I live in Las Vegas Nevada now, but I was born in Texas, so there is a little bit of a cowboy in me. Sometimes I like to think that the little Rock and Roll god inside beat the crap out of the little cowboy in me and sent him riding off into the sunset singing old cowboy songs, but I know that’s not the case because that little cowboy shows up every once in a while especially when I’m having smoked bar-b-que. Another time he comes out is when that southern drawl slips from my lips. Now, I don’t know about anyone else, but when I hear a southern drawl it almost sounds sexy when it’s a female who has it, but when it’s a guy it just sounds a bit goofy – sorry if you’re a dude with a southern drawl, but I’m sure you understand what I’m talking about. There is still another way that the little cowboy in me makes his presence known and that’s in my memories.
Being from Texas I always wanted to go to a rodeo. I think a lot of young Texan kids want to see a rodeo or grow up to play for the Dallas Cowboys. The fact of the matter is that even though I wanted to go to a rodeo, I can’t really remember ever going to one. I came close to going to one once but being the mischievous, always finding trouble kid that I was I blew that chance. I don’t remember which of my cousins were with me, but I think the main was my oldest cousin Sara. For some reason Sara was the one that seemed to lead me into trouble as a kid, but she was also the one that gave me my greatest memories. I looked up to her and for long wished I could fight like her because even though she was a girl, she was tough and could beat the hell out anyone. I know that fact first hand because she used to beat the hell out of me constantly.
I was a young, innocent kid (much like I still am only slightly older, but still innocent) when I saw the first advertisement for rodeo, but this was not just any rodeo. It was a huge cowboy spectacular. In the commercial you could see all the things you would see in a normal rodeo such as calf roping, bull riding, and rodeo clowns, but this was no ordinary rodeo, it was an entertainment extravaganza complete with singing cowboys riding horses bathed in battery operated lights. It was like Ballywood musical with cowboys. The television advertisement made it look like a wonderfully strange adventure through the cowboy looking-glass.
As soon as the ads started on television so did my begging. “Pleeeasse” I begged my mom. “If you take me to the rodeo I promise to clean my room.”
My mom kind of laughed. “You’re supposed to clean your room anyway rodeo or no rodeo.”
My mind was racing with possibilities and things I could do or not do to negotiate. I had to see this rodeo and I would do just about anything to go. “How about I bring my grades up even in that stupid math class?” “You should try to do that anyway.” I could just not win with her.
Then I thought of the biggest sacrifice I could come up with. “How about if I work on my grades even that stupid math class taught by that mean, scary teacher Mrs. Duncan.” The look on my mom’s face told me that she didn’t like the fact that I refer to my math teacher as mean and scary, but the fact of the matter is that she was mean and scary. On my first day of school she wanted me to put my name on my folder, but the lead on my pencil had broken off. She barked orders at me telling me to sharpen it and to hurry up. I remember being so scared that I broke my pencil in half as I was sharpening it. I don’t think my mom cared that I broke my pencil because according to everyone Mrs. Duncan was a great teacher. I think it wasn’t that she was a great teacher, it was that the kids were afraid not to learn anything. Before my mom could say anything I quickly added, “and clean my room.” Now for the most ultimate sacrifice I could think of, “and I’ll even go to gym class every day even when we play shirts vs skins.” My mom kind of chuckled and I think she knew just how bad I wanted to go to the rodeo because for a small, chunky kid gym class on skins vs shirts basketball days was the ultimate torture.
My heart jumped and I couldn’t stop smiling when my mom simply said two words. “We’ll see.” I had been alive long enough to know that a “we’ll see” was as close to a “yes” as you could get. I had this rodeo in the bag. I was sure that weekend I would be watching calf roping, bull riding, rodeo clowns distracting the bulls as the bull riders scrambled to safety, and singing cowboys riding horses bathed in battery operated lights. It was going to be the best night of my life.
Sometimes, no matter how much you want something or what you negotiate to get it life screws you out of it. Sometimes you just screw yourself out of it. As the week progressed we convinced my uncle to take my cousins too so life was good for all of us. We all ended up at my grandmother’s house, which was like our home base. That’s where most, if not all, of our adventures began. It was rodeo day so it was a no brainer what were going to play that day – we split up into groups of cowboys and Indians.
It was a nice fall day with a slight breeze which had blown the dried leaves into a large pile in the corner of the alleyway next to my grandmother’s house. Now most kids will jump into a large pile of leaves when they see it, but we’re not like most kids. We saw a pile of leaves and our first thought was “those would make great smoke signals.” My cousin “Boy” was a resourceful kid he could find anything you ever needed and at that moment we needed a lighter. Sure enough, “Boy” ran away for a few minutes and came back with a big smile on his face as he held out a yellow, clear plastic lighter which was half filled with lighter fluid. I should have known this would not end well from the look on his face because it was the same look he had when he tried to spray paint a stray cat. Apparently stray cats do not like to be spray painted and will fight you all the way when you try to paint them. Boy ended up scratched and beat up with more spray paint on himself than on the cat. You would think he’s learn his lesson or that we’d learn our lesson from things like that, but according to my uncle we were thick-headed and thick-headed kids don’t learn lessons easily.
We all bent down on our knees watching as my cousin “boy” flicked the lighter on and moved the flame close to the dried leaves. The wind blew and the flame went out. He tried it again, and again the wind blew the flame out – being that I was living in the bible belt and my grandfather was a Baptist Preacher at that point I should have seen that as a sign from God. “Don’t set dried leaves on fire in your grandmother’s yard my child.” We all missed that sign. We huddled closer together to keep the breeze out and watched fascinated as the flame was lit again. Boy moved the flame to the leaf and we were transfixed, much like … well, much like a moth to the flame – hahaha
The leaf caught fire and boy dropped it on the pile. “Yeehaw!!” my cousin yelled in character, “It’s going to be a hot time in the old town!” As the leaf slowly started to burn he piled more leaves on top of it and the pile began to smoke. We all cheered as the smoke rose above the roof of my grandmother’s little pink house on Second Street. We began to fan the smoke, sending more black, grey clouds billowing into the air. For a moment I felt like an Indian sending a distress call to my tribe. I was almost afraid that real Indians like the ones in the movies would show up and be mad at us for calling them to the pink house on Second Street.
The smoke grew thicker and the cheering stopped as we started coughing. It was then that I noticed a small orange flame dancing on the pile of leaves. I didn’t have time to say anything before the flame raced across the top of the leaves, leaving little, broken trails of fire behind it which grew and continued the dance of flames. We looked in horror as the fire started to rise up on the wooden fence that separated my grandmother’s house from her neighbor’s house.
Sara ran for the water hose, but my uncle was already spraying the fire. Some of the neighbors had seen the smoke and called my grandmother so she sent my uncle to put out the fire. When our parents arrived to pick us up for the rodeo we were all sitting on the sofa with a downcast look. We knew what was coming. We all got in trouble and part of the punishment was that we were not going to the rodeo, but we still got to act like cowboys when we were made to help my uncle repair the fence.
The other day one of my co-workers brought in a new piece of equipment to the office– when I say equipment I mean a new toy and when I say a new toy, I mean a fart machine. It’s not just any kind of fart machine, or whoopee cushion - it’s a battery operated, remote controlled fart machine. That means you can set it across the room, hit the button on the remote, let loose and watch as the fun ensues. We hid it on the three drawer filing cabinet by the door and waited for people to walk in. The first person that walked in the office was one of the clinic’s social workers. As soon as she passed the machine my co-worker pressed the button and a loud farting sound came out from behind her. The social worker jumped up and looked at me with a wide-eyed, surprised look on her face, “Tony,” she asked, “what was that?”
I held my laughter and answered as cool and innocent as I could, “I thought that it was you.”
My co-workers started laughing uncontrollably, and to my surprise, she started laughing too. “I don’t think so” she said, laughing so hard that she was on the verge of happy tears.
Another social worker just happened to walk into the clinic at that time and the remote fart sounded again like a trumpet heralding her arrival. She is an older social worker with a sour face and lipstick that bleeds out the edges of her lips into the wrinkles around her lips. I don’t know if it’s because she’s older or because she doesn’t have a sense of humor, but she didn’t find the farting machine very funny at all.
disclaimer: not our social worker but it's a close match
The old social worker had a horrified look on her face as she turned to look at me, why do they turn to me when it sounds like someone farted? She then asked, “what was that?”
I gave her my standard answer, “I don’t know, I thought it was you.” Everyone laughed again except for the old social worker. The look on her face was priceless. It looked like I had just insulted her mother.
“I doubt that” she huffed. She looked around the room and in the most disgusted voice said, “You boys are just so disgusting.” She slammed the door as she walked out of the office which caused another round of men behaving like boys laughter.
I guess I’m getting older because I had forgotten just how funny farts are.
The next two people that came into the office were doctors. Doctors aren’t immune to the fart machine either, so as they walked by we pressed the remote and it sounded like one of them let one rip. The older of the two, looked around as the farting sound filled the room. The other, younger doctor started laughing as the older one asked what that sound was. It’s funny that everyone knows what a fart sounds like but when they hear it, they still have to ask what that sound was.
The younger doctor answered, “it was you and all that funky food you eat.”
“No it wasn’t” the older doctor looked around. His voice was defensive. “It’s some sort of device and it’s around here.” The doctor made a sweeping motion with his hand. “I’m going to find it and I’m going to rig it to explode.” He looked in the cabinets.
He looked under the outgoing mail.
He looked in the mailboxes.
He was frantically looking everywhere, but he couldn’t find it. “It’s got to be on a motion sensor.” He looked around some more but no matter where he looked he couldn’t find it. We had mixed it in with the box of supplies we had just received. He gave up and started to walk out the office. Just as he was about to walk out the door all you hear is PFFFFTTTHHH!!!! “I knew it!” He runs back into the office. It’s here somewhere.” He continues to look for it but the entire time that he’s doing so we just look at him as if he’s crazy and by this time I think he’s starting to feel like he may just be going a little crazy – it’s a good thing we work in the mental health department.
You can see the smoke trails of the afterburners in these pictures.
They look even bigger in the picture below. I don't know why but ever since I can remember I have always thought these were cool. I think that at one time I thought they were from a space ship from some distant galaxy - maybe bringing E.T. or R2-D2 to my house - hey, I was a kid when I thought those thoughts.
it's even better looking in real life
There always seems to be something going on in the skies of Vegas.
For example; I was on vacation and happen to take my nine year old nephew and thirteen year old cousin to the local Toys R Us – I tend to make a Toys R Us stop every time I go back to Texas, actually I tend to go to Toys R Us as often as I can – they love me there. On this trip I was lucky because they were having a clearance on all sorts of toys, including a few Lego sets. They had three bins of toys waiting to be bought. My nephew saw a small star wars Lego set at the bottom of the middle bin. I started moving toys, making a path to the Lego set. As I’m doing this a lady standing at the next bin starts moving toys as well, but instead of stacking them in her bin she starts to throw them into the hole of toys I’ve made trying to get to the Lego set. I’m not happy about it but I figure that I’ll let it slide because I’m not a confrontational type of guy. I figure it’s just as easy to move the toys she’s thrown into the hole I made to get to the Lego set as it is for me to make a scene about it. I figure her actions just show the kind of person she is, so I continue on my quest for the Lego set.
As I’m digging through the bin of marked down toys I feel something fly by the top of my head. It was one of those moments in my life where time slows down and everything seems to go in slow motion and last longer than it actually does. It wasn’t long before I realized that what flew above me was a small box of wooden building blocks. I just kind of looked over at the lady waiting for an “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to almost cave your skull in with some children’s building blocks.“ She didn’t say anything. She didn’t even look at me. All she did was continue to throw things toward me.
I looked at her and couldn’t believe that she didn’t even acknowledge what she had done or almost done. I said, “Excuse me, you almost hit me on the head with a box of building blocks”
She looked at me with a sour, pinched face. It was a look I imagined she would have after stepping in dog poo (I’m censoring myself otherwise I’d type the word “shit”) “well,” she huffed, “what do you want from me?”
I started feeling that thing in me snapping but I held back. “Well,” I began, “an ‘I’m sorry’ would be nice.”
She simply said, “I don’t think it would have hurt anyway.” She turned back to the bin and continued to blindly throw toys my way.
My young cousin started laughing and my nephew just looked at me. I could feel my snap, but I held it back – I’m kind of like the Hulk except without the green skin and muscles. I felt my passive-aggressiveness take over and I said, “I don’t think it would have hurt anyway.” The thing is that as I said those words it wasn’t my voice. It was a high pitched, nasally, high and mighty, I’m better than you voice. My nephew and my cousin started laughing. I’m like a little kid, when people start laughing at something I do – I keep doing it, so I continued mimicking the woman.
It wasn’t long before a short, overweight man with an iced coffee from Starbucks came up to me and said, ‘You need to stop talking about that lady.”
I looked at him and asked, “what lady? I haven’t seen any lady around here.”
He pointed at the woman who had almost hit me with the blocks. She was standing with his pregnant wife, so he was either her son or son-in-law. Normally, when things like this happen I try to find the path of least resistance and try to avoid conflict, but the snapping had begun and I was becoming the un-muscled Hulk. I took a step closer to the man, looked him in the eyes, and said, “I wasn’t talking about anyone.”
He stood his ground too and looked me back in the eye. “Yes you were. You were talking about that lady.” He pointed at the woman as he said that.
I knew I should have stopped it and just say I was sorry and let it all go, but I couldn’t help it, I was out to push his buttons now. “First of all, I wasn’t talking about her, I was mimicking her. Second of all, I highly doubt that she’s a lady.”
My cousin started laughing, which made the man angrier. I could tell he was getting mad because his bald head started turning a darker shade of red. I smiled at him because I’m a friendly guy not because when I snap I become an asshole. At that point I seriously thought he was going to throw his iced coffee at me, but then again probably not because it was from Starbucks and if I were to pay that much money for a cup of iced coffee there is no way I would throw it at anyone no matter how angry I got.
He didn’t throw the coffee at me but he did continue. “Is this really the kind of example that you want to set for your sons?” I think if it had been any other time I would have thought about what he was saying and stopped right there, normally I wouldn’t escalate something like this, but the truth is that it’s rare that I get into a fight and the feeling I was feeling at the time was… well, it was great. When I told my sister this story she knew exactly what I meant because she’s the fighter in the family (don’t tell her I said that). She said that it’s a feeling you can’t control once it takes over. I never felt that before, but a part of me was enjoying it.
I looked at the guy and responded with, “what about you? Is this the kind of person you want your kid to look up to? You don’t even know me and you come up to me wanting to start something.” I opened my eyes wide and continued, “I could be craaaaaaazzzzzy.”
The guy looked straight at me, “You’re just a dumb ass Mexican.”
Well, I have to say that I get mad when people ask me if I speak English or if they start speaking to me in Spanish just because of the way I look.
My brain wasn’t thinking as my mouth said, “You’re nothing but a fat-ass white boy bitch.”
The only thing he could say was, “and you’re the picture of health?”
I responded with, “compared to your fat ass I am.”
Oh man he got mad and for a second, just a split second, I thought he was going to throw the coffee at me. At this point his pregnant wife pulled him away saying something about it not being worth it.
As we continued shopping I’d see him in an aisle and he’d give me the stink eye, but he didn’t say anything else.
As we drove off I told my nephew and my cousin that they should not do what I did but do what I say. I said, “You never tell someone that they’re a fat-ass white boy bitch, even if they are. It’s just not the thing to do.” They agreed. I then added. “this should be something that we keep between us and not tell anyone” I looked at my nephew, “we especially should not tell Grandma what happened.”
They agreed to that too. “It’s ok,” my cousin said. “My uncles do that sort of thing all the time and I never say anything.”
I drove home to get ready for family reunion things when I hear my nephew say to my mom, “tony almost got in a …” he stopped there and looked at me, then asked, “should I tell her or not?”
The first day of vacation bible school we got ready and waited for the church bus to pick us up and take us to the neighborhood church down the street from my grandmother’s house. The first thing I noticed when I stepped into the bus was the fact that it was musty and smelled like a giant armpit. The other thing was that the kids who had already been picked up were singing a never-ending, off key version of Jesus Loves Me.
“Jesus loves me, this I know…” the kids sang loudly, but no matter how loud they sang they could not down out Lucy Lopez’s screechy voice. She sang louder than everyone else on the bus. It may have been the bus to Vacation Bible School, but it felt like the bus to hell.
“…red and yellow, black and white we are precious in His site…”
As we were walking to the empty seats, the bus jerked forward nearly knocking us all onto the aisle. I stumbled into a seat and my cousin Patricia was knocked into the space next to me. Soon after we sat down I felt the first kick to the back of our seat. I looked back at the dark haired boy with the mean look on his face and quickly turned back to face the front. I started singing along with the other kids but stopped when I felt the second kick. I looked at my cousin to see if she felt it too. From the look on her face I could tell that she had and she was not too happy with it. I continued to sing and tried not to think about the musty, giant armpit smell of the bus or the fact that some kid was kicking the back of our seat. Sometime between the bible telling us that Jesus loved us and that He was strong my cousin Patricia turned around and confronted the kid behind us, “Will you pleas stop kicking the back of my chair?”
To be honest I was so into singing the song that I had forgotten that the back of our seat was being kicked. I guess to my cousin the kicks built on each other until it got to the point where she either had to say something or she was going to blow up
“Yes Jesus loves me…” the kids on the bus sang.
“what if I don’t?” the boy taunted her.
“…Yes Jesus loves me…” I was singing when I felt two sharp pains on my left ear. The boy had thumped my ear, not once but twice. I turned around and looked him in the eye, “that was not cool man.”
He laughed and then made the mistake of tapping my cousin on her ear. He was flicking each of our ears until my cousin couldn’t take it anymore. She yells a scream that makes me jump at least two feet from my chair and makes all my toes curl up into little balls - I can imagine that they looked like mini corndogs at that moment. She then did something that totally took me by surprise. She jumped over the seat and started punching the kid - I didn’t know my cousin had ninja blood in her.
At that point everyone except Lucy Lopez stopped singing. Lucy thought she was God’s vocal gift to the words so she continued singing, this time giving the song her own flavor.
“Yeessss … oh yes, Jesus loves me ….meeeeeee…. He loves you too, but he loves me moooooooreeeee…” Lucy’s voice hurt my ears more than the thumps I had gotten from the kid behind me.
I found myself trapped between my cousin and the boy as they began to fight. I was getting smacked on the head by both as I tried to break them up. I was surprised because for a boy, the kid who had started the whole thing fought like a girl. His arms flailed in the air wildly as he tried to hit my cousin.
“Oh yes, yes, I said yes Jesus loves me…” I wish Lucy would just shut up, but that wasn’t about to happen anytime soon.
I don’t know if the bus started swerving or if it was just the commotion of the fight, but my cousin, the kid, and myself all ended up on the aisle floor. That’s when my older cousin Sara stood up from her seat.
To be continued...
Well moving on to the real subject of this post – one of the great things about working in the mental health building is that not only is this the mental health section and the people that come here are colorful, but the building is located right in the middle of one of the worst areas of the city. The reason this is great is because it’s like my friend, Zack says he likes to talk to people who have been through a lot because by talking to them you do learn something because they have something to say and different ways of seeing things. Believe me, there are lots of people who have been through rough times in around the area where I work.
I remember when I first came here one of the nurses was on break with me and she pointed to the gas station across the street (the one I was told was off limits to us) and she pointed to the dumpster next to the store and told me they had found a body in it. She also told me about a man who tried to rob the store and was chased by the cashier. As they were running the cashier shot the robber in the ass – I guess when he woke up that morning he didn’t realize just how much of a pain in the ass it would be to rob that gas station. The nurse then pointed to a stop light on the other side of the building. The same stop light that I had to pass going home. She told me that a guy was waiting at the red light and someone came up to the car and randomly shot him in the head. She went on to tell me about a body found behind our building. I told her that it would have been nice if someone had told me all this before I agreed to take the position, but what can you do? It is what it is.
Since working here I haven’t really seen any violence, but I have had encounters with some colorful characters. The other day I was outside when a very thin lady approached me. She was so thin that she looked like a skeleton with a thin leathery covering. Her skin was so thin that I was afraid that if I looked close enough I would see her organs through her skin. She had cornrows in her hair and as she approached me she smiled a toothless smile at me. I’m sorry but as I looked at her I imagined her being a living jack-o-lantern on a skeleton body. As she walked by me she waved her skeleton hand at me and said, “Hello baby boy.”
I didn’t know what to say so all I said was, “Hello.” She turned, gave me another toothless smile and a look like she could eat me…if she had teeth, then she continued on her way.
…and that is just the beginning of The People in my Neighborhood.