Thursday, April 3, 2008
Gems and Jewels
At Twin Rocks, we sell gems. Yep, the trading post is loaded with them; turquoise, coral, sugilite, charoite, malachite, chrysoprase, gaspeite and many others too numerous to list. Our specialty is, however, another type of gem, people; yes, people of every size, shape, color, age, educational level, religious affiliation and social strata. Fat ones, skinny ones, short ones, tall ones, red ones, white ones; we love them all. Well, in truth, there are a few we aren’t really fond of, but for the most part we genuinely enjoy our neighbors, customers, artists, tourists and travelers.
It occurred to me several years ago that being a trading post operator is a lot like being a bartender. Not that I have first hand experience with bartending, but I did watch Cheers for several seasons. What I really mean, however, is that people wander into the store, and, if we listen carefully, they tell the most fantastic stories. They usually come through the door looking like ordinary quartz, but, as they begin to reveal their facets, we often discover they are absolute diamond.
When it comes right down to it, this geographic region is inundated with jewels of this type. Bluff, as it turns out, is one of the best places in the entire universe to prospect for these human treasures. I have long maintained that Bluff is the smartest community per capita in the United States, maybe the world; almost every resident has a degree, and many have several. In fact, some even have so many they are obtuse. As a result, the people in this small town are wildly entertaining, and they attract a correspondingly fascinating group of associates.
Surely, the Bluff resident we at the trading post enjoy most is Arthur Bailey. Art, sometimes Indigenous Art and other times Fine Art, is not just a gem, he is the crown jewel. I first met Art when Craig and I sold him a building lot on the west end of Bluff. At the time, he was a special education teacher, instructing at a Bureau of Indian Affairs school in Kayenta, Arizona.
Admittedly, at first, I wondered what this tall, rail thin man with a scraggly, graying ponytail and a raspy Southern drawl was all about. He stood grasping the lapels of his jacket in a way I had never witnessed. Although I have often tried to emulate that stance, I have never actually been able to pull it off. There is something southern about it that westerners can’t comprehend.
An evening with Art and his wife Linda is a storytelling adventure. Now, in truth, I have never known whether Art’s stories are fact or fiction, but it doesn’t really matter. For me, it is akin to trusting in God; if you believe, all the rest is details.
Stories of his time spent teaching young people in the Oregon forests, resulting in his son being named Abraham Oregon, give way to his early days working with the Florida legislature to secure all the political necessities; booze, cigars, smoked fish and women. Like a pinball bouncing from one bumper to another, you are shot from stories of hitchhiking around the country with only $25.00 in his pocket to tender tales of working with special needs children in Red Mesa, Arizona.
Once Art retired, he began stopping by the trading post more often to shoot the breeze and talk with Barry about Winky Crawford, Buddha, string theory, energy fields and other ethereal themes. They often regale each other with wild ideas about the universe and its meaning. At times, I have wondered when the mother ship will land and carry us all to a higher plane.
One day I would like to be the type of gem Art already is. For now, I will have to content myself with the words of singer/songwriter Billy Joe Shaver, “I’m just an old lump of coal, but I’m gonna be a diamond one day.” As Barry would say, “You better get at it, time is running out.”
With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.