Monday, December 8, 2014

Two Voices

I typed away on my laptop, waiting for my burger.  I used the time to catch up on my travel journal for Driveabout 2014.  My section was pretty empty, so the only person I’d talked to was my waitress.  “Are you writing?” asked the pony-tailed man in an apron, catching me by surprise.  I explained that I was on a drive around the country and was just catching up on a few days of notes.  “I’m writing a book,” he said.  “That’s cool,” I replied, then excused myself to the bathroom.  I really didn’t feel like inquiring any further.

It was then that I heard the voice.

Ok, I stole that line from Field of Dreams.  In truth, the little voice in my head told me I should find out what his book was about.  Not in so many words, but that I should be my father’s son and talk to the stranger.

I got out of the bathroom and saw him still talking to the waitress.  “So what kind of book are you writing?” I said.  I would never dismiss someone and say, “Well, good luck with that,” unless it was the dreaded Sci-Fi/Fantasy novel.  Hearing about the hero’s journey atop his talking mammoth through the hills of blah-blah, in search of the orb of what-ever.  Torture.

He was writing his life story.  I was in no hurry, so why not hear about it?

The Luxury Diner in Cheyenne, Wyoming had been around for decades.  High Yelp ratings got my attention.  It was hard to find, but well worth it.  My burger covered in green chili didn’t disappoint.  Neither did anything else about the place, including this man’s story.

He was very tan, but I couldn’t tell if that was his complexion, a suntan, or both.  Though he had no accent, his brown eyes made me think he was of south-of-the-border decent.  His shoulder length hair was pulled back in a ponytail.  His smile was bright, wide, and genuine.  The scars on his arms…odd in their abundance.

I’ll call him Lonnie, but that is not his name.  As a lifetime gang member, he‘d appreciate the anonymity.  It was another life in northern California.  In Cheyenne, he cooked at the diner and one of the happiest, most gentle people I‘ve ever met.

Our conversation covered an array of topics.  Family, felonies, serial killers, the Latin language, and a certain bunny.

If he had a nickel for every scar on his arms, he’d have close to a dollar.  My words, not his.  “I was a member of [A GANG] in California,” he said.  It’s global organization of which documentaries have been made.  The name doesn’t matter, so I won‘t advertise it.

As is a common story, Lonnie didn’t have much of a family life.  “My parents didn’t give a shit what I did,” he said, his eyes still carried the disbelief that parents could care so little about their child.  Of course, he found others who filled the family void.

“It still amazes me that I never once got arrested,” he said. By arrested, I’m pretty sure he meant a felony.  Too many scars to have not sat in the back of a police car.

“I treated it like a 9 to 5 job and my neighbors had no idea what I was doing.”  He sometimes sold drugs out of his house, but anyone purchasing there arrived carrying a case of beer.  “My neighbors knew I partied, so if you wanted to leave my house with drugs, first we’d sit outside and drink a few beers, then you’d leave with the drugs in the case.”  We‘re not talking ounces.  I then learned a kilo equals 2.2 lbs.  Like a felony-sized bag of sugar.

At some point, his voice told him to leave, to escape and go far, far away.  Perhaps it was the company he was keeping.  “There were these three brothers and I think they were serial killers.  They were always doing crazy shit,” he said.  Obviously, some of the crazy was murder.  He was pretty sure they were in prison for life.  I volunteered to check online, but he couldn’t remember their last names.  Better to just take his word for it.  I never asked if he’d killed anyone.  If he did, it was likely a rival gang member.  No need to discuss things with no statute of limitations. Regardless, the man in front of me wasn’t a drug-dealing, murdering gangster.  He was a gracious man excited about the future.

“I’ve always wanted to learn Latin, so I’m taking a class at the college this winter,” he said, smiling as if he’d won the grand prize.  Reminded me of the child in a third world nation who is excited because he gets to go to school.

Lonnie was hungry for life.

After nearly 20 years, he made his first trip back to California.  “I was afraid if anything happened while I was there, I’d get blamed for it.”  Funny how I’ve never used that criteria when returning to my hometown.  He was relieved to find that his former co-workers were either dead or in prison.  He chuckled and added, “If I stayed, that’s where I’d be.”

So I took a picture with him, gave him my email address, and said farewell.  Before I left, I had to have his picture with The Cranky Bunny, my puppet traveling companion.  After a brief explanation, he put him on and I said, “Look at the bunny like he scares you to death.”  He turned his hand so he and the puppet were face-to-face. With that he let out a laugh Santa Claus would envy.  He laughed with no end in sight.

I laughed, too and finally, he shook his head and said, “I’ve been afraid of a lot of things in my life, I just can’t be afraid of a puppet.”

Everyone has a story to tell.  Sure, some meatier than others.  Had I not asked, I would’ve missed out on a scarred man healing his life, embracing each day, and most of all, laughing along the way.

It made for a much better picture.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Much More Than A Sandwich

MC, Janet, and the vic

Good luck finding Crestone on a map.  It’s a tiny town in southern Colorado at the base of mountains.  A very small town with dirt roads and no stoplights.  Depending on who you ask, you’ll also learn about conspiracies, UFO’s, and the drones.

Some say there’s a certain magic about the area.  The Crestone vicinity is sacred to American Indians  It is a spiritual and healing buffet ranging from over 20 monasteries, lithium hot springs, and energy vortexes.  I’m not going to pretend to know what a vortex is, but I read it’s similar to the rotation left by a moving object, like the wake of a speeding boat.

I pulled in front of the pizza place in town just after noon.  As if on cue, a half dozen people gathered, staring and pointing to the sky.  I asked and a man said, “We’re looking at the UFO up there.”  He went on the say that it’d been up there a while, changing shapes.  I didn’t see it right away, but then saw what looked like a large, bright star.  I wasn’t overly impressed, although I will say that it was way too early in the day for stars of any size.  I got more interested when another appeared, and moved up and down.  Someone showed me a close-up of the object taken by their big-lensed camera.  It was egg-shaped, no windows or lights.  Though certainly unidentified, I think they were of this earth.  Just have to do better than floating orbs to convince me otherwise. 

Someone pointed out airplane vapor trails very high in the sky.  “There they are again.”  To some people, everything is a conspiracy, even a Southwest flight from Denver to Dallas.  UFO’s and drones be damned, I got tired of watching after ten minutes.  I’m glad I did, because the real show was inside the pizza place.

“My name is Marilyn, but I’m now Monte Cristo because when I moved here that’s what the mountains named me.”  For the next few hours, when I went to the bathroom I made sure my seat at the bar was saved.

The two women sat on one side of the bar’s corner and I sat on the other.  Early 60’s, drinking white wine, I guessed they were retired, wannabe artsy types.  More money than knowledge of western art, their houses filled with paintings of rodeo cowboys, bronze eagle sculptures, and the obligatory wooden totem pole in the yard.  One wore a weathered and bent cowboy hat, probably exactly how she purchased it at Bob’s Cowboy Hat Emporium.

Oh, how wrong I was.

“Well, I’ll just call you MC,” I said.  Told them my name, didn’t mention I hadn‘t heard from the mountains.

Janet was MC’s drinking companion.  MC displayed her magic the minute she opened her mouth.  It took about five minutes of conversation for Janet to spill, “When my mother died, I went to Florida to sell her house and I was institutionalized.”  Only the UFO landing next to my car to offload Elvis atop a unicorn could pry me from my seat.  I never asked, but I’m pretty she wasn’t institutionalized for moving pencils with her mind, like the Travolta character in Phenomenon. 

Neither one was much for a single train of thought.  Like talking to a couple of five year olds.  No doubt the 60’s had its impact.  A wave of panic swept through me when I thought of these two enticing me into a three-way, then murdering me.  My dismembered remains would never be found.

Eventually, I knew someone would ask my sign.  Janet didn’t disappoint, but when I asked her to guess, she gave up after five tries.  “I’m Leo with Pisces rising,” I said.  Years ago, someone told me the rising part.  No idea what it meant.  Just said it to fit in.  When Janet disagreed, based on my birth time, Dave, sitting next to me, stepped in and did the math.  I was correct.

Dave was the town’s jack-of-all-trades.  Since Crestone didn’t have much in the way of industrial parks, I presume he wasn‘t the only one.  Though it sounded like he made a living at it  The longer we talked, I found that wasn’t necessarily so.

Dave could have made a few dollars as a Kevin Costner look-alike.  He was divorced with a daughter, for whom, like any parent, he said would do anything.  Unfortunately, during a tough financial time that “anything” turned out to be a federal crime.

He was arrested at a small airport by dozens of well-armed DEA agents as he tried to ship 20 lbs. of pot out of state.  Friends set Dave up.  He took a plea.  It’s his first offense of any kind and so he hopes for a sentence on the lighter side of the seven years maximum.  If there was ever someone in need of my buying them a beer.

I talked to Dave for quite a while and walked away knowing he was a decent guy who did something really, really stupid.  I’m hoping the judge sees it the same way.

Next on the menu was a man and his two young daughters.  He wore what looked like a knit turban.  Dave told me that when unwrapped, his dreadlocks fell to the ground, something I imagine my back hair doing in another 10 years.  I spent the next hour or so talking to his girls, who took Janet and MC’s places at the bar.  Ice cream was their poison.  Their dad mingled around the bar with the other locals, keeping an eye on the stranger talking to his kids.  I went over and introduced myself, telling him that at least he’d know the creepy guy’s name.  We both laughed.  The girls were 10ish.  Bright, funny kids who seemed to be doing rather well without Facebook, cell phones, TV, and I’m guessing, Sunny-D (the fake orange juice drink that’s loaded with high fructose corn syrup).

It was time to wave good-bye after talking with Chris.  He was an EMT with a radio show on the local NPR station.  Way too normal.  Kind of creeped me out.  Probably didn’t even know his rising sign.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Scar

Tom the intern knew his job
Watch the panel all night long
Should the red light start to blink
Call for help, no need to think

Hours into days
Was he being hazed?
Weeks into months
Not a blink, not even once.

Then one night, nearly his last
At a time best suited for a nap
Did he see a blink? Was he losing his mind?
Some kind of focus he had to find.

Blinking the light, a vivid red
He fixed his eye, focused ahead
Ear to the phone, he heard a ring
Someone picked up and said, “Oliver King.”

“Tom the intern…my last name is Fink
The red light before me just started to blink.”
The phone was hung up and an alarm sound
Strangers rushed in and circled around

Someone had a manual
Said his name was Samuel
Opened to a page that had a chart
Said, “Have to call Art.  He’s pretty smart.”

“Oliver King, my name is Art
I’m the one who made this chart.
It explains the red light
That stayed dark ‘til tonight.

This was a project some years ago
We used a device that was just so-so
It was the first and was oh so small
But truth be told, it didn’t work at all.

Was to look at the human brain
To understand the thoughts it contained
We‘d learn how they think, that‘s the place to begin
But all it really did was get under their skin

Most just itched and then they’d scratch
And we thought to send out another batch
We just agreed the project would go to waste
This species perhaps wasn’t really our taste

It was easy enough those aliens we’d abduct
Not much smarter than the chickens they plucked
Just snatch them up while they slept
Never believed, always told it was dreamt”

This day on earth a man first shaved his head
He noticed a scar and watched as it bled
Art watched a screen as the light kept a blink
He knew what the man was about to think

The implant was working, should they turn it off?
All this because a man had shaved his coif?
Before deciding, he needed to know
What was this thought, the man could not let go?

From this idea the human’s brain was so perplexed
So Art asked other Martians, “What is sex?”