This week, a new song posted – “Stranded in San Jon” [New Mexico – the ‘J’ is pronounced as ‘H ‘- along old route 66]… and a blast from the past: an excerpt from my almost-forgotten (unpublished) novel, “Autumn,” completed in 1998 (such a long time ago!). Set in 1984, the novel is kind of Larry McMurtry’s “The Last Picture Show” meets Prince’s “Purple Rain” – an age-old tale of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy uproots life to keep them together, does, but ultimately loses girl (i.e., “Crazy Stupid Love,” which is a great flick, btw). Well… you do things like this in your 20’s. It’s as much a tale of two cities – Dallas and Santa Fe – and a cultural document of the times, much of which takes place in part of the great American outback of eastern New Mexico, southern Colorado, and west Texas.
Although I didn’t think so at the time, mercifully (and thankfully) the novel, which topped out at 460 pages, was not published back in 1998. In their rejection letters, literary agents would tell me that they just wouldn’t know how to market it for a mass – read ‘mainstream’ – audience, not unlike Miles’ predicament in the film “Sideways” (another great movie). Perhaps the story shouldn’t have been told in the first person – too personal, too much like a journal – but told in the third person, it would lose much of its immediacy (only the names have been changed to ward off potential lawsuits – it is a litigious society we live in). It’s been said that “first novels are like first pancakes – you have to throw ’em out,” but maybe I revisit this, then again, maybe not – do a major rewrite in the age of author E-book self-publishing for Kindle, et al. – but it probably won’t be happening anytime soon.
As usual when I post something here, this is not the final mastered version of the song; hopefully it conveys something of the “experience.” Moving further into new territory…
In the meantime, without further yada yada, here are both. Enjoy!
STRANDED IN SAN JON
© 2012 Nights on Venus/Craig C. Thomas. All rights reserved.)
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“I stood at the top of the stairs to the entrance of the motel, looking in both directions down the main street of San Jon, population: 381. There wasn’t much to it and I doubted whether that many really did live here, so clean and empty was the street. I was looking at a few storefronts – mostly abandoned ones – a water tower, a number of houses with lonely-looking trees clustered around them, and a couple of churches. Bleak was the word that came to mind. A dead town dying; not even a Dairy Queen, after all, this wasn’t west Texas where every town, no matter how small, had one. Beyond the buildings – a sea of grasslands so immense it threatened to swallow the town whole, rendering it nonexistent. To the south, the caprock, another mesa of the Llano Estacado; to the north of town, I-40, with its trucks and cars moving on toward bustling life in either Amarillo to the east or Albuquerque to the west. Hell, even Tucumcari would do right now.
It was late afternoon; all day long I’d been driving through towns like this one coming down from Springer – Roy, Mosquero, Logan – towns that had all seen better days if they’d ever seen them at all. The day in pictures: diverging roads that led to empty spaces between mesas; an abandoned white adobe motel with a badly-painted mural of Spanish conquistadors on a side wall in Logan; gutted stone houses with only the blue sky for a roof near Conchas Lake; a pair of white crosses along the side of the highway; sunflowers growing through the cracks of a cement foundation where a house once stood; a woman and child exiting a bar through a screen door in Roy. Of all places, the Scirocco had chosen this one to break down on my way to Clovis… and had now been, for lack of a better word, impounded for the last fifteen minutes back at the gas station when the maxed-out credit card didn’t go through. The repair work was already complete when the mechanic told me they had to call in for approval on anything over $200; the work had exceeded that times two.
I took a walk – not so much out of curiosity as just to think about the situation. It was hot in the sun, stifling, with no breeze – unusual for a town on the high plains. A block east I found Ricardo’s Bar. It was open; about half-a-dozen people were inside sitting at the bar and a couple of tables. Everyone turned to look at me when I walked in and studied me for a long second. Obviously I was not a local. Two TVs hung diagonally at the ends of the bar and the Summer Olympics were on, track and field stuff. Someone had just won the pole vault competition with a jump of over nineteen feet. The place had a couple of video games, a pool table in back, and a jukebox. I quickly checked to see what was on it and found Hank Williams’ name – yes, that Hank Williams – no comma or ‘Jr.’ following it. Hmm… no DEVO or “Mexican Radio.” I popped in 50 cents and played a trio of Johnny Cash songs. Ricardo’s smelled of dust and stale smoke and for a moment I thought of lighting up one of the clove cigarettes I had on me, then figured these people were unfamiliar with the smell and it would probably freak them out. Everyone here smoked Marlboros.
Autumn would soon be waiting for me in Clovis and I’d call her when I got back to the motel. One beer turned into three, but I was high and dry. High lonesome. The patron saint in charge of traveling money for foolish lovers wasn’t bailing me out…”
So there you have it… 28 years ago this month. The crazy summer and fall of 1984 – a time when Prince, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Bruce ruled the airwaves.
Thanks for reading… and listening. Until next time…
“In 4 the Evening” is the second album from Nights on Venus and is available as a digital download on CDBaby, iTunes, Amazon.mp3, Bandcamp, and other fine online retailers. Available on CD through the NoV website.