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Dove season | Star struck | The Hollywood pitch | Olive toil

In the Green Chair

By David Van Meter

Novelist William Harrison -- of Rollerball and Mountains on the Moon fame -- sits in a green chair in a warehouse on Fort Worth's south side. Colored lights cast accents across the 67-year-old author's Hemingwayesque face as I silently wonder if the chair we've chosen -- a sage corduroy wingback -- will be green enough for this story about, yes, the Green Honors Chair program.

In 1966, Honors students and professors dreamed of an endowed chair that would be shared by almost every school and department. Three years later, benefactors Cecil H. and Ida Green endowed such an academic seat, named for them, with a $600,000 gift to TCU.

What a gift it has been.

Several years ago, I sat stunned as oceanographer Robert Ballard, who discovered the sunken Titanic, showed a packed Ed Landreth Hall the picture he took of a toddler's shoe, resting all these years next to the ship's hull.

I also remember when CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather, a cup of coffee in hand, stood toe to toe with students, describing the day he tied himself to a light pole on Galveston Beach to report the arrival of Hurricane Carla.

This year, a new edition of Green Honors scholars spent days or weeks on campus. We focus on four -- an expert on olives, a Hollywood producer, the "sexiest" astrophysicist in America and Harrison himself. Is the chair green enough?

Alas, I conclude, its color pales anyway next to the tint of those who sit in it.

English Green Chair

While the Green Honors Chair in English warned students that making a living in the arts is a brutal existence, he also proves it is still quite possible

Dove Season

A short story by William Harrison '55

The old man hassled his son all morning, complaining that the coffee wasn't strong enough, that one of the shotguns had been removed from its case too early so that morning dew settled on it and that the kid's grades -- he had finished the year at the local college -- had better improve.

"Once mediocre, always mediocre," the old man snapped at him, and his son grew sullen as they started walking the path at the edge of the farm.

The old man, Cobb Yoder, was now almost 70 years old. He had driven off his two older sons, so now only Jackdog, 19 years old and the son of Cobb's second wife, was left to hunt with him.

"Try to get through the day," the old man went on. "Don't step on no rattlesnakes, and don't be makin' any fancy swing shots so I get in the line of fire."

"Don't worry, I won't shoot you," Jackdog answered.

"What's that?"

"Nothing. Mind the culvert." They went into a culvert, and then climbed out, going along the edge of the farm that fronted the gray waters of Baffin Bay. "And slow down, dammit," the old man protested.

By this time Jackdog seethed with anger, but kept silent. They went another hundred yards, stepping over an old coil of barbwire and crossing a patch of weeds, but no birds flew up.

"I bet you miss football season," Cobb said, making the first feeble attempt at real conversation. "Not a bit," Jackdog answered, and he knew well enough why his father mentioned it. After all, it was only six-man football played on a dusty field up at the Riviera Beach school, but it gave the old man an opportunity, after years of having no sons to watch at the local games, to sit in the stands and brag with his drinking buddies.

For a minute Jackdog remembered the games, the girls and the camaraderie with the Garza boys and others, but he didn't miss it.

"You just won't say, but you liked football," the old man persisted. "No, because when I played linebacker I never hit hard enough, and when I played fullback I never ran far enough to suit you," Jackdog told him. "So I don't miss it one damn bit."

That ended that.

The complaints started again when Cobb said, "I notice you didn't shake out your boots this morning. You could've stuck your foot right down on a scorpion."

Jackdog just kept on walking.

When the sun came up, they opened the thermos and drank the coffee Jackdog had made, eating a wedge of cheese with it.

"Where in hell are all the birds?" the old man asked the sky. Jackdog knew how to keep quiet and irritate his father, so he did.

After finishing his coffee, Cobb said, "Okay, we turn inland. We'll hunt them two long fence rows, c'mon."

"I'll stay along the beach," Jackdog replied.

"What for? Ain't no birds here."

"I'll take my chances."

"If you didn't want to hunt today, you should've said so."

Cobb could hunt alone, Jackdog told himself, and once again he let the silence stand between them until finally he added, "Meet you back at the shack at lunchtime. We'll see who found the birds and who didn't."

"All right then," his father said with an angry snort, and he thrust the empty thermos back into Jackdog's hands and stalked off.

Walking alone, Jackdog's anger ebbed away. The midday heat of September had not yet started, and he enjoyed shaking out his aching limbs, having slept in a bedroll in the yard outside the shack where, once, long ago, his grandfather had lived out his last days, exiled to the far end of the Yoder farm.

A three-room shack, useless now, with a rickety dock that stuck out 60 feet into the waters of the bay. He never really knew old Jack Yoder, but his mother told him stories: a leathery old man, alone, playing solitaire, fishing for drum and less-than-edible fish, coming up to the big house on Sundays for supper.

A dove flew up, but far out of range. Loyola Beach lay to the east of Baffin Bay, a salty shallows between Padre Island and the South Texas mainland.

Every springtime, rattlesnakes floated across the briny water, coming ashore at Loyola to occupy a thorny countryside of mesquite trees, nettles, cactus, yucca, lizards and scorpions. Along the beach sad driftwood and rotted carcasses of fish gathered in a residue of oil, smelly seaweed, bottle caps, defecation and slime. Where the road ended at the boat ramp, the ramshackle Fisherman's Inn stood perched on pilings, serving everything fried: shrimp, fillets, potatoes, oysters, hush puppies and Mexican beans.

On the weathered dock, a few misguided fishermen sometimes pulled their faded boats up to the rusted pumps. The old man loved the Inn and all his beer drinking buddies inside it, all of them content to gather in a place as grim as the landscape itself.

Just north of the Inn the Yoder land started: more than a thousand acres hacked out of a prickly terrain by grandfather Jack, his son Cobb and Cobb's sons and given over to cotton farming.

When the earth was turned over for the fall planting, thousands of doves arrived, and for a few days the Yoders and their farm workers, especially the large Garza family, enjoyed the shooting.

Two birds, flushed out as Cobb went along the fence row, flew with the strong southern breeze so that Jackdog, giving them a big lead, brought them down. Too good quick shots. He started across the soft field to pick them up.

"Dogs! We need ourselves some dogs!" he said aloud as he made his way over the furrows.

That was another thing to be angry about, having no dogs. They had Beau and Spirit, once, but Cobb neglected them, and when they finally died the old man offered the opinion that a good wing shot didn't really need a retriever in the month of September when the ground lay so bare.

Jackdog circled the field, found the birds and placed them in his pouch. After walking back to the path beside the beach, lifting his boots high over the furrows, he was sweaty and pissed off again.

The sorry, mean-spirited, stingy, stubborn, dumb son of a bitch: He had recently raised a hand against Jackdog's mother again after all the promises that it wouldn't happen another time. The argument: a pair of shoes she had bought for him, a pair he claimed he didn't need.

In spite of himself, Jackdog went down a list. No dogs. Farm equipment in lousy shape. The Garzas constantly and rightfully angry, so that Tony finally quit in disgust, went off and joined the Army. Beer and bullshit every night at the Inn. Something had to be done.

Suddenly the birds came up. They came from the fence rows by the dozens, sailing on the rising breeze, heading from his left to right so fast that he could only shoot, load and shoot again.

From downwind they came and kept coming in a long rope of frantic wings. Swinging his gun, giving them a big lead, he pulled off shot after shot, at war with the whole dove population of South Texas, it seemed, missing dozens while stopping to reload. One, two, a double: He never missed. The Old Stevens felt wonderful as it warmed in his hands.

He himself felt oiled and ready as if he'd waited all his hunting years -- since he was 9 years old -- for this moment. Once, stopping to load again, he listened for the sound of Cobb's gun, but heard nothing.

As they kept coming, he stood on the beach path firing toward the field, dropping birds for perhaps 30 minutes until his ammo started running out. The morning sun glared at him, but he glared back and, once, he made an impossibly long shot on a bird so far away that he knew he'd never go look for it. It went down on the horizon like a stone.

He killed birds until he felt like a man who possessed the day, himself and pure nature. A deep exhilaration boiled up inside him, and he knew it was the greatest feat of shooting he had ever heard about, a hunter's dream, and a story he would later tell. And still the birds came, dark flights of them coming in clusters and very fast.

He kept firing until his ammo was gone, but with his last shot he got a double, feeling heroic and blessed.

When his shotgun was hot and empty, he let out a yelp of raw pleasure. As he trudged into the field once again to pick them up, he heard for the first time the report of Cobb's gun somewhere to the east: a single, rather forlorn little bump of sound.

He picked up 53 birds. On the long walk back toward the shack, the pouch became a steaming burden, but his thoughts were pleasantly addled at what he had done. He didn't mind the wait.

As his eyes drifted over the gray waters of Baffin Bay, even that pitiful sight looked curiously beautiful in the September sun.

At the shack, he cleaned the birds the way Cobb taught him: pushing up the breast of each bird with the pressure of his two thumbs, and then tossing the bloody carcasses away.

Jackdog remembered seeing old man Garza doing this with one hand: his thumb squeezing a dove's breast up and out. It was generally agreed that a dove's legs and thighs weren't worth anybody's trouble. Jackdog tossed the remains of the dead birds down a dusty slope onto the beach: feathers, gore, all of it in a messy pile for the scavengers to clean up. A

fterward, he washed at the tap beside the rickety porch of the shack, then started the campfire with twigs and driftwood. Cooking up the birds: the last of the tradition.

In the old days, the Garzas and other workers joined the Yodors in an evening picnic on the first day of dove season. The men cooked for the women. Today was a pale reminder of those times: a single skillet now, a midday lunch, no dogs, no older brothers, no women, no Garzas, just the old man and himself.

Resenting it, Jackdog pealed two potatoes and opened a can of salsa, then went to the truck, removed the cooler and opened a beer. Gliding over the waters of the bay, two gulls called to each other.

He thought about his mother. She kept all of Cobb's books, doing all the complex accounting, and in recent years had even started making the deals with the cotton gin. A slender woman, shrewd and tender, she left Cobb to his nights at the Inn and to his days running around the countryside in his pickup. His sexual demands were long over, but his gruff complaints still bore down on her, so she earned what she had from the marriage.

Jackdog remembered how she sat in the stands two years ago when he still played football: her hands over her mouth, her eyes worried. Cobb appeared, coming toward the beach through the furrows.

"Just got two damned birds," the old man announced, glancing at the sizzling skillet. "You get some?"

"A few," Jackdog admitted, and he nodded toward that steep pathway to the beach littered with feathers, blood and scrawny necks and wings.

Cobb shuffled over for an indifferent look.

"I betcha didn't put all the breasts in plastic sacks," he managed. "They're in the cooler warmin' up your beer."

"And what're you cookin' for?"

"Lunch," Jackdog replied, biting off the word. In spite of himself, his anger flared up again.

"Well, it's too hot for a big meal," Cobb said, and he wiped out a shotgun and placed it in its leather case. "Hear what I'm saying? It's too hot to eat."

"Want me to clean your two birds?"

"Why, hell no," Cobb answered him, and tossed both birds down the pathway toward the others. "I'm taking the truck back to the house, so I reckon you can eat by yourself, if that's all you want, then walk back."

Jackdog rose from tending the fire, then kicked hard, sending the skillet flying. Hot grease and dove meat scattered around the yard.

"Now that is one stupid thing to do," Cobb told him, but before he could say anything else Jackdog pounced on him, turned him, lifted him by the scruff of his hair and the seat of his pants, and hurled him into the gory mess of dead birds. Cobb didn't stop rolling until he hit the beach, but he bounced up quickly, muddy, a smear of blood -- not his own -- on his reddening cheek.

"You ungrateful little bastard," Cobb spat out as he started back the same way, his boots sliding over the wet feathers of the dead birds.

"Come on up," Jackdog said evenly. "Raise a hand to me like you did to Mama, and I'll break it off for you. Complain one more time, and I'll close your mouth. You've had your run."

Cobb clawed his way back into the yard, but was short of breath. While he sputtered and gathered himself together, Jackdog had hold of him again. This time he sent the old man flying backward down the same slope.

"I ought to make you live out here in the same shack where you put grandfather," Jackdog told him. "But I don't want to see that much of you. You can move into one of them smelly rooms above the Inn. Better yet, move your ass into Kingsville. Into some damn condo. Come out for Sunday dinner if you want to, but tell me when you're comin' so I'll be gone."

He spoke smoothly, everything natural and impromptu, fluid, like the shooting of so many dove in the morning sunlight.

Cobb flailed around on his back down in the slime.

"And don't try to money-whip us 'cause Mama knows what's in the books -- all the stuff you've tried over the years -- and I'd just as soon send your sorry ass to jail. You don't know the IRS from a bottle of Shiner. You don't even know cotton farming these days, and that's why I'm taking it over! Because I still know how to work, and I'm sober enough to keep the farm in the black!"

Cobb made his way through all those little corpses again, wheezing, his face swollen with anger. He had a muddy stone in his fist and meant to use it.

"You've never had a friend or worker you've managed to keep," Jackdog went on. "If I can get Tony Garza out of the Army and back here, we'll show you some cotton farming. Treat your workers right, and they'll show you a profit, you dumb, sorry, tight-fisted old fart!"

Cobb cocked his arm with the muddy stone and stumbled forward, but Jackdog had him again. He used Cobb's weight against him, dodging his feeble swipe, then caught him in the crotch, lifted him fully off his feet, and hurled him over the side of the embankment for the third time.

At the bottom, covered with sticky feathers, his white hair rumpled, Cobb lay back to rest for a spell.

"You can't even go up the right fence row," Jackdog said, standing at the edge of the yard and peering down at him. "You chased off two sons who worked themselves to death for you! One of 'em's 10 times brighter than you are, and what's he? A tractor salesmen! And what're you? A braggart who wore out the first Mrs. Yoder like you wore out the dogs! And my own mama, too, except she's too gentle to tell you so, but I will! Forget your sorry ass! Get up here so I can throw you back down where you belong!"

"I'm real partial to dove, and you went and ruined the whole skillet of 'em," Cobb managed. "Don't talk to me about dove! I shoot half the birds in Cleburne County, and what do you do? Lay around on the beach!" "I didn't elect to come down here," Cobb quickly added.

"If I ever let your miserable face back in the house, keep it locked away in your room!" Jackdog told him, and in spite of the tone the old man heard some small possibility. "Well, sure, your Mama don't want me sleepin' in her room. Where else do I stay put except my own damn room?"

"You should apologize to her every day for the rest of your sorry life! And get down on your knees and apologize to both my half brothers! And ask the Garzas to forgive you for all of the stuff you dumped on them! I'm deeding them land we cleared and some we haven't because, by god, they've earned it."

Cobb sighed heavily and struggled to his feet once more."Now here I come, so don't keep yourself so riled up. You could hurt a man carrying on with such a terrible temper as I see you've got."

"Whenever you step out of line I intend to whip you like a dog," Jackdog informed him. "And you're outta line any time I say. "

Cobb clawed his way up the incline once again, then stood before Jackdog winded and flushed. In time he picked up the half-cooked breast of a dove, brushed it off, and seemed content to keep it as a souvenir.

"How about a beer?" he asked, trying to concoct a grin.

"Why don't you walk down to the Inn and get your own," Jackdog told him. "I worked all night icing down the cooler, packed gear, laid out food and ammo, then started lunch, but you didn't appreciate any of it. Take care of your own damned requirements. Later, if you're too drunk to walk home from the Inn, phone home. Mama might have mercy on you, but not me."

"Now give a man one beer," Cobb argued, as if this much might be salvaged from the day.

But Jackdog gathered up the camp items, even the hot skillet, and tossed them into the rear of the pickup with a loud clang. Cobb followed him around during all this, pleading his case for just one single bottle of beer, just one bottle to see him off on his trip down the beach to the Inn.

"Ask me one more time and I'm stuffing you down the bird slot again," Jackdog finally snapped at him. With that he jumped into the truck, started the engine and drove away.

When he glanced in the rearview mirror he saw Cobb -- his mouth tight and sealed -- as he turned his footsteps toward the Inn.

By the time Jackdog drove a mile back to the house, his thoughts had returned to shooting dove: a great day, a glorious series of wing shots, impossible shots, five birds with two barrels, a closing double, and he felt his jurisdiction over the fields, the distant waters of the bay and the creatures of the air.

William Harrison was the editor of the The TCU Daily Skiff in 1954-55. His wife of 44 years, Merlee, attended TCU, and two of their three children became journalists. In 1964, Harrison began his long association with the University of Arkansas as the founder of the program in creative writing. He retired as University Professor in 1998. Five of Harrison's eight novels, including his most recent work, The Blood Latitudes, have African settings. Perhaps his best-known work in that setting is Burton and Speke, filmed under the title Mountains of the Moon. Harrison is also the author of the futuristic short story, Rollerball Murder. Harrison's screenplay based on the story became the film Rollerball in 1975; with a remake of that classic to be be released in 2001.