Saturday, November 26, 2005


Down here the locals have a name for the huge condominium projects going up – the “hurricane prevention barrier.” Yes, it’s not your South Padre Island of the old days, with a few really ugly high-rises near the causeway. The ugliest has to be Bridgepoint, or some ghastly name like that, which was designed by a Texas architect to resemble a cowboy boot. Sorry, that’s what it is (maybe with a little help from the joy-juice or hippie herb) and its only benefit is that you can see it over ten miles out to sea, as a right handy nautical landmark.

But wait, more are coming! Hopefully not more boots, but condos of all kinds. Knock down a few old fishing camps from the 1950’s and call it progress. Heck, with commercial land over a million bucks an acre, that’s about the only way to make a buck. Well that’s not entirely true, as some of these folks bought land from or passed down through the original, Old Man Tompkins himself for maybe a few grand. But the condo-ization trend is rather disturbing to the locals to say the least. Florida-ization, and worse yet there is Californication!

We want a town, not a Condo City.

But first let me define the “we” here. We’re folks who wanted to move to a nice spot of paradise, retired, semi-retired, or even like myself and my wife, working. We own residential property and pay taxes and don‘t see much being done for the good of the community and its 2,000 registered voters. You’d have to agree many parts of the commercial development on the Island looks like crap. On the other hand you have the free market boys and girls who think extracting and exploiting the biggest buck out of South Padre Island’s property is a God-given right. Hey it’s a small town and we all love each other and rarely ever hold grudges - but do you feel the tension now?

So in the previous town election, there was a slight change in regime from the condo freebooters and those who wanted a sense of community. The most vocal group was and is known as SPIRIT. Admittedly, some of these folks live in McMansions of untold prices but their heart is in the right place. Why should we be supporting an economy of transitory visitors who trash the beach and trash the town, without really spending much money here? You want to build a park for these folks on my front yard? Well sign me up, Luther, maybe these SPIRIT people are onto something.

To make a long story short, I’ve asked some of the politicos for a one-year moratorium on all high-rise construction so as to allow time for developing a Comprehensive Plan. It will be interesting to see how things develop when everyone comes back from Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Premature Thankulation

Lot’s of folks start putting up Christmas lights and such the day after Thanksgiving. Isn’t that the “Black Friday” of retail shopping horrors? Me, I’m down with the lights because I’m a fanatic. It takes me an entire month to keep adding more and more, a little at a time, until the circuit breakers decide they’ve had enough. I moved five heavy crates of Christmas lights down here to our new digs on South Padre Island – and almost every one of those strings work.

But singing Christmas carols the day after Thanksgiving? That is almost a sacrilege. You carol on Christmas Eve, silly, not on Thanksgiving. All you need is some horns, clarinets, and some sheet music (the kind used for marching bands) and you blow your hearts out, since if you stop the mouthpiece could freeze to your lips. Oh yes, I’ve done that with my old tuba and sousaphone and people liked that.

And it was fun because you just start walking down the street and play in front of houses and people come out and start singing. We couldn’t sing because we were trying to keep our instruments from freezing up. And in some cases, we’d get quite a crowd. We’d play and people would sing until about midnight and then it was time for what we called a “hot toddy.”

My favorite was “Good King Wenceslas” because it had a nice mellow bass part. If you check up on the Good King, he was quite a character and a supporter of Christianity and the poor, back in the tenth century.

But the day after Thanksgiving? Good grief Charlie Brown, that is completely absurd.

In his master's steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Long and Short of It

Well I made it to November 17th before I needed long pants this year. That’s not too bad, but I sure hate wearing long britches. I suppose I’m still in denial because I can’t wear shoes – so sandals it is. Compared to the summer, folks, pants and shoes really suck.

I remember going to my first public meeting here on the Island and the dress code was a Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. I was terrified, since I was all slicked up like a preppie – heck, I even shaved for a change (I draw the line a men’s foo-foo though). So I came home, happy I could ditch the pants forever.

On the sandals I recall flying up to Connecticut one year, completely forgetting it might be rather cold around Christmas time. Now these folks don’t wear sandals in the winter, and were very concerned about my sanity. They had boots, galoshes, designer L.L. Bean shoes, hunting boots, work boots, and 15-pound mud stompers, but not a sandal in sight. Hey, it didn’t matter to me once you learned the art of how to slide on slush, snow, and ice. My feet were just fine by the way, with no frostbite amputations needed. Nope, I didn’t even notice.

But pants? I mentioned this to my buddy Captain Randy who was also at a meeting wearing long dungarees. He looked down with disgust. “Yeah pants, I hate ‘em. By the weekend I’ll be back in my shorts.” Then two more cool fronts came down with temperatures in the 50’s to 60’s with a 30-knot wind and cold rain and the Captain and I are pretty much fuming by now. I didn’t have the nerve to tell the Captain that when the temperatures get much over 50, the Yankees all put on shorts.


Monday, November 14, 2005


Yes, that’s my daughter Samantha and everyone calls her Sam. That’s her public defender there too! Anyway, she’s had a difficult go of it and most recently her plumbing in her apartment exploded, never a good thing. So, we’re getting Melia the public defender for a while. In fact, the wife went from work to meet her in Beeville, halfway from South Padre to Austin, to meet her, give her a hug, and get the dog. I mean, Samantha found the dog huddled on her bed, shaking with fear because the water kept rising and spraying like crazy. We’re talking a one-inch incoming waterline here. So you can’t bail out the house and replace sheetrock and move around sleeping on other folk’s couches with an American Pit Bull, right?

I know, you’re reaction is that Samantha has a killer dog but let me dispel and notions about Melia, a truly nice dog. Bad dogs are from bad people, and that’s a fact. Plus, my daughter deserves some protection, anyway.

Secondly, Samantha is going to be really pissed about this posting but I wanted to show we love her, are helping out with buckets of money, and sure, we’ll take care of her dog for a while. That’s what good parents do.

And yes, she can move down here if she wants, but that Samantha is hard-headed worse than any Wells I ever saw. She’s going to fix things up in Austin, go to community college, and get everything back together including her beloved Melia. Buckets of love to ya, honey, I admire that.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Sam's Non-Magic Shrooms

So I was walking Sheff the dog and I noticed something was growing under “Pinkie” the plumeria, right in our front yard. They looked ominous and evil. So I went upstairs and used Google to see what on Earth these things might be. Well, there were thousands of hits for magic mushrooms! So my immediate reaction was to run out there and tear them up before a hundred hippies came on over for lunch. Yikes!

After a while I found that these were really the common yellow houseplant mushroom, ‘Leucocoprinus birnbaumii.’ Apparently they thrive in potted plants with super-rich soil and warm humid temperatures. Sorry folks, they’re no good for eating or a good buzz. Fortunately they won’t hurt Pinkie. Cute little devils though, aren’t they?

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Forlorn Guitar

So Lori went up to see the girls in Austin, leaving me a little mopey and out of it down here on the Island. That’s OK, when those girls get together they all cackle at once, shouting, crying, screaming, quiet, serious, pouting, guffawing (is that a word?), and laughing all at once – surely no man’s territory, and far too complex for us dummies of the duller sex.

And then I found my little honey, my old Spanish guitar, looking so forlorn, just like me. It is the second in a line of Willie Nelson-like guitars, the first being a gift from my mother – now quite old in the wood and almost falling apart. The newer one was brought back from Spain in something like 1974, a Grenada. I’m trying to recall the name of the gal I purchased it from, but she was a friend of Liza from Guildford, Connecticut. Thirty-five dollars is what it cost – similar ones today might be five to ten times as much.

Anyway, please forgive me if I talk about my guitar in personal terms, since my wife Lori doesn’t mind because that’s how she fell in love with me playing guitar, or so she says. I was making up impromptu songs like ‘The Bear Missed the Train’ and “Hippopotamus Blues’ and ‘Somebody’s Alter Ego Has Been Sleepin’ in My Bed,’ and I guess with those final three songs I was a marked man for life. I wish I could remember exactly what I played or sang, but it sure worked at the time.

I don’t have a name for my guitars, like Lucile or something. But I do talk to them, gently bending notes and stroking the strings and damping the buzzing sounds and getting that difficult G-string just right (I know what you’re thinking and it’s not like that!). If you’ve ever played one, the G-string is always going flat or acting up like a teenager. So I talk and whistle softly, like talking to a horse. That’s a good analogy. It’s almost like you have to reassure the thing you’ll be gentle and that you care, with loving strokes on the flanks and behind the ears.

But no, I’m no prodigy either, never had a lesson, and learned by playing “air guitar” to the real pros with lots of experimentation. I could care less about playing a real song. I listen to the guitar and wait for what it wants to say. And we talk, passing the night away, in blissful noises that are incomprehensible to most people, with difficult fourths and strange sevenths and improbable, jazzy elevenths, enjoying ourselves in the maddening silence.