Paul Ruffin's Blog

MAKING THE CASE FOR PROPANE GENERATORS

by pauldruffin

RUFFIN-IT: MAKING THE CASE FOR PROPANE GENERATORS

I was running up our Generac 15KW generator the other day, something I try to do every couple of months, and I got to thinking about that long stretch in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike when we kept the house alive with that big boy.

I wired the transfer switch so that we can power everything but the range and hot-water heater (high-amp consumption there), two luxuries I figure we can forego in times of peril. We have the grill and smoker to cook on, and a cold shower during hurricane season is usually not all that bad. A 15 KW unit can support everything else.

In the days after Ike roared through, we still had everything else on-line, including central cooling and the well. I had a few cans of gasoline on hand, but not enough, so I had to make one trip to Bryan to fill the empties.

The big generator went out after a couple of days, thanks to an electrical short that caused the starter to try to engage while the engine was running. You may not know a thing about such issues, but take my word that this is not good. As long as the generator runs uninterrupted, you have no problem, but if you stop it to refuel, you can’t start it up again: ground-down teeth on the ring-gear, you see. But this is entirely too technical to discuss here. Take my word for it: It ain’t pretty.

My good friends down at D&M Hardware managed to find a smaller back-up generator that took care of everything but the central system, so we got by.

I have taken a long back-road route to arrive at this point: I do not like gasoline-powered generators. They can be dangerous to refill, and stored gasoline has a short shelf life, even with an additive like Stay-Bil. Right now I have some fifty gallons of gasoline stashed to keep my generators going, but because it’s all over two years old, I’m not certain that any of it is still usable. I frankly don’t know what to do with it.

OK, I’m finally where I was going: I like propane generators. Diesel-powered units are acceptable, but even diesel will in time degrade if any water happens to get into it. I keep several cans of diesel on hand for my tractor, but never more than I can use and replenish in a year.

Why propane? Lots of reasons. A twenty-pound tank of propane, the kind you use with your grill, will run a generator as long as five gallons of gasoline will, so it’s probably a wee bit cheaper than gasoline and a hell of lot safer.

Propane is stored in a heavy-gauge sealed steel tank under pressure, and as long as the tank integrity is not compromised by rust or rough handling or whatever, that propane will be as good as the day it was put in there. You can bring in almost any size tank of propane, and you have a constant supply of stable fuel patiently waiting for use. Propane literally has an unlimited shelf life, as long as the container it is stored in is intact.

Instead of ten five-gallon containers of slowly-degrading gasoline sitting in reserve in the equipment shed well away from any other structure, I should have twenty tanks of propane, which can safely be stored almost anywhere without fear of it going bad.

In times of emergency, when people are lined up at gas pumps, you have many more places where you can buy propane, so propane is generally more readily available during power outages than gasoline. Hardware stores, farm-supply stores, supermarkets, feedstores—most of them are likely to have stocks of propane on hand.

Propane-powered engines typically last much longer than those fueled by gasoline because propane is a cleaner-burning fuel, which means, of course, that they are better for the environment, a point that some uninformed people will disagree with.

Propane generators are not generally much more expensive than those powered by gasoline, and usually they come with the capability of running on propane and gasoline or propane, natural gas, and gasoline. The triple-fuel generator is probably the best way to go, though expect a bit of a price premium for one.

Whichever kind of generator you prefer, keep in mind how invaluable they are when the grid goes down for any length of time. Whether you want central air or not, you certainly want to keep the refrigerator/freezer and fans running and the lights burning.

Next week I’ll discuss with you what to do if you have a gas-powered generator and prefer not to put the money into a propane-powered unit.


MRS. PATE SPEAKS ON RAYNETTE’S NEW PROLLEM

by pauldruffin

RUFFIN-IT: MRS. PATE SPEAKS ON RAYNETTE’S NEW PROLLEM

[Whether you remember or not, last week I introduced you to Raynette, who now has another problem.]

It’s been a splendid day out here in the valley of the Johnson Fork of the Llano, and we’re kicked back on the Pates’ front porch sipping suds–Winship, Mr. Pate, and I–while Mrs. Pate takes a look in the oven at whatever kind of dish she’s whipped up for supper. The woman can make a casserole out of anything that ever ran or flew or swam or just lay there waiting to be picked up and put to culinary use.

When she gets back to the porch and settles into her lawn chair and the groaning of the metal has stopped, I ask what she is cooking and she says a casserole, fleshed out with a jackrabbit that her great-grandson shot out by the barn. “It don’t no kind of meat goes to waste around here,” she says with satisfaction and pops her gums together to punctuate.

“That Raynette’s husband?” Winship asks her.

“Fersher,” she says. After a pause she adds, “And Raynette’s got a prollem.”

I sip my beer and hold the bottle up like I’m setting it on the top of the bluff across the river. “What kind?” I ask. “She still having trouble with her tongue?” See, Raynette got a tongue-split, another form of body mutilation that’s supposed to add a dimension of mystique to those who have it done, or so I’ve read. As far as I am concerned, Raynette needs other dimensions worse.

“Naw, they got it whipstitched back together somewhere over in San Antonio, since she was havin’ trouble at her new job at a chiropractor’s office. She gotta talk on the phone a lot, and people was havin’ trouble understandin’ what she was sayin’. She couldn’t talk worf beans before she got it split. Sounded like some kinda sick bird after. Well, sicker than before.” She sighs. “At any rate, they got it sewed up.”

“So what’s her problem this time?” I ask.

“Well,” the old woman says, “she got thowed off a horse up in the rocks and fell on her butt real hard and she’s got to have a tubal libation.”

I just stare at her a few seconds, then at Winship, who has the courtesy not to guffaw.

Then Mr. Pate gets in on it. “Litigation,” he says. “She can’t pronounce crap right.”

She levels her eyes at him. “CUH-RAP,” she says. “Was that right, you old fooooool?”

“By George, she’s got it,” Winship says, his whole face grinning. Then, since he’s been to medical school, he settles the issue: “Ligation. The word you are searching for is ligation. She had her tubes tied.”

The old woman nods. “That’s what they done all right. Tied’m off. Now her eggs can’t get down to where they can’t get nailed by no wild seed.”

“I don’t see why falling off a horse would necessitate a tubal ligation,” I say.

“Ownknow how come she was on a horse anyhow,” Mr. Pate says. “She so addled she can barely ride a schoolbus.”

“Well, I don’t know how it done it,” Mrs. Pate says with an air of finality, “but it did.”

The old man has had some four beers by now, and he’s obviously agitated. “First thang I want to know is how they tie them tubes off. They just cinch’m up with catgut or whut? They cut’m first?”

Winship snorts. “Catgut?” Then: “Well, they can fuse the fallopian tubes with cauterization or suture them or use clips of some sort. Sometimes they will also remove a section of the tubes to be certain that the patch isn’t restored.”

But he realizes that he’s already about half a mile over the old man’s head, so he concludes: “Yes, they cinch’m up.”
“Another thang I want to know is what happens to them eggs that stacks up in there.” He looks at Winship for an answer again. Winship just studies his beer.

“Looks like to me that once you drop down so many and they’re backed up like peas in a pod, somethin’ in there would have to give. You know what I mean? Let’s say a dozen eggs . . . .” He looks over at Winship again. “How big is them thangs anyhow?”

“What?” Bob asks him. “How big is what?”

“Them eggs. They the size of hen eggs or whut?”

“They are microscopic, they are so small.” Then he sees the old woman, who’s been amazingly quiet with all this female plumbing discussion going on, wrinkle her forehead. “You cannot see them with the naked eye. Like sperm.” Then: “They are tiny, about the size of mouse eggs.”

Mrs. Pate adjusts her enormous bottom in the chair, which squawks and moans under the weight. “A mouse don’t lay no eggs.”

“I didn’t say that they lay them. They don’t lay eggs, anymore than a woman does, but they produce them.”

“Well, whatever,” she says and rises to address the casserole, “Raynette’s eggs, whether they the size of a mouse egg or the size of a rooster egg, ain’t gonna drop down far enough now to where any little wigglers can get to’m. Like I done said lots of times before, Raynette has got herself a long row to hoe, like from here to San Antonio.”

After that the conversation drops off to nothing and Winship and I say our goodbyes and head back to the Rockpile, afoot as usual.

“Didn’t want any jackrabbit stew, Bob?”

“Nope,” he says. “You couldn’t tenderize a jackrabbit with a grenade. Only a whole lot of eighteen-wheelers and that hot Texas sun can do it right.”

“I don’t know about you, but I feel a whole lot better about the future of the country knowing that Raynette has had her tubes tied.”

“Me too,” he says. A few seconds later: “Ruffin, you ever get the idea that you’re coming back from the Twilight Zone when we leave that place?”

“Just about every time, Bob, just about every time.”


MR. PATE SPEAKS ON FORK-ED TONGUES

by pauldruffin

RUFFIN IT: MR. PATE SPEAKS ON FORK-ED TONGUES

Well, I’m back at Segovia again, sitting with Bob Winship on Mr. Pate’s front porch, the three of us enjoying some beer and cigars before Mrs. Pate joins us, at which time the cigars have to be doused and the beer shared with yet another. She never has more than two, but she will have those, come hail or high water.

The subject has been weather, a tolerably frequent topic, but Winship has just asked Mr. Pate to tell me about his great-grandson’s new girlfriend. The two of them were out the week before, since Junior got an itch to shoot an Axis deer and the old man made the mistake of telling him that he’d seen one with 35-inch beams in one of the oat patches for four nights hand-running, as Mrs. Pate is apt to phrase it.

The wise old head pivots like an owl’s. “Hmmmmm? Oh, you talkin’ about Raynette. Oh, yeah. That Raynette, she speak with fork ed tongue.”

I look at Winship, then back to the old man. “Do you mean she lies or what?” Mrs. Pate is quietly snickering. I can tell by the way her belly jiggles.

“I mean that she speaks with a fork ed tongue is what I mean.”

I turn back to Winship. “Any enlightenment here?”

“Like he says, Raynette speaketh with a fork ed tongue. I saw it myself. Split from the tip right on back to where it attaches, I guess.”

“Do you mean her tongue has actually been cut in half, lengthwise?”

“At’s a fact,” Mrs. Pate confirms.

“She have an accident?”

“Nope. Not without you count it a accident for her to be born as dumb as she is. She went to a tattoo poller in San Antone and got her tongue cut right down the middle.”

I look from one to the other and reach for another beer. “Well, what the hell for?”

“There’s your buck fifty question,” the old man says. “She said they didn’t even use nothing to deaden it with either. Give her a coupla shots of whiskey and heated a damn Exacto knife with a cigarette lighter and sliced her tongue right down the middle.”

“Uh, Bob,” I appeal to Winship, “tell me this is not so.”

“Oh, it’s so,” he says. “It’s the new rage. Gotta top the body piercing and tattoos, you know. They call it body modification, or mutilation. Means the same thing.”

“You’re serious about this? I thought butt rings were pretty much the lunatic fringe of things, but this . . . .”

Mr. Pate laughs, a kind of a rumble from way deep in his chest. “Raynette, she does this thing to Junior from across the room with her tongue that if a man done that to a woman out somewhere, he’d get his jaws slapped clean off, but Junior gets a kick out it, like it’s something real private between’m and prolly is, and she looks just lak a snake when she does it.”

Mrs. Pate kicks in: “If the Good Lawerd had of meant for us to have split tongues, he’d a took away our shoulders and feet too and give us scales and cold blood. Lots of groundwork for mankind was laid in the Garden, but split tongues wasn’t one of’m. I tol’ Junior that someday he’d have to get that thang sewed up and won’t not tattoo poller man be able to do that. Gon’ cost him some real money.”

She turns in her lawn chair and levels her eyes at me. “I mean, Perfesser, when Raynette goes and interviews for a job, who you rekkin can take her serious with his tongue flappin’ all over the place?”

“Winship, can they even talk with a split tongue?”

“A crow can,” Mr. Pate says. “That’s how you can get one to talk.”

Winship looks sagely. “I have heard Raynette speak, and I gotta tell you, Ruffin, it is not what I would call birdsong. She’s having to learn how to talk all over. Think how important the tongue is to speaking. It’s at least half of articulation.”

“Raynette, she got a long row to hoe,” Mrs. Pate says, then gets up and goes inside.

“If you guys are yanking my leg . . . .”

“It’s the Lawerd’s honest truth, Perfesser,” the old man assures me. “Sure’s I’m sittin’ here drinkin’ this beer on my porch, my great-grandson is dating a girl with a fork-ed tongue.”

Mrs. Pate is suddenly back on the porch, this time with a frosted mug to pour her beer into. “We seen a pitcher of somebody that had it done on the Internet. He had one half of his tongue wropped round the other, like they was tusslin’, said he could move both sides of his tongue.” She settles back into her lawn chair, which squawks for good reason, and grins. “Both sides of his tongue. Tell me we ain’t in the end times.”

“He had it done on the internet?”

“Naw, naw, Perfesser, we seen it on the Internet is what she’s tryin’ to say.”

And then the whole thing just seems to settle into perspective. This world is dropping into night again, as it does so wonderfully every evening out here, and the four of us quietly sip our beer and watch the advancing purple shadows that slide off the cliffs and fill the valley.

There are times that I feel totally out of tune with the outer world. This is one of them.


MR. PATE’S GRANDSON DISCUSSES THE UNIVERSE

by pauldruffin

RUFFIN-IT: MR. PATE’S GRANDSON DISCUSSES THE UNIVERSE

Mr. Pate and I are out on the porch drinking beer while he tells me all about a recent visit from his grandson, who apparently failed to convince the old man that weightlifting and running track were legitimate fields of study to prepare him for college. Mr. Pate says that he was OK on the kid’s other focus, astronomy, until the boy started in on him about his ignorance of the universe. See, these two just don’t get along well at all, being from really very different universes, so to speak.

“So, we was out in the corner of that field I been workin’, and he just up and asked me did I know the age of the universe. I told him no, that the Bible wasn’t quite that specific on things, but that it was old enough know how to behave itself in reasonable fashion.

“So he says forget the Bible, that the universe is a bunch of billions of years old. Since the Big Bang, he called it. Some kinda big explosion blowed this little ol’ piece of what he called ‘cosmetic matter’ into everthang that’s out there.”

He throws his arms in a big circle. “Stars and planets and all that.”

I have to point out that it’s “cosmic matter” and not “cosmetic matter,” but I don’t think he’s listening to me. I teach English. What do I know?

“Then he asked me did I know how many zeroes was in a billion, and I said a bunch, which was close enough to me.”

I study him a few seconds, then ask, “He didn’t tell you all about the Big Bang?”

“Naw. I beat him to it. I told him that to me the Big Bang was the sound of the 105 Howitzer I helped load in the War. That was bang enough for me. My ears are still ringin’.”

“What else did he tell you about the universe?”

“He asked me did I know how big it is. Hell, no, I told him. Never give a second of thought about it. So he just up and said it’s almost a hunderd billion light years across. And then, naturally enough, he asked did I know how far a light year is. I told him nope, and I didn’t care. And he said it’s six trillion miles, which might or might not be true, and the onliest reason that the trillion stuck with me is that I keep hearing them people in Warshington talkin’ about how much debt we owe in trillions of dollars. I don’t know how many zeroes are in a trillion either. But it’s a bunch.

“So I asked him how did he know all this stuff about the universe, and he said he learned it in a book in some science class he’s takin’. And I asked him how did they measure the universe, and he said that they got it all figgered out from stuff they can see thoo them big tellyscopes they use.

“And told him that I figgered that there was a whole lot of guessin’ goin’ on there, and he started in on me about prolly not believin’ that mankind has walked on the moon, and I told him that I didn’t care one way or another but they prolly did. And then I asked him when did he rekkin we’d land some folks on the sun, and he called me a old fool. He actually said that. I started to slap the snot out of him for that, but I let it ride. Said any fool knew that you couldn’t land on the sun because you’d get burned up, and told him not if they did it at night.”

I crack up at that. It reminds me of an old Aggie-engineer joke.

“He didn’t seem to think that was funny at all.

“Then he asked me did I know how much a teaspoon of the stuff that a neutral star is made out of weighs.”

I suggest that it’s “neutron,” not “neutral,” but, again, I don’t think he’s listening to me.

“I told him no, I’d never eat anything like that. I got the idea that it’s some heavy stuff, though. He just shook his head and give me a look kinda like what my cows give me sometime when they don’t understand what I am tryin’ to get them to do. Then he walked off.”

“Y’all OK now?”

“OK in the sense that he is still famly and I gotta love him, no matter what. That’s as OK as I can get about it.”

After that we settle back to finish off our beers and then go in to join Mrs. Pate and Amber for another Segovia dinner, which anybody ought to be OK with.


MR. PATE’S GRANDSON COMES FOR A VISIT

by pauldruffin

RUFFIN-IT: MR. PATE’S GRANDSON COMES FOR A VISIT

Recently, though traveling is quite taxing since I became an inVALid, I managed to get out to West Texas again and visit with my old friend Mr. Pate, who lives in a river valley not far from Junction. He’s always fun to talk to, especially when he gets off on family members he’s recently had less than pleasant dealings with.

This time, while Amber and Mrs. Pate discuss Junction schools and the best cookie recipe, he’s kicked back with a beer grousing about a recent visit with his grandson. The boy’s around fifteen, I’d guess, and he’s declared his intentions to go to college and become an astronomer or weight lifter, depending, I suppose, on whatever job opportunities seem most likely to be out there when he graduates from college. I don’t think I’d weigh in with the weights.

“One of the worst parts about gettin’ old is havin’ to deal with little snots in the family that think they know more than you do, just because they totin’ around the little smart phones that can hook them to the internet and learn the answer to any question that comes up, whether the person providin’ the answer knows what he’s talkin’ about or not.”

I nod. “Yep, everybody’s an authority on the Internet. The world’s encyclopedia is right there in the palm of your hand.”

“The kid comes out here. Well, his folks thowed him off on us for a week. Comes out here filled to the gills with information to make us healthier and our lives better. Fifteen-year-old guru, you might say. Gon’ show us the light.”

I start to ask him exactly what the kid’s advice was, but I knew that that was coming anyway, so I opened another beer and waited.

“First thang he done the minute they drove away was take his T-shirt off and start struttin’ around flexin’ his muscles, braggin’ about what all weight trainin’ had done him. He said that he could press 350 pounds. I asked him what did that mean exactly. I mean if you was pressin’ grapes or olives or somthin’, that kind talent could work for you.

“So he told me that it meant he could pick up and lift over his head 350 pounds of weight. I asked him what he would pick up that weighed that much, a truck motor? And he said, naw, weights at the gymnasium where he does his training.

“So I told him that I’d have to have a real good reason to try to lift something that weighed that much, and if I did, I’d use a jack. Then I ask him didn’t his dadddy have a jack, which he didn’t seem to think was all that funny.”

“I like that bit about the jack.”

“Thanks,” he says. “Then he started in on how much good weight lifting did the body, and I told him if he’d like to hang around a few weeks, I could introduce him to plenty of things to lift, and he’d be doin’ me and hisself some good.”

“Bet he went for that.”

“Fersher he did. You can imagine.”

We sit in silence a bit and study the far cliffs. Once this place was called Cliffdale, since if you stand in a certain spot, you can see eleven cliffs.

“Then he started braggin’ about how fast he could run, something like a hunderd yards in four seconds. I told him that runnin’ for me was somethin’ I did chasin’ somethin’ or bein’ chased.”

I shake my head. “Mr. Pate, I think that the world record for a hundred-yard dash is somewhere around nine seconds. If the kid’s that fast, he’ll make a real name for himself.”

“Mighta been more than four. He was doin’ some powerful braggin’ about it, so I asked would he mind puttin’ some of that speed to work and round up a couple of heifers that had strayed off to the other end of the property. He said that he didn’t have the right shoes with him for runnin’ and didn’t have any short britches with him since it was cold weather.”

“I don’t suppose he was willing to maybe trot over and round up the cows?”

“Oh, no, no. Said he had some messagin’ he had to do on his smart phone. Had to do a little Internet work too, which I figger meant lookin’ up pitchers of nekkid girls, but I didn’t say nuthin’, just walked off and left him to his tellyphone binness.”

“Yeah, they can’t live without those phones. But I guess that if I’d had something like that growing up, I’d be hooked on it too. It would have beat the Sears catalog.”

“Not me,” the old man says. “My daddy woulda smacked the thing with a hammer and had me out in the fields or pasture.
I’da been doin’ my weight trainin’ with bales of hay and sacks of feed and runnin’ wide open chasin’ cows.”

“I take it that his trip out here was not altogether a pleasant visit for you.”

“Lemme put it this way: He take’n in about a hunderd times the calories he burned. I don’t know what the world record is for boltin’ down a big bowl of chicken and dumplins’, but he’s gotta rank purty close to the top.”

We sit in silence again for a long while.

Then the old man turns to me. “You want to know he told me about the universe?”

[Next week I’ll tell you what the boy told him.]

Paul Ruffin is a novelist, short story writer, and poet who teaches at SHSU.


THE BOY SUFFERS A BAD DAY

by pauldruffin

RUFFIN IT: THE BOY SUFFERS A BAD DAY

[This is a follow-up to the piece on Germann last week.]

“Why would anyone want a dumb old rooster?” the boy’s asking me in response to my news that Bob Winship has traded in his fair dog for a fowl. We’re at one end of the pool languishing in tepid water, trying to forget that the air above us is sizzling. The Weather Channel says it’s over a hundred in Huntsville. As long as they don’t specify how much over a hundred, I’ll take their word for it.

“You can’t pet a rooster.” His voice is rising now as the lesson sinks deeper that his dachshund friend Germann will not be at the ranch waiting for him when we spend a couple of days out West with the Winships next week. “He’ll just poop on my head,” I think I hear him say.
My wife and I laugh. “Why would he poop on your head?” I ask him.

“I said hands! Can’t you people hear?” He’s getting nasty now.

“But why would he–”

“When I pick him up to hold him.”

“You’re assuming the rooster will let you pick him up,” my wife pitches in. It’s probably not the right thing to say. Now we’ve generated in his head the picture of an unfriendly rooster, and Bob’s trade gets even more suspicious.
I try to head off the explosion. “He might. Roosters can be fun.”

The tears have started now. “I’ll never see Germann again.”

“Honey,” I say, “Germann is actually closer now than he was.” See, Bob had to relocate Germann to his son’s house in Houston because the dog had come to theorize that trucks and cars roaring along the caliche road out front were mere playthings for him to chase and dodge. Several close calls convinced Bob that Germann would be better off in Houston.

“He might as well be dead. I’ll never see him again. He was my friend.” The tears are coming hard now. “We loved each other. And Uncle Bob swapped him for a rooster! They just wake you up and poop everywhere. Why would anybody–”

The problem is not simply that I’ve finally gotten around to telling him about Germann. He’s already suffered loss today, and his mood was glum when we went into the pool. I just decided to go ahead and pitch on another load of grief, let him handle the double dose and get it out of his system. Intensity as opposed to duration, you see.

Earlier in the day he witnessed the death of one of our squirrels, a young female we called Baby Two (the smaller of two notched-eared females who visit our sunflower seed bowls daily), who had fallen from a hickory and damaged herself quite beyond repair. He sat beside her most of the morning and watched her shallow breathing, begging us time and time again to take her to Uncle Gerry (Etheredge, that is, Huntsville veterinarian extraordinaire). We told him no, that she was too badly injured, that it would be better to let nature takes it course, better for her to pass on to a place of greener hickory trees and inexhaustible bowls of sunflower seeds, a place where it occasionally rains and the thermometer never gets above eighty. He put a handful of seeds before her, and water, and stroked her side until in the early afternoon she took a final breath and died. Then he placed her in a shoe box and had me dig a hole in our pet cemetery for her burial.

“Are we supposed to say anything?” he asked me as I watched him fill the hole.

“It’s a purely private matter.” I left him to his grief.

So here the child is, fists clenched, face streaming with tears, angry at the world because one of his friends has died and the other has been banished to Houston, which to him is a quarter of a mile short of Hell. My wife and I cannot begin to imagine that tomorrow we’ll have to go through this whole thing again when we’ll find on the front porch the thrown-up remains of two baby cardinals a neighborhood cat snatched from their nest in the shrub by the door during the night and swallowed and then disgorged. We’ll have to deal with his tirade against cats and the injustice of nature.

But these are things he must go through to discover that life is not always fair or easy or to our liking. As I watch him stand in silence staring up into the trees that ring the pool, looking for something to be glad of, I am reminded of the marvelous poem by Southern poet John Crowe Ransom, “Janet Waking,” which chronicles a little girl’s first encounter with death. When she rushes out to her pet chicken Chucky’s house one morning, she discovers that “the poor comb stood up straight, but Chucky did not.” A bee sting to the head took Chucky out of the egg binness. Janet kneels “on the wet grass, crying her brown hen / (Translated far beyond the daughters of men) / To rise and walk upon it.” As she stands before her parents imploring them to “wake her from her sleep,” they find themselves unable to explain “how deep is the forgetful kingdom of death.”

We wish we could bring the boy the comfort he needs. We’d like to tell him that he’ll see Germann by and by, that Baby Two will once again come for seeds. But today we’ve said all we know to say. As he looks beyond us, the child searches for solace among the trees and far off in the deep blue empyrean that stretches cloudless and forever, and we know that somehow he will find it.


TRAVELS WITH GERMANN IN SEARCH OF EXOTICS

by pauldruffin

RUFFIN IT: TRAVELS WITH GERMANN IN SEARCH OF EXOTICS

It is late October just outside the little West Texas town of Junction, still early and plenty dark, but in the starlight I can make out wheel ruts of the road that skirts what in the spring were oat patches, now little more than fields of mesquite, with clumps here and there taller than a man. Virulent stuff, mesquite will absorb a lightly traveled caliche road in a season.

I am on Bob Winship’s Rockpile Ranch, easing along before the sun looking for exotics: deer, not dancers. My companion and guide is a six-month-old dachshund named Germann (hard G as in girdle) who as Resident Dog at the ranch simply assumed an invitation. He’s ahead of me on the road, but he comes back from time to time to check in.

I’m carrying an old ’94 Winchester, not so much for deer as for protection against Indians who might still roam these parts. The cavalry was supposed to have rounded them up over a hundred years ago, but you never know when they might have missed one, and West Texas Indians–Lippan Apache or Kiowa or Comanche–are sudden and vicious. Mississippi Indians are inclined to discuss issues first–powwow, you know–and, when pushed, they are much more likely to just walk off or throw rocks at you. These Indians out here will leave your hide stretched in the sun. Germann’s finely tuned to snoop them out. I watch his dark shape zip across the path right, then left.

As I approach one of the corn feeders, which whirred a few minutes ago, I see flashes of white in the dark. They are of no more interest to me than Germann was to them. I haven’t shot at a white-tail in thirty years. You can smother it with onions and sauces or grind it up with a double helping of pork, and white-tail still tastes like what it is. Not so Sika or Axis. But this is not about the taste of deer.

A whole congregation of shapes crosses the field to my left, a herd of cows that Germann has stirred into motion. Now there’s acceptable meat, but it’s better to bring it home in cellophane with a supermarket bar code and properly graded. Folks ask questions when you string up someone’s steer and dress him out.

Do I stand any chance of killing a deer? Hardly. Armed as I am with an old ’94 with iron sights and with Germann scouting out there fifty yards raising hell with every shadow. Besides, I’ve lost my urgency to kill. I’m just not seriously into hunting anymore.

Why do I do it, then? Why do I cross the fields and hills like a hunter when I’m not? Because I like this land, its smell and look and feel. In the shimmering heat of summer or the bone-deep cold of January, I love walking over it, through the rough mesquite and cedar, up the rocky trails. I like the sound of curly mesquite underfoot, the fragrance of agerita blossoms, and I delight in studying the little ant highways that connect their great circular cities. I love standing high on the bluffs over the oat fields watching night spill out of the valley and fill back up to the brim at day’s end. I am mesmerized by the swift sure-footed deer and keen-eyed turkeys who can detect an eye-blink at fifty yards. I marvel at how clear and cold the water in the river is, how it takes your breath away even in dead summer.

A friend of mine killed a big elk in Colorado a couple of weeks ago, and he had to ride back home in a truck with friends while over two hundred pounds of meat, processed by a butcher up there, will fly to Mississippi on a jet in a few days. Now, I might pay the tab to fly home 200 pounds of Australian lobster tails or Alaskan salmon, not elk. (Remember what I said about white-tail meat? It takes more than onions and sauce to kill elk too.)

I climb into a deer stand to jot down some notes while Germann stands guard. The sun’s nudging the hills now. A man with leisure might sit and watch night empty out of the valley like a dark liquid draining off until on up late in the morning he can see the bottom of the pan. I’m eternally fascinated by the way this works.

Germann gets antsy after a while. He runs out a few feet from the stand, looks back at me, then moves out a few feet farther. It’s as much his show as mine, so I put away my notes and clamber down and follow him. Before I reach the road, he’s out of sight.

Drawn by his booger bark at the end of the field, I round a clutter of boulders and find him squared away before a bull who’s decided not to be bullied by a dog not much larger than a rat. Head down, horns squared, he’s ready to take on his bouncing, hackled attacker. When I step out in the open, Germann looks back at me, then toward the bull. He charges, turns sideways, rips off a string of yaps.

It’s in High German, but I still remember enough to translate roughly: “OK, big boy, this guy with the rifle behind me here’s my buddy and he’s hell on bulls. Hates’m worse’n he does modern rhetoricians. If you don’t want to get a dose of lead up the nose, you better head your butt on back to that herd.”

It’s powerful language for one so young. The bull snorts once and turns and lopes away. Germann calms down, satisfied. A good soldier, he knows that in a confrontation it’s not your size that counts–it’s the artillery and cavalry backing you up. Germann’s no more in the mood to kill than I am, but I suspect he’d hang a tooth in that bull in a heartbeat if I encouraged him.

We reach the old wire fence that marks the property line and turn around to start back. The two of us sit on a boulder and loaf a bit first. Time out for ear-rubbing, some R & R.

We’ll go back empty-handed, Germann and I, home to one of Shirley Winship’s famous breakfast casseroles. This afternoon we’ll take to the hills.

Would I shoot an exotic if I saw one? If Germann permitted an Axis with thirty-four-inch beams to come within range and I had time to get the ’94′s sights trained on him, I’d be glad to take him home and mount his head in my study, where I could worship that beauty the rest of my days. Terribly serious hunter or not, I am no fool. But set down this: None of him would ride back to Huntsville on a jet.


INTRODUCING A FINE SOUTHWESTERN WRITER

by pauldruffin

RUFFIN IT: INTRODUCING A FINE SOUTHWESTERN WRITER

It was many and many a year ago, during the oil industry collapse in Houston in the early eighties, that I found myself lugging home from the university a two-and-a-half-inch thick manuscript, which I was charged with reading and passing editorial judgment on by the following Monday morning. I was not happy.

Here’s how it happened . . . .

One of the casualties of the oil bust was a West Texan by the name of Robert N. (Bob) Winship, who decided that he’d been in the business long enough anyway and would simply go back to school and get his MA in English, maybe teach a little. This he did, and the school he chose was SHSU.

Bob fulfilled his course requirements and found himself facing head-on the matter of a thesis, about which he had frankly given little thought about. He was taking graduate courses, but he was also had his own consultation business and was still making oil-field consultation flights to Moscow to powwow with the Russians, who were most interested in learning about our oil industry.

Soooooo, there was Bob Winship lying in a hotel bed in Moscow when during the wee hours he found himself thinking about that thesis issue. What to do? What to do? Then he remembered a cardboard box almost brimming with short stories he’d written over the years and simply put in the box, having no notion what he might do with them. And right there in that Moscow hotel a notion came to him.

Well, when he got back to Houston, Bob consulted with English Department Chairman Jim Goodwin and asked whether SHSU ever permitted a collection of personal writing to be considered suitable for a thesis. Indeed, such had been permitted, several. There was a precedent now, so Bob asked whether his box of stories might serve.

Jim called me into his office one Friday and handed me that big box of stories, which he wanted me to read by Monday and determine whether they were worthy of serving as a thesis. I swallowed hard and accepted the box, which I knew would totally ruin my weekend.

No, no, quite the contrary: That box of stories took me well over an intense day of reading, but while I was reading them, I stopped only to eat. They were that good, that gripping.

Out of that box of stories came Bob’s thesis and, more importantly, a book called The Brushlanders, a series of stories set out near Junction. After Bob got that thesis behind him, I had him put together a full collection of stories that seemed in some fashion to work together. This he did.

I sent the manuscript off to George Garrett, one of the best American writers of the last century, Head of Creative Writing at the University of Michigan, and also Fiction Editor of The Texas Review. I wanted an uninvolved judge to make the call on it. And what a call it was: George highly praised the stories and advised that I publish them right away. This I did, through Texas Review Press.

The Brushlanders was a highly successful book, and I rank it right up there with the top story collections ever to come out of the state. Since then I have published two Winship novels, and all of his books have been fine pieces of fiction.

Now, though, I am set to bring out a book of Bob’s essays, mostly newspaper columns that appeared in the Junction Eagle during the 1990s. It’s called Winship’s Log, and I am willing to call it one of the best collection of familiar essays you’re likely ever to find.

When the Winships quit Houston for good, he and wife Shirley returned to Bob’s family ranch, The Rock Pile, in Segovia, ten miles or so east of Junction. In his new book he writes about the land, its flora and fauna; the people of that slice of the Edwards Plateau; his family, past and present; and about just about everything else under the sun worthy of commentary. And, folks, this writing is good stuff. You’ll come away both informed and entertained.

Over the years Bob has taught me a lot about that area of West Texas and its people, and I’ve written several stories and numerous essays set in the river valley that Segovia lies in. I’ve hunted and hiked out there many times, so this book is like a visit home.

Next week I’ll take you on a deer hunt with Germann, one of the family dogs, which Bob writes about in the book.


THE DARK SIDE OF THE GUMMY BEAR

by pauldruffin

RUFFIN IT: THE DARK SIDE OF THE GUMMY BEAR

“So you’re saying”–Margaret is talking now–“that the Germans will be able to do with Gummy Bears what they couldn’t with all that war machinery of WW II?”
“That’s precisely what I’m saying,” I tell her.
We’re at her place on the Guadalupe River out west of Kerrville. I don’t know where her husband is, but he’s not in on this conversation, which is probably a good thing. It may be why he’s staying away, having sensed that things were about to go in a bizarre direction.
“What’s the best way to destroy a country?” I ask her.
“Atomic warfare, or biological, chemical maybe.”
“Nope, because you can kill your own people while you’re trying to eradicate the other country, since your enemy probably has those weapons and will be willing to use them. And besides, those things can get out of control and wipe out civilization.” I hesitate. Then: “You go after the children. Pick them off and you’ve done in the whole lot of them in a few generations. And you do it quietly, slowly.”
“I don’t see what–”
“Feed American kids Gummy Bears long enough,” my wife says, “and you slowly clog their digestive systems with all that rubber.”
“Don’t German children eat Gummy Bears?” Margaret asks.
“Maybe, but they might not be the same indestructible kind that our kids eat.”
“Then again,” my wife says, “they may eat the same kind. There’s nothing to say that even the Germans understand what they’ve unleashed.”
“So the whole planet could be at risk?” Margaret is doubtless skeptical, but she’s open-minded too.
We nod gravely, and then I rise and leave the table.
I walk out into the back yard and study the river awhile . Margaret and my wife talk of other matters–at least I think they’ve changed topics. Not going back to find out. My mind is busy with this Gummy Bear business.
There are times when the weight of the world seems to settle on you, and you stiffen, like you can really do something simply by thinking about it. I know I can’t do anything, but I am indeed thinking about it.
And here’s the direction my mind is moving in: In time medical scientists will discover that most of America’s social ills–the sorry state of public education, the antisocial behavior of our children, the increased involvement of our youth in crimes of violence–may be traced back to one root cause: the discomfort our children are experiencing from lumps of Gummy Bears in their stomachs and intestines. Think about it. Could you concentrate on studies or good behavior if you had five to ten pounds of rubbery little bears fused into a ball rolling around inside you? Could you enjoy life? Gummy Bears will be the downfall of this civilization. This is a dreadful conclusion to come to, but probable nonetheless.
Millennia hence, paleontologists picking through our bones will discover in ribcages all over the American continent balls of a rubbery substance that they will marvel at. “What are these things?” an assistant researcher might ask. “Why would these people have eaten little rubber animals?”
“There is no explaining all the great mysteries,” his sage supervisor might reply. “Civilizations vanish for many different reasons and in many different ways. We know what killed off the race–you are looking at it.” He points to the matted ball of little rubber bears. “But we cannot explain why they would do it to themselves.” He shakes his head sadly. “They had great fields of grain, rivers and oceans of fish, pasturelands where millions of cattle grazed–there is no explaining why they would eat rubber.”
His colleague, with gravity: “Well, it’s obvious they had no choice. They must have run out of ordinary food. This was a last resort.”
I walk on down to the river and watch the clear water rushing off to wherever it is going. Sometimes it is best simply to let nature, human or otherwise, take its course, in the long run there being very little that you can do to change it anyway. But me, I would keep my children away from Gummy Bears. Weave a circle round them thrice and close your eyes with holy dread, for these are the workings of the Devil.


CONSIDERING THE GUMMY BEAR

by pauldruffin

RUFFIN IT: CONSIDERING THE GUMMY BEAR

[I wrote this piece several years ago, but the concern it raises still has great relevance so . . . .]

Back in 1996 Rice Professors Richard Smalley and Robert Curl and Professor Harold Kroto of Sussex University shared a Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovery of a new class of carbon molecule warmly dubbed Buckyballs because of their shape (similar to the geodesic dome designed by Buckminster Fuller). The future seems very bright for the Buckyball.

I find myself sitting here on the patio watching a chicken turn slowly on my rotisserie, a Corona sweating on the table, a half-smoked Swisher Sweet beside it, wondering just what sort of prize will be awarded the mad scientist who invented and unleashed on the world an invention that might well prove the downfall or the salvation of our great civilization: the Gummy Bear.

For those of you who have to this point been spared an introduction, the Gummy Bear is a small, resilient candy initially manufactured in the shape of a teddy bear. Introduced first in specialty candy shops and movie theaters, they have now proliferated like a deadly virus and may be found almost anywhere candy is sold.

Gummy Bears come in many colors and several sizes, and kids and parents love them: kids, because they are sweet and chewy (the bears, not the children); parents, because a child can take two days to chew and swallow a small bag of them. The perfect candy, some would say.

The problem–and few people really know this–is that these little bears are not simply resistant to the ravages of tiny teeth: they are indestructible. They will endure the chomping, grinding, acidic assault of the mouth of a kid (who could gnaw through a cresoted foundation timber in half an hour) and leave that terrible eating machine one of two ways, through the lips or down the esophagus, but always intact. If the kid swallows it, it joins others already in his digestive tract (they are designed to adhere to one another) or passes on through into the sewer system as an environmental hazard. Resistant as they are to every known acid, the little bears that remain in the child’s system form great non-biodegradable masses.

I decided one time when I’d seen my son work on a handful of Gummy Bears for several hours that the material might make good bodies for fishing lures: you know, shrimp tails, sand eels, minnows. My father-in-law tried for several years to come up with body material for our own lures, so one day I made a mold out of RTV, then took a bag of GB’s and dumped them into friend Gerry Etheredge’s lead-pot, which I borrowed so long ago that he has forgotten about it. (Don’t tell him.) I’d melt them down and pour them into the mold with an imbedded hook and, voila, I’d have a cheap, indestructible lure.

They sat in that pot with the heat on its highest setting and smoked for all of one Saturday. That evening when I looked into the pot, there they were, like a cauldron of vicious children some witch had tried to boil, leering up at me with those wicked grins. “You’ve won,” I said, and turned off the heat.

The melting point of the Gummy Bear, I discovered, is roughly 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. They didn’t even break into a sweat in that lead pot. An ordinary propane torch flame will not deface one, won’t take the gremlin grin off one, won’t even droop an ear. I have put the carbon-rod attachment on my welding machine and managed, with patience, to puddle the face of one, but that’s as far as I can go. It takes industrial heat to do the trick, the fiery furnace of some German factory.

When you examine a Gummy Bear under a high-power magnifying glass, you will discover stamped on the back of every one of them the words Guten Jahr, German for Good Year. But this is no greeting. Think about it.

Of course they would never make tires out of that material because once a customer bought a set, he’d never have to buy another. The vehicle he put them on might wear out, rust down, vibrate to pieces, but those tires would go right on. Folks’d salvage them, pass them down, generation to generation.

The potential uses to which this material might be put in years to come are astronomical, and the scientist who discovered it will be dragged to prominence and heralded for one the greatest inventions of the Twentieth Century, and the Bucky Ball will be a mere side-note of science, squatting in the dusty corner of some museum.

Next week: But what have we to fear from the little Gummy Bear?


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