Happy Father’s Day 2016!

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“When you’re young, you think your dad is Superman.  Then you grow up, and you realize he’s just a regular guy who wears a cape.” – Dave Attell

 

“Four-year-old: Tell me a scary story!
Me: One time little people popped out of your mom, and they never stopped asking questions.
Four-year-old: Why?” – James Breakwell

 

“He has always provided me a safe place to land and a hard place from which to launch.” – Chelsea Clinton

 

“Me and my dad used to play tag.  He’d drive.” – Rodney Dangerfield

 

“There should be a children’s song: ‘If you’re happy and you know it, keep it to yourself and let your dad sleep.’” – Jim Gaffigan

 

“Any man can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a dad.” – Anne Geddes

 

“I just sit there and make up songs and sing to [my son] in gibberish. I’m very good at gibberish now.” – Elton John

 

“I found out that I’m a pretty bad father. I make a lot of mistakes and I don’t know what I’m doing. But my kids love me. Go figure.” – Louis C.K.

 

“Men should always change diapers.  It’s a very rewarding experience.  It’s mentally cleansing. It’s like washing dishes, but imagine if the dishes were your kids, so you really love the dishes.” – Chris Martin

 

“I’m probably the most uncool guy that [my daughters] know – as far as they are concerned anyway – ‘cause I’m Dad.  I mean dads just aren’t cool – especially when I dance!  They don’t want me to dance.” – Tim McGraw

 

“Having a kid is like falling in love for the first time when you’re 12, but every day.” – Mike Myers

 

“Having children is like living in a frat house: nobody sleeps, everything’s broken, and there’s a lot of throwing up.” – Ray Romano

 

“The older I get, the smarter my father seems to get.” – Tim Russert

 

“My sisters and I can still recite Dad’s grilling rules: Rule No. 1: Dad is in charge. Rule No. 2: Repeat Rule No. 1.” – Connie Schultz

 

“You can tell what was the best year of your father’s life, because they seem to freeze that clothing style and ride it out.” – Jerry Seinfeld

 

“Fatherhood is great because you can ruin someone from scratch.” – Jon Stewart

 

“I’ve had some amazing people in my life. Look at my father – he came from a small fishing village of five hundred people and at six foot four with giant ears and a kind of very odd expression, thought he could be a movie star. So go figure, you know?” – Kiefer Sutherland

 

“I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.” – Harry S. Truman

 

“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.” – Mark Twain

 

“Before I got married I had six theories about raising children; now, I have six children and no theories.” – John Wilmot

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Father Wolf Transitions

My father in 1949 at age 16.

My father in 1949 at age 16.

At one family Christmas gathering in the 1980s, someone had invited an older couple most everyone knew.  They often provided musical entertainment at such gatherings; with the man playing a guitar, while he and his wife sang.  During this particular evening, the woman brought out a set of maracas and began yodeling.  I have to concede that – up to that point – I had never heard a Mexican yodeling.  I always thought yodeling was a characteristic unique to people only of Nordic extraction.  Even though I’m one-quarter German, I don’t possess such a talent.  But, if you’ve ever heard a Mexican yodeling…well, imagine a Chihuahua having a Maalox moment from hell.

Some of my male cousins and me tried to sustain our laughter and wondered how long this would continue.  The gathering took place in the house of one my aunts, Teresa, and her husband, Chris.  A massive abode with a wide, marble-laden foyer, a living room or seating area sat off to the left upon entering, and a formal dining room to the right, which allowed entry into the kitchen.  Most everyone had gathered in the spacious den, with several others in the kitchen and another dining area.  I stood in the den, with my cousins, our backs to the covered patio, with a clear view of the foyer and the front door.

As the woman yodeled, my father suddenly catapulted from the dining room into the living, straddling a broom like it was a toy horse.  He sported a bright smile and waved to the crowd in the den.  Those of us who saw him burst into hysterical laughter, while those closer to the kitchen, against the fireplace, or against the wall parallel to the entertainment duo jumped to their feet.  They clustered en masse in the center of the den, just in time to see my dad gallop back across the foyer into the dining room.  The woman singing saw him on the return jaunt and almost lost control of her voice.

It’s those moments that kept circulating through my mind these past several days, as my father, George De La Garza, began his transition into his next life.  It began last Monday, June 6.  After enduring an array of health problems over the past few years, capped by two weeks in the hospital just last month, he’d finally had enough.  We had a brief memorial service Saturday morning, the 11th, at a local funeral home.  Both my parents were wise to make funeral arrangements five years ago.  They had initially bought cemetery plots, but decided afterwards to be cremated and sold the plots back to the funeral home.  My father didn’t want an extended funeral; no real funeral at all, in fact, with a Catholic rosary, a lengthy mass, a parade of limousines and another service at the grave site.  His philosophy was simple: “just throw me in a box, toss me into the ground, say your prayers and go on with your own lives.”

I had written of my father previously, but he didn’t like too much attention bestowed upon him.  He was a unique character who liked to make people laugh and who often made himself the butt of his own jokes.  As a teenager, he’d often play pranks on his mother, Francisca.  Once she sent him to the store with a list of items to buy.  He left the house briefly and sneaked back inside and went into his parents’ bedroom; where he called the home phone number.  In those days, if you had more than one phone in the house, you could actually call your own number from within, and the other phone would ring.  His mother picked up the phone in the kitchen.  My father pretended to be at the store and confused by what she’d written on the list.  He aggravated her, until finally he set down the bedroom phone and startled her by walking into the kitchen.

My paternal grandparents had eleven children, but four of them – two boys and two girls – died either as infants or toddlers.  That was common in those days – couples would have several kids and some may die not long after birth.  But my father often said his parents had so many kids because his mother was hard of hearing.  As they got ready for bed, my grandfather would ask, “Well, do you want to go to sleep, or what?”  And my grandmother would respond, “What?”

My mother certainly didn’t escape his humorous wraths.  He told me that she and her younger sister, Angie, were so mean and bitter because they’d grown up in México picking avocadoes.  When their father decided to move the family to the U.S. in 1943, my father said, he could only afford train fare for four people.  So he went, along with his oldest daughter, his son and his mother-in-law.  For my mother and Angie, according to my dad, my grandfather leased a donkey and told them just to ride north until you run into bunch of White people speaking only English.

Like most men, he was fiercely protective of his family.  My mother told me years ago that, if my father knew how some of the men talked to her at the insurance companies where she worked her entire life, he’d probably be in prison; meaning, he’d most certainly kill more than a few.  He always said he’d know I would be a boy.  One particular picture he took of me as an infant, he said, was the mirror image of what he’d dreamed about while my mother was still pregnant.  She almost lost me twice during what she said was a 10-month pregnancy and was in labor for several hours.  While they languished at the hospital, the staff was trying to reach the pediatrician; this being a time before pagers and cell phones.  When he finally showed up, my father asked where he’d been.

“What’s the big deal?” replied the doctor.  “You have a date tonight?”  I guess he was trying to be cute.

But my father – usually catching the humor in someone’s tone of voice – grabbed the man by the lapels of his jacket and slammed him up against a nearby wall.  “Listen, you bastard!  My wife is in pain, and I want to know what the hell you’re going to do about it!”

My dad could still find some way to turn a bad situation around.  During the extended funeral of John F. Kennedy, my parents had gathered with other friends and relatives at the home of my father’s older brother, Jesse, and his wife, Helen.  At one point, Helen asked why the “flags were halfway up the poles.”

“Because they ran out of string,” answered my father.

About fifteen or so years ago, my parents agreed to watch the pet goldfish belonging to the daughters of some neighbors; a younger couple who are about my age.  One day my mother changed the water in the fish bowl.  The next day the fish were dead.  My parents hurried to a pet store to buy two more goldfish; hoping the neighbors wouldn’t notice.  But those fish also died.  My father told me what happened, adding, “Damn!  I didn’t know I was married to a serial killer!”

I stare at pictures of my father scattered throughout the house and notice, in almost all of them, he’s smiling and / or laughing.  He was that rare type who never met a stranger.  Unlike me, he was an extrovert.  I always admired that about him.  He could never understand why it was so hard for me to make friends.

His health had begun to take a more dramatic turn for the worst at the end of 2014.  Following a partial colectomy, he was hospitalized twice for kidney failure.  He vowed he’d never allow himself to be taken to the hospital again.  “I want to die here at home.”

But, one weekday morning a month ago, he had a change of mind.  “I think I need to go the hospital.  I want to live.”

So I called 911 and had him hospitalized.  He again was suffering from kidney failure, but this time, his gall bladder had also become infected.  They got him as stable as possible, and after two weeks, I convinced the doctors to let him go.  Technically, from a medical standpoint, he wasn’t actually ready to be released.  But I made it quite clear to all the attending physicians that he needed to be home.

I had asked him only once the previous week, if he wanted to go back to the hospital.  He shook his head no.  He knew this was it.  The end for him was near.  I knew it as well, but I was still trying to get him healthy.  It’s so difficult to see a loved one in the grip of such physical agony.  It was so tough to see a man who radiated vitality – even into his 70s – gasping for air and barely able to move.  I had prayed for his suffering to end.  And we all know the old saying, ‘Be careful for what you wish for; you might just get it.’  Short of a miraculous recovery, my father’s health just wasn’t going to improve.

He wanted to die at home.  He wanted to pass away in the house he and my mother had worked so hard to buy and to keep.  And I wanted to grant him that wish.

My dog, Wolfgang, who will turn 14 this week, initially wandered throughout the house looking for my father.  Then, over the past few days, I noticed that something seemed to be catching his attention.  He’d suddenly sit up or prick up his ears.  And then relax.  I believe animals possess a stronger sensory perception than we humans.  It’s their one superior trait.

My grandmother Francisca died in February of 2001, almost three years to the day after the death of her eldest daughter, my Aunt Amparo.  The next two deaths were my Aunt Teresa and my Uncle Jesse, both in 2004.  Several months after Jesse’s death, my father had a strange dream that he couldn’t explain until after he told me about it.  He was perched on a tractor lawn mower, plowing through a large expanse of grass, when he noticed a group people perched beneath a tree.  As he got closer, he realized they were his parents and three older siblings.  He could see his father completely, but he could only see the top halves of his mother and Amparo.  Teresa was covered by a black veil, and Jesse was off to one side, shrouded in darkness.

My grandfather motioned for him to come closer and then asked him if he wished to join them.  Was he – in effect – ready to give up on this life?  My father said he turned to the field of grass and said no – he had too much work to do.  And then he woke up.

I realized the grass was a metaphor for all of the things my father still wanted to do in his life.  It was symbolic, too, because he loved gardening.  I also realized that – as my father had described them – the family’s appearances represented their time on the other side.  His father had died in 1969, so his spirit had time to metamorphose into what was a familiar figure.  His mother and Amparo had only died a few years earlier.  Teresa and Jesse and arrived on that side the year before, so their spirits hadn’t had enough time to take shape into people he’d recognize.  He only knew it was them because they each spoke to him.

I don’t believe the human soul has any definite shape, color or mass.  It’s not like what we see here.  I’m also much more spiritual, even though I started off the memorial service with the Lord’s Prayer.  I want to pray to my father to help me through the ensuing difficulties with my mother.  He’s just begun his transition into that new life, however; so I don’t want to disturb him too much.  Allow me to be greedy, though.  I miss him terribly.  My heart still aches, but I’m more at ease now than I have been in over this past week.

On Sunday night, June 5, my father kept pointing forward and uttering something.  After a minute or so, I finally understood what he was saying, “Door.”  There was a door in front of him; not the bedroom door.  That other door.  He was finally able to step through it.  And that’s what needed to happen.  At some point in time, we all step through that door.  No one really dies.  The body perishes, but the good souls remain alive.

My father and me in 1966.

My father and me in 1966.

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The Alphabet of Me

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A is for adamant.  I have a certain view of how my life should function and I refuse to relinquish it.  It’s how I’ve survived all these years without going crazy and killing myself.  I don’t impose my ideals on others, though.  I’ve had that done to me and sometimes I’d obey; thinking if I did what others thought I should do, they’d like me.  It never worked!  So I stopped doing that shit.  Other people’s rules don’t apply to me.

B is for barrier.  I’ve placed too many barriers in front of me; impediments of my own making; excuses to prevent me from taking unnecessary risks and possibly hurting myself.  I’ve told myself I can’t do X because of Y.  Or worst, because someone else told me I can’t or shouldn’t do it.  So, I’ve finally learned to knock down those barriers.

C is for curious.  I’ve always been curious about the world around me, even if I feared it most of the time.  I’ve wondered why hurricanes form and why dogs move in circles several times before laying down.  I wonder why most people are assholes and refuse to get along, when the alternative is constant yelling and fighting.  When I get curious about human nature, I become frustrated.  So, I start thinking about dogs and hurricanes.  At least they have a reason for being the way they are.

D is for depression.  It’s one of the ugliest words in the English language.  It’s been a constant, demonic companion in my life.  It’s robbed me of life’s simple pleasures more times than I can count.  It’s held me back from taking the chances I needed to move forward.  It’s kept me in bed or drunk, when I should be out doing something good for myself.  It’s almost killed me – several times.  It’s still there; lurking in the back of my psyche like a dormant flu virus.  But I finally stood up to it and beat the fucker back down into the gutter where it belongs.

E is for education.  I feel this is the single most important factor in any civilized society.  Odd, considering I dropped out of college in the late 1980s and didn’t return until almost 20 years later to earn my college degree.  But, I did it.  And, my education didn’t end when I finished that last class.  It continues.  I’m still learning.  I’ll always keep my mind open to new experiences and different things.

F is for fear.  There it is again – fear of the unknown; fear of people; fear of taking chances.  Fear has been the other unwanted companion that just won’t leave me alone.  It’s taken almost my entire life to learn to smack that thing down into oblivion.  Still, on occasion, it extends a grimy finger upwards and points at me.  It still tries to intimidate me.  But now, it’s all been turned upside down.  Fear is scared of me.

G is for glaring.  The truth about people and things is often glaringly obvious to me.  Why don’t others see the various and sundry colors of the world, instead of just the grays?  Some folks look at me like I’m crazy.  But I just have my own unique view of my surroundings and the people who occupy it.  More importantly, I no longer expect people to think and feel exactly as I do.

H is for health.  After seeing an aunt battle with cancer in the late 1980s and a friend ravaged by AIDS just a few years later, my physical and mental health became paramount.  Few other things matter as much.  For years, however, I had a handle on my physical health.  I lifted weights, jogged regularly and did some basic calisthenics almost every weekday morning before heading out to work.  It took a while longer, though, to get a grip on my psychological welfare.  I know my body will grow tired, as I continue to age.  But I refuse to get “old.”  That’s more a state of mind.

I is for introvert.  It used to upset me so much.  I had such a hard time making friends.  I just couldn’t get too many people to like me.  I felt, for so many years, that I was defective.  Something was wrong, I kept telling myself; something wrong with me.  But now, I embrace that attribute.  It’s me; it’s who I am.  I am just quiet and insulated.  I’m a reader and a thinker; not a showman.  I don’t have to make a spectacle of myself anymore to feel important.  That introverted attribute generates a slew of story ideas and compels me to write and to read.

J is for jaded – as in cynical.  You get that way after a half century of experiencing life’s bullshit; enduring years of being shoved around because you won’t conform to others’ expectations.  I’m jaded as in bitter; bitter that it took me so long to realize I’m important and have much to offer this world.  But, at this point in time, that jaded personality has given me a more clear view of life.

K is for kill.  If I killed everybody who pissed me off, I’d be the world’s worst serial murderer.  Then again, who wouldn’t?  Part of being introverted and jaded is that I don’t like people much.  I’ve always said the more I get to know people, the more I like my dog.  Animals are cool; most people are assholes.  But, I couldn’t waste my time killing anyone.  I don’t want to spend that much gas money driving out to secluded locations to bury the bodies.  I have stories to write!

L is for lost.  Growing up so shy and timid I often felt lost in a world of bullies and cool kids.  Now, I feel lost in a world of idiots.  So I get lost in my world of reading, writing, music and good wine.

M is for meticulous.  I’m a very detail-oriented person.  Some people like that about me, especially at work; others find it annoying.  People don’t have a certain place in society, but objects do.

N is for nearby.  I keep the memory of long-gone loved ones close to me.  People who helped raise me and had an impact on my life reside in my heart and my soul.  I won’t let them drift away.  I can’t.  I can’t turn my back on them just because they’re no longer physically present on Earth.  They’ll be the ones to come get me when my own life expires.

O is for ordinary.  As difficult as I am to get to know – this, according to my own parents – I consider myself rather ordinary.  I’m not handsome and I don’t have the perfect physique.  I certainly no a genius, but I’m intelligent and well-educated.  I do consider myself a very good writer, so on that level, I’m somewhat extraordinary.  Writing is the one part about me in which I’m 100% confident.  Otherwise, I’m an ordinary individual trying to live a relatively ordinary life.

P is for past.  I’ve dwelled on it too often.  I always wanted to make things better – things that happened a while back and can’t be altered now.  I’d spend – waste – so much time thinking about the past.  You do that a lot, when you grow up shy.  People always seemed to take advantage of me and get the best of my mind and soul.  So, even though I finally stopped doing that to myself, I occasionally have trouble breaking free of the past.  Pulling my mind away from way back there and keeping it in the here and now.

Q is for quiet.  Teachers and other adults always said I was quiet as a child.  I’m still somewhat quiet.  Now, it depends more on the situation than on my desire to stay out of trouble.  If I’m quiet, that usually means I’m listening; sometimes plotting.  What’s wrong with that?  No one needs to be loud and obnoxious.  Those who feel the need to be that way actually need to be smacked.  As a writer, I relish the quiet; the solitude; the isolation.  I’m quiet because I’m observing the people around me – and trying to figure out how their personas would fit into one of my stories.

R is for rebellious.  Yes, I’ve always been quiet.  But, I’m also rebellious.  Quietly rebellious – as oxymoronic as that sounds.  I don’t like to make a scene, unless I become enraged.  It always startles the crap out of people when that happens.  But I’m generally a silent rebel.  My parents wanted me to study computer science, or anything related to computers.  I wanted to be a writer.  They equated that with being a bum; thus I started studying computer programming in college – just to please them.  But my inner self said no; that’s not who you are.  You’re a writer.  Now, I’m a technical writer by day and a creative writer by night.  Ironically, I’ve had to become a computer aficionado to engage in both tasks.  Either way I’m still a writer.  I rebelled against my parents’ desired plans for my future – quietly.

S is for smart.  I’m smarter than I look.  I like to read, so I know a lot; a lot of different things.  Things like arctic hurricane is the formal name for a blizzard.  Things like Polynesians in the South Pacific sometimes have blond hair, not because some European sailor got shipwrecked on an island 300 years ago and then got lonely, but because there’s a genetic trait among them that produces fair-colored locks.  I’m smart because I understand human nature, even if I don’t like people that much.  I’m smart because I know the environment is worth saving and not from a politically correct standpoint.  I’m smart because I’ve been around and listen and observe more than I talk.

T is for tender.  I have a good heart – physically and emotionally.  My disdain for human beings notwithstanding, I still have compassion for people in general; mainly children and the disabled.  I certainly have a tender spot for animals.  Yes, that’s kind of odd to hear from someone with a leather fetish and a taste for vodka.

U is for underappreciated.  Once more, growing up in a cocoon of timidity, I always felt underappreciated.  It also means underpaid, and the two are usually interconnected.  Showing someone respect is showing your appreciation for them.  For example, I always try to remember people on their birthdays.  To hell with Christmas or Valentine’s Day!  Those are easy to recall.  But, if you really want to show someone you care about them, or at least acknowledge their presence on Earth, wish them a ‘Happy Birthday.’  They’ll appreciate that more than ‘Merry Christmas.’

V is for various.  I like a variety of things.  My blog, as well as my writings, reflect that.  I like different foods, different genres of literature and different styles of music.  I have definite opinions on various subjects; some of which seem contradictory.  I urge people to vote, for example, but I despise most politicians.

W is for weird.  I’m a writer.  I’m just weird.  They’re symbiotic elements – ying and yang.  They just go together.  Only other writers will understand.  But, whereas I once cringed at the mere hint of being dubbed weird, I now celebrate it.  Actually, it’s pretty normal for me.  Other people are the ones who think I’m weird.  They just don’t understand.  And, that’s fine.

X is for X-ray.  Sometimes, I’ll expose my true self to people, so they can see who I really am.  Those who think I’m weak will see the strength deep inside me.  Others who think I’m cold and calculating will see the clown figure that lies beneath the rigid exterior.  That’s not a common occurrence, though.  I rarely let people get inside me like that.

Y is for yes – as in a restrained yes.  I won’t say yes to just anything.  I’m too cautious.  I’ll say yes to saving an injured animal; yes to good vodka; yes to dancing to my favorite music.  I reserve my yeses for the most important elements of life.

Z is for zeal – a zest for reading and writing.  Well, I guess that’s two words for this one letter.  In case you haven’t figured it out yet, though, my passion for the written word is boundless.  We writers have to possess such an innate desire to sit down and drop words onto paper or a computer.  It can be exciting and rewarding, but quite often, it’s frustrating and disappointing.

 

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“Birth of a Flower” (1910)

We modern movie-goers are so accustomed to visual effects in films that it’s almost difficult to imagine the awe people felt when they first witnessed such things as traveling shots and fade-outs.  But, just as soon as moving pictures became a new form of entertainment at the start of the 20th century, some creative individuals began pushing it to new levels.  One was Percy Smith, a London native who found his career as an educator boring and unfulfilling.  He turned to the medium of film by going to work for Charles Urban, another cinematic pioneer, before creating his own films.  Smith began experimenting with a variety of innovative techniques.  Among them was time-lapse.

In 1910 Smith shot the world’s first time-lapse film, Birth of a Flower, which showed an array of different flowers blossoming.  It became an international sensation.  Smith’s name may have been lost to movie history, but his desire to stretch filmmaking into unknown regions helped transform a novelty into an art form.

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Happy Mother’s Day 2016!

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“If evolution really works, how come mothers only have two hands?”

Milton Berle

“Our mothers always remain the strangest, craziest people we’ve ever met.”

Marguerite Duras

“When your mother asks, ‘Do you want a piece of advice?’ it’s a mere formality.  It doesn’t matter if you answer yes or no. You’re going to get it anyway.”

Erma Bombeck

“Mother – that was the bank where we deposited all our hurts and worries.”

Thomas Dewitt Talmage

“My mother had a good deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it.”

Mark Twain

“I want my children to have all the things I couldn’t afford. Then I want to move in with them.”

Phyllis Diller

“My mother’s menu consisted of two choices: Take it or leave it.”

Buddy Hackett

“Mother Nature, in her infinite wisdom, has instilled within each of us a powerful biological instinct to reproduce; this is her way of assuring that the human race, come what may, will never have any disposable income.”

Dave Barry

“If your kids are giving you a headache, follow the directions on the aspirin bottle, especially the part that says ‘keep away from children’.”

Susan Savannah

“A suburban mother’s role is to deliver children obstetrically once, and by car forever after.”

Peter De Vries

 

Image courtesy: Love Statues

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Joy and Jasmine and Everything They Once Were

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“Are you girls okay?”  Giselle propped her arms on her hips and cocked her head.

The girls – Joy and Jasmine – had been acting more peculiar than usual all week long.  Cats were the oddest of creatures, Giselle reminded herself; her Siamese twins being no exception.

Joy and Jasmine often perched their wiry, milky-white frames atop something – the antique dresser, the entertainment center, or the highest shelf in the den where they were now – whenever they wanted to be alone.  Like all the cats she’d had in the past, Giselle knew feline personalities could be as fickle as they could be subdued.

Yet, as she stood in the den, staring up at her adopted children, Giselle noted – once again – that they appeared to be more intellectual than she previously thought was normal, or even possible.  Their eyes, the bluest she’d ever seen on anyone (human or animal), gave the impression they were actually thinking; they seemed to possess some degree of cognitive function.  But she always got the feeling the cats were waiting for something.  Or, someone.

Then it dawned on her.  They missed Robert.  They were his babies, too.  He’d been out of town for three weeks; this being the last phase of a year-long project for the engineering firm.

“Daddy will be home tomorrow night,” said Giselle, her hands clasped in front of her.

The girls remained still on the top shelf of the built-in bookcase, like a pair of porcelain antiques; identical and priceless, stoically beautiful, the perfect accoutrements to the array of chintz pillows and terracotta statuettes Giselle had scattered throughout their newly-purchased home.

But, yes, Giselle thought, they missed Robert.  “Okay then,” she said with a skewered grin.  “I’ll be going to bed in a few minutes.”

She turned off the two lamps in the den and gave Joy and Jasmine one final, loving glance.  Their eyes glowed softly, a quartet of azure orbs.

The house sat at the end of a short road, backing up against a tree-cluttered mound, which tumbled down into a shallow stream and back up towards an old farm-to-market road.  A four-bedroom ranch-style abode with a driveway that snaked around a thick magnolia tree to the garage had stood vacant for almost four years, the realtor, Carlene, had told them; since it was in such an odd location.  The couple who’d owned it previously had suddenly left, and the county had trouble locating them.  “They split up,” Carlene added, “and moved to two different states.  I think the IRS was after them.  They owed back taxes.”

Eventually, authorities found the duo.  Once they’d been set up on a payment plan, a county judge appointed an independent counselor to oversee sale of the house.  Carlene was merely trying to sell it and get it off the county’s hands.  But it was still a gorgeous house.

Giselle and Robert Fernandez ogled at the area, able to hear the stream murmuring in the distance, and found nothing odd about it.  “It’s perfect,” Giselle crooned, as Robert wrapped his beefy arms around her.  They were standing on the walkway; already enchanted with the simple charm of the house and its rustic setting.

Carlene stood nearby, beaming with shared happiness; her petite frame perched atop a pair of shoes with excessively high heels.  “Oh, I’m so glad ya’ two like it!”  Her southern drawl poured over them like honey mixed with syrup and brown sugar.

That’s when Giselle first saw the cats; Siamese cats – almost identical.  They sat alongside the driveway, side-by-side and partially obscured by the magnolia tree.  They seemed to be looking at her, and Giselle’s heart sank.

It had been almost a year since she and Robert had put down their last cat; about eight months after the other one turned up dead at the foot of their bed.  Not a good way to start a Monday morning.  They had already begun their house hunt – and vowed not to get anymore pets for a while.

A while arrived sooner than expected.  The cats kept showing up near the driveway.  Giselle tried several times to entice them to come with her.  But, each time, they’d scamper towards the rear of the house.

Then, one Saturday afternoon, Robert came back from a jog around the neighborhood, and the cats followed him to the front door.  They looked more haggard than before.  With a mild beckoning flip of his hand, Robert got them to go into the house ahead of him.

They managed to give the cats a quick bath – without getting scratched or bitten; an oddity unto itself, Giselle mused, knowing felines and water don’t mix well.  They gave the scrawny duo some milk and sat back to discuss what to do next.  Call the city pound?  A local animal shelter?  Giselle was more ready to give them up than Robert.  They had too much to do with the house, she reiterated.

Then, for no particular reason, he abruptly named them Joy and Jasmine.  From a distance, they truly looked like twins.  But Joy’s ears were darker; the only real way to tell them apart.  Joy was also somewhat more aggressive.  But their quirky, unimposing personalities worked their way into the young couple’s hearts, and – as unexpected as the adoption was – they didn’t mind.  And they decided not to give them up.

Amidst their chaotic schedules with work and refurbishing the house, Giselle and Robert made the time to take the girls to a local veterinarian to get some basic, necessary shots.  A short time later, they had the cats neutered by the same veterinarian.  The doctor noticed one curious thing, though; she couldn’t determine how old the cats were.

“Their teeth make them look to be about 10,” she said.  “But, physiologically, they’re around 5 or 6.  They don’t have any signs of arthritis or heart trouble.”  She just couldn’t understand how they were each about ten years of age, yet “not show it on the inside.”

Joy and Jasmine quickly became fond of Robert, lounging on either side of him the few times he sat on the couch to watch TV, or cuddled up at the foot of the bed – closer to him.  Giselle didn’t feel ignored.  She was glad to get some stray animals off the street and give them a good home.

Occasionally, however, the girls displayed their aloofness by climbing atop something and remaining there for the longest time.  Just like they were doing now.

Giselle carried a glass of water into the bedroom and took a shower.  After smothering her body in lotion, she donned an oversized Dallas Cowboys tee shirt and was leaning over the bathroom sink, trying to pluck a renegade eyelash from her left eye, when the bedroom lights flickered and then, shut off.  They came back on within seconds.

She waited a moment, but nothing happened.  The bedroom lamps had been doing that a lot recently.  At night Giselle would be in the bathroom or the closet – and, on one occasion, sitting up in bed reading – when the lights shuddered and then went out.  But they always came back on immediately afterwards.

She stood poised over the sink, though; wondering if someone had broken into the house.  She searched the bathroom for a makeshift weapon and found it in the form of a heavy shampoo bottle.  Only then did she realize that the bathroom light was still on, while the rest of the house was dark.  She didn’t want to ponder that curiosity any longer, so she turned off the bathroom light and inched her tiny frame into the bedroom; one hand clutching the shampoo bottle.

Something else came to mind.  Then she heard that sound.  Distant – giggling.  She crept to a window behind a nightstand.  She didn’t want to turn off the lamp or stand in front of it.  She could hear them – right outside the house.  Little kids giggling.

She was certain they were the neighbor’s children; a quartet of rug-rats who stormed through the area like rabid squirrels.  Other neighbors had complained about them.

Why they’d be running around outside at night was beyond Giselle’s comprehension.  “Do you hear that?” she asked Robert one night.

He listened.  “Um…no.”

“That laughing.  Little kids laughing.  They’re sneaking around outside.”

“At this time of night?”

“Yes!”

Robert usually had good hearing, but he never heard those kids running around outside in the middle of the night.  Joy and Jasmine could surely hear them, Giselle thought.  They always disappeared somewhere into the house at night; especially when the kids started their nocturnal excursions.  Maybe the kids had found the cats at one point a while back, Giselle surmised, and tortured them.  When her younger brother kicked a neighbor’s dog, Giselle – age 12 and all of 4’0” – smacked his face hard enough to make him cry and bleed at the same time.  Whenever she heard the neighbors’ kids bouncing around outside late at night, she clenched her hands; certain the vermin had harmed Joy and Jasmine at some point.  It’s why the cats had grown desperate to get into the house, Giselle told herself, knowing they’d be safe.

When she saw the neighbors leaving one Saturday afternoon, Giselle – crouched before a flower bed, potting soil spread almost to her elbows – scoured at them.  They didn’t notice her – thankfully; or they’d see the daggers flying from her eyes.  The elderly lady who lived across the street with her invalid husband – the first people in the neighborhood Giselle and Robert came to know – also happened to be in her own front yard, clutching a water hose and gazing at the family of six.  The elderly couple were the only people who conversed with Giselle and Robert for any considerable length.  Other neighbors weren’t so loquacious; nothing beyond a wave, perhaps followed with a ‘hello.’

Giselle turned back to the flower bed she was hoping to resuscitate.  “Little fuckers,” she muttered into the dirt.  She thought of her girls again.  How dare you hurt them!

She began moving towards the bed, when a thick mat of fur scraped against her ankles.  “Oh, God!”  The shampoo bottle fell to the floor.

The bedroom lights suddenly came on again, startling her again.  She returned the shampoo to its place in the shower stall and started looking for the girls.  She called for them.  The house was silent.  As she came to the end of the hallway, something else brushed against her; coming from either side.  She hopped back with a sharp scream.  “Goddammit!”  She retreated to the bedroom, certain someone else was in the house, and crept back into the hall with a baseball bat.

A faint, high-pitched noise made her look down.  Joy and Jasmine stood a few feet away.  “Oh, God!” Giselle moaned, her shoulders dropping as she exhaled.  “Girls.”  She caressed their heads; knowing the cats were still growing accustomed to the house.  She couldn’t get mad at them; she certainly couldn’t blame them for her overreactions.  She laughed, as she dropped the bat back into the closet.

She glanced back down the hall.  They’d disappeared again.  Where was their hiding place?  She grinned.  Anywhere!  She laughed aloud at her own anxiety and returned to bed.

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Seeing Robert sitting with the girls in his lap was as pleasant to Giselle as it was curious.  He kept staring into their eyes, and – from what Giselle could tell – they were gazing back.  His lips would move at times.  Giselle couldn’t hear what he was saying, but felt he must be reassuring the girls they were safe in this house.

“That patch of grass is dead,” Robert said.  He and Giselle stood in the back yard late one Sunday afternoon.

She could still smell the wood of the newly-erected, eight-foot-high fence.  For weeks Robert would come out there and stand in this one spot, just staring at the ground.  She’d be busy with the rest of the yard, when she’d catch him towering over that one area.

He was right, though.  Amidst the expanse of vibrant green grass, this one small patch towards the back of the yard stood out because of its beige coloring.  It looked as if some alien beings had descended upon the property and began carving out crop circles, before realizing they wouldn’t have enough room.

Giselle looked at Robert.  He seemed more upset by it.  Not just annoyed, she thought, but…disturbed.

“Well,” he finally said.  “I guess I’ll just have to dig it up and plant some new grass.”  He had just finished mowing the lawn and was tired.

But he was back outside the following evening, again standing over that one brown-grass area.  Just staring at it.  Occasionally picking at it with a hand, or rubbing his toes against it.  Wandering around it, cocking his head in different directions; like a puppy inspecting a new toy.

“Just replace it,” Giselle said one evening, after Robert had come back inside.

“Yeah, I will.”  He took a sip of water and mumbled, “When it’s time.”  He headed towards the bedroom.

“‘When it’s time’?”  Giselle repeated.

“You’re both so pretty,” she heard Robert say.  He sat in the den, the cats in his lap.  Giselle wasn’t really listening, but she suddenly could hear him.  “You’re okay.  You’re safe here with us.”

Giselle grinned.  Just as she suspected.

“You’ll always be safe,” Robert continued.  “No one can ever hurt you again.”

On the following Saturday she stood in the utility room, sorting through laundry, when Robert entered.  She didn’t hear him; the steady hum of the dryer being so abrasively loud.  He’d been fidgeting with his laptop.  “Oh hey, babe,” she said.

He almost bumped into her – as if she wasn’t there – and entered the garage.

It was so unlike him that Giselle couldn’t say anything.  She watched from the doorway as Robert grabbed a ladder and proceeded up into the attic.  It was only accessible through a square opening near the door.  Robert propped the ladder against the wall, again seemingly oblivious to her presence on the other side of the metallic apparatus.  “What – ?” she started to ask.

She could hear him in the attic space just above the utility room; rumbling around with the gracefulness of a giant boar.  “What are you doing?” she asked into the ceiling.  She noticed Joy and Jasmine perched at the opposite end of the utility room, closer to the kitchen.

A few moments later Robert ambled back down the ladder; carefully balancing himself while cradling a beige shoe box under one arm.  He dropped it on the floor and replaced the ladder.  He swept up the box, as he reentered the utility room – again seeming to ignore his wife – and sat down at the kitchen table.

The cats had left.

“What is this?” Giselle asked, pointing to the box.

“I – uh – I don’t know, really,” he replied with a smile.  He had removed the lid and was rummaging through its meager contents.  “I just had an idea to look up there.”

“Why?”

“I – don’t know.  I just did.”

The box bore a few photographs and a handful of papers; the latter yellow and crinkled.

Giselle and Robert sifted through the single stack of photos – all five of them.  One had a group of children gathered on a patio; another displayed the kids on a couch; one featured two little girls wearing identical dresses standing against a fence; one had a blurry image of a smiling young woman, captured as if she was in mid-stride, her over-sized sunglasses creating heavy shadows on her face; and the last showed a man and a woman standing beside a pick-up truck in a driveway.

“Who are these people?” Giselle asked.

“I don’t know,” Robert mumbled.

The handwriting on the papers was too faint and illegible to comprehend.

Robert continued flipping through the pictures – over and over – for several minutes, as if hoping to find some new detail.

His intensity began to annoy Giselle.  “So…what’s this all about?”

He kept perusing the photos and looking at the papers.

“Robert?”

“Yeah.”

She tilted her head forward, closer to his face.  “What is this?”

He sighed.  “I don’t know.”

“How did you know this stuff was here?”

He sighed again; a sound more of empathy than frustration.  “I…I don’t know.  I just had the idea to look up there.  I didn’t – I didn’t know this stuff was there.”  He kept shaking his head, as if uncertain of his own actions.  “Weird,” he finally said, packing everything back into the box.  He dropped a light kiss onto her cheek, before leaving with the box.

Giselle started after him and stopped when she heard the girls scuttle past.  She barely caught a glimpse of their tails, as they took off in the same direction as Robert.  Their sudden presence startled her.  She fidgeted her fingertips together, listening to the dryer hum.

On Sunday night Giselle drove Robert back to the airport for another business trip; this one scheduled to last only three days.  The following evening she busied herself with a few crossword puzzles and finally completed an aging history book that she’d actually first tried to read in college.  She placed the dusty tome back on a shelf and was surprised to see the girls when she turned around.  “Hey, girls!” she said with a smile.  She squatted down to caress their heads.  Their fur felt unusually cool.  “Are you okay?”

They didn’t answer her; they were just enjoying the massage.

Her phone rang.  It was Robert.  “Hey, babe.”

“Hey, how’s it going?”

“Good!  How are things there?”

“Eh – kind of gloomy.  It’s been threatening to rain since last night.  But it’s just been cool and windy.”

“Oh, well –”

“Listen, can you do me a favor?  Not right now – it’s too dark outside.”

“Uh – yeah, sure.”

“Can you check out in the back yard and look at the spot where the grass is brown.  You know that one little area closer to the back side of the fence?”

“Uh – yes.  Why?”

“Can you just check and see if there’s anything odd under there?”

Odd?  “Like what?”

He was silent.

“Like what?”

“Um – just – uh – just see if the ground feels funny.”

See if the ground feels funny?  “What do you mean?”

“Um – I don’t know.”

“Okay…I still don’t know what you’re saying.  What – what’s with the ground out there?  What do you mean ‘feels funny’?”

“I don’t know.  Just – uh – just see if there’s like a bump of some kind right underneath that piece of grass.”

“Okay,” she muttered after a second.

“I keep thinking there’s a tree stump buried there.  You know – maybe the previous owners had cut down a tree and didn’t really remove the stump.”

“Oh, okay.”  That actually makes sense, she mused.  “I guess that could be dangerous, huh?”

“Yeah, it could.”

They both relaxed and talked a little more.  He told her he was lounging on the bed in his hotel room, butt naked with a steely erection; thinking about her.  He just wanted to get the “funny ground” issue out of the way first.

She wanted to start up on another book, as she dropped into bed, but decided against it.  She had a meeting at 8:30 the following morning.  But, as she lay in bed, staring at the crown molding and the ceiling fan, she couldn’t help but think of Robert’s curious request.  ‘Feels funny’?  What the hell was that all about?  Joy and Jasmine had curled up at the foot of the bed; an unusual spot for them, considering Robert wasn’t here.

Then she heard a faint giggle pipe through the bedroom window.  “Oh, goddammit!”  She sat up, staring hard at the drapes.  She heard another one and yet another; finally leaping out of bed and turning on the side lamp almost simultaneously.  “Stupid kids!”  She peeked out of through one side of the drapes, enough to see out towards the neighbor’s house, but not enough to be seen.

Nothing.  The neighbor’s bushes languished in a deep shade of blue.

She turned to shut off the light – bypassing the empty bed – and stepped back to the window.  Even with the bedroom darkened, nothing outside the house caught her attention.  She switched the lamp back on, smirked at the empty bed and sauntered into the bathroom.

The lamp shut off.

She dropped her shoulders with an exaggerated sigh.  The lamp had been functioning oddly.  It wasn’t the light bulb: she’d checked that more than once.

The light came back on.

A few moments later, she stood at the sink, patting her hands dry and wondered if the sudden irritation in her left eye was a lash.  She leaned forward, towards the mirror.

The bedroom went dark.

She slowly lowered her hand, keeping her gaze on the mass of darkness behind her; framed only by the bathroom doorway.  She felt a coldness roll up her back and onto her shoulders.  This wasn’t the neighbor kids running around outside acting stupid.  Someone had entered the house, she thought.

Again, she searched for a makeshift weapon and found it in one of her combs.  She crept back into the bedroom and looked down the hall.  She suspected for a moment the power had gone out.  But the bathroom light was still on.  She proceeded to the closet and grabbed a baseball bat; tossing the comb onto the bed.  She would have picked up one of Robert’s shotguns perched in the back of the closet, but she didn’t know if it was loaded and didn’t care to take time to find out.

She moved down the hall and reached for the light switch.  The light wouldn’t come on.  A shuffling noise a few feet away prompted her to search briefly for the cats.  She tried the light switch again, and the hall lamp illuminated.

Enough to catch something dart passed her.

Enough to make her stop blinking and breathing for a few seconds.  The light shut off.  She flicked the switch several more times, but the hall remained dark.

She finally took a deep breath and cocked her head towards the ceiling.  “Damnit!” she muttered, wondering how she must look – standing in a darkened hallway of her own home, wearing an oversized Dallas Cowboys tee shirt and holding a baseball bat.  She moved into the front room, just a few feet from the main entrance.

The hall light re-illuminated.

She glanced over her shoulder; curiosity mixed with frustration.  She turned on a lamp in the den and scanned the quiet area.  When she wheeled back around, Joy and Jasmine sat in the middle of the hall.  “Well…there you two are.”

They cocked their heads, as if they didn’t know why she was surprised.  Or pretending not to know.

Once back in her bedroom, Giselle dropped the baseball bat into the closet.  The girls curled beside one another at the foot of the bed, forming something of a crescent shape.  Giselle slowly climbed back into bed and turned off the side lamp; making only a quick note that the bathroom light had already been turned off.

When Robert returned home, Joy and Jasmine couldn’t stay away from him.

Giselle approached the three of them, as they sat on an easy chair.   “Well, look who’s become daddy’s girls.”  She reached out to tickle the cats’ ears.  They snarled at her, causing Giselle’s entire arm to snap back into her torso, like a measuring tape being recoiled.  She stood up straight, her mouth contorted in both shock and annoyance.  “What the hell!”

Robert – who had been staring at the girls all this time – merely threw an equally irksome glance at his wife.  That evening he hovered around the brownish patch of grass in the back yard for several minutes.  Giselle could only stand at a kitchen window and try to make sense of his behavior.

Then the girls suddenly darted towards him; coming from somewhere near the house.  Their abrupt presence – outside, of all places – startled Giselle.  The cats hadn’t been outside the house since she and Robert had taken them in – at least not by themselves.  They didn’t want to take the chance the girls would become feral again and end up lost or, worse, in the hands of some wicked children.  Like the kids next door.

She started towards the door, but returned to the window.  The girls had trotted up to Robert and started trolling that same patch of brown grass.  He squatted down to caress their heads.  She saw his lips moving.  Although their backs were to her, Giselle could tell the cats were listening to Robert.  He then began running his hands along the brownish grass, before caressing the girls’ heads and talking to them again.  It looked like he was saying more to them than to Giselle in the two days he’d been home.

He finally stood and marched back into the house.  He went directly to the office.  Giselle followed him and was surprised to see him rifling through that dusty shoe box.  “Robert…what’s going on?”

“Something.”

“What?”

“Just something.”  He fiddled through the pictures.  “Here,” he muttered, more to himself.  “Here they are.”

“Who?”

He dropped the pictures and strode back into the garage, almost brushing against Giselle.

“What – ?!  Robert!”  Only when she arrived in the garage did she realize the girls hadn’t followed him into the house.  “Wait a minute.  Where are the – ?  Where are Joy and Jasmine?”

Robert stripped off his tee shirt, grabbed a drain spade shovel and hurried back outside.  Again, Giselle followed him, but she stopped just outside the patio.  He proceeded to that brown patch of grass and began digging.

“What – ?”  She sighed loudly, but it dissipated into a heavy wind.  “Robert!”

He repeatedly slammed the shovel into the grass and, within minutes, had dug it up.  He kept digging, his torso and face already coated in sweat.

Giselle casually approached and began circling him the way she’d done when they first met at that July 4th barbecue.  All the other women had sauntered past him, trying to get his attention, as he talked with two other men.  Robert was the best-looking man at the party, and Giselle immediately became determined to meet him.  Her ploy had worked.  He stopped talking to his friends – one of whom was the host – and smiled awkwardly at her.

This time, though, her circling movements went completely unnoticed.  “Robert,” she said gently.

He kept slamming the spade into the dirt.  A small mound had begun to form to his left; something like a newborn island volcano breaking the ocean’s surface.

“Robert.”

He kept digging.  His gray khaki shorts had darkened with sweat.

“Robert!”

“What?!”  He stopped, still breathing heavily, and looked at her.

“What in God’s name are you doing?!”

“I’m trying to find them!”  He plunged the spade back into the small hole he’d created and pulled up more dirt.

“Find what?”

He kept digging; the mound growing higher; his breathing growing even heavier.

The sun had started to drop below the mass of trees behind the house.  The modest blue of the sky metamorphosed into a deep purple, and the light breezes turned into a steady wind.

Robert continued angrily slamming the shovel into the dirt.  And, just as Giselle was about to speak his name again, they heard a loud crack.  A near-splintering of wood.  The shovel had hit something harder than dirt.  “Oh God,” Robert muttered.  He moved some dirt with the shovel; more cautious now.

Giselle stepped forward, as Robert tossed the spade off to one side and squatted down.  His eyes remain transfixed on the hole.  And what was in it.  Giselle leaned over, as Robert cleared away more dirt.

The shovel had struck an object, and as Robert dug more hurriedly – this time with his hands – she realized it was a box.  A wooden box.

Finally, Robert was able to free the box.  He tried picking it up, but it was either too heavy or it was stuck.  As he strained his arms, the carotid arteries of his neck bulging with aggravation, the top of the box suddenly bolted loose.  Robert tumbled backwards.  The gritty wooden top rolled out of his hands and over the spade.  He crouched back over the hole and paused for a moment; hot breaths spilling from his mouth.

Giselle looked down, her body trembling.  The wind had intensified slightly, and she was getting cold.

The sky was the darkest shade of violet she’d ever seen.

A dirty cloth or sheet was stretched over the box.

Robert gently reached down and pulled it up.

Giselle heard the cats screech and whipped her head around.  She didn’t see them.  “Where are they?” she asked, partly to Robert and partly to the wind.  “Where’d the girls go?”

Robert’s breathing had slowed.  “Here,” he said.

“What?  Where?”

He pointed to the box.

She peered down into it.

“They’re here,” he muttered.  He loosely gestured to the bones in the box, still not looking at Giselle.

She felt colder, as she noticed two tiny human skulls.

“They’re here,” Robert murmured, breathing normally now.  “They’re right here.”

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© 2016

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Filed under Wolf Tales

God Damned Texas

texas

Well, hell!  God must have, considering the gallery of lunatics the Lone Star State has put into public office in recent years!  I can honestly say I’ve never been more embarrassed to be a Texan (or an American, if you look at the current presidential race) than I am now.  I opined two years ago that I hope Ted Cruz runs for president and gets his ass slaughtered in the process.  So far, he’s one of only three survivors in the Republican field.  I eagerly await the political bloodbath at the GOP convention in Cleveland this summer.  I have a perverted fascination with seeing arrogance publicly butchered.  Cruz has made a number of incendiary comments, including that the United States will collapse into the fires of Satan’s lair because gay marriage is now legal – as opposed to the centuries of European-induced Indian genocide and Negro slavery where nothing so calamitous occurred.  There are too many idiocies that came from his mouth to highlight here.  I mean, I wouldn’t know where to begin!  But one recent revelation is that he tried to uphold a state law banning the sale of sex toys, which he said safeguards “public morals”; adding that “police-power interests” are a tool (pun intended) in “discouraging prurient interests in sexual gratification, combating the commercial sale of sex, and protecting minors.”  That’s right.  Cruz believes police have the power to invade your home and yank a dildo out of your ass or vagina!  All in the name of protecting children, of course.  Like so many right-wingers here in Texas, Cruz is willing to move heaven and Earth to protect children from wayward sexuality, while ignoring the fact most of those children are uninsured.  Priorities, people!  Priorities!

Canadian-born, Cuban-Italian Cruz certainly isn’t the first Texas official to spout out such twisted logic.  This state has a long history of generating some colorful characters.  During the 1990 governor’s race, Republican oilman Clayton Williams said, among other gaffes, that bad weather was like rape; it’s inevitable, so you might as well lay back and enjoy it.  As you might expect, the old bastard also insulted Blacks and Hispanics.  But here’s the sad part: he garnered nearly 40% of the votes.  Fortunately State Treasurer Ann Richards won.  Unfortunately, she lost four years later to the grandest of all Texas political goofballs: George W. Bush.  It’s around that time when Texas politics began sliding into the surreal – enough to make Salvador Dalí jealous.

But the past decade alone has seen the dramatic rise of Texas’ quirkiest politics stars.  I now present the following three jewels of cluelessness.

Ken Paxton – The state Attorney General has been in legal trouble almost from the moment he was sworn into office.  In July 2015, Paxton was indicted on felony charges for repeatedly breaking state securities laws during his tenure as a state lawmaker.  Then a new charge that he deliberately misled investors in a technology company arose.  Amid raising thousands of dollars from the investors, Paxton supposedly also received commissions – something he didn’t reveal and something that’s, you know, kind of illegal.  His attorneys tried to get all the charges dropped, but the judge handling the matter refused and ordered Paxton to be arrested in Collin County, just north of Dallas.  Paxton had to undergo the usual rigmarole of fingerprints and mug shots.  Whenever people in Collin County, Texas are arrested, officials wrap a white towel around their necks before taking the requisite glory shot.  But, because Paxton is a high-ranking state figure, he got the anticipated special treatment and was photographed sans towel.  (Trying to be discreet, Paxton had met with William Mapp, one of the energy company’s co-founders at a Dairy Queen in McKinney, which is in Collin County, in the summer of 2011.  According to most Texans, Dairy Queen is a step above Burger King.)  While Paxton is currently trying to stop a group called Exxotica from staging a sexually-oriented exposition in Dallas this summer, news reports now reveal that Paxton is still paying top aides who left the attorney general’s office more than a month ago.  The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is investigating the investment deal, and Exxotica is threatening to sue the city of Dallas, if it violates their contract to proceed with the exposition.  I truly hope the SEC wins, and then, I’ll join them at the Exxotica convention.

Louie GohmertThe East Texas congressman takes outlandishness to a new level.  As with most right-wing political figures, Gohmert doesn’t want anyone telling him what to do with their guns, but he feels the urge to tell people what to do in their own bedrooms.  Aside from his staunch opposition to abortion (a given trait among conservatives), he’s compared limiting the size of ammunition magazines to bestiality and opposes gays from serving in the military because they’d spend more time giving each other massages on the front lines than fighting.  (What the hell’s wrong with massages?!)  In light of President Obama’s election wins, Gohmert has co-sponsored a “birther” bill that would require presidential candidates to submit their birth certificates as proof of eligibility to run for the White House.  Recently he opposed a bill that would have directed education funding to recruiter more women in the sciences by claiming it’s gender-biased and that even Martin Luther King would have opposed it.  Not knowing when to shut the hell up, Gohmert went on to add that such a bill would have distracted Marie Curie’s research and put “millions and millions of lives” in jeopardy.

Sid Miller – Like most politicians, the state’s Agriculture Commissioner has a penchant for travel.  And, like most politicians, he claims it’s all done in the name of state business, and therefore, he’s justified in charging taxpayers for his expenses.  But the $2,000 he spent on a 2015 trip to Mississippi to compete in a rodeo for prize money probably doesn’t fall into the business category.  He engaged in calf-roping events and won $880.  He tried to explain the trip’s importance by claiming he had set up a “work meeting” with Mississippi’s agriculture commissioner and other business people.  But wait!  It gets weirder.  Miller also may have charged Texas taxpayers the $1,000 it cost to fly to Oklahoma to visit an old friend, Michael Lonergan, a discredited Ohio doctor, for a “Jesus shot.”  Yes, Miller – who apparently suffers from chronic back pain – needed the spirit of the Lord pumped into his tired body via a concoction of unknown ingredients that’s injected into the upper arm.  Lonergan served prison time in Ohio for tax evasion and mail fraud, before relocating to Edmond, Oklahoma.  Miller is reimbursing the state of Texas for the trip “out of an abundance of caution,” according to his spokeswoman.  But the Texas Rangers, a state police agency, is still investigating.  My idea of a “Jesus shot” is a heavy duty screwdriver made with Smirnoff citron vodka and a bottle of baby oil; then shouting, “Jesus!” as I wipe my face.  I have videos in exchange for contributions to a charity of my choice – mainly my freelance writing fund.

Miller spent $55,000 decorating his office.

Miller spent $55,000 decorating his office.

Mary Lou Bruner – The 69-year-old retired teacher is seeking to be the next president of the Texas State School Board, the entity that has made all of Texas the literal laughingstock of the nation.  Bruner subscribes to the usual right-wing ideology: the Earth is only about 6,000 years old; there was a man named Noah who built a massive ark and that dinosaurs were among its passengers; climate change science is leftist bullshit; and 20th century liberals rewrote the history of the Civil War only to make it look like slavery was the root cause.

But, among her myriad Facebook rants is this lovely tidbit: “Obama has a soft spot for homosexuals because of the years he spent as a male prostitute in his twenties. That is how he paid for his drugs. He has admitted he was addicted to drugs when he was young, and he is sympathetic to homosexuals; but he hasn’t come out of the closet about his own homosexual / bisexual background. He hasn’t quite evolved that much! Since he supports gay marriage, he should be proud of his background as a homosexual/bisexual. He is against everything else Christians stand for, he might as well be for infidelity.”

Facebook forcibly deleted that post, and even some of Obama’s most ardent critics here and across the country thought that went too far.  Of all the disrespectful crap lodged at our first biracial president, that’s the most slanderous.  As far as I can tell, though, she’s never apologized for it.  A spokeswoman for the Cherokee County, Texas Republican Party dismissed the response to Bruner as excessive; describing her as “a nice older lady who doesn’t understand social media and the impact that it can have.”

No one has to “understand social media” to realize calling somebody a prostitute and a drug addict is offensive and just plain stupid.  Do you need a PhD in astronomy to understand that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west?  What’s worst, however, is that – given Texas’ dismal voting record – Bruner stands a good chance of actually winning that coveted seat on the school board.

There’s also a good chance Paxton and Miller will both remain in office.  In the U.S., a true double standard exists when it comes to elected officials facing criminal charges.  People are routinely thrown in jail for possessing a pinch of marijuana or talking back to a police officer.  Sandra Bland, anyone?  But use your official power to skirt the system?  Well… that’s up for discussion.  I have no hope for the future, but will keep writing to avoid a visit from the FBI.

Although Texas gave the nation – and the world – Dick Cheney and Enron, it also produced the U.S. space program, Buddy Holly, Janis Joplin, ZZ Top, Beyoncé, Eva Longoria, frozen margaritas, Shiner Bock, Whole Foods Market, silicone breast implants and, of course, Chief Writing Wolf.  So, things aren’t that bad down here!

On a side note, I really do plan to patronize Exxotica and display my version of the “Jesus shot”: a bathtub filled with Mike’s HARD Lemonade; a liter of Red Bull; a sounding rod; heated Vaseline and a high-definition video camera.  I’ll email copies to Bruner and Cruz to show what they’re missing while campaigning.  After all, politics is bad for both body and soul.  Yee-hah!

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