Friday, July 21, 2017

Elvis is in the Building


As is often the case on these hot July days, Barry, Priscilla and I were hunkered down, sheltering behind the Kokopelli doors. Outside the temperature was 104° Fahrenheit and rising, it was hot. Inside the store, however, it was cool and calm, tranquil. Despite our comfortable circumstances, a dark cloud hung over us and our mood was sober. We had begun to worry someone had closed the tourist valve, and like grapes in the California sun we were about to become economic raisins. Turquoise and silver was not selling, and even Navajo taco and fry bread sales had softened. 

As with everything that goes wrong these days, we assigned blame for our slump to Donald Trump. Likely it was just that we were nearing Independence Day and Bluff is not considered a July 4th destination. Trump is, however, a convenient scapegoat, and we shamelessly abused him and his administration. After the Great Recession of 2008, it does not take much to spook Barry and me. We are still suffering the psychological effects of that slow down and have never fully regained our financial courage. While we have considered alcohol or counseling to overcome our cowardice, we cannot afford either and are therefore stuck with our malady. Although we have tried, we have yet to find a way to pin this situation on our current president. We are confident, however, that, like Robert Mueller, we will eventually find the smoking gun.

In our small community, there are no parades, no picnics, and no fireworks commemorating the birth of this nation. Indeed, there is typically not even a large glass of lemonade to be had, since most local businesses close so their staffs can enjoy the holiday. As we crept closer to the day Americans celebrate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence and our separation from the crown, those of us at Twin Rocks were actually hoping, maybe even praying, for a few Brits with pounds in their pockets to find their way in. We were fully prepared to forgive and forget the past injustices and embrace them as brothers and sisters once again, so long as we could shake ‘em down. As difficult as they are, we would have even welcomed the French. Frankly, once we realized they were not responsible for French fries, we lost all fondness for them. We are not, however, above taking their money.

As the afternoon wore on, our mood grew progressively gloomy. Suddenly the door burst open and a gentleman in his middle-sixties ducked in out of the heat. We noticed he left his traveling companion outside. I could see the second man sitting on the Yertle the Turtle King, which is located on the westerly side of the broad porch, immediately adjacent to the cohab. When Kira and Grange were young, we spent many an evening reading Dr. Seuss, marveling at the stories created by that extraordinary man. Although not my absolute favorite, a title then and forever held by the Sneeches, Yertle was one of the most popular. So, when Jana, Grange, and I arrived at the Sipesonian Institute for Creative Endeavor several months ago and spotted the carving out in the yard, I knew it had to live among the folk art already incorporated into Twin Rocks Trading Post. After searching out Dave Sipe, artist, curator, and cofounder of the illustrious institution, which is headquartered just west of Mancos, Colorado, we got down to business. Dave is a tough negotiator and we did our best to hide our enthusiasm. Consequently, it took some time, and a few crocodile tears, but we eventually arrived at an accommodation. Once payment arrangements were satisfied, Grange and I loaded the marine reptile into the Subaru and headed home.

Noting the other gentleman seemed to be bordering on heat exhaustion as he reclined on Yertle, I asked, “Why doesn’t your friend come in?” “He has a dog”, the visitor responded. As a result of our Buffy the Wonder Dog phase, which tragically ended about three years ago, we are pet friendly. So, after receiving assurances our furry friend would not pee on the carpet, Priscilla invited the overheated man and his dog inside. As it turns out, the canine was a Parson’s Russell terrier, a breed of small, white, feisty, energetic animals known for digging up badgers. They are reputed to be extremely smart, and this particular pup fit the mold. According to the information we gathered, the breed is named for the Reverend John “Jack” Russell, who in 1819 purchased a small white and tan terrier female named Trump from the milkman in the hamlet of Elmsford, England. That particular Trump formed the foundation for the parson’s breeding program. While we were inclined to draw parallels, we withheld judgment to avoid slandering the dog.

Once inside, the pet owner took up residence in a wooden chair and his sidekick set about thoroughly inspecting the premises and then surveying each individual in turn; first Barry, then Rick, then Priscilla, and lastly, me. The inquisitive terrier limped slightly as he completed his turn around the store. “Elvis,” the man said, correcting the dog, “that’s the wrong leg.” According to his master, the terrier had recently had surgery on his left leg, but in an attempt to garner sympathy and a little attention, he mistakenly favored the right. The canine was confused.

The animal wore a harness with an attached notice stating, “Do not pet!” Despite the mandate, after giving me the once-over, the dog jumped up and demanded attention. “Go ahead, pet him”, the owner directed. “Elvis?” I asked. “Yup!” Now, anyone who knows me understands the only person I love more than Dr. Seuss is Elvis, so the dog and I immediately bonded. As people straggled in from the scorching sun, Elvis, still confused over which limb had been repaired, hobbled over to them and extracted a scratch on the belly, a pat on the head, or a thorough rubdown. As I watched Barry overseeing this occurrence, I could tell he was hatching a plan. By the next morning, Barry had copied Elvis’ routine down to a science as he hobbled about the store. Clearly, he had set aside all concern for our financial well-being and become more interested in getting a pat, a scratch, or a rubdown.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Deesdoi (It’s Hot!)


As I drove to Bluff early Tuesday morning to open the Cafe, I noticed a pink blush extending across the entire eastern skyline. It was as if the Sun was taunting me, playing a game of illusion, hide-and-seek, or threatening to rise as a band of light rather than a big yellow orb. Working with the Navajo people has caused me to think of the Sun as a sentient being, rather than a ball of hot gaseous eruptions.

There was a coolness in the predawn breeze flowing across my fingertips as I drove south. I inhaled. The smell of burnt wood was in the air, and I assumed both the aura and aroma I witnessed were caused by the terrible fire ravaging the woodlands on the southwestern side of the state. The assault on my senses made me think of Fire God, the Navajo deity credited with cleansing the Earth by fire. Leave it to Navajo culture to explain how natural occurrences we view as negative actually have a positive side to balance things out.

I arrived in Bluff before sunrise, let the staff in and began slinging hash and cleaning tables. It wasn't until late morning that I emerged from the Cafe and realized how hot it was outside. As I stood on the porch looking out onto the parched landscape, a bead of sweat formed at my temple and rolled down my jaw line. Shaking my head and wiping my chin, I walked across the porch and into the refrigerated air circulating through the Twin Rocks trading post.

Entering my office, I pulled David Carpenter's master’s thesis from my bookshelf and began reviewing the life and times of Jens Nelson, the first Mormon Bishop and an original settler of our small hamlet. Viewing the pictures of early Bluff, I marveled at the hardship those hardy settlers endured while attempting to settle this desolate outpost, evade federal marshals looking for polygamists, and pacifying the Native neighbors they displaced. I looked out of the picture windows at the heat waves dancing off the hard-packed earth and imagined living and working out in 100-plus degree heat for two months each year.

The Navajo and Ute people were mobile; when it got hot they pulled up stakes and headed to the high country. Not so with the settlers. Bluff was established as a self-sustaining community. This meant that every citizen dug in, stayed put, and did everything in their power to help the others survive. They attempted to manage an unmanageable river, raise cows and sheep on short grass, and grow crops in an alkaline soil that had a bad habit of locking up tighter than a wedge. No Bull!

When the temperature soars into triple digits in Bluff, things get hot and stay hot. The rock houses of that period, along with the surrounding cliffs, absorb heat all day, until they match the surrounding heat index. The nice thing about the high desert is that the temperature can drop 30 degrees during the night. Not so with the super-heated red rocks; they radiate stored energy late into the night. Uninsulated as those homes were, they simply became ovens.

Trees were scarce; shade was a rare commodity. I would venture to guess that more than one feud broke out based on crossing boundaries as the sun tracked one direction and shade the other. The lack of indoor plumbing; labor intensive, exhaustive days; uncomfortable, restless nights; and struggling to keep more than one family happy must have caused many a rugged pioneer to suffer the effects of heat stroke in more ways than one. Life was definitely much harder back then than now.

Modern-day Bluff still provides its inhabitants with plenty of hard work and sacrifice. The river no longer attempts to flush us down stream at every opportunity. We manage the heat with refrigeration and cold drinks and get plenty of rest and relaxation. The Native Americans have accepted us to the extent of aiding and benefiting our business, and I have only one sweet, gentle creature keeping me lined out and working towards the common good. Iina ei nizhoni (Life is good/beautiful!).

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Minister's Wife

It was a late afternoon when the minister ambled into the store. Barry had closed the Kokopelli doors and turned on the refrigeration. Priscilla, Rick, and I took a moment to watch as heat radiated up from the asphalt and shimmered in the brilliant sunlight. At Twin Rocks Trading Post, we often brake to admire Mother Nature’s handiwork. In fact, we generally break at any time, for almost any reason, sometimes no reason at all.


The minister’s church is on the Navajo Reservation, so he has acquired a fondness for rugs and turquoise. Consequently, he often stops by to admire our jewelry and weavings. He is in his middle 60s, and his blond-gray hair is always perfectly combed, his denim trousers crisply pressed, his conservatively patterned button-down shirts wrinkle free, and his pointy-toe cowboy boots brilliantly polished.

The parson and I bonded a few years ago, when I asked how things were at the mission. “Well,” he responded gravely in his slightly southern accent, “there’s a lot of sinnin’ going on down there. Nothin’ too interesting or unusual, nothin’ we haven’t seen before and nothin’ to be too concerned with; mostly just your garden variety sinnin’. You’d think if folks were goin’ to sin they’d at least be creative about it.” I nodded my head knowingly, appreciating his frankness, and agreeing that a little creativity goes a long way when it comes to religion. We both recognized a little sinnin’ created job security for the minister without seriously jeopardizing his flock’s ultimate salvation. Indeed, he thought it might actually be “good for business.” That was something I could relate to, so at that moment we formed a kinship and I began to look forwrd to his regular visits.

On this particular day, his attractive wife and five or six missionaries accompanied him. Retirement was on his mind, and he informed me that in only a few months he would end his career. He went on to explain that, as a Lutheran preacher, he had built up more than enough credit to ensure his successful entry into Heaven. It was, therefore, time to step aside. He went on to say that he had been on the right path since his youth and hadn’t done much to offend the Creator.

Obviously concerned for the minister’s spouse, Barry asked, “What about your wife? Does she have enough credit?” “Well, she is a Presbyterian,” the minister responded. Noticing the uncertain look that flashed across Barry’s face, and apparently trying to reassure him things would most likely be okay, he added, “She’s a pastor too.”

At that point I began to fret, and asked if the minister could transfer some of his excess goodwill to his wife, so she could be saved as well, despite her status as a Presbyterian. “Kinda’ like trading carbon credits,” I explained, “One person sins a lot, the other not so much. You have an abundance and she may not have quite enough. In the end it all balances out, right? God loves us all, right?” He seemed to think there might be merit in the proposal and indicated he would take it up with the Boss.

Overcome by curiosity, I could not help asking, “What do you think God has to say about having a Lutheran and a Presbyterian in the same facility?” “Well,” he laughed, “I can tell you this, when we met I wasn’t thinking about her religion.” I wondered how that might have affected his account, but withheld any investigation.

By this time, the missionaries had finished their inspection, and it was time for dinner. As they walked out into the evening heat, the minister’s wife turned back and with a knowing smile said, “I think God understands.”