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Shorts. . .

Department of Eavesdropping

In the time it takes to sip a cup of coffee–regular American coffee, thanks very much, no cream or sugar–at a Silver City coffeeshop on a busy corner, you can. . .

Almost listen in on two bearded, backpack-toting young men standing outside on the sidewalk–one on his way into the coffeeshop, the other evidently having just finished his latte–chatting. The word "Starbucks" keeps cutting through the murmur of conversation and coffee-brewing within and traffic without. One of the bearded men says, "I love a small town where you can walk up and down the street, saying 'hi' to everybody."

Watch a white-bearded man in a cowboy hat that matches his facial hair earnestly slurp at the dregs of some long-drunk cold beverage. Temporarily giving up on his noisy efforts to coax one last drop from the bottom of his glass, he gets up–leaving his stuff, staking his claim on the table–and goes to scratch his back (with equal vigor) against the frame of the coffeeshop door, which is open to the 60-degree winter afternoon. One woman, trying to exit, watches as the rest of her party escapes just before the back-scratching begins. Wisely, she waits rather than trying to sidle past. It's a longish wait, though.

Spy two lovebirds cuddling on a couch. A lanky man–obviously a friend of theirs–cracks as he walks past, "Get a room!" When the couple leaves–perhaps to follow his suggestion, it's hard to tell–the white-bearded man abandons his back-scratching (much to the relief of the stranded woman, her friends vanishing down the street) to occupy their couch. His stuff remains at the nearby table, just in case.

Hold your breath during several near-traffic accidents caused by attempts to parallel park in the lone open space on the street outside.

Wonder about the dark-mustachioed man sitting against the wall, no evidence of any history of recent beverage purchase about him, flipping through magazines. He stops flipping and starts reading a page in a copy of Newsweek whose cover promises to reveal "The Most Dangerous Man in Iraq."

Overhear a woman who's come in with a large, boxed jigsaw puzzle under her arm. "My son got this puzzle for Christmas," she explains to two men at a table near the entry, evidently acquaintances of hers, "but he says it's too hard. So I'm donating it to the coffeeshop. I opened the box to take the pieces out and thought, 'Are you crazy?' I couldn't even do the border."

Catch a tantalizing snatch of conversation from the puzzle woman's friends, after she's deposited her donation and departed: "What about that man from England who had a spike through his brain?"

You want to linger and hear more, of course, but your cup of coffee is empty.

–David A. Fryxell



Whose "Culture" Is It, Anyway?

Cockfighting is not uniquely New Mexican–but it may be unusually dangerous to humans.

By Margaret Markham

Even before the start of this year's session, New Mexico legislators were ready with fighting words–that is, cockfighting words. New Year celebrations had barely died down when cockfighting enthusiasts began voicing opposition to any potential ban of what they claim is part of New Mexico's unique "culture."

But who can really lay claim to the so-called "culture" of cockfighting? As noted by author Clarence Henderson, social interplay between humans and other species can be traced to antiquity. For cockfighting, archeological evidence points to India where as long ago as 2000 BC people were pitting one bird against another to the death. Not long thereafter, cockfighting spread to the Middle East and Europe, and eventually to the New World and the Pacific area.

According to Henderson, as Spanish invaders spread through the Western Hemisphere, they not only accepted cockfighting but used it to their advantage "as yet another effective tool for colonial domination and an outlet for potentially rebellious energy on the part of the oppressed." Small wonder, then, that the jargon used in that activity remains peppered with Spanish slang.

In a column for the Asia-Pacific Management Forum, Henderson writes, "Make no mistake about it–cockfighting is a shockingly brutal blood sport, seen more so in the Philippines than elsewhere. . . . If you ever happen to walk the side streets of Manila, you may accidentally stumble upon a rooster pacing nervously about. . . constrained by a taut cord or wire. . . a fighting cock, a warrior in that brutal blood sport."

Where cockfighting still prevails around the world, including the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Columbia, Jamaica and Ireland, the rooster's natural leg spurs are sharpened, or ice-pick-like steel "gaffs" are attached. Especially in the Philippines, such deadly add-ons are four inches long and razor-sharp, Henderson notes.

So cockfighting is neither unique nor indigenous to New Mexico. Moreover, cockfighting's persistent global appeal in this era of jet transportation now makes it a threat not only to roosters but to the human population at large: In the absence of stringent public-health oversight, widespread shipping of such birds may be spreading viruses that endanger children and adults alike. Outbreaks of both the SARS and bird flu viruses have already been linked to this source. According to the Mayo Clinic, "Cockfighting, common throughout much of Asia, has also been implicated in the spread of bird flu because fighting roosters are often trucked long distances and smuggled across borders. At any point along the way, humans may pick up the virus through close contact with sick birds or contaminated surfaces."


Read More Tumbleweeds

Not Gone with the Wind
House for Hispanic Culture
Tumbleweeds in Brief
Top 10


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