Excerpts from Mozart in the Garden
Warning: This book contains adult content.
Sample from Chapter 1
Cowboys, Indians, and Poor White Trash
What a great name. It requires just two words to describe the world’s favorite economic hotspot. Most people believe this wealth is a new thing. Every schoolchild knows the story: Steve Jobs entered central California, wiped out the indigenous residents, and transformed the place into Silicon Valley. Kind of like what happened when Moses led the Israelites into the Promised Land, but with fewer people of Hebrew extraction. More blonds. More software engineers too.
Truth be told, the Santa Clara Valley has been ground zero for many exceptional activities. The most productive mines in California were there. The valley’s electronic industry led the world out of several economic recessions. But the Santa Clara Valley was once tops in another field too: agriculture. The soil and climate in that place are second to none. Grain, nuts, rose plants, grapevines, and fruit trees grow like nowhere else on earth. In the 1890s, more plant nurseries were situated in the greater San Jose area than anywhere in America.
Most of the Santa Clara Valley’s agricultural production was beneficial to mankind. Some was not. German chemists purchased all the apricot, peach, and prune pits they could get from Santa Clara Valley fruit processors. The processors thought the Germans were crazy to buy worthless fruit pits. German chemists thought otherwise; they turned prune and apricot seeds into Zyklon B. Cyanide gas. The Nazis used that stuff to kill millions of people who were noted as being problematic. Twisted people can always find ways to corrupt beautiful things.
After World War II, the Santa Clara Valley grew new crops: houses, roads, industrial parks, and shopping centers. They were built to accommodate a pent-up demand for the good life. America was filled with people who had lived through the Great Depression and World War II. They wanted to party and raise kids, West Coast–style. That required brand-new, ranch-style, four-bedroom homes and high-paying jobs. Most of those new home buyers were not California natives. Many were former soldiers and sailors who had passed through the region during the war. They dutifully returned home after they were discharged from the military, but quickly learned that things were not the same.
Many people discovered that no other place could outshine California. People from all over the world poured into that fabled state. That influx led to a strange eventuality: Most of the people who have lived in California weren’t born there. They are transplants. Excepting me and a few other natives.
I had a strange entrance into the warm California sunlight. My mama was in the habit of marrying cowboys. While that created fast times for her, it caused a lot of trouble for me. Myron Thomas Liggett was the cowboy who rode through my mother’s life just long enough to create me. That’s a lot of name to say in one mouthful. I ought to know, because I am Myron Thomas Liggett Junior. My father and I chose simpler names for day-to-day usage. My father called himself MT. I am plain ol’ Tom.
MT Liggett was a perfect model for the stereotypical American cowboy. He seemed to personify the best and worst attributes of that type.
Popular American lore indicates that every cowboy needs an Indian to conquer or a white woman to rescue. My mother was both. Her name was Lita Faye Snow. She was sixteen when she met MT Liggett in the summer of 1949. A Disney-produced, late-1940s American dream version of MT’s sudden arrival would require that he meet her at the corner drugstore or a dance. In that type of fiction, he would have asked her to go out for a glass of Coca-Cola and a walk around the block. The details of their initial interaction were grittier.
MT got kicked out of the family home in Kansas immediately after he graduated from high school. He joined the navy. MT, at eighteen, was just out of basic training when he was transferred to Moffett Field Naval Air Station in Sunnyvale, California. He was away from home for the first time. MT had overactive hormones. In that regard, he was surrounded by fellows of like mind. MT asked the other sailors where he might find a ready piece of ass.
An older sailor named Tommy Tomlinson approached MT and said, “I’ve got a sister-in-law named Gladys Pierce. She’s a grass widow.” Just for the record, that type of widow is created by a divorce decree, not by death. Tommy Tomlinson told MT, “Gladys will spread her legs for you. But you will have to give her some money to speed the courtship.” That detail was not a hindrance to MT. He quickly traveled across the Santa Clara Valley to Gladys’s house.
The brothel door was opened by Lita Snow, the prostitute’s niece. MT immediately forgot about the prostitute. He had good reason for that lapse. Lita shocked MT’s senses. She was the object of every heterosexual man’s wildest fantasy. Lita and two of
her sisters were beautiful. But they went beyond all normal definitions of beauty. They had angel faces and goddess bodies.
Lita was the prettiest girl in that bunch. She was just sixteen, but her looks were backed with experience—lots of experience. She had been with plenty of men and boys. You might expect that from a girl who was raised in a de facto brothel that contained three beautiful understudies.
I’m not saying Lita was a prostitute during that period. Who knows? She probably was, on one level or another. Truth be told, Lita’s amorous enthusiasm derived from another quarter—she liked men. She liked the way they looked, talked, smelled, and danced. More importantly, she liked to fuck. She got lots of chances to accomplish that activity. A steady stream of soldiers, sailors, and marines passed through Lita’s home.
Lita found equal reason to be dazzled by the Kansas cowboy who arrived unexpectedly at her front door. I have repeatedly heard women say he was the best-looking man they ever saw. Lots of them believed MT looked like actor Robert Mitchum. They chased that sentiment with a harsh punchline: Robert Mitchum resembled an inferior version of MT.
But MT’s appeal went beyond mere physical appearance. He was gifted with an incredible mind. A gift for numbers. He also had a photographic memory. His knowledge was encyclopedic. He was charming and witty.
MT’s attributes were packed into a tall cowboy body that was hardened by a lifetime of hard work—an irresistible combination that appealed to women of all ages. Most women who met MT wanted to immediately chat up, hug, or fuck him. Many of them wanted to fuck him again after they discovered he had an eight-inch dick and a lot of enthusiasm.
MT and Lita made an incredible sexual duo. It was the stuff of movies. The best-looking girl anyone had ever seen hooked up with a man of like kind. They fucked like rabbits. They fucked like monkeys. They fucked in cars, on creek banks, and under apricot trees. That tsunami of sexual activity occurred before the birth control pill was invented. It’s not difficult to guess what happened next—Lita got pregnant. The world came crashing down on her shoulders.
Sample from Chapter 8
All of My Names End with Mariah
The last first-person account of the Galveston hurricane of 1900 in this story-within-a-story memoir
The mention of Faye’s tainted middle name stole the levity and motion from her story. We sat quietly for a time. Faye took a long drink and broke the silence. “I was nineteen in 1900. My beauty was at its peak. I was living in Galveston, Texas. Do you know anything about Galveston, Tommy?”
That question perked me up. “We go to the beach there when we visit relatives in Texas. The water is warm as a bathtub, not freezing cold, like in California.”
Faye smiled and said, “Ah, yes. The Texas beaches are grand. But I wasn’t there for the sand and surf. When I lived in Galveston, it was the largest city in Texas. It had the busiest seaport in America. More cotton was shipped from Galveston than anywhere else in the world. Wages were high for everybody. Lots of people made money, big money, sometimes. It was a boom town, just like Deadwood, but better. Places to eat, gamble, and dance were everywhere. Hordes of people were passing through, so Galveston was always packed with people—and money.”
Faye paused for a few moments. I could tell she was thinking about what to say next by choosing her words carefully, so they would suit the ears of a young boy. “Guys who make lots of money liked to spend it—sometimes on girls like me. But what I liked most about Galveston was that it was freewheeling. We didn’t get harassed by the cops, unlike some of the other towns I worked. The cops were on the tab, everything went smooth, as long as everybody played fair. The cops didn’t want visitors to leave Galveston with a bad impression.”
Faye’s comments surprised me. “Wow!” I said. “I thought Galveston was just a funky little town.”
Faye snorted. “It was called the sin city of the Gulf.”
Faye grew quiet and fiddled with her glass before she resumed. “I wish it could have stayed that way forever. But it didn’t.”
Faye went on: They say Galveston is built on an island, but that’s not really true. Calling it an island assigns a level of permanence that is not deserved. Galveston is a sandbar, nothing more.
Hurricanes regularly crash ashore from the Gulf of Mexico. When that happens, sandbars are created, changed, and destroyed. Sandbars are like dice. When they get thrown by a storm, they always come out in different configurations. Anyone who has lived around the Gulf of Mexico knows that. Folks in 1900 knew it too. The smart ones were nervous. They remembered the hurricanes that destroyed Indianola, Texas, a few years before. Nearly five hundred people were killed, in a time when there weren’t many people around.
Folks in Galveston knew their lives rested on a sandpile that barely rose above sea level. Some people wanted to build a seawall to protect Galveston from hurricanes. But they were in the minority. Most Galveston residents saw no reason to build a barrier. They knew their city had survived many previous storms. They thought it could survive future ones without a seawall. Most Galveston residents believed the city couldn’t afford the cost, and it became a contentious issue in local politics. The people who wanted to build a seawall couldn’t get enough support.
Isaac Cline was the local director of the Galveston weather bureau. He wrote an official meteorological statement about the risks Galveston faced from storms. Cline published his opinions in the Galveston Daily News. He wrote that the seawall was not necessary to protect the city. Cline believed that it was “impossible for a hurricane of significant strength to strike the island.”
The seawall didn’t get built. Shortsighted people made matters even worse. Wind and water deposited large sand dunes on the seaward shore of Galveston Island. The dunes acted like a natural seawall. They blunted the force of storms that came in from the Gulf of Mexico. Developers scraped up the seaward dunes and hauled them away. They used the sand to fill in low spots around the island, to create more land for development. They unwittingly removed the only natural barrier against Gulf storms.
I was living in a ritzy Galveston hotel during the first week of September in nineteen hundred. I had a bunch of rich boyfriends. They took care of all my needs, even some I didn’t know I had. I was drinking chilled French champagne every night. I had fine clothes and jewelry—good jewelry, not that fake stuff.
Local newspapers mentioned that a storm was headed toward the American coastline. I had been through lots of Gulf thunderstorms by then. I thought nothing about the one that was coming. I wasn’t the only person who had that casual attitude. Most people in Galveston didn’t take the storm threat seriously. They believed that the storm wouldn’t hit them. Even if it did, they thought the city would be just fine. It was an easy fiction to believe. The weather was clear and nice. The ocean was like bathwater. Who was worried about a silly old storm?
Oh, Tommy, we didn’t know the newspapers were not accurate. Official US government sources didn’t want to cause panic among those who lived in the paths of hurricanes. So, do you know what they did?
The government called hurricanes storms, and they made them seem less harmful than they were. But our casual attitude went beyond believing the government’s scripted fiction. American weather forecasters bungled the forecast. They said the storm was going to sweep up the Eastern Atlantic coast. Cuban weather forecasters strenuously disagreed with that presumption. They believed the storm would veer north, into the Gulf of Mexico and come ashore on the central Texas coast.
The Galveston weather bureau finally hoisted storm warning flags on the afternoon of September 7. Most people didn’t take that knowledge very seriously. We thought the storm would come, then go. Very few people left the island.
Boy, were we wrong. On the evening of September eighth, a category four hurricane crashed ashore just west of the city of Galveston. Local wind-measuring instruments indicated the highest recorded wind speed was 120 miles per hour, right before the instruments were destroyed.
Most of the buildings in Galveston were hastily built wooden boxes. A third of them were blown apart by the raging wind. It got worse from there. The highest point on Galveston was only about eight feet above sea level. The storm surge was over fifteen feet. It washed over the entire island. Buildings got knocked off their foundations by the surging water. They were swept along and smashed to pieces by the island-covering surf.
It was horrible. One minute, I was standing with a glass of whiskey in my hand, watching the walls shake and rattle. The next minute, the wall in front of me collapsed. It peeled away from the ceiling like a card from a deck. The floor collapsed. I was thrown into the water. Hell, what am I saying? It wasn’t like pool water. It felt like I was in the middle of an eggbeater.
But the wind—oh lord, Tommy, the wind was screaming. It was like it was alive. It sounded like a bomb was going off. Stuff was blowing in the wind. Roof shingles, sections of walls. A lady’s hat. It didn’t occur to me to swim. I couldn’t have done so if I had tried. I never learned. I was just swept on top, along with the other crap in the water. I finally managed to latch onto a big timber. I held onto that sucker for dear life.”