My Aural New Mexico

Over the past weeks, the good folks over at NPR are doing a series of short essays about the sounds that evoke memories of summer.

Today on Twitter, New Mexico Magazine posed the question “What’s your quintessentially New Mexican sound of summer?”

Well, that just opened the door to the Wayback Machine and shoved me right in. I’ve been lost for a few hours, thinking…remembering.

Turns out I can’t name just one. So let’s go with five.

Evaporative Cooling

This is a cacophony of noises. A creaky drum turning inside the cooling unit, the wet wind whooshing out, and the drip, drip, drip of water running off the roof.

Both loud and comforting all at once. I’m a light sleeper, but the white noise of a swamp cooler set on high in the dead of a hot summer day will drop me fast into sweet dreams.


Not a very original summer thought, but a genuine memory. That droning buzzing sound used to drive me bonkers.

Where the swamp cooler lulled me to sleep, the cicadas kept me up all night.

We had this huge tree in our backyard that would fill to overflowing with the damn bugs.

There is a site I found that calls cicadas “nature’s vuvuzela“. Damn right! Gah!

I used to mentally try to get them to stop. Like Uri Gellar bending spoons, I thought I if I thought hard enough I could control it.

I couldn’t control it. Damn winged creatures had a mind of their own.

Such a distinct sound of summer.

The low rumble of an August monsoon storm off in the distance and approaching fast.

The summer storms move so quick you know it will be on top of you before you know it. It goes from bright sunny skies to black boiling skies in what seems like an instant.

I’d be out in the yard playing or on my rollerskates and I’d hear that sound. Like a low mumble at first. I’d take off for home before it turned in a loud wail.

Here’s a not very well kept secret: I’m a skeerdy cat when it comes to storms.

Styrofoam cooler and lures on a fishing pole.

Do they even make squeaky Styrofoam throwaway coolers anymore? Because that’s an unmistakable sound. We’d pack sodas for us, beers for dad, and bait for the fish along with a couple sandwiches into the blue speckled cooler. Then the fishing poles alongside with the jangling lures hanging off the end.

Then we’d all load into the truck and head down dirt roads to fish Ute Lake.

That squeak jangle engine rumble symphony can only mean summer to me.

Flame thrower on a tumbler of green chile

Ok, this one may be more of a smell than a sound memory, but at the end of summer (like, oh, now) the green chiles are coming in from the fields and at every grocery store there is some guy with a flamethrower and a metal turning basket.

You want ’em roasted? Okay! *click* WHOOOOOOOOSH.

There ya go.

Damn. It’s like a piece of my soul.

My quintessential sounds of summer may not be NPR worthy, but they all make me smile.

In the summertime, my Fair New Mexico is a beautiful place to be…for ALL the senses.

Image from I don’t know where….if it’s yours, let me know and I’ll credit or remove at your request.

This Raises More Questions Than It Answers

And I use the term “raises” ironically.

Here’s a little article found tucked away in the corner of my local paper. This story is out of Pennsylvania.

Note to the good people of Penn: Don’t eat the ribs at Donald’s house. Just don’t.

Also…were these ribs frozen? Because, well, brr! Even if they were in the refrigerated case, still brr!

Then ya gotta ask yourself: If you get busted for putting ribs down your pants once, wouldn’t you go to a different store the next time you tried? Or maybe pick a different, pocket sized, item to shoplift? I’m just saying, three strikes and you’re out? Or something.

And on a more philosophical level…is this simply a sign of the (economic) times? Or have people always been trying to shove ribs down their pants? Or is the media is just up the nose of everybody more and more every day?

I don’t know. I’m still stuck on the “brr” aspect.

What Makes San Francisco Fun

Had to smile when I read this bit today in the SFGate, the San Francisco Chronicle’s online home:


From Leah Garchik’s column:

“On Upper Grant one recent Saturday, Mal Sharpe and his Big Money in Jazz Band were playing at the Savoy Tivoli, which has windows open to the street. When Sharpe sang out to a group of passing German tourists, reports Lucy Johns, no one responded. But their tour guide, Tara, said she was not only a guide, she was a singer. This spurred the crowd to demand a song. She sang ‘All of Me,’ and ‘we all swooned,’ said Johns. ‘Then she tromped off down the street with her bullhorn, leading the Germans to City Lights,’ said Sharpe.”


I love the visuals on this bit of North Beach storytelling. I adore Mal Sharpe, he’s a SF Bay Area legend, and one of The Good Man’s favorite jazz musicians. When you see a Mal show, you are completely engaged by his charm. So this story, inviting a passerby to come up and sing (and she knocks it out of the park), comes as no surprise to me.

It’s one of the many reasons why I love North Beach.

These kind of things just happen every day in San Francisco. It’s just how we do things…especially in North Beach.

Here’s another example. One night I was sitting at my favorite family-owned Italian restaurant called Sodini’s (it’s a North Beach icon). The restaurant was crammed and I was alone, so I manged to squeeze into a nice seat at the bar next to an older gentleman.

He and I got to talking when he offered to buy me another glass of Chianti. The man turned out to be Leo Riegler, current owner of Vesuvios, the world-known bar next door to the City Lights Bookshop where the Beat Generation used to drink and write and fight.

Leo has owned quite a few businesses in North Beach through the years. That night he told me about the coffeehouse he once owned (on the site that is now the Lost and Found saloon). I asked him about the bands that used to play there, as that coffeehouse was well known to host Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, and more. He told me a long and involved story, the punchline of which was…

He used to pay Janis Joplin $20 a night to play his stage.

I mean. Wow.

All this over a simple plate of ravioli and a glass a wine. Leo is a walking musical history lesson.

That’s just how it goes in North Beach. That scruffy guy in the corner of Caffe Trieste who looks like he just dragged in off the street? Probably a world famous poet laureate. That run down guy who looks like he’s about to pass out on the bar at The Saloon? Likely a multi-millionaire musician.

And then sometimes you just meet a random German tourist who can’t believe that his tour guide stepped in off the street, did a set with a local band, wowed the crowd, then kept going.

How beautifully inspiring. The Muse always does a little dance inside of me when we walk together up Grant street. It’s her fault I moved here, after all…..

Stockton Street, looking toward the tunnel, 2:51 a.m.

Photo by my North Beach friend, Scott Palmer.

How Quickly Time Flies

A year is really a blip in time isn’t it? A hardly noticeable heartbeat. And then another. And then another.

Time to confess why I’m so melancholy.

I thought I was over it. I’m not over it. Not by a long shot.

Posted one year ago Tuesday. Posted here again because it’s all still true.

Immersed in memory.


There Is This Man I Know…

First posted: August 23, 2010

It would be wrong to call him a cowboy. That implies something he’s not.

He is, in fact, a farmer. Chile, corn, cotton, alfalfa. He fretted the drought and smiled at rainy skies.

Except that time it rained so hard it washed away the seeds he’d just planted. That night, he fretted while the rain fell.

That’s unusual for a farmer.

He has a smile that could light up a room, the sky, the world.

He has the mind of a trickster, and his wry sense of humor is what drew me in.

Back then, he was a tall, slim drink of water.

His chest bore a long scar, a remnant from open heart surgery in childhood. It fixed a congenital problem. For a while, anyway.

That surgery colored his whole world. He was told he might not live past the age of twenty.

But he did. He lived. Oh, he was alive.

He took me out to dinner. We each ordered steaks at the truckstop diner in Vado, New Mexico.

It was far more romantic than it sounds.

He took me fishing and let me use his brand new rod and reel. I managed to irretrievably knot up the fishing line. He didn’t even get mad.

Because he is a gentleman.

He took me for long rides down bumpy dirt roads. I sat next to him in the cab of his pickup, holding on tight, grinning.

He has a confidence that is older than his years.

He and I had some fun then parted ways amiably. I still call him my friend. More than a friend. A dear friend. “One of us” from a loosely knit group of kids who made a family while running around Las Cruces, growing up and getting educated.

I haven’t seen him in years, but over the years I’d ask after him and sometimes he’d ask after me, too.

He’s got an amazing wife and three sons and the weight of responsibility for his family’s farm. A responsibility he stood up to each and every day.

Last week, he had surgery. That ol’ heart problem was giving him trouble again.

The surgery went well, but he got an infection at the hospital that he couldn’t quite fight off.

Sunday morning, my friend, my family, someone who showed me how to live passed away.

He was just 40.

I can’t stop being angry. It’s not fair. No one ever said life was going to be fair, but I don’t care. It’s not fair.

I’m not good at grief. I’ve lost a father. I lost my best friend from high school. I lost a grandmother who was very integral to my life.

You’d think all the practice would make me better at this.

I’m not good at this.

Sometimes it’s just easier to be angry.

It’s an acceptable stage of grief.

Dear World –

An online idea suggester came up with the idea that I should write a letter to the world. At first I said “bah!” and clicked away to look at something mildly funny on YouTube. Or maybe I played a nonsensical flash game. Can’t remember.

Turns out this idea kind of stuck to one of the many folds of my wrinkly brain, and I’ve been thinking on it a lot lately.

Maybe it’s a good idea. Maybe it’s time we talked.

First of all, I should say, I’m a big fan of you, World. I mean…you’re so worldly. In a single moment you create life, bring death, facilitate anger, joy, sadness, depression, hunger and toothache. Inside your wide waistline, you encompass the tippy top of the Rocky Mountains, the endless blue bottom of the Mariana Trench. And cheeseburgers.

You’re a wonder. No doubt.

But it’s not just the continents and water; there are all of these people. ALL of these people. Whew. 6.7 billion of us little parasites are wandering around, riding this cosmic whirlygig hoping to have a good night’s sleep and enough money to feed our families and maybe a reason to smile once or twice day.

Lately it seems hard. Just the nature of living and standing with two feet on a planet spinning around 1,000 mph right at this very moment seems like it takes a whole lot of effort.

It feels better when it seems like we’re all in it together, but more and more I feel like we’re not all in it together. I mean, not that I’d expect we’d all get along famously and never squabble, but it seems like sometimes we’re a bit less interconnected and a bit more inconsiderate every day.

Take the news that my local area is all abuzz about: the rampant fights, brutal beatings and a shooting at a football stadium. A game! And people were shot fer crissakes! Which means people were packing heat to go to a goddamn football game to watch overly large men run around and bash into each other. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? (<-- to borrow a phrase from Penn Jillette)

My friends in the UK tell me that hooliganism is a part of their favorite sport as well, and laugh at my naïveté. I’m sure the people in Lybia would look at me like was a cross eyed dodo bird for even contemplating this. They’d probably be happy if their daily dose of violence was limited to a sports stadium.

So maybe it’s just that I’ve been spoiled. Maybe I need to toughen up? Maybe my mom is right when she says I’m too sensitive. I mean, hell, I whimper when I have blood drawn.

I just don’t like that it has to be this way. I’ve seen communities where no one locks their house or car because there’s no need. Where if someone gets hurt, it’s a reason for the community to pull together not get blown apart with finger pointing and more anger.

Perhaps I long for something that can no longer exist when 6.7 billion of us are crawling around on top of each other trying to find the best wifi signal so we can flame someone on Facebook and snipe the last bid on eBay.

Don’t know what’s got me so melancholy. I did go see “Breakfast at Tiffanys” on the big screen this weekend. Maybe seeing something set in a more refined time seems better by comparison. Then again, was it so good? Women were still disregarded and the Civil Rights movement was well underway, but by no means resolved.

That’s the thing about nostalgia. It’s rarely accurate.

So maybe 1961 wasn’t any better than 2011. Which depresses me more. 50 years later and the problems are all different and all the same. There’s more of us. We’re meaner to each other. And in some ways we’re better too.

As M. Scott Peck wrote in the first line of the book The Road Less Traveled, “Life is difficult.”

I’ve always bridled at that notion. Why? Why does life have to be difficult?

A wise mentor asked me to read that book and asked me to embrace the concept that life is difficult. It was suggested I learn to find a way to flow with it and not try so hard to swim against it. Maybe life would actually be easier if I just accepted that life is and always will be difficult.

But swim, I still do. Maybe my sense of values and honor compass has gone all screwy, like a dolphin swimming too close to a submarine. I think I’m going the right way while in reality I’m getting ever more lost.

I don’t think it’s that much to ask that we could all live a life that was peaceful and full of joy. That we didn’t all have to worry about the stock market and random acts of violence, and countries either falling or failing.

I had a boss for a brief amount of time who, when I would present her with some work related issue that was worrying me, she’d simply tell me to “rise above it,” which was never very helpful. She was a terrible boss.

But maybe there is some wisdom there.

I don’t know. Really. I just don’t know.

And sometimes that scares me.

Oh dear, my friend World, I think my letter has wandered off into the deep weeds. I hope I don’t encounter a rattle snake out here. Is that the road over there? I can’t recall. I think I have some lemonade in the Jeep. Want some?

Well, anyhow. I guess I’m grateful that you’ve given me all these years of riding on your back and you’ve given me enough matter in my brain bucket to have the luxury of thinking about such things.

There are some things I’d change if I was in charge. But mostly, I guess we do ok.

I am going to keep shaking my fists at people who steal parking spots and continue lamenting the jacked up state of healthcare. Some things are just too ingrained to pass up.

Thanks for listening. Let’s do this again soon, yeah?

Your pal,


Image from PlayPennies.