The Angelfish of Giza (Excerpt 6)

Sitting in the dry dirt above the desert floor, with legs crossed, the founder of the Church of Everlasting Super Freshness and self-proclaimed living patron saint of Albuquerque, was looking down upon Giza, New Mexico sprawled out there like a neon hothouse whore. It was a Buddha belly bowl of steaming and colorful madness, a space wizard-centric place in the broken heart of the arid Southwest unlike any ordinary civilization had ever known. And here high up and over it was like he was home in Hip Heaven, and he was some beat-up angel spreading his tattered wings and seeding the place with wishes and delicious desires for The Duke City, a ministry in fact.

For now, he was the holy man on a mission to spread the gospel of Albuquerque and all the sacred intricacies woven throughout. He had devolved himself to the man and byline simply known as Chuck Placitas and took employment at the Giza Revealer as a government reporter. For it was as he desired — to work among ordinary men in order to create an extraordinary place in paradise, to spread the word of New Albuquerque, to attain the pinnacle of hipness. For as Reverend Chuck says: “To be without hipness, is to be without a soul.”

Reverend Chuck Placitas lived in a baby blue Astro love van down by the Pinto River that ran through the salty desert flats on the edges of Giza. He bathed in the silty, brown waters there. When not wandering about town, he kept the van parked on a flat plot of hard soil as near to the shore of the gentle waters as he could without it sinking. His camp was deep out of sight, mostly shrouded by salt cedar brush and low bluffs of red earth. The area was desolate and solitary except for the occasional hiker or two wandering through on a trail several hundred yards away. The camp was comfortable enough for him and he did not want for much. He had a place to sleep, utensils to cook with and eat with. He had things to read and paper to write on. It was overall a peaceful place for him, a place to meditate in front of a night fire as coyotes prowled nearby. The sky there was expansive and bustling with bright stars smeared across the pitch of space at night as the aliens rode on their ships. During the day, the sun was a hot eye from hell weighing down on him. But mostly he was at work during these times, or inside the van with a portable fan blowing on him as he read colorful brochures, travel guides, and historical anecdotes about Albuquerque and its surrounding environs. He was beginning to take a great liking to places like Rio Rancho and Bosque Farms.

He enjoyed bathing in the river. He enjoyed being naked in the wild. He would wash his thinning and wispy hair and his large, unfit, pear-shaped body with cheap shampoo and soap from the Buddha-Mart in town, some 10 miles away by highway. He would also wash the few clothes he had in the river. There he would stand in the middle of the Pinto, at a shallow part, nude, pale and bulbous, scrubbing at his laundry with environmentally considerate detergent, then dunking it down in the waters to rinse. The clothes dried quickly in the desert heat on a wash line he suspended between the van and a thick branch amongst the brush.

On his weekends, he would often use the time to drive the baby blue Astro love van north to Albuquerque, a three-hour trip, to recharge and “refresh” at the small apartment above a garage he rented in the Nob Hill neighborhood.

He was a part-time musician as well as a hip prophet and played bass guitar in a poppy rock band called Albuquerque Motion. The band was mostly unpopular, and the gigs were becoming fewer and far between. Other members were often flighty and unreliable, and Reverend Chuck questioned their allegiances to Albuquerque. He often thought about striking out on his own and being a solo artist.

He enjoyed going down to his favorite pub around the corner, The Regal Raven, and having a few brews with his bros and sometimes performing a song or two for the crowd before returning to the apartment to strum on his bass some more and to write lyrics to songs that he was eager to try out the next time he was at the pub — songs like “Smells Like South Valley” or “Bernalillo Babes.”

His weekends faded fast and before dawn on Mondays, he would get back into his van and once again drive 200 miles back to Giza for his job at the paper and the work of his ministry.

People often questioned Chuck Placitas on why he didn’t just reside in Albuquerque all the time. “If you love it so much, why don’t you just live there?” they would ask.

Reverend Chuck would gently smile, his eyes sort of hypnotically spinning in his weird head, and he had a way of speaking where he would often begin a sentence with “Well, uh,” before he got into the true matter of what he wanted to say. So, his answer to those questioning his choice of where he lived was always “Well, uh, does one preach of the glory of Heaven solely from within the confines of Heaven?”


The Angelfish of Giza (Excerpt 5)

Gary Glasscack boasted that he had the largest collection of pornography in all of Giza, New Mexico. He bragged about it any chance he could. He especially liked to bring it up in conversation with young female interns at the Giza Revealer newspaper where he worked. He always found a way to slip it into casual conversation in the breakroom while unwrapping the sandwich his wife had put together for him every morning.

Gary feigned a hopeless sigh as Lyla VanFly from Bend, Oregon sat at one of the plastic tables sipping a soda and nibbling on slices of cheese like a mouse as she stared into her phone.

“Ham and Swiss on rye, again,” he said, looking down at it, shaking his head. He snuck a glance at her. “That woman loves to fill me with rye bread. Does anyone even eat rye bread anymore?”

Gary waited for a reaction.

She eventually looked up at him, adjusted her glasses, crinkled her nose, and brushed her straight brown hair away from her eyes.

“I’m sorry. What?”

“Rye bread. My wife keeps feeding me rye bread. Do you like rye bread?”

“I don’t think I ever had it. I’m not much of a bread eater. Carbs are the devil, you know.”

Gary sat down at the table with her and dropped his sandwich in disgust.

“Am I really supposed to eat that?” he asked, palms out and pointing with the tips of his fingers.

She looked over, annoyed that he was invading her personal space. His hands looked weird. They were thin, and bony, and old, too old for the rest of him. “Why don’t you just tell her you don’t like rye bread?”

“I don’t want to hurt her feelings.” He chuckled. “But then again, I do.”

“I guess you could just throw it out and go get something else, right?”

“I suppose I could, but that would be wasteful. I couldn’t live with that kind of guilt.”

He stared deeply into her freckled and somewhat damaged-by-life-at-a young-age face.

“I’m Gary Glasscack by the way, advertising copy writer and business promotion guru. Welcome to our little newspaper. How do you like it so far?”

His name. She was weirded out but smiled politely. “Nice to meet you. I’m Lyla. Lyla VanFly. It’s good so far. Just trying to find my way around.”

“Well, if there is anything you need, don’t hesitate to ask. I’ve been around for quite some time now. Just ask Gary, and I’ll be able to help you out. With anything.” He winked at her. “And it’s German.”

“Excuse me?”

“You gave me a look when I told you my name. It’s a German name.”

“Thanks for the clarification.”

Gary sighed again. “Well, I guess I should go ahead and eat this. You don’t mind if I sit here with you, do you?”

She did mind, but she didn’t want to come across as rude or spoiled or uptight. Thunder clambered outside.

Gary’s head oddly swirled around like a cat’s following a bird with its eyes. “Sounds like a storm is brewing.”

“I didn’t think it rained much in the desert,” she said.

Gary took a bite of his ham and Swiss on rye and nodded his head.

“That’s a popular misconception, but you would be surprised at what goes on around here,” he said with food mashing in his mouth.

Gary took another bite and as he loudly chomped on the sandwich like an animal he stared at Lyla VanFly longingly.

“Just between you and me,” he leaned in, looking around and almost whispering. “I have one of the biggest collections of pornography in all of Giza.”

He took another bite of his sandwich and winked at her again.

“Excuse me, what did you say?” Lyla stammered, suddenly becoming extremely uncomfortable, yet strangely intrigued, for Lyla VanFly was a girl of the world and was totally on board with new, absurd, and experimental experiences.

“Do you have something against pornography?” Gary asked. “I assure you it is very tasteful.”

“Why are you telling me this? Or rather, do you really think it’s okay to be telling me this? I barely know you.”

Gary picked up a potato chip and pushed it into his mouth. He took a sip of diet soda, being that he was a pervert who cared about not getting too overly loaded with sugar.

“Giza can be a lonely place. I’m just saying that a young woman such as yourself may need a sexual outlet at some point.”

Lyla leaned back in her chair, somewhat shocked. “I really don’t think that is any of your business — or at all appropriate for the workplace.” But deep down inside, she kind of liked the inappropriateness.

Gary smiled, oblivious to his behavior.

“You’re not in Oregon anymore, dear. What was it? Bend Over? This is the middle of nowhere. It’s a forgotten place. Heck, you could even say it’s a place that doesn’t even really exist.”

“It’s real as any other place in the world. And it’s Bend, not Bend Over.”

Gary exhaled and wrapped up the remaining ham and Swiss on rye in its wax paper.

“Look, all I am saying is, if you would like to come over one night, maybe have dinner with the wife and I and I could show you a few things. I’m not going to hurt you if that’s what you think.”

“What kind of things?”

“Just some pictures. Maybe we could watch a movie together.”

“And what would your wife think of that?”

Gary scoffed at that remark.

“My wife and I have an understanding.” He leaned in closer to her again. “In fact, we haven’t had any sexual relations in several years. She finds it off putting.”

Disgusted, Lyla started to get up, but Gary reached out and took a hold of her wrist.

Lyla jerked away. “What are you doing? This is not okay. None of what you are saying to me is okay.”

But then again, somehow it was. For Lyla was a deviant and mysterious free spirit hiding in the shadows, a curious young woman who rebelled against normalcy. She ached to be cool, different, and even weird. And she presently found herself in a very weird situation.

Gary sensed her low tolerance for male piggishness and got nervous.

“I’m sorry. Forgive me. I just wanted to be friends. I was just trying to be friendly. Welcoming, you know? Like I said, Giza can be a lonely, debilitating place.”

“I would appreciate it if you would just keep your distance,” Lyla said with authority. “I wouldn’t want any of this to affect either one of our jobs.”

Thunder banged outside, lights flickered, and Lyla VanFly left the break room and went to her desk in the cackling and bustling newsroom to work on an article about killer bees for the next day’s edition.


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 3)

Uncas’ car was a brown-colored old Saab that’s seen better days. There was a metallic squeal when Wilburn opened the passenger-side door. The smell inside was odd. There was trash strewn about.

“Sorry about the mess,” Uncas said, embarrassed. “My wife and I are having marital problems and I’ve been kind of living in and out of my car lately when I can’t afford a room. Pharm Farm doesn’t pay people shit. Surprise, surprise.”

Uncas slammed his door with an angry thud. There were specially installed bars and handles for him to be able to operate the car without having to reach the foot pedals. He leaned, turned the key and it sputtered to life.

Uncas put the car in gear and pulled out of the glossy parking lot and onto a road that connected to another. He turned right. The metal moon was blue, low, and bright. It cast a glow across the soft desert. Wilburn thought he saw bent figures moving in the fields out there — in those rectangular patches etched into the hard earth around it and splashed with the light the color of spilled milk.

Uncas fussed with the radio trying to find music to break the awkward silence but all that came across were the familiar weird vibrations and messages that came from somewhere else.

“Extraterrestrials, those not of this Earth,” said Uncas, and his eyes quickly darted upward, through the metal roof of his beat down, beat up car and all the way to space. “They keep messing with us down here, but not enough people pay attention.”

Wilburn tried to focus on his thoughts as the car bounced along the late-night road toward the guts of Giza, New Mexico. “You believe in that sort of thing?” he finally replied.

“That sort of thing?”

“Yeah. That sort of thing.”

“What kind of question is that? It’s all I believe. It’s everything I believe. It’s all I can believe. The star people are the creators. What do you believe?”

“Well, I was born into the generalized idea of religion. You know, church on Sunday, Jesus on the cross, God up in Heaven, sins and hell and all that.”

“Yeah. And how’s that been working out for you all this time?”

“It hasn’t. I want to say I don’t believe all that, but, when it’s in your blood, it’s kind of hard to get rid of… I can say, with all my own truth, that it’s never done me a bit of any good.”

“Hmm. Sounds like you need to get out more and take a real look around for yourself. Perhaps you were baptized into the untruth.” Then, after a long patch of silence, “Here it is.”

The car came to a slow roll in front of a roadside motel, the tires crunching on gravel. There was a fluttering pink neon sign shaped like a bird and the light bounced off the surrounding landscape of rocks and brush — Crane Valley Motel. Vacancy.

“This be okay?” Uncas asked.

Wilburn scanned the area with his tired eyes. “Looks fine to me. Thanks.”

“All right. I hope you find whatever you have lost.”

Wilburn got out of the vehicle and strange little Uncas drove off. He watched as the red tail-light dots grew smaller and then disappeared completely. He turned and realized someone was standing out in front of the motel office smoking a cigarette.

“Do you need a room?”

“Yes. Do you have one?” Wilburn stepped closer.

“I do.” The man studied him. “You don’t have any luggage?”

Wilburn searched around himself in earnest. “No. Just my backpack.”

“Lost it, I suppose,” the smoking man pointed out.

“No, just a minimalist.”

The man looked at him as if he didn’t understand. “Well then. Just as long as you’re not up to no good. I guess it’s all right. Not so much me. I don’t care what people do, but it’s my wife. She doesn’t like people coming here with those unclean prostitutes. Gives us a bad reputation, she says. Mostly truckers do that though. You don’t seem to be a trucker.” He looked over the parking lot. It was empty. “I don’t see a truck.”

“I’m not a trucker, just a traveler.”

“Oh yeah? A traveler without luggage or a truck.” The man laughed to himself, coughed, and snuffed the cigarette in an oval ash can tray. “Ah hell. I’m just messing with you. As you can tell, I’m glad to have the business no matter what way it comes. Step inside and we’ll get you registered.”

The office was small and bright and smelled of disinfectant and flowers and oldness. The man stepped behind the counter. He was thin and his tan face was taut and wrinkled. He awkwardly maneuvered a pair of wire-framed glasses onto his face, sniffed and opened a registration log. “All right then.” He handed Wilburn a pen and turned the logbook toward him. “If you’d just fill out that information there for me, and how would you like to pay?

He looked over the previous entries out of curiosity and in three different spots he saw the name Uncas Bravo had been written in. Wilburn scratched his own name into the next blank space. “Why do you need my address?”

“Something wrong?”

“No, just want to know why you need my address?”

“In case you leave something behind, we can send it you. That a problem? I can’t rent you a room if you don’t provide us an address. It’s our policy.”

Wilburn made something up and turned the log back around to the man. He looked it over. “Hmm, Mr. Valentine, is it? All the way from Santa Monica, California?” He looked up at him, suspicious. “That’s a long way to go without any luggage and a car, don’t you think?” He laughed, sputtered, coughed.

“You should quit.”

“Quit what?”

“Quit smoking and quit asking questions about my traveling, no disrespect.”

The man sheepishly looked away, removed his glasses, and rubbed at his eyes. “That’ll be $65 then.”

Wilburn withdrew cash from his wallet and set it on the counter. “If I decide to stay longer than one night, will that be okay?”

The man scratched at his face and thought. “Yep, just fine, sir. Should be at least. Just let me or my wife know by noon tomorrow. Her name’s Mandie. I’m Sid, by the way.” He pushed the room key across the counter with the tips of his fingers. “Room 17. All the way at the end there. Should be nice and quiet and private. My wife will have fresh coffee and donuts set out here in the morning, no extra charge. The Thundercloud Diner there serves up a pretty good breakfast, too. Give us a ring if you need anything. Can’t promise we’ll answer but give us a ring. Goodnight now.”

Wilburn Valentine sat on the edge of the bed in room 17 drinking water from a paper cup. The room was small and dim. One of the walls was wood paneling. The other walls were cinder block painted a dull yellow. There was a small round table beneath a hanging lamp with an amber glass ashtray dumped and wiped clean set down in the middle. There was the smell of past lives, quick sex, loneliness, and lingering cigarette smoke.

He turned on the TV to the Weather Channel. The hosts were celebrating wildfires and hurricanes and all-around global devastation. He kept the volume low. He went into the bathroom and clicked on the bright light. It was clean. He undressed and looked at himself in the mirror. He was in decent shape still. He pulled the shower curtain aside and reached to turn on the water. He gathered the small samples of shampoo and soap from the sink counter. He stepped in, activated the shower, and let the world around him fill with steam.

Wilburn Valentine was an impatient man and it aggravated him. At the age of 59.5 he felt the end was coming closer and closer. Now more than ever. He hated wasting time. Hated it. He felt every moment should have purpose and value, be meaningful, productive, full. He felt he was constantly being chased by that reminder of time always draining away, that ever-ticking clock, those subtle sweeps of the hands, that endless feeling that “I must do something, I must get somewhere, I must accomplish something great!”

Not practicing mindfulness was one of his greatest weaknesses. But what is life if not for the small, simple moments that merely present themselves? His quandary.

Yet he was a man who squandered most of his life away worrying about not squandering his life away. He didn’t know if it was a defect in birth or motivation or if he was just overwhelmed all the time. He envied those that accomplished things in life. He questioned his own talents. He questioned his own intelligence. Self-doubt lingered in him always.

He stood in his room at the Crane Valley Motel with just a white, thin towel wrapped around his waist and he was mindlessly looking at the TV and rapidly clicking through the channels. Nothing interested him. Maybe that was his problem. Nothing kept his interest anymore. It was all thoughtless crap. He clicked it off. He swallowed some of the chamomile capsules with some water. He turned down the sheet and thin blanket on the bed and released the towel from his waist and crawled in. He reached over and clicked off the light on the bedside table. It was quiet and dark except for a narrow glow from the parking lot coming in through a gap in the curtains. He turned on his side, facing away from it, and tried to escape into the world of sleep.

You can read the previous excerpt from this novel HERE.


RAMSHAMBLED AMMUNITION

And love is but a trickle in this RAMSHAMBLED river of love, the armies of men keep marching upon the bones of memories under the grass, shot out of cannons, cloud seed ashes billowing and giving the puff of life when all falls down the stairs and justice can’t see straight, and idiot babies cower behind a crooked as geometry ding-a-ling ding dong and thump him like God in holy water AMMUNITION heaven. The maskless taskers take to yet another task of utter disbelief, these idiot genes, the cyclic generational stupidity tumbling from trucks and bleeding out through muddied star-spangled blue jeans. They meet this apricot alien of the universe on Sunday and then go back to the mob fight on Monday. The holy fuckin’ mob fight where busted teeth and busted guts and busted emotion is all part of the prize that comes at the end of the day when you finally turn your key in the lock of your favorite back door and breathe a sigh of relief that you’ve made it back to your own yellow hole in this world and can maybe shut out the mad libs and broken ribs for one night and always hoping that with the new sun comes a new hope and a better way.

But how could that ever be? We will be trapped in the dying limelight of our own skin from here on out. Until we die and they come pounding down the door for collection of all the debt you have so graciously piled and left behind. And all those broken souls are still lined up on Broken Boulevard reaping the harvest of a world they alone did not sew. They are reaping the bastions of all holy rape and looking to the ivory spires fucking the stratosphere out there on the smoky horizon, the tin shack dotted yellow hills on the horizon, the aches and pains leaking out the top lip of the stovepipe like mangled signs of white peace from the great Natives of yesterday, bent to it, the wind, the rain, the screams, the love gone astray, a 40 cent diamond ring resting in the breast pocket of your favorite leather jacket, waiting for no one, a love undone by selfishness, adultery, poverty, thanks again, she said with a gun tucked between her tits and a sliver of spit hanging from her heart, dangling across to mine, like a clothesline, in some great green backyard of some snowed-in metroplex pad of the East, where she sits and smokes tea as my alabaster soul floats off to brickyard Heaven, that place beyond the cabbage white ridge of hot dirt, that place of the pale lip red sandstone mechanical jaws like Jawas in the desert. I recalled all those days today in driving green, the look back at the looking down upon that lonely desolation, the memories gnawing my guts, the infinite ghost LEDs dangling like lightbulb jewels in a flawless blue sky, a sad Springsteen song breathing of eternity upon the dashboard.


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.


The Salsa Cowboy

Here I sit at the keyboard with my coffee cup filled with some Costa Rican brew and my head like IHOP scrambled eggs, wet and unnaturally yellow on a warm white plate that smells like bleach. And my thoughts struggle with one another, colliding planets not knowing which way to spin. Ugh. I hate it when I don’t flow. Too much on the mind and it doesn’t matter, I know. Calm down. Baby. A laundry list of tasks to get done that knocks me down and so I don’t even want to get up. Overwhelmed. Overwhelmation. Life too much. Presses down too hard. I can’t breathe.

Now catching my breath in a booth by the window at some adobe café in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Slow peace and more coffee, cigarette smoke swirls dissected by wobbling ceiling fan blades in the dry heat. Blue ghosts, brown rocks, straw needles on the horizon. I can feel the dirt of the desert in my teeth, the grit, the small pebbles, the heat of it, the gold hidden in there. Taking off stratospheric. Sitting there in this quiet booth with the big window looking out at past lives rumbling through DeadLand holy Hollywood miles down gone. Mind revving now.

I turn the other way, and there’s that woman doing crossword puzzles in the booth on the other side of the tiled floor the color of a mass shooting circus. She stares intently through her glasses, moves her hand slowly as she carefully fills in the squares with letters. She shifts her lips as she thinks. Moves her nose as if something stinks. An answer suddenly comes to her mind, and she begins to scribble: DOGMA. I think her name begins with a J or something like that. She’s hotter than Georgia asphalt in July. But she doesn’t think she is. Man, too beautiful for words. I wonder if she might want to run out to the little white wedding chapel in the desert I know, hook up. Like, forever hook up. The waitress brings her breakfast plate and I call over.

“Hey honey. What you got there to eat for your breakfast?”

She looks over me like I super disturbed her.

“Eggs in a basket,” she says. “With country fried potatoes… And a London fog to sip on.”

“Whooo eee,” I say like a hip cowboy in Kerouac brown chinos. “You from down over?”

“Down over where?”

“Down over there in the South… The other side of the country, baby.”

“I’m from Tennessee.”

“Tennessee!? They got salsa in Tennessee?”

“Yeah. We have salsa. Now if…”

“Don’t mind if I do,” I said, and I was already walking over to her all cool in my crisp white T-shirt and bronze muscles and those brown chinos and eel skin cowboy boots the color of dead blue. I slid into the other side of the booth and just looked into her Sonic Ocean Water blue eyes, and I said, “Is your name Salsa?”

“No.”

“Well, it should be.”

“Really? And why’s that?”

I leaned across the table and looked at her like I was a man dream and I said, “Because you are hot and spicy.”

She motorboated her lips, a scoffing scoff, a laugh. It was a put down. A rejection. I guess she didn’t dig my line.

“If you don’t mind, my breakfast is getting cold.”

“All right, all right,” I said, and I slid out of the booth and stood tall on the floor trying to flex some pecs even though I was a bit soft, and I have small areolas. “You have yourself a nice day, darling.” And I pulled my personal business card out of my wallet, and I handed it to her. “I’m a traveling salesman by day, but an expert on the ways of the female body by night. I’m staying at the Atomic Oasis Motor Lodge if you’re interested.”

She looked the card over as she chewed her food. “You’re a Bible salesman?”

“That’s right.”

“And you’re trying to pick me up with horribly offensive, demeaning, and lame conversation?”

“Right again. I’ve got no shame. I’m just out here on the great American road trying to make a living… And living to the fullest. I figure, why the hell not? Life is too short. Isn’t that what they say?”

“I’m not interested,” she said, and she handed the card back, pushed her plate away, and got up and started walking toward the cashier counter.


“Hold on little lady from Tennessee,” I called after her, fishing some cash out of my wallet. “Let me get that for you as a way to make up for my… Uncouth behavior, I guess you could say.”

“Be my guest,” she eagerly answered, and she opened a pathway to the counter.

I paid her tab and then looked at her looking at me.

“Good luck with selling your Bibles,” she said with a forced smile. “And thanks for the breakfast.”

She walked out the door, that great Tennessee ass all packed tight in those zodiac leggings she was wearing. I wanted to crack her open right down the middle like a juicy Georgia peach.

“Mmm, mmm, mmm. That’s downright sinful there,” I said to myself, aloud to the world though, and the cashier lady heard me.

“Why don’t you leave all these poor women alone,” she said. “It’s harassment.”

I leaned on the glass counter case that sadly displayed cheap Native American souvenirs probably put together in China, and we’re still standing on the throats of the Originals, and I just looked at her there in her pink uniform with the white collar and cuffs and she looked as if she could be a picture on a poster of an old-time diner waitress holding one of those bulbous coffee jugs that sits on a hot plate when she isn’t carrying it around pouring the coffee into chipped white cups.

“You’re just jealous,” I said. “Because I don’t do it with you.”

She scoffed. “Because I’m old, right?”

“And ugly.”

She winced with emotional hurt at that remark. “Did God teach you them manners?”

“No, mam. I learned them all on my own.”

“Why are you selling Bibles of all things? Makes no sense with the way you carry on.”

I kind of retreated within myself and couldn’t really come up with a good answer except, “I’m really off the rails, mam. I lack direction, purpose, procedure. I lack love in my life.”

“It’s no wonder with the way you carry on with all these poor girls. Like I said before.”

I straightened myself right and I asked her to pull the little Native American drum out of the display case because I wanted to buy it and go beat at it in the desert and think about the world and my bent place in it. She set it up on the counter and I looked at it. It was a little drum, real colorful and with feathers stuck to it, maybe about the size of a cat sitting upright on its hind legs, and it had a round, white rubber skin stretched across the top of it, the part you beat on, and then there was this little red mallet that came with it that you used to do the beating. I looked on the underside of it and sure enough, it said: MADE IN CHINA.

“This world don’t make no sense,” I said to her, and I asked for my bill, and I paid it and walked outside into the blinding forest of sun upon sun, so it seemed because it was so god damn bright and hot like Heaven itself. I started walking toward a big purple mountain in the smoky distance, my eel skin cowboy boots the color of dead blue kicking up the dust of the desert like magical golden mist, and I just kept on walking until I melted into one of those vibrating heat mirages you might see flowing off hot asphalt in another dream and time and I was dead gone.