In my dream, I was lost. Somehow my guide had disappeared among wide avenues lined with palm trees and yucca. My son London was with this Indiana Jones type, so I searched for hours and ended up at a fraternity house dressed in rags without a phone or a wallet. I asked one of the Thads or Chads for his cell and a phonebook and ended up calling an old college friend who arrived almost immediately with his father in a two-seater airplane. But here’s the thing: his father was naked. And here’s another thing: in my dream, many of my friends had once dated Andre Agassi.
Maybe it was the combination of geothermal hot springs and new locale that ignited my subconscious. Or the fact that this was my first Christmas without my children after having separated from my wife back in May. My friend Lee and I had left snowy Santa Fe to stay at the Sierra Grande Lodge and Spa in temperate Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. T or C, as New Mexicans call it, is downright dreamy in its own right. The Sierra Grande and its facilities offer a soothing combination of New Mexico tradition and modern amenities. Not only did they have lovely indoor and outdoor geothermal pools, the bathtub in our room was as big as a Volkswagen Bug with a clear view of the television.
I thought taking a bath while watching a reality show called Auction Kings was oddly luxurious, but when we ventured out after breakfast into the warm sun with a great view of Turtleback Mountain, things got even more surreal. T or C was quiet after Christmas, but a few stores were open, so we decided to check out some thrift shops. We stumbled upon a large Salvation Army kind of place that, by the look of the plentiful bedpans, crutches and leg braces, catered to the local retirement community. While Lee tried on some vintage cowboy boots, I marveled at the used jockstraps, boxers and bras thrown carelessly into bins.
“Wow,” I said in disbelief. Previously worn undergarments. Why did I leave the Sierra Grande again?
“Whatcha looking at?” Lee asked, after having finished sticking her foot in places it didn’t belong.
“America,” I said.
A sloppily dressed old man with a lazy eye and dusty glasses wandered up to us and exclaimed, “Everywhere I look, I see things made in China.”
“Then you should close your eyes,” I said. Now, before you think me cruel, you should read the emails my father and his cronies send me questioning the legitimacy of our president mostly because of race, and how anyone whose ancestors didn’t sail over on the Mayflower doesn’t have the traditional American values needed to sell used jockstraps in a free-market economy.
The retiree followed us, cracking jokes about digging his way to China and a clever plan to get cards made up warning that the USA was falling just like Rome did under Julius Caesar.
“Because of syphilis, poor sanitary conditions and Christianity?” I asked.
Lee is kinder than I am, so while I tried to give the old codger the slip by the board games, she listened to his complaints about a country that allows him to wander freely and heckle strangers. I found a trivia-based game called “Fact or Crap” and handed it to Lee. She pulled a card from the deck, faced our new pal, and said, “Fact or crap? Saddam Hussein studied veterinary science in Egypt.”
“Well, I’d say that’s crap.”
And you know what? The old bastard was right for once.
T or C has an array of diverse places, from a hip boutique called Dust & Glitter to a joint that looked like it might be a front for meth. The name of the lesser establishment was just a series of abbreviations in stick-on lettering, and most of the drop ceiling had gone missing. The front of the store was reminiscent of an indoor yard sale: all the articles of clothing cost a dollar, and piles of record albums stood in the corner near a jumble of cell phones. I spotted a 1940s Royal typewriter and a stack of unopened comic books from the 1990s. I thought buying the comics might help me locate London in my post-soak dream later that night.
A chirpy woman bubbled out from a door in the back and shouted, “If y’all need anything, I’ll be doing hair!” Sure enough, two barber’s chairs sat in what I had mistaken for a storeroom.
“Nice business model.” Lee, a longtime entrepreneur, was impressed.
“What if I make you an offer on more than one thing?” I asked.
“We call that bundling,” she said, slapping her comb onto the flat of her palm. I lowballed her just like I’d learned watching Auction Kings, so she grabbed the phone and dialed the owner, who countered with a higher number. I felt like I was back in my dream shouting dollar amounts to a woman holding a phone in one hand and a comb in the other, under unfinished duct work instead of the Black Mountains.
“Here,” she said. “He wants you.”
An old-timey prospector’s voice told me that the comics were worth something. I mentioned their dusty condition and then pulled a move favored by the two fat brothers on Auction Kings: I lied about leaving town that instant.
“Give her back the phone,” he said, agreeing to my terms. Maybe I felt guilty about the hard buy, or I was channeling the old coot we ditched earlier, because I stupidly added, “I only pay with American dollars.”
The salesgirl/haircutter/secretary laughed, still on the line with the faceless boss. “He says he only takes dineros.”
I grabbed my haul and told Lee to get a move on. I wanted to get out of there before someone changed his or her mind. Besides, I said, daydreaming of the Sierra Grande, “We need to go soak our bones.”