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good advice

January 23rd, 2005 by jomo

The second week I was in the Army, the training platoon
was sent for dental examinations. I was one of the first
guys finished. The PFC driver of the two-and-a-half ton truck
that brought us was leaning against the front of the truck,
smoking a cigarette. I walked up, stood beside him and lit
a cigarette of my own.

“Since you’ve been in the Army for a while,” I said, “do
you have any advice for a new recruit?”

He squinted at me, took a drag on his cigarette, then
flicked it away. “When they ask you if you can type,”
he said, “say ‘yes’.”

Damned good advice.

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name it, claim it

January 18th, 2005 by jomo

As I came around the corner of the house, I saw on the ground a sparrow-sized bird as colorful as a child’s crayon drawing. It had a blue head, red breast and green back, with dark gray trim. It quickly flew away. I didn’t need to look it up: the picture of the painted bunting in our bird book had often caught my attention, so I knew its name. That was the only encounter I ever had with the species and I told my camping buddy about it almost forty years later as we sat under a big elm beside the river.

We were chatting about the birds we had seen that Spring weekend at Colorado Bend State Park, and birds we had seen other times and places. Just as I finished telling about once seeing a painted bunting, a colorful little bird flitted by and landed in the grass a few yards away…of course, it was a painted bunting, and it was shortly joined by its less gaudy mate. We saw them off and on for the rest of our stay. While taking a walk, we also saw another pair not very far away (probably just over the painted bunting territorial boundary, onto the next homestead, as it were).

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Be Strong

January 13th, 2005 by jomo

At the intersection of Missouri and Oregon Streets was the El Paso YMCA. On the building’s cornerstone was engraved the stern exhortation “Quit ye like men. Be strong.” It made me think of the Charles Atlas ads on the back covers of funny books: the skinny fellow getting sand kicked in his face was definitely a “like man” and he really needed to quit being one. He needed to be strong.

I also was a “like man,” skinny and timid, and never more so than at that same YMCA for the Summer Program. My mother said that it would be good for me and I would enjoy it. Well, it wasn’t, and I didn’t: skinny dipping in a reekingly chlorinated pool with 50 strange and rowdy boys wasn’t fun. The power dodge ball free-for-all in the gym was even worse: old deflated balls and scraps of balls were used, thrown with maximum effort at bare legs. But I survived, still a “like man.”

It was some years later that I came to understand the meaning of the King James phrase “quit ye like men” (I Cor. 16:13). Today we might say “acquit yourselves like men” or “act like men.” But I still think of myself as a “like man” – yet, while not strong, I get the job done.

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One Day at the Old Tamale House

January 3rd, 2005 by jomo

On the northwest corner of 1st and Congress, in a little building that once housed a filling station, was the original Tamale House, long-gone purveyor of arguably the best TexMex food in town. It was all take-out, although there were a couple of shadeless picnic benches on the south side of the place.

One typically hot July afternoon I pulled up to the Tamale House to get some tacos for a late lunch. I had already been to a UTotem for a cold 6-pack to go with the tacos. As I leaned on the wall in a strip of shade waiting for my order, I watched a black guy sweeping the pavement in the sun’s full blaze. After a bit, I asked him if he would like a cold beer. He said sure, so I got two from the truck, and we both squatted at the base of the wall in the shade.

After a couple of pulls on his bottle of beer, he pointed to the registration info painted on the side of my truck: it had been registered in Missouri, where the owner’s name and address, along with the registered weight of the vehicle, had to be displayed on the vehicle’s left side. He asked, “Is that your name?” I said that it was. He said “I’ll be damned! I never met a white man named Moore before.”

We could have been cousins of some degree, I suppose.

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