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In the Sunday hours between beer and dinner, when the sun throws load-bearing shadows, I’d walk in nicer neighborhoods. I covered most of them—Embudo Canyon, Glenwood Hills, Tanoan—I walked half of Ventana Ranch, but the west side doesn’t draw the same breed. Nearer the mountains they are wealthy and bored and gorgeous.

I saw a woman in her kitchen wearing only jeans and big plush paws, flipping something in her stainless skillet. I locked eyes with an older man through the round window of his bathroom as he hurled into a gallon Ziploc and held it up for me to see, massaging it to show me all his chunks. There are silent transactions like these made daily and everywhere, staving off depravity in homes much like your own. Some people just need to be seen. I’m no voyeur, but I’ve come to understand the need to see.

On my walks I wanted to be seen; not as myself, but as a neighbor. I wanted you to look out at me from your kingdom and feel lonely. I wanted an invitation to your hot tub, your delivered food, your life.

I only won my little invitation game once.

It was my outfit, I think, that made the difference: cotton shorts, a bootleg Nash jersey, sandals. And I was carrying a ladder. I saw it behind the empty security booth outside the open gate and felt to pick it up. It was a straight—long but light enough to balance on my shoulder as I bummed my way along the smooth streets of a development in Sandia Heights.

A golden retriever barrelled through a hedge and licked my ankles, pissing hot on the asphalt in excitement. It smelled so much like Corn Flakes, I craved a big bowl myself.

I stopped to rest and watch a few husky boys dunk on a lowered rim at the end of a long driveway. One of them waved his short arms at me.

“Guuummmby! Come do a windmill! Show us the sham-god, Gumby!”

I shook my head, smiling, but the ball was already rolling toward me. Tumored by the sun, it wobbled more than rolled. I picked it up and made a running start for what was easily a half-court shot.

“Kobe!” I said.

When I swished it, they said, “Curry!”

They gave me back my change, but I just let it wobble by as I picked up the ladder. The one they sent to retrieve it, the huskiest of the three, panted and cussed his way down the driveway. As I walked away, his whisper somehow carried to my deepest ear.

“He’s him. On God.”

A pearly Sienna LE rounded the corner and slowed alongside me, lowering its window. The driver was bald with Jolly Ranchers for lips. “Gumby, you benevolent sumbish!” he said. “Only you would be out here with a ladder on a Sunday. Get in—Sammy’s brother’s in town, and he’s got acid, I think.”

I put the ladder on the van roof and held it as we drove to Sammy’s place, my arm aching out the window.

We started slow down Paseo Del Norte, staring down the valley. As we passed the Mormon temple, he asked if I believed there were nukes buried under it. I said I had no clue. We were picking up speed, and I had to use both arms to keep the ladder down.

“Slow down,” I said.

“Shuttup with those rebar forearms. If anyone’s got this, it’s you.”

“I’m not taking drugs with you guys,” I said.

He laughed. “That’s why we love you, Gumby.”

Driving through South Valley, the mountains shrunk and washed red against the curling clouds, and I thought how much I love this place. For a moment I saw everything as a child, shaped to new depth by new colors—the McDonalds, the neighboring self-storage places, the smokers in the shade of their fruit trees—but only for a moment, after which it all became familiar, flattening.

The driver pulled over. When I asked what was up, he lowered his window and pointed at a cottonwood just off the road. Way up in it was a white girl, maybe thirteen, sitting on a branch as on a horse.

“What’s the deal?” he called to her, stepping from the van. “Why all the way up there?”

“You’re not the first guy trynna get me in a van today,” she said. “Just so you know.”

“It’s not safe, though,” he said. “And we got a ladder. Let’s get you down and get you home. Sounds to me like the smart thing, huh, Gumby?”

“I can’t go home, shinehead,” she said. “That’s the whole point why I’m up here. My mom’s psycho boyfriend broke her nose, and when I tried to call the cops he pulled down my shorts and beat my bare ass with one of his slides—I know they look soft, but they’re hard, trust me… So last night I told her that I’m going up and not coming down until she dumps him.”

“I think we can help you out there,” he said, pulling the ladder off the van. I held it steady against the tree while he helped her down.

“Better down here, no?” he said, scanning the trailer park below the road. “Where you at? I’m guessing yours is one of these with a good view of the


The girl laughed and nodded. Her hair couldn’t have been cut more than twice in her whole life.

“I was your age once, you know,” he said. “What’s your name?”

“Lemma,” she said.


Lemma,” she said.

“Lemon’s better, to be honest.”

“This guy,” she said, taking his offered hand. If she’d looked a few years younger, I wouldn’t have thought twice about it, but she didn’t, and I did. It’s fine, I thought. She’s just been through something, and he’s being sensitive to that. He’s comforting a child, nothing more. Still, I felt uneasy as she led us to her place by his hand.

Her mom’s name was Erica. She wore a medical mask, but her muddy voice confirmed the broken nose. She blended limes, sweetened condensed milk, sugar, and ice—she talked us through the recipe in real time—and served it to us in the living room of their doublewide. Lemma and the driver sat on one couch; I sat facing them on the other. Once we all had glasses of the tinted slush, Erica sat beside me.

“I can’t live without my VitaMix,” she said.

I watched the driver. He sat forward with a full cushion between him and Lemma. His face was concerned and focused, and I felt bad for doubting his intentions.

“Lemma told us a bit about your situation,” he said, raising his glass to me, “This is my boy Gumby. He knows everything about love. He got his heart broken three times and still came out The Dog. Shit you not, his life’s a movie. Just talk to him, OK? He’ll tell you what to do. He’s gonna make it all make sense.”

I looked at him to signal he was wrong, that this was all misunderstood, but he was fixed on Erica, who now turned her whole self toward me, brushing my calf with the leg of her Elmo pajamas.

“Who broke your heart, baby?” she said, rubbing the number on my back.

I set my glass on the orange carpet, twisting it level into the fibers. “Umm, ma’am,” I said, “I really don’t know what he’s talking about. I’ve never had my heart broken.”

“Come on,” she said, stepping on my bare foot with hers.

“What … you’re telling me you never fell in love before?”

“No, ma’am.”

She slapped my face. I knocked over my glass in my reaction.

“Don’t lie to me, Gumby,” she said, whimpering. “Not you.”

“What’s wrong with you, man?” the driver said. “This isn’t the Gumby I know.” They now shared the middle cushion, he and Lemma, his hand running through her endless hair.

“Be honest, Gumby,” Lemma said. “That’s my mom you’re talking to.”

Erica pulled down her mask and drew a square around the bloody, bumpy mass between her eyes.

“I’ll give you one more chance… Have you ever been in love?

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