Saturday, June 17, 2006

Marfa, Texas

Donald Judd, the New York sculptor, fell in love with Marfa, and it is his contributions that make the town more worth a stop than Carmel or Bisbee or any of a hundred other art towns. It's everything that New York is not: open, lonesome, starry. In summer a sea of yellow grass encircles the town. There's only one stop light, and the library is open Monday to Friday, 9 to 5. Nothing gets delivered on the weekends.

Judd also relocated his children, Flavin and Rainer, to Marfa. It'd difficult to parse this decision, to decide whether it was selfish. (Judd ex-wife, Julie Finch, remained in New York City.) There's nothing to do in Marfa. Pecos is 125 miles away; El Paso 200; San Antonio about 400. Moving the children away changes who they are, takes them from a wealth of influences to a place with very few.

For what it's worth, in a recent article in the New York Times, the Flavin Judd calls New York their childhood home, and both Judd children are on the Board of Directors of the Judd Foundation.

Judd's house in Marfa still contains all of his books, even 12 years after his death. Among these is the full collection of the Loeb Classical Library, hundreds of volumes of Greek and Latin texts, which Judd purchased, the guide reports, off a television commercial. Judd knew no Greek or Latin—no foreign languages of any kind, in fact. He liked the way the books looked.

On the door of Flavin's room, there's a decal for the Marfa High School Shorthorns foorball team. It seems incongruous that a son of Donald Judd would play such an dirty and plebian sport. It seems the type of thing that Judd as a father would discourage.

From the son's perspective, however, it makes perfect sense. It's social, something to be proud of (the pizza parlor keeps yearly photos of the team on the wall), a way to make a life in Marfa.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Pecos, Texas

Money Reward

For DEAD Bank Robbers

A cash reward will be paid for each Bank Robber legally killed while Robbing this bank

The Texas Bankers Association, a'corporation, offers a standing reward for each bank robber legally killed while robbing and holding up a reward subscribing member bank in Texas with firearms during the daytime. Limits of the place and time of such killing are: in the banking house, or as the robbers and holdups leave the bank, while the robbery and holdup threats are being committed within the bank; and as they flee from the bank with the property taken, and are resisting legal pursuit and arrest, within five miles of the bank robbed and within one hour after the robbery and holdup.

  • The amount of the reward for each dead robber will be the total collected from subscribing member banks at $5 per subscriber, but the total amount, in any event, shall not exceed $5,000.00.
  • This reward does not apply to night attacks on Texas banks.
  • The Association will not give one cent for live bank robbers. They are rarely identified, more rarely convicted, and most rarely stay in the penitentiary when sent there--all of which operations are troublesome, burdensome, and costly to our government.
  • In order to protect the lives of people in such banks and to protect the property of such banks, the Association is prepared to pay for any number of such robbers and holdups so killed, while they are robbing and holding up its reward subscribing member banks with firearms in the daytime.
  • It is expressly provided that only the Texas Bankers Association shall determine whether or not payment of this reward shall be made hereunder, and to whom (if anyone) such payment shall be made, and such determination and judgement final, conclusive and not reviewable.
  • This reward is effective January 15th, 1933, and all other rewards, offers and statements are cancelled and superseded hereby.


  • Thursday, June 15, 2006

    Orla, Texas

    A couple I met at Brantley Lake State Park in New Mexico prepared me for Orla. "It's like a ghost town," one said. "The only thing left is the gas station."

    What I wasn't prepared for: how typical Orla is. Orla's only notable for its concentration of empty buildings.

    Abandoned, collapsing buildings pop up everywhere along the rural roads of west Texas. Perhaps they were abandoned, then collapsed; perhaps they collapsed and then were abandoned. The only ones who can say are no longer here.

    Guadalupe Mountains National Park

    Wednesday, June 14, 2006

    Carlsbad Caverns National Park

    This is the image I've had of the entrance to Carlsbad Caverns since I was, well, able to imagine the same thing again and again: a massive, Disneyland-scale parking lot, with the heat distorting the light 10 or 14 feet in the air; a sheer, grey-brown cliff; a huge opening at the base of the cliff, like two arcs joined at their base, the same way you might outline an eye.

    In actuality you park on top of the mountain, not at the base, and even though it can get hot, there's a bit of a breeze. The hills are brown, though, at least in early June, and the grasshoppers while like ungreased machinery.

    Now that I've been to Carlsbad, that old picture isn't going away. Instead, it now coexists with my image of the real place because, in my memory, they are equally real.

    Tuesday, June 13, 2006

    Roswell, New Mexico

    At the UFO Museum and Research Center, the woman at the desk sees me write "San Francisco" in the guest register.

    "So you're from San Francisco," she says. She is older and move as if any motion could break a bone.

    I tell her I am. She looks around to see if anyone is paying attention, then leans in to me. "You know what the truckers call San Francisco, don't you?"

    I don't, but I'd be interested to hear it.

    "The Gay Bay," she says, smiling broadly and then sitting back.

    I had never heard that one before.

    My favorite part of the UFO museum—other than the inclusion of bigfoot as an alien with absolutely no citation or reference whatsoever—is the graffiti on the wall of the men's bathroom. There's this wonderful optimistic quality to it that I can't really describe:

    AUSTIN, TX believes '68




    God will protect us from the aliens
    and "aliens" has been scratched out, so it actually reads:

    God will protect us from the aliens
    They're not aliens!


    They may have "created" Jesus


    FMGT, NM

    Despite all the UFO kitsch (and complimentary government mistrust), Roswell's still a conservative small town. The one coffee house closes at 5:301 and has a petition for "Ten Commandments Day" on the counter. The bike shop has closed, and the library is a beautiful space with few books. The most happening place on a Friday night seems to be the parking lot at the Walmart.

    Outwardly, the town's identity is built on the UFO fans who come from near and far just to be near the crash site.2 But except for the museum, it's all kitsch, even for UFO enthusiasts. Does anyone go in the gallery of black light UFO art seriously?

    I don't think that's even possible.

    1 Except for Friday, when it closes at 5:30 and reopens at 6, and closes again at 9.

    2 Footnote only because I am unsure whether to put quotations marks around "crash."

    Monday, June 12, 2006

    Fort Sumner, New Mexico

    When I mention to Donald Sweet, proprietor of the Billy the Kid Museum, that the Old Fort Sumner Museum doesn't mention what actually happened at Fort Sumner—namely, that 3000 people died there—he looks at me crossly.

    "It's all history," he says, and I think I might be the biggest troublemaker Fort Sumner's seen in years. On the other hand, the Billy the Kid Museum giftshop is also the site of my second Confederate flag sighting, on a bumper sticker that reads "Never Say Die."

    Fort Sumner's preocccupation is Billy the Kid, whose "authentic 'real'" grave is at Old Fort Sumner. The town of Fort Sumner contains the Billy the Kid Museum; the Billy the Kid Country Inn; The Billy the Kid Tombstone Race ("The World's Richest Tombstone Race"); and the Billy the Kid Road, which leads from US 60/84 to the Old Fort. Billy the Kid makes for good tourist business, obviously, more so than the real fort.

    The thing about Billy the Kid is that, historically, he's not that interesting. He's only more interesting than the actual Fort Sumner if by more interesting we mean that everyone has heard his name. He was a ranch hand in New Mexico at a time when killing people was the norm; he killed people. Though he did once escape from jail, his story just doesn't have the panache of Butch Cassidy, Jesse James, or (late) Bonnie and Clyde.

    Fort Sumner is captivating, but only if you can find information on it. The Indian internment is memorialized at the Bosque Redondo, which is the name of the (former) reservation near Fort Sumner. Bosque Redondo is three miles away from the Old Fort, and if you don't know what it is, well, you don't know what it is. A brown sign points the way, but you have to be going anyway.

    The town of Fort Sumner tends to ignore this history, no matter what Donald Sweet might say. Everything else tends to be celebrated, from Old Fort Days to William S. "Deak" Parsons, the Atomic Admiral. In retrospect, I'm curious how much the children of Fort Sumner learn in school, whether the prevailing attitude is more pride than honesty, or shame.

    One final irony: for all the hubbub about Billy the Kid's grave, we don't actually know where it is. A flood came though many years ago and scattered all the grave markers, so where the tombstone is now is just a best guess. If you wanted to resurrect Billy, you wouldn't actually know which body was his.