Eulogy for a Disappeared Neighborhood!

By: Bill Whaley
26 September, 2020

I. Like many news observers, I’ve been caught up by the drama of the slo-mo Trump coup and transformation of North America’s most powerful country and democratic republic into an authoritarian state, subject to the whims of a reality TV star, who hoped for and stumbled into the opportunity to kill the most successful of experiments in self-governing.

Well, it upsets me. But unlike middle class Americans, who don’t like controversy, I was born into the checkerboard conundrum, alternately experiencing the pleasure and pain of the briar patch of Taos. But before I was a Taoseno, I believed that shit in the Declaration and U.S. Constitution. My mother didn’t tell me they were lying.

Though my history and almost religious belief in America as a possibility inspired me, once the illusion or folly had been confirmed, I lost interest in the mainstream and all politics were local.

They say we have one more election before “mirabile dictu” the fatal ballot. Still, I rejoice in my position as a member of the permanent resistance, my heritage is one with the indigenous creatures aqui en Taos.

These creatures resisted the invasion of human beings aqui en Taos, reportedly Taos Pueblo ancestors, more than 10,000 years ago. Never mind the late comers of the Euro-Mexico Conquest 400 years ago, never mind the American arrivistes of Manifest Destiny in the midst of the nineteenth century and the growing numbers of American occupados. Later came do-gooders and artists, hippies, and second homers who continued emigrating well into the 21st Century. Still, a kind of cultural antidote to pop culture persisted.

II. But now, in 2020, I think we must acknowledge the line drawn in the mud. Due to Covid-19, a fifth column of Angloists now invades the valley, a culture with fat wallets welcomed by the Manbyites of the local bait and switch charade: “sell” and “sell again.” The local culture class of vendidos, as well as the week-kneed liberals who deplore “violent rhetoric” or “keying cars” or dislike “screaming” at the great unmasked” whine about civility but repeat hoary tales re: “economic development,” the neo-liberal’s perpetual excuse to despoil culture and environment.

Like Aristotle who withdrew from Athens, lest the people sin twice against philosophy, we wait, display the mask of the passive-aggressive face per the natives and cunning rodents and insects and withdraw to fight another day. Later we will emerge from holes in the earth to confront the “Big People” as do so many prairie dogs, squirrels, and rabbits today.

Trump said the “invaders” were coming to the suburbs: today’s outsiders have arrived and nobody’s talking. On my street in town, I see three out of four indigenous families displaced in the last year by “Old White People,” refugees from race and empire, who fled their homes for a retreat to paradise. We, whether native or newcomer, paid our dues in blood and treasure, to live here. So I have little to say to those who waited until they had their portfolios, their pensions, the price of their backhoes and their gazebos in the bank before taking the leap into “the unknown unknowns” (per the sting of Covid).

III. White people, natives of both cultures, and Taoseno locals mostly don’t like controversy or attacks on their bourgeois consciousness: the culture of hear no evil, say no evil, see no evil. We’re so civil except for the illusions we indulge of Corporate killers, the ones we ignore who keep our bread and butter in their toxic larder (food chains, oil and gas, art and farm supplies).

Visitors to Taos once became residents; they paid for the privilege by learning about the culture and finding in their own temperament or disposition the fit of a jigsaw puzzle piece in the Sympatico nature of the villages and neighborhoods. You may be a loco vato, parciante, independent, skier, artist, member of the community, borracho, druggie, native community member, politico or X-Class Fussellian. But you also know you cannot create social affinity out of a sociology article or a Covid escape handbook or travel brochure even if you have a license plate from the land of enchantment.

The character of a Taoseno consists of an uncanny temperament but is ignited by anti-Manbyism. Today, we have no leaders, merely interim custodians (though not modeled on the illustrious Flavio). We have no newspaper or pilot in the lead car but rather a school marm’s features, aimed at creating a soft landing and the publisher’s censored stories that neither recognize change nor challenge local crooks and incompetent pols. Just as corruption flourishes in the dark, so La gente has retreated to the villages, retired to a “better place,” or fled to Albuquerque et al in the wake of their grand-children. Our friends of yesteryear appear as ghostly figures on the Plaza and spend their days wrapped in shrouds but only the initiates can see.

IV. Now I look at my Hispano-Taos Pueblo friends and understand why their grandparents shook their heads when I and you and we prior Angloists arrived, coincidentally, at the same time as the hippie hoards in the late 60s. I pay for my Karma by studying license plates on monstrous Black Suvs that arrive like death wagons as Covid rates rise.

Truly, I miss los vatos locos, who cruised La Plaza and frightened the tourists with their guttural expletives and mad dog looks. “Who are you looking at, Gringo?” We laughed when the Bib-coveralls, clad in squash blossoms, scurried away from “dirty hippies” and blanket-clad Indians.

Outsiders and some insiders put their heads down when Richard Trujillo, the last Vato Loco, glared in their direction. Tourists clutched their purses as Indian Lou approached. But while he defended hearth and home, flora and fauna, Patrick Larkin was gunned down and the pain echoed like the wailing after the local Mustang Murder Massacre, Fiesta, 2003.

Sure I lament the past and drown in my nostalgia: my condition suggests I have lived too long. For I see the Calaveras dance on the railing of the bridge, heel and toe tapping in time to this eulogy. Yet I want to see how things turn out. Who jumps, who doesn’t. I owe it to those who rest and resist in peace.

Mostly my best friends and family members, my times, are dead. I’ve got one more book to finish. Camus spoke for us all, as Robert Zaretsky (LRB) reminds us: “I open my eyes and heart to the unbearable grandeur of this heat-soaked sky. It is not so easy to become what one is, to rediscover one’s deepest measure” …” (or even in Taos) “…to live without appeal.”

What’s your story?