Allison, Me And The Ghosts Of Judy Garland

marquee

“Who could ask for anything more?”

                     –Ira Gershwin

Ok, so I pulled a few strings.  Actually, it was only one string.  The daughter of my wife’s boss (Dr. Chris Walsh from Mount Sinai Hospital), was playing the lead in the hit Broadway show, An American in Paris, on the night of September 7, 2016.  We purchased the tickets and made a discreet phone call to Dr. Walsh.  Would it be possible if he had a word with his daughter, Allison Walsh, to give us a backstage tour after the show?

playbill

alysononstage

[Allison during the show]

It worked out like it does when you have some strings to pull.  All we had to do was be at the stage door after the show and mention we were guests of Allison Walsh.  We were on the list and we were led into the bowels of a storied and famous Broadway theater, The Palace.

The show itself was fabulous.  Allison, a trained ballerina, stood out as a total professional and got a standing ovation at the end.  But, I’m not a theater critic.  I’m going to take you behind the scenes and below the stage where so much real action takes place.

stagedoor

[Stage door]

3ofusbackstage

[Me, Allison and Mariam]

After descending miles of spiral staircases, we found ourselves in a warren of rooms and hallways filled with costumes, dressing rooms.  There were ropes and cables and sound boards and schedule lists and mailboxes.  I couldn’t imagine the action that took place down there during the show.

makeuproom

[One of the make-up rooms]

I thought I’d impress young Allison with the fact that we were both veterans in the Big Show, the glamorous life of a star, knowing the smell of the grease paint and the roar of the crowd.

“I had the male lead in the Senior Play when I was in high school…back in 1965,” I said, feeling confident she’d see me as another thespian as herself.

She stared at me and said: “Oh, really?”

I estimate her age to be around twenty-five.  So she would have been born in the early ’90’s.  That would be about twenty-five years since I had the male lead in the senior play.  No wonder she seemed a bit quizzical at my comment.

Allison led the two of us (and another couple who had known her in high school) through the quick changing rooms and the wig room and back up another mile of stairs to reach the stage.  I caught up with her and said: “Is this place haunted?”  I whispered the question, not wanting to frighten or alarm the others.

allisonwig

[One of Allison’s wigs]

“Many who work here say it is,” she replied.  “They say that Judy Garland has been seen many times.”

We five arrived at the stage.  The house was empty.  There was a “ghost light” center stage.  We posed for a few pictures and I stood for a moment, thinking I was alone, looking out at the empty seats.  I nearly strained a muscle in my neck trying to look up to where we had watched the show (the nosebleed section).

Suddenly, the empty seats became filled with 3,000 Judy Garlands.  They stood and made a deafening  applause.

“You’re over the rainbow,” I heard the Judy who sat in the front row shout.  “You were amazing!”

I didn’t think that Judy Garland ever saw my senior play…then I turned around and saw that Allison was standing in the shadow of the Ghost Light.

“We loved you, Allison!”

I stood back and realized that my moment in the spotlight was long ago.

“Not to be mean,” said one Judy,in the third row, addressing me, “but you aren’t over the rainbow…you’re over the hill.”

I knew the real star of the evening was Allison.  She made a gracious bow to all the Judy’s…waved and then left. Stage right.

“Hey, wait for me,” I called as I hurried to catch up with the others.

stagelight

[The Ghost Light]

dancingwithallison

[Allison poses with an aged tourist]

We thanked her and said our good-byes.  I nearly got run over by a taxi as I stepped out to get a shot of the marquee.

I am grateful to Dr. Chris Walsh for arranging our tour.  I thank Allison Walsh for taking the time to show us around, knowing that she was probably exhausted after the performance. (I would have been heading for the nearest pub if I were in her place).

So, what did we do then?  Mariam and I headed for the nearest Irish pub to reflect on our strenuous tour of a great Broadway show.  If you haven’t seen it…go!  It’s closing in a few weeks.

And, just in case you think I made all this up…

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The Road To Zzyzx And Down The Boulevard Of Dreams

BlvdDreams

I wrote a version of this post several days ago, before I went to this Place of Healing, before I walked along the Boulevard of Dreams.   After the visit, I deleted most of what I had written…and began again.

Yes, I began again when I made the right turn off I-15 and took the road to Zzyzx.  I was taking a drive that thousands of people took, from the mid-1940’s until 1974.  Me? I was going to write about arriving at a ghost town of a health spa, a place of healing.  I was going to describe how I felt the need to wash away the sins of my youth and expunge the guilt of my impure and sin-laden thoughts.  I am Irish and raised a Catholic…I carried my guilt like a biker’s tattoo.  I find the idea of “cleansing” of body and soul, an interesting concept.  The ritual of washing away impurities and rebirth is a very ancient practice.  The Christians have Baptism and the River Jordan.  The Hindu have the Ganges River.  The Native American’s have the sweat lodge.  The Jewish people, on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, gather for the Tashlich, and symbolically cast pieces of bread into flowing water to atone for transgressions.  As a former teacher, I simply erased the chalk board to begin something new.

But, my problems were not the kind that would draw me to this mecca in the emptiness of the Mojave Desert, to be cured of my aliments by a supposed man of God, a self-described healer.

Preachers and healers, hucksters and quacks, gurus, life guides and snake-oil salesmen have fascinated me for a long time.  I sometimes wish I lived in the days of Billy Sunday or Aimee Semple McPherson.  I wanted to hear the real Bible-thumpers who, sweating and strutting on a wooden stage under a circus tent, would tell me that Satan had my soul and my impure thoughts would send my soul to bake and fry for all time.

I accepted this guilt/burden for many years.  But, I never fully understood, until I was well into middle age, that instead of being a path to freedom, those kinds of beliefs can keep you from growing in countless ways.

After a bumpy ride along a blinding white salt flat called Soda Lake, I saw the palms a few miles away.  This was Zzyzx.  This was my destination.

This location, in the heart of the Mojave Desert has been providing water for travelers for over a thousand years.  The indigenous people would stop here on their journey across the desert to fill their gourds and rest.  One Chemehuevi woman is thought to be buried here.

blvdofDreams

But something troubled me.  I was merely a tourist here.  I arrived with a notebook and two digital cameras.  I did not arrive the way that most people did, for several decades, clutching a Bible in their hands and a prayer in their hearts…and a tumor or a case of TB or nervous exhaustion or a void where their soul used to be.

I needed to rethink the reason for my pilgrimage.  I needed to get inside the mindset of a true believer…a true sufferer…a desperate human being hoping to get mind and body repaired.  I didn’t want to be a mere tourist…I wanted to feel the dread of fear and the elation of hope that the pilgrims of the mid-century, had experienced.

I had to get imaginative…I had to get creative…I had to invite into my heart and mind, the suffering of thousands.

These were the real people who came, praying for their own lives or the lives of a loved one.  For many, I’m sure that making the journey to this health resort with the strange name, was their last hope for a cure or a blessing from the founder, Curtis Howe Springer.

RoadSignZzyzx

He named his establishment Zzyzx Mineral Springs. Why Zzyzx?  The story is that he chose the name because it would be the last word on a list of geographical destinations. Is it the last word in the average dictionary? Not in my copy of Merriam-Webster. The last word in my book is zygote.

They heard Springers voice on the AM radio station, broadcasting out of Mexico with 50,000 watts of power.  The sick and the lame could hear him in Los Angeles.  You could hear him in Chicago.  You could even hear his reassuring voice in Bangor, Maine.

The main avenue leading to the bath houses, cabins, meeting room, dining hall was the Boulevard of Dreams.  I stood at the base of the sign and began the walk, past the old pond that once had a spraying fountain.  Now, the fountain was a mere pile of rocks.

PondZ

[The Pond with the broken fountain]

blvdofDreams

[The Boulevard of Dreams]

I let my mind drift back to 1953, or 1959, or the year I was born, 1947.  I put myself in the mind of a pilgrim seeking a cure.  Maybe my mother was seriously ill, perhaps my wife had a growth in her breast, possibly my father returned from the war in Europe with a changed mind.  I began to feel the power of hope.  What lay ahead of me, the baths, the healing waters, the relaxation…the great white plain of Soda Lake, blinding in its glare from the Mojave sun…what lay ahead of me would save me or someone I did not want to lose to the shadow of death.

OriginalRooms

[One of the many original apartments…now in ruins]

Hidden behind a grove of palm trees was the original bathhouse.  Everything was empty…cracked and broken cement and peeling adobe.  I stood over the individual “tubs” where the ill could soak themselves in the briny solution of desert minerals.

MineralBaths

[The old mineral baths]

I poked about the old buildings.  Some structures have been restored and are now part of a Desert Studies facility of the University of California.  A few students strolled past us and went onto the parking lot, got into a black Taurus, and drove away.  Now, Mariam and I were the only people in the area.  I stopped at an old table on the Boulevard and looked up at the old bell tower.  I assume this once rang to call the patients and guests to prayer or a meeting or to a meal.

BellTower

[The bell tower.  Original part of the structure..??]

Were we really the only presence here?  I began to feel that we were not totally alone.  I felt that the ghosts of patients and preachers, children and adults, the sane and the insane, were walking among the palms alongside us.

No, we were not alone here.  Too much energy, pain, prayer, hope, loss, death, disease, promises, disappointments, grief and joy dwelt along the Boulevard of Dreams.

We drove away, leaving the little settlement to the rightful residents…the spirits of those who came with only a plea for life.

 

 

 

Room # 8

There was an old man, kind and wise with age

And he read me just like a book and he never missed a page

And I loved him like my father and I loved him like my friend

And, I knew his time would shortly come but I did not know just when…

–Gram Parsons “In My Hour of Darkness”

We were driving a little slower than anyone else on that clear cool Friday afternoon.  It wasn’t because we were pulling the r-Pod, although that didn’t help matter very much…no, we had a destination.  I wanted to see where a man died and I didn’t want to miss a turn.

But, we did just that, in a manner.

“There it is,” said Mariam.  “The Joshua Tree Inn.”

It took me another ten minutes to find a way to make a u-turn and pull into the crescent-shaped drive way.  The Inn stood close by Highway 62.  We were on our way to the next stop in our journey, Twentynine Palms, California.

But, first I wanted to see where a man died.

The front door was locked.  I peered into the window. No one was behind the desk.  To my left, I saw an open gate.  I boldly walked into the courtyard expecting to be stopped by a clerk or manager.

OfficeJoshuaTreeInn

“Are you staying here?”

I was waiting for that question, but it never came.  There wasn’t anyone around.  I opened a door that had a sign stating that it should be kept locked at all times.  Inside was a charming sitting room.  Comfy chairs and a few tables.  In the courtyard, cacti grew.  A fire pit had a ring of chairs…waiting for a night-time fire and stories and legends and ghosts.

Yes, this Inn is reputed to be haunted.  I wouldn’t be staying the night so I wouldn’t know who or what spirit resides here.  I spotted room # 1.  I continued along the tiled walkway, reading the numbers as I went.

I stopped in front of Room # 8.  This was the place.  This was the room where the legendary Gram Parsons put enough morphine and alcohol into his system to kill three men.

FromGardenMemorialTo Room8

Keith Richards commented that Gram knew very well the dangers of mixing opiates and alcohol (Keith should know, they both hung out and got high in the late ’60’s).  Friends said he simply miscalculated the dosage and failed to realize the potency of the mix.

He also failed to wake up.  He died at the Hi-Desert Medical Center just after midnight, on September 19, 1973.

I mentioned that he was “legendary”, but he never achieved the fame and success of those he worked alongside.  He was one of the Byrds (not officially, however) and he hung out with the Rolling Stones when they were recording “Exile on Main Street” in the south of France.  He co-founded the Flying Burrito Brothers (with Chris Hillman).  He toured with Emmylou Harris (who continues to sing his songs when she tours).

He was “legendary” in the sense that he put country music into an entirely new realm.  His recording output was “minimal” according to most sources.

But, his spirit lives on in contemporary music.  Films have been made about him.  Books have been written.  Tributes are made.

He didn’t live long enough to see his career flourish…he seemed to be on the verge of some success when he and some friends headed to the Joshua Tree Inn that day in September of 1973.  He loved this desert and wanted to retreat here before starting a tour.  He was only 26 years old, missing his place in the “27 Club” by a year.

Gram Parsons had long declared his desire to be cremated at his death.  He had his wish…as a result of a bizarre and controversial effort on the part of his friends.  I won’t go into details except to say that his body was stolen from LAX before the remains could be flown back to New Orleans.  He was taken to a place in what is now Joshua Tree National Park, placed on a small hill, and his casket filled with three gallons of gasoline.

With the strike of a match his dream came true…so did the police.  You’ll have to check Wikipedia for the grisly details of the outcome of that well-meaning adventure.

I stood in the courtyard of the Joshua Tree Inn and looked at his memorial.  I thought of the early days of Jim Morrison’s grave in Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris…before they gated it off from fans.

GuitarMemorial

Here, items were left in bowls and jars.  I saw two violin bows.  I put a shiny penny into one of the dishes that was filled with coins.  A large slab in the shape of a guitar stood before Room #8 like a tombstone.  Four clay figures that stood about a foot tall, were placed across the courtyard.  In the scrubs behind the figures was a white stone that read: All Things Are Possible Through God.

4Figures

I thought about what little I knew of this man’s life.  The suicide of his father when Gram was twelve years old.  His little sister drinking herself to death.

I thought of his substance abuse…his doomed attempts to keep his demons at bay.

I said a quiet little “thank you” to Gram Parsons for the songs he left us.  I am grateful to my son-in-law, Bob Goldstein, who brought Parsons back into my life with the comment: “Oh, you would loves Gram Parsons if you like Townes Van Zandt”.  I’ve purchased “Grievous Angel” on iTunes and I intend to listen to his words tonight…under a nearly full moon and in the chilly desert air.

The air of night…about fourteen miles from the Joshua Tree Inn, where Gram Parsons took his final breath before vanishing into the desert he loved.

Gram_Parsons

[Parsons in 1972. He had a year to live. Source: Wikipedia]

Her comb still lies beside my bed

And the sun comes up without her

It just doesn’t know she’s gone

Oh, but I remember everything she said.

–Gram Parsons “Brass Buttons”

The End Of The Line

PalmDesertSunset

Like, wow…I can’t believe we’re in California.

What a magical and special state this is.  It’s no wonder that all the famous people live here.  It’s the “land of opportunity”, where an anybody like me can become a somebody like…George Clooney.  We weren’t here an hour when I drove to a service station to get a bag of ice and fill the tank.  On a whim, I bought two $2.00 scratch-off lottery tickets.  Would you believe I won $25.00 from those two tickets?  I was elated and felt that my time had come, until I paid for the gas.  When we filled up the tank one afternoon back in Tucson, AZ, it cost me $1.43/gal.  I nearly spilled my Starbucks Latte when I saw the California price (at this particular station) was $2.79/gal.  I thought there were oil wells out here??  I think I saw a Clark Gable movie once and he got soaked from the gushing crude from a well.

Maybe that was Texas…I can’t remember.

lottery

[This probably isn’t legal to post winning lottery tickets online, but I’m from New York…]

This is as far west as our journey is taking us.  If you’re a faithful reader and you’ve paid attention and taken notes, pick up that Rand McNally Atlas that’s sitting on your coffee table…the one with coffee stains and rings left by the condensation of the Bud Lite cans during the Super Bowl.  Turn to page 15 (I’m using the 2013 edition).  We are at the Emerald RV Resort located on the map page at coordinates “15/SJ”.

I feel so…so important being here in the Golden State.  Our RV Resort is located on Frank Sinatra Drive, which is separated from Dinah Shore Drive by Gerald Ford Drive.  (If you don’t believe all this, just Google this place).

We had a long hard drive behind us today.  We left Yuma in the late morning warmth of 88 F.  We sped past the western part of the city and I glanced at the Yuma Territorial Prison…the topic of my last blog.  Ok, maybe misery, murder, death and forgotten graves may not have been the best choice for a Valentine’s Day post, but we were having WiFi issues and I needed to get something out before things got worse.  Note to those planning on RV’ing any serious distance all: Whatever the Resort tells you about how strong their signal is, don’t believe it.  There are some days you can forget email…you’d be better off mailing a letter through the USPS.  Nearly all my posts were composed and posted from Starbucks or McDonald’s (say what you want about the Double Cheese Macs, their WiFi smokes!).

We attended a real rodeo while we were in Yuma and I intended to write something about how excited I was to finally see one in person, for real.  I have to admit that it was impressive.  I’m including a few photos just to prove that we were really there.

RodeoYuma2

[This guy rode like the wind.]

MissSonoranDeserts

[In case you’re confused: The Happy Camper is on the left and the bored Miss Sonoran Deserts Queen is on the right.]

RodeoYuma1

[Woman rider]

Just across the California-Arizona state line were the Imperial Sand Dunes.  I parked in a kind of base camp for the dune buggy people.  I took a picture of one of the beautiful dunes and made it even more stark and raw by filtering it through my Instagram app.

B:WImperialDunes

[A lonely bush in the Imperial Sand Dune National Recreational Area]

After a few miles along I-8, we turned north on Rte. 86 and drove through some of the agricultural (and highly irrigated) parts of Southern California.  We passed truck loads of carrots, groves of date palms and vineyards.  I also caught glimpses of the smiling happy faces of the migrant workers as they leisurely picked cabbage and turnips.  They were so fortunate to have such jobs, out in the open fresh air, getting a tan…instead of being stuck inside some awful office building or factory.  I was tempted to stop and pick a bushel or two just to get the exercise, but we had places to go and I couldn’t see any convenient parking places.

So, is this the end of our trip?  Have we reached the farthest point from our home?  Well, no and yes.  The eastern slopes of the Rockies are still between us and home.  The prairies of Kansas are still ahead of us. (The last state in the Lower 48 I have yet to visit).  We still have to get home…and there is a place I must visit.  It’s not far from here and it is the magical and mythical destination of the trip…for me, anyway.

I’ve been dropping hints about this place since I first started posting these blogs.  It’s a real place.  Thousands of people came there to get healed…to get clean…to wash away sins, ancient and recent, that have darkened souls that were pure as snow at birth.

Water has been a healer for thousands of years.  Spas and hot springs have saved the lives and repaired the souls of countless individuals.

Now, it’s my turn.  Sometime next week, I will arrive at this strange place that has a strange name…and see if anything remains of the healing waters of seventy-five years ago.

Will I find sage and tumble weed and cracked concrete in the old pools.   Or, will the ghosts of those who came to find succor still roam about in the weedy driveways and dying palms?  If the spirits are walking around the now-empty fountain, will they take a moment to tell me their stories?

I’ll tell them mine.

The Big Empty: Where Nothing Is Everything

YumaFoothills

If you have a mind to go someplace where you can think without distraction, pray without a preacher, sin without a society to judge, see the night sky in its true black star-filled glory, see a snake, an ant, a spider or a bird…then come to The Big Empty.  One thing you may not see, is another human, perhaps for days at a time…unless that person is seeking what you are seeking.

Solitude.

I’m on a road trip.  I’m only passing through this odd and bewildering moonscape of the desert Southwest.  We were driving from Tucson to Yuma along I-8.  I had a vague idea about the land we were traveling through.  That’s unusual for me, normally I like to prepare my self…immerse myself in the country I will be sleeping and walking in.  I had finally obtained a copy of American Nomads by Richard Grant.  This amazing book is a history, as the cover states, of travels with mountain men, cowboys, Indians, hoboes and truckers.  I was learning as I went, a page ahead or a page or two too late.

We stopped at one of the few gas stations on this section of I-8.  I looked around.  I saw the closest thing to nothing I had seen in my two cross-country road trips.  I wandered a few hundred yards through the sage and sand and scrub brush.  It was early February, so I had little chance of dropping from dehydration and heat stroke.  I’m Irish.  I’m prone to heat strokes when the mercury climbs above 81 F.  I drink plenty of water as a rule of life.  When I was a teacher, I constantly sipped from my Poland Springs bottle to keep my throat wet and prevent that Bill Clinton raspiness.

I stood and looked at the blue and gray mountains in the distance.  I turned a full circle.  In nearly all directions, there were mountains.  Before I left the car, I had seen that I was on the edge of the Barry Goldwater Air Force Range.  The town we had just passed was Gila Bend.  The last sign I saw was Dateland.  (It sounded like the name of a 1962 Roller Rink).  But, here I was alone.

Truly alone.  I thought about whether or not I could live in an RV out here.  Bottled water.  An outdoor privy.  The constant awareness of snakes (I don’t do snakes, if I haven’t mentioned that before).

Mariam was back in a cool diner, sipping coffee and checking her email.  Oddly, the WiFi signal was strong out here…out here in The Big Empty.  (It must be because of all the military installations in this part of the country.  Why else erect towers to serve the twenty-seven people who made their homes out here?

I closed my eyes and tried to feel the emptiness of this Great Void.  I heard the distant trucks on the highway.  But, filtering that out, there was…nothing.

It was almost like being lost at sea.  A survivor sits in a life boat and floats, thinking they can be seen, visible and blatant, like a circus balloon, from a rescue plane flying 1,000 feet above the water.  But, in reality, they are a mere ripple, a white cap, a dark splotch in a vast expanse of blue.

I tried to imagine myself lost out here in The Big Empty…I tried to see myself from above.  High above, where the planes and helicopters flew, and I realized I would be mistaken for a dead cactus or a thick sage brush.  No, I was only visible to the Ancient Gods of the Desert, the spirits of the Hopi, the Comanche, the Apache…the Mother Goddess of the Earth.  I was nothing to any human…out there.  To paraphrase Dylan, I could die out there and be just another accident statistic.

What I felt was humbling without being degrading.  It was similar to the feelings I get when I stand in the nave of a Gothic cathedral, like Salisbury or Winchester.

Out in The Big Empty you’re nothing and you’re everything.  In those few minutes I was alone, I understood more clearly the Native Americans relationship with Nature and the totems, spirit guides and memories of the Ancients.  You mean little to the land itself, but your respect and reverence to the sand and burnt rocks, means a great deal to the gods that oversee the wanderings of a mere mortal.

It is a land that doesn’t allow for ego.  Ego can kill you in a place like Yuma, where the average yearly rainfall is 3.36″.  Ego can kill you when the average temperature in July is 107 F.

If, when you read these words, you find that I have not described the land in proper clarity, then do yourself a favor.  Don’t go to a prayer-book and read about the Sinai Desert.  Open an atlas of the United States and find the pages that cover west Arizona and Southern California.  Run you fingers along the blue line of the Colorado River.  Trace the Smoke Tree Wash.  Locate the Mohawk Valley, the Castle Dome Plain, the Chocolate Mountains, the Kofa Mountains, the Gila Mountains, the Yuma Desert and the Picacho Peak Wilderness.  Say these names out loud, like chanting a prayer or reading a poem.

YumaMap

Something evocative will happen.  You don’t have to be standing in the sand to feel this ancient earth and hear the ghosts ride behind you.  Another amazing thought: All of you who read this, at one time sat in a classroom that was covered by a map of the United States, all 48 of them (back in the 1950’s).  I confess that I would let the nun’s lesson on the past participles fade away while I roamed the map…I knew the coasts, the odd finger of Florida, the large blue oddly shaped Great Lakes, the Great Divider of the Mississippi River…but I never paid a lot of attention to that lower left corner of the map.  I did read the names of Arizona, Texas and New Mexico but they were simply “out west” somewhere.  In that land of the cactus and Indians.  My greatest possession as a child was a rotating night-light.  It had a western scene of Saguaro and cowboys chasing Indians.  Skulls of Long-Horned steer.  Coiled snakes.  The heat of the light bulb would pass through a louvered top and the convection would make the illustrated plastic scenery spin slowly around my room. I fell asleep every night of my childhood to that scene…the specters circling my room like a dervish.  These lamps are very hard to find these days.  Couple that drama played out on my bedroom wall, with the night train passing through Owego, NY on its way to Chicago or New York City, the clicking and clacking of the steel wheels on the seams of the rails…is it a wonder that right now I feel like I’m living in a childhood dream?

It’s a land of contradictions.  It’s imaginary and dreamy, but it’s as real as a sunburn or a grain of wind-blown dust in your eye.

sunsetyuma

 

 

 

The Road Of Tears And Spirits

SouthOfLakeOLookingNorth

[Looking north from Route 80 toward Lake “O”]

The theme of this post is darker than I would like, given that it’s less than three weeks until the joyful time of Christmas.  But, I didn’t have a choice.  We just crossed on Route 80 this past weekend when we visited friends in Jupiter, FL.  The memories are still fresh.  And, given the fact that I still have two other non-holiday posts to publish (one is a brief sketch of Edgar “Bloody” Watson–certainly not something to read while trimming the tree), I have to write what I have time to write about.  If that makes any sense.  Besides, we are rapidly approaching the January 1 date when we will pull out of the Siesta Bay Resort, leave Florida behind us and head north and west for new adventures.  I know something interesting and necessary is awaiting me in the Mojave Desert.  You’ll just have to keep up with these posts while the holidays come and go.  Put me on your gift list–the one to yourself.  Okay?  So read on, it really isn’t that sad.  Oh, one more thing: My next post will be my 300th blog!!!  Please share it.  Repost it.  Enjoy it.

There is a road between Fort Myers, on the Gulf of Mexico and Palm Beach, on the Atlantic Ocean.  On a map, it is Route 80.  Around Belle Glade, it splits, Route 80 swings slightly north and Route 27 dips to the south.  For miles, this road skirts an impressive levee.  This is the Hoover Dike.  To the north of this levee lies a very large body of fresh water.  Lake Okeechobee.  Lake “O”, provides the water for the Big Cypress National Refuge and, further to the south, the Everglades.

On more than one occasion, Lake “O” has broken through its containment wall.  Before Herbert Hoover had the present levee built, it was fairly common for the land south of the lake to suffer major destruction from hurricanes–or just heavy rains.  Thousands of farmers were drowned since the area became populated by whites late in the 19th century.  The Seminoles had been driven south into the ‘glades after years of futile wars were fought to force them to move westward.

Today, it is the center of the sugar empire of central Florida.  Today, I drove through Clewiston and Belle Glade.  I felt the darkness of the soil begin to permeate my soul.  I stood in a small cemetery outside of Belle Glade.  There were dozens of graves of those who were drowned in one of the recent storms and floods.

The graves of the children were numerous.

The sky was darkening.  I stood by the roadside and looked north toward the lake.  I turned and looked south toward Big Cypress.  It was a landscape of the most basic of elements–sky and dark earth.  I could not feel the flow of the groundwater as it moved, ever so slowly southward, but I knew it was there.  I thought about the farm workers, whose fathers and grandfathers, mothers and grandmothers, were buried in such cemeteries as Foreverglades or Ridgelawn.  I wondered how many graves were destroyed by the floods and lost–forever.  Looking north and then south, there was not the slightest of elevations to break the flat horizon.  I thought again of the farmers and how unbearably hot it must get in midsummer–out there where no tree provided shade, and only the black earth, the black mucky earth clung to your boots and darkened your sweaty forehead.  The ants.  The snakes.  The mosquitoes.  Nature is your enemy out there.  If a cloud passed between your shoulders and the fire of the sun, it would give you cause to kneel and pray your Thank-You God prayer.

The spirits of this forsaken land must walk the canals, the small dikes–and Route 80.

At the funerals in the past years, sweat must surely have mixed with tears.  If the drop ran down your cheek to your lips, both would be salty.

I got back into my air-conditioned car and drove on.  I was depressed, oppressed and distressed by this forbidding soil and linear horizon.  I’ve driven through Iowa, Ohio, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Saskatchewan.  Nothing had prepared me for the featureless terrain of central Florida.

For all the smiles I encountered at the cafes and diners, I knew they had some kind of links with the sorrow of too much water, and too much sun–and too much black soil.

SouthOfLakeOLookingSouth

[Looking south from Route 80 toward Big Cypress]

 

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?