Sunday, February 28, 2010

140° of 1952

"We're probably the last generation that gives a shit," I told Nono. "If we don't make some kind of an effort now there won't be anyone left after us who can make a connection to the old Benavides. How could they? Nobody younger than us ever saw it."

"You know.., you're probably right," he said.
---
There is always somebody, who knows somebody, who knows somebody, who knows what you want to know. That is how my friend came to find an old gentleman who back in 1952 thought nothing of climbing to the heights of the old Benavides water tower to shoot a series of photos. Apparently, the town had just come through a major weather event and the young photographer tried to capture a panoramic view of the aftereffects on the pueblito. If his effort was to produce a 360 degree sweep with his hand-held camera to capture a panorama of the city, only 140 of them survived into the new century. This is what somebody, who knows somebody, who knows somebody, managed to place in my friend's hands. It's a colorless glimpse looking fifty-eight years back; a panning view roughly north to south with the viewer's back to the west. The clumsily taped patchwork of scratchy prints is a treasure of sorts. Nono and I are in the process of digitizing as many of the photos that depict the Benavides landmarks of yesteryear; as many as we can get our hands on. We've made some progress.

The 1952 panorama of Benavides, Texas shows a small town with muddy unpaved streets. It looked to me as if it could have been taken yesterday.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Summer of 1961

Recovery from a very bad cold is liken to a governor's stay of execution. I get to live. I get to feel healthy and strong again. The heaviness has left my bones and I feel as free as a bird. But it's the strength in my limbs I find most gratifying. Physical vigor was a large part of growing up on a ranch and I can remember feeling anxious to prove that I was able to contribute in that environment.

Back in the summer of 1961 Dad and my older brother Humberto were working at the Coyote pasture lifting and stacking hay bales that averaged 75 pounds. It wasn't far from the house so they would be having lunch at home. This was the first time that Humberto had worked alongside Dad for pay. He had been itching to earn some spending money so Dad had encouraged him to ask the ranch boss to take him on for summer work. Back then, there was little in the way of summer jobs available to us in the sticks.

Dad knew it was important that his son do his own talking so he tells my brother, "Amarate los huevos. Allí esta. Vaya y pregúntele."

Humberto ambles up to Dad's boss, "Mr. Miller, I'd like to work on the ranch this summer."

"Alrighty. How's three-fifty a day sound?"

"That's fine," Humberto was counting on four dollars a day and had already written up a wish list for a four-dollar-a-day budget, but it was 1961 and $3.50 still had a respectable amount of buying power.

Hay bales were being lifted and stacked atop large flatbed trailers at the Coyote pasture and that's where Humberto found himself alongside Dad. It was hard work. Dad, Humberto and the other ranch hands would stack hundreds of bales underneath hay sheds topped with corrugated tin that turned them into ovens under the South Texas sun. The air so thick with hay dust it scratched the back of their throats like an old rag even though they tied bandannas across their nose and mouths. The aggravation to the eyeballs was torture. There weren't enough tears to flush them clean under those conditions.

At noon Mom had lunch ready for them. My younger siblings and I were proud to see our oldest brother working like a man with Dad. Before stepping into the house Dad and Humberto removed their sweaty shirts and dusted themselves off as best they could. Then, they hosed themselves down, rinsing their head, neck, and torso. Mom handed them each a towel and the two took their place at the table, bare-chested, and began serving themselves. Dad, at the head of the table, naturally served himself first. Humberto, a working man now, followed second.

Sitting at the opposite end of the table I looked at my brother. He was sitting there in what I would call beefy youthful masculinity and thought to myself how I couldn't wait to turn fifteen. That was a long time ago.

It's been decades since I could even fake beefy youthful masculinity any more, but I felt so good this afternoon after beating this cold I could have lifted and stacked a hundred bales all by myself... and stood at the top... the king of the mountain... then probably dropped dead of a heart attack. So I took it easy instead, thinking back to the summer of 1961.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Fighting Windmills

The first time I came across a wind farm was up in Wyoming a few years ago. We were cutting across the state on I80 headed east in a hurry to someplace. I stopped to snap a photo. They reminded me of land-locked sloops sailing atop a treeless plateau. "Isn't that pretty," I said to my lovely wife. We soon became more familiar with the sight of mile after mile of wind turbines atop 240-foot ivory-white towers. There's a whole mess of them east of Ft. Stockton. We can't help catching sight of them when I drive Melba up to New Mexico for her pilgrimage to the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe. They're strung out for miles, planted on top of the once undisturbed West Texas mesas. I thought those looked pretty too and took more pictures. It came to my attention today that those pretty windmills are being constructed less than thirty miles from Benavides. They are sticking out high above the mesquite and huajillo in Webb County west of here. They don't seem as pretty now that they have begun to sprout in the brush country. This is my backyard.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

An Inconvenience

The youngest of the Salas siblings observes his birthday next week. He was born in last days of a mild winter forty-five years ago. Six weeks after his homecoming our ol' man got one of his vertebrae broken and separated while working cattle in one of the Ranch corrals. He'd turned his back on a steer just as the animal let go with a hind-quarter kick that landed between Dad's shoulder blades. They said he collapsed to the ground like someone had let the sand out the bottom of a sack.

Dad lay face up on the dirt not knowing what had knocked the wind out of him, or the legs he had been standing on a split second before. His shoulders hurt something awful and when his ranch hand compadre Poncho Cantu ran over to attend to him, Dad asked if he would rub his shoulders, they hurt so much. That didn't last long. Poncho's calloused hands didn't supply any more soothing relief than if he had used a rough burlap sack on his skin. Dad asked him to please stop. He was on the cusp of his forty-third spring on this earth as he lay motionless on the dirt of the corral.

It was a good long while before Dad was rolled into the emergency room at the old P&S Hospital in Alice. He was stabilized then transported to Spohn Hospital in Corpus Christi. His spinal cord was not severed, but the opposing ends of the broken vertebrae would have to be patched up. Dad never missed work. He couldn't afford to, but he didn't have a choice. He surrendered to the expert care of some good doctors and great nurses. In the course of the next forty-some days they drilled a couple of holes in his head so the doctors could anchor a couple of hooks into them. Dad was then fixed tight like a chicken on a rotisserie and flipped a hundred and eighty degrees every few hours. The anchors clamped to his skull were fixed to weights that pulled his head and neck with steady tension. The idea was to carefully draw apart and realign the vertebrae that the steer's kick had broken. Once the two ends were aligned to the doctors' satisfaction the gap was narrowed at a snail's pace until contact was made and healing of the bone and disc could begin. It was a long process and it tried Dad's patience. He didn't like missing work, but he had no choice. He was a man who was comfortable with routine and this was an inconvenience. The ol' man recovered full use of his back and limbs and never complained about it for the next thirty years. On occasion when he did recall that bad time he would mostly remark about "las enfermeras tan lindas. Eran muy buenas conmigo."

I thought about Dad when I clocked out of work this morning and came home to take to bed with a bad cold. I don't care to miss work either, but it's just easier to do so these days.The ol' man set a high-water mark that's hard to reach.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

April, 1965

Not one of the long-standing local businesses listed in the 1965 Benavides, Texas telephone directory exists today in the pueblito. Siempre todo se acabó.








Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Uncommon Valor

Sixty-five years ago today 22,000 Japanese soldiers and 70,000 U.S. Marines faced off against each other on a tiny volcanic island 750 miles south of Tokyo. It was war. After a 34-day battle over 28,500 young men lay dead, suffering a violent death far from home, never to return to familiar ground or to the embrace of their loved ones. The youngest Marine to fight on Iwo Jima was a fellow named Private Jacklyn Harold Lucas from Plymouth, North Carolina. He had just turned 17 six days before the battle. Lucas was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic actions on Iwo Jima and survived to see his 80th birthday. He carried about 200 pieces of metal, some the size of .22 caliber bullets, in his body.

Thanks to his service and sacrifice, and those of his fellow United States Marines past and present, today I can enjoy a productive workday in comfortable surroundings among good and decent people. At day's end I will drive home in the same condition I left for work in the morning; a free man in Benavides, Texas, U.S.A.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Dogs.., they Die

The dearest pet I ever shared a slice of my life with was Charlie. He was named for Charles, Prince of Wales. The man's name was all over the news that summer, having been recently wedded to Diana Spencer. I picked Charlie in July of 1981 from a litter of six pups that his mother, Fea (fāy'-ah), birthed on the dirty garage floor. She nursed them underneath my dad's workbench. Fea was a small hairy mutt that used to let kittens suckle on her, too. She was a dear pet at the Ranch for many years. I believe my kid brother gave her her name back in the 70s. It was Spanish for ugly. His father was a very spirited short-haired and long-legged mongrel named Rex that belonged to Richard Shimer, a long time ranch employee. After many good and memorable years of loyal companionship Charlie was laid to rest on May 15, 1991 under a small mesquite tree two-hundred feet from where he was born. I still miss my friend.

Some time back I came across this tribute to a dog delivered by a fellow named George Graham Vest. As the story goes, he was an attorney in a small Missouri town in 1870 when he delivered this tribute in court while representing a man who sued another for the killing his pet dog. When his turn came during the trial to present a summation to the jury, he made the following speech and won the case. He was later elected U.S. Senator from Missouri in 1879 and served in that capacity until 1903.

The tribute...

"Gentlemen of the Jury: "The best friend a man has in this world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter that he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name, may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has, he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it the most. A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.

"Gentleman of the Jury, a man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and sores that encounters the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens.


"If fortune drives the master forth an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him to guard against danger, to fight against his enemies. When the last scene of all comes, and death takes the master in its embrace and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even to death."


Charlie, Prince of Brighter Days

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Audio/Visual Brilliance

This comes to us from the Brits. It is absolutely brilliant. The Sussex Safer Roads Partnership is pushing Embrace Life. It is an ad campaign to remind us of the importance of using seat belts.

Sheep's Milk

If Manchego cheese wasn't so pricey I would fill a grocery cart with this delicacy, pour myself a glass of merlot and munch on bite-sized cheese wedges every day of the week. It is delicious.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Home Away from Home

Only five miles up the coast from where John Huston filmed 1964's "The Night of the Iguana" my boss and her husband own a home. It is planted high on a hill with a sweeping view of the resort city of Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico and the Pacific beyond. The motion picture, starring Richard Burton, Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr, did much to put the former fishing village on the world map and the fact that Elizabeth Taylor was on location and carrying on a very public extramarital love affair with Burton during filming guaranteed that swarms of paparazzi spread word of this tropical paradise. Life has never been the same in once sleepy Puerto Vallarta.

By fortunate coincidence the TCM network broadcast "The Night of the Iguana" this morning. The black and white classic is motion picture making of the finest kind and surpasses the drivel that today's less discerning movie goers flock to.


If Hollywood still had the likes of a John Huston, a filmmaker who operated out there on the edge of movie storytelling (the Coen brothers come close), I would shoot them an email pronto encouraging them to consider crumbling ol' Benavides and the surrounding country for a movie backdrop. There are tales to tell that would sit well in this rugged landscape. God knows we could use the economic shot in the arm. My other economic "stimulus" fantasy is to make the pueblito the 8-Liner Game Room Capital of the World. We got a shot at that one, but unlike genuine commercial successes, this one will, without question, require government intervention. It's time to grease some palms.

My boss and her husband still reside most of the year in Benavides and the pueblito owes much of its lifeblood to their business enterprises located here. They well-deserve the fruit of their labor. Que Dios les de más y que gozan su paraíso en Puerto Vallarta, their home away from home.

Friday, February 19, 2010

La Política

With apologies to Mr. Churchill: Never in the interest of public service was so little owed by so many to so few.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Energy

The energy industry -- it, and the banks, are what make the world go round, and here in South Texas we have plenty of both; energy and bankers. So why is it that so many of the common folk are on the public dole? It is difficult to put your finger on it. At tonight's meeting of the I COME HERE TO RELAX group it should make for interesting conversation.

My kid brother is in the thick of the energy game. He's a player; not in the boardrooms, but in his boots on the ground. From an undisclosed location a couple of counties away he texted me about a tremendous discovery two miles down that is going to produce six million cubic feet of natural gas and six-hundred barrels of crude a day.., a DAY! ... all from ONE well! That's an unimaginable amount of energy being drawn from the earth every twenty-four hours, and with oil at $80 a barrel and natural gas bringing $7 per thousand cubic feet, somebody with mineral interests in that unnamed county in South Texas will be counting more than sheep in their sleep tonight.

We sure could use some of that trickle-down prosperity in Duval County. There must be a big hole in the horn of plenty down here. They say we are energy rich in these parts, and yet we have the look of a third world nation. Around here there are many more wind-blown plastic bags fluttering on the brush and fence lines along the highways than you would find in a poor country. The landscape for miles around is so littered with discarded aluminum beer cans that Benavides could easily corner the aluminum metals market were the price to skyrocket. The difference is that the citizens of a third world country wouldn't have enough disposable income to buy that much product to stuff into plastic bags. Neither could they purchase that many canned and bottled beer or soft drinks. Too bad there isn't a market for discarded plastic bottles. I could be counting more that sheep in my sleep too. It's certain that after a little lubrication of the brain with adult beverages tonight's group will have the energy to figure it all out.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Tenemos Junta Mañana

For a select few of the male persuasion a season of joy has come to revisit us in the pueblito of Benavides. ¡Gracias a Dios que tenemos junata mañana! Tomorrow night the "I COME HERE TO RELAX" men's group I enjoy membership in begins its ninth year of operation. It's all about beer, barbecue and baby back ribs consumed in moderation in the solitude of Simon's backyard. The group has been on hiatus since before Thanksgiving so on the eve of this new round for 2010 our spirits are up. Every couple of weeks from February through November this well-fed think tank congregates around the mesquite fire to solve the problems of the world, share off-color humor, recycle stories old and new, celebrate the genius of Levi Strauss, bolster the soul, and spit in the face of political correctness.

The Godfather of this touted testament to testosterone is the gregarious and respected Don Simón "Póte" Saenz who works his culinary gift on the grill and in his dutch oven to cook and bake relishable offerings we can't refuse. He is also the fellow who years ago crafted our long-standing mantra, I come here to relax... I come here to relax... I come here to relax...

The informal membership has risen and fallen like the tide, coming and going in number over the years, but its core group has remained true. It has suffered no deaths, no brushes with the law, no misunderstandings with irate wives and only one accidental self-inflicted gun shot (click HERE to see related news story). There was a tornado a few years back, but it missed us by a couple of miles. Siempre pasamos un buen tiempo. We are all grown men who act responsibly. Tomorrow morning when the rising sun casts its first light over the pueblito we will slide out of bed to embrace our collective obligation. We are adult role models to a needy generation of local youth. So naturally, we have to behave ourselves.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

syzygy

As in Port-au-Prince recently, death can descend on a community in an instant or it can orbit for decades, slowly, over a pueblito such as Benavides, Texas. Like the turkey vultures, death circles patiently, high above the dying-- waiting, waiting, waiting to make certain the lifeblood has oozed out -- making way for the everlasting darkness to take dominion. Benavides has been hemorrhaging since before I could spell my name. The bloodletting has steadily depleted its most valuable of commodities..., its brain pool.

Last evening I was talking with a progeny of that once great brain pool. It was a good talk; insightful, uplifting and at times bordering on the profound. Speaking with this person who "sees the big picture" is refreshing. He's pictured above, but vaguely masked to respect his privacy. My friend, this former child of the once celebrated Benavides, Texas brain pool, planted the word "syzygy" in our conversation as casually as one would speak the word 'coffee'. It rolled off his tongue so easily it was on my lap before I knew what to do with it.

Those of his ilk are fewer and fewer in number these days. In a former time Benavides produced them by the busload. Their exodus from the pueblito worked to spread word of the town's academic distinction and the personable repute of its citizens. These days the brain pool is a bit shallow and you can count on your fingers the numbers in the annual exodus that go on to enjoy good success.

With all the international aid pouring into Port-au-Prince, most notably from the U.S.A., it is certain the city will recover and live on with indeterminable levels of prosperity. At the moment, the aid to the lowly and forgotten community of Benavides is a miserly trickle. The pueblito's survival, much less its capital outlook, remains uncertain.

Syzygy! Damn! Before last night I believed I had a decent vocabulary in my bag of tricks, and for an instant, I really thought my friend had made the word up.

Monday, February 15, 2010

HARD water

Perhaps one reason there isn't a car wash in Benavides is the hard water supplied to the pueblito. If there was a car wash in operation a vehicle could not simply pull in and be power-washed, rinsed, then driven away. The water is too hard. The glass and the finish would have to be wiped dry otherwise a whitish residue that sticks like paint would coat everything. It's nasty stuff. We bathe, cook, do laundry and brush our teeth with this mineral-laden extract from the bowels of the earth. Many drink it. It is easy to imagine a good number of the stray animals around here suffering terrible kidney stones. They gladly lap up the rain water collected in depressions around town after a good downpour to give their urinary tract some rinsing and relief.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Puertas de Fierro

Only God can know how many countless thousands of 25 to 30-foot lengths of steel sucker rods were used to draw up the oil riches of Duval County in the last century. The shallow wells ran dry and the oil boom went bust, but there were still riches to be found in the acres of rusting oil field bone yards. Those same steel sucker rods, now abandoned above and below the surface, would serve as a low-cost steel-fabricating resource in the decades following the bust. Much of it was reincarnated as indestructible ranch gates, las puertas de fierro that a decent self-taught welder could cut and bend with an acetylene torch, then fashion and weld to fit and secure any gap in a corral or fence line.

When the supply was plentiful they could be had as cheap as ice in Alaska. Today, sucker rods, if they can be found and aren't too pitted, will set you back nearly as much as a Somali pirate's ransom demand.





Saturday, February 13, 2010

Can't Remember When

Ask a dozen people in Benavides over age of thirty if they remember the night old Caballero's Bus Stop burned to the ground and they will all say yes, definitely. Ask when... and they will come back with a dozen different answers ranging from the late 70s to the first year of the new millennium. I even asked the owner's grandson, a grown man, if he could recall the date. In all honesty he said he could not, though that night he sat on a street curb watching a family business devoured in an wall of flame that had not been seen in the pueblito since The Rita moviehouse gave up the ghost in a flaming end back in 1963 or 64.

The Bus Stop, a big two story structure that had stood on the corner of Main and Brazil for as long as anyone living could remember, had housed shelves full of general merchandise, a wareroom of plumbing supplies, animal feed, and what seemed like miles of PVC pipe and assorted connections of every description. One could purchase postage stamps there on weekends, cash personal or payroll checks, borrow a phone (this was in the days before everyone from 6 to 106 carried a cell phone). You could receive and ship packages, and of course, catch the bus. It was a very important place, but it burned and never rose from the ashes. Somehow the event did not have the same impact on the locals as did the Kennedy assassination thirty-four years earlier. The blazing moment was definitely not frozen in time or seared in their memory. I claim no exception, and I was there too. I am still asking around because that lost date is nagging at me like a tick bite in the belly button. Nearest I can figure it was 1997.

What does it matter? The Caballero Bus Stop was right across from the U.S. Post Office. That public space between it and the Bus Stop was the great meeting place for the locals from early morning, to the lunch hour, to evening's end. It was a sign que tenia vida el pueblito. When it burned down all of that life energy was greatly diminished. The small disaster was a big nail in the coffin for Benavides, Texas. It's odd that people can't recall exactly when it happened. The loss of life that night was zero. The loss of time and place was immeasurable. You would think people could remember.

Friday, February 12, 2010

From Long Time Ago

Daryl is a beautiful woman inside and out. She and I taught classes at the same high school a long time ago. These days we don't run in the same circles so the only place we bump into each other is at Walmart every couple of years. Tonight was our chance rendezvous for 2010. She always lifts my spirits with our brief encounters and reminds me that the earth is still populated with a good number of genuinely kind and thoughtful people. For a sliver of time Daryl takes me back to some of the better days from long time ago.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

We Shook Hands Once

I was fortunate to shake Stephen Ambrose's hand at a book-signing in Corpus Christi in February of 2001. He was in town for a speaking engagement at the invitation of The Friends of the Corpus Christi Public Libraries. Before the start of the program he sat in the lobby of the Harbor Playhouse signing books at a small table. He was very patient; smiling for snapshots and shaking hands with fans. When I arrived at the event I hadn't realized that he would be signing books. Being empty-handed I quickly purchased a copy of his latest book that was on sale there, "Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, 1863-1869." I then took my place in line for a handshake and autograph. When I finally stood before him I said hello, shook his hand and mentioned that I admired his work and that it was a pleasure to meet him in person. He thanked me and asked how he should sign the book. I said "for Salas" would be fine. Mr. Ambrose quickly penned my name to the page and I thanked him once more. I walked away feeling privileged and thinking what a good day it was.

My little sister's birthday falls in February, but this month I remember Stephen Ambrose, too. He was only 66 when he died in October of 2002.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I Remember Scott

Scott, a fellow I used to work with long long ago in a land far far away, taught me something about putting things in perspective. For Scott it was an unimaginably painful lesson to pass on to others. Back then he was a young high school coach married to a beautiful woman. I met her a few times. She had a quiet elegance about her that was in harmony with an equal charm and intellect. As my Dad would say, "Era una mujer muy hermosa." Scott was a fortunate man. Tragically, cancer took her from him. It was a sad time and he carried on as best as a young man could.

Later that school year the faculty was dealing with issues that were weighing heavily on us; low morale, just compensation, mounting paperwork, student discipline, and all the rest that never seems to change, much less improve. During a faculty meeting one afternoon the men were sitting in a far corner of the library half-listening to the bile spewing from a fellow trying to sell us on some new "researched based" teaching initiative. He was giving it his best, but his best was not good enough. It was the same ol' same ol'. Under their breath the guys at our table were directing disparaging remarks at the speaker and wallowing in their perceived despair, when suddenly, Scott gave his back to the speaker and turned to our group. He panned his eyes from right to left and somehow in that one sweep looked hard at each of us. He slammed his palm hard on the table.

"All of this don't mean a damn thing! I wouldn't waste a minute fussing over it!" We all cringed a little because we felt sure everyone in the room heard him.

"What do you mean?" I asked. The men at the table were all focused on him.

"When you've lost your wife, nothing like this matters," he said. We understood that he was referring to our petty complaints. The look in his steel-gray eyes was burning. "What matters is your health..., your family! All of the rest is just bullshit." Then he went silent.

Scott was right. He saw all things in their proper perspective. His words of observation were spoken long ago when I was still young and pretty, but I have never doubted what he said since. Every once in a while this rugged existence may lead me to express discontent about life in our pueblito, but I don't ever worry about the bullshit.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

#2/Ø/W-T

I appreciate an ex-student not shying away; one who acts genuinely pleased to see me long after the classroom years are behind us. Nola never fails to say hello. The kid's in college, works all the time and has big goals on her plate with dreams to match. It's unfortunate that my wife and I have to drive twenty-five miles one way to say hello to her at the Whataburger. There's some fine eating there if you aren't counting calories. That's where we run into Nola, at the drive-thru window.

Not all is well, however. These days the burgers don't seem as tasty. Ever since that "how do you measure calories" epiphany I received on Saturday, meals don't settle in my stomach with as much satisfaction as they once did. When Nola handed our order through the drive-thru window I pictured setting the burgers and fries on fire to see how long they would burn. The image was just a flash, but long enough to tell me that the burger and fries would burn a good long while. That's not good. I understand the science behind it, but why is it that all the delicious things to eat burn long and stuff like peas and celery don't spark up worth a damn? It just doesn't seem fair. Why does God do that? I'll never enjoy food in the way same again. In my mind I'll keep tossing my food in a fire before taking that first bite. Melba and I are going to try and see less of Nola from now on. She's a great kid, but she's the face of BIG FAST FOOD.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Boys Will Be Boys

Requires no batteries, but if the need arises, have a small bottle of sangre de chango (iodine or mercurium) and a couple of Band-Aid bandages handy.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

El Monte

What is it about walking through el monte that acts as a healing balm for my soul? My wife reasons that worldly evil cannot exist in the remote brush. There may be some truth to that. This afternoon I couldn't receive a signal on my cell phone out here. I thought that was funny. A thousand years ago when we were kids my brothers and I would spend hours exploring the brush. It was nothing for us to traverse miles of dense mesquite, nopaleria and pastureland out here. Long stretches of the Agua Poquita Creek were our playground and all we had to protect us was our guardian angel. We didn't have so much as a pocket knife to give us some semblance of defense against the rattlesnakes, coyotes, javalinas and mojados that Mom and Dad would caution us to watch out for. To think that I was a little troubled this afternoon because I was out of reach by cell phone. I thought it silly considering the remoteness we grew up in as children.

In my advanced years there's physical benefit walking out here. It beats taking laps around the local track field. The track is fine if that's all you have and don't mind feeling like a rodent in one of those hamster wheels. Thank God I have el monte.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Suicide is Delicious

If you can believe what you read on the LIVESTRONG.COM website, there are 515 calories in one pork chorizo taco. To the team of researchers at Livestrong HQ in Austin, Texas that figure may be true, but not so for the puebliteros of Benavides. Six days out of the week DC's Restaurant serves up a humongous grease-laden chorizo con llevo breakfast taco that will make your clogged arteries cry out no mas. The tortilla alone is a delicious path to suicide. 515 calories could almost be considered healthy fare by the food standards down here. Drive DC's fat baby up to the capital and have the researchers examine it. The science books tell us that calories are measured by how much heat the food gives off when burned. Well, baby, light my fire. This heart-stopping firecracker from DC's would blaze like Mount Vesuvius. Digest it at your own risk.

There is no food police in the pueblito to protect us from ourselves. This isn't California. The unofficial town motto here is coma, beba, y sea feliz. The locals die young, but happy... that is until their first heart attack or first toe amputation.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Practical Man

The outside world is hidden from me. My view of that world from behind my desk is limited by the narrow glass panes on the door to our office building. Before the sun became visible today, that view had been a dismal one this week. Benavides was already a sad little place when the sun was shining and the days warm, but when the pueblito became cloaked under a dull overcast, that sadness turns significantly somber. The picture outside was awash in a drab monochrome. Everything appeared flat -- almost two-dimensional. The only color came was off the new cars in the parking lot -- their shiny finishes splattered with mud. A handful of the employees here had already received their tax refunds and before the ink was dry on the checks they handed them right back. The nasal rush of that new car smell was irresistible.

It was break time; a chance to stand, stretch and get some circulation going. I stared blankly outside to rest my eyes, my mind. From where I stood the view north was an expanse of mesquite under a clouded ceiling that crawled lazily from north to south. Here, on the outskirts of town, houses and mobile homes sat planted in small clearings cut out of the brush. I could just make out the roof tops. It was a tug-o-war between the dying town and the steady encroachment of the mesquite and the mesquite was winning. A block away Highway 339 intersected the railroad tracks and ran by our place of business then disappeared beyond the gentle rise of country to the northwest. It was a quiet scene except for sporadic traffic. I envied the slow pace suggested by the scene outside. It contrasted painfully with the business that went on in the office. Deadlines, duties, and responsibilities crowded my mind and my desk. From behind the glass the world was mute, a silent movie. I enjoyed the quiet it offered.

Aside from the slow procession of low clouds and the occasional sparrow darting about, little else is moved. Then I saw an old pickup approaching from the north. It began to slow and with the last few revolutions of its wheels came to a stop on the grassy shoulder, soggy and muddy from the rains. Engine trouble I guessed. Something you do not see often these days. It was more common a couple of generations ago when moderate affluence was enjoyed by fewer families in the brush country.

A small man stepped out of the old truck. The truck was small also. The man's shoulders were bent in a manner that suggested years of hard physical work. I imagined that here was a man who has labored long and hard using his strong back and powerful hands all his life. Now he looked old, almost spent. My guess was that he was only a little older than I. How much older I could not say, but the bounce was gone from his step. I did not feel old or spent. The bounce had not left me yet. The man walked around to the grille and popped the hood open. He had my full attention now, the paperwork on my desk be damned. I could stretch my break. The man who looked old and the disabled truck offered a small drama. I could ignore the stacks of paper on my desk that called for attention. What I saw beyond the glass panes was more interesting.

The man pushed back his hat and leaned into the engine compartment, his hands busy. A minute or so passed and he slid back behind the wheel and attempted a restart. Nothing happened. Again he exited the cab, only now he walked to the back and reached into the bed. He pulled up a small metal toolbox -- dented and rust colored. It appeared as weathered as the man -- used, but not useless. Coming around to the front again, he set the small toolbox on the metal pan of the air cleaner and began to work. I sensed he has done this before.

I had to ask myself. Which of the two of us possessed knowledge that was more practical? Which of us had a genuine can-do attitude? Relying on his own resources, which of us could get the old truck headed back down 339? Before long he again slid back behind the wheel and cranked the engine. Rapid puffs of blue smoke signaled a start and he revved the engine a few times for assurance. The man's body language gave nothing away. He remained stoic. The hood came down. The tool box was set back in the bed and the small drama was over. The practical man and his old truck pulled away, crossed the tracks, and were gone.

I thought of another practical can-do man, my father -- gone too long these many years. Break time was over and it occurred to me that I should have taken a picture.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Real Blogger

Once in a while I am reminded how insignificant the drivel on my blog is. The bandwidth I consume can hardly be justified. The blogging effort is simply an exercise in personal entertainment. Now, take a look at the writing of a real blogger such as Elizabeth Burns and you'll see what I am talking about. She maintains two blogs that touch on real life-and-death issues.

Rancho Los Malulos and The Polyline Lawsuit

Watch the YouTube video below that Mrs. Burns posted on her blog only this morning. Unless you have ice water in your veins, you will see what I mean about "life-and-death." Sadly, what is depicted on her video is a regular occurrence at her place in the brush country of South Texas.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Got Mud Grips?

Under normal circumstances cleaning off weeks of dried mud from cars or trucks in Benavides hardly requires any elbow grease -- a girl could do it. However, the miles of caliche that pass for roads in the pueblito these days poses a problem. We received enough rain today to float Noah's Arc and for that blessing what we have this evening are traffic arteries awash in mud -- caliche mud. This stuff is different from the sandy loam variety we used to play in as kids, and those in the pueblito that do not know the difference are about to get an education.

Caliche mud, the way Mother Nature mixes it around here, has nearly the same bonding agents as Crazy Glue. It does not slide off easily with the stream from a water hose. The miserable water pressure the city's water system produces is hardly adequate. If we had a car wash in town, and we don't, you would have to drop a roll of quarters into the coin slot for enough time to power wash the stuff off. It is unimaginably sticky when wet and incredibly hard when dry. The stuff is so durable it was used as building material around here back in the day.

My wife and I have visited old adobe ruins and such out in the Great American Southwest. Once, we were at the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument between Phoenix and Tucson. The literature stated that the imposing four-story structure dated from around 1350 A.D. Damn! That's old for something made out of what archeologists called "a special kind of clay." Hell! It's caliche. No wonder it doesn't quickly hose off our cars and trucks. It is meant to last.

Caliche makes a great road surface when it's laid down properly, graded and packed. If you want to see how not to apply it, and the result that comes of it, -- come to Benavides. I hear this road project is no where near the mid-point of completion and no one in authority can say with any certainty when the end will come. I may have to switch to mud grip tires if these rains don't let up. As for keeping my vehicles clean. My fingers are all pruned more often than not because I am regularly with sponge and bucket in hand. We have some kind of misery here.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Groundhog Day

On the second morning of February in Benavides, Texas a fat pampered rodent does not stick its head out of a burrow to look for its shadow. That particular groundhog of the Pennsylvania variety is not native to South Texas, but his cousin, the Mexican ground squirrel, is. Had that skinny little fellow been coaxed to stick its head out of a cozy hole in the ground this morning it would not have seen a shadow. Would that have signaled an early spring for the pueblito and the region if it had? Probably not. With only a handful of genuine cold snaps worthy of a heavy coat in this abbreviated winter season we enjoy here, an early spring is a regular occurrence. Last year the mesquites gave their first flush of leaves in the third week of February. Perhaps that is the reason this second day of the month passes with little notice. That is unfortunate because the pueblito is the poorer for it.

Groundhog Day in the brush country is not an occasion observed with appropriate ceremony or festivity. It ought not to be so. Kids, old folks and everyone else in between could use a bit of fun and revelry on a gloomy day in February. I'll observe the holiday by watching one of the best movies to come out of the 1993, Groundhog Day. It stars the talented Bill Murray who turns a simple story into a life affirming account of reexamination and priorities.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Report from the Field

I received the following information regarding our temporary loss of natural gas to the pueblito last Friday via email from a big shot at ConocoPhillips . In part, this is what it said.

"I can assure you that the lack of natural gas to the city of Benavides on Friday the 29th, 2010 was in no way caused by ConocoPhillis. You see, the natural gas that your city enjoys is produced in the Lobo gas fields around Laredo, Zapata, Bustamante, Aguilares and San Ignacio which is then transported by a 20-inch pipeline to our distribution station in Agua Dulce. At that point it is then sold to various companies; ExxonMobile, ChevronTexaco, Celanese, Koch, etc. Along the way at about the mid-point on the Driscoll Ranch, just off of Hwy 359 between Benavides and Realitos, a small portion of this gas is diverted to your city via a 2-inch pipeline. It is at this point that your city buys and takes custody of your natural gas. I checked with our people as to the cause of the shut in and was told the 2-inch pipeline developed a leak the previous night and had to be repaired."