It dawned gray this morning and kinda cold, so I lit the first fire in the downstairs fireplace. And I did not forget to remove the plastic from the chimney top as I did one year.
Boy, that was dumb. Hack! Hack! For most of the year, the two chimney tops are covered with plastic because mosquitoes use them as superhighways from outdoors.
The blaze is just getting started here, a kind of panty-waist fire, but later I heaved on more wood, and it was something that any woodsman would be proud to show his mama.
Winter this year has been as it should be. Usually, we have a two-month winter, January and February. Last year we had a malevolent four-month winter, and it was nasty, but November and December of 2011 behaved themselves.
January brings other things, mostly financial. Time to pay the annual tax on the 2009 Honda. That should run about $450 for 2012. Then there is property tax for our main house, the townhouse downtown and the apartment in the capital.
The total for the three is about $65.
That’s not a typo.
There’s the annual rent on the PO box, a bit over $20. We pay the townhouse water a year in advance, and that’s about $100. The water in the main house and in the capital are paid monthly.
Lots of stuff starts in January, a month that has a fresh feel that I enjoy.
I was born in 1944. Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo were still alive. I did not care, however. I was interested only in getting my fingers and toes into my mouth.
Generals Lee, Grant, Forrest and Sherman were dead, but flesh was still on their conflicted bones.
Though I sprung forth in Atlanta, our family moved soon after to the red dirt of southwest Georgia where my mama’s parents had a big farm.
We stayed there in the rural Deep South for almost seven years while my father tried to become a writer.
When I was born, the Civil War had ended less than 80 years before. When my father was born, the war was only 50 years gone, and quite a few people from 1865 were still milling about.
My father did not care for Yankees. And my mother wasn’t overly fond of them either. General Sherman left some very pissed-off people in Georgia, and the mood lasted for generations.
When we did leave the farm, in 1950, we didn’t go far, just 180 miles southeast to Jacksonville, Florida, and we frequently returned to Georgia in our Plymouth four-door sedan with tail fins.
My mother was an only child, very tight with her parents.
The rural south in mid-century was hidebound, especially where it concerned race relations. I grew up in a strange environment in many ways. There was the broad, segregated Southern world around me, and then there were my parents.
Though they weren’t too keen on Yankees, they were rare ultra-liberals in that long-ago Confederate countryside. Pro-union, pro-FDR, pro-New Deal, pro-Harry Truman, “progressive,” irreligious, pro-civil rights and socialist.
Not a segregationist bone in either of them, though the same could not be said about mama’s parents who loved “their Negroes” like family but would have been horrified at the thought of a relative marrying one.
Horrified, I tell you. I asked Granny once.
Better to have her daughter dead than marry a Nigra. She said that.
I never heard my grandparents say the word nigger, not once. They were either Negroes or Nigras, which was a common compromise term.
Black and African-American had not been invented yet even though Negro is simply Spanish for black.
Once when I was about 10, my father misunderstood something I said, thinking he heard the word nigger coming out of my mouth. He slapped me so hard across the face I remember it to this day.
I have never said nigger in my life, and I believe this is the first time I have even written it. Makes you squirm, doesn’t it? Interesting phenomenon. But it’s said daily in the ghetto both in anger and in love.
Though Southern rural blacks were not slaves in mid-century, I doubt they lived much different than they had lived before Lincoln liberated them.
* * * *
As mentioned above, my grandparents had “their Negroes,” and the two principal ones were Willie and Cap with whom I grew up. The rest were farmhands.
Willie was the housekeeper and cook, and Cap was the gardener and handyman.
He was often mildly but quietly drunk. Cap rarely said anything at all.
They lived as man and wife, but never actually made it legal. They had no children.
They lived free in a falling-down shack up the dirt road. The owners of the shack were my grandparents. Willie and Cap ate at our farmhouse, also free.
For breakfast, they would eat in the farmhouse kitchen after we had eaten. For lunch, the routine was repeated. They had their evening meal in the shack.
They never ate directly with us at the farmhouse table because that was not done in those distant days.
Even so, I loved Willie, and was delighted to see her on every visit. She was very outgoing and seemed equally pleased to see us arrive for our frequent stays. Cap had only one expression.
They likely got a small, weekly allowance instead of an actual salary.
If Granny had to drive Cap into town on an errand, he sat in the backseat of the Ford even though nobody was sitting on the passenger side in the front. It was like buses. They sat in the rear.
Willie and Cap were a presence throughout my entire youth. They were like family, though Cap was like a quiet uncle with a half pint in his hip pocket and who rarely stepped into the house.
In the early 1960s, Granny (a widow by then) built a far better home for Willie and Cap that was kitty-cornered across the dirt road from the farmhouse.
It was a simple, well-built, wood-plank edifice, but it must have seemed a palace to Willie and Cap.
When Granny died in the mid-1960s, my parents moved to the farm. Willie died not long after and, a few years later, my father found Cap sprawled dead on the bathroom floor of that simple, wood-plank home across the dirt road, which was paved by then.
* * * *
This is their only memorial, such as it is, likely the sole remaining record of their existence in the red clay of long-ago backwoods Georgia, which is the only place they ever walked here on God’s troubled Earth.
The “Negro cemetery” where they are buried is long abandoned. I stopped by there in the 1990s and paced through the pine forest, pushing aside high weeds, brush and black-widow webs, hunting their graves.
I found nothing of them. Just a few overturned stones with other names.
In a righteous Heaven, Willie is well supplied with the grits, butter and red-eye gravy she loved.
And Cap’s bottle of Jim Beam is a fountain that never stops flowing.
A feather floats atop the surface of the birdbath in the morning sunlight, and I’m sitting on the front porch listening to Peter Kater and Carlos Nakai playing Natives.
This has been a pretty good year. I’m still sitting mornings on this porch in the winter sunshine. The music still plays in its various manifestations.
The mountains are still over there, and the blue sky above. The grass is brown, but it’s always brown in late December. I just raked more dead, damp leaves, and they’re drying before getting the torch.
This year, the street paving was completed, and the sidewalks too. The butcher shop in the next block moved to our block. A big, fancy house directly across from us plods toward completion.
We installed a solar water heater on the roof, rainwater drains, and jazzed up the upstairs patio with sunlight-yellow paint and an elegant floor of ceramic tile.
Once in Springtime and once in Fall we went to the beach on vacation. Rain fell in summer, and the grass grew green and crazy, as always.
There were morning walks and waffles and English muffins and orange marmalade with that local cheese that resembles ricotta.
There was loco exercise on the part of my child bride, and more sensible physical activity on my end.
There was laziness in the afternoons and coffee on the plaza. I rarely do anything useful after lunch.
Just this year, finally, I began to feel my age, and there are some telltale brown spots on the back of my hands. Isn’t that delightful?
The yard toil doesn’t come so effortlessly. Heaving the five-gallon jug of purified water up on the kitchen stand, well, I wonder how many years more I’ll do that with no assist.
Even my child bride, at 51, is getting less enthusiastic about cleaning this too-large house by herself. One day we’ll need a maid.
We’ll celebrate our 10th anniversary in April, and travel plans are being made. First, we considered Spain. Then we dreamed of Buenos Aires. But it looks like we’re going to Havana.
What better place to celebrate a decade of marriage than a visit to a Caribbean Commie Police State?
But before Havana, there’s our own nation’s capital where we’ll be heading in a few days for about a week, so if you don’t see anything here, that’s the reason. We’re not dead. We hope.
I don’t want this birdbath feather to ever vanish nor do I want Kater with his piano and Nakai with his flute to fold up their sheet music and go home, leaving me alone in grave silence.
* * * *
Predictions for 2012.
Gather around Swami Zapata, boys and girls:
1. Kristanabel the bombshell will continue her evil ways.
2. Obama will be sent packing back to Chicago and his old pew in the front row of the vituperative Pastor Jeremiah Wright’s anti-American “church.”
And Michelle Obama will cease to be proud of her country. Again.
3. I will continue hoping, to utterly no avail, that Americans will become adults again, and stop cursing each another and slinging mud.
* * * *
Let us pray. Down on your knees.
Dear God, Jesus, Virgin Mary, Allah, Krishna, Buddha, Jehovah, Zoroaster, whoever is out there, let the once-great American nation come to its senses, take its national security and economic stability seriously again.
Let it focus on commonalities and togetherness, cutting out the destructive and divisive multicultural and diversity crap. Pardon my French, Lord.
Let’s have more Star Spangled Banner and cornbread . . .
. . . and less Kumbaya and curry.
Now off your knees. It’s not becoming.
* * * *
Here’s a great song before midnight. A toast to all.
Christmas Day in my neighborhood brings out the devils, and it’s not fun.
It’s an unclear tradition that even the woman who sweeps the plaza every morning could not explain to my child bride and me yesterday.
The sweeper woman says she tries to dissuade her sons, who are young men, from participating each year, but to no avail.
The annual “celebration” lasts about four days, and it appears to have little or nothing to do with Christmas, even though it starts on Christmas Day.
For weeks the young men make their costumes, which are Godawful ugly things that include mountains of real horsehair drooping from their heads.
And their faces are covered, which is where the mischief begins. Anonymity. Not good on the internet, not good in my neighborhood.
These guys get drunk, stumble around in packs, and they will attack you with sticks or whatever’s at hand. It’s not a good time to stroll on the plaza.
An odd element is that they wear numerous pairs of old, ripped, raggedy pants, one atop the other.
This morning, we did go out for a power walk, early because the devils are still hung over when it’s early. Every year piles of these pants are strewn on the sidewalks, the streets, and thrown over power lines where they dangle for weeks.
I think this is the last day. I hope so. Christmas Day is the worst, and it spirals down from there.
(This post appeared on Christmas Eve of 2009, again in 2010, and it now, with a few updates, officially becomes a holiday tradition. My child bride is in a small town 40 minutes southwest of here with her long deceased mother’s side of the family. They stay up way too late for me.)
* * * *
Silent night, holy night (to many), solo night.
That’s what I am enjoying — a quiet, solitary night at home.
And where is my lovely wife? With a pack of kin named Pérez.
Latinos tend to celebrate Christmas most of all on Christmas Eve, and the later the hour the better. Around midnight sounds ideal for dining.
To me, it sounds like way past bedtime.
After much angst over the years, we’ve reached an accord. She goes wherever they go, and I stay at home, enjoying the peace.
That’s what it’s all about anyway: peace.
I’m happy with this arrangement. She finds it a little unsettling, and feels guilty, but I send her packing with her homemade pecan pies and hummus …
… and her guilt fades, one imagines, in the general racket created when a Latino family collects under one roof.
And, of course, the following morning she feels stunned, and her eyes are red from scant sleep. She swears never again, but the negatives fade, and the tradition plods on. Till next year.
She will share the gossip. Who got drunk. Who got angry. Who stormed out in a snit. There’s never any shortage of that.
It’s best to stay home and hear about it second-hand.
* * * *
At age 67, I’m still waiting for the ideal Christmas. the kind portrayed on Hallmark cards. Where happy people in heavy coats bearing gifts enter beautifully decked-out homes as snow falls gently on the lawn.
The tree is bright and beautiful. The dog is always a cocker spaniel, black and white.
Where are these places?
Fact is, I got off to a bad start, Christmas-wise. Dad was a drunk, and there is little in the way of holiday memory. And as you begin, you usually remain. I remember only one childhood Christmas, just one.
We were not at home. Our family of four was at Granny’s farm in Georgia. I was 6. With sister, 9, I fell asleep in the bedroom next to the living room where stood the tall Christmas tree. We had put out cookies and milk for Santa.
There really was a chimney.
I awoke the next morning to a pile of loot that Santa had left after downing the milk and cookies. The gift that remains in memory these six decades was a vinyl record. Gene Autry sang Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
The beautiful sound of an ideal world to a child of 6.
I played the tune over and over that morning. There was no snow. But it was grand anyway. That one Christmas.
Just that one.
One wonders how those cookies tasted with bourbon.
He swam over the border 35 years ago hunting what they all hunted: easy blondes and fast money.
But something weird happened.
A year later, while on his knees in The Lady of Our Suffering Bloody Jesus Christ AlmightyGodChurch in the big city’s barrio, a statue winked at him and said: Do right, jovencito.
And he did do right. He entered night school and volunteered with Meals on Wheels. Years passed. He gained citizenship, and he earned a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice for Minorities.
He changed his name from Manny to Mark — Mark Montoya — but he never lost his love of tacos because you can take a Mexican out of Mexico, but you can’t take tacos out of a Mexican.
That was, as mentioned, about 35 years ago and now Montoya is a lieutenant at the Fourth Precinct. He’s seen lots of easy blondes and fast money, neither of which he ever touched because of what the winking statue told him.
Do right, jovencito.
But he isn’t so jovencito anymore. He is 55 years old, and eligible for retirement with full medical coverage and an absurdly fat pension. Gracias, public union!
He’s solved lots of crimes in his police career, but there is one open file in his drawer that obsesses him. The name on that file is Kristanabel Wasoo.
The serial killer.
* * * *
Though he’s never seen her in person, he’s on a first-name basis: Kris, he calls her, and his desire to cuff her keeps him awake on dark, stormy nights.
There was a prison mugshot, of course, but he prefers this photo from Kristanabel’s parents’ album so many years ago. Montoya flips it over.
To mom and dad on my 15th birthday. You’re the very best !!!!! Love and kisses!!!! XXXXXXX
Dated just three days before she shot them dead in their bed.
Kristanabel is hard to catch because she lives on her looks. She uses men. She uses them for money, to get jobs, usually in bars as a barmaid. She uses men to get fake identification, so her name is ever changing. And then she kills them.
She is a phantom, as hard to grasp and corral as cold fog on a winter-gray morning in the high Nevatumblas.
* * * *
Montoya jams Kristanabel’s file back in his desk drawer, grabs the snub-nosed .38 Police Special and shoves it into his holster as he stands.
No, he mutters to himself. Retirement can wait. I have work to do.
This case holds just one clue, her sole weakness: rare roast beef sandwiches and cold dark ale.
Our cop heads to a delicatessen near the Marbol Hotel.