The Angelfish of Giza (Excerpt 4)

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.

The Angelfish of Giza (Excerpt 1)

Author’s Note: I’m 57,000 words into this, my “novel” based on my experiences of living and working in a small town in New Mexico many years ago. I thought I would add a few excerpts to the site here and there… A satirical commentary on the evil men and women do to each other. Rude, raunchy, and raw, The Angelfish of Giza explores a ring of mostly empty human relationships set against the backdrop of a small, isolated city in the New Mexico desert at the turn of the 21st century.

The Beginning

At the crossroads of the metal moon and spilled-milk stars and beneath the exit to the Earth and its sun, a thumb rolls across a spark wheel and Wilburn Valentine’s labored face glows orange for just a moment.

In the low-lit and hazy Sundowner Bar on the outskirts of a swallowed and lost Western place called Giza, New Mexico, he looks up at a softly buzzing neon yellow sign nested among the amber and clear bottles and it reads: Live Long and Suffer.

“Don’t I know it,” he breathes aloud to the ghosts, crushing the smoke in a green plastic ashtray, trying to quit.

The door to the bar opened and the dark universe streamed in carrying with it more ghosts — loud, laughing, exhausting. He snapped the last shot back and stood. The feet of the barstool scraped across the floor and mixed with the sounds of achy country music and pool balls smacking into each other off in a corner. He threw money down on the bar and gently smiled at the lonely woman behind it as he slung a backpack over his shoulder. “Thanks for the dull memories,” he said to her.

He stepped outside and the ceiling of the world was the color of a candle-lit bruise pinpricked by broken glass and contrasted by a paler desert floor. The distant hills were sharp and rocky, the colors of chocolate and red grape juice. A highway separated the wavering roadhouse bar from a much bigger plot of land that now glowed under the night sky, competing with the larger glow of Giza itself to the south. He walked across the momentarily quiet road.

Where he was standing, he had not been a minute before. Now he was in a 3-acre glossy blacktop parking lot that had clean, straight white lines indicating the parking spaces. He could smell the freshness of the oil and the paint. It was night, but tall lamps sprayed cones of pinkish-white light down all around him. There were just a handful of cars, five at most. The store was called Pharm Farm, according to the blaring sign, and it emitted a glow like an alien mothership and its tentacles of light reached out and nearly blinded him. A slightly curled grand opening banner fluttered off in the shadows. There was a slight wind. He nervously searched his backpack for his phone. He flipped it open. It was something past midnight. There was one text message: I love you so so much. Where did you go? He flipped it shut and powered it down, tried to catch his breath. The sound of trucks on a nearby bypass dreamily stroked and rolled in the distance. He rubbed at the Christmas watch on his wrist with his thumb to clear the grime. He tapped at it. Saint Nicholas was screaming atop his sleigh as he flew through a blizzard but he was still keeping time. He loved that watch.

There was an artificial, plastic bench in front of the Pharm Farm and he set his pack down. There were two bright soda machines and a nearly empty Giza Revealer newspaper vending box. He dug for change and bought a retro Elf brand grape soda in a can and the most recent edition of the paper. He sat down, opened the soda, and scanned the front page of the newspaper, the self-proclaimed Voice of the Giza Valley. The top headline read: Gas Industry Battles Planet Earth. “What the fuck?” Wilburn Valentine said aloud to no one. He flipped through the paper to see if it was in fact a real newspaper. He guessed it was after all, folded it up and stuck it in his pack. He sat and looked around as he dug in his head for answers to the questions he always had. What is this place? How did he get here? What had he done this time? Why?

He tilted the soda can and drained the last of it and it forced him to look up at the crystalline stars screaming silently across the light-polluted sky and his entire being suddenly steamed with anxiety. He fumbled in his pockets again and found the orange bottle of pills, uncapped it, popped two in his mouth, and swallowed. The bottle was empty now. He sighed with worry.

Anxiety had always gotten the best of him. Anxiety led to fear which led to hiding which ultimately led to failure. He wanted a different past, a different life altogether. He was searching for a place void of anxiety, empty of chaos and free of fear — but did it exist? And even if it did, would it matter anymore? He wondered if he should just give up after all. Most of his life was over, so he thought. There was no more work to be offered to him. No one wanted an ancient architect full of unorthodox dreams and a touch of mental abnormality. Was there even need for new structures anymore? He turned to look at the shimmering new Pharm Farm store. Obviously, there was, but it was hideous and stained with greed. There was no humanity in its design. Let the young ones take care of it now, he thought. They had far more energy and gumption yet sadly were raised in a dumbed-down world and the products of their imaginations will be so less than what the ancient others built. He looked up into the stars again. Amen to that, he thought, even though God was not his friend. Someone rolled past him with a rattling shopping cart.