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Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Adventure at the River



After outfitting himself in his grandfather’s leather and tying the homemade contraption for his head onto the luggage rack with a strip of green ribbon laced through the bullet hole in the back of the helmet, Jon double-checked his provisions for the trip. In his top jacket pocket he carried two dozen doses of high potency LSD blotter-style acid with a wizard who looked like Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings imprinted on it (he had purchased the stuff last spring from a friend who dealt in such things and he hoped it was still good) and in the glove box in front of the gas tank he had stashed an ounce of kind bud along with a rolling machine and papers. Stuffed down one boot was a flask full of cheap blackberry brandy for the cool mornings and stuffed down the other was his .32 five shot revolver and a small roll of bills.

Since Chiesa had a faring he didn’t need his sun glasses but he carried them in another one of his jacket pockets. The early morning sun always hurt his eyes but he had found he could look right into the afternoon sun without the aid of sunglasses. He had Benny the boy roll up quite a number of joints before he left but he told him nothing of his plans. In fact he confided his plans to no one at all. And so he fired up Chiesa with a kick of his foot and sallied forth, deeming it a beautiful day for an adventure. As he tooled down the straight county highway, slowing to about 35 miles an hour since there was no other traffic in sight, he fired up a joint.

In this fashion he rode for about two hours, always staying on country roads and away from heavy traffic and towns. He had smoked more than half the joints he brought when he noticed a sign that read: Seymour Family Reunion. With a U-turn he turned the bike around and turning at the sign he rode down the gravel road toward the river. His ass ached from not being used to riding and both his hamstrings were tight as a bull’s anus. He spotted a group of campers parked hard alongside the riverbank. The air smelled of rotting fish and bad water.

He rode along while dodging potholes until he reached the crowd. He found didn’t know anyone but as he putted down the road a group men sitting at a picnic table waved at him and motioned with hands for him to come over. He noticed kids running everywhere with no apparent adult supervision. He cut the engine by closing the gas cock and Chiesa started to wobble. “Wow, that’s an old Panhead!” One of the men had risen and started towards him, calling out as he walked. “Hold on old-timer; don’t let her get away from you!”

But it was too late. The bike had started to tip as soon as our man Jon had flipped off the gas cock—before he realized his legs had gone numb from the ride. He had made to kick the kickstand down in panic but the sandy soil gave no purchase. He fell over with the bike on top of him but now several men sitting at the table jumped up running and they arrived in seconds, picking up the bike and helping him to his feet.

“Take it easy there, old dude. Jesus Christ, you could dislocate a knee or break a leg or something. Man, what a sweet looking bike! Are you okay? Come on over and have a beer. You look like you could use it.”

“Yes, that would hit the spot, thank you so much for the help. I’ve been riding for a while and I just need to stop for a while to work the kinks out of my ass. You guys are having quite a get together. I saw you from the highway.”

“Yeah, it’s sort of a family get together but not really. You’re welcome to stay for as long as you want. Hell, spend the night. You got a tent?”

“No. I didn’t think to bring one.”

“Well, I think I have a little pup tent if you don’t mind that. And I even have an extra blanket if you need it.”

“You know, I wouldn’t mind staying the night. It looks like dark isn’t far off. Thanks for the offer.”

“No problem.”

“What’s your name?”

“My name is Jorge and that’s Bill, Dave, Platt, and Gordo.”

“My name is Jon.”

“It’s nice to meet you Jon; here is that beer. Are you holding anything?”

“I have some kick ass acid.”

“What kind?”

“Blotter. Wizard.”

“No way!”

“Yeah, I have a couple dozen hits. I’m letting it go for fifteen dollars each.”

“Hey man, you can sell it all right here. Break it out.”

After selling all but two doses, Jon saw fit to swallow them himself and chasing the blotter acid with a long pull from the beer he belched. Oh that’s good! The men had by this time gone back to talking among themselves about things he had no knowledge of and so he decided to walk down the dirt road towards the river. By the time he’d walked a hundred feet he could feel the acid starting to hit him. It was definitely still good, no worries there.

The grass under his feet, quite involuntarily, suddenly, seemed very soft and green even through his boots. He sat down and took the boots off one by one and along with his socks set them by the bike. He saw that his toenails needed trimming. He could feel the roots growing in the sandy soil under the grass. A little girl came walking by and stopped and looked at him.

“Hi there mister. My name is Ashley. You wanna come go for a walk with me?”

“Sure, let’s go.”

They walked down the dirt road past a campsite full of people that all seemed to have the same yellow cast to them. Little Ashley took his hand in hers as they walked. By the time they had gone a hundred steps the acid was hitting him with force. The river appeared to their left. A little boy ran by in front of them on his way to jump off the bank into the languid green water. A trail of boy-ness both followed and preceded him. Our man Jon’s fingers on his right hand seemed to be being pulled peculiarly long so he had to let go of the little girl’s hand. The river reminded him of something he couldn’t quite place and it suddenly seemed best that they turn back.

“Let’s go back now, okay? Do you know the way back?”

“Sure I do silly. It’s this way!” The little girl skipped on ahead of him and our man followed though he was slowly being overwhelmed by the color of the sky just at sunset. When he looked down the road there seemed to be a rather large gathering of people up ahead. Yes, an extraordinarily large gathering. Hmmm. Looks like something is wrong, he mused to himself. Some of the people seem to be pointing at the river and when he looked over there he noticed that there were more people in the river holding hands forming a human chain. What on earth could be going on? Did someone drown? A woman came running towards the little girl he’d been walking with and picked her up, sobbing and hugging her close.

Uh oh.

Several men he had never seen before were close behind the woman and heading his way. The whole crowd seemed angry. One man stepped forward, a big man with colorful tattoos running up and down both arms and a red face that seemed to be floating on the bulging muscles of his neck.

“Where you been with our little girl, mister? We thought she fell into the river. The sheriff is on his way. You better have a good explanation or you’re going to jail buddy. I can tell you that.”

“But we just took a walk. She came up to me while I was sitting here and asked me if I wanted to go for a walk. I sure didn’t mean to put all of you out. Maybe it would be better if I were on my way.”

“I think maybe you better wait. The sheriff is going to want to talk to you.”

“Well you can see everything is okay now and I just think it would be better if I go now.”

“You can explain to the sheriff what happened.”

“It was a mistake. I thought it would be okay to take a walk with her. I wasn’t thinking straight. I was tripping.”

“I told you to wait and you’re going to wait. Even if we have to tie you up. Victor, you got rope in your trunk, don’t you? Go get it. We’re going to have to tie this old pervert up to keep him from leaving.” One of the men turned to leave and our man chose that moment for his getaway and he would have made it too if not for a root under his foot that made him fall and strike his forehead on a rather large boulder growing out of the riverbank.

Livid green geometric shapes leaped swimming around the atmosphere as he flopped about like a dying fish. Someone seemed to be kicking him in the ribs but when he put his hand there to protect himself he found it was a tree branch he’d fallen on doing the damage. A uniformed figure loomed large over him filling the sky. There was a gun on his hip and handcuffs hanging from his belt. The stench of the polluted river filled Jon’s nostrils. The officer looked crisp and leathery. His mouth seemed to be working itself up to spill out words

“Get up.”

“Huh?”

“I said get on your feet, you old scumbag.” A set of iron hands jerked him, roughly, up by the jacket and dragged him to his feet.

“These people tell me you crashed their party and kidnapped a little girl. You could be in all kinds of trouble. Put your hands behind your back. Do you have anything in your pockets I should know about?”

“Uh…”

“I said hands behind your back!”

His bare feet dug into the sandy soil and propelled him forward faster than the sheriff could follow in his shoes. He didn’t actually think of running, it just happened. The night swallowed him in black and he was alone. It was so dark that as he ran he held his hands rigid in front of him to avoid running into a tree.

The acid had peaked and he was tired. His head hurt and there was something sticky in his eyes. When he felt his forehead his hand came away sticky wet. There was a hole in the right side of the old leather jacket. The moldy moth-eaten hide had offered scant protection from the tree branch he’d fallen on and his hand came away wet again when he probed the hole. His bare feet were cut and felt like they might be bleeding too from the brambles he had run through unawares in his mad flight to freedom. His breathing came in ragged gasps as each breath hurt deep inside his chest. When he spit it tasted of copper.

But he was free! He was proud to see the old Panhead was sitting where he left it with his boots still beside it. He pulled on the boots wincing in pain then jumped on the bike, kicked it one time and it fired to life. Out of the corner of his eyes he spotted the sheriff coming out of the brambles behind him as he eased out the clutch and hit the throttle. Easy does it; don’t want to spill the old girl now. He didn’t turn on the lights until he was well down the dirt road.

Monday, June 18, 2012

In the Beginning...

Just outside of a town (who’s name I don’t remember) in the great state of Northern California there lived a while ago one of those kind of men who are apt to keep a .32 caliber pistol in his boot, an original ’48 Panhead motorcycle in the garage (both of which once belonged to his grandfather), a clan of lean cats living in the barn, and a swift to sleep duty dog laying in an overgrown yard. His stew (often) had more vegetables than beef in it and most nights he ate the remains cold with bread. Bean soup on Fridays, eggs and bacon on Saturdays, and an occasional chicken on Sundays (more as a delicacy than a rule) made up the rest of his diet.

His attire consisted of a couple pairs of overhauls made of heavy denim for working, three pairs of dark blue straight legged jeans for every day, a pair of leather cowboy boots made by hand by a local boot maker down Sonora Mexico way, a half dozen black tee shirts for the weekdays (though these all had tiny holes in them), a broad-brim cowboy hat to keep the sun off his face, and a good wool double-breasted suit and a shirt and tie for holidays and funerals. His homestead was moderate and provided him a meager living if he grew a cash crop.

His family consisted of his widowed sister named Anastasia, Ana for short, who was of around sixty years of age and who cooked (though not well) and kept house (about equal to her cooking), a niece not yet twenty by the name of Marie who attended the local community college and worked part time at the White Hen, and a boy of about fifteen named Benny who worked for him both in the field and at home and who could tune the Harley as well as use a cutting knife. The boy was no relation to the others but had come to live at the farm for a week as a foster child when he was five years old (for which the state paid) and because he had nowhere else to go he just ended up staying on (and the state kept on paying).

Our man was about fifty years of age and of stout constitution, but wizened and gaunt, an early riser and a heavy smoker with a permanent hack. He had gray chin whiskers so long they often became entangled on the steel buttons of his bib overhauls; this served to tears to his eyes at those unfortunate times. Only a few straggled hairs grew on his cheeks though he never shaved. His nose was red and nondescript; it had the look of having been broken and poorly set a number of times, which indeed it had been, most often after having consumed one too many shots of Jack Daniels with beer chasers and getting mouthy with someone either bigger or perhaps just a little less drunk than himself.

They say his surname was Johnson or Johnston (accounts differ on this) but if a person was pressed to say, it might be a reasonable guess that his name was Johansson. This, however, this has little to do with the story as most people just called him Jon. What you really should know is that the above named man in his leisure moments (which was most of the year) gave himself up with such passion and delight to reading books of sorcery that he almost entirely neglected planting a crop or working the farm.

In fact his craze for this type of literature became so great that he sold many acres of arable land in order to buy as many rare books as he could find on eBay and Craigslist. Above all he preferred books written by Carlos Castaneda, a disciple of the famous brujo Don Juan Matus and considered by many to be a great sorcerer himself. The clarity of Castaneda’s writings and the wisdom of Don Juan made him value those books more than his cats valued three day old bacon grease; especially when he read of Don Genaro flying around the tree tops and the apprentices lining up and jumping from a cliff into the blackness below.

He was not quite convinced that anyone could gather the totality of self while plummeting to earth in pitch darkness for no matter how great a brujo Don Juan was it seemed inevitable that the apprentices would end up a heap of bloody flesh at the bottom of the cliff. Nevertheless he praised the author for concluding his books with the promise of unending adventures. He often debated with the bartender Ned Turner at the local pub—a man of learning who had graduated from Notre Dame while manning the offensive line—on the relative merits of lucid dreaming.

Ned himself claimed to have dreams in which he knew he was dreaming and yet could act of his own volition and go where he would. But the barber, a man who went by one name, Boner, maintained that no one could interact with waking people while in a dream, and Ned himself had to admit the truth in the barber’s statement. This caused our man Jon a small deal of consternation but he put it off to his friends’ inexperience in such matters.

It was true that he had never yet managed to lucid dream even once, but every night before going to sleep our man carefully set himself up to look at the back of his hands as soon as he came to the realization that he was dreaming. It’s also true that he didn’t quite know how to go about setting himself up to see his hands so he lay in bed for several minutes with his eyes shut, visualizing the back of his hands. He’d been doing this for a year without success but he took comfort in reading where Castaneda wrote that it took Don Genaro ten years to see the back of his hands in his dreams.

In short, he so immersed himself in those sorcerers’ intrigues that he spent whole days and nights over his books; and so with little sleeping and much reading his mind dried up to such a degree that he lost his sense of reason. A rather steady regimen of smoking the most potent marijuana in the world (which he grew for medicinal purposes on the south slope facing the creek. At times it seemed to help fight the depression that set in after his wife passed on three years back) also added to our man’s state of general confusion to the point where he no longer knew for sure what was real and what was an illusion or if indeed it mattered a jot either way. Having lost his wits he stumbled on the maddest idea a madman ever stumbled on. He found himself compelled to become a sorcerer’s apprentice like Carlos Castaneda and his cohorts.

And since there were no sorcerers living near his home, he felt compelled to hop on his big two-wheeler (despite having no valid driver’s license for several years now) and head for the open road in search of adventures and magic. Having not ridden for many years, our man had to gather what he deemed to be essentials for the trip. His grandpa on the Jones side had once been a biker back before the lawyers and doctors came to dominate the road on their expensive machines and the old man’s leathers were still tucked away in Grandma’s cedar chest.

The old gal just didn’t have the heart to throw his things out after her husband had put down the bike to avoid a group of children crossing the road and slid into a guardrail headfirst. Though Jon was a tad taller than grandfather Jones, the leather jacket fit, as did the old boots. It should perhaps be said that the chaps looked as though the man wearing them was expecting a flood and the boots hurt his toes when he walked any sort of distance but he reasoned that since he planned on riding, not walking, the boots would serve him well.

No matter where he looked, though, he couldn’t find a helmet. Even though the great state of Northern California had no helmet laws, the renegade state of Western Arizona did, and so having no money to buy a new one, he resolved to construct a helmet from a WWI German soldier’s helmet that his great-grandfather had brought home as a souvenir. There was a bullet hole the size of a finger in the back of the helmet, it was stained red inside, and it had no visor, but he managed to construct one out of Plexiglas and clear tape interspersed with glue.

In order to test its strength in a crash he took up a miniature baseball bat with Head Tamer written on the side of it and struck the helmet smartly. The visor shattered into a dozen pieces with one of them flying up and striking him directly in the left eyeball. Not only did his eye hurt each time he blinked, it dismayed him to see how a single whack destroyed a week’s work. Nevertheless he set to work constructing a new visor, this time using spokes from an old bicycle wheel to give it added strength. Wiping the persistent tears running down his cheek from his injured eye and having completed the visor he put on the helmet, deeming it strong enough to withstand a minor crash, and without making a second test with Head Tamer he considered the helmet ready and road worthy.

On his orders Benny the boy spent two days tuning and cleaning up the old Panhead while our man spent his time smoking kind bud and thinking of a name for the bike. It didn’t seem right starting such a momentous adventure on a bike with no name. After considering hundreds he settled on Chiesa de Or San Michele, or just Chiesa for short.

This name he found on an old marriage license he discovered folded in one of the hidden pockets of Grandpa Jones’ leather riding jacket. The paper said the marriage had taken place in a church in Florence, Italy by that name and he liked the way it sounded as the words rolled off his tongue though he couldn’t be sure he was saying them right. He thought the name of the church sounded feminine and he always thought of bikes as women.

[to be continued...]

Sunday, June 10, 2012

On Becoming a Writer

Some of us are fortunate enough to know they want to write from the time they are very young. Others do not discover their calling until later in life. I suppose I fall into both categories.

I've always loved to read. As a youngster in school I preferred staying indoors at recess and reading. Each new school year I would read through all my text books within the first couple weeks and then spend my time reading from both the school library and the town library.

I started writing about that same time... simple stories none of which exist any longer. I worked very hard on them though, writing and rewriting them until they seemed perfect. I recall how at the start of one particular year our teacher would read each essay in front of the class, starting with the one she deemed to be the best. She was a ugly wicked old thing who I grew to despise.

That first day she stood in front of the class reading each essay one after another. I found myself wondering why she had picked the essays that she read over mine. They were okay but I knew mine was superior. She would read one essay, and when she finished she paused as she looked in my direction, and then she would read another. At each pause I expected my essay to be read.

But mine did not appear. I thought, oh my, mine must have been so terrible she couldn't bring herself to read it. When she had finished the last essay I thought of raising my hand and saying something... that perhaps she had overlooked or misplaced my essay. But then she said, there is one more essay here, but I am not going to read it. Mr. Glover has obviously copied it from somewhere. If I knew where he copied it, I would have him go to the principal's office. But since I cannot prove that he has indeed copied it, I am making him write another essay.

I recall being very embarrassed to be called out in front of the class like that. I hadn't copied the essay but of course there was no way I could prove that anymore than my teacher could prove that I did copy it. I had worked very hard on the story. Never being able to sleep at night I had stayed up late writing it over the course of a week working out each detail, taking pride in doing my very best.

I recall the story being about finding myself trapped in a terrible snowstorm and how I struggled against the elements wanting to pause to light a fire over which to warm myself but unable to force my frozen hands to hold a match. After many trial and tribulations I finally reached my destination. It appeared out of the whiteness in front of my eyes and I knew I had finally made it to school. I thought it was a good story... it contained suspense and intrigue, desire and need, a sound plot, and a revelation at the end.

I hadn't for a moment believed the story to be so good as to defy belief that I had written it myself. I learned a lesson that day. I learned not to take so much care in my writing. I realized that I was showing off. I heard the other students snickering as she handed my paper back to me with a big red F on it. She made sure everyone saw it. I lost a little of my love for writing that day.

Many years later I began telling stories once again. I had grown up by now and in fact had raised a family and suffered through the loss of loved ones and failed dreams. I wrote mainly for the enjoyment it afforded and shared my writings with only a select few people who I happened to meet in the early days of the Internet.

One man who enjoyed my stories lived in Norway. His name is Bodvar Skutvik. He asked me to write the story of the Lila Squad, an email discussion group devoted to the works of Robert Pirsig... who wrote Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and a second novel called Lila. We both had enjoyed exchanging our views and I liked Bodvar very much.

Still, I didn't think for a moment that I was qualified for such a task. I had no college degree. What did I know about writing? Nothing. I ran a janitorial business. I cleaned toilets for a living. I refused Bodvar's invitation to write the story. Though I didn't say so to him I thought he must be having a laugh at my expense.

But then he asked me again. And again I refused. I told him in no uncertain terms that I wasn't the person for this venture. He needed to find someone more educated, someone with a PhD or at the very least a college degree in literature, someone who knew how to write. He needed to find someone who was everything that I was not.

And I thought the matter was finished. Surely Bodvar would understand my recalcitrance and wouldn't bother asking me again. But he did. And the third time he asked, I realized that perhaps I could do as he asked... that if he had such confidence in me that I should go ahead and give the project my all.

A year later I published the book that came to be called Lila's Child on a website I learned to construct myself. And again I thought the matter was finished. I had done what Bodvar requested. The book was there for all to see. Now I could get back to more important matters like polishing floors and scrubbing carpets.

Six months later Bodvar wrote me to say that Robert Pirsig himself had sent him a letter describing how he had stumbled across my website and how much he enjoyed reading Lila's Child. I thought once again that Bodvar was having a bit of fun with me. But then it dawned on me that Bodvar was one of those serious Norwegians who rarely had fun and if he did it wouldn't be over something as groundbreaking as this.

Mr. Pirsig wrote Bodvar that he was making notes on the book. I thought how interesting it would be to see those notes so I wrote Bodvar back wondering if he would write to Mr. Pirsig to make a request that he share those notes. Bodvar said no, he didn't think that would be proper. He said that I should be happy with what I had accomplished and to forget any such nonsense like I suggested. I didn't have Mr. Pirsig's address to write him myself nor did I think I should usurp Bodvar's advice.

I knew he was right. So I forgot about it. Much to my surprise though a month later Bodvar wrote me once again saying that he had had a change of mind and wrote to Mr. Pirsig after all. And Mr. Pirsig had agreed to share his notes as well as to write an introduction to Lila's Child. Bodvar provided me with an address which to mail my finished work and a correspondence of sorts occurred between Mr. Pirsig and me. Those were very heady times and it took another two years to complete the book.

But finally the day arrived that Lila's Child was finished and published as a real book. I could hold it in my hands. But instead of feeling happy and fulfilled I felt bereft. I felt as if a huge part of my life was over... that I would never again enjoy the satisfaction of losing myself in my writings as I had done while working on Lila's Child.

So I started telling stories again... short stories at first, and later, novels. Now I write thousands of words each day. I work part time as my writings do not pay the bills, yet, but they bring in enough money that I no longer have to work full time and I can devote four or five hours daily to doing what I love: writing.

I wonder how others have come to be the writers they are today? Do you have a story to share? If so, I would love to hear it!

Thank you for reading!