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27 July 2013

3. Guadalupe Santos Trujillo and the Night Sky

Rudolfo Carrillo

by Albino Carrillo

Guadalupe Santos Trujillo had been riding a silver-green15-Speed Ross Mountain Bike since he saw it for sale during a dope run over to the college campus.  After he dropped off some G-13 for a couple dumb hippies from Vermont who were waiting for him in the all night Laundromat (these were in his “bicycle days”) he found himself in the tree-lined part of town banging on the heavy oak door of an old Professor who was waiting for a Ms. Julia Walpole to take a look at the thing:  a sky blue 1967 Volkswagon Squareback.  He had seen it in the distance and likened it to candy.  Sweet metal candy.  The coolest thing was that it was in almost cherry condition.    After selling a pillow, Guadalupe had the cash then and there, and even though this greatly confused the old man at first, twenty minutes later they were at the kitchen table, filling out the title transfer.  
Guadalupe had plans.  Snatching up the title so quickly that the professor’s yellow Lab barked from where it was on floor beside the stove,  he strode out, just as Julia Walpole knocked on the door.  He slipped past her and past the professor, who still held tightly in his weak hand the wad of fifteen 100 dollar bills that he’d just made.  The only thing Guadalupe left behind was a certain acidic smokiness that wouldn’t linger in the air much longer that Walpole’s patchouli.  Her eyes were wide with astonishment.
Now the car had never acted up before, and with the car Guadalupe thought he could extend his business and his social life.  He had been riding up to Santa Fe on the Sun-Runner every weekend to sell weed to the hippie crowd frequenting the Japanese-Style hot-spring baths, the same who went dancing to World-Beat music all night at El Club Suroeste.   Guadalupe Santos Trujillo’s main problem was that he was always running away:  this started when he was a boy.  He’d sit at his desk all day at school making up other realities—he thought for a while he was the son of a king, lost and adopted, certainly not the son of his real father, an old alcoholic encyclopedia salesman who’d disappear into the deep expanses of Central Texas for days in search of profit.  Because he could too clearly imagine his father hobbling up to a small one-story stucco house framed by 3-foot high galvanized fencing in search of a sale, he could also imagine that he’d be rescued someday, recognized and taken to a castle or palace that would be all his, somewhere in La Extremadura de España.  Of these places he’d read, and had spent hours copying heraldic shields from the set of Britannicas his real dad had won in a sales contest.
So when he found The Audubon Society Field Guide to the Night Sky under the passenger seat one evening while he was trying stash a pillow of Diesel under it, the first thing he thought was how far he could already see:  back then, the night sky in New Mexico was still clear and black and icy.  He drove to Santa Fe on the back road, through Madrid.  The crowd at El Club Suroeste was typical for a Saturday night in mid-June:  güeras from the U, local gals from Taos dressed up like their mothers, like fresh young hippie things:  toe rings, hip-huggers and flip-flops.  The boys and men mostly a mix: the Santa Fe locals who, as lawyers in the daytime, wore pressed chinos and starched shirts; the locals with black, straight hair, leather jackets and big belt buckles; the star-struck boys who liked the wild hippie southwestern look—turquoise rings, maybe even a heishi, faded 501’s, Birkenstocks, the distant pot-soaked bedroom eyes of John Lennon.
It occurred to Guadalupe, at that moment of intimate self-reflection when he dug his hand around and underneath the passenger’s side seat in the blue VW and could hear the noise of the band playing on the patio, that he had come upon very lucky moment:  kneeling, with the door open, Guadalupe, while fishing for the big bag, grabbed the book instead—with it, the first thing he did was turn to the point in the book that is full with color pictures of stars, nebulae, and galaxies, in particular a crystal clear shot of M 51, the Whirlpool Galaxy.
The streets in Santa Fe are small, narrow paths that remind you that the Spaniards built this city in the 1600’s.  They reminded Guadalupe of the time he’s gone to Spain for the summer, actually traveling to the small city Alburquerque. It was the cobblestone, the neat two- and three-story stucco buildings that did it for him.  In the bar, he immediately and without plan ran into Julia Walpole who of course, when the blue VW pulled-up on the curb, next to the bar, was sucking on her second clove smoke, her schooner sized margarita almost drained.  Walpole had become what a TV producer or urban sociologist might call a semi-regular—she knew two of the waitrons by name and the host often talked to her about his trouble getting good bus help.  This because Walpole had once accused an ugly, slightly chubby Peruvian bus-boy of stealing her watch from the bar where she’d left it while talking to a friend she’d met in the hallway by the restroom. It was behind the door labeled Mujeres all the time.   The watch, a sliver-banded Bulova, actually had been her father’s; she simply picked it from the bedpost the night after her father died in his sleep—all it needed was a new mainspring.
It was the way he was sitting in the car that drew her attention.  Guadalupe had bought the car before anyone even had a chance to drive it around the block or make an offer.  It had been sitting for a while.  The truth was that they had known each other in college, 20 years ago now, the desert still the same night after night the same stars, the same lonely people, now in their 40’s driving drunk between ‘Burque and Santa Fe, still looking for kicks and UFO’s out there on the Turquoise Trail, stoned on ecstasy or G-13.  Being lost in the Southwest was a gift and a sentence.  The blinding blue sky literally drains your will to move on, drains you of ambition and color.   And even though you may be skin-darkened by the insufferable sun, that is in itself is a reminder from the desert, of human frailty.
At the wrought-iron entrance to el patio del Club Suroeste, then, Walpole walked right up to poor stoned Guadalupe and with one hand grabbed the book of stars and kept smoking with the other: 
“Hey, motherfucker, that should’ve been my car.”
She pushed him hard, like Elaine Benes would, as she grabbed it, twisting with all her weight like she’d learned in a self-defense class.  Too stunned to react (he had smiled broadly at her as he entered the courtyard) he stumbled away.
            “Hey man, what the fuck…nice to see you, too!  He pushed back against the wall and she slipped in a puddle of beer.  He kept his hands up like he’d learned in jail.  “No way.  I fell in love with it the minute I saw it, and I had the money and I, you know, it was the right time.  Like it was all set up, cosmically.  I wanted something like that car since High-School.  Have you seen the dashboard?  Not a bit of sun rot.  And, anyway…why do you want an old hippie car?  Some goddamn book came with it too.”  Guadalupe knew he was lost.  The book might explain, what?  He was way past that here, and the alarm was ringing in his head.  They opened it together.
On his right, the open portico to the street yawned and was tired.  Walpole hung back on the patio wall and Guadalupe was vaguely sick.   “Have you ever seen the stars from behind the Sandias?” he asked, as he hot-boxed Marlboro Menthols and nursed a beer he didn’t want.
“No.  Well, driving, yes, she said.  You know I’m from Missouri.  We have stars out there too.”
“Naw, what I’m talkin’ about is the thick white Milky Way you can see if you drive to Madrid and then over the mountains.  There’re some clear meadows out there and you can see forever!”   He said this as his heart pounded and he wondered if he were really alive.  Julia drank another Lone Star as she flipped through the Field Guide, dog-earring some pages as she went.   
            The drive down to ‘Burque is always furious.  Even more furious that Walpole was following him down I-25 at 75 miles an hour in her 1985 Ford Ranchero GT.  After sitting in the bar for almost an hour, they’d decided to go out to the llano to see the stars in the naked black sky that was there, hanging over the desert.
            It’s almost all downhill to ‘Burque.  Guadalupe could see Julia closing at times as he neared the Sandia Reservation cutoff that would take him into the dark hills.  They drove like racers, taunting each other, flying by at 85, shouting, flipping the bird at one another, laughing, thowing empty bottles of beer out their windows.    But it was on a straight two-laner just north of Burque that his mind began to drift into the dark night swallowing the foothills into fog.  He had formed a map in his head:  soon, he and Julia would be sitting on the hood somewhere, staring at the nothingness that is space, naming stars from a book, looking for a page not in that book.
            A bottle tumbled carelessly under his feet as he made the wide, dancing curve that took him onto Sandia Pueblo land.  He could see the lights of ‘Burque far to the south and they looked like lost stars from a map he imagined.  He gunned the engine, with Julia riding him parallel along the two-lane highway that lead to the other side of the Sandias.  They threw kisses and cursed one another.  Going east briefly, his eyes caught the dull, surprised eyes of a coyote crossing the road.  As they both roared past, it vaguely turned to watch a rabbit farther down the road.  In a few minutes, the rabbit would be dead in the coyote’s jaws.   Far in front of him, in the darkest corner of the northeast sky he could see the Pleiades rising, its cup of hot blue stars casting a 440 year old light on the scene.   

25 July 2013

Doña Trujillo: There’s a place in the desert outside of Hatch

Rudolfo Carrillo

by Albino Carrillo

            There’s a place in the desert outside of Hatch, New Mexico that you knew about.  Wild mallow, sagebrush, lots of cottonwood and pecan growing along the irrigation ditches.  We’d been there when we were both younger.  I probably didn’t even talk to you then.  Seriously.  Your mom had become estranged from the rest of us.  I don’t know why.  Then one day we told her that Ruby Martinez had died in fire—a terrible way to go, out in her mobile home while Mosca was away getting some feed for the goats.  Some said he done it:  after all, 12 years before he had set up an ingenious method of killing her with a booby-trapped door, some wire and a shotgun.  He was stupid enough to try it out and ended up losing a lot of his gut.  Blood everywhere.  She thought he was trying to kill himself.  Can you believe it?   They sent him up to Santa Fe.  Five years for nothing.  When he tried to pretend he was insane, they got a hold of some letters he’d written to his brother. 
             I wanted to take you out here to see the land your grandfather used to farm.  He couldn’t get it right:  every year the field would flood, and we’d be left with rotten melons or drowned alfalfa.  When the well he dug went dry, he started fixing people’s toilets and sinks, sometimes he’d dig a well for someone.  That’s why there’s all the plumbing in the barn now.  He was the only one the neighbor could count on.  There were always the pecan trees and the pigs and goats to get by.  By the time John was born, we’d lived in two different double-wides:  dad finally found a spot that didn’t flood.  We even had a patch of lawn on the shady side under some old hickory trees.  The bugs were always a problem:  their numbers would swell in August with the heat and the vapor rising from the fields cut into the dry, yellow New Mexican desert. 
            I didn’t know if you’d make it out here.  Your mom told me that you and your new girlfriend were driving from Phoenix to get away from the heat.  I know there’s a road that cuts out from Deming through the wild llano:  there was a town halfway between here and Deming … just a bar actually, and a couple gas pumps.  Since the Union Pacific line ran right along that highway, you could stop to see the long trainloads of cotton, pecans, and cattle streaming toward from the border, their hungry crews sometimes stopping the 120-car train with five engines humming like giant bugs right by the road so they could eat a burrito and have a Budweiser before continuing to Radium Springs then north to Albuquerque.  You and me are like brothers and sisters separated in that old way:  you know, your dad was one of 7 kids in his family growing up on that melon farm in Las Cruces.  I’m so glad you made it out here.  We can smoke a joint in the arroyo here, under the bridge.  When you and John were kids, you’d go out there to shoot bottles and bats and even crows who hung out in the telephone wires overhead. 
            Well, my mom asked me to tell you that they think John was high and drunk when he got into it with the cops.  It went like this:  you know, he’d been driving between here and Silver for that job.  Working for the mine is a big deal, you know?  It beats fuckin’ doing nothing here in Hatch—yeah, um there’s the Orquiz warehouse and the highway department picking up dead dogs and towing cars from the interstate—working at the mine at least provided pay, and a change of scenery.
            You’ve gotta know, right away, that the accident itself was crushing … He didn’t have a chance.  Your dad got us the names of some good attorneys in Silver and in Cruces.
            John had been stopped before, for DUI, holding, and even got roughed up in the juzgao a couple times.   It’s just so hard to think he’s gone.  When he’d drive down to Tucson to see me, he seemed like he’d grown up and he was ready to live.  “Hey, I know you,” he’d say, like I was his sister, and not his mom.  There was something in the way he said it that I knew he was angry and incomplete, mostly because of me.  What kind of life did he have in Hatch?  What I remember most is that long drive through nothing between cities:  erosion, sandstorms, maybe one thunderstorm in the summer boiling over Elephant Butte, drenching the valley in one violent amethyst passage from heaven. 
            The last time you came out here your mother was still alive and actually talked to us.   I’d been living in South Dakota with John’s dad.  Remember, ese?  We came down to see you guys when you were only ten or eleven.  Your dad was working in Gallup and your mom wouldn’t talk to me because I had given John up to my mom the way my mom had given up your mom to Nicanora.   But there wasn’t any indifference on my part—see, I loved John and wanted him to be safe in Hatch.  That’s why I brought you out here.  His grave sits alone in the yellow dust day after day. You can see the Deming Mountains from there, and when the sky is really clear, you can see the whole Mesilla Valley folding out along the Rio Grande.
             What I wanted to tell you was about the darkness I found in my heart after John died.  His life never allowed me to see it.  That was the joy of life.  But since I didn’t have much to do with him as a kid, that darkness grew and grew in me.  And in him.  I knew this when he started drinking and drugging.   I knew this when he’d fight with dad and when he’d come back with loaded guns—you know I love my dad and can’t accept what your mom says.  But John hated him.  Even when they were out in the field at the end of the day shutting off the irrigation pumps, even when they were sitting in the kitchen eating the fresh tortillas and beans my mom had cooked.   They say John hated the world and that he was a petty criminal, a drunk, a pothead kid from the fields who was just following through on the path hewn by some guys just like him … His friend Rich had been in and out of jail just like him, and they’d known each other since fifth grade.  So it all added up to shit, mijo:  the fast pick-up trucks, the beer, the long highway drives for no good reason other than to get wasted and go fast on some farm road.  Maybe it was the speed, the acceleration, that freed him up from who he was and who he couldn’t be.  I can see him now flooring the old Ford 150 on the interstate, unaware of the darkness around him, slowly becoming tuned to the darkness inside that beat the hell out of him when he slept, when he dreamt.

18 July 2013

Stars Formed from Steel

Rudolfo Carrillo

by Rudolfo Carrillo

There is a collection of objects at the place where Girard, Monte Vista and Central intersect. Methinks it is called Triangle Park. It's not a park in the conventional sense, vasty green, filled with automatic sprinklers and all that.

At the edge of it, there's a neon-lit tower spanning Central Avenue. That comparatively rough concrete form is festooned with colors of all sorts. In its span across the wide street, this bridge of sorts announces the entrance to the
Nob Hill District.

There are some benches made up to look inviting. There's a police substation on the east side of the triangular area, and a few forlorn trees, too.

Nearby, the bus stops frequently.

For a long time, now a long time ago, there was a Chevron station and an eponymous bar at the confluence. I only went into the booze joint one time, but I used to use the air hose at the gasoline dispensary, all the time, to fill up the tires on my ride. In case you want to know, the car I drove was a nineteen-hundred-and-seventy-four Peugeot station wagon.

It was a classic alright, but I let some crazy music student paint the whole damn thing with paisleys, so it really looked like hell, like a bunch of hippies were responsible for the decline of European automotive power.

But that is a different story altogether. The stuff with the Peugeot was happening around the same time as some of the events in this narrative, so I thought I’d throw it in for sauce. I’ll tell about that art-damaged junker some other time.

Anyway, on the west side of the park, there is a bronze sculpture. Richard Beckman made the sculpure. It is called Star. I am not going to post a picture of Beckman’s construction because I want you to go take a look as soon as you can.

Beckman studied and taught at the
University of New Mexico Department of Art and Art History when I was an undergraduate.

In his plain-spoken manner, Beckman was the real deal, authentic in a complex world of artists, those who wanted to be artists, and the adroit charlatans who sometimes tagged along for fun.

While at UNM, Beckman made formidable metal structures that seemed almost to have been engineered, so precise were they in their handling of materials and construction: clean and angular, objects rendered with industrial formality.

The work on display at the entrance to Nob Hill comes from a period of immense production in Beckman's career, as he was concluding his studies at UNM.

At the small community of artists where Beckman worked and studied in the late 1980s, many of the other students, myself included, were totally freaked out by the quality of Beckman's work. Hell, the faculty felt rightly flummoxed by the dude. He was way more talented than the old masters that ran the show.

Beckman fascinated everyone. The undergraduates who listened to the
Descendents while pounding away on pipes and plates of steel in the metal shop wanted to buy him a beer at a watering hole called the Fat Chance Bar and Grill. Some gal from the ceramics division left a joint on his locker, sealed with a kiss made from a slip. The full professors waiting to hear from the biennial committee at the Whitney would walk around and around his output, adjusting their spectacles and clearing their throats.

I worked and studied with Beckman off and on, took his welding tips and wilting criticism because he was a nice guy and did not want to bullshit about this or that theory of postmodernism; he did not come off as pretentious or lofty and had the spirit of a working man.

One time, I volunteered to be part of a performance piece of Beckman's that was centered on a collection of steel objects he had crafted. He was quiet, polite and focused, very measured throughout. On the other hand, I danced around the sculptures in a bizarre new wave fashion heavily influenced by hours of watching the movie “The Truth About De-evolution”. The next day one of the professors stopped me in the hall. She told me she was fascinated by the authenticity of my performance.

Incidentally, those performances took place at an art gallery called Raw Space. Raw Space was Downtown, in the place Anatolia Doner Kebab now occupies. At the time, Raw Space was a popular place for UNM art folk. I had a show of my shitty paintings there once and a band called the Ant Farmers played at the reception. One of the songs they played was called Shower Curtain.

Meanwhile, Richard Beckman graduated and went on to have a substantial career in the art world. He taught at the University of South Florida, exhibited widely, had public commissions and essays written about his work, which had taken a departure, had begun to explore organic and quasi-biological forms with the same honesty of spirit as his earlier forms.

I only know this because I did some research on Beckman for a magazine article I was writing. I also found out Richard Beckman died eight-and-a-half years ago.

Most of that '80s crap I wrote about at the beginning of this essaythe gas station, the bar, the Peugeot and the wacky clarinetist with spray paint and paisley stencilshave all but vanished. The sculpture lab is pretty much the same though, down to the perplexingly aloof faculty and buzz-saw swinging students, I reckon.

But Beckman’s work is scattered grandly, memorably across America; some of it is here in this town. Go down to the place I told about and take a look. In the rain, or anytime, forever, Beckman’s Star is wondrous.

Editor's Note: The sculpture pictured above is by Richard Beckman and was featured in the performance piece written about above. The photo was taken by Richard Beckman at UNM.

09 July 2013

The Moth From Room 123

Rudolfo Carrillo

Rudolfo Carrilloeminent master of nothingness, pollinator of datura blossoms, pretender to the vast and empty throne known by those in the business as the stiff seat of a firebrand, a conjurer of illusory flames of all sortsdrove around town in a decent old silvery sports car he had supposed for some time to be a spaceship of sorts.

He dismantled that illusion at the long-lasting red light on the corner of Central Avenue and Tingley Drive. Carrillo was then free to consider ideas he had been busy stuffing into crevices in the backseat of the automobile, or worse, using inappropriately as poetic derivatives that closely resembled the ionic anti-matter fuel tablets which powered his excursions into the real world.

That real world consisted of a planet and all its soulshis base of operations, a dilapidated shack perched invisibly amongst the comfortable environs favored by the leisure class. There were yards of wet grass and green trees with fallen raindrops still perched on every edge of every leaf in that place, and the surrounding desert seemed impossible when one was immersed in that watery land.

Here was the first thing Carrillo's mind lit upon as the old Saab rolled toward the rain, and though it was an odd thing his head fixed upon, it was not unlike him. He might as well have had visions of pizza-bearing angels, but instead he considered the current state of postmodernism in Western art-making practices and decided he had no goddamn idea whatsoever about what was new and amazing; hell, he drove a twenty-two-year-old car for fun.

In an effort to understand the refreshing complexity of processes available in the second decade of the twenty-first century, he parked the steel and glass and plastic transport mechanism, went out into the rain, walked across the city in a pair of creaking army boots and somehow ended up by the art school he had spirited himself away from approximately twenty years ago.

When he got there, it was already Friday afternoon. Clouds were climbing and churning east of the campus, but the rain had mostly stopped. The whole joint was practically deserted, but somewhere in one of the undergraduate studios, a patriotic Fourth of July song drifted through the air and made him jumpy. Someone on the radio was going on and on about how they were not a fortunate son; there was a lot of static in the signal and it echoed through the concrete hallways.

The art building was pretty much the same as on the day in Mayhooraywhen he first flew away. There was a display case in front of the photography department covered in oily stains, falling apart. Some of the classroom doors had been tagged with an atramentous, indelible and ultimately, ironic ink. University officials had replaced the old clocks with digital upgrades. The main floor of the art building reminded him of photos he had seen of deserted shopping malls. It was dark and shabby now.

He walked past the sculpture lab. A few students were milling about. He figured he must either be invisible or appear insect-like and spectral, because nobody looked up as he entered. He decided to say hello to the machinery in the shop, instead. Carrillo had been friends with many of the power tools years ago and wondered how many of them had survived the intervening years to become venerable versions of finger choppers, wood-splitters, metal joining or blade-kickback devices. Here was the so-called Rolls Royce of lathes, there, a band saw big enough to cut a crocodile in half.

And he was surprised to find most if them still there, humming mindlessly and formidably, as they had been before his birth. Rumor had it some of the machinery came from the atomic laboratories down the road. A story got passed around about how the tools had been brought from that glowing and omnipotent place by an engineer who became the shop manager when the building was new. Everybody called him Fitz, but he was dead now, of skin cancer for probably twenty years, Carrillo gravely mused as he glanced over his glasses at a sheet metal bender in the next room.

There were only two sculptures in the whole dang place. One of them was made from hunks of concrete with bits of color thrown in here and there and crudely fashioned wooden parts lurching up through the air; the other was a spinning kaleidoscope of photographs mounted on jagged mirrors. The photos were of random human body parts, legs and feet and butts and bellies, but no faces and nothing private, either. The whole piece moved around on account of the wind from the ventilation system and that was kind of spooky.

On his way out, Carrillo saw his name still stenciled but rightly faded, on an old metal locker on the far end of the lab. A young woman was standing in front of the lockers, opening the metal storage box two rows over. He asked that stranger, as he fluttered by, why she was there. For a moment she thought herself mid-dream as the talking moth floated in front of her. When she finally answered, she tossed her hair to one side; wood chips, sawdust, and small shards of steel cascaded to the ground.

She said to make art, smiled a wan smile and reached for her medication as Carrillo floated out the door, landed on the summery lawn outside, laced up his rough boots and began scribbling meaningful responses to his initial inquiry in a small red notebook as he walked back to his spaceship. Folks who had been there talked about the mysterious visitation for a few days and then went on with their business. At least a few agreed it was mighty unusual to see flying arthropods of that particular configuration so late in the year.

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