The Insects of Blessing

From the Memoirs of an Unknown Entertainer

The Grasses and the Bugs

I\’ll ask for the blessings of fathers
and I’ll grow a whole city from this one little bean
and it\’ll eat up the rain like a virus
and there will be nothing left for the angels
and I’ll eat from a bucket like unemployed cattle
and rest in the grasses with the bugs. 

A. Clements

There’s a moment in the early morning, a moment of clarity when I am most productive.  I found that moment the morning before our summer west coast tour, and used it to finish our tour-bible, a tome: infallible as the holy book itself.  I printed every map and carefully constructed the soon to be tattered and stained binder.  With this great book, we’d know where we were driving, where we were staying, when to soundcheck, if food was being provided (rarely), and if there was any guaranteed compensation (never). 

I pressed my finger to the bottom of the page and pushed it along the list of towns towards the top. The fresh bubble jet printer ink smeared until I rested on Blessing, TX.  Our lead man, Clive, was more excited about this show than some of the bigger ones in California and Oregon.  He was born near Blessing and hadn’t visited in ages. 

We left the town, our jobs and our cares the next morning, and crossed the Blessing town line around 2 PM.  Taking in the surroundings, we noticed a restaurant called Restaurant.  The local sheriff was waiting behind some mesquite brush on his motorcycle.  We slowed down and cruised past the only traffic signal.  Our police escort followed us anyway, until a last-minute turn at a tiny coffee shop a few blocks down. 

Our heart rates normalized.

I reached up between the front seats and turned off the air conditioning.  It was an excuse to scan Clive’s pale face.  He managed a half-smile while avoiding eye contact.  His lowered eyes and tightly closed mouth told me he was contemplative.  He would be happy to be home for a bit and to see his sister and mother.  I speculated that he had something to prove to the town and surrounding area, some message of hope he wanted to convey. I sat back and lowered my window.  Pollen and dry air filled my nose and lungs.  Texas in July was pretty hot, but Mother Nature tried to make up for it with a cathartic breeze. 

Clive no longer needed the bible.  “Turn here,” he said as we approached a sign which read, “Home on the Range RV Park.”  The van wheels audibly transitioned from pavement to gravel.  Jason, our bass player and current driver, followed Clive’s directions and pulled the van into a dirt clearing next to a trailer.  We stopped and the dust from below raced ahead of our van, blowing past Clive’s mother, sister and his mother’s boyfriend, Ted.  They sat unaffected in woven aluminum tube folding chairs outside the trailer by some lawn ornaments.  Happy for Clive, I followed his exit from the van. We\’d been good friends for years now, and I cherished this opportunity to meet his family.  I knew there would be time for proper introductions later, as we planned to sleep there following the show.  We allowed a brief reunion until Clive reluctantly climbed back into the van so we could get to the venue on time.  

The Blessing Civic Center was a towering structure in the middle of nowhere, which combined a stage and gymnasium.  Passionate kids from the several small towns the facility served were already buzzing around.  You could tell they were grateful when something special happened here.  I even signed a CD prior to the show for a young girl who was there with her mother.  Folks from smaller towns are loyal attendees when the opportunity presents itself.  They arrive, they stand in the front, they watch all the bands, and they don’t talk over the performance.  I always appreciated the opportunity to bring a show to kids like these ones.  

After several talented local acts who were humbled to precede the hometown hero’s fame, we rocked the Blessing Civic Center.  The well-worn stage told tales of musical performances, scout meetings, and little league games.  Clive hit every note with precision, but without the usual calisthenics. 

How was he taking his homecoming? 

Was he well?

After the show, Clive looked anxious to get back to the family, so we didn’t waste much time packing up.  His sister wanted to ride in the tour van with us, and we were happy to oblige.  When we arrived, she quickly retreated to her room.  Most of the living room light entered through mini-blinds from a large light standing tall on a wooden pole.  It flickered at a trusty rate.  Second was the television light changing in color and brightness.  A pull-chain kitchen light provided the last line of defense from darkness but was obstructed by cabinets.  I was okay with the dim light. 

I was just hungry.

Since Restaurant was closed for the evening, we’d have to rustle up some grub.  I would have loved some country fried steak.  I went back out through the screen door (wait for it… “squueaak-pop”), and returned seconds later with instant noodles and a small, worn aluminum pot.  After filling it with water, I reached for the stove.  “Oh, I’m sorry, that’s not working,” said Clive’s Mom.  “Use the little one right there.” 

She was pointing at a small propane stove atop a rickety TV tray.

“Thanks very much,” I said as I turned a knob and struck a match six times on the side of its failing box.  Finally it lit.  Sulfur, propane and whatever had previously spilled into the small stove created an unpleasant bouquet.  Our humble accommodations were temporary, and I knew how much it meant to Clive to be here.  I would suck it up.  I looked over the rising steam and observed the gathering in the dark room beyond.   

“Are you supposed to have a propane tank in the house?” I thought to myself and shrugged.

There were a few folks, including Clive’s mother, on the polyester couch.  Though worn, its antiquated rose pattern was detailed enough to hide the scars.  Clive’s mom wore a smile that covered her whole face.  Her baby boy had come home, and now he was a big fancy rock star.  Clive sat on a simple wooden chair, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees.  He sunbathed in that precious time with his mother, not saying much.  Every once in a while, he’d lean over and tell her something about his life away from home… about the house that he lived in with friends… about his pretty steady job at the cafe… about girlfriends, and so on.

I turned the burner off, drained my noodles in the sink and glanced back.  Besides the eyes mirroring the television, something else shimmered.. something on the wall.. a tapestry of some sort.  I set down the pot and moved slowly across the living room to inspect it. As soon as I approached, the tapestry swayed as if blown by a draft.  I stopped.  Briefly distracted by something on my foot, I looked back up to see that the wall was, in fact, covered in field bugs of various shapes and sizes. 

Scenes from creep shows flashed brightly behind my eyes. 

I refrained from yelling out and took a deep breath. 

I went back to my soup, turned the burner off and took it outside, emptying the hot contents by the front door discreetly.  As I approached the open side door of the van, Dan, our drummer, stopped strumming a ukulele and looked at me.  He could see something was up. While I was outside, Clive had become fully aware of the situation.  Jason exited the trailer briskly to inform us that Clive was saying goodbye.  I started the van as we prepared to leave.

Clive’s mother gave her son a final hug on the front step.  I leaned out of the van window to thank her and feign normality.  She pointed to the fields surrounding her house.  “This time of year the farmers are spraying and then the bugs come,” she apologized broadly.  I assured her that it was fine and that I understood, though I did not.  I was frustrated with her situation and embarrassed on her behalf. 

Were Clive at home with her, would he insulate the trailer protecting his mother from the invading insects? 

Could she escape this seasonal infestation or was she doomed to endure?

Clive jumped up in the passenger seat and closed the door, staring directly in front of him at an oak tree illuminated by our freshly ignited headlamps. 

“Clive… I,” I started.

“I don’t want to talk about it… just drive.”  

So that’s what we did.

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