Alligators 'n Roadkill

Alligators 'n Roadkill
On The Road


Friday, December 22, 2017

How I became the Roadkill in Boerne, Texas

When I changed the name of this Blog a few years ago, I did not expect to do much more than see the occasional alligators (bits of rubber from truck tires strewn along the highway) and roadkill, as we make our way around Texas.  But, due to a leaking heater hose this past Wednesday (December 13), and the bad luck to choose the wrong automotive repair facility, I became a part of that roadkill.

We left Schertz early that morning, and for the first time, I tried a short cut, using FM3009/Natural Bridge Caverns Road, to TX1863, through the town of Bulverde, up to SH46, and over to Boerne.  Unfortunately, I drove a bit too fast near the Johnson Ranch Elementary School, in Bulverde, and was stopped by a local policeman.  He was super kind, as soon as he realized that steam was pouring out from under the hood of my minivan, and he used his flashlight to help me locate the source of a leak (heater hose), and suggested a couple of places to seek mechanical help.  He also - most kindly - let me off with a warning.

I was not able to find either of the shops he referred me to, and ended up turning into a place on the way out of Boerne, called Two Fat Guys Complete Automotive Service Center.  I knew, going in, that I was at the mercy of this place, and I have to now say that I pretty much allowed these two fat guys - neither of whom I met - to have their way with me.  The young man who provided the counter help to me was named Alex Minozevski, and a Val Minozevski also had something to do with the repairs on my minivan.

Basically, all they did was replace the two heater hoses, that were delivered to them by a Napa Auto Parts outlet.  They charged me $36.00 for their diagnostic, $282.53 for the two hoses, $49.16 for the parts to do a coolant flush, $60.00 labor for that flush, and another $60.00 labor for the replacing of the heater hoses.  Total:  $529.68

Featured prominently on their written estimate is their price guarantee:  "If you find a lower price on any of the services shown above, let us know and we will beat it!  Guaranteed."

Napa Auto Parts, in Boerne, over the phone quoted me $109.00 for the heater hoses.  Their web site offers these same hoses for $89.99:

So, why would you have such a guaranty, and then turn right around and gouge a customer to such a remarkable degree?!  I have called and talked to young Alex a couple of times, late this past week, and he did offer a credit of one hundred dollars, but when I followed up to ask when that would post, he said he could only pass this along to his boss, as he himself is not authorized to post credits.  And, yes, he is the one who posted the charges to my card.

Even the Cadillac dealer to whom I used to take my Caddy rolled the diagnostic cost into the final repair bill, and I think that charging me separate labor costs for the flush and the actual hose replacement is twice what should have been right and proper.

I spoke to Valerie at their main location on Monday morning, 12/18, and found her to be just as mealy mouthed as Alex, who I suspect is her son.  She says that their guarantee is only for services, and is only honored if one has the time and the means to physically obtain written estimates from their local competition, and has nothing to do with their price gouging for parts.  She tried to justify their 300% markup on my heater hoses, but I am not buying that (Oh, wait!  I did so buy it!), and claimed that she has already issued me a credit via my credit card, but so far nothing shows up at my bank.  Ultimately, that credit of $112 did come through, reducing my total hit by that much.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

I Got Your Knee

I find it peculiar that something that began as a silent protest against injustice, and, if you will, hypocrisy, idiocy, and a few other well-chosen words, turned into an argument as silly as what we now seem to have.  As I understand it, Colin Kaepernick, a pretty decent quarterback, decided to simply remain seated during the National Anthem played before an NFL game.  Sort of like Rosa Parks did all those years ago.

At first, nobody paid much attention to what he was doing.  But, gradually, they did, and his act of sitting became a bit more.  As he tried to explain what he was doing, which I believe was simply seeking a way to call attention to oppression, by this simple act of protest, the arguments have grown.

One obvious outcome is that he is out of work.  And, what began as a simple protest has somehow become all about patriotism, disrespect for the Flag, and a whole lot of things that he did not say or do, and does not say or do.  Frankly, the whole thing has got me to wondering about something even more basic than his protest.

By the way, before I get to that, let me say that I totally understand what he is saying, and I not only agree with his right to say it in whatever manner he chooses, but I hope that maybe, just maybe, this could lead to some public acknowledgment of what we, as a nation, still need to do to live in real and actual equality.

Granted, also, this has been pushed off the stage a bit by the tragedy in Las Vegas, but in my opinion, Kaepernick's point is driven even deeper to home by the insanity that transpired in Las Vegas.  We, the majority, have remained silent for far too long about far too many things!

We need real equality, and we need it now!  We need real gun control, and we need it now.  The time for talk about these issues should be long gone.  It is way past the time to finally take action.  Get the money out of politics, and ban the NRA and all lobbying!  Don't pass more laws, because there are too many on the books that are not being enforced as it is.  Enforce those laws which are essential by restoring the Equal Rights Act, and strictly adhering to it!  For me, simple gun control is not enough, and I see complete and total confiscation as the only solution.

I should not have to repeat facts like the single common factor in our mass killings is guns.  Or, that other nations which banned guns a long time ago, have no mass killings.  That every excuse that has been presented to date has been weak, lame, and sadly off the mark.  But, there you go.

I know that many folks still want to strictly interpret the Second Amendment, but only that part that they believe supports their precious *right* to bear arms.  They always ignore that part about a "well regulated militia."  And, their position ignores the precious *right* that the rest of us have to simply live, and to remain alive!  I submit that the Second Amendment was written by people who did not have access to even so much as a revolver, let alone automatic, or semiautomatic weapons.  Therefore, it is sadly out of date, and needs to be rewritten so that it applies to today's world.

I have really gotten off the subject here, haven't I?  OK, back to my point.  It is this.  Here's a suggestion to solve this whole sit, stand, kneel, anthem, flag, protest thing.  How about eliminating the playing of the national anthem before sporting events?  I mean, what is the point?  It's not like the event that is about to transpire is going to do much to further our national interests, or even put us on the international stage, now is it?

So, here's the quick solution to part of this controversy.  No more national anthem.  Let the military seek another way to recruit cannon fodder for the rich man's wars.  Save the taxpayers some money, in the process, too!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The South Ain't Gonna

I grew up in the 1950's in the state of Washington. We lived all over the state, mostly in rural and small town settings. My father worked in lumber mills, on dairy farms, and wheat ranches. We never stayed in one place very long because he was an alcoholic, who just could not keep a job. I did not see a black person until I was about 13 years old. I knew very little about the rest of the world, other than what was taught in the various schools that I attended. I was aware that there had been a Civil War in the U. S., and that the primary issue there had to do with slavery, and that the pro-slave folks (if you will) had lost that war. I was also aware that we had very recently fought and defeated Nazis and evil little yellow men all over the world, and it was thanks to people like John Wayne that we had wrested most of the U. S. A. away from Native Americans.
The thing is, I knew as a child that the south had lost, Nazis were bad, and there was nothing inherently wrong with anyone whose skin differed from mine, including those little yellow men. I was even ignorant of any Biblical mention of slavery because we did not attend any church.
I was not aware of all the homage paid to "the fine traditions of the Old South," or the "Glory" of that Old South. I do remember reading about Stonewall Jackson and various Southern Generals and leaders. But, I also recall reading about Lincoln and Grant and Sherman. We did not have Confederate monuments, or any monuments dedicated to that Civil War, because our state wasn't much settled at the time of those events. We were very much more aware of The Spanish American War, and Teddy Roosevelt, and WWI, and of course, WWII.
Big days in our calendar were - believe it or not - May Day (as in, the rites of Spring and flowers; nothing to do with labor), Memorial Day, Arbor Day, and of course the 4th of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I still remember my mother referring to Armistice Day, and seeing my father always buy a poppy for that occasion. Of course, that turned into Veterans Day during the 50's, because frankly, the farther in time we got from that First World War, the fewer people still lived who were even alive during that time. My point in mentioning these days is that none of them included Confederate Hero's Day, or Jeff Davis' birthday, or any such celebration of either the Civil War or the Confederacy.
I do recall that there was obviously an effort to glorify those events all across the country, though, because of movies and television. The very term, 'rebel,' was used as a euphemism for hero, in many movies, up to and including the short lived "The Rebel," starring Nick Adams, in 1959. Rebels were seen most often as lone good guys going up against many bad guys. The good guy theme was common in movies and TV dramas that portrayed rebels as those who came west in the years following the Civil War (because their beautiful homes had been destroyed by evil northerners), and it was they (former Confederate soldiers) who were often the ones who famously settled the American West.
So, I suppose I was aware of attempts to glorify certain aspects of the old south, but only in that limited area dramatized by Hollywood.
I guess what I want to say here is that I have never quite grasped this entire "The South Will Rise Again" philosophy, or seen the need to try to bring to life a world that never really existed. The idiots who want to parade the flags of that lost cause have some kind of wildly distorted idea of what that old South really was. They somehow believe that a restoration of the miserable Confederacy would guarantee them a better life. It's like somehow they would miraculously be moved out of their falling down trailers, and into mansions, each and every one. Of course, the reality is that, as long as they feel that they can look down on someone else, anyone else, they feel better about themselves. And, let's face it. If you live in a trailer, surrounded by falling down appliances and vehicles, and overgrown weeds, a slave's life has to look worse than your own.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Viva Mexico?

Saturday evening, as guests of some long time friends who live in Cd. Juarez, we ventured out from our home, and across the border, to Cd. Juarez.  This was our first time to go across the border for strictly social reasons since our return to El Paso in 2012.  For what it is worth, that is something we used to do two or three times a month, but for many reasons just don't do anymore.
               We went to a place called "Viva Mexico," Viva México Restaurant, a restaurant that is located very close to the Free Bridge, also known as the Cordoba Bridge, in what used to be a small shopping center.  They feature a pageant of sorts, much like El Paso's "Viva El Paso."  They offer a full menu and following adequate time to eat, they put on a spectacular show that features folklorico dancing, singing, charros on horseback, some very talented lasso work, and even a Juan Gabriel wannabe.
               They advertise that the show on a Saturday begins at 9:30 PM, and they recommend that you allow two hours before the show to give you time to eat.  We were a bit late for our reservation, so we did not get good seating.  We were stuck up on a tiny second floor balcony, overlooking the entire restaurant and stage, along with a large group of about eight people, and two different groupings of four (the groupings of four consisted of two separate parties, as one ate and left part way through the show).
This was a view of the floor and stage.  The raised area is the stage, and the flat area surrounding it is sand, for the horses.  This was taken from our table up on the second floor balcony.

             Unfortunately, although the building is in good repair, their idea of air conditioning is totally inadequate, especially up on that second floor.  This location is actually old, as we remember there being a super market and other businesses here way back in the late 60's, early 70's.  At any rate, at some point in time this part of the original structure was completely remodeled to accommodate the restaurant, and the interior is very picturesque, with the feel of a village somewhere in Mexico.
               The menu is varied, and the food was good.  We had the carne asada a la tampiqueña, and what we got was what I know as fajita, or skirt steak.  The meat was tender and cooked just right, although it did lack seasoning, believe it or not.  On the plate was a delicious cheezy chile sauce, to go with the meat, some refried beans, with grated cheese, one rolled tortilla with a delicious molé sauce, and another that was like an enchilada.  The pricing for the food was reasonable, by the way.
                About an hour before the show was to begin, some Mariachis came out and worked the floor.  Unfortunately, either my hearing aids were just not working well, or the acoustics were very poor.  Because all I could hear was occasional trumpet blasts, and the murmur of singing voices.  I could recognize some of their songs, but it always took some time.  When it was time for the show, there was no mistake, as the lights all went out, and a voice began booming out to let us know what was happening.
                Again, I left my hearing aids in place, and tried different settings, but ultimately gave up, and took them out, as it seemed to make no difference what I did, the audio was just too loud, and that all by itself was distracting.  There was a young man who sang some Mariachi songs (in costume) and a young lady as well.  But, the show began with a very heavy, very loud drum beat, and primitive dances, evidently to represent the Aztecs and some other indigenous folk dances.  The music continued at too high a volume, for my comfort, unfortunately.
              There were a number of dances of different folklorico styles, with music from different parts of Mexico.  there were at least six young ladies, and as many young men, and they did look to be very professional.  Unfortunately, for me, there were too many obscure dances, and it quickly became boring for me.  Interspersed with the dancing a Charro would come out riding a beautiful horse.  The horses danced to the music, and there were at least four of them at one time or another.
              The best part of the show, towards the end, was when some three or four young men began to do Charro rope tricks, with lassos of different colors, including some that glowed in the black light that was then applied.  Some appeared singly, then pairs, then one on horseback, who even stood on his horse, while jumping in and out of the loops he was making.  When they all performed together, it was very well choreographed, and well rehearsed.  These guys alone were worth the show.  And, the most beautiful horse of the evening came out during their performance.  You can see this magnificent black beauty in the video on their web site.
              I do have some serious advice for the singers, for the announcer, and for whoever does their sound engineering.  The volume is too high!  Singers, including the lame Juan Gabriel wannabe:  look at what a consummate professional, like Juan Gabriel, does with the microphone!  Real Mariachi singers usually do not need a microphone at all to be heard over the instruments, and a professional will tend to move the microphone farther away from their mouth when hitting those high or those extra loud notes.  Unfortunately, these people all appeared to be hungry to the point that they wanted to 'eat' their microphone!  Coupled with an already too loud system, and we heard (OK, I heard) way too much sound distortion.  Not good.
              As for the singers' abilities, let me say this.  The male was not bad, except for his tendency to hold his microphone too close.  The female may be good, but she threw in some notes that did not fit her songs, and went into almost operatic riffs that were - in my opinion - totally inappropriate.  And, of course, she also tried to eat her microphone.
              That leaves us with the Juan Gabriel imitator.  This guy kind of had the slightly corpulent look of Juan Gabriel in his forties, and wore a decent suit.  He may have a good voice, but mostly what he did was shout and screech.  He seemed to throw out bits and pieces of vaguely recognizable Juan Gabriel songs, but I don't think he sang a single one, from start to finish.  Worse, he tended to play up the gayness of the famous singer, instead of showing the tremendous talents of Juan Gabriel for composing and singing and performing.
              We saw the original, real deal, more than once, and I, for one, was a big fan and I was always impressed with the show put on by him.  Yes, he did, as he aged, bring out his own gayness, but he didn't really flaunt it, or turn it into something low class. This impersonator, however, seemed to think that was the important part of the legacy that is Juan Gabriel's.  He even went so far as to seek out an obvious gringo young man to come up on stage with him, so he could not only ridicule the young man, but push the gay Juan Gabriel all the way.
              Ultimately, I would recommend a visit to this place for the food, with the proviso that you not put your expectations too high as to the show.  As I said, this is a very professional production that is spoiled by a poorly regulated sound system and entertainers who lack knowledge of how to use a microphone.

Monday, July 24, 2017

How I Met Your Mother (For Our Four Adult Children)

How I Met Your Mother (For Our Four Adult Children)

            It was supposed to be a blind date, but it wasn't really that simple.  Things are never really all that simple, though, are they?

            I arrived in El Paso, Texas, sometime in October of 1967, after a thirty day leave in Seattle.  I had already been in the Army nearly two years by this time, having trained at Ft. Ord, California, Ft. Dix, New Jersey, and Ft. Gordon, Georgia.  After my Basic Training, then Advanced Infantry Training, followed by Field Radio Repair School, I had spent some thirteen months stationed in South Korea.  My arrival in El Paso was because of what we then called a Permanent Change of Station, to Ft. Bliss, which is now nearly surrounded by El Paso.

            I spent most of my Leave at my brother, Mike's, home in Seattle, and while there, he and his wife gave me the contact information for some former neighbors, who were then living in El Paso.  This was Mike Robertiello and his wife, Christine, and their baby, who I think was named Damien.  It was rightly thought that it would be a very nice thing for a young man such as myself to have someone outside the Army to interact with at my new duty post.

            I therefore wasted little time in contacting Mike and Christine after I got settled at Ft. Bliss.  Incidentally, my duty at Ft. Bliss was just about the best duty I experienced in my three years of Army Service.  I was assigned to the U. S. Army Air Defense Board, which was part of the Army's Test and Evaluation Command, headquartered - I believe - at Ft. Meade, Maryland.  Our mission was to evaluate and test new air defense weaponry under extreme conditions.  Since my Military Occupational Specialty was Radio related, I was assigned to the Communications Platoon, and we provided the radio communication to the people who did the actual testing.

            I should mention that the testing required Temporary Duty (TDY) in such exotic locations as Alaska and Panama.  That's right.  Extreme cold and extreme heat and humidity.  I ended up spending three weeks in Panama, but that came later.

            Back to my arrival at Ft. Bliss.  I was invited to go to Mike and Christine's home on what was then the far east side of El Paso, when I first called them.  So, on my first free weekend, I took a bus from Ft. Bliss to downtown, and transferred to another bus that carried me east.  The home they were renting at that time was located below I-10, just west of Lomaland Drive.
            As I got acquainted with Mike and Christine, they introduced me to other friends of theirs, in particular a lady by the name of Emma Sanchez, who happened to be the aunt of a former fellow serviceman/friend of Mike.  It seems that Mike had been stationed at Ft. Bliss a short while before, and one of his friends was Bobby, who introduced his GI friends to his aunt, Emma.  Emma was a widow who lived in El Paso's Lower Valley, who had opened her home to her nephew and his GI friends while they were at Ft. Bliss.  She did the same for me.  She gave me a bedroom in her little house, told me it was mine whenever I wanted it, and basically gave me a place away from the Army.

         As soon as I was able I bought a little car (a piece of junk, really; it was a 1965 Triumph Herald, a little red convertible clunker), and was able to end my dependence on El Paso's spotty bus services.  I was thus able to pick Emma up from work on Yandell (she worked as a bookkeeper at a finance company) on Friday's, and take her home, so she could avoid one evening's bus ride per week.  I would then take her grocery shopping on Saturday to nearby Chew Din's on Alameda Avenue.  Before long Emma began talking up a young lady she rode the bus with, and said that we should meet.

         At length she provided a phone number for this young lady, and I called her a couple of times.  Emma arranged a blind date for us, but things kept happening to put our date off, farther and farther into the future.  We were supposed to meet in December, but the young lady in question had to go out of town, then something happened while she was out of town, and then her mother suffered a broken arm, and so on and so forth.

         Finally, one Friday in January, I picked Emma up from her place of work on Yandell, and we proceeded on downtown to pick up Blanca at her place of work, another finance company, located on the second floor at 109 N. Oregon St.  This was coincidentally Jan. 12, the birthday of Blanca's mother.  Blanca's recollection of the first time she saw me is that I entered the office where she worked, and approached to counter that separated the supplicants from the loan people.  I, in my normal gringo English, asked for Blan - ka (should be pronounced as blon-ka), and her response, instead of being some sort of normal affirmative, was simply, "Here I am!"

        That was pretty much it.  Emma rode in the back of my little car, on the way home, and she and I kept up a running conversation, but Blanca hardly spoke at all. We dropped her off at her home, and then went on to Emma's.  Blanca and I later spoke on the phone at length, but she had proven to be a tad shy upon our first face to face encounter.

        Our first date?  It was in fact a double date, with another couple.  She was an old family friend of Blanca, and he was another GI, from Ft. Bliss.  We went to the drive-in on Montana to see the movie, "How The West Was Won."  Apparently, John Wayne was in it.  I do not remember much about it, and had to rent it many years later, when it was available on VHS, to actually see it.  One of the interesting aspects of our dates, including that first one, was that Blanca had to be home by ten P. M., each and every night.  Well, that all began on Jan. 12, 1968, and we were married at the Center Chapel at Ft. Bliss, on June 22, that same year.  And, yes, we are still together, all these years later.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

We Arrive At The Beginnings Of My Blog.

Part IX………fun and games in El Paso’s Lower Valley……..
We then drove around the neighborhood looking for the thief, but saw nothing.  Later that morning, we learned that some neighbors – who had also been burglarized – did chase him down, and beat him up before letting him go.  They did recover their stolen items, but we never did see the missing car stereo.  The police speculated that he had someone waiting nearby with a car, and they likely got away clean, albeit the one guy had to take his lumps.
During these years, we still struggled, but we had a good time.  I learned/taught myself how to work on cars, as I had to do my own maintenance, and many repairs.  In reality I became a plumber, an electrician, a carpenter, and an all around handy man, as I replaced water heaters, evaporative air coolers, electrical things of all kinds, and pretty much kept up with all of our homes, over the years.  I also continued with electronics as a sort of paying hobby, repairing and installing car stereos for friends and family for many years.  We also, from the time we lived on Valley View, made many trips to Chihuahua, Mexico, where Blanca still has a lot of family, and where my best friend lives.
Our kids all remember the rush to load the car with them, an ice chest (for the beer, of course), a few clothes, whatever we were taking to whoever had asked for it, as soon as we got off work on a Friday afternoon.  Then, four hours on the road, where the kids had to listen to Dad’s tapes of the Beatles, Billy Joel, Atlanta Rhythm Section, etc., while I smoked my head off, all the way to the home of our friends, or Blanca’s Aunt and Uncle, or a cousin, and a weekend of partying.
We lived on Moses from June of 1986, until we sold it and moved to Tom Ulozas Drive, on El Paso’s East Side, in December of 1993.  By this time, our two oldest had left the nest.  Arthur graduated in 1989, and went off to UT - Austin, never to return, except, of course, for visits.  John, Jr. graduated a year later, and first went into the Army, then moved to the Denver area, before returning to the El Paso area, in late 1993.  Since Blanca was teaching in the Ysleta District, all of our children were able to continue their schooling in the same district, so that they were able to stay with their childhood friends.  Blanca, Jr. (AKA, Ikis) graduated from Ysleta High School, then took classes at UT, before coming back home to attend El Paso Community College, and work at a number of jobs.  Andrew, our baby, changed schools in his senior year, to Hanks High School, which was much closer to home, and then graduated from that school.
We were very happy in this house (me, mostly because it had a swimming pool, so a lot less grass to cut; never could get any of the kids to help me out with cutting the grass…), and our first grand daughter was born while we were there.  Bryan, our oldest grandchild, spent most of his weekends with us, and a lot of his summers, after his parents divorced.  After he started school, while he lived with his mother, I drove across town every Friday afternoon to pick him up, and he spent his weekends with us.  There were some job changes during the years we spent on Tom Ulozas, for both of us, until Blanca reached a point where she felt that she could not find a decent job in El Paso.
So, in the summer of 2004, we went to visit Blanca, Jr., in Arlington, and while there Blanca landed a job with the Dallas ISD.  I didn’t really want to leave El Paso by this time, but while in Arlington, I went online and found a job during the four days we were there.  So, I returned to El Paso, gave notice at my job, packed a few things, and returned to Arlington, where we both began new jobs in the first week of August.  Once we were there, I first worked as a Telephonic Case Manager, with a commute from Arlington, all the way up the Dallas North Tollway, almost to Plano (nearly forty miles, one way).  This was doable, but I really didn’t like the work, and hated the commute and the odd hours (I went in at 10:00 AM, and got out at 7:00PM), so after only four months there, I changed to doing a Medicare fraud investigative thing for the insurance company that serves as third party payer for Texas Medicare.  This still involved a long commute, in very heavy traffic, but the hours were a little bit better.  While there, I was approached by a head hunter to go to work for a company that wanted a bilingual RN Case Manager.
I had never been recruited for any job, and have to say that I did enjoy the experience.  I kept refusing, and they kept raising the offers, until I couldn’t say no.  Meanwhile, Blanca was doing fine with her job, but then, she had a fall on MLK Day in early 2005, and she broke her left wrist.  She received pretty crappy care, and had to go to a second specialist after coming out of her first cast, because the first Orthopedic Specialist never set the broken bones.  The break healed crookedly, leaving her wrist with a permanent disfigurement.  She had to have an Open Reduction, Internal Fixation procedure in March, after coming out of the first cast.  The surgery by this second specialist involved placing pins and plates, and some metal screws, and of course, then they put her in a bigger cast.  All together, she spent something like five months in casts, and then had many weeks of Physical Therapy, with the end result that her wrist has lost a lot of movement, and even looks crooked today, more than five years later.
By making the move to Arlington, we were able to immediately accelerate our retirement plans.  We stayed with our truly darling (yeah, I know.  I don’t talk this way, do I?) daughter and her girls for just over one year, then bought a house in Farmers Branch, located between our two work locations.  We stayed there until our move to Costa Rica, in early 2009.
I began drawing a small pension from the state of Texas when I turned sixty, and that income became the basis for our application to live in Costa Rica as pensionados.  Blanca then retired at the end of the 2007-2008 school year with something like 21 years service as a classroom teacher.  I continued working mostly because we had a mortgage and knew that this was not a time to be trying to sell a house.  This part of our life all ended rather abruptly when I was suddenly laid off on Jan. 5, 2009.  I had been very ill, in bed over the New Year holiday, and I remember at one point, sometime around the first of the year, in the midst of all the sneezing and coughing, I got up to go to the bathroom, and discovered that I had developed double vision.  This was, to say the least, a bit off-putting, which is just a way to avoid saying that it scared the podwaddin’ right on out of me.
I had to wait a day or two, until Friday of that first week of the new year, to get to the doctor, and he immediately arranged for me to see an Ophthalmologist (that same day), and scheduled me for an MRI, which was then done on Tuesday evening, the 6th of January. 
The Ophthalmologist said that something was causing pressure on the fourth cranial nerve (a condition usually associated with high blood pressure, or Diabetes, but I had neither), and this pressure was causing the double vision (dipoplia). This condition usually lasts for six to eight weeks, and then gets better on its own, depending on the root cause. The temporary fix was that I had to find a pair of glasses with plain lenses (after four years of no glasses), not an easy thing to do, and then, upon returning to his office late that afternoon, his staff affixed a plastic ‘prism’ lens to the inside of the clear lens (I later learned that this is what is known as a Fresnel lens, and if you want to know a little something more about a Fresnel lens, read Jimmy Buffet’s charming book, Salty Piece Of Land).
The weirdness was just beginning: It was my Right eye that was focusing wrong, by the way, but it was to the left lens that this prism was affixed. This bends the light before it gets to the retina, causing that eye to match (more or less) the weak eye. Not comfortable, and not really clear vision, but it is better than double vision. I could at least watch a little TV, but reading was pretty much out of the question.
Now, comes the bad news part of this little episode:  I called my boss on Monday morning, January 5, 2009, to let her know what I had learned, and to bring her up to date with what I considered a potentially serious personal health issue.  Coincidentally (I’m with all those TV detectives, in that I don’t believe in coincidence in situations like this – and, yes, the pun is intended), not two hours later, I received a conference call from the big boss, my boss, and a third party, informing me that at an unspecified point during the previous year a ‘business’ decision was reached in regards to the “Texas Market” (blah, blah, blah, blah, yada yada yada yada), and my position had been eliminated, effective Jan. 16. It was supposedly also decided that previous year to hold off on informing me until after the holidays, so as not to spoil my holiday. Very generously, they “offered” me a three month extension of COBRA, in addition to paying me through the end of January, provided that I sign a waiver saying that I wouldn’t sue them, or talk about them.  Well, the company is called Coventry Health Care, so I guess you can easily surmise that I did NOT sign their frickin’ chicken$hit waiver.
Well, I got over it (obviously), but it was still a very low blow.  In the wake of this sudden job loss, I decided it might be the better part of valor to just go on ahead and move to Costa Rica at that time, rather than to continue working for a couple more years.  So, in February I put in for my Social Security, since I was already 62, and arranged for a mover, and we got everything packed, took a final, farewell tour of Texas to say goodbye to kids, grandkids, and family, and flew on down there on April 29.  The rest, as they say, is history.  OMG, that was more than eight years ago!  And, that is just about where I began writing my Blog, aptly (I thought so, anyway) named "Grumbles From Arenal."

Basically, if you want to know what came next, you can go back through the links in today's Blog, and find all of my entries from our three years in Costa Rica, through to today.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Funny Thing Happened On The Way To My Career As A Nurse

Some six months after I had earned my license as a Registered Nurse, I went to work for the El Paso City/County Health Department in September of 1977.  My first assignment was to the Ysleta Health Center, located at 9060 Socorro Road, across the street from an old cotton gin.  Just next door used to be (I think) a Boys' Club, with an outside swimming pool, that was filled in a long, long time ago.  My boss, the Charge Nurse at the clinic, was Mrs. Christine Barron, RN, who was a long time Ysleta resident.

This was one of several buildings put up all over the county at roughly the same time, either during the 60's or the early 70's.  I recall the same essential building in Tigua, Northeast, San Juan (on Trowbridge), Buena Vista (not too far from ASARCO's smelter), Moon City (on North Loop), and Canutillo:

The clinic building still looks much the same, all these years later.  I do not believe that the cage at the entrance existed way back then, and the handicapped access ramp was added in the 1980's.

I am sorry that I no longer remember Mrs. Barron's maiden name, but I do recall that she talked about growing up in the Ysleta area, and spending time on both sides of the border, as her father had a ranch just across in the Zaragoza area.  She was a widow, with two grown children, both of whom had gone on to live their own lives.  I believe her daughter was already in Austin, and her son was married and starting his own family.

She, like most of the older female RN's and LVN's I worked with way back then, took me under her wing, and tried to teach me the important aspects of Public Health Nursing.  In the late 1970's almost all of the Public Health Nurses in El Paso were graduates of one of the finest Nursing Schools in Texas, The Hotêl Dieu School of Nursing.  Hotêl Dieu was a Catholic Hospital, located down on Stanton Street, between Arizona and Rio Grande.  Across the street, at the end of the block on Arizona, was the School of Nursing, which later was taken over by UTEP's Nursing School.  Believe me when I tell you, the graduates of that old Diploma school were far superior to anything that has come out of UTEP.

Mrs. Barron was amazing, and set a standard so high that I was really worried that I could never reach it.  One of the most important services that we delivered in those days was the administration of routine childhood immunizations to all children in El Paso.  In Ysleta, we did pre-school kids on Tuesdays, and School aged kids on Friday afternoons.  She could provide immunizations to many more than I could, perhaps 4-5 times as many.  It did take me months to get up to her speed.

Back in those days, a very important part of what we did in Public Health was provide educational talks to our 'captive' audiences of parents and grandparents, just before we started calling out the names of those who were to be immunized.  I did not speak much Spanish at that time, and our audience was always very heavily weighted towards no English at all.  Mrs. Barron pushed me very hard to improve my Spanish enough so that I could deliver my share of these talks.  The easy part was that no script was followed, but something short and sweet needed to be delivered in each talk.  We might talk about mosquito control, or household hygiene, and we always provided information about how to care for the children in the hours and days following their shots.

So, while I got an education into Public Health, my Spanish was being improved.  I worked with Mrs. Barron for some years, and learned a lot more than Spanish from her.  She taught me a lot of the Ysleta area history, and about what it was like for her growing up in El Paso's Lower Valley.  She reminisced, at times, about her family, and told how her father owned a ranch on the Mexican side of the border when she was a girl, and her family used to cross back and forth all the time.  I learned about some of the families that had lived in that part of the county for many generations, and some, whose names are known today.

And, then, after some years, she reached the point where she basically tested me by telling me a joke, in Spanish, that she tied into the Ysleta area, and when I realized that I could understand her joke, I knew that I had at last arrived.

There used to be a general medical clinic in Ysleta called the Johnstone Clinic.  Dr. Johnstone was very well known in El Paso, after establishing his practice here in the years following WWII. His clinic was where generations of Ysleta area residents went for health care for the entire family.  At one point in time, there was a lady named Juana, from Mexico originally, who had moved to the Ysleta area, and began taking her family to Dr. Johnstone.  Over time she wrote letters home to her Comadre, (literally, co-mother) urging that she bring her ahijado (Godson) to live in this area as well.  "Comadre," she wrote, "Come live here.  You'll really like it, and we have this really great doctor, who I just know will be able to help mijo (my son)."

Well, finally, the Comadre was able to relocate (quite legally, I assure you) to the U. S. A., and she settled in the Ysleta area.  Now, it was up to Juana to arrange for her godson to be seen by the great Dr. Johnstone, so she made an appointment, and the two Comadres took little Chuy (nickname for Jesus) to the clinic with great anticipation.

When the staff called the little boy's name, both mother and godmother eagerly entered the exam room to see what could be done for little Chuy.  The staff member told them to put the little boy on the exam table, and to take off his little shirt and his pants, and they covered him with a sheet, for his examination.

Finally, when they felt like they could take it no more, the great doctor entered the room, in a rush. "Good Morning, ladies," he said.  "What can we do for (looking mostly at the chart) Jesus today?"

"¿Que dice, Comadre?" (What did he say, co-mother?), asked the new arrival, of Juana. Juana explained, "He asked what we are here for."
"Oh.  Esta bien."  (Oh.  That's good.)

Juana explained to the doctor that she was concerned that maybe her godson had a problem, and she just knew that he could fix it right up.

"OK," said Dr. Johnstone, "Let's have a look here."

Juana then had to explain to her inquiring Comadre what the doctor had said ("vamos aver"), as he began his examination of the little boy.

He did all the usual things, listening to the chest, feeling up and down the arms and legs, and so on.  He asked some of the usual questions, as well, for which the caring Godmother, Juana, translated as best she could, but rarely well, you understand.

At length, he turned to the women, and said, "Well, it is pretty obvious.  This little boy is mentally retarded."

"¿Que dice, Comadre?  ¿Que dice?"
"Pos, que todo est bien, Comadre.  No mas llevese el niño a la casa y ponle mentolato en la tarde."

Friday, July 7, 2017

Why Do You Suppose El Paso, Texas, Has No Changes?

I found a link to this information this morning, and find it to be very interesting for those of us who live in a stagnant location like El Paso.  Why do you suppose our elected representatives are always yammering about revitalization, rebuilding downtown, stimulating this or that, and attracting "new" business, growth, etc., ya da ya da ya da???

The fact is that, while our property tax rates remain among the highest in the nation, our real property values remain unchanged for many, many years.  And, if I think about what has happened, and is still happening elsewhere, I can only wonder why our elected representatives fail to address this real issue, instead of going on and on about that other Bull Shit.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Married Life After the Army

Part VIII……..out of the Army, and the newlyweds arrived in Seattle…….
We bought our first home on North 36th Street, in what was known as the Fremont area, in early 1969.  Here is what that house looks like as of June, 2016:

And, here is what it looked like in 1937, according to the Fremont Historical Society:

I have no idea who Denny + Hoyt’s refers to, but I did see that caption on some other photos located on the web site for the Fremont Area Historical Organization.  I suspect it may have been the names of the people who lived there at that time.

And, this is the only photo of it from our time there.  That is Blanca standing on the little porch:

After a short 14 months or so in Seattle, we decided – literally overnight – to move to El Paso, mostly because Blanca’s parents arrived mysteriously for a visit, the very day after I had gotten fed up and quit my job at Boeing.  It just seemed somehow convenient to have their assistance with loading our things into a U-Haul, and to make the drive back down to Texas.  (Yes, there is another story here, but I think I’ll save it for the novel).

El Paso was a struggle at first, but we did manage to find work, and even were able to buy a house within about three months of our arrival.  The struggle continued from 1970, until a friend prevailed upon me to finally use my head for something besides a hat rack (“Use the GI Bill, fool, before it’s too late!” he said).  We already had two children when I started college, and by the time Blanca finished her university, we had four.  We spent many years on the brink of disaster, living from paycheck to paycheck, never seeming to get ahead.

All of the above having been said, I am reminded that this was supposed to be a more positive piece, uplifting, as it were, as compared to what I usually write.  So, to get back on track, let’s focus on some of those more positive things.  Eventually, as the kids grew up, our careers advanced, and we not only made plans for our eventual retirement, and (despite some adjustments along the way) we ultimately reached a point where we felt we could end our working lives, and begin our new life in Costa Rica.

This is not to say that our lives begin and end there in what we thought was paradise, because we certainly have many fond memories of people and many other places.

We had many great times while living in El Paso’s lower valley (8153 Valley View) where all the kids were born, and launched on their educational paths.  We lived there for some sixteen years, and these are just a few of the highlights:  Arthur, the oldest, was born in 1971, started Head Start, and attended Pasodale Elementary, Ysleta Junior High, and Ysleta High School – we moved from this address in about 1986, when he was going into his junior or senior year of high school.  John, Jr., was born in 1973, and followed the same path, with the possible exception that he may have missed Ysleta Junior High (correct me if I’m wrong, John).  Both of them were able to graduate from Ysleta High School.  Blanca, Jr., our darling daughter, was born in 1977, and was able to graduate from Ysleta, but had to go a year or two to other schools (one year in the Socorro District, and another year of Junior High with her cousin, Melissa).  Andrew, the baby, was born in 1979, and started school in Ysleta, but switched to Socorro District when we moved to the edge of El Paso, very close to Socorro, in 1986.  He did attend Ysleta High School, like his siblings, but graduated from Hanks High School.

We moved from the Ysleta area, to the very edge of the city of El Paso, almost to the town of Socorro (we found ourselves located about three houses from the city limits, on Moses Drive) in 1986.  We had decided it was time to move when our home was burglarized while on one of many trips to Mexico (Chihuahua) over Easter Weekend in, I believe 1986.  This new neighborhood was a very different kind of neighborhood, with the homes on our block being owner occupied, mostly owner-built, but we were surrounded by lower class developments, and two street gangs (Los Ortiz Bros and La F Troop).  This was a fantastic home, with some 2400 sq. ft., four bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, a living room, a den, and a room that had been converted from what was originally intended to be a garage, into a play room, and a huge yard.  We had a pool table there, with a wet bar and a beer fridge (that actually stayed with me from Valley View, up until we moved to Dallas many years later; here’s another side story.  I bought it used from Bertha, Blanca’s sister.  It started life as one of those milk dispenser fridges you see on the back counter at a diner, like Denny’s.  It is still working today, reclaimed from the garage at Bucko’s house in Austin.  I foolishly gave it to him while we were in Dallas because I bought a new, slightly bigger fridge that I then sold before we moved here.  I recently blogged about restoring this old friend:  see my entry of Saturday, May 13, 2017, "American Restoration, El Chuco Style." 

The time spent there (on Moses) was, overall, very good to us, but it was marked by a frequent sound of actual gunshots, followed by the sirens of the police and ambulances, and accompanied by the police helicopter, with high intensity searchlight sweeping the night sky looking for whatever gang members were responsible for the latest violence.
Oddly enough, we only had one incident while living here, where a thief from Mexico came into our yard, took clothes off the clotheslines, and stole a stereo from my brother-in-law’s motor home that had been parked in our driveway.  What made this even more odd was that Blanca happened to get up early that morning (a Sunday, I think), and had gone into the yard, maybe to bring in the clothes, and encountered the thief, carrying a bag and some sort of implement in his hands (maybe bolt cutters).  They were both so startled that neither reacted in a manner one might expect.  Blanca told the guy, in Spanish, that he was on private property, and walked him out the front gate, and he left.  Then, we discovered that some things were missing.  The clothes were found on the ground near the back fence, as if he had moved them there to pick up later.  The gap in the dashboard of the motor home (where the stereo used to be) was not noticed until sometime later.

So, we’ll leave you now, while the hunt for the thief continues……… Part IX.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Once I had a Big Brother

           I wasn't around when my big brother, Mike, was born, and it wasn't until 2007, when he was 66 and I was 61, that I learned he was referred to as "Our Mick" by our parents when he was just an infant.  And, that is only one of the things about family history I never knew.
                           Mike and his wife, CJ, in Laredo, around 2006

          While it is true that only five years in time separated us, I always felt that there was a much larger gap.  Mike was not just the big brother, but he was also some sort of almost mythological creature who knew so much more than the rest of us.
          While I was busy playing, he had a heavy load of responsibility to carry.  I was aware that he had to work part time, and in the summers, full time, while I had little responsibility.  I was very much aware that he was just about all that stood between me (and my siblings) and our drunken father.  Mike was doing adult things long before he should have had to do them.
          Mostly, what I remember is that - believe it or not - at least two of us had a very great experience living in the small town of Goldendale, Washington.  Mike was working, winning accolades (he got the Baush and Lomb medal for science when he graduated high school), playing small town high school football, and generally, growing up.  Dennis and I had the run of the town, and spent many hours playing along the creek, or in the fields nearby.  That wonderful time (for Dennis and I) lasted from the when I was in the fourth grade, until right after the school year ended after the seventh grade.
          Mike graduated from high school, one spring evening, and we were on a Greyhound bus that left Goldendale that same night.  The next thing I knew, we were moving in with our paternal grandfather, in Tacoma.  And, then, within a very few days, Mike was gone.  He joined the Army just as soon as he could.  This, by the way, would have been 1959.
          So, the next few years went by with something missing from the family, but to be honest, I did not pay much attention because I was coming into that age when the whole world must revolve around the ego.  Looking back now, I know that I was likely one of the most egocentric teens ever, with time only for me, my interests, and my few friends.  I suppose that had to do with a lousy home life more than I knew, but it was what it was.
          Mike came home (by which time, we had moved out of Grandad's house, to at least three other rentals) after his hitch in the Army ended, in 1962, when I was between my Sophomore and Junior years of high school.  Because of his presence, our parents evidently felt that, for the first and only time in their married lives, they could try to buy a home for the family.  We then moved into the most wonderful house I ever lived in, and I suspect that a portion of the burden and/or the qualifying to buy the house, came from Mike.
          Soon, though, he went his own way, but not before he showed me some things that have stayed with me ever since.  He came home from Germany with the first console stereo I ever got my hands on, and actually listened to.  He had a record collection that showed me that recorded music was much more than 45 rpm records, and could provide a fidelity of sound way better than those little RCA 45 rpm record players that were all I knew up until that time.
          He had record albums (LP's) featuring Ray Conniff and John Gary and Les (and Larry) Elgart and artists with whom I was most definitely not familiar.  (I was into whatever the local top 40 AM radio stations were playing at that time).  More important, his stereo had FM radio, and FM was a whole 'nother ball game in 1962!  So, as you can imagine, my music horizons opened up, all of a sudden.
          When Mike came home from his Army stint, one of the first things he did was buy himself a car.  And, not just any car, but a great big old Chrysler.  I can't be sure after all these years, but I'd guess this was about 1951 or 52 Windsor.  All I remember is that it was four doors, two-toned, and very, very large.  The family car, at this time was a 1956 Chevy, also four door, and two-toned.
          At some point in time, I know that I still did not have a drivers license, so I think it was my Junior year of high school, making this early 1964, I got Mike in trouble.  The old man was not around; I'm thinking he was in Steilacoom for his alcoholism.  One Friday evening, I wanted to go out with my friends, and needed the car, but it was in the garage, with a dead battery.  The garage was detached, and down a short, steep incline from the side street (North 6th Street, for those who would like to know), with the car facing inward.  This, by the way, was a car with an automatic transmission.
          Don't ask me how, and don't ask me why, but somehow I, a pimply 16 year old, persuaded big bro, Mike, the adult in this scenario, to assist me with not only getting that damn car up and out onto the street, but to push-start it with his car so I could get it started.  We neither of us knew very much about cars, but we did know that it takes a lot more to start a car with an automatic transmission by pushing it, than it does a car with a standard transmission.  Oh, and we knew that this was called "starting a car on compression."
          We managed to pull the family car out of the garage, and onto the street, headed north, along the very narrow 6th Street.  Now, by this time, the sun was mostly down, and a light rain began to fall.  For those who remember, 1950's cars all had a windshield wiper system that depended on vacuum power, created by the running engine, to operate.  So, not only was I out of luck due to the dead battery, but until and unless that engine was running, there would be no headlights and no wipers.
          Remember, Mike was the adult here, OK?  The next stupid thing we did, together, was start off, with his old boat of a Chrysler pushing me in that '56 Chevy.  We did not get half a block before I hit the rear end of a parked car!  I do not recall what kind of car it was, but it is very likely that it was yet another large and heavy boat, like the two wrecks we created that fateful night.  The upshot?  I did not go out that night.  Mike spent a considerable time with a cop.  We were naturally set for court appearances, and our mother had to go with me, since I was a minor.  My punishment?  By court order, I had to go get my driver license!  (Yes, like all 16 year olds, this was something I wanted, anyway).
          Now, let's jump ahead in time a bit, to 1965, when I finally got fed up and left home.  When it finally dawned on me that I had to get out, I did not even think twice about where I was going (we must have talked about this at some point), but I made one phone call to let Mike know that I was on my way, and I took off from Moses Lake, Washington, where the folks were then living, and headed for Seattle, where Mike and his first wife took me in without, to my recollection, any thought or so much as a pause.
          I believe it may have been during this time that Mike provided me with one of the more valuable man-lessons he ever did teach me.  The manly art of cooking outdoors, over charcoal.  Question:  When is the best time to cook outdoors?  Mike's answer:  Whenever the hell you want, even if you do live in the Pacific Northwest.  Now, that may seem seriously simplistic to you, but remember, we're talking about Seattle here.  And, what does it do in Seattle, all the time?  That's right.  It rains.  Mike's solution?  Open up the garage doors, the old school, double doors?  Heavy, wooden doors?  And, put the grill inside, out of the rain.  Mike taught me how to start a fire with charcoal, and minimal starter fluid.  You see, he once sold Electrolux vacuum cleaners, and he - naturally - knew all their little tricks.  The one necessary for outdoor cooking had to do with putting the hose into the exhaust side of the machine, something the Electrolux was designed to do.  That's right.  They don't just suck.  They also blow.
          Once you see that your charcoal has caught, just a little bit, you direct that blowing, hot air at the glow of your baby fire.  Within a relatively short period of time, that glow grows into actual flame, and before you know it, the flame grows, and spreads until most of your charcoal is involved, and then, shortly, you have a fire hot enough to grill steaks.  And, by the way, in those days, steaks were the only thing we ever grilled.  Mike taught me rules that have lasted for me ever since.  Bring your steaks up to ambient temperature before they go onto the fire.  Make sure all of your charcoal is committed, or involved in the fire, because you want serious heat to properly grill a steak.  This is probably one of the single most important life lessons I ever got from my big brother, and you better believe that I have passed these along to my sons to the extent that they have shown some aptitude for this most manly of activities.
          Unfortunately, I only got to stay with Mike and Alice for a few brief months, before Uncle Sam drafted me.  I think it was probably July when I moved to Seattle, and I got my draft notice within weeks.  During that time, however, I had the chance to learn more things from my big bro.  He was by this time involved in remodeling the kitchen in their home up on Queen Anne Hill, in Seattle, and I got to help his father-in-law with some of the work.  Mike was also doing some hobbyist things in his basement, and I found that to be of great interest.  Imagine this:  He was interested in steam engines, so he did research (and, keep in mind, that research in those days meant going into books, real books).  I think he based what he was doing on an article in Popular Science, or Popular Mechanics, two magazines that we all read at that time.

   Above is a simple illustration of what Mike built, using things he found around the house.

          He made all the parts for a miniature steam engine out of available materials, by hand.  He did not have a lot of tools, but he fashioned a piston out of something, and a cylinder out of something else.  I remember he used a penny for a flywheel, and his fuel was rubbing alcohol, burned in an old tin can of some sort.  It was ingenious, and I watched it take shape, and was there the first time he actually ran it.  I was, to say the least, impressed.
          And, that was just one of the many ways this man impressed me during his lifetime.  When he was interested in something, he would research it to the point that he learned all he wanted to know, and from then on, he was an authority on that subject.
          I went off to the Army, and left my car in Mike's garage for the duration, and he never once complained.  When I met my future wife, and we planned to marry, late in my Army enlistment, it was Mike I asked to be my Best Man.  He and his wife traveled, at their own expense, to El Paso, Texas (we got married at Ft. Bliss' main chapel), so that he could stand up for me.  I had no real time to spend with him during that rushed time, but just his presence sort of put a stamp on the event for me, and for my bride.  I doubt if I ever really thanked him for this, either.
          When I took my discharge a few months later, I did not hesitate, but packed my bride and our few possessions into our car, and off we went to Seattle, to move in with Mike and Alice.  We stayed with them for less than six months, and again, spending time with him proved to be instructive, and also entertaining.  Blanca, my bride, has been just as grateful as I for his open minded and open-handed welcome.
          And, that car I had left with him?  It was a 1954 Ford, Crown Vic, with a plexiglass roof.  Again, neither Mike nor I really knew anything about cars, but we did know that a car that had been sitting for nearly three years might have some issues.  So, between the two of us, here's what we did to get my old Ford started:  We removed each of the eight spark plugs, and squirted a few drops of motor oil into each cylinder.  Then, we used cable to jump start it from Mike's nearly new 1967 or '68 Mercury Cougar (one of the very first of those fine cars, and meticulously cared for by Mike for many years).  This jump start seemed to be a no-brainer to us, since we knew we were shooting twelve volts into a six volt system.  And, it worked like a frickin' charm!  That old Ford started right up, hardly smoked at all, and I was back on the road just like that.

                                          Mike's Cougar looked a bit like this one.

          It was Mike who let me use his Sears account to buy the tools required so that I could go to work at Boeing, and it was Mike again, who helped Blanca and I move into our own home, down at the bottom of Queen Anne Hill, in Seattle's Fremont area.  And, Mike, who bought a compressor, and came over to our little house, along with little brother, David, to help me paint that little house.
          We only stayed in Seattle for about 14 months, before we headed back to El Paso, where we finally settled down and started to raise a family.  Mike and CJ came to spend a bit of time with us in the early 70's, as they had decided to try a new start in Texas.  At one point, during that brief stay, CJ had gone to visit family, I think in Minnesota, and Mike was left alone with Blanca and I for a few days.  I don't remember why or how we decided to do this thing, but the two of us went drinking across the border to an area that we still refer to as Zaragoza, Mexico (immediately across the border from what used to be Ysleta, Texas, was the tiny Mexican village of Waterfill, which was mostly stores and bars).  I remember we drank Singapore Slings up to the time we came back across to our house in El Paso, and then we got serious about our drinking.
          Actually, we were not serious, because we decided to play some game where we each had to invent a drink that could have anything in it, as long alcohol was involved.  I only remember the drinking and some of the ingredients, and have no recollection of what decided who got to mix and who had to drink, OK?  I do recall one drink that we named (of course we had to not only create an original drink, but we named them, too) something like "A Fart In A Sleeping Bag."  It had, among other things, instant coffee granules, and perhaps a dash of tomato juice (or paste or sauce or ketchup).  I think the main alcoholic beverage we had, upon which to base our inventions, was most likely Bacardi Superior, the clear one.  We put our hearts and souls into these inventions, along with everything we could find in the kitchen, and we did manage to get just a bit stinko.  I don't recall who won, but I know we both benefited greatly from the experience.
          A few years later, just to illustrate one of the ways in which Mike was special, I had graduated from Nursing School, in El Paso, and I had to travel, on my own hook, to Austin, in order to take what we called the "State Boards," the exam for Nursing licensure.  I suppose they were called the 'Boards' because this was two days of testing administered by the State Board of Nurse Examiners.  At any rate, for those who do not know Texas geography, it is over six hundred miles from El Paso, to Austin. 
          There was no question of trying to bear the cost of flying.  Hell, I was a recent graduate, with two kids at the time!  So, we had no choice but to drive.  Another story could be inserted here, but since it does not concern Mike, we'll skip it.  The main thing to understand here is that I had just gotten our car out of the shop, where the engine had been rebuilt.  This was February of 1977.  The Interstate (I-10) was still under construction between El Paso and San Antonio, so our trip was made in our 1969 VW Bug, with a brand new engine (that had not yet been broken in; and, breaking in new engines was important in those days).
          Well, we made it to Austin, and found a cheap motel on what I now believe was South Congress Street,  just a few blocks from the site where statewide testing was to be done.  I think this may have been the Palmer Auditorium, but I no longer remember.  As I recall, the testing was conducted over two full days, on a Thursday and Friday.  As soon as I finished the last part of the test, Blanca picked me up (actually, she had been pretty much on her own for those two days, in a strange town, with little or no money), and we stopped at a gas station to fill up, and I bought a case of the cheapest beer we could find.  This was likely Texas Pride, a particularly vile brew that was indeed cheap.
          We had already decided to drive home to El Paso through Del Rio, where Mike and CJ were then living.  So, we got onto I-35, headed for San Antonio, and then, found US 90, going west through Uvalde, to Del Rio.  I do not recall if we bothered to call ahead to warn Mike and CJ, but I do know that it was not very early when we finally got to Del Rio.  The first thing I remember, after our arrival, is that Mike proceeded to help me finish off that case of beer, and while we were sitting on the floor, he got out an Atlas, and satisfied his curiosity about the journey that Blanca and I were making.
          What he was looking for, and what he found, was that, in order for me to take my State Boards, I had traveled a distance equivalent to crossing four or five states back east.  This was a pretty large and costly undertaking for a new graduate with a family.  Fortunately, at some point in time since those days,  Texas did modernize so that today's graduates can take the test (which is no longer called State Boards, by the way) close to home.   But, the point of this little anecdote is to illustrate what kind of guy my big brother was.  Something struck his wonder, so he went to the source, in this case an Atlas.
          Beginning in the late 90's, Blanca and I started to visit Costa Rica, and asked Mike and CJ to join us down there on one of our visits.  They did so, and fit right in with a group of mostly Blanca's relatives, in 2005.  Later, Blanca and I retired and moved to Costa Rica, and Mike and CJ came to visit us in our little house in 2010 or 2011.  We really enjoyed showing them our little piece of that tiny country, and it was very special to us how well they fit in, and - for me - it was gratifying to be able to show Mike some things that perhaps he did not know before.  An important thing to note here is that he always kept an open mind, and he was always willing to try new things. 
          Over the years, Mike always stood for so much more than I ever was.  He was the father that I wanted to please, and from whom I wanted recognition.  God knows none of us ever got much of anything from the old man.  When people would ask me if I knew an honest man, Mike was the first person who came to mind.  He never professed much by way of any organized religion, but you know, in my mind, big brother Mike was the most moral man I ever knew.
          But, he was more than that, as I'm sure all who knew him can attest.  He was the one I thought of when I encountered some new and very stupid thing, because I knew he'd get a kick out of it.  He was the one I tried to memorize jokes for, so that I could recount them to him the next time I saw him, or spoke to him.   He was the one person I always tried to make laugh, if you know what I mean.  While it is true that it was easy to make him laugh, I always tried extra hard to say witty or funny things just for him.  For one thing, you have to admit that when Mike laughed, he laughed with his whole being, and everybody knew he was around.  Not only was it a great pleasure to make him laugh, but he always had a line, or a joke to make YOU laugh, too.
          And,  maybe that brings us back to what counted, at least for me.  I know that the words I posted on my Facebook the day he died were these:  "He Made Me Laugh."