You Can Never Go Home, If You’re Lost, Que No?

Okay, now what?

Okay, now what?

They say you can’t, but I’m going home.  Back to Santa Fe, the place of my rebirth, death, rebirth, death, and rebirth.  Those are special places.  Places where a lot of shit went down.  Places with fertile fields to sow madness and mirth.  And rocky soil to pull plow through.  Places to choke yourself out in the yoke of toil.  To sweat out Dark Eyes vodka while a jack hammer batters your Juarez dental work loose.

Magic places.  Places to make all your dreams come true.

Santa Fe was one of those places.  Except for the making all my dreams come true part.  Some dreams are just too insane.  Even for New Mexico.

And New Mexico is one weird-ass state.  Totally, Marius Seal of Approval, weird.  I think by now, you’ll understand the magnitude of what my certification means.   This is not some corn-fed, roll-her-eyes-at-Adult Swim, mid-western housewife’s idea of weird.  No.

It’s my version.

So yeah.

New Mexico is weird.  In the best way.  I think it’s the people.  I swear to God, there isn’t a person in that state that isn’t some sort of character.  Funny, crazy, dangerous, dumb, brilliant, beautiful, bizarre, annoying, and delightful.  Name it.  We got ’em all in old New Mex.  The psychos I worked construction with.  The artists I’ve gotten criminally drunk with.  The madmen I fought in bars and parking lots.  The silver spray paint huffing vagrants I learned to ballroom dance in the arroyo with.  The decent cops that showed me leniency.  The friends.  The freaks.  The ladies that taught me to love…

Then there’s the place itself.

The landscape that taught me about God.  And showed me His more artsy side.  The sky actually talks to you out there.  Not always what you want to hear.  But the signal comes in pretty clear.  It’s the wideness.  TV signal doesn’t scramble it’s messages as bad.  Trees, rocks, water, dirt, plants.  All alive.  Also having something to say about it all.  Happy sun.  Stormy clouds.  Celestial snow.  Stars that stare back at you with wonder.

My big regret is that I spent so much of that time drunk.  Sometimes way too.  Certainly to appreciate some of it’s more subtle charms.

Like with a few women too, I guess.  I wish I was more present.   But you can’t be present when you’re deeply involved in shooting holes through furniture.  And trading karate chops with a buddy whose round house kick sends you crashing into a fish aquarium.  So yeah, I chose my career over having any stable romantic relationships.  Didn’t have the capital to invest enough of the emotional currency required to fund one.

What can I say?  I was a driven and ambitious young man.

I wanted to run amok.  As amok as amokably possible.  I needed a place to wait out my exile from the human race.  A desert inhabited by aliens seemed like good place.  To set up my own Area 51.  Run my own test flights.  A little elbow room to get my crazy dance on.

Under the moon.  While the hounds howled.  And a fire illuminated the madness in my eyes.  Grind the edge, until I drop off the rail, and plunge into The Abyss.  Then see what’s left after everything is destroyed.

Alright.  Did that.  Check mark that box.  What’s next?  Probably rehab.  And a slow descent to Earth’s orbit.

Very slow.  No rush there.

But I had to leave.  Hated to.  But had to.

I thought I could wash my sins away in the Pacific Ocean.  But the waters were already saturated.  And working at a strip club wasn’t exactly dry-cleaning my soul.  Should’ve gotten rid of all the guns, too.  I guess I had one more death left in me.

So I tried a different way of living.  One so jack bland, only the most desperate would even attempt to embrace it.  But it was all I had left.  And it turned out to be a lot better than I thought.  As my friend Mad Dog would say, “Ain’t that a kick for sore balls!”

And that’s what sometimes hurts about going home.  The ball-kicking realization of how much I missed out on. And now miss.  Being there and wishing I could have done it all sober.  Seen it all through clearer eyeballs.  But then we’d have nothing to laugh about, would we?  No mischievous hi-jinx to recall.  And if this blogula even existed, it would be insufferably boring.  Recipes for good mulch.  Illustrated core and balance exercises.

Pictures of people standing around in nature.

I shudder to think.

You should too.  You see,  I did it all for you, dear reader.  And it’s okay.  You guys are worth it.

Anyway, it will be good to see my sister and Keller.  Good to see Marko.  And whoever else I’m supposed to see.  Sunday afternoon I’ll be making speed-amends at a table at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame.  Come by if you feel I owe you one.  I’ll try to guess what it’s about.  If I can’t remember, you can remind me, while I gnash my teeth with regret, and embarrass you with an overly dramatic public display of contrition.  And anything else to make things right.  Between us.

Buy you a beer?  You name it.  Even an import.

Because I want things to be good.  Between me and you.  And between me and New Mexico.  I want it to be a good homecoming.  I want to be able to go home.  Just to see if all those fuckers were wrong.

I’ll keep you posted.

Okay, now what?

Okay, now what?

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The Not-So-Great Outdoors

Greetings lost travelers, our camp is just beyond the burning tires.

When I discovered the outdoors, I felt like the pioneers must have.  All new land to run amok in.  The law being slower to catch up with your hijinks means you can let it all hang a little looser.  Start in a land where the law is already a step slow, like in old New Mex, and then really disappear.  You should see what you can get away with.  It’s pretty good.  Bring along some like-minded individuals and decide to only adhere to laws that are convenient, and now you’re talking Utopia to this anarchist.

Camping for me was never about frying up trout in a pan while the coffee brews, a few fake ducks scattered around.  It was about returning to the Great Primal Id.  Pagan barbarians huddling around a fire outside the gates of Rome, gnawing on undercooked turkey legs, waiting for the city to fall.  Invoke the night!  Unleash the wild dogs!  Let them hunt the beasts!  Howl with their joy!  Wave your warhammers and axes in the victory of freedom!  Trample the oppressors in the madness of your fire dance!

Humping in thirty cans of Guinness along with your regular gear kind of sucked though.

If it was any trip with my friend, T-Bone, it was guaranteed to be a serious hump.  I met T-Bone, a French-Canadian/Lithuanian hybrid, when I was washing dishes at The Natural Cafe.  He was the lunch cook.  The first thing I noticed about him was that he had to wear two t-shirts over each other.  Both shirts had so many holes that he had to layer so the various holes would cover.  Only problem was some of the holes intersected, and the sub set, if you will, revealed pale New England skin.  That’s totally punk, I thought, true punk, and an especially gnarly way to show up for work.  I decided right then that I liked him.

We’d hang out at his place, since the 1950’s trailer my sister and I lived in was too small for even one person.  He’d turn me on to good comics, or graphic novels, as well as the latest toe-tappers the crazy kids were listening to those days.  We’d be reading Love and Rockets, or Hate, or my personal favorite, Steven, while listening to The Butthole Surfers.  Drinking beer and yucking it up, we patiently waited for the 80’s to finally die.  It was a good time, and he was a pretty normal cool dude…until you got him outdoors.

T-Bone graduated with a degree in archeology, and after The Natural Cafe gig, got a real job in the profession.  During the day, he’d contentedly catalogue pottery shards, or someone’s bones, with the same meticulous care he catalogued his comics and CD’s.  It was a good fit.  However, this mild-mannered slacker, once freed from the shackles of pedantry, and out in the wide open outdoors, became possessed.  He would get all Indiana Jones on you, and insist on leading forced marches through wilderness hell.  The Chindits fighting through the jungles of Burma comes to mind.

I’m convinced he was some kind of wild-eyed, obsessed explorer in his past life.  Some college professor gone mad from sampling the native plants, on a quest to find the hidden City of The Rainbow Serpent.  He would drag my ass to the farthest point on the topo map, grid Z 98, then back up a squiggly line to A 3.  That way we could see the petroglyphs.

“Seriously dude,” I would tell him, “Just out of sight of the families at the picnic tables would be cool with me.”  Oh no.

“We need to see this ancient Indian pueblo site.  It’s on the top that mesa.”  I follow his finger and see the distant shape of a mountain with its head chopped off, its jagged form illuminated by the surrounding summer lightning.

I’m no Daniel Boone, but I’ve watched enough lightning safety pieces during the local news to know that you need to go the other direction than up high, on flat.  That was like laying yourself on a sacrificial altar of the Lightning Gods and daring their asses to do something about it.

This sort of unproven superstitious rubbish didn’t concern the fevered Colonel leading our expedition.  Despite my most spirited entreaties for caution, the dash was on.   The stubborn goat, appropriately native from a place called Marblehead, kept climbing and I followed, but only partially because of  his intrepid Yankee leadership.

We also had women with us.  Well-scrubbed, hardy ones, mostly of New England and Maine stock.  Thick in thigh, avid outdoors chicks, they all seemed fearless.  And therein was the rub.  I was scared shitless.  I wanted to turn back and head down, but couldn’t bring myself to do it in front of all the hot nature girls.  Instead, I willed my feet forward and turned my thoughts to God.

Lightning, at one point, was flashing under us as we climbed.  “”Is under good?”  I kept asking myself.  We passed by trees that were split and burned from past strikes.  I wondered if straddling the burned crotch of one of those would decrease my odds of getting hit.  It was raining and I could feel the water coat me with extra conductivity juice, just in case all the liquid-filled metal cylinders I had strapped to me weren’t enticing enough bait for a bolt.

I already knew at that point in my life that I was due some kind of avenging blast, from either Nature or God.  Now was a great time for them to tag team me.   Yes, it only made perfect sense that I should go out like this.  I started making small promises.

It got to striking around us pretty good, and not FLASH tick tick tick BOOM, but FLASHBOOM.   The static charge made your ass hole involuntarily contract, although it felt pretty voluntary.  You could taste electricity on your tongue.  Arm hair stiff as brush.  Sweet Jesus, spare me.  Bigger promises.

“Dude, I just don’t know how good an idea this is.”

“We’re almost there.”

Fucking psycho lunatic.  Onward he went, with several pairs of tanned and muscular legs following.  I reached into my pack and cracked another beer, way ahead of my rationing time-table.  Now, I faced another nightmare–running out of beer in the middle of nowhere.  I started muttering mutiny among myself.  Could it be possible that I’m the only sane person in this doomed party?  Wouldn’t that be a fucking cosmic irony?  He’s clearly mad, but what about the women?  I guess it doesn’t matter if they’re crazy or not.  I’m going to be wherever they are anyway.

If it’s on top of Dr. Frankenstein’s satellite dish while he’s working on bringing Jr. to life, so be it.  I resigned myself.  Chicks trump everything, every time.

We finally made the summit.  The rain let up.  There was more time between the flashes and the booms.  Shafts of light started to poke through the clouds.  The vista kicked into Grand Mode.  We jumped into the ruins and began exploring.

“Hey T, I hope I find a tomahawk or a peace pipe or something!”

He looked up at me.  “Yeah.”

I lowered myself into a kiva.  “Or a sack of ceremonial peyote.”  Which I would of course turn over to the cultural authorities, after totally pinching the stash.

You didn’t need psychotropic agents inside those kivas to get a buzz on.  Those places were absolutely soaked with spiritual whammy.  A weird sort of heady reverence seemed to reverberate around the place.  Very different from the one in an average American bowling alley.  I don’t know if it was ghosts or residue atmospheric charge, but my molecules were lit up.  Sacred stuff rocks balls, I thought.

We don’t have enough sacred stuff.  There’s too much Wal-mart stuff, and Chuck E. Cheeze, miniature golf, tractor pull stuff.  It’s sacred alright, but have you seen to who?  Maybe I should start having my own sacred stuff?  I didn’t know what it would look like, or if I could even afford it.  I figured whatever I came up with would be illegal or addictive.  Maybe I could shoplift one of those magic bongos they had at The Amethyst Chalice, New Age bookstore.

The sky closed up again, and the lighting started.  Okay, fuck this, I’m not sticking around for another battering of shock therapy.  The Colonel and the girls can take their chances.   Some of them will come down alive, I’m sure.  I announced my immediate departure and left with little fanfare.  This is only partially pussing out, I told myself, I made it to the top.  Now I’m going back down, where I belong.  They could finish their education.  I am so gone.

More lighting, but now with me skedaddling down the road like a hobo with a stolen chicken.  The knees were steaming from trying to brake my descent, but the flashes and fear bayoneted me forward and faster.  Cowardice?  It seemed like common sense.  Regardless, I let it rip.

“Oh Mammy Mammy!  Oh holy holy!  Holy Mammy of God!”  I slid and scrambled down the trail.  Once my nerve broke, I was a one man rout.  I grabbed at branches  to slow down.  “Lee’s Army is coming!”

I started taking back promises as the trees around me got taller.   I finally made it to the bottom and laid down by a stream next to a culvert.  I later found out it’s one of the most dangerous places to be during a lightning storm, and one I was never warned about during local news shows.  What else was the media holding out on?   For now my ignorance meant bliss, and I pulled out a beer to celebrate it.  Only eighteen left, but what the hell.

The Colonel finally arrived with our store of women.  He was partially satisfied.  There was one more thing he wanted to see.  This would take us to a place so bone dry we wound up having to steal water from someone’s car, but that’s another tale.  That was T-Bone.  He’s had me teetering from dizzying death-drop precipices, freezing to stone Eastern Front-style in snowy wastelands, wading knee-high in streams while lighting struck upriver, or baking on hot coals in a sea of smelting sand, just so we could see something.

I wouldn’t trade any of it.

I got to see things I would never have, not if it had been up to my lazy ass.  I really owe him for that.  I also learned that being in Nature could make you feel better.  It didn’t matter what kind of madness tormented and drove me when I went in, I always drove out a better model.  And, I got to see a lot of sacred stuff.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t bring too much of it back in my pockets.  But eventually I learned what made things that way.  It’s all in the way you look at them, or more accurately, look for it in them.  Today, I start by looking at my coffee like it’s sacred, and then expand what I include, slowly, as the morning opens up.  If I keep paying attention, pretty soon I’m surrounded by sacred stuff, and God becomes something more than a guy to make promises to while being chased by lightning.  The Great Outdoors becomes an inside job.

Cue the banjo music

Spicy Hot New Year’s Eve at The Cat

Unleash the amateur drinkers!  Watch them crowd up the bars, slow down service, raise the cover charge, and put unreasonable expectations on the evening, along with more cops out on the street.  What’s not to love about New Year’s?  I am so excited.  It’s going to be a new date on the calendar!  That rarely happens.  Besides, what could ever go wrong when you desperately make too much of a big deal over nothing?

When I worked the door at bars, I knew I was in for it that night.  People are under such pressure to have the best night of their lives, they wind up making it their worst.  The sudden influx of novice drinkers also insures a fresh supply of punching bags for the already surly and sodden veterans.  Imagine boy scouts setting up camp on a penitentiary recreation yard.  Nothing good can come of it.

Working a big crowd is a stress fest.  Having more women around is as bad as too few.  When drunk men see their chances of scoring slip away, they get irritable.  Sometimes a jump-up-on-the-pool-table-while-ripping-off-your-shirt-and-trying-to-kick-anybody-that-comes-near-you-in-the-teeth kind of irritable.  Whenever I’ve witnessed these animated displays of irritability, my first impulse was never to go over and deal with the person.  I would’ve prefered to have found a defendable corner, perhaps barricaded by a tipped-over table, from which I could egg the maniac on, with impunity.  Unfortunately, they don’t pay you ten bucks an hour to do that.

It was my second New Year’s Eve at The Catamount Bar and Grille in Santa Fe, NM.  That year, T-Bone was working with me, which was good.  He was a lovable lug from Boston.  He played hockey, knew Aikido, was level-headed, and didn’t have a whole lot to prove.  We were friends so I knew he’d have my back.  He had never worked a New Year’s Eve before so I warned him.

“They’re going to build a corral out of plywood outside to help control the crowd,” I explained, “but we’re still going to have our hands full trying to keep them from pushing past us, not to mention having to deal with anything that erupts inside.  I’m going to wear my big boy underwear that night. I suggest you do, too.”

He nodded, and then I nodded back.

The next night we had a couple of beers and went to work.  It was already crowded by eight o’clock.  T-Bone reached into his pocket, pulled out two things of pepper spray, and handed one to me.  I commended him on his foresight.  I never minded an edge.  I had used them all: pepper spray, Maglites, high-voltage zappers, brass knuckles, spring-billy batons, whip-chains, lead-shot sap gloves, rubber truncheons, pool cues, salt shakers, door jams, and even other people’s heads.  Like in any video game, there are strengths and disadvantages to each weapon.  I would soon learn a major disadvantage to the weapon T-Bone had procured for us.

Management had hired a couple of guys to help out.  We all knew each other.  We had worked together at some places, as well as thrown each other out from others.  Ours was a small world.  They would be upstairs at the second bar.  T-Bone and I would be outside by the door.  I would take cover charge and he would check IDs.

That night started memorably enough when a drunk girl threw up on me.  She was trying to push past without paying, so I put up my hands to stop her.  She looked down and puked on them.  Bravo!

“Uh, I don’t think I can let you in,” I told her, “You seem to have had too much to drink.”

“But I feel better now,” she tried to explain.  She was a warrior alright.  I wiped my hands off on her sleeves and sent her off.

I was even more impressed a half an hour later when she returned, and tried to get in again.

“You think you can still come in after barfing gazpacho on the bouncer’s hands?” I asked.  She nodded.  “You’re an amazing woman,” I told her, ” And I could see falling in love with someone like you, but tonight you need to go throw up somewhere else.”

There were the usual hassles: no ID, don’t want to pay cover, friend already paid cover, swear they were in before, just want to look for someone, need to use the rest room, forgot my girlfriend, etc., but no major shit storms.  Still, my nerves were getting frayed.  I was getting irritable, especially as I watched my own chances to score slip away.  Ladies don’t respond well to your advances, if they can smell another woman’s vomit on you.

About 11:30 pm I heard yelling.  I ducked inside and saw some guy raging at the bartender.  He was red-faced and rough.  Tough and chewy trucker trash.  Shop class hero burns out.  His messed up hair and bushy unkempt eye brows made him look like Oscar the Grouch, but more desiccated and raw.  This grouch had spent years drinking whiskey and smoking Marlboro Reds in the hot desert sun.  Now it appeared that his evening wasn’t unfolding to his complete satisfaction.  We all want New Year’s Eve to be special.  I would make sure his was.

The bartender motioned to him, made the throat-slitting sign, then pointed to the door.  Oscar was cut off.  I went over to him and politely inquired as to the reason for his distress.  He went on about not being served, how the place was full of uptight bitches, and there were no more seat liners for the men’s toilet.  I acted like I couldn’t hear him.  I apologized and leaned in.  The deaf doorman bit has two purposes.  You can use it to get in closer range for the sucker punch, or as an excuse for needing to talk outside.  He didn’t seem to warrant a cheap shot yet, so I asked him to follow me out to where I could hear.  Get them outside first, then deal.

He didn’t fall for it.  I asked him again, but he just snarled.  I noted major tartar build-up on the teeth he had left.  His swaying was making me seasick, so I reached out to steady him.  He smacked my hand off his shoulder, and then suggested I do something to my mother.  That was it.  I grabbed him around the neck and dragged him towards the exit.  I made sure to bang his head against The Pillar of Shame on our way out.  “That’s from my Mom,”  I told him.

T-Bone and I each grabbed an arm. We carried him out into the street and tossed him.  He caught some good air before landing in a crumpled pile of worthlessness.  He got up slowly, straightened his cheap, foam cap, and disappeared.  “I hope he’s not going to get a gun,” I said, but T-Bone was already back to checking ID’s.  I went over to my post and started taking money again.

Tick…tick…tick…Boing!

A scarlet blur shot up from behind the plywood fence.  Holy Shit!  It scared the piss out of me.  Oscar was back.  He looked like a demon as he tried to scramble over the barricade.  T-Bone and I kept pushing him back, but God bless that mad muppet, he kept coming.  Because he was on the other side of the plywood fence, we couldn’t get a good hold of him.  Ah, the pepper spray.  What an ideal time to give this bastard a little Binaca blast.  While T-Bone grappled with him, I pulled out my can.  I took aim, and from very close range, shot our assailant in the face.  I gassed out every drop of that canister into his stupid eyes and mouth.  He got the full experience.  Napalm aromatherapy.

Man, if I thought his face was red before.  One night I had slipped a bunch of niacin to my friends, telling them it was a new designer drug.  A cruel hoax, perhaps, but it made them all look like boiled pigs, and that was worth some solid laughs.  Anyway, that’s what this guy looked like now, a parboiled little piggy, except with streaming mucus, saliva, and tears.  He stumbled around holding his face, then bolted off into the night, trailing body fluids. “Happy New Year!” I yelled after him, and that was that, I thought.  I went back to taking cover charge.

A few moments later I noticed some people inside the bar coughing.

The windows were cracked an inch for ventilation.  The pepper spray cloud had drifted into the bar.  A guy tried to explain something about thermal currents to me, but I didn’t care at that point.  I just looked on in horror as more and more people started hacking and crying.  It was like watching the outbreak of an epidemic.  I quickly opened the doors, but that made the gas blow deeper into the bar.  Now the band started coughing, the waitresses, and even the cooks.  People were groping  for the exits.  I directed some of the victims to our bar upstairs, but a lot of people were just leaving.  Happy New Year! Come back soon!

It was a disaster.  Who was responsible for this?  Nevermind that, it was up to me to save New Year’s Eve.  It was fifteen minutes before midnight.  I had to refill the place fast, before the owners, Anthony and Tom, came downstairs.  I dropped the cover and told T-Bone to bag checking IDs.   We drove them in like cattle.  I even helped hand out party hats and horns.  Champagne was opened and passed around.  Finally, at one minute to midnight, the band retook the stage.  Thanks to the residual effects of the chemical agent, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place when they struck up Auld Lang Syne.  It was a moving scene to witness, and I was glad to have played a part in making it happen.

Here’s what really happens on New Year’s Eve: The illusion of time is perpetuated.  That’s it.  It’s done by making one arbitrarily chosen point on a looping continuum more significant than the others.  This moment is special, and now it’s gone.  Nobody blows horns at 7:32 am on New Year’s Day (for valid reasons), but should any moment be less worthy?  Why not really blow-up the party bell and make every tick of the second hand as joy-injected as the one that strikes midnight?  If that’s what you propose, dear friend, I’m down.  I may not drink that way anymore, but I’m more than willing to get joyously excited over what is essentially nothing.  As long as I get time in for a nap, I’m fine.  Besides, I don’t have anything better to do on New Year’s Eve, or ever.  Happy Eternity, fellow creatures.  Celebrate safely.

Whoop-dee-fuckin'-doo!