I had an appointment with my primary care health provider at the dot of 9 AM Wednesday morning, down at the primary care clinic at Fort Sam Houston. Some years and months ago, they moved that function from the mountainous brick pile that is the Brooke Army Medical Center, into a free-standing clinic facility on Fort Sam Houston itself. I would guess, in the manner of things, that this clinic facility will undergo some kind of mitosis in about ten years, and split into another several facilities … but in the meantime, this is where I get seen for my routine medical issues … mainly high blood pressure. So; minor, mostly – immediately after retiring, I went for years without ever laying eyes on my so-called primary care provider. A good few of them came and went without ever laying eyes or a stethoscope on me, as well. But this last-but-one moved on, just at the point where he and I recognized each other by sight and remembered each other from one yearly appointment to the next. But once yearly, I must go in and see my care provider, and get the prescriptions renewed, and Wednesday was the day …

Fort Sam Houston – what to say about that place? Historically, it was the new and shiny and built-to-purpose military establishment after the presidio of the Alamo became too cramped, run-down and overwhelmed by the urban sprawl of San Antonio in the late 1870s. I have read in several places, that if the place is ever de-accessioned and turned back to civil authority as the Presidio in San Francisco was, that the inventory of city-owned historic buildings in San Antonio would instantly double. Yes – San Antonio is and was that important. It was the US Army HQ for the Southwest from the time that Texas became a state, the main supply hub for all those forts scattered across New Mexico Territory (which was most of the Southwest, after the war with Mexico), the home of the commander and admin staff for that administrative area. Every notable Army officer from both world wars put in serious time at Fort Sam during their formative military years, and the very first aircraft bought by the Army Signal Corps did demo flights from the parade ground. (I put a description of this in the final chapter of The Quivera Trail.)

But Wednesday morning, I was interested to know if the clinic administration had changed out the pictures of the personnel in the chain of command yet. (Military custom – someplace in the foyer of many units are a set of pictures; President, SecDef, and so on, down to the unit commander and the First Shirt. Part of the materiel which has to be learned in basic training are the names of the various authorities on it. The pictures are for the edification of those of lowly rank who often go for years without ever seeing the higher-ups of their chain of command in person. I went for a year once, without ever seeing my squadron commander, although I think I might have spoken to him on the phone once.) Anyhow, there was a link going around among some of the mil- and veteran blogs to the effect that a number of units had not yet received their official photographs of President Trump and General Mattis – and had filled in with print-outs of some of the more viral meme-portraits of them: President Trump standing on a tank, rolling through a battlefield, and Saint Mattis of Quantico, patron saint of Chaos with the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch in one hand. I was looking forward in any case to seeing the new pictures, and yes, they did have the new one of President Trump on the wall, but only a sign with the name on it where General Mattis’ picture should be. Ah well – the Army is notoriously humorless and Fort Sam/BAMC is the showplace of Army medicine, but as I walked past the display, I started thinking about how bizarre it all was. I think I first read about Donald Trump in the Village Voice, in the mid-1980s, or perhaps in some other publications in the late 1980s when he and Marla Maples were huuuge tabloid and gossip-column fodder: an almost richer-than-god and bigger than-life real estate developer, flamboyant, combative, crude, even – a hound for publicity even more than for pussy.

And now he is the commander in chief. It’s been like seeing Paris Hilton, or (god save us) one of the Kardashians with a heretofore unheard of skill set, suddenly developing political ambitions, going for it … and getting there. Who on earth would have foreseen that, twenty-five years ago? It’s weirder than anything made up by an author of political novels.
Discuss.

That is – one more holiday market to go, and then we can put up our feet and enjoy Christmas … well, save for perhaps regretting that we didn’t have time enough to hang out lights and ornaments on the bay tree for the amusement and edification of our neighbors. But on the other hand, we did get the Christmas fudge all done and distributed, save for the batch of Brandy Alexander which never solidified as it should have done … well, there’s always one batch that doesn’t go quite as satisfactorily as it should have, but with eight different kinds, it’s not that anyone would mind or even notice.

Blanco was cold and miserable; in the forties all day, with a sullen drizzle threatening in late afternoon. Still, there were people shopping, and we did pretty well, considering – but would have done better if the weather had been as pleasant as it was in Johnson City two weeks ago. But still – the cold! And this time we were in the pink pavilion, on grass, instead of in a place with a roof on three solid walls. I had long winter underwear on, and the brown woolen Edwardian suit, with gloves and a scarf, but my feet were near to freezing in thin leather lace-up boots. My daughter had a lovely insulated pair of winter boots, so her feet were fine, but the rest of her was miserably cold. Note to self – another pair of long winter underwear, and one of those little portable heaters that run on a propane gas bottle. The weather is expected to be milder for next weekend for the Cowboy Christmas Market in Boerne, though … but that brings up still another problem. The pink pavilion developed a bend in one of the support legs which makes putting it up and taking down even more difficult than usual. Not certain of how it happened, but the metal is quite definitely indented and broken. It was never the sturdiest of pavilions anyway, and now some of the other joins have developed bends or cracks at weak points. It was most definitely not designed for the hard use that it has gotten over the past two and a half years, so this next weekend, we have to rent one of the Boerne Market Days pavilions (plain tan and completely featureless) while we arrange to purchase a sturdier pavilion for the next market season. One of the other vendors in Johnson City had a very nice one, with much heavier top and sides; she bought it at Costco; a new one of similar design and features is on our list.

Today we went through some local favorite shops, picking up this and that with an eye to mailing gifts to family, and making our own Christmas the merrier. This included a stop at a Half-Price Book outlet, where neither of us found what we were looking for – stocking stuffers for cousins/nieces and nephews – but I found a pair of David Hackett Fischer’s accounts of two episodes in the American Revolution. The next of my historical novels is dimly to be seen, at a considerable distance – something set in that period. I thought earlier this year of what the next should be, after finally completing the Gold Rush adventure. I suppose the natural tendency would be towards continuing into the early 20th century, with the various characters from Adelsverein, from Quivera Trail and Sunset and Steel Rails. I’ve already hinted at some of those developments relative to the First World War … but I find myself curiously reluctant to go there – mostly because that was the time and place in which the optimism of the 19th century died, in mud and blood, tangled in barbed-wire. Right now – I don’t need tragedy and heart-breaking disillusion. I’d rather go back, to the start of our republic, close to the foundation of the American experience …

Besides – I have already hinted at a couple of different possible characters and plotlines: Race Vining had a relation named Peter, who served in Washington’s tiny, desperate army at Valley Forge – and Carl and Margaret Becker’s grandfather Heinrich was a Hessian deserter, who fell in love with an American woman … and perhaps the notion that the individual was the master of his own fate. Nothing more certain than that; the specifics of the plot will grow from research.
Besides – I have to write another Luna City chronicle, and another Lone Star Sons, first.

20. November 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: Domestic, Literary Good Stuff, Local

So passes another weekend in our grueling schedule of holiday events. Somehow, I didn’t quite grasp until this afternoon that this is the last weekend before Thanksgiving, and that was why there were so many shoppers in the local HEB buying frozen turkeys, trays of bake’n’serve rolls, sweet potatoes, et cetera. Well, of course – since next weekend is our three-day extravaganza in Johnson City, where they ceremonially light the courthouse and Courthouse Square with millions and millions of lights, and have a parade and Santa, and a market and a fair … it’s the kickoff holiday event for the Hill Country, apparently, and we have high hopes for it as far as sales go.
This Saturday was my brief turn at the New Braunfels Weihnachtsmarkt: the cost of an author table has been raised by the management, so I could only justify half a day on Saturday, which experience has taught me is the single busiest session. Since we were halfway to Austin, and a paper supply place my daughter wanted to see first-hand, we toddled on up there, after a moderately successful morning. And then – well, it was just a short jump to the Ikea store in Round Rock. Why not? See what they were putting out for Christmas, pick up some nice-quality items in the kitchenware department, and stock up on frozen Swedish meatballs and lingonberry preserves in the grocery department. We thought perhaps we might have a late lunch in the cafeteria, but it was so late in the day by then, we decided to drive home and make our own supper of them. The meatballs were as scrumptious as ever – and they had a sale on them. Our strategic Ikea meatball reserves are replenished as of this weekend. Although this schedule did push back dinnertime very late last night.

Early on, when sorting out the schedule, my daughter was considering a Sunday market in Giddings to follow on Saturday at the New Braunfels Weihnachtsmarkt, but we decided not to, because of the long drive for a single-day event. Just as well; the bulk brush pickup for our neighborhood has been set for the week after Thanksgiving. Sunday and the first part of the week were the only days that we could see to taking down the dying mulberry tree in the back yard. The original owners of my place planted it, apparently – for it was a lush, mature tree which shaded the whole back of the house, especially in late afternoon. But the local utility company went through about five years ago, clearing away branches from the wires at the wrong time of year. Then the tree was stressed by a couple of drought years, and last year fell to some sort of ghastly tree plague-fungus that was killing the exposed roots, bark and branches of about a quarter of it. Local tree expert consulted, trimmed away some of the dead bark and branches, but didn’t give much hope for long-term survival.

A View of the garden and the bare mulberry three years ago

A View of the garden and the bare mulberry three years ago


We made the decision that we’d hire the neighborhood handy-guy to bring his chain-saw, ladder and rope, and we would help. So, he knocked the price down on that account, and Sunday was the day that he could work. The tree is now down and the stump trimmed off level, half the yard is deep in bright mustard-colored sawdust, and a couple of trunk segments cut into drums to use as plant stands, and there we are. My daughter and I are totally exhausted. This is the one tree that I have had cut that I will genuinely miss, mostly for the shade it offered the back of the house in the late afternoon. All the others I have paid to be taken down were ones that I hated – especially the overgrown red-tipped photina by the front door that made the den into a dark cave. Now the entire back yard must be re-thought, with accommodation for the chickens, of course. There are certain green plants that they adore and will eat down to the stem – fortunately citrus trees in planters are not one of them, and the citrus plants adore the strong sunshine. I will fiddle with a new garden layout over the next couple of weeks, one which must accommodate voracious chickens and strong late afternoon sunshine. And that was my week – yours?

I am currently torn three ways, between the start of the holiday market season for myself and my daughter’s various enterprises, my own blogging and writing, and a book project for a Watercress Press client. The book project is to do with local history, and a particularly contentious event during the Civil War – in Texas. Even as far west of the Mississippi as Texas was, from the main theater of war, some comparatively minor skirmishes in the first Civil War took place in Texas. And the final battle, and surrender of the last hold-out Confederate command took place down on the Rio Grande, and the very last Union Army casualty fell in that Texas fight. But that is stuff for history trivia contests. (The answers are, FYI, the battle of Palmito Ranch, and Private John J. Williams, of the 34th Indiana.)

The book project has a fair amount of my attention, as it touches on a local history matter featured in my own books – but in the interesting coincidence of the Tiny Publishing Bidness having published some of the local history books noted as sources, or citing local historians whom I have met or have had something to do with; the late Rev. Ken Knopp, James Kearney, and Jefferson Morganthaler, most notably – and referring to many of the sources that I read as research for the Adelsverein Trilogy. This book that I am working on now caps a series which can only be produced by a writer/researcher involved to the point of intense – yea, even fanatical interest – in a specific Civil War event. Seriously, Colonel Paul Burrier (USA, Ret.) has gone back into the archives of various establishments and re-published at his expense just about every relevant document there is to find in national and state archives regarding the locally infamous incident memorialized by the True to the Union monument in Comfort, Texas.

I’ve written here and there about the Nueces Fight/Battle/Massacre here, here, and there…and how the peculiar situation in the Hill Country of Texas – well-stocked with Abolitionist, pro-Union inclinations – generated a bitter civil war-within a civil war.

You would think that the Confederacy, after establishing the principle that if you don’t like the results of an election, you can take your marbles and secede, had little ethical grounds for persecuting those elements within Texas who didn’t like the results of the secession convention, and wished to take their marbles and rejoin the union – but they did, anyway. “It’s only OK when WE do it” has a longer-than-suspected-history in the Democrat Party, it seems. Colonel Burrier’s thesis is that influential elements among the Texas Hill Country Germans were organizing an all-out, balls-to-the-wall armed and political resistance movement, with the aim of breaking off from Texas, establishing a separate and free state, and rejoining the Union, just as West Virginia did. It’s liable to be a controversial one, since it is contrary to the accepted opinion, which tends more to the concept of relatively innocent non-participants in the peculiar institution generally, and disinclined to participate in the Confederacy’s war specifically – being brutally persecuted for exercising their rights of free speech and association. Repression bred resistance, and violence on both sides.

As in all civil wars, this one split families, friends and communities. One of the most heartbreaking that I can imagine, from reviewing and formatting Colonel Burrier’s assemblage of chapters and notes is that Fritz Tegener, who was elected leader of that party of militant German Unionists who went south towards Mexico together in 1862, was a married man with a small daughter and a two-months-pregnant wife, Susan Benson Tegener. When his party was ambushed by pursuing Confederates, he was badly injured, to the point of incapacitation in the resulting fight, but managed to survive and spend the remainder of the war south of the border in Mexico. Susan Tegener, whose two older brothers were members of the Confederate militia unit assigned to keep order in the Hill Country was taken into custody, along with the families of other suspected Unionists, but eventually released. Assuming her husband dead, Susan married twice more – to Confederate sympathizers. After the end of the war, when Fritz Tegener turned up alive and well, her divorce from him was, as might be assumed, spectacularly ugly. Fritz Tegener never acknowledged the second child as his … and Colonel Burrier suspects that Susan Tegener may have spilled all to the Confederate authorities about her husband’s planned departure with sixty other Unionists in 1862 anyway. Fritz also had two brothers; Gustaf, summarily hanged at Spring Creek later in 1862 by Confederate authorities (or vigilantes – hard to tell which, sometimes), and William – also lynched by pro-Confederate vigilantes the previous year – apparently for his disinclination to embrace the Confederacy.

The other sobering element is how swiftly things turned, and turned again, for many of the well-established and respectable men in the German community. The elected sheriff of Gillespie County, one Philip Braubach, was taken to San Antonio in the indignity of chains with a heavy cannon-ball weight attached. His companions in miserable captivity included two Hill Country store owners – one a former justice of the peace, and the other a former officer in the local militia. They all three were charged by a military tribunal and found guilty – fortunately they escaped shortly thereafter. Others coming under suspicion and persecution were just as well-established in their respective communities. They held responsible offices – state representative, justice of the peace, surveyor, militia company officer, ran profitable businesses, had the absolute trust of their friends, neighbors, communities … and for a season of madness, were branded traitors, plotters, brigands and revolutionaries. And for that, they spent three or four perilous years, hunted as outlaws and traitors until the wheel turned again …

So, I am taking a break from writing about political stuff this week, in this last stretch before the elections. For one reason – I have said what I have to generally say about it all, several times over, and for year after year; just not interested in finding a way of saying it all again. For another, there are bloggers and commenters who are saying it all much better than I could – about the possible apotheosis of Her Inevitableness, the Dowager Queen of Chappaqua, the possible repercussions of said apotheosis, and the fighting chances of The Donald. Frankly, it impresses me that he pisses off a whole lot of individuals who have a long, long, long history of insulting and denigrating me, as a military veteran, a proud member of the aspiring middle class, and Tea Party participant. No, he isn’t the answer to every political maiden’s ardent prayer; he’s a loud, proud, out and out oft-married Noo Yawk vulgarian, which most intelligent political mavens realized early in the game – but as Abraham Lincoln was moved to say in defense of Ulysses S. Grant, early on in the first civil war, “I can’t spare this man; he fights.”

So – The Donald fights, which is quite refreshing for a quasi-conservative, and a nice change for the manner in which so-called representatives of the conservative end of the National Uniparty usually react. * They curl up and whimper apologetically when accused of some offense – whatever is the prime offense of the moment according to the current crop of screeching garbage babies – and then they move on as if nothing had ever happened. The die is cast, in any case: the election itself is in less than four weeks. Whatever deals are in the works have been cut, the planned media bombshells have already been primed and aimed, the required ballot-boxes have already been stuffed in the strategic districts, either actually, or by electronic means; the set speeches written and the responding authoritative editorials composed and set on time-delay release. All that us ordinary citizens can do is to buckle in for the bumpy ride, and vote as our conscience dictates.

Not much that I can do at this point to change any of that – so I am prepping for market events this month, next month and the first half of December. I am a hard-working scribbler of historical fiction and light contemporary comic romps – and writing the books is just half the job. The other half is getting them out in front of likely readers, and in this last quarter of 2016, this is where most of my direct sales are made, and this is why I try to have a new book ready for release in time for those markets. My daughter, with her origami art, has suggested and has the purse sufficient to enable us to explore other market venues which have reasonable table fees for participation. San Marcos – for two markets in conjunction with their Mermaid Festival worked out very well for her, so we are off to exploring other craft and local markets in Blanco, Johnson City, and back to Giddings, for a series of craft and book events which will likely take up a Saturday, or even a whole weekend; this in addition to the events which we have done in previous years; Bulverde, New Braunfels, Goliad and Boerne. It’s frankly an exhausting schedule from this next weekend until the week before Christmas, so I am trying to get as much as possible done in advance; the business cards, the book flyers, the freebie bookmarks and postcards … all printed up and assembled at home. Because the actual process of doing the market is also exhausting. Load the Montero, drive to venue, unload the Montero, set up the pavilion and tables, work the passing crowd of shoppers for six or eight hours, break down the market set-up and drive home … the easy market events are those where we only have to bring the merchandise, or the tables and table-dressings, and for an indoors venue. This can be rewarding … but also exhausting. This is the price of getting your books and craft items out there – and now is the beginning of the peak season.

*As for the current Trump ruckus du jour … Trash-talking with another guy about women? Oh, please. Both the Daughter Unit and I overheard cruder stuff from the male servicemen who were our co-workers during our time in service, and in the Daughter Unit’s case – she sometimes joined in. (Me – I’m a f**king lady – I wear a hat and gloves – and don’t you forget it!) Dems getting the vapors over this is epically hypocritical, especially after overlooking Ted Kennedy’s truly crude and abusive behavior (not just words, but actual and disgusting behavior over a period of decades as a senator) and Bill Clinton’s serial abuse of women – abuse which was enabled by the current Democrat Party candidate for the presidency – and excused by the members of that same party when it all came to national attention in the last year of his presidency. Get back to me when being a total male pig is condemned equally across the board. And for something more substantial than just crude talk.

12. April 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: Air Force, Domestic, Home Front, Local

Curious indeed, to reflect that by the end of this year, I will have been out of the Air Force for as long as I was in it – but the time does fly when you are having fun. But twenty years in the Big Blue Machine does leave marks, as well as an exquisite sense of how the military really operates in real time, among the lower-ranking levels, close to the ground. This isn’t a sense readily developed from reading, although I suppose someone with wide experience, a strong sense of empathy and close personal associations with veterans can develop it by proxy.

This around-about way of explaining how all this last weekend, my daughter and I were wondering about a murder-suicide at Lackland AFB on Friday morning. A trainee airman had fatally shot his squadron commander, and then killed himself. Of course, it all came out in dribbles over the weekend; the trainee was an E-6, aged 41 and a student in the pararescue course … and had also resigned from the FBI as a special agent. Everything about this was curious, even unlikely; the Air Force para-rescue specialty is one of the most physically-demanding jobs the Air Force has. It’s comparable to the SEALS, and Army Special Forces, in that many are called, few chosen, and even fewer still graduate.

And an instant promotion to E-5 or E-6, Blondie and I agreed, must mean this man must had been prior service; Marine or Army Ranger, in order to waltz in without going through Air Force basic. But to have dropped from the FBI to enlist … curioser and curioser, Blondie and I agreed – and until today, there was nothing really reported which explained any of this … until I found a story from the L.A. Times. A reporter had actually looked at the anomalies, and reported thusly:

Bellino joined the Army after graduating from high school in 1992, training first as an Army Ranger at Ft. Stewart, Ga., then as a Green Beret at Ft. Bragg, N.C., according to his attorney, Daniel Conway. In 2002, he left the Army and joined the Army National Guard, serving with a special forces unit based in Ohio, according to Conway and military records. During his time in the Army and National Guard, Bellino served multiple tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo and Kuwait …From 2004 to 2007, Bellino also worked as a civilian contractor with a private security firm, the lawyer said. In 2011, Bellino left the military, went to work as an FBI special agent in the New York office but resigned after less than two years, according to an FBI statement. He then tried to reenlist in the Army or join the Navy, but eventually settled on the Air Force because it involved the least amount of red tape…

To recapitulate; ten years in the Army, then the Army National Guard for nine years, to include three years as a civilian contractor, then a mere two years as an FBI agent … and back to military service, as a trainee among people half his age. I’d venture a speculation that this extremely checkered career is an indication of certain personality traits; traits that made him a very bad team player and a huge problem for commanders and NCOs, all the way along. I’d also speculate that he looked good at first look, every time … but eventually the problem traits surfaced, and it was just less trouble for all involved to let him move on. Discuss.

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.

(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.

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?

(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.

03. August 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: General Nonsense, Local, Luna, Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

01. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Domestic, Local

About this time last year – mid-December of 2014, I tallied up my score from December of 2013 on those things that I wanted to do, or ought to do during 2013. I took stock on what I had managed to accomplish – what I had done and left undone. Now on this New Years Day 2015, I am looking at what I did manage to complete from that original 2013 list, and examining those things to work on, and either accomplish, or to try harder on in 2015.

#1 – Switching over to a Texas bank for personal business; done and this year also opened business accounts with the same bank for the Tiny Publishing Bidness. I am very happy with Frost Bank, BTW. The staff at the local branch recognize me now.

#2 – I did finish and bring out Lone Star Sons in time for the Christmas season of this year. It is a short book, and more or less written off the cuff. But – I have also committed to bringing out at least another six Lone Star Sons adventures – tentatively to be called Lone Star Blood, in time for the holiday season of 2015. I think that I can get ‘er done in double quick time. But this project is also in addition to The Golden Road – the adventures of young Fredi Steinmetz in the California Gold Rush. I’ve got about seven chapters into The Golden Road; another eleven or so to go. Goal – have them both ready and published by November, 2015.

#3 – A vow to redouble the efforts for a lavishly-productive back-yard truck garden sufficient to provide all our fresh vegetable needs. Flat fail across the board. The raised beds were a bust, and I don’t think we got more than a handful of ripe tomatoes and peppers. We did get a nice small crop of perfectly exquisite potatoes; which tasted like vegetable velvet, when lightly cooked and served with butter, salt and a dash of meat-based gravy. The apple, plum and peach saplings did take hold and provide some hope; that hope which springs eternal in the breast of the ambitious gardener. Two of the heirloom tomato plants also reseeded themselves. One of them is thriving in a pot, moved into the back porch – which has been shielded from the mid-winter icy blast by plastic sheets stapled all around. A number of potatoes in the raised bed also re-seeded themselves, although the bed is in such a scramble that I have no notion of they are red or white potatoes. This item is turning into a repeat goal.

#4 – Better track of readers and fans … still a work in progress. Book sales this year are down, total, from the year before. Apparently, so are the sales of other writers – those who have been moved to say something in regard to this. Again – resolved to work harder, or smarter on this. More book club events, more author events… sigh.

#5 – Management and recruitment of business at Watercress Press; done. I bought out my business partner, when her health deteriorated to the point where she was unable to work productively on anything. I’ve been working gainfully on books for her old clients, on my own existing clients, and have a chance at picking up more with two of the biggest projects. I have improved my Adobe Acrobat and Photoshop skilz, and the Watercress Press website is updated. But keeping the business going is a continuing goal.

#6 – Stockpiling staple foods. Progress achieved with being able to keep stores of staple foods on hand. Part of this came about through revamping the pantry closet, and through purchase of a back-yard shed, wherein to store some of the food-prep impedimenta, like the canning kettle and extra Ball jars, the cheese- and wine-making things, and imperishable bulk supplies.

#7 — The last of the creditors are paid off – even my business partner’s heirs have been paid for the business. All the outstanding bills I have are the regular monthly ones for utilities, car insurance and the mortgage. I’ll do my best to never, ever have credit card debt again. For this coming year, I’d rather set aside money for something and pay for it up front. Like – the project to get the kitchen renovated.
Which brings me to … the only really new goal for this year…

#8 – Renovate the kitchen and dining area; new cabinets, new sink, and new hood over the range … which will be the practically pristine Chambers stove which Blondie inherited. There is already a new-to-us table in the dining area, and I have recovered the chair seats in cowhide.

With so many other bad and dangerous things hanging over us like a Damocles sword – an Ebola epidemic in the US, ISIS setting up a new and brutal caliphate in the middle east, the final two lame duck years of the Obama administration, and the anointing of a minimally-talented yet well-connected legacy child like Lena Dunham as the media voice of a generation – and the upcoming marathon of holiday markets and book events in front of me like so many hurdles to be gotten over in a frantic two-month-long dash – where was I?

Crazy Texas BootsOh, yes – amidst all the impending gloom, doom, and Bakersfield (that’s a California joke, son) my daughter and I are coping with the rather minor tragedy of a friend of ours loosing her job. Minor to us, of course – but not to our friend, a vivaciously charming English lady of certain years whom I shall call Kay, whom we met when she managed a thrift shop to benefit a certain well-established local charity, in a preposterously wealthy outlaying town within driving distance from San Antonio. When we first met her, the thrift shop was on the main drag in the historic part of town, and benefited from an enormous amount of walk-in traffic because it was on the main drag – although in a cramped three rooms and a teeny bathroom which doubled as an overflow storage room. But Kay was a pro when it came to management, coordinating unpaid volunteer workers, in attracting wonderful donations, and she used social media like a champ … I swear, many of the most enticing donations which came into the shop were pre-sold almost at once. Yes, a charity thrift-shop, of which there are are already a few in the town of which we speak, but this particular one stood head and shoulders above the competition. The goods on display were often of an amazingly-superior quality and the pricing was reasonable. It’s a truism familiar to those of us relatively-poor people with high-end tastes; the very best pickings are to be had in charity thrift-shops in upscale locations. When my parents went to re-fit their own retirement house—burnt to the ground in the 2003 Paradise Mountain Fire—my mother often preferred shopping in such thrift stores. They could pick out things roughly similar to what they had lost; of superior quality and lightly used, at a reasonable price. Such things fitted their lifestyle and pocketbook; where is it written that those on a budget must settle for cheap cr*p, anyway?

So we loved the little shop which Kay ran, and brought home many fine things for a mere pittance – items like my vintage Ariat cowgirl boots, and a set of unused quality bedding – matching bed-skirt, quilted coverlet, pillow shams and boudoir pillows that originally retailed for nearly $1,000 all told. Alas, after five years of operation, the shop had to close around mid-summer. The historic building which housed it was being renovated – and the three rooms which housed the shop were no longer available to the charitable organization, nor was any equivalent premise available at a price which said organization was willing to pay. Still, we rejoiced with Kay was hired to run another charity shop in the same town, benefiting yet another and somewhat similar charity. Superficially, all was as it had ever been and at first seemed like even better; the shop was now in a larger space, a quaint Victorian cottage where there was now more room to suitably display the wide range of items which Kay attracted from the same kind of donors. Alas, there were two flies in the new pot of ointment; the cottage was a little off the beaten track when it came to walk-in traffic – and never underestimate how miserably hot it can be in a Texas summer, even in the Hill Country. But Kay’s regulars and volunteers loyally followed her to the new place, and when the monthly open market was held – there was a good turn-out. With the coming winter, and a number of special events in the town where the shop is located, there was a hope of business returning to something like the same level as in the old location.

The other fly was the peskier one; Kay now answered to a manager – an absentee manager in another state, who had very definite ideas on what the shop should accept and market – ideas which turned out to be a radical change. The take-in from the shop was unacceptable, said the absentee manager. It was simply not enough. So, henceforward, the absentee manager dictated, the shop would only carry collectables, high-quality jewelry (costume and otherwise) and original art. Everything else – shoes and clothing, household items, knickknacks and sports equipment had to go, immediately. Items should be labeled with a little price tag on a string, and be priced competitively – and none of this accepting just any old donation. Only quality stuff in a few limited categories, even if it had to be obtained from estate sales and auctions … no word on how this kind of activity would be funded, or who would be doing it, or researching the market-value of the select inventory. And the town of which I speak is thick with antique shops, collectable shops, and art galleries, most of which seem to be run by either entrepreneurs and paid professionals. At this juncture, Kay handed in her two-week notice. They let her go after a single week – and now, apparently, the shop will be run entirely by volunteers.

So, without knowing any of the economics – how much was the lease on the shop, how much it actually cost to run vis-à-vis the intake, and how much Kay’s personal connections with the donating and volunteering community contributed to the shop – I can only look at it from the outside, and what it all looks like to me as a consumer. Essentially, this one shop dominated the retail niche it occupied. It was open every day but Mondays – which put it ahead of the other shops, and Kay’s on-line marketing through social media made out-of-town shoppers well-aware of what was available. The goods were attractively and tastefully arranged by a professional. Oh, sure, some of them were the usual sort of junk which gravitates to Goodwill and the Salvation Army, but taken overall – it was a far superior shopping experience, in quality and aesthetics. And now, under the dictates of the absentee manager, it will be just another boutique in a town full of them. My daughter and I agreed – we likely won’t be able to afford anything in it, and it will only last about six months before the charitable concern running it pulls the plug.

American Gothic - Texas-style

American Gothic – Texas-style

But it bloody pours. Here I am, starting the marathon of book events for my own stuff and for Blondie’s origami art, which runs from early October until well into December, (Lord willing and the Ebola don’t rise) and suddenly all the Tiny Publishing Bidness clients who have been languidly considering their potential books – some of them from last year or this summer and one of them from out of the clear blue sky – want to move ahead with their projects. Now, if not a day or so ago. It should have been a warning to me that the business bank accounts were all at low ebb … that’s when something happens to fill them all up again. It never fails – something always appears, just in the nick of time. There was the written-content job of so many chapters for a publisher of study guides who found me through the milblog; they wanted someone with military experience who could also write to order and somehow stumbled onto little ol’ me. That project upheld the lifestyle at Chez Hayes for nearly half a year; I was in two minds about committing to it, but closed my eyes and plunged in away. Then there was the document transcription project … again, good for maintaining the lavish Chez Hayes lifestyle for most of a year, when taken in together with the other writing projects and sales of my own books.
I had a lovely book event in Fredericksburg early this week – a local book club contacted me through my website; would I come to their social, and more importantly – do a guided tour of the spots in Fredericksburg which featured in the Adelsverein Trilogy? One private tour for the club members, and another the following day for the general interested public? As it was mapped out, the tour comes out to a shade less than three miles, to cover it all – from the town cemetery and that little church building which served the black community in the mid-1840s, all the way to the Marienkirche, which served the Catholic community from the earliest days. Good thing I suggested that everyone wear comfortable shoes … and that there were plenty of stopping places with shaded benches, and that at the point of two-thirds into the tour we were at the old established town square, where there is a very clean and well-maintained public lavatories and some picnic tables in the shade. The ladies of the book club were enormously welcoming, and hospitable, having secured us a room for one night at the Sunday House – which we fell upon with gratitude, being completely exhausted by the tour and the evening meeting. Yes, I will try to come to book-club meetings which have read the Trilogy or any of my books, as long as such are in a commutable distance from San Antonio. I am not such a big-name author that I can be snotty about such invitations.
Fredericksburg was blissfully uncrowded on a Monday, and Tuesday morning, and a two-hour long walk, plus some evening socializing let us catch up on all the local gossip, and note some changes in the town: a wonderful and theatrical 1920s Spanish Colonial style house on Austin Street has been torn down, to the regret of all; an apparent victim of black mold and extensive termite damage being found upon a new owner commencing renovations. But a classic German-Texas style house on Adams – which was under renovation for as long as I can recall has finally been finished very charmingly as a day-spa. There are now little bed and breakfast accommodations all over the historic part of Fredericksburg, tucked behind old houses; one of the club members told us that there were 350 B&Bs in town now, not to mention several good-sized hotels. And there is a new museum going in – a Ranger museum, next to historic Fort Martin Scott. That makes four museums in a single small town, which must be some kind of record. Alas, the yearly Comanche pow-wow used to be held on the land where they are building the museum – and the pow-wow is banished to the Gillespie County fairgrounds.
Kenn Knopp, the local historical expert who was a considerable mover and shaker in Fredericksburg and was kind enough to read the Trilogy in manuscript and approve of it all with extravagant enthusiasm passed on last year. I had kind of expected something had happened to him, as he was not in the best of health the last time we were in touch, and he dropped off Facebook entirely … still, I wish that I had known in time to go to the memorial service.
Finally – one of the walking tour participants told me that the corner plot which I allocated in fiction to the Steinmetz family was actually his family’s town plot, and that they held onto it until the 1940s, when they sold it to the church which presently has their activity center on the site. He’s a Luchenbach, and an old friend of Monroe Behrend, the master of the fast armadillo. Small towns – you have to love them, but also be careful, because everyone knows everyone else, or they are related to everyone else. So, that’s my week – and I’ve written this between doing up a couple of contracts and estimations for the new projects.

Adrift without a map, we are, in the sea of current events. Especially after this last week, which brought us a ground war in Gaza and the shoot-down of a passenger airliner over Ukraine; both situations a little out of the depth of the past experience of Chicago community organizer, even one who spent his grade school years in Indonesia. Quite a large number of the blogs and commenters that I follow have speculated over the last couple of months – at least since last year – have predicted disaster. They know not the day nor the hour, but they have read the various augurs according to their inclinations, suspicions and particular expertise, and gloomily speculate on the odds of various events occurring. There is something bad coming, the air is thick and heavy with signs and portents, never mind the cheery cast that the current administration and it’s public affairs division attempts to put on it. It’s like a makeup artist, plying the art on a six-months-dead corpse; it’s just not working.

The list of possible events speculated on begins with some kind of dirty nuke on a major (or even a relatively minor) American city, or other terrorist act, sustained racial riots in inner cities leading to violent resistance when the rioters spill out into the fringes, an epidemic caused by the recent accession of thousands of Central American illegal aliens and the administrations energetic dispersion of them everywhere, violent resistance to any number of ham-handed actions on the part of the federal government spiraling out of control as in the BLM-Bundy Ranch scenario, complete devaluing of the currency to the point of a ten-dollar bill having the value of a used bus ticket – I can come up with any number of issues which might potentially provide a flashpoint, and commentators likely can come up with as many more, even as we grimly acknowledge that the ignition point might be one which we won’t even see coming.

Today, Governor Perry of Texas announced plans to send 1,000 National Guard troops to the border area – an area which has always been about as porous as a wet sponge, but which troubled no one much beyond those law enforcement in border counties, and residents whose ranch properties were essentially highways for the human traffic. The trickle of illegal immigrants (take THAT, PC Police, they’re illegal immigrants!) has become a gusher in the last year or so, and many on the conservative-libertarian spectrum suspect that it has been deliberately engineered, in an effort to Cloward-Piven our national borders. Darker prognostications have it that this is an attempt to stuff the ballot-boxes with sufficient voters to ensure a Democrat Party majority for the foreseeable future, to destroy the working- and middle-class – who have the ungrateful habit of independency and a disinclination to do as their so-called betters order them – and replace them with grateful serfs who will obediently do as they are told. How better to dissolve the people and replace them another?

There was a protest scheduled last Friday and Saturday – at the Mexican Consulate in San Antonio. It was a rather small one, when I passed by on Friday afternoon, and if the protest continued as scheduled on Saturday, I can find no evidence for it – but then, seeing how frequently the establishment media organs function as the public office of the Obama administration, I wouldn’t have been surprised to know that the protest was continued, and with more protesters – just that the local news coverage was of the “close your eyes, cover them with your hands and hope it will all go away” variety. One thing I did notice on Friday was that the protestors were raising the issue of Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, who inadvertently crossed over into Mexico at a particularly confusing San Diego freeway interchange earlier this summer. He had his personal weapons in the trunk of his car – and has been in a Mexican jail ever since, accused of smuggling guns into Mexico. I imagine that the Mexican authorities are feeling the schadenfreude, on account of Fast and Furious, but I haven’t seen much enthusiasm on the part of our State Department on getting him out of durance vile, Mexican-style … so every little bit of street theater may help.
Discuss.

(Crossposted at Chicagoboyz.net)

We wanted a bit of a holiday, and to get away from the house and the usual jobs for a bit. My daughter wanted to hit up Herweck’s in downtown for some specialty paper for her origami projects. Herweck’s has a lovely stock of interesting papers; in large sheets, which may be cut to size for her origami art projects. I wanted to take some pictures downtown, and we both thought positively of a late lunch at Schilo’s Delicatessen and then … well, to whatever curiosity took us. We were tempted at the outset by a ere was a huge anime convention going on at the HBG convention center, which counted for the large numbers of … interestingly dressed people wandering around. As my daughter somewhat cuttingly remarked, after observing a herd of costumed anime fans, “Too many freaks, not enough circus.” Still, having acquired a taste for this sort of thing when we used to go to the science fiction convention in Salt Lake City when I was stationed in Utah, we thought we might check out the convention, if the price of entry was not too much out of budget. It was too much, as it eventually turned out, and neither of us was into anime sufficiently to properly appreciate the experience … But after walking back from Shilo’s along Market Street, we happened upon the Briscoe Western Art Museum, which was housed in what used to be – so we were assured by the young woman manning the desk – the old downtown public library building.

This was a wonderful construction of 1920s Moderne, newly spiffed up, and the foyer was marvelous. This was a two-story confection with a deeply coffered carved wood ceiling and a band of designs resembling the buffalo and Indian-head nickels around the walls just below the ceiling – all marvelous and detailed. A visit to a building like this once again reminded me of how much I detest and despise the horrid brutality of modern design for public buildings – lean and spare and square, with windows that can’t be opened, no ornamentation of any sort at all, save a stark open square with a concrete turd in a fountain in the middle of it. No, my detestation of modern architectural design of the Bauhaus steel-and-glass-box or concrete-n-glass variety remains undimmed and burns with the white-hot passion of a thousand burning suns … and as it turned out, the entry fee to the Briscoe was a relative pittance, and further reduced by a veteran discount. So – there was a far more economical use of funds and time.

The art on display is of course oriented to the west – lots of scenic vistas, longhorns, cowboys and the like, but leavened with a series of Curtis photographic portraits of Indians, some scenic vistas of border towns, and of the construction of Boulder Dam. As for big-name Western artists, the Briscoe has a small C. M. Russell bronze, and a couple of minor pieces by Frederick Remington, which to my mind is not very much at all, as far as the classic Western artists go. Most of what is there is in the way of art seems to be on loan from local donors and collectors – and it is a rather newish museum after all. Many exhibits are – not strictly speaking – art, but rather historical relics; a classic Concord stagecoach in one gallery – and a renovated chuck-wagon in another. The third-floor galleries had the most interesting items – antique saddles, including one adorned with silver rattlesnakes; once the property of Pancho Villa, and another which once belonged to the Spanish Viceroy in Mexico City. There is also a gallery dedicated to the Alamo – which is only to be expected. It is dominated by one of those elaborate models of the moment when the Alamo was overwhelmed by General Lopez de Santa Anna’s forces – about which I had a small quibble, and another item which raised more questions than the duty guard could answer. (The poor chap is probably curled up in a corner somewhere, quivering.)

This item is a Victorian hair brooch, one of those peculiarly Victorian things – a small lock of hair, made unto a piece of jewelry – usually woven into a pleasing pattern, and preserved under glass in a small setting. They were most often done in order to memorialize a deceased loved one … and this one was supposed to have been … well, the card next to it was singularly uninformative. OK, first of all – was it James Fannin’s hair? Several different alternatives; yes, his – a brooch left with a dear one, after his taking up the position of commander of the Goliad in late 1835. Likely. But his, post-mortem, after the massacre of his company and done after his body lying where it had been left for weeks and weeks? Ooooh – no, don’t think so.

Anyway, we had an interesting time discussing this with the duty guard; it’s true that docents and guards often know rather interesting things about the galleries where they are stationed, often because everyone is always asking them, and being able to give a good answer must be a kind of self-defense. Apparently, he and some of the other guards believe that the Alamo exhibit room is haunted. My daughter says that if any object in that room has the ability to haunt, it would be the gigantic iron 18th century cannon, which was supposed to have been in the Alamo, although if it had any part in the siege, no one knows. It looks like an 18-pounder, and was found buried on private property sometime in this century, so the guard says; the man whose property it was just set it up pointing at his mailbox. We speculated for a while on how it could have finished up buried in the ground, a thing which would have taken at least three ox-teams to move. At the time that the Alamo was the main Spanish presidio in Texas, it was supposed to have had the largest collection of artillery west of the Mississippi and north of the Rio Grande. After Santa Anna’s defeat at San Jacinto, likely the Mexican garrison left to hold the place bugged out with everything they could carry with them. We thought it likely that this particular cannon was dumped, either immediately or after a short distance. The information card at the exhibit offered very little detail – so we had our amusement from speculation.

And that was my bit of a summer holiday – yours?

This is what I’ve been doing for the last couple of weeks – tending to home, and to the business, and wrapping up two of the three current book projects. The two authors involved are thrilled to bits with the work done for their books, and both of them – marvelously – have each a follow-on project which will come to me by the end of the month. Hopefully, the third follow-on project will be completed by then. The visual elements for that book are … well, the author is one of those who has to see the completed project before deciding if it is satisfactory, or not. Anyway, the business is paying nicely, and so I can afford some more home renovations and repairs.

Last month’s home renovation project was a complete revamp of the kitchen pantry – basically, a small closet, 25 inches wide, and about 27 deep. The original builders put in five or six wooden shelves, which ran the full width and depth of the closet … and basically made anything shoved to the back of the shelves unfindable and irretrievable. Unless you emptied everything out. Last month we hit Peak Exasperation with the whole thing – that is, the point where the hassle of doing anything constructive about about the problem is less than the hassle of continuing to put up with it. So – emptied everything into cardboard boxes, knocked out the shelves, repaired the various small dings in the drywall, repainted to cover the patches … and applied about $140 worth of wire shelving from Lowe’s, an assortment of square bulk storage containers from the Container Store, and mirabile dictu, now we can find everything easily.

This month, the project was – where to store Blondie’s inherited vintage Chambers stove, and all of the gear we need to do the various markets, especially around Christmas; the tables, the pop-up, the dolly, the chairs and all. The garage is packed pretty full with Blondie’s household goods already, and so … it came to us – a shed. A nice, tidy little shed in the back left corner of the yard; for the stove, and all the market gear, and various gardening tools, the home-brewing and canning things – which take up an incredible amount of space in a small house … any way, whatever we decided on would have to be fairly attractive, because the windows at the back of the house look out on that patch of garden. Function and beauty – as William Morris’ dictum has it, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

All the wooden sheds that I really, really liked the look of were way too expensive, even if we put them up ourselves – and I am just not interested in that kind of construction any more. The inexpensive ones – Rubbermaid makes them, and I seem them all over the place – do not age very well at all. We compromised on a metal version – temporary and portable – the salesman assured us, but built to order. It was a bit more than I had thought to spend at first – but we wanted one that had the appearance of a small porch with an overhang at the front, although the porch is really more of a wide step. It has one little window, and a door, rather like a kindergarten drawing of a house … and two carpenters from the company came to install it yesterday. It had to be assembled on site, but the four walls were already pre-fabbed, so they only had to build out the foundation, slide it into the most advantageous position, put the four walls on it and nail them together, and then do the roof. It only took half a day – Blondie thought it would be more than a day, but they were quite terribly efficient.

So – the project for the holiday weekend is to fit out the inside with shelves, move everything intended to be inside it to them, paint the bare wood of the support posts and balusters to match the color of the trim (dark green) and to re-accomplish the landscaping around it so that the shed itself presents an attractive appearance. We’ve promised a couple of pictures to the company, of course. And that was my chief concern – Blondie’s is how to go about moving the Chambers stove from the back porch into the shed. I think we’ll appeal to some neighbors for help on this.

It actually hasn’t been exactly half a year since I bought out the founder of the company, contract signed and witnessed and the major down-payment made, but it has been about six months since she – her favorite niece and executor rather forcefully backing her up – suggested that the time had definitely arrived for me to step up and formally and officially buy her out, website, client files, and all. Alice had always intended that I would take over, eventually. We were both cranky and independent spirits, and tired of working for other people or enterprises. Since I had been carrying just about everything to do with the firm for more than a year at that point, I didn’t have any argument. A nice chunk of the savings that I had from sale of the California property went to buy the Bidness – which we are pretty certain will be earned back – I have three projects working at present, two of them with repeat projects … plus a number of other repeat clients who may come up with re-orders at random intervals. The Bidness is a going concern, with nice local word-of-mouth among authors who would prefer to go independent, and a some profitable repeat clients.

Alice, who founded the company some three decades since, had spent some weeks in the hospital last year, eventually being diagnosed with cancer in the upper lobe of one lung, and being successfully operated on for it … but alas, it seemed that it had begun to spread, insidiously. She tried out chemo, lasted two rounds and then essentially said, “Sc**w that and the horse it rode in on.” They had given her six months with chemo, which made her miserable and even sicker… but even with giving up chemo and feeling temporarily much better, she was not up to much. Her insurance plan paid for home hospice care (not for nothing had she worked in the days when she worked for other people, at an insurance company!) and the regular nurses came every couple of days since she bagged chemo. We accepted this – so did her family. Blondie went to her house two and three days a week, to keep house, run errands and drive Alice to required appointments. Alice herself plodded on, much as she had always done, plagued by fits of exhaustion, forgetfulness, and inability to navigate anywhere without a walker. She told Blondie several times that she wouldn’t in the least mind if Blondie appeared one mid-day, walked into the house and found her dead in her chair with a book in her lap. What better way to go? She hated hospitals – another thing we had in common.

Any kind of work at editing gradually became hopeless, and what was the worst part – she knew and was exasperated at how her steel-trap mind was painfully rusting shut. She was, in her seventies, an early adopter of computers and the internet, but that went by the wayside. Over the years when we were in partnership, I would get up in the morning and find a half a dozen emails or forwarded, from her in my yahoo.com account – but not in the last few months, when she spent most of her waking hours in an easy chair in the living room, reading. She was one of the very few people I know in real life who possessed more books than I do – with the added fillip of having edited and published a good few of them, or at least had been acquaintances of the author. In mid-May she urged me to take any of the reference books that I wanted and would need – I came away with two bags full of books. I think that was the last time that I saw her, still fairly fit and able to go into her home office.

The final spiral came two weeks ago, and in one terrible rush. I went to see her again, when she was not able to get out of the hospital bed they had brought in; her one old-friend client, whom she had held back upon sale of the company, had a book that she was working on, in fits and starts. She handed the project on to me, I searched out the files and went home with a couple of letters from her friend. I’ve basically had to start the project paperwork all over, Excel worksheet, contract and all. A week ago, Memorial Day weekend, her sister called to say – not going well. We hurried over, dodging rain all the way, which only seemed suitable. She was not conscious – I don’t think ever became really conscious again. She passed away about mid-day last Saturday.

So, that’s what I have been up to, for the last couple of weeks. Real life, and all that.

I’m having mine chocolate-flavored, with a dash of whipped cream and mini-peanut-butter cups and toasted almonds sprinkled over, watching the Wendy Davis meltdown, high atop my perch in suburban San Antonio.
Yes ma’am, the spectacle of a relatively unknown local state senator, suddenly elevated to national media attention and anointed the great feminist hope of out-of-state Dems everywhere, suddenly melting down … it is delicious. I ought not to feel this degree of vicious satisfaction … but I do. Heretofore, Ms. Davis only annoyed me for her filibuster opposing tighter regulation of abortion and the three-ring circus which ensued in the Capitol; Honestly, is insisting that abortions must take place before 20 weeks of a pregnancy have passed, and that the facility in which they are performed be at least as hygienic as your average Lasik surgery clinic somehow rise to the status of Teh Great War on Wymens? Really!? She wasn’t representing a district anywhere near mine, and lord knows I have heard tales of state senators and representatives who were notorious for shenanigans even more embarrassing. She, in other words, was not my representative and not my problem.

So I paid very little attention to her, other than to note that she had that sort of slim, tanned and polished look which only can be achieved by relentless dieting, working out, regular beauty-parlor appointments and a lavish expense account at Neiman-Marcus; the very epitome of a modern major feminist. Of course, she would be the latest liberal flavor-fave, especially since her story of working up from being a single teenage mother, living in a trailer … and yet managing to pull herself up by her own efforts and graduate Harvard Law. Well, as Bertie Wooster would say, huzzah for all that! What better liberal candidate for governor of the state of Texas could there be? Although, as my daughter pointed out, if being a relatively impoverished, self-educated and hardworking single mother are the criteria for higher political office these days, I might be at least as well qualified as Ms. Davis.

I have not a shred of a doubt that Ms. Davis has pulled in out of state donations by the bucket-full – and I also have no shred of a doubt that she will move on to a profitable perch in the national Democratic party organization, or maybe to their propaganda arm, otherwise known as the national media. Where else can someone so essentially unself-aware be assured of a comfortable living after having mucked up a political future at the state level? Thanks to that devastating report in the Dallas Morning News, and her own ill-considered reaction to it, Ms. Davis likely has sunk herself with Texas voters three different ways. To male voters, she looks like the vindictive and social-climbing ex-wife from hell, to women voters, she comes off as a manipulative, gold-digging mean girl, and to all Texas voters, she appears as if she is more wedded to outside-Texas interests. And to whimper about having her personal and family life put under a hostile microscope, and have media outlets like NPR whine on her behalf, after what was said about Sarah Palin’s personal and family life? In this cruel world, that’s called turn-about being fair play. Hence the extra scoop of schadenfreude.

Around the end of 2007 and beginning of 2008, I was working two days a week at a Tiny Bidness owned by a friend of mine, Dave the Computer Genius. I had known Dave off and on since 2002, ever since I had looked for a local computer tech to tell me what was wrong with my very first computer. I think that I found Dave through some on-line search, possibly through some local variant of Craig’s list. Anyway, he pronounced my computer well and truly dead, and sold me a rehabbed unit which even if rehabbed was still a better and more up-to-date one than the defunct unit, which I had gotten ten good years out of since buying it at the Yongsan PX. So, I referred Dave to my then-employer, the consultancy dealing in intellectual property (read – did marketing packages and a provisional patent for people who had invented a gadget), and later on he referred me to one of his clients, the ranch realtor, when I was job-hunting.

Dave did computer installation, training, and trouble-shooting – rather like a one-man Geek Squad – and having a nice collection of regular clients, he did pretty well at it. He talked once or twice of one of them, another Tiny Bidness – a little local publisher owned by Alice G. whom he insisted I would get on with like a house on fire. He promised that one of those days he would take me along when he went to her home/office to work on her computer system, and introduce us. He always thought that we should get together, since he thought we both had a lot in common. And so we did, eventually – although that wasn’t until six months after Dave died of a sudden heart attack.

So, Alice and I went into partnership. Her little company was basically a one-person shop, after the death of her husband – coincidentally about two weeks before Dave’s death. I re-did her website, and re-did it again, when the cost of the specialized software to maintain it got to be too much. I learned her system for estimating costs, took client meetings – and she had been doing business so long in San Antonio that the company has a lot of name recognition locally among those with the wherewithal to publish a book privately. I did editing and sometimes transcriptions when the client had only a paper manuscript and not a word-processing file. I learned how to do formatting – that is, book interior design – and a couple of years ago I talked Alice into establishing a publish-on-demand imprint. We had lost a good number of otherwise promising clients, you see; Alice preferred using a local lithographic printing enterprise, which is only a bargain if you want to print more than a couple of hundred copies at a whack, whereas a POD imprint which also fed into a national distributor would let us be more competitive – and put our client’s books on Amazon. The days of clients who could afford to pay $5,000 to $15,000 and up to publish their book was coming to an end, I would argue, and we were in competition with Createspace and Booklocker and Booksurge and a hundred other POD houses. She would point out that there were years when she only did two books a year, and I would say that we wouldn’t even have that many at the rate we were going.

So, we set up the POD imprint – and of our five clients last year, four of them were POD. I handled them all anyway. We re-did all of my own books that had been published already – and the sales of the printed versions came trickling back to the imprint’s book account. Alice was sidelined more and more with health problems, which have come to a head in the last few months.

The bottom line is that I am going to buy her out, for pretty much the cost of her lawyer doing all the paperwork to transfer the business to me. It’s a good thing that the land sold when it did – as I can just about afford to do this. It’s a nice little business, with all the necessary connections to freelance service providers. There are clients with reoccurring orders for reprints, and potential customers who just prefer to be able to sit down and meet face to face with a real person. Together with my pension, with the income from my own writing – there’ll be enough. I’ll never look to grow it to the point of hiring employees, though. Training up Blondie as my junior partner, as Alice trained me – well, that’s where my work future lies, and with luck it will provide for us both.

Yes, we did indeedy – the elusive fast armadillo of Uptown Luckenbach, Texas! you see, there really is a place in the Hill Country called Luckenbach, it’s just not a name in a country-western song.

Welcome to Updown Luckenbach

It’s a feed mill, actually – just up the road from the loop which leads into downtown Luckenbach, home of the old post office/general store/concert venue. But in the same unpaved driveway there is a small souvenir store, run by a guy named Monroe, who advertises his own home-made custom art. If he is not there, the store runs on a self-serve, honor basis. See what you like, drop the money for it in an old butter-churn crock, or in a lockbox outside.

And many of Monroe’s roadside signs advertise asking about the fast armadillo.

What is the fast armadillo, you may ask? This.

Fast Armadillo

Yes, he does a free-hand sketch of an armadillo, etched with a Dremel tool, on a glass bottle (scrounged from local dumpsters or by donations, I guess), adds an ornamental squiggle, the date, and ‘Luckenbach, Texas.’ He does this – when he is there at the shop – for tips. Apparently many curious travelers have stopped, looking for the fast armadillo, but it’s a matter of luck, catching Monroe in the shop at the right time.

Fast Armadillo 1

He did two bottles for us – one is for Mom, so he did an especially large fast armadillo, and put her name on it. We tipped, and Blondie folded him an origami crane out of a piece of lined notebook paper, but it still took her twice the time that he took, doing the bottles.

Yep, that is one fast armadillo.

Dawn and Bird of Paradise - smaller

Dawn over the Guajito with bird-of-paradise bushes, January 2010.

In a meditation that I posted about this time last year – just as we are coming down to Christmas and the last frantic dash to the end of the year – I laid out the things that I wanted to do, or ought to do during 2013. Time to take stock and look at which ones I did manage … and those that I shall have to try harder to do in 2014.

#1 – I was resolved to change my main bank account from Bank of America to a Texas institution. Check. Actually accomplished this the first week of the new year, and it went quite painlessly, changing the automatic deposit from DFAS and the automatic payment to the mortgage company. Check.

#2 – Finish and publish The Quivera Trail in time for launching in November, 2013. Done and check. Also begin on the next book, or at least the research. I had thought it would be tentatively entitled The Golden Road, starring young Fredi Steinmetz and the usual cast of characters historical and created … half-check. Started research, but was detoured into writing another picaresque adventure, Lone Star Sons, which will be a short and adventurous bagatelle and a re-working of the Lone Ranger, as a historical adventure in 1840s Texas. Lone Star Sons will be my November 2015 book … but I will be well along in writing The Golden Road by then.

#3 – Redouble my efforts to have a back-yard truck garden, and eat a lot more of our own home-grown veggies. Half-check. Did build two raised beds and did get something out of them, but tomatoes were a flat failure this year. The heat, I think. In 2014 I am resolved to build another couple of raised beds – and try again with the tomatoes.

#4 – Resolved to keep better track of the readers and fans of my books, to do more focused marketing, to post more regularly on the various blogs, to carry on adding materiel to the various Facebook pages. Half a check. Marvelously, the books did sell very well, until about October, and with a pleasing uptick for The Quivera Trail in November. I revamped my book blog and merged it with my book website, revamped and updated this one, and figured out why we couldn’t post pictures. I did add Facebook pages for the books, and I did figure out how to post from the book blog to them. Check.

#5 – Pick up more of the management and recruitment of business at Watercress Press. I was trundling along OK with that, as we had several POD clients, a fulfilled contract for a Watercress Press book, and a contract out for another, which is pretty much sidelined over the holidays. I’ve gotten the Watercress website updated as well, but still not entirely happy with it. I have gotten a little better with Photoshop, and Adobe Acrobat. But the intensive study of book design and layout is still a work in progress. So is getting in front of more local authors. Three-quarters of a check.

#6 – Stockpiling staple foods. We’re pretty good with keeping and rotating staple foods in large amounts, and canning pickles and preserved fruits this last year, but still working on those stocks of dog and cat food, common antibiotics and medical supplies. Half a check.
#7 — Pay off the last few institutions and people where I still owe money. Work harder at selling the California real estate. Both those missions accomplished. The land sold, the major institution paid off – and as a bonus, the HVAC system in the house revamped. Check and a half, as the emergency generator is still out there, somewhere.

#8 – I did take a vow to – as much as is possible – to avoid supporting authors, musicians, public intellectuals, television programs, movies, institutions and businesses who have insulted my own values, standards and ethical/political beliefs. Ditching cable TV pretty much accomplished that … although it also cut off some shows that we liked to watch. But never mind – many are available on Amazon Prime, or on Hulu… so, full check.

I’d say that considered as a total, I got about three-quarters of what I wanted to accomplish done. Now for 2014…

(Since The Quivera Trail is launching next weekend – at New Braunfels’ Weihnachtsmarkt, no less – I have begun research for the next historical adventure, that picaresque California Gold Rush adventure which I have always wanted to write. This research takes the form of reading every darned history and contemporary account that I have on my shelves, or can get my hands on. One of these books is The Shirley Letters from the California Mines 1851-1852, by Louise Amelia Knapp Smith ‘Dame Shirley’ Clappe.)
Cover - Shirley Letters

Louise Amelia – better known by her pen-name, Dame Shirley – was an irreproachably Victorian lady, possessing a lively intellect and observant eye, which the education typically given to girls at that time did nothing to impair. Conventional expectations for upper-class women of her day seem hardly to have made a dent in her either. She was born around 1819 in Elizabeth New Jersey and orphaned by the deaths of both parents before out of her teens. She had a talent for writing, encouraged by an unexpected mentor – Alexander H. Everett, then famed in a mild way as a diplomat, writer and public speaker. He was twice her age, and seems to have fallen at least a little but in love with her. She did not see him as a suitor, but they remained friends and devoted correspondents. Eventually she was courted by and consented to marry a young doctor, Fayette Clappe – who even before the ink was dry on the registry, caught the gold fever. Fayette and Louise Amelia were off on the months-long voyage around the Horn to fabled California. The gold rush was almost overwhelmingly a male enterprise – wives and sweethearts usually remained waiting at home, but not the indomitable Louise, who confessed in one of her letters to her sister Molly, “I fancy that nature intended me for an Arab or some other nomadic barbarian, and by mistake my soul got packed up in a Christianized set of bones and muscles.”
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November already? I swear, where does the time go. At least we can turn off the AC – finally! – and open the windows. Although that does heighten our appreciation of our next door neighbor’s relations with his two basset hounds; one male who is alert and ready to give voice at any provocation, and one female who is quiet and sedate, and very likely pregnant. Well, when you have two young unfixed dogs of the opposite sex this kind of thing is gonna happen sooner or later. He has also not been able to housebreak them with any degree of reliability (although we have tried to tell him about crates) so they spend a large part of their day outside. This does mean that anyone who comes close to the front of either of our houses gets barked at, which does have some benefit. He has offered us one of the puppies, though.

We will have a booth at the Boerne Market Days this weekend; half with my books and half with Blondie’s origami art. This is her big roll-out for Paper Blossom Productions. She has been working away at various pieces for the last couple of months, and only this weekend got around to inventorying and packaging up a number of pieces … like $300 dollars worth of earrings featuring beads and miniscule origami cranes. I will have three plastic tubs of books – as this month is the roll-out for The Quivera Trail. Later on in the week we will turn from organizing inventory to organizing the display of it; stands, hooks, baskets and s-hooks and hangers, as well as table cloths to cover the tables with. The weather is predicted to be mild – neither too hot or too cold, which is a good thing. The Market Day is traditionally held on Town Square, under the shade of a massive stand of pecan trees, but we have to be there for two days, from 10 AM to 5. Having a broiling hot day, or a freezing cold and /or rainy one will be … uncomfortable, to say the least. This is the time of the year when I do most of the face-to-face book-selling – so, apologies in advance if the blogging is brief and to the point.

The land sale meant that there is a cushion of sorts to fall back on – and I was able to clear away one ongoing debt entirely, although having to have the transmission in Blondie’s Montero rebuilt entirely has delayed plans for replacing the windows in the house. Ah, well. On the bright side, she went through a lot of trouble early this year to procure health insurance for herself, believing our President’s assurances that if you had a plan you could keep it. So she went with an $87 a month plan from Humana – which she could afford without much stress on the budget. Call it The ACA-compliant plan offered by Humana as option B this last month cost $230. For now, she is sticking with option A, in the fond hopes that the whole unAffordable Healthcare Act will implode as terminally and as messily as the planetary monster transported through the digital conveyer on Galaxy Quest.
Spent part of the weekend setting up two crocks of homemade sauerkraut; yeah, we’ve gotten a taste for the stuff, and it couldn’t be easier and cheaper to do. Cabbage, 4 heads, finely shredded, and a scant cup of pickling salt. Pack tightly into a clean glass jar, ad a little brine to the top if the cabbage hasn’t exuded enough moisture to cover – and let ferment for three to six weeks. Then heat to a simmer, pack into hot canning jars, seal and process in boiling water. We’ve just eaten the last of the jars that I processed last summer. Oh, and the last of the mixed vegetable pickles as well, so here goes some time and fresh carrots, cauliflower, pearl onions and sliced cucumber the weekend after next to stock us up. We’re doing OK on jams and preserves, though – and still have some jars of pickled okra. And that’s our plans for the immediate future.

Since the Amazon Author Page function which supposedly allows one to post a schedule of events doesn’t seem to be functioning in any useful way, here I go, posting the my schedule the old-fashioned way, as a blogpost:
November 9th and 10th from 10-5 both days – at Boerne’s Market Days, which are held on the town square, just off Main Street in Boerne. Look for the four rows of white pavilions, set on the grass among the pecan trees lining the square. My daughter and I are sharing a booth; I’ll have books, my daughter her original origami art. Very likely there will be live music in the bandstand for most of the days, and if the people who have the mobile kitchen serving gorditas – check them out. Their gorditas are awesome, and almost big enough for two people to share.
Mistress of the PuffyTacoShells

November 22nd and 23rd from 10 to 5 on Friday, and 10 to 6 on Saturday – I’ll have a table in the Hall of Authors at Weihnachtsmarkt in the New Braunfels Civic Center, which is located at 380 South Seguin, in New Braunfels. The whole Christmas Market is to benefit the Sophienburg Museum and Archives. There will be several huge rooms full of vendors, selling all kinds of neat and crafty things – and there will be a good assortment of local authors with their books. What makes a better gift than a book, I always say. Which reminds me – my 10-year old niece wants one of my books for her Christmas present from me; To Truckee’s Trail is the most appropriate for that age, so she will have it with my best wishes and personal message for her. My brother says she loves historical fiction…
Christmas Onna Longhorn
Saturday, December 7th from 9 to 4 (or so) At Christmas On the Square in Goliad. They usually set up Miss Ruby’s Author Corral in a little area next to the Chamber of Commerce, on Courthouse Square in beautiful downtown Goliad. Santa arrives mounted on a long-horn, and there is music and revelry, food and crafts for sale and a dog costume contest.
I will have a good stock of books, including the latest – The Quivera Trail – and if we run out, I will have order forms. This year, we have obtained one of those little attachments for Blondie’s cellphone which allows us to process credit/debit cards, so the 21st century has caught up to us at last.

Dog as Mrs. Santa

1. Unhappy cat who gets bullied by other cats and looses bladder control when frightened by other cats is frightened by another cat while I am out running … and pisses on bedding. While out walking the dog – having put unhappy cat in locked bathroom, another cat pisses on bedding in another place.

2. Car does not start. Have to borrow Blondie’s Montero to pick up prescription at Fort Sam Primary Care Clinic.

3. Get speeding ticket from SAPD for doing 54 in 45 MPH stretch of road in the Montero. Didn’t notice that I was going faster than anyone else. Suspect this stretch of road is now a speed trap.

Any questions?