Why Would Anyone Leave Ruidoso N.M.?

“Why,” questioned the Abilene cabinet carpenter as he picked up his saw and sawed.

“Why,” wondered the puzzled internet tech as he picked up his fiddle and fiddled with our communications apparatus.

“Why,” pondered the incredulous plumber as he picked up his ratchet and ratcheted.

Why in heavens did we ever leave Ruidoso? That was the repetitive question.

There was the cashier at Marketplace grocery store. She looked at Roberta and I suspiciously, as if we might be sneaking out with a box of Cheerios under my shirt.

We had mentioned we were new residents, having moved from New Mexico. “You are curious as to why we traded Ruidoso for Abilene?” I ventured.

“Yeah,” she replied. “I didn’t want to pry. Why would you ever leave Ruidoso?”

My favorite was the young clerk at McCoy’s Drug Store. I had stopped in to sign up as a regular customer, figuring a local store would come closer to matching the cordial hometown service we had enjoyed at Sierra Blanca Pharmacy.

I waited in silence as the pleasant McCoy’s clerk methodically copied information from my driver's license. Finally, without preamble, noting the former address, she looked up at me with a questioning face and simply asked, “Why?”

We have a standard, honest reply to these queries. Yes, Ruidoso is truly magnetic and a marvelous place to call home. But life is a series of seasons, and our Abilene season has us surrounded by family, a plethora of physicians including most specialties, and 15 minutes from our driveway an airport with four daily 45-minute flights to Dallas.

Our new neighbors nod as if they totally understand. Inwardly, they think we are as crazy as a hoot owl.

Ruidoso is magnetic? It certainly was to us back in the early 70s when we traveled to the mountain resort as guests of the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce to hear famous radio commentator Paul Harvey. That weekend visit eventually led to a part time cabin and, in 2000, full time residence.

So, this message to our former town: Ruidoso, as goes Abilene, so goes West Texas. You are the envy of many, many wannabe residents. You folks involved in Village and Chamber of Commerce tourism outreach?

Take a bow. 















Goodbye New Mexico (It's Been Fun!)


Traveling through Arizona was pleasant that late May day in 1971. Deming was a blur. Carlsbad was somewhere out there on the horizon and I was in a big hurry. Phil Buckner had offered me $17,000 a year to run the Carlsbad Current-Argus.

Was he crazy? Seventeen thousand bucks to run a paper, write whatever I wanted? I was driving fast to get there before he changed his mind.  Put El Paso behind me, raced towards where I thought was Carlsbad.  After what seemed like four zip codes, began to worry if there was a Carlsbad.

Sure enough. Found the town. Found the newspaper at Mermod and Main.  Began calling on advertisers because they pay the bills. Began seeking out newsmakers to assure them our relationship was going to be one ongoing honeymoon because I am a fair guy and I am confident the town would value good journalism. We all hugged.

Well, not all. Walter Gerrells, the curmudgeon mayor who ran the town dictator-style, met me on the sidewalk outside his clothing store downtown. Introduced myself. He nodded. “What’s that you’re driving?” he frowned, a glance toward my car.

I told him it was a 1970 Datsun 510. It was a little blue number, bottom of the line, but it was to be mine after just two more years of payments. Proud of that car, I was.

“What’d you pay for that thing” the mayor wondered?  “Just $4,000!”  I flashed the cocky smile of a self- congratulatory wheeler-dealer.

“You’d think for that kind of money you could have got a real car,” Mr. Sunshine observed.  So. It’s going to be that kind of 45 years.

 It was the beginning of a healthy newspaper-government relationship. Over the next couple decades, the power structure and the paper fought a lot, made up a lot, worked together in a mostly friendly tug of war. Current-Argus readers enjoyed the jostling.

Actually, all that good will was short-lived. Just weeks after my arrival the Carlsbad Jaycees staged their annual fund raiser, a carnival set up in the park next to Lake Carlsbad. As luck would have it, one Friday night a couple of carnies got drunk and pushed a city pickup into the lake.

Saturday morning six or seven Jaycees surrounded my desk at the newspaper where we were preparing the Sunday edition.  Nice guys. Dean Friesen was there. Jerry Calvani, I think. Probably Jack White, Jr. They pleasantly explained how important the carnival was to the town and wondered if the dunked truck was really all that newsworthy. I told them it certainly qualified as a story but it wouldn’t get much play if more important news crossed our desk.

Turned out to be a slow news day. The page one banner headline Sunday morning screamed something like: “Drunk Carnies Push City Truck into Drink.”  So much for hugging. Dean and I still laugh about that story.

The next decades were to bring more of the same. Newspapering in Carlsbad, making valued friends among my peers across the state through the New Mexico Press Association, ending our days in Carlsbad with a move to Ruidoso and syndication of a weekly column. It all started with that long drive from Southern California in 1971.

Just the meandering memories of a sappy old man?  Sure, partly, I guess. But more. The Cantwells are saying goodbye to New Mexico. Much of our family has settled in Abilene. Roberta and I have plenty of laps to run and we want to run them where we have family and convenient transportation access to more family in Arizona and Georgia.

We love this state, will miss cherished friends left behind. Still, though, “Days that are full of heart-dreams, nights when the moon hangs low…”

 Goodbye, O Fair New Mexico.


Texting, Presbyterians, and Lipstick on a Pig




You really shouldn’t do this. It was the Brain Nag again. The Brain Nag is this itty bitty creature who lives in my head trying, with only modest success,  to keep me out of trouble.

I WANT  to do this, though. The thing is, our beautiful mountain town of Ruidoso, New Mexico, has welcomed a brand new resident, a humongous cell tower at our main highway entrance. It is constructed of steel extremities so ugly as to suggest Miss Piggy got tired of Arkansas and moved on down the road.

The edifice calls out to our incoming visitors, “Yo down there, if you think this is a sin against nature, wait until you see our blinking, beeping, honking slot machines!”

Stretching more than 130 feet above the ground, this wannabe Eiffel is erected on First Presbyterian Church property which – score one for the good guys – gets a monthly fee.

Well, there you go, Brain Nag nagged. You have tried hard for 16 years to make friends in Ruidoso. There are four people in town who actually like you, although one is iffy. With a single column you will alienate Presbyterians, probably all Christians in general, gamblers, the Chamber of Commerce, and cell phone users to boot.

Not so fast, Brain Nag! I am tight with that First Presbyterian crowd. I know some of the folks over there, like those kids, Tom and Julie Rigsby, and a couple of friends who walk almost as slowly as I do, Jim and Margaret Skelton.

I’m sure they will be tickled with you, Brain Nag said. So how about the high priority of church fund raising? How will you handle that?

I will tell the story of two pastors. One draws a circle on the floor, tosses into the air the contents of the collection basket. Whatever lands inside the circle belongs to God, whatever ends up outside the circle belongs to the preacher. The second pastor also throws the collection into the air. He figures whatever God wants, God will catch. The pastor keeps the rest.

Talented young Ruidoso artist Alex Gomez could, I am sure, draw a cartoon of a big frown on a Brain Nag face. It would come in handy if you would imagine that cartoon face right here. Nag was not happy. You are in such trouble, he growled, and you are dodging some important issues.

What do you have to say about the fact this tower is going to be camouflaged to look like a pine tree so that it will blend into the natural terrain? I will say good luck, but I suspect it will be much akin to strapping shoulder pads on my scrawny frame and trying to pass me off as a Dallas Cowboy fullback. I will say this is the classic example of putting lipstick on a pig.

The thing about Brain Nag is, you shouldn’t get him mad. This relentless tormentor can go days without sleep and keep his target up half the night and groggy all morning. Such was the case here as I struggled to bring this conversation to an end.

Listen, said Brain Nag, how are you going to explain why tree-hugging environmentalists did not spend a lot more time fighting this tower two years ago when it was fully vetted before the Ruidoso Planning Commission?

I am going to say we were too busy texting.  And advice for anyone who seeks redemption, as indeed you should be seeking this very second, the Nag scolded?

Calling 1 800 JCsaves?

No Longer Pushing Wendy Around


Pardon if a ramble a bit. I have just slogged through a not-very-painful divorce. Wendy and I had been an item for 16 years. As wheelbarrows go, she was okay. Sturdy, hard worker, quiet demeanor, non-complainer -- even when left lonely on a cold, snowy night.

To be honest, I was never really comfortable in Wendy the Wheelbarrow’s company. She lives in a world of pine needles, dirt piles, mulch. It wasn’t a fit. I always had the feeling Wendy didn’t find me much of a catch, either.

I left Wendy to the loving care of my friend, Elmo. Elmo caters to Wendy’s whims and, for a reasonable wage, whisks her around the spacious lot, disposing of nature’s pesky accumulations.

Wendy’s happy, Elmo makes a few bucks to spend at the store, the economy gets a little boost, and America is a better place to live. I am feeling quite patriotic about the whole thing.

Now that I have time on my hands, what next? I ran into a friend the other day at our local social hub, aka Wal Mart, who kindly said she wishes I would write more often. Write about what, though? I can always write about politics. Or maybe just go hang myself.

A friend who chides me for being less than enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton wrote an interesting sentence. “I don’t think the American people know what they want,” she observed. That surely fits me. I just know I don’t much like what I am being offered.

 I read about politics. A lot. What interests me as a writer is the dramatic shift in tone and language. Kiss goodbye the days of “I would like to differ with my friend, the distinguished gentleman from Rhode Island.” Can you imagine those words coming out of Donald Trump’s mouth?

Here’s one that has me scratching my head. A supporter described Hillary Clinton as “incredibly credible.” Hmmm. Incredible means impossible or difficult to believe. Credible means believable. So, that would translate to this: Hillary is so believable she is impossible to believe.

Pardon the word games. What I just did is called unfair “parsing.” And if there is any guy who does not want to be parsed it is me.

An accomplished gut shot artist, Mr. Trump has perhaps forever changed political discourse with the use of demeaning nicknames. It is an effective, if distasteful, campaign gimmick.

Thus Jeb Bush became “Low Energy Jeb,” and Ted Cruz, “Lyin’ Ted,” and Marco Rubio, “Little Marco.” Having dispensed of these primary contenders, the presumptive GOP presidential candidate turned his vitriol on the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate.

Hillary Clinton all of a sudden became “Crooked Hillary.” I am proud to have enough dignity and discipline to resist such childish name-calling inclinations.

While visiting Albuquerque, the presumptive you-know-who slammed the media as "disgusting slime.” Whoa! Just hold on there, Lard Butt Donald!

Don Blair, at 87, Still a Swinger

To understand how rigid Don Blair is about his Monday-Wednesday-Friday Cree Meadows golf schedule you need only to know he once made a granddaughter change her wedding date to a Saturday.

Okay, I made that up. But Betty, his lovely wife of 64 years, will tell you this fellow doesn’t miss many links opportunities. Don takes golf seriously. Something else he takes seriously is his dedication to Food 4Kids Backpacks.

Each Wednesday at 3 p.m. this 18-year resident of Ruidoso, at 87 still capable of ripping a Callaway 200 yards down the fairway, takes his spot on the production line at the Food 4Kids warehouse. On a given day, Don will be joined by 10 to 20 of his backpacking buddies who this school year prepared and distributed an eye-popping 17,000-plus backpacks.

Those food packs were delivered to kids all over Lincoln County, hungry children who depend on school meal programs during the week but have little to eat on weekends.

We are at the point of the story I must reveal, for journalistic ethics purposes, I am a Food 4Kids volunteer. So, yes, I am biased. That does not detract from the fact this program is run squeaky-clean. Not a cent of the donations of our generous supporters goes for anything but food for kids.

Six years ago Frank and Elizabeth Potter helped launch the local program. Team Potter works well, with long time resident Frank utilizing his community contacts, while Elizabeth runs the day to day operation with a demeanor loosely resembling that of a boot camp sergeant in a grumpy mood.

Elizabeth is passionate about kids and equally passionate about running a highly efficient organization. And, yes, she is toe-the-line strict. There are those – I would like to avoid specific names at this point – who test her patience with occasional clumsy inattention to the task.

She is not all that tough, though. For the record, I cannot verify the whispered rumor Elizabeth once had a job at Guantanamo Bay but was fired because she kept making hardened prisoners cry.

Enough nonsense. Here is the crucial storyline. Once a year Don Blair’s two major activities, golf and Food 4Kids backpacking, coincide. The group’s single annual fundraiser, whose purpose is to get a jump start on the $27,000-plus it needs to finance weekend food for children, will be held Sunday, June 5.

It is a 1 p.m., four-person scramble at the Inn of the Mountain Gods. Men teams, women teams, mixed teams, whatever your fancy, it is a chance to play one of our most enjoyable golf courses while helping hungry kids. Win-win.

Making it simple. Call me at 973 5999. Tell me you are going to play. Show up at the Inn June 5 with a check for $500 (or four checks $125 each) made out to Angus Nazarene Church. Get ready to tee off! (Angus Nazarene generously serves as the fiscal agent for the Food 4Kids Backpack program.)

Come on out. Food 4Kids volunteers, wearing our gaudy green T-shirts, would love to meet you. I will be the one being very, very polite to Elizabeth Potter.


If Hamburgers Were Words...




His call was inevitable. Barney from New Jersey is both my friend and my nemesis. He thinks little of New Mexico or my journalistic efforts. He is a big fan of Donald Trump.

“Hi, Barney, how’s the kiddos?” I chirped.

“The kiddos left the house 30 years ago,” he growled. “You know why I am calling. You have written off Donald Trump as a passing fancy.

“You have said he is the author of a tax plan no economist thinks will work.

“You have said he has no chance to be elected president, but definitely has a shot at the next open spot on Dancing with the Stars.

“You have called him a freak show.

“What are you calling him now?”

“Mr. President,” I said meekly. The blowhard billionaire has been a wild fire in a parched political forest. His followers care little Trump cannot explain how he will fulfill his bold promises, or that he avoids specific discussion of policy. They want change. Period. It is disconcerting at best.

I had said, repeatedly, Trump was a momentary diversion, an entertainer who would exit stage left. I was wrong. If words were hamburgers I would have gained 20 pounds.

“Finally some humility from backwards New Mexico,” Barney chortled. He somehow sees New Jersey as superior to the Land of Enchantment. Go figure.

“Guess who helped put Trump over the top?” Barney chortled. “While your governor sits on the fence, our governor has taken a firm grip on his political future by endorsing the next president of the United States!”

“Whoa, Barney,” I said, the tone calm. “I want you to listen to the words of a buddy of mine, a guy who is respected for both his public service achievements and political acumen. Here is his take on your Chris Christie:

‘That fat turd. I liked him for awhile. But he is just a petty fat turd.’ ”

The conversation was about to get out of hand.

“Stop!” Barney yelled. “Stop right there! Are you telling me a friend of yours called my governor a fat turd? What kind of low life would do that? Why in the world would he call him a turd!”

“Well, Barney,” I answered, volume cranked up a notch, “Maybe because the p---y word was all used up. Your man Mr. Trump thought it was cute to publicly announce one of his nutty supporters called Ted Cruz a p---y!”

“All I can say,” Barney sputtered, “is you have big, funny looking ears and no one reads that stupid column and…”

“And by the way,” I interrupted, “and by the way, I have been writing hundreds of columns for 40 years, I don’t know, maybe 70 years, and by the way, thousands of people have read my columns, I heard someone say millions, I don’t know, but a billion readers have followed my columns and they are wonderful. I love readers.”

“The first day Trump is president,” Barney screamed, “he is going to start deporting columnists. All of them! Only the good ones will be allowed to come back. And you are not going to be one of them!”

“I’d like to punch you in the face!” I yelled, slamming down the phone.

Something has happened to polite discourse. Can’t figure it out.

(Retired Carlsbad Current-Argus publisher and Ruidoso resident Ned Cantwell insists he does not have big ears. Nose, yes.)

Silly Socks a Sorry State


“Oh Oh” is when your cell phone goes bing bing and it turns out to be your friend Barney from New Jersey.

You know Barney. He thinks his New Jersey is a shining example of advanced civilization and economic excellence. Forget the fact his marquee tourist attraction, Atlantic City, is nearing bankruptcy.

Certainly our Land of Enchantment is not without its revenue problems, but Santa Fe isn’t in fear of going belly up.

Even though Barney calls me a two-bit columnist in a four-bit state, I tend to like the guy. He is kind of like his hero Donald Trump, rather entertaining but a total idiot.

“Hey, Barney!” I said.

Uncontrolled laughter. “I’m sorry,” he finally chortled, “socks? Your legislature gathers to hear your governor give the State of the State address and 20 of your state lawmakers wear funny looking socks to ridicule her?”

Barney was referring to the silly green socks decorated with pizza and coke.

“So a guy sends me this video he saw on TV,” Barney chortles, “and the TV reporter corners one of your top honchos, that Senate Majority Leader fellow, Michael Sanchez and they have a heated argument  about – are you ready for this? -- SOCKS!”

Barney paused, I suspect for a vodka refill, before wondering if we elect our legislators straight out of high school.

“Hold on, Barney,” I said. “What that was all about is over the holidays our governor, Susana Martinez, went to a party and…”

He cut me off. “Oh, I know all that stuff. Your governor got buzzed and made a fool of herself and when the hotel tried to evict her friends she pulled that stupid do-you-know-who-I-am routine. She’s toast with the national Republican party.”

“Now wait a minute, Barney,” I cautioned. “We don’t know she was buzzed. Yes, there was talk among hotel staff and police that Mrs. Martinez was inebriated, but there were no charges or anything official at all, so let’s just cut her some slack on this one, okay? I think you may have a point about the toast, however.”

I explained to Barney the most puzzling aspect of the Pizza Mama incident was her reaction to the charge that someone had been throwing either beer bottles or snowballs off a fourth floor balcony. I said the Albuquerque Journal reported her press guy as stating:

 “The Governor does not believe throwing snowballs off a 4th floor balcony is somehow less serious than throwing a bottle. Either behavior is dangerous and entirely unacceptable.”

“Yeah, sure,” Barney said, “the guy who gets hit in the head would sure know the difference. Maybe your legislature should roll those silly socks into a bundle and throw them off the roof of the Roundhouse, and along with that, toss any possibility of getting anything done if they are going to act like junior high kids at their first dance.”

Both of us were getting a little miffed at this point. “So, are the Democrats and Republicans going to be able to compromise on this driver’s license deal?” he wondered.

I told him we citizens were certainly counting on our leaders to settle this important issue.

“I know what!” he said, “maybe they could stage a big food fight, smashing chocolate pies into one another’s face, and whoever wins gets to pass their own version of a driver’s license. Boy that state of yours…”

I hung up.



The Redlands of our Youth

It was the summer of 1957. Cruising in my gold, louvered, raked, hot 1949 Ford, I idled at a stop light. The deep-throated roar of his motor announced the arrival of my friend Mike Mealey. He eased to a stop. We exchanged knowing glances, gunned our engines. The challenge was on.

My car, "Cup of Gold" branded on her front fender, got the jump on Mealey. He had been our star high school quarterback at nearby St. Bernardine's High. I had been the star of nothing. But I had Mike for a half block before his hot rod roared past me.

The cop was faster than both of us.  Another ticket. I wasn't the brightest of teenagers.

Our drag race took place on Waterman Avenue in San Bernardino.

On Wednesday, a guy and his wife drove to a building about a mile south of that long ago drag race and went on a shooting rampage. You know the details.

As we watched fascinated and horrified Wednesday evening, we saw the focus move from San Bernardino to nearby Redlands where Roberta and I grew up just two blocks from one another, not far from the home of the killers.

We well know the area. Roberta would often babysit nearby. You could find your way across Brockton Avenue and find a back driveway entrance to the beautiful University of Redlands campus, and you could take your Cup of Gold there to use the free car wash meant for university students who were tolerant of local hot rodders.

Redlands was a quiet town of orange groves,  their smudge pots which would give modern-day environmentalists cardiac arrest, lots of churches,  and the huge, greenbelt Sylvan Park where the prosperous kids from the hill would mingle with those of us from the other side of the tracks when summer swimming season opened.

It was a community that shuttered itself on Friday nights to support the mighty Terriers of Redlands High School, then the only high school in town.

The downtown was picturesque, then and now.

Ours were the carefree days of a cruising, drag racing, rock n' roll lifestyle captured so brilliantly by the 1973 classic "American Graffiti."

Young guys thought about young girls in the way young guys think about young girls. Young girls though about young guys in much the same way, but they tended to picture them in uncomfortable suits standing before a preacher. Most got them there.

It was the culture of the era. In the 1950s, most 18-year-old girls thought they had missed the boat if they hit the ripe old age of 21 without ruling over their own kitchens. American Graffiti guys, the smart ones, broke free of the Friday night culture and went on to college or solid jobs. It took some of us not so smart ones time to wise up.

We all finally got to thinking about the future, but it would have been inconceivable any single one of us could grasp the concept of our beloved Southern California communities being stomach-turning terrified by the human slaughter witnessed on Wednesday.

No matter where we live now, we stare mute and bewildered at the same lame rhetoric spills from the television.

This is not who we are, says the president.

It took days for the evidence to develop, but that didn't deter FOX from declaring this a terrorist act, thus bolstering its political position on Syrian refugees. CNN was just as quick to politicize the tragedy to further its gun control agenda.

All of them, anchors, crime and court experts, politicians in turn transformed into sad, sober faces to recite "our thoughts and prayers" are with them, the victims, the country. It sounds so empty, so trite.

Instead of talking about it, why don't we do it? Here's an idea. Squeeze into to that lineup of experts a man of God who would actually pray. At times like this the nation could certainly benefit from a message of spiritual comfort.

Let us pray. Let us pray that, while we cannot return our communities to the innocence of the 1950s, we can at least walk our streets without fear. That's who we are.

(Ned Cantwell's first newspaper job was as a paperboy for the Redlands Daily Facts.)



Thinking Inside the Box


People say the strangest things. Clichés abound. Sometimes I don’t understand them. Like, “thinking outside the box.” That’s supposed to mean the thinker has a fresh perspective, a new take on an old idea.

Here’s the thing. I do not have any fresh ideas. Never have. And I have always, always thought outside the box. In fact, I have never thought inside the box. Well, just once. It was a dream, nightmare really.

Roberta and I were completing one of those grueling family moves. The mover had this huge, huge box. What came in it I will never know. Somehow, my prize sweatshirt found itself in the bottom of that empty box.

I wore that New Mexico State sweatshirt for 25 years. It wasn’t getting away now. Roberta caught me standing on top of a stepladder, leaning into the box, trying to retrieve the prize by hooking it with the handle of a rake.

“Stop it!” she yelled, “You are going to fall into that box!”

“Leave me alone! I am not going to fall into the box!” I barked back at her.

I fell into the box. Just me and my rake. “Say, babe,” I begged, my voice a purring cat, “do you think you could maybe help me get out of this box?”

“You keep doing dumb things even when I warn you,” she said. “Maybe you need to sit in that box and just think a little.”

So there I was. I got to thinking inside the box.

First I thought, “Roberta is kind of mean.” Then, when I heard the car driving away, I thought, “Roberta is really mean.”

Then I thought, “Well, no, Roberta is usually right and I tend to ignore her advice.”

After awhile I thought, “How in the heck am l going to get out of this box?”

Nothing occurred, so my mind went all pet rock until I it dawned on me I was bored. I looked around for something to do. “This box doesn’t seem to need raking,” I thought.

Then, the vague wonder of when Roberta might come home.

Staring at the cardboard wall of the box, the brain shifted to Park. A fence post had more ideas. Slowly, though, a dandelion bloomed in the parched yard. I began to think about things I often wonder about.

Like, I wonder why people so often use the word “amazing.” There was a guy on America’s Got Talent who actually made the semi finals – way to go American culture – by puking. He was a Professional Regurgitator.

Every time he puked, someone like Howie Mandel would scream, “Amazing, absolutely amazing!!” Really? Were I a judge I would likely say, because I am a brilliant inside the box thinker, “Mildly interesting, but totally revolting.”

Sitting inside that box, I got smarter and smarter and decided another word people use way too much is “incredible.” When a football player who is paid $10 million a year to catch a football catches a football it is not “incredible.” It is “expected.”

My mind was getting so tired from all this inside the box thinking I was relieved to hear the car come up the driveway. “Hi honey,” I offered timidly, “I have been thinking and thinking about how I should pay more attention to your advice. Do you think you could get me out of the box now?”  She did.

Turns out, some of my most amazing – no, incredible! -- thinking occurs when I am inside the box. I wrote this outside the box. You could probably tell.



A Tribute To Ms. Butterfield

Ms. Butterfield is most likely gone. God bless her. I loved Ms. Butterfield despite a shaky start to our relationship. Ms. Butterfield was my third grade teacher at Boardman School near Youngstown.

Ms. Butterfield beat the hell out of me one day. It all started from my very innocent flirtation with Karen. Each day Karen would come to the bookshelf near my desk, make her selection, pretend to be reading as she approached my extended leg.

She was well aware of my trip trap, would always stop at the last second, look at me with feigned disgust, hands on hips. It was a ritual. We both knew we would one day marry. One day she was really reading. That day Karen tripped flat on her face and cut her lip.

Ms. Butterfield invited me to the hallway, stood me up against the lockers. In a looping swing that felt like it started at the cafeteria, Ms. Butterfield caught me square on the side of the face. I experienced those stars seen mostly in cartoons.

Say what you want about corporal punishment, I never again tripped a girl.

Unlike Ms. Butterfield with whom my relationship improved markedly after I understood her terms, Sister Anne Marie, a fifth grade teacher in Redlands, California, thought the Ohio transplant was a smart aleck.

Based entirely on that misguided concept, she caught me off guard one morning with two whirlwind hands simultaneously emerging from her flowing habit and pancaking my little face into puffed lips and twirling eyes.

As to the effectiveness of corporal punishments, I would say I am 50-50.

You probably guess I plan to pontificate on corporal punishment, but that is not the case. Ms. Butterfield came to mind this morning not because she gave me a near concussion, but because she led me astray about Christopher Columbus, common among 1940s and 1950s teachers.

To develop this thesis I must pay tribute to the Albuquerque Journal’s Winthrop Quigley who, in my estimation, is the most important journalist in New Mexico not because he is the best and the brightest, but among the best and the brightest he has the widest reach.

“The idea that Columbus was a kind and generous friend to the Indians he met when he landed in the Americas…” Quigley writes, is basically poppycock, misinformation perpetuated by a Washington Irving book written in 1928.

Irving’s “A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus” ascribed to Columbus virtues he did not have, and was largely debunked by later works.

The declaration of Columbus Day was the result of an Italian-American political movement that ultimately pressured President Franklin Roosevelt to honor Italians by honoring Columbus, Quigley writes, his failure to do so putting at risk the Italian-American voting bloc. Roosevelt caved.

Writes Quigley: “That Columbus’ men raped Indian women and pillaged native villages does not appear to have been on anyone’s mind at the time.” Europeans who followed Columbus were often brutal to Indians and Spanish.

Is it any wonder many in the Southwest don’t get all that sentimental when we celebrate Columbus Day?

 I still love Ms. Butterfield. She was a teacher of good intent. Except when she was throwing a left.

Blustering Blasphemers Bullying Belen

Our people are killing one another. Our families are deteriorating. Alcohol and drugs are out of control. Our national government is borderline non-functional.

Plenty to worry about. Do you know what the Freedom from Religion Foundation is worried about? A Nativity scene in the Belen, New Mexico public square. The metal sculpture has been there 23 years.

Belen – the Spanish name for Bethlehem – says the display is a historic art piece. The religion haters say it is a violation of the separation of church and state.

Maybe it is. Such has not been litigated and Belen will fight hard if challenged by a lawsuit. My friend Clara Garcia, longtime editor of the Valencia County News-Bulletin, tells me consensus in town is the historical display would be legally justified for the same reasons the court threw out a suit challenging the Three Crosses greeting visitors to Las Cruces.

One very sensible solution being considered by the city of Belen is to sell the property to the likes of a historical organization. That is good thinking, but the aggressive, publicity-seeking Freedom from Religion Foundation crowd says their organization wants to be the buyer.

 Reading the statements of Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova, one gets an insight into how much chance the God scoffers have to acquire that land. Susana will endorse Hillary first.

I happen to be a firm believer in the separation of church and state. Not so firm, however, that I understand the extremism of the likes of FFRF. Look, if Belen erects a cross above the entrance to City Hall and installs holy water fonts, or if Belen Consolidated Schools requires Bibles carried in the hallway, we’ve got ourselves a problem. But a metal sculpture of the Nativity? Hardly religious anarchy.

One Freedom from Religion Foundation member said the Belen display is “intimidating” to those who do not believe. Really? Intimidating would indicate fear, in this case the same irrational fear I might experience walking through a cemetery at midnight. Boo.

So you stroll through the Belen park and it’s like, “Oh no!  God touched me! Eeeeewww. Somebody help me, please! I’m starting to pray!”  Unlike our beloved deceased, God is alive. But one thing you can pretty much count on: God most likely won’t touch you if you don’t want to be touched.

We are a nation of laws. I liken the Belen Nativity scene violation, if indeed it is a violation, to a guy who jaywalks on a deserted street. The cop watches the law breaker, decides no harm, no foul. But if the fellow pulls out a gun and starts shooting out street lights, the police are all over him.

In my view, Belen’s Nativity scene is not shooting out street lamps.

Our people are killing one another. Our families are deteriorating. Alcohol and drugs are out of control. Our national government is borderline non-functional.

Maybe, just maybe, what we need – wherever we put them – are more Nativity scenes.

If It's Donald, Duck!


I know the rest of New Mexico is as pumped as I about the excitement and intellectual stimulation of the political season. It’s Pick Your President time, the season that never ends.

How fun to watch the debates and see the likes of Jeb Bush. Bright, knowledgeable, calm, articulate. Whoops. Ok, calm. But the thing about Jeb is you look at him and say, “What a regular fellow. By golly, he would be a fun guy to have a warm glass of milk with.”

And Donald Trump. A sensation, no less. He started out as a joke and transformed himself into a legitimate candidate. He actually stopped acting like an eighth grade bully and started playing nice. He came up with a tax plan no one thinks will work. Never mind. There are those who see the White House in Donald’s future. I see Dancing With The Stars in Donald’s future.

You wondered and wondered where you first saw Bernie Sanders. Me too. He was the mad scientist in the 1985 hit, Back To The Future. Just a lot of what Bernie says about our country is true, most notably obscene amounts of big money corrupting the political system. He is totally on target about wealth inequality. I am not quite sure how Bernie would solve these problems and I doubt he will get that chance.

Donald Trump will be remembered for the most important contribution to this era of American politics. People care again. The Donald put the sizzle back into the political steak.  He has us talking about current events, just as they did back in the days of our founders who laser-focused on the issues. “Did you see crazy Ben flying his kite out in the storm?”

It is all because of Donald. He’s what America prizes. Rich guy. Buys his hair from only the best salons.  Great lover.  Melania confirmed the boast. Just before she went shopping.

There is no doubt America wants to rally around a showman. Our next President should definitely be a celebrity.

But not Trump. You saw the real Donald Trump with his disdain of women and war heroes and immigrants. His maniac rants. We don’t need him. What we need is a charismatic charmer with a calm demeanor, universal appeal, a man or woman loved by everybody.

I’m thinking Pat Sajak. Pat has run Wheel of Fortune for three decades without a hiccup. Sajak wouldn’t just cross the aisle, he’d crawl across if need be. Firm, though. “Whoops, bankrupt. You’ll have to pass down that Wild Card.”

He has the innate sense of diplomacy we cherish in a President. “Well, darn it, Vladimir, the negotiations didn’t go your way. We couldn’t give you Syria but, by golly, you’re taking home a couple of oil wells. Not bad for a day’s work.”

(Your views are welcome at ncantwell@bajabb.com or the Comment tab if you want to share them with the other three readers.)

God Is Hanging Around An Old Cigar Store In Downtown Abilene

God is hanging out in a former cigar shop at Cypress and Second in Downtown Abilene. I recognized His presence Sunday at the invitation of granddaughter Sarah Snider who invited Roberta and I to attend services at what is now The Well

I recognized it in the face of the young married couple with their family, stopping to greet us as we walked alone on the sidewalk, welcoming us to their church. I recognized it in the attitude of the homeless fellow who serves as the volunteer doorman. He never comes in, just opens and closes the door. It’s okay. He is in the right place.

I recognized it in the peace of the college kids who crowded the room, and in the young married and their kids, in the Dyess Air Force soldier there with his wife and children, in the joy of a half dozen Christian musicians who warmed up before the services started.

Pastor Austin Lawrence, 30ish, a fine speaker, is so committed to leading this congregation he at times appears almost tense as he searches to find just the right word, the right phrase, to express the precise meaning of his message. You meet him, you listen to him, you know he’s the real deal.

He and his fellow pastor leaders are obviously the main attraction to the young people who gather here, but there is more. They take solace in one another with true fellowship, gaining strength in their relationship with the Lord. They like the building, they like the atmosphere, they like basic, no frills worship.

The college kids fascinate me this Sunday morning, Sarah and the approximate 200 other students gathered here. Didn’t anyone tell them this is opening weekend of college, party time? Aren’t they supposed to be sleeping until noon, moping around groggy?

Here is what is going to happen if this trend continues to catch on among young people, and I think it is catching on. All hell is not going to break loose, all hell is going to break down.

 It could well be the start of a tidal wave reversing the downward spiral of family destruction.  Generations of families stuck on zero who believe they cannot pass GO, they can’t collect the $200, children who shiver in fear and insecurity, those who have broken lives and broken dreams, may get a chance after all.

The Well and such movements throughout our nation must thrive, and perhaps one day tots will get the break they deserve because mom and dad aren’t chasing a lifestyle that robs them of the energy, love and affection a kid needs.

The building was swarming with friendly, joyous people before and after the service. That has always seemed important to me. If God is really there, how can you be grumpy?

Just about 18 months ago the founding pastors conducted their first service at The Well with a scattering of followers. Last Sunday 540 congregants attended two services. A third service will be added shortly. God is hanging around that old cigar shop at Cypress and Second in Downtown Abilene.

Someone must have leaked the Word.

Guy Can't Buy Pair of Pants

Your intrepid reporter has managed to uncover a heretofore secret email exchange between Democratic National Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman and her Republican counterpart, Reince Priebus. Off the job, these two are casual friends, Deb and Ryns.

 Hey, Ryns:  What’s the deal with you Republicans all of a sudden wanting to limit free speech? Let Trump alone. Freedom to voice one’s opinions is sacred to this country. He can call me a tramp bimbo if he wants, as long as he keeps running his mouth. Deb

Deb:  Oh, please! Your Party of the Pitiful is under the mistaken notion that if Trump keeps it up the GOP will crack and you can elect Hillary. Ryns                 

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You Can't Trump This

            He didn’t call me this time. No, this time it was a large envelope in my post office box. The return had Barney’s name and his New Jersey address.

            Fingers tremble as the envelope reveals its contents, a huge picture of Donald Trump, a close up of his face so enlarged part of his coiffure is cropped at the top. That was the good part. The missing hair part.

            It was I who placed the call. Barney was already laughing when he picked up the phone.  “I knew that would wound your tiny, timid, liberal heart,” Barney jabbered. “Frame it, my friend, hang it on the wall, you’re looking at the next president of these United States.”

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New Mexico Full of Thieves And Tramps

     New Mexico’s state government is full of thieves, liars, rapists and crooks. No. Wait. Hold the phone. I picked up the wrong notes. That’s an excerpt from a speech I am writing for Donald Trump.

            New Mexico’s government is, however, full of baloney, baloney being a synonym for whichever harsher word is floating through your mind right this instant.

            If you read the papers, it’s Tim Keller’s fault. Mr. Keller, a Democrat, is the state auditor. One can only guess the Republicans fear his political potential and therefore go all Donald on him.

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A Man and That Horse

            Way over my head today. Way over. Trespassing in Carterland. Walking around the ranch, about to step on the business end of a rake, smack myself in the head. Say something dumb.

            Carrie Underwood is queen of country music. Julie Carter is queen of country writing. From her home in Estancia, ranch lady, reporter, writer, photographer, philosopher Carter tells life’s story through the eyes of stubborn cowboys, their no-nonsense women, honky-tonk heroes, grandma and grandpa sitting on a farmhouse porch, the fading sunset a testimony to their loving existence together.

            Julie Carter knows horse stories, and she tells them in books and through her popular weekly column in New Mexico newspapers. I am a city kid. My cowboy experience is limited to a boyhood in Boardman, Ohio, where a next door neighbor paid a frightened six-year-old five cents an hour to steer his horse through rows of his crop, green beans or something

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Newspapering Was So Much Fun


            Who would have ever thought that a fiesta celebrating the arrival of explorer and conquistador Don Juan de Onate could spark such controversy?

            And who might imagine that story reminded me of the once fun days of community journalism?

            You know the story. Espanola’s fiesta queen was peeved when someone stole her scepter and crown, both later recovered.

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Birthday Reflections of an Old Guy

            On the occasion of his 77th birthday, a fellow should have the right to pontificate about things he has learned during his long lifetime.

            There is ample evidence the writer did not wait for his 77th birthday to begin this process. Indeed, he may have been disbursing his wisdom by the tons for many years. That realization is prompted by memory of a conversation among several participants some time back.

            He said something like this: “You know, what we were talking about earlier prompts me to reflect…”

            At which time his granddaughter, Erin, then 18, visibly slumped in her chair and said, sotto voce as it were, “Oh my God.”

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State Favors I-25 With Boondoggles

   Words carelessly chosen can be so hurtful. I find “scrawny” particularly odious, as in “scrawny old man.” “Lanky” might work. Or even the more benign “sprightly.”

            Words. Here’s one that is the gut shot to people have spent years and years working on a project to benefit fellow citizens. Boondoggle. Ouch.  Boondoggle!

            It’s been a recurrent word in New Mexico newspapers and on television recently, most often describing the Rail Runner but also referring to Spaceport America.

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