Thursday, December 16, 2010

I was ten years old, happy as I'd ever been in my life, runnin' free in the Missouri woods when this tune came out in 1971.

Those days seem a million miles away now. Like someone else's life. Summers spent deep in the thick, green woods, shooting arrows at anything that moved, building tree houses and forts, pretending to be soldiers, or hunters, or Indians on the warpath. Anyone other than who we were. After the crud I'd been put through in England, Kansas City was paradise.

My friends, Mike Hinkley, Greg Rogers and I spent our winter days wondering at the magic of the ice storms that coated the trees, running in the deep snow, slipping and sliding on the frozen creek that ran behind our houses and sliding down the tall hill on our sleds. It's funny how, when prompted, the mind jumps to those warm, fond memories.

It was ages later, long after I'd memorized all the words, before I learned the sad inspiration for the song... That Mclean was singing about Buddy Holly, among other things. I still love it, and still sing it to myself at the top of my lungs when I hear it in the car. I'm instantly taken back to those good times. It's wild how music can do that to ya.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Other weekend drama.

Aside from mom's birthday and all the left-overs from Thanksgiving, Denise and I had a few more little dramas over the weekend.

First, Friday night, as we were beginning to drift off to sleep, I heard one of the cats making a weird noise. It was a strangely muffled but loud meow. I got up from the bed in time to see my little buddy Tiger...

This is him, a week or so ago, sacked out in my chair. he's my buddy. The only one of the six cats that I feed that acts like he loves me. He was the runt of the litter, shoved around by the others when they were kittens. I'd always make sure he got to eat, so he learned to love and trust me early on.

Anyway, he was makin' this weird noise that night, like he was meowin' with a full mouth. Sure enough, he had a rat in his mouth, and he'd brought it in to me to show it off. Thing is, as soon as I got out of bed he dropped the little offering, and it scurried off into the darkness of the living room. Of course, this isn't the first time one of the kids had done this. But it's been a hell of a long time.

When I first moved in here, in 2003, they used to do it all the time. They'd bulldozed the field in front of the house to build the HEB, and there were rats and critters all over the neighborhood. the boys had a field day. I used to leave the front door cracked, like I did at my last apartment, so the cats could come and go at will. But pretty soon after movin' in it got to where I had to leave the doors closed. I was sick of the chase.

By the time I put in the cat door in the guest bedroom, this sort of thing was long forgotten. I felt sure the cats had killed everything in sight. Still, every now and then we find the pieces of a bird carcass, usually a pile of feathers, in the guest room. The dead rats, when we find them, are found out in the back yard. Recently though, instead of finding them in the yard, the kids have gotten into the habit of bringing them in and finishing them off in the house. Denise will wake me up some days with that look on her face and say "You need to get up NOW!" I always know what that means.

I usually laugh as I'm putting the poor dead critter in a plastic bag, tyin' it shut and walking it out to the dumpster. And there's always a part of me that wants to chase her around with it, if only briefly. But I've learned that that can get out of hand really quick. I thought she was gonna have a heart attack on me a while back. And that was just with a little dead garden snake. Again' a present from the boys.

Anyway, so I turned on the lights in the living room and located the rat, which was hiding under my stair machine. Tiger was pointing the way. When I leaned the StairMaster over it skittered out and under my recliner, Tiger in hot pursuit. He was watching every move that rat made.

I lifted up the recliner and there he was, shifting from one side of it to the other. It's little rodents life must have been flashing before it's eyes. I put the chair down again and went and got my BB pistol, thinkin' I'd plink the little dude when I lifted up the recliner again. But when I did, he bolted, and tiger bolted after him.

That was the last I saw of the rat. Next thing I know, Tiger is relaxing in the guest bedroom, seemingly unconcerned that his dinner has escaped, and I have no clue where the little bastard is. I looked all over the living room while Denise sat there in bed, watching.

"Well, where is it? Did you get it?" she asked as I strolled back into the bedroom. "Uh, nope. No clue," was my response. "Well, close the door," she said. "It can't get in here can it?" "Naa," I said, lyin' my ass off. I put a towel down on the floor by the door. I reassured her that there was no way the little dude could get into the bedroom, or into bed with us (shiver me timbers), and put my trust in the cats. I figured that when all the commotion died down, they'd come back in the house and do what cats do.

The next morning, there was no sign of ether the cats, or the rat. I hoped that some time during the night, the cats had done their duty, but there was no obvious sign of it. Then, some time Saturday afternoon, Denise noticed something under the footrest of my chair. I looked and sure enough, there sat about the last inch or so of a rats tail. Yep, something like a death struggle had gone on while we slept. But it wasn't until late Saturday night that I found the real evidence.

It was when I went in to the hallway bathroom, to make an evenings offering. I was sittin' there on the throne, checkin' out the deals in the latest C.I. catalog, when I saw a little swath of something crimson there on the tile next to the magazine basket (which normally sits in the corner, up against the bathtub and wall). Blood on the floor tile. When I pulled back the basket, the full scope if the carnage was revealed.

Look closely. You can even make out little bloody rat footprints, and what might be the last scatological offerings that were involuntarily given as the feline hunters took their fatal bite. Yep, I live with some deadly ninja kitties, fer sure. I just wish they'd do their killin' outside.

The other drama this last weekend was much less bloody, but much more expensive. By the time we returned to the house Saturday night, after having that nice Birthday dinner with mom, I walked down to the road to get the mail and noticed a lot of water in the gutter. I soon discovered that water was gushing out of my water meter box.

It was a gusher. I called the city water department and they sent someone out to turn off the flow. I could have done it myself, but I thought you needed that special tool to do it. you know, the one they always have. I now know I could have used a wrench. Live and learn.

The city water guy turned off the water and dug out enough mud to see that it was going to be my problem. The pipe that was busted was mine, and not the cities. Also, he told me that I'd have to pay for all that water that had been gushing out into the street for God knows how long. We'd left to go to mom's about 4:30, and returned at about 10PM, so that could be a LOT of water.

I assumed it was broken PVC, and though about fixing it myself. But I don't trust myself to do it right. I called my usual plumber Sunday morning, but they don't work weekends. Eventually, after calling around, I finally got someone to come out and deal with it.

It turned out to be pretty simple problem, right there in the meter box. There was no serious digging required. I dodged a bullet on that one. Having watched the dude do the fixing, I think I could fix it again myself if it ever breaks again. It was just this piece of angled PVC, which had become unglued and popped out, causing the gusher.

When I rubbed some of the mud off of it I saw a hair line crack in it's side, which probably contributed to the failure. God thing is, it's probably the original item, put in place in 1996 or so when the house was built.

Thing is, the first time he fixed it, the bond didn't hold up to the pressure. I was sanding there, about to take a picture of the fixed pipe when WHOOSH, the seal burst open and the water sprayed out, and he had to jump in and turn off the water again.

It took the dude three tries to get it to hold, but in the end it was fixed. At least, it's still holding. We'll see how long it lasts. There's something like a two year warranty on the work... $485 later. Just what I need right now, and unexpected expense. Next time I'll do it myself. Cheers!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Mom's 83rd Birthday.

Mom's birthday was actually the day after Thanksgiving, but she was too pooped from all the cooking and eating on Thursday to go out Friday. Plus, she'd had to go to the hospital Friday afternoon. It was just a regular appointment with her cardiologist. But still, with pre-appointment tests and such, it was a lot of walking around and exertion. So she was in no mood to go out to eat after all that. We postponed the birthday dinner till she felt better. That turned out to be the next day.

Denise and I drove over to Temple with some flowers and a few presents Saturday afternoon. Mom loved the flowers, and particularly loved the presents that Denise had picked out. She'd gone to Wal Mart and Penny's on Friday while I was busy taking mom to her medical appointment.

After opening presents at the house, the three of us drove over to the Texas Roadhouse. Mom wanted a steak for her birthday, and she loves the steaks at the Roadhouse. When it came time to order drinks, he had a Top Shelf margarita, Denise had a glass of wine, and I had a tall beer. Ziegenbock, I think. The selection at the TR is lame, so there you go.

I think Denise ordered the 10 oz. Ft, Worth Ribeye, while mom and I had the Dallas Fillet (mom the 6 oz, me the 8). We all had salads, and then the girls ordered baked potatoes. Denise had the stuffed regular tater, and mom the sweet, marshmallow filled variety. As you can see above, I went for the steak fries.

It was all wonderful. We filled up there at the restaurant and then headed back to mom's for a little after diner tipple. I think she had a great time, much of which was due to Denise and the time she spent preparing the presents. She paid close attention to some of the things that mom needed when we were there for Thanksgiving, and then went out the next day and found those things. She's pretty sharp.

During dinner, mom told us that she's having second thought about the hip replacement surgery. She's scheduled to have it in a week or two. She has about 4 different doctors, and two or three of them have been making what mom thinks are snide, disparaging comments about her plans to have the surgery.

I'm not sure what the hall that's all about. The guy who does the surgery is very well thought of. Point is, those comments have fed the doubts in mom's mind, and now that she's having to cut back on her normal regimen of aspirin in preparation for the surgery, she's feeling a lot more pain. I think it's convinced her to just put it all off for now.

I wish I could do something about it all, but she's gonna make the decision on her own. Really, I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm just afraid that if she doesn't go ahead with the surgery I'm gonna be getting a call late some evening and taking her to the ER because she's fallen and broken a hip. That's when the real trouble will begin. But, it's her hip. It's her life.

Anyway, it was a great birthday celebration. Cheers!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Had a great Thanksgiving yesterday.

Denise got up at 6:30 to start cookin' the bird. We'd gone to Wal Mart a week ago and picked up the bird and a spiral cut ham. Mom was gonna need the bird later so she could stuff it and make her wonderful cornbread dressing. So Denise cooked it in our oven for about three hours, and then I drove it over to mom's place.

About 3PM, Denise and I went back over to moms for the big feed. By then, Denise had cooked mashed potatoes and a lemon Meringue pie.

When the time came, I pulled the bird out of the oven and started carvin' it. It was a huge, succulent beast.

While I did that, Denise started cutting on the ham. She found a wonderful spiral cut boneless ham at Wal Mart. Boneless. What will they think of next? Next to mom's cornbread dressing, this is my favorite thing about thanksgiving. I could give or take the bird, but I loves the pig.

Pretty soon, with the peas, carrots, brussels sprouts and gravy made, it was time to start diggin' in. There was just the three of us this time, Denise and mom and I. We'd invited our friend Kay to dinner, but she'd been puny and begged off.

Here's a shot of my platter (er, my first platter). There's nothing in the world like my momma's cornbread dressing and gravy, with peas piled on tip. Bliss.

Everyone ate their fill, and drank some nice Asti Spumante Ballatore. And then we sat back with a piece of mom's pecan pie and watched the Cowboys play New Orleans. It was a good game, but it didn't end the way we wanted. Close, but no cigar. But that didn't ruin the evening.

In the end, Denise and I piled our share of the leftovers into the trunk and took them home, where I took the rest of the meat off the bird and stored everything away.

Here's the after shot... like a bunch of vultures went after it.

There's a container of white meat for Denise, and another with dark meat for me.

Since Denise doesn't like anything to do with corn, all of this is mine. I covered it with gravy before I closed the lid and put it in the fridge.

The rest of the goods were stored away and everything cleaned up and washed. By the time I was done you wouldn't know all this cookin' and eatin' had happened at all.

The last thing to do... In the rush to get the ham and stuff to mom's place, Denise and I had accidentally left the lemon meringue pie in the fridge. Oops.

After taking care of the left-overs, I rewarded myself with a slice of pie. It's wonderful! Then I wrapped it in foil and tucked it away in the fridge. That sucker's full.

Believe it or not, the left-overs are safe for a while. We all did a little nibblin' this morning, havin' a ham sandwich for breakfast. But the dinner menu is gonna be a different.

Today is mom's 83rd birthday. She's got a doctors appointment this afternoon at 3:30, preparatory for her scheduled hip replacement in a few weeks. I'm gonna go over there and escort her to the hospital, get her to the appointment and back, and then we'll drive back over here, pick up Denise and head over to the Texas Roadhouse. Momma wants a steak dinner for her birthday, so that's what we'll have. then we'll drop by here for a slice of lemon meringue pie, and maybe an after dinner tipple. It'll be great.

So, I hope you all had a great feed and family time yesterday. Cheers!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Made a short trip to San Saba Monday.

Last year, Denise and I sent a few bags of San Saba pecans and jars of jalapeno/pecan preservers to some of her family for Christmas. They loved them, as I do. So, last week, Denise floated the idea of me makin' the drive out to San Saba and picking up a few bags for this year.

Of course, there were other reasons why I wanted to make the drive. I hadn't seen my buddy John since he'd come back from his hunting trip to Mew Mexico. I knew he'd gotten a big Mule Deer, and I wanted to get the lowdown on how he got it and how the rest of the trip went. He hunts with a black powder rifle, and that intrigues the hell out of me. And finally, of course, the thought of going back to San Saba brought images of that special hamburger to my mind. If you're a regular reader, you've heard about it before. So I called my buddy John, who lives and works in San Saba, and made arrangements to meet him at the Dairy Mart for lunch on Monday.

It was wild to be makin' that drive again, and kind of weird. Of course, the scenery hasn't changed very much. It still takes about an hour and ten minutes, barring slow-assed drivers who insist on goin' five or ten miles per hour BELOW the speed limit.

There's an old rule in Texas that says if you want or need to drive slow on one of our two lane country highways, just move over to the margin of the road briefly and let people pass you. You don't even need to slow down. Many of the road margins are as wide as a road. If you do make that move, we speed demons will show our gratitude with a friendly wave as we zip by, goin' about our bidneth.

I usually stick my cigar out the sunroof on those occasions and make the thankful gesture. But every now and then you come up behind someone who seems to be unfamiliar with that little country tradition. Those folks just poke along, as if they're oblivious to the impact their decision is having on all of the drivers behind them. Sometimes, as you're passin' 'em, you look over and they're grippin' the wheel, ten and two, with their eyes on the road ahead and their jaw set. They know they're in the way, and they know what you're thinkin', but they just don't give a damn. By God, they're gonna go as slow as they want. Those folks get cussed, and then sometimes introduced to different gestures through the sunroof as I pass them by.

Drivin' into town, it was a great feelin'. Things hadn't changed very much. For instance, they're still takin' it in the ass at the gas station. Typical small town, out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere gas prices, almost 20 cents higher than what we're payin' here in Killeen. A few construction sites that I'd seen under way for months when I was working in town were finished, the new facilities up and running. The courthouse looked like they were getting it ready to have some sort of fall market day.

I drove into town and up to the Dairy Mart, and found the lunch crowd beginning to gather. John came out to welcome me when I arrived. I briefly showed him my last knife project, and after a good greeting we walked into the diner and got in line to make our order.

The folks there knew me when I worked at the jail, and asked me why it was they hadn't seen me in so long. "You still workin' out there (at the jail)?" was the inevitable question. "Nope," was my answer. And then John saved me from havin' to say any more. "He's here visitin' me today," he said. We both ordered the same burger. It's legendary: the jalapeno, Sourdough Bacon cheeseburger. As soon as I started working at the jail, folks like John started tellin' me that I needed to try it. It's wonderful. I can't imagine why it hasn't been written up in Texas Monthly. It should be.

Sure enough, as soon as I tried it I loved it, and it became a regular part of my week. I'd look forward to visiting that place each Monday after getting out of class. But then the folks there changed their operating hours (they're only open for lunch), and I had to find somewhere else to eat on Monday afternoons. It got to where I could only get one of these wonders if I had to go into San Saba on a Friday, to make up a class, or if I managed to get out of Florence early. Ether way, it was a wonderful treat. Since leaving that job, I've needed an excuse to get back to the Dairy Mart. And this was as good a one as any.

John's hunting story was great. Made me wish I could go along. We've talked about it. Maybe one of these days. He said that he'd taken that possibles bag with him and that it went everywhere he went. I was glad to hear that it survived. A few months ago, after I handed over that bag, he told he wanted to pay me to make him a frontier rifle bag. He said he wanted to get himself a mule deer and have me use the hide to make his bag. I meant to ask him about that while we had lunch, but between the wonderful food, and the rest of our conversation, the topic totally slipped my mind.

We spent the time talking about a lot of things, including all the stuff that's been going on both here and there in the last two months, and we talked about his business at the Liquor store. But most of that will remain confidential. Suffice to say, it was a great time. In the end, after finishing our meal, we left the Dairy Mart and I followed him over to a local gun store that's recently opened in town. It's one that I'd visited before with my buddy Waters. We checked out the stuff they had on sale, including an interesting little Kalashnikov: A Russian made Saiga with a triangular military folding stock and pistol grip, in .223 caliber. Man, if I still had money to piss away...

John got himself some new percussion caps, and I walked away empty handed. He and I parted company then, planning to do it all again some time, and I went in search of pecans. My regular source turned out to be closed, as was my second choice. But those folks were just out for lunch. So, I drove around town for a while, killin' time. I couldn't resist the temptation to drive by the jail. I know that there's about a half dozen people there that I used to work with. But they were all inside, teachin' class.

In time, the pecan lady came back from lunch and I was able to pick up a few bags. Then I started the drive home. That was it. A few cigars later, I got home, grabbed the mail and a fist full of pecans and started workin' on these pictures. Eventually, when Denise got home from work, I fixed dinner and we relaxed in front of the big screen. It was a good day. Cheers.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Figured I wouldn't let you get away without tellin' you about the big birthday dinner.

Just a warning, for those of you who are on diets (I pity the fool) or are just not used to comin' around here. There WILL be gratuitous, gastronomic porn in this post. OK, you've done been warned.

For those of you who don't know, my little wowman and I share the same birthday. Yep, that's right. And I wanna tell ya, it's pretty handy too. Saves me from havin' to try to remember dates. You'd think a history teacher would be good at that? Er, nope.

Denise turned 39... AGAIN... and I turned 50 last Monday. Yea, I know. Over the hill. Whatever. I've heard it all. But here's the deal. So long as I look this damn good (CAREFUL!), and feel this damn good (everything still works the way it's supposed to, without medical enhancements of any kind), and so long as just about everyone else I know is OLDER and more BROKE DOWN than I am, I figure I'll still be just a young whipper snapper. My 82 year old mother confirms these opinions (accept the part about the "medical enhancements." Eeew, no, we don't go there).

So, since Denise and I both share the big day, we decided to head down to Austin, to our favorite Tex-Mex place, Pappasito's, and have a feast. Since mom is feelin' good these days, and she loves the food there too, I decided to invite her to come along.

There was a time when the folks and I (and sometimes sis) would hit that place about once a month. Those days are over, but we still try to hit it now and then. It was a surprise when mom decided that she wanted to pay the bill... Her way of giving us both a birthday present. I resisted at first, but Denise has worked on me, getting me to realize that I should just let mom do this sort of thing when she wants to.

The notion is, she feels that she needs to level out the playing field a bit, considering how she and dad supported my sister in the past. As a mother, Denise knows that you always want to try to be fair. Give to one kid if you're gonna give to the other, etc.

It's no big deal to me. If it weren't for me being in my present reduced position, I probably would have fought harder, with Denise givin' me that look the whole time. I'll just insist on payin' the next time we go.

Anyway, Denise and I drove over to Temple and we all piled into mom's Buick Lucerne. She wanted to blow out the cobwebs in it, and we'd all fit in it better than we would in my car.

It takes about an hour to get down to Austin. Happily, during the drive down, all the traffic snarls were in the north bound lanes of I-35.

We got in at around 4;30PM, which was prime timing. We beat the rush, getting a prime parking space right out front and going right to our table. The waiter asked us if we'd ever been there before, to which I replied with a quick rundown of the drink and queso orders. Yea, buddy we've been there before.

First thing to drool over... The special Ixtapa beef Chile con Queso. This stuff is awesome!

Along with the complementary chips and dip (great stuff in it's own right), the spicy beef queso really gets the meal going in the right way. Thing is, if you're not careful you can easily fill up on a few baskets of those thin, crispy little chips and then you end up taking half your dinner plate home with ya. Yea, I've done it many times.

The drinks? Both of the little ladies went for Margaritas: the strawberry for Denise and the Top Shelf on the rocks for mom. I had a big 18 oz. glass of Negra Modelo off the tap. I could have gone for a 32, but I was driving.

By the time the dinner plates arrived, we'd made good work of the chips and dips, and the drinks were sufferin' too.

I ordered the Chicken Fajita Enchiladas, with a side order of Brochette Shrimp.

Yea, I know you need a closer look. That's two Chicken Fajita Enchiladas, with the Salsa Verde sauce slathered all over them. It's really too bad that Blogger hasn't figured out some kind of scratch and sniff app for this thing. Trust me, it's wonderful.

Thing is, as good as those enchiladas are, the best dish they offer, in my humble opinion, is the Brochette Shrimp; Big, plump shrimp, split down the middle, stuffed with a slice of bell pepper and cheese, wrapped in bacon, covered in a white wine and butter sauce and grilled.

And they give you a little cup of that white wine/butter sauce, whipped, for you to dip them in. Good Lord, trust me, these things are to die for. Mom, loves 'em too, and also ordered a few on the side (whoever invented "on the side" was foookin' brilliant. I'm just sayin').

Her main dish was a pair of Chicken Tinga Tacos, crispy, with rice and beans on the side (we all go that). She loved the tacos, and ended up giving me one of her shrimp (I'm still her little baby).

Please note the awesome bling.

God bless her, mom loves her bling. Southwestern style that evening. She's always been very persnickety about her appearance, as any lady would be. I'll really start to worry about her when she doesn't bother to get all dolled up any more.

Denise can't stand shrimp (I know, what the hell?). Her dinner dish was the Chicken Tinga Enchiladas. (By the way, y'all may want to check out the menu for yourself).

Yep, it was all wonderful, and made for a truly wonderful evening. One of the best things... We managed to get in and out of the place without the birthday cat being let out of the bag. Otherwise the waiters would have run over with sombreros to place on our heads and sung to us, embarrassing the hell out of us.

Oh, if it'd just been Denise's birthday? Oh yea, it would'a been on. But since I'm in line for collateral damage, we're not goin' there. Though, I must say, they're better about it than the folks at my favorite Chinese Food place. Those folks have a friggin' gong that you could used to send signals to the space shuttle, and they don't mind bangin' it.

After the carnage, we drove back up to Temple, happily unobstructed by traffic snarls, and after visiting with mom for a bit (including a little celebratory tipple), Denise and I drove back to the house, and the still smoldering remnants of my birthday cake. Mission accomplished.

You may now take this time to change out your drool cup. Ooops, spillage. I'm off. Cheers.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Took mom out to the cemetary today, to spruice up the plots and place flags out for dady and the others.

It's a pretty place, out in what once was a cow pasture. I imagine, sometimes, deer coming up and feeding on the acorns around the plots. I know the folks would love that.

We put a flag up on Uncle Melvin's plot. He was in the army in WW2. He supposedly served during the Battle of the Bulge, working on supply trains, I think. I never really got the chance to talk to him about it. There was always WAY too much drama involved with his side of the family. But mom remembers him fondly. He married her older sister Rose when Rose was 15 and he was 19. She says he was always like a big brother to her. Something she longed for, I guess. He taught her to drive, taking her out in a field in an old Model T. Even with everything I know about him and the things he put Rose through, I still miss him.

We put another flag out for Uncle Bob. He's my cousin Bob's father. We had the same birthday, Uncle Bob and I. He served in the army during WW2, and made it a career. He was in Alaska during WW2, and served two tours in Viet Nam. I always loved him, and always thought he was really cool. Hung like a horse, the lucky bastard. I don't know if I'll ever know anyone as tough and gruff as Uncle Bob. I miss him a lot.

And then there's daddy. Yea, it goes without saying. I miss him terribly.

It was a good time, mom and I out at the cemetery. We both decided that we needed to come back out with some bags of soil and spread it around. Pull some weeds and try to get rid of the ants. I'll set mom up in a chair and let her watch while I do it all. The folks will like that.

I had a good surprise a while back.

My buddy Waters had just driven up to Waco somewhere to pick up a new toy. He called me and told me he was gonna pick me up, take me up to his place to shoot his new rifle, and then bring me back after. He's got a girlfriend that lives here in Killeen, and he stays at her place at times during the week.

He had the new toy in his trunk. He told me he'd just pick me up on a drive from her place, and then after the shoot he'd leave the new gun at his house and drive me back, on the way back to stay with his wowman. I thought, "OK, that's cool."

We'd made plans a few weeks earlier to do the shooting. The last time he'd had a big shoot, Denise and I were in Orlando, sittin' by a pool, sippin' adult beverages. This time it'd just be the two of us. What with me havin' all this time on my hands, and him pickin' up that new M-4 carbine, why not bust a few caps?

Thing is, Denise and I had plans to go over to eat dinner with my mom that evening, so I was under orders to be home no later than 4:15. No problem. Dave arrived to get me at about 10:30. I loaded my gear into his trunk and we were off.

We got up to his place and set up our shooting range next to his house. He was gonna shoot his new carbine, and also try to sight in his AKM.

My job was to be Dave's spotter. He brought out a nice, comfy chair for me to sit in. Said he'd got it especially for me, seein' how it was particularly sturdily built and all. "Are you sayin' I have a big ass?" I took it well. Hell, it was comfortable. The way I figure it, so long as my ass is narrower than my shoulders, I'm good to go.

He handed me some old Navy surplus binoculars to do my spotting. They were really nice. I think he said he picked them up somewhere for a few bucks.

He figures someone "liberated" them from a ship back in the '60s or '70s. I was so impressed, I looked them up on the web when I got the chance. They wanted about a hundred bucks for some, with the case and everything. One of these days...

We set up a range, with a target set up about 75 yards away from Dave's shooting table.

There you go. Now you can see it. Pretty soon, it was time for Dave to see how his new gun shoots.

You can see him there, lookin' over to see if I'm spotting for him, finding me filming. I did the same thing when he took out the AKM.

We worked on that one for a while, getting it sighted in pretty good.

When the time came, we packed away the guns, put away the table and chairs, and headed back down to my house.

When we got there, I quickly realized that something was up. There was yellow disaster area tape on the front gate, and a black balloon hanging from it. This is the view I had when I walked in the front door. "Oh shit," I thought. "What the hell is goin' on?"

Turns out, Denise had pulled a fast one on me. She'd plotted with a lot of my friends to have a surprise 50th birthday party for me. I think she got everyone she could contact, or who she could get the numbers for. It was wonderful.

Our friend Kay was there, lookin' around at all my stuff, sayin' stuff like "It's like a museum." She's known Denise for years, and got to know me after we realized that we had a great mutual friend. My big brother Mushy is her cousin. Funny how the world works.

of course, the most moving thing about the day was seeing my mother walk up the drive. I came close to tearing up then. and it wasn't just the box of her very special fried chicken that she'd fixed for the party. I couldn't believe all these folks would come here to celebrate my birthday. It was very moving.

I was shocked when my buddy Glenn walked in the door. Hell, he lives up in Waco. I couldn't believe it.

We've known one another for something like 12 years, teaching together on Ft. Hood, and in Gatesville at one of the prison units, and we've become good buddies. We go to concerts now and then, and get together with our women to eat and have a good time.

My buddy Joe showed up with his lovely wife Marie. He's a shooting buddy, but I got to know him out on Ft. Hood, where he used to work. He was the guy that kept the building going that Glenn, Dave and I used to teach in. Glenn still teaches out there, and says the place is really going down hill since the college decided to save some money by letting Joe and his coworkers go. Administrators... Go figure.

Pretty soon, it was time to blow out the candles and try the cake. It was a beauty. I was surprised that there wasn't a forest of flame on there, but there was no need to alert the fire department.

OK, first of all, there was no way anyone else could have seen my ass, and she's seen it way too many times to be that shocked. But that's my mom. She's such a sweet Southern lady. Wonderful!

Dave had disappeared for a while, but then he showed up again with his lovely girlfriend Cora. By then, Mom's chicken was the talk of the party. Both the chicken and the cake were dwindlin' away fast, as well as the wonderful sandwich stuff that Denise had laid out for everyone. And people were startin' to wonder why I wasn't openin' presents. So I reached for the first, most obvious article.

BOOZE! Denise's chum Karen and her hubby Rick restocked my cupboard with a big bottle Cruzan rum. It's good stuff, and makes a great Rum & Coke. Kay gave me a gift card to a cool liquor store in Temple. You'd think I was a whiskey sponge. By the way, the red face was from the shooting.

Glenn gave me a bag of books, including several volumes of P.J. O'Rourke's work, and the recently published autobiography of Kieth Richards. Awesome.

Dave got me some cinnamon covered almonds from San Saba. He knows how much I love that stuff.

And Joe got me some new shells. Yea, he knows me. 7.62x39. Woohooo!

Thanks to all my friends who came to the party, and to all the rest who couldn't come. The presents and the cards were all wonderful. But the best present you give me is your continued friendship. I feel the love. I hope you do to.

Denise got me a set of DVDs. The Pacific, which was recently shown on HBO. It's wonderful. Thanks baby, for the present, and for the surprise. You really got me. Furthermore, you've enriched my life so much in the last few years, and stood by me through all this recent bullshit. I love you baby... Big bunches!

So, there you go. I'm 50 years young, chronologically. Maybe about 12 or 15 in most other ways. Feels good to me. I think I make this look good.