Sunday, September 27, 2009

La Cucaracha: an essay with passion

La Cucaracha, La cucaracha;
Ya no quieres caminar…

That’s what the song says. It states that the cockroach does not want to continue on. I have never seen a cockroach that did not want to go on. They are survivors. They’re the ones that certain scientists think will survive a nuclear holocaust (like the one that Iran is gearing up for, no doubt). Now, don’t think that just because I admit that they are tough and adaptable and can live indefinitely on next to nothing that I have even a modicum of respect or even (shudder) admiration for these plagues. Nope.

They are nasty, evil, treacherous, and all of that times 10 when they fly at you. Big, high-walking, scratchy-legged scavengers that revel in surprising my daughters in the kitchen, or the bathroom, or outside the front door. They have a diabolical intellect, though simple and unadorned. Their intents are guided primarily by striking fear into humans, and only on the second tier, eating. When a roach flies at you, it is not to escape. It is a tactic reminiscent of the kamikazi pilots of Japan. Take wing directly to the enemy, though he be larger, he may just run screaming like a little girl. Didn’t really work in the Pacific in the early 1940s, but the intent was the same. Except I think that more of those pilots died than have the roaches who take the same approach.

I can’t tell how many times I have been lurched awake from a nap or solid nighttime slumber by the shrieks of my oldest daughter after a sighting. The middle one is better, but she is reluctant to enter a room where one has been seen without proof of extermination; she needs a habeas corpus. The littlest gal is a bit more intrepid; she’ll actually kill one herself with whatever is at hand, and since we don’t allow shooting in the house, it’s usually a sister’s flip flop conveniently left wherever.

It’s not like we’re infested, we have sprayed around the house at various times and supplemented with Bengal at the entrances and other possible entry points. So most of the shiny brown devils we see are at least ailing, if not on their last tour of duty. This aids us immensely in the killing of the intruders; normally a cockroach’s reflexes are so lightening-fast that they can smell the synapses fire in your arm just as your nerves cause your muscles to contract in the effort to smash them with a shoe. Unless you’re an experienced roach hunter, you don’t know to lead them by a sole width so that they run into the hammer of judgment.

But the experienced hunter also knows that it takes a deft touch to kill the quarry in the proper way. A well-timed, well-aimed monster slam will give the killer a satisfying recoil, but it will also provide the dreaded “pop/crackle” that indicates that you will have the unsavory job of cleaning up the roach innards that explode from the unfortunate target.

I watched my Grandmother play cat-and-mouse with a big roach one summer night a long time ago. We were watching TV and kept seeing the shiny dark form trekking back and forth in front of the old black and white Zenith. Each time GranMommy would spot him, the roach would skitter back across the floor to safety. After several near misses and frustrated attempts to send him to his eternal punishment, she just happened to be returning from a trip to the kitchen that coincided with his trek across the floor. There, in front of all of her grandchildren, GranMommy said, “Roach, you and me have done had it out!”, and with that declaration, she shot her bare foot out and crushed him. We were shocked at her brave, bare foot and admiring of her fearless protection of us.

Ya no quieres caminar, indeed!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Lament

Being on the forced active job search, I am under somewhat of a strain lately. To put it mildly. I thought it might be nice to slip out this afternoon and go down the grass path to the low water bridge and squeeze off a few rounds of my trusty pistola.

I gathered my .40 and magazines full of 42 rounds of Winchester ammunition, along with my trusty Daisy Powerline, two CO2 cartriges and a box of BBs.

Heading off toward the ditch, I was enjoying the Southeast breeze and the smell of all the grass. I saw a two foot long rat snake. We exchanged greetings and went our separate ways.

As I got closer to the ditch and the “road” that leads to our shooting spot, I noticed that there were new fenceposts and a strand of brand new bob wahr. To the rest of the country that’s “barbed wire”.

I was aghast. How could they do that? Staring in disbelief, I kept walking closer and closer, not wanting to believe my entry was being barred. Passively, yes, but barred nonetheless. There was a day not so long ago that I would have simply ducked under the fence, but in those days I wasn’t carrying a serious caliber pistol in my hip pocket. The thought of encountering someone and them calling the county mounties on me, all the while with a firearm (concealed) and a pile of ammo did not appeal to me. I am out of work, but I don’t think I want to spend that time in jail.

Crestfallen, I trudged back up the dirt track, half hoping to tell the snake my troubles. I crossed the dried up ditch and went up the other side of the tributary. This leads down to the main bayou/ditch where the low concrete bridge is where we used to stand and shoot.

Tromping down the open dirt road that runs parallel to the familiar road to the place I taught my youngest daughter to shoot, I began to really regret the advancement of civilization. Who would do that? Well, it’s just as well; the property I was walking alongside is rumored to have sold for development a while back, and the property behind that has turned into improved pasture for cattle. I looked out across the field to my right and even saw houses. I grew more nervous about seeing houses across the pasture. I made the decision to leave my big pistol holstered, so to speak.

But I just had to reach out and touch something! Good thing I brung my BB gun. I set up a lonesome Sam’s cola can and used up both CO2 cartridges, practicing my aim and trigger control, to the extent that one can on a Daisy Powerline.

So another page turns in my life; no more places to shoot for free. No more getting my nitrocellulose fix, not to mention my little gal and her Annie Oakley practice.

Dang civilization.

Friday, September 11, 2009

An Old Right for a New Generation

The Second Amendment lives! I had a student of mine come up to me at the beginning of class last night and ask if he could have an excused absence. I looked slightly askance at him and said, "Go on..." and he proceeded to tell me that on Wednesday night, he had his home broken into and burgled. They kicked the back door off the hinges and took a lot of stuff.

He went on; when he arrived home and was assessing the loss and damage, the guy came back and was going for round 2. Michael, the student, heard the intruder and retrieved his 9 mm pistol. He approached the guy and basically told him, "You can stand still right there, or I will shoot you."

I guess the guy, though Michael said his eyes were switching and twitching like a thing that twitches and switches around a lot, was lucid enough to understand that the fella with the pistol wasn't fooling around. The police got there and cuffed the drugged-out burgular and took the report.

So needless to say, he had some things to take care of that night, which probably included buying a pizza for his 9 mm.

I let him off, shook his hand for exercising his right to keep and bear (and bare) arms to protect his life and property, and had a good class.

I hope he gets it all straightened out, the doors repaired and new hollow points for his weapon.

Cuz you never know.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Chivalry is Not Dead...

...even when other things are.

Sometimes you just have to do the right thing. Like the time I went to my sister’s house to borrow the floating family edger. She was on vacation up in the Hill Country for a week or so, and it would still be several days before she arrived home again. My yard couldn’t wait.

I backed the ol’ Caravan into the driveway and lifted the back door for a quick-load-quick-getaway. As I approached the garage door, I heard some loud buzzing and saw a couple of big green-tailed flies that seemed anxious to get into the garage.

“Hmm, them’s some big flies.”

As I opened the door, I noticed a large number of other flies coming out to meet me. That’s odd. I ventured in past the cloud of insects toward the interior of the garage and on the first breath I drew, the unmistakable scent of decomposition met me like a sack of humid rotted cat, right in my sizeable nose. My eyes grew accustomed to the dimly lit tomb and sure enough, there was a very large decomposing orange tabby cat sitting there, well, decomposing. Now, when I see the CSI guys stroll into a crime scene with a five-day-old corpse decaying in the kitchen I know that it’s just a set with ersatz yuk on the floor. I don’t think anyone could keep a straight face in an atmosphere filled with putrefying flesh. Actors.

What I saw was a truly amazing composition that put me in mind of the famous painting; “the Death of Marat”, by Jacques Louis-David. That painting is of a man dying in his bathtub, fatally stabbed while writing, his quill pen still in his right hand, which had fallen limply to the floor, his head leaning on his right shoulder. The cat was a mirror image of this pose, save for the pen. He sat in repose, in a plastic baby tub with his legs out in front of him and his left paw outside the tub, and he was leaning heavily to his left. While I was amused by this similarity, the stench soon drove me outside amidst gags and chokes.

I briefly considered grabbing the edger and flying back home with nary a word to anyone. That option was short-lived; I couldn’t dream of having my sister come home from vacation to a ripe, dead feline ruining her babies’ bathtub. My path was clear; I had to dispose of this cat-tastrophy.

I wore a bandana around my head as a sweatband, and quickly decided to repurpose it to become a mask to protect me from the “eau de rotting kitty”. I took a couple of deep breaths and returned to the crime scene to assess what I could do. There was a large paper garbage bag provided by the city close at hand, and it looked as though I could slide the entire tub, cat and all into it and thus be rid of the entire thing at once. No way was I going to clean the tub out. There’s not enough bleach in Texas to disinfect that plastic tub.

About this time, I ran out of oxygen and had to bolt for the outside air once again. As I got clear of the stink zone, I again took a breath, this time through the bandana. Big mistake. The cloth held the molecules of stench in suspension until I could actually use them. Gag. Gag again, this time with the lunch I had consumed hours before nearly making an appearance.

I repeated that sequence about four more times as I readied the reeking tabby for his final journey to the landfill; breathe, run in, finagle tub/cat/bag until I run out of air, run outside. I finally secured him and his vehicle in the gigantic paper bag, rolled the top shut tightly and galloped to the curbside. Now it was someone else’s problem, most notably, the sanitation workers. Better them than me, since their olfactory fatigue has been keeping them alive since their second week on the job.

We never figured out how the unfortunate animal met his demise or how he ended up so conveniently in the tub, but I was thankful for whatever coincidences lined up to make my incredibly selfless act a little bit less, ah, pukish. I proudly say that I did not at any time of this ordeal actually hurl; but I gagged more than I ever had. Ever.

Still, when I think of it, I kinda want to spit.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Just Peachy

I love a peach. Not just any peach, but a really good, sweet, juicy Freestone peach. The kind they grow in the Texas Hill Country.

Alas, they don’t build peaches the way they used to. I had a couple of peaches last week that looked an awful lot like a peach, same size as a peach, same fuzzy demeanor, even a faint whiff of peach.

My hopes, as always, rose, but after the first bite, they were dashed. Though disappointed, I was not surprised when each in turn ended up as mealy, dry, pale imitations of what I wanted. These were strip-mined peaches from California, with flavor and juice bred out of them and “shippability” bred in. They will travel for days in a truck from coast to coast and not have much more than a slight contusion on the stem end, or a mere scrape across the cheek.

Flavor? No. But durability in spades.

The peaches that I long for are the ones from Kerrville and Fredricksburg that are as big as my fist (a pretty big fist) and so sweet and juicy you need a pancho and an insulin shot when you eat them.

When I was a kid (here it comes, Geezer Alert), I remember hopping barefooted across the asphalt griddle that was the parking lot of the Weingarten’s grocery store and into the cool air-conditioned store. The chilled floor soothed my feet and from the produce aisle off to the right the unmistakable aroma of peaches overtook me from twenty feet away. The Hill Country peaches were in.

As a young tough in high school, I recall a certain teacher, Mr. Christian, who would come by my Mother’s workplace and take orders for Fredricksburg peaches, by the half–bushel box. We usually got at least four and sometimes more when he arrived back in town. Then as a kid at home during the summer, my job was to peel and slice as many as I could. The resulting bounty was subsequently frozen, preserved or just sliced and sugared to go in a plastic tub in the refrigerator. These were used for every day tasks such as corn flake duty, Blue Bell ice cream accompaniment or to put in the milkshakes we used to make.

It was a job that was never like a job; something I didn’t mind doing at all. I would start at the pointed end and peel downward to the stem end (the peel came right off that way) and then run the knife around longitudinally, then a final lateral double circumnavigation into the big bowl in my lap, tossing the stone in a bag. Time after time, peach after peach and I never tired of the scent or the fuzz or the juice running from my fingers to my hand to my elbow.

My aunt Winnie, Grandaddy’s sister, had a peach tree in her back yard in Galveston. I used to accompany my grandparents there to pick peaches and figs. The peaches were grand, and I distinctly remember a picture of peaches backlit by the morning sun on Heard’s Lane and as I touched the skin, the tiny hairs falling off into the breeze in a faint cascade of shimmering dust. I wish you all could see the picture I have in my head from that vantage point. The act of purchasing your fruit with your own physical exertion; climbing the tree, holding on to the bucket, reaching for the perfectly ripe fruit that come to you hand as willingly and as gently as a drop of water coming off of a leaf.

It’s been years since I had eaten a peach that lived up to all I have just described to you. Too many times I have sniffed, squeezed and bitten only to be disappointed or even repulsed. There are peaches that I won’t tolerate past my teeth.

We went to New Branufels last year, the final “full-blown-whole-family-we’re-having-a-great-time-aren’t-we vacation. On the way to Canyon Lake, we saw a roadside stand next to a sun-bleached F150 with little buckets of “FREDRICKSBURG PEACHES”, so the sign said. Following an afternoon at the lake, we had to stop and sample some of their wares.

The friendly feller said that they were $5 a bucket, and though they looked awful small to me, I succumbed and forked over my five. Walking back to the van, I felt a little cheated; these things were not even the size of a tennis ball. Oh, well.

On the way back to the hotel, my middle daughter couldn’t stand the thought of those peaches sitting untouched, so she snagged one. Upon tasting the flesh of it, she exclaimed loudly, attesting to what I had only hoped for. “These are SO GOOD!” etc.

I had her select one for me while the other girls eagerly grabbed one of their own to sample. When I bit into it, I felt like letting go of the wheel and flying off to heaven on my own. It was the peach that I have searched for over the last twenty years. The Hill Country Peach that I remembered was disappearing down my gullet. Memories flooded back and the Geezer rose up in his seat, looked into the rearview mirror and intoned the sacred words, “Girls, THAT’s what a peach should taste like”.

And it is true.