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it in a wide horseshoe, and as we drive to work we can look at the mountain, a Sphinx-like reminder of things everlasting, instead of at office buildings or oil refineries. When we go on a trip and return, it is Mt. Franklin that we see first in the distance: our fixed place in the universe, the mountain that means home. There is a tale to be told of wood the absence of it. Wood rots, boards sag, paint flakes: old wooden houses are what make a town seem bypassed and depressing. In El Paso, where strong spring winds and desert dryness make such structures hazardous, wooden houses are dramatically scarce. Thus some of the city’s esthetic appeal is due to the fact that El Paso has been made of rock, brick, adobe. Such earth colored, earth-baked materials help convey the sense of an all-weathering, timeless present. Each day in El Paso can seem like the fresh, first day of the world, not a worn carbon copy. Sure, El Paso is going to be increasingly urbanized will ultimately be ruined. Already it has ballooned eastward along I-10 into a huge, plainvanilla suburbia: comfortable, convenient, characterless. \(East El Paso my unfavorite part of town could easily ous waves of immigrants from the south keep funneling through El Paso on their way north: an intense, desperate flow of the Third World into the First. Sure, local developers are busy as gophers, slashing and scraping away at Mt. Franklin so relentlessly that one day it will lie stretched out across the sands: a Gulliver violated by Lilliputians. And sure, on days of wind inversion the pollution from the combined cities of El Paso/Juarez \(El Paso pop. a gray-brown lid over The Pass like an unholy halo. But one can still be hugely content out here in the desert. Where others see emptiness, I find fulfillment in the spare geometry of mountains and mesas. As a friend says, “I somehow recognize the land like a racial memory and it seems to recognize me.” We in the border country take our Culture out of doors. We find grace and beauty in uninterrupted horizons under a wraparound sky. THE PHONE RINGS and it’s a friend who’s in Los Angeles. “How’s life in the El Pachuco barrios?” he asks, thinking I’m some kind of exile living on the meanest of the Chicano mean streets, which, I’m sure, he imagines to be unpaved dirt, lined with pink brothels and all-night bars and badass cholos and their rucas who lay claim to most of it. . . . A few weeks ago I got a note from a magazine editor in Houston. She wondered, as she put it, why anyone with any sense was living in El Paso. I like to run up and down the bleachers at Austin High School \(like? I do I especially like it when I’m done and I can stretch out on the topmost aluminum bench. Both the Franklins and the Sierra Madres are so much more intimate from this height, and the city, and Juarez indistinguishable from up here look so innocent and plain under all the expanse. Below me, coaches, men and women ones, have the stopwatches running. The girls in the middle of the football field are stretching their legs, and the boys at the opposite end of the track are splaying over low hurdles. There’s another field below too, and the baseball team is there. I Dagoberto Gilb is the author of Winners on the Pass Line, a collection of short stories. can hear the tang of ball against those metal bats. At the other end of that field my oldest son is playing soccer with his team, and I’m on the watch for the two new boys from Honduras, who, claims the coach, will make them unbeatable. Then I see my baby boy, four years old, coming over to find me. He goes through the maze and tangle of the basketball and handball courts and players, disappears behind the rock wall these, rock walls, are El Paso on one side of the tennis courts, then I see him again, on the mesh fence side of the courts, then he’s through the gate and onto the track. Nobody objects to him that is El Paso. A girl he bumps into rubs his head, and he rounds the rim of the outside lane, where runners and coach practice the baton pass. And there he is at the bottom of the bleachers looking up at me. It’s all-America, except El Paso does not belong to the United States. Don’t misunderstand. It doesn’t belong to Mexico either. Nor does El Paso reside in the Great State of Texas. We all know that. We hear those senators in Austin chuckling when they decide a nuclear dump 40 miles away from us is just the perfect location. Teeheehee, snarksnark. And so we vacation on the west coast. The San Diego Zoo. Universal Studios. El Paso’s the best of Mexican culture: Moms, dads, brothers, sisters, babies, the cufiados and suegros, compadres and comadres. Grandfathers teach Spanish proverbs. Grandmothers walk children to school. Drivers go slow. In those big American cars. Even in the trucks. In life too. But these are los estados: hear the rock music in that car cruising by? See that glow of television against that wall? Look Burger King, Mac’s, even Taco Bell! Lots of places to rent movies J.C. Penney’s, Sears, Pic’n’Save. Over at the Safeway on the westside they sell and French coffee beans, and English A guy comes to my door. He’s my age. Mid-thirties. He asks if I could give him some help, he needs to get back across. Formal Spanish. Respectful. A few weeks ago, two teenage girls asked the same thing. I got the jumper cables. Exactly what? I ask him . . . Money? Please, he says. I give him $2. The boy with him, maybe four, or five, maybe he’s six, he clutches a sweater he fias on, stretching the fabric, staring at me. My next door neighbor sometimes talks to me in English, like I don’t know any Spanish, and sometimes in Spanish, like I don’t know any English. One time his son \(I think he is. My neighbor has all these young guys who hang out in front of his house. They wear baggy gray plaid shirts buttoned to the top, and it was all right if he parked a car on the dirt part of our front yard. Just for a little bit, while they worked on this other car. They have a few cars parked off the curb next door. I didn’t mind. When the poet Denise Levertov comes to town, it’s decided that a party for her shouldn’t just be open to anyone who might dress any old way. So an invitation list to the Paso del Norte Hotel is made, which includes, excludes, omits. Nobody around here seemed to think that was anything to get too upset El Paso Perdido By Dagoberto Gilb 20 MAY 29, 1987