We came up with a whole cast of characters for the new book project – which will be more like a series of blog-posts or short stories about a semi-mythical little town in Texas: Luna City, whose football team is known as the “Fighting Moths” and eccentricity does not just run in the streets — it stampedes in them on a regular basis.

And I have a mock-up cover, to add to those posts about Luna City, which will appear on a regular basis.

Final Cover with Lettering

Welcome to Luna City

Welcome to Luna City

(So, the Daughter Unit and I were watching Northern Exposure last night, and I had an errant thought … what would a town like Cecily be like … if it were in South Texas? A charming and quirky place, full of slightly skewed, interesting people, with an eccentric history all it’s own. And before long, we had come up with Luna City, Texas, and a whole long cast of characters. This is going to be nothing like any of my other stories; rather more like a regular blog about an imaginary Texas town, and it’s inhabitants. Who prefer to be called Luna-ites, thank you very much. Enjoy. Eventually, this will be another book, but for now, perhaps just a short semi-weekly visit to Luna City.)

Tales of Luna City – Introduction

The little town of Luna City is not a city at all, as most people understand these things. It is a small Texas town grown from a single stone house built by a Bohemian stone-mason in 1857, at a place where an old road between San Antonio, Beeville and points south forded a shallow stretch of the River. It is not a place well-known to visitors, for Luna City makes very little effort to attract the casual tourist. They pass by the Tip-Top Ice House, Grocery and Gas on the old verge of the road to the south, perhaps note the four-square house of limestone blocks owned by the last descendant of the man who first drew up the plat of Luna City in 1876, and drive on towards their destination. The tea room and thrift shop housed in the front room of the old McAllister house is open only two days a week, which discourages casual visitors, but not anyone who knows Miss Leticia McAllister, who is the last woman in this part of the world who always wears a hat and gloves when she leaves the house – not just for early Sunday services at the Episcopal church. The formidable Leticia McAllister – always known as Miss Letty, even during those decades when she taught first grade in the Luna City Elementary school – is notoriously impatient.

On the occasion of the centenary of Luna City, Miss Letty and her older brother, Doctor Douglas McAllister – the doctorate was in history, which he taught at a private university in San Antonio – wrote a commemorative volume of local history, gleaned from the memories of the oldest residents; scandals, shenanigans both political and sexual, the last gunfight in Luna City (which happened in front of the Luna Café and Coffee) old feuds and new, controversies over every imaginable small-town issue – it’s all there in A Brief History of Luna City, Texas, published privately in San Antonio, 1976, price $18.25 plus sales tax. The Luna Café & Coffee still has a small and dusty stack of them behind the cash register counter, and Miss Letty’s tea room also has a couple of boxes in inventory. Dr. McAllister, whose puckish sense of humor was not appreciated by his sister, was dissuaded from titling it A Hundred Years of Lunacy in South Texas on the very fair grounds that other places possessed a history every bit as scandalous, and that it would somehow encourage local residents to be called Lunatics, rather than Luna-ites … and that simply would not do at all.

Luna City does not discourage visitors, exactly; neither does it welcome them effusively. Luna-ites prefer to take a quiet measure of such visitors who do venture into the heart of downtown, and treat them with exquisite Southern courtesy. Those who choose to remain longer than a quiet stroll around the square or stop for a lunch at the Luna Café & Coffee – never doubt their welcome. And if they fall under the spell, and stay , within four or five years, they are as established and respected as any of the original Luna-ite families … McAllisters, Gonzalez-with-a-z and Gonzales-with-an-s, Abernathy-who runs-the-hardware-store, Wyler-of-the-Lazy-W-Ranch and the rest. Luna-ites have no urge or need to distain relative newcomers. They know exactly who they are, and do not need proving it to anyone.

For a long time, especially after that tour in Greenland – thirty miles north of the Arctic Circle, among the rocks and glaciers, the ravens and the little furry arctic foxes whose pelts turned from brownish to pure white in winter – I rather liked Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover novels. Likely this is because I could relate very well, to being stuck in an isolated, cold and dim place, at the far end of the supply chain, far and away from sunshine, family and the accustomed amusements. I sympathized deeply with the Terrans who got assigned to that cold, forested planet with one dim red sun and four moons: seriously, Greenland didn’t seem very far removed or alien from all that. I bought several of the Darkover series from the Stars and Stripes bookstore in Athens, ordered most of the rest from the publisher later on, even essayed a couple of short stories myself, after reading some of the fan-fic anthology collections and thinking to myself, “Oh, heck – I can do much better than that!” I went as far as submitting a story for a new anthology, only alas, by the time I got to it, MZB had stopped doing them altogether, and the submission was returned, with the usual curt rejection letter also adorned with a stern warning regarding violating MZB’s copyright by committing fan-fic set in “her” world. Spending so much of those years overseas, I was barely aware that there were such things as science fiction conventions anyway. Only when I got to Salt Lake City, and discovered that the various local science fiction, fantasy and Society for Creative Anachronism enthusiasts held one downtown annually, did I find out about cons, or how much fun they were.

No, I never met any famous, near-famous, or even up and coming authors. Basically, the Salt Lake City con was more a chance for local fans to dress in costume, and maybe collect an autograph from an actor or two who played a character in one of the Star Trek iterations. Somewhere I have one from Armin Shimerman … who is a real hoot as a raconteur, and totally at home with playing a slippery character. Because, of course – as he said modestly, “They paid me lots of money.”

But long after I left the military, I still had a soft spot for Darkover, and ventured into The Mists of Avalon – being an enthusiast for things Arthurian from way back. I even bought some of the other non-Darkover books, including one which the Daughter Unit insists indignantly that I should not have ever let her read. This was The Firebrand – a retelling of the Trojan War from the point of view of the prophetess Cassandra. Part of the fall of Troy involves the incidental rape of a young girl, which horrified my daughter – even more so, to read this year of matters relating to MZB’s personal life and the ongoing abuse that her daughter was subjected to … by both parents, it seems. The matter of MZB’s husband being a notorious pedophile – and this being common knowledge among con-goers in the 70s and 80s came up in several discussion threads earlier this year in regards to the Great Hugo Sad Puppies Flap, to the astonished dismay of certain of us who had not been die-hard con-attendees or writers trying to break into any kind of mainstream – science fiction or otherwise – for more than the last decade or so. (The full horrifying testament by MZB’s daughter is linked here.)

MZB Book BoxThe term “horrified” just doesn’t begin to describe my initial reaction … look, it’s no news to me that there have been writers with rackety and disreputable lives, sometimes even involving courtrooms and prison sentences of varying terms, whether justified or not. But this is far, far beyond my toleration – perpetuating and turning a blind eye to sex abuse of a child … really, how much of that episode in The Firebrand drew on real life and first-hand experience, tell me? Looking back now — her books all seem to me to be tainted with a particularly ugly miasma. Certain passages, incidents and characters … I would have to close the book and walk away, now, for now they feel like something drawn on more than imagination alone.

No, I’m not going to rush out and burn those books of hers that I have, or dump them on Goodwill – but I can’t have them on my shelves now, even remembering what enjoyment I once took from them, or even some of the lessons in world-construction and story-telling that I gained. So, into a box they go, and buried out in the garage someplace far back in a corner. There are quite a few of them, I am rather astonished to see – the box is more than filled, and likely I will have to find a larger one, once we find that copy of Mists of Avalon. Yep, that goes, too.

 

Sunset and Steel Rails Mockup Cover Pics with titles (Been able to do some of my own writing, this weekend – Sunset and Steel Rails is proceeding apace; the tale of young Sophia Brewer — who has taken the surname of Teague and gone west as a Harvey Girl. Being a woman focused on her career, and still traumatized from what happened when her older brother gaslighted her, back in Boston … she does not realize that she is being quietly courted by Fredi Steinmetz – some forty years her senior and the owner of a nascent ranch near Deming, New Mexico, in the mid-1890s. She also does not realize at this point that she is connected to the Vinings of Austin. Because – her grandfather, Horace “Race” Vining – had two wives. Simultaneously. Not the done thing, in the 19th century.)

Frank Thurmond, at the reins of the buggy, followed Mr. Steinmetz’ horse, going up a narrow and dusty track which first crossed the arroyo and then re-crossed it so many times that Sophia lost track. A thin trickle of water ran from pool to pool somewhere in the center of a stretch of tumbled rock and gravel, as the narrow worn track mounted gradually into the foothills. The abrupt and jagged slopes of a brief mountain range frowned down upon them from above – hard blue shapes, as craggy as if chipped from slabs of glass.

Almost imperceptibly, their party had mounted up into the foothills – still gently rounded hills, hardly worth the name, but the horses were at some little effort to pull, and by this Sophia knew they were going up. They came around to the top of a low knoll, and there appeared a distant aspect of Deming some distance and below, lay out to their eyes as if in a life-sized bird’s eye view map. The sun struck distant silver glints from the turning windmill wheels – that and a few birds wheeling on motionless wings high in the sky above being the only sign of life.

“Only a little farther,” Mr. Steinmetz reined in, and spoke over his shoulder. “See the top of that tree? There are a couple of cottonwoods up there, by the only year-round spring that I can find. I’ve come up sometimes of an early morning, hunting venison, but haven’t bagged one yet. I always change my mind about shooting them, when all they want is a nice cool drink of water.”

“You’re disgustingly sentimental, Fred,” Frank Thurmond observed, in slight disparagement. “Animals were put on earth so that we could make use of ‘em.”

“I do make use of them,” Mr. Steinmetz responded, without heat. “It gives me a mighty pleasure, to sit and watch them, fine and strong and proud, going about their business.”

“You’ll go hungry in winter, Fred,” Frank Thurmond replied, and Mr. Steinmetz laughed.

“What use is it to me, to gut and dress a whole deer, and smoke the meat over a fire, since it is more than I can eat in a month myself, when I can just go into town and get a good meal at Fred Harvey’s without a tenth of the trouble? Priorities, Frank. Priorities – now that I have the luxury, I might as well take full advantage.” He grinned at Sophia, who said – moved by sympathy for small and large wild things and approval of Mr. Steinmetz’ sensibilities,

“I think it very fine of you, to do so. There are wise old philosophers who sat that it is healthier and even morally superior to abstain from meat in any form.”

“I won’t say that I take it that far, Miss Teague!” Mr. Steinmetz laughed so heartily that Sophia might have taken offense; save that there was not a hint of insult in his words or tone. “I am in the cattle ranching business, after all. And I relish a good bit if beefsteak, or a pork cutlet as well as any man … most especially when it is cooked in a Fred Harvey kitchen and brought to me by one of his pretty waiter girls!”

“It is always a pleasure to set a meal before a man who appreciates good cooking,” Sophia replied, only realizing when the words were out of her mouth that she did sound terribly flirtatious. But it was not Mr. Steinmetz who took another meaning from that, but Eleanor Woods, who blurted, in tones over which a slight touch of frost hovered,

“I did not realize, Miss Teague – that you were employed by the Harvey House. You seem like such a respectable person.”

“Miss Teague is a respectable person, Ellie,” Lottie Thurmond leaped into the conversation with a tinkling little laugh, turning her head from the front seat of the buggy where she sat next to her husband. “And I relish her company very much. She is one of these New Women that you read so much about in the magazines.”

“I suppose so,” Eleanor Wood’s voice thawed slightly, although she still sounded dubious. “It doesn’t seem quite right to go away from your family, and work for wages …”

“I’m an orphan, with no close living relatives,” Sophia replied, as if by rote. “I consider Fred Harvey as my family.”

“But still,” Eleanor Wood persisted. “It still seems very strange – even if for family, doing work in the public sphere. A woman’s proper place is in the home …”

Mr. Steinmetz snorted in derision. “Tell that to my sister and niece – they worked in the family general store, while my brother-in-law and I drove freight wagons. Later on, when my niece married, she took to trailing cattle north with her husband … and the Vining boys – their mother kept a boarding house, and she was a very fine woman indeed, by all accounts. You’d meet the finest sort of folk in Texas at her table. No angel of the hearthside business for them. There was too much to do.”

“But that was in the West, before everything was settled as it should be,” Eleanor Wood argued. “Conditions were different than in the east, then…”

“So they are still,” Lottie Thurmond agreed. “And may continue to be, for I favor such a wider degree of freedom, and I am certain so does Miss Teague … is this your darling little spring, Fred?”

During that conversation, the buggy had come around another turn in the rough track, and now they looked full on a steep rock hillside, with a pool of water at its base, rimmed by smaller rocks, and stands of water-loving reeds. A narrow white thread of water fell down through a ragged cleft between two rock faces, which were painted with small blotches of velvety green moss. The sound of the water, splashing and chuckling to itself was musical, entrancing as the scent of cool fresh water – cool water and a patch of green grass. The leaves of the poplar trees rustled in the light breeze over their heads. The air in the little dell felt deliciously damp after the aridity of the open desert around town. The wagon track went no farther than here, for the hillsides closing in all around were too precipitous for any but a single man on foot. The little dell was adorned with some bright green vines, spotted with red and blue flowers, hanging along the steep rock slope, and a few straggly bushes covered with yellow blooms which looked like daisies – as lovely a wild garden as could be wished for in the west.

“It’s beautiful!” Sophia’s breath caught in her throat, overwhelmed by a sudden longing for the verdant green of the east. Mr. Steinmetz hastily tied up his pony, and reached up to help Sophia down.

“Do you really think so?” he asked, and Lottie Thurmond replied,

“The most perfect place for a picnic luncheon can hardly be imagined than your little paradise, Fred.”

“It is the most perfect place,” Sophia echoed, and it seemed that Mr. Steinmetz was most ridiculously pleased by her approval. Lottie, looking on them both with a certain amount of approval, continued briskly.

“Fetch us down the basket, Fred … and the rugs. Frank wishes to try his hand with his new fishing rod…”

“There aren’t any fish there save minnows,” Mr. Steinmetz warned and Frank Thurmond hissed, “Not another word from you, spoil-sport!”

Mr. Steinmetz shook his head in pity, and handed down little Ellie from the buggy.

“There are some tiny little frogs, though,” he added. “And one morning, I saw a wild jaguar-cat come down to drink.”

Ellie gave a small squeak of dismay, and her mother exclaimed,

“Surely there is not any danger to us, Mr. Steinmetz!”

“Only if it diverts you to think so, Mrs. Wood; they are nocturnal creatures and normally very shy.” He sounded exasperated; Sophia recalled his impatience with what he called female megrims. Of course, as a man of the world and long experience of the west, he would have encountered many more ferocious and dangerous animals.

“I would love to see such a beautiful creature as a jaguar,” she said, feeling slightly breathless. “Not as in a zoo, as in Boston … but wild and free; here – just as you observed the deer.”

“He won’t come today, that I can assure you, Miss Teague.” He smiled at her, the corners of his eyes crinkling in a most endearing way. “Wish that I could whistle him up for a visit here, just for you. Perhaps another time?”

“Perhaps, Fred,” Lottie replied, just as brisk. “Sophie and Eleanor, my dears – can you assist me with setting up our feast? The gentlemen are hungry – there should not be any great labor involved, for my cook has packed every kind of delicious food, and it will not take any time at all.”

“Miss Teague is well acquainted with the method of serving food in a small amount of time,” Eleanor Wood observed, in a tone of lazy malice, but there was no sting in it, and Sophia – overtaken by a sudden fit of school-girl emotion – stuck her tongue out at her, behind Lottie’s back. Eleanor Wood’s expression went through a brisk series, from startled, through pique, and then to rueful humor. She stuck out her own tongue, and then both of them burst into giggles.

“If you are both quite finished with being juvenile,” Lottie observed, without turning around, “The gentlemen are hungry. And so am I.”

“The schoolmistress has eyes in the back of her head, so she has!” Eleanor whispered, Lottie stated, without turning around, “No – only one which works properly to the front, but my hearing is extraordinarily acute,” whereupon all three women dissolved into giggles. Young Ellie and the two men regarded them, baffled – as if they all had gone quite mad.

 

To further the current work in progress, I am re-reading Erik Larson’s Isaac’s Storm

1871 Birds-eye View Map of Galveston

1871 Birds-eye View Map of Galveston

– a gripping and almost novelistic account of the hurricane which struck the Texas Gulf coast city of Galveston on Saturday, September 8th, 1900. The Isaac of the title is Isaac Cline, the resident meteorologist in Galveston for the U.S. Weather Bureau – who paid a devastating price – the loss of his heavily pregnant wife when his house was swept away at the height of the storm – for miscalculations made; miscalculations made both by himself and by the Weather Bureau headquarters policies in far-distant Washington DC.

That 1900 storm still stands as the single deadliest natural disaster ever to strike the United States, with a death toll equal of all later storms combined; at least 6,000 in Galveston alone – a quarter of the population at the time – and along the Texas coast. The storm surge went for miles inland, and may have carried away another 2,000, whose bodies were never found – and never reported missing, as there was no one left to do so. Galveston Island – a coastal sand-bar, little more than eight feet above sea level at its highest point – was a busy and strategic port. At the turn of the last century, it was the largest city in Texas; a center of commerce, transportation hub and port of entry for immigrants coming into the Southwest by sea. Galveston was connected to the mainland across a normally placid lagoon by three railway trestles. Although the rival port city of Indianola, farther west along the Gulf Coast had been wiped out by a pair of hurricanes fifteen and twenty-five years before, generally the citizens of Galveston were complacent, comfortable in the belief that any storm – and they had easily weathered many of them – was readily survivable. And after all – this was a new century, one marked by unparalleled technologic and scientific advances! So a sea-wall proposed by certain concerned citizens was never built; indeed, Isaac Cline had written an article for the local newspaper in 1891, arguing that such a wall was not necessary; it was impossible for a storm of sufficient destructive intensity to strike Galveston. And he, of course, was an expert.

And so were the U.S. Weather Bureau experts – and fiercely proud of it, although telegraphic reports of weather

A single house near the beach -- the only one still standing

A single house near the beach — the only one still standing

phenomena upon which authoritative forecasts were based tended to be spotty – especially when ocean-going ships and foreign countries were involved. For fear of the “crying wolf” effect the Weather Bureau also frowned on what they held to be overuse of terms such as “hurricane” or “tornado” lest those in the path of a project event be panicked unnecessarily – or to become blasé about such warnings. By the first few days of September, 1900, Isaac Cline’s office in Galveston began to get warnings regarding a tropical storm system moving in a northerly line over Cuba – but forecasters at the bureau believed the storm was moving in a curved, northerly line which would take it across Florida, up the east coast and then out into the Atlantic again. They disregarded predictions by weather observers in Cuba who insisted that the storm system would continue westerly, impacting against the Texas Gulf coast.

The weather was warm, as it always is at this time of the year in Texas – the waters of the gulf were as warm as bathwater. And those existing yet relatively unnoticed conditions were enough to boost the tropical storm to lethal strength. On the morning of Saturday, September 8th, weather conditions seemed like nothing special; partly cloudy skies and heavy if not particularly frightening swells along the outer edge of the island. Perhaps at that point, no one was particularly worried, although in hind-sight, some residents did own to apprehensions. The movie director King Vidor, then just six years old, later wrote of how the water of the lagoon and the sea appeared to mound up on either side of the town by mid-morning as if Galveston were at the bottom of a bowl and the water about to spill over the rim.

And then it began to rain – at first much welcome – the temperature dropped and the winds picked up. Still no one worried, very much. Children were entranced by how the water in streets paved with wooden blocks began to fill with water, which lifted and floated the paving blocks, a sea of bobbing corks. They splashed happily in that water, but by mid-morning, if anyone had begun to be frightened, it was already too late. Water from the gulf-side and the lagoon began flowing in the main streets, sheeting over the raised sidewalks in downtown Galveston. Heavy waves were already falling on the sand shore of the outside of the island, where protective dunes had been scraped away to fill in and level the rest of the island. Gusts of wind began slamming against storefronts with brutal force. Around midday the bathhouses, small restaurants, and souvenir stores along a boardwalk along the Gulf shore known as the Midway began disintegrating under the assault of the surf. People were a bit nervous at seeing the water in the streets rise so swiftly, at the destruction of the Midway – but for most residents, it seemed as if this was just another tropical storm, of which Galveston had weathered so many.

Brick high school - damaged but still standing

Brick high school – damaged but still standing

Until the collapse of Ritter’s Café and Saloon, a popular eatery in the heart of Galveston’s commercial district. The café was on the ground floor of a substantial two-story building which housed a print-shop in the second floor. A particularly violent gust of wind ripped off the roof; the sudden decompression apparently bowed the second-story walls sufficiently for the floor beams to pop loose … and the heavy printing presses, beams and fittings of the print-shop crashed down on patrons of the café below. Five diners died instantly, another five injured so badly that the café’s owner sent a waiter for medical help … and the waiter drowned in fast-rising water. The morning train from Houston arrived, with considerable difficulty, inching across the railway trestle that spanned the lagoon, passengers watching nervously as the water washed back and forth under the rails. One of those passengers was David Benjamin, a senior executive of the Fred Harvey Company, who had business to do in town – where Fred Harvey maintained one of their popular rail-station restaurants; Mr. Benjamin had an appointment in town and went to make it, although to his exasperation, the man he was to meet did not. Mr. Benjamin returned to the Harvey House – considerably sobered by the sight of the body of a dead child, washing into the railway station.

The second scheduled train, from Beaumont City, never even got that far, being stymied on arrival at the ferry landing, where a barge would carry the entire train; engine, coaches and all – from Bolivar Point across to the Island. The water was too violent for the captain of the ferry to dock and run the train onto it. The train reversed, going back the way it came, until stranded by rising water near to where the Point Bolivar Lighthouse stabbed a lonely finger into the sky. The inhabitants of Point Bolivar – all two hundred of them – had already taken refuge in the lighthouse, crammed two and three onto the narrow spiral staircase inside that stout tower. Ten passengers from the train braved the winds and increasingly higher waters, slogging the quarter mile or so in the flat open plain to join them, saving their own lives thereby, for the storm surge eventually overwhelmed the train; the remaining passengers and crew all were lost.

 

By the middle of afternoon, anyone paying attention already suspected that things were about to get very, very bad. One of Mr. Benjamin’s fellow passengers taking shelter in the railway station had a pocket barometer in his luggage, and commenced to take readings, as his barometer – and that at Isaac Cline’s weather station on the roof of the Levy building began to fall, and fall, and fall even farther, to the point where some observers began to think the instruments must be defective. Long afterwards, weather experts estimated the winds to have blown at 150 miles per hour with gusts reaching 200. There was no way to be certain, as the Weather Bureau’s anemometer and rain gage were blown off the top of the Levy Building and destroyed early in the evening. The sky turned so dark that it seemed to some as if dusk had already fallen. The wind whipped slate tiles as if they were shrapnel. At about two in the afternoon, the wind shifted from a northerly direction to the northeast; over the next hours, the water came up and up, higher and higher, driving people into the second floor of whatever they had taken refuge in – assuming that they had a second floor. The streets and gardens of Galveston became seas, studded with wooden flotsam and wreckage … and just short of seven in the evening the water came up four feet in as many seconds. The meticulous observer Isaac Cline noted the rise of water against the dimensions of his own house, calculating that it was now over fifteen feet deep and still rising. But he was certain that his house would withstand the storm, constructed as it was on deep-driven pilings.

Unfortunately, he had not considered the effect of the storm – wind and water between them driving an irresistible

Swept clean by the storm - afterwards

Swept clean by the storm – afterwards

moraine of debris into the residential area where his house stood – lumber and wreckage from other houses, reinforced with heavy timbers from the destroyed Midway, iron street-car rails, and uprooted trees. Every fresh wave pounded that mass farther and farther inland, a leviathan grinding up and adding more wreckage to the mass, until it towered almost two stories tall and stretched across the middle of town. Eventually, it overwhelmed the Cline residence, throwing Isaac, his wife and three daughters and his younger brother who also worked at the Weather Bureau into the turbulent water. They all survived, save Mrs. Cline, whose body was unearthed three weeks later. The merciless waves also destroyed the orphanage a little north of town, run by the Ursuline sisters; smashing the range of buildings, as the ten nuns herded the children into the upstairs dormitory farthest from the seashore. Each sister had lashed seven or eight children to themselves with clothesline, all in a line like ducklings after their mother, in a vain attempt to keep them together and safe, but the sea came into that last refuge and the only orphans to survive were three older boys who managed to scramble into a tree. At least 3,600 buildings were smashed, leaving those fortunate enough to survive without much shelter when Sunday morning came – a calm and mild day, considering the fury of the night before.

The bridges to the mainland were gone, the telegraph lines destroyed, it took a small delegation of local men, traveling in one of the few ships in port which had survived the storm to limp across the bay and travel up to Houston, from where they could send telegrams to the governor, and the president of the US. Residents of Houston had already surmised the need for help, and sent rescue parties to Galveston. The first train to try reaching Galveston could come no closer than six miles from shore, reporting that the coastal prairie was strewn with debris and corpses, and a large steamship stranded two miles inland.

Galveston did rebuild, of course. The seawall first suggested and rejected after the destruction of Indianola was constructed; sand was dredged from the bay and used to raise the level of the island nearly twenty feet. With a great deal of trouble and effort, 2,100 of the surviving buildings were elevated. All of this proved their worth when another hurricane struck dead on in 1915, with comparatively minor casualties. But dredging of the Houston Ship Channel to accommodate ocean-going ships spelled doom for Galveston as an important player in commerce and shipping. It’s still a nice seaside town, historic as all get-out, and with a pleasing situation – but not half the place it was on September 7, 1900.

 

21. July 2015 · 2 comments · Categories: Domestic

As in – stuff happens. I’ve not been posting so much, as Blondie AKA the Daughter Unit and I are coming down the home stretch – maybe, hopefully, eventually – on a huge autobiographical project for a Watercress client. This client, to put it kindly, has had an interesting life, with lots of interesting friends, and is situated economically far up enough on the scale of things to be able to get exactly what he wants, and to pay the full freight for it. This is a project which … well, it took up about half a year, just getting to the point of writing up the contract, then lay fallow for another year, during which I about wrote it off entirely, and then in October of 2014, we had a signed contract and a check … and a possible deadline of April of this year, which we have blown pretty much past. The professional ghostwriter for this magnum opus has been working on it for more than six years, so I have no reason to feel especially burdened.

Almost the last bit we have to do is to carefully review the hard-copy printed version, and track down and ruthlessly slaughter any remaining misspellings, punctuation omissions, and spacing issues. Yes – I am training up Blondie/Daughter Unit in the detailed ways of the Tiny Publishing Bidness, and pinning her foot to the floor, metaphorically speaking, in learning the Ten Commandments of Watercress, better known as the Chicago Manual of Style. So – that’s been the main project this week, that and finishing off the last of the Armoire project. Yes, the armoire which we scavenged from the curb slightly ahead of the professional junker who had his eye on it, is all but done – all but the lower skirting on the right and left sides. The final item waiting the armoire’s final transformation into a media cabinet was that we needed to build the shelving unit to hold the TV, and a collection of DVD’s, which would fit into the armoire like a hand sliding into a well-fitting glove, and of course I am not well-paid sufficiently as a writer to be able to whistle one of those up from a bespoke cabinet-maker.

Off to Home Depot/Lowe’s, once the payment for another project was accomplished, armed with a set of measurements and an idea in mind for a set of shelves to fit a single row of DVD cases – with two smaller half-width sliding shelf units, which would shift from side to side, thus eliminating the need to stack them two-deep … which is a major pain, and makes it extremely difficult to locate certain movies, which I ABSOLUTELY KNOW that I have, but which I cannot locate under the current system. The nice and faintly harried young salesman at Home Depot obligingly cut the sheet of cabinet-grade plywood into the shapes needed for the main cabinet, but the smaller scraps had to wait upon the courtesy of our near neighbor, the amateur wood-worker, who has a whole garage full of tools, and a monumental half-finished chest made of native cedar planks that he is constructing as a wedding present for a nephew, which will be the woodworker’s marvel of the world once that he gets finished with it. (Yes, for every artistic masterpiece in the world, there is an artist … and another one who tells him that he is DONE!) Anyway, the neighborhood woodworker obligingly ripped the plywood scraps into a number of 5 ½” wide lengths, from which we constructed the two half-width moving segments. We assembled and stained them to match the armoire, discovering in the process that we absolutely suck at applying glue – as there are too many patches where the excess glue soaked in to make a really professional-appearing final product once the stain was applied. It fits quite neatly into the armoire – but on continuing consideration, we think that we will remove the rollers underneath, before we go any farther. They make it too tippy, too unstable, even with the shelf unit inserted.

The kitchen as it stands now - a black hole of clutter

The kitchen as it stands now – a black hole of clutter

But still … what we have is useful, and doesn’t look all that bad, considering. Which brings us up to the eventual kitchen renovation; since we had a fairly easy time building the shelf-unit, what with everything cut to exact size … how hard would it be, to hire the neighborhood Handy Guy (who helped us install the Marvelous Carved Front Door) to build the cabinet frames for base and wall shelf units? The kitchen is such an odd and small size, and our requirements – for instance, for the wall units to go all the way up to the ceiling – unlikely to be met by prefab cabinets. It was simple enough, making a plain box of a certain dimension from a sheet of cabinet-grade plywood. Looking around, it seems that door and drawer units in custom sizes, plus tambour door kits, plate racks, and pull-out pantry shelves are readily available for much less than the cost of a complete cabinet unit. We’d also have to do this in segments over time – wall cabinets, kitchen floor and base cabinets in two sections, countertop, tile backsplash and sink … and this way, when we were done, all of it would match. It would about double the storage space in the kitchen, once completed. So – that’s the plan; now to see what Handy Guy says.

Armoire Lock with KeyOk, so the armoire is all but finished – all but the skirting boards around the bottom sides. We even went toddling off to a favorite antique store (Back Alley Antiques, on Thousand Oaks, just short of Blanco) in search of a key …my daughter had taken off the lock/latch to clean it up, and I had the idea to take it Back Alley Antiques – which has has lovely and original items, and usually rather reasonably priced, although I will only be able to indulge myself there if and when my books start selling like Fifty Shades of Grey (hah!). I did a talk there a couple of years ago for members of a book club who all appreciated antiques. Anyway, we took the lock/latch with us, and explained the situation to the manager – who immediately brought out a large box of skeleton keys, said that we were very clever to have thought of bringing the latch – and let us sort through the box to find one which fit! It took us about five minutes to find several that did, another five minutes to make certain that one was the best. I am still not quite sure how I got the idea that an antique store might have a box of odd keys laying around – maybe from when I worked at Talbot’s, and we had a box of odd and ornamental buttons that had come off things?

Now comes the fun part – aside from reconstructing and recreating the skirting boards – that of building a small set of removable shelves to fit into the armoire. There is no possible way to acquire something commercially available to fit, and no way that I can currently afford something custom-built … so, off to a local Home Depot with some measurements, and the services of a husky youth who was qualified to rip pieces of the required dimensions of cabinet-grade plywood from a single $34 sheet of same on the lovely mechanical saw available on request … yes, you can get pieces cut to exact dimensions at Lowe’s and Home Depot, as long as you don’t get too … well, demanding about it all. This is a useful thing to know, I think, since I have only a circular saw, and a small hobby jigsaw, able to easily handle soft wood of about a 1/4th inch. The husky youth was obliged by company rules and a scrupulous conscience to cut nothing smaller than 6 inches, so we brought home all the scraps, and my cunning plan is to appeal to our neighbor, the woodworker with a garage full of woodworking tools, to rip the rest of it into 5 ½ inch lengths … from which I will construct a series of shelves: one fixed shelf, sized to fit DVDs, and two half-width shelves which shall slide back and forth, allowing the DVD library to be easily searched … and the flat-screen TV to sit on the top of the shelving unit.

And when it becomes necessary for the armoire to be an armoire again – why, the unit can be easily moved out. Details to follow…I am building this bit by bit. Not a carpenter, you know – I’m just an English major!

Yes, I meant to write this up almost at once, but the event on Sunday afternoon took up all of my energy for the day – and on Monday I had other work to do, and by Tuesday I had a touch of the crud that seems to hit people who otherwise don’t go to crowded events in events and conference centers very often. So – there were a fair number of other others and venders whom we had seen before. My table was next to Allan Kimball, who lives in Wimberley and writes travel guides – Texas Redneck Road Trips is one — and a series of historical fiction novels. I don’t think that we sold all that many copies of our books between us, but the conversations with Mr. Kimball and other authors were interesting. If the event was not all that great from a sales point of view, the networking might prove interesting in the long run. We both agreed enthusiastically that the awful miniseries Texas Rising which was inflicted upon the poor, long-suffering audience last month was a perfect horror, beginning with the location shooting, the costuming, and the flagrant abuse of historical fact. No, the Alamo does not and never did have a crypt. Even Pee Wee Herman knows that. (I would have done a full review of that turkey, but I only had stamina to watch more than the first episode, and Mr. Kimball thought even that was too generous – he bailed after the first fifteen minutes.)

The venue was a former large retail space in the Wonderland of America Mall, at Fredericksburg and 410 – which was nice in one way, being indoors, and in a retail location anyway. But perhaps a Saturday might have been better. Malls are not quite the going thing any more; of two of the half-dozen big ones in San Antonio, one has been repurposed by Rackspace, and the other torn down and replaced by free-standing shops. Another near us has been staggering on for years, as a half-empty retail zombie … you’d think that since open air destination shopping centers seem to be doing very well, thank you, that malls ought to be as well, but not so. No idea why, save that perhaps the rent is too high for all but well-established chains, or high-end merchandise. Wonderland has gotten around that by renting to doctor’s offices and schools of this and that on the lower floor, and having a super-Target and a Burlington Coat Factory outlet on the upper level, but still … there was a miasma of mall glories past, lurking about. That, and dust or mold in the AC vents, which gave me stuffy sinuses the next day. And that’s the way it was, last Sunday in the Alamo City.

We ditched cable TV a little more than two years ago, partly out of exasperation with the pap, piddle and trivia on offer at that time, and suppressed fury every month, regarding the manner in which the cost of internet and a slightly more than basic cable kept insidiously climbing upwards, month by month. 150+ channels and nothing much on any of them that we wanted to watch; we time-shifted and skipped through the commercial breaks for years before we cut the cable entirely. (The charge for internet access, alas, has been climbing insidiously upwards since that blessed day: once about $40 a month, now it is close to doubling that, and I am considering giving Time Warner’s main competitor a look-in.)

We invested in a Roku box, and subscriptions to Hulu, and Acorn on line – my daughter already had Amazon Prime, and so … really, we have been spoiled for choice in the last two years, watching or re-watching series which we missed in part or entirely when they originally aired: Northern Exposure, for one example, and Babylon 5 for another, and the original Poldark series. (Of finally watching all of Upstairs, Downstairs, I have written in previous posts). Original Poldark – I missed it entirely on original airing, although I do have the novels. My daughter despises the character of Elizabeth, by the way; silly, mewling indecisive female, always making the wrong choices and blaming everyone else for them.

Otherwise, we have been pigging out when it comes to British imports. Quite early on, we had discovered certain shortcomings in our local PBS channel which aired those particular imports; lacks which also seem to have been shared by the PBS channel favored by my parents – in that they seemed only to have a certain number of episodes of shows available to air, long, long after having complete seasons available on VHS/DVD in catalogues. As God is my witness, I swear that a single season of shows like Are You Being Served? and Keeping Up Appearances aired in constant rotation, over and over and over again. This was an improvement over San Antonio’s PBS station – they seemed to have only six episodes of Vicar of Dibley and aired them incessantly, apparently assuming that the audience would have forgotten everything about plot, characters and gags in the space of a month and a half. That  is why I declined to ever support them;  that and they wouldn’t hire me in any capacity for which I applied upon first retiring from the military after twenty years of professionally committing acts of radio and video production.

Bitter – moi? Come to think of it, yes. Couldn’t even scrounge a temp job,  rounding up donations for their once-yearly charitable auction.

Anyway – between the Roku box and the various subscriptions – we do not miss cable TV at all. Anything current that we want to watch – well, it will turn up eventually. We can wait. And doing without incessant commercials is fantastic. Last fall, we had a business trip down to Brownsville, where we stayed in a nice hotel and watched … I can’t remember what it was that we watched, but the barrage of commercials interrupting the story every ten minutes or so was quite horrible. Yes, I know that selling advertising time is the name of the game, and it pays the freight – but it also drives discriminating viewers away after a certain portion of the program hour is taken up by them: the law of diminishing returns and all that.

Sunset and Steel Rails Mockup Cover Pics with titles(Yes, I have squeezed in a bit of writing on this holiday weekend – another half  chapter of Sunset and Steel Rails; how a proper young Bostonian became a Harvey Girl in the 1880s, went west, and discovered … her destiny as well as certain things about her family.)

Chapter 15 – Haunted

The attempted robbery of the Deming Harvey house would prove a nine-day wonder, long-remembered and recalled by everyone who had been present, every detail discussed and agreed upon. All agreed that Mr. Lloyd had been stalwart beyond belief; faced with two armed men and a demand for the takings for the day, and that Mr. Steinmetz had acted the very part of the hero in so promptly realizing the gravity of the situation and taking swift action in dispatching the most threatening of the two robbers.

“Miss Teague might have been harmed as well!” Selina Burnett exclaimed with much indignation. “Sophia dear, you look so dreadfully pale, as if you would faint away directly – do you want us to call for the doctor? He will attend on you at once, I am certain ….”

“No!” The vehemence in her own voice startled her very much; she shook off Selina’s concern and Mr. Steinmetz arm, feeling as if she were being slowly strangled in the cotton-wool of everyone’s insistence that she must be distraught. This was too much like how everyone had talked to her when Lucius Armitage had broken their engagement, insisting that she was upset, ill, sad – when she felt nothing in the least. “No, I don’t need the doctor, or to go upstairs and lie down. I am perfectly well.”

“You are certain?” Selina and Mr. Steinmetz both regarded her with some doubt – after all, the sheriff’s deputies had only just removed the body of the dead robber and taken away the live one in handcuffs, commanding Mr. Steinmetz himself to follow shortly, to answer questions.

Only Selina spoke, “I still think you…”

“I am fine, Selina – and there is a train coming in. I would really rather be working.”

“Sometimes it’s the best thing, to get back on the horse that threw you,” Mr. Steinmetz agreed. “But may I come and speak with you later tonight? If you like, come and sit with me on the platform when I bring Miss Kitten her late supper.”

“I might like that,” Sophia agreed and gratefully escaped to her regular duties. The day might have been disrupted for a time by the robbery – but hungry passengers cared little for that, only for a good meal, well and attentively served.

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