a season in albuquerque


When I was young and stuck to the television I used to wonder why Bugs Bunny always made the wrong turn at Albuquerque, or Albakoykee, as he would say it. How can you end up so incredibly lost by dint of one wrong turn at one city in New Mexico? And then there was the disturbingly barren or surreal look of the landscapes where he popped up for a look at the map. No matter where he emerged, Bugs seemed to wander into desert (or ice, in one case). Maybe loose sand is the path of least resistance when you're traveling underground.

It never occurred to me wonder where Bugs Bunny meant to go. I have vague memories of him playing the obnoxious tourist, but it always seemed like a scam to me, a faux-naive invitation to lure belligerent locals to their doom. He'd march up to a cartoon strongman or palace eunuch and ask for directions to Las Vegas, but I never believed, not for a second, that Bugs Bunny was actually lost. His home is his warren, and his warren comprises all the tunnels dug and undug that snake beneath the ground, some in progress, some pending. Just as you or I would add a room or knock down a wall, Bugs Bunny digs a tunnel. His digging isn't exploration; it's expansion.

So what exactly is Albuquerque? After all, there's only so many times you can pass through there until you figure out your basic mistake. My guess is that it's the last moral reference point, a landmark where a left turn takes you to your expected destination, but any other course of action lands you in a cartoon universe of upended physics and random violence. This is the place where hunters, bulls and blowhards prowl the landscape, waiting to take out their inexplicable rages on the ones who turned right at Albuquerque. Faced with these predators, Bugs adds to the moral map by kicking their asses in the most humiliating and smart-ass manner possible.

There are plenty of sources that find in Bugs Bunny's tricksterish behaviour a note of anarchism and chaotic fecundity, but he always struck me as a bit conservative. Bugs Bunny dresses in drag, smacks his enemies with anvils and escapes death by a whisker, but his quicksilver violence always imparts a cautionary moral lesson. He edifies as he bewilders, attacks as he defends, dominates as he plays the underdog. He tames his enemies, which is a weird job for a rabbit, but it somehow seems appropriate that Bugs Bunny, who in the real world would be relegated to the forked fates of cage or pot, should run around the world teaching foreigners to behave. The patriotic cartoons of the early '40s (Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips, anyone?) show his conservative, Manifest Destiny streak in full force. My advice to you, if you find yourself buying a condo somewhere to the right of Albuquerque, is to keep your head down and be nice to the wise-cracking rabbit when he sidles on up and mockingly calls you Doc.