Sunday, June 16, 2019

When Your Son Decides to Leave Home in High School

“I can’t believe I’m doing this, “ I thought to myself as my wife, daughter, son, and I walked down the airport ramp to the 737 waiting for its trip to Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was going to be a fairly short trip to drop off my son at his new school-a small, quaint, Episcopalian school in Faribault, Minnesota named Shattuck-St. Mary’s. I always expected my children to leave Albuquerque, New Mexico. I never thought they would start leaving this young! This was back in August 2017, which would have been the start of Wylie’s sophomore year of high school.

Soccer had always been a fascination to me. I played a single year in 4th grade. I was not very good and the amount of running discouraged me from playing. The irony is I love to run now. Go figure! I watched soccer occasionally on the Spanish speaking channels whenever I would channel surf. I was not a big fan, but I knew enough to keep myself interested. That all changed when I met my future wife in 1993 and her family’s trips and vacations all centered around her younger sister’s soccer trips. The matches were fun to watch and the more I watched and learned, the more interested I became.

When Wylie was born, my wife and I continued watching her sister’s soccer matches and Wylie would sit in our laps or in his stroller and soak in the New Mexico sun and watch the beautiful game. When Wylie turned 3 years old, my wife registered him for his first soccer team, the mighty Bumble Bees. All he did that first season was run around the field and slide into the goal for no apparent reason!

Wylie continued playing and as the years went by, the more competitive the soccer became. By 8 years old, we were traveling with his club team to find competition both in and out of New Mexico.

In 8th grade, he was selected to the Olympic Development Program (ODP) Region IV team after playing for the New Mexico ODP team. This was quite an accomplishment and a testament to his hard work and dedication and the coaching guidance he received in his younger years from his Rio and Rush club coaches.

Wylie played as a right back for the ODP Region IV team. The amount of talent on the team was evident. It was surprising how well the team played together considering the team had not played with each other until meeting up for the Region Tournament in Casa Grande, Arizona. Wylie held his own and played well.

After the ODP Region Tournament, my wife received an email from a soccer coach at Shattuck-St. Mary’s expressing interest in having Wylie visit and attend the school. My wife and I laughed when we first saw the email and ignored it, thinking the email was just another youth sports money grab that are so prevalent today. A few days later, another email came. This one seemed more personalized and legit, showing that the coach had indeed seen Wylie play at the tournament and also mentioned two other soccer student athletes from New Mexico that attended the school. My wife responded out of curiosity and the next day, talked to the coach on the phone.

The coach told us about the program at Shattuck-St. Mary’s. Their Soccer Center of Excellence was incorporated into the school day and participated in the United States Soccer Developmental Academy (DA). The school provided a boarding school experience with dorms, cafeteria, and academics. The coach invited us to attend one of their prospect camps. My wife and I talked, and we discussed this information with Wylie, who was intrigued despite the school being 1,200 miles away in Faribault, Minnesota.

Wylie and I traveled to Minnesota for the camp in April 2016 and he enjoyed the school’s atmosphere, its unique and integrated academic and soccer environment, and the coaching. I was impressed myself!

As Wylie and I approached the school the first day of our visit, we admired the picturesque scenery of the campus. The buildings looked like something out of Harry Potter. The campus was surrounded by lush greenery despite it being early April in Minnesota. Established in 1858, the main building was built with gray stone and resembled a castle with a clock tower that overlooked the campus. As we drove into the main entrance of the school, an archway greeted us. Right before entering the archway, the entire front of the school could be seen under the arch, framing it for a moment in time, leaving me in awe and wonder as if entering a medieval fantasy.

After entering the archway, we drove around the little roads that encompassed a large green grass field in front of the school named Parade Field. The field could be used for soccer practices and games, but most of the time, it served as an area for students to hang out and participate in outdoor activities. Older houses surrounded the roads and Parade Field. Some of the Shattuck-St. Mary’s staff lived in these houses or the houses were used for some of the school’s functions, such as the nurse’s office.

We drove to the front of the school and saw a small Episcopalian chapel with a long steeple to the right of its entrance. The entrance had a double gable architecture-one gable built over the other-with crosses mounted on each pitch. Matching the same stone construction of the school, the chapel blended seamlessly into the landscape and further added to the mythical picture of a more chivalric age that had been created in my mind. The campus itself was not very big, but the appearance of the school created an aura of grandeur that left me wanting to explore more.

During our student-led tour of Shattuck-St. Mary’s, Wylie and I were taken to the dorms, to the classrooms, the library, the dining hall, and the sports facilities. All facilities had a character of their own, reflecting the age in which they were built. Inside, wooden staircases led people to upper and lower levels of the buildings while outside, concrete steps provided access to solid wooden doors that had been given another layer of paint to preserve them for years to come.

The sports facilities were more modern and brought my mind back from a fantastical past to our modern era. We walked into the athletic building’s lobby where many professional hockey jerseys of Shattuck-St. Mary’s alumni hung from the ceiling. From the lobby, people had access to the athletic trainers’ room, the hockey rinks, the locker rooms, and the indoor soccer dome. The outdoor soccer pitch was located just outside of the lobby. In all, 2 ice rinks for the hockey and figure skating teams, an outdoor artificial turf soccer field, and an indoor soccer field inside a large, inflatable dome had been built on the north side of the campus-all easily accessible from the dorms and the school. For a school the size of the Shattuck-St. Mary’s, this was quite the athletics set up!

After the tour, I returned to the hotel and Wylie remained on campus with the soccer team. I was hesitant, but Wylie was excited to get started to see how he compared with the DA players. As I left, there was a strange feeling in my gut telling me that this was a great opportunity for my son. A wave of sad happiness came over me, and for some reason, I knew he would have to eventually attend the school.

After a successful prospect weekend, Wylie and I returned to Albuquerque. I told my wife what a great place the school seemed to be and the great opportunities that the school could provide if Wylie took advantage. Wylie wanted to go, but my wife and I were not ready to allow our soon-to-be high school freshman to leave us to another state.

We told Wylie to give his freshman year a try in Albuquerque and to play soccer for Saint Pius X High School Varsity and for the NM Rush 02 club team. Both of these teams were stacked with talent and had potential to do well that year. They did not disappoint! St. Pius X boys soccer took 2nd in state in November 2016, and NM Rush 02 made a run in Seattle, WA for Regionals in June 2017, just barely missing out on advancing out of group play due to goal differential. They did defeat, in group play, the eventual regional champion, the Tuzos from Arizona in one of the best youth games I have seen.

When we returned from Seattle, my wife and I talked about the year and how exciting and fun it had been. However, Wylie came into our room one night soon after the Seattle Regionals and told us that he needed to go to the DA. He felt the exposure to DI colleges and to the US National Team would be greater playing in the DA, and he felt the daily training sessions would really improve his play. My wife and I were expecting this news from him but were sad nonetheless.

Shattuck-St. Mary’s had kept in contact with us so we knew they were still interested. My wife and Wylie went back to Shattuck-St. Mary’s for a visit in June 2017 and after returning home, we began the admissions process.

Consequently, I sat on the plane to Minneapolis in August 2017 wondering what the future would bring. It was uncertain but bright, and I had not seen such a glimmer in Wylie’s eyes as I had seen on that trip. Getting to Minnesota, helping Wylie get his dorm situated, and participating in all the back-to-school activities at Shattuck-St. Mary’s was fun and exciting. However, nothing could prepare my wife, my daughter, and I for the day when we had to return to Albuquerque without him. The lump in my throat as he walked away and through the door into his dorm in Whipple Hall made it difficult to maintain my composure on the drive back to Minneapolis from Faribault. The 40 minute drive to the airport was pretty silent. The mixture of feeling proud, anxious, and scared weighed heavily upon me that evening. When the plane back to Albuquerque left the runway, the tears flowed. I knew Wylie was in good hands and his maturity would suit him well on his own, but the realization that he would not be physically with us in Albuquerque was difficult to contemplate.

Wylie completed his sophomore year and did extremely well academically and on the soccer pitch. He led the team in goals scored and started 21 of 24 games. Although the team only finished 7-15-4, valuable lessons were learned and Wylie felt his soccer development benefitted from the training. There was no doubt he would return to Shattuck for his junior year.

The end of his junior year is now here and he has definitely built upon the lessons from his sophomore year. The team is 19-1-1 and the number 1 seed heading into the DA Playoffs. His development as a soccer player is very noticeable and I am amazed at the improvement in his physical and mental skills with each successive game he plays. More importantly, however, the Shattuck-St. Mary’s environment has really developed his confidence and has allowed him to forge friendships that I hope will remain with him for a lifetime.

To this day, my wife and I still get odd looks and comments about our decision to allow Wylie to move away from us during his high school years. My favorite question is, “How could you send Wylie away?” My mind quickly reflects on our Shattuck-St. Mary’s experience and I simply answer with a question, “How could I not?”

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Somos Unidos - The New Mexico United Experience

This is my account of the first official match of the New Mexico United.

It is a beautiful mid-afternoon March day in Albuquerque, New Mexico and we have arrived at the University of New Mexico football parking lot. I admit we are here early, but I did expect a larger crowd for tailgating. Maybe we are too excited and have too high expectations for New Mexico’s newest professional team, the New Mexico United. My wife and I look at each other with uncertainty and decide to unload the truck.

I remove the camping stove, the camping chairs, propane tank, and the cooler and begin setting up our spot. My son retrieves his soccer ball and begins juggling it around the empty parking lot. My daughter has the “what the hell are we doing here so early” look. It does not matter. I am going to have fun!

I open the cooler and pull out an IPA. The chill of the aluminum can is refreshing as I pop the top of the can and hear the release of carbonation as it escapes from confinement. The first drink of a cold beer is always the best.

I pair my phone to the bluetooth speaker, start up the classic rock playlist, which now includes my childhood favorites, Guns and Roses and Metallica. I am officially old… I mean distinguished!

While setting up the camping stove, I am pleasantly surprised to see a travel trailer coming and turning into the parking lot where we are located. They park in the corner and are immediately followed by a few more tailgaters!

The folks in the travel trailer ask us to set up our cornhole set with theirs so everyone can use them. We do it without hesitation.

Almost in a blink of an eye, the parking lot is just about full. An hour and a half before game time, the tailgate party is rocking with people grilling, drinking, having cornhole tournaments, playing street soccer, and socializing.

The New Mexico United supporters group is called The Curse and are the occupants of the travel trailer. The Curse have a crowd gathered as they provide food and drinks for the tailgaters, including kegs from Starr Brothers Brewing for adult consumption. I sign up for a Curse membership and receive my official Curse scarf. The scarf is immediately hijacked by my daughter, but I do not care as I have my stout in one hand and a Curse membership card in the other!

About 30 minutes prior to kickoff, The Curse lead the march from the UNM football parking lot to Isotopes Park across the street. The chanting and flag waving gets the adrenaline pumping, and it is clear that these soccer fans are ready for the match! Surprisingly, the ticket takers are able to handle the rambunctious tailgating crowd and as we enter, the stadium is beginning to look like the 13,000 fans that are expected.

I really have doubts about how a baseball stadium will handle a soccer pitch. However, my doubts subside as I walk along the walkway to our seating section. The baseball diamond and mound are visible, but through some great work and creativity by the grounds crew, the dirt is covered in sod and forms a complete, contiguous natural grass field.

For my first ever USL game, I choose to sit in the second level of Isotopes Park to make certain that I can see the entire pitch. After arriving, it is clear that the orientation of the field provides a decent view from any seat. I begin to think to myself that this arrangement just may work for soccer! As we approach our second level seats, I am ecstatic. From the second level, the whole pitch can be seen except for the far northwest corner, which is only an issue during a corner kick. Even then, the action is usually in front of the net; so this is minor.

As the match kicks off between the United and Fresno FC, the crowd is standing, cheering, dancing, and waving black-and-yellow New Mexico United flags. Music is playing in the stadium, creating a fun, hectic atmosphere. The electricity in the stadium is so powerfully charged that a casual observer-not knowing that this is the first ever New Mexico United match-will think that this is an established team in an established venue.

A few minutes in, the loudness dampens as the crowd intently watches the game, hoping that New Mexico United can get the first goal of the match. With every breathtaking attempt on goal, there are gasps, oohs, and awes in anticipation of a score.

With any sports team, there are fan traditions, and the United are working on creating their own. At 19:12 on the clock, the crowd goes crazy as it marks the year that New Mexico became a state. The fan frenzy continues for over a minute until the 20:19 mark, which is the year that the New Mexico United became a reality. This will hopefully become a mainstay at all home matches-a celebration of the uniqueness and togetherness of the state.

It does not take long for the crowd to erupt again when the first goal in New Mexico United history is scored 25 minutes into the game. As if written in a fairy tale, Devon Sandoval, a well-known figure in the Albuquerque soccer world, rips a strike from the top of the penalty area and finds the net for the score!

The supporters’ section is going wild at the south end of the stands. New Mexico United and Curse flags wave rapidly, yet harmoniously, in the chaos while smoke bombs go off, engulfing the stands in a slow moving, yellow fog. Fireworks ignite and explode above the stadium and chants of “Ole, ole, ole, ole!” echo through Isotopes Park. The announcer exclaims,”Goal scored by Devon…” and the crowd replies, “Sandoval!” This is another tradition that will be exercised after every United goal scored. Hopefully, a tradition that fans can practice often!

At this moment, I know I am hooked, and I hope the rest of New Mexico is as well!

¡VĂ¡monos United! ¡Somos Unidos!

Thursday, April 18, 2019

A Personal Review of LastPass by Mark A. Trujillo

The dark, disheveled room is quiet except for the dull hum of a small portable fan and the clicking of keys on the keyboard. The hacker sits mesmerized in front of her custom built machine, the light from her 3 monitors casting a warm glow over the hacker’s face. Every so often the clicking stops so a drink of Mountain Dew can be taken. Regular people sleep. Hackers hack and can sleep when they are dead.

The hacker has just spent the last few hours tinkering with a new password hacking tool she has created. The results are fantastic. After hitting a few business and social media servers, the hacker can now post the results to the dark web and make a few dollars. First, the hacker wants to have some fun.

She runs the tool and immediately gets the password from a social media site of a young man living in Texas. She giggles a little to herself at the password-iL0vecoffee! Seriously? Recently married, the young man is smiling happily in his profile picture standing next to the beautiful bride. She glances down at the young man’s bio and clicks the link to get more acquainted with her latest victim-DoD contractor, likes to travel, and has 3 other social media accounts. The hacker opens another browser window with 3 tabs and visits the other sites. She immediately tries the same login credentials from the current site on all 3 accounts and is granted access to 2. The other account she will worry about later. She has to visit a few popular online shopping sites and see where else these credentials grant her access.

Within 20 minutes, the hacker has a pretty good idea of the young man she has just “hacked.” His shopping habits, his social media likes/dislikes, and most of his contacts are in her possession. His usernames and passwords are all basically the same and as luck would have it, one of his email accounts has information on one of the banks he uses. The hacker decides to keep tabs on the young man, see what else she can gather over the week, and then make a few purchases courtesy of her new acquaintance.

The scenario above is fiction, but the reality is problems can arise when a user’s login credentials are compromised. I have constantly fought the mind games associated with coming up with good passwords and the convenience of not having to remember every sequence of capital letters, special characters, lower case letters, and numbers that passwords must have in order to make a hacker’s job a little more difficult. I admit that I have committed one of the deadly IT sins predominantly described in the tale above-using the same password for similar sites. However, after getting a recommendation from a friend and doing a little research, I have finally started to use an app called LastPass, which helps with this issue.

One thing to always keep in mind with regard to any app or program is that nothing is infallible when it comes to IT security so taking individual precautions and looking for odd occurrences in accounts is always advised! And definitely, change passwords often. Other actions I take are making certain my browser cache and history are cleared when the browser is closed, and I verify that my LastPass username and master password are not saved in the browser extension.

LastPass is a very simple to use password vault that provides other nice features. These features include a random password generator, the ability to organize vault items in folders for easy lookup, and the option to store other items, such as secure notes, social security numbers, credit card numbers, addresses, etc. LastPass offers all this in a package that is mostly free of charge. Personal users can pay for the LastPass Premium and LastPass Families options if they choose. After a few weeks of use, I have not missed the other options included in those packages. In a nutshell, users need to install 2 things to make use of LastPass:
  1. The LastPass mobile app.
  2. The LastPass browser extension. I use mostly Chrome and Firefox so I installed the extension on both browsers on my machines. The extension shows up on the top right of the browser window, displayed as a red box with 3 white dots.
Once LastPass is installed, a user needs to provide their email address, which will serve as their username, and then come up with a strong password for their master LastPass password. These credentials will be used to access all the other passwords and secure items in the user’s vault. The master password should be different than all other passwords! When complete, the user should be logged in to the LastPass browser extension. If not, they can click the LastPass extension icon and enter their LastPass credentials. When I open my browser on my desktop or laptop the first action I now take is logging in to LastPass. That is the last set of credentials I need to type for that browser session!

LastPass allows a user to securely store all their passwords for every website that they have a login. I found adding credentials to LastPass easier on a desktop or laptop compared to the mobile app. To add credentials for a site, visit the site, enter the username and password, and log in. The LastPass extension will automatically prompt to add the site’s credentials if the user has logged in to LastPass. Once confirmed, LastPass will either automatically fill in the credentials for that site or it will provide a little icon in the text boxes for the username and password so a user can click them and select the account in LastPass that should populate the textboxes. Once accounts have been added, they can be shared with another person with a LastPass account. Click the “Share” icon on an account’s tile in the vault and enter the other user’s email address. If they accept, they have access to that account’s information. The sharing option has been fantastic for my wife and I!

A very nice feature that I absolutely love is the random password generator. I loathe having to create a new password for every website. LastPass makes this task simple. When signing up for a new account on a website and coming up to the dreaded “Create a Password” section of the web form, a user can click the LastPass extension, select “Generate Secure Password”, and copy and paste the password provided into the form. LastPass will store the new account credentials in the user’s vault. The great thing is the password is random, unique, and more secure than what the user may have come up with on their own! There is no need to remember that password because it is in the user’s vault which is accessed with the user’s LastPass username and master password. After setting up all my accounts in my vault, I went through each stored account and used the password generator to change every single one to a unique password. Consequently, I no longer have similar passwords across accounts.

After adding most of my Internet accounts to LastPass, I have 50 items in my vault. LastPass does have a search feature at the top of the vault window that filters as a user types. For folks who desire more organization in their vault, vault items can be placed into folders. Each account has a wrench icon that can be clicked to edit the account details. One of the details in the edit window is named “Folder”. Simply typing in a new folder name is all that is required to create one. The edited account will now be associated with that folder. The folder will also be available for all the other accounts. Why is this nice? Since organizing my accounts in folders, I find myself opening my vault in a browser tab and using that as my homepage for launching other tabs to browse the Internet. For example, I will expand my “social media” folder with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Goodreads and launch their own browser tabs from the vault. In addition, instead of remembering what the name of the account is, I can now search the folder name to find it.

LastPass is a great tool for storing other important information. A user can add their personally identifying information, such as their address, social security number, phone number, etc. This facilitates filling out forms that web surfers inevitably face in their daily Internet experience. One can store their children’s personal information, such as a social security number, for access anywhere. Any parent knows that anything from visiting the doctor to enrolling a child at school requires their social security number. Having it securely stored on a mobile device is very useful. Also, keeping that pesky bank routing number in an easy to find place makes virtual money transfers a lot quicker. Being an avid user of Google Keep, I find the secure notes of LastPass a very good alternative.

I have been using LastPass for a few weeks and have found it extremely helpful. I do not work for LastPass, I do not get paid by LastPass, and I do not have any stake in LastPass’ success. I do hope it stays around so I can continue to utilize its functionality for my personal use to make my online life a little safer and a little more convenient. If having multiple login credentials to multiple websites has you reusing passwords, creating passwords that are easy to guess, or having to constantly reset forgotten passwords for sites you may not visit often, LastPass may be worth a try!

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The First Fish Part 3: The Catch by Mark A. Trujillo

The Catch 

Grandma and Mother set up their chairs next to each other and talk about the latest news, gossip about who has a new boyfriend and girlfriend, and the day’s plans for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Boo is standing with his hands in his jeans pockets looking serious and determined. After all, he is experienced in catching fish having caught his first the prior year. He glances over to Grandpa and Pookie and asks, “Any bites?”

“Nothing yet.” Grandpa responds. Father sits next to Boo, sips his coffee, and occasionally looks at Pookie and Grandpa, hoping that one of the kids will get a bite soon. He is not sure how long Boo and Pookie will tolerate waiting for finicky fish.

They all quickly glimpse at each rod, hoping at least one will bend with the weight of a trout’s nibble. The disappointment among the fishermen is evident and the slightest twitch of a fishing rod ignites excitement. Grandpa decides to reel in his line, grunting as he gets up. He picks up the rod and slowly turns the reel to bring in the hook and bait. The hook emerges from the water looking like it has just drudged the bottom of a lettuce bin of a salad bar. “Lots of seaweed here!” Grandpa remarks, “Gonna switch to fireballs.”

“Nice fish there, Grandpa!” jokes Grandma. Grandpa ignores her and walks back to his gear.

As Grandpa tinkers with his rod, Father notices Boo’s little Batman rod twitch quickly twice in a row. “Boo, check your rod.” whispers Father, “Reel it in slowly.” Boo jumps up and excitedly grabs the rod. “That’s definitely a bite, Boo!” Mother exclaims.

He starts reeling in the line when a fish jumps in the general direction of where his hook is located. Boo smiles big and Pookie runs over to his side. The fish is definitely on the hook as it jumps and splashes while being reeled in by the little fisherman. As he turns the reel, Boo is breathing heavily, not out of exhaustion, but with anticipation. Father sees the fish a few feet away make one more desperate attempt to escape the hook with a panicked jump and splashes into the water. Boo, not expecting the fishing rod to lighten up, jerks the line out of the water and the hook buries itself in the tackle box behind him. “Damn!” Father shouts, “Almost got ‘em.” Boo and Pookie let out a disheartened sigh.

Grandpa says, “Oooph! Bummer! Let’s get a fireball on there.” Father puts his hand on Boo’s fishing line and follows it to the tackle box. “Hold the rod, Boo.” Father instructs him. He pulls the hook from the tackle box along with half of the other items in it and begins the arduous task of untangling the mess.

Grandpa finishes with his rig and casts his line into the water. He remains standing, looking at the water intently. “Fish are up. Lots of little bubbles on the surface.” he says pointing. Pookie nods, “I want a fish.” Grandpa walks over to her and her fishing pole. He hands it to her. “Let’s check your line.” Pookie holds the rod and begins turning it with Grandpa crouched over, hovering above her. They get the hook, add a fireball, and cast it back out into the lake. They both sit down and wait.

Father and Boo have Boo’s hook cleaned off and baited. Father tells Boo to cast his own line this time. Boo carefully swings the line back and then forward. Unfortunately, his forward swing is too forward and the weight, hook, and bait splash loudly a couple feet from shore. “Ooops!” Boo exclaims. “Haha! Nice!” says Father, “Give it another try.” Boo brings the hook back up, being careful not to reel the weight too far into the tip of the rod. He swings back, then forward, and gets off a nice cast. The line travels in an arch like a rainbow as little water droplets drop off into the lake. The baited hook and weight make a bluuunk sound as it hits and goes under the water. “Good job!” Father congratulates Boo, “That was a good one!” Boo smiles broadly with squinted eyes. He tightens his line with a couple of counter clockwise reels and props the rod up on a rock.

Suddenly, Grandpa seizes his fishing pole with the obvious bites making the rod bend. “Got this one!” Grandpa says enthusiastically. The kids are wide eyed watching Grandpa reel in the nice size trout as it flips and flops on the water not wanting to leave its habitat. Grandpa easily brings the fish in and holds the fish by its gaping mouth and one of its gills. He grabs his Leatherman from his belt holder and removes the hook from the fish’s mouth.

“A stinky fish, Grandma!” yells Boo. Grandma smiles and says, “It’s your and Pookie’s turn!” The kids are rejuvenated with the catch and hope is restored between them. Father hands Grandpa the rope to tie the fish down in the water. Grandpa weaves the rope through the trout’s gill and out the mouth and sticks the stake into the soft shore line allowing the fish to remain in the water but captured until it is time to return to camp. Pookie stares at it-amazed.

The fish is quite beautiful. The shimmering of its scales is enhanced by the morning sunlight and the occasional sparkle of the lake’s water. Its mouth slowly opens and closes and its eyes stare off on either side of its head in a permanent state of surprise. The silvery scales mesh effortlessly with the pink and red scales running through the middle of its greenish-gray body. A perfect pattern of random black spots decorate the slender, streamlined physique.

Entranced, Pookie begins to carefully bend over to try to touch the fish. “Pookie! Hold on!” Mother warns. Mother rises from her chair and walks over to the rope. She lifts the rope and fish from the water and holds it for Pookie. The wet fish is still lively and swings back-and-forth in the hope of escape, splashing Pookie in the face. She turns her head slightly, her eye closest to the fish closed and her other eye open, glancing sideways at the flopping creature. She reaches and cautiously feels the wet, slimy scales not sure what to make of it. She pulls her hand away and giggles. “Still want to catch one?” Mother asks. Pookie nods yes and sees Father pull up on his fishing pole, reeling in another fish. Boo begins performing a dance and shakes his hips happily.

“All right!” Grandpa exclaims, “They’re definitely biting now!” Father lands the trout though not as smoothly as Grandpa. Father pulls out the hook, loses his grip on the fish, and drops it in the dirt. The fish flops frantically on the ground while Pookie and Boo laugh hysterically watching with tears in their eyes as Father tries to pick it up. He finally gets control and ties the fish up with the other. Miraculously, the trout is still alive jerking its tail in the water trying to swim away from the shore. “Ay, que fisherman!” Mother jokes. Father shakes his head, removes his cap, and wipes the sweat from his brow. He looks at Mother with a funny face, shakes his head mockingly, and goes to work on a new rig.

Not much time passes when Grandpa nets another trout and then he has to assist Boo with his second ever catch! Boo is happily grasping the fish on his line with both hands while Grandpa pulls out the hook. Mother forces Boo to take a picture with his trophy despite his eagerness to get back to fishing. “OK, Boo. Stand right there with your fish and let’s get a picture!” Boo walks over to where he thinks Mother is pointing, head down, and obviously annoyed. He holds up the fish, but his Mother is not happy with the smile. “Boo, smile! With TEETH!” she commands as she demonstrates. Boo smiles, satisfying his Mother and restoring peace to the lake as Mother takes the picture.

“I don’t have a fish!” Pookie is now reaching the peak of frustration. She puts her head down, her little pig tails swinging downward, and crosses her arms. Before her pouting begins, Grandpa sits cross-legged in the dirt, “Come here, hita. We’ll get one.” Father brings in Pookie’s line to freshen the bait and to help distract the little girl with another cast.

Pookie strolls over to Grandpa and sits with him. Father hands over the rod to Grandpa and he casts the line into the lake. Boo and Father exchange glances, hoping that the fish continue to bite!

Some time passes, and the bites come less and less frequently. With the mid-morning sun comes the heat that drives away the trout and forces them into greater depths. At this point, Grandpa needs to stretch and Mother takes over helping Pookie monitor her fishing pole. Mother helps Pookie bring in the line with an empty hook. “Maybe they are biting down there.” Father observes.

“Can you tie another weight on there?” Mother asks. “Sure.” Father says. Father ties another small lead weight and then adds another hook slightly higher up the line than the existing one. He gives Mother some of the marshmallow bait for one hook and he adds a fireball to the other.

“Well, here goes nothing!” Mother says as she casts the line. She brings her chair over to the shore and Pookie sits with her with a serious frown.

Father and Grandpa are relaxing in the sun, talking about work and the next home project Grandma will be hankering for once camping season is over. “Ya, your mom is wanting tile downstairs and we need to get the extra bedroom painted.” “That’ll be nice” Father replies. Grandma smiles.

Boo is tired and struts over to Grandma and sits in her lap. His eyes are heavy from a long morning of fishing. Boo’s head is bobbing up and down. His eyes shoot open after every downward tilt of his head is met with an upward thrust. He is not going down without a fight! Finally, after a few minutes, Boo’s head stays down, finally surrendering to the warmth of the weather and the warmth of Grandma.

Mother’s head is starting to droop as well when she looks up with a start. “I think I feel a bite!” she tells Pookie. Pookie looks at the tip of the rod with a smile.

“Wait a sec...” Father says looking at Pookie’s rod, “Yup, you got it!”

Pookie takes the rod as Mother passes it to her. Boo wakes up startled as Grandma starts clapping for Pookie chanting, “Good job, Pookie!”

Mother and Pookie stand from their chair and start reeling the line back to shore. Boo is up now, cheering on his sister and doing his hip-shaking fish dance. A fish jumps and splashes and Pookie starts reeling faster and faster. Mother has to slow her down so she does not jerk the fish off the hook. Father walks over to them and takes over while Mother gets her camera. Father keeps his hands close to Pookie’s but allows her to get her fish. It feels like an eternity to the campers, but the fish is finally visible in the shallow water next to the shore. Pookie lifts the tip of the rod and swings the fish over, almost hitting Father with the writhing trout! “Whoa!” Father exclaims laughing. Grandpa is smiling broadly, happy that the little girl finally has her first catch.

Father takes the hook from the trout’s gaping mouth and strings the fish on its own line for pictures. He gives the strung fish to Pookie. ”My fish! I got a fish!” Pookie says excitedly. “We both caught fishes!” she tells Boo.

Mother holds up the camera and instructions are not necessary. Pookie holds the line above her head, the fish held slightly up to her chest, and with a proud, beautiful smile and a slight little lisp exclaims, “Chhhheeeeeetttthhhhhh!”

The End

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The First Fish Part 2: The Lake by Mark A. Trujillo

The Lake

“The lake hardly looks real” Father tells Mother as they unload from the truck. “I know. It’s very pretty!” replies Mother gazing out over the lake in the distance.

Grandma, Mother, Grandpa, Father, Pookie, and Boo all gather at the back of the truck. Grandpa drops the tailgate and begins distributing the supplies. Boo and Pookie eagerly grab their fishing poles and smile at each other. “We’re going to get those fish, Pookie!” says Boo assertively. The certainty in his voice reassures his younger sibling and she responds with a little giggle, “He, he. Yup!”

Boo and Pookie lead the pack from the parking lot. Boo jumps on a log separating the lot from the path down to the lake shore and turns around impatiently. Pookie not so confident in her ability to hop on the log, hands her pole to her brother, bends over, and lifts one leg over the log and then the other. Boo jumps down and exaggerates his landing like a ninja ready for battle. Pookie takes her fishing pole from Boo and they continue down the dirt path.

The dirt path, surrounded by green underbrush, pine trees, and the occasional aspen, drowns out some of the sunlight, making the day seem earlier than it is. Looking up through the foliage, the baby blue sky overhead is only a sliver of its true self. An occasional cool breeze blows through the pines and aspens creating a soft howling sound that echoes throughout the canyon. An occasional pine cone drops from somewhere in the forest making a dull thud while a single squirrel stands on its hind legs with a nut in its front paws, cautiously observing the six campers. After what seems an eternity to the young fishermen, Pookie and Boo finally reach the lake. The adults catch up shortly after and start surveying the lake shore and the lake itself.

“That spot over there looks pretty nice.” suggests Grandpa. They walk over to the spot and Father and Grandpa begin checking the kids’ fishing rods and showing them how to carefully place the bait on the barbed hook. Boo and Pookie are fascinated by the fluorescent, glittery marshmallows and eagerly reach out to get the fish-enticing treats. Father quickly moves the bait jar away from their reach and hands them one marshmallow each. They play with the marshmallow slowly rolling it in their little fingers making a small ball. “Just like playing with your boogers!” Boo exclaims. Grandpa and Pookie laugh out loud.

Father takes Pookie aside and begins showing her how to bait the hook. He carefully takes the eye of the hook with his right hand and begins molding the little ball of bait around the hook with his left, making sure to leave just a little of the sharp tip of the hook exposed. He gives Pookie the rod and instructs her to gently dip the baited hook into the water so the bait will stick to the hook when casted. Pookie nods and walks over to the water’s edge. She begins lowering the rod slowly but then inadvertently hits the casting button on the rod. The bait splashes into the water. Father looks at the surprised little girl and says, “Oops! That’s why you have to be careful. Look at the bait.” Pookie turns back to where the bait splashed down and sees the glittery ball of bait floating away.

Pookie looks down dejectedly. “It’s OK though!” Father consoles her. “We can put more on.” After adding another bait to her hook, Father walks with Pookie to the water’s edge and this time helps her. He takes the little fishing rod and casts the line into the water, the small lead weight and bait making a small, circular ripple on the lake’s surface.

Grandpa walks over to Pookie’s fishing spot, having already helped Boo get successfully situated. “Now, you have to be patient and quiet to catch a fish” Grandpa informs the youngsters. He kneels down on one knee and Pookie leans against him, both gazing out across the lake to where her hook is submerged.

The campers with their fishing rods propped up and strategically positioned for catching fish can finally take in the true beauty of the mountain lake. In this morning hour, the lake is quite still with an occasional mountain breeze causing little waves to form and smoothly glide away from the fisherman, keeping the fishing lines taut. When the waves’ momentum gradually dies, the lake reflects the canyon cliffs and trees that encompass the watery oasis. Occasionally, a small bubble can be seen a few yards from the shore signaling the presence of a hungry fish or two while overhead, a hawk squawks while hunting for breakfast of its own. The sun leisurely makes its way over the trees and the canyon and illuminates part of the shore, exposing green moss where land meets water. Newly born minnows are also visible and scurry away for deeper depths with the slightest noise.

“Just like a postcard.” Grandpa whispers and adjusts his cap.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

The First Fish Part I: The Campground by Mark A. Trujillo

The Campground

Dawn arrives in the mountains, casting a smoky light over the landscape. The smoke from the campfire slowly glides through the air creating a hazy, translucent window overlooking the incredible view of pine trees that surround the campground. Silence abounds except for the occasional crackle of the fire. Even though it is deep in the summer season, a welcome chill is in the air, inviting a slight shiver from the little girl.

The little girl is excited. This is the day she is going to catch a fish! How does she know? Her Grandpa says she will. Even though it is early in the morning, the little girl is awake and lively. She shuffles around the fire, kicking up dust, and giggling to herself. Despite her excitement, she is patient. She stops shuffling when her Mother comes out of the tent.

“Come here, Pookie! Let’s get your hair combed!” her Mother commands. Pookie glares disappointingly at her Mother for a moment but eventually begins her slow walk toward the tent.

Pookie sits in her small pink camping chair, ignores the dust that that has accumulated on her tiny digits, and stuffs her two middle fingers into her mouth without hesitation. Her Mother grimaces. It is better than the alternative, which involves wrestling, tears, and hair that isn’t combed.

Her Grandpa, Father, and older Brother are gathering the supplies and loading up the white Ford F-250. Her older brother by 2 years skips around with a Batman fishing pole, the red and white bobber swinging back-and-forth. “Boo Bear! Careful! You don’t want that hook coming off and getting you!“ his Father tells him. Boo stops for a second but continues his skipping display, deciding that the risk is worth it.

“Ah! Let him be! He’ll be fine!“ Grandpa says. Father rolls his eyes knowing there will be no wrong done by the offspring this weekend. “Coffee, dad?” asks Father. Grandpa gives him an affirmative nod. The coffee pot sits on the camping stove making percolating sounds, steam rising from the short spout. Father searches the camping supplies looking for the white styrofoam cups that he knows he packed but have now suddenly disappeared. Frustrated, he looks over to Mother and asks, “Hey, have you seen the cups, babe?”

“They should be there!” Mother replies. “You need to look around. They’re not going to jump out on their own.”

“Ha ha. Funny!” Father retorts. He continues looking. Mother observes the spectacle for awhile with a handful of Pookie’s curly hair in her hand. She expertly parts Pookie’s hair down the middle and creates a pig tail on the right side of Pookie’s head. She ties down the pom-pom looking glob of hair with a few flips and snaps of a tiny clear rubber band. “Don’t move, Pooks!” Mother warns.

Mother walks over to the camping supplies with a thoughtful, annoyed frown, her eyebrows shaped in an upside-down “V”. Father is still bent over looking for the cups and fails to notice the imminent danger lurking behind him. Mother finds a hidden brown grocery bag buried behind the garbage bags and the battered box used to store the camping stove. She slaps Father on the butt. “Is this what you’re looking for, Sherlock?” Mother asks sarcastically, handing over the new package of styrofoam cups to a surprised Father.

“Oh ya! Gracias!” Father acknowledges with a wink and grin. He walks to the stove, picks up the gurgling pot, and pours the steamy liquid in three cups. The warm aroma of the freshly brewed coffee and its tantalizing strings of ascending steam add a cozy touch to the already inviting atmosphere.

Mother takes her coffee, sips, and returns to taming the other side of Pookie’s hair. Grandma finally emerges from the travel trailer with a wide smile, “Good mooorrnnnning!” She walks over to her seat next to the fire, situating herself so that she can see all the bustling. “Who is going to catch a stinky fish?” Grandma asks.

“MEEEEEEE!” Brother and Pookie screech, waking every living creature on the mountain range.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Excerpt from ???? by Mark A. Trujillo

I do not know where I am going with this fictional piece. I had an idea, the words flowed freely, and now it exists. It may become part of a larger effort like a novel or short story or it may stay here forever, languishing in the virtual cloud!  

Police Officer Jared Garcia sat parked on the side of Primrose Road waiting for commuters rushing to work to speed past him. Numerous complaints about speeding drivers down Calle Nortena had been called in and to satisfy the residents, the Albuquerque Police Department ordered him to hand out tickets liberally this Tuesday morning.

He went to sip his coffee when a black Mustang raced by him going 55 mph on the 30 mph street.

He flipped his lights on but was interrupted by a call on his radio.

“Car number 1776 there are reports of screaming and a possible domestic incident near you at 8500 Cedar Creek Drive. Please check it out.”

“Well, this should be more interesting than a speeding ticket” Officer Garcia said to himself.

“10-4!” he replied.

Keeping his lights on, he proceeded east on Calle Nortena and made a left on Bursera Drive. Things looked quiet as usual. Most people were probably on the road to their jobs by now, fighting traffic, and cursing the rat race.

He decided to take the second right onto Cumberland Road since the ruckus was reported to be further up the road on Cedar Creek. He wanted to get a view of the street as he approached. Half way down the road he jumped in his seat, closed his eyes, and turned the steering wheel frantically as he was sprayed with little cubes of glass from his shattering windshield. His car swerved into a curb and and came to a skidding halt in front of a house where he could hear the shower of bullets hitting the side and rear of his patrol car.

Dazed and confused, he reached for the radio and asked for backup, “I need backup now! I’m taking fire!”

Officer Garcia’s car had spun in the street, the front end of the vehicle facing the opposite direction from its original orientation. The driver side was now parallel with the sidewalk. He could still hear bullets peppering the side of the car and realized that he was a fish in a barrel. Getting out of the vehicle was an absolute necessity.

As he peeked over the passenger seat a bullet ripped through the back windshield and Officer Garcia let out a yelp as the bullet grazed the right side of his head spewing blood down his cheek and spraying the driver’s seat.

He ducked, unclipped his side arm, and stayed low. The shooter or shooters must have had to reload because there was a second of silence. He reached for the door handle, pushed the door open and rolled out of the car. As he did so, he could hear the sound of more sirens approaching. On the radio he heard, “Car 1776 are you there? Please respond!” as another round of shots were fired in his direction. He quickly bear crawled to the front of the car as bullets kicked up concrete from the sidewalk. Once behind the car he felt safer and tried to look over the hood and through what was left of the patrol car’s windows to find the location of the shooters.

“This isn’t a domestic violence incident!” he thought to himself.

A bullet smashed the radio and another patrol car turned the corner. As it did, it was met with same amount of fury. Officer Garcia looked in horror as the other patrol car spun out in front of him and came to a stop. The officers inside quickly came out of the car. The passenger was quickly gunned down and the driver climbed out and quickly crouched down to avoid being killed.

Officer Garcia assumed the gunfire was coming from the north of the street and saw two shooters approaching, crouched down, and ready to resume their attack. He stood quickly and fired off two rounds from his Glock 22. The shooters stopped their advance and concentrated their fire on Officer Garcia. As they did, the other officer got off a few more shots but was quickly neutralized by a bullet that came from a different direction, snapping his head back as the other men returned fire. The officer took another round of bullets through his chest as he fell to the ground.

“Shit! A sniper!” Officer Garcia thought. He desperately needed more firepower and he needed it now!

He could hear more sirens approaching. He stood up again and fired four rounds at the men. One ducked as the terrorists were peppered by black asphalt from the street from Officer Garcia’s bullets.

A burning, searing pain shot through Officer Garcia’s arm and he went down in a heap as he dropped the Glock onto the street. Officer Garcia looked at his right arm. There was a gaping hole in his uniform sleeve and bright red blood streamed out, drenching his right arm.

“Fuck!” he screamed.

He quickly searched for his sidearm and found it to his right. He strained to reach across his body with his left arm to retrieve the Glock. As he went to pick it up, he saw a black boot next to the gun. He looked up into the eyes of a masked man and more disturbingly, into the dark barrel of an AR-15 rifle.