Saturday, October 31, 2009

So Little Time

One of the finest souls to grace God's good earth walks among us lesser mortals here in the South Texas brush country. That is a fact. In the great cosmic scheme of things hidden and unknowable, a convergence of good fortune and Providence made it possible for moi to cross paths with this exceptional human being, and to make a long story short... I got my fortuitous little hands on the iMovie application.
Hallelujah! Can I have an amen? I have seen the light... and it comes from the 15-inch screen of a MacBook Pro!
My appreciation is growing for the software and the machine it's loaded on; so much so that I'm beginning to like it as much as a fat kid loves cake. My fidelity to the Windows environment goes back to 1992, so all this Mac business is new to me -- and as a lifelong-learner it is both exciting and strange. I am working hard at playing catch-up, but between work and hacking down acres of calite at the Ranch, there just aren't enough hours in the day to apply myself properly to the Mac world. There is so little time.

Some of that time was spent outside the office on Halloween. The company and its interests were passing out candied treats to the costumed kids that came by. It was all very entertaining. I used a Flip camera to record a few snippets of video. The raw footage would give me an opportunity to work with the iMovie software. I was anxious to just get something out there in cyberspace. I'll get better at it.

Friday, October 30, 2009

North to Alaska

On a phone conversation earlier this week a friend asked if writer's block ever took temporary residence between me and the keyboard. The answer was no. When you live en un pueblito there is abundant time to exercise thought and imagination. On any day 350 to 500 words can be corralled and pushed into my mental cattle chute and coaxed out as strings of thought. Blogging is as effortless as trimming toe nails. But tonight I chose not to step into the pens to sort the fat adjectives from the skinny nouns. The hour is late and I worked hard today from eight to five; later in the evening driving to Kingsville for "a few things." It's past ten o'clock and I just want to pull off my socks and vegetate. I reached into the digital archives and dusted off an old narrative I was reminded of tonight when we pulled up to the trailer.

I stepped out of the pickup and took in a lungful of nippy air. The night was still; cold and dry, with the temperature low enough to keep the moths from flying their dizzying death orbits around the area light. When I drew a breath through my nostrils it roused the sinus cavities. The sensation brought to mind a trip we made to Alaska back in the summer of 2005. Here you have one page of it. Buenas noches.

Above the Arctic Circle

Bettles, located at 66°54'48"N, 151°31'21"W, is a hamlet in the Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area of Alaska. When we were there it boasted a population of sixty-three -- if we could believe the sign. What makes it special is that it lies north of the Arctic Circle. Before the summer of 2005 we had never heard of Bettles, Alaska.

Melba and I rented a car in Anchorage to drive to all the tourist sites we wanted to see. Sometimes it's better to do it yourself instead of hooking up with a tour group and later finding yourself at the mercy of their schedule. We drove up to Fairbanks. Magnificent. It is beautiful country -- makes the Rockies look small. We made the rounds of Fairbanks and then booked a flight aboard an eight-passenger Cessna to fly us to a place called Coldfoot, north of the Arctic Circle. There's nothing in Coldfoot except a big fancy sign for the tourists. It marks some line of latitude north of the Arctic Circle. The trip up there was really for that one photo-op. You know.., just to say we were there. Bad weather and heavy smoke from some forest fires forced the tour company to cancel the flight, leaving our group disappointed. Most asked for their money back, but eight of us stuck around to see what the tour company would offer in the way of an alternative venue.

What they came up with, and for less money, was a hop to a tiny place called Bettles. It had a colorful history of which I was ignorant, but that didn't matter at the time. What was important was that it lay north of the Arctic Circle and my wife and I wanted to go. The weather was a bit better there and the smoke from the fires would not be a factor. Shortly, we were taking off in a light rain, headed north. Our pilot was a twenty-something year old named Tim.

Even at 10,000 feet we could catch whiffs of smoke from the distant forest fires and the Alaskan Pipeline was visible for mile after mile after mile. I snapped dozens of photos on the trip. Descending into Bettles the rain clouds grew denser and the air significantly bumpier. I'm not a pilot, but as we approached the gravel runway I could see that there was a strong crosswind and even a blind man could have sensed ours was not going to be an easy landing. I put my camera away and tightened my seat belt. My wife did the same. I whispered a prayer. When the plane rolled to a stop Tim the pilot, with a bit of relief in his voice, said, "That was interesting."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Something for Everyone

There were people and places to help you pass the time in Benavides this evening if you were of a mind to cradle a gun, a football or some cotton candy in your hand. At the north end of town The Friends of the NRA was conducting business with dozens of like-minded 2nd Amendment supporters and just two miles southwest of the happy riflemen the high school's Halloween Carnival was a center of food, games and excitement. We took my little friend Evan there, but as soon as he had his fill of hot dogs, soda, candy and the haunted house Melba and I made our escape with the boy in tow. I believe there was less noise and turbulence at the football game than at the carnival. Certainly it was more orderly over at the gun crowd. My tolerance for screaming children and hormone-charged teens has diminished considerably since retiring from the three-ring circus otherwise known as public school teaching. Ya no puedo, ni quiero.

In the sky above the band of bullet buddies and the adolescent swarm buzzing around the school carnival the night blossomed a ghostly white in the direction of the football stadium. The Bruni Badgers in blue were in town tearing up the green sod of the football field trying to gain an advantage over the red-clad Eagles. The pueblito enjoyed a lively existence for a few hours. At times it can be a pleasant place to live, but the stars, moon and planets must be aligned perfectly. In tonight's case it was a perfect calibration of guns, football and cotton candy that helped bring it about.

In only twenty-four hours the pueblito will grow quiet again -- almost lifeless. Friday is payday for a good number of people who still hold jobs and they'll be navigating the aisles of HEB and Walmart gearing up for the waves of costumed trick-or-treaters that will brave the broken streets this Saturday night. Those who choose not to stock up on candy will probably flee the town in search of a good Friday night football game. No contest is on the calendar tomorrow night for the Eagles, so E.C. Lerma Stadium will rest in darkness. Come Halloween Saturday the fun will begin again for costumed revelers young, old and in between. There will be something for everyone.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

La Corona de San Diego

If you cannot roll your "R"s please do not bother reading further. I don't want to imagine the air somewhere being disturbed by a sluggish tongue struggling to utter four pretty Spanish words that otherwise would produce such a lovely sound when strung together -- almost melodic pouring from a Spanish speaker.

The flowering vine strangling the mesquite branch in the poor iPhone photo above is known around here as la Corona de San Diego. Non-Spanish speakers have been mangling the pronunciation of San Diego for generations and lately those slick beer ads on television have popularized a ruined delivery of the Spanish corona. The word will not recover for another hundred years. Of course, the demographics in this country is changing so dramatically that rolling your "R"s will likely be as common as dropping your "G"s is now. For the moment, however, rolling your "R"s is important. Do not bring injury to this beautiful name, la Corona de San Diego. I pray some clever advertising promoter doesn't take the name and plaster it on some hot-selling product. If that happens, then the mutilation will be complete.

La Corona de San Diego grows wild and unattended in town and the rest of South Texas. The moist conditions in the soil, the generous sunlight and mild temperatures have coaxed these vines to splash tiny bouquets of crimson everywhere. They perk up the pueblito a little -- much like rouge on a bag lady.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


The sky was so blue today my eyes ached to look at it for too long. The ache wasn't felt so much in the sockets of my head, but rather as a pang deep in my heart -- liken to the dull anguish a schoolboy feels when he looks at a pretty girl who smiles back at him, but neither offers hope or conversation. He can aspire to her, looking long and longing hard, but she remains distant to him -- much like the blue sky today. Such are circumstances.

My heart aches for living, too. I honestly love this small patch of South Texas whose people, places and events have forged my development. The sweet clear air and the bright blue dome of this autumn sky over the greenness of the earth evokes a love for living -- of making each breathing minute of my time in this life count. A sense of newness has always stroked my spirit in the depths of fall. The geography of my location makes that feeling possible even here in Benavides. You see, I live in a frontier of sorts. On the outskirts of town between the brushline of the monte and scattering of modest homes on the fringes of the pueblito, the low trees between me and the squalor act as a welcome buffer that hides the decay of a dying town. The dying does not draw me in. Such are circumstances.

Speaking of dying... it's odd, but that same blue air space rained down death on four hapless souls yesterday when their plane fell out of the sky a few miles north of here -- only the heavens were not anywhere near blue. The atmosphere became a black churning monster sweeping death and destruction from west to east across the brush country. This morning people were saying, "if only they had waited a day." The fliers would have enjoyed beautiful cruising weather, landed at home in Florida and met their families instead of their Maker. Such are circumstances.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Going to the Mattresses

Reach for a big umbrella Don Corleone rather than a gun. Benavides has gone to the mattresses.

At noon today el pueblito received an aguacero of such magnitude that a mattress was seen floating down Highway 359. When the waters receded hours later it had finally came to rest on a street corner near the U.S. Post Office. It did not perturb local motorists in the least. The water-logged mattress was just one more obstacle to carefully steer around of. It was no more an inconvenience on the street than the pot holes, the dead possums or the under-aged drivers on their cell phones.

Weeks will pass before that mattress is dry or light enough for one man to lift off the ground. That man is Hound. He's the gentleman who works for Duval County Precinct Number 3 and is charged with hauling off items that have been discarded on the curb by their previous owners. Hound has carted off old water heaters, washing machines, ironing boards, televisions, tricycles, tree limbs... you get the picture. He won't touch an animal carcass, though. The turkey vultures, of which there is a large population circling overhead in all seasons, are welcome to take care of that smelly item. The collected refuge is trucked to some mysterious location out of town; out of sight... out of mind.

There was a brief discussion outside the Post Office concerning the origin of the mattress. As wet and spongy as it was it didn't seem in too bad a shape. From across the flooded street it did not appear color-faded, ripped or stained. It may well have fallen off a passing truck or trailer during the downpour today -- sliding out from underneath a plastic tarp. If so, someone had a surprise when they reached their destination -- and a sleepless night.

The mattress wasn't news for long in the pueblito. The news doesnt' wait around long before another development wins the spotlight. This afternoon it happened to be a plane crash a few miles north of town. At the height of the storm a Beechcraft King Air carrying four passengers went down. There were deaths. A dead body or bodies will always drown out all other news.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Precious Black Gold

What a terrible waste. My former little friend Javi (he's nearly twenty-five years old now) was just finishing up trimming my current little friend's adorable head of hair and I was sweeping gorgeous jet-black clippings from off the floor onto an old plastic dust pan. What a terrible waste, I thought. All that beautiful hair was headed for the waste basket. Why in heaven's name couldn't science or Providence figure a way to painlessly stick in on my head and make it grow so lustrous and thick it would dull barber scissors after one haircut? I suffered in silence and continued my sweeping, praying these boys I love so much would be spared my affliction. No man, saint or sinner, should shoulder so dispiriting a condition.

Were it not an affront to God I would sell my soul to the devil himself to again enjoy the necessity of carrying a fine-toothed black plastic comb in my pants pocket. In a former time I would unconsciously raise it to my head and run it through my thick crown of black hair. Oh, God... to once again form a part on my left side. Oh what joy... what ecstasy would be visited upon me. I would pay my weight in gold for so precious a black crown.

The clippings were soon disposed of. The boys never gave them a thought. They were only snippets of hair; waste, something you throw away -- soon forgotten by the boys. But I wouldn't forget. I couldn't.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

I Went to Visit a Friend

Elizabeth Todd Burns: an exceptional human being, the kind that makes this world a better place; ... a more pleasant place. Read all about it. Read it from the beginning.

Friday, October 23, 2009

TEXAS 808*57B

¡Por favor! Do you think you are the center of the universe, TEXAS 808*57B? This is a fast food drive-thru, not a truck scale at a TXDoT weigh station. For God's sake, if you want a juicy mouth-watering Whataburger with fries then park that train you're hauling and take a table inside. Somewhere in the drive-thru etiquette book there must be a rule against this sort of thing. And if there isn't a book or a rule then it's just plain common sense that tells you this sort of behavior is not civilized.

Our next stop after our dinner of burgers and fries was the Walmart. Oh... my... God. Don't even start me. What's happening to my America? I'm beginning to feel a little self conscious about not wearing baggy pants down around my knees or sporting one lousy "tribal" tattoo on my arm, leg, calf, neck, head, back, etc. Let's not even go there... and I was so happy yesterday.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Indian Summer

No doubt the photo above is pretty crummy. Mea culpa. It was taken with an iPhone at 7:28 this evening just before turning off the once-paved La Mota Street on the outskirts of town. There was never the belief that the iPhone camera would capture the glorious hues of a waning South Texas sky, but it was all I had on hand. The effort only served to record a semblance of what the eyes beheld at that moment.

The enormous Indian Summer sky on the drive home this evening from Alice west and south to Benavides was like a cruise across a giant artist's pallet. The stillness of the sky, the warm to cool gradient of colors glowing from that heavenly canopy, and the euphoric sensation that courses through your blood after a heavy Whataburger meal produced a combination of spiritual/carnal ecstasy. On a bell curve tracking contentment and happiness I was at the top in the minutes before and after 7:28 p.m.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Brush Country Fall

Looking south from our tiny porch affords us a sweeping view of a grassy pasture dotted with dozens and dozens of hay bales. Recently produced and scattered over forty acres, they are of the round variety. These tightly rolled stores of grassy nutrition stand about six feet tall and probably weigh a couple of thousand pounds in their green condition. A few months ago God Himself would have had a difficult time growing weeds on that same patch of earth. What a difference a few good rains make. If you mentally block out the squalor of the pueblito that's struggling only a hundred yards behind your shoulders and keep your gaze southward, the scene before me could pass for Wyoming grassland. I was in Wyoming once, driving north for miles and miles. I thought that before the day was over Melba and I were going to drown in an endless sea of undulating swells of grass.

We are enjoying the middle of the fall season in the South Texas brush country. Thankfully, the hurricane prognosticators were way off the mark again with their predictions for 2009.

That field sure is pretty to look at and the air is so agreeable this time of year. If no one was watching in my direction I'd run out there in the middle of all those bales and twirl around madly with my arms reaching up to the sky like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, but in a macho kind of way.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Crash of '09

The last few days Melba has grown weary of the frozen dinner fare at home. At her suggestion we met some friends this evening in San Diego at a new place called Luchazie and enjoyed a good meal. When we got home she plopped down in front of the television and I retreated to my computer in another room. Before I even switched the light on I heard the telltale metallic clicking that a failed hard drive makes. My computer had crashed. Time for a new hard drive.

Monday, October 19, 2009

12 O'Clock High

Behind the wheel of my pickup I am beginning to feel like the pilot of a B-25 flying through flak as the bumps, dips, and holes get worse and worse en las calles de Benavides. It's like Ba-BOOM!... boom-boom... boom... BOOM! Ba-ba-BOOM! I feel like a maraca -- all rattled and shook up as bad as my vehicle. The concussions would be a little tolerable if there was some rhythm to them, but there isn't. It's just Ba-BOOM!... boom-boom... boom... BOOM! Ba-ba-BOOM!

It isn't fun or funny.
Day or night we all look like drunk drivers trying to weave our way home after a night of heavy drinking. No one can drive perfectly straight for any stretch unless you're on the state highways that cut through the pueblito. It takes exceptional concentration on our part to steer clear of street craters -- large and small. It's taking it's toll. Motorists, especially young people, can hardly punch in numbers on their cell phones. Texting is almost out of the question. I'm tired of this, and so is everyone else, I'm sure. This street project better get hauling and show some progress.

If they don't get these streets finished before next summer I may suffer a nervous breakdown like Gregory Peck's character in the 1949 motion picture classic Twelve O'clock High. I'm reaching the limit of punishment this body can take with all the mileage on it.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Day of Discovery

This mañana state-of-mind some of us are afflicted with has a way of coming full circle and biting us in the ass. The ground, rich in moisture and nutrients, has produced tall stands of quelite around Mom's place at the Ranch. They should have been mowed weeks ago, but that miserable mañana attitude gave everything around here with a root system more time to grow taller and denser. Some of the quelite shot up five or six feet. I got bit in the ass this weekend.

The bright orange Husqvarna 48-inch-cut riding mower in the garage probably hadn't been fired up since before the new year and when I straddled it and turned the key... nada. Dead battery. Charging it was going to take hours -- hours I did not have. There were no more mañanas on my calendar to draw from. My little red 22-inch push mower was in the bed of my pickup, but that was insufficient cutting power for tantas malas hierbas. Some of those stalks were the width of broom sticks. It would be near futile to try and tackle them with the little 22-inch mower. The birds looking down from the power lines would laugh at the spectacle. This was frustrating. I cursed to myself.

An instant later a light went on in my head -- bright, the high energy-consuming incandescent kind, not one of those ghostly energy-efficient compact fluorescent ones. It was a discovery moment.
"I got it, you sonso! That weed-whacking thing!"
Hanging from a 16-penny nail hammered into a stud in the garage wall was what we called the weed cutter. Any idiot knew how to operate it, but no one around here had ever used it. There it was. I don't know where it came from or why we had it. This was going to be good exercise. I reached for it and pulled if off the wall, holding the instrument in my hands as though it was Excalibur.

Slipping on the pair of leather work gloves I keep in my pickup and then adjusting my dirty black work cap, I approached the green like a golfer. I raised that weed cutter as would Tiger with a driver in his hands and brought down my first swing. The blade made a singing sound just before contact. Wow! This simple tool was Excalibur. It sliced through the quelite like a thousand guillotines at the height of the French Revolution. I got to work. Whoosh... whoosh... whoosh... I was a machine. In the cool dry air I felt no pain. It was excellent cardiovascular exercise.

After an hour or so the great stands of quelite had been leveled and the little 22-inch mower was employed just to manicure the ground somewhat. My reward was a healthier heart and a few blisters that managed to form on these hands that are as soft as a woman's; even though I used gloves.

The birds strung out on the power lines looking down on the scene did not laugh.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Year Ago Today

A year ago today I was a happy motorist in Japan. These days I motor around South Texas, but with a different nature of happiness nestled in my heart. One place I drove to today was to the local gasoline supply monopoly known as the Quik Pantry for a $2.49 gallon of fuel for my little red 22-inch mower.

I mowed an acre of grass burrs around the trailer, then drove over to the town cemetery to mow the St. Augustine at the family plot, and finally to the ranch to mow weeds so tall you could hide cattle in them. Then the sun went down. That was four-and-a-half hours of my life today. What a difference 365 days make. I didn't have to mow $#!+ when we lived in Japan.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Change in the Wind

It was such a pretty day today with the air blowing cool and dry. The U.S. and Texas flags flying in the middle of town were flapping toward the southeast making the migration less stressful on the American Snout Butterflies. If they didn't stop for lunch they could probably reach the Gulf before sunset -- if that's where they're homing for.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Backyard Special

He owned one of the better properties in town. He also enjoyed one of the tallest privacy fences in the neighborhood. It was well over six feet high, spanning the length of this backyard. The area was laid out solely for his brand of entertainment. It had big shady trees, an assortment of barbecue grills, tables, and chairs to conform to any shape or support any weight.

Most importantly, he kept a good supply of mesquite wood for his barbecue fires in the backyard. Few in the county knew more about the nature of cooking with mesquite wood than he. Always on the lookout for downed trees, bulldozed country, or any place that might yield felled mesquites, he made it a point to keep a small gas-powered chainsaw in his pickup’s tool box. There was no telling when an opportunity to add to his wood pile would come about. The wood, cut to size, was kept in three covered bins, out of the weather. He’d let the wood dry for a least a year before he deemed it ready for his fires.

Not all fires were the same. He joked that he could regulate the coals of his fires to produce any one of a number of cooking temperatures. He claimed that the temperature of the mesquite coals and a keen awareness of cooking time were the secrets to bringing out the most flavor from meats. Not only meats, but pan de campo was also a product of his mesquite fires.

He was a one-man cooking show. Single-handed, he could manage the cooking of meats, baking of bread, preparation of rice, beans, tortillas, and pico de gallo. The man was a virtuoso of the backyard barbecue, all the while entertaining his guests with jokes and stories. One side of his garage was outfitted like a small kitchen. All could be found there; silverware, pots, pans, plates, cups, glasses, deep fryers, slow cookers, roasters, ice, soft drinks, beer, and liquor were ready-at-hand. Added on to the garage was a full bathroom for his guests. The man was prepared.

He was also a collector. As a teen he’d developed an appreciation for rare cans and bottles. Arranged neatly along the walls of his garage were long rows of his collectibles, each with a story of how, where, and when they were found. It was a prized collection that he was more than happy to show off and discuss at length with the unsuspecting. He required little to satisfy his soul. A this stage of life all he required for enjoyment were a good cooking fire and some friends for conversation.

With the more moderate evening temperatures this time of year he could start up his weekly barbecues. On afternoons after work there was plenty of time for himself. To pass the hours he would make a fire, taking care to pick the right pieces of wood for the particular coals he required. He would barbecue a few cuts of chicken for his wife and himself and enjoy the peace of the day. The two were alone now, their kids having left the roost years ago. The time they had, they had to themselves, responsible only to one another.

Yes, tomorrow he would build his small fire and cook up one of his friends' favorites -- carne guisada. He would mix up some pico de gallo and make the beans the way only he could make them. His friends always complimented him on his beans when they came over to enjoy conversation, a little beer and his cooking . His wife would sometimes prepare the rice. He would have preferred his old favorite, baby back ribs, but that was for another time. The carne guisada would do, the mesquite flavor making all the difference. He favored the foods he cooked outside in his backyard under the old palo blanco over the meals his wife prepared in her kitchen.

Sometimes he barbecued solely for himself. The backyard offered all the privacy he needed. The solitude did not bother or sadden him. He knew well that his friends had their own families and interests. He did not always expect visitors. The children, with lives of their own, had stopped coming for any of the holidays years ago.

He would sit by his fire, alone, as he found himself doing more often in the last few years, adsorbed in the comfort of his thoughts. The solace he found when reflecting on what he had accomplished in the years God had given him afforded him a small measure of satisfaction. His regrets were few, too few to waste his thoughts on.

When he made his small fires he could loose himself in thought for a long time. He would remember many things; his father, a conversation, a dance with a girl, a job, a place he'd been, the death of a friend, the silkiness of a woman's body. The fires triggered the memories. That is why he liked them. When he reflected on his life he took satisfaction knowing he had never shamed his family.

From youth he had worked to make his parents proud of him. He had come to believe what mattered most in life was a fear of God, good health, his family, loyal friends, and his good name. He had always applied his personal resources and energies to that end. In his estimation, his life had been good. These days he found himself reflecting more on the days that lay behind him rather than the ones that were yet to come. He did not like surprises and the past held few.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Butterflies

While outside today los puebliteros de Benavides were careful to keep their mouths shut for fear of gulping one or more of the millions of butterflies that came fluttering through town in a continuous tsunami. It was a sight better observed from a standing position than from a speeding car or truck. That could get messy.

These pretty winged insects are called American Snout Butterflies. They keep low to the ground and migrate by the billions in the late summer, keeping faithful to a northwest to southeast flight pattern. Nothing I've heard or read can tell me why that is so. I'd like to stop one of these little flickering fellows, grab them by their wings and ask, "Hey! Where are all of you guys coming from and where the hell are the bunch of you going to in such a hurry?" I may never know. Aside from their splattering impact on windshields, the clouds of butterflies have no effect on the landscape. Flying against the prevailing wind, they got to be powerful little boogers. Then, like a lingering fog, after a few days they are no more.

The iPhone video camera does a lousy job of capturing this beautiful dance of nature. I'm too pinche to go buy that Flip camera that I've been wanting. One really has to stand still in this streaming nebula of insects and experience it for themselves. It's dreamlike.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Voices Like Golden Honey

I have fallen in love with the caress of a woman's voice over the phone twice in my life; first in the winter of 1988 and again this year. How a tinny-sounding electronic reproduction over a long distance can have such an effect is inexplicable. There is no sense dissecting the reason. I am content to accept the pleasure of so rare an occurrence.

The first voice belonged to a desk clerk at the Best Western Swiss Chalet in Ruidoso, New Mexico. The year was 1988, long before you could book a night's stay through the Internet. You dialed direct in those days and spoke with a live person. Her name was Trina. She had a voice that I likened to a drop of warm golden honey on the tip of the tongue. After a long drive a week later that voice and I stood three feet apart. It resonated like angelic music. I've never forgotten Trina.

Earlier this year I took a call at my work desk from a billing and consulting firm in Laredo, Texas. The voice on the phone produced that same magic my soul had enveloped over twenty years ago. The source of the melodic tone was Lulu. As rare good fortune would have it, months later the stars, moon and planets aligned perfectly and dictated that business should take me from my pueblito to Laredo this morning -- ninety miles to the west and to that very same consulting firm. Twice in the span of one lifetime I stood in close proximity to female vocal perfection. This time I had someone take a picture.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Fear in the Hearts of Men

Drought dominated the conversation for months around here before the blessed September rains fell. Then it was the word verde that peppered every other sentence that came out of the locals' mouths. That lasted for about a month before the specter of the swine flu began spooking everyone in Benavides. When the H1N1 virus existed on the news channels no one lost any sleep, but no more. The virus in making live appearances very close to home these days and it's a killer.

People, mothers especially, are a bit fearful of this viral invader. A sneeze, cough or runny nose is cause for concern. There have been a good number of trips to the doctor's office in the last couple of weeks. There is a genuine fear in the air about this H1N1 thing. Mothers are clamoring for the schools to do more. They want information. The fear is only heightened when word gets out about the high number of absences in the school campuses. It's the talk of the town.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Why weren't we born here?

Ours is a large familia with many nephews and nieces who on occasion fall in love, marry and work to live happily ever after. My older sister's second oldest boy married a beautiful young lady last Friday in Galveston. Of course, we made the trip up to attend, but to take advantage of the visit to Galveston Island we took my little friend Evan. Travel is good for the young and malleable mind.

My little friend found Galveston much to his liking. How else could he come up with a question like, "Why weren't we born here?"

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Guide

I'm busy and the reruns keep coming. I cannot carve enough minutes out of the time others require of me this weekend to write a fresh post. Here's a little story instead.
The Tulum Express

Turning the corner Saul spotted the passenger ferry from Cozumel docking at the end of the long concrete pier in Playa del Carmen. It was filled with touristas; their pockets stuffed with spending money. If the day was a good one some of those dollars would find their way into his pockets. He would see.

Already his knees were hurting. The walk this morning from his home on Calle 26 Norte to the pier was enough to aggravate his old knees. Thing was, he was not old, he just felt it. If he was lucky his tour group would be made up of old men and women. Then he could walk slower and not punish his joints. Ay..., but if it was young ones..., Dios ayudame.

He saw that Manuel, the local guide boss, was already with his group of blue-shirted guides assembling at the pier. They were mostly young men with clear skin and bright white smiles. They always got the most generous tips from the touristas. Saul, too, had been like them, but he had been in this game for more than twenty years and his face was now lined and his smile was not what it once was when he first came to the Yucatan to work in the tourist trade. He looked down at his own blue shirt and wished his wife had pressed it with more care.

The tour company he worked for provided everything the visitor could wish for. They offered variations on tours to Chichen Itza, sailing, snorkeling, scuba diving, shopping, beach excursions, para sailing, ATVs, kayaking, swim with the dolphins, and a tour of the Mayan ruins of Tulum. Tulum was Saul's specialty. In his younger days he had led all kinds of excursions, but it was time to slow down. He had some money put away and he didn't need to push himself so hard now. The tour of Tulum was easy, but it didn't make his knees hurt any less.

Manuel handed him his assignment for the morning. The group he would be shepherding was from the cruise ship Rhapsody of the Seas. The mass of touristas exiting the ferry was making their way down to his blue-shirted group. He held his sign up as high as his five foot six frame allowed.

"Tulum Express!" he called out in his best English. "Tulum Express! Make a line here."

When he had his group of twenty-two assembled he was relieved. There was a lot of gray hair in this morning's tour.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Rerun

I am busy with family matters on this Friday. There will be no timely post. Instead, I offer a "rerun".
Failed at Life

It was minding its own business; the business of staying alive, and now it was near death. Snake adulthood, if a diamondback rattler was aware of it, was a stage of vipordom it would never reach. Johnny the groundskeeper had seen to that. It now lay writhing on the rough concrete of the sidewalk with a deep gash about half-way down its 25-inch length. The string of nylon whirling at 9000 rpms from Johnny's gas-powered weed eater had cut it open. A small worm-like tangle of guts spilled out of the wound. Worse still, Johnny had brought the full force of his boot heel, along with the considerable mass it was attached too, down on its broad head. It would never enjoy the bounty of food that was for the taking in the tall green spring grass on the rolling plains of South Texas. There would be no bugs, lizards, toads, mice or rats to satisfy its slow-working belly. It had failed at its only mission in life -- to stay alive.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Dark Ages

One minute the office crew is humming along performing 21st century work, the next, it's the Dark Ages for us all. We lost electric power this afternoon. In the time it takes to switch a light off we became mid-19th century dwellers. Sitting in the dark we weren't much good to anybody -- certainly not the company. On the bright side, our brief rediscovery of pleasant conversation was welcome.

Ninety minutes later the line crews worked their magic between us and San Diego. Power was restored and it was back to the present for us. The miracle of electricity forced us to shut up and return to work. The 21st century continued to churn on until the next dark age.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Not Enough Time

Worked until five. Drove the missus to Kingsville for "a few things." Snapped a photo at the intersection of FM 2295 and FM 1329 on the drive back home. Got home too late and too sleepy to write much. I have to watch an episode of route 66 before I shower and hit the sack. It was one of those not-enough-time days. Hasta mañana.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Get your kicks on...

Almost fifty years ago in another America, on another CBS, in another life I used to sit on the hardwood floor of a dimly lit living room in the company of my brothers, sisters and parents to watch an hour of route 66. The television drama was, and still is, outstanding entertainment. The series premiered in the fall of 1960 -- before Dallas, before the Beatles, before the Gulf of Tonkin, before Watts, and long before I lost my innocence. In those days tv-land was still capable of taking a writing talent like Stirling Silliphant and a gifted composer like Nelson Riddle to produce broadcast magic that has never been duplicated.

When browsing around the Barnes and Noble at the North Star Mall in San Antonio a few days ago I came across the 1st season DVD set of route 66. Immediately, I pulled it from the shelve and happily surrendered my cash.

Long ago I remember feeling sad that the series had finished its four-year run. About twenty-five years later the old Nickelodeon Channel ran the series for a couple of years. Then, it too, was gone. Ah..., but all good things come to those who wait. Watching the old series again reminds me of more comforting times long past. It reminds me of a once better Benavides.

Monday, October 5, 2009

La Mota Street

La Mota Street runs straight out of town in a west to east line that pairs up with FM 2295 a half-mile later. The east half of it was topped with caliche up until the mid-80s. That was the last time street resurfacing was effected in the pueblito. Back then the street crews scraped enough blacktop together and made of gift of it to poor old neglected La Mota. Enough found its way to the east side of town to top that last dusty quarter mile. The level surface was nice while it lasted, but La Mota has been pretty much finished as a paved street for many years. Benavides is a bit weak in the street maintenance department. Before today a good bit of La Mota looked like the remnants of a carpet bombing campaign. The pot-holed devastation was unforgiving on a vehicle's undercarriage. That will be changing soon, and unless you count the landscape turning from brown to green back to brown again, change doesn't come often to Benavides.

It's actually humorous. Just when the last nail appears to be sealing the pueblito's demise, some clever bureaucrats in the bowels of the great-and-everlasting-taxpayer-money-Disneyland-depository secured the funds to resurface the streets in Benavides. The scene that plays out in my head is something like this.
I picture the town in human form. Near death, it is in its last throes of life and a priest has been called to administer the Last Rites. A nurse gently cradles the dying's wrist in her delicate hand. As the priest prepares the Eucharist a shout erupts from the nurse. "Doctor! His pulse is getting stronger!"
That's what this city-wide street project that began on La Mota is today -- a sudden strong pulse. Life for the pueblito has been gifted. There are yet more spring rains, sunny days and laughs of children in the days ahead around here before that final nail is driven.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Grackles for Miles

I'm not an ornithologist and I don't play one on TV, but I'll bet Jim Wells County must be a major rest stop on the grackles' winter migratory route. Mile after mile after mile of utility lines paralleling Highway 44 was trimmed with millions of grackles performing a volatile balancing act on the high voltage lines. They looked like an endless string of black clothespins strung out on a clothes line with nothing hanging off of it.

Some stretches had so many of these shitty birds perched on them the lines noticeably drooped from the weight of the grackles. If these birds are going to hang around a bit longer they ought to a least earn their keep. They can start by taking a bite out of the numbers of pesky butterflies than insist on swarming over the highways. What they do to a clean windshield at seventy-miles-an-hour is nauseating. Far too many of the squeegee buckets by the gas pumps are filled with tainted water. The stench produced by the butterfly gunk left to putrefy on the water-soaked squeegees is a bio-hazard. I can't say with any certainty if grackles snack on highway-loving butterflies, but if they do they ought to at least have their fill while the eatin's good and plentiful. It would be a great service to their human co-inhabitants in these parts.


Today was my father's birthday. He would have turned 87. He was a remarkable man. It will prove difficult to equal the success in life that he realized in his 73 years. With the strength of a loving wife at his side he applied his personal courage, his strength of character, his limitless fortitude, and the resolve to do what was right for his family to make his mark in the world. I will be forever grateful to him for setting the finest example of what a man should strive to be with the time God gives him on this earth.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Clavo Déjà Vu

I was just about certain the days of picking up old rusty nails off the ground our vehicles roll over were behind me. What the months of dry wind didn't uncover the fall rains revealed. Of all the empty lots in all the towns in all the world, I had to park my trailer here. (my apologies to the late Humphrey Bogart)

It's Gotta Be A Record

People who were driving by our place and saw me outside probably wondered why I wasn't on my way to the annual 3-day Fiesta del Rancho in Concepcion, Texas. The 14-mile trail-ride was today. Still, others who saw me pushing the little red 22-inch mower back and forth across an acre of grass burrs in the punishing heat of this humid day thought I was simply trying to kill myself. That wasn't the case. I have absolutely no one to get the mowing done for me. No son, no tomboyish daughter, no helpful nephew, nadie. I got the mowing done, solitíto. It took a few hours, but I got it all done without help and without dropping dead -- all 43,000-plus square feet of it.

There are folks in town who'll gladly mow it for a fee. One fellow in particular from a Central American country I shall not name has done very well for himself. He does excellent work and is in high demand, even outside the county. I don't care to spend the money to have someone else mow around the trailer. This little body God gave me is still able and the modest exercise an occasional mowing offers has some benefit.

This rain water sure makes the weeds, grass burrs and buffel grow fast. Sometimes I miss the drought.

Friday, October 2, 2009

He Knows His Stuff

If I hadn't retired from teaching I would never in a thousand years come across the name Bobby E. Dusek. Today, because my work arena is the home health industry, I not only know the name, but it's become important. I met the man yesterday in San Antonio; the first time was in a large meeting room at the Airport Hilton and the second was up close, in an elevator on our way down to an early breakfast. He was in town presenting a two-day billing and reimbursement seminar for home health agencies. Mr. Dusek knows his stuff. His booming and authoritative voice reached every ear in attendance without the aid of a microphone. His sole gripe about the present economy was the cost of the coffee for the seminar attendees the hotel was charging him. The San Antonio Airport Hilton hit him for $60 a gallon. That was a bargain he said. The Las Vegas Flamingo squeezed him for $67 a gallon.

Based out of Amarillo, Texas, Dusek is a CPA and home health consultant. He crisscrosses the country lecturing and training groups of home health agency personnel. His resumé is impressive and his experience in the industry goes back more than two decades. There was not one wasted word in his presentation. He used his time wisely and distilled as much insight and information into the time allotted as humanly possible. Bobby Dusek is a former U.S. Marine and I would be very pleased to one day soon know a least a fraction of what he does of operating an effective and successful home health agency.

I have reached an age when I mull over health care a great deal more than when I was young and invincible. Certainly the aging population in and around pueblitos like Benavides think about it as well. The great crippler/killer of seasoned citizens down here is diabetes. The Tex-Mex cuisine is what's doing them in. It is ever so rich and tasty it is to literally die for. The doctors advice them to stay clear of it and many do. Ahhh, pero no dejan las torillas.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Stuffed in San Antonio

Attending a two-day work-related seminar in San Antonio. After hours of information overload we seek gastronomical satisfaction. So much food and so little time. Otra cerveza, por favor. No ganas to post nada. Una mas for nightcap.