El Cajón


Isabel Bearman Bucher

© Copyright 2010 by Isabel Bearman Bucher


Photo of El Cajon outside in the snow.

In 1984, my husband Bob and I, bought a little slice of heaven in the Taos Ski Valley of Northern New Mexico. In the twenty-six years since we’ve owned the beloved dinero pit, many stories have come and gone, but the tale of the bathtub - El Cajón, “The coffin,” in Northern New Mexico Spanish dialect, remains one the best.

The guy who designed and built the cabin was a brilliant, weird nuclear engineer, who did it in the throws of one huge five-year acquaintance with the grape, or “bender,” for which he finally took the cure. At one point during construction, the cabin began to cant forward into the stream, so, instead of a loft, he had to make a second story, reachable by the worst set of stairs ever nailed together, a.k.a.: suicide slide. Hitting the 3 AM potty stop, first thumping down the ten SS ragged slats on your booty, was and still is, a real hoot.

After we took possession, we engaged in a flurry of utopian activity, like throwing everything out that was left. That included bashed pots and pans hanging on nails, shorted out lamps, mildewed mattresses, a kerosene heater, pitched wildly from the second story porch, and dozens of Gallo green vino bottles containing mice nests complete with their entombed, hapless residents. Those ship-in-a-bottle artisans had nothing on this deal. I was on a first name basis at the Taos dump and my neighbors down the road stood daily to watch my wild antics, fearing the worst - like a complete breakdown and possible obsession insanity. Over time, things got done, and so today, it’s like this corny dollhouse, lace curtains and a 1930's porcelain sink I stubbornly refuse to trash. It’s got this whacked-our aura - like we’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop, which it always does with repeated and predictable regularity.

“What an intriguing adventure!” some clueless dit said to me once, after she got through saying “Awh,” when I told her we had a cabin by a stream.

The saga of the tub began two years after our ownership. It took up half the five-by-five bathroom and sat on a pair of sizable brass lion’s feet, which we removed and returned to the previous owner/cabin/creator, a.k.a.: POCC, at the wife’s request. Nobody, to anyone’s knowledge, had ever bathed in it since it had been dragged off an Albuquerque scrap heap in ‘62, except the well over six-foot POCC, who crammed himself into it like a folded fan, got stuck and later had to be dragged out over the lip by neighbors who heard his calls for help.

Our POCC’s piquant thought showed itself to a fine degree, when he completed bath decor by electing wallpaper covered by naked women. Albeit, the mythological ladies were based on a Greek theme, Rubenesque in roundness, but, when one sat, dozens of eyes and other personal parts bore down upon the toidy percher. To complete the decoration package, the long dead water heater, tub exterior sides, cabinet and floor moldings had been painted a plummy-puce which miss-matched a salvage, bashed-up burgundy sink and toilet, now christened “the cracked crock,” because intense sub-zero temps frozen the water left in the bowl. In my whole life, I never saw anything that missed the mark, or the point more than this bathroom. In the proverbial words of some obscure bard, the whole set-up was about as useless as mammary glands on a wild boar.

Eventually the outside H2O pump broke, so we hauled water out of the stream, heated it on the midget camp stove and bathed in this little yellow plastic basin which today remains, hanging enshrined, with a cute dried flower arrangement in it, in our stuffy eaves. We also hauled water out of the stream to flush the cracked crock, a practice we continued for several years until we’d saved enough for the colossal remodel.

When we opened the cabin in May, we never knew what the tub would have taken to its final rest - mice in varying states of riggers, misguided arachnids, heaps of gnats, and once, some unrecognizable thing, disintegrated into anonymity, made a nest in it of pink insulation, hair and dust balls. The worst was the dead coon. Poor lil’ting. It was such a death trap it developed a sort of “bruja,” or witch-like aura, so Edwardo, our valley handyman, who crossed himself, and rolled his eyes heavenward every time he passed, whispering “El Cajon,” thereby giving it it’s anointed name.

One summer morning, alone, I decided the time had come for the removal of the El Cajón and the ladies of the wall. They surrendered peacefully, tearing in huge, sometimes complete sheets. Of course the light fixture fell off because it had been glued up by the paper dolls for years. I disconnected El Cajon’s pipes, and began the shove-push-grunt and groan routine, tipping it up sideways, see-sawing it over the toilet. I had to take the molding and doors off the bathroom and cabin front. Finally with one great shove, the tub went tip to toe, out the front door, off the front porch and landed upside down in the front yard. My knuckles were bloody, I was collapsed, on the front porch, gasping for breath, muttering oaths to whatever infinite presence might be lurking, when predictably, ever ready to call 911, my neighbors stood at the front of the driveway, holding onto each other wondering if this was my final decent into madness.

We dragged, hoisted and shoved the tub into the bed of our little Toyota wagon. With a series of by-gosh-and-by-gollies, rockin and rollin shoulder hunches, and a final limber rear end bump and grind, I gratefully heard the click of the trunk latch, although, the hatch door assumed a wee bit of a convex shape. Rolling towards the first of three vertical nose dives down towards the lower valley, waving my neck scarf out the window to the frozen neighbors standing in the middle of the road, El Cajón began a slow forward nudge, shoving me slowly on top of the steering wheel. With the left foot firmly pushing on the floor board to keep it at bay, I crept down fourteen more suffocating miles to the Taos dump, while El Cajon never gave up its forward drive. If down-shifting was required on the steeps, I arched my back, hunched over the wheel, and took it on the chin, knowing that witch, or warlock tub was going to flatten me the minute the left foot clutched. With a kind emerging and increasing paranoia, I knew with absurdity – malapropos intended - that IT knew IT was on its way to the dump death, but would get me first.

“What you got now, Chavella?” the attendants hooted. They’d taken to calling me the Chicano translation of “Isabel.”

“El Cajón de Bruja! ” I shot. “She LIVES!”

“Na,” they chuckled, “HE lives.!”

Crowding into the small door frame, all four crossed themselves, rolling their eyes to heaven, and threw their arms frantically in the direction of the dumping pit, past the dead cow one.

While I was grunting, groaning, pulling, with a foot on the bumper, and making faces that would permanently etch irremovable wrinkles, two guys approached. They were from one of the little mountain towns near Taos. They offered help, and laughed when they saw my passenger. When I told them I bathed in a yellow basin, because this was too fancy, they howled and slapped me on the back. I refrained from calling my charge by name.

Then one said, “stock tank.” The other nodded his head and started dragging.

“El Cajón,” I whispered out of earshot, finally drawing a sigh of elephantine relief. “live well and prosper.”

From time to time, I travel through that part of the world, and can still see it, way out there, in the middle of their pasture, surrounded by a few spotted cows, maybe perched upon by the tuxedo marked ­las uracas – magpies - all wrapped by New Mexico cornflower blue skies and the Sangre De Christos, the last hurrah of the Rocky Mountains. El Cajón has come to its final rest, puce content and useful, surrounded by beauty.

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