A Local Sighting, Part Two

 

Part One: Local Sighting

Part Two

 

You’ve just left the pool of Siloam. Your face is washed. Your eyes sparkle. And this time you are leading you mother. You find your way back to your neighborhood with familiar sounds and smells and now with fresh sights connecting the dots through firing synapses. You are almost there and you detect hubbub at the corner of Market St. And Way St.

Your neighbors, gathered, buzzing, are waiting for you. They want to see if you can see. But, they can’t believe their own eyes when you approach leading your mother and you are not hesitating with each step.

There’s a shout. “Isn’t this the man who used to sit here and beg? This is the corner Market St. and Way St., isn’t it?”

“Yes, and yes, it’s sure looks like him,” someone shouts.

“No, it isn’t!” another man shouts back. It’s got to be somebody else. These kinds of things don’t happen, not where I’m from anyway.”

As you approach the crowd you motion with your hand and say, “Yes, it’s me. Here’s my cup.”

“Well, then,” the one from out of town asks you, “how did your eyes get opened?”

“Those around me told me it was the man called Jesus! He made some mud. Then he spread it on my eyes. Then he sent me off to the pool of Siloam to wash. So, I went, and washed, and now I can see! I can see you.”

“And, we see you, but where is Jesus?” several ask you.

“I don’t know. I don’t know where to look. I’m new at this.”

Some men, eyewitnesses in fact, who were scandalized by the fact that Jesus may have broken some particular law on the sabbath, took you to the Pharisees for some jot and tittle questioning. The Pharisees had you start again:

“He put mud on my eyes and I washed, and now I can see!” You looked at them and saw their disbelief. Under your breath you said, “Ignoring reality will not go well for you.”

But they did and it did not go well.

Some of the Pharisees could no longer keep silent. “This man can’t be from God. He doesn’t keep the sabbath!”

Others said, “Yes, but, how can a sinner do signs like these?”

And so, the fact that you could now see had partys of Pharisees seeing things differently.

So, they questioned you again. This time they questioned the genesis of your sight.

“What have you got to say about him? they asked. He opened your eyes after all.”

“He’s a prophet,” you replied. You say Jesus is a prophet because unquestionable good is sent from God.

Doubting Judeans in the kangaroo court didn’t believe that you really had been blind from birth and now could see. So, they called your parents and grilled them.

“Is this man really your son,” they asked, “the one you say was born blind? How is it that he now sees?”

“Well, “replied your parents, who were very concerned about their synagogue status, “we know this he is indeed our son, and that he was born blind, but we don’t know how it is that he can now see, and we don’t know who it was who opened his eyes. Ask him! He’s a grown up. He can speak for himself.”

You knew that your parents knew how you came to see. You knew why they were holding back. They were afraid of what the leaders of the community would think of this yet inexplicable event. You also knew that you were blind from birth and that you were no longer sightless and that someone sent from God applied mud to your utter darkness. Reality would have to be dealt with at some point.

So, perhaps hoping to trip you up, you were called in for a second time of questioning. Some said the sabbath had been broken by Jesus-he did the unthinkable!

“Give God the glory!” they said. “We know that this man is a sinner.”

“I don’t know whether he’s a sinner or not,” you replied. (You never claimed to be able to see into a man’s motives.) “All I know is this: I used to be blind, and now I can see.”

Incredulous, they prodded you again, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

(At this point you recalled the story of Elisha’s servant: Elisha had prayed, “Open my servant’s eyes, LORD, so that he may see.” The LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and the servant looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. “Don’t be afraid,” Elisha told his servant. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”)

Unafraid, you respond, “I told you already and you didn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it again?” With a new-found gleam in your eye you decide to throw a hot coal into the inquiry. “You don’t want to become his disciples too, do you?”

“You’re his disciple,” they scoffed, “but we are Moses’s disciples. We know that God spoke to Moses, but we don’t know where this man comes from.”

“Well, here’s a fine thing!” you replied. “You don’t know where he’s from, and he opened my eyes! We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners; but if anyone is devout, and does his will, he listens to them. It’s never, ever been heard of before that someone should open the eyes of a person born blind. If this man isn’t sent from God, he couldn’t do anything.”

Rattled to the core, the Pharisees denounced you: “You were born in sin from top to toe. You are going to start teaching us?” They threw you out so as to not to be defiled in the sight of God or man. Jesus did the opposite.

Jesus heard that you had been thrown out. He found you at the corner of Market and Way streets talking to your neighbors. He walked up to you and asked,” Do you believe in the son of man?”

Scanning the face of Jesus, you reply, “Who is he, sir, so that I can believe in him?”

 

“You have seen him. In fact, it is the person who is talking to you.”

Now it seemed that all of your brain synapses were firing at once. And this came out of your mouth, “Yes, sir, I do believe.”

You fall to your knees and give God the glory. No one demanded it from you, you wanted to worship the son of man, the one sent from God, the giver of light.

Jesus looked down at you and then around at your neighbors and spectators and said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who can’t see would see, and that those who can see would become blind.”

Some of the spectators were Pharisees, the self-styled purveyors of “a light to the Gentiles”. They heard what Jesus said to the crowd. Indignant, they retorted, “So! We’re blind too, are we?” They weren’t expecting a Kingdom of God inversion, one that would turn their world upside down.

“If you were blind,” replied Jesus, “you wouldn’t be guilty of sin. But now, because you say, ‘We can see,’ your sin remains.

The Pharisees walked off in a huff. The crowd, in wonder, remained around you until sunset.

 

The next morning your father wakes you up. “C’mon. Get up. Now that Jesus has put things right for you there is work to be done. But first, come and see the sunrise.”

 

~~~

The above account is found in the Gospel of John chapter nine. My retelling of the account has been embellished. The scripture passages are referenced from, “The Kingdom New Testament, A Contemporary Translation”, N.T. Wright (I highly recommend this NT translation over the NIV or any other translation.)

Unchocked

Unchocked

(…a short story)

The cabin reservation was made the year before when Heinz turned in his vacation notice to his boss. Another machinist would have to run the vertical mill for the week Heinz was gone. Now it was just a matter of gathering all of the supplies he needed for the week and then head north to Rice Lake, Wisconsin. He also had to make sure he left things in their proper order.

Heinz, a tool and die maker for a small CNC machine shop on the near west side of Chicago had worked as a machinist for over thirty years.  Apprenticed in Hamburg, Germany as a teenager he came to America at the age of twenty with his new wife Gertrude.  He hoped to start his own machine shop with her as office manager but Gertrude contracted Polio during their voyage to America. When Gertrude died Heinz went on alone.  His work became his closest partner. He accepted all the job orders given to him and often worked twelve to fourteen hours a day six days a week.  The precision of his craft was his sole interest.

Over time Heinz had become the shop’s top machinist. It was said that if Heinz couldn’t form the part, no one else could. He apprenticed the younger guys but in this he didn’t have much patience or pleasure. He didn’t appreciate their cavalier attitude toward working with precise tolerances.  If the drawing said + or – .001 mm then that is what was required. He didn’t accept anything less than the perfection of specific numbers measured with fine gauges. He frowned at sloppiness and shoddy workmanship.

Shaping a block of steel and the cinnamon smell of the Tap Magic lubricant were elemental to Heinz’s way of life as were exact order and a respect for the tools of his trade. So it was that every night before he locked his eight drawer wooden tool chest he wiped down each of his machinist’s tools. He carefully cleaned his micrometers, the digital veneer calipers, the inside calipers and the steel rules. He wire-brushed the metal files and zeroed the dial indicators and digital protractor.  He wiped and reset the mechanic’s square to a right angle and inspected the scribe and pick. He lined up the telescope gauges, precision level, thread gauges, surface gauges and reamers each into in their drawer, carefully placing each measuring instrument in its proper place on the green felt liner.

After cleaning and inspecting his tools Heinz would brush the metal filings off of his work bench.  He would then sweep up the curly cue metal shavings around his mill and beneath his work bench.  He dabbed up the gritty oil at the foot of his mill and would then throw Oil Dry over it to soak up the tooling oil over night. He did this routine every day and again today at 4:15.  At 4:30 pm he punched out and left for a week of vacation.

During the week prior to his vacation Heinz purchased cans of groceries enough to last him a week. He bought three bottles of Steinhäger and a bottle of Schnapps. He knew he could find some good German beer in Germantown, Wisconsin, a stop along the way.

Though he lived his life in solitude Heinz never partook of alcohol during the time he wasn’t on vacation. He never went to a tavern. Instead, he always sought to maintain the austerity and self-control he thought a man should have. Precision marked the beginning and end of each of his days.

Heinz packed his 1960 BMW 700 and left that Friday night for Rice Lake, Wisconsin. The drive north to Germantown took Heinz about two hours from his Chicago apartment. Once there he quickly found the store where he had purchased his beer last year.  He purchased four 12-packs of Warsteiner Premium Verum and a few cigars.  He placed six bottles of Warsteiner into a cooler along with the schnapps. The cigars were placed in the glove compartment.

Rice Lake was another six-hour drive north. Heinz didn’t stop for dinner at one of the many supper clubs advertised along the way. He chewed on some beef jerky purchased with the beer.  Driving at night was all the more difficult for Heinz because of Heinz’s night blindness. He gripped the wheel at ten and two and stared straight ahead.  The white lane lines were ever in his view like tolerances to be held.

He entered the city limits of Rice Lake and drove through the only intersection with a stop light. He proceeded past the town and turned onto a gravel road about four miles north. After winding along a deeply grooved dirt road through a dense opine forest he came to an opening revealed by the office’s front porch light. He pulled over and stopped the car. Virginia, the cottage owner, greeted Heinz from the enclosed porch. A remote TV weather report sounded a cold front coming out of Superior Wisconsin.

“Heinz, it’s good to see you again. I have your cabin ready.” She opened her guest register. “It’s gonna get chilly tonight. Down to 32 degrees.  You’d better get that fireplace going.  There’s some dry wood along…you know where it is.”

Heinz nodded with blood-shot eyes. He handed her a check for the week’s rent and looked around at the small office attached to the house. The same carved woodsman cuckoo clock hung on the wall over the same cluttered desk. Heinz looked at his digital watch. The wall clock was six minutes slow or stopped. He was too tired to care.

Above the office’s small whirring refrigerator hung the same 1975 Norman Rockwell calendar from Martin’s drugstore.  Nothing had changed. Nothing was out-of-place. He felt his jaw slacken and he let out a sigh of relief. The smell of cedar somewhere in the room replaced the Tap Magic smell of his hands.

“Are you still cooking, Virginia?” Heinz asked.

“Will sauerbraten, red cabbage and spaetzle do?

“Only if you join me for dinner tomorrow night. I will bring the beer”

“It’s been a year, Heinz.”

“Yes, it’s been a year to the day and …two hours. I better get going and get that fire started.”

Heinz drove his car around to the one room cabin a quarter of a mile from the office. It was too dark to see the lake but Heinz could feel the expanse before him. A patter of rain began to fall on the cabin roof. Pine boughs swooshed around him with each gust of wind coming off the lake. Heinz unloaded the cooler and some boxes from the trunk of his car.  He carried them into the cabin and set them on the floor.

Without turning a light on he found the bed where it had been the year before and lay down. The constant focus on the road and the oncoming strobes of light had given Heinz a fierce headache. His neck was stiff, his forearms were tight and his hands still seemed to be clutching the steering wheel. He closed his burning eyes.

The rain began to fall more evenly. The wind was howling plaintively outside the cabin windows as if nature was trying to get in the cabin.  But with his eyes closed the monotonous lane soon appeared again.  After a few minutes he let his hands release their hold on earth.

Through a part in the calico curtains, a ray of sun shot through the room, glinted off a copper spoon hanging on the wall and struck the corner of Heinz’s eye.  He jerked upright wondering if he had overslept.  He looked at his hands if they would tell him what he needed to do.  After a couple of minutes he stood up and set the coffeepot going. As he turned on the burner he wondered if Jason, his latest apprentice, had remembered to turn on the mill’s lube pump. He bit is lip and then released the thought. Heinz had trained him well.

While Heinz stood on the porch surveying the lake the percolating coffee pot boiled over, sputtering coffee and grounds out of the pot’s spout.  “Damn,” he thought. The red-hot burner below sizzled and hissed.  Heinz came in and set the coffee pot on another burner.  He dabbed up the watery coffee grounds with paper towels and then poured himself a cup of coffee. This action made him think of Gertrude. She would have fussed over the mess he’d made but only for a moment.  Then she’d take his hand and say “You’re not at work.  Go sit down. I’ll take care of it.”

He opened a can of deviled ham and spread it on a slice of pumpernickel bread.  From the cooler he took out a hard-boiled egg.  He ate thinking about work and the whir of the lathe.  His knee bounced up and down nervously until he heard footsteps on the porch. It was Virginia. She cracked the door open.

“Hi, just came to check on you. You find everything alright?”

“Yah, I’m good here.”

“I have row-boat if you are interested in some fishing.”

“I may go out this morning to look around. The fog is lifting.”

“You know where to find me.”

“Yah, I will be over soon.”

Virginia left and Heinz returned to his breakfast.  The size-on-size fit of everyday life was being replaced by nature’s uncontrolled bluntness.   When he had finished breakfast Heinz fell back into his chair and let his shoulders drop. He wasn’t going to roll up his sleeves this week. The memory of Gertrude and the presence of Virginia would see to that.

Stiff from sleeping most of the night with his feet off the side of the bed Heinz ambled up to the office.  He was hoping his back and legs would soon loosen up. When he got to the office Virginia handed him the key to unlock the row-boat. When she handed him the oars she joked, “OK, mate, here’s your gear.” She had packed him a lunch.

“I thank you ma’am. Have I been away a year?  Does time stand still here? You haven’t changed a bit.”

“Only that old cuckoo clock stands still. I have to keep moving so the wrinkles don’t catch up.”

“Hah, you’ve done that! I’ll be back after lunch.” He headed out the door and then turned back to poke his head inside the doorway.  “Virginia, tonight…?”

“Still on.  I’ll be cooking this afternoon.  Catch me a lake trout and I’ll cook it. You clean it and I’ll cook it.”

“It’s a deal except I already caught me a can of herring. It’s in my cabin already to go.”

“You know the way to a women’s heart ~ prepared food.  See you tonight.”

With that Heinz walked down to the reedy shoreline where the row-boat was beached.  He unchained the boat, grabbed the oars and his bag lunch and pushed off the shore.

Heinz rowed slowly measuring the strength in his arms against the return distance.  When he had reached the middle of the lake Heinz stopped rowing and took in the familiar surroundings:  a featureless grey sky domed the lake today. The water lapping around his boat rippled with each tickling of wind.  Along the shoreline shoulder to shoulder pines stood in a dense lattice-work of deep blue-green. It was to this spot that Heinz returned every year. There were no tools, no work orders – only time and space in the queue.  It was here that life came to him outside the defined tolerances he worked with every day. And it was here that he sat in nature’s unfinished place, a precious commodity not mined and milled into an end product.

Heinz opened his bag lunch and pulled out a slice of pumpernickel bread and some Edam cheese. He opened a beer. While he ate and drank the lake breeze blew across his unshaven face. Hah!

Late in the afternoon Heinz rowed back to the shore.  He grabbed his things and headed back to the cabin. Nearby a common bathroom offered a hot shower.  He decided not to shave giving his hands some freedom from their regular duties. He showered and dressed in a clean pair of slacks and pullover shirt. He grabbed the tin of herring from the box and a cold six-pack of beer and headed over to the office.

As he arrived Virginia was finishing up registering a couple for the night.  Heinz overheard them talking:  they were on their way home from a week canoe trip outside of Ely, Minnesota. They were hoping for a hot shower.  Heinz told them to wait a bit.  The hot water had been used up during his shower.  He offered them a couple of beers instead for their wait. They accepted and headed off to their cabin.

“Heinz, my dear, you know how to finesse the customers.”

“That hot shower finessed me.”

‘You didn’t shave.”

“A man has got to know his limits and mine is shaving while on vacation. When it gets to long I’ll mill it off.”

“Pour me a glass will you Heinz?”

Heinz poured Virginia a tall glass of beer and set it behind her on the kitchen table.

“Put on some music. I’ve got some old records next to the couch.”

Heinz sat on the edge of the couch and looked through the collection of LPs. He chose the Warsaw Concerto by Addisnsell. Rachmaninov would be for another night.

Heinz set two places at the kitchen table and lit the candle. The flame listed every time he came in and out of the room.

Virginia grabbed the plates and spooned on red cabbage and spätzle.  She added sauerbraten to the plates. Dinner was served.

Heinz sat directly across from Virginia. The familiar food, the halo of candle light and the rush of arpeggios weakened his knees.  He was glad to be sitting. Virginia’s face was radiant, awash with both red and gold. The hot stove had flushed Virginia’s cheeks and the candle light gilded her features. If angels cook then he must be in heaven.

Heinz and Virginia didn’t discuss Heinz’ work when they were together. Virginia understood Heinz’s passion for precision and his irritation with sloppy work.   Virginia’s husband had been a tool and die maker for many years before he died.  Like Heinz he had worked with tight tolerances each and every day.  Virginia knew that Heinz’s visit’s to Rice Lake became a reprieve of sorts from the exacting measures that so drove his personality.

Heinz and Virginia would dine the same way each night.  Heinz would spend the day alone and the night he spent with Virginia. There would share beer, schnapps, cigars, Rachmaninov, Dvorak, Chopin and Brahms.  They would play cards and near the end of the night dance to polka music. A time of remembering and a time of letting go met together each night.

After those evenings Heinz would fall into a deep sleep.  In the early morning hours vivid dreams would animate his sleep. He would see himself talking to him Gertrude about their new home in America. He saw his childhood home and the curs that came to their door for biscuits. He saw his father playing the violin while his mother cooked the family dinner.  He saw his childhood school and saw himself in his short pants.  He saw the shop in Hamburg where he apprenticed.  He saw the trolley that he brought him to school. And his dreams always included a machine shop. 

He dreamt of a 5 axis vertical mill, of fixtures and of metal shavings peeling off a turning steel bar.  He could smell the cinnamon scent of Tap Magic and see his hands chocking a 4140 steel bar into the spindle of the lathe. He saw himself aligning-centering-cutting-drilling-boring – sculpting steel into precision gears.  He saw himself being measured by a micrometer and a dial indicator checking spindle runout – Virginia holding the gauge! He saw himself checking hardness with a Rockwell tester and then falling off into deeper asleep again

As a strobe of morning sun came through the curtains laser-like onto his closed eyes half-asleep he would imagine the stamp of a time clock and bolt upright in bed. He would then sit rubbing the sun’s imprint from his eyes.  In those waking moments each night’s quickly vanishing dream passed through his mind.  What appeared to him in the night seemed to enact some absurdist play where memories – real people, times and objects – donned the surreal and came together on stage to wait for someone to come along and give meaning and direction to it all.

The days Heinz spent fishing he didn’t fish at all.  He never brought fishing tackle or a rod with him to Rice Lake.  Both he and Virginia knew that when Heinz said that he was going “fishing” he really meant that he needed to be alone. So it was that he would take the row-boat out to the middle of the lake and sit there letting time pass over him. Time could come and go as it pleased without the date time stamp his everyday life..

In the afternoons, before Heinz made the short walk up the hill to have dinner with Virginia he would settle into his cabin for nap. From a collection of LPs leaning next to the bureau Heinz would select an album of classical music.  He would choose Frederick Delius’ tone poems:  Song of Summer and A Walk to Paradise Garden or Dvorak’s New World Symphony or Debussy’s Clair de Lune and Reverie or Bach’s violin concertos. Bach had a way of resetting things for Heinz, of resolving any stress he felt in his neck and his hands.

After putting the needle down on the first track he would pull Virginia’s homemade afghan off of the high back chair and bring it with him over to the rug.  Lying on the floor eyes closed and covered with the afghan, just as he had done so many times before listening to his father play the violin, the music coursed through him and down into his hands where it was released.

Heinz’s father was concertmaster of the Philharmoniker Hamburg. His mother played the organ in their Lutheran church. Heinz was taught the piano and was made to practice rigorously until he began his apprenticeship. The metronome which had kept the strictest of time was exchanged for a time clock.

On the last night before Heinz returned to Chicago Virginia cooked sauerbraten. Heinz placed birch wood and kindling into the fireplace and began a fire. He lit the all candles and chose Chopin’s nocturnes for the dinner music.  He set the table.

Once again there was music and laughter and the shuffling of cards. And once again when the hour grew late they sat on the porch swing. Virginia would take his hands and hold them.  As if blind she would trace their outline with her fingers, her eyes reading some unseen message. His hands were calloused and leathery from use.  As she looked at them tonight she saw that they were etched with fine lines of dark grease like a charcoal drawing she had seen once.  These hands, like her husband’s, had held steel stock to be turned and milled and chamfered, steel to be transformed from block to bolt, from stock to shaft.  On this night friendship’s annealing process, a slow working stress relieving process that had both softened and solidified his soul over time brought tears to his eyes. And when she took his hands into hers he could sense the weight of what felt like a massive headstone of grief being taken from him. The night came to an end when he kissed her deeply and held her tightly under the chromatic gauze of the northern lights.

On Sunday morning Heinz packed his car and drove up to the office.  Virginia was waiting at the desk preparing checkout bills for the guests. Heinz asked for the bill and she handed it to him.  Heinz paid the bill and then looking at Virginia he said, “They broke the mold when they made you.” 

With a smile she replied, “Well, then you old machinist, you’ll just have to come back and take some more measurements.”

Heinz smiled, “I’ll be back next year if you can stand it.”

“I’ll be right here with this old cuckoo clock ~ me and time standing still.

“Bye, kiddo.”  Heinz kissed Virginia and headed out the door.

The Sunday trip driving back top Chicago took him most of the day because all the weekenders were heading home. When he finally reached his apartment he unloaded the car and put away his things.  He set the alarm clock for 5:30 am.

 The next morning he clocked in at 5:52 am.  At 8:30, his break time, he had handed the shop manager his vacation request for the next year ~ two weeks off the clock for recalibration.

© Sally Paradise, 2012, All Rights Reserved

***** 

Work

WORK

(a short story)

So last night I watch this movie, “Into The Wild”, about this young guy who leaves everything behind and heads to Alaska. I sit back in my chair and I cry. I was headed in that same direction in 1972.

In those days, I left my dorm room at Moody Bible Institute one night and walked home. I just kept walking. I walked fifteen miles. I walked from the Des Plaines EL station to Addison, fifteen miles. My mother cried that night. The school called my father. He called his friends. I show up at the house at 10:30 pm. I hugged my mother and I went to bed.

So the next day, my father makes me scrambled eggs and then he drives me back to Moody. I talk to twenty people. I talk to the men’s assistant dean of students and he tells me that men have cycles like women do. I listen but my head is in Alaska. He asks me if I want a new roommate. I say, “Yes. I don’t want to room with someone named Tim.” I tell him that my first year roommate was Tim from Indianapolis. My second year roommate was Tim from Pennsylvania. The school gives me a new roommate. His name is Steve. We become good friends, in fact, great friends. One Friday night, in my dorm room, I get a call from the men’s assistant dean of students. He tells me that Steve was killed in a car accident on the way to his wedding rehearsal. He fell asleep behind the wheel of his car driving in Kansas. I stay at school to finish the semester and then I leave and I don’t come back.

Three months later my dad comes in my room and wakes me up. He says, “You gotta get up. You can’t sleep anymore. You gotta work. You gotta find a job.” So I get dressed, eat scrambled eggs and I walk to the industrial section of Addison. In the industrial park I look for signs in the front yards of factories. “Help Wanted. Machine Operator” the sign says. I apply.

Inside the factory a man tells me my job. “Take the plastic pieces that come out of here and then grind them over here.” So I take the plastic pieces and I grind them but my head is in Alaska. I walk away from the job during my coffee break. The man calls my dad and he tells him that I walked away. I go look for another job.

At another factory a man hires me. He tells me that I will operate a plastic extruder on the second shift. I say “OK” and I show up that night. Someone shows me the end of the extruder. There are strands of hot plastic coming out of the extruder’s die. The strands are pulled under water to cool and then a blower dries them off. Then, the strands are chopped into pellets. The man tells me to keep my hands out of the pelletizer. I remember this. My job is to keep the extruder hopper full of regrind, keep the plastic strands in their path and empty the pellets into a box. I do this until the third shift guy appears. He is a tall, lanky black man in a jumpsuit. He is carrying a Yankee Doodle Dandy Hamburger in his hand.

I process plastic for the next six years. I also get married to someone I meet at church. We have two sons. I tell my bride-to-be that I want to live in Alaska. I tell her that I have collected maps and books about how to live in the wild. She tells her mother. Her mother tells her that I am crazy. Her mother wants her grandchildren to be close. We divorce after five years and two sons.  Alaska is on hold until the majority age of minor children.

So I work and I work and I work. I become a designer of plastic machines. I become director of engineering. I become a partner in a manufacturing company and I get married again. I tell my bride-to-be that I want to go to Alaska. She tells her mother. Her mother says that I am crazy. Her mother wants her grandchildren to be close. So, I work and I work and I work. I work night and day as a partner. I make a six figure income. I get a Suburban. I get a company credit card. I have twenty-five people working under me. I work so much that when my wife takes the Suburban on camping trips with the kids she says that she doesn’t know if she wants to come back. I went to work and I came home to an empty house. When she was home and I was home, my wife and I would fight. The way I figured it, she wanted more of what my well-paying job offered her but she wouldn’t stand me at the same time. I worked and worked and I worked until one day I told my partners that I wanted to quit.

So, I left the company I helped to start fourteen years before. I left the partnership and the perks behind. I came home and looked in the paper in the help wanted section. I looked and I looked and I looked but there was nothing. I refinanced our home to pay the bills. After three months my wife tells me, “I want a separation.” I cry.

So, we go to marriage counselors. First we go to a male counselor and then we go to a female counselor and then we go to a male counselor. My wife is convinced that I have something on my mind, that I don’t love her. I don’t mention Alaska. After some counseling, we agree to live to together again. My wife says, “I’ll see how you do.”

So I find a job and I go to work. This time I build electrical control panels. I work and I work and I work but the money is not the same as the partnership money. One day the manager takes me in his office and tells me, “Things are slow. We are downsizing. We are closing this branch. We don’t have any openings in our home office in Janesville, Wisconsin.” I say, “Oh.” I call my wife and we meet at a restaurant because I want to tell her in person what happened. I drink two gin and tonics while I am waiting for her to show up. I look out the window and see her pull up in our rusty family van. She comes in and sees me drinking and she wonders what’s up and I tell her. She asks me what I am going to do and I tell her, “I will look for work.”

So I look in the Help Wanted Ads in the newspaper. No jobs. I file for unemployment. Three months later my wife says she wants a separation. I say, “No.” She says, “Get out or I will force you out.” I leave. I go to a hotel. I get a room and call my kids.

So that night I watch this movie, “Into The Wild”, about this young guy who leaves behind everything and heads to Alaska. I sit back in my hotel chair and I cry. I was headed in that same direction in 1972.

© Sally Paradise, 2010, All Rights Reserved

*****

Hard Sun – Eddie Vedder

Wild Horses

Wild Horses

(two guys take a road trip)

1971 and counting…

The journey of a lifetime was being nixed at the first intersection. Boyd pulled up to the red light in the middle of our town.  He braked and the Caddy stopped dead.  There was nothing lit up on the driver panel – no “BATT” light, no “CHECK ENGINE” light, nothing. The Marantz stereo we placed on the back seat hump coasted to a stop.  As it did the Lizard King’s voice churned down Riders On the Storm with a demonic basso profundo until the needle stopped sucking sound.  Could a journey of a thousand miles end with a single stoplight?

Before the trip my mom had said “Go.” Boyd’s mom handing Boyd the Amoco gas card said “Go,” They both said, “Be careful.” So we went. So we thought.

 Boyd and I sat in the Caddy facing a green light with dashed hope silence. There was no crank of the engine, no radio, no stereo rush, just a mortifying silence a half mile into our road trip. We looked at each other and then over at the Saint Jude medallion dangling from the rear view mirror.  The “Pray for us” entreaty quickly came out of limbo. A horn blast broke our abject reverie and we jumped out of the car.

 Boyd popped the hood and looked into the vast Caddy cavern. The engine gave no indication of changing its mind. The emergency light wasn’t working so I stood behind the car and waved folks around. Boyd ran over to the library and made a call home: “Mom we are stuck at the intersection of Kennedy Drive and Lake Street.  The car just stopped dead.”

The Caddy was Boyd’s dad’s idea.  He thought we would be safer driving the massive armored vehicle instead of Boyd’s sporty cruiser, a Chevy Caprice.  But the journey of a thousand miles would restart with the Caprice.

Boyd’s mom drove the Caprice over to where we were stranded.  We unloaded our gear from the Caddy into the Caprice.  Boyd reconnected the AC cord of the Marantz to the dc to ac converter plugged into the cigarette lighter.  We were good to go musically.  Hope started charging the moment the Caprice cranked over.  We thanked Boyd’s mom and drove off leaving her to wait for the tow truck.

After a couple of hours driving we had left Illinois behind.  Boyd drove the whole first day and night of the trip.  No-Doz, Dr. Pepper and a BTO album kept Boyd’s hand thumping the dashboard for hours on end. We puffed on Dutch Master Panetelas as he drove us through Wisconsin and through Minnesota and then into South Dakota, clicking off mile after mile, ash after ash. While he drove I lay back in my seat, eyes half-open, as the day turned to night before us.  When it became dark I wondered if Boyd could stay awake the whole night staring at the two-lane monotony always just headlights away.   As DJ Denny I was soon charged with changing the records and keeping him alert. Bumps in the road and lane changes kept me busy returning the wandering needle to its groove.

South Dakota:  grasslands, vast open landscape, not a building in sight. In the early morning hours back-lit by the sunrise, the tall wheat grass looked like golden blond hair as it was brushed by the wind.  After fourteen hours we let the turn table go silent.  When we did I heard other music playing outside the open car window – ancient music streaming in the wind.  The cessation of all that I knew from a life in Chicago and the revelation of sights and sounds I never knew somehow caused ancient memories to stir up in me, a mystical vision of a boy running free – no shirt, no shoes, just earth and boy and wind.  Snap! A Wall Drug billboard appeared and then another and another. Burma Shave Lives on:  GET A SODA…GET A ROOT BEER…TURN THE CORNER…JUST AS NEAR…TO HIGHWAY 16 AND 14
FREE ICE WATER…WALL DRUG.

What great wonder of the world awaited us?  Boyd drove us past the endless signs to that middle of nowhere – the town of Wall, South Dakota, home of Wall Drug.  The promise of free ice water noted on the drug store’s ubiquitous billboards along I- 90 had wetted our interest.

Wall Drug was just what my post card thought’s had pictured: Indian lore and artifacts packaged for tourists along with food, souvenirs, polished stones, rubber tomahawks, prescription drugs and the free bottle of ice cold water. When we got back to the Caprice a Wall Drug bumper sticker was affixed to the rear bumper – a billboard to go:

“WHERE THE HECK IS WALL DRUG?”

We set off with our free ice water and our newly labeled rear end and headed for the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, the Badlands and the Corn Palace.  I queued up Paul and Linda McCarthy’s Ram album. Out came “Too Many People,” “Three Legs,” “Ram On.”   The Beatles were breaking up in our back seat.

“Looking for a home in the heart of the country….Heart of the country, where the holy people grow, Heart of the country, smell the grass in the meadow.”

We exited I-90 at Rapid City and drove south to Custer State Park.  After scratching our heads we left. We followed Iron Mountain road out of the eastern gate of Custer State Park.  The road’s corkscrewing “pigtail” bridges and three narrow honk-your-horn-through-the-rock tunnels wound us through the Black Hills to Mount Rushmore. As we drove out of one tunnel the chalk-white “Shrine of Democracy” appeared before us in the receding aperture.  We had come out of the rabbit-hole of the sixties and face to face with our forefathers. We sat up straight in our seats.

As we stood on Mt.Rushmore’s viewing terrace I was hoping to see Cary Grant or Eva Marie Saint but not James Mason.  I was in a North by Northwest latitude of mind.  With some intrigue in mind I did put some tokens into a telescope. I was hoping to catch someone hanging from the nose of a president but all I saw was a few eroded pores. Stone faces don’t do anything for me.

That night we decided to camp at Mount Rushmore National Park. Red – eyed and saddle-sore, we had been driving since 2:00 in the afternoon the day before.  It was now 7:30 pm Saturday.  Fortunate for us the gods behind the stone faces smiled down upon us:  we were able to get the last open spot on the campground.  After pitching our two-man tent on a floor of pine needles we crawled into our sleeping bags.  We let sleep overcome us – screaming kids, barking dogs and banging pots not withstanding.

The next morning’s commotion gave us a start.  Folks were packing kids and camping gear into their cars and leaving the park. We didn’t start a fire or make coffee.  We pissed, packed the tent and drove back to Rapid City where there was a Waffle house and breakfast.

After some scrambled eggs and toast and plenty of coffee we pulled onto I-90 heading northwest.  I put the needle down on BTO’s groove “Taking Care of Business.” Boyd again thumped the dashboard as we drove past Sturgis into Wyoming.  We drove past Sundance and then Gillette.  We turned south and headed to Casper passing the Hole-In-The Wall hideout.  We had heard that Butch and Sundance were out of the country so we didn’t stop and say “Hi.”

After an early supper in Casper we made the Grand Teton National Forest by twilight.  On a bluff that overlooked Jackson Lake’s Spalding Bay we set up our tent. The once-in-a-lifetime view: the cerulean blue lady of Jackson Lake had put on a string of diamonds that sparkled as the sun set.

The air that night was crisp and clean, full of promise. We slept like two bears in hibernation.  I finally woke the next day when I stretched out my legs and my feet touched the cool damp edge of the tent.  I poked myself out of the tent and found the same morning dew had been soaking the bottoms of my shoes. “Hey, Boyd wake up.  Look at this.”

With one last snort Boyd roused and fumbled out the tent, one leg in his pant’s the other caught in the tent.  “What?”

“Look!” I pointed.

Boyd’s jaw dropped.

All around our tent there were huge paw prints in the damp earth.  A bear had been stalking our campsite during the night.  “Whew!” –  our collective thought blurt out from our ashen faces. We were relieved that we had not been mistaken for food and that the cache of food we had brought with was safely packed in the car’s trunk ~ a two-week supply of beef jerky, spam and bottles of Dr. Pepper. As far as I was concerned, though, the bear could have the jerky.  GIGO, as they say.

Now Boyd liked to keep moving. He was not ADD.  He was ASAP. His mom told me one day that “you never know with Boyd.  Boyd goes wherever the wind takes him at the moment.”  Boyd was my Dean Moriarty. So every day, On the Road, wind at our backs, we drove like the world was holding out on us.

For the both of us movement meant music.  Boyd brought his LP and eight track collection and I brought my LPs: Boyd’s road tunes: Bachman Turner Overdrive (BTO), the Beatle’s White Album, McCarthy’s Ram, The Bee Gees, Barry Manilow (yes, Barry Manilow), Jefferson Airplane. Mine:  Chicago Transit Authority, Blood Sweat and Tears, Bill Chase:  Chase, The Doors, Sargent Pepper Lonely Heart’s Club Band, the Woodstock soundtrack, George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, Simon & Garfunkel’s Parsley, Sage, Rosemary And Thyme, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Green River, Moody Blues Every Good Boy Deserves Favour .  Mile markers, grooves, tracks and flashbacks – we let the RPMs take us.

Driving up to Yellowstone was a panoramic delight.  We “aw”-ed at the sight of Old Faithful, we laughed at the “blup blup” of the Mud Volcano erupting and pinched our noses at the rotten egg smell of the Sulphur Caldron – the bounty of good earth filled our senses.

From Yellowstone we headed south to Wind River Indian Reservation.  We set up our tent in the early evening in a nearby campsite and started a fire.  Boyd stirred up some Sanka. 

We sat by the crackling pine needle fire until the reflective light of the moon flooded directly down onto us through the towering jack pines.  Branches scratched each other in the night breeze. After a while we decided to hike over to a treeless area we could make out at the edge of our forest canopy. As we did we came upon a creek bed lay that lay at an opening in the side of a deep ravine. 

It appeared that a mighty river had once flowed through the rock, its torrent gouging a deep channel through the sandstone and later breaking out the gulch before us.  But now instead of a large swift river forcing it way upon the landscape, a shallow unhurried stream silently passed over a bed of smooth stones and sand. The desultory shimmer of wet stone offered teasing glimpses of the moon’s face from earth.  Boyd and I sat down near the stream on a fallen grey tree trunk. Our short shadows floating on the stream.

I saw her then, a silhouette of a young woman with waist length hair.  She was kneeling at a bend in the stream.  She looked to be a cutout of the Indian princess on the Land-O-Lakes butter package. (My fantasies always include food.)  Kneeling about twenty feet from where we sat she turned toward us.  I met her gaze.  The next thing I knew my legs were carrying me over to where she knelt.  Funny things, legs, but I guess when you are seventeen and having just graduated from high school the torrent of impulse is unleashed within you moving your legs before all else.  

The moon,” was all I got out and I sat down next to her feet.  The moon’s ethereal light dappled our faces with faint glow. We sat silently for a while, my fearlessness now speechlessness. And while I waited for my impulse to catch its breath I hoped that she would say something.

 “I’m Anna.”

“I’m Denny. Hi.”  I looked over at her hoping to see more of her face but it was in shadow.

“Hi.”

After a couple of awkward minutes she said, “My folks are taking us to California for vacation. I’m from Rapid City, South Dakota.”

“I’m from Chicago.”

“I can tell.”

“How’s that?”

“Guys from Chicago talk like Chicago. You know, like their chewing on meat and potatoes when their talking to you, like regular guys. That’s what my mom says about her dad.  He’s from Chicago.”

“I didn’t know I was regular until today. I do like my mom’s pot roast.”

“Regular is good.  It means you are who you are and not something else. I could sense it before I walked out here alone.”  She turned quickly toward the trees. “I am not alone.  My parents are right over there in the camper, so I am not alone. See?”

I looked where she looked and nodded.  “OH.  OK then. I am regular.” I said looking at her. “Regular is good. So be it.”

From behind me came the sound of a small rumble and then a loud splashing of hoofs followed by neighs and whinnies. A herd of wild horses ~ Mustangs ~ appeared out of the east ravine passage. They stopped right in front of Boyd to slurp up the clear water. 

It was midnight and a dreamscape: wild horses standing in a quick sliver stream, my hand now in hers, the moon’s pale illumination casting a black and white surrealism onto the ravine walls and Boyd, a shadow, sitting alone on a log.  I shook off my dream.

I said good night to Anna telling her that I hoped we’d meet again in another dream and walked over to where Boyd sat.  He had been whittling a pine branch into what looked like a spear.  I sat down and together we watched the horses until they chased each other down the stream and out of our view. We returned to our tent for the night. The Dream followed me there.

*****

One fine morning, girl, I’ll wake up
Wipe the sleep from my eyes
Go outside and feel the sunshine
Then I know I’ll realize
That as long as you love me, girl, we’ll fly

And on that mornin’ when I wake up
I’ll see your face inside a cloud
See your smile inside a window
Hear your voice inside a crowd
Calling, “Come with me baby and we’ll fly”

Yeah, we’ll fly-y-y, yeah, we’ll fly
We’ll fly-y-y, yeah, we’ll fly

*****

Later, Boyd said he didn’t mind about me and the girl.  But he did begin to mind when I met another girl on our trip to England and then another on a trip to Miami and then another on our trip around the Great Lakes. I was happy when began to talk about a girl he liked at church.  I hoped she liked him.

*****

Wyoming was a state of mind that I didn’t want to leave.  I vowed to return and make my home among the broncos.  Denver was next on our road trip.  Our former pastor lived in a suburb of Denver and Boyd decided that we should surprise him by showing up at his church office.  The pastor gulped when he saw us.

Pastor Renz greeted us and then invited us to his home for lunch. We ate PB & J sandwiches and drank lemonade.  His told us that his wife was out-of-town so we sat with him and his three sons on their patio. During lunch we chatted about our trip and about our home town and then we said goodbye.  This side trip was important for Boyd.  Years before I had brought Boyd to our church.  This pastor had led Boyd to the Lord.  Boyd wanted to see him one more time and thank him. As his mother said Boyd was impulsive in every way.  The high RPMs of his soul kept us moving quickly in some direction – a direction we’d figure out on the way.

After lunch Boyd’s compass pointed northeast and to Estes Park, Colorado.  We made our way to this mountain town where the bindle bums of the sixties had come to find a Rocky Mountain High – hippies and tie-dye shrines were everywhere among the polished stone and incense shops.  Guitars were being strummed by glazed eyed folk singers warning of the world’s destruction at the hands of the Man. We quickly left town after stocking up on a supply of beef jerky and Mountain Dew.  We soon found a campsite along Silver Creek.

Our rented patch of earth for that night was no more than six feet by five feet. It sat right on the edge of a small bubbling creek.  All the other campsites were taken for the night. With no space to build a fire and an itch to do something we left the tent and drove around until we found a sign for a drive-in movie theatre nestled within the steep mountain valley.  An hour before the movie began we bought our tickets. To pass the time we sat on the hood of the Caprice eating popcorn watching the sunset gild the mountain ridges.

By 9:30 the mountains had shuttered off light on all sides except for the corona of moonlight directly above us. The previews began to roll and then came the main feature:  Le Mans with Steve McQueen. There were Porsches and Ferraris burning up the track.  There were more wild horses, more RPMs. All good until the screen went blank after the credits.  Everyone had driven off except us.  The Caprice wouldn’t start. Then the drive-in manager shut off the food stand lights. Our race car wasn’t going anywhere.  Boyd wiggled the battery cable but the battery had been DOA.

After talking to the drive–in manager Boyd made a phone call, this time to AAA.  An hour later a tow truck chained our fate to its cantilever pulley and hauled us over to a darkened Amoco gas station.  The sign on the door told us the station opened at seven am.  We got back into the car and slept restlessly wondering if seven o’clock MST was ever going to show up like it did in CST.  I also began to realize that Beef jerky and popcorn don’t come together for your enjoyment.

At seven-o-five a mechanic pulled his pickup into the driveway of the gas station. He got out of the truck, dropped his mouth open at the sight of us and then spat some brown liquid twenty feet behind him.  He then walked over to front of the gas station and unlocked the garage door. He then set about brewing some coffee. When the muck he was brewing had finally stopped belching he offered it – an oily looking residue with islands of powdered cream floating on top – in a grimy Styrofoam cup. The lack of air at that altitude must have deprived my brain of needed oxygen. I drank the coffee.

While the mechanic installed a new battery we called home.  We wanted to let our parents know that we hadn’t fled the country to avoid the draft. We were “OK” we told them, “just more battery problems.”  We set out again confident that we were firing on all electrolyte cells.

“You ain’t seen nothing yet.” The drive through Rocky Mountain National Park lifted our spirits skyward but the dizzying drop offs and the struggling out-of-breath car are the things I remember. And the feeling of being at the top of the world with eagles, soaring.

After descending the mountains our trip began to take on a deliberate speed.  We had tired of sleeping on the hard ground and the endless ribbon of highway unreeling in our sleep. We drove across Colorado to a town on its western edge, the town of Dinosaur. This small town and its streets were so named because of their proximity to Dinosaur National Monument – the home of prehistoric fossil beds. The rocky ridges along the highway leading to Dinosaur gave the appearance of exposed dinosaur backbones.

After a brief glimpse in the direction of epochs and eras Boyd pushed the “Fast Forward” button on the floor of the Caprice.  From Dinosaur we drove into Utah so we could say that we had been to Utah. We found a campsite east of Vernal. In the morning we headed southeast to Grand Junction Colorado and then up and around Denver and straight for Kansas.  We camped that night outside Salina Kansas, under a large oak tree.  The next day I wondered if I would see Jim Ryan, the first high-school cross-country runner to break a four-minute mile, run past us as we drove through his home state.

Topeka came and went.  We drove into and across Missouri. We spent the night at a St. Louis West Route 66 KOA campsite.  After breakfast in St. Louis we sped a northeast diagonal across Illinois prairie up to our homes outside of Chicago. Even wild horses need their batteries recharged.

© Sally Paradise, 2012, All Rights Reserved

“One Fine Morning” lyrics by Lighthouse, © OLE MEDIA MANAGEMENT LP

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lighthouse_(band)

It Bears Repeating

… a short story about a man’s final hours, as related to me.

 It Bears Repeating

 The first time I heard the news was right here in the parlor of Moore’s funeral home.  I’ll tell you what happened because I need to hear it again myself.  I find it hard to believe.  Please allow me this last chance to tell my story.  I don’t have much time. I’ll be brief. The last cocktail is kicking in.

 Being dead, I must note before I move on, has its once-in-a-life time privileges: I can stretch out my legs and nap all I want. I don’t have to bother with bill collectors and more importantly I don’t have to listen to my ex-wives blather on about how horrible a husband I was. They did stop talking bad about me though.  That was on Thursday the day I died. Before that day these women were probably right about me but there were times when I tried my darndest to love the heck right out of them, damn near killing myself in the…

 “I don’t want you. I want your money.” 

 Yeah, that was what I heard at the end of two of my trilogy of marriages. That kiss of betrayal twice laid on me would be enough to break any man’s spirit, let alone his pocket-book. Heart and money gave out last Thursday and I wound up here looking at the insides of my stapled eyelids.

 Now, I’m not looking for sympathy, just an ear, so lean in close, because my mouth is wired shut, too. There are things that need to be said, my side of the story, before the cover comes down and this chapter ends.  And if there is another chapter, the gods, who must all be female because I’ve been a man of constant sorrow, may very well have taken note of my male deficiencies over the course of sixty-five years.  They will not rule in my favor.  And God help you if you snore or if your nose whistles while you are still alive and breathing. In fact, the gods may certainly deign to send me back as a woman – a large squat cat woman wheezing with asthma and having no idea the cat box litter needs to be changed – Pearl Purgatory.

 Is there life after women? If there is I am pretty darn sure that there will be retribution for my lack of mind reading:  “Because if I have to tell you, it doesn’t count.” And that will mean that I will be reincarnated en femme.    As such I will be made to learn what women need, what women want and, more importantly, I will learn how to demand tele-empathy:  holding every man accountable for every woman’s unspoken thoughts.

 As I formerly live and breathe, if you don’t know what a woman wants before she opens her mouth you are already in the death’s hollows. And because I could not read the minds of the three females in my life I spent twenty-six years in the dog house barking at shadows and howling at the moon. My only reprieve being a weekly escape to the local tavern, a tavern serving dead-beat husbands like me. Thank God there was a “Joe” the bartender at TKO Tavern. I could read his mind.

 And Joe could read mine.  Tuesday nights the Miller Lite would stand waiting before my stool: tall, cold and gushing with anticipation.  In that room filled with nodding imbibers, tattooed torsos and limbs and shouting TVs I would tell my story of woe to unknown people of every color and stripe. It was easy there.  Everyone at TKO was in my corner for those couple of hours a week.  Going home afterward I felt as if I just had therapy.  Sleep would come and I would start again the next day. But the truth was always there standing over me in the morning.

 Where was I?  My feet are cold.  They feel like lead. Did I own a suit and tie?  Oh, yes.  I wore a suit for the studio picture of me with my four kids last year. I see it now in the picture frame sitting on the top of the casket.  But I’m starting to ramble, a foible also despised by the women in my life.  What can I say? My mind became mush on women.  But let’s go on before the fat lady sings my song.

  Wife number one.  After six months of marriage wife number one didn’t hang around for further conjugal visits.  The umbilical cord between mother and daughter snapped her away from me like a bungee cord recoiling

 I met Andrea at a Bible college.  We dated while at school and then after graduation we camped out at her family’s home outside of Crown Point, Indiana. Every weekend I would drive from Illinois to her parent’s home in Indiana.  I was hoping that her father would say just take the girl and get out the hell out of there. Her father, a straight arrow of a man, was predisposed to disposing with unnecessary words.  His remaining words were pounded into arrow heads meant for a bullseye.

 You see, Andrea’s father was native-American – an Apache.  He liked him his TV, his Pabst, his pipe and his solitude. He made no demands on Andrea’s family other than “be quiet,” “shut up,” “get me some dinner,” bring me a cold one” and “don’t ever touch my pipe tobacco.” In this denizen of dysfunction Andrea stayed close to her cowering mom while avoiding her father. It would take me several harrowing attempts to ask him for Andrea’s hand in marriage. When her father said “Yeah, take her” I had hoped to leave the dystopia behind.  I married Andrea in her family’s GARB church – that’s a General Association of Regular Baptists church for all of you outside of the Bible Whiplash Belt (No, I never had a crew cut). 

 The “hallelujah and amen” of nuptial bliss lasted about six months.  Andrea’s father took a job transfer to Arizona – Arizona or Bust.  I figured that with the transfer Andrea’s father could get back to his native-American roots.  Being an oil refinery pipe fitter in Gary, Indiana was not the proper place for this son of the earth.  He saw the transfer notice posted on the lunch room bulletin board and applied the same day.  He never consulted his wife.  I figured, too, that the desert would be a good place to drink, shoot a gun and fall down drunk. I gathered all of this from his stolid stare which told me everything and nothing.

 In the moment when Andrea’s her mother told Andrea about the transfer Andrea decided that she and I had to move from Chicago to Arizona to be near her mother: “Or else.”   It was The Ultimatum Express for me or the highway for her.

 Now, I hadn’t mentioned this: before Andrea and I married I had a solid job in the Chicago area.  Andrea and I had settled in an apartment an hour away from her mother.  Things seemed quiet and sane apart from her family – us in Illinois, her parents in Indiana. But that was the problem:  way too much sanity for Andrea.

 So, without further discussion and a half-year after making our eternal vows to each other, vows which I found out would not indemnify the oath taker from the pain and loss of separation and subsequent divorce, our marriage was torn in two. I came home from work one day and found that Andrea had taken all her things and had left for Arizona.  There was a note:  “I’ve gone to Arizona.  See ya.”  She certainly had her father’s eagle-eye determination and his paucity of words.  Suddenly I was left with my job, an apartment lease and dozens of unpaid bills. I was uncoupled and alone but mother and child were reunited, a co-dependency I probably should have seen coming. 

 After six months of being married in absentia and being surrounded by the four walls of loneliness I decided to go out to Arizona and plead my case for our as yet “unwrapped” marriage. I flew out to Phoenix.

 The sun has finally moved behind the curtain.  Good. Oh, there are lilies. I wonder who sent those.  Maybe it was my daughter Anna.  I wish she was here.  My nose must be stuffed up. There’s not a smell in the house. Who are those people looking at me?  Are you still listening?

 The day I arrived in Phoenix the temperature was 121 degrees F.  I couldn’t sit down in the rental car until the air conditioning had cooled the seats and steering wheel.  Standing next to the idling car I thought my feet might stick to the black top taffy.

After checking into a room at the nearby airport Holiday Inn I immediately phoned Andrea and told her where I was. She sounded out of sorts when she told me that she would leave work at 4:30 and then drive up from Globe, Arizona where her parent’s lived.  When I called her the week before and told her that I was flying out to see her she balked, “Come but don’t expect anything.” I came expecting everything.  I bet it all on “See ya.”

 The drive to phoenix took about an hour and forty minutes.  I waited in the restaurant lounge of the Holiday Inn.  I asked the bartender what he would suggest for someone waiting to be disappointed once again and who never had a drop of hard liquor. He put a Manhattan in front of me – a cherry about to drown in a sea of bourbon.  Between the ebb and flow of Manhattans I would ride the elevator up to my room to see if I had any phone messages.  Upon opening the door if I saw no red light pulsing in the dark room I would return downstairs to my drink.  The waiting bourbon, sweet vermouth and bitters consoled me.  The bitters and I were now comrades in arms.

 At nine o’clock I finally saw the pulsing red light.  Andrea had left a message:  she’d be there in five minutes.  I splashed some cold water on my face and headed downstairs. 

 Once back at my seat Andrea appeared at the door of the dining room.  The soft knit turquoise dress she wore gathered all of my attention.  The hands on her hips said, “Let’s go.” But after five Manhattans I was in no shape to go anywhere but up to my room.  Andrea insisted that we get in her car and go back to Globe.  But the liquor, now speaking on my behalf, failed to get my tongue to form syllables. “I rave de…,” was my only response so she relented and we went up to my room.

 There Andrea and I sat on the edge of the twin beds and talked for five minutes. I can’t recall the things we talked about. At one point I got up, leaned over and kissed her. Shapely turquoise and stultifying bourbon would continue to have the same effect on me up until last Thursday.  Now if I have one saving grace to present to the gods it would be my kissing ways.  Playing trumpet for forty years puckered my lips into the perfect embouchure for kissing.  A few nicely placed notes would make any woman’s ears wiggle.  Actual levitation would occur.  You’ll have to trust me on this.

 I did try to sleep off the bourbon but luck wouldn’t have any of it.  After a couple of hours we set out on Superstition Freeway and then U.S. 60 heading east toward Globe, Arizona.

 I remember the full moon transforming the rough cut desert landscape into a B & W western.  I half expected to see Tex Ritter or Roy Rodgers galloping along with our car.  In the distance I could see saguaro looking like they were in a holdup, both arms up. Gila monsters and tumbleweed lurched into and retreated from the light of the headlight “projectors.”

 We finally reached the town of Globe, a community of workers from the sliver mines.  Up north in the Tonto Basin there was an oil refinery where Andrea’s father worked as a pipe fitter. His nature had taken its course.

 I found a room at the eight room Globe Motel.  After checking in Andrea and I grabbed breakfast at the Mother Lode diner. It was there at the diner that Andrea’s older brother showed up, a pack of Luckies rolled up in his tee-shirt sleeve. He had a pock-marked face and his jaw was set.  He sat down across from me, flicked the ash of his cigarette into the ash tray and ordered a coffee.  I didn’t know what to expect. His demeanor was always silent tough-guy gruff.  He finally spoke:  “So, you’re here to take my sister home?” “I respect that.” I breathed a sigh of relief but then he said, “I don’t think my mother wants that to happen.” My stomach tightened. After drinking his coffee down in two gulps he stood up and walked out. That was it.  I was disposed of.

 I looked at Andrea.  She looked back at me over her glasses as if to say “don’t you see?”  She went off to work and I returned to my motel room to ponder what just happened.  I spent the rest of the day watching TV in my room hidden from the sun’s death rays.  The tepid water in the motel’s outside pool offered no relief.  I had lost my cool, too.

 After passing a couple of monotonous days in the Globe Motel Andrea offered me a room in their parent’s guest house – a tiny adobe bungalow at the bottom of a steep gully shaded by mesquite and jojoba trees.  That was better. Andrea would be closer but she could be a tease.

 When Andrea finished work at 4:30 she would come down to the bungalow and spend hours kissing me like I was her best beau.  She’d coo and I’d plead. Later she’d go back up to her parent’s house to sleep.

 My return flight was on Sunday.  Nothing had changed in the status of our marriage. Andrea said nothing about returning with me.  I was perplexed to point of “Enough already.”

 On Thursday I found a Globe Yellow Pages and looked for the name and address of her company.  I bought a Rand McNally map at the Texaco.  The place where she worked was on the outskirts of town. I drove my rental car to her office and walked right in. Andrea was nonplussed. She grabbed my arm, turned me around and took me out to the parking lot.  She told me to stay away from her work.  After some futile begging where I asked her to come home with me, I drove back to the bungalow feeling despair. I felt it where I never felt it before – in my feet.  Later that night, though, she told me that on Saturday we would do something together. Hope and pace revived among the kissing.

 Saturday morning we drove north to Tonto National Forest and Apache Lake.  The reflection of the midday sun off of the bleached rock was blinding.  We got out of the car and stood together on the bluff that over looked the cobalt blue lake.

 “Denny, I have something to tell you.  I have a boy friend.”

 “What? What’s his name?”  (What did it matter?)

 “His name is Scott. I’m not coming home with you.  I have divorce papers coming. I don’t want alimony. I just want to be here. I have to be here.”

 There it was, that unspoken word that pulled the bottom out of everything: “over.

 On Sunday my dad was waiting for me at an Ohare Airport’s arrival gate:  “At least you tried.”  

 “Yeah, I have that going for me.”

****

Who’s that? Do I know you? Someone please open my collar. It’s stuffy in here. Someone please open a window. I need some air. I promise the next bit will be shorter. I’ll have to rest soon.

 Wife, part two.  Melanie is a good woman. She didn’t get the best of me, though.  I had become jaded after my first marriage to Andrea – philandering took the place of fidelity.  I figured that I couldn’t count on just one woman to be there for me.  At any moment she could go off the reservation and perhaps return to her mother’s womb. I didn’t trust any woman even though Melanie deserved it. Regrettably, I decided there was safety in numbers.

 Melanie gave me two roly-poly boys.  I never thought life could hold such inimitable joy as when these two were born.  Fatherhood set the responsible part of me in stone forever.  But the marriage part remained free-floating. And though I had two beautiful sons I kept up my selfish ways until one night. I came home and found all my belongings sitting out at the curb.  I knocked on the front door but no one answered.  I sobbed and knocked and no one answered. I had been locked out of the marriage.  Later the sheriff would knock on my door with divorce papers: “I don’t want you. I want your money.”   I had blown it with Mel and all of my change-of-heart soul-searching wouldn’t bring her back.

 Wife, part three.  Yes, I tried again.  Once again I succumbed to the elixir of physical attraction.  But this time I thought I had also found someone who didn’t just love me for my kisses. I met Bethany at the Pacific Club dance bar where on Friday nights a friend and I tried to hook up with the dancing queens.  She and I met on a Friday night when I came alone.

 After returning to my seat that night I heard a voice behind me say, “That’s my chair.”  I turned around and looked into the face of a model. I said “Sorry. I went to dance and came back to my seat.  But you can have it.”  She sat down.  We ended up going out to eat that night and talking for hours.

 Bethany liked photography as much as I did.  We both liked fine wine and gourmet food. And kids.  She had a son from a previous relationship and I had two sons from Mel.  After whirlwind dating for six months we decided to elope.  I was pushing for this, perhaps unknowingly, thinking about the final net cost should there be a divorce – still jaded after all these years.

 We set up shop in a suburban town west of Chicago.  Two years later Bethany would give birth to a beautiful baby girl and then a boy two years later. Four kids now on the payroll.

 The first Lamaze class with Mel awoke fatherhood within me.  I was right at home with kids.  But marriage relationships, no, no, no, they would not come home to roost.  As it turned out Bethany was a very needy person.  Instead of mother issues Bethany had father issues.  The effects of family dysfunction had come full circle. There was also the bane of Bethany’s PMS.  Every month I wanted to go into the husband protection program the moment Bethany’s voice took on the other-worldly tone of a candidate for exorcism and her eyes became blue steel beebees and her dissatisfaction with me amounted to me just being alive.

Beyond this, in her own special three Margarita way Bethany would let me know that I was never “man enough.” She went on to tell our marriage counselor that she didn’t “feel loved,” by me, that “Danny is clueless.  He doesn’t know what a woman wants or needs.”  In lay person’s terms, I wasn’t woman enough to be a man. And from what I could gather as a mere mortal Bethany had also been looking for the Old Spice-John Wayne-gladiator-movie-watching father-figure who lathered on the macho during her childhood. What she got was a Ward Cleaver-turned-Casanova-turned-“give-me-a-break” type.

 Fourteen years later my marriage to Bethany ended with a prolonged, painful separation and a matter-of-fact divorce.  With that cut off point came the demand for support: “I don’t want you. I want your money.” 

 That’s my “trilogy of women” story – the troika that did me in.  In the end, emptiness is what’s left of me.  It can be found everywhere in my life:  empty vows, empty pockets and empty rooms to kick around in.  I had emptied my emotions, too.  This final loss was not paid for with tears.  This loss was paid for with my health.  I would soon break down, the hemlock of sorrow and depression working its diabolical alchemy. The only thing not empty in my life is this casket. And that brings me to my final state – death by marriage.

 Who is that strawberry blond with the turquoise pendant? Is that Andrea?  Who is that young guy with her? How did she know that I passed on?  I wish someone would stop playing that damn organ. I want to hear what their…

 Andrea:  “Scotty, say goodbye to your dad. We have to go.”

© Sally Paradise, 2012, All Rights Reserved

Envision

The free form litany below was compiled based on the verbs and the sequence of action found in Genesis Chapters One and Two.

I agree with the theory of theistic evolution:  the creation act once initiated by God set evolution into motion (without the need for fine tuning) over millions of years and right up to our present day.

 Here’s something you’ll get a big bang out of:  if you wonder whether there is a personal God, wonder no more.  God had (in our time frame) envisioned every boson in every hair of every head. You are a unique accumulation of God Particles held together by the Quantum Force of Love. Smashing.

*******

Envision

 

In the Beginning…

 

God said

  God saw

God separated

  God saw

God called

  God saw

God hovered

  God saw

God called

  God saw

God made

  God saw

God created

  God saw

God blessed

  God saw

God breathed

  God saw

God commanded

  God saw

God provided

  God saw

God finished.

  God saw

God rested

  God saw

God blessed.

  God and Man saw.

Not the End.

Afternoon Aliens

Any exhaustive research into my childhood would reveal several close encounters with aliens.

 You would learn that these encounters occurred primarily on Sunday afternoons but also sometimes on Saturday nights.  You would read that the aliens would slowly pull up in front of my parent’s home and then park right smack in the center of our view, a view framed by our front room picture window. (I wanted to say “frontroom” because it’s the Chicago way.)

 For our family Sunday mornings meant going to church – the hell-fire-and-brimstone-preaching-shouted-from-revved up lungs-quivering jowls-and-leaps and-bounds-of-a-Baptist-minister-kind of church.  Such a fire-breathing monster would let us know in no uncertain terms that redemption came only by turning from our sins and by walking down the aisle or raising our hand. I did wonder why he didn’t sell exercise videos out in the foyer – “Pilate Your Way Out of Purgatory:  Fit and Fundamental Workouts.”

 Now my mom and dad are God-fearing people who have always been very hospitable. Often, after a Sunday morning service or an evening service, my folks would invite friends, speakers, missionaries or relatives over for a meal.  As I said, this happened a lot.

 There were also a few Sundays when my parents decided to have an afternoon home alone with the kids. On those days we would come home from church to the salivating smell of pot roast.  The roast would cook while we sat in church pondering our short comings and our eternities.  The record will show that I had aromatic visions of pot roast as I turned from sin, walked down the aisle and raised my hand. 

 Back at home my mother would take the pot roast out of the oven and cover it with aluminum foil. Apparently the fat needed to rejoin the roast in a final cattle roundup. Mom and dad would then prepare the sides – all kid friendly: corn, mashed potatoes and gravy, rolls.  And, upon occasion my mother would make butterscotch pudding for dessert.  As a devotee of such fine cuisine I sat in the basement far out-of-the-way of the chefs. Down there I watched Warner Oland play Charlie Chan on our B & W TV:  “So sorry.”

 Besides being wafted to Kid Heaven by the smells I knew that my parents were not just making a scrumptious Sunday meal.  They were not going to take any chances with me going far from the straight and narrow.  They knew that the way to tether a kid’s soul and keep him close to home was with pot roast and butterscotch pudding.

 Well, on one of those blissful Sundays when my tummy was ballooned to its fullest pot roast-iest extent I lay on the floor rolling and reading the funny papers.  Nancy and Sluggo. Dick Tracy and Flattop. Brenda Starr and…my brother. 

 Daryl ever the antagonist always wanted to read the same few square inches of the comics that I was reading. I swear.  He would daily invent ways to aggravate me.  That day his pointed elbow to my side almost burst me.  In retaliation I poked him back and then he poked back harder.  This went on for ten minutes until my father said, “You two cut it out or no butterscotch pudding for you.” That settled things for the next five minutes. The thought of Butterscotch pudding had a calming effect on me. An added dollop of whipped cream would also keep me in check – for at least a half-hour.

 It was within the cautious serenity of those five minutes that I saw my father suddenly leap up out of his swivel rocker.  The Chicago Tribune fell to the floor splayed open.  My dad turned to my mother who was sitting on the couch half asleep.  With a look of petrified horror he said, “The Gephardts are here!” That was the day I would have my first sighting of aliens in our own front yard.

 Absolutely beside himself, my dad thought for a moment:  perhaps we could make it look like we weren’t at home.  But then he saw the visitors looking at him through the picture window.  The alien father on the front lawn was yelling “Hi Bob.”   My dad then looked down at his two young children, children who just came home from re-dedicating their lives to Jesus and to pot roast looking up at him.   Instantly changing his mind my dad scrambled in two directions at once.  In the same step he first bolted toward the kitchen but then turned and flew to the back of the house.  Things were put away, hidden from view.  Rooms were “straightened.” Food stowed deep in the refrigerator. Our Schnauzer Bobbie took the cue and hid under my bed whimpering. My brother and I hid all of our toys.  The quiet afternoon had morphed into the afternoon of the living Gephardts.

 Now the Gephardts were good people my folks said, “They’re just a little different.” Yeah, as different as earth and mars I would soon find out.

 After greeting the family of five, my dad said he had to get “some things” at the grocery store.  An hour later my mother looked concerned, abandoned concerned, angry concerned.  As the time crept, my mother sat patiently listening to Mrs. G. wonder out loud if her little “Ronnie was really over the chicken pox.” (I kid, (scratch, scratch) you not.)

My brother and I stood across from the three alien kids, two boys and a girl, and wondered what to do. Mom suggested that we go to a nearby field and play baseball until the FBI had located our father. So off we went.

 I can not recall whether it was my brother or whether it was me who was hit in the head with a baseball bat by a Gephardt boy. It must have been me who received the carom because great a swath of my memory has been forever displaced. The oldest kid swung right though an imaginary fast ball which was in fact my head.  Let the record show that silly remained intact though.  (I have had three concussions in my life:  one from a right-handed batter on sugar, one from a concrete wall that halted my fifty yard dash at 55 yards and one as an adult when a humongous lead pipe-carrying truck used my car as a brake – my head bounced around like a pin ball in a Dukes of Hazzard pinball game. Three concussions may explain my David Lynch-like persona, my dream-state reality and my stuttering posts.)

 At some point my dad came back from the store with a pie, a cherry pie and a can of whipped cream.  He offered to heat it, slice it and even remake it -anything so as to not have to talk to Mr. G who I now know was dead ringer for Randy Quaid.  Mr. G sat in our front room – greasy tee shirt, flys buzzing and all.  The three G kids all could have walked off a page of the Addam’s Family comic strip.  It’s all a blur.  On purpose.

 Mr. G was a junk collector by trade.  He collected “fine” items no longer of use to their owners. He resold his JIT inventory on Maxwell Street. Did we have anything that we didn’t want any more?  I imagined that my father wanted to say “Yes, you here.”  But my dad, a generous and good man, kept to his busy ways and went looking for a ‘fine item” that would spur Mr. G into immediate sales activity.   My dad “sacrificially” retreated to the basement where after a half hour of searching everywhere including a Walter Cronkite newscast he found a lamp on its last light bulb and handed it to Mr. G. who was pleased with his salable good but continued to eye my mom’s china cabinet.  My mother seeing Mr. G’s honed gaze locked onto the china cabinet stood up between Mr. G and the cabinet as she continued to talk to Mrs. G.  The “over-my-dead-body” look must have told Mr. G all he needed to know.  He backed down.

 After some warmed cherry pie and coffee and a shake down of each the kids to see if they had taken anything from our rooms we said goodbye to the G’s and to the afternoon. It was now evening.  Exhausted we all fell back into the couch to watch a “really big shew.”  We had seen the Outer Limits.

 Over time the Gs would show up again and again unannounced.  Somehow we were ever on their radar though my parents only slightly knew them as neighbors at a previous address in Chicago. But finally these afternoon aliens did stop showing up.

 I suspect they stopped coming when our house looked eerily uninhabited:  with all the curtains pulled my dad started taking long Sunday afternoon naps on the couch in the dark, cool basement of our house.  My mom who loved our dad took us three (by now) perturbing kids for a long drive in the country – all of us far from afternoon aliens.

(Any truth in this account, real or perceived, is totally up to you.)

© Sally Paradise, 2012, All Rights Reserved

Crooked Letters Come to Terms Among the Kudzu

Normally I don’t read popular novels but then again I am not normal. I’m usually off on some quirky tangent, perhaps pouncing on the findings of the Higg’s Boson or pondering The Closing of the American Mind (Allan Bloom) or simply playing the role of suburban scofflaw.  But a recent novel’s cover appeared in the periphery of my imagination as I sauntered by a Barnes & Noble’ book table.

 I have long been drawn to the droll humor and sardonic wit of southern writers such as Wendell Berry, Flannery O’Connor, William Gay, Barry Hannah…there are too many to name here.  So it was the name of the author, “Tom Franklin” that pulled me over to the curb, so to speak. 

Tom is a contributor to the Oxford American Magazine, The Southern Magazine of Good Writing to which I subscribe. It was from the In the Best of The South 2012 issue of that same magazine that I learned about Tom Franklin’s “notoriety.”  There, columnist Jack Pendarvis penned “I Don’t Hate it!  Kickin’ it with Kelly Hogan.  In his own tongue-in-cheek jaded way Pendarvis starts:

 “1)  Tom Franklin. Tom Franklin. Tom Franklin. Tom Franklin.  I have three items worthy of the “Best of the South,” and the greatest of these is novelist Tom Franklin.  Really, all of them are Tom Franklin.  As has been pointed out to me by Tom Franklin, Tom Franklin has been present at almost all the events described in this space since the inception of my column.  For example, his wife Beth Ann Fennelly may make a witty quip while Tom stands at some distance away, nodding encouragingly.  It’s true that I mention Beth Ann frequently here, yet never Tom, nor his superlative nodding.  The occasion that seems to bother him most grievously is the time he was driving the car while Beth Ann and I were exchanging our famous witty quips and he was just nodding away to beat the band and nobody cared.”

2)      Testicles. …This guy Andrew Zimmerman blew through town a little while back…I had some yogurt that evening and said to my wife, “Sweetie, you know what this needs?  Testicles!”

“I’ll tell you who else has testicles:  Tom Franklin.”

3)      “…Kelly Hogan…has been a musician most of her life, and her best music is characterized by that mix of sparkle and danger.”

 

“Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter” is the title of the book I read by Tom Franklin. The story resides mostly around the hamlet of Chabot, Mississippi (are you seeing it?).

 I’m not going to give out a lot of the story. In fact, I’ll just give a line about the characters. I’ll not tell you the ending. You’ll have to read the whodunit yourself.

 Main characters:  Two boys grow up in parallel worlds:  “Scary” Larry Ott (a lover of Stephen King stories, the Night Shift collection in particular) and Silas, later to be known as “Constable” or “32.”

The story delves into friendship, murder and mystery, all offered up with plenty of sensate details doing their Siren’s work – luring the readers into the story and holding them to the end. Here’s one evocative excerpt from Chapter Eight:

“Angie ignored her but started on the food, opening the mustard packets and squeezing them onto her plate for her French fries, chewing her hamburger slowly, sipping her Diet Coke through her straw as Silas told how, at first, he’d been shocked how quiet the woods seemed compared to Chicago, no crowds, car horns, sirens, no el trains clacking by.  But in the woods, if you stopped, if you grew still, you’d hear a whole set of sounds, wind rasping though silhouetted leaves and the cries and chatter of blue jays and brown thrashers and redbirds and sparrows, the calling of crows and hawks, squirrels barking, frogs burping, the far baying of dogs, armadillos snorkeling though dead leaves and dozens of other noises he slowly learned to identify.  He found he’d never seen real darkness, not in the city, but how, if you stood peeing off the cabin porch on a moonless night, or took a walk though the woods where the treetops stitched out the stars, you could almost forget you were there, you felt invisible.  Country dark, his mother called it.”

 Let me know what you think about the book with your comments.

 (A personal note:  Though I liked the intertwining stories of the two boys and the southern fabric of this woven tale – the crooked letters find redemption among the kudzu – I am again saddened by the way fathers are depicted:  alcoholic, abusive, absent. There are so many good men in the world and yet the same old broken antagonists are used to generate sympathy for the characters. Enough already.)

Ray Bradbury (August 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012): Igniting Our Imaginations

Ray Bradbury (August 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012) 

 As a high school student in the 1960s I was required to read several of Ray Bradbury’s works. Included were his novels Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes and a short story The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit

 Bradbury’s writings were my introduction to the world of science fiction and fantasy.  Written at the right psychic temperature, his writings set the kindling of my imagination aflame, burning holes in my scripted life prior to graduation. 

 It was during this time in high school that my off and on desire to write became an imperative. And with it came the urgency to feed those necessary flames with countless books. Logocentric, I was enthralled with the written and spoken word and their power to create, inform and inspire. Since those days I continue to fan those flames as I am ever fireside.

  In honor of Ray Bradbury, below are plentiful excerpts from a June 8th, 2012 article by Bruce Walker of the American Thinker website titled “The Conservative Legacy of Ray Bradbury.”

 Ray Bradbury is dead.  His literary career spanned an incredible 73 years, and his influence was felt across the broad spectrum of American thought.  Bradbury was very conscious of the fact that he grew up in almost a pre-technological society; “[w]hen I was born in 1920,” he told The New York Times Magazine in 2000, “the auto was only 20 years old. Radio didn’t exist. TV didn’t exist. I was born at just the right time to write about all of these things.

Although he eschewed squabbling over the political issues of the day, Bradbury embraced the idea that there are grand and common themes to the human condition — and nowhere more piercingly than in his Fahrenheit 451.

 Fahrenheit 451 focuses on a single, salient aspect of human life: the written word.  Bradbury’s dystopia is fantastically simple.  Firemen exist to burn books: the final immolation of all the collected writings of men will liberate us from our past and from the long heritage of civilization.  Mass communication and particularly mass amusement have replaced the solitary acts of reading and of writing.  What Bradbury saw, of course, is the world we live in today, and what he was defending was, in the purest sense of the word, conservatism. (emphasis mine)

It is a fact of modern history that conservatism is inextricably connected with the written word.  The Torah and the Christian Bible, preserved so deliberately by believers over many centuries, are touchstones to conservatism.  Documents like our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution prescribe the purposes and limits of government and void the ambitions of power-hungry leftists.

The solemn beauty of Chambers’ Witness or Koestler’s Darkness at Noon or Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago lay open the ghastliness of souls sold to Marx’s nightmare.  The flawless spiritual rhetoric of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, the brilliant theories in Hayek’s Road to Serfdom and Thomas Sowell’s Vision of the Anointed, and the passionate indictment of collectivism in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged use simple words to make truth clear. 


The left lives on emotions and images.  There is no leftist counterpart to Thomas Sowell or C.S. Lewis or Ayn Rand or Alexander Solzhenitsyn.  Bradbury grasped the unique vitality of the written word.  Bradbury once said, “Libraries raised me.  I don’t believe in colleges and universities.
(emphasis mine)

Ray Bradbury:

Libraries raised me. I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years. (emphasis mine)

Bradbury on Bradbury:

 In writing the short novel Fahrenheit 451 I thought I was describing a world that might evolve in four or five decades. But only a few weeks ago, in Beverly Hills one night, a husband and wife passed me, walking their dog. I stood staring after them, absolutely stunned. The woman held in one hand a small cigarette-package-sized radio, its antenna quivering. From this sprang tiny copper wires which ended in a dainty cone plugged into her right ear. There she was, oblivious to man and dog, listening to far winds and whispers and soap opera cries, sleep walking, helped up and down curbs by a husband who might just as well not have been there. This was not fiction.

From Wikipedia:

Bradbury was a strong supporter of public library systems, and helped to raise money to prevent the closure of several in California due to budgetary cuts. He iterated from his past that “libraries raised me”, and shunned colleges and universities, comparing his own lack of funds during the Depression with poor contemporary students. He exhibited skepticism with regard to modern technology by resisting the conversion of his work into e-books and stating that “We have too many cellphones. We’ve got too many internets. We have got to get rid of those machines. We have too many machines now.” (emphasis mine)

 Ray, I agree. And thanks for igniting our imaginations.

****

Bradbury quotes sourced from Wikipedia.

Ray Bradbury website

Hinterland of Youth

Hinterland of Youth

 On that rapidly growing dark afternoon of November 23rd, 1972, two friends called on me. They came to take me to Mauston, Wisconsin, a nether-land up north.  The trip would be a get-away weekend of exposed anima with just the guys. We were headed to a hunter’s cabin on loan to us from a local town alderman. The three of us, Jack Kerouac, Bill Caulfield and me, Tom Merton said goodbye to my parents.  We then hit the road and headed north on I-90, leaning forward into the “next crazy venture beneath the skies.” So Jack began the scroll of our trip.

Just across the Illinois-Wisconsin border and somewhere on an isolated back road Bill had Jack stop the car. Bill got out and went around to the trunk.  I watched him not knowing what he was doing. He pulled out a small insulated lunch bag.  Apparently Bill hid the bag in the spare tire cove of the trunk.  He returned to the front seat, opened the bag and handed me my first cold beer – a Pabst Blue Ribbon. I figured then that Bill had made off with a six pack from his father’s beer refrigerator in his family’s basement.

I tasted my first beer in the backseat of Jack’s ’69 Ford Galaxie.  I slurped it slowly thinking it smelled strangely familiar, something in the order of wet wheat-germ or chilled sweat. I dug its mystic cold smarminess.

As we drove north drinking beer we listened to Bill’s eight track tapes.  The eclectic collection included Woodstock, Jethro Tull’s Hard as a Brick, The Beatles’ Rubber Soul, the Beach Boys, Jimmy Hendrix and many others.  I had to beg Bill and Jack to get them to listen to my Chicago CTA album and to my Simon and Garfunkel Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme album. When I did get to play them, I do so with the Marantz turntable sitting next to me on the back seat. The road yielded to the beat.

After three hours and thirty-one minutes of driving and several “Nature’s calling” stops we arrived at the cabin, about ten miles outside of Mauston. It was around 10:30 pm. The cabin was dank and cold. We found the thermostat and switched on the furnace.  There was a small hutch filled with firewood and so we started a fire going in the brick fireplace. Not long after that we hit the bunk beds strained from the day’s massive carb-loading and the red-eyed myopia of night driving.

The weekend at the cabin gave me new insights into what the body can and cannot handle. Drinking alcohol for the first time in my life and without reservation had me revisiting the first seventeen years of my life from the inside out. My stomach doesn’t suffer fools well. In the morning my brain pummeled me with its version of smashing clay pots filled with forget-me-nots on my head.

It was during this next morning that I came up with a throbbing new insight:  I told Bill and Jack that we should buy milk shakes to coat our stomachs before drinking again that night.  They mumbled an agreement and we drove to Dairy Queen that afternoon. We drank large vanilla milk shakes in hopes of staving off the stomach sucking creatures of the night. The ultimate effect, though, was thorough expurgation. I was to find out later that a more prudent trade-off was to not drink so much that one would up running around in twenty degree weather in their underwear howling at the moon.

One of the more sober highlights of our weekend was using a .38 special to shoot at beer cans and bottles lined up on a fence behind the cabin.  The gun belonged to Bill’s father. His father was a Brink’s truck guard. As I learned Bill had secretly taken the gun and some ammo from his father’s bedroom. We used the gun to shoot at bull’s eye targets nailed to unsuspecting trees. The exhilarating effect of shooting a handgun though quickly wore off. I wanted more and more fire power. I eagerly wanted to shoot a shotgun or a bazooka or a cannon or an ICBM – anything that provided a flesh-shaking ear-deafening “KER-POW!!!!”

This was the first time I had ever shot a gun. In my hand the cold hard steel loaded with more cold hard steel sent a hot rush of testosterone through my extremities. I had to pull the trigger to release the pressure or I felt that I would have exploded.

The cabin, being a hunter’s paradise, was filled with Playboys – Playboys which included Marilyn Monroe and Jane Mansfield. This was not the first time I had been exposed to these magazines. Men seemed to keep them in places where boys would find them. All I needed besides the Playboys was a smoking jacket and a pipe. Instead of those Hugh Hefner type accoutrements Jack supplied me with Tiparillos. A blanket would be my smoking jacket.

At night Bill and I looked at the collection of Playboys by the light of the glowing fireplace. Reading the ‘articles’ warmed our sensibilities and the centerfold’s siren call would make drooling cave men of us all. Well not all of us.  I found out a year later that Jack was gay. I realized then why he would want two guys alone with him up at the cabin. I do remember being especially thankful at the time for Marilyn’s company and being curious about Jack’s ambivalence toward the women who were stapled down for our viewing pleasure.

The weekend in Wisconsin with the guys worked out all of my unexercised stupidity. And it all happened under the gauzy star-filled night pointed at by thousands of towering conifers just outside of Mauston, Wisconsin.  Fire-in-the-belly embers would burn through the fabric of my being leaving my satin youth singed.  The weekend was a rite of passage of sorts which thankfully didn’t regress into a Lord of the Flies sequel.

If I had a time machine I would not go back to Mauston and the cabin. I might, though, go back to that Thanksgiving dinner, say “Thank you” to my parents, push away from the table and go take a long nap, not waking up until November 24th, 2011. I wouldn’t miss the self-obsessed oblivion of those in-between detached days.