A Penguin and a T-Rex Walk Into a Bar

I’m not quite sure where I read about the Chama River Microbar in Albuquerque, but I was curious as to why I had scribbled the bar’s name and address in the margins of my Moon’s New Mexico Handbook. ChamaDogs I’d arrived in town two days ahead of the scheduled start of my Chaco Canyon tour and, after enjoying the city’s museums, decided to have a little adventure Friday evening. To save money, I’d booked a cheap room at the funky Route 66 Hostel, conveniently located between old town and downtown, and decided to forgo a rental car and instead use the local buses. (Hey, $2 for an all-day pass! That’s hard to beat.) Yes, this means I was riding the bus by myself at night….pssst….don’t tell my mom; no matter how old I get she’s forever telling me to not travel alone in a strange city.

I almost missed the place, which is literally a hole in the wall on 2nd Street, just a block from the Alvarado Transit Center (a major bus/train transfer point). With the gentrified-sounding “microbar” in its name, I expected something other than a small bar with half a dozen stools, maybe four tables, and what looked like an iPod-centered music system. Positive I must’ve read a recommendation for this bar in some travel magazine, I hesitated for a brief second. This didn’t look like the sort of place travelers frequent. It’s too small and too easy miss.

But as I stood in the doorway, Ado and Scotty greeted me. Who? you ask. Ado and Scotty – that’s the two dogs there in the photo. Their relaxed stances, wiggling butts, and wagging tails told me all I needed to know. I held out my hand for them to sniff and promptly got licked, and licked, and licked. You know how it is with the dogs. I petted them and asked their permission to enter. And they made a path for me, trailing behind. The tables were full, so I plopped my butt down on the last stool at the end of the bar.

PenguinAtChamaA couple of reviews I’ve since read were critical of the bar’s atmosphere: its “locals only” feel, an inattentive bartender, and “not safe for women” vibe. But I experienced nothing like that. Certainly, I kept my day pack slung across my back – but I always keep my money and ID close to me when traveling. I was instantly welcomed by the bartender, who gave me a taste test of their available brews. (The Microbar is listed as a tasting room for the Chama River Brewery on the north side of Albuquerque.) I spent a friendly evening chatting, first with the bartender and Adam, the patron on the stool next to me and then with Aaron (who replaced Adam who had to leave) about Albuquerque and Chaco Canyon. I’m certain I was the only out-of-towner in the bar, but no one treated me any different. Heck, even the couple at the end of the bar shared their pizza with me! (The microbar doesn’t serve food, but you can request delivery from any number of nearby food establishments.)

And no one laughed when I pulled Penguin About Town out of my pack and posed him next to a glass of the Chama River Amber Ale. I figured he’d had a tough day, nearly getting devoured by Stan, the T-Rex at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History. He needed a drink and a friendly welcome to Albuquerque. So did I. It was a pleasant way to spend the evening: a couple of dogs, a dozen or so humans, and a stuffed penguin. It didn’t matter how far any of us had traveled to get there, or why anyone was there. Only the beer and the conversation mattered. Words. Drink. Time. All cocooned in a non-descript hole in the wall that the average tourist would walk right past.PenguinAtMuseum

Alas…once again a semi-finalist…. (or “Ode to the Ivy”)

shriekfest-mastheadThe 2015 Shriekfest Film Festival…considered to be one of the top up & coming film festivals is fast approaching, but…alas…I am once again a semi-finalist. But I’m neither saddened nor discouraged. In the last seven years, I’ve entered four times (always in the short script category) and have been a semi-finalist twice and finalist the other two times. I think that’s a pretty good track record and, as friends pointed out, shows I’m headed in the right direction. I just have to try again next year.

2009 Mother’s Day (finalist)

2010 Babies in the Backyard [version 1] (semi-finalist)

2012 Babies in the Backyard [version 2] (finalist)

2015 Santa Needs a New Red Suit (semi-finalist)

You’ll notice the first three entries sound familiar, especially if you’ve read my Skin and Bones horror collection available on Amazon Kindle. Or if you’ve read my Mother’s Day collection – which has since been incorporated into Skin and Bones for its third edition. In fact, the 2009 entry, Mother’s Day, is an even earlier version of the same story and, of the three, is truest to the short-story on which the trio is based. I greatly enjoyed playing around with the story and its characters, seeking to better define my “senior citizen serial killer” Mrs. Fortenberry (who doesn’t make an actual appearance in the Mother’s Day script or the original short story except for her name)…her motivations…her true nature (avenging angel or crazed executioner?) and she certainly hasn’t been forgotten, but it was time for a completely new entry to Shriekfest and my neighbor’s 8-year-old son provided just the right idea at the right time: did you ever wonder just where Santa gets…uh…that red coloring for his toys?  (Yes, an 8-year-old came up with the gem which eventually became “Santa Needs a New Red Suit,” but then I’m told that young boys tend to be rather creative when it comes to concocting bizarre methods of death and dismemberment. Parents out there: is that true??)

I haven’t decided if I’ll rewrite the Santa script or perhaps turn it into a short story. We’ll see. Meanwhile, old Mrs. Fortenberry keeps knocking at my brain. I don’t think she wants to offer me milk and cookies. Instead, she keeps whispering at me…inviting me into the jungle of tangled ivy vines that have long held dominion over the backyard of our rental house. For that is where she was born: that tangle of ivy. Mommy2_ivyYou saw the ivy if you happened to see the cover of the Mother’s Day collection when it was available on Amazon Kindle. Mrs. F was born, like baby after baby to the family in the yellow house behind mine back in the early 2000s. Hidden behind the ivy and trees and bushes, every spring (or so it seemed) I would hear the wail of a newborn for a few days or few weeks…and then nothing. I could never see signs of life between the fluttering leaves, never hear the squeals of excited toddlers. My imagination began to run wild, wondering what had happened to those babies.

And then, one morning, I stepped outside onto the back patio to find a dead mother possum, with two pinkies – who had somehow wiggled out of their mother’s pouch while still attached to their umbilical cords – squirming, covered with ants. We didn’t know what to do. The pinkies obviously were too young to survive on their own and we couldn’t get animal control to come out before they succumbed to the elements and the ants. My whirling, sometimes crazy brain, put the two pieces (never seen crying newborns & dead possums) together as Babies in the Backyard.

Those children in the yellow house did eventually appear. I’ve caught glimpses of them playing in their yard in the years since…although I’m not sure I can count as many seen as I heard crying. See…there goes my imagination again.

Alas, the ivy which has inspired two stories (besides Babies in the Backyard, it features prominently in my erotica short: Ivy League) and made brief appearances in other stories, may have reached its end. As annoying as the fast-growing plants can be, our landlord may have to remove it (or at least most of it) thanks to the neighbors in the tan house (next to the yellow house). In an effort to tear down their garage and repair their brick retaining wall, they cut the ivy from its supports and it has crashed down onto itself, the weight of its own hardy thick branches working against it, breaking and dying, and is about to completely collapse onto our back patio.

While it might be nice to gain space in the backyard for family activities…will we have to say goodbye to our urban wildlife? The birds, possums, raccoons, squirrels, more birds, more squirrels, stray cats, wandering collared & belled cats, butterflies, humming birds, roof rats, and more insects than you can count. I won’t miss the ants, or the rats…or the raccoons (which seem to look at my cats – just on the other side of that window screen – as a potential midnight snack). But I’ll miss the rest.  I’ll the miss the hum of life, the cries of newborn life…however quiet…however small.

Amazing Astorga, Spain – 148-158/200 Camino Photos

More beautiful photos along the Camino de Santiago from my friend Xina.

On April 23rd, 2015, I set out from Villaverde, Spain, on my way to Astorga. The hills, valleys, and red earth, were peaceful.

red earth

So peaceful that I decided to preserve the surroundings with shaky, dizzying video

Up I went to a squatter’s residence at the top of the hill, overlooking Astorga far below. David lives there in joy, peace, and simplicity. Here he is with my Camino friend Sarah.

Sarah and David

He maintains a little snack stand that is run off donations.

stand

On his free time, or during the slow seasons on the Camino, he makes esoteric art like this. He has made a humble home in the lean-to behind the tree on the left for six years.

swirl

Also atop a hill is one of the many crosses with mementos cluttering the base.

Camino 1123

In Astorga, a few Euros buys you admission to the cathedral, the museum, and the Gaudi house below.

gaudi

Inside…

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