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 Texas : Feature : Columns : 'The View from Under the Bus'

On Blending and Branding

By Gael Montana
"Tonsorial Artist and Hill Country Contrarian"
Comfort, Texas

Before the great hush of conformity there were bright ideas flying around like blue jays and, before we became so homogenized, we still sported 'regional' accents and quaint 'colloquial' ways. Life was infinitely less complicated and we accepted one another's missteps and quirks with kindness and friendly curiosity as opposed to hostility and rage. Tourism was less about money and more about sharing the bounty we were all blessed with. We traveled light and left little trace but goodwill and new friendships.

Growing older tends to make us scratch our heads & wonder at the odd nature of time. Eventually a decade becomes nothing more than the blink of an eye. It is said that no matter how old you become the first twenty years are the longest: without a doubt that is true. Once we turn 21, life is a black-ice slide into eternity and the next thing you know there's some old hag staring at you in the mirror and your Grandmother has moved from the afterlife right into your body. YIKES! To make matters worse, you'll eventually spot your mothers finger on the end of your hand pointing menacingly at some startled kid for being, well, a kid.

Don't confuse time with age. It's just not the same thing. I know lots of folks who are old but have few years to show for it. On the other hand, besides having four fingers and my mother's thumb, there are those who never seem to get old. I have a couple of friends past ninety who, while in their 80's, could out-work a lot of these whippersnappers that grackle around on the sidewalks of the High Street after school. One wonders what would happen if these kids had to actually tote that barge or haul that hay. (Uh-oh, I remember hearing those words aimed in my direction forty years ago). So there's proof of another tired old observation: the more things change the more they stay the same.

When first I came to this town, a mere quarter of a century ago, about half of the High St. was practically caving in. The old Faust Hotel was going to seed, which was truly sad. Pat Faust, who, early on, became a gentle and non-judgmental friend, gave me a little tour of the inside one morning after I'd cut his hair. The stairs were shaky and you could see through some of the walls and flooring. He told me wonderful stories about how that old hotel was when he was coming up. Old black Mr. Stokes, who hand cut many of the stones in that hotel, taught him a valuable lesson that Pat never forgot. He said the cutter's son was always in trouble up in Kerrville but that the old man was above reproach in every way. Pat asked him why that was and Stokes said "I taught that boy to eat, lie and steal but he just didn't listen good". When Pat asked him how that could keep anyone out of trouble he remarked: "I told that boy to eat good food, lie in his own bed and steal away from bad company". That little story stayed with me, too. The old hotel was eventually restored to it's near original state by a couple of fellows who came to town and did a great deal to preserve much of the old High St. It was sold to businessmen from Georgia and they seem to be prospering. Pat would be happy to know that it, at least, survived the ravages of time.

Those were days when folks took time to blend gently together, instinctively making accommodations in their belief systems without compromising their values. Nowadays it seems that folks are a little too worried about how others 'perceive' them, when they're likely better off just enjoying life. And then there's 'branding'. It's hard to find someone under 30 w/out tattoos and/or hardware of every description poking out of their heads. Don't get me wrong, it's certainly a personal choice and we all have the option and more power to anyone with the guts to withstand the pain. But when that old age thing rears it's head there's going to be a real shipwreck on the horizon. It's hard for me not to imagine that faded, sagging artwork making gravity even more of a scoundrel than it already is. As for the perforations filled w/rings, studs and little twirling batons (or whatever those things are), don't even go there. I've seen enough antique Military tattoos in the old barbershop to know it won't be pretty. Of course it will still be a statement (possibly "WHAT WAS I THINKING?!").

Meanwhile, there really is no substitution for experience. The trick seems to be to keep your own counsel unless asked (man…that's a hard one!) and then don't be too sure you passed the original test, after all. Happenstances, like chameleons, change with their surroundings and are perceived in as many ways as there are eyes to regard them. Could be it was someone else's lesson all along. Jim, the other barber in our shop, is fond of sharing this bit of wisdom so together we'll leave you with something to think about:

At the end of a thousand mile journey you have met your enemy, what is the first thing you should know? That the journey was his.

'The View from Under the Bus'
May 19, 2007 Column
© Gael Montana

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