On Saturday night the bell on my landline went off and damn it all if it weren't the Sailor, ringing me up to hear more about Duke Ellington and his way with the piano.
"Come on over, August," he breathed gruffly and grandly into the handset, "and show me again how those first 16 bars go, because I have an idea on how to fit a harmonica over that bit, plus which I believe I can lay a fine shuffle under that storm and so we will be on our way to being a fine jazz band, after all."
I'd already had a couple of drinks of Wild Turkey by that time though and told him I didn't fancy driving through the student ghetto just to lay down some clumsy riffs on his Yamaha electric, but he disagreed.
"Go on and walk over then, Mr. March and I will mix you up a creme soda with Jameson's in the bottom of the glass."
I could not resist and so spent the next 3 hours rambling through "East Saint Louis Toodle-oo" while the rest of the boys followed along blithely. My wife called about 10 and told me I better get on home if I wanted any spaghetti. "Who could resist that," I told the Sailor as I dropped my charts onto his desk, grabbed my cane and ambled toward the door. I flashed him the peace sign and said I'd see him Tuesday for practice.
That was the last time I saw the man folks here in Dirt City called by a nautical name.
I'd known him since I was a kid, and him being 20 years my senior did stop us becoming fast friends. He was part brother and part father; we hiked, smoked, drank, jammed and regaled each other with stories of where the other had been on the Earth.
He was the only man I knew that had seen more of the planet than me. I'd been on all the continents, excepting Antarctica; his tale of seeing the Ross Ice Shelf rise up on the horizon set my brain on fire and besides that we always had a laugh about the after-midnight goings on in Singapore, the lights of the north star and the aurora way up north or how it was impossible to understand the dialect of the Peruvian seamen who landed in Guayaquil looking for a good time.
When he broke his hip late last year, my wife and I sat with him at the hospital, brought him dinner from Los Cuates on the weekends and made sure his walker was ready to go when he was. The pain was bad he told us, but nothing like the time he got burned putting out a fire on an oiler outside of Osaka.
Just last week, we spent an afternoon listening to the Rolling Stones new album, a blues thing. And I complained that Charlie Watts was about an eighth note behind Keith Richards when it counted but he said to take it easy because we were all getting old.
On Tuesday morning the bell on my cell phone went off and god damn it to hell, it was the Sailor's neighbor who was weeping on the line when I answered and then told me the news.
"Mike got up early this morning and now he has died."
I went home early that day, staring into the sky as I drove. I sat at my piano and played until my hands hurt, thinking about the time the Sailor told me how Polaris was possibly the center of the universe—blinking timelessly, brightly while the rest of the sky rolled and spun chaotically around and around.
Exactly 20 years ago I was living in Nepal. Mostly I lived Kathmandu, in a hilly neighborhood called Baluwater, but by the end of October 1996, I’d be back in Burque for good.
There are embassies in that part of the capital of Nepal and government residences too. A long and broad boulevard lined with palm trees marked the western boundary of mi vecino. The palm trees were filled with dates and big fruit bats that had faces like little brown dogs.
The Chinese Embassy and the Mexican Consulate were just a few doors up the street, and the vast estate housing the Prime Minister and his family took up most of the lower end of the area where I lived.
Across from my apartment there was a beer shop that offered ice-cold liters of San Miguel Beer and packets of Triple 5 cigarettes. A huge marijuana plant took up a quarter of my front yard, which was otherwise filled with marigolds and crab grass. I shared the place with a British friend of mine who worked for the Nepali government.
On October 1, 1996, after little preparation and training, we took a flight on Trident Airlines to Pokhara, a small city on the edge of the Himalayan Mountains. There’s a trail there that follows the Kali Ghandaki River up a steep valley to a mountain outpost named Jomsom. After spending the night at the Shamrock Hotel in Pokhara, we decided to fly to Jomsom in an old Soviet Helicopter that had metal buckets for seats.
From Jomsom there was a trail up into the mountains. At about 9400 feet in elevation, hikers could choose to bear west into the Kingdom of Mustang on the edge of the Tibet or head east, away from the river toward the Thorung La pass at about 17,000 feet.
It was cold and windy in Jomsom (elevation 9000 feet) when we arrived in the late afternoon. Somehow the environs seemed barren yet fertile at the same time. The terraced hillsides on either side of the valley were cultivated with apples, buckwheat, lentils and marijuana.
The valley was surrounded by unimaginably huge mountains; years later I have difficulty comprehending how big and looming they really were. There was an army outpost at the edge of town and down by the river was a bank and the travelers’ lodge where Jimi Hendrix supposedly stayed in the late 1960s.
Yaks as big as cars and donkeys decorated with bells roamed through the cobblestone streets, shaking their heads. They were pulling loads of beer, flour, cheese and bottled water up the trail and toward Lo Manthang or Lhasa. Twenty years ago, there was little motorized transport and no paved roads in the area; merchants and pilgrims had traversed the trail following the Kali Gandaki into Tibet on foot or by hoof for centuries though.
After wandering around the place for about an hour, my friend and I took rooms at an inn called the Moonlight Guesthouse because there was a sign out front saying they served the best burritos and apple pie on the Annapurna Circuit.
My room was spartan with whitewashed walls and a small bed, table and oil lamp in the corner. To this day, I like to keep my room at home like the one I had in Jomsom; plain with no decorations and comforting in its simple attestation to the need for rest.
That night I dined on a burrito of yak cheese and lentils that had been folded into a tortilla made from a sort of buckwheat fry bread. It was decent fare all right, but the cooks at the moonlight lodge didn’t have any chile. When I asked after some sort of piquant salsa, one of them told me there was a can of tomato sauce somewhere in the kitchen; they had given up on spaghetti night a few years back because travelers didn’t fancy the buckwheat noodles on offer.
So the slice of apple pie that followed the highlight of my meal and I could’ve eaten the whole pastry, but I didn’t want to give my American identity away. Afterwards a band of Tibetan immigrants came around and played music while we smoked hashish out of a long pipe made from a water buffalo horn.
We stayed in Jomsom two days because it was so damn inviting there; there was a small museum housing a photographic history of the region as well as ammonite fossils—believed by many Hindus to be divine objects—found along parts of the nearby river bed. An enclave of German agriculture experts living on a hillside south of town could talk for hours about the apples, buckwheat and cannabis they were studying while working to introduce methods that would enhance traditional practices and increase crop yields. Jomsom was a bright, windy place—a point of transition and intersection located at the very edge of the world.
On the third day I checked the maps, flashlights and shoes, calibrated my lensatic compass and carefully loaded my pack and sleeping bag. On the way out an older, tanned Swiss man approached and asked if we needed a porter or guide, wondering if we had the proper permits to continue. I produced two government issued cards. My friend told him we were going to go it alone. He looked over his glasses at me and shook his head. And we walked away from Jomsom headed for the mountains.
Next Time: Kagbeni and Muktinath
When you think about traveling, the thought tends to bring more of an anxiety attack than excitement. You think about where you want to go, how much it's going to cost, where you're going to stay, how long you can take off of work, things to do, and if you'll have enough time to do everything you want because who knows when you'll be back to this destination. But then there are the people like me who pick somewhere that seems cool and just pick up and go. Money will always figure itself out, and why not go for a day or three rather than sit around and wish you could because of this excuse or that excuse?
One April morning, I headed out to Seattle, Wash. and it was only a one night stay. The flight was a rough 5am flight that had a connection in Las Vegas, Nev. that left my actual flying time at a rough four hours. Why was I on my way to Seattle, you may ask? There was no real reason, I had the opportunity and that was enough to get on a plane. Have ticket, will travel. I had no set plans for when I got there, honestly.
After arriving, I spent half of the night in the hotel room eating pizza and watching “Law and Order” and falling in and out of sleep but waking myself up with gross burps from the orange soda I'd also consumed. I wasn't up for hardcore exploring after a short five hours of sleep and a long flight, but I ventured out into Seattle, had myself some coffee from the original Starbucks in Pike Place Market (which is Downtown, for those who don't know), and walked on a small boardwalk that had a ferris wheel on it. I felt constant plume of regret breeze across my skin, stemming from the fact that I wore shorts and forgot I wasn't in the desert anymore.
I ate at the Hardrock Cafe and got to end dinner by watching a drunk guy get carried out by two of his friends at 8pm. The night was still young and since I didn't do my research about Seattle, I ran out of ideas but I didn't want to go back to the hotel just to watch more “Law and Order.” And then it hit me, why not look for the house of the legendary Kurt Cobain? You know, the one he lived in before he died. I immediately had to do it.
I had the plan, I just didn't realize that it was actually going to take three hours to accomplish because my GPS is probably the worst pre-installed app to ever come on a cell phone. It took me everywhere else except where I wanted to be in the first place. I mean, I never even thought I'd find myself driving up and down a few blocks in the dead of night, looking for a house that I thought was going to bring me some sort of revelation to my angsty adolescent days to begin with. The neighborhoods that I got lost in all felt and looked the same. They were slightly weathered from all the rain and humidity, but were surrounded by trees and bushes that looked like one of those photoshopped pictures that is enhanced to make it seem like you have better photography skills than you actually do.
After getting lost in three different neighborhoods, I ended up in a quiet suburb. It was dark, and the property had that haunted feeling that crawls across the back of your neck. It sat on what felt like an island as the neighborhood was surrounded by the ocean and faced directly toward the heart of Emerald City.
As I sat there, a small red car pulled up and passed through the gate of what use to be Cobain's house. I stared at what was probably the owner, so anxious that this was even a real thing. I was 97% sure I was going to throw up. I mean, what's the big deal, right? He was just a regular guy who I only wanted to be like when I was a teenager because I thought that would make me cool. But looking at his house, it seemed like reality was altered. I've never had such a surreal feeling before. I gazed out at the house, then got out of the car to take a picture once the owner's car was completely beyond the gates. In a fog of angst and nostalgia, I somehow forgot how to take a picture on my phone and that I was in the dark and needed the flash on. When I excitedly jumped back in the car and looked at the picture ,it literally looked like a black hole. Just like Cobain left in my heart when he died. Perfect.
The Gathering of Nations Powwow is moving to Expo New Mexico.
Further proof of New Mexico's DWI problem.
What to do when your roommate turns out to be a prostitute.
There are 20k children trapped in Fallujah, which is currently being fought over by Iraqi troops and Islamic State militants.
Be nice, but take no shit.
This ABQ grandfather biked from Burque to Houston for his grandson's graduation.
Today marks the anniversary of the Battle of Jutland.
It's a Nietzsche kind of day.
Are a subscriber to fact or fiction in art?
Books are reflective of where you are in your life and where you want to go.
Today I push off from the Sunport and land in Distrito Federal AKA Mexico City, Cuidad de Mexico.
My mother, my sister and a rando at the gym immediately warned me of dangers. Murder, rape, muggings, they stressed, are what awaited me in Mexico. Yet, the world's fourth largest city in population, and, in 2015, the world's twelfth largest urban area, actually has lower crime rates per capita then Philadelphia, a place no one ever took the time to warn me away from when I was young and, consequently I have lasting regrets about mistakes made there circa 2010.
Other people, the aggressive, defensive kind that get really upset when they hear that someone who isn't trying to have a conversation with them about it has decided to abstain from eating meat, eggs and dairy have, at other moments, warned that I will, get ready ... "starve." While I have relaxed some dietary choices when traveling abroad, and may do so again, in a city of 20 million people, I'm going to posit that I won't actually starve. In fact, just Sunday the L.A. Times featured a story about the abundance of explicitly vegan taquerias, restaurants, street food stalls and bakeries in Mexico City. In the megapolis I can go to a dairy free ice cream shop and get all my groceries at a vegan market, which is more than any city I've ever lived in in the US has offered.
And more than that, Mexico's so-called Alpha City has an abundance of parks, museums, markets and surely so much more that I don't even know about that will make ten days feel like two.
Only slightly higher in elevation than Albuquerque, this time of year D.F.'s weather is comparable to ours and there's not even a time change to impede my transition into full on vacation mode, only a layover in Dallas.
These are all suppositions, aside from the cold, hard statistics. Barring death by starvation or murder, I'll report (rub it in?) in coming weeks, ten pounds heavier from vegan tortas, totally broke not from being robbed, but because I'm sending a million postcards.
Eddie sure as hell didn't want spend the rest of his life in Burque, but it sure seemed like it would go that way as he loaded another pizza into the Pontiac. And the moon shone down on the elms and cottonwoods, the cicadas buzzed and nineteen-hundred and ninety-six was not a bad year.
He came back to town like a lightning storm from the Caribbean that January. A man with a scar across his belly and hands like starfish held a knife across Eddie's throat in Tobago because Eddie told the dude his haircut made him look new wave. The way it was tied up on his head like an abandoned coral reef made Eddie think it was just a convenient disguise; the kind the po-po used when they wanted you to be comfortable because they needed more information before they stepped in with machetes drawn and handcuffs at the ready.
He got to walk away from that incident on two accounts, the first being his fluency with slang and the second having to do with the civil war presidents that hung out in his left front pocket.
After that he wandered through town cursing his luck and studying the night sky. The next morning he left Crown Point with acid burning a glorious hole in his gut. The 10 seat Cessna that bore Eddie away made for the coast of the southern continent.
The Isle of Margarita was better, some of the streets were lined with orange trees, but even the good hotels had plumbing hanging out of the walls. Eddie hired a car and headed for the coast. The cabbie tuned in to a station that was playing "Stairway to Heaven" over and over. The sea was grey and despicable. At dinner an old European couple hit him up for a threesome. Eddie feigned shock and wandered back to his cabana alone.
Two days on and he was stranded in the student ghetto again, reading want ads in the Daily Lobo, smoking rolled up frajos made from butts found by the front door of the Frontier Restaurant.
Eddie finally scored a job as a substitute teacher. Shorn and shaved, wearing his old man's cast off business attire, it was easy enough to think he might be a teacher.
The year was burning by kinda like a rocket to the moon might look like from the proper vantage point. In May Eddie took a full time gig at the school.
He liked all the responsibility; the pizza in the cafeteria kept his spirit calm. But at night his head was still filled up with the mountains and seas and people that made up a faraway earth he reckoned he ought to conquer while youth permitted.
When summer school ended, he walked away from the job and rang up an old flame. Lorraine was living at the edge of the Himalaya mountains and goddammit if it didn't sound fine and picturesque where she was, with fruit bats a flyin' and the monsoon petering out to reveal an infinite, mountainous majesty that beat Burque to hell by comparison.
Since he needed some feria to get out there, Eddie took a temp position at the same college he had run screaming from four years before. They were pleased as punch to see his sorry ass and let him get their internet connections sorted out. Then he was in charge of dispensing keys and also sat in the front office typing memos.
Every night he would tumble out of there and walk downtown. He'd spend everything he could come up with drinking with acquaintances and coaxing beautiful strangers back to his pad for jazz cigarettes and strong coffee.
As summer waned he ran into a gal he had known in the 1980s. She was a townie with yellow hair and hands like a clock. They ended up back at Glenda's house where she wept while telling Eddie about her life. All Eddie could think about was that woman's mother sleeping in the next room, the scent of her dead father's shoes wafting solemnly through the family home.
Eddie picked up the phone at work the next day.. It was a trunk call from Nepal. The operator asked if he wanted to be connected. The voice on the other side was dulcet, was like velvet. Come out here, the voice said and we will make it work this time.
Eddie was all torn up. He liked the yellow-haired woman, even though she said he dressed like a punk and should trade in his patronage at Pacific Coast Sunwear for the comfort and cultural cachet of Macy's. And he had a history with Lorraine, could not resist her Oxford accent—especially given the hot dry air, the crackling insect desert, the dull clerk's identity he had gathered up into a bag called Albuquerque.
One morning after a party at Glenda's, he borrowed her car and drove over to Allsup's. Eddie bought a burrito with a Grant and poured the change—196 quarters—into the pay phone so he could tell Lorraine what exactly he had decided to do.
Eddie returned the car, took his skateboard and left. He withdrew all of his money from the bank, skated over to his favorite tavern and got good and drunk.
That night he fell alseep in a friend's back yard. When the short night had ebbed he hauled his sorry ass over to a travel Agency by the Sunport and bought a one way ticket to Kathmandu. He sure as hell hoped it would work out this time.
Six month's later when he returned for his mother's funeral—thin and worn with a head full of incense—Eddie took a job delivering pizzas. The third delivery ticket was for an address in Nob Hill; it was Glenda's house. He took her the pizza. She stood at the door, staring at the stars and weeping. As Eddie held the pie out toward Glenda her hands moved around and around in small circles exploring the space all around them.
Barbara Jean Ruther, former corporate speaker for Trans World Airlines (TWA), will be at Page One Books 3pm Sunday, February 21, to talk about and sign her new book of poetry, Dirt Roads: Poetry and Memoirs.
The book touches on life, love and memories.
Ruther was a corporate speaker and writer for Trans World Airlines. She wrote destination travel programs, and gave presentations and seminars to travel groups. She is a poet and has been published in small press publications. She also has written a novel, Saving Snowflakes in My Pocket. Barbara was born in New Mexico, has lived in New York and Chicago, and is now back home, living in Santa Fe.
Page One Books is located at 5850 Eubank Blvd NE, Suite B-41, in Albuquerque's Mountain Run Shopping Center (southeast corner of Eubank and Juan Tabo). The Ruther event is free and open to the public. For more information, please call 294-2026 or visit www.page1book.com.
Three versions of van Gough’s The Bedroom will be shown for the first time in North America in Chicago.
New planet! New planet!
More space stuff (and aliens??????)!
Some photos from a journey across Turkey (with hot air balloons!).
How are insomnia and depression related?
‘Cause gals can only be pals.
Ladies, are you ready to get fucked up? Because this will fuck you up.
Read about the entrepreneur weed chef, Jaime Lewis.
Rick Snyder—Michigan’s governor who is at the center of the Flint water crisis—has released all his emails concerning Flint and the toxic water.
A couple 8balls for my sweetie.
A Canadian robot is about to embark on a hitchhiking journey across the U.S.
Marijuana is proving to be quite the wonder drug. What can't cannabis do?
The city plans to give the Sunport a seemingly unnecessary $16M Facelift. A petition against the removal of the '70s brown seating cushions will be in circulation shortly.
Here are the most popular curse words by state.
Foxy Knoxy, aka Amanda Knox belted out a mean tune at a karaoke joint in Manhattan this week.
Helping to diminish our faith in humanity, this man witnessed a car crash, then quickly approached it so he could film the victims and make fun of them.
60-year-old Glenn Danzig put a fan in a headlock yesterday.
A communal Facebook experiment went pretty much as expected.
This time round the sun, June’s solstice falls upon the same day as the American holiday called Father’s Day, on the 21st day of the month.
The same coincidentally calendrical conjunction came to pass 23 years ago; the day called twenty June nineteen hundred and ninety two was the last day of spring in Albuquerque. Practically everyone dwelling amidst the middle latitudes of the North American continent celebrated fatherhood the day after. I’m sure they did that here too or so I was told.
I was in Cuenca, Ecuador where the earth was preparing for winter, though you sure as hell couldn’t tell at the latitude of 2 degrees south. It was hot and humid all over that damn country and I had to carry around a cotton kerchief to keep the sweat off my eyes. I kept the towel in a pocket with my father’s Swiss Army knife. It was the fancy kind with a fork y todo. He told me at the Sunport it would come in handy in the jungle and I couldn’t wait to use the goddamn thing on a tasty lizard or a stubborn piece of bamboo.
I planned to stay a couple of rotations and then drive down from the highlands to the northeast, where the Amazon Jungle crept up into the land. There was a town called Macas out there; I had already chartered a plane to ride me out along the Rio Pastaza to an indigenous settlement in the rainforest. I’d be working for some anthropologists as a sound recordist.
I wandered around Cuenca. There was a fine pizzeria. For a 10 more Sucre, patrons could have their pies topped with small purple potatoes or guinea pig meat. Being a bit nervous about consuming either, I opted for the four-cheese pie.
The long distance service was spotty back then. The cook told me I could send a telegram from the police station. I walked over there, regailed the machine-gun carrying officials with my shitty Spanish and sent a telegram to my old man. I told him I was having a grand time and wished him a happy Father’s Day.
The city also had a magnificent plaza built around a mountainous cathedral. The church had gold accouterments, baroque domes. The Andes rose up behind the basilica like a greater order of magical edifices imposed upon the viewer for the sake of comparison.
Come Saturday night there was big party in the center of town. Many citizens walked down to the plaza holding hands, singing songs about the sun and the land. One of them stopped me, asked me where I was from, guessed that I was Israeli or Persian. I tried to tell him I was an American from Albuquerque, but he ran off, laughing and pointing at the sky.
My hotel, the Inca, was nearby to the church – which by now was surrounded by people filling and releasing paper lantern/balloons into the air. The paper bags, each lit by a candle, drifted around the cathedral like angels might and then floated away, towards the mountains.
I picked up an old copy of Time Magazine in the lobby and took the stairs to my room. As I settled in to read a fine article about 1977’s Man of the Year someone pounded on the door. I opened it. The man on the other side had a gun. He flashed an identification card, told me to come with him and waved the gun around like it was just another celebratory instrument of the solstice.
Downstairs, there was a car waiting. I turned around to protest and realized the gun had been gently pressed to the back of my head for what I reckoned were at least two very long minutes. I was urged to take a seat in the back of the car.
By now, night had fallen. It was dark as hell. We drove around and around the outskirts of Cuenca while the driver and the gunman argued. Occasionally the latter, wearing a dirty Adidas baseball cap, turned around to face me, brandished the gun, winked and smiled a toothy smile. Finally we were on the road out of town. I began to think of my father as two paper balloons passed by the windows of that automobile.
Remembering I had his knife in my front pocket it occurred to me that I could stab Mr. Adidas in the neck and thereby save myself. But as the vehicle slowed down to cross a bridge, I came up with another idea. I quickly unlocked the backseat door, opened it, yelled “Fuck It Dude, Life’s a Risk!” at the top of my lungs and rolled out onto the highway.
Mr. Adidas and his friend screeched the car to a halt. I hid under the bridge and covered myself in mud. After a few minutes splashing around the creek rather angrily, the two stormed off, still cussing and yelling. I remained absolutely still when I saw the muzzle flash from the receding coche.
Soaking wet and tired as crap, I walked along the highway until I came upon a farmhouse. There was a phone there. The farmer offered me a drink and a cigarette while we waited for the police.
It was dawn on the first day of summer when we arrived at the police station. One of the policemen took me aside and said, “You’re that hombre from Albuquerque, no? I replied I was and wondered how he knew that, since my passport didn’t mention it. He told me my father had replied to my telegram, that I could pick up his telegraphic response on my way out.
The telegram from my father was succinct. It was too hot in Burque. He was going to have Father’s Day Brunch with my sister at the Rancher’s Club. He hoped the knife he had given me came to good use, out there in South America.