Category Archives: heroes

Heroes of Yesteryear (Cowboy Movies)

When I was a boy, the Western reigned supreme on both television and in the movie theaters. Part of the benefit of that was being indoctrinated with “the Cowboy Way” which was a system of high ideals and morality that no longer exists, and in fact, never did exist outside of the imaginations of little boys in the 1950’s and 1960’s. We learned that good guys wore white hats and bad guys wore black. You only won the shootout if you shot the bad guy and you didn’t draw your gun first.

Of course, the cowboys who were the “White Knights of the Great Plains” we worshiped as six-year-olds and the singing cowboys on TV were not the same ones we watched when we were more mature young men of ten to twelve. John Wayne starring in Hondo (after the book by Louis L’Amour) was more complicated than that, and we learned new things about the compromises you make in the name of survival and trying to do things the best way you can. From Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence we began to see that sometimes you shot the villain in the back from down the street to save your simple friend from the gunfight in the street when he was too naive and green to win.

Wyatt Earp at the OK Corral was the white hat we wanted desperately to be when we grew up. And then I saw on PBS in the late 60’s a documentary about the real shootout and the real compromises and consequences of the thing we once thought was so clearly good versus evil.

Wyatt went from the TV hero,

To the mostly moral man fighting what seemed like lawlessness,

To a morally ambiguous angel of death, winning on luck and guts rather than righteousness, and paying evil with vengeance while suffering the same himself from those dirty amoral cowboys, sometimes good, but mostly not.

And then along came Clint and “the Man with No Name”. More ambiguous and hard to fathom still…

Who really was The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly? What made any one of them worse than the other two? You need to listen to the music before you decide. We are all of us good, bad, and ugly at times. And all of it can be made beautiful at the end with the right theme music behind it. Did we ever learn anything of real value from cowboy movies? Of course we did. They made us who we are today. They gave us the underpinnings of our person-hood. So, why do they not make them anymore? The video essay at the end of my wordiness has answers. But basically, we grew up and didn’t need them anymore. And children and youths of today have different heroes. Heroes who are heroic without shootouts and letting the bad guy draw his gun first. Ideally, heroes who are us.

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Filed under autobiography, commentary, cowboys, heroes, movie review, review of television, sharing from YouTube, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Christmas Magic

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Before now I have never talked about my childhood friend Jimmy Crafton.  It took a long long time to build up enough courage.  Writing this on Christmas Eve 2017 makes it easier.  Yes this is a very important re-post.

It is not a terrible story.  I can’t think of anybody that fits the idea of a “hero” any more than Jim.  I remember him as a pale-faced little boy with a thousand Watt smile full of tiny white teeth.  He was two years younger than me.  He was in my sister’s class at Rowan Elementary.  He was outgoing and funny.  And he was a hemophiliac.  He had the rare condition of having too little of the essential blood-clotting proteins in the blood that the vast majority of us get to take for granted.  Every day for him was a risk of having an ordinary injury like a bruise or scrape cause him to bleed to death.  He missed great gobs of school days with injuries and crippling pain and the need to go to the emergency room in Mason City for life-saving blood transfusions.  We were told when I was eight that he probably wouldn’t last past his tenth birthday.  The teachers all gave us strict rules for playing with him on the playground… what not to do, what to immediately report, and what not to allow him to do.  I remember one time he decided to wrestle both Bobby and me at the same time.  He had a deep and passionate love for the sport of wrestling, big in the high schools of Iowa.  He aggressively took us both down and pinned us both with minimum effort.  And you should stop laughing at how wimpy that makes me sound.  Remember, I had to play the game by different rules than he did.  Bob and I both had to live with the consequences if bad things were to happen.

The miracle of Jim Crafton was that he did not die in childhood due to his genetic medical difficulty.  In fact, he grew up, went to college, and became a doctor all because of the gratitude he had towards the doctors and medical professionals who helped him conquer hemophilia in childhood.  He got married.  And he even had a son.  Those were things he accomplished in life that no one believed were possible back in the 1960’s.

But now we get to the part that I can’t write without typing through tears.  A hemophiliac relies on regular transfusions of blood to supply the clotting factors that he cannot live without.  And there was no effective screening technique for HIV in blood supplies before 1992.  Further problems arose from the blood bank practice of mixing blood donations together by blood type.  That meant that even clean blood donations were likely to become tainted through mixing.   Far too many of the hemophiliacs in America were given infected blood and became AIDS sufferers at a time when a diagnosis of HIV was basically a death sentence.  And worse, AIDS sufferers were often isolated and treated like lepers for fear of contracting the disease from ordinary contact with them.  You might remember the sad case of Ricky Ray in Florida.  He and his two brothers were all hemophiliacs.  They all were infected.  They were expelled from school.  They even had to live in hiding after loving members of their community burned their house down.  We were horrible to people who were dying of AIDS.

But I can’t leave this essay on such a sad note.  My friend Jimmy was a hero, a doctor, and a dad.  He lived a life worth living and worth knowing about.  His life was a gift to all of us lesser beings.  And this is the time of year for remembering those we have loved and lost.  Jim died of AIDS decades ago.  But he still lives in my heart and my memory.  And if you have read this little story, he lives in you now too.  That is a sort of magic, isn’t it?  I only wish I had more powerful magic to give.

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Filed under artwork, compassion, heroes, Paffooney, pen and ink, strange and wonderful ideas about life

AeroQuest 5… Canto 155

Canto 155 – The Killer Clowns of Mingo

“Let me introduce myself.  I am Smiley Creaturefeature, Imperial Harlequin of the Triumvirate now present on Mingo!”

A second Harlequin also stepped through the ruined doorway.  “And I am Sharpwhistle Crackplatter, his second in command.”

The two costumed cyborgs both switched on a feature of their armor simultaneously and immediately sent the entire hallway into chaos.  Flashing and strobing colored lights along with barely audible sonic waves warped the senses of all the Psions the cyborgs faced, and Emperor Mong even couldn’t get his pants pulled back up.

Phoenix and Rocket both ignited their fire forms, but neither was able to see through their own flames because of the constant color-changing lights.

Jackie was unable to concentrate enough to teleport. The sonic waves kept her from using her inner eye.

Shu could pick up rocks and debris, but his telekinetic senses were fooled enough by the lights that he couldn’t accurately target anything.

Ged’s senses also were overwhelmed.  But he took a moment to think, letting Smiley and Sharpwhatsit cartwheel around him and his distressed students.  He didn’t particularly care what they maybe wanted to do to Mong.

Now, the Blind Kraken of Jargoon was a creature with no sense of sight or capability of hearing.  It’s tentacles were guided by a superb heat-sensory organ that could identify shapes and locations of both hot and cool things  And the amphibious creature had no problem being completely out of the water for long periods of time.  And Ged had both hunted and eaten one more than an Earth decade ago.

“What is that blobby white thing?” Smiley said to Sharpwhatsit.

“Dunno… but it don’t look bullet-proof.”

Both Harlequins whipped out slug-throwing weapons called machine guns and filled the air with projectiles.  Ged used several of his twenty tentacles to shift his writhing students out of harm’s way while his gelatinous body absorbed and digested all the slugs that hit him.

“It seems to like that!” shouted Sharpwhatsit as he did a handspring and cast the machine gun aside.

“Lasers, then?” asked Smiley.

“Lasers, yes!” answered the other clown.

The medium-laser pistols they both pulled out fired hot laser light at Ged’s shape-changing body.  He not only absorbed the attacks, the extra heat energy he absorbed made his tentacles quicker.

The first catch was Smiley Creaturefeature’s right ankle.  The second catch was Smiley’s gun hand.  Then he poured megajoules of heat energy into Smiley’s limbs, completely melting his muscle-control circuits. He was completely immobilized though he was still alive in the way that cyborgs are alive, He was out of the battle.

“I will avenge you, Smiley,” hollered Sharpwhatsit.  He cast away the laser and pulled out a vibro-sword.  Each tentacle that Ged reached out with was immediately lopped off and rendered useless.

But the Electric Coil Monster of New Spain had once been hunted by Ged and his brother, and then dissected for the scientist that hired them.  Ged knew it inside out.

When Sharpwhistle Crackplatter’s blade embedded itself in Ged’s coil, he sent a lightning charge of electricity coursing through the surprised dancing clown.  He fell writhing to the floor, all his circuits shorting out, making him as dead as an undead cyborg can technically be.

The students, no longer incapacitated by the Harlequins, stood around Ged as he transformed back into his human form.

“I hope we don’t have to overcome any more of those things,” said Phoenix.

“You should go after the Triumvirs that have your girlfriend right now before they call up any more of those terrible monsters,” whined Mong, still sniveling.

“Lead us there,” Ged commanded.

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The Artist Who Masters the Darkness

Do you know who Bernie Wrightson is?

Bernie Wrightson in 1972, when I was a freshman and sophomore in high school, created for D.C. comics the character known as The Swamp Thing.

Of course,

being a stupid kid at the time, I totally ignored his genius with pen and ink, ink and brush, and fascinatingly dense forests of intricate detail.

I didn’t really get it until he joined The Studio with Jeffery C. Jones, Michael Kaluta, and Barry Windsor-Smith (whom I idolized for his work on Conan.)

And while in college, consuming everything available by The Studio that I could find and afford, I fell in love with his deeply dark and brooding illustration work for a new edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Frankenstein had 50 illustrations by Wrightson that firmly established the fact that by drawing with black ink you could show in startlingly real ways the qualities of white light. That appealed to me both literally as a way to make beautiful art and metaphorically, as that last thing was what I was doing with my own life, drawing the darkness to get to the beautiful light.

Most of his work

was drawing monsters; werewolves, zombies, the creatures of H.P. Lovecraft, and numerous things from nightmares.

But it has a definite beauty of its own. Darkness, evil, and corruption brings out the quality of what is light, righteous, and pure. There is truth in approaching reality from the dark side of the equation.

Of course, he would also do work on heroes like Batman, because the darkness breeds its own defenders of justice.

I am not so much a fan of monsters as I am a believer of taming the monsters who beset us as we try to make a worthy life for ourselves. But I can definitely see where Bernie Wrightson has been doing exactly that with his brilliant pen-and-ink artwork. Sadly, he will be doing no more of it since we lost him in 2017. But it is a legacy he left behind that will make his light continue to shine forth from dark places for a long time to come.

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AeroQuest 5 – Canto 153

Canto 153 – Stealth

The corridors of the Ruined Palaces were empty and still.  Much dust danced through an empty-hall ballet as the stillness of disuse filled the place.  Then, as suddenly as a star goes nova, there was a loud crack as Jadalaqstbr brought Ged Aero into the palace by teleportation.

Ged’s brown fedora fell from his head and began rolling away. 

“Are you all right, Ged-sensei?”  Jackie’s brown face showed concern even though recently Alec Songh had led her to be a bit disrespectful and defiant.

“I didn’t know teleporting left you disoriented like that,” said Ged, trapping his hat with a foot before it rolled too far.

“It doesn’t do that to me, but Alec says it bothers him.”

“We may need to be quieter in a place we have invaded.”

“Yes, sorry,” Jackie whispered.  “Are you ready for me to go back for the next one?”

“Yes.”

At the word from the master, another thunderous crack marked Jadalaqstbr’s departure.  Ged used the moment to begin his planned transformation.  He changed his head into a tiger’s head for the sensitive nose, but it was not an earth tiger.  It was the head of a large black Talosian tiger.  And Ged did not settle for the mere body of a tiger.  The cat-form he created was sheathed in armor plates much like the armored auger-creatures of the planet Nix, supple yet impenetrable.  It also had wings like the great war-eagles of Barad Allamar, large enough to carry a ton of creature mass through the air.

When Jackie cracked the air next, it was Phoenix she carried.  She set him down and immediately imploded through space again.

“Ged-dono?” asked Phoenix, hesitation in his sarcastic voice for the first time that Ged was aware of.

“Yesss, thiss iss mmmme.  New formmmm.”  The tiger’s tongue was thick and slurred in his huge mouth.

“Good trick,” said Phoenix, nodding.  “I have one to show you, too.”

Phoenix’s transformation was even more alarming than Ged’s.  Fire started around his hands, and then began to crackle around his entire form.  He seemed to become a boy of living flame.

“RRRRrrrr?” questioned Ged.

“I call it fire-form,” said Phoenix.  “I am intact under here and able to breathe normally.  I’m really just wearing fire like anyone else would wear clothes.”

Ged nodded his massive head.  It was a good trick that might serve Phoenix well.

Jackie burst onto the scene once again with Rocket Rogers in her grip.  She dropped the cowboy-hatted boy onto the floor tiles and vanished yet again.

“Wow!” said Rocket, “I’ve been missing quite a party.”

“Look into my mind, Rocket,” said Phoenix from within the flames.  “You can do this too.”

Ged had been impressed during lessons at how willingly Phoenix would teach his skills to Rocket.  The cowboy fire-starter was a quick learner, too.  Ged wasn’t entirely sure he was comfortable with Phoenix becoming a better instructor than Ged himself.  He couldn’t deny, though, that Rocket could learn more effectively from someone who shared the same skills.

Jackie disappeared yet again.

Rocket burst into flame, his cowboy hat sizzling away to cinders.

“Dang!” said Rocket.  “I goofed.  I burned up all my clothes and my best cowboy hat.”

“Did you burn yourself?” said Phoenix’s fire-form to Rocket’s fire form.

“No, I’m okay.  I get the part about a cool layer just below the flame.  I can do the temperature layers just the way you pictured it for me, but I have to learn to get the thicknesses right.”

“You learrrn fast,” remarked the Ged tiger.

“Thank you, sensei.  Phoenix is a good teacher, just like you.”

 When Jackie reappeared she carried Shu Kwai, the final member of the strike team.  He was dressed in a white leather vest, tooled with interlocking spider designs, a white loincloth, and white tabai boots.  He carried a pearlescent trident with three wickedly sharp tines.  For a boy of twelve, he looked formidable.  He had learned enough martial arts skills from Ged and from Alec Songh to be deadly, even when he didn’t enhance his blows with telekinesis.  Like Ged himself, though, this boy was dedicated to winning any battle without causing any injury or death.

“Are we ready?” asked Phoenix within his fire-form.

“We will find our way easily,” said Shu Kwai with that quiet confidence that made him so spooky.  “The mission will be no challenge.”

Ged had to wonder if the Gaijinese boy was trying to reassure himself and the others, or was simply stating what he knew to be a fact.  Ged knew one of these three boys would end up being the leader of the entire group.  He simply didn’t know which.  But the time had come for action.  Ged’s tiger nose detected the approach of rotting flesh and circuitry.  Rot warriors were headed their direction.

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The World is a B-Movie

Yes, I am saying the world I live in is a low-budget commercial movie made without literary or artistic pretensions. You know, the kind where movie makers learn their craft, taking big risks with smaller consequences, and making the world of their picture reflect their heart rather than the producer’s lust for money.

Mostly what I am talking about are the movies I remember from late-night Saturday TV in black and white (regardless of whether or not the movie was made in Technicolor) and the less-risky as well as more-likely-good Saturday matinees on Channel 3. Movies made in the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s. They were perfect, of course, for the forbidden Midnight Movie on the show called Gravesend Manor. I had to sneak downstairs to watch it on Saturday nights with the volume turned way down low. (Not that Mom and Dad didn’t know. Well, maybe they didn’t know how many of those I watched completely naked… maybe.)

I watched this one when I was twelve, late night on an October Saturday. I had a bed-sheet with me to pull over my head at the scariest parts. Frankenstein was a crashed astronaut brought back to life by the magic of space radiation. He was uglier than sin, but still the hero of the movie, saving the Earth from invading guys in gorilla suits and scary masks (none of which looked like the movie poster.)

This one, starring James Whitmore, a really good B-Movie actor, was about giant ants coming up from the sewers and the underground to eat the city.

I would end up watching it again twenty years later when I was wearing clothes and not alone in the dark house lit only by a black-and-white TV screen.

I realized on the second viewing that it was actually a pretty good movie in spite of cheesy special effects. And I realized too that I had learned from James Whitmore’s hero character that, in times of crisis, you have to run towards the trouble rather than away from it, a thing that I used several times in my teaching career with fights and tornadoes and even rattlesnakes visiting the school campus looking to eat a seventh-grader or something (though it was a bad idea for the snake even if it had been successful.)

This one, of course, taught me that monsters liked to carry off pretty girls in bikinis. And not just on the poster, either. But it was the hero that got the girl, not the monster. This movie taught me that it sucks to be the monster. Though it also taught me that it was a good movie to take your pajamas off for and watch naked when you are thirteen.

But not all B-movies had to be watched late night on Saturdays. This movie was one of the first ones that I got to go to the movie theater to see by myself. (My sisters and little brother were still too young and got nightmares too easily to see such a movie.) It came out when I was in my teens and Mom and Dad began thinking of me as an adult once… or even possibly twice in a month.

And not all B-movies were monster movies, gangster movies, and westerns. Some, like a lot of Danny Kaye’s movies, were movies my Dad and my grandparents were more than happy to watch with me. I saw this one in both black-and-white and color. And I learned from this that it was okay to take advantage of happy accidents, like a case of mistaken identity, and using your wits, your creative singing ability, and your inexplicable good luck to win the day for everybody but the bad guys armed only with your good sense of humor.

And some of the best movies I have ever seen, judging by what I learned about movies as literature from Professor Loring Silet in his Modern Film Class at Iowa State University, are by their nature B-movies.

I am using movie posters in this blog post only from movies I have personally seen. (And I admit that not all of them are strictly “good” movies according to Professor Silet, but I like them all.)

Feel free to tell me in the comments if you have seen any of these movies yourself. I am open to all opinions, comments, and confessions.

This one is based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
I saw this one in college. You had to be 18 at the time to even buy a ticket.
I actually think that this is one of the best movies ever made. It will always make my own personal top-ten list.

I live in a B-movie world. The production values around me are not the top-dollar ones. But the stories are entertaining. The real-life heroes still run towards the problem. And it still sucks to be the monster. But it has always been worth the price of the ticket. And during my time on Earth here, even in 2020, I plan on staying till the end of the picture. I go nowhere until I see the Best Boy’s name in the end credits. And maybe not even then.

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AeroQuest 5… Canto 152

Canto 152 – Ged on Mingo

The Ancient Red Dragon starship  popped out of jump space to find the planet Mingo bustling with activity.  The spaceways around the heavily industrialized planet were crammed with merchant ships of every kind, from gargantuan, cigar-shaped mass haulers to the smallest of independent beetle-shaped personal transports.  It wasn’t that no one noticed the dragon-shaped vessel as it arrived from the complex gravitic web of outer space; it was more a matter of everyone being too busy to care.

Three system defense boats came out to look over Ged’s Ancient spacecraft, but as they scanned it and found it was not alive, they quickly lost interest.  It had no weapons that registered on any kind of detector.  The human signatures on the routine life-scan would tell the transport police that nothing about this unusual craft suggested it was hostile in any way.

“Ged-sensei, we have arrived at the place your girlfriend is hidden,” said Billy Iowa, coming out of his clairvoyant trance.  “I see her in the palace below, the one called David King’s Hall in the Ruined Palaces District.”

“It is a shame we don’t have any computer database available on this ship,” remarked Ged.  “I suppose even if it did, it couldn’t tell us anything about Emperor Mong or his planet Mingo.”

            “We have to get down to that palace and save her,” asserted Junior, looking determined.

“Don’t get ahead of us, Smurf,” growled Alec.  “What are the Ruined Palaces?”      

            “It’s a place where the buildings have all been attacked at one time or another,” said Billy, looking with his inner eye.  “Their damage has been preserved as a part of the decor of the buildings.  David King’s Hall is one of the three biggest ones.”

            “Whoa,” said Alec, half-laughing, “why would they rebuild something and make it look like it’s still ruined?”

            “An evil sense of humor,” said Phoenix.  “It’s like something Bres might do.”

            “You put Bres down too much!” said Alec, suddenly hot.

            “No, he can’t be put far enough down, Alec,” answered Phoenix coolly.  All could see the air begin to sizzle around the Phoenix.

            “Yeah, whatever.”  Alec backed off from the subject.

            “We do have to go down there,” said Ged at last.  “We need to be prepared to use our Psion powers.  We know what rot warriors are, but we have no experience of what they can do.”

            Taffy King, who had only been looking at the back of Rocket Rogers’ neck before, spoke up.  “I grew up around them.”  Her blue snake’s eyes glowed with angry fire.  “They are like robots who don’t work right.  They lurch around and stumble into things, but when they are ordered to fight, they do it one hundred to one.  They overwhelm the opponent with bone-headed force.”

            “What are they really?” asked Sarah innocently.

            “Re-animated skeletons,” offered Rocket.  “I’ve seen them before on Bradalanth Colony.  They are bones and circuits and some patches of leathery skin.  Mechanoids with no brains.”

            “Monsters!” moaned Hassan Parker.

            “Remember, young ones,” said Ged, “they are easily defeated because they cannot think for themselves.  As long as we work together and let no one get overwhelmed by numbers, we should be able to overcome them.  I worry more about what other problems may arise as we try to get past Emperor Mong’s living minions.”

            “Geez, you sound like an old holo-cartoon show!” remarked Phoenix.

            “You disagree with something?”  Ged was suddenly a bit annoyed.

            “Oh, no.  You are right.  It just sounds so cartoonish!”

            “So, what will we do, Sensei?” asked Junior carefully, afraid of rousing more ire from Ged.

            “Sarah?  Can you help us see the distant places Billy can sense?”

            “Yes, Sensei.”  Sarah was capable of transferring images from one mind to another.

            “Jackie, if you see the place, can you teleport us there one by one?”

            The pretty, brown-skinned girl smiled at Ged for the first time in a while.  “You know I can!”

            “Well, then, that’s our way in.”

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Reading Twain for a Lifetime

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I wish to leave no doubt unturned like a stone that might have treasure hidden under it.  I love the works of Samuel L. Clemens, better known as Mark Twain.

I have read and studied his writing for a lifetime, starting with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer which I read for myself in the seventh grade, after seeing the musical movie Tom Sawyer starring Johnny Whittaker as Tom.  I caught a severe passion, more serious than a head-cold, for the wit and wisdom with which Twain crafted a story.  It took me a while to acquire and read more… but I most definitely did.  I took an American Literature course in college that featured Twain, and I read and analyzed The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  I also bought a copy of Pudd’nhead Wilson which I would later devour in the same thoroughly literate and pretentious manner as I had Huck Finn.  Copies of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and The Mysterious Stranger were purchased at the same time, though I didn’t read them cover to cover until later during my years as a middle school English teacher.  I should point out, however, that I read and re-read both of those, Connecticut Yankee winning out by being read three times.  As a teacher, I taught Tom Sawyer as an in-class novel assignment in the time when other teachers thought I was more-or-less crazy for trying to teach a 100-year-old book to mostly Hispanic non-readers.  While the lunatic-inspired experiment was not a total success, it was not a total failure either.  Some kids actually liked having me read parts of it aloud to them, and some borrowed copies of the book to reread it for themselves after we finished as a class.

marktwaindvd2006During my middle-school teaching years I also bought and read copies of The Prince and the Pauper, Roughing It, and Life on the Mississippi.  I would later use a selection from Roughing It as part of a thematic unit on Mark Twain where I used Will Vinton’s glorious clay-mation movie, The Adventures of Mark Twain as a way to painlessly introduce my kids to the notion that Mark Twain was funny and complex and wise.

I have also read and used some of Twain’s most famous short fictions.  “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” and “The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg” are both masterpieces of Twain’s keen insight into the human psyche and the goofy and comic corruptions he finds there.

And now, retired old me has most recently read Tom Sawyer Abroad.  And, though it is not one of his finest works, I still love it and am enthralled.  I reviewed it and shared it with you a few days ago.  But I will never be through with Mark Twain.  Not only is there more of him to read, but he has truly been a lifelong friend.

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My Favorite Cowboy

When he walked through my classroom door for the first time in August 1988, the start of his seventh grade year, Jorge Navarro was a tiny little third-grader-looking thing. But one of the first things he ever told me in English was that he was a cowboy.

He had two older brothers. Sammy was an eighth grader that year, and Jose was in tenth grade. So, I already knew his brothers. Big strapping lads. They didn’t speak English really well and couldn’t read. But they were smart in a pragmatic, workman-like way. They all three came from a ranch down in Encinal, Texas. Fifteen miles closer to the Mexican border than where I was teaching in Cotulla, Texas. But they were not Mexicans. Their grandparents and parents were born in the USA, and their great grandparents, and possibly further back than that had lived on the same ranch-land all the way back to when everything South of the Nueces River was Mexico. These were Tejanos. Proud Americans from Texas. Hard-working, dedicated to the ranch owners who paid them to do what they loved, getting the most agricultural benefits possible from the dry South-Texas brush country.

Jorge was, at the start, a little man with a big voice in a small package. He was smarter and could read better than either of his brothers. He could even read and translate Spanish, which, of course, was his native language. And he had strong opinions that you could not argue with him about. He was a cowboy. That was opinion number one. He not only rode horses, he fed them daily, curried them in the morning to loosen the dirt and stimulate the production of natural oils that kept their coats shiny, and he even told me about the times he bottle-fed newborn colts when their mothers were sick.

And he strongly believed that a boss, or a teacher in my case, should never ask someone to do something that he didn’t know how to do himself. That was opinion number two. And he held me to that standard daily.

You should never use bad language in front of a lady… or a teacher, was opinion number three. He had a temper though. So, unlike most of the other boys, on those days when he lost it, he apologized as soon as he was back in control of himself. It made the girls giggle when he apologized to them, but that was an embarrassed reaction. He impressed them. They told me so in private afterwards.

He had a cowboy hat in his locker every day. You never wore a hat inside. Strong opinion number four.

And when he was an eighth-grader, he almost doubled in height. But not in width. He was what they call in Spanish, “Flaco,” skinny as a rail. He was taller than me by the time in mid-year when he started competing like his brothers in rodeos. And he was good. Something about the way his skinny, light frame could bend and twist under stress allowed him to stay on a barebacked horse longer than his brothers, or even the older men. He was pretty good at roping steers too. But it was the bareback bronc riding that won him trophies.

This is not a story about someone overcoming hardships to succeed. It always seemed like Jorge was blessed with it from the beginning. But it was the fact that he did what was needed every single day without fail. You could depend on it. He had a code that he followed.

The drawing that started this story is one that I did for him. I gave him and every member of his class that asked for one a copy made on my little copier at home.

And he taught me far more than I could ever teach him. Jorge Navarro was a cowboy. And you couldn’t argue with him about that.

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Filed under autobiography, Cotulla, cowboys, education, heroes, Paffooney

The World is a B-Movie

Yes, I am saying the world I live in is a low-budget commercial movie made without literary or artistic pretensions. You know, the kind where movie makers learn their craft, taking big risks with smaller consequences, and making the world of their picture reflect their heart rather than the producer’s lust for money.

Mostly what I am talking about are the movies I remember from late-night Saturday TV in black and white (regardless of whether or not the movie was made in Technicolor) and the less-risky as well as more-likely-good Saturday matinees on Channel 3. Movies made in the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s. They were perfect, of course, for the forbidden Midnight Movie on the show called Gravesend Manor. I had to sneak downstairs to watch it on Saturday nights with the volume turned way down low. (Not that Mom and Dad didn’t know. Well, maybe they didn’t know how many of those I watched completely naked… maybe.)

I watched this one when I was twelve, late night on an October Saturday. I had a bed-sheet with me to pull over my head at the scariest parts. Frankenstein was a crashed astronaut brought back to life by the magic of space radiation. He was uglier than sin, but still the hero of the movie, saving the Earth from invading guys in gorilla suits and scary masks (none of which looked like the movie poster.)

This one, starring James Whitmore, a really good B-Movie actor, was about giant ants coming up from the sewers and the underground to eat the city.

I would end up watching it again twenty years later when I was wearing clothes and not alone in the dark house lit only by a black-and-white TV screen.

I realized on the second viewing that it was actually a pretty good movie in spite of cheesy special effects. And I realized too that I had learned from James Whitmore’s hero character that, in times of crisis, you have to run towards the trouble rather than away from it, a thing that I used several times in my teaching career with fights and tornadoes and even rattlesnakes visiting the school campus looking to eat a seventh-grader or something (though it was a bad idea for the snake even if it had been successful.)

This one, of course, taught me that monsters liked to carry off pretty girls in bikinis. And not just on the poster, either. But it was the hero that got the girl, not the monster. This movie taught me that it sucks to be the monster. Though it also taught me that it was a good movie to take your pajamas off for and watch naked when you are thirteen.

But not all B-movies had to be watched late night on Saturdays. This movie was one of the first ones that I got to go to the movie theater to see by myself. (My sisters and little brother were still too young and got nightmares too easily to see such a movie.) It came out when I was in my teens and Mom and Dad began thinking of me as an adult once… or even possibly twice in a month.

And not all B-movies were monster movies, gangster movies, and westerns. Some, like a lot of Danny Kaye’s movies, were movies my Dad and my grandparents were more than happy to watch with me. I saw this one in both black-and-white and color. And I learned from this that it was okay to take advantage of happy accidents, like a case of mistaken identity, and using your wits, your creative singing ability, and your inexplicable good luck to win the day for everybody but the bad guys armed only with your good sense of humor.

And some of the best movies I have ever seen, judging by what I learned about movies as literature from Professor Loring Silet in his Modern Film Class at Iowa State University, are by their nature B-movies.

I am using movie posters in this blog post only from movies I have personally seen. (And I admit that not all of them are strictly “good” movies according to Professor Silet, but I like them all.)

Feel free to tell me in the comments if you have seen any of these movies yourself. I am open to all opinions, comments, and confessions.

This one is based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
I saw this one in college. You had to be 18 at the time to even buy a ticket.
I actually think that this is one of the best movies ever made. It will always make my own personal top-ten list.

I live in a B-movie world. The production values around me are not the top-dollar ones. But the stories are entertaining. The real-life heroes still run towards the problem. And it still sucks to be the monster. But it has always been worth the price of the ticket. And during my time on Earth here, even in 2020, I plan on staying till the end of the picture. I go nowhere until I see the Best Boy’s name in the end credits. And maybe not even then.

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Filed under art criticism, heroes, humor, monsters, movie review, strange and wonderful ideas about life, TV as literature, TV review