(My happy introduction to free medical care)


Some time ago, my wife and I linked up with our East Coast daughter and her husband for a brief trip to the London area. We arrived early Sunday morning from New York, got our bags and a rent car, and off we went. Since not much was open, I suggested that we drive over to see Oxford. All agreed. We parked the car and walked around for a while, although the campus was still closed.

The main intersection outside the entrance to Oxford defies description. A scrolly ‘Y’, I suppose. All the traffic was going the wrong way, so I approached the intersection with care., , , we needed to cross the intersection to get back to our car. I looked right, then left, at the oncoming traffic. Although only mid-morning, the traffic was heavy. Finally I saw a break in the traffic on the left and moved to step out, when wife Pat screamed and pulled at the collar of my Humphrey Bogart trench coat. Seems I had lingered too long looking to the left, and a double decker bus was barreling through the intersection on the right, close to the curb.

Fortunately I was never actually out in the street, but the bus was so close to the curb that the side of the bus hit me and knocked me backward onto the sidewalk. As I fell, my new glasses flew off—I am very myopic—and I’d paid a king’s ransom for new ones just a week or so prior to them flying off my head. All I could think only of the glasses. I didn’t feel any pain.

Several thoughtful Englishmen rushed up to help me up, pulling out handkerchiefs. Seems the blow from the bus broke the tender skin by my left temple, causing a one-inch gash. Not much blood, but enough to mess up my trench coat. This was the time of the AIDs alarm, so wife Pat declined the handkerchiefs, helped me up and got us on our way. While doing that, she asked the helpful bystanders where the nearest hospital was. Fortunately one existed only several blocks away.

Son-in-law John drove, although I felt quite normal. We parsed through the traffic and arrived quickly at the hospital, an old, dark building. The sign, however, noted that it treated only the mentally ill. We again asked for directions to a hospital, this time for one with an emergency room. Again we motored through the directions. The real hospital was nice, but old, sorely in need of paint and upkeep, but clean.

At the emergency room we told the receptionist our problem, and I went to the men’s room to wash the blood off my trench coat. While doing that John interrupted my labors, saying the doctor had appeared.

The doctor chatted amiably. He said that I could leave the small gash alone, but since I’d reported to the emergency room, he could sew it up with three or four stitches. I elected to do that…it was right at my hairline. As he went about his business, noting that we were Americans, he talked at length about was his dream to emigrate to America. He specialized in plastic surgery, with more than a decade of practice, and he wanted to move to Las Vegas to focus on breast implantations. That town, he said was the epicenter of such procedures. He did a beautiful job on me, advising me that I could get the stitches out in five days, right before I returned to the U.S.

With that pleasant experience behind me, I went to the receptionist, pulled out my wallet and asked how much the procedure was. “Why, Mr. Rogers, health care here is free. There will be no charge.” I was a bit befuddled by that but accepted the free care quite willingly. Because of our schedules, I couldn’t get the stitches out before I returned to Houston. When I went to the Houston doctor to do that, his nurse performed the removal in a flash and I was done. Except for the co-pay of ten dollars. Not free.


“The person who goes farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare. The sure-thing boat never gets far from shore.” Dale Carnegie

Little boats should keep near shore.”  Benjamin Franklin

If you don’t do anything stupid when you’re young, you won’t remember something funny when you’re old…  Anonymous


One weekend that we had retreated to our small beach cabin at Surfside (see preceding article), I had noticed that the marina at San Luis Pass, north of us, offered boats to rent, so I suggested that we go on a boat trip.  We arrived at the marina full of enthusiasm, as our kids had never been on any kind of boat. Being total novices, we had nothing but our swimsuits and T-shirts…no water, no food, no spare gas.  No nothing.  But off we went….me the captain, my pregnant wife, and our three kids (8, 6 and 3).  The boat itself was a nice 16 foot metal rowboat kind of thing with a twenty horsepower outboard motor.  I was not asked if I knew anything about operating the motor or guiding the boat; all they wanted was my driver’s license.

Not wanting to face the waves, my wife insisted that we stick to the inner bay. While broad in most places, the bay area is shallow, usually less than a foot, but no more than eight feet deep.  Being on the coast, the tides roll into and out of the bay.  I intended to follow the flow of the tide.

One of my personality flaws is that I like to take shortcuts.  Sometimes my shortcuts turn into long-cuts.  That was the case this day.  We had gotten about a mile from the marina when I decided to but across the water to a more open part of the bay.  What I didn’t realize was that the water was only about five inches deep.  The outboard motor churned into the mud, and the shear pin in propeller, put in to protect the motor, broke.  The propeller didn’t turn.  Still the captain, I was determined to protect my passengers.  I pulled the boat to shore, about thirty yards, where I saw an open space.  Otherwise we would have had to be standing in the salt grass fronds as we awaited rescue or drifted helplessly in the water.

After a while, I looked around.  I could see the coastal road, maybe five hundred yards to the east.  A plan emerged.  I would leave the four of them and trudge back to the road and thence to the marina to get the marina to come rescue us.  So off I went, jogging through the muddy salt grass.  After about a hundred yards I came upon a backwater sort of slue and wondered how I would get across.  Then another small skiff appeared, with two middle aged men and one of the men’s wives.  They were fishing.

“What in the world are you doing out here?” they shouted.  “Don’t you know that these marshes are thick with rattlesnakes?  Get in the boat right away!”  I didn’t need any urging and quickly jumped in the boat.

I then told them my sad tale, and they quickly volunteered to rescue the rest of the family.  The man operating his boat was much more careful not to embed his outboard into the mud, and his motor was designed to operate in very shallow water.

As their boat slid up to the waiting family, the woman said, “My God!  And she’s pregnant too!”  One of the men told me to get the family back into our boat as quickly as possible, as he tied a rope from the prow of our boat to the back of his boat.

“The reason I wanted you guys to get into the boat so quickly is that there are no open spaces in these marshes except where the rattlesnakes get together to mate.  That flat area you were in is just a rattlesnake meeting area.”

Of course we all shuddered, and we thanked our rescuers profusely.  They took us back to the marina and we turned in the boat, reporting the shear pin problem.  I received no refund even though I hadn’t used up my allotted two hours.

I always worry when my wife is quiet.  I thought it was just PTSD or something like that.  I certainly felt that we had escaped a terrible situation, and she did too.  Before we got back to the beach cabin we all said a prayer of thanks.  When we got back, we suspended the five o’clock rule (no drinking before then).  The danger had passed.

I know it is hard to believe, but my wife refuses to get into any boat of any kind or nature, even a cruise ship.  I guess she figures that nothing good can come of it.

Moral: Since our boat trauma, I have seen mostly young men numerous times trying to do something that they know nothing about.  Don’t.  Find out how to do things, how things work, and what the risks and rewards can be.  If you want further verification, Google ‘Darwin Awards’!




Car Crazy

“I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered. “ George Best “I know people think we drive around in these nice cars and we do whatever we want and our parents will pay our credit cards, but that’s not the case. Sure, my parents were generous; I got a nice car at 16, but at 18 I was cut off. I’ve worked really hard.” Kim Kardashian

“Men like cars, women like clothes. Women only like cars because they take them to clothes”

Rita Rudner

My friends and relatives tend to be one of two types: car geeks or individuals who do not know (or care) what make or model a car is.  I’m the former.  My first car was a 1952 Morris Minor, a small English car that a friend of my parents sold to me for $75.  I fixed it up, got it painted and drove it for about a year.  However, I noticed that my girlfriends were not very enthusiastic about riding with me.  Then I saw a customized ’52 Ford convertible outside the Chevrolet dealer’s store, for sale.  The owner, also a friend of the family, made me a deal.  It had everything I wanted….two-tone baby blue and white paint, shaved hood, fender skirts, loud mufflers, and for good measure, a continental kit on the back.  Girl problem solved. I had a number of wrecks in it, fortunately all rather small.  But I was hooked.

As to the wrecks, most all were not my fault.  Really!  For instance, shortly after I acquired the Ford convertible, our Methodist youth group was going to have a ‘river rat’ party, supposedly emulating a Parisian left bank subterranean party.  I was dressed in a black T and black pants, and my girlfriend (let’s call her Joey) was in a slinky, low cut black dress.  Being well-endowed, she was quite a picture.  On my way to the party, as I drove toward the city’s four-lane main street, I stepped on to the brakes.  My foot went to the floor.  At the last minute I pulled the emergency brake but that did little to slow me down.  I rolled into Main Street and hit an elderly man’s car on the side, not hard enough that anyone was hurt or even bruised.  I called my father from a pay phone (no cell phones in those days), but all he asked was whether anyone was hurt and where exactly I was.  When he and the policeman arrived, and they and the elderly man arrived and looked at Joey’s fulsome chest, they immediately assumed that the problem was a distracted driver.  In fact, my grandfather chewed me out for not watching the road. My protestations that I had no brakes went unheard.  Never did get to the river rat party, but the mechanic repairing my car found that the connection to the master brake cylinder had ruptured and all the brake fluid had run out.  Men, especially grandfathers, don’t apologize, but grandpa gave me a nice check that covered the brake repair and then some.

Fast forward to the 80’s for another expensive lesson.  As Pat and I became more financially secure, I lusted for some sort of car toy and found a 1952 MG TD locally at a good price.  It needed restoration, but I was able to make most repairs since the Brits had not changed the mechanics on the car since World War II.  I think that was the last car that had a wooden frame!  Anyway, one day I got in the MG to take it for a spin, and it was dead as a doornail.  I checked the battery and everything was in working order.  I then got a flashlight to look into the motor to see if there was a loose connection, only to find some stray wires under the chassis.  I crawled underneath the car and found that our precious two golden retrievers had been at work.  Goldens are smart but get bored easily, and we regularly put them in the garage on cold days when we were away, and apparently for amusement they ate every wire they could find under the car.  Not sure I know why MG put all the wires in an exposed position under the car…maybe for ease of access.  The entire car had to be re-wired, at a considerable expense.  Again, an ‘accident’ I surely was not at fault for.

And then there was the deer episode, just several years ago.  I had scheduled a business trip to Houston, and of course wife Pat wanted to make sure that she had a car available, especially her treasured 2006 Mustang GT convertible.  We were going into town for dinner, so I suggested taking the Mustang in to make sure it was running well.  On the way back, less than a mile from our house, a deer ran into the car, starting with the right front headlight, whipped around to dent the front fender, then scraped and dented the right door.  The deer bounced off the car and lay next to the road.  Against all good judgment, Pat bounded from the car to check on the deer.  The deer’s heart was still beating.  I surveyed the damage.

“Well, we just can’t leave the poor thing laying here on the road.  You’re going to have to put it out of its misery,” Pat advised.

“How can I do that?” I inquired.  “I don’t have any guns to do something like that.”

“Let’s go home and you can call our neighbor, Marshall.  He has guns and will know what to do.”

We got home, I called Marshall even though it was near his bedtime, and he volunteered to dispatch the deer.  I picked him up and we went to the scene of the accident, and the deer was gone.  Must have been knocked unconscious, but I am sure he had some bruised to heal.  Meanwhile, here I was with a dented up Mustang.  It cost two thousand to get repaired, and of course I had a thousand deductible but knew that the insurance company would raise my rates to get their thousand back and then some.  I paid the entire thing.  Not my fault, but the only direction I could lay blame was on the damn deer.

The car bug had taught me finances, though.  When I was a teenager, my father paid for the insurance, in hindsight I understand to protect the family.  I had to pay everything else and did so by working as a gardener and lifeguard in the summers and on weekends.  One summer I even worked at the Chevy dealer that had sold me the Ford convertible in the first place. Great experience working with people. In those days the minimum wage was three dollars an hour, but gas was only 25 cents a gallon, so I could save up enough to pay for the cars and expenses and car repairs after my fender benders.  With all the accidents, by the time I went off to college I was a pretty good money manager.

But of course times have changed.  In the olden days someone like me could open the hood and tell you what every device under there was.  Most of the time I could fix any problems that arose.  For instance, if the battery was dead, all you had to do was get a friend to push you or glide downhill, pop the clutch and the motor would start.

No way today.  My wife and I just got a new Suburban, and when you open the hood, the motor compartment almost shouts out “Don’t touch a thing under here except maybe the battery, which is over there in the corner.”  I might also add that one has to be computer literate to operate the touch screen on the dashboard, offering all sorts of information and amusements.

I’m sure local, independent mechanics are as frustrated as I am by the complexity of the new generation of vehicles.  One has to be a computer geek to even understand what is to be done to figure out what’s wrong with the car, and I’m sure the garage mechanic’s equipment must cost a small fortune.

The other thing is cost.  Yes, new vehicles have much to add—heated seats, vibrating seats to tell you that you forgot to use your turn signal when changing lanes, GPS, and a host of other amenities.  Nonetheless, I’d like to see a comparison of the average vehicle cost in 1957 compared with 2017 models, stated in terms of how much of the average annual salary would be required to pay cash for the vehicle.  Certainly the new Suburban was right on target, especially with sales tax, to consume the entirety of the present national average salary.

I did learn about maintenance costs in spades after the MG episode.  The more exotic the auto, the higher the maintenance cost.  During the eighties I was with a small law firm of about twelve partners, and in those days the IRS let you deduct the costs of transportation if furnished by your employer.  So the twelve of us voted to have the firm buy us partners each a vehicle and then pay the upkeep costs.  While the first several cars were fairly reasonable (e.g. a 1970 Buick GS muscle car I wish I had kept, a three year old red Corvette), a client almost forced me to buy his Ferrari 308GTS with about 50,000 miles on it.  It was about the cost of a new upscale car, and it had front and rear radar.  Beautiful.  However, the maintenance costs were probably four times the amount the firm spent on any other firm car. Fortunately no one ever questioned the charges.  Special cars cost special amounts to keep up, as any Mercedes owner or diesel truck owner knows.

The point of all this leads to a moral:  If you can avoid getting hooked on cars—the fancy ones, the collectible ones, or the fast ones—you surely will have a fatter bank account when you retire.  But you won’t have had nearly the fun, thrills, and frustrations (not to mention speeding tickets) —and even education—that I’ve had.

P.S.  My 50th wedding anniversary present to wife Pat was a ’37 Plymouth hot rod, with a 350 cubic inch Chevy block engine, power steering and brakes, and air conditioning. Satisfies the addiction to cars…..for now anyway.

The Surfside Beach Cabin

When my wife was asked, “Do you take this man for richer or poorer . . .” she answered, “For richer.”Anonymous

“A good marriage would be between a blind wife and a deaf husband.”  Michel de Montaigne

When we were in our mid-thirties, wife Pat and I were all wrapped up in our three kids, with another on the way, and I with my law practice.  One weekend we went from our west Houston home to Galveston and stopped by the beach front home of our neighbor’s father.  Nice place, and I thought no more about it until the following week, when Pat asked, “How much money could we spend if we wanted a beach house?”

The question took me a bit aback since, like most budding families, we had little cash resources.  Not wanting to totally discourage her, and knowing that in the ‘70’s beach cabins were going for forty or fifty thousand, I told her we could afford about ten thousand dollars.  I figured that would end the matter without having to argue the principle.

So one morning the next week, after the kids were in school, Pat headed toward Galveston and discovered that the further south one drove, the cheaper the housing.  After crossing the San Luis Pass bridge, she came upon a sign in front of a row of six cabins, all close together, announcing that all six were for sale.  She called the number and Sam quickly appeared.  I later found out that Sam was a reconstructed barber who used to work nearby my office in downtown Houston and had quit his career out of boredom.  His nickname in Houston was “Sam the Slash.”  Not someone you would seek out to be your realtor.

Of course, Sam wanted about fifteen thousand for the rather ramshackle cabins.  Apparently the builder had gone belly up and the bank foreclosed on the six houses.  Knowing my admonition, Pat told him that all she could pay was the ten thousand.  They finally agreed on ten-five, and we became owners of a Surfside beach cabin.

Of course the beach cabin was unoccupied, and my dollar limit didn’t figure in that we needed furnishings.  My resourceful wife found two bunk beds very cheap, I suppose since the metal end bars had some dents in them.  I later found out that the seller had told her they had come out of a mental institution.  Then we got a bargain on an old stove.  The problem with the stove was that it was twenty years old, a name brand, and in excellent working order.  However, it weighed a ton since it was made out of double plated stainless steel.  I can’t remember how many friends I had to enlist to carry it up the stairs (the beach house was on stilts).  Suffice it to say that when we sold the cabin we included the stove.  I installed a shower, believe it or not, and we gradually filled in with a big bed for us, a kitchen table, a couch of dubious heritage, and plenty of chairs.

We had many happy days there with the kids as they grew up.  We could sit on the porch and watch the waves roll in, and the kids spent many an hour under the cabin building ponds and castles under the beach cabin.  That deserves an explanation.  The water company on the island was a minimalist venture.  Apparently the company simply dug a deep well on the barrier island we were on, and piped the water to anyone who wanted it for a flat fee of fourteen bucks a month (probably twenty-five in present dollars).  The water, of course, was so brackish that one could not drink it, so we subsisted on bottled water for coffee and occasional drinks, but more often beer for proper hydration.

We put in a small metal fireplace, one of those small round tings, to warm us when we came down in the winter.  It may sound odd to you that we spent some winter weekends on the coast, but that may be the best time to be there in some ways.  No tourists, few people.  We picked up wood along the beach, and there is a particular smell from burning wood from the ocean.

Of course, there were mishaps here and there.  The roof leaked incessantly when it rained, notwithstanding my patching jobs.  The offset was that the floor had plentiful cracks between the floorboards, and whatever water came in just leaked out.  One early morning when my mother-in-law was visiting and it was raining, we found her putting pans from the kitchen underneath all the leaks.  She was never convinced that doing that was unnecessary given the porous floor.

Surfside over time became run down, and of course, given the bargain prices for housing, not the best of humankind visited the area.  As the children grew up they became more venturesome and often went across the road to a run-down bar to play early video games.  However, one evening as they strolled home, they had fun breaking the headlights and taillights of an abandoned car.  An hour after they returned, an irate, homeless-looking guy showed up complaining that my boys had ruined his car.  After numerous apologies from me and from the boys, we settled by my peeling off twenty-five dollars to make amends.

I wasn’t and am not now a fisherman, but I thought we could learn surf fishing.  The best and most numerous fish are whiting, a species at home in shallow water.  We fished several times, but that ended when our older son in casting his hook into the surf managed to hook himself in the calf of his right leg.  Surf fishing hooks are triple hooks, and since I hate the sight of blood, we took our son to the hospital emergency room.  The wait was extended…the doctor came out and apologized for the wait since a full-time fisherman was brought in having almost cut his thumb off and they needed to take time to re-attach it.

We learned that keeping up a second home, especially one on the coast, was a costly process.  First, we had to find a trustworthy handyman, a difficult task, and then repairs frequently had to be ordered up.  Turns out that anything on the coast that is steel or iron (think window air conditioners, metal hinges on doors) rusts rapidly in the salty sea air coming in regularly with the onshore breezes that make coastal living so pleasant.  We began thinking of alternatives.  At the same time, Pat’s parents were getting older and we needed to see them more, so we decided to look into the hill country for an alternative weekend venue (see other articles posted here).  We put the beach house on the market after we bought property in the hill country, and the ‘For Sale’ sign was up for at least six months before I got a call.  The buyer low-balled us but I was ready to get out.  I checked out the buyer.  A plaintiff’s lawyer!  I was so desperate that I took her bid, but I had nightmares for a month or two worrying about whether she was going to see us for the numerous undisclosed defects in the cabin…like it swayed in the wind, and periodically the roof would leak in a heavy downpour.

Moral:  If you buy a weekend place, find one close to you that you can visit frequently.  Find someone reliable to keep the place up.  And remember that it is easier to buy a house, car or other possession than it is to sell it.  Keep that in mind when you buy.

The Luling City Market

                                                           THE LULING CITY MARKET

 “Never eat more than you can lift.”– Miss Piggy

 “The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.” — Julia Child

Most non-locals think it odd that the center of activity in Luling, Texas is the Luling City Market.  But it makes sense; it is unique, even for central Texas.

Hard to even call it a restaurant.  The first impression is the smoked meat smell that arrives when you open the ‘50’s aluminum door: pure smoked meat.  The grizzled character of the place hits you next.  Nothing has been altered for at least 30 years….the walls and booths are old varnished pine boards, the ceilings tiles are ancient vintage, and the tables appear to be cast-offs from the local high school cafeteria.  Everything has a walnut color accumulated from 30 years of smoke from the meat room—it’s at the back with swinging doors.  Orders can be placed at the counter, next to the warming pits and cutting table.  The strangest part is that prices vary: a pound and a half of brisket with onions and pickle sides and several pieces of bread costs from $13.80 to $14.90.  There’s a hand cranked cash register, and if you’re owed more than 50 cents in change, you invariably get a half dollar coin.  Since it would be heresy to contaminate the meat room with other items for sale, a booth near the front offers soft drinks, pinto beans and cheese.  Even the restrooms are unique; like everything else, nothing has changed in three decades, and paper towels are not furnished . . . just hand blowers.  A line usually forms during lunch hour.

Also unique: the food and eating ceremony.  Only beef is offered: brisket, ribs, or sausage.  To keep matters simple, the order is deposited on brown paper sheets, with only plastic knives as implements.  Hence the lines in front of the restrooms; since everyone eats with their hands, a post-lunch wash-up is mandatory.  A not-insignificant number eat only sausage and American cheese chunks with crackers, a rather cholesterol-laden choice.  The far out favorite drink is Big Red soda, which if never tried will offer a treat.

But the most compelling feature of the Luling City Market is its clientele.  The rainbow of color and spectrum of age are nowhere else to be found.  Since Luling sits only a mile or two north of the interstate between Houston and San Antonio, many travelers make a point to exit and partake of the local fare.    Probably two-fifths are white (“Anglo”, in Texas parlance), about a quarter Black and the rest Hispanic.  Or to cut the crowd another way, about a third are over 60 either on temporary or permanent vacation, a quarter are working people from the surrounding area, probably, another quarter are from the Interstate,  and the remainder, young people just having a good time not having to abide by any particular table manners.  Oil field workers, small kids, seniors, teenagers skipping lunch from the local high school cafeteria, college students from nearby San Marcos, toughened men in cowboy boots, well-dressed business men and women, families, groups out for a day of touring.  Everyone congregates at the Luling City Market, an institution.


The Honeymoon From Hell


 As told by the Groom

 “Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who would want to live in an institution?” –H.L. Mencken

The wedding was normal enough in most respects.  We had a nice wedding in a big church so that the bride could walk down a center aisle (the cathedral of the West Texas diocese of the Episcopal Church; her parents’ Baptist church had no center aisle).  The ceremony came off without a hitch.  The truth was that we both looked forward to the marriage with some trepidation; although we had known each other for three years, our visits were brief due to geographic separation and we figured that we had only been together three or four days all told.  Anyway, the church reception was mainly for the family and friends of the bride, mostly Baptist, for in those days good Baptists did not drink, at least in public anyway.  As we all crowded into the basement reception area, the room got very warm and I asked one of the groomsmen, probably my best man and now brother-in-law, to turn down the air conditioner.  Instead, he apparently accidentally turned on the heat and while stifling it sure shortened the reception.  The second reception was held for close members of both families and assorted non-Baptists at the home of the bride’s parents.  Champagne and wine were served along with hors d’oeuvres, and all were well entertained.  As the second reception wore on, we were unable to find the bride’s aunt from Louisiana, a tiny elderly woman, very prim and proper.  And a teetotaler, we were told.  She was later discovered fast asleep in a bedroom, her small size being unable to assimilate the three or more glasses of champagne she had imbibed.

The newlyweds adjourned to a nearby motel where the best man had reserved a room for us under an assumed name—I found out at the reception that the assumed name was that of a notorious gangster, so we slept uneasily that evening.

The next day we were off to Laredo for a day or two, awaiting all the visitors leaving so that we could return to claim our wedding loot and load up for the long trip to Cambridge, where I was to report early for an unexpected induction into a law school honors organization that ran the moot court proceedings.  With some stars in our eyes, the evening of our arrival in that pleasant border town we went across the border to Nuevo Laredo to shop a little and then go to the famous Cadillac Bar for drinks and dinner.  It was a wonderful evening, with wonderful food, Mexican of course.  We ate everything put before  us.

A penalty was paid, however.  Whether because I was a full-blooded Yankee at that point or got into some bad food, la turistas invaded me and I spent considerable time on the toilet —any available —both in Laredo and in San Antonio, where we returned to pack up.

The packing process was a male’s introduction to the volume of female necessities.  We had a Corvair Monza coupe, a sporty little vehicle, and it was packed to the gills.  And many items were quite bulky and hard to pack, such as a full size hair dryer, mind you not the kind you hold in your hand these days but one like those in beauty salons, the ones that look like bee hives.  So off we went, leaving the bride’s mother and father somewhat sad, but tired and wondering whether the match would work.

This being a honeymoon, we figured that a stop in New Orleans was in order.  Neither of us had been there but we were advised to stay a bit outside of the center of town to avoid the high French Quarter rates, and that we did since neither of us had much money to squander.  We did indeed find a motel but of course were worried the whole time that in the run down section the motel was in, uninvited guests might well seize the opportunity to “unload” our car for their own purposes, so most of the delicate packing was undone by carrying most of the visible packed goods into our room, including the infamous hair dryer.  By then we were ready for some fun, so we went to the French Quarter, had dinner I don’t remember where (see below for why) and then strolled the Quarter, ending up at Pat O’Brien’s, where the music was very good and they served up a drink called a “Hurricane”, allowing you to take along the glasses you were drinking out of.  I apparently thought this was great fun, and I figured that the alcohol would kill the bug I had acquired in Laredo.  The waitress egged us on by suggesting that I could get two parfait size glasses for every big glass we had consumed.  We left with eight parfait glasses some time after that and (luckily) found our motel.  Of course it was later than we planned, and we had to hit the road early to be able to get to my parents’ home in Belleville, Illinois.  My bride won’t tell me what happened to the treasured Pat O’Brien parfait glasses, but I do remember that we used them a time or two actually for parfaits.

I woke up abruptly the next morning worried about getting to Illinois that day, and red-eyed groped for my watch.  In great alarm I announced that it was already 9:15 am, so we jumped out of bed.  That was the first time in our brief relationship that she got upset with me, at least the first visible time.  Actually it was just 5:45….I was holding the watch wrong.  Well, we were up anyway, so we decided to drive on since the Pat O’Brien medicine not only didn’t cure me but made us both feel limpy most of the day and we were certainly not in any garden spot.  The next leg of the adventure was most uneventful, a good time in Belleville, my bride seeing the country from Louisiana to Illinois for the first time, the tourista issue slowly subsiding, and most importantly my new bride slowly forgetting my Laredo misadventure and New Orleans mis-timing.  After a day or so at my ancestral home, we again packed up our worldly goods, and the packing effort was so impressive my father even took pictures for posterity, since everywhere we went we seemed to add a few things to the packed goods.

We decided to get up early and try to make it all the way to Niagara Falls in one day, and except for a bit of confusion with the Chicago Tollway, we breezed through the countryside.  About Ohio, my bride innocently asked, “Did you make reservations at Niagara Falls?”  Not having ever made reservations for a hotel anywhere, I replied “What reservations?”, and I instantly saw a mixed look of disappointment and apprehension on her face.  Funny how you never get to see all these human reactions from your partner before you tie the knot, but the concern was amicable.  Unfortunately (and remember that this was over 50 years ago) the trip took longer than we thought it would and we rolled into town after 9 p.m.  After stopping at several nice but old motels we were basically told that there was no room to be had, except perhaps for a hotel downtown.  We went there, checked in—it was very seedy and run down, but cheap—and proceeded to try to sleep, only to be kept up most of the night by people of the night, if you know what I mean.  My bride has never let me forget that we booked into a flophouse during our honeymoon.

The next morning we were in no mood to spend much of the day looking at the Falls and then get into Cambridge after midnight, so off we went toward Boston, looking forward to a nice comfy and quiet bed in our apartment that I had rented, furnished, near the law school.

That last statement bears some background.  My first year of law school was spent with two other guys I knew from college at Harvard, and the apartment we rented, furnished with solid but out of date furniture, was quite acceptable.  Once I knew that I was to be married, I went to our landlord, a Mr. Cafasso, to see whether he had anything available for a young couple.  He showed me a nice first floor apartment in a three story building next to his own home down the street, roughly behind what was known as the “Divine Triangle” at Harvard—the Divinity School, the ROTC buildings from World War II, and the electron accelerator operated by Harvard.  The apartment was of course occupied at the time, with the same solid but out of date furniture as I had at my other apartment, so I gave Mr. Cafasso a deposit and that little task was all taken care of.

Well back to Niagara Falls.  As we were leaving that unfortunate place, we got onto what must have been one of the first interstate highways, and it was all clear until we came over a hill to see traffic at a dead stop because a pack of dogs was crossing the road and the initial cars had stopped cold, resulting in a multi-car collision behind them (they let the dogs go by and then went on, leaving the mess behind them).  I took evasive action to avoid a full frontal crash with the car in front of me and slid in between the guard rail and the stopped cars, turning slightly to the left but not thinking right then about my bride.  Besides, we had just purchased some coffee and she was mixing sugar in mine and had hers resting on the glove compartment door (yes in those days you could do that).  Coffee went everywhere, and my bride was near anger because of the coffee and because I had veered to the left, exposing her to the brunt of the crash.

We cleaned ourselves best we could and after the cars disentangled and we discovered that the car was quite drivable but damaged all along the right side, we proceeded on to Boston with yet another delay behind us.  My new companion mellowed as we looked forward to sleeping in our own bed that night.  Best I remember we rolled into Cambridge around 7, and I went next door to get the key from Mr. Cafasso, whom I must confess I did not forewarn that we were coming.

“Well I can give you the key but what are you planning to sleep on?” he said.  “Well, the apartment is furnished and we have a few sheets.”  “No, the apartment is unfurnished, so we have a problem.  Tell you what.  I have a mattress in the basement you can use tonight.  Then tomorrow we will figure out what to do.”  I did not look forward to announcing the latest problem to my new companion, but of course I had to.  Surprisingly she took the new problem in stride.  I think I had just worn her out and she was tired and looked forward to sleeping wherever without interruption.

The next day Mr. Cafasso took us to Goodwill and we were able to get most of our furnishings.  Since he felt bad for us he contributed a bed he had, and I made a bookcase out of bricks and boards.  For couches we bought two doors, put legs on them, bought some foam cushions and my handy new life partner sewed slipcovers for the foam.  Looked pretty nice actually, but spare.  And once we had furniture in each room we declared the honeymoon over.

And despite all this we lived happily ever after…..

The end of this escapade is really a footnote.  Before I could call the insurance company to settle the damage to the right side of my car, I inadvertently backed into a large tree whose trunk grew 4 or 5 inches into the street, denting the right rear corner of the car in a bad place, where there was a graceful curve.  Then before the adjuster came I had yet another fender bender; at the end of our block the street ended and everyone parked right up to the corner, so that if you were at the end, you had to pull forward to see whether anyone was coming.  I did that and a car immediately came by, scraping the entire front of my car that I had so carefully kept from damage in Niagara Falls.  When the adjuster got there I was of course worried that he would make me pay three different deductibles for three accidents, but it worked out.  After he had surveyed the damage, he came to the apartment and said “if you will explain all this damage to me I will only make you pay one deductible” I told him the entire story and got the car repaired so that my bride could help support me the next two years.


—Don’t let your husband make the reservations for a trip

—Don’t let you husband plan important events in your life

—And most important, don’t order drinks at a place that lets you take the glass.

Following the Wife’s Rule to Texas

                                                     FOLLOWING THE WIFE’S RULE TO TEXAS

“Always remember that you are absolutely unique.  Just like everyone else.”  Margaret Mead

I migrated to Texas after marrying my San Antonio-born wife after a whirlwind long-distance romance.  First she had to put up with two years of living abroad, so to speak, in Boston of all places, while I finished my education.  Then we had to decide where to live long term. The Wife’s Rule dictated that decision.  That simple rule: with few exceptions, when a couple can choose where to live, they will locate near the wife’s family.  So after getting my law degree and spending two years in the military we migrated to Texas, specifically Houston.

Most of my wife’s relatives were from the Boerne area, and my wife’s parents moved there when they retired.  My mother-in-law was born and grew up in a tiny “town” called Grapetown, several miles from Luckenbach, about a half hour from Fredricksburg.  The ‘town’ consisted of a one room schoolhouse, a teacherage, a “Schutzenfest” (a traditional German shooting range and meeting hall) and a distant relative’s stone home.

The real test of my acclimatizing to Texas came when we moved to Texas.  I had met my new in-laws at the wedding; all I really remember was that there certainly were a lot of them, most all of them with German last names.  One actually looked like Jimmy Stewart.  Shortly after we arrived in the Promised Land, my in-laws took great delight initiating me into hill country life.  For starters they graciously asked us to join them in a weekend camp-over on the Llano River for trot-line fishing and fun.  Sounded OK to me.  The larger attraction was that we would be “camping” in a former Fredericksburg Sunday house that some relatives had relocated to a river location on the Llano.

I later found out that my wife was a co-conspirator in my initiation rite.  On the way to our campout location she mentioned that we were going to be sleeping on old Army cots.  “Remember this: Don’t let the sheets touch the floor or the scorpions will crawl up and join you in bed.”  The only scorpion I had seen was one threatening James Bond.  Are scorpion bites fatal, I wondered silently?

So when we arrived and pulled up to the semi-run-down two-story abode, I figured I’d take a look around for critters, starting with the kitchen, as food has always a top priority with me.

No one had been in the house for months, but it was clean and serviceable.  I went to the kitchen for a drink of water.  To my amazement the kitchen sink was filled with about 40 dead scorpions that had decided to crawl into the sink but had found that the slick sides of the sink prevented them from departing.  I had never seen one scorpion, much less forty, but of course I took great comfort in the fact that they all were dead.  My wife helpfully comforted me: “Don’t worry about them; I grew up in San Antonio and was bitten by them routinely when I was a kid.  Their bite’s no worse than a wasp’s sting.”  Cold comfort.

My contemplation of dead scorpions didn’t last long.  Aunt Ruby, the ringleader of the campout, began bellowing for me to come to the back yard, which looked out over the river.  When I approached her she was stooped over with a large mouth Mason jar turned upside down.  She had thoughtfully trapped a tarantula for my close inspection.  Just as ugly and hairy as it looked in pictures.  “Well, how are you going to get out of that?  When you pick up the jar it could chase you since I heard that they can jump as well as crawl?”  She shrugged her shoulders.  “Oh they’re harmless, not aggressive at all, and I have never been bitten by one.”  Maybe those California movie makers didn’t really know that scorpions and tarantulas, usually shown crawling up someone’s bedsheets, were “harmless”.  I did not stick around to see how she freed her furry friend.

Well, I recovered from my introduction to the hill country crawlies OK and decided it was time for a beer, it being 5 pm somewhere east of where I was, no more than 1000 miles.  Fortunately with our common German heritage I had no trouble finding in-laws to partake with me.  My wife’s Boerne aunts, uncles and cousins then took over briefing me about what exactly trotline fishing was all about.  First of all, a small flat-bottomed rowboat is best to work the lines from.  The trick is to string lines across the river 50 feet or so apart down river.  Each trotline had short lines with fishhooks spaced about eighteen inches apart, which of course had to be baited.  I was invited to go on the expedition to lay the lines out with two cousins from Boerne, both very experienced hunters and fishermen.  No problem.  I was confident.  I had baited hooks before so I certainly could participate in this adventure.  Besides, the kind of fishing I had done before, pond fishing in Illinois and surf fishing in Galveston, never created any problems; the only difficult part was extricating the fish from the hook, sometimes a messy affair.

After we got the lines out I felt I had joined the family team and had passed my initiation rites with flying colors.  I figured that with the 50 or so hooks we had in the water, we would get some nice dinner-size fish for the next day’s supper.  Only after our first pass was I told that the trot-lines needed to be checked every four hours since various marine animals nibbled off the bait and we wanted as many fish as possible.  OK.  That meant the first run would be at 10 pm, certainly early enough for a 30 year old.  They also said that I had to join them in the 2 am and the 6 am runs, which didn’t sound nearly as much fun, but I figured that with 3 or 4 fish per run it would go quickly.

So at ten we three piled into the rowboat again.  I wondered about the big knives they were taking along with all the fish bait and other stuff.  We got to the first line, and there was a nice fish on the line, close to the shore.  Got it off easily and re-baited the hook.  They explained that the main catch would be nearer the shore since the current was swifter in the middle of the river and swimming, for the fish at least, would take more effort.

Then the fun came to an abrupt end.  At the next station came a surprise, for at the end of the line was a snake, not a huge one but not small either.  Then I realized what the knives were for.  One of the cousins quickly dispatched the snake and we moved on.  I figured that with two skilled native fishermen I was a third wheel, so sitting in the rear seat of the boat I quickly became more observer than participant.  Survived the 10 o’clock run!

I was rousted out for the 2 am run as well, but it didn’t matter.  I had been unable to sleep a wink since my thoughtful wife had warned me about crawling scorpions; I spent my sleep time fearing that I would slumber off, throw the sheets sideways (it was warm outside, and old Sunday Houses are not air-conditioned), and an army of scorpions would attack me.  I hopped in the rowboat and again positioned myself carefully in the back of the boat where I would neither have to row nor be in the front lines of clearing the lines.  Smart move.  The second line this time, near to shore, had a strange (to me) looking turtle on it.  The turtle was big and flat and bright green, unlike any other turtles I had seen.  “Well,” Randy said, “There’s no way to get this thing off the hook.  He’s swallowed it.”  Then he proceeded in fairly bloody fashion to behead the turtle, who went along with the procedure quite unwillingly.  Turtle skin is a lot tougher than you would think.  Before long the bottom of the boat, which had accumulated a small amount of water, became fairly red with the blood of the turtle.  That marked our run, but at least we did get enough fish in all the trips to make a fine dinner.

The best part was that the cousins decided that they had had enough fun with me; they did not make me go on the six am run.  I was out like a light after the 2 am run, scorpions or no scorpions.  The fish we had the following night were the best I had ever eaten!  And it probably won’t come as a surprise to you that I have never been trotline fishing since.


Snakes and other critters do not like you any more than you don’t like them; left alone they will not hurt you.  Go with the flow, especially if you are with your wife’s family.  And don’t relate experiences in one part of the world you had previously a long time ago to new experiences.

The Great Chicken Caper


“Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”- Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

After getting out of the Army, we began a more normal life in a starter home in west Houston….unbelievably the cost of the house was right around $12 a square foot.  The neighborhood was great, almost all young professionals like us.

Across the street was a larger than life Texan, let’s call him Tom, who was married to a nice and tolerant woman whom he had met in law school.  An Aggie no less.  Quite the extrovert, Tom was always cooking up ideas for entertainment, and whenever his ideas got a bit out of control we knew immediately; Tom always had a dozen long stem red roses delivered to his wife Sandra as penance and a plea for forgiveness.

There’s nothing more important for a native born Houston Aggie than the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.  Underlying all the frivolity and music and rodeo events is a serious purpose; the rodeo raises large amounts to fund college scholarships.  The main way the rodeo association does that is by having auctions.  Young people bring their animals to the affair and if their animals get auctioned off successfully, they get to keep a large portion of the proceeds.  As a footnote, I have observed that a key to any successful auction of any kind is to serve liquor before the event to loosen up inhibitions.

Tom and his Aggie friends decided to attend the animal auctions, unfortunately not accompanied by their wives.  Conferring together while imbibing at the auctions, they decided that between them they had no ability to bid on the champion steer or anything like that, which ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, so they went down the food chain until they found something they could bid on: chickens.

In the case of chickens, the bid is not for one chicken, but a coop of chickens, that is a dozen of them.  As I was told, the bidding was fierce, and the Aggie team won the bid for $2400, a princely per chicken price indeed.  Having imbibed a bit too much, the group after watching the remainder of the auctions decided to disband for the evening.  There was one problem: having successfully won the bid, they had to take delivery of the coop of chickens.  Tom, I think the natural leader of the group, volunteered with a friend to take charge of the chickens.

Somehow Tom and his friend got the chickens back to our neighborhood. I also suspect that the drinking may have continued. I don’t know what they were thinking at the time, but perhaps they were concerned about the cramped space that the 12 chickens were in so decided to ‘give’ each of their neighborhood friends a chicken by putting one in each friend’s back yard.  Somehow they got rid of eight of them and ran out of friends, save one…..Dave, who had declined the invitation to accompany them to the auction earlier since he had a date with his new girlfriend.  The trouble was that Dave lived in a townhouse, so there was no back yard for the chicken, and besides there were four of them left.  In their mental state they thought it would be really funny to knock on the door and give the chickens personally to Dave.  So when Dave opened the door in a state of undress, probably after midnight, with his new girlfriend in a similar state of undress, Tom and his friend were so taken aback that they threw the four chickens into the townhouse and ran off.

Not having been a party to any of this, you can understand my being perplexed the next morning by finding a chicken in my back yard, but the mystery was solved within the hour by a telephone call.  It was Tom’s familiar voice:  “This is Colonel Sanders.  I understand you have a chicken in your back yard and I am coming over to catch it, if it is OK.”  He then related parts of the above story, and over the Sunday morning retrieved, I think, all 12 chickens, although Dave was naturally very mad at Tom.  Apparently his new girlfriend was so grossed out by the chicken episode that she had gotten dressed and gone home, claiming she never wanted to see Dave again.

I never did find out what happened to the chickens, but Tom compounded his erroneous ways by assembling the chickens in the back yard, where the hungry little animals proceeded to chew up all available greenery in the back yard, gardens that Sandra had lovingly and painstakingly cultivated.  This ended up to be a red letter day for the florist….not one but two dozen long stemmed red roses were delivered that day.


There are numerous morals to this story, as you might suspect.  If you are an Aggie, don’t hang out in a gang.  Don’t drink at auctions.  Don’t bid on anything live at an auction.  Don’t give late night gifts to any friends.  Don’t have animals that eat greenery in your back yard.  I’m sure that there are more!


The PTA’s IRS Audit

                                                                     THE PTA’S IRS AUDIT

“Ignorance is Strength.”  George Orwell, 1984

When our kids were young decades ago, like most parents we were active in the elementary school’s PTA.  Probably for lack of any alternatives, the current president asked the two of us (the presidency was a co-mom and dad deal) to be the incoming presidents.  After discussing the idea, Pat agreed to handle the paperwork if I agreed to be the one standing up in front of everyone moderating the meetings.  We were elected by acclimation in May.

What we did not know at the time was that the presidents were also keepers of all the bank books and other records, and so we were in effect the treasurers as well.  Shortly after our ascension the previous incumbents asked if they could bring over the PTA’s records.  “Of course,” we said.  With some humor we received the records—two grocery bags full of unorganized papers, bank accounts, etc.  You have to understand, though, that very little was ever in the PTA’s bank account except during the fall, when the school had a festival that generated money with which to buy stuff for the school.  By June all the money had been spent for play equipment or trees and bushes that the school had no funds for.

Our tenure began quickly in June with a call from the IRS—- a nice man who said he had to audit the PTA’s books.  Not knowing what was in store, wife Pat set up an appointment to meet the officer at the school in the cafeteria room.  I, of course, begged off claiming I had to work downtown.

Pat dutifully lugged the two grocery bags up to the school, and the rather serious man started off by asking what the fiscal year of the PTA was.  Pat answered honestly: “From September 1 through June 1.”  The officer of course was taken aback and kindly said that a fiscal year had to be a year, not 9 months.  “But nothing happens the other 3 months,” Pat replied.  Taking the offensive, she then asked why our little PTA was being audited.  “Well, because we have to have a documented history that we are not targeting any particular group or non-profit, so we periodically have to do something like this.”  So they were not looking for anything in particular, it seemed.

Then in a stroke of genius Pat said that she had to go to the grocery store before the kids got home from the local swim club.  The officer actually warmed up and said that was quite OK but asked where the records were.  Pat shoved the two bags forward.  “Is that it?” he said.  “Well, I guess so because we were just elected three weeks ago and I don’t even know what is in there and can’t really answer any questions you might have.”  Discouraged, he asked Pat to come back in two hours.

This she did, but when she returned the two bags were there but the officer was nowhere in sight, with no written messages or anything.  Neither we nor the PTA every heard from the IRS again.


It’s hard to state a moral to this story, but probably it is that ignorance (factual at least) really is not all that bad a way to go with the IRS.

Migrating to Blanco


It’s true hard work never killed anybody, but I figure why take the chance?”—Ronald Reagan

             In a previous installment I explained my indoctrination ceremony that allowed me to become a naturalized Texan—surviving the trotline fishing trip with my new hill country in-laws.  But those were the Boerne-Fredricksburg relatives.  Landing in Blanco was another step in my Texas acculturalization process.

My wife— affectionately referred to in the family as “the mistake”—- came as a surprise to her mother and father, who were 37 and 44.  They already had daughters 17 and 19 when my bride was born.  As a result, by the time my spouse grew up, went to college, got married and figured I was a keeper to have children with, her parents were retired and well into their 60’s, and living in a modest house in Boerne, northwest of San Antonio.  Trying to be a dutiful daughter and son-in-law, we visited them once or twice a month as our family grew to four children, but we quickly realized that our visits were “good news-bad news”; they loved seeing us (especially their grandchildren), but two adults and four small kids invading their home for a weekend was traumatic.  Keep in mind that these poor people were pushing 70.  Searching for a solution, we started talking about finding a place in the country to go to, relax and use as a launching pad to drive over to visit the grandparents.  Ideally we would be in the hill country but east of Boerne so as to shorten the late Friday evening drives from Houston where we lived.  Having spent a weekend in Wimberley, we realized that that part of the world was as pretty a part of the Hill country as there was.

I was out of my element looking to buy real estate in the country; I realized I was going to be a lamb led to slaughter if I didn’t get help.  I consulted my favorite Boerne uncle. “You know, Ed, what they say: ‘Buy in Blanco and sell in Wimberley.’”  I never did understand who “they” were, but we figured that if we didn’t buy while the kids were small we would be so eaten up saving for college for them that we would never have any country place at all.

Shortly after receiving that good advice, we left the kids with Grandma and drove over to Blanco, a pretty ride still.  We pulled in at the first real estate office we saw and found a very personable agent who was a refugee from the savings and loan industry collapse (it was 1980).  Like most neophytes looking for property in the hill country then and now, we were looking for 30 or so acres on the Blanco River at a bargain price.  Ricky, the agent, patiently listened to our requirements, then showed us some river properties without comment—all second class properties at a price per acre double or triple what we were expecting.  Ricky was a pro; he had dealt with the likes of us before.  He waited the requisite time, a month or two, and then called us.  I remember his words almost exactly:  “I have a new listing and it is nothing like what you said you wanted, but it is the most beautiful property I have seen in years.”  By then we were ready to compromise, so the next weekend we went to look.  It was indeed pretty, with a small three room cabin (and I do mean a cabin) on a high hill overlooking the Blanco River valley almost 360 degrees.  And it was the reverse of what we wanted: no river frontage and four times the number of acres we wanted, but the seller was willing to take a smallish down payment and give us financing, a distinct attraction more common then than now.  We closed on July 12, 1980 in Blanco; the seller, it turned out, lived three miles from us in Houston.  We celebrated after closing by taking a bottle of champagne to our new mini-ranch for a toast on the porch.  It was 112 degrees!  We didn’t celebrate long, but at least we had gotten our place in the country.


Before you jump into buying a weekend place find some good advice and advisors.  Don’t buy next to a Texas river.  Rivers flood.