Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Out of Gas

The blue pilot flames of ovens, water heaters and gas ranges in homes, restaurants and schools in the pueblito will soon go out. The powers-that-be have not paid the town's supplier of natural gas in God knows how long. Longhorn Pipeline is not in the business of operating a charity, so it petitioned the Railroad Commission of Texas for permission to abandon their service to the city. The request was granted. The town's gas customers are up in flames over the whole affair. At the end of June the pueblito will have 22.5 miles of decrepit gas lines supplying absolutely nothing.

Hundreds of low and fixed-income users of low-cost natural gas are up shit creek without a fart of hope. In three months time they are going to have to convert their gas appliances to burn propane and bear the cost that entails for supply and storage. Those who choose to go the electric route will have to arrange for the removal of their soon-to-be useless gas appliances, then purchase new electric water heaters, ovens, ranges and appliances to heat their homes in the cold months. Also, they will have to hire skilled labor to wire their homes for 220 volt, install additional breakers, then bear the continual cost of higher energy rates every single month until the day they croak. It is going to be a terrible struggle for many.

The city management, such as it is, claim they coaxed the Easter Bunny to fork over $275,000 to disperse equally among the present 274 natural gas customers to help defray the cost of conversion. Good luck with that.

How Benavides got in this fix is a mystery. The cause and reason for this predicament has not been forthcoming from the "city leaders" and not knowing what hand they are holding has worked to make the rumor mill grind overtime. That is not good for anyone, but this much is fact. City reps went up to Austin last week before the Texas Railroad Commission's Office of General Counsel to answer for something. What it was is anyone's guess. Whatever the case or outcome, this pueblito will soon be out of gas.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tell the Bats We Ain't Dead Yet

Not everyone has moved away yet, but for all practical purposes the pueblito is a ghost town, populated by stubborn holdouts who for reasons of love, circumstance or luck still cling to their roots and call this place home. Some are content, others not. After dusk, a dull stillness envelopes the neighborhoods as vestiges of the day slide beyond the line to the west separating sky from earth. The streets begin to grow dark, and unless young families are congregated at the ball park for a night game, the only illumination of any significance along the state highway comes from the Kwik Pantry convenience store. Aside from its staples of beer, ice, cigarettes, sodas and lotto tickets, the gritty little store offers the only fuel pumps in town. Its closest competitors are ten cents a gallon cheaper and 16 miles to the northeast in San Diego. The kids there complain, too, that there is nothing to do, but theirs is not a ghost town. As the earth completes another revolution the puebliteros settle in for the night, one more in a long string of uneventful spates of twilight.

Bats relocated from their confines in the dead fronds of Sabal palms and moved to airy accommodations in the abandoned Momeny Gym. They are not concerned with boredom, broken streets, prices at the pump, caliche dust, love, luck or circumstance. In the evenings the air above the ghost town is alive with clouds of flying insects and to the bats all is right with the world.
The barrenness of Benavides is much to the bats' liking. High in the rafters of the old gym they enjoy a buffer of sorts from their natural enemies; horned owls, hawks, raccoons, house cats, and snakes. It is boys with BB guns, rocks and a good arm that are troublesome to them. It is though the boys have designated themselves the unofficial ambassadors for the city, there to remind the bats that the pueblito ain't dead yet.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Murió Fess Parker

August 16, 1924 – March 18, 2010

The news was late reaching my ears and it was not good. Fess Parker passed away. They say you can't take it with you, but Parker did. With him he took a bit of the best of American masculinity. Descanse en paz.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Doggone Afternoon

Mi ahijada, my godchild, mother of my little 7-year-old buddy Evan, has relocated 20 miles west of the pueblito to a place called Green Acres, an unincorporated community just north of Ben Bolt, Texas. My heart aches just thinking about it, but he and I will adjust. Melba and I helped her and the kids settle in there afternoon.

Moving, loading, and unloading large pieces of furniture and box upon box of household goods is hard work. Trabaje bastantito, but then I have to. Peso mucho for a five-foot-six male of Mexican stock, and the exertion is beneficial.

The owner of the property mi ahijada is renting from still has his two Siberian Huskies in the yard. The male and I took a liking to each other. It was so relaxing at days' end to lay flat on the tailgate and relax, enjoying the company of a good dog. I could almost feel my blood pressure drop.

Come bedtime the wife was saying how exhausted she felt. "We don't have enough energy left in us to be exhausted," was what I replied.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

America Can Kick Ass

America can kick ass. Piss ant countries that don't have the sense to wipe their asses with toilet paper ought to shit in their rags when some of their home-grown fools even think about attacking America.

The public was invited this weekend to the “Wings Over South Texas” Air Show at the Naval Air Station, Kingsville. The display of the U.S.A.'s raw military air power supercharges my testosterone. Driving away at day's end from that event makes me want to order the destruction of infrastructure. I want to see the enemy's home turf put to the torch and leveled to the ground. I want to hurt the enemy where he lives. I want to vaporize his ship harbors, tanker ports, freight terminals, rail lines, telecommunication networks, grain silos, major ground thoroughfares, hydroelectric plants, refineries, vital bridges, factories that produce anything from ICBMs to thimbles, his houses of worship, hospitals, dams, and his hope. I want the survivors to crawl back home on their hungry bellies and gape in anguish with their parched mouths and shriveled tongues at the scourge they brought upon themselves thinking they could plan and scheme America's demise.

I drive away from these events a peace-loving man, but one who can't see the sense in pussy footing around our enemy's evil pursuits. America ought not to put up with any bullshit. American can kick ass, dammit! This one-world free-trade global community crap will be the death of us if the powers-that-be do not straighten up and fly right. If we're not careful this country will not even manufacture our own ammunition or our own guns. That will spell the end. China is already killing us with all this MADE IN CHINA shit. They are going to murder us without firing a shot.

This was Evan's first air show. In his words, it was "awesome!"

Friday, March 26, 2010

Bluebonnets and Windmills

Between Realitos and Hebbronville every motorist with a sense of smell was driving under the influence. For a stretch of highway the breeze brushing across 359 off the fields was heavily perfumed with the supersweet fragrance of bluebonnets. I had to pull over and take it all in. It was intoxicating.

Ten miles north of Bruni and an hour's drive from home an outfit called Cedro Hill Wind, LLC is planting 280-foot tall wind-powered generators on 20,000 acres of brush country in Webb County. We went over this afternoon to have a look.

My pueblito of Benavides is planted at the core of a metroplex in comparison to the isolation these silent sentinels find themselves in. There is no one out here along much of FM 2050. These modern-day windmill are not going to bother anyone.

The sight of these feather-like giants is impressive, or as the boy noted, "They're awesome!"

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Talk of Old Men

Just before the first bite of chicharones the topic of conversation hovered over a buffet of physical ailments, drug prescriptions and doctor practices. Then it got uncomfortable when the banter was consummated with quips centered on colonoscopies past and future. It was the talk of old men; men who tonight were gabbing more about where they had been and done rather than where they were going and hoping to do. The group ranged from ages 51 to 76, each as different from the other as new crayons in an 8-count box. What they held in common were roots in the community, but the talk had taken on a different tone this afternoon. How had it come to this? The palaver had strayed way off the usual Thursday night game plan.

As disheartening as the discourse was it did not discourage their appetites, nor did it persuade them to pursue a more healthy fare for the Thursdays to come. The men, 51 to 76, were here to relax, to eat, and to down a couple.

The days were passing too swiftly for some and in the back of their minds they knew too well that there was an appointed time when they would look back in fondness to these Thursdays, recalling better days.

On this pleasant spring afternoon in a South Texas pueblito, men who were young at heart were content to speak lightheartedly of their failing bodies amongst each other. God forbid the day when they would have to share the talk in the company of doctors and nurses.

Perhaps the shift had crept up so subtlety that none took notice, but one in the company did. He sensed that the Thursday group had turned a corner, flipped a page, taken a fork in the road and become more reflective. The talk on this day had become somewhat sedate. It was more somber and more mindful of one's mortality.

One in the group sat quietly on a chair near the barbecue grill, cupping a folded half-taco of chicharones in a flour tortilla. In silence he worked to shake off his melancholy. The modest taco was all he was going to have. The whole time he sat with the group he nursed one can of beer. He was neither sad nor happy, but the shift that only he seemed to be aware of this afternoon had not settled well with him. He was disinclined to listen to the talk of old men.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Limitless Energy

The kid wants to see forever. "Let's climb the hills," he says to me. The "hills" are ten to twelve-foot mounds of dirt that the street crews have deposited across the road. They've been there so long they are now covered in wild vegetation. The green mounds are very inviting to a seven-year-old. "Come on. Let's go," he calls out to me. I know he'll get dirty, but I do not resist him. "Yeah. Come on," I say.

Before we cross he first runs back to my pickup. "Where're you going?" I ask.

"I need something."

He pulls a pair of binoculars from the glovebox, runs past me, looks quickly both ways before crossing, and in seconds is atop the heap of dirt and weeds, scanning the landscape. He can see forever.

He slides down, climbs up, slides, climbs, up, down. In ten minutes he's expended more physical energy than I have in the last six months. I celebrate and envy him at the same time. His zip is limitless.

A half hour later we are in the unincorporated community of Green Acres, twenty miles removed from "hills" and under a stand of mesquites, flush with a new spring canopy. The boy is rested and is ready for more. He seeks the heights again. He is ready to climb. The husky rough bark is inviting to him. "Help me climb up," the boys says. I would like to climb up after him, but the pull of gravity on thirty pounds of excess baggage on my frame discourages me. Up he goes. I stand underneath and watch like a guardian angel. Nothing is impossible to him.

His imagination recognizes no bounds. The small tree adventure stirs his fascination for all things Star Wars, and so he looks down at me and spews a non-stop discourse about its characters and their actions. I long ago lost what little I knew of Star Wars and have no idea what he is talking about, but he doesn't know that. I feign interest, engaging him with questions and opinion. He is happy to have someone listen. Star Wars is important to him.

The bark is rough on his tender little hands and it works to help him lose interest in the climbing. He trusts me. From a limb six feet off the ground he steps into the air and drops into my outstretched arms and I set him down. He is through with the tree, but not through for the day. There is plenty of light left.

He runs to fetch his toy rifle out of my car and then climbs into the bed of his grandpa's work truck where he knows grandpa keeps a welding mask. His Star Wars adventure continues. I get to rest my ears and watch from a distance. It is gratifying to see that he isn't squatted in some corner with an electronic hand-held game.

The adults' business in Green Acres is concluded and the company they keep is hungry. There is a good eating establishment in San Diego, ten miles away. The boy rides with us. From his position strapped into a car seat he fires off imaginary round out of an open window with his toy rifle. He never misses. A Ninendo DS lies ignored within arm's reach. Shooting with the wind in his face is more fun.

The Luchazie General Store & Restaurant offers its customers a large expanse of concrete for parking. There is room for every make and model of vehicle. It is inviting. Out in back the owner had a pond dug out. It is stocked with catfish, bass and perch. The natural light is fading, but it does not dissuade the boy. He is at the water's edge almost before I give the okay. He has the heart of a young lion and the swiftness of a deer.

The boy is tempted to jump into the water to examine the duck decoys. I know they are anchored down with weights, but he is convinced they are slowly moving toward him. I am hungry and would rather go inside and wait for the hot food at our table. I love the boy more than food. He will never run out of steam. "Come on. I'm hungry. Let's go eat," I tell him and retreat to the restaurant. We fill out bellies and rest at the end of another good day.


kechéya -to catch
playciar - to place
sharponiar - sharpen
bompio - bumped
mistiar - to miss
mofle - muffler
wadaheeda - waterheater
picheya - to pitch
testiar - to test
typiar - type
ponchiar - to punch
wachó- watched
swichó - switched
mopiar - to mop
speleya - spell
chekeya - to check
scanāyalo - scan it
copiando - copying
sweechayalo - switch it
snapáyate - snap out of it

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

No Such Cuisine

There is no such animal. You can walk into a restaurant or fix these up in your kitchen... Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Thai, Cajun, New Mexican, Greek, French, Kosher, Mediterranean, Soul, Tex-Mex, Vietnamese or Vegetarian. What's Hispanic?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Good ol' Larry

My wife bought a book for me. She knows what and who I enjoy reading. Ol' Larry turns 74 in a couple of months. He doesn't see so well, his arthritic fingers can hardly thread the spool of ink ribbon through his typewriter, but even after a lifetime of writing he can still string words together to produce wonderful storytelling. He can get a little raunchy, but then he's an old man. I can overlook it. Allá vamos todos.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Bienvenidos a Cuba

For years I have wanted to visit Cuba. There may be no need to pack for the trip now. By hook or by crook a majority of the Congress of the United States is bringing Fidel's Cuba to our fading American way of life. Como cambian las cosas. Be careful what you ask for... you just might get it.

Ronald Reagan saw it coming. In 1961 he was enlisted by the American Medical Association's "Operation Coffee Cup" campaign to speak out against a social insurance program to be administered by the United States government (Medicare). The idea was nothing new. The proposal that had been simmering in halls of the Capitol since the 1920s. In the 45 years since its signing into law, Medicare and its offshoots have morphed into a bloated entitlement monster with a money-sucking black hole at its core that has done irreparable damage to the social structure of this country. The politicians should have come up with something better back then. Look what it has led us to today.
"…this program, I promise you will pass just as surely as the sun will come up tomorrow. And behind it will come other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country until, one day, as Norman Thomas said, we will wake to find that we have socialism. And if you don’t do this, and I don’t do this, one of these days, you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it once was like in America, when men were free.” --Ronald Reagan

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Egg

Urban myth or no urban myth, it is a real kick twice a year.

Friday, March 19, 2010

La Ortiga

The South Texas Plains are home to the most diverse collection of plant and animal life in North America. I cannot prove it, but I do not think I am wrong. If it slithers, flies, runs, bites, stings, or takes root, you will find it down here. In a wet year, like we are presently experiencing, the green leafy variety of life sprouts out of the ground as if the Johnny Appleseed of weeds and wildflowers traipsed over every square inch of South Texas. It is darn right pretty right now and spring has yet to strike full force.

But with the pretty, which is good, comes the bad, like the spiny ortiga. It is a nasty and prolific weed that stings like fire if it makes contact with your skin. I learned to respect it a long time ago. The landscape work got away from me the couple of months and I find myself having to mow large stands of the stuff at the Ranch. It is not easy sans riding mower.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

First Worst Night

In my former life the wife and I always took a little trip somewhere on spring break. The both of us had always worked under the same school calendar, so it was easy to get away. We had no dogs, no worries and no reason not to just take off. These days I am tied to a desk fifty weeks out of the year. No spring break for me, but the misses grows restless at home with little to do.

Solution? Clock out of work an hour early on a gloriously sunny day with low humidity, make up an excuse to drive to Corpus Christi 75 miles away, and invite another old couple like us to dinner at Olive Garden. It's no spring break, but a break of sorts in the middle of the week. It was a good mix of wine, well-prepared food, and good company with excellent conversation that migrated from yesterday, to the present and the hope of even better tomorrows. Having an old friend sitting across the table makes the old memories break to the surface like the tiny bubbles in a glass of champagne. We concluded our dinner with one of the saddest stories of my adolescent life. We laugh now, but that first worst night wasn't so funny to me thirty-nine years ago.

What follows is the longest and saddest story I have to tell about my days as a youth at the Ranch. Years later, the incident is still very disheartening to recall.

The time is April 1970. I am a junior in high school and the junior-senior prom is on everyone’s mind. I did not have a date for the prom and time was short. I became aware that drop-dead-gorgeous to-die-for sophomore Cindy Garza had not been asked to the prom. I jumped at the chance to ask her. I found her after school in the students’ parking lot and asked if she would like to be my date for the prom. She said yes.

Prom night in those days was preceded by a banquet at the school cafeteria. Because Cindy lived in La Sejita ranch community about 20 miles south of Benavides she had made arrangements to come into town to dress at Rosabel Meza’s house. The plan was for me to pick her up there before the dance. Now I do not remember who sent word to me that Cindy would not be at Rosabel’s and that I would have to go out to La Sejita to pick her up, but needless to say, this news was very distressing.

Gloria had loaned me her car for prom night and the prospect of driving all the way out to Cindy's place at night in my sister’s car did not appeal to me. On the first opportunity after the banquet I called Cindy from Rosabel’s to touch base with her. After giving me directions to her house I assured her that I would be at her place ASAP. Driving much too fast, I headed south on Highway 339 to make the long drive to pick her up, but not before I managed to terrify a good number of motorists in town before I got to the city limits. Working against me was the fact that it was now dark and I had never been to Cindy’s place and I was completely unfamiliar with the La Sejita ranch community.

In desperation I drove as fast as I dared. Zoom. I passed our place. Zoom. I zipped through the intersection of Highway 339 and County Road 716. Zoom. I drove by the little Ramirez school. The dirt road leading out to the ranch community of La Sejita lay before me. Racing in the dark through this maze of roads in that part of the county and sending up clouds of dust behind me I mentally reviewed the directions she had given me. Turn right, then left, now pass one, two, three cattle guards, turn left after you see the telephone pole with the yellow sign, look for a large field to your right, keep going until you see…… oh oh.

I am not sure if it was poor directions or just my anxiety, but after a while I realized that I had become lost. My heart sank. Getting to Cindy’s and all the joy that was certain to ensue once I escorted her to the prom was now slipping from my reach. I turned around and tried backtracking in the hope of regaining my bearings. I saw a vehicle approaching from the opposite direction so I stopped the car and stepped out to flag it down and ask for directions. The vehicle stopped and the driver asked me if I had car trouble. I responded in the negative and asked if he knew how to get to Cindy Garza’s house. The driver said no and he turned to his passenger to ask if he knew this girl and where she lived. He was familiar with the name but did not know where she lived. Sorry. I thanked them and they drove off. Time was quickly ticking away. I was alone. I was lost. I was in the middle of nowhere. I had never felt so powerless, so clueless, and so incompetent. The situation would soon grow worse.

I got back in the car and reviewed her directions again in my muddled brain. Thinking that I had my bearings straight I turned onto what I thought was another dirt road and very quickly became bogged down in sand. Just when I thought it could not get worse, it did. I had lost all traction under my tires. The car was stuck now and the more I tried rocking it back and forth the more immobilized it became. I stared ahead through the windshield at a scene lit up by the car's headlights and with a sigh thought, “What have I done?” I had driven into a watermelon field.

I looked at the time and thought of beautiful Cindy waiting for me to show up at her door as promised. By now the prom was in full swing and I was out here in the middle of nowhere. I got out of the car, removed my tie and coat, and walked around the car a couple of times to access the situation. I came to the conclusion that I would have to dig myself out of this mess. I began to scoop out sand from around the tires using only my hands. There was nothing else. In the dark I dug and I dug and I dug. There was so much sand. I had worked up quite a sweat and my shirt was soaked through. I looked up at the night sky and wondered what evil had I committed to deserve this punishment from God.

I would scoop out handfuls of sand for what seemed like hours and try again to rock the car out of its trap. No good. With all hope gone of making the prom I continued trying to free the car. Dig, dig, dig. I was thinking that I might be able to get free in time to find Cindy’s place and apologize to her. This was not to be.

To make a long story short, by the time that I had dug enough sand clear of the tires, rocked the car free, and had it on firm ground once again it was well past midnight. My hands were filthy. I had dirt under my fingernails. My shirt was damp with sweat. My dress trousers were ruined. I was tired, depressed, angry, and convinced that I was the biggest fool to ever walk the earth. This had been the worst night of my life. I got back in the car and had no choice but to drive back home. I would explain to Cindy tomorrow.

When I walked into the house just after one in the morning Mom and Gloria were still up talking in the living room. “Well, how was the prom,” they asked. When I told them what I had been through for the last few hours they were incredulous.

What happened the next day is another story.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What For Green

Should anyone tease me for not wearing green today, I will say...
"The day I see merry throngs of the Irish dance to "Viva Jalisco" down 5th Avenue in Manhattan on Cinco de Mayo, then I will be happy to adorn myself as green as a pea."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Now It's Personal

EFP is the acronym for Explosively Formed Projectile. It is a weapon of war that uses high explosives to alter its shape before striking the target. EFPs are effective at penetrating armor at what is described as inside stand-off distances; the zone between the explosive and the target, where the blast shock load is essentially a radially moving high-pressure front. In Iraq the bad guys plant them on roadsides to target U.S. military vehicles. In this arrangement the separation between the EFP and the target is well inside the stand-off distance. That's bad.

Back in January my younger brother's oldest boy escaped with his life when an EFP exploded alongside the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle he was driving.

The enemy pays homage to a culture of death. The only reason they eat, breath and shit is to idolize death. These sorry low-life sons-of-bitches attack the United States of America, and for that insanity they have earned their own annihilation - complete and total. They are lower than the lowest of animals. They attack my nephew, who has a young wife and two babies waiting back home while he lays it all on the line for the United States of America. For all their cowardly attacks these belly-crawling bastards should have a barnyard full of pig's feet rammed up their asses and hog guts stuffed down their throats and then dispatched to burn in Hell. I have dehumanized the enemy. They are less than the crap that accumulates underneath the porcelain rim of a commode in a bordertown beer joint. I would expect no better from an assembly of assholes who still wipe their shitty asses with their bare hands. The enemies of my America are devilish ¢Q¢k$¢! bastards. This miserable mess in the desert is personal now.

Monday, March 15, 2010

La Primavera

Once the dried clumps of buffelgrass are mowed short at the Ranch, the property will not look as though it had been abandoned to the encroaching brush. With every push of the 22-inch mower the place looks less and less like a scene from the History Channel documentary series "Life After People."

For a few months the grounds have had the look of a man who couldn't find his way to a barbershop and had lost his toe-nail clippers, as well. That's what most of the country around here looks like in the spring; attractive, but in need of a shave and a trim. It would best be served if some of the people who inhabit this region were somehow snipped away, too. They are not much good to anybody, least of all the land. They are like small clumps of chewing gum stuck on an otherwise nice head of hair. They just mess it up and cause more work for others. Some people need to be cut out of here. They are not good for the countryside. A drive down any of the highways around here tells the story, and it is a dirty one. It is a tale of litter.

The careless and irresponsible attitude that the resident knuckle draggers hold about the disposal of their trash works to ruin the good job nature does down here dressing up the wide shoulders along the area highways. It is nothing short of criminal how these low-lifes trash them.

What is disturbing is that in some respects they are people just like me. They drive trucks, drink beer out of glass bottles, eat fast-food from a paper sack, occasionally have to dispose of a leaky water heater, throw out an old piece of furniture and amass mounds of household trash in plastic bags. The difference is I know the highway shoulder and dry creek beds are not where this stuff is disposed of.

Let us be grateful for la primavera. She serves to mask a little of the unkempt look of the public places.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

What Holds the Future?

There was just enough Saturday left to mow the cemetery plot and to spray soil sterilizer along the chain-link fence that boxed it in. Tomorrow would be Sunday and daylight-savings time was set to kick in. There would be more time for chores like this and no more rushing before it got dark. The sun was low and everything in the cemetery was cloaked in long shadow. This wouldn't take more than ten minutes; then home, a shower, slide some frozen fried chicken in to the oven for about an hour, supper, and then a little computer time. Weariness from the afternoon's work was beginning to settle into the bones and muscles. Pushing a 22-inch mower over a couple of acres of dense weed is work, and the clouds of pollen raised in the process was another story. It wasn't much fun. The big sputtering riding mower that failed that afternoon would need repair work soon because the 22-inch push job wasn't meant to tackle as much as it had at the Ranch for the last four hours. Ten minutes and then straight for home. The cemetery plot wasn't in bad shape; considering it lay unattended for about a month. It was him or nobody. No one else seemed to have the time to attend to the o'l man's final resting place.

He dropped the tail gate, lifted the mower, brought it to his chest, pivoted counter-clockwise 180° on one leg and set the load down at his feet. Not bad. He didn't surrender so much as an oomph in the effort. This wouldn't take long. The plot was only eighty feet from the street.

The ol' man would liked to have been laid to rest alongside his parents at the Salas Cemetery, but he had understood all too well the natural proclivities of people, be they blood relatives or not. The patriarchal graveyard lay hidden way out in the brush north of Concepcion, Texas. Hardly anyone but the dead ever went there. "Si me entierran en Salas nadie me va a tender," he would say. "Mejor entierenme en Benavides. Si quiera, algun de ustedes me ponen unas flores mas y en cuando." He was right. He was planted in Benavides, removed from the former farmland his parents raised him on. Much of the homestead was covered in dense mesquite. They sleep apart now, y muy pocos vienen a poner flores at either gravesite.

The plot was in fair shape. This would not take long. Before starting he dropped to one knee before the shiny black gravestone and rearranged the faded artificial flowers. A couple of the plastic vases had toppled over. The ol' man had nursed a life-long fondness for thirsty St. Augustine carpet grass. He hadn't been much of a yard man, but he had given hours and hours to keeping the grass green. His earthly remains now lay six feet under a modest spread of it. The mowing would not take long.

He was alone. Why wouldn't he be? This was a cemetery, but he didn't feel alone. Out of the corner of his field of vision he caught some movement. It was a man; a much older man than he. Then he recognized the figure. It was his high school Algebra teacher. That was 1967; like yesterday in his mind's eye.

He stood very still with his hands resting on the bar of the push mower, watching the man. His former teacher drew closer, not aware of the fellow with the lawnmower only thirty feet away. The figure took slow steps. He appeared to be scanning the heavy growth of weeds. He probably thought he was there alone too.

"How you doin', sir?" he called out, thinking it best to announce himself lest he startle the old man.

The man stopped in his tracks and looked up quickly. "Oh, Salas! How are you?" His recognition had been instant. "I was just looking over the plot here. I need to come in and cut these weeds. They're so tall."

"Same here." For a second he entertained the notion of cutting the plot for him, but changed his mind when his former teacher began to point out the number of dearly departed that rested beneath his feet.

"I got my wife there. My boy's over here. Then I have my...."

The ten-minute mowing and spraying job would be delayed. He humored the old man for a couple of minutes, thinking all the while about himself. Would he stand alone one day in this same cemetery with a roll call of friends and family long departed? Would he be alone one day, knowing more souls on the other side than on this one? What holds the future?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Rerun

Physically, I had a lot on my plate today. Voy a descansar mi cuerpo y la mente, so I'm playing a rerun today on the blog. Perdóname, Señor McMurtry.
For nine unforgettable days in the summer of 1999 my wife and I, plus three good friends, visited Rome, Florence, Pisa, Venice and Milan. Of all the sites visited the most moving was da Vinci's fresco of the Last Super in the convent at the Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. In Italy it is known as il Cenacolo. Il Cenacolo does not mean The Last Supper, as some would suppose. It means an assembly of individuals that meets regularly with a common interest and then enjoy some chow afterwards; like the I COME HERE TO RELAX mens group I belong to that meets on Thursday evenings. The great master Leonardo completed the 28 by 15 foot mural in 1498 after three years of off-and-on-again work. When we were there it had recently undergone a twenty-two year restoration to undo the damage brought on by centuries of dirt, decay, and retouches.

That we were able to see it is something of a wonder in itself. That summer, reservations to view the mural were being scheduled, and paid for, well in advance. Those fortunate to secure tickets were led in groups of twenty-five on an all-too-brief fifteen-minute viewing. Before our party checked out of our hotel in Venice we tried to get a jump on some tickets in advance, but to no avail. Demand was just too great.

On arriving by train in Milan from Venice we took in the usual sites and with time on our hands decided to go to the site of the Last Supper. At the very least we could say we saw the building that housed da Vinci's masterpiece. Turning the corner to the square that is before the Piazza Santa Maria della Grazie we were met by a very long line already formed at the ticket office. The people in line did not have reservations for the viewing. They were there with the hope that if some in the scheduled group of twenty-five would not show up, then someone waiting in line could take their place. So with forty people in line ahead of us we took our place at the end.

The Italian sun was hot, but we determined that no one in the line could tolerate the heat better than South Texas Tejanos. Sure enough, as the time passed, the less resistant in front of us began to abandon the line. After two-and-a-half hours the lady in the ticket office said that there were some no-shows. She would be able to admit one with the next group entering. There were five in our party. Seconds later she says no... she could take two... no, wait... three... four... five. She would take the next five lucky people. That was us! Hallelujah!

Finally, we were in. We paid our money, ₤12,000 a ticket. That was about $6.75 back when the lira was the national currency. Excitedly, we made our way inside the former refectory to cast our gaze on the masterpiece. After five-hundred years, it is still an awe-inspiring work.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Spring Has Sprung

Stepping out for work this morning the light was brilliant. Overslept? No. Earth orbit was nearer the sun or my eyes were young again? Neither. It was the spring, birthed full force in South Texas. At noontime sunglasses were a protective necessity, not a fashion statement. Color reflected bright, piercing, like sun off the surface of a lake or snow. The warmth bathing my face and shoulders was a narcotic. I've been a sun junkie ever since I was young and pretty. That is probably one of the reasons "young and pretty" did not last longer than I hoped.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Ya Falleció Gonzalo Garza

Mr. Gonzalo Garza, Jr., my junior high social studies teacher, passed away last Monday. Melba and I joined the community this evening at the funeral home in extending our condolences to the family for their loss. It was the pueblito's loss as well. "Chalo" was well-loved and respected, and one of the reasons Benavides was such a wholesome place a couple of generations ago. His contribution to the community as a public school educator and a community leader was exceptional. With a lump in my throat I said as much to his widow this evening. "Ohhh, Mr. Salas," she said, her voice a little hoarse from crying, "I'm going to miss him so much." All I could do was nod in agreement. Words wouldn't squeeze past my Adam's apple no matter how hard I swallowed.

Benavides has missed the likes of Mr. Garza for a long time now, and they're not growing them like that any longer around here. In 1945, two years after his high school graduation, he was rolling into Pilsen, Czechoslovakia in a tank with the 16th Armored Division of General Patton's 3rd Army. After the war he earned his degree in business with the help of the G.I. Bill, married, raised a family, and achieved the American Dream. He lived a rich life. Gonzalo "Chalo" Garza, Jr. was 84 years old.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Does Lavender Smell?

The leafy bush is called a Texas Mountain Laurel, but it grows and blooms very nicely down here in the brush country any way. From a distance its lavender petals look like clusters of grapes and their lovely scent impregnates the air all around. Nature is so good to permit it to grow wild here, and if anyone is of a mind to carefully dig it out of the ground from where it spouted, it is happy to relocate and thrive in the poorest of soils. We're lucky.

I used have a nice tall one in my backyard, but the new owner of the house chopped it down. Maybe the smell of lavender gave him a headache.

Monday, March 8, 2010

One Year Ago Today

There is no ambulance service in Benavides, Texas. God have mercy. The pueblito's Believers always pray that He clear the highway to San Diego because that is from whence comest our help.

One year ago today a long-time family friend and his wife were visiting with us at the Ranch. Minutes before his old maroon pickup had passed by our cattle guard off 339. He and his wife were headed north. We saw him and assumed they were headed home to their place outside of Freer. It was odd that he didn't pull in off the highway, but then, he hadn't passed by the cattle guard more than a couple of hundred feet when he slowed and made a U-turn. It seemed after all that we would have a little company that afternoon. We were sitting out on the porch enjoying the conversation and the cool of the day when suddenly Nick's arms went limp and dropped to his side right where he sat. His eyes closed and then he slowly bent forward at the waist, his chin coming to rest on his chest. His body began trembling mildly. The old man appeared to be weeping, or so it seemed to us. I rose from my chair and went to stand by his side, reaching down to place my hands on his shoulders to comfort him.

"Nick, Nick, estas con familia," I said. "¿Que te pasa, Nick?"

He said nothing. Mom and I looked at each other and simply thought he was too overcome with weariness and emotion to respond. He did not stop trembling.

"Nick, are you all right?" A minute before he was saying how increasingly difficult it was becoming to care for his wife. She suffered from Alzheimer's. Anyone could tell it was very trying for him. The stress and burden were evident had been evident on his face and in his voice. Nick was 87 years old.

"Nick? Nick?" I gently patted his shoulder a couple of times with my hand. ¿Que te pasa, Nick?"

Still he said nothing. Instead, I saw that he was beginning to drool profusely and shaking more. The man was suffering a seizure. This was not good. The nearest ambulance was in San Diego, twenty-one miles from where this remote drama was taking place.

Mom said it almost before I could think it. "Call 9-1-1."

The time was 4:44 p.m. Amazingly, at 5:11 p.m., like angels descending from Heaven in answer to prayer, two EMTs had arrived and were rendering aid. God was merciful to our old friend, Nick, but we who choose to live in this remoteness are in dire straits without an ambulance service. I pray that God has a steady supply of guardian angels standing watch over this isolated part of the country. This makes me think back to when I was a kid. We lived way way out in the sticks and didn't get a telephone until 1966. The Man upstairs had our guardian angels working overtime and we survived many near misses with the Grim Reaper.

God called our dear friend home around noon the next day. Descansa en paz, Nick. Mom laments that there are so few of her generation left. Poquito por poquito se me estan acabando mis amistades, she says. We often recall Nick fondly. He was a good friend to my parents and the family for more years than I have been on this good earth.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Mexican Gold

For a few weeks this spring Benavides will be a bouquet of color and fragrance. She'll almost be pretty again, like long ago when it was young and filled with promise. Mexican yellow poppies are blooming everywhere and they are wonderful, even masking the trash along the highways leading into town. It is only the discarded sofas, refrigerators and bloated feral hog carcasses that cannot be hid by this blanket of yellow petals. For miles in every direction the air is perfumed with a flowery scent. It wouldn't take much imagination to picture Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion skip-hopping through the golden fields around the pueblito. It smells so nice here.

Over the years an odd inventory of odors has greeted me driving into down; cow shit, road kill, burnt rubber, rain, the smoke from grass fires, gasoline, fresh-cooked tortillas, marijuana, diesel exhaust, I even caught a whiff of first grade once. I can't explain the last one, but this evening when driving in from the ranch it was the perfume of wildflowers that permeated the countryside. It was heavenly just to breathe in slowly. In an earlier day and age a person would have gone home to open all the house windows wide. Those days are gone, but the flowers are still with us.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

I Drink Beer

Our lineage of past refrigerators has never been stocked with beer. When you don't drink alone why would they need to be? Other than holiday gatherings, I only imbibe at Thursday night meetings and on hot Sunday afternoons at the Ranch, but tonight I made an exception. Space was made between the carton of eggs and the orange juice for a six-pack of Asahi. Usually, I give a thumbs down to light beers, but I like this one. Most likely, my taste buds are prejudiced by the four months I spent in Japan. Asahi was my beer away from home and sentiment taints its taste here in South Texas. The wife and I will twist the tops off of the six in the days to come, and talk about our time a través del Pacifico.

Friday, March 5, 2010

two plus two is four

I looked into her eyes and it was though I was looking at the ghost of a human being.

"You probably think I'm crazy.., but I'm not," she said.

"I don't think you're crazy," I told the old woman. The truth is I thought she had been crazy for many years and so did most of the town. She was educated, owned a good deal of property, tiene ranchos as the people around here say, and she had money in the bank, but she was looney. The old lady had no real friends and she was mean to people, and had been for as long as I had known her. I had avoided her since I was a boy.

"I'll show you I'm not crazy." She looked me in the eye and said, "Two and two is four! See? I told you I'm not crazy."

Somehow she still held a Texas drivers license and twice already she had driven to our office wishing to speak to the boss. Had we received warning we would have switched off the lights and locked the door. A pair of Jehovah's Witnesses would have been more welcome. They will eventually bid us a good day, turn, and leave. The old lady was a different story. Many times she had been know to corner the unsuspecting at the post office and trap them in one-sided conversations that could stretch to an hour. I avoided the woman, and I'm a friendly guy, but this afternoon she had parked in front of the office and was upon us almost before we knew it. The old woman can will sit herself on a chair and chat endlessly about nothing. We cannot be humoring her. There isn't that kind of time at the office.

"I've come here three times and I haven't been able to see █████," she complained.

"No ma'am," I said. "She's a very busy woman. She's always up and about."

"I'll come back Monday," she promised.

I may have to get ugly with this poor soul, but we can't allow her to form an attachment to our place of business. We have work to do.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

HOUSTON, we have a problem.

I often cross to the wrong side of the tracks on the Internet. I've gone to places on the Net where Al-Qaeda fears to tread and my computers and I have always come back in one piece. On those occasions when we suffered collateral damage, I simply reformatted my PC and loaded Windows again. Tonight we took a hit from something called XP Police Antivirus. I never saw it coming and I don't know where it came from. I always make sure not to step into crap when I am online. This application that infected my PC is a piece of shit that messed up my computer's registry. I hope the perpetrators of this garbage get bloody diarrhea for six months, making them beg their mothers to give them a slow death. Getting my old PC up and running again is going to cost me valuable time.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Buffer Zone

I dined with a group of public school educators this evening. They had finished up a rough day of campus-wide TAKS testing and I was invited to join them at a restaurant in San Diego. They were talking shop and I was the odd man out. No tenia vela en este entierro. They were speaking about their work the way I used to. Their work in education was an ongoing process; with no real beginning and certainly no end. The labor they applied themselves to did not follow the Henry Ford assembly line model. At the end of their workday there was nothing tangible to show for their efforts. Such is the nature of teaching. Whereas, my work was all about tangibles. At the end of the day I could easily gauge what had been accomplished after eight hours. The evidence was material.

I thought of my father. He had been a strong, quiet, resilient man who never voiced his inner thoughts. On an evening like this I would like to have driven out to the ranch and asked Dad what he thought about certain things, but the man had been gone a long time now. My hope these days is to believe that there is enough of my father’s nature in me to know more or less how he would have answered some of the questions on my mind.

The truth is I had never felt comfortable waiting for some arbitrary date in the future to mark my productivity. I've always wanted to show something accomplished at the end of my eight-hour day. That hadn't been happening in the years before retiring from teaching.

My father used to say that a man needed to show something for his effort at the end of the workday. There ought to be something concrete that one could see and feel. To my father that was proof of something having been accomplished. I had felt trapped that last year in the classroom. I could not very well have simply gotten up and left my old job. Teachers were contracted employees. There were consequences for abandoning a teaching job in the middle of the school year. I waited it out until June of 2008. In the mean while I investigated the retirement option, the shot at teaching overseas for the Department of Defense, or looking into an entirely different line of work. I imagined that work in a cubicle would not be bad; just me, a digital picture frame, an ivy plant and my stack of paper.

I used to joke with the staff at school that there ought to be a mandatory retirement age for teachers just as there was for airline pilots. I had pictured age fifty as the ideal cutoff for retiring from teaching at a public school. At that age a person was just about as far removed generationally from the teenage mind as possible. I felt certain that effective communication between those two universes required the help of a Ouija board to make any form of real contact. The chasm was too wide to be bridged. Teenage students needed instructors who were more vigorous, who outwardly projected more vitality and energy, rather than the image of a wise old sage. That’s what I pictured when I mentally stepped out of my body and looked back at myself. I had become a wise old sage trying to instill old school values on youths that were steadily becoming more difficult to impress. From across this wide gulf neither spoke the same language, listened to the same music, read the same books, if they read at all, or recognized the same line in the sand that marked a distinction of right from wrong, good from evil, or even God from Satan.

I craved a new work environment that would shield me from this disturbing trend in young people. I was still capable of delivering instruction, but I was not enjoying it, nor was I seeing enough fruit from my labor to sustain my optimism year after year. It was time to get out before I did more damage than good.

At dinner the talk was about school, and kids, and teachers, and cafeteria food, and testing, and all of the other intangibles that no one's had a finger on for a very long time. I enjoyed my meal -- safely in my buffer zone.., content.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Sing! Fat Lady

Ya iba a dar mis gracias a Dios. I thought the election season for 2010 was over in Duval County, Texas. But no. With the absence of Republican opposition it was my hope that the election hysteria had fizzled away and the pueblito could roll over and go back to sleep. Sadly, the fat lady.., she has not sung. Chihuahuas! It seems that we now have runoffs.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Tailgate Nap

Me pego un sueño... I had to step out into the bright sun for a couple of minutes this afternoon to exorcise the sleep from my eyes. It was the first day of March, but the winds had yet to stir themselves into motion. They too were shaking off the sleep, but the weatherman had promised they would be upon us shortly -- blasting through the pueblito with a thousand times more force than the trains that rattle and rumble the peace eight times a day. Nature's seasonal street sweeper would begin churning up the ground this evening, pushing plastic bags, paper, leaves and caliche dust in a tsunami wave of litter southward down Highway 339 toward the ranch and La Chona beyond. It was a mass redistribution of trash. In the summer the steady warm southeasterlies from the Gulf would blow it right back up to us again in smaller bits -- more gently, more tattered and more bleached by the sun. Nothing decomposes any longer. Only the colors fade, blending everything into the brush. The glass, broken or otherwise, from the thousands of discarded empties of cheap watered-down beer labels, lay alongside their aluminum cousins, undisturbed by the winds of any season.

It was a beautiful afternoon to just sit and watch the world go by for a few minutes and then lay back and snooze in the shade. I was reminded of hot summer days long ago on the ranch. We might have been pushing cattle unaccustomed to corrals, digging post holes in unforgiving caliche, stringing miles of barbed wire that clawed at you like a cornered cat, or we would be stacking hay bales under an unforgiving sun. We would break at noon -- going through our box lunches quickly in order to steal away a half-hour of sleep in any shady spot that was free of ants, ticks or scorpions. I favored the pickup's tailgate under the sparse shade of a mesquite. Que sueño tan lindo.