Mess

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!”

Ahem.

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.

Dream Life

woodpile

Taos driveway drainage management

For the last two decades of her life, every time I visited my mother, she’d shove a book at me called “How We Die.” Helen loved discussing her demise. I never could figure out why, except as a way of making me feel sorry for her. That wasn’t it, though. She was really trying to kill me. Quite unconsciously, of course, but it was cold and terrifying every time. She wanted me to read the signs of physical decay inside myself. Can you imagine?

I had a wondrous dream the other night in blazing technicolor, sharp as any movie. I was at our old home in the country back in Maryland, the one my wife and I bought back in ’89, but it was different: much larger, tall, and beautiful, more formal, “higher rent.” The floors were covered with dark red tiles, almost maroon, thick glazed ceramic tiles four inches on a side, with deep-cut beveled edges. (Rolling a vacuum over them would have been quite noisy.) The color of congealed blood, it occurs to me. There were two female (anima) figures inside the house, women who were old friends from the area. One I witnessed puttering happily through a window and I think we waved, the other I hugged tearfully on the back steps, saying, “So much water under the bridge…” Her dress matched the color of the tiles. She hugged me back but cooly, looking off into the distance.

The yard outside was striking. Beautiful green grass that stretched forever like a park, with immense, impossibly tall deciduous trees. They all had straight, clean trunks (no branches) that reached up to crowns of bright green leaves against a clear blue sky. The trees were absolutely stunning.

As I walked around the house, it changed—white siding with no windows—and I came across two very different trees. Both of them were low and old and heavy, leaning partly over the lower portion of the house, with gnarly twisted trunks and hardly any leaves. The bark was peeling like a sycamore. The first one was severely tilted but supported by a sturdy, hollow steel pole like a flagpole that tapered toward the top. The heavy bottom end was anchored in concrete in the grass, and the pole—more like a pipe, really, about 12 inches in diameter and painted silver—extended upward at a 45° angle to meet the trunk. An expensive, professional job, I thought. The undertaking of a government, perhaps.

The second tree was lower and more fragile. High up on this windowless side of the house, a heavy branch had almost punched a big hole in the siding from swinging in the wind. I could see the indentation, round and deep. That one needed cutting, I decided, or the next big storm would punch the hole completely through.

There’s a lot to unpack in this one, but it isn’t hard.

In grossly simple and symbolic terms, the house is me, my body. The anima figures are my creative side, my muses. (Having two of them is somewhat odd and needs reflection.) The otherworldly tall straight trees are my true self, and I’ve seen them before in dreams. The older, gnarly trees against the windowless (unconscious) siding are my parents. The tree supported by a silver pole would be my Air Force father, the one that’s almost knocked a hole into my head is Helen [koff], and now I know why I started this thing off with her!

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