Synchronicity, Cubed; Or, the Greatest Blog Post Never Completed

[I started to write this almost three years ago and I had a brilliant topic in mind. Then I got distracted and completely forgot what I was going to write about. But here it is, in all its frustrating glory. Maybe lightning will strike again and I’ll take better notes.]

When a phrase or concept appears twice in unrelated contexts, that’s notable. Twice, it’s proof of intelligent design in the universe. Three times, and I need to write a blog post about it.

I had the brain-tickling but unnerving triplet of coincidences lately. I always pay attention to these connections because they happen so rarely.

Ghosts of Holiday Parties Past

The 2015 office holiday party passed peacefully last week at the Edison Ballroom in Manhattan. I had some sushi, talked to colleagues, sipped a Diet Coke and skipped the desserts that always tempt me. The DJ played the immortal 1981 dance favorite, “Don’t You Want Me” by the Human League. The song, freighted with hooks and the mysteries of past relationships, sent my mind spinning back over the ghosts of holiday parties past.

Working in New York for most of the past 35 years, I’ve had my share of holiday parties at swanky locations, among them Tavern on the Green, the Marriott Marquee in Times Square, the Waldorf=Astoria, and surely other places. At one of the first ones, 1981 or 1982, I imbibed the screwdrivers a little too much and found myself green around the gills when I returned to my studio apartment in Brooklyn. As soon as I walked in the door the phone rang. The caller was Rena, an elderly German-Jewish friend, a woman I knew through Project Dorot, which connects young New Yorkers to elderly Jews. She wanted to know if I had a nice time at the office party of my then-employer, Quick Frozen Foods magazine.

“I’m sorry, Rena, I can’t talk right now,” I said before reaching for a trash can.

“Oh dear, oh dear!” she said with alarm in her heavy Berlin accent. But I slept it off and put her mind at ease.

If that was the low of holiday parties, the high, in several senses of the word, came in December 1996. After a gruesome year of unemployment after being laid off from my last job in journalism, I had landed a position in the firmwide communications department of Price Waterhouse, then the smallest but best known of the Big Six accounting firms.

PW lived up to its quality reputation with the 1996 holiday party held at the Rainbow Room at the top of 30 Rockefeller Center. As a fan of art deco, I found the building breath-taking, and the event itself marked a graceful return to employment, if not life stability. I wore a suit (which PW employees did as a matter of policy in what I now recall as days of high formality in corporate attire) and felt I had slipped into a 1930s high-society film.

I strolled around the Rainbow Room and looked at New York on a snowy night. That’s what I recall most clearly — the snow falling and blurring the lights spread before me. After the family-wracking challenges of unemployment, that 1996 holiday party marked a new beginning, the end of a year of chaos and the start of another of hope and stability. From high above New York, I stood, I hoped, at the end of a rainbow.

The rainbow receded, its colors slipping beyond my grasp for more years. The family and the job changed in ways I couldn’t imagine. Oddly enough I eventually worked for a law firm right there in 30 Rock, and I walked through that art deco lobby every day. Over the past 20 years of holiday parties, I’ve smoothed out the wretching lows and the snow-dome highs to find a pleasant balance that matches a life lived moderately. That’s a positive place to be.

And I’ll always have the memory the snow pelting down beyond the windows of the Rainbow Room, suggesting magic.

 

 

 

A Matter of the Heart

Last Sunday I worked with a community group at Westport’s new YMCA at an all-day Hands-Only CPR training event. I did the training as well, developed by the American Heart Association and I highly recommend it as essential knowledge for everybody. Besides hands-on CPR, attendees learned how to operated a type of simplified automated external defibrillator (AED).

I visited a table set up at the gym by a group called the Michael Vincent Sage Dragonheart Foundation of Hamden, Connecticut. The foundation honors Michael Sage. The website tells his story and its connection to the event:

 Michael was only 29 years old when he suffered a fatal sudden cardiac arrhythmia (SCA).  He was active in sports for most of his life and never exhibited any of the warning signs associated with SCA, such as episodes of dizziness, fainting, or seizures.  He arrived at work on a beautiful February morning, got a cup of coffee with his colleagues, collapsed and died.  People on the scene attempted to revive Michael using CPR, but there was no AED available, and by the time the paramedics arrived, Michael could not be saved. In a matter of moments, Michael was gone.

The foundation was formed to educate the public on AEDs and collect funds to support research and donate AEDs to places where they can be available to save lives, like schools and sports facilities. It has donated AEDs to groups throughout Connecticut, and outside of the state. More information about its finances can be found at the Charity Navigator site.

Michael’s mother was working at the table and graciously shared information about the group. I instantly liked her and the simple focus of the Dragonheart Foundation. Educate, donate, save lives. Nothing about it was flashy or overdone, just one group with one goal, based on the loss of one son, husband and friend.

If your group could benefit from an on-site AED, consider filling out the nomination form to get a donated AED. The nomination form can be found on the site. It’s better to be prepared than not. Knowing CPR and having access to an AED are things you never need . . . until the desperate seconds when you need them more than anything.

A New Year’s Resolution Starts Early

I always vote, but otherwise I’ve rarely engaged in governance matters. Sure, I go to pro-Israel marches and community events, such as after the Sandy Hook killings. Officials, however, rarely hear from me directly. I’m more of a wordsmith In the digital age, spouting off on Facebook mostly. That creates an ersatz sense of action, but I know I’m just honing my pithy writing skills and having zero impact on public affairs.

So my New Year’s resolutions started two weeks early for 2015. I contacted my district members of Westport’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM) and I signed up for mailings from my U.S. Representative, Jim Himes, and U.S. Senators, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy. I’m already on the mailing lists of my Connecticut state legislators, Representative Jonathan Steinburg and Senator Toni Boucher.

The outreach came after the fateful November elections, which didn’t see any political upheavals in blue-as-ice Connecticut but will still create political pressures on state and federal legislators from the Nutmeg State. Given the wretched state of journalism, I can’t glean much about what’s going on from the local free weekly, so I decided to become an informed citizen and connect with my legislators in Hartford and Washington, as well as Westport Town Hall.

I’m already engaging. Early Sunday morning, I sent an email to my three RTM district members outlining my interests:

  • Transportation: I commute to NYC on Metro-North, and am a fan of all kinds of public transit
  • Economic development
  • Planning and zoning matters as an economic impediment

I had an RTM response back within an hour, and the member and I traded some emails as he provided sources to keep me informed on issues in Westport. That made me feel more a part of the community and I’ll build from there.

On the national level, I completed an online poll offered by Rep. Himes on immigration issues. I indicated which of about 10 options appealed to me, and I shared my own view on how to respond to the immigration crisis. Let’s say I offered a creative approach to ensuring that people with visas leave the country when they are supposed to leave (hint: RFID chips).

The website of Sen. Blumenthal provoked the most visceral reaction. I had never warmed up to Blumenthal, even when he was Connecticut’s Attorney General. He had a certain over-eager, jump-on-the-bandwagon tonality that rubbed me the wrong way. His website merely confirmed those feelings with its rotating banner headlines:

  • The SPORTS (Sustained Promotion of Responsibility in Team Sports) Act aims to hold major sports leagues accountable for their response to major events within their leagues: from domestic violence to traumatic brain injuries.
  • The Death in Custody Reporting Act “requires states and federal law enforcement agencies to report to the Attorney General basic information regarding deaths occurring in law enforcement custody or during an arrest. It also requires the Attorney General to study this information and provide suggestions to reduce the number of such deaths.” (Don’t resist arrest or point a weapon at police could help, but I can’t imagine those being among the suggestions.)
  • College Sexual Assault Bill of Rights. “Senator Blumenthal released a college sexual assault report and bill of rights to help increase safety and accountability on college campuses.”

I may not agree these issues are the best use of a senator’s time, but he’s showing me some of his priorities, so I’ll give him credit for that. And I’ll let him know my priorities.

Now that I’m connected to the lawmakers, I expect I’ll share my views with them. For instance, if asked about issues that matter, I’ll indicate freedom of speech and defense of liberty. Nobody comes right and talks about these issues, which I see as under assault daily on college campuses and in general discourse – the high-tech lynch mobs are at the ready to quash opinions that go against the correct mainstream thinking. That may be a quaint concern to voice to my legislators, but somebody needs to say that in Connecticut, and that might as well be me.

I don’t know where this will lead. I may attend RTM subcommittee meetings to get a better handle on what happens at the most granular level of democracy. I may get involved in more local matters that intertwine with town zoning matters, such as the Westport Cinema Initiative, an attempt to bring an art-house movie space to downtown. When I moved to town in 1991, we had five screens; the last closed at least 15 years ago. Westport seems like a perfect place for an art-house cinema, given the population, and I can see this happening and thriving. Sen. Steinberg supports this effort, so I am beginning to connect the dots between public officials and topics that interest me. Anything involving Westport planning and zoning, in my experience, dissolves into decades of discussion, litigation and despair, but adding my voice to the effort could make a difference, and make me a part of the civil discourse.

You know, I think I’ve found my cause.

The Madonna and Mr. Klinghoffer

I recently visited the New Museum in New York, which has a multi-floor exhibit called “Chris Ofili: Night and Day” with the colorful and at times massive paintings of the British artist, who has strong African influences. One of the works looked very familiar to me, something I had seen or heard about, if not viewed up close and personal. The piece must have had some significance, since it had its own jocular security guard standing next to it.

After I read a caption for the painting, I remembered the painting. I was in the presence of the notorious 1996 work titled “The Holy Virgin Mary.” It had caused massive controversy when displayed at the Brooklyn Museum in 1999, when Rudy Giuliani was the Mayor of New York and part-time art critic. One description of the the piece states,

The central Black Madonna is surrounded by many collaged images that resemble butterflies at first sight, but on closer inspection are photographs of female genitalia; an ironic reference to the putti that appear in traditional religious art. A lump of dried, varnished elephant dung forms one bared breast, and the painting is displayed leaning against the gallery wall, supported by two other lumps of elephant dung, decorated with coloured pins: the pins on the left are arranged to spell out “Virgin” and the one on the right “Mary.”

The art-critic/mayor went bats over the “sick” painting. He tried to withdraw the City’s $7 million grant to the museum and kick it out of its venerable building on Eastern Parkway. He raged against the elephant poop angle and insults against the Virgin. Others took up the case and the painting was defaced with white paint during the exhibit. The Brooklyn Museum fought back and kept its site and the exhibit.

Fast-forward 15 years. Giuliani has long since moved to the private sector but retains his distinctive aesthetic sense. He gave his views another airing this fall when the Metropolitan Opera performed “The Death of Klinghoffer.” First performed in 1991, the opera still makes waves with protests, impassioned letters and all the social media required to launch a high-profile controversial event in New York. I haven’t it or heard the music, so I’ll withhold jOfili-Madonna-smallerudgment on its artistic merits.

Giuliani, opera buff, wrote a piece in the Daily Beast, “Why I Protested ‘The Death of Klinghoffer,'” that took a different tone from what he did as mayor. He made clear the Met Opera had the First Amendment right to perform Klinghoffer, just as protesters had a right to speak out. He even appeared at public demonstrations against it. His analysis of the opera balanced the positive and the negative:

As an opera fan of some 57 years, I find the opera and view the music as a significant achievement. I own a CD, have heard it, and have read the libretto three or four times.

As an opera, the music and choruses are quite excellent. John Adams is one of America’s greatest composers, and I admire and enjoy his music.

However, as a story attempting to recount the appalling terrorist murder of Leon Klinghoffer, a man who was thrown into the Mediterranean Sea simply because he was Jewish, the opera is factually inaccurate and extraordinarily damaging to an appropriate description of the problems in Israel and Palestine, and of terrorism in general.

Giuliani’s tone and thoughtfulness won the praise of Jane Eisner, editor-in-chief of the Forward newspaper. Through gritted teeth, she wrote an editorial piece titled, “How Rudy Giuliani Got ‘Klinghoffer’ Right.” Both his writing and his style of civil protest worked for her, showing that the lion really can lie down with the lamb under the right circumstances.

Giuliani’s changed approach–from the mayoral menace against Madonna to the reasonable First Amendment views on Klinghoffer–showed a welcome evolution. Unable to pull the levers of mayoral power, Giuliani opted for an approach I like. Let the public speak out, weigh the situation, and decide. If only he had taken that stance with The Holy Virgin Mary,  I might have never heard of or remembered Ofili’s work..

But remember I did, and when I finally stood face to face with The Holy Virgin Mary, I liked it, along with Ofili’s other works. He has a great stylistic range, from the small to the huge. A fan of more representational art like me can appreciate his work. Not being Catholic, I lacked the visceral anger that Giuliani and others felt. Still, I’m sensitive to issues of faith and I didn’t see the work as disrespectful, but coming from a specific cultural context. Not every Madonna need resemble 15th century Italian paintings. It hung there as one more large of piece of art in a major retrospective, with nobody bent out of shape about the style or message..

I did feel some surprise that some feminists didn’t protest the art. Besides the Madonna and a clump of dung (which Ofili uses in many other of his works), the piece has dozens of cut-outs from photos of female genitalia (think Kim Kardashian without the inhibitions) floating like fleshy butterflies on the canvas. In today’s superheated atmosphere of microaggressions, that aspect of the painting must count as off-putting. But I never found any complaints.

People and their perceptions can change. Giuliani grew from the Scourge of Eastern Parkway to the Champion of the First Amendment. The Holy Virgin Mary went from transgressive to acceptable (to most people, anyway). Apart from the security guard, it hangs peacefully and unobtrusively in the New Museum. Perhaps those so upset in 1999 have moved on to other issues, or they came to understand what Ofili was aiming for, or they just didn’t want to raise a ruckus.

Will Klinghoffer ever reach that status? I doubt the opera will have an impact one way or another on anti-semitism or sympathy for Klinghoffer’s killers. With time, however, the protests in New York may move more in the Holy Virgin Mary direction. If I were the team behind the opera, however, I would never want the pot to completely stop bubbling — a little rage goes a long way toward putting fannies in the theater seats. After writing about the opera, I may even try to get my hands on a recording and see what all the fuss is about.

 

Playing Reporter at NPR

National Public Radio wins plenty of criticism but the complaints usually have a vague tone. Grumbling without content. I listen to the news regularly, on WNYC in New York and WSHU in Connecticut. I usually shrug off the criticism; if you want any news on the radio, this is the place.

On Sunday I heard two stories on All Things Considered that got my antennae, as a former journalist, quivering. I never talk about to NPR but this time the marshmallow-style reporting sounded so blatant and skewed that I decided to share some thoughts.

Both stories dealt with issues that need attention. One focused on the difficulties faced by renters in a market with high demand and static supply. As a renter myself, my ears pricked up when I heard the story. The second was on a program in Los Angeles about a program to help young dads — as in mid-teens to mid-20s — cope with all the new pressures they face as fathers.

Let’s look at the new-dad story first. With the headline on the NPR site of “From Resumes to Romance, Giving Young Dads the Skills to Succeed,” it detailed a program that tried to meet the economic and social needs of new fathers.

Parenthood is often unexpected for these men. They weren’t planning to be dads, Blaney says. “They just get a lot of criticism and a lot of judgement from everybody in their family. So they basically just go from having a larger social support circle to none.” Most of the men who attend are between the ages of 15 and 25, though fathers as young as 14 have made their way through the program. Blaney says the men come from different backgrounds, but most of them are black or Latino and the majority of them are low-income.

Males in the program learn how to be good fathers, how to control their anger, and overcome their own lack of male role models. The piece scrupulously avoids certain words that, I imagine, might be seen as “judgmental” and hurtful to these youngsters. Those words are “marriage” and “birth control.” The NPR reporter positions the program as one answer for the problems, but never wants to explore the impact of a committed marital relationship. As a former reporter myself, I’d have raised questions that may has disrupted the sweetly hopeful tone of the piece:

  • How many of the males have married or plan to marry the girls they impregnated?
  • How many impregnated multiple girls and are now fathers several times over?
  • Do any face statutory rape charges?
  • What’s their understanding of birth control and do they practice safe sex?
  • What are they doing to prevent additional pregnancies?
  • How many of them are currently interacting with the criminal justice system? Why?

These questions may be rude, but they get to the heart of these programs. Unless you think teenage pregnancies is an unalloyed social good, then you want to prevent them or at least limit their negative impact on the parents, the babies and the public treasury. I get no sense that NPR wanted to address any issues other than guys dealing with their feelings and being better fathers. But husbands? Socially responsibility? Those topics must be either judgmental or beyond the realm of imagining for this population. Or maybe the reporter just lacked time to squeeze in some microaggressive topics.

The program on renting, also set in Los Angeles, which has the highest percentage of renters of any major city, was titled “Home, Food or Health Care: A Choice Many Renters Can’t Afford.” More renters are crowding into the city due to the foreclosure wave, but building apartment complexes is difficult thanks to antiquated and expensive zoning laws. As a result, those apartments being built serve the high-end market, where owners can recoup their costs.

So far, so good, NPR acknowledges economic reality. The story focuses on the Alvarez family scraping to get by in the working-class neighborhood of Boyle Heights. The story says,

Ymelda Alvarez, her husband and their two daughters live in a tiny one-bedroom apartment just east of downtown Los Angeles in a neighborhood called Boyle Heights. It’s not a fancy or trendy area; it’s a poor part of town with a lot of crime, and most of the schools are struggling.

Their apartment consists of a front living room converted to a bedroom, a small kitchen and a little room in the back with bunk beds for the kids. Other amenities include sagging ceilings, leaky faucets, doors that don’t lock and pests like cockroaches and rats.

For this they pay $1,000 a month.

But it’s currently their only option. Antonio, her husband, can’t land a full-time job and only makes about $1,200 a month from stringing together part-time work at a school nearby.

Mrs. Alvarez only speaks Spanish; what’s the story about her husband not being able to find full-time work? So the obvious question to me is, what’s their immigration status? While the article makes a reference to them waiting to get tax refunds, the story resolutely avoids the issue that leads to crowding in areas like Boyle Heights. In this era of accelerating border-crossings without much in the way of enforcement, those questions have to be asked. Competition for scarce job and housing resources, the criminal justice system, wage depression, education, clashes with other ethnic groups at the lower end of the economic and social bell curve, the degradation of the concept of citizenship, “white privilege” — all are questions that must be raised and the ones I’d ask if I were the reporter doing this story.

Call me a neocon or clueless or heartless, but those are the questions NPR avoid.

John Paul II, a Saint and an Inspiration

The elevation to sainthood of Pope John Paul II gives me a happy feeling. In his long and eventful papacy, he spoke to me on political and human levels.

He became the Pope from Poland on October 16, 1978 (my 21st birthday, by the way) when communism still ruled over Eastern Europe and Russia. He was subtle and tactically brilliant in confronting the Evil Empire and its lackeys in Poland. I recall that after martial law was declared in Poland in 1981, John Paul II warned Soviet leaders that if the Red Army invaded Poland, he would personally go to Poland to lead the resistance. Having lived in Poland during the Nazi occupation, he knew the value and costs of resistance. I hope I’m remembering the story accurately; I can’t find documentation for it, but the thought remains deeply lodged in my associations with John Paul II. He was fearless.

Fast-forward two decades. Poland is free, the USSR has been swept into the dustbin of history, and John Paul II is dying. Cancer, Parkinson’s Disease and assassination attempts all took their toll on the man. He was clearly ailing in his public appearances. In the weeks before his death on April 2, 2005, I remember walking past The Church of Our Savior at 38th Street and Park Avenue in New York, on a spring evening a few days before his passing. A large sign on an easel outside the church said, “Pray for Pope John Paul II.”

That made me think. The Pope no doubt had a great degree of spiritual peace in his declining days, sureness in what awaited him in the World to Come. But he still needed prayers, for recovery of health and his comfort. He kept hanging in there as Pope despite his decline. The thought that came to mind: Even if you have absolute faith in the certainty of an afterlife, you don’t have to be in a big rush to get there. Like the movie title says, heaven can wait; it ain’t going anywhere.

Life in human society, among friends and family, offers great rewards whatever the difficulties. I like to think John Paul II rather liked being alive right to the end and would go only when the proper moment came. Life is short, enjoy it while you can. The afterlife is long, so, so long.

His last words to aides on April 2 were “Pozwólcie mi odejść do domu Ojca” (“Allow me to depart to the house of the Father”). Finally, Pope John Paul II was ready.

 

Junior High Confidential: The Young Literary Reviewer Looks at “Across the Tracks”

Reading old journals offers endless pleasures. I found my inner literary critic at an early age, and I especially wrote about books that touched on the world around me. In the early 1970s, tales of vampires and werewolves and Hunger Games were decades in the future. Social realism attracted me. From September 18, 1971, at Mission Junior High School in Texas. I was 13 years old and had just started the 8th grade:

Finally, yesterday 2nd period, Mrs. Smith let us go to the library. I checked out a book, a paperback, that I noticed but never got around to reading. It’s called “Across the Tracks,” about this senior at a high school in South. Cal, Betty Ochoa, who wants to: 1) be accepted by the top social group at school (the Anglos) 2) help the tough, bitter gang leader, Pete Flores, before he gets killed. 3) she wants to bring gringo and chicano together. Though it has some faults (the author can’t go a page without having Betty  blush) + everyone’s always hugging each other, it’s interesting because, with only a few alterations, it could be Mission.

What to make of this? Even then I noted other books with similar themes of Anglo-Hispanic (today’s terms of choice) conflict. Everything seemed to set in California, Texas didn’t get much ink as far as I could tell, and what books did cover South Texas were of the Anglo-focused triumphalist sort. More realistic views of interactions in Texas now exist and I’ve read them, through the novels of Rolando Hinojosa, set in an imaginary landscape of South Texas. I tried to find out more about Across the Tracks, but online searching turned up nothing about this book that so caught the life swirling around me in my small town.

One of these days I hope to make my own contribution to the genre of life along the tracks of Mission, Texas.

Jan. 23 BlogTalkRadio Interview Coming Up on “Last First Date”

I’ll be interviewed on the BlogTalkRadio program “Last First Date” on Thursday, January 23 from 2-3 pm. I’ll be speaking with host Sandy Weiner on the topic of “Role of Religion and Spirituality in Dating.

Weiner is a speaker and dating coach who helps people achieve their goals. She writes about her approach on her website

I walk my talk. As a woman actively dating after my divorce, I bring first-hand knowledge and wisdom about what it’s like to be over 40, dating in the 21st century. Like you, I am navigating through the sometimes confusing world of online dating. I am always learning new ways to talk to men and get different results. I share my extensive knowledge with my clients.

I am a woman of action. I kick butts, but always from a place of love. I want you to rise up to your highest self. Therefore, I don’t settle for the same old answers or excuses. I challenge you to push yourself to do things differently and attract the love you want. And, I bring my warmth and sense of humor to my coaching, because if you can’t laugh at life, you’re in big trouble!

 

I’m looking forward to getting on to her program and digging in to issues of spirituality and dating, and how I got to where I am today (wherever that is).

 

Rolando Hinojosa’s Valley, and Mine

I can read, say, Philip Roth or Chaim Potok novels about Newark and Brooklyn and enjoy the literary qualities and the cultural sense of Jewish life in the New York region. I can hear the people talking, sense the family dynamics. But in reading Klail City, one of the short novels in the Klail City Death Trip series by Texas writer and academic Rolando Hinojosa, I’m reading about something more visceral and evocative — the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, where I grew up, in Mission. Even if, as Thomas Wolfe wrote, you can’t go home again, Hinojosa gets me close enough to feel the Gulf winds blowing across the fields.

Set in fictional Belken County, Klail City’s short, kaleidoscopic chapters recount the Hispanic experience in deep South Texas from the 1940s on, with historical glances even further back. Hinojosa grew up in Mercedes, Texas, about 25 miles east of my home town, Mission, both in Hidalgo County (I associate Mercedes with its annual Livestock Show and Rodeo, held every March for going on 75 years). Hinojosa describes a world that surrounded me every day but unfolded at a distance from mine. He writes

The number of Texas Anglos to be seen here is scant, but perhaps, understandably so. These fellow Texans of ours are out of place here; out of their element, so to speak. So to speak. The Belken County Texas Mexicans, on the other hand, are the majority, but this doesn’t mean they ignore the other population; they can ill afford to do so. For their part, the mexicano are usually ignored, although not always, true, and not forever either. (After all, what physical pain is there that lasts a hundred years?)

The geography hit me, with the Missouri-Pacific railroad tracks dividing towns into the Anglo and Mexican sides (I’ll use the terminology found in the book), with their own elementary schools. As in Mission in the 1960s, those schools’ pupils came together in junior high and high school, years of tensions and explorations.

Hinojosa carefully delineated the gradations of religion that are essential to Valley life. Catholics predominate, but Mexican Protestants are fully recognized as a culture of their own. Masses, revivals, Bibles, scriptural references weave in and out of the stories, as common as the carnal side of life seen through beer joints, pool halls, shotgun weddings of teenagers in the family way, the soldiers killed in Europe, the Pacific and Korea, war veterans gunned down by unrestrained and unpunished police, crooked politicians, curanderas (healers), the old men selling things on the street, seasonal migrations Up North. Hinojosa packs an enormous number of familiar touchpoints into the short book.

And I reflected on the names he summons from the depths of memory. Rafe Buenrostro, Bruno Cano, don Celso Villalon, Manuel Guzman, de Anda, Viola Barragan, Horacio Navarro, Maria Lara, Dorothea Cavazos, and the dead-accurate Anglo names like Liz Ann Moore, Lulu Gottlieb, high school librarian Miss Mary Jane McClarity, Choche Markham, the kind and good Tom Purdy of Michigan, and Sheriff Big Foot Parkinson. And, in an amazing bit of prophecy, Sofia Vergara — exactly like the actress. These just sample the roster of names. Many of them resonate with memories of friends and classmates and their parents, local characters from my version of the Valley. Dorothea, Maria, Elizabeth Ann, Horacio, Navarro — they’re all mental bursts of associations going back a half-century now.

I’ll see if I can find other books in the series to find out what else goes on with the characters simmering and stewing under the South Texas sun. My Klail City Death Trip is just hitting the road.