Paul Ruffin's Blog

FISHING AMONG THE STARS, A MEMORY

by pauldruffin

RUFFIN-IT: FISHING AMONG THE STARS, A MEMORY

The western sky having fallen to full dark, it’s well into the night now and I am walking along a field road at the Winship ranch in Segovia, near Junction, going fishing with my son, age ten, who’s facing a homework-free weekend. He is taking the absence of homework well, I think. He has not complained about it a single time.

Tomorrow we’ll be scouting for leaves, though, to complete his science project. While I am off in San Antonio at a conference, Uncle Bob, as he calls Winship, will roam the hills with him in search of leaves we cannot find in East Texas. It is all the schoolwork he is willing to bear on a trip to the ranch.

But tonight we are fishing. And what we are fishing for cannot be found in the crystal clear river that cuts across the corner of Bob’s place. Or maybe they can.

See, we are fishing for satellites. Out here there is little competition from the glow of civilization, so stars stand out so bright and sharp that they almost hurt the eyes. The glare of Segovia Truck Stop, maybe five miles off, is only a minor nuisance.

We assume our spot high in the rocks at the foot of Hill Three, the northernmost hill that stretches back from the river valley like a stubby finger. Germann, Bob and Shirley’s dachshund, is with us, and he is standing guard against all evil, two-footed or four or none or more. He checks in with us every few minutes to let us know that all is safe on the northern front. We are armed with only my Leatherman tool, which puts us at poor disadvantage should Kiowas or Comanches spill down out of the hills. It has all the appearance of a peaceful night.

To fish for satellites, you need only a set of eyes, which you cast here and there in the broad expanse of Texas sky, drag slowly across, reel in, and cast again, and you do this until against that great speckled dome you see something moving, a simple point of light that zigzags a little, like it’s weaving its way among the stars. You must be certain it has no green light or red light attached to it, a sure sign it’s a plane. This is the way it is done.

You see how many you can spot in an hour, maybe make it a game with your companion. It’s a fine form of fishing, since you don’t have to lug cumbersome tackle or haul a heavy stringer back or get all messy cleaning what you’ve caught. Sometimes out here my father-in-law and I will lie back in the bed of my pickup and have a couple of beers while we’re fishing. (Of course we have to sit up to take sips of beer–anyone who tells you you can drink beer lying down is simply lying another way.) We’ve done the same thing on his boat off the Mississippi Coast, but the lights of Biloxi and Pascagoula interfere. Out here, though, out here . . . .

I want to tell the boy that when you spot a satellite you are seeing the sun reflected, like the moon–the sun is still shining over the curve of the earth and deep into space and the little things we send up there throw back its light; but I know from decades of dealing with literature that to over-analyze is to risk the loss of magic, so I keep my mouth shut and wait for him to ask if there’s something he wants to know about what we’re seeing. He says nothing.

Then he gets the munchies–fishing always make you hungry, you know–so I rummage around in my vest and find a box of Altoids and bag of cinnamon jellybeans one of my graduate students gave me; he votes jellybeans, so we split them. Germann politely turns down both. He’s probably thinking as he heads out to scout again, “Always candy and breath mints and stuff. Don’t nobody tote bones nomore. Don’t nobody think about the dog.”

As I lie back on a boulder and cast across the sky, I get to thinking about how down at the river we could study the stars on the surface of the big still pool behind a sandbar and maybe spot a satellite scooting through the water, but I don’t mention it because my son would want to go down there and try it, and it’s already late and the river is all the way at the other end of the property. So I keep quiet and fish on into the night, while he lies beside me doing the same. Lord knows what he’s thinking. But I hope it’s good, and I hope he’ll remember this night sometime far off in the future when maybe he takes his own son out under a wide Texas sky to fish among the stars.


CHARLIE SCHWARTZ TALKS ABOUT THE BIG BANG, PART II

by pauldruffin

RUFFIN IT: CHARLIE SCHWARTZ TALKS ABOUT THE BIG BANG, PART II

[Charlie continues . . . .]

Sometimes I marvel at the way he can express himself, but I don’t say so.

“Reminds me of a poem by Cummings,” I say, “titled ‘[pity this busy monster manunkind].’ He makes reference to man playing ‘with the bigness of his littleness,’ deifying a razor blade into a mountain range, his instruments doing little to set his mind at ease. Or Frost’s ‘The Bear,’ in which he has the poor, confused human being pacing like an imprisoned bear, with the telescope at one end of his cage and the microscope at the other, and neither of the instruments gives him any peace.”

He laughs. “Well, poetry’s a bigger mystery to me than the universe.”

“By the way,” I say, “that Cummings poem has the first use of the terminal not that I know about: ‘Pity this busy monster manunkind, / not.'”

“I’d of thought Saturday Night Live come up with it. Shows what I know.”

He goes in and gets us another couple of beers. When he comes back out he settles beside me on the step and starts up again.

“We been rummaging around finding out things about ourselves for a long time now, and we still get born and we still die, and the seasons go around like they’ve always done. We look at a baby and we know where we come from, and we look at a cemetery and we know where we’re goin’. So we can sit around wondering, squinting through what they call an intellectual fog, maybe get out there and pursue the truth with some kind of instrument. Or we can say to the Devil with it all and go out and romp with the kids and dog or go in and play with the children’s momma, neither of which requires much understanding of universal laws, creates anxiety, or raises taxes.

“Building big ol’ rocket ships to go lookin’ around way out there. I don’t know what they figger they’re gon’ find.

“The most complex machine I want to lay my hands on is a pickup. Or a shotgun. One can haul you around, and one can keep you fed. What else you need?”

When I leave him, it is full dark. He’s lit another cigarette, whose little red speck I see glow and fade behind me until a clump of mesquites slides between us. Stars are firing up in the northern and eastern sky, the way they do, the way they always have, like pinholes in velvet, with no way for us to get to the light on the other side, and no really good reason to want to.


CHARLIE SCHWARTZ TALKS ABOUT THE BIG BANG, PART I

by pauldruffin

RUFFIN IT: CHARLIE SCHWARTZ TALKS ABOUT THE BIG BANG, PART I

When I consider the Big Bang, that cosmic party that got out of hand a few years before Wal-Mart was invented, it is not often or with serious intent, rather with a whimsical, casual, so-it-happened-or-it-didn’t sideways glance, the way you’d greet the news that someone off in Saudi Arabia had discovered that a certain type of sand, when consumed daily in a molasses paste, will prevent you from becoming severely mature, or OLD AS DIRT. It is knowledge that, even when taken in minor doses, does scarcely more than disconcert, since it would be a hard choice between having to eat a bowl of that sticky sand every day and dying at a reasonable age and not having to eat it.

I occasionally bring such deep subjects up with a friend of mine out in Junction, Charlie Schwartz, who hasn’t been troubled with the burden of higher education and can think and speak on his own without the clutter of authoritative citations or any kind of commonly accepted proof.

Charlie is retired from high school football coaching, a job that he was hired for without so much as a full year of junior college, and now runs a few head of cows on just over a thousand acres of scrub oak and mesquite, what’s left of the family ranch. Much of it is high ground and rough, but a corner of the property dips down into the lush valley of the Johnson Fork, giving him that coveted river footage that he could sell in a heartbeat to some wealthy retiree out of Houston or Dallas, if he could bring himself to do it, which he can’t. The third-generation heritor, he is no more likely than the ones before him to make a profit on the place, though his income from big-city deer hunters, coupled with Social Security, gets him and wife Betty by. He says that his needs are small anyway. When you look around the house and notice what’s parked in the car- port, you figure that they probably are.

We’re sitting on his porch steps drinking beer late in the day, watching the stars just begin to burn holes through the velvet over us. Charlie’s nursing a cigarette, getting every millimeter out of it before the fiber glass smoke fouls up his lungs, and I am taking an occasional draw off a cigar, a tiny pleasure I permit myself out here, where if anyone says something to you about smoking or drinking beer, you just tell him to go suck a cactus.

“I can’t see what difference it makes,” he tells me, “this business about the Big Bang. It won’t make us feel any better about ourselves, since whatever we find out up there just make us feel littler and littler.”

I’m thinking about Copernicus starting all this, but if I bring it up, he’ll just snort and say that he never heard of anybody named Copernicus. Sounds like some kind of dip he might try. Has to be foreign, with a name like that, he’d say. And what could his folks be thinking, making him tote a moniker like that the rest of his days?

“His friends called him Nick,” I could say to him, “and he was Polish,” but I’d just be wasting breath. He’d conclude with something tacky about the Poles, about how they couldn’t hold Hitler up longer than a bunch of Boy Scouts. He’s pretty much down on everybody these days–his teeth are giving him trouble.

“You ever wonder how come we always look up for the truth?” he asks me.

“Maybe because it’s toward Heaven,” I suggest to him.

“The people down in Australia look up too, but it’s a different direction from where we look. It’d be down for us. We’ve always got our eyes toward the sky and our mouths open, like turkeys in the rain. Maybe the answer ain’t up.”

He shakes another wrinkled cigarette from its pack, straightens it with his hard fingers, zips a match on the steps, lights up. “Maybe it ain’t nowhere.”

“But we’re hell-bent to try to find it.”

“Yeah,” he says, “and the way we go about it is awfully expensive. Used to be, faith did the trick, and that was a hell of a lot cheaper, only now we got to have some sort of scientific proof, evidence we can haul into a laboratory, or trap in numbers on a page. You figure we’re any closer to God up there than we are down here?”

[Next week we continue our discussion of the Big Bang.]


MRS. PATE LECTURES ME ON SUMMER SAUSAGE

by pauldruffin

RUFFIN IT: MRS. PATE LECTURES ME ON SUMMER SAUSAGE

“What exactly is this?” I ask Mrs. Pate, as she hands me a small platter with saltines and several slices of something that looks vaguely like summer sausage. “Summer sausage?”

She shuffles back to her lawn chair and wallows down into it like something intent on making a nest and raising young. We’re on the Pates’ front porch at their place in Segovia, and it is mid-afternoon, hot already, though it is early April.

“Lord, naw,” she says. “Ain’t no way I’d put summer sausage before nobody. That stuff ain’t fit to eat. It ain’t coming in this house.”

She hesitates, then: “At’s Axis sausage, made out of Axis deer meat and chunks of pork, with plenty of spices. Got a guy in Junction grinds it up and packages it for us. It’s good. Go on and try it out.”

So I do, and she’s right: It IS good. Just salty enough, just spicy enough. Axis meat is like beef anyway, so it’s hard to go wrong with it. Lots of the exotics out here have a beefy taste and texture to the meat. I killed a Sika buck a few years back and sautéed some of the tenderloin alongside some beef tenderloin, and I couldn’t tell a difference between the two when I ate them.

Right now, though, I have some questions I want answered. “What do you have against summer sausage?”

Now, I know better than to open the door on this kind of thing. I’ve been coming out here long enough to know that Mr. and Mrs. Pate are set in their ways, and their ways are like concrete, or CONCREEK, as she would put it. Whatever they believe, they believe resolutely, and not the Almighty Himself could change them. But I love to hear her get off on her tangents, whether what she says makes a lick of sense or not. About the time she gets primed to answer, Bob Winship and Mr. Pate come onto the porch and take a seat.

“What I got against it is what all they put in it.”

She slides a cracker, piggy-backed with a slice of Axis sausage, into her mouth and goes at it with the few teeth she has left. She has a couple of partials in a drawer somewhere that fill her out, as she puts it, but she says they’re too much trouble, except on Sundays, when she wears them to smile at church.

“You name it and it come off a cow or a pig, and it is in there. Everthang you or me’d thowe away if we was butcherin’. Got stomach, guts, lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, liver, bones, blood, eyeballs . . . .”

“Eyeballs?”

“Why wouldn’t they thowe eyeballs into the pot, Perfesser? They bulk too, and once they ground up, you can’t tell they’re in there. It ain’t like they layin’ there lookin’ up at you.”

“Gums and adenoids, eyelids, gallbladders and sinuses and mucous membrane, too, I heard tell.” The old man is in on it now.

Winship is loving it. “How about hair and hooves, teeth, and horns?”

Mrs. Pate slings her jowls back and forth. “Naw, ’cause people would spot hair or pieces of teeth and hoofs. You can’t grind them fine enough. Too hard. People’d bite down on a chunk of something like that and break a tooth and want to sue. And ain’t nobody gon’ stand for hair in they food.”

She leans forward in her chair. It groans and complains but holds steady as a trestle. “Y’ever read the labels on stuff like summer sausage and potted meat and Vienna sausage, stuff like that?”

I shake my head no.

“Well, y’ort to sometime. It will open your eyes.”

“And shut down your hunger,” Winship adds.

[Next week you’ll learn a little bit more some foods you may have heard about but never tried—and won’t, after you’ve read what the Pates have to say about the way they’re made.]

She settles back in her chair again and pontificates: “They got fancy little cover-up words like ‘meat by-products,’ you know. And that means that it ain’t meat. It is what kept the meat alive and up walkin’ around until it got slaughtered. It’s all them thangs I mentioned, and prolly a lot more that I didn’t.”

“You forgot about that term ‘mechanically separated poultry’ that they use on them labels too,” Mr. Pate says.
I look at him. “What the hell does that mean?”
“I’ll tell you what it means,” the old woman breaks in. “It means what they do is take chicken bones and tissure that ain’t used in any other way and grind it up and force it thoo a sieve and they come up with a kinda paste that goes into the bulk of stuff like potted meat and summer sausage is what it means.”
I keep staring at the slices of Axis sausage on my plate. Once this conversation got really rolling, I just nibbled at my crackers. Right now I am in no mood for any kind of meat.
“Partially defatted cooked pork fatty tissure, partially defatted cooked beef fatty tissure, stuff like that, that don’t tell you nothin’. All that does is confuse me.” The old lady is animated now.
Winship laughs out loud. “And don’t forget sodium erythorbate, dextrose, sodium nitrate, sodium nitrite, corn syrup, lactic acid, hydrolyzed corn gluten, wheat gluten proteins, water, and Lord knows what other little dribblings to do this and that to keep it marginally fit for human consumption.”
“Give me head cheese any day,” Mr. Pate says.
I spin around and look at him. “What? That sounds about as appetizing as ear wax or TOE cheese.”
“Y’ain’t heard of head cheese?”
“Yes, I have heard of it, but I don’t know what it is.”
“Made out of the head meat off a pig,” he says.

Winship now takes the floor, so to speak. Having been to medical school and all, he knows a great deal more about most things than the average person. “What they do is clean the head and boil it until all the meat falls off the bone. Then they take the meat and chop it up and season it and put it back in the water it was boiled in. They pour it into molds and chill it, and what comes out is a jellied loaf that can be sliced. I don’t eat it myself, but Mr. Pate finds it a delicacy.”
Like Scarlett in the garden, I lift my eyes to the heavens and declare, “As God is my witness, I will never be hungry again.”

“Aw, Perfesser, we talkin’ about stuff you buy in the store.” She points to my plate. “That sausage there ain’t got nothin’ but Axis deer meat and the best cuts of hog meat in it. I don’t even take a chanch of it goin’ bad just layin’ around and freeze it. I unthawed that just this mornin’.”
“Unthawed it?”

“Just this mornin’.”

I stand up. “Uh, Bob, I guess we’d better be going, don’t you think? I wanted to hunt a little while this afternoon.”

He nods and rises and we say our goodbyes.

“She unthawed it just this morning,” I mutter as we walk along the caliche road toward home, our feet making little whispering sounds, and then we don’t talk for a long time. When we do, it is not about food.


IN SEARCH OF A TUMBLER, PART II

by pauldruffin

RUFFIN-IT: IN SEARCH OF A TUMBLER, PART II

The conversation with my son over tumbler bugs continues . . . .

I tell him: “Then the female lays her eggs in the ball of cow dung, and the offspring, the babies, eat from the inside when they hatch.”

“If you’re trying to make me feel any better about it, it’s not working. The babies eat that stuff?”

“Look here,” I say, “to them it’s a lot less offensive than, say, gummy bears. As a matter of fact, tumble bug children would probably be grossed out by much of the stuff y’all eat.”

“Give me gummy bears any day.”

“At least what they eat is digestible. Gummy bears aren’t.”

“I don’t know what you have against gummy bears, but you never have anything good to say about them.”

“Right. Mainly because there’s only one good thing to say about them: they are cheap. You guys can chew a handful all day and never get them down. They’re the closest thing to a perpetual snack that I know about.”

“I’m glad you never brought anything like that home. You know, a ball of–”

“I wouldn’t,” I say. “We all have to deal with it from time to time, but we try not to bring it home.”

We drop the matter at that and start searching the fields and mesquites for butterflies. My daughter is a few insects shy of the sixty she wants to assemble for a project due in biology. Some of the butterflies that work across the fields and at the edge of the mesquite are unusual in color, quite spectacular, so we try to catch as many different kinds as we can. Along one of the roads leading through a mesquite thicket to the hills we spot a little clump of blooming desert bushes I cannot identify, and they are aflame with Sleepy Oranges, Dog Faces, Common Sulphurs, Gorgone Checkerspots, and Juba Skippers–names we do not know now but will learn with the help of books borrowed from Dr. Jimmie Long of the SHSU Biology Department. Before long we have ziplock bags fluttering with little wedges of color that look like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle we might have popped from the landscape lit by noonday sun.

Later, back at the ranch house, we assign them to the cold dark winter of the freezer, where they will not flutter long.

“The only thing worse would be a buzzard,” my son says. He’s still on the tumble bug business.
“Well, Nature has a purpose for both. Part of the recycling process. If it weren’t for buzzards, there’d be dead things lying all over, smelling the place up. On the other hand, I’ll bet you there’s no provision at all in Nature for human children to eat gummy bears. As a matter of fact, it’s downright unnatural for you to eat rubber. Your digestive system wasn’t designed for it.”

“You ought to lighten up on gummy bears,” he says.

“And you ought to let the tumble bugs and buzzards alone. Deal?”

“Deal,” he says.

Later that evening when I walk into the bedroom to undress for a shower, something on my pillow catches my eye. I lean and look closely. It is a tumble bug, about an inch long, and he’s just sitting there, like he’s waiting for me to go get a ziplock from my vest, which I do. In short order he’s experiencing the coldest, darkest winter of his life too.

“Uncle Bob or PawPaw must have put him there,” I tell my son, who’s marveling at this miracle.

“We didn’t tell them we were looking for a tumble bug, did we?”

I shake my head. “No. I didn’t. Did you?”

“No.” He hesitates a few seconds, then adds, “I wonder what it means.”

“What what means?”

“What it means when you find a tumble bug lying on your pillow. I would wonder about it if I found one on mine. Kind of like you would if a buzzard kept circling you.”

“It doesn’t mean anything,” I say. “I’m just glad it happened.”

“That’s almost like Tooth Fairy stuff,” he says, as we lean on the old split-rail fence in front of the house watching the last light fade over the hills. Soon it will be time to watch for satellites.

“Maybe there’s a Tumble Bug Fairy.”

“May be,” I say, my eyes fixed on a point of light moving from the east. “There just may be.”


In Search of a Tumbler, Part I

by pauldruffin

RUFFIN-IT: IN SEARCH OF A TUMBLER, PART I

It was late November many years ago and my son and I were at the Winship ranch out near Junction, standing in the middle of a field road while the sun crawled up over one of the hills behind us. I was on my knees searching for insect activity around an old cow pie, but nothing was moving. The boy was looking down at me the way a person looks into the sun, one eye closed a little tighter than the other, but he was facing away from the sun, so the squint was simple incredulity.

“They do what?”

“They take the–they form a ball of dung, of manure, of poop, and they roll it–”

“That’s one of the grossest things you have ever told me, and you have told me plenty, and maybe I don’t want to hear any more.”

“That’s up to you.”

He leaned closer to me. “You mean there’s a bug that takes cow poop–”

See, an eleven-year-old boy can’t stand this kind of thing: it bugs him, as it were. He’s got to push it, even if it is unsavory.

“Or horse, rhino, whatever’s handy. But it’s got to be fresh, and since Uncle Bob has moved the cows off the place, we’re not likely to find–”

“There’s deer poop.”

“Yeah, but that’s already in pellets, sort of like balls, and it’d be cheating for them–”

“So he rolls this stuff up into a ball, the way you would a snowball, and does what with it?”

“He takes it home with him.”

“He takes a ball of that stuff, of cow crap, home with him?”

“Yes,” I said, “that’s precisely what he does. Sometimes a couple will do it together, the male guiding the ball in front while the female pushes from behind. They’ll actually tumble over the ball, which is why they’re called tumble bugs.”

“This is getting weirder and weirder, and I don’t believe–”

“Believe it or not, but that’s the truth.”

He gave me a long look.

“I can understand why insects and animals do lots of things, but I can not–I do not understand why anything would fool with that stuff. I mean, what do they do with the ball when they get it home? Do their kids play with it, or what?”

I laughed at that. Who wouldn’t? The image of a bunch of tumble bug babies scooting a ball of dung around is–well, it’s an unusual picture.

I tried to explain it to him.

“The family feed off the ball of dung because it’s food.”

“You mean, they, they eat that ball of stuff?”

“Yes. And then the female . . . .”

Well, I’m running out of space here, so I’ll get back to the story next week.


MR. PATE AND THE BIG VEE

by pauldruffin

RUFFIN IT: MR. PATE SPICES UP HIS LOVE LIFE
MR. PATE AND THE BIG VEE

We’re sitting on Mr. Pate’s screened-in porch out near Junction, late. The sun has just finished another day of beating up on the landscape and gone home over the hills, leaving the valley bruised with evening purple. Bob Winship looks around to make certain Mrs. Pate is not within hearing distance of the porch and says to me, quietly and on the old man’s bad-ear side, “Get him to tell you about trying the big V.”

“You mean Viag–”

“Yeah, ask him about it.”

So I do. I say, “Mr. Pate, Bob tells me you’ve tried the new drug–you know, the little blue pill, Viagra.”

He leans forward in his chair and smiles at us. “Sure did. Hell of a boost to a man’s drive, you know. Does the job.” He gives me a shrewd look. “Made me feel like a pube again, with slicked-back hair and tight pants and a tee-shirt with the arms tore off.”

“That good, huh?”

“I’ll say.” He scoots his chair closer to mine and lowers his voice. “Gon’ let you in on somethin’, though, that most folks don’t know about.” His eyes grow shrewd again. “There’s a cheaper version than the pills. Them things cost ten dollars apiece. I use the powder.”

I glance at Winship, then to the old man. “Uh, I didn’t know it came in powder form.”

“More granular, I’d say,” Winship puts in.

“Yeah, granular maybe,” Mr. Pate agrees. “Whatever, you just mix a teaspoon of it in water and slug it down. Tastes awful, but it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than them pills.”

I say to Winship, “Bob, I don’t follow this. I haven’t heard about a granular form of Viagra.”

Mr. Pate beams again. “Been around for years too. Folks just didn’t know about this particular use for it.”

“See, Ruffin,” Winship says, “Mr. Pate gets his potion at the feedstore.”

I look at Bob, then at the old man. “Come on, guys, what gives here? You can’t get Viagra at a feedstore. It’s by prescription. And I don’t think it comes in granular form either.”

“You’d be surprised what you can get at a feedstore. They don’t tell you everything in the news. If it got out about this cheaper version, there’d be a run on it.”

“Bob, do you know what he’s talking about?”

Winship grins big again. “Show him the stuff, Mr. Pate.”

The old man rises from his chair and shuffles off into the house. In less than a minute he’s back with a little green box, which he hands me. “There y’are. The real stuff. And it ain’t but $5.95 for enough to last a man weeks, or months if he’s slown down much–well, maybe a year if he’s slown down a lot. And you can get five pounds of it for around fifteen bucks.”

“You didn’t tell him about the side-effects, Mr. Pate,” Winship says.

The old man spits into a coffee can and wipes the corners of his mouth with his hand. “It’s blue too, like the pill, so it gives you a blue tongue, for one thing. And a monstrous headache that makes you feel like your skull is splittin’ wide open. Indigestion too, if you take it on a empty stomach.” He cackles and slaps his leg. “But it’s worth it, I’m tellin’ you, worth it!”

The first stars are blazing away as Winship and I start off to his place. The road dust, hanging deadwind from passing cars and trucks, has coated the shrubs and trees, and they look white and ghostly. The only sound is the whizzing of faraway traffic on the interstate, our shoes crunching on caliche, and the bark of an axis buck down in the river bottom.

I say finally, “Bob, Mr. Pate’s using plant food for–”

“Yep. Viagro. Been around for years.”

“Same color as Peters’ Plant Food. Bob, you’ve got a medical background. Do you think it really does anything for him?”

“Perhaps something from the nitrates? Could irritate the urinary tract. I don’t know. If he thinks it does, though, then it probably does. The placebo effect is a strong one.”

“It won’t hurt him?”

“Probably not. Just the blue tongue and the headaches, occasional indigestion. But to him it’s worth it.”

“Mercy,” I say.

“Sir?”

“Suppose he starts growing too, gets younger? Wouldn’t that be something?”

“Who’s to say? We’ll study him. If it happens, we’ll know where to put our money.”


OK, OK, HERE’S THE BEST BREAKFAST EVER . . . .

by pauldruffin

RUFFIN-IT: OK, OK, HERE’S THE BEST BREAKFAST EVER . . . .

If you read my columns regularly, you’ve run across my references to the Kashi company. These folks have been around for a bit over thirty years producing some truly remarkable whole-grain cereals, whose reputation is well established through online reviews by not simply food editors but daily consumers around the world.

When writing about their cereals in earlier pieces, I mentioned my favorite Kashi offering: Heart to Heart Oat Flakes and Blueberry Clusters. I’ve tried almost all their varieties, but I have found this the most tasty and satisfying and, the best I can determine, the healthiest. What’s in it? Why’s it so good? Why’s it so healthy? First of all, of all the grains used in cereals around the globe, it is hard to beat oats for their versatility and contributions to human health. I mean, you can have oatmeal, oat bran, oat flakes, whatever, and you’re going to enjoy the health benefits of this king of grains.

You want fiber? According to every source I’ve consulted, oats have more soluble fiber than the other common grains we use for food. This means that not only are you going to feel fuller longer, but that fiber is going to help rid your digestive system of bad cholesterol by introducing antioxidant compounds that will eliminate free radicals that through LDL cholesterol increase the risk of heart disease. Yeah, it’ll help in that respect too, almost as well at Metamucil.

Will oats lower your blood pressure? From what I’ve read over the years, yes, they will. If you have hypertension and are taking medication to control it, I wouldn’t suggest that you flush your meds and dose yourself with oats every day.If they taste good anyway, what do you have to lose?

You want protein? Oat protein, according to numerous studies, is equal to that of meat, eggs, milk, and soy.

Look, you can go do the research yourself, if you wish, but I’m convinced that the health benefits of oats are beyond dispute, whether we’re talking about boosting the immune system, stabilizing blood sugar, improving the function of the digestive system, preventing heart disease and certain types of cancer, or helping ward off asthma. I’m not the right kind of doctor to professionally ascertain the accuracy of these claims, but, as I say, I am convinced. That’s good enough for me.

So, let’s think about blueberries for a bit, and Kashi is fairly liberal with them in their Heart to Heart Oat Flakes and Blueberry Clusters. Blueberries are absolutely packed with vitamins and a significant range of antioxidants, making them one of the healthiest fruits out there. (Aw, sure, watermelon beats all other fruits in that respect, but I’ve yet to find watermelon in any cereal out there.) You won’t find a cup of blueberries in this cereal, but they are well-represented here, often as actual clusters that are incredibly delicious by themselves (not that I would suggest you dilute the taste of the cereal by picking out the blueberry chunks before serving it.

OK, let us assume that we have our box of HHOF-BC before us. [By the way, when I open a box and the bag inside, I always pour the cereal into a Ziploc bag so that I can securely seal it before putting it back in the pantry. It’s much easier to handle it this way.] Take a handful, around half a cup, and pour it in the bottom of your cereal bowl. There you go. Just like that. Good.

Now we have to discuss walnuts a bit here, since they go in next. Look, these things are one of the healthiest of nuts to eat: They are absolutely loaded with omega-3 fat alpha-linolenic acid and antioxidants and have been proven as aids in preventing cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, and they promote good brain health and reproductive health in men. Furthermore, walnuts assist in weight control. Long live the walnut! I buy mine already chopped up and ready to use in recipes. Take a small handful of these walnuts and layer them on top of the cereal in the bowl.

We’ve talked about blueberries, but what about cranberries? Like blueberries, these guys are loaded with vitamins, particularly C and E, and they provide plenty of dietary fiber. Cranberries have been determined to be beneficial in warding off cancer and heart disease and urinary tract infections. And, like blueberries, they taste good.

Alrighty, now. You take a about a tablespoon of dried blueberries and sprinkle them over that layer of walnuts, followed by a tablespoon of dried cranberries. Yeah, it’s shaping up.

But now we have to discuss the health benefits of honey. Honey, honey’s been touted as a health food since way before anybody knew how to write those benefits down. Waaaaay back, I’m saying. I don’t have time to go into the grand range of honey’s contributions to human health, but I will mention that it improves digestion, fights infection, reduces the incidence of cancer and heart disease, serves as a coughs suppressant, regulates blood sugar, and helps the body defend against allergies (provided you use honey produced by local bees.) You bet that there are more, but I don’t have the space to discuss them.
I buy Rudy’s Honey, shipped all the way from Livingston, around thirty-five miles away, as the bee flies. Good stuff here. I dribble it on that rich layer at the bottom of the bowl, throw in another handful of cereal on top of all that, then dribble a bit more honey on top of that.

The next step is to add enough milk to fill the bowl almost to the top of the cereal. Use any kind of milk. Doesn’t matter. I use whole milk, but that’s just what I prefer.

When you’ve finished the cereal and find yourself dealing with that tedious issue of spooning milk from the bottom of the bowl, take a good look to make certain nobody’s watching and lift that bowl to your lips and slug that milk, which will bear taste traces of honey and blueberry and cranberry and oat flakes.

Hey, if you don’t like the taste of this concoction, you have something wrong with you that the average doctor won’t be able to cure. You need to see a tastebudologist (my assumption being that, as specialized as we have become in medicine, such doctors exist) and get yourself checked out. Life is too short to miss out on such pleasures.


A LETTER TO RICK LINKLATER

by pauldruffin

RUFFIN-IT: A LETTER TO RICK LINKLATER

Howdy, Rick.

It’s been a long time since you sat in my fiction writing course at SHSU, back there before you took off somewhere, I think to work on an oil rig or something, and long before you began introducing that long string of marvelous movies to the world.

I don’t know how much I taught you about fiction writing. Probably nothing you didn’t already know. I don’t recall anything you wrote in that class, so I can’t expect you to remember anything you might have learned. I always did stress the importance of dialog—to the point of saying, no dialog, no story–which now you are a master of.

Congratulations on your many accomplishments over the years. I suspect that you have just begun.
But let me get to where I had planned to go with this letter . . . .

All my old contact information on you is probably out-of-date, addresses and phone numbers that your mother gave me back when I lived in Huntsville. I figured that if I ran this letter in the paper, someone would clip it out and send it to you. I’m counting on it.

If you remember, Diane used to have me drop off copies of my new books for your birthdays, and she would send them to you. By that time you were already on a pretty good roll with your film making, so I don’t know that you ever read any of my books.

I’m also not certain that she sent you a copy of Castle in the Gloom (University Press of Mississippi), a novel of mine involving a couple whose car has a breakdown over on a county road near Lufkin. They manage to limp to an old general-store building converted to a residence, where they are in essence kidnapped by the old woman living there and forced to spend the night in a cluttered storeroom on a single mattress.

I’ve often thought that this novel would make a really good movie.

Rick, this just sounds like your kind of movie: romance, domestic complexity, limited number of characters, a handful of sets, lots of dialog, positive conclusion. And it’s set in East Texas. What more could you want?

I know that you are really busy these days and probably won’t even get this letter; and if you do get it, you might not have the time or inclination to read the novel.

Now, if by chance Diane didn’t send you a copy of Castle or did and you never got around to reading it (or didn’t like it) and misplaced it or threw it away, let me know if you’d consider taking a look at it. I think that you’ll like the characters and storyline.

But all this sounds terribly self-serving, so ignore it.

Let me try again:

Mr. Linklater:

Congratulations on your Golden Globes: You certainly deserve them, and you’re sure to do well with the Academy Awards. I’ve really enjoyed your movies over the years.

Say, I’ve run across this great novel that I just know you would want to make into a movie if you gave it a read. It’s your kind of thing, man: couple traveling the backroads of East Texas when their car breaks down and they have to spend the night imprisoned in a storage room in an old general-store building converted into a residence. It has a really weird old .44-weilding woman and big old dog in it, and there’s a whole lot of dialog throughout. Just a handful of characters and four or five scenes. Easy and cheap to make, I’m saying.

If it sounds like it might be of interest, I can get in touch with the guy who wrote it and get you a copy. He’s a cripple now and has to use a rollator to get around, and he thinks that a burst of luck like having one of his novels made into a movie might be just the thing to get him on his feet again, so to speak. He might even take wing.

He’s pretty cheap, but he won’t charge you for the novel, and he would probably be willing to pitch a couple of hundred bucks into the production budget, if necessary. You know, if you did make the book into a movie.

Well, hey, I hope you get this letter. And if you are interested in the book, let me know, and I’ll get a copy to you.

Good luck with the Academy Awards.

A fan


THE TIME DON COERS GOT SOME SPECIAL MAIL, PART II

by pauldruffin

RUFFIN-IT: THE TIME DON COERS GOT SOME SPECIAL MAIL, PART II

So there I was behind closed doors with the newly found Swank and wondering precisely what to do with my prize. I certainly didn’t want to get caught with it, at work or at home. Then an idea came to mind . . . .

For an hour or so I scissored out the most graphic shots presented in that issue of Swank and put them in a file. Then in my home office and over the next couple of days I wrote brief letters to somewhere around two dozen writers I knew around the country, all in different states. I had edited The Texas Review for years, so I had huge files of author correspondence. My letter said simply, “Please do not open the enclosed envelope. Kindly drop it in the nearest mailbox for me on ________________. [Here I inserted a particular date in a one-month schedule: about one a weekday, you see.] It is already addressed and stamped. Please do not put your name or any other information on the envelope, and do please mail it only on the designated date. I know that this makes no sense to you now, but in time it will. Thank you for doing this for me.”

I took each of the Swank pictures, put it inside a folded piece of paper, and then slid the piece of paper into a note-sized envelope that had been addressed to . . . yeah, Coers. Each envelope had a First-Class stamp on it. Then I put the smaller envelope inside a stamped #10 addressed to those two dozen people I mentioned. I bought all the envelopes and stamps myself, so relax. I don’t mind paying for my fun. Besides, the statue of lamentations (as a student once wrote it on a paper) has run out on this, crime or not.
I walked the envelopes over to the University PO and sent them on their way.

Expecting nothing for at least a week, I casually went about checking my mail each day, only vaguely aware of Coers and his mailroom flourish. After five days I started situating myself well off to the side to study the good Dr. Coers as he opened his mail.

Ah, well I recall the first one that came in—it had to have been the one from Houston. I was seated, sipping coffee, watching. Coers reached into his box, took a couple of journal-size envelopes and laid them down with his books at the edge of the table, then pulled out a note-size envelope, tapped, ripped open the end, blew it open, and slid out the little piece of folded paper and opened it. Out fluttered one of the lurid photos—oh, most graphic it was!—and it caught the air and sailed well out of Coers’s reach and landed right-side up, where all in attendance at Morning Mail Opening Time could see.

I do not recall who all was there and who saw what. What I do remember is a frantic Coers literally leaping to snatch up the photo before those about him had any chance to register what they’d seen. He shoved it into his pocket and grabbed his books and left. I am hereby offering four million dollars to anyone for a video of that scene, half that amount for still shots. It was a moment definitely worth preserving.

It is not necessary for me to tell you that the Mailroom Flourish so wondrously perfected by Don Coers fell by the way. After opening two or three more such envelopes, in much more surreptitious fashion, the way you might hold cards to your chest to check them, he began coming for his mail later, after the place had cleared out, and I don’t recall that he ever opened another envelope in the mailroom in front of other people.

We talked about his problem a few days later, after he’d accumulated quite a file of unsolicited porno shots. “And they’re from all over the country, man, from Maine to California and almost every state in between [not quite, but close], and they use different stamps. I’m just wondering what’s going on and when it’s going to stop.”
I told him that his name and address had probably just gotten caught up in some kind of pornographic society: you know, a Body Part a Week Club, something like that. I also told him that it was probably against the law to send that kind of thing through the mail and maybe even to receive it. This was long before anyone could snitch your email address and put you on all sorts of lists you don’t want to be on.

Somebody finally figured it out—I think it was Rob Adams, who calculated that I was probably the only person in the department with that many contacts across the country to pull off such a joke—and told Don, and I admitted it.

I think that he has forgiven me. I did some other things to him over the years, and I’m certain that he retaliated, only he was clever enough that I never knew he was behind whatever it was that happened.
I’m sure you’re thinking that this was something more fitting for a high schooler, but boredom has always been my greatest enemy, and such foolishness was often just the boost I needed to keep my mind stimulated.

Chances are, you folks out there acquainted with the SHSU English Department will like our little book. It should be out sometime in late spring.

Paul Ruffin may not always act like it, but he is a Texas State University System Regents’ Professor and Distinguished Professor of English at SHSU.


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