Letters From Montana: Hearing that Montana is the last best place to hide, we move from San Diego to a ranching community on the Rocky Mountain Front, and buy a house on Marilyn’s credit card. Here we will finally find peace far from the family lawyers seeking to take...Read More
A story of a family’s survival on the plains of Nebraska: (From the Preface:) “There was too much of everything for some, and too little for most. It’d gone on too long, seven billion barely hanging on. One day something snapped so loud everyone on earth heard it,...Read More
Marilyn & Me: A Timeless Love Story is the story of how a raw, frenzied and clueless woodcutter meets a former nun about renting a room at her boarding house in San Diego. Marilyn is teaching nursing in the Nazarene College, and Jack has just lost his axe, family and home. They sweep together the ashes of their destruction and start over in an adventure neither is ready for.Read More
Travis & Muldoon are childhood friends who team up in middle age to break out of meaningless lives and recapture the excitement and spontaneity of their youth. They buy two horses and a pack animal, and set off for Santa Fe from Kansas. Their dream is to arrive in Santa Fe...Read More
Raised By The Wind is a children’s story about a walk to the beach as a seven year old tells her grandfather why she’s decided she wants to be raised by giraffes. He suggests humorous alternatives as they poke along. Santa Fe artist Pooka Longley beautifully illustrates...Read More
and surprise the reader...
(From’ No Squatters Farming Armageddon’)
There’s a few things that keep me going in this hard life. One is laughter, one is the sting of whisky, one is tobacco smoke sucked deep on that first morning puff.
Then maybe the voices of the kids at play, and the kids themselves, maybe that.
Then a far off thunderstorm muttering, a few raindrops scouting things out for the rest, & cool water from a puddle cupped in these hands, sweat dropping some back as I drink.
Maybe the sound of a train horn late at night, & feeling the earth tremble.
I guess hearing a dog at night, some loner woofing itself into the darkness. I wouldn’t choose to live only to hear that, but it steers me to going on. Like the taste of wine and a deep kiss, they’re similar in some ways.
A meadowlark doing a summertime riff. An itch I can eventually reach behind me and get if I push my hands way up. Or rub against a tree. A shuddery sigh coming through out of nowhere, that’s good, that’s me wanting to go on.
Looking down into a wood cook stove, watching the low flames, holding the Majestic burner plate by the lifting handle. Can’t do that dead. Smelling the smoke.
Feeling a horse’s nose, smelling its breath, feeling its lashes against my cheek, the whicker it makes down deep…
On the original plywood ceiling of the boxcar was written in broad lead carpenter pencil: ‘Bad Bob The Albino 5/26-82 & 9.16.86’
It was on the ceiling of the end hotel suite in a line of 16 coupled steel boxcars outside Two Harbors on Lake Superior. Bad Bob had been hoboing in what would become the Northern Rail Traincar Hotel’s most expensive suite twenty years later when the hotel owners bought up a bunch of cars retired by the railroad to make way for flatcars carrying shipping containers.
Who was Bob? We were with Mary the desk clerk looking at the rooms they offered. This particular suite took up the entire length and half the width of a boxcar. When I’d lived in New York City in the 60’s it was in a railroad flat in an immigrant neighborhood on the Lower East side, so being here was like my memory home upgraded to king bed with quilted cover, pretend Tiffany table lamps, ornate ceiling fan, plush sofa and ottoman, and large bath. Before New York I’d worked for the AT&SF putting in new signals between Chicago and LA. So I felt right at home.
The walls were insulated, sheet rocked, textured and painted in pastels, but the scarred inch thick plywood ceiling was left bare for mood. I decided we had to stay in this one despite the cost. Marilyn is more like Bad Bob, content with a bed of gunnysacks. She’d been a nun for 15 years. But I needed Bob’s new place. There was a story coming together in my head and it depended on Bob’s signature in the corner for me to keep it going.
Mary said this place first began to take shape when the owner and her husband rented a renovated caboose in the Napa Valley in a train station siding similar to this one. High-pressured professionals, they’d felt free for the first time in years, and when they broke up, the woman remembered their caboose time and came up with the idea of her building boxcar hotels around the country. She bought the land and had the cars shipped by track as far as Two Harbors, then craned onto flatbeds and driven here. It took a year before they ran out of money and went to Minneapolis to find partners to complete it.
It was the end of the line for Albino Bob’s hobo bedroom. Next time he saw it he wouldn’t believe it, lying here on the 400 thread-count Pima cotton sheets under a goose down comforter about to nod off when something on the plywood ceiling catches his eye and he sees his name as if it is another’s, and he’s transported back two decades, remembering the feel of the flat pencil in his fingers as he wrote, and stepping down backward to the boxcar floor from off the crate.
He’d been riding the rails between Flag and Gallup on this same boxcar he’d jumped four years earlier in New Orleans, this time meeting an Indian, Bob full-on sheet white and the Indian the rust color of the boxcar. It was instant hatred as Bob watched the man swing in through the side door from the roof and drop to his floor, the man only now seeing Bob and coming up out of his crouch screaming with a force that drove Bob and his knife back against the wall. He figured he was through when in the tussle he felt his own blade poking into his groin. When he came to the man was sitting there picking his teeth with Bob’s knife and smiling. ‘Hullo, Whiteman,’ he says.
Lord, all this comes back so fast on the power of that signature: him and Gray Eyes and the jewelry and Old Pawn business they got going in Gallup, Gray networking all settlements on the Rez, them buying up the Hubbell Trading Posts, those Peters exhibitions in Santa Fe, and creating IndInc, and taking over the Black Mesa Coal operation and other leases so the tribe got more of what was theirs. It dominoed around Indian lands in all states up into Canada and came together through fresh agencies setting up a nation within a nation, like transplanting a new heart into a dying man.
Who woulda thought the worst lands set aside for the reservation Indians would turn out to be the best lands for them as it turned out? Who woulda thought the white man could ever be made to let go of his grip on Indian assets? And to think that the whitest of white men and the darkest of red men pulled it off, sealing it with a blood oath that began with Bad Bob’s shiv in his own guts?
Bad Bob fingered the choppy scar below his belly button and finally let his eyes close. It’d been a long day, Thunder Bay, the Ojibwa Elders at Grand Portage. Yep, him and Gray were the Indian’s Lewis and Clark, exploring the wilderness of treaties, contracts and promises like’d never been done before, and everyone turning out richer with this new system of ‘All Get Up or All Fall Down’, that even the Feds were trying out. They’d explored a new route to the Specific and redistributed the riches the original people had prepared for all men, and not just the whites.
Marilyn and I lay there under the comforter with Bob, looking at his penciled signature, we all kissed good night and fell asleep like happy hobos.
It wasn’t the open top Wrangler Jeep–that was the red one we gave to one of our kids who traded it in on an older model BMW. No, this Jeep was the ’93 Wagoneer, that classic precursor to the Cherokee that has kept the same look for 20 years. Our friends the Coates have a late model Cherokee that is elegant, and I think we bought the Wagoneer thinking that’d move us up into their social class.
We had not thought it through very well because, a.) The wood siding was really contact paper curling away in strips, b.) the roof upholstery was ripped from front to back as if a cat had been locked in and gone bonkers, c.) the back seat power window motors were no longer connected to the windows; the windows we pulled up out of the slots with our finger pads and, clamping both sides with our palms, pulled up to close, and duct taped to the frame, d.) the front windshield had a crack running across it, e.) was that the car had 3O9,OOO miles on it, but the seller assured us they’d put in a new motor 8O,OOO miles before, but hadn’t reset the odometer, and f.) was that although the security system was state of the art when it came out on this model, it shut down the fuel pump and coil if we tried opening the locked car from the driver’s side with either the key or the remote. (We learned that the correct way was to unlock the passenger side, then lean across to push the Open button on the driver’s side door. Even then the car’s security sensors took a while to reorient to owner-ok mode. Sometimes it had second thoughts about us being okay and shut down at 65 miles an hour.)
The good part of the buy was the price; Fred asked for $15OO and came down to $12OO before we could even twitch. We’d found his ad on Craigslist. He said he and his two brothers had driven the car since it came out, Fred buying a newer car for himself and turning over the keys to each lad as he reached 18.
We drove it around the neighborhood there in Minneapolis loving the fine power leather seats, the heft of the V-8, the way it handled, the fold-down seats in back, the new radio/CD fitted into the hole left where the old cassette/radio had been.
The carpeting in back was stained black and reddish here and there, as if batteries had tipped over in transit and someone had used solvents to try and fix that, and the upholstery around the power sunroof was stained with leak-in.
It was like taking an old hooker with a bum leg and glass eye off the streets in Duluth and marrying her to give her back her self-respect; we bought her, fitted out the front end with a Blue Ox tow bar, and connected it to the back of our RV. Now we could travel with a car whose transmission was simple to put into tow mode, and detach and drive off to town from wherever we parked.
You know how they say you can’t take a ‘ho and make her into a lady? It’s true. We tried.
Episodic schizophrenia was the mechanic’s guess at the periodic shutdown of the Jeep’s motor. He’d put it on his diagnostic machine and couldn’t find anything conventionally wrong. He, like others, guessed that the computer installed in the 1993 car was primitive and atavistic. It sensed break-ins but made no allowances for the owners. It might’ve been missing Fred and his two brothers, and the berserk family cat that ripped up the roof upholstery. Like the others, he suggested I take it to the dealership, which eventually I did, but way down the line. And they couldn’t do anything with it either.
I drove my son Zach from Minneapolis to OSU in Corvallis, Oregon a month or so before, and coming out of the Red Robin one night, we met an ancient man staring through the front window at a specific booth on the far side, beyond the cashier/hostesses’ podium. We talked while Zach continued on to the truck. The man had eyes you sometimes find on street people that leaves no doubt about coming from another realm. The man told me he had coffee exactly a year before in Red Robin at that table right over there, pointing through the window, and he wanted to do it again. I’d just tried to hand him a five-dollar bill because it was bitter cold, but he ignored the bill and asked me to speak with the hostess, and pay her for some java. I was to walk in with him, introduce him to her, and ask that he be seated at that table over there. Then I was to leave. When it came time for him to pay she was to use the five-dollar bill I’d handed her, and return the change to him. He talked like a professor. He made no eye contact and when I went to touch his shoulder stepped away.
That night I had five clear dreams one right after the other. In one I’m in the Wagoneer when it goes out of control and spins around, ending on a steep slope. That dream would play out on Thanksgiving, six weeks later, en route to Borrego Springs, California alone. It was Thanksgiving Day afternoon, no one on the road, and the back duals on the driver’s side blew, both more or less at once, the backend swinging into the northbound lane, and then sideways down the road, the towed Wagoneer stabilizing the rig in its countering swing so I didn’t turn over. It was an exact replay of the first of the five dreams the old man in Corvallis gave me, except in the dream I was driving the jeep.
When I drove onto the shoulder that side of the rig began to sink into mud under the grass sod. The canted jeep was the only thing that kept the rig from going over on its side and down the embankment.
The first two tow trucks sent by AAA were too small to do any good. The third was a proper tow truck for 18-wheelers, getting there six hours later. There were three men who worked for two hours stabilizing the Winnebago with cables, cats cradling it by the axles so it couldn’t slip or topple when towed onto the pavement. This took hours. I remember rolling one of the wheels they took off the RV to replace with the spare, and realized how physically weak I’d become. I was 73 but until then unaware of the changes in my body and spirit. When I was in the wood business twenty years before I could wrestle a 3OO pound log onto the flatbed. Now I could barely keep the wheel straight as I rolled it along to the Wagoneer, and it weighed but a third as much. Getting part of it into the back of the Wagoneer took all I had, but I still couldn’t tilt it up to get it shoved in. One of the men had to come and do it for me. He returned to the others in the glare of the floodlights on the huge tow truck. I said aloud to the cold and rain, ‘I’m weak.’ To be strong had been everything all my life, if not always in my nature, at least in body and spirit.
The tow truck was inching forward taking up the slack of the cables. The four leveling jacks were down and couldn’t be retracted because of the suck of mud they were moored in. Retracting those jacks is by steel spring power alone, the hydraulics only extend them, so all four jacks were furrowing the mud. The men did what they could to keep from bending or snapping them off.
They loaded up their gear, collected payment and took off. It was midnight. I headed down the Interstate to a roadside rest near Minneapolis, Kansas, and slept for ten hours. In Salinas the next day I had six new tires mounted and drove the Winnebago into a KOA east of town. The place assigned me had an arborvitae hedge, and beyond it a diagonal line of cedars arrowing toward a corn field, an exact view from the second dream, given me by the old man at the Red Robin in Corvallis, except the cornfield in the dream was an immense kelp bed catching the late afternoon sun.
Wagoneer Part. 3
…Still raining off 81, onto 54 in Kansas going southwest, a jackhammer ride now because they’d installed truck tires in Salinas instead of the cushy RV models, and these were overinflated for correct seating of the rims. I am heading for I-1O in southern New Mexico, through Tucumcari, Santa Rosa, Vaughn, Duran, Corona, once trucking, railroad and ranching centers now collapsed around their worn-out names.
Into Carrizozo for the night and a 195O’s style trailer park next to the railroad tracks. Five bucks with hookups. There is a long freight train parked on the siding across the highway, engine throbbing a heartbeat, airbrake release valve hissing every few minutes. It is out of the third dream the old man gave me months before, the old trailer park, the train, the pump and hiss, the long night of a soul deciding if it was going to stick around.
Drive by the Trinity site near White Sands that morning, cut through Socorro west to Deming into a straight-line wind, engine screaming and the rig barely moving forward. On a narrow stretch of road a double rigged gasoline tanker careens out of blinding snow going so fast it blows me off the road, the Winnebago high centering and tipping along the edge deciding if we are going to take the plunge. In one of the dreams I am driving along highway 1 on the Pacific coast on a sunny day when a dense fog comes out of nowhere.
In Lordsburg the other side of Deming a few hundred miles west I give away the first of the children’s books I’ve brought along to distribute. I give some to the Navajo manager of the KOA for his grandchildren, and it’s as if I’ve given him a blessing, then walk to the WPA library where I give eight to the librarian. Best looking pueblo-style building in town, built in the last Depression era.
She says she’ll give four to the Elementary School. She is old-style librarian, hair in a bun, straight, tall, proper, cold and over-defined. By the time we part she is smiling, the rigor of her public self relaxed. She hasn’t read the brief story but the illustrations by Pooka Longley have gotten to her.
I give her another book to give to the postmistress who I’d met on my way here, who seemed out of place in what was left of this broken down trucking and ranching town. The librarian says the postmistress rides a big Harley in leather jacket and chaps on weekends, moving with a rough crowd. I’d seen that kind of glint in her eyes when in there mailing a book a hour before. Bet she’d relate to Cristina on her trike in the book.
In Borrego Springs I stop at the Elementary School to give them books, then try the library where I learn it will have to be cleared by a county committee at their meeting in the next fiscal year before it is allowed to go on the shelves: It is a story about a grandfather and his seven-year-old granddaughter walking to the beach, for cryin’ out loud, mainly pictures for children 4 to 8.
I fly back to Minneapolis at Christmas leaving the Wagoneer with the stored RV, then after New Years Marilyn and I fly to San Diego. On our way to the desert the jeep cuts out coming into Ramona, so a tow truck has to haul us the rest of the way through Santa Isabel, Ranchito and down the Montezuma grade onto the desert.
It is Sunday, so we drop it off the flatbed outside the gates to Tito’s Garage on S22 at the edge of town, and the tow driver takes us to our RV. We drive to Clark’s Dry Lake east of town and set up our winter home.
Tito has the Wagoneer for a month, ordering parts from auto reclaiming yards around the country to replace those he suspects are bad. He still can’t get it started, and he’s an ace mechanic. The security digital electronics first installed in the 93 Wagoneer no one fully understood. Even in the Coates’ Cherokee there are things that still hadn’t been worked out, and theirs is fifteen years newer.
One day Tito suggests I tow the Jeep with my pickup to the Chrysler dealership to replace the coil. For a week or so it works, until Marilyn drives up to Palm Springs to fetch her son Mike and wife Katie, and it cuts out as she turns from the I-1O off-ramp onto Ramon Road to the airport.
She is blocking all after-work traffic when I get her matter-of-fact call; that tone means she has moved beyond panic. I learn later she’d ordered a tow truck from AAA that was going to take two hours to get there.
But the Jeep has a change of mind and starts, then runs perfectly until after Mike and Katie return to Minneapolis five days later, when on our way back to our RV we pull over to chat with some Canadian friends outside their trailer in the desert—one moment we’re in our seats gabbing out the window with them, next moment the motor stops. It never starts again.
Our friends tow us back to the big parking lot at the Roadrunner Club we call the Black Lake, and the next day, instead of calling for a tow truck back to Tito’s, we call PBS and arrange to donate the Jeep, the auction price to be divided between their TV and radio operations.
We take out our gear, finally accepting she is used up; she’d gotten Minneapolis Fred and his brothers around for 14 years, then us for two, and saved me from tipping over that rainy Thanksgiving night on highway 81, and again near the Trinity A-bomb site with that gas tanker truck speeding out of the blizzard
Her final tow comes a few days later, with a truck that will take her to Otay Mesa on the Mexican border. I hand over title and registration, remove the Minnesota plates, sign the release to PBS, and leave the driver to winch her onto the flatbed. I can’t watch that final tow.
Marilyn tells me later that she flagged that driver down as he left the Roadrunner park, got out of her friend’s car and laid her hands on the hood in blessing.
(From the original manuscript of the ebook)
Magnetics, buzzards, owl at alter, key on string of kite
…If you tied a key to a kite string and played it into a tribe of magnetics, you wouldn’t get shocked or even a spark, because these were resonances stripped of polarity, they were fields of individual eminences grazing their way across the Nebraska prairie. You were now their polarity.They were slivers of earth’s magnetic field chipped away like misty sherds of obsidian in making a tool. Maybe these fragments of earth’s mind had lost the core identity to guide them back to where they came from
They quarried into intelligences of the life they drifted by, absorbing copies to grid and examine as they moved on. If one swept through you there’d be this déjà vu playing out on the screen of you, as you shifted into becoming people and animals whose awarenesses and memories the magnetics had absorbed, in search of the mother they’d been sheared from.
They took on vestiges of identities they’d never known. They’d been part of a forever living hug embracing the earth they’d splintered away from, and become collections of everything they touched here below.
As they moved through you, your identity was augmented by everything they’d drawn into themselves, so you– as the identity you were most comfortable being— disappeared into the crowd of other identities and memories lifted into themselves.
So for a time the person you thought you were was replaced by an indiscriminate everything. The first time this happened you didn’t know what was happening, but when you sensed or saw them afterward, as vertical shadows drifting your way still looking for their mother, you ran for all you were worth.
You didn’t like not being you, and you especially didn’t like being a two dimensional coyote or beetle, or breeze or cactus memory, and part of their remembered lives. You loved you in here-and-now 3D, this single scrawny, ragged, hairy human with a name that could be written down and read. You didn’t want to be a generic shading of a form of life you didn’t identify with, having impulses and torment that came with being another species, or geological formation, or pool of water. It might be an instant in your time, but during that instant you were living others’ lives from birth onward, from insemination onward, from run-off onward, to that instant of a magnetic touching you, then moving on:
As a pool you were not just hydrogen and oxygen, you were also specific rain drops from specific rainstorms and its run-off, you were fish ambition or bird song, misted plant breath in a reality that wasn’t aware of anything beyond its shores, with everything in it aware of itself and its own beauty and destiny. You would never pee in a pool again anywhere, or see it as disconnected from you as before: It was now at least a distant cousin…
Old Age as a New Age.
Growing up I was more like an old person with advanced dementia. Or put another way, I didn’t move mentally much beyond third grade. But to cover this I developed a nice smile. I mean it just went with the territory of not-getting-it. I’d light up at not understanding something new because it was so familiar, like meeting a friend in those first moments of reunion, real enthusiasm, real love, real relief at being back together again. And I’d light up at really getting something from time to time. Like 1492. It’d be like being in a deep cave for a long time and accidentally stumbling out into a sunrise.
I developed physically like everyone else, but my brain stayed out in the corral. I looked grown up and learned some big words so as to pass for a regular guy, and my hormones were commensurate with my age, but inside I was still a grade schooler in brain and emotions. This endeared me to girls and women but not guys with whom I was supposed to be competitive and savvy but was instead all smiley and eager to please: Gee whiz, really?!!!
Anyway, here I am in an age group that is just stumbling into that place I’ve called home all my life, or what they call dementia. After a lifetime of towing the rope people my age’s brains are beginning to seriously misfire, like having eight cylinders and five burnt out. Because this is seriously down-home for me I’m beginning to make friends with people who under no circumstances would’ve had anything to do with me in the past. As a third grader with 76 years of life experience I’m in their league and even considered a little smart by some slipping onto my playground: Can I play too?
Here’s the thing, my very survival has hinged on play-acting the part of being grown-up, and now that it’s okay to be a little kid grown-up I’ve forgotten how. I’ve struggled almost years to appear smart and cool and adult, so I’ve lost the ease that went with being Denny Dimwit, that aw-shucks freedom to hang out my smile and simply be.
Right when I finally had my lines and moves just right to be taken for a bonafide grown-up, many my age have began slipping into their second childhood.
I couldn’t ever catch up with them, but they finally caught up with me.Read More
This country is the heart of the world.
Long ago it was lonely and drew to it the Indians.
The Indians loved this country. They beat the drum and danced and smoked prayers to it.
In time the Indians grew lonely, and the smoke of their prayers rolled across the oceans.
Others came, and the Indians purified their blood with their own as theirs had been purified when they came.
Now we all have Indian blood.
This country is still the heart of the world.
The beat goes on.Read More
Marilyn and I are dining at La Fonda in Baja, south of Rosarito. She’s chosen to sit with the family of chickens in the patio overlooking the Pacific, with winds howling out of the overcast. She wants to watch the surf on the beach far below. A waiter hurries to invite us inside, we’re the only ones out there, everyone else clustered at tables around an open fire. No dice—she’s happy right where we are. She’s from Minnesota.
I sing Curucucucu Paloma, she orders a Drambui. She says La Paloma means lamb, doesn’t it? I say it means dove, if it were a lamb the chorus would not be Cucurucucu but Baa baa baa. She asks if I’m sure. I sing the song with a chorus of Baa baa baa’s where the Cucurucucus belong, and she laughs.
The wind is howling, even the rooster, mother hen and four tiny chicks pecking around the table legs are fluffing out. The waiter is bent over double writing down our order, Marilyn the Mexican plate with chile relleno, and me the fresh shrimp on the grill with crushed garlic. He leaves a basket of chips, and cup of salsa already forming a skein of ice.
Pretty soon, in geologic time, the waiter brings black bean soup and that warms us a little. I ask for a cup of green chile stew and he brings it with chunks of mutton I share. When the waiter comes about with the tray of main course we ask to be reseated inside and he weeps with gratitude.
Some Americans are rolling dice at their table by the fireplace, and a young Mexican couple nearby sip the sweetness of one another. A burly man with guitar wanders in looking for someone to serenade, and I beckon him over to hear Malagueña. Last time we were down this way, a mariachi group came over to our table where I was singing the opening lines of that song–‘Que bonitos ojos tienes…’– to a roasted fish on my plate, staring romantically into its eyes. It was a joke, but they didn’t see it that way, saying I must stare into the eyes of Marilyn as I sing, not the fish’s. To illustrate they all begin to play Malagueña with the handsome lead singer looking directly into her eyes as he sings how beautiful they are.
Now I have a chance to make things right, and ask him to sing it in honor of her. He is around our age, yet his voice is like an instrument of God on High. I’ve heard this beautiful love song a hundred times in Mexico and Spain, but never like this, with all his heart and soul. Our eyes fill.Read More