There is something on my mind this morning, and I am not looking for a chorus of “it’s about time.”
I get to thinking about the little, green Ford Ranger truck in my driveway. It’s from the 1990s but does everything I need it to do. It gets me to the post office, to the newspaper rack each morning, occasionally takes a load of stuff from here to there.
So why do I think about how I would really like one of those monster trucks on the Ford lot, one of those with plush seats, fancy sound systems, one of those shiny models that wouldn’t fit in my garage? Why do I sometimes think of how I would like a newer, bigger house, more money to travel?
It’s because I am not homeless. Homeless. Those people who sometimes don’t smell so good. Those people you pass on the city street but avert your eyes in embarrassment. The guy who holds out a cup, and you put in a buck and somehow feel a little smug.
Why, these are people who could achieve the American dream if they would just pull themselves up by the bootstraps. It’s not our fault they were born disabled or mentally disturbed. Not a solitary useful thought in their heads, poor souls.
Toby Smith changed my thinking a bit. Toby is a reporter for the Albuquerque Journal. When fire wiped out much of the bosque this summer, threatening the homes of the affluent, it also destroyed the dwellings of the homeless, as Toby writes… “huts made of branches, long lean-tos, shower curtain shelters and tarpaulin tents tucked deep into thickets.”
Smith’s touching story, “Paradise Lost,” did not concentrate on the reactions of the well to do with their Lexus and their BMW and their Mercedes. He talked with the “river rats” who had lost their homes.
What meaningful observations could such people possibly offer? Maybe more than their materialistic neighbors
Meet Reed Nolan. Nolan is 41. His Bosque dwelling was his castle. “I like to sit on the edge of the river and read my Bible. I had a three-man tent I bought at Target, an Eddie Bauer. It was really nice. It had two doors, for better ventilation.”
Writer Smith introduces us to one of Nolan’s neighbors, Val Manuel, 44. He would bunk in the brush on the east side of the Rio Grande. “If you like the outdoors, it’s a great life,” Manuel told Smith. “I watched beavers gnaw down a big ol’ cottonwood. I seen bats skimming the top of the river at dusk. I seen pheasants, quail, bullsnakes, muskrats, wild turkeys. I used to catch catfish, but I wouldn’t eat one now.”
“You could always tell the bosque people. We’d be walking into the city from the west,” Manuel said. “ ‘River rats,’ people called us.”
Sometimes, when I think about wanting more, more of this, more of that, more stuff, I once again read Toby Smith’s “Paradise Lost.” And I look out the window of my comfortable home at the little, green Ford Ranger in the driveway. It looks pretty nice.
Ned Cantwell of Ruidoso is a retired newspaper publisher and member of the New Mexico Press Association Hall of Fame. E-mail him at: