A Long Way From Home

I awoke feeling muddled.  It took me almost twenty minutes just to load up the espresso machine. I kept getting side-tracked answering email, reading people's blogs, and playing with an inflamed and swollen fingertip (some sort of in-growing fingernail that hurts like hell — but it looks so pleasingly hideous that I can't leave it alone).  And by the time I'm hearing the steam hissing and the coffee gurgling, I realize I'm having this oh too familiar tickle and soreness in my throat.  Damn, I'm coming down with a cold.

Jorge had sent me an email a day or two previous asking if we could meet today for lunch.  I finally got around to answering him in the affirmative.  Not much of a lead time, but I'll blame the swarm of rhinoviruses storm-trooping across my every corpuscle.

I switched on my DVD player and watched two projects of which Jorge wants feedback.  One was a music video for his nephew's band, Frequencia.  This isn't the video he played the other week at the NALIP video slam.  This is for another song.  He's using footage from my short, “Awakened by an R,” interspersed with shots of the band playing live.  The other project is a narrative he's doing in collaboration with Roland Jasso (no relation to Matthew Jasso).  The latter was freezing up.  This is why I hate home-burned DVDs.  Someone please tell me how it's supposed to be done.  Is there some failure-free authoring software?

Next I watched Alan Governor's excellent documentary on La Junta de los Rios, entitled “The Devil's Swing.”  It was done seven or eight years back.  I hadn't seen it in a while, but, as I want to bring it to San Antonio for a screening, I needed to see it afresh.

La Junta de los Rios is that region where the flood-plains of the Rio Grande and the Rio Conchos join at the US/Mexican towns of Presidio and Ojinaga.  It's a region rich in history, culture, and beauty.  I suppose it's my favorite place on earth.  And not a day goes by when I wonder why I'm here, and not there.

After the credits rolled, it hit me how long it's been since I was last in La Junta.  A year and a half?  Too long.

I called up Enrique.  He lives down there, and is not only one of the on-camera subjects of the film, but the translator and location scout.  I want him to come to town to present the film.

The phone rang twice, and Ruby answered. And it was like that year and a half and those four hundred and fifty miles just melted away.  Both Enrique and Ruby are friends of mine who I consider family.  If we're lucky, we have people like this in our lives.  And I'm blessed with a good number of these friends who I love deeply, and who I believe feel the same way about me.  But, at times, a dreadful chill passes over me, and I wonder if I've taken this person or that person for granted.  But, no chills today.  Ruby brought me up to speed on life in the tiny hamlet of Redford, Texas (AKA El Polvo).  The Outward Bound field school came very close to shutting down their Big Bend location.  This would have devastated Enrique and Ruby.  They rent out three or four apartments to the instructors, and thus the school provides almost all of their income (southern Presidio County is one of the most impoverished regions in the country).    But there was a huge letter writing campaign of previous instructors and students, and the corporate office decided to keep a presence in Redford.  Ruby said that Enrique had finished a new book.  It's a translation of three different Spanish expeditions that came into the Big Bend region in the eighteenth century.  It will be a lavish coffee table book with maps, photographs of the region, the translations, and scholarly notes.  It's slated for a fall 2007 release, published by the Center for Big Bend Studies at Sul Ross University.

Ruby talked some about the work she's been doing.  Odd jobs, mostly.  The Redford school, where she once taught the elementary students, has closed down.

“Enrique's working at the post office right now,” she said.  “And we're probably going into town this afternoon.  You can call us back tonight.”

I hung up and was eyeballing my espresso machine with thoughts of a second cup of coffee when I heard footfalls on my porch.  It was Jorge.

He let me choose the restaurant.  There was only one choice.  Pepe's daily special for Monday is a chili relleno, and it's sublime in it's tasty simplicity.  I usually wait until after two to hit Pepe's.  I don't like crowds, and for some reason I prefer to have lunch around three or four, no matter how early I might have eaten breakfast.  But today I was looking forward to lunch, because I'd never got around to breakfast.  The waiter, Carlos, brought me a cup of coffee without being asked.  He knew I took iced tea when it was sunny, and coffee when cloudy.  The place was packed and the poor guy was working his ass off.  Just him and a waitress in training.

Jorge and I hung out talking for quite awhile.  It eventually calmed down, and we were one of the few tables occupied.

Back at my place we watched the narrative film Jorge had done with Roland. He had another DVD.  It played without troubles.  I gave some generic feedback.  And then I played it again, pausing here and there to make a point.  I hope I didn't overwhelm him with critical observations.  I only wish Roland had been there.  He had been making some classic mistakes.  I wanted a chance to tell him that there's absolutely nothing wrong with making mistakes early on in any creative endeavor.  But here they were, mistakes.  You might fix them this way, or you might fix them that way.  They're there to learn from.  Do another film and try it a different way.  Keep tinkering.  Keep learning.

It was nice to see two actors who I like.  Kareem.  He's always so appealing.  And Amanda.  She's beautiful, charismatic, never stumbles over a line, and the camera just can't get enough of her.


I drove over to the offices of the American Indians in Texas to drop off a video tape of “The Devil's Swing.”  A young man walked up when I entered.

“Um, is John here?” I asked.

He looked puzzled.

“Juan, Juan Vasquez,” I said.

His smiled became a bit more indulgent and confused.

“I mean, Ramon,” I said.  The young man brightened.  “Sorry,” I mumbled.  “I use the name his father calls him.”

“No, he's gone for the day.”

“Well, if you could put this on his desk.”  I handed him the video, gave my name and departed.

I drove home, and with my cold coming on full-bore, I crawled into bed and clocked out for an hour.


This evening I phoned up Enrique.  He seemed okay with the idea of coming to San Antonio to present a film.  But, because he's so god damn humble, he kept mentioning other films.

Her mentioned “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.”  “It's a bit moralistic,” he added.  “But it captures the anglo ranchers in this area.  Your film group would like it.  I have the phone number for Tommy Lee Jones' production company around here somewhere.”  I said that was bigger in scale than I had planned.  I knew that Enrique had been hired on by that particular production when they were shooting in southern Presidio County, but I wanted to show a film more personal, and directed by an individual more accessible.

He mentioned a documentary on Esequiel Hernandez, the teenage boy from Redford who, while out herding his family's goats,  was shot to death by a covert team of US Marines stationed on the border ostensibly to curtail drug trafficking: our country's insane drug interdiction policy, coupled with the dangers inherent in militarizing the border, resulted in the slaughter of one of the most indisputably innocent individuals on the planet.  I knew there was a production company working on Esequiel's story, but I had not known they had it in the festival circuit.  I need to track down more information.

I explained that his ideas were sound, but I wanted to stick with the Devil's Swing.

We talked about Richard Dawkins' new book on atheism, alien species thriving in La Junta (Russian Boar and Aoudad Sheep), where to find good tamales in San Antonio, Daniel Dennett's theory on the consciousness of — “Oh, um, Ruby's giving me a look.”

“I know that look.”

“Dinner's about ready.  You're invited.”

“Sure, you're just down the road.”

“There's a flight from San Antonio to Lajitas.  Once a week, I think.”

“It's tempting, but ….  I'll talk to you soon,” I said.  We made our goodbyes and I hung up.

Tonight I feel like I'm a long way from home.  


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