Harry hits the road



All cry and no devil’s duty makes this bad boy a sad sack of frijoles. The surest, sweetest antidepressant I know is a good Houston girl named Helen. She’s no substitute for Muse, but they’ve got a lot in common. She dresses well. Likes to drink. Likes to eat. Likes rock and roll. She’s got blue eyes, a statuesque figure, and a sporty sense of humor. Yes, she’s a former flame. But that was then and this is now, though I could be persuaded to go back to the future if she twists my arm just a little bit.

Instead, Helen takes me to get my arm waxed. Her cousin Jake is presiding over the grand opening of a European Waxing Center. It’s located directly across the street from the Galleria, the city’s first big upscale shopping center. There’s a party tent in the parking lot with music playing, a mime miming, wine flowing, and swimsuit models who’ve been body waxed from their foreheads to their purple polished toenails.


Guests are invited to sample a wax job for up to half an hour. Bikini waxes for men are not on the menu. Legs take too long. My eyebrows and ears have recently been barbered. I’ve still got the nylon brace on my left wrist. That leaves my right arm. Just so we can share all the fun with friends and fans, Helen’s going to film with my Flip camera. I ask Jake if this is going to hurt.

“Not one bit,” he says.

Liar, liar, my skin’s on fire within five minutes. The arsonist is a woman in red scrubs, who spreads hot purple honey wax from my wrist to my elbow. At first, it feels like a sticky steam bath. I let my guard down, and get reportorial. I ask red smock woman if there’s a name for her profession.

“I’m an esthetician,” she says. “That’s a non-medical skin care specialist.

“Bet you can’t drink a beer and say that three times real fast -- esthetician, esthetician, esthetician.”

Models in front of Houston bikini waxing store

Evidently unamused, the esthetician-arsonist rips off the wax strip. I scream the F-word three times real fast, wishing I had drunk a case of beer. I have to admit my arm’s smoother than a baby’s bottom. But blood is rushing to the places where my hair follicles used to be, and my skin’s breaking out in a rash the color of cheap red wine.

I drop Helen off at her apartment, buy an expensive bottle of red wine, and spend the next three hours editing the Flip video and posting it on my web site.

Unable to sleep, I surf the Internet for insights on male-female relationships, a project which proves more soporific than ambien. Just reviewing poetic treatments since Ovid’s Ars Amatoria could keep me occupied every night for a thousand years. I focus on the most sleep inducing material, psychology and sociology, my dual majors in college.

HH3 and esthetician

Cutting to the eternal chase, I discover a recurring theme in the literature, a sort of psycho-social love triangle of three elements: passion, intimacy, and commitment. Some of the love gurus claim they follow a straight line path like a thermometer. First,  it’s hot and heavy (passion or “immature love”), then it’s close and warm (intimacy or “adult love”), and finally it’s room temperature security based on having kids and providing comfort in old age (commitment or “mature love.”) Presumably, if the thermometer freezes up or boils over, love is lost.

I reckon that’s either bullshit or humanity’s most fatalistic bummer apart from death and taxes. About the only take I can buy comes from the Yale psychologist Robert Sternberg, who claims that the presence or absence of passion, intimacy, and commitment creates seven kinds of love. Friend-love has only intimacy, he says, which sounds like me and some, though by no means all, of my male buddies. Infatuated love has only passion, which sounds like teenagers, playboys, and party girls.

Companionate love, says Dr. S., is intimate and committed but lacks passion, which describes bored marriages. Fatuous love is passionate and committed but lacks intimacy, which describes sham marriages. Empty love is committed without intimacy or passion, which describes pointless marriages.

At first blush, romantic love sounds like Muse and me. It’s intimate and passionate but without commitment. According to Dr. S., the real deal, the triple crown, is compassionate love that includes passion, intimacy and commitment. But I’m thinking, why can’t we borrow from Albert Einstein, who had his share of full and empty love affairs, by applying a little relativity?

Staying scrupulously scientific despite my drowsiness, I create a scale of 1 to 10 for each love element. A perfect total would be 30. I figure Muse and I score a 10 on passion and an 8 on intimacy. But we’re not completely lacking in commitment. Hey, it’s been three years since First Mercy, and I still have six months left on my lease on her loft in Sag Harbor; that should be worth 3.5 commitment points. I peg our total score at 21.5, which puts us more than two-thirds of the way to perfection.

I figure Muse will appreciate the existential absurdity of my investigations, not to mention my puritanical work ethic. I soon discover what a stupid I am.

“Your bikini waxing video is cheap and disgusting,” Muse informs me on our cell phone call the following morning. “Some silly little tart helps you. Are you screwing her?”

I try to correct Muse’s misimpression and errors of fact to no avail.

“You lower yourself,” she says, adding, “I go soon to Austria.”

“How soon?”

“Next week. My mother is not well. I think she doesn’t live much longer.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Tell that to your bikini waxing tart.”

“Aw, come on.”

“Come on what?”

I hold my iPhone at arm’s length, sucking a deep breath and not replying. Looks like I can throw my passion-intimacy-commitment scoring system out the window.

“Come on what?” Muse says again.

“We are too old for all this constant fighting.”

"Age, age, age! What’s that got to do with us?”

“We’re always bickering like teenagers. We don’t have a mature love.”

“Mature love is overrated. What are we supposed to be doing? Sitting on a porch somewhere in rocking chairs, drooling and patting each other on the knee? That what you want? That sound fun? That sound sexy?”

“Nein, I guess not.”

“We come from unconventional backgrounds, and we have an unconventional relationship even before the recession and your stupid road trip. Mature is supposed to be loving and supportive. We were that way in Sag Harbor. We were that way on the Amish farm.”

Yeah, but we fought an awful lot in New Orleans.”

“We fight because you are on Veek-o-deen and because we are both strong willed. You want me to be all gushy and sloppy and sentimental like the girlfriends you have before? ‘Ooo, Harry, you’re so smart. Ooo, Harry, you’re so handsome.””


“Ja, please is right. I don’t even know how to do that. And if I tried, you would be out the door long ago. I am mature enough in my thinking to know there is no security, no guarantee. There is only one constant.”

“Yeah?” I say, sucking another deep

breath. “What’s that?”



 Two dreary, rain soaked days later, I depart Death Valley By the Bayou bound for Austin, the heart, soul, and capital of Texas. Even though I can’t seem to escape the dark clouds hanging over me, I’m going nowhere but up geographically, from the depression of the coastal plain to the edge of the hill country, where the name of the game is getting high and staying thataway.

Aging hippie types claim Austin ain’t what she used to be. Then again, maybe she never was. Twenty-five years ago, Austin was a small town that turned out good-to-great University of Texas football teams, bad-to-worse state laws, and the world’s best country music. She still does all that, but thanks to a high tech boom, she’s become a metropolis with nearly 700,000 people, and a bunch of overbuilt see-through office towers. Even so, the official civic motto is, “Keep Austin Weird.”

I aim to do my part with a little help from another cadre of old friends. As it happens, the annual Austin City Limits Music Festival is in full swing, and bands are giving concerts on five outdoor stages in Zilker Park day and night. Upon arrival, I score some pot, roll it, and smoke it. Suddenly, I’m feeling good enough to take off my wrist brace for the first time in nearly eight weeks.

Then I meet a vastly more talented platonic love, a little soulmate, age 14. Her last name is Smith, but she goes by her first two names, Ruby Jane. She’s playing the fiddle in a jam session with six rock guitarists at the Continental Club, a spawning ground of Austin music legends. She’s a petite gal with long silky brown hair, big brown eyes shaped liked bass clefs, and dark, treble clef eyebrows that animate facial expressions mature beyond her tender years. “I’m almost 15,” she informs me when we’re introduced after the set.

Next afternoon, I make a Flip video of Ruby Jane giving me an interview and a  fiddle lesson at the Continental Club. Turns out she’s a native Texan and a Scorpio just like me, born on November 17, 1994, in Dallas. She grew up mostly in Mississippi, home schooled by her single mom, Jobelle. At age 2, she saw a video of Itzhak Perlman, and made Jobelle buy her a violin.

“It was a ten dollar FAO Schwartz violin,” Ruby Jane recalls. “I couldn’t actually play it because it was a toy, but I carried it around like a baby doll for almost six months.”

By age 7, Ruby Jane had a real string instrument, and a very specific ambition. “I loved the violin so much, but I wanted to find music where I could express myself,” she says. “I heard some fiddle music, and I said, ‘I want to play that kind of music.’”

I ask Ruby Jane to explain the difference between a fiddle and a violin.

“Well, if a violin has strings,” she replies, shifting into a twang, “a fiddle’s got strangs.”

Ruby Jane says she can teach me to play “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”  Although the song consists of only three basic notes, it may be the biggest challenge of her precocious young life. I’m tone deaf, fumble fingered, and 57 years old. But after fifteen minutes of her patient instruction, I’ll be goll-dang if I don’t saw out a couple bars that sound pretty close to the real thang. I ask her how long I’d have to practice to play “Twinkle” about as good as she can.

“Well,” she says, arching her treble clef brows, “I’ve been playing for about 13 years now, so...”            “So I’d be at least 70 before I really get it?”

Ruby Jane nods, her grin twinkling like the little star she already is. So much for my chances of fiddling for food and shelter. I hand over the instrument, and ask her to play something to comfort my incompetent old soul.

“I wrote this piece I call Valse Sur Le Baton,” she says. “I don’t speak French so I had to Google it to get the spelling right.”

Ruby Jane’s fingers dance with her instrument in waltz time. If I ain’t no musicologist, I ain’t no moron neither. I realize that I’m listening to something real special that’s near impossible to describe in words. Best I can say, it’s a unique composition of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart on chewing tobacco and Charlie Daniels on schnapps.

I exchange heartstrang hugs with Ruby Jane, and split the Continental Club thinking America might be an even greater country if it could only stay weird like Austin.


I hold that thought just long enough to get myself into the kind of trouble that comes in running shoes and a sports bra. Her name’s Patsie, and she’s a friend of my friend Helen. Patsie is a self-styled “wellness coach.” Helen’s put us in touch on the pretext that I might want to shoot a Flip video about Patsie’s mental and physical training program. The theme is being well by living right most but not all the time. It’s supposed to be a win-win for folks who can’t resist a little sin-sin.

I meet Patsie at the gravel track on the banks of Town Lake, and woo-wee! She’s only half a head taller than Ruby Jane, but at age 46, a divorcee with two little girls, she’s not out of bounds. She’s brown-eyed, blonde-haired, the fittest of fiddles. Reckon Muse would peg her for a Goblin or a four letter word that rhymes with punt.

“One of my main themes is ‘fat and drunk sucks,’” Patsie says with a gape-mouthed cowgirl grin. “I’m all for party hearty. But if you want to be your best, you’ve got to get off your fucking ass and do some cardio. That make sense?”

“Guess so.”

“Then yee-haw, let’s get it on.”

With that, Patsie leads me on a two-mile jog. I huff, wheeze, and sputter like a rusty radiator. My thighs and calves cramp, my knees buckle. She runs backwards most of the time, not even glistening, much less breaking a sweat.

“You’ve got big leg muscles, but it looks like you don’t use ‘em much,” she says.

“Last time jogged...  twenty-five years... few thousand cigars ago,” I reply, gasping.

We finish up near the lot where I’ve parked my Smart Car. I pull out a Flip camera and a tripod, making the Sign of the Cross, which I almost never do anymore, and thanking the Lord out loud that I’m driving across the country, not jogging.

“Were you raised a Catholic like me?” Patsie asks.

“Guilty as can be.”

I ask Patsie to show me some exercises using the Smart Car. She opens the tailgate, and does some push-ups, some dips, and some stretches. Then she sits behind the wheel and demonstrates three types of abdominal crunches that can be performed even while rolling down the highway.

“We could call this Smarticize,” I say.

“You’ve got a great voice,” she says.

“You’ve got a great stomach.”

“Thank you.”

I treat Patsie to dinner at her favorite Mexican restaurant. Her nickname’s Agave Annie, and she drinks up to it. After we down some quesadillas and a couple of shots of Jose Quervo Reserva, she suggests stepping outside to smoke cigars and cigarettes.

We wander over to the Continental Club, where I got my fiddle lesson from Ruby Jane. It’s too early for the bands to come on, so we go back in the game room and shoot some pool. Patsie’s pretty cocky since she’s whomped me so bad on the jogging track, but I run the table two games in a row. Patsie begs for a few pointers. That requires bending over the rails real close together.

“I like the way your hand just brushed my ass,” she says.

“Beg your pardon, doll,” I say, clutching my cue. “Don’t mean to be forward.”

“Do it again.”

I comply, and next thing I know, I’m trying to stick my tongue down her throat. She doesn’t like it like that, so she pushes me back.

“Soft,” she says. “No tongue.”

We touch lips, once, twice. It’s real nice, but that’s all she wrote except for a quick repeat when I drop her off at her car. Hey, it’s Sunday and we were both raised Catholic. She must still be practicing. I’m hoping she’ll see the light and join in saying St. Augustine’s pre-conversion prayer: “Give me chastity and continence, but not yet.”


I reckon I must be on some kind of country rocking roll even though I’m still living gig to gig. Monday morning, I check my email, and see a message from a friend who handles p.r. for General Cigar Company. They want to come onboard as a sponsor of my road trip for a bit of cash and three boxes of Cohibas, my favorite big cigars.

Yee-haw! Hee-haw!

In return, General Cigar wants me to do some gently branded marketing for a contest to win a $75,000 jet setting vacation. My job is to write a series of Twitter and Facebook posts referring to Cohiba and the contest.

When I log onto Facebook to start keeping my end of the cigar bargain, I see a message from Patsie. Problem is, anyone else who logs onto Facebook can see it, too.

“Thx 4 din. U can really handle a cue. Can’t wait til our next lesson. Woo-hoo!”

Much as Muse hates technology. there’s something she hates even more: flirtatious American women. Especially ones who are shorter and younger and take a shine to me. I can only hope Muse is preoccupied with getting ready to go to Austria to visit her ailing 84 year old mother, and won’t have time to bother with Facebook. A midnight cell phone call disabuses me of both notions.

“You go straight to hell!” Muse hollers at me. “You are sleeping with a gym teacher!”

“That’s crazy. What are you talking about?

“Don’t try to deny it. I go on Facebook. I see everything about your little shortie moron. Agave Annie.”

“I am not sleeping with her. We made an exercise video together. She’s Catholic, just like you and me.”

“That’s even worse. I know something is up when you get your arm waxed.“

“Aw, now, come on...”

“Don’t aw come on me with your Texan charm school. So cheap and disgusting.”

“But I haven’t done anything.”

“I fly tomorrow to Salzburg. There is no more sleeping together when I come back.”

“Why not?”

“That I don’t get a sexually transmitted disease from some gym teacher.”

The microscopic little bastards with ice picks attack with a vengeance when I awake at the crack of noon on Tuesday. They’re obviously pro-Tyrolean prudes. Okay, I’m guilty of a little grab-ass and a little kissy-poo. But that’s it. I’m being punished for an act I haven’t perpetrated. At least not yet.

Wednesday night, I drive out to have dinner at Patsie’s house in suburban Driftwood. Her daughters fall in love with my turtles at first sight. Lucky turtles, lucky me. I’ve got to fly back to New York on Friday for Harrison’s 12th birthday. Patsie and the girls are delighted to look after the turtles while I’m gone.


My son’s birthday bash proves to be a battle royal. It’s at a paintball center in Medford, New York, forty-five minutes up island from Sag Harbor. Harrison and his buddies don plastic camouflage smocks and visored helmets. An attendant shows them how to load and shoot their paintball guns. They troop off to a warehouse sized room with padded floors and padded obstacles surrounded by protective netting, where they square off against an opposing team of kids. When I pull out my Flip camera, Harrison throws one of the only temper tantrums I’ve ever seen from him.

Harrison Hurtand friends play paintball

“Dad, turn that thing off right now or I’m going to shoot you,” he hollers.

Guess that’s proof positive my boy’s entering the Oedipal stage. He quickly discovers that if you live by the paintball gun, you die by the paintball gun. In the opening round, a kid on the other team scores a direct hit on Harrison’s visor, splattering it with white paint. Had it not been for the protective plastic lens, Oedipus would’ve gotten it right between the eyes.


Upon my return to Austin, I treat Patsie to dinner at a fancy French restaurant. We do a turn on the dance floor at the Continental Club. There’s lots of tequila, more grab-ass and kissy-poo, but no nooky. I reckon there’s a three date Catholic minimum attached. I can endure that because she's otherwise so low maintenance. There’s no being seated and reseated. No, too noisy, too bright, too cold, too hot.

“It’s easy being with you,” Patsie says at the end of date three.

“Yeah,” I say. “Likewise.”

On the other hand, Patsie’s no Muse. There are no heartfelt discussions of art, music, history. There’s no Germ-English, no clever word play, no sapphire-eyed elegance, no perfect boobs, no perfect legs. And there’s no deep throated tongue kisses, just tight lipped licking.

So why don’t I stop now? What compels me to sail on, Captain Halsey? Maybe I’m addicted to strange. Maybe I’m so narcissistic the only way I can affirm my manhood is through new conquests. Maybe I’m filled with self-hatred. Maybe I’m bent on self-destruction. Or maybe it boils down to the insight I had before I jumped out of an airplane with Golden Knights.

“Bubba,” I tell myself again, “you’re just plain bent.”

Saturday afternoon, I drive out to Driftwood to pick up the turtles. One of Patsie’s neighbors is having a party.  Everybody’s sipping longneck beers, munching barbecue, and watching UT play football against OU on TV. UT wins 16-13.

“Yee-haw!  Hook ‘em Horns!” everybody hollers.

Patsie suggests we celebrate by going for a drive through the surrounding ranch country in the Smart Car. She shows me this huge spread with a natural spring-fed swimming pool surrounded by ferns and fronds that looks like it’s right out of the Garden of Eden. Next door there’s a stone horse-and-rider monument to the Pony Express. 

Pony Express memorial statue

A little ways down the road and around a bend, we come to a ranch with a big  brick gate and a cattle guard straddling the driveway. I pull into the driveway. Patsie flashes her gape-mouthed cowgirl grin.

“This here sure looks like a good place to Smarticize.”




Photograph Captions and Credits: 1. Models in front of Houston bikini waxing store (HH3) 2. HH3 and esthetician (HH3) 3. Harrison Hurt and friends play paintball (HH3) 4. Pony Express memorial statue (HH3)