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Rubbing Elbows

By Mark Feigenbutz/Photos by Tim Kassiotis

I don’t rub too many elbows. Not lately, at least. For the past couple years, my elbows have been as rub-free as a one-legged cricket. But in light of my recent trip to the New Mexico State Legislature, I think I should invest in some elbow callous-generating activities.

The Legislature building is an important building in that it looks important (and that you must capitalize it in writing). If you’re easily thrown by marble or wood grain, you might miss the subtler, more human elements of the subtler, more human humans who inhabit it. Now, I’m sure the argument could be made that it is, in fact, “important,” but you’d be wrong because this is my article. Despite what the sunglasses-inside-the-building, Men’s Wearhouse suited d-bag would have loved for you and I to be fooled into believing, he was certainly not as important as Joe, the proud café lounge manager, or Crystal, the diplomatic mail room supervisor, or Dennis, the corner market bread sample hander-outer across the street.

I rubbed my first elbow with Joe Mora, the café lounge manager. My first impression of Joe was that he seemed like a down-to-the-salt-of-the-earth, good dude. He’s the kind of guy that you wouldn’t mind leaving your 8 year-old son with in a pinch. (I may even daughter-approve him.) He was also proud of his job – a rare phenomena that I, with a furrowed brow and index-finger-and-thumb supported chin, appreciate. When I asked Joe what exactly he did, he immediately clarified that, “We’re here from 5 ‘til 3.” His crew behind him seemed to appreciate their inclusion in the interview. Why do they get there that early? Because “everything is made from scratch,” from “the red chile, green chile,” to the soups. Joe and his crew proudly stood by the fact that “everything [was] ‘restaurant quality.’” It was easy to see that Joe, in his seemingly menial job as café lounge manager, was a great and respected leader in his own right who could have been served by people like him and his crew in another life. Additionally, he recommends the grilled chicken with avocado, sprouts and red onion – and I advise you heed his advice.

I walked around the Legislature a bit more, passed more people who seemed like they wanted you to think they were important, until I arrived at the mail department. Crystal Branch, the mail department supervisor (who was apprehensive to get on tape until I reassured her that I was unimportant) immediately corrected me, in that she was actually the supervisor of the “joint mailroom.” What that means is that they don’t just shuffle envelopes. They “come in very early in the morning at 6,” (not as early as Joe, Crystal, but still about 4 hours before me) and “collate calendars and also daily bill locators.” Bill locators “are kind of like a bible for the bills – they tell where the bill’s been or how it’s been voted on,” and keep the “important” (those quotes are from me, not Crystal) people properly informed. Just like Joe, with crew backing her, Crystal had pride in the fact that people “depend on us.” Do said people know that? While she was as or more diplomatic than her “important” counterparts, I sensed not.

After speaking with Crystal, I had had enough with all this suffocating importance. I wanted to get a statement from the miniature Latina janitor, but she seemed simply too indoctrinated in her unimportance (i.e., afraid), and I didn’t want to bug her. So, I – I guess that at this point in my human interest piece exploring the interconnectedness of regular, unimportant humans I should include my photographer, Tim Kass – we walked over to the quaintly tiny Kaune’s Neighborhood Market across the street. I found the most unimportant person I could get my hands on: the bread sample hander-outer, Dennis Dampf. Turns out, Dennis was a formerly important person in unimportant’s clothing – the one-time co-owner of El Nido, a popular dining landmark in Santa Fe. Dennis provided more answers than I asked questions, with a reminiscent grin and thrilled eyes. He talked about his son who was in Rome (and gave me his card), he talked about his other son who was in New York carrying on the food service legacy as a proficient chef. I’m from St. Louis. He had connections there. Tim, my photographer, is from Boston – Dennis has some people there as well. At one point, Dennis was talking about some guy he knew way back when who was a big shot in disguise, a “mover and shaker,” as he put it, who died having never exposed himself as such. When Dennis rolled his final story to a halt (he assured us that he “could come up with a lot more stories”) I revealed my suspicion that Dennis may be moving and shaking in secret as well. He laughed heartily and responded, “Oh no, I just rub elbows with people.”

So I held out my elbow and he did too, and we rubbed elbows.