|Further Up, Further In: BlueJayWay
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Kammler cursed as the driver swerved the armored car to avoid the stitching of bullets eating up the road from the strafing American fighter. Civilian transport long vanished, the military vehicle was nothing more than a target of opportunity for the Thunderbolts and Mustangs that ranged the skies of Lower Silesia unhindered in front of the advancing American ground forces. The car abruptly stopped, angled into the ditch, jolting Kammler against the useless weaponry of the open-topped turret, its ammunition expended long before he had commandeered it. The roar of the attacking fighter receded, then grew, as Kammler peered over the armor to watch it make another run. But no bullets this time; the silver Thunderbolt just buzzed the stalled car, pulled up in a tight turn, waggled its wings, and flew off, obviously out of ammunition itself, and low on fuel.
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When the big ones die—
well, we’ll never see their like again!
Sad then, a hole in the world,
never to be filled.
Building’s refuse hauled away,
stone of artful design,
Best thing, to die a small one.
Small things are always here,
no beginning, no end to the line.
We cover Earth with our small joys,
replaceable as rain,
shiny beetles, the many facets of sand.
We don’t go away, we small ones—
and that’s the biggest thing.post a comment
Back to the Roadside Pharmacy, after too long away--
Tuesday night, there were just a few of us gathered at the Pharmacy, even on such a momentous evening as this. Most of the regulars had decided to stay in with family, watching the returns and biting their nails in the comfort of dens and living rooms. I couldn’t blame them, but I found myself wishing maybe a couple more had showed up here for a drink. But then, this spot is never too crowded anyway, and the company at hand was just fine.
As I sat at the bar, nursing only my second beer, the barkeep glanced over at my glass and said, “Still no job offers?”
“Nope. And State Copper just closed, I saw in the paper. That’s another 150 people looking for work….”
“Well, that’s too bad, but don’t go looking for any handouts around here.”
She picked up the empty plastic basket from down the bar, scooped it full of peanuts, and shoved it my direction, coming to rest an inch and a quarter from my hand.
“De nada.” Glancing up at the TV, she said, “Looks like Florida’s going for him. That’s freakin’ amazing—one less to worry about.”
“Not over ‘till it’s over.”
“That’s right—and a damned good thing you didn’t say anything about fat ladies singing.”
Down the bar, the cat we call Fat Freddy stifled a hoot, so I flung a peanut at him, when the barkeep turned her back.
Now the barkeep had nothing to worry about in the weight department, and general and genial ribaldry is a part of life here, but still, some places we just don’t go, as I had learned.
No, I don’t feel like explaining about it right now—
Anyway, we’d settled back to paying full attention to the flickering old set that had been pulled out of storage for the occasion. Most years not even the World Series merited more than the last couple games here, and don’t ask for the sound to be turned up. We tend to prefer feeding quarters in the juke box, even if the vending company had stopped stocking vinyl some years ago. When that came down, folks just pulled out boxes from under the bed and out of mouldy basement closets, and brought their teenage 45 collections down here. Hey, it works for us, even though most of us were teenagers in several different decades. Hell, I’ve been a teenager for about four decades myself.
So, even now, a stilted version by some anonymous jazz band of “Take the ‘A’ Train” competed with the pundits pandering profundities on the tube. Didn’t matter, we could see the states on the map change color.
Right about the time the “A” train left the station and A Flock of Seagulls set down, a tentative noise from the door drew our attention. It’s rude to stare, so after a quick glance, we shifted our eyeballs to the mirror behind the bar.
This fellow was young, no more than thirty, wiry, sandy hair, nothing exceptional, except he gave every appearance of having stepped out of The Grapes of Wrath—the book, not the movie, if that makes any sense.
Somewhere between the battered herringbone driving cap, the faded light blue shirt buttoned up to the neck, longsleeved, the shapeless, patched but clean bluejeans with the skinny black belt, and a pair of boots that a recent attempt at polishing only made matters worse, he looked for the world like an Okie come to town on Saturday night with a two dollar bill in his pocket and two quarters slipped into his left sock.
That is to say, he looked better dressed than at least two or three of the regulars, just dressed a bit—differently.
What really made us look, though, was the expression he unknowingly carried on his face. His eyes were wide, wide open, but moving slowly, taking in everything, not sure what he was seeing, but determined to come to terms with it. Now, most people wandering in through the door with that expression would probably be taken to the back and left to sleep it off on the couch outside the back door, but this wasn’t it. There was sober resolution here, and a desire to temper the sober part somewhat.
The newcomer—I was already calling him “Tom Joad”-- made his way to the bar, eased himself to the stool, and studied, carefully, the prices in stick-on letters on the old Drewery’s sign that no one had bothered to change since about 1965.
“Good evening, sir—what would you like?” Our barkeep was invariably polite to new customers, always assuming that, eventually, she’d finally run across one who would continue to be worth being polite to.
“A small glass of the Old Style, please, ma’am,” he finally managed. As the barkeep turned to pour, he struggled out a few coins from his coinpurse, and carefully counted out four nickels onto the deep mahogany of the bar. Turning with the glass and setting it down on a beer mat, the barkeep saw the twenty cents, glanced at the man’s face, swept up the coins, smiled, and said, “Thank you, sir! Enjoy your drink.”
She’d had quite a few people pull the old “order from the old plastic menu sign” before, but never one who looked like he really meant it, I guess. Once again, I sighed to myself, I’d have to leave a bigger tip than I’d been intending.
After his first sip, he became aware of the television sitting on the high shelf near him behind the bar. As the minutes flicked by, and the map filled with reds and blues, I could see him carefully, intently, studying not only the election news, but without taking his eyes from the screen, our conversation going on around him. The one thing he wasn’t paying attention to was his beer—I could tell that what he had intended to nurse for a long time was going down without him really noticing it.
I called over the barkeep, dropped a quarter on the bar, and told her, “Another beer for the gent, on me. Keep the change.” If looks could kill—this evening was gonna cost me on the tip, for sure.
About the time she set down the fresh glass in front of Tom Joad and pointed my direction, another state went blue, another number flashed on the screen, and things got exciting for a while. Well, I don’t have to describe what went on, I don’t think—after a few rounds on the house, it’s a bit fuzzy, anyway—but we finally settled down a bit to bask in the afterglow.
Our newcomer, somewhat emboldened by the celebration, and perhaps a lot emboldened by the shots of Patrón, looked at me with wonderment. “Well, I’ll be…well, I’ll be…a colored man as President of the United States of America…well, I’ll be danged.”
Well, yes, I winced—just how far back in the woods did this guy come from? At least no N bomb, not yet. Our barkeep overheard, and, incrementally, came closer to keep an eye on things.
“Ah, yup, he’s a black man, all right,” I finally managed to croak out, then took a deep draw on the beer mug to give me a few seconds to rifle my conversational arsenal for anything else to say.
“A black man, well, well, well….Y’know, he appears a clean, well-spoken man. Real nice-lookin’ family, too, those girls…. Maybe, maybe—jist never thought to see anything like this.
“Y’know, I’d never thought much of it before recent, but I guess I didn’t think much of colored people. Now Mamma always taught me to respect everyone, even the colored race. Daddy’d never been much fer church, but Mamma’d read to us from The Good Book”--he said it just like that, The Good Book—“and what yer Momma tells you wears off on you, don’t you know, even if everybody else tells you different.
“Anyway, like I was sayin’, I expect I wasn’t no different than most people regarding the colored folks. I reckon I don’t have to tell anybody what people say and think.
“But you know, times is hard, and after I’d lost my job when the mill failed—well, I wasn’t makin’ much there, but it was something—well, I’d like to lost my mind with worry. My wife managed to take in a little laundry, but there was a lot of wives trying to do that, you know how it is. The old man gets struck out, the little woman’s the one who has to pick up the bat for the next pitch.”
Our barkeep smiled at that.
“Things was getting right tight, you know, after a couple months….I heard of a job open on a city crew, and got myself right down there, hopin’ against hope. Now I knowed two people worked for the city, and the first one got me in the door, God bless him, an old friend of my Daddy’s. Bad thing was, the foreman of the crew knew my Daddy, too, and didn’t think much of him or any of his git. Some folks don’t let nothin’ go.
“Well, to tell you, it was down to two of us—I was McGraw’s man, and that got me that far. The other fellow was a strappin’ big colored boy whose poppa had worked on Hochenreit’s poppa’s farm—that was the fellow who didn’t like my Daddy—for years, and he tried to look out for the family. Which is all well and good, but when I looked at that big black youngster, muscles bulging out all over, and—well, look at me, all I did was run a machine at the mill—pretty obvious who’d get a road job pitching gravel and breaking up stone all day, maybe even without the boy’s pull from old Hochenreit.
“We was both sittin’ in the lobby of the Courthouse, the colored kid and me, waiting to hear. We both kinda looked at each other, not too friendly, I gotta tell you. I guess he figured his chances were about what I figured mine to be. Next to none. But I confess to thinking some other thoughts about him as we sat there.
“We sat there, throwin’ glares at each other, both of us just waiting to get it over with, when in through the door comes my daughter Flora—runnin’, real upset. She’s seven—old enough to know what was goin’ on, and she knowed it wasn’t good.
“Well, she came in, runnin’ up to me, and blurts out, ‘Momma’s at Gershorn’s, and they say they can’t sell us no more food unless Momma pays three dollars at least on the bill, and Momma’s crying, and Baby Rose is cryin’ cause she’s hungry, and I’m hungry—‘
“And didn’t I feel the lowest sort of creature, seeing my beautiful daughter cryin’ her eyes out, sobbin’, not knowin’ what to do. Well, truth to tell, I was gettin’ upset myself—but at least I had an ace in the hole, at least for that day.
“’Flora,’ I said, my arms around her, getting’ her calmed down so she’d listen to me. ‘Flora, hear me now. Go tell Mamma to go home and take down your Grandmomma’s Bible—tell her to look in that story where the seven wise girls were able to keep their lamps trimmed and burnin’ all night—there’s money in there, stuck in real good so it won’t fall out, enough for some groceries. You remember now, you hear? And I’ll get this job, so we don’t have to worry no more—I’m tellin’ you that, so dry up your pretty eyes, ‘cause Daddy loves you so much—‘
“Gotta tell you, I was so glad she smiled, kissed me, and ran out to get her Momma right then, ‘cause the next thing I did was put my head in my hands and bawl like a little baby myself. Didn’t care anymore where I was, who saw me, ‘cause I felt I’d told the biggest lie I could tell to somebody who trusted me more than anything. Wasn’t gonna be all right, even if I did get the job I’d probably bust myself at the labor, then we’d be worse off than before….
“So then what happens? Strangest thing—that black boy starts to sing—not loud, but I could hear him, and he sings, ‘Keep your lamps trimmed and burnin’, keep your lamps trimmed and burnin’—‘ I put my hands down, not knowing what to think, and he stops singin’, gets up and says, ‘Mister, my Momma used to sing me that song, when she was alive—and I think now I know what it means. Mister, I’m all on my own now, and all I gots to do is keep myself alive. You gots your family and little girl to look after. You tell ole Hackenburger I done got myself a better job—never did like the way his Daddy treated my Daddy, anyways.”
“Well, I been talkin’ a spell here, ain’t I been? Make a long story short, I got the job, of course, and it’s rough, but I can do it, and food’s on the table, and things is looking up. That colored boy did get a better job, from what I heard, porter on the Pullmans. Shows that anybody can improve themselves, if they work at it. Makes me proud to live in America. And I’d best get home—quite a day, quite a day.”
Well, quite a story, and the tequila and beer fog made it a little hard to add it all up, somehow, but quite a story. Tom Joad stood up, took a long look at the Bud calendar on the wall, and turned for the door.
I don’t know what made me blurt this out, but it was election night, after all.
“Before you go, brother, did you vote today?”
He turned back, smiled, and said, “Yes, sir I voted! And from the looks of things today, let me say, I’m gol-durned proud to have voted—for Franklin Delano Roosevelt! God bless Roosevelt, God bless that fellow you voted for, and God bless the United States of America.”
You rarely see the barkeep without words—me either, for that. Finally, she reached in her apron, took out four nickels, held them up to the light, and said, “One of these is brand new—and not a one with a date after 1932.”
God Bless America. Gotta believe it.
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After emerging from the cave, I stopped and surveyed the countryside around me. Behind me, the back side of the cliff face thrust rapidly upwards. In front and somewhat below me, a gently rolling carpet of treetops stretched away to a line of rocky hills, too small to be even small mountains, but some miles away, enough to give the faint purple of distance to the horizon. Scattered throughout the forest were a handful of what must once have been small, stony mesas, but now were as heavily overgrown as the lower ground.
It appeared to be getting toward evening. I gave some thought to settling in for the night in the tunnel, but the thought of a leafy mattress somewhere in the woods drove me forward. The search for comfort, I’ve noticed, generally propels a person to levels of activity that gives the lie to those who would have us believe that luxury and sloth go hand in hand. I’ve nothing against sloth, of course, but I’d rather hold hands with something I’ve put a little effort into.
I carefully moved down through the stone and gravel of the debris field that dropped to the edge of the wood. As I approached the trees, mainly hardwoods, but a smattering of pines, I saw what appeared to be a pathway opening up between two large, gnarled oaks, and headed in that direction. Reaching them, I had a sense of great age, and a majesty that led me to imagine them great towers framing a massive, iron-bound gate, opening into a castle built by those who lived when the world was new. It’s moments like these that remind me that I am something more than a rough, sarcastic cog in a shallow civilization, destined for the slagheap of history. What that something more is that I feel, I’ve not the faintest, but it makes me happy when it happens. I said a little prayer of thanks to whatever gods and goddesses there may or may not be, and stepped into the chill of the forest.
It was a path. Broader and more worn than most animal trails, it also had the feel that feet something like mine had made it. I kicked it up a notch, having the idea that I should make as much time as I could before the sun set. It was dark in there as it was.
After a fair trot, I decided I wasn’t in that much of a hurry after all. In fact, I was tired, hungry, and thirsty, to the point where I was wishing I’d have hacked off a piece of ichthyosaur to go back on the cliffside. Time to take stock. I found a fallen trunk to rest my bones on, emptied out my pockets, and, not for the first time, wondered what it was about some people who traveled about totally unprepared for even the slightest problem. Like me, for instance.
A wrapped Pizza Hut peppermint—okay. As ancient as I knew it was, it didn’t last long. A pack of Camels and a cheap plastic lighter. That was good, especially the lighter. The cigs must have been at least a year old. Okay. A small brown bottle? Oh, yeah, some of what the little fellows were so inordinately fond of. Wondered how they were doing? Raising hell somewhere, I was sure. Someone else will have to tell their story.
Hmmmnnn. A compass, rosewood and copper and enamel. The one that just showed up one night. Very good. Skipped the cigs, took a swig of the little brown bottle, jumped around a while swearing and shaking, recapped it, put it back in my pocket, and headed down the path, re-energized and glad to be alive. After that drink, lucky to be alive, I’m sure, although I’m living proof that vast numbers of brain cells aren’t necessarily essential for life.
The forest felt like home to me, jackpine savage that I am, and the next hour passed quickly. The soft green quiet was welcome after the rush of the last day or two—how long had it been, anyway? Hard to tell, so not to worry. A few evening birdsongs played through the trees, but the quiet wasn’t disturbed. Not at all.
And the compass. I had some doubts that a compass would be effective here, wherever here was, but the compass did function, in it’s way. When at rest, the needle pointed in a consistent direction, but not north by the sun as I could see. As I walked, the needle pointed straight ahead, turning as I turned, as if motioning me forward. That seemed to be the best indication I had that I was actually going somewhere. If you can’t trust rosewood and copper, what can you trust?
By now, the dusk was a palpable thing, thickening before me into night. It was time to burrow into the undergrowth while I still could make out twilit shapes. I stopped to judge the surroundings, looking, listening, feeling the dark. Then, down, down the trail, I saw a spark of light, then not, then back again, blocked and flashed by leaves and the evening breeze, perhaps. I set off again.
Within a couple of hundred yards, the spark had resolved itself into several small lights, and I could hear, at least sense, movement and life. Around a corner, and I could see a small clearing, on one side a mound of brush which soon revealed itself as a snugly built cabin, on the other side a scattering of lean-tos, shelters, and a tent. The cabin was open in the front, with a counter behind several wooden stools under an awning, the light of a fire glowing out from inside. Four or five figures sat on the stools, lounged in front of the lean-tos, or moved between them, lit by flickering light from the several lanterns mounted on top of poles that brightened the clearing.
As I approached, a couple of the folks raised their arms in what I had to assume was welcome. Since none of them appeared to be making any rude comments about my bizarre appearance, I decided to return the favor. Civility is the traveler’s best friend, after all, and this looked to be a rather comfortable waystation. Especially when I smelled the fragrance of good old home cooking wafting from the cabin front. I’d mentioned I was hungry, right?
Hungry enough that I skipped over any close examination of my new friends. Two were rather tall and gangly, like Abe Lincoln on steroids, all skinny and big at the same time, dressed in loose shirts over something like lederhosen. The others were just downright strange. All had the requisite number of eyes and such, in fairly familiar places, so, hey, I was cool with it. No worse than the lot on the last day of a three-day Phish run, anyway. They smiled, I smiled, they smiled some more. The strange fellow sitting on the stool stood up, returned an empty bowl to the counter, then motioned that I was welcome to his seat. I said “Thanks!,” he said something friendly, and I stepped to the counter.
The mistress of the establishment had one of those dried-apple faces you see on craft-fair dolls of little old ladies in gingham dresses, with bright, black eyes, and a fall of silver hair flowing over her slight shoulders. When I say silver, I mean it—not white, but a gleaming silver—still, I could tell it was the silver of age, hard won. She was simply dressed, with a spotless white apron, graced by several intricately carved wooden bracelets, polished to a finish that almost glowed in the lamplight. When I asked, and mimed, for a bowl of whatever was in the cookpot, she gave me the universal look of the innkeeper—let me see your coin, mister. I was sure that somewhere on the shelves and cabinets I could see on her walls was a plaque that read “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash.”
I dumped out a small handful of loose change on the counter, mindful that I had seen no Visa/Mastercard sticker anywhere around the building. She shuffled them around a bit, picked up one or two coins, looked at them, then shoved them back in my direction.
I tried a five I had in my wallet. She did show some interest in the bill, peered at the portrait a bit, looked out at the tall fellows, shook her head, and handed it back. I really didn’t know what to make of that, but I do know “no” when I see it. The compass I wasn’t going to trade, or the lighter, unless desperate, and the Camels were so old I couldn’t even try to fob those off on her. I dumped the contents of my wallet, trying to find something that might be of interest.
Suddenly, her bright eyes widened, and she pointed a long, brown finger at what proved to be my lucky Ron Cey baseball card. Why a lucky Cubs card? Screw the Sox, and please don’t ask me again, okay? Well, hell, we all have our price, and if my lucky Ron Cey was hers, so be it. Maybe this was the place die-hard Cubs fans go after they Climb that Outfield Ivy in the Sky.
I shoved it toward her, she showed me a beautiful expanse of perfect, nut-brown teeth framed by a smile to die for, swept Ron into an apron pocket, and hustled around the little kitchen. Before I knew it, I had a steaming bowl of soup in a bountiful wooden bowl, a huge wooden spoon floating on top, and a super-sized mug of something golden drawn from the tap of a neat little barrel resting on a sort of a sawhorse.
I sat on the empty stool, started tucking away at the soup, with noodles, vegetables, mushrooms, and what I couldn’t say, but perhaps a hint of tarragon, maybe this was a garlic overtone—oh, who cares, it was good. A loaf of heavy black bread had materialized while I was face down in the bowl, and the nutty, chewy richness of it complemented the soup to perfection. After the bite of bread, the cup—a rich, honeyed wine that was perhaps peaches, perhaps cinnamon undertones, certainly wrapping my tongue, and my mind, in a soft blanket of smoothness.
After I cleaned my bowl, drained my mug, and returned them to the counter, my hostess led me to a lean-to at the edge of the clearing, away from the already snoring tall guys, with a soft and fragrant mattress of moss and pine needles. All the others had turned in as well, and she softly moved to each torch, capping them until the only light came from her little cabin. She pulled down the awning, blew out the candles within, and left me to the peace of a clear, starry sky.
Is that a comet there, that tailed blur against the night, pointing to the universe beyond, and the universe beyond that? Perhaps, I smiled, perhaps…I dreamt I caught it’s tail….
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Dreams, like clouds,
Disturbing dreams this morning. Sitting in a bar, discussing and deciding which show to go to, a Dylan concert, someone else.post a comment
A woman comes into the bar, through the righthand door. She carries a chrome-plated pump shotgun.
Watch transfixed by the gleaming silver as she pumps, takes aim, and blows the brains out of a person leaving through the lefthand door.
All is empty for a moment--no sight, no sound--then coming to awareness, shock, myself and others.
Later, in an apartment of a family of color. Two redneck types have invaded the space, and are shot by the man. As they die, the figures turn ashy-white, their bodies twisting and squirming as they fall back out of existence. Creatures of evil, in reality, not men.
I wake, in the apartment hallway, to a noise, switch the light and shout "Hah!" A fleeting glimpse of a figure who reminds me of Peter Graves in an old Mission Impossible, who also says "Hah!"
We were apparently both ready for each other.
Awake for the morning by then.
The mood of those dreams refused to be washed away by coffee, so I tried Coltrane, "A Love Supreme." Perhaps I was too distracted, perhaps there's more disruption to smooth over than I first realized.
Follwed with George Harrison 33 & 1/3. George pushes me over the top every time. Then, and now as I type, American Beauty, and burning sage, to complete the healing.
A frightening thing--I rarely feel the need of ritual. Very thankful to What Is for being here when necessary--
The Capt'n was running late, primping, getting his costume just so. The crew of the Golden Willow Tree were already into the rum (no grog tonight, no sir!), bobbing for apples, telling ghost stories, and generally setting in for a fine Samhain eve's cavort.post a comment
When, with a flourish of the bosun's whistle, the Capt'n made his grand appearance, the assembled company fell silent in great amaze. Their Capt'n was a shimmering vision, in a powder-blue ball gown, matching pumps, an elaborate contruction of blonde hair topped by a sparkling diamond tiara, with sequins everywhere--even in his long black beard!
The Capt'n seemed equally dumbstuck for a moment, then roared, "Ye scurvy rat bastards, did I not say this here is to be a bloody COSTUME PARTY?! Did I not! Aye, more than a few of ye will regret the very day your curs of mothers whelped your sorry bones! Not a costume among ye!" One sailor, brave with rum, and more quick-witted than the rest, stepped forward.
"Why Capt'n, beggin' yar pardons, we most certainly is dressed up in costumes! Yar see, we is all tricked out as sailors!"
"Aye, and there's the truth of it for sure!" the good Capt'n roared. "Ye must be costumed as sailors, acause I spy not a real sailor in this entire sorry ship filled with the most scrofulous of incompetent landlubbers!"
The entire crew stood frozen to the gently rolling deck.
"As I said, maties, damned fine costumes! Where's me rum, and be quick about it!"
The jigs and reels they danced continued into morning, more than one celebrant had to be saved from drowning in the apple barrels, and the food fight that developed when the first orange-frosted cupcake was hurled was a thing of legend.
Just saw the webcast of the Rhythm Devils at Vegoose--amazing. Really bummed I missed them in Chicago. Billy and Mickey--enough said. Gordon is great, Kimock -- well -- I'm convinced. Sikiru I'd love to see more of, and Jen is just nailing the vocals. If Pigpen could come back as a lady, it'd be her!post a comment
Well, as I said, it was just my luck. The little fellows were funneling gunpowder into tubes with a motion that recalled a Cossack dancing the Tarantella, then tossing the cylinders to their mates, who applied fuses and sticks in a fashion that could have been choreographed by Busby Berkeley on acid.
Since I was on acid, this didn’t seem to be too much of a stretch.
The one disconcerting aspect of the performance was their habit of puffing out great clouds of smoke from their Cuban cigars, the ends glowing cherry-red, as they weighed and divided, measured and poured, gunpowder, nitroglycerin and, on special occasions, plastique—
What, me worry? Not really. In fact, the nine little fellows (or was it ten? I couldn't tell, since they jumped about so) also had a habit of not knocking the glowing end off of their stogies, which could lead to both amusement and the imminent demise of all intelligent life within one hundred meters of their car.
Luckily, this time, the glowing cigar ends, when they dropped, were caught in what the little fellows described as their beards (as they referred to the complexes that hung beneath what may be described as their chins), which led to wild excitement, fevered waltzes, and profane exclamations, and a fine tableaux to the disinterested observer.
Eventually, the work order was consulted, the number of finished Bangalore torpedoes was calculated, and the shift was called to an end. This led to the traditional day-end celebration, which consisted of copious consumption of intoxicants, many bawdy stories, and the occasional friendly fistfight.
At that point, I realized that I had many miles to go before I did much of any damn thing that I could tell about in Sunday School. I could feel
When the silver ball smashed out every window of the left side of the train—well, that was hours later, but it certainly caught my attention--post a comment
I saw the coolest political poster the other day:
The death of four Amish children in Pennsylvania at the hands of a deranged gunman has hit me hard.
Roundabout Corners on a Switchback Trail
There’s three that turn the wheel around,
there’s four that make it spin,
but none there are in
can tell you where it’s been.
The trail heats up, the trail cools down,
the trail goes cold at night,
but one there is who goes to ground
and waits on morning’s light.
She rises with the rising dew,
she looks askance at luck:
her best friend’s an entrenching tool,
her mate a pickup truck.
She drives the knife-edge mountain ridge
and slides through dire swamps,
takes two lanes on a one-lane bridge,
hit’s trees and leaves ‘em stumps.
She’s on the lookout for that wheel.
just missed it once or twice,
once from a wayward barroom deal,
and once from loaded dice.
She finally learned her lesson well,
And’s taught it once or twice:
A secret’s ought you never tell,
It’s all you get in life.
She tracks that wheel with all her might,
she tracks with all her main
that wheel that spins from dawn to night
through fields and streams and drains.
It bounces on the mountain peaks,
it spews mud from the bogs,
she grinds her teeth to hear it speak
like screams of devil dogs.
The truck she screams out in reply,
it’s gearbox shakes and strains—
she stomps the gas, she rips and flies
‘cross sunshine and the rain.
The hula dancer on the dash,
she always points the way
when sandstorms whip and lightning lash
and wipes the sun away.
And will she catch it? I don’t know—
it matters not to her.
Her secret’s in the rain and snow,
If you can make ‘em share.
There’s three to cross the center line,
there’s four tipped in the ditch,
there’s one that drives through Hell to find
that circular sonofabitch--
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I’ve not, much to my misfortune at times, and at others a salvation, since a wee lad, been a man of few words. The precision that I sometimes would feel lacking in a simple, single word, could, no doubt, be caught in a scattershot of finely turned phrases, as shot from the blunderbuss of my speechifying. However, that night aboard ship, when my sensickal nature all but forsook it’s lodgings within my mind, I’ve struggled, as did Herakles in the Stables, against the muck and dreck that our poor tongues, in their ignorance, call language, to describe the events, and the nature of the events, that took place that night.
‘Tis useless to struggle more; what it was, it was, and what I can tell, will be what I can tell. The phenomenological occurrences, I have come to understand, occurred in truth, as much as they are outside all experience, and they occurred, both in the Temporal and Spatial Realms inhabited by us all, and in the vast Cathedral of my reckoning and imaginations. Such a notion of truth did my Dearest Ma do her loving best to instill in me with her tales of the Biblical Personages, I now see, but they took only an incomplete hold upon me until this moment past. I now know that there is a Truth within, and a Truth without, and the fit purpose of a man in this earth is to unite the two within his own Holy Being. Nay, not to worry, friend—I’ve turned neither prattling priest nor Methodist preacher, nor the pompoustuous inflated pig’s-bladder of a philosopher in a lecturn-hall—Truth is what it will, and cannot be taught as an arithmetickal table of adds and subtracts.
Well, the tale grows cold in the telling, does it not? Old habits die hard, especially the bad’uns, as young habits of the goodly sort so easy die a-borning.
No—it cannot be done. I cannot use Mere Letters, but must needs have an Alphabet writ large across the night sky, where the stars represent the sounds and vibrations of my very Thoughts—and not only thought, but what lies behind thought—and I must use the spaces behind those stars, as well, for the syllables that I yet do not know, and the puncktuations, and rhymes, and rhythms of how we say what we say.
No. The presentation of a few incidents will needs suffice, as isolated as they are, and lacking a proper cohesion, or commonality, to bind them….
A Scattering of Incidents
Ah, yes…a drop of nut-brown ale may alert the mind wonderfully…
I recall my young friend, the galley-mistress, draping a warm blanket over my shoulders as I listened carefully to the moon-flecked waves, she calling me back for a moment by her touch, before I dove again into the sound of sounds…
I recall my bunkmate squatting next to me for a time. He turned the empty cowling of his hooded form towards me, and although I saw Nothing, could see his face, and the lines of character inscribed upon it, like some ancient labyrinth of cut stone. He then reached his gloved and gaunt hand into the cavity of his hood, and plucked forth a Crystal, doublely-terminated, and pressed it into my numb hand. I opened my fingers, and saw a glow within, a light-beam that fair tickled the backs of my eyes. As sensations more rare and wonderful than the last pulsed into the opened hatchways of my Being, he spoke to me, saying, “Now ye’ve three good eyes, me lad! Take care that ye sees through at least one of ‘em!”
I recall the school, or pod, of whale fish that caught my attention as they lept and danced and frolicked in the highroad of lunar light cast forth from a moon that must have been our own moon, though I’d never seen it’s like before. Two of the delphinidea moved themselves closer, and seemed as to be desirous of my attentions. I gazed intent as they came to the side of the ship, and paced it through the now mirrorbright and mirrorsmooth seas. I knew then, though not by eyes alone, that one bore the countenance of Our Lord, and the other, the visage of His beloved disciple, Mary, the Magdalene.
“The Covenant, “ I whispered, though I know not where or whence
The last I recall, I was being helped to my bunk by our good “cabin-boy,” who had found me all agog, and half frozen, blanket piled forgotten behind me, in the early hours of the middle watch. Bill-a-Roe maneuvered me back to our cramped quarters, which to me seemed as large and as fine as an empty churchhouse, and pulling a glowing bottle of dark liquor from out her seabag, she uncorked it and held it to my lips. I let the sweet wine run down the cavern of my dry throat in a single draught. Peering at the near-empty bottle, her eyes wide, she muttered, “All that bourbon, in one gulp?!” As she settled me into my berth and pulled the worn sheet up around my chin, she stopped, smiled, and said, with an aire of tenderness, “My boy, I know for a fact that you inhaled…”
"Ooh! Look over 'ere, God! On this planet! Look at 'im! Isn't he beautiful! Crikey! and over 'ere! How'd you think up this feller, God? 'E's a beauty...!"
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I'd settled in for a relaxed afternoon at the Pharmacy, playing pinball, drinking raspberry iced tea, and generally being as much of a wastrel as one can be without actually intending to get in trouble. Halfway through the last refill ("The second cup of coffee's free, but the first one, you got to pay"), the back of my teeth got that tighten-up feeling, but I put that down to the Archie Bell and the Drells tune on the jukebox--
But when my stomach started to contract to about the size of a cinnamon jawbreaker, and I could start to feel the bumpers with my fingertips, I turned to the Staff on Duty to see wtf she'd done to my iced tea. Aha! Nowhere to be found--That's the last time I trust the strangest people on Earth, I thought, with an astounding lack of originality, but hey, when you find something good, use it 'til it runs out.
I settled in to the game, a heck of a nice old Bally machine, great flipper action, responsive to the slightest English, and a nearly-naked blonde to boot, with warrior and dragon for good measure. One of the good old simple games--get the ball up top, let it bounce around and rack up the points.
This plan worked for a while.
Right about the time "Amarillo" came on the jukebox--
"Oh Amarillo what`d you want my baby for
--with Emmylou Harris sounding like God's own choir of angels kickin' it out in God's own honkytonk, the quantum effects started to be a bit distracting, but so worthy of attention that I didn't suffer from the bain of pinballers, premature drain. That silver ball was in the process of dissolving into a linear cloud of possibilities, each new potential future banging up extra points, each "thunk" of the extra game sounding out like the Big Bang itself, creating universes....
...and, I finally noticed, a crowd of folks gathered round the game of the century. Well, quit when you're on top--that, and the live version of "A Love Supreme" came from the jukebox, casting any other sensation to the outer darkness.
I deftly handed off the game to the nearest onlooker, who overcome with her luck, promptly drained.
A counterpoint to Coltrane eventually made itself known. A collection of whaps, thrumps, shrieks and reverberations were issuing from under the closed door of the back room, along with a certain amount of colorful sparks and entertaining fogs.
That thing that sits inside my mind and watches me tapped me on the shoulder about then. When things are a given, it's hard to know why, but I knew then that things along a number of the timelines were about to get very strange indeed. What the hell--may as well go see what's happening. Better hurry--this ain't no bus, and the take-off and arrivals depend on more than clocks.
I stood, strode (with what seemed to be twenty-league boots), to the door of the back room, screamed "Save me a goddam seat!", and leapt on the closest car pulling away from the station--rather wishing that I hadn't picked the car with the little fellows and the Bangalore torpedoes--but such is life, eh?