My Grave Nightmare: A Halloween Story

SpookyImage

Was it a day in full blinding sun or a night in deep gloomy shadows?  Was I asleep?  Awake?  I don’t remember.  No, it was both.  I wandered about in my dream with my eyes open, my dream that quickly became a nightmare.

What I looked upon were reflections of my darkest thoughts and fears.  My sub-conscience was trapped in the dreaded landscape of the land of the dead–the churchyard, the cemetery, God’s Little Acre, the lawns and fields of the departed.

AngelOverlookingGraves

The angel stood on the rock and watched over the mute stones.

“O, What has come into this world that these once vital souls, who lived, loved and danced and sang must now repose until the Day of Judgement?”

I stood watching a man mourn the loss of his wife, lover, child, parent or self.  He cannot bear the loneliness of existence.  He pulls at the door.  It is solid and firm in its closure.  The door is thick bronze.  I touch his shoulder to offer solace.  He, too, is bronze.  It’s all metal and stone except for the dust that lies within.  He will remain in this torment until the acids of the rain reduce him to molecules.

BronzeAtDoor

I walk on.  I don’t know why I do this.  I know what awaits me behind the next tree or over the next hill.  I walk into the trees.  Roots have begun to ensnare a gravestone.  The trees will absorb the crystals in another century.  Then, who will remember?  Where will the flowers be placed?  Where will the tears be spilled?

RootedGrave

The only comfort for my eyes are the green and living leaves, mosses and lichens.  Objects with life hold firmly to the ultimate symbol of death.

True irony.

I leave the dark trees and stand to meditate the monument before me.  I read the inscription.  It’s not an epitaph–it’s a promise:

Somewhere in Mexico–when you were hurting and in despair, I sent my angel to comfort you.  You are not alone.  I will be with you even unto the end of the earth. 

ComfortAngelCaption

There is an old house with an open door.  I grew up and passed from childhood into manhood in an old house.  I must enter.  I walk into the foyer and along the hallway.  There she is.  The transparent image of a long-ago lover.  Or is she the sister I never had? Or is she my mother as a beautiful youth?  Or is she someone unknown to me–coming to hold my wrinkled hand and place her young cold lips on my warm cheek.

Instead, she passes through me and ascends the stairs to meet another shade–someone her own age to play with–someone as spectral as she.  I watch her ascend the stairs and experience an overwhelming sense of melancholy.  I wished to know her in life.  I probably would have given her my heart–the heart she would break when she passed away.  My heart breaks as easily as ancient Oriental porcelain.

SpiritGirl

I leave the house to her spirit.  I whisper a prayer for her restless soul.  Does anyone hear my words?  I walk on into a monochromatic world.  There at my feet is the grave of a man who is holding…is it his own face?  The head of someone he is longing for?  The visage of a family member?  I walk by and he continues to stare, without terror or anger into another pair of eyes.

HoldingHead

I have seen too much for a living and mortal mind to comprehend.  I want to be awake.  I don’t care if it’s just past mid-night or if the sky in the east is becoming pale.

Pale!  Enough pale! I want to be amongst the living and the breathing.  I want to mingle with lovers who embrace with a terrible passion for life.  I want to walk along flowered paths rich with bees and insects and birds singing for the company of a mate.  I want to help a lame farmer till his field, an old woman with arthritic joints knead her bread, a teacher tell his students the truth about life, calm a couples angry words, write a song a child will love, write a book that will make a man weep, kiss a wanton woman, drink a dark ruby wine, eat a mushroom in a desert, draw a picture that a blind person could see, dig a grave, speak words at a burial, pour Holy Water on an infant’s forehead, stand on a mountain peak so very sharp and pointed that the highest crystal pierces my thick boot soles and makes my foot bleed so that red stains on the heather will guide a lost soul to the low meadows.

I can feel sleep falling away.  But, I sit up in bed, still in a deep slumber and see my last vision for the night.

It’s the Angel of the Fog.  But is she fading away or growing more real?

FoggyAngel

I rise and boil water for tea.  I wrap myself in flannel.  I rub the Sandman’s leftovers from the corners of my eyes.  I am fully awake and fully alive.  I will use and live this day to its fullest.  I will live with faith and hope.  As I slowly stir a drop of honey into my tea, I begin to wonder…

What will tonight bring me as I put my book down and let the dark envelop me?

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Evening Reflections On The Fountain Of Youth

800px-Ponce_de_León

[Ponce de Leon seeks the Fountain]

Tomorrow, October 31st , I’m going to post my Halloween blog.  I’ve been saying it’s going to be scary.  I hope it is.  It is a description, mostly fiction, of my fear of graveyards and the hours after midnight when dreams go dark as ink and visions are bleak and fearful.

It’s a verbal collage of nightmares I’ve had and ones I hope I will never experience.  I hope you will see it as my Halloween treat to you, my faithful readers.  My sensible readers, who know when its the proper time to go to bed and mumble a prayer.

“Now I lay me down to sleep…”

However, after missing out on a day in St. Augustine, I began to reflect on the idea of the Fountain of Youth.  I did a web search and found some interesting but very confusing facts.  When you’re dealing with a myth, reality and legend get mixed into a ‘stew’ that tastes good, but is hard to separate into individual factoids.  Tales of sacred waters that can heal and give you back past glories are cross-cultural and date back thousands of years.

In a memoir by Hernando d’Escalante Fontaneda, he writes about Ponce de Leon and his search for the legendary waters of restoration in Florida.  There is even a Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park in St. Augustine.  It was excavated by the Smithsonian Institute several decades ago.  They found very old burial sites and evidence that pretty much confirms the fact that St. Augustine is the oldest continuously inhabited city (by Europeans) in North America.

But, I’m more interested in mythology than science when it comes to topics as ancient and humanistic as this.  It’s the Romantic soul of an Irishman, I believe.

Lucas_Cranach_(I)_-_Jungbrunnen_-_Gemäldegalerie_Berlin

[The Fountain of Regeneration.  Lucas Cranach, artist]

Searching for the Fountain of Youth is a motif that is as timeless as the Greek Myths, the Celtic Legends and the Quest for the Holy Grail.  It’s the Heroes Journey.  ALL good and proper literature contains the elements of a search for something–an object, an idea or a God.  J. K. Rowling understood this very well.  Harry Potter is the embodiment of everyone who wishes to attain a truth by overcoming obstacles.

Me?  I doubt anyone could have convinced me to don heavy armor and plunge into a rainforest–only to die of thirst, heat stroke or some insidious disease that comes with a bite of an insect so small, you don’t even see it on your wrist.  Perhaps it will come as a bite from a magnificently colored reptile whose quick bite will render you paralyzed and raving mad before it stops your heartbeat for eternity.  It may even come from a snake as thick as the leg of an obese man and longer than a city bus, that will slowly coil around you and slowly constrict itself until you can not even suck a cubic centimeter of Oxygen into your lungs.  They say its a slow and extraordinary death.

I don’t need these kinds of bodily abuses to seek out the Fountain of Youth.  I have sought it out by keeping my eyes open–and I have found it!  Does that come as a surprise?  Does it impress you to know that I can find that Fountain nearly every day.  And, I can take you there as well.

The Foundation of Youth, the Well of Regeneration, the Source of Life is just around the corner from your house.  I find it every time I see a young couple walking hand in hand.  In their eyes, you can observe both love and desire.  In their youth, you can sense their vitality.  The water of the Fountain is a tear, a drop of sweat from passion, a raindrop on a seed, the alluring gaze of a young woman or the glint of male lust in a male eye.

They are the Fountain of Youth, because from their shared love, a new life will emerge.

Stand for moment at a playground.  Look at the children.  They have no idea where they came from, yet.  They have no concept of the part they are playing in the continuation of life.

That’s the real Fountain of Youth.

SpringByPierreAugusteCot

[Spring by Pierre Auguste Cot]

 

I Dreamed I Saw Saint Augustine

St.AugustinePostcard

It was going to be a great day. I even had a ready-made title for this blog.  I was going to life a song title by the one and only, Bob Dylan. We only had about 120 miles to drive from Brunswick to St. Augustine, FL.  That’s not even enough to break a sweat–that would come later.

The Interstate traffic was moderate and the wind was at our backs.  If we were on a sailboat named Silver Heels, I would put a rope on the wheel and sit back with a mug of iced coffee.  But doing that is next to impossible in a Ford Escape–not to mention the safety and legal issues.

Yes, the day was going to be one of those casual drives followed by a visit to “the oldest city in the U.S”.  This was the land of the Fountain of Youth.  This was the city with an old church and a pirate museum.  This was the city with a trolley tour where you can get on and off at your whim.  This was the city that probably had 5-star ice cream cones.

What could possibly go wrong?

Of course, Murphy’s Law states without qualification that: “If something can go wrong, it will”.  And it did.

Bogart famously (and prophetically) said that: “It doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world”.  That’s as true as it gets.  Unless, it’s just two people with a backed-up toilet in an RV park just outside of St. Augustine.  Late on a Thursday afternoon.

The unthinkable worst case scenario had risen up from a small molded plastic bowl and sucker-punched us in the lower abdomen.  I will spare you all the details.  I will certainly spare you any photographs.  But, (no pun intended) we tried all the approaches we could think of.  We had the KOA guy come with a snake, a bucket and an extension of the black pipe that is used for draining the grey and black tank.

Matters only slightly improved–and then deteriorated back to square one.  The KOA pamphlet had an ad for Tom, who would come out to fix RV’s.  Mariam made the call.

“I’m retired,” he said.

“Can you un-retire for just this once and help us out?” Mariam pleaded.

“Sorry.”

Three phone calls later, we found a an RV repair company that were willing to make the trip and try to make things straight.  In short, he came, he snaked–he fixed it all.  We were flushed with joy.

But, it was 6:35 pm by the time he drove away.  There would be no sightseeing to what has been described as a “most beautiful city.”

I took a shower and rinsed the sweat and soil from my very aching body.  I went into the office and bought five post cards for $1.00 (+ tax).

Earlier in the day, at the Florida Welcome Center on I-95, I picked up a free litter bag, a state map, and a little pin for my lapel.  The pin is shaped like the state.  Mariam, after glancing at it, thought it was an alligator.

FloridaPin

“No,” I said.  “It’s a little model of the state where we shall spend the next two months.”

There you have it.  I’m left with a post card and a dream.  In my vision, I walked the streets of the old city.  In my dream, I found the Fountain of Youth.

Back at the Welcome Center, I was sending a text to my son.  I saw an elderly couple walk back to their car.  They might be looking for that Fountain too.

“Is that Mariam and me?” I wondered

I answered myself.  “Probably someday, Pat, just find a more muted pattern for your Hawaiian shirt.”

OldFolks

[This little post is dedicated to Ratso Rizzo.  As portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy, his poor broken and sickly body never made to the Welcome Center.]

Living With Humidity

FogOnIphone

This is going to be a brief post dealing with an issue that I have a feeling is only going to get worse.  Yes, it will only get worse as we continue our road-trip deep into Florida. I’m talking about humidity. Remember last summer when you were sitting on your patio sipping a Bud Lite from a frozen pint glass?  You’re proud of this pint glass because you got it as a souvenir at the new craft beer pub that just opened it’s doors in May.  Remember how the glass got really wet before you were half-way through?  Someone probably said the glass was “sweating”.  Well, we all know that glass doesn’t sweat.  Overweight guys who mow lawns in August in Kansas or Ohio, sweat.  Rock stars sweat.  All the Congressmen awaiting subpoenas, sweat.  It’s the condensation that makes the drops run down your souvenir pint.

A little background at this time is probably necessary.  If you hated science in school or forgot the science you did learn, or you simply don’t trust or believe in science at all (in that case, you’re probably a climate change denier), then I need to say a word or two about this thing called humidity. Humidity is the amount of water vapor in the air.  Sometimes it’s confused with Relative Humidity.  This is expressed, on the 6 O’clock Action News, as a percent (%).  This is the amount of water vapor the air can hold at any given temperature.  If its 75% R.H., then the air is holding 75% of what it is capable of holding (at a given temperature).

It’s important to remember this: Cold air can’t hold as much water vapor as warm air.  So when the moisture-laden air meets the chilly souvenir pint glass, it condenses–forming water drops.

It simply isn’t sweat.  Sweat is another problem altogether.

I went to college in Louisiana, so I know humidity when I feel it.  When I stepped out of an air-conditioned classroom, I felt like I was wrapping myself in a wet towel–a very warm wet towel.

How a large percentage of the human population life and work, and even survive at latitudes about 25 degrees north or south of the equator (at low elevations) is something I’ve never fully grasped.  I have a much easier time accepting that aliens produced crop circles.  If Elvis is indeed still alive, I think he’d been living in Bangor, Maine.

I’m back in the South.  And, I’m having my first issues with the high humidity levels of southeast Georgia.  It’s late October, so I can’t really wrap my head around what the summer must be like.

I’m sitting at a picnic table at an RV park outside of Brunswick.  The table feels damp.  The bench I’m sitting on feels damp.  My bottom feels damp (even though I’m sitting on the Business Section of the New York Times from October 23.  It’s sixteen pages of stock and bond reports.  I doubled it over and it’s now thirty-two pages.  My bottom still feels damp.  I have that feeling you get when you sit in an Irish peat bog for two days in the rain.  The keys of this laptop are damp and my fingers keep sliding off causing numerous tpyos.  As you can see from the opening photo, my iPhone is covered in dew–and it’s not even morning.  This presents a unique problem.  If I wipe the ‘dew’ from the screen of my iPhone, it swishes away app or picture I happen to be looking at.  I feel as though if I stand still long enough, lichen and moss will begin to grow on my ankles.  A fern from the crook of my elbow will be next.

If I was back home at Rainbow Lake, NY, I could huff my breath against a window and draw a face or a heart.  Here, I can draw anything on nearly any surface that water vapor can condense on.  I’m thinking hard about where there may not be a film of moisture.  Probably the inside of our micro-wave oven.

I bought a temperature/humidity unit at Radio Shack (before they went belly up).  It had a nice big digital display for me to see without reading glasses.  There is even a horizontal bar that shows a few black lines on a continuum from DRY to VERY HUMID.  The black bars have lived in the VERY BAD end (the right side) for several days.

The biggest insult of all?  I have to wipe the glass cover to read what the temperature and humidity is at the present time.

On an even more personal note:  I always carry around a small notebook (I prefer Moleskin brand) to jot down ideas for blogs or plot lines for any future novels.  The problem is that the pages of my note books are limp like kelp leaves.  Or to be more honestly descriptive, damp toilet paper.  Did you ever accidentally drop a roll of Charmin into a full bath tub?  If you ever did this, I can tell you that you can do nothing, ever, to make that toilet paper even come close to being dry again.

The image of a soaking wet roll of toilet paper is a fitting way to end this blog.

Lastly, if we ever get out to the Mojave Desert or Death Valley in early March, I’m going to have a real problem with how dry my hands get.

I hate dry hands.

Walking Charleston In The Light And Dark / A Few Tales To Tell

MeetingStreetCharleston

Midnight in the Laundry Room.

I’m writing this in a laundry room.  Four washing machines are on my right and four dryers to my left.  I’m here because the promised WiFi signal is very weak in the R-pod.

Here the signal really smokes.

Yes, it’s midnight in the laundry room, a spooky place where a sock can vanish before your eyes.

The fluorescent lights bring out all the blemishes of the white formica table top.  Above my head is a full moon.  I can’t see it because the remnants of a major storm passed through Georgia today.  The sky was left overcast, but, the weather is slowly moving eastward, out to the Great Atlantic Ocean.  If I step outside right now, I may see a brightness that reveals the moon’s location.

This post is about Charleston but I’m not even in that city anymore.  The day before yesterday (its past midnight now) is when we stayed just outside Charleston, SC.  Today, we’re in Brunswick, home to the fabled Golden Islands.

But, let’s go back to Monday.  It seems like I’m a day or two behind in my posts.  So, if your curious about Brunswick, wait a day or so.  For two tired travelers, we packed quite a lot into a single day in that most interesting and beautiful city.

We spent the daylight hours seeing the sights that all the tourists come here to see.  However, this city has two separate personalities.  There are the magnificent homes, with the flowered gardens, ivy and palm trees.  At night, there is the melancholic Spanish moss, greenish-gray and drooping from the Live Oaks.  We strolled under the overcast sky during the day and we spent the evening, the dark time, lurking around haunted buildings and spine-chilling churchyards.  You will have to pony up $20.00 a person for one of the four or five Ghost Tours.

Daylight Walks

The main thoroughfare through town is Meeting Street.  It’s a restaurant-lined avenue that acts like a reference to walkers and shoppers and diners.  We decided to take it easy on ourselves and take a 90 minute Grey Line tour.  My neck is sore from trying to see the tops of the houses.  I felt like Linda Blair trying to keep up with what the driver/guide was telling us.  (He’s a former teacher, so that explains a lot.)  The buildings are some of the most beautiful and interesting I’ve ever seen.  Pastel colors are common choices.  The heat and humidity of the summer days forced the designers to come up with inventive ways to maximize the sea breezes.  The great porches wrap 3/4 of the way around a building.  The porches are large enough to earn the title ‘piazza’ style.

That’s where you would find me, if were a wealthy planter, sitting in a wicker chair and sipping a mint julep on lazy afternoons.

Here is an example of one such house.  I can’t say it’s typical, the styles are highly variable:

CharlestonHouse

I walked the streets.  I turned corners and peaked into secret gardens.  I stopped to smell the flowers.  I rested on park benches and bought post cards.

And, I looked down at just the right time to notice something interesting.  We’re outside a locksmith shop.  The owner, in a raging fit of creativity, had placed dozens of keys in the wet cement when the sidewalk was being poured.  An easy to miss, but interesting approach to advertising.

KeysInSidewalk

We continued our stroll along Meeting Street, or was it King Street?  As we approached a fire station, I was amused by the statue of the Dalmatian that appeared to be sleeping on the sidewalk.  I hesitated.  I was curious if they had one of those brass poles that you see the fireman slide down (in the cartoons and movies).  I went in and asked a fireman if they had one.  This led to a tour of what he said was the oldest continuously operating fire house in the U.S.  He took us up to a building in the rear and there were three antique fire engines.  One was of special interest.  The story goes that the company that made those particular trucks was once on the verge of bankruptcy.  Along comes The Three Stooges.  They filmed a skit on one of those trucks that was very similar to the one we were looking upon.  After the film came out, the company was besieged by fire companies all across America.  They couldn’t make them fast enough.

3StoogesFireTruck

[A true classic isn’t it?]

He also showed us a very interesting display in one of the side rooms.  There, on the wall, was a typical red ‘fire-box’ that would be found along any city street.  He flipped the switch to demonstrate.  The signal would come into the fire station and trigger a teletype machine which would punch out a code.  The code was then referenced to a chart which gave the street where the fire was burning happily away.

FireHouseAlarm

The daylight was fading.  We had dinner in the one restaurant that had the widest reputation.  My friend, the poet, Dara Reidyr, who grew up in South Carolina,  said we simply must have dinner at Hyman’s–and be sure to include grits and hushpuppies.  This we did.  It was a four-star establishment in my book.  Thanks, Dara!

Hyman'sDinner

After sun sets

And, now for something completely different.  Night has fallen on the city.  We had booked a “Ghosts of Charleston” tour at 7:30 pm.  We met our guide by a circular fountain at Waterfront Park alongside the Cooper River.  Off we went to see the places that the TV “Ghost Busters” crew had claimed were “really hot” in terms of paranormal activity.

Our first stop is outside the Southend Brewery & Smokehouse on the corner of East Bay and Queen Streets.  Back in the day, the day of King Cotton and Indigo plantations, it was a three story cotton mill.  The rough work with the freshly picked white fluffy stuff was the first floor.  The finishing work was on the second floor.  One more flight up was a gentleman’s club where a planter or merchant could enjoy a whiskey and a cigar and talk the talk of men who made their fortunes from the labors of West African slaves.  Real gentleman, these.  One planter was celebrating a recent transaction of ‘selling’ his cotton to the merchant.  The goods were aboard a ship that had just set sail for England, where the quality of the South Carolina cotton was highly prized.  As this guy (forgot his name) gazed out of the window overlooking the harbor, he saw what he believed was the ship carrying his precious cargo, catch fire and then explode.

He stared in mute horror.  He was now a broken man, financially and otherwise.  He downed a few more fingers of whiskey before he realized he couldn’t go home and admit to his wife that all had been lost in the ship’s fire.  So, he did what every broken-spirited man with no future had done from time immemorial.  He fashioned a noose of twine and stepped off a chair into eternity.  The twine, of course, acted like razor wire and he essentially bled to death…his life’s blood dripping down three floors.  Clearly that wasn’t the end of the story.  You see, he still wanders the building to this day.  Was there anything good that came out of this tragedy?  Well, his widow got a very large check from the sale of the cotton and went from mourning black to bridal white in a very short time.

You may reasonably ask why she got the money.  Here’s the punch line to this sad tale:  The poor fellow had witnessed the wrong ship explode.  By the time he finished the last whiskey of his life, his cargo was already out of the harbor having departed on the outgoing tide.

Here is a dark and rather spooky cemetery.  Often, a kneeling woman is seen at the grave of her daughter who had died of a childhood disease in the 19th century.  I saw nothing.  Do you?

DarkCemeteryCharleston

A short distance away was the infamous “Dueling Alley”.  I can’t go into the fifteen stories of duels that took place there.  I’ll only mention that a prominent physician was killed in this alley sometime in the 19th century.  He used to walk the path and whistle on his way to work.

People have reported hearing the whistle and seeing a man in period clothes stroll the walkway.  Again, I saw nothing.

DuelAlley

It’s a long distance from the alley to this laundry room.  The alley was dark and forbidding.  The laundry room is blinding bright and a persistent noise is coming from behind the washers.

I can say one thing–it’s not a whistle.

[Next up: The Scary Halloween Blog.  Don’t say you weren’t warned!]

Down And Out In Dillon / A Fictional Respite

Only the lonely (dum-dumb-dummy doo-wah)
Know the way I feel tonight (ooh yay, yay, yay, yeah)
Only the lonely (dum-dumb-dummy doo-wah)
Know this feeling ain’t right (dum-dumb-dummy doo-wah)

–Roy Orbison “Only The Lonely”

DillonDinerPowerballSign

The waitress at the Steak and BBQ joint had the eyes of a girl scout.  They were fill with enough innocence to make a biker gang in Fresno call for a mass confession at the local church.  She had the body of a Pilates instructor and wore a shade of nail polish that didn’t have a name or FDA approval yet.  She walked like she was born on the red carpet.

Yeah, those girl scout eyes… It didn’t take a Nobel Prize winner, or a schlep like me to guess what merit badges she had earned during her nineteen years of outdoor activities.  She kept fiddling with the apron strings that were tied in a perfect bow just above her perfect…backside.  I think she was due to get off her shift in about seventy-five seconds.  I looked around for a waiting boyfriend.  Pretty young women like her always had a big, unshaven Palooka waiting for them.  I didn’t see anyone, tattooed or otherwise, spinning a set of Chevy Pick-Up keys around a thick finger.

So, she was leaving alone.  I glanced at the two cars in the employee parking area.  Her wheels must be the ’63 Mustang convertible.  The yellow bug light in the lot made her car look like it needed a paint job.

I was pretty good with a spray can…as good as they get.

“What are you staring at?” said my wife.  “Are you going to get your food or not?”

I snapped out of my 8:00 pm daydream.  I was standing in front of the salad bar.  There was a small pile of white lettuce in my bowl.  I took a spoonful of chick peas, shredded “cheese” and eight cherry tomatoes.  I grabbed a stale roll and headed for our table.  I wasn’t very hungry.

It had been that kind of day on the road.  My wife and I seemed to be searching for excuses to argue.  Maybe she thought I was playing Dwight Yokum too loud.  If it wasn’t that, it was which flavor of gas to put into our tank or whose turn it was to go into the unisex restroom first to wipe the toilet seat dry.

Some men can’t do anything right when they use a public bathroom.  I’d like to say I always lifted the seat, but I stopped doing that about fourteen years ago.  What difference did it make?  What difference did anything make?

Some road trip.  We didn’t even have a final destination.  We just needed to get away from the cold weather.  We were heading for a beach…any beach, as long there was enough sand to put an orange blanket on and enough room to work out a leg cramp and take a nap.  That’s right, any beach and plenty of warm weather.  She wanted to show off her new polyester Wal-Mart bikini.  Me?  I had a red Speedo I pick up for 50 cents at a Salvation Army store just outside of Port Arthur, Texas in 1988.  My gut had grown since then, so I was at a serious risk of being seen as a naked bather by a devout Baptist cop.

Another summons was something I really didn’t need.

I finished my salad and went to get a small bowl of peach Melba.  I was careful to scrape the meringue off the top simply because it didn’t have the color of any meringue that I had ever seen.

“Watch the sweet crap,” said my wife.  “I’m not giving you another dollar for a new swim suit, hear me?”

I was feeling the need to hit the boy’s room to see a man about a horse, when the words of my dear mother echoed in my memory bank.

“Son,” she said, “if you ever get a date, don’t excuse yourself to go to the bathroom ’cause the girl will leave you.  Most woman hate losers.”

I often wondered why my mum would tell me that.  I’ve had plenty of dates when I was younger and I went to the bathroom on a regular basis, as needed.  My date was always waiting for me at the bar.  She never left me…until I gave her the $75.00.  I dunno.  Maybe there’s a connection somewhere.

So, I dumped my tray into the can and walked back to the loo.

Even though it was always in the back of my head that such a thing could happen, it didn’t stop me from turning a vulgar shade of pale when I saw the table empty upon my return.

She’s in the ‘ladies’, I said to myself.  That’s when I saw the waitress looking a bit funny at me and whispering something to the teenage dishwasher.  I walked to the window.  Our car was gone.

She did it.  She left me.  She left me stranded in Dillon, South Carolina.  I looked at my watch and pretended I was waiting for her to make a quick drug store run to stock up on her magenta lip gloss.

I took a seat by the window.  I was the only customer.  A light in the “special events” room went off.  A kitchen light went off.  A minute later, the waitress, you remember, the girl scout, came up and said that it was closing time.

MeAtDinerDillon

I stood out on a cement parking barrier.  I looked up and down the highway for signs of our car.  Four cars went by.  Three of them were police cruisers and the fourth was an empty taxi.  I felt weak in the bowel area.  Neon lights were blinking off.  Even the PowerBall sign went dark, but not before I saw the prize was $100,000,000 bucks.  I fingered the cash in my pocket.  I pulled out three twenty-dollar bills.

A light rain began to fall.  I looked beyond the closed Taco Bell and spotted a VACANCY sign on a motel.  It was the Hi-Ho Motel.  I had seen it earlier when we were driving around looking for a gourmet meal.  I quickly crossed the empty highway and approached the office.  They advertised rooms for the week, day and even the hour.

I hoped they changed the sheets sometime in the last month or so.

I paid the desk manager the $16.00 for the room.  I’m sure I picked up on his Calcutta accent.  I clutched the key to Room 4 tightly in my sweaty palm.

A few minutes later, I was stretched out on a lumpy single bed inhaling mildew spores and after running up and down the dial, I tuned the black and white TV to a rerun of Bewitched.  I pulled my jacket over my chest and several business cards fell out.  I spread them on the sheet.  I would need the services of one of these concerns before the end of tomorrow came…that I knew.

BusinessCards

I slipped into a light slumber.  An hour later, I woke with a start.  The space beside me was empty.  She was really gone.  This wasn’t a bad dream.  But, whatever it was gave me a powerful thirst.  I locked the room and walked along the highway, passing strip malls and used car lots.  Then I saw the light of heaven in front of me: BUD LITE.  That wasn’t what I needed, but it was a start.  I went in just as I heard a train whistle blow from somewhere behind the cement dealer.

As I slid onto a stool, the bartender came over.  I blinked three times in disbelief.  It was the waitress from the BBQ place!

“Hey there Mr. Blue,” she said.  “High and dry, I see.  What happened?  Did she recognize a chiropractor from high school?”

“You’re a riot, Lucy,” I said.  I waited two beats.  “Besides you, what the special here tonight?”

“That would be my new invention.  I just finished Mixology School last week.”

“What would that be,” I inquired, with breathy anticipation.

“It’s called Mindy’s Merit Badge.  That’s me.  I’m Mindy.”

“So very nice to meet you, Mindy,” I said.  “Wanna go camping?”

[Please note: This post is 99% fiction.  The only real thing that happened was eating at a salad bar.  Don’t panic and don’t worry about us.  We’re fine.  Mariam did not leave me stranded in Dillon, SC.  I’ve always been a fan of noir, hard-boiled writing styles ( i.e., Dashiell Hammett) so I though I’d have some fun trying my hand at it.  Dillon is a fine place.  If you did happen to buy into the reality of my story…and you want to send cash (small unmarked bills) to help me catch a Greyhound back to NYC, I can provide a mailing address.  Meanwhile, watch for the really crazy Halloween blog in a day or so.  Thank you, loyal readers…but please click “follow” on my blog page or “like” on the FB page.  I need the numbers like a stand-up comic needs laughs.  If you don’t click on something, I’m going to bring out “Fluffy” and lay a guilt trip on you!]

 

 

Traveling South/Going Native: Thoughts At 34.41° North Latitude

CottonField

South n 1 : The compass direction directly opposite to the north. 2 : The direction to the right of one facing east.

Realistically, however, south is more than one of the cardinal points on a compass.  It is also a state of mind.  When most Americans think of the south, many cultural references come to mind.  The Civil War, slavery, plantations, civil rights, voting rights, hillbillies, the KKK, lynchings, poverty, cotton, levees and even dirt that is red.  There are plenty of stereotypes to make anyone happy.  If you turn this mental picture around, something quite different should come to mind.  It’s the land of William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty,  heart-breaking blues, early jazz, proud and beautiful people of color, perfect swamps, Spanish Moss, Jack Daniels and sometimes a soft gentility that is lacking on the hot pavements of East New York in Brooklyn.

Indeed, the south has many faces, many histories and many ways of life.

I’m camped now, just a few miles across the state line of South Carolina.  I’ve crossed bridges over waterways with such names as the Little Pee Dee River.  I’ve seen enough Kudzu choking the trees along I-95 to know for certain that I’ve entered a world unlike my hometown or my present home of Rainbow Lake, NY.

As I drive, I think dark and ironic thoughts.  If it were a mere 152 years ago, I would be marching with a unit of New York Volunteers along a strip of dust or a ribbon of mud–on my way to a battlefield.  I would be looking for someone  to kill–some poor barefoot kid, maybe wearing gray, maybe wearing his father’s shirt, probably hungry, likely thirsty–but proud of who he his and what he thinks is a noble cause.  He will probably die in a day or two.  He will probably never hear the sound that a small ball of lead makes in those moments before it enters his chest.  He probably won’t die for a few long and sad minutes.  He’ll have time to think of his mother, his girl, his wife, his brother, his son, his father–and he may even have enough seconds to beg God to forgive him and to make a plea to God to bestow a blessing on Robert E. Lee.

The irony?  The dead rebel from 1862, may have had a child.  His great, great, great, great grandson probably just sold me a bottle of water at the Kwik Stop Sunoco station at Exit 78.  Another bit of irony?  I can’t locate a Starbucks without an app on my laptop.

You don’t experience the real south along the Interstate corridor.  I would have to drive 150 miles to the west–into the eastern slopes of the Appalachian Mountains, into the dark hollows, into the woods beyond the towns to find the mountaineers who make the moonshine, clog dance on the bare plank porches, strum the banjo or sing a song that sounds as though it was sung yesterday in Galway, Ireland.  Or, I would have to drive south from Memphis, down Highway 61, and through the Delta Country to Vicksburg, past dusty fields and old sharecroppers shacks to find a certain cross-roads.  That legendary intersection of two dirt traces where Robert Johnson bartered his soul to Satan in exchange for the ability to play the ultimate delta blues guitar, is somewhere around those parts.

Traditionally the people of the backwoods had little traffic with store-bought goods.  They made do with what they had.  They distilled the grain, they strung their own fiddles and they made their own soap.

I’m in the south now.  I need to go native.  I need to begin thinking differently than I did two weeks ago.  I need…

But, wait.  I have no clue about how to distill grain alcohol.  I can’t whittle.  I can’t play any instrument or craft any art, folk or otherwise.

I bought a brown and polished stone to wear around my neck.  I picked some cotton, but I can’t pull it apart and make a shirt.

b:wcottonhand

I am a stranger in a strange land.  I’m a Yankee and not a true southerner.  I was not born of this strange soil and I will never acclimatize myself to the unforgiving heat and humidity.

I am an alien here.  I’m only passing through.

My restless nature has taken me this far, but I’m not anywhere close to beginning my return trip.  My body will find a place to heal.  I know where that place is located.  It sits at the edge of the Mojave Desert, about 3,000 miles away.

It’s said to be a ghost town now.  I won’t accept that.  But, before I soak in the hot healing springs, I’ll have a lot of time to watch the waves along the Gulf Coast, examine the sand grains of countless beaches and stare at the shore birds as they nest.  Maybe they are migrating–from one home to another.  I can relate to those avian cousins of mine.

And, who knows?  Maybe I’ll take a class, learn a craft, write something sublime.

I have plenty of time to go native.

GoingNativeSelfie

[A selfie.  See how I’m “going native”?  Notice the casual open collar of people who “go native”, the single-stone necklace and the silver fountain pen that my son, Brian, got me for my birthday.  It’s for making entries in my “Going Native” journal.  Also, note the scene behind my left shoulder.  They have a pumpkin display that is just out of sight behind me.  But, you can see the satellite dish, the BEWARE OF DOG sign by the red tent and the golf cart.  What you can’t hear is the yipping little dog tied to the tree.  I apologize for not using a “selfie-stick” but most places are asking $19.99 (+ tax) for them.  I’m native enough to take a selfie without one (but, it wasn’t easy).]