July 4th The “Goddam Fiesta”
I sit in a cloud of my own vapors and struggle with a printer that switches fonts in mid-page. Eddie Q. appears with a younger man in tow. Eddie works odd jobs for the Masons. He has come by to conduct me into a storeroom, where an unused set of shelves resides in the fraternal dark.
“I think I’ll look for something smaller,” I tell him. He’s disappointed that I don’t want the slapdash furniture because he’s a man who likes to please. We get to talking, today’s topic his family’s ancestral ranch near Starvation Peak. I don’t mention the adobe house that I rented out that way for a brief time last fall.
“Oh, out where Indians trapped some Mexican settlers,” is all I say.
“Yes. A wagon load or two coming or going from somewhere,” he clarifies. “They went up there on the mesa thinking they could shoot down on the Apaches. But the Indians went and got the rest of themselves and surrounded the mesa. There was no water or nothing up there so they all died.”
“You know, if they had come down, probably the Indians would have let them all go,” his younger friend theorizes.
“Hah! Better to starve than be caught by Apaches,” Eddie Q tells him. “They killed the men and traded the women for slaves. You know!“ and he makes the appropriate rude gesture. “That’s how my grandfather got my grandmother. He bought her for seventy-five cents. And she was Apache herself.”
His friend frowns.
“Pero, Bro – I tell you: she was Apache. Big! Bigger than me (Eddie is 5’3” and built like a bird) with hair that dragged on the floor when she walked. And good with a knife! One day she was cutting meat for supper and told me to go get the wood for the stove. But I didn’t want to, so I told her, ‘No.’ She told me again and I still said, ‘No.’ I was standing behind her against the door. She turned quick and the knife stuck in the board not a hair from my ear. ‘Next time your ear comes off,’ she said, and I ran. Pero, Bro – I tell you I only saw her mad one other time. My grandfather, he came home drunk, so she knocked him on the ears and spun him around three, four times. But, you know, she was eighty-six and we had to take her to a nursing home. Her hair still touched the ground and was black as a cat. In the night someone cut all her hair to sell. Aiee. We could have killed that person.”
“Did you always live on the ranch?”
“Oh yes, as a kid. Later, when we moved to town, our neighbors burnt the ranch houses down and cut all the trees in the orchard with a chainsaw. They thought they would buy the place for nothing, then. They came over and said to my father, ‘Your ranch is not worth much, but we’ll buy it.’ But even before they killed the trees they stole the apples to sell: our apples had a crooked stem, all of them. I saw one of those people at the market with our apples, so I picked one up and showed him the crooked stem. ‘Thief’ I called him for everyone to hear.”
“Always keep a bad man on your side.”
“But I wasn’t always so good myself,” he rationalizes. “When I was ten I got a new .22 and went right away and shot eighteen of the neighbor’s goats for being in our alfalfa. My father had to pay for all of them. But this is strange – a boy from our family went to Clayton and met a girl he wanted to marry, and her too. When we showed up for the wedding, guess who was there? Them! What could we do? Now sometimes we have to talk to them, but not much.”
“Kinda like Romeo and Juliet,” muses his friend.
“Yes, you bet,” says Eddie, “except no one got killed, yet.”
Today seems as good a day as any to try out Pancho’s Cafe, so I cross the intersection – carefully. On Friday afternoon, more than the odd driver will be negotiating with a can of beer held under the dash. Pancho’s offers hazards of its own. Abundant flies reinforce Bobby’s admonishment that “No human being oughtta eat there.” Seated in a booth, I swat flies, as do other customers, except for a bald man whose pate provides a safe landing site, like the deck of an aircraft carrier.
An inventory of the decor will have to do. Assorted styles of salt, pepper, and ketchup trinities are present on the red plastic tablecloths. The wallpaper features radar-dish-ear deer in a fantastic western landscape shared with supersonic pheasants. Heavy brown coffee cups and translucent plastic water glasses are stacked in towers on top of the lunch counter.
“Beef enchiladas,” I tell the waitress, then go back to watching flies. An even dozen form a halo above the head of the woman in the next booth, who flips a napkin ineffectively at them.
I have enough cash to pay for dinner. Just enough. I’ve had one sale in four days; a one-dollar sale. An elderly couple and a woman who must be their daughter, fight over the flies. The man is deaf and his wife complains, “I get so tired of not being heard.”
Meat ground so fine that its origin cannot be known, lurks inside tough corn tortillas. The woman who is unheard, comments, “The beans don’t have much flavor.” I sample the boiled blah brown things: agreed. The green chile contains no pork. My appetite is never discouraged by adverse conditions.
Bobby has closed his junk shop for the day to wait on our corner. He tells me that there was an attempted bank robbery last night. “Some ol’ boy threw a rock through a window. The alarm went off and the cops came and got him. Geez. How dumb can a summa bitch be?”
We are alerted by sirens to the approach of the Independence Day parade. A bile yellow panel truck arrives, painted with what I can only describe as Kachina Vikings; a gang of axe-toting male fantasy figures who rampage across the pricky landscape of New Mexico.
“Good way to start a 4th of July parade,” I mutter to Bobby.
“Fourth of July? This ain’t the 4th of July,” Bobby says. “Just you wait.”
A clot of cop cars, their sirens engaged, enlivens the p-raid. Six beefy officers negotiate the corner with left index fingers stuck in left ears. The crowd of parents and screeching kids returns the gesture in self-defense. An officer standing a few feet away shouts that new federal regulations require sirens to be placed on the front of patrol cars rather than on the top, for safety. Into the sound vacuum created by the retreating police cars rolls a red Dodge pick up truck. A model of the Virgen de Nuestra Dolores sways in back.
“That’s what the parade’s for,” Bobby gestures. “The goddamn fiesta.”
Indeed, the Fiesta Queen arrives, seated atop a barge prettied up with Oz size paper flowers and billowing skirts. Who are the men who wear extravagant purple capes and Chris Colombo hats? No one seems to know. The Anciano Grand Marshall waves from a champagne ‘62 Olds. Men whose bellies dare shirt buttons and pants seams to give way, who cruelly test the strength of their poor horses’ backs, represent the Sheriff’s Department. They have got to be political appointees. Arching over a red, white, and green rendition of the Virgen in the back window of a shark white Chevy, is the slogan, “Fe Unidad & Amor.”
“What happened to George Washington and the Minutemen?” I ask Bobby.
“Geez,” is all he says.
Post parade, I hike across town to the old plaza, to listen to Mariachi music played by blonds, an activity that occupies two minutes, then follow a stream of kids to a carnival set up behind a row of shops. It’s a small affair of six or seven rides and as many games of skill. Predictably, the patrons are local mestizos and the carnies are opportunistic Anglos.
Young men strive to dislodge beer bottles set in a wooden rack, by hurling baseballs, but three Little Leaguers cannot be enticed to pitch, afraid it seems, of disgracing their uniforms. The carny shoves dollars into a bulging apron pocket without a break in his productive harangue. Wham, crash! A Bud bottle explodes but the kid’s second shot fails.
Pretty people fill the aisles: people with olive skin, hazel eyes, and Indian bones; with sallow skin stretched across sharp Semitic noses, bequeathed by Jews who fled to this particular end-of-the-earth in the 16th century, only to be forced to turn Catholic. Some locals retain the Commanche body, thick as a toad’s, natives who got down off their horses only recently and are not comfortable yet with walking or money, theft and trade having met their needs before.
The carnie’s insults gather the chubby, the short, the shy, and the skinny – little men who will be taking the test the rest of their lives. Fathers watch in agony as their sons pitch and miss. You’ll get used to it, their postures say. A gawky, shaved-head kid becomes the one to walk away with the prize of a cheap stuffed bear. Encouraged, a broad mamma stretches her tight red shirt to shatter one beer bottle with a secure flip. Satisfied, she gathers up her toddler and strolls away.