Tag Archives: New Mexico

The Celestial Salad Bar (Two)

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Albom Riff handed over the cash for the room at the Robin Hood and took his key. It was a real key, a brass key, attached to a yellow piece of plastic shaped like a diamond and with the room number 9 etched into it. “Thanks,” he said to the woman behind the counter, and to number 9 he went.

He sat on the edge of the bed and looked out the window at the cold, gunmetal, western town with its hints of beauty, isolation, mystery, loneliness. Loneliness. He was lonely. But no one knew it. He thought about Hollywood Helen on Wheels at the J-Bob’s restaurant and wondered if he should call her. He dug out the piece of paper with her number and looked at it. Maybe she could help him figure out why his driver’s license claims he’s a resident of Raton, New Mexico. How can that be? he wondered. “I’ve never been here in my whole entire life,” he whispered aloud to himself.

The room phone suddenly rang, and Albom nearly jumped through the ceiling. It was a clanging, obnoxious ring that broke the pure silence catastrophically. He went to pick up the receiver. “Hello?”

“Did you enjoy the salad bar, Mr. Riff?” The voice was deep and slow, like a dangerous cover up.

“Who is this?”

The line went dead. Albom hung the phone back up. He went to the window and peered out. There was a man standing on the edge of the parking lot. He wore a black jacket and sunglasses. He seemed to be staring right at him, Albom felt. He moved to the door and opened it. The mysterious man had disappeared.

 The phone rang again. Albom rushed to answer. “Hello!”

It was the man with the deep voice once again. “What was your favorite item on the salad bar, Mr. Riff?… The iceberg lettuce perhaps? Do you know what happens to icebergs, Mr. Riff?” He didn’t wait for a reply. “They fall apart when the heat is on.”

The line went dead once again.

Albom marched back to the J-Bob’s, a haunting howl from the bottom belly of the city followed him there. He found Hollywood Helen on Wheels at the salad bar, and she was just standing there still as stone and staring.

He took hold of her wrist, and she suddenly came out of whatever hypnotic state she was in and turned to him with a look of fear and surprise. “What are you doing?” Albom asked her.

“I was… I was looking at the salad bar.”


“It’s part of my job,” she answered. “I must make sure the items are well stocked and appear fresh. It’s very important work.”

“There’s something weird about this salad bar,” Albom said, and he pulled her over to an empty booth and they sat down. “What the hell is going on around here?”

Hollywood Helen on Wheels stared at him with a blank expression. “You just couldn’t wait to see me again, could you?” Then the stiffness of her face came undone and she smiled. “Do you want more salad bar?”

“No. I want to know if you’re fucking with me!”


Albom retrieved his wallet from his pants and pulled out his driver’s license. He slapped it down on the table before her. “Why does my driver’s license say I live here in this town?”

She picked it up and looked at it. Her eyes shifted to Albom for just a moment and then back to the license. “Wait. You live here? I thought you were from somewhere else. You sure did make it seem like you were from somewhere else.”

 “Somewhere else,” he mumbled.


“It’s a song… ‘Everyone I love lives somewhere else.’”

“You’re not making any sense.”

“And someone strange called me at my motel. Twice. And there was a man outside in the parking lot. I think someone’s watching me, following me.”

“Why would anyone do that?”

“I don’t know, but I really believe this all has to do with your god damn salad bar. What else do you know?”

“I don’t know anything. Maybe you’re just crazy. Hollywood Helen on Wheels got up out of the booth. “I have work to do,” she said, and she walked off.

Albom Riff leaned back in the booth for just a moment before his eyes were drawn back to the salad bar in the center of the restaurant. It appeared to glow. He heard Tibetan meditative music in his head. Then a voice repeated the word “Iceberg, iceberg, iceberg…”

Albom quickly got up and rushed over to the salad bar. It glowed delicious before him. He snatched up a white plate and began crazily filling it high with iceberg lettuce from the large clear plastic bowl set in a swamp of crushed ice.

Hollywood Helen on Wheels noticed him from afar and called out to him, “Hey! You have to pay for that.”

He swept an annoyed glance toward her. “Oh, I’ll pay for it. I’ll fucking pay for it!”

Heads turned in the restaurant as joyful cowboy music softly played overhead.

Albom topped his lettuce with croutons, sunflower seeds, bacon bits, some shredded cheese, black olives, pieces of hard-boiled egg. He ladled orange French dressing over the top of his little salad mountain and watched it run down the sides like lava flows down the side of a volcano. He set that plate aside and grabbed a clean one and began to fill that with other salad bar items: Tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, oiled mushrooms, a spiral pasta salad, pickled beets, banana peppers, cottage cheese, cling peaches, gelatin with grapes set inside that looked like monster eyeballs, and finally a clumpy potato salad.

He took both plates back to the empty booth and sat down. He waved a hand in the air to catch the attention of Hollywood Helen on Wheels. “Excuse me miss? Could I get some service over here?”

An exasperated Hollywood Helen on Wheels approached the table with attitude. “Just what the hell is your problem, mister?”

“I don’t have any silverware, or a napkin, or anything to drink.”

She glanced at the two heaping plates of salad bar food. “I sure hope you plan on eating all that. Be a god damn shame to waste all that. That’s enough to feed four people. You should be ashamed of yourself. Pure gluttony.”

Albom pointed at her. “Look, I’m telling you. There’s something about that god damn salad bar that isn’t right… And I’m looking into it. There’s also something not right about this whole town and why I’m here. And I’m looking into that, too.”

Hollywood Helen on Wheels scoffed with a chuckle. “What are you… A salad bar detective?”

Albom Riff laughed out loud. “That’s a good one, baby, but you’re not wrong. Now can I please get some silverware and a Coke.”


The Celestial Salad Bar (One)

There was a table in the corner of the room near three windows. Daylight filled the room with a glow. Two of the windows were open and the breeze was as fresh as an Albuquerque night beat. The windows looked out upon a landscape of rolling hills the color of straw. There were no trees or greenery. It looked like the Sahara out there but there was no sand. It was all lost and unknown like how Earth is in the universe.

There was a book on the table and the cover had strange symbols on it. They were not the letters known to man, but shapes of various design. The man in the red jacket sat down in the chair and looked down at the book for a moment. He opened it and inside was a glittering violet keypad of strange numeric symbols. He held his hand over it and thought about what he should press and what might the consequences be. He was suddenly hungry for a salted cucumber wedge. He turned his head and looked out the window at the faux Sahara.

Someone was in the air, and they whispered to him: “You can be whoever you want to be. You can go wherever you want to go.”

“Is this the chamber gate to Heaven?” the man asked the air.

“Press a button and find out,” the voice replied. “Find out. Find out.”

The man in the red jacket pressed the button. The next thing he knew, he was standing at a salad bar built into an old western wagon. The restaurant was quiet, dimly lit. There were only a handful of other people, now tucked away in various corners and crevices talking softly among themselves. They were all older people—older people who liked quiet restaurants with a salad bar built into an old western wagon. There was country music playing at low volume, cowboy ghost songs leaking through the ceiling.

The man in the red jacket looked down at the white plate he was holding. It shined and smelled of bleach. He looked over the selections on the salad bar and he was pleased to see it all appeared fresh and clean. Fresh and clean and even hip like an Albuquerque soap shop on Central Avenue.

A short waitress with a perky smile came near him. “Everything okay, sir?” Her ponytail whipped around like a pony’s tail.

“Yes. Why?”

“You’ve been standing there for a long time.” She laughed. “I guess the selection is a bit overwhelming, huh?”

“Sure. Overwhelming.”

“But then isn’t that life… Always so gosh darn overwhelming.”

“Where am I?” the man asked, his voice putting out an odd tone.

She looked at him as if he were overly strange. “Where are you?”

“Yes. Easy question.”

She took offense, and before walking away, said, “You’re at J-Bob’s in Raton, New Mexico.”

The man in the red jacket was Albom Riff and he sat alone at a square table eating a pile of salad in the center of a mostly empty and dimly lit J-Bob’s restaurant in Raton, New Mexico.

The short waitress with the ponytail came to the table with a refill of lemon-lime soda and the check. “You can just pay that up front when you’re done,” she said coldly. “I hope you have a nice rest of your day.”

“Wait,” Albom said. “Where exactly is Raton, New Mexico?”

The waitress held out her left palm and made a straight motion with her right pointer finger across it. “This line here is the southern border of Colorado… We’re right here, just below it on the other side and at the bottom of the pass. How’s that for GPS with a personal touch.”

“Thanks… What’s your name?”

“I never said. And get this… My nametag fell off in the bathroom earlier and went straight into the turlet. I wasn’t about to fish it out.So, I guess you could say I could tell you any name I wanted to, and you’d have to believe me.”

“Maybe. But you could be anybody you want to be,” Albom egged her on. “Don’t care what I think.”

“Well, in that case. Just call me Hollywood Helen on Wheels.” She laughed at her own cleverness.

“Okay, Hollywood Helen on Wheels… Maybe we can go grab a drink later?”

“Oh my… Someone hittin’ on their waitress. How very original.”

“I’m just saying. I never heard of Raton, New Mexico so there can’t be too much to do. I’m sure you get bored and lonely.”

“How do you know I’m not married?”

“I don’t see a ring.”

“Maybe it fell off.”

“Maybe you ain’t married.”

She let the volley end by allowing the ball of playful flirting to go out of bounds. She scribbled something on her order pad, tore off the sheet and handed it to him. “Just in case I change my mind later.”

“You might get thirsty, right?”

“Thirsty… Right.”

Albom walked down a bleak road heading south. A few cars stretched by like motorized taffy on his left on their way to where the interstate connects back up. There was a sad looking strip mall on the other side of the road. They had a Walmart, of course. There was some trash dancing in the wind. He felt stoned and wondered if J-Bob’s had slipped some high-grade legal Colorado weed in on the salad bar. The taste of pickled beets and macaroni salad lingered in his mouth. He fed himself a cigarette.

The land around Albom Riff was somewhat flat, like a floor at the bottom of a cliff. There were a few yellow humps of pinon-dotted hills, green clusters of pine, streaks of red rock, dark and dormant volcanic cones rising in the distance. Behind him the infamous Raton Pass lurched upward into Colorado and that’s where the land grew teeth, and the teeth were called mountains, and some of the teeth were capped with snow.

The city itself seemed old and bent and dusty. He came upon an antique roadside motel called the Robin Hood. It looked like a white metal complex of loneliness against the landscape. There were a few playful arrows and stripes of yellow, green, and red in the motif. There was a gravely lot. There were closed doors with numbers, curtains drawn. A handful of road-weary cars were spaced out in the parking lot.

He went into the lobby and there was an older woman standing behind the counter and she was staring into an aquarium and every three or four seconds she let out a loud chuckle. She paid him not attention until he tapped the little silver bell. She jumped. “Oh, Jesus!” she hollered. “My apologies, sir. I was in a silly little ol’ meditative state. What can I do fer ya?”

“I’d like a single room if you have one.”

“All right then,” she said. She had a whacked-out face, skin stretched, pocked, a few missing teeth, a tangle of gray hair atop her head. She tried to make small talk as she hunted and pecked on a computer keyboard. “Where ya from?”

“I just came from the salad bar at J-Bob’s.”

She stopped what she was doing and turned to look at him. “The salad bar at J-Bob’s?”

“That’s right. It was pretty good.”

“Oh… Do you have a driver’s license, hon?”

Albom retrieved it from his wallet and put it down on the counter.

She snatched it up and looked it over. “I didn’t realize you were a local.”

He snatched it back and looked it over: Albom Riff, 114 Red Cliff Drive, Raton, NM 87740. “Neither did I,” he said.

“Sir?… You still want a room?”


The Outlandish Dapple of a Carnival Creep

black and white ferris wheel
Photo by Sergio Souza on Pexels.com

High above the ghostly guts glow of a Southwestern American town on the outskirts of nowhere, a cherry-lime moon hangs heavy in a bruise-blue sky, an outlandish dapple over the desert.

Down below, an assistant mortician by the name of Kent Cumberland carefully follows the tip of the parking attendant’s orange directional wand and pulls his car into a space within a tightly packed line of other cars laid out on the flattened grass of a large field. He moved the shifter to P and shut it down. He gazed out the windshield at the insane world full of hope and desire. He breathed, and then wondered aloud. “Why do they say pull into a parking space? I’m not pulling my car. I’m going forward. I’m forwarding, not pulling. People think of the stupidest things.”

He gets out of the car and checks three times to make sure it is locked before he walks away. The air smells like sweet grease and farm animals. Carnival lights reflect off the asses of stars. He hears the noise of generators blended with bright voices and laughter and the carnie folk chants on the midway.    

He tugs at his pre-autumn coat of tan corduroy that’s too small for him and smiles. “This is going to be fun,” he says to no one because he is truly all alone. There is no woman on his arm. There never is. There never was. There may never be. Kent Cumberland was far too creepy in the watery mind of the blue world for that, so it decided. But perhaps this night the swami beneath the moon and the canvas would sway some hearts in his favor. Perhaps.

Kent Cumberland has always been an awkwardly large person. Not overweight, just large. Robust. Ample. Big and Tall. He had an abundance of body mass. And now, as he walked toward the entrance gate of the 11-day State Fair on the crumbling pastoral eastern edge of Necromancer, New Mexico, he somewhat resembled a lumbering barrel, or more precisely, a lumberjack carrying a barrel, a barrel full of plastic red monkeys.

He nodded politely to those he passed and cheerfully greeted them, “Hello, hello, hellooo…” No one returned the gesture. The people just turned away, whispered, made puking gestures with a finger pointed down their throat. “I’m a very likeable fella!” he called out to the waves of people as they receded. “You just need to get to know me. I’m not a ghoul.”

As Kent Cumberland stood in line at the main ticket booth, he heard two women a few paces behind harshly insult someone in giggling whispers. It soon became crystal clear that they were talking about him.

“He must be here for the freak show…”

“I heard he keeps dead people’s body parts in his basement…”

Kent released one of his infamous exasperated sighs and turned to face his mockers. “Excuse me, I have ears and I heard what you young ladies just said, and I must sadly inform you that this particular carnival doesn’t have a freak show.”

The women laughed. One said, “Okay, thanks for the info, freak.” They laughed some more.

“And another thing,” he began, his usual puffy and pale face now taunt with anger and flushed a pink not unlike bleached blood. “I do not keep the body parts of dead people in my basement. What an abhorrent thing to say. Have you no respect for the dead? I’ll have you know that I wholeheartedly adhere to the strictest guidelines and moral ethics of my profession. But if you insist on scalding my good name with vicious lies and rumors, perhaps I may indeed be encouraged to begin collecting body parts.” He scowled and pointed an accusatory thick finger at them. “And I’ll start with you two.”

The girls shrank back, their faces twisted in disgust.

“Next,” the woman at the ticket counter called out.

Kent turned and asked for one ticket. “Thank you,” he said with a smile, and he made his way into the momentary lapse of another world.

The tent was lipstick red and sat beneath a yellow light attached to a weathered wooden pole. A sign out front read: Fortunes Told. Kent stared at it while eating blue cotton candy and thinking about how his mind shifted like tectonic plates and wondering if that was a problem for society or just himself. His mouth was ringed with the color of artificial raspberry. “You know, moon, I just don’t understand why they call it raspberry. Raspberries are red, not blue. Who came up with such a ridiculous idea? Ahhh… What do you know, you’re made of cheese and have aliens fumbling around on your backside even though the government denies it.”

A short gypsy woman wearing clothes from the old country and with kinky black hair and small eyes poked her head out of the tent and looked up at Kent. “Who the hell are you talking to?”

“The moon.”

The woman looked up to the sky and pointed. “That moon?”

“Yes, silly. Are there any other moons?”

“How could we possibly know… But it’s a good one tonight. I’ve been expecting you. Are you ready to learn of your future?”

“I think so.”

“Well, then come inside.”

Inside the tent, in the very middle on flattened dirt, sat a round table covered in a red cloth. On top of the table sat a crystal ball cradled by an artificial hand. There were two folding chairs at the table, one opposite from the other. The fortune teller lit some candles and the glow inside the red tent grew as it mixed with the hanging LED lanterns and made it feel like hell high on energy. She took her seat and invited Kent to take his.

Once he sat down, she reached across the table and took his hands in hers and held them. She ran her fingers over his knuckles. Her eyes were closed, and she took several deep breaths. “Tell me your name.”

“Wait… Shouldn’t you already know it?”

She opened her eyes and gave him a look like a snapping whip ferociously forced forth by the wrist of an ancient cowboy.

He shuddered. “Kent.”

“You need to relax, Kent. I can sense your tension. Breathe with me.”

He slowly breathed in and out, closely following her waves.

“Tell me something about yourself,” she breathed through a small mouth, lips like dry paper curling in a breeze.

“Last night I had a dream where I was in a park in the middle of some big city, maybe it was Central Park in New York even though I have never been there but would like to go. Well, it was night, and I was sitting around a campfire with a bunch of foreigners…”

The woman opened one eye at his remark. “Foreigners?”

“Yes, foreigners. You know, people from other lands. Not Americans.”

“Go on.”

“Well, for some reason I was holding my heart in my hands, the actual heart from my body, and it was still beating. I passed it to the person next to me and it went around the circle and each one there held my heart and just looked at it for a moment, but then the last person took a bite out of it as if it were an apple. He looked like Willem Dafoe.”

“Oh my. Then what happened?”

“Nothing. I woke up. But I had a pain in my chest. What do you think it means?”

The small, strange woman released his hands and moved her own crinkly fingers whimsically about the crystal ball as she mumbled an indecipherable tongue to conjure up some great vision from the orb on the table. “Yes. Yes. It’s becoming clearer. The fog is lifting.”

Kent was eager for a jubilant prophecy. He leaned forward. “What do you see?”

“I see… A woman.”

Kent’s eyes grew and his smile was like that of a supernova on speed. “A woman!? What kind of a woman?”

“A very beautiful woman. Very beautiful indeed.”

“What is she doing?”

“She’s… She’s sitting at a table with you. You’re talking with each other. Yes. You’re talking about your life. Perhaps your future together.”

“Really!? Do you think I’m asking her to marry me? How wonderful it would be to be married! Oh, I hope she says yes.”

Shhh. I see… Why, I see that love is right in front of your very nose. Can’t you see what I see?”

Kent blinked his eyes as the fortune teller looked across the table at him and smiled. Some of her teeth were crooked and he wondered if one of her eyes was made of clouded glass. “You? You’re the woman you see in my future?” He frowned with disappointment.

She waved a hand over the crystal ball, and it suddenly went dark. Kent got up to leave. “Wait! Do you no longer wish to fulfill your destiny of love?”

He turned to face her pitiful stance. “I’m sorry, mam. I’m afraid I find you quite distasteful regarding the realm of romance. I suppose you could say… You’re just not my type.” He continued to walk toward the slitted exit.

The fortune teller quickly moved in front of him and blocked his way. “Please. Please! I’m begging you. Take me with you. Love me. I won’t be any trouble. I promise. You… You can just set me up on a shelf if you want. Or keep me in a closet. Look at me. I’m small. I just want to be loved.”

Kent released an exasperated breath. “I already have a pet. A cat named Captain. He doesn’t need a playmate. I’m sorry.”

“We can be lovers then. I know how to satisfy a man. I could make you feel soooo good.”

Kent’s eyes glided all over her and swabbed her with suspicion. He was searching for a hint of something about her that could possibly satisfy him like she said, but none of it felt right to him. “I think I’ll stick to my glossy magazines. Now, if you don’t mind, I would like to go ride some of the rides before it gets too late.”

“No! You must not.” She dashed back to her crystal ball, waved a hand over it to open the portal of future thought, and gazed inside. “I see a terrible tragedy coming tonight.”

Curious and slightly frightened, Kent turned. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about your life. I see that you will cease to exist if you choose frivolous fun over love.”

Kent pushed his hand though the air to wave off her thoughts. “Knock it off, lady. I see what you’re trying to do. Lies don’t work on me. How do you expect to be in a relationship with me if you can’t even tell the truth from the start.”

“But please! If you walk out now and go to the midway, you will die. I see it. If you are so concerned about truth, know this… The future does not lie!”

Kent scoffed at her manipulative vibes. “I’ll take my chances.” He walked out of the tent and toward the midway, a brightly lit cornucopia of mechanical color and noise.

Kent Cumberland worked his way into the seat at his place on the Ferris wheel and a grubby attendant lowered the bar. He was so large that he took up most of the space except for a tiny sliver where a teenage girl sat scrunched. The attendant paused to look at them, removed his oily ball cap and scratched his head.

“Is there a problem?” Kent asked.

“Nah. I was just wonderin’. How much do you weigh anyhow?”

Kent pursed his lips and his eyes doubled in size. “My weight?”

“Yes, sir. I need to be aware of any load concerns before I fire this baby off. We gotta have equal weight distribution.”

“My weight is in no way the business of a simpleton carnival worker such as yourself. In other words, bug off and let us experience some joy in life.” Kent turned to the teenage girl who sat beside him scared and uncomfortable. “Can you believe the nerve of that guy?”

The girl flashed him a worried smile and looked away. The Ferris wheel began to move. “Here we go!” Kent cried out. “Hang on, young lady. Hang on for the ride of your life!”

The wheel turned faster and Kent soon found himself at the very top of the world when it paused to let on other riders below, and he looked down upon the colored canopy of the State Fair in Necromancer, New Mexico and it looked like an electric body to him with all the nerves pulsing in a colorful schematic, the electricity pumping like blood through capillaries not collapsed, the voices and yelps and yawps of all that is good in the human soul and the brighter side of the world all congealed like hot-skinned lovers pressed together in a warm, wet bed on their second wedding anniversary.

Whooo hooo!” Kent cried out, and he stuck his arms out and reached as high as he could so that he could feel the underside edges of the universe against his fingertips. “This is wonderful! Wonderful!” He turned to the teen beside him, her hair flowing behind her, her eyes and mouth open wide to the wonders of the stars. “Isn’t this wonderful!? I hope we never have to go down.”

And then there came a great creaking of metal and the carriage within the wheel where Kent sat violently shifted. The girl screamed. Kent sensed he was slowly tipping to the side. Orange and white sparks shot off in all directions like an electric facial.

The people below scattered in all directions as the great Ferris wheel disengaged from its own riveted cradle and began to collapse. Through the sensation of falling, that sensation where one’s stomach feel so funny but exaggerated now, spiked with real terror, Kent looked down to the ground as it came closer to greet him with a thundering slap, and that is where he saw her.

The fortune teller was standing there, glued to the cotton candy trampled track winding through the carnival row, and she was looking up at him and she was grinning at the same time she was clutching her busted heart, desperately trying to hold in all the stuff in her life that purposely broke it for her. She couldn’t bear for it to all spill out for the whole world to see now. She didn’t want anyone to know how deeply cracked she really was.

And in one final gesture before the metal machine of joyful memories came crashing down upon her to silence her visions forever, she thrust her arms up into the smoky autumn air, and in her hands she clutched a cardboard sign like political protest, and in red paint of blood and fire it read: LOVE IS EVERYTHING. NOW YOU LOSE. WE ALL LOSE.


Check out the latest post at my companion site, Blowtorch Pastoral: The Baker.

Tecumah (2.)

Taos for Tecumah.
Photo by Aaron A. Cinder

And she’s sleeping next to a guy she doesn’t even love… Why?

And I awoke abruptly in Tecumah’s earthen house, thinking of space angels and their precious and pounding red hearts. I hurt like a madman. I just wanted to hold the barrel of life again, feel the touch of its entirety in one big loving gulp, but then again, I was coming down from a mad dream and I ached all over and I thought I saw Tecumah boiling something in a pot.

“Come to the table, sit down. It’s breakfast time,” Tecumah said.

I got up and wobbled over to the table and sat down. He placed a steaming cup of something in front of me along with a bowl of Easter eggs.

“Drink that and eat those,” he said. “It will make you feel better.”

“Easter eggs? But it’s almost Christmas.”

“So what? I like cooking and coloring Easter eggs. It’s my hobby. It calms my nerves.”

“That explains all the chickens running around in your yard then, eh?”

Tecumah looked out the window.

“Yes, I suppose it does.”

I sipped the hot drink and peeled some eggs and ate them with salt.

“Are we still going to drive your piece of shit car off a cliff today?” Tecumah asked in all seriousness.

“No, I better not. I have some things to do today.”

Tecumah huffed.

“That’s too bad, I was looking forward to sending that thing over the edge.”

“I have to drop my painting off at my friend’s gallery. He’ll be waiting for me.”

“All right then. I’ll ride you over to the motel and you can pick up your piece of shit car. But if you want to get wicked again before you leave town, just stop by. I’ll be ready to go.”

The little bell on the door of the gallery went dingy dingy when I went in.

“Welly, welly, welly well! Hooray, for he has finally arrived,” said my longtime friend and “A Clockwork Orange” fanatic Javlin Francis Fitch, jumping up from behind the counter and rushing over to give me a big, rumbling handshake.

“So, this is it then, eh?” he asked, his wide chocolate eyes dancing all over the parcel dangling from my sore fingers.

“Indeed, it is. Vagina Waterfall, as you requested.”

“Well, open it up then will you. I want to see it,” Javlin said impatiently.

I stripped the brown paper off the painting and held it up for him to see.

“Just as I remember!” Javlin said, all happy and insane, his bushy rusted curls bouncing around. “Seems like it was just yesterday I was sitting on your couch in your super hip Nob Hill pad looking up at the wall and admiring this painting while we got baked to oblivion. Those sure were some good times.”

“A lot of good times. So, how do you like Taos then?” I asked.

“It’s pretty hip and super fresh,” Javlin said, lifting the painting up and holding it against a piece of bare white wall. “I’ve made lots of friends. We should all get together before you leave town. I think tonight would be a fine and proper time. Perhaps a tea party. My dolls would just love that.”

“Are you sure you’re okay, Javlin? You seem a bit off.”

He turned quickly and glared at me.

“Off? What do you mean off? Are you saying I’m crazy or something?”

“No, I was just…”

“Because I’m not crazy Thom Hatt! You’re the one who is crazy.” He scoffed as he turned back to the picture. “Seriously. Painting a waterfall that looks like a vagina!?”

“I never intended it to be perceived as a vagina, it’s just a waterfall for Christ’s sake! You came up with the name! And what’s with the big pervert moustache? You’ve never had that before.”

“I’m a creative soul Thom and creative souls have big, bushy moustaches, and it’s not perverted, and if you don’t like it, well, then you can just zip it.”

Javlin went back to placing my painting on the wall and didn’t talk to me for 20 minutes. I strolled around the gallery looking at all the luscious landscape paintings of mountains and canyons and lovely juniper green Earth spirits prancing around in native garb.

“You have some very nice paintings here, Javlin.”

“Why don’t you buy something then?” he said to me in a very uncharacteristic sarcastic tone. “It would be nice if I could at least afford a pot pie to eat.”

“I’m a minimalist, I don’t need things.”

“These aren’t just things, Thom! This is art,” he said as he gestured with his hands and looked around the gallery. “You sure do have a screwed-up head. A minimalist, geez, whatever.”

“I think I’m going to go now. You can do whatever you want with the painting. I hope it sells and you make enough money to buy some pot pies.”

“Well, I hope you plan on staying in town long enough to enjoy them with me. Mmm, I can already smell them baking away in the oven. I’ve really come to love the golden flaky crust, the creamy gravy, the crisp garden-fresh vegetables.”

Warily, I asked. “You’re not involved with that cult again, are you?”

“Cult? What cult?”

“You know what I’m talking about… The Cult of Steamy Goodness. That whole ordeal in that other part of New Mexico. Don’t play dumb.”

He paused, looked at me and then waved a hand in my direction. “Don’t be ridiculous. Of course, I’m not involved again. I just happen to enjoy a good pot pie occasionally. It’s not against the law. Gee whiz, Thom. Give a guy a break.”

“Sorry, Javlin. I didn’t mean to be such an A-Hole. I just know how you can take things to the extreme at times. I don’t want to see you get messed up like that again. It was troubling.”

“You don’t have to worry about me… Our spiritual leader ran off to Montana and got involved with a woman and fly fishing. Eww. Seems he’s just an ordinary fella after all.” And then Javlin suddenly rushed toward a window near the back of the gallery and lifted it open.

“You damn squirrels get the hell out of here!” he yelled. “You come around here again, and I’ll blast your nuts off!”

He slammed the window shut. “Sorry about that. It’s just those damn squirrels get me so upset!”

“Right. The issue with squirrels.”

“Yes, the issue with squirrels. Did you know he’s in jail now.”

“Bumble Bill is in jail?”

“Yes, and they should throw away the key. He was the absolute worst newspaper photographer I ever had the displeasure of working with. I’m so glad to be done with that whole racket.”

“Why is he in jail?”

Javlin laughed out loud. “His atrocious photos!… No. Seems he was kidnapping children and squirrels and forcing them to live together in his basement. He was taking pictures of them as they interacted. He claimed it to be scientific research but obviously no one bought that defense. They didn’t get him for the pictures, just the kidnapping. The children, of course. They didn’t care about the squirrels.”

“Wow. That’s crazy.”

“Crazy does what crazy is… Or something crazy like that,” Javlin said with an offbeat laugh. And then he started to grit his teeth real hard and pull at his long, wild Bob Dylan hair and his face started turning red like he was holding his breath or something and he was starting to sweat, and he was mumbling gibberish to himself. I thought he was having a stroke.

“Javlin! Javlin! Are you all right?”

He let go of his hair and released his breath and soon his face returned to its normal color of pale peach.

“Dude, what the hell? Are you okay?”

“Huh, oh, yeah, I’m fine. Flashbacks. A nervous reaction, I’m afraid. Squirrels. Damn squirrels. The past can be a very haunting thing. But how are you, Thom?”

“I was kind of worried about you there for a bit.”

“Don’t be Thom. I am hip to the extreme, I am as super fresh as can be. You will come back later for the tea party, right, Thom?”

“Yes, I suppose I will come, but maybe you should close up and lie down for a while, take a nap or something. Rest your mind for a bit.”

“That’s a good idea Thom. I think I’ll do that. Thanks for stopping by with the painting. I’m looking forward to visiting with you more.”

To Be Continued…

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Tecumah (1.)

Taos graveyard for Tecumah.
Photo by Aaron A. Cinder

There was I, that is Thom (Tom) Hatt again, returned from beyond the living world, and I stood there in the trashed-out parking lot of some cheap, old road motel in Taos, New Mexico looking around like in a dream and smoking an Injun J with a guy named Tecumah.

The traffic roared by lonely, an ache that only the sound of engines running away can awaken and bolster that feeling of isolation in a man’s southwestern guts.

Tecumah was tall and wide, like an ungodly border wall, and he had fireflies for buttons on his long, worn leather coat and they began to flicker and flash as the sun was dropping and the stars were beginning to roar.

He looked one way, to where there was traffic and strips of tawdry shops, and he spat that way. His eyes were cursing. His long hair went wild in the wind.

“Bullshit, man. Bullshit,” he said, and he turned away to where the muscular mountains were now fading into far away bluish darkness like a melting bruise.

“That’s what it was all like here once, a long time ago — the darkness, the pinion, the rocks, the quiet — and then all these assholes show up and turn it all into a postcard and something to sell. That’s just bullshit, man. Bullshit.”

I nodded in agreement as Tecumah handed me the J. “Capitalism is a heartless grind,” I said. “I’m sorry we raped your culture. People can be horrible.”

Tecumah sucked on a big bottle of tequila I had bought him earlier because he had helped me out when my red Ford Probe broke down right outside of town.

“White man come and plow it all down with the head of their god… If they want another war, then they can have it, and I’ll be right there with wicked knuckle knocks on their whitey heads.”

“Good for you!” I exclaimed, and he handed me the bottle. “Let’s go gambling chief.”

“All right,” Tecumah said, wobbly in words and walk, “But you’re in no condition to drive, we’ll take my horse… Besides, that car you have is a piece of shit.”

“Yes, I know,” I said as I hopped up onto the back of Tecumah’s horse. “But it’s all I could afford because I’m merely a slave to the system. They pay me just enough to keep me in need. I’d really like to drive the damn thing off a cliff.”

Tecumah playfully laughed. “We can do that tomorrow if you want. I know a good place to send that piece of shit over the edge. You’ll never see it again.”

As we trotted through town, I told Tecumah that I had written a poem about the car. He just laughed at me again.

“Why do you write a poem about a piece of shit car? You should write a poem about a beautiful woman.”

“I have… A hundred thousand times. It never did anyone any good.” And then I laughed. It really was ridiculous. A hundred thousand love poems written and here I was on the back of a horse headed to a casino with a drunken Native American named Tecumah.

“It’s that damn car you have, man,” he said. “You need to drive something that will turn you into a chick magnet, like me.” And Tecumah laughed about that, too.

“But you ride a horse,” I said.

“You’d be surprised how many chicks I pick up with this horse.”

“What’s the horse’s name?”

“His name is Jim.”

“Jim the horse?”


“Let’s get some Mexican food,” I suggested. “I’m hungry all of a sudden.”

Tecumah stopped Jim the horse. He looked around a bit, thinking.

“All right, I know of a place we can go.”

And then we were off again, down the main drag, and drivers of autos were honking at us, and ignorant idiots were making Indian noises out the windows.

“Woo, woo, woo, woo …” they went, tapping their hands against their mouth holes.

“And I’ll kick you straight in the ass, you fuckers!” Tecumah yelled at them, shaking his big, hunk of meat fist at them. They ducked their heads in like frightened turtles and drove away fast.


Tecumah tied Jim the horse to a fence rail, and we went into the Mexican place. We were abruptly and rudely greeted.

“Hey Tonto, this ain’t Halloween, you can’t come in here dressed like that,” some jack-off host guy said to Tecumah.

“Dressed like what?”

“Like an Indian, that’s what.”

“I am an Indian you twat. Now, we’d like to have a table for two or would you prefer I knock your teeth down your throat you anti-Injun bastard.”

The host scoffed. “Always resorting to violence, damn savage. Why don’t you go back to you where you came from. Lousy immigrant.”

I shook my head in disbelief while Tecumah curled up his Thor hammer fist and pushed it in the guy’s face; it was nearly as big as his whole asinine head. “You’re the immigrant,” he snarled in a wild, earthy way. “And I’ll gladly knock you back to Europa.”

The curly haired twerp of a host shrunk back. “All right, all right, just settle down. I don’t want any trouble here. This way then.”

“Ah, right by the bathrooms,” Tecumah complained as we were seated. “I love the smell of urinal cakes baking in a piss oven when I’m dining.”

“Sorry sir, it’s all we have available right now.”

I looked around at the nearly empty joint.

“Bullshit,” I said. “What about all those other tables.”

“Those are reserved, sir. I’m sorry, this is the best I can do,” and with that he trotted off like the twit he was.

“Let’s just get out of here,” I said to Tecumah. “I bet they’ll spit in our food.”

“Yeah, I have a bad feeling about this place, but let’s just get some beers, and the hell with the food.”

We had nine beers each and then walked out without paying the tab. Some guy, probably the manager, came rushing out after us, but Tecumah slugged him and that was the end of that.

We flew like the wind on Jim the horse and Tecumah almost smashed into a light pole, but we finally arrived at the casino on the dusty and adobe outskirts of town. The place was all a hustle and bustle and packed with noise and smoke and the ringing of bells and the flashing of lights and the cheers and cries of winners and losers.

Tecumah went to play blackjack and I went to the bar and ordered some more beers. I played a poker game built into the bar and then some chick came up to me and she wanted some drinks. I was pretty lit up and asked her straight out if she was a hooker. She took real offense to that and slapped me across the face, but I was numb enough that I didn’t feel much.

“Thank you, mam, may I have another?”

And she slapped me again and that time I felt a pretty good sting and that’s when this big, burly bastard comes over and asks me if there is some kind of problem and why I’m messing with his girl.

I studied the big, ugly dude for a minute or two.

“Ok, ok. So, you’re with this guy?” I said to the chick trying to be a hooker.

“What the hell does that mean?” the big, ugly dude said, moving in closer to me, all pissed off.

“I’m just saying that, well, you just don’t seem like the type of guy who would see much action.”

“Are you calling me a faggot? Faggot.”

“No, not at all. In fact, to be quite frank about the whole thing, I don’t think you could get a dude either.”

The guy grabbed me and pulled me out of my chair.

“I think we need to have a private conversation — outside.”

That’s what he said to me and then I was dragged out into the parking lot, and we had this fight and he beat me up pretty bad and when I walked back into the casino people started screaming because I was all battered and bleeding and that’s when I fell down.

To Be Continued…

The Hip and the Cruel

Hip and the Cruel. A growing storm over Albuquerque, New Mexico. Gray and golden clouds mixed with sunlight.

There’s a super fresh reality


in Albuquerque

Nob Hill groovy pubs

Ruby red placentas in Placitas

fall from hospital skies

of red brick, brown and gold

and sexy satin flesh


as newly fallen snow

on the ultra-hip Sandias

cruising on Central, Montgomery or Indian School

to smoke the city lights with the hobos

and the unfresh are like the undead

under Belen

down by the Rio

that brown ribbon curling through

bordered by the lush locks of green tree chicks

there they sit by the curls

with their hippie lamps and high times tales

bros of goodness

with mellow yellow pints clutched in claws

and the groovy fresh hipness of night descends

like clouds of far out turquoise ink

bludgeoned to the hue of a bruise

with Rio Rancho rancor

and the fist of super fresh God

the Q-Town queens line the electric neon boulevards

the Duke City duke boys say they smell

like slutty cigar store Indians

when they lift their skirts

and the desert air catches their scents just right

crippled life beneath the night fights

leprechaun green cascading beams

beckoning notice

out here like an exploding pinprick

in the desert roar of old Spanish shores

this is Albuquerque

this is super fresh

and this is what it is like

to be on maniac fire

this is what it is like to be hip and dead in the city of dusted dreams.

Mingling With the Savages

A companion piece to Inclined Corners of a Yellow Map and Bite of the Oven Salesman.

Mingling with the savages. Red adobe brickwork ruins beneath a medium blue sky and surrounded by dark green, forested hills.

The Long Drive

I handed the cop my driver’s license: Soledad Smith, 1704 E. El Toro Boulevard, El Fuego, NM. Date of Birth – 7/19/77. Hair – Brwn. Eyes – Hzl. Weight – 165. Height – 5′ 9″. Corrective lenses – None... Former oven salesman in Omaha.

“You were swerving.”


“You were swerving Mr. Smith. Have you been drinking tonight Mr. Smith?”

I looked out the windshield at the great expanse of stars draped across the black sky and I wanted to be drifting in space like a lost robot.

“No. I haven’t been drinking. I’m just very tired. Long day of life, you know.”

Liar …

“Where are you coming from?”

“Santa Fe.”

“What were you doing there?”

“Shopping and mingling with the savages. After I dropped off a friend at the airport. The Sunport in Q-town. You know it? I’m just trying to get home and sleep.”



“I thought you were in Santa Fe?”

“I was… After Albuquerque. It’s hip and super fresh.”

He looked at me like I was some sort of a loon. “Mr. Smith,” he said in a very authoritative tone, “You’re not making much sense and I really don’t feel like arresting you tonight. I just want to finish my shift, go home, and fuck my wife. I suggest you stop at the next motel and get some sleep before you get yourself killed out here. There’s one up ahead in Encino… ‘bout 20 miles I’d say. Not the nicest place in the world, but it’s got beds.”

“I know it… Know of it.”

He handed my license back and I tucked it inside my wallet and looked straight ahead.

He started to walk away back to his patrol car, and I stuck my head out the window into the black veil of night.


I heard his boots come to a dead stop.

“Did you see that wreck back there?”

“What wreck?”

“Isn’t that where you were coming from? The bad wreck some miles back.”

He stood tall and looked back down the road stretched out behind us.

“There ‘aint been no wreck on this road tonight. Nothing. Nothing at all. I’ve been up and down this road all night. Haven’t seen anything. Get some sleep, sir.”

I watched him climb into his patrol car and he drove off.

I started my car, rolled up the window and turned on the cd player. Loud music rolled out of the speakers as I pulled out onto the highway and headed to the motel in Encino.

My room at The Cactus Motel smelled of mold and old cigarette burns. I splashed cold water on my face and looked into the bathroom mirror. The grime and worry on my skin rolled away with the beads of wet and dropped down into the pool of dirty water in the sink. Stopped up. Of course. I grabbed a drab towel and dried my face. Took a deep breath and laid down on the uneven mattress of the bed. It felt dirty. A semi roared by on the road outside. Someone was having sex in the room next to mine. I could hear the woman moan “oh yeah, oh yeah” through the thin wall, could feel the headboard rhythmically knocking against it. It was late. Well after midnight and I felt very panicked and out of it. I tried to close my eyes, but all I kept seeing were visions of the weeping girl walking around the wreck in shock. “There hasn’t been a wreck on this road tonight…”

The words of the cop echoed in my head. Had he been lying? But why? Could I have been so tired that I did imagine the whole thing? Perhaps. It doesn’t matter. I was safe. I was so tired. I had to get some sleep to get up early enough to drive the rest of the way and make it into work by 4 p.m.

Morning came quickly. I rolled out of the bed sore and still sleepy. I got dressed and went to the motel office to check out. My car looked dusty and road weary in the sparkling sun of morning. A tarantula aimlessly strolled by one of the tires. I got in, started the engine, and sped off. Encino dissipated in a flash, and I was once again going 65mph headed south. Another 125 miles to go before I reached El Fuego. It was already getting hot. I rolled down the windows and cranked the volume on the stereo. Oasis – Definitely Maybe – Track 3 – Live Forever. If only we could. But then again, why would we?

The parched, rocky landscape flew by me like a desolate nightmare. The sky so gaping wide, churning blue and cream. The sun muscling its burning power through the stratosphere and into my eyes. Past the sad town of Vaughn I rolled and onto the remaining 95 miles of pure nothingness. Flatness. Openness. Scorched skin on the rocks and dust. Rocky red lands exposing burnt flesh. Stillness. Isolation. Wind and silence and heat. It was the desert. Endless miles of god’s gaping wound upon the Earth. I could see the highway roll on in front of me forever; an asphalt ribbon cooking in the first rays of day. A seemingly endless needle piercing the horizon, and all around it flat and gore and a dry stew of dirt and rocks and cactus. An unending mirage maybe; perhaps if I pulled the curtain aside a bit, I would find Eden on the other side. A paradise of lush, green and magnificent waterfalls tumbling over wet rocks down into the deepest pools of midnight blue. But there was no curtain. There was no mirage. This was the real deal. The great American Southwest in all its desolate glory and me a simple corpuscle pumping my life through the corroded veins of overcooked sanity.

I turned the stereo down to zero just so I could hear the hot wind rip through my car, wrestle my thinning locks and breathe life into my scorched lungs. I pushed the cigarette lighter in and waited for it to pop. I pressed it to the tip of my ninth cigarette of the day and exhaled a ghostly cloud of venomous smoke. I coughed. I always cough after the first drag. I turned the stereo back up just to drown out the din of nothingness and kept driving, my eyes fixed on the heat waves on the horizon.