student ghetto


V.25 No.33 | 08/18/2016
Rio Grande
/ Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Creative Non-Fiction

About Water

Here are some stories about water.

I am fascinated by its absence; here in the high desert the dry earth is something I have both feared and revered. A dweller of mesas and arroyos, water remains elusive to me; it is a half-remembered dream.

My family moved to Albuquerque when I was twelve. Before that, we lived on the edge of the Navajo Nation. There was an arid beauty there, expansive and windblown. I remember being driven to small fishing lakes in Navajoland and not being able to believe that so much water could gather in one place.

Sometimes I would wander around the mesas and arroyos, almost drifting across them like a bird, finding waterholes and scratching up clay from the surrounding soil.

We went to Gallup often, shopped at place called Trademart and ate at various restaurants with names like "The Ranch Kitchen" or "Mucho Burger." On the weekends, the old man would drive us to Albuquerque, to visit friends and relatives.

Driving around the state with my father - who was oddly enough, a sailor - at the helm of a car he called a boat, my brother and I would hang our heads out the windows and scream in defiance of the water towers we passed.

They were monumental and mysterious and contained a force mostly unknown to us: the gathering together of powers we had only seen during the rare days of late summer thunderstorms, that we had only waded through, shin deep, in murky rivulets and ponds.

Here was that force, personified and unified, in mighty metal towers. The travels we took with the dude seemed to begin and end with those risen behemoths.

The towers loomed on this horizon and that. I suppose we imagined them to be a type of metallic creature, robots which might careen out of control at any time, drowning us with both malevolent size and watery contents.

The old man would glance in the rear view mirror and laugh and cuss when he saw one approaching; my mother would turn up the radio and prepare for the worst.

I grew older and stopped screaming. But water remained an elusory aspect of my world. By the time we finally moved to Burque, I remember standing at the edge of the Rio Grande, staring.

When I asked my father about this utterly strange phenomenon, a river that flowed, he said the world was a watery place, that my confusion was contrary to the way of nature. Water was a precious substance that made a difficult and dangerous magic, he warned.

And so, he also taught us to swim, mostly at pools around town. There was one at the Albuquerque Country Club. There was another at the Mountainside YMCA. Our favorite became a pool called the A-Pool. It was a public pool located near Pennsylvania and Menaul. It was shaped like a gigantic letter A.

To further pique our interest in the water, he would also make us watch the Val De La O show.

The Val De La O was a local teevee show that was broadcast live on Saturday mornings, from the KOB studios, in the 1970s and 1980s.

Besides providing entertaining Nuevo Mexicano music for my then young and beautiful parents to dance to, De La O featured a variety of fascinating celebrities as guests. One of his frequent visitors was Johnny Weissmuller.

Weissmuller was an Olympic swimmer who had risen to fame portraying Tarzan in the movies. By the time of my childhood, he had retired from his fictional vine-swinging, vicious lion and Nazi-fighting duties and often visited Albuquerque.

My father hoped that Tarzan's recollections of his watery exploits would encourage us to become safe and strong swimmers, despite the lack of water all around us.

He was mostly right.

Years later, long after De La O and his hilarious sidekick Mario Leyva (he was sort of like the Duke City version of Cantinflas, sabes?) had taken their leave of the studios on Coal Avenue, I nearly drowned in the Gila River.

My brother and I were camping with some other undergrads and decided to hike along the east fork of the river. The twin warned me that the spring rains spelled treachery, but I ignored his admonitions. I decided to cross the swollen river.

In transit, I slipped on a rock, fell and was pushed under the torrent. The current was swift. I could not lift myself against it, and became submerged in it. It was surprisingly quiet down there. I began to see pictures of my life being paraded around the backs of my eyelids.

When I had just about given up, I saw an image of a water tower rising above a dusty road. On that road, a super stock Pontiac roared along with kids screaming in the back seat and Jefferson Airplane blasting out of the open windows.

And like that tower, which held water, I decided to rise. Like that car which sought out water, I moved, somehow resurgent, somehow robotic. Lifting my head up out of the Gila River, I took a deep breath and did as I had been trained to do.

My brother was standing on the bank of the river, screaming.

This is what he shouted as I climbed up on a rock, loud enough to be heard over the din of the water, which was roaring like a beast: "Who in the hell do you think you are, Tarzan?"

That night, back in the student ghetto, I dreamt of clay, of arroyos and dust.

V.25 No.31 | 08/04/2016

Short Fiction

Jones Goes to College, Part One

Jones dug the hell out of that first semester at Coronado Hall. It was awesome, even if there always was some dude from Peñasco or Ojo Caliente passed out, drowning in his voluminous post-beer-bong vomit in the third floor head. The world was over for that rascal except for toilets and tile floors thought Jones as he hit the shower.

The Grateful Dead tapestry he put up on the window to shut out the light was, like, a total hit with his roommate and the fellows next door. And damn it all if the food wasn't a gazillion times better than at Allsup's.

With “Yow!” and “Yeah!” serving as enthusiastic interjections, the semester jetted out quick across the blue dome of the world. That spring, Charlie Jones made a grip of ceramic objects, read and decoded two situationist texts and learned how to tinkle out a couple of dances by Bartok.

Jones decided, as sure as eggs was eggs, he could never move home again. Living with the old man wasn't of any use, anyhow. That dude never seemed to get over his Afghan hound Duchess dying early. Twenty years had come and gone and it was still like living on the moon when Dad was around, all silent and dusty.

Reckoning the student ghetto was the way to go, Charlie began exhaustive research focused on finding a shack he could call his own. He did not have to extend himself too much into that realm mostly because he happened to run into his pal Donna in front of the student union.

It was just about May in those parts and Donna was gamboling about on the lawn with a lady friend who was dressed all in white. She was sporting a long skirt and sorta looked like Stevie Nicks, except for her hair. Her mop was as black as crow feathers and was blowing around in the springtime wind like it was trying to fly away into the clouds or something.

After a couple of obligatory hippie-hugs, Donna introduced Zelda and let it out the two of them had found an underground haven. It was a remodeled, carpeted, and suitably dark basement apartment they had found south of campus. The deal was they needed a third person to make the rent.

“You gotta be fucking kidding me,” Jones said as a storm came up and it started to rain like it used to do in Albuquerque before the environmental disaster of 2037.

The next morning, Jones got up early and hauled his sorry ass over to the student ghetto. It was early, with the light just coming over the new jungle of tired elms that framed the place. As Charlie approached the underground pad, a dude dressed like a steam-shovel operator came racing up the stairs with Zelda on his heels in a fashion that vaguely reminded Jones of the German retreat from Stalingrad.

Charlie stood there while the two of them began to argue and cajole, gesticulate and weave. After about five minutes of that, the guy in the industrial costume lumbered over to his El Camino and rolled away while April Wine blasted through the truck’s speakers. Zelda gritted her teeth and extended her right hand, all friendly, acting like nothing at all weird had just happened around there—or anywhere else earth—for that matter.

But Jones sensed she was unsettled about the whole thing. With Zelda standing out there in her bare feet, toeing at the dirt nervously and clad in an oversized wife-beater and sweatpants, he gravely intoned—drawing back a ways as they shook hands—“Tell you what, I'll start bringing my stuff over tomorrow.”

It poured water from the sky for the next two days and the lightning flashed and flashed. When the storm let up, when Charlie Jones finally got moved in, he still thought it was a sweet deal. There was a tiny kitchen at the top of the stairs and the rest of the place really was underground; all the walls were cool to the touch and hardly any light got in at all.

Donna was never home. Sometimes Jones played new wave music recordings in the big room in very back of the joint. Otherwise kept to himself and got up early every morning so as to dutifully haul his sorry ass to school.

He couldn’t tell whether Zelda worked or not. Every time he went by her room, the door was open with Fleetwood Mac songs floating through the air, incense wafting here and there and Zelda reclining languidly on her bed while leafing through books about food and flowers.

She'd usually glance at him wanly as he passed. He'd smile vaguely or give her the Vulcan hand salute. One or the other of them would tilt their head curiously before looking away.

After two months of that, a spot opened up at Harvard House, which was a broke down palace occupied by a collective of artists. Their pad was right down the street from a haunted house; a decent pizza joint was just a block away. That was an easy choice thought Jones as he handed over three Franklins to his new landlord.

Charlie split from the underground chanti just before the sun came up so he didn't have to make eye contact with Zelda. He didn't see her again until a big house party came around just after Thanksgiving. By then it was easy enough for both to pretend they were strangers.

That was the only pretense they chose to preserve as the two began making out on the couch. As their hands entwined, Zelda tried to remember the previous summer while Charlie attempted to recall what sorta tuneage the lady favored. Everyone else was out on the porch drinking tequila, eating pumpkin pie and watching a winter tempest come down from the mountains.

V.25 No.9 | 03/03/2016
Courtesy of the author

Flash Fiction

Royal Eddie Never Showed Up

When Hawkins told us he wanted to party, we were sitting out on the porch at Stanford house drinking Coors Beer from small brown bottles. The swamp cooler was on the fritz. Sundown was coming on slow. We were watching to see whether the rockers across the street would open up their front door to let their pet pig, Royal Eddie, run around the front yard.

Tim Hunter suggested we coax one of our housecats into the ensuing fracas. He was an Earth-First fellow convinced of the cruelty of nature. So he was mean as hell to animals and most humans too. He worked at an art movie theater near the college. Hunter liked to scour the auditorium for used popcorn buckets after every show. He'd sneak them into the men's room, clean out the cardboard cylinders as good as possible. Then he would fill them up with corn and resell them for a buck and a quarter each.

Tim spent his days off camping and fishing so he wasn’t around much. We threw bottle caps at him or gave him the finger whenever he talked nonsense. He’d usually shut up and creep back to his room, rubbing his hands together like they were still covered in a flavorful artificial butter concentrate.

And Royal Eddie never showed up. It turns out he was feigning delirium that evening—amidst four heshers, three deconstructed Triumph motor bikes, two empty cases of Foster’s Lager and a quarter inch of mud, four stroke oil and vomit.

So it was a good thing Hawkins was having a motel party that night. It would be a gift to bounce from the hood. He walked up to the porch, checked the mail and asked when Tim was moving out. By the way, he gravely intoned, I have rented a room at the Lorlodge. That was a sketchy motel with a swimming pool right off the 25 on the other side of the student ghetto.

I had been working as a welder for a month and told Hawkins I wanted to make it a special occasion. I thought it would be ironically summer-weather defying to wear my leather jacket and safety hat and parade down there in style. Chauncy the actor who worked at the Steak and Ale up by Winrock agreed; he put on his tux and patent leather oxfords. Hawkins grabbed his scuba gear from out the closet, fins and all. We started walking down Central Avenue.

When we passed the Fat Chance Bar and Grill, I heard a rock band playing. Damned it if wasn't A Murder of Crows. But we didn't go in because Hawkins owed Junius and Caleb a sawbuck and two pints besides.

On the other side of University Boulevard a fellow in a green beret with a red flag fixed to it jumped out from the doorway of a storefront. He asked if we wanted to come to his meeting of the Communist party. They were having ice-cold refreshments and a discussion on Marx in the twentieth century, he said, smiling wanly. Chauncy told him our party would be better, handed him a half-smoked jazz cigarette that he had been fiddling with earlier and did his best impression of Harpo.

As we passed Mulberry Street, three of the groovy gals we knew from art school turned the corner named for a big green tree and the middle of things. It was Split-level Lisa, who dressed in black but took photos of colorful birds; the magenta-haired performance artist named after a Hindu goddess and her pal Caroline from Sarah Lawrence College.

They were on their way to Jack's Bar to get a case of Olympia and the Hawaiian-style pizza to go. Since I was full of feria after working on water tanks and decorative wrought iron all week, I offered to pitch in. I told them about the cable teevee at the motel and how they had a pool and air conditioning too.

And Lisa thought that was just fine. She started to tell how she needed a new set of trucks but a helicopter was landing at the big hospital by the freeway and her voice sounded like flowers coming apart in a storm. The blades were spinning fast and fluttering around like they were made of hummingbird wings. The hot air of July swirled around us while the engine roared and roared. A security guard with a steel badge shaped like a seven-sided star chased us away when we got too close.

The six of us ran the rest of the way with heat rising off the sidewalk and the light turning rosy on account of the earth’s rotation. Parvati lost her left flip-flop and Hawkins both his fins to the highway underpass. But just as the sun touched the horizon, we crossed over and waltzed into the office at the Lorlodge, laughing like we owned the place.

V.21 No.30 |

News

The Daily Word in Chick-fil-A, Chick-fil-A, and Chick-fil-A

The Daily Word

Student Ghetto residents are trying to stop a townhouse under construction at Garfield and Girard.

The 101 year old Peterson Dam in Las Vegas New Mexico is leaking 60 million gallons of water per year.

Albuquerque's Hope Christian School denied enrollment to a boy because his parents are gay.

Last Thursday Rick Santorum weighed in on the Chick-fil-A controversy. Friday, Sarah Palin ate some Chick-fil-A. Saturday, The Vice President of public relations at Chick-fil-A died. The Mayor of D.C. calls Chick-fil-A "Hate Chicken."

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Tourette's syndrome can really make your life complicated.

The Plaid wasn't a particularly loud pattern but I tried to kill him anyway.

Heard of "concierge medicine" yet?

The founder of Amazon has pledged 2.5 million dollars to support marriage equality in Washington.

London's Zil Lanes.

Money awarded to record labels that won their case against Pirate Bay will not be shared with the artists whose rights were being defended.

Kim Jong Eun on a roller coaster.

On this day in 1968, Brian Jones was eating goat cheese and honey, smoking a lot of hash, and recording the Master Musicians of Jajouka.