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Infamous, Unhappy Man, You are the Cause of my Anguish
Infamous, Unhappy Man,
You are the Cause of my Anguish

by Duke Miller

Our door was green and the cats hung around just inside the garden trying to kill movement.   The woman bent over to pet one and the Calico scratched her.  Specks of blood hit the rocks.  The cat was Einstein and the victim was Trudy.  Einstein was the first one out of the box to find the little bowl of milk. Brilliant! Six sisters and brothers got scattered around town, but that’s the way of cats: here and there, putting up self-identity struggles with humans who don’t share the same vision.

Across town a second woman, a Mexican woman, was hiding from a house deal with Trudy.  The woman had sold too cheaply or so said a few jealous relatives who kept their nails long and red.  That might have passed, but then the real sadness set in when the old man on the corner, who peeled oranges with one of those hand-cranked blade machines, started saying the same thing.  Truth was, the house was a dump and Trudy had offered a fortune, but in Mexico nobody wants to leave anything on the table, even if the table is little more than rotten sticks and a bad feeling.

The Mexican woman fled her purchase contract with Trudy for the protection of one of the more disorganized valley ejidos.  She didn’t feel obligated to a gringa who probably had more money than a silver mine. Her plan was to chill out for a few weeks until Trudy got tired of waiting.  The ejido had a bloody history.  During a confused conflict between a group of cranky hacendados and a contingent of communists or maybe fascists (who could tell), about half of the population of the ejido was gunned down.  German-made rifles came into play that day.  Most of the tilting cemetery slabs have phrases like “He Died Defending His Mother” and “Praise to the Virgin Who Was Looking Over Us.”  Stuff like that.

Trudy wrapped her hand in a handkerchief and when she got in the cab she was crying, but not from the scratch.  She said a dream had come to her the night before about how her daughter had died.  “It was an omen,” she said out the window.   About five minutes later another taxi showed up and the driver asked “Where’s the gringa?”  Clearly this was a case of one radio taxi poaching on another radio taxi.  The driver shook his head from side to side and frowned like dry dirt on a hot day.  He was disgusted.  He wanted a beer.  Einstein looked offended too as she licked her back.  She acted like she was going to scratch me since she was now in the mood, but I kicked at her and she ran into the garden with her tail straight up in the air, rocking like a little horsey.

All of this happened while I was waiting for word from my great, great uncle who looked like Abraham Lincoln.  He played Lincoln in “The Iron Horse” which was a movie made by John Ford.

Charles Edward Bull was a cowboy and adventurer.  Clouds hiding the sun meant a lot to him.  So did Reno, Nevada where he worked for the Justice of the Peace.  Down in Old Mexico, he was a guard for a mule train hauling silver out of the Bajio and across to Mexico City.  He worked out of Queretaro and I have a poem of disappointed love address to him from a Mexican woman.   Her name was Lola Montenegro and the year was 1902.

“The Date” is the title and the first stanza goes “Infamous, unhappy man ... you were the cause of my anguish and my sorrowful affliction…you killed my love…you covered me with atrocious bitterness.”  She ends by saying she awaits God’s judgment and she is unafraid to face that day, but how about you Edwardo?   Obviously there was a misunderstanding of some sort: funny how things never really change.

I say I'm waiting for my old uncle because my sister promised to send me his short stories and movie scripts.  They are about his time in the Philippines fighting the Moro insurgents, growing up with black freedmen, who weren’t really free, shooting  Mexican and Central American bandits, surviving the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, about his dogs, Hollywood, and various lovers.  

Uncle Ed felt very close to his older brother Zack Booth, who was killed by the Mexican mayor of Albuquerque.  Zack hanged a man who had led goats through a cut fence and onto cattle pasture.  Not a very good reason by our standards, but then is there any good reasons to take another man’s life?  Maybe, don’t know for sure.  I’ve been around that issue quite a bit, but I have no clear cut answers.  The mayor and his posse put Zack up against a wall and shot him.  No trial, no words, just the end of my other great, great uncle’s life.

Uncle Ed made it to Hollywood in 1917 with all of that indoor plumbing and immediately started acting. He had a mile of nose and the camera devoured his face.  Women were attracted to him.  He was leathery, tall, and when he put on a stovepipe hat it was as if the Civil War was rolling down Sunset Strip searching for wild horses to break, brand, and sell to the U.S. Government.

His ropes were apparently dirty-yellow, stiff, and rough.  At night he would lie in bed and think in terms of words that painted pictures of saddles and sweet water.  For him, roosters always lived somewhere in the neighborhood and sweat was a gift.  He kept a Colt .45 by his bedside, which my grandmother ended up with, and then my father, and now me.  The barrel is splotched, but the nicked, brown wooden handle still shines. 

John Ford said he was going to be the next big thing, but it didn’t work out that way and he went to work for Grauman's Chinese Theater taking photos with patrons who wanted a black and white memory of Abraham Lincoln.  At night, back at his one-bedroom stucco, he'd write stories that nobody much read.  I hear they are full of fights and women and kind men who know how to handle the elements.  Maybe I'll publish some of his writings on my blog site.  He has a nice piece about the San Francisco earthquake and fires.  He calls it “The Three Metal Keys” which were the only things he owned that survived the fires.

Uncle Ed’s blood runs in my veins.  I have always felt it and that’s just a fact. Maybe I’m walking in his footsteps through Mexico, Central America, the Philippines, the wars, the women, Hollywood (my agent never calls me anymore.) Through all of my travels and work in dark places, perhaps he was there, just beyond the candle light, staring at me with the red eyes of some animal, waiting for me to live a life less ordinary. Who knows?

“The man made his way down the hill to the trail. The bandit was stretched out twisting with a bullet in his gut. Life is a wonderful thing, the man thought, as long as the pain is not too great.” -from a short story by Charles Edward Bull, 1947.


Duke Miller is currently semi-retired. He spent 25 years working with refugees and the displaced mostly in war zones. He is the author of three books and has a new publisher who drinks too much and because of that he has agreed to reissue all of Duke's books. If you are interested in reading more of his work, here is a link to the Tin Hats Blog, where he nails up little pieces of his flesh for the enjoyment of others.

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