Tag Archives: Houston Texas

Reach for the sky

My soaring nopal.

I’VE LONG been a desert fan and the cacti that come with it. There is something spiritual about a desert. The same can be said about rainforests, the desert’s alter ego.

When I lived in Houston, one of my favorite road trips took me west. You didn’t have to go far before the environment turned dry, and nopal cacti appeared naturally along the highways. In spring they sprouted red flowers.

Mexicans are fond of eating nopal. I don’t share this love. Nopal is too much like okra, turning slimy when cooked.

So I just admire the appearance, and I don’t have to drive west to see nopal. I need only to step into the yard where I have about the tallest nopal I’ve ever seen.

I shot the above photo with a zoom lens. That’s just the noggin of my nopal. It soars 18 feet into the air.

I measured, more or less.

It was just two of those paddles when I planted it at least a decade ago, having no idea what I was getting into.

My second ex-wife is something called a Master Gardener. You get that title from the County Extension Service after taking an amount of training on such things.

While I am the yard chief here at the Hacienda, she was the garden honcho where we lived together in Houston.

I often encouraged her to plant bougainvillea. She never did. Perhaps it was out of pure spite. I hope not. But she did the right thing. I see that now.

Bougainvilleas are beautiful. They also sport thorns that would fill the most vicious rosebush with envy.

Our bougainvillea likely tops out at 20 feet, and even more from left to right. It is held in place by steel chains. The plant never stops growing, both upward and outward.

I water the nopal because I don’t want it to fall down. I never water the bougainvillea because I want it to calm down.

Springtime is just getting started.

My soaring bougainvillea.

 

 

Change of scenery

houston
Where I lived for 15 years. Houston.
street
Where I’ve lived for 17 years.

THE FIRST five years of my life, I resided in the countryside, a farm not far from Sylvester, Georgia.

The latest census puts Sylvester’s population at about 6,000 souls. Lord knows what it was in the late 1940s when I was toddling around there in the dirt.

My current mountaintop pueblo is home to about 80,000 folks, dwarfing the population of Sylvester, but 80,000 is a far cry from the 6 million you’ll find in Houston’s metropolitan area or even the 2 million in the city itself.

Before moving to my mountaintop, Houston was where I lived and worked. I don’t work anymore unless you count pulling weeds and watering veranda potted plants.

I play and relax.

The switch from Houston to this mountaintop pueblo was a drastic move. I’m a big-city boy. And my child bride is a big-city girl. Why are we here?

Lack of communication.

One morning, about two years after constructing and moving into the Hacienda, we were sitting on the veranda in our wicker rockers, talking. We discovered that we’d both have preferred settling in a big city.

How did we not know this? Answer: I assumed she wanted to live here because relatives live here, especially her favorite sister. She assumed I wanted to live here because I was here and had moved here intentionally.

But we never discussed it specifically. Dumb, huh?

Why not sell the Hacienda and move elsewhere? Actually, about that time, I did advertise it online, and got an offer for twice what we had paid to build this place.

But I chickened out because I love our home, and there is a large city nearby, the capital down the mountainside. But, aside from weekly Costco shopping jaunts, we rarely go there.

We’ve become small-city folks. But every time I see a photo of Houston, I sigh. And she likely does the same when we make our twice-a-year visits to Mexico City, which is where she lived when I found her.

But we can stand in the yard on dark nights and see stars from horizon to horizon. And I never heard roosters at dawn or burros anytime in Houston.

Just occasional gunfire.

* * * *

(Note: We’ll be home this afternoon from San Miguel de Allende where we fled on Sunday to avoid the worst of Carnival in our hardscrabble neighborhood.)

Sweeping the roof

roof
Top of the Hacienda. Two chimneys, solar water heater, water tank.

NOBODY SWEPT the roof when I was a child in Jacksonville, Florida, certainly not my father who never showed any interest in home maintenance.

He focused on just three things: whisky, poetry and my mother, not necessarily in that order, but maybe.

It’s a good thing the Florida roof required no maintenance from my father. He likely would have stumbled off anyway. The flat roof was asphalt and gravel.

You don’t put a man focused on whisky and poetry atop a roof with no railings.

Years later, I bought my first house. That was 1986 in Houston, Texas. My second ex-wife still lives there, but let us not digress toward matrimonial horror. The roof was a gritty, sheet material that resembled glorified tar paper.

For mostly the same reasons that my father ignored his roof, I ignored mine, though I never paid attention to poetry.

And now I’m in just the third home of my life that isn’t a rental. The roof is concrete, and it has a gentle incline so it doesn’t collect water in the rainy season.

The only maintenance I give it is a yearly sweep, and I did that today, which inspired this information going your way.

While up there, via the circular staircase, I also wiped down the glass rods on the solar water heater. And I admired the view, which is spectacular, and I took this photo.

The roof is on its own until next year.

Living with tourists

scene
I shot this photo on a sunny day recently.

MUCH OF MY life has been spent surrounded by tourists. There was the 18 years in New Orleans, and now the 17 years in my Mexican mountain town.

It adds up to about half my life. The rest of my adult life was spent almost entirely in Houston, Texas, which is also a swell place to live, or it was when I left.

Not too touristy though.

I also lived almost almost two years in San Juan, Puerto Rico, which is so touristy that cruise ships harbor there.

People come to tourist towns, look around, and say, boy, it must be great to live here. Guess what? It is.

I landed in New Orleans by pure happenstance. But I came to my mountain town deliberately. I will die here.

Surrounded by tourists.

The file man

I’VE MAINTAINED a file cabinet for decades. I find filing satisfying. When I left Houston, I culled wildly, keeping just the bare bones, which I packed over the Rio Bravo.

new-imageI bought a new file cabinet, resuming the habit.

I have insurance files (one for homes, one for cars), bank files (two banks), investment files, three house files (two here, one in Mexico City), receipt file, tourism file, health file, and many more.

But my favorite is the Miscellaneous File where I keep stuff that doesn’t belong elsewhere. Yesterday, killing time at home due to having a cold, I opened Miscellaneous.

It’s a trip down Memory Lane.

  1. Press passes with mug shots. One from my first job, New Orleans. I’m clean-shaven, 24 years old, in a dress shirt and tie. Another for the San Juan Star. I’m 30, My collar is open, and I have Fu Manchu mustache. The third, Houston Chronicle, age 39, shows me in a dress shirt and tie but with the full black beard of a Hells Angel.
  2. Expired passports. Two U.S. and one Mexican. The older U.S. passport shows me in eyeglasses. That’s a no-no now. Both Mexican and U.S. passports were renewed this year, likely for the last time. I’m not immortal.
  3. Air Force shoulder patch. It’s a large circle that says F-106 Dart. The Delta Dart was an interceptor aircraft, and I maintained survival-equipment pods in the ejection seats. Had I not screwed up so much of my youth, I would have been flying the F-106 instead.
  4. A bookmark. On textured blue paper and inscribed with a haiku of my father’s: cajun cabin/the aroma of hot gumbo/floats on the bayou. His name, dates, and the phrase American Haiku Master, which he was.
  5. Air Force discharge. Two versions. One suitable for framing, and the other with dates and mumbo-jumbo.
  6. new-imageA watercolor sketch. Of me, done by local artist Arturo Solis. He just walked over and handed it to me one day years ago while I was on the plaza enjoying a cafecito. We have a number of his works hanging on our walls.
  7. Drug formula. For committing suicide. You never know when it may come in handy. The Hemingway method is messy. Anyway, I don’t own a shotgun.
  8. Texas driver’s license. I arrived with it. It expired six years later, and I never renewed. My DL now is Mexican.
  9. Solo certificate. On the 28th day of June, 1976, I took off alone and returned to the New Orleans Lakefront Airport in a Cessna 152. Suitable for framing. I don’t fly anymore.
  10. A love note. From my wife on my birthday in 2003. We had been married almost 18 months.
  11. Final electric bill. Houston, dated Jan. 8-12, 2000. Amount: $86.02 for just four days 16 years ago. That’s approximately what I pay now in a year at the Hacienda.
  12. Certification card. International Bartending Institute. Dated May 7, 1982. I am a certified bartender. Whoopee!
  13. Flying license. I became a pilot of small planes on Oct. 26, 1976. The license never expires. You do have to renew your medical certificate, however. The last medical expired June 1, 1978. There’s also a radio permit in the envelope.
  14. Cremation certificate. My mother was cremated on Jan. 8, 2009, at Atlanta Crematory Inc. in Stone Mountain, Georgia. She had made it to age 90.
  15. Divorce papers. I had them in this file until fairly recently, but I tossed them into the trash. Two divorces. Two utterly miserable experiences that I’ll never repeat. I would prefer the Hemingway solution.

If you got all the way down here, you deserve a Gold Medal. I also have a Letters file.

Maybe I’ll spill that here some day. That’s where the love notes are stored. I love love letters.

Embracing mortality

barrow

LONG BEFORE I even thought of moving to Mexico I was a fan of the Day of the Dead tradition.

A Catrina stood on my bathroom counter in Houston.

But that fascination played no role in my choice of a place to live. It was pure happenstance that I landed in one of Mexico’s major hot spots for the Day of the Dead.

Even more good luck has found me living within walking distance of a generally excellent cemetery to visit on the Big Night. Being within walking distance is important because the traffic here on this day is a nightmare.

So, after doing some chores in the morning, we had the Honda in the carport by noon, and did not drive outside again.

Around 5 we took a walk to the neighborhood plaza for the heck of it, and we sat on a steel bench. I shot the photo above of the man toting flowers to the nearby cemetery.

I then pointed the camera in the other direction. As you can see, we had the plaza to ourselves because all of our neighbors were decorating graves in the cemetery.

plaza

We’ve visited that cemetery most years on the night in question, and the experience has been variable. Sometimes it rains, making a muck of things.

Some years, TV news crews have showed up with bright lights. One year, the municipality installed a huge spotlight on a high pole at the entrance, spoiling the atmosphere.

That’s gone now.

But when it’s just right, it’s spectacular, a very moving and incredibly beautiful experience.

Last night was one of those nights.

We headed out just after 7 because night had fallen. We walked the two blocks to the plaza, which we crossed diagonally. We continued two more blocks.

We crossed over the highway via a pedestrian walkway and looked down at the bumper-to-bumper traffic of clueless visitors heading elsewhere. Just a short walk farther was our huge neighborhood burial ground.

I did not take a photo because thousands of other people have already done it for me. Here is one.

As always, my child bride had built an altar in our living room. I photographed that later with my Fujifilm camera with no flash and with the living room lights off.

We have lots of deceased on my wife’s side due to the large family and unexpected deaths. Her mother died at 31. Two brothers were murdered in unrelated incidents.

(Note to my daughter: Your paternal grandmother and great-grandparents rest among the altar crowd. It’s a pity you’ve never come to visit. You’d love it.)

altar

Crooks, cash, cars

NEVER A DULL moment here. I offer examples:

Three armed nitwits decided to rob a bus heading north from Mexico City to the burg of Pachuca.  They boarded as passengers but soon revealed their evil intentions.

One of the geniuses fired a bullet upward to scare the passengers. The bullet bounced off the roof and killed one of the other bandidos. In the ensuing confusion, passengers grabbed a surviving genius and beat him to death.

Passengers held the third genius for police.

I love this sort of yarn. You can read details right here.

But, really, I can’t stop laughing.

* * * *

Moving away from crime, let’s look at banking.

Up until last year a bit over half of Mexican adults had no bank account. But in the last year that percentage has risen a nice 12 percent. Credit card use is up too, a mixed blessing.

I find this encouraging — that we are less inclined to keep our cash under the mattress.

You can read details right here.

I have accounts at two Mexican banks, and both include credit cards. I no longer have a U.S. bank account nor U.S. credit cards. Obama’s boys screwed that up for me.

* * * *

One of Mexico’s most popular cars will go out of existence around 2019. The Nissan Tsuru.

Mexico is finally getting serious about safety standards. Also feeling the axe will be the Chevrolet Aveo and Matiz, the Nissan Tiida and the Volkswagen Gol.

But it’s the Tsuru that will be most missed. It is everywhere, especially in taxi fleets. Before we bought my wife’s Nissan March two years ago, we considered a Tsuru but decided against it specifically for the safety factors.

You can read more about the changes right here.

The never-changing Tsuru bears a remarkable resemblance to the Toyota Corolla I owned in Houston. Why is that?

End of spring

abel
Abel at work, pushing my lawnmower.

IT’S OVER. Spring has gone, and summer has begun.

I know it’s not the official end of spring, but we march to a different seasonal drummer at the Hacienda.

When Abel the Deadpan Gardener (and neighbor) mows the lawn for the first time, it means summer has started, and it has. The summer rains are easing in. Sweet.*

Abel mowed the lawn yesterday.

Another sign of spring is that two bunches of lily bulbs beneath the ground in what I call the Willy-Nilly Zone** push their noggins above the dirt.

I often think of my second ex-wife when I survey our Hacienda domain. She’s a gardening fanatic and a certified “Master Gardener” via a course offered by the county extension service in Houston. Her yard is nice by local standards.

I see it via Google Street View. It pales, however, in comparison to the Hacienda spread, and I’m not a gardener, neither certified nor master. I’m a rank, lazy amateur.

Our yard tends to itself and only requires stern discipline. This year, more than ever before, I’ve eliminated lots of greenery because it was getting out of hand, berserk actually.

I like the cleaner look. Some of the eliminated stuff was huge, all planted by my child bride who gleefully plants whatever and then goes on her merry way, leaving the fallout to me.

But summer is here. Rains will quickly increase until they become daily. Downtown streets will flood most afternoons. The air will be cool, and the nights romantic.

Philodendron in its niche. Trimmed by me. About five feet high.

* * * *

* I won’t think it’s sweet in waterlogged October. I’ll consider it a curse, but that’s for later.

** The Willy-Nilly Zone wraps itself around the two exterior sides of the downstairs veranda. It’s hemmed in by the Romance Sidewalk. It’s a happy zone for plants because, I think, the proximity to the house reduces cold in winter. In modern parlance, it’s a “safe space” for greenery. Plants are never offended in the Willy-Nilly Zone.

Anarchy lovers

dennis_pragerI FIRST ENCOUNTERED Dennis Prager on his television show in the early 1990s when I lived in Houston. Now, however, I keep in touch via his online columns.

Prager is sober and perceptive with a laser-like consistency.

An April 26 column headlined Why the Left Loathes Western Civilization is particularly excellent. You are aware, I hope, that the left does indeed loathe Western Civilization.

As Prager mentions, Stanford University students recently voted down, 1,992 to 347, a proposal to require — as it did until the 1980s — a survey course on Western Civilization.

This is lamentable. It is today’s Democrat Party.

Prager says the left loathes Western Civilization because the left hates standards, rules to play by, which is the very essence of any civilization, the opposite being anarchy.

Leftists dislike standards because with standards comes judgment, and leftists don’t want to be judged. Rules of right and wrong cramp their styles.

They prefer anarchy. In theory, at least. It’s one of those things that has a libertine appeal until it punches you in the face.

Those who believe in nothing are very, very jealous and angry with those who believe in something. — Dennis Prager.