her hand to wipe her nose,
she wobbled; unsure on her feet.
She set the knife back down and looked at him earnestly, “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, “do you have a problem with this?”
“Maybe just a small one, Elizabeth,” Richard replied as he struggled with his bonds.
“Small being the operative word, eh Richard?” She picked the knife back up, tested the edge, ran her eyes up and down his body, and grinned at him. He noticed that her eyes didn’t smile though. That worried him just a bit.
He had woken, when she poured the cold water on him. He was lashed to a chair about three feet from the foot of their French Provincial mahogany dining table. The one Elizabeth had had to have. Coils of rope held his legs to the sturdy front legs of the chair and his arms were strapped to the back legs and back. His leather “Harley Davidson Belt wrapped around his chest and the chair back to keep him from leaning forward. He was effectively immobilized and his chair was sitting on the shower curtain. The one from the guest bath. It was torn where it had been ripped from the rings.
“You’ve had your way for years, Richard and I was too weak to stand up to you. I just took it because I was trying to be ‘The Good Wife’. Today, that all ends.
“I drugged your single malt last night you know, but I must have used too much. You were out a lot longer than I thought you would be. Sorry about the pan of water, I was getting desperate. I was afraid you wouldn’t wake up before our guests arrived. This is something we don’t want them to see.”
She set the knife back down at the head of the table and turned, pushing through the swinging door into the kitchen. He took the opportunity to look around him. Today was Thanksgiving and the table was set for 12 with the fine china and the good silverware. Linen napkins were rolled and cinched with the pewter napkin rings that she had bought at Crate and Barrel.
The old Regulator wall clock told him that it was 10:30. Her parents and her sister’s family would be arriving soon. So would his brother and sister-in-law. The kitchen door swung open again and Elizabeth was right behind it. In her hands was the turkey, a 27 pound masterpiece, roasted to perfection. The skin looked golden brown and juices were pooling up in the platter. She set it on the sideboard and then removed the setting at the head of the table. His setting, he thought. He was worried. Elizabeth smoothed her apron down and picked up the knife again. She came around the table and checked that he was still secured to the chair.
“Elizabeth,” he begged, “let’s talk about this. You don’t really want to do this. I know you don’t. This is something that men do. It’s expected of us.”
“Shut up Richard,” she said calmly as she studied her reflection in the blade. “You have no idea what I want or don’t want and, I don’t think it’s something you’re ever going to do again. You’ve never done it right anyway. You never took the time to learn to do it properly, or listened to suggestions.” She continued her circuit of the table and when she reached the head she pointed the knife at him. She didn’t speak. Then she lifted the turkey platter and put it where his place setting had been.
“I’m going to carve the turkey today, Richard. I’m going to do it. You make a mess of it every year but not this time. No, not this time, and you’re going to watch. Don’t you dare look away. Try to learn something.”
When have you been in awe of food or drink? Did you prepare it, or did you eat this awesome dish at a restaurant? What was it about what you ate or drank that made it so fantastic?
I stepped through the door and shuffled to the side so that the people behind me could get in too. Get out of the rain. I waved to Nikki, behind the bar, took off my Mac and put it on a hook. By the time I got to the bar Nikki had wiped a spot clean and was setting a pint of Porter down for me.
“Bless ye lass,” I said, “yore an angel!”
She flashed her crooked smile and spun away to finish what she had been doing when I came in, and to see to the group that had come in behind me.
When she got back my beer was about half done and I was holding the glass up to the light admiring the clarity and the dark, reddish brown colour.
When she leaned forward over the bar I was momentarily distracted. “Look up here Mike,” she said pointing at her face. She smiled again and her blue eyes twinkled. High cheekbones, a small nose, and a full mouth were framed by soft blonde ringlets that spilled down past her shoulders. When she smiled she was the most beautiful woman in the world. And to top it off she worked in a pub. Not only was she the most beautiful woman in the world – she was the most perfect woman too.
“You know your phony accent isn’t getting any better.” She announced.
“Are you sure?” I asked, dropping the pretense, “I’ve been watching the BBC a lot. I’m trying to work on it.”
“I think you’re getting close to a hybrid between South Island Kiwi, and Irish.” She took off again to help her customers and I pondered my drink. Nikki had been the one to introduce me to this beer.
“Here’s one that will fill yer mouth when you take a drink,” she had told me when she drew my first, and she had been right.
A Porter is a robust, full bodied beer. I’m not sure where the name came from, unless it’s from the trains or the dock workers, but I did know that Porter was first brewed in the 1700’s and was the first engineered beer (not my term but an apt one), brewed as a blend of three different styles, old ale, mild ale and pale ale. The original brewers called it “Entire Butt”. When I first heard this I giggled like a young boy until I learned that a “Butt” was a unit of measure equal to half a tun. That makes it three barrels, 12 firkins, or 108 imperial gallons. Put in terms I understood this was about 490 liters or 130 US gallons of beer. I wished I had a “Butt” of Porter. I figured it would last me a good long while.
Savoring the full body of the beer and the smoky aroma I watched Nikki work the room, taking care of her customers. She glided effortlessly from table to table, taking orders and delivering orders. She knew everyone’s name. She knew their husbands, and wives. She knew their kids. She made them feel at home. I wondered if it was really the beer I liked or if it was the pub.
I knew what it was though, it was Nikki. She was the reason I liked the pub. She was the reason I liked the beer.
Kudos and applause for Tish Farrell whose generosity and photo made this post possible.
Buddy is a fence guy. He wears a black Stetson, leather chaps over denim jeans, a leather coat (or a vest in the Summer) covers a long sleeved blue work shirt and his heavy gloves are either on his hands or tucked into his belt. This is his uniform.
When I first met him, a number of years ago, he was working as an independent contractor in Lincoln County New Mexico. Buddy would take down old barbed wire and replace it with new. The life span of barbed wire is approximately 80 years. Sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on the climate where the fence is located.
Buddy told me that he “figgered” In Lincoln County a fence was “prob’ly” good for 100 – 120 years. That’s a pretty good Return on Investment, there. When Buddy restrung a fence he would lay a coil of wire atop every fifth post. The coil would have enough wire to respan a single course between posts (usually a rod, 16.5 feet) on that particular fence-line. He did this as a courtesy to his employer and anyone who might have to repair the fence in the future. This ensured that there was always a bit of spare wire handy if needed, or if rustlers cut your fence.
Buddy, working by himself, could replace as much as 5 miles of fencing in a day. This could, and most certainly would, decrease if posts had to be replaced, braces, had to be replaced, or corner posts had to be rebuilt. But, if only new wire had to be strung then 5 miles was a realistic number. He worked long days. Typical fencing in those parts had three courses of wire. These were usually replaced with four. You see where I’m going with this, right?
At the end of a day Buddy had 15 miles of rusted old barbed wire to dispose of. That’s over 8,046 meters, about 8,800 yards, or 79,200 feet of barbed wire to be disposed of. How do you get rid of that much old wire? You can’t burn it. You can’t fit it in a trash can. You can take it to the land fill. You can take it to a recycler. Buddy chose to sculpt with most of it.
Buddy lived in an old Quonset hut outside of Capitan. He had a pack of maybe three dogs that worked with him. He had a big truck, a trailer, horses, stretchers, pliers, hammers, spools and spools of wire and a good supply of replacement posts. His home was surrounded by incredibly realistic; life size, or larger than life, sculptures of Elk, Bison, Long Horn Steer, Horses, Jackalopes, Coyotes, Mountain Lion, and Rattlers. He would build an armature of old rebar and wrap it with wire; around and around and around until his subject appeared. Phenomenal, Life-like.
I acquired three of his pieces. I have a Kokopelli, a rattler, and a yucca cactus in bloom featuring a nervous and hungry hummingbird.
Kokopelli is a Southwestern fertility god; the god of the harvest. He is normally depicted hunched over Quasimodo-like and playing his flute. My Kokopelli is more celebratory in posture. He has his head thrown back with his antennae whipping around in the breeze, like dreadlocks, his flute pointing skyward. One foot is planted firmly on the ground and the other raised in front of himself, as he highsteps in time to his own music. The rusty, barbed wire he is made of was likely new, and had been recently strung on a fence around the same time that Billy the Kid was making a name for himself as a gunfighter and regulator in the Lincoln County War of 1878.
If I stretched the snake out he’s about 6 feet long but he’s coiled up. His tail is raised and the forward half of his body is reared back as if he’s been threatened and is prepared to strike; his mouth is open, fangs are bared. Frequently, we have to reassure children who come to visit that he is not real. His body is almost 5 inches in diameter at its widest and as he has no armature to add stability, his pose induces motion. The old, rusted wire that he is made of allows a slight breeze to cause him to undulate as if he is deciding where exactly to strike his aggressor. If you touch him on the head he will bob and weave, like a prize fighter, for several minutes.
The yucca is the only example of plant life I ever saw in Buddy’s work. It is highly stylized but easily recognizable. The trunk is strong and brown. A nest of single strands, representing the leaves, extend bowl-like from the trunk about two and a half to three feet above grade. Rusted wire rises from the center of the bowl and changes gradually to new wire, silver in colour and not yet rusted (even though the piece has been outside at my house for more than 15 years) shaped as the blooms. A small wire hummingbird circles around the leaves tethered to the trunk by a single strand of wire about three and a half feet in length. The wind will cause the bird to dance around the sculpture. Kinetics! Bring these sculptures to life.
The point I was trying to make wasn’t about Buddy’s art. The point was about the man. His chosen line of work dictates a nomadic lifestyle. He goes where the work is. One day without a word to anyone, Buddy was gone. No one knows where he went but this photograph depicting the coil of wire on the post reminds me of his fence work. It makes me think he might be in the countryside around Wenlock. Y’all got any larger than life American Buffalo appearing around the countryside? If so, Tell Buddy, I said Hello.
Lisa clutched Steve’s elbow, “Oh, not again.”
“What?” he asked.
She pointed and Steve looked to see the gazebo rising from the garden. A pillow of black smoke seemingly lifting it skyward. The children each beamed gleefully from a window.
“Looks like Melba’s experimenting again!”
They both smiled, waving to the kids.
“So? Yah really gonna sell this place Wahd?” Crete asked.
“Ayuh, reckon I am.”
“Damned if I can unnahstan’ that. ‘s beautiful. Right on the watah and all; an the trees! Yah got the goddamn trees.” Crete waved his arms wide, as if to point out all that Ward was giving up.
“Yah can buy it yahself then, Crete. I’ll make yah a good deal”
“What’s wrong with it, then?”
“Well, Mahgie and I came up heah ‘cause we wanted to be treashah huntas, and theah’s ‘posed to be a sunk ship close by. We kept that paht mum when we bought the place. Didn’t want Claude tryin’ to outbid us, ya know.”
“Ayuh, Claude can be a right bastahd sometimes and, I oughta know I’m married to his sistah, all these yeahs.”
Ward cocked his head and looked at Crete with one eye all scrunched up, “Yea, well – be that as it may, we looked fer that sunk treashah ship fuh ten yeahs an foun’ nuthin’. Nuthin’, searched the whole damn lake. Weese dun. Givin’ up and headin’ down east. Someplace we can still get a decent bowl a chowdah, an’ catch a Red Sox game on the TV.”
“Ayuh,” said Crete.
“Ayuh,” said Ward.
“Watcha gonna do with yah pots, then. I could take ‘em off yah hands.”
Freddy drew hard on the joint and continued to shake the paint can he held in his right hand. Ruben and Manny were watching. They had his back. He trusted them to sound the alarm if necessary.
For the hundredth time he wondered what the hell he was doing. What was he trying to prove? He took another hit and stood back. In his mind’s eye he could see what he was going to paint. He knew what it would look like and he knew it would take about two cans and a little less than half an hour to complete. But, the question remained; what the hell was he doing? He didn’t owe these west side boys anything so, that being the case he better be doing this for himself.
Another hit, hold the smoke deep, hold the smoke long. He was preparing to write a long winded diatribe about gang life on the west side. At least that was what he hoped people would see, in reality what he planned to paint was an abstract design; an abstract design that resembled the sharp-angled text that other graffiti artists were using these days to deface private property. What he intended to paint would say nothing but he thought it would be pleasing to the eye.
Alfredo knew that he was an artist – not a vandal. He looked down at Manny.
“Ese, Manny,” he called in a stage whisper
Manny looked up and Fredo tossed him the joint. He watched Manny smile when he caught it and then turned to the whitewashed brick wall while removing the top from the paint can.
Smooth, fluid strokes were all that he thought about for 25 minutes and just over two cans of paint. There had been no alarm from either Manny or Ruben while he worked. He jumped off the ladder and Manny moved in to fold it and stash it back in the truck. Fredo and Ruby backed away from the wall and admired the result. Ruby pulled his phone and snapped half a dozen shots and they climbed into the truck where Manny sat waiting. The group moved slowly and silently away from the monochromatic painting into the midnight fog.
The piece lasted exactly ten days before the city eradication team covered it. Alfredo felt pretty good that it had lasted that long. The city usually painted over large works quicker than that. The west side boys were happy because Fredo was one of them, they thought.
Over the course of the next couple of months Freddy kept walking past that wall every couple of weeks. He lusted for that wall. It was a perfect canvas and he longed to put some “real art” there. He wanted to work with more than a single color on that wall. He knew he could do it justice.
One day, about four months after his work first appeared there, he walked by. He wanted to sit and indulge his craving, at least with his imagination but the walkway was blocked off and a crew was digging, setting forms and looking like they were planning to take his perfect spot away from him.
“What are you guys doing?” he asked an uptight white guy with a clipboard.
“Prepping the site for some kind of public art project,” the guy said then he walked away. He either didn’t want to share any more information or he didn’t know anything more. Fredo suspected the latter. He spit on the ground to show his disdain for the pendejo and moved on. It was a couple of weeks later before he got back and found the sculpture.
Fredo knew what it was. He puffed his chest out a bit before he sat to study it. He watched it and the reactions of the passersby all afternoon. It was beautiful. The tapering line weights looked exactly as he had originally done it. As evening slid over the area like a glove he made note of the LED lighting that was positioned to feature the sculpture. Now there were two; the sculpture itself and the shadow of the same on the wall that he had lusted after for so long. Freddy sat there until it was good and dark before he called Ruby.
“Do you still have those photos of the work we did here a few months back?” he asked.
“Of course,” Ruben told him.
“Bring your phone and get your skinny ass down here,” Alfredo said and he terminated the connection.
Ruby got there about half an hour later with Tomás and Guillermo. They flanked Freddy and they all stared at the sculpture.
“Wow,” Ruby said softly and he pulled up the photos he had taken all those months ago with Freddy and Manny. The sculpture was an exact copy of what Freddy had originally painted on the wall. He showed it around, but now it was sanctioned by the authorities. Nobody was going to paint this bad boy out.
The next morning Freddy went looking for Ramon Ramirez, who according to the brass plaque at the base of his design was the sculptor. Fredo knew he had a lot to learn and he wanted to start today.
Tell us about the experience of being outside, looking in — however you’d like to interpret that.
Do you truly understand the Dewey Decimal System?
Have you ever taken something apart just to see if you could put it back together again?
Have you ever been the only one of your gender in a building crowded with “them”?
Have you ever been the smartest one in the room?
Have you ever been the emperor parading your new clothes?
Had to be the boss when you just want to hang with the guys?
Have you ever been the only one who knows how to do something?
Bake a cake?
Rope a steer?
Fix a car?
Rewire a lamp?
Talk to girls?
Program a computer?
Operate the VCR?
Have you ever been the new kid?
Kept out of the club because it’s “no girls allowed”?
Not spoken the language?
Not had the money to get what they all have?
Have you ever been the only one singing?
Working with watercolours when the others are using acrylics?
Turning right when everyone else turns left?
Drinking beer at a wine bar?
It was after noon when Sue pulled over and offered the stranger a ride. That was so, totally, not, something she would normally do, but somehow she felt compelled. It was the day before Thanksgiving, after all. They had been driving all day and hadn’t even stopped for gas. She had moved to pull off the highway, for fuel, in Bakersfield when she noticed the needle was hovering just above ‘Empty’ but he talked her out of it.
“What are you doing?” he had asked.
“I’m getting gas,” she told him, “The tank’s almost empty.”
“Don’t stop,” he said, “I’ll take care of it.” He moved his right hand, palm forward, in an arc in front of him. “OK?” he asked.
She glanced at the instrument cluster on the dash and saw that the gauge now indicated a full tank of gas. It had remained pegged above the ‘F’ ever since.
He had been wearing boots, jeans, and a chocolate coloured western cut shirt with his thumb out and a small backpack setting next to him, when she pulled over at the base of the ramp in Salinas to pick him up.
“I’m trying to get to Alderaan.” He had said through the window, then he climbed into the passenger seat and tossed his pack in the back. His voice had cracked when he said it, like a teenage boy going through puberty.
“I’m not sure where that is,” Sue had said but I can take you east for a while. I’m on my way to Albuquerque.
“I’ll tell you when to stop.” He smiled and she immediately trusted this young man.
He didn’t talk much and they were now way past Albuquerque. Sue had driven right through town, right past the exit she would take for her mother’s house. Because her passenger hadn’t told her to stop yet; and he had said he would. She trusted him.
She had the feeling that he had been transforming during the ride. She studied him surreptitiously, stealing glances as they drove through the night. Now, he was tall, dark and sometimes, he spoke with a deep voice and an echo. It seemed that he had changed his clothes somehow without her noticing; and he wore some kind of black body armor with a helmet, a mask, and a cape. She could hear him breathing.
They were just outside Roswell when he unbuckled his seat belt and reached for his pack on the seat behind him. He couldn’t quite reach it so he turned around in the seat and got up on his knees, his butt waving back and forth while he wrestled with the back pack. He got tangled up with his cape for a moment before he finally turned back around he plopped down in his seat. He sat there breathing for awhile.
Inhale, Exhale, Inhale, Exhale
Finally he spoke, “I have cookies,” he said and he held up a blue bag of Chips Ahoy, “want some?”
Sue realized she was hungry, “Oh yes please,” she had answered and held out her hand. He carefully counted out three cookies and placed them, almost reverently, on her palm.
“The Force is strong with you.” He said as he watched her eat the first chocolate chip cookie.
“Huh?” she grunted.
“You can drop me just ahead in Roswell at the 285 intersection. I’m being picked up at the Allsup’s station there. My friends will take me the rest of the way to Alderaan. We have a death star.”
She pulled off the 380 into the brightly lit Allsup’s truck stop and parked her car. They both got out and he grabbed his backpack, setting it on the concrete while he rummaged in the top zippered pocket. He removed something and kept it concealed in his hand.
When he stood again, she realized that he was now almost eight feet tall. He leaned down with his arms spread and they hugged awkwardly for a moment. She patted him on the back as they broke their embrace. In his hand he held something small which he placed in her hand and closed her fingers around it.
“This is where I would normally say something profound like, I am your father. But, I don’t think that’s really the case here and besides that would be only half of the story, Sue,” he said as he looked down at her.
Inhale, Exhale, Inhale, Exhale
“You’ll never have to buy gasoline again.” He turned and strode quickly into the darkness of the desert behind the Allsup’s and disappeared from view. She never saw him again, but she would remember him forever.
She looked down at her hand and saw that he had placed a small gold coloured plastic trophy there, “Third Place” it said. She tossed it through the window onto the seat and headed back towards Albuquerque. She would still be home in time to help her mother with the turkey.