F*ckboys in Albuquerque

A Short Satire

    She leans over the counter and tap-tap-taps her bronze fingers on the cardboard-laced earrings. “No, you see this one you have—not sterling. This is silver-plated, not sterling,” said the clerk.
    Two boys are in her shop. Pasty, meaty, elongated… They’re mirrored by the woman’s Navajo chocolate children on patrol, ensuring these lone customers don’t pocket anything from their mother’s tourist trap.
    Luke asks, “Wait so is sterling like, the authentic…?”
    “Sterling is the authentic, this is not sterling.”
    “So not authentic?”
    “The turquoise is authentic, which you have, but not the silver.”
    Luke nods, considering the earrings. She has no accent, but mirrors Luke’s suspicion and greed. The boys were not keen enough to gather, but it was 5pm—closing time. The clerk and her family were to eat at a Boston Market, then drive an hour to Santa Fe that night, as they do every night. It’s where they could sleep, as the rent is a little cheaper than Albuquerque. Her husband, Sani, works a second night job in Santa Fe. These are his weekdays, and Saturdays.
    Chad strolls one last loop around the desperate shop, planning to leave with neither word or Southwestern souvenir. But the door opens, and Sani enters.
    He’s seven feet tall, claiming almost a foot over the teenagers traipsing around the family store. Just as Chad tries to leave, Sani’s gut enlarges and shoots wind in the form of a hearty “Hullo!”
    “Hey,” the two boys say.
    Sani snorts back, “You find anything?”
    “Gonna get these earrings.” Luke puts the earrings on the glass counter, seeking a swift checkout and a conclusion to the Chieftain’s extroverted vengeance of unadulterated chit-chat.
    The chief’s gut bounces as he cackles like the Kool-Aid guy, “Oooooh yeah. Good, good. You two visiting?”
    “Yeah,” Luke said while fumbling for his father’s credit card, “we’re on a little road trip.”
    “Right on,” said Sani. “Where you off to?”
    “We’re gonna check out the Petroglyphs.”
    “Petroglyphs! Ah, you’ll love that. You’ll love it… When you’re there, you gotta listen to the Earth. Know what I mean?”
    “When you’re at these places you gotta really listen. The sand’ll scream out to you, spirits of the past. They’re there. They’re still there. You’ll know when you go. They’re there… Where you two from?”
    Sani sings, “Texas! Texas. Really. Humid there.”
    “You know I would not live anywhere else in the country. You won’t find better weather anywhere. Nowhere.”
    “I was in uh… Colorado for two years! Came back, way too cold. Way too cold. But Albuquerque, Santa Fe, you catch the warm breeze, and there’s oxygen at night you know. Bet you don’t got that in Texas, haha!”
    “And it’s the petroglyphs, and other things, our people. They bless the land… they curse it too. When you’re out there and you listen, you’ll hear both. You’ll hear the screams.”     
    The date was August 3rd, 2020. President Trump was three months away from securing the presidency. Although the boys—proud sons of Daddy Donald—were excited for the upcoming election, this was not the focus of their trip. As adamant followers of their fraternity, they had spent two whole school years submerged in Tuesday night drunkenness, attempted rape, and the occasional dabbling in cocaine. Luke reformed, and spent his summer cutting lawns, and Chad had been cannabis-clean for a whole two weeks. The boys sought purification for their Sigma Pi sins, and the petroglyphs were their Mecca.
    While cutting across Texas the day before, Chad compared Yelp reviews of the fat boulders said to scatter the sandy terrain outside the city. His interior filled to the brim with Miller Lite, strains of estrogen stolen from innocent freshman, and the desire to reconnect with this point-blank primality. This last bit of curiosity, this last need is what led the two of them to this art installation of old—these landfills of boulders featuring primitive cartoons of animals, humans, and chalky scribbles.
    Apple maps was suctioned to the dashboard, ensuring Luke they were ten minutes away, but they couldn’t see a thing. The outskirts of Albuquerque blocked any view of the desert.
    They had always wanted to see the desert, Sedona, the Grand Canyon, all that—but upon gaining pseudo-independence after the Class of 2018’s high school graduation, they were simply too slammed ensuring all six-hundred sorority girls in their Snapchat address book had daily access to fresh selfies, penile photography, and the occasional pride of a deep-sea fishing trip gone right. But it was time for a quick break from all that. Surely, this experience of Navajo-spun nature would bring at least one moment of zen amidst the hedonistic digital clusterfuck that consumed their final chapters of adolescence.
    They circle a ten-mile fence twice, unable to find the entrance to the Navajo capital. The sun beat down at a perfect forty-five degree angle, threatening to kill the day, and thus the boys’ only opportunity for asceticism, confession, and peace.
    Chad pulls up Google maps, distrusting of Luke’s Apple maps that led them nowhere. Chad’s Google maps leads them to a nice lobby, a very nice air-conditioned lobby with irrelevant brochures and well-dressed servants that station any natural American monument. The servants request six-thousands dollars from Chad & Luke. They fork it up.
    After successfully initializing a thirty second chip read with Luke’s father’s credit card, the servants agreed to provide instructions for the journey ahead. They are to follow a trail, like any good journey.
    They waltz the steamy desert for an hour, a simple feat for six-inch calves. There were no snakes, Navajo, or any other unwanted guests. Now reaching the pile of old rocks, Chad takes his shoes off and sits criss-cross applesauce for the first time in his life. His groin is so accustomed to man-spreading that his thighs snap and pop. He stands, executes some stretches standard to a man well-versed in collegiate lacrosse, and resumes Indian position. He feels nothing, hears nothing, but pretends to engage in the spiritual experience he so heartily looked forward to. Luke scouts the land. Just a bunch of crummy cartoons if you ask him. Sand, ants, rocks…
    Instantly, Luke feels his bladder fill with the hot promise of a Gatorade gallon ready for release. For a moment, he considers pissing right on one of these old chalky rocks, but out of respect, aims for a splotch of sand six inches away.
    As Luke releases his urine upon the land, the two boys feel a rumble from the earth. Tectonic plates shift as God’s brown concrete beneath the surface slips into an endless black hole. Sand begins spilling straight down into the empty chasm of the new earth, as do Chad and Luke.
    As they fall, Luke attempts a heroic cowboy whip to the surface with his iPhone cable, but nothing can be done to stop their descent. The hole of light from which they fell disappears, and complete darkness engulfs their new reality.
    Soon enough, the cool wind of their dark, earthy skydive subsides. They slow down and down and down until they float in slow-motion. Is this a phenomenon of gravity, they thought? Is this a dream? Is God real, and upset with their inability to study for a test longer than ten minutes?
    What they are sure of is that hard surfaces began to tap them. Tap tap tap. These points of contact are human, but colder, crueler. Tap tap tap. The boys scream, floating in space, shrieking for Jesus Christ, for anyone. No response. Tap tap tap, tap tap tap.
    The boys below Albuquerque soon recognized a rhythm and rhyme to these foreign taps. A beat was spawning. But this was no Major Lazer concert. These taps were the sound of the first drum beats to ever be tapped, now revived by this strange underground symphony. But just when the boys thought they could nod their heads and crack open a cold one, they began to make out the figures of the musicians—skeletons. Thinly illuminated skulls stared at them, coming in and out of darkness to bestow their three-four drum exercises onto the boys’ bodies. They lightly beat them with spare bones. Not hard enough to bruise, but intentional enough to produce their song. The boys grew thirsty, tired, and Luke wasn’t even given a spare moment to complete his urination.
    They screamed expletives at the skeletons.
    “Fuck you skeletons!” they screamed.
    This display of zero-gravity percussionist prowess went on for eleven hours and twenty-two minutes. Once the dead were done, the boys resumed their falling—free from the aural expressions of the skeletal gang. Chad & Luke yelped what sound remained in their dried up vocal chords. They descended for thirty more minutes before bursting through a concluding layer of dirt.
    WHA-BOOM-CRACK! Like any ole Marvel movie, the boys bust through the concrete ground of Maria’s Mexican Kitchen, the oldest and most prestigious tequila joint in New Mexico. They smash against the stone ceiling and crash onto the floor, gravity restored; the fresh entry point already a memory.
    The crowded yet quiet hotspot moves along as if nothing happened, while Hank Williams Sr’s I Saw The Light softly fills the room. Meanwhile, the cut-up boys crawl to the bar and mount the shaky stools. They slowly take out their wallets and set their fake IDs on the counter, every little movement inflicting a hiss of pain. Upon seeing that these two children are indeed twenty-four years of age, a shadow of a bartender gives them a couple plastic menus, filled to the brim with chapters of criticism toward other tequila craftsmen. Chad & Luke probe the menu, learning proper mixology of lemon vs. lime, salt or no salt, and how to know if you’re sipping agave or fool’s gold. If there was a man in America who could mix a margarita, it’d be the maestro behind this stone counter-top.
    A voice from the counter catches their attention, “What can I getcha?” Due to a limited palette of cheap beer and lukewarm vodka, the boys are stunned. What does one order from such a prestigious and glorious tavern?
    “Two strawberry daiquiris,” Chad says. “And hold the virgin.”
    The boys finally look up.
    “It’s on me,” says Sani.


On the Rothko Retrospective

I spent a couple days at the Rothko Retrospective in Houston, Texas, December 29-31, 2015. This temporary gallery featured 61 glorious paintings by Abstract Expressionist master, Mark Rothko. Along with Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and others during the mid-20th century, Rothko and the abstract expressionists were the first to shift the gaze of the art world from Paris to New York City.

A history of artists spanning millennia have attempted to capture humanity and transcendence through still-life images, but the abstract expressionists begged to break the trend. Their approach asked and still asks: how can human emotion, experiences, and spirituality be reduced to the smallest common denominator? The anguish, the melancholy, the ecstasy of life… How can strokes of pigment be assembled in a way that transforms a blank canvas into another universe the viewer could step into? It was through this stripping away of recognizable figures that the expressionists found their stride. With bold brush strokes, they exaggerated the medium of painting itself to create something extraordinary—minimalist means with maximalist results. And without a single human form replicated onto canvas. 

What was so astonishing about the Rothko Retrospective was experiencing the evolution of Rothko’s work between 1937 and 1970. His roots in cubism and surrealism eventually disintegrated into “multiforms”, unrecognizable assortments of color blots which blossomed in Rothko’s 1940s work. By the 1950s Rothko’s paintings had become irreversibly potent with both clarity and magnitude. His signature style is as revelatory and intriguing now as it was then. 

61 pictures—most of them mammoths. It’s difficult to describe such an excessive experience with Rothko. It’s the closest I’ve come to a theatrical event while encountering visual art. Right when you step into a paintings gaze, you are simply there—present with another organism. You watch it. It watches you. Omnipresent, it confronts you yet comforts you. It battles you while its color fields battle itself, suggesting some kind (or perhaps all kinds of) human duality. What makes Rothko’s works so effective is that these archaic images would have similarly condescending effects on a human regardless of place or era. The paintings reach us somewhere deep down that we’re not usually unlocking. Like the black monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, citizens of both the primal and the present experience the mystery of life and death.

A first glance at a Rothko on Google images will prove to be disappointing. Like theatre, his work is meant to be experienced in person. Their true size prove an iPhone viewing to be a fool's errand, but stare into a real Rothko for a minute or two and the layers emerge. Brush strokes and various hues gradually glow through one another (the more patient you are). To Rothko's credibility as a painter, the peaceful pictures are not without technical mastery.

Additionally, Rothko’s paintings are known to have borderline hallucinatory effects on viewers. This sensation is called "chromatic afterimage." Stare at one color on the canvas, and the colors adjacent to it will shift. Additionally, the rectangles' extension to the edge of the canvas have the potential to manifest a hovering effect. Despite his mastery of color, Rothko argues, ”If you are only moved by color relationships, then you miss the point. I’m interested in expressing the big emotions—tragedy, ecstasy, doom.“

Rothko’s yearning for the spiritual was best satisfied with the opening of the Rothko Chapel in 1971, a year after his suicide. In the inaugural address of the opening of the chapel, Dominique De Menil said, “There is a growing awareness that God does not only speak through his appointed ministers—that he may be at work everywhere in the world. Everywhere creative people are trying to open a new door.” (I wrote briefly on the Rothko chapel here, although it deserves revision since my second visit)

Mark Rothko’s son, Christopher, wrote an essay called, “Mark Rothko: The Mastery of the 60s”. In this, he argues that the more subtle works at the end of Rothko’s career (while lacking immediate visual-emotional hook) are to be appreciated for how much they require of the viewer: “This process, which my father is proposing to you, his viewer, is ultimately his greatest gift. For he is not only insisting that you slow down and spend time with his work, he is giving you permission. He is helping you reorient your values, to spend time on things that are deeper, more meaningful, distinctly not practical, and ultimately more worthwhile.”