TWENTY YEARS ago, when I turned 55, I posted this entry. I updated it and reposted it when I turned 70. Here is an updated collection of random thoughts:
- As a kid, I would read western comics and invariably I came across the term, “old timer.” I read it as “old timmer.” I never could figure out what an old timmer was. Now I are one.
- I often try to imagine what went through my mother’s mind 75 years ago when she gave birth to her, ninth child. Was there joy in her heart? Was there sorrow? Did she wonder, “How are we going to feed this kid?” Did she wonder what I would turn out to be like? Did she even imagine I could be anything but a farm worker, destined to live in perpetual poverty? Do mothers always believe that their newborn child is going to be the perfect child? Or do they wonder, is this going to be the president who is going to be impeached? Or the congressman who electronically exposes his thing to strange young women? Or the loser who goes to a mall to shoot a congresswoman and a judge and others? [This item became a poem, “July 7, 1946,” that is included in my chapbook, Al Norte.]
- There are no pictures of me as a baby. Not a single one.
- As a kid, when I’d hear my mother exclaim, “Yo creo que me voy a volver loca,” as a result of my father’s abusive behavior, I really believed she could go insane, and I feared that more than anything else in the world.
- I’ve never been as sad as the first time I came home from school and my mother wasn’t there; she’d gone off to work. [This was the seed for another poem found in Al Norte: “They Day They Did Not Come Home.”]
- I never dreamed I would spend almost as many years in Washington as I did in my hometown. [I left DC in January, 2013. I lived there a total of 26 years. I have now lived in Houston 18 years. I lived in San Marcos about 10 years.]
- There was a time when I believed I would spend the rest of my life in San Marcos, a town I love.
- I know hundreds of people; very few of them know me, and that’s never going to change.
- Seventy-five feels no different than 70 and 70 felt no different than 60 and 60 felt no different than 50 and 50 felt no different than 40. That’s as far as I’m willing to go, although sometimes I feel as if I were 18. I don’t feel so young anymore, although I definitely do not feel old. There are still times I think of myself as a 32-year-old.
- I am in better shape, physically, now than I have ever been. Emotionally? Ditto. Mentally: that’s for you to decide.
- “Our bodies change,” said the old guy sitting at the next table just now, to his wife. No shit.
- I’m a good person, in general, but I am not very tolerant of fools. There are too many fools in the world.
- I’m not very good with people who need me.
- I can be very superficial.
- I’m a snob at heart and you can blame my mother for that because she always taught us that we were better than others (even though I don’t think she ever put it that way) and that was why we couldn’t do some of the things others did.
- If I were someone else I’m not sure I’d want to spend too much time with me. I’d be bored shitless.
- I think I can safely say that the biggest thrill of my life was seeing Janis Joplin in concert on the UT campus. The second was watching the full moon rise over the Canyon de Chelly in Arizona. The third was flying on the Concorde from London to Dallas. The fourth was the first time I put a handful of Fritos in my mouth then quickly took a swig of Coca Cola, with the salty chips still in my mouth. The fifth was when I was told by Octavio Quintanilla earlier this year that he would publish my book of poetry.
- My first professional baseball team was the Brooklyn Dodgers. As a kid, I didn’t even know where Brooklyn was but I knew the Dodgers were always in competition with the Yankees in the World Series. The Yankees were my Tío Adrian’s favorite team, which meant they were my cousins’ favorite team. And that was enough to make me a Dodgers fan.
- Over the years, I’ve switched loyalty a few times: The Milwaukee Braves, the New York Mets, the Astros, the Nats and Astros, and then again, the Astros.
- I hate confrontation.
- I didn’t learn how to ride a bike until I was 13, and I didn’t own one until I was in my late 20s, but in Washington, I rode my bike almost everywhere in town. I don’t ride my bike in Houston half as much as I did in DC. I can’t imagine my father riding a bike at 75.
- I’m not afraid of dying and I don’t wonder what comes after death, primarily because I believe there’s nothing after we die, but I sure resent not being around to observe what happens. At the same time, I really don’t want to be around to see what’s going to happen to this world, given the way we’ve been behaving these past four or five decades.
- Before I die I’d love to visit Berlin and Morocco and South America. And I’d love to go back to Spain and Italy and France. And Britain.
- I’ve been to 49 of the 50 U.S. states. I’m not sure I’ll ever make it to Alaska.
- I love traveling, yet I get terribly depressed in the weeks before a scheduled trip. Once I get in the car or on a plane, I’m fine. I blame that on my mother, who believed you should only travel for work, or other necessity.
- I’ve never wanted children and I don’t regret never having had any and I think I’d be terribly depressed if I had had some because I’d be worried shitless every single hour of the day about what bad things could happen to them. I do love kids. I love being around them, when they are happy, seeing pure joy in their smiling faces.
- I’m a pretty decent photographer and I love street photography.
- I’ve been intellectually lazy all my life. As a kid learning English, I’d come across a word that I didn’t know what it meant but I rarely bothered to look it up. I’d just wait, knowing that eventually the meaning would become clear. Today I look up everything. Not a day goes by that I don’t look up something on my dictionary app or my translation apps.
- That guy I just quoted a while ago? He just said, “There is always a light at the end of the tunnel.” Yeah, so? We spend most of our lives in the damn tunnel.
- I have the best family in the world and I have the best friends in the world and most of my working life I’ve had the best colleagues in the world.
- The only thing I don’t like about retirement is that I don’t get to be around people as much.
- I don’t know of anybody who hates me or even dislikes me strongly, and I really would be surprised is such a person were to surface. I like that.
- I have evolved from being passionate about politics to being almost completely repulsed by it.
- I would rather unclog a stopped-up toilet than watch or listen to a talk show.
- I miss David Letterman and Garrison Keillor. A lot.
- I used to watch every movie released and now I probably see no more than 10 or 12 movies a year at a theater, and about that many on TV or DVD. The last 3-D movie I saw was in the 1950s, at the Guild Theater in my hometown.
- I do not see sci-fi movies, fantasy movies, shoot-em-up movies, spy movies, adventure movies, documentaries or animated films. Woody Allen is still the best, along with Almodóvar. And I believe Hollywood should make more westerns.
- I learned to love newspapers when my brother-in-law, who lived next door, started subscribing to the San Antonio Express (or was it The News?). At first, I’d borrow it to read the comics but then I started reading most of the paper. As a young adult I would read every newspaper I could get hold of, no matter where I was. Today, I couldn’t care less what the LA Times or the Chicago Tribune or the Boston Globe or the Dallas Morning News looks like.
- The first newspaper I ever bought was a Sunday Grand Forks Herald (I think that’s its name); I bought it in Forest River, North Dakota.
- I read the printed version of the NY Times daily and I read the Chronicle and the Washington Post online.
- I subscribe to The New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly and the Texas Observer.
- The first razor I ever bought was in a small grocery store near Wautoma, Wisc. That was the summer my father had left us to go to Colorado with his girlfriend and so I could no longer borrow his razor to shave off my wisp of a moustache.
- I love the moon, but the stars don’t do much for me.
- I envy anybody who can sing and/or play a musical instrument (except for flutes and harps and classical guitar: I find them irritating.)
- I’m scared of snakes, spiders, lizards and snakes. And ghosts.
- I love doctors, nurses, dentists and hospitals.
- I love airplanes, architecture and bridges.
- I love dancing and wish I could dance better than I do.
- I do not believe anyone who says he/she can’t cook and I have little patience with anyone who says he/she is too tired to cook.
- The first time I ever ate French fries was at Morton’s Seafood Restaurant in Green Lake, Wisc. I was 14 years old.
- The first time I ever ate restaurant-made pizza was when I went away to college in San Marcos.
- I do not eat sushi or raw meat of any kind.
- My favorite breakfast place is still La Guadalupana on Dunlavy. (Chilaquiles or machaca norteña.) Its chicken mole is a favorite for lunch, although recently I’ve been going to Pico’s for my mole fix.
- My favorite fast-food meal is Jack-in-the-Box’s Sourdough Jack with curly fries.
- Whataburger continues to disappoint. If you want a good Texas-style burger, go to DQ.
- I have been unable to find the kind of great Thai food in Houston that I enjoyed in Washington.
- I’ve only gotten sick-drunk once in my entire life. It was on some scotch at a San Marcos school board election victory party. To this day I cannot stand the taste or smell of scotch. But I’ll take your bourbon or your rum or your gin any time, thank you very much. Or your beer or wine. Or tequila. Vodka? Meh.
- I know very little about wine and I’ll always pick the cheapest bottle or glass of wine. Usually, it’s a red; cabernet sauvignon.
- Houston will always be one of my favorite cities, as will Washington, DC. I don’t care too much for Austin.
- I’m into cheap thrills. I can’t resist taking home those little hotel shampoo bottles, and I don’t want to throw them away when I use up the shampoo. I really believe most bottles are beautiful, be they plastic or glass. I like boxes, too – especially wooden boxes. I also find it difficult to throw out Popsicle sticks and whenever I go to the Chinese take-out, I always grab an extra set of chopsticks. I have hundreds of them.
- I once built a popsicle stick replica of the Empire State Building. I still have it.
- I was a decent reporter and a good columnist, but I have no desire to be either.
- Although I grieved when The Houston Post closed and my heart still aches for my colleagues who were never able to find decent jobs in journalism, the paper’s closure ended up being a good thing for me. Had I stayed in journalism and not spent 14 years flacking for the oil industry, I would be a broke, maybe homeless, ex-journalist today.
- Had the Post stayed in business and I’d continued as a columnist, I’m not sure I’d have had the sense or the courage to quit when I started getting stale.
- I still keep in contact with friends I first met after they wrote to me (some in praise, some not) in response to columns I wrote for The Post and I invited them to share a meal or coffee or a beer with me.
- I always knew Santa Clause was make-believe and nobody ever tried to convince me that he was real, and for that I give thanks.
- I rarely read books anymore; I listen to them. The only ones I read are those books given to me by friends.
- Even though I’m not into religion, I’m glad I grew up Catholic.
- I love listening to the Gregorian chants.
- I honestly, truly believe that, if there is a God, the greatest, most profound prayer anyone can utter is a simple, “I don’t know.”
- If you had told me 10 years ago that I would be a published poet, I’d have said you were crazy as shit.
- Although I was foolish enough to list use “poet” on my business cards, I do not consider myself a poet yet. I may never be one.
- I’m addicted to Facebook. I do not see the value of Twitter and I don’t understand the attraction of Instagram.
- Why am I sounding like Andy Rooney? Of, that’s right: I’m an old geezer.
- Damn it, I can’t come up with #75!
Happy birthday, Juan!
Happy Birthday Juan. I enjoyed this read very much.
All my best, Rhea Ruiz Kimbell
Sent from my iPhone
I loved reading this! If confirmed much of what I knew (or assumed) about you but the most fun were the surprises. My good sense in forming friendships is validated once again. Thanks, dear man.
I can’t wait to read what you write for 80. Happy birthdays!
A few unsolicited observations about your list:
You ARE a poet!
I would never find you boring.
I have spent time with Garrison Keillor, he was surprisingly an asshole.
I LOVE the LA Times!
Love your 75!
Happy Happy Birthday my dear Poet friend!
Love, Blanca 🎉🥂🍀🥰❤️
Sent from my iPhone
Happy 75th Birthday though belated. I am sure you will think of #75 sometime this year. I like your writing and can relate to so many little things — it must be the culture.
Hey Juan, I look at your computer art I bought at a Heights gallery every day
It’s above my “altar” along with candlesticks, Anglican rosaries, and a plaque of Artemis. Oh, the picture is an Easter egg colored cross.
Hi Pam. So good to hear from you. Glad you still like my work. Hope all is well.
Read “Oldtimers of the Southwest by Florence Fenley