It’s one of those things that one becomes aware of as a blogger, over time. The internet is like a vast ocean, with weird currents, storms and agitations in far corners that eventually send out waves and ripples that travel across wide spaces and eventually turn up crashing into the shore of awareness. Many moons ago, as time is counted in internet years, the ruckus over the fraudulent documents presented in a 60 Minutes/Dan Rather expose broadcast on the eve of the 2004 election created one of those far-rippling storms. So did the fracas generated by the Swift Boat veterans, when it turned out that despite John Kerry’s attempt to campaign as sort of studly Dudley Do-Right Vietnam veteran, those who served with him in-theater viewed him as more of a Frank Burns/Eddie Haskell figure, and were not afraid to say so in whatever small-media or internet venue would give them the time of day. Yes, eventually the whole issue crashed ashore on the Island of Major Media Awareness.

Ever since then, I am of the notion that it pays to keep an eye out for those interesting ripples, especially when those on the Island of Major Media Awareness seem most determined to avert their eyes. I very much suspect that a lot of ordinary news-consumers are not ignoring these concerns. Look at how many people turned out for Chic-Fil-A appreciation day, having got the word through blogs and social media.
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10. September 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic

Well … a deep subject as the old gag goes. I spent much of my working day yesterday polishing off the next-to-last chapter of Sunset and Steel Rails; just one more chapter, to deal with an emotional climax in the life of the heroine – just as the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 is putting the whole place under water. This has me reading and rereading accounts of the hurricane itself, and teasing out certain details. I sat out a typhoon once, in Misawa in the late 1970s, and one of the things that I remembered most vividly was how very powerful the storm winds were, and how exhausting it was to try and walk against them, even when slacked off to about 75MPH, when we were all permitted to leave quarters. Misawa – about ten miles inland, was maybe a foot above sea level on the main part of the base, so … the authorities paid attention to disastrous possibilities.

Eh – the book will likely top out at about 300 pages, once the editing and the review by the Alpha reader is finished, but I hope to have it done and ready for launch this coming holiday season. This is the book about a proper young Bostonian who comes west as a Harvey Girl, marries Magda Becker’s scapegrace and apparently-confirmed bachelor brother Fredi, and discovers belatedly that a) he is much better husband materiel than previously assumed and b) she is more closely related to the extended Becker-Vining clan than she thought at first. Her motivation for a sudden career change and departure to the Far West is due to the machinations of her sociopathic older brother … but enough of that. Dramatic possibilities galore and just leave it at that.

The rest of the afternoon was given over to printing up flyers on nice expensive heavy paper for this week’s first Book Event of the Season. Likely I have killed much of the printer ink in the color and black cartridges by this exercise … but, the Giddings Word Wrangler event is one that I am thrilled to be a part of, since it was by application and invitation, and it is in association with a library … ah, libraries. When I was a kidlet and a young adult, I practically lived in libraries. Now I also live in a library, but it is an ordinary house with a lot of books stuffed in it. Yes, the last time I moved from overseas, the guys packing the household goods had a bet going, on how many boxes of books there would be. IIRC, it topped out at 63, and that was in 1990, so one can only imagine how many more there are now.
There is also stuff to do with the Tiny Publishing Bidness – other people’s books besides my own. Wrapped up a book for a regular client, have a big meet scheduled to maybe wrap up another one, some potential new client books to spec out … yeah, the days are full. And then there is the semi-regular brush and tree-trimming collection in my neighborhood. Blondie and I spent several days with a pruning saw and dragging branches from small trees out to what is now a substantial pile in front. As it is still eye-bleedingly hot in this part of Texas, this constituted a perfectly exhausting effort on our part.

Finally, our Pullet Surprise; yes, the backyard chickens – still no eggs yet, although the three of them are supposedly closing in on maturity, and ever-more-close-to delivering on the promise of eggs, which is why we started down this line of back-yard farming in May. It seems, alas, that the science of sexing juvenile chickens was not all that advanced at the poultry farm where we purchased the girls. The biggest of the three so-called pullets – which we had previously assumed was just older and more developed – is a rooster. We’ve both gone and compared pictures of mature Barred Rock roosters with our chicken critter … Yep; we can’t escape science. Got spurs developing, longer tail-feathers, impressively dark red crest and magnificent jowls, and a bigger and more impressive set of neck-feathers. Not good in one way – we wanted eggs, dammit, but good in another. The other two girls will be protected against hawks, feral cats and other chicken-slaughtering wildlife, and if we do want to start chicken-raising in a mild way; well, here is the raw materiel. Larry, Maureen and Carly – welcome to our (slightly adjusted) enterprise.

We rather like the chickens, BTW. Maureen is entirely agreeable to being picked up, and having her chin scratched, Carly is not quite so cooperative, and neither is Larry – but he does like having his chin rubbed, too. And that was my week ….

(This is the background, or essential info-dump relating to the history of Luna City, Texas. This will be one of my books for this fall, as soon as I dash off another hundred pages or so, of the doings of a little town where eccentricity is on tap, day and night.)

Final Cover with LetteringLuna City is an incorporated township, located in Karnes County, Texas, at approximately 28°57′29″N 97°53′50″W, a point where Texas Rte 123 crosses the San Antonio River. The population of Luna City and environs in the 2010 Census was 2,453. The nearest large town is Karnesville, the county seat, approximately ten miles south of Luna City. Those residents of Luna City not employed in their own small businesses commute to Karnesville for work, or to nearby enterprises such as the entertainment/spa/commercial venue of Mills Farm, the Lazy W exotic game ranch, or in various oil-production ventures associated with the Eagle Ford shale oil formation. Notable people from Luna City include the prima ballerina Johanna Gonzales Garcia, international financier Collin Wyler, noted historian Douglas McAllister, Korean War jet-fighter ace Hernando “Nando” Gonzalez, and the legendary bootlegger Charles “Old Charley” Mills.

The land on which Luna City was later established was part of a 1769 Spanish land grant of a league and a labor to one Don Diego Manuel Hernando Ruiz y Gonzalez (or Gonzales), who may have been already settled in the area at the time that his grant was recorded. It is a matter of undisputed archeological record that Don Diego, members of his family or in his employ were engaged in grazing cattle, goats and sheep in the area, as an adobe structure on the northern outskirts of Luna City was extensively excavated and studied in the late 1960s. The structure apparently served as a shelter for both animals and people. Evidence of regular camping and hunting by elements of the native Tonkawa people at a fairly early date was also found in later excavations in the area. The first recorded permanent dwelling in the area was built in 1857 adjacent to an easily-forded stretch of the San Antonio River, by Herman Borgfeld, an immigrant stonemason from Bohemia, who ran a small general store, tavern and inn catering to travelers between San Antonio and the coast.

In 1867, a large portion of the tract originally part of the Gonzales or Gonzalez grant were purchased by Herbert King Wyler, formerly a captain in the Confederate Army, assigned during the hostilities to various garrisons west of the Mississippi and in Texas. Captain Wyler had been involved in various capacities with operations to move Confederate cotton to Brownsville and thence over the border to the Mexican port of Baghdad, from where it was shipped to Europe. He emerged from his wartime service with sufficient wherewithal to purchase outright what is presently the Lazy W Ranch, still run by his great-grandson, Dr. Stephen Wyler. Captain Wyler caused to be built a palatial residence, modeled after the magnificent Greek Revival-style mansion of Windsor, at Port Gibson, Mississippi, a mansion distinguished by a series of ornate columns all around the perimeter of the structure which extended from the main floor through two stories to the roofline and supported a wide veranda on the main floor, and wrap-around galleries on the second. It is thought that the local economy revived to a not inconsiderable degree, as construction of the house itself employed hundreds of local workers at a time and in a place where money was scarce. (The ranch residence and gardens are open to the public once yearly, for the term of a week in mid-September, as part of the observances of Founders’ Day, although application for private tour may be made through the website for the Wyler Game Ranch.)

Around 1884, or 1885, having made another considerable fortune in trailing herds of cattle north to Kansas, Captain Wyler became intensely interested in the possibility of establishing a town on his property, since the proposed town-site lay along a possible route proposed for the as-then-unbuilt San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railway. Along with Don Antonio Gonzalez, presumed descendent of Don Diego Manuel Hernando Ruiz y Gonzalez (or Gonzales) and the second largest landowner in the district, Captain Wyler formed a corporation to build attract investors and businessmen willing to settle in a new town. Captain Wyler brought in as a partner in the project, an ambitious surveyor and engineer who dabbled in architecture, Arthur Wells ‘A.W.’ McAllister, to not only survey the site and create the city plat, but to design various public buildings, including a suitably impressive courthouse. It was confidently expected that Luna City, as Captain Wyler dubbed his project, would become the county seat. Arthur Wells McAllister in turn was so confident of success and committed to the project that he moved his family to the site, after purchasing, expanding and renovating the original Borgfeld stone house. (The house still stands amid spacious and well-maintained gardens along Rte. 123, and is lived in by his descendants.)

Alas for Captain Wyler’s ambitious plans; they were undone by love – specifically that of his daughter, Myra Elizabeth “Bessie” Wyler. Having married relatively late in life, his progeny numbered only three; two sons and Mary Elizabeth, the youngest. He doted upon them to a considerable degree, and especially on Myra Elizabeth – beautiful, indulged and impetuous. On returning from a year in a finishing school in New Orleans, which the Captain and his wife had hoped would curb Bessie’s naturally youthful high spirits, the young woman fell hopelessly in love with one Edward Standifor, some ten years her senior and employed as a locomotive engineer on the GH & SA Railway. Bessie Wyler eloped with Edward Standifor; they were married by a Justice of the Peace in Fort Worth and settled down to a life of respectable tranquility – but Captain Wyler’s fury knew no bounds. He not only disowned his daughter, but declared that his enmity against the railway – all it’s works, ways, establishments and personnel – was unremitting. The railway was, he declared in an impassioned statement to the San Antonio Express News, an open invitation to the establishment of vice and debauchery of every kind, a threat to the virtue of susceptible young women and girls everywhere … and he vehemently withdrew any support previously rendered to the establishment of a route for the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railway which led through his property. From surviving correspondence, it appears that A. W. McAllister blithely assumed that this was an attempt by Captain Wyler to pressure the builders of the SA & AP into offering a higher price for the right-of-way through his property. A.W. had a basis for this belief, as Captain Wyler had a long-established reputation for driving a hard bargain, using every possible means at his disposal – including treachery and personal tragedy, as they served his immediate purpose.

Alas for the future of Luna City as a station on the SA & AP – Captain Wyler was completely in earnest. The managers of the proposed railway line shifted the proposed route to run through Karnesville – and all the investors in the Luna City project were left high and dry, including A.W. McAllister, who had sunk all of his own funds into the project and therefore had to make the best of it. Fittingly enough, he did prosper in a mild way – although not to the degree that he would have, if the whole project had come about as originally projected. Still – he was respected and honored, as the decades wore on; the man who originated the vision of Luna City, and designed nearly every one of its surviving public buildings. Architectural historians and aficionados for this kind of thing laud Luna City as a peerless and harmonic jewel of minor late Victorian and Beaux-Arts city planning.

As for Bessie Wyler Standifor, she and her husband lived to a ripe and happy old age, parents of a large and prosperous family. In the early years of the 20th century, she and whoever of her children wanted to accompany her were frequent guests of honor at Founders Day observances. It is noted, however, that her father throughout the remainder of his life eschewed railway travel, choosing to travel in a horse and buggy until the development of other means of transportation. Captain Wyler was the first recorded owner of an automobile in Karnes County in 1901 – a Columbia Electric Runabout – and the first to die in an automobile accident five years later, when – at the wheel of it and against the advice of his chauffeur – he collided with another motorized vehicle on what would become Rte. 123. There is a historical marker alongside the roadway where this occurred. Folk memory has it that the driver of the other vehicle was none other than Charley Mills, with a load of illicit whiskey.

The 2015 Hugo awards were given out over last weekend, at Worldcon in Spokane, and the meltdown is ongoing. The commentary on this at the follow-up post at According to Hoyt has gone over 1,000 comments, a record that I haven’t seen on a blog since the heyday of a certain blog that is not mentioned any more (but whose name referenced small verdantly-colored prolate spheroids). I’ll admit, right from the get-go, that as a writer and blogger I have no real dog in this fight over the Hugo awards – not even the smallest of timid and depressed of puppies, but I did feel enough of an interest in it to post about it a couple of times. I merely observe with sympathy as an interested internet ‘friend’ and fan of some of those who are deeply involved, rather than a directly-involved author. I love Connie Willis’s books and Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga, used to love Marion Zimmer Bradley – alas, my collection of her books is now boxed and moldering away in the garage . My science fiction and ‘con’ activity extends only as far as having an entire run of Blakes’ 7 taped on VHS from when it was broadcast on KUED in Salt Lake City in the 1990s, having gone to the Salt Lake City ‘con several times, and once to the Albuquerque ‘con’ when it happened to be on a weekend at the time I was TDY to Kirtland AFB for a senior NCO leadership class. I had a marvelous time, on all those occasions … but my personal writing concentration is on historical fiction, and to a lesser extent, socio/political blogging.

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23. August 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Ain't That America? · Tags: , ,

So I saw a couple of variations of a news story regarding the home in a teeny town in Oregon which was the location for exteriors in a movie shot at about the time that my daughter was in elementary school. Yes – the simple white frame house on a hill overlooking a Hampton Inn, a major local road, and something of the sea-front; the house featured in the movie The Goonies … a fun and funny kid’s movie, which has lately been headlined because the current owner of same is sick to death of movie fan visitors showing up at the garden gate and being … well, showing up and apparently in herds and a good portion of them being rather invasive, rude and awful. It is the 30th anniversary of the making of that movie, and the surge of visitor interest has become overwhelming, at least as far as the current owner is concerned, although it seems that the administration of the city of Astoria has seized the day and posted signs all over the place, referencing the Goonies House. Well, all props to them, and I am certain that they are reaping some benefit through tourists visiting.
I live in a town which boasts two major tourist draws, so I cannot be dismissive of all of that. I also grew up in Sothern California, where seeing a camera crew at work, or recognizing a familiar place in the background of a movie or TV was just part of the charm of living there.

There are lots of houses which were used as exteriors for movies, some of them with every bit as much of a cult following; Ralphie’s house in A Christmas Story, for instance, although in that case, the house itself is now a local museum. The Winnetka house used in Home Alone, and Home Alone 2 is still a private residence and the current owners don’t seem to be particularly bothered by sightseers. The Money Pit mansion seems to be located at the end of a quarter-mile long driveway, which probably helps to keep sightseers at a respectable distance. The house used for exteriors of The Godfather movies is perhaps a little closer to the street, but still … These last three are or were recently on the market; I am certain that whoever purchased them, or is thinking about purchasing them has noted the past use of the property for a movie or movies as just a curious tidbit. But still … When did private property become a public utility?

The comments on the various news stories about the Goonies house are a bit dismaying, to me as a home-owner. The current owner bought the place – which really looks to be quite a modest little hillside cottage with a splendid view – some fifteen years ago. Likely, she viewed it having been used as a movie location as just another curious tidbit; oh, yeah, that’s interesting, right along the lines of having had a now-famous person born there, or having guested George Washington for a night or two. Slap up a historical marker and call it a day; not everyone wants to set up a museum or souvenir shop in Home Sweet Home. A fair number of comments seem to suggest, with various degrees of snideness, that is what the owner should do – but really? Turn your house into a commercial enterprise? Again, when did private property become a public utility? It seems that the owner was quite gracious in earlier years, with a relatively small trickle of Goonie fans, but the trickle has become an ungovernable, unendurable flood. There’s a limit to what the owner of a private home can put up with – and no, selling and moving away (the other snide suggestion) is no solution, either. Hanging up blue tarps and declaring the house closed is a relatively mild response; I am only surprised there isn’t a ten-foot wall, and restricted access at the bottom of the driveway.

By way of decency, one of the stars of the Goonies is asking for consideration on the part of the beleaguered homeowner. Good for him.

So much idiocy, so little time and energy, especially when so many other people have come out swinging – but hey, if it’s worth doing, why not join in?

To the Trump, to the Trump, to the Trump-Trump-Trump. Say what you will about The Donald, all of his decades worth of baggage is out there, and out there proud and he doesn’t give a d*mn. Is he totally serious about running? Darned if I know – for all of it, he may be out there purely for the fun of throwing a spanner into the works of the long slow, gruesome march of the establishment GOP powers to force Jeb down our collective throats. At the very least, he’s making it possible for the other GOP candidates to start talking about the issues that 95% of the rest of us are concerned about – but which the establishment GOP is too darned lily-livered to even address. And at worst – that he could actually be elected? I don’t see that The Donald could possibly be worse than what got elected the last time around.

Speaking of long, slow gruesome marches … shall we start a pool on how much longer Her Inevitableness is going to carry on with her campaign? From where I stand, it seems like every appearance and event just seems to be making her more dislikeable and unpopular than before. Look, Hillary … the coronation just isn’t going to happen, not when your baggage train is about sixty boxcars long. May as well divorce Bill, settle down in Chappaqua and take up knitting for the grandspawn or something. Even coming out as a lesbian ain’t gonna help, not at this late date.
The revelation that the cheating website Ashley Madison has thousands of accounts at mil email addresses has me shaking my head. You need the help of a third-party website to organize an illicit affair? Back in the day, that’s what TDY orders were used for by determinedly unfaithful spouses. You kids – get off my lawn!

And finally – Shaun “Black Lives Matter” King turning out to be white, white, whiter than Rinso white? He ought to get together with Racheal Dolzeal, Elizabeth Warren and Ward Churchill, and start a group or something. I can see a future when someone starting a career as a racial activist or asking for academic preference on racial preference will have to have a DNA test run, and the results of it tattooed on their shoulder-blade for future reference, or something. It looks like young Mr. King is a fabulist of the first order, but scamming Orca Winfrey out of a scholarship intended to benefit youths of color in da hood is chutzpah above and beyond.

Discuss, if you dare.

17. August 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: History

This last weekend marked the 70th anniversary of VJ-Day; the surrender of Japan to the Allied forces. This marked a day of wild rejoicing in New York, Honolulu, London and in practically every town and city across the Western world which had sent armies and navies into a bitter fight against Imperial Japan – a fight which had been up and running in China long before Japan chose to take the fight to America by launching an attack on Pearl Harbor.

Time has had its’ usual way with those who fought in it, and survived. The generals and admirals who stood at the top of the military chain of command are long gone, being middle and late-middle aged in the 1940s. The colonels and naval commanders are pretty much gone from the scene, the captains and ensigns vanishing likewise; most of the veteran survivors still with us were very young men and women, little more than teenagers at the time of the war; young and happy to be reprieved from fighting in a war which looked to drag on for another five or six bloody years. By the next significant anniversaries – the 75th and the 80th, there will be even fewer remaining.

Skimming through my guilty pleasure – the UK’s Daily Mail – I noted the lavishly illustrated stories posted there regarding observances in London for VJ Day; a parade, and a fly-by, a wreath-laying, a special memorial service at Westminster Abbey, the Royals and senior members of the government all out in splendor, the Duchess of Cornwall dancing at a garden reception for veterans, all kinds of splendid pageantry, reported in detail. Our British cousins do that kind of thing so very well; the WWI display of millions of red ceramic poppies spilling into the moat of the Tower of London, and the Queen’s Jubilee are just two of the most recent to come to mind.

And … what did we have on this side of the pond, aside from the obligatory mea culpa about dropping The Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Not so much. I did a compare and contrast search – 70th anniversary VJ Day, both US and UK. On the US search, I turned up news of a mass reenactment of the famous sailor-kissing-a-nurse, and a great many local small-town and city observances of the date, an observance at the US Navy Memorial and at the National WWII Memorial (on September 2, according to the Friends Of website), a picture feature on USA Today’s website … and that’s just about it. A good third of the results on the US search mentioned the London observances anyway. There was nothing particularly splashy on the US national scene for VJ-Day, no big events, nothing requiring the attention of this current administration, or the President. I understand he is on vacation, anyway.

Discuss, as you will.

16. August 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Texas, The Funny · Tags:

(The visit by Dr. Wyler and Jess to Hippy Hollow has been interrupted by screaming …)
“Oh, god!” Jess exclaimed.
“Oh, f__k!” growled Joe Vaughn, as he unsnapped the strap on his holster.
“Jumping Jesus Key-rist on a pogo-stick!” Dr. Wyler raised his reading glasses and squinted across the raddled meadow that was the campground at the frantically leaping, sun-browned and vaguely human figure leaping and twisting like an agonized gazelle on the riverbank.
“Oh, dear,” said Judy, wringing her hands. “I think he found a fire-ant nest the hard way.”
“Oh, sh*t!” responded her husband. “Judikins, you know we don’t wanna use all those artificial insecticides on the property … but for the happiness and safety of our visitors …”
“Seftie, sweetie,” Judy replied, with the most obdurate expression that her otherwise sweetly bland countenance could muster, “We agreed … no inorganics.”
“But fire-ants!” Sefton protested in a half-hearted way, as Dr. Wyler snorted contemptuously, “You morons, everything is organic; if you are going to pretend to be scientifically knowledgeable, at least get the terminology down right.”
“Cool it, Doc.” Jess whispered, warningly. The Grants were also her clients. And Luna City was a small place, in which conventional courtesies greased social interaction among those with wildly differing social and political philosophies to achieve a sometimes startling degree of amity when it came to outsiders.
“Well, sports fans, I think we found the missing guest,” Joe Vaughn re-snapped the strap across the top of his side-arm holster, regarding the empty campground with a particularly sour mien. “And a damn-good broken-field runner – pity he can’t play for the Moths next season.”
“Looks like he will fit in here real well, Seftie,” Judy commented, as the naked runner galloped across the intervening meadow at top speed. He was being chased by a very small Nubian goat, bleating enthusiastically. “He has already made friends with one of Rigoberta’s babies! How sweet!”
The naked runner arrived, just short of the interested cluster of observers, his chest – clearly visible to them all – heaving like a bellows – and his eyes showing white all the way around.
“What the blooming hell!” he gasped. “Where am I? What is going on, and why is this … this thing following me. I couldn’t find the dunny in this benighted place … and I woke up … oh, flaming hell!”
He swatted ineffectually at his thighs and nether parts. “Get them off me! Flaming hell, that stings!”
“He found the fire ants,” Joe Vaughn announced to the world at large. “Jesus, sport – get a grip and put on your pants – there’s ladies present. You’re in Luna City, Texas.”
“I don’t think I am seeing anything I don’t already know about,” Jess replied, with an edge in her voice which unaccountably caused Joe Vaughn to turn faintly red, underneath his tan.
“Aloe vera,” Judy Grant announced, with a great deal of satisfaction. “Seftie … you know where my aloe vera patch is … can you be a sweetie and break off a length – about as long as your hand. It’s the least we can do, to make up for the fire ants. There’s a bottle of witch hazel under the sink in the workroom – bring that, too.” As her spouse trotted away obediently, she regarded their visitor with appreciative interest. More »

14. August 2015 · 2 comments · Categories: Texas, The Funny · Tags:

The marquee sign outside Luna City High School makes note of the fact that the school is home to the Mighty Fighting Moth Football Team – District Champions – 1967 – 1971 – 1974. That there is only a small space left to insert another champion year or two is clear indication that the Mighty Fighting Moths football coach, school administrators and team boosters have completed their journey through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and accepted the sure and certain knowledge that there will likely never be another district championship in their future with quiet fortitude. It’s not that the Moths lack heart and determination; players and boosters alike begin each football season in the spirit of game optimism, and in the hope that maybe this year the Karnesville Knights or the Falls City Beavers – which are the two regional football powerhouses and die-hard rivals – will not be able to defeat them 80+ to 6 with the casual absentmindedness of a man swatting a fly while thinking of something important. Texans live for high school football; it is simply the expected thing to do, and Luna-ites are heart and soul Texans, even those who came from somewhere else, like the Walcotts or the Steins, or Chris who bartends and manages the Ice House, Gas & Grocery.

It is simply the Done Thing – although why the Moths have not had a purely winning season in four decades is a matter of passionate discussion at the Café & Coffee, the Icehouse and regular BBQ picnics at the VFW. The usual conclusion is that this is due to the relative shallowness of the bench, as Luna City High School is a relatively small one. However, Dr. Stephen Wyler suspects dark machinations on the part of realtors in Falls City and Karnesville. He is convinced they have carried on a forty-year plot to offer absurdly good deals on residential real estate to families of sturdy youths with good athletic prospects in an organized effort to maintain a large pool of players. Most Moth boosters dismiss that theory, as well as criticism of the Moth’s current coach, Dwight Douglas “Music Man” Garrett, for he has only been coaching for the past decade. His immediate predecessors were renowned coaches of football in the old-school style, and one of them had overseen the Fighting Moth’s last winning streak. Otherwise, it is as much a mystery as the wholly unexplained random disasters which strike the Moth’s homecoming games with disturbing frequency, ensuring that liability insurance for participants and spectators is always paid up.

The Mighty Moth Homecoming game is most usually held in conjunction with Founder’s Day – a local celebration marked by a parade through Luna City led by the Mighty Moth Marching Band, a carnival set up in Town Square, and numerous other events, culminating in a football game on the Luna High School home field. It is a matter of historical record, however, that every few years, the game is disrupted, delayed, or even cancelled entirely due to an unforeseen accident. Sometimes this is due to human agency or a suspected misfiring prank, and sometimes to what can only be described as a freak of nature, such as in 1988 when Hurricane Gilbert roared through Texas, and a small tornado touched down on the Luna High playing field shortly before game time. Four years previously, excessive flooding from another tropical storm produced the interesting phenomena of a plague of frogs invading the field. During one Homecoming game (the year is a matter for intense disagreement) excessive leaking from a cracked water main dissolved a layer of limestone underlying the end zone, resulting in a substantial sinkhole opening up in the guest-team end zone – fortunately during half-time. The only near-casualty was the Falls City Beavers mascot, who happened to be standing in the end-zone, but he was pulled clear by quick-thinking bystanders who managed to catch ahold of his costume tail. In the mid-1990s, the Beavers mascot was a casualty of yet another Moth Homecoming incident; attacked by a live beaver, which inexplicably appeared just before the game. A human prankster was suspected; since then, Falls City has been reluctant to participate in Moths Homecoming games.

Human agency was involved in the stampede of nilgai antelope from the Lazy W Ranch, which broke up the 2000 Homecoming game. A section of high-fenced game pasture abutted on a paved service road near the high school. A quartet of poachers, taking advantage of Founders’ Day festivities appeared with a stock-hauling trailer, and having lured a dozen nilgai close to the fence, cut the fence and attempted to load them into the trailer. The nilgai were not cooperative, and galloped away in a body … straight across Moth Field. The most recent Homecoming game disruption was also in the form of an escaped large animal: one of the Wyler’s breeding bulls, who upon escaping from durance vile, inexplicably became enamored of one of the marching band’s tubas. The tuba player, understandably traumatized by the experience, immediately gave up marching band and switched over to playing the piano.

Which brings me to the Mighty Fighting Moth Marching band; the redeeming bright spot in Luna City’s sports program. Under the direction of Coach “Music Man” Garrett, they have swept band competitions from Laredo to Richmond, to Amarillo and Texarkana for the last ten years, with a combination of razzle-dazzle formations and mind-blowing musical selections. Their marching-band rendition of Orff’s O Fortuna is a show-stopper, although at least half the student body is convinced that the number is really called Gopher Tuna. Moth boosters comfort themselves over yet another double-digit to single-figure stomping on the football field by contemplating the case full of glorious band competition trophies on display in a glass case in the main foyer of the high school. And of those graduating Luna City students to go on to college? A good number of them go on band and music scholarships.

The PTA and Booster Club, though, keep a particularly thick cushion of funds, on hand, in expectation of the next Moth Homecoming disaster. As the last one was three years ago, the time is more than ripe for the next.

I see that the 70th anniversary of the dropping of atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki this last weekend brought the usual hand-wringing and heart-string twanging on the part of the news media, and another round of the endless discussion over whether it was justified or not, with the same old patient answering of what the alternative would have been. I’ve really nothing more to add to that particular discussion, save noting that the stocks of Purple Heart medals struck and stockpiled in anticipation of American casualties in a full-frontal invasion of Japan have only in the last fifteen years been diminished to the point where a new order for them had to be initiated – this, after Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Kosovo, Gulf War 1, and Iraq.

The expected fate of American and Allied soldiers in an invasion of the Japanese mainland was only part of it, an aspect which tends to be forgotten in the afterglow of the mushroom cloud. There were Allied civilians involved as well, and their fates were also tied up in use of the atom bomb. With the passage of time, memory of the realities of WWII in the Pacific for people who were actually present have dimmed in memory as that generation passes. There is a kind partial amnesia in certain quarters, a tendency to forget that conflict between the Allies and the Japanese was knock-down and drag out brutal, completely unscathed by any pretense of observing the so-called rules of war; that white flags would be honored, that prisoners and internees would be treated humanely, according to the Geneva Convention, the Red Cross would be respected – all these and a number of other war-making conventions were flung down and danced upon, beginning with on Day One – as far as Americans were concerned – with a sneak attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor.

Germany may very well have been run by a murderous Nazi gang headed by a demented paper-hanger and failed artist, Germans may have referred to disparagingly as Krauts, and lampooned in the movies and pop music by cut-ups like Charlie Chaplain and Spike Jones, but as far as Americans were concerned, they at least made an effort to honor the rules of war when it came to all the Allies save the the Russians. They had a certain amount of grudging respect as an enemy but a mostly honorable one – until the concentration camps and indisputable evidence of the Final Solution were uncovered at the end of the war. With the Japanese, there was no such mutual courtesy extended, no quarter offered and none given or expected from the very first. Poisonously racist attitudes and assumptions were openly demonstrated by all parties concerned, and the Japanese were more than equal in demonstrated bigotry towards all non-Japanese. Initially welcomed as liberators from the colonial powers all over south-east Asia, they had made themselves so detested for their brutality that by 1945 returning Westerners had local allies who hated the Japanese more than their one-time colonial masters.

I had read that initially those horrifying reports of the treatment of American and Filipino POWs on the Bataan Death March which leaked out through a handful of fortunate escapees were suppressed as a matter of national security, to avoid damaging morale on the home front. It was easier, in those days of written letters, telegrams and a few radio broadcasts, to keep a lid on everything but rumors. Of rumors and fears there were plenty all across the United States, Australia and Great Britain; those countries and a handful of others saw thousands, hundreds of thousands of civilian and military citizens – nurses, missionaries, soldiers, businessmen, colonial authorities, expatriates, and their wives and children – simply vanish into the black hole of the Japan administered Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere after the fall of Singapore, Malaya, Borneo, the Philippines, Hong Kong and those European enclaves in China. Few if any letters or contact, no reassurance from the Red Cross that their people were alive, safe and well for more than three and a half years; fears and rumors abounded. If those military and civilian internees were still alive, they were not safe and – increasingly as the war ground on to a bitter end – not well, either.

In a museum in Britain sometime in our wandering summer of 1976 – was it Carlisle? Salisbury? York, maybe? One of those little local museums, with a case of artifacts given over to the relics of the local regiment, with dusty embroidered colors, and little Victoria sweet-tins, and souvenir hardtack crackers adorned with poems in careful copperplate handwriting. This museum had a long picture of an entire company of soldiers; one of those formal things with four rows of men and officers standing on risers. Everyone who has ever served has been in at least one picture of that sort, but this one had a sad distinction; the entire company, fifty or so, were captured in the fall of Singapore… and none survived to the war’s end. They were sent to work on the Burma-Siam Railway, and among the museum’s relics was a metal measure about the size of a 12-ounce can. It was used, so said the card underneath, to measure out the daily ration of water and rice for the slave labor set by the Japanese to work on the railway. And that was what they got, day in, day out, doing hard physical labor in the tropics … just that little rice and water. The saying about the Burma-Siam railway after the war was there was a man dead for every sleeper laid, the whole length of it: POW, internee, or native civilians pressed-ganged into the service of the Japanese.

POWs and internees were routinely starved, forced into hard labor, denied any kind of effective medical treatment save what internee doctors and nurses could provide, spitefully prevented from communicating with the outside world, or keeping any kind of diary or record at all, subject to the most vicious punishments – up to and including murder in a revoltingly gruesome variety of ways – for the most trivial offenses or often none at all. Transported to Japan itself, to labor in mines and factories, POWs were loaded like cattle, into the holds of transport ships; men went insane, and tragically, died when the ships were bombed and torpedoed by the Allies. There are also stomach-churning accounts of POWs used as guinea-pigs in Japanese medical experiments, and vivisected while alive and un-anesthetized. The estimate is that 27% of the Allied POWs held by the Japanese perished in captivity, as opposed to 2-3% held by the Germans.

Civilian internees fared hardly better; this account of women and children interned in Sumatra – most of them shipwrecked in the Java Sea while escaping Singapore by sea in the last days before the surrender – reckon that about half perished in captivity. American internees in the Philippines fared a little better, although most survivors of Santo Tomas and Los Banos estimate they were about two weeks from dying of starvation when they were liberated. “Thou shalt not kill,” runs the bitter couplet, “But need not strive, officiously, to keep alive.” Most military and civilian survivor accounts concur on the time frame of survival; that is, if the Japanese didn’t massacre them all first, as they did at Palawan. At best, writer-historian Gavin Daws estimates that the subsequent life-expectancy of the survivors was reduced by ten or fifteen years, so severe were long-term health problems resulting after three years of near-starvation, exposure to every tropical and deficiency disease known to medical science, and the psychotic brutality of the Japanese camp guards.

During the war, this was not something much talked about, except in the vaguest sort of way – no spreading despair on the home front. Immediately afterwards, the most popular accounts of captivity, such as Agnes Newton Keith’s Three Came Home (1947) give the impression that it all was quite dreadful, but skimmed over the specifics. Many survivors wanted more than anything to just forget, to put it out of mind, and have a normal life again, and many more just could not talk about it at all, save to those few comrades who had been there with them. It is only in the last few years that I have really noticed the horrific accounts being published, and historical memory uneasily jousting with political correctness. But it is clear – that the total surrender of the Japanese after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved civilian internees and POWs alike.

Final Cover with LetteringOn Saturday morning, Berto Gonzales slept in, knowing that he should have the town car back to Elmendorf to Uncle Tony’s place by mid-day. He came yawning from the tiny back bedroom at his father’s place, drawn by the smell of bacon frying, coffee brewing, and the sound of the cable Univision channel on rather loudly. His grandmother, Adeliza Gonzales, had never learned English and was slightly deaf besides – but in spite of that and being relatively homebound at the age of 89, Adeliza Gonzales didn’t miss much, even though the only English-language programs she ever watched were on the Food Network. Berto’s father had bought a wide-screen television specifically to put in the kitchen so that Abuela Adeliza could watch her cooking shows in the comfort of the room that she loved the best.
“Morning, Abuela,” Berto said, and then repeated himself slightly louder. Abuela Adeliza’s attention was riveted to the television screen, where an excited announcer was yammering on about … Berto wasn’t sure. It looked shaky cameraphone footage of a naked man with something metallic on his head, running down the street in a foreign city – a brief clip, then to steadier footage of an important-looking storefront building, with a large number of ambulances parked in front, flashing lights everywhere. Abuela Adeliza shook her head in dismay.

“Poor, poor fellow!” She exclaimed. “Such a shame … he had such a fine future before him … ‘morning, Berto; did you sleep well, then?”
“Always,” Berto dropped a brief kiss on the top of Abuela Adeliza’s head. “Abuelita … may I have some migos and bacon? No one cooks migos like you do,” he added with calculation. Just as expected, Abela Adeliza rose from her rocking chair. The bacon was already cooked; a bowl of fresh-gathered eggs sat on the counter by the stove
“Of course, Berto,” she replied, but Berto’s attention was suddenly riveted by the television, all hunger forgotten. On the screen appeared a series of pictures – some of them intended for maximum dangerous glamor – of a youngish and rather handsome man in his thirties in a series of poses, alone or with others. In most of them, his head was covered by black and red plaid handkerchief tied do-rag fashion; his lower face adorned by carefully cultivated designer stubble; he held a knife, a cooking fork or a mixing bowl and whisk, standing in front of a truly ferocious stainless steel restaurant stove. The handkerchief seemed oddly familiar to Berto … and come to think of it, so did the young man’s features.

“Abuelita – who is he? That man – do you know him?”
“Why, of course I do, Berto – it’s Rich Hall – they call him the Bad Boy Chef. He was coming up in the world, on television cooking shows so often… I thought he looked so much like your Abuelo Jesus when he was young – so dashing and handsome, so I always watched when he was on.”
“Well, damn,” Berto exclaimed, “so he was a celebrity, after all! That’s the guy I picked up at Stinson last night. I practically don’t recognize him when he isn’t barfing or dead to the world.”
“Oh, Berto!” Abuela Adeliza dropped the fork she had been scrambling eggs with. “Are you certain? But you must call Chief Vaughn at once, and tell him! Everyone is searching for him, pobrecito! He has disappeared!”
“No, he hasn’t, Abuelita – I dropped him off at Hippie Hollow!”
Abuela Adeliza assumed her sternest expression, commanding, “Berto – you will obey! You will call the police, at once.”
“Why?” Berto was no longer eight years old, even if Abuela Adeliza still seemed to think so, sometimes. Abuela Adeliza told him. Before she was even finished, Berto had picked up the phone and dialed Joe Vaughn’s office.

“I swear to God, Jess,” Dr. Stephen Wyler examined the sludge at the bottom of his coffee mug, “if things don’t get better around here, I might as well stay home and poison myself with my own coffee.”
“No, you old poop, you have too much fun, carrying on complaining,” Jess Abernathy replied, with a notable lack of sympathy.
“I’ll thank you to keep a civil tongue in your head, young woman,” Dr. Wyler replied, and Jess grinned at him. They were actually quite good friends, despite a distance of sixty years of age between them, Jess being a qualified CPA and Dr. Wyler one of her clients. As he was materially the wealthiest among them, Jess spent a good many hours untangling and keeping his complicated finances more or less in apple-pie order. There wasn’t much Jess didn’t know about Dr. Wyler. If no man was a hero to his valet, he most certainly isn’t to his CPA. Jess regarded him very much as a kind of honorary uncle, aside from the professional considerations.
“We might advertise for a replacement cook,” she suggested. “The Bee-Picayune has rather reasonable rates. I’ll call and see if they have room in next weeks’ classifieds.”
“That’s how I got whats-his-name,” Dr. Wyler scowled. “And he left without notice as soon as he got a better offer from those bastards at Mills Farm … damn, is that your phone?”
“No, it’s yours,” Jess replied. She and Dr. Wyler were sitting at one of the outside tables at the Luna Café and Coffee, enjoying the relative coolness of the morning, if not the currently dismal state of the Café’s menu selections.

“Damn fool invention …” Dr. Wyler unsnapped the catches of the ageing leather medical bag that accompanied him everywhere. He fished out the insistently buzzing cellphone from its depths and regarded it with mystification.
“Finger on the circle and slide over,” Jess hinted broadly.
“I knew that … Hello? Wyler here, what’s your major malfunction?… oh, hullo, Sefton.” Jess listened to the faint squawking emanating from Dr. Wyler’s phone. At last, he broke the connection. “Sorry, my dear – duty calls. Azúcar has developed a cyst on his neck which simply defies all of Judy’s home remedies.” Azúcar was the Grant’s pet snow-white llama, who because he had been bottle-fed since shortly after birth, had grown up to be almost two hundred pounds of bossiness with regard to humans.
“I’ll come with you,” Jess hastily stuffed her notebook, and took out some change for a tip, for the long-suffering high school girls who were tending tables during the summer. At ninety-four, Dr. Wyler was as wiry and weathered as a lifetime of riding, working cattle, and tending large recalcitrant animals could have made him, but still … ninety-four, against a two-hundred pound llama. Jess would have never forgiven herself if Dr. Wyler came to harm. “Heads or tails?”
Jess deftly flipped the largest coin, caught it in her palm and slapped it down on the table.
“Heads, I drive, Dr. Wyler.”

The Age of Aquarius Campground and Goat Farm was but a short distance away; it would have been little trouble for Jess to walk, but the day was already becoming warm, and mid-summers in South Texas are merciless to the elderly, no matter how hardened by a lifetime of work in it. Dr. Wyler’s late model extended-cab pickup truck with the custom design – the brand of the Lazy-W on the front doors – bumped down the unpaved ruts between the pasture where the Grants’ goat herd spent their days, and the smaller meadow scarred with regular tracks which – if you squinted and the light were somewhat dim – did somewhat resemble a campground. The only evidence of this for most of the year was the aged Airstream trailer with long-disintegrated tires parked at the top of the slope, under a fringe of trees farthest from the riverbank, as the solstice had been last month. The last of the mid-summer nudists had been gone for weeks and the campground reverted to its usual dilapidated appearance.

As Dr. Wyler’s truck came around the last bend, they both saw the single Luna City Police Department cruiser parked by the moldering Airstream, and Joe Vaughn – every crease of his crisp tan uniform short-sleeved summer uniform as sharp as if it had just came from the cleaners not ten minutes ago – leaning against the fender, deep in conversation with Sefton and Judy. In marked contrast, the Grants were not crisp in their attire. In point of fact, neither of them were attired, although in deference to local sensibilities, both had donned simple hand-loomed loincloths. It has long been a truism, and one deeply appreciated by Luna-ites that in just about every case, those who proudly and defiantly forswear clothing really ought not to indulge themselves this way, as a matter of aesthetics. Judy’s long hair covered the top half of her body rather efficiently, and Sefton wore battered cowboy boots.
“What’s going on, Chief?” Dr. Wyler spoke first. Joe Vaughn tilted his white felt Stetson a little farther back on his head and nodded politely to Judy. Joe was tall, hawk-faced with a direct gaze – also like a hawk – and very, very fit. A military tattoo with the motto “Death from Above” just barely showed below the bottom of his shirt sleeve, which barely constrained the arm that it clothed. His muscles had muscles.

“Welfare check on a guest,” Joe replied. “Berto Gonzales called me up, first thing this morning, with a tale of how he brought out a fare last night from San Antonio – and he saw him on the TV this morning. Miz Adeliza told him some cock and bull about the fare being some TV celebrity chef that went ‘round the bend. Just as soon as I put the phone down, Miz Grant calls and tells me that their guest from last night is nowhere to be found. His clothes, his bag and wallet are all here …”
“And two empty bottles of Cristal,” Judy Grant put in, her pleasant round face the picture of worry. “I think he must have drunk it all… You don’t think he’s done away with himself, do you?”
“Overpriced gnat-pee,” Dr. Wyler put in, apropos of nothing in particular. “A man with real taste wouldn’t swill anything but Krug for a last drink.”
“Young Berto says his grandma told him this runaway chef is named Rich Hall,” Joe Vaughn answered. “But this joker’s Green Card and visa say that he is Richard Astor-Hall, and that he came in through New York two days ago. The paperwork says that he is a chef, though.”
“You don’t say,” Dr. Wyler’s expression brightened … but just then, the screaming started.

(This is another book project for me – which came out of some speculation between my daughter and I; what would a town like Cecily, Alaska be — if it were a small town in an out of the way part of South Texas. In a very short time, we came up with a setting, a history, an enormous cast of sometimes quirky characters, and something of a plot to tie them all together.)

Final Cover with LetteringIt was Berto Gonzales who brought the Englishman to Luna City – the year that Berto was in his freshman year at Palo Alto on San Antonio’s south side, and driving a luxury town car at night for his uncle Tony. Uncle Tony Gonzales lived in Elmendorf, but ran his business based in San Antonio, and Berto was living with Uncle Tony’s family while he attended college. Berto was one of the bookish Gonzaleses, but had no objection to driving for Uncle Tony, who was both a third-cousin once removed, and married to Berto’s Aunt Lucy.
“You get to meet all kindsa people,” Uncle Tony was fond of expounding. “I drove Bryant Gumbel, once … and Spurs players? All the time; I got Tony Parkers’ autograph, even.”
On one particular summer evening around six PM, Berto got a call in the town car from Uncle Tony’s dispatch office. “Got a pick-up at Stinson – half an hour. It’s a special – he’ll be waiting for you out in front.”
“Cool,” said Berto. “Is it a celebrity? Where’s the pick-up to go?” Stinson was the old airport on the South Side, which served mostly corporate and private aircraft; a quieter, less frenetic place. And if the pick-up was someone famous, that would give him something to brag about on Monday morning. Dropping down to Mission Road was a snap compared to fighting heavy rush-hour traffic around San Antonio International on a Friday. Stinson was nearly out into the country on the edge of Espada Park.
“He’ll tell you when you get there,” the dispatcher replied.

Berto nearly gave up in dismay, when he pulled into one of the parking spaces in front of the brand-spanking new little terminal. There was no one out on the sidewalk who looked like a passenger – and there was already another town-car pulled in. After ten minutes there still wasn’t any sign of a pick-up. Out beyond the terminal building and row of hangars and warehouses which lined that side of Mission Road was the ramp and a pair of runways. The airport was separated from Mission Road by nothing more imposing than some chain-link fences hung with any number of threatening signs. Presently, a silver and blue Gulfstream dropped low on approach and touched down with a roar. It flashed past the terminal, came around at the end, and taxied up to the terminal, being lost to sight but not hearing. Berto opened the door and got out of the car, wilting briefly in the blast of heat after the coolness of the air-conditioned car. The driver of the other car was already out, standing in front of his car with a sign in his hand – “Wilson” written in block letters in felt-tip. The other driver acknowledged him with a brief nod.
“Busy day,” he commented and Berto sighed.
“Sooner here than SA International.”
“That’s for certain,” the other driver grunted. Another small jet dropped down from the blue sky – a Learjet with a t-tail and wings which turned sharply upwards at the very tips.
“Looks like my fare,” Berto observed. No, passenger pick-up at Stinson did not usually take long. The Lear rolled down the ramp with an ear-piercing shriek from its engines, and vanished behind the terminal. Three minutes, four minutes … a single person appeared from the glass doors leading out to the apron of paving, interspersed with raised beds and patches of grass which formed the forecourt. Berto watched his pick-up approach – a young man carrying a small overnight bag in one hand and a bottle in the other.
“Oh-oh,” the other driver remarked, with considerable sympathy, as the man seemed to pause, look in their direction and focus with an effort. “You got yourself a drunk, it looks like. Sooner me than you, hijito.”
“I hope he don’t barf on Uncle Tony’s upholstery, ‘cause he will kill me.” Berto watched his fare approach; a young man, with dark straight hair cut short, as if he were going out for football this season. His clothes were wrinkled, as if he had slept in them for a week. He staggered over to the bicycle rack set out by the flagpole and the handicapped parking. On his way, he dropped the bottle into the hedge. Then, clutching the bicycle rack for support, he began throwing up.
“Looks like he got that taken care of already,” the other driver remarked. He held up the “Wilson” sign as a knot of people appeared in the terminal doorway. “Good luck, hijito … you wanna couple of plastic bags? I got some in the trunk, just for this kind of thing.”
“Yeah, sure.” Berto’s fare made one last heave, straightened himself from the bicycle rack, and approached the two town cars, walking as carefully as if he were on eggshells.
“I say, chaps,” He spoke carefully, enunciating every word – oh, yes; English. He talked like some of those characters on those PBS programs that Aunt Lucy was so fond of. “I only needed the one car … I am, as you may observe, traveling very light.”
“If you aren’t Wilson, then he’s all yours.” The other driver jerked his thumb at Berto, adding in a low tone, “I’ll get you those items I mentioned.”
“Alas, I am not Wilson,” the fare admitted, sounding rather sad about that. “But rather – Richard Astor-Hall, or what remains of him. Have you heard of me?”
“I gotta say that I haven’t,” Berto replied, disappointed. He had so been hoping for a celebrity on this pick-up. Unexpectedly this seemed to cheer Mr. Astor-Hall. Berto opened the passenger door, and asked, “Where am I supposed to take you, Mr. Hall?”
Mr. Astor-Hall drew himself up to his full height and tossed his overnight bag into the front passenger seat. He fished into his pants pocket, drew out a roll of bills the size of which Berto had never seen before, not even at Uncle Jesus’ garage, where many of the old customers preferred paying in cash and pressed it into Berto’s hand.
“As far from here as that will take me,” he said grandly and passed out cold.
Berto caught him one-handed as he sagged, and directed Mr. Astor-Hall’s unconscious body into the back seat of the town car. The other driver shook his head, in sympathy, as he helped Berto tuck Mr. Astor-Hall’s legs in and close the door.
“Turn his head sideways, so he won’t choke on it if he’s sick again. What are you gonna do with him? That’s one heck of a roll, hijito – enough to take him a good long way.”
“Three – four hundred bucks,” Beto hastily counted out the fifties and twenties, then folded them away, deep in thought. Meanwhile, the other driver’s fare gathered around, busy with getting their expensive luggage stowed away. A Friday evening, an unlimited expense account – and Uncle Tony would understand.
“We’re going home to Luna,” Berto said out loud to his unconscious passenger, as he backed out of the parking place, and turned south, towards Presa Street, and the road towards Luna City. Mr. Astor-Hall snored comfortably in the back seat – if he had no particular place in mind, than Luna City would do as well as any.
At about the time Berto was coming up to Floresville a cellphone rang, rang insistently from deep inside Mr. Astor-Hall’s little bag. Berto let it go, let it ring several times, but whoever was calling didn’t want to give up. Finally, he pulled over into the Whattaburger parking lot and fished the phone out of the bag; a Blackberry – the ID of the caller said only “Morty.”
“Hello?” He said, tentatively into it. The voice on the other end – presumably Morty exclaimed, in a burst of impatient profanity;
“Oh, for f—ks sake, Rich – you finally pick up the damned phone. You gotta be in LA by now. Look, I’ve been leaving messages on your voicemail for hours … no, don’t talk, just listen, things are happening too damned fast. I’m trying to put the kibosh on the paparazzi, but you know how it is … a few dozen A-listers puking on the pavement in front of Carême on opening night no less … and you running stark-naked through the streets, with a colander on your head, screaming “I’m a little teapot short and stout” as you bang two pots together! That’s made the news on three continents, Rich – what the f—k were you thinking? Never mind, that’s why I get paid the big bucks to get ahead of PR disasters. I got you booked into that fancy place in Malibu for as long as it will take for you to deal with your personal demons – but I gotta have you promise you’ll stay there and keep your yap shut until I can get ahead of this thing. Damage control – it can be fixed, you can make a come-back, just let ol’ Mac work his magic. Don’t talk to anyone. Rich – are you listening to me?”
“Hello?” Berto said again, and Morty exploded.
“Who the f—k is this?”
“No one,” Berto said, and hung up the phone. It buzzed again almost at once. Berto turned the phone off, and carefully put it back into Mr. Astor-Hall’s bag. It was almost sundown, and he had another hour and a half on the road. Uncle Tony always said that you couldn’t and shouldn’t drive distracted.

The Daughter Unit and I were watching Northern Exposure this week, and I had an errant thought; what would a town like Cecily be like, if it were in South Texas? A charming and quirky place, full of slightly skewed, interesting people, with an eccentric history all it’s own. And before long, we had come up with Luna City, Texas, and a whole long cast of characters, drawn from people we know, or have met, and little towns that we have visited, or know about. Eventually, this will be another book. It seems to me at times like this, with news of horrific or distressing events arriving in wholesale lots … well, a bit of mental refuge might be in order. If such is not to your taste, or seems terribly frivolous … well, then skip over to the next post.)

Final Cover with LetteringThe little town of Luna City is not a city at all, as most people understand these things. It is a small Texas town grown from a single stone house built by an immigrant Bohemian stone-mason in 1857, at a place where an old road between San Antonio, Beeville and points south forded a shallow stretch of river. The railway was supposed to come through where Luna City would be – and the city fathers confidently expected it to become the county seat. Alas, when Dr. Stephen Wyler’s great-aunt Bessie eloped with a smooth-talking engineer on the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway, her father – who owned much of the land in the district – was furious. The railway, he stormed, was an invitation to vice and debauchery of every kind, a threat to the virtue of young women and girls – and so he saw that it never came to Luna City; although there had been a generous space allotted in early plans of Luna City for the usual magnificent Beaux Arts-style county courthouse in the square at the center of town. That expectation also came to naught; the county seat stayed in Karnesville, and since then, Luna City has made very little effort to attract the casual tourist.

Travelers on the farm-to-market road going north or south will pass by the Tip-Top Ice House, Grocery and Gas, perhaps note the four-square house of limestone blocks owned by the last descendant of Arthur Wells McAllister – the surveyor who first drew up the plat of Luna City in 1876, and drive on. They might also note the metal towers, ladders and chutes of Bodie Feed & Seed Supply, looming on the distant horizon – but definitely will miss the disintegrating sign advertising the Age of Aquarius Campground and Goat Farm. Anyone looking for that establishment already knows where it is … and that clothing there is optional. Jess Abernathy, who does the finances for Sefton and Judy Grant has mentioned to them now and again, that they ought to get a new sign or have the old one repainted and repaired, but Sefton and Judy aren’t into the realities of advertising and commerce in this … or really, any age. This exasperates Jess, but then she is the fifth generation of a Luna family with commerce bred into their bones and blood; her father and grandfather run Abernathy Hardware, housed for all this century, every decade of the previous and fifteen years of the one before that in a looming Victorian commercial building on Town Square with a cornice which looks as if it is about to topple over onto the sidewalk below.

Sefton and Judy arrived sometime in the summer of 1968 in a colorful cavalcade of carefree spirits intending to establish a communal farm; forty-five years later, they are the only members of it who remain. Odd as it may seem at first or even second glance, they are valued members of the community. They set up in Town Square every Saturday morning, under the biggest of the oak trees, and sell fresh vegetables – which are sometimes a slow-seller, because in Luna City, most residents have a vegetable garden themselves – but also eggs, honey, home-made goat-milk cheeses, herbs, and hand-made soap. The Grant’s vegetable patch has the advantage of deep and rich soil on the bank of the river, and generous applications of well-cured compost seasoned with goat-manure. A single disintegrating Airstream trailer is still parked there in the field which is supposed to be the campground, a relic of the past. Sometimes a relatively broke or undiscriminating traveler rents it for a couple of days or weeks; the Englishman who manages the Luna City Café and Coffee lived there for six months. Only a few residents of Luna City refer scornfully to the Grant place as Hippie Hollow. Mrs. Sook Walcott is one of these; if Jess Abernathy has commerce in her bones and blood, Sook Walcott has all that, tempered with the acid of pure acquisitive capitalism. The Grants are liked, and Sook Walcott is not … more about that, later.

The tea room and thrift shop housed in the front room of the old McAllister house is open only two days a week, which discourages casual visitors, but not anyone who knows Miss Leticia McAllister; the last woman in this part of the world who always wears a hat and gloves when she leaves the house, not just for early Sunday services at the Episcopal church. The formidable Leticia McAllister – always known as Miss Letty, even during those decades when she taught first grade in the Luna City Elementary school – is notoriously impatient, especially of anything reputed to be humorous. On the occasion of the centenary of Luna City, Miss Letty and her older brother, Doctor Douglas McAllister (the doctorate was in history, which he taught at a private university in San Antonio) compiled a commemorative volume of local history, gleaned from the memories of the oldest residents; scandals, shenanigans both political and sexual, the last gunfight in Luna City (which happened in front of the Luna Café and Coffee) old feuds and new, controversies over every imaginable small-town issue – it’s all there in A Brief History of Luna City, Texas, published privately in San Antonio, 1976, price $18.25 plus sales tax. The Luna Café & Coffee still has a small and dusty stack of them behind the cash register counter – although the manager/chef at the Luna Café & Coffee has no idea of what they are or what to do with them. Where he comes from, a hundred years is practically yesterday. Miss Letty’s erratically-open tea room also has a couple of boxes in inventory. Dr. McAllister, whose puckish sense of humor was not appreciated by his sister, was dissuaded from titling it A Hundred Years of Lunacy in South Texas on the very fair grounds that other places possessed a history every bit as scandalous, and that it would somehow encourage local residents to be called Lunatics, rather than Luna-ites … and that simply would not do at all.

Luna City, you will gather from this short introduction, does not discourage visitors, exactly; but neither does it welcome them effusively. Luna-ites prefer to take a quiet measure of such visitors who do venture into the heart of downtown, and treat them with exquisite Texas courtesy. Those who choose to remain longer than a quiet stroll around the square or stop for a lunch at the Luna Café & Coffee – never doubt their welcome. And if they fall under the spell, and stay , within four or five years, they are as established and respected as any of the original Luna-ite families … McAllisters, Gonzalez-with-a-z and Gonzales-with-an-s, Abernathy-who runs-the-hardware-store, Wyler-of-the-Lazy-W-Ranch, the Bodies of the feed mill and all the rest. Luna-ites have no urge or need to distain relative newcomers. They know exactly who they are, and do not need proving it to anyone.

26. July 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Ain't That America?

…would be superfluous.

25. July 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: History, Old West

To further the current work in progress (which will feature the heroine being in Galveston during the hurricane of 1900), I am re-reading Erik Larson’s Isaac’s Storm – a gripping and almost novelistic account of the hurricane which struck the Texas Gulf coast city of Galveston on Saturday, September 8th, 1900. The Isaac of the title is Isaac Cline, the resident meteorologist in Galveston for the U.S. Weather Bureau – who paid a devastating price – the loss of his heavily pregnant wife when his house was swept away at the height of the storm – for miscalculations made; miscalculations made both by himself and by the Weather Bureau headquarters policies in far-distant Washington DC.

That 1900 storm still stands as the single deadliest natural disaster ever to strike the United States, with a death toll equal of all later storms combined; at least 6,000 in Galveston alone – a quarter of the population at the time – and along the Texas coast. The storm surge went for miles inland, and may have carried away another 2,000, whose bodies were never found – and never reported missing, as there was no one left to do so. Galveston Island – a coastal sand-bar, little more than eight feet above sea level at its highest point – was a busy and strategic port. At the turn of the last century, it was the largest city in Texas; a center of commerce, transportation hub and port of entry for immigrants coming into the Southwest by sea. Galveston was connected to the mainland across a normally placid lagoon by three railway trestles. Although the rival port city of Indianola, farther west along the Gulf Coast had been wiped out by a pair of hurricanes fifteen and twenty-five years before, generally the citizens of Galveston were complacent, comfortable in the belief that any storm – and they had easily weathered many of them – was readily survivable. And after all – this was a new century, one marked by unparalleled technologic and scientific advances! So a sea-wall proposed by certain concerned citizens was never built; indeed, Isaac Cline had written an article for the local newspaper in 1891, arguing that such a wall was not necessary; it was impossible for a storm of sufficient destructive intensity to strike Galveston. And he, of course, was an expert.

And so were the U.S. Weather Bureau experts – and fiercely proud of it, although telegraphic reports of weather phenomena upon which authoritative forecasts were based tended to be spotty – especially when ocean-going ships and foreign countries were involved. For fear of the “crying wolf” effect the Weather Bureau also frowned on what they held to be overuse of terms such as “hurricane” or “tornado” lest those in the path of a project event be panicked unnecessarily – or to become blasé about such warnings. By the first few days of September, 1900, Isaac Cline’s office in Galveston began to get warnings regarding a tropical storm system moving in a northerly line over Cuba – but forecasters at the bureau believed the storm was moving in a curved, northerly line which would take it across Florida, up the east coast and then out into the Atlantic again. They disregarded predictions by weather observers in Cuba who insisted that the storm system would continue westerly, impacting against the Texas Gulf coast.

The weather was warm, as it always is at this time of the year in Texas – the waters of the gulf were as warm as bathwater. And those existing yet relatively unnoticed conditions were enough to boost the tropical storm to lethal strength. On the morning of Saturday, September 8th, weather conditions seemed like nothing special; partly cloudy skies and heavy if not particularly frightening swells along the outer edge of the island. Perhaps at that point, no one was particularly worried, although in hind-sight, some residents did own to apprehensions. The movie director King Vidor, then just six years old, later wrote of how the water of the lagoon and the sea appeared to mound up on either side of the town by mid-morning as if Galveston were at the bottom of a bowl and the water about to spill over the rim.

And then it began to rain – at first much welcome – the temperature dropped and the winds picked up. Still no one worried, very much. Children were entranced by how the water in streets paved with wooden blocks began to fill with water, which lifted and floated the paving blocks, a sea of bobbing corks. They splashed happily in that water, but by mid-morning, if anyone had begun to be frightened, it was already too late. Water from the gulf-side and the lagoon began flowing in the main streets, sheeting over the raised sidewalks in downtown Galveston. Heavy waves were already falling on the sand shore of the outside of the island, where protective dunes had been scraped away to fill in and level the rest of the island. Gusts of wind began slamming against storefronts with brutal force. Around midday the bathhouses, small restaurants, and souvenir stores along a boardwalk along the Gulf shore known as the Midway began disintegrating under the assault of the surf. People were a bit nervous at seeing the water in the streets rise so swiftly, at the destruction of the Midway – but for most residents, it seemed as if this was just another tropical storm, of which Galveston had weathered so many.

Until the collapse of Ritter’s Café and Saloon, a popular eatery in the heart of Galveston’s commercial district. The café was on the ground floor of a substantial two-story building which housed a print-shop in the second floor. A particularly violent gust of wind ripped off the roof; the sudden decompression apparently bowed the second-story walls sufficiently for the floor beams to pop loose … and the heavy printing presses, beams and fittings of the print-shop crashed down on patrons of the café below. Five diners died instantly, another five injured so badly that the café’s owner sent a waiter for medical help … and the waiter drowned in fast-rising water. The morning train from Houston arrived, with considerable difficulty, inching across the railway trestle that spanned the lagoon, passengers watching nervously as the water washed back and forth under the rails. One of those passengers was David Benjamin, a senior executive of the Fred Harvey Company, who had business to do in town – where Fred Harvey maintained one of their popular rail-station restaurants; Mr. Benjamin had an appointment in town and went to make it, although to his exasperation, the man he was to meet did not. Mr. Benjamin returned to the Harvey House – considerably sobered by the sight of the body of a dead child, washing into the railway station.

The second scheduled train, from Beaumont City, never even got that far, being stymied on arrival at the ferry landing, where a barge would carry the entire train; engine, coaches and all – from Bolivar Point across to the Island. The water was too violent for the captain of the ferry to dock and run the train onto it. The train reversed, going back the way it came, until stranded by rising water near to where the Point Bolivar Lighthouse stabbed a lonely finger into the sky. The inhabitants of Point Bolivar – all two hundred of them – had already taken refuge in the lighthouse, crammed two and three onto the narrow spiral staircase inside that stout tower. Ten passengers from the train braved the winds and increasingly higher waters, slogging the quarter mile or so in the flat open plain to join them, saving their own lives thereby, for the storm surge eventually overwhelmed the train; the remaining passengers and crew all were lost.

By the middle of afternoon, anyone paying attention already suspected that things were about to get very, very bad. One of Mr. Benjamin’s fellow passengers taking shelter in the railway station had a pocket barometer in his luggage, and commenced to take readings, as his barometer – and that at Isaac Cline’s weather station on the roof of the Levy building began to fall, and fall, and fall even farther, to the point where some observers began to think the instruments must be defective. Long afterwards, weather experts estimated the winds to have blown at 150 miles per hour with gusts reaching 200. There was no way to be certain, as the Weather Bureau’s anemometer and rain gage were blown off the top of the Levy Building and destroyed early in the evening. The sky turned so dark that it seemed to some as if dusk had already fallen. The wind whipped slate tiles as if they were shrapnel. At about two in the afternoon, the wind shifted from a northerly direction to the northeast; over the next hours, the water came up and up, higher and higher, driving people into the second floor of whatever they had taken refuge in – assuming that they had a second floor. The streets and gardens of Galveston became seas, studded with wooden flotsam and wreckage … and just short of seven in the evening the water came up four feet in as many seconds. The meticulous observer Isaac Cline noted the rise of water against the dimensions of his own house, calculating that it was now over fifteen feet deep and still rising. But he was certain that his house would withstand the storm, constructed as it was on deep-driven pilings.

Unfortunately, he had not considered the effect of the storm – wind and water between them driving an irresistible moraine of debris into the residential area where his house stood – lumber and wreckage from other houses, reinforced with heavy timbers from the destroyed Midway, iron street-car rails, and uprooted trees. Every fresh wave pounded that mass farther and farther inland, a leviathan grinding up and adding more wreckage to the mass, until it towered almost two stories tall and stretched across the middle of town. Eventually, it overwhelmed the Cline residence, throwing Isaac, his wife and three daughters and his younger brother who also worked at the Weather Bureau into the turbulent water. They all survived, save Mrs. Cline, whose body was unearthed three weeks later. The merciless waves also destroyed the orphanage a little north of town, run by the Ursuline sisters; smashing the range of buildings, as the ten nuns herded the children into the upstairs dormitory farthest from the seashore. Each sister had lashed seven or eight children to themselves with clothesline, all in a line like ducklings after their mother, in a vain attempt to keep them together and safe, but the sea came into that last refuge and the only orphans to survive were three older boys who managed to scramble into a tree. At least 3,600 buildings were smashed, leaving those fortunate enough to survive without much shelter when Sunday morning came – a calm and mild day, considering the fury of the night before.

The bridges to the mainland were gone, the telegraph lines destroyed, it took a small delegation of local men, traveling in one of the few ships in port which had survived the storm to limp across the bay and travel up to Houston, from where they could send telegrams to the governor, and the president of the US. Residents of Houston had already surmised the need for help, and sent rescue parties to Galveston. The first train to try reaching Galveston could come no closer than six miles from shore, reporting that the coastal prairie was strewn with debris and corpses, and a large steamship stranded two miles inland.
Galveston did rebuild, of course. The seawall first suggested and rejected after the destruction of Indianola was constructed; sand was dredged from the bay and used to raise the level of the island nearly twenty feet. With a great deal of trouble and effort, 2,100 of the surviving buildings were elevated. All of this proved their worth when another hurricane struck dead on in 1915, with comparatively minor casualties. But dredging of the Houston Ship Channel to accommodate ocean-going ships spelled doom for Galveston as an important player in commerce and shipping. It’s still a nice seaside town, historic as all get-out, and with a pleasing situation – but not half the place it was on September 7, 1900.

There’s things going on that I can’t really write about these days. This is a bit painful, much as I have become accustomed over the last twelve or thirteen years to blogging about things that concern me; things both personal and political and which I have always tossed out there in the ether for consideration. It’s a kind of ‘thinking aloud’ – writing a note, sealing it in a bottle and throwing it into the vast ocean of the blogosphere, whereupon someone may discover it, uncork the bottle, read it and say to themselves – “My, that is interesting!” Or relevant, insightful, et cetera. Which I can’t do any more as regards the family; in the wake of Dad’s death, Mom came to feel that certain of my musings and posts were an invasion of family privacy, and directly asked me not to blog about them – so I have not, in deference to her wishes. She is as well as can be expected, though … and the current situation is something that Pip and Sander are handling, as they are geographically the closest.

Blondie and I have been making some decisions in regard to the current political situation; the murder of four Marines and a sailor in Chattanooga … and the murder of Katherine Steinle in San Francisco by a repeat felon and frequently deported illegal alien. We have agreed that there is another situation and unfolding series of experiences that I will not blog, or discuss with family, or with neighbors. Sufficient to say that we have reached the final conclusion – after suspecting it with increasing conviction over the last six years or so – that the federal government and the bi-coastal elites who appear to have pretentions of being an aristocratic and ruling class definitively do not give a rotent’s patoot about the security and well-being of ordinary American citizens. No, they don’t, and won’t – as long as the lavish parties keep happening, the juvenile spawn of the elite keep wandering into high-paying do-nothing jobs and multi-million dollar parcels of residential real estate in the fashionable sections of New York, Malibu, Georgetown, Boulder and San Francisco. The Ruling Bureaucrat Activist Class may continue pursuing their delusion that American citizens may be corralled, regulated and controlled – transformed into obedient and docile serfs, dependent absolutely on the largesse and goodwill of the Ruling Bureaucrat Activist Class.

They might be onto something in that, seeing how readily certain demographics, localities and elite professions have rolled over, showing their bellies and begging for a pat, like a submissive dog. This show of abject submission is a bit disappointing, actually – I had thought Americans generally were made of sterner stuff – after all, our media has always made a big show of how courageous they were, in afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. Alas, most of our national media organs and personalities are curled up happily on a comfortable cushion at the feet of the powerful, gazing upwards in adoration. I would despair entirely – but for knowing something about history, and in seeing certain rebellious trends developing, like ripples on the surface of a body of water which might indicate a strong current underneath.

Discuss the various means of aiming to misbehave that are available to us, be creative in line with Mr. Alinsky’s dictum about having fun with it.

21. July 2015 · 2 comments · Categories: Domestic

As in – stuff happens. I’ve not been posting so much, as Blondie AKA the Daughter Unit and I are coming down the home stretch – maybe, hopefully, eventually – on a huge autobiographical project for a Watercress client. This client, to put it kindly, has had an interesting life, with lots of interesting friends, and is situated economically far up enough on the scale of things to be able to get exactly what he wants, and to pay the full freight for it. This is a project which … well, it took up about half a year, just getting to the point of writing up the contract, then lay fallow for another year, during which I about wrote it off entirely, and then in October of 2014, we had a signed contract and a check … and a possible deadline of April of this year, which we have blown pretty much past. The professional ghostwriter for this magnum opus has been working on it for more than six years, so I have no reason to feel especially burdened.

Almost the last bit we have to do is to carefully review the hard-copy printed version, and track down and ruthlessly slaughter any remaining misspellings, punctuation omissions, and spacing issues. Yes – I am training up Blondie/Daughter Unit in the detailed ways of the Tiny Publishing Bidness, and pinning her foot to the floor, metaphorically speaking, in learning the Ten Commandments of Watercress, better known as the Chicago Manual of Style. So – that’s been the main project this week, that and finishing off the last of the Armoire project. Yes, the armoire which we scavenged from the curb slightly ahead of the professional junker who had his eye on it, is all but done – all but the lower skirting on the right and left sides. The final item waiting the armoire’s final transformation into a media cabinet was that we needed to build the shelving unit to hold the TV, and a collection of DVD’s, which would fit into the armoire like a hand sliding into a well-fitting glove, and of course I am not well-paid sufficiently as a writer to be able to whistle one of those up from a bespoke cabinet-maker.

Off to Home Depot/Lowe’s, once the payment for another project was accomplished, armed with a set of measurements and an idea in mind for a set of shelves to fit a single row of DVD cases – with two smaller half-width sliding shelf units, which would shift from side to side, thus eliminating the need to stack them two-deep … which is a major pain, and makes it extremely difficult to locate certain movies, which I ABSOLUTELY KNOW that I have, but which I cannot locate under the current system. The nice and faintly harried young salesman at Home Depot obligingly cut the sheet of cabinet-grade plywood into the shapes needed for the main cabinet, but the smaller scraps had to wait upon the courtesy of our near neighbor, the amateur wood-worker, who has a whole garage full of tools, and a monumental half-finished chest made of native cedar planks that he is constructing as a wedding present for a nephew, which will be the woodworker’s marvel of the world once that he gets finished with it. (Yes, for every artistic masterpiece in the world, there is an artist … and another one who tells him that he is DONE!) Anyway, the neighborhood woodworker obligingly ripped the plywood scraps into a number of 5 ½” wide lengths, from which we constructed the two half-width moving segments. We assembled and stained them to match the armoire, discovering in the process that we absolutely suck at applying glue – as there are too many patches where the excess glue soaked in to make a really professional-appearing final product once the stain was applied. It fits quite neatly into the armoire – but on continuing consideration, we think that we will remove the rollers underneath, before we go any farther. They make it too tippy, too unstable, even with the shelf unit inserted.

Kitchen 1But still … what we have is useful, and doesn’t look all that bad, considering. Which brings us up to the eventual kitchen renovation; since we had a fairly easy time building the shelf-unit, what with everything cut to exact size … how hard would it be, to hire the neighborhood Handy Guy (who helped us install the Marvelous Carved Front Door) to build the cabinet frames for base and wall shelf units? The kitchen is such an odd and small size, and our requirements – for instance, for the wall units to go all the way up to the ceiling – unlikely to be met by prefab cabinets. It was simple enough, making a plain box of a certain dimension from a sheet of cabinet-grade plywood. Looking around, it seems that door and drawer units in custom sizes, plus tambour door kits, plate racks, and pull-out pantry shelves are readily available for much less than the cost of a complete cabinet unit. We’d also have to do this in segments over time – wall cabinets, kitchen floor and base cabinets in two sections, countertop, tile backsplash and sink … and this way, when we were done, all of it would match. It would about double the storage space in the kitchen, once completed. So – that’s the plan; now to see what Handy Guy says.

“Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people.” – Heinrich Heine

In the Middle East, where Islamic fundamentalists are tumbling down statues and ancient monuments, and destroying or disposing of every visible shred of pre-Islamic history, they are already burning people. Also drowning them, shooting them by the tens, dozens and fifties, decapitating them, and blowing them up with careful application of det-cord. Here in these United States the attention of enthusiasts for so-called “social justice” is also bent upon eradicating the past – to include those monuments dedicated to Confederate soldiers and heroes, streets named for them, and the very sight of the Confederate Battle Flag, even when used in a cheerfully rebellious television show mocking the sourpuss pretentions of a corrupt local authority.

This has to date already gone beyond actual Confederate monuments, including demands to deface that which is carved into the side of Stone Mountain; a statue of Christopher Columbus in Boston has been defaced, leading one to wonder what next? Mount Rushmore, perhaps, on the grounds that two of the four visages depicted were slave owners? Paintings and murals adoring historic post offices and government buildings everywhere? Other flags – to include state flags, or the Gadsden banner? All is grist to the slow grinding down of the modern-day social justice goblins wishing to obliterate history, much as the radical French revolutionists wished to eradicate all traces of history, even down to the days of the week and names of the months. The Khmer Rouge obliterated the history, art, and city populations – also in an attempt to take Cambodia back to Year Zero.

The uncomfortable question asked by someone aware of past efforts to erase history is that after monuments and murals – what next? There already is a battle raging over depictions of that flag on social media. Amazon, and other big national retailers were quick enough off the mark to drop sales of flags and items depicting the Confederate Battle Flag, in speedy deference to the social justice front – speed which hits at behind the scenes collusion. That aspect of the whole imbroglio is even more disquieting than the removal or defacing of monuments – what next will be declared beyond the pale, and removed from the market place … just because? Movies and books which counter the current politically correct trend will certainly fall under the baleful regard of the social justice front … and then perhaps evaporate from the marketplace. This is all very tidy and neat, no need to burn them in a public bonfire and put more pollution into the air.

Interesting times, as they say. Interesting times. Discuss.

(Crossposted at

We ditched cable TV a little more than two years ago, partly out of exasperation with the pap, piddle and trivia on offer at that time, and suppressed fury every month, regarding the manner in which the cost of internet and a slightly more than basic cable kept insidiously climbing upwards, month by month. 150+ channels and nothing much on any of them that we wanted to watch; we time-shifted and skipped through the commercial breaks for years before we cut the cable entirely. (The charge for internet access, alas, has been climbing insidiously upwards since that blessed day: once about $40 a month, now it is close to doubling that, and I am considering giving Time Warner’s main competitor a look-in.)

We invested in a Roku box, and subscriptions to Hulu, and Acorn on line – my daughter already had Amazon Prime, and so … really, we have been spoiled for choice in the last two years, watching or re-watching series which we missed in part or entirely when they originally aired: Northern Exposure, for one example, and Babylon 5 for another, and the original Poldark series. (Of finally watching all of Upstairs, Downstairs, I have written in previous posts). Original Poldark – I missed it entirely on original airing, although I do have the novels. My daughter despises the character of Elizabeth, by the way; silly, mewling indecisive female, always making the wrong choices and blaming everyone else for them.

Otherwise, we have been pigging out when it comes to British imports. Quite early on, we had discovered certain shortcomings in our local PBS channel which aired those particular imports; lacks which also seem to have been shared by the PBS channel favored by my parents – in that they seemed only to have a certain number of episodes of shows available to air, long, long after having complete seasons available on VHS/DVD in catalogues. As God is my witness, I swear that a single season of shows like Are You Being Served? and Keeping Up Appearances aired in constant rotation, over and over and over again. This was an improvement over San Antonio’s PBS station – they seemed to have only six episodes of Vicar of Dibley and aired them incessantly, apparently assuming that the audience would have forgotten everything about plot, characters and gags in the space of a month and a half. That is why I declined to ever support them; that and they wouldn’t hire me in any capacity for which I applied upon first retiring from the military after twenty years of professionally committing acts of radio and video production.

Bitter – moi? Come to think of it, yes. Couldn’t even scrounge a temp job, rounding up donations for their once-yearly charitable auction.

Anyway – between the Roku box and the various subscriptions – we do not miss cable TV at all. Anything current that we want to watch – well, it will turn up eventually. We can wait. And doing without incessant commercials is fantastic. Last fall, we had a business trip down to Brownsville, where we stayed in a nice hotel and watched … I can’t remember what it was that we watched, but the barrage of commercials interrupting the story every ten minutes or so was quite horrible. Yes, I know that selling advertising time is the name of the game, and it pays the freight – but it also drives discriminating viewers away after a certain portion of the program hour is taken up by them: the law of diminishing returns and all that.

If there are a couple of things which annoy me very intensely in the year 6 A.O. (Anno Obama) – besides petty rudeness and vandalism which are loudly proclaimed to be anti-LBGTYWTF, racist or anti-Islam and then later (often within days or hours) admitted to have been perpetrated by the so-called victim in hopes of tapping into that sweet, sweet overflowing spring of sympathy and righteous affirmation … really, my default position after reading the breathless headlines about one of these incidents is setting a mental over-under of how many days it will take for the ostensible victim to be proven comprehensively to be an attention-seeking drama queen.

Oh, and the other couple of things which annoy me intensely – two phrases, apparently beloved of activists who want to be seen as involved and deeply concerned activists without doing anything in particular about their chosen cause: the first is “raising awareness of (fill in the blank)” and “starting a conversation about (fill in the blank).” If there are any more trite and hackneyed justifications for doing something demonstrably thoughtless and annoying, I’d like to know about them so I can be warned and take evasive action. Yes; “Think of the children” and “If it saves just one life” are already on my event horizon of trite and hackneyed justifications for being a prize self-glorifying and ultimately expensive pain in the *ass.

All these phrases are basically cheap grace, a flamboyant gesture and a signaling flag. They are a way of seeming to do something without actually doing something; permitting the “deeply concerned activist” to preen before their peers without actually breaking a sweat. Because – and this is the supremely annoying part – in the main, we are already aware of most of the major problems afflicting us. The extreme smugness of assuming that we are not has become as annoying as it is arrogant and condescending. Homelessness in our inner cities? Starvation in Africa? There’s strife in Iran, Hurricanes in Florida, and Texas needs rain … well, actually, we don’t, but California does. Forgive me; I just had a Merry Minuet flashback. Look, we already know about all these, all of us who have a social awareness above the level of a mollusk, the attention span slightly longer than a fruit fly, and a concern for our immediate communities. In the long run, is all that we can realistically concern ourselves with anyway. We already know; so quit shouting about social causes like carnival barkers trying to attract our attention to the Bearded Something or Other, or the Amazing Boneless Wonder. (Ooops … sorry establishment RINOS, but you know who I meant.)

Start a dialog? Why, bless your heart! Among those possessing social awareness above the level of the average mollusk, and an attention span slightly longer than a fruit fly, et cetera – we already know what that means. “Dialog” most often means “You shut up while we lecture you at length.” And most usually, that necessary dialog has already been happening for some time, between family, neighbors, friends, acquaintances, club members, bloggers and commenters, co-workers and interested passing strangers. That dialog just hasn’t been happening at the command of, or along the lines desired by those demanding that the dialog be started. Likely this is what annoys them so; that the dialog has already been underway for a good long time.

Any other trite and overused phrases in circulation which annoy the heck out of you? Please discuss.

(Cross-posted at

29. June 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: General

I’ve changed the template again – this time with rotating headers. Enjoy.

25. June 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Geekery, Tea Time · Tags:

Take it away, guys!

You know, as an unreconstructed Unionist descended (on the maternal side) from a sternly Abolitionist Pennsylvania Quaker who (family legend has it) maintained his house as an alternate safe station on the Underground Railway and was thrown out of the local Quaker meeting for his unseemly enthusiasm for Mr. Lincoln’s war – my affection for the Confederate battle flag, AKA the Stars and Bars – is right down there between fried liver and onions and anaesthetized root canal work. Or at least it was until this morning, when the news broke upon us. It seems that our betters, in the shape of the so-called intellectual, media, political and business elite have decided that no, we ought not to fly any version of the Confederate flag, buy any version of it embossed on various souvenir tat – or even a model of the General Lee car from a dimwitted 1980s television series, The Dukes of Hazzard – a show I don’t think I ever watched, since a merciful deity in the shape of the Air Force Personnel Center saw that I was stationed overseas for most of the years that it was on the air. And no, I don’t think I ever watched an episode of it on AFRTS. My toleration for idiot plots is low.

But my toleration for those who would deface or memory-hole history is even lower. A large portion of flyover country feels a certain amount of affection for that flag, and honors the memory of honorable men who fought courageously under it. Slavery? Slavery was over in this country with the end of that war. There is no one alive today in the United States who owned a slave (bar a small number of perverts and social deviants) and statistically speaking, darned few did even before 1865. So yes, you racial social justice warriors, keep on flogging the dried bones of that very dead horse, and to what end? Yes, the Stars and Bars was taken up as a symbol by Southern racists – who, I should point out, were Democrats in good standing with their party – in fighting desegregation, which is a cause that has been a back number since I was a wee bairn and my mother darned near washed out my mouth with soap for having repeated a slang term for ‘black’ that I had picked up at my (admittedly lily-white save for all the Asian kids and a smattering of Hispanic thereof) elementary school, sometime in about the first grade. Without actually knowing what the term meant, I might hasten to add.

No, I fear that this matter is not actually to do with the offense against all things 21st century and tolerant and political correct; it is a squirrel, a test balloon, a distraction. The offense of declaring the Confederate battle flag and all of its iterations is deep and calculated; an experiment, I might venture to wonder, on behalf of the Inner Party and intended to otherize and demoralize a segment of the body politic not noted for slavish devotion to the establishment party as defined by Angelo Codevilla. Let’s see what else might be removed from the public sphere and memory – now it’s one particular flag, but tomorrow will it be another, adjudicated by the Inner Party as being racist and divisive and all that. Say, the Gadsden flag … or some other? Suddenly gone because it is bad-think … and beyond that – movies and CDs – really anything with the bad-think logo on it. Is this the internet version of a bonfire in the public square? Ordered up at the command of the Inner Party and carried out by obedient sycophants?

Now, I think I want a Confederate battle flag. I want to have it hanging out in front of my house, along with the American flag, the Texas lone star flag, the Gadsden flag, and a USMC banner for my daughter.
I think that I want to get them before they are pulled from internet sales.

Discuss – and keep it civil, of course.

(Crossposted at

So everyone thought that the last of the fallout from the Sad/Rabid Puppies and the expanded field of nominees for the Hugo award and finished falling and now it was safe to come out and gambol happily in the fields of science fiction and fantasy? The much revered semi-retired founder of Tor, Tom Doherty made a handsome and diplomatic statement, stressing the fact that in no way were the opinion of MS Irene Gallo, the creative director at Tor, as posted on her personal Facebook page early in May of this year, to be mistaken for being the opinion of the publishing firm itself. But the stuff is still falling, and it’s not rain.

MS Gallo had opined on said personal Facebook page (but a page which appeared mainly to be for publicizing Tor projects) , when someone asked about what the Sad Puppies were all about: “There are two extreme right-wing to neo-nazi groups, called the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies respectively, that are calling for the end of social justice in science fiction and fantasy. They are unrepentantly racist, misogynist and homophobic. A noisy few but they’ve been able to gather some Gamergate folks around them and elect a slate of bad-to-reprehensible works on this year’s Hugo ballot.” When massive attention to this unequivocal statement was paid by outraged science fiction and fantasy writers and readers who were in sympathy with the Sad Puppies, many such felt themselves to be slandered and insulted. MS Gallo did post one of those mealy-mouthed “I’m sorry if you were offended” non-apologetic apologies farther down in the original comment thread which together with Tom Doherty’s statement appeared at first to tamp down some of the fury.

But the discussion of the matter of Tor continued rumbling, especially among writers who felt most particularly insulted on several levels by being smeared as neo-Nazis, racists, misogynists and homophobes. Some of them had intense and life-changing experiences; Peter Grant, for example, was a veteran of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Sarah Hoyt grew up in Portugal in interesting times, and R.K. Modena is the daughter of an anti-Marcos journalist who wound up serving as a diplomat in East Germany and Israel – just to name a few. A diverse lot, on the whole; just not in the manner favored by the establishment diversity warriors. On various Puppy-sympathetic blogs the matter continued to be chewed over by commenters. One of the points made was that MS Gallo’s remarks appeared to be symptomatic of a long-existing institutional bias at Tor towards authors who tended to be more inclined toward a traditional conservative or libertarian frame of mind. I commented on one writer blog, on how this may very well have long-term implications: “From an executive manager’s point of view, allowing this kind of openly-expressed hostility will be disastrous in the long run for Tor. How many excellent writers, potentially best-selling writers who are of an independent, libertarian or even conservative turn of mind will choose not to work with Tor, on hearing about such a work atmosphere there — and take their work to other publishers. It’s just bad management, and over time it may sink Tor entirely.”
How willing would anyone be work with employees of a corporation who personally despise you and have no inhibitions about saying so, either directly or by implication?

And what ought to be the response of those who feel deeply and personally insulted by employees of Tor, such as MS Gallo, and those who clearly stand in agreement with her ill-considered remarks? And what ought Tor to do, over what they already have done? Clean house seems to be the basic consensus; leaving the precise details up to Tor. And to effect that? Some of the offended recommend and are participating in an outright boycott. Some of them – like me – have tastes that run to other and non-Tor published authors, and haven’t bought anything from Tor in years. Others favor purchasing their favorite Tor authors second-hand, and hitting the authorial tip-jar with a donation. I still have the sense that for many of us – after having weathered numerous comments along the same line as MS Gallo’s without much complaint – this was just the final straw.

(Cross-posted at

16. June 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Domestic
The armoire as found, remnants of duct tape adhering to front

The armoire as found, remnants of duct tape adhering to front

This week is designated in our neighborhood for the once a year bulk trash pick-up by the city – that would be everything to big or too heavy to fit into the trash can. Basically, clapped-out appliances, wood-rotted fencing, disintegrating furniture … everything but broken concrete is fair game. Most usually, the piles begin appearing late in the week before; we say jokingly, to give amateur junkers and professional trash pickers a fair go before the city comes in with a number of huge trucks equipped with massive scoopers on the end of a hydraulic arm to scoop up what is left.

Door Handle and Detail of Veneer - Before Renow

Close-up of veneer and wooden handle

The professional junkers usually go for metal debris, everyone else goes for … well, everything else which can be made use of. I know for a fact there are crafters who scrounge weathered fence pickets to make birdhouses and other country craft items. My daughter and I freely admit to collecting perfectly good terra cotta pots, garden ornaments, a huge chiminea, a metal bracket to hang garden flags from, a wooden chaise lounge, plant stands and sometimes plants themselves, but this last Sunday we spotted a real prize, and inveigled a neighborhood friend with a pickup truck to help us. We beat one of the pros to it by about five minutes, and boy, did he look annoyed when he came around the corner and saw us loading it up.

The items in question is one of those tall old-fashioned armoire wardrobes, built for use in the days before houses came with built-in closets – I’d guess this one is from the 1920s, with a veneer inlay on the doors, an arched top, and rounded column-shaped corners with some ornamental carvings on them, and very nice carved wooden doors. There is a small broken part of the molding at the top of one of the doors, damage and cracks to the corners and and the base that it stands on is broken entirely away. There were some broken pieces of wood with it, which

Detail of carving on corners

Detail of carving on corners

could be part of the base, but maybe not, as they do not seem to fit. There are some small brass fittings – latches, a lock, and hinges coming loose on one door, and a narrow mirror fixed inside one door. The corners are loose, so it doesn’t stand foursquare at all, but that is something that can be fixed with wood-glue and longer screws. It’s otherwise a solid and well-made piece, not a scrap of MDF anywhere in it (although the side panels are plywood) and well within our capabilities to repair, given some advice by our neighbor who does quality wood-working. In one of my books about repairing furniture

, the authors made a point of observing that something from the Forties or even earlier was almost always a solidly built piece of furniture, and well worth the time and effort spent on repairing and restoring, whereas something bought in a furniture store today – unless it was absolutely tippy-top-of-the-line and heinously expensive – is most likely a flimsy piece of trash; thin veneer over MDF. We also recalled the guy on the Antiques Road show, who bought a heavy wooden sideboard from some kids who were going to put it on the Guy Fawkes bonfire, and it turned out to be an incredibly valuable and very rare Jacobean sideboard.

Interior with single shelf

Interior with single shelf

What will we do with it? Probably use it as an entertainment center; with a removable set of shelves for the television and all, until I can afford to build my antique-filled summer vacation house in the Hill Country.

11. June 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic, Fun and Games

Some time since (Oh, heck was it in 2005, ten years ago? So it was.) I mused on the concept of public space, both in the general sense – of a large city – and the smaller sense, of a neighborhood … that is, the place that we live in, have our gardens and our households, where we have neighbors who know us, where we jog, walk our dogs, take an interest – from the mild to the pain-in-the-neck over-interested and judgmental. If our homes are our castles, then the neighborhood is our demesne.
And unless we are complete hermits, home-owners will take an interest in the demesne. I state that without fear of contradiction, and it does not matter if that demesne is in a strictly-gated upper-middle or upper-class community with real-live 24-hour security, a private and luxurious clubhouse with attached pool and attractively-landscaped park or a simple ungated, strictly crisscrossed-streets and cul-de-sacs development of modestly-priced starter houses without any HOA-managed extras like golf courses, swimming pools, fitness centers, jogging paths – indeed, anything beyond a little landscaping around the sign denoting the entrance to the development. This is where our homes are, and at the lower end of the economic scale of things, likely to have consumed a major portion of disposable income on the part of the householder. A good portion of our material treasure, in other words, is committed to those foundation, walls, roof and yard.

Generally, the lower on the economic scale of things, the harder it is to liquidize and relocate elsewhere, when things go south, in a manner of speaking. People who have a paid-off mortgage and decades of residency in a neighborhood are anchored there by economics, at least as much by habit. If there is no buyer for that little house … then they are at least as stuck as the residents of a development where the average house runs to almost half a million when there are no buyers either. It’s just that the owners of the larger house are likely to have more in the way of tangible and intangible resources to start with. Generally the working-class or just barely middle-class home owners are liable to fight more fiercely for their neighborhood and regard any letting down of the standard with fear, disgust and loathing. Trashy, loud, inconsiderate neighbors, who let the landscape and home maintenance fall into arrears, who have noisy parties, invite large numbers of similarly trashy friends to them, appear to take pleasure out of flouting the written and unwritten community standards and making the lives of their nearest neighbors a misery – such residents are the bane of a convivial suburban neighborhood. Indeed, many residents of suburbia moved from stack-a-prole city apartment blocks to get away from that kind of neighbor at least as much as for the free-standing house, gardens, trees, and HOA amenities.

Which brings me around by easy stages to McKinney, Texas, and a sprawling suburb development called Craig Ranch, whose open park space and gated private HOA-owned pool have wound up being ground zero in the latest racial outrage. (Complete rundown, including analysis of the social media of the young woman who seems to be making a career out of throwing a succession of raucous parties is here. Scroll down – about the only question I haven’t seen answered yet is if she is reporting any of the income from this to the IRS…) Somehow, though – I just don’t think that the flying company of race agitators are going to get very much more mileage out of this affair. This is not a marginal to failing neighborhood like Ferguson, or an almost entirely black one like Baltimore. Craig Ranch seems to be about what you would expect from a neighborhood in Texas where the houses run $400,000; about three degrees more upscale than my own, but not anywhere near the eye-wateringly exclusive level of San Antonio’s Dominion neighborhood. It also seems to reflect the same racial balance nationally, as it is about 11% of color. So, not overwhelmingly, vibrantly diverse … but not exclusively white, either. These are home-owners who have resources of their own, and an HOA with presumably strict rules. Getting into their faces with the usual displays of racial grievance and demands that their employers fire them will, I think, be counterproductive. People who have paid $400,000 for their house and lord knows how much in HOA fees for the privilege of enjoying their castle and demesne … no, I can’t see them being bullied very much beyond what they have been already, although it does look as if the city of McKinney itself has caved.


(Cross-posted at

With some apologies because this is not a matter which particularly touches me, or the books that I write, I am moved to write about this imbroglio one more time, because it seems that it didn’t end with the official Hugo awards slate of nominees being finalized – with many good and well-written published works by a diverse range of authors being put forward. The Hugo nominations appear for quite a good few years to have been dominated by one particular publisher, Tor. And it seems that the higher levels of management at Tor did not take a diminishment of their power over the Hugo nominees at all gracefully. (This post at my book blog explains the ruckus with links, for those who may be in the dark.)

A Ms. Irene Gallo, who apparently billed as a creative director at Tor, replied thusly on her Facebook page, when asked about what the Sad Puppies were: “There are two extreme right-wing to neo-nazi groups, called the Sad Puppies and the Rabid Puppies respectively, that are calling for the end of social justice in science fiction and fantasy. They are unrepentantly racist, misogynist and homophobic. A noisy few but they’ve been able to gather some Gamergate folks around them and elect a slate of bad-to-reprehensible works on this year’s Hugo ballot.”

Oh, yes – outraged science fiction fans had had fun with this resulting thread.
And who can blame them? Four sentences which manage to be packed full of misrepresentation and a couple of outright lies; the voicing of similar calumnies had to be walked back by no less than
Entertainment Weekly when the whole Sad Puppies thing first reached a frothing boil earlier this year. Now we see a manager of some note at Tor rubbishing a couple of their own authors, and a good stretch of the reading public and a number of book bloggers … which I confidently predict will not turn out well. I have not exhaustively researched the whole matter, but tracked it through According to Hoyt and the Mad Genius Club, where there are occasional comments about anti-Sad/Rabid Puppy vitriol flung about in various fora. I would have opined that Ms. Gallo’s pronouncement probably isn’t worst of them, but it seems to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, coming as it does from an employee very high up in Tor management. People of a mild-to-seriously conservative or libertarian bent, are just sick and tired of being venomously painted as – in Ms. Gallo’s words – “right-wing to neo-nazi” and as “unrepentantly racist, misogynist and homophobic,” when they are anything but that.


(Cross-posted at my book blog, and at