Bob Huber: CNJ columnist
In case you haven’t noticed, the Legislature is firklytootling again up north, which brings to mind a political alert for all citizens of New Mexico: “Stay in the roundhouse, Nellie. The senator can’t corner you there.”
I had occasion to spend several character-building years in that round building we call the state capitol, and I can say without fear of contradiction that when the Legislature is in session, it’s serious business.
Now that I’m in my autumn years with a Bow-Flex body, I admit the reason I seldom talk about Santa Fe is because it was no fun. I can’t think of a single moment when I burst into laughter before the punch line.
Take for instance this prayer by a House chaplain in 1964:
“Lord, give these lawmakers wisdom when on the one hand they vote $3 million for new gymnasiums so our children can get exercise and on the other hand vote $4 million for buses so they won’t have to walk to school.”
See? That’s certainly not a knee slapper. It’s more of an ominous warning.
Oh, there were a few stabs at hilarity, like faux awards given to members of the Legislature by their brothers in crime. I remember one incident when a senator, noted for his dislike of certain women lobbyists, called them the “little old ladies in tennis shoes.”
The next week he received an award from an eastside senator. (I won’t mention his name. He knows who he is.) The award was a rusty beaver trap clamped on a tennis shoe and a protruding white bone. It was labeled, “The Last Little Old Lady in Tennis Shoes.”
Well, you can imagine how that went over with the little old ladies in tennis shoes. They didn’t think it was funny at all.
I recall some really forlorn events in the roundhouse pressroom too. Take the time a reporter named Fred Buckles showed up with a new hat, a tiny, snap-brim, fuzzy thing, and boy, was he proud of it. He showed it to everyone.
But Fred was also a distrustful guy, and when he left the press room to cover a legislative debate, he put his hat in a desk drawer and asked some pressroom wall leaners, who always seemed to be hanging around, to watch it for him. When he returned, he put his hat on and had a struggle. It was too tight.
He looked inside the hat and noted his name and the hat size stamped on the band, so he shrugged, plopped it high on his head, and walked away like Charlie Chaplin. The next day the same thing happened, only the hat was even smaller. This went on for yet another day, with the hat getting smaller or Fred’s head getting larger. (There is an ongoing debate concerning the size of Fred’s head to this day.)
On the fourth day, when Fred walked into the press room and plopped the hat on his head, only his ears prevented him from going blind. The hat was four sizes too large.
Fred looked at the hat, shook his head, and tossed it in a wastebasket. Now that was just plain awful, even disgusting. I try not to think about it.
Another time, a United Press reporter named Pete Kelly bought a new Ford Mustang, and began lauding its properties to everyone, especially its gas mileage. Folks began avoiding Pete rather than listen to him go on and on about that car.
But unknown to Pete, someone in the pressroom was topping off his gas tank every day or so. “What a car,” Pete told everyone. “I’ve driven it for a month and still haven’t bought gas.”
That’s when Pete began to believe he was getting close to 200 miles to the gallon. He bragged that his new car must be one in a million, thank you Henry Ford. About that same time, he decided to drive from Santa Fe to Salt Lake City, calculating he could make the roundtrip on half a tank of gas.
Have you ever been to Bluff, Utah? It sits beneath a moonscape butte, barren and windswept, and that’s where Pete ran out of gas. Bluff destroyed Pete’s faith in his Mustang.
“I only got 15 miles to the gallon on the trip,” he said later. “I had to walk five miles to the nearest filling station. Something is terribly wrong with that car. I hate it.”
You can see why I don’t talk much about those awful days in Santa Fe. I get the firklytootles just thinking about them.
Bob Huber is a retired journalist living in Portales. He can be contacted at 356-3674.