Much of northeastern Arizona is high, dry plain, one of the landforms least appealing to me; the dryness and dustiness seemed to increase the further I got from Flagstaff, and most things looked pretty ugly by the time I rolled into Holbrook, a gray-yellow dusty town of boxy concrete buildings.
I am by nature not an acquisitive person, neither for things nor even for experiences; I would rather an old pleasure than a fresh novelty. When it comes to things I simply don’t buy many; I hold on to the old and leave it at that. Since I have been here in Arizona I haven’t even purchased something like sunblock or sunglasses, as a thing unnecessary if you have clothes and common sense. I need some fresh formal clothes, but I have put off buying them as I hate shopping.
There is an exception, however, which creeped into my constitution I know not how, which is that all things natural I find an endless source of fascination and worth the possession; natural beauty, in particular, I wish always to find some way to keep by me. At the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show I went through a few hundred dollars easily, picking up fossils and curios of all sorts. Most I imagined I would give to my numerous nieces and nephews, but I did not look upon their purchase as drudgery as I normally do: I quite enjoyed looking over them all and knowing I would be taking home the ones that pleased me most.
So I must confess I looked forward to Holbrook, Arizona, where there are not one but two dealers in petrified wood. Honestly I can’t explain why New York City, great metropolis that it is, has no petrified wood dealers, and Holbrook, population 5,000, has two. This seems to suggest that the Holbrookers have their priorities straight. (It also indicates the local abundance of wood fossils).
The first dealer was easily found by the large dinosaurs in front of his shop. The place seemed generally awesome, a junk yard of the sort you would expect to find in Corona filled with auto parts, but this place was filled with chunks of petrified wood. I stepped inside the shop and met the owner. He did not hear well and did not seem terribly bright or aware. These qualities functioned briefly like camouflage – I hardly expected anything from him – but in the end I thought that he was far more cunning than I was, and had that sleepy reptilian intelligence which makes a successful salesman. When I saw the prices in his shop I was content to walk off without buying anything, but he asked me what I was looking for. I said I wanted a complete log, with ends flat enough to serve as a table. He said he had some deals for me. He walked me through the yard, kicking logs and telling me their prices. All the prices were too high for me – hundreds of dollars. I would then ask the prices of nicer logs nearby, and the prices would double or triple. After awhile of this he got angry at me: “You only want the nice pieces.” ”Champagne taste,” I said, “beer pockets.” Appreciators might bond over good taste; he merely found it annoying. I liked what he had, but not his prices. ”Fine, fine,” he said. ”Come back again.”
“I know, I know,” I said. ”When I have more money.” He then crossed himself gravely, as if I had said something deep and true.
I then headed off to lunch at a beat diner off the interstate. A couple in their 50s was just meeting a man in his early 30s. I particularly tuned in when I heard the exchange:
“Have you ever been married?”
This provoked a roar of laughter from the older man. ”Sort of? What’s ‘sort of’ married? Is this like one of them you-old-folks-wouldn’t-understand things?” After some conversational roundabouts, the younger man said that his fiancee had died before the wedding. No further questions were asked on that topic. Somehow video game systems came up.
“Do you have a video game system?” the older man asked.
“Sure…” The man went on to list every video game system I have ever heard of and more, with a kind of enthusiasm and expertise which admittedly frightened me.
“Holy shit, boy, have you ever thought that may be the reason you don’t have a girlfriend?”
After paying my bill, I went across the street to the other petrified wood dealer, which was a much more organized operation. It also cost about half as much. ”All our logs are $1.50 a pound,” the woman explained. I found myself a 125-pounder which satisfied me which she gave to me for $150. It is now riding around Tucson in the bed of my truck. That is a fair price for a 270 million year old end table, I think. Hell, if it lasts half that long for me, I figured, it’d still be a good deal. I had for about two minutes dreams about buying these babies for 150 bucks a pop and selling them on the streets of Brooklyn for 300, but I figured there’d be no way the weak-armed hipsters could get these things into their apartments. They are boulders, after all. I also seriously doubted the scale was accurate – I’ve had multiple girlfriends who have claimed to weigh 125 pounds, and they were a hell of a lot easier to pick up and move than this thing was. Plus, I was a six-day drive from the streets of Brooklyn.
This was success, though, and I was mighty pleased with my purchase. I got a receipt – I was headed for Petrified Forest National Park, where removing petrified wood is a crime – and got on the interstate, generally pleased with the world.