I moved to Albuquerque thirty-three years ago -- just in time to start the seventh grade at Eisenhower Middle School, just in time to enjoy the state fair. Back then, Eisenhower was in the middle of nowhere and the state fair was a lot more rustic than it is these days. Cows wandered through both of those environments and long-haired newcomers did too.
South of the school a large ranch dominated the landscape. The ranch house had pillars out front, just like a Greek temple. Whomever owned that faux plantation grazed at least fifty head of cattle in the general vicinity. West of that was my new home, which sat in the midst of some sort of ersatz garden.
Some of the other people who settled there had planted a wide variety of non-native trees, and as fall approached, the place was florid, even humid from the use of hundreds of automatic sprinkler systems that fed the false oasis.
The effect of this was ultimately unsettling, but only after a few years. At first, it was kinda cool, glancing back toward the new green suburb, watching water rush down the curbs while plodding through rocky paths, past abandoned cars; surrounded by an ancient and adjacent world that was not quite so familiar with water and its ability to provide succor.
One side of the arroyo was filled with sage and succulents and loose and dusty sand contained them, fragilely. When the hot wind came up as it did at the end of summer, it blew billions of tiny rocks onto the houses and covered some of the cars in a fine brown crystalline mess.
Someone had planted a willow on the other side and Kentucky blue grass, too. All of the houses had front yards like that. As a gloriously impossible grouping out there in the bright and distorting heat, they seemed to float a few inches above the seemingly barren and misunderstood desert that was their intimate neighbor.
The pavement on Eubank stopped at Montgomery Boulevard, but resumed and had been freshly leveled and painted at Spain Street. The large swath of desert along that street and between Eubank and Tramway had not been tamed, except for a small outcropping of custom homes on the north side of the ditch.
The roads leading there were meticulously maintained by them that used those oily paths and I was always pleased that there was such a well defined route back to civilization.
The Sandias loomed and there were no clouds, but lots of dust.
The subdivision itself was subdivided. A long concrete alley split it right down the center from east to west. One side was filled with homes whose character varied from modest to grandiose; within that spectrum, each home seemed surgically clean and tidy. Here was where the doctor lived, there the scientist, and here was a military family and so on and so forth. All of these factors contributed to the unsettling effect previously described. The streets had names like Van Christopher Drive and Rawlings Road.
On the other side of the alley, people worked on the cars in their driveways and blasted Detroit Rock City from stereos in living rooms that were entered through portals that seemed perpetually open because of things like a broken swamp cooler or big dogs that were at liberty to come and go, menacingly. Here's an example of a street name from there: Zambra Place.
The appearance of these new worlds (described poetically above and present to some extent, in much of my writing) in the lives of two familiar wanderers, sparked an experiential flame; it was only natural that my brother and I began exploring the vast eastern mesa. Occasionally, we crossed over to the part of our neighborhood that we had curiously concluded was a close and constant contradiction, too.
We caught lizards and then let them go. We zipped past the cows and up towards the mountainy forest, on dirt bikes that were often, but always temporarily, taken away because they caused us to bleed with abandon on a regular basis. Activities that ran up both the laundry and hospital bills were not things my parents were willing to tacitly tolerate and just added to the sense of confusion and irony that pervaded our little house in the fake forest.
So, anyway, we started wandering around the neighborhood, instead of zooming about with gasoline-powered abandon. And met a group of kids (on the other side of the alley, where else) that listened to Kiss and were not interested in school. They pretended to like us, but I knew something was not as it should be. They were never on campus and I don't remember meeting any of their parents. In retrospect, I suspect they had been constantly abused and chemically altered, with consequent negative results. When my brother started hanging out with one of their girlfriends, things quickly devolved.
One day all that stuff rose up kinda like the summer monsoon that would follow. Those skeletal freaks plotted and lured us out to a remote earthen dam with promises of a wild party. But, when we got there, the harbingers of chaos from the other side of the alley were there and itchin' for a fight. I immediately feared for my twin, whom I supposed to be as fragile as the desert itself.
After a sucker punch sent me sprawling to the ground, I grabbed my glasses and frantically looked to where my brother had been standing. He was busy taking on the freaky mob without my help. He had gained an advantage and was successfully lobbing rocks at them from the top of the dam. His nose was bleeding -- but he was laughing -- and blood stained his overalls. Scant seconds later, the attackers roared off on their dirt bikes.
They did not mess with us again and, by tenth grade, all but one had disappeared. When we returned to the mystically constructed and artificially sustained garden that day, my father noticed my brother's bloody clothes. He muttered something under his breath that was meant to convey his intent to take the motorcycles away once and for all.
Here is what he said, as bit his tongue, as was his custom: “Como fregas! Ya, no mas... you two try my soul.”
The next day, he sold the bikes to some guy from the South Valley; we did not cross the alley after that, but began to wander the desert again, this time with small rocks and arrows packed with the sack lunch tortillas that sustained our journey.