The Church of the Divine Fermentation

July 12, 2015

Have you ever started your own religion? I have….this will be in “Notes About Growing Up”.

We drank a lot cold beer in high school, just about every Friday and Saturday night we got wasted, and enjoyed it greatly. But I took this regular practice one step further and created a religion out of it: the Church of The Divine Fermentation to be exact. While I was hardly the biggest drunk in high school amongst its pantheon of imbibers I started The Church, created its theology, and proclaimed myself Pope.

Our family was not Catholic but The Church was modeled after the Catholic variety. I appointed Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, and Nuns. Our god was Lord Keg and our Holy Days were the keg parties held out in some pasture miles out of town at which I preached the Gospel of Guzzling to those thirsting for its Grace. I even started writing a Bible for The Church but only wrote one book which I called “Fermentisis”. Keg drank too much, puked, and the universe was born. The Adversary tried to keep you sober and his Demons (law enforcement) tried to possess you (arrest you) and take you to Hell (jail). If so taken your family attorney would have to enter Hades and perform the Rite Of Exorcism (post bond for your release). Lord Keg would smite the evil of this earth with a large beer can sent from the inebriated realms to land on the sinner who had angered him by not being as righteous as He Willed. Plus our Sacrament was of course beer and potato chips taken on the Sabbath (any day you drank beer). And so on as you might guess ad infinitum.

And yet there were degrees of righteousness among the faithful: conservatives, moderates, and liberals (the most inebriated amongst us). I considered myself a moderate and also reached out to rival faiths by ordaining some as Brothers of the Visitationist Order of the Holy Smoke as well. The sinners were few and the faithful were many it seemed but in the end you graduated, went to college, and grew up some The Church was still active in college I must say when I re-assumed the Papacy after I excommunicated a Heretic who was not as Holy as I had wished after his Election as Holy Father. But over time the fires of the old time religion lost their heat and I settled down and did not partake like I did when I was 18.

In the present age of “drinking responsibly” and the legacy of Mothers Against Drunk Driving – demons all they were in the eyes of the faithful back in the Evangelical Age of the Church – I do not drink like I used to – which is a good thing being a diabetic – but I still pop a top and guzzle a few but not to excess when I am out either. Also as many have done I have foregone “swill beer” (except for Pabst Blue Ribbon and an occasional Mickey’s) and instead drink imports and the ever growing suite of drafts from the local microbreweries. Rabbit Hole in Justin, Texas, not so far from the Ranch Estates house, is as good as any around. I did a book signing at Rabbit Hole too – they are great folks to deal with and their beer is darn good too. And I partake of others too as you might guess but there are so many beers now you could never drink them all. Unless of course you were a Saint in Keg’s squinted, drunken eyes of course.

Even with these many fermented blessing some of the new beers are quite bad and downright undrinkable too, I even poured a few out! Keg Forbid! And when I do that I still look skyward to see if Lord Keg is about to send one of His Cans of Anger And Retribution crashing down upon my head for not finishing the six-pack I started. It is the unforgivable sin you know.


The Boats

July 5, 2015

Since it is summer how about a tale about our family’s boats? It will be in “Notes About Growing Up”.

Have you heard the saying “What are the best two days of a boat owner’s life? The day he gets the boat and the day he gets rid of it”. I never owned a boat myself but Dad and Mom owned two and while there were some hassles with them I can say we had much more fun with them than we had water-born troubles.

I was about nine or so and Dad and Mom bought a ski boat. It wasn’t big but it was quite adequate for all of us, a big ice chest, and Dad’s fishing poles. Plus the life jackets and water skis too. A trip to the lake usually entailed skiing, eating some lunch, and doing a little fishing. My favorite parts were the food and skiing but not the fishing at all. Most of the time we went to Lake Lewisville, Lake Texoma, or Moss Lake but Texoma was my favorite since it is a huge lake and once was the biggest man-made in the world whose construction started in 1944 using German POWs in fact.
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Regardless of the lake we sped or skied across we did it as a family and it became a big part of our lives. Many memories were built by the Lake Lewisville Dam, the sandy beaches at Texoma, or in the middle of Moss Lake casting a line for a fish on a warm sunny day.

We had a few terrible trips too like when the outboard motor stopped working and we had to be towed into shore or the time we ran out of gas and again had to be towed. Like a car the boat had to be washed but that was not so bad since we could put on our swim suits and play in the water too. And one time on Texoma a storm came up suddenly and the waves were huge. It wasn’t quite like the ones in “The Perfect Storm” but they were big enough to scare us to shore.

This cycle continued on until my Dad died and Mom sold the second boat which was a larger craft with an inboard V-8 and a little cabin at its front. Now that was a real boat! It was powerful and would pull you up out of the water on a slalom ski in no time at all. And of course it could hold more stuff than the old boat could which came in handy when the whole Couch clan went camping on Texoma’s islands or the sandy beaches by Willis Bridge on the Okie side of the lake.

And Roger and Jane were there too when they arrived in this world. We put on their little life jackets and took them for a swim. At Texoma where the new boat was there were ducks swimming about and we would feed them with the kids in tow. And of course we played in the sand making castles and drawing pictures in the countless damp grains as the sun beamed down on us all. Thus the boats were a happy part of life for three generations of our family and it seemed like this state of affairs would not end

But as I said above Mom sold the boat after Dad died so the happy times at the lake ended. He had always done the fixing and upkeep and Mom already had enough to do with the house on California Street. We went up to it one last day to clean out our life jackets and skis. The ducks were still there swimming & quacking around and my sister Terry got the skis since her and Mike had a small bass boat but that last day of owning that dear boat was not happy like the trite saying above said it should be. Without Dad it just wasn’t same. While I never wanted to own a boat myself – I’m not into fixing or maintaining a bunch of stuff – sometimes I’m still speeding around on the waves on one of those old boats in the always calm lake of remembrance in my mind, on which you won’t ever run out of gas.


KNTU News Casting

May 31, 2015

Another funny tale from college that relates to the obvious bias seen in the news.

When I was graduate school and married to the kid’s Mom I saw that radio station KNTU 88.1 FM at NTSU – now UNT – wanted volunteers to work on some of their shows. They wanted newscasters and on-air “personalities”. Since I did debate and drama in high school I pursued the news casting role since I knew I could talk.

The first requirement was to build a demo tape reading some short script. Using my stereo at our apartment I recorded one on a cassette tape and sent it to the station which was located in the Speech And Arts building next to Wooten Hall where I had economics and history among other subjects. I soon got a phone call from someone there. I was selected to do the news on the early morning show.

The show went on air at 5AM so I had to get to the station at 4AM or so. One thing they required me to do was look at the wire service print outs and then type up my own copy to read (we got to choose the stories we read; we were editor and news caster in one). Re-typing grew very tiring and I later just read stories right off of the wire on-air. Since I listened to
the station a lot I noticed the liberal slant of many of others reading the news – remember we chose what we read. Since I was a conservative and had voted for President Reagan I decided to make sure MY slant was to the right to counter the usual leftist bent. And that I did and no one ever said a word – if you think this does not happen in the national and local media think again, objectivity seems to have departed in favor of the press being a lapdog not a universal watchdog.

Actually doing the news was pretty easy, the on-air “personality” was the lead and would transition me in. I’d flip a switch turn my “mic” on and off I would go. When I was done I would transition back to the lead and he would do his thing. And this cycle repeated itself every 30 minutes until 9AM when the next show went on.

This interesting experience done until I graduated with my Master’s gave me quite an insight into what you hear on the radio and see on TV. The technology used now is light years ahead of our now ancient tape carts and non-computerized analog stuff but the general way it works is still the same.

So regardless of the technology the stories told in the news come and go as events unfold, sometimes touching us all depending on their magnitude or power of their message and sense of urgency. And so is life’s ever unfolding wire service and with that we will go to a new set of life stories down the road in Fort Worth, Texas.

Author’s note: KNTU is still on the air on 88.1 FM in Denton….


Working at the Rent Houses

May 24, 2015

This is from the now being edited “Notes About Growing Up”. It deals with my Dad’s rent houses and some interesting things tied to that, and also mentions some events when I had some for comparison. Having rent houses is not the easy care-free lifestyle the folks on TV say it is….

My Dad and Mom bought some rent houses as investments. Dad would scour the older neighborhoods for wood frame houses and find a deal. After they were bought they were rented out and he managed them also doing the vast majority of the repairs and maintenance. And of course Dad made me go with him to help. Doing that work was something I hated as a kid but it also paid off when I was a grown up.

Usually doing the repairs was not that big of a deal but two events showed that was not always the case. One rent house was not far from our old home on Congress Street and was on Texas Street near the TWU campus. After Dad had evicted some non-paying tenants we went over to clean the place up and get it ready to rent to someone else. What we saw there still makes us shake in horror. The place was not torn up per se but was laid to waste with filth. Inside there were fleas and other pet filth but one special mess I was personally detailed to clean up was where the idiots fed their dogs. Where you ask? There was a big hole in the front sidewalk leading to the door and the morons had simply used it as a bowl for their dried dog food. Suffice to say the uneaten food had massed and congealed into a maggot infested world filled morass of disgustingness. I got a shovel and scooped it all up, tossing it onto the yard – I trust the maggots adapted to that change in venue just fine.. A wonderful sight to behold let me tell you.

On another extreme, one not dealing with scumbag tenants I might add , was Dad bought a house on Mulberry Street, not the land it was on, and had it moved to the south side on Daugherty Street. It was set up on cinder blocks or maybe some pier and beam structure and we spent the whole summer re-modeling it. Yep our summer was not spent in leisure by some swimming pool but in the hot non-air conditioned house putting up sheet rock, tape and bedding it, and painting the walls. And of course doing some plumbing and related chores that were more like torture than a purposeful task one was glad to perform. You might now realize I hated every minute of it but in the end the place looked pretty nice and dad rented it out.

As a side note some flight attendants moved out of a house we had on Wood Street on the east side. They left a bunch of junk, including my future black and white TV. But as a side bonus they left some things most suited to a hormone rift teen: a stack of underground comics with all kinds of irreverent and X-rated stuff inside. Famous figures like Hungry Chuck Biscuits and Shuman the Human adorned these off the wall works and I smuggled them into my room. I thought the lady masturbating by sitting on two crow-bars were especially interesting and from time to time I would pull them out, gaze at their lurid and hilarious content, and then return them to their hiding place. But my Mom found them and they disappeared forever one day. Yes your parents might be going through your stuff looking for “unsuitable” items. She never said anything about them however. But you can find old copies on eBay even now. By the way I have not replaced them.

But things come full circle and in my 20s the kid’s mom and I bought two duplexes in Arlington and like my Dad and Mom we did most of the repairs and stuff, including evictions – one was a modern version of Texas street with dog crap, soaked carpet, needles, and used condoms strewn across the little duplex’s west side on Wilkinson Street in Arlington. And the crazy lady I asked to move out who was talking to herself while imagining things were on the roof plotting to get her” the other tenants said they would move out if she didn’t. And the one that took the cake was the drug fiend who faked disability – I took a lawyer with to the local Justice Of The Peace court on that one unlike the other evictions I had to do which were very routine (Texas is thankfully pro-landlord – you don’t pay the rent you quickly go elsewhere). But you get the point; having rent property has its ups, and the obvious downs, and is not the care-free easy money the no money down phonies say it is.

And eviction aside, and also like my parents, I dragged my kids to mine when I needed to go fix something or collect the rent. And what did they do? They bitched about it just like I did when I was a kid and still laughingly throw that up to me. Funny thing, my Dad said that might happen one day. And indeed that rent did become due. But I later sold off the remaining rent houses too – the widening of Center Street got the Wilkinson duplexes – which provided some hassle-free emotional rent in the end.


I Caught A Fish And A Cloud Came Up

May 17, 2015

I am now editing away on “Notes About Growing Up”. Here is another tale about the weather here in Texas. And also a catfish and making a good impression on someone.

One warm day when I was a senior in high school me and the Grantham brothers, who I played football and drank beer with, decided to go up to Red River and fish. Well that was only part of the story since we also wanted to drink a lot of beer too. We piled in my car, toting our fishing gear and drove to Lindsay and bought a ton of beer. With our brew safely packed in an ice chest with a ton of ice since it was hot we cruised up the Farm To Market roads which turned into dirt roads to the Horseshoe Bend area north of Calisburg and set up on a cliff about 25 feet above the water. We then opened the beer – Michelob and its funny tapered bottles for me – and cans of beer for the brothers, the type they liked I do not recall. We preceded like most high school boys to quaff, cuss, and actually try to catch a fish.

After a bit I got a bite but I could not get the fish over some obstacle down below. I went up to the edge and tried different things to no avail and then the real fun of the day began albeit shrouded in our intoxicated states.

Like Wile E. Coyote on the Roadrunner cartoons the ledge gave way and I dropped. I lost hold of the fishing pole but I grabbed onto a root sticking out of the side of the cliff and dangled there above the dark red water not knowing if some rusted, jagged old refrigerator rested below dumped there by some other drunken nabob. I screamed for the brothers to help me and they stumbled towards me with haste. Then just like on the cartoon the root gave way and I dropped like Wile E. to the water below.

But no old piece of metal or a jagged piece of rock was there, I landed on a flat sheet of sandstone safe and unhurt. My fishing pole was a few feet away and I picked it up and reeled in my catch – I nice catfish in fact. The brothers did not catch a thing but I did, obviously in a unique manner. So I walked down the water’s edge a bit to a place where the cliff sloped down and petered out and walked back to Gary and John who were quite amazed I was OK. Safe and sound I was but our next trial and tribulation was at hand.

After emulating Wile E. Coyote I am sure I guzzled another beer to gather myself back together but then I noticed something off to the southwest in the now ebbing light nearing sundown. There was a BIG thunderhead coming our way. Having camped out down in the river bottom I knew we could get stuck in the sand and mud if we remained for the soon to arrive torrential rains. We piled everything in the car and started home. We left the dirt roads and got onto the paved Farm To Market Road and the darkness covered us, a cloud had come up and it was here. The old folks used to describe a big, angry meso as a “cloud” and for sure this was one dark, menacing cloud with a large anvil spreading out for miles. And angry it was because the bottom fell out and we could hardly see the road. We went slowly but then the hail core went over us and my car was getting pulverized by the large icy stones from above. We thought we were doomed and in our still buzzed state thought we would be sucked up into a tornado and killed, our parents finding our crushed bodies in my wrecked Chavelle Malibu surrounded by empty beer bottles & cans and half-empty bags of chips. But no, we were greeted with a sign of salvation of sorts in the dark: up ahead was a house surrounded by large trees with its lights on. I angled off the side of the road to get under one and hopefully to safety and got stuck up to my axles in mud. And the car kept getting pelted with hail of course as we sat there stunned. Plus we could see the folks in the house peering out at us no doubt wondering what the Hell we were doing in their yard in the middle of a severe thunderstorm. But finally the rain and hail stopped and we walked up to the door of the wood frame house and knocked on the front door now fearing the wrath of whoever owned the house.

The door opened and there was an older man and his wife. I explained that we had been down at the river fishing and were rushing home when the bottom fell out. I added I was trying to reach the comparative safety of his trees to shield my car. And asked if I could use his phone to call my parents, no doubt fearing the lightning bolts of their wrath too. He allowed this small act of kindness and I called home.

Mom and Dad got a wrecker sent out and they pulled my car out, undammed somehow except for lots of hail dents, and we headed home. Before we left I told the man that I would come back on Saturday to fill in the huge ruts my car had left in his yard. And that I did. That next Saturday when I was working in the oilfield with Paul we went to a lease near the man’s house and filled up the back of the pump truck with sand. We drove to the house and I filled up the ruts in the yard and smoothed them over while Paul watched, he was pretty amused by all of this of course. The man who owned the house was very pleased with this act of contrition and for years told my Dad how much he appreciated the fact that I had actually fulfilled my promise and came back unlike what many other teens would have done.

That was one unusual series of events but I did get the catfish too which Mom baked and I happily devoured. So in the end I got the fish, we did not get hurt or sucked into a twister like Dorothy, and I made a good impression on a man who was expecting me to be a run of the mill, uncaring smart assed punk. So this goes to show that you never know what you might reel in when you go fishing and a cloud comes up.


Three Tornados And Touch Football

May 10, 2015

With severe weather time rumbling about this take from the upcoming “Notes About Growing Up” is very much on target.

North Texas is at the southern end of the most violent part of “Tornado Alley”. Gainesville’s storm frequency seemed to be more like Norman, Oklahoma’s than what was seen in Fort Worth or its “neighbor to the east” being further north. One day in the spring of 1978 we saw an interesting example of the wild nature of Texas weather in that region.

One day in March football season was over but it was flag football time and many gathered at the high school for that. It was an overcast day with a high grey ceiling of stratus whose hue varied from light to darker grey. The games went to and from on the practice field and no one seemed to be looking at the skies since it was not exactly the time of year for “heavy weather” – read the book by Bruce Sterling of the same name as one weather fiction suggestion – but I saw something to the south of town that was quite rare. THREE funnel clouds started to dip down from the same patch of sky, one longer one surrounded by two smaller and shorter satellites. You don’t see that everyday even in Tornado Alley you know. Even then I was sort of a weather nut so I was fascinated by it but also new by the look of them they were not the city-destroying type everyone in that part of the country naturally feared. In short I observed with calm fascination. Then others started to see it and the formally calm tone – ignoring the frantic antics on the practice field – suddenly changed.

At first some of the guys on the football team talked amongst themselves trying to figure out whether or not to broadcast the news but that didn’t last long. When some of the girls saw it all Hell broke loose and people started to get scared. They ran to get in their cars and hurriedly drove off to some other place they thought was safer. What did I do? I just stood there since the tornadic trio was not moving much, there was a creek and a ditch nearby (plus he school) for shelter, and the last thing you do is get in your car to try to run away from a twister. But most there did drive or run away and chaos reigned in the parking lot as cars and students ran to and from sometimes in terror. But in a short time few remained there, like me, and the twisters never touched the ground. They dissipated and restored the cloud deck to its previous calm, smoothness.

One image of that incident remains with me more than others in a way. I recall the rictus of terror seen on my good friend Lynen Homer’s face as she drove by me in her Olds 98 that she drove. I shouted at her to stop but she heard me not and zoomed back to her house on the southeastern side of town. I’m still friends with Lynne even now so I think I will give her a call and remind her of that to razz her, thus proffering up a forecast fulfilled with humor to recount that extraordinary day now nearly 40 years ago and also remind her to “Keep Your Eyes On The Skies” since it is Texas and the weather’s gonna change.

Author’s Note: I did recently call Lynne and give her a rash of sh*t about it. As is her way she responded in kind……


The Cloud Roaring and the Aurora

May 3, 2015

I am now editing ‘Notes About Growing Up”. Here is one from that upcoming work.

In Texas we have a saying: “Keep Your Eyes On The Skies”. It usually means keep a sharp eye out for severe weather and one night it did and on another it meant something else.

In the 1960s before the Internet and other technological tools weathermen only had local observations and the early black and white weather radars, and the early black and white satellite photos. None were used to issue a severe storm or tornado warning since such things were in their infancy – eyewitness accounts from law enforcement or a citizen (untrained of course unlike today’s spotters) were the most frequent source for warnings but even so they were usually inaccurate or very late in coming. When storms were coming my Dad would listen to a local AM radio station for news of something coming and one night we fled our house after hearing a warning.

Unlike now many people thought hiding under a highway overpass provided safety from a twister so we piled in his pickup, still in our pajamas, and quickly drove up 380 to the overpass at I-35. The storm was very bad but no tornado was seen. But we heard something: the cloud was roaring.

Roaring you say? Yes roaring like a jet engine. It was constant, loud, and coming from above. It got our attention and no one really knew why. It went on for a while, it ceased its cacophony, and we went back to the house and bed. Since then I have only heard such a thing two more times and one of them did not even involve a thunderstorm. And I still have no specific explanation of the sound itself.

One clear night however we saw something that was unique too. It was a winter night and we got a phone call from our next door neighbor Don Johnson – we played with his kids Jackie and Scott – who once played college football and could easily drink an entire case of beer while mowing his yard. Don said the world was ending and there was a huge red glow in the northern sky. Knowing I was into astronomy he called us and asked if I knew what was happening.

I knew what it was and simply said “It’s just an aurora borealis”, turned around,m and went back to my room. Mom or Dad told Don it was OK and there was no need to make his peace with God just yet. So yes, “Keep Your Eyes On The Skies” since you never know what you may see or hear above your head on a dark night.