Wednesday, February 28, 2007

adventures of pruning boy #001

This tree service job is going to be a good gig.

I’m working for a small family run outdoor business that’s been around for several decades. The dad started it as a part time job way back when and the son bought it about 25 years ago. Both still work with the company.

The son is probably in his 60’s. The dad is 88.

I’m serious. We’re out with motorized pole saws, climbing ladders and so forth and this 88 year-old frail looking man is hauling off our cut limbs to the trailer. It’s kind of inspiring if not humbling.

I’m the young buck of the trio. I did most of the work since the son’s doctor told him not to climb ladders with pole saws anymore.

Some might say I was their bitch. But I don’t mind being the bitch. They’re easy guys to work for.

I’ve always liked manual labor as opposed to office busy work. I probably won’t be saying that in the July heat though. It seems to be a flexible gig for the secret agent life.

I don’t know...there’s just a real down to earth surealness when you’re straddling a branch on a two-story oak tree, holding a device that could cut your arm off, and trying to cut a branch that’s angled slightly over your head.

It’s calm. Almost like a faith test.

It’s weird.

Monday, February 26, 2007

testimony #025: pruning

The end of the month is coming up and bills will start coming due. Last night, the family and I prayed for a host of things, one of which was for a way to pay upcoming bills.

This morning before 9am I had not one but two labor opportunities. One of which might be semi-permanent.

My friend in Jones County called and wants to hire me for Tuesday to do some prep work and clean up for a slab being poured on his property. He’s adding on to his house.

After that call, my neighbor across the street Mr. Mackey brought over his friend who owns a tree pruning and maintenance business. He’s looking for help beginning Wednesday.

I suppose this could be the answer to that prayer last night.

And beginning Wednesday I could become a professional pruner. There’s got to be something deep and/or spiritual in that, being that this long journey through the desert has been one giant pruning of my life.

On a semi-related note:

I spent most of last week and this morning pruning the trees in my back yard as well as Obi-Wan’s. Pole saws and chain saws are like music instruments to me now.

There’s no way to express the irony of working on Obi-Wan’s trees with a chain saw while he’s sitting in the hospital getting his leg amputated. So I’ll just make a brief mention of it now.

Friday, February 23, 2007


It’s official: as of Tuesday night, Obi-Wan is legless. And therefore he is more high-needs and high maintenance than ever. Change isn’t easy for him. He’s done everything himself his entire life.

Obi-Wan is still in the hospital, recovering from surgery before his move to rehab. His niece Emma Mae returned to Waco for the time being. His son Lamont returned to Houston to pack up his belongings and make the move to the fair mother city.

So meanwhile, Obi-Wan’s only caregivers are the nurses at the hospital, and my wife and I.

I’m discovering that hospital nurses and aides can only do so much. I mean, Obi-Wan needs help doing everything now.


And I’m finding my initial reluctance in aiding him with various bodily tasks to be shallow and pathetic. Fair weather friend-ish. I’m exposed to be a fraud.

Sure, it was easy (for me) to be Obi-Wan’s friend when he only needed: his yard done, someone to sit with him during the lonely hours, share a meal on occasion, drive him to the store, assist with cashier transactions, and so forth.

But why am I not as overjoyed to assist with: urinations, defecations, constant readjusting himself in the bed for comfort and the outbursts that accompany all of this.

I feel like an exposed fraud.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

take this DNA and shove it

Agent Wife and I have been invited to so many different churches it’s not even funny.

It’s like the second some church people discover that we’re not a part of any social club, they turn up the manipulative sweet talk trying to get us to join their team. We get that a lot, being fairly known “former” ministers.

Recently, one well-meaning acquaintance said, “we’d love to have you around our church and let your DNA rub off on us all”.

That kind of makes me feel like a slut.

Physically, the only person I’ve ever shared my DNA with is Agent Wife. And together we’ve created two great kids with that DNA. I’d feel pretty cheap if I shared that DNA with everyone who asked in passing.

I know this whole “spiritual DNA” talk is just a figure of speech. But it ain’t much different from physical DNA, I think.

I mean...I’m into deep, long-term commitments. Friendships. If you want to walk with me and I want to walk with you, I’m sure some “DNA” exchange will happen in the long run.

I long for realness. I despise shallowness.

I want to be a friend. Not assimilated into the collective.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

...of family, forgiveness, and amputation...

*UPDATE* - Sunday 11:27a

I was at the hospital this morning. After they took Obi-Wan down for surgery prep, his doctor came up to the room and told me the amputation will be postponed, possibly until Monday or Tuesday. They wanted to conduct a stress test and some heart tests. - B


The past six weeks in the life of Obi-Wan have been a season of change. And this last week is no exception.

Obi-Wan’s niece Emma Mae from Waco and his estranged son Lamont from Houston have been caring for him all week.

The big news I never would have seen coming in a million years: Obi-Wan and his son have made amends as best they can. They have forgiven each other for 50 plus years of past hurts and are embracing the change.

Lamont will soon return to Houston to tie up some loose ends before returning to the fair mother city where he will reside with Obi-Wan and care for him.

That’s amazing. I never would have seen that coming. Obi-Wan won’t have to go to a nursing home or deal with questionable 24-hour in-home care workers.

On the bleak front...

Obi-Wan is currently in the hospital awaiting amputation of his left leg slightly above the knee. It is scheduled for Sunday at 0900.

The doctors have avoided amputation four times last year. This time it’s unavoidable as infection has set in his left foot.

I was present this afternoon as the last of three doctors came to view his leg and discuss Sunday morning’s schedule. His doctor asked if he had any questions. Obi-Wan’s reply:

“Doc, I don’t fear death. When it’s my time to go, I’m ready. I trust that the Lord sent you to do this job, so you must know what you’re doing. I just hope that you’ve got your circular saw blade sharpened.”

I can only hope that I will be as profound and funny at my greatest time of need.

Obi-Wan’s only desires in life were to live to his dying days in his own home and with both of his feet.

I guess getting one of those desires in better than none.

I don’t know, CEO. It ain’t the end of the world, but, what gives?

Thursday, February 15, 2007


It is official. As of the last two weeks, Agent Wife and I have taken the necessary steps to remove ourselves from the izzy group ministry. And this is a good thing.

My wife and I have a long history with the izzy group. As early as 1998 Agent Wife volunteered in it’s food pantry. I followed suite in 1999 and we found ourselves staff members in 2000.

One of my favorite things about the izzy group ministry as opposed to any other ministry outlet to the poor is that they did not fear change. Izzy rarely stayed the same for more than 6 months. And this constant change was a result of hearing the CEO and thus moving accordingly, as opposed to sticking to tradition or legacy.

Over the years we watched the izzy group turn from a simple church food pantry to a dignified shelter and café for the poor; from a social apparatus to a springboard for friendship between rich and poor and all else; from the most effective poverty ministry outlet in town to a quiet, behind the scenes operation.

Much like Agent Wife and myself, the izzy group is currently in a desert period of sorts. It makes no sense to leave them now. It almost seems cruel.

Yet I sought the CEO for months and I’m convinced we don’t belong there anymore. And that’s not a sad thing. The Bossman and I are still close friends. I’m sure we’ll find a cigar or two to smoke together on occasion.

Agent Wife and I are also convinced that we needed to let go of the old before we could embrace the new (Matt 13:44). You know...selling all we own before we buy the whole field with the treasure.

We still don’t know what the new is. But I think I’m starting to see it.

My life is still wide open for the CEO to do something crazy and new. I’m still casting nets, applying for jobs, etc. So far...he’s still providing for us in weird ways, which makes us available to the poverty culture we love. So...I don’t know.

I don’t usually “request prayers” on these reports. But any and all communication on my behalf to the CEO is appreciated. I’m ready for a door to open. I’m ready for this desert period to end.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

the Jedi Counsel Room

There is a bright and shining star deep within the fair mother city. Amidst the clutter of religion, non-profs, karaoke bars, military-friendly businesses, and church buildings lies a cigar bar/coffee joint where everybody knows your name.

The Jedi Counsel Room is truly the only public place in the fair mother city where one can go and not be judged by others. College students, crotchety old retirees, military men, female bartenders, philosophers, cynics, cigar loving clergy, the homeless, and secret agents can all gather together as one family. One family sitting in a giant ash-tray.

I’ve loosely hung around the Counsel Room since it’s humble beginnings eight years ago when an old college buddy of mine first opened it. I was also the first, if not only, music act there for a long time.

Playing for the cynical know-it-alls at the Jedi Counsel Room ain’t easy. But I like this kind of gig. You have to earn their respect, as opposed to the other goofy coffee joints in town where it’s a kin to playing at Disneyworld. Or maybe Branson.

There were some errands to run downtown the other day so I thought I’d spend an hour or so alone in the Counsel Room catching up on a book. Their coffee is surprisingly good (for a place that wasn’t originally set out to be a coffee joint) and I had about three Nat Sherman’s left, so might as well finish them off.

I’m not a “smoker”. I only smoke occasionally, and it’s usually when I’m in the Counsel Room. Which would make me a smoker to most people. I tried smoking a cigar in my backyard once. It just felt wrong, like I was hiding something.

While at the Counsel Room, I ran into Little Wing and hung out with him a while. Conversations with Little Wing go surprisingly well despite 1) his quiet and feminine whisper of a voice and 2) that he talks pure nonsense. Butterflies and Zebras, my friend...

He did answer one question very straight. I asked how long he’s been in the fair mother city. “Since 2002”.

I proceeded to subtly extract information from him that I wouldn’t normally ask my friends on the street. I was trying to find out where he stayed. That question is a huge no-no in the homeless community. It’s kind of like asking your grandparents about their sex life. Or asking a member of your church about their financial portfolio. But I’m trying to figure out if he is in need of shelter. And we’ve known of each other for a year so maybe I had gained some trust.

Little Wing told me of “849”, which I learned was the address of a house he stayed at for about six months. I assume it was an abandoned house the way he described it and how the next-door neighbor called the cops, thus his eviction. I’m surprised he lasted six months. He says that he currently sleeps under “that bridge over there”, pointing behind us. I can’t imagine that it provides much shelter. Much less anyplace one could call home. But he seemed content about it, so I don’t know.

Then, there was this young woman that I vaguely knew from about ten years ago. A friend of mine who I played in a band with was a border at her parent’s house back then. And she was some high school kid at the time. We used their house as a rehearsal place.

I asked if she remembered me. She did. Somehow we got on the topic of what she’s doing in life now.

She practically broke down describing what sounded like my life 13 years ago: recent college grad, loan payments piling up, car failing, miserable job, still in the fair mother city, and a host of other real life happenings gone awry. Overall, she was unhappy as life has turned out different than she expected. I could relate. Not that my passing words hosted any practical advice or healing, but I told her it WILL get better. I’m living proof.

I would have never guessed that the CEO would orchestrate these chance meetings within the Jedi Counsel Room. I was just trying to read a book.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

don't bite the mega-church that feeds you

So I recently played a unique gig deep in the bowels of religion here in the fair mother city.

I was hired to provide background music for a banquet of leaders at the largest mega-church in town.

Yep. Over 200 leaders dining (no wining) in their massive state of the art church building. Me: center stage, under big lights, and assigned my very own sound guy. I haven’t had it so good since 9 years ago when I played with a band that once opened for Third Day. That night, Agent Wife-to-be served as my roadie, which sealed her place in my heart. I caught Third Day’s bass player eyeing her up and down.

I almost went down in history as the first guy to kick Third Day’s ass.

Anyway, this mega-church paid and fed me fairly well for playing about an hour and a half of non-stop background music. This is my kind of gig: a captive audience whe
re no one’s really paying attention to me. I turned it into a free-form improvised deal, like a mild version of Sun Ra. Well, I only wish I could get away with music like Sun Ra. But I did manage to work in Behind Blue Eyes. Now there’s a song for the mega-church.

The gig was exactly as I had hoped for. Low pressure, decent paying, and huge exposure, opening the door for future gigs as this church is chock filled with the young influential movers and shakers of our city.

And they’ve got money.

Most of the cheesy business cards I had made five minutes prior to my arrival were gone by the end of the night. I even chatted with one nice young newly engaged couple that was looking for potential wedding music.

Despite the warm welcome and hospitality, I still left there disturbed. Maybe emotional.

I just don’t know anything anymore.

I’m not a big fan of “leaders” as opposed to the pew-jockey church members. How does all of that add up with “the last shall be first”?

After I played, I hung out in the lobby with the food. Then I went exploring while some motivational speakers were talking.

I just don’t get it anymore. After being imbedded within the poverty culture of the fair mother city and away from the church culture for four years, I feel like Isaiah, “whoa to me. I am ruined”.

I mean, everything in this church’s building was so pristine and excellent. There was a book store in the lobby with all the latest christian products. The furniture in some back hallway was nicer than anything I’ve seen in the homes I’ve visited in recent years. Everything was new, perfect, ornate and sometimes gawdy.

They had a prayer room with the nicest décor, including framed photos of the president and one with the church’s pastor hugging our area’s republican congressman.

I wonder if they had a photo with the recent 26-year democrat congressman, before the redistricting ousted him a few years ago...

I’m really not trying to judge these folks. Bare with me. This is such culture shock to me. I don't know what to make of it anymore.

Usually church people can use scripture examples to back up this fancy church stuff. I don’t know where these scriptures are, but something about making the house of the lord an excellent place or something.

And I’m well aware that the “how rich/poor you should be” argument cannot be won from either angle. I think.

What really did me in were these signs posted in subtle places around the lobby, by the water fountain, above the men’s urinal, etc. They were stating the church’s mission statement. It was something flowery and vague as expected. But it also had a ”membership covenant” stating “I will...” with bullet points like “serve the pastors”, “obey the leaders”, “give financially”.

Man. I assumed church members just wanted to do those things. I didn’t know they were written down somewhere with guilty overtones.

They were nice hospitable folks and it was a great gig. But it was hard to hold back the tears during my exit.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

empty, taxes, and musicianship

I haven't had much to write lately, or time to write it. Activities on the agent front have been consumed with Obi-Wan's failing health. I was the Agent B ambulance again yesterday as he needed ER attention. He was back home in about 4 hours.

All that to say...I have been empty word-wise. Although I have found plenty of words to share on the blogs of others. But life ain't all about homely chicks and epidurals.


For eight years of marriage, this time of year has always served as a bold reminder of how the CEO has provided for us the previous year.

Yes, tax time makes me tally up just how little money passed through our hands last year. We are so freaking below the poverty line that our culture would assume we shouldn't be breathing.

Yet, we had our second child born to us and we were freed from all debt last year.

Our tax guy can't figure it out. Welcome to my world, tax guy.


Looks like I could be on the verge of income-making again with the only god-gifted talent I have: music.

The fair mother city is brutal to musicians. Which is why I like it here. My act would be a dime-a-dozen in Austin. But here, you have to really fight just to make a decent side income with music. That forces musicians to either a) truly create and stay on their toes or b) accept the fact that you suck.

I'm not going to fight. Instead, I'll keep playing at open mic nights and so forth and see what happens. I recently had to turn down a cool-sounding art show opening gig because of a previous booking: a (good paying) gig straight in the belly of religion here in the fair mother city. Less vague references on that as it develops...

Sunday, February 04, 2007

old car

Last week at the emergency room, I asked Obi-Wan how he was feeling.

“B, I feel like some old car. I jus’ ain’t working right no more”.

The times are a-changing with my friend Obi-Wan. I’ve watched his body slowly give way and shut down for the past four years. All of it was a normal part of aging, I guess.

But these last two weeks I sense a different era of his aging. Maybe like the final steps towards the end.

I mean, he could live another five years for all I know. But he’s very different. His body is giving away rapidly.

Obi-Wan cannot walk anymore. Not even with aid of a walker or cane. He’s isolated in his main chair in the living room. He cat-naps every five minutes or so. He was in the ER twice in one week. And he feels weaker than a kitten.

It’s a constant zoo at his house. A niece of his from Waco has arranged for some home-help workers to be with him 24/7. But sometimes they don’t work out.

Back in October or November, Obi-Wan felt an urgency to take care of some loose ends in his life.

I don’t know why I included that. Just saying...

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Mr. Mom

I’m so glad Agent Wife joined the blogging network. Not as if she needs any of my endorsing.

She really does put a female (thus, vastly different) view to this weird-ass life we live.

And often times she’s off doing her own agent solo gig during the daytime hours. That’s because she’s got her own assignments that I’m not qualified for.

Like speaking French. Agent Wife is fluent in French. And for some god-unknown reason, the US government thought it was a good idea to make the fair mother city a home to a couple of hundred African war-fleeing refugees. And most of them speak French.

Abilene is an isolated redneck town. There are no French resources here.

At least in New York or maybe Dallas, there would be some small bit of culture that these fine African folks could cling to and feel at home.

I’m glad the Africans are in the fair mother city. But there’s nothing remotely French here. Except Agent Wife, who somehow befriended one family. So she helps interpret for them at various appointments.

Of course, these social services now know of Agent Wife. So they use to call and beg her to come interpret for the other 190 Africans that needed social services.

And oh yeah, these helps organizations always said, “we don’t have it in our budget to pay you”.

That’s the cheap-ass fair mother city for you.

So Agent Wife sticks with this one particular family because they’re friends now.

So she’s off interpreting at doctor’s offices and so forth.

And we juggle our schedules around so that this can happen. Which means I get to be Mr. Mom. That picture of the Michael Keeton movie is totally me right now.

And I'm finally figuring out that being a full time dad ain't a bad gig.