Thursday, October 14, 2010

Barbi Beckett: A Killer on the Road

El Paso, Texas makes a body desperate for some weather, any weather besides hot. By age three I had an intense jones for The Doors’ song, Riders On The Storm, for that reason. I’d close my eyes and disappear into the rain and thunder. A fresh calm would wash over and I could almost smell the wet, warm sidewalks. My brothers would withhold the record until they were bored, then put it on and cover their laughing mouths as I lost myself in a fruitless rain dance. Seven minutes be damned. This tot had a solid attention span for some cool moist. Seven whole minutes of showers was no joke. Sure, they fade to the back during the singy parts but they are there throughout.

Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm
Into this house we’re born
Into this world we’re thrown
Like a dog without a bone
An actor out alone
Riders on the storm

It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I actually listened to the lyrics. I was living in Seattle and driving to work in a rare, yes, rare, downpour. The song came on the radio and I pulled over to revel in the tiny dream-come-true of being a rider (car driver) on a storm (steady rainfall). I have songwriting friends (husband) who would be appalled that I’d never listened to the lyrics before. It’s possible you could have put those weathersome sound effects in a Barry Manilow song and I would have loved it. I like to think not, but, I was oppressed by the shiny heat of that burg.

Even more scarce than a good drizzle, was a nice flurry. Every few years we’d be blessed with a moderate snowfall that would stick. If it started at night, forget sleep – it was just a countdown ‘til morning when we could get in it, feel it, eat it and sculpt it. We’d bundle up in our 70’s extreme weather gear; two pairs of pants, four pairs of tube socks (two for feet, two for hands) and bread bags over our tennies.

Nobody ever wanted to ruin their own smooth, virginal yard. Fortunately, during our grade school years, Teresa Morales and I liked to play in the many acres of desert at the end of our street. We also enjoyed cussing when we were together.

One lucky snow day we headed to our badland backyard. First we scrambled over the rock wall with a sign on it that said something about “danger, landmines, old grenades, military testing blah blah blah. Once over the wall, there was a ditch we’d run down and back up, then a dirt dike (hee hee) road to climb, cross and scurry down. That put us in the desert proper. Covered in white, it was a foreign land. We made our way deep into the center and stopped, listening to the silence, before getting down to business on our snowman.

The plan was we’d each make a big snowball, side by side, and then put one on top of the other. We worked with a fervor and by the time we noticed how grand our snowballs had become, they were too heavy to lift. We’d have to change our strategy. Instead of a snowman, we’d build a mighty snow dick.

We set to work on the shaft, piling snow on top of and in between the balls. When it got too high to reach, we each climbed up and stood on our respective testicles. Gradually, we slowed down as we realized we didn’t know what the top should look like. We hopped off our balls and stood back for some perspective. After deliberating, we went with the ‘cap’ look we’d seen in some drawings. When our sculpture was complete it was about seven feet tall and had what we’d later learn was a disproportionately large scrotum.

We two were spent. We trudged back home through the desert, tube sock mittens soggy and sagging, plastic bag boots full of slush and both pairs of jeans soaked through. We’d stopped having fun long before the dick was done but we were committed to our work and finished the tip with chattering teeth and bone-weary grunts.

The freezing temperatures must have affected our short term memory because after warming up and covering our hands with dry socks we headed back out. We missed our big dick and wanted to see it one more time before it melted. We wanted to be heading toward it and see it looming in the distance.

From atop the dike, we thought we’d be able to see the dick but everything blended together. We slogged closer and it still wasn’t looming. Our hearts sank as we approached our work area to find a wide mound of chunky snow covered in tennis shoe prints.


We knew that everything beautiful was destroyed in our neighborhood; Christmas lights were cut, lawn decorations were stolen (including our weighty concrete bench) and jack-o-lanterns were smashed. Still, we couldn’t believe anyone would want to flatten our penis. We thought that if other kids even made it out that far, they’d be impressed and want to show their friends. We thought they’d be inspired and maybe even expand on the concept with some snow titties or butts or a forest of little pricks.

We stood staring at the chunks of snow that had been the biggest, whitest, most erect penis we’d ever see. We looked around for culprits but, being a desert, there was no place for anyone to hide.

There’s a killer on the road
His brain is squirmin’ like a toad
Take A long holiday
Let your children play
If you give this man a ride
Sweet memory will die
There’s a killer on the road

Perhaps if we’d been a little older we would’ve crossed back over the dike consoling one another with positive platitudes about process. It was the making of the dick that inspired energy and enthusiasm. We might have appreciated that we were blessed to have had God work through us in that space and time. But, we were ten. We felt violated and bitter. Not only would we have to muss up our own yards but our creative impulses would be stymied by censorship at home. (My Baptist father didn’t take well to the sprawling Star of David I sprayed on our brick house with a can-of-snow one Christmas. I was pretty sure snow sex parts wouldn’t be his bag, er, I mean, thing… just, he wouldn’t like it).

Back in my yard, Teresa and I forged the weak lower half of an igloo with a plastic trash can from the bathroom. Numb and uninspired, we hung up our foot bags and called it a winter. Two years later we’d make an amazing snow family in front of my house; a mom holding a baby and the dad’s hand, a medium height boy, a short girl and a dog. The entire clan would be decapitated in the time it took us to run inside for a camera.

Now that I am a little older, I can sometimes appreciate ‘process’ but I wouldn’t say it’s the first thing that comes to mind in the face of creative destruction. I am more mature in some ways but I still have to nurse a dizzying excitement at the prospect of snow and I still get BUMMED OUT when someone tramples my wiener, so to speak.


  1. Barbi, you make me laugh. And this is so reminiscent of Mary Karr's memoirs to me [which I loved]. You've got a book in you, sister!

  2. Again, can't get enough. Please keep writing and sharing.

  3. With ya, Barbi. Songwriting notwithstanding, I consciously grok lyrics last when I hear a song. And now, thanks to you, I finally know the words to Riders On The Storm, 35 years later.
    Excellent story!