US 395, Joshua Tree, Ghosts and Bad Things to Do in the Desert, and the Southern Route…

US 395

The original section went on a little longer–often my fascination with something extends well beyond a reader’s, which is why I’m a bore at parties and show up rarely–when there were parties.

The Alabama Hills and Lone Pine are fascinating because of how they were named and the kind of movies shot there. As I say in the book, Gunga Din and How the West was Won were both filmed there–along with a million westerns. It goes from being a backdrop to the colonial glory-shot of Manifest Destiny or the British in Northern India, to Afghanistan, the Planet Vulcan (where Winona Ryder lived), or the stomping grounds of Godzilla. As such, it is a place of myth-making, repressed guilt, and loss.

Wait, I think I hear…Hotel California?

The character of Cheyenne gets half her calories from peanut butter. USDA peanut butter and cheese is a staple of government food boxes. WIC food package VII – the others no longer pony up the cheese. Not sure if this a step forward or back. Cheese as a takeaway? Cheese as an oppression of breast-feeding women? Such things are not clear…

Cheyenne travels through Joshua Tree, spending a night in past, very personal hells, heightened by designer drugs, menstrual cramps, and loneliness. I got to have a wonderful conversation with Susan Rukeyser at The Desert Split Open. We talked about promiscuity and feminism and character – but the recording was lost. I loved the conversation though and it’s comforting to know that some conversations stay between the people present, their memories, and their imagination, a small, shared, world of its own.

Two coyotes appeared on the horizon, back behind the closest house. They trotted side by side in a perfect tandem gait. One seemed slightly bigger than the other, but it might have been the angle of approach. They came in her direction and crossed within 6 feet of where she was. Then without a pause or look between them the two coyotes split at the very same second. Not a beat apart. They tapped a new vector into the sand and dirt. She realized then that despite the misery of the night, no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t quite give up the idea that the world was a wild place where anything could happen. 

Cotton is seasonal. So are grapes.

My first trip through the Arizona desert was at fifteen. I was hitchhiking under the delusion that I could find work in a cotton gin outside Gila Bend because some random person in Florida told me that I could go there and do that. I tell that story, and what I saw there, in the interview below with the Yuma County Library. The short version, is that such work is seasonal, but the abuse of undocumented labor is, apparently, endless.

Support your local library!

I meditated on charnal grounds and got sick of my own daydreams. I want to be a blank. I want who I am to have nothing to do with anyone else...

The Navidad River cuts through the black prairie lands before emptying into a lake damned and full of catfish. On both sides of the river, stands of live oak twist and shelter, and small painted churches dedicate themselves to the patron saints of Slavs…You can see their names in census-takers’ neat cursive. A woman of either 22 or 27, born in Bohemia or Moravia or Austria, claiming ten or twelve children, half of whom are dead. For the record, the census taker says, tell me where you lost them? Did you eat them? Olga, Elisabeth, Frank, Anna, Catherine, Joseph, Walter—where are they? No, she says, I did not lose them. I did not eat them. They are under the black prairie. They are in the mud of the Brazos tangled in cottonmouths.

I was born in Texas, as were many generations of my family. The other side came from Czechoslovakia…and went to Texas.

I was not born in Eagle Pass because my grandmother didn’t trust the doctors so she convinced my mom to drive to Houston for the full saddle-block, knock-you-out birth experience. Safe as PineSol and Clorox bleach, Tab, Merit cigarettes, and just-off-the-Katy Freeway subdivisions.

John Sayles, a remarkable screenwriter famous for his dialogue, was once paid a king’s ransom to write the script of Clan of the Cave Bear. Every time you hear a story like this, a broke writer gets their wings. John Sayles had an enormous effect on me and how I think about the way people talk. His film Lone Star was shot in Eagle Pass.

Presente! Elizabeth Pena who died too young of cancer.

            It was in the month of June 

            All things were bloomin’ 

            Sweet William on his deathbed lay

            For the love of Barbara Allen…

She got a ride with a trucker to Birmingham, which is where she said she was going. He didn’t believe her but didn’t care. She said she’d called a friend from a payphone and her friend was waiting in Alabama. Just outside Birmingham. We’re supposed to meet in this motel where she works. Just off the Interstate. 

            They rode to the east

            And they rode to the west

            Until she came nigh him

            And all she said when she got there

            Young man I think you’re dyin’…

My Czech family was “oil trash.” Meaning they moved back and forth across the Louisiana – Texas border working the refineries, having children, fighting, raging, and working, working, working. Good and bad. Masonic Democrats and organizers of the anti-lynching league, racists and drunks and teetotalers, liars and secret poets, share croppers and bridge sharks, and the south will never be out of me.

Another Texas, Slavic compatriot, Karolina Waclawiak, who wrote Life Events was kind enough to join me for a conversation at the marvelous Avid Bookshop in Athens, GA where we ended the second road trip among friends. Below is our conversation. More about Karolina Waclawiak.

Next week begins the last leg of the “road” trips. This one takes place on the sea. Offering legitimacy to my claim that the best elevator pitch for the book is…

“A Neo-pagan, nautical thriller, which takes place mostly on land, about the Open Door Policy in China.”

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