Second Thought: Wednesday, April 24, 2003
Deserts All Around Us

There’s a lot blowin’ in the wind these days, but not many answers.


Only on the plains or the open ocean or the desert will the winds blow 25 to 30 mph for three days straight. Sometimes it seems the sky is all we have left. Spirit is the ultimate wilderness. I imagine what Fort Worth was like before they planted all these damn trees, back when it was prairie-oak savannah, playing out westward into a treeless, grassy plain rising with tawny, lithe life, free of the hate, cattle, and bristling wires that conquer it now.

Still ... in that sky, moments of unbearable beauty. ... Prairie afternoon yellow and blue light, orange sunsets at city’s end blazing over the great grassland sea, powerful, towering white cumulus clouds boiling into the sky like something cataclysmic, their upper reaches cast in evening pastels from a sun dropping us off into darkness, reminding us how small we are.

Walking west down Camp Bowie to the gym into late afternoon sunlight, I felt myself creating a narrow pathway involving just me and sky, shutting out roaring cars and trucks, and people honking at me for four or five different reasons. From newspaper vending boxes, front-page pictures of the Fort Worth and Dallas papers showed false clouds rising as “coalition” forces bombed Babylon. The fake clouds were back-dropped by black walls of oil-fire smoke looking as severe as one of our Plains thunderstorms approaching. In those pictures, at the horizon was what at first looked like a window of orange light from a setting sun, but was really the flare of burning buildings. On my way home, I bought USA Today. A color picture, almost Dali-esque, anchored the front page — a little girl in a puffy white dress fleeing, her face stretched in terror, her pigtail blowing sideways in the desert wind, stark figures of traditionally dressed Iraqis joining her, black smoke behind them billowing. ...

In my ’hood, a big gray fox got splattered bolting across Horne Street. He’d come up the rangy, green, overgrown alley leading down to the Lake Como area that’s rich in urban wildlife and urban snakebite (used syringes). Splayed on the pavement, tongue sticking out, his upchucked blood mingled with the oil on the road, destined to run into the creek and lake.

In my house, National Public Radio briefly crackled with the news of burned, blackened civilians. I read the newspaper as I roasted a fat jalapeño, preparing to roll it up in a warm wheat wrap with tahina and mashed banana. The pepper’s skin blistered, bubbled, blackened. My kitchen smelled like Albuquerque in October, Hatch chile time, 600 miles west across the prairie sea.

In many ways, times feel like 1991, only somehow worse; 1991 on drugs. On my streets, women are openly hooking again, in numbers not seen for a long time. On a Southside corner near my work, a girl looking like Lil’ Kim in a pressed blonde wig waved her high-held hand like a hankie at cars going by. She looked high-class compared to girls in Como, some who don’t have shoes.

After my meal, mouth and throat blazing sweet-hot, I went back out. The spring south winds had blown hard for three days and nights straight. It was dark and the streets were nearly empty of pedestrians because, well, it’s Como. Dirt and litter blew up the hill. The blood-oil smear around the fox’s mouth and tongue was streetlight-shining. A barefoot woman in a dull pink dress appeared out of the sandstorm of a road construction site and began walking toward me, clutching her tiny purse to her chest.

I shook my head as she mouthed something. The wind blew her words away. Stepping upwind of me, she tried to strike a pose. She had good hair, her own, shoulder-length, and held it out of her face with one hand. Her dress battered between her legs.

“Only five dollars, bruthaman,” she said. “I ain’t broke luck yet tonight.”

“Baby, where your shoes,” I said, my tongue breathing hhhot.

I continued walking, thinking that in the Bush Un-Economy, women will swallow for five dollars. I ended up going back to her, wordlessly handing her the lousy peso in my wallet, then disappeared.

In USA Today, readers had commented on a picture of a soldier carrying a shell-shocked, injured Iraqi boy whose bare ass hung out. One reader celebrated that this picture “explains ... why so many Americans support this war.”

But who literally bombed the pants off the little boy to begin with?

What’s wrong with this picture?

Jarid Nidal Manos is currently working on his upcoming book, Ghetto Plainsman.

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