Bob Cage

Bob Cage came to us at Ft. Hood in May, 1971.  We were an infrantry battalion made up of guys fresh back from Vietnam, there playing war games, mostly, against the National Guard and Reserves on their two-week summer camps: the 2/41st Mechanized Infantry, 2nd Armored Division–”Hell on Wheels”–bored stiff, waiting to get out of the Army.

One day after evening formation we filed into the day room for a game of pool and there he was, this guy in civilian hippy clothes but with Army-style short hair, an odd combination.

“Who are you–why aren’t you in uniform?” I asked him.  He was so nervous he could hardly speak, didn’t want to tell me his name.  I backed off a little, seeing he was so afraid–definitely not Army style where you could walk up to anybody and bum a cigarette, talk.

“What are you doing here?  Are you in the Army?”  I couldn’t let this guy just stand there mute wearing civilian clothes, the rest of us in fatigues.  In a moment he loosened up a little and said yes, he was in the Army, but they hadn’t given him a uniform yet.

“What?”  I asked, “you can’t do that; you can’t just suddenly be in the Army at a permanent post, no uniform.  You have to go through Basic Training at least.  Have you gone through Basic Training?”

“No,” he said, “they sent me here out of court.”

“What? What court” I asked.  I was somewhat familiar with the military justice system.

“The federal court in Austin,” he said.

“Well why did you come here from there?”

“They brought me here–it was three years in the Army or federal prison,” he said.

“Good grief, man, are you some sort of criminal?”

“Well, ” he said, “they think so.  They caught me at the border, at Laredo, with a van full of kilos. It’s a federal offense so they gave me a choice, the Army or prison.”

“Well where are you from?” I asked.

“Austin.”

“Well man, you’ll be OK here.  What’s your name?” 

“Bob Cage,” he said, and got quiet again.

That evening they gave him a bunk in the barracks, eight-man rooms in a cement three-story building, and the next day he had a set of fatique uniforms with his name on them, “CAGE.”  After we’d shown him the ropes, where to be, what to do, he started loosening up, talking to us.

“I thought you guys were all baby killers,” he said, “but you seem like normal people.”

I asked him why he thought we were baby killers.  “That’s what they told us at UT; that’s what everyone thinks there.  I guess they’re wrong.”

Well, yes they were.  Just coming back from Vietnam, we were the opposite of baby killers.  In fact, many of us liked good music, having fun, enjoying other people–and some of us enjoyed that same smoking habit Bob Cage did, that stuff he was trying to smuggle from Mexico.  

It was only a matter of days before Bob Cage was showing us around Austin.  He was a member of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and took us through a little door and up a narrow staircase to their headquarters above a store on the “Drag” across from the UT campus.  That was true anti-war, hippy-dippy Communist stuff and the kids there were shocked to see us, US soldiers, in their midst.

Bob told them not to worry, that we were decent people, but those students were too brain washed to be at ease with us.  Bob was caught in between, two worlds and he lived in both.    

Some of us GI’s had heard Jane Fonda earlier that year at a coffee house in Killeen called the Oleo Strut, wanted to hear if she truly hated war like we did, but had been disappointed to hear her little anti-American, self-centered, spoiled kid rant.  She had no idea of the problem, just being cute and playing the radical while living a life of luxury.  We were disgusted by her, how could she be so pretty and be such a rat? 

We’d risked our freedom by going there, probably gotten our names on some list somewhere as anti-American agitators–a real danger for guys in the Army, just to see this ignorant little kid get all poochy-lipped.

And the SDS headquarters in Austin was the same.  Bob could see his friends through our eyes at that moment, what a bunch of spoiled little kids they were, playing adult.

Bob also took us to secret hippy places on Lake Travis to dive and swim, and one weekend took us to his parents’ house in Blanco, Texas for an afternoon of swimming in his parent’s pool.  What an outstandingly decent guy–I will never forget.

His home was too civilian for us though, too humane, it softened and relaxed us too much for that time in our lives.  We needed to stay self-aware, not become used to anything nice as long as we were still in the Army so there would be nothing to take away from us that would cause pain.  So we left Bob’s house, thanking his wonderful mother for the fun, and went back to the barracks routine where we were comfortable to pace out our time.

When I’d first met Bob we’d talked about the Army’s hold on him as an individual.  This was the draftee Army that the modern, volunteer Army (VOLAR) used as the bad example, what to avoid if the nation expected anyone to volunteer.  There was a constant, quiet battle between the authorities and the draftees.

We saw those immediately in charge of us as deficient, failures in life who “couldn’t make it on the outside,” as they so often admitted in confidence.  The Army eliminated most of these types as it cleaned up its image but, at that time, the Army was run by alcoholics, drug addicts, the mentally ill and closet homosexuals, what William Faulkner called the “mean poor,” barn burners in positions of authority abusing that authority to take their emotional problems out on the draftees, normal people serving their two years out of duty and legal obligation.  It was horrible.

I told Bob he was in for three years, no matter what, unless he took off for Canada.

“Nope,” he said, “I’ll be out of here in six weeks to two months.”

“Bob, if you desert and they catch you, you’ll be out of the Army in nine months to seven years, depending on your military judge, and live the rest of your life with a Dishonorable Discharge.”

“No,” he said, “I’ll be out of the Army in less than two months and have an Honorable Discharge.”

“You’re dreaming,” I told him.  “You don’t know what power these people have over you; you don’t know the Army.  They’ve got your ass for three years and you might as well get used to it.”

“Nope,” he said, “two months at the most, and all I need is this little spiral notebook and this pencil,” both of which he had in his shirt pocket.

The poor guy, I thought, he’s got a hard lesson to learn, such a decent guy, too.

A few days later, not long, we were on the second floor of the barracks when someone said “Hey, look at that.”

Looking out the south side windows into the company street, we saw two MP’s questioning some guy we didn’t know, nothing out of the ordinary, nothing abusive, but Bob Cage was there right in the middle of it with his little spiral notebook and pencil.

We couldn’t hear what was going on but we could see Bob sort of leaning in on the conversation, listening closely and taking notes in his notebook, scribbling away, writing down every word.  The MP’s were obviously telling Bob to go away, that this was none of his business, but he stayed right there until the incident was over then came walking into the barracks.

“Are you nuts?” we asked him, “Don’t you know those MP’s can put you in the stockade, no questions asked?”

“No they can’t,” he said.  “Under UCMJ code blah-blah-blah, every contact between the MP’s and a soldier can be observed and written down by…blah-blah-blah.”  He seemed to know his UCMJ, even though we told him the rules didn’t matter.  The Army would do what it wanted with him, no matter what.

“You guys wait,” he said, “they’ll get rid of me with an Honorable Discharge within the month, just so they don’t have to deal with me.”

We were quite skeptical, to put it nicely.  But, sure enough, one day Bob came back to the barracks in the early evening and said “good bye, guys!  I got my Honorable Discharge, good bye!”  And he was gone.

How was it, then, that some of us had deserted then turned ourselves in, hoping to get assigned back to Vietnam to escape the stateside Army, and some had gone to Canada and come back, accepting our fate, and others had become hopelessly lost in hard drugs while waiting to get out, no way to shorten the time, yet Bob Cage was out in six weeks with an Honorable Discharge?

Bob Cage left us with that question: isn’t there always a better way?

 

 

 

Metrics Finally Got Me

After more than thirty years of evading metric measurement, they finally got me, got to my heart through my thirty year old American car.

The time was that metric sizes were distinctly foreign, something you needed to work on Volkswagens and Volvos even before the days of Japanese cars in America.  A few oddball British sports car guys had them, wrenches that were called “spanners” and shop manuals filled with misspelled words, talking about “fitment” and “annealment.” They’d been allies in WWII so had a special exemption, but, still, they were foreign.

To have a set of metric wrenches meant that you were somehow suspect, different, knowlegeable in fields un-American.  We would outwardly admire your expertise on foreign cars but, inwardly, we felt that you were not one of us, not to be trusted.

In keeping with this, I had no metric tools until long after working as a professional mechanic.  Following the taboo on borrowing tools, I usually found an American equivalent that almost fit and made it work.  Or, quite commonly, I would come across metric bolts when working on a friend’s car in Northern California where their Americanism is questionable anyway. 

Many people didn’t know where their cars were made: American, French, so what?  They were all wonderful people (or pretty cute) or I wouldn’t have worked on their cars for them–as long as I didn’t have to buy metric tools.  The few metric tools I had until last week were from these jobs, when a friend would buy the tool I needed to fix his car and tell me to keep the stupid tool.

Last week all that changed.  One of my sweetest loves, my thirty year old beat up Camaro, needed a little front end work so I jacked it up, put it on blocks and attacked the four large bolts that hold the front sway bar in place.  A 5/8″ socket was too big so I tried the 9/16″, the next smallest, and it was too small.  What?  These main, primary, basic front end bolts that have always been American size on every other decent car I’ve ever had, are Metric on my Camaro.

A Texan knows when things just ain’t right–and this just wasn’t right.  Somebody at the factory years ago had done this to me behind my back and now, here it was–betrayed.

Lord help me, I didn’t have a 1/2″ drive socket that size.  Somewhere I might have had a 3/8″ drive socket like that but they’re fairly good sized bolts and, in my opinion, really need a 1/2″ drive.  Good heavens, there I was with the front end up in the air, blocked, cardboard laid out for my to lie on, a fairly simple mechanical task before me–and I could not complete it without the correct metric socket.

I did not want to borrow one and buying one socket of the correct size doesn’t make economic sense, compared to the cost of a basic set of 1/2″ drive metric sockets.  OK.  I resolved to go to WalMart and buy a set of Stanley sockets. 

Stanley sockets are made in Taiwan, an American ally, so even though they are foreign car sizes money spent on them would at least go to an anti-Communist government, supporting good versus evil.

But when I got to the local, small WalMart I found they had reduced their tool selection sometime in the past five years.  I found the tools eventually and among them, a set of Stanley 1/2″ drive metric sockets for $20.  Taking them off the rack I turned them over to check for the “Made in Taiwan” mark and found, instead, “Made in China.” 

Creeping Communism, anti-Americanism, all those years I’d resisted buying metric tools the forces of evil had been gathering, building up against me, wedging me into this corner where, to work on my beloved beat up old Camaro I had to not only buy a set of foreign devil tools but give that money to enemies of the country I love.

I could have waited to visit a pawn shop in Midland/Odessa, put a set of sockets together out of their bins of used tools, but that would be weeks from now and I’ve had problems with used sockets at times.  The quality of these Communist sockets is up to what used to be the Taiwanese level, so maybe anti-Communist forces have taken over the Stanley plant in the heart of the Workers’ Paradise and by buying these tools I am financing the Capitalist/Democratic revolution in China.  It’s hard to be sure.

Anyway, the weather should warm up in a few days and I’ll go out and block up my Camaro again, attach these new sockets to the Craftsman ratchet and extension I bought in San Jose thirty-five years ago and get the job done.  If my poor old Camaro was originally built with these metric bolts I don’t guess it will know the difference.  But I will–always.

Professional Exposure, Development

Professional exposure, getting published in Canada Free Press, is changing me.  Getting rejected by American Thinker  is maturing me, too.  Writing has always been a part of work or a means to entertain, never a revealing, mature expression of my thoughts. The Army taught us that no matter how much we think we’re suffering alone at depths no man has ever reached, that’s self pity, a weakness.

In the Army when you’re really down and out, it’s a cause for scorn or humor.  If you feel deeply about something you keep your mouth shut.  Everyone, you can be sure, feels the same thing and is probably feeling worse than you are–talking about it just makes it worse. 

There were times that the horror of a situation would lay on us all so heavily we could not speak.  We would look at each other to see if we felt the same spectre, the silence, and absorb the moment, our souls forging into one.  We knew at the time that this was what made a brotherhood. 

When we could speak again it was with humor, with a profound sense of the ridiculous, of how utterly meaningless it all was, everything.

Sometimes I think about some of the things we went through during those times of the draftee Army, of Vietnam, of surviving the time in the stateside Army waiting to get out after Vietnam, and I feel the hurt of it for the first time.  We had to get by every day back then, had to keep on going–to complain would start a fissure in our souls that would crack right through the heart, bleeding us out instead of being able to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and so we survived just as people have survived hard times since time immemorial.

Surviving those hard times through traditional methods of toughing it out made us who we are, unlike civilians, and I genuinely have no complaints.  We learned, permanently, not to whine, to put our fear and hatred to use as a source of strength without being cruel.  The time has come, though, for healing up wounds caused by excessive humor, the strength of laughing at one’s self that leaves one smoking dope out behind a dumpster in San Francisco, thinking how wonderful life is.

Also, when you’re bad sick, running a fever with bumps all over you, you should seek medical help, not a place deeper in the bushes where they can’t find you.  It might be good camouflage but it’s not healthy in the long run.

It’s also not good to pass up professional opportunity to continue hiding in the ranks.  One of the great strengths one learns as a lower rank enlisted man in a purposeless Army is how to disappear in plain sight, to be a nobody wearing the same fatigues as everyone else and stand perfectly still, a blank face, until the selection for duty passes over like the Angel of Death.

That’s the skill you learn for mandatory attendance formations, where you would be punished for not showing up.  Any other time, when nobody is expected to be anywhere, disappearing becomes an art.  But, then, one enters the civilian world where one should stand out, be recognized, if one is to get ahead in life.

Is it worth the risk, to stand out?  Nearly all my military experience tells me no, that to be recognized for anything is to be stood up as a target or abused by superiors through jealousy or boredom.  And yet if you don’t stand up to learn something new, you fall behind in civilian life during your youth when you’re supposed to be making a name for yourself.

Friends wonder, why didn’t he take advantage of that fantastic offer?  And I think, thank God, I got away from there.  And so whole troops of guys just like me go through the years thinking how lucky we are not to be getting involved, not be getting snatched out for duty, and the world around us asks what’s wrong with us; we just must be nuts.  But we are living by another set of rules, ancient rules, the same ones our ancestors lived by when they settled this continent or survived being on the losing side of wars in whatever country they emigrated from.  You do not win a life and death fight by standing out and being brazen, promoting yourself.

We followed the rules of losers, perhaps, but the rules of survivors, too, out of place in a country that accentuates the winner, a country that has forgotten how to survive when beaten.

It’s all right.  Those guys who die out there in the woods, not far from home, feel safe and protected as they do so, a happiness that property-oriented people will never feel.  But most of us do not die out there; we make the transition, slowly, to some form of civilian life and come to enjoy indoor activities: regular bathing, sleeping indoors, medical attention, dentistry.

That transition is not just physical.  Deep inside we start to come out, to talk to others and, in some cases, to see where we can help.  It began for me working in the foster home program of the San Mateo County Juvenile Probation Dept. in 1976.  I found myself slipping into self pity, just driving along and finding myself thinking “poor me,” absolute pure BS, a fatal weakness, and had to find a connection with people who really had problems so I could put myself back in perspective. 

I found them there.  The first kid assigned to me had been abandoned by his family in a roadside rest area at age 12, about ten days before I met him.  Through working with him I came to appreciate all the care and attention I’d received over the years–no need for self-pity here–but after about three months of this work I became deeply confused.

How was it we were paid to work with these kids yet they completely ignored everything we said? What was the use?  And, above all, how could the professionals I’d come to admire keep coming in every day–in the case of the program supervisor for thirty years–and not go completely nuts?

That man, Art DeVoy, knew the answer to every question of human behavior, no matter how unexpected–he’d seen it before.  I went to him at his office to ask these questions and he said, first, that it makes no difference what you say to these kids.  They’re used to hearing adults say all sorts of things that mean nothing.  What matters is what you, in a position of authority, actually do.  The kids are constantly watching, seeing what you do, so it’s possible to work with them quite meaningfully for days without saying a word.  Be exceptionally careful what you do around these kids; they copy everything.

Second, he said, is that you must care for them, care for their futures.  He said he knew I cared, but did I care enough to make the next step in professionalism, the step where you learn to turn it off at 5 p.m. and get some rest so you can be there the next morning, year after year, to be a resource for the kids who will need us in twenty years?

We must be able to focus our professional attention on specific individuals for specific periods of time or we’ll burn out, we’ll work to exhaustion–and then what good are we?.  What non-professionals may consider callous, the ability to recommend jail time for instance, is actually professionalism, a preservation of energies and recognition of a need for closure so that the next kid waiting outside the door will get the attention he needs.

We were not hired to raise individuals from the dead; we were paid to help as many kids as possible.  Did I care enough to monitor myself as a professional, or was I there to play with the kids, to see if I could make them shining examples of my work, trophies for the mantle?

I had to get away.  I was still too immature, too wrapped up in myself to dedicate myself to others.  It was ten years before I became a teacher and then a probation officer, fields where true professionals are dedicated to the futures of their students, their clients, and in that work I found my adult self.  That was where I could help people to learn to communicate, to use knowledge instead of a gun or alcohol to solve problems.

So now I begin learning to write.  People ask, are you a writer?  Well, I get published so I guess some editors think I can write.  I do my best to express what I think and I guess that’s being a writer.  But do I yet, like Art Devoy, devote myself to the future of my readers?  No, not quite yet–still a little new at it, a little immature, but I sense that I’m going through the process rapidly from self-possessed ranter who feels he has something to say, looking for attention, to a voice that says what needs to be said.  Not just expressing my own thoughts like they’re something special, but putting facts and thoughts together into something meaningful for others–like good lesson plans for the benefit of the students, probation plans for the benefit of the client.  I’m beginning to see.

Recently I wrote a piece in rage about Herman Cain.  It was the best I could do after calming myself for 24 hours and an editor graciously published it; but rereading it I see the crudeness, the anger there.  I can do better.  I will learn from this mistake, not quite sure how yet, but there is something more about fighting and preparing for a fight that our ancestors knew and I’m determined to find it.  It’s not just crouching in the leaves with a gun staying utterly still, learning to quiet my heartbeat through a long night, listening to bugs crawl.  It’s something in the civilian world.

It’s not standing up and shouting, though that seems to be part of it.  There is much more to furthering the cause of decency, something of selflessness.  It’s recognizing the strengths and cherished traditions of peaceful, loving people and the civilization they’ve created, then spreading the news.  There can still be humor in this work, and not the humor the defeated need to survive.  It’s part of the joyous side of mankind coming, I suppose, ultimately from God.

I will find that peace within me and express it in written words.  That’s really being a writer.

The Malleable Mexican-American Border

The Mexican-American border is more than the Rio Grande or a fence in the desert; it’s a mobile frontier where cultures have struggled for centuries.  Forces of mayhem are currently dominant because governments on both sides don’t care, don’t appreciate the terror or are making money off the situation.

Politicians don’t understand that this is more than a debate point during election season; it’s an active international disaster that threatens national security.  

 America must defeat major criminal forces and provide a firm, regulated path for international exchange with Latin America or we will lose this war; those forces will overtake us.  Our rule of law will end and their rule of man will dominate as it does in most of Latin America.

The border is inherently unstable.  Americans go there for entertainment illegal at home, thinking Mexico has no laws; Mexicans cross to America thinking the same thing.  It’s common for families on both sides to recover their relatives from foreign jails.

A vast criminal economy thrives on this reputation, reaching far beyond the obvious sins into corrupt officials and milking social services.  Armies of gang soldiers fight wars over money, soldiers as devoted to their cause as any American military hero.  They only know force; the physical border means little to them.

 

When not stopped at the border they reach up into America and everyone feels the danger, the insecurity.  Americans used to feel it when they visited border towns then feel secure upon return—now it’s much farther north.

We discuss it, a strong, invisible sensation affecting us all alike.  It isn’t cultural prejudice.  Friends from Mexico say it’s stronger for them, a sense of being subject to the whims of local strongmen, of not having a set of laws to protect them.  It drives them to emigrate to America

The American rule of law attracts people of little opportunity from deep in Latin America.  At home, they cannot attain the security afforded the general American public, and so they come, danger increasing as they approach the border.

Danger also increases as governments and economies weaken.  The more desperate people, the more criminals there are to prey on them.  When governments turn their back predators pounce.  Conditions are worsening.

In places the sense of security has extended into Mexico.  Algodones, on the Colorado River across from Yuma, easily accessible from California, has been a haven for Americans for many years.  Kept absolutely safe by Mexican authorities, retirees wintering in the area shop, dine, and meet all their medical needs in complete security.

Cannon balls have flown over the Rio Grande at the south tip of Texas but usually they are at peace.  Now, however, as in all border towns, you cross into Mexico at your own risk; the nature of the border changes.

Ojinaga was our regional secret for years.  Far from other border towns, it escaped the usual filth.  It felt like a Mexican city far below the border, safe, beautiful and friendly, right on the Rio Grande.

Today, Ojinagans with family on both sides of the river advise not to visit.  Rural areas are safe but the city is insecure.  What a tragedy.  This tears at the heart of Mexico and at the hearts of all who love Mexican culture.

The El Paso area is fascinating, unique in its cooperation between authorities. Two national governments are involved, two American states, one Mexican state, El Paso County, two American cities (El Paso and Las Cruces, NM) and several municipalities and colonias. They have a vast reservoir of border knowledge, of solving problems, yet who is going to those functionaries and gathering information?

Corruption in Texas has made the American side of the border so insecure at times that Texans moved to Mexico.  When “Ma” Ferguson was elected governor in 1933, famed Texas Ranger Frank Hamer quit the Rangers in disgust and rode with the Rurales in Mexico.

Anglos were first drawn to Texas by freedoms afforded under the Mexican Constitution of 1824.  That’s why “1824” was on the Alamo flag.  They rebelled against the dictator Santa Anna, not against Mexico, because he had rescinded that Constitution.

Before Santa Anna marched north, the line between the rule of law and the rule of man was about two hundred miles south of the current border, below Monterrey and Saltillo.  Northern Mexico is still culturally and politically distinct from Central Mexico, more conservative and business oriented.

With Santa Anna’s defeat at San Jacinto in 1836, the line retreated to the Rio Grande according to Texans, to the Nueces River according to Mexicans, and the land between those rivers became a war zone for decades, finally secured for the United States through force of arms.

Border power fluctuates along the highway from Southern California to San Felipe  in Mexico, on the Gulf of California.  It’s a gold mine for Mexican traffic cops.

The highway also runs north from Mexico to almost unlimited work in the Imperial Valley.

When Mexican cops put too much pressure on tourists going to San Felipe, American cops put the hammer on Mexicans headed north to work.  After a few days everyone backs off and the cycle starts over.

The border might be a designated line but it’s actually malleable, a perception of authority.  The powers of evil pace themselves to our government’s varying level of concern, like Ho Chi Minh manipulating President Johnson, and they will win using the same tactic.

North American civilization is gradually eroding, as in the current discussion of resident tuition rates for long-term illegal aliens. Even conservative politicians are confused, willing to negate Federal Law to avoid the discussion.

Decision makers accept facts as fed to them and agree to pass the buck, ignoring standard methods of determining justice: contrasting people’s behaviors under like circumstances.

A significant body of illegal alien students foresee the residency problem and resolve it before they apply to college.  We never hear of them because they come from self-reliant families, hard-working people, the best of the American dream.  Mexico might someday save America from moral and economic collapse because of these people.

Should the system be changed?  No.  Illegal alien students should take care of their residency status ahead of time, like their peers.  This is not a government problem; it’s an individual problem, but no politicians on the federal level are willing to take the risk to say so.

If politicians ignore the law to accommodate noncompliance more exceptions will be sought—mayhem will increase.

Enemies of civilization encourage whining because it unsettles incompetent authority, benefits the forces of evil.  The corny phrase “forces of evil” applies here—come visit.

To cease suffering, just as to cease war, there is no substitute for victory.  Are our leaders willing to step up to the task?  Stabilizing the border will take a firm hand.

 

 

A Time of Flies

This is the time of flies on The Caprock.  With cool nights and warm days, all creatures are trying to find a home for the winter and flies will not be left out.  They swarm about the back door, landing on bits of old goat feed and excrement, and take advantage of the open door when they can. 

Even if the door is left closed they somehow get in, overwhelming the kitchen first and then the living room.  There are flyswatters stationed about, three good ones made of metal screen with wire hanger handles, so for about a month or so the battle is on.

In a normal, wet year the flies are only an afterthought against the yellowjacket wasps.  The yellowjackets usually drift about the house looking for an opening but, for some reason having to do with the drought, only about five have been seen this year.  Flies predominate.

The first freeze and a few cold nights have come and gone, yet the flies persist, proving their hardiness.  It’s nice and warm today, about 70 degrees, and they’ve come out en masse in the back yard where the goats congregate.  On a hot day the back yard smells like a barn yard; today, late autumn, mildly warm, the flies still prove that organic presence simpy by being here.

The door opens and closes quickly; a few enter and are hunted down.

In Midland, an hour south, some wealthy houses feature a room for their “mounts” where they display the preserved heads of African beasts.  I hope that my kitchen window sill reflects the same pride.

Some victims drop into the dish rack and disappear to be washed out later, but many are left to dessicate there on the white paint of the window sill, the merciless West Texas sun doing its job as always.  I walk by, microwaving food, and gloat over my trophies.

At some time Amber will come and clean the house and deride me for this as I type; but I’ve cleaned the refrigerator door since her last visit so she doesn’t have much of a gripe.  And there are no car parts on the kitchen counter.

For several years the man who owns the square miles around my house planted watermelons.  Coyotes eat the heart out of watermelons, leaving the rest for the flies. Deer eye each melon then probe a sharp hoof into it, smelling their foot as they extract it.  They eat the ripe ones, leave the unripe for the flies.

It is my duty as the human living nearest the watermelon patch to protect it, to scare away thieves and outsmart coyotes, but I have often failed.  Watermelon theft is not a capital offense and coyotes know to wait until they hear snoring, so much damage has occurred under the moonlight.  My dog, Bonnie, though half coyote, has been conquered by her human half and sleeps through those moonlit nights in my arms.

And so the flies multiplied in the rotting watermelon carcasses.  The land owner came to me at those times apoligizing for the clouds of flies associated with the dead watermelons and I thought of Chairman Mao, hundreds of millions of Chinese swatting flies in an effort to rid the country of them, a nation nourished by human waste.  

The land owner, in classic Maoist style, tried to mask the association of flies to his rotting watermelons, actually saying “all these flies aren’t because of the acres of rotting watermelons.”  Until he said that, my thoughts were only suspicions; his clumsy attempt at subterfuge convinced me the flies were due to the rotting watermelons, an effect I considered nonoffensive.

Anyway, here we are on The Caprock with all these flies.  Armed as I am with fly swatters and backed up with pressuriezed chemical agents, they may harrass but I know that I will eventually have the upper hand.  Nature, and the cold hand of God, awaits them.

Caprock Thanksgiving

The Caprock isn’t known for its political demonstrations or impersonal crowds hustling the individual about, requiring pushy self-defence tactics to get our shopping done.  Instead, we open doors for others and talk while we stand in line, listen to other’s opinions.

We carry on the traditions of an ancient civilization where the marketplace is common ground for socializing, for sharing news in the form of gossip or verified occurences of public importance.  We stop and talk, an important part of shopping, and someone “occupying” the supermarket entrance or the County courthouse would be dealt with quickly: they’d just be in the way, rude, and if they didn’t move they’d be handled rudely.

Inhibiting the freedom of another individual is almost unheard of out here.  It’s just not good business sense and it’s certainly not polite.  But we do have a few rude people, largely outsiders, and selfish, small behavior is gradually intruding into our traditions of common decency.  Hopefully it’s a temporary intrusion.

You can see it when you drive in Lubbock, drivers unthinkingly endangering others–in a way, as one older relative puts it, “putting on airs.”  They’re acting like big-city, uncaring modern people from high-density population centers, acting tough.  They push aside the oldtimers and their notions of sharing the road, ignorant of the hard times that brought about the social rules of mutual respect.

So there are lots of these young people acting tough with their teenage pregnancies and tattoos hoping to express individuality, barging through traffic in their big trucks.  Family gatherings see a few of them, uncomfortable, not sure how to act around their gracious, unintimidated grandparents. 

The grandparents know who they are, little this and little that, and don’t register the young people’s need to be seen as big and tough.  To them, an individual earns his status through his work and his Christian behavior concerning himself, his family and his community. 

All this tough guy stuff belongs on the service porch with the capguns and Cowboy Bob outfits; family gatherings are a time to enjoy the good side of life, the tender loving hearts of family burnished through the years with humor and demonstrated acts of love and care.  These are your family, the people who share your blood through childbirth or marriage, the people who took you in when you were sick and broke, who changed your diapers and taught you to eat corn on the cob.  They know you better than anyone else, perhaps better than you do.

They expect the young to behave decently, too, to shed all these trappings of modernity and be themselves, to recognize the strength of family that truly gets us through the hard times as it has for countless generations.

Thankfully, here on The Caprock most family ties are still so strong we can enjoy that timeless beauty.  And the tradition of Thanksgiving itself is still so strong that it includes all of us, Mexican and Anglo, Tejano and Black, Mennonite and Outsider. 

Most of us know that Thanksgiving started with a bunch of Pilgrims in Yankeeland a long time ago involving turkeys and Indians–but all of us know that Thanksgiving marks the beginning of “tamale time.”

“Tamale time” comes when it’s getting cold, when the cotton is being harvested, and lasts pretty much through the winter.  The height of tamale time is during the traditional holidays, Chrismas especially, but the usual Thanksgiving decorations that include corn husks draw many of us in for a closer look: are those husks good enough to wrap tamales?  It’s all one in the same–tamales are expected in the Caprock Thanksgiving dinner spread along with turkey, no matter the family ethnicity.

Of course Hispanic families still have the edge in this, homemade tamales always being the best and the ladies of Hispanic families cooking by recipes and traditions that come from illiterate times, spotless homes with dirt floors, a well and the garden out back.  This is a taste, a “sabor,” that can’t be duplicated and touches the heart of Caprock residents as dearly as old cowboy songs.

Non-Hispanic cooks are doing their best to catch up these days, borrowing recipes and techniques, but usually you can still tell.  Like a homemade tortilla, there is something of Hispanic family love and security in a true, Mexican, homemade tamale that is impossible to duplicate.  Perhaps time will overcome the barrier.

And so we reach out to each other at this time.  My favorite supermarket will be packed all day the day before Thanksgiving as all the rural people do their shopping, all the kids out of school, Dad not having to use the pickup for work so they can get to town, Mom in charge.  You’ll see little groups of giggling Mennonite kids, all nicely dressed in 19th century style, herded into a corner and kept there by Big Sister while Mother and Father do their shopping.

You will see real Mexicans from Mexico, usually a group of single men with their beautifully tooled leatherwear, their weathered faces and hands, stumbling their way through an English language supermarket.  To ask them if they need help would be to isolate them, point them out, so I nod and smile so they know they’re not resented and we all move along.

There are Black people in the market, the well-known, long-term grandparents, mothers and fathers with their little kids, survivors of the harsh racist past and now beloved old friends.  They know tamales, too.

No, there is no hatred here at Thanksgiving time.  We’ll laugh and chide each other at our family gatherings, heal the past, cherish our friends.  We are the beneficiaries of the American Dream, true peace and love under the protection of God.

The VA’s OK

The Veteran’s Administration (VA), at least its medical services out here on The Caprock, is really great.  If the nation is going to rely on an all-volunteer military, no draft, it must take care of those volunteers and make them feel special on a long-term basis–and the VA is doing this oustandingly well.

It wasn’t always so.  A few years back the VA had a terrible reputation for abusiveness and inefficiency, typical government bungling of money, property and people.  Now something has happened; someone, perhaps many people, have obviously been quietly at work cleaning up the mess and making the veteran the center of attention.

Twenty years ago, desperately sick, recently divorced, broke, working day labor jobs, I went to the VA in Southern California and took a seat in a huge crowd of old guys hoping to see a doctor.  I sat there all day, feeling a little better with so many people to talk with, even a WWI veteran, but at 5 p.m. a man stepped up and told us they could see no more patients that day so I crept out to my car and fell asleep.

They woke me up, told me I couldn’t sleep there.

Not long after, I needed a pre-employment physical and the VA told me I could get one at a Vietnam Veterans’ outpatient clinic if I got there at 7 a.m..  I was there at the appointed time–the intake worker and some sort of technician pumped me for information on Vietnam, exactly where I was, what I did, the things I never talk about even when I’m drunk, but I figured it was part of the process and I had a good job waiting for me, just needed a physical.

When the questioning was over they thanked me and said “that’s all.”  I asked where to go for the physical and they said “we don’t do that here” and directed me to the same hospital where I’d waited all day a few months before.  I left–out the back door, actually–and never went back.

I remember the waiting room though, the parlor and living room of the old Victorian house that housed that clinic on the edge of a broad city park, that there was no furniture in the room because the homeless Vietnam veterans who came in didn’t use furniture.  They were sitting on the floor, leaning on their backpacks just like Vietnam; they’d never really come back.  

I felt the brotherhood of the infantry in them, its strength grasping them forever, keeping them alive and smiling as the outdoor life it required aged their faces, the deep lines, the missing teeth, the ragged hair.  I had that “indoors” look that comes from sleeping and eating well and bathing regularly.  As strongly as Vietnam affects me, I had come home ten years before, thanks largely to the VA.

A caring young lady had told me that decent girls don’t fall in love with guys who live in cars.  She persuaded me to rent an apartment of my own, what a waste of money.  She also won a bet that I couldn’t go a week without alcohol, forcing me, out of attraction for her, to seek counseling at the VA in Palo Alto, Calif.

There, Dr. Bob helped me pull all the moldy old stuff out of storage, air it out in the sun and carefully fold it away.  I started living inside buildings and experienced sobriety for the first time in years.  The young lady found another lover–I was crushed, but owe her a debt I’d like to repay.

So now I’m old and starting to fall apart.  My Army buddy, Old Bill, participated in some PTSD counseling a short while ago and encouraged me to go to the VA, to trust them to fix me up.  No, no, no–I reminded him of when he had dysentery and jungle rot so bad, living in a Vietmanese village as a PF advisor, that they sent him to a big hospital in Cam Rahn Bay.  In a day or two he was back at the village: too many people in that hospital, too much noise.

I reminded him of the Army hospitals where they put me to recover from blood parasites when I came back from Vietnam.  As soon as I was well enough to get up they had me mopping floors and changing sheets for other guys, multiple amputees and burn victims, feeding men with no faces.  That heals you quick, prevents self-pity.

But Old Bill told me the VA is different, not the draftee Army we knew forty years ago, that I needed to see a doctor and I could trust them.  But how difficult.  As part of his PTSD counseling he had to tell someone how he got his Silver Star–he chose me.  After forty years of silence he told me what happened that day out in the mountains, and it is his story–I don’t think anyone else could put it into words.

And now I know why they gave him that medal, and why it has a big “V” for valor on it, and why he could never tell me, and why I cannot repeat it.  If those people at the VA could get him to unwrap that story and get it out to someone else, they are miracle workers, trustworthy.

So I finally went, with trepidation, to the Big Spring VA hospital earlier this year.  The young man looked at my DD214 (record of service) and directed me, with brotherly respect, to a young lady intake worker who also looked at my DD214.  In a moment she said “Oh, we’re trained to look for guys like you!”

After a while she said that because of where I was and what I did in Vietnam they were going to take complete care of me.  Holy mackeral.  I was still gripping my seat, ready to bolt out of there if authorities appeared looking like they were going to grab me.  But that didn’t happen.

I don’t know if it’s possible for any native-born American citizen to hate and distrust our national government as much as a Vietnam veteran does, to appreciate our individual freedoms as much as we do.  Miraculously, someone in the federal government understands this, someone in the Veterans Administration; it’s a God-send.

Chinese Quality

In Shanghai, in a huge State Department Store, there was a big cardboard box full of thousands of tiny white plastic radios about the size of ice cubes.

Each radio had two knobs, tuning and off/on/volume with a little lanyard for the wrist, and the Chinese were crowding around this box picking up each radio, turning the knobs and holding the radios to their ears.  They would listen for a moment, put the little radio back in the box then pick up another exactly like it, twist its knobs and listen.

It seemed that these people didn’t know about mass manufactured goods, that every radio was the same.  No, they knew exactly what they were doing.  These radios came from a State factory where the workers are paid the same no matter the quality of their product.  The radios may look the same, but some had internals and others did not; some didn’t have their wires soldered–the only way to be sure was to try each one out.

While living in China for a year, this proved to be true throughout the world of Chinese manufacture.  When buying a shirt, no matter how nice it looks folded in the box, lift it up to make sure the sleeves are sewn on, that the buttons aren’t just pinned in place, that the collar stays on.  Same with every other article of clothing, every mechanical device, cameras, anything.

The sturdiest clothing for sale was in the established free market. Private vendors sold People’s Liberation Army (PLA) clothing in the street, flea market style.  That proved ideal for winter in Manchuria–a fleece-lined officer’s coat, fur-lined gloves and hat of very superior quality, for example, at a reasonable price.  A padded Chairman Mao-style coal miner’s jacket fit great but needed its seams resewn to fit, as was true of all workers’ issued clothing.

Meeting and shaking hands with leaders of the Manchurian Communist Party on Chinese New Year (thanks to a mistaken Party invitation), close inspection revealed that their uniforms were of the highest quality material, expertly tailored.  These were men of rank, often missing an arm or leg, survivors of the Great March.  If the Chinese Communist Party has genuine heroes, people who prove their propaganda true, they were here–hardy survivors of the worst war can offer.  Their spartan dress conveyed their ideology–its quality reflected long years of faithful service, the best connections.

My faculty colleagues at the Institute were more modestly dressed; they wore their clothing carefully to avoid abuse or damage.  A year’s saving afforded one thin, split leather black winter jacket–a great gift from a loving wife.  Specialists in light industry, they told me their problems competing in the international market.

Typically, they said, an American company comes to China expecting to set up a branch and leave it in the hands of local Chinese managers.  A soft drink company, for example, constructs a factory to produce the product using ingredients shipped from America to assure uniform quality.

When the Americans leave, one of the trusted Chinese managers is approached by a friend or relative with a substitute for one of the soft drink’s ingredients.  The substitute looks the same, pours the same, tastes the same–but costs 90% less than the American ingredient.  Who will know if this material is substituted?    Does it matter what it’s made of?  Sure enough, no one can tell the difference and the local businessmen share the large financial difference–they congratulate each other on their brilliance.

After a year, nearly all the ingredients have been substituted in this way; the product looks the same as before but is no longer what the Americans think is being produced in their Chinese factory.  An American inspector arrives, finds what’s going on and shuts down the whole apparatus, losing the American investment and dashing the hopes of the Chinese employees.

The only exception were the breweries left by the German “Sphere of Influence” in Shandong Province.  The Chinese gained such an appreciation for good beer that only the good stuff–made from local ingredients–would sell.  With practice, one learns to hold an unpastuerized liter up to the light and judge quality on sight.

Can the Chinese ever adopt Western standards of quality control?  This would require a Western-style legal stucture, highly improbable.  When we’d completed our contract, our employer–the Ministry of Light Industry–had to find a “change money boy” in the streets of Beijing to illegally convert a suitcase full of Chinese money into American dollars because China Air, the government airline, didn’t accept communist currency.

China Air knew communist money was worthless, forcing my employer to commit an intensely illegal act to procure tickets home for us.  “Change money boys” were routinely gathered up and shot in the public square when I was there.

One eventually learns to live happily in such a society–just don’t go buying any old radio, be modest in your desires.

Sympathy for Obama

Our poor President Obama, he’s doing his very best by everything he was ever taught and it’s not coming out right.  If we look at America through his eyes for a moment we can feel the frustration, the disappointment that humanity is not following its proscribed path toward truth, justice and the Workers’ Paradise.

First we must appreciate Obama’s rearing within the Soviet Sphere.  Whether in other countries or here in the USA, his childhood was dominated by the international struggle of Socialism over the Running Dogs of Capitalism: America. 

The personality cults of his secular gods, Mao and Stalin, hoisted visages of these mass murderers all around Obama and idolized them as saviors of humanity–Obama took this as truth; he was offered no alternative.  The propaganda endemic to Obama’s early years was overwhelming, ubiquitous, beautifully designed to convince by some of the world’s most brilliant minds and proved true by current events: Vietnam, successes of the Red Brigade in Europe, the SDS and Weatherman in America, the Shining Path in South America and so on.

In his world, the Green Frontiers of Socialism were in constant struggle against the evil Capitalists.  He was groomed day by day to take up the flag and assume his heroic role in that struggle.  At some point, his handlers must have realized what a perfect stooge they had on their hands and began a special effort with him.

He was at singular advantage among most socialist youth, being spawned and reared completely by leftist revolutionaries within the Soviet Sphere but outside the horror of the Communist Bloc.  He grew up with the glorious fantasies of the People’s Revolution without having to see the reality of it.

Because Socialism/Communism is a European philosophy, it’s based on European concepts of class and class struggle–concepts that seem foreign to Americans.  Children raised by its strictures must identify with a social class–the working class or the proletariat–and gain rank by following the Party Line.

Free of any competing ideologies, Obama grew up a pure Socialist/Communist Red Youth thinking of himself as an average worker who, due to strict adherance to Party Thinking, earned the right to see those smiling faces of Mao and Stalin when he looked in the mirror.  His chin raised, his smile broadened, he now assumes the identical pose as his heroes in their best propaganda images.

Following this path he has gained the presidency of the United States, further reinforcing the truths of Marxism and Maoist Right Thinking.  But things are starting to go a little haywire now.  When Stalin got to the top he could continue breaking “a few eggs” to achieve Socialism, controlling every aspect of his command society with the threat of life and death.

When Mao pushed the Koumintang out of mainland China he took total control with his People’s Liberation Army, with the consent of most Chinese.  Later, his Red Guard, born in revolution, seperated from their past and forming the core of the Cult of Mao, nearly physically destroyed all of ancient China at his order.  Only the moderating influence of Chou En Lai prevented that total destruction.

Why, then (Obama must wonder), can’t the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protestors and their ilk nationwide rise up and destroy the revisionists, capitalists, religionists and other counterrevolutionaries?  The Red Guard did such a great job for Chairman Mao, why can’t the OWS protestors do the same for President Obama?  In Obama’s world this makes no sense.

Stalin got Russia, Mao got China, Ho Chi Minh got Vietnam, Castro got Cuba, the Great Leader got North Korea, Pol Pot got Cambodia, and so on and so on.  Why doesn’t Obama get the USA?

Well, there’s this whole matter of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights including the free press, right to assembly, free speech, concepts of a limited government, the American people’s stubborn adherance to regular, free elections and basic American cussedness that gets in the way.  Obama’s heroes didn’t have to deal with these things and in his propagandistic upbringing all these American traditions were minimalized.  He was told they were all lies and/or means to control the working class. 

Oops, turns out most Americans take these rights for real.  We dont want the fight to end–we enjoy the marketplace of ideas regulated by our venerated rules, don’t need any Workers’ Paradise.

So thoroughly indoctrinated since birth, Obama cannot conceive of the challenge he faces.  In his world, the movies of his youth, Stalin steps off the airplane and the crowds rejoice; people cease fighting because the renowned example of peace and justice has arrived, the secular Jesus.  At home he was taught the myths of Socialism/Communism by adults who believed it was true, whereas most Americans eventually accept there is no Santa Claus.

Here, Obama keeps stepping off planes and buses, the crowds cheer–but the debate doesn’t stop.  To most Americans Obama is not the obvious living god sent to bring us Hope–he’s just another politician and, it turns out, not a very good one.  All the glowing beauty of Communist propaganda that forms Obama’s world fades in a fair fight, in the open market of ideas.

We should feel sympathy for Obama.  Some day after November ’12 he might pull Santa’s beard and find it’s fake, that he’s not a Great Helmsman nor a Man of Steel, that he’s lucky to just be one of us: another American with another opinion.  He’ll need a hanky.

American Smallness

Crossing the King Fahad Causeway from Bahrain to Saudi Arabia is a simple affair; with a touch of adventurism it’s even simpler.

The standard way to cross is to buy your ticket and get on the bus in Manama.  Halfway across there’s a dredged-up island in the Gulf where you pass through Saudi customs.  The bus stops, the driver walks down the aisle and gathers everyone’s passports (quite a stack) and disappears into the customs building.  About thirty minutes later he reappears, walks down the aisle and hands back the passports, saving the non-Arabic ones for last because he can’t read them, has to look at the photos and at his passengers–just as Americans have to do with Arabic documents.

The bus fires up and takes everyone to the station in Al Khobar where we hit the streets and find our ways home.  Some people are not willing to do this and spend their vacations in “the compound,” reading, watching ARAMCO TV and BBC, hoping for their time overseas to pass quickly so they can get home as soon as possible.

Taking the bus, walking the streets of an Arab town and getting through a non-English speaking world are part of the mildly adventurous American overseas experience.  Taking these challenges in stride opens a whole world of travel, of meeting and dealing with the great populations of the world.  People really are much the same everywhere.

Saudi Arabia is geographically in the center of everything, of Asia, Africa and Europe–and Bahrain is an ancient trading center, the home of the Dolman people where the Bank of Israel is next to the Bank of Syria and every other Islamic nation.  Messengers are constantly walking back and forth between them carrying little trays of tiny cups of very strong, very sweet, absolutely delicious coffee–despite what you see on the news. 

The Bahrain airport is in the middle of the civilized world–flights go everywhere and for very little money.  To forsake that world when it’s right outside the door is a tragedy.

To live in a little room watching the news, accepting the media’s version of things, is a waste of life–though there are those who are born to it and most Americans seem chained to it.

To go one step up over taking the bus, there are usually some Arabs hanging out at the bus station with their old Chevy Caprices parked out back.  One knows why they are there, but neither the Arab nor the American can openly conduct business at the bus station so they walk around behind the building, agree in lingua franca on a price, the American hops in the back of the old Chevy and they take off across the King Fahad Causeway.

The American, with minimal Arabic and the Arab, with no English, communicate just fine.  At the dredged-up Saudi customs station the American hands the Arab driver his passport and waits in the back seat.  In a minute a Saudi official comes out, has the Arab driver open his trunk while the American stands by willing to open all suitcases, no argument (just like at a Saudi airport) and, after a bit of hubbub, the official says all is well, the Arab closes his Chevy’s trunk, motions to the American to get back in the car and they take off for Khobar.

One time, while the Chevy’s trunk was open, the American looked up to see a bus from the King Abdulaziz Air Base hospital full of knockout Irish nurses admiring him.  There are rewards for doing something a little different.

At Khobar the Arab driver asks where the American is going and the American shows the Arab the Saudi Navy clearance on his passport, and the Arab takes the American right to his navy base home up the gulf highway–no hitting the street looking for the right bus to take him home.  The American, if he has any brains, gives the Arab a little “bakshish” and the evening becomes special for everyone.

This same slight American adventurousness works in Thailand, Eastern Europe and most of Africa–especially former British colonies.  A polite, assertive, open minded American can get just about anywhere in the world with a smile, a pack of Marlboros and some small American bills–and he leaves a chain of friends of exactly the same mentality as himself.  We Americans really are not superior–we’ve traditionally been just a bit adventurous, believing in the positive side of mankind, and that makes us heroes.

Now let’s return to that man in his room, spending his vacation at the compound.  He’s afraid of his own shadow, has never been pushed out of his comfort zone and as America has grown rich his comfort zone has expanded, allowing him all the riches without any risk.  He sees the riches portrayed on TV and this is his fantasy world–he lives there. Unfortunately, this has become the American norm–no wonder most Arabs hate us.

Compared to all those people making a daily living in all those countries all around the world, this American is a very small man.  He is so small his enemies can label him an uncaring leech on the workers of the world, a rich man deserving of slaughter–and they are not far from wrong.  He is self-centered, small, selfish, often keenly intelligent but narrow-minded, pitiable, unable to survive in the markets of the world and ready to slash out at anything that portends change.

The more this man is protected from a need to negociate his way through life the smaller he becomes.  He joins with others like himself to defeat those who frighten them with openness; he believes in union strength, collectivism, left-wing politics yet thinks of himself as a bold revolutionary.  His mentality is so common today that even supposedly conservative politicians appeal to the same insecurity in the electorate, viciously battling their opponents on every point.  They are, apparently, small people.

But this is modern American politics, the state of our society and many of its leaders.  We cannot deny it; our greatest power to affect it is the vote.  Will we vote for the most appealing, small, protective, vicious little fighter–like a cock fight–or are there enough adventurous Americans left to elect a traditional American: Herman Cain, who can regain America’s respectful position in the world?