Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lunch With an Old Man

Many years ago, while researching a film, I stopped in a small town called Truchas nestled high in the Sangre de Christo mountains, outside Sante Fe, NM, to have a quickie lunch. It was a languidly warm day and I was a little sweaty from rushing. I stopped at a local grocery store to buy a Pepsi and a sandwich, and exited the store and sat on the curb in front to eat. Running past me was the narrow two-laned highway that ridged the mountains, carrying occasional traffic between Santa Fe to the south and Taos to the north.

As I unwrapped a sandwich I noticed an old man seated on a blanket in a open, grassy field that lay across the highway. I saw him signal to me. At first I thought he was signalling to someone else. I looked about, but there was no one else near me. To be sure of his intent, I pointed to myself. I saw him nod affirmatively, smile, and pat the ground on the blanket next to him, gesturing for me to join him.

I slowly arose, somewhat reluctantly, re-wrapped the sandwich, picked up from the ground by my feet my also recently purchased can of Pepsi, crossed the highway to join him.

I remember the gravel that edged the other side of the highway that crunched beneath my feet as I moved toward him, and the soft, tall wild grass that covered the field. When I arrived at the old man's side, he gestured for me to sit down. He re-arranged his blanket to create sitting room for me.

As I settled only a few feet from him, he said, "I have too much to eat. We should eat together." His face was lined with experience. I noticed the homemade lunch that filled the small dishes and glass jars that lay next to him. They bespoke a loving wife or daughter at home, I thought. "We will share," he said.

I opened my sandwich, set it on the white paper wrapping, and he placed some of his food next to it; a piece of bread, some olives and cheese and grapes. "My wife takes care of me," he said. I offered him half my sandwich and he demurred. I offered him a drink of Pepsi. He took a small sip more from courtesy than from need, and placed the can on the ground again. I noticed his hands: they were gnarled, spotted with age, but beautiful, long, elegant and graceful.

We ate slowly. As the time passed, we talked, about the weather, the land, the town, and a group of religious men called Los Hermanos, or the Penitente. This was the mysterious religious group I was researching for the film I was preparing to direct. He spoke clearly of them, as he did of all things, softly and knowledgeably, his eyes sometimes wandering about the landscape, loosely focusing as they retreated into the past, recalling a memory or two as they came to him, relevant to the point, drawing a lesson for from his experience to underscore the conversation we were having. "They call the Penitente the 'silent ones'. One never hears them coming or going."

I finally became impatient; with myself. I loved spending time with the old man, but I felt guilty. I had wasted valuable research time, already having missed one appointment, having overindulged in the stolen pleasure of lunch. I gathered together the wrapping from the sandwich. As I moved quickly, the old man nodded at me. He saw what I did not say: I must go. The setting sun was striking the old man directly in his eyes; yet unblinkingly he turned to me, and said quietly: "See that tree over there." I turned and noticed a modest-sized, gnarled tree, filled with branches and leaves, leaning over, as if to embrace the earth. "When I die," he said, "I am going to be buried under that tree. Do you know what that means?" he asked. I paused. I had no quick answer. "It's a beautiful placed to be buried," I finally offered. He smiled, nodded. "That means for the rest of my life I'm going about twenty feet. Why rush. I am going to enjoy every wild flower and blade of grass along the way."

I left...the old man, but never the memory

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Why rush?
There is nowhere to go
'Here, there, everywhere'
is nowhere.
Only here,
this place,
is fulfilling.
See it. Taste it. Hear it. Touch it. Smell it.
Envelope it.
It is here.
The rest is chimera.

Good talkers talk for understanding, not effect.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

In time, youth's smooth mask will sadly melt into the harsh lines of trtuh.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Breaking Up

My father’s and mother’s marriage broke up in 1949, when I was twelve years old. It was the year of the blizzard on the East Coast. In that year I became part of what was then called a “broken home,” a term I’ve always loved for its simple accuracy. Humpty Dumpty: “…all the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again.”

It was a cold, winter night. Snow was on the ground outside.

Inside our home, a yellowish haze flooded from the hallway light, spilling out into the dimly lit kitchen where I was seated. My mother and Father were a few feet away from me, standing in the hallway facing each other, just outside the kitchen. Next to them was the entrance to the basement, which was across from their bedroom door.

They were shouting, screaming. “I’m sick of this,” he said. “I can’t take your goddamn criticism anymore! I’m leaving.” He whirled around, as if looking for a place to go. He stopped. Where?

My mother coolly reached behind him, into the dark alcove space beneath the stairs that led to the second floor. Out of the darkness she withdrew out a large, brown, worn leather suitcase. “I’ve already packed you.” Caught between his pride and her will, his bluff and her ante, he looked at her for a long moment, and nodded. He reached his arm past her into the dark alcove. He took his suit coat from a hanger on a hook, put the coat on. Then from a shelf above the hanger, he quietly removed his favorite blue fedora, grabbing it, as he always did, with three fingers pressed against the front crease. He firmly put the hat on his head and picked up the suitcase. He walked slowly to the end of the hallway, stopped before the door, turned. He looked at her, then turned his eyes slightly toward me. I saw his eyes were dark and soft. A sad smile creased his face. He returned his look to her one last time; a plea more than hope. Then, adjusting his shoulders under the weight of the suitcase, he gathered himself into a singular resolve, lifted his head, looked at her for one last fleeting prideful, dare I say loving, moment, and walked out.

My mother stood deep in the hallway. The yellow glare from the overhead light cast an even softer glow on her than when he was there, making the hallway and kitchen seem like old photo yellowing with age. She was wild, almost animal beautiful. I wanted to shout after him to stay; that I loved him. But I didn’t. I heard his steps descending the porch, slowly but firmly; one, two, and three, and then he was gone. My mother moved silently to the kitchen table, immediately lit up a Pell Mell cigarette, and sat. She inhaled deeply, the smoke disappearing into her throat and lungs, emerging only after a long while, in a gush through her open lips. Then she looked directly at me.

I knew from her look: I was to leave her alone. I went upstairs. I entered my room, lay down on my bed, and stared up at the dark ceiling. Finally, after many, many minutes, I changed into my pajamas, snuggled deep under the bed covers. I turned on the reading light, and picked the book lying next to it: “A Yankee Flier in the RAF.”

I removed the page marker from where I had left off reading the night before. I could hear my mother below, moving about the kitchen, making a pot of coffee. I kept waiting to hear some sound of emotion from her, some cry in the night, but there was none; just the silent, rhythmic and determined shuffling of her slippers moving across the linoleum floor.

I kept reading the same paragraph over and over again, until, hours later, the book having fallen quietly to the floor, I fell asleep. In the morning, the bed light was still on, and life began again. Only it was forever different.