Deep down inside, we know. We always have. There’s a thread inside that you can follow to the Source of everything. The junco knows. Why do I so frequently forget, when it’s the only thing that saves me?
The Doberman barks all hours by the trailer down the road, jumping back and forth against his chain that flashes silver in the sun. I realize I am the dog. The eighty feet of elm that fell but only grazed the house had smashing walls in mind. Identifying with the only thing it ever tried to do, I feel a kinship and a small responsibility. Symptoms of decay and too-long-blind are everywhere, the world outside a mirror of my soul. The damage has been done, there’s too much thinking. The only thing we still can do is leave.
The expectations game is relevant. The deprivation I learned to conjure up makes it harder to escape and join the world. Even when you’ve changed inside, the outside knocks you down. That’s what living in this old adobe is like, daily confrontation with the kind of sacrifice you’d only put up with in a hide-out. Taos itself is much the same. People seem to pride themselves on hardship: “It’s just Taos,” uttered with accepting shrugs. That’s why the place is dangerous: it comes with its own built-in myth! If you fall below the level necessary to keep up, it’s difficult to imagine change.
Yesterday we visited the brand-new storage unit, four doors up from the one we’ve always had. I carried a single box of books to start the actual moving process, while my wife was taking winter clothes to hang up in the same cardboard wardrobe boxes they shipped in when we moved from Maryland almost eighteen years ago. Don’t ask me how it came to this, it doesn’t matter. Now is now, and the main thing is to get the everloving Jesus out of here, even if we don’t know where we’re going yet.
We will, of course, and soon.
“We’ve got to kill the storage unit!” she’s said a thousand times. The ten by twenty foot space is crammed and full of dusty treasure: junk, empty boxes, furniture, tools, paintings, antiques, artifacts, a great big rug, a washing machine, a bell jar, clothes, a broken lawnmower, art supplies, packing quilts, camping gear, shoes, old LPs, and boxes in the back we haven’t opened in oh, like seventeen years. No, almost eighteen! I think I’m going to be sick. How have we survived, he asked rhetorically, because it doesn’t really matter, here we are.
Killing the unit means we move and that’s just peachy. On Saturday I found out that the storage company had a vacant storage unit only four doors up the row from ours, closer to the porta-potty, even, and I grabbed it! Now we have a place to put the “keeper” items from the older unit once we pull stuff out and sort it. Brilliant!
I also have no more excuses for not weeding all my bins of ludicrous dead technology (among many other museum pieces) in the old adobe, because I have a place to store whatever I want to keep until we move, and to long-deserving hell with all the rest. For example, in what we call the “closet” in the bathroom is a heavy-duty plastic storage bin almost completely full of old Radio Shack stereo cables, speaker wire, and telephone cables for landline phones. I think there’s some coax in there from an ancient teevee installation, too. The whole thing must weigh forty pounds. Now I’m nauseous again.
“Kill the storage unit, John!” He rents a second one! I love it!
My heart rate was pushing one hundred thirty-two beats per minute near the top of the hill. I thought that was a bit much, but nothing burst. She flew on ahead the way she always does, sometimes with her arms stretched out like wings. (I can beat her on a bike, but that’s it.) There hasn’t been a time in decades of walking and running together when this wasn’t true. Her pristine lungs flood her tiny little body with so much oxygen, her muscles run on light. Whenever I see her on the bathroom scale, I ask her, “Do you still have weight?” and when she nods, I tell her, “Good!”
The air was perfect on this two-mile hike. As mentioned dozens of times before, the thing about New Mexico is the air. It’s like you could live forever in this air. There were times in Maryland, mainly in the summer, when the air would sap your will to live and melt the corpse, and then the flies would bite. This air right here is pure and dangerous.
As we reached the turnaround near a house back in the trees, we heard a rising, yelping wail. It was coming from a pack of “hounds,” I’ll call them—hunting dogs, I think, not large but plenty savage. There must have been fifteen or twenty of them, and they were loose…
No one came from the house to call them back, if that was relevant. In seconds the dogs were upon us, making an enormous din. The hair was standing straight up on their backs. Some snarled with bared teeth as they approached, while others yipped and barked as they tried to surround us. I was worried but not panicked. We kept on walking, dragging the mob along with us. There were too many of them for me to stab or bash with my hiking pole, and I knew the ones I missed might go berserk and overwhelm me if I tried. Every time I turned around to face them, they’d slow their advance but bark all the harder. I couldn’t believe how many of them there were.
As we continued down the road from where I figured the dogs belonged, the pack thinned out a little as some dropped out and vanished in the trees and sagebrush. After a couple of turns in the road, I couldn’t see any of them following us and hoped the episode was over. A minute later I heard barking again and turned around: there they were, about fifty yards behind us, having followed for at least a quarter of a mile! I was at my wit’s end and decided to stop and hold my ground, while my wife kept walking as normally as she could. The pack approached to within twenty-five or thirty feet. Finally, all out of options and extremely pissed, I bellowed in a loud, firm voice:
The closest dogs stopped barking instantly and turned around.
“GO HOME, goddammit, GO HOME!”
The ones in the middle shut up and turned back also.
“Go home! Go HOME!”
The few remaining barked a little longer and reluctantly took their leave. In less than half a minute, we were all alone again. “Go home” was obviously something they understood. Who knew shutting down a massacre was so easy? “Bad neighbor!” my wife said of the assumed owners of the hounds. No kidding, I thought, realizing that the old el Norte metaphysical dynamic, where you experience the greatest joy (“the air!”) alongside something that you fear or hate the most, had struck again.
A universal truth, of course, just easier to see here where the shadow never hides.
One of the resident raccoons knocked my homemade platform bird feeder off its post again last night, leaving it in pieces on the ground. The last time this happened was just two days ago around midnight. I was still up and heard the crash, so I grabbed a flashlight and peered out the kitchen window to see if the raccoon was still there. You’d think I’d get tired of shining flashlights on raccoons, having done it so many times, but until you do, you never know exactly what you’ll find. I can report that this one was approximately the size of an Iowa hog. The bird feeder isn’t remotely capable of holding that kind of weight, so down it came. Sigh. The mess from last night is still out there, and as soon as my wife wakes up from her Sunday afternoon nap, I’ll go out with a hammer and pound the feeder back together again. That’s not the thing, of course, but let’s move on.
Yesterday was horrible. Following the usual sort of panic attack, I had another screaming fit about Taos, ugly stupid houses, bridges to jump off of, and the general lack of anything decent to keep me here except poverty, and no idea of where to go instead or having any way to get there. It’s okay, though. When you live outside the box, these things happen. A long time ago a mystical palm reader lady told me that my primary task in this life was “overcoming fear.” That’s probably why I arranged things to be as scary as possible, for maximum motivation.
Interestingly enough, the old man was prone to this same kind of second-guessing and self-criticism (hint: of maternal origin). The incident I remember best occurred at the unplanned end of his Glorious Retirement Tour, which consisted of he and my mother traveling all over the country in a pickup truck pulling a big-ass trailer. This suited him just fine, seeing as how his responsibilities were limited to driving, drinking vodka, smoking little brown cigarettes, and riding his bicycle in search of others, mainly lady bikers, who might be impressed by his stamina and curly permanent—he truly was an athlete in his later years, and I give him extra credit for achieving this in wartime. My mother eventually tired of having nothing to do but read magazines, buy groceries, and cook—never mind the rest—and about the time they reached Tucson brought the whole show to a crashing halt by declaring she wanted to “put down roots” (again).
They ended up buying an older ranch-style house in a close-in east side residential neighborhood, an area of mostly “normal” homes where people either tried to keep their lawns alive or tore them up to lay in gravel. Sometimes they painted it green. You can still find neighborhoods like that in Tucson, though folks have broadened out to pink rocks, Astroturf, and I don’t know what all. At any rate, he soon fell under the influence of an all-female (there’s your angle) xeriscaping outfit and converted the sickly lawn back into the desert from whence it came. Ahead of his time, he was, as far as that’s concerned, which if you knew him was the other hook.
The problem was, he started to wonder if he’d done the right thing. That is, whether the newfangled desert landscaping might lower the resale value of the property. Quite the opposite, I suspect, but this was then, and there might have been a thread of reason to it. The story I heard in bits and pieces, since I was keeping myself as far away and out of this as possible, was that he had a righteous nervous breakdown with late night panic attacks (oh, those), crying jags, the whole nine yards, and for all I know he had them tear the cactus out and put the grass back in again. I don’t recall how this resolved itself, and there was other business going on with sister, brother-in-law, and maybe people heading off to Mexico, but at some point they sold that property and moved to a mobile home development on the other side of town, where there was plenty of fine organic xeriscape placed everywhere by God.
This isn’t the thing, either, but we’re getting there.