Sunday, February 27, 2011

Compre un Libro

In Corpus Christi's Moore Plaza, Half Price Books isn't but a five minute walk from its pricey competitor, Barns and Noble. Sticker shock at B&N was getting the better of me, and after a while the dog-eared pages at the reseller began to look very attractive. I was parked at the retailer, but the blustery conditions persuaded me not to beat a path to the independent bookseller. Besides, a busy street bisected the two store locations. To save a few dollars on a book purchase, I burned a cupful of $3.19 a gallon gasoline to get there.

The book cost only $2.00 and was in fine condition; not a mark or dog ear on it.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Mens Toys

Aside from the usual bees, birds and bugs, turkey vultures of the South Texas sky may soon have winged company of another sort at low altitude. My brother is determined to fly again. A few years ago he invested in ultralight flying lessons at Kitty Hawk Flying Field Ultralight in Garden Ridge, Texas. He was an apt pupil and had great fun learning; so much so, he bought one for himself. Its acquisition was pricey. In the months that followed, he would drive up and fly his heart out. At day's end, he would park his ultralight in the small hanger at Kitty Hawk Field and drive home, 166 miles south. Garden Ridge is northeast of San Antonio and the long weekend drives to and from his flying toy proved tiresome, so he made the decision to house his aircraft at Alice International Airport in relatively nearby Alice, Texas. My brother flew in short hops south like a migratory bird. Thereafter, he flew the friendly skies around Alice, Texas.

Now operating under a new administration, the rules changed at the airport and his ultralight can't sleep there any longer. It is not considered an airplane worthy of hangar space. This being the case, my brother engaged the help of my younger brother and me to assist in the ultralight's partial dismantling. He could easily fly it out of Alice, only he would have no place to land and store his toy. It can't sleep outside and the South Texas sun would soon turn the delicate fabric of its wings into toast. It's headed for temporary storage until it can fly again and return to the earth and get nested in a new and welcoming space.

The ultralight is an exciting toy for a grown man. What kid never dreamed of flying over his neighborhood, town and surrounding country? For some boys the dream never fades.

His toy does not ask for much. Just give it 120 feet of level ground and it will pop off the ground and climb steadily. His ultralight supposed has the capability to reach a ceiling of 10,000 feet. Who would dare try flying that high in one of these things. The air is cold up there. My brothers says that 500 feet is plenty fine. Any higher and no one can see anybody waving back; not the pilot and not the observer on the ground. This flying lawn chair has a range of about 60 miles and its 65 horsepower engine can crank the five-and-a-half foot wooden propeller fast enough to push you along at 55 miles per hour. If you're having fun, what's the hurry? When it is time to set back down to the good earth all it demands is 75 feet of the same level ground. 

Even though this little flying machine is a toy, it takes up a bit more room than you can imagine. It is seventeen-and-a-half feet long and is surprisingly wide. The wingspan is nearly 33 feet, but it's a light weight. Then, it has to be. It's an ultralight, after all. It weighs only 330 pounds, empty. The toy is just over nine feet tall.

Taking this thing apart to fit it onto a small trailer for transport did not require much knowledge or special tools. Labor and time required were minimal.

Back in the summer of 2000 my brother treated me to a half-hour hop on one of these flying toys. It was a great feeling. We were zipping along at 500 feet in a small lawn chair strapped underneath a nylon canopy sailing through the air like a kite. The landing was quite sensational, too. He lined up with the runway, killed the engine, glided in at a steep angle. The ground quickly came up to meet me, and then he flared the ultralight out, kissing the ground with its tricycle wheel.

I sure hope it flies again soon. The turkey vultures are waiting for the company.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Dominion of the Air

Long before nomadic Coahuiltecan tribes were beating the brush of present-day South Texas in search of rabbits and rodents to supplement their meager diet of mesquite beans and roots, turkey vultures lorded the sky above them. Riding thermals in lazy circles for hours, the vultures suffered little concern over their few natural enemies. In the 12 to14 thousand years that the tribes existed here, living pitifully short lives of constant struggle, the impoverished Indians were never as fortunate as the black feathered ones that enjoyed their dominion of the air.

When the Spanish conquerors invaded in the 1600s and closed out the Coahuiltecan chapter of this region, the turkey vultures paid them no mind. Life went on as before. The tribes did not have the choice of paying the Spanish no mind and did not live to make the same claim.

For the vultures, little has changed since the long arm of the Spanish Crown withdrew from Nueva EspaƱa. Unlike their former neighbors, the Coahuiltecan tribes, their numbers have not suffered a decline of any fashion. In and around Benavides, they rise majestically above the landscape like bubbles boiling in a pot. There is carrion in sufficient quantity for them to eat in the streets of town and on the hundreds of miles of roads in the county. Life for them, such as it is, is good. Where I live, they are the lords of the air.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Plastic Jungle

The boy is granted free reign of the space and the contents of the livingroom. Once in a while he may forget to place a coaster for his cold drink on the coffee table, otherwise, he is careful and responsible.

The coffee table was purchased with the boy in mind. He was the only consideration when my wife and I picked it out. The table is long and wide, and has four good-sized drawers that  alllow for much storage; two on one side and two on the other. The boy has filled them with toy soldiers, small plastic dinosaurs, colored chalk, crayons and some of his favorite books to have read to him.

When he visits with us and no longer wishes to play outdoors, the boy retreats to the cool comfort of the livingroom and begins to configure the space into his personal world of battle, adventure, and imagination. Every potted plastic plant in the place is procured, relocated to the top of the coffee table, and its broad surface is transformed into a plastic jungle populated with good guys pitted against the bad. These are the good times I will recall if I live to be an old man.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Uncommon Valor

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

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

A Dog's Last Leg

A few weeks ago temperatures dipped into the low 20s. In this part of the country, uncommon chills of that nature can make life difficult for man and beast. With that in mind, the goodhearted ladies in one of the outlying offices took pity on a stray that had been hanging around the offices and parking areas for weeks. They quickly adopted the beagle.  A sturdy cardboard box was located and sheathed in plastic sheeting in an effort to make it somewhat weatherproof. With the freeze would come freezing rain. A cushy blanket was set inside the box for the animal's warmth.

Except for the failed prognostication of snow, the days after the dog's adoption will long be remembered for the paralyzing effect the ice had on Benavides, Texas. Man  and beast survived, but greater troubles than mere cold were vexing the dog. The goodhearted ladies had a faithful, yet sick, canine on their hands.

Gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) is known as "bloat," "stomach torsion," or "twisted stomach. The condition is a dog killer. This pooch is on its last leg because it is afflicted with it. I am not a veterinarian and I do not play one on TV, but that is my guess. The poor beagle exhibits many of the symptoms; swollen belly, the animal appears to be vomiting, but nothing comes up, rapid shallow breathing. Basically, the dog's got a belly full of air and can't burp it out. Things begin to happen in the abdominal cavity that are to distressing to post here. It isn't pretty. The condition is painful, stresses the heart, and eventually the dog goes into shock and drops dead.

There it is; GDV. I hope I'm wrong. It wags its tail when he sees me or I call to it. I like him. It must have had a former master at one time. The animal's nuts have been expertly hacked off. I hear they may pass the hat to help get the animal to a vet, if it's not too late already. I'll pitch in a few bucks.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Sense of Space

A sidewalk is a walking path set aside for human traffic along the side of a road or parking area. It is a recognized distinction of space between the pedestrian section and the vehicular section of private or public property.

With that said, let us consider the act of properly parking a motor vehicle. The correct way to park a car is to, first, wear glasses when driving, if your natural vision is impaired to any degree.
Second: Locate a parking spot.
Third: If you are turning right into a spot, pull away from the spot and the other cars to the left side and make a direct right turn in to the spot. This way you are parked in the center of the spot making it easier for you and the others beside you to get out of their space without fear of scraping or gouging your car or the other car.
Fourth: Be especially conscious of any sidewalk or foot path that may run perpendicular to the parking spot you have chosen. The front end of you car should never protrude over any portion of the sidewalk or path. A sense of space plays an important role in parking any size vehicle.
Fifth: Pay attention to how the car is parked before you exit your vehicle. Some drivers may need to pull out slightly to readjust their alignment.
Sixth: Remember... Parking a little farther away is not going to hurt and the walk will do you good.
Seventh: If the car is parked crooked, more than likely your car is going to get scraped when they pull out.
Eighth: If someone you work with always parks like this and you know it, make it a point to park somewhere else if you get there before they do.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Filthy Animal

The lowest form of life in the no man's land hemmed by the Nueces and the Rio Grande is the filthy human animal that liters the roadsides. The volume of trash they discard from moving cars and trucks is criminal, if not sinful. These sad excuses for people exercise no restraint, no regard, and no respect. The two-legged scumbags toss glass and plastic containers, soiled pampers, crumbled paper sacks, game the skinned hides of game animals, their innards, a planet's supply of aluminum cans, old sofas, stoves, water heaters, Styrofoam cups, yard clippings, cardboard boxes, candy wrappers, fast food containers, plastic bags filled or otherwise, and beer cans ad nauseam. I even came across the skinned carcass of an alligator many years ago. The country would do well to rid itself of these reprobates.

This rugged, but pretty, brush country has not been pristine since the inhabitants' new-found prosperity following the Second World War greatly multiplied their purchasing power. That marked the start of our local "throw away" society and the roadside litter that goes with it. Folks around here were probably always untidy and never picked up after themselves, it's just that before they had any disposable income in their wallets they simply could not afford to buy anything worth tossing out their car or truck windows. What exasperated the excessive and unrestrained litter was the EPA in the 1980s. It forced the county to close the landfill servicing Benavides. The countryside, creek crossings, and crossroads became an awful mess thereafter. You ought to park at a highway creek crossing around here, walk out to the middle of the small bridge and have a look over the side.

The county is disgraceful. Animals aren't this filthy. What is so difficult of picking up after yourself?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Sun, the Grubbing Hoe and Cold Beer

The sun, the grubbing hoe and a cold bottle of beer at day's end are the pseudo-sacred trinity of unskilled farm and ranch labor in South Texas. Few of the faithful remain to appreciate its gifts of vitamin D, muscle building and the quenching satisfaction of the parched mouth. In this day and age, many cannot? How can they know of the trinity's benefits in this mercurial era of Facebook, smart phones, and iTunes? No se puede. The notion of performing the kind of physical labor that extracts a protracted toll from the heart, the lungs and the sinew of a man is lost on many souls these days. I count myself fortunate not to be numbered among them.

This afternoon I knocked back a couple of Budweisers sitting in Mom's open air porch at the ranch. I like beer, but at my age, beer calories waste little time adding territory to my mid section. I sit on my ass at work from 8 to 5 Monday through Friday. The same pants and belts have hung in my closet for years and shopping for more generous sizes is discouraging. I will not do it. So, the waistline has to be kept in check, but we have no athletic clubs or gyms in Benavides, Texas. There is no market for that brand of business. Physical fitness doesn't sell nearly as well as ice-cold beer in this drinking culture county. Nevertheless, 290 calories needed to be worked off on this pleasant Sunday afternoon before the guilt feeling of my consumption eroded away.

A quick and cost-free solution was to grab a heavy grubbing hoe and tear into the base of the chain-link fence; clearing it of the tall dried buffelgrass and their stubborn root stumps. It was hot work under an unblinking sun piercing the cloudless blue canopy. The two worked in partnership with the stunted arc of the hoe in my hands, validating a man's raw masculinity as I rented an earthy wound along the fence line. (This isn't serious writing. I just enjoy passing the time with words. You can quit any time you wish.)

Data gleaned from several sources points to 500 as the number of calories consumed by the body of a short, semi-fit, Latino male in his late fifties, steadily working a grubbing hoe in dry soil for an hour in the sun. I earned my two beers for next Sunday.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Before and After

It is not difficult to understand the love affair young men have with hair, especially their own. Long ago when I was young and pretty, and enjoyed a full head of hair, few things mattered more than the attention I invested on my black mop. Today, I don't even own a comb. Aye, Dios, que triste

I've known my young friend, pictured above, since he was an infant. He'll turn 16 in a few weeks. It is a curious thing to see how lopping off a few locks can transform a young boy into a young man. It happens that quickly. The images above of my young friend were captured 55 days apart.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A More Gentle Nature

With the exception of newborns and young children, there are few things in the irregular fabric of Benavides, Texas, U.S.A. likely to be mistaken for things soft or lovely. The pueblito is an unkempt uncombed community populated with working people more burdened with making ends meet than earning a "Yard of the Month" designation. Yet, it does have its positives. Unquestionably, it is a rough town, but if one can look past its blight and squalor, Benavides can display a good side; one with a more gentle nature.

A facet of that gentleness made an appearance at the office yesterday in the form of a silky soft perfumed ball of fur named Julie. Even after a full dinner she cannot weigh more than three pounds. She is a Maltese teacup terrier.

From a distance, at first sight I mistook it for a stuffed animal. Then I saw its head move and the animal looked right at me. It is hard to imagine that God, with the aid of a few puppy mills, can produce a dog that small and toylike.

The ladies at my workplace especially love her, and others of her kind. But love, be it large or small, comes at a cost. This tiny package sports a hefty price tag. A family of four with an appetite for name brand foods could stock their kitchen cupboard for a month with the pile of nickels that were shoveled out to purchase pretty little Julie.

It is doubtful more than a handful of people in town own dogs this pretty, and certainly not this pricey. People in Benavides have to put food on the table before there's any change left to afford brushing nail polish on the likes of Julie. Bows, ribbons and fur clippings for pooches of this pedigree come second, or perhaps third, after paying the light and water bills.

My dogs never sported anything more dressy than a collar from Wal-Mart and their clean fresh smell did not last long after the occasional flea bath and shampoo. Nor did they enjoy the universal affection as does tiny Julie. They were aware of our love for them, but even their small dog brains knew that it was solely my wife and I that invested any emotional collateral on their behalf.

Our last pair of canines has been gone twenty long years. The wife and I still struggle with the pang that wells up in our hearts whenever we think of them. We miss our dogs. God would be very kind indeed if we could see and touch them once again in the Hereafter.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

500 Days

500 days ago, a worn and weathered quarter mile of fractured black top called La Mota Street was stripped bare by men and their earth-moving equipment. When the wind had blown away the dust clouds at the end of their workday, the route to and from home was an automobile suspension nightmare. For 16 months the road lay virtually ignored by the street crews that sporadically worked at resurfacing the pueblito's streets. This week men and heavy metal monsters revisited La Mota and on Thursday morning the quarter mile was reborn as a pothole-free graveled asphalt surface again. It isn't pretty, but it's functional.

October 5, 2009

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ya Empezaron Las Juntas

At three o'clock this afternoon a summons arrived via cellphone from my good friend Simon. It was a friendly voice.

"Dr. Salas," he said, "we have a meeting."

The announcement was welcome. The winter afternoons are lengthening and the sun's angle grows warmer. Wives permitting, South Texas men are now able to congress around barbecue grilles and ice chests filled with cold beer to converse, laugh, and hone their bullshitting skills. Gracias a Dios, las juntas del jueves ya empezaron. Thursdays are more commonly designated meeting night, but Simon sensed an opportunity today and launched the weekly revelry a day early.

Today's event marks the unofficial end to our winter season. All that is left to herald the new juncture of nature is for the spindly mesquite to rupture into a bright flush of leafy green.

What is foremost in our small group's celebration of conversation, consumption and camaraderie is the guiding principle and mantra of our headmaster, el doctor, Simon Saenz, Jr., "I come here to relax." May the membership of the Thursday nights never grow too old or too careful to disappoint him.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Road Closed

The peace of small town living was disturbed today. Men and machines of the Kansas City Southern congregated in formidable numbers, wearing hard hats and pushing heavy equipment, to hold center stage in Benavides, Texas. Their work on the long and straight east west tracks severed the handful of traffic arteries that run north to south across the pueblito. Produced by a partnership of flesh and steel, the clamor and disruption was initiated at first light, changing an otherwise timid shuttle of cars and trucks, common to the town's weekday mornings, into a red chaos of brake lights reminiscent of the frenzy in an ant mound disturbed by the end of a long hand held stick or a well-planted heel.

The railroad's work was a minor hindrance to the many taquito runs this morning, the quick dashes for a hot meal at lunch, and the tame rush for home, come quitting time.

The irregular orchestration of mechanized noise was loud, too. The insult to the ears was paired with offense to our noses. A constant southeasterly assured us that only a couple of hundred yards away, leathery-faced men were laboring in the heat, under an uninterrupted blanket of dust, pulverized gravel, diesel exhaust, and the pungent sting of creosote-soaked railroad ties emanating their stench under an uncaring sun. The good fortune was ours. We could shut our windows and turn our attentions to other things. The hard hats could not. For the present, they were enslaved to their labors and could only dream of joining us in our climate controlled spaces, celebrating our advantage.

At day's end, an examination of their progress served only to assure the general public, the puebliteros, that tomorrow would bring more of the same. This was not government work that was being performed here. These were the efforts of private enterprise. A for-profit venture was staking its resources on the promise that, once completed, the work would be complete and warranted. Nothing approaching the shoddiness of half-ass government work would be tolerated. No short cuts here. The crews would be back on Wednesday. The work would be completed, and the results would be sure. We can only hope this, in Benavides, Texas. Our morning diet of breakfast taquitos depends on it, but for now, this road is closed.

Monday, February 14, 2011

El Descanso

"Hey, man. Look at those crosses. Who's buried here?"
"Nobody's buried here, pendejo. It's a descanso. Don't you know anything? Shit! What an idiot."
"Really? Nobody's buried here? I always thought there were dead people here."
"No, stupid."
"So then what are the crosses for? Why do they put crosses here?"
"They're Catholic people, menso! Around here it's the Catholics that mark a place like this. They mark the spot where someone died. 
"I don't get it. How come they want to mark this place in the middle of nowhere? Nobody sees it."
This is where their soul left the body when they died here. This was the spot where they were last alive on the earth. They died here. 
"That sounds dumb. If they died, how could they put the crosses?"
Not them! Their relative or something. That's who got killed here! Dammit!"
"Who? How?"
It was probably a car wreck. It's always a wreck or something like that. Sometimes it's something else. I remember one guy walking on the highway one night. He got hit by a car. Ay quedo. And I remember another pobre that just parked his car on the shoulder and blew his brains out. The crosses are to remember them. Man, you never noticed that the crosses are always next to highways? This is where the soul left. Where have you been, man?
"Their soul?"
"Yeah, their soul, ese?"
After a long pause he asks, "Don't tell me you don't know what a soul is? Do you? Do you know?"
"I know! I know! I'm not dumb like you think. I know what a soul is."
"Okay. Explain then. Explain it to me, genius. Tell me what a soul is."
"It's like a ghost, man. You know. It's like your ghost when you die. You see? I know."
"You probably think it's like Casper or like in that old movie, Ghost Busters. You probably think it's a bunch of Caspers that float around here at night."
"I didn't say that. I just wonder about what you said. About how you say that the soul leaves from here."
"Yeah, that's what I said. That's what my mother always told me. I guess it's true. I guess, if you want to believe that sort of stuff."
"But how do they know that? About the soul. How do they know it left from here? From this descanso thing?"
"It didn't leave from the descanso, sonso! I didn't say that. The descanso is to remember where the soul left the body when they died. I already told you!"
"But how can they tell? How do they know?"
"They just know, man. It's the way the Catholics believe, man.
The kid just gave him a blank look.
"I can't believe you never heard of this before. Everybody knows about them. Man! You embarrass yourself."
"What do you mean I embarrass myself. How can I embarrass myself? I don't get it."
"You don't know nothing. You're like dumb or something. If you don't know something don't ask. You sound stupid. That's what I mean by embarrassing."
"If I don't ask, then how do I find out stuff. How do I learn about things if I don't ask nothing. Now you sound dumb."
"Hey! Who you calling dumb? If you don't shut up, they might have to put another cross here for you. Then you're going to have your own descanso, if you know what I mean."
"I don't get it. I don't see a car coming."
"Chihuahuas! I don't think I want you hanging around me anymore. You're making my head hurt."

Sunday, February 13, 2011


I nested on this book project like a lazy hen in little hurry to watch its eggs hatch. It is finished now and in the hands of an able proofreader. The chicks should break through their shells and see the light of day before long. I'll dust off the blog and begin spewing bilge regularly. It only took a dusting of encouragement to motivate me to reenter the blogosphere. The cost is nothing and I am a fortunate man with time on my hands.

I'll self-publish the book and hand out paperback copies to friends and relatives. The writing effort served to amuse me and exercise the gray matter.