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 8 / Flight

Flight (July23-August 11)

July 23

We lie, as if inside a tomb. The black dog is curled faithfully at my side and the old dog who snores at my feet, are prepared to dwell in Hades should my deeds in the upper world fate us to camp there throughout eternity.

“Get da hell over here.” Funny. The devil sounds like a Chicagoan.

“Don’t talk to da kids like dat.” That’s odd. He has a wife.

The black dog’s foot presses my forehead, nudging me awake. I poke an arm from beneath the blankets and peel the curtain back to check the sky. Pieces of it, which are shaped like confetti, show between the branches and leaves of primeval oak trees, and they are lost-in-the-void gray. Off to the right a campfire smoulders to life as a man and boy feed it wood between doing chores. A sleepy kid dressed in sweats and flip-flops wanders to the water pump to wash mud from the reel on his fishing pole, then fights an imaginary foe with the slight rod like Little John at the bridge. How strange to be hiding mere miles from my father’s house in a park as tame as a suburban back yard.

24

I emerge from the trailer into smoky rituals, into darkness made palpable by fires which burn in humid air. Within the haze are voices and arcs of colored lanterns which appear to have no support in the black forest. By day, children in wet sneakers pursue the mystery of luring fish to their deaths in the shadows of a floating dock. Tiny ones drop chunks of bread into the mat of grass which obscures the lake’s bottom, chunks which are bigger than the silver dollar bluegills that wait below. Older ones parse their ration of worms, drop hooks into the deep and wait.

28

The computer sits on a table in a repair shop in Rockford, Illinois. Its yellowed case looks pretty sad next to a new model that is being prepped. Worse, it’s dead. The technician has just pulled the back panel and as he wipes a finger along the edge of a card, he pronounces it filthy and says, “Give me until morning to see what can be done.”

29

Last night I dreamed that my left leg had been replaced. The new one was transparent, like a novelty telephone, and inside I could see push buttons, colored wires and plastic drinking cups which served to space the assorted gizmos: I phone the repair shop.

“I have some good news and some bad news,” the technician says, predictably.

“Yes?”

“I have it back to running like it was when you brought it in yesterday. What happened was I plugged it in to an incompatible monitor and it automatically shut down. It came back by itself this morning.” The computer lives. I sigh and my heart moves up an inch or two in my chest.

“But,” he continues, “the display is shot and I can’t find any identification on it – and without that I can’t order a replacement.”

“It’s just an LCD screen. There are millions around. How can it be impossible to find one? Aren’t there catalogues? Can’t you narrow it down by size, by type of connector?”

“No,” he says. “It’s stupid, but these things are custom.”

“That’s like saying you get one pair of sox when you buy a pair of shoes and that you have to throw the shoes away if a sock wears out.”

“Kinda,” he says.

“What do I do now?”

“Buy a separate monitor.”

The computer is no longer portable. Its blue screen is black and a great hulking box like a TV set is wired to it. Dinner outside (there is no longer room inside the trailer) comes with an entertainment bonus. I watch my newest neighbor wax the roof of his twenty-seven foot motor home.

30

I hook up the trailer in the rain and traverse homey, not homely land. About fifteen miles east of the Rock River the land goes as flat as a garage floor. Room has been made for a tiny congregation of white headstones where a field of corn meets one of soybeans. Farm houses are white and barns are red. How is such uniformity enforced? The town of Sycamore revolts: two-story houses with wrap-around porches have been bathed in beige, sand, cream and gray paint. It’s as my friend from Cheyenne, who labors unsatisfactorily in Kansas City, said: The Midwest is inconsequential. Cute, but inconsequential. The bacon cheeseburger I consumed at lunch was terrific though.

“Wyoming!” the clerk at the gas station says. “I lived in Wheatland thirty years ago.”

“Wheatland is a nice place,” I say.

“It’s a hole,” she says. “Oh, how I hated it.”

“What was so awful about it?”

“We’d pick up people’s dead animals and sell ‘em for pet food. Where’d you come from?”

“Cheyenne.”

“Now, I liked it there,” she brightens, “at Frontier Days, I mean. We still had to shoot the busted animals and haul ‘em away, but we got to watch the rodeo fer free. Some years it wuz the only fun we had.”

“Really? How’d you get into work like that?”

“Oh, you know. I was just out of college, got pregnant right off, and my husband was already in pet food, so that’s what we did.”

“You did get out of Wheatland, though.”

“Yeah, we went to Greeley, Colorado.”

“Greeley is a nice town,” I say.

“I hated it,” she says. “Oh – It’s just that I was young and too far from home.” She shrugs. “We still make dog food, but I finally tol’ him I wouldn’t haul them dead animals no more.”

31

Outside the trailer a great front of clouds hangs blacker than the night and the mist has condensed to a fog so deep that it fits me like a shroud. The few vehicles parked on a fairgrounds west of Chicago appear like wrecks in the confusion.

“It looks like we’re in the line to hell,” I tell the dogs.

August 1

“Sweetheart, you know what you outta do? Pull into police stations at night and ask to park your trailer there. They’d love it, you being a single woman.” My advisor might be a mannequin for King Farouk. His slip-on beach shoes are tiny in the shade of his belly. “Pretend you’re scared,” he adds with a friendly leer.

“Where do you two stay?” I ask his wife, who sits in the passenger seat of their van. She is dressed casually in white shorts and a T-shirt like her husband.

“We drive at night and sleep during the day in grocery store parking lots,” she answers.

I peer inside the jammed-full van. I can’t see where they have room to sleep. “This is it, then? This is where you live?”

“We have a house in Florida but we don’t live there. Our kids do. Well, they’re his kids, not mine. We just show up, buy them groceries and leave.”

“You’re joking.”

“Nah. We couldn’t get them to leave, so we did,” he explains. “Works out great.”

I go back to the truck and trailer, get out the campstove, set it on the tailgate and boil water for tea. Suddenly I’m aware that the old dog is missing – he has likely wandered off to beg breakfast. I rush through ‘campsites’ where die-hards have pitched tents on the packed gravel, where people rest in lawn chairs, where others sell their wares casually by pretending to rearrange their loads. Sellers search for added stock and early buyers dive on items like ravens on roadkill. It’s wonderfully fun, I decide, and my heart thumps a bit. I’m anxious to get inside and set-up, to sell some of the belongings I hadleft at my Dad’s house over the years, to make money and fly west, but the old dog might as well be invisible in the junk and trucks so I aim for the main road to head him off, if he’s strayed that far, and to search the rows of vehicles from the back forward.

“Have you seen a big dog?” I ask an old geezer who is balanced atop the entrance gate. “Old, slow, and kinda sway-backed?”

“See that delivery truck with the sign painted in red? Think I saw a dog there. Could be yers.”

It is. I run up behind the old dog and shout his name, but he’s tired and confused and it isn’t until I touch his back that he recognizes me.

3

Black and white cows that wait beneath a canopy of trees become restive when a truck and livestock trailer arrive. The driver gets out and fiddles with a lock on the gate. The cows bellow, presumably about their urgent udders; he gets back in the truck and drives away. I bet he forgot the key. I wait at a damp picnic table, without coffee, for the clouds to go away but I know that they won’t. The dogs doze, content to be quiet after a weekend at the crowded flea market. Me too. But it was worth the fatigue I now feel. There’s money to take me west and I need not concern myself with it again for a month. Kansas City, where my friend from Wyoming continues to be lukewarm about his new job, is my intermediate destination.

“The people at the office are so dour,” he complained on the phone last night. “And they run me like I’m a truck.” My friend is a product of the Western notion that nature is a blank canvas on which to paint one’s character. He says things like, “Any native of Wyoming can entertain himself quite well with a wad of paper and a string.” He misjudges what he’s up against in the Midwest, where there can be no pause in the battle against disorder. The belief that those who fight nature the hardest will win the most from it is too hard-held.

Signs hyphenate the blacktop: Florid Road, Poignant’s Gravel Pit, Catfish Buffet->. Avenging grass rips veins in the asphalt around a shut-down factory. A common farm house is made special by three chestnut horses, cut with gold light by the low sun where they graze in the yard. The state road I follow descends a steep hill to the Illinois River bottom, which is narrower than I expected.

There appears to be but one campsite, situated on a grassy oval just north of the Corps of Engineers lock, and it’s empty. What luck, I think, as I circle to place the picnic table between the trailer and the river. A Caterpillar tractor rolls up so I lean out the window and say, “This sure is a small campground.”

“We have a campground but this isn’t it,” says the Cat driver.

“It looks like a place to camp,” I say hopefully. “I want to watch the river. We don’t have big rivers like this.”

“Wyoming?” he notes the truck plates. “I wouldn’t care if you stayed here but it’s not up to me. The Corps of Engineers owns this place. The campground is back up on the rise. It’s nice. Only thing we haven’t got is showers.”

“How often do boats come through? Will I see any?”

“There’s a barge sneaking up on you now.”

Six rusty containers, like really big sheet cake pans with blue lids, emerge from the upstream gloom. A yellow tug drives the six-pack to the east, away from the lock.

“The river is eighteen feet over the dam right now, so of course, he doesn’t need to use the lock,” says the Cat driver.

“Eighteen feet over the dam?” I think of the ankle deep trickle called the Rio Grande.

The Cat driver goes about his business as I walk the river bank with the dogs who wear themselves out chasing moths, birds and invisible things which call from the corn. Tiny sharp-winged birds, with white bellies and black backs, skim the water and inhale rising insects. Two boys try for catfish. A man drives up, walks his dog for thirty seconds, and leaves. Arrays of lights at either end of the lock come on. It would be difficult to sleep here after all.

I enter the campground the wrong way and find myself at a locked gate, unable to back out. The Cat driver shows up to open it and we coast onto a freshly mown lawn prettied with barrels of petunias and rows of salvia and impatiens.

“There’s plenty of dry split oak for a fire,” he says. “If you need anything, someone will be at the control house all night.”

Twenty years of living out west have conditioned my response. Water, green grass, pretty flowers, great trees in abundance and hardwood to burn. “Sure is luxurious,” I tell the dogs.

Upstream from the lock the mercurial surface of the Illinois River is broken occasionally by the hulks of sunken trees whose reaching roots, like the arms of lost men, slide half-seen past unreachable banks. The canopy of great trees crowds the gentle sky and I wait for stealthy canoes to emerge from the edge of its shadow. Peoria, Kaskaskia, Cahokia, Michigamea, Tamoroa; the Illini, self-designated vir perfectissimus, men with copper skin and “legs that seem drawn with an artist’s pen,” who tattoed their backs from neck to heels and cut off the noses of faithless wives.

Downstream, a cluster of barges hangs forever in the gloom. I squint and the faint image moves perceptibly, bends so that it appears as a dark bar and a white shimmer above the gray laminar waters. The sun sets, the quarter moon brightens. The sharp-winged birds consume mosquitos and fish rise to eat, too. Two men emerge from the control room and lean on a railing by the river. Is this work or do they watch for pleasure?

The barges close on us, very real and rusty. Several cabins in the four-storey tug are brightly lit and a gas flare over the stern flickers on the water like a dragon’s tail. The first time I stood on a mud-rutted winter plain east of Denver and met a drilling rig face to face I thought the non-stop pounding of the engines would make me crazy. But just as they did then, the throbbing diesels thoroughly tranquilize me. The sound of the receding engines is outdone by the potbangers of the natural world. ‘Tstststststst, ranh, ranh, ranh, psssss-psssss-psssss-bzzzzzt. An owl speaks up. Nature talks on a party line.

4

There have been but three cars go by since we arrived last night, two at about 4:30 AM and one that just now slowed to honk at the Cat driver who has been whackin’ weeds in the ditch beside the road since 8 AM. Finally satisfied with the ditch, he enters the campround eyeing fugitive blades of grass around the water pipes and under electrical boxes. I hurry to pack, to escape the ugly snarl of the whacker.

“You takin’ off so soon?” he says.

“It’s lovely here, but I’m homesick for red dirt, blue mountains, and funny little plants that never need trimming.”

“My son just left for Kalispell, Montana,” he says, “to work as a mountain guide. My wife and daughter went along, too.”

“To help him settle in? That’s nice,” I say.

“No, see, they all went permanent.”

I pause. “You’ll join them soon?”

“Naw. Naw. What would I do with no corn to plant?”

Americans. We confess everything in five minutes as though our lives were not worth contemplating, as if events could not be examined and incorporated into a personal history but instead must be dumped on strangers, as if doing so will end the pain. Poor man.

Just above St. Louis, the Illinois River, where it is subsumed by the Mississippi, is overtaken by astounding human effort. Tens of barges compete for channels and more wait to be loaded, junked or repaired. Trucks slow for nothing, to keep their dates with the whited concrete elevators that line the sliver of ground between river and road. Shall I brave St. Louis with the low-slung, lurching trailer attached? Where’s the bypass?

Semis come and go from the rest area off I-70 where we’ll spend the night and I lay my head down to the cadence of engine changes. The dogs sleep in the fall of air below the roof hatch. Tonight, the truck and trailer face west and questions about the future face me. One thing is clear, I’ve just dropped out of the middle class. 

5

I slept extraordinarily well considering the racket around me, waking a few times to the sound of airbrakes and the black dog’s foot in my face. Still, I feel a bit down. As I stroll back from the restroom the image of my shabby trailer and dinky truck cast against towering, pristine tractor trailers by the morning light confronts me. What have I to worry about?

Tonight I will sleep in Missouri, where Swamp Thing was born, so I pick a site deep in the woods just to increase the mood. It’s dusk and the groves of young trees are filled with the buzzing sounds that I heard as a youth when I drank too much at rock concerts.

A voice calls to me through the gloom, “How’s your dinner?”

“I wouldn’t call it dinner.” I drag a spoon through instant potatoes and chili. “Let’s call it sustenance.”

A big boy in hiking boots, khaki shorts and a denim shirt bounds across the road grinning like a chipmunk.

“Gosh. You’re from Wyoming?” No one doesn’t like Wyoming, I realize, or Wyomingites, or Wyomans or is it Wyomingans?

“Sort of,” I inform him.

“I was out there once, in May of ‘91.” He consults an air map and outlines his itinerary with a forefinger. “First I went to Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills, then to Cody, Denver and home.”

“Not to Yellowstone? I’m surprised.”

“I tried – drove to the east gate two days in a row but it snowed and the road into the park was closed by rockslides. Just driving over there from Cody made me nervous. I mean, I am from Kansas.”

A younger man, tall and sturdy as woodsy younger men should be, lopes over from their camp. He sits down across from me at the picnic table and fiddles with my gas stove. “I have one exactly like this,” he says. “First it wouldn’t stay lit, now it leaks.”

“Hey,” the big boy interrupts. “The ranger talk starts at 9 p.m. We’d better get going.”

“Will you come with us?” says the young, sturdy one. “It’s about owls.”

As we follow an asphalt path through the woods three abreast, I have the apprehension that we’re going to link elbows and skip, but we make it to the lecture area with our dignity intact.

“I’m ready to get serious about camping,” the big boy says once we’re seated in the bark-strewn amphitheater. “What have you found to be the most necessary equipment to take with you?”

“A trailer,” I tell him while pondering what their relationship might be. The big boy doesn’t act like the boy’s father or vice versa.

A blocky gray-haired ranger, who I assume is a man until she speaks, says, “First, let me start with our camper award program.” She holds up a square of cardboard with badges and buttons taped to it. “If you camp in five different Missouri state parks and get this form signed at each one by the person who writes your permit…”

Oh no. It’s bureaucratic camping. Why can’t people just drive out to the forest, say, “Gee, this is nice,” and leave it at that? Suddenly, the plaintive yips of the black dog call to me through millions of board feet of hardwood.

“Excuse me,” I say to the men. “I have to go quiet my dog.”

I’m so furious that the light from my flashlight bangs every which way against the road and trees until it finds a set of luminous marbles about a foot and a half above the ground at the rear of the trailer. Damn him. Another glowing pair – the old dog, hovers at the front. I boost the old dog into the trailer and open the windows: an ocean of black noise rants at me. Insects reh-reh and tstststs. It’s the repetition that makes the sounds so horrifying. Ching-ching-ching-ching-ching-ching. Bzt, bzt, bzt. Yikes. I dash out, unclip the black dog and race him to the trailer as if a giant cicada will snatch me away. Damn bugs. Why don’t they shut up?

6

The doors of anxiety open with the dawn. I peek out. The trees are still there, the sky is still gray, and a handful of birds play their broken records. Gee, I’m in a good mood. Kansas City is nearby, so I call my friend.

“I got your message,” he says, “at three this morning when I got home from work.”

“What the hell were you doing ‘til three?”

“Finishing another sucking presentation. Where are you anyway? I was afraid you’d be fed up with Missouri and out to Salina, Kansas by now.”

“Some park called Keister’s Knob or something. Here’s the plan. There’s an RV park thirty miles east of you off I-70. I’m going over there tomorrow. You can drive out and spend the night: we can leave the dogs at the trailer Saturday. It’s too miserable to drag them into town.” I swat a mosquito and blow down my shirt, which is soggy.

“Isn’t it awful?” he says. “No wonder all my friends in Wyoming said I’d hate it here.”

7

“How do you stand traveling alone for so long?” asks my friend. We sit in his car at the RV park with the air conditioner cranking. The dogs have melted into the grass near the trailer and although we can’t hear the trucks on I-70, non-stop headlights sweep the dark, wet sky. “I’d lose it,” he concludes.

“Just being indoors is too much for me anymore. And I like living this way,” which is the truth. “I get to pick where I live, every day. Think of it.”

“What about money?”

“That’s a problem wherever you go.” I’m a little defensive on this subject for sure. “I could stop somewhere, rent an apartment, get a phone, and have utilities to pay. I’d have more bills, not more money.”

“To tell you the truth, this job pays better, but with the move and living in a city I’m sliding backwards. I may have to get a second job.”

“How, when you already work twelve hours a day?” We sit quietly, relishing the artificial cold that releases us from the feeling that hot wet socks are stuck to our faces.

“Have you talked to your dad or brother?” he whispers.

“No. How many times can you apply for membership in your own family?”

10

The truck odometer rests at 10,775.0 when we stop for the night at a rest area in Kansas much like the ones I remember from our family trips. My dad liked to drive at night and we never knew where we’d be in the morning. Sometimes it would be in a wayside like this, but often it was behind a gas station. My dad was convinced that they were safe places to sleep, he could fill the gas tank when the station opened in the morning, and my mother, brother and I could wash up in the restrooms. My mother wasn’t happy about my father’s midnight selections but she went along with them until the morning we woke up in a migrant labor camp.

Lightning low to the northern horizon flashes pink under thick clouds. A young pine tree with lopsided branches shaped like toilet brushes grows indistinct in the dusky light and little traffic goes by on Highway 54. I feed the dogs at the foot of a historical marker which denotes a trail “established in 1868 during General Phillip H Sheridan’s winter campaign against Indians in Texas and the Indian Territory,” used later as a cattle trail to Dodge City.

“When I get to New Mexico,” I say out loud. What wonderful words. I’ll find a cool private spot and rest. “Tomorrow,” I say and my spirit does a happy dog dance. “Tomorrow I’ll find a new home.”

Meanwhile, central Kansas looks like it has been sucked into a war. Big time winds coax movements and noises from the trailer that are hard to ignore: I name things that ride the wind and the trailer is not on the list. Aided by searing shocks of lightening, I venture into the dark to free the truck, steady the trailer with jack stands and secure the awning. The dogs hustled into the back, I sit in the truck cab and watch for funnel clouds: what I’ll do if I see one, I don’t know.

Eventually, fatigue overrides fear and I crawl into the trailer and lie down. The dogs sleep instantly, ignorant of our peril. I doze, wake, doze, wake, each time to new shakes and twists of the trailer’s hull. Boom boom! Boom boom! pops the roof from changing pressure. A semi pulls in close-by. Hogs squeal as if they have arrived at the slaughterhouse door, as if they see the Devil in a butcher’s apron.

11

A grizzly bear, an elk, a mule deer, two black bears, several owls, two hawks and numerous pheasants watch me eat from their life-after-death destination inside a cafe in mud-caked, cloud-weary, scenery-deficient Kansas.

“Was that a typical storm?” I ask the waitress, a teenager in jeans and dental braces.

“Well, yes. It didn’t rain much though. It usually rains pretty hard.”

“The wind too? The lightning?”

“Oh sure. More coffee?”

“That your rig out there?” a farmer having coffee with a buddy asks. I nod. “Where’d you put up last night?”

I tell them about the rest area and the hogs. “I never thought about hogs being scared in a storm. I swear they were screaming, making the most awful sounds. I couldn’t sleep.”

“They ain’t scared. That’s just hogs,” he snickers.

“They scream cause they’re stupid,” his buddy snorts.

Hogs are smart. They know. Eat and die. Bacon and ham. I push away my plate.

The big trucks and I play connect the dots with the elevator towns of southwest Kansas. A bulldozer tears up the scent of sage as it works to widen the road and one speck of sky is very Mary blue. Sheep graze in a wrecking yard. At Liberal, Kansas, just before the Oklahoma border, where the welcome sign has the nerve to say, Oklahoma: Discover the Excellence, big bad pick up trucks outnumber cars and trailers outnumber houses.

And the water vapor separated from the rest of the atmospheric gases and behold! Clear blue sky and brilliant white clouds appeared. The Okie State Patrol has just eighteen miles to seperate out-of-staters from their cash, and they do.

South of Dalhart, Drive Friendly! Texas are acres of doomed cattle penned in a feedlot, handsome beasts consuming and excreting to the last minute.

“In 1876 Casimero Romero moved to the Canadian River area from New Mexico, bringing fourteen wagons and sixteen thousand sheep. Rancher Charles Goodnight made a pact with him and other pastores in the 80’s according to a sign posted in a peaceful stand of cottonwoods where I’ve stopped for a rest. I think it’s more likely that Goodnight met up with the pastores in 1876 on his way to Palo Duro canyon to establish a ranch and that the sheepherders and cattleman agreed to stay away from each other then. The sign adds that Romero sold out in 1897 but the rest of the story is obscured by a spray of bullet holes. All in all, it was a fairly peaceful intersection between New Mexicans and Texans who overlapped on the distant reaches of the plains like flotsam carried by waves onto a beach.

 

Before the highway sneaks up on Tucumcari, New Mexico, the blue horizon waits just beyond dreamy red sand hills where shaggy, silvery-green sage anchors earth as fine as pink cheek powder and as red as dry, crushed blood. Mesas change in color from purple to rust as we speed closer. What a difference a day makes. I sit in my lawn chair in the sharp light of a dime-sized moon and high, gray clouds drift across its disk. The dogs stare into the dusk and guard our happy home. Young cottonwoods lean under a dry wind, which shakes their crumpled leaves and lifts away the loneliness of the last month. Tonight, the moon reflects a kinder light.

Chapter 9 / Santa Fe

Santa Fe (August 12-22)

12

I back the trailer up a steep hill in the mountains outside Santa Fe; the truck tires smoke in the torrential rain. When I unhitch the trailer it rolls off the jack and into the rear of the truck, which at least keeps it from rolling downhill. I hurry to re-position the jack stands and block the wheels with boulders. Rivulets of ice water soak my clothing, but I have claimed the last camp spot in the forest.

A man sells Pecos cantaloupes out of a truck in the noise of traffic along Cerillos Road in Santa Fe. A brilliant rainbow rises over a carwash, and descending, hits a video rental sign. My dirty clothes churn inside a washer in a crummy laundromat on the country western side of town. The worn linoleum is patched with non-matching squares and two cast-off metal porch chairs have been painted many times, but not recently. The trash can is a cardboard box.

White, pink and yellow handbills flutter against the shabby walls. “FENG SHUI and FACE READING Learn techniques to solve your interior design problems.” Can this have something to do with my friend from Cheyenne’s latest discovery, FUN SUEDE? An entity identified as Speaking Winds says this: “I am that of Ancient I come BEFORE THOSE YEARS AT THAT OF THE CREATION OF YOUR EARTH.” Whenever it comes from it doesn’t speak English very well.

“If you liberate the voice you liberate the human body,” claims the Feeling Voice, which, by the size of the advertised fee, liberates a few bucks as well. “The Rebirth of Nature (It died?): Greening of Science and God Workshop at the New Mexico Academy of Massage.” I sigh.

Someone named Rupert Sheldrake blathers: “For most people the world is mechanistic and inanimate on weekdays… but not weekends and on holidays a different attitude prevails as millions try to get back to living nature.” I begin to suspect that there is a dead nature out there that I don’t know about.

A free breathing and free choices seminar is offered by two doctors (of what it doesn’t say) from the land of free choice – Russia. There’s “QUICK Relaxation” and a “Psychic and Bodyworkers’ Fair” to choose from or “Join us for a Tricultural Buffet” at the Hilton Hotel.

The washing machine shakes, the spin light comes on. I read yet another poster: “The Museum of Indian Arts & Culture Invites You to a Feast Day Commemoration of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. One interpretation of the Pueblo Revolt which started on August 10, 1680 says that the Pueblo people offered Spanish Governor Otermin and survivors in Santa Fe a choice of War (red cross) or complete Spanish withdrawal from New Mexico (white cross). The theme of choice has been adopted as a logo for our August 9 commemoration.”

I laugh hysterically. I weep. How the hell do you use a theme as a logotype? Even more startling, the poster’s headline contradicts the facts of the commemorated event: “Choosing the symbol of peace, long life and harmony among all people.” Good God. The choice offered was anything but a symbol of peace, long life or harmony. The Pueblo people stood up one day in 1680 and kicked Spanish butt all the way back to Mexico, but are the natives allowed one victory? No! Their moment of courage is purposefully lost within a mish-mash of befuddled sentiment.

“Instill your child with peace, understanding and knowledge of a perfect government on earth at the Saturday School for the Youth. Adults will teach the law from different scriptural translation to instill understanding of the 1000 year Kingdom to come.” What do the people who post these flyers think? That dumb, screwed up rich people do their laundry in this dump?

I stuff my clothes in a dryer and retire to the truck where Dwight Yoakam asks, “What Indian reservation is this?” Black clouds with a fearsome porcelain top knot lie over the mountains. Traffic jams McDonald’s drive-thru.

Northern New Mexico is comparable to the Pacific Gyre, except that instead of plastic garbage, the world’s New Age Junk has collected there.

13

Nine vehicles, not counting an assortment of horse and utility trailers, surround a tiny cabin atop a gravel mound on the edge of Santa Fe. My trailer is propped at the edge where the loose fill has run off through minor gullies to a driveway below. Beyond is a junkyard and two shacks, each with a compliment of derailed trucks and cars, and farther still, across scrubland, is The River as my hosts refer to I-25.

Staying at the cabin are various people I don’t know, one of whom is a tall Texan who resembles Waylon Jennings. I spent most of the last two days following him around as he peddled cowboy and Indian antiques to dealers in town. He is quietly confidant, generous, and fastidious in manner even when being crude. Two snarling beauties, who have just arrived from Dallas in a black, tricked-out pick up truck, are connected with him somehow. They regard me with surprise when they find me balanced on a bench out front with my feet on a bucket, reading a newspaper and drying my hair. All I need say of them is that the word hard is not hard enough.

Also from Texas is a family whose arrival yesterday reassured me that I have not fallen in with danger. The husband resembles Teddy Roosevelt in his cowboy days, the wife is short and animated and nurses an eight month old baby. Silly, his twelve year old daughter by a previous wife, travels with them. Not from Texas is a man named Fuzzy who looks like his name, owns a shop in town and stays here sometimes. All I know about him is that no one has ever seen him take a bath. And lastly, the Gunslinger, whom I met in Cody with Rio, who is the owner of the cabin. The silver spider the Spaniard gave me then is still pinned to the pocket of my black shirt, in the back of the trailer, where I hung it that day.

“Where is Rio?” I ask no one in particular.

“He’s stayin’ over at her place,” says the Gunslinger.

“Who is this woman he married? She doesn’t match the description of his girlfriend that the guys in Cody gave me.” I recall the gesture of one which indicated that she had watermelon tits. A discount for exaggerration doesn’t account for the slight physique or quiet nature of the woman I met yesterday.

“You know about the Hell-Bitch?” the Tall Texan asks me.

“Ya see, he just met this one a couple weeks ago and we don’t know that they really are married,” the Gunslinger explains. “Rio said somethin’ ‘bout they didn’t get the license yet.”

“Ain’tcha s’posed to get the license first?” That’s Fuzzy.

“Does the Hell-Bitch know about all this?” I ask.

Eyebrows arch toward the cluttered ceiling. “She’s outta town,” whispers Texas Teddy R.

 14

My dogs form an easy alliance with three adult Australian Shepard dogs, a half-grown chow pup, two mutts from next door, and the junkyard dog. They love it here, as all canines run free like cousin-kids on a farm, and as a bonus, the yard is awash in fossil food for which they hunt between naps and tussles.

The cabin itself is but one room connected to a bathroom via a short hallway. It contains a bed, two saddles suspended from the ceiling, thirty or more cowboy hats and sombreros which hang on the rafters, saddle blankets, boots, revolvers in holsters and other bachelor fallout. Photographic portraits of Rio costumed as a Commanchero hang about and two mirrors of a size suitable for posing hang on opposite walls.

A blanket serves as a door to the bathroom where flies litter the bottom of the claw foot tub and towels dangle from a row of ten steer horns. The Gunslinger sleeps on a shelf in the hallway, which I did not know as I crept to the bathroom early this morning. His greeting renewed my sluggish heartbeat.

15

The flea market offers better camping than some RV parks. A ten dollar bill buys a space in which to sell and camp and another dollar, a shower. The snack shop cooks breakfast burritos and just in case, there are flush toilets. The Texas Teddy Rs, who have set up next to me, loan a guy they don’t know several hundred dollars so he can purchase an antique Navajo necklace from a Navajo. It’s a fake, but someone covers the loan and everything is square again.

People sell their wares from vans, motorhomes, rented trucks, converted buses and the trunks of cars. Items I have accumulated over the years leave my table rapidly, stuffed into the pockets, handbags and grocery sacks of tourists and other sellers. I’ve no regrets. By the time I shake out a tarp to cover my table for the night I’m a happy woman. It’s Saturday night and I’ll dine on the same dollars I earned today.

 

Texas Teddy R confabs with his wife as we rattle down Cerrillos Road in their beat-to-hell Dodge pick up toward a restaurant they have selected. Suddenly, he leans way forward, forgoes watching the road and says, “We gotta ask yew sumthin’.”

He sounds serious. What could it be?

“Do y’all do thet crystal shit? Ah mean, it’s OK but lak, we don’t wont t’fend yoo.”

“What ever gave you that idea?”

“Naooo. Naooo. It’s not thet we thank yoo doo,” Mrs TTR bleats, though superficially she doesn’t resemble a goat.

“Aw hell.” Texas Teddy R confesses. “At thuh flea market tidday, Ah wuz jis strollin’, mindin’ mah bidness…”

“Yoo wuz wanderin’ all day an Ah wuz stuck with the baby. Tamorra’ yer gonna stay at thuh booth and Ah’m gonna shop.”

“Sweetheart, would ya let me tell this? Jesus Chrahst. Ah wuz walkin’ past this guy’s booth an he yelled at me, ‘Hey! Yer Aurora’s crooked. C’mere. I kin straighten it fer ya’ fer twenty-five bucks.’” Teddy Texas R. looked at me over his wire-rimmed glasses with watery blue eyes. He paused to chew a wooden match. “He’s one uh them crystal guys, ain’t he?”

“Aurora?”

“Thet’s whut the man said.”

16

“There she is – Miss America gone wrong,” shouts Texas Teddy R from the porch of the cabin as I dump the trailer on the acutely unlevel hilltop.

“No, don’t bother to level it,” I wave to the Gunslinger as he grabs loose boards to stack under the tires. “I’m so tired I’ll sleep fine.”

Mrs Texas Teddy R sits next to her man and nurses the baby as usual. She confessed to me today that he had an affair while she was pregnant and that the other woman continues to chase him. Texas Teddy R himself is just out of the tub and minus his hat, and although he’s only thirty, it’s hard to picture him as the object of some woman’s lust. Mrs. Texas Teddy R found it hard to believe herself.

“He’s broken down and bald but I’ve got a lot of time in him, so get lost,” she told the interloper, more or less.

The Gunslinger is sweet but a tale of woe is hidden somewhere inside. Fuzzy is one of those characters who comes complete, right out of the box. And Rio? Haven’t seen him. I hear tell he slipped away from his maybe wife and hooked up with one of the snarling beauties last night.

It’s been a two day education of sorts. No tuition need be paid, just a thank-you, a favor repaid some day. I met these folks Thursday and when I leave in the morning I may not see them again.

17

North of Las Vegas, New Mexico, thunderheads like Portuguese men-of-war trail blue tentacles of rain over the plains and scorching winds invade the truck cab. The low mounds of the Sangre de Cristo mountains which form the western horizon are deep slate in color and reveal no details. Lava capped buttes, their gentle slopes peppered with dink trees, flank the road. Big raindrops smack the windshield, migrate upward and evaporate. Steamy fresh smells arrive on the wind. Just south of Raton, the egg white tops of storm clouds pile ever higher as their bottoms grow the hare gray beards of Mandarins. The Canadian River is a Bosco creek.

Thunder booms above Sugarite Canyon as frigid, slashing rain tests the trailer’s roof. The dogs snooze and I step over them to crank windows shut. I light candles and lie on the bed, washed in cold blue light and brittle shocks of lightning. Through a clouded window I see the tall points of pines and a plain sky which does not express the furor of sound above us.

The disorderly Texans are somewhere in Texas tonight. And my own family? It’s a month since I left my father’s house and I’ve sent him no word of my whereabouts. So far, voluntary excommunication has brought relief from that transplanted parental eye, which, although we deny it, stays with us to our dying day, and I suppose, if you’re a Christian, follows you to the after life as well. Good reason to be a Taoist.

18

“Laundry,” says a man who grins at me. “What a pain.”

“It’s not so bad,” I say. “Look at the view.” Anvil-top thunderheads rise forty thousand feet above the Royal Gorge. The towers of the suspension bridge which spans it are just visible between the heavily treed approaches to the canyon.

The man gazes south then back at me.

“Forget the campers and trailers,” I say. I hold up my hand to blot out the campground but the sight of the back of my hand below a fragment of mountain and the boiling sky is silly. I turn inside to check the spinning drier. How long can ten minutes be?

The lights of cars glide along a road across the valley like raindrops down a slanted pole as I carry clean clothes to the trailer. The old dog wags his tired tail as I approach and ducks his head to be petted. I don’t see the black dog in the shadow below the trailer and bump into him by the door.

“Be careful,” I say as if he’s the one who tripped.

A loudspeaker from somewhere nearby announces “Indian dances, three shows a night, six shows a day.” From behind a wall of dark fir trees the voice begins an adenoidal chant sung with the same enthusiasm as the clerk who says, Have a nice day.

“The Hoop dance was invented by our neighbors the Pee-buh-low Indians many centuries ago, and our dancer is a Shoshoni all the way from the great state of Wyoming.” So-So-Ne, the Snake Indians, tribe of the slave Sacajewea, bought by one Charbono, a Frenchman, to add to his wives. She went with him when he hired on with Lewis and Clark. The expedition found Sacajewa’s band in the southern Bitteroot Mountains, reduced to starvation by the predations of the Nez Perce and Hidatsa.

19

     Water on Highway May Exist

The Colorado Highway Department provides a philosophical challenge for travelers between Pueblo, say Pee-buh-low, and Walsenburg. The road to Cimmaron, aka Wild Thing, New Mexico, follows a gentle, southwest curve to make a gradual climb across land as smooth as old turquoise. Blue mesas precede the ridge of the Sangre de Cristo, as unlike blood in color as elephant hide; indeed they are lead gray this mid-morning. The plains look like themselves today, all soft and gentle like old pajamas. Incipient arroyos may gain a little as a rain cell about fifteen miles wide moves like an airship, shedding copious water across the earth. The old trailer bobs and weaves in the rearview mirror under flat bottom clouds that produce delicate silver lightning. Duct tape that holds the roof seams together, flaps.

Back in Santa Fe at the drive-in movie lot which will be home for the next three days, I walk through a sorry assortment of vans, RVs, trailers and hippy-style school buses to my abode, which fits right in.

The curtains flap, then are sucked tight against the screen. The hatch cover bangs. Thunder rolls and lightning fizzes in the air. The storm adds to my melancholy contentment and helps me to digest the knowledge that there’s no going back. If I had stayed in Illinois my stint as a student teacher would have begun this week. After a mere two days as a substitute teacher in Arizona my respect for public education was shot to pieces, but I went on. I liked the kids.

“You can’t afford to wait for good teachers or for your parents either,” I told a high school biology class when some complained that their teacher retired to his office and locked the door each day after having left an assignment on the board. Their appeals to respective parents and the principal had produced nothing.

“Take over the class,” I said, an idea which shocked them.

“We can do that?” a girl asked.

“If you want an education you just might have to. You have a text, twenty-seven brains, and a library. Go learn. And don’t think it gets any better in college, either.” With satisfaction and some surprise I realize that I haven’t had to pretend anything for anybody since February 29.

21

There were no vehicles parked in the yard, but I knocked on the door to the cabin anyway. I heard, “Cum’in” and found the Gunslinger propped on the bed on top of an American flag being used as a bedspread. He wore no shirt above the striped gambler’s pants that he tucks into tall boots and I was surprised to see that his body was graceful and fit. The long, wild shock of gray-black hair that lay across the pillows seemed suddenly not to suit him.

I retrieved cowboy hats from the rafters with a broomstick and tried them on as we talked. He decided I needed another hat of my own and we went outside where he dug straw hats out of a cardboard box stashed under a camper top. He handed me one that was squashed and dirty but had possibilities.

“Looks like someone tried to waterproof it with linseed oil,” I said. “It’ll do, though.” It was the only one that fit my head, anyway.

Back inside he set to work scrubbing it in the bathtub with bar soap and a handy sock. It became cleaner but retained severe creases.

“How do you want it shaped?” he asked.

“You can shape that?”

“Sure.”

“With a crease down the front.”

“A Tom Mix, you mean.” He began to tuck and fold it. It looked hopeless. “Watch this.” He picked up a can of spray starch and soaked the top of the hat with it, tweaked it into shape and stuck it on my head. It was damp and a bit heavy but in the mirror it looked better than I expected, the good effect aided by the single overhead light bulb.

“I like it,” I said and began to re-roll the brim.

I arrive back at the flea market well after dark and open the truck door to hear two men shout threats and obscenities at a man in a nearby motor home.

“Hey, butthead. You wanna die? Piss me off and I’ll shoot you.” A fat man dressed in a red cap, white T-shirt and shorts, who under the lot lights resembles an inflated toy, is doing most of the shouting.

His partner, whom I recognize as the jewelry maker who rented the space, raises a hand to him. It contains a beer. He mentions a gun and the fat man yells, “I know. I know. My probation is up in November. It’s a skate.”

I manage to sneak unseen to my trailer but the black dog bursts out when I open the door.

“I’ll fuckin’ shoot your dog!” the man in the motorhome threatens, thinking he belongs to the fat man. The fight begins anew while I crouch in the shadows and call to the black dog under my breath, squint into the darkness, and count seconds.

“God bless your dingy little brain,” I mutter as he scoots through the door and I follow, locking it behind me.

Encouraged by the jewelry maker, who wears enormous silver cuffs as if he were a gladiator and a hilariously wide-brimmed leather hat on top of his pin-sized head of gray hair, the fat man rants without pause. “C’mon you fag. Get out here and have a beer.”

Peeking from behind a curtain I can make out the shape of the man next door where he lies in the back of his truck under the topper. The fat man grabs him roughly by the ankles and drags him to his feet, forces a beer on him and makes all of us listen to a recitation of every part he’s replaced on his stinking car. God this makes me mad. There’s not a man in the place, including the owner, who will tell this guy to shut-up. The only Savior we need is a Jerk Exterminator.

I lie back on the bunk and wait for the two to wear themselves out, but now it’s sex. “She did this, I did that. Ho, ho!” I want a voice to say, Shut-up and get out, or better still, You’re under arrest for being an embarrassment to the male half of the species. But it won’t happen. We are each alone in a nightmare of male aggression and women and children must keep themselves safe, endure the insults, tip-toe through the land mines. If only men knew how we feel. If only they cared.

22 

The trailer is lit with candles, as usual. The black dog snoozes on the floor by himself because the old dog is overnighting at the cabin. Two gaping holes, one where the ammonia-spewing refrigerator used to be, the other where the stove used to be, are each filled midway with hastily packed boxes of food, dishes, silverware, cleaning supplies, tools and what-not. The Gunslinger showed up at the flea market this afternoon.

“You still want those appliances out of there?” he asked and I replied that I did before anticipating the aftermath. It bothers me to look at the result, so I roll toward the window, sweat, shake with chills and try to ascertain if I’m going to be sick again.

I sold the stove for a ten dollar bill with the stipulation that the man, a gentleman from a town up the valley, take the refrigerator, too. He hesitated, saying that he already had a yard full of broken appliances (I knew then that I had my man) and that he had come to Santa Fe to find a good, used, full-size refrigerator. He had not found one, and agreed now to take mine.

“Where’s your husband?” he asked after he sent his helper for the truck. “The man should take care of these things.” The flea market was about shut for the day and we stood in the wind and the dust surrounded by tables of junk, whipping canopies and decrepit vehicles. He looked old enough to have grown children.

“Don’t have one, don’t want one,” I said.

“I don’t have a wife.” He gave me that look. “Not for five years. She left me. She said I worked too much.” He paused. “You know, that’s just like a woman. You work hard for them and they complain.” Perhaps she was tired of a yard full of used appliances, I thought.

His helper, who had backed the truck in, stood passively. The man addressed him in Spanish, and they loaded the stove and refrigerator into the beat-to-hell white pick up that already contained two oil drums. The man fussed about the questionable reliability of his purchase, then handed me a ten dollar bill saying, “At least they’re off your hands.”

“Yes. Thank-you.”

He brushed his shirt, stood straight and said, “My name is Benny O. And yours?”

“Bo,” I said.

“Bo? Just Bo?”

“Bo,” I said. “B.O.”

“Okay, B.O.” A bitter sweet scent anointed the air between us, as happens when the external parts of people barely touch, but little pieces of their souls talk. Ah, the relentlessly romantic Spaniard.

“Good-bye, Mr O.,” I said.

“Good-bye,” he sighed.

The dust swirled raggedly and chewed at my eyes as the beater truck jerked away, my former appliances destined for a yard in Espanola. How odd. How sweet. I collapsed in the trailer.

Mr. Mike, proprietor of a booth down the row, tip-toed to my door. He stood in the dirt, in miraculously white tennis shoes, green shorts, a brown, Ferdinand Marcos shirt, and a blue and white baseball cap. The surface of his round Indian face was sort of lumpy and he wore glasses. His big fist held two objects that appeared to be cups.

“What’s this?” I said taking them in hand. Each white ceramic bowl was decorated with a little pueblo, a species of cactus that does not grow in the Rio Grande region, and blue clouds.

“For candles,” he said. “See, there are holes punched through the clay, like windows.”

“I like these, yes, thank-you,” I said.

“Oh good, uh. What am I saying? Uh. Would you have dinner with me? At Furrs maybe, if you like it there.”

“Furrs?” I said, relinquishing the candle holders because I couldn’t stop shaking.

The day ends with rain. It sounds wonderful until I remember I left my goods outside and uncovered. “Oh Hell,” I say to myself, roll over and stare at the devastated cabinet that used to hold the stove and refrigerator. Don’t think about that now. It’ll be enough to get out of here tomorrow.

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.

Cheyenne – Denver Interlude

Denver Interlude

September 27

I’ve forgotten what made me decide a week ago to leave for Denver tomorrow but the thought embedded itself like a splinter and I feel no inclination to remove it. I eat a last breakfast at the Chlorox Cafe, which at 11 AM is occupied by those not at church.

28

Lava beds describe Wagon Mound like a black mane defines the neck of a buckskin horse. The highway cuts the cool, dark rock to expose scorched earth which was fried to a rusty rose beneath the molten flows. From a distance the mesa slopes are a monotonous ochre tan but up close the flanks are flush with flat-leaved russet grass, icy green things, shrubs encrusted with red berries and willows that wave apricot spears. The plains are spread with grass so white that cattle below the buttes appear to graze on a beach. Parched thistles stand by the road; their twisted heads survey the horizon like lobster eyes. 

October 2

Under a void of hot blue sky at a campground southeast of the city I delay, until 3 p.m., driving into the dense, nervous manscape of Denver.

“Your hard drive heats up and sticks,” the computer technician tells me. “I had to jar it loose by hand. You won’t be able to do that because you can’t get to it.”

“It gets stuck? Mechanically stuck?”

“Yeah. Try banging on the table,” he recommends. “Or get a new hard drive.”

That the computer is getting a transplant relieves me. That my senses deaden in the compacted cultural trash of the year 1992 depresses me. Time spent in a city is time spent being injured.

6

The stylist and the wardrobe woman lean together and giggle as we wait for paint to dry on the floor of the set. An evil clown, minus his yellow wig, sits at a long table and looks bored. Twenty dour accountant clones pull their silver and black ties askew and temporarily revert to normalcy.

The copywriter and art director responsible for the TV commercial being filmed today were once my co-conspirators in the quest to have clients underwrite our fantasies. Not that we didn’t try to do a good job for them, but the compensation for enduring in a horrific business was the actualization of ideas that “couldn’t fly.”

The wardrobe woman adjusts a laurel wreath on the brow of a rotund Caesar and the accountant clones form up and practice their scowls. We wait for light readings to be checked and for adjustments to be made to the boom from which the overhead camera hangs. The smell of lunch warming in hot trays makes everyone fidget.

8

“You are un-responsible,” Mr Stuck-in-Time pronounced.

“Un-responsible? You can’t even say it can you? It’s F-R-E-E.”

15

A reminder of winters to come, a road closure gate stands open for the moment on an entrance ramp to I-25 north. A field which could be the gathering place of lost basketballs grows pumpkins instead. Work Hard, Stay Hard, Play Hard: Wyoming poetry is published across the tailgate of a very new, black dually pick up.

“Try our own style of Spanish Specialties,” says the menu at the Diamond Horseshoe cafe in Cheyenne, and I do, a petite burrito covered with a Campbelloid sauce, but good.

A man hails another customer who waits to pay his check. “When did you get back?” And a ‘just the facts m’am’ exchange follows.

“About a month now.”

“You moved to Phoenix, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah, five years ago. You can’t imagine what a cesspool it is.” (Wanna bet?) “You’re in danger just driving down the street – we had to get out.”

“I’ve heard people say they didn’t like it there but I didn’t know it’s so bad.”

“It’s bad. I mean, I know I’ll die someday but I’ll die here at home.”

I call my friend from Cheyenne, who languishes a few more days in Kansas City, from a pay phone inside a laundromat where the simplicity outdoors is sharpened by a plate glass window and frame.

“I can’t understand it. You really like Cheyenne,” he says after I make him guess where I’m calling from.

“I feel calm here,” I say. “A city of fifty thousand people with no traffic is a miracle. I can park the trailer anywhere and let the dogs run. It’s wonderful. How’s packing coming?”

“I’m cramming everything into storage except for the TV, my clothes and the computer.”

19

I finish business in Denver and call Mr. Stuck-in-Time once more to see if he’s free for dinner. “No,” says his secretary. I go to a pizza place run by Greeks and order the two-slice special. One slice is topped with spinach. Good: a vegetable. I sit at a table where I can watch the last presidential ‘debate,’ on TV, the politics of Washington seemingly remote in this working class restaurant; I’m sure grateful the candidates speak careful Dick and Jane sentences for us.

The pizza man himself, between inserting and extricating pies from the oven, walks over to listen. “Politicians,” he says summarily, “lie.” An older patron, his belly cut in two by gray slacks, is amused by the performance on the tube, but shares no comments. Although I like Mr Perot’s quirky figure I’m afraid the time has passed for men of his type. He is, like all prophets, merely a poetic device that serves to remind us that folly is inevitable.

20

A man who uses the pay phone at the trailer park motions to me that he is finished and holds the receiver until I take it. The aroma of pungent cologne lingers around my good-byes to Denver friends.

During the drive south toward New Mexico, I think about the things I don’t know; the names of creeks, where roads lead, what type of rock is exposed in a road cut. It’s one of those curious days when I feel sad and it’s just fine.

Outside Raton, I have Sugarite Canyon to myself, except for a car from Texas and a sky full of stars caught like plankton in a net of their own light. The old dog breathes solemnly like an elderly uncle and three candles make a fair light by which to read Plutarch, who mentions the presence of mules in ancient Rome just before I fade away. Imagine speaking Latin to a mule.

21

Order and intimacy lie in disguise in the wild undergrowth beneath twelve black oak trees whose branches are like the casts of riverbeds held against the sky. Fir trees intrude here and there to soften the grayness with blue needles. Birds called in the night, emitting unnatural wails, precise note for note, and clear. This morning, funny little birds peep and trill and a lone insect projects his fanbelt call. As if I had known to do so all along, I embrace the master oak which is shaped like a trident, then walk through two thousand years of conjecture to the trailer. The sun’s warmth is restrained by thin clouds, a wind finds me and I’m cold.

A Santa Fe freight train pulled by five engines rolls into downtown Raton. The first two engines are red, yellow and silver, the next three green and yellow. I ask a man in blue overalls, a member of the crew which is preparing to board, why the engines are painted different colors even though they are all marked Santa Fe. One of those exchanges takes place.

“The green ones are the old Burlington Northern colors. These here red ones are the new Santa Fe engines.”

“There’s no difference in the engines, then?”

“Well, the red ones are new.”

Men walk out of the station office, find their bags and climb the stairs into the blunt-nosed, rumbling engines. The diesels wind up, a whistle blows and a real bell clangs. Cars shudder and the earth vibrates. The engines clear the station then stop while cars are cut. The remaking of the train goes on as I examine debris in a junk store across the street where I discover the beaming face of Albert Einstein beneath an Indian war bonnet, in a photograph taken during a Santa Fe train tour. Clad otherwise in a dark suit, he cradled a Catlinite pipe in one arm and held the hand of a small Indian girl with the other. Two Navajo men who posed with him look less than thrilled.

23

I pick up the self-described, too-small woman at a grocery store in Las Vegas as she requests. We drive forty-one miles north to Wagon Mound: she has a four room adobe house for rent.

“Why do the gas lines run across the top of the floor like this?” I ask, kicking a pipe which runs toe-high across a doorway, through the bedroom and out into the hall to a water heater.

“Hot water,” she grins. The pipes do not, however, continue the six feet to a heater parked in a front room.

“Does this work?” I ask, indicating the brown box. She hrugs and grins then lays a hand on a half-painted fungus-like thing which projects from the wall. “Good for closet,” she says.

I open the bathroom door and quickly close it. Ah, New Mexico, where caulk is a substitute for plywood, drywall, insulation, tile, trim, flooring…

27

We walk, the dogs and I, up a coarse, sandy river bed traveled recently by a truck, past a deep, soft hole where it became stuck, over cobbles and boulders of metamorphic fragments, along the shade of a cut bank eight feet high; a wall of sand, gravel and mud of tawny hue, glittering with pink feldspar, black quartzite, speckled gneiss and sequin-bright micas in layers and lenses that read like pages from a river text. Anxiety drains from my muscles and I breath more slowly as my boot heels sink here in sand, slip there between rocks, meet crusty sandbars firmly. I am endlessly fascinated by the ordering of fragments, by masses which fell from rushing water, long gone. The play of materials is in my mind but equally sensual. Pebbles crowd my pockets and I carry a chunk of fine grained, gray granite in the shape of a truncated pyramid. Sometimes I collect rocks and dump them hundreds of miles away in geologically inappropriate locations. Why this pleases me, I don’t know. It seems some minor act of conceptual mayhem, a bit of interference in the ways of nature.

I collect coarse-barked and splintery deadfall and make a big pile in the truck. I want a fire tonight. We haven’t had one since the Snowies.

30 

Winter comes to the state park. Employees drain water pipes, padlock washrooms and carry away poet-a-johns in the scoop of a ‘dozer. The yellow grass was fired today causing the fields to be charred in great blotches. A rough wind carries the smell of scorched grass to the hills. Shall I break camp like nomads worldwide and follow the season, in this case to Arizona, a place to which I swore I would never return?

November 3

The first snow falls on Election Day. A Hispanic candidate defends himself in a radio interview against charges that he doesn’t speak Spanish. “It’s not my fault,” he maintains. “I was taken to Los Alamos to live among Anglos by my parents.”

“Vamos todo a votar,” last minute ads exhort. He loses.

Chapter 11 / The House of Ambiguity

The House of Ambiguity (November 4-15)

4

I trace faults in limestone beds which were raised like the lid of a box when the Sangre de Cristo mountains bumped up with the rest of the Rockies about six million years after the last dinosaur closed its eyes. Inside the box is time, the mystery dimension, which, though it runs forward only, folds back on itself in the human mind.

What we cannot have we sometimes grow to despise, yet the abundance of the natural world can coax us from a state of want, and provide, without thought or motive, what we need. The wind chill sinks to 12*, snow clasps the ground and I continue talking to the stones.

6

There’s no one to show my deserted, wind-rattled, adobe house to so I prop open the two front doors, which face south, and the one in the kitchen. Dust, already inside, and more drifting in from outside, skitters across the wide board floors loosely covered by fragments of cracked blue linoleum. I remove boxes from the truck and stack them in a corner of the middle room, which holds the only source of heat, a coal stove shaped like a Christmas ornament.

As I come and go I force myself to look around the four rooms and catalogue the difficulties. Roller coaster ceilings have been coaxed to stay put with layers of paper, little bits of wood and a cloth seat cover which bulges with mud that is making its bid to return to earth. Paint will hide the soot and crayon marks on the walls and fill cracks, temporarily. Red dirt, which clings to everything, can be scrubbed away. It will return. Wind batters at the boarded-over windows but the walls are thick and snug. The six outside doors however, are much warped and bleed daylight around the frames. The place will be truly sunny when I remove the odd pieces of wood and metal that shield the windows but three missing panes of glass will have to be replaced first.

I’ll need a coarse rake, I note, as I go to the truck for another box. Generations of tenants have used the yard, the whole acre of it, as a trash can. A good day’s work will have its surface clean again. To the east is the home of my landlord’s several cattle, in the yard of an empty blue house. Beyond, maroon mesas are sharply outlined in the winter light. The black dog stays on our side of the fence even though he could easily slip under the three strands of wire. Two fox-eared neighbor dogs do just that and bark at us.

I drag a large wooden trunk into the shed-kitchen over the rocks and broken concrete which serve as the back stoop. Inside, I push it against a wall. Good God the place is dirty, crummy! I’d better buy a couple of gallons of Chlorox. And new linoleum to cover the floor, which I can’t look at. The fridge is old but functions, says the landlord, as does the propane stove. Buy oven cleaner I note. The single bulb, overhead light works, and I see a phone jack. A water faucet drips into a creepy sink engulfed by a cabinet meant for a large, semi-modern kitchen. Fragments of something cover its top. I picture it gone.

Happenstance care has left the house in nearly original form, preserving what character it possesses, but my clean genes are hopping up and down wanting to apply minimum standards of sanitation to the place. Then there’s the bathroom; there is none. Probably for the best, as it would be too gross to use. I’ll use the portable in the trailer and wait for the outhouse to be redug.

Red sand, which shovels away easily, fills the drive, although it looks like there won’t be enough room between the gate posts for the trailer to pass. In a snow storm – impossible. After a rain I may not get up the gullied drive either. I’d better find a parking place down by the road. Buy snow boots, I add to my mental list.

A few more shovelfuls of red sand fly into the wind but as I dig the gate merely sags to the lower level. Hmm. The wind howls and my eyes run with tears. The black dog hovers near the truck. “I guess we’ll be content to leave it stuck open,” I tell him. “Let’s go.” My voice dies at my lips. That’s another thing, the wind. I lock the front door, which has no lock set or knob, just a hasp and miniature padlock, provided by the landlord, of the size one would use on a jewelry box.

Along the hard-packed dirt road that leads to the highway we pass roofless stone rooms with a few habitations tacked onto them like huts built in the Roman forums. What happiness, I think. This is my road, my part of the world.

My friend from Cheyenne has come and gone on his way to his mother’s house in Wyoming, from Kansas City, via Houston, where his brother lives. As we drove to the adobe house I had rented he praised the countryside, but when we arrived he did not think it charming.

“This is how my ancestors lived,” he shouted. “My great grandparents up near Walsenberg. This is my heritage,” he repeated. He seemed unduly upset “There’s no bathroom,” was his final condemnation.

The wind has been merciless today, pounding trees, truck and trailer alike, turning dogs and stray humans into shivering putty. It burrows deep to expose my paralyzing confusion and disappointment. Words have been put together in so many ways to express the states of being human and yet words fail to tell the hollow part. My mouth opens and manages a sigh. Nothing will say the hollow part.

11

Bobby, who owns a store in town, had a fit when I told him where I’d rented a house. He turned pale then at length hissed, “Ya shouldna done it. Thems out there’ll rob ya blind. And you travelin’? Sheeze! You’ll come back and everthin’ ya own’ll be gone.”

“The point in renting a place is so I can leave things there,” I said. “The trailer is getting pretty full.” I don’t let on that in my imagination I’ve bought a mule and written a dozen books while gazing out the front door at passing trains and motionless pink mesas.

“I hate to upset you,” he said more quietly, “but I don’t want to see you walkin’ in here in two, three months cryin’ you bin robbed.” He continued, sotto voce, “There’s an ol’ boy come in here one afternoon, spread a sack of stuff out on the counter he wanted me ta buy. A customer was lookin’ around, saw things that’d jes bin stolen from his house, in fact he was in here lookin’ ta replace. There’s somes around think that’s the way ta make a livin’.”

My thoughts had gone disorderly like wet spaghetti, but I tried to listen as Bobby went on. “I wuz robbed s’many times right here I had ta fill the basement stairwell with dirt and cover it over with concrete. Now they hafta come in the front. I’m tellin’ ya, town’s bad but you’d be safer here.”

Back at the ranchito, my eyes sting at the sight of the thick mud walls, crooked windows and junk-filled yard, which for the writer evoke enthusiasm for potential and remembrance. I stand in a doorway and watch swallows fly across the image of Starvation Peak, not a peak at all, but a butte isolated from the Glorieta Plateau by erosion. I doubt the one-hundred twenty Mexican settlers trapped on top by Indians thought it lovely. What if Bobby exaggerates?

My advisors are robust Hispanic officers who relax on folding chairs or lean against the walls. The lone female officer sits with her feet propped on a desk. Couldn’t someone design uniforms for women that are a bit more flattering? She looks to be sewn into a brown polyester cocoon.

Six deputies confirm Bobby’s warning, with qualifications. “It’s not all that bad,” an officer whose pants are sliding off because he has no butt, says.

“What does ‘not that bad’ mean?” I ask him.

“Well, he means it’s not as bad as Villanueva,” says another, leading the rest in a hearty laugh.

“Is Mr. X home now or in jail?” an officer who must periodically hike up his pants asks the others. They discuss the whereabouts of an evidently well known Villanuevan criminal, but no one is sure of his present status.

“Anyway, we would discourage anyone from moving down there,” says the man who brought up Villanueva. The beautiful, medieval valley of the Pecos, where I recuperated, which is populated by miniature Ancianos, is a hellhole of crime? Morbid curiosity curls holes in my memories.

“A real bad bunch of kids live there. Drugs up and down the street, you name it.”

A big, big deputy with a pistol bulging from his hip, pulls me aside to give me his card. “Why didn’t you ask us first? Call me before you rent something. I’ll tell you if it’s OK.”

“Go meet your neighbors, the female officer calls out. “Take them a gift and ask them to watch the house for you.” A gift? Drugs maybe? Sometimes I think the day cannot come too soon when we return the planet to small-brained creatures who invent nothing, not even theft.

13 

I return to the house of ambiguity where the paint I rolled onto the walls yesterday has dried to a perfect putty white and I use it now to coat woodwork peppered with nail holes and staples. An approaching train is detectable by a sound that is below hearing, a rumble I feel through my feet, a movement of the earth that spreads upward in my body until it becomes audible. I can’t help myself. I step outside to watch, this time an eastbound freight pulled by four diesel engines. It moves fast with the cars empty, toward successive lavender mesas tinted by rusty pinons. The dogs bark at the vanishing train then plop down in the red dirt in the shade of the truck. They ignore the landlord’s three cows and a calf, mere feet away.

I wander the yard and note debris: the blade of a cheap carving knife, the rusted head of an axe, a plastic jug full of dark oil, an oil filter, two ‘fridges, one with the innards of a TV set sitting on it, two sets of usable, antique bed springs in rusty red and gas station green, abundant wire, a bath tub, a child’s toy radio, rusted cans, a tire, marbles, batteries, a shoe, stove racks, lengths of hose, empty oil cans and more. I pick up a couple of rusted can lids, handy patches for holes in the floor.

The soil is wet beneath a pipe which exits the kitchen so I follow it to where it ends, open-mouthed, eight feet from the back door. White water flows from it. I left a couple of brushes in a can in the sink, a dribble of water flushing the paint…this is the drain? Everything runs out into the yard! Why?

Four hundred years of occupation comes to this: Compost Mentis. A reeking outhouse, a dribble of questionable water, oil and waste dumped on the ground, a junkyard with every house, and beer cans, bottles and cars in every arroyo; in short, all the insults of human occupation.

Let the earth return to its procession through countless unobserved seconds, to rocks alone receiving rain, to the crust flexing, to seas extending and receding, to clays settling and quartz grains rolling toward spherical perfection, to magmas swelling and benign creatures evolving and dying just like we saw in geology text books, I pray. How soothing the picture seems.

In a road cut on the way to Las Vegas, variations in dark maroon and red rock preserve the variation in mud on a moving shoreline: blocky ochre limestone that formed offshore is are e high and dry and faulted for anyone to see. Some of what we humans do is deplorable, and yet I cannot bear the thought that I might not have been a witness to what the universe has made. Feelings tumble through me like a desert stream until a boulder of a thought strikes me.

15

The landlord responded to my plea and hired a man with a truck to haul away trash, not to the dump, but across the railroad tracks where he spread it along the road. He has improved the outhouse and replaced (two-thirds) of the absent window panes. The landlord himself installed a bizarre, cone-shaped fireplace with a coat of arms on it in the bedroom and, as if the thing wasn’t ugly enough, he set it on a piece of hinged metal of unknown former function, then leaned a full sheet of bare sheetrock against the wall behind it, held in place by a 2 x 4 nailed to the floor. He has just completed the work and I am behaving quite strangely, having gotten myself totally confused. Am I happy or not that he has ‘fixed’ things?

“How marvelous, how wonderful,” I exclaim as he escorts me to the outhouse. I feel ludicrous standing over the freshly dug hole like it’s the Baths of Caracalla.

“Come here, look what we’ve done. Remember the refrigerators, the tires? Look.” He is truly pleased, I realize, as we walk to the front of the house and stand in the sun, looking south to where the train tracks lie.

“It must look pretty much as it did when you were a kid,” I say.

“Almost, you bet. Except for the railroad station being gone. That’s where your outhouse came from. The blue house over there is where my parents lived. Pretty soon there was eleven of us, so they built this place. We boys stayed here, like a bunkhouse.”

“That’s why all the doors.”

“Yes. We came and went. You know, we could get on the train right here and go to town, up to Las Vegas, to shop or see movies.” He smiles into his memories and I understand that I have no heart in the place. I rented an idea.

“Thank-you, Mr. A. I’ll be going away for awhile. You’ll hear from me.” He must think this odd, but even if I never come back he’s done right by his house today.

 

Along the road that curls away to the south, past the county dumpster with nothing inside, but much on the ground, is the local post office, which I pass three times before I recognize it by a tattered American flag that hangs limply outside a gray trailer. I stop the truck near an adobe hut: on the side is written in black spray paint, TIRES. There is also aweathered school bus that once hauled seminarians from Montezuma, outside Las Vegas.

A woman with dyed black hair, most of it missing, tends to a few weeds in front of the door. “I rented a house from Mr. A and I need a post office box.”

“Oh,” she says.” Come in.” She shows me two columns of boxes on either side of the counter. “What number will be OK for you?”

“Any number, really.”

“How about sixty?”

“Fine.”

“So you rented Mr A’s house. Little or big?”

“I don’t know,” what you’re asking.

“See, I have to draw which house it is. Is it the blue one?”

“No. Next door.”

“That’s little Mr. A.” She draws a map on the form so that the United States Postal Service can find me.

 

Chapter 12 / The Long Way to Arizona

The Long Way to Arizona

17

Yellow grass, yellow dirt, gray outcrops of rotted shale; it’s a long drive into Walsenberg because I had no coffee this morning. The cafe where I usually eat seems cheerier than it did in March. Denver Broncos posters relieve the uniform green decor and a salad wagon with a paper turkey affixed to the top breaks up the long room. Country music plays on the radio and a new man cooks in back.

I ask the owner, who is also the waitress, how the gambling referendum went in the recent election. “Northern Colorado shot us down, gave speculators all the time they need to buy this town, cheap.”

“And are they – buying?” I ask pushing away white silk Easter lilies to make room for breakfast.

“Are you kidding? Local owners know gambling won’t come for years now and they can’t afford to wait like the rich SOBs. And so many are old. It’s terrible how they’re selling out for whatever they can get.” She serves me the usual terrific breakfast burrito which I devour while the men at the counter talk pheasant hunting; the owner gripes to the new man.

“I’ve run this place eighteen years and been a waitress twenty-six. But these bitches I got workin’ for me… It’s slow? They sit and smoke. You think they could take the time to clean or restock?”

“It’s a welfare town,” the man says. “They don’t have to work.”

“Oh yeah? It gets slow in the restaurant I’m gonna lock up and go home.”

Breakfast costs me…seven dollars? Chitta. She doesn’t have to be mad at everybody.

At the hamlet of Farisita a little graveyard sits on the south side of the road, on a gentle slope that drops to a stream. The graves lie perpendicular to the fall line which produces the sensation that the headstones will cartwheel downhill. Above the cemetery the Sangre de Christo mountains, named by men who were dead drunk, defy description. Clean, carved, majestic, cold, vast, it makes no difference how many adjectives I might use. They are second only to the Tetons and that’s a close call. Too bad hardly anybody sees them.

19

Snowflakes become stars which turn to streaks when the USS Red Truck hits warp speed. Actually, I can’t judge my speed because the road has vanished and I could swear I’m driving backwards. To take my mind off the disorienting snow storm I call up the pleasing picture of Texas Teddy R’s new friend, who was, when I arrived at the Texans’ new saddle shop in Westcliffe, Colorado, hunched over the wood stove in a canvas coat and brown hat. Mischief, I thought. He looked up with bashful gray eyes and I was swept with the feeling that I already knew him. I almost asked, What are you doing here? but I was afraid that if I said anything I’d start spinning in circles of happiness like the black dog.

Mischief drew a deep breath, tugged on the brim of his hat, then looked down and back again. His lips parted, he tugged at his hat again and said, “I’ll be back.”

The Gunslinger dropped by (it seems he followed the Texans up here); four additional Texas transplants trooped in and the shop people from next door came over with a girl from the cafe. Mrs. Texas Teddy R arrived with the baby and her cousin, a seventeen year old boy who has moved in with them, and finally, Mischief returned.

When at last I pulled my eyes from his I heard a sound like Velcro ripping. My insides bounced up and down and I understood why dogs bark. I caught myself following him around the tiny room so I headed the other way only to find him following me. Our attention was suddenly demanded by the ungodly screeching of Mrs. Texas Teddy R.

“Ahh wont all these people outta here NAOW!”

“Huh?” was our collective response, though she addressed Texas Teddy R himself.

“These people ain’t gonna buy nuthin’. They are takin’ up space and drinkin’ our coffee.” We visitors froze, momentarily incapable of incorporating her meanness into our genial afternoon. “And you, mister! I want your butt in the back room makin’ saddles.”

Poor Texas Teddy R, caught with his pants down and in front of so many witnesses. The Texans remind me of the Romans: unwilling in thought they are reduced to rhetoric and marching. My prediliction to analysis, or ‘five-siding’ as Texas Teddy R calls it, drives them to despair.

I can still see Mrs. Texas Teddy R’s mouth screwed into the shape of the state of Florida as I tried to discuss options they might follow to afford a new truck, including waiting awhile.

“But Ahh wont it naow and that’s NAOW,” she screamed.

It appears that the truck has hit warp speed again as snow flakes the size of dinner plate dahlias spin in the headlights. I check the speedometer – 15 mph. Good Lord. I speed up and count on a drop in altitude to clear the view.

24

Denver, which is an hour away on the average day, is snowed in, and I’m stuck at the only RV park in Colorado Springs that stays open in the winter. I stumbled on it last night in the thick of the storm and now the trailer is buried in eight inches of snow.

A guest on a local radio talk show claims that Christians should take their children out of public schools. Secular education is by definition bad, he says. He himself publishes “easy to read, easily digestible books with a Christian viewpoint. Existing books (the kind in libraries) are too difficult to read, so I write easy question and answer books,” he says. Perhaps I should give up writing, I think. But never reading. After all, it’s an activity that can be prosecuted almost anywhere, including inside a frozen Spam can at an RV camp, and the ancient Romans are an inexhaustible subject. Take diet: they had a good variety of vegetables like cabbage, lentils, beans, lettuce, radishes and turnips, gourds, pumpkins, melons and asparagus; plus grains, fruits and abundant seafood, naturally. Still, a meal Pliny the Younger prepared for a dinner party is plain odd: each guest was served a lettuce, three snails, two eggs, barley water, sweet wine with snow and… how did one prepare and eat a paunch filled with tuna water? Translators ought to explain these things.

The little electric heater barely keeps pace with the 14* temperature and 35 mile per hour wind outside, but I’m content to lie in bed like a sick-of-winter invalid. The black dog, who impersonates a compact bundle of sweetness for the moment, warms my toes. The old dog dozes sitting up, hoping to snatch a snack should I launch one his way. He sinks to the floor in front of the heater, hoists himself up again and pleads with his eyes. I motion for him to join us on the bed. He crawls halfway up and totters, too weak to push himself farther, so I hoist him onto the bed like a man onto a life raft. The two dogs arrange themselves butt to shoulder at my feet, tuck noses under tails and fidget until they are lost in time. 25

I’ll give thanks this year with friends who have built the kind of family that might soon be extinct. Mom, dad, three kids, two dogs and a cat buzz about a three story Victorian house hemmed in by fifty-foot fir trees. Dad has braved the blizzard and a fear of heights to trim the roof and the long, curving porch with strings of fat Christmas lights. I park the truck and trailer on a side street and wade through a foot of snow to the back door which opens onto an explosion of noise, and I’m washed by a wave of greetings and laughter.

Upstairs, in a room at the end of a wide hallway, I find my bed buried beneath a white lace comforter. The radiator hisses warmly and family pictures cover the walls. A real house, a real home. How novel.

26

“How do you like living here?” the youngest boy asked me after turkey dinner.

“It’s swell,” I said. “How do you like it here?”

The boy paused a second, and then giggled. “It’s great. You know, if you stay here and sleep in your trailer you don’t have to pay rent. But if you have a room of your own you’ll have to pay my dad.”

December 1

Susie, the Cristo of Westcliffe, Colorado, wraps each picture that hangs in her cafe with Christmas paper and a bow. “Do the Seagram’s sign,” she tells a waitress. I eat then leave town having said good-bye after Texas Teddy R grabbed his two dogs by their collars, lifted them in the air and smashed their skulls together just because they wouldn’t get out of the truck. I couldn’t speak but turned my eyes away as he dragged the whimpering pair through the snow to the barn, kicking at my old dog and calling him “Old Bastard” because he nipped at the male.

You are the leader of the pack, I thought. He’s just following your lead.

One again we follow the aching frozen beauty of the Sangre de Cristo range. Antelope with bellies of snow and backs of earth dissolve into snow-patched fields. A red fox crosses the timeless winter road, slips beneath a fence, covers his rear with a glance, and lopes off.

The truck at last bores south on I-25. I don’t look back but accede to a wonderful numb and empty state induced by speed and successive horizons.

A freight train curls down the Colorado side of Raton Pass and on the New Mexico side dark volcanic islands ride a ghostly horizon. A few spots show white, but the plains for the most part have been blown free of snow. At the 1991 Award Winning Rest Area south of Raton, the sunshine is warm and so is the wind, as it blows flying saucer clouds across a pearly sky.

Wind-packed snowdrifts near Springer glisten like mica and many fat hawks work the shadowed afternoon fields. It was a long ago me I sought in Denver, an error as foolish as a hawk hunting its own shadow. I drop the quest behind me like a troublesome hitchhiker.

Western jacket made from vinyl.

It looks as if some careless civilization has used the Rio Grande valley as a trash dump: Albuquerque, next fourteen exits. Plenty of time to wonder how any place can be this ugly.

The course of the Rio Grande is delineated by a bruise of dark, bare trees which feed from the stream. The roadway slices ancient watercourses, now filled with sand, which were cut into thin basalt flows that rolled red hot from their source to bake the soil and ignite everything in their path. I wish I had a dollar for every man I’ve seen pissing at the side of the road. The odometer clicks 20,000 miles and beyond.

A narrow passage Near San Acacia, that cuts through a butte split by the Rio Grande, was a favorite site for Apache ambushes. It’s a quiet place of dormant fields now but the route was formerly so dangerous that the Spanish chose the waterless path along an abandoned course of the river which lies to the east, the Jornado del Muerto, death by dehydration being preferred to capture by the Apaches, who dined on half-cooked steaks of flesh stripped from their victims as they burned to death.

Near Albuquerque the crust has spread thirty miles in thirty million years, but farther south near Alamogordo, the rift complex is sixty miles wide. A massive bajada, which is an apron of debris, buries the mountains along the west side; huge, flat-bottomed chutes lead to the river through miles of boulders, cobbles and gravel. Intertwined threads of fine sand trace where water has flowed along the bottom. The road drops into and crosses one of these chutes, which has vanished in its own shadow, Nogal Canyon, a place the devil might tread to drink from the Rio Grande.

The temperature is 58* when I stop for the night at Elephant Butte State Park. Starlight and a thin sweep of clouds shade a half moon. I remove my jacket and wander, enveloped in the wet tang of creosote and sand.

4

The gates to the state park at Leasburg Dam are locked at dusk and I slip through with minutes to spare and search the loops for an electric spot. Campers anticipate Christmas. A string of lights rings a shelter and another outlines a tree in an RV window. It’s a cheery cul-de-sac, but full. I remove to a row of empty sites laid out on a flat that reeks of creosote. To the west, dry grasses and rabbit brush spread toward indistinct, gullied hills. The dogs eat their dinner in the drizzle while inside the trailer I repair the usual disorder.

A car stops outside and a figure passes the window. I open the door onto an elderly gentleman clad in a blue cap and jacket who smiles through a mouthful of missing teeth. Rain splashes his cheery face. “Welcome,” he shouts. “I’m your campground host.” He retails park services including the combination to the lock on the gate, in case I need groceries or “a night on the town.”

“Thanks,” I tell him, “for coming out in the rain.”

I stretch out on the bed, bolstered by pillows, and write to my dad, telling him how I’ve escaped winter. I finally called him after the eccentric couple said he’d called them looking for me. There were no hard feelings on either side, although I haven’t yet spoken with my brother. Our family is like a car that drove off the assembly line on four flat tires. No one noticed and we just kept driving. Periodically I point out that the tires are flat, but I’m outnumbered so I have to get out and walk. Actually, I’ve been walking a long time.

5

We nick the corner of Las Cruces and catch I-10 west. The sky is reflected in two wide, wet tracks which cut through a heavy snowfall that stopped travel last night. From radio reports it looks like we’ll be enjoying two hundred sixty-seven miles to Tucson, on ice, trapped between kamikaze trucks. I count a caravan of forty-one of the beasts heading east and pass three accidents in thirty miles.

From the overpass into Deming a line of trucks is visible to the horizon, maybe all eighty-six miles to Arizona. A truck stop looks like the place to be, its parking lot consumed by carefully parked rows of rigs and a jumble of autos. Inside, the restaurant air is numbing and patrons wait like concrete statuary for the solitary waitress who is as fluid as the oil in the crankcases of the vehicles outside.

Down the main drag, I stop alongside a motel with a cafe at the front. Two old guys smoke cigarettes and drink coffee at a table by the window and a group of eight people, who look related, dine beneath a dozen plastic garment bags which are hung on the wall like paintings. Within the bags are sweatshirts decorated with a craft product formerly marketed as toothpaste, which has empowered millions of American women to spread stupid southwestern motifs across the broad backs and ample bellies of the land. I sigh.

“Chicken fried steak,” I tell the waitress, then help myself to the salad bar.

A woman from the eight-top says hello as she fills a plate with macaroni, Jell-O and a cherry tomato. I tell her about the truck stop since the sum of my experience in her town is my stop there, and we go to our seperate tables.

“She couldn’t get waited on at the truck stop,” the woman announces to her companions.

“It’s been repo’d again,” one of the men says.

“They still got the same lousy food, I bet. She’s lucky they didn’t serve her,” another chips in.

“She said it was real cold inside,” the first woman says.

“They must not have paid the heat again,” someone concludes. My brief status as a topic thankfully ends and they focus on the weather. Hmm. The coffee tastes like it was made with aquarium water, the gravy could stick an elephant to the ceiling, the peas are canned and I’d trade my steak knife for a chain saw.

I hurry to buy a few provisions and another ten bucks floats to the check-out counter; the road to Rock Hound State Park aims south to Mexico, runs east through pretty ranchettes, angles southeast across the water-filled dips of an apron and ends where the mountains become a volcanic wall. The campground, which is tucked in at a break in slope, appears to be empty, but the scale is deceptive and as I drive closer I see a motorhome and two trailers, mere Tonka toys against the northern reach of Las Floridas.

Cloud bottoms are maybe a hundred feet overhead and I steer toward the inviting Olympian tufts. Suddenly, the truck tires spin futilely on the icy track. Why don’t I pay attention to where I’m going? A man stuffed into a down jacket, knit cap and a beard appears next to the truck.

“Back on down the hill,” he says. “I’ll guide you.”

Shall I warn him that backing up causes the two halves of my brain to quit talking to each other? “OK.” I smile and take my foot off the brake.

In seconds he’s pounding on my window. “You’re gonna hit a pile of rocks over here.”

“OK.” I smile and nod as if I can do anything about it, gun the engine and grind millions of tire molecules to oblivion.

He pounds on the window again. “You can’t go forward.”

I smile, nod and throw the transmission into reverse, look straight up the hill and hit the gas. I check the rear view mirror. Perfect. The trailer sits between a shelter and the rest rooms, poised to change direction. I wave to the man then follow the road to a level pull-thru.

“Hey, hey!” A man in a flame orange flannel shirt, army jacket and white jeans yells at me in a Boston accent as I plug in the trailer’s electric cord. “Don’t go down to the gate. Register here.” He stands in the doorway of a yellow building and points to the ground at his feet.

The windows of the park office overlook the valley, north to Deming. The man, and a helper with a cauliflower nose and state park patches on his cap and jacket, stands around as I fill out a payment envelope, insert four dollars and hand it over.

“Put it in there.” The Easterner points to a yellow, bomb-proof cylinder mounted on a bomb-proof stand. “And keep the white and yellow copies for yourself.”

“I don’t need them,” I say, having decided pieces of paper that I’m supposed to keep never do anything but fill boxes. He takes the envelope from me and tears the receipts off anyway before I can drop it in the canister. We are now free to talk weather, which we do for fifteen minutes.

The dogs have not eaten much of the food I set out for them, a brand of chow they evidently despise. I give them a pep talk about dogs being on the plate in several cultures then throw snowballs their way. The black dog catches several in his teeth, paws the snow for the ones he misses then gets that look. He takes off, manic to the tips of his racing toes. Like a cartoon dog unfrozen from the comics page, his back feet come forward in a hairpin turn each time he reaches for a touch down.

Clouds inhale moisture, grow denser and close us in. The profile of a volcanic stock just to the west disappears and a giant Spanish Bayonet fans perfectly, ice-edged in the gloom. Cold air sinks like poison gas through every crack in the trailer as I hurry to fluff the down comforter and crawl beneath it. The lights go out and the heater goes silent. The elegant yucca is my sole companion in the fog as I reset the circuit breaker. Five days into ten months on the road and I still don’t want to live anywhere. I prefer to come and go, live the secret life of a snake or a jasper boulder that tumbles in an arroyo.

6

Three white-haired folks who sit behind the entry desk at a museum in Deming are embarassed to be caught with their mouths full of treats. In the main room partiers consume cookies and punch to the sounds of a cranky piano,

“I’ll find my way around. No need to get up,” I shout.

A woman in a lime green pants suit swallows hard, wipes her mouth and asks, “Do you need a guide dear, or can you just wander?”

I’ve come to visit the world’s most wonderful cowboy boots and I slip down the hall to the glass case where they are kept.

At 8:30 p.m. I revive from a state of unconsciousness like having been hit by a mallet. Fog clasps the trailer and the single light at the park entrance makes ice droplets in the air into pretty, visible things. I turn down the radio, light a candle and open a Pepsi. How easy it is to sleep, to join the earth in suspended animation. Books I could read poke out of the covers like icebergs but my head hits the pillow with a thunk. The little heater whistles like a cricket and the dogs are soundless, overcome with the drug of fog.

An hour later I return, hot and happy like a poached egg. I eat peanuts, drink Pepsi and think. The prospect of sunny days in Arizona can’t override a feeling of dread. In my mind, happy hours spent in the pretty cemeteries comingle with three years of bewildering stupidity at, of all places, the university. Ironically, the resulting anger propelled me into the best months of my life. I’ve dropped a lifetime of institutional refuse along the way, left it to be sucked up by the wind and annihilated. Nature takes it all and makes something pretty of it. Fog or dust devils or a plain wind. Still, I drift toward Arizona like a doomed satellite captured by a planet.

7

“The left tire on the trailer is losing air,” I tell a kid at the auto shop who looks remarkably like Kirk Douglas. He bounces on the balls of his feet, grins sideways in a dimwit way and assures me he’ll fix it right up.

The waitress at a nearby restaurant (black jeans, a red ruffled blouse and lacquered, inverted bangs) brings me lunch. I never had a sweet burrito before. It’s cloying, especially the sea of gooey jack cheese that scoots around the plate when I put a fork to it.

“All fixed.” White teeth flash like the kid has a diabolical secret he can barely keep to himself.

We drive across streets named Diamond, Platinum, Gold, Tin and Copper to arrive at an RV repair shop where I hop around in the cold while a mechanic works on the propane heater, which I’ve never used but will need soon. The usual nonsensical conversations with the guys who hang around such places, take place. An old boy who has probably worn the same crumpled cowboy hat and coveralls for thirty years speaks up when he sees my Wyoming plates.

“I seen ol’ Earthquake, have you?”

“Ol’ who?”

“The horse on your license plate.”

“He has a name?” I’ll be.

“Sure, he was a famous bronc. I seen him on display in Okie City at the Cowboy Hall of Fame.” I picture a life size, red metal cutout of a horse, just like the one on the license plate, accompanied by a label that says, Ol’ Earthquake. OK to Touch.

As I hop up and down to distract my cold feet, I promptly forget the name of the horse. A tall kid dressed in jeans and a thin extra-extra large T-shirt, leaps over the trailer tongue and exclaims, “Oh what a beautiful puppy, what a sweetheart. Can I pet him?” The black dog’s head sticks out of the window like a trophy.

“It’s equal opportunity pets around here,” I say as the old dog forces his head through the hole. A two-headed dog soaks up the attention like sand does the rain.

“Where are the men who work here?” the boy demands of me. “I need a hose,” and he dances around the truck into the burrito stand which fronts the building. Something eye-high and red moves near my shoulder. It’s a Santa Claus hat. A K-Mart badge is pinned to it. It says, Moses. The broad smiling lips, flat wide nose, long black hair and thick, muscular body of a Toltec god is under it. The god wears a gray suit, white shirt and black tie. His face is sweet and menacing at once as he asks stupid questions like, “What year is your truck?” and “What kind of gas mileage does it get?” then slips in, as if to be smooth, “Are you married?”

I laugh from habit. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I’m laughing because everyone asks me that. No, that’s not right. Men ask.”

“You’re attractive,” he says. “I don’t understand an attractive woman alone.”

“That’s why I’m laughing,” I laugh. “A man says to himself, ‘There’s a woman going to waste.’ It never occurs to him that a woman has a life beyond the limits he can imagine for her.”

He eyes me sideways like I might be dangerous then says, “You’re a teacher aren’t you?”

8

A mass of cold wet air moves up the valley on twisting winds like the silver tongue of a snake that is about to devour Deming. It’s 9:30 AM and as dark as Hades as I drive into town in search of an RV park.

US Marines, outnumbered by reporters, squint in the glare of TV lights as they make divots for themselves on a beach in Somalia. They look vulnerable and violated like mother turtles who have come ashore to dig nests and lay eggs only to find a crowd of nosy naturalists intent on filming their private lives.

A man who was here earlier, in the so-called clubhouse, took a break, leaving his portable computer, a pile of papers and two textbooks behind. He retired recently from the Air Force and took the only job he could find, as an English teacher at the middle school in Deming.

“Teachers here work two or three years then move on to bigger cities,” he said indicating a like intent on his part. He lives at the RV park because his family has yet to move down from Clovis, New Mexico.

“If I had stayed in Illinois I would be finished with student teaching and certified,” I told him.

“That close? Why didn’t you finish?” he asked. “There’s an opening right now for a science teacher at the high school.”

Why? “Allah has laid out the earth for you like a vast carpet so that you will travel its endless roads,” is one sentiment in the Koran that I can endorse. Back at the trailer, Earnest Tubbs waltzes across Texas.

9

An old man sticks his head out of the driver’s side window of a pale school bus which is parked next to me. Downy hair fluffs from his scalp and opaque china blue eyes bulge on either side of a hooked nose. His head bobbles shakily, like a baby bird’s, as he hangs onto the window glass for support. His lips move, I hear “Cheyenne” over the wind and, “lived there once.” Seems everyone has. I stand in the damp, cold air and balance a dishpan of soapy water against my stomach while the nestling fixes on a point above my head and speaks like a prophet.

“I had a trailer like yours. Blew all over the highway. I had seven Jeeps, five of them new. Wore them all out. Got this bus. It’s good.” He looks at me. “I said, ‘You live in Cheyenne?’”

“Only in the summer sometimes.”

“I live west of Fort Collins in the summer.” He grins. “I’m an Indian.”

“You have blue eyes.” My teeth chatter as I eye the restroom, which is where I was headed.

“I’m an Indian,” he repeats.

“I see.”

“From back east,” he says.

“Alright,” I say.

“It helps. See the tires?” He points a long shaky finger at the left front tire of the old bus. “I was at Canyon de Chelley and I needed new tires. Some Navajo boys took me up to the school and gave me six new tires for twenty dollars. And I gave ‘em another eighty bucks to put them on the bus.”

Sun-shredded curtains hide the inner bus from view but I doubt I should want to see it. I think of my own father, try to place him in the window, deaf, rambling and mysterious like this old birdman, but I can’t imagine him without his mind, a mind that desires to dominate everything around it. It’s his nature, like a tiger, like the tiger that surprised me at the Denver Zoo by pacing silently up to the glass wall beside me. Something like telepathy told me its jaws were inches from my head. I turned to see it glide by, frustrated that I was not available for lunch. Its immense, buttery shoulder muscles worked under the luxurious coat, its teeth showed just enough to intimidate. The white whiskers invited stroking, and the amber eyes disappeared in a bored blink. Such is my father. I’m glad that he’s in his own decent home with my brother to take care of him.

10

A retired black couple lives in the trailer across the lane from me, former New Yorkers who in the tradition of east-west misunderstanding like to make fun of the locals and their ways. His big peeve is bilinguilism.

“Who do these people think they are?” George asked the universe yesterday. “We got thirty languages in New York. You can’t go ‘round teaching kids in different languages.”

“That’s right,” Dorothy added. “Everyone’s got to learn English if this is gonna work.”

Today, George and I stand in the gravel lane between our trailers and build the ultimate trailer. Lightweight but rugged, solar and self-contained, it’s the space-shuttle of mobile abodes. He wears a Russian fur hat with the ear flaps in the ‘up’ position, a ribbed khaki sweater, tan slacks and walking shoes and he carries a sport coat over his arm. Dorothy, equally formal for these parts, strides up and chides us good-naturedly.

“Honestly, you two are two of a kind. Talkers. George! We got to go.” Her gripe, as she expressed it, is that certain families in New Mexico “Have things tied up. The cops, the mayor, the judge and the drug dealers all have the same last name. You can’t get nothin’ done.” This seems to me an odd complaint to come from a New Yorker. She’s also upset that no one in Las Vegas, Nevada, would cash her personal check. Christ. McDonalds wouldn’t take a fifty dollar bill from me this morning unless I gave them my drivers license and social security card to copy. Fat chance.

11

I leave Deming driving west on I-10 and promptly pass a semi trailer that has been opened like an orange juice can by a train. Cabbages cascade along the rail embankment and a worker tosses one up and down. Due to the strength of the wind I have a rigor mortis grip on the steering wheel as we cross the continental divide at an elevation of 4585 feet, although how surveyors picked the correct spot on these flats, I don’t know. At the border I can hear the dogs fighting in the back of the truck, which is peculiar.

Arizona opens with fabulous, wild islands of blue rock masses which drown in their own debris and smaller buttes which rise like the horns of Moses. Bits of cotton stick to everything and three-wheeled contraptions that look like cotton candy machines bounce mightily along access roads to the fields. Bare pecan trees might be squandered paint brushes planted in rows.

The stark, gravel compound of a park in Willcox is fronted by a pink brick building and a sign that advertises Luxury RV Lifestyle. Especially bad southwest art from Asia clutters an office which suffers from an overdose of blue color. The rest of the place is klutzy, cold and out of scale, like the egos of drunken men.

12

A service station is just visible in a secluded area of blond grass and creosote just below the highway. I exit, fill up the truck and inside, wait to pay. A man who stinks of half-digested beer pulls a sticky wallet from his front jeans pocket, teases out his drivers license and thrusts it at the cashier. An egg-size scab mars his cheek, or is it a thick spot in the scum which cloaks his skin and mats his hair?

“Here, here,” he says. “I’m gettin’ two dollars gas. Then I gotta go home.”

“Just give me two dollars,” she says. “I don’t want your license.”

He steps, weaves, “Don’t got two dollars. I got shot in the leg last night. See?” He points to his right thigh, to nothing. “Take my license.”

“I gotta have cash,” she says. He tries to hand her the license again but she refuses to acknowledge him so he exits weaving to a dung brown compact, drives across the lot, gets out and crawls through a barbed wire fence to where a truck driver has stopped his rig.

North of Tucson, between soft and brutal members of the vegetable kingdom and the harsh gray sky, lie successive horizons of black mountain ranges that are surely a diorama of the underworld. The terraces of the Ray mine descend before them, the rock streaked and stained in every shade of heat from thick blood to fire yellow. I am, as always, awed by the fantastic, primeval geometry of Arizona.

We land in the town of Superior where a Make Peace Not War sign dominates the side of McPherson’s Hotel Magma. The black gates of the cemetery, where I used to wander happily, are looped with chains. White figures glow under tall cedars and I turn away with the feeling that I was always an alien here.

The sunlit foreground of tan hills displays a plentitude of eccentric saguaros, but to the north, black spires of Wagnerian, jaw-dropping scale are raked with deep blue shafts of rain. The highway crosses a last pile of rocks and drops into the desert. From here, the pointed, poky mountains become what children squeeze from clay.

Memories drag me into the past and I search for the present horizon in vain, but find only murmerings of pain. Leave this place, they say.

13

It ends much as it began. The trailer is lit by four candles though I bought new batteries for the lantern. The Superstition Mountains make their own darkness at my back. The sky above Phoenix and her satellite towns bleeds salmon red. As I sip the remains of my coffee someone’s wind-up dog yaps without pause and a generator rum-rums far away. I’m almost calm here in the countryside, under the stars, amongst the desert brush and Palo Verde trees, away from the tightly packed city.

An odd thing occurred. I went to the storage complex where my worldly goods are confined, to do what? I opened the doors, gasped and shut them again. The towering tangle of stuff took me by surprise, like a manifestation of problems I had deserted, and which had been lying in wait. Upset, I went to a shopping mall to think.

“Hey Bo.” I saw dark curls, a crooked nose, a pressed white shirt and a pale face.

“Where’s your ring?” I asked. The Spaniard showed me a square gold thing with a cluster of diamonds on it like a cheapster from the 50s might have worn, but he wore it on the correct finger. “Is (I almost said the Hell Bitch) uh, you wife here?”

“Sure. We flew in last night. You’ve never met her?”

“Just by hearsay,” I said. “You’ve got talkative friends.” Something moved in his amber eyes and we spoke afterwards without looking at each other.

“Hey – I’m not drinking any more.” He puffed up his chest and stroked his stomach. “Thirty days now. Look, I’m eating too much.” True, he’d grown a tiny paunch but his jeans still fit.

“And your wife?”

“A gorgeous blond,” he prefaced.

We approached a short woman with tall fancy boots pulled over her jeans, who stood with her back to us. Her hair was unnaturally light, straight and shoulder length. I hoped the hair would match her face but it didn’t. A dark crescent followed her upper lip and her features were ordinary and expressionless. I can’t remember the color of her eyes. She was not a bit friendly.

By contrast, the pretend Mrs. Rio, as Rio’s father described her, was “like a horse that’s never been rode rough; gentle. I don’t know why Rio don’t keep this one.” Me neither.

“I have a terrible headache and I’m tired,” I said.

Rio rubbed his head and looked in the direction the Hell Bitch had gone. “Yeah, I’m tired too. Hey, look us up in Santa Fe.”

“What’s the new number?” I asked, assuming he’d moved to her ranch. I had no intention of calling.

“Check with Fuzzy. He’s living at the cabin now.”

“Use the old phone number?”

“No, I had it disconnected. Those two were callin’ all over. Fuzzy knows where to find me.” He looked miserable, like a Spaniard who has repented at the last minute and made it into heaven.

“Funny running into you here,” I said.

15

I drive northeast from Deming to Hatch through a big valley of blond grass, blue shadows and ranches. Home has been wherever I stopped for the night during the last nine and a half months, but the feeling of moment to moment contentment has escaped me like a bird that flew from my chest.

“Come back,” I plead, but the sky is empty and silent. The dogs bark at cattle as usual. My eyes burn and my neck aches. The stick shift rattles like a time bomb. I’ve forgotten the form of home, feel its loss, then know that this is what I set out to do, had to do. Home hurt. Suddenly, it’s just another day on the wide Rio Grande and I cheerfully drive mile after mile into the wind. My eyes see clouds, but no rain.

Year 2 / Sleeping with Dogs

Year 2 / Sleeping with Dogs

New Mexico

March

A red Jaguar convertible from Colorado passes my truck on its way to Santa Fe, no doubt. The top is down and two festive Hawaiian print caps poke above the sheepskin headrests. Four miles south of Las Vegas, New Mexico, two riders on thin hairy horses cross a rough field. A red dog runs ahead of them and a white-muzzled equine senior tags along. I don’t enjoy having my feet leave the ground by even a short distance: you can’t pick things off the earth and examine them from a horse’s back.

Back in town I order a special Lenten lunch at the Chlorox Cafe, consisting of a baked salmon patty, mild wild spinach, boiled beans, and a torta de huevo – an egg white beaten frothy then fried like a pancake. I sip my third cup of coffee, bathed in the breath of humanity. The chatter around me is innocuous, and for me, without content. Will I ever learn to love my own kind?

The washing machines at a popular laundromat in Santa Fe have female names paintedon the front panels in script, but the dryers are male: George, Billy, etc. The attendant is an elderly Chicana who does embroidery on the side.

“That shirt you have on needs embroidery,” she comments.

“Why do the machines have names?” I ask.

“So when they need fixed I can tell the maintenance man. That Tilla is a bad machine. Always needs a new belt or something. She wouldn’t take the coins one day so I left him a note, ‘Tilla won’t take the coins.’ Turned out some stupid put nickels in. ‘Scuse me Lady, I gotta mop the floor. I asked the boss what I do when people won’t move. ‘Mop between their legs,’ he told me. So I do.”

I insert quarters in June and Barbara.

April

Spring comes like a baby that is unwilling to be born. “You make the other statues look like putas,” said a man in Spain to the Virgin Mary. I read that the Moors painted Paradise blue; that the word Flamenco refers to the Flemish, because Spaniards were drab and the Flemish were exciting; that Merida comes from Emeritus, a retirement town for Roman veterans; that it was the Romans who brought the ancestors of fighting bulls to Spain.

Two elderly owners survey operations at the Chlorox Café, sister-generals who miss nothing and never interrupt a good assault. The elder commands the cash register from a bunker behind the bakery counter while her second-in-command limps sharply between the tables, her face immobilized by layers of face powder many shades lighter than her skin, as if she is casting her own death mask.

Balding National Guardsmen, whose dress socks and shiny black shoes stick out like sore feet, hold Sunday newspapers between their knees, spread like the wings of avenging angels, as if today’s edition details activities for the end of the world.

Overweight, arthritic, and ornery, and an efficient army in their own right, waitresses in black stretch pants scuttle to clear dishes and deliver hot lunches. Never down on the job, they hang tight and perform. A phone rings, the food bell jingles. A boy cursed with hair as red and springy as copper wire unwound from a motor coil blows a plastic whistle. Three cooks work like demons, delivering hot and gooey omelets and burritos, enchiladas et al. Despite a giant floor fan that sweeps their cage, they sweat profusely, pounding the food bell as the pass-through backs up with plates of burgers, bowls of posole and sides of sopaipillas. Bang! Crash! The yellow glove of the dishwasher sprays steamy water across a tub of heavy china.

A gleaming orb, the eye of the Cyclops, a shimmering disk, the silver plate of heaven, the business end of a cosmic flashlight, a bad ball of basalt (and a small one at that), the meteor-abused pal of a wet and wonderful earth, the sun’s faithful mirror: whatever the moon may be called, I grow restless under its wafer-like perfection as it slides up the sky toward brittle stars that peep from the edges of thin clouds. A full moon turns night into eternity and confounds all nature. What must sleep, does not, lured awake by a sham sun. Brittle, beautiful light, why do you unsettle me?

I fidget, long, desire and turn sideways on my bed, noting the mundane objects around me. Long days of confinement will no longer do. No, winter will no longer do. I wait like a potato in a cold oven, like a seed in a package, like a missile in a silo, like a crucible of bronze, like an ambush, like a parachutist, like a sun worshipper in the arctic night.

A man who sits across the kid-size library table we share grows an incipient spiky mustache; he snuffles over a book of quotations. An anthology of mythology received the same noisy inspection. One entry caused him to ejaculate “Abstinence!”

Donated to the town of Las Vegas by Andrew Carnegie, as were libraries in small towns across the nation, the building is a miniature model of Jefferson’s Monticello. No annoying computer system separates patrons from books, and since the library is petite, the antiquated card catalogue is unnecessary: one can simply scan the shelves.

History writers, even if they compose the facts well, don’t seem to know that the past was inhabited by human beings who smelled like growing things and kicked the dust into small tornadoes. To paraphrase the book I have in hand:

…and then she was stripped naked by the Comanches, who forced her to mount a wild horse that repeatedly bucked her off and then they made her get back on. Once time she got away and hid in some bushes, but had no clothes or hat. Some good guys happened and tried to help, but the Indians came back and chased them away. She was forced to hide again, this time in some rocks…eventually the nice guys came back to rescue her. Guess what? She was six months pregnant and didn’t have a miscarriage! Plucky little gal, huh?

A Comanche warrior 1892 and his namesake, the Boeing-Sikorsky Comanche helicopter. The Comanche were possibly the toughest human beings who have ever existed.

 

I don’t watch vintage Bible movies like I did last Easter, courtesy of a motel in Cheyenne, Wyoming, which is where I lived at the time. The old dog passed on in January; the black dog lies by himself on the cool trailer floor, waiting for me to suggest a walk or a ride in the truck. Today’s task was to reflect on the year that has passed, but other than the fact that I’m still living on the road, what is there to say? I must have changed in some way, but how do we see such things in ourselves?

 

Bales of disposable diapers cross the bridge into Mexico from El Paso, clasped in the arms of men and women who dive into any passing truck. The contents of adjacent shops spill onto the sidewalk, as do men whose calls are augmented by flashing lights, Latin music, and portable microphones. Their efforts create an irresistible suction that pulls shoppers into narrow stalls, myself included, and I surface inside a women’s store presided over by dour, skull-faced Koreans, who stand on platforms like sinister storks, shouting in terse, effective Spanish at the Mexicanas who work the sales floor. The saleswomen are polite, patient, and recommend garments that one would never choose for oneself. I leave with a bright patterned leotard and an equally – no – logarithmically loud Polynesian-psychedelic blouse and skirt, printed with red and yellow and brown and blue flowers that are outlined in red and green and gold and ultra blue and hot pink sequins. It’s an event, not an outfit, and I will never wear it.

I could do with a pair of shoes, but those offered are cheap uncomfortable things, though of intriguing Whores-of-Babylon style. Little girls’ dresses, in unbearably petite sizes, stuff a shop window. I was not a happy toddler when confined in similar confections of ruffled organdy and huge satin bows, but it’s obvious why my mother forced me into them.

 

Fifty miles up the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, water flows over Leasburg dam with a distant rush, day and night. Two days in the sun have stripped my hair summer white again: Rio Grande, Rio Blonde. Small greening fields abut the thread of water where it courses between bare mountains to the west and hills held by creosote to the east. A freight train slides by; its ‘chuffs’ are silenced by the wind. Bats fly across the setting sun and mosquitos whine in the dog’s ears as if some speedier universe is trying to reach him, but their message only makes him irritable. Soothing and familiar country music plays on the radio. The DJ of the hour announces a contest for Secretary Day, “Lonche con su patrone,” the prize. I would live this way forever.

Knee-high boots cover the shins of a cowboy whose pencil-thin legs are broken into thighs and calves as strategically as those of a Greek statue. A bright buckle breaks his lanky torso and iron gray hair fluffs from beneath the halo of his cowboy hat. He claims that a broke down saddle that I own (lying in the dust at the Santa Fe flea market) is the very one that he passed off to a woman in Las Vegas: it’s the Old Maid saddle, and I am now stuck with it. He thinks this is terribly funny and when he laughs, three pebbly teeth are all that remain to disrupt the gap between his lips, reminding me of a horse skull that I own.

The cowboy dips his hat toward a sickly kid weighed down by mirrored sunglasses, who stumbles toward us up the sandy aisle. “That’s the boy there now. The wife stayed home this weekend. We rent a house out there, oh you know, halfway to Santa Rosa. One of us has to stay put or the damn neighbors take everything. Worse, they shoot the horses or dogs, just for the hell of it.”

Later in the day I pass his booth, hoping he will signal that he’s doing well, but instead he mouths “No good,” and moves his hands down and away, his long fingers spread toward the ground. By day’s end, the cowboy flashes a bundle of bills. “I can’t believe what these people will buy,” he says. “I dragged all this junk out of a dump behind the house. I am gonna do just fine.”

I meet a new kind of Westerner too, a smooth talking Moroccan who lives the ‘easy life,’ he says, thanks to his American wife.

“You don’t eat pork, I don’t date married men,” I tell him.

 

The road that runs southeast from Las Vegas, New Mexico, climbs out of a down-warp at the foot of the Rockies, which at this southern extremity, divide like the tongue of a rattlesnake. A hazy sky shares the view ahead with blue plains that sometimes elicit Homeric clichés, but not from me. The truck drifts past windmills and squat ranch buildings connected by a million fence posts. Soon the mountains recede behind us; a mirage shrinks then disappears abruptly when the road plunges over the edge of the Canadian Escarpment, a giant ledge that runs northeast for one hundred miles, from Las Vegas to Clayton.

A carload of tourists monopolizes a roadside shrine, taking pictures of each other in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary, so I watch a broken windmill rod lift, then drop, no longer able to pump water. The up-screak, down-screak is an existential sound.

National Weather Service announces that golf-ball hail is moving our way, toward Amarillo, at 40 mph. A tornado has been spotted nearby, so I abandon the trailer to its fate, and speed the truck to an underpass to wait out the storm in the company of two other vehicles. Despite the concrete roadway overhead, rain bites hard and road signs wave like twirling lollipops. Lightning flickers as if someone up there is wiggling a light switch. A pigeon that tries to gain a perch on the concrete support waffles in the air like a piece of litter.

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.