Untold Stories

Certain people print their images on my mind like photographs, unforgettable:

Three orange-robed Buddhist monks in Albuquerque painting the iron fence of their compound bright turquoise-blue. One was wearing a cowboy hat.

A green-haired teenaged girl in shredded black tights and dramatic make-up playing heavy metal electric guitar for tips outside an art gallery in Deming. Her tip jar was labeled “encouragement.”

A fiddler playing outside the movie theater in T or C as people lined up and went inside. After they vanished, he kept fiddling, practically dancing to his own music. He didn’t need encouragement.

A platinum blonde woman on the edge of the dance floor at Santa Fe Bandstand, wearing big sunglasses, tight denim capris, a white shirt, black spike heels, red lipstick and a red scarf, holding the leashes of a pair of fluffy little dogs in pink and blue harnesses. For reasons known only to her, she came to hear Native drum groups and then Levi Platero’s Hendrix-style blues in her 1950s Marilyn Monroe persona.

A white-haired, white-bearded man on a bicycle hauling a small wagon covered with orange reflective material and loaded with what appeared to be all his worldly goods, traveling slowly through Nutt, New Mexico. Nutt has a lot of wind turbines and solar panels, but a population of twelve. What was he doing there? I first saw him on the way to Deming with a friend. Hours later, on our way back to T or C, we passed him again, still in Nutt, only a tad further along. Two weeks later, we saw him yet again, this time on I-25 North about a third of the way to Albuquerque. Needless to say, we remembered him and wondered about his life.

Of all these memorable people, he’s the one I wish I’d stopped to talk with. The one whose story is the biggest mystery. I can guess that “Marilyn” had fun dressing up in her retro style. It’s not unusual at Bandstand for half the audience to be so colorful they’re as much a part of the show as the musicians. The monks, the heavy metal girl, and the fiddler also seemed happy, doing things that were meaningful to them. There’s a story behind each of them and how they chose to be where they were, but they didn’t raise as many questions in my mind as the bicyclist did. Is he mentally healthy or unwell? How far does he travel in a day? Where does he sleep? How does he get food? It’s possible he’s engaged by choice in an eccentric yet purposeful life, but more likely he’s pushing his way through, doing the best he can after a series of set-backs or a disaster.

Whether he’s on a spiritual journey, a lost, homeless trek, or another kind of trip I can’t even guess at, I hope he travels safely. Perhaps I’ll see him again and pull off to learn his story.

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Waltzing to “New Mexico Rain”

In my years of being happily single I’ve never minded going places on my own—in fact, I love the freedom of going alone, and the openness to meeting new people that I have when I do this. Last summer, when Michael Hearne played at Santa Fe Bandstand, I struck up an acquaintance with a fellow Hearne fan. The music was a little late starting and we were early, so we sat together on the base of the monument in the Plaza for quite a while. The funny thing is that for as long as we talked, I couldn’t remember his name or what he did for work, only that he was from Albuquerque and loved music and dancing. We danced together for much of the evening. He switched partners occasionally, dancing with women he knew from Albuquerque, and then coming back to me. He had to catch the Rail Runner before the song, the one everyone wants to hear and dance to most of all, “New Mexico Rain.”* If this were fiction, the Cinderella-esque departure of the dancing partner whose name I’d forgotten would lead to something. It didn’t. I ended up dancing to that song with a stunningly attractive and much younger man who could lead a waltz with energy and grace.

This year, I arrived early again, and found a huge crowd waiting for Bill Hearne and Michael Hearne**. I sat on the base on the monument between two slim, fit, middle-aged women with brilliant (and definitely natural) red hair of the same length and with the same kind of rippling curls. The one on my left was local, and the one on my right was reading a tourist brochure in French, oblivious to her Santa Fe twin—who assured me they were not in any way connected. If this were fiction, the coincidence of their resemblance would go somewhere. It didn’t. I just happened to be between two oddly similar members of that particular one-percent.

I looked up and saw a tall, slender man with a youthful face and gray hair under a faded pink ball cap—the same man from Albuquerque in the same hat. He was saying to the woman with him, “I don’t see any of the regulars.” I spoke up, and he remembered me—though not my name. He introduced me to his friend, and I easily learned her name, and that she was a massage therapist visiting from North Carolina. I forgot his name and occupation again. But I did dance with him. He flowed back and forth between partners. I liked having breaks to watch the sea of dancers before being re-immersed in its waves.

When he left last August, I said, “see you next year.” He told me he’d wondered if “that lady” would be here again. All either of us could remember about each other was how we danced, with a connection that was perfectly of the moment. If this were fiction, there would be more to this story, but there isn’t. He is my Bandstand Michael Hearne concert dance partner. In its own way, that story is magical enough.

This year, we did get a chance to waltz to those lovely lines about waltzing in New Mexico rain. Maybe we’ll dance again next year. If we’re lucky, perhaps it will rain. (If this were fiction, it would.)

*“New Mexico Rain” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96UkbM6cII4

**New Mexico’s adopted sons—Americana with a touch of Western Swing

http://billhearne.com/wp/

http://www.michaelhearne.com/index.html

“Do You Need a Ride?” A Pedestrian Ramble

One of my favorite Edward Abbey rants in Desert Solitaire is about tourists who won’t get out their cars in a national park and who suffer the illusion that they have actually seen the place when they haven’t walked in it.

For me, walking is a way of getting to know a community and its personality. I seldom sit in waiting rooms when I could be out exploring. A place doesn’t have to be scenic to have character; even a kind of dreary character can be interesting to a writer. While waiting for oil changes at the Ford dealership in the town that inspired Cauwetska in The Calling, I explored the neighborhood behind it. Many years later when I wrote the book, I knew which house Mae and her mother would move to in the opening scene and I could see, hear and smell every step of the life-changing walk Mae takes that evening.

In my review of The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras I mentioned the narrator Hubie Schuze’s reflections on the superiority of walking compared driving. The line that stuck with me from this particular scene is I saw a baby gopher—one of the many things one could not experience if driving a car. I’m trying to find the chapter for another quotation but I keep finding all his other walks in Albuquerque instead. Hubie walks in his city quite a lot.

Based on this literary precedent, I believe it can’t be remarkable to be walking in Albuquerque, surely not so odd that a complete stranger should offer me a ride—and yet someone did. I arrived early for a yoga class Tuesday and decided to walk a few not-very-scenic blocks to pass the time rather than sit. A man of about fifty to sixty, driving a nice car, rolled down his window in passing and asked if I needed a ride. New Mexico is a friendly place, where we talk to strangers all the time, but I’ve never been invited into a car. I was so stunned I just said “No,” forgetting add “thank you.” What was this man thinking? I was wearing yoga clothes, flip-flops, and a sensible sun hat, so I don’t think I looked like some middle-age hooker angling for business at five-thirty in the afternoon. I didn’t look feeble, either. When I was walking in T or C a few nights earlier, a woman I’d never met before asked me what I did to stay so fit. She was getting out of her car, and she didn’t offer me a ride. (On that same T or C walk I passed a group of people who’d been rafting on the Rio Grande. They’d just unloaded their gear and I think they’d been imbibing a little on their trip. One woman, still holding a half-empty beer bottle, hugged another, and liquid poured from the bottle to the ground. The recipient of the hug asked, in a most serious tone, “Are you peeing?” You couldn’t get a laugh like that while driving. That was as good as seeing a baby gopher.)

When I went to the corn dance at Kewa Pueblo (Santo Domingo) earlier this week, I chose to park a distance from the plaza and walk. Twice, shuttle bus drivers tried very hard to let me know I could ride. I know they were just being courteous, but I couldn’t bring myself to ride. In my work in progress, this pueblo will be one of the settings, and walking helped me to soak up details.

When I walk in Santa Fe, no one offers me a ride. The city is full of pedestrians, some of them very interesting. While I walked to the Best of Santa Fe Block Party last Saturday, I encountered young women striking dance and yoga poses on the streets. This evening in the Plaza at Bandstand, I saw a tall trim Anglo man with a white tiny goatee wearing a little round flat African hat in pink and green and orange, pink John Lennon sunglasses, an orange-and-green African print shirt and a swath of similar fabric wrapped around his waist over his bright green shorts. All the clothing looked new, clean and crisp, a carefully chosen concoction.

The best-dressed dog at Bandstand belonged to man whose lean, scruffy appearance and worn-out backpack suggested he might be homeless. He had placed a pair of sunglasses with bright orange frames on the nose of his dog, a gentle, friendly mutt. Children broke off dancing wildly to the Santa Fe Chiles Jazz Band to pet the dog, and the man was gracious, careful of the children’s well-being and his dog’s good behavior. The way he steered and guided his dog made me think perhaps the glasses were there to indicate that the dog was blind. I had to wonder about the story behind his apparent good cheer in what looked like tough circumstances. Now, while writing this, I wonder if anyone ever offers him and his dog a ride.

Dancing in New Mexico Part One

This is going to take two or three posts to cover, because dancing has roles in both social life and spiritual life here. It plays a big part in my books, too, because dancing is how Jamie communicates when he experiences life at its highest intensity, as in the Santa Fe Bandstand scene in Shaman’s Blues. I’m a barely adequate ballroom dancer myself, but I enjoy it anyway, especially the flow when I have a partner who can lead, and I love to watch people who are better at it than I am.

Part one: The perfect partners.

No matter what kind of music is playing, there are people who will dance to it, and dance well, whether the Santa Fe Chiles are playing Dixie jazz and swing dancers from the Rhythm Project are cutting loose in creative kinetics at Bandstand, or the Bill Hearne Trio is playing “alt country” at the Best of Santa Fe block party, inspiring older couples to dance in the elegant flow that embodies a whole history of partnership.

Sometimes at Sparky’s in Hatch it takes an icebreaker to people out on the floor, or the right kind of music—Western Swing. Then those couples who dance the way old married couples finish each other’s thoughts start moving their boots. When the Renegades played a couple of weekends ago, I enjoyed one man’s smile even more than I enjoyed dancing with my dancing buddy. We took to speaking of this tall, gray-bearded, Hispanic cowboy as The Smile. He bowed over his lady, cradling her in the shade of his body, with a look of radiant bliss glowing over her shoulder. If only she could have seen that look.

When I left the Best of Santa Fe block party Saturday to go pick up my car at the Firestone place on St. Francis, the man who’d taken care of my car knew where I’d been and he came dancing out of the garage with a smile on his face as if there were music. I danced too. Why not?

This is my new favorite song:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96UkbM6cII4

Picture the older guy, Bill Hearne, and the two guys to his right, as a trio, outdoors under a mixed cloudy-sunny monsoon season sky, the Railyard water tower to one side, and the free food and coffee and books and other festivities to the other side, and in front of them those perfect partners swaying along.

Next installment, sacred dances.

Virtual Tour of New Mexico, Part Two: Music in Santa Fe, a trip to T or C, and Desert Beauty

This started as a virtual tour of Santa Fe last week, but I decided to expand it to other locations as well.

First stop, music. Santa Fe Bandstand is one of the highlights of my summer. I enjoy the atmosphere and the range of artists, and as a writer of course I especially like watching the audience. Every summer I come up from T or C for a week or a few days, timing my trip for the performers I most want to see and hear.

Bandstand plays a key role in Shaman’s Blues. If you’ve read the book, see if reality matches your imagination.

Photo gallery

http://santafebandstand.org/galleries/bandstand-photos/

Not many videos available right now, but here are a few. My personal favorite among the bands in these videos—Felix Y Los Gatos. Love the blues accordion!

http://santafebandstand.org/videos/

This next stop on the tour is part of the “on location” visit for Shaman’s Blues. New Mexico Magazine recently featured an article on my beloved Truth or Consequences, where Mae moves in the beginning of the book. Read the article and you’ll see how an off-beat artist like Niall fits right in, and how a place like Dada Café just might happen. (I located it on Broadway in a building that has had a high rate of restaurant turnover.)

Turtleback Mountain is prominent in the picture that accompanies this article, and it’s in Mae’s view from her back yard.

http://www.nmmagazine.com/article/?aid=84968#.UxkFLdiYbDA

If my book or this “tour” made you fall in love with New Mexico, I recommend New Mexico Magazine as a way to keep the virtual tour going year round. They cover art, music, books, food, history, recreation, and their photography alone is enough to make the publication worth my subscription.

http://www.nmmagazine.com/

The final part of this tour is immersion in the natural beauty of the state. These pictures are not related to scenes in the book, other than the fact that one can’t drive on the interstate in NM without seeing something breathtaking, and that is part of Mae’s experience in her new home.

I discovered this photographer’s work at an outdoor art show in Santa Fe a few years ago. His way of seeing the world is attentive to grand vistas and subtle details, often in the same picture, and makes me feel the sacredness of the land.  He has a name that somehow suits his work—Amadeus Leitner.

The photo gallery could keep you in a state of exalted bliss for quite some time. Imagine the smells of sage and juniper, the breath of the wind, the texture of a rock heated by the sun, and you’ll be there.

http://www.amadeusleitner.com/

Welcome to the Land of Enchantment.