Tuesday, July 28, 2015

samhain, halloween, day of the dead, or whatever

Once more back to Santa Fe:  All Hallow's Eve in Santa Fe, particularly for me and the gay community, must not be skipped. All Saints' Day is a major feast for the catholic church, but the hispanic catholic community in Santa Fe far outcelebrate their anglo brothers and sisters with the Day of the Dead. The artsy-fartsy sorts picked up on the possibilities for shrines and shenanigans and ran with it. I have long loved all three days of the samhain/all hallows feast, so coming to Santa Fe I came into a land flowing with milk and honey. I think perhaps the thing I miss most about Santa Fe is Halloween, although it does seem to have become more subdued there.

For years there was a shrine show at Halloween. One year I entered a shrine to Santa Doris de Hollywood. It was a large black velvet greek cross with an image of Doris Day at the crossing, Rock Hudson on the left arm, and a mirror on the right. There were brackets with candles on each side as well. That shrine would play a significant role in one of my most memorable Santa Fe Halloweens ever. First, however, I will share my enjoyment of memories of Halloweens previous to that, my penultimate Santa Fe Samhain.

When I arrived in Santa Fe, Robert Bly's Iron John and Sam Keen's Fire in the Belly were nearly as ubiquitous as The Whole Earth Catalogue or Be Here Now had been when I was in college. It was the golden age of the men's movement. For the first few years I was in Santa Fe my costume was a sort of satire of the men's movement, with feathers and horns and drums and rattles and animal skins, looking rather like the photo above, but with more paint. It was fairly easy, and popular enough that when one of the clubs in town was being closed, Donna, the owner, asked me to show up in that costume. The door man was not going to let me in: the last iteration included a staff with horns that seemed too much like a weapon for him. Donna came to my rescue, and I restrained myself from striking anyone. (Although the costume was striking enough that I finally went home with one of my long-yearned for fellow revelers.) That costume had a rather serious drawback, however: it was not a at all good for dancing. The horns would come loose, or the staff would strike someone, or the drum would get too heavy as the night wore on.

The next year found me in something entirely different, a costume I have replicated with great success in three different cities. That year the bad boys occupied the Design Center and transformed it into a post-industrial technical wasteland. Mad Max and Blade Runner and Night of the Living Dead and Rocky Horror were some of the influences. On top of that, the them of the party was black and white with a little bit of red. I decided to be black and white and read all over, but the red was actually only my underwear and chinese gentlemen's shoes, neither of which were visible because of the great rustling mass of black and white. I tore newspapers--old New York Times, cause it's so fit to read--from the outer edge almost to the fold and masking-taped them in spirals from my feet to my foot-ball-helmeted head. I had neither front nor back. I had to drink through a straw, but I tried not to drink because I hadn't included a catheter.

The last big party year for me and Halloween in Santa Fe was the most interesting and difficult of all, although the idea seemed simple. P. and I were about to move into a new house at Garcia and Acequia Madre, which we were going to repaint, so we thought it would  be kinda fun to start off with a party. A Halloween party. We converted the front room, which was a sort of very large entrance hall from which the other rooms led, into an outside space, with dirt on the floor and trees and rocks and such. We built boxes outside the windows with dioramas of interiors, but there was very little light in the space itself. One room, which would become my bedroom,  was furnished with comfortable sofas and chairs and dining tables and was well lighted. The room which would become P.'s bedroom, we painted matte black, and had a low wattage black light. On one wall with neon paint, Stephen Hara drew a wonderful Shiva, which glowed rather menacingly in the 'black' uv. My initial desire had been to go as Tweety Bird. There was a great TB mask at Walgreen's, but I couldn't find adult yellow pajamas with feet. So, I decided to go with Jung and embrace my dark side. I though that with flat black body paint, I would be invisible in the dancing room. It was a much more difficult costume than I had expected, because for it to work I had to shave my entire body. I had no idea the human arm pit was so complicated. However, I was invisible, both there and in the entrance. Quickly I found that I needed to sort of suck to keep my lips dry, and that made a sound which people found absolutely terrifying if I were in the entrance. (The music drowned it out if I were in the dance room.)

But as the night wore on, I became hungry, and so did everyone else. I went into the food room, which was a surprise to at least one woman who had not been invited but who seemed surprised that I had a 'thing'. There was a sweet boy who fed me grapes, so I didn't get paint on the food, but the food we had set out was not sufficient for everyone, so we said, 'Oh. Go in the kitchen and get whatever you want.' Mild mistake. The kitchen was lighted by Santa Doris and her candles, hanging on a wall perpendicular to the refrigerator. All of the walls and cabinet doors were covered with paper prints and drawings and magazine pages of saints and gods and monsters and ghosts and ghoulies, as was the refrigerator door. When the door was opened, it caught fire. Que sera, sera.

The next year, in what was then a much calmer house, I slept through Halloween, trying to dream of ancestors.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

out of sequence excursus: mother, pie, and such

My mother could bake an apple pie--she used Comstock canned apple pie filling and crust made with a recipe from the only cookbook she ever had ( http://www.amazon.com/American-All-Purpose-Cookbook-Frances-Crawford/dp/0871311143 ), which used Crisco. But she preferred to buy Mrs. Smith's. She did more or less cook while my father was alive--my favorite meal was breakfast, which almost always contained large amounts of butte and sugar. But when there was no longer any pressure to provide a supper with a meat and two vegetables and bread, she usually opened one can of mixed peas and corn and heated something from Swanson, or just the needed number of tv dinners. Later in life this seemed very strange to me, but when she was sick and I spent some time with mother, I began to understand why.

I have been thinking of mother this week, since her birthday was 10 July. It's fascinating how very little we sometimes know of our closest relatives. When I came finally to know something of my mother's childhood, I began to realize some of the causes of her love for closed windows and air-conditioning, driving the two blocks to the drug store where she bought chocolate milkshakes--or having them delivered--and frozen foods. I also began to realize more what a revolution world war ii was for average americans.

Mother grew up poor. Not just below the poverty line. Poor. We don't have that poor any more: outdoor toilets, baths on saturday night in a tub, oranges only at christmas in good years. Mother's family, from what I can surmise from snippets of stories, came across the country from Georgia, staying just ahead of the plantations. They were slash-and-burn farmers, living on hope and collard greens and squirrel meat. (We actually ate a lot of squirrel while I was young. Looking back, I wonder if it might have been a sort of clan totem food.) One pair of great-great grandparents were a escaped slave woman and a cherokee man escaped from the trail of tears. By the 1920's, when my mother was born, things were changing. Most of her family either had moved to town, and become beginning-to-be prosperous businessmen, or had amassed enough land to be 'planters'. My own grandfather was neither. He had worked as a tradesman and a salesman and the depression was not a good time for him. He became a share-cropper on his oldest brother's farm near Lake City, picking up a bit of extra money building forms for the concrete bridge across the St. Francis River. That job ended, according to family legend, when he dropped his hammer in the river and couldn't afford another. There was no electricity. Water came from a pump, heat from burning scrounged-up wood scraps.

The war brought a new prosperity to northeast Arkansas, just as it did to the whole country. Shoes were rationed, but my mother's family could afford them. Her family went to Jacksonville and worked building domb detonators. My grandfather managed a section; my mother was a book-keeper and tour guide for visiting brass; my grandmother cooked and did laundry. After the war, Jonesboro thrived. All of a sudden there was a whole new world of convenience and consumption available for my mother. Over the years, she spent a lot of money on furniture, none of it very 'good', because she liked being able to buy new furniture. My father had bought property and was planning to build a house, but during an ice storm when our neighborhood had no electric power, mother found a house that did, and convinced my father to buy it that day and moved her little brood into it, taking the essentials in her 1957 Ford.

I find it odd when I hear people talking about how the new generation doesn't have the advantages the post-war generation did. There are now completely different advantages, and the standards are very different. I doubt my mother's little four-bedroom house with pocket doors and tiny bathrooms could even be built now. But to her, it seemed a mansion.

Late in life, mother discovered deli food, and it was even easier than Stouffer's. Mrs. Smith's deep dish apple pie remained her favorite. I think it was the last food for which she bothered to turn on the stove.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Little by little

When I moved out of the Banana Republic, the last house I shared with my wife, I took a very full apartment-full of stuff. We had so much stuff that no one noticed. If someone noticed I was gone, she told them for several months after the separation that I was at work for, rather than share the truth. Before Lin and I moved to Santa Fe, we had a garage sale and sold what seemed like a lot of stuff, but there was still a very full very packed moving truck required to transport our earthly posessions to New Mexico.

In New Mexico, I continued to accumulate stuff. There were vestments and magic paraphernalia for each season, pottery for each season, very colourful clothes, and books. Always more and more books. But I didn't know from stuff until I met Lore Guldbeck. I mentioned before that she had a house in Rio Chama so full she had had to leave. She lived in her truck until she found an apartment, a two-bedroom which quickly filled. One bedroom was entirely full. There was a path through the clothes to her bed in the other bedroom, and a path to the washer and dryer in the garage. The public rooms were more than usually full, but not so much as to suggest what lay behind closed doors. Only when she called me in panic asking to 'be rescued' did I learn the full extent of her hoarding.

Lore hoarded partly, I think, to compensate for her losses when she left Germany, but partly because of her generosity. She had people categorized by what gifts they liked to receive. There was one man, James Cameron, who received soap. A piano-playing friend received musical note knick-knackery. There was a cat woman. The problem was that there was so much that she could never get to the stash and had to buy fresh gifts whenever there was an actual occasion for giving. In the process of 'rescuing her'--she was going to be inspected by the trust that provided the apartment at reduced rates for old folks--I found the magazine that I had lent her when we first met. She still wanted it. She had not yet read it.

Perhaps I have over-reacted to such abundance, which to me seemed to symbolize the abundance of modern industrial life, when just about anything one wants is just one click from being at one's door in two days, but I have tried to thin out my ballast ever since. I felt pretty good once when Lore introduced me to a friend as 'Dale--he doesn't want anything'. But of course I do want things. I have a lot of things. Little by little, however, I have abandoned thinking that things are scarce and hard to come by and realize that, for fat, rich Americans like myself, they're easy to come by.

I arrived in Northwest Arkansas two and a half years ago with the bag in the picture full of stuff and no more. After a garage sale and a give-away, I still had a box to ship in addition to that bag when I came back to the Paciic Northwest. Some of that stuff I've already thrown or given away. Sometimes I call this the shooting-myself-in-the-foot syndrone. But little by little, I have come to realize that, as a Facebook meme suggests, it's better to spend one's money on experiences than on things. At the same time, I think McLuhan was right that our things are an extension of ourselves, and allow us to experience the world differently. Little by little I've come to value the experience I had through my kayaks without having to keep a kayak. Little by little I've come to value the experience I had through my XBox without having to keep a kayak. Little by little I've come to enjoy the present big thing without it prejudicing me too much against the next great thing.

Which I think might be a drone.

Monday, July 6, 2015


For three years after I met Lore, she tried to convince me to go to Christ in the Desert Monastery on the Chama River. She oversold it so hard, I was sure I would be disappointed. She also had a house on the Chama, that once had been beautiful but had become so full of Lore's treasures, now molding and feeding mice, that when I looked at it I despaired and went to the doctor to see if Imight have plague.

The German Jewish English Refugee who worshipped with an Episcopal Church was a Roman Catholic. She had been baptized at Christ in the Desert, during one of the early restored vigils. It was a sacrament offered to few laymen at a benedictine monastery. But Lore could be insistant, and she was a total fag-hag. She had latched onto Aelred Wall--Father Aelred--the founder of the monastery, and became an early benefactor of his monks. Food she took to them. Art she took to them. Blankets she took to them. Her heart she took to them.

Finally, one early winter's day, I agreed to go to this place. She had undersold it. Few places on this brown and golden globe are so beautiful as the convergence of the Chama and the Baca Rivers. Although the monastery was much more elaborate than it had been when Lore had first started going there, there was still no electricity in the guest house, nor central heat. Kerosene lanterns and wood stoves kept the winter dark and cold at bay.

Going to Christ in the Desert with Lore was like going with the Virgin herself. Lore was never quiet, so neither were the monks. (I had a big crush instantly on one of the brothers, who left the monastery soon afterwards for Chicago, I think it was: he spent hours adoring the sacrament or the Virgin; I spent those hours adoring his shoulders. It was great to be able to walk with him on Sunday.) My favorite image of that first visit to the monastery and the Chama valley, however, is of Lore walking to the night hours through the light snow with her kerosene lantern. She looked like a little Japanese pilgrim.

Also, that first visit to the monastery would be my introduction to one of my most beloved rivers. It was the Chama which lured me into kayaking, an activity which would mold my life in many ways for many more years.

And, it would be into the waters of the Chama at Christ in the Desert Monastery that I and three other friends would commit Lore's ashes.