Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Arizona sunset

This is a typical Arizona sunset. Our sunsets are incredible. There is something about the southwest light that, once you've lived in a southwestern state, you never feel quite at home anywhere else, at least that's true for me. Arizona draws me home like a vortex.

The cactus in the picture is the stately sahuaro. They were so plentiful when we moved here in the 50s that my brother Fast Eddie and his friends had a "cactus cutting committee." They would sneak out of the house late at night and patrol neighborhoods with desert landscaping and down the sahuaros. Now, sahuaro are protected and each one costs a minimum of $500. As the developers hack up our beautiful desert, they remove the cacti for resale.

When we first moved here, Phoenix was completely surrounded by orange groves and in the spring, the smell of orange blossoms coated the air. There is no sweeter smell. Most of the orange groves are gone, sadly, as are the dairy farms that dotted each community.

Arizona has grown incredibly and it's nothing like the Arizona I grew up in. I took a photography class in 1993 in Los Angeles from an old guy who had been a studio photographer since the 40s in Hollywood. He was a crusty guy, not given to elaborate stories, but one night he brought in a group of his own photos, mostly from the 40s and 50s. It showed Hollywood and Los Angeles in its heydey. I asked him what LA was like in those days, to describe it to me. He said "I can't describe it, it was so beautiful" and began to weep. Class dismissed.

That's how I feel about Arizona and I wonder if I could live here again, at least in Phoenix. It hurts my heart to see our magnificent deserts bulldozed. When I drive into Prescott from Phoenix, which I've probably done 5000 times since I was a child, my heart aches to see the Walmart, a Costco, and casinos that have chewed up the beautiful pinons and Ponderosa pines.

Everything changes. I've always disliked change. I figured that out when I was about 14. My best friend at the time, Cindy, and I each took a hit of acid and skipped school. I don't remember much of what we did that day except a trip to Encanto Park and hitchhiking north on 35th Avenue to get to school in time to catch the bus home. On acid, we had these profound, at least we think they're profound at the time, thoughts that, at the time we believe will totally change the way we view the world. It's called a paradigm shift. I had one of those realizations that day as we waited with our thumbs out for someone to pick us up.

I realized somehow that we were going to grow up and apart and that Cindy wouldn't always be my best friend. I told her that and she said "You'll have a new best friend." But that didn't make me feel much better. I wanted her always as my best friend; I didn't want things to change.

In fact, Cindy and I did grow apart, because I left home the next year, overcome by the chaos the Vietnam War was causing in my family. But I still strive to keep the same friends. I hang on to them like they are life preservers. They don't change. Only my surroundings do.

Cindy lived in New River when it was miles from Phoenix and populated by only about 200 people and a nudist colony, which, I believe, is still there. My high school years I spent hanging out with the gang of kids from New River of which Cindy was the unelected ringleader. She was a few years older than me and drove her mom's old station wagon. When they came to pick me up, I'd sit out front of my parents' house waiting for them. My parents often joined me and as we sat on the brick ledge we would talk more than I talked to them in days. Of course, they had no idea what we were doing, "Just hanging out" was our mantra.

As they drove up, with six kids packed in the wagon, my dad would say "Here comes trouble." If he only knew. Those were the best memories of my high school days, even the night Cindy's friend Marqueeta shut my fingers in the car door and I was so high on LSD I had to have Cindy look to see if they were still attached.

Phoenix was famous for desert parties; most Saturday nights somewhere north of Bell Road there would be a huge party with a big bonfire, with kids from miles around attending. My friends Butch Arnett and Joe Burian, after they got drunk enough, would always do their imitation of bacon and eggs frying in a pan. Butch, about six feet tall and 125 pounds, would lie down in the dirt and "sizzle" while Joe, the more reticent of the two, would curl up in a fetal position and be an egg. I guess you had to be there.

The New River gang and in fact most of my high school friends have fared pretty poorly. Cindy is still using last I heard; her sister did a lengthy stint in AA but I heard a few years ago she was back out. Another friend Gary is still drinking; Butch's brother died from cirrhosis when he was about 40; I ran into Joe at Metro Center years ago and he'd moved to Idaho. The last time I saw Butch was the year I got clean. I was doing an H&I meeting at Maricopa County Jail and I ran into him in the parking lot. He looked terrible. Gary is still drinking, or was a year or so ago and Steve, we called him "Bird's Ass," although I don't know why (he claims I named him that but I clearly remember Cindy telling me that was his nickname) converted to Mormonism and is an awesome human being. He served in the military for years during and after the Vietnam era and later in Iraq. He lives in New Mexico now.

Three of my friends, Brian, Gary and Pat, who had a liver transplant a few years ago, made it into the rooms or got clean on their own and for that I am grateful. I'm also grateful, as I always am when I remember my past, that I was given the gift of recovery.


SCoUt said...

Amazing photos. You learned well.
Thanks for sharing them. Makes me remember and miss my father.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I grew up in Westown and Butch, Jeff and Scott were some of the people I hung out with. I saw that Butch would do bacon and knew you were talking about him!!! I have not heard from any of the old gang in years and this did bring the memories flooding back. Thanks, Darlene

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Westown with Butch, Jeff and Scott. Thanks for bring the memories flooding back!!