By Johnny Hughes
"Hello, is this Gene Wilcox?" Holly Edwards had rehearsed this phone call in her head for forty years, especially this last year.
"Well, hello Holly," Gene said.
"Oh, you recognized my voice. That's so sweet."
"I have caller ID, but I would have recognized your voice for sure. I don't know why, but I've been thinking about you a whole lot lately," Gene lied. Like so many baby boomers, his memory of the 1960s was a bit fuzzy around the edges.
"I imagine you have searched me, googled me, and know all about Holly of Houston. Have you googled me? You should do an exact word search on IceRocket for Holly of Houston. That's my brand, my web site, and blog. Have you seen them?" She asked, a bit too smugly. Smug and having $90 million go together nicely.
"Nah, I'm not on the Internet. I hunt and fish. I am an outdoors man. Lately, I've been hunting feral hogs, sometimes from a helicopter with an assault rifle. They are good eating when Capt. Mike gets through with them."
Gene and Holly had lived together, and been leading campus radicals at Texas Tech from 1968 until 1972. He wrote for the Catalyst, the underground newspaper. They thought of themselves as incredibly noble back then. The Movement.
"We are on the same wave length. I have been spending all of my time outdoors since I got out of the stock market. I'm in my garden right now. I'm there every morning. Oh, Gene, I want to see you. I got out of the stock market when the Dow was 13,000. That is what I am kind of famous for. For twenty years, I was chained to a computer screen when the stock market was open. Now, I am outdoors. Like you. I am retired, really, but the world doesn't know that."
Holly was a former board member of Houston's chapter of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). She had donated $140,000 to the Texas Strippers for PETA tour. Her frequent comments in Texas newspapers were strongly anti-gun.
"I have this web mistress. She manages my web presence," she said. "She found out you were divorced, and that you still had Shy Tornado Hardware. I found you on the Internet, I wish you'd find me. Google me. I've been all over the financial newspapers and web sites as 'The Girl Who Got Out.' Google me, please. When the Dow was at 13,000, I sold all my stock and advised all my clients at Ralston to sell. Then I put it on my web site. Got millions of hits. That's what we are doing now, exploring making HollyofHouston.com a subscription web site. Any way, I'm over talking, as my last therapist would say. How do you spend your time?" Holly asked. Holly's fifteen minutes of fame were on minute fourteen.
"Your web mistress is a bit slow. I've been divorced fourteen years. I spend at least three days a week at the Lake Alan Henry Lodges. Have your web mistress look them up. There's a picture of me with an eight-pound, large mouth bass. Me 'n Mike and Jack Burk have been gearing up to enter bass tournaments where the big bucks are. Lake Alan Henry's the best bass lake in Texas now. You fish any? Or hunt?"
Gene was sure he knew the answer. Gene Wilcox had entered exactly one bass tournament at Lake Texoma. He slipped on the dock, and caused a hairline fracture in his elbow. He never actually made it on to the lake. The fish the Burks caught could best be examined with a strong magnifying glass.
"I'm seeking more outdoor and travel experiences. Come visit me. I'll put you up at the Galleria, charter a fishing boat, and we can go deep sea fishing. I want adventure. Remember, we were pretty wild. We'd do anything you want to do, if you'd come on down. I was a bit surprised that you were at the hardware store, but that is very neat, kind of comforting, following in your grandfather and father's footsteps. Ever since Sheila told me it was still open, I've been trying to remember that story about how it got its name."
Sheila, Holly of Houston's web mistress, favored tattoos of cartoon characters. She had twenty-seven. Her favorites were Dick Tracy, Superman, and Popeye. During the radical days, Gene had often vowed he would never work in the family hardware store, or stay in Lubbock, Texas.
"Somebody asks that ever day. Ever day! My granddaddy saw this skinny little tornado on the edge of Lubbock that was just sitting there in one spot. Isn't much of a story. I tried to sell the hardware store for five years, but now we are doing all right. You talking your Internet. My daddy was a pack rat with a whole big 'ol warehouse full of old junk. Odd shaped light bulbs, fixtures for these houses built in the forties. Arthur has all that old stuff up on the Internet and charges a bundle to pack and ship. We have a computer at the store. I was at the Galleria for a hardware convention. Folks said there were hassles over handguns. Do you have a concealed carry license? You need one. You come to the Lake Alan Henry Lodges. We'll put you up, and put up with you. You remember Arthur Yarnoff, don't you, the New York radical? He's been my store manager for six years now. He moved back here."
Gene was trying to sound casual, as a certain surprise, jealous anger rose inside him. When he had been totally focused on this spectacularly-breasted, braless sophomore that wrote for the Catalyst in 1972, he had forced Holly to agree to an "open relationship", where they could explore all the sexual, pre-AIDS benefits of the hippy movement, and still plan their marriage. In order to make Gene jealous, Holly had spent a miserable night in Ruidoso, New Mexico with Arthur Yarnoff, Gene's major radical competitor for slogan-spouting time at many a protest. In a slogan-filled time, they were full of slogans.
"The guy who looked like Trotsky? I would have never remembered him, until you brought it up," Holly lied. In an insane, jealous rage, Gene had moved all of his things out of their poster-laden, alley-pad apartment in record time. He smashed Holly's prized jewelry box. Gene had married the daughter of another local hardware store owner on the rebound.
Holly posted on Twitter, "I am on the telephone with the absolute love of my life for the first time in forty years!"
Her compulsive need to tell everyone about herself, and her inability to keep the normal secrets about herself were the precise reason that HollyofHouston.com had readers in almost every country in the world.
"Hell, 'ol New York Art, as he is called, is one of the best known fellers in Lubbock County. He's in Elks, Moose, Lions, Rotary. Art did a complete one-eighty from far left to far right. He put himself up for Republican Party Chairman, but this fat-ass, right-wing, talk-show fool brought up all that stuff about Art's radical past. Art was arrested three or four times falsely back then. He still looks a little like Trotsky, if you squint. Will you come visit the lake? We have a big party coming up next month. Come on down, it is beautiful, a great view of the Caprock. Wild flowers ever where. We party on this long porch every weekend." Gene said.
"I have a few loose ends to tie up here, " Holly lied. "Karl Ralston is a bit mad at me. He is the man that made my career. Kind of Dolly Parton and Porter Waggoner. We disagreed on me getting out of the market, and telling everyone so loudly. We are like family. He'll get over it. I was on Conan O'Brien, and several satellite radio shows. There are podcasts. Your lodge sounds like fun. I'll come there, and you come here. I have a big house in River Oaks."
Karl Ralston had filed a lawsuit against Holly for breach of contract, and a shopping list of other creative reasons. The very words, Holly of Houston, sent Ralston's blood pressure into orbit.
Each morning, Holly would draft some comment on the news of the day which Sheila would post on the Houston Chronicle web site. Holly had 1,276 "friends" and was often on the Most Popular list, but she would never catch Shondell. Sheila also put the comment in the Austin and Dallas newspapers, and on MySpace, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Holly's unpredictable, revealing, vulnerable, weekly YouTube videos were often so banal that folks watched several times thinking they didn't get it.
Sheila wanted to be a roller derby girl, but her multiple piercings would have caused a blood bath. She felt a strong sense of satisfaction in signing Holly up as "friends" on MySpace with women's roller derby groups all over America: Rat City Rollers, Rainy Day, Rocky Mountain, Gotham, the Derby Liberation Front, et al. Sheila was about the only true friend around, now that Holly was banned for life from the Ralston building, all offices, and all company functions.
Sheila spent a few hours each day asking strangers across the globe to be Holly of Houston's "friends" on many web sites. Sheila worked equally hard at her own Internet presence with the screen name "Funny Book." She had rotating avatars of close-up photos of her cartoon-character tattoos: Mickey Mouse, Woody Woodpecker, Pluto, Mr. Magoo. Wiley E. Coyote, Bart Simpson, and more. Holly had gone with Sheila, and gotten a small dragon tattooed on her shoulder.
Holly of Houston had not said so to the millions that followed her, but she was not going to predict a stock market bottom. She was really out of the market for good. She wasn't coming back. She really didn't have much of anything to say, but millions were waiting to hear it.
"Next month at the Lodge, we are going to have Dennis Ross and the Axberg Brothers Band, real crazy East Texans, and a critter cook. Folks bring every kind of wild game out of their freezers. Mike and Jack marinade everything with lots of jalapeno pepper juice, and Captain Mike's secret marinade recipe. There's wild turkey, buffalo, venison, bobcat, doves, prairie dog, quail, squirrel, pheasant. You'd love pheasant hunting. We've had zebra, bear, and even possum. You want adventure? Try hunting feral hogs with an assault rifle from a helicopter. Homeland Security wants to get rid of them. Terrorists might infect them with anthrax."
Now Gene was making a little canned sales talk, because he had been inviting folks to the big party.
"I'd love that," Holly said. She had been very vocal in an Internet way about being a vegetarian. "If you ever wanted to come here, I'd charter you a jet. How far is this lake from the Lubbock airport? Hey, remember those two Tech students who died from eating jack rabbits? I don't know about you eating wild hogs."
The conversation was going her way. A reunion was her goal.
"It's an hour from Lubbock. You got the kind of money to be chartering a jet?" Gene was now reviewing all of Holly's unsubtle clues about her vast wealth.
"I am going to let money make money slowly now, and not watch it every minute. A lot of money is a blessing and a curse. I'll never really work again, or do anything I do not want to do," she said.
"That's the way I am. No worries. Plenty of money. I go to the hardware store for coffee of a morning, if I'm not at the Lodge. I spend more time sitting on the porch at the Lodge, staring at the Caprock, than anything else. We got a nice plantin' rain. The wild flowers are ever where. They have nearly ruined the view at night with those wind power turbine things. They make a row of little red lights all along the Cap. I hate them. They are ugly," Gene said. "The big ranchers have all the land, all the oil, all the cows, and now those things. Why do they need them?"
"I can imagine. I am a big champion of the environment." Holly said. Ralston had always advised it's Houston, oil-rich clients to invest in all forms of alternative energy. "Are you politically active at all? You really had a great social conscience."
"Nah, I didn't even vote. They are all fools. The guy that did win Republican Chairman just shouts on several radio stations every morning. Art goes on the radio and shouts and agrees with him. They both sound like the biggest fools, but that's Art's lookout. When I think back on the 1960s, it is like it happened to another guy. Remember when Arthur had Tech's first anti-war demonstration? He called all the radio and TV stations. They all came. He was the only protester. Had him this here sign that said, 'We are bringing the war home.' Remember that?" Gene asked.
Arthur Yarnoff had been the President, and only member, of the Students for a Democratic Society. He had also been President of the Young Socialists. The other seven members all had mental problems that later revealed themselves in comic ways.
"No. I don't remember that," Holly lied. "I am not into politics anymore either. I'm like you about the old days, but I do remember you. Us. Our romance. It was so good. I remember the good times." Holly had donated $100,000 to Hillary Clinton's campaign, and later $20,000 to Senator Obama. An Austin lobbying group had conned her out of $60,000 to oppose concealed-carry gun laws and guns on college campuses. "Being outdoors in West Texas sounds like where I am supposed to be. With you."
"The Burks bought 'em several houses in this ghost town, Justiceburg. They fixed them up for fishing cabins. The Lodge is a motel. This fellow caught a fifteen-pound bass, so folks are coming from several states. What's really weird is these here bird watchers. A whole bunch of them rented two of the Justiceburg cabins. They come there for the wild turkeys. They had binoculars and cameras the size of Volkswagens, and didn't even fish. There are a rainbow of ever kind of wild flower off the Cap. They photographed all these flowers. Yankees. Weirdos," Gene said.
His West Texas accent and slang were far more pronounced than Holly remembered. Holly was an avid, and learned bird watcher. She had funded an Audobon Society web site in Houston so that the devoted could post their bird sightings.
"You wouldn't think wild hog is good eating, but it is tender and doesn't have much fat when Capt. Mike serves it. I sure would like you to meet my best friends. They are weird, but everybody loves them. These tourist fishermen love our West Texas culture. We laugh mostly. Everything is funny. You probably don't get what I mean," Gene said.
"I do. I do exactly," Holly lied. "I need to get away. I really have not traveled the world much, but I might. I'll come to Lake Alan Henry, if you will go to Europe with me. O.K., I am getting ahead of myself. I was remembering that time we went to Santa Fe in your V.W. bus." Her therapist's warnings were ringing in her head. "If you can get me one of those cabins, I would just lay up. I ordered a good year's supply of books from Amazon. Remember, we would both read. Just sit quiet and read, together. I am really remembering things now."
"Yeah, I'm remembering too. What if you didn't like me or like it here? I guess you could just go, no harm done. You look at that picture of me with the eight-pound bass I caught. I wear the same size pants I did in high school and have all my hair." Gene didn't know he was lying about his waist by three inches. He did have seventy per cent of his hair. The bass weighed five pounds, and Jack Burk caught it. "I'll take you into Post and we can dance. I'm one of the best country and western dancers in several counties. You still dance? You remember when we got run out of that country joint because of looking like hippies?"
Now for the first time, Gene let go of the laugh Holly remembered.
"Can I dance? I've taken ballroom lessons for the last three years, since the boom from TV. My dance instructor, Rowdy, is one of my best friends. He won't eat anything green. He got out of the stock market the instant I said to. Are you really that good a dancer? We stuck to a basic two step back then."
"Hell, yes. You are coming here. Honestly, I was a little worried about all the big differences between us. Forty years. I am actually that good a dancer, or nearly. I'd be proud for you to meet all my friends. I really, really would."
Gene had broken his ankle when he stepped in a prairie dog hole while hunting quail. His fancy dancing days were not all the way over. He had a most creative limp.
"I remember Post because we used to go honky-tonkin'. Does it have an airport? I could charter a plane and bring Sheila to tend to shopping and things. You will know what I look like if you hit google images. I still weigh the same. O.K., I have been surgically enhanced just a tad." Holly had slowly gained, and rapidly lost 60 pounds, and had absolutely no chance of keeping it all off. She looked and felt beautiful. "We were always so truthful with each other."
"Yes, we were always truthful. Maybe that's what broke us up. It was all my fault. I was wrong," Gene said.
And that is all you have to say to a woman. She knows anything that comes up is your fault, and she wants to hear you say it.
In two weeks, Holly, who is fasting, and Sheila will arrive at the Post, Texas airport in a rented plane. A limo will be standing by. The limo and plane will be there all weekend. So will the driver and pilot. A commercial flight to Lubbock would have been easier, but Sheila's multiple piercings would not make it though any metal detector. Holly has already promised to loan both the plane and the limo to Jack Burk and John Claude Axberg. They are going to show Sheila around West Texas. What could possibly go wrong there?
Gene bought all new underwear, and had his teeth cleaned. He has given up dipping snuff. He bought Holly a light-weight, lady's .32 caliber Smith and Wesson revolver as a reunion gift. He is planning on filling her cabin with multi-colored wild flowers like he did the Motel 6 room in Santa Fe. Gene has bragged to most folks in Lubbock, Garza, and Lynn counties about his rich girlfriend. Gene had kept a lot of old pictures of Holly, and Gene and Holly from the 1960s. He went to Kinkos and had them blown up to put in her cabin.
Holly is not talking to the world on the Internet these days. She's thinking about Gene. I am pulling for them. Everybody in West Texas is invited to the big party at the Lake Alan Henry Lodges, except Arthur Yarnoff. Johnny Hughes is the author of Texas Poker Wisdom.