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 category “Uncategorized”

“Let Go of My Lego”


If you raised kids, then you have lego’s in your home.

A Danish company invented these small interlocking blocks 87 years ago. The Lego playsets are considered the staple toy of one’s childhood. My two sons and now my grandchildren love these things. Having stepped on a few in the dark, barefoot, I consider them small weapons that masquerade as an educational toy.

The Dane’s, besides giving us Lego’s, introduced the world to Toaster Struddle Danish, Swedish meatballs, modern teak furniture, Ericson phones, Ikea, and of course, my favorite, the Vikings. They view themselves as a modern progressive save the world and planet type of folks.

Blond, fair-skinned, healthy, and a bit too educated, the populace of this country believe that a 16-year-old girl is an expert on climate change and world affairs. She dressed down the poor folks at the United Nations with an epic screaming and crying fit. The bewildered world organization was crushed. They had no idea the U.N. destroyed her childhood.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from NBC news this morning. Lego is ceasing production and sales of playsets that feature first responders or police because of the ongoing brutality against the poor, misunderstood rioters. The company is afraid that it may be targeted for violence if it gives the impression they support law and order in the United States. What the hell? I guess there is no law and order in Daneland? I don’t think ANTIFA is going to take a plane over to Europe and blow up Lego headquarters, but then, they might, loot and pillage the Lego Land installations in our high-end malls.

Don’t be surprised for this Christmas season, Lego introduces their new line of ” Protest and Riot” playsets. Wow! The kids get two choices: a peaceful protest with little mask and signs, or a riot set, complete with Lego figures equipped with spring-loaded arms that throw small Lego bricks and bottles into Lego block built Macy’s, Neiman Marcus and Target stores. For an additional charge, you can purchase the electronic and Nike displays for looting. Our kids have a penchant for violent video games, so my guess is the riot set will be the best seller.

I have a suspicious feeling that a 16-year-old girl has been talking to the Lego folks.

A Beach Day in Texas in 1969


Port Aransas 1969

The hint of daylight gives enough lumination for me to find my way down the steep steps of my family’s beach house. Grabbing my surfboard, wax, and a few towels, I load my supplies into the back of the old Army jeep and leave for the beach. The old vehicle takes time to wake up, and it sputters down E Street, doing its best to deliver me to the water’s edge.

Port Aransas is quiet this morning. Fisherman and surfers are the only souls moving on the small island.

As I drive to the beach, taking the road through the sand dunes near the jetty, the morning dew on the metal surface of the jeep, pelts me like fine rain. The salt air is heavy and I can see the cloud of mist rising from the surf long before I reach the water. The seats are cold on my bare back and legs. The vehicle lacks a windshield, allowing bugs to hit my face and chest. Texas is a buggy place. That’s a fact we live with.

I park near the pier and see that two of my friends Gwen and Gary are kneeling in the sand, waxing their boards. I am usually the first to arrive but today they beat me by a few minutes. I join them in the preparation. We are quiet. This will be a good morning and making small talk might interfere with our zone.

The Gulf of Mexico is glassy and clear. The swell is four feet, with a right break. We enter as a group of three and paddle out past the second sand bar.

Sitting on my surfboard, I see the first half of the sun rising over the ocean and feel the warmth on my upper body. A tanker ship is a few miles offshore. The smoke from its stack gives us a point to paddle to.

Today will be hot, and by noon, these beautiful waves will evaporate into a slushy shore break full of children on foam belly boards. But this morning, the three of us are working in concert with our beloved Gulf.

We ride for hours. The ocean is feisty this morning. The waves are doing their best to beat us, but we show them who the boss is. The beach fills with other surfers, and now the line-up is crowded,, and we ride into shore. Gary and Gwen leave, and I make my way home to go fishing with my father. The Kingfish await.

This day and this moment in time, we are young and selfish in our happiness: blissfully oblivious to what lays ahead.
Life will take an unhappy turn for some of us. There is no time or interest to ponder the meaning of our existence. Life to us is this moment.

Gary and Gwen are gone now and have been for some time. Gary lost in Vietnam, and Gwen from an auto accident the next summer on his way to the island. If they were still here, I would like to think that we would have kept in touch and shared our surfing stories around a good glass of bourbon at Shorty’s Bar. Three old men telling lies.

Honor and Duty In 1918


My Grandfather, in 1917-18, served in the Army and the war to end all wars: World War 1. He fought in the mud and bacteria filled trenches in France: wounded twice and gassed once. He killed Germans in close hand to hand combat with a bayonet and a knife, never forgetting the look on the faces. He lost friends in vicious battles. There was no time to grieve or pay respects. That would come later in life.

Looking back through my childhood relationship with him, he likely suffered from what we now call PTSD. My Grandmother said he was a different man after that war, and at times, not a good one.

He refused to talk about the fighting and killing until I was around ten-years-old, and he was dying from Lymphoma cancer, likely caused by the gassing he received in the war. He knew that I might someday go to war, so he wanted to let me know it was not like the movies.

We sat for a many hours one afternoon a few weeks before his passing. His descriptions of battle and the things he had done for his own survival was beyond anything I could imagine. I was young, and war to me was black and white movies. James Cagney in “The Fighting 69th,” or John Wayne and a host of others playing army, like my neighborhood friends and I did. No one really died, and when shot, there was no blood or screaming.

The last few days of his life were spent in and out of reality, reliving those battles as he lay in a veteran’s hospital in Dallas. My Father, a veteran himself, was the recipient of my Grandfathers horrors.

John Henry Strawn made sure I knew what real honor and duty were about. It followed him for a lifetime.

Junior Gives Fort Worth The Blues


An old friend of mine passed a while back. Though we have been out of touch for many years, he always occupied a special spot in my memory. I have used him, or bits and pieces of his colorful life in my short stories. His name was Junior Edify. No first name, or namesake, just, Junior.

In 1957, he opened a coffee house in downtown Fort Worth Texas. History will lead you to believe that “The Cellar” was the first, but the “Hip Hereford” beat them by a full year.

Junior was meant to be a cowboy. It was his lineage and destiny, but he rebelled against the code of the west and his family, becoming a club owner, a poet and a beatnik type of fellow. He said that sitting on a sweaty saddle and smelling cow farts all day was not how he envisioned his life.

Opening night was Halloween, 1957. Junior hires two winos to help run the door and do odd jobs. They were reluctant to give him their birth names, so he christens them Wino 1 and Wino 2. As long as Junior paid them and kept the Mogen David flowing, they were good to go. The following is an excerpt from the unfinished story.

Around 7:15, Wino 2 informs Junior that the first performer has arrived and takes the stage for the introduction. He steps to the mic and, in that pleasant voice, says, “Ladies and gents, please welcome to the stage, Mr. Blind Jelly-roll Jackson and his nurse Carpathia.”

An ancient black man with hair as white as south Texas cotton, holding a guitar as old as himself is helped to the stage by a prim female nurse dressed in a starched white uniform. The old man wears a red smoking jacket, a silver ascot and black trousers. Dark sunglasses and a white cane complete his ensemble. The old fellow is as blind as Helen Keller.

The nurse gently seats the old gentleman in a chair provided by Wino 1 and lowers the large microphone to a height between his face and his guitar. She then stands to the side of the stage, just out of the spotlight. Blind Jelly Roll starts strumming his guitar like he’s hammering a ten-penny nail. Thick, viscous down strokes with note bending riffs in between. His frail body rocks with every note he coaxes out of his tortured instrument. He leans into the mic and sings, “We’s gonna have us a mess o’ greens tonight…haw..haw..haw…haw…gonna wash her down with some cold Schlitz beer..haw..haw..haw..gonna visit ma woman out on Jacksboro way…gonna get my hambone greased”. This was Texas blues at its best.

On cue, his nurse steps into the spotlight, extract a shiny Marine Band harmonica from her pocket, and cuts loose on a sixteen bar mouth-harp romp. Her ruby-red lips attack that “hornica” like a ten-year-old eating a Fat Stock Show corndog. The crowd loves it. They dig it. When Blind Jelly Roll finishes his song, Wino 2 passes a small basket through the group for tips. Jelly Roll and his nurse take their kitty and depart. He’s due back at the old folk’s home before midnight.

The Home Prison Blues


A personal observation and rant by Phil Strawn

I have lost count of my days in this government-induced social distancing hysteriademic-in-home prison sentence. Being confined to the cactus patch has made it bearable to a point, but then on some days, I want to run screaming down the county road that runs alongside our home. Our local sheriff, a nice young man, would find me and be obliged to return me to my wife. He’s a youngster, but astute enough to know that old people can go batshit crazy at any time. They don’t need a jail, just a bowl of corn flakes.

It’s been eight weeks since my last haircut, and I can, if needed, pass as a 1970s televangelist or a former musician at Woodstock. I considered asking my grandson to assist me in starting a Youtube channel with a donation button and deliver deep-daily thoughts to the confined masses. I have the required icky look but don’t possess the lack of morals it requires to rip other old people off. So I watch pap on Amazon and Netflix instead.

I have turned into that old guy that sits by the window, awaiting the postman to deliver his junk mail and utility bills. At my age, even grocery store flyers can lend some comfort. It’s quite exciting when you get a coupon for buy one get one free.

The nice young man in India has stopped calling me about my automobile warranty, and the fraternal order of the Hood County Police knows better than to ask me for another donation.
My wife has baked every pie and cake imaginable and a few days ago made a banana pudding that would send Aunt Bea to the woodshed.

Young folks are whining and gnashing about being confined and missing their friends and graduations and parties and all that their age group does. Cry babies and pansy asses. They have years ahead of them when things return to normal. So shut up and do your homework on your laptop. And get off my lawn. I hope this mess ends before I do.

C – PAP To La La Land


I got a C-Pap machine last week. I have never slept better even though I look like a Borg from the television show Star Trek.
Mask, tubes, a device under my nose, a machine on my bedside stand, distilled water, filters, computerized mainframe. It’s daunting at best. My little computer box gives me a big star every morning, so I assume there will be a trophy arriving in the mail soon. I had no idea that I don’t breathe when I sleep? How did I not wake up dead?
My wife has been checking my vital signs for years, and occasionally thumping my chest to start me up again. Now, she can get some sleep without worrying that I have assumed room temperature.
This C-PAP device is like a self-driving Tesla. Hook up, turn on, and let it do all the work for you. Now all I need is a painless catheter so I don’t have to get up to pee.

Fast Food Testing


The fast-food industry needs to step up to the plate just as Walmart, Target, CVS, and Walgreen’s has done. The CEO’s of these companies have pledged space in their parking lots for drive-up Corona Virus testing tents. Novel Idea. Pull up to a tent full of people in hazmat suits and get swabbed and disinfected. I don’t know how the rest of America feels, but I am afraid of people in hazmat suits. It always turns out bad, or they wouldn’t be wearing them. Young children tend to be easily frightened, so screaming kids trying to escape from the car is not a good scenario. Let’s use a kinder and gentler approach.

Why not have Ronald McDonald, The Burger King king, and Jack from Jack in The Box stand by the order speaker and offer free food or a toy with every swab? Since half of America eats at these places, its a perfect solution.

When Good People Go Stupid


By: Phil Strawn

My pal Mooch called me a few minutes ago from the HEB grocery store. He is standing in the toilet paper aisle, watching two middle-aged women fistfight over the last 8 pack of Northern toilet paper. He and another male shopper are betting on the skinny gal because she was moving faster, and had the other older women in a Nolan Ryan headlock.

We continued our conversation as he walked the store, commenting on how low the stock is on each aisle, and how stupid people are acting. You would think Channel 5 called for snow flurries tonight. Suddenly, Mooch screams and starts cussing at no one in particular. ” HEB is sold out of pork rinds and beer!” he yells into his flip phone.

Now, I know this virus is severe. Rednecks cannot survive without pork rinds, and beer, its a food staple and will last for years in any bunker or deer camp. They are gluten-free, fat-free, and carb-free, so at least a boy can eat healthily if he is quarantined.

I could hear a scuffle over the phone. Voices yelling, carts bashing into one another; general mayhem. Mooch said,

” I’ll call you later, buddy, there’s a brawl at the Red Barons Pizza freezer, and I have to get me some of those.”

Just In Case You Forgot


Yes, folks, she’s in the news again. Popping up here and there, accepting little awards and being fussed over by an age group of devotes that don’t know what the Vietnam war was, or when it happened. Just in case you forgot what “Hanoi Jane” ( Jane Fonda ) really was, and is, I included this adorable picture. I think it catches her best side. I would assume she took some excellent color shots of our POWs with her fancy camera and shared the photos with their families back in the United States.

Hipster Dogs Are Among Us


By: Phil Strawn

Pictured for your educational pleasure is a sweet little dog with a strange name. “Graphon Chardonnay” is what’s known in 2020 as a “Hipster Companion Service Dog.” I’m sure little Graphon would rather be out pissing on trees and digging holes in flower beds than wearing a beard and leather jacket. Dogs look odd in human clothing, and they look alien when they sport the same beard as their owner.

While strolling the “hot new neighborhood” on West 7th street a few weeks ago, my wife and I stopped into a small outdoor café for lunch. It was one of those sunny February days where it wants to be pleasant, but you still need a coat if you dine outside. A teaser day, us Texans call it.

A nice looking couple sat down next to us with their small dog. They were dressed in expensive “Fort Worth Hip” to the tee. The young man had a formidable beard, a ” Stallone” pork pie hat, Ray-Ban sunglasses and skinny jeans. The woman was dressed similarly but without facial hair. These aren’t your poor retro-hippies, these Kats have dough, good jobs in IT and live in an expensive high rise overlooking the Trinity River. They most likely drive a Tesla or a hybrid Beemer.

The two diners immediately immersed themselves in their Apple I Phones. Hipsters are required to use Apple products only: Sorry Samsung and HTC.

I felt sorry for the little pooch, he didn’t have a phone of his own or even a bowl of water, so I asked a kind waitstaff to bring the wee fellow a dog bowel of H2O. When his bowl of water arrived, the man gasped and removed the water dish before the parched dog could catch a drink.

” Graphon does not drink regular water” he shrieked. ” He’s chlorine intolerant.”

Of course, I apologized for not knowing the dog was allergic to water, so I asked his father, what does Graphon drink?

The young woman looked up from her I Phone and smugly replied “Graphon Chardonnay drinks only Starbucks decaffeinated coffee, “Chateau La Pew” white wine and natural spring water from Tibet. He is also vegan and has an IQ of 165.” Well, holy hot-shit, I am impressed that this furball with two names is smarter than most of us humans; myself included.

I had already figured out these two were vegans, so when our juicy hamburgers arrived, we made a big deal of our meal, loudly commenting on every greasy bite we took. The two gave us the ” hope you die” look.

In my meat-eating frenzy, I accidentally knocked a French fry off my plate. The little genius, Graphon, caught it before it hit the ground and gobbled it down. His father screamed, grabbed the dog and began the “Heimlich maneuver ” until the dog coughed up the slimy fry.

” That fry is cooked in animal fats, are you trying to murder my dog! Graphon could die if he ingests anything other than his special veggies” he shouted. The woman was crying and having a small breakdown after witnessing her vegan dog eating the evil French fry.

The young couple was so traumatized, they took little Graphon Chardonnay and departed the patio. I got the last laugh. I slipped the pooch a nice bite of my burger while they weren’t looking. I’m pretty sure he is going to have some righteous gas.

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