Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Glitter's Gone

There was a time in this country when smoking was glamorized and touted for its health benefits. But look at us now. Look how far we've gone to demonize smokers. This country has taken fine citizens and made them crawl like bugs or snakes into seclusion, to hide like criminals, in order to enjoy their smoke. It is painful to ponder.


We were driving back from South Padre Island and pulled into the drive-thru at the Whataburger in Kingsville. Far off to the right we caught sight of some poor soul enjoying a smoke behind the hospital's trash container. How demoralizing. How dehumanizing. No glamour here. I just can't picture the likes of Humphrey Bogart or Bette Davis sitting on their haunches behind a trash bin taking a long satisfying drag on a cigarette. The glitter is gone.

Their Guardian Angels

My brother's two girls survived a horrific roll-over this afternoon just up the road from the Ranch on Highway 339 because one; God is merciful, and two; they were wearing seatbelts. They crawled out of this mess of shattered glass and twisted metal with only cuts and bruises. They didn't even cry, but boy are they going to hurt in the morning.

MexiCanDo

¡Que no! ¡Que no! Need some crutches for your kid because he sprained an ankle? You can shell out $30 to $40 for a pair or look in one of the piles of junk in the garage and fashion a set out of spare PVC pipe and connections. That's what I call MexiCanDo innovation on my little brother's part.

Project Abandoned

This is a sad sight, especially for a great island getaway like South Padre. At the far north end of the island stands a 31-story eyesore, Ocean Tower. Structural problems were discovered on the project about a year ago and subsequently work on the building has been terminated with no immediate prospects for completion. At the root of the problem are the tower and its adjoining parking garage. In the construction process each has unequally settled into the ground causing structural cracks. That's a problem. The concerned parties have not been able to come to a compromise to address the problem and the site was abandoned last summer leaving the city a blemish on its skyline. The city of South Padre Island is powerless in this matter as the project stands outside its city limits. It's none of my business, but I hope it either gets finished or torn down. South Padre Island does not deserve this half-finished thing sticking up so tall out of the sand.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

La Playa

I hadn't been here in a year, South Padre Island. It's the best strip of sand that meets the Gulf of Mexico along all of the Texas coast. The wife and I first came here thirty years ago when we were young and pretty.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Heavy Metal

A teeth-rattling varoooooom from an engine with too much muscle made the hair on the back of my neck stand. Looking up quickly my eyes zeroed in on the source and it tore like a razor across my field of vision so fast I nearly missed the shot with the cell phone camera. As when a beautiful woman walks into a room -- time stopped for an instant. A gasp slowly formed in my mouth. It was an ivory-white 1950 Chevy coupe. A shiny dream with clean lines. Wouldn't it be great to be 59 years old and still be able to turn heads like that. That car was built like a tank with curves.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

DaddyO's of Kingsville

Operating a restaurant in a public venue, like stand-up comedy in front of a paying crowd, should not be attempted by amateurs. It is best left to professionals. So kids, don't try this at home unless there is adult supervision.

There was one consolation. DaddyO's got something right with that one Hooter's girl knock-off that was prancing from the bar to the tables taking drink orders. She helped to offset a bit of the eatery's shortcomings.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I'm Not Dying Here

The town he'd lived in most of his adult life was dying, had been for nearly fifty years, and he'd decided on this day that he was not going to die with it. Small towns in the last throes of life had a way of sucking people down with them, much like sailors after abandoning their sinking ships. They would be pulled deep below the surface, unable to swim back up in time before their lungs burst. So for the second time he drafted a plan to start working on abandoning the town before it inevitably went down -- sucking the life from him.

When he had build his home twenty years earlier he had imagined growing old here, living quietly and in comfort. Either he had changed in that twenty year span or the town had because the idea no longer appealed to him.

It would be no trouble sharing the news with his wife. She'd never given the notion of growing old in this town an ounce's worth of thought and had never liked living here anyway. But her man had. She'd stuck by him these many years. As close a married couple as they were she really couldn't figure what had kept him here all this time.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Out of Sight

Texas Health & Safety Code Chapter 365:
Texas Litter Abatement Act § 365.012.
ILLEGAL DUMPING; CRIMINAL PENALTIES.

(l) This section (of the law) does not apply to an individual's disposal of litter or other solid waste if:

(1) the litter or waste is generated on land the individual owns;
(2) the litter or waste is not generated as a result of an activity related to a commercial purpose;
(3) the disposal occurs on land the individual owns; and
(4) the disposal is not for a commercial purpose

You gotta do what you gotta do. Otherwise, what are you gonna do? So that's what we do to do it. Then it's done. Out of sight, out of mind -- until you gotta do it again. You gotta do what you gotta do.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Está Cayendo Lumbre

Had my father been alive and with us this afternoon he would have looked up at the sky, shaded his eyes with a calloused hand and declared, "¡Esta cayendo lumbre!" The countryside and all that is found in it are baking under this relentless heat. If you are out too long in the afternoon sun you are much like a red ant in the center of a focused beam of sunlight produced by a giant magnifying glass. The burn is that intense... and it is only the last week of May. Summer is weeks away.

Contact with any piece of metal exposed to the sun could sear skin. This reminded me of one summer thirty years ago when I worked on the Ranch. One of the ranchhands always had his dog with him in the bed of his pickup. You take a metal box like that sitting in the summer sun all day and you could almost use it to fry bacon on. It got that hot. When that ranchhand had to drive from one location to another the dog naturally followed -- leaping into the back of the bed. Man, did that pooch get a hot surprise. The animal looked like he was doing the Cha-cha on a skillet, but it remained faithful to its master. It would never jump free of the torment and abandon him. Had the dog possessed a command of Spanish it would have said, "Ay! Mis pobres pies!"

Sunday, May 24, 2009

More Birds and Beer

It would seem that on Sunday afternoons Mom and I are finding opportunities to become accidental bird-watchers. Today we were sitting on the porch enjoying the cool breeze and sipping down a couple of cold Budweisers when a bright yellow flutter disturbed the leaves on the bougainvillea twenty feet in front of us. Before she could ask what kind of little bird it was I had already run into the living room to fetch Birds of Texas Field Guide from atop the coffee table. In quick order the bright little bird was identified as a Yellow Warbler (dendroica petechia). It was couple of hundred miles south of where it normally would be this time of year, but then the odd climate is just one of the bizarre anomalies that presently vexes the planet. It is sure to be causing our small yellow visitor to adjust its migratory pattern. It sure was pretty.

Go to the Mattresses

Driving south out of town this afternoon a cloud billowed from the shoulder of the highway just over the crest of the hill. At first it appeared that a grass fire may have started, but no, it was dust filling the horizon-- lots of it. Soon it was evident that a pickup was making a hasty retreat from that dust cloud in a violent tire-churning U-turn back into town.

These miserable assholes had just dumped a couple of old worn mattress and a box spring on the side of the road. Hell! The State had just sent a crew out here a couple of weeks back to haul off truck loads of trash. The vermin in the racing pickup did not ruin the pristine look of the area only because scores of other low-life scum pieces of shit have been dumping their pinche mugre along this stretch of road for years. The highways leading into town haven't been free of trash since Uncle Sam forced the county to close the city dump twenty years ago. If there was any justice in the universe these fecal-smeared underwear-sniffing closet pervs who can't clean up after themselves would all get bloody ass-burning diarrhea for six months and puke their tripas out their noses. This littering business is upsetting, dammit!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Fire in the Sky

Nature put on a light show tonight. Beautiful. The dark clouds that blanketed the area did not offer much in the way of rain, but they did gift enough to settle the dust around here for a least a day. Inside this little trailer house of ours the concussions from the thunder had more of an effect than my wife cared to experience. Things shook. Boom! It's the real thing -- more real than Dolby Digital Surround. And there is no volume control.

Friday, May 22, 2009

TIC-TAC-TOE

Some sources claim the origins of tic-tac-toe can be traced back 3000 years and it is still with us in the present. Now that is staying power. What kid's game played these days can you name that does not require batteries, an LCD screen or a hand-held controller? You can be play this anywhere. Where and when my little friend Evan was introduced to the game is uncertain, but it is he who initiates play with me. The challenge of beating me is his motivation and we enjoy battling each other. Except for the plain fun of it, our impetus for play does not share common ground. He wants to simply win and I want him to enjoy the pureness and simplicity of competition. In the relative cool of the afternoon we plop ourselves down on the concrete slab where Melba and I park our vehicles and begin our contest using colored pastel chalks. He is pretty good, beating me half the time. Sometimes we bandy as long as an hour until the slab is pretty much covered with tic-tac-toe grids.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Throwing Dogs

It was not an easy thing to do the first time -- throwing a dog. Dogs are likable creatures, but that's what is done down here with a bad dog. The animal is tied up, tossed in the back of the pickup and driven about twenty or so miles down a lonely country road. As you're nearing the end of the line you keep an eye out for a ranch house. If the dog is lucky it will become its new home. After the long ride in the back of the pickup the dog is more than ready to jump out of the bed. Once untied they do. The more timid ones will cower in a corner of the pickup bed, trembling, their tail tucked between their legs. After they jump off or are dragged off they will run around the pickup for a bit, unsure of the unfamiliar surroundings. If the animal is satisfactorily clear of the truck you shift it into gear and floor the accelerator, watching the dog recede in the mirror to less than a dot. That is how we throw a dog.

Dogs that are bad with children, have dug holes in the wrong places, killed one chicken too many, barked incessantly at the wrong hour, chased newborn calves, chewed up lawn furniture, chased all the cats high into the trees or torn into the garbage bins are certain candidates for throwing. The practice is long and common in the area. Many dogs of many descriptions have made their exit in this manner from the Ranch.

Mom will say not to shoot them. "No se le quita la vida a un animal," she says. Logic dictates that a .22 bullet is more cost effective than the two or three gallons it will cost drive someplace to throw a dog. But out of respect for my mother the .22 is left in the gun cabinet. Over the years I have thrown many dogs. I feel no remorse when I do it now.

One time it didn't go so well. I got impatient and careless. Usually, once thrown, a dog will run alongside the pickup for a good stretch until it cannot keep up. On one outing the dog disappeared from view. I didn't know at what point the animal had given up the chase and I assumed it was behind the truck. I sped up. An instant later I was shocked to feel one of the tires thump over something on the pavement. I realized what had happened. I took a quick glance in the rear view mirror to confirm my fears then sped away without looking back again. It happens.

Once thrown not one animal has ever found its way back to the Ranch. Unfortunately I know of one unfortunate animal that was definitely not going to find its way back. He and I got careless. I did not tell my mother, but I promised myself that I would be more careful the next time. It is odd that in these many years Mother has suffered such lousy luck with dogs at the Ranch. Throwing these damn animals is a sad business. She should just quit and be done with them. I hope in the afterlife these dogs are not sitting in a line to the right and left of Saint Peter waiting for me. It is an unnerving thought.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Baby Shower

There was an opportunity to rub elbows with employees of the female persuasion at a baby shower hosted at lunch today by the ladies at the office. I opted not to. I would have been a pinto bean in a bowl of sweet peas. Besides, gals at play deserve a male-free environment to vent, laugh and play in. No hombre would stand in the way of that.

This morning these resourceful ladies transformed the office kitchen into Party Central USA. There is no force on earth that can out do purposeful-driven women. It is best to stand clear if you are of a different opinion. They did a great job with the few resources available to them out here in the sticks. The place was a cray paper jungle of pinks and yellows with helium filled balloons supporting a canopy of baby blue overhead. Piles of foods, sweets and soda formed an obstacle course for the celebrants.

What was best about the whole affair was that the place was dressed up with a theme. Ladies are great for that. Guys are different. If we were throwing a baby shower we would just congregate around the back of a parked pickup, twist the top off a few beers, rest our elbows on the vehicle and stare at the tools in the truck bed talking bullshit. After a while one of us would fire up the "pit" and burn some meat.

Yes sir, you got to hand it to the ladies.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Kitty's Got Titties

One of my mom's cats had a litter. How many kittens, we do not know. The mama kitty has not presented them to the world, but from her emaciated look we figure the whole litter must have survived because they are sucking her dry. Her little titties look like tiny pink raisins and the poor thing only has the energy to lie on the porch to sleep. She will lay there motionless until feeding time. Mom saves a half-pint of milk from her lunch at the congregate meal program in town and treats the kitty to some when it is away from the pounce of cats that usually hang around the shady porch.

It would be nice if this new bunch, if they survive to cat-adulthood, would be more user-friendly than the bunch Mom has now. They seem to like humans enough to lay in close proximity to us or brush up against our legs, but they don't care to be lifted or stroked. For many cat generations, the Ranch's felines have been even more standoffish than your regular cat.

The new mama cat has no name. None of the Ranch cats do. Why bother naming something that only acknowledges you at feeding time? "Here kitty, kitty, kitty..." will do.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Build It, They Will Come

West of Amarillo folks whizzing along the highway can pull over and walk a short distance to examine a line of ten Cadillacs buried nose first in a wheat field. It is a tourist attraction. In the heart of Alice, Texas you'll find the world's tallest concrete water tower. It is worth gawking at if the traffic isn't too busy. In front of the city hall in Crystal City stands a concrete statue of Popeye the Sailor. It's been there since 1937. Probably not too many people remember the old salt. His popularity has waned in the last couple of decades, but I think of him every time I see a can of spinach. Just outside of Forney, Texas passersby can admire a small replica of the Statue of Liberty. It looks just like the real thing only its torch is much closer to the ground than the one on Liberty Island and just off I40 near Groom, Texas it is worth the stop to take a picture of "The Leaning Water Tower." Out in the middle of a field is a steel water tower leaning so far to one side that two of its legs are off the ground. The structure is the alpha and omega of the Groom tourist industry.

There is stuff like this all over the state and just down from the road southwest of Benavides in the even smaller hamlet of Realitos you will find Jesus. He sits at the center of a table with his twelve disciples. All are carved out of a solid block of granite. It is as massive as it is magnificent. The carving serves to honor the memory of a man's father who is buried at the site. With painstaking care Rolando Saenz hand-carved the massive piece.

Like so many of the unconventional roadside curiosities in Texas this one is worth a stop. You will find it in the small cemetery just off Highway 359 north of Realitos.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Javi's Here

My wife has the choicest head of hair on the planet earth-- rich, full and thick. It is a god awful shame the precious clippings settling on the stylist's floor can't be scooped up and planted on the vanishing growth that still survives on my scalp. This imperfect world, of which I am a citizen, is cruelly unjust in the "equal head of lustrous hair for all" department.

My favorite 24-year-old, Javi, drove down from San Antonio this weekend. The young man has a gift. He is the Edward Scissorhands of hair styling. I do not know squat about cutting or styling hair, but I can appreciate how a good cut can make a beautiful woman look like an earthly Venus.

It is certain that this young fellow comes down for a couple of days to rest up, but some of the ladies in his family take a little advantage of his infrequent visits, his talent and his good nature. They work him for hours. My wife in particular gobbled up more than two hours of his time this evening. I'll get a haircut from him once in a long while, but to be fair, I am little trouble. Javi can snip my sad excuse for a head of hair in less time than it takes to blow out a lit match. What I wouldn't give to see a nice clean white part on the left side of my pompadour.

God? Are you listening?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Ya Pego El Norte

At five this afternoon a northerly wind scented the air with a cool and sweetness like homemade ice cream. It had the smell of rain. In the heavens a low rumble gave a great voice to the churning dark clouds announcing an approaching blessing. Those of us on the ground waited in anticipation of some moisture laden relief. The wait was not long. The precious first drops felt like the kisses of angels falling gently and lovingly to earth, smacking our cheeks. Hasta el fin nos cayo un poco de agua del cielo.

It was over all too quickly. The parched ground barely got a light soaking. The moisture did not seep deep enough into the soil to coax a chorus of ranas this evening. All is quiet. Perhaps we will get more tomorrow if God is willing. It has been a long time since we enjoyed cool nights filled with the monotonous song of happy toads.

Friday, May 15, 2009

8€ a Cup

A short vignette sparked by a Friday morning cup of coffee at work.

Nine summers before he had taken a chair at this very table in the piazza. On that day he had doled out lire for his caffelatte. This afternoon it was euros he pulled from his wallet. Italy had become less Italian on this trip. Not wishing to give the waiter the impression that he wasn't pleased with something he resisted shaking his head reflecting his disappointment with the new currency. Looking up he forced a weak smile handing the young man a note and uttered a polite grazie. The romance of the place was flaking off in bits just like old paint. Something else that dulled the romance of the piazza was the crowd of common tourists. With them came unruly children screaming and running around chasing or fleeing the damn pigeons. It was difficult to appreciate the orchestra's music. Presently, it played a wonderful rendition of "La Paloma", one of his favorites. If one could tune out the sounds of screaming girls and the shrill of children the melody added a refined ambiance to the open space. But there were far too many pigeons. Why did the crowds feel a need to feed these rats with wings? Do away with these feathered pests and the two-legged ones would dwindle in number too.

He turned back to his coffee when his eye caught a bright sparkle of sunlight reflected off the water in his glass. Like magic the wavy glint of golden sun snapped him out of his dark mood. The effect was like that of a child's sweet smile on a hard-hearted soul -- an elixir to the spirit. He took a deep breath and relaxed, letting the music affect him. In a moment he looked about and smiled. The crowds, the noise, and the flapping pigeons could all go to hell. What did it matter? What was important was that he was here again in his cherished Piazza San Marco, sitting across from the woman he loved, and it was a beautiful sunny day. So what if a cup of coffee was eight euros? È una bella giornata, no?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Zacate

There is no lack of pride or sense of presence where I am employed. The city would do well to emulate my employers. They make a conscious effort to present an esthetically pleasing front and that in turn translates into a positive sense in the work performed in the various offices here. It is my good fortune to labor here. Only a couple of pallets of sod grass can make all the difference in the world.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Borrachos y Drogadictos

I performed my monthly duty as a grand juror today and it was not pleasant. It hardly ever is. You don't walk out of the courthouse into a glorious sun filled day feeling inspired after five or six hours reviewing cases like these - borrachos y drogadictos. Other than trash along its highways what this county has ample supply of is abusive consumption of alcohol, weed and coke. It would be little trouble to fill any one of the county's football bleachers with drunks and drug users. We are in a pitifully sad condition when community members of every age and description make up this miserable rank of human scum. On the bright side, the good and decent people of the county would fill the playing fields. There are still more of us than them.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Fence

In over a half century of scanning the landscape this pair of eyes had never before seen anything on this scale along a South Texas highway. A few miles east of Encinal, Texas along State Highway 44 some land owner with an "ask me if I care what you think" attitude invested a good deal of time and money building an ornate wrought iron fence along a stretch of his property. Painted white, it runs for a few hundred yards. It is an impressive sight. It neither guards nor sets off anything in particular. There is nothing behind it except acres of mesquite. Plain old barbed wire takes off to the east and to the west where the iron terminates.

The landowner must love Jesus because Christian crosses are mounted on each post and still more crosses are welded onto the pickets of every other panel. It is all very good and pretty, but difficult to appreciate whizzing by at seventy miles per hour.

With the afternoon peaking at 103° it was too hot to stand out in the sun for any length of time, but it was worth the effort to pull off the road anyway and onto the shoulder to get out ando take a few snap shots. If I had not I would have regretted it later a few miles down the road.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Cedar Fence Posts

A one-acre lot rests between the Hampton Inn and the IHOP in Fort Stockton, Texas. Walking across it from the motel to supper at the restaurant I saw a big flatbed trailer stacked high with cedar fence posts. The truck driver had the same dinner plans as we. The sight of those posts reminded me of what great physical condition I used to be in thirty years ago when Dad, my brothers and I manhandled hundreds of these posts building miles of barbed wire fence on the ranch. I was beautiful. One day under a hot Texas sun digging post holes, setting line posts and stringing wire provided more of a total body workout than a week in a gym. It was man's work.

These days I could stand to have a trailer load of cedar line posts parked out front. I could use the workout. There is nothing pretty here.

Prius Bastard

Do you suppose the Glock 21 comes standard with the Hyundai Elantra?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

John Wayne's Alamo

The first time I set foot in Alamo Village was the summer of 1979. I've been back many times since. It's a guy-thing. Evan enjoyed it, as did his older brother when he was the same age. Melba and I brought their uncle Javi here when he was about six. That was about eighteen years ago. I imagine the wife and I will see it again before our time is finished in this world. Alamo Village is just north of Bracketville, Texas.

Evan seems to have experienced the most excitement here. Running around with a toy rifle in his hands, he wanted to explore every corner of the place. I felt very much the little boy in this place just as Evan did. Even though we pretty much had John Wayne's Alamo all to ourselves I would have looked very silly playing 'shoot-em-up' with him in that place. I just followed him around making sure he stayed safe.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

McDonald's

The McDonald Observatory complex up on the summit of Mt. Locke in the Davis Mountains is where we took Evan today. Melba and I had been here 30 years ago. Pictured here is the Hobby*Eberly Telescope atop Mt. Fowlkes. When it was dedicated near the end of 1997, the HET became the third largest single structure optical telescope in the world.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Go West

Four-and-a-half nonstop hours on the road is a bit much for a six-year-old. Melba, Evan and I left Benavides for Fort Stockton at 12:45 p.m. Something about the drone of the road and engine combine to lull to sleep even the most active of little boys. Along the route he is missing a good bit of the country -- things I would like him to see like lakes, mesas, canyons and such. Sleep is too good and can't be disturbed by sightseeing, but when we get to the Pecos River Bridge on U.S. 90 I stop and shake him awake. This is a must-see. The Pecos Bridge is the highest highway bridge in Texas -- 273 feet high and 1,310 feet in length. This time of year the waters of the Pecos are swelled from wall-to-wall in the gorge below. Listen closely and you can hear the waters running. I will not let this little boy sleep though this. We pull off the highway and drive up to the overlook. It is a short visit there. He is half asleep, cannot get his eyes to open in the glare of the harsh afternoon sun and one boot stayed on the floor of the car. After a couple of minutes he is conscious of his surroundings and utters a weak "awesome."

Okay. Back in the car, back on U.S. 90 headed west, a slow drive across the bridge and then another two hours before we arrive in Fort Stockton. It is not long before the boy is again soñando con los angelitos.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Nickel a Bottle

Grandfather never drove his '53 Chevy pickup over forty-five miles an hour, and for good reason. He was keeping an eye out for glass bottles tossed to the shoulder off Highway 339 by careless beer drinkers. In those days there were no 'open container' laws. At that speed the dark brown longnecks were easy to spot. Worth five cents apiece, they were common on the sides of country roads fifty years ago. That was before some marketing fool came up with the concept of the worthless "throw-a-way" container. At least the old beer bottles were worth stopping for to pick up. A nickel entertained more value back then.

"Hay dos allá. ¿Los vez?" My grandfather, Tacho, was pointing off to the right as he pulled to the grassy shoulder and stopped the pickup.

"Si. I'll get them." Tacho always spoke Spanish and I nearly always answered in English. My Spanish was very poor. Mom and dad had always encouraged English and so my Spanish had suffered.

The sun was bright making the bottles hot to the touch. I made certain that they weren't cracked or broken then fitted them in a couple of the empty slots of the wooden soda bottle crate in the bed of the pickup. As soon as I slammed the door shut we were off again at our leisurely pace. We were still about ten miles from town and there were sure to be more bottles free for the taking. I could not understand how some guy could toss a perfectly good bottle out the window. You would never think of throwing out a shiny nickel. So why a bottle?

Tacho owned and operated a small beer joint just a stone's throw from his house. It was nothing fancy, just a few tables, cold beer and sodas, a jukebox, a pool table, a small selection of salty snacks and lots of large wall calendars picturing lusty women, bullfighters, and other manly interests. No women, though. I never saw one, but then I was only allowed in there during the day. The beerjoint took up only a small corner of the establishment. Years before my grandparents had operated a small grocery store, meat market, gas station and picture show in the building. When one-by-one the enterprises went bust the seats to the movie house were removed, set along the walls, and the place became a popular dance hall. Tacho was an enterprising soul. Otherwise, most of the building sat vacant. It was a great place for me to explore.

In the backroom of the beer joint we'd dust off the bottles and place them in thick sturdy cardboard containers that held twelve bottles each. These Tacho redeemed when the beer vendor stopped on his rounds. I never realized a monetary profit for my assistance, but I did get my fill of soft drinks, ice cream cones and Fritos from the establishment. Summers were good there. I would have those days again.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Fruit of My Labor

For the last five years my wife and I have been charged with producing an entertaining video for the end-of-year teacher appreciation banquet. Retiring personnel are recognized at this function. This year that honor fell to only one individual. Melba came up with the idea of recording video of the retiree's friends and former colleagues expressing their love and good wishes. The idea was great, but the labor to produce it fell on my shoulders even though I retired from the school system last year. I may not work for the Benavides schools any longer, but I will always work to pleasure my soul mate. It's LOVE..., capital L.

Behold the genius of my wife's imagination and the fruit of my labor.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Hands On

There is nothing "virtual" about Evan's experience pictured above. It is all real; the heat in the late afternoon, the compacted soil suffering under months of drought, the mud forming around the ant hole that the end of the garden hose is buried in and the cut ants that he has to stomp free from off his little boots and pant legs. Evan navigates through a hands-on three-dimensional world that produces dirty fingernails, soiled clothes and real memories.

Monday, May 4, 2009

WOW!

It was nothing short of Divine Providence that placed this triumphant moment before me on a friend's television monitor last Saturday afternoon. Sitting down for a couple of minutes to watch the running of the Kentucky Derby would have never crossed my mind, but I am so glad to have witnessed that magnificent upset run by the 3-year-old gelding Mine That Bird. After the race jockey Calvin Borel's face beamed with "the thrill of victory." WOW! The image of that come-from-behind upset roosted in my brain all weekend. I would like to have been the guy who placed a big bet on this one to win. It paid 50-to-1. WOW!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Beer and Birdwatching

Mom got so tired of looking at the drought-ridden ground and patches of dead grass around her house she rounded up every water sprinkler she could get her hands on and turned on all the spigots. For hours she let the water run this weekend. By Sunday afternoon she was mistress of an oasis of moisture and relief for countless bugs, birds and beetles. When I drove up around three-thirty and stepped out of the pickup my ears were greeted with the loud buzz of horse flies. The water must have brought them out, but they were not bothering anybody. The drone produced by their collective little wings sounded like a small window A/C unit. There was a whole bunch of them with a countless assortment of distant insect relatives keeping company.

Even though the temperature was a hundred Mom and I chose to sit outside in the shade of the porch. As long as there's a breeze the heat is tolerable. Besides, an ice-cold bottle of Miller Genuine Draft is so much more satisfying under those conditions rather than in the comfort of an air-conditioned living room.

Mom's sprinklers were attracting quite a variety of song birds -- many very colorful. The bright colors on some stood out vividly in the bright sun and caught our attention, but three that were fluttering about in the shade in the tree limbs were exceptionally attractive. They sported bright orange plumage.

"I wonder what they're called."

"Mom. I got you a book. Where'd you leave it?" I made a quick dash inside. Some time ago I had bought this book to help her identify the gazillions of birds that grace the Ranch with their calls, cackles and songs. The small book lay on her coffee table. I suspect she had read no more than a dozen pages of the 280 in it since I had given it to her. The book is Birds of Texas Field Guide, the paperback version.

The birds were called Altamira Orioles -- a gorgeous creature that whistles a pretty song. It sounds like a happy chick. They did not seem bothered in the least by the heat. I was and happily reached for a second bottle of Miller Genuine Draft wet with cold condensation.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Wine! More Wine!

Melba and I were in Rockport today -- a lovely community, very picturesque. Belino's is there, a great little Italian restaurant right by the water. Before leaving town we stopped at the local H.E.B. for a few things. You would be happy to have a grocery store like this in your neighborhood just as Rockport residents have in theirs. It is very attractive. Even the parking lot was dressed up pretty nice, but the best part was the store's wine section -- very impressive and very extensive. I suppose it reflects a clientele in these parts that entertains very different tastes than does Benavides residents. It would have been nice to slowly stroll through the aisles studying all the labels. There's very good reading material there. We purchased two bottles and headed home, two hours away.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Distant Sentinels

From the Rio Grande northward toward old San Antonio stretch the South Texas plains. They are made up of a vast barb wire patchwork of thorny brush country broken up by low rolling hills covered with tall grass. Mile after mile of narrow county roads link the network of small towns and communities that dot the country. It is the low-lying contour of the land that makes it possible for one to see a town's water tower from many miles distant.

As kids we used to live about six miles south of town and could see the two water towers of Benavides. Over to the southwest we could see the Realitos water tower nine miles away and to the southeast was Concepcion's, a little over eight miles in the distance. For the town folk in rural Texas the water towers serve as guidons of a sort. Many are emblazoned with their school's mascot while some showcase a favorite son or identifying motto. For me these distant sentinels bring to mind a simpler memories of a simpler existence.