Notes From The Cactus Patch

Tall tales from Texas about characters I know and have known. Who knows, you might be one of them.

Archive for the month “February, 2020”

I’ll Have An Order Of Fries With My Blessing


A Short Story by; Phil Strawn

On Ash Wednesday, I made a somewhat firm decision to give up my beloved Cheeto’s for Lent. Last year it was Ding Dongs and Pepsi Cola, and I wound up eating Twinkies and Dr. Pepper when after three days, I fell off the Lent wagon. At least, I stuck with my original plan. 

On my way to see Father Frank, my priest at Our Lady of Perpetual Repentance, I stopped by Walmart for one last Cheeto fix. Standing in line at the checkout, I noticed shoppers with a tiny ink cross on their forehead. Odd. Then, I saw the lady behind me sported a small “Pokemon” sticker on her forehead. She noticed I was staring like a goon and said, “our priest ran out of palm ashes, and this was all he had left. It’s the blessing that counts.” Well, she had a point. When the Holy Father runs out of blessed stuff, he has to make do with available products. 

I headed over to the church, finishing my bag of Cheeto’s and hiding it under the seat like a teenager does a beer can in the family car. 

Two blocks from the church, the traffic was hardly moving, and I think business must be brisk for the good Father. 

As I inched closer, I saw Father Frank standing at the curb, giving his blessing to the occupants in the car, leaning through the windows, and marking their forehead. Next car up, the same protocol. He was running cars through the line like a good day at Jack In The Box. Then it dawned on me, Father Frank was offering take-out Lent blessings to our flock. What a novel idea, so 2020. 

I pulled up to his curbside church and rolled down my window. The multi-tasking Priest handed me a pamphlet with a prayer, crossed himself, and touched my forehead. ” Go in Peace, my son,” he muttered and gave me the peace sign. “Sorry about running out of ash,” he said.

 ” Back at, you, Father,” I responded and drove away.

When I arrived home, my wife asked me where I had been for so long. I explained the trip to Walmart, the Cheeto binge, and then Father Franks take-out Lent blessing and such, thus the extended time frame. She was staring at me like a goon when she asked, ” did you find anything at the garage sale?” 

” What garage sale?” I replied.

She reached up to my forehead and pulled off a small round orange sticker with $1.00 written on it. 

The good Father has to make do with what he has available. It’s the blessing that counts. Right?

Traumatized By Puppets!


By: Phil Strawn

The asphalt parking lot is so hot it’s melting the rubber soles of my PF Flyer “tinny” shoes to the pavement. It’s July of 1957, and there are at least one hundred kids, including our neighborhood coterie of twenty-five standing on that lot, waiting to see our television idols, Mickey Mud Turtle and Amanda Opossum.

Piggly Wiggly Food’s hired the puppet duo from Channel 11, for the grand opening of their newest grocery store on Berry Street. With the following the show had developed, the folks at Piggley are betting on a full house, because every kid in Fort Worth, Texas, wanted to meet Mickey and Amanda up close and in person.

Without an introduction, the puppets popped up onto the stage of their television theater and launched into their shtick. The jokes are age-appropriate and corny. Birthdays are shouted out and then more jokes, but with no cartoons to kill time, the felt and cardboard critters are out of material and are bombing like the Hiroshima fat boy.

The Mud Turtle launched into a commercial for Piggly Wiggly, and the Opossum began her’s for Buster Brown Shoes, over-riding Mickey, which in turn made him mad, and he grabbed a small bat with his mouth and popped Amanda Opossum a good one. The kids loved it. Watching the two puppets fight is better than cartoons, any day, hands down.

I feel a tug on my shirt, and realize my mother is dragging me into the grocery store. As we pass the back of the puppet theater, a gust of wind blows the side curtain open and there, in living color is two adults, sitting on low stools with their hands stuffed up the butts of our beloved stars. Kids are good at fooling themselves into believing things that aren’t real. I know they are cheesy, cardboard, and fabric puppets, but destroying my imagination is serious stuff.

Mortified and traumatized from the scene I witnessed, my mother drags me through the air-conditioned store as she completes her shopping. There is no sympathy or coddling from this Cherokee woman. She mumbles something about puppets being stupid, and I feel tears forming on my cheeks. I may never recover from this destruction of my childhood.

Leaving the store, we pass the stage, and a man and woman are putting the puppets into their wooden boxes and autographing glossy postcards of the critters. I still have mine.

Father Frank Saves The Church


By Phil Strawn. This is an earlier post from March of 2012 when I lived in Georgetown, Texas, and was forced to shop in the Sun City HEB.

I visited my local H.E.B a few days ago to do my shopping for the week. Just so you know, I loathe shopping for groceries; negotiating the crowded aisles, pushing a cart that steers hard left, while trying to read your shopping list and dodge the blue hairs wanting to run you over. It’s more than any man my age should have to endure.

The geriatric inhabitants of “Clan Sun City” have christened this store as their domain, and they make their own rules of engagement. I’ve had my toes run over, my legs pinned between a grocery cart and the dairy cabinet, rammed from behind for being too slow, and was verbally assaulted by an 80-pound octogenarian because I got the last loaf of “dollar bread.” The old bag pulled out a flip-top Motorola cell phone and threatened to call 911 to report me, so I reluctantly handed over the loaf. She shook a bony finger in my face and growled, “And your little dog too.”

Wednesday is the big day for the sample gals to push their wares on the shoppers. You can’t go twenty-feet without a chirpy hostess wearing her “Pioneer Woman” apron wanting to stick a sample of food in your face. Forget trying to get away, they track you until you stop and then thrust the toothpick impaled morsel into your protesting mouth. I unwillingly managed to taste sushi, sausage roll, carrot cake, cheese whiz, and wine before I could get to the first aisle, and by then, I needed a Prilosec OTC, so I bought that as well.

Shopping completed, I proceeded to the checkout stand. As I rounded a corner near the book section, I bumped hard into a table, partially blocking the aisle.

There, sitting behind a 6-foot fold-out table, was Father Frank, the priest from my church, “Our Lady of Perpetual Repentance.”
On his table is a stack of leaflets, bottles of water and give away key chains shaped like the Virgin Mary. It’s been a while since I have seen the good Father, so we exchange our pleasantries.

After a brief howdy conversation, I asked Father Frank why he is staffing a table at a grocery store?
With a deep sigh, he explained, “The church is losing so many of the flock that the diocese has put me here to drum up new members.”
Not wanting to offend by asking delicate questions, I say, ” I suppose you have to start somewhere, and the crowd here is about the right age to be finalizing their looming Heavenly travel arrangements.” He thought that was prolific and says he will use that phrase in a future sermon.

Now, more curious, I ask him about the giveaways laid out on his table.
With a big smile, he explains, “The bottled water is actually blessed holy water, bottled right in my church by altar boys. We figure if it’s good enough to drive out demons and christen babies, it is strong enough to cure the pallet and insides of foul offenses. It has a slight hint of mint, so it may be used as an alcohol-free mouthwash in a pinch. I drank a bottle a few days ago and was confined to the rectory bathroom for many hours. Nothing like a happy gut and pleasant breath you know”.
I said, “Yes, I know that feeling, and my cousin Beverly could have used a case of that for mouthwash if you know what I mean.” He said he did and gave me a bottle to aid in her deliverance.

The good Father is on a roll and excitedly explains that they have made considerable changes to his church to attract new members.
Handing me the leaflet to inspect, he proudly proclaims, “look at these pictures! We now have a glassed-in section of pews with flat-screen monitors installed on the back of each bench so the young ones can access their computer games and social media during the sermon, that is piped into the enclosure by a high powered HD digital audio system.
In order to save parishioners time, confessions can be uploaded via your home computer or smartphone, and communion has an optional wine flight, that, for a nominal fee, comes with a small crystal goblet.”
Am I not hearing him, right? Preteen kids gaming in the pews, computer confessions, wine tasting? How about the singing choirs, the fire, and damnation, the rock hard pews that make your butt sweat and your legs go numb? A church service is supposed to make you miserable, not comfortable.

I tried to interrupt, but the good Father was in over-drive, as he continues to exclaim: “the most daring change and the one I’m most proud of is the conversion of the adult Sunday school room to a sports bar for after service football games. It’s a brilliant concept, come to church, then walk across the hall and watch the game on 70 inch flat screens. We call it “The Blue Nun Sports Bar,” and with the help of Mother Prudy, I recruited some of the younger nuns from the Abby to come over and wait tables after their service. The sisters are doing a great job, but grumbling about the miserly tips and are threatening to hold a sit-in.
I told them to stop offering a repentance prayer over every beer served, and the tips may improve. It’s best to reserve a blessing for food service only.
Next thing I know, they are wearing tight fitting t-shirts with ‘We Aren’t Your Mommas Nuns’ on the back. I don’t know what gives with these younger sisters. The piercings, tattoos and spiky hairdos are not what I‘m used too. Nuns are supposed to be stoic and mean, not cute and hip.”
Well, I say, ” you’re certainly doing everything you can to increase membership, I may have to come to see you next Sunday. I need a good dose of religion and football.”
I shake the good Father’s hand, bid him adieu and shuffle on to the checkout.

On my way out of the store, I notice, tucked in by the potting soil and flowers was a table staffed by a young, tanned, rock star, poofy haired, frock clad fellow flanked by two bikini-clad girls handing out free cold beer and hot dogs.
The sign above them read ‘Rolling Rock Love and Peace Community Church Membership Drive.’ I was thirsty, so I scooted on over. Looks like Father Frank may be in trouble here.

The Dreaded Report Card


by Phil Strawn, based on personal experience

There is a school system on the East coast that is changing its grading system so every student can “feel better” about themselves. This smells suspicious, and is likely extracted from the same rotten bag of education as  “everyone gets a trophy.” Every letter grade is now lowered by five points, promoting a grade of “C” to a “B” and so on. Who benefits from this PC madness?

From personal experience, I can tell you that bringing home a low grade on your report card does have negative consequences. The younger you are, the fewer repercussions from your Mother since you are still her baby. As you age, the fear factor increases.

There is nothing that scares a kid more than bringing home the dreaded “F” or even the slightly better “D.”

You slow walk your way home, looking for every excuse to prolong the firestorm that the small piece of cardboard is going to create. You’re begging God to intervene and miraculously change that red “F” to an acceptable, blue “B.” Nothing changes, and you accept your fate. God is likely a teacher on the side.

With a cheesy fake smile on my face, I hand the report card to my mother, hoping for leniency.

Everything is fine until she sees that miserable sixth letter of the alphabet. Her happy smile fades, and she paralyzes me with that squinty-eyed mom stare.

My young life flashes before my eyes; I’m a goner. In desperation, I blame everything except my own stupidity. I fall to my knees, squeezing out fake tears, begging for forgiveness. She has none of it. The mom court is adjourned. I await my sentence.

Short of being sent to the “orphans home,” my mother’s go-to threat, I guess I get off good. No cartoons for two-weeks, no playing outside for a week, no Hostess cupcakes or Saturday baseball for a month, which is alright, its winter.

My next report card was better; no bad grades. My fear of personal failure and my parents were a determining force in my education. Everyone wants to make good grades, and many students struggle to meet those expectations. If that bar is lowered, then the students that excel will be punished, and the students that strive to excel will take it for granted.

Hey Kids! It’s Fun Being Sick


By Phil Strawn

Kids are an intelligent species. They know far more about human interaction and theatrical interpretation than their parents suspect. I can’t put a date on when this anomaly was discovered, but people with fancy degrees first noticed this behavior in the early 1950s. My neighborhood may have been ground zero for their study.

As a bunch, the kids in my neighborhood were healthy. We ate mouthfuls of dirt, sucked on pebbles, and ingested every foodstuff imaginable without washing our hands. This was perfectly acceptable to our mothers. Our young immune system was that of a caveman: we laughed at germs.

The only malady that affected us, kids, as a species, was the Monday morning tummy-throat-aching body-virus. This malady usually broke-out in early October, after a month of school and a thirty-day incubation period. It spread like wildfire through our four-block coterie, mostly affecting boys, but the girls were losing their immunity at an alarming rate.

On the second Monday in October, most of our first-grade class was infected. The symptoms were: headache, stomach ache, sore throat, and body aches. When our mothers asked how we felt, we would point at the affected area and groan, eliciting additional sympathy.

The first morning was the worst, then by noon we recovered enough to watch cartoons and eat some ice-cream, then after supper, the symptoms worsened, and mom made the call for us to stay home another day. Sleeping in was mandatory, and if we were recovered by lunchtime, we could go outside for some fresh air. This bug was known to not last more than 36 hours, tops.

Six-year-olds can’t grasp the enormity of a situation the way their parents can. As a group, we were unaware that our symptoms matched those of the dreaded Polio Virus. Our kindly school nurse, fearing the worse, calls the health department for back-up.

Two blocks away at George C. Clark Elementry, our diligent principal cancels all classes and has the entire building sanitized by a nuclear cleanup team from Carswell Air Force Base. The newspapers are on this like white on rice.

Lounging in bed eating Jell-O, and watching cartoons, my cohorts and I am unaware of our neighborhood pandemic.

Tuesday, mid-morning, a contingent of doctors and nurses from the health department, arrive to access the outbreak. They plan to visit every affected home and test every sick child. Large syringes and footlong throat swab are required.

Skipper, my stalwart best buddy, was the first to break. With two syringes sucking blood from his boney little kid arms, he sobbed and said he was faking it. Roger Glen ran screaming from his house when he saw the size of the needles, and Annie gave a signed confession. The pandemic was over.

Most of us couldn’t comfortably sit for a few days, but we were all healthy until the next school year. That’s when the Chinese Bird, Cat, and Rat Flu got us.

Living the Keto


My wife and I are on day 4 of the keto diet. Tonight we are having keto pizza. Looks yummy, right? Well, it is after you remove the pepperoni, the cheese, the peppers, and everything but the crust, then you eat the meat and veggies and toss the rest. I told her tomorrow I’m going to Whataburger for a keto swiss and mushroom burger. I’ll figure out the particulars after I order the sandwich. Last night I dreamed of a McDonalds Filet of Fish and french fries, even though I haven’t had one in years. This keto thing gives you nightmares. Got to go now, too weak to type.

Son of Greenjeans


If you were a kid in the 1950s, then you knew who Captain Kangeroo and his sidekick Mr. Greenjeans were. Their television show was broadcast five days a week in glorious black and white and viewed by millions of kids on tiny television screens. ” Don’t sit too close to that TV, you’ll go blind.” That was the stern warning from every mother, and here we are today, all wearing glasses, or blind. How did you expect us to see the Captain and Greenjeans on an 8-inch screen?

The burning question we all had was, did Mr. Greenjeans wear “green jeans?” We were kids, with no color sets, it made us crazy. Was this man green?

A few months ago, I was taking a short -cut through a Fort Worth neighborhood to avoid road construction and noticed a weirdly dressed man using a hand pump sprayer to paint his yard a deep shade of kelly green. I stopped and watched as he worked his way from the curb to the house. Long even strokes, coating the brown grass to imitate spring’s favorite color. It was then I noticed his house was green, the cars in the driveway were green, his clothes and skin were green, and a small dog sitting on the porch was also green. What the hell? The man saw me staring and motioned me over.

I parked my car and walked up to the fellow, feeling a bit foolish for interrupting the work of a stranger. I introduced myself and complimented him on his handy work. He thanked me and extended his hand to shake and said, “names Levi, Levi Greenjeans, nice to meet you.”

” That’s an unusual name, sir. The only time I’ve heard that last name was on Captian Kangaroo, and that was sixty years ago,” I said.

The green fellow laughed and say’s, ” that’s the family name. Mr. Greenjeans was my pop. My sister and I grew up in a green world, so this is pretty natural for us. Dad’s been fertilizer for a good many years now, so it’s up to me to carry on the family brand.” I agreed, he looked pretty good for an old green guy.

I didn’t want to pry or be too forward, but I asked, ” Sir, what might the family brand be?”

“Call me Levi,” he said. ” You know that song ” The Jolly Green Giant?, I wrote it and collect mucho royalties. That Tom Jones song about green-green grass of home wrote that one too. The Green Giant food brand, that’s mine, also, copyright infringement made them pay up. Home Depot has a Greenjeans color named after Dad, I get change from that and a shiny penny from Youtube for the Captain Kangaroo videos.” This dude has turned green into green cash.

I am impressed and honored to be in the presence of one of the famous Greenjeans family, but now is the chance to get the answers to my childhood questions. I am afraid of coming off like a six-year-old Duffus, but I asked, ” did your dad wear green jeans and did he have a green face, and was the captain a nice man, and why did he have a big mustache, and did your dad really have a farm? There, I spat it out, and I am an idiot.

Levi chuckled and said, ” dad wore green jeans, and his face was green from stage makeup. The captain, bless his dead heart, was not too friendly. He wore a mustache because, on the first live show, a little kid threw a Coke bottle at him and split his lip, the stash hid the scar, and that’s why he disliked kids. He carried a small cattle prod under his sleeve, and if the kids got to close, he would shock them. Pretty funny stuff to see them jump. And the final answer is yes, dad had a farm and grew veggies and raised prize-winning Llamas. Recently, my sister Denim planted forty acres of butt-kicking pot that we will sell in our “Mr. Greenjeans Apothacary Co-op in Denver.”

I thanked Levi for his kindness and started to leave when he stopped me. Extracting a green sharpie from his pocket, he signed his name on the front of my white Eddie Bauer Polo shirt. ” hang on to that shirt brother, it’ll be worth some cash one day.”

Everyone Gets A Trophy!


Good Lord, what has happened in the great state of Iowa? The most sacred caucus in our country has been dusted, busted and is no longer trusted. Either some geek tweaked the app or there’s a Russian in a basement somewhere in Iowa messing with the internet signals. I’m barely a step above neanderthal when it comes to AI and such, but damn folks, cant you at least get this right with all those Millenials you have working on your behalf?

I ran into an old liberal buddy of mine at Whataburger this morning at breakfast. That’s what us Texans do, we eat biscuits at Whataburger and talk shit about everybody, family included. My pal Squeaky had his pet chihuahua nestled in his chest-mount baby carrier and was feeding him bites of sausage from his sandwich. Squeaky is not your average Democrat. For most of his life, he was redneck, four-wheel driving, gun-toting, Alamo loving, beer drinking Republican, that had a Rebel flag hanging in his garage.

While hunting wild pigs in San Saba, Texas, Squeak ran his ATV through a bob-wire fence and messed up his vocal cords, so he now sounds like Mickey Mouse when he speaks. While he was lying there close to dying, he said the ghost of former Democratic Texas Governor Ann Richards visited him. Hovering over his body, giving him sips of sweet tea, she said if he converted his political affiliation from conservative to liberal, he could live on. We thought it was complete bull-shit, but he swears it true: and he’s still here.

I grabbed a biscuit and coffee and sat down across from Squeaky. His chihuahua, Giblet snarled his teeth at me, so I gave him a bite of my hashbrown to take the edge off. Small talk and trashing family finally got down to the Iowa caucus, which I knew he watched last night. He takes it seriously, even posting a picture of the brisket and sausage he was smoking for the event.

I know Squeak is kind of fragile after his accident and cries easily, so I gingerly asked him, ” what did you think of that hot mess of a caucus last night?” I’m not a tender guy when it comes to politics. He looked at me kind of squinty-eyed and said, ” My boy Buttercup says he is the winner. Somebody tried to mess with those computers and put comrade Bernie and Pochahontes in there, but Mayor Buttercup is gonna be the nominee.” I know that Mayor Pete’s name is hard to pronounce and remember, so I didn’t offer a correction. I agreed with him on that, Mayor Pete is the less frightening of the bunch. ” What if there is no clear winner?” I asked.

Squeaky didn’t answer right away, but pondered the question a good five minutes, thinking between bites of his sausage biscuit. I was afraid I had offended him in my usual way, but he surprised me when he answered, ” well, I guess everybody gets a trophy and a pizza.”

Life Is A Percentage Game


The Mooch-o-Matic 2020

A few weeks ago, my buddy Mooch and I were driving to Glenrose on a little road trip. We often take an adventure when we hear of something worth investigating. The stranger the better to occupy our precious time.

Mooch heard from someone at the feed store that a lady owns a pig that recently received the “Purple Paw,” the most prestigious civilian award an animal can receive for bravery. We have to see this pig for ourselves since Glenrose is right in our back yard.

Two hours of searching, we find the lady and her pig living in the RV Park by the river. This one is a wild goose chase. It seems her little boy didn’t win a prize in the stock show, so she took a purple TCU lanyard and tied a large gold-painted Mardi-Gras coin on the lanyard, making the pig a medal. This satisfied the whining child and turned the pig into a big shot. Now the kid and the pig think they are hot stuff and are raising hell in the RV Park. The expedition wasn’t a complete waste of time, we ate barbecue at the “Squealing Piglet” and topped it off with some pecan pie and Blue Bell ice cream.

Driving back to Granbury, the oil message light came on warning me I had ten percent oil life left on the old Honda. I bragged to Mooch about how smart my car is, and it seems to know everything. I mentioned, jokingly so, that it would be great if some pharmaceutical company could invent a device to tell us, humans, how much life we have left. Mooch, ever the tinkerer, has a small invention lab in his shed and is always coming up with strange things. He said he would look into that. I knew he would.

A week goes by, and Mooch shows up at my door with a white box under his arm. We sit at my kitchen table, and he pushes the box over my way, urging me to open it. Before I could get the lid off, he yells, ” I did it, its the invention we talked about, its a Mooch-O- Matic Life Meter, we are going to be wealthy.”

I open the box and pull out what appears to be a digital children’s thermometer. On the back are a crudely installed USB port and a sticker reading made by Mooch 2020. I’m impressed that he could invent something like this so quickly. In my book, his rating just increased by twenty points.

Knowing Mooch was about to explode with pride, I ask him,”What’s in this thing and how does it work?”

Mooch proudly exclaims, ” I took a “Tommy Bear In The Summer Sun” children’s digital rectal thermometer, added two chips from a Nokia flip phone, the activation strips from a “Ellen’s Own”digital pregnancy test, a chip from a Martha Stewert Meat Thermometer, a few innards from my old Firestick and a USB port so you can save the information. Now all that’s left is to test it on a human. I tried it out on my dog Rex, and damn if he doesn’t have 35% life left. The cat saw me testing Rex and is hiding, so now it’s down to you and me. How about you be the next participant?”

I reluctantly agreed to be the first human to test the Mooch-O-Matic. I entered the bathroom, inserted the device into the proper orifice, and waited until I heard the three beeps that signaled the reading was complete. After straightening myself up a bit I exited the bathroom and gave the device to Mooch. He scrolled through a menu and then blurted out, “holy crap, you have 25% life left, you lucky S.O.B.”

Well, there ya go buddy, I’m going to be watching many more Super Bowles. Mooch then took the device into the bathroom to test himself. After ten minutes, I’m getting worried so I knock on the door.

In my best-concerned tone, I said, ” Mooch, you okay, little buddy, you didn’t fall and break a hip, did you?” Mooch opened the door, and his face is the color of snow-whites butt. With a shaking hand, he handed me the device. I looked at the reading and was shocked. Mooch has 1.5% life left, which translates to, he could assume room temperature any minute or by morning at the latest. We are both speechless, and Mooch has tears in his old watery eyes.

Without saying a word, he leaves the house, and me holding the prototype of our disappearing wealth. Just for testing sake, I pulled a previously frozen whole chicken from the fridge and inserted the Mooch-O-Matic into the deceased bird’s butt. Three beeps later, the soon to be chicken dinner that has been dead for who knows how long, reads 35% life left.

I thought for a moment about calling poor Mooch to tell him his device is faulty, but he owes me $200.00, so I’ll let him sleep on this until he pays up.

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