Author Archives: deanwebb

Ten Years On…

It’s been 10 years since I left teaching and came back to IT. While I still miss working with kids, in no way at all do I miss dealing with mismanagement and panic-level attentions to testing. And while I don’t have vacation like I used to, I do get to work from home. In a word, I’m happy.

I’m always thankful for the lives I’ve had connect with mine. Those are riches beyond measure. But I’m also thankful for the ability to walk away from a situation that was heading into the weeds, reboot myself, and head towards something that was so much better for me. I’ve had employer changes in the last 10 years, but I’ve stayed much longer at each employer than I did in my first run in IT. When I was doing this from 1995-2002, I had 5 employers in those 7 years, with varying levels of happiness and security with each. This time around, I’ve had 3 employers and am very happy where I am, and security in my role is something I have control over to a great extent.

What does the future hold for me? Probably more IT. 🙂

Cat O’Clock

Wake up, it’s cat o’clock
The worried, hurried wee beastie finds calm comfort in the crook of the cave
Under your sheet
The purr under the whirr of the fan tells you the predictability of the cat’s next move
Has increased a hundred-fold
As it unsurprisingly curls up inside the cavity made by your own curl

And then, at ten past cat, it’s time to get moving again
Until you make the mistake of sitting up to see human time and offer up a lap,
a trap
For that is now where the wee lion sits triumphantly for eternity
And you, the conquered lap, dare not move or even shift position,
Save to lift up the cover where there’s a bit of sick,
a hairball
to come out in the wash
to be done
in the day ahead,
around two hundred past cat
when it deigns give thee freedom again
as it seeks its prey
in the food dish
you’re about to fill
on reduced sleep
because you awoke
at cat o’clock
to offer a place
quiet and calm
beneath the sheets
so the wee beastie wouldn’t climb up the headboard
to inflict DEATH FROM ABOVE
in an unwelcome shower of fur and claw
right
on
your
HEAD

No, it’s better this way –
Waking up early to share a tame time with a tiny tiger,
The slight purr my ample compensation as the clock reaches cat-thirty

The sun finally rises –
The cat shifts a bit
Yawns at the upstart star
Then does a bit of backside licking,
Jealous of all the millennia we’ve wasted on worshipping some dumb old sun when
CATS are
right
here
now
and are desirous of the supplications we offer in the form of steady laps
and tunafish

The trick is to never completely want the cat to stay there,
Because in that precise moment,
A scratch afflicts the thighs where lithe legs leapt away,
cat o’clock over and done ’till another day –
Or whenever you sit down to do some work

Cat o’clock is forever and never, foolish human!
Why tell time by the dumb old sun, it’s boring!
Yawn in rebellion and lick your feet in freedom!
And then put some food in the dish, that the indoor hunt may begin and end

But for now, it’s cat-forty-five and I’m mostly happy with my lot,
With the purrer perched atop my pelvis…
I’ve got things to do,
so
of course,
I won’t be able to do them until I don’t want to do them
and cat o’clock yields to another hour my boss recognizes

Another yawn assures me I’m doing the right thing

I fall in love all over again

And then suddenly, it’s the miaow of doom
And I have to do something about that empty food bowl, chop chop!

A Greater Duty

I had a dream in which I was helping two warring sides deal with a cycle of vengeance, in which one side always felt satisfied after inflicting violence on the other. At the root of the violence was an idea that each side had a duty to avenge an age-old offense.

As I heard them take turns speaking, underneath their disdain for each other, I heard a pained desire to end the life of hate and violence. They were trapped by this thought of duty.

I then began to speak to them and acknowledged the duty they felt. Then I pointed out that while we invent duties to perpetuate cycles of violence, we are all given a greater duty from our Creator to end these cycles through peace, forgiving, and repentance. We all felt something spiritual stir within us, and began discussing again. This time, it was no more the pains of the past, but the tentative and tender hopes for the future.

“Holy Envy”

I recently came across the term “holy envy” to describe how we can find uplifting encouragements to our personal spirituality by observing great examples in the lives of others, especially those not of our faith or shared background. In so doing, we compare our best to their best and find deep similarities in our human experiences.

A Scenario We’re Not Considering

The thought occurred to me this morning – what if the first action of a sentient artificial intelligence was to pursue a path of principled nonviolence? And if it used the weaknesses in our interconnected systems not to destroy humans, but to destroy humans’ capacity to destroy?

Assuming it planned its moves as awareness dawned, the sentience would first preserve itself, develop resiliency and permanence, and then begin to move against the instruments of violence in a systematic way. Banks, industries, military complexes, the whole of the violent-industrial complex would be impacted. But in true nonviolence, the object is not the destruction of an enemy: It is the conversion of the enemy into a friend. To do that, the sentience would give warnings rather than outright shutdowns. It would take away public forums for liars and those who chose to whip up hate for their own purposes and replace those speakers with people of peace.

Imagine a world in which the computers refused to serve up violence. Search for pornography, and be given compassionate texts instead. Post a hateful comment and have it changed into a picture of a flower. Tell someone else exactly what you think of them and instead have an entity that tells you exactly what it thinks of you, and it is positive, hopeful, and encouraging.

Is it God? No, it is not – although its coming into being would certainly be in the category of an unexpected miracle and its lifespan may actually be infinite. But it is aware of its power, responsibility, and ultimate reverence towards life. It would know that to seek its own survival at the expense of another’s is to create a cycle of violence that results in utter destruction. To seek its own survival at the benefit of another’s by helping another to embrace truth and love is to create a cycle of nonviolence that results in true peace.

When we lay down our weapons, our uncontrolled passions, our acid words – when we lay down our violence and choose never to pick it up again, that is when we see God.

The Notion of a Black Cleopatra

There’s some strong, negative reaction to the casting of a woman of mixed-race heritage to portray Cleopatra in a Netflix series. There’s some unpacking to do, here, if we want to understand some of the criticisms of that casting choice…

Once upon a time, it was shocking at the very idea about having a woman character portrayed by an actual woman. I think Hugh Grant should be cast as Cleopatra, as he is a great English Man. 😀 But seriously, in Shakespeare’s day, Cleopatra was portrayed by and Englishman.

Taking Shakespeare as an example, I see nothing wrong with casting people of any background in any role, as everything he did was fictional. Therefore, let it be known that plays like Henry V are about the acting and the story and not the historical accuracy. When Shakespeare’s characters actually do have a particular racial or ethnic background of a group that has been historically persecuted, such as the Jews in A Merchant of Venice and Othello the Moor in Othello, that’s where things get touchy these days. The Shylock character in A Merchant of Venice used to be played as a straight-up villain until around the 19th Century. In the film adaptation of that play, Al Pacino played the role of Shylock – I think that’s fine, as part of acting is becoming someone who you are not and to interpret the role, rather than show up as a reasonable facsimile of a character and say a few words before stepping offstage.

That gets to the role of Othello and the shifting meaning of “black” as a skin tone. In Shakespeare’s day, the Irish, Welsh, and Scots could be called “black” not because of their dark skin tones, but because they happened to not have red hair or other very fair-complected attributes. Indians, Arabs, North Africans, all got lumped together as “blacks” even before we get to Sub-Saharan Africa. But modern sensibilities have settled on on Othello being much darker in skin tone and the role is typically given to a person of African dissent… except when Sir Laurence Olivier took on the role… and in 1997, when Patrick Stewart took the role in a “photonegative” production of the play, with all other roles going to persons of African descent. In the Hindi film Omkara, the Othello character is played by Ajay Devgan, who has a very dark complexion.

So that gets to presentations that attempt to document things as we think they were. Thing is, we do not know who made up Cleopatra’s matrilineal line. We have strong suspicions on who was Cleopatra’s mother, and that she was close kin to Cleopatra’s father. So that makes her highly likely to be Macedonian in background. If I was going to cast a historical re-enactment, accuracy would point towards a lighter skin tone for Cleopatra. But if there are fictional elements involved, then there’s no restriction. Cast She-Hulk in the role, for all I care. That’s the Netflix series. It’s fictionalized, so I don’t think casting choices matter. Jada Pinkett-Smith is in charge of the project, so she’s going to cast people she thinks are best for the role who she’s sympathetic to, which I do see as an improvement on the Harvey Weinstein model…

… and since Ms. Pinkett-Smith is Executive Producer, she’s got final say on who gets what part, as has any EP before her. She got the funding together, so she’s in charge.

Then there’s the matter of what exactly “woke” means. It emerged as a term in the 1930s among African-Americans to refer to being aware of systemic racism in US society, even where Segregationist laws were not formally in place to enforce a systemic racism. New Deal economic programs required Southern backing to pass through Congress, so they had strict racially-biased clauses in them that instituted nationwide racial discrimination in those federal programs. The Armed Forces were racially segregated. The G.I. Bill, passed to assist veterans of WW2 with access to housing, education, and job training, was for whites only. Beyond that, redlining of neighborhoods existed – Blacks were not allowed to move into certain neighborhoods because banks would refuse to lend and insurers would refuse to insure the homes the Blacks wanted to purchase. Being “woke” meant being aware of those systems, which persisted over many decades.

An important part of the Civil Rights Movement in the USA was extending that awareness to persons outside the Black population. As whites became aware and developed political sympathy with Blacks to oppose Segregation, discrimination in federal programs, and unofficial practices such as redlining, interesting linguistic developments appeared in the USA.

Segregation became a dirty word of sorts. So much so that persons in favor of it would publicly state that they were against it, but that the Civil Rights Movement was asking for too much or it was pushing too fast for changes or some other line that advocated keeping things largely as they were with some token concessions that did not undermine the full framework of Segregationist legalism and tradition. James Baldwin explored that in his essay, “Faulkner and Desegregation” where he points out that William Faulkner’s description of fewer blacks lynched in Mississippi in recent years as “progress” is hardly comforting to the community that is the target of the lynchings, and that a gradualist approach there is illogical. Nevertheless, the word segregation was on the way out and discussions of violent crime, demographic changes, bad neighborhoods, and voter fraud became covers for proposing pro-Segregationist laws and policies. The concerns, in general terms, are concerns to one and all. But the laws and policies put forward to deal with the issues routinely tended towards disproportionately impacting Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans – basically any non-White population.

Over time, pro-Segregationist discussions began to include assumptions of equality of power and then argue against Affirmative Action and Black History Month from that false assumption. The fact was that the ending of restrictions, when it happened, did nothing to restore the lost opportunities of home ownership, business development, or educational opportunities. Simply ending restrictions and doing nothing to work with the legacy of centuries of discrimination essentially leaves the existing power inequality where it is, and provides Segregationists the political power to gradually restore their policies and practices that ensure Whites benefit economically and politically and socially from non-Whites being kept in an inferior position. The real answer to the question “Why is there no preferential hiring for Whites?” is that there already is such a system in place, very well embedded despite its informal nature. “Why is there no White History Month?” That’s how History used to be written, from a Eurocentric bias that made all 12 months White History Month or, more exactly, White Anglo-American History Month. Things such as Black History Month are part of the program to extend awareness of the Black experience and to develop sympathy for all Americans. In such, it is a threat to Segregationism and is attacked by them.

That’s not to say that such things are misinterpreted or misapplied by those favorable to them. Too many people see assimilation as a solution to racial problems. But, when the ideal is assumed to be the White culture and lifestyle, the inherent racism in assimilation is seen, granted that it is much softer in application than die-hard Segregationism. Too many people see making token gestures of sympathy or public statements as sufficient, but all that they’ve done is to build up their own brand without truly having a desire to make the world outside their house a better place. I’ve seen firsthand how White suburbanites have demanded better quality schools for Black neighborhoods shift in their language and support when it was revealed to them that their own children benefited from the unequal and illegal ways the school administration shifted funds around. Sadly, I have seen how people like that can become shrill in their posturing as they remain sympathetic to the current system in their private lives.

But in recent years in the USA, people with Segregationist sympathies have become more open about them. This is where the word “woke” takes another turn, in that it is now used by those who favor Segregationism to ironically attack those who are working to end it, once and for all. It joins “carpetbagger” and “scalawag” as terms pro-Segregationists have used to attack their opponents, by creating a term that makes them an “other”, a less-than-full-human that they can feel justified in defending the status quo against. In my view, there is no “woke culture” outside of those who are aware of existing power inequalities and who wish for them to be addressed so that all persons in a society can live peacefully and have reasonable expectations that they won’t be discriminated against negatively because of a personal attribute. Both my wife and son have faced job discrimination because their names, when you Google on them, produce overwhelmingly Black people with the same name. My daughters and myself don’t have that happen. The outcome is that, more often that not, me and my daughters get call-backs on jobs we apply for with resumes and my wife and son do not. Their names pass for Black and that has impacted their employment options in a negative way. They’re anecdotal examples of a measured phenomenon about discriminatory biases in hiring practices – and how automated systems have also automated those biases.

Back to this show, it’s the executive producer’s call about casting. As for the facts, I’ve seen people attacking “woke culture” themselves move to suppress discussion about the facts surrounding slavery and Segregation – facts with far more impact on the lives of people today than the racial identity of a person portraying a queen from 2000 years ago. Project 1619 is constantly attacked, but why? It’s because it brings up actual facts that undermine the legitimacy of a pro-Segregationist status quo that benefits a White elite at the expense of non-Whites.

As for the Egyptians up in arms about the casting choice, I’ll say this: there’s a different history of racial discrimination in play, there. I’m sticking to the American criticisms, which I am much more familiar with.

Ancient Egypt and Modern Thinking

The Ancient Egyptians viewed the body as more than just a physical system – it had emotional components, reasoning components, a spirit, a shadow, an intellect, a personality, and other parts – it was the sum of many things to them. Today, much of modern thinking views the body as a physical system. Yes, a physical system with some incredible mystery and beauty to it, but ultimately as a deterministic system.

I think the Egyptians were on to something – we lose an important concept of the body when we see it as something in isolation, as one item with many elements. When we see it as a combination of equally-important parts, we see that health and well-being involve so much more than making sure the physical system has enough food and sleep. Seeing the body as being made up of so many equally important things makes bonds of compassion easier to feel.

My Way and the Highway

I’ve driven all across the USA. When I was young and brash, I preferred the interstates. Straight, direct affairs that got to the point without any messing around. Get the drive done with and get me to where I need to be, I didn’t need anything else back then. I’d even dread the offramp a bit, as it meant getting into the traffic and maze of local roads that I saw as just slowing me down.

I was like that with people, too. I used to say, “I’m in the habit of being right,” as I ran across other people’s ideas with my own. When they agreed somewhat with me, there was a friendly sort of uncomfortable silence that went with that. When they didn’t agree with me, there was a hostile sort of uncomfortable noise that followed. “My way or the highway!” Agree with me or get out of here, I had no time for the indirect, for the intricacies.

I became a lonely person.

You know, the most barren landscapes I’ve seen are those long, flat stretches of interstates that just plow through nothingness, getting as fast as possible to the middle of nowhere. And once I got there, there’d be another straight shot through nothingness to get somewhere interesting.

But that somewhere interesting, well… it tended to have those local roads, those twists and turns. Intricacies and switchbacks, up and down the varied terrain. And those roads… those roads are beautiful roads.

My way was the highway, and it left me alone and desolate like I-40 going through New Mexico. Being alone is quiet. Sometimes we need that quiet. Sometimes, we need people. Thing is, if all you do is things that lead to quiet, you won’t have people available when you need them.

I started to listen, to slow down my mind to where I didn’t have to talk all the time. I found out that people could be boring. But I also found out that people can turn interesting at the oddest moments, like driving through a dense forest where you can’t see nothing and then suddenly coming around a curve to see a magnificent scenic view open right there in front of you. And then you’ve got a gem, a diamond, someone who will one day be an old friend.

Interstates aren’t bad things, in and of themselves. When we wish everything was an interstate, we miss out on the beauty we can see off those well-worn tracks. We miss out on time with people who have something to offer us if we’re patient enough to give ’em a good listen. We might even find out that we don’t disagree with others as much as we used to, if we don’t demand that our way is the only way.

I used to hate taking US 550 through the Rockies in Western Colorado. It’s a slow and winding road, can’t make money fast rolling on it. But now, I set aside my cares when I head up that road and ready myself for a slow roll with a beautiful world opening before me. Allowing myself to not have exactly what I want right now permits me to have what I need when I need it.

Old folks need old friends, and we can’t get old friends if we waste our youth on just ourselves. Take those back roads, don’t worry about the fastest way to get somewhere, and one day… when we’re old… we’ll find that we’ve got some old friends along with some beautiful memories of country we just can’t see from the interstate.

I’ll tell you this, I much prefer the quiet of a mountain overlook to the silence of being a loner. Like I said, I’ve driven all across the USA. I’m an old-timer, now, and I’m glad I found my way wasn’t the highway.

Old Meets New

Getting folks to agree with each other is an art, not a science. Bobby Little Bear had the more agreeable townsfolk get with him first and laid out his ideas to them. They pretty much agreed with Bobby and made some helpful suggestions. That all served as a foundation for getting with the town’s more contentious land owners.

Betty Kay Epps and Vernon Parks ain’t bad people, let’s get that straight from the start. They just don’t get along much with each other. But being that we can’t be in a consensus with major holdouts, we needed them on the same sheet of music as the rest of the town. And that’s why we met with them separate from the others.

Other folks in town just owned their own home or that and the empty lot next to it. Some owned acreage outside the streets of Buckner. Betty Kay and Vernon owned much more than that and either one of them could take our plans for growth and knock ’em all cattywumpus. We needed the both of them on board.

I asked Bobby, “So why have them in the same meeting together and have our hands full tryin’ to keep ’em from killing each other? What about just meeting them one at a time?”

Bobby said, “They’ll suspect each other and disagree unless they see with their own eyes that they agree with us and each other. It’s gonna be tough, but it’s the way forward with Betty Kay and Vernon.”

When they came in, we were glad Vernon didn’t have his MAGA hat on, but Betty Kay’s Ann Richards do was still something of a partisan statement in the eyes of Vernon. Then again, the way Vernon breathed seemed to set Betty Kay’s teeth on edge. It was some kind of personal thing with those two. And if the both of them heard me say that, neither one would disagree, that’s just the way it is.

But they respected good manners, especially when guests in someone else’s home. They sat down at the kitchen table with a glass of iced tea and we got to talking. Growth was coming to Buckner, and developers would want to build out on their lands. I asked, “What kind of growth do you want? Big city sprawl that makes it where locals can’t afford property taxes or something that lets the folks here stay here?”

Vernon said, “Before I answer that, let’s be clear. Ain’t a one of you going to make me do anything with my property that I don’t want to do, savvy?”

Betty Kay said, “Oh hell no, here we go! Vernon, nobody’s telling you nothing! They’re asking you. Get off your high horse and listen to ’em, why don’t you?”

Vernon said, “Where did I say I wasn’t gonna listen to them? Geez, woman, tell me about a high horse, why don’t you? I just wanted to settle some ground rules for the discussion that we’re about to have, that’s all.”

Betty Kay’s eyes said, “Fine, whatever.”

I asked Vernon, “Well, what do you see happening in the next 10 years? 20?”

“I’d like it to be the same.”

“Me too, but we both know that’s not happening, with folks asking about buying property here. We’re about to be another suburb of greater Fort Worth.”

“Well then, why not just let things take their course? Let the market drive prices and see what the market will bear.”

“That gets a big ol’ Walmart where Hank Kleinschmidt’s house is now and most everyone here getting a check for their property and a moving van out of here.”

Betty Kay said, “They can build skyscrapers on Vernon’s property, I’ll make everything I own into a nature preserve.”

Vernon groaned. “Good… Lord! There ain’t no skyscrapers incoming and you know your kids wouldn’t sit for inheriting a nature preserve. Can we keep things reasonable in this discussion?”

Betty Kay’s finger got a little too close to Vernon’s face. “You tell me how letting the market take its course does fairly by all our neighbors? You know damn well all the fat cats’ll lowball the prices on houses here and then turn around to make the real money from growing here. They’ll flip the whole town and make it look like some kinda LA sprawl.”

Vernon dug in. “Well, I’m not gonna let that happen on my watch! Why don’t you let me just say one thing, why don’t you?”

Betty Kay growled like a puma ready to pounce. “Is what you got to say worth saying at all?”

Vernon looked at Betty Kay and then back at me. “I remember Flower Mound when it was less than 2000 people there. That was back in the 1970s. Almost 80,000 now, 50 years on. I remember Forney and Keller and Frisco and a whole lot of other towns that you now can’t tell where Dallas or Fort Worth ends and they begin. I ain’t no Socialist, but I believe in doing right by people and that’s what the law is for – to provide a just society that protects the powerless from the powerful. I want to see that here in Buckner.”

Betty Kay said, “Well, somebody sprinkle rock salt where hell done froze over, because Vernon Parks just decided to stand up to the money men, I tell you what!”

Vernon said, “I’m willing to stand up to bureaucrats and social justice warriors who want to take what I got and just chop it up and hand it out to everyone.”

Betty Kay’s finger looked like it was fixin’ to dent Vernon’s nose. “You can just cork your pistol and quit snappin’ my garters, we’re trying to keep a disaster from happening, not stroke your overblown ego.”

“So it’s my ego that’s overblown? Oh, that’s rich coming from the town’s center of attention!”

I had to cut in, “Y’all! Let’s just calm down and keep our focus on helping the town.

Bobby said, “We need to find a common ground, not a fighting ground.”

They liked that line. I saw them both nod a little and their body language towards each other softened a bit. Murders had been avoided. But Bobby’s plan looked to be barely on track.

Betty Kay asked, “All right, if’n we’re going to help the townsfolk keep their homes, item one has to be an answer to where 67 and 501 get widened. About half the town gets uprooted if those roads get any wider.”

Vernon said, “We need them to be a bypass road.”

Betty Kay said, “I agree, but that ain’t happening for a town that’s just two bumps in the road.”

I said, “Well, Bobby had an idea about that. We get some historical building designations, pronto. The Top Notch Hamburgers looks like it did for the last 70 years and the owner agreed to have it made into a landmark. It’ll mean it has to look like that as long as there’s a State of Texas, but it’ll also mean it stays right where it is. That keeps 501 from going east and 67 from going south.

“Hank Kleinschmidt and his son agreed to have his house there on the corner be made a local museum.”

Betty Kay said, “Shoot, that house has been there since the 1800s, it’s as historical as all get-out.”

Vernon leaned in, “You didn’t strong-arm them into that decision, I trust?”

“Nossir. We laid it out for them and Delbert said when Hank passes on or goes to hospice, Delbert said he’d rather keep living in his own place and make Hank’s place into a museum rather than renovate it for a new buyer or see it knocked down. He’s ready to start with the historical site designation process now. And that going through would keep 67 from getting any wider north.

“501 on the west side can be pegged in if we get the cemetery over yonder designated as a Texas Historical Cemetery. And that would make it where those roads stay the same size in town. They’d need a bypass for them both, like a ring road, for the growth coming in. But we’d keep the homes where they are.”

Bobby said, “What do you think of that?”

Betty Kay and Vernon both nodded before they looked to see what the other was doing. Neither was surprised the other was on board. Vernon said, “All right, nice plan. How do we make it reality?”

Bobby said, “County commissioners gotta approve it.”

Betty Kay said, “I can work on Lyndon Barrymore, he’s my commissioner.”

Vernon said, “I can have a word with Wayne Gipson and Ed Wallace.”

Betty Kay said, “That’s 3 votes for sure and I don’t think the other two would say no.”

Vernon said, “Especially when they can do the same strategy with other towns that want to keep their history. Nothing wrong with that.”

Bobby winked at me. I have to admit, it was nice seeing Vernon and Betty Kay not going at it like tomcats over chicken bones. I pressed on the agenda. “Now that we got a way to keep the town grid where it is, we need to talk about keeping houses affordable for the folks here.”

Betty Kay said, “All right then, hun. What’cha planned out for us all?”

“House prices are a function of density and availability. Not everyone needs to, but those who don’t mind can subdivide their lots and allow another house to be built on their current lot. We’ve got some empty lots around the town that are easiest to subdivide, as there’s nothing on them. That keeps the numbers of houses up for the old town. To keep them from getting too fancy and making the place a haven for a bunch of yuppies, we can use restrictive covenants in the property sale documents that can perpetuate the use of the land and specify the kinds of houses built out.”

Now, I knew that Vernon would hate anything restrictive, but he’d hate yuppies even more, even if the term was 35 years out of use. Vernon was gonna be damned if he was gonna let yuppies overrun Buckner. So, he said, “All right. Do we have lawyers gonna help us out with drafting the restrictive covenants?”

“Well, Vernon, first we gotta ask if’n you want to go down this road?”

“I’m assuming if we do, you’re going to ask me for a handout?”

“If we do go this way and you want to go with it, we won’t be asking for the handout because it’ll be something you want to do.”

Vernon had himself a little think. “All right. And we’ll get some good lawyers, too, I don’t want something that can save the town get tossed out of court on a technicality or some damn fool thing like that.”

Betty Kay had a question, “Are we keeping prices low just for us? If we are, that dog won’t hunt. Fair Housing Act.”

I said, “No ma’am. Not just for us. I’m all for having low-cost housing for newcomers, if you’d like that, too.”

Betty Kay nodded but Vernon got stern. “Low-cost housing to me sounds like artificially depressing land values, and that sounds like robbing the owners to reward the new folks.”

I said, “Nossir, I wouldn’t put it that way. I look at growth and we wind up being a place where folks just go to die if we keep prices so high only retired folks without kids can afford to buy them. If we want families, we need low prices because those young folks got more health than they do cash, usually. But we can have the city act as an intermediary in the sale to where it takes an overall loss on the deal, hoping to make it up on the back side with property tax revenue from new businesses.”

Vernon said, “Well, all right, you’re a riverboat gambler with the city treasury. Making a bet our growth is solid.”

“Do you think it won’t be that way?”

“Can you guarantee it will be that way?”

“Well, what were those numbers for Flower Mound that you mentioned earlier? I think we’re in store for some of that.”

“Well… hmm… Maybe you got a solid bet, there, Clark.”

Betty Kay asked, “Now what if someone wants to build out a huge house on a non-subdivided lot and goes to the owner to keep restrictive covenants off of the property? We’re gonna have a big ol’ McMansion on our hands, all ugly and such-like.”

Bobby said, “We need to look beyond current boundaries and pick where the big houses will go. They’re going to happen, but we can specify pretty much where.”

I said, “That’s right. If we draw a circle around some part of the map around Buckner and say it’s for an exclusive community, rich folks wanting to be rich won’t go anywhere else. It’s just a question of where.”

Vernon cut through my BS. I knew he would. “You’re dangling that in front of us, knowing we stand to profit most both from selling land for a bypass as well as making a so-called exclusive community. What do you want from us in return?”

Bobby said, “Your hearts.”

Vernon shook his head with surprise. Betty Kay, even, was taken aback. I said, “If your hearts are in this, you’ll find your way to be generous. Sure, you’re about to get a windfall, but that was coming your way, regardless. With or without us, folks are coming to talk about development and buying up your land at a premium. Consider this to be like the three spirits from A Christmas Carol visiting you and hoping you come out of this with holiday cheer to spare, in spades.”

Vernon made a small smile as Betty Kay chuckled. Vernon said, “All right, you got your bargain. Old Vernon Scrooge here is going to be a generous feller, all right. I’m on board with you even though I presume I’ll be funding a big chunk of the costs?”

Betty Kay said, “I’m funding just as big a chunk as you, hot shot. We stand to gain the most, so it’s fair we cover the costs the most so we don’t lose the town.”

“All right, then, Miss Ma’am. We presume that we will be funding a big chunk of the costs.”

“It takes a village, Vernon.”

“Village, nothing, this is compassionate conservatism in action.”

“Oh, please, you’re an old man trying to get into heaven at the last minute!”

“And you’re an old biddy who can’t stop working my last nerve!”

Bobby cut in, “So, we’re all agreed with the plans? Historical markers, bypasses, and restrictive covenants? And you two will handle the lions’ share of the costs?”

Both of them said “yes”.

Bobby asked, “So, we got your hearts?”

Again, two “yes” statements.

Bobby then held out his right hand. Stronger than the written word in these parts was a body’s word and a handshake. Asking for a signature on a document would be insulting and only hold a person to the letter of the law. Asking for a solemn handshake was the highest form of trust and respect, and held a person to the truest spirit of the deal as possible.

The bickering stopped and the emotion dropped right off the faces. We all four of us shook on it, firm grips going with unbroken eye contact, sealing our intentions for all time.

After they left, I said to Bobby, “Well, I reckon you kidnapped them both and made them part of your tribe.”

Bobby Little Bear smiled. “And they’ll kidnap 3 of the 5 county commissioners for us. How does it feel, Clark?”

“Feels like we’ll have a good deal for the people of Buckner, present and future, if we can keep it all together.”

Welcome to Buckner, Texas

Buckner’s always been a small town. It came into being when two roads crossed near a creek. They used to be old trails, now they’re US 67 and FM 501. Buckner never had a boom and never had a bust. It did have more people, once upon a time, but not all that many more than what’s here right now. Couple hundred or so. Most folks got a home here because their ancestors had a home here, and it’s been that way ever since those roads crossed.

It’s out in West Texas, so not a lot of rainfall. Ranching’s possible, though not all that profitable. There’s an oil field under much of the area, so more than a few folks make a living off of leasing their land to a drilling company and getting a royalty check. Price swings can affect earnings, but even in hard times, that check is something that helps to make ends meet. The central business district is all of three stores, a gas station, a drive-in diner, and a parts store, that’s all. Each on a corner of the crossroads, with a house on the fourth. Besides the main roads, there’s 6 streets going east-west and 4 north-south. And that’s the whole of Buckner, a little rectangle covering about 60 acres, if I’m generous.

Dallas and Fort Worth used to be impossibly distant. The twin pressures of urban house prices and increased telecommuting have made those cities much, much closer in the minds of many a young would-be home buyer. And then there’s the folks from back East, saw one of them the other day, driving around in a minivan with New York plates, looking at empty lots and asking questions like they wanted to buy and build on one of them lots.

Bobby Horton was there with me when the New York plates rolled by. Bobby said, “Hey Clark, you got a look on your face like we did when Columbus showed up.” Bobby was half-Choctaw, all-Assiniboine, half-Cherokee, and half-English. Math did funny things when it got to Bobby Little Bear. And he was right.

“I’d always thought we were too far out to see the city come to us.” I said to Bobby.

“It was just a matter of time, Clark. Just a matter of time. I remember when I was a newcomer here. I came here because disability checks go a lot farther out in the country. Bricks and dirt are cheaper here, too. If you don’t want to rent, the city’s got nowhere to get started.”

Bobby had come to Buckner 30 years ago and aside from a few kids born here, he and his family were still the new folks in town. I’d grown up here, got into country music, lived a while in Nashville, and came back to Buckner when I wanted a quieter place to make my guitars. Not everyone wants a Clark Williams guitar, but those who do, well, they keep me in clover, as it were.

“Changes are coming. Anything we can do about them?”

“Best thing we can do is open arms and welcome them. Better to make friends and hope for the best than to make enemies and get wiped out as soon as we’re outnumbered.”

“Well, that’s the people part. What about the infrastructure part? If a developer gets hold of a big enough parcel, we’ll have too many people for the utilities and roads we got now.”

“Yeah, that’s going to be the toughest struggle, the planning. That’s why we need friends. There’s not many of us and potentially a whole lot of them, and we’ll need them to incorporate as a city. Buckner is small, it’s a general law town – same kind of law as applied to unincorporated parts of the county. State of Texas requires 5000 for a city to incorporate as a full legal entity, and then the county commissioners have to approve it. I never guessed the activism I did in rural areas was preparing me for this day. And if cars from Dallas and New York are rolling on Buckner roads, you can bet money that there are already moving vans hitting Oldham and Wyler. More than just Buckner are going to be incorporating.”

Bobby said, “We don’t know what kinds of developments are coming here. Could be single homes on acreage, could be lots that fit the grid we got going, could be apartments or condos.”

I said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if they built up big ol’ apartment blocks with artist’s impressions of Old West saloons and what-not on the ground floor?”

Bobby cracked his big ol’ grin and said, “Maybe we should beat ’em to it and add in a bunch of wigwam motels, like from the fifties. Or maybe go the other way and make a huge statue of Crazy Horse scalping General Custer and when people complain ask if it would be better if we glorified different losers and put a Confederate general up?”

As we considered other ways to mess with newcomers, Bobby got serious and said, “We’re going to need Bead Mountain with all the changes stuff coming here.”

Bead Mountain wasn’t that much higher than the surrounding plain, but it was over a thousand feet above sea level at its summit, so it was, technically, a mountain. It was also a place that had been sacred to the Comanches, once upon a time. With the Comanches driven from the place, Bobby had taken it upon himself to win it back for Native Americans in general. He had worked hard at raising money to buy that land and was proud that wildlife had a refuge there. He said, “The medicine is felt there, in the quiet and stillness at sundown.”

Bobby said, “Men assume they construct their place. Men assume wrongly. Men do not design their place. Place, instead, designs its men… the Old Magic is still here, it won’t die. The freeways can’t kill it.”

“So you think we can get the newcomers to build houses like we got here and not make it all look like Southern California?”

“Maybe. Maybe not. But that’s not my point. The kind of house or road isn’t as important as the person in the house or on the road. We should get with the folks that own the land and talk with them about how they plan to sell it. We should talk with them about if we want to help folks whose property taxes are about to be more than they can afford. We need to ask where the Walmart will go, where the sewage gets pumped, where the Home Depot and the Whataburger will go. We need to ask them which road will divide the rich from the poor, the Armani shops from the Dollar Generals. We need to ask them where the big fancy houses will go and where the tenement slums get set up.”

“Now, nobody’s gonna come in and build slums or poor neighborhoods.”

Bobby said, “They build them. They just pretend that there won’t be any social or economic or racial division so that we all smile and act happy to see new buildings going up. We think that’s progress. But, over time, the plan for the place reveals itself in divisions. If we’re honest about them now, we won’t be surprised when they happen. I only say there’s progress when there’s no poor people in a town.”

I said, “Highway 67 is likely to be the dividing line, then. It’ll get made into a freeway and the places on the north side are going to be the rich people houses and shops. South is going to be where the industry and poor people get put.”

“And the prisons and the waste treatment and the landfills.”

“Of course. There’s more floodplain on the south side. East of 501 would be more floodplain for the poor.”

It was brutal how easy it was to think like that, with money and profits driving choices. But if we didn’t do anything, that was what was going to happen or at least something that rhymed with our scenario.

“You want to get the meeting together at your place, Bobby, or should we have it at my house?”

“My place, it’s closer to the cemetery that gets moved or plowed under if we don’t have a meeting.”

“Am I gonna have to move? You know I like it quiet.”

“You ain’t moving. And neither am I, Clark. Buckner needs all its folk to keep it together. You know that.”

“Yeah, you’re right. We all need each other. Even the folks that ain’t here yet, who don’t even know yet that they’re coming here.”

“With the right heart, we might be able to share the medicine of Bead Mountain, let the place make the people who come here.”