Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” On the first of each month, Catching Days hosts a guest writer in the series, “How We Spend Our Days.” Today, please welcome writer Daniel Asa Rose:
Having yet another midlife crisis. About two-thirds of the way through this one, best I can tell. Can’t blame it ALL on my last book–but yeah I think I will. The extended family was annoyed that I would help my cousin Larry procure an illegal kidney in China when he had given them nothing but grief for years; the immediate family didn’t like my spending precious resources being away two months; the intimate family discovered it was more peaceful at home without me. Less “stormy,” she said. Plus, of course, then I was Storm Central writing a book about it for the next eleven months. So yeah, I WILL blame the book.
Accordingly, I find myself in the desert. Fleeing everyone I’ve ever known, I have taken myself far from my 1780 Colonial in the lush farmland of Massachusetts and am holed up in southwestern New Mexico where I am slowly reconstructing myself, day by day. Here’s how it’s going today so far.
Feeling fragile, in biking clothes and cowboy hat, I step out of my sublet with a wrench to refasten the license plate which has been clattering in the dust storm all night. Cast a baleful look at my enemy, the empty mailbox heating under the baby blue sky. Hop on my motorized mule of a bicycle and ride two blocks past the empty ragtag storefronts of Broadway to an organic café where Outlaw Ray is behind the counter, for some reason looking more skittish than rakish today. He’s been hitchhiking for 25 years, either that or he’s hitched the country in its entirety 25 times, I always forget which. Whenever he got in a tight spot, he told me once, he’d “make like smoke and blow away.”
But like many of the dislocated souls here, he was just passing through when the town grabbed hold–specifically, in his case, Tessie, the pretty but no-nonsense 40 year old granny who owns the Safe Haven and who’s fallen for him but regards him sternly. He tries hard to please her but does have those decades of open road under his belt, after all, and a stint in the slammer for armed robbery.
(“You’re 20 years old,” he explained to me once when Tessie was out of earshot. “You hook up with a buddy who’s also 20 years old, you both want to be outlaws, bingo: armed robbery. Showdown ended with my buddy sticking his shotgun in his mouth and pulling the trigger. Closer than you are to me right now. Two years in the county jail and two years in the pen. But I learned my lesson: Come at the day with what YOU can bring to the day, not with what the day can bring YOU.”)
In various ways it’s done my heart good to have witnessed this romance develop over the four months I’ve been here. Right now it makes me less apprehensive about the rest of my day. Maybe I’ll soak in the hot tank when I get back to the trailer. It’s a steel cattle feeder in my dirt yard; all I have to do is twist the spigot and out gushes 112 degree water from the ancient volcanic lake just beneath my feet. In ten minutes I’ll be sinking up to my armpits in 385 gallons of hot springs with no sulfur stink, and more minerals than anywhere on the continent – including lithium which my grateful pores drink in until the words “blessed, blessed” escape my lips. And then the stars!
Or maybe I’ll drop in on Toni for an all-afternoon massage ($50 for three hours). Or find a fax machine somewhere to send in my application to adopt-a-highway, a barren stretch of stunted cacti and wondrous sunsets I want to take care of. (If I can’t nurture my boys at home, at least I can nurture a road, right?) Or ride the motor mule along some desert trails and watch coyotes scamper daintily out of the way. Or take the bed sheets off the line, which in the bright wind of the high desert will have dried in the twenty minutes I’ve been gone —
“Sorry, no truffles today,” Outlaw Ray informs me.
I am bitterly let down. These are world class truffles Ray makes from scratch, with coconut flakes on top and a ganache center.
“Got this here lasagna just out of the oven, though: spinach, mushrooms, and béchamel. I just love sayin’ that. Bechamellllll.”
Tessie watches through narrow eyes as he cuts an overgenerous piece and charges me $4.49. Pricey for this town, but it IS organic. And will take care of dinner.
“Is the rumor true that Real John was forced to move his van from the corner?” I ask.
“Building inspector ran him off.”
“I’m gonna miss his midnight yodeling.”
“Know what, though?” Ray says. “It’s spring, sap rising, man gets hankering. I think he was HAPPY to go park on the banks of the Rio Grande, all that breathing room …”
I note his wistful expression. “YOU stayin’ put, Ray?” I ask.
“Yes sir I am.” He looks at me solemnly, as if making a vow. “Despite an overnight tomorrow in Amarillo, seeing my only son for the first time in three years.”
“Nervous?” I ask.
“Naaaaaah!” he says nervously. “Am I nervous, Tessie?”
“Only thing he talks about.”
“How old’s the kid?”
“Be four tomorrow.” He kisses Tessie, who raises her eyebrows skeptically, then kisses him back hard. “But I’ll be back straightaway.”
I walk out with the lasagna in a white Styrofoam container with raised letters on its top: “Have A Nice Day.”
And you know what? I’m starting to.
AND THOSE SAME 3 QUESTIONS…1. What is the best book you’ve read in the last few months and how did you choose it?
- I REREAD MY OLD FRIEND TOM COBB’S BOOK “CRAZY HEART” AFTER SEEING THE MOVIE TO SEE IF IT WAS AS GOOD AS I REMEMBERED WHEN HE PUBLISHED IT SOME 20 YEARS AGO. IT WAS.
2. Would you give us one little piece of writing advice?
- BE A GOOD BOSS TO YOURSELF: GENEROUS WITH PRAISE, LIGHT WITH CRITICISM, RELAXED, KIND, FORGIVING.
3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?
- TAKING MY NOTEBOOK TO BED WITH ME? THO IT SEEMS PERFECTLY NATURAL TO ME.
Books by Daniel Asa Rose: