Two women in the airport concourse wearing fluorescent, over sized house shoes that look like hairy feet. One set is flaming orange and the other neon green. They’ve mixed the shoes so each has an orange monster foot on one leg and a frog green one on the other.
He loped about with long stretches of the leg that seemed to want to get through the door and around the corner before the rest of him could catch up. He wore flip-up sunshades, the kind baseball players wear, that gave the impression of perpetual surprise. He was constantly upset over something, whether it was goddamned MBAs who screwed up his inventory or shit assed workers who didn’t have pride in their work. You were never sure if he were drunk, or stoned, or perpetually in a bad mood.
He had a high opinion of himself, telling me constantly how he was overqualified for his job. He would freely admit that his job was primarily changing light bulbs on the night shift, but then he would turn that to his advantage and point out that even though he didn’t have the right tools (“Goddamned managers don’t trust nobody”) he performed impossible feats nightly and always delivered on his promise.
He was one of the most uniquely colorful characters I ever met. I’ll never forget him, and hope I never have to meet him again.
As an exercise, try putting names of people you see. For example, seated across from me in the airport is Numa Kinnelman, a thin woman in her sixties dressed in black slacks, and black and white sweater. Her perm is perfect and not yet at the helmet head stage, but the palsy in her hand betrays her age. Her purse is an oversize canvas bag, black with white dots, and she wears a scarf jauntily around her neck. Nevertheless, the overall impression she gives is of middle class, definitely not rich. The bag gives her away.
Marina Klignels just walked by, tall and thin, sporting a half top, sleek slacks and a shuffling gait to stay in her oversight clogs. Marina gives the appearance of a swirl of lines, angles and flourishes loosely bound with a weak internal gravitational field. She’s young, early twenties and has no real concept of money, either what it is and what it can do, or what its absence means.
Frank Clooney is reading the Denver Post, holding it open broadside before him. He casually scans the stories and turns the page, bringing his hands together and then open again, holding the paper in a slow motion, amateur magic trick. Hs carefully combed hair is silvered as is his mustache. When he folds the paper shut you can see past it to his pale blue shirt with shoulder epaulets and button-down pockets. Hs black tie matches his dark slacks and he could easily be in the Air Force but his uniform sports no insignia. When he holds the paper up the gold of his wedding band shines like a beacon.
Scott Brodie is young, maybe eighteen. He strolls with false casualness down the terminal concourse. He wears a uniform too: khaki slacks with the kind of web belt I wore in the Scouts. His white shirt sports an American flag on one sleeve and a yellow insignia on the other. His hair is cut short, basically, a sheer look. I wonder if he is related to airport security. He looks childlike and wouldn’t scare me.
There’s too much to see. I want to write and record it all, but I can’t look down because I might miss something. Like the woman with her hair pulled back and a pacifier in her mouth, who just hit her head trying to squeeze into a center seat while cradling her baby. I’m glad she’s not sitting by me. Or the woman with a shock of white in her otherwise brown hair, her face drawn tight in a permanent half smile. Or the man with a bowl haircut, trying to squeeze what looks like a portable tent into the overhead compartment. He kept standing by our row, making me think he was going to sit beside me but he was merely taking the empty space overhead. He’s seated five rows forward on the aisle.
The tall swarthy man with a five o’clock shadow and black baseball cap looks like he’s aiming for my vacancy but veers off three rows ahead. Our luck continues to hold.
Another close call: a tall, square built man with short hair and a Hawaiian print shirt lumbers down and stands over us, but again it’s for luggage only. He unloads himself overhead then heads forward and out of sight. The bin overhead must be full by now.
They continue coming in. I see at least ten congregated up front. It looks like Delta is determined to pack the plane full.
Success! The last shell-shocked zombie stumbled by and the seat beside me is now empty.
From woman standing in terminal with two loud children running about her as she looks at woman with two small dogs: “I hope those little yip-yaps aren’t on this flight. I don’t know why they allow dogs on planes.”
. . .
This flight should be labeled the baby plane. It’s like the whole city of San Francisco decided to export its rugrat population In front of me is a toddler with his father’s short hair and his mother’s eyelashes, still young enough that his head wobbles uncertainly on his neck. He is studiously trying to remove the arms from his Sheriff Woody Toy Story doll.
Behind is a cupie doll with beauty pageant cuteness that keeps asking if we are there yet as we bump down the taxiway. She has a habit of throwing herself back in her seat and brushing her black hair from her freckled face with both arms.
Speaking of freckles, there is a babe of another sort across the aisle from me. In her twenties, her red hair is curled and shoulder length. Mascara and very little makeup. Tall and slender, she speaks with an accent from the British Isles, though not recognizably Irish. She’s not a fashion beauty. Her nose is a little too much and her teeth burst outward from her lips. But she smiles often and talks with her eyes. Unfortunately I can’t see much of her because she is smiling and laughing with her seatmate, an uninteresting, rounded blob of a guy who is having the time of his life with his newfound friend.
I missed her by one freaking seat. Fat boy gets the babe and I’m surrounded by nothing by regrets.
Cottonwoods line the slow water of the Rio Grande, their green canopy cutting a slice through the high desert, their seed fluff rains perpetual snow for miles around. The Sandias rise abruptly in the east, double-prowed backbone with radio mast and snow patches. In bad weather the sun pierces down from breaks in the clouds to illuminate an Ansel Adams landscape.
The city crouches up on the mountains, pushing up until steepness of the grade prohibits further growth. At sundown the low sun sets off a cacophony of glittering reflections from the windows of homes along the base of the mountain. I see this daily in my hour-long trek home from the city to my home. I live in the outskirts of the city, on a mesa looking down into the river valley, a soothing portrait in light in the predawn hours when I leave my home, straight lines of amber streetlights and traces of traffic: red streams beside white ones.
My home is characterized by the desert landscape just out my door – blue-green sage with low juniper dotted throughout, the occasional cholla cactus sticking up. Partridges scuttle across the road and lizards cross the open sand at warp speed. Jackrabbits the size of dogs, watching carefully for a few moments, their long haunches tensed in anticipation, their foot-long black ears erect. And then they are gone, loping through the sage. If you lift your eyes from their trail they will be lost as they blend into the cover. On occasion, you see a bigger neighbor, a dusty gray coyote, observing you calmly before trotting off.
If you follow the coyote path you will see the abandoned couch that has been dumped here. We are a community of pigs and we defile the desert with our trash. Tires, a broken safe, a child seat, a cast-iron teapot resting on broken plywood, a pile of magazines bonded together from the last flood of rain, a handwritten Post-it note saying “this is Mrs. Sandal’s stuff. For God sake, don’t touch.”
Half carved dirt roads and dirtbike trails slice the landscape and everywhere there is dust and sand. Sand is our number one export, our national product. It is everywhere, throughout the house. No windows are tight enough to prevent its entry. It seeps into your life, until you are part of the landscape, one with this land, the land of sunshine.
Things my mother taught me.
- That other people are important. To always think of what others would say and what they would think before I do anything. To suppress my own desires if they conflicted with others’ expectations.
- To work hard. Lacking wealth, family connections or intelligence, we must make our way by hard work, back-breaking work, soul -destroying work. It is our lot.
- The world is a mysterious place. Failing to understand the world, we must explain it away with superstition and religion. There is no need to think when we have faith.
- Education is important. The only route to salvation begins in our minds. The only escape is fueled by our thoughts.
- Poor people are good. We are bound together by our failings, but we are a common community that must look out for ourselves. We are good; everyone else is bad.
- Family is important. We must reach out and connect with our family, regardless of the contempt we feel for each other. Blood is thicker than water.
Things my mother did not teach me.
- How to be a man. How to replace the missing jock DNA from my soul.
- How to be brave. Our lives are driven by fear, always on the edge of failure. How to stand up to the world with confidence.
- How to be happy, to think there is a meaning to my life and rise eagerly to find it.
- How to live. My life is an empty exercise, bounded by false views. What would it have been like to have lived for even one moment?
I don’t know why I remember, but my father took me fishing on the Wichita River when I was a child. Fishing wasn’t something we did. In fact, this is the only time I ever remember us doing anything outdoorsy. If you know North Texas, then you know why my memories of that day are bright shimmering heat broken by the shade of pecan trees and mesquite shrubs. The bank was dirt and mud, with cigarette butts and beer can pull tabs scattered about. We fished with cane poles and red bobbers. I don’t recall us catching anything. We dropped the hook into the dirty water and watched the bobber, trying to decide if its small oscillations were from waves or from the nibble of a fish. After a while, we’d lift the pole up to see any empty hook, so I guess there was something down there, but I wasn’t very skilled at threading the worm on the hook so maybe he just wiggled off.
One thing I remember from that day was crossing the railroad bridge. The bridge was open between the ties and I could see down to the river below. I was afraid of heights even then, so the bridge looked to be a mile high. But my father held me up by both hands and walked me safely across.