Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Not Leaving Las Vegas

I ain't gonna lie—I love the to and fro of the drive from Santa Fe to Las Vegas, New Mexico. One's eyes are called to beauty. Even at 75 miles per hour the passing scenery induces a kind of prideful elation. To be alive, sighted, and smart enough to have it in view, coming and going, right side and left, drama and splendor—the Sangre de Cristos, the mesas, and Starvation Peak where the locals vanquished a marauding band of Conquistadors by chasing them to the summit where they, in good time, perished.

So if a brother-in-struggle (Lee's on the board of the New Mexico Coalition for Community Rights among other forward-thinking commitments) lets me know that
Las Vegas New Mexico Skatepark Advocates
are staging a sit-in at the Abe Montoya Recreation Center to protest the arbitrary closing of the city's one and only skate park, then my day takes a welcome detour. I go where the energy is!

Lee Einer, baker for the El Fidel Restaurant, where Lee's 3-day fermentation artisinal sourdough bread ($4 per loaf ) is good enough to make you forget you no longer eat wheat.

Those readers who are easily shamed by ignorance or made queasy by austerity-budget public projects so aesthetically displeasing that they gut the word “amenity,” should probably stop reading this post right around now. On the other hand, if you enjoy gallows humor, NorteƱo-style, stick around.

A Panel from The People's History of El Norte Mural in Las Vegas, NM

There's an awful lot of talent among the young players in Las Vegas.
Zacarias Ras Tafari Lujan, co-organizer of the action, and marvelous practitioner of muralisimo.
The sunshine was warming the air, and the kids were busy making signs and playing music, or successfully gathering petition signatures. I was people-watching and visiting with the youngsters, a trio of whom were cyclists sitting-in in comradely solidarity with the skaters. Patrick E. Pacheco, who's skilled in both bike riding and skateboarding is an equal advocate on behalf of both sports. “You can do either sport with passion, they're both fun! But if we try to make something happen—like dirt pile jumps, some competitions—then we get in trouble.” Justin Garcia, 15, a first-time-ever participant in political action concurred, “They get mad if we're in the parks, they get mad if we're in the street. A friend of mine at Highlands, he's only 14, he got arrested for trespassing, just trying to ride somewhere fun.” 

Imagine Patrick, Justin and Cory as baseball players without a diamond, bowlers without an alley, b-ball players with no hoop, tennis aces without access to a court, swimmers without a pool,  etc.
The third young biker, Cory Almanzar, told me that in his ideal park bikers “would be allowed to ride on the ramps and practice all day long. The ramps are made to do tricks, it's a different style than street riding.” Las Vegas appears to be adamant on the topic, but at some of the skateboarding facilities in Albuquerque, bikers, skate boarders and in-line skaters all share the same uncaged park. 

If only the city would obey its own rules--"Be courteous and respectful of others. Take turns. Have fun!"

"Let's get a blowtorch and recycle these bars at City Hall," one of the adults joked.
We cracked so many jokes about those iron bars—“Hey, put a little razor wire around the top, do it right!” “Yeah, then let's put the golfers in there!”—that I thought maybe the City of Las Vegas did itself a favor by locking the kids out. Maybe after the laughter dies down it can take a look at the youthful residents of Las Vegas who dare to dream of a beautiful well-designed park where they and their friends can feel untrammeled and free.

In addition to the matters of the hour, Reyna and I spoke about conditions in the women's prison in Grants...
...and about possibly forming a study group to learn about the societal transformations in Marinaleda, Spain.

Reyna Medina, 17, is friends with the skaters, but not a skater herself. She's a Social Work student, a community gardener, and a member of Youth in Action. “I'm here today because the skaters are always being put down and their sport is not taken into consideration. There are No Skating signs up everywhere, and then the City goes and closes the skate park which isn't even sufficient to begin with. The equipment is so basic, and the skaters are more serious than this, but they weren't even asked about the design. We're treated like we're powerless, not significant; they don't include us or empower us. We hate being minimized, belittled.”

Yellow Caution tape on the broken-down structures. Instead of making needed repairs, the solution?--the kids were locked out for over a week and perhaps would be still if not for the sit-in.

The kids just skate around it.

Reyna is able to tell the difference because she has the great good fortune to be mentored by Georgina Ortega, who serves on the board of Casa de Cultura, an organization that “seeks to create a cultural environment that is community based and collectively operated utilizing the wisdom of cultural and folkloric traditions.” Reyna was one in a carload of students that Georgina recently brought to Santa Fe to spend three lovely hours looking at drawings by Spanish artists at the “Renaissance to Goya” exhibit.
Georgina Ortega, Reyna's mentor.
Reyna told me that it really matters when caring adults spend time with young people. “It's kind of inspirational to see that they actually care. 

"A lot of kids are leaving town first chance they get. There's no record store, no book store, no movie theater. We have this Rec Center, the ball fields, the drive-in movies (in season).”

There are many factors, no doubt, for Las Vegas' rather alarming depopulation in recent years, but one of them is definitely youth-flight with the resulting brain-drain.

I understand everyone wanting to get out,” Reyna explained, “but I don't want to go somewhere else where there are basically the same problems. I want to address them here in my own town, not someone else's. I feel like Las Vegas is a diamond in the rough. With a little polishing it could be beautiful. We could make it clean, we could be productive...if we unite.”

There was only one garment more fabulous than my own super cool graffiti jacket picked up in NYC a few months ago.

 Not Cory's Bob Marley jacket, though that too was stylish. But, this one!
BrianTheLion, the co-organizer of the sit-in rally and petition-drive, has "hope in his heart and scars on his hands."

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Death Comes For Lamy

They ravaged neither the rivers nor the forest, and if they irrigated, they took as little water as would serve their needs. The land and all that it bore they treated with consideration; not attempting to improve it, they never desecrated it.”― Willa Cather, Death Comes For the Archbishop  

According to Jack Clark, one of the No Crude Oil in Lamy organizers (Facebook page), the Open House I made sure to attend on January 18th was called to "share facts and reach a consensus for future action." Actions taken would be in response to the almost unbelievable news that Pacer Energy and Santa Fe Southern had struck a deal to convert the rail facility in little sleepy Lamy, New Mexico, into a transfer station for crude oil. Tanker trucks would barrel in and out of Lamy, their engines idling while they wait to offload crude oil to railroad cars, their liquid cargo to be transported to refineries near Albuquerque. That's the plan.

When I saw this sign on 285, I knew the organizers were dead serious about the fight ahead.

And this one too, in front of the recently paved 2-lane road that is the only way in or out of the unincorporated village of Lamy. The woman seated next to me in the meeting groaned, "What fools, we thought the county paved the road for us!"

After announcement of the ground rules, Jack informed us that there would be a presentation by Pacer Energy employees, questions to them from the ten-member Steering Committee, followed by questions from the floor, introduction of the electeds or candidates in attendance, the reading of a statement from Santa Fe County Commissioner Kathy Hollian who unfortunately for all was in California caring for her ailing mother, and a discussion of possible courses of action including the pursuit of a legal injunction against Pacer, et.al.

Devil take me if Pacer Energy didn't send a couple of know-nothing reps, who by their own admission were “shanghaied into coming to the meeting at the last minute,” to not answer the many astute questions asked by members of the outraged and ultra organized Lamy, Galisteo, and El Dorado voting blocs. These communities, and all the rest of us up and down the 285 corridor, were there en force, united by a deep and urgent feeling to protect our watershed from Oil & Gas at all costs.

What the Pacer grunts didn't know about what headquarters had cooked up for us could fill several blogposts.

They weren't privy to the business terms of the deal, they weren't certain of the number of trucks that could eventually routinely be deployed to our area, they couldn't even be sure of the proposed hours of operation--daylight hours at first, they thought, but that could change to 24/7. Storage tanks weren't likely to be placed at Lamy but couldn't be ruled out, and no, they didn't know why Pacer had not asked to meet with the affected community. The effects of idling trucks, air and noise pollution were quantified thusly: "could be a bit of a nuisance."

The Pacer duo also didn't know the dollar amount of the anticipated profits for one-year's operation, how much it would cost to place the facility at their Plan B elsewhere location; they were not informed as to the present condition of the railroad tracks--that would be a question for Santa Fe Southern. They couldn't comment on issues of liability, insurance coverages, other than to say: "I know we have some." Nor could they remark on how property values would be affected in the area, how owners could be compensated for losses to those values, or what the safety risks would be in case of flooding during monsoon season.

Not ten miles from my casita, on the road to Lamy where 50-100 double tanker trucks, weekly, each weighing 80,000 pounds fully-loaded are proposed to transport crude oil.

Where the historic protest meeting in Lamy was held.

The overflow crowd filled this hall and an adjoining room.

The meeting was exceedingly well run, many voices were heard.

Our two Pacer boyz, with nametags a'blazin!

I wonder if they ever looked up to see where they were?

According to the paper in Albuquerque, the body count at Legal Tender protesting the proposed invasion by oil and gas was numbered at 275. Among us were skilled geo-hydrologists and seasoned water-protection activists with abundant expertise to bring to bear to this serious threat to our bio-region. The nomenclature of engineering sussurated throughout the Q&A—tonnage, stress, road degradation, black ice, hazmat incidents, permeable soil, irreplaceable natural resources, etc.

But after all the brilliant and incisive questions were asked (not a ding-a-ling among them), and the many near incoherent utterances of  "don't know," "have to check," "we'll get back to you on that," "not sure," "hard to say," and out-and-out silence were given--the inescapable conclusion was simply this: 

Spills, accidents and wrecks are inevitable. With Lamy's community well head only 109 feet from the proposed crude oil transfer site, our aquifer is vulnerable.

Even while the heaviness of our situation was settling upon us, as we each struggled with this new proposed reality being foisted upon us, a bit of radical relief was fortunately on the way. Former elementary school teacher Rainy Upton rocked the casbah when she coolly asked the Pacer stooges in the same measured cadences with which she might totally devastate a couple of misbehaving third-graders: “Why did you come here looking for trouble?”

Rainy's question was like a refreshing rain falling on a community in the process of being seriously shit upon, and it was a welcome, cleansing rain. The pathetic, almost pitiable, response from Pacer? "Um. Uh. That's a good question. We asked that ourselves. We're not looking for trouble. It's a hard question to answer. We don't have an answer."

Moments later, and even with the pointed reminders from our facilitators to remain civil, and notwithstanding the presence of a couple of armed law-enforcement personnel standing by (!) inside the meeting hall (!!), local democracy, that ole messy thang so loathed by oligarchs and plutocrats alike, was spontaneously, anarchically asserted. After a bellyful of Pacer's biz development lingo—“cost-effectiveness,” “path of least resistance,” and pointless repetition of the totally banal phrase “best practices”—we took a vote, an impromptu one. With quiet fury, the man directly behind me rose and demanded of the crowd: “Anyone want this?” Nary a hand was raised, to which he thundered: “Nobody wants this!” 

It was a rare public moment of pure, unanimous, absolute consensus, charged with all the fervor and frustration that a collective act of withholding assent in no uncertain terms can muster. 

Santa Fe Southern--the little engine that shouldn't.
At Lamy's rail yard in this evening's twilight. A magical, peaceful place.

This is the landscape at risk. We have so precious little water.
Is Oil & Gas so arrogant that they've completely misread the power potentiality of our regional alliance, especially now that we are galvanized and united against an immediate and dire threat?

Have they been unattentive to the willful challenges to corporate oil and gas interests posed by our neighboring counties—in San Miguel and especially Mora, the first county in the nation to ban fracking and be sued in federal court by Royal Dutch Shell's US subsidiary? Do they not understand that many of us are committed to protecting Mother Earth from their ravages, come what may?

Painting by New Mexico modernist Juane Quick-to-See Smith

One is forced to presume that in New Mexico--a state so nakedly corrupt as to be ranked last in the U.S. in child well-being--that it must be standard operating procedure in business dealings such as the one Pacer has made with Santa Fe Southern, to have a quid pro quo of one sort or another between the powers that be, whoever they are. The path of least resistance, etc. Staci Matlock indicated in the announcement of the meeting that appeared under her byline that it was curtains for Lamy, that we could "weigh in," the unstated implication being that the deal was done and our lawful compliance a big fat fait accompli

Is the pro-Pacer camp under the foolish impression that all they have to do is go through some (loco) motions—make a few vapid appearances at community meetings, relinquish some small number of inexpensive concessions, announce that they'll hire a couple of local dopes as security guards to watch over the tankers, terminal, floodlights, and ("no plans at present for") storage facilities? In short, impose their will on us with impunity because the State bureaucracy has sold us down arroyo?

Coincidentally, I've just finished reading this classic of the Southwest, an explosively comical fiction, that reminds us via its vivid characters: Another way of being in the world is possible.

 Thought experiment: How many New Mexicans would it take to peaceably  block the Pacer trucks on a little road like this? And who would the local peace officers stand with--us, or them?

Gunther Worrbein, volunteer sign painter, standing by his handiwork after the eventful session.
[Miracles] . . . seem to me to rest not so much upon faces or voices or healing power coming suddenly near us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made fine, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears hear what is there about us always.”  ― Willa Cather, Death Comes For the Archbishop

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Taking Inventory

"We're a small store, only six people. We literally couldn't do it without help."
We were at Self Serve in Albuquerque, an inventory-rich store, helping co-owners Matie (purple v-neck) and Molly (aqua and tan striped v-neck sweater) to comply with the NM sales tax requirement to conduct a comprehensive semi-annual stocktaking. Every little pillow packet of Sliquid Sassy had to be accounted for. “Accuracy is all” were the watchwords of the day!

I was assigned to the Vibrator, Dildo and Lube Team. We were gently, yet firmly, led through our multiple tasks by team captain Stevie, the resident sex educator who teaches both levels of Blow Job classes, Introductory and Advanced. Our team was strong—Captain Stevie, me, Lexie and Tazz.

It's illegal in the State of Alabama to sell a vibrator--an offense punishable by fines of $10,000.

Store Manager, Hunter Riley had put out a call for help on Self Serve's very informative and fun Facebook page, promising lunch and $50 gift cards in exchange for five hours of participation, 12-5 pm on January 2nd. And we all came running to count and double-count products like Gun Oil, for example--which comes in bottles of 4, 8 and 16 ounces (though there were none left in the big size). Tedious tasks to be sure but broken up by the kind of frank adult talk one doesn't get to enjoy very often.

Tazz says, "Never feel pressure to do anything you don't want to do. Be safe and have fun!"

Tazz, a self-described regular at Self Serve, knows her way around the store. “They have a little bit of something for everyone here. That's why I'm here today,”she explained, “because they always help out the community. I'm into radical stuff, I'm down to meet new people, and the shop has a great message--sex positive.

I don't think sex is taboo, no matter what you're into, everything should be okay. And there should be a safe space to make people feel like that. This is one.”

Tazz told me that she's come in with partners or friends who have never before been in a store like Self Serve. “The staff is amazing, they make everyone feel comfortable to shop. Safe sex is really, really important. A lot of times people want to have safe sex, but they don't know how. It's really important to get more education. That happens here.”

I asked Tazz what should be in everyone's Safe Sex toolkit and her answer surprised me. “Condoms are a definite. Dental dams. And choosing clean partners, people with whom you can have open conversations.” 

Stevie has a masters degree in Adult Learning and has been a sex educator for eleven years. 
Why take a blow job class?” I asked Stevie, the instructor. Her answer inspired confidence. “To feel comfortable navigating the whole cock region. I have a vulva,” Stevie explained, “and that makes it hard to understand how male sexual response works. It's a total unknown.

A lot of people don't like giving blow jobs. I focus on making it less of a chore. They don't feel like they know what they're doing, or it takes too long. If you don't have a good position it can be physically uncomfortable. A lot of people haven't had a good partner—they shoved or were overly aggressive. The way to handle that is to have a conversation. If you can't talk about it, that is not a person you want to be in bed with.

Look, you would never want to suffocate anybody with your vulva and yet people are choked with the penis, to the point of vomiting a little, or crying.”

I asked Stevie if there was such a thing as “a bad blow job”?

There's a bad everything. There can be biting, for instance, or not enough pressure. I think it's also important to know there does not have to be ejaculation for it to have been a really good blow job.” 

Stevie said:  "Self Serve is like having that friend you can ask that weird question.”
What do you do if your partner's genitals smell bad?

Matie, who teaches the Cunnilingus class chimed right in, “Take a sexy shower. I always tell my students, anything that needs to be changed and that's easy to change right away, change!”

Stevie added: “Make sure you have enough room, that special stool. A stool gives you better access. Throw a towel on the ground first. The towel gives you better traction. Sit down. I call the position The Seated Lady.

Flavored lubes are great. Lube for the hand portion, a tight pressure on the cock. You're lubing for the hand portion so you can suck the head. In my class, you will practice with a sterilized dildo. People say I'm like a stand-up comic. I make it funny. But I'm teaching real skills they can really take home and actually use.”

"No, I didn't plan to be a single mom," Lexie told me.
 I asked teammate Lexie why she was spending the day on Central Avenue adding up dildos on a tally sheet on a clipboard.

I wanted to step out of my box, experience something new. It's my first time in the shop. One of my resolutions is to do things that make me feel uncomfortable.”

Lexie is a new single mom, her baby's 9 months. She became pregnant when the condom broke but her partner didn't tell her, so she couldn't take a Day After pill, which she would have been fine with. He only told her about the mishap when she told him she was pregnant. Something like, “Oh yeah, I guess now's a good time to tell you, the condom broke that time.” Because of her experiences she wants “a whole new change around sex.”

"We love supporting the community," said co-owner Matie Fricker, "and we're so grateful that the community supports us when we ask for it.'

Before I had my son, sex was important to me. I had to have it. Now, it's mid-list for me. I'm focused on schooling and raising him so he doesn't turn out like his father. I won't pursue his father's involvement. I can do it on my own, and I've been doing a good job. I prioritize my son. This or that guy may not be around forever, but your kids will.”

I asked Lexie which was her favorite product in the store. “Vibrators, I have a few—they have saved my life in multiple situations. When I needed a release and there was no one around.

Every toy is different—different speeds, size, texture. I have different vibrators for different moods, partners, for whatever you're into. You never know what may come up!”

What would you say to the people who haven't found the store yet?

To anyone out there who hasn't shopped at Self Serve...come in with an open mind, don't be afraid to ask a question.”