In the style of the podcast 99% Invisible's narrative.
I was in Taos. It was 2001. We were in an adobe-style house. It had been restored to within an inch of its life. The floors were sand-set stones. The walls, stucco. The roof line had the ends of what seemed to be logs sticking out. I don't know if there were logs supporting the roof. That's the style. That's what it looks like, but the inside could have been fake. There's no way to tell.
The house had uncomfortable seating and not enough. We rented it from an acquaintance. With just five of us, we couldn't all sit down at the same time in any room or even in adjacent rooms. At night, in the room my wife and I shared, a fax machine's tones bled through the wall. The acquaintance hadn't told us she'd rented an owner's apartment to some kind of tchotchke dealers. They slammed their dresser drawers til 3 a.m. and kept us awake.
We skied during the days. We suffered from altitude sickness a little. And we watched cartoons. This was before we had kids. We watched Looney Tunes. At one point Yosemite Sam pursues Bugs Bunny through some kind of old Western town.
And we're watching. And we realize. Wait a minute. Those backgrounds. The house they run in and out of. They're in Taos. This is the landscape around us. This is practically the house we're in.
Why is this happening in Looney Tunes?
And we talk and we think — maybe the animators would drive out to get peyote in New Mexico from Hollywood, and they remembered the mesas and the adobe buildings and brought those back. We have theories. We don't have answers.
But that's not the story. I thought about this for years. That's not the story at all. Now I know the story.
The story is about Maurice Noble. We know Charles M. "Chuck" Jones's name because they were large in the credits. We didn't know very much about Noble, who created the backgrounds. Until 99% Invisible, a podcast by Roman Mars, aired a story by Eric Molinsky about Noble. Noble was a transformative artist and one who obsessively researched the subjects he abstracted and caricatured for his work.
But that's not how I learned the answer. Two-thirds of the way into the story it comes out. Noble grew up in New Mexico. I had my answer. The background we saw was Noble painting his childhood. Thank you, Eric and Roman.
Listen to the episode embedded above. And subscribe to the extraordinary show 99% Invisible, which tells us the answers to questions we'd forgotten we asked. Perhaps Roman will turn your dreams into an episode, too.