Sissyburgers

20 11 2011

When I was a kid hanging around the drugstore, reading comics off of the wire spinner rack, the old men there, at the fountain, would give anyone a hard time who asked for mayonnaise on their hamburger. “Sissyburger” one of them would declare in mock disgust. Well, I wasn’t a sissy, “Put mustard on mine! Please. Ma’am. Thank you.”

Of course, home alone, as a child, were I to suddenly be seized about the throat by hunger and no nearby emergency mom present with a remedy, I made a simple sandwich. Mayo…well, not really, pseudo-mayo plus sugar means Miracle Whip. Miracle Whip…in Texas we pronounced it more like “murkul”…Murkul Whip on white bread. I would always eat the crust off first, and no one was around to see me eating some kind of sissy sandwich.

As I grew older and my palate matured, “Why of course I will have aioli with my sprouts, toma-a-a-to and avo-ca-a-a-do on whole wheat, old egg. What else?” Then tragedy struck, I was pronounced allergic to dairy and to…EGGS? No way man, no effing way am I NOT eating eggs. But I stopped. And now I travel.

Maoynnaise, that classy old French dressing, is ubiquitous. I travel, a lot. And, in a non-scientific poll of myself…”Hey, Chadao! How often do you encounter sandwiches, in your extensive travels, old bean…how often do you find mayo on a sandwich? Or aioli in the classier joints?”

Chadao: “Nine out of ten times.” So, there you have it folks, in modern America (Murka in Texan) nine out of every ten sandwiches are dressed with mayonnaise or some variation thereof. And me with my allergies. You know, having food allergies is kind of sissy-like…but, for me, make mine mustard. And not that old French’s yaller (yellow), but good old backwoods Texas Dijon. Ha, none of those sissyburgers for me, no siree, and yes, I would like the sweet potato fries, thank you, ma’am.

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Ain’t Nobody in Here But Us…

11 08 2010
 Birds (class Aves) are winged, bipedal, endothermic (warm-blooded), egg-laying, vertebrate animals. There are around 10,000 living species, making them the most varied of tetrapod vertebrates. They inhabit ecosystems across the globe, from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Extant birds range in size from the 5 cm (2 in) Bee Hummingbird to the 2.75 m (9 ft) Ostrich. The fossil record indicates that birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs during the Jurassic period, around 150–200 Ma (million years ago), and the earliest known bird is the Late Jurassic Archaeopteryx, c 150–145 Ma. Most paleontologists regard birds as the only clade of dinosaurs to have survived the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event approximately 65.5 Ma. Wikipedia

Lake Sammamish

 I was idling on East Lake Sammamish Parkway two weeks ago, of a morning, with the beautiful lake on my left. My windows were down, my moon roof was open and just ahead of me some gigantic piece of earth moving equipment was growling and twisting and turning and pawing at the ground. Stop-sign-bearing worker bees in yellow plastic hats warned me to halt. Summer in Seattle is a time of never-ending road construction. The constant piddly-pitter-patter of winter rains wears at the roads and summer is the best time to fix everything. And so I was stopped.

 It was a nice cool northwest morning, and a Lois McMaster Bujold story was playing on my iPod. I enjoy, immensely, the dulcet tones of voice star Grover Gardner. No one can ever be Miles Vorkosigan but he.

Crow

I looked to my right, and on the sidewalk, a single industrious crow was worrying at some food. I looked closer and saw a spill of peanuts. The crow held a nut down with his foot and pecked, peck, peck, peck, until a chunk of goober pea broke away. Then it picked the piece up and lifting its bill, swallowed. Rinse and repeat.

 I love the way crows sometimes hop, two-footed, up onto the curb, down into the gutter, somewhat reminiscent of Chinese hopping vampires. This particular crow hopped about and eventually consumed two or three peanuts. Then above me…I looked up through the open moon roof, above me was a second crow, perched on the power lines. It cawed and the one on the sidewalk flew away. I do not speak crow and so have no idea what had just happened.

 Then crow secondo flew down and approached the peanuts. This guy was not so bright. First he tried to swallow an entire peanut in one gulp, choked, and coughed the nut back out onto the sidewalk. Nor was he a great learner. He went snatch, snatch, snatch, and gathered three peanuts into his bill and tried to fly away with them. But it was too many and they all fell out back to the sidewalk, where a third crow landed. I did not get to watch this one’s methods as traffic began to go forward, it was our time to creep past the earth machine, hoping it did not swallow us up or crush us.

Northwest Bald Eagle

 Just after clearing the construction area there was a flash in the air in front of me and a bald eagle swooped over the road with a fish in its talons and landed in a tree. Ha, ha, what a sight. I do love to watch bald eagles. [Strange interlude: There are two subspecies of bald eagles—I just learned this from Edward O. Wilson’s splendid autobiography Naturalist–Haliaeetus leucocephalus is the southern and nominate subspecies, the bird chosen as our national symbol—but I was looking at Haliaeetus leucocephalus washingtoniensis which is the larger northern subspecies Thank you Doctor Wilson for taking time out from your ants to look upward.]

 And thus we arrive at the point of this story, taking the round-about way as when I travel the road to work, winding along beautiful Lake Sammamish, always turning a short story into a long one…I love birds. Of all the animals creeping, crawling, slithering, flying…of all these creatures, I most love birds. Birds are beautiful. They are delicate. They are powerful, and fierce, and strong, and glorious. And smart. They are tool users—and, and, tool makers.

 When I moved to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, one of the first things I did was put up two bird feeders in my backyard. I had begun watching birds whilst living in Texas and loved me some mockingbirds and cardinals and hated grackles with a passion. But I was not familiar with the birds of Wisconsin. Then one weekend afternoon I was sitting in my den. A blackish-white kind of bird fluttered down to the feeder suction-cupped to my window (the feeder, not the bird). This bird spread its wings to break its descent and I was treated to a glorious flash of red chest and inner wing. It was a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak. Wow, this cardinal’s cousin was a beauty. And, as with many birds, the male is the gaudy one—just showin’ off.

 I love to watch birds walk, with different species having a different number of forward and back facing toes, they can walk in several ways. And those side-facing eyes are a marvel as well. When you think a bird is looking straight at you, it is not. When it cocks its head, one eye toward you, then turns that head so that the other eye takes a gander as well, then that is when you have attracted the attention of said avian. 

Male Cockatiel

Birds are smart. They are tool users. They are affectionate. They are social. I had a second-hand cockatiel for a number of years and I loved him dearly. He is my second favorite…I refuse to use the term “pet,” the animals in my life were my friends and my companions…anyway, only my beloved cocker spaniel, Pretty Maggie Money-Eyes was ever any dearer to me. And Maggie was really my daughter, not my dog, and I was her boy. But I digress…Terry the cockatiel was a friend. It took a while for us to get to know one another.

 A co-worker kept saying “My damned bird won’t die!” Over and over I heard this until I said, “Okay, I’ll take him.” I did not even know what a cockatiel was. This one was well over ten years old and books said the average life span was five. What was I getting myself into? Was I adopting some geriatric sack of feathers? And I had a cat. What indeed was I doing? That first night I sat in the kitchen with Terry’s cage on the kitchen table. The door was open and he slowly emerged. I had bought some millet. I soon found out that millet was Terry’s catnip.

Amazon

 My Grand Shifu had taught me how to handle birds when we did a photo shoot for Internal Arts magazine with a dove. Ha, Shifu had worked as a stage magician in his youth. You extend your index finger, bump up against the bird’s chest, and he walks straight forward and climbs aboard. The night Terry flew over to my shoulder, walked up to the back of my head and began grooming me was a great delight. Goose bumps sprung up.

 And losing Terry was a great sadness. I still dream about him, but he made it to 18, well beyond the average cockatiel lifespan. But I suspect this lifespan is so low because these parrots are cheap and owners have no respect and mistreat them.

Scarlet Macaw

 Of course, being the reader that I am, I devoured every book on cockatiels (there were not many) and subscribed to Bird Talk magazine and came to love the entire parrot species… psittacines, and loved to visit pet shops and interact with the parrots or simply watch them…and I got to know the keeper of the bird house at the Fort Worth zoo, and she would let me hold one of the scarlet macaws on a stick, they were stick trained so someone could not just stroll up, proffer an arm and walk off with one. 

African Grey Parrot

And I lusted after an African Grey parrot, but I was too broke, and they live so long…sigh, I read a story about a man who owned an Amazon. For thirty years the bird lived in a cage in the man’s den. Then the man died. When the house was sold and everything was being moved out, the movers picked up the bird cage and the Amazon began shouting “Help me, help me.”

 The last I read, African Greys are rated with an IQ similar to that of a five-year-old human, and the emotional level of a two-year-old.

 So, birds, I love them, and after living with one for so long I now look at them differently. And I enjoyed the hell out of watching the crows. Construction delays can be fun.

 Oh! And I almost forgot. Like it says at the beginning, they used to be dinosaurs. Effing DINOSAURS! Is that cool, or is it coolest? I actually had a dinosaur for a roommate. Glorioski.

 Hey, I also learned a new word. “Clade.” From Wikipedia: A clade is a group consisting of an organism and all its descendants. In the terms of biological systematics, a clade is a single “branch” on the “tree of life“. The idea that such a “natural group” of organisms should be grouped together and given a taxonomic name is central to biological classification. In cladistics (which takes its name from the term), clades are the only acceptable units.

David Quammen collected some of his science essays in a book entitled Natural Acts. A new edition is now available. Included is his essay “Has Success Spoiled the Crow,” on why crows get into so much trouble.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0393333604/ref=pd_lpo_k2_dp_sr_1?pf_rd_p=486539851&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe-1&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=0380717387&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_r=0R9H43EPRJJ7Q63Q8K1J





Of Mice and Mockingbirds

9 11 2009

Texas MouseA Twitter posting this morning reminded me of an occurrence. Years ago I built computers for a Texas company. My office had a back door opening on a side road. Our salesman used to toss all the wrappers from the many candy bars he ate daily into my trash can. At night, mice climbed into the can seeking the wrappers and could not get back out. In the morning I would pick up the can, walk across the street, and dump the mice in a field. One day I had barely returned when one of the mice came high-tailing it back across the street headed straight for my office. Down from the sky swooped a mockingbird. Bam, he hit mouse, swept up the sky with it, flew over to the field and hung the carcass from one of the barbs on top of a fence. I always thought there should be a moral to this story, but what?Mockingbird





Waltz Across Texas

23 05 2009
San Antonio Riverwalk
San Antonio Riverwalk

The spring Texas trip began with a flight from Seattle to DFW. Before changing planes I grabbed a Cousins sliced beef brisket sandwich. Nowhere but Texas, my friends. Also, many of the chairs in DFW airport have an unique design. Instead of long rows, they are grouped in fours with a table between every two chairs. A small thing, but if you travel a lot, this is a real convenience.

DFW Airport

DFW Airport

Then flying on to Austin and a short drive down to San Antonio. Last time I looked, San Antonio was the tenth biggest city in the country. It certainly doesn’t feel that way. The flight selection is terrible and the downtown area traffic is incredibly light. It is often easier to fly in and out of Austin. Of course, this knucklehead got lost for a while, driving back and forth between two toll booths. I had to stop and dig my shaving kit out of the trunk. That’s where I keep all of my change.

Finally finding I-35, I drove the short trip to San Antonio listening to Dan Simmon’s Hyperion on my iPod. The best thing about new cars is the auxiliary jack for iPods.

Visually, there is no separation between Austin and San Antonio these days just mile after mile of Dennys and Olive Gardens, chain after chain after chain. Sigh.

The hotel in San Antonio is downtown, just a few blocks from my next-day appointment. It was late when I got in and I decided to have dinner in the hotel restaurant. That was a bad choice. The food was terrible and some kids—teenagers—were sitting at a table next to me with a cell phone on speakerphone and chattering mindlessly to some brain dead individual on the other end. The waitress did not ask them to turn it off, but she did bring me a tumbler full of wine “on the house.”

Calling on the military distributor in San Antonio is always a delight. The buyer is knowledgeable and a good person, and we share many memories of publishing in Texas. The head of the company is a hoot, he is smart and funny with lots of personality.

Molcajete

Molcajete

Presenting our titles went well and then we adjourned to the Riverwalk for an early dinner at Boudros. This restaurant must have the best guacamole in the entire universe. They make it at the table using a traditional molcajete, lava stone mortar and pestle. The guacamole starts with ripe avocados, of course; finely chopped red onion; garlic; lime juice; a mixture of fire-roasted peppers, onions, and tomatoes; and…the juice of half an orange. Wow, this is stab-the-waiter-in-the-hand-with-a-fork-if-he-tries-to-take-it-away good.

The River Walk is a nice touristy attraction. I suppose it is the biggest thing in San Antonio. Lots of great food with boats toodling up and down the river, including boats with full dinners served. In April the temperature is in the low 80’s, so tolerable. Summers in San Antonio can be insufferable with temperatures over 100 and high humidity.

San Antonio has a swell history with great Mexican food all over the place. Chili, Texas chili, the real, genuine, original chili—that’s chili with an “i” my friends—chili began in San Antonio with the Chili Queens selling it on the street by firelight. No beans, just beefy, spicy goodness.

Of course San Antonio is also the site of the Alamo, the old mission around which every Texan rallies. Davey Crockett died there, and Jim Bowie, and the massacre of the colonists foreshadowed the battle of San Jacinto where General Sam Houston defeated Santa Ana and won independence for Texas. Funny, it seems like today most of the visitors to the Alamo are from Mexico.

Leaving San Antonio, I headed back to Austin for dinner with one of our authors, a very famous author. He and his wife have become dear friends of mine and I look forward to seeing them with great anticipation. Four hours at the dinner table turned out to be not long enough to cover every subject. What fun.

Boat-tailed Grackle

Boat-tailed Grackle

The next morning I stepped out the door of my motel room in Austin. It was warm and humid. A brown grackle was prowling in the grass at my feet looking for food. The air in front of me erupted as a mockingbird chased a boat-tailed grackle away from her nest. Yep, spring in Texas.

Mockingbird

Mockingbird-State Bird of Texas

Driving up to Dallas. Traffic is heavy, the roads are badly in need of repair, and thunderstorms are rolling in. Listening to the Groucho Marx version of the Mikado helps.

Stagecoach Inn, Salado, Texas

Stagecoach Inn, Salado, Texas

What memories on that stretch of I-35. It passes by Salado, a tiny town noted for the Stagecoach Inn, on the old road where the stagecoaches traveled—the swimming pool is spring-fed, and the wait staff has to memorize the menu, it is not written down—and then past the exit to Killeen where Fort Hood is located. The first thing I ever did as a Ballantine Book rep was to rack Fort Hood, all 13 stores, for Ballantine War Books. The brainchild of one of my mentors, Ian Ballantine, those books sold like crazy. I wish they were still in print.

Passing Killeen and Belton and Temple. Temple was the home of the local distributor and a great place to call on. Ha! Memories of one drunken night in downtown Temple with the book buyer. He drove and managed to bottom out his car on a concrete divider in downtown Temple under the innerstate. When you went drinking with him you were in for it. It always began at the Ramada Inn bar. Every time he finished his beer he ordered another, and one for you. Sometimes I would have three or four beers sitting in front of me. I vaguely remember winding up at a Czech dance hall one night. Times were different then. We would have wound up in jail…or dead, today. Now I won’t get in a car if I had even one drink.

On through Waco, infamous for the Branch Davidian fiasco. But I remember on my first road rep trip south traveling with the legendary Dink Starns, once described by publisher Tom Doherty as a “boulevardier.” Dink took me to some old bridge that used to be a main thoroughfare and we trekked down under the bridge so I can see a spring bubbling on the edge of the river. Dink taught me many things, including how to sell books.

Near Waxahachie

Near Waxahachie

I-35 divides at Hillsboro with the west branch leading to Fort Worth, and the east branch to Dallas. I go east past Waxahachie and the super collider that wouldn’t be. The condition of the road is horrible. Texas always took pride in their miles and miles of miles and miles of interstate and I am sad that the highway system has fallen into such disrepair. At the same time, around cities, they have taken to painting overpasses. What a waste of time and money! Let concrete be. Spend that money on road repair. Now everything that is painted will have to be repainted, or wind up looking as shabby as the roads.

Dallas traffic, as usual, is brutal. Drivers in Seattle are so nice I forget what it’s like to drive in an urban combat zone. You have to be alert, mean, and aggressive.

Up I-35 East past downtown Dallas and the insane interchange there. I exited when I came to Royal Lane. Lordy, how many times have I taken that exit…well I just couldn’t count them. East on Royal Lane, the businesses are even more decrepit than before. Looks to me like the general infrastructure in Texas is disintegrating, but I haven’t seen everywhere.

Bumping over the railroad tracks at Denton Drive. This always makes me think of my friend Gary, who was a US Treasury agent. He picked me up once, at Martin News, for lunch. As we toodled down Denton Drive, Gary kept honking his horn. He knew every hooker in that part of town. He told me a story about searching for a suspect with his partner in that neighborhood. It was Sunday evening and a little hole-in-the-wall church had just let out. It was a hot and sultry Texas evening. Gary and his partner had each bought a beer from a nearby convenience store and were sitting on the curb in front of the church.

One of the congregation, a prostitute, came out, bought a beer, and joined them on the curb. Her pimp walked up and started berating her for not being on the job. Well, this hooker just got tired of him, and pulled a straight razor. She slashed at the pimp, cutting his fancy outfit but missing flesh. In a flash, he took off across the tracks down through the bottoms. The hooker hiked her tight skirt up around her waist, kicked off her high-heeled shoes, and ran after him brandishing the razor. Gary and his partner watched them disappear into the distance. Then they turned and resumed their manhunt.

Martin News and a Boat-tailed Grackle

Martin News and a Boat-tailed Grackle

On the other side of Denton Drive there is a post office on the right, at the corner of Gemini and Royal.  A right turn on Gemini and Martin News is on the right. Everything is closed up and the fences enclosing the loading docks are topped with razor wire.There used to be a Dairy Queen across the street from the Post Office where we often ate lunch. Now it is Tacos and Teriyaki, whatever the hell that means.

Martin News was the book and magazine distributor in Dallas, probably since the 1930’s. It began with K.T. Martin, Sr., then his son K.T., Jr., “Bubba.” Bubba Martin was infamous for his temper, but he was also a clever manager of his business and it thrived while he was alive.

Some years after Bubba’s death, the family sold the operation to Anderson News, who recently shut their doors. See my previous blog “Give Me That Old-Time Magazine Distribution” https://chadao.wordpress.com/2009/02/12/give-me-that-old-time-magazine-distribution/.

Tacos & Teriyaki

Tacos & Teriyaki

I first caught sight of Martin News in 1975, when my boss at Trinity News, Garry Wilkerson, pointed it out as we drove past. Garry and I were on our way to open a new Century Book Store on Mockingbird Lane. Since then I spent much time, a whole lot of time at that agency, selling both magazines and books. They offered me a job once, managing a bookstore they were opening, but I declined.

So many of my friends worked in the business and Martin News was a meeting place, especially if you were a book rep. Regardless of other business, all book reps had to gather one Friday a month to show their monthly offerings to the book buyer.

Bubba, himself, did the buying for many years. You never knew what was going to happen. When I was with Ballantine, my boss from New York went in with me once, and got thrown out. I kept my mouth shut, and Bubba’s parting words were, “If I didn’t see Pierce back there working his ass off every week, I would throw you and every blankety-blank one of your books out of here.” Then we went out to the company car. My boss chewed me out for a while for not backing him up. To his credit, he eventually ran down and admitted that I had to work at Martin News and did good to keep my mouth shut. Ah, Fridays at Martin News.

Whataburger

Whataburger

Every time I visit Texas I have to have at least one Whataburger. So I traveled the back streets from Martin News over to Walnut Hill to a Whataburger that has been there since the 1950’s. When I lived in Texas, Whataburger had a jalapeno burger but since had dropped it from their menu. Now it is back. Glorioski!

The last leg of the trip involved a flight to Amarillo to call on Hastings Books. After all these years in Seattle I am always amazed at just how flat Amarillo is, up there on the caprock. Amarillo and Edmonton, Alberta are the two flattest places I have ever been. I mean flat.

I visited one of Hastings’ stores while I was there and was happy to find our Pathfinder books.

Amarillo

Amarillo

My return trip to Seattle went through DFW, but the Amarillo to DFW leg was cancelled and the new flight postponed several times. Hell is sitting in the Amarillo airport. Good thing I had a good book. Bad news is I had planned on eating barbecue at Cousins’ again at DFW, but my flight got in just in time to catch the next leg and head back to Seattle and rain and cool and the place I now call home.

 

We started off with Willie. Now Buddy Miles and Mike Bloomfield can take it on home. I just got in from Texas, babe, indeed!





Give Me That Old-Time Magazine Distribution

12 02 2009

When I entered the publishing arena stumbling headlong with eyes closed and arms akimbo in the mid-1970s there were over 400 I.D. s(Independent Distributor) in these United States. Every major city had at least one and there were I.D.s in many minor cities as well.

Each was family-owned and operated and most were very lucrative, supplying books and especially magazines to almost every worthy retail account within a certain geographic vicinity determined by common sense and a certain law-of-the-jungle respect for one’s neighbors.

Drug stores, grocery stores, and convenience stores made up the majority of the business. I was in Texas working sometimes for an I.D. and sometimes for a New York publisher visiting periodically in a periodical business that maintained itself on the rhythms of weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, and annual distributions. Like the months and the seasons the magazines came and went and some did well and some did not and some disappeared only to rise up again a year or two later.

I was in Texas and called regularly on Dallas and Fort Worth and San Antonio. Houston was always the bastard child—a large city that somehow never managed to profit anyone.

Then there were smaller cities with Austin a jewel-laden gold mine if I may mix a couple of metaphors—the University of Texas at Austin drew lovers of the printed word from all corners of the Lone Star State. And Temple, Texas, adjacent to the city of Killeen and Fort Hood with its captive audience of soldiers gobbling up the sophisticates and suspense novels and the old Ballantine War Books. The running joke in Texas is a rep would call in to New York, “I’m headed to Temple tomorrow.” New York would inevitably respond, most often sans humor, “Oh, I didn’t know you were Jewish!”

And to the east of Dallas was Tyler, the Rose Capital of Texas and Paris, which brought more geographical jokes from New York. Then on to Shreveport which was in Louisiana but more like an east Texas city, and Texarkana sitting on the “taint” between two states.

Then head west driving forever to get nowhere with everything flat and the bobbing up and down of the oil pumps, until you reached Lubbock with its cotton and up north in the Panhandle, Amarillo and the Llano Estacado and the purple sage of Zane Grey, and the beginning of the Great Plains with the wind howling down all the way from the North Pole, or so it seemed.

Then head farther  west until the small mountains begin and to Sierra Blanco and then El Paso which led the way to Juarez, Mexico and illicit delights and dangers and on through the pass into New Mexico and the far west.

 

Then not quite last down into the Big Bend country once described by a Mexican cowboy thus, “Where the rainbows wait for the rain, and the big river is kept in a stone box, and water runs uphill and mountains float in the air, except at night when they go away to play with other mountains…” And there at the crossroads where bees made the sweetest honey was the little town of Alpine, and the I.D. wholesaler would sit on the front porch of his house next door to the agency and he and his wife would watch for you if they knew you were coming and offer you a lemonade or a glass of iced tea to wash away some of that west Texas dust.

Now all of this is gone. Word has it that one of the last of the I.D.s, Anderson News who survived when the others did not by eating its neighbors before it could be eaten, has now itself ceased to distribute. And of all those I.D.s only Hudson News which was not quite so hungry and which settled into something of a niche servicing airport and other terminal newsstands throughout the country, only Hudson survives, along with Canadian giant The News Group.

Alpine, Texas

Alpine, Texas

Somewhere along the way, the anaconda that the distribution industry had become, in its insatiable hunger, swallowed its quarry feet first by mistake and the scrabbling claws and jutting ribs of a vanquished prey brought the behemoth low. And the world is a sadder place without all those people whose job it was to bring the printed word to the masses. We live in a time of great change and many giants of the earth are no more.

 

 

 

 

 

 





Blowin’ in the wind?

13 09 2008

I just watched dust devils on Mars! I know it sounds like a 1950’s science fiction film, but NASA has released a short–well, I guess it is a motion picture–stills linked together to show the dust devils. But this is on freakin’ Mars! And I think this is a great way to emphasize the presence of at least a little bit of atmosphere on Mars. Click on the photo!

I love dust devils. There is something mysterious and always very cool about them. They remind me of the energy beings in Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light: the Rakasha.

Many years ago, on a sunny and very hot day in Arlington, Texas, I was out walking with my friend Anna. The Texas wind is almost constant, and its blast furnace nature could burn the hide right off of you. Anna was from Chicago, but that incessant Texas wind used to make her a bit crazy. In those days, 1973, I believe, I had yet to visit Chicago, much less live there, and I didn’t understand. I thought Chicago was the Windy City. Of course, I had grown up in Texas and this never-ending, blistering blow was just everyday life.

Then we walked past a vacant lot that was mostly dirt and a dust devil suddenly sprang into being! It was huge, 15 or 20 feet tall. I was thrilled, and a little bit scared. After all, wasn’t a dust devil just a junior tornado? And we knew about tornadoes in Texas. This big devil was fat in the middle and it flung tiny rocks at us as it danced across the hard-packed lot. It was so cool, and so eerie. Maybe it was a Rakasha! And then it was gone.

Currently I am reading Ben Bova’s latest, Mars Life. I will review it elsewhere, but Ben brings the cold dead world of Mars to life and this animation merely adds to the thrill of off-world doings.

In April of this year I drove from Dallas to Amarillo, Texas, a distance of more than 300 miles. We used to say there was nothing between Texas and the Arctic Circle except a couple of mesquite trees and a barbed wire fence. Well, this trip reminded me of what flat was all about. And there’s not a whole lot just a’ sitting on top of that flat either. It was in the Spring and plowing had commenced. The dirt of far North Texas is rust red, shot-through with iron, and with little traffic and not much else besides an occasional hawk riding the air currents above the freshly-plowed fields, I imagined I was in a rover and driving across the surface of Mars. The roads are pretty straight up in the Panhandle, too, not much to get in the way of road building, but I rounded a slight curve, and off to my right was a Martian-red furrowed field and three gigantic dust devils at play in the Spring air. Oh how I wish I had photographed that.

And now, dust devils on Mars, coming soon to a theater near you. I can’t wait for the color version.