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On The Road…

Posted by on Jan 10, 2018 in Blog | Comments Off on On The Road…

Stafford, TX (a few years back)

Cutting diagonally south on 54 we came out of Kansas into the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas. We’re in a park in Stafford in the flatlands of the Texas Panhandle eating lunch at a picnic table. Pebbles has all these new scents to check out. Some Mexican women walk their little children to the swings and slides, looking at Pebbles to gauge her safety factor.

Coming out of Kansas there is a pretty quick shift from its formality. On the left almost in the wake of the state line is an open auto junkyard like from back when I was a kid and they were more like free theme parks than something to hide behind corrugated metal fences. Two ancient VW bugs sit side by side on their grassy porch facing the highway.

Now there are islands of piney wind-breaks marking farms way off the highway, little buzz-cuts of dark green on drab yellow stretching on forever.
The highway becomes more relaxed with narrow lanes from the Fifties, veined bumpy surface and faded out yellow centerlines. Where there were safety furrows retrofitted onto the shoulders they are now eroded into shallow depressions so tired drivers are allowed to wander off the road at will without being shaken awake.

The small towns are what-the-hell kind of communities from way back laid out with the used-up machinery and tractors and trucks melting back into the earth in the directions they were going on their last trip. We listened to Clapton and J. J. Hale’s Running Down a Dead End Road. Hook looked like some well mannered tornado scooted through every few years to see about rearranging things in case they started to suggest a pattern of man-made organization, let’s say someone came back from the city for health reasons and decided the hometown needed fixing up. Word got to Tornado Central in the sky and some dropped by to remind the people of how they liked things naturally coming together and falling apart. It is a comfort. I may retire here and sit on a tilting porch to soak up more peace. A fellow like me is made of tornado rearrangements.

The other night Marilyn got up and slid the bedroom door closed to go up front and read to see if she could get sleepy again. When I got up she said she’d just started this fabulous book and how the opening grabbed her right off with conversation between the two characters that did away with the need for narrative description of how they looked. I told her I’d like to see it and she showed me a book I’d written years before based on a horseback trail trip made with a friend. We rode the desert route of the Santa Fe Trail from Ulysses, Kansas and got to Santa Fe three weeks later. She was genuinely relieved I could write. She hadn’t been able to get into my earlier books.

People who know me don’t want to read me, our kids especially. People who want to meet me after reading me are disappointed when they do. So why do I write? Because it’s fun and what I do in life besides swim laps and drive the RV back and forth between Minnesota and Mexico.

There’s a movie called Big Fish where a road salesman brings home these tales he shares with his kids that are so unbelievable they’re glad when he goes back on the road. When he dies all these unbelievable people show up for his funeral, a regular circus sideshow of storybook characters that in fact exist. His wife, kids and friends are astonished. He was telling the truth. Now they want to hear more of his stories but it’s too late. My kids and Marilyn’s are still at that disbelieving step. Not Cristina, though. She knows.

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Two Sources of Freedom

Posted by on Dec 25, 2017 in Blog | 1 comment

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Christmas along the ol’ Miss

Posted by on Dec 25, 2017 in Blog | Comments Off on Christmas along the ol’ Miss

Christmas Message from a Nut Job…

I wuz walking along the Mississippi a few minutes ago thinking of all I have to be happy for. It is below zero, the surface of river is slushy wanting to turn to ice, the air is stillish but when it has to cough and raise ripples the temp goes down another ten degrees.

This jacket I have on keeps the heat my body’s generating in like a layer of love, and the collar zips all the way up to my ears so I’m cuddly. The gloves are fleece-lined leather and as long as I curl my fingers up from the finger sheaths I’m okay. I am 😯 and here walking Riverview Terrace midday toward the park. It’s Christmas and I’m alive…and able to do this—-what a gift. I had a little Jamaica rum 20 minutes ago as a kind of antifreeze so I’m thinking of the Jamaicans down there on their precious island and’m blessing them and making plans to fly down on Sun Country to thank every one of them.

But I’m also thinking of what it’s like to be walking along holding hands in a sense with the Mississippi with a bright sun shining down. I mean I don’t have to be out here daring the elements, I could be at home at the end of the street where the deer and wild turkeys hang out next door in a spot of woods looking out at it with my beauteous wife Marilyn. But I’m happy.

I could be in Borrego Springs where we spent the last ten winters in a pocket of heat that seldom drops below 2OOO degrees in winter and there’s swimming pools and other ancients limping about to play golf with and regularly gather at the clubhouse to rock and roll, a terrible sight, yep, but still everyone gets to be a teenager again for a few hours sipping once-forbidden booze and remembering youth and sweethearts long ago and far away.

Could, but I need zero degrees with a blue sky and the Mississippi with its necklace pearls of ice drifting next to me headed south. I need fingers curled into a protective fist inside the sheepskin thermal gloves that don’t quite do the job, and a determination to make it as far as Big John’s house a few blocks away before doing an about-face and wending home, subdued, but uplifted. And not beaten.

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Posted by on Dec 24, 2017 in Blog | 2 comments

From Alturas I headed to Mexico, stopped in Bakersfield for the night.. When I came out of the motel next morning the Buick Regal sat on its hubs. I looked around to see if it’d happened to anyone else, then went over to the office. The desk clerk said he didn’t know anything about it.
I said, “I didn’t either until I walked out of my room five minutes ago.”
He said they weren’t liable, “the sign says so.” He pointed at it. I’d been looking for a little more concern like “Aw, gee, no kidding? Took three wheels and how could that happen? Isn’t that the pits?”
I asked if he’d call the police for me.
“Could, but they never came for things like this.”
“What do they come for?”
“Beatings, killing, stuff like that,” he said.
“Oh,” I said. He seemed pretty unconcerned.
“It’s not my problem,” he said. “There’s a wrecking yard outside Bakersfield a few miles over there. Maybe you can find some replacements.”
I hitched a ride over and described the model and year. The man said he’d look around. Ten minutes later he returned in his golf cart with four wheels in the back.
“You’re in luck,” he said, big smile.
I asked for a ride back to the motel after paying and he said he’d have the boy drive me.
Putting the wheels on the car, they looked familiar. The last one had a kind of swastika design on the tire wall where it’d rubbed against a curb. No, that wasn’t it. It’d gone flat as I was driving a few months ago in Alturas and had that mark on it when I stopped to change the tire.
I knew as I worked that this was a pretty potent sign not to go to Bahía de Los Angeles in Baja. Safer to stay here. But I didn’t want safer. With my stolen wheels back on, I headed south.

I picked up a Mexican woman at the turnoff to Bahía from Highway 1. She was going to clean some houses in the village. She lived over there beyond that ridge. She hitched into Bahía three times a week. We talked in her language and it felt better. I like Spanish and Spaniards and Mexicans, anything Latino.
The light was startling as we drove east in the late afternoon. We came over a rise and there was this cluster of islands far off, catching the light in a way that made them extra three-dimensional and radiant as if they were alive.

The woman said the government had big hopes for Bahía: they’d put in a mile-long landing strip and planned lots of hotels and a connecting toll road across the peninsula to a port on the Pacific side so people could ferry their boats back and forth from the Sea of Cortez without having to go around the tip of Baja.
I’d heard Bahía was this quiet little paradise of fishermen and low-key life—now I was expecting Acapulco. But when we came down the hill overlooking the bay it was really no more than a sprawling marina with trailer parks and a few low buildings as cornerstones of hope for the tourist center being designed in Mexico City. I dropped her off and found a plain room with bed, rickety chair and table, and a pitcher of water and wash pan.
It took half an hour to walk the town in all four directions, another hour to walk the marinas and trailer parks, and it was getting dark by the time I returned from the air strip, which turned out to be exactly that and no more, a wide asphalt strip already crumbling. There were no foundations for a terminal, not even those promissory signs: Soon Opening, Terminals A-F, Restaurants, Condos, Nightclubs, Rental Cars and Aviation Tower, or Rent to Own.

Across the Sea of Cortez from here was the village of San Carlos the Mexican government had been developing over forty years, but the land itself had refused. The waters refused. The spirit of the place and the people refused. A Club Med came and went. A hurricane came and blew down everything the government’d put up, took away the ancient terraced camper park overlooking the port.
When the movie Catch 22 was made in San Carlos, things tilted away from the land’s power to keep things as they were. Things had been improved for the movie company. There was a two-mile-long four-lane going into San Carlos along a tropical-treed boulevard next to a deep bay edged by crescent beaches. Ahead were jagged castle rocks. One was called the Caracól with a small village on top, the other a signature landmark called the Tetas de Cabra, looking either like the teats of a goat on her back or the fingers of a drowning man reaching to heaven as he sinks away, depending on your mood.

In Bahía, mariachi music played with country and western through the night, braying laughter and boozy singing, slamming of trailer doors, boat motors starting up, sometimes a crystalline phrase of Spanish blessing the desecration of a place imagined by the gods in mellower times. I like squalor and chaos so I could’ve joined them easily at another time, but I was in freefall, an empty man with no desire to kill fish or drink myself into a stupor with good-timing guys and gals. I wanted to do that alone. Sometime. Not now.

I took off early the next morning. Along the road back I saw a turnoff north that cut thirty miles off my getting back to Highway 1 and took it. The road was narrower than the one I’d come in on and along stretches were big boulders in place of shoulders. If you ever got a flat, there was no way you could get off the road. Where there were no boulders there was a sheer drop to the desert floor. Back then the Mexican highway departments didn’t plan roads with drivers in mind, only vehicles. What happened to you was your business—their’s were roads.
I passed another old American car, an Olds 88, just as big and heavy as mine, with Baja plates, but when I passed him he passed me back right away. He had a bigger engine. He settled in ahead of me and slowed down to where we were doing twenty. I fell back. He fell back. I needed a long run to pass him but there was no way to pull over, and when I stopped in my lane he did, too, just ahead.
He got going first and I hung back until he was far ahead enough for me to make a run. As I came up on him at ninety he floored it and we were abreast, but there wasn’t the power to pull ahead and he wouldn’t let me fall behind. I couldn’t see his face. He had on a dark hat, but I could see big teeth in a big smile.
A big truck was coming toward us fast on the straightaway. The smile stayed there. Now we were doing ten miles an hour side by side and he had me covered. On both sides of the road were boulders. I pushed the accelerator to the floor and so did he. Just when a head-on was inevitable he let me squeeze around him, we clicked bumpers and molecules of paint from the Buick line-danced with molecules of the Freightliner.

The Olds pulled around me again and slowed to thirty, so I followed him obediently until he turned off at a Y. He touched the brim of his hat in salute and there was the smile again, still no face…

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From the upcoming novel THE KID FROM SANTA FE

Posted by on Dec 24, 2017 in Blog | Comments Off on From the upcoming novel THE KID FROM SANTA FE

Us Kids’ Favorite Game, Santa Fe 1944

Our favorite game in those first months of 1944 was the hunt for mother, tracking her like young hound dogs, down to the plaza and cantinas, over to La Fonda and Alfonso to ask which Bohemians she left with, calling Lucy, the town operator, to find where her last calls came from or went, over to Jack Stacey’s to see if one of his taxis’d taken her somewhere, Geri Granger’s, Joan Jordan’s, Stanley Breneiser’s, Shusie’s? God’s place? George Blodgett’s?

We were the hunters, Maid Marion the game. Whenever we found her was a time for the laughter of discovery, and her special joy at being tracked down by her kids.
We wanted her to be free always…so we could find her again. It was the best-ever game…

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Fingertip of Forever

Posted by on Dec 17, 2017 in Blog | 3 comments

It’s all there at our fingertip…the universe, time, space, all that stuff. God is the tip of our finger, He is all tips of all fingers forever. Forever blinks on and off but even on Off it is On.
There is nowhere to go when you die because there is no death. If there was it’d still be at your fingertip..a point there forever and ever and ever, though come to think of it the tip of your finger has always been and always will though there is no Always, there just Is. A fruitful, loving, warm and cuddly Is.

We are always here in Love. Nothing to make amends for, to be forgiven for. Nothing but love at our fingertip.
And even that. But how about the snap of one finger against another? Hmm? That is the beginning of our life, cuz there’s only one fingertip.

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Rowe Mesa

Posted by on Dec 1, 2017 in Blog | Comments Off on Rowe Mesa


Santa Fe

Excerpt Nov. 30

…When I had a firewood business I’d drive from Galisteo over to Rowe Mesa near Pecos. I had a 1949 3/4 ton Ford pickup that came off the assembly line black and was now sea blue. I loved the wood business because it put me alone with the wilderness. I’d been cutting on Rowe for a couple of years off and on. Even pre-Spanish Indians from the nearby pueblos cut here. I’d find the stumps of juniper and cedar with stone axe marks.

One day I came to an island of tall Douglas fir mixed in with what looked like desert piñon except these had straight trunks and grew as tall as the fir. I entered a lush cool fragrant copse of trees and a spring seeping along a rock bed growing fern from its banks. This was unreal because Rowe Mesa is high desert, dry as a bone in summer and the trees are gnarled because they come from the gnarled that were passed over for bigger, better trees for so long only the gnarled were left to perpetuate the species.

I’ve never seen tall straight piñons even in Truchas where I lived, high in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains north of Santa Fe, where there was plenty of snow and rain. There were big ones but their tops were like other trees’ roots, all over the place. These were majestic and twice as tall as the tallest I’d seen. I strolled around with my axe, tried the water, spoke to the trees, mainly questions. There was no cicada buzz or bird song. It was still. No litter. A sanctuary, that’s the word. I could still see the same sky way up there but everything else was different. I was in a parenthesis in time.

I knew I was being allowed to see this, to be here. To others it must just be land with cactus and stuff, otherwise it would’ve been cut down long ago. Part of me was at peace and wanted nothing more than to be here, another wanted to go get the chainsaw and start cutting. There was enough to keep me working a week. The problem was that once I started I’d break whatever invisibility it had and others would move in fast. I’d laid down truck tracks in the grasses getting here, someone else would follow these out of curiosity. If I left now could I find my way back here? There were no landmarks I could see driving in, just craggy mesa top on all horizons.

The part that only wanted to soak in the stillness and beauty kept acing out the part of mind that was the woodcutter. Eventually I found a big-trunked cedar on what felt like a boundary line between the sanctuary and the rest of the mesa top and decided to start there and see how it felt. It took an hour to saw through because the dry cedar wood soaked up the oil on the chain so I kept having to stop and sharpen the cutters and refill the reservoir a half dozen times. When I got nearly through the tree didn’t lean into the notch and fall as expected, it just sat down on the blade. I used the axe as a wedge and axe as hammer to lever it up and pull the blade free. But nothing would budge the upper part.

Farther out from the cedar was a towering dead fir riddled with wormholes. It was easily a truckload, cut to length and stacked to the top of the Ford’s barred sides, maybe a cord and a half. It was around noon and would take the rest of the afternoon. I’d check out the cedar tomorrow and see how I felt about toppling it.

I cut the notch in the dead fir and took a break before starting in from the other side. There was something spooky about this one. Nothing was regular about its branch arrangement. There was a fullness toward the top where all the branches were twisted and tormented as if the tree had been in pain during its life. If a tree can have slow motion epilepsy this one did. Seizures of its spirit guided the wood growth. My feeling was to leave it alone. I was good at telling where a tree’d fall but couldn’t figure this one. Still I was here, it was here, I had a saw and truck, and it had worms and nowhere to go.

The vibration of a saw will travel up a dead tree and sometimes loosen broken branches, so I kept glancing up ready to move away if anything dropped. When I was almost through I stood up to take a breather when something tapped me on the top of the head. I felt a stick not bigger round than a pencil but twice as long arrowed into my skull at the soft spot where the cranial plates join. I pulled it out and looked at the end that’d been in my brain. No blood, only wetness. I felt okay, but figured I better sit down. There was something not quite right and I needed to track it down. I sat with my back against a tree, clicked off the switch to the motor and checked my body out mentally. There was an itch on my cheek and something moving across it. I swatted and a big violet and cream-colored centipede hit the ground running and chased itself away. How did it get there in the few seconds since I’d sat?

The light was odd, the sun way over there. And it was chilly. I got the feeling I’d been in a sweat. I touched the Husquavarna and it was cold and that didn’t feel right. I felt wetness on my neck and traced it up to the crusted over hole in my skull. There was a burning itch all over my face and neck now, even my lips hurt where the centipede had been exploring.

I stood and looked around, didn’t have a clue to where I was. When I came upon the truck in wandering around I didn’t know what it was. I’d never seen a truck before. All there was in memory was an impression of three old bearded men in gray robes angry with me, and that happened just when I felt the centipede on my face. I saw them in profile next to me emerging from wherever I’d been those six or seven hours.

There was no worry. When a person doesn’t know who he is or even that he is supposed to know, there is no worry. I was free of everything that wasn’t automatic, a just-born babe in men’s wear. I was untagged consciousness becoming aware of where I was by virtue of being there with it, whatever it was.

Putting the saw in the truck was automatic, tying it down and watching my hands do something I didn’t know how to do was fascinating. What smart hands. I looked into the cab and didn’t recognize or understand anything more than the seat. I touched the things I saw but there was no connection. I climbed in like a little boy and sat there holding the steering wheel and then some things came to me. I made a motor running sound. My left leg twitched. I looked down and saw the clutch pedal and tapped on it with the boot. It went down. My right hand was holding the knob of the floor gearshift.

Savvy nerve patterns got the truck started and scouted the way out by following the squashed down grass, and knew where to turn once we got to a Y on a dirt road, and then the main road off of Rowe and through the village at the bottom to the freeway where I drove at ten miles an hour till I understood the meaning of all the horn honking going on from passing cars. Same thing when I got to the turn-off to Lamy, and then the village of Galisteo where I rolled into the wood yard at sunset. A woman came out the back door and smiled. Who was she? Where was I? Who was I?

I stayed at home for a few days till my memory came back. Never did go back to Rowe Mesa. From then on I cut only standing dead Engelman spruce over on Santa Clara Peak, north of Santa Fe…

(Online version of TKFSF to be published in January at Amazon Kindle, Macbooks, Smashwords, & bookstore copies nationally in February)

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