If Pigpen Were a Genius

Moving out to New Mexico for grad school, I met a variety of interesting people from other parts of the country.  They often had personal habits and ways of being that I found fascinating or humorous.  Y’all, meet “Trevor.”  This is, of course, not his name, but for this occasion it more than serves the purpose of having a handle by which we can refer to him.  He’s the sort of young man you might discount if you met on the street–unprepossessing in dress and frequently astride his battered steed of a second-hand bicycle.

This had a milk crate strapped behind the saddle for carrying important necessities or stowing interesting bits of discarded material he encountered in his travels through the city of Albuquerque.  He had jauntily threaded some tattered silk sunflowers through the plastic mesh of the crate and the appearance was one of nothing so much as a sort of traveling collection of junk–but perfectly serviceable, friendly junk that would never hurt a fly, if junk could be said to have any inclination at all.

You might say that much like the mobile scrap yard flea market bargain bin that was his bicycle, Trevor was perfectly serviceable and amiable as well.  Tall, lanky, and rawboned, he also had that loose-jointed fluidity that I came to associate with many of his attitudes about how to live well.  He might see nothing wrong with practicing yoga in corduroy trousers several sizes too large for his spare frame, but was just as much at ease with the stillness you might encounter in a Huckleberry Finn character.

This deep restfulness that could frequently be accompanied by a grass stalk between the teeth, belied the intense action of his mind.  Whatever else I might say of Trevor, know now that he was and is one of the most brilliant archaeologists I encountered while I was at UNM.  He was a deep thinker, his blue eyes missing nothing behind his narrow, rather insectile spectacles.  True, his personal grooming habits left a great deal to be desired and took quite a bit of getting used to, but that faded once I came to understand the awesome action of his versatile intellect.

The first time I met Trevor, he was wearing frayed trousers, a plaid snap-front western-style collared shirt of the sort that is often seen in thrift shops and bargain bin clothing stores, he smelled almost overwhelmingly unwashed and I believe there was foliage of some sort clinging in his shaggy, uncut mop of brown hair.  I’ll be the first to admit, I was definitely put off of him by these things.  It’s quite one thing to adopt the Walt Whitman Leaves of Grass lifestyle when you bathe daily in the sea and lead a solitary life in the wilderness.  .  It is another altogether to attempt to do so when you live in a desert, attend a closely packed and non-air conditioned three hour graduate seminar twice a week, and are overly fond of the frugality of dumpster diving.

But over time, I came to find his unkempt appearance, if not loveable then at least, endearing.  I was swayed from my typical adherence to fastidious standards of grooming and behavior by that aforementioned brilliance.  While he had a habit of beginning to speak with his mouth already ajar, I noticed the longer I knew him that that stillness before he spoke was taken up by intense ratiocination.  He missed very little and was possessed of a rigorous mental discipline as firm as his personal grooming habits were lax.

True, he was a strange bird.  I won’t mislead you into thinking that Trevor and I became close.  We were never what I would call friends.  But his sweetness of character and his incredible brain won me over enough that I didn’t cut him off at the knees for thinking that I would find his gift of cracked wooden cutting boards from a recent dumpster dive even remotely acceptable.  I thanked him and told him I didn’t think I’d be able to use them.

I think a lot of our fellow grad students misunderstood him, and so they made fun of him.  They focused on his unusual philosophies about what constituted suitable living, picked over his odd comments once he had gone, and laughed long and loud about his enthusiasm for (sometimes ridiculous) items found in the garbage or on the road side.  To be honest, his delight over recovering a one-piece lame fabric bathing suit as a gift for his girlfriend did cause me to laugh, but that was before I met her.

She, in all her blonde dread locked and fashionably unfashionable glory was his match if ever there was one.  They dressed and spoke alike, felt passionate about the same issues, and were intellectual equals.  No doubt she loved that bathing suit with all her eco-conscious, brilliant, organic, fair trade foodie little heart.  They were both the type of souls that had no trouble seeing beyond the blemishes on the skin to the sweetness of a fruit.  I hope they have biked off into the sunset together to begin a Buddhist co-op in an economically disadvantaged region, study the mating habits of endangered species, and practice archaeology with a whole heart and mind, even if their joyous lives are a bit short on the soap and water.


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