The Gift Of The Troll

[Source: google search.]

I tried to be as quiet as a cat as I approached the Barnum Brook Bridge. I put my foot on the first plank and sure enough, my stealth was inadequate. Out from under the bridge, so fast I missed it because I had blinked, emerged the Troll, blocking my way.

“Who is crossing my bridge?” He attempted a snarl and a roar. Instead, only a squeak. He rubbed his eyes. Apparently I had interrupted his nap. “Oh, it’s you again,” he said as his large eyes took focus.

“Hey, Troll,” I said, with some sadness.

“Get ready for the Three Riddles.”

“Do we really have to do…?”

“You know the deal. It’s in your book of Norse Mythology.”

I sat down on the leafy trail. “Okay, let me have it.”

First riddle: “What has hands, but can’t clap?”

“You’re kidding…a clock.”

Second riddle: “You see me once in June, twice in November, but not at all in May, What am I?”

“Hmm. I paused for a moment before it hit me. The letter “e”.”

“Not bad,” the troll replied.

“Not hard,” I retorted.

“Okay Einstein, this is hardest one for today.”

Third riddle: “What has a bed but never sleeps, has a mouth but never talks, and can run but never walks?”

My mind went blank. I had no idea. He had me stumped. I’ll never cross this bridge today. I’ll never get to that quiet spot at the end of trail…the place where I think through my problems. Then I looked at the Barnum Brook below me. That’s the answer!

“A river,” I said a bit too loudly.

The Troll bowed his head in defeat.

“That’s okay, Troll, there”ll be other chances.”

I walked past him and sat on the log bench at the far end of the bridge. He remained seated on the bridge keeping his six feet distance.

“Oh, by the way,” I said as I fished through the pocket of my L.L Bean cargo pants. I pulled out a copy of something I saw in The New York Times yesterday.

“Ooo My My, the Times. A bit upscale for an Adirondack guy, wouldn’t you say?”

I ignored the comment and showed him this:

[Source: NY Times.]

He took the photo and studied. “Oh, poor Floogie,” he said. I always knew it would come to this”

“Explain,” I said gently.

“Where was this taken?” he asked.

“Under the Fremont Bridge in Seattle.”

“I coulda guessed. Made it all the way to the West Coast. He was a friend of mine, Floogie was. He was really into the Troll thing. Did everything the Norse Mythology book says that Trolls do. One day he was emerging from his place under the bridge when a truck loaded with cement accedently drop its load and the cement poured through the pot holes on the bridge. Poor Floogie.”

“Sorry about your friend, Troll, but that’s not why I’m here. He looked up at me waiting for further comment.

“The self-isolation thing is…is really getting me down. I feel like I’m in a hole and can’t get out. It wants to be spring, but we’re stuck in January weather. No flowers. Too chilly to even take a walk. I started my needle point project and made two mistakes on my first cross stitch. I feel like I’ll never be good at anything. My appetite barely exists. I have trouble sleeping. What am I going to do, Troll?”

“First of all, think about how lucky you are to be safe and secure up here in the North Country. The Adirondacks are a special place. Every day is a microcosm of every season. Yes, all the seasons are condensed into one day. I don’t do this very often, but let me show you something.” He reached into his satchel and pulled out a Pan flute. “Stand up, and close your eyes.”

He began to play a soft melody. I thought of spring, of the flowers waiting to rise up and I thought of the leaves of the Poplar waiting it’s time to burst forth. Then, the tune changed slightly. Now I felt the warm breezes from a large lake. I felt the hot sand beneath my feet, so hot I had to run into my dad’s arms and he carried me to the shore and gently placed my into the chilly water of Raquette Lake. I smelled Balsam everywhere. Then his melody changed again and I saw the scarlet and yellow of autumn along the trail. The sky was intensely blue. My brother, Chris was waiting for me a short distance away. Mount Marcy was just over his shoulder. It was to be our fifth time we were climb it. Troll played on. The tune now made me think of knee-deep snow. It was six degrees below zero. The crisp air bit at my nostrils. Finally, the tune came back to the beginning. I opened my eyes and it was early spring. Life was waiting beneath every fallen leaf. All I had to do was give it a little more time to absorb the sun’s energy and crocus would energy.

I just had to wait. I’d get through this. I am stronger than I gave myself credit for. My heart was much lighter now.

“Thanks, Troll. Thanks for giving a vision to just wait.” He grinned up at me. I turned to go when I felt the load in my shoulder bag. It was a round loaf of grainy brown bread I was intending to eat when I reached my private spot.

But a favor demands a return.

“Troll, catch!” I tossed him the loaf. He caught it deftly. He looked at the bread and then up at me.

“What I did was for you alone. No reward necessary.”

“Look. I baked it for my marriage anniversary and for Mother’s Day but my wife isn’t keen on bread.”

He looked out over Barnum Pond. “I had a wife once.” I saw he was trying to wipe away a big Troll tear. “And I had a mother once too. A second tear rolled down his furry face. “Trolls aren’t much different than you humans. That’s why I prevented you from crawling under a bridge and going into a hole, like me.

I turned and began to walk on when I heard:

“Happy Birthday, Patrick.”

“Thanks,” I yelled back with a wave of my right hand.

Now I wonder how he knew about that, I thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Murder Mystery Jigsaw Puzzle Caper

[The Puzzle box cover.]

Several days had passed and I was still saddened by the way I had left the Troll. He looked so dejected as he headed back to his self-isolation under the bridge. I made a mental note to make sure I go back in the early summer and pay him a visit.

I had been standing in the kitchen for the last forty-seven minutes staring at the humidity level on my Costco Weather Monitor. It still read Very Low-Dry. Mariam was busy assembling the ingredients for tonight’s dinner: Blond Puttanesca (Linguine With Tuna, Arugula and Capers). Don’t get me wrong, Mariam has a full life here and doesn’t do all the cooking. She does like working in the kitchen and trying new recipes but, on occasion, I’ll make a Three Bean Soup or my signature Corn, Bulghur and Cheese  Casserole.

“Hand me the capers, please?”

I told Mariam to keep an eye on the Weather Monitor and let me know if the humidity level shows any sign of changing. Returning to the dining room table I put all my brain power and skills of observation on finding the missing piece that would complete the perimeter. It was an edge piece and was snow white. Sounds easy but I just couldn’t manage to find it.

This was not like a normal puzzle. It was a Murder/Mystery version. One is supposed to solve the puzzle which is supposed to look like this:

[The box top. You have to admit, it’s a bit “busy” isn’t it?]

Then read this:

[A short story to accompany the puzzle.]

Then solve the Whodunit. Sounds simple and fun. But…

Late in the evening, after binge watching Ozark, Mariam and I would spend an hour or three working on the puzzle. On our first night, after we had turned all the pieces face-up, Mariam said:

“This will be extra hard because of your color-blindness, Pat.”

“I’m not color blind.”

“Honey, remember when I sent you shopping for a few baking potatoes? You brought home six rotten apples.”

“They shouldn’t have been offered for sale.”

“But they were in the discard bin, dear.”

I had a flashback to something about bins, but I couldn’t put my finger on the memory. Mariam sighed and went to bed to play a few games of Words With Friends. I was left with this:

[Photo is actually sideways, but you can see the gap in the white edge.]

Out of desperation, I rechecked the box to see if the white piece got stuck inside. It was then that I noticed the notice. It was a RECALL NOTICE that was five years outdated. I failed to seen when I opened the box. Essentially, it read that this was a defective puzzle that was missing a vital piece. Apparently, a fellow on the second-shift at the printing factory had fallen asleep while watching a Hallmark TV movie called “My Second Honeymoon in Passaic”.

I was furious. I was seeing green. I went downstairs to my art table and found my Exacto knife. I was going to find another jigsaw puzzle and alter a white piece to make it fit. Then life would return to normal or whatever passed for normal lately. I put the notice in our recycle bag and went to work. Mariam called down to me and said:

“Honey, we forgot tonight is Thursday. The garbage and recycling bins have to be put out.”

A strange shudder ran down my already sore back. Those bins.

“Okay, I’ll get to it in a minute.”

“Don’t stop what you’re doing, the bins are light and I can manage,” she said from the top of the stairs.

I continued to carve away at the piece.

“What’s this?” She stood in the doorway holding the RECALL NOTICE. I held the altered piece behind my back.

“We’ve been wasting our time on this stupid thing,” she said with a tinge of anger. With that she grabbed another recycling bag and pushed everything off the table.

“I’m going to bed. I’m taking a half a Valium.”

I quietly opened the bag and dropped the altered piece in. I walked over to the refrigerator and found a can of Guiness. I stood in front of the Weather Monitor and stared at the humidity reading.

It was the same. It read Very Low-Dry.

 

 

 

 

 

The Troll Of Barnum Brook Bridge

[The only known photo of the Barnum Brook Bridge Troll. Photo source: Google search.]

I stood in my kitchen staring at my Costco weather monitor. Mariam was busy looking for a container of low-salt broth. For twenty-two minutes I glared at the humidity reading. It was our eighteenth day of self-isolation. Except for a small incident involving two garbage bins, I hadn’t left the house. I was hoping something would happen with the humidity that would excite me, but it stayed on the Very Dry mode. I turned away in anguish and went downstairs to use our stationary bike. I plugged in my iTunes, put on my earphones and listened to Elvis Costello for ten minutes. The left peddle began to wobble. Not wanting to let it loosen too much I decided that ten minutes was more than enough.

Back upstairs in our living room, I stood at the picture window and waited thirty-three minutes for the Blue Jay to land on my suet basket. Nothing.

Mariam came to the door and said:

You need to get out. Go for a walk.”

As I layered up, my thoughts drifted to Coney Island. The sand, the surf, the hot dogs and the bikinis. One can still dream. I’m not dead yet, I thought.

I drove over to the Paul Smiths College’s Visitor Interpretive Center (VIC) and went to the start my favorite short walk, the Barnum Brook Trail. I reminded myself to stay at least six feet away from anyone I met, but the parking lot was empty. I was on my own.

Part of the trail is a boardwalk with several bridges. I crossed the first bridge in fine spirits, my head was clearing. I was almost in a good mood, considering. I slowed as I approached the second bridge. This is not going to be pleasant, I thought. Sure enough, as I stepped onto the wooden crossing I heard the voice. It was louder than usual, rougher and more ugly than usual. There was true anger this time. From beneath my feet I heard:

[The Barnum Brook Bridge. Photo is mine.]

“Who’s crossing my bridge?”

It was the Troll of Barnum Brook Bridge. We’ve met before. He pulled himself out from the underside of the crossing and stood, blocking my path.

“Oh, it’s you. Well then you know what the deal is. You must answer my riddle or face a horrible death.”

I rolled my eyes.

“Okay, Troll, ask away.”

“Right then. First question is:

A boat is filled with people yet there was not a single person aboard. How is this possible?”

I pretended to ponder the posed puzzle.

“Because they were all married,” I finally said.

“Humph. Too easy. You must answer another one.

“Whatever.”

“I have branches, but no fruit or leaves. What am I?”

“Are you kidding? That’s easy,” I said.

“Answer!”

“A bank,” I said. “I need to move on.”

“Okay, those were easy, but you must answer one more question.”

“So ask, already,” I said.

“The more of this there is, the less you see. What is it?”

This was a new one so I had to pause. But I paused too long.

“You’ve lost! Now you must suffer a horrible fate.”

Then the answer came to me. “Darkness,” I said.

“Too late,” the Troll growled. “I will now grind your bones and have you for dinner.”

“You’re not grinding anything, except your green teeth. Order take-out tonight.” I squeezed past him, avoiding his fetid breath. “Besides, you’re not real. You’re just a bit of Norse mythology.”

As I walked off the end of the bridge I suddenly felt sorry for my final comment. We’re supposed to be kind to each other in these unreal crazy days. I turned around and said:

“Stay safe, Troll. See you when times get normal again.” He gave a small wave and climbed under the bridge, presumably to self-isolate.

When I walked into our kitchen, Mariam was busy preparing Tortellini and Zucchini Soup. I poured myself a glass of Chardonnay.

“I have a riddle for you, Mariam.”

“Hmmm.”

“What has to be broken before you can use it?”

“Oh, please. An egg of course. Now hand me the rosemary, please.”

I felt grateful that we were in self-isolation together. So many people are alone. Sad. But I felt so lucky to be in lock-down with such a smart woman.

“Baby, you’re the greatest,” I said as I handed her the jar of the herb. Then I went back to look if the humidity level had changed. It hadn’t changed a bit.

Casper “The Friendly Ghost” Reported Dead

I

 

It seems impossible. It seems beyond belief, but the news channels are reporting that Casper (aka The Friendly Ghost) has apparently been killed by an amateur Ghost Buster team operating out of Canarsie, Brooklyn. This unlicensed group called YOU FIND ‘M WE’LL SUCK ‘EM OUT OF HERE. LLC, apparently mistook Casper for a real demon ghost (we all know he’s not) and using a Neutrona Wand and Proton Pack (apparently ordered from eBay for $79.99 + tax) sucked Casper’s ectoplasm into their unit.

The groups spokesperson, Burt “The Buster” Banks had only this to say to waiting news reporters:

“Hey, he’s a spook…what do I know about friendly spooks?”

The initial report to police came in from some woman who only identified herself as “Wendy” and said that Casper was lonely and tired of scaring people.

“I don’t like this,” Casper was reported to say many times. “I want to make friends, but everyone is scared of me.”

According to background researchers, Casper was born Casper McFadden to an inventor father named J.T.McFadden, somewhere near New York City. Professor McFadden passed away years ago, but not before witnessing the death of his son Casper. The twelve-year-old child had been playing outdoors in cold weather and came in after midnight. He soon developed a fever and three days later died of pneumonia .

Meanwhile, Wendy has not stopped weeping. “He was so lonely. And now we don’t even know where he is.”

A spokesperson from the “YOU FIND ‘EM, WE’LL SUCK ‘EM OUT OF HERE. LLC. said that there may be ways to extract his ectoplasm from the unit, but the outlook looks dim since the physical facility is located on Staten Island.

As this reporter over-heard: “What goes to Staten Island, stays on Staten Island.”

And as this reporter cries, I can’t think about how lonely Wendy will be.

Casper was her only true friend.

 

 

Another Adirondack Tragedy

 BREAKING NEWS 

REGULAR GUY GOES MISSING WHILE SHOVELING A PATH TO DRIVEWAY!

AVALANCHE SUSPECTED

[The Egan Cabin at Rainbow Lake at time of search. Aerial photo from Channel 7 News Drone7]

[Photo credit: Google search]

Rainbow Lake, NY (AP)

Only days after a lone ice fisherman had turned, basically into a snowman, another winter-related incident occurred on a lonely loop road in the town of Rainbow Lake.  A regular average man (name is being withheld pending further investigation) vanished only yards away from his front deck while shoveling his way from his front door to the safety of his, as yet, unplowed driveway.

This following a major snowstorm that dumped nearly 20″ of snow the previous night.

This photo was taken by his wife shortly before the tragic event.

[Photo credit: Mariam Voutsis]

His wife spoke to state police Search & Rescue: “I don’t know.  One minute he was there and the next minute, he wasn’t.  I thought he wandered off to take some pictures for Facebook,” she said while taking another sip of her fresh cappuccino mocha.

“Oh, I see you like a sprinkle of cinnamon in your coffee,” said the Trooper.  “What else can you tell us?”

“Sometimes I don’t use cinnamon, I just take it neat.”

“No, I meant about your husband, ma’am.”

“Well, he kept complaining about how he had no place to put the new fallen snow.”  The Trooper looked out at the piles of newly fallen snow.  The tiny crystals twinkled in a sun that was struggling to break through the cloudy sky, as gray as a wet sidewalk in Schenectady.  “He spoke to me through a crack in the front door.  He told me that every time he would heave a shovel-full of snow onto this giant pile on the deck, much of it would slide back, forcing him to shovel the same place all over again.  Poor guy.  He has a bad back, you know?”

“It’s unfortunate but most men his age have back problems.  Does it affect his golf game at all?  I’m looking for suggestions to lower my handicap.”

“Oh, heavens, we gave that up years ago.  Those little white balls kept getting lost in the snow.”

“You can paint them red, ma’am.  Besides golf is a summer game.”

The wife looked out over the mound in the driveway (which was her Honda CRV, she hoped) and pondered this comment.  “Summer? like in the season?”

“Yes, ma’am.  The time when people swim, fish, take walks, go camping, sit on the beach…things like that.”

“Really?”

“Well, the search dogs are getting a little tired.  They don’t like deep snow.  I best be calling off the search for now.”

The Trooper surveyed the yard and the front deck.

“Sorry to have to say this ma’am, but from the looks of this accumulation, we may not have any luck in locating your husband until late-May at the earliest.”

“I’ll probably be in New York City then, so here’s my contact number.  Don’t hesitate to call if you find something.”

“Rest assured.  And thanks for the cappuccino.”

“No problem.”

[Happier days at Rainbow Lake. Photo taken by Pat Willis]

 

The Holiday Card

[What follows is pure fiction. It is a short story that I hope you will enjoy. It’s not funny, but it’s what I wanted to write. Please don’t read anything into this post.]

It was during a brief April thaw, when a chance breeze blew the snow and a few minutes of sunlight melted the white crystals.  That was the moment I saw it.  I picked it up and slapped it against my thigh.  I could read my name on the envelope. I could read the return address in the upper left corner.

It was too late.  Things would never be the same now…never.

It’s a fairly well-known fact that men do not bond easily with each other.  We have trouble sharing.  True friends are hard to find and keep when you pass your fifties.  Friendships that last into ones seventies are indeed rare.  The thread that holds these long relationships are usually rooted in childhood.  If you’re lucky, one or two childhood buddies will grow old with you.  Such was the case of the one-time friend whose holiday card I held in my right hand.

We met in elementary school.  Played in each others back yards.  Entered into adolescence together.  In high school we traded secrets about girls…those mysterious beings that we thought constantly about.  We talked about first kisses and puzzled over the best way to find and unlock those strange bra hooks.

We had our first legal beers together.  We played high school sports together.  We went on camping trips together.

We were the best of friends.  As the years passed, other playmates drifted into different social circles.  But we stayed close.  We celebrated our jobs, listened to the same music and showered affection on each others children.

My friend and I went through divorces, sat in empty bars, looked at younger women and talked to each other and into our pints of beer.

When our retirements approached, things began to change.  He called less.  I emailed less.  Our visits to each others homes became more and more infrequent.

We were growing apart, something that seemed to me to be the opposite of what life would be like after retirement.  The phone calls went unanswered and the postcards stopped arriving.

In the late fall, I became quite annoyed by being ignored.  I unfriended him on Facebook.  I deleted his email address.  I stopped making meaningless phone calls.

I decided to put the issue to a test.  I sent him a holiday card.  If he sent one back, then I knew something of our friendship would survive.  If I got nothing, I knew that for some reason, he did not want to be a part of my life.

So, I waited.

A few holiday cards arrived but never did much to fill our mailbox.  Facebook and email greetings were slowly out pacing the USPS.

On Christmas Eve, I picked up the mail.  I placed the few cards on our bed.  There was nothing from him.  I knew then that our life-long friendship had come to a slow and sad end.  It would be a lie to say that I did not weep a little over a friendship that had lasted for over sixty years.  Men do have emotions.

* * *

It was in early March that I found myself browsing the internet.  I came to a Facebook page devoted to people in our class who had passed away.

I felt the blood drain from my face and I went numb when I read that my friend had died of a massive coronary a week earlier.

Then came the April thaw.  I had pulled the envelope from the snow and placed it on the top of our mica lamp to dry out.  When I felt it time, I sliced it open.  It was a holiday card from my friend…apologizing for not returning my calls.  I knew then that the card arrived before Christmas, but as I struggled to get out of my car, trying to avoid the unplowed snow, the card had slipped from the rest of the mail.  That afternoon, the snow-covered card was concealed…until April.

“Let’s meet up in the summer and take a hike,” he had written.

So, now I feel I know the real essence of loneliness.  I have no true male friends up here in the North Country.  My wife has always been and still is my best friend…but I don’t have a buddy.  A guy to shoot a game of pool with at the local Irish Pub, a friend to bounce writing ideas off,  a pal to sit on our deck (or his) and sip a cold beer.  We wouldn’t even have to say anything.  After all, its common knowledge that men don’t bond easily.  We have trouble sharing our personal thoughts orally, but we know each other’s minds.  Or so I thought.

But what men can do is sit, side by side, just sharing a beer and assuming we know what the other is thinking.

There is a large blank space in my life now.  My wife has to be two people.  The woman I married over twenty-five years ago and a mate that I have been close to for six decades.  It’s going to be a big job for her, but she’s more than up to the task.  The presence of my wife makes these things more tolerable but not less painful.

Me?  I can stare at our campfire and remember details of the adventures with my friend.  I can watch the ripples on the lake and remember my friend.  I can look to the far range of the High Peaks and remember the trails, snow-covered, rain-soaked and sweltering in the August heat…that I hiked with my friend.

Or, on a cold night like this, when the temperature outside is in single digits, our fire-place is crackling and warming our house and my wife is reading quietly beside me on her Kindle, I can sit mutely staring at the flames, throw on another log, watch the flames leap even higher.  I am thinking of the holiday card.  As the flames rise to the top of the wood stove, the loneliness for this old guy gets deeper.

[Photo is mine]

BREAKING NEWS: Cartoon “bad boy” Goes Berserk–Pictures At Eleven

[Source: Google search. Copyright:North American Syndicate]

So, this will likely be the last story I will file in my so-called stellar career as a reporter.  I pulled the night shift of all things…at my age!  I’m standing in the drizzle on the safe side of the police crime scene tape.  It’s yellow, just like in all those crimes shows on TV (which is where I get most of my action these days).  As I approached the back-end of the small neighborhood crowd, I noticed my left shoe was having problems of its own in making a smooth step a reality.  I leaned against a dead elm tree, actually the only tree left on the block, and hiked my foot up to see my sole.  Just as I suspected.  I had stepped on a well done wad of Bazooka chewing gum.  I scraped my shoe against the broken cement of the sidewalk but it just made the situation worse.  I gave up and turned my attention to the modest white single family house at 2251 Pine Street.  This section of Wichita had seen better days, even for Kansas.

I sidled up to a guy I used to work with at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans back in the day.

“So, wudda we got here, Sid?”

“Hey Clyde,” he said, “nice to see you in these parts.  Way too hot in the Big Easy, don’t you think?”

“August in Kansas is no Spring-time in England,” I replied wearily.  “So, wudda we got?”

“You got lucky tonight, Clyde.  That’s him inside.  He just came to the window and yelled something like: “I can’t take it anymore…it’s too crazy a world for a kid like me.”

“Whose ‘him’? I asked yawningly.

“It’s Dennis ‘the menace’ Mitchell in there.  He’s holding his parents hostage.  Apparently he has a jazzed up sling-shot.  He’s sixty-eight now.  His poor parents are in their nineties.”

[The only known photo of the Mitchell family. (ca. The Good Old Days). Source: Google search & Wikipedia]

“THE Dennis ‘the menace’? Bad boy of our youth?  I used to follow his antics every day in the whatever paper I was working.  This is the kid with the yellow hair, right?”

“There’s only one Dennis The Menace, Clyde.  You know that.”

Sid looked back at the house that was now flooded with police lights.  It looked like a movie site in Levittown.

I noticed some action behind one of the patrol cars.  A slightly heavy-set man with gray hair was being handed a bullhorn.  He pulled the trigger like the cop told him and he spoke into the back-end of the handheld megaphone.

“Dennis! It’s Mr. Wilson, your old neighbor.  Please end this now and come out.  Nobody will hurt you.  You won’t be made to sit in the corner any more.  Come out!  Put the sling-shot down and step away from the window.  They have sharpshooters out here.  I don’t want you to get hurt.  You can call me lazy as much as you’d like.  Just come out.  It’ll be like the old days, all over again.”

Mr. Wilson seemed out of breath when he lowered the speaker.

“It’ll never be like the old days…again.  It’s been too long.”

I turned to the voice behind me.  In the glare of the floodlights I saw a middle-aged woman wearing a clear plastic raincoat and a tattered babushka over her gray hair.  She was lighting a new Marlboro from the fading glowing ash of an old Marlboro that had been smoked to within 2 mm’s of the filter.  I turned away from Sid and approached the woman.  She leaned against the dead elm and blew a perfect smoke ring through the rain.

“Hey, I know you,” I said as I got so close to her I felt like I was back on the Marlboro wagon again, except I preferred Lucky’s myself.  “Yeah, I know you.  You’re Margaret.  Margaret Wade.  You and the kid in there used to be childhood friends.  He thought you were a bit too ‘uppity’ for him but you always told him you two would be married when you grew up.”

She looked me over like an odds maker at Aqueduct and I was the underdog.  (Guess I still am but that’s another story).

[Artists rendering of Dennis in the corner.  Source: Google & Wikipedia]

“Yeah, we was gonna be together one of these years but things just didn’t work out.  After I got knocked-up in high school and had to drop out things went down hill faster than a Buick going over the edge of El Cap in Yosemite.  Ever see Thelma and Louise?”

I shrugged.  “Who were they? A vaudeville act?” I asked.

“Forget it,” she said resigningly.  “Besides, he preferred the Mediterranean type.  He got serious with Gina Gillotti but she called off the engagement when she met a guy who owned an auto upholstery dealership in Fresno.”

She looked toward the house.

“I shudda waited, played for time, waited for his hurt to heal.  Then maybe we could have made some kind of life together.  But, no.  I had to be me.  I had to have the biggest sedans and the best Chianti any kind of money could buy.  Now, it’s too late.  They’ll talk him into coming out.  Then they’ll send him to an institution where he can play with his invisible dog, Ruff and that strange cat, Hot Dog.  They’ll let him eat all the cookies and drink all the Root Beer he wants.  They won’t force him to choke down any carrots or even take any baths.  That’s the way it’ll be.”

I kept the eye contact.

“Was he really that bad?  I mean he was just being a little kid full of mischief, right?”

“You got it, stranger.  Nobody really understood him…except me.  And now he’ll never know that.”

She took a long drag on the Marlboro.  I noticed a bit of moisture on her eyelid.  It wasn’t the rain.

“You know, he meant well, he really did.  I felt sorry for the trouble he caused his folks.  Henry, his dad, was forced out of the aerospace engineering work he did when his company outsourced all that talent.  His poor mother, Alice left Henry once.  Nobody knows that.  She went back to the farm she was raised on to take care of her father.  She stayed after his funeral.  She had a mini-breakdown when she thought of going back to that rascal boy of hers…and this ‘hood.”

“Well, it’s been nice talking to you, Mr. Whatever.  I gotta make it over to the Pink Slipper before happy hour is over.  Happy Hour. What a laugh.  The Good Old Days.  Real funny.  I need some me-time right now.  Like I haven’t had enough of me all these years.  Yeah, I gotta go and have a chat with some ghosts I know.”

She tossed the butt to the broken cement that passed for a sidewalk and twisted it out with the ball of her red stilettos.

“Hey, you don’t have too much gray hair, care to join me for a high-ball?”

I looked at her and then back at the floodlit house.

I let her slide her arm through mine.  We felt brave and walked through a puddle without going all the way around.  I guess that’s my life…going around the long way and never being brave.

Behind me I heard cheering and applause.

“He’s coming out.  Stand down everyone!” shouted the Captain.  “He’s not going to be any trouble to anyone anymore.”

From somewhere, far away and faint, I would swear to this day that I heard a small boy cry out.  I heard:

“Maggie! Come back!”

But, I knew Maggie wasn’t going back.  There’s no going back for any of us.  All those years…all those calendars are  gone now.

[The sketch that may have started the hostage incident. Source: Google & Wikipedia]

 

 

 

 

Honky Tonks, Bordellos And Celery

soiled dove of Cripple Creek

[This soiled dove was from Cripple Creek, CO.]

We watched January turn into February in Silver City, New Mexico.  A former mining town from the 19th Century, was a place where miners, tired and in need of a drink and a little love to purchase, would come up from the valleys and down the mountains…and find paradise amidst the prickly pear cactus.

And, the first person many of these rough and dusty men sought was Madam Millie.  I’ll get back to Miss Millie in a minute.

By association with everything about the Southwest USA and our neighbors to the south, Mexico, our 51st state, the last thing we expected was a winter storm that would freeze our water line, render us helpless in the 13 F weather, keep our inexpensive (read ‘cheap’) Wal-Mart space heater churning full-time, unable to cook (dirty dishes, remember), flush the toilet or even wash our hands, instead we resorted to pouring a noxious (and according to California Law) carcinogenic liquid, RV antifreeze, made from glycol and a few dozen chemicals down into our fragile plastic gray tank (dish water) and black tank (icky-poo stuff from the toilet) to keep them from bursting.  We seemed to be stuck inside Silver City with the Palm Springs blues again.

[That was a long run-on sentence.  Not all my fault.  It’s my inner William Faulkner trying to get out.]

So, what did these American Nomads do to pass the time?  We went to the Silver City Museum.  It was a beautiful Victorian building that was once the home of a restless guy who wanted to make a fortune in Silver.  I naturally gravitated to the shop in search of yet another Ideal Tee Shirt, a coffee mug and a book(s).  The first book I spied was titled: “Madam Millie”.  It was the story of Nellie Clark, who worked her way up from the mattress to running the most successful brothel in town.  (She died as recently as the late ’90’s, I believe).   In another book I found in the local library, “Red Light Women of the Rocky Mountains”, by Jan Mackell, I had a chance to read about the history of the girls who followed the miners, plied their trade, were murdered, died of disease, wandered off to another boom town, married clients and lived in luxury, became school teachers…or simply lived as a widow or spinster in a town that eventually mined all the silver that the hills could produce.

Millie Clark had the proverbial heart of gold…her girls would hide Easter eggs for the poor children of Silver City and Nellie was known to give away lots of money to charity and food to the needy.  I was fascinated by the book because local history, however tawdry, is what I seek to learn about when I travel.  The brothels were, without question, an important aspect of the Old West.  The “Red Light” book was researched and written by a woman historian.  I’d be reading it right now, but the $25.00 ( + tax ) price tag put me off.  I walked out with a tee-shirt, a mug, a guide to the wildflowers of the Southwest, and a mental image of working girls (some slender and beautiful and some plump and plain) and sweaty cowboys and miners drinking whiskey and beer in the saloons and honky-tonks along Bullard Street.  (I should mention at this point that there was a madam in one of towns of the west who weighed over 300 pounds!  She was extremely popular, and to this day, the town celebrates her with a festival in her honor…her name escapes me.)

old-west-brothel-tokens-3

[Brothel tokens.  Source: Google search.]

Thoughts of tight corsets, buckled shoes, flowers in the raven-hair, ribbons, rouge and lipstick and thick perfume filled my mind as I sat in a distressed leather seat of the public library to get warm and to allow Mariam a chance to answer work-related emails using a strong WiFi signal…something that was a bit dicey at our RV park.

jennie-bauters-brothel-242x300

[A popular brothel in Cripple Creek, CO.  The madam stands at the far right with her hands on her hips. Source: Google search.]

The warmth of the library made me sleepy.  I put my head back and let my mind drift into a very delicate state of half-dreaming…

I was sitting in the Buckhorn Saloon.  Sitting on my knee was Ivy…the loveliest example of womanhood one was to find west of the Pecos.  I had a sack of silver nuggets in my pocket, so her affections were assured.  I had a tumbler of whiskey on the table in front of me alongside a glass of cool beer.  It tasted nothing like Bud Lite.  Outside, on Bullard Street, the dust of a hundred horses and half as many wagons rose in the air.  I heard gun shots.  Two miners had stood in the middle of the street and were arguing over the honor of a painted lady.  When the gun smoke cleared, one guy remained standing.  He turned to look for Irene, but she had gone off with the preacher’s son.

BullardSt

[Bullard Street in Silver City, NM]

The gun shot made me jump in the library chair.  Someone had dropped a book on a table nearby.  Mariam was busy  in a quiet cubicle so I told her I was going for a walk.  I needed to clear my head.  I was confused as to what time it was, what day it was, what year it was…and what century it was.  I walked over to Bullard Street.  SUV’s and sensible KIA’s lined the curbside.  I went into the Tiny Toad saloon.  Guys with beards and laptops sat around drinking craft beer.

I went and picked up Mariam and we drove back to the RV park and sat shivering until the space heater had the inside temperature up to the mid 50’s.  We decided we’d rest a bit and, because we had no water, we decided to go listen to some music at Diane’s restaurant and bar and have dinner.

The guitarist, who had a gray beard and wore a harmonica neck brace, was playing a Jefferson Airplane song.  It was followed by Wild Horses by the Stones.  I thought it was time for Dylan, and, like he could read my mind, he played Mr. Tambourine Man.  Our waitress was a young woman who wanted to be a jazz singer.  She wore no rouge on her cheeks.

“…play a song for me.  I’m not sleepy and I have no place I’m going to.”

But, I did have someplace I was going to…back to our camper…the one with no running water.

I was confused by the old and the new in this town that capitalized on the old and the new.

“See our old houses…see our ghosts…feel the sense of history” said the pamphlets.  But, all we found were pottery shops and jewelry counters.

We went back to the Tiny Toad to have a night-cap.  This wasn’t like the saloons in the faded pictures I saw at the museum.  Miners with their boots on the foot rail, the spittoons, the foamy mugs of beer, the pretty girls of the night at the edges of the photo, standing for a moment at the center of the attention, and then off to the fringes of the picture frame.  Like they were in life, on the edges of society, young and beautiful in their youth, but often forgotten when age or disease pushed them from the parlors of velvet to the shack on the hill.

I looked at a pair of celery stalks in a jar on the bar in front of me.  The veggies got me to thinking…

“What’ll it be today, Clem? The usual red-eye whiskey and beer?”

“Naw, Frank, I’m dusty from the trail.  Think I’ll have a Bloody Mary this morning.”

At the other end was a gum-ball machine (did I miss something by not going to Bartenders School?.)  I shrugged and ordered a real man’s drink.  I motioned for the barkeeper to approach.  I cleared my throat and boldly asked for a Hot Toddy.

CeleryOnBar

[In an old-time saloon?]

GumballMachine

[In an old-time saloon?]

As I was trying to sleep that night, I kept thinking of Nellie and her girls.  I read that Nellie was buried only about five miles from our RV park.  Were there flowers on her grave?  I thought about one of the girls who was murdered (details are unclear), but unlike the death of a prostitute (then and now) that usually went unnoticed, the girl’s sister came and claimed her body and took it home for a proper burial.  Most of the girls, I suspect, drifted away when the mines began to close in Silver City.  When they died in another boom and bust town, did anyone shed a tear for them?  I recalled reading about a madam in Cripple Creek, who, when she died, was given the largest funeral the town has ever seen.  But the thousands of others?  Those females who lived by their perfume and charm…?

Did anyone say a prayer for their poor souls?  I feel a deep sorrow for those broken-spirited, homeless, drifting, nomadic restless souls…they usually die alone.  That has to be the worst way to leave this beautiful life and this unique planet.

When we drove out of Silver City the next morning, we crossed the Continental Divide just a mile or so from town, from Nellie’s house, from the museum, from the Tiny Toad Saloon.

The Continental Divide is a geographical line.  But among the lives I had been reading about, there were divides of all kinds.  When it rains, the water flows either to one ocean or to another.  People live lives like that…anything that comes down on your soul, can make you flow one way or another.

ContinentalDivide

But, in the end, we all end up in the same ocean that contains all our collected dreams and all our collected sins and all our collected virtues.

Afterword

When the town decided that one of Nellie’s brothels was to be torn down and replaced by the new Post Office, one old-timer told Nellie: “I don’t need the mail as much as I need you.”

 

I Heard The Secrets Of The Grackle’s Song

grackle

[Image: Google search]

A short time ago, perhaps a week, maybe more, I spent a few days in Austin, Texas.  We were visiting with a gentleman, William, that I had met during a writers workshop in Westport, New York in October, 2012.  He has been a good friend and faithful follower of my blogs since I began posting them.

Austin.  The home of the long-running pbs music show, Austin City Limits, the Skylark Lounge, a great blues club, a statue of Stevie Ray Vaughan that stands on the banks of the Colorado River (not the Colorado River).  Arguably the most famous dance hall in Texas, The Broken Spoke, is in Austin.  It’s where I “learned” to do the Texas 2-step and when my bones and legs couldn’t keep time with the music, I could sit and sip a Lone Star beer and watch the real dudes and drug-store cowboy’s do the dance the way it should be done.  Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys played this city, while virtually inventing Texas Swing music.  A statue of Willie Nelson stands outside the theater where Austin City Limits is recorded.

Austin.  A town where the hills glow violet in the setting sun.  A vermillion hue in the afternoon sky.  And, in that afternoon sky are thousands of birds.  The Grackles of Austin.

The Grackle is considered by many to be a disease-carrying bird that is a genuine pest.  Cannons have been used to keep them from clustering in various city parks.  On my first afternoon, a late afternoon, when the sky had begun to redden, I saw black objects clinging to the power lines near the exit ramp of I-35.  I could make out that they were birds…but the numbers were staggering.  I can say one thing straight away: I have never seen such flocks of these starling-like, black-hued avians roosting on power lines in my life.  When they took flight from the trees, shrubs and high wires, they would fill the air and darken the sky.  When they moved, when they were on the wing, they moved as one.  I described this sudden turn of direction in my first novel, Standing Stone, as “one shared soul.”

GracklesInWaco

[The swarming Grackles in Waco, Texas. Image: Google search]

These are birds of legend.  To a person unfamiliar with large flocks of crow-like creatures, these looked like something that was left on the cutting-room floor after Alfred Hitchcock decided he had gone too far.

Birds of Legend?

I was familiar with the real birds of legend.  The Phoenix, rising from the ashes.  The Ibis of Ancient Egypt.  The Dove of Noah.  The Eagle of American power and might.

But, the Grackle?  What legend?  What was it about this Raven-like bird that inspired such mystery and admiration…and contempt?

It seems that in the ancient days, back in the time when even dust was old, the Grackle did not make a sound…it had no call.  It was mute.  But, birds need a song to sing…to communicate a message of warning, spread the word about where water could be found…or to call to one another, to seek a mate…to make a nest…to pass on a new generation of life.  For nothing lives forever…

The Legend begins:

In Mexico, the bird were called zantes.  In Pre-Columbian times, it has been said, the mute birds began to seek a voice. They found a Sea Turtle and the zantes stole their voice from him.  They stole the archaic song of the Sea Turtle.  That was the mystical Song of the Seven Passions.  They now had their voice…their song.

800px-Zanate-Sea_turtle_artifact_icon

[Image: Google search]

For eons, they have sung this most sacred of songs.  But, to the modern ear, it sounds like a common cackle.  The sound and the name stuck…hence, the Grackle.

Annoying and obtrusive to most people these days, I found myself alone in a quiet park one afternoon.  I listened to the cackling.  I listened for the song.  It began to clarify in my head.  I could make out intonation, nuance, emotion and meaning.

I began to hear the Seven Songs of Passion.

I heard LOVE…and I thought of my childhood.  My mother, my father, my brothers, my elders, my girlfriend, my lovers, my wife.  I thought of those I never knew… never knew I really loved them, and those who I never realized, once loved me.

I heard HATE…and I thought of killing in the name of God, killing those who are different, killing those who chose to love those we don’t think they have a right to love.  I thought of those killed by others who believe in another God than the One of our birth.  I thought of the death of the spirit in a child by withholding love, by hurting their tiny hearts and bodies.  I thought of those who hate because…they hate.

I heard FEAR…and I thought of a lonely snow-covered trail in the Northern Forest and the fear that I was losing a dear friend.  I recalled a phone call, and then another, followed by yet another, telling me that a parent or sibling was near death.  I thought of the fear that a woman I loved would simply walk out the door.  I thought of the fear of abandonment and the fear of being unloved.  I thought of the fear of dying, the fear of pain, the fear of being afraid.

I heard COURAGE…and I thought of the brave who have died for their beliefs, not for a flag or a symbol, but for  human dignity and the freedom from being a slave of any kind.

I heard JOY…and I thought of how I felt when my children were born.  How I love and respect my daughter, Erin and how she and her husband, Bob are raising my grandson, Elias, to be an inquisitive and curious and kind child.  I thought of how much fun I have when I sit and have a talk with my son, Brian, who is smart, witty and has the heart as big as Texas (with New Mexico and a good deal of Utah thrown in).

I heard ANGER…and I thought of the misspoken words between a married couple, between a child and a parent, between lovers, between nations, between religions, with oneself for not being able to accomplish something creative and meaningful, lasting and full of beauty.

I heard SADNESS…and I feel a billion tears from a million people crying, at a graveside for the soul of someone they will never see or touch again, at a wedding when a father says farewell to a daughter or a son, in an office when a husband or wife hears of the loss of a spouse or child in a misbegotten war, in the heart of a student when the teacher implies he or she can’t do something, in the doorway of a family home when a parent watches their child walk away into the life of adulthood, never to be a child again.  The sadness of those losses are overwhelming.

MourningFigure

[Source: Pinterest]

I heard all these passions from the beak of that dark bird, the Grackle.  I was overwhelmed by this ability to hear these things.  It’s too much for one person to handle.  If more people just stopped and listened to the zantes, perhaps the burden would be spread out…and lighten the load for the few who stop to listen, not just to this one bird of Austin, but to all life.

WatercolorTears

[Image: Google Search]

 

 

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?