Saturday, February 28, 2009

Word Balloons

Someone asked once why I bothered to write "all that crap" in a blog. I took no offense. "I like words," was my reply." I like to round them up and string them together to see what pictures I can form." The words posted on the blog are like balloons I played with as a kid. I'd fill them with gas and release them with a note tied to a string. They would rise high into the blue sky and disappear as the wind carried them off. Of course, there was no way of knowing where on earth the notes would eventually come to rest, but I was satisfied thinking that something I had scribbled on a piece of paper had left my small universe. The notes said little; my name and address, maybe where I went to school, or what I would like to do when I grew up. The words on this blog are like that. They mean nothing. No one cares what people say unless they are someone exceptional. Blog entries are like the notes tied to those balloons I released long ago at the ranch. I still don't know where on earth they come down.

Talk of the Town

Thieves, like the poor, will always be with us. Who but a thief would steal from the hand that feeds him?
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Friday, February 27, 2009

Move Enough Already

The process of moving things from one place to another has vexed me like a specter. We were moving things today at work. It is wearisome, but the exercise cannot hurt. I'll work my way backwards to explain this burden that hounds me as if I were a fox in a hunt.

A week ago today we were moving our offices from one building to another; lifting, pushing, carting, stacking, on and on and on. Six weeks ago my wife and I were moving our meager possessions into our new home. Twelve weeks ago we were boxing up our things to make the move from our home in Japan back to the States. Seven months ago it was the reverse. Our material accumulation of the last thirty years was being inventoried, sold, gifted, trashed or discarded. We were beginning a new chapter in our lives with a move to Japan. Nine months ago I was packing up my personal effects in my classroom. I had chosen to retire from the teaching profession. Eighteen months ago I had been assigned a new classroom and the contents of my former computer lab had to be pulled out of storage from the school gymnasium and reconfigured in their new location. Twenty months ago I received word that the walls, ceiling and floor of my computer lab classroom were scheduled for renovation. Every last item had to be removed and placed in temporary storage in the gym. There are still more instances of moving that compare to these, but these are enough to justify my weariness with regard to moving things.

I see no more moves in the near future. That makes me happy.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I Expect Better

I would expect better work from an AT&T technician. Much of the time this week at work was spend outdoors leading phone techs around the premises. We have had a good deal of work done on our phone lines, new and old.

While looking over the work I noticed some sloppiness on one of the utility poles. The tech used was appeared to be indoor cable to make a link from the D-Mark to a junction box. He then secured the wire with staples driven into the wood. The wire was pinched hard against the pole. Worse still, one of the staples was driven through the cable. I would expect better from AT&T people.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Oranges

When I was a kid everyone used to have one or more orange trees in their yard. The more agriculturally industrious boasted small orchards. Orange trees were as common as weeds. Enumerable hard freezes over the decades killed most of them off and today they no longer are a part of the urban landscape in Benavides. While driving in town today I happened on a small one. It is in an abandoned property, alone and unattended. The bright sun bouncing off the fruit drew my eye to the forgotten tree.

In bygone days friends, family and visitors seldom left one's home without a gift of oranges. Several were handed to them in a brown paper sack; the fruit pulled straight off the tree. A Halloween night ritual around here was stealing oranges from people's backyards. It was not a nice thing to do, but then, some of my friends back then were not a good influence. They were not bad friends. My friends and I just made bad choices. We thought it harmless fun. No one got hurt and nothing was broken.

The little tree in the unkempt yard mirrors the present state of the town; seemingly abandoned, neglected and nearly forgotten, but still bearing fruit. There is still new life in both of them. The two have potential.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Room With A View

A large window with blinds faces west giving me a view of the outdoors from my office desk. It is a fine view; one to my liking. I would imagine that the view from the perch of an office high rise looking down on the grid of traffic of an exciting metropolis far below would suit many, but my view is busy enough. I like it, and if I want excitement I can wait until I get home to my wife in the afternoon. From the window I see the clear blue of a big sky, leafless mesquites that pass for trees in this part of the country and an expanse of barren wind-blown earth. The parallel lines of the railroad recede into the background to break the sweep of the eye and the traffic on 359 reminds me that Benavides is not alone.

I Know This Man

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The mission Rene participated in gave him an exceptional training opportunity. He learned to function outside of the hospital and clinic environment and to deal with limited logistic backup, austere field conditions, a hostile environment, and an overwhelming need for medical attention from an underprivileged population.

The work performed by Rene and the American servicemen like him serving around the globe epitomizes the best that the "land of the free and the home of the brave" has to offer. Air Force Major Rene Saenz is from Benavides, Texas.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Uncommon Valor

Sixty-four years ago today 22,000 Japanese soldiers and 70,000 U.S. Marines faced off against each other on a tiny island volcanic island 750 miles south of Tokyo. It was war. After the 34-day battle over 28,500 young men lay dead, suffering a violent death far from home, never again to see their loved ones. The youngest Marine to fight on Iwo Jima was a fellow named Private Jacklyn Harold Lucas. He had only turned 17 six days before and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic actions on Iwo Jima. He survived to see his 80th birthday carrying about 200 pieces of metal, some the size of .22 caliber bullets, in his body.

Thanks to his sacrifice and those of thousands of his fellow United States Marines, today I could enjoy a productive day of work in pleasant and comfortable surroundings in the company of good people. A day's end I was able to drive home in the same condition I left this morning; a free man in Benavides, Texas.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

At A Loss for Words

Before December 17, 2008 I was a voracious reader of books and the daily newspaper. Seven days a week I religiously scoured the news stories in the morning paper, and before lights out and the wife's goodnight kiss, I treated myself to a few pages of a good book. As of tonight the kisses remain, but the habitual reading has left me. The cause or reason escapes me. It is troubling. A habit of nearly 25 years has abandoned me. I have lost the company of words that buzzed around me like bees, day in, day out. I joke to myself that I may have left that part of my psyche back in Japan when we packed our things and boarded the plane home.

The page where I left off reading sixty-eight days ago aboard that plane is still marked; page 102 of Ernest Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms." The wife and I have been so busy settling into the trappings of our recovered lives back in Benavides that I failed to find a place for my reading habit. It could not have been left back in Japan. It has to be in a box I have yet to open or something. I'll find it.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sharpshooters

This afternoon my nephew Gabriel instructed my little friend Evan on the finer points of marksmanship. Their weapon of choice? A BB gun. The target? Some planks of wood leaning upright against a fence post 25 feet away. On his first shot Evan was able to hit the target within an inch-and-a-quarter of the bullseye. That pleased him to no end, as you can well imagine it would to a six-year-old.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Breaking Bread

Breaking bread is about fellowship, not just eating. With a grand table in the middle of the kitchen area of our new building we will be able to enjoy our meals as we should, like human beings seated around a fine table laden with tasty dishes and enjoying some laughs and good conversation. It is going to be down-right homey; almost like the familiar kitchen of our childhood home. Mmmm, I can smell the coffee already.

The Show Goes On

My workplace compatriots are resourceful. While in the process of moving every pen, paperclip, paper and purse to our new offices, the work continues uninterrupted. It is satisfying to work in a "can do" atmosphere. This last week in our former location we were conducting our work with only the bare essentials, and will continue to do so as we get settled in our more spacious surroundings.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Give Me A Double

Double knee replacement surgery is not for the faint-hearted. It is a serious undertaking. I went to the hospital to visit with a friend who had the procedure performed on his worn and mangled knees and it was not a pretty sight. I was happy to be standing at the foot of his hospital bed rather than lying in it. My friend was courageous to endure the operation, but he was hurting.

And hurt it should. In a total knee replacement operation the surgeon cuts away the damaged bone and cartilage from the thighbone, shinbone and kneecap, and replaces it with an artificial joint made of metal and plastic. It hurts just to write this. The painful process is worth the sacrifice. Knee implants can be expected to function for 15 years or more. That means that my friend will be in his mid 60s before he has to return for an overhaul. That is very encouraging if you consider that the alternative down the road would be using a wheelchair for mobility.

An added benefit for all the trouble is that my friend will stand a bit taller; just a fraction of an inch or so, but taller nonetheless.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Man Should

A couple of ladies were speaking with me today about men in general and as the day wore on I could not shake the thought of "what makes a man a man" out of my head. At fifty-five I would think that the question would have been settled in my little mind long ago, and for the most part it is, but there is always the possibility that some aspect may have been left unexamined.

Understanding what makes a man a man in our troubled culture these days has never been more important. Today, boys have so few good role models presented to them by the major media outlets that their perception of what a man should be is confusing and indiscernible. Except for those fortunate to have strong and positive models to emulate, the remainder unwittingly find themselves at a disadvantage. Emulating a real man is not as easy as it used to be. This evening I happened to come across an old file stored on my computer that tied in to what my little brain had been pondering today. It was something I had gleaned from the Internet years ago.

A Man Should Be Able To:

Give advice that matters in one sentence.
Tell if someone is lying.
Score a baseball game.
Cook meat somewhere other than the grill.
Not monopolize the conversation.
Write a letter.
Buy a suit.
Swim three different strokes.
Show respect without being a suck-up.
Throw a punch.
Chop down a tree. .
Calculate square footage.
Tie a tie.
Speak a foreign language.
Approach a woman out of his league.
Sew a button.
Know how to return a woman's love.
Be loyal.
Know his poison.
Drive an eightpenny nail into a treated two-by-four.
Play with a kid.
Feign interest.
Make a bed.
Describe a glass of wine.
Dress a wound.
Do a laundry.
Jump-start a car,
Change a flat tire.
Change the oil.
Shuffle a deck of cards.
Tell a joke. .
Speak to an eight-year-old so he will hear.
Speak to a waiter so he will hear.
Talk to a dog so it will hear.
Install: a disposal, an electronic thermostat, or a lighting fixture without asking for help.
Ask for help.
Tell a woman's dress size.
Recite one poem from memory.
Remove a stain.
Say no.
Load, fire and clean a gun.
Fry an egg sunny-side up.
Build a campfire.
Step into a job no one wants to do.
Sometimes, kick some ass.
Break up a fight.
Point to the north at any time.
Explain what a light-year is.
Write a thank-you note.
Cook bacon.
Hold a baby.
Deliver a eulogy.
Catch and prepare a fish.
Throw a baseball over-hand with some snap.
Throw a football with a tight spiral.
Shoot a 12-foot jump shot reliably.
Find his way out of the woods if lost.
Tie a knot.
Comfort someone who has just lost a loved one.
Shake hands.
Iron a shirt.
Stock an emergency kit for the car.
Caress a woman's neck.
Negotiate a better price.
Manage his finances.
Pray

Monday, February 16, 2009

Amigos de Verdad

Last weekend a couple of friends lent me a helping hand. These are solid men of impeccable character and I count myself fortunate to know them. This was not the first time they had volunteered personal time and resources. They are the kind of men that will "step up to the plate" on short notice if they can be of any assistance.

When my wife and I chose our little trailer house what grabbed our attention was the small porch that was attached to one end. Having been raised on a ranch the porch impressed on me a homey feel. The wife liked it too. We were disappointed to learn that the porch could not be included in the financing package. I could have it if I wanted it badly enough, but it would cost me $1500 plus whatever charges I would incur to dismantle it and transport it the seventy-five miles to Benavides.

As it turned out, the purchase and relocation of the little porch was placed on the back burner. Life was too busy in the ensuing weeks to give it much priority. Weeks later when I contacted the trailer people to see if it was still for sale the lot manager was so desperate to get the thing off the property that he simply gave it to me. God is good.

Thus, my friends came to my assistance and helped to dismantle, transport and reassemble the thing. Good fortune has smiled on me this year. The porch is not finished yet, but I can count on these fellows to be there if I need them.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Early Flush

Never have mesquites been flush with new leaves so early in the year. The first week of March is not uncommon. But mid-February? Never. Maybe it's the drought and the absence of cold weather this winter. Something has been happening with the climate over the last three or four decades.

Old-timers say that the mesquite knows when the winter season is truly over in South Texas. Those old-timers would think that the world had gone crazy or something if they observed the mesquites in 2009. The notion of four distinct climate seasons is a memory these days in this part of the country. I'm not sure I like it.

I took my favorite kids out to the county park just to get them outdoors running, jumping and playing. They don't know what real seasons are and the early flush of leaves on the mesquites is meaningless to them. They may not even realize what an unparalled tree the mesquite is. I will do my best to show them. Perhaps when they are my age the gnarly old mesquites and the seasons of the years will be in harmony and they will mark the end of winter the same way I used to years ago.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentines

"Excuse me, sir. May I see your driver's license and vehicle registration?"

"I wasn't speeding or anything, officer."

"I understand, sir. The reason I stopped you is that you were headed home without any flowers for your wife."

"I don't understand, officer?"

"It's Valentine's Day, sir. Please step out of the vehicle."

Friday, February 13, 2009

Wash, Dry and Wax

He begins washing his truck. Not his driveway. Not his water. Not his garden hose.
He begins drying his truck.
Hell, he's got some time left before the next load of blacktop arrives. He begins waxing his rims.

Bees

Maybe if we start a fire during a "burn ban" and the driest season in years the bees will get the message that we're serious and go away.

Lucy and Ethel?

Somewhere...., I have seen this before. Two grown women take a simple task like "refrosting" a cake and wind up making it look like some wild thing ripped into it with its teeth, and all the while the two are doubled over in uncontrollable laughter like two school girls, their hands covered in cake icing. It was like watching an episode of classic slapstick comedy television that just isn't done anymore.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Right Milk

"Young people, today, need to have three things in their lives - honesty, reality and respect. If they'd listen to someone who is real and honest, and if they'd respect themselves, they wouldn't get involved with drugs and have so many problems. The kids who get in trouble just didn't get the right kind of milk at home. They didn't get any help."

-- Ben Johnson (1918-1996)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Cold Night, Warm Kiss

We are in the middle of winter, but that is true in name only. This unseasonably warm weather got me to thinking about the winter cold we used to experience. The old cold days are becoming a faint memory. It just doesn't happen for us anymore. The cold isn't particularly my friend, but it is excellent weather to wrap your arms warmly around someone you love, burying your nose in their neck. A cold evening works to rattle loose pleasant memories for me.

One of those is a walk my wife and I took on a very cold night in December 1993. We were on a little ski vacation with friends up at Angel Fire, New Mexico. Back in those days I had knees that were more reliable and I could do the ski thing. We were walking the quarter mile of snow covered ground from our friends' condo back to the hotel. The temperature was about 15 degrees and the night sky was so clear the stars appeared close enough to touch. The moon was very big in the night sky above. It shone like the queen of the night, its light so bright that the reflection off the snow bathed everything in a soft glow. I looked at Melba and saw how her eyes looked like jewels. She was pure perfection. We kissed.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

El Viento

The weather is all wacked. Without a calendar it is doubtful that anyone could tell what season we were in. It certainly is not winter. These days people have heavy coats and jackets hanging in their closets like forgotten artifacts in a museum. They hang in the dark never to be seen or used again. Another thing that cannot figure out what time of the year we are in is the temperature. The thermometer peaked at 85 today and there was a wind blowing through the area that sucked the words out of your mouth before hardly leaving the tongue. That wind feels like an uninvited guest. It just will not leave.

The dust granules whipped up by the winds are so fine that it is not long before you can feel the grit on your teeth when you bite down. The powdery dust is in your hair, nose, ears and if there is enough outdoor expose you'll find a good bit of it in places the sun don't shine. It is a bad day for ladies, or even men, who take special care with their shags. I feel for them.

It cannot be said what sort of weather tomorrow will bring. Not even the "experts" do that well, but we used to know what to expect, more or less. Now, the seasons are unpredictable, much like the crop of kids growing up today. All we can do is cross our fingers.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Que Vatalla

Locating the source of a stink is easy if it comes from a dog, a cow, or bad meat. It is not as simple if it is coming from somewhere in the bowels of a modular building. The source could be animal, vegetable, mineral or in this case, foul sewer gas, probably all three and then some. Finding it and eventually killing it turned into a hard-fought battle that lasted many days.

The awful stench behaved like a living thing. It greeted everyone in the morning. Enjoyed the lunch hour with us at noon. By the middle of the afternoon it could easily have been mistaken for a horse's ass. It was real bad.

After many man-hours of detective work combined with hit-and-miss attempts to destroy the gaseous invader, success was achieved. The solution...? Replacing a wax bowl ring seal on a toilet. Now the air is spring fresh and all is well. People can perform their work without an assault on the nose.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Blast from the Past

Richard used to play the same role that his little brother Evan plays in my life these days. He was my little buddy who went with me everywhere. He was familiar with the contents of my desk drawers, the glove compartment in my truck and every rack in our refrigerator. The hall closet in our home was his personal toy box. We bought him toys, movies, clothes, books, tasty treats, etc. We even went to New Mexico a couple of times to play in the snow. Once we drove to New Orleans in the stifling heat of August to visit the newly opened National D-Day Museum. His first experience on a beach and the Gulf of Mexico was with my wife and I. We took him to the Alamo. We were thick, the two of us, but then he grew up. I miss that little boy.

He and a friend came by the house tonight. They needed some help with a class project they had procrastinated too long on. I was more than happy to lend a hand. He is a strapping thirteen-and-a-half year old young man with different interests these days. That is only natural, but I still miss that kid that used play with our cat and spend countless hours with Melba and me.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Dust Bowl

It is so dry and windy around here that images of the Dust Bowl in the thirties comes to mind. You can feel the grit of sand in your teeth before long if you're out in the wind too long. This is not a nice day. Hell, it's February and people are running their air-conditioners.

Fine sand is beginning in small mounds against the base of anything that is exposed. As soon as the winds die down I am going to have to hose down the siding around the house. You should see my cars that have to spend the night outside. At first light they are covered in dew and in a few hours the sun has baked dry a thin layer of dusty cake on them. This drought is very bad.

The truth is that this whole area is a tinder box. We have been very lucky that grass fires have not sparked more often. It is so very dry. I cannot be out for too long in my work clothes before I have to dust myself off like a cowboy walking into a saloon after a long cattle drive. I hope relief is on the way in the form of a long slow ground-sucking rain.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Power to Pull

At noon today I had an opportunity to see why the internal-combustion engine is here to stay for a good long while. I'll be in my grave long before an electric or solar-powered experiment on wheels will generate enough torque or horsepower to move a house from point A to point B. That takes horsepower that only a gasoline or diesel engine can produce.

The long-abandoned Texaco oilfield tool and equipment house that had rested alongside the tracks for more years than anyone in town can remember was hauled to its new resting place on a ranch a few miles south of town. What purpose it will serve is a mystery to me, but someone's imagination must have thought up a new and useful incarnation for it.

It would have been very entertaining to tag along behind it as it made its way south on the narrow ribbon of Highway 339. The behemoth creeping along slowly reminded me of one of the giant helium-filled Macy's Thanksgiving Day balloons that lumber gently down 34th Street in Manhattan. I happened on the excitement during my lunch hour. Though the inclination to follow behind was present, it was not practical to do so. This "parade of mechanical power" made me feel like a little boy filled with of curiosity and amazement.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Walk the Talk

A brisk walk in the bright noon sun is an act of love. The focus of that love is yourself-- your health, your general well-being and your life. Walking with friends promotes an uplifting feeling. It is fun and works to put one in a better frame of mind. How many say they should walk more often? Many, but few follow through. Not this group. They do not just talk, they walk the talk. Weather permitting, this will be an everyday thing.

A quick walk every day makes a person feel more positive and in control. Walking works to release hormones called endorphins. They are the body's natural anti-stress, feel-good chemicals released by exercise such as walking. Endorphins are natural "mood elevators". They give you a natural lift to your body and spirit.

For a couple of dozen minutes at the noon hour a deserted street in Benavides is host to the fast-paced pounding of athletic shoes. This is the late winter season in South Texas and the spring is just down the road, so this business of walking at noon will not live beyond the later days of April. It will be too hot by then. But, barring inclement weather, we will log many happy miles on that street of road.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Uprooting Yesterday

Even in a raw community way out in the sticks like Benavides, Texas the urban landscape changes. Doubtless, the change is slower than the turning of the earth, but it can be marked. Be it through new construction, disaster, or the weathering suffered with the passage of time, even here, nothing stays the same.

Change is inevitable. Consider the old Texaco tool house. Change has come to it like a worn tooth plied out of an octogenarian's gums. It is doubtful that very few care. The structure has rested on its concrete blocks for generations. It has been long abandoned, except for the rats, birds, and creepy crawly things that found shelter there. This week man and machine assembled around it and disturbed the old mass of wooden slats, beams and corrugated tin. The partnership it had shared with the venerable Tex-Mex Railroad, whose tracks ran alongside it, was a dim memory even for the seasoned citizens in town. Truth is that it had long ago become invisible to folks. It had faded into the background, not becoming visible again until the power to lift it off its foundation began raising dust and noise in its shadow.

The old building was purchased by a flush party with an appreciation for the old lumber that formed its framework. It is certain that the densely-grained wood in it came from trees that were felled when the nation was younger. It is of a quality not found today. Anyone would be curious to know what its new incarnation will be. Nothing remains the same. The urban landscape changes when men uproot yesterday and sometimes it is for the better. The rats, mice and creepy crawly things will have to find a home elsewhere.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Biscuits, Butter & Bacon

Getting dressed this morning I pulled up my trousers and as I began zipping up it felt as though there were socks stuffed in my rear pockets. Reaching back to pat my behind there was nothing in them. Instead, I discovered that my nalgas had begun taking up more real estate in my pants than was the case a few weeks ago. Damn! I thought. This is serious. It must be the diet of biscuits, butter and bacon I treat myself to in the morning at work. I may have a problem here. When it comes to resisting a tasty breakfast packed with greasy calories I am as weak as a kitten-- no will power.

On most mornings it's a taquito y un cafecito..., hell, I'm no superman. I cannot resist. I'm going to have to get on my knees and ask for help, otherwise I'll have to trash my wardrobe. ¡Ay├║dame Dios! Help me say no to a hot buttery biscuit the size of a Big Mac stuffed with enough strips of thin crispy bacon to clog a mile of arteries. My heart cries out, "No mas, no mas!"

Oh... and don't get me started on empanadas. I go for sweets like a lion sinks its teeth into a fresh kill. The little guy on my right shoulder cautions me to take it easy and to enjoy everything in moderation while the little guy on my left encourages me to take it all in like there is no tomorrow. I'm a sad case in bad need of help.

Monday, February 2, 2009

A Birthday

Every time someone marks a birthday I recall mine during my tender years. There was the chocolate cake, the candles and the obligatory singing of "Happy Birthday", but no friends from school or the neighborhood to share the celebration with. My birthday fell on June 26 and we lived in the middle of nowhere and there wasn't a thing to be done about it. I envied my school chums whose birthdays fell during the months of the school year. A handful had their moms bring the makings for a party into the classroom. It was fun. For a few years a couple of them celebrated with big parties in their backyards. There was even a trampoline-- a very big deal in those days. I was happy to be a part of it. I would have been happier still had my date of birth not occurred in the summer months. Year after year no school meant no friends.

There was a birthday celebrated today at work. I was happy to be a part of it.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Water Ain't Cheap

In the future, if there is still a Benavides, the city will not simply open a fire hydrant and let thousands of gallons of precious water flow into the pot-holed streets to empty a line for servicing. To do so will be as unthinkable as cashing your paycheck and flushing the stack of crisp dollar bills down the toilet. Water is too valuable a natural resource today in parched South Texas and will one day rival crude oil in its appraisal.