05. October 2011 · Comments Off on Books to Come! · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, Literary Good Stuff, Veteran's Affairs

All righty, then – we had a great time at the Evening with the Authors last weekend in Lockhart, Texas – sipping fantastic wines from Pleasant Hill Winery, and nibbling wonderful little noshes; the food and waitstaff were from the Austin Community College Culinary school, which has their own café and apparently does cater events like this.

I had only one opportunity to give a mini-lecture to a full table: how important it was to know our history, how I came to write historical fiction as a way to teach people about it . . . and the best way to teach history is to make a ripping-good and readable yarn (while still being historically accurate!) I also had the chance to face one of my greatest private dreads – a descendent of a villain. Ever since the Trilogy came out and I began doing book events, I’ve met people descended from those historical figures which I wrote about in it: C.H. Nimitz, Dr. Keidel, Herman Wilke, Louis Schultze and others. Those descendents I have met have been pleased with how I ‘wrote’ their ancestors, although one sniffed that she had never heard of CH Nimitz ever being called ‘Charley’. Anyway, one of the attendees was a descendent of the notorious ‘black hat’ J.P. Waldrip . . . and as she whispered to me, upon departing from the table it appears from the family records and memories – that he was pretty much as I wrote him. I love it when I get things right – even if it comes through instinct.

The Barnes & Noble outlet, who supplied the books to be sold at this event, to benefit the Dr. Eugene Clarke library sold out entirely of Daughter of Texas, and a lot of readers were asking me – well, when is the sequel coming out?

The sequel will be called Deep in the Heart, which picks up the extraordinary life of Margaret Becker Vining during the Republic of Texas era – and will be available on the 19th of November, just in time for Christmas. I am taking pre-orders through my book website – the copies bought will be mailed on the 15th.

I am also taking pre-orders for the second edition of To Truckee’s Trail – which I always wanted to do, since the typo quotient in the original edition was embarrassingly high. That also will be released on the 19th, and purchased pre-release copies will be also be mailed on the 15th.

30. September 2011 · Comments Off on Evening With the Authors in Lockhart · Categories: Ain't That America?, Geekery, General, Local, Old West, Veteran's Affairs, World

Yea these many months ago, I was invited by the organizers to be one of those authors in a fund-raising event to benefit the Clark Library. This is the oldest functioning public library existing in Texas; and since Texas was not generally conducive to the contemplative life and public institutions such as libraries until after the Civil War, generally – this means it is a mere infant of a library in comparison to institutions in other places. But I was thrilled to be invited, and to find out that Stephen Harrigan is one of the other authors. There were two elements in his book, Gates of the Alamo which I enjoyed terrifically when I finally read it. (Well after finishing the Trilogy, since I didn’t want to be unduly influenced in writing about an event by another fiction-writers’ take on it.) First, he took great care in setting up the scene – putting the whole revolt of the Texians in the context of Mexican politics; the soil out of which rebellion sprouted, as it were. (And he also touched on the matter of the Goliad as well.) Secondly, he had a main character who experienced the Texian rebellion against Mexico as a teenaged boy and who then lived into the 20th century. I liked the way that it was made clear that this all happened not that long ago, that it was possible for someone to have been a soldier in Sam Houston’s army, and live to see electrical street lighting, motorcars, and moving pictures.

That just appealed to me, for as another author friend pointed out – we are only a few lifetimes ago from the memories of great events. For instance – my mother, who is now in her eighties; suppose that when she was a child of eight or ten, she talked to the oldest person she knew. Suppose that in 1938, that oldest person was ninety, possibly even a hundred. That oldest person that my mother knew would have been born around 1830 to the late 1840s; such a person would clearly remember the Civil War, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, possibly even the California Gold Rush and the emigrant trail, the wars with the Plains Indians. Now, suppose that the oldest person that my mother knew and talked to as a child and supposing that person as a child of eight or ten had then talked to the oldest person they knew – also of the age of eighty to ninety in the 1840s . . . that oldest person would have been born in 1750-1760. That oldest person, if born on these shores would remember the Revolution, the British Army occupying the colonies, Lexington and Concord, General Washington crossing the Delaware. All of that history, all of those memories, in just three lifetimes – three easy jumps back into time! Nothing worked better to establish how close we are to events.

Anyway, I am looking forward to this – and since my daughter and I will drive up to Lockhart around midday Saturday, and the event doesn’t even get started until early evening, we are planning to go to the Kreuz Market and prove to ourselves that it really is one of the five best BBQ places in Texas. And she wants to check out any thrift stores and estate sales going on.

(Reposted to allow comments – that old punctuation in the post title bites again)

06. June 2011 · Comments Off on Seriously? · Categories: Military, My Head Hurts, Veteran's Affairs

Mullen Says Pay, Benefit Cuts ‘On the Table’

Yeah, because there’s nowhere else where the military can save money.  If I were more cynical, I would say it’s someone’s “sneaky” idea to kill the volunteer service and go back to the draft.  If I were more cynical.

25. May 2011 · Comments Off on College Edumacation · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic, Fun and Games, General, Veteran's Affairs

Well, following upon da Blogfadda’s tireless coverage of the various implications of the currently about-to-implode higher education bubble, I suppose that I might weigh in on the various merits/demerits of the so-called bubble, and the efficacy of even bothering to attend an institution of so-called higher education, with respect to my current career as a producer of readable genre fiction – which is not as highly-paid as the casual reader is likely to expect, but still . . . that career is underwritten by a pension earned for military service. It’s not the generous pension that I might have earned as a public servant in California as a prison guard or lifeguard, or municipal employee in certain urban sinks . . . but it suffices to pay the mortgage and a little over, since I had the good sense to retire and buy a residence in Texas, fifteen years ago. So, anyway – college education, value of, personal development . . . et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Personally, I felt that I got a great value out of my college education, and my parents – being the first in their families to achieve degrees – were all about the four of us being college attendees also. Dad went all the way to a Masters and almost a PhD, courtesy to his own industry and the GI Bill. He was pretty pissed about missing being awarded the PhD, I tell ya – he took out his frustrations building an ironwork chandelier, exactingly designed to hold the thick beeswax candles that my great-aunt Nan scored though being a stalwart member of the altar guild at some Episcopal establishment that rewarded her with those. Well, anyway, the ‘rents were pretty well hipped on the values of getting higher education, and three of the four of us kids eventually do so – but in the meantime, at what expense? And for what payback? It was pretty well drilled into us; our college education would be self-paid, although Mom was an uber-mom, in comparison to the mothers of our peers, growing up where we did, and at the time that we did. Which was a working-class, blue-collar striving suburb; I don’t think Mom and Dad ever entertained fantasies of red-brick Ivies for us, or even their own alma mater, Occidental College. Which was just as well – saved wear and tear on the emotions, ambitions and pocketbook. Community college for lower division, state Uni for upper, and if you can figure out how to do that and not live at home – good for you, kid!

This meant for me that I lived at home for all four years. I attended a local community college for two of those years (Glendale Community College, for those who give a rodent’s patoot about these things) – all the while carefully selecting every course taken for it’s transferability to a state university – and then went to California State University Northridge for upper division. I graduated from that august establishment with a bachelor in English, discovering only upon graduation day that all the good-looking and personable guys were in the Engineering division. Well, as I had gone to college to procure a B. of A. and not my Mrs.; this discovery was only a matter of academic and aesthetic interest to myself and the girl in line next to me, standing in our cheap polyester robes rented from whatever concession that held the rights for that graduation year. I went on and enlisted in the Air Force – which had been my intention for much of the time that I had spent marooned in academia. I did not do ROTC, by the way – that was not offered at Cal State Northridge. All they had was a program at another Cal State school that I couldn’t get to easily as a commuter student.

So – four years at various community and state institutions of higher learning, paying for my textbooks, tuition and the gas to get to classes: how did I pay for all of this? I made dolls. I made twelfth-scale dolls, and sometimes client-commissioned dolls and doll-clothes, and sold them on consignment or direct sales through a miniature shop in a nearby town. I made $25 a week, week in and week out – that’s about five dolls, with hand-sewn clothes, and composition heads, hands and feet of soda-cornstarch clay, and bodies made of cloth-wrapped wire, so that they were easily pose-able. I didn’t then, or ever, claim to be the best 12th-scale doll artist in the world, but I was the only one in that particular field at that particular time, working through that particular commercial outlet. And it did add up, not having any big expenses, other than tuition, textbooks and gas. Or at least it didn’t in the early 1970s. So I paid for all of my college education, and I came out with about $1,500 left over. I went to England on it, and spent the whole summer staying in Youth Hostels and traveling on Brit-Rail and various public transportations.

Educated, with a relatively useless degree in English Lit? Such were the circumstances that I felt then and ever since – that I was perfectly well educated, from this experience and from a mad impulse to read everything I could get my hands on, with regard to subjects which attracted my butterfly-impulsive interest. In the early 1970s in California, community colleges and state schools still offered an adequate and intellectually challenging education, even in the softer degree programs like – umm, English. A degree in it was a good starting point for quite a lot of interesting careers, even though Cal State Northridge didn’t and doesn’t have any cachet at all in the grand educational scheme of things. But I didn’t bankrupt myself retroactively – or my family in procuring a degree from it. And as a family, we also spared ourselves that desperate pursuit of red-brick-ivy-covered status-education competition. Really, Mom and Dad were totally realistic about all that, and the prospects that we would all have. For myself, I didn’t want to go on and get a higher degree; I wanted to be a writer, and I sensed, even then – that the best and most efficient way to do that was to go ahead and have a life, an interesting life, full of interesting and varied people. I’ve been knocking around the world ever since, among all sorts of people. Some of them don’t have anything beyond high school, and some of them do – and from places that are much higher thought of than Cal State Northridge. Weird thing? I’ve never felt the least bit at a disadvantage, intellectually. I’ve never been able to decide if it was the degree itself – which guaranteed to the observer that I was basically literate-and-a-bit for the standards of the time – or just the experience of life in the military which would account for that confidence. Just one of those things, I expect – being realistic about the education I got from one or the other – and not being in debt from the experience. I’m in debt for certain things – but not for my higher education.

So, today I had the signing – supposed to be more or less the launch signing for Daughter of Texas, at the Twig – and it was actually a bit of a bust, scheduled as it was to start in the afternoon at exactly the time the Farmers’ Market around in back had already closed down. Alas . . . it seems that the Pearl Brewery pretty much resembles a tomb, once whatever big event scheduled folds up and goes away. Part of this was my fault, for scheduling release to coincide with Fiesta, and not realizing that Easter this year coincided also with my range of dates, and that the Fiesta celebrations would actually put the Twig out of commission on a couple of relevant days, because of traffic and parking, and their immediate vicinity being the staging area for a parade . . . And it seems to Blondie (no mean detective when it comes to trends and atmosphere) that they are preferring to emphasize their place of business as sort of the FAO Schwartz of kid’s books, in San Antonio, and downplay the local, adult, independent, small-market author sort of thing . . . without entirely nuking their bridges to that community. But still – one does sense a certain chill in that respect. And it’s not just me, BTW – another indy author of a gripping book about the Texas war for independence had a signing event on a Saturday in April – and if it weren’t for me and three of his friends showing up, I don’t think he had much more in the way of interest and sales, even though his event was on a Saturday morning. Just about everyone who came through the door was a parent with a kidlet in tow.

Anyway, a two-hour stint of sitting behind a table in an almost-deserted bookstore, before Blondie and I packed it up at the hour-and-a-half mark. A bore, and a demoralizing one, at that, although I managed to get through one-third of a book about the Irish on the 19th century frontier; which I might have bought, if the author had written more about the Irish in Texas. We left then, as we had passed a parking-lot rummage sale that Blondie wanted to check out, before everyone packed up the goods or the good stuff was taken. Honestly, only two people even came up and talked to me during the whole hour and a half . . . and there were things that I could have been doing in that hour and a half, like working on chapter 12 of the sequel, posting and commenting to various websites, working the social media angle. The excellent thing is that Daughter of Texas has sold big, during April, especially in the Kindle format. Working through Watercress and by extension, Lightning Source has let me price it at a competitive level and at an acceptable discount for distribution to the chain stores – and it is selling, a nice little trickle of sales, through thick and thin. In the last month there was also a massive up-tick in interest for the Trilogy and for Truckee, through the halo effect. All of my books have very high level of presence in search engines on various relevant terms . . . so, honestly, I believe now I would better be served by working more on internet marketing, on doing book-talks, library talks, and book-club meetings – and the internet stuff. Doing a single author-table at a store just does not work without massive local media interest. I have managed to score a little of that, but not enough to make an appearance at a local bookstore a standing-room-only event. I have one more such on the schedule, at the Borders in Huebner Oaks, but after that I will probably pull the plug on any more single-author book-store appearances. They just do not seem to have any useful result; they are an energy and time sink – and I only have so much of either to allot to them. Joint appearances with other local authors; yes, indeedy, I’ll be there. Book-talks, book-club meetings, special events, special events like Christmas on the Square in Goliad, and Evening with the Authors in Lockhart, the West Texas Book and Music Festival in Abilene – and any other events that I am invited to . . . I’ll be there with bells on, and with my full table display and boxes of books. But the individual store events – It’s just not paying off, relative to the time and effort spent on them.

22. April 2011 · Comments Off on Guest Post – Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act · Categories: General, Veteran's Affairs

(The following was forwarded to me by reader Taylor Dardan for posting on the Brief, as something that might be of interest to older veterans.)
As the US continues air strikes on Libya and putting more soldiers in the line of fire, a number of older veterans are fighting for their own support back home in the United States. Since January there’s been a great amount of campaigning from veteran committees to get a support program for post-2001 veterans and their caregivers started through the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act. The law just passed the January 31st deadline in which it was supposed to get off the ground, therefore Barack Obama, who signed it last year, is coming under some pressure from these committees. Even with the fight to get this act through, it should be noted that veterans who served before 2001 with caregivers are given a very low amount of support, if any at all. So hopefully the continued push for support will further expand to include older veterans, many of whom are still dealing with illnesses brought on by their time in the military.
Although this act has been facing a number of hurdles and obstacles, representatives in Congress are hopeful to have it off the ground in the coming months of spring and summer. Congress has been mostly apologetic in the inability to get started and pointed towards their inexperience working with stipend pay as a major reason for the setbacks. The act itself, as mentioned earlier, would look to support post 2001 veterans through health services, training/education on care giving for vets, as well as payment for lodging expenses. Getting this act started would be a great move in providing veterans with more support, yet continued work to include older (pre 2001) veterans should continually be examined and pressed.
Care givers of veterans serving before 2001 are given little to no support at all currently, which includes a minor amount of respite care. A number of groups and committees, such as the American Legion are continuing the battle to seek an increased amount of support for the caregivers of older veterans.
There are certainly a number of ways that these older veterans have felt the repercussions of their military service in the form of illness and diseases. This includes a number of different health problems including mesothelioma developing from asbestos, mental problems stemming from Agent Orange in Vietnam, as well as a number of heightened health problems stemming from bad water at Camp LeJeune.
A number of veterans of the Vietnam War were exposed to a number of herbicides, also known as Agent Orange. What come from this exposure was a number of health and illness problems mostly in the mental health sector. Asbestos’ material has been used for a number of years in a number of different buildings, shipyards and factories on many military bases all over the country. The problem with its use throughout the 20th century involves its exposure leading to deadly diseases such as mesothelioma and asbestosis. For example, mesothelioma life expectancy is only an average of 10 months following diagnosis; therefore care givers are often highly necessary for these patients. Contaminated water at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina was a problem for over 30 years. Once the level of contamination was discovered, bacteria such as perchloreothylene and trichloroethylene were shown in high levels in the water. These have been concluded to exposure and increased risks of neurological effects, as well as Hodgkin’s disease and a number of different cancer types. Given some of the severe effects older veterans could still be feeling today, care givers are often necessary to them, therefore further support would be greatly invested.
The charge to get this act through to help post 2001 veterans should certainly be the first step in the progress towards increased support. Furthermore, extending this support level beyond younger veterans would do a number in helping some of the older veterans of military service, as well as their caregivers.

31. March 2011 · Comments Off on Dreamweaver · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic, General, Veteran's Affairs

My daughter and I just lamented this week – that for two people who are not employed full-time, we are indeed awfully busy. We must maintain a calendar, to keep track of it all, and when one of us is due someplace, to do something or other. The patchwork of part-time jobs that we hold between us is sufficient to our needs. I am retired military; she draws a small disability pension from the Veterans’ Administration and is intermittently going to school in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree. I write books – which brings in a trickle of royalties and direct sales – blog for pay at a local realtor’s website, partner in a small publishing firm, free-lance edit and write, also part-time at a tiny ranch real estate firm, occasionally constrict a website . . . all of this does not produce a predictable income-stream, but it does produce one. Free lance; that is, I am a soldier of writing fortune, and to put it in modern terms, an independent contractor. I work for straight pay, when I want to, and take my pay from those who I agree to work for on specific projects for writing services rendered.

It’s fun – perilous but fun. I just can’t look at the beginning of the month and predict with any degree of absolute confidence exactly how much will be in the bank account by the end of it. That there will be enough to meet needs – is usually the case. It’s just that I never know when or where they will be coming from. Something always turns up, usually without any warning at all. It’s a bohemian way to live without the je ne sais quoi of actually being a bohemian, but it does have rewards, such as being able to set one’s own work schedule. I know what I have to do, to finish the current job; I can do it early in the morning, on the weekend, on a holiday, there is no one hanging over me, logging every key-stroke, I can kick back on a mid-week afternoon and we can go to a movie, if we feel like it.

I worked for all kinds of businesses after retiring from the military, none of which I built a second career out of, although I had kind of counted on doing exactly that. But it just didn’t work out. My business partner in the Tiny Publishing Bidness says that it didn’t work out for her for very long, either – she got bored, and couldn’t work days. For myself, I could never work for a monolithic big company again – reliable and enduring – but also boring as hell. I also worked for small local firms, which turned out to be just as unsatisfactory but in a different way. The best of them went broke or relocated out of state, and the worst of them were advertised to me as places which regarded their employees as just like family. What I came to realize is that they treat them as part of a viciously dysfunctional and abusive family. OK, then – getting out from under that kind of burden is another reward of being a free lance.

My daughter also has an eccentric work schedule, aside from her occasional classes: she cleans house once a month for a neighbor who has health issues and is confined to a scooter-chair. Lovely person – lives just around the corner from us. She also had a gig doing computer training for another neighbor who was just dipping her toes into this new-fangled computer/internet thingy, and needed about an hour of coaching once a week, in order to cope with her email and her Netflix account. Twice a week, she collects the children of another neighbor from school, and baby-sits them until their older brother gets home from school. She also works as my personal assistant when I do a book-talk, which is no-end useful to me, although currently this is for no pay. She’ll inherit the rights to my books, though – so that’ll work out. And when it comes to doing what we call “being a real Arthur” – having an assistant helps no end. She has an occasional job, delivering for a local company which does fruit-flower arrangements, thanks to a friend who recommended her. It’s only on major holidays, but she is trusted as a reliable and professional part-timer; every month that there is a gift-giving occasion in it, she’s there and on the job for anything from two to five days. She’s also been helping with the work of the Tiny Publishing Bidness, and is thinking of taking classes in graphic arts – and courses which would be of use to a tiny independent publishing firm. And she also earns a paycheck with the Tiny Publishing Bidness; doing housekeeping for my business partner twice a month, and weekly performing errands and fix-it stuff. This makes her income a little more predictable. She was let go from her own full-time/flex time job two years ago; another one of those local Tiny Bidnesses which could no longer afford an office manager. So – there it is. I think we got our hard times a couple of years ago, and now we’re ahead of the game, at least by a couple of lengths.

Two weekends, I went to uphold the morale of another indy- and Texas-history-obsessed author at a local signing, at a bookstore which shall remain nameless because I am quite annoyed with them and don’t want to give them the traffic and it’s over a relatively piddling amount and I really ought to be big and forget about it but it’s the bloody principle of the thing and why the heck should I who subsist on freelance editing jobs and a military pension and an irregular stream of royalty checks be expected to subsidize a bookstore located in a very trendy and very likely expensive location and if they are on the financial rocks through miscalculation and their own business practices . . . well, again – why the heck should I be expected to bear some of the brunt of their various miscalculations? Oh, yeah – because I’m an indy writer, working for a teensy local subsidy press, and this enterprise is just about the only indy bookstore in town.

Getting back to my main point; frankly, doing an event at an indy bookstore or big-box outlet is usually ego-death-onna-stick anyway, unless by some miracle of persuasion, you have managed to BS local media outlets into going along with the pretense that you are a big-name-arthur. Which is what I told my new indy-author friend – who has actually had some luck with this . . . Anyway, one may as well have some friends come along, to while away the desperate hours with sitting behind the dreaded author-table and watching customers come in through the door, studiously avoiding your eye as they slither through the immediate area, heading for the Stephen Kings and the Philippa Gregorys and the latest Oprah pick.

Really – as I told my fellow obsessive – you might almost have better luck at a Christmas craft show, if it weren’t for the iron-clad tradition of authors appearing at bookstores. I know another local author who has a cute little cookbook, very well designed and edited, and she takes a table at regular gun shows. She cleans up, BTW. Guys, guns, hunting apparel and accessories. Wives and girlfriends, feeling obliged to come along, are not really much interested in the guns, apparel and accessories. Drawn to her cute little table display like insects to a bright porch light on a Texas summer evening, they are. Marketing, baby – sometimes it’s all about sorting out an unconventional venue where there are customers with money and where your product stands out.

Anyway, there were enough of my fellow Texas-history-obsessive friends showing up that we had a good time of it – alas that he didn’t have the good time that I had at the fund-raising luncheon the week before, where I nearly got writer’s-cramp scribbling messages and a stylized initial in the front of what seemed like an endless stream of my own books . . . hey, that’s a problem that is nice to have. I can get used to it. I promise onna-stacka-Bibles that I will never be a witch about this, I will be pleasant and obliging and always have time to talk at least briefly to a fan, even if it’s not a convenient time or a welcome interruption – I will make it seem like it is. I have skills that way. After the requisite time-behind-the-table was done, my author friend, three of his friends, and Blondie and I repaired to a table at Sams’ Burgers, to replenish the inner person and to talk about Texas history, a mad passion for which is shared by all of us at the table save perhaps Blondie, and then only because she is dragged into it by my interest. At the age of five, she got dragged into every significant museum and location of historical interest between the then-Iron Curtain and Gibraltar, so she ought to be used to it by now.

A matter of wry amusement to me is that I don’t have any sort of advanced degree for this. S’help me god, all I have is your basic state university English degree and only a BA at that. I did all the classes towards a Masters in public administration, way back before Blondie was born – but I swear it was only because I was bored silly and that was about the only higher ed program offered at Misawa AB . . . and the education counselor must have talked a good game or I had no sales resistance at all, because I wound up taking all the classes . . . even though I had no interest what-so-freaking-ever in public administration. Still, a lot of the classes were interesting, in and of themselves, so I suppose I took something away from that educational experience. Not that any of it applied in a way that I can see to my eventual career of scribbling respectably well-researched genre historical fiction . . . but it’s just as well there is no entry-qualification for that. Nope – no licensing procedure for those who wish to trot out our creative works of fiction before a (hopefully) appreciative audience . . . yet, anyway. There is no end to the writing of theses and papers and that sort of thing by those possessing PHDs, but very few of them have the ability to make them gripping reads, appealing to the general public.

But I was thinking, as I was scribbling this – I’ve been able to hold my own, when it comes to those matters that hold my interest – with all sorts of people, and some of them are . . . ummm, academically credentialed well above and far above my own level. I’ve always liked the thought of being an autodidact, a person who basically educated themselves, a person who read voraciously and thought about . . . things, outside the mainstream of currently acceptable intellectual thought-processes. And I’ve been thinking – that when it comes to writing agreeable, interesting and accessible genre fiction – it may be more doable to start with someone who can write vividly and with some degree of competence and discipline, and who might have learned or be taught mad historical research skills . . . than it would be to teach someone with all the skills to be a good story-teller and writer.

You know, I am also thinking – for dramatic story-telling potential, this could be a great rom-com; a serious and academically credentialed historian, married/involved with a historical novelist. Hilarity definitely guaranteed to ensue. Plot – oh, I could come up with something. I’m a novelist, after all.

25. January 2011 · Comments Off on On the Edge of the Wilderness · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, Home Front, Veteran's Affairs, World

Well, it’s not the wilderness, actually – that place where my parents built their retirement house, but it would certainly look so to someone more used to living in the city. No streetlights, and the houses are set back from unpaved roads, so a possessing good stock of flashlights and fresh batteries are something that every household out here needs, especially if people are planning to go somewhere and return after dark. I had to work the combination to the front gate by the light of my cell phone at one point, so no – I won’t forget a flashlight on my next visit, especially if I am going someplace after dark. There may be starlight and moonlight on occasion, but underneath the trees, it can get as black as the inside of a cow.

Which some of the neighbors have, by the way. A cow. And some goats. At least half of them have horses, too, now all winter-shaggy and bored, mooching around in their corrals, next to the road. At once place, the horses managed to chew away a lot of the three-rail wooden fence. The previous owners used to keep it all in good repair and painstakingly painted white. The new owner doesn’t seem to care quite so much. Everyone has dogs in their yards. At my parents’ place, one can track a pedestrian around the neighborhood by following the sounds of sequential dogs barking. There are also coyotes on the prowl, especially at night. This does not make it healthy for outdoor cats; my parents and most of their neighbors have lost cats to coyotes and other predators, in spite of taking every care. It seems that the only way to keep cats entirely safe is to keep them indoors.

For some strange, atavistic reason, my parents have always loved living on a dirt road, out in the hills. Possibly this cuts down the numbers of door-to-door evangelists and vacuum cleaner salespeople, but it’s heck on automobile suspensions … especially when a heavy rain has gouged huge gullies across the roadway, and what would have been the gutters on either side became canyons capable of swallowing up Mini-Coopers. Or they would, if anyone was demented enough to drive a Mini-Cooper along some of these roads. This last December was nothing but wall to wall rainstorms. A couple of their close neighbors are contractors, with small businesses and earth-moving equipment. They have a lot of fun playing around, re-grading the road, although one of them, known as the Bad Neighbor, didn’t helped much at all. He tried to fill the ruts with adobe, scraped up from his property. Alas, wet adobe turns into slippery mud; in the next heavy rain, one particular spot will be a kind of automobile slip-n-slide for an unwary driver traveling at more than 20 miles an hour. The water and power authorities offered more useful assistance by dumping concrete and asphalt rubble into the deepest of the gullies.

The rain made everything even greener than the winter rains usually do, though. The big fire seven years ago cleared away a lot of undergrowth, and of course, the various fire departments since then have cleared even more. The familiar marks of an old brush-fire are evident everywhere: the parti-colored dead branches of a tree or a shrub, bleached white in some places, soot-blackened in others, sticking up out of the middle of a lush thicket of new green growth.

Birds were everywhere – humming-birds squeaking like rusty hinges, and quail rustling through the undergrowth. I would surprise rabbits in the morning, when I walked down the hill for the newspapers: tan-colored, with a little white-cotton powderpuff for a tail. They lolloped lazily out of my way, as if humans didn’t frighten them very much at all. Probably they don’t: dogs and coyotes must be more of a real danger to the rabbits.

And that’s what it’s like, back in the hills. Given a choice, I’d have my own country retreat … but I think I’d skip the unpaved road part of it. Asphalt paving is a wondrous invention.

20. January 2011 · Comments Off on Winterreise 2010 · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, Veteran's Affairs, Wild Blue Yonder, World

(Hey, I’m back – got in last night … or, um … very early this morning. Here is a post that I wrote at my parents’, but had no way to post at the Brief from their house!)

Over the last decade – or perhaps even longer – all of the adventure, the fun and the excitement of traveling by air has been removed with cruel and surgical precision. Slowly, slowly, all of the frivolous extras have been chipped away, or become expensive add-ons. A small bag of peanuts and a cup of juice, enjoyed while sitting elbow to elbow in a tight-packed flying cattle car, and the only thing to look forward to (aside from the whole journey being over) is a long slog through the wide-flung nodes of a hub airport in order to catch a connecting flight at another gate. Which as luck usually has it, is as far from the gate where you were unceremoniously decanted as it can get and not be in another county. Or state.

No, about the only good fortune one can hope for these days is meeting a congenial person, whilst waiting for your flight or during it, and passing the idle hours in interesting conversation. Here I was most fortunate – even with the East Coast being socked in with Donner Party levels of snowfall, and the West Coast being served up with relentless rainstorms – I passed the time traveling home with a succession of no less than three very congenial fellow travelers.

The first of these had been at the San Antonio airport all day, trying to get into onto flight to Salt Lake City and very tired of working Sodoku puzzles. There is only one kind of young man under the age of 21 who routinely wear a black business suit, conservative tie and white shirt. LDS missionaries – they hardly need the nametag, at all. Turned out his home was in Windcrest, he was going to the 9-week long LDS missionary training course in Salt Lake City before going to South Florida for his tour of mission duty, because he was fairly fluent in Spanish. Then, he thought he might join the Air Force. I don’t think he had ever been to Salt Lake City – and I used to live there.

The hour on the ground – and the two hours in the air to Salt Lake City were enlivened by the guy in the seat next to me; he was going to Park City for the skiing and a better time to do that doesn’t exist. He’s a native Texan – and it proves that San Antonio really is a small town because he had gone to school with one of my former employers. Turned out that we had some other mutual friends and interests, including one for local history. His grandfather and great-grandfather were cattle ranchers out in West Texas and I had written a book touching on the great days of trailing cattle north to Kansas – heck, I even had a copy of J. Frank Dobie’s book about longhorns in my bag.

Because of the delay on the ground, I was pretty sure I’d miss the connecting flight to San Diego … but they had just begun boarding as I jogged breathlessly along the concourse between gates (note to self: start jogging regularly again). Made the flight with about fifteen minutes to spare; I could have just walked fast, but not keen on spending the night sleeping in the terminal, fond as I am of watching the sun come up over the Wasatch Front. For the fight to San Diego, I shared a row with a young Coast Guard member’s wife, who was coming home to San Diego after a flying trip to Fargo, N.D. We had a lot in common, as it turned out: her trip was a last visit to her grandfather, whose health was failing rapidly, mine to be with my family and to sort out matters after my Dad’s death. She had three-month old baby son whom she adored – and laughed and laughed when I told the story of how my father had snake-proofed my brother and I. On one of the first dates with her husband, he had proudly brought a rattlesnake that he had killed, and skinned it in her kitchen sink

So, the flight home was passed very agreeably – although Delta did their part, I think the people I met along the way were the main means of making the journey at least a little pleasanter than it could have been.

26. December 2010 · Comments Off on Day After Christmas Update · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, Veteran's Affairs

Pip’s husband John called, just about an hour ago. It seems that Dad’s organs are failing. I am having to work out ways to get to San Diego sooner than the second weekend of January. Mom was very chipper and cheerful last night, which possibly faked me out a bit. She was OK with me coming for two months in January, said that the hospital was sorting out what the problem with Dad’s circulatory system was – but I would have to work out the internet thing myself and at my own expense …

So, just now, working on a whole new set of plans.

3:25 Update: Brother Sander just called. Dad died about ten minutes ago. Everyone was there, save Blondie and I. Dad would have been 81, a week from tomorrow.

The most awful thing about this is how fast it happened – barely two weeks, and without any warning at all that anything was so wrong with him.

23. December 2010 · Comments Off on The Aged P Update – 12/23/10 · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, Veteran's Affairs

Blondie and I were updated last night by long telephone conversations with Pip’s husband John, followed by another one with youngest brother Sander. The news is guardedly good regarding Dad – he is still in ICU, but awake, coherent and has been able to get up and walk around, and have visitors. He is also giving the nurses hell, of course – but I am sure in the most charming way. He will probably move into a regular hospital room in the next few days, but the down side – is that he will be there for a while, as the pneumonia is still holding on.

Pip is going to take Mom to her home in Pasadena for Christmas; Pip, after all, has two children who deserve to have something like a normal Christmas. Mom is OK, basically – but the thought of leaving her alone at the house just gave everyone the heebie-jeebies. J.P. and his wife (who live near El Centro) will ride herd on Dad. We’ll call Pip on Christmas Eve for another update, and to get an idea of when I will be most needed.

I am still intending to go out to California by the Sunset Limited in early January and stay for about two months – it seems that a coach seat is extremely reasonable in comparison to airfare, and although it takes about 24 hours (even without allowing for delays) that’s about as long as it takes to drive. I can take up to three fifty-pound bags, and avoid being molested at the security gate; what’s not to like?

Several readers have made donations to the travel fund – for which I thanked them extravagantly. Financially, this is will be a huge wrench, not just because of the cost of travel, but that I will not be able to work for certain paying clients during the two months that I’ll be away. With luck – and if I can talk Mom and Dad into getting internet access at the house, I can go on working on other stuff, carrying on with the various book projects, and with the Tiny Publishing Bidness. Fingers crossed on that one – otherwise, I’ll be camped out most days at the Valley Center Public Library, which would negate some of the purpose of being there for Mom and Dad.

So – Merry Christmas all. Next report, Christmas Day.

We were off to Fredericksburg on Monday; Fredericksburg, Texas – a medium-sized town large enough to contain two HEB supermarkets, a Walmart, four RV parks and two museums, one of which[ the National Museum of the Pacific War – draws considerable tourist interest and a marvelous kitchenware shop which might very well be the best one in the state of Texas. (It certainly makes Williams  Sonoma look pretty feeble in comparison.) The town has begun to develop a little bit of suburban sprawl, but not excessively so. Most of the town is arranged along the original east-west axis of streets laid out by German immigrant surveyors in the mid-1840s, along a rise of land cradled between two creeks which fed into the Pedernales River. In a hundred and sixty years since then, houses and gardens spilled over Baron’s Creek and Town Creek. Log and fachwork houses were soon replaced by tall L-shaped houses of local stone, trimmed with modest amounts of Victorian fretwork lace, or frame and brick bungalows from every decade since. Main Street – which on either side of town turns into US Highway 290 – is still the main thoroughfare. A good few blocks of Main Street are lined with classic 19th century store-front buildings, or new construction built to match, storefronts with porches which overhang the sidewalk, and adorned with tubs of flowers and hanging baskets, with shops and restaurants and wine-tasting rooms catering to a substantial tourist trade. Fredericksburg is a lively place; and I have been visiting there frequently since I came to live in Texas.

I actually have a curious relationship with the place, having written a series of three historical novels about how it came to be founded and settled. Thanks to intensive research which involved reading practically every available scrap of nonfiction about the Hill Country and Fredericksburg written by historians and memoirists alike, I am in the curious position of knowing Fredericksburg at least as well as many long-time residents with a bent for local history do, and holding my own in discussions of such minutia as to how many people were killed in cold blood on Main Street. (Two, for those who count such things. It happened during the Civil War.) And for another, of having a mental map of 19th-century Fredericksburg laid over the present-day town, which makes for a slightly schizophrenic experience when I walk around the older parts. Eventually, I may have to do a sort of walking guide to significant locations, since so many readers have asked me exactly where did such-and-such an event take place, or where was Vati’s house on Market Square, and where in the valley of the Upper Guadalupe was the Becker ranch house?

Mike, the husband of one of Monday’s book-club members is a fan of the Trilogy, and although he couldn’t come to the meeting (being at work and all) he still wanted to meet me. He had actually contacted me through Facebook a couple of months ago, for a series of searching questions about where I had gotten some of the street names that I had used in the Trilogy; many of them are not the present-day names, but are what the original surveyors of Fredericksburg had laid out. I deduced that being stubborn and set in their ways, the old German residents would have gone on using those names, rather than the newer ones. After all,  when I grew up in LA, there were still old-timers who insisted on referring to MacArthur Park as Westlake Park, even though the name had been changed decades ago. So, the book club organizer gave me Mike’s work number at the Nimitz Foundation (which runs the Museum of the Pacific War) and said we should call and his assistant would get us on the schedule for that afternoon. It was my understanding that this gentleman was a retired general; OK, I thought – eh, another general, met ’em by the bag-full . . . matter of fact, there was a general even carried my B-4 bag, once –  (long story) but anyway, we had a block of time to meet Mike at his office and a lovely discussion we were having, too; he was full of questions over how much research I had done, and terribly complimentary on how well woven into the story.

Mike thought ever so highly about how I had made C.H. Nimitz, the grandfather of Admiral Chester Nimitz into such a strong and engaging character; although we had a discussion over how devoted a Confederate that C.H. Nimitz really was – probably not so much a Unionist as I made him seem to be, but I argued that C.H. was probably a lot more loyal to his local friends and community than he was to the Confederacy; so, nice discussion over that. It seems that the Mike was born and grew up in the area. He and his wife (who was German-born) had read the Trilogy, and loved it very much; they were even recommending it to everyone, and giving sets of it as presents. Well, that is way cool! I’m in regular touch with three or four fans doing just that; talking it up to friends, and giving copies as gifts. Local history buffs, or they know the Hill Country very well, they can’t wait to tell their friends about it; as Blondie says, I am building my fan base. So I had a question-packed half hour and a bit; me, answering the questions mostly, and Blondie backing me up. At the end of it as we were leaving, Blondie casually asked about a few relics on the sideboard, under an old photograph of C.H. Nimitz and Chester Nimitz as a very young junior officer; a very battered pair of glasses, and a covered Japanese rice bowl: they came from the tunnels on Iwo Jima. Blondie said. “Oh?” and raised her eyebrows. Yes, Mike had been allowed into the old Japanese tunnels; Rank hath it’s privileges – and Iwo is a shrine to Marines, after all.

After the book-club meeting – two hours, of talk and questions, and hardly a chance to nibble any of the traditional German finger-foods, an hour-long drive home, which seemed much longer. I fired up the computer and did a google-search, and found out the very coolest part. (Blondie had a suspicion, of course; being a Marine herself.) Mike was not just any general, but a Marine general, and commandant of the Marine Corps. How cool is that? One of my biggest fans is the former commandant of Marines, General Michael Hagee.

I’m actually kind of glad I didn’t know that, going in -“ I think we both would have been at least a little bit intimidated.

So, a scattershot essay with a number of different topics that have come bubbling up to the top of my admittedly scattered attention this last week:

The Neighbors from Hell, part –I-don’t-know-how-many, there are just too many to count. See, there are bad neighbors who commit sins of omission, such as not mowing their lawn, keeping up with house maintenance, or just have an aesthetic sense that does not jibe with the others in the ‘hood. Every neighborhood seems to have a couple of those; people who are just fricking clueless. Think of them as small lumps in the happy oatmeal of life. Sometimes you can work with them, bring them around to the right way of doing things, but generally it’s not worth the effort. Just look away from them as much as you can, and call city Code Compliance only when absolutely necessary, because they just might turn into Neighbors from Hell – the other kind of bad neighbor; the aggressive, sins-of-commission kind. The ones who deliberately court offense, who declare open war upon another neighbor, and generally do their best to create Suburban Hell; I’d guess that this piece o’work is that kind of neighbor. Frankly, I’m glad she’s not ours, and extend my heartfelt sympathy to the people who are.

Life on the border, Falcon Lake edition: kinda hard to say at this point exactly has been going on there . . . save to say that the just-south-o’the-border lawless’n’drug-gang situation has been heading to the proverbial nether regions in the proverbial wicker-work carrying container for quite some time now. Seriously, it’s getting really, really bad. Blondie was freaking out this spring when my SO and his snowbird friends and I went to Progresso, Mexico for a day jaunt. How bad is it going to get in the next five months? The odds on some horrific cross-border affray which might actually make the Mainstream f*****g Media sit up and pay attention due to the penetration distance within the US, the number of innocent lives messily lost and the presence of YouTube video detailing every splatter are pretty high. Just my semi-educated guess, people. Just my guess.

Kind of nice, how everybody wants to be a Tea Partier now, isn’t it? Or at least, not be an incumbent. (November is coming – I can see it from my house!) Seriously, everyone is pretty well wise to the method of getting expensive federal government crap for your district, and expecting to get votes in response? They are bribing us with our own money, people. It’s a local and parochial benefit, at the expense of the long-term national good. Personally, I don’t think any federal or state installation should be named after a local politician still living, but that’s just me.

Which brings me to Jerry Brown getting the NOW endorsement not twenty-four hours after being inadvertently recorded as calling Meg Whitman a whore . . . Guess she isn’t the right kind of feminist. Funny, that. Reminds me of why I no longer subscribe to Ms. Magazine. Or identify myself as a capital F feminist . . . It seems as if only the properly credentialed can apply. Screw that, and identity politics generally.

All this, and the Great VFW Endorsement disaster, which I think must be close kin to the AARP ObamaCare endorsement disaster. Way to go, people . . . umm, or way to go those at the tippy-top of such national organizations who have decided it is nicer to go along to get along than pay attention to the real interests and needs of those who have joined your association voluntarily. Shoot yourself in the foot, much?

Well, that should get you off to a good Monday start. No need to thank me, I live to serve.

Sgt. Mom

PS – Apparently someone winged a book at the Mighty O-man last night at a speech – and missed by a narrow margin, but no one knows the title of the book! My guess is a copy of the Constitution, or maybe the Federalist Papers. Blondie ventures: “Maybe a copy of that craptacular autobiography and they wanted a refund!”

I am, praise be to certain workaholic habits of mine (the one which goes into hyper-space warp-speed drive when faced with an impending deadline) actually able to come up for air today. One large chunk o’impending deadline all but finished but for the polishing and tweaking, and the other all but finished save for the author getting back to me to answer some questions about her MS. Life is good. And so is that 12-ounce bottle of Shiner Bohemian Black Lager that I have drunk about half of, as a reward to myself. Nice burnt-sugar overtones. I’m writing this Sunday evening at about 5:45 PM Sunday, so no need to go all interventionish on me.

Of course, I still have about three other big projects hanging over me – but the largest are out of the way, so I can come up for air and take note of some of the weirdness around me.
OK, so it looks like America’s next top model . . . is six foot something and so impossibly thin that a man’s hands can span her waist: Which was a charmingly old-fashioned standard of feminine beauty in the 19th century, when it was achieved only by the use of a fierce whale-bone corset and a couple of strong maids, hauling away. Dear god, the girl looks like she is morphing into a praying mantis. So, if this is what the fashion designers want to hang their clothes on, just animate a wire hanger and be done with it, and leave the rest of us alone with our cellulite.

So, the same breed of statist limpd**ks that tried to launch the Coffee Party and are trying yet again, with yet an amazingly stupid tee shirt and mug with the logo ‘f*ck tea’. Apparently that’s all you have to do, to get a movement really going. Print up some tee shirts and get your friends in the juice-box mafia (aka whatever has taken the place of JournoList) to push the meme.
Hey, boys and girls, we can put on a show ourselves, around in back in the barn!

Apparently, they insist they are trying to bring about a serious discussion of serious issues and
the something like 54% of citizens who approve and support Tea Party principles should just . . . I dunno, sit down and shut up and be ruled over unquestioningly by the new aristos. OK, one more time: strict interpretation of the Constitution, fiscally responsible, free markets. The Tea Party is a distributed, leaderless insurgency, based on a few core principles, not one person. I don’t know how I can make it any more plain than that. Aside from that, boys and girls, if it looks like bought n’paid for Astroturf, smells like Astroturf, feels like Astroturf and is being rolled out there by the same ol’ Astroturf purveyors . . . then it probably is indeed, Astroturf. Here’s hoping that not too many of the ‘f*ck tea’ ‘tards don’t get stuck with a garage full of un-sellable tee shirts . . . oh, f*ck that – I hope they do.

So, the Mighty O’s approval ratings continue to crater. Time to take another vacation. Look, Mr. Hopey-Changey, coming out with support of a mosque/community/center/arms bunker whatever in the neighborhood of New York’s Ground Zero on one day, then walking back the next – not a good idea. Indecisive, duplicitous, or just plain old telling-the-audience-what-they-wanna-hear? I don’t know, I’m not a licensed political professional, or a mind-reader, but you are getting bad advice from someone. Or if you are getting good advice . . . oh, f*ck it . . . take the bad advice. No one will ever notice. Really. November is a little more than a month and a half away. Kick back, you and the wife and kids take another vay-cay. It’s all on us, I insist.
Yes, freedom of religion in America technically would permit the mosque/whatever to be built wherever . . . good taste and a sense of tact would argue that Ground Zero is perhaps a good place. Sorta like a museum of the Confederacy would not be a good fit in downtown Harlem. (But it might give Cholly Rangel a case of the vapors, so it wouldn’t be a wasted effort to suggest it.)

Ah well – enough of a rant. Blondie and I went up to Boerne yesterday, and brought back some smoked ribs and BBQ sauce from (I kid you not) a Shell gas station quickie-mart on the corner of Main Street and SH-46, which has a meat counter and a BBQ stand which has the best BBQ around. It’s called the Riverside Market. We stopped in for some soft drinks, and it smelled so enticing that we stopped in on our way home from Boerne Market Days and bought some for take out. Remember – Boerne, Shell Station, on Main Street, and SH-46, just as you cross the river. The place was wall to wall with local people. And the BBQ smelt like the food of the gods.

22. July 2010 · Comments Off on Just a Note to Keep Everyone Up to Speed · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, Literary Good Stuff, Local, Media Matters Not, Politics, Tea Time, Veteran's Affairs

Posting’s been light, because . . . I have a platter full of work right in front of me. And three-quarters of it will be for pay. The remaining quarter is split between providing good a few spoonfuls of good bloggy ice cream, and trying to finish the next book. I was alternating between two – one set during the early days of Anglo settlement in Texas, and up through the Republic of Texas days, tentatively entitled Gone to Texas, and another set fifty years later, in the cattle boom and barbed wire days. Write a chapter or two on one, set it aside, write a chapter or two on the other. Kept from getting bored or blocked, y’see.

But – and that is a Michael Moore sized butt, right there – I had to pull full steam ahead on the Gone to Texas – which may wind up being called Daughter of Texas, having made a decision to have the official launch/release date on the anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto, April 21. The senior partner in the Tiny Publishing Bidness loves my stuff and we are setting up an account with the printer “Lightning Source” so we can do POD books, as an alternative to litho print. So – my book will be the test run for us. With luck I can scrape some local media interest, since that will be the start of Fiesta. A release date late in April means I have to start sending out advance review copies in late September. Working backwards from that deadline means I have to finish the five or six chapters in the next month, so . . . yes, the personal work schedule is full. I’ll set up to take orders in December, though – for copies to be delivered in early April.

With all this going on, I had to step back from certain other activities, including volunteering for the local Tea Party – but there are so many people getting into it all, I don’t think my absence will be missed. And I certainly will continue blogging about Tea Party matters, and perhaps even a little more freely, since what I now say will reflect only on myself, not the local org. Hey, I might even get to go to a rally or two, and not have to stay afterwards for hours, cleaning up!

I’d write something about the ongoing revelations about the JournoList . . . except that what I’d have to say boils down to two statements: “Yeah, I thought there was something strange about how some stories had legs from here to there and back again, and others vanished into a black hole,” and “Oh, boy – bring on the popcorn! This is gonna be fun!”

02. May 2010 · Comments Off on Land, Lots of Land · Categories: General, Home Front, Memoir, Veteran's Affairs, Working In A Salt Mine..., World

Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above,
Don’t fence me in.
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love,
Don’t fence me in.
Let me be by myself in the evenin’ breeze,
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees,
Send me off forever but I ask you please,
Don’t fence me in.

So, I came to a decision about a week or so ago, one that I sensibly should have come to a couple of years ago . . . except that a couple of years ago might not have been the time, either. This was just one of those things that I don’t think about very much, except twice a year when I have to figure out how to pay the taxes on it. Yes, when I get the bill from the San Diego assessor’s office for the three acres and some of unimproved howling wilderness that I own – that’s when I remember that yes, indeedly-do, neighbors – I am a landowner. It’s a nice little tract, which would have been covered with black oak, pine trees and mountain laurel, on the edge of a national forest – save for a plague of bark beetles throughout the 1990s, topped by a massive forest fire in 2003. But everything should be fairly well grown back by now – look at how Yellowstone looked, a decade after fires there. I saw the pictures in the National Geographic; natural cycle and all that. As far as So Cal goes, my land is so far back in the woods that they have to truck in sunshine. The roads are graveled, but the electrical lines have crept gradually in, as other owners built little cabins on their patch of Paradise. Me, I have only visited it once in twenty years, although I have a fair number of pictures.

About halfway through my career in the military – a career spent almost exclusively overseas, my daughter and I came home to visit my parents, who had retired to build their own country hideaway. For one reason or another, I thought – well, I shall retire eventually, and why don’t I start by purchasing a bit of land close by, something that I could build on? Having lived in a series of drab rentals and equally drab military housing, the thought of a bespoke home of my own was understandably enticing. And so, my parents drove me around to look at some nice little bits, eventually focusing on the mountains near a charming little town called Julian. We hadn’t actually fixed on a suitable tract – but my parents knew my tastes by then. Basically, I bought my property on their advice. Used a reenlistment bonus granted when I re-upped for a second hitch in the Big Blue Machine for the down payment, and religiously for the next ten years or so, I mailed a check to an address in Ohio. I don’t think I thought about it too much then, either. I think I was stationed in Utah when I came to the final payment – even then I had written to the former owner, asking plaintively if June or July’s payment would be the last, for I had rather lost track.

So – I had the property; now to sort out how to build a house on it. When I finally returned from overseas, I had pretty much resolved that I would buy a house to live in for the rest of my time in the Air Force, rather than continue pouring money down the rental-rat-hole. I’d continue working until the mortgage was paid – then sell the house and use the equity to fund a new house on my land. When I first formulated this plan, I had kind of half-expected that my last active-duty tour would be at a base of my choosing: the assignments weenies for my career field used to be rather good at this. You could retire in a town where you already had done the ground-work for a post-service career, bought the house, got the child or children established in a local school. Lucky me – I got sent to Texas. Which was third on my list, by the way – but I did buy the house.

And then . . . well, things happened. It’s called life, which happens even when you have plans. One of those things which happened was that Texas – rather like bathroom mold – grows on you. Really; after a while, practically everywhere else seems dry and savorless, devoid of an exuberant sense of place and identity. And the countryside is lovely: east and central Texas is nothing like what it looks in Western movies. It is green, threaded with rivers lined with cypress trees, interspersed with rolling hills dotted with oak trees and wildflowers star-scattered everywhere. I put down roots here, made friends and connections, both personal and professional. I wrote books, set mostly in a locality not very far away, books which have garnered me readers and fans, and a partnership in a little specialty publishing firm. I have come to love San Antonio; which I have described for years as a small town, cunningly disguised as a large city. (Really – you can connect anyone with anyone else in this town in about two jumps. There’s only about two degrees of separation here. You simply would not believe how many people I know who are connected to other people I know. And I don’t even belong to the San Antonio Country Club, though I was a guest there, once.)

Another of those local connections is to a semi-occasional employer, the gentleman known as the Tallest ADHD Child on Earth. He runs a tiny ranch real estate bidness from a home office, but since he is hopelessly inept at anything to do with logical organization, computers and office management, I put in a small number of hours there, every week or so, just to keep his files and documents from becoming a kind of administrative black hole, sucking in everything within range. I put together his various brochures for the various properties that he has listings for – and last week, while assembling one of them, I was thinking all the while, “I so want a bit of that.” I’d rather have a bit of land, maybe park a little cabin on it for now, where I could go and spend quiet weekends. I’d rather have something I could drive up to in a couple of hours, rather than in two days. So, I told Mom and Dad to put the California acreage with a local realtor, and my friend the ranch real estate expert that I would be looking for a nice acre or two. It feels good, it really does.

I expect that I will eventually be driving a pickup truck. But the gimme cap, the gun rack and the hunting dog are still negotiable.

20. April 2010 · Comments Off on Continuing Interesting Stuff at the Milblogger Conference · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, History, Military, Technology, Veteran's Affairs

Yes, it was a week ago last weekend, but I have several jobs, four books to market, two more to write . . . oh, and a tax bill to pay. So, forgive me for dishing out the good bloggy ice cream in small dishes, ‘kay?

One of the unexpected highlights of the conference was a late addition to the morning panel lineup; this man was almost a proto-blogger: Major Norman Hatch, who as a young NCO and combat cameraman in the Pacific during World War II oversaw the filming of the battle for Tarawa. Greyhawk provided a short version of this video, with the audio turned down, and Major Hatch gave us a live commentary – a sort of directors’ cut.

Anyway, as I have pointed out many times, the military is its whole ‘nother world. I swear, I’ve been convinced for years that most civilians get their ideas about it – not from a genu-wine military person, but from some (usually self-appointed) expert, anointed by the cultural powers that be. Which usually makes those of us who have long been domiciled in the military world just roll our eyes and laugh behind our hands. Or throw something heavy at the television – it all depends. BTW, really perversely-humored military members often amuse themselves by feeding tall tales to said self-appointed experts, just to see if they are going to bite on the tall tale, hook line and sinker. I know they do this – I’ve always called it the Wister Effect.*
Trying to put across something of what the military experience is really like to the average normal civilian is what got me started in mil-blogging, back in the Dark Ages of blogging. And sham-wow! Did Sgt. Stryker’s Daily Brief suddenly have a lot of readers! On one notable occasion just about the time that the drive into Kuwait began, CNN linked to our home page – and the resulting traffic crashed the server. We were included in a short list of mil-blogs listed in a short (is there any other sort?) article in Time Magazine, and Yours Truly was interviewed a couple of times by reporters for national newspapers, who were putting together a story about the Great E-Mail/Milblogging Adventure, and how it was possible for the deployed military to be in such very close contact with their families and friends. All very heady and amusing stuff, this was – but I kept thinking how odd it was that the official military Public Affairs offices seemed to be completely clueless.

Having worked in an airbase PA office, I knew very well that part of the PA staff’s duties was to scan print media for any mention of the service, the particular base, or the military in general. I didn’t think it likely, in other words, that the official military could NOT know about mil-blogs in 2003 – especially since I made a special effort to visit a local PA office and offer to blog about any particular needs the local command had, with regard to deployed troops from that post, or for any casualties they might be caring for. I talked to a civilian in the office – who seemed quite keen, and left my name, email addy and URL for his commander, and never heard another word. Eh – no skin off mine, as the saying goes. But at the first afternoon panel of the Milblog Conference, we had a full brace of commanders – including Admiral J.C. Harvey, Commander U.S. Fleet Forces Command, who is an enthusiastic blogger, and Col. Gregory Breazile, who blogs for the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan.

Obviously, the official blog has arrived; the technology has been embraced by the higher levels. I did get up and asked, precisely when and what event precipitated this interest, when we early bloggers were treated as if we smelled bad, early on. Eh – the answer seemed to be that the very high ranks realized the value of social media fairly early on. One does not achieve the high command rank in the military by being an idiot, by the way. I’ve met some colonels who were dumber than a box of hammers, but every general I ever met personally seemed to be pretty sharp. At the other end of the scale, the very sharpest of the junior ranks had embraced social media, blogging, twittering and youtube almost at once. It was just the intermediate level, or so the Admiral explained, who weren’t quite sure what to do with or about it. This tracked pretty well with my experience, being as the Daily Brief’s founding blogger was a smart-ass Air Force enlisted mechanic who loved to spend his nights on the intertubules. (He also got bored easily, which is why he recruited other writers for his blog after a year.) I have to admit, there is a decidedly different feel to a blog which is there because it’s essential to communicating about the mission, and one that’s a volunteer effort and done for sheer enthusiasm.

Final wrap up tomorrow – stay tuned, sportsfans.

* The Wister Effect: so called after Owen Wister, the writer of The Virginian, who related a story about some cowboys in a small Western town. When some traveling Easterners came to town on the train, and began hyperventilating about the violence and danger in the Wild West, the cowboys obligingly staged a mock-lynching for their edification. Wear your expections too openly – and very likely someone with a perverse sense of humor will make a special effort and arrange to deliver what you were expecting.

18. April 2010 · Comments Off on Still More of What I Saw @ The Milblogger’s Conference · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, Military, Veteran's Affairs, World

There were four panel discussions during Saturday, the one full day of the 5th Annual Milblogger’s Conference – some with panelists present front and center, and a few with either taped, or teleconferenced interviews. All of the panelists and the moderator, Greta Parry (who originated a blog called Kiss my Gumbo) touched upon the use of social media – that is, networking, blogging, tweeting and other uses of the internet in the service of various military enterprises. The first panel discussed the use of social media with regard to various military oriented charities, only one of which had been in existence longer than the last decade or so; the US Navy Memorial in Washington, DC. The VP for Marketing Communications confessed resignedly that she must still print out blogposts and email messages for many of the senior managers to peruse, since they are not exactly comfortable with this internet-thingy. The other organizations, such as Soldier’s Angels grew organically in response to various needs upon being publicized through mil-blogs and email appeals for items to be sent to deployed, hospitalized or disabled military members, or to assist their families. Soldier’s Angels started with family members sending ‘care packages’ to individuals – and then it just sort of snowballed.

Just to illustrate how these things grow: my daughter’s Marine unit deployed to Kuwait very early in 2003, and of course my parents and friends began sending her useful things – snack food and sanitary-wipes, drink mixes and big spray, books and magazines. She wrote to me about a kid in her unit who’s family had his APO address all mixed up, with the result that he was over there for almost two months and hadn’t gotten a letter or a care package from anyone. I wrote about this on my own blog, with the result that LCpl. Varnum was immediately adopted by about forty different people, and got so many boxes of goodies that there was no room for him to sleep in his little pup-tent shelter. My daughter’s unit was the recipient of boxes of books collected by another blogger, and a case of moon-pies from a lady in Virginia . . . eventually they had so much in the way of home comforts that I began referring people who emailed me asking to adopt-a-troop to Soldier’s Angels, which was formally organized and launched by this time. The milblogs have been supporting Soldier’s Angels every since. One of their big projects was to provide voice-activated laptop computers for the seriously injured – and another project I clearly recall was to collect clothing; underwear and sweats, and tee-shirts, for injured troops who had been medivacked from the field on a stretcher to hospitals in Germany to recover – and separated from all of their friends and possessions, had nothing but hospital PJs and robes to stand up in. Kind of hard, walking across the post to the PX in your slippers to buy more clothes; I suppose this problem must have come up now and again before, but in this case, Soldier’s Angels had an immediate solution.

I cut a certain “Doonesbury” strip out of the local newspaper the day it appeared, and it’s been on the front of my refrigerator ever since; the final panel of the strip contained the punchline. “Is it true that only 13% of American kids can find Iraq on a map?” And the reply from a cynical reporter character, “Yeah, but all 13% are Marines.”
During the first session, someone pointed out Garry Trudeau, among the conferees . . . yeah, that Garry Trudeau, the Doonesbury guy, who was not the very last person I would have expected to find at a military blogger’s conference – I’d say he’s have been among a list of a hundred or so. But it seems that he does a lot of quiet good for veterans, as well as providing a mil-blog venue. And yes, I did go up to him in the interval and tell him about the “13%” comic strip, still bravely magneted to my refrigerator door. Told him that he could have made another mint or so, selling the original art, or even prints of that strip. Just about every mother of a Marine would want one. Alas, he donated all the originals, all at once. (Yeah, I talked a little about my own books – do I look like an idiot! It’s all about the marketing, baby!)

The mild thrill from the second session came in a conference call from Afghanistan, from Michael Yon, who as of last weekend was lurking in the vicinity of Kandahar. Michael has been operating as a freelance journalist, covering the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for a good few years, now. He is supported through donations from his readers; all the milbloggers know of Mike Yon – the top story on his blog today is about one of those efforts to collect donations for a unit, or a place or a purpose . . . and how they expand. He thinks there is a ‘surge’ beginning to build up a head of steam in that part of Afghanistan; we’ll know by Christmas what kind of effect will be had by it. His next project is a means of introducing little biogas fuel generators to Afghanistan, in the hopes of replacing scarce wood as a fuel for cooking: off to Nepal to research on how they do it there. Apparently biogas generated from waste material is being widely used in Nepal . . . the technology is fairly simple, and straightforward. It would save the trees and save the time spent searching for a few little sticks of dry wood. I can see the sense in this – one of my books about the far west mentions that it was the constant quest by settlers for wood for fuel and for building that alienated the Plains Indians, at least as much as the ravages of buffalo hunters . . .

Seriously off-topic – more to follow, about the conference. Most amusingly – and I am kicking myself for not taking a picture of some of them doing so – about a third of them were tweeting and blogging each session as it happened. I did not have the advantage of a Blackberry, or i-Phone, laptop or notebook computer that many of the other conferees had, so I have to catch up days later.

15. April 2010 · Comments Off on More of What I Saw at the Milblogger Conference · Categories: Ain't That America?, Air Force, General, Military, Veteran's Affairs

Milblogging – alas, I have had to explain that concept to a number of my purely civilian contacts over the last few weeks. Just a plain old military blogger. A blogger on active duty, a veteran, a family member or someone just interested in aspects of the military life, all of whom are blogging about their experiences and life in the military, around the military, or as the military touches on their life. To mainstream America, since the end of the draft, this is terra incognita. If all one knows about the life military is what can be gleaned from current movies, television and popular culture, then there might just as well be dragons out there over the edge in DOD land. Another language, of slang and shorthand, of instantly understood references, certain subtle habits of manners and bearing, the quiet display of badges, rings, patches, souvenir coins or tattoos – all of which serve as tells to other residents (or past residents) of DOD land. Most pure civilians usually miss the ‘tells’ – which is why fake veterans will fool them practically all the time.

So, I have been a milblogger since 16 August, 2002, which is the Dark Ages of blogging, practically. I was invited to join this blog when it was still called Sgt. Stryker’s Daily Brief, at a time when there was a sudden and increased national interest in the military experience during the ramp-up to the Iraq War. SSDB was one of only a handful of milblogs carried on the Instapundit blog-roll. I had just barely discovered this newfangled internet thingy, I had a background in public affairs, wanted an outlet for my own writing . . . and my daughter was a Marine, heading towards a deployment in Kuwait and eventually, Iraq in the spring and summer of 2003. Comparing notes at the Milblog Conference, I discovered that the date of my first blog-post predated everyone elses’ by at least six months.

That entry is included, for your benefit, as a historical document –

Sgt. Mom’s Ancient Tech Story:

So the new colonel commanding was getting a tour of the AFRTS station, from the Station Manager. The colonel looks through the soundproofed glass window into the radio studio, and there is the on-duty DJ, stripped to his underwear, sitting cross-legged on the turntable*, going round and round and round. The colonel, slightly-bug-eyed, turns to the Station Manager and demands
“What the %#@&&& is he doing?
The Station Manager shrugs and says,
“Thirty-three and a third.” **

(footnotes appended for those under the age of 30ish)
* Probably a heavy, 16″ Gates turntable. They were used to play “records” also called ETs, or Electrical Transcriptions, which in the days when the only body parts being pierced were ears, were 16 or 14 inches across.
** Revolutions per minute. 16-inch records were played at 78 RPMs, 14-inch records (which replaced them) at 33 1/3

Yeah, I’ve gone a long way since then, although the audience laughed their hummm-hums off, when I re-told it at the conference. A good few didn’t even need the footnotes – but don’t let that lead you to assume that all attending were old fogies . . . I met a trio of earnest young college students, two veterans and one heading military-wards. A bit of an interview to follow about them, over the next two days. (Look, am I a public utility? I produce good bloggy ice-cream when I can!) There was also this young lady present, who is not only extraordinarily pleasant and patriotic, but possesses a charmingly retro aesthetic sense – as well as a sense of duty. (No, I never minded girlie pinups – as long as I could admire the equivalent and aesthetically pleasing male form . . .)

But enough of the wander down blogging-memory lane, more observations of the 5th Annual Milblogger Conference. It is the very first one which I have attended, which made for a curious experience. I have ‘known’ some of the other bloggers nearly as long as I’ve blogged and consider them as friends and fellow veterans, but this was the first time I ever met them face to face. I tend to think of them first as they named themselves with their original nom du blog – Greyhawk, Blackfive, Baldilocks – rather than their given names. Most of the early milbloggers chose to do so, not wanting to put absolutely everything out there.

Another curiosity – I’d guess that a little under a half of the conference attendees were women: fair number of veterans, or DOD civilian employees, some from various military-oriented charitable organizations, or military spouses. There were present, though, a fair number of active-duty men with the high-and tight haircut – that which makes them look as if they had shaved their heads entirely, and then parked a small, short-furred rodent on top. On the first panel of the conference – a selection of early bloggers, three of us were Air Force or AF veterans (Baldi, me, and Greyhawk – all NCOs), one Army veteran – Blackfive, and one Marine officer – “Taco”. (His last name is Bell.) This distribution drew some comment from the audience: I have no explanation for this. Another very early blogger was a Reserve Navy officer, Lt. Smash. My purely amateur and scientific wild-ass guess about this distribution is something along the lines of the Air Force and the Navy being more technically oriented, and drawing in a more middle-class and educated recruit. Another curiosity is that four of us have written or edited books, and “Taco” is planning to write one as soon as he retires and can uncork his best stories. Eh – one of my best-received one-liners: blogging is a gateway drug. (Did I mention that I do have a mad compulsion to entertain and inform? Laugher from an audience – manna to the starving!) More to follow, including how I had the neck ask a blunt question of a 4-star and to tell Garry Trudeau about the newspaper clipping that has been on the front of my refrigerator for almost eight years now – I promise. Real life and bills to pay will interfere. Really.

05. April 2010 · Comments Off on Milblogger Conference 2010 – Update · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, Veteran's Affairs, Wild Blue Yonder

OK – so it doesn’t look as if it will be a road trip, after all. There are some serious problems with the GG (sigh!) so that planned little jaunt is out. I’ll be traveling by regular airline on Friday morning (very early!) to Arlington, for the Milblogger Conference at the Westin Arlington Gateway, and coming back the same way on Sunday afternoon.
I am still holding off on a hotel reservation there – hoping to reduce expenses (hey, we’re in a recession, dammit! And there is work that I have done/services provided that I haven’t been paid for yet, so I must economize until those chintzy b**tards come through! ) so, if anyone of the femalion or family-oriented persuasion and a non-smoker wants to share a room this Friday and Saturday at the Gateway (or other nearby establishment) let me know! Like, ASAP!

19. March 2010 · Comments Off on A 21 Story Salute · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, History, Memoir, Veteran's Affairs, War, World

Take a look at this

Looks nice, doesn’t it? Finally, in February, Alice and I finished the latest book project from Watercress Press, the tiny specialty subsidy press bidness which affords the both of us some kind of living and a fair amount of amusement, as well as entrée into what passes for the literary scene in San Antonio. Alice does the fine editing and some of the admin stuff, I do the rough editing and the author-wrangling, and keep the website updated. We hire an independent contractor to do the book design and layout, to ours and the author’s specifications; I must say that when the pocketbook permits, we can do some very nice, high-end books indeed: History, Texiana, memoirs, some poetry – that kind of thing.

A 21 Story Salute combines two of our favorites; history and memoir. Barbara Bir, the author/editor went around to twenty-one World War II-era veterans and a couple of spouses, and interviewed them about their experiences during the conflict, and about their lives afterwards. All were pretty interesting, in themselves, but a good few of them were downright fascinating; it depended, I think, on how good a story-teller they were.

Bob Ingraham, for instance: he had some great stories. He survived being shot down flying a Spitfire over Dieppe in 1942, and a round of imprisonment as a POW in Sagan, where he helped to dig the Great Escape tunnel. There were three American diggers, helping with Tom, Dick and Harry – he is the only one still living.

Clara Morrey Murphy, and her friend, Aleda “Lutzie” Lutz – Clara and Lutzie were two of the very first Army air-evac nurses – there is a picture of them in the book, trying out their flight gear, while in special training in 1942. They went on to air –evacuate patients during the campaigns in North Africa, Italy and France. Clara Murphy’s military uniform is now on display at the Brooks ‘Hanger 9’ aerospace medicine museum, in San Antonio. “Lutzie” died in 1944, when the air-evac flight she was on crashed into a mountainside in Southern France.

Eddie Patrick? He was the kid genius, when it came to radios and electronics: he wound up as a senior NCO at the age of 19, in charge of the comm gear, serving at a Flying Tigers airbase in China, well behind the Japanese lines.

Litzie Trustin was Jewish and born in Vienna. She escaped to England on one of the last Kindertransports, just before the war began in Europe in 1939. Returning to Europe to work with the American forces as a translator, she married a transport pilot and came to Omaha to settle down and raise a family – and to work for civil rights.

Bob Joyce kept a diary, all through his tour of duty as a B-17 radio operator, flying a series of nerve-wrackingly dangerous missions from Italy. He carried with him on those missions a pair of regular Army boots, his father’s rosary, a good-luck bracelet from his home-town girlfriend, and a $2.00 bill, so he would never be broke.

Ignatio “Nacho” Gutierrez never saw snow until he went into the Army for basic training. He and his unit came ashore on D-Day in the early evening of June 6th, 1944 – and he painted signs – and sometimes stapled them to trees himself – for the constantly-moving XIX Corps, First Army headquarters, all through Normandy and into Belgium and Germany.

During the war, Marshall Cantor directed the building of runways and scratch airbases on Ascension Island for Air Transport Command, and then moved on to do the same in New Guinea and in the Philippines. He met Ellen Berg, who was a nurse serving at a forward hospital in Papua, New Guinea. They married in 1944.

More excerpts and a few more pictures are at a section of Barbara’s website, here.

24. February 2010 · Comments Off on Down By the Station · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, Tea Time, Veteran's Affairs

Sunset Station, that is – the turn-of-the-last-century historic railway depot in San Antonio, a splendid pile of Mission Revival stucco and russet-colored roof tiles, which was the pride of the town when it was completed in 1903. The main depot building had electric lights up the wazoo, and a pair of round stained-glass windows in the peak of the roof on either end, glass windows that were as big as ornamental fishponds. There was a grand divided staircase at one end, and heavy wood benches arranged to best effect on the lower level. It was the waiting room, then, although I think most people waiting for a train would have been out under the awnings, where there would have been a bit of a breeze, and train travelers could have appreciated the gardens and the ornamental trees – the Southern Pacific architect and landscapers did not do things by halves, back in the days when rail travel was the thing, and automobiles were cranky and unreliable toys for rich men.

After mid-century, the rule of the steel rails diminished, and the rule of the automobile came to pass: city planners slapped six lanes of highway along the edge of Downtown, thirty or so years ago. This amputated the railway station and the blocks of hotels, warehouses and cafes off from the rest of Downtown, the part with the Alamo and the Riverwalk and the people – still the old Depot remained. Fortunately, they re-vamped the old depot building as an event venue a decade or so ago, lovingly re-constructing every bit of plaster ornament and stained glass, and out in back of the main hall is an open terrace with an arcade along one side, and landscaping and an iron fence along the other. There are some fine old buildings surviving in the blocks around the Station, although I don’t think it will ever be as lively as it was in it’s heyday.

Facing the back of the old Depot is a covered pavilion with a raised stage, and all that is necessary for concerts and entertainment. I had never been there before – but that is where the San Antonio Tea Party held their first anniversary rally on Sunday. We drew a fair number of people, about 230 or so, on a lovely breezy Sunday afternoon. We were gifted with a fine warm day, wedged in between a couple of cold and icy ones, just right for a meeting which turned out to run about an hour longer than expected. At the last minute, we had added Kevin Jackson, Sheriff Mack and Stewart Rhodes of the Oathkeepers to Joe the Plumber – which proved to be at least semi-attractive to three out of five local TV news networks. And after the rally, our Cap & Trade working group had set up another guest speaker, who had a presentation about Global Warming. To be precise, his presentation concerned the fraud thereof, and that apparently drew out some counter-demonstrators.

I think this must be the first time that the local progressives actually organized something: usually it’s just been a handful of regulars showing up with singularly uninspiring signs. It would appear, from the TV news stories posted on Sunday evening, that one of the things which raised their ire (well, besides even having a Tea Party to start with) was the presence of the so-called “global warming denier.” That apparently is still a high crime, to those who haven’t yet managed to hear about Climate-gate. They came on a bus, pranced down the street to opposite where we were, and chanted “Health Care Now!” and “Green Jobs Now!” – although they did break it up at one point by singing Happy Birthday – although to whom, I can’t be sure. Then the bulk of them did hop onto their bus and depart – I guess forty minutes was about as much as they had stamina for, or maybe that was all that the Acorn budget allowed.

There were a handful of die-hards, though; one with a video camera, and another with a bullhorn who kept shouting incomprehensible questions from across the street; basically that we were all rich racists, and something about the jerk in Austin with IRS issues and a small plane. It seemed rather laughably pointless, as they were doing this while a succession of candidates for local office were acquainting us with their campaigns and their fitness for the various offices they were running for. Here we are, basically holding a town meeting, being serious about evaluating people we are about to vote into various offices, attending to our basic civic responsibilities . . . while a stupid woman with a bullhorn shouts irrelevant insults through the hedge. I did stand up in a gap between the bushes and waved cheerfully at her companion with a video camera in front of her face, and Blondie wrote “Hi, Mom!” in her palm with a Sharpie and waved also.

So, they couldn’t be bothered to come to the Tea Party rally – which was free and open to the public, or to the Global Warming talk, which also was free, etc., and ask questions, and enter into a real debate, and take part in a fairly serious encounter with people who are asking us all to vote for them . . . but still preferred to stand on the sidewalk and screech like howler monkeys. As Blondie said at the time, “Mom, sometimes you can’t fix stupid.”

And the funniest part? I went a googling here and there, and found some of their own videos and websites – and this little event was put together in part by what appears to be a joint effort of activists from San Antonio and Boerne (all thirty of them or so), some of whom are calling themselves “The Coffee Party.” No, I didn’t make that up. They have a website and all, with a nicely designed logo and some facebook meet-ups, although the nationwide chapters still seem pretty thin on the ground. I am thinking that I have probably found the follow-on to last week’s little patch of Astroturf, “The Tea Party is Over.”

Well, that’s me – life in the fast lane, as it is, what with fifteen hours a week of soul-numbing drudgery at the call center, or as I refer to it “the Hellhole” (all apologies to anyone who now has the earworm from This Is Spinal Tap now firmly stuck in their consciousness for the rest of the day. No really, I live to serve.)

BTW, I can’t see my way to quitting, just yet. As horrendous as working there is – it’s reliable. Unless and until the monthly royalty checks for the Adelsverein Trilogy and Truckee about double and do so on a reliable, month to month basis. I can’t afford to slice up my nasty plastic employee badge and walk away – as tempting as the thought might be. With the economy apparently circling the drain and certain large corporations getting ready to tank worse than the Titanic … well, a regular job, however unpleasant, is not to be sneezed at. And as I keep reminding myself – it’s only fifteen hours a week.

But it’s fifteen hours away from time I can work on Watercress Press stuff – I have a horrendously complicated memoir, two huge binders full of not-very-well-organized pages (typewritten, mercifully) to work on … and now and again I have a mad wish to squeeze out another couple of hours to continue on the next book, or to market the current lot a little more vigorously. I have a book-club meeting in Beeville on Monday, and a pair of events in July in Fredericksburg … but I can’t even begin to think about that because of the most horrendously looming project…

Tea Party Hearty.

The San Antonio 4th of July Tea Party is going to be at the Rio Cibolo Ranch, a little east of town on IH-10 … and all of us who worked on the Tea Party on Tax Day, have been looking around in the last couple of weeks to try and figure out – well, not how could we top it, but at least equal it. Or come close to equaling it, and yes, we have spent hours and evenings in meetings working on this; how to re-organize the website, how to re-do our media efforts, how to reach out to the local media (and grab them by the short-n-curlies), and how to even begin to keep level of events and the proposed legislation that looks to be fair raining down upon us. It looks to be, sometimes, as if there is a sort of legislative hailstorm of laws approaching us – laws considered at every level, laws now in committee, under consideration, or proposed, each one more potentially damaging than the other, each one seemingly carefully crafted to favor someone involved, to the detriment of someone else, each of them with an apparently harmless intent, but with a vicious sting buried within it’s heart. Like that ghastly CPSIA law… where to start? I had the feeling three or four years ago that there was something malign lurking, some deadly danger, but I didn’t think it would be our republic being nibbled to death by ducks, or at least, some ghastly, self-serving political class of elected aristocrats, out to better themselves at the expense of the nation.

Oh, yeah – and the US is not a Muslim nation. Just thought I’d throw that in. Jeese, who is writing and fact-checking the Obaminator’s speeches these days? What desperately awful institute of learning did they pass through – and I use the word in the sense of fecal matter passing through an intestine. Like I am going to sit by and watch my country turned into something like Argentina under Juan Peron, while the old-line media establishment ooohs and ahhhs. Have a nice weekend – think of the musical that will be made of this in a couple of decades.

26. April 2009 · Comments Off on Party Hearty in San Antonio, Part the Third · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, Local, Politics, Tea Time, Veteran's Affairs

We had basically concluded that Alamo Plaza would be impossible to get as a venue site; perhaps Fox would be able to gain permission to broadcast from there, but our Tea Party would probably be best held nearby, perhaps at Alamo Stadium. We were checking out other urban venues as well, but when Robin announced this and explained some of the difficulties in securing the Plaza, an attendee at the open meeting leaped up and challenged him; Hadn’t we even tried? Who had we talked to, in securing permits – didn’t we even KNOW anyone? This was Matthew P., who insisted forcefully that it was quite possible, and that he could do it. Matthew looks a bit like General Grant on one of his dyspeptic days. But he has all of Grant’s iron stubborness; he was all for the Tea Party, and all for having it on Alamo Plaza, and he knew just the people to talk too. So we kept his name and telephone number, and Robin told him to go for it, and to coordinate with another key volunteer, Eric G., the lawyer better known among us as The Other Eric. In the mean time, Eric A., the video producer had another stroke of genius – as many of the volunteers on the committee would meet him on Alamo Plaza Monday morning, and he would do a quick guerrilla shoot of us inviting Glenn Beck to come to our Tea Party – it turned out that this was not needed at all, as it appeared that Glenn Beck committed himself that morning to coming to San Antonio.

And by Friday, April 3rd, we got the word from Matthew P. and Eric G. that the miracle was done; we had secured the Plaza – with about a week and a half to go until the Tea Party. Matthew P. would coordinate between the City of San Antonio and the Fox people, Eric G. would handle all the considerable legal stuff … and Dee M. and Jerry H. would manage fund-raising. Keep it in mind that most of us only met face to face for the first time around the last of March and the beginning of February.

We had barely enough time to take in this news – ten days to sort out all the logistics, which were enormous, and to raise the funds to pay for the necessities. I think it was that Friday morning that I spent about an hour on the phone with a woman who had organized many such events downtown. She couldn’t be involved to any extent in the Tea Party, because of her own full-time job, but she expounded forcefully on several aspects that we had never considered until that moment: barricades, and security, crowd control, securing places to park jumbotrons, which would mean another permit, of security badges for our personnel, of me as the media representative being constantly available to the minions of the press. I took notes, lots of notes, and went to Robin over the weekend with them; we needed someone dedicated to event-planning, someone who had done massive events. I had only done one, years before, and in the military at that, and with six months to pull it off. I’d be out of my depth on that and knew it.

But among us, we already had a volunteer, Diane E. who had set up a sign-painting party that very weekend – she’s a local realtor and by good fortune, had done some big golfing events… which involved the media, set-up, security, crowds – the whole ball o’wax. So Diane was in play as the overall event organizer, working with Matthew. We had a couple of epic telephone conference calls during that week, which clocked in at well over two hours, and another set of meetings on Palm Sunday, which also went on for hours; who to have as master of ceremonies, who to have as speakers besides Glenn Beck… absolutely no politicians, we had agreed from the start. Not even as VIPs attending, although they were welcome to come and attend, and listen like everyone else.

The financial crunch was alleviated somewhat, by Glenn Beck offering to host a fund-raising luncheon for us at the Menger Hotel on the day of the Tea Party. He had already withdrawn as keynote speaker for our event – which, upon consideration was probably a good thing. This was supposed to be about us, not about celebrities. He would open the event, and then give over to our program of local speakers – and this was when Ted Nugent got into the picture; coming to perform the National Anthem. Just how cool was that going to be? In that case we could handle another celebrity, but the line on politicians was set in cement, no matter how much they asked. By this time, we had all begin to sense that we were riding a wave – best not to look down, just keep going forward.

At the Palm Sunday meeting, we gained another key volunteer – to oversee security. Early on, we had a pair of volunteers who worked in law enforcement, but the way that this event was growing, we knew very well that we would need someone with command experience, and more than that – command experience at large events … and out of the blue, another volunteer, Dennis O., who was an acquaintance of Robin’s. Dennis spent some time talking to me after the meeting, Robin being tied up talking to other people. After my educational lecture from the experienced organizer-of-events, someone like Dennis seemed to have the right skill set; retired LAPD at a fairly high level. He was brought in, just in the nick of time, for a final executive meeting on Easter Saturday.

I would guess that at least part of the reason that we came together so quickly is that San Antonio is a small town cunningly disguised as a large city, and so all of us brought our ready-made acquaintance-network into the mix – and in some cases a pretty fair idea of their skill-set. It turned out that a lot of our networks overlapped and intertangled. Robin knew me through blogging, and knew Dennis through his church; Matthew turned out to also know the lady who gave me the quick course in event-planning, who also is acquainted with Diane… and as it turned out I had written about Matthew’s g-g-g-grandfather in Book Two of Adelsverein; the Fredericksburg school-master Louis Scheutze, who was murdered by the Hanging Band during the Civil War. Topping that off, the publisher of a local construction newsletter who came to help in the newsroom may be a distant cousin of Matthew’s. I am fairly sure if I asked other members of the planning committee about their own networks, it would turn out that we were pretty thickly connected already, through friends and friends of friends and various civic organizations.

(Next – riding the wave at the San Antonio Tea Party, and why Ted Nugent is so darned popular.)

16. April 2009 · Comments Off on Tea Party: San Antonio · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, Tea Time, That's Entertainment!, Veteran's Affairs, World

This is the speech that I gave last night at the San Antonio Tea Party rally. I was sort of squeezed in between various celebrities, local and national. My job – to set the scene. I had one of those stupid hand-held mikes, which was very nice for Ted Nugent, doing one of his restless and kinetic rants, but it was a b**ch for me to handle it with one hand and keep my script laid flat with the other, against an intermittent breeze . Quite a lot of people didn’t hear me clearly, I’m afraid. Sorry, all. I thought there was a tech, minding the audio board. Anyway, this is what I said. I have no idea how it all looked – I didn’t dare look towards the jumbotron.

Hullo – and thank you all for coming to our modest little tea party in the heart of San Antonio! (pause for laughter) First of all – are we having a wonderful time? Fiesta San Antonio begins tomorrow, so we have been telling everyone to come for the Tea Party and stay for Fiesta. First though, I would like to thank everyone who took that extra effort, and worked very hard to make this particular place – this very special place – available to us, on very short notice. We would like to thank the ladies and gentlemen of the various departments of the City of San Antonio, and acknowledge the graciousness shown us by the members of the Fiesta Commission! Thank you, City of San Antonio!

Yes, this is a very special and significant place for our Tea Party – although most visitors, upon seeing it for the first time are surprised, because it looks so very small – nothing like the way appears in all the movies. San Antonio de Valero… so called ‘the Alamo’ for the cottonwood trees that grow wherever there is plenty of water in otherwise dry country. And there were cottonwoods nearby then, enough that the soldiers of Spain who set up a garrison in this old mission called it so, after those trees. Imagine – if you can – how this place would have looked, then! Just… imagine.

Close your eyes, and if you can, banish the sight of all these tall modern glass buildings, and those rambling beaux-arts storefronts, while I paint a word-picture for you. Go back… go back a hundred and seventy three years. The actual town of San Antonio is now some little distance away, a huddle of adobe and stucco walls around the tower of San Fernando.
The air smells of wood-smoke and cooking, of sweat and horses, and spent black-power. We are in a sprawling compound of long low buildings, a single room deep, with tiny windows, and thick walls. Some of these have flat rooftops, others with shallow peaked roofs. Many buildings have their inside walls razed – others have been filled with rubble and dirt to make cannon-mounts. The gaps between them are filled by palisades of earth, tight-packed and reinforced with lengths of wood, and tangles made of sharpened tree branches. All of this work has been done painfully, by hand and with axes, picks, shovels and buckets. The chapel – of all of these the tallest, and the strongest – is also roofless. Another earth ramp has been built up, inside; to serve as yet one more cannon-mount. This place has become a fortress, and last defense, surrounded by an overwhelming enemy force, a large army of over two thousand men, outnumbering bare two hundred or so defenders by over 10 to 1. This enemy army…, trained…, hardened and disciplined, is well-equipped with cannon and ammunition, with cavalry and foot-soldiers alike. By the order of the enemy commander, a blood-red flag signifying no quarter to the defenders of this place has been flown from the tower of the San Fernando church.

The story is, that on the day that the last courier left the Alamo – a local man who knew the country well, mounted on a fast horse bearing away final letters and dispatches – one of the Texian commanders called together all his other officers and men. He was a relatively young man – William Barrett Travis, ambitious and to be honest, a bit full of himself. I rather think he might have struck some of his contemporaries as a bit insufferable – but he could write. He could write, write words that leap off the page in letters of fire and blood, which glow in the darkness like a distant bonfire.

He was in charge because of one of those turns which bedevil the plans of men. His co-commander, James Bowie was deathly ill… ironic, because he was the one with a reputation as a fighter and a leader. Bowie was seen by his enemies – of which there were many – as a violent scoundrel, with a reputation for bare-knuckle brawling, for land speculation and shady dealing. And of the third leader – one David Crockett, celebrity frontiersman and former Congressman, he did not claim any rank at all, although he led a party of Tennessee friends and comrades. He had arrived here, almost by accident. Of all of the leadership triad, I think he was perhaps the most amiable, the best and easiest-tempered of company. Of all those others, who had a stark choice put before them on that very last day, that day when it was still possible to leave and live… most of them were ordinary men, citizens of various communities and colonies in Texas, wanderers from farther afield – afterwards, it would become clear that only a bare half-dozen were born in Texas.

It is a vivid picture in my mind, of what happened when a young lawyer turned soldier stepped out in front of his rag-tag crew. Legends have that Colonel Travis drew his sword – that weapon which marked an officer, and marked a line in the dust at his feet and said “Who will follow me, over that line?” It was a stark choice put before them all. Here is the line; swear by stepping over it, that you will hold fast to your comrades and to Texas, all you volunteer amateur soldiers. Make a considered and rational choice – not in the heat of the fray, but in the calm before the siege tightens around these crumbling walls. No crazy-brave impulse in the thick of it, with no time to do anything but react. Stay put, and choose to live, or step over it and choose to go down fighting in the outpost you have claimed for your own.
The legend continues – all but perhaps one crossed the line, James Bowie being so ill that he had to be carried over it by his friends. It was a choice of cold courage, and that is why it stays with us. These men all chose to step across Colonel Travis’ line. Some had decided on their own to come here, others had been tasked by their superiors… and others were present by mere chance. They could have chosen freely to leave. But they all stayed, being convinced that they ought to take a stand … that something ought to be done.

Imagine. Imagine the men who came here, who made that choice, who had the cold courage to step over a line drawn in the dust at their feet.

They were animated by the conviction that they were citizens, that it was their right – and their responsibility to have a say in their own governance. They were not subjects, expected to submit without a murmur to the demands of a remote and arbitrary government. They did not bow to kings, aristocrats, or bureaucrats in fine-tailored coats, looking to impose taxes on this or that, and demanding interference in every aspect of their lives. They were citizens, ordinary people – with muddled and sometimes contradictory motives and causes, fractious and contentious, just as we are. But in the end, they were united in their determination to take a stand – a gallant stand against forces that seemed quite overwhelming.

This evening, we also have come to this place, this very place – as is our right as citizens and taxpayers, to speak of our unhappiness to our government in a voice that cannot be ignored any longer. This is our right. Our duty… and our stand.

(Afterwards, I sat on some of the leftover stage platforms from the Glenn Beck program and talked to Blondie, one of the other executive committee members, and the husband of another. The husband had run a pizza place in New York, and he and Blondie swapped recipes and techniques for making calzones. For a bit, we were also chatting with Janine Turner, and her daughter, who had also come to the Tea Party luncheon with Glenn Beck, and was a last-minute addition to the program. Lest you think I have gone all celebrity ga-ga, I haven’t… it’s just that she was a a very charming and unpretentious person, and it was a crowd of us, waiting our turn to speak, or hanging around in the back-stage area with the spouses and friends, and a bunch of roadies knocking down the Glenn Beck set, and security types with earphones all murmuring into their sleeves, all fenced around with industrial yellow barricades. More to tell in the next installment… like, why I know now how Ted Nugent is so popular. And how a bunch of uninvolved, un-politically connected citizens managed to pull off a huge Tea Party rally in about ten days flat.)

16. April 2009 · Comments Off on Not Quite Up to This Standard, But It WAS a Heck of a Party · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, Politics, Tea Time, Veteran's Affairs

(Thought all the Trek fans out there would appreciate this version… detailed after-action post to follow.)