A Night in Santa Fe

I wrote the following account on the night it happened in March of last year. The rest of the conference I was attending turned out much better than this story might suggest, and I met some very interesting people. It’s from what feels like a very different time in my life, but it also feels like belongs here:

“Long story short, I’m bumming around Santa Fe, New Mexico. There’s a conference in town. Tenth Annual International Conference on Science and Consciousness, in fact. It’s heavy on the consciousness, light on the science, if you take my meaning. I’m there to try to find people who have had similarly weird experiences as my own, e.g. literally feeling rage, oppression and fire welling up out of the soil while I was in Chicago recently. Finding other people who have to deal with that stuff on a day to day basis would really help me deal with it better. No, I won’t be offended if you suggest I seek professional help.

I get to the opening evening event and it’s like I’m back in “training” in the youth program that let me get some government work a couple of years back. We get told to walk around in a big circle and join hands and sing and do little dances that elderly people with no rhythm can sort of follow. And it’s all an ode to the hope for oneness and unity in the world. Imagine this happening in the most wide-eyed, new-age (in the pejorative sense), kindergatenesque way possible.

I’ll just note here that the conference is quite expensive, which isn’t a problem for me, but is something I think about in terms of how someone else could have made their life tangibly better with that money.

Needless to say, I am more than a little miffed. I quietly excuse myself and exit the hotel, hoping the the actual lectures and sessions in the coming days will be better. Pondering one’s place in the universe and wandering around downtown just seem to go hand in hand, and so I did. The painful irony of the thing is what got to me. These people at the conference have put down at least a couple hundred to contemplate the mystery of the universe itself and to explore a supposed dawning age of empathy and understanding and their spending an evening badly, and not very interestingly, dancing and singing ancient and meaningful words that they don’t understand, all at the direction of glorified kindergarten teachers while hungry, homeless men are walking around on the street outside. It’s goddamn funny. Painfully funny.

Speaking of which, Santa Fe has the nicest homeless people I’ve ever met. The first guy I met was very smooth. Got his message out quick and even said that I should tell him if he caught me too many times around town. He wanted to get himself some pizza, which made me realize that some pizza would really hit the spot. I gave him two quarters and went on my way. I immediately wished I’d asked him to show me a good pizza joint. I could have bought him a slice for his trouble. It’s too late though, I’m already out of sight and it just doesn’t feel right to go back.

I wander around for a while. There’s a big ditch/river that runs along the edge of downtown Santa Fe. It’s been channelized and has vertical sides. I find a concrete bench along the side where the railing is gone for some reason. It’s like a little cliff. I like cliffs. They put everything into such clear perspective. I think about going back to my hotel room. It’s a thought too depressing for words that that could be the most interesting thing I can think to do. That’s why I get up and head back into downtown.

Almost immediately I run into another guy asking for change. He’s looking to get himself some dinner to, and this time I say right off I’ll get him anything he likes if he can show me a decent pizza place. He thinks for a minute and finally comes up with a name. We start walking. His name’s Kevin and he’s come up from New Orleans looking for work. We talk for a minute and I realize the serious shit this guy has probably seen. He’s apparently camped out somewhere while his wife is staying with some people she knows. I believe him. He looks too embarrassed to be a grifter. We get to the pizza place. It’s perfect. Classy, but not pretentious and it smells good. I ask Kevin what he wants. He picks out a nice calzone with eggplant and I have the cashier ring it up. It’ll be a little bit before it’s ready, so we chat a little bit. He shakes my hand and thanks me for helping him and his wife. I shake his hand and thank him for helping me find a good place to eat. He asks how long I’m going to be in town and says that if he gets a job and sees me he’ll pay me back. I tell him not to worry about it. I feel really good for the first time all day.

I set about ordering my pizza. The cashier is a smart little blonde and helps me make a custom order when I don’t see Greek pizza on the menu. Mozzarella, Gouda, some Feta, red onions, a bit of tomato sauce, some spinach, and kalamata olives to top it off. I sit down to wait. Next to me is a guy who looks a bit like me in twenty years. He’s sitting alone. It reminds me that I’m alone in Santa Fe and sets my mind down an old and familiar path to the door of a young lady I once new. The pizza arrives, and it is delicious. The only better Greek pizza I have tasted is from the renowned La Have Bakery of my home Province of Nova Scotia. This probably has more to do with my limited experience with Greek pizza than with anything else, but it was wonderful none the less.

I set to watching the people around me as I eat. I’m surprised that I’m not uncomfortable. Crowds usually bother me, but I’m just happy. I feel like I earned my place there, which feels like an odd thing to say about a restaurant, but that was how it felt.

I noticed a lot of interesting people there. Hipsters, hippies, a girl, her boyfriend and her family that looked like they were having a graduation dinner or something, and a group of girls probably at the end of high-school or just in University. One in particular was very beautiful, with the kind of strong features and big, expressive eyes I find so compelling.

The waitress is bringing me and my +20 doppleganger our doggy bags and I realize that he knows her and that they’re flirting. Ahhh, love is in the air. Well, not love, but close enough. Sucking down the dregs of my coke and grabbing the bag, I walk up the the young woman’s table and say “Excuse me. You are the most beautiful woman I’ve seen in weeks, and I just wanted you to know that.” She looks surprised for a second and says “Oh, thank you” In a tone, that at least in my memory, is like getting the best Christmas gift that you weren’t even expecting. I tipped an invisible cap to her and her friends, said good night and went out the door, checking with the cashier that my friend Kevin had got his order all right.

I got lost on my way back to the hotel, but it didn’t matter. In this one moment I am in love with my life. Plus, Santa Fe isn’t a bad city to be lost in. The stars are fairly bright and there are the most interesting smells.”

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2 Responses to “A Night in Santa Fe”

  1. Stace Says:

    I’m glad you found my site so that I could find yours. I really, really like the feel of this piece of writing. I was in Taos in January of last year and was wandering around – albeit in my car – feeling mysteriously rejected by the friend I had gone there to meet, and I went through some pretty archetypal, existential thought processes. And I wanted to go to that conference in Santa Fe, you know, basically because of the irresistible name of it – but now I feel okay that I didn’t go because it sounds like the conference was a bit of a waste dressed up in some overwrought hype, and simultaneously I regret, just a bit, not going as well, since I imagine you and I probably would have passed each other on the street while both walking around thinking about our existence. Either that or we would have ended up in the same pizza joint, or sitting next to each other at one of the talks – but probably out wandering the streets of Santa Fe.

    But what matter? We’re communicating now; we may not have talked then.

    Your writing here makes me think also of one of my favourite writers, Richard Brautigan. In some way that I can’t pin down, your words echo the juxtaposition of concrete and abstract, the real and surreal, the charmed and fucked over that Brautigan so eloquently expressed.

    And one more thing (well, one and a half). Your story brought back a memory that makes me want to smile and cry at the same time, but not for the usual reason one smiles and cries simultaneously. Another juxtaposition. One day my daughter and I made quesadillas, wrapped them in tin foil, and delivered them to the homeless propped, standing or sitting, against buildings along Denver’s notorious Colfax Avenue. We had one quesadilla left, and we were looking for one more person in need. Now I remember that feeling like standing for minutes in front of a bunch of organic apples, trying to find the perfect apple to take home. Anyway, there he was, looking like an old, dirty movie star – a very handsome fellow indeed, missing quite a few teeth; I wanted to offer him a shower and clean, mended clothes. All we had was a quesadilla. Sky rolled down her window and I leaned over her to make eye contact with him. He came over and Sky handed him the quesadilla, which was still warming the tin foil. He reached inside the car and shook our hands heartily, thanking us about ten times in the duration, while he gave us a brief, but very articulate account of his life, and he emphasised his name, which was very distinguished and fit the moment and the man perfectly, and again, at the end of it, he said with a very natural flourish, “Thank you so, so much!”

    I knew I could never forget that name. And of course, because the name-remembering part of my brain has a mind of its own that likes to get up and wander around the dark back alleys of existence, the next time I thought about him, his name was out the window just like the quesadilla. I’ve come to realise there’s no need to punish myself for not remembering his name, because I remember him. What’s important was the experience we shared. Along the ever-changing, scalloped shore of time, my daughter and I gave him some sustenance … and he gave us some too.

    That’s what your story made me think about. Thank you.

  2. wildrote Says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed the story.

    The conference really was “a bit of a waste dressed up in some overwrought hype” In my mind, but there’s some of it I wouldn’t give up. I guy named Moss, I think, talking about how to use mandalas to keep centred, Steven Greer, because for better or worse he’s an unforgettable character, just people I met even. That said, I don’t think I’d do it again.

    “Your writing here makes me think also of one of my favourite writers, Richard Brautigan. In some way that I can’t pin down, your words echo the juxtaposition of concrete and abstract, the real and surreal, the charmed and fucked over that Brautigan so eloquently expressed.” Haha, though I haven’t read Brautigan, that’s kind of what I was going for. Thanks.

    Thank you for your story. I know what you mean about the name. They matter when they matter and then they don’t.

    “Along the ever-changing, scalloped shore of time, my daughter and I gave him some sustenance … and he gave us some too.” I think I’ll remember that.

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