It’s just a bit more than four miles between the two.
Ghost towns that, had they been any further off U.S. 84, would long since have slipped into unconscious memory. One has 53 people, the other has none; no cattle or horses, no cars or residences or business.
Just dust, tumbleweeds, and maybe whispers of the dead carried on the breeze. It is New Mexico, where Dia De Los Muertos celebrations are earnest and heartfelt.
West of Clovis about 40 miles is Tolar, New Mexico. It was laid out in 1905 as a supplier of sand for nearby railroad construction.
Sadly, it was the railroad that did most of the damage to Tolar. In 1944, an 81-car train derailed. Among the cargo…165 500-pound bombs bound for the military and World War II. It was about 92,000 pounds of high explosives. It was reported at the time that of the 30 residents of Tolar, only 6 were home. There was only one fatality.
Four miles west of Tolar is Taiban, New Mexico. Another railroad town, built at the same time, populated with the same kinds of people, one of the many railroad towns that dot the west and have since withered. Though there are still people in Taiban, about 50, on any given day I suspect there are more amateur photographers than that.
The Presbyterian church. It stands alone, literally, in a field, and stands, impervious to time or human dictate, allowing whoever need stop to do so; to photograph, to pray, to leave prayers marked upon its walls.
Its walls are littered with graffiti, with prayers and hopes….
…with esoteric quotes….
“I strove toward God…and stumbled upon myself.”
“Ugh…is this really necessary?”
She put some extra bitch into the word really, slithered those soft vowels out until they were as sharp as a stiletto blade.
I ground my teeth and said exactly none of what I wanted to say.
I love traffic stops. They are a buffet of the unknown. Any given car, on any day, can be absolutely pleasant…with a driver who was just moving too quickly and we have a quick laugh before moving on our separate ways…or it can be a nightmare of wanted felons, guns, drugs…complete chaos.
Perversely, night time traffic stops are even more fun because no matter how much light you put into that car, you can’t see everything. You have no idea what’s going on, what they might have, what they might do.
But this woman? Bitch-kitty on wheels.
I stopped her at 75 miles an hour…twenty over the limit…and when I got to the driver’s door, the first thing I noticed was the superficiality.
The car was fancy and extravagant and shined to within an inch of its life, yeah, but the woman? A late ’20s blonde? Fake hair, fake nails, fake boobs, a smile that stank of phoniness (you know, upturned corners but pushed out in the middle…a sneer disguised as a smile), and so much make up that I actually thought of Jack Nicholson’s Joker.
“The reason I stopped you, ma’am, is you were speeding.”
“Was I? I didn’t realize that.” She took an obvious glance at her speedometer, then looked back at me with that fucking sneer thing she had going on. “I didn’t think I was speeding.”
She looked at me as though I were a lump of roadkill, maybe a used and full condom left in the dirt. “75? Are you sure?”
She snorted, let her eyes wander up and down me with total disgust, and looked at the cars passing, her face getting more twisted up as she watched other drivers watch her.
Here’s the thing: I don’t write lots of tickets. They’re expensive and most traffic stops are four or five minute interludes that just don’t need a ticket. Most traffic stops are people thinking about what’s for dinner, or worried about their new boss, or thinking about their big date. Most traffic stops are just humans being, rather than humans being assholes.
When I write tickets, it’s because someone was doing something so beyond idiotic that I simply can’t ignore it; I can’t just let them continue doing something that dangerous and stupid.
In harvest season, that means driving 75 miles an hour in a 55 on a road that carries huge amounts of farm machinery; combines and tractors, wagons and farm trucks, and hundreds of deer fleeing the harvesting.
The other thing is that I already know if a driver is getting a ticket. Before I get them stopped, before I have any contact with them; if their driving is that balls-out shitty, then they’re already getting a ticket. It is impossible to talk yourself into a ticket because I write action, not attitude.
“I’m a hurry.” Then she flicked her hand, just a little, to indicate I needed to get on with it.
Through gritted teeth I thought: write action, not attitude.
This kind of self-centered narcissism drives me absolutely bug-fuck. How is it my fault that you’re getting a ticket when you – YOU – were the one using your car as a missile?
When I came back with the ticket, she stared at it, and said, “I thought the speed limit was 65.”
Yes, I slipped, just the tiniest bit. Yes, I was juuuuuust a tiny bit of a dick.
“So speeding just 10 miles over the limit, rather than 20?”
She snorted again and stared at me with her empty eyes and her lips in that sneer I had already come to love so much.
When I handed her the ticket, she said, “Ugh…is this really necessary?”
Except it sounded like “Ugh…is this reeeeaaaallllly necessary?”
“Not at all. Slow down and it’s not necessary at all.”
With that, I thank her for her cooperation. She actually spun her tires a little getting back on the road.
A while later, I had another traffic stop. This guy had tapped his brakes but not really slowed down all that much at a four corners in the county. There were no other cars around and he wasn’t speeding particularly badly.
When I stopped him, he was crying and could hardly speak. I’ve had criers before. I don’t automatically discount the tears, but very close. Actually had a woman crying once while I was at the car, then laughing on her phone when I was in my squad. As soon as I got back to her, still on the phone, the water works started again.
“Sir, is there any reason you didn’t come to a complete stop?”
He said nothing for a minute, kept crying, and tried to take a deep breath. It was hitched and forced and full of pain.
“My mother is dying.”
He pointed up the road with his head, toward the next big town in the next county.
I said earlier that it is impossible to talk yourself into a ticket. I knew, before I even stopped this guy, he was getting a ticket.
“She probably won’t last….” He stopped, shook his head, and said, “Never mind. I ran the stop sign. I’m sorry.”
But it isn’t impossible to talk yourself out of a ticket. This wasn’t the previous woman, this wasn’t someone trying to get over on me. This was a human being and he was hurting. This was a man who did not need a ticket.
I told him I was sorry for his trouble, and sent him on his way.
“Trey, what a fucking idiot,” I can hear you saying. “He was lying. He was scamming you. He played you like a cheap Slingerland.”
Except during the stop, a man pulled up behind us and after the stop I went to find out his story. He was a friend of the man I just stopped. He told me about the man’s dying mother.
Sometimes, people aren’t lying to me. Sometimes, people really do have a reason for what they do. Sometimes, they aren’t shiny cars and fake nails.
“For the last 50 years, the West Texas wind has been doing its best to blow the remnants of Orla away, but in a true show of Texan grit and determination, the small cluster of buildings at the intersection of 285 and Farm to Market Road 652 refuses to budge.”
Nick Zantop (http://www.letsbewild.com/orla-texas-ghost-town/)
A bit boiling, the prose; Texas independence and own bootstraps, the hard Texas mythos, the thing that keeps west Texas alive when by all rights it should sink back in to the desert.
Built in 1906, Orla hardly had a population to speak of. Less than 10 through the end of the World War II.
But in the 1960s, supplying oil fields, Orla became a real place; shops and cafes, filling stations. And just as quickly, Orla became a memory. With a dear friend, I visited in 2013 and while it wasn’t lost to time completely – sitting at the major crossroads of US 285 and FM 652, the rumble of oilfield trucks and equipment so embedded in the landscape it never completely leaves your bones – it was getting closer moment by moment.
I realized it was getting more and more difficult, as the hours passed, to get a picture without passing trucks blurring through the background. The intersection is a major part of what was, at that point, still an expanding energy sector in Texas. Two years later, the price of oil has crashed and no one seems to know where those oilfield trucks might head next…another field or storage.
There weren’t many buildings remaining but there was much of previous lives left in those buildings; the cans in the refrigerator, clothes hanging in a bedroom….
An empty box of booze….
A rusty blade on a shop’s saw that has seen no work in a while….
And tires. Everywhere tires. Left from how many thousands of cars and trucks traversing the west Texas desolation, each seeking that next place with energy.
An interesting place. Created, then forgotten, remembered before being left to itself, then discovered as a bleak and lonesome crossroads in the energy field.
So this is how it should have gone….
“Sheriff’s Office, this is Sergeant Barker.”
“Yeah, I’m missing my cock.”
“Well, it got stolen. I need you to find it for me. Return it to its rightful owner and all that.”
“Certainly, sir, I’d be happy to find your cock and return it to you. Now…can you describe it for me?”
“Do you have a picture? Strictly so that I know I’m looking at the right cock.”
“If the suspect has more than one cock, we may need to do a line-up, a cock-walk, if you will.”
And then I would go to the alleged thief’s house, talk to him about how society breaks down, the norms slip into nothingness, reliability and the everyday things-the cheeseburgers and cars, the football games and prom dates-all fall into abandoned pits of oil field slime if we allow cocks to be stolen willy-nilly.
He would see the error of his ways, hand the cock to me, I would return it to its owner, and life would chug merrily along.
But more importantly, it would be funny.
I mean, come on, can you imagine that?
“Yeah, I found a man’s missing cock today.”
“Here’s your cock, sir, have a good day.”
That’s comedy gold right there, baby, total comedy gold.
Sadly, not how it happened.
I got dispatched and went to the guy’s place. He said his rooster and some ladders had been stolen from the residence he was moving out of, but that he was really only worried about the rooster. So then I went to the house of the guy who had it, talked to him. He said the animal had been left after the man had moved out but he could certainly come get it anytime he wanted.
Bottom line was…not a cock theft.
And that ain’t funny at all. Not even in the least.
Though there was one moment where the complainant said he could send me a picture of it. Having worked on as many undercover child sexual exploitation cases as I have, I’ve gotten really good at getting guys to send me pictures of their whangs. Really good at it. Gotten so many dick pix I could open a Penis Hall of Shame in my office and put up pictures.
This picture would have been a bit more feathery than normal but hey, everyone’s entitled to their thing, I guess.
He never sent the picture and I found the animal within a couple days anyway. So everyone has the cock they should have, everyone is happy with their cock…at least as far as I know…and I am left bemoaning the lost comedic possibilities.
Ah, well, the internet is still alive and banging, so as Alexander Pope wrote: hope springs eternal in the human…er…breast.
Go away, the old buildings said. There is no place for you here. You are not wanted. We have secrets.
What a great quote. Doesn’t really have anything to do with the topic at hand, I just dig it. It’s from Harper Lee’s new novel, Go Set A Watchman.
I’ve read a big chunk of the book now and…eh. I’m fairly underwhelmed.
Let me confess here: I loved To Kill A Mockingbird (TKAM) not for the technical brilliance of her writing, which I find relentlessly boring, but for the story itself and for the lessons in that story. What the book says, rather than how she says it.
My biological father, the sperm donor, was gone early in my life. He was a mess, a liar and abuser, a man for whom the superficialities of life were most important. Ultimately, I did better as a man because of his absence.
But that doesn’t mean I didn’t sometimes miss having a presence. It wasn’t an overwhelming absence, I didn’t sit around bemoaning the lack of a father because I had the all-time great mother (and if you want to know about her, just read my work, her presence is in every word and character and thought and deed and dream), but every so often, I would remember there was only my mother.
So in reading TKAM, I sometimes wanted to be Scout. I sometimes wanted a father who stood up for what was right and righteous.
I had that in a mother, but not in a father and sometimes I wanted it in both. So I read Scout and I reveledl in what she had; hence the story rather than the writing.
Which means, having heard of the new Atticus Finch, I approach GSAW with some anxiety. In this book, written first, he is the product of his surroundings. He is a white man raised in Alabama and aged 72 years in the middle 1950s. He is, in this first book, not that far removed from the George Wallace who refused to let black students register at the University of Alabama in 1963.
He is that way because Lee was writing what she knew, what she’d grown up with and been surrounded by. Go read the Bible quote that gives the book it’s title. Isaiah 21:6. It is a command to set a watchman, who then reports back what he sees…in essence what all writers do and what Lee was doing specifically by writing a book about a white Alabama man in his twilight years.
Thus far, in GSAW, Atticus Finch has not been particularly interesting. He is not be the man who captured my imagination originally.
Because TKAM has become the novel it has, because it has picked up the emotional and sociological resonance it has, GSAW will, too. It will absolutely be read through the lenses of TKAM.
It shouldn’t be. Why? Because it’s a trunk novel, for fuck’s sake.
It was written first, when I suspect Lee wasn’t entirely sure what she was writing or what she wanted to say. It wasn’t until her editor suggested a rewrite that focused on Scout as a girl that Lee got fired up and found the story she’d been trying to tell in the first book.
It happens this way with writers all the time.
I just finished a novel called When the Lonesome Dog Barks. It’s the third in my Jace Salome series and I set it up in the series’ second book. Initially, it was supposed to focus on a particular deputy and some of his domestic issues, and end with his death and a gynormous cop funeral.
But as I was writing, that storyline disappeared beneath a new one that was more interesting, more vital; one that got me more fired up as a writer. This was the story I wanted to write, not that.
GSAW was a first attempt, an early novel, and while it’s interesting from a what-was-Harper-Lee’s-thought-process standpoint, it’s not part of the TKAM world. The story and the characters, the heart, of the story changed, they became something different, just as Lonesome Dog did for me.
That is part of the writing process, and to imbue the new book with the same intensity of examination as the previous book is to look at apples and oranges with the same rose-colored glasses.
Plus, first books are always shitty. Period. “The first draft of anything is shit,” said Ernest Hemingway.
My first novel, Power Play, written in high school, is a straight up theft from Stephan King. And the writing sucks.
My second novel, Razor King, also written in high school, isn’t a theft from any particular writer (so I learned from that), but is juvenile. I mean, come on, the title (and most of the plot) is from a song by the group Gamma, and the characters are named Dave, Eddie, Michael, and Alex (hmmm…I wonder what group that was).
If you want to read those books, sure…I guess you could. I’m not embarrassed by them because they are part of me, they are me trying to learn how to write, it’s just that they suck. Why spend time reading suckass books when there are so many good books to read? Why read Power Play when you could go straight to the source material and read The Stand?
So as far as I’m concerned, GSAW is early material; early I’m-still-learning-how-to-do-this material. But it’s also the false start that plagues so many writers when they start working on a novel. Writer William Gibson said at a reading I attended once that starting a new novel was like learning to fly a jet…from the back of the plane, there will be mistakes galore before you figure out how to keep things level and keep from crashing a fiery death into a mountain.
That’s what GSAW is…the first tentative steps in a story that she figured out how to write better in a second draft, that draft being TKAM.
So I refuse to stuff all the weighty pronouncements that To Kill A Mockingbird has gathered in the last half-century into Go Set A Watchman. The new book is the first, lesser draft of what became literary history; interesting in a navel-gazing sort of way, but not really worth the time.
But the first Jace Salome novel, Slow Bleed? What a classic! Snatch that shit up now!
Welcome to the new iteration of my website.
Come on in, take a look around, try the whiskey, shoot the bullets. I hope you enjoy it.
Chad Brokaw, my IT wiz, has designed all my website and while I loved the last one, we both thought it was time for a spruce up, a new look.
All the standard stuff is here, including ways to order books. And if you’d prefer a personalized book, a signature or salutation for friends or family or even the convicts in your life, just drop me a line and I’ll get it taken care of.
Sign up for the newsletter! Odds and ends, bits and pieces, chapters, short stories, bad love poetry, who knows what all you’ll find in that thing. Probably won’t get an issue more than eight…maybe ten…times a month.
Hahahaaa…seriously, probably not more than eight…maybe ten…times a month.
I could go on all night with these funny, funny jokes.
I can’t see the electronic newsletter darkening your electronic doorstep more than a few times a year so don’t sweat that. And I’ll only sell your email address if I can make good bank on it. Or get a laugh. Barring that, it’ll probably remain private.
Also, Chad dragged me kicking and screaming over to Twitter so follow me there for flash sales and special offers not available anywhere else.
Lastly, one of the coolest things about the new website is I can post my photography. While I’m not brilliant at it, I do have fun and so from time to time, you’ll probably see some pix.
Feel free to drop me a line about anything at all.
Enjoy! And thanks for all your support all these many years.