In Defense of Living in the Sage, Part II

dead trailer in Llano Quemado

The guy who sold us our car might have lived here. He got fired and disappeared.

This place is level and had utilities. (See the electric pole?) Once a residence, for sure. In Arizona, it occurs to me, this would simply be a “pull-off,” and they’d run a shiny new one in. Here it’s much more likely someone’s legacy or headache. Look, they even left their truck. The property is fenced, too. And hardly any sagebrush in the yard!

No views, either, plus the wrong kind of adventure. Taos like the realtors hope you never see.

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John Hamilton Farr lives in Taos, New Mexico, U.S.A. with his classical pianist wife. “Possibly the only place I can get away with this,” he says. As New York Times best-selling author James C. Moore (Bush’s Brain) put it in a review of John’s first book, Buffalo Lights is the work of a man attuned to the world who sees it differently than you and I and writes about it with a language and a vision of life that is impossible to ignore.” John is the author of BUFFALO LIGHTS, TAOS SOUL, ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE, and THE HELEN CHRONICLES. He has been publishing online since 1996 (Zoo Zone, Farr Site, MacFaust, GRACK!, FarrFeed) and blogs regularly here at JHFARR.COM. See also → John’s Twitter profile, Amazon Author Page, video channel at YouTube, and website photos at SmugMug. To email John, please see CONTACT INFO on About page.  

  • Ken Webb February 28, 2013, 8:29 AM

    I’ve been enjoying this last sequence of photos, John. I like the purely beautiful natural stuff, but I especially like seeing the human context.

    There’s a story behind that abandoned trailer and car – a story we can likely never know. However, it doesn’t stop us speculating about what might have happened there – a death, a crackup, an inheritance, a split, an incarceration. A lonely life filled with drink or other nasty habits. Or a little getaway hacienda that represented fulfilment of someone’s modest dream. Happy outcome or sad outcome or just the usual drift toward decay. All are possible. Pictures are good at that. They can be more evocative than words, in part because they free us from the real unknowable facts and set us thinking.

    Picking up on a prior comment, I remember lots of talk about these Stephenville sightings, back about a decade or so, wasn’t it? Seems to me that I read an interesting piece on it suggesting that the town pretty much divided between those that believed something extraterrestrial had come among them and those who scoffed at the whole thing. It would be interesting to know what the backgrounds and pscyhological predispositions were of the folks in those two camps. I believe it upset the town quite a lot. But Stephenville was and I reckon still is a right beautiful place, just on the western edge of the hill country in central Texas – too far away from anything to ever be much made over. Wonder why the aliens decided it was such a good place to dip down and sample the cooking.

  • mj February 28, 2013, 9:04 AM

    I live not far from Stephenville, my memory of the incident was 3 guys sitting on the bench on the courthouse lawn with hats wrapped in foil with signs around their neck saying, “Come on, Aliens, try to read my mind! ” One had a cone hat on, the other was a baseball cap, and the third had a cowboy hat. All wrapped in foil. They were being interviewed by the press. I imagine a character like this living in that trailer waiting for the aliens to read his mind. Stephenville has lots of cattle and horse farms. I imagine the aliens were going to the “Hard Eight” to get some barbeque.

  • Ken Webb February 28, 2013, 2:53 PM

    That’s the best reason I can imagine for any alien to come among us. I remember my mother habitually saying about barbecue, as she smacked her lips, that it was “larappin’ good”. Never heard that word said by anyone else and always just assumed that it was something facetious and made-up by ma. Not so. I finally got around to looking it up in a dictionary of slang the other day and discovered it’s a real regional word, limited to central Texas (my mother was from Brownwood) and extending its range into Oklahoma. Means something like “pot-lickingly, mouth-wateringly, mind-bogglingly good”, used exclusively of food. Maybe the aliens who came for barbecue at the Hard Eight learned the word.

    I’ve been out of Texas a long time, which means I haven’t had really savory food for a long time and also that people look at me like I was a, well, alien when I occasionally compliment the cook by proclaiming her wares to be larrapin’. Have you ever heard or used that word, mj? I have a feeling it didn’t make it through the cultural divide of the 60’s.

    • Sunday Tidwell March 1, 2013, 9:23 PM

      Ken, I’ve heard “larrapin” spoken occasionally. My best Aggie friend from East Texas, just says, “This tastes so good it makes me wanna slap my momma.” Underwood’s BBQ in Brownwood was all that.

      Aliens, well they could be from Dyess or Carswell. But it’s a lot more fun to think they’re from the Otherworld. You know if they really wanted to hurt us, we’d be smoke already.

  • mj February 28, 2013, 8:47 PM

    No, I haven’t heard that expression. But, get this for weird, I lived in Brownwood in 1978-79 and taught school there. The barbeque at Underwoods wasn’t bad either. However, I wasn’t fond of the rattlesnakes there. Ha! That was the year that Lake Brownwood almost dried up.

  • JHF March 1, 2013, 11:20 PM

    Hi, y’all. I’ve been enjoying this, didn’t want to get in the way. I’ve heard of “larrapin’.” “Tastes so good, it makes me want to slap my mama” is a new one, but I love it, thank you! (I’ll steal that along with “broke-dick-motherfucker.”) My actual native Texas babyhood gives me the right to talk like that whenever I want, but I always need new material.

    BTW, I was once at a hamburger drive-in in Abilene (on the north side, where I rarely went), when a girl drove up in a ’59 Imperial convertible with the top down and a full-grown male African lion in the back seat. This was not how we comported ourselves on the south side, and there wouldn’t have been room in my Isetta, anyway.

    • Sunday Tidwell March 2, 2013, 12:00 AM

      I guess you noticed that it only has the desired effect if you say “broke.” Correct it to “broken” and the colloquial sound is gone. When Don says it, it’s often with real sympathy for someone who has worked hard and still had bad luck.
      I hear many double negatives in this rural area of Texas. “Cain’t hardly” is a favorite. It’s not pronounced “can’t” here.
      A lot of dubious situations are summed up with, “That ain’t good.”

      • Kenneth Webb March 2, 2013, 4:42 PM

        This sort of talk definitely has its inherent verbal poetry, which I would characterize as being in the “less is more” genre. That is, keep it short and pithy and put a touch of spice in it in the form of some offbeat profanity. Cadence and tone are also important – the right pauses in the right places, a tendency to dry understatement and just a hint of self-parody. I’ve lived in many a place in North America and never found such a combination. Manhattan has its poetry, too, but it’s something totally different – aggressive and in-your-face and over the top. Who ever said Easterners were so damn subtle? (Oh, it was Easterners themselves!).

        Damn if all this talk doesn’t make me want to head for Underwood’s in Brownwood. I’ll take some fried okra with the beans and brisket, please.

        John, I know exactly the north side drive-in you mean – Mack’s, it was called. It was owned by the father of a classmate of ours and was the universal teen hangout in our era. Here’s an irony for you, though. When I used to visit my father in the 80’s and 90’s he always wanted to go there (not to the drive-in but the indoor part) because at that time it had devolved exclusively into a hangout for the blue-rinse set. I saw several of my old teachers in the place.

        Sunday and John, many thanks for confirmation about “larrapin'”. I have a feeling that old word ain’t done yet. If a Shakespeare of central Texas ever came along, he’d find a use for it, preferably in a scene set in a barbecue joint.

        • Sunday Tidwell March 2, 2013, 6:10 PM

          Mack Eplens — famous for square burgers & pink cookies. Trying to visualize the girl with the big cat!

          • Ken Webb March 2, 2013, 6:51 PM

            Wow, great memory, Sunday. Those square burgers must have disappeared 40 years ago, when you were knee high to a horny toad (all of which disappeared about the same time). However, I have to make a pedantic correction: “Mack Eplen’s” was what they called the cafeteria on Cypress Street near the Paramount Theatre. It was the place that the Sunday morning church crowd went, when they weren’t going to the Dixie Pig on the south side on Butternut (there were some social distinctions between the crowds as well). I bussed and washed dishes at Mack Eplen’s for a while so my authority on this subject can’t be doubted. To my knowledge the teen drive-in on North 1st (where the high school kids rumbled up and down the strip and sometimes had little mini drag races all Saturday night in cars some of which were borrowed from nervous parents) was only ever called “Mack’s” in order to distinguish it from the downtown place. It was called that even by my father when the teens were long gone. –Gotta set the record straight on this important point.

            • JHF March 2, 2013, 7:01 PM

              Good God, it was Mack Eplen’s! Haven’t heard that name since junior high school. This is all so weird. Time to make sure everyone has heard John Clay & the Lost Austin band play his “West Texas” song. (I’m in there on rhythm guitar trying to herd cats. That’s also me at the end, asking about the dobro.) It sort of comes together about halfway through, but the lyrics are all killer. Echt West Texas sociology. Last verse goes:

              “When it happens in West Texas
              nothin’s like it’s ‘sposed to be
              my life was formed there
              that is how it’s been for me
              went back for a visit
              and I always heard the wind
              knew I’d been away too long
              I could never fit back in…”

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