His grandmother’s adobe house was oddly organized, built one room at a time over a decade, with only one distinct bedroom. There was a kitchen off of which was a door. On the other side of the house was another door, which opened onto a concrete patio. In between was a hallway leading to the bedroom and then two other rooms, both large, one with two beds, one twin and the other full. The last room functioned as a living room.
He slept on the large bed in the room with two beds, and his uncle slept in the bedroom. He was there for no reason in particular. For him, it was an adventure. He just got his drivers license and now the world was a wide open ribbon of roads. He asked to drive his dad’s truck to stay the weekend at grandma’s house. He had no logic, no plan, no agenda other than to drive. And why not to grandma’s house.
After all there was a cache of pornography, booze, and country and western tapes just about everywhere. His uncles used the house as a base of operations, and that meant all sorts of things that couldn’t be had at home. He knew all their hiding places, especially where the latest Penthouse was.
As long as he had gas in the tank of the truck and a box of tapes he was happy. He’d follow his uncles like a shadow, here and there learning a thing or two and snagging another cassette tape they were sure not to miss. It was a teenage boy’s perfect vacation.
All these things were adicting, porn, booze, and music. It wasn’t like they were his focus, his reason for coming all the way up the road from Albuquerque, through Española and then to Chimayo. He knew less then than he’d ever know, and that was what made everything so abundant; everything was fine simply because it was happening.
There was one tape in that he loaded into his Walkman, it was white with blue lettering, The Greatest Hits of Ernest Tubb and the Texas Troubadours, that would become a favorite. He kept it. It would feature in many adventures over the next few years, the soundtrack. There was one that he played over and over, Walking the Floor Over You.
He didn’t bother to ask himself ‘why’ he liked it. He just listened. Over and over. Tubb would call out to the soloists, “Buddy Emmons now..” and the steel guitar would go. And he loved the lines, “You left me and you went away, you said that you’d be back in just a day, you’ve broken you’re promise and left me here alone, I don’t know why you did dear, but I do know that you’re gone.”
It was particularly satisfying, the line, “Now someday you may be lonesome, too, walking the floor is good for you, just keep right on walking and it won’t hurt you to cry.” That seemed a bit triumphant. It was vindicating. The tape would travel with him for many years to come, so long the blue print on the tape would wear away.
There were so many other tapes he lifted for his dad’s truck and his Walkman. Patsy Cline. The movie Sweet Dreams had just been released. Sometimes he would fall asleep with his television on — it doubled as a monitor for his computer — and the video for Sweet Dreams would be on. It was haunting. Then he fell in love with Imagine That.
One morning his uncle needed his help.
“I need you to drive my car home,” he said.
“From where?” he asked.
“I’ll show you,” he said. “Let’s get ready and go.”
They piled into his gray LTD. It was a huge car.
“I’m going to drive somewhere,” he said. “I’m gonna get out and you drive the car back here.”
He was imagining driving the huge car. He felt small, both because of the car and because of his uncle. His uncle looked like his grandfather, someone he’d only met once and knew best from pictures and stories. His uncle loved music, women, and drinking like his grandfather. And like his grandfather he loved cars.
His uncle adjusted the tape player, fast forwarding it.
“You like Johnny Cash?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” he said.
His uncle laughed.
“Here,” he said, and hit “play.”
He sang along.
“Shadrack, Meeshack, and Abendeego…” he intoned.
The story was familiar from Sunday school coloring books.
“Now that’s a song you can sing in church,” he said. “And you can get drunk to if it’s on the juke box!” He laughed.
He turned into a gas station.
“I need to make a little stop,” he said. “I’ll be right back.”
I walk the line was next.
He looked in his mirror as saw his uncle throwing up behind the car. Once. Then again. He bowed over slightly, with one hand on the trunk. Nobody could see him where they parked. Nobody but his nephew in the front seat. His uncle stood up straight, looked around and adjusted his shirt and hair and walked into the gas station store.
When he returned he had two Snappy Toms.
“These my friend will cure a hangover,” he said. He drained both of them and dramatically gasped after each. He put the empty cans behind the passenger seat. He checked himself in the rear view mirror.
“Ok, he said. “Next stop.”
They drove into Española and stopped at the Chamisa Inn. The Chamisa Inn was about the nicest hotel in town. It had a lounge. Not a bar, a lounge. The bar in town, at the edge of town, was called Saints and Sinners. That bar had a neon sign with a devil with a pitchfork in red neon and a saint with a halo in green. They’d alternate back and forth. Saint. Sinner. Saint. Sinner.
The Chamisa Inn wasn’t so gauche. It was a place tourists would stay. It had the usual New Mexico iconography like a kokopelli and fake cactus plants here and there.
“Let’s go,” he said.
They got out of the car and walked into the lounge. He was known.
“Hola, muchacho,” the bar tender said. “What do you want. It’s breakfast!”
“Yeah,” he laughed. “How about a Singapore Sling.”
“You got it,” the bartender said. “Who’s the kid?”
“My nephew,” he said. “He’s leaving.”
His uncle tossed him the keys.
“Drive the car home,” he said. “Have fun. Listen to music. Don’t wreck it.”
He agreed. He walked out and surveyed the car, got in, and adjusted the seat and mirrors as best he could. Music. He grabbed a tape from inside the glove box.
George Jones. He put it in. He started to drive. The song was called Just One More.
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