Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Lost to the Ages

Mom will turn 84 this summer. She has so many stories, facts and figures in her head, but she will not make the effort to commit them to paper. Some time back I managed to get the following account. If I don't make more of an effort to draw them out of her they will be lost to the ages.

Recuerdo cuando estaba Humberto chiquito y vivíamos en la primera casita. Estabamos recien cambiados al rancho. Se le acabo la leche a mijo para la tetera, y ya noche fuímos aqa La Luna y abrió para vendernos leche para que este joven comería.

La Luna refers to a mom and pop drive-inn grocery that was operated many years ago in Benavides by Domingo "La Luna" Ramirez and his wife, Tencha. Domingo passed away in April of 2003 and Tencha is an old lady now with severe arthritis. She just can't work behind the counter much anymore. Writing, lifting, stocking and labeling with her knurled fingers is too painful. Her two girls and their husbands gave running the business a go, but it just wasn't in their blood. The Ramirez Drive-Inn closed its doors in April of 2004.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

By the Water

The boy stood at the edge of a narrow strip of sand mixed with broken bits of shell and threads of dead seagrass. Without turning back to look at the man, he asked what the gray expanse of water before him was called. Baffin Bay, the man answered.

Is it a lake? The boy asked. The man said no, telling him that what he was looking at was called a bay.

The word was new to the boy and he asked what a bay was. The man answered by asking him to recall their visits to the beaches of South Padre Island. He told him that the large body of water that produced the waves the boy enjoyed crashing into was the Gulf of Mexico. The gulf cut into the land around here, forming the bay, miles from the pretty beaches and the white-capped waves. That is what a bay is he explained. He told him that there were thousands like it around the world.

The boy accepted his explanation and turned his attention back to his sandaled feet, inches from the lapping water.

Are there fish in it? The boy was in a curious spirit. The man was not a fisherman, but he knew drum, trout and flounder were harvested from the bay, and he told him so.

The boy's eyes grew wide, saying he knew about those fish. He had seen his dad catch them.

The fish they were going to have for dinner in a few minutes came from this bay, the man told the boy, but his little friend was not listening. His attention was on the warm sensation of the water on his toes. The days had been hot over Baffin Bay.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Lucky Shot

My little brother Ricky is a talker and not a writer. To date, this is the only story ever squeezed out him that he committed to the written word.

With much encouragement and prodding, I the fifth child of Mr. Salas Sr., have relented and put to script this first documentation of a single snap shot in time to my recollection.

The night was a cool one as the six year old made a request of his busy mother. "Can I? Can I? Can I go with Chapa to the planta?" At the time Mother was charged with keeping the family going as Dad lay in a hospital bed recovering from the accident that broke his neck. We all were active and life was good to us despite Dad having been away so long.

Chapa was in charge of the Sinclair gas plant south of Benavides. To clarify his job description is to say his work required him to maintain and operate numerous natural gas engines driving a variety of compressors. I know this now because my present day job requires me to do about the same.

These units were noisy; 120 or more decibels. (OSHA today requires much, much more protection for one's ears, eyes and body.) But back to the point. I convinced mother to let me ride with Chapa (who was one of Dad's closest friends) and he would later return me home after checking out the plant for the night.

We pulled into the southwest gate on the back side of the plant. Due to the dangers of the outdoor environment of machinery and high noise levels I was told to stay in his car. Chapa stepped out again after entering the gate and driving the auto closer to the compressors. Once again I was told to stay in his car and he exited to make his adjustments and final rounds to be sure the plant would stay on line though the night.

Being the curious child that I was, I opened the glove box of the car. Within its confines lay a small .22 caliber pistol. It fit my hand quite well. I removed the toy-looking revolver and instinctively pulled the trigger. To my surprise there was a very loud BANG! Immediately I knew I had done wrong. I should not be found out. I placed the evidence back and acted innocent before Mr. Chapa returned. Mr. Chapa opened the driver side door and the interior light came on. At six I could not know that the smell of freshly fired gun power would remain in the air of the car. Probably smoke too. Mr. Chapa asked what I had done. My response was nothing.

He came around and opened my door to the car and pulled me out. Instinctively he opened the glove box and found the pistol that had one discharged chamber. He told me, "You shot my pistol!" I said no. Chapa was very excited and walked me to the back of the car and in the dim light could see that I had shot myself in the right knee.

Chapa drove me to the middle of the ranch to where my mother and the rest of my family were home. My eldest brother, Humberto, carried me into the back bedroom. As I lay on the bed he informed me that I had shot myself and that there was a bullet in me. This news shocked and made me cry.

Sure enough it was true, and to this day I do not recall the pain, if any. Nor do I recall anything after the news that my brother told me, "You have a bullet in your knee."

This is the account that I probably have never told anyone until now. Today I have the deepest respect for firearms and have taken great effort to teach my children at a very young age about firearm safety. They will not be ignorant of them, or not own them.

Be of good cheer. The best prevention of firearm accidents is to teach your children about them and not to be afraid of them. Knowledge is power!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Who's Up There?

Force your gaze into the heart of a cloud-filled summer sky and sense the timelessness of the earth. Year after year the brilliant blue and white envelope lording over the countryside serves to remind mortals how temporal the human condition is. A summer sky populated with fleecy white is a constant; a sure thing -- never changing. It cannot be swayed by the proclivities of people.

I can change. Underneath my garb I am coated in a wrapper of  pale skin; a tell-tale trail leading back to the seed of European ancestors from a half millennium ago. I don't hold the color against them. There is no sin in the sober white, but a warm coat of olive is all so pretty. To achievement that end I basked in the sun today; exposing my skin to the burning sun as though it was raw leather prepared for curing. It feels good; almost aphrodisiac-like. Slowly, the burning rays of the sun roast the skin until the desired effect is realized. First the back, and then the front, day after day until I'm done. It is such silliness and so superficial, but I cast caution aside to realize the satisfaction of a darker pigmentation. I will be brown.

Through dark lenses I look up at the summer sky, just as I did as a young boy on the Ranch. There is pleasure in watching clouds slowly morph into recognizable shapes. I am captivated, ignoring the hot sensation to my skin. This is pure silliness. It is vanity, but am I not human?

My ears alert to the drone of an engine to the southwest . It cannot be mistaken for anything other than a propeller-driven plane. Instinctively, my eyes scan the sky to spot the source. I oscillate my ears like radar.

Bingo! It's a Cessna... maybe. What do I know about single-engine planes?

I call to mind the same questions I asked as a kid. Who's up there? Where are they going? What must they be thinking? Do they look down and realize that there might be people down here living in the middle of nowhere?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Few Good Men

It is hard to gauge which is hotter, the heat radiating from the roasters or the oven-like temperature pouring off the blacktop. These are good men, braving the summer sun to raise a few dollars to send a good kid to the USFA World Series in Panama City Beach, Florida. They have brisket plates for sale. The helping of rice and beans is equally tasty and the food is guaranteed not to turn cold before you dig in.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Where are your manners?

My kid sister, Esperanza, wrote this account some time back.

This took place April 1972.  One summer afternoon we were all sitting in the front room watching TV. I remember wearing some red shorts that were very short. Suddenly, we heard a vehicle honk.  Dad turned around and told us not to go outside. He would take care of this. I had to see who it was, so I looked outside and saw that it was Louie and Johnny.

Dad explained to them that this wasn't a drive-inn and he didn't appreciate them honking. He told the boys that they were welcome to come in and visit, but if they wanted to see his daughter they had to step out of their vehicle and come knock at the door. Both Louie and Johnny were afraid of Dad so they went back into town.

Once they were back in Benavides they made one small mistake.  They told everyone about their visit to the ranch and everyone made fun of them. The following morning my friends asked me why my dad was so mean. I remember answering them, "I don't think my Dad is mean. He only told Louie and Johnny that our home wasn't  a drive-inn where they could just pull up and start HONKING.  They could get down to visit with me."

It took Louie and Johnny a whole year before they spoke to me again.  Like I told them that morning,  they should have kept quite and no one would have known about the honking incident. Today, they both have daughters and they remembered my dad when boys started coming around and honked instead of coming to the front  door. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Number 4

A few years ago my kid brother Danny wrote this account of his slice of ranch life a long time ago.
I remember the old #4 oil well/pumping unit. Dad took care of that well for many a year. It was his first stop every morning. The well only produced for about 4 hours a day, pumping out about 8 to 20 barrels of oil, depending on its mood. Because it only produced for a short time each day, Dad used to have to turn on the pumping unit in the morning and come back around 4 hours later to shut it off.

Now Dad may not have had a lot of classroom schooling, but here is a sample of how intelligent a man Dad was. Dad took an old Nixon chart clock, (Don’t ask. It would take too long to explain what that is.) then mounted it next to the unit's engine and grounded it to the frame. Next, he ran a wire from the engine's coil to a spot near the clock's time wheel. Now he could start the unit in the morning, wind the clock and set it to shut off the unit at the desired time. The clock would turn the wheel and at a certain time the wheel would come into contact with the coil wire, thus shorting out the current to the spark plugs, causing the engine to shut down. This now eliminated the need of having to come back and shut the unit down. Dad may not have had formal schooling, but his IQ was a lot higher than most so-called educated people. Imagine if this man would have had a more extensive education. As it was, he had engineering skills, oilfield skills, mechanic skills, ranching skills, and even some veterinary skills. WOW! I like knowing that he passed on many of those skills to me as I was growing up.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Word to the Wise

Rene Henry Gracida
Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Corpus Christi
"I thank God that I had the opportunity to defend my country from National Socialism and Japanese Imperialism even though it meant engaging in a war. War is indeed ‘hell’, but a nation that is not prepared to defend itself is a nation that is doomed to live on only in history books."
Based in Molesworth (Bedfordshire) England during World War II, Rene Gracida was a Flight Engineer aboard a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber in the 303rd Group of the 8th Air Force. He flew his 32nd mission over Dresden, Germany on April 14, 1945. Gracida is 87 years old.

Monday, June 21, 2010

First Date

My big sister wrote this personal account a few years ago.
Sweet sixteen and never been on a date. Note that I was not a wallflower and our parents encouraged us to be active in extra-curricular activities, and I was. I also had a boyfriend. But, maybe I’d never been on an official date because we lived in the interior of “the ranch”. Our house was ten miles south of Benavides on Highway 339. You turned off and drove through a cattle guard and then proceeded three miles west on a dirt road that passed corrals, oil pumping units, lots and lots of mesquite trees, and a deep creek before getting to the house. Maybe I had never been on a date because I had never asked my parents if I could. My parents were probably “holding their breath” hoping it would never happen. The day finally came when my boyfriend asked me if he could drive to our house to pick me up and go to a dance in Benavides at the old junior high school gym. My boyfriend’s sister was going to let him borrow her 1963 copper colored Chevy Malibu. It was 1965, the end of my junior year in high school. I asked Dad and he agreed, BUT I had to invite a girlfriend to go with us. I invited Gloria Peña who lived a few miles from us toward Concepcion. She got off with me at the bus stop on Friday after school. The next afternoon, Gloria and I excitedly got dressed and eagerly waited for our ride to the dance. Finally he drove up. He walked up the sidewalk that leads to the kitchen. We had a sidewalk that led to the living room door, but we never used that door. He came in through the kitchen and into the living room and sat on the sofa in our sparsely furnished living room. I don’t remember the conversation between my Dad and my boyfriend, but I’m absolutely sure that my Dad was specific about what he expected my boyfriend’s behavior to be towards me. Then my dad announced that he would be sending my oldest brother, Humberto, to the dance with us. It was probably Dad’s way of making sure that my boyfriend would fulfill my dad’s expectations after their conversation. It was not a double date for Humberto and Gloria and I suspect that Humberto wasn’t too happy with Dad’s order, but off I went on my official first date with my boyfriend and my two chaperones in the back seat.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Las Flores

"¿Mijo, quieres llevarme a dejar flores a los camposantos?" Of course, the answer is yes. Mom has spent $50 for assorted containers brimming with pretty plastic flowers. They are bound for their final resting place at the cemetery. Both sets of my grandparents get some, as well as my dad. I tell her I will be there in 20 minutes.

The lady who parks her van at the ruins of what used to be Nap Chandler's Texaco full-service gas station 40 years ago makes a killing this time of year. She sits in her chair catching the scant shade of a small bush and silently bears the incredible heat of June in South Texas. Her colorful wares are set on the cracked concrete of what was the old Texaco's service bay.  Deceased or otherwise, everyone remembers their dads on Fathers Day.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Crème Brulee

If you ever find yourself hungry in Rockport, Texas get on over to Latitude 28°02°; good food, good service, and my wife liked it.

Latitude 2802 Restaurant & Art Gallery
105 N. Austin St., Rockport, Texas

Friday, June 18, 2010

Two Cups of Coffee

It came naturally to them that evening. Drinking their coffees, seated at the small table against the wall, they felt comfortable and at ease. She took hers with two packets of sugar and one cream. As always, his took his black.

Minutes earlier, the two had walked into the Walmart just to kill time. Why? He had asked. Because that's what we always do on Fridays, she said, annoyed because he already knew the answer to such a foolish question. He looked back at her and only shook his head. Not feeling like following behind as she pushed the near empty cart through aisles stocked with bath products, toiletries and cosmetics, he said he would go over to the McDonald's in the back of the store to sit and have a coffee. Not one to strike up a conversation with strangers without provocation, he could entertain himself with his iPhone for a half hour, then later track down his wife when she neared the dairy aisle across from the McDonald's. Indoors or out, he was more inclined to walk fast than to stroll about lazily. He wasn't going to be towed about like a calf in a barnyard with a rope around its neck. Making his retreat, he heard her call out for him to order her a cup, too. She would join him shortly.

There they sat at the small red table against the blank white wall; making idle conversation over their coffee. They were not alone. Twenty-five feet away, seated at the corner table they too would have preferred, was one of the ladies from the deli. It must have been break time. She was speaking loudly into her phone; much too loud. The discussion was one-sided. As they continued to enjoy coffee they saw a young fellow come sit two tables away. His tray had a burger, fries and a drink. In the span of three or four sips of their coffees the boy was already pushing away from the table. For him, time was more important than healthy digestion. Farthest from them was an old man; alone at his table, except for his cup of coffee. Tall, white hair, bushy mustache and dark complected, the man was a long-tome regular. He usually sat with a couple of other compadres, but he was presently alone. At their red table the husband turned to his wife and smiled. That's me in twenty years, he thought, alone with a cup of coffee.

Other patrons took positions at tables for two, three and four; a young couple with too many tattoos and too many kids, a trio of confused boys with crooked caps with flat bills, cocked low to one side. They weren't talking, but the obscenity stamped in bold black letters on one's shirt spoke loud enough. One kid had spacers the diameter of nickels in the lobes of his ears. It was better not to look. The man and his wife turned their attention back to their coffees.

"We used to make fun of people like this," she said. "Now look at us."

He asked what she meant.

We made fun of people who came to sit in this little McDonald's to kill time, saying that they had nothing better to do, she explained to him. "Now look at us."

He looked around, then back at her, and said that it didn't bother him. This is who they were now.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Dull the Pain

The quantity of beer guzzled down daily in the pueblito is only equal to the measure of melancholy nourished by its inhabitants.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Old Bank

Only pigeons were making deposits this afternoon in the old bank. The former Merchants Exchange Bank closed its doors about fifty years ago. The details are sketchy, but as the story goes, a significant number of bank customers withdrew their deposits believing the bank was nearing insolvency. As the bank run progressed, it generated its own momentum. More and more customers withdrew their deposits, increasing the chance of a real default. This in turn encouraged even more withdrawals. Inevitably, the bank went bust. Deposits were not F.D.I.C. insured and many people lost their nest egg. The old timers tell of an underlying tale of subterfuge, but its retelling would ruffle the few plumes of political feathers still flapping about. The incident had a depressing  and lasting effect on the pueblito.

It is still a grand looking building, enclosed within an impressive mantle of sandstone that is accented with magnificent 24-inch-diameter reliefs of the classic 1913 buffalo nickel.  The main entrance is heralded on each side with towering 30-foot Doric columns. It presents a seductive facade, drawing the occasional passerby to pull one block off the main highway to park in front of it. They step out of their vehicles with a upward gaze, wondering how could such a once-beautiful edifice have come to be built here, what history lay behind it, and how could such haunting architecture have been allowed to deteriorate so. There is no doubt that they drive away with a tinge of sadness for the old Merchants Exchange Bank.


My older brother retired on June 9th. Long before he became a retiree, he used to be a ranch boy. Here is a personal account he put to words a few years ago. Es que se me fue el tiempo, y yo no escribí nada.

Although I don't believe I actually have the gene, as evident by my body's complete and total resistance to "buck fever", every winter growing up on "the ranch" did, nevertheless, occasion a jaunt into the nearby woods for a cottontail or two. (Resistance, here, may not be the appropriate word. Void of, indifference, or complete apathy may be better suited.) Back then there were fewer grass fields (suitable for bailing), more wooded areas, and certainly , if memory serves correctly, an abundance of rabbits. Today, it is the rabbit's ungainly cousin, jack, that reigns supreme.

A brief observation here regarding "buck fever." Dad had it. (It was either buck fever or necessity. There were, after all, six kids! So, the Salas' were not strangers to game food. It was a staple, not a treat or curiosity, which, incidentally, gives new meaning to the phrase "living high on the (wild) hog.")

As the first born I was spared the malady, but my first born has it. He thinks nothing of rising at 4:30 in the morning to post himself at a deer blind in glorious expectation of some unsuspecting buck's appearance. Gloria, with the whole world beckoning to her, was indifferent. Atilano, Jr., was also spared as was Esperanza, although, her husband is infected with a moderate case, going so far as to convert a golf cart into a mobile deer blind. (I don't know if he plans to modify the clubs.). Ricardo was spared the illness, too, but did come down with a healthy dose of a related malady ... gun fever ... and has passed it on to his offspring. It is not uncommon for the kids to turn a 55-gallon steel barrel into a sieve in a matter of minutes. It was the youngest, Daniel, that got the full brunt of the illness. His eye sight is so sharp he tells stories of downing buck at 1,000 paces ... in freezing, drizzly weather ... without a scope ... in the evening twilight ... one bullet and, finally, a well placed bullet right between the eyes with his trusty .22!

At any rate, on "the ranch" it was a natural thing for anyone of us to take the old, bolt-action .22 and walk a short distance along any of the various dirt roads that converged on the old Bowling house and shoot one or two rabbits. Dad taught us to eviscerate the kill by first, taking it by the front paws and giving it a slight shake in order for the insides to settle to their lowest point. With that done one would simply squeeze beginning at the point immediately behind the front legs (the upper thorax), hand under hand sequentially down to the abdomen, squeeze under squeeze, until the bunny's rear end exploded with a squish and a splat, expelling its inside organs on the ground. It you did it right, even the heart and lungs were expelled. It was quick, neat and efficient. Having good strong hands was a plus.

One late afternoon in particular I took one such trek and not more than half mile from the house. It was my habit to walk very slowly by placing my feet in such a fashion as to make as little noise as possible. This was done by placing the weight of the body on the outer toes first and then following by distributing the weight along the outside edge of the foot every so quietly, ever so slowly and finally supporting the weight on my foot in a normal manner. I was stalking. As far as I was concerned, I was hunting Indian style. Isn't that the way the Indians hunted? Wasn't that the way I learned to hunt as I watched all those westerns on the Salas' first Philco 19" black & white TV in shows such as Zorro, Gene Autry, Hop Along Cassidy, The Cisco Kid and his sidekick Pancho, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, and, of course, Walt Disney's Davy Crocket? Wow! Take me back! Take me back to yesteryear! (Maybe I do have a touch of the fever after all.)

The afternoon's hunt took me west to the far northern end of the old planta (which has since burned down), around in a wide loop to just north of the Bowling house (101 Lodge). We were living there then. There used to be a road that ran from the the planta straight east and about a hundred feet north of the Bowling house. A short distance thereafter it turned northeast and continued to the Huffman house (The Huffman house was bought by Flumencio Garcia and is now in Concepcion, on the west entrance of the town.) which was by the creek and then on to the Lagunas. I remember lots of rabbits along these areas.

Now rattle snakes are a part of South Texas and a part of growing up on the ranch. We were not, necessarily, afraid of them, but we certainly had a healthy respect for them. In other words ... you saw one, you killed it. Simple as that. Dad would hang them on the fence line "para que llueva" ... so that it would rain. South Texas needed all the help it could get. Anyhow, Dad taught us to scan the trail and to watch where you stepped. Especially on a winter's afternoon when the woods were dressed in their winter color ... grayish brown!

Step by step ... ever so slowly ... scanning the trail ... watching my step ... looking for rabbits ... avoiding the cow patties ... scanning for snakes ... STOP! In my spirit, it was unmistakable. It was clear, firm, urgent but not harsh: STOP! LOOK! Three or four inches over a coiled but sleeping rattler my foot hovered? The snake was coiled. The coil was about ten to twelve inches in diameter. Difficult to see because it rested in a depression on the ground, the coil mirrored a similar shaped, adjacent cow patty. You might ask how I know it was sleeping. Simple: It didn't rattle! It didn't even know I was there ... not usually the case.

The voice of my dad's training solidly in command, rifle barrel an inch from its head and pow and pow for good measure! Situation remedied. I saw it: I killed it. It turned out to be about three-and-a-half feet in length. I left it on the ground, but might have hung it on a fence had there been one close by. The most I ever said about it was, "I killed a rattlesnake." I said nothing about the warning. After all, aren't things like this normal?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Yes You Can

When he was a chavalo the man's knees could absorb the vertical compression of his body mass, spring it back up, and repeat the process again and again and again. These days he did not dare even hop off  his pickup's tailgate. The distance to the ground was too great. The man's ability to absorb inertial shock on contact from even so modest a height had devolved into the certainty of injurious collapse. More than once had he groveled like a wounded animal on the ground because he had "popped his knee." Owing to injury and stupidity, the knees were shot to hell. A nineteen year chasm separated the injury to the left one from the application of stupidity to the other, but each knee had been the recipient of an equal insult. Earthbound, he could no longer fly like the boy, but vicariously, he still sailed through the air after him.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Sorry. I didn"t see you.

The man would just as soon kill a snake as casually as he would slap dead a mosquito off his arm. If it slithered on its belly, it ought not to live within a thousand miles of where the man breathed, but there were rules of prevention in place to hold his prejudices in check. Solamente se matan las vivoras de cascabel, time and time again his father had said. It was a lifelong rule the man followed loyally. He had loved his father, and fathers did not lie to their sons in the generation that the man had been a boy.

Accidents did happen, though; even to the belly-crawling snakes the man despised. Pushing a 22-inch gas-powered mower into knee-high buffel grass mixed with a thick tangle of weeds could produce undesirable results. Seeking respite from the summer heat, there could be a harmless rat snake coiled up in the dense mat of vegetation. This afternoon there was one.

I'm sorry. I didn't see you.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Agarrar Color

The place where he last gave a damn what he looked like stripped down to swim trunks was on a stretch of  beach on Roatan's Sandy Bay. The clean sand was reminiscent of raw sugar. Its color reflected the harsh white of the Caribbean sun into his unprotected eyes. He remembered reaching into his bag for the $6 pair of sunglasses he had picked up at a Walmart before embarking on the cruise. The dark lenses served more as protective gear than a fashion statement. That was three summers ago.

On the beach that afternoon he had been twenty-five pounds too heavy and pale as cream. His wife snapped a photo of him reclined on a beach chair. It was an awful print, but then, unPhotoshopped pictures do not lie. Three years later, poolside at a Vegas resort, a chance at redemption would come. The pounds had been shed and he was in the process de agarrando color.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

No Lo Mates

Thus far this year the months have been wet ones in South Texas. Nearly every natural growth from the earth is green. The countryside is thick with it. Anyone with an ounce of cow sense wishes they were a rancher whose pastures were stocked with fat grazing cattle. Last year the ground was burnt bare by a summer sun bearing down on a drought ridden landscape. Climate is a crazy thing. No one on this planet can say with any certainty what the future will bring clime-wise, no matter how many capital letters they pen after their name.

There are creepy crawly critters everywhere; which is one reason the weeds and grass have to be kept mowed short at the Ranch. It is funny how my mother won't allow any of them to be squashed, swatted or stompted on. She respects life. "No lo mates," she says. So we don't, ... if she's looking.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sugar and Spice

The baseball cap on her head is thickly embroidered with pink thread against a field of black brushed cotton that spells out Sugar and Spice - Baked with Love. She walked into the office this morning with a dangerous load of baked sweets that were topped with chocolates, cherries and shredded coconut.

The tasty confections had been raw ingredients only hours before the sun had come up. She had been here last month,  and just as before, she would leave empty, except for her cash bag filled with the crinkled bills pulled out of coin purses and handbags to pay for her assorted offering of baked goods. No one is immune to the siren call of these sweet breaded treasures. Diabetes, cholesterol and high blood pressure be damned. You only live once.

She will be welcome next time she comes. The nearest bakery  to the pueblito is 16 miles away in San Diego. We count ourselves fortunate that she is willing to drive over from Alice, one county over, 26 miles away. Imagine... sugar and spice, lovingly delivered to your workplace.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Shattered Temper

Auto glass is one of the most protective pieces of standard equipment on an automobile. It is pretty tough stuff, but there are limits to the safeguards it offers. At speeds that were unimaginable on a public road a hundred years ago, today the glass stands resistant to the blast of wind-born sand, juicy bugs large and small, low-flying birds, sheets of rain, marble-sized hail, slogs of mud, and even pea-sized gravel flung at you by the idiot passing your vehicle at 90 mph on a highway clearly posted with LOOSE GRAVEL signs. However, even the tempered side window glass cannot protect from the after effects of a well-flung rock launched by the whirling 2.75 mm monofilament line of a gas-powered grass trimmer as it beats the ground at 10,000 rpms.

A motorist just happened to be driving by my place of employment when she rendezvoused with a fellow from the city crew who was weed-whacking the curb along Highway 339. The poor girl must have thought it was a bullet flying ambush when her driver side window exploded into thousands of pieces. Traumatized, she managed to pull into our driveway and park, complaining of glass in her eye. Apparently, the origin of the projectile was the weed-whacking operator. Auto glass is good, but it has its limits.

The side window of an auto is made of tempered safety glass. It is a single piece that gets tempered using a process that heats the glass, then quickly cools it to harden it. Tempered glass has five to ten times the hardness of untempered glass. It is commonly called safety glass. It breaks differently than regular glass. When tempered glass is shattered it does not break into sharp jagged pieces. Instead, it breaks into little pebble-like pieces, without sharp edges.

The incident certainly shattered the girl's spirits this afternoon. The city should look into applying a good weed and grass killer to the highway curbs in the pueblito.  It may prove less expensive in the long run, and the liability factor would certainly lessen. If the city stays the course then it may have to invest in big orange caution signs that warn motorists of city workers operating powerful grass trimmers in close proximity to the highway.

At the very least this afternoon, we were presented with a something to talk about besides the heat, the mosquitoes, and the rain. A minor drama serves to stir up welcome conversation in an otherwise uneventful small town existence.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Hooked on Endorphins

As quitting time approaches the average American male wants nothing better than to head directly home to plop his ass down on his favorite chair and relax. His day is done. It is good and acceptable behavior, but since March 20 my routine has changed. I have slowly cultivated an addiction to an opiate-like analgesic compound called endorphins. I'm beginning to crave it more than I would a cold bottle of Budweiser on a hot summer afternoon at the Ranch. Under its chemical sway ....  I ...  feel...  no...  pain...

This compound is legal and unregulated, and I can have all the amount I desire and that my body will tolerate. I'm hooked on endorphins and they cost me nothing but a little time and effort. I walk a little. I jog a bit. I've rediscovered push ups and sit ups. Barbells stand at the ready to serve me like two loyal dogs.

A friend told me that it is the same kind of high I use to experience from a daily infusion of taquitos, french fries and burgers. Happily, this source of low-grade euphoria will not clog my arteries.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Buena Gente

Esta noche pasamos un buen tiempo con buena gente.
"We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over."
-- Samuel Johnson,  the most distinguished man of letters in English history

Friday, June 4, 2010

Pomp and Circumstance

White jets of light blazed brilliantly on a blue sea of mortar caps massed on the rich green of Vaquero Field. This evening eighty-nine young men and women received a diploma or a certificate of completion for their years of academic work at San Diego ISD. Longtime friends of ours had the distinction of having their daughter deliver the valedictory address at her high school graduation. As parents they were deservedly very proud. The wife and I sat in attendance along with the San Diego community to watch and listen and celebrate.

Outdoor programs are a tricky undertaking. The handlers and players move about and assemble in the cool morning hours to "rehearse" the sequence of the coming evening's events. However, atmospherically, so much has changed come show time. The June sun has heated the air.  It is less dense late in the day. The electronically projected sounds of the morning's practice no longer carry as far. The quiet that hovered over the field only hours before is now sandwiched between the steady whoosh and rumble of highway traffic from the east and the west. On the expanse of aluminum stadium seating there is now a drum of boots, heels and sneakers producing a unsteady roll of click-clomp, click-clomp, click-clomps. People just cannot seem to keep their bottoms planted for the duration of the commencement program. Young parents aren't able to find sitters to keep their crying babies at home. Little boys run freely up, down and across the expanse of seated attendees. Somehow word never reaches the guy, whose thumb and forefinger rest only inches from the volume knob, to crank it up a notch. One fellow in the crowd calls out in the middle of the salutatory address "Volume! Volume! Can't hear!" We all think it. He says it, but nothing comes of the effort.

Those in the audience that are seated a bit closer to the dwarf speakers mounted on stands too far from the crowd to work effectively experience a little good fortune later in the program. The valedictorian is blessed with a stronger speaking voice than is the number two ranked fellow. A few dozen of her words of reflection, hope and thanks manage to reach us. The commencement speaker's delivery enjoys no such luck. By the time she approaches the podium and inches her lips closer to the microphone the restlessness of the crowd, the cries of the children, and the steady march of heels sounding loudly on the shiny aluminum reach a crescendo. Occasionally, some of the choice words and well-crafted phrases in her speech pop through like tiny droplets. It is a sad loss for those who want desperately to hear. The moment is lost and will never come again. Hopefully, the boy manning the video camera on the ground before the speaker's stand has captured her words free of the noisy pollutants.

Long before the recessional, those in short supply of patience, manners, or time begin making their escape. For them, the show is over. It is reminiscent of the home crowd exiting the stadium in the middle of the third quarter because the home team is taking a pounding on the scoreboard. Thus ends another evening of pomp and circumstance in the heart of Vaquero Country, San Diego, Duval County, Texas, United States of America.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A long time ago... in a galaxy far far away...

The music was so beautifully performed that tears welled up and came close to rolling down my cheeks. It was a night of magnificently grand orchestration. The wife, the boy and I treated ourselves to a production featuring a full symphony orchestra and choir performing music from composer John Williams' original score for the motion picture STAR WARS. Up on a three-story high screen footage from all the STAR WARS films were displayed as the music synchronized with the action depicted. The performance was worth every penny spent on the pricey seats. Anthony Daniels, the actor who played the original droid, C-3PO, from the movie franchise, narrated the show wonderfully. I am a fan of the music. I've only seen one of the STAR WARS movies; the first one back in 1977.

The boy came to the American Bank Center this evening because he loves all things STAR WARS. I came because I love the boy. The wife came because she loves us both.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

My Birthday Girl

Over the years I have seen my girl blow out a lot of birthday candles, but there weren't any today. As adults advance in years they begin snuffing out fewer candles, and instead  blow more money. Cold cash is more fun than hot wax.
Feliz Cumpleaños, Babe.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Who's Acting?

Deborah Kerr deserved an Oscar for her "performance" in this scene..., if... and only if she was really acting. The way she looks at Lancaster leads me to doubt that she was.  
Descansa en paz, Deborah.

White to Black

Two hundred and thirty-seven days ago street crews began the work of stripping the pueblito of the fragmented pot-holed roads that were mistaken for modern streets around here. Yesterday, those same workmen mounted their heavy machinery and began paving the chalky white caliche calles with the beautiful black asphalt that the citizenry were beginning to believe they would never see.

There is a God.