Monthly Archives: July 2010

Gone Camping!

I don’t particularly care for camping. The packing, the effort, all in order to not sleep all night in a tent on the hard ground. The lack of sleep kind of wrecks everything else. My goal is to try not to be cranky. Fun? Rest? Relaxation? Nope. At this point, I just want to get it over with because I’m already exhausted.

CAMPING UPDATE! We survived, and it wasn’t all that bad, despite the lack of rest. Since we went to a cowboy camp, the food was cooked for us and we didn’t even have to do any washing up, though the kids did have to serve food and clean bathrooms. We left early because we got flooded out. Yes, that’s right. It’s monsoon season in New Mexico. Getting flooded out is almost a guarantee. There weren’t any bugs, though–no mosquitoes, no gnats, and the campfires and music and great food almost made it all worthwhile.

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Dr. Johnson’s Ghost


I could swear I spotted Samuel Johnson the other day, while still in Colorado. He was a large man, so large in fact, that he couldn’t help but appear to be bumbling about. I don’t mean that he was a man simply beset with a paunch after too many midnight sausage and beer forays with the other literary giants; what I mean is that everything about the man was large, including his lips, his nose, his head, his neck, his thick fingers, and the clothes that ill-fitted his big-boned frame.

For a moment—and only a moment—I envisioned the man in buckled shoes, short pants, a jacket buttoned tightly over the shirt that rose up to his chin with a tie at the collar, as if he were attempting to contain with one knot the thick neck beneath. I almost watched the filthy wig slip to the side as the man bent his head and hid his face behind a newspaper. However, the image slipped instead of the wig. The ghost of Samuel Johnson disappeared, leaving a man in jeans and a striped button-down shirt who didn’t really appreciate me staring at him.

I’m beginning to think that the ghost of Samuel Johnson haunts me, and I wonder what the Doc means to tell me. It seems I can’t go anywhere without his name, his visage, his words rearing up before me. Perhaps, I’ve simply created a world in which the great doctor can exist. After all, it makes sense I would encounter him in the introduction to The Female Quixote. As might be expected, Samuel Johnson gave patronage to Charlotte Lennox. According to Sir John Hawkins, Johnson had the audacity to throw her an all-night party at a tavern*:

“Johnson had directed that a magnificent hot apple-pye should make a part of it, and this he would have stuck with bay-leaves, because, forsooth, Mrs. Lenox was an authoress, and had written verses; and further, he had prepared for her a crown of laurel. . .”

On several occasions, I’ve had conversations with the grey-bearded man who makes the coffee at the local Anglican Church, in which Johnson plays a starring role. For certain definitions of religious and political words, he searches through the enormous volumes—the tomes as large as the doctor, himself—of Johnson’s dictionary. Sometimes, I admit, I linger in the kitchen area of the church just in case I might hear the name Samuel Johnson dropped in the midst of fruit washing and cheese slicing.

It was during my first writer’s getaway weekend that, after writing all day, drinking plenty of wine, and soaking in the mineral springs, I discovered the pocket volume of Samuel Johnson’s Insults. Now I carry it around with me, just in case. Is it any coincidence, really, that Johnson invaded my writing weekend?

My list of running against Johnson’s stout form doesn’t end there, but this passage of writing is growing, so I must stop and beg the muse to explain his presence to me—not the muse’s presence, of course. And I would also like to request that Dr. Johnson throw me an all-night party, in which he doesn’t crown me with a laurel, but in which he passes his greatness to me—in which he, in fact, says something to the nature of, “Well, I know you don’t live in London, but neither do I any longer. So, my friend, until we meet in heaven, you must carry on the tradition by writing a dictionary, or at least some decent poetry.”

*Sir John Hawkins quote taken from Margaret Anne Doody’s intro to the Oxford edition of The Female Quixote

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New Mexico Noir: Parental Abandonment

If Demetria followed us, I was almost positive we lost her at the grocery store.  Seriously, we would have lost anybody.  Shopping with Anthony was about the most annoying sport I’ve played all year.  Here is my note to self, post shopping: Don’t fall for Anthony, dreamy eyes and all, because he will drive you out of your mind. 

He inspected and commented on every item I added to the cart.  For example, I wanted butter.

“Isn’t that bad for you?” he asked.  “Won’t that make you fat, mi’jita?”

I wanted Daisy sour cream, the full-fat variety.

“Oh, wouldn’t you rather have this low-fat kind?  It’s better for you.”

And on it went like that with me throwing in my favorite saturated-fat foods, only to have them censored and thrown back out by the opposing team.  Who would’ve thought an alcoholic who lived on pizza and beer would suddenly turn into the food police when I was desperately hungry for some real food?  Finally, we compromised, agreed to disagree on food choices; I ate a pre-made burrito to stave off starvation, and we both sighed in relief.

We carted the groceries back to his house, where I detected no signs of Demetria—and, yes, my senses were throbbing and in overdrive.  If she’d been hiding somewhere, I would have smelled her or, likewise, spotted her with my hawk eyes.

Still, as we walked back out into the night, my skin prickled at the nape of my neck.  The farther away we drove, the better I felt, even though I already knew we would end the night breaking into my parents’ home.  Meanwhile, the tension from earlier completely dissipated over a shared thermos of coffee, as we sat for two hours surveilling my parents’ neighborhood.

They lived on a quiet side street and, although they had security stickers on their windows, I didn’t think the stickers meant anything.  In the early days, my dad had left his police cruiser parked at the curb most nights, which was an adequate deterrent to would-be burglars.  In the early days, life was a bit simpler for them.

When Anthony had deemed that the hour was late enough, that the sky was dark enough due to an obscured moon, that the neighborhood slept as if dead to the world, we crept to the back of the house, and he went to work with his lock pick tools.  With every second, my heart beat faster, from the same caffeine that had anesthetized me while we’d surveilled in safety from his truck.  It wasn’t that I feared a neighbor would hear or see us.  It was that the hedge of darkness surrounding the backyard could have hid anything or anyone from us.

Several moments later, which felt like several hours, he had the door open.  We crossed the threshold. I was caught instantly by the smell.  The house, my parents’ house, smelled of abandonment.  If I breathed in very deeply, I detected a lingering hint of oregano and fried tortillas, of roasted chiles and beans.  The coolness from the tiles seeped up from the floor and wrapped my ankles in chills.  The air nearer my nose, however, was hot and stuffy, as a closed-up house would be at the end of summer in Albuquerque.

“I’m going to wait by the back door for you,” Anthony said.  “Whatever you’re looking for, be fast about it.  All right?  This whole situation makes me nervous.”

I nodded and walked softly over the tiles of the dining area and into the living room, where the only sign of life emitted from the answering machine, which flashed with a 9-9-9.  Even the VCR and DVD player were dark.  I had, thanks to Anthony, thought to bring a small canvas bag with me, and I unplugged the answering machine and threw it in the bag.  I felt very much like a real detective at that moment—but, then, my eyes smarted.  I was a detective by default investigating my own parents.

I briefly scanned the surfaces of the living room and saw nothing but a layer of dust.  Feeling as if I must have missed something, I backtracked to the kitchen, where I quickly glanced through the orderly drawers.  My mother had never tolerated mess, and she didn’t have the ubiquitous junk drawer that others had in their kitchens.  The refrigerator was both empty and dark, left unplugged and with the two doors standing ajar.  In the cupboards, I discovered a few dry goods, such as a bag of pinwheel pasta and a few cans of tomato sauce.

As my eyes roved the kitchen space one last time, I saw a face at the kitchen window and nearly suffered a heart attack right then and there.  It was Anthony, and he held up one hand as if to indicate I had five minutes left.  I flipped him off with one finger, and he wasn’t amused with me, so I moved on.

My dad’s office was not exactly where I would have chosen to focus my search, but I couldn’t leave without at least glancing in its dark, static interior.  Over the walls, I swept a small flashlight, looking at his police awards and pictures and trophies.  His desk was as empty as I expected it to be, the laptop missing, and only a dark printer left in one corner.  The drawers were filled with scandalous items such as stamps and envelopes and tape dispensers and pens and pencils.

Briefly, I looked through the closet, only to discover that my dad had failed to pack his golf clubs when they’d fled to Colorado.  So it wasn’t a golfing vacation they were on, apparently.

I left his office behind, feeling like an inadequate detective.  The room that had, at one time, belonged to me as a guest room, or a place to crash, was now filled with my mom’s artwork.  Boxes and boxes of paintings filled the room and threatened to burst the walls from their frames.  How would I search through these boxes in five minutes, or less?  And that was not to mention the garage, which she had revamped for her studio. I flipped quickly through the first box of paintings.  They were older pieces, images of the church and community gatherings, bailes, and matanzas.

I realized I couldn’t, actually, search through all of these boxes.  I turned around and quickly looked through their bedroom with its carefully made bed, blue and white coverlet without a crease to be seen.  They’d cleaned everything before they’d left—everything!  There wasn’t a scrap of paper left for me to investigate.  Even their bathroom was spotless.

It was depressing.  I also felt that I was wasting precious sleeping hours, both mine and Anthony’s.  Why would I have thought they would hide incriminating evidence in their home?

As a last resort, I tried my mom’s studio, but the door was locked.  All right, I would fetch Anthony and his lock-pick tools.  I scurried outside and nearly yelled at the black-clad man on the back porch, forgetting the hour, the darkness, our mission.

But it wasn’t Anthony.  It was another man, another black clad-figure, and I hauled up in alarm and slipped back inside the confines of the house, my heart pounding.

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I’m on the home stretch.  I can’t stop now.  I must take a blogging hiatus until my WIP is finished in two to three day’s time.  Yes, I am OCD; I admit it.  Please be patient with me and, meanwhile, catch up on the NM Noir chapters you haven’t read–over there on the sidebar.

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I’m on the home stretch.  I can’t stop now.  I must take a blogging hiatus until my WIP is finished in two to three day’s time.  Yes, I am OCD; I admit it.  Please be patient with me and, meanwhile, catch up on the NM Noir chapters you haven’t read–over there on the sidebar.

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