Try staying in a band after college while any non-musician friends go on to real jobs in other parts of the country. Try working at Zingerman’s Bakery part-time because, though it doesn’t pay well, it allows a flexible schedule, because this is what you want to do, play music, so try it. Try playing clubs like The Heidelburg and The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, branching out to places in Detroit (this may take years) and even down to Toledo, Cleveland, or over to Kalamazoo and down to Chicago, and putting out your own CD, which sells ok (that is, you make back the money you spent), and your band may even get an offer from an indie label, who pays for another CD (this will take years) but who never pays you a cent, though they may hook you up with a booking agent, who gets you on a circuit starting in Chicago but going down, way down, to Texas, then across west through New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and back to Chicago.
And try living on the road like that, in the back of a rental van that you weren’t supposed to take out of state, with the same six guys 24/7 for weeks, staying in hotel rooms or (to save money) even sleeping on the floors of strange but generous fans in various cities, living on ten dollars a day for food, or more, since there are always credit cards to live on which you can always pay back, right?
And try leaving Austin one morning, heading north to Dallas, with your singer Rick talking non-stop and realizing, this is it, I can’t stand him. All the confidence and attitude that came off so well on stage just a façade for this insecure jabberjaw and you can’t take it anymore. You’ve heard about husbands or wives just leaving a relationship, just getting up and walking away, and this is how you feel: you could almost walk away right there at one of those truck stops, only your guitars and amplifiers keeping you there. You have no money, no way to get them home, so you spend the next two weeks with your headphones on, trying to drown out the world with Metallica and Johnny Cash.
And try having a relationship while on the road. Either you’re on your cellphone in a van, or at lunch or dinner breaks, or you’re at a club setting up, or you’re at a club and it’s too loud, or you’re playing, or it’s after the show, at the hotel room, which you’re sharing with one or two other guys, and it’s late, especially with the time difference the farther you go west, and your girlfriend Donna doesn’t stay up that late anyways, and then you’re each talking on cellphones which, no matter what anybody says, suck, sound quality-wise, so not conducive to long conversations, and try getting home and finding out your girlfriend wants to break up with you, and in fact already has in her head, so that all that’s left for her to do is go through the rehearsed lines and the already imagined emotions, so that you are being broken up with by an emotional robot.
And then when Rick, the one you’ve come to despise for his ego, or his seeming to feel that he is the leader of the band, after all the phone calls you made booking gigs, arranging rehearsals, making flyers, and all the songs you brought in, some of which you felt (admit it now, might as well) that he contributed some pretty cheeseball lyrics, of everyone in the band, he’s the one that calls to tell you that he and the other two guys have decided to kick you out, and he’s telling you this on his cellphone while he’s in a Burger King, and even though you were going to quit anyways (I mean, probably) you suddenly see in the future nothing but a black wall....
....except maybe that small path off to the side, the one that opened up when you were in the van leaving Santa Fe and you thought, I’d like to live here someday, and that path too goes in the black wall of the future, but it seems to keep going, past where you can see, but it’s something, which is more than what you currently have.
So you sell most of your equipment, your guitars and amps (except that Fender acoustic—that one you decide to keep, no matter what) and you throw what you have left in the back of your truck, and you head south and west, south and west, past the cornfields, the Mississippi, the Ozarks, into high desert plains, cow processing plants, Carhenge, mountains and reservations, until you’re there behind the black wall, and though you see another black wall way up ahead, where you’re at doesn’t seem that bad: it’s sunny. You’re alone, but it’s sunny and you’ve got some things to be doing, which will keep you busy for a while, and also there are women in Santa Fe so, you hope, they too will keep you busy....
I knew I wanted to live near el centro, the old town part of town, and not down south off of the Cerrillos Road strip mall part. Finding a place seemed to come down to luck more than anything. I checked CraigsList online and most places I called had already been rented out almost immediately, though I found a few, mostly what they called ‘casitas’ there, small houses out back of people’s houses, old garages maybe, that owners rented out, either officially or unofficially (I was finding that people made a living, had to make a living, creatively), but prices insane, and that’s coming from someone who lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, so I kept holding out. Almost went with a woman who had a casita out back of her place, but she also kept goats and chickens in a pen in the rest of the backyard. In fact, the pen was bigger than the casita, and I kept imagining those chickens screeching at five in the morning.
But then I tried the old fashioned way and looked in the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper classifieds, and there was someone advertising a casita up in the canyon, just north of el centro. Sounded too good to be true, but I called and it was still available.
The landlady, Estrella, had a small adobe casita to the side of her house. She was from an old Spanish family that had been in the area forever, and was very proud of her heritage. She was the first, though not the last, person I met who became very offended at being called mexicans: They considered themselves Spanish first, then american. When I mentioned going to Mexico once, she made a face and snorted. —They smell.
The property belonged to her, she was a widow, but Pedro was either her boyfriend or second husband, I was never really clear on his official status. When I first got there he was lying on the kitchen floor because he said he back was hurting him, though he got up and shook my hand.
I tried some of my spanish on them and they were both impressed, especially when I said I thought spanish was a beautiful language (which it is). At that point I would’ve rented anything (except the chicken place), since I was spending a small fortune on what was considered a cheap hotel room, but their casita was nice. I mean, small—one room, with a kitchenette, and a small bathroom, but the price actually a little cheaper than some places farther out of town, so I took it and moved in that day.
I fell in love with many women in Santa Fe, I still fall in love with many women everywhere, but maybe the first was one who worked at my credit union. Tall and dark, with local spanish blood. Long straight black hair and, though I actually don’t necessarily like super skinny women, being that tall made up for it. Falling in love with women at credit unions or banks seems to involve how they dress, and she dressed well. Always with high heels and nylons. Business skirt, grey or tan, white blouse, gold cross necklace dipping down her chest. How many nights fantasizing about how that cross would shine between her breasts as she rode me....
For that reason, and guys are like this, I would skip the ATM machine and go inside for the chance to see her, trying to jockey my position in line to get her and her smile. Eventually I noticed the ring, but who really cares about things like that? It just made the gold cross fantasy that much naughtier.
Bank managers need to realize that should hire ugly people as their tellers, so people will use ATMs more and the banks won’t have to hire as many employees. But then, if I were the manager, I’d hire women like that too. Maybe the advantage of happy, in-lust customers outweighs the money they save. Así es la vida.
She also sometimes worked the reception desk which gave me the freedom to say hello to her and not have to jockey for position, and one time I even said, Cómo estás?, as I passed her and without hesitation she said bien back which confirmed that she was my dream girl.
And the next time I came in I saw her getting what looked like manager training, so I knew my time was limited, but the next time after that she was back at the reception desk, so I said hola and did my transaction, nervous, hoping the timing would be right, And it was, she was alone, so I went up to the desk and mumbled out in spanish that I just wanted to compliment her on how beautiful she was. Which took everything out of me. I had just poured my soul out to her.
And she smiled and said, —Gracias.
And I walked out the door, in shock. I didn’t say anything else to her. I hadn’t planned that far ahead. My plan being for the next time to ask her out.
And the next time she wasn’t there.
Or the next.
I asked one of the other tellers that had been there as long as I had been going, a perfectly nice young woman whose only fault was she wasn’t my dream girl, who said Graciela had taken a promotion up at the Los Alamos branch. So fuck.
Downtown Subscription was a café located on the edge of downtown where the canyon opened up, a short walk from Art Row, where many of the town’s art dealers had their shops, though a long enough walk, and a little bit hidden, to keep a lot of the tourists away. Most of the customers local, including every european in town because it was a place you could go to just hang out and talk, and study, and or write, for as long as you wanted. It also stocked magazines from all over the world, on any subject, from Cosmo (in German) to The String Theory Quarterly. It was a bout a mile and half down canyon from my casita, so on free days I liked to walk down and read or scribble while sipping a coffee. I actually liked the walk more than anything. It made me just think, or maybe allowed me the time to think, with no distractions, about my life and what the hell I was doing with it, so that by the time I had my coffee and was sitting at a table I might be scribbling down a first verse, and spend the rest of the afternoon working on it, with the background noise of people talking, their energy, and looking at the various beautiful women coming and going.
Did I ever talk to any of those women? Of course not. It was weird, but sometimes when I saw a woman who was not only beautiful, but intriguing-seeming, who might even be sitting by herself, those were the times when the words that needed to be written down came the easiest.
Plus I’d be scared to death to talk to a woman. What if she slapped me? What if she ran screaming from the cafe? What if she said no? Better to enjoy the thought, the possibility, than crush it with the reality of rejection. Though, better to be alone than to have tried and failed? Every man can talk himself into that logic. And meanwhile the women sit there alone, wishing a man would come talk to them (I mean, right?) but he never does, so the women get cats or dogs and read Jane Austin at home, eating chocolate.
Unless you come across a brazen whore who will actually talk to you, which is what happened to me one day when I was bent over my notebook.
—How’s the writing going today?
She was short, with straight blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail. Skinny, with jeans and sandals and a dark green sparkly shirt with long see-thru sleeves. Holding a cup of tea and smiling.
I started to go into male freeze-up, but managed to say, —It’s going alright today.
—Are you writing a novel?
I leaned back in my chair. —No, just...lyrics.
Her smiled got bigger. —Lyrics? Ahh, you’re a songwriter.
—Do you play guitar?
—Yeah, I do but...
—I’d love to hear you play sometime.
She kept standing there holding her tea. Expectantly.
—Uh, would you like to sit down?
She smiled and pulled up a seat. —Sure. I can’t stay long. I’m seeing my shrink in half an hour.
Which should have been my first warning, but being lonely makes us do these things. But talking came easy to her. She had lived in Santa Fe for five years. —That’s a record! Most people only last two!
Originally from Boston, Rachel had moved out to SF after she got divorced. —Haven’t you figured it out yet? Santa Fe is where divorced women come to heal.
Like everyone else, she was trying to figure out what to do with her life. And, like everyone else, she too was exploring her creative side, painting, but also contemplating going back to grad school to study psychology.
I took a sip of coffee. —A friend of mine back in college always said, if you’re ever at a party and you meet a beautiful girl, who seems very cool, and she tells you she’s psychology major, run away as fast as you can.
She laughed out loud, holding her stomach, people around us looking over. —That’s great! I’ll have to remember that one. It’s true of course. I’m crazier than a bedbug.
She got up to go. —I’ll tell my shrink that one. He’ll love it.
Other men know how to say those lines so they don’t come out like a cliché. Me, no. —So...would you like to get dinner sometime?
She smiled again. —You’re funny. Sure.
She wrote down her number and put a smiley face underneath, waving goodbye at the door.
I’d had this thought rolling around in the back of my brain, to start studying spanish again, I guess from being in Santa Fe, feeling like I was in old Mexico. Back in college, spanish had actually been one of my favorite classes, though it was a lot of hard work. I always seemed to have to study hours with flash cards while my classmates would look at the chapter vocabulary lists right before the tests and do better than me. I’d done the mandatory two years, then actually got permission from the department to take an upper level beginning literature class, and if it hadn’t been for a horrible bitter old lady from Venezuela, I might’ve even changed majors. But, that was also when the band was everything, so school was less than everything. I also took a literature in translation class, which I also didn’t do well in, though I knew there was something there: I liked the stories, and remembered Pablo Neruda’s odes to storms and french fries, and I always thought it would be cool to be bilingual, maybe just to seduce mexican girls, but maybe also because spanish seemed like the second language of America, at least down south, and again, if it hadn’t been for the band and music, I would have loved to live in Mexico and do the Jack Kerouac thing, meet a Tristessa of my own.
And one day at Downtown Subscription I was sitting next to a woman obviously giving a spanish lesson to a girl, explaining the verb gustar and how it’s reflexive:
—Yo gusto el café.
—No no no, it pleases you. Me gusta el café.
—But I like it.
—But in spanish, things are pleasing to us.
—Ok...me...gusta? El café?
—That’s so weird.
So after they were done, I leaned over to her. —Disculpe.
She looked surprised. —Sí?
—Me encanta el español. Could I take lessons from you?
We would meet once a week, for an hour. María was in her late fifties, though looked younger, her short black hair frosted with grey. She had lived in Santa Fe for twenty years. Her ex had worked up a the Lab in Los Alamos and still lived in their house in Tesuque, east of town. She’d been divorced for a couple years and was living with a rich family as a nannie. She had a son, who was in prison on a car theft charge. I had only asked about her family for polite conversation, and felt bad when her eyes started tearing up as she was telling me about him.
She had divorced her ex not for any horrible bad thing but more, it sounded, out of exasperation. Though apparently a scientific genius, pulling in a good money from his own company contracting with the Lab, he was horrible at managing it, and had put even the lease on his home in jeopardy through simple lack of paying bills. That plus being uncommunicative and clueless, the usual with men.
My spanish was shaky, but María was good about not speaking in English, and with the lessons, and me practicing reading easy stuff in spanish, like MAXIM en español, just for the articles, I realized I still had it with me, locked away in some dusty part of my brain.
It’s me, Donna. How are you?
What are you doing in New Mexico?
Well, I’m not sure.
I guess. How did you get my number?
I called your mom. So what are you doing down there? Are you in a band?
No, no. Just hanging out.
Do you have a job?
I can’t believe you’re in New Mexico. You just took off.
Do you miss Michigan?
Um, no. Ann Arbor a little.
So like, you’re not playing music at all?
A little. For myself.
Wow...so like, it’s good hear your voice. I just wanted to, um, tell you....
Tell me what?
In case you found out from someone else.
Just that, Rick and I are seeing each other.
I just didn’t want you to find out and think that I was, like planning it or something. Cause I wasn’t. It just kind of happened.
So are you seeing anybody down there?
Um, nobody serious. Just here and there.
Well, ok. When are you coming back to Michigan?
Um, never, I think.
Never? Not even to visit?
I don’t know.
Well if you do, give me a call. I still have the same cellphone.
Are you angry or something?
Well, you’re super quiet.
I don’t care, it’s just, I thought you might be angry. But I’d rather you hear it from me.
Ok, well, I’m gonna get going.
It was good to talk to you.
For our first date I took Rachel to dinner at Udon Noodles down on Cerrillos, where she seemed to know everyone. —They’re all in my yoga classes. It’s weird to see them. I never go out to eat unless I’m with a suitor.
—A suitor? Am I a suitor?
She grinned. —Hee hee. You’re cute. Yes, I suppose you are, aren’t you? We’re out to dinner.
—Ok but for the record I’m not looking for a wife.
She clapped her hands and people at other tables looked over. —Ha! That’s great! Good for you! Who needs it? Except women. We need it.
—Just get a good paying job.
—As if it were that easy. Especially in Santa Fe. And anyways, I meant it differently. Security in life. Security in love.
She wagged a finger at me. —Oh, you say that, but you’re sad and lonely just like the rest of us.
—Yeah, well, marriage will solve all that? You’re the divorcée.
She laughed again, and our noodles arrived (the waitress wasn’t that attractive so I didn’t have to worry about staring at her ass or not) of which Rachel ate almost nothing, and ordered a box to go.
Afterwards she invited me to a club called SWIG, which I’d heard of but knew nothing about. We had to access it by an elevator, the doors opening right into the club and loud ambient techno. And here were all the young adults (late 20s to some older guys in their late 30s) from other more cultivated cities, like maybe LA or New York. No locals. No more cowboy hats, no more jeans, or hippies skirts, or pueblo design wool coats. Suddenly we were surrounded by people in black, men in ties and dress shirts, women with lots o’ make-up in mini-skirts. I felt a little annoyed that Rachel hadn’t filled me in, since I was in jeans and long-sleeved shirt, but she wasn’t much better in a simple white cotton dress, though she did have some high heel sandals, so maybe she just didn’t know, or care.
We went into one corner and sat at a couch. No dance floor, just two rooms connected by a hallway where the bathrooms were. Since the music was loud, I’m not sure what anybody was talking about: They seemed to just be standing around looking like they were going to be doing some coke soon.
A drop dead gorgeous young waitress in a tight mini-skirt came over and took our drink orders and I tried not to stare at her legs as she walked away. Rachel excused herself for a second, leaving me to people-watch and wonder what the hell we were doing there. When she came back she squeezed my hand. —You have to see the bathrooms here!
The men’s room walls were covered in astro-turf, even around the urinals, and it was huge, though nobody else came in while I was there. I kept expecting a posse of American Psycho types to pile in but I guess it was too early for that. Though it was Santa Fe: I couldn’t imagine the place being open past one o’clock.
When I got back and sat down next to Rachel, she slipped her sandals off and put her bare feet in my lap, so of course I started massaging them while we talked about her friends. She had gone to St. John’s College there, for a Master of Arts in Liberal Arts. —Which is as basically useless as it sounds.
But she hooked up with some girlfriends there, all with much more money than her: The kind that lived in houses their parents had bought for them. —So they kind of took me in and had pity on me. I’m the token poor girl they can all take care of. They like to come here.
And on cue, Ingrid arrived with a gaggle of friends. She was an art dealer in town, though I couldn’t figure out if she took that seriously (meaning she liked bad cowboy art) or not (meaning she was in it for the money). But she had shown some of Rachel’s paintings at one point. She kissed me European style when we were introduced and then I basically sat by myself while she and Rachel talked for awhile. So I looked at our waitress’ legs some more, which were nice, and I swear she even smiled at me, which is the weird thing about women: She wouldn’t have even looked at me if I’d been there by myself. Maybe since I was with a woman I wasn’t putting out pheromones of desperation.
But watching Rachel interact with Ingrid was...intriguing. Basically Ingrid spoke, and Rachel listened, which reminded me less of a friendship and more of how I used to schmooze with club owners, promoters, or other bands. And they kept talking, and none of Ingrid’s girlfriends were talking to me, so I got up and did a walk-around to the other room, where the music was even louder and there were more single guys in suits, so I just came back and told Rachel I was taking off. She got a concerned look on her face and put a hand on my cheek. —Oh you poor boy. I’m not paying attention to you, am I? Do you want to go someplace and talk?
—No, I’m done for the night.
—Well, call me. Ok?
I pulled up next to my casita and got out. Quiet. Crickets. Some lights on in some of the house in the neighborhood. The air cool. I stood there looking up at the stars filling the sky, with the Star River running through the middle. My breath drifting lonely as a cloud. My truck Ana clinking, cooling.
The Pueblo Indians have been in this area since the beginning of the tenth century, if not sooner. You can visit Bandalier National Monument, with examples of both their cliff dwellings and old adobe style buildings. Santa Fe became the first capital city in America in 1607 (or some sources say 1610), even though it actually belonged to Spain at the time (the whole area was called Nueva España). It’s also the only American city where a successful Indian uprising happened, against the Spanish, in 1680.
Santa Fe became the northern trade hub down to Mexico City, both for the Spanish, and then Mexico when it seceded in 1821. After the Mexican-American War, in 1821, the city changed hands to the United States, and that same year the famous Santa Fe Trail was opened up to connect the northeast states with the new southwest territories. This makes Santa Fe the only city in North America to be under four different national flags: Spain, Mexico, the Confederate States during the American Civil War (for like, a week), and The United States. It has been the capital city in the area, both as a territory and as a state, though nowadays it seems a little out of the way compared to Albuquerque, which grew huge from being at the crossroads of two interstate highways.
New Mexico became a state in 1912, but the freaks had already started to arrive: Painters like Georgia O’Keefe (who liked the light) and writers like DH Lawrence (who liked the freedom and wanted to found a creative anarchist commune). You can still visit the Lawrence Ranch north of Taos, about an hour north of Santa Fe, and see the Lawrence Tree, which O’Keefe made famous in her painting of that name, which, when I first saw it, looked, because of the weird perspective, like a giant squid squirting ink in space.
Santa Fe also seems to have been one of the first American cities (at least west of the Mississippi) to plan for tourism and a city identity, centering around the architectural ‘look’ of the western adobe flat top buildings, the traditional Mexican ‘pueblo’ look. By 1912, all buildings had to have this look, reinforced by a city ordinance in 1958, so that today when you walk around the streets, if you ignore the SUVs, you can almost picture yourself in an old Mexican town from 150 years ago. This ‘Santa Fe Look’ now includes interior decorating, and even clothing.
The other economy of Santa Fe was, and is, the Los Alamos Lab, run by the U.S. Department of Energy. Built during World War Two to research and construct the atomic bomb, it was picked originally for its location: Far away from most anything, up on a mesa thirty miles (as the crow flies) west of Santa Fe. ‘The Lab’ stayed in business after the war, bringing in leading scientists to continue nuclear research. Los Alamos is now its own town, and if you go up to visit, you feel like you’ve stepped back into a slice of the east coast: non-adobe trophy homes, grass lawns, and even more expensive rents than in Santa Fe. Not even the Cerro Gordo Fire of 2000, where the Park Service lost control of a prescribed burn in Bandalier and the escaped fire ended up burning dozens of homes, not even something like that could pull property values down, so that lots of scientists and their families live down in Santa Fe, or small villages out on the reservations like Tesuque or Pojaque and commute.
During the sixties and seventies, the hippies and alternative life-stylers started to arrive, for the good weather, the arts, and (again) (I think) the sense of Santa Fe being so far away from anything else. If you watch the original version of Lolita, which came out in 1962, directed by Stanley Kubrick, which I did in a theatre there, the pervert stalker guy (not Humbert, the other pervert, the really bad one) ends up taking Lolita to Santa Fe for a life of hedonism and porn. When the grown up Lol tells Humbert about her Santa Fe days, the whole theatre started to, knowingly, laugh and snicker. Santa Fe is called The City Different (I believe from the spanish way of putting adjectives after the nouns: La Ciudad Diferente) and people take great pride in being different. It’s actually one of the attractions: If you feel like a freak somewhere else, you’ll finally be normal in Santa Fe.
But there was no person called Santa Fe, even if nowadays you can find women with the name Fe. The original name of the city was “La Villa Real de la Santa Fé de San Francisco de Asís,” which means, “The Royal Village of Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi.” San Francisco, or in english, Saint Francis, being the patron saint of poor people, animals, and (I guess) Italians (or anyway, they seem to love him).
Saint Francis had the strange anti-capitalist idea of devoting himself to poverty, and talking other people into doing the same. The poorer he made himself, the more money and property people donated to his cause. But he was born rich, which allowed him to get a good education, and would explain why he was able to think of embracing “lady poverty,” because surely no poor person would ever come up with that idea.
He was inspired by the section in Mathew 10:9 when Jesus tells his followers to go out in the world and tell about the kingdom of God. And not bring any money. Or even shoes. And although he may not sound like a fun guy to us Americans, he and his followers apparently could be found enjoying themselves up in mountain forests, singing and laughing. He was never actually ordained as a priest, but the Pope at the time granted him permission to found a new order of monks, which lives on to this day, and they bake good bread too, I visited one of their monasteries up in the UP, in Michigan.
According to legend, Francis was called to help a village whose sheep were being killed by a wolf. He went into the woods and the wolf appeared in front of him, growling, but as soon as Francis started talking to him, the wolf lay down and put it’s head on its paws. They talked and the wolf explained the situation, and Francis freaked everyone out by bringing the wolf down into the village plaza with him.
Francis explained the wolf’s point of view to the villagers, that the wolf was only killing because it was hungry, because (and I’m ass-uming this part) probably as the village grew and the farmers cut down forests for farmland, and as they hunted more and more deer, they took away the wolf’s normal livelihood.
So, again, according to the myth, once Francis explained the situation, the villagers agreed that, as long as the wolf stopped killing their sheep, they would agree to feed it. And everyone lives happily every after like good Christians, and we’re supposed to take the wolf as a metaphor for anything, or anybody, say for example, terrorists. That all violence comes down to misunderstandings, and if everyone could just sit down and talk, we could come to peaceable agreements. Except, what are the villagers going to feed the wolf? Bread? No, they’ve got to feed it sheep. So apparently they’re ok with giving away what the wolf would take anyways. So, the reasoning would go, if terrorists perform acts of terror to get the US to stop meddling in mid-east politics, in order to make them stop, you would presumably stop meddling in med-east politics. Which sounds good. But the reality is, the villagers are just going to kill the wolf. And as the village expands, they’ll kill the next one, and the next one (because there will always be other wolves) with the added benefit of more deer to hunt. Sorry Francis. It’s cool you can talk to wolves but, even though we say we’re good Christians, we can handle things our own way, the good ole American way.
You can find statues of Saint Francis all over Santa Fe, usually with little bird and squirrel statues gathered around him. He was also apparently the first person to suffer stigmata, though he never told anybody: One of his followers described them to people after he died, in 1226. In 1228, the Pope (a different one this time) made him a saint.