09 November 2021

Walking With Your Head Up

 To no one's surprise, the booking section of my local jail does not have any windows. My office is in the basement of the criminal courts building. No windows there either. As a COVID precaution, I usually see prisoners these days using a video camera. When I am required to visit in person, the most efficient route is a tunnel running between the two buildings. 

    The point of all this detail is that in the course of my regular duties, I don't see the outside world all that often. To keep me conversationally relevant, I will try each day to break away between dockets and take a walk. I'm told it's healthy. From the courthouse, a short hike downhill brings me to the banks of the Trinity River. A bike path hugs the south bank. There I can choose east or west. I make decisions for a living. I can handle it. 

    Many days, I choose east. A branch of the community college is that way. They have an open-air plaza. It is pretty. A set of long, granite stairs brings me from the riverbank back up to street level. I usually walk along Belknap Avenue past the historic courthouse and return to my building. 

    The short walk passes by businesses, through nature, and beside the buildings of government. On a good day, I'll encounter joggers and cyclists. I pass by the homeless, sometimes carrying on conversations with people only they can see. I watch litigants and tourists. The walk provides a rich mix. I routinely meet one rollerblader. He flies by with a smooth stroke and graceful elegance. He reminds me of a Dutch speed skater in the Winter Olympics. I look forward to watching him flash by me. 

    The other day, there was a freedom rally on the steps of the old courthouse, the picturesque one. The assembled mass was against vaccine mandates, against stolen elections, and against allowing freedom to wither. They were, however, decidedly pro-flag. The lawn in front of the courthouse was bedecked with American and Texas flags, the yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flags and the white "Come and Take It" flags also added some diversity. 

    Sadly, I had to leave before the speeches really got going. 

    In a talk, I once referred to myself as a "life collector." I gather up tidbits of encounters. If I'm fortunate, I can slap them into a collage and send them out as the occasional short story. These walks and these people provide great opportunities to work on my collection. 

    The other day I encountered a homeless man. He was wearing a green t-shirt with a silhouette of a dog on it. Above the dog, the shirt said, "I Shih Tzu not." He got tucked away in my mental file. I don't know where he'll resurface, but rest assured, he'll find a place in a story someday. 

    On Belknap, there sits an old jewelry store. It's closed now and the windows are boarded with plywood. A coffee shop operates out of the back end of the building. The building predates many of the government buildings which surround it. If you imagine the jewelry store as the center of a compass, to the west is the criminal justice center, my building. About the same distance to the east sits the family court building. Walk one block north and one arrives at the county's adult probation department. Living at the center of all this divorce and criminality, it's a small wonder that the jewelry store relocated to a more commercially viable part of town. The building, however, remains
(Coffee shop is the small sign on the right)

    Somedays I pass by and imagine the proprietor hanging on to his small piece of real estate, making his living off desperate lawyers who realized that today was their anniversary. Other times, I think about the odd juxtaposition of the coffee shop/jewelry store. I imagine patrons stopping by to pick up a cappuccino and impulse buying a Rolex. More often, I think about all those criminals and alleged criminals spilling out of the jail, courthouse, and probation departments walking by the storefront and seeing those attractive temptations, the glittering gems in the unboarded windows. 

    Many of the pedestrian musings about the Credit Jewelers coalesced in Dry Bones, my story in the current edition of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Where do story ideas come from? This one has a specific address, the corner of Belknap and Houston streets in downtown Fort Worth, Texas. 

    The story centers on the characters and their interactions within and around that place. Back in September, DoolinDalton ran a column on using setting as a character.  Because of the strictures of length in a short story, I didn't do much to bring the store into the story. I didn't bog the narrative down with smells or sounds or many other details to give a complete sense of place. The location isn't a character in the story, it is an inspiration. 

    Dry Bones exists because of a walk I took and the things I noticed along the way. On my rambles, nearly everyone I see wears headphones. I don't like to. They miss out on opportunities to collect the odd tidbits which might make up the next tale. Walk with your head up, you might be surprised what you'll collect. I Shih Tzu not. 

    Until next time.   


  1. Great article. The parting line is enough to make one snort their coffee.

    1. Thanks R.T. Honored to share the pages of AHMM with you.

  2. Flâneur: a French term meaning 'stroller' or 'loafer' used by nineteenth-century French poet Charles Baudelaire to identify an observer of modern urban life.
    Technically speaking, Archie Goodwin was a flaneur; I'm only surprised it's not more popular.


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