After graduating from the Border Patrol academy at 23 years old, I was sent to my duty station in southwestern Arizona and assigned to a field training unit alongside my academy classmates and other recently-arrived trainees. Our first weeks at the station were wholly dedicated to area orientation, and my first days with a badge and a gun were spent crammed into the back of lumbering patrol vehicles with my fellow trainees, furiously scribbling notes and sketching maps in a small notebook I carried with me in the cargo pocket of my rough duty pants. As we drove across uneven dirt roads, I filled pages with sloppy lines and quivering handwriting, glancing out the window and repeating place names as I scrawled them in my notebook: there is Diaz Peak, there is Black Mountain, here is Cameron’s Tank.
I, too, have the sense that the hectic pace of the outside world has been temporarily halted. It’s not only space but time that this architecture helps to shape, site as much as zeit. The downpour that has soaked the craggy lowlands, arroyos, and mesquite bosques since last night has abated. Clouds drift to the far horizon. The empty day floods with brightness.
Ten days of tent living. The standard pink underwear is not so bad. Thin, friendly material. It reminds him of college parties, thrift store clothing, the power of costume.
The year we moved into APN 124-62-071, the city was beset by serial killers. The Arizona Republic later dubbed it the “Summer of Fear,” when the Baseline Killer and the Serial Shooter murdered a collective seventeen people and attacked dozens more. The Serial Shooter turned out to be multiple shooters, friends, who aimed at living targets from their car like a live action video game. They started with dogs and horses. Then a man on a bicycle bringing candles to a family who had lost electricity. A man asleep on a bus stop bench. The murders were spread across the valley, so that nowhere felt entirely safe. When one of the suspects was arrested, he held a trash bag with a shotgun shell and a map of the killings.
The sun beat down, hot and indiscriminant. Ahead: the layered rise of canyon walls. The snaking cut of a river. A hiking trail drawn out in a dusty red smear. The girls marched along it three-abreast—the Conciliator, the Ideologue, the Pragmatist—their boots sending lizards into retreat under prickly pear and beavertail cactus.
El Tiradito means “The Little Castaway” in Spanish. The Arizona Folklore Archives hold more than twenty different origin stories for El Tiradito. In one, a father mistook his long-lost son who was waiting to reunite with him at home for a stranger hitting on his wife and murdered him in a fit of rage. In another, a husband murdered his wife and wife’s visiting brother when he saw them talking together. Or an innocent man caught a bullet walking past a bar. Or a man was murdered and tossed (tirado) from a train. All of El Tiradito’s stories tend toward the lurid: gunfights, broken hearts, high speed tragedies. El Tiradito is a memorial; none of these stories have happy endings.
Maya L. Kapoor
We know our father’s gunfight is pretend, a scripted performance, but the roles they play still set us apart. We know it’s an act, but there is still a certain shame. Our classmates’ parents portray generic wranglers or barmaids or shopkeeps or preachers or prostitutes—no one pays them any attention. We, on the other hand, can’t blend in. We’re the famed sons of infamous losers.
In the middle of the night, my father told me that he had crossed where the river ran thin, a strip of muddy water no more than ankle deep, easy enough to keep your shoes in one hand and slip to the other bank, roll your pant legs back down and stroll over to the cantinas just a street over from the bridge.
We used to give tourists false directions. Some RV would pull up to our baseball game outside the Episcopal Church—3rd and Safford—and ask for directions to Boothill, which is right on the highway, marked by a twelve-foot sign in the shape of a tombstone. We’d send them the other way, to Bisbee.
Justin St. Germain
Every town on a map is a ghost town.
Justin St. Germain
I want to believe I’m still a local, point to the tombstone tattooed on my arm. But I was never really local. You had to be born or buried there.
Justin St. Germain
At mile marker 132, we pull up to an iron gate, one of dozens of entry points to the Navajo-owned Big Boquillas’ Diamond A Ranch, the largest cattle ranch in Arizona. The scrubby valley is ringed by thousand-foot steep escarpments. At sunset, the cliffs are pink and ridged like the roof of a mouth. By nightfall, though, especially on slim-moon nights like this one, the Aubrey Cliffs smudge into a broad silhouette carving toward the Grand Canyon. My wife stands in the headlights, unlatching the chain and swinging the gate open. She gets in the car, and we go, the wheels rolling over the rutted dirt roads.
“Well, we’re the largest map and flag store in the southwest,” the man with the ponytail said, pausing before adding that they were the southwest’s only map and flag store, too. I imagined the thousands of ways he’d tried to keep that line fresh. The man hastened to add that all his flags—and that’s how he put it, his flags—were made in America. None of that Wal-Mart or China stuff. I told him I didn’t realize the provenance of flags was such a big deal. Were the American ones really that much nicer?
“Absolutely,” he said, with stiff reassurance. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a wicker basket filled with iron-on military patches, like a bowl of candy in a waiting room.
I wrote back and asked at what point the Rand McNally company would remove a location from a map. In other words, how small or insignificant would a place have to be for people to have no reason to know it exists. The answer was decorous and multifaceted and concluded by saying that barring the presence of major roads or other travel markers they might remove a place from the map if they look at the region with satellite imagery and determine that there is “truly nothing there.”
There’s a town outside of Phoenix named for a feeling—
I slept three nights once in Surprise.
Thanksgiving, 2012. The inflatable
bed I fell asleep on
had lost its air
by the time I was awake.
I was thinking of saying I love Arizona. But attachment, history, terror: love isn’t technically the word for that.
On Highway 89, vendors sell jewelry under booths made from the wood of old cabins and reclaimed fences.
I can’t remember for whom or what they made the fences. I see horses in the distance. There are so many wrong news items about horses. They are wild. They are ours. They are original. They are not original, just as this road is not original. I can see the old bridge over Moenkopi wash. Its concrete is cracked but it will last as long as the horses, depending on the water, which is good for the animals but bad for the bridge.
Granted, it’s easy to get weary and cynical about the festival, about the often precious and starry-eyed versions of Tucson that Tucson likes to present to itself, but then again, most of us are just trying to get by, are not smoking Spice or G, do not even know what Spice and G are, do walk and ride bikes, are clinically sane, but also do like to occasionally partake in special meats-on-sticks, and maybe actually would like to take 10-20 minutes out of our day to watch people perform a traditional folk dance.
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