Thursday, December 31, 2009

The New Canary in the Coal Mine

I recently saw the Disney Movie, “The Princess and the Frog,” in which the animators recreated the colorful and melodious experience of the Louisiana Bayou. As suggested by the title, the frogs of the Bayou played a stellar role. As I watched the movie with my youngest, I was thinking of the vulnerabilities of these precious wetlands and growing threats to their inhabitants—the frogs.

With the ongoing debate over the health and environmental effects of climate change on animals, increasingly, frogs and their fellow amphibians are becoming the new “canaries in the coal mine.” Since amphibians’ skin is permeable, these creatures are more susceptible to contaminants and changes in their aquatic habitats. By their very nature, they are considered a “sentinel” species, hence, the term of the “canary in the coal mine.”

There are over five thousand species of amphibians worldwide. Many live throughout North America. In Puerto Rico, our favorite amphibian is the coquí—eleutherodactylus coquí. Eleutherodactylus comes from the Greek meaning free toes. Coquí, its popular name, refers to its high decibel chirp “co-KEE.” In general, these amphibians have adapted well to urban sprawl on the Island, however, pollution is taking its toll. While over 16 species are endemic to Puerto Rico, several coquí species are currently threatened. Some species known by their popular Spanish names haven’t been heard in years. As I have mentioned in previous blog entries, these small frogs have been introduced to neighboring Islands, Florida and even Hawaii where they are considered an invasive pest.

We all can do something to protect wildlife and the environment in our daily lives. How can we help protect the frogs and their fellow amphibians from environmental contaminants in our own back yard? Well, one of the first steps is to reduce the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers in our lawn that are carried by runoff and end up polluting their aquatic habitats miles away. By planting native grasses, shrubs, and trees in your garden you also minimize the need for using toxic chemicals around your home. While I don’t recommend kissing a frog, please help protect it and its habitat. A healthy environment is a gift for all.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sent to me by Uncle Bob

$5.37. That's what the kid behind the counter at Taco Bell said to me.

I dug into my pocket and pulled out some lint and two dimes and something that used to be a Jolly Rancher. Having already handed the kid a five-spot, I started to head back out to the truck to grab some change when the kid with the Emo hairdo said the harshest thing anyone has ever said to me.

He said, "It's OK. I'll just give you the senior citizen discount."

I turned to see who he was talking to and then heard the sound of change hitting the counter in front of me. "Only $4.68" he said cheerfully.

I stood there stupefied. I am 48, not even 50 yet? A mere child! Senior citizen?

I took my burrito and walked out to the truck wondering what was wrong with Emo. Was he blind? As I sat in the truck, my blood began to boil. Old? Me?

I'll show him, I thought. I opened the door and headed back inside. I strode to the counter, and there he was waiting with a smile.

Before I could say a word, he held up something and jingled it in front of me, like I could be that easily distracted!
What am I now?
A toddler?

"Dude! Can't get too far without your car keys, eh?"

I stared with utter disdain at the keys.
I began to rationalize in my mind.
"Leaving keys behind hardly makes a man elderly!
It could happen to anyone!"
I turned and headed back to the truck.
I slipped the key into the ignition, but it wouldn't turn.
What now?
I checked my keys and tried another.
Still nothing.
That's when I noticed the purple beads hanging from my rearview mirror.
I had no purple beads hanging from my rearview mirror.

Then, a few other objects came into focus. The car seat in the back seat. Happy Meal toys spread all over the floorboard. A partially eaten doughnut on the dashboard.

Faster than you can say ginkgo biloba, I flew out of the alien vehicle.
Moments later I was speeding out of the parking lot, relieved to finally be leaving this nightmarish stop in my life. That is when I felt it, deep in the bowels of my stomach: hunger! My stomach growled and churned, and I reached to grab my burrito, only it was nowhere to be found.

I swung the truck around, gathered my courage, and strode back into the restaurant one final time. There Emo stood, draped in youth and black nail polish. All I could think was, "What is the world coming to?" All I could say was, "Did I leave my food and drink in here?" At this point I was ready to ask a Boy Scout to help me back to my vehicle, and then go straight home and apply for Social Security benefits.

Emo had no clue. I walked back out to the truck, and suddenly a young lad came up and tugged on my jeans to get my attention. He was holding up a drink and a bag. His mother explained, "I think you left this in my truck by mistake."

I took the food and drink from the little boy and sheepishly apologized.

She offered these kind words: "It's OK. My grandfather does stuff like this all the time."

All of this is to explain how I got a ticket doing 85 in a 40. Yes, I
was racing some punk kid in a Toyota Prius.. And no, I told the officer, I'm not too old to be driving this fast.

As I walked in the front door, my wife met me halfway down the hall. I handed her a bag of cold food and a $300 speeding ticket. I promptly sat in my rocking chair and covered up my legs with a blanky.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Kind and Generous People of Port Aransas

I was watching Paranormal State on TV anticipating my shower prior to volunteering at the Computer Center in Port Aransas when up drove the Christmas Food Pantry delivery truck from the VFW. They were welcomed with open arms.
I have been unemployed since August when I was fired from Bundy's by a disagreeable manager. Let me be clear. The owner, Tammy, is great. We got along fine. The manager, which shall remain nameless, had no coffee making knowledge or experience so my days were numbered. That, and Sagittarius and Leos are not getting along these days. So, I filed for unemployment and despite the managers lies, I was provided benefits. It might have had something to do with the fact that I had documentation to support my claim.
Anywho, I am the cliche, perverbial struggling artist. I must say tho, that, because of this time off, I was able to take care of a pesky wrist problem resolved by surgical intervention. I could work, but it would be VERY difficult. I was under so much pre-surgery pain, I could not lift a glass, plate of food, or even the TV remote. My hand would be reduced to tremors.
I was diagnosed as having DeQuervain's Tenosynovitis.
It was corrected at Christus Spohn Memorial Hospital. Let me tell ya, those folks are just the best. From the surgeon, Dr. Rivera, on down, they are a kind, class act. That was 12 days ago. The incision is healing just fine (they glued it together, yikes!) and I'm busily looking for a job during a recession just before Christmas.
Needless to say, money is TIGHT. My faith in people is always restored by the fine folks of Port Aransas. I bitch and gripe about how there's no new music here. How the locals are refreshingly blunt. How everybody knows what you're going to do before you do it. The tourist brochure look of the local newspaper. The lack of jobs here. And I think I'll stop there. I'll stop because mid-rant, I realize that I've met some fine people here, just as well.
Today, the volunteers from the pantry from the Presbyterian Church drove by to give me and my neighbor, Bicycle Bob, a box of food for Christmas. A turkey, a ham, a box of potatos, a box of stuffing, apples, oranges, rice stix (I need to find out what those even are), a jar of peanut butter, a 10 lb. bag of potatos, a can of yams, a few cans of vegetables, and more stuff I can't recall at the moment. I am so overwhelmed that a small town like Port A can manage to put all that together for their needy and seasonally unemployed, that I remind myself why I moved here and why I like to live here.
I have met the best friend I've had in years since my friend, Chris, died of lung cancer about 5 years ago. I enjoy working with goofball and ladies' man, Luis Villarreal, making our own brand of music. I love Trish and Grady who run the Intaxicated Taxi Service. I love Tom Lovett of Lovetts and I'd better stop because I know I'll leave someone out.
They have a Songwriter Showcase at the Tarpon Inn to rival anything I've sung at in Dallas.
And then here they are today, dropping off all this food.
I am looking forward to a great Christmas with my friend Joanne, her kids and parents, my snowbird friend, Richard, and maybe Luis. We will eat, mock the TV, eat some more, mock the TV, perhaps grab a blanket and nap, eat, and watch more TV until we decide Christmas is over for the day.
But when we say grace, I will will be sure to mention the kind and considerate people of the Presbyterian Church and the VFW who do so much good for so many people.
When I say I love living in Paradise, I'm not just talking about the weather and the beach.
Merry Christmas and Happy Hannukah to all.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Bougainvillea tree, Oaxaca

Reposting this photo. One of my favorite times in 2005.

Hola Howdy Hi Hello Cheerio

Just dropping in very quickly to say, "hi" and introduce myself before I start posting and you wonder who the hell I am.
My name is Alma. Born and raised in Kingsville TX. Lived most of my life in Dallas, but have lived in Corpus Christi, San Antonio, the burbs of Dallas, Corpus Christi Beach (locals call it North Beach), and now live in Port Aransas.
I am a lifelong musician and have always wanted to put down my observations as my life seems to be of endless amusement to me. Some folks have told me I'm funny. I dunno. Most of the time I see myself resembling the RCA dog with it's head cocked to the side in an eternal state of "WTF?"
I'm hoping to talk here about various things including Port A, music, music biz, the locals, food, art, books, ya know, the stuff that makes life interesting. For the record, I'm straight and view both men and women with a jaundiced eye, so spend much of my time alone.
So, that's all for today. Hopefully, you'll get a glimpse of the life of a musician of a certain age living in paradise. C ya soonl.

Burial at Sea

Burial at Sea

by LtCol George Goodson, USMC (Ret)

In my 76th year, the events of my life appear to me, from time to time, as a series of vignettes. Some were significant; most were trivial.

War is the seminal event in the life of everyone that has endured it. Though I fought in Korea and the Dominican Republic and was wounded there, Vietnam was my war.

Now 42 years have passed and, thankfully, I rarely think of those days in Cambodia, Laos, and the panhandle of North Vietnam where small teams of Americans and Montagnards fought much larger elements of the North Vietnamese Army. Instead I see vignettes: some exotic, some mundane:

*The smell of Nuc Mam.
*The heat, dust, and humidity.
*The blue exhaust of cycles clogging the streets.
*Elephants moving silently through the tall grass.
*Hard eyes behind the servile smiles of the villagers.
*Standing on a mountain in Laos and hearing a tiger roar.
*A young girl squeezing my hand as my medic delivered her baby.
*The flowing Ao Dais of the young women biking down Tran Hung Dao.
*My two years as Casualty Notification Officer in North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland.

It was late 1967. I had just returned after 18 months in Vietnam. Casualties were increasing. I moved my family from Indianapolis to Norfolk, rented a house, enrolled my children in their fifth or sixth new school, and bought a second car.

A week later, I put on my uniform and drove 10 miles to Little Creek, Virginia. I hesitated before entering my new office. Appearance is important to career Marines. I was no longer, if ever, a poster Marine. I had returned from my third tour in Vietnam only 30 days before. At 5'9", I now weighed 128 pounds - 37 pounds below my normal weight. My uniforms fit ludicrously, my skin was yellow from malaria medication, and I think I had a twitch or two.

I straightened my shoulders, walked into the office, looked at the nameplate on a Staff Sergeant's desk and said, "Sergeant Jolly, I'm Lieutenant Colonel Goodson. Here are my orders and my Qualification Jacket."

Sergeant Jolly stood, looked carefully at me, took my orders, stuck out his hand; we shook and he asked, "How long were you there, Colonel?" I replied "18 months this time." Jolly breathed, you must be a slow learner Colonel." I smiled.

Jolly said, "Colonel, I'll show you to your office and bring in the Sergeant Major. I said, "No, let's just go straight to his office." Jolly nodded, hesitated, and lowered his voice, "Colonel, the Sergeant Major. He's been in this job two years. He's packed pretty tight. I'm worried about him." I nodded.

Jolly escorted me into the Sergeant Major's office. "Sergeant Major, this is Colonel Goodson, the new Commanding Office The Sergeant Major stood, extended his hand and said, "Good to see you again, Colonel." I responded, "Hello Walt, how are you?" Jolly looked at me, raised an eyebrow, walked out, and closed the door.

I sat down with the Sergeant Major. We had the obligatory cup of coffee and talked about mutual acquaintances. Walt's stress was palpable. Finally, I said, "Walt, what's the h-ll's wrong?" He turned his chair, looked out the window and said, "George, you're going to wish you were back in Nam before you leave here. I've been in the Marine Corps since 1939. I was in the Pacific 36 months, Korea for 14 months, and Vietnam for 12 months Now I come here to bury these kids. I'm putting my letter in. I can't take it anymore." I said, "OK Walt. If that's what you want, I'll endorse your request for retirement and do what I can to push it through Headquarters Marine Corps."

Sergeant Major Walt Xxxxx retired 12 weeks later. He had been a good Marine for 28 years, but he had seen too much death and too much suffering. He was used up.

Over the next 16 months, I made 28 death notifications, conducted 28 military funerals, and made 30 notifications to the families of Marines that were severely wounded or missing in action. Most of the details of those casualty notifications have now, thankfully, faded from memory. Four, however, remain.

My third or fourth day in Norfolk, I was notified of the death of a 19 year old Marine. This notification came by telephone from Headquarters Marine Corps. The information detailed:

*Name, rank, and serial number.
*Name, address, and phone number of next of kin.
*Date of and limited details about the Marine's death.
*Approximate date the body would arrive at the Norfolk Naval Air Station.
*A strong recommendation on whether the casket should be opened or closed.

The boy's family lived over the border in North Carolina, about 60 miles away. I drove there in a Marine Corps staff car. Crossing the state line into North Carolina, I stopped at a small country store / service station / Post Office. I went in to ask directions.

Three people were in the store. A man and woman approached the small Post Office window. The man held a package. The Storeowner walked up and addressed them by name, "Hello John. Good morning Mrs. Cooper."

I was stunned. My casualty's next-of-kin' s name was John Cooper!

I hesitated, then stepped forward and said, "I beg your pardon. Are you Mr. and Mrs. John Cooper of (address.)

The father looked at me-I was in uniform - and then, shaking, bent at the waist, he vomited. His wife looked horrified at him and then at me. Understanding came into her eyes and she collapsed in slow motion. I think I caught her before she hit the floor.

The owner took a bottle of whiskey out of a drawer and handed it to Mr. Cooper who drank. I answered their questions for a few minutes. Then I drove them home in my staff car. The storeowner locked the store and followed in their truck. We stayed an hour or so until the family began arriving.

I returned the storeowner to his business. He thanked me and said, "Mister, I wouldn't have your job for a million dollars." I shook his hand and said; "Neither would I."

I vaguely remember the drive back to Norfolk. Violating about five Marine Corps regulations, I drove the staff car straight to my house. I sat with my family while they ate dinner, went into the den, closed the door, and sat there all night, alone.

My Marines steered clear of me for days. I had made my first death notification.

Weeks passed with more notifications and more funerals. I borrowed Marines from the local Marine Corps Reserve and taught them to conduct a military funeral: how to carry a casket, how to fire the volleys and how to fold the flag.

When I presented the flag to the mother, wife, or father, I always said, "All Marines share in your grief." I had been instructed to say, "On behalf of a grateful nation...." I didn't think the nation was grateful, so I didn't say that.

Sometimes, my emotions got the best of me and I couldn't speak. When that happened, I just handed them the flag and touched a shoulder. They would look at me and nod. Once a mother said to me, "I'm so sorry you have this terrible job." My eyes filled with tears and I leaned over and kissed her.

Six weeks after my first notification, I had another. This was a young PFC. I drove to his mother's house. As always, I was in uniform and driving a Marine Corps staff car. I parked in front of the house, took a deep breath, and walked towards the house. Suddenly the door flew open, a middle-aged woman rushed out. She looked at me and ran across the yard, screaming "NO! NO! NO! NO!"

I hesitated. Neighbors came out. I ran to her, grabbed her, and whispered stupid things to reassure her. She collapsed. I picked her up and carried her into the house. Eight or nine neighbors followed. Ten or fifteen later, the father came in followed by ambulance personnel. I have no recollection of leaving.

The funeral took place about two weeks later. We went through the drill. The mother never looked at me. The father looked at me once and shook his head sadly.

One morning, as I walked in the office, the phone was ringing. Sergeant Jolly held the phone up and said, "You've got another one, Colonel." I nodded, walked into my office, picked up the phone, took notes, thanked the officer making the call, I have no idea why, and hung up. Jolly, who had listened, came in with a special Telephone Directory that translates telephone numbers into the person's address and place of employment.

The father of this casualty was a Longshoreman. He lived a mile from my office. I called the Longshoreman' s Union Office and asked for the Business Manager. He answered the phone, I told him who I was, and asked for the father's schedule.

The Business Manager asked, "Is it his son?" I said nothing. After a moment, he said, in a low voice, "Tom is at home today." I said, "Don't call him. I'll take care of that." The Business Manager said, "Aye, Aye Sir," and then explained, "Tom and I were Marines in WWII."

I got in my staff car and drove to the house. I was in uniform. I knocked and a woman in her early forties answered the door. I saw instantly that she was clueless. I asked, "Is Mr. Smith home?" She smiled pleasantly and responded, "Yes, but he's eating breakfast now. Can you come back later?" I said, "I'm sorry. It's important. I need to see him now."

She nodded, stepped back into the beach house and said, "Tom, it's for you."

A moment later, a ruddy man in his late forties, appeared at the door. He looked at me, turned absolutely pale, steadied himself, and said, "Jesus Christ man, he's only been there three weeks!"

Months passed. More notifications and more funerals. Then one day while I was running, Sergeant Jolly stepped outside the building and gave a loud whistle, two fingers in his mouth....... I never could do that..... and held an imaginary phone to his ear.

Another call from Headquarters Marine Corps. I took notes, said, "Got it." and hung up. I had stopped saying "Thank You" long ago.

Jolly, "Where?"

Me, "Eastern Shore of Maryland. The father is a retired Chief Petty Officer. His brother will accompany the body back from Vietnam...."

Jolly shook his head slowly, straightened, and then said, "This time of day, it'll take three hours to get there and back. I'll call the Naval Air Station and borrow a helicopter. And I'll have Captain Tolliver get one of his men to meet you and drive you to the Chief's home."

He did, and 40 minutes later, I was knocking on the father's door. He opened the door, looked at me, then looked at the Marine standing at parade rest beside the car, and asked, "Which one of my boys was it, Colonel?"

I stayed a couple of hours, gave him all the information, my office and home phone number and told him to call me, anytime.

He called me that evening about 2300 (11:00PM). "I've gone through my boy's papers and found his will. He asked to be buried at sea. Can you make that happen?" I said, "Yes I can, Chief. I can and I will."

My wife who had been listening said, "Can you do that?" I told her, "I have no idea. But I'm going to break my ass trying."

I called Lieutenant General Alpha Bowser, Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force Atlantic, at home about 2330, explained the situation, and asked, "General, can you get me a quick appointment with the Admiral at Atlantic Fleet Headquarters? " General Bowser said," George, you be there tomorrow at 0900. He will see you.

I was and the Admiral did. He said coldly, "How can the Navy help the Marine Corps, Colonel." I told him the story. He turned to his Chief of Staff and said, "Which is the sharpest destroyer in port?" The Chief of Staff responded with a name.

The Admiral called the ship, "Captain, you're going to do a burial at sea. You'll report to a Marine Lieutenant Colonel Goodson until this mission is completed... "

He hung up, looked at me, and said, "The next time you need a ship, Colonel, call me. You don't have to sic Al Bowser on my ass." I responded, "Aye Aye, Sir" and got the h-ll out of his office.

I went to the ship and met with the Captain, Executive Officer, and the Senior Chief. Sergeant Jolly and I trained the ship's crew for four days. Then Jolly raised a question none of us had thought of. He said, "These government caskets are air tight. How do we keep it from floating?"

All the high priced help including me sat there looking dumb. Then the Senior Chief stood and said, "Come on Jolly. I know a bar where the retired guys from World War II hang out."

They returned a couple of hours later, slightly the worst for wear, and said, "It's simple; we cut four 12" holes in the outer shell of the casket on each side and insert 300 lbs of lead in the foot end of the casket. We can handle that, no sweat."

The day arrived. The ship and the sailors looked razor sharp General Bowser, the Admiral, a US Senator, and a Navy Band were on board. The sealed casket was brought aboard and taken below for modification. The ship got underway to the 12-fathom depth.

The sun was hot. The ocean flat. The casket was brought aft and placed on a catafalque. The Chaplin spoke. The volleys were fired. The flag was removed, folded, and I gave it to the father. The band played "Eternal Father Strong to Save." The casket was raised slightly at the head and it slid into the sea.

The heavy casket plunged straight down about six feet. The incoming water collided with the air pockets in the outer shell. The casket stopped abruptly, rose straight out of the water about three feet, stopped, and slowly slipped back into the sea. The air bubbles rising from the sinking casket sparkled in the in the sunlight as the casket disappeared from sight forever....

The next morning I called a personal friend, Lieutenant General Oscar Peatross, at Headquarters Marine Corps and said, "General, get me out of here. I can't take this anymore." I was transferred two weeks later.

I was a good Marine but, after 17 years, I had seen too much death and too much suffering. I was used up.

Vacating the house, my family and I drove to the office in a two-car convoy. I said my goodbyes. Sergeant Jolly walked out with me. He waved at my family, looked at me with tears in his eyes, came to attention, saluted, and said, "Well Done, Colonel. Well Done."

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Riverbillies, Lakebillies inspire newsroom joke

The summer of 2002 saw historical flood levels on the Guadalupe River.
On July 4, 2002, the spillway at Canyon Dam north of San Antonio, Texas was overwhelmed by 70,000 cubic feet per second of water flow, across a 1,200 feet length of an emergency spillway, cut into natural limestone rock.
The result was that houses built below the dam and in the city of New Braunfels were flooded by river water.
For many people who insisted on building in the river's flood plain, it was the second 100-year flood in four years.
They had been rescued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood insurance program in 1998, but in 2002, they decided that property bailouts were a necessity; taxpayers should not pay for people who want to build their homes in places known to flood.
That caused an uproar.
Yours truly had coined a term regarding the types of personalities he had encountered visiting the lake region in another well-known reservoir - a sort of backwoodsy, long-haired, pile the beer bottles up behind the garage attitude.
The same sort of attitude prevailed among people who wanted to rebuild their homes along the lakeside and along the river.
So, he dubbed them Lakebillies, and Riverbillies, and shared the joke with other newsroom reporters and editors.
The terms lakebillies and riverbillies became part of the routine newsroom vocabulary, regarding people who wanted to live in flood prone areas and who expected taxpayers to bail them out whenever their pastoral existence was washed out.
About six months later, a mis-communication occurred.
The advertising department decided to launch a special promotion, and asked the editorial department to help, it had something to do with the river and the lake residents - marketing to them.
An e-mail was sent concerning a strategy for the promotion, targeting "lakebillies" and "riverbillies."
The two terms got printed into the promotional material, and was distributed by advertising executives to potential advertisers.
A thunderstorm of indignation ensued, and the advertisers complained to the publisher of the newspaper.
Parties involved were reprimanded, advertising executives were properly scolded, and the terms "lakebillies" and "riverbillies" were subsequently banned from use in the newsroom, either internally or externally.
But, the damage is done.
People who insist on living around a lakefront, even if they know it could wipe them out in a flood, should be referred to as Lakebillies.
And people who insist on living on the banks of a river should rightly be referred to as Riverbillies.
Publish that in your Urban Dictionary.