I see him this morning. He’s at the far end of the canned vegetable aisle at the market, checking out the niblets.
He turns and moves out of sight. I lumber down the aisle as quickly as my bulk will permit, hoping to catch up.
When I get to the end of the aisle, he’s gone, nowhere to be seen.
I walk across the front of the store and check each aisle.
Can’t locate him.
Right there, like that.
It’s the first time in more than a year that I’ve run across Felipe, what with the clampdown during the pandemic, and the fact I rarely leave the basement, viral calamity or no viral calamity. I miss getting together with him, chatting with him.
Felipe Aguilar is one of my favorite visitors during my time working as a news hack in Siberia With a View — a forthright and passionate man. There aren’t a lot of them left in my vicinity.
Felipe is a Vietnam vet, damaged in several ways during his military adventure. He spends nearly a year of a tour as a rifleman before he is injured in ‘70. Gets shipped back to the States, spends a couple months in a hospital.
The Army discards him, and he makes his way home following a brief, torrid interlude with a woman in Gallup, New Mexico, that culminates with a sordid incident at a decrepit motor court next to I-40 on the west side of town. A story printed below the fold on page 5 of the Gallup Independent indicates the woman, Bernadette “Hatcha” Benally, is well known to members of the Gallup PD. She is described by arresting officers as “angry, large, and formidable.” The report goes on to detail the damage to Room 16 and its contents. The damage is also formidable.
Felipe’s account of the event is typically succinct: “Real pretty face but, woowee, when she gets upset: Right there, like that.”
Felipe is one of the interesting oldtimers that well-to-do retirees who’ve overrun Siberia With a View don’t notice or, if they do, he’s someone they ignore. It’s their loss. But, then, they miss most of the best things here and, soon, as they continue to remodel the place to their tastes, there won’t be anything or anyone interesting left to miss.
When he ventures out, Felipe wraps his thin frame in his Vietnam-era field jacket, pulls his ragged boonie hat down to a point just above his thick eyebrows. More often than not, he totes a Bud Light 15 pack under one arm, the pack absent several cans. When he walks home on the shoulder of the highway west of the downtown area he halts now and then as traffic passes and he recognizes an out-of-state plate. He yells out a curse or two, waves his free arm in the air, extends a bony middle finger, then trudges up the hill, head down, bent but determined.
Felipe’s gray hair is long, the split-end tangles reach the middle of his back; he reeks of beer, sweat, and cigarette smoke. And old clothing. Felipe leaves the essence of tavern and thrift store in his wake.
He squints, day or night, as if it is always high noon on the summer solstice. He’s also the embodiment of a fading way of life, but few people know it.
Felipe arrives at the newspaper office every couple of weeks over the course of more than two decades. He staggers through the front entry of the building, leans on the counter, and loudly demands: “I must see Jefe! I must talk to Jefe. There are problems — right there, like that! Big problems. Do it now, or face the consequences, you and all the other white devils like you! Right there, like that!”
Betsy calls back. She cups her hand over the phone receiver and whispers: “Dear god, it’s that scary man in the Army jacket, the one with the long gray hair. He’s here again and he’s yelling about invaders and killing devils with swords, and saying ‘right there, like that.’ These people aren’t stable. Remember when I told you about what happened at that gas station in Yuma, Arizona? It totally ruined my rockhound vacation. Remember?”
“Oh, great, send him back,” I say. I make a mental note to discuss the evil of racial stereotypes with Betsy one day after noon, when she returns from her extended lunch break. Weather permitting, she takes her egg salad sandwich and bag of chips to a bench next to the river and, when she’s finished eating, she adjourns to The Throwback and downs a boilermaker to set her on a steady course for the afternoon. When she’s sufficiently sedated, I can discuss most things with her, and she usually responds well.
Felipe weaves his way to my office. I watch him veer into the wall on his way down the hall. He rights himself, swerves again, completes the journey. He stands in the doorway to my office, head down, breathing hard, hands gripping the door frame, as if he’s perched in an open window on the top floor of a tall building, contemplating a fall.
“Ola, Jefe. Good to see you.”
“Hey, Felipe, take a seat, my man.”
“OK Jefe, but I might have some trouble gettin’ up. That hip that got broke up when I jumped outta the chopper’s been givin’ me fits again. Can’t walk straight no more, can’t get up a lot of times. Right there, like that.”
“You oughta go to the VA hospital in Albuquerque, Felipe,” I say. “ See if they can take care of that for you. They owe you.”
“Fuck the VA, Jefe. That’s the government. They owned the fucking chopper, after all. Owned it. Right there, like that.”
“So they did.”
“Anyways, fuck ‘em. I’m gonna sit down,” he says, “but you might have to help me get up. Right there, like that.”
“Gotcha. What’s happening?”
I know the answer to my question, but I try to leave both physical and conversational doors open if I like a visitor.
I like Felipe. I like his mom, his sister, and brother.
His mom, Marisol is somewhat of a legend in Siberia With a View. She is married to three different men over the course of thirty years and dislikes her last husband most of the time they’re together. The first couple of weeks were good, then…
Marisol dislikes the husband but her fidelity to her faith, and the fact its injunction against divorce means she can’t leave him, forces Marisol to find a novel solution to her problem. She hires a contractor and has a wall built down the center of the house, with a kitchen and bathroom on each side. She lives on one side of the wall, her husband on the other, for seventeen years, until “the old grouch” dies. There are no doors in the wall.
When the old grouch dies, the wall comes down.
I meet Marisol and Felipe’s sister, Darlene, shortly after I arrive in Siberia With a View. They’re members of the Spanish Fiesta committee, and I’m asked to act as the group’s treasurer.
Though Siberia With a View was once located in northern Mexico, many of the oldtime residents proudly claim they are the descendants of the soldiers and settlers led by Juan de Oñate, if not of the Conquistador himself. The claim persists regardless of visible links to the pre-Columbian population. Thus, the annual Spanish Fiesta.
Chris, the committee chairman at the time, explains the request for my participation as we reminisce a few years after: “We thought you were a Jew, so we figured you could handle the books and make sure there was enough money in the account to hire that band from Espanola for the Fiesta dance. The band was really good, so they cost more than free beer.”
I’m honored by the request and, though I can rarely balance my own checkbook, I assume the role, step up and make sure the money is at hand. It is the fifteenth year for the Fiesta, my first Fiesta and, as it turns out, the last ever held. Things are changing, the old making way for the new.
The Fiesta begins with a parade on Main Street.
The parade includes four flat bed trailers bearing participants in family reunions, several beautifully restored classic cars, groups of riders on horseback, a squadron of teens on dirt bikes, a kid on a unicycle, and a fire truck and police cruiser with sirens blaring. Start to finish: fifteen minutes.
Alonzo drives his 1980 Cadillac convertible at the tail end of the parade. He had the car repainted in Durango, and it’s light brown in color. Alonzo disagrees. “I call it ‘bronze,’ and it buffs up real good. It’s bronze, like me!”
Alonzo wears his turquoise charro outfit, complete with sombrero. His wife, Lita, is perched on the hood atop a colorful blanket, hefty and resplendent in her embroidered gold fiesta dress, combs in her hair, her pair of castanets clacking loudly, more or less in time to the mariachi music blaring from the caddie’s dashboard speakers.
Alonzo and Lita begin to argue about Alonzo’s selection of music and his claim that Lita overcooked the pork chops the previous night. By the time the Caddie rounds the corner at the courthouse, they are cursing loudly and Lita threatens to leave Alonzo and move in with her sisters down in Chama.
“Then, you can cook your own fucking pork chops!”
Alonzo snaps. He pushes on the accelerator, then slams on the brakes, shooting Lita off the front of the hood to the street where she executes a perfect tuck and roll in debris deposited by David and Tina Lucero’s prize Arabian horses. To add insult to injury, Alonzo selects a tune he knows Lita detests, and turns up the volume on the speakers to the highest setting as he waits for Lita to scramble to her feet.
It is Lita’s lucky day: the gaudy hood ornament that normally graces the front of the Caddy was stolen a week before by the Wilson twins, Kevin and Timmy, and is duct taped to their Yamaha four-wheeler.
Lita rolls to her side, gets up, flicks the horse poop off her dress, flops her blanket back on the hood, retrieves her castanets, smooths her hair, adjusts the combs, then walks to the door next to Alonzo, and nails him with a stunning right cross to the jaw. She climbs on to the hood, arranges herself on the blanket, readies her castanets, lifts her chin in a gesture noble and defiant, and shouts: “Drive the fucking car, Alonzo, and put on a new tune.”
The show must go on.
Following the parade, fiesta goers adjourn to the town park.
The band is paid, the event is a triumph. The old folks refine the past and gossip as they sit on chairs in the shade beneath the big cottonwoods; the kids play on the bank of the nearly dry San Juan; the livelier members of the crowd dance in front of the gazebo; when one keg is empty, another is opened, there’s food aplenty. Dez builds a drum-like 8×8 plywood platform so his 12 year-old daughter, Candida, can twirl in her multicolored colored skirt, stomp wildly, and loudly display her rudimentary flamenco skills. It’s said the police department receives complaints about the racket from residents living blocks from the park.
Like so many of the traditional events in Siberia With a View, the Fiesta is a thing of the past, serving now as fodder for stories told by oldtimers, replaced by golf and pickle ball tournaments, and book clubs organized by recently arrived retirees.
Felipe is an oldtimer. His is a voice from the past: his past, and a greater past extending back centuries. Felipe’s people were in this part of the world when my ancestors were gnawing on dried fish in Jonkoping or gawking at collapsed coal mines in Cumbria. He is a sweet soul, but he struggles with frustration and anger.
I enjoy Felipe’s visits. I assume the visits are intermittent because there are times when he can’t find the newspaper office.
He sits in the chair next to my desk and takes off his hat.
“What’s happening, man?,” I ask.
“Listen, Jefe, listen,” he says. “You gotta listen. Right there, like that.”
“Gotcha, I’m listenin’.”
“It’s comin’, Jefe. Listen. It’s comin’. You gotta listen. It’s almost time. Right there, like that.”
“I’m listenin’ Felipe. It’s comin’. I’m ready for it. I’ll keep my seat belt on.”
“You know my plan, eh? Right there, like that?”
“The Silver Sword of Justice? The white devils, and the reckoning?”
“That’s right, Jefe. Tomorrow, probably. Tomorrow I’m probably takin’ the Silver Sword of Justice from the box in my closet, and I’m comin’ downtown. And you know what’s gonna happen?”
“I think so,” I say, “but tell me again, Felipe. I love hearing about it.”
“I’m gonna kill all the white devils,” he says, “right there, like that. Slay them with the Silver Sword of Justice. Man or woman, don’t matter. First, I’m goin’ to the grocery store to kill ‘em, then to the post office, then to the courthouse, and to that fucking real estate place on the corner where that asshole makes all that money selling our lands — that fucker who drives the new Suburban and reads the Bible while he eats in restaurants. Kill him and kill ‘em all. Once they’re gone, we get our lands back. I told you about the land grants didn’t I? Whatcha think about that, Jefe?”
“Yep, you did, Felipe, it was outright theft and I agree that a whole bunch of the devils deserve to meet a gruesome end. When I was a kid I went to a private boys’ school until I managed to get kicked out, so I know all about white devils. I had to dress like them in a school blazer and tie, eat lunch with the little twerps, and pretend to sing hymns with them during the morning chapel service. They tried to get me to campaign for Barry Goldwater. You’re right to think poorly of them. Most of them are bankers or Republican politicians now. Can’t trust a one of them. They need to die in the most horrible of ways.”
“That’s right, Jefe, they’re the motherfucking white devils who stole our lands and sent me to Nam. Right there, like that. The ones who made me take a bath in Agent Orange and jump outta choppers and fuck up my hip. And they own the VA and won’t make it right. Those are the ones, Jefe. They don’t give a shit about us little people. Right there, like that.”
“I’m with you Felipe,” I say, “they gotta go. I had the urge to eliminate a bunch of them when I was at that school. I was going to tamper with the brake lines on the assistant headmaster’s Range Rover. The arrogant prick was carting a batch of the worst of the little White Devils to a Debutante Ball rehearsal, and I figured I could exterminate at least six of the vile wretches. I got sidetracked by a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue and a redhead who attended the girls’ school down the road. I was a sucker for scotch, plaid skirts, knee socks, and saddle shoes. Still am, come to think of it.
“All that aside,” I continue, “if I’d followed through, we’d probably have fewer problems right now. For sure, we’d have fewer Republicans because, as we all know, these dipshits reproduce legions of like-minded offspring. But, getting back to your plan, I think you probably need to let someone else do the dirty work tomorrow. Maybe one of your cousins, say Marcus. He’s got nothing better to do since he got laid off at the auto parts store. All he does is sleep to noon, play video games, smoke weed, and eat Fritos and bean dip. He needs a mission to pull him outta the slump. You’ve got that bad hip, so you’re not as nimble as you used to be, and you gotta think about your Mom. You gotta look after her, Felipe. Think about all she’s done for you. She’s one of a kind, man.”
“Yeah, I ain’t nimble, that’s for sure. I was a long time ago. Back before I got drafted, I was gonna be a rodeo clown. Can’t do that with a bum hip. And you’re right about my mom …”
Felipe tears up. I hand him a tissue, he dabs at his eyes, then blows his nose. He puts the tissue in his jacket pocket.
“How’s Marisol doing?,” I ask. “Still making tamales to sell?”
“Yeah.” He sobs, then sighs loudly. “That’s why she sent me downtown. Go to the store, get some meat and masa, she says. I think maybe I’ll get some Bud Light, too. I’m almost out. Right there, like that.”
“Damn fine woman, your mother. None better. You gotta stay around, take care of Marisol, you know?”
“Yeah, you’re right. Least for a while. But one of these days, I’m gonna get the sword out, you know? I gotta do it.”
“No doubt, my man, no doubt. It’s a matter of honor, bad hip or no bad hip. Blood will run in the streets. The lands will be yours again.”
“Yeah, they will. The land grants. The promise. Blood. Right there, like that. I gotta do it. And people gotta remember everything, all of it. That’s why I brought you somethin’. Somethin’ important.”
Felipe reaches into a jacket pocket and takes out a shiny, dark object. He holds it out.
“Take this, Jefe. Take it.”
I take the object from his hand. It looks like a slumped pile of excrement, encased in clear resin.
“Is this what I think it is, Felipe?”
“Probably. I made it behind the oak brush out back of the house, so my mom couldn’t see me doin’ it. Right there, like that. I mean, I made it, then I let it kinda dry in the sun, then I covered it in plastic, or polymer, or somethin’. Got the stuff at the hardware store. Comes in two cans and you mix everything together. I hadda wear gloves cuz you can’t get that shit on your hands. Won’t come off.”
“Well, that’s interesting, but why…”
“I dunno. Maybe cuz it’s some kinda space plastic they found in that flying saucer that crashed down in New Mexico. Maybe they made it in the lab under Archuleta Mesa where the science guys get together with aliens and do experiments. You can hear the hum from the mesa at night if you listen real hard. Beats me where the stuff comes from.”
“No, I mean why this…well, let’s call it an ‘artifact.’”
“That’s what it is, Jefe, an artifact. Once our lands are returned to their rightful owners, this shit will be a symbol of the suffering. It’ll last forever with that plastic on it. They can use it in the school to teach kids about history, maybe put it in a museum.
“Listen, he says, “when I slay the white devils with the Silver Sword of Justice, the cops are gonna blast me, put me down for good, you know? Somethin’s gotta be left. Right there, like that.”
“They’ll snuff you for sure” I reply. “That’s their job as puppets of the white devil leaders, and those white devil leaders will want you eliminated. I’m told that prior to graduation from the law enforcement academy, a fledgling cop has a microchip placed beneath the skin on the back of his or her head, with a small wire fed from the chip into the brain through a tiny hole drilled in the skull. That’s how the cop is controlled by the white devil overseers who work round the clock in a secure mainframe computer facility located under the ground, three stories below a major New York City investment firm. That’s what I’m told, though I haven’t been able to confirm it. As a credible journalist, I need at least three sources to verify the claim. I’m working on it. ”
“Sounds right to me, Jefe. You write real good, and I like your recipes for all those fancy sauces. You’re the only guy I know who puts a recipe in a story about a truck crash up on the pass.”
“I do my best, Felipe.”
Felipe points at the plasticized poop I’ve set on my desk. “When they kill me, this is all that’s left of me. Right there, like that. Cuz my life’s been nothin’ but shit for a long time, and my people got handed a bunch of shit for generations. Promise me you’ll take this to my Mom. She can put it on the shelf next to the TV, look at it and remember me while she watches her afternoon shows. She loves that fucking Jeopardy, and she even gets a lot of the answers right. Really a lot of them. She’s smarter than people think.” He sobs. I hand him some tissues. He blows his nose, then puts the tissue in his jacket pocket.
“I’ll do it, Felipe,” I say. “I’ll take this to Marisol once the slaughter is complete and you’ve gone down in a blaze of glory. I promise.”
“Thanks, Jefe. And I promise I won’t kill you. And you can keep your house when my people take back our land, but you gotta pay rent. Right there, like that. I left a note tellin’ everybody you’re OK, and to give you a good deal. But, I gotta go now. I gotta get some meat for my mom.”
“Don’t forget the masa,” I say, “and the beer.”
I help Felipe from the chair. He puts on his hat and leaves.
I’ve still got the pile of plasticized poop. I keep it in my studio. I’m ready to deliver it whenever Felipe, or his cousin Marcus, brings the sword down on the white devils.
Since I left the news biz, I don’t get together with Felipe like I did in the past. Now it’s hit or miss, and I missed my chance at the store this morning. I need to find him soon, place an order for Marisol’s tamales. I’ll eat the tamales as I wait for the day the Silver Sword of Justice is unsheathed and put to good use.
I can’t wait for that fuckwad realtor to be cut down in front of his office or at a restaurant table as he reads The Book of Revelation. The man moves his lips when he reads. It’s unforgivable.
I’ve always wanted a new Suburban.
Next time I connect with Felipe, I’ll ask him to amend his note to his people, reminding them I was once the treasurer for the Spanish Fiesta committee, and instructing them to give me the dead realtor’s vehicle. I’m sure he’ll agree to it.
I’ll pick up another dozen or two of the tamales when I deliver the poop to Marisol. after Felipe achieves martyrdom.
Maybe there’s a way to save Felipe once his righteous work is done; I’d like him to stay around for a while. I need to figure a way to short out the microchips imbedded in the cops’ heads. I’m working on that.
One way or the other, though, I’ll drive to Marisol’s house in my new Suburban. If the dead realtor leaves one of his many spare copies of the Bible in the Suburban, I’ll reread The Book of Revelation.
It seems fitting.
Right there, like that.