Archive for December, 2014

Diamond Anniversary

Hayward Barnett Litton and his two sons Stanley Vernon Litton and little brother Robert Carl Litton

January 1940 :  Pappy Haywood “Bill” Barnett Litton, the one with a cigarette in his mouth, secures his new-born son, Robert “Bobby” Carl Litton, in the arms of his eldest son, Stanley Vernon Litton, age 11.  (Automobiles were often used as background for photos during the early 20th century, I suppose because they helped establish the dates when the pictures were taken. Of course, my family, living on the edge of poverty, never had the latest model  vehicle, so the vintage determination here would be within the decade at best.)

 © 2014 By Bob Litton

Today I turn over the ol’ annual glass again after watching the last, few grains of sand dribble through: I am 75. Hope the married folks don’t mind my commandeering their celebratory gem nomenclature, but I’m doing it anyway, calling this the “diamond anniversary” of my birth.

Did you know?…I didn’t know it myself until about twenty years ago, when a former beer-drinking crony informed me…that we have only one birthday: the day we are born. All the rest are actually just anniversaries of our birth.

Unfortunately, besides the  birth year photo above, I possess photographs related to only my 50th (“silver”) and 75th (“diamond”) anniversaries: they appear at the end of the dialogue below. Not thinking ahead, as usual, I neglected to have any photos made around the time of my 25th anniversary. ∗ 

But before we go any further into that, I want to mention a bit of musical reminiscence here. On observing the several mental and physical problems afflicting me, I concluded that it is not possible or sensible to try to repair them. Such meditating brought to mind that hit song “This Ole House”, composed by Stuart Hamblen in 1954 and made popular the same year by Rosemary Clooney.

Here’s one verse of that commendable poem of a song:

Ain’t a-gonna need this house no longer
Ain’t a-gonna need this house no more
Ain’t got time to fix the shingles
Ain’t got time to fix the floor
Ain’t got time to oil the hinges
Nor to mend the windowpane
Ain’t a-gonna need this house no longer
He’s a-gettin’ ready to meet the saints.

That pretty well describes the way I see myself right now, and I sure wish people would quit asking me, “How are you today, Bob, you ol’ curmudgeon you?”

But I have more to offer you than an accounting of my body’s condition. I wrote the following dialogue last month. I emailed it to a friend in Dallas for her comments. She replied that she and her husband, a retired English literature professor, both liked it. She told me he suggested I read Robert Frost’s poetic colloquy “The Masque of Reason”. I did read it as well as its companion playlet “The Masque of Mercy” and was surprised by the degree of acquaintance with mysticism Frost apparently possessed. In “…Mercy” he refers to Francis Thompson’s great mystical poem “The Hound of Heaven”; and Frost’s main character in his playlet is the biblical prophet Jonah. Both of those mystical works— “Jonah” and “Hound of Heaven” — were crucial elements in my own spiritual journey.

Well, that should be enough of a prologue. Let’s get on with the dialogue:

* * * * * *

A Dialogue In A Cloud

I just woke up a few minutes ago. Not sure how or when I fell asleep. And now here I am (I think) sitting bolt upright on this white fluffy stuff that reminds me of some huge cotton ball. Why the hell don’t I sink? Why doesn’t it sink?

“That’s because it’s not a cotton ball and because you’re not as heavy as you believe yourself to be.” Those words came from a calm, nondescript voice, neither masculine nor feminine, behind and above me. “Look at your hands,” the voice continued.

I held up my hands for a look-see. “Yikes! There’s nothing there. I’ve been amputated!”

“Oh, more than that. Look at your belly button, Carl.”

I looked downward. Nothing there but that fluffy white stuff. I couldn’t gauge whether I was dreaming, in a state of shock after some horrible accident, or dead.

“Sort of dead,” the voice answered my thoughts. “At any rate, that’s the way you people see it.”

Still confounded, by way of trembling response I fell back on a question, “Why did you call me ‘Carl’?” My name is ‘Bob’…or ‘Robert’ when I have to involve myself in formalities. Yeah, okay, my middle name is ‘Carl’, but I never use it except when I have to in a legal document. My father used to call me ‘Robert Carl’ — the way other fathers used to call their sons ‘Billy Jack’ or ‘Donald Ray’; but that was long, long ago.

“And who are you, now that we are in the name-game level of this conversation?” I shivered just as I asked that question, because I already feared the possible answer.

“I AM,” replied the voice. “And I have always thought of you as ‘Carl’. I rather like that name. Anyway, I prefer it to ‘Robert’ or ‘Bob’ or even ‘Bobby’…cute as that last one may be.”

Oops! My game was up; I shivered again. It then occurred to me that some phenomena, although beautiful at a distance, can be too close for comfort: marriage, lightning and God.

“Aaallll right. But how did I get here? I don’t remember any accident or murder or severe fright.”

“Heart attack,” said the voice. “I gathered you to me in your sleep when you had a heart attack.”

“Way to go! I frequently enough asked for that mode of escape from my ‘mortal coil’; but, honestly, I didn’t put much faith in it happening that way; I always tried to steel myself in preparation for cancer or Alzheimer’s. So, thanks, gracias, merci, danke, grazi, xie xie or whatever language you prefer.”

“Oh, you should know me better than that, Carl. I didn’t cause it. It was the natural course of your sedentary lifestyle. I was just there to lift your soul away.”

“Speaking of ‘there’, where am I now?”

“Well, I think a lot of your kind still think of it as a ‘place’ — as Heaven, to be exact. However, surely you are smart enough to comprehend it as another ‘state of being’ somewhat similar to the transition from a pupa to a caterpillar to a butterfly. To be truly basic about your situation, you are within me.”

“Then this is a cloud I am sitting on,” said I. And, looking out over the expansiveness of the white, fluffy stuff, unable to discern an edge, I exclaimed, “Wow! And one helluva big cloud it is, too!”

“No, it’s not a cloud as such, Carl,” said the invisible being with the voice. “It’s what you might call a horizontal curtain that keeps you from gazing at what you have left behind. If you could see all that is happening on Earth as I see it, you would be perplexed and confused by feelings of rage and pity. It is time for you to let all that go. Simply abide in me.”

“Then I am not supposed to see anything, heh? Not even you…oops! Didn’t mean to put it that way. I just mean your voice is all I perceive around me right now, and there is no face to go with it.”

“Oh, come on, Carl! You’ve read the Tao Te Ching thoroughly enough to be aware that faces have lines, angles, borders, while I am unlimited.”

“To be honest with you again, I AM — or should I address you as ‘YOU ARE’? — I don’t think I ever was attracted to the description of Heaven as a place where angels sit around on clouds all day and night eternally and play harps and sing your praises. I don’t believe it even appealed to me in my childhood.

“Nor was I willing to go to that third and final step that Jan of Ruysbroeck called the ‘contemplative’ state whereby, through constant prayer, the communicant moves beyond the ‘yearning’ stage and becomes ‘one-with-God’ while still a mortal. First of all, I never imagined I would be worthy of that state. Secondly, it was a bit too spooky for me. And finally, I wanted to retain my relationship with the world, at least partly.

“I said a long time ago, that if you want to make me ‘at one’ with you, I am sure you can do it, and I won’t try to stop you even if I could. Have at it! However, I am not going down that road on my own initiative….

“Hey, wait a minute! I just said ‘while still a mortal’! Could I be experiencing a transcendent state — an ecstasy? Am I really still alive?”

“No, Carl,” said the voice. “Not in the natural sense. They are scheduling the cremation of your remains now. You are alive, however, in the Spirit. The same Holy Spirit that has been within you all your life. The same Holy Spirit that prayed for you all those times when you slipped into the mire. The same Holy Spirit that applauded you when you recognized what you had done and crawled out of the pit.

“And, by the way, being ‘at-one’ with me is not as spooky or as boring as you appear to believe. You have been there much of your adult life. Can’t you recall all those ‘consolations’ I favored you with?”

“Yes sir,” I replied, “but I took those simply as messages — as signs that I was on the right track…or off it. I never considered they might be ecstasies. And even when I thought it was all over…when I thought I was entering the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’…you kept pelting me with them…like pea-size hail, the most ambiguous kind so that I couldn’t really tell how to interpret them or even be sure that they were ‘consolations’. Maybe they were tricks played by gremlins.”

“Oh, ecstasy in the sense that Teresa of Avila wrote about has been over-played,” said the voice. “There’s a slight bit of hysteria mixed in there because mystics like her didn’t know how to describe the real thing in any other terms that others would be able to understand. And as for the ‘pea-size favors’, they were in fact part of the Dark Night, your spiritual taste buds expressing their hunger for more.”

“Okay…I guess…but I have one other question, if you don’t mind answering it. How is it that you can afford to have spent so much time with me during these precious moments? Aren’t there a lot of other people who could use your attention?”

“Oh yes, oh yes!” said the voice, “and I am with them right now. You are still thinking in natural terms…in the concepts of physics and its limitations on time and space. You forget — temporarily — that I am immanent as well as transcendent. However, I can affect them only if they want to be affected.”

“Really, YOU ARE, I fantasized about the possibility that ‘Heaven’ — for me, anyway — would be oblivion with only a quarter hour or so to savor the absence of anxiety and fear, of unpleasant memories and thoughts, of regrets and illusory hopes…of thinking itself. Yet I recognized that such a dream was most likely an impossibility. So, am I to sit around here for eternity, still thinking?”

“No, Carl. Your intellectual work is over. You will have your oblivion, and this is your moment to savor release. From now on you will feel peace, not think about it.

“But be still now, rest, and abide in me.”

* * * * * *

And now for three more photos, one of the celebration of my 50th anniversary and two on this, my not quite so celebratory 75th anniversary:

Bob Litton's 50th Brithday Anniversary Party 1989

December 1989: The Golden Anniversary with university friends (Left to Right) : Former SMU associate chaplain Robert Cooper, Margaret Shields (age 13), former SMU English Lit professor Ken Shields, my date (whose name I have forgotten), and me, trying to squeeze my belly in. The photographer was Ken’s wife, Joanna, an English teacher at one of Dallas’ high schools. Joanna also prepared the cake. The scene was the Shields’ home in University Park, a ritzy enclave of Dallas.

image (3)

December 2014 :  Celebrating my “Diamond Anniversary” in a West Texas tavern. Of the three old varmints here I am the center one–the guy who is checking to see if he has all the aces he needs or if he should pull out another one. The other desperadoes are Chris King (left) and Carl Lewis.

December 2014: Starting a new year with an eye toward heaven...somewhere.

December 2014: Looking toward a better future, hopefully.

∗ Pardon me, for I flubbed! A few days ago but after I had already published this post, I was looking through my pile of old photos and came upon the picture below of me in December 1965 — when I turned 25!!! So I do, after all, have a photo representative of each of my birth and birth anniversaries through all this past three quarters of a century. I don’t like this photo as much as the others; it was obviously taken in a “candid camera” type situation and is neither well-focused nor posed. The setting is the Wesley-Presbyterian Christian Fellowship offices at Southern Methodist University where most of my friends hung out. Poor as the photo is, however, I feel duty-bound to publish it here, for it balances out the other photos above.

Bob, 1965, age 25


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Thank you for reading.


Amira’s Anniversary

© 2014 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

NOTE TO READERS:  Well, today is a red-letter day in my calendar: It is the first year anniversary of Amira Willighagen’s earning the trophy at Holland’s Got Talent competition.

As some of you will have noticed (and probably wondered at), I have already published, last November 12, an announcement of the anniversary. I confess: I intended to hold that writing until today; but, as often happens with me, it got hot in my little hands; I just had to broadcast it to the world then and there. Those of you who did not read it back in November can peruse it now, if you like, by clicking on the second highlighted URL below.

That actually was my second review of Amira’s now several YouTube videos, which I view often. The first piece I wrote about her was published on this blog site back on June 8; that was just after I had viewed for the first time the three performances she made on HGT. The URL for the June 8 post is provided below (the top one).

I do not really have much new on which to comment today except that on November 8 Amira and her family were in Vatican City, Rome, where she received awards from the Giuseppe Sciacca Foundation for her accomplishments in music and service to the community. She sang “Ave Maria” on that occasion, but I was able to view it only once before the video was removed due to some copyright issue with Sony Music Entertainment: the removal was not at all explained and is a major disappointment; but “that’s show biz”, I guess. Also, last Saturday I discovered that on December 15 Amira sang “O Holy Night” (in English) during a Christmas entertainment at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Opera soprano great Maria Callas reportedly lost her singing ability after she intentionally started losing weight. My question is, is it better to have a continuing vocal career or a healthy body? Since Amira has already repeatedly stated she might opt for an athletic career instead of a singing one, then I believe she values her body overall above her voice. As an adult, her vocal ability will lose its exceptional character; and I hope and trust she will modestly accept blending in with the other talented adults with whom she will perform. As for athletic ambition, two of my friends have had to undergo knee replacements in their middle years because of the jogging and foot-racing enthusiasms they enjoyed in their youths: Every choice comes with a price.

Even if Amira does lose her vocal talent from singing “too early”, she will have the past year to look back on as possibly the happiest in her life, not because she attracted so much admiring attention but because of her adventures: the suspense of the audition; the support of her family, friends, audiences; her travels to other countries; her appearance with Andre Rieu at Maastricht; her CD triumph; her receipt of the humanitarian award in Vatican City; and appreciative applause from people around the world, including this 75-year-old curmudgeon.

Her family is a unity: her parents support her but also limit (as does Netherlands law, I understand) the number of times she can appear at concerts and interviews during a single year; from what I have seen of their home on YouTube they are financially secure enough to enjoy life without depending on any income from Amira’s concerts, half of which she is contributing to a charity she herself established. Amira appears to have as much common sense as she does singing ability; I doubt that she will do anything purposely that would endanger her future welfare, whatever she deems that to be.

I do not know whether I will have any future occasion to comment on Amira’s career. I doubt it, since the only value in what I have said to date concerns gauging her entrance onto the world’s walk of fame, and I have done all that. She has arrived. She has her own Internet site now where she logs all the noteworthy events in her life. All I can say is…

Happy Anniversary!!!

P.S.  Be sure to check out my blog tomorrow (December 29), for it will be another anniversary — of my birth back in 1939. I have written a special post for it.
— BL

Santa Claus’s and Darth Vaders

© 1982, 2011, 2014 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

NOTE TO READERS: Merry Christmas, everybody, and may the Force be with you…the light side of it, I mean. Well, the holiday season crept up on us even earlier this year; pretty soon “Black Friday” will come right after the Fourth of July. (Wonder how they will gerrymander that one.)

But people are beginning to “push back” on the merchants’ greedy ambition of extended holidays. We almost saw a revolution concerning the phenomenon this year, with employees complaining about the notion of opening early on Thanksgiving Day.

Years ago, I started holing away in my hovel during early December, not turning on the radio or the TV and reducing the number of trips to the grocery store so I could avoid the incessant clamor of bells and chipmunks. I believe that the Christmas season would be much more enjoyable if they would not decorate or display Christmas items until two weeks before Christmas: Let’s see, that would be December 11, according to my calendar. I know I would probably regain the pleasure from Christmas that I enjoyed as a small boy.

Since I do not have any fresh ideas concerning December 25th, I thought it would possibly be a pleasant entertainment for you if I republished a column I wrote back in 1982 for the Monahans News. I also included it in my CD-ROM, A West Texas Journalist, in 2011. I have added a couple of sentences (italicized) in the fourth paragraph, relating more of the experience: the additional content is factual; it just was left out of my original composition in the newspaper.
   — BL

* * * * * *

While over at Gensler Elementary a couple of weeks ago to photograph the main characters in the Christmas play, I couldn’t help but recall the time I played Santa Claus in the second grade.

At the time I thought it was a “bit part” because I didn’t have many lines and because I was so covered up in cotton beard and stuffed red suit nobody would be able to recognize me.

I recall only two other players—a boy and a girl playing precisely what they were.  Surely there must have been other roles, although in those days the teachers didn’t feel it was essential that everybody in the grade have a part in the Christmas play.

Only two children for whom to leave gifts and, wouldn’t you know it, whoever filled my sack had put in an odd number of presents. I discovered that discomfiting fact during our rehearsal; and, departing from the script, I stuck one arm in the bag to search for the missing present, then turned the bag upside down, frustrated. The teacher loved that bit of unintentional pantomime and told me to repeat it during the actual performance.  Ever since then I’ve had an intense dislike for long division, especially when there’s a remainder.

But the worst of it was, I botched up my only lines—the last words spoken in the play.  In fact, the curtain was to be closing as I uttered them.

There I was, down center stage with the curtains swishing shut behind me and all those adult faces in the auditorium waiting for me to say something.

I thought real hard and then I bellowed: “A good Christmas to all and to all a merry night!”

Only recently I’ve noticed that Santa Claus is not really a “bit part” at all, but is usually at the center of most Christmas plays.  Any boy who gets selected for the role should be proud of the fact and cherish the memory of it.

As a matter of fact, perhaps only children should play the role of Santa, since he is supposed to be an elf, isn’t he?  After all, a man cannot slip down a chimney, much less be towed through the sky by “tiny reindeer”—even eight of them.

*  *  *  *  *  *

This year, with Darth Vader in town, I’ve had occasion to observe that he is as popular among the little ones as Santa Claus.  Some of those kids huddling around him had been babes in arms when “Star Wars” was released.

This has to be the “Age of Favorite Villains”!  For adults, it’s J.R. Ewing; for the kids, it’s Darth Vader.  Their primary attraction, I suppose, is the flair and the absoluteness of their villainy.  You don’t have to worry about whether you’ll be called upon to understand them or to take sides with them.  They’re fun to hate.

I’m rather glad to see a return to the depiction of Evil as absolute.  Back when I was a kid, Walt Disney did a good job of it with his wicked queen in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”.  Somewhere along the way, however, he and those who followed after his death became rather silly with their fumbling crooks and flying Volkswagens.

The best absolute rendering of Evil of late was in the TV mini-series production of “East of Eden”.  The female lead in that show, Jane Seymour, could really spit venom!

Of course, “Star Wars” and its sequels have a moral underpinning, too.  Luke Skywalker is supposed to get his moral training from the Jedi, but he hasn’t the stamina or the patience for it.  We got the impression from “The Empire Strikes Back” that Luke’s days on the side of virtue are numbered.

The only trouble with movies like “Star Wars” is that the audience doesn’t go to see a resolution of the conflict between Good and Evil.  Rather, they go to see the weird characters and the special effects.  The evil in Darth Vader is camouflaged by the absence of humanness in him; it’s as easy to adapt to him as it is to a video game cassette.

The paradox of Evil—that it is at once a separate “force” and yet inherent in humans—has perplexed philosophers of art at least since Plato, who believed plays should be banned because they accustomed the audience to an acceptance of the unreal.

For myself, I prefer to have the knowledge of Good and Evil writ large, especially in dramatic productions, so that “he who runs may read”.

                                                               — The Monahans News, December 23 & 25, 1982


A Message to So-called “Followers”

Over the two years since I began “The Vanity Mirror” some 130 folks have checked in as “Followers” to my blog site.

Most of them have been people attracted by their interest in a single subject on which I have dedicated an essay; when they discovered that the rest of my topics were not part of that vein, I believe, they stopped visiting. That’s okay. That’s understandable.

Others have been genuine bloggers, too, but their interests (e.g., fast cars, fashions) are so foreign to my own that I wonder what brought them to me. It could be that they thought “following” my blog would entice me to follow their blog. Some bloggers’ sites indicate that they have thousands of “followers”: how could they possibly read each others’ blog posts? That doesn’t work with me. I figure that if somebody wants to follow my blog, they are benefiting their self—and reasonably so, since that way they won’t have to check out my site every day to see if something new has been posted. But they are not benefiting me.

Others have shared a similar background and/or occupation: philosophy; poetry or literature in general; graphic arts and music; social and political concerns. They, I hope, have stuck with me.

There was a period in 2013 when several bloggers—mostly young folks—were pushing what I considered a get-rich-quick “pyramid scheme”; they disgusted me and I hope they have vanished entirely.

During the past couple of months, I have been “followed” by a few who are pushing a “cash-back” program or programs. I don’t know what these people are hoping to gain from “following” my site, except perhaps it is a quick, cheap way for them to advertise to me individually. All I can say to them is “Go get an honest job and stop wasting genuine bloggers’ time!!!”

Merry Christmas everybody!!!
Bob Litton

Waylan The Water Man

© 1980, 2011, 2014 By Bob Litton

Jack Forga- Ron COleman- Waylan Martin & Richard Sitz

Democrat Ron(ald) Coleman (U.S. Rep. for 16th District of Texas from 1983 to 1997) is greeted at the Monahans airport by Waylan Martin (under hat), chairman of the Ward County Republicans. I confess to tricking the two into the “photo op” because of their contrasting political allegiances, but I also wanted to get the two together to work on the water conservation issue.

NOTE TO READER: For those who have not discerned as much by reading through my blog posts, the ones even tangentially referencing politics, I am a liberal down to the marrow. Therefore, I tend to vote as a Democrat, although there have been times in the past when I voted for one or two Republicans in statewide races because they seemed to be best qualified for whatever posts they were seeking. However, since 1980, and even more so since 2000, I have been so angered by Republican policies and tactics that I have voted a straight Democrat party ticket. I have painted the Republicans with perhaps an overly broad brush, judging the ones in power as oligarchists and their supporters as either of the same ilk or as gullible fools.

During my turn as editor of the Monahans News, in the early 1980s, though, I met a Republican gentleman who was exactly that: a gentleman, and a good-natured one at that. His name was Waylan Martin. At the time I met him he was a member of the county hospital’s board of directors. It was, of course, one of my duties to attend that board’s meetings and report them in the paper. Waylan and I became good friends—in fact, he probably was my best friend; that position is hard to measure absolutely. We had coffee together most mornings and we occasionally went flying in Waylan’s four-seat plane.

Waylan was also the chair for the Ward County Republicans. I teased him about that a few times, but mostly we did not let politics get in the way of our friendship. In retrospect, I now marvel that politics did not injure our relationship, because I never blushed at raking the Republicans over the coals in my newspaper column.

One issue Waylan and I definitely were in agreement on was the need to protect and enhance our water resources. We especially were in tune to the idea of canals from the Missouri River into Texas, with several reservoirs in between, in order to make the best use of flood waters. (The Ogallala Aquifer extends from South Dakota into the northern border of the Permian Basin, where we lived.) Beginning in 1977 and continuing into the early 1980s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did a cost/benefit study of such a canal system and derived an estimated cost (in 1977 dollars) of $3.6 billion to deliver 1.6 Million acre feet per year to western Kansas and $22.6 billion per year to deliver 6 million acre feet to the northern panhandle of Texas and the panhandle of Oklahoma. Congress never approved the project.

Waylan closed his water lab sometime in the 1990s in order to retire and move to Plano where his daughter resided. He died about a decade ago, I believe. The lab building is still standing—vacant.

Yes, Waylan was my friend, even though he was also a Republican, for that was a time when Republicans and Democrats could still agree on some matters at least.

* * * * * *

“The very existence of our way of life — of life itself — is dependent on water,” says Monahans water analyst Waylan Martin. “Lots of people look at me like they don’t believe me when I tell them that, but it’s true. They say, ‘But what about food?’ and I’ll tell them, ‘You can’t have food without water.’”

Martin, a native of Barstow, has been in the water analysis business for the past 27 years.  To prepare for his career, he studied at Baylor, where he received his bachelor of science degree in 1949, and then went on to the University of Texas at Austin for a master’s in bacteriology, completed in 1951.

At his water lab on West Sealy, Martin and his ten employees perform chemical, biological and physical analysis of various kinds of water for oil companies, farmers and others.  “Ninety percent of my work is with oil companies, including production and drilling,” he says. “Probably the next most significant amount is irrigation wells.”

The last time he counted them, 357 water injection stations for oil and gas wells all over West Texas were being quality checked on a quarterly basis by Martin’s lab.  “There’s always some amount of water coming up with oil and gas during production,” he says. “When they get concerned is when there’s a sudden change in the amount as an increase of ten percent to twenty-five percent or from eighty percent to ninety-five percent.”

According to the water expert, during the completion of a new well, the additional water can derive from any of five sources: acid water, drilling brine, frac water, load water and natural water.  Most of the water sources can be tolerated for a while; it’s the “natural water” which scares oilmen because its supply could be permanent.

“It’s extremely important to them to know which of those waters it is,”  Martin emphasizes. “If there’s little water so the well can continue to produce gas or if there’s enough oil to justify continuing to pump the water, they’ll keep pumping.  But if it’s natural water, they’ll usually abandon it and move on.”

However, the biggest problems in oil wells is not the water that comes out with the oil but the “suspended matter” that remains in the fractures in the rock and can plug up the oil sources there.  “Suspended matter” includes paraffin and asphalt particles, silt, sand, iron sulphide, iron oxide and others.

Martin says these impedimenta would be avoided entirely if the oil producer could continue to use a fresh supply of water, but after two or three years the water is being recycled and is liable to become contaminated with suspended matter.  “They have to recycle it because the Railroad Commission forbids recovered water being left on the surface,” Martin explains. “The reason is to avoid surface and aquifer contamination.”

At present, the main means of ridding water of suspended matter is “flotation”: putting it into tanks and letting the paraffin and asphalt float to the top.  It’s time-consuming and more expensive than using a continual flow of supply water, but it prevents contamination of the surface and aquifer.      

As we said earlier, the next most significant source of Martin’s employment is the agricultural sector.  Farmers and ranchers are concerned mostly about contamination from salt and septic tank seepage.  “Nine out of ten salt-contaminated wells are caused by evaporated  irrigation water,” Martin explains.  “Well water with two hundred to three hundred parts salt is considered excellent irrigation water. After irrigation, however, ninety percent of the water will evaporate, and your soil now contains ten percent of the water left with two thousand to three thousand parts salt.”

Two or three such irrigations, and the salt content in the soil will be considerable.  “Nevertheless,” Martin says, “if you’ve got good water wells, you will use up all your water before you ruin your soil, like what is happening to the Ogallala aquifer.”

The real danger is that the highly concentrated salt water will seep through the soil back into the well and ruin the water supply.  One solution to the problem, cited by Martin, is to build subsurface drainage ditches, such as are common at Barstow, where the irrigation water can seep back into the Pecos River.  “At other places, such as Dell City,” he added, “they use ‘leaching’, where you irrigate heavily enough to wash the salts down to below root level and hold it there.”

Another problem, which not only farmers and ranchers face but any home-owner with well-supplied house water, is the danger of bacterial contamination, usually caused by septic tank seepage.  “The possibility of water being contaminated by a very serious source ― such as salmonella or cholera ― is so remote that you don’t think about it in the case of stock tanks,” Martin says, “but in the case of house water you worry about it even if the chance is remote.”

When Martin determines that some farmer or rancher has house water contaminated with bacteria, he suggests sterilization.  If that doesn’t stop the problem, he suggests plugging the well with cement and digging another one.

Any new well should be dug at least one hundred feet away from the old well.  Martin says he has known of wells being contaminated from as far away as one hundred and eighty feet from the source, however.  “The trouble around here is that some of the sand and gravel is so large  the bacterial contamination can extend further than one hundred feet,” he explains.          

Waylan Martin opines that we will continue to have contamination problems with water as long as we are reliant on wells to supply it.  “What I would like to see is a canal from Montana or even Canada all the way along the slope of the Rocky Mountains into South Texas,” Martin says. “They’ve got more water up there than they know what to do with, and it’s all going into the Mississippi and into the ocean.  As long as that river is a cheap means of travel for barges, there won’t be any such canal built.  They’ve got a powerful lobby.

“But, I believe it will be built one day, when the food shortage reaches a crisis stage.  When Americans get hungry enough it will come about.  I won’t see it, but you will.”

— Monahans News, May 29, 1980


World Not Made In Our Image

© 1980, 2014 By Bob Litton

NOTE TO READERS: This essay was originally published in the Monahans News under my “Just Between You and Me” column for March 20, 1980. It relates to the events surrounding the assault on the American embassy in Iran. However, while looking over this and other old writings in my files, I was struck by the uncanny resemblance to our current involvements in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

* * * * * *

The American temperament developed long before the Revolution.  In fact, some might well argue there could not have been an American Revolution without such a temperament.*

However, America did not really have an articulate voice until Walt Whitman.  And, for me, what was most peculiarly American in Whitman’s expression was his insistence on being a person of contradictions.  He did not blush at such an admission, but rather proclaimed it.

I think that quality of being an American makes it easier for me to accept contradictions within myself, especially in regard to my attitude toward my country.  Right now, for instance, I am both proud of the U.S.A. and embarrassed for us.

I am proud because, in spite of aggravation and incitement, we did not react with military force against the Iranians when they took over our embassy there.  Some claim, and probably correctly, that such assaults don’t happen to the Soviets because nationalistic terrorists realize the Soviets would not hesitate to sacrifice their own countrymen in order to save face.  To a degree, that is what they are doing now in Afghanistan.

To argue that we should do likewise—i.e., act like brutes to achieve at least a grumbling respect—is to say we ought to forgo our notions (or ideals?) of developing a civilized world.  If a person who cherishes his own honor succumbs to a temptation to act dishonorably because he realizes his opponent has no intention of acting honorably and therefore is likely to prevail, then he who compromises will have already lost part of the contest, because he will be allowing the opponent to dictate the terms by which it is to be fought.

I’m not claiming we have not acted as brutes before.  We have.  But, we are also growing as a nation, and I choose to look on certain sorry episodes in our history as teething stages in our maturation.  The very fact that we publish those episodes is an index of our maturation.

The embarrassing aspect of the Tehran captivity is that we are allowing the Iranian militants to siphon every ounce of publicity possible out of it.  In a manner similar to our mercurial economic news, newspapers grab up every new note of hope and disillusionment.  It seems that every time the Iranians see their great moment slipping from page one to the inside pages they pull some new publicity stunt to retrieve their position on page one.  AND WE LET THEM DO IT!

I suppose such manipulation is unavoidable in a nation with a free press; and, as much as it disgusts me, I would rather put up with the manipulation than lose the first amendment.  Still, I often feel like screaming at my countrymen, “Quit expecting other peoples to play by the rules.  Quit expecting them to keep their commitments.  Quit expecting honor from them.  But, never stop expecting those qualities from ourselves.”

— The Monahans News, March 20, 1980

* For more detail on “American character traits”, see


The Perils of Journalism

Bob Litton in office at Monahans News in 1980

The author in his office at the Monahans News in the early 1980s. He believed it was always advantageous to look severe–or serious at least–when visitors intruded on his daily cogitations.

© 2014 Photos and Text By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

Most of the folks who have read my blog posts over the past two years are aware that my only “professional” jobs were as a journalist and sometime school teacher. (I’m not sure whether Food Stamps and AFDC eligibility caseworker for the State of Texas fits into the professional category, since only two years of college, with any major, were required for that position.) And as for carpet sales, I put too many years into that; it was always a stop-gap measure while I tried to figure out what I really was capable of doing.  Anyway, I have always considered journalism as my true calling, despite its hazards.

Yes, life in the newsgathering world can be risky: Just recall the numerous reporters and photojournalists who have been imprisoned or killed in the Middle East, in Mexico, in China and in North Korea. But we have a dangerous situation here in the United States, too, although not as extensively nor as intensively, yet, as in other nations.

Years ago, I was very subtly threatened by a county sheriff. Oh, that was an adventure! The sheriff had been caught by the feds using funds designated for prisoners’ meals for his own benefit; he was placed on probation and was allowed a much smaller pay check, I suppose until he restituted the funds he had pilfered. All that occurred before I took up the job of reporter for the small daily in that West Texas town. However, while I was working there, the county attorney took me aside one day and informed me that the sheriff was regularly soliciting contributions of five bucks each from county employees. I didn’t know what the county attorney expected me to do about the situation; it looked to me like a job more appropriate for his office.

Then one day, I got a telephone invitation from the sheriff’s secretary inviting me to a little get-together over at the courthouse. I went. Inside, I was directed to an average sized meeting room where a bunch of the deputies and the secretary were sitting around looking at a birthday cake; it just happened to be the sheriff’s birthday. Although not especially small, that room, filled with all those people, looked cramped. I couldn’t believe I had been summoned away from my desk for a birthday party! I suddenly felt trapped; it reminded me of that scene in The Adventures of Robin Hood where Robin (Erroll Flynn) “crashes” a Norman feast, toting a dead deer over his shoulders, and engages King John in a bout of threats and insults before he is attacked by a roomful of the sheriff’s henchmen. I was not as bold as Robin, but I managed to sit through the rigmarole, which included a speech by the sheriff in which, at one point, he subtly threatened me in a manner that could be defended as jocosity. I can’t remember the exact words but it was something about finding me out on a dirt road.

That incident did not happen in Monahans, but in Pecos. However, I faced a few threats in Monahans as well. In most cases they were not threats of physical harm, and one, in fact, did not appear to be directed toward me individually but against the newspaper building or City Hall, which was right across the street. I had been out gathering news one afternoon, and, on my return, another staff member told me that a small explosion had occurred out in the street. The concussion had broken the pane of one of the newspaper’s plate glass windows; City Hall had no windows facing the street there. However, a young woman walking down the sidewalk had been frightened nearly out of her wits.  I wrote a column for the next edition castigating the anonymous prankster — if in fact it had been only a prank. Borrowing the term from a Marlon Brando film (One-eyed Jacks), I called him a “gob of spit” and invited him to sue me for libel. The next day, I was getting my haircut, when our local barber opined to one of his other customers waiting in a chair, “I don’t think anybody is going to take Bob up on that invitation to sue.”

On another occasion, the threat was more direct.  One young man whom I had listed in the “Police Report” as being charged with DWI came to my office and asked me why I had put him in the report. I explained to him that I reported all arrests for any offense from public intoxication on up. He left, but the next day I noticed him across the street, lurking in an alleyway and half hidden by the corner wall of City Hall. He was gazing at the newspaper building. I called the police station and asked the sergeant who answered to go out the back entrance and come up the alleyway behind my presumed potential assailant. Before he could do that, however, the suspect came across the street and into the newspaper office. The sergeant followed him and stood in my office, against the window, while my visitor voiced his negative opinion about me and “Police Report”, then left. A few months later, I heard that the visitor had shot a Border Patrol agent to death in El Paso, where he had reportedly moved. My informant told me that he had been acquitted of murder, manslaughter or whatever.

Backing up a bit in time, one day during the first month of my term in Monahans, the citizens were shocked by two deadly motor accidents in a single day. The first collision occurred on the Kermit highway just a few miles north of Monahans. Two pickup trucks collided head on, while the morning sky was clear. Two men in the southbound truck were killed; as was the driver, alone, in the northbound truck. I drove out to the site to photograph the scene and get a report from the investigating officers. One of my photos — remarkably evocative in the narrative and the artistic senses — revealed the single driver’s leg in front of the seat, twisted abnormally and protruding through the open door of his truck. One of the investigating officers told me that a letter found in the latter truck led him to believe the driver had been reading while driving.

I had the issue before me of whether to publish that photo: to do so would bring it home to the public that vehicles are not the only things damaged in a collision, but their occupants as well; to not publish it would spare the deceased’s family the additional pain of viewing their relative’s painfully unpleasant last moment spread on the front page. I decided not to publish, although I have pondered that event since then several times and have concluded that I should have done so; it might have caused readers to be more cautious. A state trooper at the time urged me to pictorially publish a subsequent violent scene, saying, “We have feelings, too. We don’t like viewing those accidents, but we have to.”

I was still struggling with my decision on that accident when, at dusk, another accident happened on the west-bound lane of a street not far from the newspaper office. An elderly woman, who police believed might have been blinded by the setting sun’s glare, rammed her car into trailer that was parked on the side of the street; she died. The woman and her car had been cleared away by the time I got there. The investigating officer speculated that the setting sun’s glare had blinded the old lady.

The next day, a state trooper came to the newspaper office and asked me to write a column urging people to keep their eyes on the road while driving. I did so, rightfully supposing he had been referring to the first accident described above. However, after the paper was distributed that Thursday, the grown grand-daughter of the woman who died in the second accident came in and upbraided me for insinuating that her grand-mother “had her head up her ass”. Of course, that had not been my meaning at all, but I did not dispute her accusation: she was angry, grieving, and seemingly not rational enough for any explanation. Also, I did not know but what the old lady might have been distracted or too old to be driving. But it did not end there, the grand-daughter tried to get her two male cousins to beat me up, which, after discussing the matter with me, they declined to do. Then, a year or so later I saw her in one of the bars; and when she noticed me she started whispering to a young man on a stool beside her. He glanced around at me, then turned to her and shook his head, indicating “no”. That was the last time I saw her.

On a lighter note, I was enjoying beer and a pool game one Saturday afternoon at Charlie Chailland’s Game Room when we heard a crash outside. A few minutes later, a policeman came inside and said to me, “Bob, looks like you’ve got a new car coming.” I followed him outside and saw where a “nipple up trailer” had become disconnected from the truck that was hauling it (while the truck was turning left) proceeded across the street, and struck my Ford Pinto. The neck of the trailer had ploughed through the driver’s side door and hit the hump right above the transmission. If I had been in that vehicle I would have lost at least one leg. Fortunately, the nipple up service was owned by one of our local auto dealers. We settled for a couple of hundred dollars above the Blue Book value of my car and a new truck at wholesale price.

While all that negotiating was going on, however, I needed something to carry me from one news event to another; so I bought a bicycle. One day during this interim, the newspaper publisher and I decided to do a little “horsing around”.  So we unplugged my phone, gathered my .30-.30 rifle and my notepad, and went out into the street for a photo shoot. However, we did not publish that particular photo, but another one…minus the rifle and the phone…shown below:

Bob on the job after a trailer wrecked his car

Not all journalistic risks are actual; there are also those fantasy hazards. One day, for instance, a Star Wars character copy-cat wandered into town promoting something, although I do not remember just what. We chatted awhile and then horsed-around awhile, pretending that Darth Vader was doing the local editor in. Our conversation was pleasant and I suppose interesting but not interesting enough for me to put in the paper; I don’t think we published this photo there, so this is a first time publication of Darth Vader attacking Bob. A few months later, I read in another periodical that this Darth Vader wannabe (or perhaps another just like him) had been ordered by New Mexico authorities to cease their promotion game or face civil action:

bob and darth

Well, so much for the perils of reporting. You might be able to gauge from the above why I suffer from just a slight case of paranoia.

Be cautious out there..especially if you’re a journalist. Okay?


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