Monthly Archives: June 2013

Yes, I’ve Used Those Words – And So Have You

Here in the U.S., the “Society of Political Correctness” is swept up in an unending tizzy about racist comments once made – years ago – by culinary maven Paula Deen, the self-proclaimed “Queen of Southern Cooking.”  Deen, head of a multi-million dollar gastronomical empire that’s geared to maintaining high rates of obesity in the world’s richest nation, has been in relentless defensive mode since she admitted using a racial slur to describe a Black man who held her up at gunpoint in 1987.  The fiasco began – ironically – when a White former employee of one of Deen’s restaurants filed suit against Deen citing the latter had repeatedly used the term ‘nigger’ to describe Negro people.  The former employee, Lisa Jackson, claims the comments were especially hurtful because her own nieces are bi-racial with a Black father.  In a court-ordered deposition, Deen admitted she’d used the ‘n’ word more than a few times in her life.  Consequently, sponsors have been dumping her faster than bail bondsmen have dumped Lindsay Lohan.  Even Wal-Mart has pulled Deen’s merchandise!  And, how can any decent southern White woman be a bona fide redneck if Wal-Mart doesn’t stand by her?

I can’t speak for other countries, but anyone age 30 and over here in the U.S. who claims they’ve never ever, not once used a racial epithet to describe someone of a different ethnicity in the heat of anger or in the midst of an episode of temporary stupidity is either lying, mentally retarded, or has been in a coma since birth.  I’ve used all sorts of unsavory terms to describe people of different races.  Hell, I’ve even used them against my own people: Spaniards, Mexicans and Germans!

Yes, I’ve used the word ‘nigger’ before!  I’ve also spit out such hateful terms as ‘spic,’ ‘redskin,’ ‘chink,’ ‘gook,’ ‘hebe,’ ‘redneck,’ ‘White bitch,’ and ‘George W. Bush’ to describe people.  Here’s the difference: I’ve always stepped back and thought how stupid that was of me.  I should know better than that.  But occasionally, I get mad at someone – so outrageously mad – that I let loose with a barrage of insults.  We all have those weak moments; those brief periods of intellectual vacuums where we let our emotions get the best of us and nothing we say makes sense.  It’s just part of human nature; we’re an imperfect species.  We don’t always say the right thing.

That’s probably what happened to Deen that night in July of 1987 when a gun-wielding Black man threatened her while she worked as a bank teller.  Terrified because of the incident, she slipped into a nonsensical frame of mind and started rambling.  No one seems to be upset, however, that a Black man disrespected the rule of law by putting a gun to Deen’s head and robbing a bank; therefore, feeding the myth that Black men are naturally predisposed to violence.  They’re more concerned with Deen’s angry verbiage.  Does that make sense?

Here’s something else: Deen isn’t a Yale law professor; she’s essentially a glorified chef who happened to get lucky enough to turn her passion for butter- and salt-laden foods into a fortune.  I wish I could do the same with my masturbatory techniques, but I think the market is already overwhelmed by 40-something Spanish / Mexican Indian / German men playing with themselves online.

Deen has apologized profusely.  She even appeared on the “Today” show last week and tearfully told host Matt Lauer, “I is what I is.”  As a writer, that particular verbiage almost gave me an aneurism!  But, what else can she do?  Kill herself on live TV?  She’s already slowly doing that with her daily menus.  People need to give it a rest and lay off Deen.  Many folks have rallied to her defense, including some Negroes.  I’ve never been a fan of Deen, but I don’t understand why this matter has taken up so much media time.  In the state of Texas, some 45% of residents under age 17 have no health care coverage, and on the nation level, we’re building more prisons than schools.  That’s what bothers me – not the brainless rants of a 66-year-old woman who deep-fries everything that crawls out of her refrigerator.  I’m not trying to tell other people what to think or how to feel.  If some are offended by Deen, then I respect their sentiments.  She’s just not someone I’m worried about.

In the meantime, I have to set up for my next solo video shoot.  I’m determined to break into that market after all.


Filed under Essays

The Corvette Turns 60

On this day in 1953, Chevrolet rolled out its newest model: the Corvette.  With its bold white body made entirely of fiberglass and a cherry red interior, the 2-seater convertible was a refreshing automotive innovation; a sharp departure from the growing gallery of massive family-oriented vehicles.  Unsure of its success, Chevrolet only manufactured 300 Corvettes; so few, in fact, that each of those models was built by hand.  Selling for $3,250 apiece, the Corvette model was the brainchild of Harley J. Earl who had gotten his start with his father’s business, Earl Automobile Works.  It became an instant hit.  An automotive enthusiast, I have several die-cast versions of Corvettes, including that first model like the one pictured below.  It’s an American original and a true contemporary legend.

Corvette Museum.



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Happy Father’s Day!


“A love like no other,
one that is of a unique kind,
a fathers love,
one that knows no bound,
a father there for me when I am in need.
He wraps me in stong arms,
holding me close and tight,
making sure nothing will ever hurt me.
A father’s love,
it will never falter nor fail,
a love I can count on to make me well.
A fathers love,
such a powerful spell,
one that can never be broken,
not even by the worst of crimes.
A father’s love will never die,
forever will it live on,
forever will it be mine.”

Roland Houston, A Father’s Love


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The Chief Almost Kills Himself


Okay, I’m being a bit dramatic.  But, I had a serious accident the other day that resulted in significant blood loss and a 48-hour hospital stay.  You’ve heard of those freak accidents that get you either on “America’s Funniest Home Videos” or into a medical text book?  Well, that’s what happened to me.  I was carrying a gallon glass jug of iced tea to a refrigerator when I slipped on the linoleum floor, turned 180° and fell face down.  The jug shattered instantly, and a shard pierced the inner side of my upper right arm.  I thought it had impacted an artery, but it cut a vein.  I also thought I’d broken my right forearm, or wrist, but the glass nicked the ulnar nerve.  Blood flowed everywhere.  Mixing with the herbal blackberry tea, I’m sure even some ardent UFC participants would have panicked.  The jug had originally contained white wine.  I was pissed at the thought of losing all that tea.  But, if it had been wine, I would have never forgiven myself.  In this economy, you can’t afford to lose such pleasures.

The refrigerator is in the atrium of parents’ home.  They had remodeled their kitchen seven years ago and had all new appliances installed.  But, they decided to keep that old refrigerator as a backup.  It’s a good thing, since the new refrigerator turned out to be a piece of crap.  I mean, the old refrigerator is now some 30 years old and still makes ice.  The icemaker on the new one just went out a couple of weeks ago.

I felt myself getting light-headed immediately; an obvious effect from the excruciating pain and sudden blood loss.  I ordered my mother to grab some old towels from the garage and told my father to call 911.  I know it’s not nice to yell at your aging parents, but the accident was already starting to piss me off.  I consider myself very coordinated; having done gymnastics and Tae Kwon Do in the past.  This wouldn’t look good, if I aspired to be, say, a UFC fighter.  I lost consciousness a few times between the house and the hospital.

The paramedics drove me to Parkland Hospital, just north of downtown Dallas.  It’s a designated Level 4 trauma center, which means it can handle the worst of the worst that humanity has to offer.  It’s also a county hospital, so the uninsured often make their way there for treatment.  It’s a great place if you’ve been in a major car wreck, or if you’re a dumb ass who doesn’t watch where he’s walking while carrying a large glass object.  But, for basic care, it’s actually the worst place to be.  Back in 1992, I drove a sick friend to Parkland on a Saturday morning – and waited the entire day.  They had one doctor for some 200 patients.  Parkland is the hospital where President John F. Kennedy was taken after being shot.  But, in the ensuing years, it developed a dubious reputation as a lackluster and mismanaged facility.  Not surprisingly, illegal immigrants in Dallas County make good use of Parkland’s generosity.  It got so bad that, in 2006, Parkland sent México a multi-million dollar bill for services rendered.  I don’t know if México ever paid; if they did, they’d probably have to get a loan from a drug cartel.

All of that rumbled through my mind as I was wheeled into the E.R.  There must have been about 50 people waiting for me; all of whom descended upon me like I was a virgin starring in a porn film.  I would prefer that much attention for the publication of my first novel, but damned if things turn out as planned.  When a doctor asked if I was allergic to anything, I said, “Stupid people.”  He and his colleagues laughed, but I was serious – and still am.  Pollen aggravates my nasal cavities, but stupid people send me into epileptic fits.

I had just finished eating about 10 minutes before the accident, so despite my blood loss and constant regurgitations, it was a while until I went into surgery.  They had to stitch up two places on my right arm.  My father had driven to the hospital and spent about 4 hours in the waiting room; nervously anticipating my recovery and putting his bilingual skills to good use by helping as many monolingual Mexicans read the information board as possible.  He wanted to stay with me overnight.  But, I wouldn’t have it.  I ordered him out of there by 7 P.M., since he can’t drive at night, and my mother was home with no one except my cantankerous canine.  I called the house around 9:30 that night to make certain he’d made it back safely.  Funny how parent / child roles sort of reverse as the years go by.  A close family friend – a lady who used to work with my mother and who also lives nearby – brought them down to visit me Wednesday afternoon.  In part, they had to bring me a change of clothes, but I also wanted them to see me in that chic turquoise hospital gown.

Parkland finally released me Thursday afternoon.  I have tentative exploratory surgery scheduled for next Wednesday.  They’re certain they can repair this nerve.  I have no feeling in the small finger, and about half of my right arm and hand are numb.  But, while I can’t write too well, eating, typing and other activities are still manageable.  Aside from my unwillingness to be kept in such a vulnerable state, I wanted to make it home by today because it’s my dog’s 11th birthday.  I composed a piece last year for his 10th birthday.  I guess that’s more important to me than to him, but only animal lovers will understand.

I have to concede I now have a different opinion of Parkland.  It’s obviously changed.  The staff was great, even if at first, people repeatedly asked me if I ‘Habla Inglés.’  (I almost told a nurse, ‘Would you please put a sign on the door that says the patient in bed 1 speaks English?’)  And, amazingly, the food was pretty good.  More importantly, I consider myself fortunate.  The man who shared the room with me faces a much greater challenge.  He had to have his lower right leg amputated last week; an emergency that could have been avoided if his regular doctor had realized that his sciatic nerve pain was causing his leg to die.  By the time he made it to Parkland, it was too late to save anything below his knee.  But, listening to him interact with his family and the staff, you’d think he was just there for a really bad paper cut.

I’m an incredibly impatient person at times, but I’ll just have to see how things go the next few weeks.


Filed under Essays

97 Years and a Lifetime of Stories

Francisca in 1923

Francisca in 1923

This is actually a re-post from last year.  Currently, I’m working with my father to compile our family history, which is more of a labor of love than anything.  But, I also want to isolate his mother’s life as a separate project.  I find it’s been rather difficult, since it requires me to be somewhat detached.  It’s easy to get so wrapped up in a love one’s story you lose focus.  You just have that natural connection that no one else can understand.

Today marks the 110th anniversary of the birth of my paternal grandmother, Francisca Riojas De La Garza.  She died in February 2001 at the age of 97.  She was the last of my grandparents.  My mother’s mother had died in México City in 1940.  My paternal grandfather died in Dallas in 1969, and my other grandfather passed away in a suburban Dallas nursing home in 1983.  I vaguely remember my father’s father and I really didn’t get to know my maternal grandfather.  But, as in most families, I know a lot about all of them.  They each led interesting lives, equally filled with joy and tragedy.  A friend of mine once said, if she knew how much fun her grandkids would be, she would have had them first.  Grandparents hold a special place in the family unit.  Really good grandparents shepherd their loved ones through life with their own tales of growing up way back when.  They keep families together.  They are the center of the clan; the matriarch or patriarch who seems to know and see everything.  When they die, it’s still unexpected.  When Francisca passed away, my father’s large family appeared to disintegrate.  No one gathered for Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve.  No more birthday or wedding celebrations.  Everybody – especially us grandkids and great grandkids – went our separate ways; creating our own families and thereby, our own lives.  I guess that happens sometimes – even in the closest of families.

Francisca was small, barely 4’11,” but she had a strong personality accompanied by an even stronger voice.  Small women always seem to have the most indomitable of spirits.  I should know – one gave birth to me.  Francisca was born in Rosales, Coahuila, México in 1903, the 4th of 11 children; the oldest daughter.  Her father, José Manuel Riojas, was a captain in the Mexican military; a tall blond, blue-eyed man who actually worked as a bounty hunter under the direction of Venustiano Carranza, a leading figure in México’s bloody revolution that began in 1910.  Her mother Concepción died in 1918 of the “Spanish flu;” the pandemic that took millions of lives across the globe at the close of World War I.  Francisca cared for her mother as any loving daughter then or now would; feeding and bathing her, changing her clothes, praying for her, holding her hand tightly as Concepción took her last breath – without concern for her own health or fear of the unknown.  She then became a surrogate mother to her younger siblings.  In 1920, as the revolution came to a close, José Manuel moved his family to Eagle Pass, Texas, a town just north of the Rio Grande.

That’s where Francisca met her future husband, Epimenio De La Garza, a local carpenter ten years her senior.  They married shortly before Christmas 1924 in another small South Texas town.  Not in the Catholic Church, as Mexican tradition would have dictated, but in civil court.  The church wouldn’t allow them to wed – they were first cousins.  It was one of those classic long-held family secrets that no one really knew about and no one really cared to discuss; certainly not around the Christmas tree while the kids opened presents.

The De La Garza family had arrived in South Texas in the 1580’s.  Texas and the rest of what is now the American Southwest were all part of Nuevo España, or New Spain.  The De La Garzas came as explorers and ranchers, not conquerors.  They considered the indigenous peoples friends and confidants, not vermin.  They established large communities, including schools and churches.

Juan Ignacio de Castilla y Rioxa arrived in Veracruz, México in 1732 with an entourage of fellow military officials and clergymen.  His goal was simple – he planned to marry a young woman with whom he’d been corresponding.  The Castilla y Rioxa family was related to Spanish royalty, descendants of the “Kingdom of Castilla.”  One of their ancestors was Queen Isabella, the monarch who funded Christopher Columbus’ voyage 200 years earlier.  Some time towards the end of the 18th century, the name Rioxa became Riojas, and in the 1860’s a Riojas married a De La Garza.

But, my grandparents weren’t concerned about family – royalty or not.  They wanted to build a life together.  They had 11 children; 4 of them – 2 boys and 2 girls – died as infants.  It’s difficult to understand how life was like a century ago, when couples had so many children and accepted the deaths of some as a cold, hard fact of their world.  No one of my grandparents’ generation feared death the way people do now.  Back then, it was the norm; another cycle of life to be respected and honored.  It wasn’t so normal, however, for a person to live as long as Francisca did.

The best part of a long, healthy life is the ability to recount your history and share it with your loved ones.  Every elderly person has some story, though, that seems almost too fantastic to be true.  But, they’re the kind of real-life experiences that could have only happened way back when; in another time and another place.

When she was about 8 or 9, Francisca was visiting an uncle’s ranch and playing with her cousins beside a stream that ran behind the main house.  The girls suddenly noticed a group of government men – federales – off in the distance.  Francisca’s cousins dared her to shout “¡Viva Carranza!” at them.  Apparently not one to back down from a challenge, my grandmother climbed atop a mound of dirt and shouted just that: “¡Viva Carranza!”  It startled the men who turned in her direction.  But, they immediately saw that it was just a small girl; a brat, they probably thought.  After a moment, however, they turned a canon towards the girls – surely just intending to teach them a lesson – and fired a shot into the stream.  Water drenched Francisca who hadn’t yet retreated.  The blast caught the attention of others nearby and propelled Concepción out of the ranch house.  Seeing that it was her own daughter soaking wet, she charged forward and grabbed my grandmother by one of her braids.  As Concepción ushered all the girls back into the house, several local men arrived at the stream with their own weapons, and a brief skirmish erupted.

Like I said, small women have the grandest of egos and they always seem to cause all sorts of commotion.

The day after my grandmother died, my father sat in a chair in the den of her house; staring out the patio door at the expansive back yard.  His father had built that large red brick house in 1957.  It had always been there, as far as I was concerned.  I knew no other home swelling with such memories of happiness and good food.

“What’s wrong?” I asked my dad, just trying to make conversation amidst all the gloom.

“Oh, just thinking about all the times we’ve spent in this house,” he replied quietly.

But, I already knew that.  Whenever a loved one dies – even if they’re very old – we feel sad; mournful not just because of their death, but our loss.  We can be selfish with those we love the most.  But, we reserve that right.

That home is gone now.  I mean, the large red brick house is physically where it’s always been on Midway Road in North Dallas.  Yet, the home is gone.

The memories are still here though – with me and my father.  Francisca’s body is gone as well – but she’s still around.  It’s just a natural part of the life cycle my parents and I don’t fear.

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