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August, 1996—June, 2012
The first thing I did was take a trip to the Grand Canyon and on to the Pacific and Black’s Beach for a splendid nude week with sand and sea. For an unemployed middle-aged man, gay or straight, after the relaxing vacation the next step was to get on unemployment. I’d already been in the running for a couple great positions, but neither panned out.
With the leisure of not working, I started working on the verb ‘get’ again in a first draft which ten years later became “Getting Get.” But by December I was running out of assistance and started helping my daughter Aimée’s man-friend Rich in his woodworking shop to make ends meet. (They’d moved to Santa Fe in 1990.)
The curious experience of manual work lasted through the spring of ’97 when in May I came into, shall we say, close contact with a striking Brazilian named Marcelo, as young as my daughters. Also, my daughter Aimée and Rich got married (after being together for a decade), which loudly proclaimed my middle age, but Marc made me forget such maudlin things.
The very next month I got on at the College of Santa Fe as assistant to the dean, and I was back in the saddle professionally. Marc had moved in with me right away, and we had quite a summer of travels, including my third time to the Grand Canyon, as well as an intimate fall and winter. Marc and I dramatically split up in March of ’98. (Grist for the memoir mill.)
Over the summer of ’98 I stupidly propagated zillions of cuttings of several types of jade trees from pruning my big specimen plants. By August, with nothing to do with them come winter, I started selling them on Saturdays at the Farmers Market down by the railroad tracks. In a couple months I’d sold most of the plants and made a fair piece of change. For the winter, I arranged to lodge the rest in a friend’s innovative pit-greenhouse. Inspired by the concept, I started digging my own hole in January ’99 (which with shovel and wheelbarrow took around 3 ½ years).
Come May ‘99, I started back at the Farmers Market as a regular vendor with the jades and outdoor plants I dug up out of my overgrown flower gardens. When I’d sold off my iris bed, I started selling those of other people, re-doing their iris beds for free, and making off with any rhizomes left over. They sold like hotcakes, so much so that I left the College of Santa Fe and started half-time with Women’s Health Services, devoting the other half for the Market. On the take of just two weeks I bought a 1970 Chevy pickup and looked like an authentic farmer.
The business did so well that I baptized it Babylon Gardens (for the Hanging Gardens and my etymological background), and in the spring of ’00 left WHS to dig full-time in folks’ gardens for free merchandise. But business fizzled, and by August I had to go back to woodworking with Rich. In November, I found half-time work with the Santa Fe Community Foundation that led into a peaceful period of 12 years as plant recycler with Babylon Gardens Salvage Nursery.
During that time, my first grandson, Jake’s boy Ike was born January 15, 2001, and in fall, 2002 I built the roof over the greenhole and started selling exotic houseplants as well.
That October my next three grandsons, Bob, Sam, and Jammes were born. My grandfatherly title became Papou, the Grampyre.
Meanwhile, through the Market I gained wide reputation as the Iris Man (alternately the Used Plant Man) and started getting newspaper coverage. (In one article, a customer called me “a character,” which I found quite flattering.)
The contentment of those years allowed me to focus on writing, working on both my novels and publishing them online with AuthorHouse.com in 2003 and 2004. I turned immediately to ‘get’ and in 2006 published it in the same way. Going on Social Security in 2004, I kept working at the Foundation until 2006 when I switched to NGO New Mexico. In November, 2007, my last professional task was to close down that statewide association of nonprofits.
My work at the Market was very fulfilling, and I also enjoyed making more found-object assemblages. My first sculpture show at the end of 2008, which I called Opus Uno, had remarkably good sales. Around then I also started writing on an Egyptian inspiration which carried me along creatively for a couple years.
In late 2009, worn out after seven years of slavery, I closed down the greenhole and turned to selling yard plants exclusively, still specializing in iris. Then at the holidays I staged my second sculpture show, which I cleverly entitled Second Showing. It sold reasonably well.
By 2010 I was fed up with the increasingly horrible winters in Santa Fe and left town for three months on a writer’s retreat. I rented a small slave quarter apartment in the French Quarter and enjoying the mild winter, focused totally on the Egyptian screenplay. When my sojourn was over in March, 2011, I’d concluded that it simply didn’t work and put it on the shelf.
You may have noticed no comment about relationships during the years since Marcelo in ‘98. There were none. After the Brazilian, I wasn’t inclined to any more involvements, and anyway, in spite of daily Spa, frequent nights out dancing, and constant public presence at the Market, no opportunities arose. Soon I grew comfortably accustomed to celibacy (and have been ever since). My personal relationships were with one good friend and Aimée, Rich, and Jammes.
Unfortunately, with the increasing drought conditions in New Mexico, the Market season in 2011 was rather poor. Over the holidays under financial pressure, I held my third sculpture exhibition called Yardart, but it was a flop. Perhaps as a reaction, I spent the first three months of 2012 writing a draft of “There Was a Ship,” my memoir of 1964-65.
Back at peddling plants, it was a slow start with one good week in early May, then downhill to diddle all through June. On Saturday, June 30, 2012, I had a huge going-out-of-business potlatch giveaway of every plant I had left with a little box out for much appreciated donations. By the end of the Market day, I’d disposed of everything and gotten donations for more than I could have sold the stuff for. Thus was Babylon destroyed. I was no longer the Iris Man.