Beauty and A Life Well Lived


September 29, 2006
4:34 pm


I was walking in Midtown and I could feel the impending seasonal change in the air. It was mild at night and warm during daylight hours, but you could feel this strange underlying coolness. Even in the midst of the heat. Strange I know, but I know what I’m talking about. Maybe it was the annual drop in humidity; maybe it was just me exercising my right to be completely neurotic, but I think had I been in a darkened cave and lost track of time and dates, I could emerge from said cave–feel the atmosphere and I’d know it was late September in Houston, Texas.

Yep–without doubt, I love this time of year. The leaves on the trees are starting to turn brown–and not just from the heat and the pollution that’s belched into the ether by all the petrochemical plants SE of of the city. No, the Fall was starting to fall and this was my time to re-energize. Some people find their Zen being blossoming along with the flora in the Spring; others are silly mad and crazy Summer freaks-the heat compels them, but not me. I love the Autumn and that’s why I start getting antsy and excited in late August because Labor Day kicks off the official Fall Holiday season….

Followed by:

  • Rosh Hashana
  • Halloween
  • Veteran’s Day
  • Thanksgiving
  • St. Nicholas’ Feast Day (ONLY relevant if you’re Catholic and Slavic)
  • Hanukkah
  • Kwanzaa
  • Christmas
  • New Year’s

Busy time.

And I should also mention that it’s football season (HUGE here in Texas) and that alone is enough to generate part of that electricity I feel in the air this time of year.

And these are the reasons I tend to get out more in the Fall. Well that and the fall is far less oppressive than Houston summers and that was the reason I was walking in Midtown. I think a lot when I walk. A million potential stories run through my gray matter, especially if I see interesting looking people. And in Midtown–which lies in the shadow of all the downtown skyscrapers–interesting people abound.

I looked up and saw this woman sitting in a stoop. The word “colorful” doesn’t really begin to describe her. She was a living, breathing spectrum of refracted light comprised of more hues than in the famed Crayola “box of 64”!!!

For me, she wreaked of fascination. I felt this strange need to know her…this…this “vision” in fuchsia colored stretch pants, a maroon sweater, neon yellow vest with with fuchsia, black and purple flowers; four thick silver necklaces, silver chandeliers for earrings and the tackiest, kitschy hat made from red silk flowers. To top it all off, she was smoking a cigar.

She noticed me looking at her and said, “Hello woman/child. Out for late afternoon constitutional?”

There was a warmness about her. I looked at her gray/green eyes partially obscured by thick black rimmed, round glasses. They smiled back at me. Her face bore decades of living; it had amazing character. I equated every line; every dermal crevice with an experience…all of them (in my wishful state) had to have been life affirming.

“I’m just running a few errands. How are you today?” I asked.

“It feels great out here doesn’t it? I wanted to come grab a piece of it; so I’m taking a break”.

I looked around at the building behind her. “Do you work here? What do you do?”

She took a long puff from her cigar. “I’m an artist. I paint. The name is Mona. Mona Carter Contreras.”

Her outlandish mode of dress should have been my first indicator that this was indeed, a woman of extreme creative substance.

I introduced myself. “Hello Miss Mona. It’s good to meet you and you’re right. It is a great day. I love this time of year when summer refuses to relinquish her hold on this city. Can you feel it?”

“Oh yeah…I sure can. Life is all about feeling things. God help those that can’t feel! I moved here a few years ago from Chicago. I wanted to live in a place that had no winter to speak of and well, Houston has no winter at all. Not really anyway. Plus, I heard it was a fun place to live. I love nightlife. P-A-R-T-Y!! So far, so good!”

I was taken a back. I looked at her skin; her withered hands; age spots and wrinkles. Every where you looked, all you could think of was the word, “careworn”. Still, I thought to myself, “Right on, Sister. If you can still kick up your heels and get your swerve on from time to time at your age, I can hang with that!

“So, Miss Mona, you sound like you’ve had a great life. Hell, it sounds like you’re still in the midst of a great life!”

“Oh yes Lady Bug I have fun. That’s so important. I do believe that my body is a temple….A TEMPLE OF DOOM!!!”

We both laughed.

“I think it’s vital to laugh every day and not only that, you should do what you want to do in spite of societal rules or mores–to hell with all that. Would you believe I drink almost a fifth of Ronrico every day?”

“Impressive!”, I said.

“Rum does a body good. And on top of that, I smoke three to five bowls of Satan’s lettuce–and no seeds-all tops, that you very much!  I also smoke at least one cigar and up to a pack of Camels everyday. Everyday, I tell you! I drink two pots of strong, black coffee by noon. I eat Xanax and Ativan like Pez, but even so, I hardly ever sleep and to top it all off, I eat nothing but junk food 24-seven!”

“Wow!” was all I could say.

This woman was amazing. Her epitaph will no doubt read, “Here lies a woman who really enjoyed life”. For a few fleeting moments, I envied her. I thought to myself, when I’m in my late 70’s, I hope I’m this alive with no sense of regret about anything. Mona Carter Contreras dared to live her life doing what she wanted. How incredibly audacious; how incredibly bold!

“Miss Mona, I gotta tell you, I think you’ve done it right! Life is meant to be enjoyed!”

“Damn straight, my new friend. Damn straight!”

“You are an inspiration to me. You really are. Do you mind if I ask you how old you are?”

She looked at me in the eye and responded with a smile, “Why, I’ll be 25 next March!”


I stood there for a few seconds–my face frozen in the same expression. I said nothing as I reached into my purse. I then walked over to nearby a trash can where I threw away a half eaten bag of Cheetos….


And a joint.



  1. I have a Miss Mona in my life. His name is Uncle Fuzz, my mom’s oldest brother. Think Elvis, in his early 70’s, slim, long thinning hair, joints a plenty, 4 ex-wives, 9 kids, undetermined number of grands, wears jerseys cut off at the waist with no sleeves.

    He’s lived his life on his own terms. I hadn’t thought of him in a long time until now. Thanks, I think I’ll look him up.

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