THIS IS MY hardscrabble barrio’s water storage tank. It sits higher than any other place hereabouts, so gravity is how water gets to my house and those of the neighbors.
About a decade ago, this structure was covered with graffiti, and it was an eyesore. Then it got a fresh paint of white and red, and it remained unsullied for years.
Recently, someone applied artwork, a series of skulls. The one on the right in the middle row is even getting a shower.
Our municipal water comes from an underground spring. It’s delivered to us that way. There’s no purification plant.
We are natural people.
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MY BEAUTIFUL WORLD
After taking the photo at the top, I did a 180, and took the second photo, which is one side of our neighborhood plaza.
I’ve shot a number of photos of our plaza over the years, but never from this side. Look at those jacaranda trees. I get to admire them every weekday morning during our plaza walk.
We passed our 15th anniversary two days ago, and now we’re working on the second 15 years. I’ve been married thrice, of course. Five years with No. 1. Nineteen years with No. 2, although we were actually married only the last 10.
That means my current marriage has lasted the longest by a long shot. Although I am a fan of marriage, I hope not to have to do it a fourth time. Three is adequate.
I’VE LONG been a desert fan and the cacti that come with it. There is something spiritual about a desert. The same can be said about rainforests, the desert’s alter ego.
When I lived in Houston, one of my favorite road trips took me west. You didn’t have to go far before the environment turned dry, and nopal cacti appeared naturally along the highways. In spring they sprouted red flowers.
Mexicans are fond of eating nopal. I don’t share this love. Nopal is too much like okra, turning slimy when cooked.
So I just admire the appearance, and I don’t have to drive west to see nopal. I need only to step into the yard where I have about the tallest nopal I’ve ever seen.
I shot the above photo with a zoom lens. That’s just the noggin of my nopal. It soars 18 feet into the air.
I measured, more or less.
It was just two of those paddles when I planted it at least a decade ago, having no idea what I was getting into.
My second ex-wife is something called a Master Gardener. You get that title from the County Extension Service after taking an amount of training on such things.
While I am the yard chief here at the Hacienda, she was the garden honcho where we lived together in Houston.
I often encouraged her to plant bougainvillea. She never did. Perhaps it was out of pure spite. I hope not. But she did the right thing. I see that now.
Bougainvilleas are beautiful. They also sport thorns that would fill the most vicious rosebush with envy.
Our bougainvillea likely tops out at 20 feet, and even more from left to right. It is held in place by steel chains. The plant never stops growing, both upward and outward.
I water the nopal because I don’t want it to fall down. I never water the bougainvillea because I want it to calm down.
I’VE MAINTAINED a file cabinet for decades. I find filing satisfying. When I left Houston, I culled wildly, keeping just the bare bones, which I packed over the Rio Bravo.
I bought a new file cabinet, resuming the habit.
I have insurance files (one for homes, one for cars), bank files (two banks), investment files, three house files (two here, one in Mexico City), receipt file, tourism file, health file, and many more.
But my favorite is the Miscellaneous File where I keep stuff that doesn’t belong elsewhere. Yesterday, killing time at home due to having a cold, I opened Miscellaneous.
It’s a trip down Memory Lane.
Press passes with mug shots. One from my first job, New Orleans. I’m clean-shaven, 24 years old, in a dress shirt and tie. Another for the San Juan Star. I’m 30, My collar is open, and I have Fu Manchu mustache. The third, Houston Chronicle, age 39, shows me in a dress shirt and tie but with the full black beard of a Hells Angel.
Expired passports. Two U.S. and one Mexican. The older U.S. passport shows me in eyeglasses. That’s a no-no now. Both Mexican and U.S. passports were renewed this year, likely for the last time. I’m not immortal.
Air Force shoulder patch. It’s a large circle that says F-106 Dart. The Delta Dart was an interceptor aircraft, and I maintained survival-equipment pods in the ejection seats. Had I not screwed up so much of my youth, I would have been flying the F-106 instead.
A bookmark. On textured blue paper and inscribed with a haiku of my father’s: cajun cabin/the aroma of hot gumbo/floats on the bayou. His name, dates, and the phrase American Haiku Master, which he was.
Air Force discharge. Two versions. One suitable for framing, and the other with dates and mumbo-jumbo.
A watercolor sketch. Of me, done by local artist Arturo Solis. He just walked over and handed it to me one day years ago while I was on the plaza enjoying a cafecito. We have a number of his works hanging on our walls.
Drug formula. For committing suicide. You never know when it may come in handy. The Hemingway method is messy. Anyway, I don’t own a shotgun.
Texas driver’s license. I arrived with it. It expired six years later, and I never renewed. My DL now is Mexican.
Solo certificate. On the 28th day of June, 1976, I took off alone and returned to the New Orleans Lakefront Airport in a Cessna 152. Suitable for framing. I don’t fly anymore.
A love note. From my wife on my birthday in 2003. We had been married almost 18 months.
Final electric bill. Houston, dated Jan. 8-12, 2000. Amount: $86.02 for just four days 16 years ago. That’s approximately what I pay now in a year at the Hacienda.
Certification card. International Bartending Institute. Dated May 7, 1982. I am a certified bartender. Whoopee!
Flying license. I became a pilot of small planes on Oct. 26, 1976. The license never expires. You do have to renew your medical certificate, however. The last medical expired June 1, 1978. There’s also a radio permit in the envelope.
Cremation certificate. My mother was cremated on Jan. 8, 2009, at Atlanta Crematory Inc. in Stone Mountain, Georgia. She had made it to age 90.
Divorce papers. I had them in this file until fairly recently, but I tossed them into the trash. Two divorces. Two utterly miserable experiences that I’ll never repeat. I would prefer the Hemingway solution.
If you got all the way down here, you deserve a Gold Medal. I also have a Letters file.
Maybe I’ll spill that here some day. That’s where the love notes are stored. I love love letters.
WHILE MY child bride was peddling pastries on the main plaza yesterday, I took a walk around with my camera.
The upstairs windows on the above building open from the bedroom where my brother-in-law, separated from my sister-in-law after she tossed him out for philandering, accidentally shot himself to death about eight years ago.*
The same windows were used about a year later in a Nescafé television commercial. You see a woman sipping coffee briefly in one of the windows at the 0.55-second mark.
Not included in the commercial was the fact that the very bed on which the body was found still sat in the bedroom.
All of the street scenes were shot here. It looks more like Italy than Mexico to me, but it’s not Italy.
Continuing my stroll, I went down thataway and shot the next photo. It’s an intersection we call Seven Corners.
The black-and-white photos are fairly realistic because we’ve had some unpleasantly cool and rainy days of late.
Things will return to idyllic very soon, I’m sure.
* Don’t ever think a .22-caliber pistol is just a toy, especially if you point it at your heart and pull the trigger.
The photo, which I should have taken better care of, is from 1979, and it was taken in New Orleans. We did not move to Houston and purchase the Second Marriage Ranch House till the mid-1980s.
I was with Julie the longest of all, about 19 years, but we were married for only the last decade. I have been married to my Mexican child bride for 13 years, but we lived together just a few months before the wedding.
Julie and I met at a French Quarter party in New Orleans. I arrived with two dates, one of whom was married to somebody else, and I was drunk as the proverbial skunk. I could hardly stand up.
Julie told me years later that the first thing she noticed was how pretty I was. The second was how drunk I was. Forget him, she thought.
But my rakish charm won out in the end. But not that evening.
A sharp observer might notice my glassy eyes in the photo. Yes, I was happily under the influence. I mention this issue — again — because there are few people more annoying than a reformed boozer. Perhaps someone who’s stopped smoking. I did that too, years later. Ahem!
During our many years together, I supported us while Julie bounced from one business venture to another, all of which failed. It was only after she dumped me in 1995 did she become self-sustaining, by necessity, eventually earning far more than I ever did. She’s a computer wizard.
Necessity is the mother of invention.
She lives today in that Houston ranch house, which was entirely in my name after the divorce, but which I gave to her as a gift the following year because I am a really nice guy — or a total idiot — depending on whom you ask.
I prefer the first option. My mother embraced the second.
The people who get into that line of work, in my opinion, are troubled people, which is why they get into it in the first place. Their true motivation is understanding themselves, not others, but you can make a living at it, so many do. Kill two birds.
Win, win. Endless fixation on one’s self while having others pay you to fix them too. If only you could. Most men are not inclined to therapy. It’s primarily a female thing which folds nicely into their endless talking and reading self-help books.
Men who submit to therapy, I believe, are usually coerced into it by a woman, or they are questionable fellows like Woody Allen. I was in the first category. Maybe the second too.
The therapists to whom I refer are not psychiatrists. I’m talking about psychologists and other lesser lights with therapy “training.” There are lots of options available. Psychiatrists are just physicians who want those big doctor bucks but who faint at the sight of blood.
My sister is a therapist. My first wife is a therapist. My daughter was a therapist until she married very well and became a woman of leisure. The man who picked up my pieces and put me back together in the late 1990s, when I was a basket case, was a therapist, a psychologist.
But his tools were entheogens, not the endless chatter of usual therapy.
I was first hauled into traditional therapy in 1994. My second wife was the hauler. The therapist was a woman, a scandalously expensive marriage counselor in the Galleria area of Houston. Her suite had multiple rooms. At first we sat on a white leather sofa, my seething wife and I.
Basically, it was a gang-bang, and I got hosed, strapped naked atop a grimy mattress on the floor of a dank, stinky basement. The gang-bangers were, of course, the therapist and my wife.
They had their way with me, over and over, and they didn’t even use protection.
My last clear memory of the final session was this: We went into another room of the suite where there were various instruments of torture, or perhaps they were just therapy aids. The shrink had me lie on my back atop a huge inflated ball, basically bending me backwards, which was uncomfortable.
She leaned over me, looked right into my face and asked (I am not making this up): How old are you now? I’m 50, I accurately responded, but I don’t think that’s what she wanted to hear.
In the parking lot, I vowed not to return, so my wife tossed me out in the cold shortly thereafter.
I do think that in some cases, what I call chatter therapy can do some good, mostly in relationships. Sometimes, but even then I have my doubts. When deeper issues are involved, things buried far below the surface of the psyche, the troubled soul, you can talk till your jaw falls off, and it will have done nothing of use. Our deepest conflicts care naught for conversation.
At best, those devilish conflicts might be excavated with some sticks of dynamite. Entheogens can be sticks of dynamite when administered with care.
Therapy as we know it started in the 20th century. There were therapists long before, of course, and they were called priests, ministers, pastors and shamans.
I prefer the old ways of therapy.
A shaman would never have bent me over a big, inflated ball and asked how old I was.
He would already have known. The jungle would have told him.
ONE SWELL THING about multiple marriages is that you get a recess between wives.
My recess between Wife #1 and Wife #2 was five years, and it was a great recess out there on the playground of naked women.
On the other hand, the recess between Wife #2 and Wife #3 was a spell of much misery and lasted seven years. Recesses can vary in tone.
One of the many happy things I did in the first recess was learn how to fly small planes.
A favorite activity during that time was landing a Cessna 172 at the New Orleans Municipal Airport right next to Lake Pontchartrain after an hour or so of fun flying over the swamps of south Louisiana or maybe a jaunt over to cornpone Mississippi.
During steaming summers, I would park the plane, hop aboard my 1977, black, Harley-Davidson Sportster, and haul butt about a mile south on Downman Road to a sprawling clapboard tavern that kept the air-conditioning in the neighborhood of 35 degrees year-round, or so it seemed, and it was sweet.
I was often alone and wearing cutoff jeans and a T-shirt that said San Juan. The best things about that bar, the name of which escapes me, aside from the air-conditioning, were boiled crawdads and chill Dixie Beer.
Not being rich enough to have my own plane, I joined a flying club, which basically was a bunch of folks who banded together to maintain a few small planes, and each of us paid a fee per hour to take one up. It’s how poor people fly, but in time even that system got too rich for me. By the late ’70s, I was a retired flyboy.
Much of my life back then was haphazard. My first flying lesson took place on July 23, 1974, with a lanky, hillbilly instructor named George Gunn. He was an inch taller than I am, and I’m 6’3″, so it was quite a squeeze in the cockpit of the tiny Cessna 150 training plane.
I first soloed on June 28, 1976, which was quite a spell later. I must have been paying more attention to Dixie beer and crawdads than I was to flying lessons with Gunn.
The last time I took a plane up was November 9, 1978. I still have my logbook. Later, I went up in a hot-air balloon, parachuted once and put in some training hours in gliders.
There were only two times I ventured far from the skies over South Louisiana and Mississippi. Once was a Christmas when Wife #2 and I flew to Southwest Georgia to visit my parents and sister out in the boonies.
Due to a menacing weather forecast, we left early to return to New Orleans on Christmas Eve morning.
We were forced down, hair-raisingly, in rain and buffeting winds at the airport at Dothan, Alabama, where we spent the night in a motel, not much of a Christmas, trust me.
The second venture was down to the border where I flew with two friends to visit the sins in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. This flight too presented problems. First, I neglected to adjust the altimeter to the higher altitude of the airport in Laredo, Texas. As I entered the pattern to land, a birdie whispered that I was quite low. I didn’t understand why until after I landed and a light bulb ignited over my head. Whoops!
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Radio out, overshooting runway
Flying back to New Orleans from Laredo the next day, the plane’s radio went out. I could hear transmissions directed at me, but nobody could hear my response. But before that happened, we were forced to land at Galveston, Texas, due to bad weather, again. I did not have the proper license to fly in bad weather.
I was a fair-weather pilot.
Two of us spent the night in a motel, but the other companion decided to return to New Orleans in a bus. He said he was in a hurry, but I believe he’d just lost his nerve, the panty-waist.
Early the next morning, we took off again, one man lighter, and it was over Southwest Louisiana that the radio went out. Some airports allow landings without a radio. Some do not. New Orleans is one where you cannot.
Just north of Lake Pontchartrain is a small airport in the piney woods. I needed to land there to phone the New Orleans control tower to let them know to expect me. That’s one solution to not having a radio.
Here’s how I landed at that airport in the tall piney woods: badly. Due to those tall trees, you must come in rather steeply and level out at the last moment. Alas, it was a very windy day. To offset that added peril, I came in faster than usual and landed farther down the runway than I would have done in a perfect world.
When the tires finally screeched down, halfway down the short runway, my passenger and I watched as the trees at the other end got nearer and nearer with alarming rapidity. I braked like nobody’s business.
The concrete runway ran out.
And we were still barreling along — through high weeds. But we stopped short of the trees.
We taxied to a hangar where I phoned the other airport. An hour later we landed in New Orleans uneventfully. I believe that flight was my last. I decided to stick to motorcycles, crawdads and Dixie Beer.
It makes life more varied and interesting, and that is usually good. It also adds terror and pain, and that is bad.
Looking through the photo album, I found these two shots. The first was taken in 1966 in New Orleans.
My first wife went by the name of Ginger, a nickname for Virginia. She was “with child,” and we were standing on St. Charles Avenue, Mardi Gras Day.
She has been married to a more suitable fellow for a long time now. She is 67, a therapist and still lives in New Orleans where she was born.
Flash forward almost exactly a decade, and here I stand with Julie, my second wife, outside our apartment, also in New Orleans.
I was bent at the knees for this shot so that our faces would be almost level. Julie is short, and I am tall. I also weighed about 50 pounds more than in the previous photo. I was not really fat, but I was a very big fellow.
Julie is 66 and lives in Houston, Texas. She makes her living as a computer whiz, and she has not remarried. She remains in the same house that we shared for nine years, a house she has remodeled very nicely.
Interestingly, I was her second spouse. She was born in St. Louis.
By the way, I shook those 50 pounds in the early 1980s and now weigh what I did in the top photo, so I’m no longer a very big fellow, just tall.
You can’t shake that.
I wish both my previous wives well.
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(Note: Two other inhabitants of Mexican cyberspace, Steve and Billie, very talented people, were the inspiration for this idea of old photos.)