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.

 

Year Two: August – December

The United States of America is an accretion of transplanted cultures that have been paved over by the American dream and by middle class materialism. I think we have come to that stage known to every empire, when its people reorganize along boundaries that supersede manmade order. The romance of unity fades: passion often does in a marriage, and really serious squabbles begin. The Federalization of the government is an effort to fill the cracks, that is, to bind the disparate cultures of the empire together in a straitjacket of legislation. We think that we have escaped the cycle of empires, but like foolish river runners who survive a few rapids, we ignore the sound of Niagara Falls ahead.

What cheery thoughts arise on a sweet-sky morning, in a world held together by the road to Santa Fe.

The black dog snaps at a fly, which he swallows dutifully, like a man who makes love to a long-married wife. I notice that my feet are cold and that I’ve been crying, which sometimes happens when I think, as if my brain cannot work without lubrication.

The dog forces the day: we discover that during the night a raccoon pried the lid off the dog food bin, then washed the kibbles in the water bucket. What a mess.

Trailer chores are finished in time for the second hail storm of the week. Ice balls bang the roof while I detail my precarious finances in a letter to my father. This is an exercise, of course. I will act from impulse, from the need to act, which is why I’m in this fix. I like to think that I’m conservative; a pillar of the community that got knocked out of position, not nomadic by nature, but by circumstance. And why can’t a pillar be mobile?

The saddle that would not go away, unexpectedly went away. I lost some money on it, and so will the man who bought it. He came back later to tell me that his friends were making fun of him. What could I say? When you pass off the Old Maid you just say thanks. The day went well, so I’ll survive another week or two. It’s all the breathing room I can expect.

I bought two cowboy hats from a Denver man. One, khaki in color, was big for me, so I lined the band with newspaper, then added a horse hair chain secured with a gold pin. The other hat fits as is. I now have five hats and see a collection coming.

No fridge (it’s in the shop), no shower, no wall-to-wall, but significantly, I have cowboy hats and boots and a playhouse on wheels. A dog.

The heater bangs away and my tin can grows toasty. The temperature skids into the 30s again. At 8500’ there’s a sharp drop around bedtime. My wrists and forearms ache and I feel vaguely beaten up. Packing and pacing at the flea market takes a toll, as do the heat, sun, wind, and aggressive dust. I was in motion from dawn until I plowed through an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet at dinner.

August

My chosen spot is among older folks who sell what they pick up at garage sales or overstock. There’s a cowboy boot tycoon from Texas, who brings his large family, and a strange man in a silly hat who sells nothing but belts. These are people who have nothing to prove, nothing to explain. They do this to make land payments, to supplement pensions, to secure a little space in a harsh world. Among these folks, I am content.

Sales were slow and I spent much of the day joking with my neighbor, a woman who recently took an oath as a witch. She sells new and used clothing out of a disintegrating Buick and works as a movie extra, most recently as a saloon girl.

A Texan of non-standard issue (spattered like a retro lamp, an Ecuadoran straw shade) makes fish sculptures from Bondo. He joined us to lament the lack of fish sales and the horror of being stranded in Santa Fe without funds. He pissed and moaned about parking his van in dark crevices around town, just to sleep.

Hours later the fish maker returned, a bit drunk. I imagine one beer would do it. He tossed a wad of bills on my table, mostly twenties. His fish-belly-face flushed like a cooked lobster .

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Some gallery owner bought me out. Every damn fish. I’m saved. Ya need money? Take some,” he said, popping another beer. He meant it, and the tipsy man chattered deliriously about a place to stay and having a bath, about being sick of hiding out by the railroad tracks in the company of desperados. “I gotta go call my mom,” he said.

“That guy will blow it all by tomorrow,” the witch observed.

Life at the flea market flows like a dream. There’s no time for popping out into words once consciousness has been abandoned. I am at home on the low hilltop that is divvied into little kingdoms with pairs of metal posts. This is my two-hundred-fifty square feet. Please recognize the boundaries as those of a sovereign trading nation. I select the merchandise, set prices, determine the method of payment and offer deals to whomever I please.

A dealer from Dallas takes the space to my left. He is outfitted all in black, in the style of Paladin, and so far he has remained remote behind black shades, delivering prices simply, his arms crossed in subtle righteousness, a pose of confidence that sends mere lookers away. A woman’s 1940 Nudie rodeo suit, wrapped in a plastic bag, hangs from the nylon canopy he erected against the sun. An embroidered stagecoach races across its blue wool shoulders, scattering rhinestone dust. The resplendent work of wearable art draws an inquiry.

“Two,” he says. And again,”Two,” when the inquirer fails to respond. “Two thousand,” he stresses.

A yellow wool jacket, also by Nudie, the back stitched with a splendid Indian in full war bonnet, with elaborate related gizmos on the front, disappeared earlier at, “One. One. One thousand,” in spite of tiny scattered moth holes.

The remaining vendors along our aisle offer the usual mix of cheap Indian jewelry, still popular after all these years. Vintage textiles tower in heaps like loot retrieved from a clothing massacre. Mexican trivets, dough troughs, and hacked-out saints beckon tourists to buy glued-together pots represented as pre-Columbian. Primitive furniture is extremely popular in New Mexico and the pickings from every arroyo within three hundred miles are laid out in the dust. Little did the Ancianos know that when they dumped plows, signs, carts, furniture, boxes, bins, tools, wheels, anything really, onto the fair land, they were not just making a mess, but banking valuable antiques to be withdrawn by their descendents and sold to despised Anglos, who must create authentic decorator junk piles in their yards. One must fit in.

Hoards trudge the aisles looking, but not buying. Sunscreen dissolves into my eyes. My antique silk umbrella suffered a terminal rip earlier, so I hunch in the slim shadow of the truck. My stomach must be filled with sand: I order drinks two at a time from the kids across the way who do Odd Jobs – 50c, as notes pinned to their shirts say.

The sun blazes, unveiled by clouds, but the sky is mellow-looking and a bit yellow, like fall. I haven’t showered since Friday.

Suddenly, a pair of silver earrings with screw-backs, worn by elderly women, are purchased by a sweet older lady. A silver coin scraped and carved into a medallion of La Virgen, by a prisoner in Mexico, goes to a professor from west Texas. A tin ballot box purchased from a Colorado visitor turns over at a profit and heads back to Colorado.

It was a year ago this weekend that I came to Santa Fe. The Milky Way stars overwhelm my view of the night sky as I sip icy water from a pot left on the camp stove. Even dying men want water to drink, I think. Dark and cold too soon; fall is imminent. I feel like a piece on a checkerboard that has jumped many spaces in one move. The process of surviving has killed any assertion that the earth was made for us. Unlike termites, sharks, and forams, which have all passed their exams, we are one of earth’s untested products. For me, adapting is simple. All I must do is move south for the winter.

September

Weeks pass like traffic on the interstate. The right rear tire on the truck was cut by a rock on my way down the mountain into Santa Fe this morning. The hiss of escaping air prompted me to pull off the road. Cool air touched my fingers, but I judged the tire competent to get me to a gas station five miles ahead, where, the I pumped air into it then judged it competent to take me to the flea market. The tire went flat as I backed into my spot, causing me to hook the right tail light on a post, tearing it from the body of the truck.

There was no way to jack up the truck as full as it was, especially with the handicap of a fiendish toy jack supplied by Chrysler, so I unloaded my goods, yelling prices to the curious as I sat in the dirt. No one offered a hand or seemed to notice my struggle. Let’s see, with the jack are four attachments. How’s this all go? A cowboy friend watched from across the aisle, but pretended not to. He waited until I was ready to lower the truck, then gallantly offered to throw the flat into the truck bed.

October

Nature’s animal prepares for winter by unloading the truck bed and hosing it out. A summer’s worth of silt, gravel, sticks, leaves, nails, coins, beads, and dog food begins a journey to the Gulf of Mexico that will last hundreds of thousands of years. How can a person, who is not a mechanic or craftsperson, have two tool boxes, an ammo box full of tools, plus a plastic bin the size of a Saint Bernard full of equipment? Determined to reduce the load, I start in, but the jacks must stay – tarps too, several lengths of rope – need those. Gas can, oil can, Coleman fuel can, propane cartridges, bungee cords, flares, tent pegs. This is hopeless, and I throw it all back in the truck, content that extension cords are neatly wound, stringy things are tied together and that the fuels are safely stowed.

Behind the seat I find several vise grips, an army blanket, an orange raincoat, a jacket, unread newspapers, library books, campground guides I never use, an Atlas, a fishing reel, a case of cassette tapes, a folding cardboard sun screen for the windshield and several pounds of dog hair mixed with gravel. Mom may have taught us manners, but to Dad we owe the stuff without which the continent would revert to barbarism, the white man’s measure of that state having nothing to do with behavior, but rather with gizmo overkill. My father trained me well – I’ve packed so efficiently that there’s room for more.

Try stuffing the contents of your house, basement, garage, and office into a pick up truck and twelve-foot travel trailer, and live in it.

November

I wrap myself in a blanket and lie down on the shop floor near the new pup, where she dozes in front of the electric heater. There is no one else in the building, so it doesn’t matter if she barks.

Last night she chirped for hours, but I slept anyway, at least until the middle of the night, when I stumbled down the lodge stairs with the New Girl tucked against my shoulder and the black dog tumbling ahead of us. We burst onto the deserted street as if we had been dropped out of the infinite sky. The black dog growls half-heartedly when she stumbles too near and paces distractedly whenever I pick her up, but he has yet to snap when she chews on his toys or drinks from his water bowl.

I miss the trailer right now and its capacity to be towed away from town to some lonely spot, empty not only of people, but of buildings as well. Town is a lonely place, but a grove of trees never is. Neither is a windy prairie nor a red canyon in the night. In places such as these something fills me like a breath that’s not my own; something that can never be found within human arrogance. It is necessary to look outside ourselves for help with the special condition of our kind. Willfulness is the love of making bad choices and free will is never free. What good is it to be capable of “Lording it over” the planet, when by our own ethic and instinct, we know that it is wrong?

 

Two flat bed trucks go by, headed north, loaded with big bushy Christmas trees dusted with plenty of snow. Native trees show darkly against the white flank of the mesa east of town. An icy mist chills town. My windows at the Lodge are like a movie screen on which the same small part of Las Vegas is always showing. Unaccountably, people eat at Pancho’s Café.

December

We have always made much from emotions, those messengers from our animal need, translating the ebb and rise of hormones into thoughtful meetings with death and resurrection. Fear is countered by gifts offered in genuine affection; we wish to persuade the gods that we are worth protecting through the bitter danger of winter.

What value would winter have without the companion passage of heart and mind that is a response to the suspension of life around us? Bare trees, yellow grass, rocks wedged by ice. Fingers that are red and swollen, heat streaming from the very skin tasked with keeping us whole. I hear that death by cold is peaceful, but explosive metabolism waits in the warming earth, in traveling chlorophyll, in thawing mud.