25 September 2003

Tonight I learned a very important lesson: cockroaches eat poop. How did I learn this lesson, you ask? Well, when I was out in my backyard hunting for dog poop with a flashlight and a shovel, I noticed that nearly every pile of poop I found was crawling with brown roaches, their exoskeletons glinting like deer eyes in my light. It didn’t take too many piles of cockroaches to convince me that poop hunting is an activity that should be reserved for daylight.

There are a lot of differences between Iowa/Wisconsin and New Mexico, of course. The “no ten-gallon hats” sign at the movie theater, the green chile and cheese bagels (which are so great!!), the large number of people who’ve never heard of Michael Feldman, the fact that Hardees is called “Carl’s Jr.” and a “patio” is a small open courtyard in the center of a house...but these are all relatively minor differences. They have no real impact on my daily life. However, there are some major differences as well, and one of these is the Poop Problem.

In the midwest, most people have yards full of lovely, thick, green grass and soft, rich dirt. It rains a lot, and yards are full of dandelions and flowers and clover. When a dog poops in this garden paradise, the poop hides between the lush foliage and then magically disappears when it rains. In the southwest, most people have yards full of rocks and dirt and cacti. It never, ever rains, and yards are full of rocks. And dirt. And cacti. When a dog poops in this desert world, the poop sits out in full view of everyone, drying up in the sun into petrified poop that will never go anywhere. For this reason, it’s necessary to go shovel the poop up about once a week. I usually do it on Tuesdays, because Wednesday morning is garbage pickup. This is why I found myself tonight wandering through my backyard in boxers and a tee shirt, carrying a shovel and flashlight, looking for poop.


Another thing to file under “things that are different in NM” – kids can get high school credit for being in the ROTC, and spend a whole class period marching around the school parking lot yelling “left, left, left right left”.... when we pulled up at Moriarty High School today, one such group marched past us and Jennie said, “You know who that is, don’t you?” I couldn’t hear them, so I shook my head. When she said, “The ROTC,” I thought she was kidding. Also, the school has a big pasture out in back of it, full of sheep for the ag kids. Moriarty makes Oregon seem ultra cosmopolitan in comparison, which is pretty scary.


Today was a good day overall – we taught our first class out at Crossroads, Moriarty’s alternative high school, and all the kids were just great. Crossroads is located in some trailer classrooms out behind the school (near the sheep pasture). After class, I walked across the parking lot to throw some boxes in the dumpster, marveling at the vast Moriarty sky (Moriarty’s on the east side of the Sandias, far enough from the mountains that it’s flatter than Iowa), when I was struck with a pang of the teacher/artist divide... I love kids, and being in a classroom like the one at Crossroads or like Holly’s 6th grade classroom at Roosevelt always makes me think about how I would decorate my classroom, and sometimes – like today – makes me think that I should have a classroom, like what am I doing dicking around with these lizards? I’m supposed to be teaching scansion! (And the big 6th grade team at Roosevelt is teaching The Giver! Today when we were there, the teachers were filling out Ceremony of Twelve certificates in team meeting, and I got geekishly excited.)

And then tonight after work, I went to the Jonson Gallery on UNM’s campus to see a presentation by Susan Ressler, whose new book Women Artists of the American West features a chapter written by Tiska, who spent some time talking about the focus of her chapter, artists Agnes Pelton and Florence Miller Pierce of the Transcendental Painting Group (late 1930s/early 1940s). As art history presentations always do, this one made me question the way I just turned my back on painting when I went to college, made me wonder why or how I could give it up when it meant so much to me. Afterward, I said something along these lines to Tiska, and she said, “But writing is an art, too – you’re an artist!” But it’s not the same. I told her that if I could do college over, I’d be an art history major. (Which is a lie, of course. If I, Molly-Backes-who-already-graduated-with-an-English-degree could start as a freshman, I’d be an art history major for sure, but only because I’ve taken enough literature classes that I can take them for granted.... And to be honest, there are certain lit class experiences I would not give up for anything, including Broe’s post-colonial class and Cavanagh’s Milton seminar, and even Andrews’ women/writing/nature seminar – though I rolled my eyes through much of it at the time, it ended up making a huge impact on the way I think about a lot of things....and each of these significant classes required all the hoop-jumping of the many trads classes....)

After the presentation, Tiska kept introducing me as her friend (or sometimes as Diane’s cousin) Molly, who just moved to Albuquerque and is working on her first novel! At one point, I laughed sheepishly, or bashfully, or maybe doubtfully, and Tiska said, “I just love how that sounds! It’s so pure, and so inspiring!” I said, “Jennie always tells people I’m a novelist, too. I think she does it to convince them that I’m really as great as she says, because in her mind someone with my skills should not be working for such low pay at an npo, but she can justify it by telling people I’m writing a novel in my free time.” Tiska said, “Maybe it’s just that we can see you in a way that you can’t see yourself.” I love her!

Tiska took Susan and me out for dinner, to a restaurant called Gyros behind the Frontier. The food was less greasy, and the atmosphere a little more refined, than that of the famous Olympia CafĂ©, but it’s not necessarily better than the OC, which seems more authentic, more sloppy and weird and human. Comfortingly dirty. Danielle says that children who grow up in obsessive-compulsively clean households are actually more prone to illness than kids who grow up in normal houses that walk the line between cleanish and dirtyish. Or like our house, I guess, which long since crossed the line from hairyish into grossish, thanks to Zeke.

After dinner and grocery shopping, I finally got to talk to Dave Skogen and tell him about the Shins. As I predicted, he freaked out, and I almost convinced him to get in his car and start driving. He kept saying, “Man, if only I had known yesterday, I totally would have come.” Too bad, but I promised I’d tell James et al that my friend Dave loves them so much he was this close to driving forty hours round trip just to see them play one show. Done and done. Happily, D reports that YB was hob-nobbing with the likes of Beck and the Foo Fighters on their last tour, playing to crowds of thousands. And then they came back to the states, and played for eight people in a bar in Des Moines. Somehow that imbalance reminds me of a recent quote from a certain Josh Blue: "well...guess who was within FIVE FEET of JACKIE CHAN tonight!?!?!!....its almost as cool as the time I met Mr. Rogers and Mr. McFeely....." Vintage, Josh, vintage.

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