Sunday, August 27, 2006



Little boy blond,
Where did I go wrong?
Was it when I tried to out you?
because I knew all about you?
Was it when
I tried to be your friend?

Little boy blond
Now you’re gone
- out of my life
And my only mistake –
Was I didn’t know you better.

Boy in the big blue Jeep,
you promised me
You’d sweep me off my feet
You promised:
Walks on the beach,
Candle light dinners,
and evenings at the movies.

But it never happened
you never showed
And I wondered –
Was that really your picture
or was it just you afraid to show yourself?

Like a fool,
I fell for your lies.
I waited and watched,
but you never showed
I hoped
that we could make some magic
but it never happened
I resolved to give you up
and move on.

Now I’m caught
in the spider’s web
He has weaved me
into his web
And choked me
into submission

I loved him,
but now we have made peace
We live in symbiotic harmony
I have left him alone,
and he has left me alone

Some day,
He will come
When I least expect him
Still, I look for him
Because I know he is out there

He Waits

He Waits
Two chairs
rest idly on the shore of the bay
One sits empty,
while in the other, he waits

The sun shines brightly
and it reminds him
of her radiant smile
He feels the heat
and it reminds him
of her temper
He looks at her empty chair
- and he waits

She will be back,
she tells him
She’s gone inside.
Maybe for her smokes
- and he waits

He drifts off to sleep
The summer breeze reminds him
of her warm breath on his neck
She comes to him in his dream
I will see you again some day,
she promises
He awakes to her empty chair
- and he waits
The stars are out when he awakes.
- and he smiles
She is up there somewhere
smiling down on him
She is the brightest star
in the sky that night
He knows
she is smiling down on him
He looks again
Her chair is still empty
- and he waits.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Endangered Habitat

Another summer has almost passed here in the asphalt jungle. Much has happened since my last post. I have been mired in work, among other things. Once again, my company has transferred me to another store. I am no longer in a mall kiosk but an actual store with doors and windows. After two months, I am still adjusting. I almost miss the annoying assholes asking me where everything is, if they’re not asking me for a discount. Well, there is much to tell.

I have observed and experienced much. For starters, I have seen the dark underbelly of Rice Village, an outdoor upscale shopping area in Houston’s Inner Loop. Last month, I was awakened out of a dead sleep by a ringing phone. It was my boss asking me to explain to her if I had locked the door. That was the last question I wanted to answer at 6am. So, I trudged down to the store only to find Houston’s Finest awaiting my arrival.

No, I had not left the door unlocked. Instead, a band of marauding thieves used landscaping boulders to break into my store and stole us blind. I was a bit surprised to say the least, but then again, this is somehow expected to happen in an upscale area. Less than a month later, once again, there was another robbery, but at a boutique two doors down. A sales girl was beaten and kicked to the ground for confronting a shoplifter about a stolen shirt. Once again, I felt my habitat was threatened, and it made me wonder if this was really the best environment for me to work in.

I longed for the safety of a shopping mall, where security guards roamed endlessly. My plan is to stick it out until something better comes along, and hopefully, that will be sooner rather than later. Even my home habitat is being threatened. My grandmother recently informed me that the City of Texas City proposed a zoning ordinance in my old neighborhood. No longer would refinery workers be allowed to settle close to their jobs. Instead, the city plans to rezone the neighborhood from residential to light industrial.

Imminent domain giveth and taketh away. My parents can live in their house as long as they want, but if they decide to move, the house cannot be sold as residential. Instead, it would have to be sold as industrial. What’s really screwed up about the whole deal is that only those who are for the proposal are allowed to comment publicly. However, if my family has objections to the proposal, they have to express their views in a letter. I’m sorry, but if that was me, I’d be the most outspoken one at the meeting.

I ask this question. Where are my parents, grandmother, and dozens of my neighbors supposed to live if the city decides they want their houses for light industrial? It isn’t as if they can just pull up stakes and move elsewhere. The cost of living has gone up since my family settled there more than 30 years ago. What’s worse is fair market value is a ridiculous low-ball offer.

It’s too bad fair market value doesn’t include sentimental value. There’s a lot of that tied up in both my grandma’s house and my parents’ house. I learned to bake in my grandma’s kitchen. My parents’ house was the starting point for many of my sisters’ dates. There was the perfunctory screening process followed by curfew setting before my sisters went on their dates. I remember spending my 13th birthday swimming in my parents’ front yard after Hurricane Chantal blew threw the area.

Even the neighborhood has its own memories. I remember walks with my grandfather in search of cans and scrap to sell for cash. Somewhere around the corner is where I first kissed a girl whom I had a crush on in high school. Down the road is the church where I learned Bible stories, Up the street is the school where my sisters attended middle school. No value can be placed on the emotional investment in a home, in a neighborhood.

As much as I say I hated growing up in Texas City, there’s always good memories that outweigh the bad ones. The zoning ordinance was something that I should have seen coming, but never expected. I hope that the city does the right thing and takes into consideration that they are breaking up a large family of friends and neighbors. People who grew up together, who have shared so many memories together.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Texas City Disaster – what really happened

The Texas City disaster occurred at 9:12 am April 16, 1947 when the SS Grandcamp, loaded down with munitions, sisal twine, jute, and ammonium nitrate exploded after a fire on board went out of control. In spite of firefighters' efforts to douse the fire, and the crew's attempts to contain the fire in the hold using steam and tarps, the ship exploded. In the blink of an eye, nearly the entire volunteer fire department, Grandcamp crew, bystanders, local residents, and employees at near by refineries were either killed or critically injured.

Businesses, residences, and schools were destroyed by the initial impact. In the wake of the explosion, a barge filled with hydrochloric acid washed on shore with a tidal wave of oily salt water. What was the shaft of the ship went skipping across the rail yard, ripping up rails as it went along. Its anchor was imbedded two feet into the ground almost a half mile away. There was panic in the streets as a wave of fear washed over the city that the enemy had attacked.

Bodies covered in sludge were loaded onto flatbed trucks and carried to John Sealy hospital in Galveston. Black or white, it did not matter. They would be sorted when their bodies were washed. A local garage was set up as a makeshift morgue where bodies were embalmed. The nearby Texas City High School gymnasium was used to store the bodies so that family members could be identified. There is the story of a woman who playfully colored her husband's toenails the night before identified his body by the color of his toes. The death toll grew so quickly that the backs of traffic tickets had to be used as toe tags.

As calm was slowly restored the city, there was fear of another explosion. The SS Highflyer and SS Wilson B Keane were on fire in the port as a result of flaming debris and their anchors were tangled with each other. The Highflyer cargo included ammonium nitrate, and the Keane was loaded down with flour and lumber. Attempts to untangle the two failed and both were towed out to sea. Around 1:17am, they were being towed, the Highflyer exploded. Businesses whose had been replaced after the initial blast shattered once again. For nearly two days, tank farms and refineries continued to burn.

On the morning of April 19, 1947, a community-wide memorial service was held for the dead. The remains of 63 unidentified victims were buried in a cemetery on the edge of the city. A marble angel stands guard over them today and each of the remains is marked with a small pink granite stone and a number engraved on each one. The final death toll is unknown, but estimates are that at least 576 people died, nearly 3000 were injured, and the cost of damage to residences and businesses was in the millions of dollars.

A sketch of a sailor’s tattoo was posted in the New York Times months later, and a reader was able to identify the person that way. Windows in Galveston shattered, buildings in Bay Town swayed, and in Denver, Colorado, the blast registered on a seismograph. People as far away as El Campo heard the blast as well.

Nearly ten years after the explosion, Elizabeth Dalehite's suit against the government was settled for more than a half million dollars. It took an act of Congress to get another half million or so for the rest of the victims' families.

Today, Texas City is a town of more than 40,000 people with oil refining as its top business. On Loop 197 stands the propellor of the SS Highflyer and a plaque commemorating the disaster. At the entrance to the Texas City Dike sits the anchor of the SS Grandcamp and a historical marker. On Loop 197 and 25th Street is the memorial park erected nearly fifty years after the disaster. For years it was just a simple reflecting pool with a marble angel standing over it. Today, it is surrounded by a circular walking path, pavilions, and memorials to the other victims of the blast.

On a personal note, this disaster touched the lives of many of my family members. My grandmother's brother worked in a doughnut shop. At the time of the blast, he was about to drop doughnuts into the fryer when his boss stopped him. The explosion rocked the shop, sending glass into the fryers and scalding him. It was said that nearly a cup of glass was removed from his back.

My great grandmother's sister had just finished having her house set back on its piers after the 1943 hurricane. In the blast, the house was once again knocked off its piers. Her daughter was a student at Texas City High School and was able to tell the authorities who was dead and who was still alive.

My grandfather was driving a truck at Union Carbide that was toppled by the blast. In Galveston, my where my grandmother lived, she said that ambulances had to tear up the esplanade to get to the hospital. Her sister hopped on a flatbed truck and went to man the switchboards, where operators were on strike at the time.

As a result of the disaster, mutual aid was implemented. Now, if there is a fire at any of the refineries, each of their fire departments will respond. It was first used May 30, 1978 during a fire at Texas City Refining. My parents to this day still talk about this accident. Their recollection of that fire is as clear as the recollection of many Texas City Disaster survivors. My family still talks about the mushroom cloud, the explosion, how the it rained debris from the fire, that barrels of oil were sent shooting into the air like rockets. I did my research and there were seven fatalities. The explosion was a result of two 55,000 gallon tanks that exploded as the result of a flash fire in a storage unit.

Sunday, April 09, 2006


Here of late there’s been talk of what the US should do with the influx of illegal immigrants. Yes, Congress came to an agreement on who stays and who goes. However, it’s like putting a Band Aid on a gaping wound. Will we ever fix the immigration problem? Probably not any time soon, but think of it this way. The immigration in this country stretches back for hundreds of years.

Why the first documented illegal immigrants to North America starting in the 1500s with the discovery of Mexico. Just think that if the Aztecs had immigration laws, they could have told the Spanish they weren’t welcome there. Of course, this might have done them any good as the Conquistadores were prepared to take the New World by force if necessary.

However, if the Spanish had been turned away, there wouldn’t be any Mexicans to work low-paying, low-skilled jobs. There would be no one to clean your house, cook your dinner, or cut your grass. Hell, I wouldn’t be sitting here late at night typing this blog if that were the case. My ancestors were colonists who were here before the US pushed the border to the Rio Grande. So if any of you bastards wanna tell me to go back to Mexico, I’ll tell you to go back to Europe.

About a hundred years after the Spanish landed, a group of Puritans skipped the island of England and sought out religious freedom. They landed on the east coast of the United States and gave us the foundation for this country. However, if the Native Americans had stopped them and told them to go back, there’s no telling what punishment the Puritans would have faced had they been forced back to England.

So, if it were not for the first wave of illegal immigrants, none of us would be here. And for the continuing wave of immigrants who enter the country illegally every day, this country could not sustain itself. Cheap foreign labor helps keep the cost of living low. If Americans could do the work many illegals are doing for what they’re getting paid, then things might be different.

The biggest issue with immigration is not the immigrants, but the people who need them. In order to keep a low overhead, produce growers and home builders rely on inexpensive foreign workers as a source of their labor. On the flip side, if Americans did the same job, they would naturally be expected to get paid higher wages plus benefits. If this were to happen, home builders and produce growers would be in the same predicament that the nation’s auto makers are in today.

What’s more, many business owners who contribute to candidate campaigns expect to get something in return. For many years, laws on the books clearly state that if an undocumented worker is caught working illegally in the United States, they can be deported, and the business owner would face some legal troubles of their own. The thing is, many politicians have turned a blind eye to the law so that their contributors, not their constituents, are placated.

The nation’s forefathers had the foresight to see a little bit into the future, and set down the foundation for our laws today. The one thing they didn’t take into consideration is the influx of immigrants. Yes, I understand that Achmed or Mohammed could sneak across the border undetected, but they may have already done so, and we never noticed. And the reason for that is because the people at the top fell asleep on the job.

Now, we’re faced with a dilemma. Send everyone back who’s here illegally, or let them stay. Unfortunately, Congress has allowed those who’ve been here longer to stay, and it’s unfair to those who’re here legally. While I don’t think we should necessarily ship them back across the border, the problem should have been addressed sooner. The only reason anyone noticed the immigration problem is because a group of zealous Muslims mercilessly attacked us on our home terrain.

Think of it this way. What if the US were a third-world country with little or no economy? What would we do? Most likely, we’d do just like our ancestors and seek out a better life in some far off country. The United States would be the land of opportunity that it is today if it had not been for illegal immigrants. Eastern Texas would have never been settled if it hadn’t been for white settlers sneaking across the border to escape their problems in the US.

So, the next time you vent your frustrations about immigration, think of this. You would not be here if someone back in your family tree had not immigrated somewhere illegally.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


Below is my tribue to the tragedy of the BP refinery disaster on MArch 23, 2005. I was hesitant to post this, but I felt that this would round out my musings and rantings about the incident.

15 Souls


What is the sound
of 15 souls being taken?
Is it the sonic boom?
- God’s voice calling them home.
Is it the ensuing rush of air?
- Their collective breaths
leaving their bodies at once
Or maybe that white plume
atop the mushroom cloud
is 15 souls being lifted to Heaven?


Safety was a 4-letter word
in a 5 star company.
Profits, losses, and earnings
spoke louder,
so they meant more
but safety spoke volumes
in violations, fines, and accidents
It would take
15 more souls
to make a point.


My sense of place,
My sense of home
was shattered
on a mild March afternoon
But nothing compared
to those lives shattered
and splintered by tragedy.


I can never go home again.
The memories are too painful
Those images
are forever burned into my mind
Of watching another fire burn,
Of waiting to know –
what went wrong
Of wondering. . .
. . . will this vicious cycle ever end?

What is the sound
of 15 souls being taken?
Is it the sound helicopters
airlifting broken bodies?
Or is it the anguished cries
of loved ones
waiting for good or bad news?
Or is it the cry of a child
who senses the separation
from someone they love?

Monday, March 20, 2006

End of An Era

It is nearly spring in the asphalt jungle, and there’s much to tell. I have been transferred to a new shopping mall, and I have been kept busy by sick co-workers and a busy holiday season. Many things have happened since my last observation. I watched as bus loads upon bus loads of weary storm victims rolled into Houston until the city could take no more. Then, almost a month later, I watched on TV as panicked locals packed up everything but the kitchen sink and rolled north to avoid yet another monster storm. What ensued was mass confusion and gridlock that would rival that of La at rush hour.

I have observed bus drivers go from calm and collected to enraged drivers the instant someone gets in the way. I have ridden train cars where people were packed in like cattle just to get a glimpse of the Thanksgiving day parade downtown. There have been days where I’ve watched bus drivers nearly run over other motorists in an attempt to make their scheduled stops on time. Ah yes, another typical day in the asphalt jungle. The only thing more interesting than the bus ride is the wait. Just the other morning, I had a homeless man throw cold coffee in my face because I asked him to stop pestering motorists. Next time I’ll just let him get run over or arrested.

Some days even the walk to and the stop can have its own highlights. Apparently motorists in Houston think I can read minds and guess which way they’re going to turn. They don’t know that I was out sick the day we covered mind reading in my Jedi training class. On these walks, I’ve noticed the constantly changing weather. Before long, the spring rainy season will be here.

The cold snaps have become more infrequent as they give way to longer and longer heat waves. Winds that blew mainly from the north these last few months have increasingly shifted to the south, signaling that spring is surely on its way. My dad informed me that the mesquites in south Texas already have their blooms, so it will only be a matter of time before spring reaches Houston. These winds scatter leaves and kick up dust, but they also bring with them change.

Houston’s era of self-made men and built fron the ground up companies is fast fading. This is most evident at the Astrodomain complex. The Astrodome, once the Eighth Wonder of the World, is now dwarfed by the much larger Reliant Stadium. The old dome was the vision of Harris County Judge Roy Hoffeinz,. Across from his domed stadium, he opened the Astroworld amusement park.

I remember summers when my cousins from England came to visit, that was at top of their to do list. They were the ones who dragged me onto the roller coasters, usually against my will. I remember the anxiety of waiting to get on the roller coaster followed by the sheer exhilaration and terror of the ride. In recent years, the Texas Medical Center has marched south, propelled by development around the installation of the Harris County Metropolitan Authority’s light rail line.

This has become a symbol of the new Houston as it rises up from the ashes of the economic downturn in the 1980s. In 1984, the real estate industry went bust, and interest rates skyrocketed. Many people abandoned their houses in droves, leading to the decline of many thriving neighborhoods. That was followed by the deregulation of the energy industry in 1986, leading to a bust that left many out of work. Employees were laid off in record numbers.

Now, Houston’s economy is thriving again. Giant metal cranes have nested in the Texas Medical Center as they erect new facilities for the Baylor and UT medical schools. All the development drove up the property value of the Astroworld property to the point that the land it sat on was sold to developers. Recently, I rode the light rail to see what was left, and there was nothing. All the rides had been auctioned off, and the land had been cleared except for a few structures. Soon, the cranes will come and erect a new structure in its place.

Elsewhere the change is more prevalent. Almost daily, old buildings are razed to make way for new developments. Last week, the Page Parks building on Kirby near Westheimer was imploded. In its place will developers have planned a 30-story condominium tower. Further up the road on Kirby near San Felipe stands the high rise where self-made millionaire Kenneth Lay resides. He purchased the pipeline company InterNorth in 1985 and merged it with his own to make Enron.

The company enjoyed a boom in its heyday, but was rocked by scandal in October 2001 when the Securities and Exchange Commission began a probe into Enron’s earnings. What followed as an FBI investigation that led to the collapse of the company two months later. Now, Lay and his successor, Jeff Skilling, stand accused of fraud among a litany of other charges. Each day, witnesses have recounted their heady days with the company, and pointed the finger of blame at the pair.

Enron is an example of leadership that was too effective. The men at the top duped everyone into believing the company was doing well when in fact it wasn’t. One witness likened it to being brainwashed. Communication theorists would call it groupthink. Enron is now just another relic of the old Houston.

In the new Houston, Gilley’s nightclub, immortalized in the movie Urban Cowboy, has been purchased by the Pasadena Independent School District. They plan to one day build a middle school on the site. Many former patrons came and watched as the site was cleared. Fire gutted much of the building years before, and it was only a matter of time before it came down.

In the new Houston, oil giants have merged to make themselves more compettive. Chevron, formerly Gulf Oil merged with the Texaco. Exon, which had its start in Houston as Humble Oil, merged with Mobil. Even Southwestern Bell, one of the baby bells, swallowed up AT&T. Compaq, Houston’s home-grown computer company, is now part of Hewlett Packard, or HP as its commonly known.

Even Foley’s, Houston’s last of the hometown retailers, has been bought out by Macy’s, and will soon bear the retail giant’s name. What started as Foley Brothers Dry Goods on Buffalo Bayou in 1905 grew into Foley’s department store, which now sits on Main between Lamar and Dallas across from what was once Sakowitz, another Houston institution that shuttered in the late 1980s. The Battlestein’s building down the block at Main near Walker is now lofts, and Joske’s was bought out by Dillard’s. While it’s sad to see it go, it’s just another sign of the new Houston.

Houston’s image as a wide open boomtown is slowly fading away. After hosting the Major League Baseball All-Star game, The Super Bowl. The baseball playoffs, the World Series, and the NBA All-Star game, Houston is gaining status as a more world class city. While there may never be an Olympics held here, Houston has proven to the world it can be a gracious host.