From the Fall 2011 issue of Acreage Journal:
TELL US ABOUT WHERE IT IS THAT YOU LIVE.
My fiancée and I rent a house on a bumpy caliche road just outside of Lubbock, TX. Everyone on our end of the road is related, four generations spread among four houses. It’s like a little family compound, and we are the outsiders, but they treat us like kinfolk (all the good and bad that comes along with that). Our landlord, a thirty-year marine and skilled landscape architect, lives across the street. Two of his sons live at the dead end of the road with their families, little kids running around like crazy all the time. Our landlord’s mother, the elderly matriarch, lives next door to us. She sits at her front window all day, and the family honks at her as they drive by, coming and going. They own forty acres of cotton field and pasture all around us. There’s two orchards—pecan and nectarine—buffering us from houses built at the beginning of the road. It’s pretty secluded and intimate back here, but with enough space to maintain each house’s privacy; I can pee in the backyard unnoticed if I want to, which is, you know, all a man wants in this life. It’s wonderful. And there’s plenty of trees out here that our landlord planted decades ago (not a lot of those out in West Texas). He keeps all of our lawns immaculate. Quite the oasis. It doesn’t feel like the rest of Lubbock.
HOW CLOSE TOGETHER ARE THE HOUSES?
The old grandmother is our closest neighbor. I’m close enough to chuck a pecan onto her roof from our side yard without straining my arm, but far away enough so that, at nighttime, she can’t see me stepping into the backyard to pee—this is what I tell myself.
ARE THERE ANIMALS?
Jesse, one of the landlord’s sons, keeps horses in a little stable behind our house. It smells like a horse stable; we’ve hung flytraps from the trees surrounding our place. A momma horse, Callie, foaled her baby a few months ago. The excitement around the compound was palpable. Jesse’s daughter, Jesse Pearl, named the foal Dancer. Last week they moved the horses across the street so Grandmother could see them better out her front window.
We also have two inside dogs—little Shih Tzus named Baxter and Biggie—who think they’re big country dogs now, but we don’t correct them. They bark at coyotes howling in the distance, acting all tough. I pee around our fence line to repel the coyotes. The landlord actually suggested I do this. And that’s the last time I’ll talk about peeing in this interview. Promise.
WHAT ARE YOUR FLOORS LIKE?
Our floors are pier and beam. They’re covered in carpeting, which is heartbreaking, because the wood floors underneath are really pretty. It’s a rental property, so the landlord’s committed to the standard, beige rent house carpet. It’s upsetting. We sometimes pull up a corner of carpet in our guest room and talk to the wood floor. We tell it it’s beautiful, that we love it, and that we’re sorry.
WHAT DIRECTION DO YOU WAKE UP FACING?
WHERE IS THE BEST PLACE TO BUY VEGETABLES?
The grocery store. Lubbock has a line of stores called Market Street, which is our attempt at a Whole Foods, or something like that. That’s pretty much the best place to buy produce near us, aside from the occasional vendor on the side of the road. I planted a garden this year, my first go at it, and did pretty well with squash and cucumbers. We didn’t have to buy those at the store this year. The tomatoes came up really late, but our dogs ate them all.
ON WHAT STREET DO YOU MOST OFTEN WALK?
When I go to work on campus, I park on Canton Avenue in Tech Terrace, the nice neighborhood south of the university. A lot of professors live there, though plenty of students call it home, too. Lots of yoga-fit moms jogging behind strollers, the occasional beer can crush in the gutter. Somewhat of a mixed bag, but it’s got some of the most charming homes in town, most of which are overpriced due to proximity to campus. Ten or so blocks away from the school, you can park for free on Canton and walk yourself in. It’s a nice walk, almost twenty minutes—long enough to get your head right before you teach. It’s the just-right distance for after work, too, when you can fit in five or six songs on your iPod before you reach the car.
DO YOU PREFER ONE OPEN SPACE TO ANOTHER?
This is a big debate in our house. My fiancé is native to West Texas. People out here love the flatness. You can watch your dog run away for three days, as the joke goes. I’m from Southeast Texas, where in one square mile you can encounter piney woods, marshland, prairie, and swamp—plenty of diversity there (geographically, anyway). Back home, the open space of a clearing is refreshing because of the claustrophobic thicket it interrupts, like the first gulp of air after holding your breath underwater. But in West Texas, open space is just expanse inside expanse inside expanse. You can lose your mind out here. I’m reading a really good book about it right now called Fire In The Water, Earth In The Air, a collection of interviews put out by University of Texas Press, wherein a bunch of Lubbock poets, musicians, and artists explain how the landscape shaped, or even necessitated, their creativity. You feel so small out here, you got to do something—create something—to feel like you exist.
Aaron Alford is pursuing a Ph.D in the creative writing program at Texas Tech, where he serves as managing editor of Iron Horse Literary Review. His work has appeared in River Teeth, The Los Angeles Review, and elsewhere. He’s currently working on a collection of essays titled Big Thicket Burnout.