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?”
“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.

…would be superfluous.
planned-parenthood-parts-service

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 www.chicagoboyz.net)

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 www.chicagoboyz.net)

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 Chicagoboyz.net)

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 www.chicagoboyz.net)

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.

Discuss.

(Cross-posted at www.chicagoboyz.net)

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.

Discuss.

(Cross-posted at my book blog, and at chicagoboyz.net)

So a “Draw Mohammed” event staged Friday in front of the Phoenix mosque which was attended by the two semi-literate Muslims who tried to attack the “Draw Mohammed” in Garland, Texas, a few weeks ago drew a large and rowdy crowd of armed motorcycling enthusiasts in full biker regalia and light arms. No question at all that some of the gentlemen in involved are rude, crude, provocative and pretty un-politically correct (scroll down the pictures posted on this story for proof positive) … but dammit didn’t it look like they were having fun, in making a full-throated in-your-face defense of freedom of speech as defined in the first amendment. And one without the monstrously weasel-wording “but” inserted after the statement “Well, yes, I believe in free speech…” This was incredibly refreshing after the temporizing along those lines from the usual proud defenders of the freedom to speak, write, draw, broadcast and otherwise propagate potentially offensive material in the wake of the Garland contest and shoot-out.

Our national media, both print and broadcast paid lip-service to the concept, but generally blacked out the artistic representations of ol’ Mo and chided Pamela Geller for provoking an adverse reaction, usually with the hackneyed simile of shouting fire in a crowded theater, or of classifying her event and many of her public statements as something called ‘hate speech. Our entertainment elite, for the most part has already preemptively surrendered. Academia has also surrendered and abased themselves when it comes to any voicing of an opinion not already agreed to by most everyone in their tight little academic strongholds, most of our elected officials are already cringing and running for cover once the mighty accusation of being that unclean creature – an islamophobe (oh, the horror, the horror!) is unsheathed by the oily activists of CAIR. The slightly permanently tanned golfer in chief of these United States has been distinguished of late by his solicitous and tender care of Muslim sensibilities worldwide while simultaneously blaming the rise of ISIS/ISIL/Daesh/Bearded-Fanatics-of-the-Islamic-Persuasion who are raping, looting and exploding their way across Syria and Iraq, and making an impression in North and Central Africa on his predecessor in office. So having someone – anyone – actually self-organizing and make an unequivocal gesture unadorned by the temporizing “but” is kind of refreshing.

Yes indeed, it is a pure relief to see public a public demonstration of this kind – an in your face, fiercely unapologetic demonstration, only somewhat fazed by death threats from sub-literate Twitter account-holders, but not the least discouraged by the distain of those who represent themselves to be their social bettors. Being polite has not made the point that freedom of thought is an inalienable one, in the eyes of those of us raised in the American tradition. Courtesy in this respect to the Muslim world generally has not been reciprocated in any meaningful way. Indeed, the threats have become ever more menacing, and the fate of the two would-be jihadis in Garland demonstrate that yes, some are willing to back words with deeds, however unsuccessfully. So, when all else has failed, what choice to us is left but to go profane, outrageous, un-nuanced and unencumbered by the fatal footnote of “but”? It seems as if the next round of cowboys and jihadis is about to become a home game, if it hasn’t already begun.

(Crossposted at www.chicagoboyz.net)

Well, here we have another more than normally interesting Memorial Day weekend – first for a meet-up on Saturday in Austin with several of the other contributors to the Chicagoboyz blog. This would have been the first time that we would have met face- to-face; an experience that I have had several times before but with other blogging groups. The first time was when Robin Juhl organized a meet for a handful of San Antonio bloggers, back about the time that I was still working as a corporate drone. The first few minutes were a bit painful, because Robin was the only one who knew all of our blogs. Here I go with the bright social smile, and the chirpy question, “So, what do you blog about?” The meeting eventually got quite jolly – and so did the next one, a mil-blog convention some years later. I was on a panel with five other long-time mil-bloggers, and although we had never met face to face, we all knew each other’s blogs. With this meet-up it was even more relaxed, and the only awkwardness being that none of us knew what they others really looked like, so it was a matter of looking each other over in the foyer of Gordough’s on Lamar and venturing, “Are you …?”

From then on, it all went swimmingly, although when it began to drizzle, we had to move indoors, and it was so noisy inside that the group eventually decided to move on to a coffee shop down the street. Blondie and I felt that we really did have to bail at that point. We couldn’t find a parking place, it was raining again, and we’d have an hour drive home … in the rain. Blondie decided not to go back by IH-35, but rather west and south to pick up 281 at Blanco. We had always come over from Fredericksburg to Johnson City and taken that way south to home – this way we would be coming from the other direction, which had the charm of the unusual. It would take about half an hour longer … but the skies looked pretty threatening over that way, and we happen to know that it is hell driving the 35 in heavy rain.
The clouds looked pretty mottled, when we headed off, and it was continuing to rain, but in the off-and-on way that it had been raining for much of the afternoon. It seemed to get heavier when we got to where the road we were on merged with the 281, and there were some stretches as we edged around Blanco where there was water in the low places of the road – not running water, and certainly none of the places along the road marked as low-water crossings had anything significant in them. We had already gotten two weather alert warnings on Blondie’s cell phone. Still – it was a little unnerving. But we could see cars ahead of us driving through, and it all seemed to be about rim-deep. We agreed that we would rather be driving in the rain on a relatively uncrowded 281, then sharing the 35 with all those 18-wheelers, which tend to splash up blinding splashes of rain.

But the rain got heavier and heavier – the worst of it coming at about the turn-off for Kendalia, in sheets against the windshield. Blondie sensibly slowed to about thirty miles an hour and put on the flashing hazard lights, saying cheerfully that being able to see through the front windshield was very overrated. I believe that the handful of other vehicles on the road out on their hazards too, but it was almost impossible to tell for certain – but they all were going slowly as well. I think we were skirting the edge of the worst, to judge by the areas that flooded out on Saturday, and in the even more ferocious storm that hit in mid-evening. After Bulverde the rain eased up to scattered showers. Blondie kept saying that we’d get home, and find that it hadn’t rained at all and our neighborhood would be as dry as a bone.

Well, it wasn’t quite that dry – it had rained ferociously, but for only for about an hour, so the neighbors told us. And as we drove in, we could see one particularly dense black cloud drifting off on a north-east tangent. Blondie wondered if it were the kind of cloud that breeds tornadoes, as there were some oddly finger-shaped edges to it. I’ve never seen a tornado first hand, so I couldn’t really say. We got home; the sun was out, everything thoroughly wet and fresh-looking, the chickens all safe in their run and the dogs merely happy to see us.

The Blanco River - about where we think it flooded out some homes over the weekend

The Blanco River – about where we think it flooded out some homes over the weekend

About mid-evening, there was another weather alert – a possible tornado. The wind began to blow ferociously, and the rain came in sideways again. We went out to the back porch, wondering if this was the one time that lightening would strike the tall standing granite-paneled cross at St. Helena’s, across the way. We watched the lightening for a while – night-time thunderstorms are spectacular around here. The storm was moving off to the north, on the same trajectory as the afternoon storm – that is the one which sent the Blanco River overflowing, Wimberley, Blanco and Kyle, and a driver in an SUV managed to get carried away in floodwaters near Boerne. We are pretty certain that some of homes destroyed in Wimberley are along a stretch of the Blanco that I photographed a couple of years ago – beautiful stands of cypress trees all thrown down like match-sticks. There are more storms predicted for tonight, as well. Who knew that South Texas has a monsoon season, every couple of years ago?

Now, one of the most ironic parts is – we went downtown Sunday morning, the very next day – to meet up with Jonathon G. and give him a personal tour of the Alamo – and it was a beautiful and intermittently sunny day. The water in the river was pretty murky, lots of leaves and stirred-up gunk in it, which the water-taxi drivers say always happens after a heavy rain, but the downtown Riverwalk was crowded, and even the restaurants along the upper reaches looked as if they had standing room only. And that’s our Memorial Day weekend. We will do barbequed beef ribs tonight – but I think on the electric griddle. It looks like the rain will come in again tonight.

25. May 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: General

Detail - Facade of the Alamo Chapel

Remember comrades, friends, forebearers. Remember athers, uncles, grandfathers – all who served.

22. May 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Fun With Islam, GWOT, War

Almost four years ago I wrote about how the monuments and artifacts of ancient Egypt were possibly in peril from militant Islam – those grim and sternly bearded fanatics devoted to the principal that nothing rightfully exists before or outside of Islam. It was being suggested then that the Pyramids be covered up – certainly a considerable chore, but their fellow coreligionists energetically set about destroying the ancient Bamiyan Buddhas based on the same argument. So, one might have had good cause four years ago to worry about the relics of pre-Islamic Egypt – temples, monuments, ruined cities and tombs. How many thousands of years’ worth of relics, ornaments and paintings might be at risk? Fortunately for Egypt, it seems that soberer heads have prevailed for now: after all, someday they might want the tourists to come back again.

It is written in Psalms, “As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.” We die, kingdoms and empires pass in time, but the earth endures as well as those monuments and ruins left behind. Fragments of the past, of our mutual human history usually aren’t as thick on the ground as they are in Egypt, the Middle East, Greece and Italy; if not the cradle of Western civilization, then at the very least the kindergarten playground. So the rest of us have always felt a rather proprietary interest in those relics and places. These were places written of in the Bible, in the Greek and Roman classics, in a thousand epics, poems and legends – Jerusalem, Babylon, Ur of the Chaldees, Ninevah and Tyre, Athens and Sparta … and in travel accounts like Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad, and for me – Richard Halliburton’s Book of Marvels.

I don’t think many people over a certain age know of syndicated travel writer, adventurer and all-round eccentric Richard Halliburton, whose brilliant heyday was in the mad-and-booming 1920s and the escape-and adventure-starved 1930s. He vanished in mid-Pacific in 1939 in a calculated attempt – in the interests of another series of columns and a book – to cross that ocean in a replica Chinese junk. One of the relics of his evanescent popularity was a copy of the complete Book of Marvels, which belonged to Mom as a teenager, and which I read … or rather, ate up, omnivorously. The original copy (no dusk-jacket, worn green cloth covers, with Mom’s bookplate glued into the front endsheet) might be on my shelves somewhere; if not, it was one of those burned in the 2003 fire which pretty well cleansed this family of all but a few especially precious and portable relics. I am pretty certain that this is where I first read of legendary Palmyra, and Zenobia – the beautiful warrior queen of a desert kingdom, who led a heroic rebellion against Rome with all the usual dramatic success of rebellions against Rome when it was at its imperial height.

A beautiful city, by all accounts – adorned with all the art and architecture that a wealthy small kingdom at the trading crossroads of the known world, later added onto with whatever Imperial Rome could add and which enthusiasts of the last two centuries could excavate, restore and reconstruct – a wondrous ancient city by all accounts. Reviewing the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, to pre-Islamic relics all across the Middle East and most recently at the site of ancient Hatra and Nimrud, one simply can’t avoid knowing what is in store for Palmyra. And this hurts on such a deep level – that these marvelous buildings, frescoes, statues and all could have endured for so many years will be smashed by barbarians in a few hours or days – and furthermore, barbarians who could not, on the best day they ever had, build something as beautiful and enduring. But then, destruction is always easier than creation.

Likely it won’t end with Palmyra, either. In a recently released publication intended as a sort of Rough Guide to the brand-new caliphate, the author ended with this bit of chest-beating bravado (emphasis added by underlining) : “When we descend on the streets of London, Paris and Washington the taste will be far bitterer, because not only will we spill your blood, but we will also demolish your statues, erase your history and, most painfully, convert your children who will then go on to champion our name and curse their forefathers.”
How will Italians handle such a threat to their Coliseum in Rome, or Greeks to the Athenian Acropolis, and English to say – the Tower of London? I’d like to think they would not be entirely supine when it happens locally, especially since Greeks still bitterly despise Turks for the Muslim Turkish occupation. Interesting times, indeed; discuss.

(Crossposted at www.chicagoboyz.net)

Granny Jessie kept chickens during the Depression – quite a lot of them, if my childhood memories of the huge and by then crumbling and disused chicken-wire enclosure, the adjoining hutch and the nesting boxes are anything to go by. Some of her neighbors went on keeping backyard livestock well into the 1960s – we occasionally sampled goose eggs at Granny Jessie’s house where we could hear a donkey braying now and again. Mom had to help care for the chickens, as child and teenager – and wound up detesting them so much that this was the one back-yard DIY farm element that we never ventured into when we were growing up. Mom hated chickens, profoundly.

But my daughter and I were considering it over the last couple of years, along with all of our other ventures into suburban self-efficiency – the garden, the cheese-making, the home-brewing and canning, the deep-freeze stocked full, the pantry likewise. I put off doing anything about chickens until two things happened: we finally encountered the woman in our neighborhood who keeps a small flock of backyard chickens, and she took us to see her flock. She told us that it was not much trouble, really, and the eggs were amazingly flavorful. In comparison, supermarket eggs – even the expensive organic and supposedly free-range kind were insipid and tasteless. (And – it seems that other people in other places have come through bad times by keeping chickens.)

The Coop with WindvaneThe second thing was spotting a ready-made coop at Sam’s Club a good few months ago. We kept going back and looking at it, whenever we made our monthly stock-up. It had a hutch, an attached roofed run with open sides secured with hardware cloth, and an appended nesting box accessed through a removable roof. But still … the price for it was what I considered excessive. Then, at the beginning of the month, the coop was marked down by half. Seeing this, we transferred some money from the household savings account, and with the aid of a husky Sam’s Club box-boy, stuffed all 150 pounds of the box which contained all the necessary flat-packed panels into my daughter’s Montero.

I put it together over Mother’s Day weekend, painting it the same colors as the house: sort of a primrose-peach color with cream trim. The coop and run was constructed of rather soft pine, with some kind of greenish wood-stain slathered over it all, which took two coats of paint to cover entirely. I wish that I had gotten out the electric drill with the screwdriver attachment a little earlier in the game; the side and roof panels were all attached together with 67 2-in and 2 ½ inch Phillips-head screws. Yes, I counted; I did about the first forty by hand … sigh. The remains of half a can of polyurethane spar varnish went on the roof to make it entirely waterproof. We topped it with a wind vane ornamented with a chicken, and it all went together on a bedding of concrete pavers set in decomposed granite, wedged underneath the major shade tree in the back yard. By municipal guidelines we are permitted up to three chickens and two of any other kind of farmyard animal: goat, cow, horse, llama, whatever – as long as their enclosure is at least a hundred feet from your neighbors house. The chicken coop may not, strictly speaking, be 100 feet from the next door neighbor’s house on the near side, but he is the one with the basset hounds, one of whom can hear a mouse fart in a high wind, and can be heard about a block away when he really puts his back into his bark.

We went out to a feed store in Bracken for feed pellets, bedding chips, a feeder and a water dispenser. The feed store also had artificial eggs made from heavy plastic, but so cunningly textured they looked very real. The feed store manager said that what they are also used for is as a means of dealing with local snakes that prey on chicken eggs … they slither into the nesting boxes, swallow an egg whole and slither away. If you suspect your nest is being raided in that fashion, you bait the nest with a plastic egg. Snake swallows it, but can’t digest, pass or vomit up the egg and so dies, in the words of one of Blackadder’s foes – “horribly-horribly.” (Ick-making to consider, but then I’ve gotten quite testy about critters predating on my vegetables, and set out traps for rats and dispose of dead rats without any qualms.) From many different places; Sam’s, our local HEB which now offers stacks of chicken feed in the pet food aisle, and now the semi-rural feed store – we are getting the notion that keeping back-yard chickens is getting to be a wide-spread thing. I wonder how much Martha Stewart is responsible for this development.

This morning we were off to the south of town, to a small enterprise in Von Ormy for three pullets. We

The Three Chicken Stooges - Laureena, Maureen and Carly - in the back of the Montero

The Three Chicken Stooges – Laureena, Maureen and Carly – in the back of the Montero

had wanted Orpingtons, but they weren’t available at any of the close-in providers, and the owner recommended Barred Rocks – those are those pretty black and white chickens with bright red combs. My daughter wants to name them Lorena, Maureen and Carly – Larry, Moe and Curly, feminized. They are supposed to start laying when they are mature, in about late summer, according to the owner of the bird-providing enterprise. Our three pullets are about ten weeks old, and somewhat timid yet – little knowing that they have won the grand prize in the chicken lottery of life. Eventually, they will have the run of the garden; we are assured they will brutally diminish bugs of every sort, gratefully fall upon green vegetable scraps, and come to be quite friendly with us. Early days, yet. And that was my week. Yours?
(Cross-posted at ChicagoBoyz and at www.celiahayes.com)

One of the things that my daughter and I have considered – now and then, and in a desultory manner – is the matter of keeping a handful of chickens. For the fresh eggs, mostly; I suppose this is a natural development to having a vegetable garden, and to experiment with home-canning, home cheese-making and home brewing. Likely it is all of a part with keeping the deep-freezer fully-stocked, and having a larder full to the brim with non-perishable food supplies; beans, rice, flour, sugar, bottled sauces, milk powder and the like. In the event of an event which keeps the local HEB/Sam’s Club/Trader Joe’s from being stocked … we will have our own food-banked resources to rely on.

But having only a sliver of suburban paradise acreage and an 1,100 square foot house taking up at least three-quarters of it, means that mini-farming can’t go much farther than chickens. No, not even a goat; which one of our neighbors did have, back when I was growing up in a very rural southern California suburb. They had chickens, too … and the people across the road kept domestic pigeons – but these suburbs also featured half-acre to acre-sized lots and the biggest of them corrals for horses.
And then, three things happened: several weeks ago, we made the acquaintance of a neighbor who does have a small flock of chickens – and a rooster, too – which is how we knew they kept chickens for months before we actually met up with them. They showed off their flock, and the morning harvest of fresh eggs … and we began to think of it as a possibility for ourselves. The fact that the local HEB is now carrying sacks of chicken feed in the pet-food section is an indication that other people are keeping chickens. If anything, I imagine that the great brains at HEB who decide what local demand is for have twigged the popularity for keeping backyard chickens, and that our neighbors with the flock are not the only ones.
This very spring, Sam’s Club added a chicken coop to the aisles with the seasonal merchandise; the tents, barbeque grills, camping gear and gardening supplies. My daughter looked upon it wistfully, whenever we went into Sam’s: it was an attractive thing, with a gabled roof, and a lower gable-roofed enclosure with hardware cloth sides, so that chickens could be somewhat sheltered. We talked about it, each time – but the price of it always put us off the notion. Until the first of May, when we noticed that the coop had been marked half-off. Yes – that was doable. We bought the coop, and a sturdy box-boy helped us stuff all 150 pounds of the box that it was in into the back of my daughter’s Montero. (We had a hand-truck at home, so it wasn’t necessary to beg for any help in getting the box around to the back of the house.)

It was in my mind to site the coop under the mulberry tree, where the soil is so intermixed with roots it is difficult to plant anything there in the first place. It’s also so shaded in the summer that anything sun-loving which can be planted has a tough time. It was also my notion to paint the coop the same color as the house: a sort of primrose-orange with cream trim. That was what took the most time – painting twelve out of the sixteen panels that made up the coop and run and letting them dry. The wood was lightly stained a dusty green, and it took two coats to really cover adequately. Well – that and setting out the concrete pavers to set the whole thing upon, and filling the interstices with decomposed granite. I really should have unleashed the screw-driver attachment for my electric drill earlier on: that would have saved some time and sweat. (The whole thing is held together by more than 70 Phillips-head screws of various lengths.) I did the touch-up paint work this morning, and re-sited some plants – and all but finished. The roof will have to be painted with waterproof varnish, but I have half a gallon left from doing the front door, and tomorrow is another day. And doesn’t it look simply palatial, as chicken coops go?

Next week – the chickens: the Daughter Unit has pretty much decided on Orpingtons, since they are good layers, friendly and fairly mellow.

01. May 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: History, War

(From the archives as I have been reminded of the anniversary of the fall of Saigon. I wrote a version of this early on at SSDB, around 2004.)

Never been there, never particularly wanted to: to someone of my age, it is Bad Place, a haunted place, where ugly things happened. It gave nightmares to friends, co-workers, and lovers for years after it dropped out of the headlines and the six-o-clock news. Today in light of the current war, it seems as far away in time and nearly as pointless as the Western Front. You look, and remember, and wonder, knowing that yes, it really happened, but really, what was the point of it all? Platoon seems as much of a relic as Journey’s End, the image of a helicopter hovering over jungle with “All Along the Watchtower” on the soundtrack an image as archaic as doughboys with puttees and soup-plate helmets, marching along and singing “Mademoiselle from Armentieres”.

But it was a beautiful place. My friends Xuan-An and Hai brought away pictures of where they lived in Dalat, in the highlands, where they married and lived with their three older children, snaps of cool, misty green pines and gardens of rhododendrons, and a horizon of mountains. Eventually, they had to flee Dalat for Saigon, where their youngest daughter was born, and Xuan-An’s mother came to live with them. Hai had left Hanoi as a teenager when the Communists took over there, his family being well to do, part Chinese, and immensely scholarly. He worked as a librarian for the USIS, and Xuan-An as a teacher of English and sciences, so they were on the Embassy list of Vietnamese citizens to be evacuated in the spring of 1975, with their four children, aged 12 to 2 years old. They were waiting at their home, for someone to come fetch them, on that last day. Perhaps someone from the Embassy might have come for them eventually, but Xuan-An’s brother who was the captain of a Vietnamese coastal patrol vessel came to their house after dark, instead. He had sent his crewmen all to fetch their families, they were going to make a run for safety out to sea, and he came to get his and Xuan-Ans’ mother. He was appalled to find his sister and brother-in-law and the children still there, and urged them to come with him straight away, and not wait any longer for rescue. They brought away no more luggage than what the adults could carry, in small packs the size of student’s book-bags, and the youngest daughter was a toddler and had to be carried herself. Xuan-An’s brother’s motor launch was a hundred feet long, and there were a hundred people crammed onto it, carrying them out to an American cargo ship, the Pioneer Contender, which waited with other American rescuers, just beyond the horizon.
More »

As I called her, during the Hillary-Obama knock-down and drag-out over the Dem nom leading up to the 08’ Presidential Race festivities. I termed that particular contest “Ebony vs Ovary.” They were well-matched for awfulness, back then, weren’t they? Chicago machine politics vs Arkansas skeevy corruption; in the words of Henry Kissinger, it was a pity that both of them couldn’t loose.
So she has lost out twice, but now we see Her Inevitableness mounting up once again and setting out to bash the windmills once again, although that particular image means that Huma Abedin is in the Sancho Panza role, which doesn’t work on so many levels that you’d have to explore other dimensions to reach them all. All props for grim determination, I have to say – and I’d also have to say that once upon a time, I might have respected her a lot more if she had only dumped that sweet-talking sleaze of a husband once they were done with the White House the first time, taken back her family name and … like actually done something efficient and effective on her own.

The one thing, over all of the things that annoy me about Hillary Clinton (and I have a long list of them, starting with how cynically Third World oligarchy-style it is to have the wife of a former president campaigning for the office after hubby has done his two terms) is the assumption on the part of too darned many – that because she is a woman, and I am a woman than NATURALLY I will be voting for her because – FIRST WOMAN PRESIDENT!!!11!! Or even because it’s Her Turn! No, this is not Argentina, she is not Evita Peron. And absolutely no, now that we have finally seen the last of the Kennedy spawn wither into irrelevance and of interest only to the tabloid chroniclers of serial adultery, spousal abuse and drug/alcohol abuse, we do not have an American royal family. Trying to launch another one on the basis of Elle glamor cover stories and palatial New York apartments likely is doomed to failure, albeit hopefully not quite as drawn-out as the epic telenovela of Camelot on the Potomac. I view any situation where members of the same family – be they spouse or spawn – appear to inherit a political office with the same suspicion I regard week-old leftovers in the refrigerator. Sequential political careers becoming the family business smacks of a hereditary aristocracy, and yes, I was just as annoyed by the Bushes and the Gores and the rest of them. Even the Adamses, but at least they had competence to recommend them, whereas one really cannot say the same about Her Inevitableness. And talk about a charm deficit…

Which brings me back to about another item on my list of beefs with Her Inevitableness: Benghazi. Dead ambassador, burned-out consulate attacked by a mob, dead former SEALS, people in her organization being left to hang in the wind, waiting, hoping, praying for rescue to arrive before it was too late. But it was too late. And then – the lies and rationalizations afterwards, piled higher and deeper. Honestly, I cannot see how that woman can live with herself, except that somehow she seems to manage. Maybe it’s easy to rise above it all, while living a life of near-royal splendor, having plenty of sycophants waiting to kiss the hand, murmur adoring praise and pitch softball questions, while those beneath notice must hastily absent themselves through the nearest doorway or turn and face the wall rather than meet the quasi-royal eye.

No wonder the patrons and staff of that Chipotle in Maumee took no notice of Her Inevitableness. They must have gotten the message.

(Crossposted at www.chicagoboyz.net)

‘Things are in the saddle, and ride mankind,’ as the philosopher Emerson observed, and as I was reminded every time that I changed assignments at the bidding of the Air Force. Having to shift all your personal household ‘things’ every three years or so meant that the acquisition of ‘things’ was kept to a dull roar. Yes, there were the usual artistic souvenirs … and in my case, books without number … but on the other hand, the 220V appliances, transformers, and potted plants usually were handed off upon scheduling of a pack-out date; extraneous clothing and other ‘stuff’ usually had a date with the base thrift store, and what couldn’t be sold or donated was dumped. I couldn’t help observing, though, that my own ‘things’ went from a couple of B-4 bags, a duffle and a suitcase, to a single van-load in the space of three years, and multiplied exponentially in the years thereafter. (Still – in spite of all the books, I was still under the weight limit on the last PCS move.)

But – in 1994, I bought a house, and moving into it constituted my very last PCS move. (Although I never have thrown away the stereo boxes. They’re still stacked in the garage.) My daughter finished her last hitch in the Marines in 2006, and came home to roost with her ‘things’ which went into the house or the garage. We added to the mutual household ‘things’ over the following years, leavened and reduced by the occasional garage sale, or natural household selection. Yes, things wore out; china and glass items hit the floor and broke, I upgraded certain household items like pots and pans, computers, major appliances … but certain things were added to the household, either by my daughter or myself; pictures and books, nice bits of china and glass. That kind of careless collecting of ‘stuff’ might soon slow to a crawl, though, owing to an experience this last weekend.

So, we have always rather enjoyed yard and estate sales. Great was our rejoicing on Friday to discover another one, not three blocks away. There was a good crowd outside, and a huge quantity of tools and boxes arranged on racks in the driveway, and cars and pickup trucks parked on both sides of the street for a block in either direction. This was a most promising development, so we hustled the dogs home and drive back in my car. There was a line to get in – as the sale manager minding the door explained with a terribly harassed expression, there was so much stuff inside the house they simply had to limit the numbers of people coming inside for reasons of safety. The owners of the house had been hoarders. I mean, they had hoarded to the point where the house had been entirely packed solid. The team managing the disposition of the sale had filled several industrial-sized dumpsters of junk, before they could even begin on the sellable items. There was a storage shed out in back, and apparently some storage units also filled with ‘stuff’ for which there was no room until what was in the house could be sold.

We waited for about half an hour, rather intrigued. We had heard about this kind of thing, but never actually seen it first-hand. The elderly couple whose home this had been were said by the neighbors to be absolutely wonderful, sweet people, and generally good neighbors, but the house had a definite air of neglect about it. And once we did get inside – oh, my god; the house was even more dilapidated on the inside; dusty, unkempt and as dim as a cave. There was no bannister on the upper part of the staircase, and in one room, a massive roof leak in the ceiling had eaten away the ceiling drywall, and spilled dirty insulation into the room – there was, however, a plastic wastebasket wedged between the top of a tall bookcase and the ceiling in an attempt to catch water leaking through. The house, and the back porch was crammed, every corner, nook and closet with stuff; for some unfathomable reason, mounds of luggage. Camera gear and accessories, stereo components and laser printers, most of them new and untouched. Lamps and knickknacks, box after box of sets of china, toy trains, Madame Alexander dolls, still in boxes, much of it covered in dust. Books, of course; one whole walk-in closet lined with shelves of DVDs and VHS tapes.

I came away with a pierced chine de blanc lamp, which had no shade and wiring so ancient that the plastic practically crumbled in my hands as I took it apart. It must have been in storage for years, for it was absolutely filthy. I’d always wanted one, as they sold them in all sizes in the BX in Japan, but all I could afford back then was a small one. As I waited to pay for it, my eye fell on a Kodak EasyShare camera, just about the same make and model as the one I currently use – which barely works any more. This one was a slightly older iteration, but unused – still with the protective film over the view-screen, and even had the instruction manual with it. The camera I got for $5 dollars. The estate sale people, I judge, had gone past trying to get fair market value and were just pricing most items to sell as fast as possible to anyone willing to take them away.

We came back on Saturday, just to see if anything interesting was left; there was – enough to carry on the sale through the following day. This time my daughter suggested that we look at the tools and stuff in the garage, which we had not done on Friday. Most of the good power tools and camping gear had sold, but my daughter spotted a carved wooden door. Solid wood, un-finished and for an extremely reduced price … we had intended to replace the front door anyway. So, I bought it, while my daughter called our chivalrous next-door neighbor with a pick-up truck. It’s out in the shed right now, awaiting application of stain and varnish.

Good purchases all, and at excellent prices, but I am resolved after this that any purchases of anything other than books will be on a replacement-only bases. Something coming into the house will necessitate something else going out of the house. Whatever the future holds for my estate and home, it should not involve multiple dumpsters.

Exactly a hundred years ago, an enterprising gentleman named James Edward Ferguson took office as the Governor of Texas. He was of a generation born long enough after the conclusion of the Civil War that hardships associated with that war had faded somewhat. The half-century long conflict with raiding Comanche and Kiowa war-bands was brought to a conclusion around the time of his birth, but he was still young enough to have racketed around the Wild West as it existed for the remainder of the century, variously employed in a mine, a factory making barbed wire, a wheat farm and a vineyard. Having gotten all that out of his system, he returned to Bell County, Texas, studied law, was admitted to the bar, and married the daughter of a neighbor, Miriam Amanda Wallace. Miriam Amanda was then almost 25, and had been to college. James Ferguson and his wife settled down to a life of quiet prosperity in Belton, Texas. There he founded a bank and dabbled in politics as a campaign manager, before running for and winning the office of governor in 1914 – as a Democrat, which was expected at the time and in that place – and as an anti-prohibitionist, which perhaps was not. Two years later, having not done anything in office which could be held against him, James Ferguson was re-elected … and almost immediately walked into a buzz-saw. A quarrel over appropriations for the University of Texas system and a political rival for the office of governor – ensconced among the facility as the newly-anointed head of a newly-established school of journalism – eventually blew up into such a huge ruckus that James Ferguson was impeached, with the result that he could not hold public office in Texas again – at least not under his own name.

With the hindsight of extreme cynicism regarding the press when dealing in personalities and matters political, one can wonder how much of the ruckus concerned his actual conduct in office, and how much was created by the state press. His erstwhile rival owned one, had connections with others, and had the backing of the intellectual elite of Texas as it was then. He was also generally anti-Prohibition, which lead to dark whispers that he was in the pockets of the brewing industry. Rather than continue being politically active as a ‘behind the scenes fixer’ James Edward Ferguson came up with a brilliant solution: put his wife out there as a gubernatorial candidate in 1924. Yes, Miriam Amanda Wallace Ferguson, likely rather brainy (being that she had married rather later than one might have expected of a woman of that time, and indulged in education well beyond high school) but in personality rather retiring, hit the campaign hustings with her loyal hubby ever at her side. Her campaign slogan was “Two Governors for the Price of One,” or alternately “Me for Ma, and I ain’t got a durn thing against Pa,” Her husband put on the folksy touch of calling her “Ma” and himself “Pa” – as he was ever a strong advocate of rural farmers and would have their undying support for most of the rest of their joint careers. Miriam Ferguson asked for the votes – and of women especially – as a reaffirmation and support of her husband.

And she was elected, likely to the horror and consternation of her husband’s political foes. She was the first elected female governor of Texas and the second elected female governor in the nation – although there is not much contention that “Pa” Ferguson was the real power behind the chair, as it were. She ran for office again in 1932 – winning a second term. Although she and “Pa” campaigned as folksy, down-to-earth populists, they were in no sense ‘rubes’; teetotalers both, they fiercely opposed Prohibition. “Ma” Ferguson was also generous with the pardoning authority of her office; over the course of two terms, she exercised it some 4,000 times – mostly, it should be noted – for violating various prohibition laws. Rumors did persist, then and rewards that many such pardons were in exchange for cash paid to the governor’s husband. One rather amusing but apocryphal tale had it that a man began walking through a door at the same time as Mrs. Ferguson: “Oh, pardon me,” he said, as the manners of the time required, and Mrs. Ferguson answered, “Sure, come on in – it’ll only take a minute or two to do the paper-work.” She has also (along with a great many other personalities held by their so-called betters to be ignorant and backward) credited with the remark to the effect that if English was good enough for Jesus Christ it ought to be good enough for the children of Texas.

And the Ferguson team also came out against the Klu Klux Klan, then very much a powerful force in the rural South and Midwest. In Texas, the Klan’s activities were not so much racism, as it was nativist and wedded to a certain kind of moral authoritarianism, prone to punishing people suspected of adultery, gambling, sexual transgressions, bootlegging and speaking German in public. This tended to excite disapproval among thoughtful citizens who professed to uphold the rule of law. While the Klan could and did control certain elections, especially at the local level – there were organizations just as vehemently opposed to their activities; various influential urban newspapers such as the Houston Chronicle, the Chambers of Commerce, the Masons, the State Bar Association, and a number of citizen’s organizations. As part of her first campaign, Ma Ferguson promised an anti-mask law, targeting the Klan, making it illegal for any so-called secret society to allow members to appear masked or disguised in public. KKK membership in Texas dropped precipitously and continued to drop; whether Team Ferguson’s activities had anything to do with it, or they were shrewd and farsighted enough to see the trend and get aboard is a matter of contention for specialist historians. Still – for a couple who were and probably are still dismissed as a pair of rubes, they chose to oppose one of the stupidest but most well-meant popular social efforts of the early 20th century, and one of stupidest and most brutal organizations as well.

(The Fergusons essentially retired from politics in the mid-1930s. Pa died in 1944, but Ma lived until 1961. They are buried side by side in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.)