"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing."

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Starvation Draw

Starvation Draw

Vernor Tenney sat on the hilltop, absorbing the warmth of a rare sunny morning. For the first time that day the cold that he felt deep in his core subsided. He turned his back to the sun and let his black pea coat soak up the solar rays.  As he rolled a rudimentary cigarette, he stopped to glance towards Starvation Draw, a billowing cloud of dust advanced towards the Greenleaf Mine. "Epi", he called into the shaft opening next to him "Someone is coming"  At the bottom of the shaft,  Epi stopped picking at the rock to look up "They come here, Boss?" he asked. Vernor peered out at the approaching line of dust, "No, to the Greenleaf" Epi chuckled and replied "No One comes here, Boss" and with that he continued to strike at the vein of fluorspar that they had hit upon.  Vernor took a long drag on his cigarette before he replied "Fuck it, we'll have to walk over there and see if they have our supplies"  As a crow flies, the Hilltop mine was just three miles from the Greenleaf mine. However, for a vehicle it was a long haul of rock strewn draws, wash outs and some quite scary switchbacks. Renfro who twice a week made the trip from town, had lost his nerve. The angle of the roadbed was such that it made his stomach queasy.  After making the trip two weeks prior with a box of dynamite and drill bits, the rotund hardware store owner had put his foot down.

Vernor called down to Epi "By tomorrow we have to blast that rock" he said as he took the last drag, Epi yelled back "I think I pick some more today, Boss"  Vernor grinned "Suit yourself hombre"  Epi was wary of blasting, ever since  McGill had blown himself up inside a sixty foot deep prospect shaft at Goat Ridge. Assigned the task of recovering McGill's remains, the experience had un-nerved both men. McGill an over sized Texan, had settled with Vernor and Epi for back wages owed by signing over the deeds to The Hilltop mine and two prospects. Anyhow, who was to say he hadn't, or  who would ever know that it was Vernor who had signed McGill's name. While packing McGill's personal effects, Vernor had found the deeds inside an envelope.  "Don't matter" Vernor had told Epi "He did owe us wages, that's a fact"  Epi crossed himself  "I can live with this" he told Vernor "God, he may not forget" Vernor tossed McGill's knapsack on the truck next to Texan's mangled corpse, his answer was expected "Ain't about God, it's about money owed, don't worry yourself  Epi, I'm going into town to file these deeds.

The first bad omen was when the truck engine seized up near the river bed, a rock had ripped through the radiator.  Vernor limped into town, and had barely settled into his seat at the Depot Cafe, when Renfro showed up with Deputy Meliton Baca in tow, an excitable Renfro exclaimed "Tex owed me money, I have papers to his vehicle right here" a weary Vernor looked up "You'll have to go fetch him and the truck" he told them "I just walked 4 miles into town" as they went out the door, he couldn't help but quip  "Be careful, he hasn't been himself lately" Vernor's next stop was the courthouse, the clerk was  a mouse of man named Duffy. He examined the papers, "Imagine that!, just a few days before he passed away" he said with a raised eyebrow  "What are you implying" Vernor snapped defensively, "Nothing" said Duffy "Lucky You, if they prove productive" Vernor gave him a sour look, "Just file 'em" Duffy continued "The man had no living relatives did he?" Vernor strained to remain calm "I don't know" Duffy continued to probe "Did he also have a stake in the Gratten mine?" gruffly Vernor repeated "I don't know" Duffy picked up the deeds and studied the signatures "Was the man left handed? he asked, by now Vernor was besides himself but he tried not to show it "I know for a fact that nobody called him Lefty!" he glared at the clerk "May I finish my business, so I can get back to camp?" Duffy shrugged and brought down his stamp with authority "There it's all good and legal, Good Day Sir!"  Vernor hitched a ride back to camp with Deputy Baca who was on his way to serve a warrant at the Valley Mine. For the first time since stumbling upon those deeds, Vernor felt at ease, he was now the proud owner of three mines and a pipe dream. He yawned, pulled down his hat and told Deputy Baca "Jefe, wake me up when we get get there."

Looking down on Fluorite Camp/Greenleaf Mine from Fluorite Ridge

That was a year prior, and the riches had failed to materialize, the prospect shafts were barren, though for no good reason, Epi still worked them. The Hilltop was paying off, but at a laboriously slow rate.  Although, located in the center of the Fluorite Mining District, the topography made it difficult to get in and out, "We might as well be on the moon" Vernor had remarked to Epi. Who broke out in laughter, for some reason Epi found this hilarious as he kept repeating "Moon" and chuckling all morning, until finally Vernor tossed a rock at him and yelled "Epi, you simple fuck, shut up already." After that, Vernor didn't dare use the word "moon" for fear of triggering another spasm of giggles from his partner. The routine was simple, get up at dawn, fix breakfast, climb up to the Hilltop and work all day. The only company they had was the hardscrabble miners who followed the foot trail up and over the ridge from Fluorite Camp to The Greenspar or Gratten mines further north.  With one exception, Rodriguez, who worked a couple of shafts, north of the foot trail. He was a strange bird, didn't like anyone to look at him, not that he was hideously  deformed or much different from anybody else. If by chance anyone got close enough to see him, he would quickly duck down, turn his back or walk behind some brush.  He had made avoiding human contact into an art form, in some ways Vernor envied him, although for the most part, he would taunt Rodriguez about his strange behavior, "I see you god damn it" he would yell from atop the hill, sometimes he would stand there just to see how long Rodriguez would hold his position. Vernor would always give up before Rodriguez would break, "Strange god damn, son of a bitch" he would say.  Vernor worked the winch on the hoist, when the bucket of ore reached the top, he pulled it in and dumped it, "Almost time to call Espinoza" he yelled down to Epi "We need to get paid, hombre" Epi stopped to rest and called back "The vein is done, Boss, now we have to blast."  Vernor felt his stomach turn sour, "Come on up Epi, we'll hike over to Fluorite and get our supplies."
The Hilltop was eighty feet deep now, the men climbed in and out using a series of four 20 foot wooden ladders anchored to timber framing. The ladders were staggered across, Epi scrambled up the ladders, "You're pretty good at that, Epi, that's why you're lighting the fuses" as he reached the surface, Epi grinned "McGill, he wasn't so good" Vernor stifled a laugh "Damn right about that" the two then ambled down to their campsite and from there started up the trail to Fluorite Camp. A little ways up, Vernor quickly turned in time to see Rodriguez duck behind a bush,  "I saw you, god damn it" he yelled, then grinned at Epi, who shook his head sadly "What?" asked Vernor "It's just fun" Epi kept his head down and kept walking up the trail. At the crest, Vernor sat down, "Let's roll a couple of smokes, Epi" they both sat there staring out at Starvation Draw, "See right there" Epi pointed to the north "That's where the Apaches killed my Grandfather" Vernor looked to where Epi was pointing, "They chased him from there to there" Epi's finger moved from northeast to northwest "They catch him...mala suerte" Vernor looked north, then he explained "That's the Pony Hills, I've seen graves out there, maybe your granpappy?"  Epi shrugged, "They catch my uncle too and his son" Vernor looked puzzled "All at the same time?" he asked, "No different times" Epi said "Wagons too slow, Apaches too fast" Vernor couldn't help himself as he chortled "Hell, Epi your peoples were too damn slow" Epi took a long drag on his cigarette "Si, but the Apache are gone and we are still here, no?" Vernor stood up "Thank God, for that, let's get on with it, Epi"

The Hilltop Prospects

They arrived to find Fluorite Camp in a flurry of activity, both the delivery driver for the Gem Grocery store and Renfro the hardware supplier were in camp.  Also present was Espinoza, who made his living hauling ore from the outlying mines to the Peru Mill. He drove a truck he had purchased from the U.S. Army, after they had pulled out of Camp Furlough in Columbus. Espinoza was a hard case, he wore a dirty rag tied around his head, gypsy style, he kept a Bowie knife and a revolver on his person at all times.  Rumor had it that he was a scout, translator and spy for Gen. Pershing during the Punitive Expedition, while others said he had done the same in France during the war. Either way he wasn't typical of the Mexicans who populated the camps or the county for that matter. Deputy Meliton Baca wasn't typical either, educated at a Catholic boarding school in El Paso, he had attended the Univ. of Notre Dame for one year, before homesickness brought him back to the Valley.  Deputy Baca was at the camp serving a warrant for Mike Spungen, who was wanted for almost beating a man to death during a drunken brawl in town.  The negotiations were delicate, Sheriff Gray, usually would send a white deputy to arrest a white man, but to test Baca's meddle, he had appointed him to the onerous task.

Vernor greeted Baca "Hey Jefe, what's new in the world?" Baca seemed distracted "I'm here to arrest Iron Mike for brawling" Vernor looked at the gathering of white miners near the pay window "Are they gonna let you do that?" he asked. "He's coming in on his own" answered Baca "I'm just waiting on him, if anything he respects the badge" Vernor felt tension in the air, as he walked past the white miners, one of them spat in his direction with the spittle landing just short of his boot, Vernor pulled his hat low and kept walking, "Can't fight them all" he muttered to himself. Once out of their sight, he relaxed, walking over to where Espinoza was parked, he called out "I got ore for you to haul, Espi, muy pronto!" Espinoza stared through him  "I'll be there tomorrow morning" he replied, Vernor leaned against the hood of the truck "Works for me, that gives us time to pull up some more ore." Espinoza spat on the ground "Trouble is brewing my friend" Vernor followed Espinoza's gaze "That!, it ain't nothing, Iron Mike is turning himself in" Espinoza kept his arms crossed with one hand on each of his weapons "Damn!, you are wired too tight amigo" Vernor exclaimed, Espinoza grinned "You're probably right about that" adding "Hey tell Rodriguez to be ready" he spat again "He's one crazy hijo de la chingada" Vernor took his departure.

Vernor then ambled back over to Deputy Baca's truck, the miners had dispersed, Spungen was cuffed, shackled and sitting in the bed of the truck, he greeted Vernor "Mister Tenney! long time no see" Vernor cracked a smile "Wish these were better circumstances"  Iron Mike grinned "Hell, Mel told me the guy won't die anytime soon"  Vernor nodded "Here's hoping he lives a long and somewhat normal life" (from what Deputy Baca had told him the man was fucked up beyond repair) Though, there was no sense in telling that to Iron Mike before he was safely behind bars. Spungen flashed a gap toothed grin at Vernor "I hadn't seen you since our scrap at Old Hadley" Vernor rubbed his neck as he recalled the brawl "Sure, you nearly ripped my fucking head off" Iron Mike chortled with glee "It was a dilly!, ya' gave as much as you took Mr. Tenney" Vernor shook his head "That's not how I remember it" Iron Mike's mood suddenly turned sullen "It was the sulphur fumes at The Graphic mine, Vernie... my mind ain't been right ever since, please forgive me" Vernor lit a cigarette and passed it to Mike, "You are forgiven my son" As Deputy Baca passed by, Vernor stopped him "That son of a bitch is dangerous"  Baca wiped his brow, "That's why his own people gave him up"  With a look of distaste he added  "He knows I'll put a bullet in his brain if he tries anything"  Vernor leaned in "Are you sure?" Baca replied "Same as I would shoot a mad dog" Vernor started to say "That's not what I meant" but Baca cut him off  "I know what you meant, I will shoot him and he knows it"

Fluorite Ridge and the road leading from The Hilltop to The Greenspar & Gratten mines

Night had fallen by the time Vernor and Epi started back to their camp site. When they were back at the crest, Vernor called for another smoke break. Epi sat down and made a sign of the cross, a somewhat agitated Vernor said "Cut that out Epi, there ain't no diablos out here"  Epi sat down "I forget you're not Catholic" Vernor lit his cigarette, even though they had worked together for over two years, Vernor had revealed little about himself to Epi.  In turn, since he first met up with him at Cook Town, he knew almost nothing about Epi.  Vernor exhaled " No Sir! I'm a jack Mormon" Epi's look gave away his confusion "I was raised as a Latter Day Saint, Epi, but it sure as hell didn't take" Epi still didn't understand "A Mormon, Epi, I was born in Mexico, the fucking Villistas ran us out of our  homes" Epi caught on (sort of) "Villa!, he's no good, Boss?" Vernor raised his voice "Fuck No! God Damn, took our land, our farms, forced us across the border to Hachita"  Epi interrupted "Mexico! you were born in Mexico, I was born here, but I'm the Mexican" Epi started laughing,  Vernor snapped at him "Shut the fuck up Epi!, don't even start me on that."  Mexico, Villa and Spanish had always been a sore point for Vernor.  As a boy all the other white kids had teased him without mercy because he couldn't speak English.  As a teenager working on ranches along the Alamo Hueco range, the white cowboys took to calling him Mex. At the Speer Ranch they even made him bunk with the Mexican vaqueros, he grew to loath his station in life.

In 1916 Vernor journeyed to Deming shortly after Villa's raid on Columbus, he lied about his age in order to enlist in the U.S. Army.  After cowboying in the Boot heel country for two years, he thought it would be an easier way of life.  However, his pronounced Spanish accent soon caught the attention of a group of soldiers, when they started to bully him, he cold cocked the biggest one, this earned him a beating and a night in jail. The next morning he went back home to Hachita, angry and dejected. Now as that memory passed from his mind, he shivered, "Fuck it's getting cold, Epi, let's move."  They awoke at day break to a curtain of falling snow, the entire area was blanketed in white, "Oh, Hell Espinoza ain't gonna make it up here now" was Vernor's first reaction.  As they sat in the canvas tent, drinking coffee and smoking, Vernor laid out the day's schedule "We'll hoist up the rest of the ore and then start drilling for the dynamite, with any luck we can blast tomorrow" Epi said nothing, he seemed tired, "Ok Boss" was his only reaction.  They worked all day, by that evening they still hadn't finished drilling. The snow had stopped, Vernor and Epi sat by the fire, the whiteness of their surroundings was eerie, "Just like the moon" Epi remarked, but this time he didn't chuckle or giggle he just stared out into the darkness.

The first light of day found both men hard at work at The Hilltop mine, as they sat down for a smoke break, two Mexican miners came up the footpath, one called for Epi. Vernor glared down at them and then in disgust told Epi "As long as you're going down there, bring up a roll of fuse and a tool bucket" From his vantage point, Vernor could see that this was no social call, the conversation was serious and brief. As the two men left, Epi retreated into Vernor's supply tent. After rummaging around and not finding any rolls of fuse, he came upon a canvas bag with four rolls. Without much thought he grabbed one and placed it in the metal tool bucket that they would lower into the shaft. A good portion of their tools and supplies had been appropriated from Tex McGill's belongings over the protest of Lawrence Rasberry. "He owed us several weeks back wages, Lawrence, I'm taking his tools unless you aim to cover our wages" Vernor declared, Rasberry was exasperated "Tex owed Renfro all kinds of money, most of those supplies probably ain't been paid for" Vernor ignored him and kept loading the goods on Tex's truck "You'll have to answer to Renfro" screeched Rasberry,  to which Vernor replied "Fuck Renfro"

Epi arrived back at The Hilltop, "What was that about?" Vernor inquired "Estrada over at the Lucky Mine, his baby boy died this morning" Epi replied. Vernor winced "Aww gee! probably dysentery, this ain't no place for children" Epi nodded in agreement. Vernor continued, "Remember Cook Town in '18?, I bet at least six kids died that summer and four more at Old Hadley" Epi secured the tools he had brought up "I should go see Estrada, he's my primo" Vernor grabbed the tool bucket, "Go ahead, Epi, I'll work this for a few hours more, we can blast tomorrow"  The next morning, Vernor brought out the dynamite, with great care, they lowered themselves into the mine.  Vernor prepared the loads and fuses "These are long fuses, Epi, you have plenty of time to scramble" Epi looked on without a word as Vernor tied three fuses together "Light them and go, Epi, that's what you do" Vernor looked at Epi, "You want me to do it?" Epi laughed "No, you too slow, Boss" Vernor felt a sense of relief to see Epi back to his normal self. "I hate blasting Epi" Vernor wiped his brow "We'll be able to buy a plunger soon and then we can blast at a safe distance" Epi said nothing as Vernor gathered up his tools  "I'll climb up, when I get there, I'll signal you to light the fuses" Epi cupped his hands and blew on them "Con la gracia de dios" he said and then he crossed himself. "You told Rodriguez we're blasting, right?" Epi smiled "I told him this morning, Boss" Vernor started climbing his way out of the shaft,  once on the surface he called down, "Light them up,Epi"

What happened next made Vernor's heart skip a beat "Boss, the fuse is fast" Epi yelled without panic "God Damn it, Epi, get the fuck out of there!" Vernor yelled back,  Epi paused to look at the fuse "Boss, it's burning, muy rapido" Vernor felt a sense of panic "Epi, God Damn it, Climb, Climb!" For some strange reason Epi paused to gather the tool bucket, Vernor was besides himself "Leave the fucking bucket, get  the fuck up the ladder!"  "Madre de Dios" Epi exclaimed as he started to climb the first ladder, twenty feet up, forty feet up, sixty feet up, he glanced back down "Por el favor de Dios" he groaned,  just twenty more feet to go, "God Damn it Epi, climb, God Damn it climb" Vernor kept yelling. Finally, Epi reached the top of the last ladder, he took a deep breath as though he had been under water, he grinned at Vernor who reached out for his hand. Then it came, a concussive force roared upwards from the shaft, the force flung Vernor away from the opening, as he fell backwards he saw Epi fly over him like a human cannonball. Vernor landed on his back and then instinctively curled into a fetal position, covering his head. A shower of rocks and splintered timber came raining down, one thought raced through his mind "Too much God Damn dynamite!"  He closed his eyes to welcome sweet death.

He then had visions of his father who was once a farmer, busting rocks for a living, toiling away inside a mine. Of himself as a five year old helping his weary mother drag an iron bucket to the ore car, then chewing on some sweet cornbread while his mother caught her breath, he blacked out. A startled Vernor came to, he sprang up and then quickly dropped to one knee, "Sweet Mercy!" was his first reaction to still being alive, "Epi! are you ok" he coughed and gagged "Epi! answer me hombre!"  Vernor stood up again, trying to clear his ringing head, then he saw Rodriguez standing at the bottom of the hill staring at him. "Rodriguez! Epi is hurt, ayudame!" Rodriguez bounded up the hill with an ease that even in his current state, impressed Vernor. He sprinted past Vernor to where Epi had landed, it seemed strange for Epi, a man who was always in constant motion, to be laying on the ground. Rodriguez turned Epi over and then made a sign of the cross, he was dead. Vernor dropped to both knees clutching his hands, he looked to the sky, dark clouds were coming in, there was another storm building up. Rodriguez motioned to Vernor, he rolled his hands as if wrapping a package, when Vernor didn't respond, Rodriguez sped back down to the tent and came back with a wool blanket, Vernor stood up and limped over to Epi's body "I'm Sorry, Compadre, I fucked up" He sat down on a rock, then he started to sob.  

Later, Vernor and Rodriguez wrapped Epi in the blanket and carried him back down the hill for the last time.  They laid him out on his cot, Vernor heated up some coffee, he offered some to Rodriguez, the two men then sat there drinking coffee without a sound. "You're a mute... ain't ya?" Vernor asked Rodriguez, who simply glared at the ground "I guess that explains alot" Vernor poked at the smoldering campfire. "piece of rock shot through Epi's skull, just like a goddamn bullet" He pulled his wool blanket tight around his shoulders in order to stifle a shudder. The next morning Vernor awoke to the sound of Rodriguez picking at the rocky ground a few feet from the foot trail. Still sore and hobbled, Vernor roused himself from his cot and joined him. The men dug for a better part of the day, interrupted only by an occasional miner passing along the trail "Pass the word along that my partner, was killed yesterday" Vernor asked of one man "He had friends around here, they'll want to know"  late in the day they buried him, Vernor piled the rocks that Rodriguez had gathered over the grave, the finishing touch was a wooden cross on which he scrawled Epifanio Chacon, "Vaya con Dios, amigo" said Vernor as he drove the cross into the ground, then braced it with rocks.

The following day, Vernor gingerly climbed up to the Hilltop mine to inspect the wreckage, other than a pile of rubble and some busted timbers it was workable.  He sat down to smoke a cigarette. Vernor  watched as a group of Mexican miners walked along the trail, when they got to Epi's gravesite, they all made a sign of the cross and kept walking. "Well I'll be damned" thought Vernor "That's the perfect spot for Epi, every god fearing Catholic, who passes will cross himself in tribute" thought Vernor, "God Damn it, if Rodriguez didn't know what he was doing" he said to himself.  Vernor closed his eyes and the events of the previous year or so came rushing back, it was  January, Vernor and Epi were camped at the Greenspar, working deep in the bowels of that dark and cold mine. Every morning they climbed wooden ladders 200 feet into the ground and then they navigated their way through three different working levels, 1,000 feet of dangerous tunnels and shafts.  The air was bad, the conditions were miserable and the pay was late. Vernor confronted Tex McGill about the wages, "Damn, Tex, we don't even have enough cash for tobacco and coffee" the big Texan sputtered "I can't advance you no more, you and that mex haven't produced enough ore to get paid yet" Vernor seethed with rage "That is bullshit! we need some god damn supplies" McGill knew he had pushed too far, for his size, the Texan did not like to fight and frankly Vernor scared him.  Having seen him hold his own against the likes of Iron Mike Spungen and Bully Bob McGrath in fights, Tex did not want to scrap with Vernor.

"I tell you what, you go with me to Goat Ridge and help me clear some rubble after I blast and then we'll go into town and get your goods"  McGill tried to sound sincere, "You better not be twisting me in the wind" Vernor snarled, "Oh i'm not" McGill said "Be ready to go in one hour" At the appointed time Vernor made his way to the wood frame shack that doubled as an office, he arrived unseen and unheard. As he stood by the window he could hear McGill raging in a loud voice "That sumofabitch, I don't owe him shit" McGill's foreman Lawrence Rasberry spoke "Ya gotta pay'em their wages, Tex, it's only right" McGill raised his voice "Screw him, he ain't no better than a greaser" Rasberry tried to reason "You gotta give 'em something to keep 'em working" McGill continued " I staked him his grub and his tools all on advance" McGill roared "Fuck 'em, I have a mind to just shoot the sumofabitch out there on Goat Ridge and say he attacked me" Rasberry raised an eyebrow "That's crazy talk, man" Tex laughed "That's right! I'm not one to fuck with" Vernor let McGill's words sink in, then he heard Tex say  "Hell now I'm all worked up, I need to take a shit" Tex hurried off to the nearby outhouse. Vernor waited a second and then eased himself to the back of the building, opened the explosives locker and reached into a canvas bag and pulled out a roll of black fuse. Several weeks prior, McGill had tested several rolls of fuse and declared the ones in the canvas bag defective, "Those fuses burn too fast" he told Vernor, "Don't try using them underground, lessen you wanna get blowed up" Next, he walked over to McGill's truck, reached into his tool bucket took out a roll of  fuse, tossed it into the brush and replaced it with the defective roll.

Vernor then leaned against the bumper as McGill came down the slope buckling his pants "It's about goddamntime" McGill yelled, Vernor looked at him "I'm not going" McGill stopped short "What?" Vernor repeated himself "I'm not going, I'll stay and help Epi load the ore buckets" McGill snorted "Suit yourself, but you'll get no supplies today, no sir!" As Vernor opened his eyes, he thought about what he had done. He took a deep breath, then he covered his face with his hands "Oh God! forgive me" Epi's words about God not forgetting rang in his ears. Vernor walked down off the hill, he started up the foot trail towards Fluorite Camp. At the crest Vernor sat down and rolled a cigarette, he sat there staring out across Starvation Draw.  He imagined McGill's last moments, the Texan expecting to have at least 10 minutes to climb out, lit the fuse and then much like Epi found himself frozen with fascination at how fast it was burning, by the time he realized that his life was in danger, precious seconds had passed.  He dropped his tool bucket and scrambled for the ladder, only to stumble and fall. Tex got back up and started to climb again, in his panic he missed a rung, he hung there frantically searching for a foothold when fear suddenly paralyzed him, a guttural moan rose from deep in his throat, which was followed by a thunderous roar as the explosives went off.

The Hilltop Mine
 "I'll surely burn in Hell for this" Vernor told himself, the thought of turning himself in to the law, came and went "What's the point?" he reasoned "It won't change anything"  he rubbed his legs and then stood up  "Hell!, I've been doing time and hard labor all my life"  The Fluorite Mountain range is not big by Western standards. However it's most impressive feature is Anvil Mountain, Vernor stood on the neighboring mountain top staring at the flat topped summit when an idea came to him. He felt that in order to live with what he had done, he had to pay up. He knew what his penance would be,  "A cross, a big cross atop of the Anvil." There were other much higher peaks in the Cooke's Range, but this was the site of  Epi's descanso, his last resting place, this had been the center of his universe.  Vernor hustled back to his camp, he found two lengths  of lumber, four feet and six feet long, he started to chisel and drill, he then formed a cross and bolted the two pieces together. As he started to lift the cross up, Rodriguez suddenly appeared starling Vernor "God Damn! don't come up on me like that" Rodriguez motioned for Vernor to put the cross on his shoulder "No Sir! I'm carrying this, up there" he pointed at the Anvil, Rodriguez wagged his finger as if to say no "You can't talk, but you can hear, right?" Rodriguez nodded yes "So, get the fuck away from me"  Rodriguez shook his head, he folded a burlap bag and put it on his shoulder. Vernor scratched his head, "Ok!.... Ok!, you can help me it get it there" Rodriguez smiled "But I carry it to the top, entiendes?"

It was a good two miles to the mountain, the pilgrims plodded along, after their first rest stop, Vernor accepted some of Rodriguez's burlap to cushion the load.  by mid-day they arrived at the Gratten Mine, McGill's old foreman Lawrence Rasberry looked out his window at the strange sight. "Sweet Jesus on the Cross, what do we have here?" Vernor and Rodriguez stopped and put down the cross "It's a pilgrimage, you damn fool" Vernor explained "Where are you going with that?" Rasberry asked "To the top, to the very top" said Vernor, Rasberry let out a slow whistle, a few idle miners had gathered to take a look. One miner walked up to the cross "That's a sturdy cross, that is" Vernor sat down "Want me to bless it?" Vernor asked him "Why are you Catholic?" the miner answered "Aye, that I am" Vernor looked at him with suspicion "So bless it" he told the miner. The man reached into his pants as if to urinate, Vernor jumped up and kicked him hard in the upper thigh, the miner crumbled to the ground "That's enough of this funny business" he glared at the other miners standing around. "Anybody else feel a joke coming on?" nobody made a sound. Vernor picked up the cross, he waved off Rodriguez "From this point I carry it alone"

He started up the steep slope, pumped up with adrenaline and anger, his breathing grew harder and harder until finally he dropped to his knees. Rodriguez rushed up to help him "Get away from me" Vernor yelled, Rodriguez stopped, slowly Vernor got back up and started climbing again.  The scene repeated itself countless times, with Vernor seemingly recreating the stations of the cross along the way. This went on for two agonizing hours, until finally the slope suddenly leveled off, Vernor had made it to the summit.  He fell to the ground, gasping for air, his heart pounding hard, he rolled over and tried to throw up, but his stomach was empty. Rodriguez passed him a canvas water bag, between coughing fits, Vernor took several slow sips. After a while, he got his wind back and his head straight,  Vernor sat up and looked around, the view was panoramic, Starvation Draw stretched out before them "Damn, it is beautiful up here" Rodriguez nodded his head in agreement. "Let's plant this cross, amigo"  They carried it to the eastern most point of the flat top, jammed it into a crevice and braced it with rocks.

The cross would stand and weather the years, a silent witness to the comings and goings of the miners and cowboys passing below.  The ore ran out, the mines shut down, the miners left and Fluorite Ridge, once a beehive of activity returned to its original state. Vernor Tenney left Starvation Draw a few weeks after planting the cross. One morning he simply walked down to Rodriguez's camp and handed him the deed to The Hilltop Mine. He returned to Hachita for a few months and then worked at a ranch in the Animas range before he drifted down to Cananea, Mexico where he worked for a mining company, his bilingual skills came in handy and he was made  foreman and then a manager.  He married a Mormon girl from Colonia Dublan and settled in to a normal and routine life. During World War II he returned to the states and went to work at a copper mine in Bisbee,Az. Vernor would often think of Epi Chacon and that fateful day. Once a week on Sunday afternoon he would climb a small hill near his home in Bisbee, where he would sit down,  roll a cigarette and think back to those days. He kept the secret of Tex McGill, until he was nearly on his deathbed, he then revealed it to his son. "I killed a man" His son took in his words "I wanted to scare him" his son nodded "I never wanted to kill ol' Tex, he was just too damn slow" Vernor took in a long breath "I may have killed my own partner too, Epi was a good man, he trusted me, I let him down"  the son took his hand "May God have mercy"  Vernor grinned "That he may"  then he gingerly turned onto his side to let the sun's rays coming in through the window hit his back.

In 2010 a weekend explorer, trudging up and down the slopes of Fluorite Ridge stumbled upon what was clearly a gravesite. As he wiped his brow and drank some water, he noticed the similarities between this grave and others he had found in the Cookes Range. "No doubt about it someone is buried there" he remarked, the stones that Vernor had placed to outline the grave were still there. "It needs a cross"  to told himself, he climbed up the hill where he found an unsecured deep shaft, it was the Hilltop Mine, there was scattered timber and wood strewn around the opening.  He picked up some pieces, took them home and fashioned a sturdy cross. The next weekend he returned and planted the cross, He then recited a short elegy he had written  "To you my friend, you are not forgotten, you are not alone, though you rest for eternity in this desolate spot, at least one other soul knows of your existence" he stopped to gather his thoughts "As long as this cross stands whoever sees it will know that you lie here and if this cross should fall, someone else will eventually come along and stand it back up." He then climbed to the top of the hill, as he sat there looking down on the small valley below, he saw a large white owl near a cluster of open vertical shafts. Before he could grab his camera the owl quickly dove into one of the shafts. Laughing to himself he thought "I saw you, god damn it" He stood up to survey the area "No Sir!  my friend, you are not alone" he said to no one, as he walked down the hill.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Desolation Alley

Thanks go out to the editors at Things in Light for reminding me that April is National Poetry Month. Get your notepads and #2 pencils out and start writing, you have till the end of the month. Express Yourself!

I write poems the same way that old people fuck:  slow, sloppy and infrequently.  I posted several poems when I first started this blog, but I hastily took them down. It's with reluctance and a great deal of anguish, that I re-post. 

Welcome to Desolation Alley, where we wallow in misery, death and despair... purely by choice, of course.

"...the rest is silence"

The reaper's scythe grows dull from the harvest
this business of death... it affords him no rest
he reaps till they weep, yet they're not satisfied
pobre de ti... pobre de ti

Death is not an emotion, it's an inevitable conclusion
The emotional aspect is a human element
for in death....
to our limited knowledge, nothing is felt

The tallyman tallies our sins
and sends us down the appropriate path
The merchants of death stand in line with everyone else
awaiting judgement for their foul deeds

Even stone cold killers believe themselves worthy
of redemption in the face of God.

Winchester House

I was born a ghost, these words I must say
for on this earth I'm forced to stay.....

the voices you hear before you fall asleep
are nothing to fear just ghosts on the creep
whenever you wake with sweat on your brow
don't worry it's just a ghost on the prowl

the ordinary things you cannot find
the nagging thoughts that crowd your mind
the sudden chills rolling down your spine
of ghostly presence they are a sign

a woman looks on, a rifle she's holding
a silent witness to the scene unfolding
since their life's light the weapon did douse
they'll assemble enmasse at winchester house

at her direction....
an army of workmen cut and hammer all day
in order to keep the ghostly avengers at bay

unseen... unheard....
a gathering of  phantoms is summoned forth

the souls of men, set free of  mortal binds
forced to follow the Curve of the Earth
with no line on the horizon
and no horizontal departure
they are borne of the northern lights
conceived at the tropic of cancer
always shrouded in veils of asher
blowing over the plains of bonneville
filling the great salt lake with tears
drifting without rest or comfort
forever seeking a ripple in time

Razzle Dazzle Rose

i took a gun to a knife fight, so the story begins
i shaved my head, so the heat could get in
these dynamite walls crumbled right from the start
she put a yankee bayonet in my violent heart
a blowtorch bouquet from my razzle dazzle rose
a furnace room lullaby from the great below
Permanent daylight means vengeance is sleeping
how am i supposed to feel again?

a bouncing betty from my razzle dazzle rose
if you're paying attention, then you ought to know
i pick all my friends so careful and slow
if you're not on my list, then you ought to go
how am i supposed to feel again?

there comes a red light morning, so vivid without warning
a thousand yard stare from my razzle dazzle rose
how much i love her, she'll never know
with knives out i cut the rope from my heart
the distance between us is only a start
how am i supposed to feel again?

a camaro crawls into a california rolling stop
i'm searching my memory, but nothing will pop
i'm dialing for rides, but nobody picks up
a bullet and a target for my Razzle Dazzle Rose
how much she hates me, i'll never know

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Sh*t they say in Alburquerque

While doing some research, I Googled "Burqueños" mainly so I could copy and paste it onto a page I was writing. That's the only way I know to get the ñ onto a printed page. So what pops up, but a forum from Duke City Fix, and let me tell you it didn't take long for me to realize why I fucking hate that site.

Right about now, someone, somewhere is thinking "Hey! I saw Dirt City Chronicles listed on DCF's blog roll" yes it is and I'm also a member. Let's just call it a lapse in judgement and move on. The post that caught my eye was from some random guy named Zane. Here's what he brought to the table, 

"This may have been discussed on this site in the past, but what's with calling people who live in Albuquerque "burquenos"? I'm a native New Mexican and Albuquerque is my hometown, and I've spent most of my life there. Growing up I never heard ANYONE say "burqueno". Same goes for "burque," as in, "We sure have some beautiful sunsets here in burque." To me these words are pretentious and silly. They seem to be used quite a bit at Duke City Fix (and the Alibi). Is it considered hip to use these terms?"

First off, Zane... if you have to ask if something is hip then you're a lost fucking cause. Zane is a native New Mexican who has lived in New Mexico all his life and yet has never heard anyone and he means ANYONE! use the terms 'Burque or  "Burqueños" before?  Zane, have you purposely spent your entire life avoiding all contact with local Hispanics?  Seriously, at some point in your  life, someone, spoke those words in your presence. I mean, you do get out of the house, right?

But, I don't really want to ridicule Zane, I want to educate him. The use of these terms is not some recent trend started by The Weekly Alibi or Duke City Fix (har har) The use goes back hundreds of years to colonial New Mexico, Burque was derived from Albuquerque's original name "Alburquerque" did you catch that Zane? I added an extra r to Albuquerque. The city was named after The Duke of Alburquerque, not Albuquerque.

At some point after the stars and stripes were raised over New Mexico,  the r was dropped from Alburquerque. But, to New Mexico's Hispanics, especially in the outlying villages, the locale was still known as Alburque (over time this became El Burque, which was eventually shortened to 'Burque.) It's not some silly or pretentious trend, it has actual roots in New Mexico's Hispanic folk traditions and history. Pay attention, Zane! that's why you didn't learn this in school.

In Southern New Mexico, the use of Burque was spread by ex-cons returning from prison stints up north (the same for Santa when referring to Santa Fe, España when talking about Española) or by locals working for Brown & Root on road construction crews along I-25 and I-40. The first time I heard or used the term myself outside of New Mexico was in 1974, while I was enrolled in summer classes at Pitzer College in Claremont, Ca.

Several of my classmates were  from Las Vegas, N.M. (they pronounced it ElBurque, as one word) The Chicanos from Albuquerque would simply say Burque. In 1978 when I was stationed at Travis AFB, Ca. I met up with some New Mexicans from Bayard (pronounced Ba-yard by the locals) who immediately told me "You must be from El Burque"  I could go on with endless examples, but even Zane must be getting it by now.

The point I'm trying to make is that in 1974, in California the term "Burque" was already in use. The terms Burque and  "Burqueños" have been in use as long as there have been New Mexicans. And as Zane should know, because he's a native New Mexican, that goes back over 400 years. Here's my advice to Zane, the next time you get bored, pick up a history book, before you start talking out of your ass. Class is dismissed!

By this time I guess you've figured out that Samara Alpern no longer has your backs. I can't say that I know her personally, but I do know this about her, she has a big heart. Too big for the state of New Mexico to contain.  "So she's goin' down to Mexico, where there ain't nobody gonna tell her what to do"  I wish her well, Samara has inspired me to write more times then she'll ever know. 

The following letter was written to The Weekly Alibi, it was my response to an article written by Samara. Even as I wrote it, I knew it would be filed away in the recycle bin. So, I post it now as a tribute to Samara Alpern.  New Mexico's been here a long time and it will still be here if Samara decides to return, let's just pray it's not called New Arizona by then.

"And then I'm gonna grind me a White Castle slider out of "Burque's sacred cow"

Rest easy Alibi readers, Samara Alpern has your backs. So, you mopes are free to move about the city without giving our ever growing drug problem another thought. Samara has triggered the early warning system, but the majority of "Burqueños" are deaf to its strident tones.  The Alibi does need a swift kick in the ass, it's refreshing to read something (Samara Alpern) other than the fluffy, trendy scribbles that make up any given issue of this "alternative" publication.

Shit Burqueños Say? how about, Shit Burqueños put in their arms!  While it's not a trendy subject, it is trending. Meth and heroin (they compliment one another) have ripped through our social fiber, like crack through Compton. A government conspiracy?... no!, New Mexicans don't need any help when it comes to self loathing and debauchery.

Nero fiddled while Rome burned and that fanzine won't staple itself. People are wrapped up in their own bubble boy orbits, caring and empathy are becoming scarce commodities. Alternative is now defined as being bland & selfish. I've recently run across several posts on FB that rip the Alibi a new exit hole. I'm not sure what's eating at them (something about Best of 'Burque and local bands) But it would probably be wise not to ignore the rising swells of protest.

I won't give you the gas face, but I will offer this advice, sticking a colloquial Spanish phrase at the end of a sentence does not make you an Hispanic writer,  Adios cabrones!

Ernest D. Aguirre

Editor Emeritus, Fear of Agraphia & Dirt City Chronicles

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Don't Rush Me, I'm Dying

"Conscience is the mirror of our souls"

My life has been void of anything that could be described as carefree since the age of eleven. A dark cloud of doubt having hung over my head since that age. I found myself unable to apply rose colored tint or to cast off a sense of gloom. Nevertheless, I threaded my way through life, determined not to be a buzzkiller.

I had just spent eleven years working maintenance at a retirement apartment complex, I had seen, smelled and endured every disagreeable thing you could imagine. My self deprecating  condition and generally sour outlook had served me well on the job.

While that place was advertised as a close knit community, all too often it was the last stop as a tenant once told me "before the nursing home or the mortuary." Most preferred dying to a nursing home, and when phone calls and doorbells went unanswered, I was the point man sent in to investigate.

One man had been dead for at least seven days (thank God the air conditioner was running the entire time) I caught the distinct smell of death as soon as I opened the door. I turned to his niece and told her "Stay here, this doesn't look good"

He was laying face down in the bedroom, butt naked... all his bodily fluids had drained into the carpet. His niece walked in behind me, we both stared at the body, she broke the silence by saying, "His son came by to see him two weeks ago and he turned him away."

"For as one star another far exceeds, So souls in heaven are placed by their deeds"

Bob Jones kept a motion activated bullfrog on his porch that would croak loudly whenever anyone approached his front door. For this reason I called him Froggy, he drove me to distraction with his questions whenever I worked on his apartment.

Bob passed away in his sleep. A creature of habit, his neighbors quickly reported that he hadn't been seen nor his porch light turned off. (there was a casual understanding with tenants, that a porch light left on during the day was cause for investigation) We found him in bed, laying on his back, his eyes were closed, his final expression was one of peace and serenity.

My boss felt for a pulse, there was none, she called 911 as I stood vigil. Bob had been a tail gunner on a B-17 during World War II, I could only imagine all the fleeting moments of terror he must have endured as his squadron flew missions over Germany. In return, his reward was a dignified and peaceful passing.

The one that broke my heart was the one that was least expected. Gladys, a diminutive woman slipped and fell while bathing, she was close enough to pull the cord to a panic alarm installed in all the bathrooms. I responded to the call and found her naked on the floor.

Rushing to cover her I could hear her gasping for air, I tried to comfort her while waiting for the ambulance. "It hurts so bad and I'm scared" she spoke in a soft whisper. I tried to reassure her "Gladys, help is on the way.. we've called for an ambulance" She asked for water, I fed her sips from a paper cup that my boss had filled.

"I'm so scared, I don't want to die" she moaned, I almost scoffed at her "You're not going to die, help is here." The paramedics had arrived. Gladys died three days later, from a broken hip... a broken hip! I hardly knew her but it was a soul crushing experience.

Ken Scales was a boastful, bullying, jackass of a Texan. He had got together with a quiet woman named Billie. However, with Ken being so abusive and manipulative, the relationship soured. Billie moved to Oklahoma and Ken was left to mope around the apartment they once shared.

One morning his neighbor Peggy called me over, "Ken's been sniffing around my backdoor at night" she said "He's trying to find himself another gal" I laughed and told her "Good Luck with that", the feisty woman sneered, "I'll shoot him in the ass, if he's not careful"

The following day, Peggy called the office, no one had seen Ken exit his apartment and his porch light was still on. I accompanied my boss to Ken's apartment, when he didn't answer the door we let ourselves in. He was laying on the bed, two pill bottles were on the night table, along with a note and his wallet.

He appeared to be dead, but was still warm and had a strong pulse. What was really bizarre is that he was cradling an alarm clock in his arms. As my boss started to dial 911, the alarm went off it was 8:15 am. The sound of the alarm startled both of us, Cindy (my boss) let out a scream. Ken did not respond, I removed the clock and shut off the alarm.

As we waited for the ambulance, I picked up the note and read it, "I cannot live without Billie, I don't want to be alone~ Ken S." I folded the note and put it back on the table. "What an asshole" I thought to myself. Once the paramedics arrived, I exited the apartment.

Peggy was outside supervising, "Is he Alive?" she asked, "Yep!" I drawled, "Why did Cindy scream" Penny inquired, "An alarm clock, went off" I told her, then without missing a beat she dryly added "Did the sonofabitch wake up?" I snickered "He did, but I hit the snooze button" Peggy grimaced "Smartass!" I heard her say as I turned to leave.

 "For every moment of triumph, for every instance of beauty, many souls must be trampled"

Often while waiting for Polly, I pondered in dull contemplation, the path my life had taken.  I'm no angel of mercy yet death seemed perched on my shoulder like a fucking bloated albatross. My  attempt at leaving that part of my life behind had brought me full circle.

Polly was the first client I picked up. When I mentioned this to the guy training me, he wrinkled his nose and exclaimed "Oh man! she smells bad, that's a tough one to start out with." Just how bad could it be I thought to myself. It turns out that Polly lived thirteen miles out of town, in a travel trailer without any hot water. The only running water she had came from a garden hose stretched between her modest home and a nearby house.

She was surrounded by an untold number of cats, several dogs and a dozen roosters and hens. My co-worker's warning was right on the money. I discreetly rolled my window down and then cracked a back window open to allow for a flow of fresh air. I soon caught on that if I opened the windows once Polly was in the car, she would protest. If I did it before I pulled up to her house, she didn't notice.

I complained to my manager, but she advised me to "Get used to it, if we don't give her a ride another company will." Picking her up at 7a.m. became the bane of my existence. I would arrive at 6.45 sharp every time and then she would have wait fifteen minutes while she fed her animals. Invariably after dialysis she would ask me to stop by the grocery store. This meant another twenty minute wait, usually in the heat of the day.

Polly was an excellent conversationalist, a skill that could instantly disarm my impatience. She had once lived a communal lifestyle in Glorieta and Santa Fe. Having raised poultry all her life, she was  knowledgeable about all the different breeds which she loved to talk about. I knew that her condition and circumstances pained her, but through it all I never heard her complain or appear discouraged.

"Life itself is but the shadow of death, and souls departed but the shadows of the living"

Dispatch would always squeeze in as many riders as they could, which left precious time between pick-ups. On this day, I got a call to pick Polly up from dialysis at 4:00 p.m., which was much later than her usual return time. There had been complications and they had rushed her to hospital and then returned her to the dialysis center. For  Polly it had been a long day.

I helped her into the car, once I got on the road she asked if I could stop at the grocery store. "It'll only take a few minutes" she explained. I started to object, but immediately felt like a real shithead for doing so. When she returned I helped with her bags and then apologized for my impatience. She just smiled and said "Would you like an ice cream?" 

For a few minutes we traveled in silence. Then Polly spoke "Dialysis just buys us a little bit of time." I nodded my head. "We're just cheating death, is all" Pulling into the driveway, I saw her husband coming out to greet her. As Polly gathered her bags, she smiled and said "See you next time." My next two scheduled pick-ups were cancelled because Polly had been rushed to the emergency room overnight.

Two weeks later I pulled in to the dialysis center and one of my co-workers asked if I had heard about Polly, which I hadn't. "She died last night" he said. Polly did have a knack for being right about things. I stayed on the job for two more months. Over that period of time two more of my dialysis clients passed away. It was disheartening.

Friday, February 3, 2012

~ And in Arcadia I Am ~

I grew up on a farm in the irrigated plains of  Southern New Mexico. A desert landscape, yanked from it's dry barren state and coaxed to produce cash crops. Though, if was not the paradisaical Arcadia of myth, it did have its splendor. 

To this day... I ask myself if it was real. The memory of it still haunts me. It  was a different time and another world. A setting straight from the pages of a Steinbeck novel, as if illustrated by the brushstrokes of a French realist. 
The migrant workers appeared overnight, at least one hundred. They had arrived in a caravan of old cars and trucks. It was a disheveled and unwashed bunch, desperate looking men, tired women and sad eyed children.

They traveled in thirty day cycles as they followed the cotton harvest from California to Texas. In the Golden State they picked the Upland variety and when that ran out the flow of humanity moved east as the Pima bolls popped open in Arizona and New Mexico.

The single men were housed in dilapidated barracks, salvaged from a nearby Army Air Field. Those long buildings were a reminder of a time when an even larger number of workers would harvest the crops. Already an era had passed and a generation of workers vanished, to be replaced by the next. 

The men with families lived in camper trailers or camped alongside their vehicles. A sense of gloom gathered in the air over the cotton fields as workers shouldered their long bags and plucked the cotton, one fluffy boll at a time. By the next season, machines would do the work, but for now time had stood still. 

At times my father would drive a bus. In the morning he would swing over to the barracks and pick up the workers and deposit them at various fields. I would sit behind him, taking it all in. The men would board the bus, some  cheerful others sullen, but without exception they would greet me with affection. I became a mascot of sorts.

On this day, there was a buzz of excitement. The men had kicked in for a raffle, there was a cash prize, a wrist watch and a clock radio. As chances were sold, the excitement built up. That day after work my dad hustled me to the barracks, I was the good luck charm selected to draw numbers out of a hat. 

The cash prize winner rewarded me with a fifty cent piece, I was flush with joy. They had set up a boxing ring in the center of the barracks, several boxing matches were scheduled for later that night. I foolishly stepped into the ring with an older boy from town and suffered a bloody nose that bled for what seemed like an eternity. 

The men chastised the boy and offered him a match with someone his own size. He started crying and couldn't apologize enough, but it was my fault, I had my guard down... lesson noted.

I've been living on borrowed time since I nearly stepped into the path of an oncoming car on a two lane road in the Gila Forest. I was about five years old, by a stroke of luck someone pulled me out of harm's way at the last possible instant.

I cheated death, a fact that I've never been able to ignore. I went about my childhood with the knowledge that somewhere another boy died in order to fill the quota for that day. It was my quick and easy ticket off this world and I missed it. 

As a child, I caught the tail end of an era... The timing of my birth was perfect, by accident of said birth, I was too young for Vietnam. I enlisted in the armed forces after high school and waited for my generation's defining moment... it never came. 

In frustration or relief, I drank and drugged my way through the terms of my enlistment before returning to civilian life, slightly worse for wear.

I won't die before I get old, I won't live fast and die hard, I will not leave a good looking corpse, nor will my passing be noted. They won't play taps or carefully fold the flag into a perfect triangle. I will transition from this life to another without fanfare. 

A life spent in quiet desperation, humble, pensive and with few regrets is all that I'm entitled to and all that I've ever asked for. Life will come to pass as it has for countless generations. The fields are now fallow, the desert as it always has, is restoring the natural order.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Oaktown Rotters

The Vertical Game

It's the same dream that has startled Mark Davis from his sleep for  years. Mark is nine years old, he's in his room playing with G.I. Joes when his father Al Davis storms in. Al grabs Mark by the cuff of the neck and backhands him "Dolls!.... you're playing with dolls!" Mark starts to protest "They're action figures, Dad!" 

Mr. Davis won't hear it, "They Are Dolls! Mark, fucking girly dress-up dolls and you boy are a sissy." Mark collapses on the floor sobbing, his father looms over him. Then Al regains his composure, combs his greasy black hair back with his hands and squats down next to Mark. 

"Quick boy! If Plunkett takes the snap and it's third and long, the pocket is collapsing around him and his receivers are covered... what does he do?"  Mark looks up at his father's ruddy face, he can almost detect a fleeting sign of acceptance "A shovel pass?" Mark sheepishly answers. 

Al's rage erupts like a Pacific rim volcano, "A Motherfucking shovel Pass!" spittle sprays across the room. "A Shovel Pass!! Mark? NO!! he goes VERTICAL!,  it's a vertical game, we always go DEEP!" the boy cowers next to his bed. "Get the Fuck out off my face!" Al bellows "Get the fuck out! I swear Hendricks got to your mother before I did, you are not my seed.... you shit eating pipsqueak" 

At that point Mark wakes up, across from him at the board room table sits Hue Jackson. The Coach gives Mark that look, the one that says "I know you pissed the bed until you were fifteen" Mark braces himself for something to come flying through the air and strike him on the head, it doesn't happen. The Captain is dead and the cabin boy has assumed command.

Amy Trask is still droning on about trademarks and market share. "Yeah! we nailed Nation Burger's balls to the wall, that will teach them to fuck with us...." Mark starts to slip into his happy place when he catches Hue staring at him, only now his look says "I know you ain't had pussy since pussy had you" Mark looks away and then looks back, Hue's eyes are still locked onto him. 

"Anyhoo... let's move on to bigger and better things" Ms. Trask  flashes a shit eating grin "I would like to introduce our new general manager" she pauses for full effect  "Reggie McKenzie!" a rhythmic applause builds around the table, Reggie is an imposing figure, he ambles in with the deliberate gait of a big man. He raises his right arm to call for silence 

"I'm proud to be back home, once a Raider always a Raider!" he roars, the room fills with excitement and applause. He then sits down next to Mark Davis and pats him on the back. Mark's frown turns upside down. A look of consternation crosses Hue's face, his eyebrows pull together, he thinks to himself "What the fuck is going on here?" 

Reggie clears his throat "This is the dawn of a new era, the mistakes of the past will not be repeated" Hue feels his pulse start to quicken "We move forward, with new ideas and a better way of doing things" looking straight at Hue Jackson, McKenzie declares "Raider Nation will rise again!" a raucous round of applause follows "Anything you want to add, Boss?" McKenzie tells Mark Davis.

Mark beams with purpose "Yes, can we have a horse gallop up and down the sidelines like the Texas Tech Red Raiders?" Suddenly Hue explodes out of his seat, he brings both of his fist down on the tabletop "A Horse?... A Motherfucking Horse!" the veins surrounding his forehead bulge out "I see what's going on, even a blind horse can smell water.... you.... you motherfuckers!" 

Reggie clears his throat again, "In answer to Mr. Davis... no horses on the sideline" he then motions to a pair of burly security guards who have slipped in unnoticed "Please escort Mr. Jackson from the room" Hue shakes with rage, "You high yella motherfucker, I brought you in and you're putting me out?" Reggie looks up from his computer screen and in a calm voice explains "Hue, you are dismissed as head coach of the Raiders" 

The guards grab hold of Jackson and quickly usher him out the door. "Muthafuckas!!" he yells "Muthafuckas!!" the sound of his voice echoes down the hallway. The heavy silence around the board room table is broken by Reggie McKenzie "I have a PowerPoint presentation, I want all of you to watch" 

Amy Trask looks at him quizzically "Our computers don't have Windows Office" Without missing a beat  Reggie continues "Do we have Open Source Office?" John Herrera, Al's old crony pipes in "I'll look into that immediately, Mr.McKenzie" Reggie closes his laptop and motions for Amy to continue.

Amy stands up, fixes her lapels and then gushes with excitement "Gentlemen, can you say Irwindale Raiders?" Reggie flashes a huge smile "Come on now!" Amy coaxes them on "Irwindale Raiders.... Irwindale Raiders.... Irwindale Raiders"  Reggie turns to Mark and gives him a thunderous high five  "God Damn it feels good to be a Raider again!" he yells as he takes in the scene.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Faith No More

Living in the borderlands has made me a casual observer  of the Mexican crisis. I chronicle the ongoing troubles as a way to gain an understanding of a very real and dangerous situation right at our doorstep. I glean and condense the vast volumes of information available on the web into what I hope is a comprehensible and informative digest. What I do is fairly innocuous, it's merely a rehash of what ever is already out there. But, I'm cognizant of the fact, that in Mexico any type of reporting is fast becoming hazardous to the health of the reporters.

In Mexico the 1% who hold all the wealth also terrorize and murder the remaining 99%. The new Khmer Rouge lives right next door, and eventually the smell of the killing field will drift across the border. In this country we believe that an independent news media safeguards our democratic rights. What happens when that's no longer the case? Objective reporting in Mexico is on the endangered list. It's generally assumed that some reporters receive cash payment for altering or ignoring certain stories. In some cases cartel "spokesmen" show up at crime scenes and dictate the story they want printed to beat reporters. 

With the absence of actual reporting or reliable information, Facebook & Twitter are now the primary sources of real news for many Mexican in areas under siege.  Blogs have sprung up on both sides of the border, that chronicle the activities of both law enforcement & outlaws. The most notorious is "El Blog del Narco", the brainchild of two Mexican university students. Out of necessity they cloak themselves behind a shield of internet security measures. Though anonymous and well shielded, they cautiously avoid taking sides. Their lurid coverage is heavy with violent videos & gruesome photos, which doesn't detract from their excellent reporting.

The blog is in Spanish and if you try to use Google translator or their embedded translator all you get is a confusing, almost comical stream of fractured sentences. Tight security measures are a must, since the cartels have added a new sick twist to their arsenal of intimidation and fear. Now, they are going after those that criticize them on the social networks. Shutting down social media users by sowing terror is a new weapon in the cartel's arsenal. If web news sources can be forced to conform, then the criminal element can truly operate within a total information blackout. "El Blog del Narco" has been put on notice (although cartel killers also frequent the site)

The threat was made more real by the murder of 3 persons believed to have been targeted by their social media user names. A bodies of a young man and woman, showing signs of torture were hung from an overpass bridge in Nuevo Laredo. Narcomantas at the site warned that all "Internet busy bodies" would meet the same fate. The warning continued "We are on to you." Within a week the body of a young woman was found in the same area, her head was found propped up next to her lifeless body. "For those that don't want to believe"  was scrawled on a placard along with her user name (La Nena de Laredo) for "Vivo y Redes" a popular online forum.

The very idea of narco cyber experts eavesdropping on forums and taking down users names is enough to scare the fuck out of everyone involved. Is it possible that the cartels have computer experts deciphering passwords & tracing Internet Protocol addresses? It's certainly not outside the realm of possibilities. In this case, those killed probably had their identities compromised by people they trusted or through cartel agents working for internet servers, who passed on the information. Either way it's an ominous escalation by cartels, who already have citizens in the grip of panic.

Blogs on this side of the border operate freely, nonetheless the writers for "Borderland Beat" (most of whom either live in Mexico or travel across the border) use pseudonyms. The blog has active correspondents stretching from the Pacific to the Gulf on both sides of the border. "Borderland Beat" is written in English. The reporters do more than just translate the language, they also delve into the mindset behind the madness. The reports are straight forward, not much different than what you would find in American newspapers. "Borderland Beat" provides news, profiles, cartel histories, crime scene photos, cartel produced videos and news reports that are unmatched anywhere on the web.

"Exiled" is an alternative news blog that started in Russia. It's founders Mark Ames and Matt Taibbi were forced into exile in the U.S. "Exiled" covers a wide range of topics, but when it comes to Mexico, correspondent Pancho Montana is the man. Pancho lives in Monterrey and has a ringside seat as the cartels trade body blows. Montana has an insider's knowledge of the cartels, he holds nothing back, while firing off slanderous broadsides aimed primarily at Los Zetas. He writes in a slightly skewed style that is a hybrid of Lester Bangs' bombastic prose and Tony Montana dialogue lines. He has a Mexican's love for obscene language, cynicism and whether by design or not... he's funny as hell.

Here's the links to these website, I warn you... the images are gruesome! If you want news without pictures that make you hurl your breakfast, stick with Reuters and The BBC. I would also recommend The El Paso Times, The Houston Chronicle & The Los Angeles Times (all offer superb coverage of the violence in Mexico) 

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Scorched Earth

When we last left the sullen landscape of Mexico Lindo, Los Zetas were treating Tamaulipas like their own personal chew toy. For now, the battle for control of Mexico's Gulf coast has played out in favor of Los Zetas. Although, the demise of the Beltran/Leyva organization left a void, and everyone is rushing to fill it. This puts Mexico's second city, Guadalajara in the crosshairs of both Los Zetas & Chapo Guzman. Los Zetas have made preliminary strikes into Jalisco, and in turn Sinaloa has launched a campaign aimed at Los Zetas in Veracruz. This has ushered in a sharp and sickening increase in violence. Veracruz is a stronghold for Los Zetas who operate within the city and state of Veracruz with impunity. Recent allegations have surfaced showing that the former governor, who left office in 2010 had either by threat or greed turned control of the state over to Los Zetas. 

Carrying out Guzman's ominous strategy is a  group called The New Generation. They refer to themselves as "Los Mata Zetas", a tag that first appeared on narcomantas (drug banners) and YouTube videos. They made their presence felt by dumping the bodies of 35 alleged members of Los Zetas on a busy thoroughfare in Boca del Rio, an upscale suburb of Veracruz. Los Mata Zetas followed this up by killing 32 more Zeta associates, and scattering their bodies at various locales around the city of Veracruz. The dead men & women, were mostly street level dealers, "halcones" (lookouts, spies) a trip wire or early warning system. They are expendable frontline fodder and the ones most likely to catch a bullet. 

It's believed that the brazen move by Chapo Guzman was to stall or discourage Los Zetas from moving in on lucrative drug routes. The two cartels have been swirling around Mexico like tornados, touching down in various cities and states to wreak havoc and destruction. All along it's been coming down to this, a showdown between Los Zetas and Chapo's Sinaloa cartel. Loyalty can be bought for a price. The Gulf Cartel & The Knights Templar (a quasi religous organization formed by  a fracture within La Familia) have fallen in with Sinaloa. La Familia, now without its spiritual leader Nazario Moreno, also known as "El Mas Loco" is in dire straits and fighting for it's very survival. To this end they've made a pact with the devil (Los Zetas) 

Nazario Moreno, who once authored his own bible, was a psychopathic zealot on a narco mission from God. He was killed in a shootout with the federales. While we're on the subject of madmen, The International Order of the Knights Templar, which is a charity organization, is disturbed that a drug cartel would appropriate their good name. Roberto Molinari, spokesman for that order in Mexico explained "The real Knights Templar has never had any link to criminal activities" he added "The danger is if the criminals hurt someone and their rivals are looking for revenge they might shoot one of our members. So we are like, 'Hey. Find yourself another name." They have every right to complain, although when you consider that is was the group that introduced beheadings and grenade attacks to Mexico, it would be wise to temper their complaints.

An alliance formed between Los Zetas & La Linea (the Juarez Cartel) will certainly re-ignite the smoldering conflict in Juarez.  La Linea oversees Barrio Azteca, a prison/street gang with a strong presence on both side of the border. Los Aztecas have long carried out the dirty work for the Juarez Cartel and they are now joined by a group of  cartel loyalist who call themselves "El Nuevo Cartel Juarez." This group operates as a paramilitary unit and is in charge of disrupting Chapo Guzman's organization in the plazas of Chihuahua. Their stated purpose is to expose ties between the Sinaloa Cartel and Calderon's government. Los Negros (a paramilitary squad who dress in black and travel in convoys of black vehicles) were once Chapo's enforcers. When the Beltran/Leyva cartel broke away from Sinaloa they switched sides, now one has to presume that they're on the payroll of Los Zetas. 

Naturally, nothing goes without notice, and payback is swift. Just recently, the bodies of four men murdered in Juarez bore a narco message "Tell El Nuevo Cartel Juarez to keep recruiting." The new enforcers for Chapo Guzman are La Gente Nueva, who were on the frontline in Juarez and have now spread out into the interior. The G.N. controls The Mexicles & Artistas Asesinos (Artist Assassins, also known as Doblados) Since 2006 these two Juarez street gangs (unlike Barrio Azteca, they have few ties to the U.S.) have borne the brunt of La Linea's retaliatory strikes.  A recent estimate put the number of cartel combatants in Juarez at 9,000, however, Like everything else in Mexico, the numbers are deceiving, policemen by day become sicarios by night, corrupt prison guards moonlight as hitmen. 

The federal government seems to have lost its taste for the fight, it's either re-evaluating its strategy or simply waiting out the remainder of Calderon's term.  Amid all the killing, Mexico is hosting The Pan-Am Games in Guadalajara. In order to accomplish this without any participating athletes falling victim to stray bullets, The Federales are mobilizing a massive security force to maintain calm in the city. They're doing this by pulling thousands of soldiers & Federal police from strife ridden cities in the north. It's assumed that  once the games end, all bets are off and an unprecedented wave of violence will explode across Old Mexico. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Look Through any Window

I'm going to cut across the grain with this, but don't get me wrong, I mourn the passing of Steve Jobs, just not with the same sense of sadness as Mac users. I never joined the cult of Macintosh, my preference for computers is utilitarian.  They are after all simply appliances, in our household they are no different than televisions or radios.  The first computers I ever owned were a trio of Tandys that I picked up at The Barrett House Thrift Store for $20 each. The lady was kind enough to toss in a box full of 5" floppys, some how-to books and a tangle of cables that resembled the nine heads of the Hydra.

I'm partial to HP or Compaq, my first operating system was Windows 95, which to me was mind blowing compared to the black & white screens on the Tandys. From there I quickly progressed through Windows 98, Windows 2000, XP, Vista and now Windows 7.  Computers are like cars, some knuckleheads will argue all day over which is better Ford or Chevy (Ford is better) Some computer geeks will argue the merits of Apple over PC's, same thing! 

All arguments aside, the goal is to get from point A to point B. Ford or Chevy will get you there, a Land Rover will get you there in style. However, we all arrive at the same place, no matter what mode of web browsing or transportation we use. When it's all said and done, we're all standing in line at some big box store, or on You Tube looking for music videos to post on Facebook. 

I bought a used Macintosh computer for my niece once. (1996?) I couldn't even tell you what version it was, all I know is that we could not find any software for it. When we did find software, it was priced well above that of Windows. After a long search I finally found a printer, but ink cartridges ran $49 each. I found Mac to be tiresome and overpriced, we soon gravitated back towards Windows. Apple has always rubbed me the wrong way, their sales pitch has long boiled down to "Be a part of the cultural Illuminati, buy Apple."

That recent ad campaign that depicted Mac as a smug young hipster and Windows as a bumbling nerdy fuck-up really got on my nerves. I use Windows simply  because it fits within my budget, I don't have a couple thousand dollars to buy a Mac and I don't need Apple to rub it in my face. What those ads really did was turn Windows into the underdog. That brand came off as the champion of the people making computing affordable and easier for the befuddled common man struggling to keep up with all this new technology.  

To a person like myself, the bottom line is price and affordability.  Apple priced itself (by design) out of most people's reach, to some that could be considered elitist. The I-pod was good, but the Sansa player can do what it does. The I-phone is great, but when you drop it into a swimming pool, it gets just as wet as any old Samsung.  iTunes, when compared to  Rhapsody, is tedious and invasive. The products Apple introduced are high end, the Rolls Royce of their respective markets, I just wish they had kept us po' folks in mind. 

And so it goes, ultimately Steve Jobs' legacy will be well rounded and not just limited to the iMac or Macintosh. Music, movies (he founded Pixar) and the business world were changed forever due to his unrelenting drive towards innovation. His impact goes beyond just computers, he revolutionized the way the music industry sells music, he changed how Americans listen to and store music, and he changed how people around the world use the internet to communicate. 

Steve Jobs was a private man, a demanding boss and a fierce competitor. He once said that Bill Gates would have been more of a visionary if he had dropped acid and gone off to an ashram, the way he did. Under his leadership, Apple became a world leader and helped make America great. He was without a doubt, an innovative genius and a great American.