Thursday, April 28, 2011

1 year, 6 months, 24 days



How time flies. La Mota Street has a fresh smooth surface this afternoon. 571 days have come and gone since that morning on October 2009 when the machines came to rip away this quarter-mile stretch of fragmented and pot-holed blacktop. No hay apuro en el pueblito.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Piedras

Some time in the summer of 1979, the Ranch crew was working across Highway 359 putting up a new fence. We were setting T-posts and stringing barbed wire along the right-of-way of the former Tex-Mex Railroad tracks. Every couple of hours or so a train would come by and we would stop our work. What guy doesn't get a kick out of watching a very loud train rush by up close? There were a whole bunch of us back then. The crew was made up of Dad, Dick Shimer, Allen McDaniels, Ricky, Danny, and myself.




I don't know who picked up the first rock and threw it at a passing open boxcar, but very soon we all followed suit. The idea was to throw a stone or a rock clear through the open doors of the passing boxcar. It took a little skill and good timing to accomplish the task and it was a lot of fun. More often than not we failed at it and only heard the rock loudly bouncing off the steel walls inside the car. This was a great pastime and we took advantage of every passing train for the next few days that we were working on the fence line.

On one occasion, however, as the train was whizzing by and we were bombarding the passing boxcars with rocks and stones, we saw a couple of wetbacks duck for cover inside the boxcar when our barrage of rocks rattled the inside of the car they were occupying. After that we thought better of it and stopped the practice. These poor unfortunates had enough to worry about already without a bunch of locos like us pelting them with rocks and stones.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Keep Hope Alive

"Admin", the NSCL pooch, visited with the vet at the Brush Country Veterinary Clinic in Freer this afternoon. After a methodical examination, he was diagnosed as suffering acute kidney disease. Admin is presently taking a cocktail of prescription medications and has been advised by his vet to avoid all forms of stress. Once the medication runs its course, he will return to the clinic for a follow-up visit. The prognosis is encouraging. His mashed paw remains tender, but it will heal satisfactorily.

Words do not come easily to Admin, and it is all but impossible for him to personally thank all those generous and good-hearted folks who worked to secure his health care fund. His gratitude will forever be true and boundless.

On a side note, most of his human friends figured that Admin was an old and tired dog. That is not the case. The vet determined that this once unfortuante canine was only about three years old. Life on the mean streets of Benavides, Texas must have taken their toll on Admin before his rescue and adoption. His outlook is hopeful.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Moved to Tears


No lines on a body were ever shaped more seductively than those that stirred my lust today. The sheer and curvy figure was pure perfection. I locked my thumbs in my pants pockets to keep my hands in check. Animalistic desire to reach out and touch made me tremble. My eyes pooled, blurring my vision. Boldly, I stole one more look, then walked away.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Watching Smoke

Mesquite smoke coming off the grill clouded their vision and made their eyes water, but did little to hinder their appetite for beer or barbecue.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Hands That Can

He has a feel for machinery; how the moving parts should click and resonate when in good working order, and the telltale grinds and moans when not. It is a gift; a mechanical endowment that cannot be acquired from books or observation. In a perfect world, all men would be so blessed. Such as it is, in this world, he is a valued commodity, contributing as much to the quality of life as the sainted physician.


However, unlike the healer, the mechanic can bring the long dead back to life. The powers he calls on are the knowledge in his head, the right tools and replacement parts.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Have Sprayer, Will Kill

Absent the slightest tremor or hesitation, he has come to kill. Late this afternoon, his poison will snuff the life of his victims using the pale yellow mixture in the spray applicator hanging from his shoulder. The deliverer of death is Sevin XLR in the form of a gentle, yet toxic, mist. It is the hope of the killer that the hive is not populated by Africanized bees. He has no assurance that they are not, but he entertains little doubt that they are. Regardless, he has come to kill.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Good Thursday

"Admin", the NSCL company dog, conducted his raffle today. He did all right. Counting all the employee donations and raffle ticket sales, his health care fund rose to $477.15. Pictured are the Admin Office staff who initially adopted "Admin". They brought him in off the cold mean streets of Benavides last winter, and since that lucky day..., he has enjoyed a warm and loving home.

The cardboard box he had called his casita was today discarded for a swank and roomy hardwood model purchased by the Admin Office staff out of their own pockets. It was a good Thursday. Our canine friend visits with the vet next week. A great big wonderful 'thank you' goes out to all the good and generous people who reached out to this needful pooch, "Admin".

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tres Anacahuitas

The anacahuita's blossoms fell to the ground mimicking flakes of snow as a dry wind, paired with the sparse motor traffic cutting west to east on Highway 359, helped sweep the curb free of petals that had spilled onto the hot pavement. A blanket of white spreading under the shade of the three anacahuitas was the only cheerful thing a passerby's eye might catch in the two minutes it took for them to put the cheerless little town behind them. The signs pointed to a dry Easter this year in Benavides, Texas.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Hey Mister, can you spare a dime?

The company's resident dog enjoys breezy comfort in the shade of parked cars and trucks. On a workday, the lot is crowded with all makes. As the day progresses, each produces islands of shade that the dog migrates to. He picks a spot to flop down on, depending on the direction of the wind and the position of the sun. He naps more than a cat.

A few of the ladies at work call him "Lucky," others know him as "Admin," and one group named him "Flash." Regardless, he is either deaf or indifferent, because he answers to no alias that reaches his ears.

Sadly, in spite of all the shade and love he receives, his is not a life of comfort. The poor fellow may be afflicted with Gastric Dilation. It is a terrible condition more commonly refereed to as canine bloat. In his case, the stomach becomes overstretched by excessive gas content. It's an excruciating death sentence for Lucky, Flash, Admin, whatever, but his immediate concern these days is his leg. It got mashed when one of the employees was backing out. She was not careless, but the bloated dog was slow in relocating from underneath the Toyota when she started it up. The animal learned quickly that the hulking object that was the source of its shade was very heavy, and hurt very much, when it rolled over his hind leg.

The instant the driver heard his painful yelp, her heart stopped, and when all the fuss of the accident was over, she had a good cry. She was so very sorry for the poor animal. Thereafter, the dog made certain to hobble clear of man-made shade. For the next few days after his mishap, he avoided people, too. In the process, he discovered a preference for St. Augustine grass to nap on, instead of the cool shaded blacktop under the big hulks.

The dog's fortunes improved considerably this morning. Our boss, a kind and benevolent woman, took pity and initiated a collection for the mangled Flash, Lucky, Admin, whatever. She aims to get the pooch attended to by a vet. She had one of the clerks make the rounds of all the offices with a collection jar in hand and in only a few minutes amassed $104.00 from the kindhearted generosity of many employees. Tomorrow the dog is having a raffle to augment his health care fund. I kid you not. You can't make stuff like this up.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Elevated Position

Years of skin mite infestation have rendered one ear all but useless. It is a horrid looking piece of raw flesh encrusted with short tufts of moldy-looking fur. The leathery fold simply hangs off the side of its head like the tattered flap of a worn shirt pocket. It isn't the least bit pretty. The cat is probably deaf out of that one ear. Periodically, it will show up at feeding time bloodied around that ear from all its scratching. The irritation must be as near torturous as hell itself.

We feed the poor animal regularly and provide it and its companions with cool fresh water in a clean bowl, but the wife and I do not claim it, or the others. The only nickel we'll spend on the miserable unfortunate is the twice monthly $6.97  for a seven-pound bag of Meow Mix Original Choice. The cheaper brands would suffice, but the wife prefers a quality product.

When it isn't eating, scratching or mounting felines in heat, it gingerly leaps to the top of the pickup cab and rests there, surveying the country from its elevated position. The cool of the day is its prefered time to siesta up there. It ought not to claim that spot as its own, but it will not be run off. It is a stubborn creature. Only the skin mites have the advantage over it. I really would like to be rid of it, but I fear my wife would find it difficult to forgive me if I shot it dead. I've given up.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Twist Wire

Respect the wire, but do not be afraid of it. Do not be thinking that it is stretched too tight. Do not imagine that if it breaks, it is going to recoil violently and bite into you like a thousand fangs, tearing into your flesh, shredding it off your body as though tiny knives were hungry for your blood. Respect it. Do not fear it. If you let fear in, you will make mistakes. You will become careless. Your fear will come without warning and strike you like the rattlesnake that lies coiled on the ground, unseen in the tall grass. Perform your work sure. Have confidence. You were instructed by the best. His example will not fail you. Do not fear the wire.


By the middle of summer his confidence was such that he worked without gloves. He could take hold of wire stretched tight as piano string and twist its ends expertly, same as his father had modeled countless times. More often than not, he produced the same neat coiled pattern that his father did. Truly, he had the advantage over the ol' man. He did not have to work with mangled and splintered bones in his fingers and wrists as his father had for years. He did the best he could with the wire, but could never match the fine work of his father.

Five strands of barbed wired stretched tight like guitar strings for a quarter mile were a thing to respect, especially when it came time for their ends to be wrapped and securely twisted around a pair of ceder corner posts planted solidly five feet in the ground. With good men around him, each secure in their work, respect had edged out fear. He could draw near the barbed steel, almost letting it brush his cheek like a mother would a child. No fear.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Summertime (1955)

David Lean's 1955 "Summertime" was filmed on location in one of my favorite cities. It's a chick flick. Ask me if I care. I liked it so much that I watched it twice today and didn't do a lick of work.

Best line delivered in the movie? "Sometimes I think a schedule in Venice is just.., well.., all wrong."

There ought to be a Make A Wish Fountain for guys like me. My request? "Lord, let me wake up in the morning endowed with the looks, charm and polish of a Rossano Brazzi."

Friday, April 15, 2011

Tax Day

Seated behind the steering wheel, the man pulled on the release lever, then pushed against the floorboard with his legs, sliding back the seat as far as it could go. He adjusted the back to about 45 degrees, relaxed, reached for his iPhone and waited. In thirty-six years he had grown comfortable waiting for his wife to finish with her shopping, doctor visits, errands, etc. It was easy work for a patient husband. The man often recalled the days long ago when he had spent all his free time in pursuit of the girl. "All I want to do is be with her," the pangs in his heart had told him. He got what he wanted.

This evening she had disappeared behind the building's glass doors. "This won't take long," she had told him. "I love you," she said, with her eyes and her lips. "Lock yourself in." She had always had an elevated sense of security and caution --  more than the man.

He never bothered to look at the time. Not anymore. She would do what she had to do, and staring at his watch had never encouraged her to move any faster. He did not even wear a watch any longer. He hadn't for years. As the minutes passed, he listened to talk radio and amused himself with his phone.

After a while a neatly dressed person stepped into the open from behind the glass doors. From inside the cab of the truck the man took notice of the fellow's neatly trimmed mustache. The gentleman was about his age. He had a fine face, a face that showed character. He enjoyed a full head of thick dark hair, wore a white long-sleeve shirt and dress pants. The belt was thin and had a burnished look to it. His small boots shined in the artificial light. He stood by the building's entrance as though waiting. After a minute he began to pace a few feet, impatient with something or someone. The slightly built man was only about twenty feet away, but the man felt certain that the stranger could not see him in the shadow of the truck's interior. Presently, the stranger's attention was drawn a couple of blocks down the street to the sound of a train rolling through the heart of the city.

The noise of the train rattled something in the man's brain. Sitting patiently in his pickup, waiting for his wife, the man got a memory flash of his father. In this situation his old man would, too, have been waiting patiently, only he would have been outside, standing by the white stucco wall, enjoying a smoke. He certainly would not have been listening to the radio. Few of the vehicles he ever owned had had working radios. His father had not been much of a radio listener anyhow. He would have struck up a conversation with the mustached man. Later, he might have said something witty after the ice was broken, bringing a chuckle to the other. As the rumble of the passing train made conversation more difficult, the two would have turned to watch the squeaky cars roll and rattle by in the dim light from the corner street lamp. The two would have stood silent, each taking long slow drags of their cigarettes. Everyone smoked back then. Dad had an easy way with people. The man remembered his father, missing him.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

La Fuente

Over the years, it has been my good fortune to have stood before a few fountains in a few places; Tokyo, Fairbanks, Caracas, New York City, Paris, Rome, Benavides, others. With the exception of the one trickling arsenic tainted water in Benavides, all were lively places. They were people magnets.

Perhaps it's a location problem. The fountain in front of the city hall is void of pigeons, people, prospects, pennies and popularity. A remedy could be as simple as periodically tossing some loose change into its basin. That could attract a crowd for a short while. Change is in the air. Something will come up.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Contains Lead

Long before boys and young men panhandled from their parents or guardian, they worked at a job to earn spending money in this town. Some pushed a broom or pumped leaded gasoline at a filling station. In better times, there were at least seven gas stations in Benavides, Texas; five full service, one self. Today? A lone self-serv remains to monopolize the motor fuel market. Full service and competition went the way of the 45 RPM, as did the better times for the pueblito.

A couple of the establishments had garage bays to perform minor auto service. When they weren't changing tires or oil, a mechanic would have been working on some fellow's car or truck engine. They offered a valuable community service. Why should anyone have to get out of their car to pump gas in it? Why should the more-seasoned members of the community have to wrap a bony arthritic hand around a bulky gas nozzle handle? Why should anyone soil their hands sponging splattered bugs off their windshield? There are so many whys.

Where the heck do all the high schoolers in this town work these days? Answer. Nowhere. There is no "where" in this place. The town's stock of young minds has not developed its sense of entrepreneurship. There is plenty of stuff to do that people would shell out cash for. Then, of course, they don't work because their Baby Boomer parents give many of them near all the money they want. Too bad the old service stations are no more.


They're all gone now. The full service, the boys that mowed your yard for a few bucks, the young man who would haul junk to the city dump using his father's pickup, they're gone. The dump is gone, too. The old filling station is the saddest loss of all. These places were excellent social centers for men and boys. Gas fumes, engines revving, girly calendars, cigarette machines, the hydraulic car lift, walls covered with fan belts, and racks of tires, all made for one testosteronic romantic image of Americana. It was a place that instilled a sense of community. All of that and more is long gone and lost.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Work at Home

The boy needed adult and learned guidance to complete his weighty homework assignments. Equipped with patience, education and ability, I am the man for the job. The boy comes pre-programmed with stubbornness and disinterest in the paperwork. To his eight-year-old mind, it lacks relevance. Though I am in complete agreement with the boy as to the assignment's pertinence, I keep the thought to myself. He must be made to understand that the purpose of the work is to exercise and refine his cognitive processes.

It is not long before the bias of the material leaps from the page. Example. What kid around these parts uses the term "pop" to refer to a soft carbonated drink. To the boy, it is Greek. Crocus bulbs? More Greek.

Trying with the boy to make relevant real-world ties to the homework was a struggle. His underlying frustration broke the surface only once. Voices are never raised. He snapped his pencil in an effort to vent a little steam. The work trying, and 90 minutes later it was completed. The volume assigned was a bit much for a Tuesday night, and this is the case more often than not on most weeknights. Work at home is tough.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Like German Chocolate Cake

A dry explanation exits to describe the reasons freshly dug dirt erupts with a bouquet of scented earthiness. The breakdown is so dusty and scientific that we are better served to let the colorless facts lie dead in the dirt. It is more satisfying to the senses to simply appreciate the aroma of earth and leave its analysis to the less passionate. Fresh dug dirt simply smells good.

My big brother is closing in on his sixty-fifth birthday. A minor earthworks project on the ranch has compeled this seasoned citizen to dig an impressively long and deep ditch the old fashioned way. With the force of his 160-pound frame, he drove his booted foot onto the shoulder of a spade and began to tear into the ground.

The labor is excellent exercise, working all the muscle groups. You needn't bother with a trainer or a fitness coach to hype you up. The depth of the hole, and the rising mound of loam next to it, serve as a barometer of one's progress.

The benefits of fresh mesquite-scented air gulped by the lungful are preferable to the flat  and recirculated climate-control excuse for air found in a sweaty gym. Digging a ditch outdoors is a plenty-fine workout at the ranch. One can scratch, whistle, pick, adjust, spit, sing or whatever, without regard.

The image of a big chunky helping of German chocolate cake comes to mind when I start a dig.  Nearing the end, the lip-smacking cake is superseded by the throaty soothingness of ice-cold beer.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

All I Want Is the Girl

My wife was a single teenage girl the last time the sun filtered softly through the leafy canopy of the "Big Tree" at Goose Island State Park and settled as sparkling butterflies of light on her long hair and small shoulders. It was February 1974. Standing next to her in the shade of that tree there was a fire in my heart that she was fanning with every dreamy bat of her eyes.  Andaba de chicle with her family and exercising my best manners that day, but the only thought in my head was, "all I want is the girl." I did not give a damn about the tree, its legend or anything, except the girl.

Thirty-seven years later we stood again under the shade of the "Big Tree" and when I primed her memory, she could not remember that day long ago. Of course, I could. I am still on fire and still, all I want is the girl.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Simply Get Up and Go

The cats don't belong to anyone, certainly not us, but before we simply get up and go, their water dish is filled. These three can survive for 36 hours without the twice-daily sprinkling of cat food they have become accustomed to. They don't even like us. It is only the sound of our front door swinging open and their anticipation of a free meal that keeps them lazing around. They do not even have names and that suites us just fine. We enjoy being able to simply get up and go someplace when the whim hits us.

video
That is the appeal of the route 66 television series that ran from 1960 to 1964. Todd and Buz could simply get up and go down the road to their next  rendezvous with fortune or peril if life grew stale in their present location. As a kid, it was easy to imagine tooling around with this adventuresome pair, but I came to realize something much better when I reached adulthood. I achieved independence and got married. These days, my wife and I enjoy simply getting up and going anywhere we please. The cats have no notion why we disappear for days from time to time. They entertain no affection for us, but they display unusual loyalty. Wherever we drive back from, they wait patiently for us. Clean water and decent food are all a cat desires of humans.

We took off for the coast to picturesque Rockport, Texas this afternoon y pasamos la noche allí. Our reward for two hour's drive time was to dine deliciously at Bellino's, a cozy little Italian restaurant that seats only 40 patrons and offers a good wine list. Once seated, our order was taken and we enjoyed food too wonderful for words; Bruschetta Classica, diced herbed tomatoes on toasted garlic bread, Tilapia all'Arancia, filet of tilapia baked with tomatoes and vegetables in a delicate orange sauce with spaghetti. No two cats ever ate this well.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Rio Grande Wild Turkey

I grew up on a large ranch. I was a boy when Ike was liked and Kennedy's words, "My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country," resonated in the hearts and minds of young patriots. It was a different America that none younger than I today would recognize were the clock turned back 50 years.

Except for school days and the once weekly grocery trip to Alice, Texas, ours was an isolated existence. The family home was an island in a sea of brush and pastureland, miles from the nearest paved road and absolutely void of neighbors. Day or night, it was just us, KTSA, two television channels from distant Corpus Christi and no telephone. And wildlife.., there was so much wildlife we hardly took notice. It was simply life in the country and all that it entailed.

Aside from the herds of beef that taught us to watch where we stepped, our company in the brush were coyotes, javelin, rattlesnakes, raccoons, birds of every description, the occasional bobcat, Texas turtles, cotton tails and jackrabbits, horny toads, every flying bug in existence, and the old-fashion variety of wetback. We even enjoyed a good-sized fish pond big enough to drown in. Turkeys, however, are odd ones. In all the time I spent exploring the brush country, creek bottoms and the hidden places, I never saw more than a handful of gobblers. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department must have been doing something right in the last 50 or so years. Today I see turkeys everywhere. Ours is the Rio Grande wild turkey. The sight of them makes me want to pick up a BB gun to go exploring again like when I was a little boy.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

15 Acres

A skinny gopher poked its head up from a dusty hole in the ground where the man was set to pound in the next T-post. The two eyeballed each other, the man to the gopher, gopher to man, neither moving for a minute. It never blinked, but the man did. Wind fanned up a small dust cloud off the rocky ground, irritating his eye. He released his grip off one end of the 6-foot steel post, letting it drop to the ground by his boot. His gloved hand came up to his mouth where he bit down on a leather finger, pulling his hand free. As he rubbed his eye, the gopher remained motionless, paying no notice to the dust or the man's actions. Its unblinking eyes remained fixed on the big fellow. The man stared right back with one eye, thinking, that of all the spots in his fifteen acres of brush, the gopher had picked the wrong one to hollow out an entrance to its burrow. The property line was not about to budge an inch or a foot or a yard to accommodate it. Documents at the courthouse would not allow for it. The lines were set on paper and in the man's head. He had paced off the perimeter of his fifteen acres many times since its purchase. Soon, this one misplaced hole would be a memory to him and the gopher.

The little animal blinked once and read the man's expression. Taking a tiny sniff of the dry air, it darted back underground.

"Sorry, little fellow," said the man.

The glove returned to the hand, the T-post was positioned, and the heavy post driver came down hard, again and again and again, planting the post solidly into the caliche soil mix. It was slow steady work in the heat of the afternoon and the man was content to labor on his land. He was here to relax.

"De poquito al poquito," is Simon's mantra. By summer's end the property will be fenced, selected areas of brush will be cleared and he can then turn his thoughts to a water well and to the electric power for his acreage. In this stage of his life he has all the time in the world to give to his 15 acres.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Elizabeth Todd Burns

Elizabeth Todd Burns is a self-published author living in the Rio Grande Valley. Her first non-fiction work, A Random Encounter At The Post Office, is now available on Amazon.com and on the iBook app for the iPad. You can also download it for the Kindle from Amazon. Ms. Burns is humble. She does not entertain high hopes for a great commercial success, but simply enjoys the fun of following through on ideas... like writing a book. The cost to you? Only 99¢.

Do not let the title fool you. It is a good read. The news outlets along the porous and murderous Texas-Mexican border under report the brutal and violent residual effects of the illegal trade along that boundary. This is a fast-paced account detailing the intricacies of the decades-old illegal trade between two great North American countries that share a nearly 2000 mile border and little else. Elizabeth Burns does a first-rate job chronicling one veteran smuggler's firsthand account of his, and others, role in the illicit line of trade in contraband, firearms, drugs and desperate souls seeking a better life.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

de MÉXICO

The dead, resting in marked and unmarked graves in the city cemetery, get their bones rattled by the blast of the Kansas City Southern de Mexico about seven or eight times a day. The living get a respectable jolt out of it, too. With a name like Kansas City Southern de Mexico, the locals would be more forgiving of the train's speed and rumble through town if the salvo from its horn sounded more like a mariachi's trumpet. A few bars of "Jalisco" would be nice.


Day and night, the rails conduct their business, slicing east/west through eight city blocks of Benavides. A festive mariachi trumpet would find good company in these parts. The brush country has always been an ambiguous region of the United States of America. It's never been quite all Mexican, nor has it been one-hundred proof American. Culturally and economically, it is a menudo mix of people and ideas.

The KCS de Mexico is right at home here.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Poco Windy Con Polvo

The National Weather Service issued a Red Flag warning this morning for Jim Wells and Duval counties. With a cold front moving through the pueblito late this afternoon, the dry air was forecast to collide with animal, vegetable and mineral at sustained levels of 25 to 35 miles an hour, with gusts reaching 45. This combination of low humidity and strong winds heightened the danger of potential grass and brush fires. As promised, the wind blew very hard, sweeping the ground clear and exposing the hard-pack laying just underneath the sandy surface. It got to be so bad that driving home from work I saw a clump of dried dog turds scooching downwind on a recently paved north/south street.

The whisk of dry air through Benavides today was only a minor annoyance. Had Mother Nature tacked another 15 to 20 miles per hour to this parade of dust and plastic bags that swept though, it may have taken with it some of the sad bounty of dilapidated houses and mobile homes that make up a good bit of the abandoned real estate around here. That would have been a blessing of sorts from her. At the very least, that extra puff may have been sufficient to splinter and flatten some of these shabby derelicts. In due time the native grasses and thorny brush will reclaim the township grid that was staked out over a hundred years ago when Benavides was looking like it was going to make something of itself. The best guess is that what will remain in the confines of the city limits in the next score of years will be pockets of prideful home owners who will continue to keep their yards clipped, their homes painted, the trees trimmed, and their front yards clear of 55-gallon barrels filled with trash. These folks will not landscape their property with rusting Chevy 350 cubic inch engine blocks being slowly reclaimed by the earth.

I hope I'm wrong... wrong about the decay. Through the years, my self-professed prognostications concerning the prospects for many of  the young people I have worked with in the schools have proved faulty. A good number of those I have silently pronounced doom over have done well as responsible tax-paying adults. I never mind being wrong when society profits. I am probably wrong about Benavides, Texas. Maybe the next big blow from the North will bring something good with it. Hopefully, new blood and ideas will be borne by the winds that today only brought polvo and grit between our teeth.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

4,748 Days Ago

Today, Isela celebrated her 13th birthday.
"I used to be thirteen," I quipped to her. It is something I say to everyone out of habit, depending on their age. The humor probably wore off the crack a long time ago, so my attempt at wit brought no response from the child. She knew there was money in the envelope stamped with a birthday greeting. That was all that mattered today for the girl. It is to be expected. She is a child born to the material age of consumerism. I doubt there is much magic left in little girls' birthdays in these times that we live today. Happy birthday, darling.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Hey, Birdman!

   "Hey, birdman!"
   The little voice grated on the old man's ears. He tried to ignore the child.
   "Hey, birdman! What do you feed the birds?" the boy continued. He stood by the cages stacked three-high on a long table, pointing with a tiny finger. "Those birds are green. Are those parakeets?"
   "Yes," The man puffed the word out along with the smoke from the cigarette that hang limp at the corner of his mouth.
   "If they're parakeets how come they're not talking? How come they're not saying anything," the boy asked.
Pretending not to hear the child, the man offered no answer.


   "Hey, birdman!" the boy called again. "Hey, birdman! Did you hear me? How come they're not saying anything?"
   "Parrots," said the man. He did not look at the boy, but continued to arrange the wire cages.
   "Those are parakeets. I thought they were parakeets?" the boy sounded uncertain now.
   The man would not repeat himself.
   "Hey, birdman!" The boy was insistent. "Hey, birdman! Did you hear me? How come the parakeets aren't talking?"
   "Parrots talk. Not parakeets," the man answered reluctantly. "You need to go. Go home to your mother."
   At the far end of the table an old van with a dull white finish was parked with its rear doors swung open. A plump girl in a faded blue dress was bringing out more cages filled with birds. Her sandaled feet were dusted with the caliche that topped the shaded spot they had pulled onto from off the highway. Some of the cages held canaries, lovebirds, budgies. Others were populated with jardines conures, and mini macaws.
   The boy had never seen so many birds in one place. Certainly, he had never seen birds like these in the small town where he lived. The table was taking on a colorful flourish of feathers. The cage the girl was pulling out now held a lone and proud-looking cockatoo.
   "Hey, birdman!" The boy was not going anywhere. "Hey, birdman! Are you selling all these birds?"
   From the other end of the table the girl took no notice of the little boy.
   "Hey, birdman! How come they're not talking?"
   The man set a cage down, brought his cigarette to his lips, and took a calming drag. He exhaled wearily and turned to the boy. He drew once more from his half-spent smoke and brought the cigarette down in his fisted hand, resting the knuckles on his hip. The cigarette remained lightly pinched between the curled first and middle fingers of his right hand. A thin and pretty blue ribbon of smoke corkscrewed from the half-smoked butt.
   "I told you, boy," he said slowly. "Parrots talk. Not parakeets. I don't have no parrots here." The man had not meant to say so much, but he thought it would be enough to discourage more questions.
   The boy stood silent for only a second. With a quick twist of his little neck he surveyed the mounting inventory on the long table and turned back to look up at the man. The cigarette had returned to its place in the corner of his broad mouth.
   "Hey, birdman! How come you don't have parrots?"
The plump girl in the blue dress had walked a few feet down the highway holding a couple of crudely painted signs. Blood red letters on a white background read "EXOTIC BIRDS FOR SALE." She drove the long wooden stakes they were stapled to into the soft ground with a flat caliche rock. She walked back to the van, looking tired though it was not yet nine in the morning. She was a morenita as the locals would say.
   "Hey, birdman!  Did you hear me? How come you don't have any parrots?"
This was a stubborn one. The old man pushed back his straw fedora, then flicked the spent butt to the ground. "How come you're not at school? You should be at school. Yes?"
   "We don't have school today." It was the first time the boy had not asked a question that morning.
   "Hey, birdman! How come you don't have parrots?"
   The man ignored the question. With some little ones, no answer of any kind was sufficient. Soon enough, this one would grow weary from lack of attention and go away. He had not come here to talk to children. He had come to make a few dollars. He had claimed this shady spot to sell birds. They were not his birds, and he could not keep all of the dollars that he would put into the metal box on the table, but his percentage was enough to live on.
   "Hey, birdman! Don't you like parrots?"
   He wanted to say something ugly at the boy to scare him, or make him cry a little so that he would leave, but he dared not. It would be poison to do so. He did not care for the boy's feelings, but word would spread through the little town that the man selling the caged birds under the big shady tree on the edge of town had verbally roughed up a child. That would be trouble. It would ruin his small trade.
   "Hey, birdman! How come you don't answer nothing?"
   A big shiny black Escalade pulled over and a pretty woman with sparkles like tiny suns around her neck and on her hands stepped off. Her expensive black shoes stood in sharp contrast to the caliche. She asked about the cockatoo. If she would take that bird right now, thought the old man, I would make my day and get out of this town this morning and away from this child.
   "Hey, birdman! Don't go away. I'm going home to go get my little brother."

Friday, April 1, 2011

Benavides Tough

The photo is of a human molar. It is not a man's. Something like this can never belong to man. A man could not tolerate a tooth cracked this severely for any length of time. This molar belongs to a woman... a local girl. Only a woman who has labored from beginning to end in childbirth could defer the discomfort and aggravation of a molar split right down the middle.

The pulpy pinkish blob protruding between the split halves is gum tissue. It's growing, and has been for some time. Some people have a respectable tolerance for pain and discomfort. That is tough behavior. Tolerance of this degree is on a higher plane of the human experience. Let's call it Benavides tough.

Thankfully, the woman attached to this horrid molar will be taking care of it soon. Until then, she has been, is, and will remain... Benavides tough.