14 August 1972, Wickenburg, Arizona
While we drill an exploratory well a few miles north of town, I’ve taken a room in a ramshackle motel crammed into the elbow of a highway-railroad intersection. My next-door neighbor is a wizened ex-contortionist who looked deeply into my eyes the first time I said hello and said she would read my palm if I would come into her room. I claimed to have a vague palm. Her name is Maria, and in the relative cool of the evenings she maneuvers a hose to sprinkle a tiny plot of grass and flowers. She wears a sleeveless blouse, a pair of loose shorts, and sneakers with no socks. She ties white rags around her deeply tanned left calf and her equally brown left bicep, white semaphores that accentuate the contrast between the almost theoretical lines of her emaciated limbs and their pronounced joints. When I stared at her bulbous elbows (galls, burls), she responded with a practiced explanation of how her mother tied her in knots when she was a baby so she could be an acrobat. She had never regretted it, for it had led to her eventual fame and the chance to mingle with the truly great people of this century. She is resigned to living out her days in Wickenburg, where the desert heat eases her arthritic joints.