The few who knew about his dark life were not surprised by Ace’s disappearance. She remembered him in junior high, bullying everyone, including the bus driver who kicked him off the bus. The driver got fired and Ace stopped riding the bus after that. She thought he might have gotten in trouble but instead his father bought him a new truck. He drove it to school to screech around the parking lot, and drive over curbs, sidewalks and medians. He totaled it about a week later. No one was surprised but most everyone was disappointed Ace wasn’t hurt at all.

As an adult Ace assumed the character of an assassin after making this his life’s goal. He even wrote it down in a notebook and listed objectives and tasks with timelines as recommended by self-help professionals. The various checkmarks, dates and symbols later helped investigators piece together the gruesome history. He would have been charged on this evidence alone if he hadn’t disappeared.

Ace ran. That’s what everybody thought since he’d done it before. No one hardly missed him at all until about the third week when the guys who did the work he was hired to do showed up to get paid. Chocky had tried to get Ace busted for the work thing but it only got worse. Sammy got involved and the county gave Ace a sweet contract, all official.  He pretty much did whatever he wanted after that. They hired a gal, like an intern, to do all the paperwork and make sure he showed up to meetings.

Sadie paid the men from her account - whatever they said Ace owed them. Then she hired them on as barn hands and got them housing and health insurance.

Her brother was livid when he found out.


That Was Then. This is now.

"That was then. This is now."

She rolled her eyes at Sadie who was repeating the line and pacing. Her heels hit the second floor balcony rhythmically, sending anxiety through the wooden decking straight up Catherine's spine making her head tingle. She urged her to sit in one of the upholstered deck chairs hoping it might take the load off of her friend's heart and soul. 

Sadie's role in her family's schemes was hardly central. Her brother didn't feel any guilt and he was directly responsible. She'd been duped into believing the history her mother crafted about the land. But after she "figured things out" she'd done nothing. The series of unfolding treacheries might have been avoided if only she'd acted. This was the emotional weight she carried around. Her therapist and closest friends urged her to let it go. 

But as soon as she sat down she began the "if only" litany again.

"If only I hadn't married Ace."

Chocky snorted out a laugh and began pacing where she'd been a moment before. 

"If only you'd refused an arranged marriage. If only you hadn't gotten lost in your sadness." 

He suddenly stopped and glared at her. Everything seemed very still. 

"If only you'd acted differently? You'd be dead! If you were in the way, you wouldn't be here today. Repeat THAT a few times."



Secrets and Lies

The Colonel arrived in New Mexico Territory as a decorated Union Army veteran from Missouri. At least that's what his grandson’s widow wrote in her history of the ranch. It wasn’t true but in the collection of lies that made up the story of the Cozy Y, it's barely on the radar.

The whole valley is haunted by the lies and secrets. Every so often an objective innocent will expose some truth. Secrets will well up and spill out.  Or once in a long while a truth uncovers itself. But time will cover everything again. Secrets soak back into the sand.

Only the lies endure, sometimes like solid objects beneath the surface, adding unexamined weight to the measure of events and decisions. Other times the lies are more like labyrinthian rabbit holes, mazes of dark tunnels and dead ends.

Continue reading "Secrets and Lies " »

Cerrillos Journey With Jerry

He was driving this time. We see more when he drives because he drives very s l o w l y. As a general advocate of this I’m surprised at how nervous it makes me. I fear someone will run into us or get angry. But no one does and no one is. Perhaps the slow pace is just unusual. People smile and wave.  

We walked to some old mines in the Cerrillos Hills State Park and then hung out at the turquoise and mining museum. Jerry remembered stories about the big old Palace Hotel that burned down in 1968.  President Ulysses Grant stayed there when he came to the area during territorial days to look at mining prospects.

Thomas Benton Catron and his business buddy Stephen Benton Elkins of Santa Fe Ring fame had interests in Cerrillos coal mines and land and owned the town site itself in 1871. Cerrillos boomed into a lively place when the mines were open passenger rail connected it to the rest of everywhere. Amtrak still goes through town today but it's so fast you might miss it.

There used to be a wild little dinner theater and bar right there in the center of town. Places like that were popular with my parents and their friends. This was called Tiffany Saloon and Melodrama. A lot of people remember it but I mostly remember the long drives and sleeping in the back seat and pretending not to wake when we got home so my father would have to carry me inside. I also remember a lot of those places burning down within a few years of each other in the late seventies, some of them suspiciously.


El Caracol

Chapter Next in a fictional account of a fictional place.

El Caracol Bar and Grill was built after Alva burned Perea's down. Some architect from Chicago - well that’s what gave them the idea. It was supposed to look modern and sleek and like a seashell. But Alva's partners did it on the cheap and it mostly just looked like a big arch over a little building. It was dim and disappointing. There were no windows and it smelled like rancid grease, beer, and cigarettes. Sometimes worse.

It was popular for a couple years when Connie was running the grill. Then Johnny took over and the place got shabby fast.  He was too cheap to pay anyone to clean. Cleaning is important. Damned if it isn’t more important than the food. You can serve bad food but if you serve bad food that makes people sick, well that’s different.

When it was at its worst, a couple of letters had fallen off the sign so instead of El Caracol it was "El Ca co " which means thief. Then some genius made the ‘o’ into an ‘a’ with spray paint, which means shit. Perfect, both.

By then Johnny was storing marine equipment there. Middle of the desert and he had a thing about boats. I guess you'd call him a boat hoarder. Maybe it reminded him of his childhood in wherever back east. He'd let anyone leave boats there and pretty soon they left anything. The parking lot filled with junk. That got him in trouble with the County before the bad food did.

So there was a salvage boat yard at one end of the village and an auto salvage yard at the other end. In between was the vacant gas station with the leaking storage tank and the "motor court" cabins and garages that were in serious decay.  Transporation trash.

Uncle Johnny died there, at his bar. His bodyguards and women and everyone else quit him when he went broke. He was sitting on his favorite stool and didn’t even fall off. The bartender found him the next morning, one hand around a glass of scotch and the other around a bottle. In front of him was a foreclosure notice for his bar. He ran out of money and ran out of life at the same time. 


Old Road Trips

We stood on a low stone pile as traffic sped by.

Jerry has an encyclopedic knowledge of New Mexico’s old roads and routes, mines and settlements. The stuff of the west. In the spirit of, “I haven’t been out that way in a while,” he can be coaxed to go anywhere. Even where we probably shouldn’t.

He recalled being at Paa-ko as a boy before the war. It was a State Historic Monument then, on the old road maps. There was a full-time caretaker who lived right about where we stand, he says. It was a two-room stone house. One room was museum - a cracked-glass cabinet of arrowheads and broken pots, and a guest book. The other room was the caretaker's living quarters where he heated and cooked on a wood stove and slept on a single cot.

Ruins were of keen interest to tourists in the days when road trips were new. Now they're consciously hidden to draw attention away from them for fear they’ll be destroyed. It’s a reasonable concern. Attention can be destructive. But so can forgetting.

It was June and windy and cars zoomed by headed to big subdivisions of big houses.


Journeys with Jerry

He tells me of places he’s been. Many are lost, long ago places. Some are no longer accessible for this reason or that. We try to go to some that are. Sometimes we picnic at ancient Pueblos.


First stop on our big day trip, The Range in Bernalillo at the crack of 11:30 a.m. because Jerry’s not a morning person. Food is important to fussy old people. In this case it’s me. He’s happy eating anything or nothing, but especially unhealthy anythings that old people with bad hearts shouldn’t eat.

“Ham and eggs!” He pronounces his choice defiantly. Even the waitress looked a little surprised. I said, “Are you sure?” He said, “I can handle it.” Like dietary fat is a steep climb.

I had salad.

Fretting over the condition of Jerry’s car is another apparent ritual of mine. It has a lot of wear and is full of items in the back that would surely kill us if it ever rolled. One time he had a flat tire and it took about thirty minutes to get to the spare.


There was once a place - New Mexico’s largest swimming pool - with a Pueblo Revival-style adobe bath house built by a guy who worked on La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe. It was on the State Historic Register, I think. But now it’s gone but for the cracked slabs of aqua and weeds. A kidney shape visible west of Tucumcari in a park no one goes to anymore. Sad, really. The old bath house was torn down by a restless city employee with a bulldozer and too much testosterone and under the guise of safety because the city wouldn’t pay to fix up its crumbling walls. Maybe the big lake they made to the north reduced demand for the swimming pool. Maybe it was just too costly to pump the bazillion gallons of water it took to fill it. Maybe realignment of Route 66 made it too far off the road for convenience.


Big bead
There is an ancient defensive structure built by the Navajo on top of a tiny remote mesa that Jerry hiked to many years ago. It is on public land but is nearly impossible to get to without crossing closed-off private land. People do, somehow. There’s a  YouTube video (isn’t there always?) by a guy who probably trespassed to get there. He demonstrates many “don’ts” of videography as well as his apparent fear of heights with dizzy panning, most of it aimed downwards. But you get a few tantalizing jittery glimpses of distant volcanic necks and cones. The mesa narrows and steep cliffs edge both sides of trail. Our Youtube hero (we are cheering him on) is evidently impressed and as he progresses toward the rock structure fortification and single doorway he gets shakier and shakier. At one point he loses focus completely and spends minutes on fossil close-ups like a stoned geologist. He never makes it to the doorway, stopping a full shaky thirty feet away, saying nothing. There’s only the sound of constant wind and his labored, frightened, breathing.


Salinas National Monument

On another day journey with Jerry at year's end we loaded lunch into the old two-wheel civic sleigh and headed out from Albuquerque through Tijeras Canyon and then south toward the first, northernmost of three mission sites in Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument.

Quarai Mission Church doorway
As usual we over-prepared. Both of us being veterans of remote New Mexico travel we know to bring water and food. There was hot cider in the thermos, tea in cups, water, peanut butter and honey sandwiches, avocado and vegan cheese on bread, apple slices in lemon juice and cinnamon, and some incredibly sweet little cookies that Jerry insisted on eating to the near exclusion of the rest of it.

JerryWiddison at Quarai
We set ourselves up on a sunny picnic table next to the visitor center at Quarai which was closed "for lunch" when we arrived.   I wondered where the Park person might go to eat before seeing several lively looking restaurants in Mountainair. No doubt they rely on visitors to this and the other Park properties for much of their business. 

Well-fortified, we set out to explore the Quarai ruins with the guidebook. It was a very fair day and there were quite a few others, including several German speakers marveling at the place.

We spent too much time in the visitor center, which was open when we finished the walk. We stared at the scale model of the pueblo, itself an antique, and flipped through books and maps. Jerry will often find himself or his work mentioned in an index or bibliography - such is his vitae.

It was a bit late too late in the day to travel to the most distant of the ruin sites, Gran Quivera. So we left that for another picnic and spent more time at Abo instead. There were quite a few visitors there too, it being the least remote of the three places.

Abo Mission Ruins

 The warmth of the day belied its short length. We wanted to return to Albuquerque before dark and just made it, stopping again only to wait for a long freight train to cross 47. We'll go again soon.  I'll also chronicle other Journeys with Jerry here in future.


The Ruin

The founding of Perea’s Bar was commemorated, somewhat brazenly, in a mural that covered the dance hall wall. They say the discovery of the event itself killed the Colonel and discovery of the mural about the event, killed his grandson, Alva.

Old Perea’s barn turned dance hall once stood atop the ruins of an ancient pueblo village. When Coronado swept up the Rio Grande valley with his entourage he chose this very place to occupy and destroy.
Archaeologists have long searched for any remains that might verify the early accounts of events but the Colonel’s son never allowed excavations.

In the years after first contact with the Spanish, endless waves of settlers flowed up the valley. By 1720, the native population was decimated and the land was granted to Spanish settlers. The former three-story adobe pueblo was used as a corner landmark of their grant.

At that time the ruin was a low hill with a few surviving walls and timbers. It was a popular camping area for travelers up the Camino Real because of the spring at the base of the mesa edge and a natural break in that cliff where a narrow road followed an arroyo drainage up off the valley floor toward the mountains to the east.

In about 1880, one of the Perea brothers repurposed the ruin walls and timbers into their barn which later became a meeting and dance hall. After that, the history gets a little sketchy. Or maybe painted.

Public sale of the land grants followed a pattern set by the Santa Fe Ring, a group of businessmen who practiced the art of exploiting New Mexico’s natural riches. Colonel Simpson was only following a formulaic legal pattern for “partitioning” the common lands. Even if only one heir of the original land grantees wanted a share, the whole thing got sold. So the Colonel found a widow in California who agreed to make a claim as an heir to the Perea grant. No one in the village knew her and she received a big cash payment up front, but in the end it didn’t seem to matter.

When it was finally over, after years of court battles, the Colonel thought he owned about 40,000 acres. There had never been a formal survey of the boundaries but now he had his new ranch and wanted it fenced off.

Things got weird that Christmas right before the survey crew arrived.

Cabin Bar

Rene’s place is looking emptier. Sort of. All the better furniture from the sixties is gone except for two gold velvet sofas and an elaborate bar. Together they take up an entire room. You have to scoot around the sofas to get inside the front door.

Rene says she can’t figure how they’ll ever get rid of the bar. She thinks her father built the walls around it. It’s massive, tall, puffy, red leather upholstered with black iron trim and matching bar stools. The stools must weigh 200 pounds each. They poke at you with little swords and horns of the bullfighting motif when you try to wedge yourself behind the sofa to sit in one.

A sticky note on one of the sofas is marked $250. So they aren't going anywhere anytime soon either.

Over the bar are dark blue blown glass light fixtures that hang on heavy black iron chains at head-bang height.  Rene jokes that hitting your head is how they get dusted. The lamps provide a dull blue-grey glow and look like they belong in a dungeon.   A deep porch blocks what other light makes it through the trees to the windows. The light strip under the bar doesn't work. Who knows what's down there. Rene likes cold box wine.

Right before Rene left she told me she had something for me. She’s talked about all the cool maps she found or photos, some of my family. I imagine she’ll impart a treasure like that. Or maybe one of those six electric popcorn makers on the upper cabinet.

That evening she carefully handed me a bottle of very very old …Tom Collins mix. The bottle was plastic and slightly warped from multiple yearly freeze-thaws and the color looked funny, nothing like lemonade. The expiration date was 2004.

I thanked her and said they must not like Tom Collins.  She said she found it behind the bar and thought I could use it because I drink so much.