Ya know, we’re still figgering out how to live in “this big bunch of nothin” here in the Stinkin’ Hot Desert, where the shrub the Mexicans call “hediondilla” -the little stinker—once spread its greasy limbs out across the desert floor like a heat rash on a nekked baby’s butt. Back then, it was worthless as an 8-track tape is today to all those Okies who slipped right past it in the Dust Bowl daze, worthless as a dry well until they brush-hogged all those little stinkers out of the caliche to plant oleanders, date palms, bermuda grass & yucca-lips in their stead. By then, it had grown so far beyond the ancient heart of old S-chuk Shon as its ticky-tacky turned so coyote-homely that Mayor Lew Davis hisself called our main drag (Speedway Boulevard) the ugliest street in America… Yet, sixty years later, we now got neighbors who stick creosote sprigs in their shower stalls to make it smell like desert rain all year long, who treat its musk as a fetish, a foetid fragrance always calling one home, home to a place we know by the way wishful men & women leave the hoods of their cars popped up all night in hope of keeping packrats from eating & shorting out all the vital innards within their chassis, home by the way the waiters inevitably ask you whether you want red or green or cream or all three like the Mexican flag every time you request your favorite plate of enchiladas, home by the way you hear “our Linda” singing Canciones de Mi Padre 366 nights a year in Mexican restaurants like Mi Nidito, where ol’ Bill Clinton executively ordered “el Presidente,” a plate so shimmeringly luscious with lard that he could prove to the world that he could gorge himself full on mounds of bean tostadas, birria tacos, beef tamales, chile rellenos, & chicken enchiladas all in one sitting, home to star-crossed lovers who leave each other wilted flowers & melted candles at the El Tiradito shrine, home where drunks hover around a rickety picnic table in the shade of a mesquite on hottest summer days as they sip their cold ones while electric fans and evaporative coolers keep them cool & cozy thanks to sixty-foot extension cords swiped from neighbors’ garages. It may be the only city in this tarnation nation where chefs will place tiny bowls of wild chiltepins & ironwood spice crushers right alongside salt & pepper shakers, where kids call arroyos “rivers” when they’re dry & “floods” when they tinkle and trickle, where fish forget how to swim & teddy bear cholla forget how to hug, where drivers hydroplane off the asphalt, sliding into highway medians whenever it rains a millimeter, where chumps gaze, confused about the white-capped mountains, wondering how all that cal or lime or pigeon poop got put up so high, where snowbirds have blue hair & wear sunglasses even after dark, where the snotty noses of street waifs get dry so quickly, they can pluck out their boogers & use them as razor blades to cut screens wide open & crawl into windows to steal organically-certified prickly pear cactus popsicles right out of the fridges in the rich kids’ homes. How can it still be so untamed that in the middle of the city you still see Gila monsters, jackalopes, sidewinders, collard peccaries, carbuncos, coatamundis & occasional chupacabras appearing on the most manicured of golf courses & scaring the living piss out of old men wearing white shoes & Chartreuse slacks, or that the black light of a UV hand lamp will show that you sleep with hundreds of scorpions within a few feet of your bed, or that you stumble past black widows whenever you get up & pee at night? Of course, desert living never seems dangerous if you keep all hyped up on the peyote buttons & sacred datura seeds that Carlos Castaneda left behind in the Nogales bus station the very day he met Don Juan Matus, a Sonoran Sorcerer who was on his way back to Mexicali hoping to arrive in time to catch the first set by Calexico. Too bad they both got licked by Sonoran Desert toads while crossing the now-dry Colorado River delta. We know we’ve hit Tucson when we can hear Petey Mesquitey on the air. We know we’re in the right place when Big Jim Griffith suddenly jumps out of his wheelchair to waltz in circles at an all-night chicken scratch dance. We know when we’ve survived the desert heat when we come (at last) through the pearly gates of the Guero Canelo’s fanciest taco salon, where we gaze at his first Sonoran Hot Dog Cart, now memorialized like the bones of Padre Kino, glowing in all its glory there inside a fully air-conditioned sanctum for all his adoring fans to relish. We know we’ve returned to the Old Pueblo the moment we hear all the desert mockingbirds crooning Lalo Guerrero’s Barrio Viejo in perfect harmony, & all the torch singers cuss like Ellen Burstyn did when she realized Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Do we?
Ode to the Old Pueblo
By Brother Coyote