Lindsey H. Bright

Lindsey Bright grew up out in the West Texas town of El Paso, and though she did not fall in love with a Mexican girl, she did wander from Yellowstone to Poland to Northern Montana like a white buffalo looking for its herd. She found herself up on the border of New Mexico, Colorado and Jicarilla Apache Nation in Lumberton, NM where she works as a reporter and a substitute teacher and recently became president of the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School. She is known for her musings on the most fascinating array of subjects and her skills as a hula-hooper.

Deus Ex Slot Machina

Here is a fun game to play. Connect with the internet, in whatever means suits your fancy. Think of one of your favorite TV shows, movies, art pieces, time period, musician, game show, board game. Type that in the search engine and after it type “slot machine.”

For example: “Breaking Bad slot machine”

Search results: Heisenberg Chronicles slot machines on eBay Breaking Bad Slot Machines – YouTube – Breaking Bad Slot Machine. Features music and voice clips from the show, backlit reels, Saul Goodman …

Let’s try it again.

Search: “Jurassic Park slot machine”

Results: Jurassic Park” Slot Machine from IGT –YouTube, G2E Bringing A Whole Lotta New Slot Machine Themes You Already Know

If you click on the G2E article, you will be directed to a site called Vegaschatter.com. The article goes over new slot machine themes which hit the big casino convention this year – Jurassic Park, Bridesmaids, Walking Dead, and of course, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – and has either links to YouTube videos of the slots in actions or Microsoft Paint renditions of the slot machines.

The crude computerized sketches of the slot machine, though, are enough to set off the gambling itch. Each slot machine represents a possibility of hitting a jackpot, of making money – magic, free money! In addition to the hope of winning against all odds each slot machine drawing conjures up, it reminds me of my time working as a slot attendant, the time when I first contemplated the creation of a slot machine – from the inception of the theme to the presentation on the casino floor.

I became a slot attendant because I had made a series of life choices which ended with me in need of home and job. I had applied to several jobs around Northern New Mexico, at times not even knowing which position I was interviewing for, but I was first hired as a slot attendant. My job was to clean the casino floor, fill the drink cart up with sodas and take it for a tumultuous spin, fix minor errors with slot machines, and hand-deliver the big jackpot wins. Every night, from 5:30 to midnight or 1 a.m., I spent amongst the sounds of real and digital spinning reels, with dings and flashing bonus rounds. Toward the end of my three months as a slot attendant, I’d wander the rows of slot machines in a trance-like state, distracted by the flashing screens, and for the first time, I’d read the slot’s names: Sex in the City, Wheel of Fortune, Kitty Glitter. Renoir Riches had paintings of Pierre-Auguste Renoir, his “Mademoiselle Irene Cahren D’Anvers,” “Young Woman in a Straw Hat,” “Little Girl with a Watering Can,” “Self Portrait.” And they’re all on tumbling reels – whenever paintings line up on a spin, they shatter into gold dust, the reels fall down, intertwining Tetris with slots. Renoir Riches is a slot machine by IGT, International Gaming Technology, a company specializing in slot machine gaming both on casino floors and on-line. Their annual revenue is around $2 billion. And Renoir, it turns out, is not the only well-known painter IGT has converted into a slot machine.

“[We have] DaVinci Diamonds, which is available in land-based (casinos) as well as on social and mobile. It’s one of our most popular games and features the works of DaVinci,” IGT Public Relations Representative Shanna Sabbet says. DaVinci Diamonds may be recognized on the casino floor by an image of the Mona Lisa next to diamonds. How did this transition take place? Of admiring the beauty of the Mona Lisa to hoping for five in a line to hit a jackpot? Richard Valiquette is the chief creative officer at IGT, and he says for his team of game designers, the world is there for the taking of all ideas and reapplying them in the shape of a slot machine. “We actually take inspiration from anywhere,” Valiquette says. “We look for themes that resonate with people. Art is inspirational for so many people and creates a personal connection. Images of older art, such as Renoir and DaVinci, are also in the public domain, as well as the Bible for games like Noahs Ark slots. So for these slot machines, replicating images of art work for the game is easy.

However, the creation of a game goes beyond artwork. Sounds, bonus rounds, free spin activations must all be thought out in an effort to ensure player engagement. “Bonus rounds are a great way to add another layer,” Valiquette says. Within his office of creative design for gaming, Valiquette says he tries to add as much fun, new and interesting features to each game, not only in the casino, but in every platform the game is offered. Recreating the “in the casino” experience is brought up throughout the interview by Valiquette and Sabbet. “We want a player to be able to go online and have the exact same experience as if they were in a casino,” Sabbet says. IGT offers the opportunity to hit slots through apps, online gaming casinos, or, if online gambling isn’t legal in your state, through Facebook sans monetary investment. Valiquette adds, “Online there is only one screen, which is a challenge.”

This confinement – as opposed to the now two to three dedicated screens to certain slots along with a chair with surround sound stereo that shakes during a bonus round – incites creativity in the game designers, Valiquette says. Shaper imagery may be added or different screen manipulations during a bonus round. “Every platform is unique.” For the more pop culture slots, those involving the name and scenes from major motion pictures and favorite TV shows, he says the process is lengthier and involves legal teams. “Generally, there is a lot of back and forth.” And most of the time, he adds, the marketing team from the movie comes to IGT and requests a slot machine. For all cases, besides the sound clips and screen shots, Valiquette says all the art is created by IGT.

“Our team is dedicated to make sure our games are current and entertaining. We are constantly doing research. One of my favorite things about my job is I work with one of the most creative teams and people. Some of the most creative and bright minds are on the team, and they are always finding new way to push the boundaries of gaming and finding meaningful ways to resonate with our player base.”

According to Valiquette, human ingenuity is the pulse behind each flashing light, each symphony of dings and dongs produced by the casino floors labyrinth of slot machines. As I wandered the labyrinth in the last days as a slot attendant, perhaps my trance-state was induced by being overwhelmed by the boundless depths of the human mind manifested in a machine ultimately designed to make a company a large profit. “We are constantly researching what’s new and what’s innovative,” Valiquette says.

And I couldnt disagree with Riachard Valiquette.

From slot machines based on fine art to Bible characters to Judge Judy, IGT dedicates itself to bringing each player into the gaming experience. And for those aimlessly walking, like I was at my 3-month gig, the games bring us easily into that labyrinth.

 

Wildcat

“I want to drill!”

“C’mon, baby, no dry holes!”

“Oh, you hit another well. Now you’re making 13 million a month. Shocking.”

“The only way you get so much money is because you play off of my exploratory wells!”

“Crap, the EPA fined me again. I’m already $1 million in debt.”

WildcatterThis was the conversation of a seminarian, a musician and a journalist, all in their twenties,  sitting around a table. In the middle sat a square board with a picture of the United States of America, not divided into states, but instead into prominent oil and gas reservoirs. None of them were for exploiting the land. None stood behind Sarah Palin and chanted “Drill, baby, drill!”  Yet around this table, each one couldn’t think of anything besides buying up the most leases and maxing them out with wells. They were playing Wildcatter: The Authentic Oil & Gas Exploration Game, and the ethics of reality quickly fled in the pursuit of being the richest Wildcatter.

“The guy that drills the most has the most chances of coming up with the most.” – H.L. Hunt

That’s the quote you’ll see on the side panel of the board. On the front of the box, a blackened Spindletop silhouetted against a Texas sunset spews its glorious 75 thousand barrels of crude oil which it continued to flow out for some time – the gusher that started off the Texas oil boom in 1901.

Flip the box to the back. Underneath the description of the game, J. Paul Getty’s modern interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount serves to get players in the proper mindset – “The meek shall inherit the earth, but not the mineral rights.”

Oil is not for the meek, and wildcatting is not for the cowards, even if you’re only playing a board game. The object of the game, as written in the instruction manual, “is to become the RICHEST Wildcatter by leasing property and drilling oil and gas wells in the major producing areas of the United States.”

“I made the game to show people how difficult the oil and gas business really is,” Ken Kessler, creator of the game, says.

Kessler created the game in 1981, during a time when world demand for oil was shrinking (due in large part to conservation efforts) but the price was remaining stable due to OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) adjusting their output on the market. “If people knew how hard it was in the oil and gas company, they would be kissing the oil and gas companies feet instead of cursing their face,” Kessler insists.

The game isn’t easy.  In some ways, the game is the more historically correct Monopoly – Standard Oil Company being one of the biggest corporations to be broken up by the Sherman Act in 1912. There are no motels or hotels, no boots or hats to hop around the board. There’s no buying property, either. Each player gets a Learjet and $6 million. You purchase leases. The only thing a player really owns is the well or the dry hole they drill, and drilling is no cheap endeavor. Unlike the security of purchasing a hotel in Monopoly, in Wildcatter, you pay to drill. Then, you roll the drilling die to determine if the well is a producer or a dry hole.  If it’s a producer, you pay double to complete the well and then may begin earning from it.

The manual specifies questions each Wildcatter should ask before drilling: “1. Does he wish to gamble his money trying to drill a producing well or wells?”

“When the price of oil went up, the oil companies became a punching bag for everyone, especially in Washington,” Kessler explained. This view of Washington might explain Wildcatter’s other difference from Monopoly. Whereas Monopoly has jail, Wildcatter has Washington, complete with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). To  get out of Washington, a Wildcatter forfeits three turns and pays attorney fees of $100,000.

Though created in 1981, when Dallas was adored by fans, the game wasn’t released until the end of 1985 and was well received. Kessler says that even Neiman Marcus had put on order in. However, the game maintained this popularity for only a few months. It was in the spring of 1986 that several OPEC countries were to increase their output and cause the 1986 Crude Oil Price Collapse.   The price of crude oil per barrel dropped from $23.95 to $9.86. Public fascination with crude oil also began to decline, and now, almost 30 years later, Kessler has a storage shed filled with the board games.

“The game should be selling at least 100,000 a year,” he told me, undaunted by the ups and downs that the industry has seen since his invention of Wildcatter, and again, oil has gained interest. With the pairing of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing that took place in the end of the 90’s, the world of unconventional shale reservoirs (like the Marcellus and Bakken shale) has become profitable, and it is the Wildcatters, those smaller firms willing to take the risk, that have made the most advancements in the field.

However, Kessler’s game does not account for fraccing or for horizontal drilling. “You know, people have asked me if I’ve thought about updating the game, making a current version of the game. But I never do, and I never will. I tell them, was Monopoly ever changed? No. It’s a classic,” Kessler says, still confident in his game.

At the time of this article, there is only one known retailer of this game, The Permian Basin Petroleum Museum. However, the California Oil Museum showed interest in carrying the game. Whether an updated version of the game would boost sales or make the game more relevant, the authentic oil and gas exploration offers the American dream: to fly around America on a Learjet as the king of oil.

Archuleta Mesa and Its Aliens

“We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.” 2 Corinthians 4:18

 

I don’t know if I believe in aliens, but I stayed up all night looking at Archuleta Mesa for them, and I didn’t see anything.

Archuleta Mesa is the central geographic feature of Dulce, New Mexico, the heart of the Jicarilla Apache Nation. There is tribal government housing, a casino and hotel, one grocery store, and after the stand-off shootout that happened last summer at the Philip’s 66, there’s only one gas station. In 2009, 120 people from around the world and the area attended the Dulce Underground UFO Base Conference. One local in attendance was Horacio Garcia.

I know Garcia well. I know his kids and family and have spent time with them. Big, kind, with baggy pants, bandana often tied low on his forehead and tattoos covering his arms, he is known for his knowledge on aliens. In December 2011, I asked him about the Greys and the Dulce Alien Base.

“I don’t have to tell you anything. In a few weeks, everybody will know. The aliens will reveal themselves,” Garcia said.

A few weeks passed, and I felt, thought, saw and believed the same. If I was looking at aliens or alien artifacts, I didn’t see them. Yet many claim to have seen strange and bizarre sights in Dulce and Lumberton, New Mexico—coyotes that turn into humans, big orbs of light floating in the valleys, dogs that run faster than a speeding car, Bigfoot, cow fetuses with the face of a tiger—and aliens, specifically, the Greys.

In 1976, cattle were found mutilated at the Gomez Ranch. The cattle that the Gomezes found on their ranch had organs missing. Various parts of the cows were taken, sexual organs taken. All this was done, some say, so that the government and the Greys could conduct genetic experimentation. The family is not sure what happened to the cattle. They blame the government.

Since moving here six years ago I have heard these stories told. The first story I heard when I came to town came from a group of women, holy ladies; some say they were nuns. They had gone to a religious conference two hours west in Farmington. They weren’t intoxicated—this point is always stressed in each telling—and they weren’t the type to get intoxicated.  It was late, everything was dark, and then, in their headlights, directly in the path of their van, an image became defined. It was on two feet. It was a little taller than a human. Coming from its torso was a long thick tale covered in gray scales swaying back and forth across the width of the road. As they swerved to miss the creature, they all saw that it had the face of a reptile—a reptilian Grey, one of the two types of aliens that live in the tunnels and seven-level military base underneath Archuleta Mountain. They are bipeds, have scales and sometimes appear like radiant beings.

Sarah Landis, fifth grade teacher, has heard similar stories. She ran into people on a plane coming back from her Christmas vacation: “They’d heard of Lumberton. ‘That’s the place where there’s aliens.’ They said that Archuleta Mountain has seven levels, security gets tighter as you go down. They had a friend that went all the way down to the seventh level, but when he went back up he couldn’t remember.”

Still, she doesn’t believe. “I personally think it’s bullshit. I’m more of a ‘see it to believe it’ type of person,” Landis said.

But what of those that have seen images, unexplainable, but only images? Marlon Talamante, born and raised in the area, has heard and has seen something.“I saw a video of some weird looking creature on someone’s cell phone. They were filming as they drove. I don’t know what it was, but it was a strange looking thing, pretty big, on two feet, and it was running fast. I didn’t get a good look at it. I only watched it once, you know? The Apaches say that if you look at an image of them, their soul will jump into your body. I’m not Apache, but I don’t want that.”

When Talamante is asked whether or not he believes in aliens, he says, “The universe seems too big for us to be the only ones.” When asked if he thinks they live under Dulce, he shrugs his shoulders.

There are those that have seen with their own eyes. They are the true believers. “Two of them (aliens) were riding in the backseat of my car,” a local expert (who wishes to remain anonymous) said. “I would have been terrified,” I responded. “No. You have nothing to worry about. You are safe,” he told me. He then said that clones of people he knew in town had visited him. “The aliens have that power?”, I asked. “Yes.”

This local expert was at the Dulce Underground Alien Base Conference. He was asked to be interviewed by the History Channel when they filmed episodes of “Ancient Aliens” and “UFO Hunters” in Dulce. Both times he declined. “It’s well known for its alien activity, and people will come in and look around and then go,” the local expert says. “They miss so much. The richness is missed.”

The richness is all around, in the details, in the sky, in the air, in the faces staring at you from rocks; it is all around, but you have to look. You have to pursue it with an open mind and open eyes. But if you don’t believe it exists, would you pursue the unknown? Even though Landis thinks the stories of aliens are bullshit, there is doubt in her disbelief: “Would I take a night trip to try to find the entrance to the base? Absolutely, I would.”

When she goes, I wonder—will she be able to see if she doesn’t believe?

 

 

Photo by Norm Roulet.

Life Without Water in Lumberton, NM

“Life without water would be weird cuz people would start dying. Sum people would go crazy, and I would go crazy if there wasn’t water. There’d be no more Kool-aid or pop. The world would come to an end. People would start dying one by one. Dying bodies all over. Dead.” –Cody, former eighth grade student at St. Francis School, Lumberton, NM, Sept. 2009

Lumberton, New Mexico
Elevation, known: 7,318 ft.
Population: according to the 2010 census 73.
Water: Sometimes Lumberton has it; sometimes it doesn’t.

Lumberton is in northern New Mexico, in the high desert. It’s not Santa Fe, and it’s not Taos. It’s 127 miles north of Santa Fe.

There’s a baseball field, a cemetery, and when you turn on the main paved street of town, County Road 356, you come to St. Francis church and the school. In between both there used to be a giant sand colored water tank on wheels known as “the water buffalo.” Across from the school, on the other side of the arroyo, a crumbling water tower sits.

“By the way, in case anyone hasn’t told you, don’t drink the water,” I was told when I first came to Lumberton as a teacher six years ago.

A piece of paper that hung in the school bathroom titled “Boil Water Advisory” advised residents to “boil the water for five minutes before drinking, cooking, dishwashing and bathing. The presence of E. coli in water indicates that the water may have been in contact with sewage or animal wasters, and could contain disease-causing organisms.”

So I didn’t drink the water. Like most in town, I’d go to the water buffalo carrying jugs to fill up with potable water.

But the quality of the water wasn’t the only problem. The water would also stop running.

“Since I’ve been here, the water’s been off two times, but I think it was scheduled,” second grade teacher Kyle Lara says.

“No, it wasn’t,” eighth grade teacher Rohan Oberai interrupts.

“That’s what I was told.”

Rohan twists his hair and shakes his head. For Rohan, the water’s been out for several hours on two separate occasions.

The longest period without running water I experienced was one month. Students of all ages sloshed buckets of water to pour down the toilets to make them flush.

“Someone was stealing it the first time and drought the second,” Rohan continues. And he says it matter-of-factly. “I don’t know the reasons. You hear so many different stories, you just go with it. Don’t believe any of it, just go with it.”

Before Lumberton had a water system in the 30s and 40s, when the town was booming from the lumber and mining industries, people would take barrels and buckets to the river and haul water from the Navajo River. They’d use the water for everything, no filtration, just straight from the river.

The Water Buffalo

The Water Buffalo

In 1949, the Lumberton Mutual Consumer Water Association (MCWA) was formed and drilled the first well. Most wells drilled in the area have too much sulfur to be drinkable, or, they eventually run dry. In 1967, the well went dry. A replacement well was subsequently drilled including a 20,000 gallon storage tank, and 12,280 linear feet of distribution line was installed. The water was not always clean or reliable, but until 1985 there was no intensive involvement by the state. In 1985, emergency was declared and the water declared unfit to drink. Brown water was known to occasionally come out of the faucet into the early 2000s. Operations were moved, and Lumberton MCWA drilled two wells near the Navajo River. In 1991, the first water treatment system was installed—an infiltration gallery with a conical sedimentation device.

However, the water quality was not considered safe by the state, and in 1999 the New Mexico Environment Department issued the first boil advisory to Lumberton MCWA; the advisory stayed in effect until the fall of 2009.

“NMED was unable to verify the safety of Lumberton MDWCA’s water supply because the association failed to provide water samples for testing,” states the Review of Selected Capital Outlay Projects, November 20, 2009.

In the late 90s, the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency sent the water buffalo to Lumberton. Also during this time, Bill Lindner and his wife retired and moved to Lumberton. “I knew a little bit about the water situation, but we were pretty well committed at that point,” Lindner says. A plant had just been built with grant money from the state and USDA. The plant was housed in a tent next to the river.

After arriving and settling in Lumberton, Lindner became the Association’s bookkeeper.

With the new plant in the tent, new distribution pipes were built little by little, also using grant money from the state. Throughout this process, water availability went off and on.

“We had clean water when the plant was running right, but there were difficulties with it,” Lindner says.

One difficulty was not having a licensed operator to run the plant.

“The Association attempted to save money by having the plant operated by the Board members, who did not have adequate knowledge to operate it successfully,” a letter written to the NMED by president of the Lumberton MDWCA Elma Garcia states.

Lindner says that the state and the town argued back and forth on this point. The state was demanding that Lumberton raise its water rates to pay for a water plant operator; the town was refusing because the people couldn’t afford it.

“Then, in frustration of the plant not working, it was decided to run river water, with no purification, through the pipes,” Lindner says.

After this, the NMED kept a closer watch on Lumberton, and in May 2007 the state, under the auspices of the Sanitary Projects Act, took over operation and management of the Association.

Rates were raised, and the town was not happy. People received bills larger than what they could pay. During the month of September 2009, when water ran for only a couple days, people still received water bills, some for upwards of $100. Stories of shots being fired at the meter reader circulated speedily through the town.

Despite the backlash from the consumers, Lindner says raising the rates worked. The plant runs.

However, he and his wife still don’t drink water from the tap and don’t use a home filtration system. They go down to Albuquerque or Farmington and stock up on bottles and jugs of water. And they’re not alone in town. Those who have been in town for several years, or maybe even close to their whole life, don’t depend on the water system. They say it’s good, that there is drinkable, running water in Lumberton. But underneath the statement is the old way of life, reflective of an era in which the Lumberton MDWCA consumers learned to never depend on running water.

But that’s Lumberton. If you’ve been around any amount of time, you’re used to it, even if you’re frustrated. And during the mass for the feast day of St. Francis, the entire town of Lumberton, young and old, new and native, can be heard singing the Canticle of the Sun, “Praise for the rain that waters our field, and blesses our crops so all the earth yields, from death unto life her mystery revealed springs forth in joy of life.”