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Real People

The New Mexico Mustangs, the newest franchise of the North American Hockey League (NAHL), is a Junior A Tier II ice hockey team.

Hockey is back

—Margaret M. Nava

When the owners of the New Mexico Scorpions announced their team would not take the ice for the 2009-2010 season, local hockey fans feared they had seen their last hat trick, power play, and penalty box. Even though the team had won the Central Hockey League’s Southwestern Division Championship in 2007 and gone on to the Southern Conference Championship, the ownership group was unable to secure enough investors to make another season possible. But, lo and behold, just when it seemed all the shin guards, facemasks, and pucks had been put into cold storage, a new team came on the scene.

The New Mexico Mustangs, the newest franchise of the North American Hockey League (NAHL), is a Junior A Tier II ice hockey team. The NAHL is the largest USA hockey-sanctioned Junior A circuit, with 26 teams representing some of the nation’s emerging hockey markets. The principal purpose of this developmental program is to prepare young athletes for career advancement, either in a collegiate program or a professional opportunity. What once offered a fleeting chance at a collegiate scholarship and a trip to the “Red Barn” (Olympia Stadium, where the NHL Detroit Red Wings played their home games) over the last thirty-five years, the NAHL has evolved into a proven pathway for young adults between the ages of 16 to 20 to develop into outstanding collegiate and professional players, while playing in some of the nation’s state-of-the art facilities. The ranks of NAHL-pedigreed players in the NHL include some of the game’s brightest stars like New York Islanders netminder Rick DiPietro, Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, Los Angeles Kings defenseman Jack Johnson, Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane, and Vancouver Canucks forward Ryan Kesler.

Made up of twenty-five young athletes, the New Mexico Mustangs play in the NAHL’s South Division against the Texas Tornado, Amarillo Bulls, Topeka Roadrunners, Corpus Christi Ice Rays, and the Wichita Falls Wildcats. Head Coach Bill Muckalt says, “It’s extremely competitive—we’re trying to put our players into Division I college and also into National Pro hockey. It’s a developmental league and it’s amateur, the players aren’t considered professional, so they can still go to NCAA Division I schools.

“None of our players are local. We’ve got players from Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, New York, California. We recruit and scope players from all over the country. We go to the Midget Triple A Showcase and the High School Showcase. Even though these kids are from different parts of the country, they like playing in New Mexico. They like the Santa Ana building, they enjoy working out at the Sports Clubs on Southern and Unser, they love the climate and the atmosphere—it’s all good.”

Because the players are from out of state, they billet with local host families, and the five players that are still in high school attend Rio Rancho High. Muckalt states, “One of the unique things about our team is that we don’t practice during school hours. We practice after school, but it’s pretty strict, pretty disciplined. It costs more money to rent ice during prime times, but we’re here to give the kids the best opportunity, and school has got to come first. The kids have to make sacrifices and commitments, and their social life takes a back seat to hockey and school. It’s a real positive experience, and the kids are all excelling. We monitor their grades, and if there’s a situation that requires our attention, we handle it.”

Coach Muckalt says the major difference between the game the kids play and professional hockey is that the kids don’t get paid. “Other than that, the game is competitive, it’s intense, there’s the usual fighting, and the guys love the game and have fun with it. We’ve lost a lot of tight games, but we’re right on the cusp. I like where our team is going. We’ve got probably the youngest team in our division, maybe even in the league, but we get better every time we play. This is our first year, and we’re excited about where we’re headed.”

Unlike the Scorpions, the New Mexico Mustangs haven’t won any championships yet. In fact, following their early November games, they were last in their division and ranked 24th in the league. But Coach Muckalt remains positive. “We’re an expansion team playing in the hardest conference in our league, but we’re in every game… we’re right there.”

And you can be, too. The New Mexico Mustangs home games are played at Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, and although the season is almost half over, there are still more than thirty games (including 14 home games) to be played. Ticket prices range from $10 to $20, and most games begin around 7:30 in the evening, almost always on weekends to minimize conflicts with schooling. If you get to the game early enough, you can tailgate with other fans in the parking lot (highly encouraged) or maybe even get your photo taken with Diablo, the Mustangs’ mascot.

For more info, log on to, or call (505) 891-7345.

Nice but not good: the art of spotting narcissists

—Judith Acosta, LISW

A woman recounted to me a marriage of alternating abuse and abandonment. I asked her how she’d met him and what led her to marry him. She said so innocently, “He was so nice then.” I can’t count how many times I’ve heard that.

Admittedly, I was taught to be the same as a young woman. Women in general are raised to be nice and respond to those who are nice to us. I distinctly remember my aunt telling me, “Nice girls don’t speak like that.” (I had entered an adult conversation with a strong opinion of my own and called an elder to task on his point of view.) And I can’t tell you how many times I put myself in danger because it wouldn’t have been “nice” of me to walk away from a man who was trying to talk to me, even though I knew in my body that something was terribly wrong. I was very lucky. Not all are.

We can all remember being told that someone we knew (or knew of) had gotten in trouble, been arrested for drug use, or in some way found with their pants literally or figuratively down. And we can all remember saying, “How could that be? He was so nice!”

We can all recall the television interviews of neighbors and coworkers after some ghastly disaster sends them all reeling into the streets with their pajamas on, some shooting spree or child molestation. And all of them have the same comment: “I don’t understand it. He was such a nice, quiet guy!”

Bundy was so nice, women got into his Volkswagen, ignoring or failing to even notice that there was no front seat. Charles Manson, psychotic that he was, still sweetly lured the innocent and isolated into his cache of horrors.

What’s Nice? What’s Good?

Over coffee, my friend and colleague, Kevin Rexroad, M.D., attempted to define the terms. Even though I’m a psychotherapist and Kevin’s a psychiatrist, it wasn’t as easy as we had expected. We had both had recent personal experiences with narcissistic individuals who made the difference vividly and viscerally clear, yet it was hard to quantify.

“With nice,” he mused, “it’s usually so nice that a part of me knows it’s too nice to be true. Good is different. It has a more obviously average quality about it.”

I defined that further. Good is humble. There is no pretense. No boasting. No need for approval or accolades. It does what it does because it seeks to do the right thing. Period.

So, on a rather large Starbucks napkin, I drew two columns.

Good People

  • They understand the battle against evil but never take pleasure in its defeat, rather sadness in its necessity.
  • They have consistent integrity.
  • They say what they mean and mean what they say.
  • Good men and women are warriors of a sort. They do not tolerate injustice but also do not seek to punish or exact revenge.
  • They are temperate of mind and heart.
  • They have substance.
  • They are responsible in that they respond to others.
  • They are appropriately (not helplessly or cunningly) selfless.
  • They are empathic without being passive.
  • There is no pretense in them, and they are willing to be good without seeking approval or awards of any kind.
  • They are the last ones to see themselves as good and definitely the last ones to tell anyone they are.

Super Nice People

  • They are “charming.”
  • They interact with a pseudo-intimacy, behaving as if they’d known you personally for years.
  • They engage you on their terms only, even if you don’t realize it.
  • They can seem very passive and quiet.
  • They relate to you on the surface and let you in only so far.
  • They do not respond to your needs but gloss over them in a way that makes you wonder what you needed that for.
  • They are very intent on pleasing others or ingratiating themselves into a social network.
  • They need to maintain a persona or a position in a social circle at all costs because how they are seen is more important than who they are.
  • They manipulate.
  • They are like perfume—very sweet but often used to cover what is deeply offensive.
  • hey have no compunction about lying to get what they want, so long as they are nice about it.
  • And they will inevitably tell you how good they are.

As I wrote that last one, I told Kevin, “I know one woman who is constantly telling me (and anyone else who will listen) how humble and spiritual she is.”

He called her statements “self-contradictory.” But only someone who is paying attention can see that. It stunned me to think of how many people actually took (and continue to take) her at her word without taking the time to look and see the incongruity of a person boasting about their humility.

As we scrolled through the list, we realized that almost all sales were based in “niceness.” “It’s like the old pharmaceutical reps,” Kevin recalled. “They’d come in and give you a pen and be super sweet and figure you now owed them something and had to write scripts for whatever meds they were selling.”

In The Gift of Fear (1997) Gavin de Becker wrote, “Charm is another overrated ability. Note that I called it an ability, not an inherent feature of one’s personality. Charm is almost always a directed instrument.” (Pg. 66).

He suggests we see charm as a verb rather than a noun or adjective, so that instead of a man being so charming, we can see him as trying to charm us. De Becker likens niceness to a decision and warns us that it is not the same as a character trait. It is a strategic form of social interaction. Niceness is conscious and deliberate. It is a social skill that is turned on and off, a vehicle for self-enhancement. Niceness is persuasive.

Perhaps it should not go without saying that a nice man may in fact be a very good man. Not all charm is a cover for sadism or cruelty, although very often it is. Good and nice can coexist. A good man may be quite charming and engaging. But not always. Only in the right circumstances and for the right reasons. In the choice between what is right and what is “nice,” a good man will choose what is right. He knows that true goodness is a grace bestowed in brief moments. Sometimes a good man will say and do things that may offend, hurt someone’s feelings, or even lead to battle.

I imagine Chamberlain thought he was being quite nice with Hitler. I don’t believe anyone in Czechoslovakia would have thought it was very good.

Narcissism and the Niceness of Wickedness

Nice can’t be discussed without at least mentioning narcissism. This is especially the case with unsolicited and seemingly inappropriate niceness.

Narcissists are very nice until they don’t get their way. They are great charmers and can get most people to do and accept things that they wouldn’t in their wildest dreams imagine themselves doing or accepting. Narcissists are often very adept con artists.

Narcissism, in psychotherapeutic parlance, is a term used to indicate a superficial personality type with a hyper-inflated sense of self to compensate for a grievously wounded core. Narcissists need a huge amount of support and reinforcement or applause to feel that they have any existence at all. These are people you will often find in the media, in Hollywood, in politics, in positions where they are leading, lording over, or performing for many people

We may understandably expect them there. But we will also find them in car dealerships, in schools, and in our neighborhood associations because a narcissist is simply someone who puts himself in the center of the universe and fully, comfortably, and syntonically expects you to do the same for him.

As a result, what they want is paramount in any relationship—intimate or fleeting. They are people who don’t accept “no” for an answer easily because it so threatens either their plan, their sense of self-worth (which is actually quite flimsy), or both. In order to keep things moving where they want them to go, they will manipulate with sweetness and charm. If that doesn’t work, they will lie. And if that doesn’t work, in many cases (though not all) they will rage. Sometimes that rage is malignant and can result in profound emotional or bodily harm to others.

An example of emotional harm is a simple story: Jane was once married to a narcissist. The ex-husband, Charlie, regularly demeaned and verbally abused Jane while they were married. He cheated on her. He had literally no empathy and no respect for her needs. This continued past their divorce. Some years ago, Charlie had their son call Jane to demand that Jane let Charlie and his new girlfriend stay at her house until their new home was painted, knowing that Jane was terrified of losing the affection of her son. She allowed herself to be manipulated and humiliated this way because she was made to feel like the perpetrator every time she tried to say no. Unlike narcissists, people who are trying to be good often have consciences and more highly developed senses of guilt.

An example of physical harm is something we hear about nearly every day in the news. It is a particularly malignant form of narcissism that extends into sociopathy or psychosis. A woman or child is abducted by someone who looked so “normal” or seemed so “nice.” They are deliberately and skillfully lured in with requests for help, invitations to look at a puppy, or by making small talk and not letting it end in a normal fashion and pushing themselves on people who are timid or afraid of hurting someone else’s feelings. As de Becker points out, narcissists do not accept the word “no” because they need control.

It was about a week after the terrorist attack in New York. I was walking my dogs—two large and not terribly benign rescues who loved me and were initially cautious with everyone else—down the small, winding street that led to our home. It was not a through street, so strangers were usually quite noticeable.

It was 7:00 a.m. when a man in a silver Jaguar pulled in front of us at a diagonal, blocking our passage. He stopped and got out of the car. A sheep dog was in the back of the car with his paws on the top of the seat peering out at us. The man walked toward us, wearing an FBI hat (ridiculous looking) and a silver running suit. At the time, I was working with an NYPD group (POPPA) as a counselor, and I immediately committed his license plate to memory.

I put my hands forward in a “stop” position as my dogs started barking and twitching. He didn’t stop quickly enough, and I knew something was amiss.

“Hi there!” he chirped sweetly. Anyone would have said he was being quite nice. “I just moved into the neighborhood, and I was hoping we could get a play date for the dogs...”

He would’ve kept talking, and he was slowly moving closer and closer. Amazingly, my two barking and animated, 80-pound dogs didn’t deter him. So I did.

“Get back in your car now. They’re not friendly, and neither am I.” (Actually, they were both quite friendly with people they trusted. They were clearly on alert.)

“You don’t have to be like that!” he said and nearly pouted, trying to make me feel awful for hurting his feelings and rejecting him.

“Yes, I do. I’m warning you. They don’t take to strangers.” I moved forward with them and slackened my leashes so the dogs could lunge forward.

He stomped off after he gave me a tongue lashing for being rude. Mind you, I didn’t feel all that good about being “rude” at all and wondered for a day or so whether I had been too quick to judge or if I was just plain ol’ mean—until I found out that his plates were from a town about 100 miles away and nowhere near where we lived. So much for welcome to the neighborhood! If he had not been looking to perpetrate some harm, he would never have been so indignant about being told “no.” If he had been a good man, he would have realized he’d overstepped a boundary and apologized (and meant it).

Narcissism is unfortunately one of the marks of success in modern Western culture. If you are sufficiently self-important to be important to others, you’ve made it. You’re on the cover of Time or People or Us. (Ironically, for a narcissist there is no “us.” It is the epitome of the royal “we” in which their “I” includes everyone else.)

Sounding the Cultural Alarm: Discernment

In 1940, C.S. Lewis was already sounding the alarm about this radical change in modern society. He stated emphatically that kindness (or niceness) was not the measure of goodness, just as apparent cruelty was not the measure of evil. For as Russ Murray points out in his blog, someone can be quite nice and have the most base of intentions, citing as an example how Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Doctors do the opposite all the time—they reset broken bones, suture ruptured skin, and remove decayed teeth using methods that sometimes cause awful (albeit temporary) pain in order to facilitate proper healing. Is it nice? Hell, no. Is it good? Until we have better means, yes, it is very good.

Because our culture puts such a premium on niceness, charm, and pleasure, ordinary, good people are put at a disadvantage when it comes to discernment. A narcissist can appear quite innocent because she has so mastered the technique of ingratiation, so much so that she can make you feel that you have somehow committed a terrible injustice by denying her X or Y or Z as she positions herself as the victim.

As Gavin de Becker points out, this failure to see behind the mask of niceness can make the difference between life and death. Worldwide, the crime records attest to the danger. A woman who can’t say “no” to a nice stranger’s unsolicited offer to escort her to her car at night, even though she doesn’t like him, may wind up filing reports of assault, rape, and attempted murder. This is not to blame the victim, rather to point out how charming that charm can be and how carefully we need to pay attention to the differences.

So, what does a person do? How do you tell the difference?

When I teach Verbal First Aid to emergency workers, a communication protocol used to facilitate healing in traumatic situations, I ask them what they think their most important tool is. Inevitably, the hands go up: the defibrillator, the oxygen tank, the Jaws of Life.

I tell them: “No. Your most important and most healing instrument is you.”

What makes them—or any of us—healing is at least in part what makes us good: the ability to develop rapport, our integrity and compassion, our benevolent presence and support. To be healing (or good), one must respect the patient (or person) before him and do what is necessary, even if it is not “nice” to deal with the disease or the injury. Part of what is necessary in Verbal First Aid, of course, is dealing with the patient honestly and with a gentle, but firm authority. Manipulating and healing are mutually exclusive.

The Bible defines goodness for us as “an inherent rightness of being.” It never, ever mentions niceness. It never equates it with beauty or talent. It never, ever mistakes it for showmanship. (Moses himself had a lisp and timidly refused his mandate by God to lead the Jews out of Egypt.) If anything, it warns us from the very beginning to beware of pretense.

We can start to tell the difference by remembering that there is a difference.

Drew Henry and family

Las Placitas Presbyterian Church says bienvenidos to Reverend Drew Henry

—Betsy Model for the Signpost

There’s just something very special about a good, old-fashioned “y’all.”

Especially when the words are accompanied by a rich, southern drawl—something most Placiteños don’t hear very often unless you want to count the occasional quasi-southern accent heard by Texans flying through at 20 miles over the speed limit in search of blue skies, white powder snow, and chefs who really understand what to do with a green chile—the term “y’all” is warm, inviting, and intimate. 

Strung together into one syllable, the word “y’all” is just plain inclusive and welcoming, and it’s bound to be heard a whole lot more in and around Placitas since Las Placitas Presbyterian Church announced the addition of a new pastor, Drew Henry, to their congregation this past month. 

Moving to Placitas in mid-January from Birmingham, Alabama, Reverend Henry will be bringing a healthy dose of the American South to Placitas—he’s a Selma, Alabama native—but also the influences of many years spent in Latin America and at various stations around the U.S. 

Fluent in Spanish, Reverend Henry spent seven years as a mission volunteer at the Catedral Anglicana de San Juan Bautista in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He arrived there speaking almost no Spanish, but while working with a local congregation that focused heavily on helping the homeless, he quickly learned that he not only loved the Spanish language, he’d found his calling. He completed his graduate studies, a Bachiller Superior en Teología, at ISDET, one of the premier protestant theological seminaries in Latin America. 

“The seminary was very gracious,” laughs Reverend Henry, “because I was still working on learning not only conversational Spanish but proper grammar. They saw something in me that allowed them to give me a chance, but honestly, I was the only student there for whom Spanish was not their first language, and I’m certain there were times when my fellow students and others displayed great patience (in) trying to understand me.”

One person who also went to great pains to understand the American from the south was Tamara, a young woman from Buenos Aires who worked side-by-side with the then-student on some mission projects. Now married for thirteen years, Tamara Henry is a family practice physician, and together they have two boys, Santiago (eight) and Francisco (five), who will be attending Placitas Elementary School once the family relocates in mid-January.

Although only 39, Reverend Henry has spent nearly fifteen years within the Presbyterian church—the last eight as associate pastor at Alabama’s First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham—and brings to Las Placitas Presbyterian Church expertise and passion in a couple of distinct areas: the intersection of faith and money within religion, and creating “mission” opportunities that include not only those needs felt by individuals in far places or who are subject to crisis situations, but also within the immediate community and among neighbors and friends.

“One of the things that immediately drew me to the opportunity at Las Placitas Presbyterian Church,” says Reverend Henry, “was the immediately felt sense of community. Tamara and I felt it within the congregation itself, among those we met within the community as we explored it, but also with what the community has done with things like Casa Rosa (the community’s food bank), the library, and the community garden. This is a community that, when y’all see a need, puts heads together and figures out how to address it on your own front porch. We find that sense of community, that sense of resolve, very exciting, and we can’t wait to move and settle into the community ourselves.”

While none of the family members have lived for any length of time in New Mexico, both Tamara and Reverend Henry have been involved in month-long or summer-long projects in the state in the past—Drew at the Ghost Ranch Center in Santa Fe and Tamara at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu—and the entire family has spent time exploring the Jemez while on vacation.

Reverend Henry admits that he’s looking forward to more explorations within New Mexico—including the hiking trails in and around Placitas—and that the family is quite excited about the move to the American Southwest. 

Based on the equal excitement that the community and the church’s congregation have exhibited towards the family moving in and becoming an integral part of local activities, there’s no question that there are a few welcomes coming up that may begin with bienvenidos, but that could just as likely end with... y’all.

Family Dollar

Our small town welcomes its newest neighbor

—Eric Mack, Writers on the Range

It was the first corporate grand opening this valley had ever seen. On November 4, a Family Dollar store opened here in the isolated mountain town of Peñasco, New Mexico, between Taos and Santa Fe. Since the recession hit, the retail chain has expanded rapidly across the West, targeting small, low-income communities with few downtown amenities. From census data to the “closed” signs on local businesses, our town fits the bill.

Still, there are mixed feelings about the new store. Most locals who’ve been around for at least a few years—give or take a generation or two—admit they’ll pick up a few things there, but they worry about what it will mean for the few remaining local businesses that have hung on. Two years ago, on the same lot where Family Dollar’s neon sign now hangs, the rear wall of our town grocery store fell down, and up until last year, there were no plans to fix it. It seemed destined to join the many collapsed adobes nearby—the forces of time, gravity, and nature all pulling them back to the earth.

About the same time the grocery store went dark, the Conoco station closed, and then the longtime managers of a local restaurant packed it in; they said they were too tired, and the cost of the lease had become too high. Across the road from that restaurant, the three-story shell of a new home stood abandoned, with large pieces of plywood flapping in the wind. Some out-of-stater’s brand-new construction was feeling the downward pull of decay as much as the old adobes.

The thing is, this valley was already in recession and has been for some 50 years since agriculture became a less reliable way to make a living. But while the past few years have been rough, it takes a lot to kill a community—especially one that’s been around since before the Declaration of Independence. The Catholic Church sent off a handful of Spanish families to settle these mountains in the middle of the 1700s, not really expecting them to succeed. But just like the Pueblo people who had already been making homes here in this region for centuries, the Spanish newcomers adapted and survived. More changes have come to this valley since then, including the advent of fences, changes in governments, nationalities, and languages, the wholesale theft of land and natural resources, the arrival of cars, roads, and the Forest Service, and a series of small invasions by hippies, tourists, and Texans—in that order.

Each change seemed to threaten this community’s survival as the population ebbed and flowed. Invariably though, the forces that sought to change this place ended up adapting to it; otherwise, they left. These days, we sport a hybrid combination of languages that seems to fascinate linguists.

Now, change has come again, almost two years after a globalizing economy caused us to lose our grocery store, the Conoco gas station, an ice cream parlor, and a New Mexican restaurant. New management reopened the restaurant at the end of town, where the red chile is getting better, stimulus funds put people to work on a new Forest Service ranger station, someone finished that three-story eyesore of a home, and then there is the Family Dollar, where everything seems affordable. Its steel structure went up quickly, unlike the months of community labor it took to build the aged adobe theater next door. The store’s fresh cement parking lot includes the only proper handicapped parking spots and ramps for miles around.

It’s the latest chapter in a long history. The economic forces that most recently threatened to destroy us have come home to roost, and we learn that—of course!—all we really wanted was to go shopping. Most of us will jump at the Family Dollar’s bargains while trying to continue to support our local businesses. But I also believe we will approach our new neighbor with a certain amount of skepticism, as has been the custom for most newcomers here for centuries. We just never know how long anyone or anything will last.

Eric Mack is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ( in Paonia, Colorado. He is a journalist and media strategist living in the Peñasco Valley of New Mexico.





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