Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve

The first time Melba and I came to Santa Fe was in the summer of 1979. We pulled off Interstate 25 just long enough to find the Pizza Hut, fill our young bellies and head on down to Albuquerque. We should have stuck around town and maybe have spent the night. I didn't have the sense of place and history I enjoy now and so I didn't have an appreciation for the place. We have come back many times in the years since.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Blue Corn Cafe

One block south and west of the Plaza in Santa Fe is the Blue Corn Cafe -- a fine eatery. They offer a incredibly tasty tortilla soup. It's a top-notch joint we've frequented for years and I recommend it. Simple decor, an uncomplicated menu and a great service staff is the winning combination.

It's not a place you just happen on and walk in off the street. If you want to eat there you have to know where it is and navigate your way to its second floor location.

What was different on this visit was a noticeable drop in table conversation. Not just at ours, but all around us. People are hooked on texting. My wife does not agree, but I think it's bad table manners.

It's a battle lost. Texting is becoming a way to converse with friends and acquaintances in real time -- in absentia socializing. The practically of texting is understandable, but communion via texting is bizarre. The action has no place at the table when good people are breaking bread.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

More Made Up Stuff II

Dragging the body over rocky ground, Juan saw that a shoe had slipped off the corpse's feet. After a few more yards through grass burrs and shoulder-high brush, its baggy pants started to roll down around the lower legs. Halfway to the tracks the briefs slid down around mid thigh and everything was getting coated with a chalky layer of caliche dust. The sight of his friend's lifeless body gave Juan an uncomfortable feeling. All its privates were exposed. It embarrassed Juan and then made him sick. He was nauseous. He gagged. He heaved, again and again. When he'd emptied his stomach he heard the train coming closer. He needed to hurry.

There were only a couple more dozen yards to reach the tracks. Hot tears and sweat were stinging his eyes and the back of his throat felt raw. His vision became blurred. He spat repeatedly, trying to clear his sinuses, throat and mouth of the burning taste of bile. His heart was pounding loud in his ears. His breath came in ragged gasps. The train sounded again. His arms and legs ached terribly. They felt like lead. He didn't want to look at Bobby's body, but he did anyway. His grip on his dead friend's wrists was getting slippery with his sweat. He let the lifeless limbs drop to the ground and wiped his hands on his pants leg. When he started pulling again he noticed that the other shoe had come off. He could hear the train's engine now. Juan's head felt as if it were going to burst. The pressure around his temples was unbearable. Just a few more yards now. He could no longer distinguish between the ground shaking rumble of the approaching engine and the torrent of blood gushing in his head. He felt dizzy.

He thought crazy thoughts. Why couldn't Bobby just wake up? Was he himself dreaming? Would he suddenly wake and find himself on his bed, in his own room, in his own house? How was this happening to him? The back of his heel hit the steel rail and he tripped, falling backwards across the tracks. This was no dream. He was exhausted, but he could not stop to catch his breath. The train was almost here. It was getting dark now.

He pulled the body over the rail and laid it lengthwise between the tracks. The lifeless form was a mess. Juan hadn't noticed earlier that Bobby's eyes were open, staring blankly at nothing. His hair was a dirty tangle with bits of dried grass, dirt, and burrs. The shirt looked little better than a torn rag and Bobbie's back, buttocks, thighs and legs were scraped badly. The shoes were gone and the pants were dragging like a sack tied to one ankle. It was a mess. The train was very loud now. Remembering something, Juan reached down into the pants pockets and retrieved a small bag of weed. He wanted to tidy up the body some, find the shoes, but there was no time now. He got to his feet, turned, and ran to edge of the brush line to hide. Before he reached it, the train came barreling past. That close, the sound was deafening. With his back to the blur of passing cars, he stopped and began to sob loudly, his mouth gaping wide, but he couldn't hear himself. Wiping his eyes with his shirt sleeve, he continued to run away from the sound of the train.

Monday, December 28, 2009

More Made Up Stuff

Juan hadn't meant to kill Bobby. After all, he was his best friend, or had been up until a minute ago, before his friend had pissed him off. With only one hard swing with a three-foot-long piece of dried mesquite root Juan had crushed the back of his friend's skull. Mesquite was such a hard wood it could dull the edge on an axe blade quicker than anything. It was plenty solid. Juan just didn't think he could hurt him that badly. Truth was he hadn't thought at all. He just picked it up and took a swing when Bobby wasn't looking. He'd hit him because he wanted to show him how angry he was, that was all. Killing his friend had never entered his mind. Bobby had just upset him to the point of violence. The odd thing was that he didn't feel bad. He really didn't feel anything, except sorry for his longtime friend. His first thought was the story he going to fabricate to explain what had become of his friend. Everyone in town knew they spent all their free time together. First thing someone was going to ask was, "Where's Bobby?"

The two had been walking along the railroad tracks that led south of town out to the old abandoned caliche pits. They liked to climb up to the top of the high mounds of crushed caliche. Once on top they could scan the horizon beyond the low brush far out into the distance. It was their favorite place to smoke weed. From their lofty vantage point they could see the town's water tower where he and Bobby had once climbed up to paint LULU I LUV U in big broad black letters. Lulu was a girl they both had liked, but Bobby had been the one with nerve enough to say it to her face. Juan remembered holding the can of black paint for his friend as Bobby applied his declaration of love for all the town to see. They both had been drinking beer that night. The next day neither could remember how they'd gotten down. For Lulu the embarrassment proved too much and she never spoke to either one of them again.

Up on the mounds they could also see the stadium lights of both the football and baseball fields. The two had played in each sport their freshman years, but it hadn't worked out. The coaches were too tough on them and they never even finished out the seasons. Even if the coaches had eased up on them their poor grades in school would have doomed them anyhow. He would miss his friend, but what to do about the body was the problem at the moment.

Then, far off to the south, he heard the train. From where he stood the tracks lay about a hundred yards away, across the caliche pit. He would have to hurry. He reached down and grabbed his friend by his limp wrists and began to pull him along the ground, digging his heels into the caliche soil as he dragged the body. Bobby was tall, but thankfully, he was also skinny. Juan heard the train blow its horn again at a crossing. He would just make it to the tracks.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Between Lives

A year ago today I was scrambling between lives. Melba and I had just returned from four months in Japan and were in the process of transitioning back to life in the old pueblito. The changeover was a bit of a strain. I was moving from having been a full-time tourist to that of a full-time worker again. To help with the mental decompression and adjustment from one condition to another we took a trip up to Enchanted Rock north of Fredericksburg, Texas. Naturally, my little friend Evan came along..

2009 proved to be an extremely satisfying year. The days fell away from the calendar as quickly as the leaves of autumn and it was amazing how soon we found ourselves facing a new year.

Many of the conversations in the closing days of 2009 center around the fast pace of time. "The year went by so quickly," I hear them say repeatedly. I agree. 2008 was one of great change for the wife and me, but 2009 carried us off like a bullet train and deposited us on the cusp of 2010 at neck breaking speed.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Something New

(Loosely based on an actual event)

She's been married to the same man for 26-six years. He was a good provider, always had been. Standing in the doorway of their bedroom, looking around at things all too familiar, she sighed. That antsy feeling was coming on again. She craved something new, different. She had the means, the time and the money, so why not. In the past she'd done it many times when the bedroom scene grew a bit stale, a bit dull, the same ol' same ol'.

That summer afternoon while the husband was away at work she finally gave in to her weakness, her itch. Dialing the number from memory, when answered, she told the voice at the other end that she would be there in an hour. She dressed, fixed her hair, perfumed herself and took one last approving glance in the mirror. Out the door she went.

She knew from experience that the best place to find something new and different was at the mall. Excited, she drove there a little too fast, her heart racing. At this hour there was still plenty time to do it before her husband got home. There was lots of parking when she got there and found a spot near the rear entrance. Twisting the rear view mirror toward her she retouched her lipstick and stepped out of the car.

The blast of cool air felt good on her skin when the glass doors automatically slid open. Just like she had done many times before she walked directly to this one establishment. He would be there. Anxiously, she walked around, scanning the place, anxious to make contact. Then, there he was. Their eyes met and she walked directly to him.

"I need to have it before my husband comes home," her smile revealing a beautiful row of glistening pearly teeth framed by moist red lips.

"Yes," he agreed. "As soon as we load the truck your new bedroom suite will be delivered today."

Friday, December 25, 2009

Feliz Navidad

On this Christmas Day the noontime temperature in the pueblito was a pleasant 53 degrees. No movement could be felt in the air and high above the sun was bright against a blue sky brushed by thin wispy clouds. Five years ago to the day Benavides awoke looking like a picture postcard winter wonderland. She was for a day as beautiful as any New England hamlet on a snowy Christmas morning. Today the old gal looks like a poster for disaster relief.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Goodbye 2009

A stranger to these parts would be surprised to find flourishing businesses populated by remarkably talented people who are full of life and vitality even in the decay of this declining pueblito. I am fortunate to work among them.

If your YouTube is blocked the video is also available HERE.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Brick Wall

I am composing little stories again. One is posted below the video. Tomorrow I will talk to a few folks at work and showcase them in my own little video just as my fearless friend Toddy Burns does -- and does so well on her blog at RanchoLosMalulos.com.
Here is her latest effort.

---
Here is my short sketch called "The Brick Wall."

The brick was cold in Mario's hand and it didn't help matters any that he was bricking a north-facing wall. He was bundled up pretty good but once his feet got cold he was pretty much cold inside and out. Conditions were bad. The brick work ought not to have been done on a cold and damp day like this, but he was not the boss. Mario did what he was told. He would not be responsible for the cracks in the mortar that were sure to appeal in the warmer months, long after the work was finished. If word ever got back to his boss, Mario knew that he would point the finger of blame on the bricklayers.

He and his co-workers were working on an addition to a high school. Every day he could see all the young people going to and from class. Their silly and foolish behavior troubled Mario. Sometimes he felt like going over to shake them by their shoulders and tell them to behave like young men and young women. They acted like young fools wasting their time and their opportunity for a good education. It made Mario feel sad about their futures and it also made him think back to his own youth. How many days had he wasted in foolishness he could not say, but it was certain that they were too many. Had it not been so he would not be working off and in this stage of his life as a day laborer -- laying brick on the north side of a building on a cold and wet windy day.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Lunch is on the Boss

"Lunch is on me," said the boss. I absolutely love that woman.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Just Making Stuff Up

Just then, Angie, the school secretary poked her head in the teacher's lounge and called out loudly, “There’s a fight! They’re fighting in the hall. Hurry!”

Quickly, the men took long steps out of the lounge, through the office area and into the hallway. A small circle of kids stood, eyes wide, in a tight circle around two boys who were fighting. They were going at it pretty hard on the floor. Like girls, they were clawing at each other more than anything. One already had his shirt ripped and his nose bloodied. Their faces were cherry red. Sam and Diego broke through to the center and tore the boys apart. They were still in a vicious mood but most of the fight had gone out of them. Sandoval and Max shooed away most of kids who had gathered to watch, then turned their attention back to the two rowdies to see if Sam and Diego needed any help. From experience they knew that once these guys got their wind back they could easily launch themselves at one another in an instant, and Diego and Sam, both in their fifties, though fit, were no match for two teens who had their blood up. The two were soon in tow to the office. There may not have been too much fight left in the boys, but the two spewed curses, insults, and obscenities at each other over the objections of their adult handlers.

“Probably over some girl,” said Max.

“You know a better reason for two high school boys to fight?” asked Sandoval.

“It’s stupid,” said Max.

“I think you’ve forgotten what it was like to be a hot-blooded teen-aged male, Max,” said Sandoval.

“Sam is right. You still think with your little head instead of with the big one,” said Max, trying to make light of it.

“Sam should keep his opinions to himself, is what I think,” said Sandoval, not at all happy with Sam making judgments like that about him.

When the two got back to the office the security officer had already taken charge of the boys. As the disciplinary officer for the campus, Max stayed with the officer to fill the necessary forms. Very likely, the boys would be charged with assault, given citations, and it would become a matter for law enforcement, not the school. Such were the times.

“There’s another reason why I’m leaving teaching,” said Diego. “I’ve got a goddamn college degree. I didn’t get an education to act as policeman to a bunch of assholes in school. It gets worse every year.”

“I can’t say I blame you,” said Sam. “Things like this just come with the territory.”

“If that’s the case then I’m getting out of Dodge, buddy,” he said. Before he finished his thought the first bell rang.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Disappearing Night

Since the electrification of the rural areas the dark sky has been slowly washed out from above the South Texas night. For some of us the beauty of the nighttime heavens is only a memory from our days of growing up in the rural towns, farms, and ranches. Even as isolated as the pueblito is, light pollution is creeping up on Benavides like an ominous oil slick on the surface of the sea.

Can you remember the last time you looked up in the night sky and gazed in awe at the celestial glory of the Milky Way? How many people even know what it is anymore? Click on the graphic above and take a good look at light pollution in our area. The gray areas enjoy minimal impact from artificial light. The night sky above the lilac colored areas is noticeably affected. Green areas begin to suffer some of the washout effect caused by the proliferation of area lighting. Yellow colored areas are impacted by a significant washout of the stars and the light orange areas surrounding cities and urban centers obliterate the Milky Way altogether. In the not too distant future I imagine children growing up without ever seeing and enjoying the wonder of the stars.

For more go to www.darksky.org.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Schlitterbahn Xmas

Melba thought the boy should see the festive lights and sounds of the Schlitterbahn Hill Country Christmas spectacular up at New Bransfels, Texas... and so he did -- three hours to and three hours from. It was alright. We got home at 1:27 a.m. Sunday.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Blend into America

A short short short story is all I offer. The pueblito is especially quiet and all there is to write about are the things hanging in people's closets... and we do not go there out of respect and a little fear. Tales of peoples little secrets are like grapes in a vineyard. There is so much juice in the local gossip that if it were to be bottled, fermented and aged the wine it would produce would be terribly bitter.

I am growing weary of my own posts about the bad streets, the dirty little store, the dilapidated houses, the drunks, the drugs and the pueblito's isolation. So instead, I choose to make something up to post.
---

Sometimes Luis thought that it would be better to have la migra find him. At least he would have a meal and sleep indoors instead of out in the brush with the mosquitoes. He missed his family, his mother most of all, but she had given her blessing so he shouldn't feel bad about leaving the family. His older brother, Librado, had also received a blessing from her, but the family hadn't heard from him in two years. Thinking about him made him sad and gave him a bad feeling in his chest.

His uncle, who had crossed many times, had said that this was the best time to cross. It would be hot, but at night the skies were clear and he could cover many miles. Tío Samuel had been wrong. He had not seen the sun since before he crossed and everything was wet. The rains came every day. What scared him most was the lightning. There was no place for protection in the brush. Worst of all, he was alone.

Luis was captured the first time he floated across the Rio Bravo into Texas. He went to jail, was dumped back into Mexico, then begged for money to travel to Matamoros where he reconnected with the same coyote who'd helped him the first time.

The coyote had put him in the first of two groups to cross the river. What Luis did not know was that it was a decoy group meant to be caught so that the second group could slip across undetected. It was a common trick that he was not aware of. Luckily, he was at the tail end of the group when la migra discovered them. When his group broke up to make a dash into the brush, running in the dark, he lost his footing and tripped, falling headlong into a shallow pool that was more mud than water. That saved him. The coating of mud on his body rendered him invisible to the Border Patrol's night vision equipment. He lay in the muck for what seemed like hours until he was certain that no one was around. Then he began his trek north with no guide and no clue. All his hopes had rested on the coyote's plan. He was on his own and he could not help feeling that he was dancing with death. Crossing the river was easy, but making his way north from the river was tough.

He had his backpack with him. Inside were clean clothes, his toothbrush, a comb, deodorant, a razor, mirror, a pair of tweezers and his good shoes. If he survived this tribulation, and when the time was right, he would change and blend into American life.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Park Bench

A good barometer of a community's pulse is its parks. Come have a look at ours.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What a Difference

What a difference a year makes. Exactly one year ago this evening I spent my last night on Japanese soil before returning to the States, and tonight I found myself out in the open freezing my ass off changing a stubborn flat tire. The weather was cold and drizzly on both occasions. Back then the jet home was easy enough to climb aboard on, but tonight I could hardly get the damn tire off the wheel hub.

Apparently, rust is a great bonding agent. My troubles were such that it got to the point I had to ask for divine intervention. What God did was plant an image of my dad looking down at me struggling with the damn tire. Failure was not an option now -- a son could hardly let his father down, and it did not matter that no one was watching.

The evening was cold and wet. I was grateful that my pickup was parked on a slab of concrete and not on the miserable cold and muddy ground. Two summers ago when I was stuffing big black trash bags with old clothes for the Goodwill a little voice told me to hold on to my long johns. Tonight I know why.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Todavía Más ruta 66

A most generous friend ripped the second half of the first season route 66 television series DVD and passed it on to me. Now I can enjoy any one of the 30 episodes of the first season. For me there just is no getting enough of Todd Stiles, Buz Murdock and that cool set of wheels, the 1960 Chevrolet Corvette convertible. Before long I'll be heading north to have another go at tooling along short stretches of the Mother Road. Melba thinks it's silly to do that and she lets me know it.

---
I think you're silly. It's just a road.
It's not just a road. It's Route 66.
There is no Route 66, not any more.
Sure there is. We're on it right now.
You're living in the past. This is just a highway.
This is Route 66, girl! It's special!
Like I said, it's just a highway.
Well, it means something to me. It represents a better time. It's America when it didn't all look the same.
You're still living in the past.
Ah, you can never understand.
I know exactly what you're going to say. I've heard it a million times. It reminds you of when you were a little kid on the ranch, and how all of you would sit in front of the black-and-white TV and watch the show.
It's more than that. This road has a history. It stands for something. It's a big part of Americana. It's sad that you don't understand.
All I know is that every time we drive out west I have to hear about how crazy you are about this road. It's annoying.
Well, I don't apologize for it.
Well, I think it's silly how every time you see those same signs that say Old Route 66, you have to pull off the Interstate to drive on some stupid old road.
They don't say Old Route 66, they say Historic Route 66, and that's the whole point. It's historic. You just don't have any sense of history.
I call that living in the past. What's sillier is that it's the same roads. You've been on them I don't know how many times. I don't see the point.
I can't make you understand, but it is a big deal to a lot of people. They have an appreciation for what it stands for.
They're silly, too. They need to learn to live in the present. You can't live in the past.
I'm not even going to bother.
And then you have to play that stupid song. That's another thing.
Well, I like it. It's a great piece of music. It reminds ...
I know, I know. It reminds you of when you were a kid growing up on the ranch. I know.
There's nothing wrong with that. It's good music. It's Nelson Riddle. I like it.
He's dead, just like your Route 66. I don't want to hear it.
Man! You don't appreciate history and you don't appreciate good music. It's jazz.
What do you know about jazz?
That's not the point. It's good music.
I think people like that should get a life.
I think its just... I don't know... Somewhere along the way you just didn't develop a sense of nostalgia or something. Something's missing.
Yeah. I don't live in the past. I call that normal. How much longer are we going to be on this road?
Just a couple of miles and then we're back on I-40.
Where's the next McDonald's?
Gallup. We'll be there in a little while.
Good. I need to pee.
Okay.
Don't be mad at me.
I'm not mad at you. That's just the way you are and this is the way I am.
I love yooouuuu.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Red Wine Grape

There used to be grapevines in people's backyards around here a long time ago. It was common. We had one... a great big vine that formed a leafy canopy over a cedar post trellis that ran between our old house and the garage. We used to eat its grapes all the time until we nearly got sick to our stomachs. My older brother attempted to make wine from them one time. It was awful..., but he tried. That's what counts. A terrible freeze killed the vine one winter -- took the grapefruit tree as well. I have no idea what kind of grapes they were, but they tasted good.

Merlot grapes boast a better line of pedigree than does the Queen of England. I've been reading up on them (the grapes) ever since a friend presented me with a bottle of a Markham Merlot 2001. It was only the second Merlot I've sampled in my life and this one left an impression.

I like beer. Only a bottle of beer doesn't say nearly as much to me as does a bottle of wine. A good wine makes a statement. I can't put it into words anywhere as well as did the scriptwriter for the 2005 buddy film "Sideways." He writes a piece of dialogue for Virginia Madsen's character, Maya, that describes the making of a single bottle of wine. It is good writing and great acting combined to produce an excellent movie moment. As she cradles the glass of wine in her hand she says...
"I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing, how the sun was shining... if it rained. I like to think about all the people who tended and picked the grapes, and if it's an old wine, how many of them must be dead by now. I like how wine continues to evolve, like if I open a bottle of wine today it would taste different than if I'd opened it on any other day. Because a bottle of wine is actually alive -- and it's constantly evolving and gaining complexity. That is, until it peaks -- like your '61 -- and then it begins its steady, inevitable decline. And it tastes so fucking good."

Except for the curse word, a bottle of beer just doesn't inspire that kind of talk.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

What goes up...


Over the last thirty years Melba and I have seen the city of South Padre Island grow and grow and grow. It is the most fabulous stretch of beach on the Texas Gulf Coast. Back in 2006 we began to see the 31-story Ocean Tower luxury high rise emerge from the dunes at the north end of the island. It was marvelous. I suspect that we would never have spent a weekend in one of its lofty suites, but it was nice imaging the view from up there. We were content to enjoy the facilities of the humble Holiday Inn Express or the Sheraton, but every time we came to the island we would drive by so see how the work progressed as Ocean Tower climbed higher and higher into the sky. The South Padre Island skyline was changing dramatically. The tower is going to be beautiful... or so we thought.

To make a long story short, poor engineering forced the project to be abandoned. The damn thing began to sink, crack and lean long before completion. The tower came crashing down this morning with the aid of carefully placed explosives. My wife and I wished we could have been there to witness its implosion, but you can't be everywhere. I am grateful to those who posted their home videos on YouTube.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Quality Time at gatti*town


¿Donde pasé la noche? GattiTown. Dear God... talk about feeling like a fish out of water. The place is a shrine to organized chaos, frequented daily by hundreds of the faithful who are strangers to each other. Where else could I be crowded elbow-t0-elbow in a room with adults and kids and still feel completely alone? I was there with my little friend Evan. He had a blast practicing his gaming skills. I practiced my patience. It's too bad they don't have one of these in Benavides, and then the 150-mile round trip would not be necessary. The kid had a good time, so that means I had a good time.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Gilbert Roland

He said he was a lucky man to have "the blood of Spain, the heart of Mexico and the freedom of America." Born Luis Antonio Dámaso de Alonso on December 11, 1905 in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico, the world knew him as Gilbert Roland.

In a former entertainment climate Roland's onscreen presence exuded a measure of masculinity, class and dignity that has all but disappeared for the appreciation of modern moviegoers. Today, he, as well as his body of work, is lost to memory, except perhaps by me in this little South Texas pueblito, Benavides; it too, forgotten by the world. Since I was a kid, my dad has always reminded me of Roland's screen persona.

Long ago Roland penned his signature on a wooden column of La Perla restaurant in Acapulco's El Mirador Hotel. A local artisan then carefully carved it into the wood for posterity. Only God knows how long it had been there before I happened on it in the summer of 1985. I traced it with my index finger and that was the closest I ever came to Gilbert Roland. Happy birthday, Amigo.

Luis Antonio Dámaso de Alonso died in Beverly Hills, California on May 15, 1994 at age 88. His remains were cremated and the ashes scattered at sea.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Let It Snow


In the last fifty-plus years it has only snowed in these parts on five occasions, and, as we always do in the Christmas season, we are hoping for a sixth. It can happen.

Dean Martin's rendition of Let It Snow is the best. He died on Christmas Day, 1995. He was 78.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

El Vicio

My dad was a lifelong smoker. He settled on Kent cigarettes and enjoyed them very much. But he admitted that smoking was a terrible, if not pricey, habit and he discouraged us from taking it up. None of my siblings or I smoke. "Es un vicio desgraciado," he would say. Even these days I can't get a whiff of fine tobacco smoke without thinking about him and I always recall one cigarette misadventure he suffered though a long time ago.
---

This was the longest he had ever gone without a smoke in recent memory and it was physically killing him. He wasn't trying to quit. Far from it. The thought of quitting had never taken root and he'd been a serious smoker since he was fifteen. Over the years he'd cut back from two packs a day to half a pack, but that had been a matter of economics, not health. If they weren't so goddamn pricey he'd gladly return to his two pack-a-day habit.

He was shredding low brush in the Laguna pasture and the dull ache in his belly was telling him two things; one, it was about lunch time and two, he hadn't had a smoke since leaving the house early this morning after breakfast. Hunger was nothing. What was food when every cell in your body is craving just one drag, one delicious lungful of the rich aroma of the tobacco. Already he could almost savor the sweet fragrance of the tobacco tinged with the fresh scent of the paper and filter. Tragically, he was sitting on a tractor towing a brush shredder and his freshly opened pack of Kents was miles away in the pocket of the vest he'd left hanging on a post back at the hay shed. Now he was paying the price for that carelessness.

He never carried his pack of cigarettes anywhere except in his shirt pocket. Whether at work, piddling in the garage, in the house, on the road, watching TV, regardless where, that pack rested in his shirt pocket. The thing was, this morning there was a serious chill in the air and before leaving the house he'd reached for an old hunting vest for added warmth. The pocket in his work shirt was nearly torn off after snagging it crossing a barbed wire fence the day before so he slid the pack of smokes into the vest pocket.

The tractor and shredder he was using this morning were parked underneath the ranch's half empty hay shed to keep them from the elements. Prepping the equipment had warmed him up some so he discarded the vest, leaving it hanging on a cedar post. Not particularly fond of shredding brush, he was anxious to get started in order to be done with it. He climbed the tractor and headed of, but the pack of cigarettes stayed behind in the vest pocket.

Now he was close to desperate. There was a crawling sensation under his skin and muscle. It was all over his body. He could feel his heart racing. If he wasn't careful he was afraid his lips would bleed -- he was biting them that hard. He thought about dropping the shredder and running in the tractor all the way back to the barn, but then he'd lose almost two hours before he resumed the shredding. It was just a thought, not a serious one though.

Pinche vicio desgraciado!" he muttered through gritted teeth.

Ah, but what is this he sees in the distance? Reflected sunlight glinted off a windshield way off at the old gas compressor station. For a man in his fifties he still had remarkably good eyes. It's a truck, maybe a service truck. His mind goes to work. And if it's a service truck a mechanic is driving it, and if it's a mechanic it's a man. And if it's a man... he smokes.

The reflection of sun on the glass and the promise that it held was roughly a mile-and-a-quarter to a mile-and-a-half from where he sat on that tractor seat. The distance between was traversed with heavy brush, a creek, and a couple of barbed wire fences. He was going to have to walk, and walk fast before that truck left.

Pinche vicio desgraciado!" He said it aloud as he dismounted the tractor and twenty minutes later, with his shirt half-soaked in sweat, he reached the service truck.
---
He placed the filtered tip between his lips, tasted it, and drew in deeply. It tasted so good. The relief to his system was immediate. He took another long and slow drag, focusing on his breath as he inhaled, allowing the smoke to permeate deep within him. Then he exhaled - slow, long and relaxed.

"Pinche vicio," he said it with a smile before he bummed another smoke for the afternoon from his benefactor.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

For the Kid

Evan, my little seven-year-old friend, has been a part of our lives since the day his umbilical cord was cut. His affection for my wife and me is as pure and true as God's love. From the time he learned to mouth a few simple words and developed a modest understanding of Santa Claus, Jingle Bells and gifts under a tree on Christmas morning, he had never walked into our home during the Christmas season and asked, "Where's your tree?" We've never had one in his lifetime. Last Sunday it took us by complete surprise that he did ask.

Melba and I haven't put up a tree in over twenty-five years and I didn't fool with outdoor lights but for a couple of years when we first moved into our new home. The two of us enjoy Christmas as much as the next couple, but we never so much as placed greeting cards on the mantle. We thought it odd that he asked about a tree this year, but it was an honest question. His tone was sincere. The kid really wanted to see a tree in the living room.

"We'll get one," was all I said, and we did -- today -- just for the kid. It's a little 5-footer -- artificial, of course. It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Monday, December 7, 2009

La Política

In Duval County, Texas the campaign signs have begun to sprout everywhere along the roads. Generations ago, depending which side of the political fence the candidates stood, they could find themselves facing the business end of a gun. That time is long gone and these days it is only a person's character that is apt to become the victim of assassination. And even though the players in Duval County electioneering suffer no open wounds, politics in these parts is still the one blood sport favored above cock or dog fighting.

However, considering how many bloody noses it produces on full moon nights, beer drinking would have to come in a close second. That befuddled 12-pack season of boasting, bickering and blame runs 365 days a year. Snorting coke is growing in popularity, too, but it can't count as a blood sport since it produces little bloodletting as far as I know. Fortunately, that form of personal recreation isn't yet practiced in the open as is politics. Thank God the season for it runs out of steam pretty quickly in this one-party playpen.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

'Tis the Season

Secured by a thin cable to a small palo blanco the two deer heads were hanging about five feet off the ground. Each had been an eight-pointer in its former life, but this evening they were no longer magnificent beasts in the wild -- the prancing princes of the brush country. The sure eye and steady aim of a hunter had reduced them to little more than hosts to countless maggots. Nonetheless, the bucks were still admirable trophies in their lifeless forms. 'Tis the season that many untagged deer heads adorn backyards in the pueblito, but who am I to say that the hunting license tags were not lost in transporting or handling. Much can happen to a deer carcass on a trip between the field and la tamalera.

The maggots were a curious discovery. Apparently, the moderate climate we enjoy in South Texas allows for the larvae to thrive in the late fall, but what was even more interesting was that the larvae survived the hard freeze from the night before. A few hours in the upper 20s had no effect on their work or the odor of decay. The stench from the two heads is death itself -- an evil affront to the nose.

I can't understand why my friend has them hanging in his backyard. It is certain that in time they will fade into the background, becoming part of his backyard's landscape, as innocuous to the senses as an abandoned bird nest. Maybe they are just too pretty to throw away.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Goats

(Loosely based on an actual event.)

It’s true what they say. If it isn’t tied down, someone in this miserable pueblito is going to steal it. Well, someone or some ones pulled off the main highway, climbed over the short fence that Mario had his goats corralled in, and stole his three best. He got so upset that the next day he sold them all, except for one that appeared sickly. He was through with raising goats. It had been a slow process, but at age forty-six, he was finally convinced that you just couldn't trust anybody -- not your neighbors, and perhaps, not even your friends.

Someone in town knew the details of the thievery, only no one cared enough to expose the guilty party. Damn them. That was what really riled him. It was not so much the loss of the animals. They could be replaced. Given time, a few would propagate back up to their former numbers. But dammit, where was the sense of decency in these thieving sons-of-bitches!

He had neighbors. The busy bodies up and down the stretch of road he lived on could always know the day to day details of his activities around the house. Some even knew the contents of his garage and storage shed better than he did. If he even happened to take a late-night piss in the back yard sooner or later word would get back to him that someone had seen him. A pair of eyes was always watching. Someone had to have seen who stole those goats.

Sometimes he asked himself why he bothered to stay in this miserable town. He played by the rules. He payed his taxes. He attended church more often than most and he was certain that he was well-liked by most of the puebliteros. So what goddamn asshole would be so callous to violate him like this?

The loss extended beyond the value of the animals. His small son considered those goats his pets. He helped feed them daily, attended to their water trough, petted them all and called them by name -- names he had thought long and hard to give each of them. The loss of the three hurt him badly. To Mario that was the worst of all. The miserable scum should rot in hell.

"Are they coming back, Daddy?" His son looked up at him with big sad eyes. There was little he could say to assuage the boy.

"I miss them, Daddy. I hope they're okay." It was heartbreaking to hear the distress in his small voice. When he had gotten rid of the whole lot of them after the theft he hadn't given any thought to what he boy would think when he came home from school that afternoon. It was too late now.

He patted his son's small shoulder to comfort him, thinking, "Those miserable sons-of-bitches don't give a damn about anything."

"I'll get the goats back tomorrow son. It'll be okay. I'll get them back."

Friday, December 4, 2009

Rocks in Your Head

What follows is a recycled post because television got the best of me this evening. It's been a long time since the days I used to sit and watch a marathon of programing. In these autumn years I've settled for the occasional old movie, selected pieces on the Discovery and History Channels, and maybe an itty little bit of Fox News. I enjoy CSPAN's Book Notes a lot. If I need to know something I'll go online. Tonight, however, Home Alone with Macaulay Culkin was on television. I will drop what I am doing to watch it. When it was over I did not feel like stringing words to build sentences to post on my blog.

Home Alone blows me away emotionally on many levels. It's happy, suspenseful, uplifting and sad. I love that movie. I still get teary-eyed at the end when Kevin's mom finally get home to Chicago, walks into the house and he hears her call out his name. If that makes me a touchy-feelly-kind-of-guy, then so be it, but it don't make me no girly-man --UNDERSTOOD?! It is motion picture story telling at its best and I simply have an appreciation for it.

The short narrative that follows was originally posted back in September 2007. It was prompted by a conversation I had with a former student from my days as a high school teacher. The name's been changed to protect me. Innocence was just about lost among the ranks of school students when I taught my last year in public school.

---
"I carry a rock in my pocket," Jose was serious. "You think that's weird?"

"So, you carry a rock in your pocket." My voice was steady and my face gave away nothing. I studied the kid sitting in the student desk, his left leg shaking nervously.

"My friends think I'm weird because I like to look at the stars," he continued.

I got curious, "Do you have a rock with you right now?"

He reached into the right pocket of his baggy jeans and pulled out a flint rock the size of a bird egg, butterscotch in color, nothing remarkable. It was a rock you might pick up and fling away while walking in the brush or down a ranch road. I asked to see it and took it from his hand.

"What's special about it?" I brought it up close to see if I had missed anything.

"Nothing. It's just a rock," Now he was studying me. "That's not the only one. I have others I like to carry."

"Why?"

"I don't know. I just like to carry a rock in my pocket, ...since I was little."

"They make you feel secure? Safe? Something like that?" I was curious now. I had been around young people throughout my teaching life and this was a first. I was more apt to discover a kid with a folding knife in his pocket, or pills, or condoms. A rock was a first, but a relief.

"I don't know. I just like them," he said. The boy appeared a bit more relaxed. His leg quit shaking so much.

I handed the rock back to him. I'm sure he saw the inquisitiveness in my eyes.

"I guess I'm just nervous," he admitted. "They sent me to a psychologist when I was little."

At this point I lost my poker face. "Why?"

"I stopped eating. I wouldn't eat."

I didn't want to talk to this kid any longer. I was sorry I had started the conversation, but it would have been bad form to cut him off at this point. I didn't want to come across as rude or uncaring. It's all I can do to analyze my own troubles and I didn't want to give the kid the impression that I understood his. I didn't want him to draw close. I didn't mind talking, but I didn't want him breaching my buffer zone.

"And the stars? You said you like to look at the stars," I asked, trying to steer away from talk about the psychologist.

"I don't know. I just like to stare at them for hours... at night."

"Nothing crazy about that. I did that all the time when I was a kid growing up on the ranch," I said. "They're pretty to look at."

He looked at me, perhaps glad that I didn't think it unusual to look at the stars.

"My friends think it's weird."

"Being shut up in your room at night for hours playing video games is weird," I assured him. "There's nothing's wrong with looking up at the night sky. We're lucky we can still enjoy it down here."

He looked pleased.

"You're okay, kid," I added. "It's your friends that are weird." With that I excused myself, glad that our chat was over.

After that day the kid just about ruined butterscotch-colored flint rocks for me. Every time I see one now his sad face flashes for just a second in my mind. I wish it had been a pretty girl that day who liked to carry a rock in her pocket.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Can You See Me Now?

Boldness is the key to making a fashion statement in the brush country. I lack it. Garments hang off me no better than they do on an old wire hanger in a storage closet. I have too little of that South Texas swagger that makes some people stand out from the crowd with what they drape themselves with. Rudy does not. This afternoon he was the poster boy of brush country haute couture.

Try draping a camo shirt, denim jeans, camo chaps, and a brush jacket on me, then top the outfit with a wide brim straw hat and anchor the ensemble with steel toe boots and I would look like I was ready for a night of trick-or-treating. Not Rudy. He pulls if off.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

No Fever

The pallets stacked high with 40-pound sacks of deer corn in front of the Kwik Pantry this morning were empty when I drove by the little store after work. Hunters must be feeling very encouraged this season. I don't hunt any longer. It must be at least thirty years since I last pretended to. The truth is that back then I mostly tagged along with the group simply for the camaraderie. I love being out in the brush in any season. I truly do, but hunting whitetail is hard bloody work. The pallets inspired me to post an anecdote I call No Fever.

---
Except for his pecker, there wasn't one part of him that didn't feel the cold, and with the urge to piss nagging him, the cold would soon conquer all. The wind seemed to be drawing what little warmth he had left right out of him. It had been about an hour since his toes had numbed. He should have abandoned the spot long before and headed out on foot to the ranch house, but it was a six-mile walk and most of it through heavy brush. Presently, he wanted to be there, not here. It was comforting to imagine being enveloped by the embrace of warm air once he stepped through the back door and into the kitchen. He wanted to smell his mother's cooking and baking and to hear the assurance of this father's voice in the house -- all the familiar things. He shook this head thinking that he ought not to have come out into the brush in the first place. He didn't particularly care for venison. Hell, he didn't even like to hunt. His eyesight was poor and even the rifle in his freezing gloved hands was borrowed. Dammit. He wasn't a hunter. Since he was a kid he'd understood about 'catching deer fever', but he never had, not like his father, his brothers, or others. What was he doing here? He never seemed to learn. The need to be 'one of he boys' always seemed important at the time, but once in the thick of it, he'd realize the silliness of it.

The plan had been to drop everyone off at different locations around the expansive Piedras Pintas pasture. With the sharp dip in temperature the consensus was that the bucks would be running today. They were. He'd seen a couple that morning and had even sited one with the rifle scope, but he knew he would not drop it. For one thing, he would probably miss, and two, if he did drop one, it was work to gut the sons-of-a-bitches in this cold. No thanks. He had come along to be with the boys, to joke, to laugh, to bullshit, to drink beer, not to be squatting on his haunches, alone, growing more numb by the minute in the damp cold.

It would be another hour-and-a-half before his scheduled pick up. He thought it unusual that he hadn't heard a shot from any of the others. Unlucky for them, he had been dropped off in a good spot, only he wasn't about to tell them that. He would tell them that he hadn't seen a thing.

He set the rifle on the ground and stood up. Adjusting his back to the wind, he pulled the glove off his right hand and zipped down his fly. Damn, he was really going to get cold now.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Mesquite Street

Easy Money

A branch of Texas Champion Bank is housed in a converted mobile home that claims a corner of real estate next to the old DeLeon Pharmacy, a long-abandoned business slowly crumbling onto itself. The two-storied relic stands grotesquely along the pueblito's main drag. The locals are blind to the decaying structure and to most of the squalor that borders 359, the state highway that cutting through the town -- a ghost town as an out-of-towner put it. These days DeLeon's creaks like a feeble specter echoing hoarsely the spirit of a once prosperous Benavides, Texas.

Planted solidly on an expanse of uneven blacktop spread between the deserted shell of DeLeon's and the bank is an ATM. We're lucky to have it. No one except the legitimately well-off, drug dealers or human traffickers carry more than a few twenty-dollar bills in their handbag or wallet. The rest of us with steady work depend on the ATM for an infusion of extra cash. One drawback for this convenience is the shakedown the bank operates by demanding that non-bank customers shell out two dollars for the machine to spit out their own money. A fee is a minor inconvenience. Two dollars is extortion.

Luckily, when you live out in the sticks there aren't many places you can spend your money. A trip to the ATM isn't a frequent occurrence and the odds of depleting the checking account are slim. What you have to watch out for is driving up to the ATM and having the west wall of the old DeLeon's collapse on you.