A Desk I’d Like to Sit At

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Photograph by Jessica Lutz, as seen at Texas Monthly

[A] distance runner on the Sul Ross track team named Jim Kitchen was fond of chugging up Hancock Hill when he was a student. This was 1979, and Kitchen was twenty. One of his campus jobs involved culling outdated dorm furniture. One day, an idea struck him. “I had made trails up that hill, cut cactus and made paths, and I was running it three or four times a week,” he says. “I thought, ‘It’d be really cool to have a desk up there.’ ” Kitchen picked out a desk, a heavy, stout thing, from the surplus pile and tried moving it by himself. He didn’t get very far before cajoling two friends to help him lug it to the top of the hill. “We did it at night,” Kitchen says. “I thought I’d get in trouble for stealing a desk. I never told anybody and told those guys, ‘You gotta be real quiet about this.’ ”

He stashed a notebook in the desk’s drawer so he could track his run times. He’d also, on occasion, feel compelled to jot down his thoughts on those pages. He showed the track team the desk, and they began visiting. Slowly, through word of mouth, others found it too. More people started writing in the desk’s journal. The first notebook ran out of blank pages. Then a second one and a third. “Whenever they’d get filled up, we’d take them away and put a new one in there,” Kitchen says. “It really surprised me, the things that were written—pretty moving stuff. This was all before the internet. We weren’t socially connected like we are now. But people were making a connection to nature and to each other in those notebooks. It became something pretty special.”

The Texas Monthly feature: “The Desk on Hancock Hill.”

It’s a place I’d like to go.

James W. Arnold, Honored

austin-texas-state-capitolLast Thursday I had the privilege of visiting the Texas State Capitol to hear the Texas House formally accept House Resolution 626 as I stood next to my grandmother, Bess Arnold, on the dais. H. R. 626 formally honored my grandfather, James W. Arnold, who died January 19, 2019 at the age of 87.

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On my right is my cousin, Jimmy Landes. My brother, Walter Simpson, stands on Mrs. Arnold’s left, with John Landes on the far right. At the bottom of the frame is Representative Travis Clardy, who served as our host, and who introduced the resolution before the House. Mr. Clardy represents Cherokee, Nacogdoches, and Rusk counties. Mr. Clardy’s wife, Judy, grew up knowing my grandparents alongside their children (my mom, aunts and uncle) in the city of Tyler. The Clardy family and their staff were gracious and warmly welcomed us to the Capitol.

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My uncle Drew Landes recorded the proceedings as they were streamed live on the web.

Here is the video, which I wish I could center in the frame, but cannot:

 

Following the acceptance of the resolution several members of the House came and offered condolences to our family, including Charles “Doc” Anderson, who represents Waco. That was nice, considering I knew who he was.

Our visit to the Capitol was special. I won’t forget it. I am glad that Mr. Clardy, Matt Schaefer, and Cole Hefner introduced this resolution, and I am very thankful that my grandmother, Bess Arnold, had the privilege of hearing it read while on the dais. James W. Arnold was a valued member of the community of Tyler, a true friend, and a respectable man.

Equally if not more important, at least to me, he was my Daddy Jim.

So I Walked into the D-Bar-D

Back in 1973 Jerry Jeff Walker recorded Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother” and included it on his Viva Terlingua album. It’s a classic. But I never knew the story behind it until recently.

 

What inspired the song? Here’s the story Hubbard told to Texas Monthly:

“I walked in and there were thirty or forty people drinking, including one old woman,” he recalls. “The jukebox stopped and they all turned and looked at me.” He nervously asked the bartender for a case, and while he waited, he found himself getting baited by the woman and her son. “How can you call yourself an American with hair like that?” she asked. Her son added, “You want me to beat him up?” Hubbard got his beer and fled, but not before eyeing a pickup truck in the parking lot with a gun rack and a redneck bumper sticker. Once he was safely back with his pals, he picked up his guitar, strummed a G, and made up a song on the spot, about a redneck mother whose son was “thirty-four and drinking in a honky-tonk, just kicking hippies’ asses and raising hell.”

In the late 90s and early 2000s I was listening to a bunch of Outlaw and Red Dirt Country music. Singers gave call outs to other singers, and thanks to the magic of the internet, I kept collecting MP3 tracks and discovering music that I hadn’t heard on mainstream radio. That’s how I found Jerry Jeff. I went to see him play live at the Heart O’Texas Fairgrounds with my buddy Justin Newcom under a little tent with maybe five hundred people, and loved every minute of it. I’ve been a fan ever since. Here’s a picture I took back at the 2018 Texas Bash. Molly and I had a blast seeing him live.

I’m still keeping my eye out for a good “Goat Ropers Need Love, Too” sticker. If you see one, let me know.