Saturday, March 9, 2019

Dirt-i-cane Season is Here....

   A "chamber o' commerce day" in eastern New Mexico (*wink*):  Actual factual picture of a windy February day in 2013.  Sustained winds of 40 mph, gusts approaching 50 mph.  Wind blowing dust into west Texas.

  I do believe the "Dirt-i-cane" season has arrived here in The Golden West.
  Last night there were wild winds blowing over our fair city.  The "breeze" carrying away dust and grit and stuff.
  One Amarillo weather guy said the gusts were up to 60 mph.
  I stepped outside to secure some of our yard stuff and almost got blown over.
  Either the winds are getting more powerful or I'm getting to be an old fart unable to keep my balance in our "refreshing" spring "breezes."
  If you live on the High Plains of eastern New Mexico and west Texas you live in a “Special Wind Zone.”       That’s what the National Weather Service calls it.
  I learned that one time while looking up the boundaries for America's "Tornado Alley."  The map had these little marked zones all over the country.  One of them sat right over our area.  The map said they were "Special Wind Zones."
  Come spring, come fall, the winds pick up and blow.
  I have no education in meteorology but to my estimation the winds of this part of the west provide the power for storm systems that bedevil the Midwest and east.
  Phoenix has its heat, there are hurricanes for the Gulf Coast and the West Coast has earthquakes.  In eastern New Mexico and west Texas there’s the wind.
  I admire those winds.  They show the power of nature.  I dig how the winds buffet the house, it made me think that inside was a good place to be.
  I first became acquainted with the winds of the region in Roswell.  It was May 1990.  I had just arrived in the Chaves County seat from Albuquerque.  There had been nothing in Albuquerque that would prepare me for the winds of spring in eastern New Mexico.
  I had lived in Roswell for about two weeks.  Early one morning as I stepped from my apartment I noticed there was a slight breeze from the northwest.  I’m a big fan of fresh air so I thought I’d open all the windows of my pad so I’d have a nice fresh place when I got off work.
  I knew absolutely nothing about spring winds in eastern New Mexico.
  After being on the job for a few hours I stepped outside into a roaring dust-filled wind.  I knew this was not a good thing for my apartment with its windows wide open.
When I got home everything was covered in dust.
  A year later I got to experience more wind and more dust.  I could find the gaps in my windows from the tiny little piles of dust on the window sill. 
  One afternoon while gardening I noticed it started to get darker and darker, but it was nowhere near sunset.  To the west was an ominous cloud.  It was a full fledged dust storm.  By the time the thing reached town an eerie kind of twilight was all around and I could only see about 100 feet away.
  I had heard about these winds.  For instance, I ran across an old book of amusing sayings and stories from the 50 states.  In the section about Texas it suggested if you wanted to head east from west Texas in the spring just point your car that way and open all the doors.
  I decided to try this.
  I had a little Subaru.  One spring day our winds were blowing a steady 40 miles per hour.  I pointed my car toward Texas, opened the doors and put it in neutral.  The car began to inch forward.  Five then ten miles per hour.  My top speed was 15 miles per hour.  It was kind of fun.  I was glad no policeman came by, he might have given me a free ride in a police car.
 Then I moved to Clovis…just a few miles from the Texas state line.
 Riding a bicycle around Clovis I would check on the winds daily in the fall and spring.  Made me think I was related to sail-boaters in some way.  I have to tell you, when you’re riding a bicycle around town there’s nothing finer than a good eastern New Mexico wind pushing you along. 
  One time, the wind was so strong against my back I was able to put my feet on the handlebars and coast for over two miles.  I was glad no policeman came by, I’m sure I was probably doing something wrong.  I got a scolding from the Lady of the House who told me it’s unsafe to ride with my feet on the handlebars.  Unsafe maybe, but it sure was fun.
  I was fascinated by the winds of eastern New Mexico.  I like how power companies put up those big windmills around the towns of Texico, Elida, House and Fort Sumner.  I thought maybe when I ran out of stuff to say on the radio and write about I’d get a job with one of those windmill companies.
  The Lady of the House nixed that idea.  She doesn’t want me climbing those 300 foot towers.
  “Leave that to the young guys,” she said.  “It’s not safe for someone your age.”
  She’s right, of course.
  I am getting to be an old fart.
  I might get blown off the top of one of those things.


Thursday, February 28, 2019

Funny Money

  There was this dollar coin in the cash drawer of a store the other day.
  "If you don't want that in your drawer I'll take it in my change," I said to the cashier.
  It ended up in my pocket.
  Every time I see one of these a couple of things come to is how they need to get out and get into circulation...another is how they, like a lot of stuff in our country right now, became a political battleground a few years back...and how I've run into people who have jobs, pay taxes, vote and are cock-sure on what it takes to make the world run their way but aren't familiar with their own country's money.
  Case in point: A few years ago I was rolling west on Interstate 10 in Louisiana when I stopped in a fast food joint in Lake Charles to get some munchies. I handed the young woman behind the counter three $2 bills.
  The young woman looked at me, looked at the money, looked at me then said, “One moment please.” She turned and called some guy’s name and this dude with a different colored outfit complete with tie comes to the counter.
  “I think he just handed me some fake money,” she tried whispering to the man. I say “tried whispering” because I could hear her. She showed him the $2 bills.
  The man started laughing.
  “No, Darlene,” he said. “I reckon you’ve never seen a $2 bill. They’re okay.”
  Then about 6 years ago I happened on another person here in town who also wasn’t familiar with some of our country’s money.
  It happened when The Lady of the House and I were doing our regular Saturday yard sale-ing. I handed a woman two freshly minted gold dollars to pay for an item.
  "What is this, foreign money?" she asked
  I didn’t know what to think.
  She looked to be an intelligent person, looked like she might be a working professional like a teacher, office manager, something like me she had the air of a business professional.
  "Those are gold dollars, they’ve been around for 10 or 12 years, that's Sacagawea...."
"Saca...what?" she interrupts, "So these are foreign, I'm not taking them."
  "Those are U.S. legal tender ma'am," I said.
  "I’m not taking them, I don't believe you."
  There's a saying from back east in Hillbillyland: "Don't get into a pissin' contest with a pole-cat."
  I decided that was good advice right then.
  I took them back and presented her with a $20 bill to pay for my stuff.
  "Don't you have anything smaller?"
  I just smiled.
  Later, The Lady of the House told me not to take the rejection of my dollars personally.
  “Some people,” she said, “Are just…you know…”


Saturday, February 23, 2019

The Mysterious Woman

  Everyone at my father’s funeral was familiar to me.
  Except for one person…
  One woman…
  …who wouldn’t take off her shades inside the funeral home.
  I had no idea who she was.  I don’t think my mom cared about her being there, Mom had other things on her mind.  It didn’t seem like The Mysterious Woman knew anyone at the funeral.
  I didn’t know how I felt about this stranger in our midst.
  About 35 years ago my dad died.
  Dad “caught ‘The Cansuh’” as I euphemistically like to refer to getting cancer.  It started in that February back then when he started falling.  The doctors probed, prodded and looked with x-ray eyes and found an octopus-like tumor at the base of his brain.
  They zapped the tumor with radiation, tried to poison it with chemotherapy, all to no avail.  The thing grew and sent it’s “tentacles” deep into the reaches of Dad’s biomechanical control center.
  By the end of summer Dad was gone.
  For those of us who had watched him deteriorate his death was a relief…his suffering was done.
  It seemed as if he had been unplugged from life and spent several months winding down to the end.
  Things crossed my mind:  Where did the cancer come from?  Was it something he was exposed to in World War 2?  He had been near those atom bombs they dropped on Japan…had a renegade atom set off a renegade cell?  Who knows.  Maybe he simply just got ‘The Cansuh.’  Mighty trees are felled by blights and disease, what if cancer is the blight that attacks humans?
  It was time for the funeral.
  Mom was there, of course.  My brother and his wife were there…and me.  My sister was MIA from the event.  Cousin Doug was there.  A bunch of people I recognized were there too.
  And The Mystery Woman was there.
  She was a mystery because she kept her distance from the family and didn’t associate with us or anyone else.
  She caught my eye because she was wearing sunglasses inside the funeral chapel and wasn’t taking them off.
  She was much older than me, probably in her 60’s like my dad…she was just a touch dowdy but still attractive.
  “I’d bet that’s Zelda*,” said Cousin Doug.
  “Who’s Zelda?” asked my brother.
  “I reckon your daddy dated her in high school,” said Cousin Doug.  “Grandma talked about her some over the years.  I thought when Grandma talked like that it was being disrespectful to Aunt Johnnie, but I never said anything.”
  Cousin Doug was the only person I knew of that called my momma “Johnnie.”  It was a name my Grandma gave her.
  It wasn’t until I was grown that my mom told me the story of how she came to be called “Johnnie” and my grandma came to be known to her and my Aunt Becky, Cousin Doug’s momma, as “Madame.”
  It was the classic conflict between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law sprinkled with the cultural clash between South and North.
  When my dad came home to Virginia from his World War 2 Army service with a bride from Ohio my grandma was not amused.
  Grandma called Mom “Johnnie.”  Johnnie was the name of a maid who used to tidy up around Grandma’s big house.
  Grandma had a big house and took in boarders, the young women who attended the business college nearby.  At any given time there were 4 or 5 young women renting rooms from Grandma.
  Mom figured if Grandma was going to call her Johnnie she’d just call her mother-in-law “Madame” as Grandma’s house seemed to be like a whorehouse with those young women living there.
  So with Grandma gone since the 1970’s Cousin Doug was about the last person to refer to Mom as Aunt Johnnie.  None of us in our family thought much of it and it was something Cousin Doug grew up hearing.
  Anyway, back at Dad’s funeral…
  “What’d she say about this Zelda?” I asked.
  “She never said much and never said it a lot, just, ‘Your uncle should’ve married that Zelda girl.’”
  “I remember now,” I said to my brother and Doug.  “Just a bit of conversation between Grandma and Dad one time.  Just the two of them talking in the dining room one day while Mom was out and Grandma said, ‘You should’ve married Zelda.’  And I wondered who Zelda was and why Grandma would say that.”
  “What did Dad say?” asked my brother.
  “He said, ‘Now mother, I’ll don’t like it when you disrespect Louise,’” I said.  That was Mom’s name…Louise.  “Grandma and Dad didn’t talk for a few minutes after that.”
  I always wondered why some people don’t keep such thoughts to themselves…insulting other people, casting shade on other people, insulting people behind their back, to their face even.
  The service was about to begin and Mom was making her way back to sit with us after visiting with folks.
  My brother turned to me, “Don’t say anything to Mom about that woman.”
  “Do I look like I have ‘stupid’ tattooed on my forehead?”
  Mom sat.
  The organ music began.
  After a couple of minutes the preacherman got up and started talking about Dad, saying good things about him and his life, saying those magic words, those holy words preachermen say at funerals.
  And soon the service was over.
  People were leaving, talking to Mom and my brother.
  I didn’t know anyone they were talking to so I didn’t see much sense in hanging around.
  I looked around for The Mystery Woman…she was gone.  I eased on out the door ahead of the crowd and looked around.
  There she was, walking away, down the sidewalk, by herself.
  Was it Zelda? 
  Or was it someone who worked with Dad.
  But if it was someone who worked with Dad surely she would’ve paused to say hello to Mom.
  Was she one of those weirdos who likes to go to strangers’ funerals?  There are such people.
  If it was Zelda why did she still care?
  Who was I to ask?
  I was curious about the story.
  But Dad never would have told me anyway, he wasn’t a storyteller…not in my eyes anyway.  He never told me shit about anything.
  Dad didn’t share.
  I could just see me asking him about Zelda.
  He and I would be sitting in the living room some Sunday afternoon, he’d be watching some golf game on TV like he always did and I’d say…
  “Say Dad, who was Zelda?”
  He’d probably turn, his face getting red and yell, “NONE OF YOUR DAMN BUSINESS, BOY!”
  The only time he seemed to ever confide anything in me was the time me and my buddy Catfish were in the wrong place at the wrong time and got into a “spot of bother” with the police.
  That was when my dad told me about the “spot of bother” he got into with the police as a teenager when he and some of his buddies ran the tollbooth on a toll road and got caught.
  What happened to Dad and Zelda?
  Why did my grandmother still talk about her after all the years?
  Grandma had this thing about wanting her two boys near her.  Cousin Doug’s dad didn’t give a shit what his mom wanted but my dad wanted to be that quintessential “good Southern son” who bought a home for his momma and daddy and lived nearby.  It’s how we ended up leaving Hawai’I and moving back to his hometown in The Southland.
  So if he’d married Zelda from the get-go he never would have left the old hometown.
  And I probably wouldn’t have been born.
  If this was Zelda who had come to the funeral how long had it been since she and Dad dated?  Fifty years?
  But what’s 50 years to the heart?
  I watched The Mystery Woman walk on in the distance until I couldn’t see her anymore.
  And i never mentioned any of this to Mom.


*Names changed…

Friday, February 15, 2019

UFOs I Have Known...Or Been Told About Anyway

Picture of "The Phoenix Lights" of March 1997.  It's estimated that about 50,000 people saw this huge craft from Casa Grande to The Valley of the Sun.  When two jets scrambled at it from Luke AFB the thing took off to the west like a bat out of hell.

Mention Roswell to someone from out of the region and they almost always make a space alien or “unidentified flying object” (UFO) joke.

To most of us around these parts when we think of Roswell is that town down the road a bit…used to play ‘em in football, stuff like that.

I remember when I moved to Roswell it was basically just known for cattle, oil company offices and pecans.

I tell folks about the time I left Roswell in 1992 was the time the UFO-ologists started trickling in to town all for that UFO crash off to the northwest of town back in 1947.

I tell folks I’ve seen two UFOs in my day. Most everything else I know about UFOs is from stories other folks told me.

My UFO encounter happened back in the spring of 1979 when I was living in the mountains of Appalachia. It was night and I had the family dog out for a pre-bedtime walk.

A light skimming along the ridge of mountaintop caught my eye. It was moving from north to south. A strong, steady light skimming right along the top of the mountain and not making a sound. I watched as it came to the southern peak of the range and continued on off to the south. I’d seen many planes come over that mountain, most of them B52s and jet fighters on training runs from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina, but this light was different. And those jets made noise, this didn’t make a sound.

It would be years before I’d see another UFO. It was within days of arriving in Roswell. Like I said, back then about 30 years ago, Roswell was known for cattle, oil and pecans. I had no idea about the 1947 spaceship crash. The UFO I saw was bright and shiny in the western sky just after sunset. The next day I was told it was a weather balloon, they launch them from Ft. Sumner from time to time. I was so disappointed.

Now my friend Kent, Bard of the Pecos, saw something one evening that summer, again just after sunset: four bubble-like things moving one after the other slowly south to north in front of the growing darkness from the east. When the last one disappeared a small red light appeared to chase after them going about four times as fast as the bubble-things. Now I know Kent liked to have an after-work whiskey, but that wasn’t affecting what he saw; his wife and kids saw it too.

But then, you know, I was watching “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” not too long ago and that movie had UFOs just like that…hmmmmm….

Then there was the Roswell woman I knew who may have been abducted by aliens on her way back to Chaves County from Albuquerque one night.

At least that’s what she said.

She had picked up a hitchhiker just south of Cline’s Corner.

It was a normal ride south on US 285…


Between Cline’s Corner and Vaughn she noticed lights dancing erratically in the east. Moments later one of the lights came zooming in at her. About a quarter-mile off the highway the thing stopped…a hovering triangular craft.

Her car went dead.

The hitchhiker started freaking out and hollering out Bible verses.

She got out to get a closer look at the craft. She started to walk toward it, all the while the hitchhiker sat in the car hollering and praying.

There was a bright flash of light and the next thing she knew she was standing by her car again.


“Would you please shut the hell up,” she said as she got back in the car. “What the hell are you talking about.”


“Oh bullshit,” she said as she turned the key and her car started right up.

She headed down the highway, all the while the hitchhiker yelling out Bible verses and prayers.

As she rolled into Vaughn and slowed down the hitchhiker opened the door, rolled out and hit the pavement. She watched as he got up and ran off into the night.

She pulled into the Allsup’s store there in Vaughn.

“I need to call the cops,” she told the clerk. “I just saw a UFO.”

The clerk and people in the store were laughing at her when a black car pulled up and a man in a black suit got out, walked in and told the clerk that he too had seen a UFO.

She thought it was weird, this man in a suit so she left without talking to anyone else.

Well, that’s what she told me anyway.

I often wondered about this story, she told it so convincingly. But she told other stories too that made me scratch my chin, like she was the person who invented the nationwide advertising slogan, “Everybody doesn’t like something, but nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee.”

I’ve often wanted to have a good UFO encounter, like the famous “Phoenix Lights Incident” of March 1997. I was so disappointed to be just 100 miles away when that happened.

It seems so strange to be on this giant organic spaceship zipping through the cosmos and to believe that there’s not another single civilization in the universe…there’s only us.

Frank the Trinidadian, my co-driver from my trucking days, dismissed talk of UFOs and extraterrestrials with the wave of his hand.

“There are no such things as space aliens or worlds with people like us,” Frank said with his Caribbean accent. “The Lord gave us the moon and the stars so we wouldn’t be so lonely at night. We are the only civilization out here.”

Well whatever, Frank.

But I’d still like to talk to these folks who zip around in our skies.

Imagine the places they’ve been!


Saturday, February 9, 2019

An Angry Teenager and a Rifle

  It’s been a few years now since the television news was filled with reports out of Roswell, over 100 miles southwest of here.
  There was a shooting at a middle school there.
  A 12 year old brought a shotgun to school then shot and badly wounded some classmates: A 12 year old boy and a 13 year old girl.
  When I heard about this my mind went back many years ago to when I was in junior high school...and I remember Kevin*.
  Kevin is dead now. He died in the early 1980's, a bullet right between the eyes. I never knew if he was shot by someone or if he shot himself. His parents who lived across the street from our family never told anyone the full details of his death. They just buried him at their old hometown cemetery near the Chesapeake Bay and brought his dog home to live with them.
  I remember Kevin because I saw firsthand how bullying can change someone.
  Kevin showed up in our neighborhood when I was in 7th grade
  Back then, in my boy's mind I came to realize I was glad Kevin showed up. Where once I had been the target of bullying and practical jokes, the focus switched to Kevin.
  Kevin was brainy, liked to enunciate his words so it sounded like he had a weird accent…he liked to use little-used words in his talk and asked a lot of questions why 7th graders did the things they did. For a while he was my friend...until he took a general dislike to practically everyone.
  I can't remember all the things Kevin endured but he took the brunt of the stuff when I moved away from the old home town. My dad took a job up north a few months after Kevin came to the neighborhood.. When we came back over a year later Kevin was not the smiling, inquisitive kid I used to know. He had become dark, brooding and didn’t say much.
  One night there was a knock on my door. It was two detectives from the city police department. They wanted to know if I knew anything about Kevin's house being egged.
  I did not.
  The detectives mentioned a couple of names: Dax and Lou….had I heard them talking about egging or planning to egg Kevin's house?
Dax and Lou were friends, but they liked to play practical jokes, usually with a mean twist.  Like I mentioned, I had been their target...these days it was Kevin.
  "Because you see, boy," said one detective, "In our state the hurling of an object at a person, vehicle or house is a felony under the 'missile' law."
  The detectives left.
  I doubt the egging would’ve gotten any attention if it hadn’t been for Kevin’s dad working for the city government.
  Some time later Kevin came over to my house.
  "I want to show you something," said Kevin in his clipped speech.
  We walked back across the street to his place and walked behind the house.
  There in the backyard were two deep, rectangular holes.
  "Those look like graves," I said.
  "They are," said Kevin, "Those are graves for Dax and Lou. Come to my room."
  We went into his house. His parents and sister were out.
  We went into his room.
  He pulled a rifle from under his bed.
  "I'm going to kill Dax and Lou with this," he said.
  I just stared at the rifle, then I looked Kevin in the eyes.
  "You don't need to kill them," I said.
  There were moments of silence as Kevin and I looked each other in the eyes.
  "You'll get in a lot of trouble," I said.
  He put the rifle back under his bed.
  "You can go now," said Kevin.
  Kevin never did shoot Dax or Lou. He covered up the "graves" in his backyard.
  As an old guy I wonder why his parents let him dig those holes in the backyard in the first place.
  As an old guy I wonder why I didn't tell someone. Probably because I didn't want Kevin to shoot me.
  The last time I spoke to Kevin was that day in May 1972 when George Wallace was shot. Kevin was a big fan of George Wallace.
  I was sitting on my grandmother’s back porch when I saw Kevin walking down the street smoking a cigarette.
  "Hey Kevin," I called out to him. "Did you hear George Wallace got shot?'
  He stopped and looked at me.
  "That's sad," said Kevin.
  "I think he's just wounded," I said.
  He turned and walked away.
  For the rest of our school years Kevin hung around with a different bunch of kids. If we encountered each other we acted as if we were strangers, like we had never been friends. We graduated, I went to college, he joined the military.
  And then years later came the news that he was dead.
  I don't know what to make of it all.
  But when I hear news about a shooting at a junior high or middle school I remember Kevin.
  And I wonder....


*Names changed…

Friday, February 1, 2019

Tales From the Edge of the Earth: Found Notes

Picture of the actual factual note I found on the sidewalk in West Pensacola...

  The Lady of the House and I lived by the beach for two years. Actually we were a few miles from the beach but saying “we lived by the beach for two years” adds a sense of fun and frivolity to the experience of living in Pensacola, Florida.

  I used to walk our dogs every morning. I’d leave our West Pensacola home and stroll down the big boulevard that ran out of town off to Mobile. It was called Cervantes Street.

  One morning as me and the dogs took our stroll a folded piece of paper caught my eye.

  I reached down, picked it up and opened it…

“Hi Boo! Wot u been? 2 me nuthin. Just chillin –n- thinking bout u so bored. Miss u yo bad azz is green. Did u tell Cheldra sumthin bout Keyshawn –n- dnt let Nekeyla read our notes cuz all she do is tell everybody wat we be talkin bout 4 it take u so long 2 write me bac c if u can cum 2 mi hous dis weekend well mi gum hav no mo flavor so bye talk later kisses BYE BOO”

  I couldn’t bring myself to transcribe the rest…too many thoughts about the fate of the USA in the hands of folks who couldn’t spell or construct a sentence..

  I like found notes.

  To me, they’re a true view of the human condition.

  I mean it’s not like reading a diary or anything. I don’t know who wrote it and if they chucked the note to begin with what can it hurt?

  I used to save these writings…notes found while riding my bicycle, a folded piece of paper on the street catches the eye…notes found inside books at thrift stores…just notes I found. I was going to write something extensive about them, but didn’t.

  I remember the ones I tossed.

  There was the one I found in the street in Phoenix complete with a drawing of a scowling sun wearing shades and a spike-collared pit bull on a chain. Someone had written “The cop and the gangbanger,” a bit of writing devoid of punctuation that detailed a gangbanger making friends with a policeman and how the gangbanger didn’t know how to feel when the policeman shot and killed the gangbanger’s friend.

  There was the grocery list written by the person who…okay…maybe they were in school the day they taught the lesson on apostrophes but may have been daydreaming when they got to the part on proper usage. On the list were things like: “Tomatoe’s, tortilla’s, hamburger bun’s,” etcetera.

  One gem I found while perusing the pages of an old book at the Salvation Army Thrift Store in Roswell. A guy had written a note to his significant other explaining his need to pleasure himself because “I’m not getting enough loving from you.” I got the picture from the writing that his significant other had walked in on him whilst he was having a “hand party.”

  I’ll always pick up a note off the ground just to see what people are up to.

  That is, unless, it’s covered with some weird schmutz.