Giza, New Mexico, population 53,219, sat in a narrow stretch of hot land running from the prosperous north to the downtrodden south. To the west, desolate hills rose up and up through picturesque valleys eventually leading to a mountainous region and beyond, then diving into expansive bombing ranges of evil and hot desert land and to places called Alamo City and Las Corsica and eventually the state of Ari-zoned-out. To the east, red crumbling cliffs lurched above bottomless pools and formed a desolate plateau that carried on past the nearly indecipherable Texas border toward places like Yellow Plateau with its wretched Dairy Dew drive-in full of bugs and human piss; Amberfield, home of the ugliest woman ever seen; and onto hot, brown and alphabetical Lupland — an open-face hot beef sandwich thrown into the dirt.
Giza’s cliché Main Street, a mostly straight line, dissected the city directly down the middle, from north to south, like cranial sutures deeply sewn into a burrito-shaped skull of desert-bleached bone. Paramount Avenue ran from the west to east — or east to west depending on what end of town you were coming in at or leaving from — and dissected the city perpendicular to Main, crossing through it in downtown. Beyond the confines of the city proper, on the outskirts, there was the farmland, arroyos, stinking dairies, ranchland and rancheros, shacks, wide meadows, fields, haystacks, heart bending farmhouses, pockets of sunsets, thunder, gulley washes, creepy natural gas factories, chuckling newsies doing cocoa-puffs under moonlight, star maps of glittering silver made the world there, hot Mexican food cooking, a sun dropping big and golden, hot, like red sauce on a La Torrential Bravo burrito.
And there was something in the air or the water or the blood flowing through that place that had a visible effect on the people. It was almost as if giant scientists in lab coats were looking down from above and poking and prodding with gloved tentacles inside a sterile box. That talk of Giza, New Mexico being one big psychological experiment may have been true. There was a madness that brewed there. There was a loneliness, too. Was it the isolation? Was it the relentless dry heat of summer? Was it merely the gathering of lost souls in Hades on Earth to party and ache for a few years?
There was lawlessness, gang pride and shooting in the streets and it was all tangled together with rich white peace and sun-pulsing preaching. Old-school Jesus duked it out with Evangelical aluminum storm shelter prayer warriors. There were deep cultural contrasts indeed, yet they flowed through a heat-wavering pall of consistencies. Giza was the city that should have never been, yet there it was, like some sheltered bruise on a pee-colored map of New Mexico.
There was Old Mexico-like ghetto, there was prosperous land. There were dirt roads, there were carefully constructed oversized landing strips of polished concrete. There was an abandoned Army air base still rung with barbed wire fence — but it really wasn’t all that abandoned. It still glowed at night and men with guns marched there. There was a brand-new Buddha-Mart, an attempt at non-confrontational big box retail, dubbed “the biggest in the world.” Probably not true, but then again, what was, what is? There was a big community college and a small airport. There were mid-century strip malls painted pink and brown. There was a small zoo inside a park with a kiddie train and a carousel and there was an urban legend that they kept a man inside a cage there and used him for human mating experiments. Crack whores and Christians strolled the same mall together. Murderers waltzed down the streets and laughed on the hot sidewalks while biting into delicious burritos. Musicians strummed guitars on the back porches of haunted houses beneath golden beer light. Pyros torched schools and jilted lovers blew up houses and gunned down firemen. The jail was always full. Overflowing even.
The tallest building downtown was 13 stories high. There were two high schools — homes to the Galactics in the north and the Fire Ants in the south. There was a military school for bad kids. The big fair came every August and the whole banging place smelled of cotton-candy sweat and new sex. The excited screams and laughter from the torturous rides floated up to space and bumped into the orange moon. Someone always got shot. There were a lot of funeral homes. Old people liked going to Buff’s, the cafeteria restaurant behind one of them. It was convenient in case they choked to death.
Summer seemed to last forever, and the oppressive heat boiled brains and other internal organs. It seemed the sun rarely shut itself off. There were not enough dark clouds and cool rains, not enough ice cream to calm the madness, not enough popsicles for the girls to deep throat, not enough electricity to whir fans, not enough clean, dark holes in the ground to escape to. At times it was like a dome of Los Angeles exhaust clamped down tight over the whole nutty joint of Giza. There was no room to breathe. There were not enough men of the cloth to excise all those flames of hell coming up to chase them through the wild desert.