It Has Been A Long Time

By Katherine Johnson

August 09, 2019

Introduction

There comes a time in life when you are compelled by a failing biology, sometimes slow and sometimes sudden, that tomorrow may be the final sunset and if not, that you most certainly have one less to live. I have reached that place and found it populated with joys and regrets, things fulfilled and things undone, of time wasted and time lived in completeness, an indelible sum of my loves and my hatreds, debts long due and unpaid, and my memory of people that came and went, but to name just a few of what is there.

Rarely is one afforded the luxury to be able to revisit matters, that if were adjudicated cases would be denied this luxury because they are no longer timely. What follows is one of those moments where failing biology compelled me to go to that place and attempt to reopen matters long, long, gone by paying a debt with words that I should have said long ago but never did.

I have withheld the names of these two teachers who, unbeknownst to them, had a profound impact on my life that played out over its decades. The calculus of withholding their names is out of respect for their privacy. Finally it must be said that without them and one more, my titan, B.J. Rolfzen, I would never have found my voice, a mute for the ages I would have been. In my regrets is that I never took the time to let Mr. Rolfzen know of my enduring love and equally enduring gratitude to him before he his last sunset came, a fact that put a certain urgency to make timely a time that only exists in memory. This is a difficult debt that can only be repaid by using their gifts to me by using my time well.

Katherine

Mr. [Name Withheld],

I do believe we spent some time together at [Name Withheld] High School. The years would have been 1970, 1971 and 1972 though you would never remember me as I was beset by more than my fair share of youthful angst. I do believe I was more of ghost than a person at times.

Now decades later much has changed and now, I barely understand who and what I was at that time in my life. Still, you and your comrade, [Name Withheld], have stayed stuck in my head all these years. Though I was an academic and personal mess then, what both of you imparted to me about language and the language of my youth, rock and roll, turned my blood indigo and set the stage for an ever deepening love of American music, its poetry, and an equally deepening love of the American West.

The only soil that I still grasp from our time together was you bringing to class various musical recordings that I mostly misremember as being exclusively from the first half of the 20th century. I am sure you brought a broader range for us to study but it was the Race Records that lit up my soul and sustained me. It is in those I found what constitutes America’s voice, a voice that with each passing year becomes more perfect in how it not only expresses the essence of being human but it captures the essence of life itself – that we live as long as we have things that move us. And good God, does this music demand that we move.

It took me some decades to grasp that this music utterly halted the 1000 year arc of Western music and obliterated, a de novo recasting if you will, its entire language. This music invented its own instruments and those that it borrowed it made sing American and that once heard in that voice rendered them useless to the old order of sound. The tyranny of the paper score died and allowed those with profound talents to be captured in recordings – this change moved the essence of the music to something approximating a pure democracy rendered by raised voices whose unique nature reached breathtaking levels of artistry. And in the final analysis captured the deepest expression of America; no matter how flawed it can be, somewhere in that sound was a hope of something better, that maybe, just maybe, that America was not East of Eden but much closer to being within its earthly limits.

Still I was not happy with these revelations as I hungered for a way to explain all this using a single idea for this. What I hit on is that American music can be understood in a moment by stomping a foot down and counting out loud each beat, 1, 2, 3, 4 and so on. Once that raucous pounding is rolling along, a mighty river of time, a Mississippi of music, we take an arm and swing it from down low to the heavens and exactly at the apex moment, at what we call AND when counting, as in 1 AND 2 AND 3 AND, we snap our fingers. Instantly your body is raised in an uplifting motion, a hosanna, fully alive, – that is American music, that is America, that is life. It is right there where those 1000 years died – it is the backbeat that slayed it. Praise be given.

A few years short of 50 years later, I thought you might want to know what you caused to happen in me. Sometime later I stopped being a ghost, became educated, lived a pretty good live so far, and now I find myself living in New Mexico, a most profound land that can bring you to your knees weeping overwhelmed by skies that reach all the way to that place where Chuck Berry flies immortally. These days, besides my enduring love of 20th century American music I spend my time with two other loves, photography and words. Driving To Lava Land is a relevant sample from my blog Una Voce Sola.

What triggered all this was I came across the [Name Withheld] High School yearbooks from my years there online and I immediately looked up the two of you to see if my memory of your faces matched the photos. Remarkably they did, a detail which I found comforting. Odd we are. I must say I was delighted that I was able to find you and have the opportunity to say these things; age makes us care about, maybe demands, that we take time for such matters.

Regards,

Katherine Johnson

Copyright 2019 By Katherine Johnson – All Rights Reserved

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Table Will Fall If Sat On

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By Katherine Johnson

June 02, 2019

The Last Call – 420 Central Avenue SW – Albuquerque, NM 87102

The bulls eye’s bulls eye of Albuquerque’s nightlife that runs late into the night every night occurs on both sides of Central Avenue between 4th Street SW and 5th Street SW. It is quite reasonable though, that the eastern edge should be moved to 3rd Street SW near where the Library Bar and Grill is found with its facade made to look like giant books with profound titles like Tequila Mockingbird or Partying 101, while the western edge, out past the now closed Burt’s Tiki Lounge, could be fixed at 6th Street SW.

Here in the bulls eye, as I see it, is found the epic bars such as Sister’s with its always busy outside seating next to the sidewalk and just inside the entrance an array of pinball machines with the Anodyne directly one floor up. While across the street at the Downtown Distillery shots of Fireball and pool are as common as bacon and eggs in a diner.

Down towards 5th is the Effex Nightclub with its open to the sky dance floor while across the street sits the soul of Downtown Albuquerque, the iconic Kimo theater, adorned on the inside with steer skulls and swastikas, before they were disgraced. On the colorful outside the entrance captures the essence of a pueblo while vaguely Kachina type faces keep an eye on the sidewalk below.

Food can be found at all the bars except for the Effex which reflects that nobody goes there to eat but to hook up and get lucky. On weekends the cops shut down Central because in this area, a nod to practical policing and an acceptance that drunk cross street foot traffic is best contained at the edges, is better served by food trailers and carts than cars.

One guy I met that runs a food trailer had occupied the same spot for 35 years. When I think of his hair, now silver, and the crows feet in the corner of his eyes I still picture how I, upon meeting him, tried to picture him 35 years younger in my mind. And finally at the corner of 5th and Central sits the Last Call restaurant that is properly named as it seems to sit idle until the bars close and the drunks seek out food.

It is a stark space with few tables, more like a food cart built inside the corner location than a typical restaurant. Its dominant feature, overwhelming the food I think, is a mural featuring the glorious Mexican masked wrestlers,the Lucha Libre that specialize in flying leaps off the top ropes of the ring so as to cause maximum mayhem to an opponent when they collide, crushing him into the mat.

This mural seems to have the power to inspire the patrons to imitate the Lucha Libere aerial chaos. It seems, based on a fair interpretation of a sign posted to one side of the mural that reads “Table Will Fall If Sat On”, that patrons plunk their butts on them causing them to collapse exactly as if they were one of the Lucha Libres depicted in the mural.

Copyright 2019 By Katherine Johnson – All Rights Reserved

8:33 PM At The Guild

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By Katherine Johnson

June 02, 2019

The Guild Cinema – 3405 Central Avenue NE – Albuquerque, NM 87106

In Albuquerque if you wish to attend a Film Noir festival, see a late night showing of The Night Of The Living Dead, or The World At Arm’s Length, a documentary about a man who, struck deaf and blind by disease, wanted to walk the 800 km Camino de Santiago – the Way of St. James before he died, you have but one choice and that is to head to the Guild Cinema on Central Avenue.

Theaters like the Guild, while most certainly are about selling tickets and staying in business are radically unlike the chain theaters that all show the same first run corporate films at the same time. What sets these independent cinemas apart is they are an integral outlet for older movies and new ones, made by equally independent film makers who hock everything they own to tell stories that most likely would disappear forever without their gifts.

Movies like these demand that they be seen on a large screen with other people that are drawn in equal measure to such passion and the smell of theater popcorn that both linger in the heart as much as they do in the mind and nose. Without the Guild all this would never happen.

Which brings us to the people that run these theaters. One of the owners of the Guild started working there in the mid 1990s and some years later he too hocked everything to buy the place when it went up for sale in the mid-2000s. Now nearly 20 years later he has a business partner and they select the films, sell the tickets, pop the popcorn, and greet their patrons more like cousins than customers. And yes, they even change the marquee sign minutes after the last showing of The World At Arm’s Length has begun.

Here at The Guild one can find what love of something looks like and walk through a physical door and into a spiritual passion while I, on this evening in May, found myself on my knees on the sidewalk just outside this temple of film, full up with joy at simply being in the right place at the right time while watching the marquee change.

Copyright 2019 By Katherine Johnson – All Rights Reserved

One Night At Molly’s Bar

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By Katherine Johnson

May 12, 2019

Molly Bar Man – Molly’s Bar – Tijeras, NM

Rudy Boy’s band was ripping it up again,
The Telecaster, a 6 string razor blade slicing the night to shreds,
A bleeding sound, soaking the dry air and dusty dirt blue.

Beads of sweat ran down the long necks, ignored, puddles on the bar,
The rumble of arriving motorcycles, thick black boots, colors, felt deep,
the scent of rain in the sky, perfumed the fading light.

The delicate dance of pick up lines, creased jeans, mirror polished cowboy boots,
equal parts of maybe and rejection, a simmering stew of desire and steam,
while over there one guy owned eight ball and took dollars from all.

On nights like this the gift is being alive,
On nights like this in New Mexico,
On nights like this in America.

Copyright 2019 By Katherine Johnson – All Rights Reserved

When The Shine No Longer Sparkles

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By Katherine Johnson

April 26, 2019

Sparkle Truck Wash – Pan Americian & Candelaria – Albuquerque, NM

I have no idea why the Sparkle Truck Wash shut off its hoses, folded its rags, and went out of business. Maybe the owner sold the land and retired, maybe the owner died, and the heirs were not interested in continuing the business, or maybe the economic river that made this a profitable business at this location dried up or changed course sufficiently that it died from a lack of economic moisture.

Over the course of the last few decades, as trade with Asia, China in particular, the number of semi-trucks roaring about have increased dramatically to the point that there is a shortage of long haul drivers that most likely will persist until autonomous vehicles cease being a promise and causes these jobs to evaporate as the economic river that floated them changes course.

Another consequence of this international trade is the growth of a vast archipelago of corporate owned trucks stops that hug the edges of the interstate rivers. At times they exist on the edges of metropolitan centers and at other times are the only thing that disrupts the winter winds that blow down from Canada and across the plains of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado.

At night, given the right conditions, the glow of the lights from a Flying J or Love’s truck stop can be seen far, far off distant, and as one draws near the price of diesel is flashed in green LED lights while gasoline’s cost is displayed in red atop signs the stand 40′ feet in the air, while next to them, given the right conditions, an illuminated American flag, is whipped by the wind, stretched out, a full unfurling of the notion that this is a righteous American place.

Here one finds a curious segregation of the population into people and truckers with the people by design, or forces unseen, are kept close to the main building while the truckers are kept at some distance, wild beasts best seen from afar, out by the tall covered diesel pumps, or at rest in the vast harbor of trucks that rumble in the night while their truckers are asleep in their beds that are part of the truck cabs.

Inside the main building one finds that fast food chains have replaced the greasy spoons, a cornucopia of miscellaneous practical things, trucker things, like cell phone chargers, birthday or anniversary cards, showers, laundry machines, and less practical things, people things such as novelty license plates, wolf figurines, and spirit catchers all of which seem to be made and barcoded in China.

When one pulls away, refreshed, or at least the monotony broken for a time, and rejoins one of these American rivers that run past the wind farms and cattle, past junctions and vast fields of corn, past the secret lives of small towns and other Flying J’s or Love’s, one can glean, given the right conditions how and why the shine came off the Sparkle Truck Wash.

Copyright 2019 By Katherine Johnson – All Rights Reserved