& Raymond Chandler, the master metaphor-maker of modern fiction, once had his famous detective Phillip Marlow explain that “I belonged in Idle Valley like a pearl onion on a banana split.”
In honor of Chandler, and in honor of highschool fiction writers who follow, sort of, in Chandler’s footsteps, Yr’s Truly presents:
The Top Ten 2014 Raymond Chandler Pearl Onion Awards
For, Like, Highschoolers Who, Like, At Least Try…
10. She was like a magnet: Attractive from the back, repulsive from the front.”
9. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli and he was room temperature Canadian beef.
8. She had him like a toenail stuck in a shag carpet.
7. When she tried to sing, it sounded like a walrus giving birth to farm equipment.
6. Their love burned with the fiery intensity of a urinary tract infection.
5. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes before it throws up.
4. Joy fills her heart like a silent but deadly fart fills a room with no windows.
3.Her eyes were like the stars, not because they twinkle, but because they were so far apart.
2. Her eyes twinkled, like the moustache of a man with a cold.
And, the Number One Raymond Chandler Pearl Onion Award for, Like, Highschoolers Who, Like, At Least, Try…
1. The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.
& Yesterday, I was going to go to an auction. Instead I went to a funeral.
Well, it wasn’t a funeral in the sense you might think. It didn’t have all of those trappings like organs and pulpits and flowers and a front row filled with family mourners clutching hastily printed programs bearing a nice picture of the newly departed. It was a funeral perfectly suited to the senses of an old Abiquiu cowboy named Ronnie Patton.
The “services,” should we call them that, were in Ronnie Patton’s ‘church’ — an old adobe ranch house at the edge of a broad pasture of long-used land where horses now graze contentedly, their heavy hooves occasionally churning up a thousand-year-old shard of Pueblo pottery. It wasn’t Ronnie’s house or his ranchland, mind you. It’s now owned by Mickey Simmons and his wife, Sharon Burkard. But over the years of working there, Ronnie’s soul was ground into its soil, right in there with the pot shards. Now, his ashes rest there.
Ronnie Patton was a paradox. He lived in a simple house he’d built on a small piece of land not far from the bank of the Rio Chama. Among his neighbors were the famous and influential and wealthy – Shirley McClain and Marsha Mason, the movie stars; Helen Hunt and other heirs and heiresses to fortune; barons of big business and the dot-com revolution; artists, authors, poets, potters, media personalities and others of varying degrees of often self-inflicted importance and notoriety. It is probably more precise to say that they, his neighbors, are the paradox, but that’s another story for another time.
Ronnie Patton was a man of no pretension. Like too many of the old timers who are dying these days around here, I didn’t know him well and I should have made the time to know him better. I’m sorry to say that, because he was another of those people we should learn from, those of a vanishing breed who lived a life of simplicity in an increasingly confusing world, and enjoyed it.
His home sat on a small piece of land he’d earned with his hands – stringing fence, drilling wells, moving cattle, fixing tractors, building sheds, laying pipe, cutting wood – hands so calloused, it was said, he could take the edges off a rough-cut 2-by-4 — without sandpaper. He had no wife, no children, no teevee, seven fingers (or was it six?) and fewer teeth. His possessions were plaid shirts, frayed jackets and a butt-sculpted saddle, a once-blue pickup truck, his ham radio and an uncounted number of cowboy hats, all of them reshaped by the crunch of tractor tires, the weight of horses’ hooves or the general ravages of Time. And he enjoyed it — you could tell that by the always-crinkled smile under his handlebar mustache and the singsong lilt in his voice when he proudly read his cowboy poetry.
He’d worked the land for a number of bosses in Rio Arriba and Santa Fe Counties since the late 60s, soon after he’d brought home his medals for a job well done as a radioman on a carrier off the coast of Vietnam. Instead of going back to his native Texas, he drifted into the arroyos of northern New Mexico, and hooked on with a land baron named Alva Simpson.
Job title: Cowboy.
Duties: Anything needed on 11,000 acres.
Equipment needed: Your strength and your wits.
And he enjoyed it, he must have. After all, he could have drifted off to somewhere else – he was accomplished in many ways – but he just hung around here for close to half a century, just being a cowboy.
Ronnie Lee Patton, 71, left us late in November, in a VA Hospital in Texas, where he’d gradually succumbed over the past few months to cancer. He’d been cared for by Texas kinfolks, those who he’d gone to visit, once a year at Christmas time, and who last weekend came back to thank his New Mexico family and bury his ashes. About 40 of us showed up – for tables loaded with food, a few prayers from a short preacher with a stout voice and a DVD slide show — Ronnie as a baby, a boy, a handsome sailor with a harmonica and hippie glasses, a well driller, a barn builder, a pipe layer, a motorcycle rider, a horseman and a beer drinker holding a hand-rolled stick of tobacco.
Of course there were stories to be told. Of the Navy days back in the 60s, when their huge carrier and a cruiser and a bunch of destroyers, dodging tiny, bobbing, wooden boats of Japanese fishermen, raced up through the narrow and deep Korea Strait on an ineffective errand to rescue the spy ship Pueblo from the clutches of the North Koreans (who, by the way, still have it.)
Of the movie days, and Ronnie’s life on the fringes of Hollywood, when he provided horses and tack and wagons, and even himself, to help tell film stories of New Mexico and the West – The Milagro Beanfield War, Lonesome Dove and several others. It was said Ronnie was a special breed of movie extra – no makeup necessary. “He always looked the part,” said one, “because he was the part.” The folks at Wrangler jeans thought the same; they once featured him in an ad. Not to say that his ‘character’ didn’t change: “Every time I saw him,” said one old Navy buddy, “he had less fingers and less teeth.”
Of Ronnie’s 26 years of every-Sunday visits to buddies who lived nearby, when they’d b.s. until the beer was gone, at which point Ronnie would say it was time to go. One day Ronnie walked out of the house after having had a few too many. He walked back in and announced, “I can’t go home.” What he didn’t say was that he’d backed up a little too far; the rear end of his truck was hanging off the edge of a nearby cliff. For 15 years after that, we were told, Ronnie always parked his truck very carefully upon arrival, with the front end pointing down the road.
Of his penchant for peanut butter and for lighthearted poetry, which he penned during those times alone in his tiny house, when he wasn’t cranking up his primary link to the outside world – his ham radio — to talk with old friends, or check in with other volunteers of the Santa Fe Amateur Radio Emergency Service.
And, finally, of his horse. A horse he’d raised from the time it was foaled, 40 years ago – maybe more. The mare had died, and Ronnie had fed the colt from a bottle. For his efforts, Simpson – who later deeded Ronnie his small homestead – gave him the horse. Ronnie named the horse General. General Patton.
For 34 years, Ronnie and General were a pair. Once, penned up in a corral at a movie location, General got some of his teeth kicked out. “I always thought it interesting,” said Simmons, that General and Ronnie were missing about the same number of teeth from about the same places in their mouths.”
After Simmons bought the spread a decade ago, General was allowed to stay. Every morning, when the horses would come up from the pasture, Ronnie would drop by to give General some sweet feed. One morning, Simmons said, General wasn’t with the others. He was then 34 years old, and Ronnie had an inkling. He asked Simmons if he would look for him, and drove away. Later that day, Simmons found General, his old head up above the grasstops, but unable to stand. He drove over to Ronnie’s, and they called the vet. When he arrived, the three of them drove into the pasture. They parked, and walked over to General as the vet prepared the lethal chemicals. Ronnie stroked General’s head for a few moments, said a few quiet words, and walked back to the truck.
From a distance, Ronnie watched as the needle went in to General’s neck. “Goodbye old boy,” Simmons heard him whisper.
“He was his baby,” Simmons said. “He loved that horse.”
At last weekend’s gathering in memory of Ronnie, there were a number of moments when grown men – big men, old men, young men – had to lower their heads and put their knuckles to the corners of their eyes, and the ladies held the tissues to their noses. The last of those moments came when everyone walked outside to stand around a small hole in the ground, listen to another prayer, and walk by to throw a handful of dirt onto the carefully placed box of Ronnie’s ashes. Then, as the shovels came out, and the hole began to be filled, somebody poured in the contents of a can of Coors Light. We all walked away from the fresh grave. Soon, I guess, there will be a marker. It will be right next to a bigger marker, one that is a bit weathered because it has been there awhile. It says, simply, “General.”
& Later that day, I dropped by the auction up in El Rito, and stopped at El Farolito for a burrito. Parked outside was a tractor. Inside, its owner — another of our neighbors who’s lived a long time off of this hard land — was just getting up to leave. I mentioned Ronnie’s memorial service. “Oh, I knew Ronnie Patton,” he said, putting on his own beat-up hat. “Yeah,” he nodded. “Now he was a cowboy.”
That’s about all Ronnie Patton would have needed to hear. He would have enjoyed it. [He also would enjoy it if you visit this link and listen to him reciting one of his poems — The Chinese Computer.]
& Off to slather some p-butter on a piece of toast and ponder some poetry, I’m outta here.
YOU ARE WELCOME & ENCOURAGED TO COMMENT BELOW.
DO NOT BE SHY. JUST BE CIVIL.
& There’s a blog item going around these days that’s getting a lot of attention from Democrats because it says that despite last month’s embarrassment at the national polls, all may not be lost. You read that right: Not lost. Matter of fact, it says the future is very bright for Dems, and very, very, very dark for Republicans. For them, says Chris Ladd, the election was a “prelude to disaster.”
It’s of particular interest because it is written by a … well, by a … Republican. A Texas Republican at that. A rational Texas Republican, if you can believe such organisms exist.
You can read all the whys and wherefores of Ladd’s rationale here — http://blog.chron.com/goplifer/2014/11/the-missing-story-of-the-2014-election/#28114101=0. Summed up, Ladd – a conservative columnist from down Houston way – says that Republicans don’t have a fart’s chance in a hurricane of holding on to their majority in the U.S. Senate two years from now, and their chances of winning the Presidency, in 2016 and far beyond, are only slightly better, maybe having the odds of a little stinker’s chance in a stiff breeze.
It all has to do with deepening Democratic power in the most populous states and the accelerating chokehold on the GOP by the wingnut fringe, which increasingly insists on candidates who cannot appeal to more moderate voters in swing states that determine winners and losers. If you buy his story, it adds up to long-term disaster for the Grand Old Party.
I’m not here to reprise Mr. Ladd’s arguments. You’ll find them interesting. But, as you read his blog item, pay attention to the wording and what’s between the lines. He seems to have abandoned Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment, once in vogue, which said “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”
Watch carefully as you scroll downward through his arguments, and you will find admissions and accusations that:
1. The Republican mantra that voting laws they have championed in the name of ‘voter integrity’ are, in fact, a “sham” attempt to suppress voters with “ridiculous and confusing” requirements. Hmmmm.
2. Despite Republican protestations of environmental concern, there are, indeed, “climate deniers” among Republicans in Congress. “One of the…most stubborn” of that breed, Lee (Cash-and-Carry) Terry, last month became only the second Nebraskan of his party to have been beaten by a Democrat in the last fifty years. Note the “one of the.” That says that yes, there are other stubborn Republican climate-deniers in Congress. Hmmmm.
3. Texas, which Mr. Ladd calls the “Republic of Baptistan,” is “militantly out of step with every national trend,” and “at the core of GOP dysfunction.” Forget his description of the people and the pious proclivities of the Lone Star State, this is an out-and-out confirmation that Republicanism in America is, indeed, not a functioning philosophy of governance. Hmmmm.
4. Control of Congress by Republicans – half of them hailing from the good-old-boy Johnny Reb Confederacy — promises to be “two years of intense, horrifying stupidity.” Not only that, but all those pompous patriots from Mr. Ladd’s party who have been claiming that “Benghazi was a legitimate scandal that reveals Obama’s real plans for America” are, well, idiots. Read closely. That’s what he says. Hmmmm.
& Well, the Dems have been pounded into pulp, the Republicans will have control of Congress for the next two years and Obama will have the veto pen.
At least the growing dysfunction in Washington will be simpler to understand — it’ll be Obama down at the White House against the Republicans on Capitol Hill. No finalists left standing in this war to define the American soul. Will it be one of enlightened progress or creepy conservatism? Will it once again blaze a fresh trail into the future, or be content to rest, fat as a croaking frog, on its molding lilypad of laurels?
Will Washington witness an exchange of howitzers for the next two years – or will this madness subside into a moderately meaningful dialog? Oh, what am I saying? Moderate? Meaningful? With Mitch McConnell sitting as super-Stentor of the Senate? With Ted Cruz and Rand Paul slinking around in the cloakrooms vying for leadership of the looney factions? With a President, who will lamely duckwalk through his not-so-grand finale, valiantly but vainly trying to reason with these salivating fools? Moderate? Meaningful? Please!
It will be humorous, to say the least, to watch the continuing internecine warfare among the scrabbling youngsters of the Grand Old Party, which is neither grand in scope nor old in philosophy, and not a party but a concoction of staunchly encamped and differing tribes of savages, conspiring in different languages and whetting their knives for back-stabbing and other non-Sunday sports. On one thing they will all agree: Whatever is wrong in the world – from Ebola to ISIS to Obamacare to missing Malaysian airplanes — is Hillary’s fault. On another, when they are explaining two years from now why nothing’s better – despite their control of Congress – they also will agree: It’s Hillary’s fault. And when the volcano erupts in Yellowstone, they also will agree: You guessed it. If not Hillary’s fault, then it’s her granddaughter’s.
Not to say the Democrats are any better. From a raucous faction of fist-pounding patriotic firebrands who historically forced their ideas and dreams and visions into the oft-reluctant American spirit, they have been cowed into a puny party pandering to the milquetoast minions of the politically correct. For leaders, they now offer us sheepdogs.
& Ok. The Hot Stove League has its fuel for a winter-long fire. Should Gordon have gone for home?
I really don’t have to tell you about this, do I? In two days, it’s been replayed on tv more times than I Love Lucy.
I’m speaking of that video clip of the last baserunner of the last game of the 2014 World Series. As it so often happens in this granddaddy and still reigning champion of sports-season finales, this one went to the bottom – the very bottom of the bottom — of the ninth inning of the final game.
Roll the setup:
Kauffman Field, Kansas City. Sweat City. On the field, the players’ attention is more focused than the day they looked at their first million-dollar check. In the stands, the popcorn hawkers are wishing they were selling Right Guard. They’d have made a killing.
The K.C. Royals, needing one run to tie and send the fans into delirium and the game into overtime (that’s a reference for football fans. You’re welcome.)
Two outs, K.C. superstar slugger Salvador Perez at the plate, digging in against San Francisco’s as-good-as-they-get, new-paradigm pitcher with the smooth-as-silk delivery and the stone-cold stare, Madison Bumgarner.
Man on third. A single ties the game; extra innings. An out ends all reason for living in the Midwest, and sets the West Coast on fire.
Wait a minute. Why’s the guy on third? Against Bumgarner? Madbum? He who’s given up only nine hits and one run to the Royals in 22 innings and already beaten them twice in this Series, once in a nine-inning complete-game shutout? Wha?
& To say the least, the stories of the bravery and risks in the midst of this medical fight against Ebola are riveting.
I’m reminded, in a way, of stories about war. Well-trained and briefed, armored and armed to withstand and fight the fiercest of assaults, warriors move forward to confront a determined, sneaky enemy, trusting that their precautions, their protection and their cunning will see them through to victory. But in wars the enemy also is cunning; there is always a risk.
And so it is today in this war against a determined, sneaky virus. It’s ravaging West Africa. It has sneaked into America. Despite guarded assurances that it will go no further, we still wonder, and hope it won’t. Everybody knows that in wars, things go wrong. We’ve got ample proof of that.
In this war, the generals are away from the front – back in the Center for Disease Control or research hospitals – seeking to understand the enemy and plotting its defeat. The colonels and majors are those behind the lines – providing new chemistry and hazmat suits and the means to distribute the weapons and sustenance to those on the front lines, the doctors and the nurses.
The captains and lieutenants are the doctors, fulfilling the same role as those who led their companies through German fusillades and up the cliff faces of France, or crept with their platoons — carefully, oh so carefully — into nests of enemies hidden in the jungles of Vietnam. We’ve honored them, over and over. And rightly so, just as we’ve honored the foot soldiers, those GI grunts who really win the wars.
In the war against this pestilence – as with any virulent, dangerous disease – the foot soldiers are the nurses. (more…)
& This had to happen. Among the current crop of made-for-Facebook people-for-peace posters circulating these days is this:
Yr’s Truly has been thinking about this idea – something like it, at least — for about 25 years. The idea wasn’t mine. It came from an adventuresome old Polish Jew who’d lived a life that Hemingway would have envied. His name was Sam Kaplan. I called him Sammy. By the time I’d met him, he’d been embroiled in two or three wars – he was even a partisan in those early-guerilla days of the Spanish Civil War. On other occasions, he spent a few days as a guest of Russian and Swiss jailers — problems at the borders, apparently. If you had to spend time locked up, he would say, do it in Switzerland. The cells are clean and the food is to die for. He’d lived a number of lives on a number of continents in the company of a number of lovely ladies, siring, with the help of a Mexican beauty, a couple of sons. He ended up in the Baja, down south of Tijuana in Rosarito Beach, running a little general store and an ice plant.
His idea was even better than the one in this poster. When he told me his idea, with a fanciful twinkle in his eye, I took it mostly as a joke. Now, I wonder, if it’s about the only good idea left.
“It’s simple,” Sammy would say after a sip of wine. “The United States moves Israel to the Baja.”
Yr’s Truly, also having had a few sips of wine, wasn’t taking notes, of course. And over the quarter-century of mulling Sammy’s idea, it has become infused with my own wanderings through the world of what-ifs. Sammy’s dead now – he faced the world for 89 years – and he’s not here to defend himself. He might not say it quite in the words that follow, but he’d probably sign his name to the thoughts, con mucho gusto.
& Up in Colorado this week, there’s been a lively discussion having to do with some starving horses. Perhaps you’ve heard about it. I’ve personally started to think of it as the Saga of Dual Peppy. I’d never heard of Dual Peppy until a friend emailed to suggest I take a look at a Facebook page, entitled “Justice for Dual Peppy.”
What’s a Dual Peppy, I wondered, and why does he, she or it need justice?
It didn’t take long to find out. The social media and Twitter and the internet in general, I assume, was electrified – at least among people of the horsey set – when some really grim news came out of a barn not far from Colorado Springs. A lady had followed her dog into the barn last Friday, and wished she hadn’t.
Inside, she came across piles of manure – three feet deep, she said – in which were standing eight emaciated horses, with ruts between their ribs. On the ground, she saw some tarps, with big lumps under them. She peeled one tarp back and found a rotting equine carcass, covered with lye, then more carcasses, and some bones. She called the sheriff. At first, the deputies didn’t seem too interested – they went out to take a look and said there was nothing they could do. The ribby horses that were alive, they decided, were not in “imminent danger.”
As happens these days, the story found its way onto the internet, where there was interest. A lot of it. Pictures were posted and somebody recognized one of the still-standing-but-obviously-starving steeds. It was Dual Peppy, a 22-year-old former champion cutting horse – known to many in the rodeo world as one of the best of all time. It was if Muhammad Ali was found waiting in line in a soup kitchen. But for dual Peppy, there wasn’t even soup.
& You’ve got to hand it to the New Mexico Livestock Board.
They can take a big pile of road apples and turn it into an even bigger pile of horse poop.
Loyal readers of this here Gazette will recall that Yr’s Truly has written before of the massive problem of unwanted horses in New Mexico, and the never-getting-anywhere debate over what to do with them. Keep ‘em and feed ‘em, says one faction. Slaughter ‘em and sell ‘em, says another.
In the midst of the circle-jerk debate-that-goes-nowhere, however, unwanted horses keep turning up. The inspectors of the NMLB are kept busy carrying out their state-mandated duties of picking up horses that are loose, or mistreated, or starving, or surrendered by down-and-out owners who can’t afford to buy milk for the kids, let alone hay for the horse.
And what do the inspectors of the NMLB do with the horses? Well, that’s where we start slogging into the mounting mountain of bureaucratic manure.
Let’s start with a law in New Mexico that says the government can’t donate property it owns. Sounds reasonable – that stops people from giving away county-owned Caterpillar bulldozers and things like that. You just walk into the guv’s mansion and start asking for the bathtub. See how far that gets you.
If you live by the letter of that law [in New Mexico, I know that’s a very strange concept], you can come to the conclusion that the horses seized by or signed over to the NMLB inspectors are the property of the state, especially if no one has claimed the horses within a five-day waiting period. Not many people come a-claiming. So, the inspector has picked up the poor thing, he’s advertised it on the NMLB’s website for the required five days, and there have been no claims. Now, the state is the proud owner of yet another starving-unwanted-mistreated equine bag of bones which, to the anally-inclined-narrow-minded among us, is no different than a bulldozer or a bathtub, and cannot be given away.
8/19, 8/20, 8/21 New Mexico ebola-testing updates: See below
& I try not to watch too much cable news these days. The only hope for optimism about the future of this country – the planet for that matter – is in not knowing what the hell is happening. I have a friend, an intelligent, well-versed-on-the-stuff-Back-East-think-tank-people-are-well-versed-on person, whose bottom line these days, is: “In the short term I’m pessimistic, but in the long-term, I’m optimistic.” I take him at his word, not knowing why. Avoiding tv news helps.
But: The tube in my kitchen occasionally is on, and I pass within earshot while moving between one chore and other, and something catches my attention. It was on early this morning (8/18) as I sat nursing coffee and perusing my online version of the Santa Fe New Mexican to learn if there was anything new on last weekend’s FBI arrest of our county’s sheriff on civil rights violation charges (that’s another story. Tune in later, please), and read that a young woman is in the hospital in Albuquerque, being tested for the ebola virus. (more…)