Bill Whaley died the other day. Cited with the reservation that anything one says about another person’s life is inevitably biased and incomplete, here’s what the local paper published. I’ve written about him before—and he about me about me once—but on the occasion of his passing, I was looking for this brief piece and found it in one of my ebooks. I hope it lifts you some. – JHF
See, it’s not all angst and primal bullshit with electrodes jabbed into your spinal cord. Sometimes you walk right into a moment that just works. It happened to me today in the local organic food emporium when I encountered a dangerous, wisecracking personage of some repute whom I hadn’t seen in quite a while.
He knows way more about this place than I could ever learn. I envy guys like that, despite the price they had to pay to get there. He’s been here a long time, maybe 40 years. Luckily, we first connected within a couple of months of my arrival in these parts. You need to meet people like this, you know. Once I ran into him in a coffee shop. I told him I’d just heard that it was legal to carry a loaded gun in the glove compartment of your car here in New Mexico and asked if that was true. He laughed and said it could be, spoken in a way that told me he might have always had one there and couldn’t care less.
Today’s episode was almost comical. We each came around the end of an aisle in opposite directions and ended up abruptly face-to-face. We’re about the same height and age. Both of us wore dark sunglasses and could hardly see—incognito desperadoes, all right. When we recovered from the shock, the refreshing conversation that followed affirmed everything I’d felt about Taos lately:
“We’re trapped,” he said. “We can’t leave.”
“Right,” I replied. “You can’t live here, but it ruins you for anyplace else.”
“Exactly,” he said. “It’s a love-hate relationship. How do you feel now? You really liked it when you first came.”
“I still mostly love it,” I said, “but when I do hate it, I hate it worse than ever!”
“That’s the way it is,” he said. “I tell my friends at the Pueblo, ‘when you’ve lived here long enough, you’ll understand.’ They used to get mad when I told them that, but now they laugh.”
We also commiserated over lack of money. The ritual should never be indulged in by pretenders, but we were real and in the zone—in these circumstances, the exchange is mutually uplifting. He told me how he visits family in a neighboring state but always has to borrow money for the trip. “I just keep running up the credit card bills,” he said. I allowed as how I did too, so he told me an anecdote about a local artist who died recently. Supposedly in good shape financially, it turned out to the great surprise of all that he had major credit card debt.
“Great minds think alike,” I said.
“Yeah, he’s showing us the way!“
Hi I’m Bill’s sister in Nevada. I appreciated your article about Bill. The romanticizing of his life in Taos with no mention of his “early years” is hurtful. Bill lived with me when Taos almost killed him the first time with drugs and alcohol. I drug him out of Lake Tahoe, financed and finessed his life, as did my parents with all his adventures. It is great to be a ski bum, living on a string until you have no string and I sadly saw no front teeth. His family did love him – his family in Nevada; his step-father Knox who was in his life from before 4 years old, his mother Elizabeth who Bill would say introduced him to reading, and my sister and me. I do not recognize Bill in those words from Taos written as if they were part of a paper to be graded. Thank you.