BY JAN HAAG

POETRY + MUSIC + TEXTILE ART + TRAVEL + ESSAYS + FICTION

INTRODUCTION + HAAG'S BIO






NO PALMS



PART I, CHAPTER 3




Before I met Buck I had spent my middle years, my good years, being a career woman in Los Angeles. I'd had one marriage when I was a kid, which didn't amount to but about six months, just enough to make me sure I didn't need to try another one. Just enough to let me know that if I wanted anything done in my life, my way and my style, I'd just as well get on with it myself. At that time, when I was young -- God, I had a lot of energy then! -- I was into money and good clothes, I wanted a big house and lovers -- I had a few lovers. I wanted the whole bit, but I had become convinced I could make it for myself. After all it was in the early days of the feminist revolution and I was right there in on it. A bigger feminist than Betty Friedan. I mean, we forget there was a whole movement afoot before she wrote that book which I have never even read. But I wanted my life to be a good one, and I wanted to do it myself.

Like so many people, I did what I had to do to make the bucks. I got into advertising and before I realized it I had sold my soul. I was hooked. I needed the big income to sustain my way of life. My Standard of Living. That old bugaboo. Now it's called Style. Lifestyle. Or, I guess, already that's a dated term, too. They come and go so fast. Well, it's all bullshit, but then I was into it. Really deep into it, and I had to keep shoveling just as fast as I could to stay on top. And I was pretty close to the top: Alfred, Arondel, and Dobson. You probably know the name even if you don't know tiddly-winks about Advertising. Because AAD was that big, powerful.

But it was the fast lane and I was getting stressed out. I mean the old adrenal system can only take so many years of so much stress. Then you start to think about saving your life. You begin to wonder what your life is if it is just one big stressed out push from the moment you make yourself get out of bed in the morning until you make yourself go to bed at night. I don't remember how I got the courage to quit. I just knew I was going to be dead some morning soon if I didn't get out. Besides, being in Los Angeles among the "nuts and fruits," I had begun to get interested in Eastern religions. Read a lot about Buddha, clapped and chanted. Had mystical experiences. A lot of my friends did, too.

But I got serious about it. Too serious. It began to interfere with my ability to think up an ad campaign. To do what? To sell more raunchy records to more kids already so screwed up they had to have drugs to know they were alive? It began to make me want to vomit. Raunchy kids making revolting amounts of money to corrupt the minds of more raunchy kids. Love! Loss! Desperation! Depression! We'd come a long way down from the Beatles.

O God the catch phrases. I mean, I was going off the deep end. One more murder, and I was going to lose it. I threw my TV out the window one night -- on to the lawn. Since I lived in a one-story ranch-style a la-Hollywood-suburbia, I didn't get a chance to drop it from a hundred story skyscraper. And I quit.

I began to wander. I wandered all over the East and the West for about six years, wandered until I wandered into Buck's arms. Wandered into Buck at the Alamo. Which I have already told you about.

And Buck, what more can I say about Buck?

Buck had dreams. I liked to listen to them. And he had a past! Oh, what a past, and energy enough to do crazy things for the both of us. He'd learned to fly as a kid, so in the army and after he got out of it he flew -- mostly private planes. He liked piloting, he said. Then he got interested in politics, then got the idea he wanted to write. And he took the trans-Siberian railway across Russia -- that was in '58. He went into China. He'd been around the world twice, partly for fun, and partly "snooping" as he called it. But always politics, pushing things, shoving things, helping out at NASA -- and relaxing. He did a lot of relaxing, he said, when I met him. I would listen and I would giggle, and I never really thought that at his age -- he was damn near seventy when I met him -- he'd start in all over again. But I should have known. Because the very first day when Sugar and Halley and Josh and I arrived at the Brawley Ranch, Pop Brawley, who was already ninety-one, was out there planting a peach orchard. He wiped the dirt off his hands to shake mine.

"Just a small peach orchard for the table, honey."

"How long will it take to fruit?"

"Why just a few years, Miz Montfort, now don't you worry."

"Fredericksburg is just right over there." I'd been over there already, picking peaches from their famous orchards with my niece.

"But a man likes to stretch out his fingers and pick his own peaches. Ain't that right Buck?" And Buck and he slapped their thighs and laughed. Laughed as if it were some great big cosmic joke. God, how they could howl, Pop and Buck. Big laughter up from some tremendous well of good humor and good living.

Josh, you could see, was torn, wondering what the joke was, wondering if he should laugh with them, or maintain his scientific detachment. Sugar gave her deep throated chuckle. I think I blushed, wondering if the old man's remark had sexual overtones. But then Buck took my hand in his big hand and led us along the line of new little trees, and showed us how -- each one of us -- to tamp real carefully around their fragile stems. Holding the tops of the little trees, about two feet tall and slender as twigs, we pressed down with our toes the rich black soil that Pop had been shoveling off the back of a pickup.

"Brought it up from the creek," he said. "It's better than that right here by the house." Then he paused, leaning on his shovel and looked out across the land, which reminded me of the endless undulating beauty of Isak Dinesen's Africa. And I kind of gulped and looked at Buck, and I knew for the first time what the love of the land was -- to a Texan, to anyone, to me. Buck, by then, was holding the baby who looked, against his bulk, about the size of a full grown peach.

Buck and his Pop, as they lived and breathed, were such facts of life you never really thought about asking a history or a reason for their being. Or how they got that way, or might they have ever been different. The only thing that I ever thought to question about Buck was his insane move to No Palms. Other than that, once I agreed to be Mrs. Brawley, I just went along for the ride, a high old exuberant ride -- until we moved to No Palms. But even there, especially there, it was intense. It escalated from intensity to fear, then anguish. Even now I have no peace.

"What the hell you gonna do out there, Buck?" his brother Houston had asked, and his father who sat, by then -- this was not quite two years after the planting of the peach orchard -- some of his time in that old-fashioned caned-back wheelchair. "I mean if you want to go to Hollywood, go to Hollywood."

Buck had just come back from a trip to California -- the desert, Los Angeles.

"But some shack town in the desert?" Pop snorted. " Twentynine Palms? Jesus kid, that died years ago. What are you remembering, what'd you see there for Christ sakes?"

"We'll go try," Buck said placatingly. "Maybe we'll be back."

"What do you think about it, Gloriana?" asked the old man from his chair.

I couldn't say it was the most idiotic notion I'd ever heard of so I kept my mouth shut.

"The air's clean out there," said Buck.

"The air's clean here," answered Houston.

"I just remember having a feeling I had to come back."

"Forty-six god-damned years ago?" scoffed the old man.

"Almost half a century ago," I said to Buck late at night.

"And when I was there. Now. They need help."

"Who does?"

"The people. They need a voice."

"You really want to publish a newspaper?"

"I know, it's crazy, but you'll come, won't you?" He said it with the appeal of a nuzzling cat. Ever been reading a book laid on a table, and the cat comes nuzzling against your forehead? Back and forth, back and forth, walking across the print, purring. Making you laugh and say "Yes." Yes, you'll pet him, yes, you'll love him, yes, you'll go where he wants to go.

"But why?" I queried into the dark, after love, when his big mane and his big head were cradled on my breast.

"It's my moon shot," he said. "My moon shot. Wait until you see the moon over the emptiness of the desert. There's nothing cleaner. Nothing more pure."

"But the moon is beautiful here. There's nothing more beautiful than the moon and the sunset and the sky over the Hill Country."

"I'm an idiot," he said. "You think that, and you're right. But I need looking after."

"I'll come."

What, I'm sure, wondered his brother and his cagey old father, did Buck know about newspapering? Or broadcasting, for that matter, for by now he'd also got the notion of a public access TV station. "Nothing," I could have answered, but I didn't, not then and not in my letters after we took up residence in the old house with the porch and the gingerbread behind the store front and beside the shed.

Buck had been trying to write for years. He had a novel and a few, maybe seven short stories, and he thought they weren't any good. He'd spent quite a lot of time transfering them into and editing them on his first computer that he had bought with so much love and so much confidence soon after we met in '87. But he had got discouraged. He wasn't sure that what the world needed was one more "growing up on a ranch book."

"It seems so out of date," he said. "Like it doesn't speak to anybody anymore. It's all dead. Like it doesn't matter anymore."

I can't tell you much about Buck's childhood, because he never did talk much and he wouldn't let even me read his books. Said he would when they were good enough. But then one day he burned them. Had a hot old bonfire. And they were gone. Poof.

So all I can tell you is that he'd grown up on the ranch with Sagalen acting like a mom, with Pop and his brother Houston. They lived big. Had big cattle then. They were still running cattle all over the 30,000 acres in those days.

As a kid, Buck drank a lot and ate a lot and went to school at UT until the day after Pearl Harbor and then he sped off to the war. That's how he ended up in Twentynine Palms. Then, in the "Pacific Theatre," he did a lot of heroic things. But he would never talk about them either. Pop once brought out a tray of medals.

Then he came home and, as I said before, he lived. The way you live in Texas. Using up lots of gas, both in the gas tanks of the planes and a couple of cars, and just plain old gassing and drinking.

They also, the Brawleys, you could never quite tell who owned what, had some oil by then. They had "awl" out in West Texas. Owned the land as well as the leases. A couple of hundred miles from Brawley, but that didn't matter in Texas. In those days, in the '50s you could cruise around all day at 90 mph.

But I think the war had changed him, or maybe it was the '60s detonating on the horizon for it wasn't too long, he wasn't interested in cattle anymore -- or in oil, for that matter. That's when Houston moved off on his own, "took most the cows with him" -- as Buck told it. Just moved right on out with the cows.

That's when Buck got some kind of international job writing for some Congressman. Went over, saw a lot of Europe. Maybe had a hundred affairs. Not so many as some of your National Football stars, I guess, but enough.

God, I don't see to this day why men find it so much fun to sleep around with everyone they meet. But that's men and I'm not one. I'd say three or four affairs have been sufficent for my whole life.

So Buck came back home to Brawley one day in the eighties when he was in his sixties. He'd been wondering right along, he said, what maybe it all meant. And he had hit on something that practically nobody was doing anymore, but his Pop had always done, that was: Tell The Truth. Maybe it was a reaction to all that political doubletalk he'd listened to -- done!

Truth telling got to be an obsession. It was an obsession that I could see with my own two eyes from the very day I met him. I mean in Texas he not only helped with The Telescope, but he backed Roe v. Wade, championed two year colleges -- even lobbied against the depletion allowance on oil, rallied for Peace, got interested in water: Edwards Aquifer. He had already helped form the Edwards Underground Water District in 1959, and by '84 they had the first region-wide conservation program going, the EUWD and the city of San Antonio. You see he'd began to realize even that early that water was becoming more precious than gold.

And then one day, when we had been living on the ranch for about two years, apropos of nothing, he said: "When the Glory began to flow I had to follow."

"What?" I asked and he repeated this nonsensical sentence. "When the Glory began to flow I had to follow." Then he said: "I sat by while strangers passed on the way to or on the way from the circumstances of the angels who guide them in their wisdom."

Now I thought of course that he was cracking up, so I certainly didn't ask him to repeat that one.

Then again with no preface. Right overnight, it was in November of '89, -- I mean I had never heard of No Palms and certainly had no interest in the California desert. But one night Buck just ups and says we're going to move there. I couldn't believe it. We were going to return to the site of his World War II initiation. I mean I was a little afraid of his mental health at the time.

At the time, indeed, I thought maybe it had something to do with Austin's death. I mean he was sort of the young darling, and he was bucked to his death in September.

I didn't know Austin very well, because he really lived over on Houston's land helping with the cattle. He was tall and rangy, and so young beside Buck that it was hard to believe they were brothers, half brothers really. Austin had had a young mom. Pop's last fling, as Houston used to say, but not unkindly.

I think Austin kind of idolized his big brother. His eyes would shine like a puppy's anytime he'd get near Buck. I think he was a little intimidated by me, not that I'm intimidating, but I was just not quite old enough to be his mother, and I don't think he had any idea what to do with a sister. He was real extra courteous to me. Hoping, I think, when the subject of newspapering came up to change from cowboy to cub reporter.

Then he was dead.

Houston came driving up one day in the pickup, tears on his face. Now Houston is a big man, just like Buck, not quite so scarred, not quite so ugly, and he stops the pickup right in the front yard. He drove past the wall, right into the yard and stopped. Got out.

It was a white pickup and he gets out, drops the tail gate, and next thing we know -- all four of us, Pop, Sagalen, Buck and me are standing on the porch because of the commotion of the truck driving into the yard and all -- Houston is walking toward us carrying Austin. You could tell before he got to the steps Austin was dead.

Right after that Pop took to his wheel chair. Not all the time, but he used it instead of rejecting it, for Saglen had certainly suggested before then that he should use it some of the times when his legs ached.

"It's better than hobblin'" she said.

And Buck stopped trying to write. But he bought two more computers. I mean it was kind of crazy. He said he wanted to take them and do something for somebody. He'd do some desk top publishing, he said. I don't remember if it was before or after he drove up to California in November, but he went again in December, I remember it was right after Christmas, and came back with this crazy No Palms idea.

The Desert Truth. That's what Buck called the No Palms paper he founded in the California desert. God what an awful title. I sometimes called it The DTs. I mean, especially a little later. The Desert Truth. It was a presumptuous name. He should have known and I should have known it would lead to nothing but trouble. Should anyone ever be so dumb as to walk into someone else's town, someone else's life and announce: "I've brought the Flaming Sword of Truth?" The best you could hope is that you'd be laughed out of town, the worst, that you'd be shot. I don't know what actually happened. All I got back were a couple of bones.

We settled down in No Palms, where indeed there were no palm trees, indigenous or imported, where there were a few less than five thousand souls, and half that many buildings -- included among the buildings were lots of trailers and lots of shacks. There were hills to the north and hills to the south. They were mountains, but you only realized that once or twice a year when the snow fell. Then you'd wake up early, after what you thought was a night of rain, to a three-hundred-sixty degree Himalayan view that would last until noon when the brown hills reasserted themselves with their sage brush facades and again flaunted their neutrality against a sky bluer than bluebonnets.

Buck bought a storefront which had been built on to one of the older houses that had a porch on it and a little bit of gingerbread. The store had also been added-to to make it two stories in the back. Beside it was a huge old shed which, had we found it in Texas, we'd have been sure it was a hangar built for a crop duster. In No Palms I don't know what it was for. Some nut, I heard later, had had a car collection. He had built this huge shed, floored it with concrete and bought cars. He had stayed a few years, been starved out, probably, like so many of the dreaming desert crazies, left the shed and moved on. All this, the store/house and the shed was on one plot of ground, about an acre's worth at one end of the town. Or rather the town didn't quite come out to there. There was a gap, and then there was us. Every bit of it, town and us, was on Highway 62 with cars jetting past faster than laser beams through the night. 62 comes from Interstate 10 up over the hills into the high desert at Morongo Valley and straight out past Yucca Valley, past Joshua Tree, past No Palms to Twentynine Palms, and on east. No one had to stop in No Palms. Few ever did. Why we did is still a mystery to me.

But Buck was a romantic. He wanted to do what he wanted to do. He had a lot of guts, literally and figuratively. Maybe that's why I loved him. He felt so substantial when I held him in my arms. And he made his dreams palpable.

In addition to the paper he was also determined to establish a TV station, The Desert Eye. He'd brought a Camcorder with us. Within a month he bought a couple of other video cameras and a professional tape deck in Los Angeles, then got a license in San Bernardino. For awhile we used the editing facilities down in Palm Springs. But later on, when we started to do a lot of stuff live, we got a used switching board from a defunct station in Indio, out there in the Coachella Valley where the dates come from -- used to come from. Now the date gardens are almost gone, like the land. They let them dry up or plow them under. Everything's getting plowed under or paved over by urban sprawl and golf courses.

Because there was a gap between where we were and the town nobody came to stare or say hello, or bring a pie or a pan of gingerbread, no one at all came to watch us while we moved the computers, all three of them, and the printer, from the small truck into the storefront. No one came to give us advice or help us when we swept out the dust, or curtained the windows with light, unbleached muslin. They didn't come to call or question when the big truck arrived with our Texas Pine and the white wicker furniture Pop had given us out of one of the closed up wings of the ranch house. I put some of the furniture in the "parlor" of the store front and the rest I put in the house. No one came to remark on the Victorian bedstead included as early inheritance from Pop Brawley who had inherited it from Old Man Brawley, Buck's Grandpa after Grandma Victoria, Buck's Grandma, died in it. She died in 1916. Just after Pop was married and before Buck was born. Buck was born of Josephine in that bed, with the help of Sagalen and Peter Good.

No one questioned our taste in glass-topped tables through which you could see the old needlework on the handmade pine chairs in the dining room. In Texas towns people are friendly, said Buck, and bring you a pie. Here in No Palms it was like moving into the local graveyard, where even the tombstones weren't tall enough to acknowledge each other.

The furniture men, I think, thought me a little batty when I gave them each a bag of cookies. Buck gave them beer, of course. I think they understood that. Beer and cookies? Well the cookies were for their kids, I said, or their wives. But it was for the void, nothingness, not a peep back from whoever ate the cookies. Not that I needed gratitude, but I hoped they didn't set the brown bags down for the crows out there where you could hear the guns going bang bang bang and the dogs barking in the night.

We bought groceries at the local supermarket. I smiled at each one of the clerks and they smiled back, but not gaily. It was the only grocery store in town, they didn't have to chat. Except one young girl named Katy Neuman. She'd talk to me. But she rather unnerved me, too, because there we'd be standing at the checkout counter and she'd go on and on and on until I was shifting from one foot to the other, embarrassed and trying to get away. She worked part time after high school, and she just seemed to always need to be talking, compulsively, almost like a Texan, except we weren't sitting on a wide pillared porch, whiling away the afternoon. Lonely, I suppose. Maybe I represented a more glamorous world to her. To the others, mostly kids even younger than Katy, I was just another anonymous grey-hair lady, probably a tourist from Palm Springs or La Quinta in the low desert, out slumming, looking for bargains.

Buck found a sign painter. He, too, had only arrived last year. He was friendly enough. He painted THE DESERT TRUTH. A first rate job in red against black, with a fine gold outline and a few flourishes. But he didn't ask why.

Buck wanted him to ask why? What for? What was The Desert Truth? But when the painter never did, Buck said, the day he picked up the sign and asked the guy if he'd come help hang it -- sure, he was glad enough to do that -- "It's a newspaper. I'm going to print the local news."

"Sure need it." That's all the painter said.

Before he got back into his pickup to drive away, Buck asked him if there had ever been a newspaper in town.

"Naw," he said. "Folks read the paper from over Yucca Valley." And he was gone.

Shortly after that we had a visit from the Sheriff.

"We don't need a newspaper here," he said. His name was Green and he had light green eyes, kind of light-blasted eyes, like you see in men who have known combat in the desert.

"I'll bet you do," said Buck, pleasant, affable. "We'll try, and you see if you don't like it. We're going to offer a little employment."

The Sheriff flicked a morsel of lunch out of his teeth with the edge of a fingernail, sucked in his saliva and gazed off into the desert.

Forty-five people came the February day, February 28, 1989, that our ad appeared in the Yucca Valley paper and twenty-nine people the next day. Another twenty or thirty people came during the days and weeks afterwards. There was so much unemployment in the desert I had the feeling that everyone who had ever answered a phone or could spell out "newspaper" came by to put in an application. There were kids with high school diplomas looking for their first jobs, kids from Copper Mountain College knowing this was their big chance, older women who had deep tenor voices and knowledgeable glints in their eyes who had drunk a lot, seen a lot and worked hard, and a lot of single mothers.

Buck interviewed each one personally after I handed out the application blank and got the paper work done. I think he thought he was learning about the desert through all their stories; he kept careful notes, maybe he was going to write another book: Lost Women of the Sands or People Without Shade -- leading lives so sun baked and spare you knew they had to throw in a little extra drama, a few drugs, a few knock-down-drag-out-fights just to know they were alive. It was a substitute for "the pinch." They didn't feel the pinch any more from anyone for anything. Just the pinch, the crunch, the ferocious uphill battle to feed the kids and pay the water bills.

Buck picked a young woman and an older woman, both of whom were relatively new in the desert. The girl had majored in journalism at UCLA and had come, without graduating, to the desert about a year before with her boyfriend. When he left she stayed, and she badly needed a job. She was grateful and liberal and became a good friend. Her name was Sarah Macormick. Pretty, long-legged, and if you put your arm around her waist it was like caressing the wide part of a canoe paddle, she was that thin. I asked her why she didn't go to a real town if she wanted a career in journalism. But you know, nobody in the desert knows why they're there.

"I just didn't leave when Robert left," was about all she could say on the subject. She occasionally went somewhere beyond Joshua Tree to sit in Zen meditation with other thin -- and I would have said, "fairly lost searching souls" -- but she didn't talk about it and never invited me, so I never went and didn't really know. But I had sat in Zen in Korea. I knew the type.

She and I used to hike around the rocks in Joshua Tree National Monument in the eerie, transcendental light, mostly at dusk or at dawn, and we walked through fields and fields of wild flowers that first spring. She had minored in botany and took the opportunity to do some drawings of flowers and searching out, in the Yucca Valley Library, of their lore, which Buck was more than delighted to run as a regular feature on the second page of the paper.

Sarah knew computers well enough to train herself on ours. Buck taught her Pagemaker. He'd taken lessons in San Antonio just before we left Texas. He kept exulting that we were going to be the damnest little desktop newspaper in the world.

The Desert Truth. The Desert Eye. You could hear his mind savoring it, testing it. It was like Moses getting the Ten Commandments straight off the mountain top. The Desert Truth. Sarah smiled at me, I smiled at her. Commanded to believe, we believed!

The older woman was Arenas Marks. She'd come up out of the low desert, up from Palm Springs. She didn't live down there any more because she couldn't afford it.

She'd had years and years of secretarial/administrative experience back in her Los Angeles days, which she'd put an end to when she got a terrible coughing fit from the smog. She gave up smoking, gave up her job and moved to the desert. The first year she played golf and relaxed, but by the time we met her she'd put in four years in a Palm Springs outlet store helping to stock shelves and felt that maybe that was the best she would ever do again, for hordes of overqualified people came to the desert, young and old, and she wasn't young anymore. She looked upon us as her salvation and worked like a disciple day and night. If her quiet enthusiasm were any indication I felt assured we'd succeed with as great a sweep and as much staying power as the Baptists. Her dedication day and night was a pleasure at which to warm our hands and our hearts.

I'm glad Buck did the hiring. He did, after all, have a level head inside the one that dreamed you into unlikely places, for I, no doubt, would have picked the one with the most heart-rending story and ended up doing triple the triple job Buck already had planned for me.

There was never a time of day or night when the lights in the storefront weren't on. Sarah and Arenas worked when they were asked, and I worked when Buck worked. I can't remember why we thought we needed a house. I bet we didn't sleep twenty times in that bed in the two years we spent in that house with the white wicker furniture and the white curtains. Real soon I got someone to do the cooking. Not anything like Texas cooking or anything I really wanted to eat at all, but Lord, who can stand over a hot oven when the blue-white eye of the computer is calling you to not waste its capacity, its electricity. There were couches in the computer room for napping.

In two days Sarah learned Pagemaker, the software program in which you could lay out a whole single-fold newspaper on the screen before printing out one word, and she taught it to Arenas in one. We would spell each other through the night, phoning to check names if it wasn't too late, typing, and in the daytime we sold ads and phoned and typed. Arenas had more ideas then Buck, but she was gentle and considerate in bringing them forward. You know it isn't often in this world that you get to work at your full capacity. Buck had a genius for that, for bringing it out in people, for creating a place, a space in which not only your full capacity was needed, but that of your family and friends, too, if you had retained any family and friends after Buck Brawley got hold of your time. It was just, I guess, because his dreams were so big -- they allowed for everything to happen. You want it to happen? Come on in and make it happen. Today. And if not today. By tomorrow night.

We had to drive the paper down to San Bernardino once a week to have it printed. And that was usually at 80 mph an hour before it was due. Even before we started printing the controversial stuff, Buck wanted to make The Desert Truth as rich and full as a mincemeat pie. Something for everyone, and strong on opinion.

Hard working, we were a real team. We had every reason to believe we were about to make a real contribution to the town. No Palms needed us we felt, and we needed them. I began to have confidence that Buck knew what he was doing.

At first we did editorials, a minimum of national news picked up from the wire services and some hackers, and a maximum of local research stories. Buck wrote the news while Sarah, Arenas and I were the Star Reporters for human interest, recipes, club meetings and church. We had also repeatedly extended an open invitation to all people up and down the valley to use our Letters to the Editor column. A few did, but not too many. During the first month we sold just under a hundred copies of The Desert Truth once a week and gave away about two hundred in stores and off metal stands near the library and from the street near the park.

Gradually, very gradually circulation began to climb.

The Desert Truth wasn't too long on grammar -- no one who lives among the sage and creosote bushes is too long on grammar. I was never too long on grammar myself, and I could feel what little command I had of it oozing away day by day. I imitated the red-necks and pretty soon my neck was getting as red as theirs, I heard their accents coming out of my mouth, I adopted their lingo to make my questions unobtrusive, to sell ads, to solicit space on their counters for a few copies of The Desert Truth.

The DT wasn't too long on spelling either, but it told it like it was. Buck was adamant that it report exactly what the local people were saying. I mean really saying. Its motto, striped bold and black across the top of the first page, proclaimed THE DESERT TRUTH, WRITTEN BY THE PEOPLE OF NO PALMS, FOR THE PEOPLE OF NO PALMS. And since I had come from The Big World before I ran in to Buck Brawley, where everything is equivocal, everything is for sale, where everything is aided by a little editing, a little re-glossing, it took me a long time to grasp that his idea really was to publish THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE, give them access to the First Amendment, create a true vehicle for Free Speech. When I finally did understand, I thought, by God, we'll win us a Pulitzer Prize. I remember staring into the big blue sky thinking nothing'd come down like this in Modern America -- not since the Pilgrims held tea parties out there on Boston Wharf. I was excited. Sarah and Arenas were excited. But no one jumped around and shouted Hallelujah like Buck did! He fairly hooted with rapture every time a letter came in, every time one of those old geezers or widders took pen in hand and gave you a double whammy of their special brew of prejudice and common sense, drum beating and glory shouting, and Conviction! Boy, they grow a lot of Conviction in the desert. He was particularly happy if it was a threat. If it was an anonymous threat, he'd start to whistle. He'd go off to play detective. Whistling away.

Anyway, Buck published everything! Unedited. Whichever side you were on you got in! Unedited! He welcomed Guest Editorials by the half dozen. Whatever crazy opinion came up, The Desert Truth was a forum you could shout it in. You could make an ass out of yourself in public if you wanted to, or a donkey, or a shrieking mynah bird. He'd give you space to fight the good fight. Whatever your perceptions.

Well, of course, free speech is a dangerous thing, and right from the start there were some who wanted to shut him up, shut up anybody who would let The People have an unfiltered, undiluted, unedited, direct-access, non-discriminating Voice.

CHP Officer Eckhardt Richardson came by to pick up six copies of The DT the moment the printed copies were brought up from San Berdu. I think he followed the van in. He'd pick up the copies. Nod. We were to understand, I'm sure, that his free copies were "official business." Once in while he'd mutter: "Truth, huh? I'll be damned" Then he'd get back in his black and white California Highway Patrol car and drive away, his tires throwing gravel up against the store front windows as he tromped on the gas.

We'd only been publishing about nine weeks and Buck's second dream, The Desert Eye, the television station was just getting underway, when the first real crack in the walls of our isolation happened. We'd been testing the equipment and shooting anyone who came by on tape, as well as drawing up plans for a little "talking heads" kind of live broadcasting set. We wanted a backlog before we actually started broadcasting. What you wanted to say, we wanted to listen to.

A few housewives came by to talk about baking. A County Supervisor running for re-election came by with a test tape to see if we'd be worth while to her campaign. The Sierra Club sent three people out to talk about the flora and the fauna in the Conservation Area of the California desert. It was slim pickings. Buck bided his time. He knew something would happen.






NO PALMS, Part I, Chapter 4




Copyright © 2000 through 2015 Jan Haag
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Jan Haag may be reached via e-mail: jjhaag@gmail.com

Former Website address was: http://weber.u.washington.edu/~jhaag


Complete novel, approximately 80,000 words


Jan Haag is a novelist, poet, painter, textile artist, and former Director of National Production Programs for the American Film Institute.



BY JAN HAAG


POETRY + MUSIC + ESSAYS + TRAVEL + FICTION + TEXTILE ART

INTRODUCTION + HAAG'S BIO



21st CENTURY ART, C.E. - B.C., A Context