Sand Paintings

sandpainting

I ran into Jimmy in the summer of 1969 when I was hitchhiking to California. I was standing by the side of the road just outside of Gallup, New Mexico, hoping to catch a ride at least as far as Flagstaff before it got dark. As the sun kissed the rim of the earth, turning the western sky a bright, fiery orange, an old beat-up pickup truck screeched to a halt; the driver leaned toward the open passenger window and said, “Where ya going?”

“LA.”

“I ain’t going that far, but I can get you down the road a bit.”

I threw my kit in the back and hopped inside. The guy hit the accelerator, lurching the truck back onto the asphalt, spewing rocks and pebbles in its wake. Before he hit second gear, and with his eyes still on the road, he said, “My name’s Jimmy. Glad to meet ya.”

I told him my name and we settled into a comfortable silence as we raced toward the setting sun. When you’re hitching, you go with the flow. Most people pick you up because they want someone to talk to, but this guy seemed to like things quiet, which was fine with me.

Forty-five minutes later, he spoke for the second time, “I turn off up ahead and it’s getting dark. You wanna crash on my couch for the night? I’ll drive you back to the highway in the morning.” I didn’t have to think twice about it. If I couldn’t catch a ride, a couch would sure beat sleeping on the side of the road. It gets cold out there at night in the high desert.

We turned off the highway and headed north down a bumpy dirt road. Eventually we came to a trailer sitting all by itself. That’s when Jimmy told me he was a Navajo. “We live in a corner of the reservation, away from the others. The reservation is 27,000 square miles, so there’s plenty of room. The only problem is, there’s no electricity in the section,” said Jimmy.

As we walked up to the trailer, Jimmy informed me he lived with his grandfather. “He’s a medicine man and speaks very little English. His name is Ti՜éhonaa՜éi Lizhini—Black Moon in English. I will interpret for him.”

It was kinda dark inside the trailer, the only light coming from a lantern sitting on the kitchen table. Off to my right, an old man stood at a propane stove, stirring something in a large kettle. “Yá’át’ééh, Análi,” said Jimmy. “I just said, ‘Hello, Grandfather.’ Why don’t you go sit on the couch and I’ll explain to him that you will be joining us for dinner and staying the night.”

As Jimmy’s grandfather did his thing, Jimmy and I made small talk. He told me a little bit about himself and I told him a little bit about myself. Then the talk turned to the war in Vietnam. We were both draft age and both dreaded getting called up. We knew the war was bullshit. If the Viet Cong were storming the beaches of Miami, I’d grab a rifle and defend my country, and Jimmy felt the same way. But they were not invading our country, we were invading theirs.

Soon, the meal was ready – a delicious deer stew – and we were called to the kitchen table. As I dug into my stew, I said to Jimmy, “I’ve never met any Navajos before.”

“We call ourselves The Dené. It means The People. We got the name Navajo from the Spanish. They called us Apachu de Nabajo. It means “Apaches Who Farm in the Valley.”

When my bowl was half-empty, I smiled at Black Moon and said, “Good.” He smiled back and nodded. Then he started talking a mile a minute in the Navajo language. Of course, I could not understand a word he said, but Jimmy interpreted for me. “Grandfather wants me to tell you how the Navajo came to be on the earth. I will tell you the short version because I do not want to bore you.”

“You won’t bore me. This is why I’m on the road. I wanna meet new people and learn things.”

“I may not bore you, but the whole story is too long. We’re gonna have to hit the hay soon. My grandfather needs to be at the Sacred Mountain before sunrise. I’ll drive him there and then take you to the highway.”

As I finished my stew, Jimmy started in on his story.

“Basically, our creation story goes like this: The first world is Nihodilhil,or Black World. The whole world was pitch black, but there were four clouds in the sky: the Blue Cloud, the Yellow, the Black, and the White Cloud. The Blue and Yellow Clouds came together and formed First Woman. Then the Black and White Clouds did the same and formed First Man.

“Seeing First Man’s fire, First Woman made her way to him. He asked her to live with him and she agreed. They did not want to live in the darkness forever, so they searched until they found the path to Ni՜hodootl՜izh, the Blue World. They climbed the mountain path until they emerged into the new world.

“Once there, they found many animals that were at war with one another. Coyote also lived there. He traveled in the four directions of the four winds and saw that the beings who lived there were not happy and wanted to leave the Blue World. This he told First Man.

“First Man made four wands. One of black stone, one of turquoise, one of abalone, and one made of shell. Using those wands, the beings of the second world followed First Man and First Woman into Nihaltsoh, the Yellow World, where they found the Four Sacred Mountains.

“First Man planted a reed and it grew to the sky. First Man, First Woman, Coyote, and the other beings used the reed to climb into Nihalgai, the Glittering World. That is the world in which we live.”

When Jimmy had finished speaking, his grandfather reached across the table, patted my hand, and said something in the Navajo tongue.

“My grandfather likes you,” said Jimmy. “He says you are young and you will live a long time. He wanted you to know our creation story so that you can tell it to other White Men. He has also invited you to watch him build his sand painting in the morning. It is an honor that he has asked you, but I will tell him that you must continue on your journey.”

“Not so fast, Jimmy. I’ve got nowhere I gotta be and no one waiting for me when I get there. I would love to see him build his sand painting. Although I do have one question. What’s a sand painting?”

“I will tell you in the morning. Now we sleep.”

sandpainting

The next morning, Jimmy shook me awake before dawn. “Are you ready?” he asked. I was still half asleep and had to think for a moment. The smell of fresh-brewed coffee brought me around. “Sure. As ready as I’ll ever be.”

“Then help yourself to some coffee. The cups are on the counter. Sorry, we have no milk or sugar.”

“I’ll live.”

“Good. Grandfather is getting dressed. We’ll be leaving in about ten minutes.”

I poured myself some coffee and took the cup outside to take in the cold desert morning. The stars in the sky blew me away. Having been raised in a city, I had never seen so many stars. I drank my coffee and enjoyed the view. Soon the door opened, and Jimmy and his grandfather came out.

We piled into the truck and took off down the same worn dirt road that we had come in on, but this time going farther onto the reservation. After a few minutes, I asked Jimmy to tell me about sand paintings.

“They are used in our curing ceremonies to attract The Holy Ones. They’re made with crushed stone, ground minerals, and pollen. And sometimes, flowers. The ground is first prepared, then the medicine man sets about building his painting. Once it’s complete, he will chant to sanctify it. Then the sick person sits on it, and the medicine man does a ritual chant to bring forth the healing powers of The Holy Ones.”

Just to say something, I asked where we were headed.

“We’re going to Doko’oosliid. It is one of the Four Sacred Mountains. Nowadays, most medicine men build their sand paintings in a hogan, but my grandfather likes the old ways. He says that doing the ceremony in the cave of a sacred mountain hastens the curing process.”

We pulled up to the base of a mountain and Jimmy announced that we were at our destination. Black Moon smiled at me as he got out of the truck and took me by the hand. He led me off to the right. Jimmy yelled after us that he would catch up as soon as he filled the lantern with oil.

When we got to the mouth of the cave, Black Moon pointed to the ground and said, “You stay.” He then went inside. A few minutes later, Jimmy walked up holding a lantern.

“I feel like a dog. Your grandfather told me to ‘stay’.”

Jimmy smiled and lit the lantern. “My grandfather needs some time alone to say his prayers before he starts his work. We’ll give him a few minutes and then go in. And when we go in, please do not say anything.” Five minutes later, we walked into the cave. About fifty feet in, a yellow light reflected off the far wall.

We continued on to where Black Moon sat on the ground, focused on his art, with seven small bowls within arm’s reach—each filled with a different substance, and each substance a different color. I couldn’t believe the detail, the vibrant colors, the majesty of the thing. For two hours, I watched him work. It was a profound experience. Presently, Jimmy nudged me and tilted his head toward the cave entrance. It was time to leave. The whole time we were there, his grandfather did not once acknowledge our presence.

It was now daylight outside. Jimmy extinguished the lantern and started toward the truck. After a few steps, he said, “You are the first white person my grandfather has ever allowed to see him work. He wanted you to know that our religion is as strong as yours, and that we worship the same god.”

“What happens to the paintings once the ceremony is complete? They are so beautiful.”

“They are destroyed and the materials collected and returned to the earth. They are only meant to exist for a few days.”

What?!”

“It is our way.”

Jimmy got me back to the highway, we shook hands, and I continued on my way a different person than I had been twenty-four hours earlier. But is that not the way of life? At the end of each day, should we not be a different person? Perhaps know a little more than we did at the beginning of the day?

I Once Had a Girl

I once had a girl. We met at a jazz club on the Upper West Side. My friend Lane had dragged me there, telling me I would really dig the sax player. I didn’t want to go because I was broke and I was embarrassed that Lane always picked up the check when we were out. But he persisted, so I agreed to go with him on that warm August night.

Lane and I were from upstate New York and had been friends since high school. We were both going to be writers and write the Great American Novel. And here we were, a few years later; Lane wrote copy for an ad agency, and I wrote short stories no one would buy.

I was twenty years old and had just dropped out of college. I did not think college was the way to go about becoming a writer. I figured the only way to be a writer was to write. So I headed for the Big City, found myself a roach-infested apartment, and opened my laptop. I got lucky and sold my first story to a weekly newspaper. It was a free paper, but on occasion they’d print a piece of fiction if they had space to fill. They paid me all of twenty-five dollars.

After that, I figured it would be only a matter of time before I had The New Yorker knocking at my door. Well, things did not work out that way. Six months later, I had not sold another story. The newspaper that had bought my first story was long out of business. I was nearing the end of my savings and something would have to break soon or I would have to get a job.

Unbeknownst to me, Lane and his girlfriend, Sally, had set me up with a blind date. When we got to the club, Sally was sitting at a table with a good-looking blonde. I grabbed Lane’s arm and said, “Hold on, what’s the deal? If Sally’s trying to set me up again, I’m leaving. You know I can’t afford to date. I can barely feed myself.”

With a shocked and completely phony look on his face, Lane said, “No, no, it’s nothing like that. It’s just that she’s in from out-of-town and doesn’t know anyone. Sally’s mother and her mother were friends. Don’t worry; she’s not your date. And she’s got plenty of money; she can pay her own way.”

What the hell. I was already there. With a sigh, I said, “Lay on, Macduff.”

We seated ourselves and I was introduced to the blonde. Sally started right off yakking away, but I heard nothing she said. I was looking into the most beautiful green eyes I had ever seen. But they were sad eyes. She was good-looking in a not-glamorous sort of way, and there was something about her. Something that made me want to put my arms around her and tell her everything would be all right. Her name was Karina.

We talked, ignoring both the music and Lane and Sally. When Sally saw where things were headed, she nudged Lane and said they had to go, but that we should stay. As they left, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Lane hand some money to our waitress and point our way. He had made sure I would not be embarrassed for lack of funds.

The music was really too loud to carry on a conversation, so I suggested we go somewhere more conducive to getting to know one another. I had no hope that she felt toward me as I felt toward her, but I just couldn’t let her walk out of my life after such a short interlude. I had to know more about her.

We settled in at a Starbucks on 65th Street and talked until the early morning. Her parents were both dead and had left her relatively well off. She was from Norway and had come to the States to sell a cabin she owned up in the mountains of North Carolina. At twenty-two, she was two years older than I was. I prattled on about my writing and she said she would like to read some of my stuff someday. As I walked her back to her hotel that night, she slipped her arm through mine and we walked on in silence.

As we said goodnight in the lobby. She looked at me with those big, sad eyes. “Please, may I see you tomorrow and read some of your stories?” Normally, I would let anyone read my stuff at the drop of a hat, even if I had to drop the hat myself. But in this instance, I was reluctant to say yes. I didn’t want her to see how I lived. I mean, she was staying at the Plaza, for God’s sake! After a momentary hesitation, I told her I could bring my laptop over the next day and I would be proud to have her read a few of my stories. She would have to read them off my computer because I did not own a printer.

Well, the short of it is, it turned out she was as smitten with me as I was with her. She postponed her trip south and stayed in the city. We saw each other every day. Sally must have told her about my financial situation, because Karina always insisted we go someplace that wouldn’t hurt my wallet. We hit the art galleries and the museums, among other venues. Central Park was our favorite. As we walked through the park, the sunshine would ripple in her soft yellow hair like waves upon a sparkling ocean. At the end of two weeks, we both knew we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together.

Karina liked my writing and told me I should be writing a full-length novel. Then, when that sold, I could put out a book of my short stories. No wonder I loved her, she believed in me more than I believed in myself.

One day, as we lay on a blanket in the park holding hands (we still had not made love), Karina asserted herself. She told me in no uncertain terms that she was taking me to her cabin in North Carolina. She would cook and clean for me while I wrote my novel, and then when it sold, I could take care of her. I was hesitant and told her I would have to think on it. She would have none of that. She insisted this would be the best way for me to get some serious writing done without any distractions. I did not need much persuasion, so I accepted her kind offer. After that was settled, we hurried back to her hotel and made long, slow love all that afternoon—and then again all that night.

We hit the mountains of North Carolina as the leaves were changing. It was the perfect metaphor. Our lives were changing; we were melding into one entity.

As the snows came, I wrote and Karina loved me. Truth be known, I didn’t feel like writing. I just wanted to make love to my girl. But Karina made sure I stayed at the computer at least eight hours a day.

Over that winter, my book took form. Karina would read what I had written each day. She would give me input as to the characters and the plot and edit what needed editing. I would sit there in the evenings watching her read my daily output, the firelight reflected in her eyes. I was so in love.

By the time spring was in full bloom, I had completed my version of the Great American Novel. I emailed my query letters to agents. I got lucky, and within a month, I had a signed contract with one of the larger agencies. When summer came around, the book had been sold to a publisher and I had money in the bank.

It was August once again, almost to the day Karina and I first met. We were leaving the next day for New York. My agent had set up a meeting with my publisher. There was still work to be done. Writing the story is one thing, getting it out there is another. However, before leaving, I wanted to buy something for my love. I went into town and bought Karina a ring. Nothing fancy, just a simple band of gold. I couldn’t wait to get back to the cabin, get down on one knee, and ask her to be my wife.

Driving back to the cabin, I smiled all the way. Then, as I turned into the drive, I saw the flames and heard her screams. “KARINA!” I shouted as I jumped out of the car and rushed toward the cabin.

I pushed the door open and a blast of heat and flames knocked me on my ass. I got up; nothing short of hell was going to keep me out of that cabin. But I could not penetrate the flames. On my third attempt, smoke inhalation, the burns I suffered, and the resultant pain caused me to pass out. When I awoke, I was in a hospital’s burn ward.

Karina was gone and I was alone.

I sold the rights to my book. I couldn’t edit and work on it with anyone else now that Karina was gone. I took the money and bought a sailboat down in Miami. I had Karina painted on the sides in large letters, emerald green, the color of her eyes. I now sail the Caribbean, going from island to island, looking for peace … and not finding it.

I once had a girl. Karina was her name.

All the Women Think I’m Fine

All the women think I’m fine

All the women, when they see me, want me

I’m walkin’ down the street

They can’t get enough of me

I’m smilin’ my smile

They can’t get enough of me

I’m strutting my stuff

They can’t get enough of me

I’m drivin’ my short

They follow me down the road

Around the curves

Into the straightaway

They follow me wherever I go

I wanna get somethin’ to eat.

They’re there with their faces pressed against the window glass

I get home and there are three or four waitin’ for me

Two or three scramble in before I can git in and close the door

It’s a long night I gotta put in

It’s a long night takin’ care of ’em all

It’s a long night being me

All the women think I’m fine

Mike Landrieu

As I sit alone in this small church, staring at his casket (a casket, by the way, that cost more than the building it sits in is worth), I can’t help but smile to myself. This is where it had started all those many, many years ago. Mike could have had one of those large, ostentatious Hollywood funerals, but he had asked me to ship him here on the QT. He wanted only one mourner … me.

I first met Mike Landrieu when I was thirteen, the year was 1935. I had run away from home, such as it was. The old man was an abusive drunk and my mother had given up hope years earlier. I hitched myself a ride with a salesman heading west and we got as far as this town when his Ford Model A blew a tire. Not wanting to wait around while he patched the tube, I grabbed my grip and bid him good-bye. As I look back on it now, that blown tire was fate knocking at my door.

While walking through town on my way to the highway, my eye caught sight of a small billboard in front of a burlesque house. It wasn’t the listing of the acts that drew my attention; it was the picture of the star, Rosita Royce. And as many a thirteen-year-old boy can attest to, that is all it took to stop me in my tracks. Having nowhere I had to be and no one waiting for me when I got there, I took myself around to the back to ask for a job.

I walked through the door, which was propped open, and was immediately accosted by Pop. There was a “Pop” guarding the stage entrance in every house. From the grandest in New York City to the third-raters in little towns like the one I was currently in. The man who halted my ingress inquired as to what I wanted and who I wanted to see. When I informed him I was looking for a job, he laughed and said, “Ain’t you heard, boy? There’s a depression going on. There ain’t no jobs nowhere, and if there was a job available, it would have been snatched up long before you showed.”

When he had finished speaking, he slit his eyes, and looking at me sideways said, “How old are you?” I was big for my age, so I lied and told him I was sixteen. I don’t think I fooled him much.

Just then a man walked up and asked, “What’s this, Pop?”

“This here boy is lookin’ for work, but I told him we don’t have none.”

Turning his full attention in my direction, the man asked me my name. When I told him, he stuck out his hand and said, “I’m Mike Landrieu. I run this house.” After we shook hands, I took stock of the man. To me he was ancient; he must have been all of twenty-five. He told Pop that he was going out for a “bottle and bird,” which I later learned was the term show people used for a meal.

“Why not come along?” he asked. “I’ll treat you to some donuts and milk and maybe we can find a job for you.” The short of it is, Mike hired me as his assistant and gave me a room at the back of the theater in which to live.

I liked working for Mike. It was quite an education. He kept me busy, and he taught me the business. It was just a third-rate Burly Q, but Mike ran it first-rate. Even though he was young, he was known as Uncle Mike to all the acts that came through. About a year later, Mike upped and said we were going to Hollywood. He had sold the place.

We hit Hollywood on a dusty, wind-blown day. Back then there were still some orange groves around town and the wind was kicking up an awful fuss … blowing the loose soil around till it was hard to see the road before us.

Mike knew so many people in the business that it wasn’t long before he was representing some of them to the studios. One thing led to another and before we knew it, Mike was a big-time Hollywood agent.

I left Mike in ’55—with his blessing—and started my own agency. Being as busy as I was, I didn’t see Mike as often as I would have liked. I think it might have been six months since I had last spoken with him when I got the call. It was near 2:00 a.m. and I was in bed with a girl from Omaha who thought she was going to be the next Bette Davis.

I picked up the phone and Mike said, “Howdy, partner, I need you.” There was a tremor in his voice that brought me full awake. “Can you come over here right now?” he asked.

I was out the door before the would-be starlet could object.

I pulled into Mike’s driveway and noticed a strange car parked there. I didn’t knock, but went right in and found Mike covered in blood.

“What the hell happened, Mike?”

“I don’t know. She attacked me with a knife, she just went crazy!”

He pointed towards the bedroom. Sprawled across the bed lay a woman on white sheets soaked in crimson blood, glistening in the dim light. I turned away in disgust. Mike had followed me into the room, he was crying.

“Mike, tell me what happened here.”

“I just don’t know. We were going … going to … you know. As she was taking off her clothes, she was telling me about how she had a small speaking part in a Warner’s film. I said something like, ‘Good for you’ or ‘Enjoy it while you can.’ Then she suddenly ran from the room and came back holding that kitchen knife,” he said, as he pointed toward a knife on the floor.

“I don’t know what set her off. I just don’t know.”

I turned Mike around, walked him to the living room, and sat him down on the couch. I retrieved a bottle of Scotch from his liquor cabinet and poured us both a stiff one. “Okay, Mike … no bullshit, tell me!”

He downed his drink in one gulp and said, “She was a honey I picked up down on Wilshire. You know, that little hole-in-the-wall off Pico. She said she wanted to go home with me and I thought that would be a good idea. She followed me here in her car. Everything was going swell. I made drinks and we talked for a while. Then she made bedroom eyes at me, stood up, took me by the hand and led me into the bedroom. The next thing I knew, she was trying to stab me with that goddamn knife.”

He stood and poured himself another drink, then continued: “We fought for the knife and, as I wrenched it from her hand, it slipped into her throat. It was an accident! I tried to stop the flow of blood, but I just couldn’t. She was on the bed just like she is now. She slowly smiled at me as the life seeped out of her.”

Mike started to cry again.

“What do you want me to do, Mike?”

He did not answer. I don’t think he heard me.

I placed my hand on his shoulder. He had been like a father to me. He was the only person that had ever treated me right. I knew what I had to do.

I went into the bedroom and rolled the woman up in the sheets. The blood had soaked through to the mattress, but that was of no concern at the moment. I carried her outside and placed her in her car. Then I went back into the house and retrieved her purse. Her car keys were in it.

Mike was in a trance-like state and had no idea what I was doing. I told him to have another drink and not do anything until I got back. He nodded numbly, and I left Mike Landrieu for the last time.

I drove the woman’s car out to Malibu and left it in a parking lot of a restaurant on the beach. I had trouble finding a cab, so it was a while before I made it back to Mike’s.

I went in to find my old friend sitting in his favorite chair. He was dead; he had shot himself. There was a note in his hand. He wrote that he could not live with what he had done. He asked that he be buried in the town where we first met. And he thanked me for being his friend. His friend? The sonavabitch saved me when I was just a snot-nosed kid without a dime to my name!

I took the note and left. Let the cops figure it out.

I sit here alone in this podunk town with only my memories … and the body of my friend, Mike Landrieu.

I’m So Afraid of Dying

I’ve been a long time livin’, too long

I’ve been a long time hurtin’, too long

I need to feel somethin’ good, for a change

I need to feel the touch of another, for a change

Sometimes I’m so lonely, so blue

Sometimes I just wanna die, I just wanna

There’s gotta be a better life awaitin’, for me

There’s gotta be somethin’ more than I have, anything

There’s only one way to find that somethin’

That is to move on

But I’m so afraid of dying

Love

Love is never spontaneous.

Love takes work.

Love, over time, grows strong like a mighty oak.

No sapling is Love.

Love is soft and low.

Love is hard as a rock.

Love is not words.

Love is action.

Love is showing.

Love does not have to be spoken.

Life without Love is a long, lonesome road.

Love is being sheltered from the rain and snow.

Love is the Tao.

Love is the Way.

Never trade for your Love.

Never expect anything for your Love.

Because then it is not Love.

Jeanie

Jake

Here’s the follow-up to the Everything’s Jake story.

It’s two hours before dawn, moonlight shafts in through the open window. In a darkened corner, deep in the shadows, sits a woman. She has been sitting there for hours. She looks toward the bed. Lying on the bed is a man, a big man. The woman is crying, the man is snoring, and they are waiting. The man does not know that he is waiting … but he is.

What a mess I’ve made of things, thinks the woman. She recalls back five years when she was just a seventeen-year-old girl in Two Mule, Kansas. Back then her favorite saying was, “This may be Two Mule, but it’s a one-horse town as far as I’m concerned.”

Then the big man came to town; he was handsome in a rugged sort of way. Jeanie took one look at him and knew that he was her ticket to freedom. At that thought, Jeanie has to laugh. Freedom! I haven’t had a free day since I left home. But she did not know what was in store for her then. At the time, all she wanted was to get away, and Mac was only too happy to oblige her.

He told her he would take her to Chicago, maybe even New York. But when they left, in the middle of the night, they headed west. He told her he needed a grubstake and was going to do a little panning for gold. But Mac did his panning with a knife.

They would wander into a gold camp, set up his tent, and Mac would pretend to pan during the day, always out of sight of the others. What he did was mostly drink and sleep. However, at night as the men sat around the fire, he would ascertain the man with the biggest poke, as he listened to their talk.

After two or three days, when he had picked out his target, he would creep into the man’s tent as he slept, slit his throat, and take his dust. Then he and Jeanie would hightail it out there. When you traveled with Mac Conway, you were always leaving places in the middle of the night. And tonight, thought Jeanie, as she sat in her corner, will be no different. Mac, you’ll be leaving in the night, but not with me … not this time.

It wasn’t long before Jeanie cottoned to what Mac was doing. That didn’t bother her too much, but what stuck in her craw was the fact that Mac had no intention of taking her to Chicago or anywhere else but two-bit tank towns. That’s when she first ran away from him.

As he lay passed out, dead drunk, she had lifted his purse and what dust she could find. Her big mistake—if you don’t count her not killing him outright—was leaving his horse.

He had caught up with her pretty fast and gave her a good beating to teach her not to do anything like that again. He said, as he beat her, “You belong to me and if you ever leave me again, I’ll kill ya!” It was then that Jeanie knew she would need the help of a man if she was going to escape Mac.

It was fourteen months before she found the right man; at least he seemed right at the time. Jake was full of talk of all the places he’d been. He said he was passing through town on his way to California where he was going to buy a ranch and raise cattle.

Once she had Jake picked out, she worked on him when Mac wasn’t around.

“You’re not afraid of him, are you?”

“No, of course not.”

“Then you’re the man for me. We can be one hundred miles gone before he even misses me. And don’t worry; he’ll be glad to be quit of me.”

However, after they left and word got around that Mac was looking for them, Jake started to go to pieces. He was always looking over his shoulder and saying things like, “How far back you reckon Mac is?” Or, “I don’t think we’d better stay here more than a day. Mac could be close by.” It was enough to drive a person crazy, thought Jeanie as she sat in her chair, in the corner, in the dark.

After eight months of Jake jumping at every bump in the night and loud noise during the day, she’d had enough of his frightened ways and started to play the piano player, no pun intended. Well … perhaps some pun intended.

The beautiful thing about Señor Piano Player was that he didn’t know of Mac, but Mac soon found out about him. When Mac finally caught up with her and the piano player, he didn’t beat her, he did not kill her, he simply told her she was responsible for the death of two men. He took great joy in telling her how Jake Tapper had died. So, two men were now dead and she was still with Mac.

If she was to get away, she would have to take care of things herself.

It was now a month later and they were in a new town. Mac came in every night roaring drunk. Some nights he would ravage her; other nights he’d just pass out. That is what gave her the idea.

She could have lifted his gun out of the holster as he slept. It was always hanging from the bedpost at night. And she could have pulled back the hammer, placed the barrel in his ear, and squeezed the trigger. But, that is not a woman’s way. And besides, she would most likely be hung for murder if she did it that way.

That afternoon, she had gone to McGuire’s Emporium and bought a bottle of laudanum, which is also known as tincture of opium. Before she left, she asked Mr. McGuire how much was safe to take.

“One tablespoon is alright, two if you are in a lot of pain.”

“How much is dangerous?”

“It depends on body weight.”

“What would happen if I drank half the bottle?”

“You would go to sleep and die.”

“Thank you, Mr. McGuire.”

“Good day, Jeanie. Say hello to Mac for me.”

Like everyone else in town, McGuire was fearful of Mac Conway.

Jeanie returned to the hotel, and before heading upstairs, stopped at the bar to buy a bottle of Mac’s favorite whiskey.

When she was alone in the confines of her room, she poured half the contents of the whiskey bottle into the wash basin. She then uncorked the laudanum and poured all of it into the bottle. Laudanum has a bitter taste. Jeanie was hoping Mac’s inebriation and the whiskey would mask the taste.

That night, Mac slammed opened the door when he returned, he was drunk as usual. As he reached for her, she said, “Hello, lover. Let’s have a drink first.”

Jeanie knew that Mac never declined an invitation for libation. She went to the table and poured a portion of the doctored liquid into a glass. Mac, as she knew he would, grabbed the bottle from her and took a healthy swallow. Well … it would have been a healthy swallow if not for the laudanum.

She was able to keep away from him until the bottle was empty, then she guided him to the bed where he sat for a moment, his head hung low, before he fell backwards and passed out.

That had been hours ago. Now Jeanie sat and waited—waited for the son-of-a-bitch to die. Just before sunrise, the snoring stopped. She hesitated for only a moment before going over to the bed. She had to know.

Yes, he was dead.

Before leaving the room, she went through his pockets and took anything of value. Then she went out to meet the rising sun.

Everything’s Jake

Cowboy

It was early morning when the man rode into town from the east, the sun at his back, his long shadow before him. The street was deserted except for an old mongrel dog sniffing its way home after a long night’s prowl.

He proceeded on the main thoroughfare—the town’s only thoroughfare—until he came abreast of the Blue Moon Café with its “WE NEVER CLOSE” sign hanging from the ramada. Spurring his horse over to the hitching post outside the café, he dismounted and entered the establishment.

At that time in the morning, the chairs were on the tables, and the only occupants were a boy sweeping the floor and a disheveled, overweight man behind the bar wiping a glass with a dirty rag. The barkeep watched the stranger approach.

“How ’bout some whiskey?” said the stranger.

When the barman was slow in responding, the man grabbed his collar, pulled him down until he was bent over the bar — their eyes level.

“I said whiskey,” growled the stranger.

“Yes sir, right away,” was the barkeep’s quick response.

When released, and with a shaking hand, he placed the glass he had been wiping on the bar, grabbed a bottle from beneath the counter, and poured a liberal amount of an amber liquid into it.

As he started to re-cork the bottle, he was told to leave it on the bar.

“Yes sir.”

Turning his back to the bar and placing his elbows thereon, he called to the youth doing the sweeping.

“Hey you, boy, come over here.”

Placing his broom against the nearest table, the boy did as he was bid.

“You got a name, son?”

“Yes sir. It’s Billy.”

“Well, Billy, do you know a man by the name of Jake Tapper?”

“Yes sir.”

“Do you know where he lives?”

“Yes sir.”

Reaching into his vest pocket, the man withdrew a silver dollar and flicked it in the boy’s direction. “You go tell Jake that Mac’s in town.”

*****

Jake lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling. It was much too early to be awake, but since she left, he’d found it hard to sleep. It had been a heady eight months. He had never loved a woman as he had loved Jeanie. Sure, it was taking a chance messing with Mac Conway’s woman, but it had been worth it. Now that she had run off with that piano player from the Blue Moon, he thought he’d just stop running from Mac. Might as well get it over with, thought Jake.

Then there was a knock at his door. “Yes, who is it?”

“It’s me, Mister Tapper. Billy Doyle.”

“Whatcha want, Billy?”

“A man down to the Blue Moon told me to tell you that Mac is in town. I think he wants to talk to you.”

“Alright, Billy. You tell him I’ll be right there.”

Jake packed his few belongings and left the room. Instead of going to the Blue Moon, he went to the livery stable and saddled his horse. Then he mounted and headed out of town as fast as the beast could carry him.

It is one thing to think brave thoughts in the seclusion of your room, but it’s another thing to face Mac Conway in a saloon. Hell, it ain’t healthy to face off with Mac anywhere. Now that Jeanie’s gone, there’s no reason to git myself killed.

The next day Mac caught up with Jake, and then he went looking for Jeanie.

New Orleans

Andrew Joyce AuthorHere’s another one of my stories from my youth. Not too much happened here, but what the hell, I’m gonna tell it anyway. I wrote this last night as a comment on my friend John Howell’s blog. So, if John doesn’t mind me stealing from his blog, here goes. If he he does mind, I’ll take it down … after everyone (all seven of my followers) have read it.

Disclaimer: My editor was not available. So any errors are her fault. She should have been around.

My only time in New Orleans (18 yrs. of age) was when I was hitchin’ to California and got picked up by this guy that was passing through New Orleans. He was telling me about it and telling my 18 year-old self about the bars. He asked me if I wanted to hit a bar or two with him. Of course, I said yes. Then he said I could have my choice of bars. One that played blues or one that had strippers. Guess which one I chose? I was a virgin at the time.

So I’m sitting at the bar with my new friend while this woman pranced on the bar in front of me. She and all the other girls knew what a cherry I was. But I didn’t know that at the time. I thought I was so cool. But they knew better. She winked at my friend and laughed. He nodded and smiled back.

All too soon it was time to leave. So we got back in his car and headed west. On the outskirts of town, he pulled into a motel parking lot. “I’m gonna hit the hay. You’re welcome to share my room if you want,” he said.

Now, you gotta understand this guy was macho-plus. Six-foot, three inches tall. Deep voice, cowboy boots, the whole nine yards. I’m a kid. 140 pounds and wet wet behind the ears. Green beyond belief.

Well, I took him up on his kind offer. When we got in the room, I laid out my sleeping bag on floor over against the far wall. The guy turned off the lights and got into the bed. Things were quite for a little while. Then out of the darkness I heard, “You can sleep in the bed if you want.”

“No, thank you. I’m cool.”

“Please.”

“No … thank you.”

He started to cry. I stayed where I was. I went to sleep and was surprised when I woke up the next morning not dead.

I rolled up my bag and left while he was still asleep. I went out to the road in the early morning mist and stuck out my thumb and left New Orleans and my friend far behind.

That is what I think of when I think of New Orleans.

John, Clark, & John

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, movies were the premier form of entertainment in our land. There was no Netflix, no streaming from YouTube, no Hulu, and definitely no checking out Kim Kardashian’s butt every week on television because there was no television. No Kim Kardashian, for that matter.

Back in those prehistoric days, one man ruled over Hollywood. He was known as the “King,” much like—decades later—Elvis would be The King. But Elvis was the King of Rock and Roll; the man I’m speaking of was the King of Hollywood. His name was Clark Gable, and he was the best-known man in America. He was better known than the President of the United States and probably better loved.

John Huston was a director and screenwriter. Of the thirty-seven movies he directed, three top the list: The Maltese Falcon, The African Queen, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (where that great line was uttered: “We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!”).

John Steinbeck needs no introduction, but I will say that, at the time this story takes place, his book, The Grapes of Wrath, was a best seller, had won the Pulitzer Prize, and had been made into a movie starring Henry Fonda. So he was well known in his own right.

SteinbeckNow that you have been introduced to the players, on to my story, and this yarn happens to be true. It will make evident the wit, the quick thinking, and the humor of John Steinbeck.

John Huston was friends with Gable and Steinbeck, but Gable and Steinbeck did not know one another. Huston loved to hunt; in fact, he wrote The African Queen just so the studio would pay for a trip to Africa for the filming. But the movie was of a secondary importance to Huston. He wanted to bag himself an elephant. And he would not start the filming until he had done so. Incidentally, a movie was made of the whole affair entitled, White Hunter, Black Heart, starring Clint Eastwood. But I digress.

So, Huston invites Gable and Steinbeck for a little hunting up in the Sierra Nevadas. They all meet at Huston’s ranch one crisp, cool morning. Quick introductions are made; Steinbeck and Gable shake hands. Very little is said, and they all pile into Huston’s car for the trip to the mountains.

Now, before I go any further, picture this: Huston is driving, Steinbeck is sitting in the front passenger seat, and Gable is in the back.

Things are quiet in the car for the first few miles. Finally, just to say something, Gable asks Steinbeck what he did for a living. He asked that of the man who had the number one best-selling book in all of America. And the movie that was based on that book was currently playing in theaters all across the country.

“I’m a writer,” answered Steinbeck without turning to face Gable. And then, without missing a beat, John Steinbeck turned to the most famous man in America—if not the world—and inquired, “And what do you do for a living, Mr. Gable?”