Twelve new members of Temple Beth Selah were in attendance for the afternoon meal. Included in this get-to-know-ya soiree were two sleeping baby girls presently tucked away in orange and red strollers respectively, each of which could be converted into DOT-approved car seats or Austin-appreciated and Sierra Club-endorsed baby carrier backpacks. Three rosy-cheeked young brothers (3, 5 and 6) with yarmulkes falling off their skulls as they wrestled each other to the floor alternated tactics between harmless punches and hugs and kisses, all of which elicited laughter and tears that dried quickly in the Texas sunlight. Brankton envied the brothers’ warmth and affection for each other. Their mother, the one gently and rhythmically shaking the red stroller, looked to be about 22 years old. She looked like she could be in school at UT with Nelson or his rude little friend Jackie. Maybe she was.
The monthly new member's bbq menu offered the usual heart-stopping murderer's row lineup of tri-tip steak and chicken slathered in a tangy bbq sauce that only UT alumnae football players were privy to know. A generous heaping of freshly cut summer fruit including kiwi, mango, strawberry and a pomegranate, grilled heirloom tomatoes with a pesto marinade, and a Caesar salad with warm, cubed chicken breast that made one weak in the knees were also stacked high-n-deep along side the main course.
He was surprised to find an appetite still hiding in the nether recesses of his gullet in spite of the painful knowledge that he was being pushed out after a relatively short tenure with NBC Universal. It mattered little that Marcus Spilka, massive prick, little man, no-talent-hack -- always had been -- was behind his now imminent departure. Once the gears or wheels of the rumor mill were set to spinning, their inertia was tough to abate. Brankton remembered what Mark Twain had said about a lie getting halfway around the world before the truth had a chance to put its pants on. Until he heard otherwise, officially, though, Brankton determined to sign Jack Mann before he left Austin. Getting even with Spilka was the furthest thing from his mind, though survival mode was kicking in. Besides, the network would be on the hook for two more year’s worth of salary, and maybe he could land another gig before his demise was reported in Variety or the Reporter.
The app on his iPhone told Brankton that there were still several hours before sunset. The wind out his sails, he paid his respects to the first Jewish cowboy he’d ever met as he headed out. “I’m going to take off. Really nice meeting you.” Brankton tried to offer a strong, athletic handshake, and was met with the same. “And, thanks for the food. Again, Rabbi, sorry for my, uh, language earlier,” Brankton looked off to the side where the firefighters next door were polishing their rig. “Kind of a bad day.”
“No explanations necessary, and please call me Mo'. You’re welcome, Brankton. It’s not just a Texas thing, you know, the hospitality,” said Rabbi Yauch. The Rebbe walked him down the drive where Brankton packed up his leather satchel and pulled out a set of headphones and his phone. “It’s nice to know you, bud. Where do they have you staying the night?”
|Barton Springs, Austin, Texas|
“Yeah, no, it’s actually a very nice place. Been in Austin forever. You’ll do fine there. Great bar,” said the Rabbi. And he meant it too, as if he knew a thing or two about single malt Scotch. "Come visit next time you're in town, Brankton."
Brankton waived to the Rebbe and put his headphones on, sizing up the man as he walked Lavaca Street toward Barton Springs. Calloused hands and a Talmudist; the two didn't usually go together. Still athletic build and southern twang intact. Black wife? Sharp mind. Ramrod posture. It was becoming more apparent to Brankton exactly how badass Texas Jews truly were. Or, maybe it was just the folks in Rabbi Yauch's congregation that intimidated him somewhat -- even the wrasslin' kids were a mystery to him.
Finally making it to "Lady Bird" Trail, Brankton veered to the right and began his final approach to Barton Springs, the freshwater spring bubbling up from the aquifer that runs underneath much of Austin. It had been an important part of Austin for decades. Many senior citizens swam there daily, and youngsters (including Robert Redford, whom Brankton had met skiing in Deer Valley) learned to swim there each year. When Brankton arrived to the side of the pool, it shone brilliantly with an expansive shoreline and not as many people as he had imagined would be there. If only he had some swimming trunks.