A Beautiful Beetle

Since childhood I have been curious about creatures assigned to the insect world. I recall happy summer hours collecting bugs from Newark’s parks and backyards. Of course, our apartment attracted non-collectibles such as water bugs, flies, ants, mosquitoes, and roaches. My mother’s precious rose garden attracted Japanese beetles. A bug’s life usually ended with a squirt of Raid or the heel of a shoe.

Jumping ahead many years – Tucson has its share of insects. Two weeks ago I found a most interesting bug in the garage. Sadly, the palo verde beetle was dead. Trapped in the garage, the beetle could not escape the still, hot air. Dead on its back, almost 3″ long with a lustrous, armor-like body, the beetle became my focus. I’m finished taking pictures of Buster and wonder what to do with the him. For now, he’s on the dining room table.

Beetle Life – a rather simple first stage, egg to larvae. In the grub stage, the insect lives underground and feeds on the roots of palo verde trees. After a few years (2 – 4) in the dark and in the monsoon season, palo verde beetles surface and fly off to find a mate.  When the female deposits her fertilized eggs, she dies. (I don’t know when Buster beetle kicks off.) Life above ground lasts for perhaps a month, and the cycle begins again.

Palo Verde Beetle Images

Postscript: I wanted the images shown in slideshow format. Word Press in its infinite wisdom says I must use Java Script. Nuts to that! I’m not about to learn Java Script since I’ve used the slideshow format before.

 

Desert Nocturne

 

Sonoran desert animals are awake and busy in the dark of night. Except for an occasional coyote kill or an owl’s hoot, the cottontail rabbits, javelina, and bobcats move about ever so quietly. The animals that come for a drink take turns at the water dish. Javelina travel in packs. They will get pushy and jockey for the last drop. When that happens, the adults root into the irrigation hoses in search of more water. Life in the desert must have that precious liquid.

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As daylight fades, I take the field camera outside and wind the strap around a tree. An Ultra Plus 16 GB disc is in place. I flip the On button and cross my fingers. Some nights are really slow – typical of any watering hole.

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Sunny Puerto Rico

A week of sun and fun in Puerto Rico – when I lived in New York, I’d take 3-day weekend trips to San Juan. Lutece on the Beach, a favorite guest house in Ocean Park, is now just a picture on a postcard. Condo towers, hotels, and gated communities are the new normal. Still, the charm remains in historic Old San Juan, Luquillo, El Yunque, and La Perla. If you haven’t been to the island, I say, go and enjoy! We rented a car from Alamo and got right into stampedes of wild drivers. For all the recklessness, I never saw a collision.

Our first destination and reason to visit was the Arecibo Observatory. The internet has all the facts about the world’s second largest single-dish radio telescope. Nearby on PR-10 is Cueva Ventana with two small dry caves and guided tours. On the eastern end of the island is beautiful Luquillo Beach. We went back to El Yunque, a rain forest with hiking trails, waterfalls, and a zipline. The road down the back side of the mountain is still being repaired. Remember Hurricane Maria?

We stopped for a seafood lunch at Ernestina’s in Luquillo. Then on to lovely road that skirts the beach to Loiza. On a gorgeous Sunday people spread out on the beach, under trees, and in the water. We met a woman who after living in Miami for eight years has returned to the island. She’s happy with her decision. Life is good!

Old San Juan, another favorite place to explore. We scheduled a 2-hour walking tour with David Rodriquez (recommend). Since the Harmony of the Seas (6,000+ passengers) was docked in the harbor, streets were crowded with tourists. Ships stay for a day and sail on. Those tourist dollars sure help the economy. We had the rental car and slithered it through the narrow street of La Perla, and visited the cemetery. A 75 cent ferry drive takes passengers from the harbor over to Catano. We wanted to take a bus from Catano to Bayamon, but let that idea pass. The interior bus the windows were opaque – what was that all about? No view, no bus ride.

Explore Puerto Rico – the islands of Vieques and Culebra. So much to see and, indeed, tourist dollars will help the economy.  Enjoy the photos!

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The Furnace

      On an ordinary, run errands afternoon, I drove from place to place listening to Eli Wiesel’s recorded book “Night.” When Wiesel was fifteen the Nazi’s sent him and his family to Auschwitz. “Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky.” Wiesel used the word incinerator, and its meaning awakened a childhood memory.

The eerie cellar in our 3-family house on W. Runyon Street in Newark also had furnaces that sent smoke to the sky. Chunks of coal were incinerated and transformed first into heat and then into smoke. At the end of the cycle ashes were saved and mixed into garden dirt as fertilizer. Some ashes were stored and sprinkled on winter’s icy sidewalks. All those ashes at Auschwitz — what happened to them? I don’t know, but the story my mother and Wiesel told made the furnace an instrument of death.

When I was probably about nine years old, my mother wanted me to know about a woman, her baby, and a furnace. As a newborn I lived with my parents in an apartment building on South 15th Street. Ralph Martinelli, a roughly cut, good-natured Italian, or wop, as my father might have said, worked part-time hours as the building superintendent. Mazie, his wife sold lingerie at Bamberger’s, a downtown department store. Already married five years, Ralph and Mazie wanted a child of their own, yet nothing ever came of their desire.

On an afternoon of her choice when my mother and I were alone, she began a story. Upon reflection, I did not need to know about the Martinelli’s or their son. His birth and adoption made no difference to me, especially at age nine. The two couples stayed friends for years, even after Ralph moved his family out of Newark. I suppose my mother wanted me to know that families are formed in more than one way.

“Ralphie, Jr. is adopted. He’s not the Martinelli’s real child,” my mother began as if telling a secret. “Ralphie’s mother wanted to throw her baby into a furnace. Big Ralph saved the boy’s life, and they raised him as their own.”

My mother said an unhappy and poor woman took her baby to the cellar. I imagined a cellar likes ours on W. Runyon Street — a dirty, dank place with shadows, coal bins, and storage cribs where feral mother cats gave birth to litter after litter. On winter nights I hated going to the cellar. Scary down there when I had to set the damper and adjust the flue. A winter fire needed to be banked just right. 

Back to the story —the sound of someone in the cellar brought Ralph out of his workroom. As I listened to my mother, I imagined his shock. A woman stood in front of an open furnace fire with a baby in her arms.

“What are you doing, Anna?”

“I don’t want the baby,” she cried. “I’m going to throw him into the furnace.”

“Are you nuts, Anna? Gimme that kid!” Ralph grabbed the child from her arms.

“I can’t take it anymore,” she sobbed. ” He cries all the time. I’m going crazy. I don’t want him.”

The horror of what might have been had a happy ending. From the cellar to talks in the upstairs apartments, the Martinelli’s and the woman reached an agreement. My mother never explained the legal details, and those would not have matter to me. She said that after a few months and with great joy, Ralph and Mazie adopted the baby. The birth mother turned away, moved away, and never looked back.

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Windy Day

Tucson – November 13. All through the night an east wind battered chimes, shook the potted petunias silly, and snapped tree branches from their trunks. In early morning at Abby-walking time, I buffeted the wind with a jacket and an Annie Hall hat pulled down over my ears. A great day for sailing! Except, I don’t live anywhere near the sea. Let me share some images with you to show the beauty of wind, rain, and sky. You can almost smell the fresh, clear air.

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Robert Louis Stevenson:

O wind, a-blowing all day long. O wind, that sings so loud a song.

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Carlos – Part 4

 

 

 

Part 4 of Carlos’ story from the book “A Snowball’s Chance.” 

High school dropouts tell their stories.

Arrests and Probation

I’m on probation because I was drunk and got caught with a gun. A couple of nights before the arrest someone had broke into my house. Normally, I don’t ever have to carry a gun. I’ve got someone with me riding shotgun. After the guy broke into my house, I began to carry my good old .40-caliber.

Amelia, the kids, and me went to a family function at the Casino Ballroom. When we walked in there were a couple of girls I had messed with. They called out my name and my wife said, “Who the hell are those bitches?” I’ve always been up front about myself. I’ve never hid anything from my wife. She knows I was messing around with other women. She knows I was on the street hustling. But it’s like if you love me, then you are going to be with me. I told her, “This is the way you met me. This is the way I am. If you don’t like it, go and kick rocks. I’ll find someone else.”

I hadn’t seen the girls in a long time. That didn’t make it any easier on my wife. We had a couple of drinks. I was drinking Coke with Mexican brandy. She kept going off about it. I got to a point and said, “You know what? Grab the kids. We are going to leave.” We left and I got off at the Circle K. I told her, “You take the kids home.” I had a cousin that lived across the street. I was going to go to his house. She took off. I walked into the Circle K.

I was wearing a see-through shirt, and I had my gun with me. I grabbed a twelve-pack and went to pay for it. The guy didn’t want to sell it to me. He smelled alcohol on my breath and said, “Sir, I can’t sell to you.”

“What the hell is wrong with you? Don’t let this little six-dollar-an-hour job get to you. Man, I’ve got enough money to buy half of this store. Are you going to sell me this twelve-pack? You know what? Take this and shove it up your ass. I’ll just go to the next store.” I walked out and there were police cars in the parking lot. A security guard in the store called the cops. I had enough time that when I had seen the cars, I took the pistol and threw it. They asked me what was going on. “Nothing, I just came to buy some beer.”

One of the officers had arrested me when I was younger. He remembered that I was a convicted felon. He said, “You are not supposed to have a gun.” They booked me into the Pima County Jail. That night they charged me with prohibited possession. The next day I woke up with the biggest headache and the biggest hangover.  When I went to court, the judge read off three counts of attempted armed robbery, three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and prohibited possession. That’s six felonies! Three of them are Class 3s, and three of them are Class 2s. Class 1 is the highest you can get—it’s like a murder.

I’m in the jail cell. I said, “God, what did I get myself into?” That was the point where I made myself a promise. I was done. I can’t live like this anymore. Not only was I putting my wife through a lot, I was putting my kids through too much stuff. I have five kids to think about.

I had my own lawyer—someone I used in another case. The way I got my money to begin with was not right. If I wasn’t careful enough to set money aside,  then I would never be able to afford a lawyer. I would have been represented by the state, and I would be in prison for a long, long time. My first plea bargain was seven to twenty-one years. I turned it down and they came at me with five to ten years. “What are you guys talking about? I didn’t rob anybody. I didn’t hit anybody.”

My third plea bargain was under the bracket they were supposed to give me. It was below the bracket two to five years. I was still fighting it. My lawyer met with the prosecutor. They reached an agreement and gave me “probation available.” I went to my sentencing. The judge gave me four months in the county jail and four years of probation. The first year started off as intensive probation. If I violate, I go to prison. They could aggravate my sentence and give me the max—twenty-one years.

My probation officer is wonderful. I look at him like a father figure, as an uncle. He is understanding, and I’m blessed to have an officer like him. The worst part of intensive probation is that I have to have approval for everything. If I want to go somewhere with my kids or go out with my wife, I have to get approval. Yet, if it wasn’t for intensive probation and what I’ve gone through, I would not be the person I am now. I wouldn’t have so much hunger for success.

The last time I was locked up was a turning point. I knew that my daughter was looking at me. That’s a feeling I never want to have again. Seeing her come to visit, and I was behind that glass. Her expression nearly killed me.

 

 

 

Carlos – Part 3

Part 3 of Carlos’ story from the book “A Snowball’s Chance.” 

High school dropouts tell their stories.

Juvenile Detention

When I was about ten or eleven years old, I had my first run-in with the law. It was a curfew charge. I was out on the streets late at night. They arrested me and took me to juvenile. I was there for eight hours. I was put in a program called diversion. All I had to do was complete some community service hours and go to a Scared Straight type of program.

In junior high I was labeled a “bad ass.” I was in and out of the principal’s office so many times that whenever anything happened, they’d automatically come to me. I was such a bad ass that the school resource officer, a police officer that worked at the school, actually tried to run me over. I had a mouth on me, and I wouldn’t take no shit from nobody.

An assault charge came next. I got into a fight with a kid at Doolen Junior High. After that there was a theft charge for a stolen bike. I bought the bike for twenty dollars from a kid that stole it. The next thing I knew, the cops were at my house. I was kind of dumb. I tried to hide the bike. I took off the tires and made a pit in my backyard. I doused the frame with gas and lit it. I was trying to strip the paint. Next thing I knew, the fire department was at my house. I said, “I’m trying to take the paint off my bike.” They looked into it a little bit more and arrested me. I went to juvenile for about two months.

God, that was the most humiliating, horrible experience in my whole life. It was de-grading. The staff looked at us like we were the worst kids. I loved the food but hated the constant confinement. We’d come out of the cell for two hours in the morning to go to school, get locked up again, go to lunch, and go to school for another two hours. The rest of the day I was locked in a two-man cell. The room had cement walls, a big steel door, and a four-inch window.

Juvenile was bad. I was knuckling up—always fighting. There were kids from ten to seventeen years old. A lot of kids label others from where they live. You might not be a gang-banger, but if you’re from the south side, you could easily be labeled a Crip. If the kid was from the north side, there were more Bloods, but Crips as well. Kids had to stand their ground and let others understand that they were not going to get punched or pushed around. The first time a kid bowed down to the next man, he was labeled a punk. He’s going to be fighting all of the time. Eventually, I went to Project Rise. It was a juvenile school, and the classes were smaller. There were outside probation officers breathing down my back. I had bus passes, and the officers always checked attendance. I’ve been arrested a good twenty to thirty times. My juvenile record was kind of stupid. It was for stealing and a couple of times where I took the rap for the older guys from the gang. That was for possession of marijuana, possession of narcotics with intent to sell, and firing a gun in city limits.

Looking Back and Looking Ahead

I always wanted to go into the military service. I wanted to know what it would be like to travel and to have a uniform on. I’ll never be able to do that. There are little things that bother me. I love guns. I like shooting guns. And I know that I can’t have one legally. There are different jobs that I’ll never be able to have. I can’t have a government job.

I have a saying that I believe: “You gotta be tired of being sick and tired.” Regardless of what anybody tells you, regardless of what anybody shows you, you are not going to make a change until you want to make that change. It’s like being a drug addict. Until you reach rock bottom, you are not going to change. No matter what the situation is; no matter what a person is going through, there is always hope. There are different programs and resources that can help people. A lot of times we have problems and we don’t realize help is out there.

Drugs

I was the pot head of the century. I started messing with weed when I was about eleven or twelve. For the first couple of years I really didn’t like it. Weed made me break out in hives. I kind of left it alone, but peer pressure got to me. When I was fourteen my homies were bugging me, “Come on, let’s smoke a joint. Smoke this splif.” I tried it when I was older, and I didn’t get an allergic reaction. I liked it.

We got weed from everywhere. Tucson’s real close to Mexico. This town is so full of drugs, and most people don’t realize it. Sometimes I had to pay for weed. The guys from the gang would always have it. When I was in school, I used just weed. I tried cocaine a couple of times, but I didn’t like it. I was smoking about an ounce, which is twenty-eight grams, every two days. Weed slowed me down and gave me short-term memory problems. I couldn’t remember anything. It made me slow and tired all the time. I was going to school as high as a bird.

I used to carry a little bag around my neck. It was a Walkman carrying case, but there wasn’t a Walkman in there. It was full of bags of weed. I would go to school with two ounces of weed a day and an eight-ball of cocaine. I broke the cocaine down into quarters—quarters are little twenty-dollar papers. I’d make between two and five hundred dollars, depending who I was selling to. If it was a dumb kid, I would sell him a little, a little bit and tell him it was a full twenty. It would be only a five-dollar piece.

I was a hustler. I would make anywhere from one thousand to three thousand dollars a week. For a high school kid, that was good money. I had two apartments and took care of three or four girlfriends. And I was taking care of my family, putting food on the table, and buying clothes for them. My mother knew where the money was coming from, but she’d just turn her face.

I would move a kilo every four days. Once I got into the hustling business, it was almost like figuring out the location of the nearest Circle K. I knew every drug house. When I was in the ninth and tenth grades, I was still doing weed, and I started hustling coke. I was moving about an ounce and a half every three days. When I dropped out of high school, I was running four crack houses. I was moving a kilo of coke every four days. The wholesale price of a kilo goes for about $12,500. I could make about $30,000 once it was broken down.  

I had four cars—an Astro Van, a ’64 Chevy Impala, a ’77 Cutlass, and a Grand Prix. Shoot, I didn’t even have a license. I had girls driving me around. I didn’t think about getting caught. I was in the fast lane.

When I first started out, I was the kid pushing the dope. After a year I moved up. I had another kid pushing my product. All I had to do was buy the product and weigh it out. I went from powder to crack cocaine. I would cook my coke and drop it off at my crack houses. I would relax and go back every few hours to see how my guys were doing. I’d get my money and drop off some more.

Through the grace of God, I don’t have a drug charge. Weed is addictive, but there aren’t any withdrawals. It’s like a cigarette. People desire it, but it’s not intense like coke. I had no remorse about selling coke. All I cared about was, “Make sure you have my money on the table.” There were times I’d drop off crack and the conditions of the houses were horrible. There were kids running around in the houses. All I cared about was my money. Actually, selling drugs and doing drugs—you can get addicted to both.

When I was out there hustling, doing my do, I realized that as quick as I made a dollar, I could spend it. If money is flowing and flowing, you don’t appreciate the value of the buck. I put money away. I had seven bank accounts under different family members’ names. I had a guilty conscience and didn’t want anything in my name. I figured that if something happened to me, the government would take my money. An account in someone else’s name was safer.

Carlo’s story will continue in Part 4.