Two weeks into the New Year may be a bit late, but I’m inclined to reminisce about life as I knew it a decade ago. I feel like, you know, doing some spontaneous memoir-izing. Indulge a few fond ‘memoiries,’ if you will. Let’s look back on when I was still the Grandfatherly Gay Character around Santa Fe, 2005-2006, sole proprietor and employee of Babylon Gardens Salvage Nursery. Oddly, of my two previous careers, it was the most wonderful and fulfilling.
Though I’d supposedly “retired” on early Social Security in 2004 from a long career of arts administration, I‘d kept on working half-time in local nonprofit organizations (including education, health care, and philanthropy), for minimal compensation, of course. For some years I’d been happily working on grants and technical assistance programs with the Santa Fe Community Foundation and then in April 2006 decided to move over to manage a new state-wide organization of nonprofits called NGO-NM. The sad finale to my illustrious administrative career was having to close that worthy effort down at the end of the year. I still have the incised plastic door-plaque somewhere.
My 2005-6 season (speaking both academically and organizationally) started quite dramatically in August with Hurricane Katrina. Residing in Metairie, my elderly mother (87) lived through it, sheltering at Bonabelle High School. Of course, that’s a remarkable story in itself. When she finally made it here to New Mexico—on her own! —to stay with me, I convinced her to write about the historic event for her descendants. Soon I should type it up and post it for them and you.
In late November 2005 when at least Metairie was back to functioning again, I drove Mother home. Miraculously her home was essentially undamaged, no flooding at all as it stands atop a vestigial ridge between Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi. A few blocks north or south had been six feet under water. Personally, I’m inclined to attribute her good fortune to a Kwan Yin I’d given her. Compassionately, the female Buddha still stood on a console directly across from a thin aluminum picture window to the southeast, having apparently peacefully faced down Katrina, the monster storm of the new century. Meanwhile the big maple at that corner of the house had snapped off about four feet above the ground and merely fallen on the yard.
As if I weren’t being creative enough with the organization work, soon as I got back to Santa Fe for the holidays with my local family (grandson then just over three), I went back to work on my weird linguistic hobby of some 40 years, a structural definition of the innocuous English verb ‘get.’ By the time I started with NGO-NM, it was ready to publish with http://www.AuthorHouse.com, then under a different name, entitled “Getting Get, the Glossary of a Wild Verb,” which came online in November. Sometimes since, I’ve humbly suggested to forbearing friends that this absurd little pamphlet could well be my work of genius. If only anyone but I were eccentric enough to see its simple profundity.
GETTING GET is posted on this website for free download.
Just right click here and do it.
You probably already know, however, that Santa Fe’s notorious for poor folks having to work multiple jobs to get by. Accordingly, besides organizing stuff and defining the wild verb, I spent a miraculous third half of my time as the famous Used Plant Man at the Santa Fe Farmers Market. In honor of my signature product, in the summers I turned into the infamous Iris Man.
Every Saturday morning, and Tuesdays in summers, I peddled previously-nurtured, restored, or recycled house plants. Not mention that in my spare time I did what I cleverly and artistically called ‘land-shaping,’ which involved terracing, rock walls, and laying flagstone patios. In other words, I played around digging in various folks’ yards, gardens, and sandboxes.
That greenhouse was of my own design and construction. I called it my ‘greenhole,’ literally a hole I dug six feet deep and slapped a plastic roof over it .
The only other infrastructure for the business were folding tables, a portable pop-up tent with the proud banner of Babylon Gardens,
And the gallant Grover (the Grey, like Gandalf), a 1970 Chevy C-10 pickup. Grover hauled load after load of plants and paraphernalia through so many pre-dawns and then stood nearby for thousands of touristic snapshots of a typical Santa Fe scene.
As if doing meaningful work for society, publishing a fantastic book, and selling spectacular plants weren’t enough, in June, 2006 I came out as an artist in an art show for the Santa Fe Gay Pride celebration. I’d earned the gay category 45 years earlier, also in June. I showed three pieces: the assemblage shrine Bull of the Sun, the carved sandstone Venus, and my very first piece of digital art, the cover for my novel “Gymnopedie.”
“Gymnopedie” the novel has been withdrawn from publication and
rewritten as a backwoods novella called “Bat in a Whirlwind,”
available for free download by right-clicking here.
While we’re at it, I want to share with you a picture of one of my favorite plants in the greenhole. Soon I really should do a post with more stuff on the wondrous plants I had in there. This one has an outrageous Latin name I loved reciting to folks: pachyphytum oviferum amethystinum (fat-leafed, egg-shaped, amethyst). Here it is in bloom in 2005.
The Farmers Market always went outdoors somewhere in late April around my birthday, and in both the 2005 and 2006 seasons that was on the wide-open corner of Guadalupe and Cerrillos skirting the railroad tracks behind SITE Santa Fe. In my humble used plant vendor opinion that point out there in view of two busy streets was the perfect, I mean the ideal, location for our wonderful community market.
In years past we’d simply popped up our tents, if we had one, further north along the tracks across Paseo de Peralta behind Santa Fe Clay. (And in years before my time, it had been in the parking lot of Sanbusco Center.) Now almost all the vendors, including makeshift Babylon Gardens, flew a white canopy like a flag to be seen from all around. We were truly a spectacle of folk life that made me proud.
As a matter of fact, it seemed a vindication of the pleasure a certain clueless kid once enjoyed in peddling peaches in a booth beside the highway. It was that splendid interaction with people around a subject you deeply love and the thrilling opportunity to share the work of your own hands with them. Every day, even the slow ones, I loved the glory of hawking my beautiful plants, talking about them and how they like to be treated. In a word, it was a trip.
Ironically, the fortuitous move from the hinterlands of the railyard up to this prime spot was caused by big city projects afoot for the neglected old railyard. I believe the powers that be moved the Market out where people could see it to get support for the new building they were preparing in those same hinterlands as an indoor place for us in the winters.
Among other opponents of that project, I felt the current arrangement, as I said before, was ideal. For the winter seasons, we’d been going indoors at El Museo Cultural, and vended there happily, even with poor lighting and no call for flashy tents. It felt very folksy, local farmer cultural.
But the majority of vendors, or at least the power that were at the time, had their hearts set on a fancy market hall like in Boston or Seattle or wherever. This ambition caused a whole bunch of trouble, but don’t get me started.
(Can’t help it. For just a few repercussions. Before the building was even done, the Trust for Public Land and other powers kicked the Market off that superb spot on the busy corner to make the new Railyard Park. I suggested, clearly not vociferously enough, that they design that great space on the corner for a fancy open market plaza for us farmers and for other fairs on other days. Irony Alert: My sweet old vending space is now in a rotunda of rose gardens where few people care to walk. Roses to be smelled and not sold.
Kicking us out made the Market wander for a couple summers around parking lots. The summer beside the DeVargas Center was a huge come-down, but in more levels of irony, our summer of 2008 in the almost ideal PERA lot was the most spectacular in the history of my unorthodox nursery. To make matters worse for us gypsy farmers, for some reason we also lost the El Museo space and had to spend a winter in a grungy industrial place on Cerrillos Road. Again the irony, it had once upon a time been a gay nightclub, the Cargo Club, I think it was called. Or Club Luna? I’d gone there only a few times to dance.)
At any rate, between Market days Grover and I would tootle all over town and even out to Espanola or Eldorado to grub freely in folks’ iris beds or do plant rescues or paid land-shaping jobs. It was a splendid gimmick, an ingenious concept if I say so myself. I provided a free, much-appreciated community service and turned my (minimal) physical labor into totally free merchandise. No overhead except gas for good old Grover. Good job for an old guy.
Frequently folks gave me way more plants than I could ever hope to sell at the Market. Like 500 lb. of blue iris? I’d just give them away. Once I got a whole greenhouse collection from an estate and recycled (propagated) thousands of new plants to give away to garden clubs, school classes, and anybody I could foist them off on. I always kept a FREE box at my booth, and folks checked it frequently for adoptions. I joked that I was a “philplanthropist.”
Sometimes I’d simply show up at a business or office building, like that time at the Toney Anaya Building when I marched in and told the receptionist, “I’ve got a giant jade tree that wants to live in your lobby.” A couple times I simply arranged for gigantic plants to go to great spots like at the Capitol complex or other public spaces. They had to do the hauling though.
A decade ago I was a plant freak in his element, and my only problem was believing what a happy old man I was. Even older now, I’m still a happy fellow—and I believe it.