patient listener, I must confess. There’s a certain “in Texas, everything is bigger” mentality that I both love and hate; like literary theory, it attempts to define things by genre, as opposed to seeing how individuals compose a whole. We didn’t debate, I was eager to hear about his approaches to texts, and I’m more than willing to recommend his work. I just need to be at Starbucks, with pens I like, slightly removed from the scorching heat.

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