Dakota Saturday

truck in snow

Garages, man.

Friday morning looked like this. The stuff was roughly four inches deep and sticky-wet, like heavy cotton candy I imagined, as if I’ve ever tasted any. Instant snowball makings, anyway. I walked up to the top of the driveway, decided the Vibe would never make it out, and cleared the windshields of both vehicles so the sun would shine in, warm the interiors, and melt clean all the glass. I had an errand to run later and knew the Dakota 4WD would do the trick. The rest of the morning was for shoveling paths.

After lunch I headed out to take off for my trip to town. Not only was the glass completely clean all around on both machines, the roofs and sides were dry and shiny. Sunlight, baby, plenty hot at 7,000 feet even in the winter. I climbed into the Dodge. Everything was fine until I turned the key: the fuel pump powered up, or tried to, the starter solenoid did a little clickety-click tap dance thing, and that was it.

I knew exactly what this meant but had to test. No, the windows didn’t work, and the headlights were a little dim. Some juice, then, but not enough. I trudged down and back up through the snow with my trusty Radio Shack voltmeter (where do people buy such things today?) and got a reading of 10 volts. Well, hell. The Vibe would never make it and I was already shot. No way was I going to wait around for AAA to come jump-start the Dodge, and besides, the wind was picking up. Tomorrow was another day and that was fine. I’d see if O’Reilly’s had a battery, juggle some funds around, and call AAA as soon as I knew what I’d be facing.

Last night I researched batteries. My God the things had gone the way of insulin and houses. But O’Reilly’s had one that fit exactly (size group 27), was stronger than the one I had, and cost a semi-reasonable $139 plus tax and $18 for something called a core fee. That, it turned out, meant you got the fee back if you gave up your old battery, hey-hey. The fucking thing weighed 50 pounds but there were 4.9 liters of engine to spin. I paid for it on the website and went to bed in pretty good shape. All I had to do in the morning was call AAA, get the Dakota running, drive it to O’Reilly’s and fetch the battery.

This morning it was eight degrees and sunny. I put off going outdoors until noon. After examining the situation once again, I decided to try backing the Vibe through deep snow to the road. Who wants to talk to AAA anyway, especially when someone from Pakistan insists I have to give directions for the driver like they never use their phones. To my amazement, the little front-wheel drive fake Toyota pulled out fine because the snow was crunchy-frozen. (Once it starts to melt, there’s nothing doing.) All I had to do was go pick up the battery and install it here at home instead of in the auto parts store parking lot.

I pulled into O’Reilly’s, grabbed the battery, a terminal cleaning brush, and a packet of anti-corrosion goop and loaded up the Vibe. Before I could back out, a late-model Cadillac with a smashed-up front end missing some bits of trim pulled in beside me. The driver was a young Latina in a black leather jacket. Her daughter, about five, had on a pair of purple-colored mirror glasses, pink tights, and a turquoise jacket and looked like she was on her way. A huge decal that went all the way across the back window read “HARLEY DAVIDSON,” which I appreciated for the irony. The fine young man who sold me the battery came out to meet them and it all made sense.

Back here on the frontier, I took my own damn time and switched the batteries. Three whole hours, counting breaks. It took forever because I’m scared to death of batteries—one exploded on me once—and did I mention these weigh 50 pounds? I had to use a kitchen stool to stand on so I could lift the old one out and lower the new one in. There were clamps to clean and tools to find that someone dropped under the truck. Also the fine print on the anti-corrosion goop packet more or less said I’d die if any of it got on my skin, which it already had (how could it not), and much rubbing of hands with snow and paper towels ensued. My skin has not peeled off.

It all felt good, however. I was so confident of my work, I cleaned up all the trash and put away my tools before I even tried to start the Dodge. To my enormous satisfaction, the brand new battery spun that V-8 ten times faster than I’d ever heard it turn and a mighty roar was heard across the land. On the way home from dropping off the old battery for my 18 bucks, I stopped to buy $5 worth of lottery tickets from a Taos Pueblo grandmother at my favorite gas station. Three-hundred twenty-one million dollars would go a long way toward having a garage, you know, and maybe a new mattress.

The other thing is, I’ve decided I need a pro model Stratocaster before I die. This pleases me very much to think about and so I shall. Goodnight, and pleasant dreams.


my studio, ha-ha

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It has begun, the Great Undoing of the Great Beginning from three years ago, when I brought in boxes to pack up books and obsolete electronics, Xmas cards, and precious (?) artifacts—rocks!—for tossing in the trash or cramming in the storage unit. The half-filled boxes became furniture, with things like wallaby pelts, I kid you not, and old rebozos covering them up. Stacks of things To Deal With, later, only later never came. The shelves and piles became enshrouded with layers of cat hair, spider webs, and dust, an obscene gray layer hiding correspondence, bills, that thing I meant to send in to the V.A. to get money for my poor dead brother’s sad cremation, necessary tools I never found again, dead bugs, and a little mouse poop. The photo doesn’t do it justice, not at all. You can’t see everything that’s on the floor. Besides, I’ve made a little progress. Today my progress is to take a picture, which I imagine some of you will say looks better than your place.

What I’ve been doing here is pulling everything away from the walls and off the shelves, cleaning the exposed spaces, then slowing putting back only what I want and need. The things I’ve found, oh my. This time when I’m done, there will be piles to haul away. You can call this moving preparation. You can call it clearing space to work. You can call it Freddie, what the hell do I care. The very first thing I installed after cleaning underneath my desk was the subwoofer for the Edifier S350DB bluetooth speaker system I bought for one-third off a while ago. That’s the principle, see, set things up a little better so I like to be there, even though we’re moving—hopefully like yesterday—so I can have some goddamn fun. In the process, I’ll have separated what I want to keep and carry down the road.

My next project, besides getting out of here, will be a new digital publication at Substack.com. I just wanted you to know that I’ve been busy, not contemplating my demise, which all of this activity is planned to postpone till the proper time. More on the new stuff later. Follow me on Twitter if you’re bored with how long it takes for me to publish something decent. Everyone behave now, hear, and have a smashing day.

If We Ever

clouds ripping over the peaks

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She tells the truth and loves me like no other ever has. The deprivation is a mirror of my madness. If we ever get out of this alive, I will worship her for the rest of my days.

In the Age of the Dictators

New Mexico sky

Any day now, we will move. I don’t know where. But when the cat died, something changed. “I feel a little movement,” said my wife, as if there’d been a shift. Part of this was getting through the ordeal, the fact we’d faced it. I felt lighter, open to the breeze. The other thing was the bargain: we had liberated Callie, she had liberated us. The cat had spent almost her entire life within 150 (?) yards of this apartment. She had her meadow, hillside, and acequia. The thought of taking her away from that seemed cruel, if not impossible. Maybe I’m projecting. It’s the symbolism more than anything.

We want more space. A little land around us and a view. There must be trees, a place to keep our tools, a porch to shelter from the rain. A good-sized but simple house that’s easy to keep clean, with room for all our things. A place to spread my treasures out and write or paint or get real loud. A music room. Two studios, in other words, one for her and one for me.

I’m at the point where I’ve begun to care what people think about me when I’m gone. Sometimes history tells you what to do or tries. If this were Poland in the ’40s, I might run off to join the partisans. It could come to that, I guess. The old man telling stories by the campfire just before the flares go off and his comrades scatter in a hail of bullets fits the bill but isn’t realistic. Nowadays they’d check the database and pick you up at 3:00 a.m. and you’d just disappear.

Short of that you simply have to do the thing that you were born for. More than ever I think that’s living long enough to be all right. Maybe I already did that. Maybe I don’t see because I thought it was a struggle and I tried too hard. Maybe all right is a thing I’ve carried with me since I was a little boy.

How much do I owe the zeitgeist after all? Save your own damn selves he said with love. I know what feels extraordinary: the sense of possibility. The way she felt the instant that I shot that photo. The lightness when the armor rots. The letting go of thoughts that hurt me.

Any day now, we’ll be gone.

Callie’s Gone

Callie the Wonder Cat

We now have an invisible cat. I’ll bet you know just what I mean.

We did the deed last Tuesday. We never had a cat like that and never will again. Dr. Sides at Salazar Veterinary Clinic was extraordinarily kind and understanding, giving us “a little more time” so much that I lost count. Her assistant even put a soft warm blanket down for Callie to lie on. They used that to gently wrap her up when it was over. We needed the extra time. I couldn’t believe we had to do that, I just couldn’t, but she was down to less than half her healthy weight and there was finally no question.

I’ll tell you what I can about the origins of Callie the Wonder Cat. At the time we got acquainted with her, my wife was renting a “rustic” owner-built studio next door heated by a tiny wood stove. There were several other structures on the property, no doubt hippie heaven in the ’60s, now devolved to hippie hell. Callie was one of half a dozen cats nominally owned by an idiot alcoholic and his wife who rented a battered single-wide across a driveway on the other side of the studio property. She and her siblings weren’t allowed into the trailer and simply lived outside the best they could, even in the winter. The fellow used to “feed” them by scattering kibble from his front steps as if the cats were chickens.

My wife took note of Callie and started putting food out. I poked around and discovered that the cat was sleeping in a shed full of junk behind the studio. The door was hanging off its hinges and couldn’t be closed. All the way in the back corner was a discarded office chair. One cold morning when I peeked inside, there was Callie, curled up in the chair! It was so packed in with trash, I couldn’t reach it, but that was where she stayed.

Anyway, we fed her, or rather my wife did, so she wouldn’t have to grub for kibble in the dirt. The next step was getting her to give up the old shack and come inside the studio—she was very shy and wild—but eventually we realized we simply had to grab her every evening and lock her up inside. (This got easier over time.) Late at night, after my wife had gone to bed, I’d walk up the frozen driveway crunching on the ice and snow, go inside the studio, and build a fire for the cat… I’d pull a rocking chair next to the stove, set her in it on a cushion, and make a little blanket tent that covered her completely. In the morning when we opened up the studio and built a morning fire, she’d still be in the chair.

The reason we didn’t simply take her home was that she wasn’t ours. Also, we already had a cat. That would be Hobbes the Wonder Cat who came with us from Maryland in ’99. We knew from grim experience that he could never get along with other cats and weren’t about to try just yet. (That did happen later, and we’ll get there in the next installment.) So we handled this the best we could.

I should mention that the owner of the property in question semi-lived there at the time. She and her partner, both archetypal older freaks who kept their money in the mattress, so to speak, and never did a legal, normal thing if they could help it (“just hire a Mexican”), were building another totally off-code outlaw empire high up in a nearby canyon in a gorgeous spot they must have lied or killed to buy. They loved it, though, and had a sincere mystical appreciation for the beauty and the wildlife. We were even friends for quite a while, although I haven’t spoken to either of them in years. At any rate, she was something of a hippie priestess. (Eye-roll emoticon needed here.) Perhaps “enforcer” is a better word. She always knew what tribal curse or blessing to bestow and how we were to do things. She’d also noticed the hungry cats that came around from next door and would set out a giant bowl of Walmart kibble beside the studio in the evening. The cats showed up, all right, and so did a family of skunks. Soon the cats had run away to do the chicken thing again, and we’d see what must have been a dozen skunks at once. All sizes!

It wasn’t hard to tell that my wife had more or less adopted Callie, and she noticed that as well. She told us how the drunken neighbor and his wife had brought the litter down from San Luis, Colorado and how much they loved their cats. Oh, sure. But she at least had named “our” cat and called her “Kali”… (I hope that rings a bell and you are thinking, “Oh my God so Taos!”) We misunderstood at first and thought she meant her calico color, so we heard the name as “Callie.” At any rate, when it was finally understood that we’d basically just stolen Callie, she glared and said,”She was his favorite!”


Fed like chickens.

Sleeping in the trash.

Every time I think of that and what she said, I toss a “Fuck you, lady” up the canyon. I know she meant well, but it’s all too much, and she’s still of this Earth with many friends so I am probably a dead man. Never mind, though, she could just as easily be gone with someone cashing all her checks. It’s that kind of situation here among the outlaws, very Taos, of a sort that recent new arrivals can’t imagine, and all we want to do is be long gone. Too bad Callie isn’t here to move out with us.

I just heard a scrabbling in the kitchen and thought she was in the cat box. Perhaps it’s the water heater or the fridge. Maybe I should take a bath and go to bed.


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