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.

Three Steps

Cowboy

I’m three steps from meeting my maker. Three more steps to the noose. I’m ready to die; I reckon I deserve to die. I’ve killed before, but never for such a frivolous reason as brings me to these last three steps.

The whole mess started down El Paso way when I walked into that little cantina. It was a bucket of blood, a real dive. But I had a raging thirst and it was the first saloon I passed as I rode into town. I had just ridden twenty-five weary and hostile miles. A posse had been on my trail because I had killed a man. But he was trying to kill me, so I figured it was self-defense. The posse had other ideas. I eventually lost them in the badlands. Now I’m only a few miles from Mexico and freedom.

I made my way to the bar and put my foot on the brass rail. The barman was a little slow in coming my way. When he was finally opposite me, I grabbed his vest and pulled his face to mine. “Give me some rotgut and don’t dilly-dally about.” I then drew my .45 from its leather and pointed the barrel in his general direction. His eyes widened and he wasted no time placing a bottle of some good stuff, along with a glass, on the bar. “Here, mister … it’s on the house,” he stuttered. I flipped him a gold half eagle. I could pay for my own booze.

With that taken care of, I pulled the cork with my teeth and took a good, hard pull right from the bottle. That’s when she pushed through the swing doors like she owned the place. One glance at her, and all of a sudden, I wasn’t in such an all-fired hurry to cross over the border. She was tall and blonde. She wore her hair up. Her figure had more curves than a coiled rattler. Her eyes were dusky gray. She strolled right up, and in a sugary-sweet voice that would have made strong men weep, she said, “Ain’t you the big one.”

I filled the glass on the bar and handed it to her. She smiled and said, “My name’s Rose and I like a man who will buy a girl a drink.”

We retired to a table with the intent of putting a good-size dent in the bottle. We didn’t talk about much of anything. I was too busy looking into those shrewd gray eyes of hers, sizing her up. In between demure sips of whiskey, she fluttered her long eyelashes at me. When we had worked the bottle down to half, she picked it up, took me by the hand, and led me to a room upstairs. “This is where I call home,” she purred. By now I had forgotten about killing that hombre, the twenty-five dust-coated miles, the posse … everything.

“You’ll find some glasses on that table over there. Pour us a shot,” she said. I found the glasses, blew the dust out of ’em, and did as I was told. When I turned back around, she was sitting on the bed. Patting the mattress, she beckoned softly. “Come and sit by me.”

Well, partners, that was all she wrote. For the next three days, we barely left that room. We had our hooch and food sent up. I had never known a woman like her. I’d mostly only been with whores, but she was no whore. She told me that she loved me. We spent three days exploring every inch of each other’s bodies, and I fell in love for the first time in my life.

On the morning of the fourth day, my head started to clear. We were lying in bed. I was on my back and she was propped up on one elbow, running a lazy finger up and down my chest. She said she wanted to go to Mexico with me. I told her that was fine by me, but there was no rush. That’s when she got a funny look in her eyes and exclaimed, “No, we have to leave today!” Before I could respond, there was a knock on the door. I got out of bed and slipped on my pants. I knew who it was; it was the little Mex boy who had been bringing us our food and booze. I always took the tray at the door and gave him a good tip, usually two bits. But this time was different. He beckoned me out into the hall and whispered that I should shut the door. “Señor, you have been good to me, so I must tell you that you are in great danger.”

I took the tray from his hands and winked. “Don’t worry, son. This is the kind of danger I like.”

I started to turn, but he grabbed my arm. “You do not understand, señor. She belongs to another man, a bad man. She has done this before and men have died. Her man will be back tomorrow, so today she will ask you to leave and take her with you. If you are still here tomorrow, José will kill you.”

He told me the town’s people were making bets if I’d get away before José got back or if I’d be planted up on the hill with the other men she had fooled. It seemed Rose – my great love – was using me to get away from her man José. In this country, a woman can’t very well travel alone. And besides, as the boy told me, José leaves her with no money when he goes away.

The news kinda punched me in the gut, took the bloom off the rose, so to speak. I gave the boy a silver dollar and thanked him. I entered the room … with a smile on my face.

“Where have you been? I missed you, big boy.”

Still smiling, I placed the tray on the bed. “You chow down. I’m gonna have me a drink.”

I had me some thinking to do.

As I sat in the chair and watched her eat, I weighed my options. We could leave together and avoid this man José, or I could leave alone. Or, we could stay and I could have it out with José. The problem was I didn’t know if she was worth it. She had played me. If I took her to Mexico, would she ditch me once we were there?

I was still thinking those thoughts when she said, “I want to be out of here by noon. I’m going to take a bath; you pack and then settle our bill. I’ll meet you at the livery stable.”

Still smiling, I said, “Sure, I’ll see you at the livery.” She gathered up some clothes, got herself dressed, and left to take her bath.

After she had gone, I thought of a fourth option to add to the other three. I could just shoot the lying bitch and be done with her.

I put on my shirt and boots, strapped on my .45, and went downstairs still undecided. By the time I reached the livery, I had made up my mind that I’d leave without her. She was a fine-looking woman, and the sex had been real good. But I had enough trouble in my life without no crazy man coming after me. I saddled my horse and started down the street at a slow pace. Just as I passed the saloon, she pushed through the swing doors. Seeing me, she dropped her bag, ran into the street, and grabbed ahold of the saddle horn. Walking alongside and looking up at me, she cried, “Where you going? Wait! Let me get my horse.”

“I’m sorry, Rose. It’s been nice, but this here is where we split up and go down our separate trails.”

She wouldn’t let go. So, I picked up the pace a mite, but still she hung on. Then she looked down the street and the fear in her eyes said it all. She turned and hightailed it back to the saloon.

Astride a large sorrel rode a big man … a big, mean-looking man. It had to be José. As we came abreast of each other, he grabbed the reins of my horse. “Whatcha doin’ with my woman?”

“Nothing. Just tryin’ to get outta town.”

I saw it in his eyes; he was going to draw on me. I may be slow when it comes to women, but I’m fast when it comes to gunplay. I had a bullet through his forehead before he cleared leather. That was my mistake – that and taking up with Rose. I should have let him draw first. The whole thing was witnessed by the town marshal and I was quickly arrested. I thought for a moment of killing the marshal before he arrested me, but I never did kill no man who was not trying to kill me.

For three days, I knew of love. In three steps, I die.

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.

Georgia On My Mind

Georgia was my girl, she was my love. Georgia was taken from me. She is not of this earth anymore. Georgia awaits me in heaven.

Georgia was taken from me last spring as she crossed a street. She was killed by a drunk driver. Winter is now coming on and the murderer has still not faced justice. He has money and a very good lawyer. His trial has been postponed repeatedly.

He may have money and a good lawyer, but I have my granddaddy’s Colt .45. I have decided to be judge, jury, and executioner. I have waited long enough for justice.

He goes out to the clubs every night. He does not drive now. He has a Cuban drive him in his big fancy car; the same car that took my Georgia.

It will be tonight.

As I wait in the alley for the murderer to emerge from the newest, hottest club on Miami Beach, I think of Georgia.

My Georgia was only nineteen when we met. She was in Miami visiting a friend, and the friend suggested that she see Fort Lauderdale before she went home. I was at the bar in The Elbow Room, sitting on my usual stool, when they walked in. I don’t believe in love at first sight, but that night I had my doubts.

I sat there and looked on as a few guys hit on Georgia and her friend. They all walked away empty-handed. Normally, I wouldn’t have made a move, but something drew me to Georgia. She was full of life. If I could see someone’s aura, I’m sure hers would have been a light blue. A loving and pure soul was she.

To make a long and loving story shorter, I sweet-talked her phone number out of her. At that point, all I wanted was to get laid. But that was before I fell in love with my Georgia.

I called the next day. We went sailing on my boat. I told her to bring her friend along so that she would feel safe. The three of us sailed the bay and then ate a picnic lunch on Elliot Key. As we sailed back, the sun was setting into a fiery western sky .

We hit Dinner Key just as it got full dark. By then I was in love.

My home base is Fort Lauderdale—about two hours up the Intercoastal Waterway.

I asked Georgia to sail up there with me and I would send her back to Miami in a cab. To my great surprise, she said yes. Her friend left us and I cast off from the dock.

Two hours later, in a cove off Dania Beach, we anchored and made love. The sweetest most loving love I have ever known. From that moment on, she was My Georgia.

She flew home, settled matters and came back to me. We had two years of love and life before she was taken from me. In that time, I learned how to love another human being. I learned of tenderness. I learned of love. And because of what was done to My Georgia, I will kill a man tonight.

It’s coming up on 2:00 a.m., about the time the killer heads for home with his conquest of the night.

I see them now, the three of them—the murderer, a girl, and the Cuban.

My quarry has his arm around the tall, skinny girl. She sways on her high heels. She wears a silver dress that reflects the pink and yellow neon lights of the bars they pass. He weaves as he walks. I hope and pray that he is not too drunk. I want him to know why he is going to die.

I step out of the shadows to block their path. I stand before them and tell the girl to hit the road. She hesitates, but when I raise the gun, she finds someplace else to be.  I then turn to the Cuban. “This ain’t your fight.”

He also hesitates. So I explain it to him, “In one minute, your boss will be dead. Do you want a piece of what is about to go down?” I reckon he didn’t because he shrugged and walked away.

Now it is just me and the murderer.

“This is for Georgia,” I say as I put a bullet into his shocked face. His blood and brains splatter onto the wall behind him. So simple to take a life. So very simple. I did it with a gun … he did it with a car.

I thought I would feel better killing the son-of-a-bitch. But you know what? It does not feel good to kill another human being … although I am glad I did it.

Now I’m waiting for the cops. I hear the sirens nearing. But I am not worried; I will not be here when they arrive.

With the barrel of the gun in my mouth, I think of My Georgia and tell her that I am on my way.

When I see the first cop car approach, I slowly squeeze the trigger.

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.

Weird Stuff

Note: Here’s another snippet of my youth. I don’t know why I’m writing so much about myself these days. Perhaps all those people who have, throughout the years, told me it wasn’t all about me were wrong. Maybe it is all about me. If not, I gotta get back to writing fiction. I’m feeling a need for a spurned lover to take his revenge. In the meantime, here’s a story that is true down to its last word.

*****

How to convey something that I know, down to my very soul, to be true? How to put into words something that no one is gonna believe? How indeed?

I reckon I’ll get right to it and see what happens, see who believes what.

I’m out hitchin’. I’m twenty years old. I’m a robust young man in the prime of his life. It’s early morning. The sun has just cleared the horizon to the east, and I’m heading west on Interstate 80, a brand new super highway. I’m on my way to San Francisco, the year is 1970. As I write this, I don’t remember where I slept the previous night. Probably in some bushes off the side of the road, snug in my sleeping bag.

I’ve been eating, at least as well as one can while on the road. Perhaps my last meal was the night before. Perhaps it was only an hour earlier. I can’t remember, but I do know that I am not hungry. There are two of us in the car, me and the guy that picked me up that morning. We’re shooting the shit as the vast, flat lands of Nebraska speed by.

The guy tells me he’s getting off at the next exit and that it’s out in the middle of nowhere. He suggests I get out at a rest area that’s coming up ahead. There’s nothing there yet … no restrooms, no nothing; the road is too new. But if someone pulls in there, my chances of getting a long haul would be a lot better than if I stood at the entrance ramp outside of Nowhere Town. I agree and my host pulls into the rest area and lets me out.

I look around. The land sure is flat. I can see for miles and miles, all the way to the horizon, so far away. Then I notice there is one thing at that rest stop: A small plaque telling me that particular portion of Interstate 80 was built on the old Oregon Trail. Big deal. I had never heard of the Oregon Trail.

This sucks. No one is pulling into the damn rest stop. I’ll never get to San Francisco. Only one thing to do, get back out to the highway and stick out my thumb. It’s about a hundred-yard walk, so I heft my bedroll and start walking. I’ll have a ride in a few minutes. Maybe if I’m lucky, the guy will offer to buy me lunch.

But then something funny happens. One minute I’m filled with vim and vigor and the next, I’m getting really tired. Funny, but not worrisome. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Get out to the highway. That’s where the cars are, that’s where your next ride awaits you.

With each step, I’m slowing down. It gets to where it takes all my willpower to take one lousy step. My feet weigh a ton each. My bedroll weighs two tons if it weighs an ounce. I’m almost to the highway. Gotta get there. Standing here ain’t gonna get me anywhere.

But it’s no use. I’ve come to the end of the line. I couldn’t take another step if my life depended on it. I just want to collapse. It takes all my strength just to keep upright. My feet are mired in the asphalt—cemented in place. I feel my soul wanting to leave my body. I won’t be heavy any longer. What a weird thing to think.

Just then a car pulls up next to me. It’s coming from the rest area. The passenger window is down. The driver leans over and offers a ride. I want the ride, but I can’t move. But if I don’t move, I know I’m going to die. How do I know that? With my last bit of energy, my last ounce of strength, I reach out and open the car door. But that’s it. I’ve got nothing left. The only thing I can do is fall into the passenger seat. The guy doesn’t wait until I’m all the way in before he accelerates. It’s a good thing that he did. It closes the door for me. I sure as hell couldn’t do it.

He wants to know where I’m headed. I answer in a weak whisper. It’s all that I can manage.

The guy’s really moving. The land is flat and there are no other cars around. We’re tearing up miles. But the funny thing is, the more miles we tear up, the farther I get from the rest area, the stronger I get. My strength is returning. Four minutes and five miles later, I’m restored. I’m once again a strapping, youthful guy with his whole life ahead of him. I don’t know why I think that, but I do.

I put the whole thing out of my mind. Never to think of it again. It was just something that happened. I’m looking forward to my sojourn on the West Coast. I love hitchin’ up and down the Pacific Coast Highway. I always meet interesting people who take me into their lives for a few minutes, a few hours, or even for a few days. Whatever.

Fast forward twenty-seven years.

I’m now middle aged, forty-seven years old. Out of nowhere, I start having this recurring dream. In it, I’m on the plains of America. The sky is blue, very blue. The sun is warm, it’s summertime. Things are quiet. I hear not a sound. I stand behind a covered wagon, I’m at the tailgate. I’m feeling weak, very weak. It takes all my willpower, all my energy, just to keep standing upright. My folks and my sister are at the front of the wagon. They are dead. We tried to cross the continent on our own. We did not provision properly. We ran out of food, I think. The details are murky. Maybe something else killed my family. I don’t know. All I know is that they are dead and I’m dying. I want to bury my family, I should bury them. But I just can’t. I’m standing, holding on to the tailgate for support. But not for long. In a few seconds, I’m going to fall to the ground and die. I don’t think I am scared. The last thing I see in that life is the rough, grey, weathered wood of the tailgate and the tall, brown grass of the prairie as it comes up to meet my face.

The dream comes again and again and again. Then, one time, for the first time, I look around in the dream. I look behind me. I see the prairie. It hasn’t changed. And I know, with a calm certainty, that I am standing on the exact spot where I stood rooted to the ground on that day in 1970. It’s the same damn place. The exact same place! The same two square feet of earth—just different times.

After that … after I came to understand what had happened to me as a twenty-year-old kid, back when I was on the road … the dream has never returned.

Life Giver

I posted this a year ago. But I’m putting it up again for the three new followers I’ve accumulated over the last 365 days.

 

 

We are here to create … I do it with words … but we all create … if nothing else, we create our lives each and every day as soon as we get out of bed.

I once had a mystical experience when I was quite young and on the road.

That experience forms my writing … it forms me … I spoke with God … once upon a time …

I swear this is all true. This is an abbreviated version of what happened on that magical, mystical night.

Back in 1968 when I was eighteen and hitchin’ around the country, I was going from LA to Miami. Thought I’d go home for a spell. Along about sundown, a blue pickup truck picked me up on Old Highway 90 in Arizona. One thing led to another and the next thing I knew, I was spending the night with a young Apache Indian. His name was Jimmy.

After his grandmother fed us, we walked out into the desert and sat down on a small rise. The western sky was aflame with bright orange and pink clouds. Another day was coming to an end. Jimmy talked of Geronimo. He spoke for over an hour. I listened with my eyes closed.

Then things grew quiet. I was hesitant to open my eyes; I did not want to break the spell. Though, eventually, I did open them and looked directly into the face of God!

While Jimmy was talking, the sun had traveled to the other side of the world and the stars had come out. Never had I seen anything like it. For three hundred and sixty degrees the stars touched the horizon. No light impeded their brilliance. There were no buildings to block my view of that wondrous sight. There was just as much starlight as there was black sky. I felt as though I could reach out and touch them, they seemed that close. I could see how Ptolemy believed the earth was encapsulated within crystalline spheres. In the dry desert air, the stars did indeed look as though they were made of fine, delicate crystal. I saw the Great Bear … and Polaris, the only star that does not move. Orion seemed as though he could lower his arm and smite me with his club. I was in the midst of searching for other constellations when Jimmy broke my reverie. He said, “It is time.”

Jimmy handed me a wooden bowl; he had one just like it. We each held our bowls with two hands in front of us, about chest high. I was told the potion would help me go within, to commune with the Old Ones. Jimmy said: “It is my hope to speak with Life Giver at times like this, but it has not happened yet. Although I have been trying for many years. I am told by the older men to be patient. That Life Giver will speak to me when I am ready to hear what he has to say.”

Jimmy reached his bowl towards me, as in a toast. I did the same. Then we drank whatever that concoction was. (Hey, I was young and open to anything.)

He said that we would not speak again until morning. He would continue facing west, and I should face north. I walked ninety degrees around the rise to Jimmy’s right, sat down, and awaited whatever was to come. It was starting to get a little cool, and I thought it would have been nice if I had had the forethought to bring a jacket. In an effort to keep warm, I brought my knees up to my chest, folded my arms about them, and rested my chin on my knees.

Time started to stretch out. A second felt like a minute. After a while, I noticed I wasn’t cold any longer. I unfolded myself and lay back to look up at the stars. As I said, time was playing tricks on me. I don’t know how long it was before I heard The Voice. At first I thought it was Jimmy, but when I looked in his direction, he was staring off into the western sky, oblivious of me and his surroundings. Then I heard it again. It was in my head.

Aloud I said, “Are you calling me?”

“There is no need to use your vocal cords … think … and I will hear you.”

For some reason, this all seemed perfectly natural. As though I spoke with disembodied entities every day.

My first … or if you want to be technical about it,  my second question was, “Who are you?”

I swear this is what I heard:

“I have many names, and have had many other names in the past. I am known to your friend Jimmy as Life Giver. I am known to you and your culture as God. Some refer to me as Jehovah. I am called Allah and Krishna by others. Some call me The Tao, or The Way.”

I don’t know why, but, for some reason, it did not seem strange that I was having a conversation with God.

“If you are who you say you are, why do you speak with me when Jimmy has been trying to speak with you for years?”

“I have been with Jimmy all those years, and more, waiting for him to notice me. I am with my children—all my children—always. I am never not with you.”

NOTE: To cut down on the prose, I offer a transcript (as I remember it) of my conversation with the entity, which I have come to believe was indeed who It claimed to be: Life Giver. Before you make up your mind, read the transcript in its entirety. Then decide if what I heard makes any sense.

ME: It just doesn’t seem fair that I’m here speaking with you when it should be Jimmy instead.

LG: Jimmy and I do speak, all the time, but not in this way.

ME: Have you come to teach me some great truth?

LG: You have nothing to learn. None of my children have anything to learn. You only have to remember.

Me: Remember? Remember what?

LG: Who you are, and where you come from.

ME: Now I’m getting confused. Aren’t you God?

LG: We are God. Some refer to me as All That Is, which is more descriptive of the truth. There is only ONE. We are both a part of that ONE. This planet’s first religion was The Law of One. In a time long forgotten, man knew from whence he came. That is what I mean when I said you have only to remember.

ME: So, why can I experience you and Jimmy can’t?

LG: As I have stated, Jimmy, you, and all of humanity experience me every day.

ME: What I mean is why am I talking to you tonight, and Jimmy is not?

LG: How do you know he is not speaking with me now as you are?

ME: Well, I guess I don’t. I reckon God can carry on more than one conversation at a time.

LG: You reckon?

ME: I didn’t know God had a sense of humor.

LG: I have what you have, you have what I have. We are ONE.

ME: I guess I was pretty lucky when Jimmy picked me up this afternoon, or else I wouldn’t be here speaking with God.

LG: It was no accident that Jimmy offered you a ride and a place to sleep. Jimmy and I arranged it while he slept last night. We spoke in his dreams. Though he has consciously forgotten our talk, he has remembered it subconsciously.

ME: Then why am I here?

LG: Do you mean why are you here tonight, or why are you here on the planet Earth?

ME: Both … I guess.

LG: You, and everyone else extant on the physical plane, are here because you want to be here. You, personally, are here tonight because I have a message for you, and this was the only way to make sure you heard it.

ME: Before you give me the message, may I ask just one more question?

LG: You may ask as many as you wish.

ME: What is the meaning of life?

LG: The meaning of life, the reason you, and all our brethren on this planet and on all the other planets in other star systems, is to choose. Making choices is the reason for life. The choices you make is the way I express myself. When a life is completed, the experiences you bring back to me are a gift. A gift from a loving child who has volunteered to endure the hardships of the physical plane in order that its parent may BE.

ME: What if we make the wrong choices?

LG: You cannot make a wrong choice. Whatever you choose will eventually lead to evolution, and over time evolution creates balance as part of the nature of existence.

ME: Even if we make a choice based on hate?

LG: Remember this: Ultimately, there is only Love. All so-called negative emotions—hate, anger, jealousy, greed, just to name a few—stem from fear. The only way to combat fear is Love. Love always wins out over fear.

ME: WOW!

LG: WOW, indeed.

ME: You said you had a message for me?

LG: Yes, you are planning on going home. You, of course, may do anything of your choosing. However, you came to the Earth to teach. Some of those you have agreed to teach will miss their lessons if you go home now.

ME: I thought you said we have nothing to learn, we only have to remember.

LG: The lessons help you to remember. As a song will bring back memories of the time you first heard it, the lessons you, and all teachers, impart, help those involved to remember.

ME: I’m just a kid, how can I teach anyone anything?

LG: First of all, you are as old as I am. We existed before time began. Secondly, you teach by example. Some will learn from you after seeing you for only a moment, others will have learned their lessons after many months with you. As you, in turn, will learn your lessons from others you will encounter.

ME: You say I have a choice?

LG: Of course you do.

ME: Okay, as long as it’s my choice. I don’t like to be pressured, even by God. When will I know when it’s time to go home?

LG: I will tell you.

ME: Sounds like a plan.

LG: Yes, it does. It is almost daybreak. It would be better if you left without disturbing  Jimmy. He is speaking to his inner self.

ME: Well … good-bye.

LG: I am always with you.

I got my carcass up, looked over at Jimmy, and mentally said good-bye. I walked the few hundred yards to his house, picked up my gear, and walked into a new day.

Three years later, I finally made it home.

 

 

 

Fishin’

fishingJohnny Donohue was my best friend when I was twelve years old. On Saturday mornings, we would go fishing. Because we would arise at 3:00 am and meet shortly thereafter, we called it “going fishing at three in the morning.”

This particular Saturday morning when I arrived at Johnny’s house, two of his three brothers were milling about outside. His brother Terry was a year younger than Johnny and me and sometimes hung out with us, so it was no surprise to see him. But, to see his youngest brother, Matthew, who was only six, was a different story. Before I could ask Johnny what was up, Matt came running up to me and said, “I wanna go fishin’.”

Johnny approached me. “If I try to leave him behind, he’ll just follow us or make such a racket he’ll wake up my parents.” So we bowed to the inevitable and let Matt follow us as we started for the lake. It wasn’t really a lake; it was what was called a rock pit. A rock pit being a place that was once dry land until a company came along and started dredging gravel, dirt, and muck for development out west near the Everglades. What was left after they had taken as much as possible was a small lake. We were fortunate; there were two such lakes within blocks of where we lived. They were identical, about a quarter mile long and half as wide. Between them was about a hundred yards of fine, sugary-white sand.

Our 3:00 a.m. fishing routine consisted of me, Johnny, sometimes Terry, our fishing poles, a frying pan, a can of baked beans, and a stick of butter. At sunrise, we would stop fishing, clean our catch, build a fire, and cook the fish we had caught moments before. And of course, coming from good Irish (Boston) stock, the beans were always Boston Baked Beans.

As a rule, we always fished the north lake. Why, I don’t know. Probably because that’s the lake we swam in and we felt comfortable there. However, this morning we were fishing the south lake, and by the time the sun was fixing to come up over the horizon, we had caught nothing. Matt may have helped our bad luck along by throwing rocks into the water right where we were fishing. So, we decided to call it a day, or a night, or whatever. It was still dark out when we reeled in our lines and started for home.

Johnny, Terry, and I were walking along the shore of the south lake. Matt was somewhere behind us. Or so we thought. There was no need to fret about Matt. We were only blocks from his home, which he knew his way to as well as we did. And there were no “Bad Guys” to worry about. It was 1962, after all. But with what happened in the next few minutes, it just goes to show you how wrong a guy can be. At this point, it’s still pitch black out, but a gray sky in the east was only minutes away.

As we neared the bit of land between the two lakes, we heard a sound that immediately put us on guard. In those days, our neighborhood was way out in the boondocks, and we had never run into another living soul in all the time we went fishing at three o’clock in the morning. The sound was a scratching sound, immediately followed by a sound that sounded like thud, scratch, thud, scratch, thud—it had a kind of rhythm. By then dawn had broken, barely. It was finally light enough to see where the sound was coming from.

We could make out the silhouettes of two men and a car. The bigger of the two was leaning against the car, arms folded, watching the other man as he dug a hole. Those were the sounds we had heard, the scraping of the shovel as it was thrust into the sand, and the sand as it was dumped onto a slowly growing pile. As we stood there watching this strange sight, it got stranger still. The big guy went to the trunk, opened it, and dragged out a dead body. Or what sure as hell looked like a dead body.

All three of us dropped to the ground. After all, we were the first generation of children raised on television; we’d seen enough to know that witnesses always get “rubbed out” and dead men tell no tales.

Johnny and I were right next to each other, with Terry behind us. We lay in that position for about five minutes, wondering what would be the best course of action to take that would not end up with us getting shot. Johnny and I were for staying on the ground and slowly crawling away so as not to be seen. Terry was for jumping up and making a run for it. Well, wouldn’t you know it, little Matthew decided which course of action we should take, and it was neither of the above.

As we lay there conducting The Great Debate, we saw Matt walking up to the two men from the opposite direction. He must have circumnavigated the lake, and was heading in the general direction of home. The only problem being two bad guys were between him and his destination. Because he was so small, and the men were so intent on what they were doing, Matt was able to walk right up to the hole still being dug and peer into it. Even from our vantage point, we could see the men react as all reasonable men would react when discovered burying a corpse at six o’clock in the morning. They nearly jumped out of their skins.

After taking a moment to regroup, the bigger of the two, the one not shoveling, grabbed Matt by the arm, and force-marched him about ten feet before flinging him in the direction of the street. Of course, the little kid stumbled and fell. He sat there looking up at that big bully as the man pointed to the street. You didn’t need to read lips to know the guy was telling Matt to scram.

If I may, I’d like to digress for a moment and tell you about Johnny, Terry, and myself. Johnny and I were good kids. We were altar boys; we never gave the nuns at school any trouble. We kept our noses clean. Of course, as we got older and joined the Boy Scouts, Johnny made Eagle Scout while I never made it out of Tenderfoot. Johnny went on to become an FBI agent, and I went on to break many, many laws with impunity. But on that morning, we thought alike.

Now Terry, on the other hand, was a holy terror. Whenever he hung with us, we could expect to either be reprimanded by someone, or punished by our parents when we got home. All the Donohue boys, except Terry, had red hair and freckles. Terry was different, he was a blond. Come to think of it, he was different in a lot of ways. I tell you these things so you will understand why things turned out as they did.

Back to the story: When we left off, Matt was sitting on the ground with Mr. Big standing over him.

Johnny jumped up and yelled, “My brother!” and started running in the direction of all the excitement. Because he was my pal, I was two steps behind him, and Terry was a step behind me. We reached the scene of the crime and injected ourselves between Mr. Big and Matt. When he saw us, the big guy laughed and turned to the guy shoveling. “Hey, Nicky … the cavalry to the rescue.”

Nicky dropped the shovel, pulled out a gun that he had tucked into his belt, and pointed it at us. At this turn of events, Mr. Big said to Nicky, “Put the fuckin’ gun away, pick up your fuckin’ shovel, and dig the goddamn hole!” I thought Nicky was going to shoot him. I would have if someone spoke to me like that. But Nicky only shrugged, slipped the gun back into his belt, and resumed his spadework.

“So, kids, what’s the problem?” said Mr. Big. “Why don’t you be good little tykes and just run along home?” When we heard that, Johnny and I looked at one another. We knew our troubles were over. All we had to do was walk away, go home, tell our parents, and they could take the appropriate steps to deal with the situation.

As Johnny took Matt by the hand and we turned to leave, we heard, “You guys gonna bury that dead body?”

Fuckin’ Terry! was my only thought at the moment. I don’t know what Johnny was thinking, but by the look on his face, he was thinking along similar lines. With that bit of oratory, Nicky again dropped his shovel and pulled out his gun. Mr. Big stared him down until Nicky meekly put the gun away. But in an act of defiance, he did not resume his shoveling duties. So there we were: four kids, two bad guys, and a corpse. What next? was probably the only thought going through everyone’s head—except for Matt and Terry. Matt was too young to comprehend the situation, and Terry was just getting warmed up.

As we stood there in this Mexican standoff, we heard a groan coming from the corpse. Then the corpse raised itself on one arm and shook its head. Now I’ve got to hand it to Mr. Big. If nothing else, he was a fast thinker. I could tell he was just as surprised as the rest of us at the resurrection taking place, probably more so. But without missing a beat, he turned to Terry and said, “You talkin’ about Marty? He’s no dead body; he just had too much to drink.”

I was thinking, Saved by the bell. All we’ve got to do is play dumb and we can walk out of here.

No sooner had I thought those encouraging thoughts, I heard, “Then why are you digging the hole?”

You guessed it. Fuckin’ Terry again. But no one paid any attention to him. Marty was slowly getting to his feet, and all eyes were upon the Lazarus-like spectacle. The only one present who did anything was Nicky. He pulled out his gun again. Mr. Big walked over to him and slapped him on the back of the head. “Not in front of the k-i-d-s.”

How old did this guy think we were that we couldn’t spell kids? But that was cool, if he wanted us stupid, we could be the stupidest sons-of-bitches you ever saw. But unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to exhibit our acting skills. Just then, Marty said to no one in particular, “You fuckin’ assholes. You tried to kill me!”

“We ain’t done trying yet,” was Nicky’s retort. With that brilliant statement—in front of witnesses nonetheless—Mr. Big lost his cool. He turned to Nicky and shouted, “Alright, just shoot the bastard once and for all. Kill him before I kill you, you sorry sonavabitch!”

Nicky grinned from one end of his face to the other. “Right, boss,” was his reply, just before he raised his gun and put two right in Marty’s head. The rest of those assembled, with the exception of Mr. Big, jumped a foot in the air with the explosion of the first shot. Marty did not take it so well. He was flung back against the car and stared at Nicky for a long moment before he collapsed like a wet dishrag. Us kids were frozen to the piece of earth we each happened to be standing on at the moment the shots were fired. Even Terry couldn’t think of anything stupid to say.

As soon as Marty hit the ground, Mr. Big ordered Nicky to pull the body away from the car. Mr. Big got behind the wheel and yelled for Nicky to hurry up and get into the car. Standing at the passenger side window, Nicky asked, “What about the kids?”

We were still rooted to our respective pieces of earth, so we were close enough to hear Mr. Big’s reply. “Nicky, fuck the goddamn kids, fuck Marty, fuck you, and fuck this miserable town! Get your ass in here or so help me, I’ll blow your fuckin’ head off right where you stand.” With that, Mr. Big pulled out his own gun and pointed it at Nicky’s head. Having his boss point a gun at his head didn’t seem to faze Nicky, not at all. Before getting into the car, Nicky turned to Johnny and me and winked. “See ya, kids.” He then got into the car and Mr. Big backed it out onto the street, driving out of our lives forever.

But wait, the story isn’t over quite yet. After our friends had left, we formed a circle around Marty. We stood there looking down at him. He was lying face down in the fine white sand with a small pool of crimson-colored blood forming next to his head. Terry said, “Cool.” Johnny looked like he wanted to throw up. I was paralyzed and Matt was building sand castles. After a few minutes, Johnny said, “Let’s go home.”

The walk home was the least eventful part of that entire morning’s fishing expedition, at least until we arrived at Johnny’s house. When we got there, he said, “You guys wait out here. I’ll go in and tell my parents what happened.”

A few moments later, we heard a scream, followed by the exclamation, “My babies!” Within seconds, Mrs. Donohue, wearing an old blue bathrobe and with curlers in her hair, flew through the front door, stooped down, and like a mother hen, enfolded Matt and Terry into her arms. After a few moments and a few sniffles, she stood up and, while pointing at the door, shouted, “Get in there, misters, before I beat you!”

After that, there was nothing left for me to do but make my way home. I was hungry; we hadn’t caught any fish that morning. And, for some reason, we were never again allowed to go fishing at three o’clock in the morning.

Treasure

He stumbled upon the treasure quite by accident. He had been exploring the vicinity when he happened upon it. His first thought: This cannot be real. He cautiously approached. Someone might be playing a trick on him. Perhaps he was being observed. But no one sprung from a concealed location—no one yelled for him to halt his advance. It seemed safe enough to move forward. When he arrived at the treasure, he bent down to touch it, just to make sure it was real. It was real! After one touch, he fled to better-known and safer environs.

That night he could not sleep for thinking of what he had discovered. He thought and thought of ways he could explain it to members of his tribe. If he suddenly showed up with the treasure, anything he said would be suspect. One does not find treasure of this sort every day. No, he would have to think this through.

The next day he went back to where he had found the treasure, but dared not get too close. Instead, he peered at it from a far. It was still there and untouched! But for how long? A fire burned within him to possess it. If not for the taboo placed on matters of this sort by the Law Giver, he would claim the treasure as his own. But no, the Law Giver would never allow it.

As he tried to sleep on the second night after his discovery, he thought perhaps the Law Giver would understand. Perhaps he should approach her, and tell her of his find. No, then if she forbade him from keeping the treasure, it would be lost forever. Conceivably, he could bring it to his village and hide it from the Law Giver. But … where could he hide it? The Law Giver was all-wise; she knew the secrets of his heart.

Quite unexpectedly, he overheard the Law Giver speaking of the place he had found the treasure. This is what he heard: “When they moved out, they told me they left a few things behind, and if we wanted anything, we were welcome to it. I’ve been too busy to go over there, but I think I’ll take a look this afternoon. Maybe there will be something Billy might like.”

Something I might like. Something I might like! Was she toying with him? Did she indeed know of the treasure? Later that afternoon, his mother called Billy to the front of the house. He was not allowed far from home because he was only five years old, so he appeared right away. His mother said, “Look what I found next door where the Simms used to live.” And there it was—the treasure!

His mother handed little Billy the bright red, toy fire truck that had caused him to lose so much sleep. You see, Billy had been afraid his mother would think he had stolen it, even though it seemed to have been abandoned. And in his home, stealing was the one thing his mother, the Law Giver, would never tolerate.