Saturday, January 27, 2018

Horse Apples, Dave the Barber, and the Boardwalk

As Kira is preparing to graduate college and Grange high school, I have grown a little nostalgic and have begun looking back at some of the early stories Barry and I have written over the years. This led me to the conclusion we should share some of that nostalgia with our readers, so here from 2002.

"Hey Dad look at this,” the kids shouted from across the parking lot. Jana had taken them over to feed the horses, and they had made an important discovery. In their hands were large greenish balls. "Horse apples," I said. Jana immediately wanted to know how I knew what these things were. As I explained, Craig, Barry, and I had discovered them ourselves many, many years ago. They were a good substitute for dirt clods when we had our running battles.

Horse apples are a hard "fruit" about the size of a softball and are actually greenish-yellow in color. They have a bumpy outer shell, are extremely hard, and can leave a good size bruise if you are unlucky enough to be on the receiving end of a good toss. Jana and the kids had apparently walked down the small wash that flows through the east side of town. In the lower part of the ditch, as it runs past the elementary school and continues on to the San Juan River, there was a cache of horse apples that had fallen from the small cluster of trees along the bank. Since the kids are interested in balls of any type, the apples captured their attention.

The trees are near our friend Dave's house, so Jana and the kids stopped in for a visit, and to see if Dave knew anything about this extraordinary find. Dave seemed to know quite a lot about the origin of the trees. He informed them that the fruit was actually called an osage orange, and that the early pioneers had planted the trees because the wood was good for wagon wheels.

Dave is the local barber, handyman, and EMT, who has a good mind for such details. I met Dave about ten years ago when he first moved to Bluff. Before Dave arrived, I made the trek to Blanding for a haircut. Since Blanding is 25 miles north of Bluff, and I don't go unless it is absolutely necessary, Dave was a Godsend. There were times when I got pretty shaggy before being able to make the proper arrangements. I don't remember exactly how I discovered Dave. It was probably a note posted on the community billboard that alerted me to his arrival and notified me I could now get a local haircut. After the first session, I was sold. I think he is the best barber I have ever found.

I began calling Dave "Mobile Dave," because he did not have a permanent location. At that time, I would call to see if he was available and about 30 minutes later he would arrive on his moped. On the back of the scooter a small container which held his tools of the trade was attached. I would pull up a chair on the front porch, and he would throw an apron around me and start cutting. Thirty minutes later, I looked like a new man. The arrangement could not have been better. Over the years, Dave has progressed to the point of having a salon in his home, which requires an appointment. That's progress I guess, but I long for the old arrangement.

Dave lives next to an old pioneer house that was recently restored by the town patron, Eugene Foushee. Gene is a genteel old fellow with a few Boss Tweed tendencies, who dispenses favors to those in need, and who has also been successful in restoring some of the old Victorian homes in Bluff. As a result of his efforts, the town has been able to retain some important parts of its heritage. This particular house has special significance to me, since it was inhabited by my step-grandmother when she was a small girl. She frequently reminded us she knew Zane Grey, the author of Riders of the Purple Sage, when she was young. Apparently, Zane lived in a small log cabin just a block from the house, and often asked her to do small errands.

This house was also the location for many of my childhood adventures. In years past, there had been a boardwalk extending south from the house along the wash. The boardwalk connected the home to a ramshackle wooden building that had at one time served as the local poolhall. I don't remember exactly when the hall first captured the attention of Craig, Barry, and me, but when we were about nine, eight, and seven respectively, our curiosity got the better of us and we, along with a few other small ruffians, pried open the back door. To our amazement, things looked as though the owners had simply locked the doors and walked away.

We found cases of soda pop that were several years old stacked in the corner and tables set up to play. After prying the caps from several sodas, we sat around swilling decades old pop and playing pool like we knew what we were doing. Shortly after that incident, we moved to California to allow Duke to find a better paying job. It has never been easy to make a living in Bluff, as the abandoned business indicates. By the time we returned a few years later, the building was gone.

The boardwalk also served as a repository for Bobby Goforth's chewing tobacco and cap guns. Bobby was a handicapped man who was probably about thirty-five years old at the time, and was tall, straight, and handsome. His handicap did not seem pronounced, and outwardly he appeared perfectly normal in his stiffly pressed Levi's, western shirt, cowboy boots, and black hat. His mother, who was the local school teacher, took good care of him and tried to keep him out of trouble. He, however, had developed a taste for chewing tobacco which had to be hid from his overseer, and the loose boards of the boardwalk provided the perfect location. Bobby would walk over to the abandoned house, pull up the boards, retrieve his tobacco and cap guns, and walk across the street to the Twin Rocks Bar.

After strapping on his realistic toy guns, he would walk into the bar looking for travelers. If he spied someone he did not recognize he would inform them that they had five minutes to leave town or risk the wrath of his anger. Many a thirsty traveler left his beer setting on the counter unfinished before the tavern owner convinced Bobby he was severely damaging the bar's cash flow. Bluff has always been a place populated with outlaws, and Bobby fit the profile. Since we were aspiring to greater social misdeeds, Bobby was an important influence. I have often wondered what became of him, as I often wonder what will become of those little adventurers who recently discovered horse apples.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Where Do You Belong?

The well-dressed man facing me across the trading post counter leaned in closer, put his diamond ring-adorned hand alongside his mouth, and, in a hushed and confidential tone, said, "Do you really belong here?" I leaned back to assess him from a different angle. He was a handsome gentleman with an intelligent air about him, carefully groomed, perhaps too carefully groomed from a "Bluffoon's" perspective.

When the man pushed open the Kokopelli doors and strode into the store, I recognized confidence and intellect. I thought I also sensed a slight uneasiness, maybe he was feeling a little out of place. He looked to be a well maintained fifty-something. His dark brown hair, slightly streaked with gray, was lightly oiled and combed into perfect form above his aristocratic brow. He was freshly shaved, and I could smell a woodsy, cinnamon aroma about him. He viewed his world from bright blue eyes under two distinct, carefully plucked and proper eyebrows; no Cro-Magnon unibrow on this fellow. I rubbed my own furrowed and fuzzy forehead, feeling a little self-conscious.

The man was dressed in a freshly pressed white long-sleeved cotton shirt with thin blue pinstripes, the first two buttons unfastened at the neck and sleeves rolled up one turn. A gold Rolex adorned his left wrist. The tails of that stiff shirt were tucked neatly into a belted pair of what looked to be expensive wool slacks. On his feet were a beautiful pair of brown leather loafers, no socks. The outfit spoke volumes, saying, “Big city, on vacation." I looked down at my Eddie Bauer pull-over, Levi's, hiking shoes, and rag wool socks. Smiling to myself, I thought, "Bluff casual."

The guy was actually very pleasant. After he browsed the store, we spoke of turquoise, the gold and silver markets, Indians, outlaws, and local history. I was surprised when he served up his curious question. "Do you really belong here?" "Umm, whaddayamean?" I queried, disgusted with myself for abusing the King's English in such a manner. "I mean," said the man, "This is a nice gallery, high-quality inventory, educated staff, and a progressive attitude. You sound ambitious and thoughtful; this place does not seem to fit the area. With a little fixing up you might go somewhere more . . . financially productive. I ask again, do you really belong here?"

I felt complimented and rebuffed in the same moment. Looking intently at the man, I said with passion, "This is where it's at! This is the source of the artists and the inspiration for their creativity." I attempted to explain the beauty of this place. How the light moves across enchanted mesa tops on cloudy days, playing games of illusion on your mind, and how the contrast between snow-covered mountain peaks, ruggedly appealing red rock country, and high plains spotted with sage and cedar cause you to stop and stare in wide-eyed wonder. I told him how the silence and loneliness of this vast, exposed landscape calms your mind and eases the pain, fear, and frustration of the spirit. I went on to explain how the canyons hold the mystery and magic of a still vibrant American Indian culture in their rough and tumble depths. How on incredibly bright, star-lit nights, myths and legends spring forth from yellow-hot Juniper fires surrounded by indigenous people looking to the past for answers. I related the power and security of deeply rooted friendships based on time, space, and patience. I told my new acquaintance of the strength and satisfaction derived from working closely with family towards common interests and goals.

At some point, I had heard a story broadcast on what I think was NPR's This American Life. The program spoke of interviews with American pilots flying bombing missions over Afghanistan. The host was surprised by the wide variety of opinions these young men held on the beauty, or lack thereof, of the foreign landscape they flew over and often pulverized. A few of the "fly boys" recognized a rugged and unique beauty beneath their wings and regretted its destruction, others were apathetic, giving no opinion at all. The final group saw only wasteland below, and were more than willing to pound the countryside and its enemy inhabitants into oblivion. It is all a matter of perspective, and vision, I suppose.

The polished and proper, seemingly wealthy, gentleman nodded his head in understanding as I ended my recitation. The reasoning behind my "belonging" was evident to him now. This was home, comfort, and a life lived slowly and easily, near to the earth herself. Surrounded by family, friends, and spectacular scenic beauty, there is no better place for me. Everyone truly belongs somewhere, and I understood this man had discovered his proper place in the city. He found his comfort zone and source of milk and honey amidst the bright lights, noise, and confusion I find totally alien. I guess every source of refuge has its price, and rewards.