Peter Kuntz



After beginning Small Bites of Love and Life and Some Crazy Places, by Peter Kuntz, readers just might become addicted to it. It seems that in describing Mexico and the Old West the author is not only evoking his memories, but memories that are so true that they somehow become awakened in the reader.
     The writer of these vignettes combines the immediacy and brevity of a Hemingway with the vision of a surrealist poet. "Sweet River" is a portrait of a wilderness river in the summer. "The Ambush" details a grimly powerful episode in the life of a band of weary revolutionaries.
     Here are vignettes and stories by a master of mood and narrative, with an affinity for animals and inanimate objects.

This small book is dedicated to the loves and lives and the crazy places of any of you who were gentle enough to hold it in your hands for a while.

A Place to Start

There are times to talk of other things.
     It is perhaps possible to take a back-look at some bites of love and life.
     And we have all lived in, known about, loved or hated, left and come back to, dreamed good or bad dreams about, some crazy places in our lives.
     They can have been surrounded by dusty roads, or cemented landscapes, unknown mountains and canyons, or lonely winds in lonely trees.
     Still, they will always be crazy places in a back corner sidewalk of our minds.

What Not to Write

Never write about pain and the useless and unimportant days. They are equally useless and unimportant to other people. And all other people have taken their own pain to themselves.
     It would be nice to talk about round-mooned nights and scarlet mornings that no one remembers anymore; about the way sex can sometimes jump up on you and smell like new-cut grass; that before the morning light, wild geese will sometimes fly over you and why you would not want to look up into that tall black sky and see geese crossing upon a cold full moon; that the biggest deer buck with the best spread of antlers hangs on your wall and why you would never want to shoot another because that was the one you deserved; how, on a hot crackle-dry fourteen-hour day tending cattle from the back of some cow pony, you can sometimes put off the dragging thirst awhile by rolling mesquite beans in your mouth; and the way red cactus pear out in the campo can taste better than fresh watermelon if you dip it a little into a cow salt lick; and the way it is to be on a good horse in a wild country and push up over some ridge and into the first big head-down norther of the year; and the way new smoke smells from a huisache wood fire when it finally comes downwind to you and you know there is going to be a pot of hot coffee up there somewhere waiting for you; and the way a girl's ear tastes when she has just bathed.

There Was a Goat Man in Another Valley

I remember the afternoons when we used to go see the goat man. His hut was on the other side of a lane from our ranch house. My brother and I were young then. We would ride over on horses to see him.
     Because he was old, he would let his goats go out alone, and in the late afternoons, his dogs would bring them back to the pens for the night. And he was old ever since I could remember him.
     He was always sitting in the shade of a lean-to in front of his house. He would always be sitting there in the cool dirt, fooling with something on the ground. And there was always a pot of coffee on the fire. I remember how we used to drink the black, thick coffee and spit out the dirt and then light up some of the old man's cornhusk cigarettes.
     To my brother and me, the cornhusk cigarettes were some wonderful things in the world. In our dreams, our good dreams, we could see the old man pull the stained sack of black Mexican tobacco out of his pocket and offer it around. It was hard to learn to roll cigarettes with the stiff cornhusk. But after we learned, that world was ours.
     When the coffee was finished, we would sit under the lean-to and roll a cigarette, taking plenty of time, perfecting it, thinking of the sweet smoke pouring down on the black coffee table. And then the old man would hunt around in the fire until he found a fine cigarette-lighting coal, and he would pick it up with some kind of pronged stick and pass it around. Then we would sit and talk. We talked of big things on those afternoons. Things far away. Of nights and life.




     We were three men, and we sat in the dirt and smoked and talked of the world.
     After a while, the goats would come back in. My brother and I would help the old man put them in the pen for the night and milk some of them too and give the milk to the dogs in old saucers. And sometimes save a little for our last tin of coffee.
     Then we would go back to his lean-to for one more slow-rolling cigarette before it was time to go home. When we left, the goat man would still be sitting there. Just where we had found him.
     Every day when we left, the sun would be about down then. It would be rolling along the tops of the hills that were way to the West.
     The shadows of the little stunted black brush would be stretched out along the dry bare ground. And the old goat man would be sitting down in the long shadows of the brush, sitting in the cool dirt, watching the last sun roll on those hills. When we stopped and pulled up our horses to look back at him, there would still be a layer of dust out across the valley.
     The big shadow from the hills crawled away from the sun, and it started blanking out the layer of dust. The old man sat in his lean-to, and the shadows from those hills moved toward him across the valley floor.
     He always seemed to be fooling with something in the cool afternoon dirt.
     The dogs hugged up around the final coals of the fire, like country dogs do, and slept, and dreamed good dog dreams.
     My brother and I were young then.

One Hell of a Girl

You always remember the way some people talked about their horses. Cut out calves better. Smooth-trot for ten hours if you are riding and looking for a hole in a long fence. Or bow head down and sleep if you ever found some shade in the mesquite and uncinched the saddle a little, near a piece of water.
     There was a light tan horse several years after that. I never knew her name. We were working cattle all the time then. She was a mare. And most brilliant. We were cutting cattle in rough brush and hill country.
     She was about the only animal I ever knew that was maybe half-human. Aim a calf back to the herd with one eye, and with the other eye jump over arroyos and dodge brush.
     All you mainly had to do was hold on and watch. She was a hell of a horse. Eyes and ears all over the place. Watching and listening for anything that moved.
     Small and light brown and no name. But she was like some kind of hurricane in the brush when cattle were around.
     It was nice, later, on those afternoons, to slide off the old girl and strip off your heavy chaps and her saddle. You then had to turn back to her and scratch a hungry ear and say, "Good evening to you, madame. Today was indeed a pleasure."
     There would be fresh hay and cottonseed cake in the corral for her.




     The cattle were set, and the day was out. The sun would be tucking away, and it was cool.
     She was a hell of a horse.
     I wish I had known her name.

A Night in Paris

They put them in a boxing ring on a Saturday night in Paris under a big tent. The little guy was a smooth nigger from Cuba. He was trying for a higher weight division. And he did that mainly down at the Lido.
     The other guy was from Argentina with about five-inches-reach advantage. One of those tall, high-cheekboned sledgehammers with 210-degree vision. A very cool performer. The kind that sort of steps back a little and then throws a right-hand 30/30 lever-action Winchester at around the temple area. Over the perfect weight by about two ounces.
     The little Cuban was supposed to be a very swinging boxer. But Paris and the Lido were too much for him, and he came out with just a snatch of a hangover. And there was a little perfume-sex smell still, if you leaned into him closely.
     The Argentinian never did lean into him that far. Mainly, he concentrated on sending in the long-distance 30/30 lever-action right hands that just pushed the smooth-moving little colored guy's face all over the red gloves.
     The Cuban tried for a knockout in the first three rounds. Then the Lido caught up with him. And then they rearranged his eyesight and footwork. All over the canvas.
     At the end of the fifth round, when the Cuban couldn't tell his manager his name, they stopped the fight. They put water on his head from a bottle and gave him strong things to smell.
     Then he walked around the ring, looking down on the canvas.
     As the loser, he was supposed to leave the ring before the champ. But he kept walking around the ring, looking down at the canvas. He kept saying that he had lost his favorite silver key chain there somewhere.
     After a couple of days, he came back again to that place under the big tent to look for his favorite key chain.
     Basically, they smashed him around a little that night.

When the Decoys Were Down

There was the duck hunting on Sunday mornings out on the Lerma River Basin.
     You had to turn off the main highway just before the last big curve to the left that goes on down to the town of Toluca.
     The duck blinds were strong and just off the water and tucked into the thick dark tules for cover. Each blind had a clean piece of water in front.
     That's where you laid out the decoys.
     It was always foot-stomping, bitching cold on those mornings. And a thermos bottle of cognac and almost-still-boiling coffee saved a soul from time to time.
     Boys in carved-out wooden canoes full of hay to keep everything dry poled you out with the equipment to your strong blind. In the dark, they somehow glided through the early morning mysteries of little trails of water between the blue tules.
     Sometimes the tules would wipe a cold, wet hand across your face in the dark.
     Slipping down some of those water trails, ducks would wake up and lift up and whisper off to another part of that basin. They were mainly pintails. Some were teal at the early part of the season. They were not happy at being bothered that early, and they complained in the dark. The pintails always complained the most.
     When the decoys were down and the early fog rolled away, there was perhaps no better shooting.




     At around ten in the morning, with the sun out, it was time to take off some sweaters and clean the shotgun.
     There would be a thick sandwich of raw onion and smoky ham and that cheese with the holes in it and hot mustard and slices of green Serrano peppers. That would be in the hunting bag with a bottle of raw red wine.
     Then it was time to put the clean-smelling liquids and oils and other things all over and into discreet corners and hidden places of Old Mr. Browning Shotgun.
     It was most satisfying, then, with the clean-smelling gun put away, and feeling the urgent bite of the onions and peppers, to zip open the heavy vest and lean back against your strong blind and watch the ducks fly over. Knowing you had shot all you needed.
     After that time, they put many factories around that basin. The waters turned black, and the ducks all went to another place.
     But when it was in its time, there was no better gathering of tules than that cold Lerma Basin on an early dark December morning.

The Bus That Went up to the Mines

Once every three days in the town, a bus market "Mexico Minerals Incorporated" came through, taking people up to the mines in the mountains. As the bus came grinding up the mountain road, a boy ran out of the station with a rollboard to check the motor. When the bus was stopped and all the people were drinking coffee in the station, the boy would roll under the bus and go to sleep for twenty minutes.
     Everybody thought it was funny because nobody in that town knew anything about motors. And the boy didn't even know where the motor was.
     Only one day the bus drove off while he was still under there, and it ran over his arm. The people standing around there laughed so bad the boy almost bled to death before they got him to a doctor. And when they told the doctor, he thought it was funny too.
     Only since then the mines up there gave out.
     The town continues still. It is smaller now. But it still continues.
     On the benches in the plaza with all other old men in the town, the boy with the crooked arm became that old man with the crooked arm. The story of the bus is told one or two times a month, along with all the other tired stories that old men tell. The stories and the old men never change.
     But now the big bus doesn't go up through there anymore.




The Night It Rained

All day the clouds had been building up over the mountain. The wind came, and the mountain pushed the wind up in the sky. The heat made it rise higher. Moist air was rising over the mountain, rising and leaving the dry air behind. Then white clouds began to puff up. They kicked up like cotton over the mountain. All morning the puffs popped and grew, opening up with the insides growing darker.
     Out over the valley the sky was clear. Only over the mountain there was that thin new line of white.
     By noon the new line became thunderheads. And they grew dark and flat on the bottom. Noon passed. In the heat the air over the mountain rose higher again, and all the moisture and coolness from the valley was pulled out and sucked up into the clouds, sucked up and pushed into the highest part of the clouds.
     The thunderheads boiled higher. Fifteen, twenty, twenty-five thousand feet. And at the bottom they were now very dark. By four o'clock the clouds had all boiled into one, and that one cloud was as high as it was going to go. The sun began to disappear behind the cloud bank, and a few last rays broke through and shot down on the valley from behind the darkness. Others again tried to work through the cloud. To shoot into the valley again....
     Darkness came, and the valley was still. There was no wind. But with the sun gone, the temperature dropped. Eight, ten degrees. And then the cloud exploded. The heat that pushed the moisture high in the air was gone, and now the heavy dampness at the top of the cloud began to fall. It fell down through the cloud, thousands of feet, falling with nothing to keep it up anymore, grabbing more moisture to itself, falling and beating against other temperatures.
     And then came the thunder and lightning bouncing against the mountain, and the rumbling. The heavy thunder was rumbling into the rock ridges and canyons.
     Then it was dark.
     Out on the valley, the cloud could not be seen in the darkness, only the flames of lightning against the ridges of the mountain.
     And the cloud lay over the mountain and waited. Down below, it was still hot. But new air rushed down through the cloud, rushed down and out through the bottom. And it drifted down the mountain's side and into the valley.
     The first breath from up there was quick and silent. A swirl of cool dampness brushed against the hot clay dust, and then it was gone. The trees moved for a minute, and then they were still again. In the town, people felt the wind. And the rain smell worked through the dust.
     "It's coming," they said. "The cloud is coming."
     The cloud still waited. And then it began to move. It moved from the mountain and out over the valley and town, and the rain came gusty and hard at first.
     Then it was quiet.
     And that night it rained quietly all over the valley.

Those Good-Smelling Girls

Those good-smelling girls wore polo coats that had hidden-away ragged spots and were dirty. And Harvard scarfs from some long-forgotten premed or English major.
     Their skin was always smooth. Almost too white. And they always had summer brown hair in a kind of pageboy thing. Their hair always bounced when they walked to class.
     Or to anywhere.
     They sneaked cigarettes into their dorm rooms at nights and bragged to each other about how drunk they got the night before. Or what kind of car they went riding in. Or how far some guy tried to go with them, parked on the banks of the Charles River.
     In the afternoons they sometimes rambled over to a bar that had some kind of jazz playing most of the time, and they picked up, or were picked up by, boys from Harvard or MIT.
     And while they talked about how they didn't think a girl should go too far on a first date, the boys felt them up under the tables.

A Stupid Town

The day grew. Darkness backed away from the prairie and from the tired grass and the grayed-out bushes.
     The sun began to burn on the town.
     Hot sand kicked up and moved through cracks in walls and into sweat-stained clothes until it found a place to stay. Then it stayed in that away-place all day and was gritty. Somehow it always managed to stick on the backs of necks and mix in sometimes with a bowl of beans. It blew in the wind and whipped around corners.
     The little houses in the town were white and adobe and sat with their dark windows and waited for the sun to move away in the late afternoon.
     There were always two or three dogs on the street. When they moved around or ran after something, the dust they turned up stayed up in the air. Then the wind would come back in off the old valley and throw the dust and sand back into the dark insides of the houses.
     Almost all days, old men sat on an iron bench under the only tree in the town square. The bench was next to the sweet water stand in the square. The old men sucked on dirty cigarettes. Sometimes, they talked. They always smelled like wood smoke and long-ago onions.
     Only nobody bought any sweet water from the stand anymore. The water was always warm for one thing, and not too sweet anyway. And then one day, someone saw the owner fill his jugs from that little stretch of rancid river that sits on the outside of town. So that the sweet water was mainly mud.
     Out on another part of the town, a woman lived in a house with a man. It was the only house in the town that was not white. The paint had peeled off, and there was only the gray color of nude adobe clay.
     Behind the house was a corn field full of weeds and dry corn stalks. Some chickens and pigs pecked and rooted around the field and the rocks for food that wasn't there.
     The pigs chased off a chicken if it came too close.
     In front of the house, the woman kept the door open in the day and hung sacks over the empty door to keep out the blowing sand. Then she threw water on the sacks so the wind that blew through them would try to be cooler.
     The man sat at the only table in the room and complained about the heat.
     The woman had quiet skin and smooth dark eyes.
     "There's more sand in this house than there is in all the valley," she said. She put more water on the sacks over the door.
     "Let it stay," the man said. "What's the use?" he said.
     The two beds in the room were old and colorless. Each had a thin mattress. There were no sheets or pillows. A shapeless piece of something was sprawled over them in case it got cool at night. It almost never got cool.
     The table was in front of the wood cooking stove. The table had never been painted, and there were grease stains on the table. Sometimes the man would slam down a bony hand on the table to kill a fly. But they always came back. Finally he gave up and pushed his plate away over the table. It was a bean stew in a tin plate.
     "Can't I eat anything in this stupid place that flies don't taste it first?"
     "Go on and eat," the woman said, "and forget about the flies."
     "Besides, this is terrible food," the man said.
     "It's that bad? Why don't you take a horse and go shoot some fresh meat up in the hills?"
     "I already tried that once. And anyway, I don't have a horse," he said.
     "Then don't complain about the food."
     "Besides, where is everybody in this stupid town? I don't ever know where people go around here."
     "Be quiet and finish eating that food." The woman shoved the plate back at him over the table with the food still on it. She stood and watched him.
     "I don't want to eat. Terrible food. And the flies got it all anyway."
     "Not going to eat."
     "You eat. You finish that food." The woman hit the table.
     "Stupid place."
     But he pulled the plate closer and ate.
     He never looked at the woman when he was eating.
     The wet sacks over the door let some cooler air in.
     Later in the afternoon, the darkness began to stumble back into the town from old secret places where it had been hiding during the day.

Sweet River

When you could walk down in the dry part of summer to that place in the valley where there was still some river running, the banks were all dried grass, and cactus was the only green thing there.
     Alligator gars ran in the deeper parts of the thick waters, and there would sometimes be bullfrogs tucked into hiding places in the mud banks. No one would fish for the gars or eat one of them ever, even if it was caught by mistake in the night on a trot line. They lived too much in the mud and carried that flavor with them forever.
     In the early summer, with the rains, the river would rise some, and the bass would swing back into the waters again, and the grass would come back, then greener than the cactus. The bass were lively and tasted like sweet river.
     Sometimes, then, ducks would come in on their way to someplace. They would whistle in over the willow trees and splash down on lazy parts of the river. Just before total dark, if you had your best shotgun in your arms, you might have swung off one or two almost impossibly fast shots at ducks.
     The mud flavor left the river in the early parts of those rains in the summer. The water would be clear and blue and sometimes swift. And there would be deer feeding on young grass on the banks under the trees.
     Coyotes sometimes wandered the edges of the banks of the river and looked at the ducks. But they were always too nervous and jumpy to be terribly serious duck hunters.

The Ambush

The nine men walked up the rock path on the side of the mountain. They walked in single file. The last man led the horse.
     They climbed up the mountain. At a level place, they stopped. The man in front waved for the last man to bring the horse up.
     All month long the soldiers had been after them. The fighting had started on a ranch outside Chihuahua City, and they had come out across the desert into Coahuila. Now, the water bags were getting low. But they couldn't look for springs for fresh water. The soldiers would be watching the springs. They had to stop running, for a while at least.
     The last ranch they passed, they had found the horse. They brought him with them. They were going to kill the horse and leave him below on the trail for the buzzards. Up farther, there was a rise in the path.
     That's where they would wait. If the buzzards flew off the carcass, they would know the soldiers were coming. Then they would ambush the soldiers.
     It was an old trick.
     The man who had been in the rear of the file brought the horse up. His face had been scarred by smallpox.
     "I don't see why we have to cut the goddamn horse," he said.
     "I told you once," Atilano said. He had been in the lead of the column.




     "Well anyway, I still don't see why we have to kill it. I don't see why we can't just shoot a rabbit. A rabbit. Or something like that."
     "We shoot something now, and the soldiers know where we are."
     Atilano was tired. He was tired of explaining everything. He had known these men since they were all boys together. They weren't the smartest bunch he had ever seen. But he couldn't just leave them. Somebody had to look after them. But he was tired of being the one.
     "One shot now and the whole army will be on us."
     He didn't know why he had to explain everything. Sometimes it made him mad. Or mainly it made him know how tired he was. He wasn't sure which. He wondered why he had ever gotten mixed up in the thing in the first place. They weren't Villa's boys. And Zapata was way down in the south being a hero. The revolution wasn't theirs anymore.
     But the soldiers went after them anyway. The soldiers went after anybody these days.
     "Just shut up," he said. "I don't like it either. But just for once. Please shut up. Just one time."
     He couldn't understand how anybody could ask so many questions. Sometimes, it made him lonely to know they couldn't look after themselves.
     "Unless you're so soft on the horse, you want to trade places with him."
     He was sorry he had said it. He knew he was very tired.
     He was just very tired.
     "What do you mean by that?" smallpox said.
     "Nothing. It was a joke."
     "It was a bad joke."
     "It was a bad joke," Atilano said.
     A man without any shoes came up with a piece of rope to tie the horse's feet. He was enjoying the whole business.
     "What are the horse's chances of catching buzzards today?" he said.
     "Everybody around this place is suddenly a goddamn comedian," smallpox said.
     The men stood around while the horse was tied. They didn't like the killing much. But they didn't care too much either.
     Especially wanting to move on. Waiting to get to a higher shelter up on the mountain.
     They tied the two front feet of the horse together, and then the two back feet. The horse, old, thin, beginning to feel something wrong in a tired way, lurched to balance, could not, and fell on the ground. Two men held the two pair of tied feet into the air so the horse could not stand again. A little thin man sat on the horse's head.
     Seeing the horse ready, Atilano moved toward it, opening his knife. He wiped the knife on his pant leg and felt the edge with a thumb. Then he knelt down and pressed the blade against the jugular vein on the horse's throat. The blade pressed the skin down. It slid along the skin, and then the horse's throat swallowed it.
     The blood came. The men stood and watched the blood come. It wasn't much different than watching a calf being branded.
     Atilano wiped the knife on a rag. He felt the edge again and walked off.
     The horse did not feel the sharp blade at first. At first, it didn't feel anything at all. The men untied his feet and were backing away when the horse, feeling no more throat and smelling his own blood, made a lurch. He jerked his head up and struggled up to stand.
     The little thin man who was sitting on his head was thrown into the air and landed on his side. The men laughed.
     The horse stood. Dumb-looking. Smelling his own death. The blood running out of the wound, down his neck to his body, and down his legs to the ground. He looked wasted worried. Black open eyes blinking. Stupidly worried.
     The little thin man who had been thrown in the air was still laughing. He picked up a heavy stick and hit the horse over the head. The horse fell to the ground. The blood still pumped out of the open throat, and the last breathing bubbled up through blood that had gone back inside the throat.
     They left the horse there on the trail to bring the buzzards and then wait for the soldiers.
     They walked on up the rock path on the side of the mountain. Some made jokes at the little thin man who had been thrown in the air.
     Smallpox called them all a bunch of goddamn comedians.

Up There Where the Trail Ended

The smudge pot was sunk deep in the snow up the mountain where the trail to the old mine ended. Alone in the wind and trees, the smudge pot flickered in the white chopped-up snow around it, and the trail passed by and ended a little farther along.
     In the clouded daytime the pot burned on without use, and the gray trees and brush stuck up through the snow. The flame the pot made said good-bye from time to time to a swinging thin finger of black smoke, and the rest was white. The wind blew off the snow, and the flame twisted, but it would not go out. It could not go out, and it twisted all day long in the rocks and trees and their big mountain.
     In the night the flame burned where the trail ended, and the light came through the trees and down through the mountain's night, and it made a yellow circle in the dark. The snow was lit up, with the rocks underneath made warm, and the night sounds came into the yellow circle, and they were also warm, and they went back to the dark and were night sounds again and cold.
     The flame burned day and night. Sometimes, the little light could be seen from the valley by the people who lived there. And sometimes they looked out their windows up at the flame made by the black smudge pot in the snow because they knew that was where the trail ended.

A Place with No Water

There was always a little death in the eyes of the people who lived on that desert valley floor. They lived mainly around the bottoms of the dry hills.
     There were adobe huts mixed in with mesquite trees in sometimes shade. Never any breeze came off those dry hills.
     It was a pounded-out flat dirt valley. There was no color there anywhere. Shadows came only in the dusk-dark late afternoons.
     The bite of death was always around that no-color place all the time. And it started up every morning with another dry sun. Sometimes, bony buzzards would fly over to look for it in the brush.
     In the night it lay and waited in the desert dust, down under the mesquite and huisache trees.
     You could never hear it.
     Except that sometimes you could see it in the eyes of the people who lived on that valley floor.
     There was not even any water down there in that place.
     No one could tell you why there was no water there.
     Or why they even lived there.

Augustin's Sister

In the small brown light in the hotel room, the bullfighter dressed slowly in the traje de luces for that afternoon.
     The only other light, except what came through the curtains over the windows, was from a small candle that burned in front of a wooden image of the Virgin. There was a fern pot plant beside the image. Some of the leaves were dead and yellow and were beginning to fall from the fern. The dead leaves were spread around the table. Some fell into the candle and burned.
     The bullfighter walked to a mirror. Then he went to a table, fixed himself a large cognac in a hotel bathroom glass, and poured it down his throat.
     In another corner of the room, two men sat at a smaller table. They were a tailor and a barber, the bullfighter's private tailor and barber. They sat in the corner and smoked and talked. The tailor sewed up a rip in something that was not important.
     The barber had been there for a while.
     "Look at him," he said. "He will never make it through the ring."
     "Forget that part. He will not even get to the ring," the tailor said.
     "Wouldn't even let me shave him. Wouldn't let me help him with the traje. Some kind of bad day. Some kind of ugly Sunday."
     "This is the worst I ever saw him."
     "How long has he been drinking?"
     "He was taking those big ones when I came in early this morning."
     The tailor and the barber didn't say anything to the bullfighter. They just watched him out of the corners of their faces.
     "You heard about the sister. Didn't you?"
     "You mean being a prostitute?"
     "Yeah. That."
     "I heard about it. Everybody heard about it."
     "How did he ever find out anyway?"
     "That's the good part. The way he found out. He went to one of those houses downtown the other night. With a couple of friends. And there she was. Working in the house. In little underwear and black stockings and nothing on top. When he walked in."
     "Puta madre. You call that the good part? What a way to find out."
     "Well, if you're going to find out, that's one way to do it."
     "But why? She didn't need the money. More money was something she did not need."
     "That's what you would think. But before he became the great Agustén, he was a very poor Agustén. Back then, there was no money at all. So the sister was a prostitute. And after a while, she couldn't stop it. Had to do it. Just kept going at it."
     "No wonder the heavy ones. A prostitute sister. Dios mío."
     "He had better pull himself together. He was just getting to the top. Just getting to be somebody. This could be a good season. For all of us. Could be a good season."
     "Look at that. He can't keep drinking that stuff like that."
     "The great Agustén. Drunk. And with a whore sister."
     "Some sight. Now how are we going to get him out to the plaza? He doesn't face the bulls this time, he'll never face them again."
     "Truly. And then figure this in also. I have a wife. And six children. And they all like to eat. He has to face the bulls today."
     "How long have we been with him? We're just beginning to get to the top. He can't stop now."
     "Not for a thing like this. His sister is doing what she has to do. And we have to eat. And he has to face the bulls. We all do what we have to do."
     "A prostitute, sister. Think of that. Dios mío."
     "Dumb puta."
     "Yeah. But what can you expect?"
     "Dumb puta."
     "The friends said she has a good little body."

Something Personal

A. Down the slopes and up into the cold fringes where the mountains started to climb, the eucalyptus trees used to nudge each other around when a new wind blew through.
     Not many people knew what they were called anymore. But they were big trees. And when the wind blew through, they would nudge around against each other like new lovers.
     You could even sometimes hear the wind sneaking around down below them in the leaves.

     B. It was always so dark just before dawn. Driving down a cold road into that place. Or up on a gravel way that led into a black corner of a sleeping mountain.
     There were sometime-misty mornings with the heavy sex smell of early dew.
     Once in a while, you could look up and see some kind of waking sun throwing early morning kisses across the tops of the highest mountains there.

     C. Damn, it was nice to walk under those pine trees that were all green. And feel your feet crackle on their dry needles that they left behind on some other journey.
     They were such big trees, the sun hardly ever made it down between them.
     But every once in a while, when you walked there, sometimes a spot of light on the ground would jump up. Like a flash the big trees probably just let through.
     And in the green half-dark, it was like walking into a piece of fireworks.

     D. Who is as true and honest and as thoughtful as one good word?

     E. At one time, on clear afternoons, they would shoot quail and pheasant in the Colorado Rockies.
     In a summer-plateaued kind of place, with long fields in a valley where you could look up from time to time to see the mountains around you with their blue-brown sides slipping down into other fields. And the last-summer snow on their tops. Holding on still. Not as white anymore. But holding on still. And as pretty as ever.
     That day we went to shoot birds with a dog that ran in front of you in semicircles to cover the field, and never got tired. And then would come upon a secret scent of birds in thick grass cover and begin to move around that place like slow marble.
     If you ever happen upon a good hunting dog, then you may have perhaps happened upon something of nobility and genius.
     Some of them will elegantly sniff out and point up the game birds and stand over the clump of thick grass with saintly patience until you stumble up over the field with your shotgun ready. Then that most intelligent dog will flare up the birds, and they will fly out of that place on wings that make a thousand different sounds. A little below the scatter of distant thunder.
     If you make a good shot, the elegant dog will pick up the bird and bring it back and put it in your hand. And then sit back under a wagging tail, down in the shade of some big tree and smile with you and your big smile. Happy with the shot. And him happy for finding the bird.
     When the two of you head back together with a good bag of birds, well shot and nobly retrieved, it is sometimes difficult for some outside people to understand how much fun you and that dog have just had together.
     But then, outside people don't really count too much, do they.

The Big Movie House

Mostly he lived out there with his wife and eight children.
     They all lived in a two-room shack. Somehow, they all lived in a two-room shack. He rode a horse in the days to mend fences and look for stray cattle up in the mountains.
     But once a month, he took his family into town, and they bought new shoes, or maybe one or two shirts, and then they would go to the movies.
     That was the big thing. Going to the movies. Back at home, they would talk about that movie for days. It even turned into a big thing to talk about with other people. As if it had actually happened.
     He would meet a stranger passing through the country and say, "Want to know what I heard in our town the other day?"
     And then he would start telling the stranger a story that he got out of maybe five or six different movies. Some strangers thought it must be one exciting town.
     It was a big thing for them. Going to the movies. He used to say that was what all the world was.
     A big movie house.
     All the stars in the sky were glowings from cigarettes in the movie house. Some close. Some far away. Because you can smoke in some Mexican movie houses.
     Night came, he said, when there were dark scenes on the movie screen, and day came when there was a bright scene. He used to say that we are only a bunch of little things sitting around on a dark light bulb someplace in the theater.
     That's all the universe was. People out there watching a movie we can't see. And so we don't know about the story or anything.
     Then, he used to say, someday the movie would be over, and everybody would throw away their cigarettes and the lights would go on, and we would be burned off our little bulb. That would be the end of our world.
     And always the lights would be turned on, and the people would crunch out the rest of the stars under their feet.
     I don't know if he got all this out of some movie or not. I don't think so because he used to think a lot of funny things like that. He used to think about all kinds of things when he got away from his children. He liked his children. But he liked to get away from them too.
     Anyway, he said we would never find out what that movie was out there because just when we would be about to find out, somebody would probably just switch the light on our little bulb.

A Bad Piece of Sand

You could see them knocking the shit out of our guys. With all their heavy artillery stuff. All up and down the beach.
     There were boots and khaki uniforms and helmets.
     Sometimes, in the khaki there were still arms and legs inside. Thumping up on the beach with the shells and spraying into the air with the sand.
     When it was over, the ocean was quiet again and turned back to green. Then it would lap up onto the beach and carry off the helmets.
     But the khaki arms and legs and some of the boots mainly stayed on the beach and dug deeper into the sand with the waves.
     There were a lot of things lying around there.
     But we were moving up then. Into a higher part of the island.
     There just wasn't too much time left to take care of any of those things. Or think about them too long.

Chago

The place that looked out over the river was the place to go. That was where the town started. You went to the other places, out in the middle of town, and that was where the tourists were.
     But out along the river, it was quiet, and there was always a breeze.
     You turned right on the other side of the International Bridge. Just before you got to a sign that said, "Welcome to Mexico Tourist."
     There was one place that had a wide balcony over the river. You sat on the wide balcony, had a good drink, and watched the river and the flat country on the other side.
     That place had a guitar player named Chago, and he sat on an old wooden bench on the balcony and played. He half-talked songs through his guitar. Some things about the old revolution and Pancho Villa. Some lone riders up in the mountains to the north. Riding with the sun and ghosts in big country. And how they lived and loved and were lonely and stayed lonely. Many times about betraying women and broken hearts.
     After a song, he would sit on the bench and drink some kind of drink and suck on a lime and look down over the railing into the swirling slow river. He would sit there and wait for another song to come back. If it ever did, he would play again. If it didn't, he would just watch the river.
     No tourist came to see Chago. Only the people from around there. Old men in from farms. Riders from the high country. And some goat men. They came to see Chago because he was still part of that plateau country.
     Part of those people.
     Part of sitting in the shade in the cool sand until the sun went away. In the plaza, talking. People in the cool adobe houses watching their field of corn from their dark windows. Waiting for the rain. Couples walking in the dusk. Boy in from the country to see his girl. Walking, talking. Holding hands. Shy.
     They came to see Chago.
     Down below the balcony, the river swirled and whispered on down to the south. When it got dark, they turned up a yellow light. The yellow light rippled on the river, and the river whispered on down.
     And sometimes the guitar kept on saying sad things into the night. Sometimes even after all the people were gone from the wide balcony. Sometimes.
     But then there was still always that river. The river was always there. Swirling and whispering on down to the south. That part never changed.

Once Upon a Time

Nobody ever took your goddamn date.
     Yeah. You're going to. If I get one.
     Have I ever done anything like that to you?
     Screw you.
     Well, have I?
     Look, if I bring her in here, will you just lay off?
     I already got a date. I'm going to be with her.
     Then I'll pick her up. I'll pick up Sally and bring her by here and get some gin and stuff and fix up the room.
     Sally?
     Yeah, Sally.
     Better get bourbon.
     Why bourbon?
     Because Sally likes bourbon.
     How the hell do you know that?
     Hell. I just know.
     Well, how the hell do you know?
     I talked to her one time. And that's what she said.
     Big man. Big bastard man.
     Just get bourbon. All right? And forget about it. All right?
     What else did you talk about?
     When?
     What else did you talk about? When you saw her?
     Hell. That was before you knew her. Kind of screwed up. Christ. And wild? You could get a few drinks in her and she would really open up. But that was before you knew her. She's probably changed.
     She hasn't ever opened up with me.
     I told you. She probably changed.
     When did you see her? I mean the last time? As in bastard friend.
     I don't know.
     When did you see her?
     Climb off my back. I saw her last weekend.
     Was she wild then?
     You're just asking for it.
     Goddamnit. Was she wild then?
     Yeah. She was wild then.
     You sneaky bastard.
     Forget it, will you?
     Yeah, sure.
     Just forget it.
     Yeah. I forgot.

     You want to dance? Let's dance. I gotta learn how to dance. No, you dance fine. No, I gotta learn, really. Are you tired tonight or something? No, I'm not tired. Are you? I feel fine. Then why did you ask? I don't know. You don't look like you're having much fun. I'm having a great time. I got your letter. I got all of them. They're great. No, listen, they're probably pretty stupid. Don't say that. They're good. I mean really good. They make me feel a lot better when I get them. If I get depressed or tired or something at school, and then get one of your letters, it makes me feel a lot better. They just about save my life. I just write down a lot of stuff. It's not stuff. You must spend a lot of time writing them. No. Not much time.
     Four goddamn hours a letter. If I'm lucky. And they make her feel a lot better? Well, now. That's nice. That's really nice. That's one of the nicest things I can think of. Offhand. I'll bet they really make her feel pretty good all right. Wonder if she ever really reads them. But then she used to be a wild girl. Before I knew her. But she's changed. A week ago she was a pretty wild girl all right. But, what the hell. She's changed. So what the fuck do I do now? Just forget about the whole goddamn thing? I gotta stop getting involved. Every time I get involved, I always make it into one of those dumb brother and sister you're-helping-me-out deals. Pretty wild all right. Hand on her leg. And she probably laughed. And the hand on the leg moved. And the laugh. And I really like bourbon 'cause it's warm. And warm things go all the way through me. They just go all the way through me, warm things. But that was a week ago. And she's probably changed by now.

The Concert Pianist

They called them flatirons. They were giant, thick slabs of rock that stabbed up through the side of the mountain over the town.
     His mother never knew he was climbing. Said he was going to be the best concert pianist in the world. He practiced all afternoons on the piano at home for hours, and his mother would sit and nod and dream of black-tie concerts.
     But in the early mornings, he used to go up the slick flatirons and come back down in time for breakfast with his mother.
     He had long piano fingers and was supposed to play in a piano concert that night. Dedicated to his mother. As always.
     His piano playing was crisp. And he would carry a smile all the time.
     When they brought him down off the mountain, he still had the rope wrapped around his arms and legs. His head was sort of bashed in from the fall down the slab, and his mouth was all off to one side.
     His mother was extremely deaf and sat waiting that night a long time for Chopin.
     They played a scratchy little piano record in the corner concert hall for a while, and then everyone said goodnight.
     Earlier that evening, they buried old long fingers with the funny smile in a lot just outside of Boulder. Down off the flatirons.
     They put his sweater and climbing pitons in a little cardboard box and sent them to his mother.
     They would have included the rope, but it was all messed up with his body.

Then There Was the Other End of That Canyon

The two men lived in the one remaining room in the falling down and abandoned old mission up in the north. And that's about all they did. They had some chickens and four goats and a corn field.
     What they couldn't get from that to live on, they tried to shoot. Deer or rabbits. Up there in the lower canyons in the mountains. And what they couldn't get from that, they tried to steal from other farms.
     But then, any other farm in those parts was in about the same condition as theirs. So mostly they did with what they had.
     They worked the corn field and tried to keep the chickens and goats alive in the heat and hauled in water from a spring a mile and a half away.
     And about the only thing they did, they did one Saturday night a month, with any money they had left, in the little town at the other end of that canyon.

A Hat Named "Cold"

It always seemed to be dry in that part of the country.
     But when the wind was strong, the clouds came up over the mountains from the north, and then it always looked like rain.
     But the rain never came. And it did that almost every day. Some people believed it would never rain again. They said the skies would be dry forever.
     The old man believed it would rain, said it was sure to happen any day now. But he was mainly crazy. He had an old Mexican army hat that somebody wrote "Cold" on with white paint.
     The people didn't even listen when he said it would rain. They made fun of him all the time. He didn't seem to understand that. Believed people were childish and innocent. Smiled and laughed with them and their jokes. Maybe never knew the jokes were going at him.
     When he went to the cantinas, he sat on the bar stools and told the people where he had been and what he had done that day because he thought they all wanted to hear. Thought they were interested and waited each day for the afternoons in the cantinas when he told his things. He called them all his "hijos." His children.
     The bartenders came around from behind the bar with ice, and they put it in his pockets when he wasn't looking. Then the people stood around and laughed.
     When the old man found the ice in his pockets, he always smiled and tried to shake hands with the bartenders and the people at the bar.
     "Mis hijos," he would say. "It is clever that you do this. I am infinitely proud that you do this."
     One night when the rains finally came, he walked down in the dark to the riverbank at the south end of the town to feel the river rise.

My Lover Gal's Hair

Old man working in the field all day.
Working and spitting in the field.
Sun burn down on the spit in the land,
And there ain't no trees for a shield.

Black dirt weeps for a virgin's heart.
You can let the soul find a way.
But a virgin's heart and a virgin's tear
Will make the black in the clay.

Old walls standing caked and dry,
Fussing with storms and sand.
Day them caked walls dry and fall,
Day my lover gal's name I'll call.

Dogs a-fighting in the streets.
Children crying food.
Along came a yellow gal and throw a dollar down,
And asks for beans by the pound.

A bean'll last you a day and a half;
Cornpone two months or three.
City boy looking mighty thin
On thirteen hours of spree.

Cloud going down along another valley.
Rain on some other land.
Cows been eating sticks and rocks,
And I been drinking sand.

Guess some day there'll be peace and quiet,
And time for love and a smoke.
And I'll tie my prairie horse to her door,
And my lover gal's hair I'll stroke.

The Inspection

This is just a little dirt town in the worst part of this place.
     But the funny thing was the army camp that was in the town here. That was about twenty years after our revolution. The barracks were just outside the town here on a little hill. But there wasn't any army. There was only a company commander. A captain. No men. They had all married and moved away, or else just got tired of the army and left.
     The captain didn't care. He lived at the barracks alone. And he kept collecting money for a full company of men.
     This captain would get up in the morning, blow some kind of bugle, raise an old flag someplace, and go back to sleep for the rest of the day. Nobody ever saw a man sleep so much. Truly a man of inhuman tranquility.
     The only thing he did besides sleeping was stealing. Nobody knew why. He didn't need to steal. Because he was getting the pay of a hundred men. But he stole anyway. Watermelons and chickens most of the time. Hardly anything else. You would see him running across a field with a tremendous watermelon on his shoulder, taking these long, leaping steps.
     Everybody in the place knew that he stole. But they all thought it was funny.
     Sometimes the people would stand and look over the fence at the captain running across the field. They would start clapping and cheering, always if the watermelon was especially large.
     The captain would stop running and look at them from under the watermelon. He would look and smile. Then shift that watermelon from one shoulder to the other. And, still with the grin, walk on back to the barracks.
     Well, the big time came when we heard there was going to be an inspection on the barracks. By a general who was coming to town. We all waited for that day because we wanted to see what the general would do when he found out there were no men in the whole company.
     When that day finally came, we all went out to the barracks. Everybody in the town went. Everybody.
     The captain had been out there alone in the middle of the parade ground, at attention, since early morning. We all got close so we could be sure and hear everything.
     Everybody stood around looking down the road for the general.
     After a while, way off, down the hill on the road, we saw the dust boiling up. And then up the hill and to a stop. The general's car. Trying to shine through the dust.
     A very pale driver jumped out and opened the back door. And out of the dust and machinery, stepped the general. He walked with big long steps out to the middle of the parade ground where the captain was still standing at attention.
     I remember an old flag was hanging from a telegraph pole.
     They saluted. And the quickness and snap of the salute slammed across the parade ground and hit us in the face. It was so impressive. And the people's eyes glowed.
     Then the general inspected the captain's uniform, and we knew the big moment would come any time now. After the general looked over his uniform, he said, "Well, that's fine, Captain. Now let's go see your men."
     That was what we were waiting for. Nobody said anything. But there was a little old woman with a black shawl and no teeth, and she sucked in her breath with a loud noise. The captain looked the general straight in the eye. "There are no men, my general."
     "What do you mean there are no men?" the general asked. He was smiling. Very quietly.
     "I'm sorry, sir. There are no men."
     "Well, where are they, Captain?" The smile was beginning to stick in the general's teeth. It had gone out of his eyes.
     The captain looked away then. He looked down at his shoes. Then he looked off at the mountains where some clouds were building up. And then he looked down again. He looked like he was about to cry. And without looking up at the general, "They are all dead, sir," he said.
     What was left of the general's stuck smile disappeared. He had never expected the captain to say that, and we were as surprised as the general. "How can they be dead, Captain? How did they die?"
     "They were all killed in battle, sir." The captain was looking directly into the general's eyes again. Only he had a hurt expression on his face. The sadness of all his dead men.
     The general backed away a step. Now he looked like he had just smelled something horrible. "Killed in battle, Captain? Killed in battle? There hasn't been a battle in the entire country in twenty years." He was almost screaming.
     The captain looked off at the mountains again for a minute. "You are correct, my general. I was lying. They are not dead," he said. The captain turned around and looked at us. "These are my men here." He pointed at us. We never expected this, and nobody could think of anything to say.
     The general was really screaming now. "What do you mean these are your men? These are people from the town."
     "They just look that way, my general. They are posing as spies."
     The general looked at us. He was about to say something when the little old woman without any teeth yelled out, "Attention," and we all threw up our right hands in that fine stiff salute. Even the women and children.
     "What is this?" the general screamed. He looked at the captain. The captain didn't say anything. He looked off at the mountains. The general started walking toward us. Then he stopped and started walking back to the captain. Then he stopped again and looked back at us.
     When he looked back at us, the little old woman without any teeth yelled, "Attention," again, and we all threw up the fine salute. The general started backing toward his car, looking at us and then at the captain. Then he jumped in his car and they drove off.
     After that, the barracks were turned over to another captain. But nobody liked him very much.
     Our captain moved into the town with us, though, and he bought a nice little farm with the pay of all his one hundred men.
     And he stopped stealing our watermelons too.

An Artist at Last

I suppose he had come to Mexico City to paint.
     At least, he told us he had come to Mexico City to paint. Only he didn't bring any paint or brushes of any kind. After a while, though, he did send back to England for some things, because he said he couldn't seem to get started and thought perhaps going over some of his old work would put him back on the track. And then he explained, very carefully also, which was important for us to know, of course, that another reason he could not seem to get started was this problem he had. Some of it indeed most grave. Almost overpowering, in fact.
     The problem he had was that he had left England to support himself because he didn't want to accept money from his mother. Very righteous about that sort of thing. But on the other hand, he let it be known, that if, at any time, he had actually wanted to, he could just wire his mother and she would send him five or six thousand pounds. Just like that, if you can believe it. But he wouldn't do it. Because he wanted to show her that he was a man and had too much man inside to just accept money from a woman. Just like that. None of that for him, don't you see.
     He had just enough money for lodging and food every month. The interest from a small trust fund, we imagined. But then, it didn't leave much extra money for entertainment or things of that sort, which was quite important in that group. And that bothered him a little because he was extremely interested in the Mexican women. Or birds, I believed he called them. He used to say that he had never seen anything quite like those Mexican birds. In fact, he said, they were even better than the French birds. Almost exquisite, he said.
     After a while, to help him solve his money problem, several of us found him work with an old woman up in San Angel. The old part of San Angel. With the cobble streets and the big, wooden doors. And hidden rock fountains and people who said hello to you still.
     She made these papier-mâché dolls and lipstick holders and vases and so on. All sorts of stuff. And she hired people to paint them. Paying good wages in pesos in cash per day, which would give him some extra spending money. And, at the same time, he could study his painting in the afternoons after work. (There were some who believed his painting needed more development. A little crusty, someone said.)
     He didn't like the lipstick-case idea too much, but then he did it anyway. For a while at least. Because he was so intent on solving his problem like a man. A most intent young person.
     I didn't see him much for a while after that. We were all working fairly hard at something then. Except, every once in a while, I would see him downtown, drinking coffee with some bird.
     Then I met him several months later for lunch. He told me he had this most terrifically exciting news. He said he had sold a painting in the Plaza Sullivan, which is a very fine place for beginners to peddle their art, and there is no problem with gallery commissions, or anything of that sort. All rather bohemian and nice. With the paintings under the trees in the shade, on a Sunday morning after a cup of chocolate. He was sitting on top of the world after that, he said. He said his career was finally forming.
     He had, of course, quit painting lipsticks and vases because it obviously wasn't worth his time anymore. And the most exciting news of all was a little Australian bird he had met and was going to marry. He said she had a small side income also, and he thought they would make it very nicely. Most comfortably indeed. He also explained to me, confidentially of course, that although he objected to her somewhat overwhelming Australian accent, he knew she would make a loving wife, since she was a wonderful cook and could knit such nice things.
     We had a wedding for them several weeks later in someone's garden. Very simple and all. And they went off to Tepotzlán to a little inn there for some days of honeymoon.
     He got royally drunk at the wedding, but not in an obnoxious way. Then he explained to everyone, at least ten times, that he had finally found himself and would now go on to become a great artist. Dressed in all the nice things she was going to knit for him. Good old British school of knitting.
     The girl was a sweet thing, really. And blushed about going on the honeymoon. (He was proud to tell me in a corner of the garden, in an expensive moment, that she was a virgin.) She had just a sip of rum and a little champagne that someone brought, and then they were off on their honeymoon.
     I never saw either of them again after that. Not many of us did. But the whole thing ended quite strangely, you will be sorry to hear. It seems he never sold any more paintings, and things got fairly sticky. Then she had a baby, which died after a week in the hospital. And that meant a large hospital bill. And he refused to go back to the lipsticks and the papier-mâché because he felt it was a needless waste of his talent.
     She tried knitting things and selling them. But nobody bought anything. Except a friend. Occasionally. And there is a limit to the amount of sweaters even a friend will buy. They also say he started to drink. Some very cheap stuff. But a lot of it. He evidently thought it would help his work. Inspiration, or something. I was told it was all very sticky.
     And then one afternoon, she went off and sold herself in a whorehouse in Mexico City. Not a very delightful ending to the whole business, you understand. There are, in the city, these very special houses which make a speciality of married women or sisters or mothers. Or whatever you happen to have in mind. Someone told me they are only open during the lunching hours so that businessmen can go there after their lunch. Or before. I believe they call it the businessman's special.
     So that's where she went. And as I heard it—and of course you can never be certain of these things—he was the one who made her go. Most amazing situation. Walked into the little living room one morning, a little soused perhaps, and told her what buses she could take to get to the house. She just put down her knitting, combed her hair, slipped into a little leftover perfume, and was off.
     Then someone told me recently that, in a way she began to like it. New friends and nice dresses. Goes all the time now. Doesn't even take buses anymore. Of course, you can't be certain. As I said, I never saw either of them again. And this city is rather large, and people seem to get lost in it.
     And you hear so many stories these days. Not all of them could be true.
     I could not honestly say, for example, that he is not after the birds again. I don't know. He was so intrigued by them, don't you see.
     Oh, absolutely a fanatic.

The Hot Part of Summer

Most of the days in the hot part of summer, we would have to be down there off the hills sticking cattle through the tick baths. The cows would go through the stalls and be pushed into the dip vat. Stiff-legged and white-eyed. The cowboys sat on top of the corral wooden sides. Or they walked along the sides with sticks and punched the cattle on through the corral into the dip.
     The cows always came up out of the vat with red eyes rolling and trying to spit out some of that bad-smelling poison. Probably not much fun if you're a cow in tick country.
     About the same amount of fun if you happen to be a cowboy in that kind of country in the hot time of the year. It tends to beat the hell out of your kidneys. Hustling cattle out of the brush and hills and through arroyos and toward the corrals where the dipping vat is. On top of some dumb gray-haired roan horse that doesn't care if you live or die.
     It always seemed to be the worst part of summer when you had to dip cattle for ticks. And it was hell on business leaving any small calves behind alone in the brush or up in the hills.
     Coyotes or loneliness or something always seemed to get them.

La Virgen de Guadalupe

Almost everybody up in that part of the country made a special promise to go to the shrine of the Virgen de Guadalupe. At some time or other, they all made that promise. Most people never did go.
     He had trouble remembering the first time he had known he would have to go. It went further back into his life than any other thing. It went further back than when he first worked a rope or sat a good horse. He thought maybe his mother had first planted the idea.
     She even named him Guadalupe. But then, so many things were named after the patron saint. Rivers and valleys and streets and towns. Sometimes, horses and dogs.
     So he believed he had a special duty to make a pilgrimage to the shrine.
     He worked on one of those ranches up in the north. Up there above Musquiz. He had been on that ranch a long time. Since he was a boy.
     The old boss, the owner, said he was about the best vaquero on the place. He even said he could be foreman one day, with a little more experience.
     That meant he could move into the nice little white house with the blue roof and the fence around it and two bedrooms and even a kitchen. It was right in the main compound of the ranch, right next to the big house. The early morning coffee always smelled good there.
     Now, he lived in a one-room house on a far corner of the ranch. But it was clean and had a porch in front where there could be a breeze. It was a nice house. But the foreman's house would be better.
     He had told his wife about his plan to go visit Guadalupe. Many times. They had been putting money away and saving for his trip. For years now. She thought it was a wonderful idea.
     She was a good woman all right. There was no question about that. She kept the house clean and taught their children, so that when the boss would come over to see how everything was on that part of the ranch, the children would bow and shake hands and stay quiet.
     She had good hips for having babies and fine breasts for feeding them. And she was always good on the little porch in the hot dark nights when the wind brought animal sounds down from the mountains.
     They would have their children sleep inside in the room, and they slept outside on the porch. She mainly slept in one of his shirts, that always smelled just washed. And nothing else. For a while every night, they would lie and listen to the dark settle into the valley and maybe watch heat lightning work around way on the other side of those mountains.
     She was about the best he had ever seen. And she always knew what he wanted and when he wanted it and how it was best. She had strong familiar ways. Always with him, and maybe even sometimes ahead of him. He thought he would be able in the dark to tell her from a thousand other women.
     It was the same with horses. Each one had a different way to move, a different way of working cattle. A different way of going down a hill. Some of them worked with you. Some just worked because you were up on top making them work. He preferred the ones that worked with you. Those were the best horses for that kind of country.




     Finally, that day came when he started out on his pilgrimage. He took the savings and some clothes and started for Mexico City to see the Virgen. The people around there had heard about his trip. They gave him things to be blessed at the shrine. They gave him medallions with Guadalupe's image. One or two long-time rings. Some pocket knives. A boy over there even asked for his spurs to be sanctified. They were a good pair of spurs.
     A heaving bus went by the ranch every four hours. He got on it with all the things to be blessed.
     There was a little town about two hours from the ranch over the dirt and rock and banging road. The bus made a stop there. It was the first town anywhere near the ranch.
     And that first little town was just as far as he ever got on his pilgrimage.
     They still say in that place that he got off the hot bus for a few minutes to take some edges off a big thirst. Then, they say, he tore apart about every bar in that town. Just going to do some slight irrigation on the dust he had swallowed on that road, he said. Said he enjoyed the dark way some bars smell. Lemons and tequila and rum smells. And they say he went heavily into all of that. In a very big way. And then had most of the women in every one of those little houses on the back streets of that town. They weren't too expensive to begin with. Then they got more expensive. Went a little crazy, until they finally locked him up.
     He never did get beyond the town on his pilgrimage. Never got to see Guadalupe down in the south in her shrine. Somebody lent him a little money to get back again on the bus that goes up that dust road from the town to the ranch.
     All the things that were going to be blessed and sanctified were left behind somewhere. Along the way, the boy's special spurs were worth a half a bottle of tequila in a place around the back part of town on one of those nights.
     He never got to be foreman on the ranch and never got to live in the little white house with the blue roof and the garden with the fence around it that was right in the main compound. Next to the big house.
     His wife never did again lie with him on the porch and listen to night sounds from the mountains. She slept inside in the room with her children and locked the door every night.

That Time We Had to Burn Off the Thorns

Somewhere back there, you only saw stubble grass and shrunken cattle to feed on it.
     That was in the good years.
     In the bad dry years, they had to bring out the cactus burners. That was before Korea and Vietnam and all that.
     But these things were like flame throwers, and the old bandy-legged cowboys did it maybe better than some of these new Marines. They would spray that flame around over the cactus, and it burned off the thorns so the cattle could eat. The cactus without the thorns was full of moisture.
     The cattle could hear the roar of the burners from a long one or two miles away. They rumbled in toward the sound in almost slow motion single file.
     There was a heavy drought then, and the roaring place was where the cattle might live another day.

When the Sun Tried to Come Up Again

The sun took a slow look over the valley from behind the mountains in the east. It allowed some of its early morning perfume to drift up into the starting sky.
     Then it jumped up through the clouds and tried to yell something important across the still half-dark and asleep valley.
     It tried to do that every morning. Only no one listened anymore. No one even turned to watch anymore.
     There was a time, many places away, when you would sit under some kind of shadows and think of quiet things. Then the quiet things all went away with storm clouds and winds.
     And those kinds of shadows probably don't even exist anymore.

Under Big Trees

When you go back to see them, in all the years, the old town squares never change, and their big trees are always still green. Even if everything else around is dark desert.
     There is always a bronze statue of some forgotten somebody in the middle of the square. Riding off on a big horse to some nonexistent place with a big sword to battles they never really won.
     They sometimes white-repainted the iron benches, but they never moved them.
     There are the same plants and trees and once-in-a-while flowers. And the same honeybees flower over them.
     Things that later changed were nuisance children whose parents took them onto the sidewalk restaurants around the square. And automobile noise now. And no more horses or cattle being driven down the main street to the town market, or to the rail head for another market. Leaving behind that clean, pungent, country smell.
     Old women selling pink balloons and dumb jewelry and toy white rats are new now. The beggars are also new.
     But the young boy and girl sitting on one of the white benches in the noontime shade of those big always green trees are still there. In the middle of many different things.
     And the way the young couples are has not changed. The boys are still looking for the same thing. And the girls will still not allow it.
     The same love is there. Those country town girls there in the shade look perhaps even better than in older times. And certainly dress better. It can make you feel a distant loneliness to be older.
     The boys still whisper nonsense promises. And the girls still say no. But the hugs and kisses somehow seem longer than they used to be. The girls don't seem to mind that part. They say no again at four in the afternoon and go home to their parents.
     The boys sulk off someplace else, disliking bronze statues and old women with pink balloons, and especially white iron benches.
     And try to think of something else to do.

Good-byes Are Sad Places

Long good-byes to short romances are boring and detrimental to your health.
     If you have not yet said good-bye to me, then I will never say good-bye to you ever.
     It has been a long-time joy for me to be with you in these short pages.
     You can always burn them in your fireplace. Or throw them into your favorite river. I only hope you will wish to keep a few of them with you forever.
     Whatever you do with the pages, and they are, after all, only pieces of paper, there will always be a secret place between you and me, and the words.
     But mainly, it was nice for me to be with you for this little while.

PETER KUNTZ spent his boyhood summers working as a cowhand in West Texas and northern Mexico, where he came to know and love the land, riding the trails with Mexican cowboys. After Harvard, he began to write and oil paint, then moved to Mexico City, working with several international companies and continuing his contact with the back country. There he took up bullfighting and carried on his love affair with duck and goose hunting. He believes that time limits are placed on many things in our lives and hopes writing will allow them to last a little longer.




Teach Monkeys to Pick Cotton
Peter Kuntz With Special Trainload of Capitalists Touring Kansas With Plans to Revolutionize Industry.


MEMPHIS, Tenn., Feb. 7—Peter Kuntz, a native of Chicago, who says he is a cousin of Oom Paul Kruger, arrived at Pine Bluff, Ark., today, accompanied by a large party of capitalists and lumbermen, who are interested in his scheme to teach monkeys to pick cotton.

Mr. Kuntz is touring the state of Arkansas in search of a spot where he proposes to launch a scheme, which, if successful, will revolutionize the cotton-picking industry of the South.

Kuntz and his companions are traveling on a special train composed of three vestibule sleepers. Kuntz proposes to colonize a large number of monkeys from Africa and South America, which he says make excellent cotton pickers. He is looking for a large tract of land, which will be bought in and a stock company formed from the number of capitalists now with him. He then proposes to embark for Africa and bring back two ship loads of monkeys.

He says he has given the subject much study and has spent many days in the African jungles and understands monkey talk as well as the Eethopian language.

The Toledo Bee, February 7, 1902, p. 2

Monkeys in the Cotton Fields.

A correspondent of the Galveston (Texas) News writes that in 1849 he owned a cotton plantation in Georgia, and that having occasion to visit the Island of Trinidad, he was persuaded to buy twenty-three monkeys, at a round price, to test their latent capacities for cotton picking. The letter adds:
I was mighty well pleased when I received my monkeys. Their arrival turned my plantation topsy-turvey. For two weeks nothing was done by whites or blacks but play with the monkeys. The overseer got one of the brightest looking, and remained at his house most of the time watching the monkey's tricks, and I must confess that my wife, myself and children were in the same business. Seeing this would not pay, I began making preparations to go to work. I had reckoned on one negro managing ten monkeys, and five monkeys picking as much as three negroes.

For the next two weeks, all hands, whites and blacks were engaged in the cotton fields, teaching monkeys. The result was somewhat different from my calculations. Instead of one negro managing ten monkeys, &c., it took ten negroes to manage one monkey, and then the monkey did not pick a pound or an ounce of cotton. I became disgusted, gave all my neighbors, that would accept, a monkey, and about a fortnight since sold the last eight to a traveling menagerie at $5 a piece. My monkey speculation has thrown me behind six weeks in cotton picking. The next time I go to Trinidad I don't believe I shall want any monkeys.
The New York Times, March 24, 1867



Monkey Cotton Pickers.
Southern Planter Is Greatly Pleased With His Experiment.


The tangled forests of darkest Africa, which, in the early days of the nation supplied the southern planter with slaves to cultivate his cotton fields and to gather his crops, have again been drawn upon by the farmers of the south. Professor Garner of Washington discovered that the monkey can pick cotton as well as the southern negro. He persuaded Mr. W. W. Mangum of Vicksburg to attempt the experiment, and the latter has recently made his report to Professor Garner.

Mr. Mangum says he has found it profitable. On his place near Smedes this winter he has had 50 trained monkeys at work. The males weigh about 110 pounds each in weight. Bags were made for each monkey that would hold 25 pounds of cotton and the bag placed over each monkey's shoulder. It was surprising, Mr. Mangum says, how the monkeys learned to pick cotton. Baskets to hold the cotton were placed at each end of the rows, and one man besides the monkey's trainer was necessary to take the cotton out of the bags and put it into the baskets provided. Cotton planters throughout the south have watched the experiment with a great deal of interest. Many have visited the plantation near Smedes to see the monkeys at their work. Mr. Mangum is enthusiastic over the success of his experiment.

"The introduction of monkeys as cotton pickers means more to the south," said he, "than a cotton picking machine; for the monkeys are a success as pickers, while the machines, so far, have been failures. The monkeys are in every way superior to negroes as pickers, and the cost of picking is about one-third. I believe this discovery is the greatest that has been made for the cotton planter since Whitney discovered the cotton gin."

Next fall Mr. Mangum intends to import 1,000 more monkeys from Africa, and he desires others to join with him in importing a lot more, to be scattered throughout the south.—Special St Louis Republic.

Aurora Daily Express, Mar 29, 1899, p. 4

Monkeys Picking Cotton.
New Era that Has Dawned for the Mississippi Agriculturist.


In 1896, at the Vicksburg fair, Prof Tracy and W. W. Mangum, the latter a wealthy cotton planter of Smedes, were watching some trained monkeys perform their various tricks. Prof Tracy suggested that there was no reason why the monkey should not be employed in picking cotton and supersede the negro in that work.

The plan was discussed, and Mr Mangum bought in New York city a dozen monkeys in 1897, and with a trainer put them to fork. The monkeys belonged to the race known to scientists as sphagtalis vulgaris, and the males weigh about 110 pounds and the females about 90 pounds each.

Bags were made for each monkey which would hold about 25 pounds of seed cotton, and a bag placed over the shoulder of each. It is surprising how rapidly the trainer taught the monkeys to pick the cotton.

Baskets to hold the cotton were placed at the end of the rooms, and one man, over and above the trainer, was necessary to take the cotton out of the sacks and put it in the baskets.

The females proved much better pickers than the males, for they not only picked cleaner cotton, but they would also pick more of it in a day.

In less the a month after the monkeys were started at the work they could pick an average 150 pounds a day.

The first experiment, although on a small scale, proved to Mr Mangum that monkeys could be used with great success as cotton pickers, so in June of 1898 he gave an order for 300 monkeys of the same breed on an exporter of monkeys from Africa, with the understanding that most of them were to be females. About Sept 1 last the new batch of monkeys arrived, and the services of the old trainer were engaged to train this new lot.

With the aid of 10 old monkeys, who were of great assistance, and a great deal of punishment and rewarding, the new gang were pretty well trained by the middle of October. Mr Mangum is greatly pleased with the result of his experiment.—Jefferson City Tribune.

Boston Daily, "Good Stories for All," Mar 3, 1899, p 8




How the "St. Peter" came to be is a story that introduces one of the most interesting men who entered within the circle of Extension, the late Peter Kuntz, Senior, of Dayton, Ohio. I came to know Peter Kuntz through a lecture I gave in Dayton on the invitation of Monsignor William Hickey, of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. The lecture was to be on "Joan of Arc," and of course did not touch the subject of Church Extension at all. Monsignor Hickey, however, gave me permission to preface the lecture by a twenty minute talk on the Home Missions. He did that, he said, because he felt sure that a certain Mr. Kuntz would be in the audience, and Mr. Kuntz was a man worth interesting in the cause. I asked Monsignor Hickey how I would know if Mr. Kuntz was present. "You ll know all right," was the only answer I could get out of the smiling pastor.

While I was being introduced to a packed house I glanced around. My eye lit on a small, oldish gentleman sitting in a box to my left. He wore funny side whiskers, very long, and a skull cap. One glance sufficed. I knew that Mr. Kuntz was present and launched out with a bit of the Story of Extension. The audience thought that I was talking for the benefit of all; but, truth to tell, I was talking only to Peter Kuntz. When I glanced at him, as I did now and then, I rather fancied that his twinkling eye was trying to tell me that Peter Kuntz was "wise to me"; and Peter Kuntz was.

Next morning at breakfast the pastor again brought up the subject of Mr. Kuntz. While he was speaking a telephone call came for me. "This is Peter Kuntz, Junior, speaking. My father wishes to know when you are leaving town."

Now, I had intended leaving in an hour but changed my mind in a second. "I shall leave for Chicago to-night," I answered.

"Father would like to know if he may call this morning?" said the voice over the wire.

"Tell him no. I will call on him at ten o'clock, if the hour is convenient."

It was, and at ten o'clock to the minute I stood in the corridor of the Commercial Building that housed the Peter Kuntz Lumber Company's offices.

There were four doors opening out of the hall. One was lettered with the name of a firm that was not the one I sought. On one I read: "No Admittance"; on another "No Admittance"; and on the fourth "Positively No Admittance." Puzzled, I opened the first door. "Do you know where I can find the office of Mr. Peter Kuntz?" I asked. A man at a desk looked up, smiled and said: "Just turn the knob of the door marked 'Positively No Admittance,' and there you are." I did, and found that the advice was good. I saw Mr. Kuntz. He asked a few questions and then, abruptly, told me he was going to build a second Chapel Car. I had nothing to do with persuading him to make the promise. He had seen the "St. Anthony." He knew all about its work. He appeared to know as much about it as I did myself.

We dedicated Mr. Kuntz's Car, the "St. Peter," in Dayton. He would not come to the dedication, but he was proud of that Car. Mr. Kuntz would never do what everybody expected him to do. That was one way he had of getting fun out of life. When the "St. Peter" had been working some months, Mr. Kuntz dropped into the Chicago office. "How is the 'St. Peter' doing?" he asked.

"Splendidly," I replied. Do you want me to show you some of the Chaplain's reports?"

"Never mind," he said, as he started for the door. "I'll build you another." That was the Kuntz way. The other we called the "St. Paul." It works in the South while the "St. Peter" keeps to the West.

Peter Kuntz was always looked upon as an eccentric; perhaps he was, but his eccentricity was a bluff. He wanted people to think him a bit queer, so as to have them always guessing. No one ever knew what he would do. If he thought they did he wouldn't do it. He dressed like a poor man, but he had three automobiles. He lived in a rented house, but could easily have bought ten city blocks. He was crusty, and could say "No" to anyone; but year after year he took hundreds of poor children out into the country and gave them a gala time at his expense. He told me one day, when I accidentally met him in San Antonio, and urged him to help out the Bishop there in caring for his orphans, that he wouldn't give another cent to anything that I suggested; but I learned later that he had called on the Bishop the very next day, and not only built the Orphan Asylum, but even helped endow it. He gave in his own way, and at his own time. He was really the greatest "bluff" I ever met, for he systematically went about disguising the fact that he had the softest and most loving old heart in the world; trying to make people think him a crank and a skinflint, making enemies who liked him, and friends who wondered why they thought so well of him as to be his friends. He always refused with his lips, and consented in his heart. He was a wonderful father and husband, a Catholic who practiced his religion, who feared no man and no devil, but who certainly feared God.

When Peter Kuntz died I felt sad, not for what his death might have lost the Society, but for the joy I had myself lost in his occasional visits. A friend was with me when the news came. He had heard of Peter Kuntz, though not favorably. I gently told him the story of the real Peter. "Impossible," he said. "He had no heart." Then I thought of something, an event that had happened at the dedication of the "St. Paul" in New Orleans. Alongside the Car was a platform erected for the ceremonies. An Archbishop had just blessed the Car, and a Bishop was preaching out there on the platform. Thousands of people were listening. I slipped into the Car. Alone on a seat in a little room sat the old man to whom the Church owed that Car and another. He was hiding. When I looked through the door at him I saw the tears dropping down from his eyes. They had fallen on his queer side whiskers, and the sun made them glisten like diamonds. The tears were to me a revelation of the soul of Peter Kuntz. No heart? He was all heart. I told my friend the story, and then, when he had gone, I took up my pen and wrote: "There is no sight so wearisome to the traveler as that of a long, unbroken prairie, or of a trackless, sandy desert; none so dispiriting to the student of mankind as that of a dead-level amongst men The thing that is 'different' stands out sharply in nature; and the man who is 'different' stands out equally marked amongst his fellows. In fiction, at least, our literature would amount to little if we always came to the dead-level. While God wants all of us to be saints, and endeavor to reach perfection, perfection itself, as far as we are concerned, is anything but a dead level. Not even in sanctity is there any particular monotony attainable. A good man, who was also 'different,' died last month in Dayton, Ohio, at the age of 79 years. His name was Peter Kuntz. He was a lumberman in the business world, and a very great lumberman at that; but also was he a religious man, a charitable man, with a character all his own, in business, church and social life. His charities were big, but unostentatious. In anything that concerned himself his desires were few; but outside of himself he planned and did great things. His clothes never fitted him, and it seemed as if he never wanted them to; but his heart was a good fit in his great sympathetic breast. There was nothing pretentious about him; but in his unpretentious way he did very pretentious things. He liked to be thought old-fashioned; but few of the ultra-modern business men with whom he came in contact, were conceited enough to think that the old-fashioned ways of Peter Kuntz were not much more effective than their over-much vaunted modern ones. He was a home man who loved his family and delighted in the size of it. He presided at his table like a patriarch of old, and, like the patriarchs of old, was loved by his children and his children's children. People who did not know him thought him rough and unkind; but no one admitted to his house had ever any such idea as that about him. He systematically worked out a plan of giving away a certain portion of his earnings. It was a business-like plan that safeguarded very effectively not only the giver, but also the receiver. He gave the same attention to his charities that he gave to his business. He was strict and exacting in both. He could not be stampeded into a charity any more than he could be stampeded into a business deal. It was impossible to win him by loud talk, but it was always possible to win him by a silent showing of the goods. He had his own way of investigating, and it was very thorough. His plain, blunt way of saying things could not help but offend at times; but one had to know him to understand that he considered his plainness and his bluntness an honesty that ought to be appreciated; for Peter Kuntz always loved honesty. He was a benefactor of The Catholic Church Extension Society in his own way and on his own terms; but none the less a benefactor. After his first investigation of us, he dropped into the office now and then. When we came to know him, we knew also that his benefactions were not only for the good of the cause, but also a distinct compliment to the work and its management. A second gift by such a man meant more than the favorable report of Certified Public Accountants. Very many people are going to be sorry that Peter Kuntz is dead. His family will, of course, mourn for him sincerely, but the many people who knew him in a business way, the few who knew him in a social way, and the still fewer who knew him in a small but intimate circle, will sorrow because a different man has gone from them, and there is too much of the 'dead-level' left in this modern world."

During the Great War it was noticed that as Editor of Extension Magazine I used to draw very sharp distinction between the Germany with which we were at odds, and American citizens of German birth or extraction. Against the latter no verbal sword was ever raised, but that sword was more than once lifted in defense. "Why?" asked some, who thought that this policy might have the effect of throwing a doubt on a patriotism that ought to be above suspicion.

Why?

Peter Kuntz, and more of his kind who helped teach me to look below the surface if I wanted to find gold, Peter Kuntz was the "why."

The Story of Extension, Francis Clement Kelley (Bp.), 1922, pp. 91-96.