There’s a funky old children’s attraction in Tucson that was started by a nice man in the 40’s as an enchanted place for kids. He made a magic snake out of oatmeal canisters and was re-using materials way before it was trendy. I was fascinated by the story and hence this song…
I sit completely still in the humid air focusing the entirety of my attention on the swath of green in front of me. I breathe slowly, letting my muscles relax, calming the natural impulses of a young healthy person to move, fidget or jump. I stay, as beads of sweat make their slow descent, leaving shiny tracks down my bare arms.
The object of my stare is somewhere in the tall grass and it’s my job to observe its behavior, its actions. My eyes wait for movement, the inevitable sign of life. A blade twitches and I hold my breath. The slightest move on my part will give me away. The next blade of grass sways slightly. It’s on the move. A trail is making itself known, the trajectory pointing towards a patch of bare soil directly in my line of sight. I allow myself to breathe again but as slowly as possible. Seconds drip by and the edges of my being start to blend into the air around me, the soil below me. At this point in time, I am one with Everything.
Then…a tiny chartreuse head peers from its shelter – it crawls further into view on its short, spindly legs. A bright, peach-pink pouch billows from its throat, then quickly collapses. Attracting a mate or staking its territory? The Green Anole comes fully into view and I settle down even further at my spot, ready to observe what it will do next —
The silence is shattered by the bellow of my younger brother. The lizard scurries back into the wilds of our unmowed backyard lawn and he bursts through the door. “Mami says dinner time!”
I groan and unfold myself to standing. One more zoological experiment thwarted by the mundane call of “normal life.” I head towards the back door but give one last glance at the yard – a Northern Florida wonderland of fauna. I’ll be back.
Every now and again when our friend Laura hung out with us in our backyard, she’d say something along the lines of “Y’know, you should scatter some wildflower seeds back here.” I’d enthusiastically nod my head but then forget – the backyard is full of pavers and gravel with a little bit of earth around our refrigerator bed. Nothing that seemed to want to be home to flowers. Even though I’m hyper-aware of the surprising amount of color and variety in the spring flowers of the Sonoran desert, I was content with the African daisies we inherited in our front yard.
Then sometime last fall Jamie and I finally stopped by Native Seeds to grab some vegetable seeds for the winter garden in our new berm.
Let me back up.
A few years back, when Jamie and I realized that Los Angeles wasn’t going to be our forever home (housing prices and earthquakes being two of the prime reasons) and we were casting about for new potential headquarters, we visited our friends Mike and Carrie in Tucson for the first time.
We immediately dug the clean air, funky saguaros (I remember hearing that word for the first time, the way it’s pronounced natively ‘swah-ro’ and the long length of time it took my mind to understand that this mellifluous sound represented those tall stately cacti with arms that has become America’s symbol for ‘desert’) and vast blue sky. We admired the indomitable croppings of art that waved from bus stops, overpasses, mailboxes and whole houses.
We’d been considering other smaller-scale arty scenes like Asheville or Austin, but what really tipped the scales in favor of the Old Pueblo was a narrow, long bar with a ceiling like the underbelly of an old roller coaster, creepy animal trophy heads poking through the walls, a blue portrait of Bob Dylan, a chalkboard made out of an old car door, the best bartenders west of the Mississippi and an ever flowing current of talent and creativity in front of old storefront windows. Oh, and tater tots.
I’m talking about that long gone Tucson institution, Red Room. It was a subset of another institution, The Grill, an ancient (by the West’s standards) 24-hour diner that had seen better days, including what was left of the peeling, sixties psychedelic deer mural and ever-threatening-to-collapse ceiling – though their crispy, golden brown tater tots alone were worth a trip. Red Room was the satellite, the adjunct, the part of the establishment that actually closed at 2am. But to me it was the better part.