Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Year Ago Today

A year ago today Melba and I were living at Goban Tower, Number 83, in a near-empty two-bedroom apartment for military and civilian personnel at Commander Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Japan.

At 7:30 that morning our door bell rang. It was a young Japanese fellow informing me that everything we owned in this world, all two crates, had at long last arrived from the States. All of it was in a flatbed truck out front. I took the elevator eight floors down to verify the shipment and sign some forms. The morning was drizzly. I stepped out of the way and let the men do their work. Melba and I had been separated from our household goods for fifty-four days. The Japanese are great workers; quick, efficient and careful. And so polite. They were done in no time.

As a D.O.D.D.S. employee Melba was permitted to take a day off from work when our things arrived. The both of us worked our tails off the rest of the day getting this stuff put away. Come bedtime we both agreed that back in the States we should have given more of our stuff away, stored more, and thrown more. It was a good feeling to have familiar things around us again. When we returned to the States months later we owned even less. All we had was two suitcases, two carry-ons and 21 cardboard boxes weighing from five to thirty-five pounds that I had shipped over in the last weeks of our sojourn in Japan. These were stuffed with the remainder of our worldly possessions.

That was a year ago today. It seems like a dream.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

That's a Fact, Jack!

This afternoon I was reminded that an element of hope thrives in the public schools. A thousand years of teaching in the classroom jaded me somewhat and it took a ten-year old to demonstrate that a thread of genuine good exists in the fabric the public school system. His name is Jack and he showed me the facts. Even at my advanced age I can still get it wrong. Yes, it's chaos in the public schools, but good parenting is still a proven buttress against the evils of the world. That is what Jack told me without even moving his lips.

How did Jack shake me out of my cynical posture? He was simply himself. He happened by our offices after school. His mom works down the hall from me. The kid quietly walks into the building, sets his gear on the floor then proceeds to each office to greet the adult occupant. That is his standard operating procedure. He isn't faking it. He's done it every single time he's come into the building. Besides, too many kids today wouldn't know how to fake politeness or good manners anyway. He's the real McCoy.

I ask him the standard "how's school?" and he offers the equally standard, "fine."
"Well, that's great," I say. "Hope you're keeping your grades up."
He turns to leave, then seconds later returns with his school progress report in his hand. He wants me to see his grades. They are excellent. We talked.

Jack shares with me what his favorite subjects are, that he enjoys sports, especially baseball. It's a toss-up as to which position he favors -- pitcher or first base. He likes to read. He showed me one of the books he's checked out of the school library. Jack's about half-way through it already. It's titled Football Nightmare. The other book is Quarterbacks. I like kids who enjoy reading and I liked his haircut. The boy's got a good head on his shoulders and he looked right at you when he spoke. We ended our chat and he excused himself.

Jack was simply himself and he made me half-sorry for posting that silliness on my blog yesterday. His short visit with me was good medicine. Effective parenting has got to be the cure-all for America's ills. Hay esperanzas en Benavides.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Where did we go wrong?

I had a conversation with some people over the weekend. The topic is worn and frazzled, but no one tires of offering insight or opinion. The subject almost ranks up there with religion, money and politics -- only no one comes to blows over it. It's kids, young people, today's youth and their failure to reach our perceived expectations. The conversation spreads across all lines of demarcation; geographic, economic, cultural... you name it. The pueblito of Benavides is no exception. "It's just as bad here," the locals say. "Where did we go wrong?"

Our learned little group traced the latest generation's decline all the way back to the evils of the Rock-n-Roll culture of the 50s and tied that to the insatiable lust of post-World War II America to attain the "American Dream." The argument was distilled down to this; the prevailing winds of change around fifty years ago told mom to abandon her role as homemaker to pursue a second income for the "good" of the household. The structure of the family was compromised and therein began the first of many leaks in the dam of Western civilization. Our children became vulnerable and then THEY saw an opening.

THEY perched liked a murder of crows on the parallel rows of florescent lights hanging over the classroom. Silent, invisible, there were thousands of them. Through black leathery slits their soulless eyes surveyed the kids at their desks. The spirits toyed with them much as a cat would with a dead mouse. The living felt nothing -- sensed nothing. Their earthly eyes and ears could never know how these wretched entities would flop or slither down alongside their innocent flesh -- whispering -- planting the itch of a foul thought in their tender minds.

The stench and stain of their demonic manipulation was present every day in the classrooms, the hallways, the gym, the dressing rooms, cafeteria, library, the parking lot, buses. They worked tirelessly to reap their terrible harvest in these places. The public schools were fertile ground for the obscenity of their mission. Many had learned to fester themselves on one body, the infected offering no resistance. Once entrenched in their human host they would begin planting their unholy seed. They, this black legion of damnation, worked unabated. It was easy for them, for God had not been welcome in the public schools for a long time.

Halloween is only a month away and I just wanted to get into the spirit. THEY are expert at that. If you enjoy being spooked or feeling scary, be encouraged to substitute at a public school. If you last the day you'll rush home asking, "Where did we go wrong?"

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Tale of Two Bikes

Matthew 6:7-8
-But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
-Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
A friend called this morning and jokingly asked, "Are you back from church already?" He knows I can't even remember the last time I attended a service. "I have something for you," he says. Two hours earlier I had driven over to another friend's here in town to pick up an old 10-speed bicycle.

Last summer when Melba and I divested ourselves of nearly all our material possessions I had presented him with two bicycles. One of them was the 10-speed I was "borrowing back" this morning. He had given up riding and I was in the process of starting, so it was an opportune hand-over. Thank you, Mūndy. Then two hours later my other buddy, the one with the crack about church, called saying he had something for me. You guessed it -- a bike. Only yesterday I was thinking how I didn't want to spend a dime on a bike, but then bikes don't fall from trees. That's why I asked to "borrow back" my old 10-speed.

I was mistaken. Good bikes may not fall from trees but they can fall into your hands from the thoughtfulness and generosity of good people. Thank you, Arnoldo. Apparently, God does know the desires of our heart and there was no need to concern myself over how to best get my hands on a bike "for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him."

This is definitely an instance of my cup runneth over. And this, ye lambs of God, concludes our Sunday service. You many click-out in peace.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Desgraciado Huadahída

Como batallamos esta tarte con el desgraciado huadahída.
Mom calls.
She doesn't have hot water.
I drive out to the Ranch.
Maybe it is nothing.
Let's have a look.
Breakers are okay.
Voltage meter says only 50 volts at the connection.
Tank is not leaking.
Maybe it is the heating element.
I need an expert opinion.
I call Alex.
Alex is a competent handyman.
Alex comes over.
Alex examines.
Alex determines that the lower element corroded from the inside out.
The tank is ruined.
"You need a new water heater, Mrs. Salas"
Alex will drive into Alice this afternoon to pick one up.
I stay behind and mow the tall tall grass at the Ranch.
Hours pass.
I mow a lot.
It is hot and humid
The mosquitoes like my Type A+.
I stop mowing.
I take a chair in the porch.
I have a cold beer.
It is a Shiner Black Lager.
Alex arrives with new water heater and connections.
We remove the old water heater.
We set the new water heater in place.
Alex performs the necessary plumbing and wiring.
We talk and laugh while the PVC cement dries.
The new water heater is filled.
We check for leaks.
None are found.
This is good.
The kitchen sink taps are opened to bleed the air in the lines.
The water heater breakers are switched on.
We hear gurgling in the tank.
This is good.
The hot water outlet begins to feel hot.
This is also good.
Mom begins to dream of a good hot shower tonight.
A hand is placed in the water running from the hot tap.
The water never feels warm.
"Give it some time."
Time passes.
The flow of water remains cold.
"Something is not right."
The water heater is no longer gurgling.
"Something is not right."
Alex checks the breakers.
A breaker is tripped.
"Something is not right."
Mom's dream of a hot shower is put on hold.
Alex switches off the breakers.
Alex removes the heating element cover plates.
Alex notices a very black smudge where a wire connects.
A hot wire has made contact with the lug of the heating element housing.
Alex examines the area more closely.
Alex discovers shoddy work direct from the factory.
A wire was stretched very taunt across the lug of the heating element.
The insulation was compromised.
When power was switched on, the wire got hot at the damaged point.
The thermostat shorted out.
"I will take it back," Alex says.
The time is 6:20 p.m.
McCoy's is closed already.
McCoy's is closed on Sunday.
"I'll come take it out Monday morning and get another."
"Esta bueno. ¿Que mas puedes hacer?" says Mom.
I feel bad for Mom.
Alex feels bad for Mom.
Como batallamos esta tarte con el desgraciado huadahída.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The English Teacher

A thousand years ago in high school Mrs. Cuellar was my sophomore and senior year English teacher. The lady was the best at what she did. Around here we say that "we learned" with Mrs. Cuellar. It's true. What she shared and imparted in the classroom has stayed with me these long years and I wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer. What she taught I learned for life.

Her son was a friend -- a good guy. He left town right after graduation, but at heart, he is still a Benavides Eagle. These days it may not mean much, but for many generations of Benavides graduates our school spirit wouldn't wash off. It was there to stay. Arnoldo recalls fondly the old Benavides of better days. He was kind enough to invite me to lunch at Louis' Restaurant today with his wife and his mom. While waiting to be served we happened to notice a large group seated at a long table at the far end of the restaurant. A gentleman at the table was a longtime coach from San Diego ISD that I had worked with years back when I was employed with that school system. Then it hit me. Today was Benavides Homecoming Day at the high school and this group was most likely the graduates of the class of '57 or '58. I excused myself and went over to say hello to the group. I knew a number of them at the table.

"Did any of you have Mrs. Cuellar for a teacher?" I asked.

"Mrs. Cuellar?" "Why yes." "Si. ¿Como no?" "She was our English teacher." It was a dumb question to ask. Of course this group knew her.

She's seated right over there. I pointed to our table. She's that silver-haired lady with that couple.
"Noooo?" " Mrs. Cuellar?" " Here?" "Is that her over there?" They were genuinely surprised.

Leaving their lunch plates the group rose as one and eagerly made there to where Mrs. Cuellar was seated. She rose to greet them -- her face glowing with delight. I was moved at the show of affection for this fine lady. It was a good day in Benavides.

The quality of these photos is lousy. The iPhone camera absolutely sucks in low-light situations. Most of the ones I took were either too dark or very blurry. Damn!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Good Story

Today's weather was the kind that encouraged you to stay indoors once you got in from work. The thing to do was to snuggle up with a warm blanket and vegetate in front of the television with a steady supply of snacks and one great movie. I did, but not just any movie. I wanted one I could relate to on a personal level and they don't make many like that anymore. John Sayles knows what I'm talking about.

You can't help but hold a special admiration for people like John Sayles. Here's a guy who's just about my age, was born in eastern state New York; attended college in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and has turned a passion for telling a good story into a lucrative career as an author, screenwriter, motion picture producer and film director. With a script he wrote tucked under his arm he arrives in Eagle Pass, Texas in early 1996 and captures on film the racial, cultural and political tensions along la frontera as though he had been witness to it all his born days. I find it amazing how Sayles, a complete outsider, could do this. The picture is "Lone Star." I have seen it to the point of obsession. By Hollywood standards the movie is long at 134 minutes, but the engrossing story strings all the characters along at a steady clip making you wish at its conclusion that it was longer. Now that's good movie making. Better still, it works well as both a guy movie and a chick flick.

About the story Sayles is quoted as saying, "I learned [about the situation in Texas] more from listening to songs--both Spanish and English--than from the literature I read." John Sayles is a fluent Spanish speaker.

It's a special gift for a "foreigner" to be able come into our corner of the world and capture in story form the ebb and flow of human existence as it is played out along the border. John Sayles may not accept it, but the ability to perform like that is a gift from God. He won't agree. He thinks he's an atheist. Our politics are on opposite sides of the field, but I don't hold it against him. He has my respect and admiration. For those of you with a sprinkling of curiosity about life in the Tex-Mex borderlands partner up with this fine movie.

What the movie trailer HERE.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Rain

It has rained hour after hour. Memory of the long dry months gushed away as quickly as the dust and dirt streamed down corrugated metal roofs off backyard sheds in the pueblito. It's given the air a sweetness, scrubbed clean and cooled by the northern that rushed in during the wee hours before a dull gray light began painting the eastern sky. Slowly, the gray light bloomed large, forcing back the darkness revealing a drizzly Wednesday morning.

As old and unkempt as she is, Benavides felt youthful. Soon, the monochrome landscape grew more distinct with color. Stepping out into the morning a freshness filled the lungs with that first deep draw of air. The pueblito woke to a different world. A few weeks ago people here were close to forgetting what it was to use an umbrella, step into mud, or operate wipers at their fastest capacity, swishing left to right to left across a rain-splattered windshield. The rain brought with it a changed landscape. It signaled that we would not die with the end of the summer season, gasping a last gulp of dry dust-laden air. The water on everything and everywhere meant we would live to see another summer. God bless the rain.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lead us not into temptation...

The tri-fold menu I held in my hand listed so many food items front and back it was hard to believe all those tasty treats were produced in the tiny kitchen housed in the new metal building. From a 12 ounce shrimp cocktail to a double-meat turkey cheeseburger, our pueblito's latest eating establishment just about guaranteed that no craving would go unsatisfied again -- at least for the foreseeable future. Small town food establishments like this come and go like pepino pickers. But for the present, the hungry could look forward to a food-filled future during those otherwise sad hours when the puebliteros had to look to their own kitchens for relief.
pue·bli·ter·o [ pwĕ·blē·tĕr'·ō ]
-noun, plural pue·bli·ter·os
an inhabitant of a pueblito in Duval County, Texas (specifically, the town of Benavides, pop. 1686, 2000 U.S. census)
Complete spur-of-the-moment fabrication (August 19, 2009 - 7:13 a.m.) by the South Texas housewife, wordsmith and Spanish speaker Elizabeth Burns, formerly of Cincinnati, Ohio.
Now I am torn between the 'bike' for the physical and the 'bite' for the gastronomical. This new thing comes at a very bad time, for alas, I am a weak man and I sampled their babacoa taco this morning and was seduced. Ay, Dios. Me da el poder para resistir, porque no quiero engordar mas.

The new place is called Ibañez Treats & Eats. News of its grand opening this morning spread quickly and the pueblito was very glad. I would imagine that the talk among those who congregate for breakfast and lunch focused on how the food compared with the fare of the older food establishments in Benavides. The real test would come at day's end near the dinner hour. The food jury will be out for two or three days before polls are taken and Ibañez's receives a thumbs up or something else.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Wide Load

I think my ass is getting bigger -- wider, for sure.
Guy's rears don't get bigger.
Mine is, Melba.
What makes you say that?
My pants tell me. I can tell when I'm getting dressed. I sit on my ass all day and I think that's why. I'm behind that damn keyboard all day. I don't do anything physical. I don't do a damn thing.
Your rear is not getting bigger. Men's butts don't get bigger, just their stomachs.
Melba, you don't gotta tell me that. But damn! My ass. I can feel it. I'm running out of room back there.
Get bigger pants.
No way. I need to do something.
You look fine.
To you maybe. I got parts that are beginning to jiggle. I can feel parts of me moving inside.
I like you the way you are. You look fine.
I gotta do something or I'm gonna wake up dead one of these mornings.
You always say that.
I'm a little Mexican. Little guys like me shouldn't get this big.
What do you want to be? All flaco?
I shouldn't weigh more than 165 -- tops. One-seventy, maybe. I'm afraid to step on a scale.
You look fine. You shouldn't have stopped walking. You used to walk a lot. We both used to.
Yeah, I know, but it's different here. There's no good place to walk -- not here.
If you wanted to walk you'd walk.
I don't even eat that much. It's just that I don't do anything.
Well, then do something. What do you want me to do?
I used to ride my 10-speed. I used to ride that thing from here to Highway 16 and back. Damn! Where is that guy?
Honey, that was a long time ago.
Tell me about it. What happened to that guy? I miss him.
You're worrying about nothing. Just get bigger pants.
No. I'm not going to do that. I already got a bigger belt. I didn't like having to do that.
You're silly. There's nothing wrong with you.
I'm gonna start riding a bike. I gotta do something.
Just don't start skipping meals. That's not good.
I ain't got the will power to do that even if I wanted to. I'm gonna start riding a bike.
What got you all worked up anyway? This is not the first time you thought your pants were too tight.
I talked to an old friend from high school today -- at lunch. He called -- just to chat.
What did he say? What did he tell you?
Nothing. We just talked. But he got me motivated -- motivated to do something healthy. I'm healthy now. I've got an advantage over some guys younger than me. I'm gonna start riding a bike. I should take better care of myself. I've just gotten lazy. ¡Chingow! I used to be pretty!
What do you want to be? A teenager again or what?
I didn't say that.
You look fine. Are you getting middle-age crazy or something?
You're funny. Middle age was a long time ago. It didn't affect me one bit.
Then what?
I just feel motivated to do something. I'm not going to have anyone to take care of me when I reach a hundred. I don't want to lay in some nursing home alone -- ignored.
And all this because of your butt?
It's a sign, babe. It's a sign.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Old Friends in New Times

When one is young they cannot picture growing older and having old friends when they reach the advanced years. For the young that destination is light-years distant. None can imagine traveling that far. I proved no exception, but I achieved both. I grew older and a few of my friends got here with me at the same time. A couple of the survivors from my youth even managed to reach their late fifties relatively unscathed. Others did not. They came through with nasty bumps and bruises on the road to their fifties. A few never made it at all. God rest their souls. Today, we three survivors were happy to get together to share some quality time.

Arnoldo is selling his childhood home and in the process of cleaning it out, sorting what items will be kept or discarded, and do all the things that need to be done when your former home becomes someone else's house. The grounds needed mowing. Heavy pieces of furniture had to be lugged out. No one can do it alone. I don't care how strong and able you are; certainly not in the time frame allotted Arnoldo. He called Simon. Simon called me. We went over and applied the needed muscle and machinery. Short of amazing was the fact that all the work was accomplished without the aid of a single beer. The subject of an ice-cold six-pack never even came up. Usually, as hot and humid as the late summer afternoons get, unas cuantas cervesitas are a prerequisite. They are an important piece of our survival gear in South Texas. Not so today. No era necesario. We were too content in our fellowship and conversation to muddle them up with a little alcohol.

Between the huffing, puffing and sweating, the mainstay of discussion was either old friends or the new times. Neither seemed to sync with the other. Though not pretty to look at, we each agreed that we had arrived in the autumn of our years in relatively satisfactory condition. We had only been to the "shop" for minor repairs and our "warranties" were still good. The same could not be said for our pueblito. Benavides had not aged gracefully. The new years had not been kind. We blamed it on the diluted brain pool and cable television.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

En Paz

Melba is at Dillard's and a quarter mile away at Barnes & Nobel I've found a chair in a cozy corner to sit and read. Estoy muy en paz. I'm lucky. Every time I come here there are fewer and fewer places to sit. I believe that the management is working to curb the number of people who come here to pass the day, mooching off the store's air-conditioning, reading material and soft chairs. A lot of folks just plop themselves down on the floor. I'm always fortunate to find a good chair and before leaving I'll buy a book. I'm no freeloader.

Friday, September 18, 2009


The first and last time I was swept aloft in a parasail was over Acapulco Bay in May of 1985. Melba and I were young and pretty and on vacation. Tonight I came across a picture of us on that day long ago. Melba and I met some great people that sunny afternoon. I know she doesn't remember, but I do. It was the three guys who staked out a few yards of sand on the beach and hustled tourists all day in the sun, encouraging them to get strapped into a harness by total strangers and then get swept into the sky above the blue waters of the bay. They were very friendly fellows who probably worked for just enough pesos to last them until the next day; their labor probably making some guy in a condo richer by the hour. These guys worked hard and I felt for them. We chatted. When Melba and I returned safely to earth I was generous with my tips. On that afternoon I sensed that these fellows appreciated being treated as equals by another working man, me, the American tourist. The experience sparked a story. I call it "Invisible."

It is as if I am nothing but air. They can see me, but they act as if I am not there. The touristas think I cannot speak English so they talk aloud as if I were deaf. I understand everything. I know how they think. My small frame, my dark and weathered skin, the sun-faded clothes, I can see why.

I am on the boat all day. In the high season, it is the best. The tips from the norte americanos make the long days tolerable. I have not left the coast in over ten years. There is no place I want to go anyway. I worked in restaurants in New Orleans for five years, alongside very bright people, educated people. Later I went to Chicago and worked for some very fine business men, muy nobles. I learned a lot. It was an education, but I always felt like I was on the tip of a rocket, moving too fast. I could not live like that. The money was good, but I could not live that fast. I came back. I have a life here, a simple one. As long as my back and hands are strong, all will be well. May they serve me faithfully for many years to come. I think that is why I find myself praying to la Virgen more often with the passing years. When I am no longer able to pull the ropes, lift the heavy boxes, or see to the boat, I have faith that she will see to my needs.

But what am I doing letting my mind wander over what I have no control over? I have a job to do. I must attend to the touristas, especially las hueritas. Their husbands, boyfriends, or lovers are tight with their money, but las hueritas are eager to hand me tips. I especially like when the women travel without the men. Nuestra Senora, I know, guides their generosity.

Already two are approaching from the pier coming to the boat, a young girl and perhaps her mother. They take quick steps and talk without stopping. These americanos live too much in a hurry.


"I'm done with my four weeks of Spanish classes and I still have a week before I have to head back to school," the girl walks straight ahead, but the conversation is directed at the older woman. "Why can't I just stay? There's still more I want to see, and I'm not sure I want to go back to school anyway. I want to rest. I want to have some fun."

"You can't do that, Lynette. What will I tell your father when he shows up at the airport and you're not with me?" She struggles to keep up with the girl. "Slow down. We need to discuss this."

"Mom, I didn't come here to discuss anything. We're here to have fun. We're on vacation. Right now I want to go parasailing, not worry about what Daddy thinks!"

"I wished you'd mentioned this before we left home, Lynette."

"Mom, I'm just tired of following Dad's game plan. He's pushing me to finish school like there was no tomorrow. Let's not talk about it. I wanna parasail."

"You brought it up, honey."

The girl shoots her a cold look.

"Lynette...," the woman's voice trails off. The two have reached the boat. Ricky, the American who runs the boat, flashed them his perfect smile.

"Hello, ladies. Ready for some fun?" When it's a boatload of ladies Rick primes them up good. He explains how he is from New York, ex-Coast Guard and how he personally put the engine in the boat himself. Tanned, handsome, tall and broad-shouldered, everything that I am not. I am used to this story. It only changes in the most minor of details. The only truth being that he is from New York. The rest is just embellishment for the ladies' benefit, for their sense of adventure, something for their girlfriends to envy back in the States.

Once the hueras are on board, I stow the lines and wait to move out. Rick pilots.


"Mom, look how gorgeous the beach looks from here. I can see our hotel. I can see our room!"

The mother is busy rubbing sunscreen on her pink arms and legs. She doesn't even look up.

"It's a beautiful day for a boat ride, ladies," Rick guns the boat.

"Mom, I've been thinking about getting a job here. I was talking to Arturo from the hotel and he says he sees no reason I can't get a job at that park we visited a couple of days ago, Rincón de la Vieja National Park or something. He says my Spanish is good enough. He knows some one there. I love it here, Mom. Arturo says he can help."

"I know exactly how he'd like to help, honey. And what he whats to help himself to."

"Mom, I can do this."

"Lynette, you're talking nonsense. I wish your father were here."

"No, I'm not, Mom." Neither was looking at the water, the coast, nothing. "I need a break from school. I'm tired."


These norte americanos are wound too tightly. All they do is argue, and they are never happy in the moment. Why do they bother to come here if they cannot leave their troubles behind? I think they work only to build trouble for themselves. I need to get to work. The parachute and the harness must be made ready.

Rick slows the boat and directs the ladies to the platform at the rear. I motion for the ladies to slip on the harness.

"Who wants to go up first, ladies?" Rick says. "My man there will fix you up."

"Lynette, you go first. I don't... I... I've changed my mind. I don't want to."

"You've already paid, Mom."

"I don't care. I don't want to. You go."

"Mom, don't be mad. We're here to have fun."

I could see that for the mother this vacation was already over. Her mind was back home already, her troubles waiting patiently along side her husband. I could see it on her face.

The girl steadied herself on the platform and using only hand gestures, I directed her into the harness. Buckling her snugly into the straps I thought how naive this pollita was. Did she really think that with the little Spanish she had acquired that she could leave the comfort of her life in the States and make a living here? Life outside the tourist zone was no vacation. He almost wished he could tell her, but it was none of his concern.

I motioned to Rick that she was ready.

"Ready for the ride of your life?" he called to her.

Her mouth tightened and she nodded yes.

As the boat powered up slowly, the air filled the parasail and the winch led out the line. Slowly, the girl rose higher and higher. She waved at her mother. The mother, trying not to look troubled, trying to appear as if they were having fun, waved back, took a snapshot.

If only it were that easy to separate ourselves from our troubles. Just tie them to a parasail and let the wind take them away. Unfortunately, after a few minutes, he would have to reel her in. I turned to the lady and gave her a knowing smile.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Game Night

After piecing together some video I shot this evening I decided that the video camera feature on the iPhone is less than adequate for my video capture needs. The iPhone is a great phone, but a lousy video camera. The iPhone doesn't feel like a video camera. It doesn't handle like a video camera and the quality isn't all that great. It lacks that "point-and-shoot" ease of operation that feels natural in your hand. It's awkward to point. It serves well for spur-of-the-moment video capture, but when compared to the results that the Flip Ultra HD camera delivers it is no contest. I may get me a Flip.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Quality Time

We're sitting in the comfy seats of our pick-up parked at the Whataburger at the intersection of the U.S. 77 bypass and General Cavazos Boulevard in Kingsville, Texas. It's cool enough in September to roll the windows down. A couple of weeks back the A/C would have been running. Damn the ozone. We each have a Number 1 with no onions on a toasted wheat bun and a diet Coke. Michael Savage is on the radio. The southbound traffic whizzing past on the overpass reminds us of sunny days on the beach in South Padre Island just a couple of hours down the road. We have our privacy and each other. This is quality time.

Cipriana, my maternal grandmother would have been one-hundred and four years old today. She's been gone twenty-six years.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

No Stopping Me Now

It is a pleasant thing to be the kid sitting high up on the windmill platform wondering what lies beyond the horizon, imagining how things could be. That's the dreamer in all of us, innocence -- a good and necessary quality in the human, but most days you've got to fight to break through the pressures that work to pave over our desires. Find the crack in the resistance and reach for the sun.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Cat Nap

Most mornings if I woke up, looked in the mirror, and saw the face of a Burt Lancaster, a William Holden, a Cary Grant, a Gregory Peck, a Gilbert Roland, or an Errol Flynn (got the picture?) staring back at me from that mirror I would not be disappointed. Good ol' Dad was blessed with that good fortune. He rose out of bed every single morning with rugged Hollywood good looks on him. A shave, a clean shirt and a splash of Vitalis V7 through his black locks with his powerful hands and the ol' man was ready to go. But, science and genetics work against us sometimes. I understand that, unfortunately, that particular gene (eltmay antiespay offway omanway) skips a generation in our family. With that thought aside, today I would have been pleased to just wake up as nothing more than a cat with little to think about except the next scheduled feeding time. Mentally, it was a taxing day. I came home and crashed for two hours -- enjoying a major cat nap. Dormi como un muerto.

I wonder if the late great Tyrone Power had days like this?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Las Tortugas y Mas

Some old timers claim you don't see as many tortoises these days. "There were a lot more of them when we were kids," they say. It's more likely they simply don't spend as much time outdoors as they used to fifty years ago. There are plenty of turtles. People just have to get off their behinds, switch off the damn TV and get out of the house. If they miss them so much they'll go out and find them.

Sometimes getting out of the house will get you more than a tortoise sighting. The great outdoors can bring trouble of the worst kind. About three years ago a friend of mine who is no fan of network television and would rather spend his leisure hours out on his ranch property got into a little more trouble than one would normally find out in the brush. I'll pass his story along as best as I can remember his telling of it.
(Based on an actual event on the evening of August 17, 2006)

Where am I? My mouth. It tastes like dirt. Where am I? My tongue. It's caked with grit. Why am I lying flat on my back? I'm on the ground. What's happening? God help me, please! What's wrong with me? God, I can't breathe. It hurts! I'm hurting! I'm cold. That voice. Someone is telling me not to be afraid. I don't feel afraid. God? Help me. I need help. Something is wrong. My chest. My side is wet. It feels sticky. Blood. It's my blood! I have my blood on me! I can taste it. I remember! I remember now! I'm shot. I shot myself. I'm alive. Oh, God, help me! Is this a dream? No. I remember now. I shot myself.

Hail Mary, Full of Grace, The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death.

Help is coming. I remember now. The phone. My cell phone. Somehow it was in my hand. I called. I called my sister. Yes. They are coming. I am not dreaming. She is bringing help. My little girl. God! I don't want to die. My wife! I can't leave them! It's not my time! Some one is talking to me. I hear it inside. Don't close your eyes. Don't go to sleep. Stay alert. You're alive. You'll come through this. It's not your time. You will not die.

I remember! I slipped. I fell! The rifle... the rifle fell with me. I was going to shoot the coyote. I tried to climb into the back of the pickup. A better shot. I slipped. Stupid! I'm stupid. I remember. The .22 hit the ground. It discharged. Fired. The bullet. The bullet went into my chest. I am not afraid. How did this happen? Why me? How? I'm covered in dirt. Grass burrs. I must have been kicking -- rolling on the ground like a wounded animal. God!

Hail Mary, Full of Grace, The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death.

I hear a truck. Help. I can't get up. I hear voices. Angels?

"Aye Dios! Mūndy! What happened?" It is my sister's voice. "You're going to be all right. The Halo Flight is coming. We called."

I hear a chopper. I know that sound. I was in the navy. It's the helicopter. Thank God. Not my time.

The Newspaper Account

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Hide a Host of Sins

The expected rains never came this morning, so at noon I began mowing the weeds and grass. Putting it off another three or four days would guarantee the trimming would not go so easy. I mowed around the trailer, at the cemetery, then at the ranch around Mom's place. When I was through it felt as though I had cut a 22-inch-wide swath a hundred miles long with that little red push mower. The one good thing about the days of drought is the lack of high humidity. Not so after a good downpour and the sun comes out. Beads of sweat streamed into my eyes making them sting badly. I couldn't find my work cap and one would have helped. It's amazing how a few inches of ordinary water falling from clouds black with moisture regenerate the earth. Maybe it's not so ordinary -- el agua del cielo. The buffel grass is waist-high in some places. I find it amazing how fast the blades shoot up. That should keep the cows happily chewing their cud for a few weeks.

Benavides is green again. It hadn't been for a long time. The rains make the place smell cleaner, too -- washing the dust off of everything outside. The sky looks scrubbed clean making things all around looks brighter when the sun is out. Best of all, the tall green grass hides a host of sins in and around the pueblito. The profusion of discarded plastic and paper littering the ground everywhere, beer and soda cans, broken glass; all are hidden from view now. Passersby could be fooled into thinking that all the town needed was a good mowing and it wouldn't be such a bad looking place. I am grateful for the lush vegetation along the roads and in the empty lots. It hides so much. It makes me wish it grew taller and thicker. Why can't some people around here simply pick up after themselves?

The abandoned buildings in the old downtown are still standing. The weeds will never grow high enough to hide the faded and broken storefronts. We need the Corp of Engineers to come in, dig us the mother-of-all-pits, and bulldoze the whole mess in. Both sides of the street are too far gone for any kind of resurrection. Around here you have to start new if you're of a mind to build something up.

The lush green that masks the unsightliness is welcome. Only one thing makes the pueblito look better -- snow. Melba and I weren't here for that Christmas Day miracle back in 2004, but the pictures I saw made Benavides look like a New England village. The reality is that down here snow melts quickly and all the pretty grass inevitably dries up, exposing a host of sins on the litter-strewn ground. We'll just enjoy the green while it lasts and work at getting people to tidy up their little corner of the world.


"What's a roughneck? Why are they called that? And while you're at it, what's a redneck?" Yvette, my coworker, just had to know. No se porque. It was Friday and nearing quitting time. "You should put that in your blog so I can read it and find out."
"Okay," I said. "I'll get to work on it."
1. An uncouth person.
2. A rowdy.
3. A member of the crew of an oil rig other than the driller.

Originally the term was used in the traveling carnivals of 19th century America, almost interchangeably with roustabout. By the 1930s the terms had transferred to the oil drilling industry.
Roughneck (or ruffneck) is a slang term for an unskilled or slightly skilled laborer in a number of industries. In particular, it is the official name of a semi-skilled role on an oil rig.

n. offensive slang.
1. Used as a disparaging term for a member of the white rural laboring class, especially in the southern United States.
2. A white person regarded as having a provincial, conservative, often bigoted attitude.

A slang term, usually for a rural white southerner who is politically conservative, racist, and a religious fundamentalist (see fundamentalism). This term is generally considered offensive. It originated in reference to agricultural workers, alluding to how the back of a person's neck will be burned by the sun if he works long hours in the fields.

[Online] Available
[Online] Available

Friday, September 11, 2009

They call it Nine-Eleven

Mas o menos, 2,740 innocent Americans minding their own business were murdered in the September 11, 2001 attacks.
"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." -- Edmund Burke, Irish Statesman (1729-1797)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Un Zoquetaso

This morning the ground was so spongy from the recent rains I had to cross my fingers when Melba backed out of the concrete slab our vehicles sleep on. Ground that only days before was as impenetrable as rock from the long months of drought had been transformed into a mud-fest spectacular. It was a slippery ride, but she made it to the pot-holed street a hundred feet away. I followed in my pickup, careful to avoid the ruts her tires had slogged in the mush. Next time we're at Walmart I'll have to get a bigger and better doormat.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Just To Keep Me Alive

The missus isn't home to fix dinner and, to my shame, I cannot cook. She had better outlive me because I'm not pretty enough to snare another wife with as much talent and good looks as the present one. In times like this I can't fix anything tasty to pleasure my palette. I'll slide something into the microwave just to keep me alive.

Dad suffered the same affliction. Couldn't cook worth a damn. The sole difference between his situation and mine is that when I attempt to nourish myself the only taste buds that are assaulted are mine, and mine alone. On those occasions a thousand years ago when Mom was away from home birthing my brothers and sisters, or seeing to her aged parents, the burden of feeding us fell on Dad. My sister was still too young to cook family-sized meals. Dad learned to cook only one dish; undoubtedly, something he dreamed up in desperation. And in those desperate times when Mom was away his concoction provided for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Thankfully, Mom's absences were few in number.

The ol' man would take a large cast-iron skillet and set in down on the stove's gas burner. He'd then slap a palm-sized scoop of Mrs. Tucker's Lard Shortening on the hot surface and crack about a dozen eggs in it. Next, he would take two cups of crushed Fritos® Original Corn Chips along with enough chopped onions to bring Dog the Bounty Hunter to tears, and toss about four or five slabs of government issue cheese on top of the mix. The cheese came from relatives' surplus of government food commodities. We were poor, but not poor enough to qualify for el welfare, as it was referred to in those days. Dad would scramble all that up then serve it hot. No tortillas. Those disappeared on the first day of Mom's absence. We would wash 'Dad's Dish' down with cherry flavored Kool-Aid -- silently hoping Mom would not be too long in coming home.

I never asked Dad what he was thinking when he was working the skillet, but I can imagine. He was probably saying to himself, "It's just to keep them alive until their mother comes home."

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Say hello to my little friend

We used to be dog owners, dog lovers really, but it's been years since we have kept one. The last dog we genuinely loved died on March 17, 1993. We had her for twelve years; her brother for ten. They were real dogs and not like the pale Chihuahua that came prancing up to me after work today as though it had reunited with a long-lost friend. The thought of keeping it never entered my mind. We have no use for a dog at this time -- large, medium or small. Like we say around here about people with lifestyles such as ours... viven para arriba y para abajo.

We keep cats; three or four. Their population fluctuates depending on what scrapes the neighbors happen to be offering. We hardly produce scraps in any amount, but Melba does buy the cats name brand cat food to encourage them to stay around. They are not much to look at. The white one could probably place in an ugly cat contest. It's got an ear that looks like a strip of jerked beef that's been gnawed on for hours. Melba and I appreciate the reputation cats have for killing rodents and slithering reptiles. Melba hates snakes. I've no fondness for them either. Only one has made an appearance since we moved here. That one slipped past the cats.

Cats are okay. They don't need us. Not like my little short-haired friend. It wouldn't survive a week on its own. A few years back we went on vacation and returned nine days later to find one of our cats trapped in the garage. It was summer and the animal survived all that time without food or water. A dog would have died, bloated up and burst in same span of time. I don't want to even think about it. It's an ugly thought.

I ignored the temptation to feed the Chihuahua anything. It is certain it had a home somewhere near. Nevertheless, it is a small comfort to know that a cute little creature like it didn't find me scary or threatening. Inside this old skin there must still be a measurable amount of good or kindness left over from my days a kid.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Are We There Yet?

CNN Online posted an article about a web site that pokes fun of Walmart shoppers. Being a longtime customer I knew exactly what the site was all about without even clicking the link. "I'm a better person than that," I told myself. After three days I couldn't resist taking a peek. Alas, I am a weak man.

It was exactly as I had imagined -- not good, but not all bad either. Not all the surreptitious photos of unsuspecting shoppers are mean-spirited, but I could probably count them on one hand. Oh my... but the rest. What's happening to my country? I was going to offer one up, but the small print stated that all photo subjects must be at least eighteen years of age. My proposed submission did not fit the bill, so I posted it here.

We were at Walmart tonight and when I saw how Evan was watching the floor tiles slip by below him he made me wish I was six years old. Riding down there looked like fun. The caption for my photo would have been "Are We There Yet?"

The Last Patrol

"When are you taking me to the helicopter?" The expression on the six-year-old's face was of complete trust and belief in every word that I spoke to him; past, present and future. "You saaaid!"

I will never break my promise to a child. I'm a role model, dammit. The kid remembered that I said I would take him one day and this afternoon I had to make good on my promise. "Okay. Let's go now. Come on," I told him. After all, he's my little buddy.

Three miles northeast of Benavides, Texas a Vietnam era Huey helicopter sits thirty yards from the highway. It was trucked in, set down on the caliche, and will never fly again. The old chopper is the centerpiece of America's Last Patrol Ranch, a veterans memorial site on a brushy hill that offers a sweeping view of raw South Texas beauty for miles around. Established in 1985 by local military vets to honor their fallen brothers, the site was dedicated to POWs, MIAs and KIAs of the Vietnam War. Over the years the ten-acre site has expanded to honor veterans of all wars fought by the United States of America. There is nothing polished about the place. It is without excess, luxury or softness. Guys who were young when they experienced the obscenity of war built this place. There is nothing pretty here. In its solitude old soldiers gather on occasion to raise a beer to the Last Patrol, the ones who never returned to the land of the free and the home of the brave.

I tried to explain in the simplest of terms to the six-year-old what this place was about. There were reasons for the display of implements of war; for the markers, for the flags, for the names on the wall. What can a kid know of war and sacrifice? Nothing, I hope. I pray he enjoys his innocence for a very long time. Evan just wanted to see the helicopter up close. I kept my promise.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

One Year Ago Today

A year ago today I stood before the Great Buddha in Kamakura, Japan. It has rested on that spot since the 13th century -- resistant to typhoons, earthquakes, modern encroachment and tourists. It's heavy, too, ninety-three tons -- made of bronze according to the literature. The inside is hollow. For a small fee the throngs of curious can walk inside to have a look-see. Back then Melba and I went there to explore -- avoid staying home. That was a Saturday. One year later on this Sunday I would very much like to go out to explore someplace, but we woke up in the pueblito of Benavides. No giant Buddhas around here.

This morning a television program from the Texas Parks and Wildlife department was showcasing the Seminole Canyon State Park and Historical Site. You can see fascinating pictographs that are among the oldest and most colorful ancient paintings in North America. I'd like to go up there and have a look for myself, but it's a bit of a drive from here -- over four hours. The closest historical site around here of any significance is the cemetery, and I already go there every week to water the St. Augustine grass at the family plot.

What human history there is in these parts is buried in the ground. It's mostly arrowheads and perhaps some shards of broken pottery or an old nail here and there. No famous military campaigns were ever decided here in the old days. You have to go down to the Valley for evidence of that. No Catholic missions were established in this strip of land the Spanish called los Llanos de los Mesteños -- country they found void of good streams and rivers. Nothing gets started without a reliable source of water. The Spanish Crown didn't think it prudent to dig into its treasury to invest any reales on the real estate between the Nueces and the Rio Bravo. You have to go up to Goliad or San Antonio to walk among the ghosts of the Spanish Conquest.

Infrastructural-wise we are embryonic in Duval County. The oldest standing structure in the county is probably my grandfather's outhouse on the ruins of the family homestead. If you know where to look you may come across norias de buque (hand dug water wells). These shallow wells were lined with sillares (caliche blocks). There are a couple that I know of on the property we grew up on. One is in excellent condition. The other has been partly destroyed through natural erosion. It was dug along the Agua Poquita Creek, but its banks have widened considerably over the decades, exposing the sillares. What erosion hasn't destroyed, the old roots of the olmos will finish off. And if not the roots then the bulldozers. Looking down from the passenger window of a 737 the skin of the South Texas earth appears as scarred as Frankenstein's. Los Llanos de los Mesteños lost its virginity a long time ago. The bulldozer guaranteed it would not be a pretty sight.

No Great Buddhas to explore around here. Instead, we have a wealth of natural history to inquire into. South Texas hasn't been paved over in blacktop yet and that is good. There are some dune formations in Brooks County that are calling my name. Never heard of them? Good. I hope they stay a secret. Some things are best not shared.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


No hice nada en todo el santo día. Perdóneme Dad.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Fair Day for a Fair

One of the outfits I work for hosted a health fair today to drum up some business -- get the word out -- we're here to help. It's a great company providing a valuable service to our seniors -- check your blood pressure -- check your sugar levels -- how'ya feelin'?. There were good eats, prizes, music and lots of friendly exchange. They outfitted us with these cool camouflage shirts with the company logo and motto. It was a good day -- lots of clouds, breezy and the thermometer didn't reach anywhere near a hundred. The seasoned citizens were able to sit outside and enjoy.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

#70 for the Badgers

When he was a little kid Richard used to be my little buddy. We were inseparable. I have the pictures to prove it. At fourteen years of age he is no longer little and we don't hang out at all now. At my age my interests are pretty much rooted. What I like and do is what I've liked and done for many years. Richard's interests are, of course, in the developmental stage and, naturally, have some distance to cover before they level off. Needless to say, he doesn't come by to play with his toy soldiers at my house any longer. Richard is number 70 for the Ben Bolt Badgers' junior varsity football team. Melba and I went to see him play his first game for the Blue and the White. The young man is playing with a fractured wrist. He's no girlyman. But damn! It was a hot afternoon for football.

I Am Being Followed

Some people are following my blog. Every morning I catch a glimpse of them. They take a quick peek for only a second and then they're gone. It's Exxon Mobil Corporation and ConocoPhillips. These two have been checking my blog for a couple of seconds every business day all summer long. Odd -- very odd. At times they visit after lunch. They don't stay long enough to read much.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Otro Libro Mas

If I believed in this silliness of reincarnation it's possible that in a past life Juanita and I were very close friends or perhaps blood relatives. I'm fortunate to know her in this present life because we click on many levels. Juanita is well read, well traveled, well bred and well... just a fine person. I received a book in the mail from her today -- Girl with a Pearl Earring. The motion picture was superb entertainment. I passed up buying the book many times in the book stores. Juanita's gift was a surprise because I don't believe I've ever discussed the story with her.

She attached a card written in her own hand that in part read "I saw this book and thought of you." I think kindly about some people every day, but I don't purchase something nice and stuff it into an envelope and mail it off to them. I don't suppose it's too late to start. That's what makes Juanita special. She acts on her feelings and doesn't just sit on them like a hen. That's what I do. Having failed all these years to get in touch with my feminine side, I instead incubate my feelings under my ass forever without hatching them -- ala Gary Cooper. You could call it a guy thing. Some day there's going to be a great big rotten egg stink coming from me.

I'll put off reading McCarthy's The Crossing and start devouring Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring tonight. My friend Juanita grew up in Louisiana. Her maiden name is Scalfano. I think therein lies the chemistry. Her family is Italian and inside this little Mexican here is a small Italian. I love Italy and all things Italian. Perhaps in the next life I will be as fortunate in the friends department as I have in this one.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Otro Libro

Our Tuesday treat was a quick stop at Barnes & Noble. Melba had a late dentist appointment in Corpus so actually the treat was all mine. I could live in a Barns & Noble -- so many books and so many authors. There's free WiFi and the coffee is good. I just wish it were closer to home. Seventy-five miles es poco lejos.

I had a book in mind before I even found a parking space. Cormac McCarthy connected with me three books ago and tonight I picked up a fourth. Except for four years in the U.S. Air Force, McCarthy has never worked at a conventional job his entire adult life. Supposedly, his sole means of support have been awards of cash from fellowships and income from his writing. He has known utter poverty because of his choice to simply toil at nothing except his writing. He's doing pretty well for himself now.

I picked up The Crossing, McCarthy's second installment of what's referred to as his Border Trilogy. The first was All the Pretty Horses -- a fine read. Forget the movie based on the book. His sentences weigh on you like lead. He doesn't waste them. Each is like a stone in a Roman arch, giving strength and support to the power of story. The settings of his stories are often sweeping and majestic, but the tone of his work can be somber and bleak, like my pueblito, Benavides. There is no good or bad. There's only the powerful story to ingest and nurture a primitive spirit. McCarthy strikes a chord with me. Sometimes I'm tempted to read his stuff aloud, and if no one is within earshot, I do.