When I was just a boy, we briefly lived in San Marcos, in an old, creepy, high ceilinged house on Belvin St. Our short time there was very memorable: I burned myself badly on a cast iron skillet reaching for johnnycake, fell from the top bunk to the floor, got a pebble stuck way up in my nose from making a snow angel (think winter of '84, the year it snowed in Texas), and almost choked to death on a bite of Rainbow Brite cereal. I also strongly believe I saw a ghost, or something, and still think the house was haunted.
It was in this house that my mother believed she had killed my grandma on Thanksgiving—she'd had put an ounce of pot in the stuffing and grandma was out cold for an uneasy amount of time. Story goes, that mom was continually sneaking into her room and checking to make sure she was still breathing by placing a mirror under her nose, waiting for the steam to come. Sounds like she was paranoid. Must have been good shit.
My favorite swimming hole in the entire world also happens to be San Marcos. We call it the Icehouse. It is a magical place, a convergence of two waterfalls of crystal clear water flowing straight out of Aquarena Springs. This is where I would go to be healed. Times had gotten rough for my future bride and I. Not between us, just that our recent job changes had us shaken a bit, and this car breaking down bullshit had spurred talk of money.
I had realized during this money-talk that my new found bill laden life linked directly to my purchasing a car last year. A double-edged sword of convenience and sloth. Now, with the gas prices shitting on us, and my heavy footed driving shooting my insurance rates skyward, I was annoyed with my situation. Not worried, just annoyed. I plot, plan and scheme, but I don't fret or worry. Things have a way of working themselves out and I believe that sometimes it is just better to wait and see what happens rather than making up what will.
I was excited to go to San Marcos, even if only for a few hours. After the sting of fueling up, we were on the road and ready to rock. After dropping off the Shortcake, I made my way into town. I drove to the swimming hole and saw that no one was there and decided to go down to Belvin St. and find the creepy house we'd lived in back during that winter that it had snowed in Texas. I drove up and down the street, but could not find the house.
I was looking for a house with a porch and a little balcony on top that you could only access from the roof. It wasn't there. More accurately, the porch and balcony weren't there—they'd been removed. The house sat there boarded up and looking forgotten. I walked around and looked in the windows to make sure it was the same house. I saw the high ceilings I remembered as a kid, and found my old room. It was creepy, too. In a bathroom, a lone, beautiful claw-foot tub sat waiting for a naked cowboy that would never come.
That place always freaked me out.
I thought that I would find a cheap beer and finish this Bukowski story I had started that morning. I struck out at the first two places I tried. It was one in the afternoon and it seemed most bars opened at either three or seven. I found a book/comic/collectibles store and was lured inside by some Star Wars toys. They had a lot of them. Even the super rare Amanaman. I looked around for a bit after announcing that I brought in a book. They had an awesome selection of books and games and comics and toys. Seeing the Star Wars toys reminded me that mine were all stolen a decade ago. That always pisses me off.
I asked about the bar and they said it was happy hour right behind there at the Tap Room. It was dark in there and smelled like old beer and cigarette smoke, something you can only find at a few places in Austin these days. Atop the tap wall was a scene made of out old toys, ships, trophies and other nostalgic ephemera. Years of smoke and grease and dust had formed beards and stalagtites on the items. It seemed a fitting place to finish the short story. The beer cost less than a gallon of gas and I enjoyed that.
As I read, I looked around at the crap. I found the Beatles. Three of them, but not Ringo. John was missing an arm. I asked about Ringo, and the bartender said he was behind a trophy, which he was. I commented on the ship and how it's dust compared to the ship from the Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem (est. 1189) in Nottingham. We both decided that it would need more time to even be comparable. I finished the story and the beer and emerged back into the sunlight.
Above the Icehouse is a restaurant that has changed many times over the years. It was "Pepper's on the Falls" when I was a kid. Then a Joe's Crab Shack, and now it's a Salt Grass Steak house. I parked in the far corner of the lot. I could not get towed. That would seriously fuck me. You used to be able to park in a lot behind the tennis center, but that now required a Texas State parking permit. I've never been towed there, but it would really be inconvenient.
There it was, the Icehouse, shining like a beacon. The waterfall chugging away with it's load of airy whitewater. You could see every stone on the bottom and each fish. It was like a painting. I laid my book and towel and crap on the ground and striped down. A few years back the retaining wall was washed away by an epic flood and it was replaced with some fairly safe, fairly modern version of its former self that stepped down to the water.
I stood on the bottom step and stared into the center of the center of the pool. It bubbled and festered where the fall and pool met, as if someone had thrown a hundred billion alka-seltzer tablets in there. The words THANK YOU JESUS went through my head. Probably what my dad said every time right before we dove in. It seemed appropriate as I was seeking salvation. I thought that it was amazing that I'd been swimming in that same spot since I was at least three. Maybe four.
I dove in and was enveloped in what felt like champagne. I swam across and sat on this large cement wall portion that juts out of the water near the fall. At this point I had had a rather heady day; my annoyance from the morning had dissipated, and I was feeling quite healed, yet the strange record of "who are you? what are you doing?" was playing in my head. I sat on the wall and contemplated. The sound of the fall roared like a freight train beside me.
A young couple swam up and chatted with me about whatnot. They were moving to Austin. They'd graduated a few years back and never made it out. I could see that about San Marcos. The river. It could pull you in, keep you there. They were nice and after a few minutes they swam away leaving me alone again with the thoughts of who I was and what I was doing.
The alka-seltzer pushed my feet around. After a while, I stood and dove right into the heart of the maelstrom. It felt so good, like a thousand feathers cascading up and down my body. I came up to the surface, washed my face and slicked back my hair, just before dunking myself again like I was John and Jesus at once. I came up for air and had the answers: I AM LOVE, I AM LIVING.