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An irrestible urge . . .

I found an image online that infused me with an irresistible urge to tell an off-color joke as a posting, one that would definitely be condemned by my mother’s family. All have crossed the River Styx, the stream that separates the living from those who have made the crossing, the latter of which includes my parents’ entire family, except for me, of course. Those who have gone before were my mother, father, one brother, five sisters, and a stepfather that I feel obligated to mention. Of the total of  ten people in the family I am the only one still standing, and I’m hanging on for dear life.

Yes, life is dear to me in spite of the loss of family members, the political upheavals across the earth, the present declination of our country and its position and importance among the world’s nations, and in spite of the price of gasoline, movie tickets, popcorn and garlic bologna. In the words of an old song, “Please, Mister Custer, I don’t wanna go!”

In telling this joke I would be chastised by all except my brother and my youngest sister. Both enjoyed jokes, especially my brother, but my sister took an interminable amount of time in the telling. I believe she did that in order to dominate any conversation—to stay on stage, so to speak.

The image below is that of our current president speaking to an audience, accompanied by a woman signing his words for the benefit of those in his audience that are hard-of-hearing. Please trust me when I say that the image includes the off-color punch-line of the joke—it’s hidden, but it’s there. On the off-chance that the punch-line escapes you, I’ll will happily forward it to you in a brown-paper-wrapped e-mail.

The honeymoon was over and the newly-weds, a well-seasoned world-traveler and a sweet young thing unwise in the ways of the world, were beginning their new lives together. They were at breakfast and just before the husband left for work he asked his wife to practice a certain action that she steadfastly refused to perform throughout the honeymoon, explaining that she had never done that and knew not how to do it or even begin to do it. He suggested that she practice the act with the ketchup bottle during the day. She loved her husband and wanted to please him and she promised to comply. She practiced the action throughout the day, performed it obediently that night and promised to willingly and happily comply with future requests, and the couple lived happily ever after.

Postscript: On November 18, 2010 a unique lady, lovely in every mental and physical respect, beautifully loved and loving, crossed over the River Styx.  We would have celebrated 58 years of marriage just 25 days later on 13 December, and her eightieth birthday on 26 December. She was and still is my wife Janie, a Georgia peach that I married in 1952. For awhile after her death, life was not dear to me, but I feel that I have overcome most of the sadness that the death of a loved one can create—not all, but enough to feel that life is still good and that happiness has many facets—one needs but search for it in different ways and in different places.

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

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2012 in death, disease, Family, Humor, Writing

 

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Frog legs, pocket knives & hackberry tea

This YouTube video is in no way related to the primary subject of this post, namely the treatment of raw sewage to recapture the 99.9% of raw sewage that is water and make it potable. I intend to end this post with the same video. I am presenting it here to ensure that my legions of followers have the opportunity to view it. If you view the video at this point and are so turned off by it that you don’t read the posting, it’s your loss—you’ll miss a highly educational essay—timely, well constructed and presented, and I say that with all sincerity aside. I know, I know, everyone always reads my posts all the way to the bottom, but just in case . . .

This morning while watching a cable show—MSNBC—I learned that at sometime in the future much of our drinking water will consist of treated sewage. That knowledge as defined by Wikipedia rests uneasy on one’s gustatory palate:

Sewage is water-carried wastes, in either solution or suspension that is intended to flow away from a community. Also known as waste water flows, sewage is the used water supply of the community. It is more than 99.9% pure water and is characterized by its volume or rate of flow, its physical condition, its chemical constituents and the bacteriological organisms that it contains. Depending on its origin, waste water can be classed as sanitary, commercial, industrial, agricultural or surface runoff.

The spent water from residences and institutions carrying body wastes, washing water, food preparation wastes, laundry wastes and other waste products of normal living is classed as either domestic or sanitary sewage.

The purpose of this post is an attempt to allay the fears of those that may be taken aback when told that the water they drink in the future will be sewage, coming direct to them as treated sewage from some remote treatment plant that has taken the action necessary to eliminate contaminants from raw sewage and now wants people to believe that the water is pure and potable—drinkable.

I know that’s a stretch, given the fact that the so-called sanitary sewage includes body wastes donated—love that term donated—by the community. However, I have personal knowledge that the decontaminated liquid may be consumed without fear of the consumer becoming contaminated—how that knowledge was gained is the purpose of this post.

As a young boy growing up between the ages of six and nine years I lived near a flow of treated sewage moving away from the city’s treatment plant via an open concrete-floored ditch—locals called it the Big Ditch—idling along on its way to Luxapalila Creek, a stream that joins Mississippi’s Tombigbee River, a stream that converges with the Alabama River to form the Mobile River that in turn empties into Mobile bay on the Gulf of Mexico—take that, Mobile!

Purely as an aside, the Indian word Luxapalila is said to translate into English as floating turtles. Considering the effluvial characteristics of human waste materials entering the stream, perhaps the first syllable of turtles, accidentally but aptly, describes the water and its contents—how’s that for coincidence!

But I digress—back to the Big Ditch, its contents and the marvelous flora and fauna that thrived—-or throve, take your pick—when I was a boy. The ditch may well be covered by now, or perhaps its contents have been diverted elsewhere. Many years have passed since I was treated—so to speak—to a life in that area and that era. Perhaps the Big Ditch is still fulfilling its destiny as a playground for the enjoyment of today’s children, activities in dialectical opposition to their parent’s wishes.

On more than one occasion I and one or more of my boyhood friends—always boys, although girls would have been welcomed and we would have been delighted by their company, but none accepted our invitations—dined on the banks of the Big Ditch, feasting on fried frog legs and hack-berry tea, a simple meal easily prepared. From our respective homes we brought a small frying pan, a small pot for boiling water, a block of pure lard, our pocket knives, a bit of corn meal, a pinch of salt, a few matches and our appetites to the Big Ditch, a Shangri-la for giant green bullfrogs easily rounded up by a couple of hungry boys.

We built a small fire and boiled water for our tea—yes, we used the nearest available source of water, that which flowed along the bottom of the Big Ditch. When the water was boiling we dumped in handfuls of hackberries gathered from the proliferation of hack-berry trees that thrived on the banks of the ditch.

The hack-berry tea was set aside to cool, and we heated the pure lard in the frying pan. After separating the legs of several frogs from their bodies we skinned the legs, rolled them in the corn meal, placed them in the frying pan and turned them until brown.

Don’t laugh—our culinary talents and our gustatory senses  at our age were underdeveloped and unrefined, and we had minimum expectations that the meal would equal those served in fancy French restaurants specializing in fried frog legs and offering fine wines to accompany the meal—cuisses et vin de grenouille frits—the French refer to the legs of frogs as thighs instead of legs. The use of the word thighs is probably considered a sexual reference by the French, intended to affect the mood of a dinner companion, whether male or female. A Frenchman might say, Mon cher, j’aime le goût des cuisses, delivered softly and translated as My dear, I love the taste of thighs—his after-dinner delights would be guaranteed—dessert, so to speak.

So there you have it—treated sewage can be safely ingested, digested and further processed by humans without fear of damage to their bodies or their life expectancy. My body shows no perceptible damage from the meals of cuisses et vin de grenouille frits, and I am just a hop, skip and a jump away from successfully completing eight decades of living life to its fullest—whether because of the frog legs or in spite of the frog legs is unknown. However, also unknown is the collective fates of my various boyhood companions. Some of them or all of them by this time may have already exchanged their earthly realm for one or the other of our two alternatives.

I must reluctantly admit that the others—some of them, none of them or all of them—may have already succumbed to the ravages of various diseases that were directly attributed to those meals of cuisses et vin de grenouille frits, and I do not recommend such meals to today’s boys, at least not meals garnered from the same source or similar sources—nope, I would neither recommend it nor suggest it.

I am of the opinion that today’s youth, although physically larger, stronger and enjoying greater longevity and enhanced motor skills, are not significantly more intelligent—in fact many, perhaps most, are somewhat lacking in basic subjects as demonstrated by accumulated grades given on an incredible numbers of tests administered by our schools. There are so many unknowns that I hesitate to imply that meals such as we prepared in the Big Ditch increases longevity, but I will postulate that such meals may promote a higher level of intelligence.

Today’s youth lag behind in the three Rs—reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic and their skills in communication skills are deplorable—they are deficient both in receiving and transmitting the spoken word, obviously derelict in vocal expression and auditory reception. I feel that my detailing just one of my eating habits as a boy proves, at least in some degree, that consumption of treated sewage water will not be harmful to us and our neighbors, and that proof has been beautifully presented to my viewers. That’s why I was motivated to make this posting and I feel that I have made my point—my efforts were successful and productive for society.

I apologize for diverting my attention to other problems facing our society and our nation—I couldn’t help it—it’s either in my nature or it could possibly be the result of my being distracted by a cantankerous keyboard.

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

Postscript: The fact that I frequently watch MSNBC does not mean that I like MSNBC. I frequently tune in to get the side of the news and opinions that are presented by other, more reliable and more truthful cable entities. I do not  dislike MSNBC—I enjoy its graphics and its presentations of news that are not permeated with and perforated by personal political presentations, situations that are far less frequent than presentations that are afflicted—tainted, so to speak—well, let’s face it—filled with and distorted by such taints and afflictions. Tune in to MSNBC on any weekday evening and listen to the talking heads in its evening lineup—you’ll be both attracted and reviled by their vituperative views on subjects ranging from A to Z—from armadillos to zebras–but particularly on Cs and Rs—Conservatives and Republicans.

One more postscript: Having clicked on the center of the above YouTube video, you have read the notice that someone, somewhere and somehow decided that the videos violated copyright, and it is stated that “the YouTube account associated with this video has been terminated due to multiple third-party notifications of copyright infringement from claimants including Real Clear Politics” . . .

Obviously when I showed the video and in effect compared it with the effluvia and solid particles that characterized the Big Ditch in my boyhood, I stepped on someone’s pepperoni and they demonstrated their ability to exercise their right to censure that part of of this post. I consider it a violation of my right to express my disgust of the vituperative drivel that nightly spews from the show. It’s still on YouTube, along with similar excerpts from other Ed Shultz’ nightly rants—check ’em out.

And just one more note: I understand now why the network abruptly tossed Keith Olberman out the window—they didn’t need him because they had Ed Shultz.

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

 

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On flags, funerals, Shakespeare & sex . . .

I recently spent some time online seeking information for the proper way to dispose of an American flag, for whatever reason—tattered, torn, soiled, etc. At the risk of being called un-American, I will say without reservation that the information given ranges from the ridiculous to the sublime. The most acceptable method of destroying an American flag that is not longer serviceable is by burning, but first its composition must be determined.

Is it cloth? If cloth, it may be burned but under tightly controlled supervision, with close attention paid to local burning restrictions and most important, the flag must be completely consumed by fire, with none of the fragments allowed to float away on prevailing winds.

Is it plastic? If it is made of plastic, burning may well release chemicals that will pollute the air and pose a danger to humans and animals, so clearance must be obtained from our nation’s Environmental Protection Agency—good luck with that!

In lieu of burning, a flag may be buried but it must be buried in a non-degradable container to ensure that it will never again see the light of day nor be exposed to the elements of nature, and the drivel goes on and on—click here to read the do’s and don’ts as promulgated by the United States Flag Code.

A flag is a flag is a flag, etc., or as William Shakespeare might say, “That which we call a flag, regardless of its composition, whether constructed of plastic, silk, nylon, 1200-thread-count Egyptian cotton or a combination of all the above, would have streamed just as gallantly o’er the ramparts we watched as did the original that was flown over Baltimore’s Fort McHenry in 1914 in the War of 1912 and is now displayed in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.”

Yep, I believe that’s what the bard might say. Any item, regardless of its composition, that features the proper colors and the requisite numbers of “broad stripes and bright stars,” all arranged in the manner of those of the real flag—the one periodically displayed at the Smithsonian—is a representation of that flag and therefore warrants the same attention to usage and storage and final disposition.

Each year without fail, a local realtor places a small American flag on a stick in the front yard of every home in my neighborhood—the flags number in the hundreds at least, and perhaps in the thousands, and I’m reasonably sure that the process is repeated in other neighborhoods all across our nation. The flags are not marked with the country of origin, but I’ll bet a half-barrel of pickled a-holes that they’re made in China. The staff is some sort of white wood, and the material is some kind of fabric, either a natural fabric or synthetic material—who knows which?

Our flag code requires flags to be of certain proportions, regardless of their intended use, whether flying over the White House or sticking in my front lawn. Overall size is a matter of choice, but the star field, the stripe widths, the size of the stars relative to the overall size, etc., are specified by the Code and any lop-sided construction of the flag, regardless of size, is a violation of the US Flag Code, and any disposition other than specified in the Code is a violation.

I haven’t measured the specifics of the flags that proliferate in our neighborhood each year on Flag Day, beautifying or polluting, take your pick. Given the ability and the proclivity of the Chinese to excel in mathematics, I suspect that they are right on the money—so to speak—in the dimensions of the untold tons of flags they ship to the United States each year.

Are you, dear reader, beginning to see what I mean when I say that flag instructions and its procotol range from the ridiculous to the sublime? In our devotion to our flag and our need to protect it, we have given it properties that more properly pertain to living, breathing life forms, whether human or animal. When we die we are subjected to specific methods of disposition—what, when, where and how, and to a lesser extent for the so-called lower order of animals.

The Star Spangled Banner

On September 14, 1814, U.S. soldiers at Baltimore’s Fort McHenry raised a huge American flag to celebrate a crucial victory over British forces during the War of 1812. The sight of those “broad stripes and bright stars” inspired Francis Scott Key to write a song that eventually became the national anthem of the United States of America. Key’s words gave new significance to a national symbol and started a tradition through which generations of Americans have invested the flag with their own meanings and memories. Click here for the flag’s history.

If the real flag should ever be subjected to destruction—let’s say, to prevent it from falling into enemy hands should the District of Columbia be overrun, whether by the extreme left or by the extreme right, we should consider a Viking funeral for the flag on the Potomac river–what a riveting spectacle that would be! Click here to read up on Viking funerals—it’s worth the read—hey, those Norse ceremonies involved a lot of people other than the diseased in order to comply with all the requirements that had be met.

Timing of the ceremony would be critical, of course, to ensure that the burning Viking ship would sink before ramming one of the Potomac’s bridges. The current is fairly swift in that area—the ship should probably be anchored before being torched, and the usual sacrifice of a slave girl should be omitted. I’m not aware of any available slave girls, at least none that would be willing to volunteer to accompany the flag on its final voyage. Although that would guarantee throngs of spectators and television saturation—all the bridges on the Potomac would be packed with spectators—such an event could possibly produce political complications. I worked and lived in the DC area for three years, and I’ll admit that one of the girls that entertain nightly on Fourteenth Street in downtown DC might be persuaded, especially one filled with the intoxicating drink mentioned by Ahmad Ibn Fadlan in the tenth century—then again, perhaps not—who knows? The following video will introduce you to 14th St—if you need and want an introduction. If not, just skip over it, but if you do shun it you’ll miss out on a nightly spectacle, the pulchritudinous parade of practicing purveyors of es e ex.

I conducted all the research above with the serious intention to present it, with all seriousness aside, in an effort to educate and entertain those that follow my blog and those that simply stumble onto it. I mean no disrespect to our flag, although I detest the placement of that tacky little flag on a stick that mysteriously appears on my lawn each year on Flag Day. I love Old Glory and I dedicated more than 22 years of military service to it, years in which I proudly assisted our nation in losing two wars, with combat tours in Korea, 1950-1952 and Viet Nam, 1969-1970.

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

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2011 in education, Humor, law enforcement

 

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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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Listen up, South Korea!

Listen up, South Korea!

In August of 2008 Newsweek ranked the top 100 countries in the world. This posting deals with the world ranking of South Korea today, as opposed to the years before 1950, the year that saw the start of the Korean conflict, one that ended in a stalemate some four years later.

In our president’s recent visit to your country you agreed to none of the proposals advanced by Barack Obama, the man that holds a position considered by many to make him the most powerful person on earth. You rejected every proposal, every idea and every project intended to elevate both the United States and South Korea to higher levels in future such world ratings. Obviously his title as the most powerful man in the world does not impress you, at least not collectively as a nation.

I was in Japan on June 25 in 1950 when the North Korean army crossed the 38th parallel. I was stationed at Yokota Air Base at the time, and I began a voluntary 15-month tour in South Korea just four months later. My military record shows that I was involved in five military combat campaigns during those 15 months before rotating to the United States. I mention those dates and assignments merely to establish my right to speak concerning the before and after conditions in South Korea—I was there, and I can assure the reader that South Korea was a far cry from the world-class country that it has become.

In its 2008 report Newsweek placed South Korea in fifteenth place among the top 100 nations in the world, just four places below the eleventh place rating given the United States. The report compiled by Newsweek ranked nations by economy, politics, health and quality of life and stated that the ranking proves the world’s true national champions. Click here for the list of the top 100 nations.

On June 25, 1950 the North Korean army invaded South Korea and began a war that involved the Chinese army and the armed forces of the United States. The war raged for some four years and ended in a stalemate, an armistice that exists to this day some 56 years later. I consider it a war lost along with our other lost war, the one we unsuccessfully waged in Viet Nam—incidentally, I was involved in that war also, for thirteen months in 1969-1970.

Shame on you, South Korea!

Before the United States came to your defense in 1950, you were a backward country in virtually every category considered by Newsweek’s report. The United States saved you from a takeover by North Korea and the army of communist China. Without the help of the United States you would today be the southern part of a united Korea and your economy would be in shambles, just as North Korea’s economy is now, with the government starving its people in order to support one of the world’s largest standing armies.

We helped you subdue the army of North Korea and helped you drive the Chinese armies back across the Yalu River, and we stayed with you following the truce with North Korea. We stayed with you and we continue supporting you with our troops in-country and with favorable trade agreements, actions that have enabled you to become a world power with a stable government, a thriving economy with world class cities, and with health and a quality of life that places you in the top fifteen percent of the world’s best 100 countries.

Be honest and admit that without the United States coming between you and North Korea, you would never have progressed this rapidly in the short span of 56 years since the truce was made. You would still be a backward country, with animal-drawn carts and three men on every shovel in construction projects. Your manufacturing and exports of motor vehicles, tools and household machines, electronics and other products are legion and the United States is your best customer.

Admit it—you dissed our president by failing to acquiesce to even one of his proposals, refuting some outright and placing others on the back burner. Just as a friendly suggestion, you might want to reconsider some of his proposals. Note that the presence of US military personnel in your country is now less than 40,000, down from an earlier force of some 60,000 and you can expect it to drop even lower, perhaps to zero. I mention this only because the people in North Korea are starving, and your thriving economy is looking better and better to them and to their government.

If you are thinking that the United States will stay with you through thick and thin, think again. I call your attention to the fall of South Viet Nam, a war in which our nation called it quits for a variety of reasons. I submit to you that in the event of another invasion by North Korea, one supported by communist China and possibly Russia, the United States may pick up its marbles and go home.

Take a look at the following video—one day this army may be marching in Seoul, celebrating North Korea’s subjugation of South Korea to create a united nation of Korea.

You might want to think about that possibility coming to fruition. I suggest that you think long and hard about it. More than 40,000 Americans died during the Korean conflict fighting to keep your country free. North Korea is poised to invade your country, and the only thing holding it back is your relationship with the United States. When it happens, don’t expect the United States to sacrifice another 40,000 of our fighting men and women.

Trust me—our government might  consider such an action, but the people won’t tolerate it.

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

 

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Breakfast in Mexico . . .

The first paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens, English novelist (1812 – 1870):

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

I began this posting with Dickens’ work to emphasize and compare some of the differences in two sovereign nations, two states of those nations and the towns on their borders. This is not an invitation for my readers to travel in Mexico to observe the differences, not in these troubled times—travel to Mexico is fraught with danger, and as a long-time observer I would suggest that until the Mexican government eliminates the drug cartels, with or without the help of the United States government, all travel to that country should be forbidden, including trips to the interior of Mexico. Twenty Mexican tourists on a commercial bus were recently kidnapped in one of Mexico’s most popular resort cities—no place in the nation is safe from the murderous drug cartels.

I will also add that no place along the Texas border with Mexico is completely safe on either side of the Rio Grande River, but especially en la frontera—on the frontier, the Mexican side of the border. People in Mexico’s border cities are being kidnapped and held for ransom, women are being kidnapped, raped and murdered, and blockades manned by heavily armed bands are being erected along main highways by criminal elements to enable them to exact tribute from travelers driving to and from vacation spots in Mexico.

This is my advice to anyone contemplating visiting or vacationing in Mexico, given in words of one syllable:

It is not safe. Do not go there—not in a plane, on a boat, in a car, on a bus or on foot. You could lose your cash and your life—stay home.

Breakfast in Mexico. . .

The United States Air Force and I entered into a sometimes tumultuous relationship on March 7, 1949 and we parted company on July 1, 1971. Before ending my 22-year-plus career with the Air Force I studied for and took the test for employment with our federal work force, and spent the first five months following retirement waiting for a suitable offer of employment from our government.

Offers were plentiful, ranging from military units to the Veterans Administration to the U.S. Treasury Department, for locations all over the southeastern quadrant of the United States. I finally responded to an offer of employment with the United States Custom Service in the lower Rio Grande Valley at the international bridge at Hidalgo, Texas, a few miles from McAllen across the river from Reynosa, Mexico.

I accepted the offer and waited for a call to arms, but when the call came I was asked if I was familiar with Progreso. I replied that I didn’t know what a Progreso was, and the caller said it was a small town downriver from Hidalgo, that it had just been declared a separate port from Hidalgo, that it needed to be staffed, that my offer of employment was now for that location, and that should I decline the change the offer for employment would be withdrawn.

Having felt then, as I do now, that I am a very slight cut above the average retired military person, I wisely accepted the change in assignment and reported for duty at the port of Progreso, Texas on Monday, December 21, 1971 to begin a tour of duty that lasted almost six years, ending with my promotion to a supervisory position at Roma, Texas.

My memories of those six years are legion and as the saying goes, would fill a book, an enterprise that one day may come to fruition with the assistance of my daughter, the one that lives, loves, labors and languishes in Northern Virginia. Click here for her blog, an adventure that will take a reader worldwide on subjects ranging from agapanthus (lily of the Nile) to zinnias, from Alaska to Antarctica and from aardvarks to porpoises to zebras. This daughter is the middle one in age of three daughters—she is a world traveler, a professional and ardent photographer, a desktop publisher, a skilled artist, a graphic designer, etc., etc., etc. I hasten to add that she is not a chip off the old block—I admit unashamedly that I possess none of her talents and very few of my own.

But I digress—as the title promises, this posting is a tale of breakfast in Mexico, of two barrels and of sewage in the drinking water in a small town  known as Nuevo Progreso—New Progreso, in reference to its sister city across the Rio Grande River in Texas. Originally known as Las Flores—Spanish for the flowers—this is probably one of the most contradictory names of any town—ever.

When I came to work at the port of Progreso, one of Las Flores’ most memorable and most photographed scenes could be observed from the U.S. side of the river. One could watch the town’s water hauler as he rumbled down the slope to the river’s edge, perched high on a wooden bench seat on a two-wheeled cart drawn by a lone burro. In addition to the driver, the cart boasted a huge wooden metal-ringed barrel. The driver filled the barrel by wading into the river and dipping two buckets into the Rio Grande, then emptying them into the barrel, a system that required many trips to fill the barrel before heading back to town for locations that used his services, locations that included small eating places and private homes.

I soon learned how the freshwater system worked. At the end of my first 4 pm to midnight shift at the port of Progreso, the toll collector for outbound traffic, a bridge employee that would become a close friend, suggested that we cross the river and have breakfast at a small café that stayed open well after other eateries had closed for the night. I agreed, and we were soon seated at a table in a small, dimly lighted room with no more than six or seven tables. In addition to the front unscreened door the room had two doors to the rear, one closed and the other open to show the kitchen area. I noticed that there were two large wooden barrels in the kitchen.

Following a short wait, the closed door opened and a woman dressed in a chenille house robe with her hair up in curlers entered the dining area, apparently coming from a sleeping area. I say this because of the robe and the hair up in curlers and because she was yawning—she was also scratching her crotch, a motion that could have meant, but did not necessarily mean, that she had been sleeping.

While we awaited her arrival I asked my friend about the two barrels in the kitchen and he readily explained their purpose. I had suspected the worst, and he confirmed my fears. He told me that the barrels were filled from the burro-drawn cart bearing the giant barrel filled from the Rio Grande River. Two barrels were needed in the cafe—one to provide water for cooking and drinking and diverse other purposes while the sediments in the recently filled barrel were settling to the bottom, and at the appropriate time the proprietor would switch barrels.

My friend ordered blanquillos con chorizo y tortillas de harina—eggs with sausage and flour tortillas—but I stated that I had suddenly been afflicted with a stomach ache and a slight bout of nausea, and felt that I shouldn’t eat at such a late hour. He accepted my declination without comment, and consumed his breakfast with obvious gusto. Our friendship blossomed over the following years, but that was the only time we went across the river for breakfast. Other invitations followed, but I always managed to decline them.

In all the years that I worked on and lived in proximity to the border Texas shares with the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico, raw sewage flowed into the Rio Grande River at points all along its length, conditions that probably still exist. The little town of Las Flores sported open sewers that meandered their way through the town and spewed their contents into the river’s murky waters. That was then and this is now, and I cannot speak for the town’s sewage disposal system now—I haven’t been there for more than twenty-five years, but I can assure the reader that raw untreated sewage is still pouring into the river at various points along our border with Mexico.

Just as an afterthought—I lived with my family in Donna, Texas for twelve years before moving out of and far away from that city. Donna’s water supply came from the Rio Grande, pumped from there to an uncovered reservoir referred to locally as a settling pond, then from that point to a water-treatment plant before going into homes and restaurants in the city of Donna. As far as I know, that is still the system used in Donna. Let’s face it—Donna’s settling pond is the equivalent of the second barrel in that little café in Las Flores.

During the years I worked at the port of Progreso, the city of Nuevo Progreso just across the river in Mexico had several nice restaurants  with international cuisine, served on linen-covered tables with all the dishes and fine wines found in upscale restaurants across our nation. I am reasonably certain that their water supply came from some source other than a barrel on a donkey cart. Arturo’s Restaurant was one of the best, and my family and friends dined there frequently. I recommended it then and I would recommend it now were it not for the difficult times and dangers posed by the turmoil existing in Mexico, specifically the drug cartel wars and the government’s inability to control them and their murderous activities.

And now, at the risk of repeating myself, I will repeat myself: This is my advice to anyone contemplating visiting or vacationing in Mexico, given in words of one syllable:

It is not safe. Do not go there—not in a plane, on a boat, in a car, by bus or on foot. You could lose your cash and your life—stay home.

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

 

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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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