PHATTY BURGERS –Part 4– Little Christmas Eve

It did occur to me, as I sat in my car outside of Raydoe’s trailer at the campground on Thanksgiving Eve, that I should pause to thank God. I had been working so hard I hadn’t had time to think of Him much; maybe a brief, “Help me, God”, heading into work, and another before I fell asleep, but little beyond that. I certainly hadn’t taken the prescribed one-day-off-in-seven to devote to worship. That alone earned me some hellfire, or so some would suggest.

 I would counter such holy critics, if they were present, (and they were present, as echoes in my mind,) by arguing that a poet worships seven days a week by admiring God’s reflections in creation. Maybe I forgot to worship the Father with all my heart and all my soul, but, when I admired the way the Sun lit clouds, I was indirectly worshiping the Source. Even though I had endured a grind of 21 days of ten-hour-shifts, working so late I missed the sunsets and so tired I slept through the sunrises, I did admire the late morning sky and the silver sagebrush as I drove into work, and the brilliantly starry desert sky as I staggered to the trailer to sleep after midnight.

I also admired the people. People are like clouds; in that they reflect God’s light. If you have a poetic streak you see it is true that “There is a little bit of God in everyone.” Beauty is even in the ugly.

My mind drifted. I reached into the back seat for the battered notebook that served as my diary. For 21 days I’d written little; mostly strange stray thoughts and incidental observations, with some tiny numbers indicating precise penny-pinching;  but now I felt the urge to perhaps write a poem, or at least wonder aloud about an odd feeling I had that I could hardly remember: I felt happy!

I flipped open the notebook, looked down into the passenger seat footwell, rooted about through the rustling drift of empty hamburger boxes to locate a ballpoint pen, and then nibbled the pen thoughtfully, gazing out the window at the way the low afternoon sun enflamed the red sandstone. Life was beautiful.

My mind drifted. I’d studied Shakespeare and had been amazed by the wonderful way he could make even a dope be a beautiful dope. Even a complete scoundrel like Falstaff was made laughable and lovable, and even epitomes of evil, like Iago or Macbeth, were made worthy of pity.

In a strange way such poetry obeyed the second half of the “Greatest Commandment”, and I attempted to emulate Shakespeare. Maybe I failed to worship God with all my heart and soul, but I got straight “A’s” on loving my neighbor as myself. I even loved my enemies, which made no sense to businessmen like Ike Weed and Quincy Phabbutt, who seemed to make both customers and employees into enemies. In a sense this made them my enemies, but I found them fascinating, which means I was forgiving and loving of even those who abused me.

To me it seemed businessmen put profits before people, and poets put people before profits, and prophets put God before people. In my not-so-humble opinion there could be but one conclusion: Poets were superior to both businessmen and prophets, as poets alone cared for people.

I may be able to articulate such wit now, but back then I am not certain I even knew what the “Greatest Commandment” was or where it was written. In some ways I was blind and groping my way through ink.

For example, I loved the Phatty Burger employees, but this put me on thin ice when my employees were beautiful women like Splendor and Toonya. As I explained earlier, I understood the distinction between lust and love, and between infatuation and active appreciation, but understanding doesn’t mean as much as it should when you are still young enough to have hormones rampaging in your veins. Maybe hormones were not running riot as much as they did when I was sixteen, but at sixteen I had no clue what I was doing; I had innocence on my side; at age thirty-one I did have a clue, and that isn’t always an advantage.

It may be spiritual for a poet to see the beauty in women but is not so spiritual to utilize a poet’s imagination to immediately create a sexual fantasy. I can now forgive myself, for I was very lonely and deeply craved a soulmate and wife, but back then the way my mind wandered just seemed wrong. It was as if I wanted as many wives as Solomon.

In any case I banned Toonya and Splendor’s memory from entering my car as I sat in the campground outside Raydoe’s trailer, and instead invited the memory of recent hardship in, even as I ruffled a (to me) huge wad of cash in my hands. On Thanksgiving Eve the contrast between poverty and wealth indeed seemed a reason to be thankful.

On my way home from work I’d bought a carton of 200 cigarettes for my ex, hoping they might bribe her to become my exex, but even this huge expense, (an entire nine dollars in 1984), barely dented my wad of cash, nearly five hundred dollars. I didn’t fail to note the irony of the situation. That morning, before cashing my paycheck, I couldn’t afford a single cigarette, and had been reduced to rerolling the rank tobacco from butts in my car’s ashtray. What a difference a day makes. What a difference a paycheck makes.

Yet, as I sat in my car, I knew that love of money is a sin. I didn’t know it because I had studied scripture, (which states not money, but love of money, is a sin). Instead, I knew it because I’d grown up in a rich town and had seen money poison people, firsthand.

In any case, as I sat in my car and ruffled money I found myself having a chat with God for the first time in many days. I was very thankful I was not poor anymore, but in a way suspicious. I was saying, “What are you up to, God?” I distrusted the way money made me happy because I knew money cannot buy happiness. But there could be no denying it, I was happy to have my wad, and, it being Thanksgiving Eve, I thanked God for my happiness, if not my money. It seemed to have been a long, lonely time since I’d felt any genuine happiness.

My wad had been especially huge because when Ike Weed cashed my paycheck he used the Phatty Burger deposit, and people at a fast food joint seldom pay with big bills. My wad was big but cumbersome. I reduced its size by turning fifty ones and ten fives to a single hundred, because, when I bought the carton of cigarettes for my ex, I noticed a scrawled sign by the register stated “Need Ones and fives”. They got sixty bills and I got a single hundred, which I slipped into a side pocket of my wallet as a sort of hedge-fund against the future.

Even as I did this, doing so seemed a little unthankful towards God. It seemed to express a distrust, and that I fully expected to be flat broke in the future. As a general rule, it seemed to me God spent more time keeping poets flat broke than making them rich. Poverty seemed an important part of poetry, a price poets paid. The price had to be paid because, “Ya gotta pay the dues if you wanna to sing the blues.” In fact there seemed something downright weird and unnatural about being as rich as I now felt I was.

Besides slipping a hundred into one pocket of my wallet to hedge against the future, I slipped a fifty into another pocket to repay Ike Weed for the advance he had given me, yet despite the subtraction of these two large bills my wad was still over three hundred. Considering I couldn’t even afford cigarettes that morning, I felt fabulously wealthy.

Yet my thanksgiving was not for my current wealth, but rather for what God had seen me through before I was wealthy. Looking back, it occurred to me that, even when I couldn’t afford cigarettes, I never needed to quit my addiction, for God supplied me with rank tobacco to reroll. I also never went hungry, which was a good thing, for I had a metabolism in overdrive. I never in my life needed to diet, and tended to be so lean that fasting was dangerous. But it seemed God never asked me to fast. Perhaps I ate from dumpsters on a couple of occasions, but I never once went hungry. And, as I sat in my car, that was what I was thankful for. I felt like a sailor on a ship that has come through a 21-day storm. I wasn’t as thankful for the sturdy ship or for the safe anchorage as I was to simply be a survivor, and to be alive.

Looking back, I think anything beyond survival made me nervous. I felt God would provide what I needed and not what I wanted. I’d get water and not lemonade. Therefore any excess made me feel it must exist for some future shortcoming. It must be like the bounty of harvest, just before an especially severe winter.

In some ways this didn’t seem quite right. It didn’t seem like thanksgiving. To see bounty as a promise of future hardship Is like seeing a sunrise as a promise of night. But as I sat in my car in a campground, it was hard to be an optimist. God had recently seemed like a drill sergeant, and my life like a boot camp.

Boot camps whip you into shape, and that was what I tried to be thankful for. Discipline had seemed to pay off, as I now could ruffle a wad of cash, but I wasn’t altogether sure bootcamp was over. As I had my talk with God I questioned “what he was up to”. Hopefully this amused God. It must be fun for God to hear mere mortals attempt to figure Infinity out.

One thing I thought I was figuring out was that God was teaching me the difference between love and lust. In terms of women, God seemed to shatter my resolutions to ignore all females by placing glaringly beautiful ladies right in front of me, dead center in my life, but as soon as I reached out to grab that female He would snatch her away. Splendor was a perfect example of this: A militant feminist, she seemed a female I would abhor, but instead I started to fall in love with her, so God (and Quincy) had her immediately quit Phatty Burgers, and therefore she couldn’t progress to becoming an object of my lustful sexual fantasies. As a result, I experienced the love but not the lust.

“I see what you’re doing” I said to God. “You are keeping me from having 400 wives and 600 concubines like Solomon. But couldn’t you at least allow me have one?”

The same thing seemed to happen, in a far less romantic way, in terms of jobs. As soon as I started to commit my life to some occupation other than poetry, something would occur that would make me quit or else get me fired. Therefore it was very surprising, in some cynical way, that I actually passed the Phatty Burgers “appraisal”. I was steeling myself for yet another firing. My expectation had been that God would allow me to commit just long enough to get a fat paycheck, and then have me fired, and send me on my way to the next stage of his tough-love boot camp.

The simple fact I passed the “appraisal” awoke hope in me. It seemed boot camp might at long last finally be finished, and I could just progress onwards to being an ordinary soldier.

In romantic terms, I hoped this meant I could quit the business of being so damn chaste all the time, and could progress to the romantic ideal of being a good man who loved a good woman. This involved the next day, when I’d go see my ex. Hope had me thinking I might persuade her to be my exex. Rather than breaking up we might be making up.

As I sat in my car, thankfulness gave way to thoughts about why I saw monogamous marriage as a good thing, which involved thinking about things it was difficult to be thankful for. My diary shows I often drifted into morbidity.

Now I can be thankful I was gifted with the parents I had, but they were unfaithful to each other, sixty years ago, and, thirty-six years ago, I was still bitter about the fiasco they made of their marriage. I couldn’t understand why such lovely people couldn’t be loving. But, gifted with IQs over 130, they chose the Sophist path, which made them seem like they had IQs of 60.

As a child, I felt they were the world’s best parents, and it was agony to watch them make fools of themselves. They cheated. They justified betraying Love and marriage vows with eloquent sophistication. Ruin resulted. It was agony to witness and hell to endure, yet was understandable, given their circumstances. It took time to understand their circumstances. Now I forgive them. But thirty-six years ago I was still going through the painful process of understanding, which is so much a part of shaking-off bitterness and being healed by the antidote of forgiveness.

The one thing I had firmly decided back then was that my parent’s horrible divorce was not a proof that marriage was a bad thing, but rather that sophistication was a bad thing. It was better to be unsophisticated, and to be a bumpkin loyal to your spouse.

I explained this to my ex, before we became lovers: Commitment had to be 100%.  Marriage was not like wading into water at a beach, where you can get up to your knees and decide the water was too cold and turn back. It was taking a plunge. There was no such thing as a “trial marriage.” It was either 100% or it was not truly marriage.

My ex had smiled and vigorously nodded she agreed, but 60 days later told me “I don’t feel 100% committed any more.” She went on to inform me that she felt the sole reason for our relationship was that some sort of higher power felt her job was to “get you out of California”. Because she had completed her task, she felt her job was done, and the relationship was over. She was therefore and henceforth unequivocally my ex. My reaction to this logic was not well thought out. I slapped her. I was immediately ashamed, but her immediate reaction was odd.  She smiled. I assume she smiled because my slap provided her with a convenient reaffirmation of her status as an “ex”.

In my eyes “100% commitment” involved accepting the world of another and dedicating your life to entering and serving-in that other person’s world. Marriage, in my eyes, involved becoming twice as big. Loving enlarged you by adding another world to your own, and people who snubbed marriage preferred to be shrunken. In my eyes my ex was preferring to be small, and I wanted her bigger than that. I could be 100% committed even if she wasn’t. I could rescue her, by getting her to recommit, to forgiving my slap, and to becoming my exex.

All this stuff was passing through my brain, in a far less digested form, as I sat in my car attempting to be thankful just before Thanksgiving. And hope was telling me I might be successful. After all, I had succeeded at Phatty Burgers, and had a wad of cash in my hands. I had staggered to my feet in one way, so why not stagger to my feet in another?

Hope is a dangerous thing, for hope can be dashed. Yet hope is a thing poets are all about. Poets want to take two sad words, “if only”, and make such hope become more real. And, when you think about it, why not? Why put on a depressed face and say, “if only bosses could be nicer to employees” or “If only employees could be nicer to bosses” or “If only exes could be nicer to their ex” or “if only an ex could be nicer to their exes.” Why not skip the bother of such weeping and wailing, and shoulder the burden of making hope be real? Why grouse that hoping seems preposterous? It is better to be attempting to make beauty apparent, than to side with dashed hope. If you concede defeat before you begin, because you are so sure hope will be dashed, then you won’t begin. And if you don’t begin, hope is just a dream that can’t come true.

Not that I had much hope, as I hoped. After all, I did slap my ex across the kisser, and once a man has resorted to such illogic, he can have little hope of forgiveness, even if the female seemingly deserved it. However, as I chatted with God, it just seemed I should act as if I had hope, even if the cause seemed lost.

There was a slight chance (only 6%, according to the pregnancy test) my ex’s crabby moods might be due to our pre-break-up behavior, so I figured I should be responsible and a good provider, as if we were still together and my money was still her money and my work still aimed at her happiness. Not that she ever responded to my letters, but hope can be a cactus that requires no watering.

I’d checked out places we might reside, besides a tent or trailer in a campground, and the best place in Gallup was the El Rancho Hotel. That was where Hollywood movie stars had stayed when they filmed near Gallup. Rates at the El Rancho were reduced due to the depressed local economy, and I abruptly could afford such a place, though it cost four times as much as a campground. I thanked God I could be a good provider and tempt my ex with such a refuge. It seemed hope might be something other than insanity, as I sat in my car.

I tried to bolster my hope by envisioning happy endings, like one reads in romantic novels, as I sat in my car. I even hummed the old song, “I wish instead of breaking up that you and I were making up.” However a disconcerting reality intruded. When you are in love, your beloved’s face floats in front of you even when you are trying to do some mundane job such as work at a lathe. Yet now, when I sat in a campground and attempted to hope, I couldn’t even picture my ex’s face. Not a good sign.

My stomach started to grumble, and I left my prayers and Toyota to deal with more immediate concerns.  I needed to eat. No mother would feed me, and no wife would feed me, and no sister would feed me, and no daughter would feed me, nor would any other charity. It can be rough being a poet. You care for everyone, but nobody cares for you. Yet, before I tune up any violins of self-pity, I’ll mention such a predicament has its good side: No one tells you to sit up straight or to hold your fork correctly.

I did have a Thanksgiving meal, a “Phatty’s Phabulous Pheast”, but had no microwave to heat it in, and I didn’t want to cook hunched over at the minuscule electric stove burner in Raydoe’s tiny trailer. Such cramped conditions just didn’t seem conducive to the hope I was attempting to muster. I wanted to use my battered and blackened stewpot over a campfire. But campfires don’t turn on with a switch. I needed to gather some fuel.

There is something wonderfully down-to-earth about gathering fuel. My wad of cash meant nothing. (In fact I’d once read of bank robbers who successfully eluded the police by fleeing into wilderness, but were reduced to burning stolen dollars to start a fire, because all the kindling was wet.)

It is a pity so few in modern society know the pleasure of gathering the wood for the fire that cooks the meal. Many don’t even know the pleasure of preparing the meal. They pop a “Phatty’s Phabulous Pheast” into a microwave, and then wonder why dinner seems so empty.

In 1984 I escaped such progress and wandered about a campground devoid of tourists attempting to scrounge fuel. Because the tourists were gone, a prime source of fuel, the leftovers from their campfires, was also gone. I’d checked every campsite for weeks and had used up all the half-burned logs available. I’d also used up all easily gathered fallen wood. All that was left was  breaking dead branches from living sage brush and scrub cedar, and, unlike low, dead branches of hemlock and pine back in New England, such branches do not snap easily  from the trunk and need to be twisted and wrenched. My knicked knuckles bled before I had a decent armload to bring to my campsite, to start my fire with.

Something about starting the fire was another thing to be thankful for. Yes, it was much more work than turning on the electric stove in Raydoe’s trailer, but sage and cedar smell better than an electric burner. And gathering wood under desert sky midst red sandstone cliffs beats the hell out of clicking a switch. And lastly, you pay no utility bill for the heat you make; you owe nobody for the heat that cooks your food; you are a free man, self-reliant. In some ways a homeless bachelor in a campground is last man you should pity. Instead pity rich men who must pay for electric stoves, and for trophy wives who demand they hire cooks or else take them out to eat at fancy restaurants.

I dumped the contents of my free “Phatty’s Phabulous Pheast” into my stewpot, from its microwave-safe plastic containers, not forgetting to thank turkey farmers for the turkey, pea farmers for the peas, and potato farmers for the mashed potatoes. I opened the gravy containers and dumped gravy on the mashed potatoes, wondering who farmed the gravy, and who I should thank. I confess I forgot to thank the folk who made plastic containers, and the oil riggers who make all plastic possible. But I thanked many, though the meal was free, for I knew there is no such thing as a free lunch. For every scrap of sustenance we get, some farmer has sweated and slaved, somewhere. But I still had something else to add to my pot which I was especially thankful for.

When Raydoe vanished, he had scooped up nearly every crumb of food in the trailer as he left, but missed the best item of all. On a shelf, hidden by cleaning supplies, was a canning jar of homemade hot sauce.  I think some relative had given it to Raydoe, perhaps his grandmother. It was amazing stuff, very unlike commercial hot sauce, for it didn’t overpower with the burning sensation of chilies, yet doubled the flavors of chilies, and there were also intangible flavors due to some secret mix of vegetables and spices which grandmothers never reveal. Lastly, it had the touch of love in it. Some relative was very fond of Raydoe, and I always felt a little wicked to be stealing his sauce. That scrumptious sauce was more than a fair trade for the dried rice and beans and cans of sardines and jars of  peanut butter I had bought, that Raydoe scooped-up as he left.

It was amazing what a dash of that sauce could do to a “Phatty’s Phabulous Pheast”. I tried to eat slowly, but felt the urge to devour like a wolf. I used a tortilla to blot the stew pot as clean as a dog would have licked it, and then sat back and patted my happy stomach while watching the sky.

I have always been thankful for the sky. Often it is the best show in town, and it doesn’t cost a cent. Even a man in a jail cell, looking at a patch of sky between bars, can be liberated and free as a bird. Or that is how I felt during math classes, as a boy. The sky is a reason to thank God. It deserves more than a single syllable, and far more than three letters.

On this particular Thanksgiving eve, the sky put on an amazing show. Sunset didn’t just happen in the west, but also overhead and into the east.

Not that the sunset was particularly baroque; there were only a few curls of high clouds. It wasn’t foreground clouds, but background sky, that got to be center stage. The sky faded from blue to the yellow of a manila envelope, and then got yellower and yellower, until it began to be orange, and then as orange as a pumpkin, but not just in a stripe above the western horizon, but from horizon to horizon, all the way to the east. I felt like I was under the water of an orange sea.

My curiosity awoke, and I wondered what caused the sky to behave in such an unusual way. Some sort of dust must be up high in the atmosphere, to make the sky be so orange. I’d read of huge volcanoes like Krakatoa hurling ash so high that sunsets all around the world became amazing, but that phenomenon persisted day after day. This seemed more brief, a one-evening-event, so my mind mused about what sort of dust could be causing the phenomenon.

I smiled when my thought recalled reading about dust storms in the Sahara. I’d read that the Sahara’s dust often retards the development of hurricanes east of the Caribbean, and can even be found in ocean-bottom-core-samples near the Bahamas and even in the Gulf of Mexico. And if such dust can drift as far as the Gulf of Mexico, why not up the Rio Grande Valley and then, taking a sharp left turn, up the Rio Puerco to Gallup New Mexico? It was sheer hypothesis, but such wonders are possible.

Right at this point a nag voiced in my memory, with a wonder that stated, “Why can’t you just enjoy the view? Why do you have to spoil it with your stupid science?”

It was the voice of my ex, come to haunt me like a ghost.

My ex claimed she had renounced religion, but in some ways was orthodox to the core. She told me science was bullshit, there was no such thing as evolution, no such thing as dinosaurs, and even no such thing as geology. She stated this after I was admiring a canyon wall where a layer of red sandstone was topped by silver limestone, and I stated this indicated an arid landscape had been covered by a rising sea, millions of years in the past.

At the time I had to admit she had made a good point. Landscapes are beautiful in and of themselves. You don’t need to explain them or know how they came to be. You can love without explanations.

In this manner the love which God had woken in my heart opened a new world to me, a world unlike my own, my ex’s world, where one simply appreciated beauty without wanting to dig at it. However, I am what I am, and as soon as I appreciate something I want to dig at it. I want to know more.

Some people do not appreciate it when you want to know them better. They feel picked at, probed, pecked-at by snitching tweezers, and request you just leave them alone. It is like the quote Greta Garbo never spoke, “I vant to be alone.” Sometimes people just need some space.

Yet love is a two-way street. If I allow others to be as they are, they should allow me to be as I am. And God made me full of curiosity. I can’t help myself. I must spoil things with my stupid science, because the Creator is so amazing that I want to know how He did creation, and to love Him more the more I learn, with ever-increasing admiration. For that is what science is, as I see it: Ever-increasing admiration.

My ex and I had arrived at a sort of impasse which seemed impossible to resolve, but I had hope. God created every note in his orchestra, and knows how to resolve every discord into harmony. He often does so with humor that makes you laugh.

For example, one discord that led to my parent’s divorce involved my father’s tendency to work harder, where my mother sought relaxation and peace. If you had a problem my father’s solution was to get up early and run five miles, while my mother’s solution was to sleep late and recuperate. This becomes humorous if you are a little boy attempting to please both parents. One tells you get up and the other tells you to lay down, and the result is you become a yoyo. Then the two scratch their heads and wonder, “Why is our son such a yoyo?” (If they have divorced, they scratch their heads in different houses, but one incongruous thing I noticed about my divorced and supposedly irreconcilable different parents was how they said the same thing, even using the same phrases, (“it is all water under the bridge”), even when miles apart.)

It is easy for God to resolve such discord, for God sees both exercise and rest are part of His creation, and how to harmonize the two opposites in a way that is healthy and healing and creates huge happiness.

That was the healing I hoped for, tomorrow. What some might call a miracle could possibly occur, but, if it occurred, it would just be God pointing out a harmony we two lovers should have seen all along. Often such a “pointing-out” is as simple as seeing two cannot walk through the same door or sit on the same toilet at the same time, but it takes God to point out how idiotic we mortals are behaving. Marriage cannot work unless it involves three.

A sense of euphoria swept over me. The sky moved past orange and became ruby. From west to east the sky was bright ruby, and all the world beneath was ruby, a brief ruddy sight I’d never seen before and would never see again. I felt sorry for people indoors, who missed it.

I was thankful. My life was a wonderful life, full of wonderful gifts. I saw beautiful things others never saw. I apologized to God for ever complaining. I wanted to yell to the whole world that their lives were equally beautiful. I did not know why we all became so blind and were sullen so much, but the fact was everyone was, everyone is, and everyone ever more shall be, beautiful.

As I enjoyed this unexpected bliss I knew it was not a vision that would last. I’d awake the next morning grouchy, and wonder what the hell had gotten into me. I’d wonder how I could get so high without drugs, or even beer. I’d attempt to dismiss the bliss as a manic mania, but I also knew that, while the bliss might not be lasting, what I glimpsed was far more lasting than any of my worldly woes. This world is perishable, as fleeting as a sunset, but heaven is everlasting.

Even as the amazing sky started to fade and grow dusky, and even as I started to grow sleepy and think I should hit the hay early to prepare for a long day tomorrow, the bliss persisted. No woe had power. Things that ordinarily could cause me to cry seemed mere jolly mishaps.

One thing I recall chuckling about as I fell asleep was that I became aware I felt liberated. I felt allowed to wonder. I could wonder if the ruby sky might be due to God whisking dust from the Sahara to the skies of New Mexico, without being told I was an unholy blasphemer to bring science into a sunset. It was a relief, to sit in a sunset free of my ex, but I still was determined to keep our vows, and to make her an exex tomorrow.

Phatty Burgers –Part 3– The Appraisal

(NOTE: I changed the name of this rough draft to “Phatty Burgers” because I learned “Fatty Burgers” had already been used.)

After three weeks, I finally was going to get a day off. Phatty Burgers was closing down for Thanksgiving, which I gathered the Navajo called “Little Christmas.” I was surprised by how the city of Gallup emptied out and shut down, the day before.

In 1984 the day before Thanksgiving in Gallup wasn’t like Christmas Eve was in other places, where businesses might hope to snare some frantic, last-minute shoppers. The only thing anyone shopped for was food, and, while the lone Gallup supermarket stayed open into the afternoon, everyone else looked like they were hurrying to close after breakfast. Even when I drove from the campground into work before lunch I seemed to be the only car inbound on the dusty frontage road through the sagebrush, while there seemed to be an unnatural amount of cars leaving Gallup. Through windshields I saw smiling faces with dreamy eyes, as people left town for some gathering outside the city limits; even most bars in Gallup were closing.

This gave me something to ponder. As a Mutt-with-Puritan-heritage I’d always thought of Thanksgiving as a Puritan holiday.  Naively I thought it was only big in New England, or among transplants from the northeast. In fact, I’d assumed Indians would resent Thanksgiving, (thinking they’d gotten the raw end of the deal), but apparently around Gallup they’d embraced the day and made it their own, in a way I didn’t understand.

I’d become increasingly aware (with the help of Splendor) there was lots I didn’t understand and was ignorant of, but I didn’t have as much time to ponder as I would have liked, for two reasons. The first was that Fatty Burger’s manner of training ran me ragged. The second was that on the day before Thanksgiving Quincy Phlabutt grew cross, as the “efficiency number” produced by the cash register dropped from four to three after breakfast, even when Quincy put nearly all the employees on unpaid breaks. The public apparently wasn’t interested in fast food, just before a feast. When the “efficiency number” dropped below three Quincy began sending everyone home. The workers were happy, as they wanted to begin their festivities, but it didn’t please me much; it meant I had to do a lot of the clean-up alone, after we closed when no lunch rush developed at noon. (Quincy had become extremely crabby when the “efficiency number” hit zero).  But I attempted to look cheerful, for I knew the district manager Ike Weed was dropping by, and I’d undergo my “appraisal” after work. (“Appraisal” was the word Fatty Burgers used to describe whether they’d give me the boot or not.) I was fairly certain Quincy would bring up much I “needed to improve upon”, and I didn’t want to give him any extra ammunition, by being a sourpuss.

I wasn’t as worried about the appraisal as much as I was worried about whether I’d be able to get my paycheck cashed.  Phatty Burgers policy made employees wait for nearly a week before a check was issued for a prior fortnight’s “pay period”.  Consequently, it was possible to work a fortnight and then wait nearly a week, nearly three weeks in all, before seeing a penny. Fortunately, when I began working I’d worked three days of an earlier pay-period, and, (though I got no overtime despite working ten hour days), I still got a check for $135.00, minus $15.00 the government raked off for taxes. I had to wait a week for that $120.00, but a $50.00 advance from Ike Weed enabled me to eek by. Then I eeked by a further two weeks on $120.00, waiting for my big, fat paycheck to come rolling in. It was going to be nearly $600.00, (after taxes) with all the overtime I’d worked.

Getting by on what amounted to roughly $57.00 a week hadn’t been easy, especially as Raydoe remained absent and I had to pay the $25.00/week rent on his trailer at the campground. I practically lived on Triple Big Burgers, (as managers ate for free at Phatty Burgers) (but not other employees; other employees only got a 10% discount.)

If it were not for the free food, I could never have afforded the $40.00 I spent, returning to the gas station at the edge of town where I’d briefly worked, and having them weld my muffler back onto the tailpipe, one morning before work. That was as close as I came to splurging for 21 days. Cigarettes had been few and far between, but, even with rationing, my addiction had reduced me to removing the butts from my car’s stuffed ashtray and rerolling the rank tobacco. 

The three weeks had been rough, but poverty had its benefits. Not only did I smoke less, but I had to stay sober. Also I could barely afford the gasoline to drive to the campground and back each day, and therefore couldn’t drive to the ranch to see my ex, who I still wanted to make my exex. I was such a fool that I still thought of my pay as “our” money. My last decent paycheck, when I worked helping a lumberyard conduct its inventory, had enabled me to spend eighty dollars on new boots to replace my disintegrating sneakers, and I then drove to the ranch and gave my ex another eighty, so she could buy boots, because her sneakers had completely disintegrated and she was walking about barefoot. But for the past three weeks I couldn’t be a noble fool like that. My life was stuck on hold, on a treadmill of ten-hour shifts, day after day. The prospect of having hundreds in cash to ruffle in my hands was wonderful, but a problem lay in the way. Who would cash my check?

Even cashing the earlier $120.00 check had been a problem. The bank wanted to charge me $10.00, which sent me fuming out the door with the check uncashed. Quincy had agreed to cash that check from a Phatty Burgers register, but he balked at this far larger check. He said I’d have to ask Ike Weed.

I was actually, in some ways, hoping I flunked the “appraisal.” I wasn’t hoping to a degree where I stopped trying or sabotaged anything; I still tried to be a good trainee. But getting the boot would in some way have been a relief, as long as I got my check cashed. I could have gone back to writing poetry and working on my novel. At times pretending I was a management trainee and not a poet felt like I was a sheep in wolf’s clothing. But I had no time to ponder. I hadn’t written a poem in three weeks.

And now I was rushing about dealing with Quincy’s anxiety about Ike’s imminent arrival. Everything had to be perfect, and Quincy kept glancing searchingly through the front window, as if seeking the sight of Ike’s car pulling into the parking lot. The reason Quincy sent everyone home was apparently because he wanted the Wednesday’s “efficiency number” to look good for Ike, but that left him with no employees to make the place look spiffy for Ike, and therefore he harangued me. I was overworked to begin with, and very tempted to tell Quincy not to be such a pathetic brown-nose, but also felt a sort of pity, so I hurried about attempting to make everything spiffy, though I wanted to be a true manager and sit back with my arms folded in a commanding manner like Quincy did.

I nearly snapped when Quincy sent me out to chase down wrappers blowing about the parking lot and put them in the trash, as that was a job for the lowest of the low, but I also have always loved the outdoors, and I also relished the escape from Quincy’s haranguing. The lot was already clean, as we had few customers, but I policed the grounds, looking for the smallest bottlecap or cigarette, and it was while stooping to pick up an especially long, only half-smoked cigarette (which I frugally thought might be worth keeping) that I saw Ike.

Ike had parked by the Supermarket and was attempting to sneak up to the Phatty Burgers back door. I assumed he was sneaking to observe how we ran the place when we didn’t know he was watching. But I knew. I knew because Ike Weed had a jaunty and marvelous manner of walking, and sneaking only exaggerated his walk and made it into a walk like no other’s.

When most sneak they crouch forward and bring their hands up in front, like kangaroos, but Ike couldn’t do that, for his ordinary manner of walking was duck-toed and leaning backwards. Therefore, as he snuck, he actually leaned backwards even further, feeling forward with his feet with each step, as his arms pistoned simultaneously downwards behind him. It looked remarkable, and could be no one but Ike, but I pretended I didn’t notice. I adopted a stern, concentrating expression, as if cleaning parking lots mattered more than two beautiful women walking by. In fact I put on a performance, first glowering left and then frowning with a furrowed brow to the right, and then nodded to myself as if feeling approval, before I hurried in to warn Quincy.

Quincy was in no mood to be warned. He wouldn’t listen. He had noticed I hadn’t policed the far end of the parking lot and began to berate me for my neglect. I tried to interrupt, but he wouldn’t allow it, and then I saw the door behind him crack open.

I immediately changed my tone, and stated, with such brash intrusiveness Quincy was taken aback, “Of course you are absolutely correct. I had assumed I need not check that trash receptacle because the new one you ordered hadn’t arrived yet, after the local teenagers blew the last one to smithereens with cherry bombs and M-80’s. But you are quite right:  I should have checked.”

Quincy closed his astonished mouth, swallowed, nodded, and then, rather than just telling me to go back out and check, began to deliver a prissy lecture about how the public is so stupid they will throw trash into a space where a receptacle isn’t. I felt he should be interrupted, so I said, with an expression of gladness, “Hey! Who is that? It must be Mister Ike Weed!”

Quincy wheeled with his jet-black hair flying, and staggered backwards, his bronze face turning gray, as the door swung open and Ike walked forward in his jaunty, duck-toed, manner, smiling broadly, to conduct my “appraisal.”

It seemed a very odd appraisal. Quincy kept aiming the subject towards things I “needed to improve upon”, but over and over things exploded in his face, and turned into things Quincy needed to improve upon. I accidentally made things worse for Quincy by, early in the appraisal, mentioning I urgently needed my paycheck cashed and that the banks were all closed. This revealed the size of my paycheck, and the fact I’d worked ten hour days seven days a week for three weeks, which made Ike raise his eyebrows at Quincy.

The entire interview was conducted in a hurry because Ike wanted to go to his Thanksgiving, which was apparently going to be held in Las Vegas. He had three more Phatty Burgers to inspect, before he turned south at Flagstaff to zoom south to his holiday, and therefore every shortcoming he uncovered was a delay, and made him more impatient with Quincy than he needed to be.

His questioning revealed I had worked three shifts, over and over, but had never worked the shift that was most important. I had worked the lunch, dinner and closing shift, but not the breakfast shift. The breakfast shift was important because that was what I was going to be transferred to, across town.

This was all news to me. I wasn’t even sure I’d be accepted, as a trainee, and was steeling my nerve for the possible blow of learning I was not an acceptable prospect. Quincy kept bringing up my shortcomings, things I needed to improve upon, but over and over Quincy got dressed down for his failures to train me properly. As this continued, I found myself no longer so much the subject of the interview, and more of a bystander. I had the strange sense I had stepped back, and was no longer in the crossfire, but rather was watching two combatants go at it.

Of course, they didn’t know they looked like combatants. They were just two men utterly engrossed in their business, which happened to be Phatty Burgers. They were like baseball fans totally absorbed in batter’s statistics and pitcher’s ERA’s, who so enjoy the game that they aren’t even aware they are arguing as they argue. I was gifted with the detachment of an outsider, vaguely like a housewife who cares not a hoot for baseball.

One thing I noticed was how quickly Ike cut Quincy down to size. At first Quincy was a bit puffed up, seeing himself as an authority about to deliver an opinion, but, as Ike brusquely hurried through his own agenda, he dismissed Quincy’s opinions and wanted only facts. At first Quincy seemed to get defensive, and wheedlingly tried to explain certain things, but when Ike wouldn’t listen and hurried on to the next item on his agenda, Quincy seemed to become offended, and sat up taller and prouder, and even seemed to become slightly frosty. He opened a notebook and coolly took notes, only occasionally asking for a clarification.

Other things bewildered me. They raced through a discussion about a second Phatty Burgers across town, which was apparently just constructed and unbelievably successful. Quincy seemed prepared to start my training for the breakfast shift at that place the Friday morning after Thanksgiving, which caused my guts to lurch, as getting up at 4:00 AM didn’t fit in with my plans to be visiting my ex on a ranch over an hour to the south. But Ike said Quincy had to be present to oversee my training, and Quincy swiftly decided Monday likely would be better. I assumed Quincy wanted to enjoy a long weekend and anticipated getting up at 4:00 AM with an eagerness like my own.

Their hurried discussion made me feel like a pawn between two men playing chess. For the most part I sat back as a detached poet, mentally taking notes on the behavior of two men who had no idea they would someday appear in my novel. Only once was my opinion required, and it sprang upon me abruptly. I responded without thinking, and was sorry I did, for it made Quincy look less than wise yet again.

Ike abruptly turned and asked me what I would do differently if I ran a Phatty Burgers. I spread my palms, looking about, and said, “Most everything looks very good to me, except…maybe…for that.” I pointed at six-foot-high placard advertising “Phatty’s Phabulous Thanksgiving Pheast”, and showing a glossy family sitting down smiling at plates of turkey, green peas, and mashed potatoes with a small, perfectly circular, brown pool of gravy in the middle. I added, “I don’t recall selling a single one of those.”

Ike turned to Quincy and said, “I told you it was a stupid promotion.”

Quincy became more rigid and frosty, and jotted something in his notes.

I laughed, “Oh well, we only ordered twelve of those platters”, and then asked Ike, “Can I grab one of those things? They’re just sitting in the cooler, but I wasn’t sure they were included in the free meals Managers are allowed.’

“You might as well,” Ike sighed, “Otherwise they’ll just rot.”

“Thank you”, I said, which seemed appropriate for Thanksgiving, but the hint of baleful frost in Quincy’s glance towards me seemed less than thankful.

With what seemed to me amazing efficiency and rapidity the interview was over. In terms of what mattered most to me, (the cashing of my paycheck), Ike asked if the day’s deposits could cover the check. Business had been so slow the deposit was only a few dollars larger than the check, a fact Ike noted with a wry shake of his head towards Quincy. Then he opened the deposit bag and counted out the money, handing it to me and taking my check, and telling Quincy to rewrite the deposit slip. I felt a little guilty because I knew Quincy took great care over deposit slips, and also because I knew he wanted to be done and to go home to Thanksgiving. A new slip was extra work. I also felt sorry for Quincy, because Ike never asked for Quincy’s “efficiency numbers.” That might have made Quincy appear more praiseworthy, but he seemed to receive less than little praise from Ike. He received zero. As Ike stood up to depart I notice Quincy’s shoulders sagged slightly.

The cash I suddenly fondled in my hands included many ones and fives and made a beautifully fat wad, making me feel very rich. It included a single large bill, a fifty, and I held it out towards Ike to repay him for the advance he had given me.  He looked a little confused, gave me a sort of scornful glance, snapped his briefcase shut, and left without taking the bill, or even asking why I held it towards him. I felt like I had transgressed in some way, but was baffled about what my transgression might be. Quincy was regarding me suspiciously, as he gathered up the deposit bag and went back to the office to write a new deposit slip. I felt like holding out the fifty might have looked like some sort of bribe, and I wanted to defensively explain to Quincy I was only repaying a loan, but Quincy curtly stated, “You can punch out now”, over his shoulder. Something about his tone suggested I should just leave rapidly, so I grabbed a Phatty’s Phabulous Pheast from the walk-in cooler, and left.

I had a lot to think about, driving through the sagebrush to the campground. What’s more, I actually had some time to think. It was only three in the afternoon on Wednesday, and I didn’t have to work until just before noon on Friday. I had a whole forty-four hours! But I resisted the urge to swing into the one place still open, and buy a six-pack-of beer. Instead, I swung in and bought a carton of cigarettes for my ex, because part of the forty-four hours would involve my heading to the ranch and seeing if my ex had any desire to become an exex. I might have forty-four hours free from Phatty Burgers, but I wasn’t truly free. The lot I had to think about included things beyond Phatty Burgers.

As I pulled into the campground I was struck by how myopic my appraisal had been. It was all Phatty Burgers this and Patty Burgers that; nothing but Phatty Burgers. It seemed an ultimate atheism, as if there was no life after Phatty Burgers.

To me it seemed a strange denial to pretend people were so small, and to call it “businesslike”.  To me it seemed obvious there definitely was life after Phatty Burgers, beginning with the campground I was driving into, and continuing into an uncertain future of attempting make my ex be an exex. To try to see me only in Phatty Burgers terms was like attempting to judge an elephant by its ear.  In like manner, to try to see Ike and Quincy only in Phatty Burger terms was missing what I, as a poet, could see in both characters.

As I switched my tiny Toyota’s engine off in front of Raydoe’s trailer in the campground I had the urge to just sit in my car.  Not that I wanted to think. In fact I missed Raydoe, and the way he never gave me time to think. I missed the way he’d say, “Hey Stupid Gringo, why are you just sitting there?” But Raydoe was gone, and I had time to think.

The campground was wonderfully quiet. The barrage of Blue Northers we’d endured was over, and a calm had descended. Rather than from the North Pole, I think the wind wafted north via the Rio Grande from the Gulf of Mexico. It was milder, calmer, and much moister, though there was not a cloud in the sky. There was also not a tourist in the campground. I had time to think.

The tourists had seemed annoying when I was attempting to work on my novel, not many weeks earlier, because they’d invite themselves to the picknick table where I chain smoked and typed, and pretend they were interested in what I was typing, when they actually wanted to brag how far they’d driven. But now I wouldn’t have minded their interruptions, for I wasn’t sure I wanted to think.

Sometimes thinking was harder than working. Working ten-hour-shifts was relieving, compared to battling the banshees of thought. Thought could make me crazy, but work was therapy, like the basket weaving they make madmen do in mental institutions. I took a deep breath, as I sat in my car. I had survived Phatty Burger’s appraisal of me, but I wasn’t so sure Phatty Burgers was going to survive my appraisal of it.

FATTY BURGERS Part 1 –The Bum Seeks Work–

I’ve written elsewhere how I wound up in a campground outside Gallup, New Mexico, feeling a bit of a fool for having trusted a woman I likely ought not have trusted, but unsure whether I should completely abandon the girl, as I had vowed I would stand by her through thick and thin, even “forever and a day”. My honor was in tatters, but the flag hadn’t quite fallen.

THE NOVEL THAT NEVER WAS | Sunrise’s Swansong (

I had reasons to resist my impulse to ditch the dame. For one thing, there was a slight chance I’d gotten her pregnant. A pregnancy test stated otherwise, but such tests were not infallible. On the test’s box it stated there was a 6% chance the test was wrong. Even if the woman despised me, and deemed any further devotions on my part the attentions of a geeky stalker, I felt I should stand by, if I was even a half-decent man. Not that I felt half-decent. To be honest I felt about as decent as used toilet paper.

Eventually it became clear she was not pregnant, was in fact sleeping with another fellow, and finally that she had left that other fellow, and the area, to go mooch off live with a new person far away. However these sorry revelations took time to penetrate my thick skull, and during the time it took for things to clarify, I made an effort to find work, and save money, and even to find a place we might live, in case what wasn’t going to happen did happen. I prepared for a reunion that never occurred. In a sense I was multiplying my foolishness, but I was a responsible fool.

I was a believer in fairy tales, clinging to hope, but the hope was like a life raft developing more and more leaks. Eventually I was holding the life raft up, rather than it holding me up. In other words, my hopes were becoming absurd. I couldn’t help but cringingly see what a fool I had been.

By this point I had hoisted myself up by my own bootstraps, first working in a lumber yard, then as spot labor, then collecting bottles, cans and even green stamps from a supermarket parking lot, then selling my plasma, then working at a gas station, and finally landing a job as an assistant manager at fast food joint I’ll dub “Fatty Burgers”. I had moved from a sodden tent, to a camper, and finally to a nice room in Gallup’s El Rancho Hotel (which bragged Ronald Regan once stayed there.) However this material success reeked of pointlessness and emptiness, when the woman who it was all for gave no indication of being impressed, or even caring the time of day for me. Eventually I could fool myself no longer. I had to face the fact I had been ditched. It was as if there was a poster in the post office with my face on it, proclaiming I was not wanted, dead or alive.

My diary makes pitiful reading, at this time. What a colossal bozo I was! One of the most cringe-worthy elements was my attempts to ignore the glaring facts, by seeing the bright side, the better side, the hopeful side. Someone could have run me over with their truck, and I would have complimented their white-walled tires.

Eventually even a fool sees truth sinking in. Then the demolishment of his hopes and dreams is not a pleasant experience, especially if he is a sensitive poet with high ideals. In fact it is a time when high ideals make misery far worse than is experienced by more hard-hearted individuals, who expect little from their fellow man (and woman). However the tale of this rise and fall holds many lessons.

Gallup in 1984 was not a place to see much that was encouraging, on a simplistic, materialistic level. It’s economy was reeling from successive blows to all the ways the local folk made money. Gallup’s coal mine had closed when transcontinental trains switched from coal to diesel, and later the uranium mines closed as back-to-nature California hippies protested that never-left-nature Navajo were facing radiation, although many Navajo drove pick-up trucks and to them it was as if the hippies were protesting Navajo making high wages at the mine. At the same time these same California hippies wanted to look cooler than they could afford to look, following the fashions of Hollywood actors and actresses who made cowboy movies in Gallup, and therefore hippies bought fake Navajo blankets from Mexico to hang on their walls, and fake turquois Navajo jewelry from Singapore to dangle from necks and wrists, and fake baskets and fake pottery from Los Angeles artisans to place on fireplace mantles, and this caused the Native American jewelry and Native American weaving and Native American pottery trades (Hopi and Zuni as well as Navajo) to suffer grievous slumps. The Hollywood stars Californians wanted to emulate then decided making Westerns was passé, and film-crews and stars didn’t stay at the El Rancho any more, nor were Navajo extras needed to portray attacking Indians on galloping horses, (making a fifty dollars bonus if they fell “shot” from the horse at a full gallop). Meanwhile all the motels and restaurants and tourist-traps along old Route 66 were losing money and closing down, as the new Interstate 40 bypassed them. The flurry of work caused by the construction of I-40 had come and gone, one more boom followed by one more bust, in a desert prone to producing ghost towns and Anasazi ruins. In fact my personal climb from a cold and sodden tent to a comfortable El Rancho Hotel room was the exception to the rule. Most were experiencing a fall from luxury to, if not gutters, then to a serious cutback in life’s joyous lavishness. The bar-tender at the El Rancho Hotel told me the beer formerly was delivered every day, and twice a day on Saturdays, but now only came once a week. In many ways the light had left the city, as many awoke in a cold dawn of shattered dreams.

When I had the time to think about it, (which wasn’t often, as I had to hustle so hard,) I was not of a mindset that wanted to join the depressed. Perhaps being a faithful fool and good provider hadn’t gotten me anywhere with the girl who abandoned me, but I was in no mood to get drunk for a long time, and awake in a gutter. I wanted to fight such despondency. However I found beer helpful in mustering a sort of Dutch Courage, and therefore it is true, I confess, I did occasionally awake in a gutter.

My diary contains some complaining I did to God about the fact my virtue seemed more inclined to make me look like a sucker, than to earn me any sort of reward. In fact my motto for that time was, “The Right thing is never the Rewarding thing.” This is quite contrary to the view of some, which is that if you “convert” (to whatever) you promptly see a miraculous increase in your bank account.

It may be true, in the long run, that “no good deed goes unrewarded”, but we live in the short run. And in the short run, and especially in Gallup in 1984, it seemed that “no good deed goes unpunished”.

For some reason God permitted me to give Him lectures, in 1984, about how it was wrong for a nice fellow like me, who meant so well, to wind up ditched. Looking back, I lacked the very patience God was displaying towards me. If God had been as intolerant as I was, rather than permitting me to give Him lectures, He would have thunderously stated, “How dare you lecture God?” and turned me to a crispy cinder. Instead he smiled, and continued the lesson he was teaching me.

What was He teaching? I honestly can’t say I know. Our Maker’s ways are way, way over my head. They involve far more than my puny self. They involved what was the best for every person in the complex situation, (and even for any stray dogs, cats and rattlesnakes in the vicinity). However I can speak humbly for myself, and tell of what a lone loner like myself learned.

What I learned was that I was haughty, and thought highly of myself, as if I was more moral, more enlightened, and my deeds were more likely to result in goodness. My vanity was involved. I was concerned it “made me look bad”, when I was ditched, rather than entirely thinking and caring about the person who ditched me. (Not that I didn’t think of her, but also I thought of myself.)

Neither I was a spiritual novice, at age thirty-one. I was well aware egotism has a nasty habit of resurrecting itself even in our best efforts to be selfless. I was constantly attempting to scold my own arrogance. I was more than willing to suffer for others, putting aside my “selfish desires” for a “greater good.” However on some level I felt this made me superior, and therefore unable to fall as flat on my face as I saw others falling. God seemed to think it would do me good to see I could fall far flatter.

For example, others might have shallow, fleeting relationships, “one night stands”, but I was above such cheap, reprehensible behavior. I saw myself as more faithful than the stupid super-hero James Bond, (who was rather adept when it came to one-night-stands, but a lousy father-figure, in terms of monogamous loyalty). I would never subscribe to the philosophy of “use her and lose her.” I would stand by my woman. But…when the woman ditches you, despite all your talk of loyalty, you yourself find yourself in a position of being part of, if not a one night stand, then an “abbreviated” relationship. You are just another cowboy in the El Rancho Barroom, singing the blues. Your blues may have an element of loyalty, in that they wish for reunion, but there is a certain pathos in such singing, when the future will reveal such wishes “jus’ ain’t goin’ t’ happen”.

Up until this point in my life I’d always been scornful of the pathos in country music, which seemed to moan and groan about the inevitable. I mean, when we buy a puppy we know we’ll likely outlive the cur; why get so maudlin when the old dog dies? But in the El Rancho barroom such tenderness didn’t seem so overblown, and I even wrote some country lyrics of my own, which I called, “Bartoon”:


Been a while since I missed
Like I’m missing tonight.
Though the beer’s really good
And the band is all right
And a gal with intent’s
To the left of my sight
     I don’t meet her eye.
     I don’t even try.
Been a while since I missed like I’m missing tonight.

I’m missing the chance
To dance and then score;
To smile and smile broader
And walk out the door
With warm at my elbow;
A warmth I adore;
     And she is right there
     But hell if I care.
Been a while since I missed like I’m missing tonight.

My table is empty
But there is a chair
And easy as drinking
You could be there.
The chair-leg would scrape.
You’d hide in your hair,
      Look up, and say “Hi”
      In a sort of a sigh.
Been a while since I missed like I’m missing tonight.

I really was delighted by this poem, as I completed it on a napkin in the El Rancho dining-room and barroom, listening to a hired group play “oldies” for a largely unappreciative audience in a largely empty ballroom. I had that wonderful feeling writers get, when the words “all come together”, and weeks of rotten writing resolve into the production of a single decent ditty. I even wondered if the lyrics might be my “break-through”, my “one-hit-wonder”, which (for some poets) ends artistic poverty with a brief bonanza. I gave the weary musicians on the stage an appraising glance, wondering if they might be the medium which would end the dreariness of my barely-scraping-by.

Such optimism was often what sustained me back then, though there was no truth to my dreams. I’m now more than twice as old, and know the lyrics never made me a dime. Instead I enjoy the old song because I appreciate the self-expression, and how it accurately portrayed my spiritual dilemma. I was in essence being faithful to the unfaithful, which is like offering a strawberry to a pig.

Pigs are more pragmatic than most poets, and are more focused on truth of a down-to-earth sort. This dichotomy resulted in a second good song from that time of downfall:

When Truth first met the Faithful One
Sweet Truth had sighs to say:
“I feel that now our love will last
Forever and a day.”
The Faithful One enchanted was.
Truth caused his soul to thrill,
And all that he could say to her
Was, “Yes. Oh yes, it will.”

But Truth could never tell a lie
And so there came a Day
When she broke Faith by telling him
“My Love feels gone away.”
The Faithful One was shattered
And groaned this in his woe,
“If love has gone please tell me where
For there I have to go.”  

These lyrics also struck me, at the time, as splendid poetry, beyond my ordinary ability, and perhaps another one-hit-wonder, (a two-hit-wonder?) but once again it never made me a dime. As an artist, doing the right thing was once again not the rewarding thing. Which begs a question: Why be right?

The answer is simple: Being wrong hurts. I knew this because I had been prone to attempting “alternative lifestyles” which scorned traditional “conservative” morality, but which tended to wind me up in pain. I was a scientist, and conducted experiments. I had first-hand experience of what the “alternative” to right was (and is), and what it was (and is) is: Wrong.

This forced me to compare “good” with “evil”, which is one heck of a subject to grapple with, if you can find the time. Why? Because “good” for most people is not based on anything even slightly spiritual. “Good” is just the gratification of your lustful desire. If you crave a cigarette, it is “good” to get one, and “evil” to be denied.

In spiritual terms “good” is different. “Good’ may be to not get what you desire. It may be “good” to quit cigarettes, though it makes you feel like manure baked in a pie.

In like manner, most spiritual behavior involves the loss of some desired gain. You want the pleasure of punching a fool in the nose, but instead restrain yourself and are tolerant. You want lust gratified, but instead remain pure. You want to grab and cling to gold, but instead reject greed for generosity. You desire might and power, but instead allow others to come first. In many ways all the things that go into low concepts of being a “winner” are set aside, because being a “loser” is seen as “better”.

This seemingly self-destructive behavior demands some sort of explanation, and the explanation is easy if you have ever tasted Love. Love makes mincemeat of a lot we usually call sensible, pragmatic and even sane. Yet Love is impossible to intellectually explain, (which is why country music and poetry and even drums were invented).

In some senses Love is like the scene in “The Wizard of Oz” where the black and white film switches to color and Dorothy says, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” The dreary is illuminated as if by a sunbeam, the dull enlivened by intelligence, the worthless made worthy, and one is immediately addicted. But it is an odd addiction, for there is no pill involved. There is nothing to gobble or grab, no body you lustfully clutch. In fact Love cannot be grasped, for the experience is achieved by letting go. You let go of your selfishness, and open out to another. Rather than the pinched existence of a Tweezer with his tweezers, the vista of a whole new world opens up, as if you crested a hill and discovered a new and better world spread out before you. You are like Balboa sighting the Pacific for the first time.

The joke of it is that we gain so much not by grabbing, but by letting go. This is utterly opposite the pragmatism of a pig. In fact, in most cases, during our fleeting and tenuous glimpses of the grandeur of Love, we incorrectly ascribe some “thing” as being the cause of our bliss, and clutch at that “thing” and make it a false-god, when in fact our fleeting glimpse of Love was a glimpse of the Real God. Furthermore, in most cases it came about not because we grabbed some worldly “thing”, but rather because we let go of sanity, (and it paid off).

For example, it is stupid for a Plugger, barely able to pay his bills, to gamble, but suppose a Plugger abandons sanity and destroys his budget, buying fifty lottery tickets on his way home from work, one day when he is especially fed up, perhaps even to the point of suicide. And suppose he is transformed by a winning ticket into a instant multimillionaire. For just a moment all his problems seem solved, and he is walking on cloud nine. However what exactly solved his problems? Was it the winning lottery ticket, or the momentary abandonment of sanity?

I assert, for the purposes of argument, that it is the abandonment of what we call sanity, more often than not, that opens the portals of Love, and gives us just a glimpse of a life far better. And what is this so-called “sanity” we abandon? It is the chains of our hankering, whether it be the hankering for heroin or for fine art. Our desires are our downfall, yet we call them sanity.

To conclude this venture into the realms of theory, (far from the pragmatism of a pig), the premise is arrived at which states that, if only we could become desireless, we might experience the full blast of Love, all the time.

This concept, somewhat Buddhist in nature, had a certain appeal to me. But I’d tried it, in my clumsy way. I’d been there and done that, and found withdrawing from the world worse than boring.

In my hippy manner I’d attempted to find some remote cave, (perhaps not in the Himalayas, but far from a Real Job), and had contemplated, if not my navel, my poetry, and had seen it become horribly ingrown.

Why horrible? That is an entirely different tale for some other time, but it basically boils down to, “Nothing ventured; nothing gained.”

My withdrawal seemed like that of a seventy-year-old man still living with his ninety-year-old mother, (Like Prince Charles with Queen Elisabeth).

When I use the word “ingrown” it is in it’s most negative context, like a toenail hurting the toe it is part of, like a person so preoccupied with himself he is the antithesis of selflessness even as he sits cross-legged doing yoga pretending he is like Buddha.

To be honest, my early attempts to be desireless were a complete failure, except for the fact they prompted me to loathe sitting in a cave (which was my mother’s basement.) Nothing, it occurred to me, could be less loving than to reject the entire world, (with the possible exception of suicide.) Rather than the portals of Love opening, sitting in a cave faced me with sterility, and a barrenness so empty, boring, and downright poisonous I was propelled away from such horror into the travails of life, even if it involved living among unsympathetic people who had no inkling why I might want to sit in a cave in the first place.

And why might that be? It is because the world has no inkling. Most people are pragmatic pigs, (and in many ways I include myself). Most people are enslaved by chains of desire, and desire their chains like a heroin addict desires his heroin. Desire enslaves them to their daily dose. They have no inkling of what exists outside their desire.

The problem with being a poet is that you have an inkling, very slight in some cases, that glory exists outside of the daily dose. In some way, (often amazing, if you ask them,) they have seen beyond desire. And once they have seen it, they are forever restless. Whatever they desired before is no longer worthy of worship. If they are a heroin addict, they may still go for their daily dose, but they are restless. If they are a bigshot politician, they may still go for reelection, but they are restless. They know the daily dose is not enough. The answer lies beyond desire.

Even pigs seek what is beyond desire, for they want to eat until the desire to eat stops gnawing at them, and they are sated, and can flop down bloated and desire no more. Then pigs enjoy a brief time of piggy peace, before the gnawing starts again.

In like manner, lust seeks what is beyond lust, for after orgasm is a time when desire is no more, before it starts to gnaw again.

And during that brief moment of piggy peace, what is seen? What is so pleasant? Is it not a brief glimpse of what life might be like without desire?

What poets see, and most don’t, is that the same peace is always around us, enfolding us, soothing us, whether we eat until we can’t, or not; or achieve orgasm, or not; or win reelection, or not; or write a one-hit-wonder, or not. For most the “…or not” leads to the agony of frustrated desire, but for poets the “…or not” is the so-called “suffering of a poet” which opens the portals of Love.

The poet sees the beauty of the sky even when sleeping in his car. He sees beauty in in the faces of fellow workers even while washing dishes. It is a beauty which requires no prerequisites. You don’t have to be a winner, for it is there when you’re a loser.

And perhaps this is the beginning of taming desire, and not being so subservient to low impulses. Rather than seeing “good” as merely the gratification of desire, one sees “good” in putting desire aside. Rather than giving in to lust one is pure. Rather than giving in to hate one is kind. Rather than lashing out one is tolerant. Rather than greedy one is generous. This new definition of “good” is not all that different from the old, for it too seeks to gratify desire, but now the desire is otherworldly, and, to the worldly, appears insane.

And this, roughly, was my state of mind when I walked into the little Fatty Burgers on old Route 66 in Gallup. On one hand I was just looking for a job, but on another hand I was a poet looking deeper.

As a poet, I felt God had blessed me with a gift, or “talent”, and when I died I did not want to stand before God and be accused of “burying my talents.” (Jesus told a tale where a particular servant was given coins called “talents”, but was so afraid of investing unwisely he buried the coins, and later handed them back to his master unused. The master was very angry the servant had not used the gift.) For this reason I justified pushing the limits of writing-without-a-patron-or-sponsor, but over and over I eventually reached a point where I was so destitute I simply had to get a job. I grumbled a lot to God about being unrecognized, and being placed in such predicaments, when God could just have well blessed me, like He blessed other equally weird poets, with one-hit-wonders.

However I also assumed God knew what He was doing, and was asking me to not to bury my talents, but rather to bring them into a workplace. Rather than poems on paper I’d write them aloud, as doggerel to entertain fellow workers, or perhaps as limericks about the boss for workers, or perhaps limericks about workers for the boss.

But I never liked the prospect beforehand. Initially asking for a job was as bad as asking a girl you greatly desire for a dance; refusal was devastating. The prospect was so painful I had to give myself all sorts of pep-talks before I’d even attempt asking. I’d huff and puff like a Olympic weight-lifter about to set a new record, and lower my shoulder like an armored knight about to bash through an iron gate. But, when I first arrived in Gallup, on three separate occasions, (at a lumber yard, a gas station, and at Fatty Burgers), something odd occurred.

Just before all three occasions I muttered something like, “OK God, you aren’t going to fund my writing, and so you must want me to work a Real Job. But I’m only good at poetry and have nothing else to offer. But to obey You I will ask over and over, at place after place, even if it takes me a week, along the entire length of Route Sixty-six, from east side of Gallup to the west.” Then I’d gaze down the highway at all the small businesses, my expression very weary, as if I’d already asked at all places, though I hadn’t asked at one. I’d sigh and slump at the prospect of so much begging, but then, stiffening my spine, and mentally screaming a “Hee-yuh” like a karate master cutting a brick in two with a chop of his hand, I’d walk through the first door, and immediately be hired.

The ease of the hiring was so unexpected that it was like lowering your shoulder to barge through a door, and having the door be opened just as you got there. If it happened just one time it would have been weird enough, but to have it happen three successive times seemed downright bizarre.

At the lumber yard and gas station I didn’t even have to fill out an applications; I was told I could “do that later”, and instead was immediately put to work. Also I found the interviews enjoyable, in and of themselves, which was something new for me. The experience of asking for work no longer seemed full of dread, of fearing possible rejection, like asking a beautiful woman for a dance, (or, if it was, it was like enjoying the chat with the beautiful woman even if she didn’t want to dance).

When I thought about it, the experience of asking for work in Gallup was a little like hitchhiking, where I always enjoyed the conversations with the people who picked me up. Hitchhiking also was an experience involving “asking”, but somehow the request was wonderfully simplified; all you needed to do was dangle out your thumb; also the rejections didn’t seem so painful, (though it could get annoying when an hour passed and several hundred cars whooshed past, each one a rejection). But, when someone finally did stop, I’d almost always find the driver in the mood to talk, both about themselves and about me.

This same general inquisitiveness seemed to inhabit most job interviews I underwent in Gallup, (and there turned out to be many, over the following four years.) Perhaps it is part of the local culture; it is an area where few are “from” the area and most are “passin’ through”, and therefore there is a curiosity about where people are coming from and where people are aiming. I came to enjoy such chats, but, when I first arrived, any interest in a no-account loser like myself seemed uncanny, and even a little supernatural.

When I say “supernatural” I suppose I am to some degree confessing I own boyish superstitions which extended into manhood. One simply tends to notice when their luck suddenly changes. One may scientifically know that when one flips a coin the odds are fifty-fifty it will be heads or tails, but one also has a gambler’s nose that sniffs out times the odds are defied; in like manner athletes speak of “hot streaks” and “cold slumps” as if they involve something other than mundane levels of concentration; also fellows asking girls to dance speak of “getting lucky.” Fishermen are equally superstitious about when and where the fish are found, and although books stated the greatly-desired fish “halibut” was so named because “but” was an ancient word for “flat fish” and halibut was eaten on holy days, the fishermen themselves (in Maine) said the fish got its name because “but” was an ancient word for “boat”, and halibut was a greatly-desired catch, and any boat that caught one was blessed, or a “holy boat”; [IE: “Hali But”.]

Even when I was at my most cynical and considered myself a hardened Atheist I tended to become slightly mystical when hitchhiking. Not that I prayed, but I did mutter to myself, peering through windshields at the practiced indifference of passing drivers, noting the way some carefully looked the other way, or down at their dashboards, or adjusted their rear-view mirror, and at times these conversations-with-myself became interesting. (Pity I had no way of recording them, but cellphones hadn’t been invented). Likely much of my luck hitchhiking had to do with how long my hair was, and how harmless or threatening I appeared, but there could be inexplicable times when my luck was very “good”, and times my luck was very “bad”, and my conversations were with whatever-it-was that controlled such destiny. The deserted roadside would hear a lot on grumbling and complaining as car after car passed, and then a resounding “Yes!” when a driver finally pulled over.

This sort of conversation began even before I became an Atheist, continued while I was an Atheist, and grew more evident as my Atheism withered away. In a sense it was talking-to-God, which may seem an odd thing for an Atheist to do, but I once knew a man whose final statement as an Atheist was, “Will You please shut up!”

An odd aspect of such conversations is that they are encouraged by bad luck, hunger, loneliness and fear. People may think they don’t believe in ghosts, until passing through a graveyard at midnight, and soldiers say, “There are no Atheists in the foxholes.” A major episode in the withering of my own Atheism involved being out in small sailboat in a big storm. Eventually many Atheists decide, at the very least, that they are Agnostics. I passed through that phase as well, but by age thirty-one I was definitely a Believer.

For many of us our level of faith is determined by whether our luck is good or not. Good luck reaffirms our faith while bad luck breeds doubt. However I had noticed, at some point, that when times were good I had a tendency to forget about God, whereas hard times awoke the urge to pray. When you think about it, this makes no sense whatsoever: We pray more when our faith is less? However it does seem to be a human tendency, and, if it is reality, then it would make sense for God to dish out some bad luck. Even God might get a little lonely when we ignore Him, and, if we are going to be so ungrateful about good luck, perhaps bad luck is God’s way of getting our attention, and even of playing hard-to-get in a Divine Romance.

By age thirty-one my attitude towards hard times was starting to change. Not that I ever looked for hardship; I’ve always preferred voluptuous luxury; but in some strange sense the greatest luxury of all was the sense God was near, and I had that sense most when times were hard and luck was bad.

Call it masochism if you will, but there is a reason people suffer the ordeal of climbing mountains. The reason is a Beauty unseen when you molder at home, and the same Beauty walks with you when you suffer like a poet on the street. To me the perception of such Beauty seemed a state of heightened awareness, where things we usually take for granted, like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, gain great significance simply because you’re hungry. (In some ways it is quite similar to being high on marijuana, without the brain damage.) Because you are so much more appreciative, you notice discrepancies from the norm, such as getting work the first place you ask, three times in a row.

At the lumber yard I just happened to walk in the first morning of an inventory, and no one was much looking forward to counting the vast, jumbled confusion of boards, beams, molding and dowels. The job lasted for the four weeks it took to sort out the confusion, and I apparently was good at it, (perhaps because my own life was a confusion in need of sorting), for they stated I’d be welcome back the next year.

At the gas station I arrived “running on fumes”, and was desperate for even a job sweeping a floor, for a quarter of a gallon of gas, but I just happened to walk in when the air stunk strongly of marijuana and the three fellows who worked there were feeling very generous. They found me good entertainment, for I knew so little about cars that it was amusing for them to watch me pump gas; I had to ask customers how to open their hoods when they asked me to check the oil, and I sometimes couldn’t even find where to pump the gas, (when the gas cap was under a license plate or, in a ’56 Chevy, behind a tail light). However the owner of that station turned out to be a cocaine addict and the job abruptly vanished after two weeks, when there was suddenly no money in the till.

This led me on to Fatty Burgers, which I decided to try because I had worked in a Fatty Burgers in California .

Fatty Burgers was a nation-wide chain, nowhere as big as MacDonald’s, but attempting to compete. Individual Fatty Burgers were not owned by a single owner far away. Various smaller owners bought “franchises” and then attempted to make their small restaurant expand into a small chain. The local Fatty Burgers chain was owned by someone who I think began along Old Route Sixty-six in Albuquerque, and expanded along the highway east and west.

I walked into the Gallup branch during the quiet after the breakfast rush, and immediately noticed the three workers and manager were all deeply tanned and all had straight black hair. The place was quaint, far smaller than the Fatty Burgers where I worked in California. It had two old-looking registers behind a short counter, and a third more modern-looking register in a boxy drive-through window. No one was moving very fast. A girl with very white teeth and a pleasant smile ambled up to the counter and asked me what I wanted, and when I replied, “An application”, her right eyebrow dipped as her left arched in interest, but she turned to look towards the manager, who wore a white shirt, and brown vest and pants, to show he wasn’t one of the mere underlings, who were brightly dressed in gaudy uniforms, a little like clowns, with flaming, checkered baseball caps and silly, red pants.

The manager will need a name, so I’ll dub him Quincy Phlabutt. He was a big, sleek, well-oiled looking man with jet black hair combed straight down everywhere except right at the temples; he stood with a slightly smug smile and his arms folded, doing nothing. When he overheard me ask for an application his smile didn’t change, but his eyes shifted towards me and appeared to become even more smoky and superior, and he lifted his nose slightly in a manner that seemed critical. He walked to the counter, took out a pad of applications, tore one off, and handed it to me without a word. When I asked, “Can I borrow a pen?” he sighed, and pointed with his lips, and a girl got me one. I was thinking to myself the odds of getting a job looked slim, but as I went to sit down I noticed Quincy’s eyes abruptly widened, one of the girls hissed, “Ike’s here!” to the others, and the three workers seemed to work a little faster, wiping counters and filling napkin racks, even though the place was empty.

As I started on the application I glanced sidelong as Ike Weed crossed the parking lot and entered the Fatty Burgers, wearing the same white shirt and brown vest and pants Quincy wore. He didn’t appear at all intimidating to me, a medium-sized man who took short steps and duck-walked on his heels, leaning backwards slightly, with a notebook and clipboard under one arm. He had a shock of straight, brown hair brushed to one side over his forehead; the hair was just starting to gray with middle age at the temples. His Howdy Doody cheeks were also just starting to sag into the barest beginnings of pale jowls, apparently recently scraped clean with a dull razor. He wore a friendly smile which seemed less friendly when I saw it was fixed. It was the frozen smile of a poker face, and his eyes darted about the parking lot observantly. When he stooped to pick up a wrapper I noticed Quincy winced slightly, behind the counter. Then I looked down at the application, and began to fill it out.

I didn’t approve of dishonesty, but have to admit a certain creativity entered in, when I filled out applications. I had learned I should “enhance my resume” earlier in my wanderings, when God, with his sense of humor, had me walk into an unemployment office in Cleveland on the very day more than half the staff in the office had received pink-slips, due to government cut-backs. Most were more interested in finding jobs for themselves than for me, but one woman was different. Even as I sat in Gallup I fondly remembered her.

Four years earlier I had sat down in front of her desk. She was young and pretty, and in a very good mood, for she was sick of working and saw collecting unemployment as a sort of vacation, and she offered me a coffee and we spent a merry hour chatting in a manner I had never experienced before, and have never experienced since, among bureaucrats. She was very interested in my wanderings, and had fun turning my confession (that I was a shiftless drifter) into what made me look very experienced, on a resume. For example, one time I landed a job in a small market in Maine, and then the boss got drunk and didn’t show up for a week, and I had to fly by the seat of my pants trying to figure out how to keep the market open. The young woman smiled, and took this fiasco and wrote down on my resume that I was a “working manager.” She also stated I didn’t need to put down every job. Also I didn’t need to mention I didn’t really want a Real Job, and preferred to write. She gently chided me for TMI (Too Much Information) and stated it wasn’t dishonest to be selective, when telling the truth. I should mention the Economics classes I took in school, but not the Creative Writing courses.

I smiled and nibbled my pen, looking at the ceiling and remembering her laugh. I wished I’d asked her for a date, though it would have been daring to do so, considering I was nearly flat broke while in Cleveland. She was a road untaken. Life might have been different, if romance bloomed in Cleveland. But it didn’t, and here I was, dumped in Gallup. I signed and began filling out my application, unaware Ike Weed had walked up behind me and watched as I wrote. I wrote rapidly, for I fully expected to have to fill out many applications that morning, and perhaps it was the speed at which a writer can print, (far more neatly than a doctor), that drew Ike over.

Ike abruptly reached down over my shoulder to pick up my application even before I had finished figuring out how to make it look like flipping burgers was the goal of my life. He introduced himself as the District Manager, glancing over the application, and then he asked me, “You worked in a Fatty Burgers in California?” When I nodded he said, “I have to go on to Flagstaff, and then plan a weekend down in Las Vegas, but I’ll be back this way next Tuesday. Let me call the Fatty Burgers where you worked in California, and if it all looks good I may have a job for you. Can you be here at noon on Tuesday?” I nodded.

It was Friday, which meant I’d have to wait a weekend, which I couldn’t afford to do, but still I walked out of the Fatty Burgers in a bit of a daze, astonished at God’s sense of humor. What were the odds of walking into that place at the exact time the District Manager did? I noticed, as I left, that Quincy gave me a look that was not entirely approving, and concluded my chances were better with Ike.

Out on the street I came to the instant decision not to fill out any more applications, and instead to cross the dry bed of the Rio Puerco and clamber up an embankment to a bridge on I-40, where I could see a distant crew working. I wanted to see if Raydoe, who I shared a tiny trailer with at the campground, had shown up for work, and also ask Ed, the foreman, if there was any chance I might work there.

Raydoe is a character for another story, and in fact his chapter in my life was just ending. He had vanished. I called him “Raydoe” as it was short for “Desparado”, and he called me “Stupid Gringo” because that is what I was. I put up with a lot of abuse from him because he had a good heart under a sinister exterior.

For example, he didn’t like seeing me typing in a dark night in a pouring rain, my head bumping up the roof of a tiny, drenched, orange pup-tent lit from within by six candles, and his way of inviting me into his camper was to yell, “Hey Stupid Gringo, come out of that tent into my camper!” When I politely replied, “Thank you, but I’m quite all right!” his reply was, “If you don’t get the fuck out of there I’ll pull up your pegs and pound you!” It seemed like an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Raydoe worked repairing bridges on the interstate. His family lived on I-40 hundreds of miles away on the far side of New Mexico, and he missed them terribly, although, hypocritically, cheating on his wife Bonnie didn’t seem to bother him one bit. He did finally manage to convince Bonnie to come to the campground with his two daughters, at which point I had to move out of the camper into a big, canvas tent I set up with a couple Navajo, who also worked repairing bridges. The entire time I slept with them I don’t think we spoke a word. They were always dead tired at the end of a day, and stayed sleeping even when the tent blew down.

Bonnie couldn’t stand the solitude of the campground, or being cooped up in a tiny trailer, but I did have coffee with her a couple times during the week she lasted. She told me I need not hide her husband’s indiscretions; she had accepted the fact he was what she called, “a lady’s man.” She was an Indian from a pueblo near Santa Fe, but described Raydoe as “Pure Spaniard.”

I was starting to learn you needed to describe what-you-were in Gallup, but, when she asked what-I-was, I told her, “I guess I’m a Mutt,” which made her laugh. I gently dared venture that she should get her girls out for walks because the scenery was gorgeous, and also because she seemed to be suffering from cabin fever, but she never left the cramped trailer except to walk her girls to the campground bathroom. When Radoe was home she seemed to argue with him constantly, and the vehemence of their discussions sometimes caused the little trailer to rock to and fro, but the moment she took her daughters back east he missed her terribly. I assumed, when Raydoe vanished, that that was where he had vanished to.

Climbing up a steep, dirt embankment between sage and prickly pear onto the abutment, I saw Ed watching me curiously from the far side of the bridge. I also saw Raydoe wasn’t around, and then winced as a blast of wind hit.

Raydoe had mentioned working on bridges “sucked utterly”, and now I saw why. The wind couldn’t be bothered to go around you. There must be few places besides mountaintops more windy than bridges on interstates, a fact I already knew as a hitchhiker, but as a hitchhiker I could hurry across; the prospect of remaining in such an environment all day was daunting. Raydoe often told Bonnie she didn’t know how lucky she was to be stuck indoors all day, as she argued he didn’t know how lucky he was to get out. I thrust my hands as deeply as I could into my pockets, thinking I understood Raydoe a little better, and also that maybe I didn’t want the job, but I was desperate, so I trudged over to Ed to work the conversation around to asking for work.

Ed was a wiry, balding man with a thin, white mustache, neatly trimmed, which was the only part of his face that wasn’t weather-beaten half to death. His skin was gray with an undertone of purple, and he smoked and cursed constantly. I knew him only slightly, because he’d give Raydoe rides when Raydoe’s truck broke down, which turned out to be fairly often. He always seemed very curious to see an intellectual typing away in Raydoe’s tiny trailer, but he never asked any questions and always seemed in a hurry. As I now approached him he looked a hundred pounds heavier, for he was dressed like an arctic explorer in January, yet still was hunched over and hugging himself, as if shivering, overseeing a group of young, Navajo men who were tying rebar in the relentless wind. He looked hopeful when he recognized me as I approached, and shouted, “Got any news from that cocksucker Raydoe?”

I shouted back, as shouting seemed necessary in that wind, “No. I wondered if you had news.”

“No. That asshole said he wanted a three-day-weekend and has taken the whole fucking week off.”

I nodded and tried to look sympathetic, which probably was a bad idea, as it encouraged Ed to rant. He sputtered, “That turd acts like he’s the boss of me, always demanding this or that and never giving dipshit in return. I’ve had it with the moron.”

One of the Navajo laughed, “You said that last week.”

“Well this time I mean it. How many times have I helped that fuckhead out? Getting that piece of crap he calls a truck fixed? But is he thankful?”

Another Navajo shouted, “You should respect. He owns a quarter of the state.” The men all laughed.

I knew what they were referring to. Raydoe claimed his grandfather had a deed, ornately inked onto ox-hide and signed by the king of Spain, and dated 1698, which gave his family title to the northeast quarter of New Mexico, including Santa Fe. It was his land, but the Anglos had stolen it.

Ed scoffed, “Oh you Navajo can laugh at Raydoe, but you sure get pretty pissed-off about your land getting stolen by white men, don’t you now? Meanwhile you’re doing a pretty fucking good job of taking the Hopi’s land, ain’t you now?” (He was referring to the Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute.)

I was slightly horrified at Ed’s rudeness, but the Navajo just laughed and nodded. Their sense of humor was something I was just beginning to learn about. I decided to steer the conversation my way. “I was hoping you knew where Raydoe was. I paid last week’s rent at the campground, but this week I’m broke. I don’t know what will happen to his trailer if he doesn’t pay.” I paused, before continuing, “By the way…if Raydoe isn’t working…I was wondering…”

“Oh, don’t even ask. I’m not allowed to hire white people. Only Indians.”

“Raydoe isn’t Indian.”

“No, but he qualified because he just got out of prison. He knifed some fat white biker in a bar, but luckily the guy was so fat he didn’t die, so Raydoe got off easy; his lawyer sniffled about Raydoe’s wife and kids, and the dumb judge bought it, and the State says I’ve got to hire disadvantaged folk on a state job, so I get stuck with the losers.” He scowled at the Navajo, who grinned back at him, so he added, as if only to me but loudly, “These fuckers ain’t really disadvantaged; but slow as molasses. You couldn’t be slower.”

One of the men explained, “We don’t want to kill the job.”

Ed exploded, “You want to be stuck in this fucking wind-tunnel forever? Let’s move on to some bridge in some cozy valley. They’ll find us all fucking dead here if we’re not done by December, though I will say…” he continued, again as if talking aside to me, though still shouting, “…these fellows are tough. Look at the fuckers! They dress in November like it’s August. But look at you! You’re as fucking stupid as they are. Oh, I’d hire you, but…”

Ed continued, abruptly explosive again, “…I swear those dipshit politicians in Santa Fe drink tequila all day and decide things by throwing darts at a wall. A bridge shouldn’t be fucking rotting so soon after it’s built. Look at this crappy concrete.” He gave the crumbling curb a kick. “We even have to replace the rebar, because either it’s rusted, or they fucking forgot to put it in, in the first place. Concrete don’t like it when it ain’t reinforced and a thousand overloaded semis drive over it each day, specially when it’s fucking crap to begin with. Either the contractor bought sub-standard to pocket some cash, or the engineer was from Florida and had no clue how cold it gets at 7000 feet, but the asshole politicians sit in warm offices and hire their uncles and make the messes that we have to freeze our fucking asses off fixing.”

I nodded, starting to wonder how to extract myself and leave.

He went on, “I don’t know how I wound up in this God-forsaken place. I’ve never understood why everyone argues about who owns a worthless desert, but at least most of the state has rock that is red and looks fucking beautiful. Gallup? It’s all gray and dull brown. Doesn’t matter what direction you come from; it gets uglier as you pull into town.”

To my concern a trickle of red blood began to flow from Ed’s left nostril. One of the Navajo said, “Your nose is bleeding again.”

Ed pulled out a dirty handkerchief and muttered, “It’s the damn dust in the fucking wind. And you think you want this job? I tell you you’d fucking quit in a fucking week. But I’d hire you, just to get some fucking work done. I could train you to tie rebar in an hour. You couldn’t work slower than these fucking snails. But the Law won’t let me.”

I sighed, and then put on a brave face. “Oh well, I may have a job at a Fatty Burgers next week, but I was hoping to get paid three times as much an hour, working for you.”

A Navajo who looked older than the rest grunted something in Navajo, from down the bridge.

“What’d he say?” asked Ed.

“He said, ‘Tell the Belighana to fake it’,” translated a younger man.

“You could do it,” laughed another. “Indians from back east all look pretty Belaghana to me. And Raydoe says you spend all your time pecking at a typewriter and never get laid. Type out something that looks official and says you’re Mohawk. You think they’d ever check? Even if they do, by then you’ll be paid!”

Ed exploded, “Oh for fuck’s sake! You assholes just want me fired,” and everyone laughed.

I ventured, “Actually, my grandmother’s grandmother’s maiden name was Miss Eagle, and my Dad thinks she might have been Abenaki. That might make me a sixteenth. Does that count?”

Ed grinned and said, “Go fuck yourself.”

One of the Navajo said, “Give faking it a try. You never know.”

I said, “Maybe I will. In the meantime I guess I’ll go and sell some plasma.” Ed looked puzzled, but the Navajo nodded, well aware of what I referred to. Then I climbed down the embankment. As I crossed the dry river I told God that what I’d just experienced was one of the most interesting job interviews I’d ever had, and that I hoped He’d let me stick it into a novel, someday.

Arriving back at my car, I briefly prayed it would start, but it didn’t. It was a tiny, brown 1974 Toyota Corolla with only a 1200 cc engine, and I had no money to buy a new battery. But I had learned to park it on hills. Even on a shallow downward slope I could push the light car in neutral, with the driver-side door open, faster and faster, and then jump in and pop it into first gear. It helped to also turn the ignition key, so the weak starter-engine could contribute. The engine would explode into deafening life, as I also couldn’t afford a new muffler.

Driving west into downtown Gallup I sort of liked the fact my pathetic little vehicle roared like a Harley. I jutted out my jaw slightly. If it hadn’t been so cold I would have hung my forearm out the window. Loud cars alter your personality.

I also liked the fact many Navajo, in 1984, did not take kindly to white bureaucrats issuing orders, and some drove without bothering to get license plates. This made me worry less about the fact my car had expired plates from Maine. In fact having plates from Maine made me more interesting, to local folk, even four years later.

I pulled up to the Plasma Place, which was on the main drag in downtown Gallup. Such enterprises spring up where drunks need money, and poets know where such places can be found because poets manage to be broke even when sober. I did not at all like going there, and every time I went God heard me pray that it would be the last time.

Basically they took a pint of blood out of you, ran it through a centrifuge to remove the plasma, and then put the red blood back into you. Because the body swiftly replaces plasma, you could go twice a week. Because they liked reducing the amount of testing they had to do, they encouraged tested people to come again. The first time you went you’d get seven dollars for laying on a cot for two hours, but the second time you’d get nine.

As usual I was the only Caucasian there. The nurse behind the counter and most of the fellows in the waiting room were Navajo, though I occasionally met a Zuni or Mexican. After registering and waiting I’d walk into a room holding roughly fifteen cots, holding fifteen men with needles in their arms, and blood either going out to a bag down low, or coming back in from a bag hung high. Though there was some sullen conversation in the waiting room, a stoic silence filled the room where the transactions occurred. The needles hurt, and hurt more after the passage of time, and there was no way to shift away from the pain. I tried to talk, for the five nurses were quite pretty, their white uniforms contrasting nicely with their dark skin, but they were very professional, (and also I suppose a man selling blood isn’t usually seen as a good prospect). They refused to flirt. The only Caucasian I ever saw was the old doctor, who I did like to talk with yet whom I almost never saw after the original interview; he lurked in a small office and only occasionally rolled through the room in his wheelchair.

Time really dragged in that room. I always brought a notebook but it seemed impossible to write. The stoicism was somehow the antithesis of a type of relaxation needed in order to write, and the stifling created writer’s-block. After an interminable two hours the needle was at last removed from your arm, and you walked back to the waiting room to receive your payment, in cash. On this occasion I got a pleasant surprise. Not only was it an even-numbered visit, which meant it was nine dollars rather than seven, but it turned out that every eighth visit you received a “bonus” of seven extra dollars.

My Toyota was so startled at my wealth that it started without needing to be pushed, and I drove back to the area of the Fatty Burgers, (which had been built in a prime location for a fast food joint, before I-40 was built, right at the exit of a “modern” mall, which forty years later might be called a “mini-mall”. The mall held a “modern” supermarket, fairly small for other parts of the country but quite different from the local trading posts, which were more like old-fashioned, rural grocery-stores, with stuff in barrels.)

I had learned a poet’s skill of stretching a food budget, and plotted to survive the weekend on a chicken stew, and also sardine sandwiches. One odd thing was the tins of sardines were from a cannery where I once worked in Maine, and only cost half as much in Gallup as they did in Maine. I suspected the tins were very old, but the fish were in hot chili sauce and I didn’t taste any difference. They cost 42 cents a tin, and I bought three. The cheapest loaf of white bread was 89 cents. I bought a pound of chicken wings for 69 cents. Three potatoes, three carrots, an onion, and a single chili pepper only cost 94 cents more. A big bunch of celery was a big expense at 89 cents, but I hadn’t been getting my vegetables lately, subsisting largely on Spanish rice Raydoe taught me how to make. Thinking of him, I bought a small bag of rice and small bag of beans, both for 39 cents, and a small tin of tomato paste for 35 cents. I knew we had cooking oil in the trailer, because Raydoe had bought a huge, five-gallon pail of WIC cooking oil off an Indian somewhere, for a dollar. I totaled things up in my head to roughly six dollars, mentally put five dollars aside for gasoline, and decided, with five to spare, I could spend $1.50 on a six-pack of awful beer from Texas that tasted slightly of sulfur, (but which worked). Then, feeling wonderfully rich, and with $3.50 left over for four packs of very cheap, no-tax, reservation cigarettes, which I could buy near the campground, I drove home.

Home was a tiny trailer, with a living space much like that of a small sailboat: Room for two beds on either side, which by day became a couch on one side and a table with two seats by a tiny stove on the other. When you slept one person’s head was under the stove. Unlike a small sailboat, there was no toilet, and you had to use the campground bathroom. Also unlike a sailboat, the trailer had a long, thick cord that plugged into campground electricity, and the stove and heat were electric. It was far superior to a tent, though for the life of me I didn’t see how Raydoe survived even a week in such a small space with a wife and two daughters.

Raydoe was still gone, and I was assuming I’d enjoy the peace and quiet of a second weekend alone. I’d gotten a little tired of being called “Stupid Gringo” all the time, but to my surprise I missed him. I’d learned the art of handling being belittled at an early age, (taught by two older brothers), and knew how to laugh at myself, and Raydoe seemed to like laughing as much as he liked being superior.

From the moment I stepped from my car and walked towards the darkened trailer I could feel the banshees of loneliness rising on all sides. Almost immediately I knew I’d likely lose the battle.

The battle was with myself, and involved rationing the six-pack and making it last the entire weekend. I knew I could do it, because I often did it, but there was another side of myself that wanted to battle the banshees, and that involved crushing the six-pack in three hours.

I made myself get busy making the chicken stew, as that was a good way to avoid the banshees, but as I did I found myself missing Raydoe’s constant belittling, which often contained good advise. For example, one time I was mystified by how my rice refused to cook, unaware that at 7000 feet water boiled at less than two hundred degrees and didn’t cook as well, and also that the air was so thin, at that altitude, that water boiled away with amazing speed. Twice I added water, and twice the water boiled away and the rice was still crunchy and basically raw. “Stupid Gringo, it will take forever that way,” scorned Raydoe, dumping the rice onto a plate and then pouring a quarter inch of cooking oil into my pot. He heated the oil until it started smoking, and then dumped the rice back in. Because the rice was wet there was a tremendous roar of crackling and popping, and Raydoe stepped back with his eyes round, but pretended he hadn’t been alarmed, once the racket died down. He stirred the concoction until the white rice was browned, and many kernels had puffed like popcorn, and then added the tomato sauce and a little water, dumping in some tabasco sauce for zest. Then he stirred it as it bubbled, explaining, “It don’t take so long to cook when it’s already cooked by the oil.”

In like manner Raydoe attempted to teach me how to be lecherous, but with far less success, especially when the girls we picked up were hitchhiking schoolgirls; (I apparently was an especially stupid Gringo, because instead of leading them astray I dropped them off where they wanted to go). But recalling these episodes, wherein I caused Raydoe to roll his eyes and slap his forehead, only reminded me how lonely I was, and how unrewarding doing the right thing was.

I left the trailer with a bowl of my soup to eat out at a picnic table, looking up at the bright red sandstone formations on either side, and watching them be stained even redder as the sun went down. A haunting moon was rising, and the banshees gathered. The wind was dying, as the Blue Norther faded, and I hoped the winds might swing around and waft warmth north from Phoenix, giving us a kinder Saturday, but the campground was nearly empty, and the creeping chill of an approaching winter swiftly grew with the rising darkness. The cold comes quickly after sunset under a desert’s icy stars. I scrawled a poem:

I think I am going to die 
I see a skull's face
In the full moon
And high in the sky
Hear a mad loon
Luting a lonely
And sad tune.

Why am I staying here grieving?
I won't hurt any by leaving.
Why am I staying here moaning?
Life's just a way of postponing.

Somebody some
Body want

Ask me to stay.

The banshees had definitely gathered, so I hurried into the camper to work on a novel I was struggling with at that time. I had sent a synopsis to an editor who I hoped would look at it. The novel was my ticket out of poverty, at least in my imagination. I rolled a clean sheet of paper into the typewriter and looked at it. Then I looked at my diary. Then I looked at the beer.

Looking at the yellowing pages of that diary, more than thirty-five years later, one thing that amazes me is how long and how much beer it took, for me to get around to admitting I was hurt. Now, when I run up against a painful aspect of life, I often just say “ouch”, and get on with life, but back then it seemed I’d write and write and write, and, only after a six pack, would I say, “ouch”. It is interesting to ponder what made it take me so long.

I seemed to have a hard time facing the fact people, including myself, aren’t perfect, and rather than generous may be greedy, and rather than pure may be lustful, and rather than kind may be hateful. A certain arrogance was involved; I simply couldn’t believe anyone would be hurtful to anyone as wonderful as I was. So instead I sought a different explanation. I felt mean people were misunderstood, a victim of their circumstances. Once they had been a pure and innocent child, but life had mangled them. If only I could understand them I could excuse them.

In actual fact, the person might simply be being a jerk. But it took six beers before I could arrive at that conclusion, and even then, the next morning might find me sorry I had been so rude.

The bits and pieces of spiritual theory I had picked up in my wandering contained a premise that our spirits had evolved from bestial origins, but I was dead set against the Freudian, psychological idea that we were merely advanced apes, and also the Atheistic belief there was no such thing as our spirit. I believed that besides evolving we were also involving, and involving involved opening up to Love. We might have come from apes but we were aiming towards angels. God was in everyone, trapped but striving to get out, and I should help them, and this made it hard for me to see people as jerks, even when they were being jerks. I might be a sort of ruthless drill sergeant to myself, but I must be kind to others. In fact, in 1984 I don’t even think the catch-phrase “Tough Love” had been invented, or, if it had, it hadn’t achieved wide usage and I’d never heard it. I had very little ability to tenderly and kindly tell a person, “You’re just being a jerk”, even when it was the truth. Instead I felt compelled to figure out what their problem was, which can be a waste of time, for even if you can figure out why a person is behaving like a jerk, they may go right on being one.

Saturday morning found me hung over and discouraged. I had a couple of coffees for breakfast, which didn’t help much, and then went for a long hike around Church Rock, which did help. I found graffiti carved into the stones from the 1880’s and 1890’s, when the cavalry had a post nearby, and imagined some of those lonely soldiers, far from home, suffered hangovers as well, precisely a hundred years earlier at precisely the same spot I stood. In my mind’s eye I pictured them standing, in their deep navy-blue uniforms with yellow trim and shining brass buttons. So I wasn’t so alone.

Then I followed a gully up into a hill, seeing its multicolored walls rise higher and higher until I found myself in a box canyon with towering, coral sides, flaming in the bright sun against a turquois sky. At the very end was a lone pine, tall and straight and perhaps a hundred feet tall, but below the box canyon’s towering sides. Someone had started to chainsaw the big tree down at some point, but only one inch into the trunk something stopped them. I decided that perhaps the snarling chainsaw echoed loudly from the surrounding stone, and in the blaring noise the voice of some spirit spoke and told the sawyer to quit desecrating the beauty. I liked my explanation, and sat beneath the tree to see if I could hear the same spirit. I heard nothing but a soft wind in the needles high above me, but something about sitting in the pool of sunlight touched me, and I felt better.

I spent the rest of the weekend eating chicken soup and sardine sandwiches, smoking and drinking coffee, working on my novel, and doing my laundry. It cost twenty-five cents for a washer and a dime for each ten minutes you used a drier, which ate into my cigarette-money, but I felt the need to clean up my act.

I liked that campground’s laundromat because Archibald, a Navajo veteran who was in charge of campground maintenance, lived in the same building, and his family ate dinner in a room adjoining the washing machines, and, though I knew it was rude to eavesdrop, I could never resist. I was lonely and it warmed me to hear a family in action. The kids would come home from school and say what they had learned, and a dead silence would fall like lead. It was obvious that Archibald believed differently from what the schoolmarms taught.

It was the beginning of a time when I learned a fair amount about Navajo culture, though not as a nosey anthropologist, asking all sorts of unwelcome questions, but as a bum. I swiftly sensed the Navajo had taken a lot of -bleep- for what they believed, from a wide variety of missionaries and schoolmarms and government officials, and were not inclined to be honest because they had caught hell for their honesty. In fact, some were more likely to fabricate some absurd “tradition”, just to see if you would fall for it. I found it best to avoid “belief” and “tradition” altogether, and instead stay on the very real level of what you wanted.

On this particular occasion a rattlesnake, attracted by the warmth, came through the door of the laundromat as I sat scribbling in my diary, waiting for my laundry to finish tumbling in the drier. I shouted, “Hey Archibald! You there? A rattlesnake is paying a visit!”

I heard a chair scrape, and Archie appeared, smiling. He held a broom. In a most gentle manner he urged the snake towards the door. The snake didn’t appreciate being pushed back out into the cold, and struck at the broom repetitively, but Archie remained patient and gentle, until at last the snake gave up and left. Then Archie looked at me and said, simply, “We don’t kill those.”

In my diary I wrote, “Navajo apparently don’t kill rattlesnakes.” I didn’t ask “why”. It was just something I noted.

My novel was different. In my novel I was asking “why” a lot, not about other cultures, but about my own. We Mutts, called Americans, do a lot of things that demand some sort of explanation, but no one explains. So I tried.

There was nothing I enjoyed more, even though I had no final answers. To have two whole days alone in a campground, just thinking, was a sort of paradise for me, despite the inherent loneliness. It was like sitting on a sunny morning when you don’t have to work, working on a crossword puzzle in a newspaper. Only the puzzle wasn’t a crossword; it was America.

But, without a patron, eventually a poet must cease his pondering.

I often tried to extend my meditations even when the chicken soup sank low in my pot, by adding more water. The soup grew thinner and thinner, until it was what I called “slime soup”, which was basically potato skins floating above chicken bones with no marrow. I doubt even that meager diet would have driven me from the delights I found just thinking, but running out of cigarettes was another matter. When I ran out of cigarettes great art could go get damned; I wanted a job.

So it was I wrenched myself from bed in the twilight before dawn on Monday morning to hurry to the Gallup unemployment office to seek “spot labor”. Men would start to line up long before the office opened, outside the door, and no one dared cut in line. If there were only three jobs that day, only the first three would get work.

I softly cursed the comfort of Raydoe’s trailer. In a tent there was no danger of oversleeping, and I sometimes went to the bathroom in the dark before dawn just to warm up. But now, as my howling Toyota roared towards Gallup in the twilight before dawn, I knew I was late.

I was tenth in line. In line were six Navajo, a Mexican, an Apache, a Zuni, and then there was me, the Mutt. I vaguely knew who some were because I’d been there before, and I’d learned that in Gallup you needed to say what-you-are. But I knew little more. No one was talking much. Coffee was lacking and cigarettes were scarce. Two hours passed before the doors opened at seven, at which point the line was eighteen men long. (Men who arrived later took one look at the line, and turned away.)

We sullenly filed in and wrote our names on a sheet of paper, and then sat down in a line of chairs along the wall by the door. Before us was a counter, and not far beyond the counter was the far wall. Compared to California, the unemployment place was tiny. Between the counter and the far wall were, as I recall, eight desks, but there were only two people, the manager and a secretary. At eight o’clock two more clerks came to work, and at nine three more, and another secretary. So backwards was the bureaucracy of New Mexico in 1984 that the clerks didn’t even get their own cubicles. The entire office was just a big room with walls made of sheet metal and no windows, with a single cubical with Plexiglas windows, where the manager could sit at a desk, though he usually didn’t. He seemed like a restless man, constantly walking from desk to desk and talking with the clerks, or swerving to the coffee pot. The smell of fresh coffee, which I couldn’t have, could be maddening.

By eight o’clock most of the spot labor jobs had come in and the men started to wander off, some to sell plasma. I tended to stay and scribble in my notebook. I had nowhere else to go, and that place was warmer than the street. The first time I was there I got so engrossed in describing my plight, so people in the future would know what a great writer had suffered through, that I completely lost track of time, and landed a job that came in at 10:30. So I knew it might pay to wait, but more often it did not.

Later I got to know the eight employees a little better, but at this point I was still a recent arrival to Gallup, and learning the ropes. I’d had such good luck getting jobs on my own that spot-labor was still a frontier. Yet, as I sat hoping for work, one of the employees, Bonita, had already made herself known.

Bonita detested me. I think I must have looked exactly like a man who treated her very badly, in her past. From the moment I first walked in the place, during my first attempt to find work, she regarded me with undisguised loathing, which of course made her very interesting to me. Not that she was attractive. She was overweight and had acne, with a silly bun of over-pretentious hair piled too far above her pale, spotted forehead, and she spoke with a Mexican accent that seemed equally overdone, more Mexican than Mexicans. I was fairly certain the accent was an affectation, because one time she answered the phone, and said, “Oh hi, Mom”, and then talked with hardly any accent at all.

It is funny to think how I must have looked to her. I assume I must have attempted to be disarming with a sequence of appeasing expressions. None worked, but I wish they were on film. In retrospect they might be hilarious.

I suppose that, just as men find some woman attractive and some women repellant, women are the same, and I just happened to be especially repellant to Bonita. But it is the strangest thing, when you walk into a place where the people are supposedly there to help you, to meet eyes filled with loathing.

Little did I know that later on, during my time in Gallup, Bonita would be appointed as the bureaucrat in charge of helping me. But that is a tale for another time. All I knew was she was a most fascinating female. She seemingly couldn’t keep her eyes off of me, because when I lifted my eyes from the notebook I brought along to scribble in, she’d often be staring at me.

Not that I ignored the other five. It gets boring, just sitting waiting for work, so I of course had nothing to do but write observations about what the others were doing. (Little did they know that what they did might appear in a future novel.)

On this particular morning I had issues more pressing than multiculturalism to attend to. I needed a job. I needed one because I was running out of cigarettes. If I ran out of cigarettes, political correctness went right out the window.

Only the first two in line got spot labor jobs by 8:00, and one by one the others started to leave. Things looked grim. My mood was foul and getting fouler. When Bonita looked at me, she did not see my usual attempts to be appeasing and disarming, but rather flashing eyes. She looked surprised.

It was right at this time I noted, to Bonita’s right, a different employee thoughtfully regarding me, his index finger tips on his forehead and his thumbs on his cheeks and his elbows on his desk. As I met eyes with him he seemed to arrive at some decision, and sat back and crooked a finger that beckoned me. He was Fred Gentlechief, a fellow I barely knew.

With a last name life “Gentlechief” you’d assume Fred was Native American, but Fred also looked like he had to shave three times a day. He had more whiskers on a square inch of his chin than I had on my entire face, and it was my understanding that Native Americans were genetically predisposed to have smooth faces. But one time, standing outside in line, I heard one Navajo tease another about his mustache, and the second Navajo told the first that his great-grandfather had grabbed his great-grandmother while raiding a Mexican village. I assumed Fred was the product of several such raids, as I walked over to his desk.

In 1984 Gallup was way ahead of the curve, in terms of so-called “multiracialism”. The unemployment office of Gallup was like the crew of Star Trek, in its racial variety, despite numbering only eight individuals. This mixing didn’t seem to be the result of the brute force of a legislated decree, but simply the way things were, the natural result of having Navajo, Zuni, Hopi and Apache reservations all around Gallup, comprising areas larger than entire European nations. Yet despite all the mixing there was a lot of focus on what-you-were. Even Hispanics seemed divided into all sorts of categories. I myself was a Mutt minority, and didn’t care all that much about whether a person was a wetback or a wetterback, because such identifications seemed like too much to keep track of. Mostly I was interested in the individual I was talking with. That seemed enough to keep my brain fully occupied.

Fred Gentlechief was short, swarthy, round, articulate and soft spoken, yet surprisingly frank about things without seeming the slightest bit blunt or rude. For example, he casually told me he sometimes took the best spot labor jobs for himself, to make a little extra money on weekends. I liked him immediately for his honesty, and his slow, inclusive smile. He gave you the feeling you were in on the joke.

Fred confessed to me he had a problem, because he had taken a spot labor job he discovered he actually didn’t want. He’d agreed to clean a lady’s lawn, but when he swung by during lunch the prior Friday, when the woman was not home, he saw that the yard held what appeared to be two hundred and fifty dog poops. He’d found ways to avoid the woman all weekend, but now he had to face the music. He wondered if I’d like to hustle down to her house and offer to do the awful job, before she left for work at nine. The house was only a hundred yards away. About two minutes later I was knocking at her door.

The woman was in a rush to get to work on a Monday morning. When she answered the door the reek of freshly splashed perfume nearly knocked me over backwards. She was not young but still good looking, which is to say she was roughly my age. She was in such a hurry that I seemed like a distraction, and she had no interest at all in the excuse that Fred Gentlechief had instructed me to give her. She handed me a coal scuttle and scoop, pointed at the dog poop, and rushed off, saying she’d be back at noon.

Facing the poop, and starting to scoop, I had to keep my brains entertained, and I did what I usually did, which was to play Sherlock Holmes, and to invent an entire life history for the woman, though I had an absolute minimum of actual information.

First I determined her dog was a big dog, by the size of the poops. The dog was not around, as there was no deep baying when I worked near the house, and also the poops were desert dried and not a single one was juicy, a fact that I was gladdened by.

Next I determined the woman was not good at instructing, when in a hurry, for she had not told me what to do with the poop, and the coal scuttle was full when the job was only 10% done.

Third, I determined that either the lady was very disorganized, or a man had left her, perhaps taking his dog with him, as there were various half-completed jobs around the yard, with tools left out. I found a shovel and buried the poop down at the bottom of the yard. There was a toolshed down there, and when I peeked in I saw it held a lamp, radio, and a great many beer cans, some in bags but some scattered around on windows sills and on a workbench.. There were few tools in the shed, for rather than in the shed most were scattered around the yard. At this point I was fairly certain a man was involved.

I worked fast and was done the poop-cleaning by mid morning, and to keep myself busy I began cleaning up the beer cans in the tool shed and putting the tools away. A few of the uncompleted jobs were easy to figure out, for a Sherlock like me. They were obvious, such as a rake by a half-raked flower bed beneath a hedge, and I completed those jobs, deciding the fellow was a bit of a slouch. He even left a saw out to get rusty by a half sawn board, with a hammer rusting by rusty nails, by a fence needing a board. I decided that job was interrupted the day the drunken bum got thrown out, and fixed the fence. Then I glanced at the low November sun, which seemed past its zenith, so I went to check the clock in my car. It was well past lunchtime. The woman had apparently completely forgotten me.

I ran out of cigarettes at 1:45, and suddenly Sherlock began to arrive at conclusions that were radically different: The man left because the woman was a total bitch. She drove him to drink in a toolshed. At 3:30 I went to my car and fished through the ashtray for the longer butts, and smoked those.

As I suffered I kept working, for over the years I had discovered you can do one of two things while in nicotine withdrawal. You can either curl up into a fetal position, suck your thumb, and whimper, or you can utilize a surprising amount of energy made available, and do superhuman things such as walk through a howling blizzard to buy a pack of smokes. I used the energy to rake the entire lawn, and also to crush all the beer cans and put them in my car, because at that point it had occurred to me that the bitch might be planning to skip off without paying, and I wanted to be able to sell the aluminum for a pack of smokes. I figured there was around $4.00 worth, and the sun was starting down.

It was just then the lady came home from work. When she got out of the car and saw me her face filled with dismay and she clutched her forehead, and then she crossed the yard with her palms spread open before her, profusely apologizing. If it was an act, it was very effective, for my rage evaporated in a twinkling. I told her we all can forget things, now and again.

At this point she stopped looking at me and looked around the yard, and her expression shifted towards amazement and pleasure. The place really did look changed; I had even done some rearranging of the lawn furniture. She smiled and asked me what she owed me. I told her spot laborers like me got minimum wage, and usually got $26.80 for a full day’s work. She shook her head, and went into the house, quickly returning with a twenty and a ten. I thanked her and made some joke about the speed at which I’d run off to buy cigarettes. She held up a finger, went back into the house, and returned with an unopened pack of Lucky Strikes. She apologized that they might be stale. They were her late husband’s.

As I greedily opened the pack and smoked one, it seemed only right to ask a few sympathetic questions about the man whose cigarettes I smoked, and she leaned against the side of the door and showed me how wrong a Sherlock can be.

Her husband had died of a sudden and swift form of cancer the autumn before, and the dog had sulked miserably and died in the spring. She herself had gone numb and blank for around six months, only working because she feared if she stopped she might die. She had plenty of money; the life insurance paid off the mortgage; but life, as she put it, “held nothing at all interesting.” Then, as she put it, “Time and praying healed me.” She joined a church group for bereaved people, and made some new friends.

As we chatted it became obvious we were checking each other out. I think she decided I was too poor even as I decided she was too old, but neither of us seemed offended. Sometimes it is warming to even be considered.

After my third cigarette I looked towards my car and confessed I had scooped up $4.00 worth of her aluminum cans, and she said I was welcome to them, and we cheerfully parted ways. My day’s profit was $34.00, which was good for me.

All was well in my world, as I headed back to the campground. In fact the next morning I felt a little greedy to even look for spot labor. It was lucky I got no work, for I had totally forgotten my scheduled meeting with Ike Weed at Fatty Burgers. I only remembered after I had cashed in the aluminum cans, and stopped at the supermarket for more bread and sardines, and some hamburger and mushrooms I planned to add into some Spanish rice I planned to cook later. Seeing the blinking Fatty Burgers sign reminded me, and rather than shopping I crossed the parking lot to meet Ike.

Wealth is a relative thing, and at that time having $34.00 in my wallet, plus a few Lucky Strikes remaining in the pack in my shirt pocket, made me behave far differently than I might have behaved had I been broke and in nicotine withdrawal. I actually didn’t want the job. When I left the Fatty Burgers in California I had thanked God for getting me the hell out of there. Therefore I was far more relaxed at the job interview than I might have been.

Right off the bat I remembered Ike said he’d be going to Las Vegas, and asked him if he’d had a good time and good luck. My alacrity surprised him, and made him slightly defensive, but apparently he’d had very good luck, which placed him in a mood brimming with confidence as well. Stars must have been aligned favorably, for at that point in time we were a couple of lucky guys.

Ike offered me a coffee, which I gladly accepted, and then he took out my job application and some notes. This made me slightly defensive, so I lit up a Lucky, because back then you were allowed to smoke in restaurants. When he mentioned he’d had a talk with my old boss at the California Fatty Burgers, Hudson Wallace, the end of my cigarette glowed very brightly.

I was nervous because Hudson and I had a frank talk just before I left California wherein we confessed the sort of things you don’t confess unless you never expect to see a person again. One thing Hudson confessed was that he never would have hired me, and only allowed his ex to hire me so she would learn not to hire “that type.” Then I turned out to be a good worker who gave two weeks notice both times I decided to leave, while his girlfriend did turn out to be “that type”, and quit Hudson without giving notice.

Most of what I confessed didn’t bother Hudson, involving breaking Fatty Burgers laws; for example: Rather than throwing an “expired” burger into the expired-bin, I ate it. However one confession troubled him, and that was that I knew my girlfriend put down a fake social security number on her job application, when in fact she was from Canada and qualified as an illegal alien. Hudson was upset by this news, as he himself could get in trouble, but I figured it was better for him to know beforehand than to get blindsided. He could always say she left because he told her to go back to Canada, and write things down on paper to make it look true.

At the time I saw no harm in my girlfriend’s scofflaw tendencies, but now I was olderand wiser and had learned my lesson, but one does not want to discuss such things in a job interview. I was nervous about what Hudson had told Ike. My only defense would be to throw my ex under the bus, saying “She did it; not me”, when the truth was I approved of her getting the job. The fact she wasn’t a citizen was a can of worms I didn’t want opened. There are things you confess when leaving a situation you don’t want mentioned when entering.

Not that such things should matter much, if you are being hired as a dishwasher or burger flipper. However simply the way Ike was going through evidence like Sherlock Holmes clued me into the fact this was no ordinary job interview. He noted, for example, that when I lived in Maine I had been a “working manager” of a small store.

Could it be that a bum like me was seen as “management material”?

To my complete astonishment that was exactly what Ike was driving at. He mentioned Hudson told him I was a hard worker, who had given two weeks notice both times I left Fatty Burgers, but then Ike asked Hudson if he thought I might be “management material.” Ike stressed Hudson didn’t immediately answer. Ike stated, “Hudson paused a long, long time, before he said, ‘He might.'”

I doubted I really was management material. My experience had always been that such promotion elevated you from one-of-the-guys to a person “the guys” didn’t much like. I seemed to lose more than I gained. But I asked, “What’s the pay?”

“I’ll start you at $4.50 an hour for the first two weeks. Then I’ll either fire you or raise you to $5.00 an hour. I’ll know by then whether you are up to snuff. There will be some overtime as well. We are expanding and short on good help.”

For most this would be good news, but a poet sees a job as less time to write, and the word “overtime” is a sort of death knell to any novel they may be working on. However another desire entered into the equation, and was that my ex might become an exex.

If only I was good enough; if only, rather than a damp tent or a cramped camper, I had a nice, warm room at the El Rancho Hotel, my ex might change her opinion of me.

In retrospect, my lust was a lot like nicotine: When I was in withdrawal, art got thrown under the bus. Just as I’d walk through a snowstorm for a cigarette, I’d endure Fatty Burgers for her.

But of course I did not bring this up in a job interview. What I actually said to Ike was, “When do I get paid? I had to wait two weeks to get paid at the Fatty Burgers in California, and the guy I’m living with is late on his rent.”

Ike reached backwards and pulled out an unnaturally fat wallet, stuffed with winnings from Las Vegas, and fished out a crisp fifty dollar bill. “Consider this an advance.”

I took the bribe. “OK. I’ll give it a shot. When do I start?”

“Tomorrow morning. Be here at seven. Quincy will show you the ropes.”

I looked over at Quincy Phlabutt, who was standing with his arms folded, with a hint of a frown. I nodded towards him in a way I hoped was disarming.

I walked out of the interview shaking my head, and muttering softly to God. “God,” I said, “You seem to be rising me up in the world. Have things changed? Are the right things going to start being the rewarding things? Or are you handing me a long rope to hang myself with?”


This 25,000-word post exists because someone asked a question.

I like writing about my time as a drifter  among the Navajo, Zuni and Hispanic of New Mexico, but someone wondered how a New England Yankee, who had not the slightest desire to go to such a place, wound up in such a place. This began as a reply, which I intended to be a short explanation.


There are some life-changing events you don’t see are life-changing at the time. Later on, using twenty-twenty hindsight, the same event holds an import that slugs you in the jaw. We wonder how we could have been so blind.

We are surrounded by powers we fail to recognize. Even an atheist is subject to the reactions of rebounding Karma,  and those who in some way ask for the Creator’s help get an additional Shepherd’s crook prodding their ribs, but we often tend to be oblivious of these nudges as they move us and shape us, and then an amnesia dulls recall later. For this reason I advise all young writers to keep a diary. (Handwritten; that no hacker can digitally snoop into.)

I’ve been looking through the yellowing pages of notebooks I kept during my time as a drifter, and I simply have to shake my head at how blind I was. I was too busy reeling from one affront to my dignity to the next affront to my dignity, to attend much to the perfect timing of the affronts. However I did have a strange sense of humor, and did pause to note down the delicious irony of many of the incredibly inconvenient annoyances.

It would be nice if life would stop, and give a person time to evaluate what the last mistake was teaching, but life does not give one time, which tends to lead to the next mistake.

I was stubborn, when it came to demanding time to assess experience. I followed the rule, “Once burned, twice shy”.  After I was burned I wanted to think hard, identify what had burned me, so I could shy away from it in the future. But the future came too fast, before I had time to think. Because I hadn’t had time to think, I’d get burned again.

I had a softhearted mother, who allowed me to move into her basement to think about how I had been burned, but people sneer when you live with Mom; it burned me to be such a weeny. Also, even the nicest Mom can burn a man, if she is imperfect, and my Mom must have been imperfect if she made the likes of me. Eventually even the bomb shelter of a Mom’s cellar can burn to a degree where it has the heat of hell, and then a man must depart the safety of Mom’s and enter a world which never gives one time to think.

I always liked the line in the Eagle’s song “Lying Eyes” that goes, “Every form of refuge has it’s price.” I knew about the price one pays because I was always seeking new and innovative ways to work as little as possible,  pay rent as seldom as possible, mooch free meals as often as possible, and avoid all sermons, because I wanted time to think. I did quite well except when it came to avoiding sermons. People were always trying to “help” me by giving advice I didn’t want to hear. (I would have preferred money).

It seemed to me that no one wanted to talk about the things I wanted to talk about, which made me feel lonely. One way to escape the loneliness was sing your heart out in a shower to a mysterious audience which was much more appreciative than people in real life, or to write poems to that same mysterious Listener. However that only expressed my heart. It didn’t deal with the heartless, pragmatic intellectual arguments, which was what I wanted to think about, but no one wanted to talk about.

My way of escaping that intellectual loneliness was to create characters in a story who did talk about the things I wanted to talk about. Considering the subjects my characters talked about were the very subjects that people I knew didn’t want to talk about, it seems obvious that people I knew would want even less to read about such subjects. Few could withstand even the introductory paragraphs . I therefore spent a long time in a world of my own, scribbling  unpublishable stuff which I alone found intelligible.

When people asked what I was doing, I said I was “writing a novel”.  When they asked me what the novel was about, I could make their eyes glaze over fairly swiftly with my explanations. My explanations often lacked clarity because I myself didn’t have any idea what “it” was about. “It” refused to stick to the subject, even when I was attempting to “finish” “it”. “It” had an extraordinary ability to sidetrack and backtrack. When I attempted to write a synopsis, the synopsis would become longer than the novel.

I exasperated the kindest and most tolerant of people, who attempted to tell me I needed to simplify, and who then saw me promptly become more complex. No advise worked.  Any advise burned me, for it set off a cynical nag in my head who sneered at imperfections in my most eloquent paragraphs, whereupon I’d need time to think up an “improved” answer. “Improvements” always involved writing additions, and for a long time I seldom edited by shortening. When people told me I couldn’t possibly write in such a manner, I’d point out Balzac’s propensity to expand upon even the publisher’s proofs of his works:


At this point even the kindest people would point out there was a difference between Balzac and myself.  Balzac was wildly successful and I was not. He made money and I did not. He could afford to be eccentric.  I could not.

I didn’t see why people had to be so money-minded.  They would respond they didn’t need to be so money-minded, but I did, because they were not going to allow me to sleep on their couch, or in their garage, or in my car in their driveway, any longer. I needed to either get a patron, or get a job.

Being pitched out into the street hurt, but for me it was just another burn to think about. Rather than decreasing the urge to write it increased it. The less I could afford a desk to write at, the more urgent my craving to write became. I was obsessive, compulsive, and people didn’t know what to do with me, which is why they pitched me into the street.

Eventually I discovered you can only ask so much of friends. It may be true that “ones reach should exceed ones grasp”, but there is such a thing as “a mooch too far”. Deep wells can run dry. Even if you don’t run out of friends because you have the better sort of friends, your friends can run out of patience. I was so persistent with my asking that not only friends ran out of patience; even family ran out of patience.

I was downright indignant. How dare they run out of patience!? I had no thankfulness nor appreciation for what they had to put up with, when they put up with me. Instead I just got angry and thought, “I’ll show them. They’ll be sorry, when I’m famous.”

In some ways being faced by the limits of what a poet can ask of fellow men and women did not make me better, but rather made me worse. Rather than writing less I wrote harder. Rather than one pot of coffee I drank two; rather than smoking forty cigarettes I smoked fifty; rather than a few beers I drank a few six-packs. I remember one time dropping to my knees and pounding the carpet with my fist shouting, “I will! I will write this down!” This sort of extreme behavior does become expensive, but that didn’t stop me. To really teach them all a lesson, I’d even get a job.

When I got a job my better friends would begin winking at each other and giving each other knowing nudges, thinking that their “tough-love” was bearing fruit, and that I was showing signs of becoming sensible and practical.  But I was no dunce.  I could see through all the silent, wink-wink, nudge-nudge stuff.  I found it infuriating. Had they no idea that they were trying to kill me? Did they not know that to make a poet work a steady job would be the death of poetry? What sort of friends were they? If I loved them, I really needed to teach them a lesson.

In essence, if they were going to throw tough-love at me, I’d throw tougher-love right back in their faces.  And in many ways that is exactly what I did.

It seems obvious, using twenty-twenty hindsight, that this situation was headed for a unhappy ending, as such escalation cannot go on forever before a sort of nuclear winter occurs.  In actual fact such a situation tends to go through all sorts of meandering perambulations, involving making-up and breaking-up, promotions and demotions, getting hired and getting fired, but the sitcom soap-opera is generally a downward spiral, if one is truly a mad poet. After all, to be a mad poet is to take offence when the world demands sanity.

But truly, when I came right down to it, the world had little business preaching to me about sanity, for the world was utterly bonkers. The lunatics were running the asylum, and hypocrisy was king.  Even if they never listened to me, they should at least practice what they preached, but instead I saw some horrible behavior.

I’ll save all the juicy details for a story I’ll someday write called, “California”.  To put it all in a nutshell, it was a time full of nice people yet was hell on earth, for the likes of me.  The Eagles song “Hotel California” was roughly what I experienced. (Considering the song was a hit five years before I arrived there , I should have been forewarned.)

The only good that came out of the hell of being a poet midst what seemed (to me) to be California’s antithesis of poetry was “The Novel That Never Was”.  It was a repository for my thought, and a church-like sanctuary I could flee to, and an excuse for times I wanted to retreat from making money, for my novel “might” make a fortune “when it was finished.”

I was actually cynical about the idea of any money coming from writing a novel, perhaps influenced by a somewhat sardonic Beatle’s hit I heard many times every day, for weeks on end, at age thirteen. In fact the hit song may have gravely embittered my world-view. It always seemed a reminder not to take myself too seriously, as a writer, when I heard “Paperback Writer” as a “golden oldie”, years later.

In essence, the hope of making money with my writing was a sort of trick to keep myself going, like hanging an apple in front of a reluctant and overburdened donkey, to keep it plodding forward. At times, when I saw something inspiring, I really believed others might like to see it, (if not pay for it), but then what I experienced was like asking a girl for a dance and seeing her shake her head, or only nod with a most pained expression.

Considering there was so little encouragement, writing was a sort of negative affliction, like an addiction.  The question then becomes, what did I get out of it?  Was it merely escapism, like the high of a heroin addict?  There were some striking similarities. When people pointed out the similarities they sometimes had the voice of Satan, reasonable and oily, and I battled my deepest despairs. I fought back, but couldn’t say what I was fighting (and writing) for. I can remember pacing around talking to God, saying, “I just don’t know what to do, Lord. I just don’t know what to do.”

Though I went to no church, and was not very obedient to what I thought I knew God commanded, I dare say I must have done something right, for the ways life burned me seemed to herd me in a way a shepherd might herd sheep.  Of course, at the time I would have deeply resented it if anyone called me a sheep.  Sheep are very dumb animals.  I felt I was radical and defiant and very smart.

In the story called “California” (which I hope to someday write) I’ll describe how I was “faithful but unfortunate” (the motto on Winston Churchill’s coat of arms) and how “doing the right thing was never the rewarding thing” (my personal motto for that time.) For now I’ll have to give a brief example.

I had started working for a young landscaper, (only 26-years-old, while I was thirty), and decided to impress him with how hard I could work. One morning he left me with a chainsaw, ladder, shovel and pickax, and said my job was to cut down a forty-foot-tall pine tree, cut and split the logs, and remove the stump.  I was very strong at that time, and the work I did that day was a feat of strength. When my young boss returned at the end of the day the wood was split and stacked and the large stump had been dug up and removed.  Unbeknownst to me, my boss had told the lady who owned the property that the job would take a week, and had charged her accordingly. I could see he was displeased, but all he said was, “You work too hard.”  Then he left me weeding the borders of a flowerbed as he went to speak with the lady.  As I worked they came walking back, and he was charming her in the way landscapers charm rich, beautiful, blond women, when the woman is the customer and always correct.

I was watching them, although facing away, for the flowerbed was below a picture window that inadvertently acted as a mirror. As they neared me the beautiful blond lost her train of thought in mid sentence, and her eyes focused on my back and shoulders.  I was working with my shirt off. Then she seemed to awake to her obvious gawking, and she smiled at my employer and frankly stated, “Your employee has a strong back.”

My boss did not look entirely pleased, perhaps because he was physically a bit stringy, but he attempted to remain composed, stating so I could hear, “Yes, he has a strong back…”, but then he continued, silently mouthing words, while twirling a finger beside his head, “…But a weak mind.” He was utterly unaware I was watching in the picture window, and could lip-read.

The woman did not look entirely pleased, and recoiled slightly.  As she looked away she looked into into the picture window, and our eyes met. As our eyes met my boss noticed her change in expression, and he followed her gaze into the picture window.  There was then an extremely embarrassing silence as reflected eyes met reflected eyes, and then she hurried one way to answer the phone and he hurried the other way to recover his dignity. I weeded, and chuckled to myself, “What a great scene for a novel!”

I had an evening to reflect, for my young boss left early without talking to me. It occurred to me that my hard work might have accidentally torpedoed his attempt to assert his own superiority. He did seem the sort of boss that assumes being boss automatically indicates superiority, and, though I had only worked for him a week, he had spent a lot of that week hinting that I might be wise to convert to (insert religion of your choice), stating converting might make me become a better person, (and by innuendo suggesting he was the better person).

I actually liked chatting about religions, but think I hurt his feelings, for rather than proving he was a better person I had accidentally proved he was a jerk. But jerks didn’t bother me, for I knew I was a jerk as well, and I didn’t take offence.

He showed no inclination to talk about the event the next morning, and I was willing to let bygones be bygones, and was friendly and cheerful, though he seemed a bit grouchy.

I later gathered he was not as willing to let bygones be bygones, for my job the next day was to clear a lot of leafless brush. He knew, but neglected to tell me, that the brush was poison oak. By the following morning I had a rash over three quarters of my body. This perhaps demonstrates that followers of (insert religion of your choice) do get the last laugh, but I did not have the slightest desire to convert. My rash was so severe I could not work, but, between hot, soapy showers,  I was able to sit at my typewriter and insert a new, despicable character into the plot of “The Novel That Never Was.”

I hope you notice that in the above episode I did the right thing, which was to work hard, but it was not the rewarding thing. This was only one of many episodes, and enables me to identify in some ways with heroin addicts.  Addicts go through detox, rehab, and wind up back on heroin. I would get a job, and do good, and wind up back working on “The Novel That Never Was.”

My  friends grew tired of my excuses. I suppose from their perspective their exasperation was understandable. They had felt a faint hope when I left my typewriter and got a Real Job, but when I returned to the typewriter with seventy-five percent of my body covered with a disgusting rash only a week later they felt like ripping out their hair. In fact I know one fellow who now, at age seventy-two, has thinning hair, and I think most of the thinning occurred thirty-five years ago, when I lived with him. As is often the case with heroin addicts, a day came when my excuses were not good enough.

It is a sad thing to realize you have used up your allotment of worldly compassion.  It’s like when an academic’s grant runs out, or a writer has burned through his advance, but in my case my patrons were unwilling patrons. My future novel “California” will involve descriptions of pathetic, fawning attempts I made to win back favor from frowning faces, but I was like a heroin addict who promises to be good without quitting his addiction. All pleading only makes the frowns firmer.

Finally I was down to sleeping on the kitchen-livingroom floor of my last unwilling patron, who was a soul so gentle and so kind he simply didn’t have the heart to throw me out. The abode was a shack in a so-called “surfer slum” in Capitola, California, and was basically two small rooms: A bedroom with a bathroom off of it, and a kitchen-livingroom which I was turning into a mess that stank of stale beer and cigarettes, as I’d again become utterly engrossed in “The Novel That Never Was.” One table in a corner held my typewriter midst overflowing ashtrays and empty coffee cups and unwashed dishes and heaps of paper. Finally even my gentle host couldn’t stand it, and he came marching into the shack one midday to lay down the law.

Laying-down-the-law was completely out of character for the gentle man. I got the feeling he had practiced his speech many times before a mirror to get it down right, but he was a bad actor. He basically stated, “This place is a filthy mess and stinks and I want it cleaned up right now.” To emphasize how serious he was he had planned to pound down his fist, but when he got to that part of his speech he realized there were dirty dishes all over the kitchen counter and no place to slam down his fist.  He had to hesitate and search before he found a place to pound, which completely spoiled the effect.  To avoid breaking crockery his pounded fist was more like a tap between dishes, but I got the message, as he wheeled and marched out the door.

I was horrified that I had driven this kind man to behave in a manner that was so obviously out of character. Immediately I began sweeping and scrubbing, though it took a while to find any soap and cleanser. I took rugs outside and beat them over a fence and scrubbed all the linoleum and aired all the curtains in the sunshine and washed every dish and put them where they belonged. I even sorted my papers. When my host returned, a bit drunk, that evening, he looked around in astonishment, and then a pleased look filled his face. Sometimes it pays to thump your fist. But when he looked at me he saw my eyes had a far-away look, and he shook his head slightly and walked away into his bedroom without a word. He could tell by my dazed eyes I was back into “The Novel That Never Was”, and things would soon be a mess again. I was a hopeless case.

What he didn’t know was that while cleaning up the books and arranging them neatly on a shelf I’d come across some obscure works by Mark Twain, involving the “Mental Telegraphy” described in this letter he wrote:

Hartford, Conn., October 4, 1884.

DEAR SIR, — I should be very glad to be made a Member of the Society for Psychical Research; for Thought-transference, as you call it, or mental telegraphy as I have been in the habit of calling it, has been a very strong interest with me for the past nine or ten years. I have grown so accustomed to considering that all my powerful impulses come to me from somebody else, that I often feel like a mere amanuensis when I sit down to write a letter under the coercion of a strong impulse; I consider that that other person is supplying the thoughts to me, and that I am merely writing from dictation. And I consider that when that other person does not supply me with the thoughts, he has supplied me with the impulse anyway; I never seem to have any impulses of my own. Still, may be I get even by unconsciously furnishing other people with impulses.

I have reaped an advantage from these years of constant observation. For instance when I am suddenly and strongly moved to write a letter or inquiry, I generally don’t write it — because I know that that other person is at that moment writing to tell me the thing I wanted to know, — I have moved him or he has moved me, I don’t know which, — but anyway I don’t need to write, and so I save my labour. Of course I sometimes act upon my impulse without stopping to think. My cigars come to me from 1,200 miles away. A few days ago, — September 30th, — it suddenly, and very warmly occurred to me that an order made three weeks ago for cigars had as yet, for some unaccountable reason, received no attention. I immediately telegraphed to inquire what the matter was. At least I wrote the telegram and was about to send it down town, when the thought occurred to me, “This isn’t necessary, they are doing something about the cigars now — this impulse has travelled to me 1,200 miles in half a second.”

As I finished writing the above sentence a servant intruded here to say, “The cigars have arrived, and we haven’t any money downstairs to pay the expressage.” This is October 4th, — you see how serene my confidence was. The bill for the cigars arrived October 2nd, dated September 30th — I knew perfectly well they were doing something about the cigars that day, or I shouldn’t have had that strong impulse to wire an inquiry.

So, by depending upon the trustworthiness of the mental telegraph, and refraining from using the electric one, I save 50 cents — for the poor. [I am the poor.]

Companion instances to this have happened in my experience so frequently in the past nine years, that I could pour them out upon you to utter weariness. I have been saved the writing of many and many a letter by refusing to obey these strong impulses. I always knew the other fellow was sitting down to write when I got the impulse — so what could be the sense in both of us writing the same thing? People are always marvelling because their letters “cross” each other. If they would but squelch the impulse to write, there would not be any crossing, because only the other fellow would write. I am politely making an exception in your case; you have mentally telegraphed me to write, possibly, and I sit down at once and do it, without any shirking.

I began a chapter upon “Mental Telegraphy” in May, 1878, and added a a paragraph to it now and then during two or three years; but I have never published it, because I judged that people would only laugh at it and think I was joking. I long ago decided to not publish it at all; but I have the old MS. by me yet, and I notice one thought in it which may be worth mentioning — to this effect: In my own case it has often been demonstrated that people can have crystal-clear mental communication with each other over vast distances. Doubtless to be able to do this the two minds have to be in a peculiarly favourable condition for the moment. Very well, then, why shouldn’t some scientist find it possible to invent a way to create this condition of rapport between two minds, at will? Then we should drop the slow and cumbersome telephone and say, “Connect me with the brain of the chief of police at Peking.” We shouldn’t need to know the man’s language; we should communicate by thought only, and say in a couple of minutes what couldn’t be inflated into words in an hour and a-half. Telephones, telegraphs and words are too slow for this age; we must get something that is faster. — Truly yours,


P.S. — I do not mark this “private,” there being nothing furtive about it or any misstatements in it. I wish you could have given me a call. It would have been a most welcome pleasure to me.

– letter to William Barrett, published in Journal of Society for Psychical Research, Oct. 1884, pp. 166-167.

To me it seemed that finding this work by Mark Twain was a rare case where doing the right thing was the rewarding thing, for house-cleaning had led to a wonderful discovery. My friends, however, did not feel my discovery was wonderful at all. It was bad enough that I wrote when I should be working a Real Job, claiming it was “art”. Now I also was claiming it was “Psychical Research.”

But Mark Twain’s observations about what he called “Mental Telegraphy”, [which he published in Harper’s Weekly, (as “Mental Telegraphy, A Manuscript With A History”; December 1891, and “Mental Telegraphy Again”; September 1895)] were an affirmation of things I had observed, but had never spoken out loud because I feared being called crazy.

Or, to be more precise, I didn’t fear being called crazy, for being crazy was a requirement of being a true Mad Poet; what I feared was being institutionalized. My father had spent time in an institution, and he stated that institutions were dangerous and evil places: Just as “houses of correction” seldom corrected and did much to teach young criminals crime, mental institutions furthered madness. Nor would it be the happy madness of ecstasy, which poets seek; it would be the sheer agony of isolation and lonesomeness.

Writing, by its very nature, involves isolation and a degree of loneliness. It is difficult to concentrate in a crowd. It makes matters worse when there is no compensating acclamation for the finished product, and instead one’s writing earns disapproval and tough-love. I felt marginalized, and was angry about it, yet at the same time had a deep craving for love.

It is likely it was due to my craving for love that many of the “coincidences” (which I felt might be signs of psychic contacts) I had noticed involved women. For example, I might be basing a character in “The Novel That Never Was” on a girl I knew as a teenager, and be picturing her vividly as I wrote, and the phone would then ring, and it would be that very woman, who I hadn’t spoken with in a decade.

Right at this time I was confronted by a peculiar “coincidence” that deeply troubled me. I had a number of “ex” girlfriends who still liked me, though they had concluded I was a hopeless case and not husband-material. I’d exchange letters with them on rare occasions, catching up on the news, and I confess I entertained the faint (but dimming) hope that one of these women might decide I was worth it, even if I was a hopeless case.  They drifted through my mind quite often, and I used to joke I had a “harem in my head”.

I tended to write such “exes” far more often than they wrote me. Usually my post office box was empty, (unless it held a rejection slip). Understandably I sometimes let long periods of time pass before checking to see if I had mail, and one time, after a long period, I checked my box and found two letters from two women. The two women didn’t know each other and lived states apart, but the letters were basically describing the same dream. In the dream they each were swimming with me in a warm sea with beautiful clouds in the sky, and laughing about the sheer joy of the experience.

I found this very troubling because I didn’t believe a man should have more than one wife, and I was very prudish (for those times) about having sex before marriage. When I read the first letter I was quite happy, as it seemed there might be some hope of a soul-mate appearing from my past and ending my loneliness, but when I read the second letter I felt like I had somehow committed a bizarre form of adultery without my conscious knowledge, in my dreams.

I needed time to think, but, as always, I had no time. I had used up the patience of even my gentlest,  kindest friend. He didn’t throw me out into the street; he simply packed up and moved out himself, stating “the rent is $400.00 and will be due at the end of the month, and I won’t be paying it.”

That got my attention. Minimum wage at that time was $3.35/hour, or $134.00/week, and even if I found work, after taxes were deducted I’d have money for rent but not food. I couldn’t bail on the apartment because I’d completely run out of other friends who’d let me move in and mooch. Anyway, I was mad at everyone, and going to teach them all a lesson. The time had come to “hustle.”

The next few months were a blear. I worked three jobs, worked on “The Novel That Never Was”, and conducted experiments to see if I could develop my powers of “mental telegraphy.” I very much liked the idea of developing psychic power, because I was so powerless in other areas.

The three jobs were scooping ice-cream in an obscure corner of a K-mart, making doughnuts from midnight until dawn, and working at a fast food place cooking burgers and fries. All three employers made employees wait between two and three weeks before paying the first check, and it was touch and go for a while, staying fed. I’ll skip around ten good stories about how I stayed fed, (I’ll include them in “California”), and instead focus on a specific setting where I did much of my research on “mental telegraphy”.

The setting was the burger joint, which typically hired teenagers. I had no problem getting a job there, because I had a good reputation; I had worked there earlier. (The 25-year-old manager confessed that initially he never would have hired an “old” 30-year-old drifter, but allowed his then-girlfriend, the assistant manager, to hire me so she would “learn not to hire that sort”. He laughed that the irony then was that, though I turned out to not to be “that sort”, his girlfriend did turn out to be “that sort.”)  In any case, I had worked hard and had given two week’s notice before I left, the first time I worked there, and therefore the manager was glad to have me back. It turned out he was having trouble finding strong, male employees.

I immediately noticed there were far more teen aged girls at the place than there had formerly been. Formerly there had been an equal number of teen aged boys, which kept the girls occupied,  but now the teen aged boys were running off to work at the start-ups of some boom involving newfangled things called “computers”. Apparently the pay was better, whether you worked at the actual start-ups, or for the construction companies building the computer factories, which were springing up like mushrooms. The result was that all the teen aged girls had no teen aged boys to keep them occupied, and I found myself in delightful danger.

I have already confessed I was a prude, but must now also confess I was terribly tempted. When I myself was a teenager only a few teen aged girls were beautiful, but somehow by the time I was thirty-one they had all greatly improved. Also at that (pre-AIDS) time California parents had a sloppy and confused concept of morality, which meant that their daughters were hopelessly inappropriate. I think one thing that saved me was that most teen aged girls are not very good at the art of seduction. When they tried, I had to turn away and pretend to cough to avoid laughing through my nose, (which might have hurt their feelings terribly).

Although I would have had to have been sexually active at age fourteen to be their fathers, I decided it was best if I became a father-figure, and managed to keep this facade from crumbling. It wasn’t easy. I recall one lavishly endowed blond girl asked me, “Do you feel a hug has to be sexual?” and when I responded, “No”, she hugged me. Thereafter, every day when I arrived, I got that hug. And that was only one girl out of fifteen. The situation was likely bad for my health.

As a father-figure, (or perhaps big-brother-figure), I found myself the unwilling psychologist offering guidance to around ten of the fifteen girls. Back then a psychologist made $60.00/hour, but I made $3.35. There were times I dealt with all ten girls in an hour, and should have made $600.00. Or more, for there were four bewildered young men midst the  chaos of that kitchen, also asking me advise.

Fortunately the booming local-economy caused by the start-up of the computer-age kept us all very busy. We never had idle hands for the devil to make a playground out of.

At one point a price-war with nearby burger joints lowered the price of the smallest burger to 37 cents, and this meant big,  burly construction workers, who ordinarily would buy two doubled versions of the biggest burger, would saunter in and buy twelve small burgers and then depart popping burgers like cookies into their mouths. Preparing for this onslaught of appetite meant that just before lunch we had to start cranking out small burgers, creating a mountain of wrapped, little burgers in the warming-rack by noon, yet fifteen minutes later the mountain was gone, and we were still cranking out little burgers as fast as we could.

It was in the frantic chaos of this overheated kitchen that I conducted experiments and made observations concerning “mental telegraphy”. These involved two areas.

The first (and most scientifically verifiable) area involved filling orders before the order came in. This phenomenon occurred with many workers, and happened so often it attracted little wonder. I suppose it could be called “coincidence”, but I noted it all the same. It sometimes involved a “special order” burger, but usually involved the rarely-ordered chicken or fish sandwiches, which were prepared in the same hot grease that sizzled huge amounts of french fries.

There was a company-commandment which stated that fish or chicken sandwiches should never be prepared beforehand, for they were wrapped and put up on the warming rack with a time-stamp, and if they were not purchased within fifteen minutes they were thrown away in the “wastage” bucket. Too much wastage got you in trouble, yet the company-commandment was broken with impunity, with very little wastage, though no one could explain why there wasn’t wastage. Workers merely obeyed a “hunch”, a bit like a successful gambler at a roulette wheel.

As it happened to me on numerous occasions I can describe it: I’d be frantically frying strainer after strainer of potatoes, sometimes four at once, attempting to keep up with the lunchtime demand for french fries, and all of a sudden I would have the inclination to fry two fish patties and a chicken patty. I followed the inclination, and then, just as the patties were done, the order came over the speaker from the front, “Twelve small burgers; thirteen small cheeseburgers, twenty-eight small fries, two fish sandwiches, and a chicken sandwich.”

The second area was less scientifically-verifiable. It involved the fact that, just because teenagers are frantically busy, it doesn’t mean they have no time to flirt. (I became convinced California teenagers would flirt even in the middle of an earthquake.) This in turn involved an uncanny ability I noticed many teen aged girls had even when I myself was a teenager: The over-development of peripheral vision.   A girl could be looking to your left when her focus was actually on you. This utterly mystified teen aged boys, but it didn’t mystify me. What mystified me was when the same awareness happened in a hot kitchen, when the girl would have had to have eyes that looked out of the back of her head.

There were many small examples of this within the frantic craziness of a rush, some involving tangible things such as ketchup bottles being handed to you before you asked, but others involving all sorts of wordless glances: Angry, sad, bitter, forgiving, consoling, loving. There was banter and bursts of laughter going on at the same time, but it was the unspoken stuff that I was most sensitive to and fascinated by. In some ways it was like a silent soap opera, but it was being played in fast-motion with the silent voices sped up until they sounded like chipmunks. Keeping track of all the relationships was like juggling an impossible number of balls; each of the fifteen girls and four boys had eighteen relationships. (Nineteen, if you included me.)

By the time I walked home my mind was a whirl. Having one or two teen aged daughters involves one in enough emotional drama for most men. However I had fifteen daughters (and four sons). I had a lot to think about.

When I sunk in a chair at my desk in my surfer shack I might have a few hours before I had to hurry off to scoop ice cream or make doughnuts, and I’d bravely start working on “The Novel That Never Was.” But I noticed something odd. The novel suddenly had fifteen new female characters and four new male characters.

Obviously real-life-experience was leaking into my creative life. This might be healthy in small doses, but I was experiencing an overdose. It might be healthy to have a single beloved drifting through your imagination, but fifteen girls was far too many. I didn’t have a harem in my head; I had a herd. My writing, which formerly had merely been incomprehensible to others, deteriorated swiftly into fragmented confusion which was becoming incomprehensible even to me. The herd of damsels in my skull could stampede.

In retrospect I think I was undergoing a mild nervous breakdown, but I was more aware of what was happening to me than most people are, as they go nuts. For one thing, I knew a lot of psychobabble and could define certain symptoms as “stress”,  and for another thing I knew enough New Age nonsense to define other symptoms as “psychic.”  Thirdly, I could feel a certain pride about how troubled the waters of my mind were, because, after all, one requirement of being a mad poet is to display insanity.

When you go mad there are certain people you tend to be mad at. In my case I was mad at the friends had who dished out tough-love, because they felt my working a Real Job would ground me in reality and make me more sensible. This did not seem to be happening in any way, shape or form.

I was also mad at California, for there seemed no way any responsible society would allow a mad poet to be a father-figure for fifteen girls. A good father wouldn’t approve of his daughter running around with a rock star, even if a rock star was rich and famous, and I most definitely wasn’t rich and famous. Yet California fathers seemed to be a bunch of men running away from their responsibility. I hardly ever met a California father who was born there.  Most were from somewhere else, and were running away from that other place, whether it was Mexico or the East Coast. Yet they called me the escapist.

Lastly, I was mad about being made spiritual against my will. I didn’t want to be chaste. I wanted a wife, and to have sex four times a night if I chose. To have to be a pure father-figure for fifteen nubile teenagers was like fasting while working in a delicatessen.

But perhaps this extreme spiritual discipline opened spiritual doors. After all, the reason some gave for fasting and purity and avoiding meat and doing certain sorts of Yoga was supposedly to close the mind to carnal focusing, which would allow the mind to open to highfalutin stuff.  Not that I could ever be bothered to do Yoga. I wanted cigarettes, coffee and beer, and to write. But now I was becoming vegetarian because I could barely afford food at all (and the burger joint would would fire employees who snitched burgers), ( I did snitch doughnuts and ice cream at the other two jobs). In any case, odd incidents of “mental telegraphy” became more common, and unnerving. I tried to blame the symptoms on too much sugar from ice-cream and doughnuts, but it was unnerving all the same.

The details will appear in “California”, if I ever write it, but to cut a long story short I’ll again describe a single situation.

Among the fifteen girls whom I was father-figure for were two lovely sisters, who seemingly disobeyed what I saw as a  California maxim. As I understood it, the maxim stated that a woman should delay marriage (but not sex), and should not have a baby until she was smart enough, and old enough, to be a grandmother. But these two sisters dared be politically incorrect by wanting to have babies and start families right away, and were looking for a good man. Both saw me as a good man, (though a bit old), and I confess I was tempted, which made the two sisters competitive and jealous of each other, (which I enjoyed) but also made two of the young men at the burger joint jealous of  me, (which I did not enjoy).

The two young men were also “old men” for the society of that burger joint, for one was twenty and the other was twenty-three (and had just gotten out of the army), but they saw me as ancient and wise at thirty-one, and, despite being my rivals, they were naive enough to question and listen to me. If I had been an evil man I could have exploited the situation,  but instead I directed traffic midst the chaos, and the two young men eventually wound up engaged to the two young women, as I wound up as lonely as ever.

The thing about this soap opera, (which took numerous episodes to conclude), that slightly unnerved me was that I spoke little with the sisters, beyond superficial banter. Much communication was wordless: Eyes that beamed; lips that pouted, all conducted midst the frantic preparation of burgers and fries. At times I felt I was communing with two psychic, young witches. It was uncanny.

It was also exhausting. The fact of the matter was no man should do what I did without support. I felt I deserved getting my shoulders rubbed and home-cooked meals, but instead arrived home to dead silence, sat down at my lonesome desk, and looked off into imaginative swirling.

I couldn’t write; the wellsprings of my writing seemed dried to a trickle; mostly I stared at the wall and thought.

I reread what I’d written, and noticed the setting of “The Novel That Never Was” had increasingly morphed into an antithesis of California: People in a fictional small town who stayed in the same place and worked out their problems rather than running away from them; people who worked to look deep, rather than skipping over the surface like a flat stone; people who sought the brilliance of understanding, using it to melt away the shadows of superficiality. The developing plot increasingly portrayed a Norman Rockwell nostalgia;  life as I wished it would be; not life as it was; and in many ways my creation was becoming a repository for all my heartache. Despite working in a crowd I felt achingly alone.

As I sat and stared at the wall the world of “mental telegraphy” increasingly seemed like a place where minds contacted minds in a manner that wasn’t all peaches and cream. It seemed a sort of combat, even a battlefield, conducted in a world polite people didn’t even admit existed. Each time I advanced an idea which was not politically correct, (for example, the idea it was normal and natural for a twenty-three-year-old man to marry a nineteen-year-old woman, and a twenty-year-old man to marry a eighteen-year-old woman), I felt like I was herding pigs through Mecca. Californians may have nodded and smirked polite smiles when I spoke, but their eyes seemed to glitter with malice. I felt I was at war with California, and imagined California knew it.  It was not a battle to be fought all alone.

Of course I had God, and as I stared at the wall He heard a fair amount of my grumbling. It seemed to me He might have written a better plot for the novel of my life. Yet I knew I wasn’t suppose to complain. After all, “omniscience” suggests God is infinitely smart, which in turn suggests He knows what he is doing. I just wished He would tell me what the plan was.

It did seem a bit nervy for a flea like myself to offer the Creator suggestions about how to create, but, as incredible as it seemed, I felt He noticed and listened to every flea. After all, faith does tend to have its roots in a person feeling they are noticed by the Creator. One is an atheist until God stops the entire creation, in a manner of speaking, to attend to the griping child that happens to be an atheist who is ripe and ready to become a believer. It is then that some “coincidence” occurs, some butterfly swerves from its path to alight on the tip of ones nose, which, better than any intellectual argument, convinces the sane atheist there is reason for the madness of belief. And, if a butterfly could be diverted one time, why not again?

Again it seemed nervy to ask for multiple miracles. In theory once God has halted creation to prove to you He exists, your faith is suppose to thereafter withstand all tests. However,  although I attended no church, I could recall that when I was in first grade they still began schooldays with the 23rd Psalm, and that dim memory suggested to me that, if “the Lord is my shepherd,” He would not be nice to a lamb only once, and then abandon the lamb to the wolves;  theoretically His care should involve more than a single example of compassion. It should involve my being coddled a bit, but I didn’t feel coddled at all.  Even God seemed to be joining the rest of California, and doling out tough-love.

The episodes of “mental telegraphy” no longer seemed all that miraculous to me. I was weary of fighting on a battlefield polite people didn’t admit existed. If you asked a polite person, “How are you today?” they would say “Fine”, even when it was an obvious lie. Then, when they would politely reply by rote, “And how are you?” you would be called “impolite” if you stated, “Me? I’m amazed you can say you are fine when your wife just ran off with the lesbian who trains your horses.” To be honest in this manner was incorrect and rude. You were suppose to live in a sort of denial.

I now think much of what I thought was “mental telegraphy” was not the slightest bit psychic. There is nothing particularly psychic about noticing a fellow’s wife ran off with his horse trainer. However, when you are the only fellow who is audacious enough to state a truth which even a child can see, and everyone else is in denial, it can appear you have powers others lack. Others are captured by their denial, and wear the blinders of California correctness, but you are too stupid to be correct, and you escape the chains and blinders of Hollywood by obeying a simple-minded thing called honesty.

The problem was that California correctness was so exasperatingly logical, about the wisdom of its chains.

For example, through research beginning in 1968, I had seen (for myself) that marijuana was more closely related to hallucinogens than to mere stimulants, but, when I tried to share what I had learned, I could only produce psychobabble:  “Marijuana robs the long-term memory of the energy necessary to condense scattered recall into greater gestalts.”  This profundity would earn me blank looks, and also the stupid response, “Hey man, marijuana is less harmful than beer.” It mattered not a whit I’d studied for a decade and a half, and was able to compare how my brain worked on the stuff with how much better it functioned after a decade off the stuff. At parties I’d wind up excluded from the cozy intimacy of the joint-sharing circle, and felt scorned. So I’d retreat to “The Novel That Never Was”. Suddenly the plot would involve a new character, a herbalist, who would appear from the woods, with a long gray beard, and explain in a patient and reasonable way to pot-head teenagers that, if Beethoven had smoked marijuana, his 9th symphony would have sounded exactly like his 1st, because his long-term memory could never manage to make greater gestalts. But, though such scribbling may have had some effect in the invisible landscape of “Mental telegraphy”, no one wanted to read it.

I got so exasperated about being marginalized in this manner that, at one party, I decided the hell with it. Though I knew it would be detrimental to the spiritual progress possible in my future, using my fleshy brain, I joined the intimate, joint-smoking circle and sucked my first marijuana cigarette in a decade. Then, robbing my future of inspiration for inspiration in the present, higher than a kite, I delivered what was likely an amazing discourse on why marijuana is more harmful than beer. I remember everyone was nodding,  and saying “wow!” and “far out!”, but no one (including me) could remember a thing about what was so amazing, the next day. I had achieved nothing but my own downfall.

There was no winning, in my war with California. As I sat in my shack in the surfer slum, looking at the wall, and then at the clock, and then wearily arising to go make doughnuts, it occurred to me California was winning. The tough love was wearing me down, grinding me into the dirt which California worms called sanity. But what could I do?

It seemed obvious I couldn’t go on working three jobs, so it seemed I’d better apply for work at one of the start-up computer businesses, even though I felt computers were stupid. (I had my reasons, which now, thirty-four years later, are becoming apparent. It basically involved society clambering out onto a frail limb, certain the limb was sturdy.) But what could I do? Everyone else was doing it, and when in California you should do what Californians do. Tough love was herding me like all the other sheep.

I recall one computer-place I applied to was up in the mountains in a place called “Scott’s Valley”.  It seemed to be a community of lumberjacks, with a sawmill, and now a computer factory. I recall some of the other fellows applying for work were big, burly fellows with plaid shirts. They were highly skilled at cutting enormous redwoods, and I was highly skilled at being a mad poet, but we were all pretending we were deeply interested in some new thing called “a hard drive.” None of us had a clue what “a hard drive” was. We were interested in “a higher hourly wage”,  but we were all nodding and attempting to look knowledgeable, as an extremely optimistic fellow interviewed us en mass.

In my usual manner I was being a sort of skeptical Sherlock Holmes, and thought I detected a reason for the man’s extreme optimism. It did not take “mental telegraphy” to note a trace of white powder by his left nostril. Into my my mind came the humorous maxim, “Cocaine is God’s way of telling you that you have too much money.”

In any case, the fellow assured us we were as good as already hired, because the company could not produce “hard drives” fast enough. After dwelling briefly on how we would be educated about what a “hard drive” was, the fellow soared off into delusions of grandeur, explaining how Microsoft was on its knees, pleading that this little company produce more and better “hard drives”, and therefore we would be joining a company that could push even Microsoft around.

An alarm went off in my mind. Though I am an optimist by nature, a pessimist reared its head,  and I had a feeling that this little company would soon be on its knees before Microsoft, ( if it didn’t cut back on the cocaine). Rather than hiring they would be laying people off. But I offered no advice. I smiled and nodded, hoping to triple my hourly wage.

At this point something odd happened. I assume alarms went off in heaven. God and my guardian angels knew that, if my mad-poet brains became involved with computers, you could kiss poetry good-bye. I would be sucked into the cynical subject of “computer code.” I would be seduced, because code paid and poetry didn’t. I would have no time for assonance, alliteration, rhythm and rhyme, sonnets would never be written, “The Novel That Never Was” would never be furthered, because I would be busy becoming rich, and perhaps live in a mansion and have a beautiful, blond wife, as my mind became absorbed and engrossed in trivial strings of data;  I would have joined the madmen dealing with the intricate details of leading humanity out onto a frail and precarious branch. “Computer code” was every bit as fascinating as the mathematics Bach used to write great fugues, but it made no music, because it had no heart.

But where had having a heart ever gotten me? Flipping sizzling doughnuts in hot fat at three AM?  I felt reduced to mere wiggling fingers reaching up for light and air from black, California quicksand. I was exhausted. My tough-love wasn’t tough enough to fight back against the wickedness of California’s.

The land was doomed. Everyone knew California was going to fall into the sea, but I supposed we all have to go some day; I might as well study computers and get rich and watch the wildfires and mud slides and race riots from my mansion in the mountains.

I drempt I saw the Reaper come
And stand above the city’s glare.
It was sunset. The sky was brass
Made dull with soot; a chimney’s flare
Of oily flames flapped just above
The rolling sun and seemed to say
No night would come, but grayness came
Above the flame….perhaps the gray
Came from the flame….but huge above
Both chimney and the setting sun
The Reaper stood. He calmly looked
Down on the streets as fishermen
Look down at trout they haven’t hooked,
And then he drew his huge scythe back.
He didn’t yell “fore!” yet the men
On the streets below seemed to know
He was above. Cars coughed, and then
Cars snarled and screamed through the streets;
The rush hour was on….Decade
Followed decade, and drum beats
Pounded ever faster. Men bought
Every insurance there was,
Invested in old gold hat racks,
And men did all this because
They sensed the Reaper stood above.
The one flaring chimney became
One hundred, and both black night
And grim winter fled the bright flame,
But the Reaper grew ever huger,
And his scythe drew back to the moon
And then began down like thunder
None heard but all sensed. I did not
Want to dream any longer.
The harder men tried to anchor peace
Down to the firm ground the stronger
The silent whistling thunder
Of the descending scythe became,
Which made men work so incredibly hard
They destroyed themselves in flame.

On one hand it seemed I should bail out on California, yet on the other hand “The Novel That Never Was” was all about not running away from problems. Yet there was a third hand, which was that California seemed built by people running away from problems and based upon the quaky earth of running away. So would I be running away? Or would I be running away from running away, which, as a double negative, equaled staying?

Obviously I needed time to think, which was what people got mad at me for taking. But I couldn’t help it. Then, if I let thinking leak into working, I’d burn the doughnuts, and earn anger for that, which was something else to think about.

During my brief time off between jobs I wandered down to the shore to look out over the Pacific. The dratted ocean was keeping me from running away any further west, but I dreamed that out there, past the sunset, there must be some island where I could live on coconuts and fish, without a job, and type at my typewriter to my heart’s content.

The problem then would be loneliness. I’d tried running away before, and living like a hermit in the hills, and found I became ingrown and mentally shriveled. I needed companionship. I either needed to meet some Polynesian woman out on the island, preferably topless and in a grass skirt, or I needed to meet some woman who owned a yacht and felt poetry was very important. I looked up and down the beach, but no such women were in sight. I looked at my watch, and it was time to flip burgers. I felt trapped, one lemming among many lemmings headed for a cliff.

It seemed time for God to stop the universe and intervene in my life with some compassionate miracle, but of course it was ungrateful to think in such a manner. He knew what He was doing and I most definitely did not.

As I flipped burgers I thought maybe my problem was my craving for companionship. Being chaste was suppose to make one detached from sex, but having fifteen nubile teenagers and various “exes” parading around in my skull made me feel more like a lecher, obsessing on sex. At age thirty-one it seemed high time for me to realize marriage just wasn’t in the cards for me. After all, the Christ said, “Leave all and follow Me,”  and “leaving all” meant leaving all.

I wrinkled my nose and served fries with a look of such fierce disdain that one of the teenagers asked me if they’d done something wrong, and I hastily apologized, and said I was just remembering something unpleasant from long ago. That wasn’t entirely true, for the unpleasantness was in the present as well: To have any hope seemed an exercise in self-torture. I’d had a recent dream where a voice said, “The one you are waiting for is coming”, but that dream just made me hope, and then nothing came of it.  To hope was to hurt, and what use was that? Even worse, to hope was to hanker, and hankering seemed more Wicca than Christ-like. The entire business of “mental telegraphy” seemed lewd and polluted and gross.

After my shift flipping burgers I didn’t have to look ahead to a shift flipping doughnuts, as I had a rare night off. In fact I didn’t have work anywhere for a whole thirty-six hours. It seemed a great luxury, and after catching up on my sleep I planned to sit at my desk and enjoy actually having some time to think. But the next morning, just as I finished my first coffee and was getting engrossed in chain-smoking and rereading, there came a knock at my door. Swearing softly to myself, I assumed it was the dratted Jehovah’s Witnesses again.

When I opened the door I was confronted by a beautiful woman standing in a pool of morning sunshine, her brown hair lit by the low sun behind her like a halo of gold. As she met my eyes tears began running down her cheeks, and she spoke my name.


I resisted the urge to say, “Who the hell are you”, and tried to remember. She did look familiar, and then it came to me: An acquaintance; the daughter of friends of my mother; not anyone who should be looking at me with such devotion. I hugged her, partly because she was opening her arms as if it was expected, and invited her in, and we had coffee. Then, among other things, I learned I wasn’t a mad poet. I was a superhero.

It was a bit like a dream to sit having coffee with a beautiful woman who remembered things I had done in the past in a positive manner. It was like whiplash, compared to the tough-love I’d been getting from my friends, who looked at my dedication to art with disdain. Rather than seeing my deeds in the worst possible light, everything I did was invested with glamour.

One thing that enhanced my resume was the fact I was five years older than her, and this made me a glorious figure in her childhood. Where I might remember her as a scrawny little squirt, she remembered me as a looming, laughing presence, bopping into her life at odd intervals,  and always saving the day.

One time, when she was quite small, her mother had visited mine, and the little girl had somehow managed to lock herself into an upstairs bathroom of our old, Victorian house, which had old, Victorian locks that were difficult for a five-year-old to manage. The situation swiftly escalated into a full fledged panic. The hysteria seemed silly to a ten-year-old like myself, for I knew that upstairs bathroom could be accessed by a disused laundry chute. While the concerned mothers attempted to console the screaming girl through the locked door, I headed downstairs, removed a few shelves from a downstairs kitchen cabinet, and scooted up the chute. When my head popped up in a corner of the bathroom it seemed a sort of miracle to the little girl. I unlocked the door and accepted the praise of the mothers outside as my due, but largely the situation seemed a lot of fuss and bother about nothing. The scrawny little girl didn’t impress me as being particularly smart, if she couldn’t even unlock a door, but to her I was a superhero. I think I symbolized an angelic rescuer, who miraculously appears out of the blue when you are trapped.

During summers my family visited hers up in Canada, way out in cornfields, and there too she struck me as trapped. Her family was (insert religion of your choice), and freedom seemed disallowed, especially for girls. I must have seemed wonderfully free, for I didn’t even have to go to church on Sundays, was allowed to believe in dinosaurs, and boyishly insisted that God (and the United States) were all about freedom.

My reputation as a free man was only enhanced when at the age of fifteen I hitchhiked up through Canada, and dropped by.  (The world was far safer in 1968, and hitchhiking was allowed.) Even back then I was a moocher, but people seemed far gladder to have me as a house guest, (likely because I didn’t smoke, drink, or stay long.)

Actually my secret reason for choosing to hitchhike to cornfields far off the beaten path was a pretty farm-girl, who lived down the road. That farm-girl  saw me as a glamorous foreigner and smiled at me, while girls in my hometown did neither, and I saw this as a good reason to hitchhike five hundred miles. I certainly didn’t go all that way to impress a gangley little girl. But once I arrived I hadn’t a clue how to arrange any meetings with the farm-girl, so I was stuck with being a polite house guest, which involved doing a few things with the gangley little girl, such as going fishing. Unbeknownst to me, these were rare holidays for the child, for her father worked very hard at a machine shop and had no time for fishing with his daughter. So this furthered my superhero image.

Meanwhile romantic progress was slow, with the farm-girl who lived down the street. First, I was very shy, and second, I had to hitchhike five hundred miles. I was seventeen before I finally got the nerve to go swimming with her in a farm-pond out in the cornfields. She agreed that swimming on the hottest day of the summer sounded like a good idea, but the way she agreed and smiled almost sprawled me backwards into a seated position in the corn.

Unfortunately, (or perhaps fortunately), intruders spoiled the romance. We could not successfully arrange this romantic rendezvous, because little brats tagged along.  The farm-girl had two little brothers following her, and I had a gangley twelve-year-old girl and her little sister trailing me.  Despite the interference,  I did manage to swim with the farm-girl,  and the brief swim was the sort of harmless moment in time which old men look back upon fondly. The sky was very blue, her teeth were very white when she smiled, and drops of clear water sparkled in her long eyelashes.

I have always wondered if one of the farm-girl’s younger brothers, seeing how she and I were smiling at each other, didn’t decide her virtue was at stake, and that drastic action was needed. For some reason he deemed it necessary to grab a gangley twelve-year-old who didn’t know how to swim, and who didn’t dare wade deeper than her ankles, and to drag her out into waist-deep water.

The gangley girl’s screaming went from extremely annoying past downright distracting to requiring immediate action. Though the water by the shore was only waist-deep, the clay bottom was slippery, and she couldn’t get to her feet. She was floundering and choking, so I swam over, waded up to her, and helped her up. That should have been enough, but she was wracked by sobs and wouldn’t stop crying. I tried to console, but finally had to hoist her up to my shoulders and take her back home through the corn fields, gangley legs around my neck and sobbing torso hunched over my head like a hood.

As soon as I deposited her in her mother’s comforting arms I hustled back through all the corn, but the pond was deserted. Never has a lone bullfrog sounded so mournful. I muttered curses about the inconvenience of gangley little girls, but God works in mysterious ways. I may not have thought highly of her, but in the eyes of the gangley girl I was a hero who had saved her from drowning,

Now it was fourteen years later and she wasn’t gangley any more. Nor was she bound by any church’s rules and regulations. Her family had gone through a lot in the 1970’s, including renouncing (insert religion of your choice). Faith, in her eyes, was oppressive. She was refreshed through escaping the austerity of spiritual discipline, but had discovered that freedom exposed her to all sorts of bad people. She wanted to escape the bad people, and even sought the shelter of marriage, but discovered “every form of refuge has its price.”  She decided she wasn’t willing to pay that price, told her husband it was over, and just took off, hitchhiking across the continent looking for a superhero she could have faith in. And that was me.

It seemed a novel idea: That anyone could have faith in me. I certainly seemed to have lost the faith of even my most patient friends, and didn’t have much faith in myself, either. Not that I’d ever been very secure, but I’d had faith in whatever “it” was I was trying to write about. “It” was not anything as almighty as God, but something more like the radiance of God, an effluence of light, like a colored cloud at sunset; not the sun itself, but uplifting and enlightening all the same. And “it” still seemed worthy, but my weariness made me feel like I was trying to draw a sunset using charcoal. I had little faith in the effectiveness of my efforts.  Now my drab and gray discouragement was dazzled away by the blazing extravagance of infatuation.

I of course laughingly dismissed the idea I was a superhero, but apparently my modesty was exactly the sort of modesty a superhero would display; her admiring smile only widened.

I’ll admit I likely should have fought off the pleasure I felt, but it seemed better to be a pacifist. Even as we finished the coffee she arose and, still chatting, washed the cups and a few other dishes; I couldn’t remember the last time someone had washed a dish for me, though I myself had labored long hours and through oceans of suds as a dishwasher. What could be the harm of turning the tables a bit?

Although she was scornful of the religion she had renounced, she retained some habits. She wasn’t a suffragette who disdains housecleaning because they have been spoiled and don’t know how to do it;  the way she pottered about the kitchen showed domestic service was second nature to her.

She opened my refrigerator and critically scanned its nigh emptiness with an appraising eye. It held six eggs, a half quart of milk, half a stick of of butter, a bottle of ketchup, and stale cinnamon-raisin doughnuts. Without asking, she began clattering about preparing me breakfast. I couldn’t remember the last time anyone had done that for me, either.

At some point she asked me if my shack had a bathroom. I gestured towards the bedroom doorway, and she vanished for a while. While she was gone I walked over to my typewriter, reread some gloom, and then pinched myself to make sure I was awake. Then, when I myself had to use the bathroom later, I noticed my bed was made.

I’ll admit I felt some vague sense of apprehension when she referred to me as “master”, but she was obviously worn out from her travels. I told her to forget the breakfast dishes, but she insisted on doing them. Only then would she lay down on my bed, on top of the covers, and soon she was softly snoring. I went to my typewriter, but couldn’t think of a word to write. All I could do is look at the wall, which was lit by indirect sunshine and looked far brighter than usual.

Eventually I looked back to page 121B4 in “The Novel That Never Was”.  It described the protagonist struggling to resist a beautiful woman, and how it was “difficult” remaining pure. After rereading and chain-smoking, and decided to add page 121B4a, I swiftly became engrossed, and was making such a racket typing away at page 121B4g that I did not hear my house guest arise and come up behind me. She began massaging my shoulders as if that was the most natural thing to do. I paused my typing, and considered replacing the word “difficult” with “impossible.”

We did manage to remain pure for a while. I think we lasted 36 hours.

My life became entirely different. The only things that remained the same were my friends, who all became, if anything, more critical than ever.  It seemed to ruin their tough-love to have me get love that wasn’t tough, and I imagined they were bitter about my abrupt and unexpected happiness. I basically told them all to go get screwed. I was in the la-la land described in the old Percy Sledge song.

When a man loves a woman
Can’t keep his mind on nothing else
He’ll trade the world
For the good thing he’s found
If she’s bad he can’t see it
She can do no wrong
Turn his back on his best friend
If he put her down

For the most part I felt the doubters had shifted from tough-love to green envy. None encouraged me. They all had things to say such as, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” Not a single one quoted Henry Ford, “If you say you can, or say you can’t, you’re right.”

The one doubter who got through to me was a good neighbor in the surfer slum, who was crashing from the heavens of a fling of his own, and who simply stated, “If she left her husband then she can leave you.” Something about his sad assurance slightly unnerved me.

It spoils the plot for me to admit he was right, however I had two months in heaven, and I’m from the north, and am used to summers that only last two months. A lot can be accomplished in those two months that feeds the barren ten.

Not that I had changed my ideas about one-night-stands and short-term-relationships being destructive. During the thirty-six hours we remained pure we talked at length about the foolishness of thinking marriage had anything to do with church or state, and how priests and politicians should butt out of people’s private lives,  and I stressed that when two people committed to each other the commitment should be 100%, with no room for doubt. She had smiled and nodded, because it is easy to be 100% committed to a superhero. What I should have asked her is whether the commitment can remain 100% once you realize the superhero isn’t so super, or whether you can claim the contract is null and void because you were tricked into signing under false pretenses. In any case, we exchanged rings. We couldn’t afford gold so we made them out of rawhide. As far as I was concerned, she was my common-law wife. Her happiness was more important than my own.

While I was definitely in la-la land, and while my friends were in some ways correct to roll their eyes and call me madder than ever, there was an objective part of me that sat back and took notes about the amazing changes I was undergoing.  After all, one doesn’t want to feel like a puppet, completely controlled by their circumstances. Some people simply behave as they are told; when people call them a dog they behave like a dog and when people call them a superhero they behave like a superhero. I had resisted the negative labeling when it seemed that all called me a lazy moocher, and now I resisted thinking I was marvelous when I was called a superhero, (though I’ll admit the resistance was feeble at times, because I truly did feel marvelous).

One change that hit me like a ton of bricks was the decent of a profound tranquility. The herd of teenagers and “exes” in my head completely vanished, as did all sorts of “mental telegraphy”. I supposed this was caused by the door in my mind, which I accidentally pried open by being celibate, being slammed shut. (Also she started working with me at the burger place, and with her extra pay we could afford meat.) However I enjoyed becoming less “psychic”, because the racket in my head ceased. Silence is golden, and better for the brain than Valium.

In this tranquility I became shockingly (to my friends) practical and pragmatic. Although it may be selfish to attend to only one woman, and not fifteen teenagers, it greatly simplifies matters, and leaves a vast part of the mind free to attend to things other than drama.

I noticed popular music became suddenly dull. It no longer spoke to me. When I listened, I noted most of such music involved longing for love, with the longing ranging through a rainbow from red rage to blue sorrow. All such music was behind me and in the past tense, for I now had what everyone wanted.

Another large part of my brain had been committed to rebutting my friend’s tough-love, which tended to argue “you will never get what you want unless you obey us.”  How stupid their arguments appeared, now that I had what everyone wanted. I refused to waste my time arguing with them any longer, and that freed up another acreage of my mind. All my rebuttals of their Californian tough-love went silent, for rebuttals were unnecessary, and the silence was golden.

In my newfound tranquility it was quite easy to plan the next 40 years. It was a good plan, and could have worked, (but for obvious reasons I likely shouldn’t talk far beyond the following two months).

The goal was to escape California, and get to a Polynesian Island. We agreed about this, but lacked transport. Therefore we needed to amass funds. My plan was for us to work at a computer start-up and live frugally in a surfer slum, but she suggested there might be a better way, as she “knew people who knew people”.

This piqued my curiosity, and I asked what her connections were. They impressed me, for one offered immediate escape from California, and the other offered money for my writing.  It seemed too good to be true, and was. In such situations one should always “Trust but verify.”  Instead I nodded, and told her to look into it, trusting her completely.

Her first idea involved working on a ranch in New Mexico. It would pay far less than computer start-ups would pay, but, with no rent, we would actually save more. I liked the idea of learning how to ride a horse outdoors in beautiful scenery. I didn’t like the idea of learning about “hard drives” and “computer code” indoors under florescent lighting.  New Mexico became part of our plan.

The second involved a publisher in Toronto. This excited me, for it is a “break” for any writer to actually know someone in the business of publishing. To submit an “unsolicited” work is a bit like a serf requesting an audience with the Czar.  Often your work is sent back without anyone bothering to look at it. (I knew this, for I had cynically sent works with little hairs of rubber cement that would be broken if anyone bothered lift the title page and read the first paragraph. My efforts were placed back into the stamped, self-addressed envelopes (which those cheap bastards insisted I include, though they could afford stamps and I couldn’t), without anyone making the effort to read them. To me this proved those rich bastards could afford to pay a poor drone to send back manuscripts without reading the first page, but couldn’t pay attention to me or any of the other mad poets who sweated blood to submit hard work.  Those publishers at least should have had the honesty to say, “Do not submit unless we ask you to submit,”  but that would have made them look like the privileged royalists they were. The communities of mad poets recognized what inbred, royalist hemophiliacs publishers were, [though some editors claimed to be non-royalist capitalists and some editors claimed to be non-royalist socialists]. Consequently it was generally recognized, “It’s not what you know; it is who you know,” and therefore many young writers stopped paying attention to writing, and payed more attention to getting-to-know-an-editor.)

The idea that “The Novel That Never Was” might be looked at by an actual editor had a remarkable effect. It drastically shrank the novel.

This seemed odd, because all my prior efforts to get people to look at it had only made it get longer. But those readers only read a part, sometimes only a paragraph, and when readers didn’t “get it”, (or “got it” but didn’t approve), I felt I hadn’t explained enough, and wrote more, to explain what they didn’t “get”.

In many cases it was obvious the reason they didn’t “get it” was that they were incapable retards; some Californians were blatant dunces, like the German royalty who legend states criticized Mozart for writing music with “too many notes”, because inept royalty’s handfuls of thumbs could not play Mozart’s music. But in other cases the criticism made me aware I myself didn’t understand why a character behaved the way they did. This resulted in my writing sidetracks and flashbacks, seeking answers. The plot would grind to a halt, as a character launched into long soliloquies about what grandfathers had heard from their grandfathers. At times I’d even stop writing to study history books, for history was more important than getting to the climax of the story, which struck some readers as all foreplay without ever an orgasm.

Now I suddenly found myself throwing away all the sidetracks and backtracks, and keeping only the answers. As a rough guess, I’d say I threw a thousand pages away.

I probably threw some delicious stuff away, if you are interested in oyster stew. But I wanted to throw away all the slimy glop and keep only the pearls, to make a pearl necklace. What was remarkable to me was that I was able to do it. My mind was working in a completely different way. I was even able to write a synopsis of the tale, when we got a letter from the editor in Toronto requesting one.  I wrote it and my new wife corrected the spelling and typed it out. Then it was mailed, with a return address in New Mexico.

I gave notice at all my jobs and checked the oil and tire pressure of my tiny, old Toyota and sold everything I could sell at a yard sale. I threw the rest of my stuff away, except for seven cardboard boxes, which held all I owned, including “The Novel That Never Was.”

Then I said good-bye to my friends and family. It was basically “good-bye forever”. I doubted they’d visit Polynesia. But they shouldn’t be sad. If they didn’t like me then they should be happy they didn’t have to put up with me any more. I was happy I didn’t have to put up with them, though I did face a final flurry of worry, as I left.

There were things I had neglected to do, but my wife and I were fed up with a world that was more interested in stumbling blocks than in clearing the path. Both church and state were nothing but an obstacle, and we both felt that if you tried to obey all their nitpicking rules you’d never get anywhere.

For example, she, being from Canada, was suppose to fill out all sorts of forms to work at the burger joint in the United States, but we didn’t bother. It would have taken months, and she only needed to work for six weeks. So we just said the hell with it, and made up a social security number, and she worked as an illegal alien. We figured that by the time they caught on to us we’d be in Polynesia.

In like manner my car still had Maine plates from 1975. For years I’d been able to update the plates by getting a little sticker through the mail. Also Maine was one of the last states that had driving licences without a photo on them. Lastly, legality in Maine was far cheaper than the states I wandered through, and I felt those states had a lot of nerve requiring me to pay for a new licence and registration when I was only passing through. They sure didn’t pay unemployment when I got fired from jobs, just passing through. In any case, I had remained quasi-legal until 1984, when Maine stopped mailing me stickers, and also stated I had to get a newfangled licence with a photo. So I was now a criminal. But we’d only be Bonnie and Clyde until we reached Polynesia. Once there we planned to find a beach free of bureaucrats.

The one bureaucratic thing I did attend to involved getting a passport. (It is interesting to look at the serene, confident and healthy face portrayed on that passport, and compare it to the gaunt and haggard face from the New Mexico driving licence I got three months later.)

Though I think we were correct to feel the bureaucrats of both the church and the state  are all too often more concerned with preventing than assisting, I now can see there were things I myself should have hesitated at, and looked into more deeply. But that assumes one has time to think. I was responding without time to think.

Among the many things I didn’t do right, one thing I did do right was to, (rather quietly, desperately and secretly), throw myself at the feet of God and apologize.

Why was my prayer secret? My prayer was secret because my new wife tended to scowl at the mention of God, as she’d had such awful experiences with religion.

My wife stated we should put our faith in our love. To me love was the same thing as God, but I didn’t press the issue, because I preferred her smiling and nodding, to her scowling. But it made me nervous not to press the issue, because I figured God would notice my failure to praise Him and to shout of His glory from the rooftops. I’d read somewhere that if you are embarrassed about God then God will be embarrassed about you. I prayed to God to forgive me, and promised I’d “press the issue” as soon as He safely got us to Polynesia.

What was the issue? The issue was that if you exclude God from love then all you are left with is human fallibility.  Human love may see the divinity in their partner, and think their partner is a superhero, but sooner or later they will see their partner face a sort of kryptonite,  and superman will become a weenie and fall flat on his face.  It is this kryptonite that dooms us to losing faith in ourselves and our partners, and it is then we  most need perfect Love and a true Superman; IE: God. (In other words, a successful marriage requires three, not two.)

Perhaps God gently expressed His disapproval over being excluded, for I saw my new wife unexpectedly exposed as something less than superwoman, just before we left. Her imperfections didn’t trouble me all that much, because, after all, I’d always been older and she’d only recently graduated (in my opinion) from being a gangley squirt. But I was troubled by something I never had time to think about. It had something to do with expecting  too much from her, and disdaining God.  And it almost seemed that God wanted me to be well aware that, unlike He, she was imperfect.

We faced an onslaught of doubters attempting to talk us out of Polynesia. Why they thought it was helpful to attempt to derail us was beyond me. What is so bad about tropical islands? What is so bad about palm trees dropping lunch in the sand with a thump? What is so bad about fishing off a coral reef for dinner, rather than eating at a fast food joint? What is so bad about no heating bills and no air conditioning bills? What is so bad about a minimalist life, with no electricity but no landlord, no government, and no preachy church?

Yet everyone seemed dedicated to talking us out of our effort, under the guise of making sure we had considered every worry and “ironed out all the details”. I even had a family member fly in from far away. And though there was an attempt to wish us well, it was with an incredulity which hinted at the oily voice of Satan.  I didn’t blame my common-law wife for cracking under the duress, and flinching towards unwise relief.

The first breach of discipline involved the fact we were not suppose to blow money by going out. Our budget was frugal and strict. However frugality fights freedom,  and I’d have to preach, “Freedom isn’t free” when we felt the urge to go out. But my wife hated the religion-like restraint,  and demanded escape from chains using lots of clever arguments of the “all-work-and-no-play-makes-Jack-a-dull-boy” sort.  I knew all the arguments, because I’d used them as excuses for writing, and I knew all the counter-arguments, for my friends spoke them when hitting me with tough-love. In the end I decided we could afford one night out.

The night out involved driving to Santa Cruz and riding a huge and primitive roller coaster. She got such joy out of  the wild freedom of being whipped about and jerked up and down that I felt the infringement upon our budget was well worth it. But then she said “let’s do it again!”  After the fifth ride the green tint of my skin should have been proof I was no superman, but perhaps she felt I was displaying a superhuman concern for budgets, when I said a sixth ride was unwise.

The second breach of discipline involved a friend who thought it would be helpful, on one of the final nights I was away working at the doughnut shop, to show up after midnight when my common-law wife was home alone, with a bag of cocaine to share. I felt she should have refused his generosity, but she felt that would have been rude.  When I arrived home from the shop at dawn she confessed he had dropped by, and asked me to forgive her, pointing at a line of white powder on the counter she had saved for me, as if saving it for me was redemption. The situation made me feel as queasy as a roller coaster, but I forgave her because I knew she was under duress and was flinching towards unwise relief. To show her I forgave her I snorted the cocaine, even though I didn’t much like the stuff, and deemed coffee superior.

(My one serious experiment with cocaine was due to the fact I had read that Robert Lewis Stephenson wrote “Jekyll and Hyde” when a doctor prescribed cocaine when he was suffering a high fever. He produced the rough draft swiftly, only taking a day or two, but when his wife criticized his effort he threw it into the fire in a fit of temper, stomped off, and rewrote the epic we now read, by the next morning.

Stephenson’s experience was attractive to me, because “The Novel That Never Was” was  taking a lot longer.  My novel insisted upon going into sidetracks and flashbacks, and refused to be done. I wondered if cocaine might give me miraculous powers, and I might make amazing progress over a single night. I could not afford the stuff, but a friend helped me, and I snorted a considerable amount of cocaine during a twenty-four hour period, being a mad poet when I should have been working a Real Job.

What I discovered is cocaine doesn’t work, for minds like mine. Rather than brilliant it made me dull. I did seem to avoid some sidetracks and flashbacks, but that was not helpful, because I just obsessed on one particular flashback, which got boring. It was as if I became myopic and lost all my peripheral vision.  At the end of this experiment I could only conclude that some people find relief in having their minds narrowed down like tweezers. But my mind was different. I needed a broader view, and peripheral vision, to see the elephant in the room, and I knew tweezers are useless when dealing with an elephant.)

In any case I made it clear to my wife cocaine was not a wise option, especially for people on a reduced budget, but she said it hadn’t cost us a cent so we shouldn’t worry. Still, apprehension stirred in the back of my brain and stomach.

The third breach of discipline involved the fact my wife had achieved a great victory over weakness. Once she had feared water, and only dared wade ankle-deep because she didn’t know how to swim. However part of her escape from religion involved refusing to be imprisoned by terror, and one thing she did was to learn how to swim.  It gave her great joy to defeat what had once terrified her, and to swim with her was to witness a person experiencing what I can only describe as ecstasy.

I felt no such ecstasy swimming in California, for that far north the water was too cold. It was even colder than Maine. The surfers wore wet-suits. I might plunge briefly into the water on a hot day, but I didn’t stay in long, for my body had no fat and I’d chill quickly.  Mostly I liked to lay in the hot sand and watch others.

One day we managed to free ourselves from drudgery long enough to walk to the shore, and I dove briefly into the icy water, and then sat in the sand enjoying watching her ecstatic smile as she stayed in longer. Then I became concerned as she swam through the inshore surf  and out farther. It occurred to me that she had no idea how cold the water actually was, and how great the danger of hypothermia was. I stood up and waved for her to come in, but she didn’t seem to see, and instead turned to swim out even further.

I came to an instant decision and ran into the surf to swim out to her and tell her to come back, but once I had battled through the surf I couldn’t see her. The water felt like laying in a tub of crushed ice; my skin was burning. I swam further and further out, looking around from the top of each wave, but still couldn’t see her. A horrible, haunted feeling was growing in my gut, and I was muttering, “Oh God, don’t let it end like this.” Then I spotted her, around a hundred yards up the long blue line of a wave, being lifted up, still smiling up at the sky, and then waving happily at me as I swam towards her yelling. Her face only changed to concern as I drew close, and she saw how stern I was. I said, “This water is too cold. Hypothermia. Get back to shore.”

Swimming back to shore probably didn’t take that long, but felt like a long, aching ordeal to me, and I barely made it. As we staggered up onto the sand we both were shivering uncontrollably. The sand was hot away from the water, but we couldn’t stop shivering. I said we should walk home for some hot coffee. As we limped over the hot tar she gradually stopped shivering, but I couldn’t stop. As we got back she heated up some coffee and I got into the shower with the water as hot as I cold stand. It was bizarre to shiver in a hot shower, but I felt cold to my core; only my skin got hot. I only stopped shivering as I drank the hot coffee, and even then I still felt cold and had goosebumps.

This should have been proof I was not a superhero, because superheros don’t shiver. But I suppose I may have again saved her life; the danger seemed a lot realer than when I helped her stand up in waist-deep water in Canada, when she was a gangley girl. But what stuck me was how oblivious she was that she was in danger.

I felt perhaps she was equally oblivious of the danger of our drive to New Mexico.  While we both were in la-la land, at times her disdain of church and state seemed like a disdain of other laws, like the law of gravity. I felt that, if we were going to scorn the law like Bonnie and Clyde, we should at least respect the law enough to take steps to avoid it. As much as possible I planned to drive at night, when my illegal Maine plates would be less conspicuous.

Finally the day for our departure arrived, and we left. I was  glad to leave all the doubters behind, but had doubts of my own. I silently prayed a lot as we drove into the twilight, her head on my shoulder. Our plan was to rest at a friend-of-a-friend she had just east of LA, and then continue on from there to the ranch in New Mexico.

We passed through LA after dark, and, even late at night, the traffic was terrible. It might have even been worse than day-time’s, for during rush hour it is bumper-to-bumper but slow, while at midnight it was bumper-to-bumper at breakneck speed. All I wanted to do was get though the hell of an endless expanse of city.

Surely midst the facelessness of such vast and inexcusable urbanization there are some spiritual neighborhoods, and even churches of loving people. However it seemed to me they must be the exception to the rule. ,For the most part such a city seemed to me like a cancer, an uncontrolled growth abhorring what was healthy.  Most didn’t even know their neighbors. They were faceless because they preferred having no face. They couldn’t face having one.

As my tinny and tiny Toyota screamed through the night like an enraged sewing machine, all I wanted to do was get my love, now snugly asleep on my lap, safely through the heart of what we were escaping: California.

As I negotiated the traffic, and the switches from one freeway to the next freeway, I saw in all directions a vast plateau of lights people didn’t turn off when they went to bed. They didn’t turn the lights off because they couldn’t trust. It was a world utterly wrong, and utterly different from Norman Rockwell’s small towns, or Polynesian Islands.

To keep myself awake I sipped at a big thermos of coffee,  and sketched out epic poems and trilogies I’d someday write. I was a good all-night driver, for I have the sort of brain that can stay busy and not fall asleep. I recall I was inventing a city like LA ruled by three witches, but was struggling to name the third witch. The first witch was based on Greed, and the second on Lust.  But the third?  Then I hit upon the idea of laziness. For, when you are running away, there is something you do not want to face, and even when it takes far more energy to avoid-facing than it would take to face,  you are manifesting a sort of laziness by avoiding.  Or “Sloth”, as they called it back in medieval times.

Next I had to figure out the physical characteristics of this witch of Sloth.  She, being a witch, had  to be ugly, but what sort of bends should her warty nose have?  And it was as I was sketching this witch in my imagination, and we began to head east and climb out of LA, that the engine made a sound as if it was exploding.

It went from a quiet screaming, like a deranged sewing machine, to a PAH-FOOM like a bomb, followed by a sort of GNAH that went on and on, amazingly loud. I heard metalic clanks under the car and saw some sparks on the road in the rear view mirror. I think I did a good job decelerating from 75 mph and finding my way from the passing lane to the breakdown lane in the insane traffic.  Once we had stopped I cut the engine and looked under the car with a flashlight, and saw no fluid dripping. Next I restarted the car, and, as it idled with a more subdued form of  GNAH, I looked again. Vastly relieved, I saw we had blown out a portion of the exhaust pipe between the engine and the muffler. The noise would be a nuisance, but the car would run.  I even joked: Because my tiny Toyota had only a 1200cc engine, it was the same as a Harley Davidson Sportster motorcycle, and we could pretend we were bikers in black leather. We accellerated with a deafening roar and headed uphill through LA, heading west, going GNAH.

My wife didn’t get the joke. I don’t blame her for not liking being woken that way. But I think she awoke in another way as well. She realized I wasn’t a superhero. Why? Because, for just a moment there, as the car made a horrible noise and swerved through speeding traffic to the breakdown lane, she saw me exposed to kryptonite. My heart was in my throat and my language contained expletives I should have deleted. I understood all too clearly I was with an illegal-alien wife in an illegal car that held everything I owned in the middle of LA in the middle of the night. I think I did rather well, given the circumstances, but perhaps a true superhero never allows such circumstances to happen.  I can honestly say my wife never really smiled lovingly at me again.

Of course I dismissed it as a “mood” at first.  It is hard to smile in a Toyota that sounds like a Harley. But, as we drove west, following directions to the friend-of-a-friends,  I noticed that, after we took a ramp off the freeway, we abruptly were climbing into a quiet and privileged neighborhood, where Toyota’s that sound like Harley’s are not welcome at 3:00 AM. And when we arrived at a small mansion and a man walked out I suddenly recognized our host as a friend of my mother’s, who I’d met a few times as a boy. It was my wife’s uncle.

I think the uncle did quite well, but his lips were tightly pressed, and I had the sense he did not approve of his niece ditching her first husband to run off to Polynesia with a buffoon. He was very kind to offer us a place to sleep, but I had the sense nothing I said was anything he felt was worth listening to; I could have been talking Swahili. For my part, I felt my wife should have warned me that the friend-of-friend was not exactly an ally.  Though exhausted, I did not sleep well.

Daylight revealed we were in a very posh neighborhood. I had coffee on a patio overlooking the flatness of LA from on high.  It was not what I expected. I’d expected a friend-of-friend’s abode would be in some surfer-slum or artist’s-slum or some other slum where I fit in. I did not fit in, on this particular patio, but I attempted to look like a wealthy novelist writing a best seller, sipping coffee and scribbling into a notebook (that now has yellowing pages). Meanwhile I could not help but note my host only talked to me in a most uncomprehending way, and did not take me aside to give me any tough-love.  Instead he did something rather rude.  He took my wife aside.  I just wanted to get the hell out of there.

After a late start we did escape LA, which I hoped might improve my wife’s mood.  It didn’t. I blamed her uncle’s advise, which she didn’t want to talk about, and also blamed our car’s non-stop “GNAH”. It was four hours and around 200 miles even before we crossed into Arizona. In an attempt to please her I detoured north to peer into the Grand Canyon.  It was a waste of time. The smiles I treasured were withheld. The Grand Canyon only delayed us, so we didn’t make it to the ranch, and stayed in a KOA campground in Gallup, New Mexico. In the morning we would take a road south to the ranch, down towards the Zuni Reservation.

The distances we crossed were huge. It was 400 miles just crossing Arizona, even without the detour to the Grand Canyon. I could see that people from “back east” or Europe couldn’t fully comprehend what it is like to drive long periods of time and still be in the same place.  They especially couldn’t comprehend enduring such drives in a Toyota going “GNAH.”

The desert struck me as ravishingly beautiful. The summer rains had been generous, and the desert bloomed. It also was surprisingly green, and the way the green contrasted with red, orange, yellow and peach-colored stone was beyond beauty. As I attempted to be poetic the only ugly thing was my wife. It was increasingly obvious I was no longer on her list of superheroes. I blamed the constant “GNAH” noise, though I was not sure it was the noise that was giving me a headache.

At last we turned off onto a well-graded gravel drive and drove around a mile up a long slow slope, to a house that was not what I expected. I expected stockades and rough-hewed sheds and perhaps a rambling ranch house of logs with a stove-pipe chimney.  This house was elegant with patios around the sides and big sliding glass doors.  Glancing about I did not see a cow or horse in sight.  The view was amazing, and the silence was awesome, especially after the deafening days in a muffler-less car.

There was no one there to meet us, which seemed odd, but my wife looked cranky about it, and contributed to the silence. I felt she had some explaining to do, but nothing I said seemed able to start a conversation; all my words fell strangely flat; I felt like a comedian bombing-out before a scowling crowd; for example, after peering in through a sliding glass door at modern furniture with shiny chrome, I said, “Well, apparently the price of of cows is pretty high.” This earned me a look of disgust. I sighed and decided we both could use some time to recover from the drive, and retrieved my notebook from the car and then sat on a stranger’s patio, looking out over the beautiful desert.

As a lifelong moocher I was fairly good at making myself at home on other people’s porches, but something seemed very different. I didn’t exactly feel I was trespassing, but that I was being carefully watched by something that was absolutely huge, beyond enormous.  This watcher was different from the three witches I fantasized in the night skies of LA. I felt like I should be very respectful. Then I rubbed my road-weary eyes. Where were these thoughts coming from?   I was too tired; it was stress talking. I tried to focus on something more pragmatic, like the geology of a layer of cream-colored limestone capping red sandstone forty miles away. Then, much closer, I saw a cloud of dust and heard, small in the huge silence, the faint sound of a truck.

The truck gradually approached until, jouncing and bouncing, it pulled up beside my puny car. The truck was muddy up to its driver-side window, well above my Toyota’s roof. A big, blond man got out and looked down at my car, more in amazement than in contempt, and he then noticed me and my wife on the porch. He waved and walked over to us with enormous strides, and casually spoke to my wife, “Your aunt and uncle are off on vacation; you’re welcome to stay where you stayed before. They’ll be back next week.”

I gave her a glance.  Another uncle?  This was not what I envisioned.

She obviously didn’t want to talk about it, and we carried our bags into a beautiful guestroom with a spectacular view, where she lay down to rest, as I went out to talk to the huge ranch hand.  He deserves a name, so I’ll call him “Norse”, for he struck me as a Westernized Viking, or else a Cowboy without a drawl. He was tall, clear-faced, kind, didn’t smoke or drink, and made me feel inferior without trying. He would have been accepted for a try-out in the National Football League no questions asked, and walked with such huge strides that I had to trot to keep up with him. Though I am six feet tall he made me feel as puny as my car.  I attempted to sound casual, as I asked questions and got answers which were somewhat devastating, as he casually loaded hundred-fifty-pound coils of fencing into to the back of his huge pick-up, like they were cardboard.

He didn’t know what my wife was talking about. There was no opening for me to be a hand at the ranch. Perhaps she was talking about so-and-so at the next ranch over, four miles off, over there towards that mesa, though so-and-so needed a baby-sitter more than he needed a hand. He’d drive me over tomorrow and we could ask. He added, as if excusing his own generosity, that my car would never make it through the muddy ruts.

My wife had more explaining to do, but a nap didn’t improve her mood. When I tried to gently bring up our predicament I somehow found myself sidetracked into a petty discussion about whether the absent rancher was her uncle or not. Apparently an uncle’s wife’s sister’s husband was not an uncle.  And we seemed to be rapidly descending into a quibble about whether or not only a moron would say it was wrong to describe such a non-uncle as a “friend-of-a-friend”.

Back when I was a bachelor I had always rolled my eyes when I saw my married friends involved in gruesomely uncomfortable quarrels with their wives; now they seemed a lot more reasonable. But I supposed this was merely our first quarrel, and we’d get through it, yet it sure was unadulterated misery.  My stomach hurt. I couldn’t understand why my wife didn’t even try to be nice.  I myself tried, attempting to change the subject to the spectacular view, but she found fault with my appreciation. She said she didn’t see why I had to ruin everything with geology, when geology didn’t even exist. She was reverting to (insert religion of your choice) and stating dinosaurs were a lie. Why did I have to spoil a perfectly good view with science?  Couldn’t I just leave it alone?

I said I’d try, and then just looked at her, dumbfounded. It seemed incredible that such a beautiful woman could look so ugly.  Why did she wrinkle her nose like that? Even the way she sat seemed intentionally uncomfortable. She was twisted into a hunch with her knees beside her ears, and looked strangely like the personification of an itch.

Again I didn’t sleep well.

The next morning Norse made a phone call, and then drove us to the adjoining ranch. The ride was great fun, as when we hit muddy sections of road Norse would gun the engine and we became a sort of speedboat, and he had a definite Cowboy grin. Horses may have given way to trucks, and rode to road, but a Cowboy was still a Cowboy.

As we churned up from the muck and drove a dry section of driveway up to the ranch house I saw this was much more like an old fashioned ranch. There were no picture windows or chrome in sight.  But the rancher shook his head. He had no need of a ranch hand.  But he did need my wife. He had children, and his own wife had died.

Arriving back at the first ranch I felt my wife had more explaining to do than ever. I had left three jobs for no job whatsoever. How was this going to get us to Polynesia?  Rather than answering my question my wife said she had missed her period.  Rather than thinking that this failed to answer my question, I felt it explained everything. I became tender and surprisingly, (for a misled man with no job), sympathetic. I said we needed to become very practical (which might make some readers laugh) and that we should, before we did anything too drastic, make sure she actually was pregnant.  This necessitated the purchase of a newfangled “pregnancy test” from the nearest drug store.  Norse informed me I’d have to drive all the way back to Gallup, an hour north. I hopped in my car and, with a loud GNAH, set off to purchase the kit.

I drove in a daze, and the drive took longer than my wife approved of, for besides a pregnancy kit, it seemed that, as a potential father, it might be a good thing to look for a job. Even more than a job, I craved cigarettes, and I pulled over at a tiny market in the middle of nowhere, not much more than a shack.  Besides asking for cigarettes I asked for a job, and, because the old fellow running the lonesome market had long stretches of time to wait between customers, and was garrulous, I’d smoked a fifth of the pack before I left.

He was not reassuring. He stated he could not hire me; he could barely afford to hire himself and was thinking of closing his store. The problem was Hippies. Folk used to be able to drive ninety minutes east-northeast and make big bucks at the Uranium mines in Grants, but anti-nuke Hippies had wrecked that, and now people had to pack up and leave, or else starve. Hippies didn’t understand that to close a mine didn’t just hurt the owner, it hurt all the workers and all the little bars and markets like his. It even hurt the ranchers and Indians. He made a joke of this. He said Hippies thought Indians would like them, for putting so-called “Nature” before Uranium, but what they did was take away fat paychecks and give Indians unemployment,  so Indians thought Hippies sucked.

When I inquired about jobs on ranches, the fellow gave me far too much information. He was too willing, in my humble opinion, to gossip. He shattered my naive assumption that ranches were a Norman Rockwell reality, untouched by California.  Instead he spoke of the good old days, before the Hippy nonsense of wife-swapping afflicted the ranches.  The 1970’s were hard on the ranches, like everywhere else. The old shopkeeper did not approve, and spoke of his disapproval in a manner that pricked my conscience.

My conscience was pricked because besides gossiping about husbands who swapped wives, he gossiped disapprovingly about wives who swapped husbands.  That was too close to home,  for me. But what was even worse was when the garrulous old shopkeeper described a rancher who, hurt by the swapping, took a stand against the swapping, and became a preacher of (insert religion of your choice). As he spoke I was stunned, realizing this good preacher was my wife’s uncle, who I had never met, but whose ranch I was staying at.

My face must have worn a strange expression, for the shopkeeper stopped talking. I was thinking, “A preacher?  Her uncle’s a preacher? And I’m committing adultery with his niece?  And we’re running away to have a baby in Polynesia?” I excused myself and walked out to my car in a daze. A classic comment from Oliver and Hardy drifted through my mind.

No man likes to admit he has miscalculated, but my journey to Polynesia was not beginning as I planned. However a man must play the hand he is dealt, and I was not ready to fold. After all, no great endeavor would ever be achieved if one allowed a few piffling details to make one a quitter. As I started up my car with a GNAH and pulled away from the tiny market I was glad to see a young Indian man hitchhiking ahead. The world might be cruel to me, but that didn’t mean I had to be cruel in return. In fact it seemed a sort of defiance to be kind, so I pulled over to pick him up.

I apologized for the noise, and he shouted back “I’m used to loud cars,”  flashing me a very white smile. I liked him immediately, perhaps because it had been several days since I’d been smiled at, and we shouted to and fro like old friends as we drove through the beautiful desert. When we got to the turn-off where he asked to be dropped off I said I might as well drive him up to his house, and we headed up a road of bright red dirt between vivid green pinyon pines. I was nervous we’d be stopped by mud, but the road stuck to the high and dry ground, dipping and rolling, with the car always tipping left or right and never level, for mile after mile. Finally we rounded a sharp curve to a lone hogan, small but with lots of laundry on the line outside. The young man hopped out, and said “you are a very kind man,” and, with a modest inclination of my head, I backed around and headed back out the incredibly beautiful dirt track, digesting all the information the cheerful young man had shared as we shouted.

He said work was hard to find, and this was the good season. Once the tourists left things would really get rough. Unemployment was the rule and not the exception.  And yes, pregnant women could be difficult. But that might not be the only reason she was bitchy. Tourists were not used to being up at an altitude of 8000 feet. They lost their minds a lot. If we’d just come from the seaside we might be losing our minds for a while. I shouldn’t let it bother me. He’d noticed the same thing when he got out of the Army, and came home. You would only be crazy for a couple weeks, and then your blood would thicken up. Gallup was a thousand feet lower but tourists lost their minds there, too. I should check in at the unemployment office to the left on the road into town. They were not much help in the office, but I might meet other guys looking for work there,  who might know where the construction sites were and the spot labor was.

I did not spot the unemployment office as I drove into Gallup. I was looking for a gigantic bureaucratic edifice, when I should have been looking for a small, squat structure made of white sheet metal. The Registry of Motor Vehicles was the same; I should have been looking for a building not much larger than an over-sized trailor, but was looking for a vast Californian cathedral-to-inefficiency, full of lines of people waiting impatiently for bored tellers behind plastic counters. Gallup in 1984 had a long way to go to catch up, in terms of bureaucratic wastefulness.

I really knew I was in a different world when a police car pulled up behind me at a traffic light on old route 66 in downtown Gallup. I thought that the officer might notice that the little sticker on my 1975 Maine plates only updated my plates to 1983, and not to 1984. Sudden sweat trickled down my back. Then I noticed the pick-up in front of me did not even bother with having plates. To my astonishment I noticed the same was true for another pick-up in the lane next to me. I then spotted a third plate-less pick-up parked on the road-side.

I inquired about the phenomenon of trucks without licence plates at the drugstore, which was very modern and did have pregnancy tests. The clerk was an old Hispanic lady who looked me up and down in an appraising way, when she saw I was buying a pregnancy test. Her eyes came to rest on the rawhide ring on my ring finger, and she definitely disapproved, so it seemed good to change the subject to pick-up trucks. She also disapproved of scoff-laws, but informed me  that the “Indio” resented “Anglos” coming into their land and making up a bunch of bossy rules, but the police were too busy with drunks to bother with petty infractions such as missing licence plates. I tried to make my eyes very round and innocent, nodding and agreeing that rules were only there to protect people from consequences, and should be obeyed. The old lady glanced at me with a knowing smile, patted the back of my hand, and handed me the pregnancy test. As I left I decided maybe she only scowled because maybe she needed glasses.

I actually thought it was a good sign that people in Gallup didn’t come down too hard on people who didn’t dot every bureaucratic “i” and cross every bureaucratic “t”,  and thought my wife might be glad to get this news when I got back to the ranch. She was not. Nor was she the slightest bit interested in hearing that people went crazy when they went from sea-level to 8000 feet. Instead she shot me a look as if she was saying, “Are you calling me crazy?”  I decided the best thing to do would be to shut up, and have her take the pregnancy test.

It was negative. When I told her the results she grinned. A grin is very different from a smile, sometimes. A smile holds love, but a grin can be sheer selfishness. As she grinned she looked up at me and our eyes met, and then she quickly looked away. She did not want to talk about it.

Things that are quite obvious to me now were not at all obvious to me then. I could not understand. I was incredulous. How could this woman, who so recently saw me as a superhero, now behave as if the sight of me made her skin crawl? What had I done that was so different?

Because I couldn’t talk to her I sat down on the patio with the unbelievably beautiful view,  and the overpowering silence, and the sense someone huge was watching, and “expressed myself” into my notebook.

The yellowing pages do not show the scribbles of a very calm nor rational man. I was very angry about the way my honeymoon was turning into hell, and was grasping at straws like a drowning man. I was seeking a cause,  a reason, but this turned into fierce blaming. In a most inarticulate manner I blurted rage at all uncles, ranchers and especially preachers, despite the fact I’d never really talked to any of them.

I was especially irate that the uncle-preacher had such a nice house. I was no chump, and know you don’t get rich herding sheep or cattle in a desert. On a dry year 2000 acres can barely support 50 steer. I understood the Indians only eked by herding sheep in a most minimalist manner, which was how I planned to eke by, on coconuts and fish on a Polynesian Island.  Indians were good, in terms of minimalism, but to own a house with picture windows and chrome furniture involved bigger bucks. Where was the money coming from?

It did not take delicate inquiries to learn the answer from Norse; he was perfectly frank and unashamed of the reality: Ranchers did not get rich, or even get by, on the profit from their ranches. Such profits were too small, and modern trucks could not be fed hay like horses in the old days. People who could afford ranches were either were spoiled royalist children with big trust-funds, or made millions elsewhere, as was the case with Hollywood movie-stars,  or they had a side job. Norse informed me the uncle-preacher’s side job was to sell farmers equipment. He owned a parking lot, full of tractors and combines and all sorts of other stuff, down in Gallup.

As I “expressed myself” in my notebook I showered contempt on my kindly host, who I had never met. He was not living off the land. He was living off selling tractors to Navajo, but the Navajo were not able to afford tractors with what they made, living off the land. The Navajo could only afford the tractors due to far-off tax-payers who made government hand-outs possible. In other words the wealth was all an illusion, a scam, wherein dirt-poor Navajo and dirt-poor ranchers mooched off taxpayers, reaping what they did not sow.

The above paragraph adroitly and succinctly summarizes something which, 34 years ago,  was inarticulate. It wasn’t even close to the tip of my tongue. Instead I blurted rage on paper at a host I’d never met. It’s embarrassing to read it now, but was honest.

I think I was in a state of extreme defensiveness.  I was afraid the treasure of my life, my wife, was comparing me to ranchers and I was coming up a distant second, and therefore the thing to do was to rip them to shreds. It may not have made much sense, but it did “express myself”, and actually felt good.

We slept as far apart as it is possible to sleep, in the same bed. I thought I’d have trouble sleeping again, but exhaustion hit me like a hammer,

I hoped things would look different in the morning. They did. They looked worse. My wife was not the only one repenting over the haste of our marriage.

I did not like the way she looked at me. The fizzling of infatuation is a two-edged sword, in that the face of the person who once was infatuated shifts from admiring to critical, and, while an adoring face is adorable, a highly critical face is ugly as sin. I wondered over my own blindness. How was it I had never noticed how completely repulsive she looked?

Fortunately my first cup of coffee has a side effect of kicking my sense of humor into effect. It struck me as sort of funny that, while some women wear make-up, making an effort to hide their ugliness, my wife, who didn’t wear make-up, seemed to be making such an effort to be ugly. When the thought made me smile she saw the smile and got nastier, snapping “what are you smiling at”, which made it even harder not to laugh.

She seemed to be trying to pick a fight with me, and I thought I should not go there. Some sexist stereotype kicked in, and I thought the woman is suppose to be emotional and irrational, while the man remains a tower of strength. As long as the effect of the first coffee lasted, the more she was crabby the more I would be cheerful.

But one effect of altitude-sickness is that nothing works quite the same. It feels like the wine is watered down, and the cigarettes are all low-tar-and-nicotine, so you look at them and wonder if they really hold tobacco or are actually dried cabbage leaves. Your body is short on a crucial thing, called oxygen, (which is closely related to the energy or “prana” of certain yogic breathing exercises).  Altitude effects even the ambition and optimism many receive from their first cup of coffee. This seemed a great pity to me, for my wife’s crabbiness seemed to require ten cups of coffee, down around a thousand feet below sea-level, on the shores of the Dead Sea.

An example of how she would pick a fight involved me cheerfully describing the young hitchhiker I’d learned about altitude sickness from, the day before. Almost as if she knew it would rub my fur the wrong way, she said Indians were not good people, describing some sullen Cree she had a bad experience with in Canada. At a lower altitude I might have been more curious, and sensitively asked about the reasons for her dislike, in the manner a  caring psychologist might inquire about the trauma that formed opinions. But such responses seemed strangely difficult at 8000 feet. I myself needed only to look in my own notebook and I could see myself badmouthing my host as a person who exploited both Indians and American Taxpayers, though I had never met the man. Instead of responding like a caring psychologist I simply sat with my jaw gaping, amazed.

Into my mind’s eye drifted various Shakespearean shrews, especially Lady Macbeth, who was full of bravado when urging her husband to commit murder, but who completely fell apart when she saw the actual blood, resulting in the famous, “Out, damn spot,” speech. In like manner my wife had been big on my renouncing friends and family and California, and making a fresh start, but when push came to shove she was backsliding to friends and family, and uncles, and even the preachers she had seemed so contemptuous of.

I figured it might be a woman’s prerogative to change her mind, but that puts the man in the role of standing his ground and supplying the will power. If we were ever going to make it to paradise in Polynesia I was going to have to be tough and unswayed by discouragement. But it wouldn’t be easy, for my wife was so swayed by second thoughts that she seemed increasingly dead-set on discouraging me from the first thoughts.  As infatuation fizzled, so did all our plans and dreams.

I needed time to think, which I did not get. It seemed the story of my life, and the reason for going to Polynesia. In fact, the very sight of me writing now seemed to make my wife’s skin crawl.  Even the songs I hummed to myself annoyed her, for example, a snatch of Jimi Hendrix:

He cries “Oh, girl, you must be mad
What happened to the sweet love you and me had?”
Against the door he leans and starts a scene
And his tears fall and burn the garden green.

And so castles made of sand fall into the sea, eventually…

(It may sound silly, but she objected to me humming because it interrupted her concentration on a a maudlin song about an old boyfriend she was listening to on the rancher’s stereo).

When she found me so constantly objectionable I gave up on countering her bitching with cheer, and instead said we obviously both were suffering, and needed to have a serious talk. But before I could talk I needed to think, or I would just be lashing out thoughtlessly at her. Because she objected to me rambling across a sheet of paper, I was going to ramble across the beautiful countryside.  Did she care to come? No? Well, I needed to go, but I’d be back. If she wanted to look at the rawness of my emotion she was welcome to look through my notebook while I was gone. Then I wheeled away and walked off into the beautiful desert.

It was a wonderful and very long hike, well over ten miles but less than twenty, (which I thought little of walking, at that age.) To be honest, as I strode my thinking dwelt little on my wife, which is one advantage of rambling across a countryside rather than a page.

I could feel my shortness of breath at that altitude, but had the attitude that the fastest way to acclimatize was to push myself and work up a good sweat. It was like I had a hangover, and wanted to get over it quickly by shoveling coal into a blast furnace. I tested myself and put myself in danger, scaling cliffs without the politically correct equipment. It was like I wanted to prove I was a man, after my wife made me feel so far beneath superhero status.

It was a glorious and ravishing landscape, and it was an indescribable relief to get into it, rather than just seeing it dazzle from afar, from a patio, midst the camel-straw pettiness of a marital spat. Mile followed mile, glory after glory, relief after relief. The entire time I could not shake the strange sensation something big was watching me.

After around two hours I chanced upon a chip of Anasazi pottery, bright red with black zigzags painted on it. I thought this was wonderful, and pocketed it as a rarity. But as I clambered up a rubble slope I saw more and more chips, some red  and some a silver gray, until it seemed I was in an Anasazi dump. Then I looked up a cliff of silvery rose and pink, and wondered what lay on top. After a difficult climb I discovered the ruins of a huge, circular kiva. It was amazing, and I clambered down into it, full of awe and curiosity about all the work that went into stacking the stone, and curiosity about what it was for, and curiosity about what happened to the builders.

As I crouched, examining the stacking of the stone with interest (for I’d built stone walls back in New England), I suddenly heard a voice bluster, “Hey! You! Didn’t you see the sign?” I looked up and saw a man in a ranger uniform. Apparently I had trespassed into some sort of park.

I climbed up the wall to talk to the ranger. It was fairly obvious he was in the right and I was in the wrong, and the bluster in his voice seemed meant to intimidate, but he wasn’t very intimidating. In fact he was about as able to intimidate me as I was able to intimidate the big ranch-hand Norse. I was a good six inches taller, and he was very slender. If he wasn’t a 98-pound-weakling he was close. To top it off, he wore wire-rimmed glasses, like he should be a clerk and not a ranger. My imaginative mind immediately concluded he got the job because he knew the right people in some university anthropology department, and not because he fit the definition of ranger. A true ranger would wear revolvers and be a man who could deal with a sweaty, ignorant trespasser like myself. This ranger quailed slightly when I came clambering up like King Kong up the Empire State Building, and said, “Sign?  What sign?”

I immediately felt very sorry for the man, but could not comply with his breathless request that I stay within the roped paths that led to the parking lot.  I apologized and explained I had no car and would have to return the way I came. Then, despite his bleating objections, I walked around the circle of the kiva to the edge of a cliff, gave him a little and (I hope) friendly wave, and vanished off the edge. My last vision of the little man was of him standing with his eyes wide and his mouth agape and his spread palms just off his hips.

This episode seemed very funny to me, and a perfect example of being an outlaw and renegade in the late-twentieth-century. In the late-nineteenth-century I surely would have been seen as more of a sissy. I could not help laugh to myself, and thought my wife might smile to hear about my adventure.

She didn’t. She had read my notebook, and told me to see the comments she had put in the margins.

I have the yellowing pages to this day, and her handwriting is lovely cursive as mine is scribbling, and her comments are sane as I am raving.  She displays the complete incapacity to understand the reason for the raving, (the “method in the madness”), that a stuffy schoolmarm would, before an irate ten-year-old boy. The only difference is that she likely thought more highly of a ten-year-old. With amazing clarity she points out what I already knew, for example that I had never met our host, and likely shouldn’t be judging him. She was utterly missing my “self expression.”

There are few experiences worse than to, in a sense, “bare your breast” to another, and rather than understanding to be totally misunderstood. It is part of the “suffering of a poet”, but in the 34 years since I’ve realized poets don’t own exclusive rights to such suffering. It is the daily fare of quite ordinary people, who grow numb to such treatment and expect nothing better.

I do expect better. I expect better from myself. I expect better from you. Because we are better than that.

In 1984 I was a lot less able to argue the specifics of this dynamic than I now have become, but I had been a writer fifteen years, and was more skilled with experiencing rejection than many are. At the very least, I didn’t merely become numb and expect nothing better. And this was especially true with my wife.

The time had come to have it out with her. Was she for me, or was she against me? The preachers quote Jesus, who said one cannot serve two masters.  My wife had said she was leaving all, but now was definitely backsliding to uncles and to what we were supposedly renouncing and leaving behind. Was she with me, or was she abandoning ship?

I felt she was getting sly and slippery and tricky with her logic. If she could leave her first husband behind for a higher truth, why shouldn’t she leave me behind for the same higher truth? The problem with such lack of loyalty is that it makes you fickle, and prone to the flaming and fading of infatuation. If there was some higher truth she was following, shouldn’t it be stated? Even if she hated religion, shouldn’t truth have a capital “T” and be spelled “Truth”? Even if she was an atheist, shouldn’t there be a thing more lasting than infatuation, which one could commit to?

It was for that reason I had stressed, during the first 36 hours when we were still pure, the importance of “100% commitment”. I made it quite clear I would not be involved unless this criterion was met. Our marriage might scorn church and state, but it would not scorn the rock-like faith we would have in each other. We would be proof of the power of love.

And now I confronted my wife with the commitment we had made. It didn’t matter that infatuation had faded. It didn’t matter that we had been exposed to kryptonite and saw our superhuman status reduced to weenie status. We would remain loyal and steadfast and keep the faith we had in our love.

My wife disagreed. She said she had decided that it was her job to get me out of California, and she had completed her job. She was done with me. Incredulous, I blurted, “But you said you were 100% committed!” She put on a rather snide expression and replied, “Well, maybe I was 100% committed then, but now I am not 100% committed any more.”

To my astonishment, a hand then appeared and smacked her on the cheek.  I looked down, equally astonished to see the hand was attached to my own arm. I then looked up, treble-astonished to see she looked triumphant. Abashed and ashamed, I arose to apologize, but my ex-wife jumped up and ran away. I pursued across the patio and around the corner of the house, where I found her clinging to Norse. She looked up at him appealing, tearfully pointing back at me, and cried, “He hit me!”

This is one of the top ten worst moments of my life, but at the same time it struck me as being so utterly stupid I thought, “Can’t use this in a novel. Too ridiculous.”

Norse was amazing. He carefully and tenderly examined her cheek, and commented, “There is no bruising,” and then looked at me. What could I say?  I said, with a sort of writhing shrug, “I totally lost it.” Then Norse politely backed out of the final Act-Five-Scene-Five, of our asinine soap opera.

It seemed to me she had already ended things, but also that I should make some sort of official statement. I walked to the bedroom, got my bag, and, as I left, paused to tell my ex, “If you are not 100% committed then I shouldn’t be here. We need to separate until you change your mind.” Then I walked to my tiny Toyota and it went GNAH, and I drove down the long driveway through the silver sagebrush, with some huge thing watching me.

When Truth first met the Faithful One
Sweet Truth had sighs to say:
“I feel that now our love will last
Forever and a day.”
The Faithful One enchanted was.
Truth caused his soul to thrill,
And all that he could reply to her
Was, “Yes. Oh yes, it will.”

But Truth could never tell a lie
And so there came a Day
When she broke Faith by telling him
“My Love feels gone away.”
The Faithful One was shattered
And groaned this in his woe,
“If love has gone please tell me where
For there I have to go.”           (1984)

I suppose I could end my tale with, “And that is how I came to sit in a campground in the middle of nowhere,” but that really wouldn’t explain why I continued to work so diligently on “The Novel That Never Was.”

I entertained the old-fashioned belief that, while it may be a woman’s prerogative to change her mind, a man’s promises are binding. I knew this was actually the law in some states; a woman can back out of a promise to marry but a man faces legal repercussions if he breaks his word. This didn’t seem particularly unfair to me, because the woman bears the baby and the man doesn’t. It also occurred to me that the newfangled pregnancy-tests were not 100% reliable.  Therefore I should stick around and be there for her even if she wasn’t there for me, at least long enough to see whether her waistline expanded.

I was very responsible, for a mad poet, hustling work and saving money. I continued to work on “The Novel That Never Was”, because a letter might come from Toronto any day, and if there was a baby we’d need extra money.  When the weather got cold I moved from the campground to the El Rancho Hotel in Gallup and rented a nice room. She never visited, but from time to time I’d visit her out on ranches as she bounced about. At no time did she show any interest in serious reconciliation. When I asked her if reconciliation was even possible, she said, “Oh well, I suppose anything is possible,” which gave me a small crumb of hope.

The only music I could get on my cheap transistor radio was country music, which I thought I didn’t like, but which I found interesting when forced to listen to it over and over again. I was surprised when its melancholy actually began to speak to me. After a while I thought I might give writing a mournful country song a try:


Been a while since I missed
Like I’m missing tonight.
Though the beer’s really good
And the band is all right
And a gal with intent’s
To the left of my sight
     I don’t meet her eye.
     I don’t even try.
Been a while since I missed like I’m missing tonight.

I’m missing the chance
To dance and then score;
To smile and smile broader
And walk out the door
With warm at my elbow;
A warmth I adore;
     And she is right there
     But hell if I care.
Been a while since I missed like I’m missing tonight.

My table is empty
But there is a chair
And easy as drinking
You could be there.
The chair-leg would scrape.
You’d hide in your hair,
      Look up, and say “Hi”
      In a sort of a sigh.
Been a while since I missed like I’m missing tonight. (1984)

Eventually I became acquainted with the ranchers I had badmouthed in my notebook.  They were actually gruff but kindly men, who likely saw me as a bit pathetic, but also as loyal and long-suffering and even, at times, amazing, for I could reach their houses in my absurd little car. (When I reached rutted sections of road I’d just turn off the road and navigate through the sagebrush until I was past the rutted section, and could return to the road again.) My stubborn persistence must have impressed one fellow, for he mentioned he might have some work for me in a month, in the spring. When I asked my ex if she would mind,  if I worked there, she said she wouldn’t mind because she’d be gone. A short time later I heard she had headed off to a relative who lived in Denver. I never saw her again.

At about the same time a forwarded letter came to my post-office box in Gallup. It was from the publisher in Toronto. They said they published math books, so my work wasn’t really what they were looking for.

At this point I had no hopes left.  In a sense I had left all for Love, and because I had left everything I had nothing. I wasn’t really attempting to renounce the world and be holy, and to be honest I had been lustful, committed adultery, and was ungrateful and angry towards those who attempted to help me with tough-love, but, in a backwards and bumbling manner, I had obeyed the Lord’s request to “leave all and follow Me”, because I had done what I had done for Love. Not that I was happy about it:

I think I am going to die soon.
I see a skull’s face in the full moon
And high in the sky hear a mad loon
Luting a lonely and sad tune.

Why am I frightened of leaving?
I won’t leave anyone grieving.
Why am I staying here groaning?
Life’s just a way of postponing.

Someone, please some-
Body want

Ask me to stay.                      (1984)

At this point some might wonder why I didn’t go creeping back to California with my tail between my legs and beg for forgiveness. Quite honestly the thought never occurred to me. It wasn’t due to pride, for I had little of that left. It may have simply been because I was too busy staying alive to plan any long trips.

But also I was curious about what lay ahead. Even though I had renounced the world in a selfish way, I had done it. And, according various scriptures, because I had renounced the world I should see some “coincidences” occur. If “the Lord was my shepherd” I should not be left to rot and become bleached bones in the sand like a dead lamb.  On Sundays the country station had churchy music, and I heard it sung, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto thee. Alleluia.”

Well, maybe I didn’t seek God first. I sought a grass hut in Polynesia, and a babe to share it with, first.  But I didn’t get the grass hut and lost the babe, so all I really had left was God.  So God was now first.  I had been nudged and prodded like a recalcitrant ram to the proper pasture, by an unseen shepherd… where was the green grass?  Did I deserve any, considering I was not exactly an aspiring saint, seeking all the right things for all the right reasons, and instead was a mad poet?  Would I see “all these things be added unto thee?”

As my mind entered this wondering mode “The Novel That Never Was” started to get longer again, for it actually never was a thing meant to be finished. It was like a gymnasium to work out in, where I could develop mental muscles, and as such was more like an activity, like skipping rope or hammering away at a punching bag, than it was a work that would ever sit in a frame like a completed picture. (Also, late on lonely nights, it perhaps became a battlefield in the strange landscape of “mental telegraphy”.)

I did see many wonderful things over the following four years, as I drifted about the desert, which is why I enjoy looking back and remembering, and writing about what reflection reveals. I felt like a black sheep under the care of an incredibly kind Shepherd. But this is the end of the tale of how I came to be there.