Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Willie, Time to go.

From my ogoing on-line novel "Willie".

For me it’s just another long, hot, summer day, working with my big buddy Willie. We’re fabricating iron on a pneumatic steel bender, in the brutal Arizona sun, in the gritty industrial district of old south Phoenix and will do so for the rest of the day… or so we think.

Willie Benson is 34 years old. An Anglo, that stands six foot-two inches tall, 240 pounds, without a drop of fat. He’s a big, friendly looking man, with penetrating steel grey eyes and a Paul Newmanesq grin that never leaves his face. Willie’s the kind of man that other men find likeable and a little scary, both at the same time. With a sandy blond, full head of curly hair, a classic bad boy, women find him irresistible. He’s also a self described “Rounder” or career criminal.

I’m fifteen years old and big for my age. He works with me in the steel yard my family owns. This is my third summer working with Willie, who needs a straight job to meet his parole requirements. Every Friday, he has to stop by and show his caseworker at the Department of Corrections his pay stub, and it better say 40 hours. The funny thing is, he never cashes the checks. He considers it a matter of honor that he earn his living through his chosen vocation… crime. He is quite proud of his vocation and discusses with me often. This morning he’s telling me how to steal TVs.

“I tell you kid, televisions are a great way to pick up a little quick cash. I mean who doesn’t want a better TV. On a good day I can unload eight or ten of em.”

I’m a little confused. “Just how do you get a hold of eight or ten TVs?”

At heart Willie is a big kid. He smiles with a twinkle in his eye, like a he’s stealing candy.

“Shit…grabbing TVs is easy. You wander into the Monkey Wards or any big store. All you need is a receipt. If you can’t find one in the trash or on the ground, just buy something that cost a few bucks. Walk on back to the TVs and fold the receipt so the store name is in plain sight. Tuck the receipt in your mouth, pick up a set and head for the door. You can’t talk and nobody is going to ask a guy with a receipt in his mouth if he paid for the TV. Shit… the manager will usually get the door for you. And if he gets wise and starts asking questions, you can always throw the TV on him. The problem with them getting the door is they may want to help you to your car. You really want to avoid that. It gets a little sticky when you’re trying to explain the six or seven TVs in the back of your station wagon.”

To me Willie is a great big guy with a lot of funny stories, who also happens to be a criminal. He’s not a threat. Like a big uncle, I always feel safe around him. But today, I will see first hand, just how afraid others are of my big friend.

Years later when talking with my father about Willie, he tells me he has seen his Criminal record, which states: When apprehending use extreme caution, he is to be considered, usually armed but always dangerous.

The bender we are working at is situated between two driveways that sit about twenty five feet off of the oily dirt road that runs in front of the steel yard. Trucks come and go all day, in and out loaded with steel reinforcing bars. The neighborhood is a combination of dirty, run down motels, shacks, old two room adobe houses and Industrial plants. It’s also the home of the poorest of the poor, numerous gangs, street people, junkies and drunks. So, it doesn’t seem odd when the two drunks start arguing just outside the gate on the other side of the bender.

They look like street people, unkempt, dirty long hair, several days of stubbly beard. Both in dirty work pants, one wears a sleeveless Levi jacket and the other an old, faded, sweat stained, tee shirt that say’s, “American Graffiti.”

The guy wearing the sleeveless jacket starts in, in a very loud, drunken voice.

“Jimmie, You didn’t even like that chick. I don’t need you shit!”

They’re so loud that most of the men working in the yard sort of stop what their doing to see the show.

The shaggy man in the “American Graffiti” tee shirt looks over and starts talking to Willie and me with an intoxicated slur, while his friend stumbles on seemingly unaware.

Approaching us from the front, he blirts out, “Like her… Can you believe him? She was my cousin! I’ve known her all my life!”

We’re starting to laugh at the developing scene when the other man notices that his friend has wandered through the first gate into the yard. He is now standing at the second gate, just behind us, so he wanders on over.

Extending a friendly hand, he appears to be the classic happy drunk.

He mumbles to Willie, “Hey man, that’s Jimmie, I’m Sam, how you doin?”

Willie smiles and turns to shake his hand. We are both snickering.

As Willie turns I noticed the man standing across from us reaching behind his back, as if to tuck his shirt in.

Suddenly, time slows to a crawl and all sound seems to disappear. I see the next few seconds like an instant replay in some sort of twisted, slow motion movie. I watch the look on the man’s face change from a lazy smile, to deadly serious. In a seemingly choreographed move, he pulls out a big stainless steel revolver. Grasping it with both hands. He is now pointing it directly at Willie’s head.

This movement causes Willie to turn back to the man. The barrel of the pistol looks huge and hollow and is about eight inches from center of Willie’s forehead. Meanwhile, the second man produced his own gun. Grabbing Willie by the shoulder, I watch as the barrel is firmly pressed just under my friend’s right ear at a slightly upward angle, causing him to carefully tilt his head to the side. Willie’s hands instinctively, slowly, rise, signaling surrender. The man on the other side of the bender say’s in very low, but deliberate, staccato voice“ don’t-even-breathe you big, dumb, motherfucker… F-B-I.”

It seems so surreal. In the same instant that the men are grabbing Willie, several Police cars and unmarked white sedans descend on the yard with lights flashing. Agents wearing blue blazers with F.B.I. in big yellow letters printed on both the front and back appear out of nowhere, all of them pointing shotguns or pistols directly at Willie. He is cuffed and shoved to the ground in seconds.

One of them say’s, to me, in a clear voice “Son… get over hear now!”

Scared to death, my heart pounding and starting to tear up, I immediately walk towards the officer.

As I do, I heard another agent say, “Willard Benson, you are under arrest for interstate trafficking of narcotics, fraudulent schemes and receiving stolen goods. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney…”

In a way that makes me feel sick to my stomach, it’s just like some crime drama on television.

Another group of police and FBI agents are taking Willie’s car apart, cutting the seats and spare tire with a razor knife. I don’t know what they are looking for but, they don’t seem to find anything.

They immediately take Willie to a waiting car. A tow truck backs up and hooks on to his old station wagon and in an instant they’re both gone. Just a few cops are left behind, talking with Chuck our foreman.

As they drive away, I catch a glimpse of the side of Willie’s face. He’s seated in the back of an unmarked white sedan. Sitting slightly forward, obviously because of the handcuffs behind his back. Although he’s still smiling, trying show he’s not been beaten, all color has left his face. He looks as if he has aged twenty years in just a few minutes, like a caged dog on his way to the pound. This is the last time I will see my friend for just over eight years.

Tex-Mex Tacos

Today I feel like making tacos, these are quick and easy. They only cost a few bucks and feed a small crowd.

This recipe calls for pre-made taco shells. If you want, you can fry your own corn tortillas with the meat mixture inside. Make sure and drain them on a paper towel, before filling them with the toppings. My friend, Western author Bob “Boze” Bell, fries his tacos, holding the tortilla closed with an old pair of pliers! I think the reason we never get poisoned from this practice has something to do with the amount of tequila we consume while cooking!

1 Tbl vegetable oil

1 small white onion, chopped fine

3 cloves garlic

4 Roma tomatoes, diced

2 Lb. Ground beef

1 Lb. Ground pork

1 large bunch cilantro, rinsed and chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

12 taco shells


Shredded lettuce, finely chopped white onion, avocado slices, salsa, tomato, and cheddar cheese,

Sauté the onion, garlic, and tomatoes in a skillet until onions are soft. Then add the beef and pork and continue cooking until the meat is done. Remove from heat. Add the cilantro and season to taste. Assemble the tacos meat first then toppings in the order they are listed. And add Beer… to drink… lots of beer!

Makes 12 tacos

Monday, June 13, 2011

Willie Road Trip

This is from my ongoing on-line novel Willie I was told this story when I was about 17 by Chuck the old foreman that ran our crew when I was an iroworker. Those were hard years, but I look back on them fondly.

Road trip

The hard plastic phone rings on the cluttered, oak desk. A middle-aged cop picks it up.

He clears his throat and then answers with a gruff tone, “Spokane Police Department, Can I help you.”

“Yeah, this is Detective Carl Whitlow, I’m with Rock Springs P-D. We’re located in Southern Wyoming. We got a circular from you on an armed robbery and I’ve got two youth offenders in our lock-up that match your description.”

“Okay, let me transfer you up to the Lieutenant.”

A minute later a different man comes on the line, sounding a little annoyed, he say’s, “Robbery, Did you get any names out of those little bastards.”

Whitlow replies, “I got a Joseph white and a Willard Benson. They can’t be more than 12 years old”

“That’s them… hold on to em, we’ll send a car out. It’ll be a couple of days.

Whitlow, hangs up the phone. Shaking his head he looks across his desk at the two boys, sitting quietly, handcuffed to the heavy bench, with a look of deep concern on their faces. They are both wearing dirty, white tee shirts, worn out jeans and work boots. A couple of scrawny little shits that look like they should be playing baseball or doing yard work, or… anything… anything else. It’s hard to think they’ve robbed a grocery store, and even harder to picture these two using a gun. Maybe it’s this damn depression. Times are hard. The whole country has gone bust.

Chuck, our old foreman, stops with his story for a minute and leans back to light a cigarette. We are a small group of ironworkers, sitting in a dusty, plywood job shack on a construction site, in south Phoenix. The air is thick with the smell of grease and stale cigarettes. It’s over 100 degrees in the shack. Too hot to eat, everyone is drinking as much Gatorade as they can get down in the 15-munite break. Dripping with sweat, at least we are out of the brutal Arizona sun. Chuck is dark and wrinkled from years of the heat’s damage. His hands are badly crippled, from being smashed so many times by the iron, but he can still get over two tons an hour, per man. In short he’s one tough old rodbuster.

He takes a deep drag and slowly blows out the smoke. As it billows across the room, he goes on, “That was back in 1935 or 36. In those days they would send a couple of older beat cops in a car across country to pick up lower level crooks they wanted.”

I break in and ask Chuck, “Did you know Willie back then?”

“He was older. We used to say there were 10 men for every job and there were no jobs. So everyone was always broke. But if Willie was around… well, things were different. I remember one time Willie was at my cousins house. We wanted to drive out to the lake and go swimming with our girlfriends. So we were all pooling our money. It just wasn’t enough to buy gas to get to the lake and back.

Willie said, “Everybody go get your swim suits, I’ll meet you back here in about an hour.”

An hour later Willie shows up. He’s got a case of beer, a bottle of whiskey, a ham, some bread and a bunch of other shit for a picnic. Then he takes us to the gas station to fill up my cousin’s gas tank. I think it cost a few bucks. Willie had a twenty and a five. That was a lot of money back then. We all went to the lake and had a great time.

The next day my old man’s reading the newspaper. There is a story about a local store being robbed. It seems the thieves got away with a case of beer, a bottle of whiskey, a ham, some bread and twenty-five dollars in cash.” Chuck staring at the floor like he could still see the scene shakes his head as he lets out a little snicker. Then he looks me in the eye and says, “Willie… he simply refused to go with out. He was going to be okay, or he was going to be dead.”

“So what happened with the cops in Wyoming?” I ask.

Chuck takes us back into the story; “The way they got back to Spokane was, after the cops picked Joe and Willie up, they would drive all day. You need to remember there were no freeways in those days, so it was backcountry roads all the way. At night the cops would put the boys in some little small town jail and then go to a diner and sleep in a motel. In one of the jails, Willie had a few bucks hidden in his sock, that the cops hadn’t found when they searched him. He bought a knife.

The next day Willie and Joe are sitting in the back seat, and the cops are up front. They’re trying to make good time, maybe doing 60, which is quite fast in one of those old cars.

A beautiful spring day, sailing down the road in central Idaho. A ribbon of highway, gently rolling through a carpet of knee high, bright green, potato plants as far as the eye can see. The cops are enjoying the trip. They’re relaxed, foolishly dropping their guard. To them Willie and Joe are no threat… just two scared little kids. Remember no cage between the driver and the back seat. Out of the blue, Willie leans forward. He grabs the driver by the hair and quickly reaches around his neck, pressing the homemade blade to the tough, old cops throat.

Willie says, in his most menacing 12-year old voice, Okay motherfucker, pull the car over or you’re dead.

The two old cops are torn between the seriousness of the knife and the irony of this 80-pound child acting like Al Capone. The driver lets out a little snicker. The other Cop’s belly starts shaking, and then trying to hold back, he breaks into a low whine, which causes the driver to uncontrollably roar with laughter.

Without a second’s hesitation, Willie slices the driver’s throat wide open. A shower of blood sprays all over the driver’s window, the dashboard, and the inside of the windshield. In the same instant the driver instinctively lets go of the wheel and grabs at his throat. The car lurches on to the dirt shoulder and then the front wheels suddenly catch the edge of the asphalt. In seeming slow motion, the car lifts into the air. After silently rolling over a few times, it explodes when the rear end hits the blacktop. Mangled metal and glass are flying everywhere as the smashed up squad car goes flipping down the highway. The car finally skids to a stop upside down, the roof totally crushed in. Everyone inside is drenched in the driver’s blood with multiple broken bones. Stuck in the smoking wreck, fading in and out of conceseness, it was hours before some local cops could cut them out. ”

Chuck stops and thinks for a second. He goes on ”The driver died. They charged them both with the murder. Because they were minors they were released on their 21st birthday. ”

Chuck with an odd little smile says, “After that… those boys weren’t real popular with the cops around Spokane.

Meanwhile back at the Bread 6-13-11

Okay, I made 22, 600g loaves of country wheat. I heated the oven with Mesquite, burning about 15 logs for 4 hours. When my dough had done it’s final rise for 4 hours I spread the last of the coals across the oven floor. I had been soaking my door in water most of the day and had all my baking tools laid out and ready. After about 20 minutes I had cleaned out the hearth chamber and mopped the hearth. The oven was holding about 575°f and I had laid an old frying pan filled with water inside just to the left of the interior door arch (for steam). I needed to drop the hearth temperature to about 500°f or I would burn the bottoms of the loaves and the crust would form prior to the oven spring and rise. In short I needed to get the center of the loaves cooked before the crust or the loaves would be too moist in the center, smaller and denser. I gave the oven a second mopping and the temp dropped. I tossed in my cornmeal and it stayed a medium brown color so I cut my loaves and loaded the oven, sprayed the oven with a water bottle and draped two wet kitchen towels over the door and sealed the oven. I did 25 minutes soft and 25 minutes hard (without steam) baking. The bread looked good but the ears had not developed fully and the loaves were smaller. I cut into one and I found three things. First the flavor of sourdough was markedly increased from the last batch, next the dough was heavy and moist, last the crust was thicker. Overall this was very nice bread, far better than one can buy in our little town but… I would give it a 95. My last batch was a 100.

Here’s what I learned. My mistake was in trying to force a ton of mass heated up to 575°f to drop in temperature by 75°f in a few minutes. By mopping I had dropped the surface temperature by the 75°f but the masses interior temperature was not changed. As soon as I injected the steam, the oven jumped right back up to 575°f and immediately formed a hard crust that held both moisture and shape. This stopped the bread from rising properly. I have no idea why the bread had a stronger sour flavor except the flavor might reside in the moisture. I bake in two days, wish me luck!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Asian Salad with Thai Chile Dressing and Grill Roasted Beef

Okay you’re grilling in the backyard and have some leftover steak. Save it for the next day and make my “Asian Salad with Thai Chile Dressing and Grill Roasted Beef”

This a great salad topped with grilled beef steak and Thai Chile Dressing. It’s also fantastic with crab, lobster or cold roasted foul.

Thai Chile Dressing:

1 Thai chile, chopped (remove seeds if you don't like HOT!)

1 CLOVE large clove garlic, minced

2 TBL Soy sauce

2 TBL Fresh lime juice

1 TBL Sugar

2 TSP Sesame oil

1. Whisk ingredients together.


1/2 C Red onion, julienne

1/4 C Red bell pepper, julienne

1/4 C Fresh cilantro, chopped

4 C Napa cabbage, sliced thin

2 TBL Dry roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped

Lime wedges, for garnish

About 1 lb. of steak for 4 people

1. Whisk dressing together. Toss red onion, bell pepper, and cilantro, add dressing and toss again. Divide Napa cabbage on four chilled salad plates, dress. Sprinkle peanuts over salad top with slices of steak and place lime wedge on side.

2. Serves 4.