Mr. Nobody

Sadie and Cat had made a scarecrow in late September for a Halloween display the kids were putting up at the barn. They stuffed straw inside clothes over a wooden frame and propped it up on the second floor deck of the barn apartment. The head was a ball of fabric inside nylons with glasses and a hat. They named him “Mr. Nobody” and he almost looked real from the stable yard. From the parking lot he was convincing and menacing in the way he seemed to glare reprovingly from behind dark sunglasses. Some people found this disturbing. Mr. Nobody particularly disturbed Ace. 

The first time he saw the scarecrow Sadie was with him in his truck. As they turned into the driveway he started grumbling and cursing about how he hated strangers. She began laughing uncontrollably and didn’t stop until he rolled down his window and reached for the gun under his seat. She could barely talk through coughing gasps.

—Nobody! It’s Nobody!

This enraged him further as it implied guilt and denial. He took aim.


Angel heard pinging on the roof before the snap of gunfire and quickly assessed where it was coming from. This wasn’t hard as he could also hear Ace screaming. 

—Who does he think he is sitting there like that!? 

Sadie burst out in a fresh peal of fresh laughter. Angel admitted it was funny unless a horse got shot. 

—I don’t like the way he’s looking at me!

Ace spun the tires of his truck and drove through the gate into the stable yard and then jumped out, waving his gun.  He stomped up to the deck yelling insults at the straw man. When he noticed the mask he called him a pussy and a mummy a few times. A small group of parents and students gathered. Someone made a TikTok

Ace finally caught a clue when he recognized the sunglasses and hat as Sadie’s. Next he noticed a stick in a boot where a leg should be. He stopped yelling, deflated visibly, and got in his truck and drove off. A week later they found Mr. Nobody where Ace had hung him up from a tree and burned him. The kids at the stable had a funeral and then built his widow, Mrs. Nobody.

After that, the guys took turns wearing Sadie’s sunglasses and hat and staring at Ace from the deck whenever they saw him coming. He stopped visiting the barn. 

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Ace

He noticed the crows. Their loud calls distracted him from the white noise of pain. They were circling close enough to look him in the eye. They watched as he picked his way across lava boulders in his stupid dress shoes. He was suddenly self-conscious and worried he’d fall. He was sure they’d peck his eyes out.

Velvet edges of saltbush and mesquite sharpened as dawn light hardened into day. He could tell he wasn’t thinking clearly. The wreck beat him up badly. He had tumbled around in the trunk of his wife’s sedan. The horizon had waves and there was ringing in his head. One side of his body wasn’t working right. It was hard to walk straight. He imagined taking a DUI test in this condition and laughed. Certain failure. He wiped sweat and blood off his face with the sleeve of his dress shirt and yelped as he snagged his cut lip with his cufflink. This became the most painful thing on his body for a few moments before fading into the dull roar of agony.  

Sadie had seemed so sweet and easy-going. Hard to believe she had that much violence inside her. Telling her to calm down  didn't help. Neither did his suggestion that her anger was because of menopause. Still, he was shocked when she hit him. She found out about the waitress and didn’t like being tricked. He couldn’t blame her. When they found that grave, which never should have happened, she figured it out. 

He wanted to avoid the security cameras along the highway. He’d installed the system for a billboard company and had done such a shitty job he figured they probably weren't working. But he didn’t want to take the chance.  Cross-country was rough going. Stickers clung to his socks and he was getting blisters. He needed to rest and sat down to watch the crows on what happened to be an ant pile. 

In the few moments before the biting began, he reflected on Sadie’s perverted sense of duty to her brother. He was her downfall. She treated him better than he ever treated her.  He recalled the time she'd slapped his face for calling Sebastian a dumbass. Sebastian called her a dumbass all the time. 

Ace stood up squealing. The ants were inside his trousers and biting. He tried to take them off but didn’t take off his boots first and hopped around on one leg briefly before falling back onto the ant pile in his underwear.

Sadie’s witchy friend had warned him that the consequences of his actions would pile up until the "scale of fate” tipped.  He didn’t know what she meant then but was pretty sure now. 


Ice House


There was a hidden entrance to the Cozy Y ranch house. The Colonel built a Spanish Colonial home in 1910. It sat on the mesa above the older structures on the valley floor beneath it. In one of these was an ice house or root cellar. The roof was reinforced with beams and the walls were lined with shelves. In the back wall was a closet that housed a dumbwaiter up to the pantry. 

There was room for a day bed and floor lamp. Connie would hide from her father-in-law down there. It stayed cool on the hottest days and cozy in the winter. She read books, ate peaches and preserves from glass jars with a spoon, and napped on piles of  Persian carpets and Navajo rugs stored there. They were safe from their enemies too - the moths and sunlight.

When the first ranch house burned the icehouse and other structures were all that remained. These were ignored in rebuilding. Rosa had the dumbwaiter closet rebuilt after the fire, replacing the dumbwaiter with a series of ladders and stairs. She showed it to Chocky but Alva never knew about it and neither did Sebastian. Sadie was almost certain that Ace didn't either. 

Sadie tried to jog the last hundred yards but was too exhausted. She'd been without water for the last couple of miles and she was wearing heels. She walked up her driveway and glanced at her reflection in a patio window. She looked exactly as she would expect to look if she'd hiked across the desert after killing her husband, shoving him in the trunk and wrecking the car.

She knew she couldn't get in without passing the office window.  If he wasn't there someone else might be and there would be questions. She paused to consider her options. The swimming pool was burbling and glistening. It was right there. She was so thirsty and hot.  

He glanced up when he heard the splash. She still had her clothes on but she'd done far weirder things. She waved at him and smiled a genuine smile because the water felt so delicious. When he was no longer watching she got out and strolled to the cabana for a towel. She headed the direction of the main house but appeared to reconsider and headed to the bar for a drink instead. No one was at the window when she turned around. She went back into the cabana and down a ladder in one of the changing room closets, emerging silently from the ice house below.

There was no sign of anyone at the barn.  Either Cat or Angel would be with a horse or in the office. She waved at the security camera. Her barn was never left unattended or unguarded. She began counting seconds and got to three when her dogs turned the corner of the barn at a full run. They immediately veered toward the ice house and she allowed them to jump into her arms. 

*****


Pacific Coast Road Trip

I hadn't seen the Pacific in decades and it had been three years since I’d flown anywhere. A good friend invited me to drive from Seattle to San Diego along the coast. Trip planning was sketchy and flexible. But a week sounded like enough. It really wasn't.

They'll pry my cold dead fingers off the Honda’s steering wheel but I have to admit her Tesla was more comfortable and fun. My back didn't hurt and it was great to drive.  It did occur to me that the fun might be limited if everyone zoomed Teslas all the time. I found the huge screen in the center of the dashboard distracting and I never did get the door and window buttons right. But the short stretch I drove was exhilarating - for me at least. Zoomies are always less fun for passengers. I drove a hairy little stretch of former logging road and really enjoyed the fun curves. But for some reason, that was my only opportunity.

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The trip began the day after a King Tide and a week of big storms. There was evidence of flooding everywhere - huge trees down and closed portions of the coastal highways. The booming Pacific was unsettling, especially the first night when I thought I was hearing heavy furniture moving around the room. And it was especially impressive for a desert dwelling unfamiliar with its power. 

We blazed down the coast, stopping periodically to wonder at sights but never really long enough to fully relax. We made it to California our first night after zooming into the dark forest. There’s a giant peanut sitting beside the highway in Orick that's carved from a huge Redwood. It was sent to President Carter as an appeal to stop designation of the Redwood National Forest. It  was returned and the forest was established. We visited the awe inspiring “Big Tree” there, and many like it. In Leggett we stopped at the even larger “Grandfather Tree.” 

In the predawn hours in Monterey I woke to the unfamiliar sound of  barking harbor seals. It was Friday already. That night was Santa Barbara. Then San Diego. I would go the other direction if I had another chance. Hopefully the highway both sides of Big Sur, which we missed, would be open. And I would go north instead of south so that the population grew thinner and the trees thicker as the trip progressed. 

 


The Place Names of New Mexico - An Autobiography

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Robert Julyan’s 1996 edition by UNM Press is the one I have. It’s pretty tattered. He dedicated the first edition to his daughter and signed this copy for my sister at a bookstore  somewhere in Albuquerque. It’s dated 2/25/96. “For Lisa, Best wishes exploring the names and places of New Mexico. Bob Julyan.”

She caught this wish and this book was an invaluable tool that traveled with us all over the state, along with the good maps. We drove our father’s 1992 white Ford Explorer, packed to the gills, and called it “Cadillac car camping,” but we may have gotten that term from somewhere else. We re-used fire rings, brought our own wood and left campsites better than we found them. We ate like queens: grilled steaks and morning bacon and eggs. Mostly we camped on BLM land before motorized off-road activity exploded. It wasn’t hard to find quiet places then. 

We decided where to go on the basis of the weather forecast, (from TV news,) and where we could be at sundown, depending on what time I could get off work or when her flight got in. Then, in route, we would consult topographic maps and this book, learning on the go.

My sister died in 1999 and I haven’t camped since. but I still use Julyan’s Place Names book for my armchair travels. 

“(P)lace names result from the fundamental and universal human need to label with words, and the concepts of naming and place identity are inextricably linked.”

Naming places reflects who we are. In this way, the book is an autobiography.

“(A)s centuries have passed, as people, languages, and cultures have intermingled, New Mexico’s place-name autobiography has expanded and undergone continuous change.”

It is good to hear from TACA board member and friend, Jerry Widdison, that a new edition is in the works. He is credited in the first edition as being a “meticulous editor, tireless researcher, observant traveler, and generous friend.” I very much look forward to a fresh crisp edition, signed by both of them.

The autobiography is still being written.