Miss America Gone Wrong / Full Text

Moved and retitled: Some People are Lost…is now Miss America Gone Wrong

Text is all here, but some tweaking and photos to add…

This blog contains the full text of Miss America Gone Wrong / There She Goes, written by me, Gone Wild, in the early 1990s, when I was temporarily without a home – an unexpected circumstance having to do with grad school and financial disaster. I had a small camper trailer and a truck and five  months between end of coursework and student teaching.

I set off from Arizona, planning to “show up” in August in Illinois, where arrangements had been made with a high school in southern Wisconsin, near where my Dad lived: I was to stay with him and my brother while completing student teaching in order to save money. I then would return to Arizona to teach science.

Who knew? Three years later I was still living in the trailer…

Scroll down – text is in sequence –

Here are links to each chapter, if you get tired of scrolling:

https://gonefreegonewild.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/chapter-1-yuma-to-cheyenne/

https://gonefreegonewild.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/chapter-2/

https://gonefreegonewild.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/chapter-2-continued-may-2-29/

https://gonefreegonewild.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/chapter-3-denver-detour-june-1-6/

https://gonefreegonewild.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/chapter-4-snowies-lander-cody-june-8-10/

https://gonefreegonewild.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/chapter-4-continued-june-13-22/

https://gonefreegonewild.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/chapter-5-pilgrimage-to-yellowstone-june-23-26/

https://gonefreegonewild.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/chapter-6-indian-rodeo/

https://gonefreegonewild.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/chapter-6-continued-july-4-9/

https://gonefreegonewild.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/chapter-7-wyoming-to-illinois-july-10-13/

https://gonefreegonewild.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/chapter-7-continued-july-14-17/

https://gonefreegonewild.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/bomb-goes-off/

https://gonefreegonewild.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/chapter-8-flight/

https://gonefreegonewild.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/chapter-9-santa-fe/

https://gonefreegonewild.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/chapter-10-villanueva/

https://gonefreegonewild.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/chapter-11-the-house-of-ambiguity/

https://gonefreegonewild.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/17/

https://gonefreegonewild.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/year-2-sleeping-with-dogs/

https://gonefreegonewild.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/year-2-may-june/]

https://gonefreegonewild.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/july-4th-goddam-fiesta/

https://gonefreegonewild.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/year-two-july/

https://gonefreegonewild.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/year-two-august-december/

 

 

Chapter 4 / Continued

Continued (June 13-22) 

13

Performance horses need high heels, the ferrier tells me. “The ones that need to break n’ go n’ get in the ground. That’s barrel racers, calf ropers, you know.” My Lander acquaintances keep their horses on a ranch outside town. Her paint threw a shoe, so we’re up here in the cool sunshine watching the man make a good job of it.

“This angle should match the shoulder angle,” he says as he uses a brass tool to measure the slant of the hoof as it meets the ground, then draws a line with his hand down and forward across the shoulder of the horse. He trims and files the hoof then removes translucent, squeezable material from the underside. “That’s the frog,” he says. “Damage that and the horse is in trouble.”

“Why?” I ask.

“When the horse steps, it pushes the frog up and the pressure pumps blood out of the leg. If a horse stands in a stall too long it can get thrush. The frog shrivels up and it loses circulation.”

“Then what?” I ask.

“Well, you soak the foot in Chlorox, caulk the shriveled area with silicone to make an artificial frog and put a pad on the bottom to protect it. It’ll come back fine.”

“Ho son,” the ferrier says as he starts on the other horse, which balks at having it’s hind leg pulled up at what looks to be an undignified, if not uncomfortable angle.

I decide, for some reason, to get a mule someday. “Mules, the pickup trucks of critters.”

“Say what?” he says.

14

A crowd of people  mill around long rows of picnic tables under the cottonwood trees at a park in Lander. A silent auction for twenty-five pounds of buffalo meat has been announced. Other than that, there are hot dogs, Cokes, root beer, cold cans of Bud and ice cream to eat. Costumes worn by some of the mountain men participants are pretty half-baked, too.

The silent auction is followed by an out-loud auction which commences with an offering of stones painted to look like owls. I wander away. One of the mountain men, whose teepee is in camp set aside across the stream, works for the town newspaper. He’s amiable, talkative about anything of interest to him and bald as an eagle under his fox pelt cap. He made his deerskin shirt and leggings himself and his feet are tucked into beaded moccasins. He smokes an “all natural mix” in his antler pipe, which smells nice. Tobacco is considered unnatural, he tells me.

A section of cottonwood tree has been set up so that the face, which has been painted with target circles, is about three feet off the ground. Men, boys and a couple of women throw hatchets at a three by five card held in place by thumb tacks. As the game of tomahawks or just ‘hawks’ proceeds, it’s easy to forget the lawn chairs, the aluminum table covered by a cheap blanket, the mix of costumes and street wear and the lack of skilled contestants, because everyone is having great fun. Three members of a fractional Indian family hurl insults in English, Spanish and Shoshoni at the throwers, hitting their marks because they know them well. One man, who has a harelip, wears a Tom Mix hat, a beaded vest and pretty, blue-beaded moccasins, finds the concentration to ignore their jibes. He throws insults back at the trio in a high, whining voice then splits the card in three places, three times. He looks pleased that he’s won.

Two men dressed as cowboys display the clean angular features that belonged to men of the Old West, at least in illustrations. The younger is blessed with smooth, perpetually blushed cheeks, the elder with leather worn skin deeply creased at the corners of his eyes; his mustache is like a palomino’s mane. They stand with arms crossed and look along their straight noses at the fractional Indians who, since the hawk game has ceased, act out, step by cult joke, the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

“The only part of my white heritage I acknowledge is the Scotch and Irish,” the young man says. His face is wide and flat with a pointed nose and chin, like a badger’s, with amber eyes like the black dog’s. Two Japanese swords stuck through his belt, a tobacco bag, powder horn, and ball bag hang from it, make it difficult for him to sit in a chair.

“The Celts? Why not the Welsh?” I ask.

“Oh, they’re farther away,” he says vaguely.

“OK,” I say. “Why the Scots?”

“It’s the kilt then,” he says with a burr.

“So, who was the Indian in the family?” I ask.

“Me  mother’s one-eighth you know,” he claims, now speaking as an Irishman. “That makes me one-sixteenth.” When he sees the look on my face he insists, “Indianin’ is a way of life – and I live it.” He chomps on his cheeseburger, dips it in the ketchup and mustard that cover his french fries, and chomps again.

“And your father?

“The bastard’s in South Dakota,” he says sounding now like any kid. “A short guy, you know the kind. He pushed me to go out for sports in high school when I didn’t want to. Wrestling, track, football,” he pauses, “basketball.” He’s short like his father, but his chest is wide and his shoulders slope like a wrestler’s. His thick arms end in thick hands. I’d say he’s eighteen or twenty, but at first I thought he was older because he has a gut and tries hard to please people.

“Is it just swords?” I ask. “Or do you like other weapons?”

“I love airplanes and guns and knives and tanks, WW II stuff, but swords the best.”

“I see. Indian stuff.”

He frowns. “Stop it.”

20

Monumental blocks of sandstone that rest in the bed of the Wind River are seemingly supported by the fragile water. On the opposite bank, embedded in the shale debris which lies at the bottom of a steep skirt of grass, far below the thick beds from where it has fallen, is a single boulder as big as the proverbial motorhome.

The dogs and I descend to a section where a sandbar divides the river’s flow into two glassy sheets. The banks are tangled with bushes and grasses which have gone to seed and with tiny bluebells that grow between rocks. The black dog wades into the slowly moving green water then paddles upstream as he is drawn out into faster, deeper currents. He climbs out, returns downstream and repeats the exercise three times before looking for another alcove to test. I’m supposed to meet my Lander acquaintances at a horse sale above Cody, so I call the dogs and we reluctantly climb to the truck.

The highway, courtesy of the canyon, cuts through successive rock sections named Amsden, Tensleep, Phosphoria and Dinwoody by geologists. Like famous people one has only read about, I meet the Who’s Who of Wyoming stratigraphy. Then the Wind River itself, for no good reason, becomes the Bighorn where it emerges from the canyon into the beautiful red rock of the Chugwater formation.

A highway worker drags a device along the shoulder which rips up sagebrush by the roots to expose the tan earth and its scents. A string of anvil-headed clouds forms on the northeast horizon and massive, violet mountains with a dressing of snow peek over the hills ahead. A hawk glides to the Gipsy music that plays on my tape deck. The spicy-sweet perfume of pervasive yellow flowers sweeps through the truck cab, replaced briefly by the smell of gas wells. The town of Metseetse comes and goes and the highway follows a fertile valley between Tensleep mesas. A solitary grave hugs a fence along a field where horses wade yellow-blush fields of grass and sage.

The horse sale is most likely over by the time I reach Cody at 4 p.m. so I turn west toward Yellowstone instead. On both sides of the valley where I camp, and on to the west, the mountains have flat tops. Snow, which clings to ledges and less-steep slopes, reveals the layered structure of the Absaroka volcanics that form them. A storm rumbles to the north and black clouds expand toward us over the feedlot-brown cliffs, the sky becoming so dark that the mountain face disappears. Thunder echos down the valley. The black dog raises his ears, stares at the sky and is distracted by a fly.

For two hours I disappear to the other world, to the place where the heart sleeps. I return to the sounds of the trailer breathing and laughter, which I attribute at first to the old dog who wanders somewhere nearby. I wake, roll over and doze. The black dog presses my shoulders with his back and we breathe as one.

Outside, the blustery blue world I left is quiet and the sun is golden hot. Two girls wash their hair at a water pump near the concrete outhouses then rinse their arms and legs in the gush of cold water. One stands straight as a statue, her arm raised and curved behind her head, and shaves an armpit. I put on make-up in the rearview mirror and go to town.

21

It’s Father’s Day and my dad is far away. I’m in downtown Cody and as hungry as a hog, so I enter the Irma, formerly Buffalo Bill’s hotel. The sign outside is Art Deco but the dining room is wide and warm and Edwardian. On a richly carved, cherry wood back bar doing service as a food counter, a serene buffalo head stares from the apex of a double scroll. Big, gilt-framed paintings hang high above creaky booths, eclipsing chicory blue wallpaper dizzy with pink flowers.

I’m so hungry that even if there was someone with me I couldn’t talk to them. As it is, the dark room and tiny nightlight in my booth tempt me to doze. Through the front windows I can see a sliver of the buildings across the street, one of which is constructed from the beautiful Chugwater sandstone.

A German tourist translates the menu for two companions.

“Are you folks ready?” the waitress asks. A bit of discussion in German ensues and the man with English skills orders, “The corn beef and sauerkraut sandwiches.”

“No, no, turkey,” the other man says and madam waves that she is undecided. She’ll have to decide without me. I’m gone.

“When did you start running?” He was handsome with his black hat pulled low on his forehead, his Spanish nose bent a little and curls that edged his face. Startled, I answered that I’d been traveling since March. I noticed that his blue shirt was gathered into jeans that fit like a younger man’s and that his black vest stretched over well-set shoulders.

“Hah!” he mocked as he slid an arm around my shoulders. “You gonna stand there and look good, or help us?” I watched his gunslinging partner loaded saddles, bits, bridles, spurs and cowboy miscellany into a thoroughly creased, white pickup carrying New Mexico plates.

“Stand here,” I said.

He removed his hat and rubbed his hair, which was not dense black, but dusty, and perhaps thinning. He handed me a silver spider. “Keep this,” he said. I pinned it on a pocket flap.

“He’s a con man,” someone said. A man with a round woeful face, patchy pink cheeks, and pretty gray eyes, responsible for the show and sale of Western relics that had just ended, seemed to think I’d never met the type before. He was being nice, so I said something benign and smiled. He too wore a black hat but was shorter and bowlegged. I decided that he was more interesting from the back than the front as I watched him walk away.

The insistent beauty of Wyoming waits as my mind looks at other things, at questions that  cannot be answered by the rush of the river, by Venus high in the western sky, or the midsummer twilight. I think about all the country between me and Arizona tonight, about my friends who are mostly secure, well-fed and preoccupied. And about myself, safely, if temporarily, outside it all. My memories are constellations of light, tastes in the dark, smells of dog and plant both wet and dry, clouds of experience in no order, discontinuous. Tears stick to my face. I wipe one away and another comes. I let go of what I can’t sustain, let memory empty itself to make room for the new. The black dog barks sharply. I try to follow his senses with my own, but see nothing. High above us, the Big Dipper floats with handle high, ready to pour starlight on us as we sleep.

22

Crows breakfast on last night’s road kill. I stop at a simple cafe where a mix of tourists and working people read newspapers, feed kids and begin the week.

“How many minutes in an hour?” a dad asks his boy, who kicks his leg back and forth, rubs under his chin with his hand and shifts his eyes to look at a wall clock.

“Fifteen,” he concludes. “Can I have a watch?”

“Maybe for Christmas,” his mom says.

“I want to tell time now,” he insists.

“You’ll get it soon enough,” his dad says softly. “C’mon now, your waffles are here.”

“Can I do the syrup myself?” the boy asks.

“I’ll do it.”

“Are you writing a song or the Gettysburg Address?” a man who wears a champagne color toupe, hush puppies and a shirt with his name on it, asks me.

“It’s a secret,” I tell him. He goes back to reading a Montana newspaper.

A boy who dines with his mom and three other kids finishes his plate and excuses himself to go outside. He comes back and says, “There’s a dog out there.”

“My dog,” I announce. Six kids follow me out and watch as I open the tailgate and shoo the black dog in. Why can’t I remember to close the topper windows?

North of Cody, through an oil field and beyond a refinery, is a trailer home. Four rough pine guest cabins, with green shingle roofs that overhang to form porches, line a ridge behind it. A sheep wagon, a rusty horse trailer, a jeep and a pickup truck have strayed across the hillside and stuck there. There’s a horse and a mule in the corral and a fat brown and white dog on the front porch, where a cowboy singer plays requests for guests who sit in white plastic porch chairs that are screwed down to the deck.

“Too many people was fallin’ off,” someone says as I try to pull up a chair.

“You could build a rail,” I say.

“This here song is about an artist with no canvas who used a cow’s back,” the giant-hatted singer, who also wrote the song, says.

Being ignorant of ranch work I have to say, “I don’t get it.”

“A thief used a runnun’ ‘arn to draw a brand on a cow,” someone says.

“What’s a runnun’ arn?” I want to know.

“Mostly they used a hot cinch ring,” (a circular piece of metal from a saddle that allows one to set the correct snugness around the horse’s chest) a gray-blond man in a tall hat who sits next to me says. “Thieves liked it because they could slip it in a boot.”

“Yip-e-ti-yi-yay, ti-yi-yippy-yippy-yay,” busts from the singer. His wife, who sits in a turquoise naugahyde chair under the trailer’s porchlight, exhibits a rigid posture and a vacant stare like she’s had one too many – songs that is.

“What’s a dogie, anyway?” I ask when he finishes. A cascade of information pours from the men, which I’m inclined to chew on, but not swallow.

“Well, it’s a motherless calf that got a pot belly and the Spanish called it something that sounded like dogie,” the singer says.

“And ya know the ten gallon hat?” another volunteers. “A ‘gallone’ was a band of gold braid on a Mexican’s hat so ten ‘gallones’ was a fancy hat. Someone just told me that here the other day.”

Their talk removes to a gang of new acquaintances who invited themselves to stay for the weekend, one of whom had the personality of a “soil sample,” and whose wife had a face “like a bouquet of elbows.”

“Hey, didja hear how Custer sold his Crow scouts on goin’ with him?” The grey-blond man waves his hand toward the horizon and answers himself, “When we wipe out this village all these horses will be yers.” Everybody thinks this is pretty funny and the group, enlarged by arrivees from town, starts on Montana jokes such as, the three R’s: Readin’, Writin’ and the Road to Wyoming. When sheep, icon of the lonesome (Montana) cowboy appear, I slip off for a much-appreciated shower and return to the deck a grateful traveler.

The lights of Cody look like they emanate from a toy town. Enormous clouds, like those in romantic paintings from an earlier time, pile pink and dreamy above us. In the dim light the people take on the personality of their voices, their shapes are like quiet figures in paintings.

“It’s kinda fun,” he says, when all but three of us have gone to bed, “being an unwed father at forty-seven.” The voices have changed, the laughter has stopped. The darkness in hearts is revealed under the hats, the boots, the talk of trades and money, the jokes.

“My boy committed suicide. He was only seventeen. Now this baby boy comes along. She doesn’t want me to have anything to do with him. ‘My biological clock was ticking and I wanted a kid’ she said. I went over there anyway after she brought him home from the hospital and when I saw him I decided that I’m gonna be his dad no matter what she says. I didn’t do so good the first time.”

A million stars blaze over our heads, scattered to distances we cannot imagine. We journey even greater distances in our minds, as if suspended fin time. 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 10 Villanueva

Villanueva

August 23

The road to the village of Villanueva is rough and narrow and twists through hamlets composed of adobe houses and related out buildings. Scattered lights show in windows and a few people are about, standing by the road or walking along it. Red mud fills low spots and puddles glisten.

A soft wind shakes the trees as we bounce across over-sized and too numerous speed bumps at the entrance to the campground. It takes three circuits of my chosen spot, but I get the electrical post and the trailer close enough to kiss. I can hear a river running feet away and a canyon slope rises dimly behind it. This promises to be a bit of Paradise.

The dogs receive their dinner by flashlight because clouds bar the moon and stars. They finish quickly, then dance by the door to be let inside. The old dog stayed out at the cabin the last two days. The pack of dogs had excavated a tunnel under the house and I found him there, asleep. He got stuck as he tried to crawl out, but I tugged and coaxed him through. I”ll never know what adventures he had: he’s not inclined to tell.

24 

I can see the wide rushing river, muddy from last night’s storm, as it flows across a pavement of cobbles and boulders, see the damp sandy bank as it crushes beneath my step, see the quiet cottonwoods, soft pines and cedar trees, and gray clouds which traverse the narrow sky. What I feel is my aching body. I lie down again after putting fresh sheets on the bed, stare at a map and ponder where to go next, but the future means nothing at the moment. I get up, gather my shower things and fresh clothes but lie down again, unable to face the walk to the restrooms.

“I will not die dirty,” I chant in order to work up strength. A hand-lettered note is taped to the Women/Ladies/Damas sign on the restroom door. “Please Help Conserve Energy, when you go shut the lights & close the doors. Thank-you Your Park Tech Ramon.” I do what I must.

I force myself to eat vegetable soup then lie very still so as not to cause an eruption. A hard wind has carried the clouds away and the door of the trailer swings within the limits of the bungee cord which secures it. Miraculously, I doze for two hours, yet feel weak and light-headed when I awake. I lie down again and wait. My stomach rumbles.

26 

The river at my door is the Pecos. Though clear and shallow today, its water runs deep, red and roily after a storm; its soft banks are like sugar and cinnamon mixed. Sand is dropped on the road when the river floods and road scrapers must clean it away. Much remains. I observe these things and try to enjoy them but my vision is like a TV set that has lost control.

I managed to drive to Villanueva today, a collection of adobe buildings built on a low promontory around which the river bends. The postal clerk didn’t want to take a travelers check toward purchase of a money order, so I waited as he checked regulation books even though a card on the counter explained that travelers checks are good as long as fifty percent of the value is used to buy postal services and items. The exertion of driving had caused me to break into a cold sweat and I regaled him with symptoms while he pawed through big blue binders. In the end he sold me the money order.

“If you want this to go out today you’ll have to go to the post office about ten miles north of here,” he told me. “Our mail goes out on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and you missed today’s already.”

The tightly curving road was marked No Passing most of the way and I followed cars and trucks at ten, fifteen and twenty-five miles per hour through the narrow, sinuous valley. A sign on a gate said, Chiles + Vegetables For Sale. I saw one field of corn and a tiny winery. The oldest buildings, which in form are like two Monopoly houses built end to end, are shut so tightly that it is impossible to guage if they are inhabited. The immense timber doors on an intriguing, maroon stone barn stood open on total darkness, begging me to peer inside, but it didn’t seem a neighborhood in which the wise are nosy. A massive white church is about all there is to San Miguel, where I dropped my letter, settled, as I recall, by Indians kicked out of their tribes for turning Catholic.

On the way back I stopped at a square adobe house, its trim brushed with mint green paint. ‘Grocery’ was painted on a tiny board that hung from an eave. Inside, two people as old as the wood cases, which held very little, blinked at me.

“Do you sell ice cream?” I asked. I wanted fresh meat, but asked for ice cream because they likely had that. The woman grinned and pointed to a forty-year-old refrigerator from which I retrieved a cup of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry swirl and a flat wooden scooper from a box that contained sherbet push-ups, too. No meat.

“Do you sell fresh meat? Hamburger, pork chops maybe?”

“Oh no, no,” she said. Her glasses glinted up at me and she looked a bit frightened: she crept closer to her husband who coughed and said, “Oh, no, no,” as if he’d hidden the meat and was afraid I’d force him to show me where.

What the devil? All I’d found at the store in Villanueva, besides crackers and such, was hot dogs and cheese. “Where is meat sold?” I asked.

“Otre store,” they said, while making emphatic motions down the road, but there was no otre store.

Camping in a canyon means that the world is infinitely black two-thirds of the way up the sky. Lightning flashes beyond the canyon wall to the northeast like someone has left a huge TV set on. By the time I let the dogs run then scoop them into the trailer, the storm has arrived and clouds hide all but the southern stars.

27

“One hundred and seventy-five people?” Oh please no.

“Oh yes? Maybe more? That many of our family showed up last year?” A shriveled woman in a yellow T-shirt and black polyester stretch pants speaks to me, her voice rising on the last word of every phrase as if all her thoughts are in question.

Her husband and three grandchildren roll a gas-fired grill into to my shelter and place lawn chairs to either side. “You don’t have to be alone any more?” she effuses. “It’s fun? Everybody brings their radios, even stereos? And food? It’s a party the whole time?” She opens her arms toward me, the kids smile and grandpa scurries to secure every campsite in the vicinity.

Loudmouthed drunks, blaring stereos and screaming kids fill my imagination. “I’m sure you have a lovely family,” I lie. “But I think I’ll move on.”

“You don’t have to?” she says. “You won’t be in our way?”

My ill stomach bounces up and down as those of my ancestors’ may have when accosted by presumptious diminutive Romans who wanted to party in a sacred grove. Instead of braining this tweeky grandma with an axe I secure the trailer for the bumpy trip to the highway and round up the dogs. Who says humans haven’t progressed?

“We didn’t mean to run you off?” she calls.

28

North of Las Vegas, I find refuge at the state park. The afternoon slips away with the heat and my task is done. The stove ‘hole’ is now a ‘bin’ with the addition of a door and hinged top. The refrigerator compartment is lined with plywood, has a door and two new shelves. Best of all, a new refrigerator is in place, and it cools a six-pack of Diet Coke.

31

I test the roadworthiness of my stomach by ingesting a carne adovado burrito at the Chlorox Cafe in Las Vegas. Roast pork and beentsy red chilis have been rolled up in a Hudson Bay blanket tortilla and buried in gooey cheese. It’s red hot and wow! Halfway through I pause. If I can digest this, I’m cured.

Friends I haven’t seen for years live in Taos and on my way I drive up the Mora Valley toward a pleasant section of the Sangre de Cristos, mountains built partly from brown and black mudstones which account for much loose material in the roadcuts. An open range cattle sign shows an anatomically complete and correct steer in silhouette on a yellow diamond, yet humans on similar highway signs are represented as golf ball-headed, quadruple amputees.

As the valley narrows the road rises between limestone outcrops peppered by uniform, bottle-brush pine trees, the kind that look better reduced to model railroad scale. In the stream creases, willows have turned the color that results from mixing lime and orange Jell-O together. My mother made a habit of doing this, why I don’t know, but it gave me a color reference like no other.

At my friends’ house I find that a fourth child has arrived, a slight girl with opaque black eyes who already commands her world with words. The contentment of life proceeding apace suffuses the household and reassured, I say goodnight. Lightning pops over northern New Mexico and rain overtakes us on the outskirts of Mora where a car swerves off and on the road in a crazy weave through town. While slowing to avoid the drunk, I spy men lighted against a much-painted green wall, inside a barroom bare of comfort beyond a pool table and beer signs.

September 4

Although it’s between breakfast and the lunch hour, the two room Chlorox Cafe is busy. I sit on the side made smaller by the kitchen and bakery and watch the cooks, two toros in dirty white, express their indignation with the waitresses, whose insolence, I suspect, has grown from ordering husbands and children around. They congregate at the pass-through like bad girls who torment priests, but the augurs are bent on the protection of their steamy rituals and abuse the laughing and gesturing women with short bursts of temper, stern postures and dismissal.

One of the waitresses recognizes me, which makes me feel at home. “How are the papas fixed?” I ask her.

“Oh, the papitas – homemade fried potatoes with meat and chili all over them.”

Several postal workers hug a table in the corner, drink coffee and smoke. They look a bit ratty and slightly nefarious. The woman in the next booth, who looks like a female impersonator (not in this town) has teeth which are widely spaced and slightly protruding. I worked for a time with a woman whose tiny, gapped teeth made me uncomfortable because I felt like I was talking to a prehistoric fish.

Four old codgers whose chins graze their table, discuss Arthur-itis while they smoke cigarettes and drink coffee. “On TV they say to take one aspirin every day,” one declares. “You know what my doctor says? Huh? Huh? One every other day.”

“Have you heard about Zacatecas, down in Mexico?” another asks him. “A farmer has a well there and the water has cured all kinds of people, and you know what? He gives the water away: never charges for it.”

Two old ranchers enter the restaurant slowly, creeping along like they might know a thing or two about Arthur-itis. They look like talking chicken necks as they whisper conspiratorially, eye to eye under the brims of their gray hats.

Uh. My jeans are too tight. Reluctantly, I push away the platter of potatoes and chili and finish my coffee. I wrapped the computer in a blanket last night and shoved it under the table so that the hum wouldn’t keep me awake. Sometimes it fails to boot up and I’m afraid to shut it off. I should get to work but decide instead on a long, delaying drive through the non-Cartesian kingdom of New Mexico, where the purchase of levels, plumb bobs, and enough materials to complete a construction job has been banned for centuries.

I arrive late for the Bean Day Rodeo in Wagon Mound but in time to see a black and white bull try to climb out of the chute before the gate can be opened. The metal fence for a quarter of the way around the arena jerks and a crowd of youngsters who cling to it grab a little tighter. It’s no wonder the ancients worshipped the bull; it’s a terror and a wonder, snot and all.

The announcer, who rides a horse in the arena, chatters over a cordless mike while rodeo hands stuff the monster back into the chute. A black cowboy from El Paso, Texas, rides the bull without mussing his new white hat and receives a high score. He jumps down gracefully and trots past painted plywood signs that advertise rodeo patrons, ranches such as Dreyer, Mora, Daniels, Ocamora, Ty Jones Cattle Company, Ojo Feliz, and Rafter T.

The sun elicits rich, crisp colors despite the fine red haze which hangs in the air and as I look about I wonder if we don’t if we inhabit a magazine layout. Figures in bright shirts and white hats hang over the rails, lost in the expanse of plains to the east. Pick up trucks and cars churn up soft earth for wind whorls to carry away.

“Andalay,” someone yells as a cowboy, courtesy of his horse, shoots after a steer, but his loop never leaves his hand.

“The only thing this cowboy is going to take away from Wagon Mound is your applause. Let’s here it,” intones the announcer. A surge of wind carries away the weary formula with the dust.

11

“Why don’t you come with us?” a man wearing corduroy shorts, a polo shirt and athletic shoes asks, so I climb into a mini-van with him and his wife, a strawberry blond who models a denim dress decorated with glass studs. Their brand new trailer, outfitted with a generator, electric jack and automatic leveler, is parked uphill from my aluminum can.

The woman is apologetic when I ask where they live, whispering across the head rest to me in the back seat, “We’ve been traveling since January and don’t live anywhere.” Hmm. They’re well-off, homeless, and too young to be retired.

“We managed a hotel in Denver,” she says as we schuss down the mountain toward Santa Fe, just like stars in a Chevy commercial, then adds, “out by the airport,” when I tell her that I once lived in Denver myself.

“We’d had it with working seven days a week plus night duty,” the man inserts.

“We resigned our positions and bought the trailer the same day,” she says brightly. “The dealer wanted $10,500.00 but since it was winter we got it for $6,000.00 – cash.”

“We decided to spend the spring season skiing so we headed for Vail but the engine in the van blew on the way. That was another $3,400.00,” he tosses off. “But we did ski until April.”

Dollar signs bobble about in my head, such sums not having entered there in a very long time. The man drops us in thick traffic on the edge of Santa Fe, on the grounds of the city recreation center where we become obstacles around which a stream of locals and tourists encumbered with blankets, coolers and supposed gloom, divides. She mentions that previous to hotel work she was a building manager and I mention former careers in advertising and oil and gas exploration, past lives which provide a link of sorts to strangers now that I have slipped away. The difference is, they’ll go back.

He finds us at length and we march along with the tide of celebrants drawn to Zozobra, a fifty-foot puppet burned each year at this time as a sacrifice to gloom, courtesy of local Kiwanians who turn the gate receipts into scholarships. Will Shuster, a Santa Fe artist, conjured up the big puppet in the 1920s as an objectification of collective anxiety, a burrito of light psychic cares which when consumed might at least make for fun.

We girls settle on a blanket on the playing field while the man wanders to take snapshots. She reveals, again whispering, that he has undergone seven heart bypasses kind of like the interstate system around Fort Worth/Dallas.

“That’s really why we quit and decided to travel,” she admits.

“He looks so fit,” I must say. And he does, slender with a neat, gray beard. I’d guess that she and I are about the same age and that he is in his early 50s.

“Now he is, after he lost ninety pounds. I watch what he eats and he exercises every day. To tell you the truth I’m kind of scared. I lost my first husband, too.”

The man rejoins us and I stare at the redeemed one and his frightened wife. The sun slides away and still Zozobra waits. His white gown lifts in the wind, his oversized, finger-pointing hand drifts at the end of an articulated arm, his big ears and pink grin mock us. Someone in the enormous crowd begins the chant, “Burn him, burn him,” but nothing happens for a long time. When the sky is at last dark we are further frustrated by the arrival of persons in Spanish costume, hordes of bodies covered by white sheets, and a troop of dancers in spangled red and blue stretch suits who descend the stone ledges before Zozobra. The puppet waves its arms and points comically at the crowd then gains a groaning voice, like a rusted ship rocking at anchor, rubbing its hollow, disintegrating hull on a taught chain. I join the growing chant of “Burn him, burn him,” and the silly, wonderful fun.

At last, fountains of fire erupt below Zozobra, spinning wheels fling flaming brands and rockets go fsst, fsst! into the night to explode in showers of winking color. Bam, bam, bam! Zozobra roars and his pointing finger sweeps the watchers, then, with a whoosh! his head explodes, his pink lips part, and his floating gown is consumed to the last square inch. Fireworks in abundance continue to streak the night until the field of screaming bodies is obscured by smoke.

The three of us make our way off the field, feeling the letdown that comes when something that doesn’t happen often enough, does..

A young girl who walks next to me with several friends asks, “Are you tourists?”

“Yes,” I tell her.

“What do you think? I mean, really. Is it cool?”

“It’s cool,” I concur.

May-June Masonic Lodger

Masonic Lodger

May

West of Clovis, New Mexico, varicose veins of tar crisscross the old highway and sand drifts over the asphalt, sticking in areas like traps on a golf course. Objects seen on the horizon could be something, or nothing. Gray grass tries its roots in the pink dirt and scattered shit-rock buttes add to the monotony. At Fort Sumner, Billy the Kid Aerie keeps the tired legend breathing.

“We’re all hell-bent for a dead end. A true westerner knows it and goes head first.” (Accept uncertainty, have peace of mind.) The man is stoic, but gradually the pain in his leg rises to his face.

“My foot got near tore off when I was a kid,” he says. “I’d get on anything that’d buck or jump.” Formerly a construction worker in Montana, he now sells trashy turquoise jewelry at flea markets.

“I got kicked in the head real bad by a horse this last year. Had two brain surgeries so far, but I still got a ways to go. That’s the end of it.”

There really is a Masonic Lodge

The day is devoted to carrying my Texas auction junk up the stairs to the two rooms I have rented on the second floor of the Masonic Lodge in downtown Las Vegas. Lito, an old deaf (and therefore cranky) reformed alcoholic, who like me, lives in a travel trailer at the state park, helps me with a pair of wooden beds carved in the 1950’s by a Navajo man, in exchange for canceling a debt. The heavy frames don’t come apart and won’t fit into the elevator. Lito and I wrestle my twin mistakes up the stairs, where the irresistible residue of cigar smoke, dust, and resin, and of mysterious goings-on in the fraternal darkness for a hundred years, hits me like a odiferous fossil. It’s time to acquaint myself with the ladies room down a dark hall at the back of the building. White stars on blue bars bracket red letters that spell WOMEN, a colorful sign leftover from WWII, when the USO occupied this floor.

Lito waits on the street by the truck. He sums things up when I ask whether or not he thinks anyone will come upstairs to my shop. “Offer free beer and they will come,” he says.

My first week as a tenant of the Masonic Lodge is over. From the expansive second floor windows I have visual access to the interiors of Monte Carlos, Mercury sedans, and other old white geezer vehicles, which evidently are a cross-cultural hit. Money not spent on mufflers is spent on titanic speakers that erode the peace, the sandstone facade of the building, and the hope that I will adjust to town life. Pancho’s Cafe sits at the catty-corner of the intersection. I’ve never eaten there, the Chlorox Cafe having stolen my stomach long ago. Directly across the street an insurance office occupies a converted gas station, which ought to be torn down.

I putter away, framing pictures I found in an old scrapbook at Bobby’s junk store downstairs, which is hog heaven for a scrounger, which I am. A parade of Saturday afternoon cruisers annoys, and yet, the view from my windows is remarkable; the far horizon is snipped away by buildings that have grown sorry with neglect. East toward the railroad tracks, the cupola of the once sterling and famous Castaneda Hotel, jewel in Fred Harvey’s crown, pokes above the trees.

 

Tonight I make camp as I did in the early days, eschewing electricity as a luxury. Three yellow candles wash my trailer home and natural blue light sifts through the windows. A fine and brief thunderstorm has released the scent of surrounding pines. Cold air pulls me deep under the covers, but in spite of lingering snow patches, it is possible to inhale the first bliss of summer. Man is nature with a will. (And a vengeance.)

June

Several warnings arrive via post from my former bank; urgent red demands that I pay several thousand dollars in loans within forty-eight hours. I lean against my truck, which is parked in the tall pine forest above Santa Fe. Birds twitter; the dog crunches his dinner. At this moment I understand why reservation Indians dumped government flour onto the ground, but kept the cloth sacks to use. There’s a shameless waste of effort in formal life that cannot be comprehended until one is booted out.

The night is deepened by one-hundred foot pines that roar and hush on a scale of wind that bends them from their roots like weighted toys. As vision recedes sound succeeds. A hidden stream subsumes night with ease. My hair is stiff and sticky from a long day beneath my hat. My jeans exhale a cloud of dust when I strip them off. Fatigue trades places with sweet melancholy. The flea market will play tomorrow to a new crowd, without me. I’m worn to a core that doesn’t care about money, but which begs to go home. Can I come home now? The thought occurs along with a half-forgotten feeling, but home is dishes drying on the hood of the truck, coffee heating on the propane stove, and the neighborhood of great pines that sway through remarkable arcs. It’s the natural world that I love; not ardently or fixedly, but as a matter of fact, just as I love my truck, my dog and the trailer.

Actually, my domain overlaps Comancheria; Las Vegas was headquarters not so long ago for an infamous trade territory that has not yet lost it’s flavor.

Officially I reside in Las Vegas, however infrequent my stays. My tire tracks crease the dusty earth, my face has grown familiar to a few. Comings and goings are traditional in a town that has witnessed the treks of trappers, traders, soldiers, Apache, Comanche, cattle drivers, outlaws, and sheepherders. There is a place to go when I arrive, the front door painted with sign of the Masons. For one-hundred years the wide stairs felt the weight of the town’s ruling males whose static portraits line the hallway that carries me to my wall of windows, through which I regard a poor, unimaginative, and lonely street.

The exterior body of stone, the interior beribboned and extravagant woodwork, are as fine today as the day the materials were delivered. The space suits me: light, light and more light, high above the street, the ceilings tall enough for a cloud of thought to kiss, but my rooms remain empty except for an unshakeable tail of boxes that follow me everywhere. There’s nothing more useless than a saddle without a horse, and the Old Maid sprawls on the floor. A few townspeople have ventured up the stairs, making comments such as, “We’ve always wanted to see inside this building, but the Masons keep it locked. “ Many hurry away after becoming delirious over the blond oak woodwork.

I have yet to be here on a night when the Masons meet, but one of them appeared the other day with his wife and asked, “What is this place going to be?”

“A shop?” I ventured, knowing that I’ll be a citizen of the same sort that long ago drifted in and out of town.

Bats cross the fragile dusk. Overhead, jet engines scream. Crickets rasp incessantly. Frogs will join them later. A yellow bird lands on a dried thistle, which stoops under its weight. Much of the grass was missed by the mower and blond seed wands point like windsocks at an airport. Juvenile cottonwoods flash shiny leaves. I sit on the tailgate, luckily alone in a field at the state park outside Las Vegas, except for the black dog, who lies behind me in the truck. We have slunk into place at the tail end of a passing storm, behind a trailing hand of clouds that flexes as if drawn in chalk by an unsure hand. Mosquitos are scarce, the lake mirrors the sky, and magpies travel in a group of four, complaining, from tree to tree. What I craved was a simple formula for living that would preserve time at the core. I eat my third Snickers bar of the day. Why, I don’t know.

 

The black dog and I share an evening of flawless conditions. High above us the crescent moon slices a dust-free blue sky. I repainted the inside of the trailer today. Cleaned the empty fridge compartment and enthroned the freshly-scrubbed ice chest there, since the fridge is now at the Lodge. I like to keep the trailer tidy, so that it’s easy to find things. Old, cranky Lito mentioned that some people here at the park want to sell their trailer, which is bigger than mine. “You should take a look,” he said.

Funny. I couldn’t imagine parting with this one. I see it as an installation in a museum someday, like an Apollo capsule. “She lived in this?” schoolchildren shout in alarm.

A circle of light falls on my notebook from a flashlight perched on my shoulder, like a parakeet: it occurs to me that God is a mother tiger that carries her baby in her mouth, a baby that she could easily crush, but she restrains her giant jaws and carries the little one safely. This is the power of God, and the love of God, that is, if I actually believed in God.

I’m determined not to stir an ounce of flesh beyond what I must to secure a space at the flea market, so at 2:30 p.m. I enroll in the fourth row of waiting vehicles. It’s not a destitute lot that sells here. On the contrary, new Jeep Cherokees and the like are aligned in the hot wind along with beat up cars and patched campers. Santa Fe is an expensive town, and even middle class folk must add to their income by selling on weekends.

Ethnic garb of all sorts is worn by all sorts of ethnics: bright stripes on Guatemalans, peaked hats on West Africans, name brand marked-downs on Californians. Texans constitute a kind of summer occupational force, which is understandable to anyone who has visited that state during summer. A regular contingent from Colorado drifts down. Generally it’s a quiet crowd, as the party-seeking Texans find to their dismay, but we veterans have been matured by experience. Heat, wind, and a long wait, make the conservation of energy a wise strategy.

Once inside, I claim a space on the sand by tying a rope between the two metal posts that mark each territory, then drop a folding table on the ground for added stakes. Now, all I must do is show up before 8 a.m. tomorrow, and endure.

 

It was a slow Friday; few buyers mingled with the cheerful sightseers. I held my own, scraping up sales as if by chance or magic, but more likely it’s my reasonable prices. People come, they give me money. Not much, but enough. Still I fret. Winter will come, and then what? I had planned to save like a dutiful squirrel, but I’m only getting by.

Other benefits accrue. A man asked whether I liked old photographs; he led me to the trunk of his car, where boxes of excellent images baked in the heat. He was anxious to be rid of the lot, reason unknown, but not for money, since he pressed a pile of them on me for twenty dollars. I spent the next hot, neck-reddening hour sorting my hoard. What riches came my way! Young men dressed for WWI and young women for the battle of the sexes. A family of five, each standing rigid like fence posts on the frontier, both anchoring and distorting each other a century ago. Old time wrestlers wearing woolen trunks that fit like diapers; men forcibly men, oblivious to uses of the brain. The stack also contained pictures of locals, those few who could afford a photograph of a confirmation or a wedding. One child bride strangled a bunch of white flowers, as if she must return her borrowed shoes and bit of lace before her new husband demanded supper. Strange twisted faces united a family with no necks: one supple move might have shattered the lot and most disturbing? A preacher flanked by eight Aryan youth gripping Bibles like rifles.

Cortez in a cowboy hat: a compact, muscular, and dignified man speaks a tight-jawed version of English through teeth so perfect that they look fake. He chats with the man who runs the booth next to mine and I know that he hasn’t stopped there to buy anything, because he watches me skillfully, without looking. He leaves, pretending to pass by my booth, but pauses, asking to try on a pair of boots I’m selling, despite the fact that they are the wrong size for him. We size each other up as two healthy animals will; sniff and wag our tails, talk gold, the benefits of free trade with Mexico, and crime rates on either side of the border. Adios! What fool claims we don’t run on instinct? I would follow this man anywhere, preferably on the back of a horse. And I don’t ride.

A man who comes up to Santa Fe nearly every weekend, from a town down state on the Rio Grande, stops by. We discover that each of us knows an unlikable couple who live in his town, which furthers conversation. As for him, he said that his wife left him with two boys to raise and that the youngest just left for the army.

“Now I can do what I want,” he says. “I’m originally from Sweetwater, but I’ll never go back to Texas. Too many Baptists – and Texans are aggressive people.”

I return to my perch on the tailgate and swill warm water. Shoppers trudge past. Embedded in this new world, my old friends, and old life, slip off the face of the earth.

 

Blue moonlight sweeps the great outdoors and candles burn yellow inside the trailer, which for some reason, lists to its left. Crickets, screaming frogs, and crickets. A soft wind comes up and I review my day, suddenly aware that I repeat details just in case I’m asked to write a report some day. A vague sense of extension into a hereafter is all the Christianity left in me, the religion I was born into reduced to a book report on my life. Inside my gypsy wagon the song goes on, telling of an existence so sweet that it dies as it is born.

A nap after lunch lasted the entire afternoon. I awoke from heavy-dreamy sleep to a new world; took a shower, stocked up on snacks at the grocery store, and arrived at the Lodge by 6:30 p.m. It’s impossible not to spy on tonight’s cruisers, even as I punch thoughts into the computer. I’m getting to know a few, especially a long black sedan with jacks that simulate intercourse being conducted in the rear seat. Girls travel in threes, squashed together on front seats like overdressed pumpkins. Beer bottles grow from too many male crotches. A cool breeze fluffs the papers on my desk and I speed up my plonking, mindful that the gates at the state park are locked at 8:30 p.m., thanks to local vandals.

It’s 9:30. p.m. Pork chops and new sweet corn cook on the camp stove. The moon is nearly full and the black dog lies in the doorway, sculpted by its light. Last night coyotes barked sharply in my dreams and I asked them to come closer, just to hear what they had to say. Care is soon forgotten: I live an ‘as is, where is existence’ my energy directed toward providing for myself and nothing more. Words cease: my thoughts are carried out over the waters of the lake and beyond, to headlights that descend the Taos road, north along the interstate to Denver, perhaps to lie amid the clutter there. The dog fusses, wanting a better dinner than dry food, but I ignore him. I ignore everything but the wind and the now: sensation.

A boy appears each night, a spider clothed in black and red: a quick walker. He avoids my trailer by veering to the north, toward the lake, or south along the road, using the opposite path to return. Tonight he slips between me and the shrinking lake. Is he sad, or does he simply love the potent dusk as much as I?

July 4th / The “Goddam Fiesta”

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.