Just shot this scene today at Orilla Verde near Pilar. (Telephoto, obviously.) It’s all the more wondrous and bizarre for being at the bottom of an 800 ft. gorge.
Just shot this scene today at Orilla Verde near Pilar. (Telephoto, obviously.) It’s all the more wondrous and bizarre for being at the bottom of an 800 ft. gorge.
Every now and then we dip into the vault for something
silly seasonal. This is one of those times. Behold “Rancid!,” a delightful animated GIF by RBA (Rancid Baboon Animations) from 1996 featuring a, uh, putrefying baboon skull. It’s set to cycle indefinitely, sorry. I have no idea which app to use to make an animated GIF today—Photoshop?—which is probably a good thing. To make this one start from the beginning, just reload the page.
I created all 35 frames of this in Clarisworks on a 16MHz Mac LC II with 8MB of RAM. Rancid Baboon Animations was my fantasy animations company that never produced much more than this, but I did make some cool RBA T-shirts once upon a time. Our motto? “If it stinks, it’s Rancid!”
There’s a lot more to this than meets the eye. Speaking of which, did you see how the light goes out of them after the baboon has a heart attack and dies? This is high-class work!
Things were going well enough for Juan del Llano. The passing of his mother, maddened and dangerous in her final years, had smoothed him out and changed his face a little. He used the modest cash from his inheritance to pay off credit cards and spent freely on his needs until the fear of running low set in again.
Somehow it had gotten to be fall. Here and there a battered pick-up truck piled high with firewood crept up or down the road, reminding him of age and freezing. Too soon, he wailed inside. The thought of spending another winter huddled in the old adobe with mice and spiders, crumbling plaster, Taos plumbing, and no room for a goddamned thing was almost more than he could bear—or so he told himself. Taos being Taos and Juan being Juan, however, it had been this way for years.
That night it got cold enough to freeze the bird bath. Juan built a fire in the wood stove, not for the first time that October, but now it made more sense. Suddenly his wife was happy, with her bare feet on the coffee table. Juan plopped down in a comfy armchair with an old-guy groan. He had a cup of coffee, cookies, and his iPad. The cat walked in and sprawled out by the stove. In gratitude and horror, Juan realized that the unseen side of his eternal housing angst was shelter from the storm! In fact, when all the world was locked in snow and ice, the ancient Ashley wood stove raised the temperature to 70 °F in 15 minutes, and the thick mud walls were like a fortress. Nothing rattled when the wind blew—he rarely heard the latter—and he’d sit barefoot in his chair, not two steps from a loving wife who made him coffee every morning while radiators burst and stray cats froze. Without realizing it, he’d gone completely native, and it wasn’t hard at all.
While something of a prize, this made him restless, too. If he wasn’t careful, Juan thought, he’d end up just another gray-haired idiot with a pony tail, shuffling along the Paseo in Birkenstocks with socks, looking for a gallery opening to score free cashews and a little plastic cup of wine… What a cruel town Taos was, where aging hipsters went to die! You had to be clever when resigning from the club, Juan decided 40 years too late. Otherwise, it was like stepping into a hole and coming out when everyone had left. A few days later, the moon rose over the mountain, almost full. In the primal stasis of the bone-dry air, nothing earthly moved or needed to. Juan sat quietly at his desk. Inside the wall or high above the vigas, something gnawed a while and stopped.
Meanwhile on the East Coast, a giant hurricane was bearing down upon the very land he’d left to make a new life in the mountains. He remembered their old house, and all the tricks he’d used to keep them safe from coastal storms. Besides the candles and the food, there were towels and buckets for the porch, a jerry-rigged sump pump in the basement, and storm windows to be lowered when the rain and wind began. He’d even kept a chain saw in the hallway, in case trees fell down against the doors and blocked them in. Juan thought about his friends along the sandy lanes and woodlands of the Eastern Shore. It had been some time since empathy had loosed his memory like this, and he wondered how they were.
By way of contrast, he had only dust and cold and human foibles to contend with, like the time the gas company shut down service at 26 below. (No natural disaster, that.) He had few friends in Taos, either, after 13 years. It seemed that everyone was struggling, and their own narratives—his included—were the only things that mattered. After all, most had come from someplace else and shared no common frame of reference, outside of the adopted one. Juan wondered if his own version of the Taos trip—resigning from America—allowed a man to play a bigger game or put him deeper in the dark. Latinos, on the other hand, could bask inside a culture that had thrived for centuries, and Native life predated Moses. They were rooted in a way the Anglo seekers and retirees could never hope to be.
The next day he and his wife went hiking in the vastness underneath a vault of blue. The air was clean and cool. Suddenly from over the hill, a mountain biker appeared, and they stepped aside to let him pass. (Juan stole a glance back at his wife, bare-headed and beautiful in the sun.)
“ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE!” the rider called out as he rolled by.
The less he minded that, Juan thought, the better off he’d be, no matter where he was.
“GEEZ! How’id we get all these gnats?”*
I didn’t know for sure, but it was probably the apples I brought up from the acequia. The thing is, even after we ate or got rid of them, we still had gnats. They hadn’t all gone down with the ship, apparently, so I googled for a cure. What won out was a little apple cider vinegar in a small dish. The “recipe” I’d noted online also called for a drop of liquid soap added to the vinegar, to break the surface tension and make it easier for them to drown, if that’s what you call it when you fall into a lake of acid. At any rate, the vinegar pulled a couple in before I even added the soap, so I don’t know why I did. Nary a one showed up afterwards.
If you ask me, tequila is an even better attractant. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to fish them out of my half-empty shot glass. The exact mechanism of their suicide eluded me, however, until I performed the necessary research.
The other night I noticed a gnat following me with my shot of Sauza, so I set the glass down under a lamp to watch the action. What happened next was the damnedest thing. The gnat approached the glass, naturally, and hovered for a moment directly overhead—maybe an inch and half away—and then fell straight down into the tequila, ker-splash! My theory is that the little fella was overcome by the fumes. One could also argue that he (or she) was overjoyed and couldn’t wait. I don’t know, but the gnat population is diminished, and I haven’t swallowed any that I know of. They probably fly off into some bleak corner and succumb to the inevitable when there isn’t any rotten fruit to lay their eggs on. Do the dust mites look up at them when they crash?
I don’t usually kill spiders, by the way. There’s something like a truce. Even when I’m sitting in my chair with my bare feet on the rug and one comes crawling by, I just shift my legs and let it pass. I did wash a daddy long-legs down the bathtub drain the other night, however—I’m climbing in there naked everywhere, you know?—though the murder made me wince. Chastened, I saw the little baby spiders climbing up the tiles and let them go. When they grow up, they can sit around the campfire telling legends of the Flood.
On the other hand, box elder bugs don’t engender much sympathy. Individually, they’re sort of cute, though_maybe if they didn’t come in herds like wildebeests? I couldn’t show you a box elder tree to save my life, but the namesakes show up every fall in endless number and come in through the cracks. They love cracks. The other day, the phone stopped working: no dial tone. I looked and looked, but couldn’t find a break in the line. Finally I went outside to check the little gray plastic service box on the side of the house. When I opened it up, IT WAS FULL OF BOX ELDER BUGS! There must have been a gallon of them. As fast as I swept them out with my hand, they tried to come right back. When I went back into the house, I picked up the phone and had a dial tone! By now they’ve probably filled it up again, but the phone still works, and tonight the temperature drops to 20 °F, ho-ho.
With box elder bugs in the house, however, I just pick up the Dustbuster when they get to be too many and vacuum the sonsabitches off the kitchen window. Not once do I think about them locked up inside the gadget, crawling hopelessly around and yelling, “MOM???” before I dump them out.
I’ll be they do, though, and I don’t care.
* Yes, I know that’s a picture of an ant. That’s hard enough! Have you ever tried to take a picture of a freaking gnat?- JHF
If I make it past April, I’ll have outlived my father. That does tend to concentrate the mind. As my analyst said the other day, cautiously at first, “You need to make choices.” I knew she was going to say that and said so. She gave an explosive sigh, laughed, and confessed, “That was really hard to say to a puer!” But I was laughing, too.*
I’ve come far enough that some things just don’t matter as much as they used to. Take lifetime accomplishments, for example. When are we ever finished? Some people have children, attain high rank in professional fields, and retire in glory while awaiting physical collapse. Or at least I imagine that’s what they do, having hit none of those marks myself. Is there a point where one just stops, or is that marketing?—you know, skipping down the beach with shiny teeth, enjoying your “golden age.” My 99-year-old grandmother wasn’t much help when she told me years ago, beckoning me close so she could whisper in my ear, “Johnny, it isn’t good to be so old…” But what did she know? All she did was sit in the same chair for 40 years and do crossword puzzles! Granny loved me, though, and for that she always rates a smile.
For most of my life, I’ve been driven by alternating guilt and passion. The one because I needed to be loved and thought I wasn’t, the other because I’m an irrepressible son of God.
I grew up thinking I would be a scientist or fly a plane. (Or maybe someone like Frank Buck or Buddy Holly.) In my academic career, I majored and minored—at various times—in zoology, English, central European history, and Germanic literature. In the adult world, I first got married, taught in a junior college, got divorced, dropped out to be a woods hippie in the Ozarks, worked as a day laborer, had a stint as groundskeeper at the same university where I’d earned my master’s degree, and learned to make welded steel insects. In the 25 years that followed, I was a traveling artist, got married again, tried my hand at cartooning, worked in a library, pursued rock & roll songwriting, became a self-taught sculptor, cast my own small bronzes, learned to paint, and bought a house. I spent years on the water in Maryland poking around in small boats. (This list is anything but complete.) None of that made me a star or quenched the guilt, but I can safely say I tried more things than most.
The last dozen years have been the most intense, insane, exploratory, and destructive, and I would never have gone down this path if I had known how hard it all would be, but here we are in darkest, deep New Mexico. Once again I’ve had more fun and hell than those who say, “I told you so,” yet I’m more focused on the present than I’ve ever been. Writing is my life now, though I hardly know what I’m doing—that’s all right, because no one else does, either—and I’m finally calm enough to do it right. Or may be: during that last (phone) session with my (Jungian) analyst (in Zurich), I was wondering why I hadn’t picked up my guitar in months!
But age is actually helpful now. I’m not afraid of being pinned down quite so much because I’m almost dead. After all, the one thing I never HAVE accomplished is to stick to one thing long enough to see it work. (I don’t mean money, either, but I’ll bet there is some.) Anyway, I’m here, I’m clear, and this will be a trip. Hey, I got up at 4:00 a.m. to write this, didn’t I?
Well then, there you go…
* Puer aeternus (Latin), or eternal boy. See here.
Sure, this is a plug. Completely unsolicited, too. But just look: see that Apple AirPort Extreme base station propped up on a brick*? That’s it! That’s all I need! No stupid DSL modem and an extra Ethernet cable. No looking at the little modem lights to see why the phone company screwed up again. And best of all, no CenturyLink! That’s right, just the Internet—clean, simple, and fast.
It took me a long time to get here. I’d been getting CenturyLink (formerly Qwest) DSL through my local ISP, TaosNet. After a couple of years poking along at 1.5 Mbps, I was ready to jump when the CenturyLink website suddenly announced that 7 Mbps was now available at this address. By my reckoning, the bundled faster service would be even cheaper, too. But for reasons too esoteric for this blog, that meant I’d have to leave TaosNet and deal directly with the mega-corporation. I did, and they screwed up. Although both the website and a friendly service rep who soon stopped returning my calls said yes, of course, we can upgrade your service, when the CenturyLink technician came out to enable the higher bandwidth, he reported that we were “too far from the node.” In other words, sorry about that, but hey, how about some satellite TV instead?
So it was back to TaosNet, and in the process I learned something new. The shot above is San Antonio Mountain in October, 2009, just after TaosNet partnered with a telephone company and ISP in southern Colorado to build a “300 Mbps full duplex wireless link” via a relay (microwave tower) at the summit. This connects TaosNet to the Internet through Alamosa, CO, and why is that a good thing? Because the only other telecommunications connection to the outside world from Taos is a single fiber-optic line on telephone poles that goes over the mountains to Angel Fire and then south to Albuquerque. Last year some idiot shot it with a high-powered rifle, knocking out Internet and phone service for everyone in Taos County who wasn’t using TaosNet. That’s right: my local ISP has what Oban Lambie at Brownrice Internet (my local hosting company) calls “the only physically redundant pipes to the internet in Taos.”
A site survey showed that we could pick up TaosNet’s fixed wireless signal from our rented adobe—at least until the neighbor’s cottonwood trees grow tall enough to block it—so that’s what I went for. TaosNet gave me a deal I couldn’t refuse on 6 Mbps, and I love it to death. It costs a little more than what I paid before, but I don’t care. Besides the extra speed and pleasure of working with a competent, friendly, call-them-any-time LOCAL business, there’s something magical about connecting to the Internet this way.
Telling CenturyLink to kill my DSL was a pleasure, too. Thank you, TaosNet.
* I also love that I can finally take my AirPort out of bridge mode and use it as a full-fledged router. The Apple gear is much simpler to configure, anyway, and this just feels so right. But why is it sitting on a brick? That’s just temporary, until I figure something else out, but this way the weatherized Ethernet cable from the antenna—stiffer than the indoor kind—tucks neatly underneath. Just tested the connection, too: 5.87 Mbps up, 1.94 down. Woo-hoo! – JHF
Just thought you could use a rainbow.
I took this photo four days ago from in back of our house here in Taos. My wife was whooping and shrieking all over the place because of the intense color and the wonder of it all. I love it when that happens. I wonder if she knows?
It’s hard to know just where things stand or what’s the truth. Everything I see that either makes me mad or has me crying tears of joy relates directly to the prejudice within. I can’t emphasize that enough. What’s maddening is that if I realize this and withdraw my projections, staying in the moment, everything is fine and resting on an even keel!
(This hurts my head and it’s supposed to. I hope I win that motorcycle, so there’s at least a loud distraction.)
At any rate, it happened to me again, the real town thing. We went up to Alamosa, CO about 10 days ago, and I was stunned to feel how comforting it was. Instead of just gift shops and galleries, there were stores where you could buy stuff that you need and shops for fixing things. It’s kind of like visiting my wife’s family in Dubuque: very nice, but where’s the danger, chaos, and the dirt?!?
If I were there instead of here, though, I’d probably be hot to get away. We sat down in a lovely Colorado joint for burgers and crab cakes and watched the people on the sidewalk. When there were any, that is. I saw a nice lady pushing a baby stroller and dragging a cute thumb-sucking kid. About 10 minutes later, along came a glum-looking guy with dark blue slacks, black plastic cop shoes, and a name tag on his shirt—lunch hour in the Rockies, oh yeah. But there wasn’t any attitude, you know? No pride for just surviving. Not much of an edge. Is that a feature or a bug? It’s all so damned confusing.
After a dozen years, I’ve pretty much got this town pegged. It has a lot in common with the last place we lived back on the good ole Eastern Shore: insular, self-referential, and plagued by meddling rich idiots. Both are also beautiful and full of decent people. But whether one place or the other, any other, shines, depends on what comes leaping from one’s psyche, or perhaps the weather (for freezing your ass off, lots of sunshine, and no rain, Taos wins hands down). When we first arrived here in el Norte, I spent years constructing lists of pros and cons to educate myself and irritate my friends. It didn’t work, except the pissing off dimension, and if you noticed, we’re still here.
Now I probably piss off Taoseños and lose non-resident acolytes for being something of a heretic or a grump. I doubt there’d be much change if I were suddenly on Oprah and we had a normal, comfy house up in the mountains, though: things seem to work best for me, the more I open up and tell my truth without wounding. Accordingly, I love the mountains and meant just what I said about the boat! A motorcycle might make a lot of difference, though, so come back in the spring and see if I have bugs and feathers in my teeth.
(Maybe I can even find a nice garage.)
[AAGHH! I have no idea why a bunch of you just got emails claiming this was a new post instead of nine days old! Sorry. - JHF]
You’ll never know the whole of it, alas! (The tales’s entirely too bent and fraught with opportunity for me to get arrested in the telling.)
On that score, suffice it to say that living in Taos without a trust fund is more difficult than anywhere I’ve ever been. (Maybe you should write that down.) Physical conditions aside, I attribute this to the sheer level of rank lunacy the vibrations attract, and no, I don’t exclude myself. That same energy means your inner life is naked to the elements, like raw liver on a plate—unlike, say, the Midwest, where a gentle fudging fog obscures the nasty bits, and let’s not talk about that, shall we? But I will do the best I can.
We live in an old adobe house with a little studio apartment on the end. That’s where the dead landlord lived. It’s mostly just as he left it: faded jacket on the clothes tree, dead plants still in desiccated pots. I see this through the solar window, mottled now with dust, where roll-up shades hang crooked at the top, their cords rotted by the sun…
The poor guy built this on top of the septic tank, accessible through an outside “closet” where you look right down at the lid. (Yes, the man was always sick as well.) There’s another house adjacent to ours, part of the original property. Its sewer line goes into our aged, single-chamber septic tank—two houses on one itty-bitty system—which sometimes overflows.The drainage field is failing, so this happens more and more.
What you need to know, however, is that the landlord willed the adjacent house to the then-and-current tenants, while his niece inherited our place. The legacy has to be divided, and guess who needs a separate septic system—except there isn’t any room! The entire property is too small as it is to qualify for a septic tank today—not even one, I mean. And the sewer lines are miles away, so the folks next door will have to come up with something fancy like a Swedish poop incinerator. There are surely other issues as well, and it probably won’t surprise you that the whole mess has been stuck in probate for more than FIVE WHOLE YEARS, during which not a thing’s been done to make it easier to flush.
Arguably, if the neighbors weren’t connected, we might do just fine, even with the ancient hippie plumbing. Not that I want to do “just fine,” since we need a bigger house and have been trying to find another place for at least as long as the slop’s been overflowing. Somehow this never happens, and I mostly blame myself. You never know what you’re going to discover in these parts. Another place nearby is newer than ours and owner-built-odd: none of the windows open, and the “bathtub” is one of those things where someone dug a hole and lined it with rocks. We have an actual tub, so la-dee-da. I could do without the bare cinder blocks and spider webs, of course. (Another term for this is “Old Taos,” and run when you hear that!)
It all came rushing back today because I arranged another pump-out, and my neighbor wasn’t sure we needed one. Concerned about the cost, apparently, though it was our turn to pay. (I must be missing something here.) Meanwhile, not 10 feet from where we lay our heads, raw sewage overflows and soaks into the dirt that old adobe bricks are resting on. This insanity reflects on no one well, especially myself, because we had a house once with a working septic system and a whole lot more. It also had a funky roof, a basement that flooded several times a year, 10,000 mice, windows propped up with sticks, and siding flapping in the wind. Could be I never did have that right, which makes me feel a little better, since I’m not dead and might remember next time.
I hope there’s more confession than complaining here. After all, the plumbing is a symbol for my evil ways: lazy, half-assed, self-absorbed, and full of that which dare not speak its name. My only hope for something close to redemption is to never mind the present, forget the past, and use my entrails for a rope bridge to a brighter shore. (Cunning, what?)
My wife said to me today, “You need to talk,” to which I replied:
“I want to build a boat in my garage.”
(Be glad you weren’t there instead of me!)
* * *
From 7,000 feet up in the terrible high desert, your humble servant and the ^#%&!!! septic tank both wish you well.
Not everyone can say that, but I just did.