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Revisit to: Long, long ago in Mexico . . .

While browsing recently among past postings that are available on Twitter, hoping to find fodder for additional postings, I returned to this one. It is so beautifully composed and presented, and I enjoyed reading it so much, that I decided to bring it up from the depths of the Stygian darkness where it has stagnated for eighteen months—since June of 2009—and into the bright light of today.

Please note that I praise this posting with all modesty cast aside, just as I am wont to do with all my literary efforts. Please note also that the lawless situation that exists in Mexico today is not new—it was just as prevalent and just as brutal eighteen months ago as it is now. Click here to read the original post.

If you doubt my statement that the lawless situation in Mexico is not new , read the introductory paragraph below carefully, keeping in mind that it was written in June of 2009. I firmly believe that these conditions will prevail unless—and until—Mexico is annexed by the United States and our military forces are put into action in the newly acquired territory, but only after they are withdrawn from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and rested a bit. The sovereign nations of Mexico and the United States need to acknowledge that the drug cartels—the insurgents—are in charge, and are just as dangerous—nay, more dangerous—to the United States than the insurgents in the Middle East.

That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it!

Long, long ago in Mexico

Long, long ago in Mexico, in a time when drug lords were not spraying the streets with bullets from rapid-fire weapons purchased illegally in the United States and exported illegally to Mexico, and were not murdering Mexican police chiefs and news reporters and anyone else that might be expected to hamper their efforts to maintain control of Mexico and its citizens—long, long ago when roving gangs were not kidnapping U. S. citizens on both sides of the Mexican border and holding them for ransom and various other reasons—a time when the streets in Mexican border towns were as safe or safer than streets in our border cities—and a time when I was the supervisory Customs inspector at the Port of Roma, in the sleepy town of Roma, Texas, high on a bluff (the town was high, not I) overlooking the Rio Grande river, across from the even sleepier town of Miguel Aleman, Mexico—this was the time in which I and one of my three princesses (the one in Virginia that takes all the pretty pictures) took a brief trip to Mexico during her spring break from studies at Pan-American University in Edinburg, Texas.

In the spring of 1979, our father-and-daughter team (a college student of 18 tender years and a military-retiree father of 47 not-so-tender years) embarked on a memorable sojourn into the wilds of Mexico. We traveled in a 1978 Volkswagen diesel Rabbit, a small 4-door vehicle labeled “Panama Brown” by its maker, but its color could better be described as bright orange. It was a very small people carrier—to illustrate its smallness, I can tell you that somewhere between Monterrey, Mexico and Saltillo, Mexico, we strayed off-road into a canyon where it was necessary to navigate our auto around huge rocks, some much larger than the Rabbit. After circumventing several such rocks, with the paved highway receding in the distance and a line spoken by a Mexican bandit in a Hollywood western film ringing in our ears, reason prevailed and we returned to the pavement. That memorable line was, “We don’ take no stinkin’ prisoners!”

We began our adventure in Reynosa, Mexico, a metropolitan city on the Rio Grande river. The river marks the boundary between the U. S. and Mexico—its name in Spanish is Rio Bravo, a more appropriate and more appealing term than grand—I suppose it can be considered brave, but at no point can it be considered grand—at least not, for example, in comparison with our Mississippi river. Reynosa is directly opposite Hidalgo, Texas, a small city a few miles from McAllen, Texas.

Our first stop in Mexico was at the Office of Immigration to secure “permisos,” official documents that would authorize us to travel past the 15-kilometer check point, a distance of some 9-10 miles, beyond which is considered Mexico’s interior. Our treatment by Immigration officers began routinely, but progressed into a “situation.” The first officer we met took our vitals (name, citizenship, destination, purpose of visit, etc.), and leered knowingly when I said we were father and daughter—his thoughts were printed all over his face. He was thinking, “Yeah, sure, you are father and daughter, heh, heh, heh.” My daughter looked younger than her 18 years, and I grudgingly admit that I may have appeared a year or two older than my 47 years. After some copious stamping of various documents (our permits), the officer passed them to another officer that was apparently guarding the exit to the vehicle parking area.

The second officer gave our permits a cursory inspection, stuffed them into an envelope, laid them on the table in front of us and said in English, “Senor, anything you may wish to give.” This was a request for mordida, a very expressive Spanish noun derived from the Spanish verb “morder,” which means “to bite.” Mordida, a diminutive of that verb, is used to describe  “a little bite.” Mexican officials take “a little bite” out of everything which moves across the Mexican border, in both directions, including merchandise, produce and people. Mordida is a way of life in Mexico, so ingrained in the economy and in daily life that people expect the demand, and would be very surprised if it were not made.

The Mexico of today is a far cry from the Mexico of 1979. My response then would not be my response today, not in these trying times. This was 30 years ago, way back in 1979—times were different. I showed the officer my official identification and said, “Senor, no deseo dar. Soy el supervisor de las aduanas en el puerto de Roma, Tejas, y amplío cada cortesía a cualquier oficial del gobierno mexicano que entra en nuestro país.” What I said was, in fairly lucid Spanish, “Sir, I do not wish to give. I am the Customs supervisor at the port of Roma, Texas, and I extend every courtesy to any Mexican government official entering my country.”

The situation changed, abruptly and for the better. The officer stood, shook hands with us and escorted us to his commander. He introduced me to his commander as the Customs jefe at Roma, and introduced my daughter as my daughter. The comandante enthusiastically welcomed us into Mexico, and offered to accompany us to our vehicle and place official seals on our luggage—with those seals we would not be burdened with inspections at the 15-kilometer check point. Having nothing to hide and not wishing to call undue attention to ourselves, I politely declined the offer. We were, however, accompanied to our vehicle and were sent on our way with a hearty “Vaya con dios,” the Spanish version of “God speed.” And we sped away, at least as well as we could in a 4-cylinder diesel Volkswagen.

At the check point we barely slowed down—the officials there made us welcome and expressed their hopes that we would enjoy our visit to their country. We were reasonably certain that the station had been notified, whether by phone, radio, smoke signals or passenger pigeon, that our arrival at the check point was imminent, and that we could be identified from a distance because we would arrive in a little-bitty bright orange (Panama brown) car.

In our family we have always numbered our adventures, but the numbers are never in sequence and we never record them—someone simply picks a number and off we go. This adventure encompasses many scenarios, some foolish, some frightening, all memorable and well worth the telling. After passing the check point we took in the cities of Monterrey and Saltillo and a visit to and into Garcia’s Cave, a visit that was both foolish and frightening.

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 

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Mexico—Texas border relations . . .

In 1977 during my sixth year as a journeyman Customs inspector at the port of Progreso, Texas I was promoted to a first-level supervisory position at the port of Roma,Texas. Roma was a small port in terms of staffing, consisting of the port director, a first-level supervisor, the office manager and ten inspectors—one of the ten was a combination inspector and detector dog handler. The image at right shows the old international suspension bridge, built in 1927 and the new bridge completed in 1979. The old bridge remains as a historic structure and will only be used for pedestrian traffic.

A cursory review of enforcement records at the port presented a dismal picture of enforcement—either everyone that entered the port was scrupulously honest, or the inspection force was lax in its enforcement duties. The latter proved to be the case, and with the port director’s assistance and approval I developed and established procedures intended to improve the enforcement posture of the port. With only two exceptions the inspection staff was local, born and reared in the area with relatives on both sides of the international border. Complacency was the order of the day when I arrived, and I soon incurred the wrath of the inspectors and that of a goodly number of international travelers.

The seizures began to stack up—small amounts of various narcotics were intercepted by increasing the number of vehicles sent to the secondary inspection area, along with undeclared items such as alcoholic beverages, prohibited fruits, meats and plants. By checking vehicle serial numbers our interceptions of stolen vehicles began to rise, and Customs duties and fines collected on undeclared commercial importations and personal importations began to pour in to our cashier.

There was a new kid on the block, a supervisor that almost immediately incurred the displeasure of citizens of the local community, the inspection staff at the port, travelers from the interior of Mexico and local citizens from Miguel Aleman, Roma’s sister city on the other side of the Rio Grande River. I also incurred the wrath of our Mexican federal counterparts at the other end of the bridge spanning the river.

In the early days of my assignment at Roma, I frequently took the place of the officer at the primary inspection point, and in that position I checked vehicle interiors when traffic was light, and referred vehicles to the secondary inspection area when traffic increased. I also worked with inspectors in the secondary area, confirming declarations made at primary and searching travelers and their vehicle’s contents, and the seizures began to mount.

Miguel Aleman was the Mexican city at the other end of the suspension bridge spanning the Rio Grande River at Roma. The Mexican federal building housed a full staff of Customs, Immigration and Agriculture officers, all fully subject to United States laws when entering the country. Early one morning I checked a Mexican Customs officer and his vehicle, a Volkswagen bus, in the secondary area. The officer told the primary officer he was bringing nothing from Mexico, and repeated his declaration to me in secondary. I found two young boys hiding in the wagon, one behind the back seat and one hidden under the back seat.

The little fellow under the rear seat had crawled through a very small opening and the sliding panel was closed behind him. I slid the panel open, saw a pair of shoes and closed the panel. At that instant I realized that I had seen a pair of feet in that pair of shoes and I ordered the Mexican officer to extract his passenger—it wasn’t an easy task!

Questioning by U. S. Immigration officers determined that the boys were the officer’s nephews and neither boy had the documents necessary for entry in the United States, so the Mexican Customs officer hid them—he wanted to take them to the city of McAllen, Texas to purchase clothing and supplies for the coming school year—the small city of Roma offered very little in the way of shopping.

That stalwart representative of Mexico’s federal inspection force, regardless of his reasons, was guilty of breaking the laws of the United States. He could have easily secured a temporary pass from Immigration for the purpose, but he preferred to smuggle the boys in, just as he and others had done in the past, obviously feeling that no inspection would be made. That pretty well summarizes the enforcement posture that existed at the port of Roma prior to my assignment there. If two kids could be smuggled in without fear of detection, virtually any amount of illegal narcotics could pass with the same ease. I have no doubt that they did in the past, but I at least slowed them down during my tenure there, some two and one-half years.

The commander of Miguel Aleman’s federal Customs staff made a negative declaration to me at the primary point. I asked him to step out of the car—a late model Mark IV Lincoln—and open the trunk for inspection. With some hesitation but without protest, he opened the trunk and revealed a case of bottled alcoholic beverages purchased in Mexico. He said he was taking them to a friend in McAllen. I told him he was subject to a fine and forfeiture of the merchandise, and referred him to the Immigration office. He was allowed to continue with the importation after paying federal tax, Customs duties and Texas state tax on the liquor. The penalty in that instance should have been seizure and forfeiture of the merchandise and payment of a fine equal to the value of the merchandise. The decision to lessen the penalty was not mine—that was the decision of the Customs and Immigration chiefs—they felt that a more severe penalty would strain relations between U. S. and Mexican federal officers—go figure!

At that time I drove a Panama brown diesel Volkswagen Rabbit, and diesel in Mexico was only $.12 a gallon, a bargain that was not easily ignored. A few days after referring the Mexican commandante for possible seizure and forfeiture of the liquor I crossed the river for a diesel fill-up. I was in my official uniform, and prior to my encounter with the Mexican officer with the liquor I would have been passed with a friendly smile with no questions asked. Not this time—I was ordered to remain in line while the officer returned with the commandante. That worthy approached my car, stopped by the driver’s side and unsmilingly stared down at me—he was tall and my little Rabbit was not—with some trepidation I stared back at him. Neither of us spoke, and after an agonizingly long moment he motioned me to proceed. I continued to the gas station a few blocks from the bridge, filled up with diesel and returned to the United States without further incident.

That long silent moment before I was allowed to proceed was obviously meant to show me that he had the power to refer me for inspection, with or without a valid reason. His action was prompted by my referring him for questioning by Customs and Immigration officers. The obvious question to ask me at this point would be whether I was intimidated. The answer is a resounding yes—to use a time-worn analogy, my nerves were drawn so tight that my posterior was cutting washers out of the seat cover of that Rabbit.

Yes, I was intimidated—horror tales abound concerning detentions of Americans by Mexican officials, ranging from local police up to federal officers. In fact, a DEA officer, an official of our Drug Enforcement Administration, had recently been kidnapped and killed in Mexico. His murder was attributed to Mexico’s drug cartels rather than by Mexican federal officers but then, as now, the line between the two is often blurred.

Yes, I was intimidated, but it did not affect my duties as a supervisory U. S. Customs officer. I continued in the same vein for the rest of my stay at Roma, right up to the day that I transferred following my promotion to a second-level supervisory position at the international bridge at Brownsville, Texas. I continued to buy diesel for my Rabbit in Mexico, but I shunned Miguel Aleman’s theaters and restaurants—my diesel buying ended when the station pumped gasoline into the tank instead of diesel—they drained the tank and replaced the gasoline with diesel, explaining that a new employee made the mistake—yeah, right!

Suffice it to say that I made few friends and many enemies in the early days of my assignment to Roma, and that applied to our cadre of Customs, Immigration and Agriculture inspectors—they resented my treatment of their long-time friends and family members and their counterparts in Mexico. I accepted that as a hazard peculiar to my occupation—mine was a lonely job, but the pay was good and there was no heavy lifting, and I thrived on the rancor.

Speaking frankly, I didn’t like them any better than they liked me. Both I and they were pleased when two and one-half years later in 1980 I was promoted and transferred to the port of Brownsville, Texas. My promotion was based in large part on the improvements made in Roma’s enforcement posture—upper level management felt that a similar situation existed at Brownsville. In a meeting with an upper level official prior to the final selection to fill the vacancy at Brownsville, I was told that a strong enforcement-oriented supervisor was needed—actually the expression used was that a hard-ass supervisor was needed. Among other problems, enforcement was lax, and misuse of overtime was the order of the day. Evidently the selection board felt that I had the necessary qualifications including the hard-ass, because I was selected for the position. And yes, you guessed it—shortly after my arrival at Brownsville, with the assistance of the newly assigned chief inspector, inspection overtime was cut drastically and seizures and arrests rose dramatically. The majority of inspectors was not impressed, neither with me nor the chief inspector—they did not view the changes as improvements.

As the result of pressure from the ranks and from my supervisors, in the final few months at that station I stood alone against the cadre of five lower ranking supervisors, my equal rank counterpart, my immediate supervisor, the top level manager at the port and the National Treasury Employees Union. That pressure was terminated only following my promotion to U. S. Customs Headquarters in Washington, DC.

My contributions to the Customs mission during my three and one-half years at that station are well documented, as are my trials and tribulations. However, I can state honestly that I hold no animosity for the three officers that stood against me in the final months of my service there. To hold a grudge against dead people would be an exercise in futility. All three have since passed from this vale of tears, trials and tribulations, either to that shining international port of entry in the sky, or to a climate warmer even than that of South Texas. I cannot be certain, but I would suspect that some of the older inspectors have also dodged their last non-overtime job assignment. More than a few were at or past retirement age when I left the station 27 years ago. Whatever their official status now and their location, regardless of whatever sphere in which they dwell, I wish them well.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Postscript: I must acknowledge the fact that my immediate supervisor rated my final performance as outstanding, a rating that was reduced to just barely acceptable by his supervisor. That fact, however, cannot be confirmed. Shortly after the revised rating was submitted for entry into my records, I requested a copy—in the oft-used words by Gomer Pyle of Mayberry fame, surprise, surprise! The evaluation could not be located—it somehow had been lost between submission by the port and acceptance by Headquarters, either lost, misplaced or deliberately removed and destroyed. Who knows, and who cares? At this point in my life, not I!



 
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Posted by on October 4, 2010 in bridge, law enforcement

 

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A spider tattoo—a large spider . . .

On Monday, December 20, 1971 I reported for work as a United States Customs inspector at the international bridge at Progreso, Texas just across the Rio Grande River from the small town of Las Flores, Mexico, also known as Nuevo Progreso—as opposed to old Progreso, an even smaller town on the U.S. side of the river. The image at right shows the old bridge—a larger four-lane bridge now serves the public at Progreso.

I reported for work wearing civilian garb—official uniforms would come later, purchased at a clothing store in Brownsville, an international city at the southern tip of Texas, a city that combined with the city of Matamoros formed a significant metropolitan complex.

Following a welcome briefing by the U.S. Customs port director and introductions to fellow Customs officers and officers with U.S. Immigration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, I was assigned to work with the Customs officer that was checking incoming traffic. In those days Progreso had only one inbound lane, and the officer on duty there checked pedestrian traffic as well as vehicles arriving from Mexico. Vehicles were referred for secondary inspection as necessary, and pedestrians were referred to the offices of Agriculture, Immigration and Customs as circumstances dictated.

The long-time inspector I was working with—let’s call him Leo for the purpose of this posting—maintained a continuous dialogue with me, explaining all the ins and outs of the proper questioning techniques and various other requirements of a job that was completely foreign to me—no pun intended. An officer assigned to that position would work for one hour and then would be replaced, either by an Immigration officer or an inspector from the Agriculture office.

Just before our hour on the incoming lane was up, Leo referred a pedestrian to the office for a secondary inspection. He said he wanted to show me something associated with the man he referred for a personal search. We asked another inspector to take the line and we escorted the person to a room at the rear of the Customs office, a small area that provided privacy for strip searches and also boasted a barred cell for detention of suspects.

This suspect, dressed in sneakers, a T-shirt and slacks preceded us into the room, then turned and dropped his trousers as we closed the door behind us. He wore no undergarments and smilingly asked if he should “turn around and bend over.” The man was a long-time heroin addict and therefore was very familiar with personal searches. Leo replied in the negative, and asked him several questions concerning his drug habit.

When those trousers dropped I knew immediately why Leo had referred the man for a personal search. He had conducted numerous strip searches of the man in the past, and his sole reason for this search was so I could see the addict’s sole tattoo.

Yep, that was the only reason, and I saw the tattoo almost instantly as his trousers dropped to the floor. It was a tattoo of a large spider, a full-grown spider, a spider with all its limbs and antennae fully visible, a spider instantly identifiable as a spider, perched menacingly on the exposed glans of the suspect’s flaccid penis. Sorry, no penis pics in this posting—only a spider.

At this point I must apologize for the PG-14 rating I have given this story. I have a tale to tell, and I am striving desperately to maintain that rating and not let the story descend—or ascend as the case may be—into an X-rated tale. I also strove desperately during the inspection to restrict my imagination concerning the spider’s measurements should its owner become excited for one reason or another—unsuccessfully, of course—my imagination ran rampant—in fact it still does!

That’s it—that was my introduction to the process of conducting strip searches on our border with Mexico. Such searches were required because many seizures and arrests were made from strip searches. The order for a suspect to “turn around and bend over” sometimes showed a shiny substance in the anal area, indicating the use of vaseline or some other lubricant that may have been used to promote the insertion of illegal items such as pellets filled with heroin or cocaine. The contraband was first wrapped in aluminum foil, then packed into the reservoir tip of a condom. In some seizures those packets numbered one hundred and more.

Questioning of the person and search of personal articles would often show that the shiny substance was there for other reasons, thus erasing suspicions of smuggling—you can use your imagination to speculate on the nature of those other reasons.

Many such seizures have been made at ports of entry at airports, land border ports and seaports. If a traveler also possessed laxatives  and an item such as Immodium in a pocket or a purse or a suitcase, that traveler, whether male or female, was immediately a strong suspect for narcotics smuggling. Smugglers use the Immodium to restrict bowel movements until, and at the proper time, the laxatives  can be used to promote bowel movements to excrete the contraband.

Hey, it’s a nasty business, not only for the law enforcement officer but also for the smugglers themselves. Some have died because of such methods of concealment, both male and female smugglers—others have survived, but were severely damaged physically by the botched attempt to enter with the narcotics.

And as for how many people have successfully entered our country through airports, seaports and land border ports with contraband concealed in their bodies, and how many continue the practice and will continue to escape detection?

Quien sabe?

Who knows?

It’s anyone’s guess.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on September 14, 2010 in bridge, law enforcement

 

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Hanging and banging . . .

On a memorable day in my career as a United States Customs Officer, I was asked this question by a female administrative aide:

How many inspectors does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Now tell the truth, how would you have answered that question? I know that the aide meant to say replace a light bulb, but that’s not what she said—she asked how many it would take to screw in a light bulb—a rather significant difference in the query, wouldn’t you say? The politically correct answer is two inspectors—one to hold the light bulb and another to turn the inspector holding the bulb.

My answer? I told her that two could do the job, but it would have to be a really large light bulb.

And no, she did not file an employee grievance charging sexual harassment—she and I were, and had been for many years and still remain, close personal friends—so there!

Okay, have you recovered from the sidesplitting laughter engendered by that joke?

If so, here is the second classic joke—I won’t disclose its source on the grounds that it may tend to incriminate me:

A female asked this question: Have you ever tried to nap while a crew of roofers hang and bang? I know what the lady meant, but she left a listener with two choices of the meanings of hanging and banging.

My answer: It would depend on the location of the roofers while they were ganging and banging, and also where you were at the time. Were they on the roof or in the house? If they were on the roof and you were in the house, sleep for you would be difficult. If both they and you were in the house, I should think that sleep for you would be impossible—but of course I could be wrong.

Please don’t hate me too much for these puerile writings.

I can’t help it—it’s in my nature.

Besides, I’m trying to make a minimum of one posting per day, and this one qualifies for today. Check it out—today is the 12th of September and this is my 12th posting of the month.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2010 in friends, Humor

 

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Dessie, my favorite aunt . . .

I remember all my maternal aunts—my mother’s sisters—except for the one named Vera, a young woman that died in childbirth or shortly afterward, unmarried and outlawed by family and friends. Pregnancy without benefit of clergy was socially unacceptable and frowned on in the early years of the twentieth century.

My aunt Vera’s baby boy was taken in and brought up by Vera’s mother—my maternal grandmother, a short stout white-haired whirlwind of energy that seemed to take great delight in applying a peach tree switch to the derrieres and legs of recalcitrant grandchildren, girls and boys alike. I was one of the most recalcitrant of the bunch, and was dealt with accordingly.

My grandmother’s name was Viola, but her nickname was Odie and she was called Miss Odie by all, including me and the other grandchildren. I intend to devote and dedicate a separate posting to her at a later date, so stay tuned—it will be worth the watch and wait!

My favorite of my mother’s sisters, for various reasons was Aunt Dessie. Two of those reasons were her daughters, both a few years older than I—my first cousins and by far the prettiest of the entire gaggle of cousins. I’m speaking of the female cousins, of course. There may have been male cousins that were more beautiful, or at least as beautiful, but I was not then, nor am I now, into recognizing and interpreting beauty in males, cousins or otherwise, not even if some had sported the marbleized features of a Michelangelo.

For several years in my early boyhood, the years between my age of six to the age of nine, Aunt Dessie lived, with her two beautiful daughters and her city police officer husband, next door to me and my family. Aunt Dessie was always, in my memories of the earlier years, a lady of ample proportions and a lady afflicted, or perhaps gifted, depending on one’s point of view, with a pronounced proclivity to accumulate and produce intestinal gases. She and my mother and my two elder sisters would frequently get together in her living room to sit on a sofa, form a quartet and sing gospel songs.

I didn’t hang around to listen to their singing because the vocals were sometimes punctuated with the release of said intestinal gases, but never was a note dropped nor any mention made of the activity by the other singers. Not all the punctuations were audible but the lean to the right was unmistakable—politically speaking she always leaned to the left, but for that purpose she usually leaned to the right because she was usually seated to the right of the others.

My aunt would sort of hitch up one cheek and tilt slightly to the opposite side to accommodate the action. Evidently the other two women had grown inured to the effect but I had not, and therefore did not long linger in the living room, regardless of the quality of the singing. I always found something to do or watch outside, something more interesting and more rewarding, both on auditory and olfactory levels.

Well, that’s enough of the religious references. I liked my aunt’s husband. He worked with the city for many years as a uniformed patrolman and drove a black-and-white in the performance of his duties. On more than one occasion he pulled up beside me and suggested that I return home because I had no business in whatever particular part of town I had wandered into. I usually followed his advice and headed in the direction of home, but depending on the circumstances I sometimes reversed my direction when the cruiser was out of sight.

I don’t know how much a uniformed police officer made in those days, but it must have been considerable. My aunt’s home was nicely furnished, and she and her daughters were always dressed in the latest fashions and had all the evidences of an upper-class family, including new toys and bikes, birthday parties, beauty parlor visits and vacations.

I often heard the adults in my family and their friends speculating on the source of my aunt’s family income and the prodigious outgo of that income, but the only emotion I can remember is envy, whether mine or that of the others.

In her later years Aunt Dessie lived the life of an unmarried alcoholic widow, a frequent visitor to the seamy side of life in Columbus, Mississippi in an area across the river where several unsavory hangouts existed at the time. As a young GI, just returned from a two-year assignment in the Far East that included a 15-month combat tour in Korea, I had occasion to visit those hangouts several times while on leave en route to my next duty assignment in South Georgia. I remember the name of only one bar, that of the Dew Drop Inn. I Googled Columbus’ night clubs of today and found lots of names: He Ain’t Here, Elbow Room, Hitching Post, First And Last Chance, Gravel Pitt, etc., but no Dew Drop Inn—bummer!

I encountered my aunt several times at different locations, always with a different person and always sodden with strong drink, as they say in the Bible. On one memorable occasion she asked me to give her a ride home at closing time, and during the ride she made several improper overtures to me, all of which were politely rejected.

I drove her straight home, and when I told my brother about her proposals he confirmed my suspicions—apparently my aunt was available to any bidder or buyer of drinks. I never saw or spoke to her again—not that I purposely avoided her—it’s just that I was never again in the circles in which she moved—she lasted several more years before leaving the bar scene and life for an unknown location—I trust that it is on a higher elevation than the plane on which  she lived in the latter years of her life.

My favorite aunt has long ago departed the scene, as have all my maternal aunts and uncles, and I would suppose also all my aunts and uncles on the paternal side of my family. If any paternal aunts or uncles survive, they are nearing or have already passed the century mark in longevity—I seriously doubt that any are still among us.

There is much more to talk about, especially about my aunt’s daughters. I was delighted to see both women several times in later years. The younger daughter was active in the music scene in Memphis, Tennessee for many years. My brother said that she was a high class you know what, a hundred dollar an hour lady—in those days and in that area one hundred dollars an  hour was indeed high-class, considering that the hourly minimum wage was only seventy-five cents per hour. You can click here to confirm that if you like.

I don’t believe the younger daughter ever married, but I know that she had one son in a relationship without, as they used to say in those days, benefit of clergy. She died at an early age, relative to the average life span at the time. The elder daughter, her sister, may or may not still be alive. That daughter lived an exemplary life—she married and had what the old folks in that era referred to as a passel of kids. I don’t know her married name, nor do I know of any way to determine whether she is here or gone to join the others.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 

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Goat in my hotel room . . .

Near the end of my three-year assignment to US Customs Headquarters in the nation’s capital, I traveled to Seattle, then to Blaine, Washington, then to San Francisco and on to Los Angeles on official business—my duties at that time were those of the National Program Manager for Custom’s detector dog program. In Seattle I met a fellow officer from Los Angeles, and together we observed and evaluated Customs’ operations in Seattle, at Customs’ land border port of entry at Blaine near the Canadian border,  Customs’  operations in San Francisco and finally Customs operations in Los Angeles, with concentration on the detector dog program in the various locations.

My purpose in this post is not to bore the viewer with details of Customs enforcement programs—my purpose is to relate two separate incidents, one that was hilarious and one that was somewhat embarrassing.

My fellow Customs officer told me that his baby in Los Angeles would meet us in San Francisco and travel with us back to Los Angeles. I assumed that his baby was his wife, and therein lies a tale. His baby, an amiable and quite presentable young woman—much younger than he—dined with us at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco that evening, checked into the hotel with him and traveled with us on the flight from to Los Angeles the following day. Dinner at Fisherman’s Wharf included fried octopus, my reluctant first—and definitely last—encounter with that creature as cuisine.

We had adjoining rooms at an upscale hotel near the airport. When I went to check out, my fellow officer was already checking out, so I fell into line behind him. While I waited I heard him tell the woman behind the desk that he was bothered by noises coming from the room adjoining his. He said there was a party in that room that included an animal, one that sounded suspiciously like a goat or a sheep, and that the sounds continued late into the night.

The clerk registered a mixture of surprise, skepticism, incredulity and something akin to horror, and said that she would tell the manager right away and an investigation would be made. I stepped forward and told the clerk that the room was mine, and that all the party goers were of sound mind and legal age—including the goat.

Okay, I admit it—that was funny, but the surprise that awaited me at his home the next night when I accepted his invitation to dinner was not funny. I arrived with a screw-top bottle of fine wine, rang the door bell and was invited into the house by a very lovely and very pregnant lady that introduced herself as the wife of my fellow officer. Nope, it was not the same baby that met us in San Francisco and traveled to Los Angeles with us—didn’t even come close. The best part of the evening was my feeling of satisfaction with my selection of wine for a dinner gift.

That was an embarrassing moment for me. I wisely held my counsel until the following day, at which time I ticked off the reasons why I should not have been misled. My scorn was wasted on him—he found the incident far funnier than the goat in my hotel room debacle.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2010 in Humor, marriage, Travel, Writing

 

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Long, long ago in Mexico (via The King of Texas)

Okay, listen up—I’m reblogging this posting because it has languished in Word Press for one year and has garnered only one comment and two votes, and both votes are mine. Yes, I vote excellent for my postings—hey, there’s a touch of the politician in each of us, and how many politicians vote for the other candidate? I worked pretty hard composing and posting some details of the visit my daughter and I made to the interior of Mexico, albeit in a much gentler and more pleasant time given the current drug cartel conflicts now spilling over into our country.

Long, long ago in Mexico, in a time when drug lords were not spraying the streets with bullets from rapid-fire weapons purchased illegally in the United States and exported illegally to Mexico, and were not murdering Mexican police chiefs and news reporters and anyone else that might be expected to hamper their efforts to maintain control of Mexico and its citizens—long, long ago when roving gangs were not kidnapping U. S. citizens on both side … Read More

via The King of Texas

 
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Posted by on July 5, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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11th Street South and a watermelon party . . .

In a recent posting I outed a boy that lived next door to my house on Eleventh Street South. His name was Edward Earl but he responded to Tootie, a justifiable moniker that he could easily demonstrate—Edward Earl could, with little or no urging toot at will, hence the nickname Tootie.

Tootie and I were friends and we rambled together all over town and country, but I don’t remember whether he attended my school. There was another elementary school nearby and he may have been enrolled there. I say may have been, but in retrospect I suspect that he was not enrolled anywhere. I have no memories of walking to or from school with him—I usually walked with my sister, eighteen months older than I and one grade ahead of me. She constantly lorded over me in our elementary school because she was ahead, and I spend a lot of time dreaming and hoping and praying that she would fail at least one grade—two grades if the good Lord could manage it.

But I digress—back to Tootie and the watermelon party.

Early one sunny summer Saturday morning Tootie and I decided to go uptown to check out the flood waters of the Tombigbee River, a normally peaceful stream that was in flood mode at the time and was the subject of much conversation. We walked the eleven blocks east to First Street, then eleven blocks north to Main Street, a distance of some two miles—city blocks usually run about twelve blocks to the mile.

Most of the homes on First Street were, and I suppose still are, owned and occupied by the upper crust of Columbus—the wealthy, the near wealthy and a few wannabees. All the homes fronted First Street and backed up to the bluff overlooking the river. We checked out the flood waters from several backyards along the street, and at one point the water had risen so high that we were able to walk out over the flooded area on a limb of a huge tree near the bluff.

Our destination was the high bridge over the Tombigbee River. We traversed the length of the bridge, marveling at the flotsam and jetsam moving down the river, did the uptown thing, checked out the marques and the black-and-white lobby cards posted at the town’s three movie houses, rambled through Woolworth’s and McClellan’s Five and Dime stores—didn’t shoplift anything—and sometime in mid-afternoon we headed for home, primarily because we had no money and we were hungry—considerable time has passed since breakfast.

We made it home safely but not under our own power. Several blocks from home on Eleventh Street was an ice plant, a business that operated five and one-half days a week. The plant’s loading dock was near the street and as we drew near we noticed numerous watermelon halves on the dock and walked over to take a look. Apparently the workers had a watermelon party after their shift was over. The plant was silent, no vehicles or people anywhere in sight.

Evidently the workers had just left because the  melons were still cold. In most of the melons only the heart, the part with no seeds, had been gouged out, so one can guess the rest of this story. Tootie and I feasted on cold watermelon, digging out melon bites with one hand, swatting flies with the other hand and competing to see how far we could spit seeds—for two tired and hungry little boys it was heavenly!

We were still enjoying our find when a city police cruiser, a black-and-white with two patrolmen, drew up and stopped at the loading dock. The driver asked us what we were doing and we told him the honest truth—we told him we were eating watermelon. He asked us for our names and we told the truth to that question also. He suggested that we hop into the rear seat so he could give us a ride home. Tootie said that it was not far and that we would rather walk, that we were going home and only stopped to eat some watermelon.

Both patrolmen exited the car and each opened a rear door. The same officer repeated his suggestion, but couched it in different terms and in a different tone—we scrambled off the dock and into the rear seat. As the doors closed Tootie whispered to me that yeah, they’re taking us home alright—home to jail. I made no response because I was so scared that I couldn’t even swallow, let alone talk.

When we got home we were met by some very relieved and very angry family members. Calls had been made to the city police around mid-morning and the search had been going on ever since. I don’t know what sort of system they had at the time—obviously there was no Amber Alert system in place. I imagine the search was simply a call to local law enforcement personnel to be on the lookout for two wayward boys, one named Mikey and one that was called Tootie.

I have every reason to believe that some sort of corporeal punishment was meted out to us. There was no doubt that we deserved it—we had earned it. However, I do not remember what transpired following our triumphant homecoming. My punishment may have been so severe and so traumatic that I blotted it from my memory. I may awaken some night screaming, drenched with perspiration, reeling from a whip lashing and recalling threats of being drawn and quartered, but I may have suffered nothing more than a few bear hugs and kisses.

At least seventy years have gone by since that day, and I have never had such dreams and what scars I have were earned in other places and in other ways. I have serious doubts that I will ever have such dreams, but hey, anything is possible. The punishment may be so deeply buried in my subconscious that nothing can bring it to the surface—I hope!

I am honest enough to admit the possibility that I may have—may have, mind you—embellished this story a tiny teeny weeny little bit along the way in my efforts and desire to enlighten and entertain those that may pass this way, but the story is true—honest! I can prove it by demonstrating that I can still eat watermelon with one hand and swat flies with the other hand.

It’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


 
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Posted by on June 13, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Letter to the editor, Express-News—S. A. cop shoots man with knife . . .

Letter to the editor, Express—News

March 10, 2010

P.O. Box 2171

San Antonio TX 78297

Please accept my compliments for your report on the use of a hitherto unknown weapon available to our police officers, as reported in today’s issue of San Antonio’s only daily newspaper. The development of the new weapon and its procurement were unknown to me until today’s issue arrived and had been read. The prompt for this submission was an incident that was reported  on page 2B in the News Roundup feature of the Metro section. I was pleased to note that our city is well ahead of the curve for innovative additions to the arsenal of weapons available to our uniformed police. The innovation pleased me, but the writing gave me no pleasure. This was the item’s heading:

S. A. cop shoots man with knife

In accordance with current journalism practices, details pertinent to the heading were given in the first paragraph, effectively setting the scene for the reader:

A San Antonio police officer shot a man Tuesday night after he ran at officers wielding a butcher’s knife on the South Side, officials said.

The author—or authors—used an estimated 200 additional words to cover the events that followed the shooting, but no more details on the new weapon were given. I had no interest in subsequent events—my attention was riveted on the heading and on the first paragraph, one that featured a single sentence, pithily constructed. While pleased at the introduction of the new weapon, I was fascinated by the ambiguities contained in the heading and its first paragraph.

The heading—S. A. cop shoots man with knife—was a bit ambiguous, but clear enough for any reader to surmise that—or at least possibly that— a combination of knife and pistol was used. However, the paragraph that followed was even more ambiguous—it is repeated here for emphasis:

A San Antonio police officer shot a man Tuesday night after he ran at officers wielding a butcher’s knife on the South Side, officials said.

Based purely on that paragraph, no reader can be sure whether other officers were present nor whether one officer, the one that fired the shot from the combination knife/firearm, shot one of the other officers as he ran at them. The reader has already surmised that the butcher’s knife doubled as a firearm, so in the face of that ambiguity could also surmise that the shot fired hit one of the other officers.

Oh, and there is yet another ambiguity—we are told that a man ran at officers wielding a butcher’s knife. We don’t know exactly which man, nor do we know who was wielding the knife—one could reasonably surmise that it was wielded by the officers. If wielded by more than one officer, it must have been a really large butcher’s knife.

The reader is told that the butcher’s knife was wielded (carried) on the South Side, perhaps indicating that the carrier (or carriers) had previously wielded the knife/firearm combination in a different part of the city. The author erroneously capitalized both words, either inadvertently or purposely in the belief that locations appearing in the middle of a sentence should always be capitalized.

A reader might also surmise that the butcher’s knife  was carried on the side away from the officers—on the south side—in order to conceal it until the man came within reach of the target. I find that plausible—the wrong doer may have been running toward the other officers at an angle—sideways, so to speak—thus deliberately making an effort to conceal the weapon.

I thirst for more information on the new weapon, and I trust that the additional information will soon be provided. Apparently some highly imaginative weapons manufacturers and cutlery makers have created a dual-purpose weapon by combining a deadly blade with a deadly firearm—a weapon that can be used against a miscreant at close quarters or from a distance, depending on the situation and the discretion of the officer or officers.

The mere thought of police officers armed with such a weapon should strike fear into the hearts of any person contemplating one or more criminal activities. An errant citizen now knows that he (or she) will be sliced, slashed or stabbed as necessary if the officer is close enough, and if the officer is not within knife range, that errant (he or she) will be shot as many times, and in as many body parts, as necessary.

As an aside to this letter, I learned from a radio report this morning that the man was shot in the leg—which leg was not revealed, but it was either the left or the right. I do not recall the radio report shedding any light on that facet of the incident, nor do I recall the report specifying which man was shot and which man did the shooting, so my doubts created by the ambiguities present in the report remain extant.

And now for mandatory disclosures if any exist, and in this case there is one. This posting was not submitted to the Express-News for consideration. I have compiled an impressive collection of submissions to the editor in past years—some were printed and some were rejected. I soon realized that the rejections contained one or more criticisms, all of which were intended to be constructive, but the editor apparently did not consider them constructive, and in fact, in one instance the editor agreed to print a letter but would not include the whining portions of the submission. I refused permission to print it, whether with or without my whinings.

So now you know the rest of that story. I address constructive criticisms to the editor but I do not submit them to the editor. I submit them to Word Press on my blog. That publisher has never rejected a letter and I trust that they never will, assuming of course that my submissions are pertinent and in good taste—just as this letter is.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 

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Long, long ago in Mexico

Long, long ago in Mexico, in a time when drug lords were not spraying the streets with bullets from rapid-fire weapons purchased illegally in the United States and exported illegally to Mexico, and were not murdering Mexican police chiefs and news reporters and anyone else that might be expected to hamper their efforts to maintain control of Mexico and its citizens—long, long ago when roving gangs were not kidnapping U. S. citizens on both sides of the Mexican border and holding them for ransom and various other reasons—a time when the streets in Mexican border towns were as safe or safer than streets in our border cities—and a time when I was the supervisory Customs inspector at the Port of Roma, in the sleepy town of Roma, Texas, high on a bluff (the town was high, not I) overlooking the Rio Grande river, across from the even sleepier town of Miguel Aleman, Mexico—this was the time in which I and one of my three princesses (the one in Virginia that takes all the pretty pictures) took a brief trip to Mexico during her spring break from studies at Pan-American University in Edinburg, Texas.

In the spring of 1979, our father-and-daughter team (a college student of 18 tender years and a military-retiree father of 47 not-so-tender years) embarked on a memorable sojourn into the wilds of Mexico. We traveled in a 1978 Volkswagen diesel Rabbit, a small 4-door vehicle labeled “Panama Brown” by its maker, but its color could better be described as bright orange. It was a very small people carrier—to illustrate its smallness, I can tell you that somewhere between Monterrey, Mexico and Saltillo, Mexico, we strayed off-road into a canyon where it was necessary to navigate our auto around huge rocks, some much larger than the Rabbit. After circumventing several such rocks, with the paved highway receding in the distance and a line spoken by a Mexican bandit in a Hollywood western film ringing in our ears, reason prevailed and we returned to the pavement. That memorable line was, “We don’ take no stinkin’ prisoners!”

We began our adventure in Reynosa, Mexico, a metropolitan city on the Rio Grande river. The river marks the boundary between the U. S. and Mexico—its name in Spanish is Rio Bravo, a more appropriate and more appealing term than grand—I suppose it can be considered brave, but at no point can it be considered grand—at least not, for example, in comparison with our Mississippi river. Reynosa is directly opposite Hidalgo, Texas, a small city a few miles from McAllen, Texas.

Our first stop in Mexico was at the Office of Immigration to secure “permisos,” official documents that would authorize us to travel past the 15-kilometer check point, a distance of some 9-10 miles, beyond which is considered Mexico’s interior. Our treatment by Immigration officers began routinely, but progressed into a “situation.” The first officer we met took our vitals (name, citizenship, destination, purpose of visit, etc.), and leered knowingly when I said we were father and daughter—his thoughts were printed all over his face. He was thinking, “Yeah, sure, you are father and daughter, heh, heh, heh.” My daughter looked younger than her 18 years, and I grudgingly admit that I may have appeared a year or two older than my 47 years. After some copious stamping of various documents (our permits), the officer passed them to another officer that was apparently guarding the exit to the vehicle parking area.

The second officer gave our permits a cursory inspection, stuffed them into an envelope, laid them on the table in front of us and said in English, “Senor, anything you may wish to give.” This was a request for mordida, a very expressive Spanish noun derived from the Spanish verb “morder,” which means “to bite.” Mordida, a diminutive of that verb, is used to describe  “a little bite.” Mexican officials take “a little bite” out of everything which moves across the Mexican border, in both directions, including merchandise, produce and people. Mordida is a way of life in Mexico, so ingrained in the economy and in daily life that people expect the demand, and would be very surprised if it were not made.

The Mexico of today is a far cry from the Mexico of 1979. My response then would not be my response today, not in these trying times. This was 30 years ago, way back in 1979—times were different. I showed the officer my official identification and said, “Senor, no deseo dar. Soy el supervisor de las aduanas en el puerto de Roma, Tejas, y amplío cada cortesía a cualquier oficial del gobierno mexicano que entra en nuestro país.” What I said was, in fairly lucid Spanish, “Sir, I do not wish to give. I am the Customs supervisor at the port of Roma, Texas, and I extend every courtesy to any Mexican government official entering my country.”

The situation changed, abruptly and for the better. The officer stood, shook hands with us and escorted us to his commander. He introduced me to his commander as the Customs jefe at Roma, and introduced my daughter as my daughter. The comandante enthusiastically welcomed us into Mexico, and offered to accompany us to our vehicle and place official seals on our luggage—with those seals we would not be burdened with inspections at the 15-kilometer check point. Having nothing to hide and not wishing to call undue attention to ourselves, I politely declined the offer. We were, however, accompanied to our vehicle and were sent on our way with a hearty “Vaya con dios,” the Spanish version of “God speed.” And we sped away, at least as well as we could in a 4-cylinder diesel Volkswagen.

At the check point we barely slowed down—the officials there made us welcome and expressed their hopes that we would enjoy our visit to their country. We were reasonably certain that the station had been notified, whether by phone, radio, smoke signals or passenger pigeon, that our arrival at the check point was imminent, and that we could be identified from a distance because we would arrive in a little-bitty bright orange (Panama brown) car.

In our family we have always numbered our adventures, but the numbers are never in sequence and we never record them—someone simply picks a number and off we go. This adventure encompasses many scenarios, some foolish, some frightening, all memorable and well worth the telling. After passing the check point we took in the cities of Monterrey and Saltillo, and a visit to, and into, Garcia’s Cave, a visit that was both foolish and frightening.

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2009 in Family, foreign travel, Humor, Travel

 

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My 7-day Military R & R 3-day pass, Korea & Japan, 1951

I spent 15 months in South Korea during the Korean conflict, from October 1950 through December 1951. US Air Force personnel serving in South Korea during the Korean War were authorized an occasional 3-day pass to Japan, for the dual purposes of R&R (variously referred to as rest and recuperation, rest and relaxation, rest and recreation and other variations, some naughty, of the letters R & R).

This is the story of how I extended an R&R pass from three days to seven days. We were authorized multiple passes depending on mission requirements, but I was restricted to only one—my first was also my last.

The reason for that restriction was as follows:

My request for an R&R in the summer of 1951 was approved. My unit had a vintage (early 1930s) C-47 cargo plane which was used for a daily “milk run” between Taegu, South Korea and Itazuke Air Base near the southern city of Fukuoka, Japan. The aircraft was used to move supplies and personnel, including round-trip flights for those who were authorized a 3-day pass for R&R.

The C-47 was configured to carry 15 passengers in addition to crew and cargo—it departed Taegu in late afternoon daily, remained at Itazuke overnight and departed early the next day for the return flight to Taegu. Persons needing transportation to Korea were required to report no later than 0700 to sign up for the trip. Those who, luckily, were among the first 15 persons in line returned to Korea—those who needed the flight and were not among the first 15 in line were unlucky—their orders were stamped TNA (Transportation Not Available) and they were told to try again the following morning. It was a popular flight, and people were turned away every day because of the 15-passenger limitation.

The reader can probably see this one coming—if any person, reasonably
intelligent and perceptive (there were a few of us), had no burning desire to return to Korea, for whatever reason, that person simply waited, watched and counted until 15 others were in the line before joining it, and then had their orders stamped TNA, thereby legitimately gaining an additional day to be spent in “shopping and sight-seeing” in one of Japan’s largest cities during the post-World War II period of occupation by US military forces.

There were two of us on R&R from my unit, and through manipulation of the sign-up line we extended our stay in Japan—we were still there on the seventh day. However, seven was not our lucky number—when we presented our papers to be stamped NTA on the seventh day, we were told that our commanding officer had called—his orders were: Do not leave the terminal—remain there all day and overnight. Being model members of the US military, we followed his orders and languished in the terminal throughout a long day and an even longer night, and we were, predictably, the first two people in line the next day—we made the flight. On our return to Taegu we were verbally censured and threatened with every punitive action conceivable—except another R&R.

Oh, well. It was nice while it lasted.

I’ll get back to you later with more details on the subject of post-war military-occupied Japan.

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2009 in Humor, Military, Travel

 

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