The sun had set, dinner was long past, I still had a bill for my car insurance, and its accompanying check, I needed to drop into the mailbox. I donned some pants and shoes and I did. I walked down the road to the mailbox, and then I continued on until I reached La Puebla’ cemetery, adorned with presumably solar lights on a variety of graves. Alas, that is a post and a series of photos for another day.
On my way back a man in a pickup truck slowed down as he passed me. I looked to my right, thinking it was a cop — I had been expecting that contingency as soon as I started walking past the mailbox. As I walked around the graveyard, I was waiting, just waiting, to be accosted.
But no. The truck continued on, after creepily pausing next to me. Finally I got to my neighbor’s house (neighbor used within reason, 3-4 houses up.) My neighbor was in fact a man I had met only hours before when he came to pick up packages UPS had mistakenly left at our complex of houses rather than his own.
Two of them stood behind the fence. At first they asked me how it was going.
“Fine. It’s a beautiful evening. How are you?” I was cordial.
They started in, a vicious cadence.
“What’re you doing here? Who are you?”
“I’m out for a walk. My name is Wheeler Cowperthwaite. I’m the cops and courts reporter for the Rio Grande Sun. I’m Kathy’s new renter.”
The second man laughed, my neighbor that is, Mr. Tony Maestas. It was the same Anglo he’d met not an hour ago when picking up the packages.
The other one, Johnny, he’d been told about me. Johnny is also my neighbor, one or two house closer than Tony. Johnny’s trailer just burned down, probably arson, and his house had been recently broken into. He’s a little paranoid. Also a little drunk. He also took the time to drive 100 feet, from his driveway to his neighbor’s. While a little drunk. Alas, cast not the first stone. Let it be cast, and then use up the pile accrued at one’s feet.
I made a joke. How could I be threatening when my sweater was tied around my waist? Only yuppies tie sweaters around their waists like that. I might as well have been walking around with a tennis racket and a baby blue cardigan. Instead, I was wearing teal Chinos and a red and black flannel shirt.
I kept joking. This flustered Johnny, who kept on explaining himself. As he kept explaining himself, I said, I’m just pulling your chain, over and over. He was drunk. I pulled his chain. He flustered. Repeat.
Besides, I said, would I, an Anglo, really go walking around a small neighborhood where the cops would probably get called on me because I stick out like ghostly pale thumb? C’mon. I’m wearing teal pants. C’mon.
Johnny continued to be flustered until he found a reason to leave, get in his truck and drive literally 100 feet to his house.
I learned a lot about Tony after that. Any time there was a pause in the conversation, he took it upon himself to fill it. I listened. I’m trained to listen.
Tony’s a welder and just retired from the volunteer fire department, which is hurting for people. I’m approximately the same size as Tony, he decided, were I to join. I had expressed my interest: his son-in-law is the fire chief. He, I later learned from another firefighter, is one of the founding members, helped build the fire station. Tony was much too bashful to say those things though.
I like Tony. A gregarious retired man. He does not shrug off the burden he carries on later in his life. He jokes about how his wife turned off the television and closed the blinds once she saw me talking to him.
Lightning, many miles away, too far to hear, too far to see, struck again and again, a mountain range away, illuminating the next range’s clouds.