Thursday, January 29, 2015

Times, They Are A’Changin’

Courtesy of Wikimedia CC-3
As I cleaned out my filing cabinet so a new year’s worth of valuable stuff will fit into it, I came across some things I’d kept from my college years. Dried and cracked and yellowed as they were (see last week’s post on aging), one piece of paper caught my attention. It was an essay or more likely just the anguished expression of emotions one of my college classmates had put on paper. He read his passionate prose to us in a dry, empty tone, and that – alone – caught my attention. Only later, did I come to appreciate the words themselves.

As I reread his piece, it occurred to me that perhaps he – I’ll call him James – had seen the future more clearly than the rest of us. Attitudes about gays have changed drastically since then. 

There had been four of us in the little impromptu group who read our scribblings to one another – a sort of critique group before we knew what a critique group was. We had all been discomfited by James’ bold words. This was Texas in a time when such sentiments could get a fellow killed. But to the best of my knowledge, none of us ever betrayed his confidence.

Although I long ago lost touch with James, I have no hesitancy about reproducing his essay because he gave permission to do whatever we wanted with it at the time of the reading. His words follow. You can get some idea of how old this is by the fact he used double spaces at the end of sentences – a carryover from when we did things on typewriters. For those of you who don’t remember such devices, I’ll refer you to Wikipedia or an ordinary dictionary.
By James
The righteous sneer, “Wicked!”
“Unnatural deviants!” hiss the virtuous.
“Nay!” my heart cries.  “Tis love as deep and abiding, as sweet and strong as any that enriches your lives.”
Pitying their ignorance, I draw close my friend, my lover and move to pass them by.  But it is not to be.
This is the day noble Society and bigoted Religion extract a toll for flaunting archaic injunctions.  And just as with women stepping beyond accepted boundaries, and Black slaves chafing against their chains, and Native Americans clinging stubbornly to their lands, the cost is exorbitant!
One cretin tears away my beloved.  Another, an odiferous, unclean skinhead, pins my arms from behind.  A florid man of dark, heavy jowls pummels bloody my beautiful lover.
Oh, how proud I am as Peter shakes them off and stands tall and manly to face his tormentors.  A foolish mistake, of course, but one born of intrepid pride.  The barbarians beat him unmercifully until the growing unease of passive onlookers give them pause.
Smaller, weaker, and frankly not so valorous, I cannot fight my way free of him who holds me helpless.  Denied the consideration of even one bone-crushing blow, I am shoved atop my fallen hero as the thugs depart, laughing at the life-lesson they’ve taught the queers.
Sobbing myself into paralysis, I watch helplessly as that precious, sensitive life ebbs away on the hot, mean sidewalks of this accursed city.
And who will give justice for this cruel horror?  Not the black-uniformed storm trooper who only considers that there is one less faggot to plague the world. Nor the dog-collared clergy of the stately cathedral towering mutely above us on the far corner. Certainly not a shocked and aroused citizenry wrathfully demanding equity.
For the first time, I truly understand that dreadful credo of the old West:  “The only good Indian is a dead Indian!”  It is equally applicable to me and others like me.
But beware!  I have not perished, at least in the flesh.  And energized by my rage, emboldened by my crushing loss, I live to plot terrible retribution on the hide-bound, sanctimonious fools who dare impose their morality even to the destruction of one superior to them in every way that counts.  And do not look down long, blue noses and proclaim: “Love it or leave it” to me.  For I am legion in your midst, claiming equal ownership of this, my homeland.
Yes, I am here to stay.  And in my own time, in my own way, I will raise my voice and Cry Justice for Peter!

The incident happened elsewhere, so I do not know if James’ lover was actually killed, as is implied by the writing, and he would not discuss the matter further. But there is no doubt in my mind that a violent attack took place. James was a scarred individual, on the inside, at least.

Thanks for indulging me in some more nostalgia. And keep on reading, guys.


New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

ON AGING … Up Close and Personal

Courtesy CC-3
Although I have no idea why, people keep sending articles about aging as if that were something of interest to me. Some of the items are jokes, usually of the laugh to keep from crying type. Others are pieces about gruesome things that happen to body and mind as the years grind by. Still others are pointed questions about such things as stopping in the middle of the room and wondering which direction you had been headed.

So I decided to take stock of my own lengthening lifespan and examine how I am handling the process. This requires a few confessions. Please, do not try to take advantage of them.

I once stood 5 feet 10 inches tall. Over time, the medical profession altered their measuring devices in order to claim I had shrunk to 5 feet 9½ inches. They’re probably going to tell me I don’t even reach that majestic altitude today.

·       Solution: Measure straight up to my neck, make a mathematical allowance for my slumped shoulders, and then angle 22 degrees leeward for the remainder of the measurement. I suspect you’ll find the missing half-inch, which would mean that while I no longer stand as tall, in actual length, all of me might still be there.

A long, sure stride used to carry me wherever I wanted to go, relatively efficiently. Now I often veer either port or starboard. I’ve noticed that if I walk (or drive) looking to the left, I tend to go left. If I look to the right, I wander right. If I look straight ahead … Well, the principle no longer holds true.

·       Solution: Walk any damned way I want and let the other guy stay out of my way. I grew up with people who learned to dance in middle school and have continued to dance to this day. While I never mastered the art, now when I walk from the parking lot to the supermarket, I entrechat with a pas de cheval and do an occasional pirouette when I return to the car for my list or wallet or whatever the hell else I forgot. For the uninitiated, that means I weave my way to the store with a horse’s step, taking occasional spins.

Once upon a time, I exercised. Really, I did. Honestly. During that long-ago year when I lost 102 pounds (“lbs” sound easy; "pounds" infer stress and sweat and dedication), I walked over hill and dale and treadmill five times a week – rain, shine, or snowdrift. I maintained my new weight for years until I walked straight off of the end of the sidewalk without bothering to take the two steps required to connect with the pavement below. After my resulting operation, my back cramps up, my hip hurts, and my ingrown toenails bother me so much I can no longer walk often or far.

·       Solution: I don’t walk. I sit and contemplate my growing waistline. (I can no longer see my navel, so that classic solution is not available.)

My fingers do not obey instructions from my brain. Back in the day, I was a terrific typist. I could do upwards of 60 words per minute with few errors. Today? Well, let me just say I sent a group email earlier this week to my writing class. All I wanted to do was remind attendees there would be no meeting on that particular Monday because it was a holiday.

The effort was a fiasco. First, I sent it from the wrong email address using an old, outdated class roster. Instantly, I started getting “failure to deliver” notices. If you haven’t seen such a notice lately, they’ve spruced it up. It is now readable and tells you in straight English Joe Blow didn’t get the email you were trying to send. Second, despite carefully checking the calendar, I screwed up the date of the next meeting, trying to make Monday the 26th into Monday the 29th. Wednesday protested to Monday, so I had to send a correction. Third, because I used the wrong address to initiate the email, the message purported to come from someone other than me – one of my writing pseudonyms, actually.

Thank you, Angus, for alerting me to the wrong date, and you, Marsha, for letting me know I was actually someone else at the moment. Your help is greatly appreciated, and rest assured I’ll find a way to return the favor while critiquing one of your readings. By the way, I appreciate the offer of sake, Yoko.

·       Solution: The next time I have an urge to send an email to the class … I’ll have someone else do it and imbibe a glass of sake, instead.

I could go on and on … and on, but I’ll end this with the one totally unexpected thing I’ve encountered in the aging process. I never dreamed that my nether regions would become even more nether at the same time my arms were getting shorter.

·       Solution: I don’t have one.

Keep on reading, guys.


New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Quick Visit to Columbus, NM via THE CITY OF ROCKS

The Village of Columbus, NM
We’ll visit my novel, THE CITY OF ROCKS, for today’s post in order to return to what I always intended with the blog: to highlight places of interest in the great State of New Mexico. And the little border town of Columbus is unique among them. As our intrepid Confidential Investigator, BJ Vinson, speeds down the highway on the way to the town, he reviews some of the history of the place. The following scene takes place in Chapter 4 of the book.

I sped down Highway 11 toward Columbus. It wasn’t the quickest route to the Boot Heel country, but the town had once played a dramatic part in a clash between two nations, and as a history buff, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to sop up some of that flavor. Besides, it was getting late in the day for a drive over into Hidalgo County where the M Lazy M was located. I planned on remaining overnight in the little village named for Christopher Columbus just north of the border across from Palomas, Mexico.
The Impala breezed south over a landscape reminiscent of the drive between Deming and Las Cruces: flat, high desert terrain broken by blue-shadowed mountains in the distance. Heat waves rising off the asphalt were pleasantly hypnotic.
Columbus is an official, twenty-four-hour POE—Point of Entry—between the two nations, although it sits about three miles north of the actual demarcation line. Border City is where the crossings actually occur. Its proximity to the Mexican State of Chihuahua is what gave the place its brush with history.
A Casualty of the Villistas' Raid
         The actual story is long and convoluted, as well as highly controversial. Two revolutionaries, Venustiano Carranza and Francisco Villa, better known as Pancho, tossed out a dictator named Victoriano Huerta and then turned on one another. A Columbus merchant and arms dealer by the name of Ravel supposedly sold defective ammunition to Pancho Villa. When the guerilla demanded a refund, the merchant reputedly told him the Ravels no longer dealt with Mexican bandits.
On the morning of March 9, 1916, one of Villa’s generals attacked Columbus with more than 500 men. The twenty-four-hour invasion burned down a significant portion of the town and killed fourteen American soldiers together with ten residents. Another eighty or so revolutionaries were dead or mortally wounded. The raid led let to General John J. Pershing’s Punitive Expedition deep into Mexico.
My initial glimpse of Columbus was as a disruption astraddle the flat, monotonous highway. After entering the town of mostly one-storied adobe affairs—some painted in brash colors of green or pink—I found a bed and breakfast and registered for the night.
Santa Fe New Mexican Headline
In his brief, overnight stay there, BJ takes time to visit some of the historic relics, including Pancho Villa’s death mask, before departing for the M Lazy M Ranch.

I hope you enjoyed this abbreviated look at the border village of Columbus, New Mexico. Keep on reading, guys.


New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Jazz Penrod and THE BISTI BUSINESS, Revisited

A friend of mine who is as taken with the other-worldly beauty of Bisti/De-Na-Zin as I am recently asked my permission to post something about The Bisti Business. I agreed and understand he posted  yesterday. Check out to see what he had to say.

This got me to thinking about BISTI, so I decided to excerpt something out of the book as the subject of this post. As I’ve already shared with regular readers, Jazz Penrod is one of my favorite characters in the novel. He’s sassy, saucy, and meets life head on. If being gay puts him at a disadvantage in society, he doesn’t seem to know it.

Let’s visit Jasper Penrod once again as he helps BJ look for Lando Alfano and his traveling companion. But don’t’ call him Jasper. He considers Jazz as much cooler. The scene below comes at the beginning of Chapter 17 and needs no explanation.

     Jazz Penrod phoned early the next morning asking for a meet. When I picked him up on the sidewalk in front of his mom’s house, he was dressed in denim cut-offs so tight he’d had to split the seam up the outside of the thigh in order to sit down. A thin T-shirt with straps—what my mom had called an undershirt—exposed his broad, red-brown shoulders and sheathed his torso like original skin. He wore open sandals, more like shower clogs than shoes, without socks. He grinned and shoved a black-billed cap with a red Captain Morgan logo back on his head.
     “Mr. Vinson,” he said.
     I popped the lock, and he flowed into the passenger’s seat like liquid mercury. “Morning, Jazz. What can I do for you?”
     “Maybe it’s what I can do for you,” he countered, and then laughed aloud at my quick frown. “No, not that. I picked up a rumor. Thought you’d want to know.”
     “Fine. How about some breakfast?”
     “Okay by me.”
     After we gave our order to a waiter in a nearby café, Jazz threw a long arm over the back of the chair next to him. As a trained investigator, I believe I notice things others do not, but I would have erroneously described him as skinny. Not so. He was slender, yes, but buffed with defined muscles—corded muscles. That thin shirt stretching over his torso clearly outlined a six-pack.
     “Okay, now tell me about that rumor.”
     “My brother—you know, Henry Secatero—he called me last night. He was over at the Chapter House to meet this girl. I’d told him about those missing guys, so when he heard there’d been outsiders on the rez where they didn’t have any business, he thought of Lando and Dana.”
     “Did he get any details?”
     “Well, there’s a car, somebody said. Supposed to have been parked out on the rim of Black Hole Canyon. Been there a few days.”
     “Where is Black Hole Canyon?”
     “Sort of a rugged area not too far off the highway. It’s not really a canyon, just a big-assed arroyo. But Henry said the car’s not in it, just pulled up under an overhang where it’s kinda out of sight.”
     My coffee and French toast and Jazz’s bacon and eggs and hash browns with a side of ham arrived. He stopped talking and dug in, eating rapidly while I munched and mulled over what he had told me. I was tempted to dismiss the incident; there was nothing to directly tie this to Lando, but I was looking for a car, and Henry had found one. It was worth checking out.
     Jazz put down his knife and fork after his last bite of ham and drained his glass of orange juice. “You wanna go take a look?”
     “Jazz, you’re not out to put your mark on me, are you?” I felt like a fool; there were more attractive fish in the ocean than me, but every look, every gesture seemed to be bait—chum for the sharks.
     “I wouldn’t mind,” he admitted, “but I heard you when you said you were taken. Look, I liked Dana and respected Lando. If I can help them out, I’d like to do it.”
     “Fair enough. If you’re finished, let’s go.”
     “Let’s rumble, but first I gotta go home and change. I’d burn up out there in the sun dressed like this.”

Thanks for reading. Look around the site while you’re here, and give me some feedback on Jazz Penrod.


New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Spittin’ Watermelon Seeds

Another of my short stories this week. Hope it tickles some childhood memories and takes you back a few years.
Common Carrier Photo courtesy of Google Image Search

“Ain’t nobody better’n me.”
Ohm Blake was talking about spitting watermelon seeds. His name was really Jerome, but the kids called him Ohm or sometimes Doodoohead. He was wearing bib-and-brace overalls without a shirt. The sprung brace on his left shoulder wouldn’t stay hooked to its brass button and hung down his back like a weird floppy arm. He smelled like old farts and toe jam.
I snatched up his dare. “Bull crap. I can spit longer’n you any day.”
“George, if you takin’ me on, you gotta make it worth my while." He paused. "Like your Swiss army knife.”
I backed off. Uncle Cage gave me that knife just before he shipped out and got killed in the war. “Nobody gets my Swiss army knife. Besides, you don’t have nothing near what that knife’s worth.”
Ohm fished around in his overalls and came up with a big pocket watch. Gold with spidery black numbers on a pure white dial, the watch had “Waltham” printed just below the “12.” Thin ebony hands marked the time. A longer, even slimmer sweep hand raced steadily around the watch. Man, it was beautiful.
My pal, Buddy Oates, brought me back to earth. “Where’d you get something like that? You stole it, didn’t you?”
“Didn’t, neither!” Ohm shouted. “My granddaddy give it to me on my tenth birthday last month. He carried it when he was a train conductor. His official Railroad Chro-no-me-ter.”
Wow! A chronometer! That had to be way better than a watch. All of a sudden, I just had to have that timepiece. It had kept a train running on schedule for years and years. “You’re on. My knife against your chronometer.”
There were four of us. Me and Ohm. Buddy and Ohm’s pal, Harry. Five, really, because this big old crow was perched atop a telephone pole taking a good deal of interest in us. The birds were scavengers. Thieves. No-goods.
Watermelon seed spittin' contests had a strict set of rules. Best two out of three. Show your spitting seeds to the other guy before you store them in your mouth. Can’t touch them again with your hand. Stand behind a line you can’t cross. Take no more than two steps forward and spit. Seed’s gotta land over another line ten feet out in front. The winner is whoever lands farther behind that one. If two seeds come out of your mouth at the same time, or if you can’t spit three seeds for any reason, you lose.
Buddy and Harry scratched out the two lines while Ohm and I dug into two slices of juicy red watermelon. I buried my face in my slice and chewed a big hunk of the sweet meat, carefully culling the seeds and storing them in my cheek. Then we swiped our mouths with the backs of our hands and spit out the seeds into our palms to select the right ones. I wanted a good solid seed. Not the biggest; not the smallest. But a good spittin' seed had to have some bulk.
After I made my selection, I eyed the crow on the pole. “What’s he hanging around for?”
Buddy studied the bird a moment. “I think he likes that pin on your cap.”
I’d paid a quarter at the Five-and-Dime for this little pin that spelled out “George” in shiny letters. It looked good fastened to the front of my baseball cap.
We played rock-scissors-paper to see who went first. Rock crushed scissors, so Ohm got behind the line, stuffed three seeds in his mouth, and got set like he was running a foot race. He took two steps, and with his head way out in front his chest, let go. “Pttt-tu!”
It was a good one, landing six inches over the line.
I got into position and dug around with my tongue to select a seed. It felt smooth on my tongue. After a couple of deep breaths, I darted forward. “Ptoo-ey!”
Not good enough. It landed half an inch short of Ohm’s seed. He gave a big smirk that said “nice try, shmuck” before making his second launch. It fell short of his first seed. Short of mine, in fact.
I lined up and let go without even taking my two steps. My big, black seed flew through the air and landed beside his. Then it scooted about a quarter of an inch beyond. I’d taken the lead.
Ohm scowled and shrugged his shoulders to loosen up, making his sprung brace wiggle like a dog’s tail. Then he gave it everything he had. Man, did he spit! His seed flew through the air, landed, and bounced once. About a quarter-inch beyond my mark.
I took my position. This was it. My prized knife was at stake. I got set and …
Buddy let out a yell. Startled, I glanced up and saw the crow heading for me. I ducked as the bird’s claws snatched for my cap. He missed and flew off, cawing all the way.
As I took my position to start over again, I realized there wasn’t a seed in my mouth. Then something squeezed past my Adam’s apple. I started coughing like crazy, but that seed kept on going down my craw, even when Buddy thumped me on the back. Oh, man, I was gonna have a watermelon growing in my belly.
Ohm brought me back to reality with a big grin on his fat face. “Go on, spit. You can’t, can you? You swallowed the seed.” He jumped up and down and clapped his hands. “He did! He swallowed the seed. I won! I won. Gimme my knife.”
“Geez, Ohm, that crow took him by surprise.” Buddy said. “Be a good sport.”
Ohm put his finger across his lips like he was thinking. Then he gave an ugly grin. “Nope. He knows the rules. You can’t spit the third one, you lose.
My mom never asked about her brother’s knife, but she musta wondered about it because I was always hauling it out and using one of the blades to work on something or the other. But I figure I came out ahead anyway. Sure, I lost my uncle’s prized knife, but I learned what Mom called a “life lesson.” Don’t risk what you value most, no matter the temptation. Sorry, Uncle Cage.
By the way, I didn’t end up with a watermelon growing in my belly. Another Old Wives’ Tale bit the dust.

I don’t know about you guys, but this takes me back to Oklahoma in the summertime. Any day we could get a watermelon was a good one. My grandfather grew the biggest, plumpest, juiciest melons I ever tasted. He even grew some of the yellow-meat kind, but I preferred the red. Don’t know why. They tasted about the same.

As always, everyone … thanks for reading. Look around the site while you’re here, and give me some feedback on the story.


New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

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