Sunday, January 31, 2010

Eyes Everywhere

Communication technology never ceases to amaze. An outfit called Ustream offers a free iPhone app that makes it possible to broadcast a live or recorded video stream on the web directly from an iPhone. Better still, multiple people can each watch from their web browser. The app is called Ustream Live Broadcaster. I never felt more connected to the outside world from my pueblito. The application even worked way out in the sticks at the Ranch. This app allows you to share your recorded stream on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter or your own personal Ustream channel on the web. The video stream can also relay your exact location via GPS. Videos can be archived for later broadcast or deleted when finished with. Truly, now there are "eyes" everywhere. The possibilities are endless.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Over the Bridge

The high point that day was crossing the Harbor Bridge on the way to suburbia -- Portland, Texas. Cruising on the northbound lane, the fifty-year-old span over the Corpus Christi ship channel lifted him up, over, and away from the decay of the Sparkling City by the Sea. Corrosive sea air had not only been eating away at the city, slowly, it had turned the old bridge into a rusted frame. The neglect by the Texas Department of Transportation of this major highway infrastructure gave him a sad feeling. The bridge had not seen a coat of fresh paint in years and lights that lit up its long arched outline from end to end had long gone out. A colossus man-made structure that once illuminated and showcased the 5th largest port in the United States, presently stood bleak, black and blanked out when night came.

It was sad to him because it had not always been so. In a former time Harbor Bridge was a celebrated piece of engineering -- the architectural pride of the Texas Gulf Coast. So much so that it had once been featured prominently on an old television episode of route 66 aired in February 1963. That was a long time ago. He had been a boy then, but a devoted fan of the television series and of one of its stars, Martin Milner. Milner played opposite George Maharis. Maharis was the better-looking, more interesting and better actor of the duo, but as a nine-year-old he had entertained greater affinity toward the more mellow and congenial Milner character. When that third-season episode aired Maharis had already left the series. Milner was driving the Corvette solo and the show's ratings had begun to slide. The bridge's decline was coming too, but decades farther down the road. Milner and Maharis are old men in their eighties today, but forever young and virile on DVD. The bridge will enjoy no such consolation.

He did not cross the bridge often. Sometimes years would pass without a reason or opportunity to speed across its road deck 138 feet above the channel's waters, but every time he did, ever since he was a kid, he would fondly recall Milner's character, Todd Stiles, and that scene of him cruising freely in that gorgeous Corvette convertible across that brand-spanking new vault of steel and concrete. On this Saturday afternoon neither he or the bridge were new. They were both worn and tested and had seen better days. Today, however, was a good day. He was crossing over into Portland to visit with an old friend. There were still a few good days left to him, but the bridge's future was uncertain. The talk was that those better days people spoke of were behind it, and numbered. He thought of his own decaying pueblito, Benavides, and accepted as fact that all communities, large or small, struggled with decay and neglect. But why should he reflect on sad things? In a few minutes, just over the bridge, he would be in the home of an old friend, shaking hands and sharing a good laugh.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Kitchen's Closed

"The kitchen is closed. We don't have gas," said the woman's voice on the other end of the call to DC's Restaurant. This was bad news as the masses neared the lunch hour in Benavides, Texas.

The natural gas supply for the pueblito was cut off today for reasons unknown to the general public. No warning was given. Everyone was caught off guard, including the ladies at the school cafeteria. With no gas to fire up the ovens they worked the can openers feverishly to put something on the kids' trays at lunchtime. In greater Benavides the hungry horde was in danger of doing without unless they beat the charge to Louie's, the second of three small eating establishments in town. Louie's would be the eatery of choice owing to the fact that it offers plenty of tables and booths. The other place is more modest. Patrons have a choice of a picnic table under a leafless palo blanco or they can stand underneath the corrugated fiberglass panels that softly shade the front side of what amounts to a street side taco stand. My guess is two out of the three grease pits have electric burners or banks of roasters. Whereas, DC's Restaurant was completely hindered from conducting business owing to their dependence on natural gas. Their bottom line took a big hit today. It's graveled parking spaces were deserted for the remainder of the day.

The situation was different at the Kwik Pantry. It's not really an eatery, but aside from gas, beer, cigarettes, ice, soft drinks, bread and what sundry items commonly found in a small town store, it offers on a daily basis such treats as burritos, fried chicken and hot dogs -- sometimes pizza slices. Usually, what is not sold at the noon rush is kept warm under the hot lights of the food warmers for the remainder of the day. That was not the case today. The Kwik Pantry did alright.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Actions Speak Louder than Words

I enjoy working. I enjoy my work in particular. It is good work, except for the part where I sit on my ass all day. This week I have enjoyed my work so much I've neglected to pace myself. This has been a grueling workweek and I haven't stretched my resources to last me until Friday quitting time -- and here it is only Thursday. This can't be good. All work and no play makes Atilano a dull boy.

All the while we were growing up on the ranch Dad encouraged us to use our heads to earn a living. I took his advisement to heart, but I do not believe the ol' man envisioned one of his kids sitting at a keyboard and focusing their eyes on tiny numbers displayed on a computer monitor for hours on end. No doubt Dad taxed his body putting food on the table. I tax my eyeballs and gray matter.

I came home today, shut the door behind me, and napped heavily for an hour. When I woke my good wife had dinner ready. No hice nada el resto de la noche. I pulled my four-dollar DVD of "Gods and Generals" and watched it in its entirety this evening -- for the first time. It is an excellent two-and-a-half hour Civil War drama. I especially enjoyed the scene depicting two soldiers from the opposing armies sharing an impromptu Christmas Day truce. The scene speaks louder than words. The YouTube clip is posted below.

The evening proved most restful. More sleep would help too, but I'm getting long in the tooth and sparse on the dome. I suppose that signals that I need to begin pacing myself or start taking vitamins. Uno ya no puede hacer lo que hacia de joven.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Door to Door

Her name is Eva Hernandez. About once a month she and her husband drive up from Weslaco to Benavides and San Diego with the back seat and trunk filled with product ranging from Snuggies to telescopes. At day's end their trunk is empty and their money bag is full. Eva knows how to pitch a product. She could sell bagged ice to Eskimos.

My workplace is ninety-eight percent women. We had a guy come over this afternoon with a carload of lady's handbags and purses. Eva shows up this same afternoon with a 100-power telescope and a box of talking picture frames tucked under her arms. The guy drives away after a couple of minutes without making one sale. I found it odd that he couldn't sell one purse in a sea women. Yet Eva and her husband stuck around for a half hour and produced sale after sale.

I was amazed at their passion for pushing product and asked how they did it. Happily, Eva begins to explain what she calls her "5 Steps" for conducting sales door to door. I bring up my iPhone to video the lowdown on her technique, but failed to make certain I was recording. I screwed up and got nothing. That was terrible because Eva is a dynamic speaker and genuinely loves the work she does six days a week. It would have been a fabulous presentation. All I managed to capture was a couple of frames and that is the image you see above.

She was amazing. Her competitor could not sell one purse, but Eva coaxed the ladies to fork over cash for telescopes. Next time she comes by I'll be more attentive to my video effort.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Little Buddy, Little Helper

The kid volunteered. No one asked asked him to wash. After the dishes he then took a few dozen of his small green plastic soldiers and dumped them into the sink to wash too. I like this kid. He's developed a sense of tidiness that he practices exclusively at our place. There is no evidence that he exhibits any proclivity to orderliness anywhere else. What I have heard him say mas o menos in the language of a seven-year-old is that Melba and I model it to such good effect that he emulates it. I love this kid. It gives me great comfort to know that at the end of my work day and at the end of his school day we both wish to interact together -- indoors and out -- each for his own reason and benefit.

If it weren't for this kid I would hardly get any exercise at all. No one else on this planet could coax me to perform the tumbling acts I do on and off the ground. It's been a long-standing joke with me that I wish I had a personal trainer to keep me off my butt and moving about. Even is he.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Page 4975

I was speaking with a friend via Skype this evening. Skype is a marvel of communications technology. The free service makes it possible for he and I to talk, laugh and bullshit as though we were sitting face-to-face from each other at my kitchen table. He asked about my summer travel plans. The question jarred a memory of page 4975 in volume M of the 1959 edition of the World Book Encyclopedia. There is a small black and white photo of the Great Meteor Crater near Winslow, Arizona pictured there. I must have turned to that page a thousand times when I was a kid. Every time I studied that photo I wished I could be standing on the rim of that awesome place at that very instant. My travel opportunities were zero when I was growing up. The only times I ventured off the ranch was when I flipped the pages of those encyclopedias.

Like all kids back then I had a great imagination. Looking up at the blue sky I pictured myself hopping on one of the clouds being herded by the winds and letting it take me along to all the wonderful places depicted in those pages. It would be August of 1994 before I visited that crater -- not on a billowy white cloud, but in a borrowed car.

The event that set the wheels in motion for this trip was a friend earning his professional degree in dentistry. With his classroom days behind him he now had to start retiring some of the school debt he had accumulated over the last few years. The ever generous Uncle Sam offered to forgive a good chunk of his student loans if he would practice his trade at a government run clinic. He took his Uncle up on the offer. He packed and relocated to Walla Walla in Washington state. Once he got settled it was agreed that my wife and I would drive his second car up from South Texas and deliver it to his driveway. We would fly home.

We were under no time constraints so it was decided to detour through Arizona and see some of the sights of the great Southwest. We cut across New Mexico and into the Grand Canyon State to have a look. Gas was relatively inexpensive back then and the car, a Toyota Camry, was a dream to drive and delivered excellent mileage. All this combined to make for pleasurable travel.

Driving west about 18 miles from Winslow on I-40 we see the sign directing us to the crater at exit 233. We drive for nearly five miles south from the turn-off not sure of what we're looking for. The rim of the crater loomed in the horizon, we just didn't know it. Being flatlanders and not familiar with the lay of the land we were practically on top of it before we realized where we were.

Awesome. The place is absolutely awesome. It was worth the long wait to see. We returned two years later and again in 2005. Melba and I have plans to take Evan and his siblings there this summer. The old 1959 set of World Book is of course obsolete, but I still have it. I've set foot in many of the places I only dreamed of on page 4975 and others -- volumes A through Z.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Potholed Persecution

Conditions are horrific. Road crews have turned what remains of the pueblito's streets into a bone-jarring nightmare for drivers and a tortuous crucible for their vehicles' suspensions. It is difficult enough to run this teeth-rattling gauntlet in the light of day. To have cars and trucks viciously buck on these washboard street surfaces on a daily basis is cruel and unusual punishment. The streets have become scarred like the pockmarked face of a teenager with a bad case of acne.

I offer no apology for the lousy production value of the video. The source was a hand-held iPhone in rugged motion and the editing software was the excellent Adobe Premier Pro, but applied sin ganas close to the midnight hour.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The New Lightning Bugs

They are known as fireflies by most of the English speaking world, but we always called them lightning bugs. To chase after them as kids was so much fun. On summer nights they were as plentiful as the stars of the Milky Way. We would chase after them tirelessly and fill a jar with the clicking glowing insects. Later in the evening when we got to bed and placed the jar by our beds our hope was that the room would light up with a ghostly green glow. It never did. Trapping the poor lightning bugs in a jar only condemned them to a slow death and a big stink the following morning.

I thought about the soft spot of light those bug used to accent the night with when I was driving the unlit streets of Benavides one especially dark evening. The city cannot afford to pay for street lighting any longer, and except for what illumination spills onto the street from someone's front porch light, most of the caliche-packed arteries remain pitch black. When navigating slowly around the dips, bumps and potholes of our broken caliche streets through that sea of darkness I saw what appeared to be faint globes of light bobbing a few feet above the ground. "What is that?" I asked myself. As the strange spot of light and I grew closer its source was soon revealed in the shine of my headlights. It was kids -- kids on their cell phones.

Apparently, some young people still walk from point A to point B in the pueblito. Not every teenager has his or own car, or the use of the family vehicle. I've seen the lights on more than one occasion. It is a new phenomenon. The times are on the cusp of a new generation of lightning bugs, but in my estimation those of my youth were more magical... more fun... and did not require batteries.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Key and the Big "P"

Had I known what a chinga these damn lock-lugs would give me three-and-a-half years down the road after buying my pickup I would have taken them off immediately and thrown them as far as I could into the brush. It is strongly advisable to avoid misplacing the key to unlock these lug-lock sonsabitches. They work as an anti-theft device and perform as advertised. To replace a lost key will cost you. I'm out $15.00. The replacement key was used only three times to remove the remaining three lug-locks off my wheels. I was lucky to change a tire but once while waiting for delivery of a replacement key. It is near impossible to change a tire without the damn thing. Perdí mucho tiempo -- and it was not easy.

For the urban dweller unfortunate to come across the same problem it is a simple matter to drive over to the local Toyota dealer and have their shop spin off the lugs. Easy for him or her. Not so easy for me. The closest dealer is 75 miles one-way from my pueblito. Simply put, -- me jódi.

Please forgive the expletives, but this carelessness made me angry. I feel like I have a big "P" on my forehead. My ol' man raised us better than to be careless about recovering and storing our tools and equipment.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Can I haff mah toof back?

(Based on an actual event.)

The man was born to lead. At all times and in all instances, he looked, talked, and carried himself with the demeanor of a leader of young men.
That was the impression I got when I first saw the man in 1961. He was my older brother's scout master. The man looked like someone who was always in charge and always in control. That impression has not changed in the forty-nine years since.

As a young man he worked his way through college in a time when most Latinos attending colleges south of the Cactus Curtain were doing so only with the help of the American G.I. Bill. Having graduated from high school in 1952 and void of military service, that door was closed to him. So he worked odd jobs and hitchhiked forty miles to his college classes -- his widowed mother giving her blessing every morning. A lot of study, hard work and eight years later he was a respected and reputable mathematics teacher and athletic coach in his hometown's high school. Determined to pass on to a younger generation of boys the lessons he had learned on his road to adulthood, he became the community's Boy Scout master.

His life's work was to build up young men physically and mentally. He dedicated himself to empowering young Latinos to make something useful and productive of themselves -- to seek higher education. He taught them to rely on their wit, skill, and intellect to achieve success in a pre-civil rights era South Texas that was tainted by far more prejudice than can be imagined by young people today.

One week in the summer of 1961 he took the Boy Scout troop to Camp Karankawa by Lake Corpus Christi. To this day the folks in Benavides still refer to it as Lake Mathis. Under his guidance the troop camped, pitched tents, cooked outdoors, attended lakeside bonfires, slept under the stars, lashed together make-shift bridges across small streams, navigated wooded trails linking the many campsites, and ended their evenings telling stories around the campfire. Besides scout master, he was also a gifted speaker, extolling to the troop how each of the day's scouting activities was a metaphor for the coming challenges of adulthood. This was scouting. It was an adventure and a learning experience.

On the last night at Camp Karankawa some in the troop felt confident enough to wander unsupervised through the other troop camps. That evening some of their families were present for the closing ceremonies and the scouts from Benavides wished to enjoy their independence a bit longer. There would be time enough to visit with family. On this last night they were among brothers -- good thing too. Life lesson number one, learning to stand up for yourself, was waiting for them as they made their way through trails lit only by starlight.

"Hey, mexicans!" The taunt came from behind -- in the dark. The boys' muscles tensed. In unison they turned to the darkness behind where the call had come from.

Again, another call shot out from the dark. "What are you mexicans doing here?" The source drew closer and eventually stepped into view. There were five of them facing off against the four from Benavides. They were bigger, too. The immediate instinct was to ignore them, and for a few seconds they managed to. The four turned away and continued down the dark trail to avoid trouble. They weren't looking for a fight.

"That's right, mexicans. You don't belong here." It was the same voice, but he was speaking for all of them. "Dirty mexicans!" he said.

To one boy from Benavides the slur was like a back-handed slap to the face. Three times was enough. He stopped, turned on his heels, and began taking long and hard purposeful steps toward the group of five.

"You want to fight, mexican?" The leader of the bunch made his hands into fists at his side.

The Benavides boy said nothing and never broke his stride. As quick as one can blink an eye he planted a vicious right to the boy's temple, then drew his fist back again and smashed it into the taunter's gaping mouth. The boy fell on his knees to the ground and let out a sound like a wounded animal before he flopped over on his side. Everyone just stood there for an instant, paralyzed. Then the boys from Benavides ran as fast as they could.

When they found their way back to the camp the rest of the troop were seated around the fire, telling stories as the four casually approached. They sat on the ground as if all was well. A few minutes later the five scouts they had run from walked into the camp. One was holding a hand to his bloodied mouth. The scoutmaster saw they were upset and he came to his feet asking them what was the matter. Everyone else stood also.

The one with the blood all over his mouth and hand spoke meekly through swollen lips saying, "Can I haff mah toof back?" He held his hand out, palm up, in the direction of one of the Benavides boys.

The scoutmaster followed the line formed by the boy's outstretched arm. He saw that it led to the one from his troop who was covering a bloodied and swollen right hand.

"What's going on here? What happened to your hand?" he demanded.

The boy scout brought his hand up slowly. In the dim firelight the scout master leaned closer for a better look.

"They called us dirty mexicans. I hit him," the scout said. Embedded in the flesh between the first and second knuckles of the right hand was a tooth -- the bloodied root clearly showing.

From behind them the weak muffled voice called again. "Ca-ca-can I haff mah toof back?" the boy repeated, sobbing through trembling lips.

The scoutmaster turned to his scout and gave him a hard look, but said nothing. He was grateful for the dim light. He didn't wish his boys to see the glint of satisfaction in his eye.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Life in the Country

I grew up on a ranch. My appreciation for the privacy and solitude country life offered grew exponentially the further I advanced from my teenage years. Country living is the best so long as you're not so far out in the sticks that you can't see some pueblito's water tower on the horizon. We took a drive over to Jim Wells County to have a look at some small acreage that's for sale. It's a neat package out in the country: 10 acres that slope gently up from the road; fenced and no brush; water well; septic tank; two metal storage sheds - one large, one small; and just enough mesquites to shade a dog or a barbecue grill.

The wife and I found it to our liking, but it is three miles south of the state highway and the semi-paved county road leading to the property is poorly maintained. We'll keep looking. God's been good these many years. We'll keep the faith.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

SMART people

For the better part of the workday my responsibilities require I focus on hundreds of strings of numbers and dates displayed on a large computer monitor. It's good work, but every hour or so you have to step out from behind the desk to stretch the legs and rest the eyes. I was standing at the office door looking out on the sunny scene this afternoon when I noticed a tiny odd-looking vehicle parked in proximity to the stable of Suburbans, SUVs and pickups that are common to South Texas parking lots. It was a Smart Car and I took advantage of my short break to have a closer look. It was the first one I had seen in the pueblito and its owner was gracious enough to give me a short spin.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Mal de Ojo

How could a delicate little flower come to be known by such an awful name as mal de ojo? My little friend Evan came across it while I was feeding household trash into the "the pit," a gaping hole dug deeper than a man is tall into the earth. A few months ago my kid brother bit into the hard ground with a backhoe to form this large hole at the Ranch. It receives a weekly deposit of empty cans, paper, glass and plastic. The work was performed at the height of the drought and as deep as it is when the digging was done there wasn't one damp clod of dirt to be found. Since that hot day its earthen walls have been scorched black by countless fires. It's not pretty to look at. Permitted by Texas law, it is a necessary evil in the brush country.

Four weeks into the South Texas winter and the ground surrounding "the pit" and the field around it are already sprouting little flowers prematurely. Mal de ojo... what a terrible name. Holding it up against a background of high wispy clouds I took six snapshots of the little cup-like flower with my iPhone. My efforts did not produce a single sharp image. I may need to grow a longer arm to give the subject of the Phone's lens the proper focal range for a decent photo.

What's mal de ojo mean? It's Spanish for illness of the eye. There must be a story there somewhere.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

I Used To Climb Trees

I practically lived in trees when I was a kid. I was fearless. 10, 15, even 20 feet off the ground... it did not matter. The thought of falling hard to the base of the tree never entered my mind. The possibility was there, but it would be others who suffered such fates. Not me. Big old gnarled mesquites of every size and configuration were my playground as a boy. Mother Nature had crafted them just for a ranch kid like me. Smooth metal monkey bars void of mesquite thorns were for wimps. It's important that little boys climb to the highest limbs of a tree. Reaching the upper-most limb possible on a tree is empowering to a boy. Evan, my little friend, may not verbalize it, but the look in his eyes on his climb to the top registers agreement.

If I had to I could still reach the lofty heights of the old mesquites on the ranch, but only with Herculean effort. It's the getting back down that is a challenge. It is sad to admit that I don't even bother the ascent any longer -- not even with Evan's coaxing. I fear I may be earthbound for the remainder of my years on this earth. Evan does not realize that the spirit may be willing in this fifty-six year old, but the flesh is weak. These days the thought of falling looms large in my mind just looking at the old trees. Thank God my little friend suffers no such trepidation. Vicariously, I too gaze supremely over the South Texas landscape with Evan from high up the leafless mesquites on this pleasant January afternoon.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Ramos

Good old Benavides, Texas has been around since the 1880s and the number who have called it home has swelled from a humble 300 to a respectable 3000+. That's what the history says. The city limit signs have 1686 posted on them, but if a count were taken today the pueblito's citizenry would number something nearer to 1500. In all probability the 2010 census will make that estimation official. Other than tax-paying citizens, paved streets, good drinking water, street lighting, retail stores and restaurants, Benavides has lost what vibrancy it enjoyed during the fat years of the 1940s' oil boom. En esos tiempos si era pueblo... say the old timers. It's been a long drawn out decline since -- a slow death actually, but in that time Benavides has produced an impressive number of iconic figures. Raymundo Ramos, BHS Class of 1952, ranks near the top. To his credit his impeccable reputation sets him well above, and well apart, from the more infamous variety that Benavides, Duval County, Texas has unleashed on the world.

Now enjoying his retirement years, Mr. Ramos, among other selfless undertakings, was a long-time educator, athletic coach, church leader, scout master, and community supporter. This exceptional gentleman and others of his ilk are representative of the brighter times and the higher moral standards this community stood for in better days.

With friends and family in attendance, he and his wife celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on December 25, 2009. That evening he stepped to the microphone after the celebratory toast and in a manner that is exclusively one-hundred proof Ramos, demonstrating why he and his wife, Barbara, are so well-loved and respected.

Saludos, Mr. Ramos. Lo felicito.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Somebody Help Us

Today was the worst seen in the pueblito since the last time. Benavides needs help. The paving contractors who were recruited from Our Lady of the Lowest Bidder y Buena Suerte, Inc. have succeeded in tearing up nearly every remnant of paved street in town. With the deluge of recent days mud was flowing down Santa Rosa de Lima Street like lava through the streets of Pompeii. People are suffering. Cars and trucks are suffering. Stray animals are suffering. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ought to channel just a little bit of their resources bound for Haiti to Benavides. A large crew of labors with mule teams from one-hundred years ago could probably do a better job, if not a faster one, of finishing the re-paving of miles of ravaged streets in town.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

En la Gloria

Estoy en la gloria desde que llego al trabajo a las ocho de la mañana hasta las cinco de la tarde. Most would agree that it is bad form to whistle while you work during office hours, but if it was permissible I gladly would. A little George Strait would have been fine on this drizzly afternoon.

Click here for one of Strait's best.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Quiero Ver El Sol

The feel of the sun on the face and shoulders is good medicine, more so if you are out for a walk. This formula works best if you have your significant other by the hand. A double dose of that mix would be welcome these days, but Sunday will be upon us before the sun shows. Its appearance from behind the week's remnant of low clouds will be fragmented at best . They poured down long and slow on the pueblito yesterday and the prognosticators of the air call for more of the same until Saturday. The sun will be missed.

Back in October crews began peeling the blacktop off the pot-holed rubble we call the streets of Benavides. For a few weeks the streets looked like the thin layer of skin lying under the thick rind of an orange -- white and smooth. That was the graded caliche. It was dusty, but not bad to drive on. Then the rains came; came again; then came once more after the new year. You should see the streets now. It's a mudfest; a 4X4 mudder's delight. Usually slow to anger and slow to react, the puebliteros are grumbling these days. As they bounce and slosh navigating the scarred streets they see the street crews and think to themselves, ¡Sacanse el dedo y muévanse!

It will be a happy day once the sun is bright and the streets are smooth. Until then, the pueblito will remain mute and suffer patiently. Good or bad, it is the mark of our people.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sleeping Dogs

It is loyal to its mistress. It may even love her, in as much as a four-footed animal is capable of feeling affection for a human. On this morning it chose to lay curled nose-to-tail on the damp and dormant patch of grass outside its masters workplace -- waiting. To what end an old dog will tarry under the elements no one can say. No one can, except perhaps Cesar Millan of Dog Whisperer fame, but then that's just television. Who doesn't take the spiel coming from TV programming these days with a grain of salt. Only the old dog knows what it's thinking. Or, he may not. It could just be acting out of instinct. Should that prove the reality, then love does not even come into play. We would like to believe that dogs love us, but maybe it's just the hand that feeds them they seek attention from.

Around mid-morning the animal had had enough sleep. It rose, dropped its hind quarters low to the ground, and stretched its back. Sniffing the ground one more time, the old black dog raised a leg and made water. It ambled away on stiff legs; free to go where it pleased. There are no leash laws in the pueblito and it would matter little if there were. Only God knows what thoughts it entertained or where its next stop would be before its mistress returned home after work.

My dad thought he had an understanding of the canine mind. An incredibility long time ago my dog killed one of mom's chickens just for the hell of it. I suppose the dog was acting on animal instinct -- whatever that means these days. When mom saw the dead chicken and my 30-pound dog nipping at its tail feathers she went ballistic. Her chickens were producing fresh eggs and now the supply had been cut by a fifth. Dad suggested I take the dead chicken and beat the shit out of the dog with it -- whomp it mercilessly. He said that after the pounding the dog would never even think of looking at mom's chickens, or anybody else's. So I beat my dog, loaded him on bed of my pickup and drove home.

The next time we came out to the ranch my dog jumped off the pickup, found everyone of Mom's four remaining chickens, and killed them. My dad was mistaken about the stream of thought in a dog's head. To be sure, my dog became very afraid of chickens. He became so afraid of them that in his little head he thought that he had better kill every chicken he ever came across from now on because if he was going to take a beating every time he killed one he might as well get it over with now and forever. Whether asleep or awake, who can figure dogs?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Can You Sear Me Now?

If you and I were having a cup of coffee or a glass of iced tea and you happened to ask what I read I would tell you I enjoy Larry McMurtry, Cormac McCarthy, a generous dose of Hemingway and some biographies -- and that tomorrow I start Sarah Palin's book. You would probably tighten your lips a bit, nod your head slightly and bring the cup or glass up for another sip to buy some time to craft a reply. Before you could say anything I would cut away from the book talk and tell you what I read a little of on the Internet this evening.

I read that the National Fire Protection Association classifies cell phones as “electronic materials”. That means they discourage cell phone use as you gas up at the pump. What led me to read about the hazard of pumping as you parley on a cell phone was something I saw while filling up my wife's car tonight. The driver of a gas tanker was chatting away on his phone as he pumped thousands of gallons of regular down into the self-serve's storage tanks. It got my attention. I don't figure the tanker driver and I share the same reading list.

As he was replenishing the self-serve's underground reservoir I was in the same instant pumping it back up into my wife's car's gasoline tank. I brought up my iPhone and snapped a picture of the tanker driver speaking into his cell phone as he leaned casually by the tanker. At that moment I realized that I was just as guilty as he.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

No Freeze, No Worry

Thank God the pueblito will sleep tonight without the cold specter of a hard freeze haunting us through the wee hours of a long winter night. Folks down here are simply not prepped for stuff like that. We are a sun people. We can fight the heat, drought and the dry wind, but the lifeless cold holds us hostage. When all the pipes are wrapped, the plants covered and the pets seen too, we slip into our beds and wait anxiously for the first golden rays of the morning sun to exorcise the cold bloodless demons of the frigid night.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Man 1, Buck 0

A real man knows how to put meat on the table. I was driving to Corpus Christi this morning and while in traffic through Alice I snapped a photo of a bagged trophy buck riding in a pickup bed. Of course, the tail gate was down to show off the kill. When I was a kid I remember hunters used to tie their kills to the hood of their cars and parade them around town. In those days automobile hoods had greater load bearing tolerances that the vehicles of today cannot match.

As the times grew more affluent, one-car families grew to become two-car families. The car became mom's vehicle and the man-of-the-house now got about in his pickup. Mom was not about to have a bloody deer carcass strapped to the clean shiny hood of her car, so any parading during whitetail deer season was now carried out with dad's pickup. It would be a bit tougher for the admiring public to view and appraise the kill now, but mom's car would remain clean and there would be peace in the family. It was important that mom be appeased because odds were that her kitchen counter and table would likely be transferred into venison butchering central.

Friday, January 8, 2010

New Mexican Year's End


Over the years Melba and I have traveled the western United States extensively. We have found New Mexico the most appealing and have returned many times. New Mexico's one drawback is its remoteness from an ocean beach.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

January 7

Today was Dora's birthday. I have been fortunate to know her since she was a girl of eleven. The first time I saw little Dora she was riding a small orchid-colored bike that sported a long white banana seat. What caught my eye was the odd look of the bike. It had a steering wheel for maneuvering instead of the regular handlebars. It was an exceptional bicycle and the two were a good match -- Dora and her bike. She grew to become an exceptional and gifted woman possessed of a wonderful nature and the world is a more pleasant and sunny place to live in because of it. Happy birthday, Dora Evelina.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Are We Not Men?

The realization hit him like a thunderbolt. As soon as he spoke into the drive-thru speaker at a Whataburger and ordered two Number Ones with no onions and two Diet Cokes, he knew he had done a bad thing. We are men no longer. He felt shame. What would his grandfathers think if they looked down from heaven on this scene and saw how their grandson, a grown man of fifty-six years, procured a meal? He could only hope that God Himself would shield their eyes, sparing them the insult.

His father, long deceased now, would have understood. He had been caught between the generations. The ol' man had seen how the source of poultry and beef for mealtime had moved from the farm yards to the KFCs and the Whataburgers of the American Fruited Plain. Dad would have understood and forgiven the sojourn through the drive-thru, but the patriarchs would not have let him off so easily.

In their time when their suppers called for red meat they took a live animal, slit its throat, butchered it, and presto; a slab of meat was ready for the wood stove before the animal's flesh assumed room temperature. Those were real men, making proud the work of their fathers' loins.

Today it is a different world. The ranks of real men have grown small. Their light is as dim as the faintest star and the earth is a sadder place for it. Forgive us, fathers. We have seen the error of our ways and from this day forward the hopeful will work to restore men to that high place in the universe that your generation shed blood, sweat, and tears to achieve. Maybe that's why guys get all worked up about whitetail deer season.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

I am a LEGO Man

This evening I was a LEGO man. A very frustrated seven-year-old Evan dumped a "million thousand bunches" of LEGOs, torn from their plastic bags, onto my coffee table. He demanded I help him sort out the mess and conjure up the very complicated looking Star Wars ARC-170 Starfighter depicted on the big box they were packaged in. It displayed a nifty-looking spaceship formed completely out of varied pieces of oddly-shaped LEGOS. Back on Christmas Eve someone had gifted the LEGO set to him without realizing that it would fall to me to help the child transform the pieces into a finished product. Fine by me. It afforded Evan and me some quality time. That is always a good thing.

Champagne

The first time I laid eyes on a bottle of Dom Pérignon was in a wine shop in Paris. The year was 1991 and Melba and I were traveling with long-time friends TP and Abe. I had no interest in the champagne. I was into my ninth year of an alcohol-free existence in those days, but Abe had an appreciation for wines, sparkling or otherwise, so he bought two bottles of the Dom Pérignon. They were ninety dollars a pop back then. The two bottles flew back home across the Atlantic -- cradled in his arms. You could still do stuff like that in the pre-9/11 flying days. Abe said one bottle was to celebrate the day his mortgage would be paid off and the other was to toast with at his son's wedding when and if the day ever came. His boy was still in school then. Each day eventually arrived and the corks were happily popped.

The thought of sampling a bottle of the pricey stuff rested in Melba's and my head for years. The more we procrastinated the higher the price climbed, but the idea of tasting the stuff festered on and on. I gave up leading an alcohol-free lifestyle in the summer of 1998 while vacationing in Cancun. Now, eleven years later, to ring in the new year and the new decade I bought a bottle. I liked to have shelled out the dollars at its 1991 price. It was sticker shock to say the least.

At midnight we popped the cork and imbibed. It had a fine taste, but our pallets and experience are in their infancy and unrefined. Melba said a $30 bottle of Moet & Chandon White Star would have been more satisfying. I had to agree. The rich stuff is out of our field of understanding and sensitivity. I suspect this one bottle is the first and last I will ever purchase, but then... you can never really know what the future holds.

Monday, January 4, 2010

An Offering

I offer a short sketch loosely based on a true incident.
---

She knelt on one knee between the graves, took the small wad of chewing gum out of her mouth and placed it in the tiny hole she had dug in the soil with her finger. She covered it with dirt and gently patted it. It was a ritual performed every time she visited her parents' graveside. She called it her "DNA offering." Years back her parents had died within months of each other, and for her, the loss of two parents in so short a span was nearly more than she could bear. Of course, she had loved them dearly and the three had been exceptionally close. The loss and separation had tested the limits of her faith.

Now they were so far away, yet close to her heart, but nevertheless, far away -- unreachable. The border town where they were buried was a six-hour drive from where she made her home and in the weeks after the second funeral she had begun to experience a sense of guilt at leaving them alone. A part of her wanted to stay and watch over them. The memory of her mother tugged at her the most. The woman had given her life. Her debt to her mother extended beyond the world of the living. The flowers and prayers she offered were not enough to assuage the ache inside. She sensed that something was amiss from her graveside visitations, something left undone.

Setting flowers on her father's grave one afternoon a flash of memory came to her. Her father had always treated her to a stick of spearmint gum when she was a little girl. "For my sweet little angel," he would say, followed by a hug. It was one of her fondest childhood memories. So on this afternoon she thought; the chewing gum, masticated thoroughly with the warm saliva in her mouth, came from inside of her. It contained an element of life. It held every essence of her genetic makeup. Her biological and emotional core had come from the union of her father and mother. In a sense, she carried them both inside of her. So with every visit she left them a bit of herself. It was a communion of sorts, shared between father, mother, and daughter. The thought gave her the measure of comfort she had desperately needed. No one could understand. No one was expected to, but in her heart it felt right.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Cows

While visiting with Mom this afternoon I took a look over to the corrals and saw the cattle come in to water. They reminded me of an incident on the Ranch so very long ago. We grew up in the middle of nowhere -- no neighbors, no telephone, the nearest paved road was three miles away, and for a long time only two channels of black and white broadcast television were available to us. Dad was a laborer on a ranching operation that ran cattle and operated oil and gas leases. For the most part the ranch was pretty much self-contained in the way of raw materials and machinery. The operation provided housing for my father and his family and so we lived out our early years on the property.

There was a corral for livestock not 100 yards from our house. Being the jack-of-all-trades that he was Dad had fabricated a steel-rod gate for the corral. The gate had a very stylish “101” (the ranch’s cattle brand) welded onto the it. One afternoon after school my oldest sister suggested that my younger sister and I take a short walk over to the corral to admire Dad’s handiwork. So we did. As we were standing in the corral a couple dozen head of cattle came to drink at the water trough. Now these were gentle beasts that were more afraid of us than we were of them, but to us little ranch kids they were large and very ferocious looking with their long pointy horns and they were blocking our path back to the house. It seemed to us that we were in trouble and needed help. We were terrified and stood in the corral looking at the cows and they stared back at us patiently waiting for us to make our exit so they could drink.


We were not a church-going family, but we knew what prayer was and what higher power it was that we were supposed to petition our requests to. Big sister made us squat low to the ground like a covey of quail and said, “Let’s pray to God!” So there we were, with our hearts in our throats, mumbling supplications to an unseen force, begging to make the bad cows go away. Little sis was now crying, but on we prayed and after a few minutes the cows became annoyed with us and wandered off, their thirst unquenched.


With the way clear to the house we quickly made our escape, strong in our conviction in the power of prayer.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Technology. Gotta Love It!

It's nice to be remembered by an ex-student. Mario Viera, Benavides High School Class of 2006, is stationed with the U.S. Navy in Japan. He and I happened to be on Facebook in the same instant so he clicked to say hello.


10:33pm-Mario
How are you doing Mr Salas?

10:34pm-Atilano
Konichiwa, Mario-san.

10:35pm-Mario
How's it going?

10:35pm-Atilano
My wife and I are spending the night in Fort Stockton. We are coming back from Santa Fe, NM. -- spent the New Years up there. You're a Marine... right?

10:36pm-Mario
No sir. I'm a US sailor.

10:37pm-Atilano
Sailor. I have great respect for sailors. My wife and I were on Yokosuka Naval Base back in 2008 for 4 months.

10:38pm-Mario
How did you like it there?

10:39pm-Atilano
Japan was the last place on earth I ever wanted to visit, but after four months there I fell in love with the place, the people and the culture..... not the food though. How did you spend the New Years, sailor?

10:40pm-Mario
I know what you mean about the food. Well, for New Yrs eve I had duty so I was on my ship, but New Yrs Day my buddies and I went out in town and had some drinks.

10:40pm-Atilano
What is your ship?

10:42pm-Mario
Can't really complain much. I could have been out to sea. I'm on the USS Avenger. It's a minesweeper.

10:44pm-Atilano
I just check in on Facebook once in a while to see what people are posting. I never expected to hear from you. Must be a good omen for the new year.

10:44pm-Atilano
When we attended the orientation in Yokosuka the chaplains warned the sailors that half of them would end up with Japanese wives. You be careful, Mario.

10:46pm-Mario
I just thought I would say how it's going since you always pushed us to strive for success. I appreciate what you did for us in high school. I'm not interested in Japanese girls, sir. I got my girl waiting back home for me.

10:47pm-Atilano
Serving in Uncle Sam's navy has put you in a world of opportunity, Mario. I cannot see anything but a great future for you, sir. Oh.... I liked the Japanese girls very much --exotic, alluring, gorgeous. Made me feel like joining up back when I was a young man.

10:47pm-Mario
lol

10:48pm-Atilano
How long before your tour is up?

10:49pm-Mario
I just got off a 6 month deployment and I have about 2 yrs left in Japan, but my contract in the navy is for 3 1/2 yrs, so i might just spend my contract time here in Japan.

10:50pm-Atilano
Six months at sea???!!!!

10:50pm-Mario
Not the entire time.

10:50pm-Atilano
I hope you get a chance to visit Tokyo. It's a wonderful city.

10:50pm-Mario
We broke down a lot so we were in port most of the time.

10:52pm-Atilano
Don't let me keep you from anything, Mario. If you have to go or do something I understand. Stay in touch.


10:53pm-Mario
Ok sir. It was nice talking to you, but I'm going to go grab something to eat.

10:53pm-Atilano
Thanks for the talk, Mario. It was a real treat for me. I enjoyed it and I am going to tell EVERYONE that we spoke. God bless you, son.

10:54-Mario
It was nice talking to you. Tell your family I said hello and happy new yr.