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.

The Boy in the Tent

Last night I found myself in a van, my ex driving us to a familiar campground in the next state.  We wanted to get there as fast as we could.  We urgently wanted to get to our seven year-old son.

 We drove through the darkness panting and leaning forward in our seats. Just before sunrise we entered the campground.  We drove over to the campsite where we had camped many times before. There in the middle of a grassy opening surrounded by oak trees was a lone pup tent.

 I jumped out of the van and ran over to the tent. Down on my knees I lifted the tent flap and looked into the dimly lit tent.  My son was sitting in the middle of the otherwise empty tent.  He was facing the other way.

 There was nothing in front of him. He sat dead still.

 I crawled over to him.  As I did so he turned his head to look at me. He then got up, jumped into my arms and hugged me tightly.

 After a while we released our hug and I put him down.  He returned to sit in the same place in the tent. He sat down facing away from me.

 I went out of the tent.  My ex had been yelling from the car that we had to leave.

 I called back to my son and told him that we were going, that he must come along. There was no reply.

 ****

 I opened my eyes and winced them shut again.  The pit of my stomach felt as if it had been carved out of me while I slept.  When the silent sobbing began I tried to cover the wound.

© Sally Paradise, 2011, All Rights Reserved

Nobel Prize in Literature 2010: Mario Vargas Llosa

“We would be worse than we are without the good books we read, more conformist, not as restless, more submissive, and the critical spirit, the engine of progress, would not even exist.  Like writing, reading is a protest against the insufficiencies of life.  When we look in fiction for what is missing in life, we are saying, with no need to say it or even to know it, that life as it is does not satisfy our thirst for the absolute – the foundation of the human condition – and should be better.  We invent fictions in order to live somehow the many lives we would like to lead when we barely have one at our disposal.” [emphasis mine]

Quote from:

Mario Vargas Llosa’s Nobel Lecture, given December 7th, 2010.