Sunday, March 12, 2017

Moments of Truth

Back in the sixties when I was a college student at Highlands U. in Las Vegas, NM, I had a professor who was bright, funny, offbeat, and sometimes brilliant in the way he dealt with problem students. I learned as much from him about teaching as I did about poetry.

Once, I remember, he asked us, my soon-to-be-wife, Lorry, and me, to a Simon and Garfunkel concert. It was by no means a class trip. The prof whose name was Bob drove us in his old Ford station-wagon from Manuelitas to Albuquerque.

Before the concert, he asked us to help him load an enormous oak door he was bringing back to his home in the hills. Then we went to the concert. I still remember someone in the front row throwing a cowboy hat to Paul Simon, which he gratefully accepted and wore for the rest of the night. It was unusual seeing the classic New York folksinger, under that too-big hat.

Right before the drive back home, Bob said his feet were hurting. He took off his shoes, and socks and then blew a breath of air into each sock before putting it on again. He said that refreshed the socks and the feet, and he claimed he learned the trick from WC Fields.

Bob seemed his funny, quippy renewed self, and spoke passionately about ee cummings' poetry, an adobe wall he was building, and how he was planning a "Happening" at the university. A happening was usually a spontaneous outburst of talent and protest against the ever-present "system".

We bore on into the moonlight heading toward Santa Rosa and then cutting up in the direction of Las Vegas. Why that drive is forever etched in my memory is not surprising to me. We had to shift a lot in our seats because the enormous door slid with every pothole. I sat on one side of it and Lorry sat on the other side, and the hatchback was wide open because of the length of the door. It started to snow and the road got tricky.

The years have turned that snow-blown drive into Toad's wild ride from The Wind in the Willows. Bob drove fast, then slow. He turned the wheel a lot and the huge, hand-carved Spanish door bashed into one or the other of us. Bob told stories, Zen tales with no beginning and no end. Finally we made it to our doorstep. Yet even today, after almost 50 years, my bones remember every bump and grind on highway 84.

Not too long ago I was doing a presentation at a bookstore in Corrales. For some reason I chose to tell some coyote tales.

But whenever I mentioned the word coyote, someone let loose with a loud howl. And the audience cracked up. So did I. Later when I was signing books, a man stepped up and bought a few and when he set them before me, he howled.

And so there he was, large as life, full of fun and pranks, and not looking any older. It wasn't until he gave me his business card that I realized that professor Bob had switched careers. He was now a horticulturalist. His business card said in embossed print: "Don't Let Your Plants Go Down."