“I knew something was differnt.” That’s what Ludd said about the cake Marie served him in Lily Tomlin’s 1977 one-woman stage show that I had on vinyl 30 plus years ago. Do you know the recording? Can you too hear Tomlin? Once in awhile I think about Ludd and Marie, the names she gave to her mother and father “to protect them,” she adds (audience laughs) in her skit, “Dracula’s Daughter”. The humor of the piece lies in the flat-toned pace of their seemingly meaningless conversation about the kind of cake Marie buys or doesn’t buy, their conversation interrupted by the maniacal screams of their daughter who hears their exchange even though she is entombed in her room, music playing loud enough to wake the dead. For all practical purposes, Ludd and Marie are as clueless of their Dracula’s Daughter as she is of her parents. They seem to exist to try one another’s patience. If only the sometimes subtle, sometimes not, variations in the routine of our lives were so funny. If only.
Lately, I’ve been having my own flat-toned days--or so they seem at times--even though there is enough upheaval for anyone. I made one of my routine fall treks to Texas to focus for a time on my business of offering for sale treasure that I accumulate spring to fall. The trip was made more challenging by the drought that has laid claim to the Lone Star state and appears to be well entrenched for another year. No amount of water produced through the garden hose can mitigate the lack of rain. When I left at 6 a.m. on a Friday morning in early October for my return to New Mexico, Texas was set for another day of temperatures well above normal, no rain in sight, as day broke on the parched landscape, revealing old-growth trees struggling to hold on--some already having given up the ghost. Much of the southwest is suffering extreme drought, but a look at the current U. S. drought monitor is enough to make Texans paranoid. Record setting heat and record low rainfall tell the story. What in the past we have called the dog days of summer is dogging the fall.
Here in New Mexico, the drought is apparent as well, even though Fall has come to this land. As I made my way west on I-40 late in the day of October 7th, having driven well over 600 miles with another 150 miles to go, the temperature had dipped to the 50s and the remains of the monsoons produced late-afternoon rain showers. By the time I reached Albuquerque, the outside thermometer on my Toyota registered 46 degrees, with lows in the 30s predicted for the night. To feel this, to see the cottonwoods change to yellow and orange, and then to hear on the news that arid New Mexico is below 50% of its annual scant precipitation, somehow Texas seems to have gotten the worst of it. As we near the end of the harvest season, temperatures in Texas still cling doggedly to the high 80s.
One of my favorite stories about how clueless we can sometimes be goes back at least 20 years. At work in an air conditioned downtown Houston high rise on a hot, rainless July day, in the company of a few colleagues, I commented, “Man, I wish it would rain.” “Why, do you have a yard?”, asked a 20-something newbie, who ironically was a graduate of the great Texas university known for its emphasis on agriculture, she, obviously not of its agriculture graduates. I replied, “Yes, and you eat food.”
While I was away in Texas, the house I rent here in Albuquerque was burglarized. Someone who was awfully intent on seeing what might lie beyond the walls of this little 1940s adobe-like dwelling kicked in the back door, busting it in half. I don’t know how long the house stood open--presumably over night. A friend who was looking in on the house in my absence discovered the front door standing open when he came by after work. The forces of landlord, carpenter and friends came to bear on the circumstances. And though only my television and an antique western saddle were taken, the burglars came back the second night and tried to kick in the front door. Their attempt was foiled. I felt helpless in Texas, knowing that it would be at least two weeks before I could return to tend to my own property. And though more than a couple of people have suggested that I make the pawn shops in the area of the city where I live to look for this relatively unique saddle, I didn’t see the point. I had given up on the television without a second thought.
Oh, well, let them eat cake. Bread enough, there is not. I’m feeling rather flat, not unlike the way Ludd and Marie seem about their cake, be it banana, plain, or “what about the chocolate”. You mean the one that causes you to break out under your chin? “Stop talking about that cake,” I want to scream. It’s enough that my home has been violated and that I am anxious every time I lock the front door to leave. I now leave the television on, not at all fooling myself to think that the sound of voices inside would deter anyone who is intent on breaking in for my cake or my bread or my laptop or television or whatever other treasure their hungry eyes might translate into cash. Last night, as I lay awake around midnight, having awakened from some nightmarish dream whose details I don’t recall, I realized how powerless I am feeling to save my earthly treasure from those who would take it. I might as well be Dracula’s Daughter screaming from the confines of my heavy metal bedroom to Ludd and Marie and the insurance man who have quickly learned to whisper about important things, like cake. I get it, even though I don’t know what to do with it.
If Only--Albuquerque, New Mexico (October 26, 2011)
R. Harold Hollis