Sunday, November 29, 2009

Deployment

I was up to Beeville this afternoon. The drive was pleasant and the countryside looked placid and green even as late as it is in the year -- didn't have to run the A/C. My little brother's oldest boy is on leave from Uncle Sam's army for a few days. He returns to his duties later this week and then he will ready himself for deployment to Iraq next month. He's a good kid -- 25. This will be one Christmas that will not be celebrated with his young wife and two kids. The baby girl hasn't been walking long and the other can hardly roll over by himself. My nephew's wife is brave, strong and able. She will have to be. These are fine young men and women our country sends overseas for months on end and it goes without saying that the separation is far from easy. They could use our prayers -- the brave who go in harms way and the equally brave who bear the long months without the embrace and comfort of loved ones. For a free people war is a necessary stupidity.

A quote attributed to the English novelist George Orwell comes to mind.
"People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."
My brother and his wife worked hard to raise their son to be a fine and caring young man, and he is. But to crush under heel those who work to destroy our liberties and way of life, my nephew has chosen to be a rough man in service to America. He will deploy with his brothers-in-arms who, too, are rough men.

Sleep well, citizens.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Una Tarde Agradable

Melba and I spent a very pleasant afternoon with friends in Portland. In the company of good people we shared good conversation, a good meal, good wine and some very good laughs.


An old friendships separated by decades is a curious bond. My friend and I graduated from high school in 1971. For some that's a long time, but in my mind's eye it was only a few short breaths ago. The years compress themselves the older I become. Flipping through the memories becomes as easy as thumbing the pages of a booklet. I can count on my fingers the number of times he and I briefly crossed paths since the night we walked across the school auditorium's stage to accept our diplomas 38 years ago. It's fascinating, but it does no good to examine it to death. What I find amazing about an old friendship is how effortlessly it can be picked up from where you left off ages ago. Add to that marvel the wives we have been married to for thirty-plus years and you have something that begs dissection and examination, but it is best left undisturbed. It would be like handling a fun toy and taking it apart to see what makes it tick. You will have gained knowledge, but lost the magic.

This was an exceptionally good Saturday afternoon. Fue una tarde agradable y pasamos un buen tiempo.

One Year Ago Today

Melba and I were in Kyoto, Japan one year ago today. We rose at 3 o'clock that morning and by 4:30 a.m., without any breakfast in our bellies, we were standing on the platform in Fussa with tickets in hand for the train to Tokyo. It was dark, cold, and raining. Our sleepiness was exceeded only by the excitement of what lay before us; the Shinkansen, Japan's famous bullet train. I was anxious to experience the feeling of zipping along the rails at 188 miles per hour on the way to Kyoto, 350 rail miles to the west through the Japanese countryside.

I "borrowed" the picture above.

At Tokyo the train station was remarkably busy even at 6:50 in the morning when we pulled out. The interior of the Shinkansen was spacious -- lots of leg room, the seating great. If only the airlines would duplicate those conditions flying would again be a pleasant experience.

And what efficiency! The train was staffed with the most professional and congenial people; from the conductor to the gal that gathered the trash. As each entered or exited the coach he or she would face the passengers and bow. What wonderful etiquette. I missed this formality when we got back to the rough and tumble U.S.A.

We pulled out of Tokyo at 6:50 a.m. and arrived in Kyoto at 9:11 a.m. The stop in Kyoto to get off the Shinkansen was two minutes long. As quickly as that, the train was gone.

Melba and I posed in front of the Golden Pavilion Temple in Kyoto. That real gold on the temple walls.

The grounds around the temple were picture-postcard beautiful.

This young lady was one of many uniformed bellhops in the Kyoto Hotel Okura. I did not let an opportunity to pose alongside her slip by.

This was the entrance to the Fushimi Inari Shrine. It is home to countless torii gates. It takes about two hours to walk the entire trail.

Some sources place the number of torii gates at 30,000.



I have to thank Melba for asking these Japanese blossoms to pose with me for a picture. When I laid eyes on on these beauties I lost my power of speech.

We left Kyoto at 1:29 p.m. and arrived in Hiroshima at 3:05 p.m. -- 170 miles later.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Beer Caution

Benavides, and the whole county for that matter, has a serious drinking problem. Had I been more business-sabe as a young man I would have studied sales trends, seen the rise of lite beer labels and invested in a beer distributorship. I'd be busy with my time running to the bank instead of posting to a blog with five readers.

This holiday season the motto for the Quik Pantry convenience store in our pueblito ought to read "Piss Away Your Paycheck." Passers-by need to be cautioned about the beer consumption around here. Our population is posted at only 1686 on the city limits signs , but the countless cases of Natural Lite taking up most of the floor space at the Quik Pantry leads me to wonder how many local consumers out of that 1686 are going to guzzle down these many cans of beer-flavored swill?

There are a good number of deer hunters overnighting in camps all around here. They're often seen at the Quik Pantry stocking up on goods necessary for an extended hunt. I would hope that they were not the targeted demographic for sales of this Anheuser-Busch piss-colored obscenity, Natural Lite. I expect more from folks who dole out top dollar for a first-rate hunting experience. No. The hunters are blameless. It is certain that the locals, whose mantra is "quantity over quality", will consume this $3.99 a six-pack stack of canned waste water. Its low price must dull the nerve endings of their taste buds. That is a serious drinking problem.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

All Boy

Evan wants to pump gasoline, air-up tires, work with hand tools, dig with a shovel, use a handsaw, hammer nails, pick up ants with his fingers, and wash and squeegee my truck's side windows. Carving today's Thanksgiving turkey did not appeals to his interests; even if it did involve using a big knife. He is all boy. My little friend loves animals; furry, feathered or fishy -- but he doesn't trust ostriches.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

El Trago

Last night I was talking with an old high school friend using Skype, the video/audio app for real-time face-to-face communication over the Internet. He lives in Portland, Texas. The Skype idea was his suggestion -- to spare our cell phone minutes. One of our topics was wine. Earlier my wife and I happened to be sampling a Cabernet my Portland friend had given me a short while back and she liked it very much. Later in the evening I looked it up on the web and learned that it was a very pricey label that my friend had gifted, so I called him up to thank him again. Before we were through talking I had killed the bottle all by myself, except for the one glass Melba had enjoyed earlier. It was all so mucho bueno.

I never drink alone, but my friend was sitting in virtual space at my kitchen table via Skype, so I convinced myself that I was not drinking solo. Although, he did not imbibe at his end. Before we clicked off that evening I was enjoying a pleasant buzz. It worked to joggle loose faded memories and the misty minded malady brought to mind an incident from about 25 years ago.

One afternoon Dad and I were driving back to the Ranch from the South Texas hamlet of Concepcion. Topping the hill not two miles south of the house we happened on an old red sun-baked pickup that had run off the road and torn into a barbed wire fence. Its front end had smashed into a stout cedar corner post, so there was a respectable amount of damage. Those old corner fence posts are about thirty-six inches round and set firmly six feet into the ground. They're not going anywhere and I ought to know. Over the years my brothers and I helped Dad plant a good number of those sonsofbitches along countless miles of fence on the Ranch. They don't make them like that anymore. The fences Dad strung were made to last. Sometimes, on the last day of a fence job, if there happen to be a small imperfection in the twist of a wire or a bow in a line post, Dad would say that he would be long gone before someone else came along to replace it. He was right. Some of fences he strung are nearly fifty years old.

The truck's two occupants were still sitting in the pickup so we figured the mishap had occurred only moments before. Dad slowed and pulled off onto the barditch. Walking up to the scene we observed movement from a pair of heads. They were bobbing so we figured no one was dead. What they were was dead drunk. The old fools had been making good progress on a bottle of Old Crow on their merry trek south on Highway 339. Between them on the bench seat and on the floorboard were the remnants of a couple of six-packs, a fifth of whiskey, and the bottle of Old Crow. These old fellows took their trago seriously.

Not really needing an explanation with all the telling evidence in plain sight, my Dad asked the driver, who was still in his seat, "¿Que les paso, pariente?"

I was over on the opposite side seeing if I could assist his passenger. He was just sitting there rubbing his forehead. His hat lay down on the floorboard by his boots.

"¿Como se siente, hombre?" I asked. When I scanned the interior of the cab I took special notice of the smashed windshield. There was an impressive melon-sized indent in the shattered glass were the old man's head had met the windshield with considerable force. It was a wonder the impact hadn't split his head open. Thank God for small miracles. The lines from the song God Loves A Drunk ring true.
But God loves a drunk, although he's a fool
And he wets in his pants and he falls off his stool.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Quitting Time


It's amusing that there are people in Benavides who have been around so long they still refer to me as joven. I'm 56. These are men and women who were young and pretty when the pueblito was a vibrant community. If I lament its passing I can only imagine how its demise affects the more seasoned citizenry. They must appreciate the fog as much as I do.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Morning Veil

From this perspective fog is welcome in Benavides for two reasons. One, no long commute to work lies before me. The job is only a three minute drive away and the danger of poor visibility on the road is a brief affair. Two, the morning fog veils the pueblito in a dewy softness that masks its blemishes until the late November sun burns the dampness away.

This is an excellent time of the year in this part of the country. For those whose memories of fall and winters past are a storyboard of bitter cold, shoveling snow and icy sidewalks, South Texas is a bit of heaven -- climatically speaking. Hell! We're still wearing T-shirts and running our A/C units; though only a little. I can appreciate how all those thousands of Winter Texas haul their 40-foot travel trailers down here to bask in the warm winter sun while the less fortunate in the deep freeze belt of the USA curse the cold. It's going to be a pretty day once this fog lifts.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Week Ago Sunday


Ours was a stay-at-home weekend on the calendar, but a week ago we were up to Austin to ride trains, cruise through a game reserve, see the bats swoosh out from under the Congress Street Bridge and to take the kids to see some military history at Camp Mabry. Both Evan and I liked the tanks on display the best. With a Flip camera in your pocket it is so simple to capture the action and the Mac makes it even easier to share it to the world.

The iMovie 8 application on Macs is awesome. The more familiar I become with it the more I realize that I need to get my hands on iMovie 9. That son of a gun has a video stabilization feature that I must have. Movie editing was fun before, but this app makes it way much more funner. The only drawback is que me quita mucho tiempo. iMovie 9 would have helped render my shaky video into a smooth-as-glass production. I think I can get it for under $80. A Mac loaded with iMovie 9 and a MinoHD Flip camera.... hey! ...we're talking Cecile B. DeMille time, baby!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Can You Hear Me Now?

We do not own one single cat, and yet we shell out $6.99 every week for a bag of Fancy Feast Gourmet Gold dry cat food. It is very good eating if you happen to be a cat. Every bite is a pricey nibble as far as I am concerned, but then my wife the animal lover is generous to a fault. So if feeding cats that do not belong to us gives her a small measure of comfort, then who am I to complain? Let her drop a three-pound bag of the stuff in the grocery cart every week. Hell! What's $400 a year to feed cats with no names and that don't belong to us? If it helps keep the little lady happy, then I'm happy.

Back in January the first morning I stepped out of the trailer a nice looking black cat with white socks and matching muzzle ambled up to me and started rubbing against my ankles as if the two of us had a long-standing relationship. "Hey, Melba!" I called out. "You gotta cat out here!"
Melba loves cats. Seeing the furry creature would gladden her some. She came out to have a look and expressed a tender "Awhhh... it's so pretty." She found something in the kitchen to feed to the animal and after it finished lapping the last of it from off the concrete slab we thought no more of the cat.

Word of my wife's benevolence must have got on the cat grapevine because the next day Mr. White-Socks-with-Matching-Muzzle showed up with a great big husky-looking tabby. Melba took one look at the pair and made a mental note to herself to get a bag of cat food next time we went to Walmart. Apparently, cats can read human thoughts because a week later a third cat showed up. He had white fur, a brown-striped tail, a crown of fur on its head that was wheat colored and only one ear. Well, a first it appeared to have only one ear. The one on the right side of its head was normal-looking enough, but as it drew closer I could see that the left ear had been badly mangled in what must have been a flesh-ripping mother-of-all-cat-fights rumble with some feline rival. There wasn't much left of the ear except a bloody wrinkled flap with a bit of that wheat-colored fur on it. I looked at the cat and said, "You poor fellow. What a mess." The cat focused his grey eyes up to me with a dismissive look that seemed to say, "You should see the other guy."

We've been feeding these three ever since, and Mr. One-and-a-Half Ears still shows up once in a while with that same left ear bloodied and looking like a piece of masticated beef jerky. I wonder if it can even hear out of that thing?

A Week Ago Saturday


The 14th was such a fun day. We would gladly have it again.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Final Solution

In a perfect world Benavides would have an Office of Urban Planning. The staff would be fully funded, full of determination and filled with fire in their bellies. They could arrange with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to roll in with a division of men and bulldozers to raze every abandoned structure inside the city limits; an action the likes of which would introduce urban beautification on a grand scale to the pueblito. It won't happen. Instead, the town will fall away in piecemeal fashion, two-by-four by two-by-four -- brick by brick. I see it happening near the corner of Humble and School Streets. Too many deserted houses and building are beyond any hope of restoration. They serve only to shelter varmints. Some actually have people living in them. These substandard edifices call for the final solution -- complete extermination. Let the weeds and brush reclaim the empty lots.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Fourth Plague

2009 A.D. has churned out plague after plague in Benavides, Texas. Drought, heat and, more recently, caliche dust have visited varying degrees of misery on the puebliteros. Oddly, some are indifferent to the suffering. As long as the cell towers in the area are operational the younger set will remain content whether the days are dry, hot or dusty. The whims of nature disturb them not, but soon enough even they will take notice of creation's play on the pueblito. Tomorrow's forecast calls for a ninety percent chance of rain. Can you imagine the sloshfest we're going to stir up around here with all the miles of dirt-naked streets in town? Plague number four is sure to be one of caliche mud and it ain't gonna be pretty.

Most folks in town won't be washing their cars and trucks for good long while. Perhaps the fortunate few who can still pull into their garages may want to hose and wipe off the mud at the end of the day, but there are few of those. As in most communities, perfectly good garages often become large storage rooms or get bricked up and converted to dens or game rooms. Our four-wheeled servants will sleep outside, exposed to the elements. They will suffer the dry, the heat, the dust and now the mud.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Straight Shooter

For the first time in years los puebliteros can steer in a straight line on a handful of the streets in Benavides. Dodging and weaving has been reduced significantly. I can drive the quarter-mile length of La Mota Street without looking as if I've just left the cantina headed for home. Pot holes large and small, cracks, dips and bumps are slowly beginning to vanish. Motorists just have to be mindful to roll their windows up to keep from choking on the dust that billows up from vehicles rumbling over the packed caliche. The aggregate is of poor quality -- too many rocks for prepping a base on which to spread blacktop. By night the twin beams of headlights slice through the powdery haze blanketing the pueblito same as they would through a thick fog. Few locals complain anymore. The clouds of dust that rise and fall day and night are a sign of coming improvements. The hopeful have come to believe that the layer of rocky caliche spread over what used to be fragmented blacktop is a precursor to the promise of mile after mile of smooth-as-glass pavement. But first comes the caliche -- truckload after truckload. Makes me wish I owned a caliche pit.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Minor Miracle

Thank God for minor miracles. My little brother Danny calls this evening to say he's on the road and headed to the Ranch for a visit with Mom. "I'll be there after supper," I say. We always have a good visit -- lots of laughs, good stories and recollections. Once we get yapping we're apt to get a little dry in the throat. Real beer, and not that watered-down swill that supposedly is the number one seller in these United States, is our lubricant of choice, but the stash we keep in Mom's refrigerator was depleted -- had been for days apparently. What to do? The pueblito is 5½ miles away. Danny volunteers to go next door to my other little brother Ricky's old trailer house to have a look-see. The place is vacant these days, serving mainly as a crash pad for the overflow of family when we get together on Easter Sundays, Christmases and such. There may be a few brewskies left over from our last get-together waiting patiently in his fridge. Danny appears a couple of minutes later with a cold bottle of Miller High Life and one of Budweiser. Thank God for minor miracles.

Humberto, my older brother, imbibes far less than Danny, Ricky, or I. He is more concerned with physical fitness than internal lubricants. Last Sunday he ran in the San Antonio Rock 'n' Roll ½ Marathon. Not bad for a 63-year-old dude. He finished the race with no lasting aftereffects. Thank God for minor miracles.


Humberto is the bearded fellow in the red shirt who crosses the finish line just as the countdown flashes the number one.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Taking a Dip

The puebliteros are all talking about the "dip" in temperature. "It's gonna get cold tonight." Their eyes grow large with excitement. Some fold their arms across their chests, baring teeth in a wide grin, feigning a chill. "It's suppose to go down into the 40s!" People were walking to their vehicles after work saying "I'm COLD!"

¡Por favor! Cold? It was only sixty degrees at seven this evening, for crissake . Cold? I want to take them by their shoulders, look them in the eye and in a somber tone say to them... "Amigo, I served with COLD. I knew COLD. COLD was a friend of mine. Amigo, you're not COLD."
It really isn't cold until you see a politician with his hands in his own pockets.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Texas Military Forces Museum

We were up to Austin this weekend. One of the places we took the kids to (we do not have kids of our own - these were borrowed) was to Camp Mabry, headquarters of the State Military Forces. Of course, there is no cost to the public to enter. The 400-acre camp lies inside the city limits, only three miles west of the state capitol building. For a seven-year-old boy it is an awesome place because of 1) the super military artifacts and displays housed in the Texas Military Forces Museum, and 2) the tanks, tanks, tanks of every description planted on concrete pads outside for public to see up close. My little friend Evan was in heavy metal heaven as far as he was concerned -- me included.

It was near shameful to learn that I had never heard of this place until a few weeks ago. It must be one of Texas' best-kept secrets because word of its existence had not drifted down to out part of the brush country. The museum exhibits are first-rate. They are patriotic, educational, somber and do an excellent job of outlining the history of Texas' military sons and daughters' role in shaping world history from 1823 through the present. The museum is undergoing much renovation and restoration, making for an even richer experience for future visitors. It is well worth the time and effort to come here. Out of a possible five stars I gave it 4½.

Melba and I enjoy short trips like this. We feel that it is important that kids experience more than Fiesta Texas, Sea World and other "canned entertainment venues" of that ilk. I am big into museums, history and natural wonders. Over the years we have taken kids (not our own) to The National D-Day Museum, Mount Rushmore, the McDonald Observatory, the Little Bighorn Battlefield, White Sands Missile Range Museum, the Grand Canyon, NASA's Johnson Space Center, Carlsbad Caverns, Yellowstone and the like. Travel experiences of that nature work to enrich a child's awareness of the world around him or her. It would certainly have made a difference in mine, but that is another story. Hell, I didn't see Houston until I was seventeen and up and to the age of fourteen I had not visited San Antonio but twice -- and Nuevo Laredo sure as hell didn't count as foreign travel -- then, now or ever.

We were on our way down to South Padre Island a couple of weekends ago when just north of the Sarita Border Patrol Checkpoint Melba turned to me to with an observation.
"This is who we are," she says. "This is what we belong doing. This is us."

Just she and I motoring down a long stretch of highway to any destination but home was what she meant. God knows that is true. We've been doing just that for years. From 34th and Broadway to Lombard Street, Melba and I have rolled over a lot of road in the land of the free and the home of the brave. It really is what we enjoy doing best. Since I was a kid I have just wanted to get in a car and go. She and I managed that for a long while, but now, we are in our fifties. The shiny veneer of that kind of mentality wears off with time and exposure, but I still dream.

Fact is, I always wanted to be like Martin Milner of television's route 66 renown; driving long, far and free on the blacktop network of America's highways. Yeah, baby! Me and my curvaceous honey just cruising along with the top down -- free as the wind -- nothing to tie us down or hold us back. The world is my oyster.

In reality, life has not panned out that way. After all these years I have lived long enough to accept that I came out of the blender as a 60s television Fred McMurray of My Three Sons fame, only without his luscious head of hair; a faux-father type acting as a male role-model to other people's kids. This last weekend certified that. I never for an instant felt like Martin Milner. He never had to look over his shoulder into the back seat to hush kids down as he struggled to survive the traffic of Austin's Mo-Pac.

Come to think of it, Martin Milner's Chevrolet Corvette didn't even have a backseat. At least I still have the dream.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

All Aboard


What little boy isn't fascinated with trains? My little friend Evan can watch the KCS locomotives pulling their long string of cars through Benavides 6 to 8 times a day if he wishes, but a little boy would really like to climb aboard and ride. Well, wishing just isn't good enough. Melba and I took Evan and his sister up to Cedar Hills, home of the Austin Steam Train Association. The fine people of that organization offer train rides. The one we boarded today, The Hill Country Flyer, departed Cedar Park at 10 this morning for a two hour journey through the Texas Hill Country up to Burnet, Texas. The train returned to Cedar Park at 4:30 this afternoon.

Friday, November 13, 2009

All Good Things Come to Those that Wait

As a pimply-faced kid I remember wanting to grow up quickly so that I could discover an 8-to-5 work environment that was populated by attractive women. I imagined that I would have to leave the pueblito and relocate to some distant locale to help bring about the necessary conditions to interact in close proximity to females on a daily basis. I was mistaken. Sometimes it takes a while, but God delivers an answer to prayer on His terms and on His timetable. If He had told me that I would have to wait until I was in my fifties before I realized my dream and that I would find it in Benavides, I would have lost faith -- but here I am. I believe I understand His wisdom. I think He was saying, "You can handle it now kid. Twenty years or thirty years ago you would have made a fool of yourself."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Todavía Puede

Come noon parking space becomes scarce at the Kwik Pantry. It's the only repository for bagged ice, cold beer, candy, chips, soft drinks, lotto tickets and gasoline off the state highway that cuts east and west through the center of the pueblito. When headed home for lunch I turn the corner there at 359 and 339 -- headed for my street, La Mota -- presently a quarter-mile strip of caliche. A quick glance at the big red on white CITGO marquee towering above informs me that regular gasoline has dropped six cents to $2.59 a gallon. My gaze moves down toward the pumps. There, I catch sight of Mom's gray Lumina along one of the pumps. Damn! What's she doing pumping her own gas? She was walking out of the dirty little store just as I pulled into one of the two remaining parking slots. I walked out to meet her as she was making her way back to her 14-year-old car. The numbers on its odometer mark a bit over fifty-five thousand miles driven.
Mom, call me. I've told you lots of times. Call me when your car needs gas. I can take care of it during my lunch hour.
That's alright, mijo. Lo hago mientras que puedo.
The woman has seen eighty-three winters, springs, summers and falls, takes only a couple of medications, has broken her arm twice in the last two years in some nasty tumbles she took, yet keeps bouncing back. Fiercely independent, she won't surrender her license to freewill. ¡Todavía puede la viejita!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I Am the Light

There is precious little area lighting in Benavides. The city can't afford it. The pot-holed dirt-naked streets of the pueblito are so dark a stranger to town would think it was experiencing a major blackout. Once the sun has made its exit, night is the master on the streets here. The entire length of my street, La Mota, is particularly inky. We live on the outskirts of town near the brush line with very few neighbors so the darkness is even more palpable. You can almost reach out a hand and stroke the night as if it were a hairless black beast. Save for the soft glow of starlight or the moon, were it not for the cheap area light bolted to my little porch the short stretch of road in front of our trailer would be completely enveloped in blackness. For a short section of La Mota I am the light.

Remember


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Impressive Show


Dinosaurs were set loose in the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi tonight. You would have been impressed to see how well they behaved. If you want to have a look for yourself their show is lumbering down to the Dodge Arena in Hidalgo, Texas for six days beginning this Friday. The tickets are pricey, but if you have the nickels to spare take advantage of their visit. Long or short, it will be worth the drive.

Ours was a long one; an hour-and-a-half to and another hour-an-a-half back to our pueblito. My little friend Evan enjoyed the show tremendously. He's blessed to have this blogging 56-year-old non-blood relative who loves him dearly and takes him places. Out here in the sticks there is little to nothing for young kids to nurture their gray matter with. No great educational or cultural venues pitch their tents in this sea of brush that makes Benavides desolation. There are no museums, no art galleries, no great national parks, no concert halls, no tourist mecca drawing in a multi-national crowd to mingle with giving our young people opportunities to see, hear, and speak with people from far off lands (illegal aliens do not count). No great speakers stand on a soap box here to wax eloquently -- glorifying the English language. The closest we come to a lecture series are the occasional visits from children's book authors that my wife arranges through her role as the school librarian. The kids here do not have much of a window to the world to look out from. I was fortunate during my formative years. I enjoyed reading and had the 1959 Edition of the World Book Encyclopedia to nurse me along until I was able to leave the roost and see some of the world for myself.

The black and white photos of dinosaurs from that old set of encyclopedias were thrilling to this six-year-old ranch kid a long time ago, but tonight's show was absolutely awesome. It is gratifying to have survived this long to be able to sit and enjoy tonight's walk with the dinosaurs that 21st century creativity made possible.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Give a Dog a Bone

The putrid carcass of a young heifer or bull calf was evidently scattered out in the brush not too far from the ranch house. Few things smell as bad as decomposing flesh so it wasn't long for even Mom's lazy dog to sniff the air with curiosity. Its nose led it to right it. Judging from the remains it dragged into the yard it was certain that turkey vultures and varmints had pretty much picked the carrion clean leaving little for the dog to nibble on. That was alright with the dog. It was mainly interested in the bones for gnawing on and what entertainment value they provided for a lonely canine. All it had to play with besides an old tennis ball were the cats -- only they weren't much interested in playing back. The newly-found bones would be a welcome respite from the boredom.

Sometime in the morning while Mom was in town playing bingo with her lady friends the dog had made its discovery and took possession of a good chunk of the pelvis and the bones of the hind quarter it was attached to. These it dragged for a good distance to the ranch house. The dog had claimed its prize and had set out its spoils in a neat pile for his mistress to see when she returned at noon from her gaming and gossip session. Surely his mistress would be happy to see what it had found all on its own.

The dog was mistaken. Mom was not impressed when she arrived, nor was she pleased to see its collection of bones with leathery strips of decaying meat and hide still attached to the white. Making a face at the dog, she walked right by it and into the house without so much as a pat on its head. The dog cocked its head thinking perhaps it should have hauled in a bigger stash to get some real attention. It turned and then promptly ran out of the yard and toward the mesquite brush.

"Is it one of mine?" is what Mom was thinking. She was an observant woman. Even at eighty-three she had good eyes for looking into distances clearly. There hadn't been any flock of buzzards or vultures circling lazily above the pastures, nor had she heard the high chorus of yips from coyotes in the evenings. "Couldn't be one of mine," she hoped.

Across the highway on the high-fenced property she'd heard much rifle fire of late. The place had been leased to hunters for years and whether by design or laziness, the landowner still had cattle wondering through the brush on the other side of that game fence. Mom was thinking that perhaps "friendly fire" had claimed one of his and not one of hers.

No sense worrying over it now, she thought. She would count a bit more carefully next time the few head came into the corrals for water. The sight of those bones in the yard served to reminder her of what she had been telling the boys for months now. She needed to get those cattle sold. She didn't have the strength to ward over them, and her boys had precious little time to manage the few head she did have. Her boys had family responsibilities of their own and these days that was no easy task; not that it had ever been. Things had been so different when their father had been alive. Como cambia la vida.

Just then she looked out the kitchen window over the sink and saw the dog. It was running toward the house carrying something in its mouth.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Never


Melba and I took a walk on the beach this morning. In November you have it pretty much to yourself. Only a three-hour drive from home, we count ourselves fortunate to have this wonderful stretch of sand on South Padre Island, along with all the amenities of the city offers, to enjoy.

I was 15 years old the first time I saw the sea. It was the Gulf of Mexico. I stood high on a dune feeling as if I was looking out from the very edge of the world. I had never imagined anything so vast. Gazing out to the sea still makes me feel like I'm little more than a grain of sand in this universe.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Getaway

"Ours is not to reason why. Ours is but to do and die." In 1854 Alfred, Lord Tennyson penned those gripping words in a poem depicting the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War. It seems that the British Empire, along with its Franco-Turkish allies, was adamant about discouraging the Russian Empire from pursuing its self-serving interests in the crumbling Ottoman Empire. The Russians were flexing their muscle southward and the Brits would have none of it. They had too much at stake maintaining a delicate balancing act in the Middle East between the major powers in Europe and the declining Turkish Empire. With that many empires beating their chests people were bound to get hurt. Many did. Many died, disastrously, as Tennyson chronicles in his poem. He captures in words an interesting bit of history that makes for good reading.

On Friday my wife declared she needed a much-deserved break from the pueblito of Benavides and all its petty little dramas that fuel its nonsensical chatter. "I need to get away. Let's go to the Island," she says.

Before I mouth a response I hear a grave voice in my head ... 'Ours is not to reason why. Ours is but to do and die'.
"Sure, babe. Good idea. Let's leave Saturday," I respond. The voice in my head is quickly dismissed and now I'm thinking... 'A loaf of bread, a bottle of wine and thou!' But seriously, it doesn't take much coaxing to make me pack a few things and head down to South Padre Island. Despertamos allí el domingo en la mañana.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Sad Shame

Momeny Gym pictured in June 1959
The old Momeny Gym is going the way of Memorial Coliseum in Corpus Chirsti, Texas and that is a sad shame. One evening long ago when I was young and pretty I danced with a teen beauty beneath its cavernous roof. That homecoming night its shiny basketball court was doubling as a dance floor. A live orchestra played. I took the fingers of her delicate hand and lead her onto the dance floor. I was dancing with a vision. She was in my arms and the line of her lovely neck was a hairbreadth from my lips. I'm still a prisoner of the scent she wore that night. That moment was the first "best night of my life" experience. Years later I married that girl.

The abandoned school facility is a warehouse of youthful memories that go back to the 1940s. Games were won and lost there. It hosted prom dances from crew cuts to Beatle cuts. The Momeny was an arena for Halloween carnivals, Christmas festivals, schools kids' recess and wedding dances. In the boys dressing room Coach Hinojosa delivered well-placed licks with his custom-made paddle to the boys in my 7th grade class -- all except Tony because he was a sickly boy. Too many of us had gotten into the habit of not showering after coming in from P.E. I still believe one of the guys snitched to Coach on us, but he walked into the dressing and shouted a scolding speech about Godliness and cleanliness then lined us up and got to work. Poor Larry was butt-naked. I can still hear the sharp pitch of the slap the paddle made on his white ass. Coach had good form I suppose from years of practice. Sonny was lucky. He was near the end of the line and Coach did not notice him slipping into his underwear. It hurt, but I do not remember that anyone wept openly. That was the last time for me. I never got licks again and the advantages of good personal hygiene became very real. Everyone has a story they can tie back to the Momeny.

In the 30s it served as an airplane hangar in San Antonio before the school purchased it as surplus and had it trucked down here in pieces. The metamorphosis from hanger to gym was complete by 1940, but in 2009 it's coming to pieces again -- and not by design.

After a tremendous windstorm that tore through Benavides back in June of 2008 its roof was damaged badly and no effort was made to repair the venerable old structure. No le dieron un cariño. The negligence is unforgivable. To say the roof leaks in an understatement. What's left of it provides little more than spotty shade for the birds that have taken up residence in the metal rafters. The once shiny hardwood floor is ruined. The plastic sheeting that was laid over it served only to prevent moisture from escaping the soaked wood. Windows are shattered and the elements have their way with the old place. It's a sad shame. I'd like to save it.

The place is a memorial to the work of James Marshall Momeny, the first Superintendent of Schools for Benavides. Serving from 1918 until his retirement in 1938, Mr. Momeny worked tirelessly to bring quality education to the children of his adopted town. He died in 1950 at age 92. His memory deserves better than the indifference being visited on this wonderful place, the Momeny, as it's been known for generations of Benavides Eagles.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Corazoncita


The faster the two-and-a-half pound dog ran the slower my heart beat. You could almost feel your blood pressure drop. The little doggie had a calming effect. It was funny, too. I dare anyone to keep a straight face after seeing the dog's 3-inch tail stick out the custom-sized hole designed into its little disposable diaper. Her name is Paris and she belongs to Marla, a co-worker. Paris is the love of her life, her corazoncita. The dog is family and it paid us a visit before the start of the workday.

Paris has class. If it had been born with fingers and an opposing thumb I'm sure the dog would readily pick up a tiny fork to feed herself with at meals. She has nothing in common with the canine riff-raft that struggle to live day-to-day on the dirt-bare streets of Benavides. Paris is clean. Her hair is combed. Her tiny claws are manicured and polished. She wears ribbons and smells like perfume. I can't imagine this gorgeous little pooch sniffing another dog's ass. She couldn't reach her pea-sized snout up to one anyway. This animal is refined and probably lives better than half the world's population. Paris has never known hunger, cold or disease.

The average dog around here is a bitch, so poor it doesn't even have a name. They belong to a rough half-starved bunch; scarred, smelly, flea-bitten and ugly. These days they're covered in dust, too. They offer no calming effect. They are neither fun or funny. Certainly, they are no one's corazoncita.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Dust

At one end of the pueblito decades-old blacktop is being fragmented into fist sized chunks by heavy machinery. Mound after mound of rubble is scooped up and loaded into dump trucks by a fleet of diesel powered monsters, then hauled off, leaving the streets dirt naked. Traffic, such as it is, raises a plume of fine powder that hangs like an oppressive translucent cloud. The dust coats everything, mixing with the morning dew producing a muddy film. Near the end of the day the sun turns a burnt orange, while the moon floats a few degrees above the horizon as a dirty white orb in the east.

Should the weather continue dry the dusty oppression will only grow worse. On the other hand, if a good rain makes its way into the area Benavides will look as though everyone from grandma to the dog had lost their mind and taken up 4X4 mudding. Wet or dry it isn't going to be pretty anytime soon around here. Makes me wish I had invested in a car wash. The plague of dirt and grime around town are epic in proportion. Perhaps, but not nearly, Biblical.

The prohibition from using the term "Biblical" to label proportions of dust is owed to the fact that Benavides is so small and insignificant. We don't have the numbers or the relevance to claim that any curse or blessing visited on the pueblito is of a Biblical scale. But on some days when you can't see to the end of the block because of the dirt churned up by some idiot barreling through in a speeding truck, the vortex of dust does seem Biblical in proportion and it indeed comes across as a curse.

We're an optimistic bunch here in the brush country, Benavides especially. That optimism brings to mind some joke about the little boy digging deep into a pile of horse manure with his bare hands thinking to himself, "There must be a pony in here somewhere!" Patiently, the puebliteros (hat tip to Toddy Burns, the wordsmith) have been quietly performing penance in their beloved hamlet waiting for that eventual blessing from God because they've lived with the curse long enough.

Dust to dust. Amen.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Quality Time

Keep your Standard Time. It is of no use to me. Central Standard Time cuts the time I invest on my little friend, Evan. Someone with more sense please explain why the clocks are turned back an hour? We have no use for it in Benavides. Day or night there isn't much in the puebilto to look at, but at least with the sun hanging a bit longer in the afternoon you can avoid the pot holes and dead critters on the streets. The health-conscious who are faithful to their daily walks around and around at the high school track certainly wouldn't mind keeping Daylight Saving Time. There is no sense returning to Central Standard Time. More light after the workday is of greater benefit than more dark. Evan and I need to be physically out and about in the late afternoons and not forced indoors earlier by this silliness of moving the clock back an hour. The boy and I need to be outside as much as possible before he reaches an age when he no longer finds me useful or entertaining. He's the nearest thing to a physical trainer I have.

Keep your Standard Time. Encourage the kids in the pueblito to stay outside longer and run, jump, skip... hell, get them to walk to school. My kid brother was watching old videos of the crowds at Hemisfair 68 from forty-plus years ago and commented to me about the low plump factor in the kids and adults. We have become a less healthy people since those days. We just plain eat too much. I guess Lyndon Johhson's War on Poverty was won. There's lots of food on the tables of Amreica or on the TV trays, whatever the case may be. This last Halloween night was a parade of gorditos and gorditas in costume. The participants needed to have walked the trick-or-treat route instead of being chauffeured about. The situation is critical. Let's keep the extra hour of light and put it to good use chasing kids around in the playground. All will benefit.

I vote for more light in the afternoon. My little friend still finds monkey bars, see-saws and merry-go-rounds interesting -- no batteries required. These operate best under a sunlit sky. Evan still enjoys swinging back and forth and back and forth. How long will that last? Just give me quality time. Keep your Standard Time.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Colorless, Not Odorless

Just because the time clock flashes five-oh-oh doesn't mean the learning stops. I learned a new word today; thiol. The explanation follows. Stepping out of the office into a splendid autumn afternoon reminded me of how good it is to be alive in a relatively healthy flesh and bone body. However, with my first breath outside the low-grade euphoria left me quicker than luck at a Vegas slot machine. "Pee-shoo! What is that stink?"

In an instant I realized what it was. It was that junk they add to odorless natural gas to alert the unsuspecting of possible leaks. The city apparently had introduced mega-doses of the stuff to trace some major escape of gas somewhere. From the concentration that was assaulting my nose the Benavides gas network must have been hemorrhaging badly at more than one location. The air was cool and void of the slightest breeze and so what contaminants our noses were sensitive too hovered at eye level, be they the ever-present South Texas dust, the smoke from a smoldering trash fire, or that stuff they pumped into the pueblito's gas lines. Presently, it was the gas stink that was proving the most bothersome. It was everywhere and going no place. The dispersal factor was registering zero on the meter.

The foul stuff poured out of my pickup when I opened the door. Somehow a greater concentration of gas had collected in the truck cab and filled it up -- like rain water running off a gutter into a barrel. And the smell was so bad. I could just about taste it when I swabbed my tongue on the roof of the mouth. I adjusted myself behind the wheel with the pungent order permeating everything like bad cologne. I thought to myself that "this can't be healthy." ¡Que peste! Why can't they make it smell like garne quisada with rice and beans. That would still get our attention.

The stench provided a learning experience. The stink comes from an organic compound called thiol [thahy-awl]. I looked it up on Wikipedia when I got home. It was not always a reputable source of information, Wikipedia, but they've come a long way. You just have to be a bit more discerning. Wikipedia has earned my respect.

I learned later that some government-connected entity is coming to pay a visit to our little pueblito. It must be an inspection job because a lot of old gas meters in people's yards are getting fresh coats of silver paint. They look so nice now, and how they shimmer in the autumn sun.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

It's a Small World

I cannot recommend the iPhone for indoor photography but I will encourage anyone to sample the chicken scaloppini from the Romano's Macaroni Grill menu. The eatery is just off South Padre Island Drive in Corpus Christi. Better still, it's across the street from Barnes and Noble. Molto eccellente. Either the cook was exceptionally good this Sunday evening or I was terribly hungry, but the food was very good. The meal, paired with Isabel, a most attentive waitress, made for an agreeable dining experience. Me cayó tan bien, Isabel.
Would you care for some more wine?
No, thank you. We gotta long drive ahead of us.
You're not from Corpus?
No, ma'am. We live in the middle of nowhere. Way outta here.
Oh, really. Where?
Well... where would you dump a body?
I'm sorry... wha?
If you had a body to get rid of where would you dump it. You know... get rid of it.
I.. I.. ah..
If you're from Corpus you all just go and probably dump it over in Oso Creek. Hell, they'll find it the next morning. If I have a body to dump I go dump it where I come from. No one will find it there.
No, really... where are you from?
Duval County, darling.
No... I know where that is. Where in Duval?
The middle of nowhere, darling. Benavides.
Nooooo... Really?
You know where that is?
We used to live there. I graduated from high school there.
Isabel.... who are you? Who are your people? Había una razón que me cayites bien.
It's a small world.