"When faced with a problem you do not understand,
do any part of it you do understand; then look at it again."
~(Robert A. Heinlein - "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress")

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Sunday, December 07, 2014

The Year of the Jackpot (Updated 07 DEC 2014)

At first, Potiphar Breen did not notice the girl who was undressing.

Most good writers will try to hook you with the first paragraph (the first line, if possible), and Robert A. Heinlein (the author of the novella this post is named after) was a master at that.

In the story, Breen is a statistician who has been following a number of peculiar and disturbing trends, and intervenes when the girl (who had absolutely no idea of why she did what she did in public) was about to be arrested. Although that changes, at that moment what he rescued was just another statistic.

Meade Barstow (yes, the statistic has a name) demands: "I want to know why I did what I did!".

He looked at her soberly. "I think we're lemmings, Meade."

He explains what has him so worried, talking about a 54-year cycle of events, an 18 & 1/3, a nine-year one, a 41-month one and several others, all laid out on a chart he is showing her.

Poitiphar: "See anything odd there, Meade?"
Meade: "They sort of bunch up there, at the right end."
 . . .
Potiphar: "Meade, if statistics mean anything, this tired old planet hasn't seen a jackpot like this since Eve went into the apple business. I'm scared."
 . . .
Potiphar: "This is it. The Year of the Jackpot."

Ok, then. It's a story. Anything to it?

When I first read it (in the story collection "The Menace from Earth"), something about it triggered a memory. As a kid, in the late '40s and early '50s, I devoured copies of Mechanix Illustrated (my uncle was a subscriber). Besides the usual do-it-yourself articles on auto repair and furniture building, and the Tom McCahill auto tests they were famous for, they often had articles that seemed to have nothing whatever to do with what you'd think the magazine was about.

One of those articles was on cycles and I remember it mentioning some of those Heinlein named. "Jackpot" was published in 1952 and the article was from around that time. I figured that Heinlein probably came across it.

Much later, at a used book store, I found ...

Back cover

Published in 1947, it covers every one of the cycles Heinlein mentions in his story, and was almost certainly the inspiration for it. I suspect that one of the authors probably wrote that Mechanix Illustrated article I recalled, but I've had no luck in verifying that.

What's the verdict on this book? Being lazy, I'll let someone else sum it up ...

[Cycles: The Science of Prediction] is not a scientific book: the evidence underlying the stated conclusions is not presented in full; data graphed are not identified so that someone else could reproduce them; the techniques employed are nowhere described in detail.

That's from Milton Friedman (reputed as being somewhat knowledgeable in economics and trends :-), who dismissed the book as pseudoscience.

Did Robert Heinlein believe it?

He was a professional writer, with an insatiable curiosity about anything and everything, who may have went "hmmmm" about it, but never used it again (as far as I know). That sounds a lot like someone who figured a good story could come from it, but would not take it to the bank.

So, I seriously doubt that Dewey and Dakin had made a devoted convert.

In one of Heinlein's darkest and most prophetic stories, "Solution Unsatisfactory", his main character (Colonel Clyde C. Manning) was described by the first-person narrator ...

... what I liked about him was that, though he was liberal, he was tough minded, which most liberals aren't. Most liberals know that water runs downhill, but Praise God, it'll never reach the bottom.

Manning was not like that. He could see a logical necessity and act on it, no matter how unpleasant it could be.

I believe that to be a fair description of Robert Heinlein himself.

Straying slightly from topic: Heinlein on film ...
For such a prolific writer, not much of his stuff has made its way to film. Considering the fate of all too many beloved stories and novels, perhaps that's a blessing.

In 1950, Destination Moon was released, for which he was a writer and technical advisor. Sort of like a Life Magazine article brought to life, it wasn't bad but probably contributed to his attitude towards Hollywood ("Take the money and run!").

The IMDB lists three of his short stories ("The Green Hills of Earth", "Misfit", "Ordeal in Space" ) in a short-lived CBS TV series that I'd never heard of, Out There (1951–1952), about which an anonymous writer noted ...

Innovative anthology series was one of the first adult-oriented science fiction series of the early-fifties and probably suffered for it. Teleplays were adapted from the best science fiction stories available from such masters as Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein. The series, which did not have a sponsor, was canceled after only twelve episodes.

There's a thing called The Brain Eaters (1958) in which the IMDB lists Robert Heinlein's The Puppet Masters (uncredited). I'd love to think that Heinlein told them, "Put my name on that thing, and I'll KILL you!". But, as the Writers Guild of America allows the use of pseudonyms to protect both your royalties and your dignity, I suspect they thought they had changed enough details and names to avoid the necessity of even mentioning it to him. Oh, and Leonard Nimoy's in it too.

In 1994, a three-part animated mini-series Red Planet was adapted from his juvenile of the same name.

In that same year, one of my all time favorites of his novels was legitimately adapted into The Puppet Masters by the writing team of Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio (who had much better luck with the first three "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies). Not even the presence of Donald Sutherland could save this movie.  Those writers had a blog post for a long time, "Building the Bomb" (apparently no longer available), about the writing of their screenplay, in which they demonstrated that what you finally saw on the screen was not at all what they had in mind. Enough said.

1997, a year that will live in infamy, saw Paul Verhoeven's savaging of Starship Troopers. When a movie has Clancy Brown in a major role, and I still cannot stand it, what more needs saying? :(

What I'd like to see ...
"Stranger in a Strange Land" - This has been rumored since before many of you were even born, and I have doubts about living long enough to ever see it happen. When I first read it, I could see John Philip Law as Valentine Michael Smith, most likely because I had seen him as the blind angel Pygar in Barbarella.  But he died in 2008, so I suppose they'll have to make do with someone else.

"Lifeline" - Heinlein's very first published story.  Set entirely indoors, it could work quite well as a stage play.

The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag - That this one has a link means it's actually in the works. From the IMDB synopsis ...

A man, who suddenly realizes that he has no memory of what he does during the day, hires a husband and wife detective agency to follow him. The truth takes a dark turn as their investigation leads to a series of frightening revelations.

"takes a dark turn" - Boy, does it ever!

While I was less than thrilled with Director Alex Proyas' treatment of Isaac Asimov's I, Robot, I do believe the director of The Crow and Dark City just might be the perfect choice for this tale.

Whenever I read the story, I can't help seeing the late comedian Ernie Kovacs as Hoag. But, because of that word "late", I'm tempted to cut Mr. Proyas some slack when it comes to casting.

Scheduled for release sometime in 2013, this is one I'm really looking forward to.

And finally, for inflicting upon you two of the most boring images imaginable, let me apologize by presenting (even though it has absolutely nothing to do with this post) ...
Jolene Blaylock as Vulcan Commander T'pol in Star Trek: Enterprise
(c) by Thomas Raube 04/2004 - Thunderchild2604@freenet.de 

Am I forgiven now? :-)

Originally published 25 JUN 2012. 1640 CDT

Update: 07 DEC 2014 - So, what happened with "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag"?

Above, I had noted "scheduled for release sometime in 2013". You may have noticed that date has come and gone, along with most of 2014 as well.

The link I gave above for the movie still lists it as "In developement", which could mean exactly what it says, or that nobody has updated the page since the April 2012 news that Alex Proyas had picked this as his next project.

Alex Proyas' IMDB page also still lists it. THAT suggests that he hasn't given up on it, but is probably facing the usual hoops to jump through on getting financing and had to move on with other projects (because rent is due and he might like to eat).

That happens all the time in this business. Director Guillermo del Toro ("Hellboy", "Pan's Labyrinth". "Pacific Rim") had worked to bring H.P. Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness" to the screen, until Universal pulled the plug in January 2013. I understand that he has not given up on the project, and it may eventually happen someday.

THAT could be the case for "Jonathan Hoag". At least,I sure HOPE so.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

NOT dead YET!!!

-- or WHY I haven't posted anything since early July.

Part of it is a few things on my plate I have to deal with.

But, MOST of it is because my ancient computer is having more and more trouble dealing with certain websites.

My computer is an HP Pavilion 061 desktop unit, with a tower and a separate monitor, bought near the end of 2003 when I learned that the entire IT division of SCI (Service Corporation International) would be outsourced to InfoSys (in Bangalore, India) the following March.

It has 256 megabytes of memory, running Windows XP, which is no longer supported by Microsoft.

Some websites (facebook and linkedin, for example) hog so much memory that visiting them (I have accounts on both) fall into the "life's too short" category.

Blogger.com's editor (which I have to use when posting here, has become flaky. While editing a post, it automatically (periodically) saves a draft of the post. Normally, each save would overwrite the earlier version, but the "flaky" part results in each save creating a new draft, so when I finally publish the post, I have DOZENS of drafts to have to dispose of. Other functions (such as text centering for captions under images) no longer seem to work. Posting has become a pain under these circumstances.

I need a new computer with a later operating system and as much memory as I can afford to dump into it.

In a few months, I should have a very nice income tax refund, which will allow me to find something better.

The LAST time I went for months without putting anything up, an Air Force buddy in Montana called the store at where I work to find out if I was still ALIVE. Thought maybe I should put THIS up to make a repeat of that unnecessary.

I have NOT become bored with blogging. I just hope that getting a better computer in a few months will put me back into the game. :-)


Friday, July 11, 2014


Found THIS in a tumblr porn blog, of all places  ...

In my earlier engineering career (1964-1984), one of my co-workers had a coffee cup I wanted very much, but I could never find one like it.

I wanted it because of a quote that was on it;  a quote I later learned came from the Peanuts comic strip, by Linus van Pelt (Lucy's kid brother; the one with the security blanket):

   "I love mankind;  it's people I can't stand."

That sentiment seemed to perfectly fit that co-worker, it fit ME at times, and I suspect the subject of that memorial was on the same page with both of us. :-)


Sunday, March 23, 2014

"The Cisco Kid ...

... had killed six men in more or less fair scrimmages, had murdered twice as many (mostly Mexicans), and had winged a larger number whom he modestly forbore to count. Therefore a woman loved him."

If those words seem to not fit the image many of you old enough to remember early movies and a television series about a Mexican-American Robin Hood of the old west recall, ...
Pancho and The Cisco Kid - from tvacres.com
... it's because the original story that they claimed was the basis was nothing of the kind.

In 1880, eighteen-year-old William Sidney Porter left his native North Carolina and arrived in Austin, Texas, to begin a number of careers,...
 William_Sydney_Porter_as_young_man_in_Austin - from wikipedia

... including running (for a while, until it eventually failed) a magazine he called "The Rolling Stone"...
    From www.cowboysandindians.com

Here he found a new life, getting from observation and listening (not from experience, for he was never a cowboy) the originals for his Western characters and scenes. He recalled them when he began writing and publishing stories under the name of O. Henry. He cranked out a mighty pile of them between his first in 1899 until his death (from alcoholism) in 1910.

In 1907, he published this ...

The Caballero's Way
  by O. Henry (William Sydney Porter
  (Published 1907, now in Public Domain)

The Cisco Kid had killed six men in more or less fair scrimmages, had murdered twice as many (mostly Mexicans), and had winged a larger number whom he modestly forbore to count. Therefore a woman loved him.

The Kid was twenty-five, looked twenty; and a careful insurance company would have estimated the probable time of his demise at, say, twenty-six. His habitat was anywhere between the Frio and the Rio Grande. He killed for the love of it — because he was quick-tempered — to avoid arrest — for his own amusement —any reason that came to his mind would suffice. He had escaped capture because he could shoot five-sixths of a second sooner than any sheriff or ranger in the service, and because he rode a speckled roan horse that knew every cowpath in the mesquite and pear thickets from San Antonio to Matamoras.

Tonia Perez, the girl who loved the Cisco Kid, was half Carmen, half Madonna, and the rest — oh, yes, a woman who is half Carmen and half Madonna can always be something more — the rest, let us say, was humming-bird. She lived in a grass-roofed jacal near a little Mexican settlement at the Lone Wolf Crossing of the Frio. With her lived a father or grandfather, a lineal Aztec, somewhat less than a thousand years old, who herded a hundred goats and lived in a continuous drunken dream from drinking mescal. Back of the jacal a tremendous forest of bristling pear, twenty feet high at its worst, crowded almost to its door. It was along the bewildering maze of this spinous thicket that the speckled roan would bring the Kid to see his girl. And once, clinging like a lizard to the ridge-pole, high up under the peaked grass roof, he had heard Tonia, with her Madonna face and Carmen beauty and humming-bird soul, parley with the sheriff's posse, denying knowledge of her man in her soft mélange of Spanish and English.

One day the adjutant-general of the State, who is, ex officio, commander of the ranger forces, wrote some sarcastic lines to Captain Duval of Company X, stationed at Laredo, relative to the serene and undisturbed existence led by murderers and desperadoes in the said captain's territory.

The captain turned the colour of brick dust under his tan, and forwarded the letter, after adding a few comments, per ranger Private Bill Adamson, to ranger Lieutenant Sandridge, camped at a water hole on the Nueces with a squad of five men in preservation of law and order. Lieutenant Sandridge turned a beautiful couleur de rose through his ordinary strawberry complexion, tucked the letter in his hip pocket, and chewed off the end of his gamboge moustache. The next morning he saddled his horse and rode alone to the Mexican settlement at the Lone Wolf Crossing of the Frio, twenty miles away.

Six feet two, blond as a Viking, quiet as a deacon, dangerous as a machine gun, Sandridge moved, among the Jacales, patiently seeking news of the Cisco Kid.

Far more than the law, the Mexicans dreaded the cold and certain vengeance of the lone rider that the ranger sought. It had been one of the Kid's pastimes to shoot Mexicans "to see them kick": if he demanded from them moribund Terpsichorean feats, simply that he might be entertained, what terrible and extreme penalties would be certain to follow should they anger him! One and all they lounged with upturned palms and shrugging shoulders, filling the air with "quién sabes" and denials of the Kid's acquaintance.

But there was a man named Fink who kept a store at the Crossing — a man of many nationalities, tongues, interests, and ways of thinking.

"No use to ask them Mexicans," he said to Sandridge. "They're afraid to tell. This hombre they call the Kid — Goodall is his name, ain't it? — he's been in my store once or twice. I have an idea you might run across him at — but I guess I don't keer to say, myself. I'm two seconds later in pulling a gun than I used to be and the difference is worth thinking about. But this Kid's got a half-Mexican girl at the Crossing that he comes to see. She lives in that jacal a hundred yards down the arroyo at the edge of the pear. Maybe she — no, I don't suppose she would, but that jacal would be a good place to watch, anyway."

Sandridge rode down to the jacal of Perez. The sun was low, and the broad shade of the great pear thicket already covered the grass-thatched hut. The goats were enclosed for the night in a brush corral near by. A few kids walked the top of it, nibbling the chaparral leaves. The old Mexican lay upon a blanket on the grass, already in a stupor from his mescal, and dreaming, perhaps, of the nights when he and Pizarro touched glasses to their New World fortunes — so old his wrinkled face seemed to proclaim him to be. And in the door of the jacal stood Tonia. And Lieutenant Sandridge sat in his saddle staring at her like a gannet agape at a sailorman.

The Cisco Kid was a vain person, as all eminent and successful assassins are, and his bosom would have been ruffled had he known that at a simple exchange of glances two persons, in whose minds lie had been looming large, suddenly abandoned (at least for the time) all thought of him. Never before had Tonia seen such a man as this. He seemed to be made of sunshine and blood-red tissue and clear weather. He seemed to illuminate the shadow of the pear when he smiled, as though the sun were rising again. The men she had known had been small and dark. Even the Kid, in spite of his achievements, was a stripling no larger than herself, with black straight hair and a cold marble face that chilled the noonday.

As for Tonia, though she sends description to the poorhouse, let her make a millionaire of your fancy. Her blue-black hair, smoothly divided in the middle and bound close to her head, and her large eyes full of the Latin melancholy, gave her the Madonna touch. Her motions and air spoke of the concealed fire and the desire to charm that she had inherited from the gitanas of the Basque province. As for the humming-bird part of her, that dwelt in her heart; you could not perceive it unless her bright red skirt and dark blue blouse gave you a symbolic hint of the vagarious bird. The newly lighted sungod asked for a drink of water.

Tonia brought it from the red jar hanging under the brush shelter. Sandridge considered it necessary to dismount so as to lessen the trouble of her ministrations.

I play no spy; nor do I assume to master the thoughts of any human heart; but I assert, by the chronicler's right, that before a quarter of an hour had sped, Sandridge was teaching her how to plait a six-strand rawhide stake-rope, and Tonia had explained to him that were it not for her little English book that the peripatetic padre had given her and the little crippled chivo, that she fed from a bottle, she would be very, very lonely indeed.

Which leads to a suspicion that the Kid's fences needed repairing, and that the adjutant-general's sarcasm had fallen upon unproductive soil.

In his camp by the water hole Lieutenant Sandridge announced and reiterated his intention of either causing the Cisco Kid to nibble the black loam of the Frio country prairies or of haling him before a judge and jury. That sounded business-like. Twice a week he rode over to the Lone Wolf Crossing of the Frio, and directed Tonia's slim, slightly lemon-tinted fingers among the intricacies of the slowly growing lariata. A six-strand plait is hard to learn and easy to teach.

The ranger knew that he might find the Kid there at any visit. He kept his armament ready, and had a frequent eye for the pear thicket at the rear of the jacal. Thus he might bring down the kite and the humming-bird with one stone.

While the sunny-haired ornithologist was pursuing his studies the Cisco Kid was also attending to his professional duties. He moodily shot up a saloon, in a small cow village on Quintana Creek, killed the town marshal (plugging him neatly in the centre of his tin badge), and then rode away, morose and unsatisfied. No true artist is uplifted by shooting an aged man carrying an old-style .38 bulldog.

On his way the Kid suddenly experienced the yearning that all men feel when wrong-doing loses its keen edge of delight. He yearned for the woman he loved to reassure him that she was his in spite of it. He wanted her to call his bloodthirstiness bravery and his cruelty devotion. He wanted Tonia to bring him water from the red jug under the brush shelter, and tell him how the chivo was thriving on the bottle.

The Kid turned the speckled roan's head up the ten-mile pear flat that stretches along the Arroyo Hondo until it ends at the Lone Wolf Crossing of the Frio. The roan whickered; for he had a sense of locality and direction equal to that of a belt-line street-car horse; and he knew he would soon be nibbling the rich mesquite grass at the end of a forty-foot stake rope while Ulysses rested his head in Circe's straw-roofed hut.

More weird and lonesome than the journey of an Amazonian explorer is the ride of one through a Texas pear flat. With dismal monotony and startling variety the uncanny and multiform shapes of the cacti lift their twisted trunks and fat, bristly hands to encumber the way. The demon plant, appearing to live without soil or rain, seems to taunt the parched traveler with its lush gray greenness. It warps itself a thousand times about what look to be open and inviting paths, only to lure the rider into blind and impassable spine-defended "bottoms of the bag," leaving him to retreat, if he can, with the points of the compass whirling in his head.

To be lost in the pear is to die almost the death of the thief on the cross, pierced by nails and with grotesque shapes of all the fiends hovering about.

But it was not so with the Kid and his mount. Winding, twisting, circling, tracing the most fantastic and bewildering trail ever picked out, the good roan lessened the distance to the Lone Wolf Crossing with every coil and turn that he made.

While they fared the Kid sang. He knew but one tune and he sang it, as he knew but one code and lived it, and but one girl and loved her. He was a single-minded man of conventional ideas. He had a voice like a coyote with bronchitis, but whenever he chose to sing his song he sang it. It was a conventional song of the camps and trail, running at its beginning as near as may be to these words:

Don't you monkey with my Lulu girl
Or I'll tell you what I'll do—

and so on. The roan was inured to it, and did not mind.

But even the poorest singer will, after a certain time, gain his own consent to refrain from contributing to the world's noises. So the Kid, by the time he was within a mile or two of Tonia's jacal, had reluctantly allowed his song to die away — not because his vocal performance had become less charming to his own ears, but because his laryngeal muscles were aweary.

As though he were in a circus ring the speckled roan wheeled and danced through the labyrinth of pear until at length his rider knew by certain landmarks that the Lone Wolf Crossing was close at hand. Then, where the pear was thinner, he caught sight of the grass roof of the jacal and the hackberry tree on the edge of the arroyo. A few yards farther the Kid stopped the roan and gazed intently through the prickly openings. Then he dismounted, dropped the roan's reins, and proceeded on foot, stooping and silent, like an Indian. The roan, knowing his part, stood still, making no sound.

The Kid crept noiselessly to the very edge of the pear thicket and reconnoitered between the leaves of a clump of cactus.

Ten yards from his hiding-place, in the shade of the jacal, sat his Tonia calmly plaiting a raw-hide lariat. So far she might surely escape condemnation; women have been known, from time to time, to engage in more mischievous occupations. But if all must be told, there is to be added that her head reposed against the broad and comfortable chest of a tall red-and-yellow man, and that his arm was about her, guiding her nimble small fingers that required so many lessons at the intricate six-strand plait.

Sandridge glanced quickly at the dark mass of pear when he heard a slight squeaking sound that was not altogether unfamiliar. A gun-scabbard will make that sound when one grasps the handle of a six-shooter suddenly. But the sound was not repeated; and Tonia's fingers needed close attention.

And then, in the shadow of death, they began to talk of their love; and in the still July afternoon every word they uttered reached the ears of the Kid.

"Remember, then," said Tonia, "you must not come again until I send for you. Soon he will be here. A vaquero at the tienda said to-day he saw him on the Guadalupe three days ago. When he is that near he always comes. If he comes and finds you here he will kill you. So, for my sake, you must come no more until I send you the word."

"All right," said the ranger. "And then what?"

"And then," said the girl, "you must bring your men here and kill him. If not, he will kill you."

"He ain't a man to surrender, that's sure," said Sandridge. "It's kill or be killed for the officer that goes up against Mr. Cisco Kid."

"He must die," said the girl. "Otherwise there will not be any peace in the world for thee and me. He has killed many. Let him so die. Bring your men, and give him no chance to escape."

"You used to think right much of him," said Sandridge.

Tonia dropped the lariat, twisted herself around, and curved a lemon-tinted arm over the ranger's shoulder.

"But then," she murmured in liquid Spanish, "I had not beheld thee, thou great, red mountain of a man! And thou art kind and good, as well as strong. Could one choose him, knowing thee? Let him die; for then I will not be filled with fear by day and night lest he hurt thee or me."

"How can I know when he comes?" asked Sandridge.

"When he comes," said Tonia, "he remains two days, sometimes three. Gregorio, the small son of old Luisa, the lavandera, has a swift pony. I will write a letter to thee and send it by him, saying how it will be best to come upon him. By Gregorio will the letter come. And bring many men with thee, and have much care, oh, dear red one, for the rattlesnake is not quicker to strike than is 'El Chivato', as they call him, to send a ball from his pistola."

"The Kid's handy with his gun, sure enough," admitted Sandridge, "but when I come for him I shall come alone. I'll get him by myself or not at all. The Cap wrote one or two things to me that make me want to do the trick without any help. You let me know when Mr. Kid arrives, and I'll do the rest."

"I will send you the message by the boy Gregorio," said the girl. "I knew you were braver than that small slayer of men who never smiles. How could I ever have thought I cared for him?"

It was time for the ranger to ride back to his camp on the water hole. Before he mounted his horse he raised the slight form of Tonia with one arm high from the earth for a parting salute. The drowsy stillness of the torpid summer air still lay thick upon the dreaming afternoon. The smoke from the fire in the jacal, where the frijoles blubbered in the iron pot, rose straight as a plumb-line above the clay-daubed chimney. No sound or movement disturbed the serenity of the dense pear thicket ten yards away.

When the form of Sandridge had disappeared, loping his big dun down the steep banks of the Frio crossing, the Kid crept back to his own horse, mounted him, and rode back along the tortuous trail he had come.

But not far. He stopped and waited in the silent depths of the pear until half an hour had passed. And then Tonia heard the high, untrue notes of his un-musical singing coming nearer and nearer; and she ran to the edge of the pear to meet him.

The Kid seldom smiled; but he smiled and waved his hat when he saw her. He dismounted, and his girl sprang into his arms. The Kid looked at her fondly. His thick black hair clung to his head like a wrinkled mat. The meeting brought a slight ripple of some undercurrent of feeling to his smooth, dark face that was usually as motionless as a clay mask.

"How's my girl?" he asked, holding her close.

"Sick of waiting so long for you, dear one," she answered. "My eyes are dim with always gazing into that devil's pincushion through which you come. And I can see into it such a little way, too. But you are here, beloved one, and I will not scold. Qué mal muchacho! not to come to see your alma more often. Go in and rest, and let me water your horse and stake him with the long rope. There is cool water in the jar for you."

The Kid kissed her affectionately.

"Not if the court knows itself do I let a lady stake my horse for me," Said he. "But if you'll run in, chica, and throw a pot of coffee together while I attend to the caballo, I'll be a good deal obliged."

Besides his marksmanship the Kid had another attribute for which he admired himself greatly. He was muy caballero, as the Mexicans express it, where the ladies were concerned. For them he had always gentle words and consideration. He could not have spoken a harsh word to a woman. He might ruthlessly slay their husbands and brothers, but he could not have laid the weight of a finger in anger upon a woman. Wherefore many of that interesting division of humanity who had come under the spell of his politeness declared their disbelief in the stories circulated about Mr. Kid. One shouldn't believe everything one heard, they said.

When confronted by their indignant men folk with proof of the caballero's deeds of infamy, they said maybe he had been driven to it, and that he knew how to treat a lady, anyhow.

Considering this extremely courteous idiosyncrasy of the Kid and the pride that lie took in it, one can perceive that the solution of the problem that was presented to him by what he saw and heard from his hiding-place in the pear that afternoon (at least as to one of the actors) must have been obscured by difficulties. And yet one could not think of the Kid overlooking little matters of that kind.

At the end of the short twilight they gathered around a supper of frijoles, goat steaks, canned peaches, and coffee, by the light of a lantern in the jacal. Afterward, the ancestor, his flock corralled, smoked a cigarette and became a mummy in a gray blanket. Tonia washed the few dishes while the Kid dried them with the flour-sacking towel. Her eyes shone; she chatted volubly of the inconsequent happenings of her small world since the Kid's last visit; it was as all his other home-comings had been.

Then outside Tonia swung in a grass hammock with her guitar and sang sad canciones de amor.

"Do you love me Just the same, old girl?" asked the Kid, hunting for his cigarette papers.

"Always the same, little one," said Tonia, her dark eyes lingering upon him.

"I must go over to Fink's," said the Kid, rising, "for some tobacco. I thought I had another sack in my coat. I'll be back in a quarter of an hour."

"Hasten," said Tonia, "and tell me — how long shall I call you my own this time? Will you be gone again to-morrow, leaving me to grieve, or will you be longer with your Tonia?"

"Oh, I might stay two or three days this trip," said the Kid, yawning. "I've been on the dodge for a month, and I'd like to rest up."

He was gone half an hour for his tobacco. When he returned Tonia was still lying in the hammock.

"It's funny," said the Kid, "how I feel. I feel like there was somebody lying behind every bush and tree waiting to shoot me... I never had mullygrubs like them before. Maybe it's one of them presumptions I've got half a notion to light out in the morning before day. The Guadalupe country is burning up about that old Dutchman I plugged down there."

"You are not afraid — no one could make my brave little one fear."

"Well, I haven't been usually regarded as a jack-rabbit when it comes to scrapping; but I don't want a posse smoking me out when I'm in your jacal. Somebody might get hurt that oughtn't to."

"Remain with your Tonia; no one will find you here."

The Kid looked keenly into the shadows up and down the arroyo and toward the dim lights of the Mexican village. "I'll see how it looks later on," was his decision.

At midnight a horseman rode into the rangers' camp, blazing his way by noisy "halloes" to indicate a pacific mission. Sandridge and one or two others turned out to investigate the row. The rider announced himself to be Domingo Sales, from the Lone Wolf Crossing. He bore a letter for Senor Sandridge. Old Luisa, the lavandera, had persuaded him to bring it, he said, her son Gregorio being too ill of a fever to ride. Sandridge lighted the camp lantern and read the letter. These were its words:


He has come. Hardly had you ridden away when he came out of the pear. When he first talked he said he would stay three days or more. Then as it grew later he was like a wolf or a fox, and walked about without rest, looking and listening. Soon he said he must leave before daylight when it is dark and stillest. And then he seemed to suspect that I be not true to him. He looked at me so strange that I am frightened. I swear to him that I love him, his own Tonia. Last of all he said I must prove to him I am true. He thinks that even now men are waiting to kill him as he rides from my house. To escape he says he will dress in my clothes, my red skirt and the blue waist I wear and the brown mantilla over the head, and thus ride away. But before that he says that I must put on his clothes, his pantalones and camisa and hat, and ride away on his horse from the jacal as far as the big road beyond the crossing and back again. This before he goes, so he can tell if I am true and if men are hidden to shoot him. It is a terrible thing. An hour before daybreak this is to be. Come, my dear one, and kill this man and take me for your Tonia. Do not try to take hold of him alive, but kill him quickly. Knowing all, you should do that. You must come long before the time and hide yourself in the little shed near the jacal where the wagon and saddles are kept. It is dark in there. He will wear my red skirt and blue waist and brown mantilla. I send you a hundred kisses. Come surely and shoot quickly and straight.


Sandridge quickly explained to his men the official part of the missive. The rangers protested against his going alone.

"I'll get him easy enough," said the lieutenant. "The girl's got him trapped. And don't even think he'll get the drop on me."

Sandridge saddled his horse and rode to the Lone Wolf Crossing. He tied his big dun in a clump of brush on the arroyo, took his Winchester from its scabbard, and carefully approached the Perez jacal. There was only the half of a high moon drifted over by ragged, milk-white gulf clouds. The wagon-shed was an excellent place for ambush; and the ranger got inside it safely. In the black shadow of the brush shelter in front of the jacal he could see a horse tied and hear him impatiently pawing the hard-trodden earth.

He waited almost an hour before two figures came out of the jacal. One, in man's clothes, quickly mounted the horse and galloped past the wagon-shed toward the crossing and village. And then the other figure, in skirt, waist, and mantilla over its head, stepped out into the faint moonlight, gazing after the rider. Sandridge thought he would take his chance then before Tonia rode back. He fancied she might not care to see it.

"Throw up your hands," he ordered, loudly, stepping out of the wagon-shed with his Winchester at his shoulder.

There was a quick turn of the figure, but no movement to obey, so the ranger pumped in the bullets — one — two — three — and then twice more; for you never could be too sure of bringing down the Cisco Kid. There was no danger of missing at ten paces, even in that half moonlight.

The old ancestor, asleep on his blanket, was awakened by the shots. Listening further, he heard a great cry from some man in mortal distress or anguish, and rose up grumbling at the disturbing ways of moderns. The tall, red ghost of a man burst into the jacal, reaching one hand, shaking like a tule reed, for the lantern hanging on its nail. The other spread a letter on the table.

"Look at this letter, Perez" cried the man.

"Who wrote it?"

"Ah, Dios! it is Senor Sandridge," mumbled the old man, approaching. "Pues, senor, that letter was written by 'El Chivato,' as he is called — by the man of Tonia. They say he is a bad man; I do not know. While Tonia slept he wrote the letter and sent it by this old hand of mine to Domingo Sales to be brought to you. Is there anything wrong in the letter? I am very old; and I did not know. Valgame Dios! it is a very foolish world; and there is nothing in the house to drink—nothing to drink."

Just then all that Sandridge could think of to do was to go outside and throw himself face downward in the dust by the side of his humming-bird, of whom not a feather fluttered. He was not a caballero by instinct, and he could not understand the niceties of revenge.

A mile away the rider who had ridden past the wagon-shed struck up a harsh, untuneful song, the words of which began:

  Don't you monkey with my Lulu girl
  Or I'll tell you what I'll do—


Ok! I have some pretty sharp people among my readers, and I suspect that more than a few of them already know about the O. Henry/Cisco Kid connection.

What I wondered about was whether there was an actual incident that inspired the story, I'm confident there was, and that I've found it.

In a much earlier post ("Possibly a good movie ..."), the second part was about taking a very fine book and making a very sorry movie from parts of it.

The movie was "Texas Rangers (2001)" and it turned out to only have a few names in common with ...

"Taming The Nueces Strip" by George Durham

This book is still in print, from the University of Texas Press, and of course from Amazon.com (if they don't have something, it probably doesn't even exist).

It is primarily the story of Georgia farm boy George Durham's experience of serving with the Texas Rangers during the period of 1875 and 1876, under the command of Captain Leander H. McNelly, in an outlaw-infested region known as the Nueces Strip.

When Texas was the Mexican state of Tejas, it was separated from Coahuila by the Nueces River, which ran down to the Gulf of Mexico at Corpus Christi.

After Texas won its Independence in 1836, it claimed land down to the Rio Grande River, establishing its border there. That claim was upheld by the United States when Texas allowed itself to be annexed to the U.S. in 1845, but Mexico repudiated that claim and tried to treat that part of the state as its own, resulting in the Mexican-American War.

The area between the two rivers (the Nueces Strip) became a magnet for local desperadoes, and for cattle thieves from Mexico trying to liberate what they referred to as "Grandma's cattle".

It didn't help things much that the aftermath of the Civil War left most of the Southern states (including Texas) in an unholy, anarchistic mess. To deal with that, in 1875 newly elected Governor Richard Coke created a special force within the Rangers, to be commanded by McNelly, and tasked with cleaning up the Nueces Strip.

He had some imaginative (but direct) approaches to the problem, as illustrated after a Mexican bandit gang had made a raid on a store in Nuecestown, a bit northwest of Corpus Christi. Among the things they took were ...

eighteen brand-new Dick Heye saddles, which were what you'd now call the Cadillacs of the saddle world. They were heavily studded with silver conchos in a pattern that you could tell half a mile away, a fact that proved to be the death warrant for many a man.

McNelly was very interested in those saddles. Upon learning from the store owner that he had some more on order, but they weren't in yet, he studied a moment, and then told him:

"When they come, don't sell a one until I tell you differently." He turned to Sergeant Armstrong and ordered, "Describe those saddles to the Rangers. Make sure they understand exactly. Then order them to empty those saddles on sight! No palavering with the riders. Empty them! Leave the men where you drop them, and bring the saddles to camp."

Among other things on his plate was also dealing with anglo outlaws; in particular one John "King" Fisher, a friend of John Wesley Hardin and a guy who casually wandered back and forth on both sides of the law, and may have even been responsible for one of the earliest road signs in Texas -- where a road split into two directions, on one a sign nailed to a tree warned,
  "This is King Fisher's road.
   Take the other."

He was a cattle rancher and also a cattle rustler as well. Certainly an outlaw by definition, but sometimes also The Law (serving as a sheriff several times), meeting his end by being gunned down, along with his friend Ben Thompson (yet another "been there and done that" as both outlaw and law officer, born in England; his family emigrating to Austin, Texas when he was a kid) in an ambush at the Vaudeville Theatre in San Antonio, Texas in 1884.

Most of the above was lifted from my "Possibly" post. What was not in that post was this ...
McNelly (and most other Ranger Captains kept a book (The Book) in which were listed names and what other information was available on various outlaws and desperadoes they were after. They updated it as much as possible.

From chapter 8 ("Betrayal") of "Taming" ...

Before we moved the next morning Casoose rode in with a compadre. He caucused with Captain, and Captain called us into formation and cleared this new man. He was down in the The Book as Old Blas. Nothing else. Captain told us to scratch him and see no harm came to him. Captain never did order him back into The Book, and the old cutthroat used that clearance for forty years - until Pershing crossed over and flushed him out and killed him.

Blas was a crafty old butcher. Years later, when one of the Rangers stole Old Blas' girl friend, he rigged up a deal whereby this Ranger killed her by mistake one foggy morning - a neat trick that was told to the writer O. Henry who made a story out of it.

Borrowing (once again) from Paul Harvey: "And now, you know the rest of the story. :-)

Thursday, March 13, 2014


Sometimes, I really, REALLY envy Napoleon.


Read somewhere that a LOT of his time was eaten up by that.

But, every now and then, HE would deal with the problem by clearing his desk, LITERALLY;  by just shoving it all off his desk, onto the floor, and having an aide dispose of it.

When you are Emperor, I suppose you can do that.

As I remain considerably shy of THAT position, it's probably NOT an option in my case.

Sigh.  :-)

Friday, March 07, 2014

... perhaps MORE savvy than a pet rock.

At least, I HOPE that's a good description of the heads of hospital billing services. :-)

With any luck, this may be my final word on my financial disaster stemming from my accident in late July last year (chronicled in boring detail in A Scream of Pain. )

I had thought that when I finally reached a summing up point, it would have to be called "Death by a thousand cuts", in honor of hospital billing systems that separately bill for various activities and trickle them out over a period of months, so you're never quite sure when you have the whole picture.

At present, it appears there are three accounts to deal with from St. Josephs Medical Center and four from Memorial Hermann Hospital, totaling about $6100.00 altogether. I have yet to hear anything about the last of the Memorial Hermann accounts, but I should find out something next week.

Many people have told me that if I pay SOMETHING on the bills each month, the billing departments are unlikely to push any further. They just might be right.

The biggest monster among those bills, for $2369.40, I received just a few days after the accident. I wanted to get the whole picture before starting any payments. But, in early October, an invoice for that bill threatened to turn it over to an outside agency for collection if I didn't call them and state my intentions.

THAT scared me. If a collection agency takes on the debt as its own, they can take actions, such as hauling you into Small Claims Court where you are at the mercy of a judge, who just might be capable of ANYTHING in his calls. I recall a manager of a company I used to work for telling me about a judgment he received in an alimony and child support case, and explaining to the judge, "Your Honor: That's more than I MAKE", getting the reply, "Well, you're just going to have to get a second job, aren't you?".

So, I called them and talked to a receptionist (you NEVER get anyone in charge). I told her that I could maybe manage $60.00 to $70.00 a month on the entire bill. As I already felt that bill to be in the $6000.00 range, we were talking about 1% a month on the individual bills.  She said she would pass that information along, but she felt they would insist on $300.00 a month as a minimum payment. Well, THAT was as impossible as $300 MILLION, so I just hung up, feeling that further conversation was useless with her.

BUT, a couple of days later (Oct 9) I went onto their web site and opened up an account on that bill and made a payment of $25.00 (1% of $2369.40 rounded up to the next multiple of $5.00). It accepted the payment. So far, so good. A few days later, an invoice arrived thanking me for the payment and demanding the rest of the total within ten days or call that number again (which seemed pointless after the last experience). A couple of weeks later, another invoice arrived, repeating the collection agency threat.

The next month (Nov 9 - trying to be consistent as computers seem to like that :-) I logged onto the account and made another such payment, and then opened up another account on the second St. Joseph's bill and paid $15.00 on that.

So far, I've made five payments on the monster (number six coming up in a couple of days) and the same pattern repeats (Thank you, followed by threat) making me pretty sure I am dealing with billing software here.

BUT, so far the threat hasn't been carried out, and each time I log on, I see the total is down by exactly the amounts I've paid in (meaning NO interest or penalties have been tacked on).

THIS is what makes me hopeful that, SOMEWHERE in the loop is a REAL LIVE HUMAN BEING, ... perhaps MORE savvy than a pet rock (now you know where title comes from :-) who understands that, YES, they CAN scare the Hell out of me by playing hardball, but all they'll acquire by doing THAT would be a notification from a Federal Bankruptcy Court.

At present, I'm now making monthly payments on six of the seven accounts, and maybe by next week I'll find out if the seventh is also doable.

If so, I'll be literally paying for the rest of my life, but they should be payments I can handle.

With luck, I can drop THIS subject and get back to posting about things that interest me.

BTW, yesterday, I updated my "Posts I Feel Good About ..." (see column on left side of page) with eight entries, near the top. Hope you'll give them a look, and not be bored. :-)


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