Tuesday July 6, 1999
I know why Faulkner drank. And he wasn’t even in New Mexico. (We quickly slipped into indistinguishable Arizona.) In the south, along the border, it’s sand. And heat. And midget cactus, too small to pot. The north boasts the Grand Canyon. Whitewater rafting. We got Tombstone.
Tombstone without the good bodies. Those have been sold somewhere else. You kneel between rocks, looking for famous dead folk, and get Frank and Tom McLaury. Remember their TV show? DOA.
Before that, marked by an iron boot along the road, is the site of Tom Mix’s fatal heart attack.
“Tom who?” Tom asked.
“You’re supposed to know all other Toms,” I pointed out. “I know my famous Richards.”
And why Faulkner drank.
“Who?” Tom repeated. And I explained Tom Mix. Like I’d ever seen one of his films. Or could pick him out of the sagebrush.
“Famous cowboy star. Early movies. Maybe even silents.”
The plaque on his memorial was too sunburnt to read.
Between Deming and Tombstone was Bisbee, a former copper town. If Molly Brown lived there, it might be a cameo on a sinking ship. Now it was a hole.
But you didn’t wanna miss The Hanging Gardens of Bisbee. Again, no bodies—these were terraced corpses of strip mines. And there was a neat hotel, and some artily desolate streets. I kept expecting Mulder and Scully.
Tom bought a painting: Copper-toned buildings, what else? I bought a top: Tiny. Wooden. Under a buck. The local library sported a sign: No Weapons or Ammunition Allowed.
Tucson was grey. That was the good part. If the light hadn’t been pleasantly diffuse the place might have looked like the second largest city in Arizona. Muted, it survived the asphalt assault.
But the best part of the day was the skies. I kept taking pictures. I didn’t even ask Tom to pull over. I just kept shooting through the windshield. Miles ago, on Vancouver Island, Tom and I had talked with a Canadian artist who’d toured the American Southwest just after college.
“I was still a kid. Riding a Harley. Sleeping outdoors. Not showering for days. I’ll never forget those skies.”
There’s the space for one thing. It just goes on. Growing up, in New York and its suburbs, I barely remember the sky. An occasional sunset over the low grade school across the street. Or at the beach. But you don’t think a lot about clouds in the city.
In Arizona, the sky’s the thing. The ground is flat, more textured than topographical. The buildings, burned-out. People are tiny, and scurry for shade. Animals. Cars. Semis. All peripheral movement. But the sky…
It had rained. All day, it seemed we’d been tailing storms, nearly flash floods judging from the look of drain-resistant puddles. The sky was dark, then white. Billowing, then streaked. God was alternately due, then delayed by too bright blues. Clouds mirrored rumpled distant mountains. I couldn’t look away.
“Okay, I’ll give you Tucson,” I told Tom. For the first time I’d found something interesting about the place. “Was it like this growing up?”
“Oh, yeah,” he grinned. “The clouds were always great to watch.”
All I had was the Yankees.