(OK – finally the last of the history post I started earlier this week. Things to do, places to, things to write about. I said I would have this second part on Friday, but … real world, you know?)

Towards the end of that day, May 6th, 1942, the road petered out. Stilwell abandoned the last of the trucks and the radio van – the radio set weighed 200 pounds alone. Last messages were sent, one advising General Brereton, in New Delhi that Stilwell and his party were on foot, heading for Homalin and then Imphal, and asking for them to be met at Homalin by resupply and medical aid. “Indian govt. should be warned rice, police, and doctors urgently needed by refugees on all routes to India from Burma. Large numbers on way. All control gone. Catastrophe quite possible. End.” Another, to the US War Department via Chunking, ended, “We are armed, have food and map and are on foot 50 miles west of Indaw … believe this is probably our last message for a while. Cheerio. Stilwell.”
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Some years ago, Blondie or I bought a Henry Watson Pottery bread crock at a local Tuesday Morning outlet; it’s a sturdy lidded terra cotta pottery container for bread, as it says on the side of it. I had bought a number of other Henry Watson Pottery items over the years, as they turned up here and there in the BX; there was a garlic jar, and one for onions with a wooden top, a container for sugar with a gasket-sealed top … just nice, attractive and sturdy storage containers. There was also a lasagna pan, much lamented when it broke, as it was glazed on the inside and was the perfect size for the stuff that I baked. Not just lasagna let it be known. With a small baking rack inside, it was perfect for baking a whole small chicken.
The pottery lid of the bread crock broke. It broke several times, the last time in so many pieces that it was not possible to piece it together, and so for some years it went lidless … not a satisfactory situation, really. Being newly annoyed by this in mid-January and having a little money ahead, I looked around on line for a replacement lid; alas, coming up empty. The crock is still manufactured, it appears, and once uponnatime, the Watson Pottery did have a replacement lid available, but no longer. There wasn’t even such to be found on E-bay. Well, never mind, thought I … I can find some wood discs of a size to fit at a hobby shop, glue them together, slap a wooden drawer pull on top, sand the whole assembly smooth, slap some stain and varnish on it and – hey, a functional lid!
Bread Crock with Turned LidNope. The inside diameter of the crock was about 7.25 inches, the outside 9.50, and nothing available in the various hobby shops, online or otherwise, came even close. Either to large or too small, and not having a woodworking lathe other than the tiny Dremel lathe that I bought ages ago to do miniature woodworking on … sigh. Wit’s end, until I remembered one of our neighbors. He does lovely custom woodwork in his garage, open to the street, as a hobby, lavishing the results on family. He lives in a rental, two houses up from us … and, yeah. I took the measurements to him; he fished out a three inch thick scrap round from his woodpile and after a couple of days, turned us a lovely lid, to exact specifications. Fits like a dream, looks better than the original lid!
For this exercise of skill and artistry, we traded a half-pint jar of home-made calamondin orange marmalade (made from the fruit of this odd ornamental that I bought years ago – it’s a native of the Philippines, and this was the first year that it actually bloomed and bore fruit) and a week’s worth of a dozen completely organic and totally free-range eggs, fresh from the chicken’s butts. Because … neighbors.
I thought on this, in hearing from another neighbor, who had a yard sale this weekend, because she and her husband are selling their house on a particularly quiet side street and moving. Their house sold in double quick time; according to their realtor, the particular zip code is a very “hot” one, and our neighborhood is particularly desirable. Not a surprise to us, really; it’s a quiet, and affordable neighborhood, close to schools, markets, gainful employment and military bases. Again, the affordable part; someone working a moderately well-paid job in this part of San Antonio would be able to purchase a house here without going broke on it or having to live on Top Ramen for thirty years. I managed the mortgage easily on an E-6 salary, and subsequently on the pension for same, although sometimes there were some dicey months. Some residents have amazing small gardens, kids play in front and back yards, people walk their dogs or run at all hours, decorate for holidays, know each other by sight well enough to wave. Nothing that will ever be on the Parade of Homes, in Architectural Digest or Country Living, or even, God help us, run the risk of becoming a historical district, unless in a hundred years, late 20th century residential developer becomes a significant aesthetic marker. (Although, seeing as the great and the good seem to prefer us all living in bare concrete stack-a-prole high-rises, perhaps a neighborhood like ours might very well become a suburban treasure. After all, Levittown has, in some appreciative circles.)
The eggs, by the way, are very popular and much appreciated by those neighbors that have received a selection of Carly and Maureen’s finest fresh-laid. After all, the girls lay them at the rate of one a day, most days, and we can’t possibly eat them at the rate of one each per day. We also hope that giving away the surplus will make those close neighbors feel more kindly towards Larry-Bird when he crows in the wee hours of the morning. As it happens, the closest neighbors rather like the sound of Larry and the girls, all having grown up in the country with chickens. It makes the neighborhood feel more home-like, I guess.
And everyone appreciated the Christmas fudge, as well. We distributed this years’ batch almost two months ago, and people are still telling us how very, very good it was. The goodwill is also repaid in kind – this weekend we have about two pounds of fresh homegrown Brussels sprouts from one of the keenest gardeners around – she has an allotment in a community garden, where she volunteers, which is fortunate for her yard isn’t any bigger than ours. And that’s how it goes, in a suburban neighborhood, where most everyone is willing to do the necessary, neighborly thing.

He was an abrasive man, as his nickname suggests – and had very little of soothing diplomacy in him. A soft-spoken and conciliatory manner might have served him better in the long run over the duration of his tour as the American commander of Chinese troops in Burma during WWII, but considering the dire situation there in March of 1942, perhaps irascible and decisive better served the immediate situation. A 1904 graduate of the US Military Academy, General Joseph Warren Stilwell had a particular talent for languages – to include blistering invective, written and spoken Chinese, field tactics and the training of soldiers. He had come to Burma to take charge of reorganizing the nationalist Chinese military forces there … just the Allied defense of South-east Asia crumbled under a vigorous Japanese offensive. The invasion of Burma was intended to cut off the land route which supplied China, blockaded along the coast by the Japanese. War materiel for China reached there only by ship via the Burmese port of Rangoon and thence by truck, traveling 700 miles over the Burma Road. This ran from Lashio to Kunming and Yunnan; a perilous track hacked out by hand labor through jungle and over steep mountains several years earlier.

The defense of Burma rested primarily on British, Commonwealth, and Chinese forces – all supplied with difficulty as the Japanese launched their great offensive in December, 1941. About the only thing that the fractious Allied command in Burma possessed in quantity was distrust, suspicion, and an awareness of impending defeat at the hands of triumphant Japanese pushing north along a line from Rangoon to Mandalay. Stilwell, nominally in command of the Chinese armies, was constantly back-bitten by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek, who was reluctant to gamble troops and materiel, preferring to conserve them against future needs – fighting the Japanese in short term and Chinese Communists in the long. The Generalissimo also did not repose much trust in the British, either – suspecting them of imperialist designs on China. This was a distaste shared with Stilwell, although for a slightly different reason. Stilwell abhorred pomp, circumstance, military ritual, jazzy uniforms, many privileges of rank, and swagger sticks, in no particular order – some or all of which were delighted in by the British military establishment. (To be fair, some American officers delighted in them as well.)
Stilwell, who if anything was an active and hands-on commander, had two small field HQs – one at Lashio, and the other at a small town called Shwebo, just north of Mandalay – where Stilwell was when the commander of British forces in Burma, General Harold Alexander ordered evacuation of Burma. Allied defense of Burma had collapsed utterly; Alexander’s evacuation order was merely confirmation of the dire situation on the ground. British, Indian, Chinese, Burmese troops and civilians were already making a mad dash along any route leading to India and safety.

General Alexander had experience in military disaster and withdrawal, having covered, as a divisional commander in France in 1940, the evacuation of British forces at Dunkirk. Alexander had left on the last destroyer out of Dunkirk; Stilwell had much more strenuous plans. Even in defeat, and with a disinclination to pull rank for his own advantage, Stilwell had pull. An American transport aircraft arrived on May the 1st. Stilwell refused to get on it himself – he sent out fifteen members of his HQ staff instead, and set off north by truck and jeep, on a route which paralleled the railway between Mandalay and the strategic town of Myitkyina, where the airfield was still in operation. He started with a group of about eighty, with the intent of traveling by train to Myitkyina, evacuating all but a few by air and trying to rally the Chinese troops.
The railway turned out to be useless to them, blocked by damage to the rails beyond the power of Stilwell’s party to clear it. The best way of reaching India and safety, in Stilwell’s judgement, was to turn westerly, and head for the valley of the Chindwin River, and cross the mountains beyond on foot. This had the advantage of avoiding mobs of the defeated Allied troops and frantic civilian evacuees clogging the well-traveled routes out of Burma; the Japanese advance leap-frogging ahead … and with luck, would skim through before torrential rains of the seasonal monsoon. On the 5th of May, the general ordered several trucks of his convoy abandoned when they bogged down in a river ford. They carried on westwards toward the Chindwin with the remaining trucks, the lighter jeeps carrying the most critical supplies, and the radio van.

The party had grown since leaving Shwebo; by the morning of May 6th it was a multinational and civilian-military affair: nearly thirty US Army personnel – most of them officers of Stillwell’s staff, fifteen ragged British soldiers and fourteen Chinese, a volunteer medical unit commanded by Dr. Gordon Seagrave (the son of long-time American missionaries in Burma and fluent in the Karen language), including 19 Christian Burmese nurses, a small British Quaker ambulance unit, Jack Beldon, civilian correspondent for Time and Life Magazines, some native Burmese, Indian and Malayan cooks, and the Reverend Breedham Case, another missionary with extensive knowledge of upper Burma and the various dialects spoken there. One of the British officers, a Major Barton had also spent many years in up-country Burma. The knowledge of the country and languages possessed by those three – Major Barton, the Reverend Case, and Dr. Seagrave would prove invaluable to the party over the course of their long walk to India and safety.

(To be continued on Friday)

Taking pen in hand … or actually, the computer keyboard … to while away a few minutes of leisure between wrapping up today’s work. (Yes, I am a small business owner and independent author; weekends and holidays are normal working days for me, although those hours and days are of my own choice, which makes up for quite a lot. And also, the commute is short.)

I was working away on graphic adornments for the next book in the Luna City Chronicles, and an editing job which I had thought to finish by mid-month, but these things happen. Anyway, I was diverted upon coming out to start cooking supper, to note that Blondie is also working away on her own stuff for upcoming events; for aural wallpaper, she had an old TV show on streaming video as she works. She has been going through various old shows in recent weeks. Last week it was the original Thundercats, the week before that it was McGyver. But this week it’s The X-Files … a show which she finds nostalgically amusing, but which I began to find so repellant that I stopped watching after a certain point. Was it the episode with the murderously incestuous hillbilly clan with the armless, legless mother, or the one where an oh-so-secret US Army unit machine-gunned to death a whole group of human-alien hybrid offspring? Memory does not serve up an exact date at this point, but that was where I decided that The X-Files just was not my cuppa any longer. Not for dealing out spine-chilling bits of horror in weekly episodes – the creepy guy who could slither through AC ducts, the primitive humans living in the wilds of New Jersey, the life insurance salesman who could foresee the death of his potential clients … for sheer story-telling expertise and creepy thrills, right up there with The Twilight Zone, or Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Likely, The X-Files still is, among certain aficionados.

No, what I could no longer countenance by watching was the government/alien/political shenanigans plots; Cigarette-smoking Man, assassinations, and aliens and all, with the government massively covering up. That, I began to sense was encouraging a terribly unsavory mind-set among the terminally paranoid. It’s one thing to have all this spilled out in the wee hours on radio in Coast to Coast; quite another to have it on prime-time broadcast television. It was almost as if the show was deliberately encouraging and egging on the paranoid element – for ratings and pure sadistic amusement. And so we stopped watching it entirely. Now my daughter is entirely amused, shaking her head over how the show-runners seemed to find it credible that long-term projects undertaken by the military-industrial complex could be kept secret for years, or decades, given that nothing much will remain long a secret when people retire, leave service, and all. Eventually, they write books. Sometimes years later, or even just months. The military is an odd place – and nothing stays secret in it for long. Good story-telling is forever. Messing with the minds of the conspiracy-inclined is also forever, given how many viewers seem to believe that if it is on TV, then it is real.

And the next media imbroglio – that there are no actors/actresses of color in this years’ Oscar noms… and the chief complainant regarding that situation is a guy-an-spouse who live in a huge estate the size of which if you ran away from home, you could still be at home. This is on-par with Orca Winfrey going on a prolonged media whine about how a Swiss shop assistant demurred showing her a particularly ugly handbag which cost retail about as much as my pension yearly plus what I earn from the Tiny Publishing Bidness. I mean seriously, Will Smith – you want an award trophy for just like … showing up? I suppose the best riposte to this was in another comment thread, by a contributor who seems to be in the acting profession. It was to the effect that he would rather be known at the end of his career by the question, “Why did he never get an Oscar?” than the question, “Why DID he get an Oscar?”

Discuss, if you will, these relatively trivial matters.

10. January 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: European Disunion, Fun With Islam, Rant

An archaic term, in general; according to the wildly variable and sometimes suspect Wikipedia, it is a term taken from an even more archaic term for food for livestock. “Soldiers are the metaphorical food for enemy cannon fire.” Wikipedia defines the expression further as, “…an informal, derogatory term for combatants who are regarded … as expendable in the face of enemy fire … or to distinguish expendable low-grade or inexperienced combatants from supposedly more valuable veterans.”

Expendable is the operative word, and expendable without much regret on the part of the credentialed elite – the political, social or military elite – because the expected goal is considered worth the sacrifice, especially if the sacrifice is borne by others. Reading this week about the sexual violence reported – reluctantly in many cases by German media – as being perpetrated on a grand scale by recent Middle Eastern migrants masquerading as war refugees on women in German cities on this last New Years Eve gave me a sickening new understanding of the concept.

Indeed – here we have a transcendently generous, philanthropic goal; to provide sanctuary for the poor innocent refugee from wars’ alarms and horrors. It is a worthy goal, by the way – when genuine refugees are considered, and those providing sanctuary are quite firmly realistic about the situation and limitations. But authorities in Europe who made a great, enthusiastic show regarding welcoming Middle Eastern refugees all through last year now must accept – and accept they must, however reluctantly – that they have made their own women into sexual cannon fodder. They have enabled molestation, gang rape, robbery and massive harassment in their own streets … all so that the ruling elite might bask in the glow of their own self-righteousness. Well, done, Angela Merkel and the mayor of Cologne, and those media outlets who refused to make mention of the various incidents, which now appear to have been happening for months on a smaller scale.

However, Ms Merkel and the German ruling elite are hardly alone in selling out their citizenry to sexual exploitation for fear of being termed racist. Social workers and police looked the other way for decades in Rotherham, England … and our own very dear establishment media organs in the United States have downplayed criminal offences perpetuated by illegal aliens for years.
Cannon fodder, indeed. Discuss.

So, it is our plan, sometime in the next year or so, to remodel the kitchen of my little thirty-year old tract house, and do so on a D-I-Y and scrounge-based budget, utilizing finds, inherited items, severely marked-down elements, and the services of the detail-oriented local handyman-carpenter to gain a more efficient and attractive kitchen, with at least 35% more storage space, because … I cook, preserve and store, and have the equivalent of two floor-to-ceiling bookshelves of cookbooks. I’ve been in libraries which didn’t have as many cookbooks! But anyway – the existing kitchen is small – one of those U-shaped numbers, about 8 x 10, and adjacent to a dining area of similar dimensions, and all originally fitted out with extremely cheap base and wall cabinets, which among their myriad failings in quality and installation do not make use of the corners. Nope, the original contractor whanged in cabinets at right angles, and sealed in the corner void spaces, which wasted considerable storage capacity right from the very beginning.

Everything installed was cheap, construction-grade and likely supplied by the boxcar-load. It has always amused me that the cheapest possible light fittings from Lowe’s or Home Depot that I bought to replace the original stuff are still a hundred times better than the original. And the neighborhood was built by a reputable builder; the stuff put into the places build by the disreputable must be made from tinfoil, cardboard and soda straws.

The new kitchen in Chez Hayes will, of course, be built around the gargantuan side-by-side refrigerator-freezer, which we bought a little more than a year ago, and the vintage and practically mind-condition 1941-Model B Chambers stove which my daughter inherited from our dearly beloved business partner and founder of the Tiny Publishing Bidness. But … and this is a epic but several times the size of Kim Kardashian’s … the stove is gas, and for safety’s sake, must be gone over carefully by a qualified technician and installed by same, since it has doubtless been jostled, rattled, bounced and had connections loosened since being moved from the little house where it had originally been installed. And also – we need to have a gas line extended to the kitchen of the house. All this will cost: exactly how much, we do not know at this stage of the game.

In the mean time, the current electric stove – which was bought from the Scratch’n’Dent outlet in 2003 when the originally-installed electric stove gave up the ghost – has likewise given up and joined the electronic appliance choir eternal, instead of staggering on for a year or two until the Chambers was ready to be installed. And no – I just didn’t want to go and get a new electric stove just to use for only a year or so. We settled on a sort of temporary and sort of long-term fix: a good two-burner hotplate, and a small toaster/convection/rotisserie oven, resting on lengths of wire shelving installed in the empty space where the stove was. We’d considered some kind of stand or kitchen cart, at first – but nothing was quite the right size, and even 1/4th of an inch larger than the space for a 30” stove would not have fit at all. We still had a bag of end-brackets left over from fitting out the pantry with wire shelves, so it was the space of twenty minutes at Lowe’s and another hour at home with a drill and hammer. So far, it looks good; and offers a little extra shelf space for pots and pans, and the vacuum-sealer. I’m not using more than two burners at a time, and the little oven is just about the right size for the stuff that I’m usually baking, broiling or rotissering anyway.
And that was how we spent the week between Christmas and New Years…

01. January 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic

It is that time of year again, isn’t it? To review the past year and look to the next, and make those personal resolutions and decisions; I’ve done a post on this subject several times in past years. I’ve made resolutions late in December or early in January and twelve months later, tallied them up. Usually the tallying up came out with a score overall of 75% achieved. Alas; the backyard is still not a bountiful truck garden and orchard of edibleness; nor are my books on any kind of best-seller list – nor even above five figures in the overall Amazon author rankings, a position which I reach intermittently and usually on the occasion of a new book being released or an Instapundit link.

In mid-December of 2014, I looked at the list I had made for 2013 on those things that I wanted to accomplish, taking stock on what I had managed to do and what I had left undone. Now on this New Years Day 2015, I am looking at what I did manage to complete from that original list, and examining those things to work on, and either accomplish, or to try harder on in 2015.

#1 – Books … During 2015 I had meant to complete The Golden Road for release in time for the Christmas markets in November; the adventures of a wide-eyed seventeen-year old Fredi Steinmetz in Gold-Rush era California. The good news is that I have ten chapters of it in rough draft … and the other good news is that in the last year I managed to complete two other books for Christmas-shopping-time season. I had an inspiration last January, after reading another writer’s post about the Harvey Girls; that book was done before Thanksgiving, and then the inspiration which stuck my daughter and I – to create a typical small South Texas town, and people it with characters sort of based on certain people, and a history – as well as a whole town layout – based on a handful of such towns known to us. Chronicles of Luna City was done – or at least, the first volume (yes, there will be more; the whole epic is more or less open-ended) at the eye-watering speed of about three months.

#2 – A vow to redouble the efforts for a lavishly-productive back-yard truck garden sufficient to provide all our fresh vegetable needs. Still a flat failure, although the output from the pole beans was pleasingly bountiful this year, at least. This will be a continuing goal, although on the plus side, the goal of a backyard farm has been augmented with the addition of the chickens, or as my daughter calls them, “the wup-wups” from the sound of the gentle clucking they made when they are satisfied with life but still feel chatty. Maureen and Carly regularly produce an egg a day (with occasional days of feeling off.) We haven’t had to purchase eggs in the supermarket since about mid-September.  Larry-Bird the rooster also serves as an avian alarm clock. It is apparently a coming thing to have backyard chickens, now. We are grateful that all of our nearest neighbors were raised in the country and rather like hearing the sound of the girls and Larry-Bird. There are (according to what I read in the neighborhood email group), some locals who acquired, or moved in with chickens, and the roosters of their flocks were not well-received. Especially at 5 AM.

#3 – Better track of readers and fans … Sigh. I had a marvelous bump-up in sales, due to the new releases and some enormously helpful links in strategic places, but seeing that the bump-up continues is one of those ongoing projects.

#4 – Management of existing business and recruitment of new clients at Watercress Press; this remains another ongoing work in progress. I have two clients, the completion of whose work has been dragging on, for various reasons for the last year. As regards their books, there is light at the end of the tunnel for certain of one, and just possibly for the other. Although as I keep saying pessimistically, “It may not be the light at the end of the tunnel – it might just be the headlight on the train coming towards us!” I completed a couple of projects for an old Watercress client, who is ecstatically pleased, and have a new editing client, and a number of repeat orders for new copies of books from past POD clients. Keeping the business going is a continuing goal.

#5 – Stockpiling staple foods; the pantry closet, the big standing freezer, and the long-term storage spaces are packed almost solid with staples, frozen and canned foods. Our goal for this year, is to continuously review what we have stashed, and ensure that we rotate and consume the stuff efficiently. Which reminds me – to start another batch of sauerkraut soon; we made grilled Reuben sandwiches for New Year’s Eve supper. Grocery sauerkraut just doesn’t have any flavor to it; might as well be eating watery and slightly salted celery, or iceberg lettuce.

#6 – The project for totally renovating the kitchen is somewhat closer on the horizon than it was last year at this time. The practically-pristine vintage stove which Blondie inherited will have to be made right, tight and safe for use, and we will have to ensure that a gas main is run out to the kitchen end of the house. That may prove somewhat expensive, but on the other hand, replacing the cabinets may be a bit more affordable, thanks to working with the neighborhood Handy-Guy.  Unfortunately, the kitchen reno project this year was derailed by extensive and expensive work needing to be done on Blondie’s SUV, and veterinarian bills for the late and much-beloved Calla-puppy.

And so there we are. I’ve left out the political stuff. Above my pay grade and anything might happen – and likely will, this coming election year. I have no control over that, other than voting in November – these resolves are just the stuff that I do have some control over.

The long pre-Christmas market marathon is finally complete – this last weekend was our last event, and possibly the most strenuous, involving as it did two days in Boerne (three, if you count set-up on Friday afternoon), with the pink pavilion and all the gear – the tables, display racks, two strings of Christmas lights and an extension cord – not to mention my books and my daughter’s origami earrings and bead bracelets. We have had a market event every weekend since early November, save for the weekend after Thanksgiving, so our state of exhaustion is nearly total. This was compounded (1) by both of us having caught (in sequence) a filthy cold/cough/flu and (2) a mid-week overnight trip to Brownsville to tend to the project of one of the Tiny Publishing Bidness’ clients. The client covered the costs of the hotel stay and gas, and treated us to a perfectly magnificent lunch at an Argentine steakhouse, so there is that. But my daughter felt perfectly awful for one week, and then the cold hit me on the return from Brownsville and I have been barely able to function ever since. Monday was the first day that I could really succumb to how awful I felt, and crawl into bed for much of the morning. Until some robocaller (curses be on their head this Christmas season, and all their stockings be filled with lumps of coal) on the cellie woke me up and set the doggles to barking about mid-afternoon.

Anyway – now that I am feeling slightly better – here’s a wrap-up of my observations of the holiday season. I avoided all malls, and big box stores, by the way. Our Black Friday shopping was all on-line, for items of quality (books and specialty foods, mostly) to be sent by mail to dear family members. I would not be surprised to learn that such is the case with many other shoppers this year. I would also not be surprised to learn that people are being very careful with their purses and credit cards, when it comes to Christmas shopping. I’ve been tracking sales of my own books at direct marketing holiday events since 2009, and there has been a definite dip in sales this year and in 2015 over previous years. I noticed also that sales deals offered via email with regard to Black Friday, and the week after have been extended, and extended again.

People seem quite defiant in the way they say “Merry Christmas!” to each other; not so much the carefully non-denominational “Happy Holidays.” No, it’s “Merry Christmas!” out loud and proud. And I have noticed that my neighbors have been particularly assiduous in decorating their houses and gardens with lights, inflatables and outsized Christmas ornaments this year … and in exchanging small gifts between neighbors. We gave small boxes of home made gourmet fudge to those whom we know best, and also to the mailman, local firehouse, the nearest police station, the guy who drives the garbage collection van, and the staff at the bank branch where we do business … and have received in return a wealth of thanks and good wishes, as well as a pound of home-smoked pork chops, a bottle of red wine and a pair of replica Indian arrows, fletched with buzzard feathers and tipped with points made from bits of sharpened deer antlers … yes, we have neighbors with interesting hobbies.

There is in the air, I sense, a determination to have a Merry Christmas in spite of it all … threatened riots in certain cities, the pall of terrorism and crime, of political turmoil, a worsening economic situation, and the smothering hand of political correctitude, a bright flame against the threatening darkness. Merry Christmas, indeed.

(And as a bonus – pictorial proof positive that Santa Claus is a winter Texan, spending the cold, dark months of the year in the Rio Grande Valley, soaking up sunshine, orange juice and good Mexican food. He was eating breakfast at the table next to us at the Marriott Residence Inn in Brownsville last week.)Breakfasting Santa

17. December 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Domestic

My daughter was nearly ten years old, in that Christmastime of 1990. I was stationed at Zaragoza AB, in the Ebro River Valley of Spain, which was serving as one of the staging bases in Europe for the build-up to the First Gulf War … the effort to liberate Kuwait, which Saddam Hussein seemed to believe that he had a perfect right to occupy, loot and exterminate those opposing him in that small matter. But this is not about that war, particularly – only as it affected those of us located far along the haft of the military spear towards the sharp and pointy end.

Zaragoza was a long-established US base in Spain by then – sufficiently long enough to have grown up a second generation of children born to American servicemen and their Spanish wives. It was sufficiently well-established to have a fairly modern on-base school, which housed the elementary classes in one wing, and the high school in the other. My daughter started there in kindergarten, the very week that we arrived, in 1985, to the day that we departed, six years later, when she started the sixth grade. It was a safe posting, especially considered after my previous assignment to Athens, Greece, where terrorism aimed at American personnel and at the base generally was accepted grimly as an ongoing part of life, like hurricanes along the southern coasts. One took every careful precaution and internalized certain practices against an irregular and specifically unpredictably-occurring threat. One of my daughter’s earliest memories is of watching me from the front step of the suburban Athens apartment where we lived then … kneeling down to look underneath my car, parked out in the street. I was, of course, looking for something explody-ish with trailing wires, where such a device ought to not be attached to the underside of the bright orange Volvo sedan that I had purchased from a fellow NCO upon arrival in Athens. (The Volvo had the temporary USG or US Forces Greece license plates on it, which branded the vehicle as being owned/driven by a member of the American military, and thus a likely target for anything from crude vandalism to a bomb.  Just one of those things; it was a relief to get to Spain, where the practice was for regular Spanish license plates to be placed on automobiles owned by American service personnel.)

Late in autumn of that year the build-up began. Zaragoza AB went on a war footing, which meant that duties and hours devoted to those duties doubled, or in some cases, tripled for all personnel. Bright new concertina wire went up, all along the base perimeter; one of my memories of that period was how weirdly beautiful it looked under a layer of winter frost  in the early morning – like sunshine brilliantly glittering on matte-finished silver.

Christmas was coming.  After that, New Year’s Day, and then the deadline for Saddam Hussein to give up Kuwait. We knew that, barring a miracle, he wouldn’t. And then War, sometime in those days of the first week. Inevitable. The dark grey storm cloud on the horizon, flickering with flashes of interior lightning, blotting out the horizon and moving inexorably closer. One was made aware of it in dozens of ways, as the minutes, hours, days ticked by – even as the prosaic routines went on. My daughter had school every day, I cooked a family supper every evening, read to her at bed-time, shopped for groceries at the commissary, pressed a fresh blue uniform shirt every morning, mailed out Christmas cards, bought and wrapped presents. Because Christmas. One holds on to as many shreds and shards of normality as one can, when it comes to children.

These last few weeks, I have been feeling the same foreboding that I did, that holiday season more than twenty years ago. My daughter and I have a full schedule of weekend holiday markets and events. When we were setting up for the first of them, on a Friday afternoon, we came home to the news about the Islamic massacre in Paris. This week, as we were getting ready for another, it was the Islamic massacre of local government employees in San Bernardino. Next week … who knows? I am fairly certain that there will be another atrocity perpetrated by Daesh fanatics over the coming holiday season. It will occur in a place and at a time where it will all come as a horrifying surprise to the victims of it, to our national leadership cadre and to our major news outlets. The latter two will, of course, be horribly inconvenienced by having to throw some thin shreds of career-saving rationale or justification excusing such an unexpected event. This I know, as surely as I saw the deadline for military action in the Gulf inch closer and closer.

Merry Christmas, y’all.

 

30. November 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Ain't That America?, History, Old West

David Smith Terry was truly a man of his time and place – Texas and California in the early to mid-19th century. He possessed a large portion of the same intelligence, ambition, and physical courage which distinguished many of his contemporaries, as young men in tumultuous times. Alas, such qualities were offset by a pig-headed conviction of his own righteousness, a boiling-hot temper readily provoked to violence, and one more weakness, which would eventually prove fatal to David Smith Terry; he was all too ready to act on impulse without regard for consequence.
He was of a generation born into a relatively new country, with no memory of colonial rule by Britain, or the revolution itself, save perhaps for passed-down recollections of his maternal and paternal grandfathers, who had both fought in it with distinction. David S. Terry was the second of four sons of Clinton Terry and Sarah Smith Terry. The Terry marriage does not appear to have been a particularly successful one; they separated in 1835, when David Terry would have been about eight years old. Sarah Terry must have been a woman of spirit and determination, for she moved with her four sons to Texas in that same year, apparently hoping to retrieve some portion of respectability and income which had been lost through her husband’s mismanagement – mismanagement which must have been on a fairly epic scale to leave her in possession of their remaining property and custody of their sons. She and her sons established a plantation west of the present-day city of Houston, where they planted cotton and waited for prosperity to bless them once more. Instead, Sarah Terry died, shortly thereafter, leaving her sons – the oldest, Benjamin being fifteen, and David thirteen – essentially orphaned in the war and rebellion which followed.

David, large for his age and already impetuous, enlisted in Sam Houston’s army of Texans at Gonzales, following the fall of the Alamo. Reputedly, he fought at San Jacinto with considerable distinction. When Texas won a shaky independence by Houston’s victory, David S. Terry returned home to the cotton plantation – but not for long. He took up the study of law in the office of a relative by marriage, was admitted to the bar and practiced in Galveston for some years. He was described as a tall, handsome gentleman, solidly built, with steel-grey eyes under heavy brows, and sandy hair brushed back from a high forehead. He sported chin-whiskers but no mustache. Naturally rather reserved, he could be animated in conversation when the topic interested him, and very good company. He identified passionately as a man of Southern sympathies and as a Texan; to that end, he usually carried a sheathed hunting knife of the design made popular by Jim Bowie.

He went soldiering again, in the Mexican-American war, serving in Colonel Jack Hays’ regiment of Rangers. He participated in the battle before Monterrey, and upon returning to Galveston at the end of that war, became interested in politics. In 1847, he ran for the office of district attorney for Galveston and lost. This defeat may have been felt in a stinging fashion; two years later, he joined together with some of his Ranger comrades and followed the Gold Rush to California. He tried gold-mining for a brief time, didn’t care for the experience, (as did most men with a more readily-profitable trade who did not immediately strike it rich) and set up practicing as a lawyer again in Stockton, California. There he dabbled in running for local office, this time as mayor. Just as before, in Galveston, he was defeated, and thereafter for a time returned to the practice of law. He prospered sufficiently over the next few years that he could afford to return east and marry a distant cousin-by-marriage, a Miss Cornelia Runnels. She was educated, well-mannered; the perfect gentle Southern belle, twenty-three to her husband’s twenty-seven. She is supposed to have influenced him greatly, and as the decade progressed, David Smith Terry went from success to success. Sadly, of their six children – all sons – only three survived to adulthood; of those, one died as a teenager in a hunting accident and the other at the age of thirty or so.

As for David S. Terry’s professional prospects, in 1855 the laurels of high political office finally descended on his noble brow in the form of a position on the California Supreme Court. But controversy dogged his footsteps; in a tense interlude during San Francisco’s second bout of organized Vigilante activity, he lost his temper. He was not a supporter of the Vigilance Committee, which had been created by otherwise sober and law-abiding citizens in the wake of what appeared to be flagrant abuse of the law by elected and appointed authorities. Being one of those elected and appointed authorities – although personally incorruptible – Judge Terry did not approve of other parties interfering. An altercation ensued, when he and others who objected to amateurs taking the law into their own hands paid a visit on the Vigilance Committee. When a posse of Vigilance Committee members led by Sterling Hopkins attempted to arrest two members of Judge Terry’s group, Judge Terry most intemperately stabbed Hopkins in the throat with his Bowie knife. Arrested in turn himself, he must have had a nervous couple of days, waiting to hear if Sterling Hopkins’ wounds were mortal. Fortunately for both men – they were not. Alas, in coming years, Judge Terry’s temper remained as uncontrolled as ever.

The matter of slavery – whether it was to be allowed in prospective new states of the Union and under what conditions if any – roiled California every bit as deeply and violently as it did elsewhere. There, the established Democrat party in California split into pro and anti-slavery factions. Not entirely unexpectedly given his origins and background, Judge Terry was vociferously on the pro-slavery side. Given that, and his intemperate nature, he was bound to clash with the anti-slavery side, personalized by his former friend and now US Senator David C. Broderick. Inflammatory accusations were exchanged, deep offense was taken … and a formal duel agreed on by the aggrieved parties. On September 12, 1859, they met in a place which is now a city park, but which then was outside San Francisco’s city limits. Judge Terry won the coin toss, allowing him to select a set of dueling pistols … which had hair triggers. Supposedly, Senator Broderick was warned of this by the neutral party who examined the pistols – but as the two men squared off, Broderick’s pistol accidently discharged. This left Judge Terry to take his own sweet time in taking aim at Broderick.
Mortally wounded, Senator Broderick fell; he died three days later – a martyr to the anti-slavery cause. Judge Terry was charged, but acquitted. His career in public office – although not his profession as a lawyer – being pretty well trashed, in the eyes of indignant anti-slavery partisans and perhaps those who disapproved of dueling, or of a duelist taking savage and unsporting advantage of a hair-trigger misfire – remained relatively untarnished. He returned to that practice for a time, but on the outbreak of the Civil War, picked up his sometime occupation as a soldier, in which practice an affinity for dealing out sudden fatal violence was – if not more acceptable – conceded to be more generally useful.

Returning to Texas, he proceeded to join the Confederate Army – for which his older brother Benjamin had raised a swashbuckling cavalry regiment official known as the 8th Texas Cavalry, and popularly as Terry’s Texas Rangers, which served valiantly throughout the war in the west of the Appalachian theater. Benjamin Terry was killed in nearly their first skirmish, late in 1861, another Terry brother perished at Shiloh and David Terry was wounded at Chickamauga. He finished the war as a colonel, lay low for a time in Mexico, as did certain other die-hard Confederates … but in 1865, he returned to California and the practice of law as if nothing had ever happened. Time and experience appeared to have chastened him, or at least taught him to rein in the temper, for by the end of a decade after his return, he was a respected member of the California Constitutional Convention, revising the original state constitution.

And then, fate played the femme fatale card on David Terry, jurist, judge, colonel of cavalry and man of the world. He took on a client of the type usually termed as an ‘adventuress’ in the 19th century and a gold-digger in the early 20th, terms which usually hint at a degree of daring and amorality – a woman bent on playing high-stakes poker in the grand game of life. She was Sarah Althea Hill, an orphan of a respectable and prosperous family in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. In 1871, when she was twenty-one, Sarah Althea and her older brother came to San Francisco to live with relatives. Sarah, in the parlance of the time, was ‘fast’ and in the next decade, she burned through the inheritance from her parents of $20,000 dollars. (From modern calculations, this would have been anywhere from a quarter to over half a million.) Sometime around 1880, Sarah Althea made the acquaintance of a very, very rich man – William Sharon, a ‘49er, financier, silver-mine magnate, real-estate tycoon, hotelier, and for two terms, US Senator representing Nevada. He was at that time in his sixties, a widower … and as noted, filthy rich. They became attached, to which precise degree became a matter for spectacular and scandalous legal wrangling in various courts for the next five years.

Seriously, the courtroom antics would have made a spectacularly tacky real-world TV series, beginning when Sarah Althea Hall had William Sharon arrested on charges of adultery, and proceeded to sue him for divorce, demanding alimony and a generous share of his property due her as an aggrieved ex-spouse. The resulting legal wrangling enthralled the readers of tabloids across the nation. Sarah Althea insisted they had been secretly married and she had a signed contract to prove it – secrecy necessary because he was running for reelection at the time, and wished to keep it all quiet lest his other mistress hear about it and create an embarrassing scandal. William Sharon insisted, indignantly, that Sarah Althea had merely been his generously compensated mistress and any such contract alluding to a marriage between them was a forgery. After a year of bitter legal wrangling, a judge ruled in favor of Sarah Althea, declaring her to have been William Sharon’s legal wife, and to have a right to such of his wealth accumulated since their presumed marriage. Coincidentally, Cornelia Terry, David Terry’s long-suffering wife died at the same time.

The appeals and countersuits commenced immediately, continued by William Sharon’s son and son-in-law after his death a year after the judgement. Meanwhile, the presumed Mrs. Sharon married her now-widowed and very much older lawyer, and together they zestfully embarked on another round of legal hearings on whether William Sharon and Sarah Althea Hill had been truly and legally man and wife … only the next time, the circuit judge hearing the case – Associate Justice Stephen Johnson Field, of the US Supreme Court – appeared distinctly unsympathetic. Sarah Althea, in a breach of court etiquette, loudly accused Judge Field of having been “bought” by the Sharon interests in the case. A fracas ensued, with David Terry drawing his Bowie knife in her defense. Both Terrys scuffled with US marshals, were forcibly removed from the courtroom, arrested and slapped with jail sentences by Judge Field, who thereafter earned the bitter enmity of the pair. The threats against him by the Terrys were taken so seriously, that when next Judge Field ventured to California in the late summer of 1889, he was accompanied by a US marshal as his dedicated body-guard.
Whether it was coincidental or not, Judge Field and his body-guard, David Neagle, were traveling from Los Angeles to San Francisco train, on August 14th, 1889. Coincidentally, the Terrys had also boarded that train, somewhere along the way. When the train stopped for breakfast at the station restaurant in Lathrop (a town a little south of Stockton), the Terrys discovered the presence of the judge … although perhaps not his bodyguard; a fatal omission, considering subsequent events. But given the hot and irrational tempers displayed throughout the lives of both David Terry and Sarah Althea, this was absolutely guaranteed not to end well or without bloodshed. David Terry approached Judge Field, peacefully eating breakfast, and without warning, slapped him across the face.

Marshal Neagle – who had previously been a town marshal and deputy sheriff in the rowdy municipality of Tombstone, Arizona, during it’s the wildest and most wooly stage – leapt to his feet and drew his own weapon as David Terry reached inside his own coat. Marshal Neagle shot David Terry twice – dropping the former judge dead in the middle of the railroad restaurant. So ended the life of a man who otherwise might have been better known for nobler things – save that he had a wicked and impulsive temper, and fell for a woman who had even more problems with violence and impulse-control than his own.

The post-script? There was a resulting US Supreme Court case, which decided that yes, the Attorney Genera of the US did have the authority to appoint US Marshals as bodyguards to Supreme Court Justices. Sarah Althea Hill (Sharon) Terry – who it might be inferred – had substantial mental health issues, was eventually confined to an institution, where she died of natural causes some forty years later. She was buried in the Terry family plot, in a cemetery in Stockton, California. A granddaughter of David S. Terry came forward and approved, at the time of her death.

24. November 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic, Local

This last weekend, I overheard two of the volunteers at the New Braunfels Weihnachtsmarkt commiserating on how the last two months of the year seem to go on rocket-powered skates. For them, the last two months of the year are spent sequentially at Wurstfest, early in November; at Weihnachtsmarkt in mid-November; Thanksgiving, which slaughters the last of the month, along with Christmas shopping in other venues firing up with a roar, then Christmas… This demolishes pretty much all of December, until one emerges in the New Year, exhausted, partied-out, gifted-out, volunteered-out, and with one’s checking account sobbing for mercy.

Fellow Texas indy author CM Bratton setting up in New Braunfels.

Fellow Texas indy author CM Bratton setting up in New Braunfels.

This is pretty much what Blondie and I will be doing, in support of my books and her origami and beading – and origami-plus-beading art – although we will have a short break over this week’s Thanksgiving break. This we will spend, sorting out the fence between ourselves and our neighbor to the immediate south, as the fence posts along that property line have disintegrated to the point where there is actually no connection at about soil-level between the concrete and the posts which supposedly uphold the fence. This is the stretch of fence that I replaced myself in about 2002 or 2003, over the Thanksgiving weekend, since the bulk trash pick-up in my fair city was conveniently scheduled for the week following …

Where was I? Oh, yes – the schedule and last weekend … they had decorated the hall through the Convention Center with seasonal arches, all lighted and seasonally adorned, and moved the Santa venue to one of the conference rooms adjacent to where I thought would be prime spot to have a table … alas, it would have only worked for someone having strictly children’s books of the ‘large picture and simple word’ style … although I did sell a set of Quivera Trail/Steel Roads to the energetically costumed couple who were doing St. Nicholas and Mrs. St. Nicholas for the entire weekend. I did OK with my books over the two days, but not so thick a traffic with the new releases as we had hoped. A number of sets of The Adelsverein Trilogy – which practically sold us out … but not so many of the new books as we had hoped, based on previous years. Blondie speculates that perhaps we have tapped-out the market in New Braunfels for a while.

So – on to the next events; Goliad with Christmas on the Square – which I love purely because that event is so small-town local. I’ve been coming back to it and back to it again; it’s a goodish drive, and on that one year that it was murderously cold, I didn’t sell a single book – but still. Much of the inspiration for Chronicles of Luna City came from stories that we heard there, or things we saw – like the lovely classic courthouse square. That will be Saturday, December 5th. Then, the following Sunday afternoon, it’s Chocolate and Santa at La Escondida Celebration Center in Helotes. The weekend after that – the 19th and 20th, back to Boerne Town Square for the Cowboy Christmas Market … and then we likely will collapse for the rest of the year, completely exhausted.

But then … I have to get cracking on finishing The Golden Road – the adventures of a wide-eyed teenaged Fredi Steinmetz in California during the gold rush. And more stories for another collection of Lone Star Sons, and yet more for Luna City.

Add me to a relatively short list of people on social media who are not making any particular gesture of sympathy and solidarity with the people of France who have been whammed for the second time in a year by the bloody-minded foot-soldiers of Islam. It’s not that I don’t care, and that I don’t feel the least shred of human sympathy for those people who went out for a drink and a good meal at a popular restaurant, a raucous rock concert, a soccer game, and then had their lives changed forever – if not ended entirely. It’s just that at this particular point in time, I am a bit tired of making easy feel-good, symbolic gestures about Islamic terrorism. Once you’ve made them … then, what for a follow-up?

I’ve so been to this rodeo before. 9-11. Beslan. The train bombings in Madrid. The bus bombings in London. The slaughter in the streets of Mumbai, and at the Boston Marathon finishing line. Westgate Mall. The murder of staff members of Charlie Hebdo, and the Jewish supermarket in Paris. Intifada without end in Israel. Und so weiter. I won’t even start on the list of bombings and slaughters across the Middle East; merely observe in passing that in those circumstances the usual Muslim suspects are slaughtering each other, rather than doing the business to outsiders.

The only thing more inevitable than the candle-light vigils, the moments of silence and the mounds of flowers piled up at the sites are the lamentations from the Muslim communities about the never-yet materialized anti-Muslim backlash. There comes a point where one gets tired of it all, of doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results. There is a lack of seriousness about the problem of deliberate Islamic aggression in Western countries; an unwillingness to defend those values we have developed – sometimes painfully – over a long time; values such as freedom of speech and intellectual inquiry, a separation between the state and religion, a rule of law and not of the mob – one law, applied equally across class, race and sexual divides – and an unfettered press. This lack of serious intent is perhaps more marked in Western Europe, as it appears from various sources. The various no-go areas common to French metropolitan areas are not so firmly established in the US yet, and the mass sexual trafficking of vulnerable young women by Muslim men so recently demonstrated in places like Rotherham, England appears to have been landed on like a ton of bricks by civil authorities in the US. We are not – yet – being swamped by thousands of Middle Eastern faux-refugees arriving daily, as is happening in Germany.

But Beslan, Mumbai, Westgate, Charlie Hebdo … it will happen here, and probably sooner than later. Not all the candle-light vigils, moments of silence, and sorrowful hashtags and logos will prevent it. Only determination on the part of individuals and our leaders to do the difficult, the harsh and the necessary will do that.

This was a lovely and profitable Saturday in Bulverde, where we had a table (actually a pair of tables facing in opposite directions in the center of one of the exhibit halls in the Community Center) for the first event on our season of book and craft market events. This is the first on our schedule for this season, which will see us on most weekends until Christmas. Last year at this event was … eh, not very promising at all, but this time around – yes. My daughter had a nice round of sales for her origami-based and bead-weaving based adornments, which she had at a fairly reasonable and appealing price.

The sad thing was – we went up to Bulverde late Saturday afternoon to set up, since her stock in trade is kind of finicky to put on display, we spent a while at it – and returned home and to internet access to hear all about the Moslem terrorist strikes in Paris. Yes, I said it – Moslem Terrorists. Terrorists – deal with it. In the 1980s, I lived with the possibilities of anti-American terrorism in Greece – around the corner always; assassinations, explosions, sudden random gunfire, sabotage and all that. These are on the schedule to be happening here, apparently, if the loonies of ISIS/ISIL are to be believed. Whether they can pull off something like that here in Texas … well, it didn’t end at all well for the pair of Moslem loonies who tried to shoot up the Draw Mohammed contest in Garland. They didn’t make it past security at the pull-in for the parking lot. Never assume that you will out-gun the locals at an art show in Texas.

The show itself proved to be a pretty good day for us both; I suspect that my daughter has now shown up at enough of these local shows to attract repeat attention. Her origami earrings and beaded bracelets are original, and rather reasonably priced … a perfect, inexpensive, original and charming gift, something that a teenager can afford to purchase with pocket money. This was also my first outing with print copies of Sunset and Steel Rails, which went also very well. So did Quivera Trail, saleswise. Here is hoping that this particular event is a good omen for the next few. We have added an event the second weekend in December in Helotes, which will be a new one for both of us. Next Friday and Saturday, I’ll be bringing more copies of Sunset & Steel Rails, and the first shipment of Chronicles of Luna City to the New Braunfels Convention Center – so, hope to see you there.

(This is another short essay about the mostly mythical South Texas town of Luna City … which Blondie and I have created together. We have a website for Luna City — here, and the first book about it is upon Amazon, here. Official release date is November 12. This is my tenth book in ten years. Yay, me! And WHERE has the time gone?)

Luna City is well-equipped with military veterans, as are many small towns in fly-over country – especially the old South. The draft is only somewhat responsible for this. After all, it was ended formally more than four decades past. But the habit and tradition of volunteering for military service continues down to this very day, with the result that veterans of various services and eras are thick on the ground in Luna City – while a good few continue as reservists. There are not very many pensioned retirees, though; Clovis Walcott is one of those few, having made a solid career in the Army in the Corps of Engineers, and then in the same capacity as a Reservist. But he is the exception; mostly, Lunaites have served a single hitch, or for the duration of a wartime mobilization. They come home, pick up those threads of the life they put aside, or weave together the tapestry of a new one. What they did when they were in the military most usually lies lightly on them, sometimes only as skin-deep as a tattoo … and sometimes as deep as a scar.
The oldest veterans among present-day Lunaites are from the Big One – World War Two, although that number has diminished to a handful in recent years. Doc Wyler, who served in the Army Air Corps is the most notable representative of that cohort. Miss Letty’s late brother Douglas McAllister, the eminent historian, was also in the Army Air Corps, and Miss Letty herself served in the European theater as a Red Cross volunteer. The greater portion of the Luna City VFW post, though, are of Vietnam and Vietnam-era veterans, with a younger cohort – including Joe Vaughn and Chris Mayall – having served in various capacities in more recent operations in the Middle East.
There is not much need in Luna City for very elaborate observances of Veteran’s Day; flowers and wreaths appear on the steps of the pale obelisk in Town Square which is the war memorial. The Abernathys’ display window has a pair of American flags with the staffs crossed, over a large vase of red, white, and blue artificial flowers, and a fan of those magnets shaped like loops of yellow ribbon with various patriotic and veteran-supporting mottoes on them. The notice boards outside of the various churches make respectful note of the day … but in the main, the most notable civic event marking the eleventh day of the eleventh month is the late afternoon BBQ at the VFW post. This is more of an open pot-luck; the VFW members pass the hat for the purchase of brisket, pork roasts, sausages and chicken quarters … and everyone else brings salads, bread, chips, and relishes. The bar has been well-stocked with beer and soft drinks for weeks. The weather is usually mild – neither hot or cold, although rain has threatened in some years – so the party spills out from the clubhouse, out onto the paved patio under the trees which line the riverbank. The air is rich with the good smells of roasting meats slathered with the spicy sauce provided by Pryor’s Good Meats BBQ. The veterans and their families nibble on a bit of this and that, as they reminisce and gossip. Sometimes someone works up an impromptu flag football game, played on the mown grass out in back of the Tip Top which sometimes serves as an overflow parking lot during Founder’s Day, six weeks before.
The only thing which might strike a casual visitor as curious is that table set up in the corner with a plate and silverware for one, a beer mug empty and turned upside down, even as unopened bottles of beer accumulate during the afternoon and evening. There is a small square of black fabric draping this table, which is centered underneath the POW/MIA banner which hangs on the wall – the table set for those who are not able to return to Luna City for the Veteran’s Day BBQ at the VFW. Their friends buy them a beer, though. By unspoken understanding, the money paid for those beers goes into a gallon glass jar which once contained pickle relish … and at the end of the evening the cans and bottles lined up on the black-draped table are put back into the storeroom. The day after the BBQ, the money in the pickle relish jar is forwarded to a military charity which sends comforts to those troops deployed overseas.
And that is Veteran’s Day in Luna City.

08. November 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, Memoir, My Head Hurts, Rant · Tags:

… when I used to be a feminist, and proud to think of myself as such. This was back at the time that I was a teenager, and being a feminist meant you earnestly believed that women ought to have the same opportunities for education, professional advancement, credit for personal and business purposes, and perhaps to be seen by a female ob-gyn, and generally have a wider range of choices when it came to what you wanted to do with your life. Even then the bra-burning drama and other minor theatrics seemed kind of pointless. Back in the day, as now, bras were expensive … and unless one had prepubescent-sized breasts, it was uncomfortable to go without!

Seriously – when I was a teenager and looking at my prospective life, – the feminism of that day appeared to be about having interesting and fulfilling alternatives in life. Believe me, Granny Dodie was shoving me energetically in the traditional direction of inevitable marriage to some nice guy I met in college or *shudder* high school, since she and her contemporaries had bragging rights over the quantity and accomplishments of their respective great-grandchildren and she and Grandpa Alf weren’t getting any younger, and the little girl across the street whom I used to play with when I came to visit them, why she got married at 18 and had a baby already! It was the lockstep nature of it all, that put me off, more than anything. Because I wanted some adventure, first.

There were only a couple of respectably acceptable professional options, unless one was totally driven, unusually talented, and single-minded, to boot. There was being a nurse: Guh! I hated scrubbing the bathroom, the sight and smell of vomit made me heave … seriously, I think I learned what I did then about nursing was all from reading Cherry Ames, Student Nurse, and I most definitely didn’t want any part of that. Then there was being an elementary school teacher; nope, I knew that I definitely did not have the patience – or the toleration for idiocy that was required even then, in those college programs dedicated to turning out education majors. Secretary … no, no, a thousand times no. (Although I did eventually put in a few years as an ‘admin assistant, which is what they now call what used to be an executive secretary.) I could type fairly well, but learning Gregg shorthand? Might as well learn Morse code and be done with it. There was also the glamorous occupation of being a stewardess … but I had as much affinity for glamor as I did for vomit.

So – the feminism of the 1960s and 1970s opened up a whole new and gloriously adventurous choice of professional occupations to us, and ones in which a woman would not just be the only one, or the only one of two or three in any particular profession, or class, or office. When I first went to military journalism/broadcaster school, there were three women in my class of about forty. By the time I departed the military, I had been told that the journalism/broadcaster courses were running about fifty-fifty. Quite a good few of the women I knew in my first hitch were the first, or maybe the second women in their various military specialties, since all but a handful of the most direct combat related fields had been opened up to anyone – male or female – who could meet the physical requirements and score high enough on the ASVAB to qualify. It was a great time to be a feminist; the big battles for acceptance, for educational and economic quality had been fought and won, and women of my age could enjoy the fruits of victory.

And then feminism … or those females wholly identifying themselves as professional feminist activists developed a serious case of boredom, or maybe shriveled, bitter little man-hating and resentful souls, perhaps upon discovering that all the big fights had been won already – and in some cases, won quite a while ago. The so-called feminist intellectuals discovered that busy women, reveling in those new opportunities, those new-to-them professions, or perhaps even just reveling in being able to choose freely to be wives and mothers … didn’t always toe the line of acceptable feminist thought. I began to note – yes, I did subscribe to MS Magazine – that the editorial voice, and that of the contributing writers was increasingly snotty, exclusive and doctrinaire … it was as if you weren’t really a feminist in good standing unless you were a vegetarian, single-mother, a liberal, employed in the academic world, and for extra points, a lesbian of some color or other. For me, this reached an absolute nadir with the rubbishing of Sarah Palin by the establishment feminists; a woman who combined a successful marriage, active in her husband’s business, and launched a political career starting locally and moving up to the level of state governor without being the spouse or spawn of an establishment politician was just not a good feminist for the professional activists – whose snobbery was nearly as vicious as their calculated scorn? That was about the final straw for me.

And now, we have the current crop of pathetic professional feminists; whining about guys looking at them, clumsily trying to flirt with them, making mildly risqué jokes between themselves, or wearing shirts with pictures of classic science fiction babes with blasters on it, complaining about near-to-invisible micro-aggressions, re-defining bad and later-regretted sex as rape, and about how a Catholic University not funding birth control is just the most unjust thing evah! Put a fork into current feminism, it’s done already.
Seriously, sometimes reading the latest blatherings of what the special feminist snowflakes complain about is to wonder if they don’t really want to go straight back to some neo-Victorian sheltered bubble, where their sensibilities are as delicate as blown-glass Christmas ornaments, and there is never a harsh word spoken. Those 19th and early 20th century women who campaigned for women’s rights are probably revolving in their graves so rapidly that you could generate electricity from them at the antics of these whining, passive-aggressive and vindictive spoiled children.

My two books for the year are done – both the historical adventure, and the contemporary romp. (Two in the space of a year? Haven’t come close to that since the Adelsverein Trilogy, which was three separate books – but one single narrative – done in the space of two years, research, writing and all.) Now comes the hard graft of putting the two out in front of the reading public, via the usual internet publicity methods, and in doing Christmas market events in various small towns, and somewhat larger towns in the neighborhood of San Antonio.

Yes – writing the book is just half the job. The other half is the marketing thereof – which starts next weekend with a craft fair at the Community Activity Center in Bulverde, Texas, followed on the next weekend with the Christmas market – Weihnachtsmarkt – in New Braunfels. Weihnachtsmarkt is staged in the New Braunfels Civic Center every year as a benefit for the Sophienburg Museum and Archives. A good few years ago, they began setting up for local authors in the long hallway which leads from front to back of the Conference Center. And it’s indoors, and the tables are supplied … although, my daughter has been saying lately that if I write any more books, I will have to start getting two tables … or even buy a floor stand to display the books, and flyers and postcards about my books on. With Sunset and Steel Rails and The Chronicles of Luna City, and that doesn’t even count the German edition of Adelsverein: The Gathering, the hard-bound all-in-one volume of the Trilogy, or that first harmless little family memoir, assembled from early blog-posts and published through Booklocker in …(hastily checking copyright page of Our Grandpa Was an Alien) … 2004? Wow! Time does fly when you are having fun.

Ten books in ten years. That’s the same rate achieved by some of the professionals, although there were scribblers of pulp fiction who managed even more than that. Still, at this point in the game, every one of my books – even the YA adventure collection of Lone Star Sons, and the comic narrative set in contemporary small-town Texas – is an advertisement for all the others, historical fiction-romance-western, call them what you well.

And with that – off to work up promotional flyers for the market events. The work, as it says on those comic office signs, isn’t over until the paperwork is done …

I know that I have not been posting much lately – here or anywhere else lately; just the bare minimum of commenting on other people’s posts and other people’s blogs and websites, but I had a couple of projects for the Tiny Publishing Bidness to work on, and then the two major projects to finish, format and upload to various platforms. Yes, I decided to go all-out and finish two books in time for the Christmas marketing season this year. Amazingly, neither one was the one that I had declared at the beginning of the year that I would have all done and ready to launch by this time  … yes, the adventures of young Fredi Steinmetz in Gold Rush-era California is rolled back another year. Sigh. I still have to do an epic-truck-load of reading of contemporary accounts and skull out a plot sufficient and historically-accurate to fill the last half of the book; which so far in my head will include a stint in San Francisco the year of the epically well-organized Vigilante organization, encounters with various historic personages, to include William T. Sherman, Lotta Crabtree and her formidable mother, some murderous claim-jumpers and a young woman seeking justice – while disguised as a boy. So, yes I will get on to that presently. After all The Quivera Trail was held at a third completed while I worked on Daughter of Texas and Deep in the Heart, and it didn’t seem to do any harm in the long-run.

So – the Harvey Girl adventure, Sunset and Steel Rails is done and ready for release on the 19th, in print and in Kindle. Amazon is dragging their feet apparently, in expediting the ‘Look-Inside’ feature. It isn’t up at present, but it should be in the next couple of days. Not bad, for something that I only got inspired to start in February of this year.  But The Chronicles of Luna City is a light and amusing present-day trifle which my daughter and I only got started on at the end of July – and here it is November, and that book is done and nearly finalized as well.  Three months, and just 70,000 words (but with pictures!) which is short for me, as most of the other books run 125,000 and up. (Although Lone Star Sons pegged in at 65,000.) There was one of the professional pulp adventure fiction writers – whose name escapes me at the moment – who was said to have done a book a month at one point in his career. Don’t know what the total word count was on any of them, but he must have worked in a white-hot blaze of energy … and Luna City is a light and diverting trifle, requiring very little research. Well, except for looking up restaurant equipment, and the names of obscure British TV series of the 1980s, and making certain that there aren’t any real companies with the same names of companies that I have mentioned in Luna City. Movie production companies really go for the obscure, I have to say. Had to nix six or seven possible names because there is a real production company out in the world with the name of something I thought would work for a movie production company. Luna City is pure contemporary escapism, utterly devoid of any redeeming social value in the eyes of the established guardians of our high literary culture … which I believe a lot of us have a need of these days, given how particularly screwed up, violent, and depressing real life seems to be, lately. (Oh, Established Guardians of our High Literary Culture? Yoo-hoo … over here! Now, gaze lovingly upon my upraised middle finger!)

So, light blogging will commence, now that all the hard labor of writing, editing, formatting and polishing have been done. Did you miss me?

Berthold Brecht’s bitterly satiric poem “The Solution” has now and again been quoted here, usually in regard to some towering idiocy on the part of a government given to complaining about a lack of support among citizens for some particular national objective. Note that I specified citizens in the once-commonly-accepted American sense, and not the citizens-as-subjects in the European sense, which seems to imply that the ordinary people of a particular nation are there merely to serve as a kind of sheep to be sheared economically, or as metaphorical cannon-fodder to be marshaled up and flung to the front of whatever national objective that the national ruling class has ruled must be the focus of the effort of the moment.

After the uprising of the 17th of June
The Secretary of the Writers’ Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

Nasty old Commie that he was, he did have a way with words. The irony in this is so thick that I am surprised that it hasn’t coagulated, and dropped all the way through to the center of the earth. And it is only ironic – again – that Germany’s ruling class (analogous to our very own unholy alliance among elected politicians, the bureaucracy, the intellectual and media elite) appear to have decided to take the opportunity of unrest in the Middle East, to dissolve the people and elect another, welcoming them in with balloons, banners and stuffed toys.

Yep, opening the doors to any refugee with the energy and wherewithal to flood into Germany, that will likely end well. Note that only a few of them appear to be genuine refugees from the Syrian civil war. Note to, in contrast to the pictures of innocent, doe-eyed children and their mothers plastered across the main-stream media outlets, those pictures of the refugees in mass appear to consist largely of men. Young men of military-service age, pretty fit-looking, and nicely dressed, at that. I can’t pretend to know what Angela Merkel was thinking when she opened the floodgates and seemingly expected ordinary Germans to cooperate when her government seems to favor the newcomers at the expense of ordinary citizens … evicting long-time residents from rental apartments so that refugees can be parked there? Coopting school-children as volunteers to help feed and clean up after refugees in railway stations and refugee centers? Demanding that ordinary Germans – whose devotion to order, cleanliness and quiet is legendary – stand by and submit while public spaces are trashed, and women are sexually-harassed or worse? And never mind the almost certain possibility that ISIS/ISIL terrorists have slipped into Europe along with the refugees.

No, this will not end well, especially as the ordinary German citizens, (and British, French, Danish, Dutch, Italian and Swedish, just to name a few) begin to feel the bite of having been dissolved by their ruling classes in favor of economic and political refugees from the Middle East. The Camp of the Saints may be the best-case scenario – the worst would be Caliphate. Discuss.

18. October 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: General

I had it in mind this weekend to go out to a local event that I was always very fond of, especially when I was trekking out to the Medical Center area every Saturday for a shift at San Antonio’s public radio station. (Yeah, they got a new manager some years ago, and fired all the local part-timers – but eh … at the time I was getting rather tired of being locked into a schedule which pretty much put a kibosh on doing anything much on a Saturday … and anyway. Never mind. Old story.)
The local event that I was fond of was a fall herb market, held under the oak trees and in the pavilion at Aggie Park, at West and 410. Loved it, once I discovered it almost accidentally – and budgeted money to spend at it, for there were venders galore; local farms selling a dazzling array of potted herbs – in every format from seeds, through 2-inch pots, to arrangements in bigger pots, to small trees. I got the bay tree which adorns the front yard (and is about twenty feet tall now) at the herb market, when it was a mere tadpole of a bay sprout in a very small pot, also the indestructible Key lime sapling in a 2-gallon pot which was carefully inserted into the back of the VEV with the aid of one of the volunteers detailed to assist shoppers – hey, that sucker has thorns ALL OVER IT! I set aside money in the household budget to pay for indulging myself at the Herb Fair, usually counted on blowing at least $25, sometimes more if circumstances permitted.

One of the historic buildings at the Pearl

One of the historic buildings at the Pearl

There were a multiplicity of venders at Aggie Park then, with live potted seedling-plants of just about everything herbal and legal you could grow in a garden in Texas at very reasonable prices, plus dozens more selling stuff made from those herbs; soaps, and potpourri, candles and room-spray, and at least one vendor selling wrought-iron baskets, garden ornaments and stands.
And a few years ago, they moved the venue to the grounds of the Pearl Brewery, where it happened in conjunction with the weekly farmer’s market. Well, OK then – the lawns and shade under the oak trees at Aggie Park, swapped for a bare parking lot in front of the Whole Goods building. Many of the same familiar vendors appeared in the new venue … so when I heard an announcement that the Herb Market was this weekend, I had no expectation of much having changed on schlepping down to the Pearl complex, looking for a wide array of small pots of herbs, just the sort to cherish over the next expected winter.
But it had. It’s nice that the Pearl complex has thrived, extended, and there are even more tall apartment buildings going up. My ranch real estate friend tipped me the word a couple of years ago that
Dogs and diners in the park at the Pearl

Dogs and diners in the park at the Pearl

the development around the Pearl and the Museum Reach of the Riverwalk was a gamble at least as much as a labor of love … and apparently it is paying off. It’s a very pleasant urban space; pedestrian streets and squares, a salting of historic brewery buildings with the very modern; all kinds of upscale shops on the ground floor with apartments and lofts on the upper. It’s all very European – and on Saturdays when the farmers’ market is in full swing, very crowded. There is a campus of the Culinary Institute of America in one of the buildings, and some other coffee shops, and small restaurants, and it looked like a lot of the booths at the market were providing food. Quite a few people were eating at tables and benches in various park-like squares; lots of children in strollers and dogs on leashes … we took Nemo with us, and he being the friendly little terrier-mutt that he is – he had a grand and exhausting time, meeting new dog friends.

But as for vendors of herbs and garden stuff … there was almost nothing; if I hadn’t known about the event, I would have just thought it was just part of the regular farmer’s market. There was only one vendor that had a selection of herbs in 2-inch pots that interested me, and they didn’t process credit cards. So disappointing, as I would have spent twenty or thirty bucks at least. Compared to previous years – especially when still at Aggie Park – it was a pitiful showing. I wound up not buying anything at all, except a pound of fresh mushrooms from one of the regular vendors. We wondered if perhaps the table fees for vendors had increased to the point where it wasn’t worth the trouble. Perhaps the drought a couple of years ago which caused the closing of the local Antique Rose Emporium outlet affected other plant nurseries as well.

A society as huge and complex as the United States can run economically only on the basis of acceptance and trust. This has been true for so long it is no longer noticed, like the air. People accept the rules and generally follow them whether or not there is a policeman in attendance. …. All over the the land people go about their business secure that arrangements will be honored and carried out. A high-trust society is a low-cost society.

Wretchard, at the Belmont Club

Of all that has changed over the last decade in the general culture of the United States, I wonder if a widespread loss of trust in the political, media, intellectual and bureaucratic establishments is the most quietly catastrophic of all the damage done to our society of late. It is axiomatic that once trust in an individual, a friend or a spouse is lost, it can almost never be regained; one of those things which is easily, almost casually done, never to be completely repaired. I suspect that we will discover over the next few decades that the thinking and observing portion of our society will never regain that unthinking trust in our institutions, now that we have seen them become weaponized in open and politically partisan ways. We have observed the national news media become politically partisan, more intent on hiding matters of significance than informing the public about them. What doesn’t appear above the fold, so to speak, or even in the back pages is sometimes more revealing. And the hate for ordinary American citizens in flyover country, frequently expressed by those residents of the wealthy bicoastal enclaves has been mind-boggling. There are personalities who have been so casually offensive in this regard that I have made it a point to avoid patronizing with my pocketbook anything that they have had anything to do with. I suspect that I am not alone in this – it’s another element of that ‘cold anger’ that I wrote about some days ago. How has it come to be that the so-called ruling elite of a nation now appear to hold their fellow-citizens in such deep contempt? (This contempt has begun to be returned with interest of late, although the ruling elites are predictably mystified by such quiet demonstrations as in the Chick-Fil-A appreciation day, the failure of certain lavishly promoted moves and TV shows, and heavily attended Tea Party rallies of a few years ago.)

My daughter has been watching old television series, on streaming video as she worked on various artistic projects for the upcoming Christmas bazaar season. This week’s choice was McGyver; over walking the doggles one morning she commented that two things about the show slightly boggled her mind; that the character didn’t have the internet (she kept thinking ‘Why didn’t he just google … oh. Never mind’) but the most striking feature was that government agencies like the EPA were seen as as benign, even competent and worthwhile. I did explain to her, how it used to be – how the EPA once did good work, or at least in the eyes of the general public, used to do good work. Other governmental agencies also used to be seen as the good guys … but not any more. Interfering, partisan, abusive busybodies, without much of a mission left, but more passionate and bullying in wielding authority of the crushing sort. When federal regulatory agencies established in-house SWAT teams on their table of organization marked the change from benign to malign.

One of the points that Wretchard makes in the essay linked above is that the low-trust state is fearfully inefficient, frequently corrupt and usually poor; energy that might be turned towards innovation, creation, building – is instead wasted, when a proportion of its’ subjects become enforcers, tirelessly surveilling, documenting, prosecuting and punishing the rest – who as a result spend their own creative energies into twisting, turning, evading and escaping that control. When nothing larger than a toy train layout in the basement can be done without a bribe or the influence of someone within the governing system, innovations and businesses are held down to being marginal, or illicit, and usually both. The nation keeps two sets of books, essentially; the official set and the black market set. Progress dies, strangled at birth, so to speak. Nothing moves, unless the State allows – because unapproved change will upset the comfortable establishment; that just can’t be permitted.

Obama is the man who promised that “…we are going to fundamentally transform America.” That certainly seems to have been accomplished. We still have some space for ourselves, of course. The shelves in the grocery store are still full, gas in Texas is at and around $2.00, Christmas and the local bazaar events are around the corner, our hens are laying, and the pantry is full, so there is cause for optimism.
But not much. Discuss.

(Crossposted at www.chicagoboyz.net)

07. October 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Eat, Drink and be Merry

So, leafing – metaphorically speaking – through the video delights on offer through the Acorn video catalogue in search of something amusing to while away the evening after a day’s labor on various book projects, the most pressing of which is not my own, but a paid client – we came upon a two-part version from about ten years ago of Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honor trilogy. I suggested that we watch it, since I had a bout of Waugh fever about the time that I was in college upper division, in hot pursuit of that relatively useless degree in English. (But I enjoyed the pursuit very much on its own merits, not being one of those one-percenters with delusions of the diploma leading me author-matically into an lavishly paid gig anywhere in the academic or in the publishing establishment.)

Anyway, I had read a good few of Waugh’s books early on; liked Scoop – as vicious an evisceration of Big Media as it was in the 1930s as was ever set to page – and the first book of the Sword of Honor Trilogy, as a similarly bitterly cynical romp through the first years of WWII. The training year, the ‘Phony War’ year … when nothing much (aside from Nazi Germany overrunning Poland, the Low Countries, Norway and Denmark, and France) was happening. And then it all turned deadly serious, with which Waugh just didn’t seem able to cope. The seriousness of it all, I mean. Literary and serious observers, looking through their lorgnettes at current events sometimes have this difficulty, I know. Poor P. G. Woodhouse also had the same trouble, regarding WWII, even as it caught him up in its ghastly coils. I surmise that dear old P. G. dealt with it by moving to America and never dealing with it at all, within the frame of his books; probably a wise literary decision, since he had the formula down pat, so to speak.

We watched the whole two-part distillation of the Trilogy – enjoying the scenic views of Daniel Craig no end – but the miniseries kind of left us cold. I suspect that re-reading the Trilogy entire would also leave us rather cold. Apparently in the purview of the Great and Good English Literature Establishment, The Trilogy is held to be one of the Majorly Significant Novels dealing with WWII … to which I blow a large raspberry. (That all you got, English Literary Establishment? Really…) Yes, Evelyn Waugh was a magnificent prose stylist, and his satiric novels in the 1930s are bitchy and hilarious, Return to Brideshead is elegiac and heartbreaking … but the Sword of Honor Trilogy is a very odd fish. The first volume was true to the bitchy and satiric form; frankly, I found it very funny because … well, it was to do with the weirdness of the military. Of any age and country, really; a sort of inside black humor, best appreciated by those who have lived through and endured. (G. M. Fraser’s McAuslan cycle is a wonderful example of this, only not burdened by the weight of being A Majorly Significant Novel, so it can be appreciated for its own merits. What a lovely miniseries the McAuslan cycle would make – I can’t imagine why it has been overlooked in this respect… anyway, back to the subject…)

The rest of the TV version – and take into consideration the fact that I am trying to recall the source novels that I read a lifetime ago – rather fell flat for both of us. We agreed that Waugh couldn’t really write women – although he did have the manipulative bitch subset of the species down cold. It was just rather depressing that just about all the various characters which the hero character tried to help in some way came to rather awful ends. Perhaps that was the inclination of the screenwriters; but really – the message is that it’s useless and futile to be a decent person and do the right thing? How nihilistic is that?

I wonder also if trying to write a novel about current events isn’t rather a trap for the writer; in retrospect it certainly seemed so for Waugh; the Holocaust together with the Communist aggression in Eastern Europe were just too horrific for a satirist to manage within the scope of a serio-comic novel.

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

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

10. September 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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