The road to Mythville by bus, train or ersatz automobile...
If you take the bus along the full stretch of Camelback Road in Phoenix, the dislocation of humanity is so apparent, it hurts. The heat, the brain, and especially the eyes shake with each bump on the road. Especially if you aren't looking ahead with the right kind of frantic gaze. Indeed, no one is happy on the bus. Bus riders, like the meek that will never inherit the earth, live in a world of envy as a planet of automobiles speeds by, from the Hummer ship adorned in chrome to the Amerimexican jallope, which, for all its smoking stink and bellowing bass, appears to be a Cinderella's carriage for somebody else's perfect dream.
You can begin in the glittering canyon of high-end finance at 24th Street and Camelback, the area known as the Biltmore, and you can head west and descend into the valley of disenfranchised tribes. No one is more derelict than the bus driver, of course, who is the brain center for one of the biggest and noisiest robots to rove the land. There are the giggling latino girls, all dressed in black, the heavyset moms carrying their babies, the wiry old black men in ball caps, the strung out, methed-up metalheads, the heat-beat white hicks in black beards, who smell so bad everyone else can only be reminded they are nothing but cattle, as members of the meandering mass, not even parts of the Machine, just parts, loose, crooked and real, all demonstrating the relative ineffectiveness of America the Database to round up everything alive and swallow it whole.
On this trip, the most professorial looking chap, carrying a large black bag, has sharp features and a close-cropped haircut. He appears to be the most ready to walk into some place and start doing something that means something, but then he surprises us all when he pulls out a half-full fifth of Jack Daniels, throws back a swig, and then jumps off the bus at a stop below a freeway overpass. Stoicism is the norm on the bus. Gregarious behavior is dangerous, a sign of sheer lunacy. You are at risk if you carry cigarettes because you are socially obligated to give them out. If you don't, well then, you are less than worthy and therefore a target: depending on how dark it is. Malice is possible when you wait for the bus.
Among the hierarchy of the low, a cell phone is an insulating sign that hey, somebody actually cares about you. The cell phone ring on the bus is a cure for temporary loneliness, a cure for the impatience created by multiple stops, the drag, the malaise of movement, the malodorant, the dispossessed. Once you cross Central Avenue, moving west, the construction zone for a light rail future for this town can be seen. That product of political shennanigans, which blows everything away in its path, beneficial as it may or may not be, reminds us all that we, the riders of the bus, are only candidates for more of the same. Though every citizen should ride the bus to save the planet, this good will is not so. The autos have won the day and therefore, the planet sinks into cloudy darkness and soon the Venetian wind will blow as life on the bus is a slow, dull, stretch reminder of the eternal road to nowhere.
Chaos and disorder is what I feel when the wind gussies up and the barometric pressure drops. Anyone who cares to sense it can. At least they might catch a whiff of ozone in the air, right before it rains. We aren't all robots. In fact, I believe our senses make us excellent subjective scientists, and that gives me hope. When the wind gussied up that night, fences were blown down, whole branches thrown across the city and into the street.
In the Arcadia District, the old irrigated grove neighborhoods of Phoenix, every orange on the block was shaken from their trees. Whole groves in orbit around their former tree mothers now, turning green manicured lawns and dusty road gutters into brightly little decorated fantasy zones for free fruit: Just pick it before the noon sun cooks them into juice. The previous night's wind shear, blowing from the northwest, from the barren expense near Barstow, a dry Mojave-style blow, speckled the city greenery with little dots of fun factory oranges.
Indeed, on a Good Friday Wind Shear in Phoenix at dusk, as it now so shall be duly named and recorded, forcefully demonstrated the keen possibilities for our senses to detect some sort of disturbance in the ... um, force. A greater degree of unpredictability, at least, is clearly in the works. The empirical evidence of the event suggests the following: Oranges don't usually decorate lawns as if God's great applecart had been tilted over. In nature, humans are biologically trained to pick them first. But after the Good Friday Wind Shear of 2006, oranges cover the desert floor, the fruit of spring is lost to everyone but those walking outdoors carrying grocery bags, or hey, little doggie poop bagettes. Those are coming in handy, too.
In those post- X-File years it wasn't until after 9/11 that people were searching out Nostradamous again.
Regardless, the earth shook, and it was the sun that was doing the shaking, sending waves of electromagnetic winds pulsing down to the core of the earth. My observations for that day include: In the morning, going up Route 3 North in southern New Hampshire, steam rising from the freshly fallen snow. That night, same spot on the highway, coming back from a day searching out some old ghosts in Peterborough, my car swerved as the wind gathered into a swirling bowl as if the strictures of gravity were no longer in order. I was listening to the Chemical Brothers on the CD player, heading home to North Andover, Massachusetts.
The electrochemical night fire seemed to be stirring throughout the atmosphere. Lightning hung in the sky in veins of white light. The wind became intense, multi-powered, multi-tasking, as I pulled off the highway, turned into the shelter of a local hospital parking lot. When it appeared that wasn't going to be enough, due to the intensity of the lightning, I went inside the waiting room to wait it out. I was tempted to pray since it was some kind of women's religious hospital.
After the wind failed to subside, I gathered my nuts to get back out onto the chaotic freeway as branches and leaves blew across my path. Turning east toward 495, looking out toward Lawrence and across the Merrimack River, the great sky-sea of pulsating lightning, bouncing off the ground as if an explosion were burning white hot from off the ground and back into the sky again. A massive electrical orb was attacking the city: A lake of fire in the sky.
The Chemical Brothers techno-invoked the scene with a suitable polyphonic fury, a lightning music soundtrack, at 120 beats per minute, those two elements, storm and sound, fusing a coincidental kaleidoscope in my brain. When I arrived home, I was completely out of my wits. Moses after witnessing the burning Bush. But alas, the entire family was watching television during the storm and barely even noticed there was lightning outside.
Fortunately, I mean, scientifically speaking, I was able to get other confirmation from what I had seen by going out to get some cigs. A woman at a convenience store in Andover, whose gas station was facing Lawrence, saw it, too.
So I decided to do a search on the Web. From there I learned plenty.
On Nov. 7, 2000, in one of the closest presidential elections in history, Bush's slim lead over Al Gore is on the hinges as an automatic recount due to a bizarre collection of election day mishaps and misdeeds leads to an automatic recount in that state. Four days later, November 11, a solar storm from an extremely powerful solar flare, from a coronal mass ejection that, launched from the sun three days before, hit the Earth's magnetosphere. It left the earth in a high velocity solar wind for three days. A flare that came right out and blew its hot breath on the planet. The storm had been similar to a July 14 storm, again just days after eruptions of magnificent flares radiating energy out into the solar system, said to have been the biggest solar storm since October 1989.
About a month later, just five days after Gore conceded the race and President Bush addressed the nation as president-elect from the House chamber of the Texas Capitol, a solar flare erupted from the sun in the early morning and was followed by another coronal mass injection, which hit the earth's magnetosphere again three days later. The impact caused the Earth's interplanetary magnetic field to turn southward. Considering the earthquake occurring on the sociopathic planet, that there was a solar eclipse on Christmas Day, 2000, could hardly come as a surprise.
The sun continued to punish the earthlings with his hot licks all the way through inauguration day. On January 10, a solar flare eruption caused a coronal mass injection to go billowing away from the sun. The shock wave across the planets hit the earth early morning, Jan. 13, disrupting communications and causing aurora activity. The next day, another coronal mass ejection took place, but it went away from the earth.
The California Zephyr crashed the winter of 2001. But it was a happy enough ride for a month before, but then Amtrak is always a little dicey. Even his own safe trip was not without grim possibilities, or, even, consequences. That it then crashed only lent to the deeper mystery of its long traverse across the continent, well, at least from Chicago, through the Rockies, onward to San Francisco. The cause of the crash is still up in the air, but even if ruled as an accident it must mean … something. Or so I thought.
"Maybe one of the golden spikes for the continental railroad gave out," I mused to one of my buddies in Telluride, the paranoia working its way though his mountain haunt.
"Or, something else. One could just as easily imagine a group of barnstorming right wingers, as a kind of vigil and protest for Timothy McVeigh, America's least wanted murderous youth – one could just as easily imagine something from out of the Turner Diaries."
Such had been in the case in Arizona, where Nazi youth calling themselves the Vipers derailed a train in the boon-dock desert of that state. When I was a friend once told me you could derail a train by putting a quarter on a railroad track. He never tried, but you could imagine the sparks that might make.
The "accident" being in the Midwest, in Iowa, where the train derailed for reasons unknown, with one dead and 90 injured, it's easy enough to see: It can happen here.
But such was the nature of the aura of this train. At least on my life's trip, which had become strange in other quarters. Leaving the Mordor of Boston, the gloomy post-election winter, where the very human face of the city seemed to cry out in a sort of despondency and anguish. Switching trains in Chicago, Ill.
"Most likely at great terror," I wrote. But no information is really left on what the true sources of what my anxieties were, other than the note: "Carrying myself across the long distances always seems to sound a death rattle in me."
Nonetheless, as we moved West on this fabled line that would eventually take me to the Rockies, all of the way to Grand Junction, Colorado, at the base of Grand Mesa, where the Colorado River winds its own sacred trail southwesterly.
My destination, Telluride, Colorado. Which would require a bus jaunt to Montrose, with a driver who turned out to be a real asshole (but who wouldn't be, taking these routes over and over through such climes), as well as a helpful hitch with a local Jack Jehovah Ute, Leroy Morales, in a big green pickup up the San Miguel River Canyon to this mountain resort town, isolated as it is in rocky highlands of the San Juans of southwestern Colorado.
A latter-day Zephyr rider from Telluride didn't fare so well. His experience a month later in the coach car, which ended up on its side, after sliding down a 20- foot embankment, was more harrowing.
"I was just lying down to sleep when I heard a rumbling and a screeching sound – the brakes maybe," said Noah McKittrick, who had also been bound for Grand Junction. "The lights flickered off and the car tumbled over. We were thrown about. It was incredibly disorienting. When we stopped, I was lying on the windows, which was now the floor of the car. People were crying and their kids were screaming for their parents. It was over in five seconds."
The Zephyr was traveling at 53 miles per hour, which is a lot slower than its usual 80 miles per hour, but anyone who has taken an Amtrak line from Boston to New York, or on the Eastern Seaboard at all, knows fully well the fallen nature of its infrastructure. Before the crash, McKittrick said his dinner companions, experienced train travelers, were commenting on how bad the tracks in Iowa were. "For two hours before the crash, the train was shaking like turbulence on a plane."
You get these kinds of impressions when you are traveling across the states: bad bridges in New England, course roads in Missouri, federal highways even, tolls and tolls in Pennsylvania, whole highway networks mangled in a maze of cars, entropy and chaos theory.
Toledo, Ohio is where the long strange trip on the Zephyr really took its first strange turn. Nothing so dramatic as a derailment, mind you, but enough to dislodge the mind, anyway. There was the sunlight fading as the train headed west through the Berkshires, a cigarette along the plank in Springfield, Mass., supposed birthplace of basketball, most certainly of all the attendant regrets of leaving home after two years of dot-com life, as well as a family, in Boston. Across the white-carpeted forests of the East we moved, with the train sounding off a warning and celebration in each small burgh along the line. With each hour, the light seemed friendlier, less closed in as we left the horizon-less maze of New England. That first night we stopped for a couple of hours in Albany, New York. A line was broken on one of the cars. There was a lot of commotion and confusion about hook-ups and connectivity. The conductors told stories and smoked. I walked the length of the interior to the dining car, which was pitch black but still serving by candlelight. I thought of the last and only voyage of the Titanic.
An elderly woman and a little girl sat down to dinner. It was a bit uncomfortable, at first, but I eased into it, telling the story of how the dragon slain by St. Patrick was really a dinosaur, the last of it's kind.
"In hindsight," I said, playing on the part of the worldly storyteller, "the prehistoric lizard, which had only come out for one brief gasp of air after living for so, so long, deep beneath the earth. Perhaps he would have been more appreciated as a relic from some ancient time, a novelty to draw the crowds. But preservation efforts were unheard of then. And so, the only remaining information about the dragon is this: He tasted a lot like chicken."
Always one to attempt to blow a small child's mind, even I hesitated at the telling of the story of Joseph of Arimethea, who he had been reading about on that headlight into the night toward Chicago, about how he had lost the Holy Grail during sea travel on the way to Albion, as in England. Another book, "Rex Deus," a capably written historical tome, revealed the mysteries of the ancient Rosencruz, or at least that's my take on it. The revelations of the book, that Jesus had sired two children, and may have survived his apparent execution, and that the ruling monarchies of France, England and Scotland were connected to the bloodline of Jesus and King David and so on … the kind of ancient mystery that makes a Steven Spielberg film laughably imprecise, in terms of the larger universe around us ...
Then we were off again. The train's horn is a safety and comfort for all traders in the deal. That such peace could lead anyone disaster, at that point, especially after a couple of bourbons on the rocks in the observation deck, was well beyond all of the hocus pocus that could be left notes for.
Until Toledo. A town for which hocus pocus has little practical use. It was 7:57 a.m. on Jan. 23, 2001, dawn at the Amtrak Station in Toledo, Ohio. Drug interdiction hour. Five Federal Agents, although they didn't show much ID to
anyone, since the passengers were asleep, rousting the train awake. They hit mostly the latin-looking men, many of whom could not speak English. They were asked about drugs, about where they were going. Asked if they had tickets. A
conductor's job. The Latinos only gave scared but incomprehending nods. Racial profiling was the technique here, even if the agents also rousted the white punk with the blue hair, it was still an alternative tribe to whatever passes for the social norm in the center of god-forsaken Ohio, the ice floes of the river completely encasing the town in a grimy industrial cesspool of gray, bleak permanence.
But I thought I knew my Fourth Amendment rights, presumed it worked that same way for others, and figured the guys sleeping on the train might have access to the same.
"Improbable cause," I said out loud, in the direction of the melee. "You can't do that. It's a violation of the Fourth Amendment."
They all looked up at me. The evil eye like a scanner.
"You a lawyer or something?" said one. "Watching too much TV," said the other. "Yes," I smarted back. "I went to Harvard." A lie. I attended a seminar once. "You can't do this." I repeated. "You don't have probable cause."
One of the interdicks, wearing a nice suede leather jacket, like the kind a rancher might wear, who said I had been watching too much TV – when I had in fact been reading too much Alexis de Tocqueville – started asking me questions. Such as: "How would you like to get off the train and stay in Toledo?"
I looked out the window. Morning was frozen and the river was one great ice floe covering the state. "No, I won't be staying here," I said. "But you
The interdick said, "Yeah," and sighed, perhaps. The notes are not clear. But I do remember quickly leaving before my so-called "disruptors of descent" really started to show, hurrying out of the train to smoke, thinking about the Pretenders, "Hey, o, way to go Ohi-I-I-o." And I thought the land of Thomas Paine was bad. That's what I was trying to get away from.
Back on the train, a West Indian woman started asking me questions. She said she wanted to file a report about the raid, and it became on ongoing matter of conversation during the day. She was some kind of freedom fighter from
Berkeley, and what had happened had fit a paper she had been writing. The feds had found nothing, and the same group of what turned out to be Mexicans under the supervision of an interpreter was still anxiously waiting for whatever might be in store for them in Chicago.
The remainder of that morning's ride consisted of reading the headlines in the smoking car, on the observation deck or in the kitchen. "Bush ends overseas abortion funding," reads the headline for Tuesday, Jan. 23, "President revives
plan on family-planning abroad."
Just as I noted this, a guy in the observation car tells his friend, "That dang Bush, he's going to let them drill new oil wells in Alaska." Another headline: "Four escapees caught, one dead."
Headed toward Colorado, they are all on the loose, and the Great Plains all too well included in the disasters going on from Coast to Coast, I thought about adding a few more words to the notebook, another deck, "and one more at large heading home."
"The California Zephyr begins in Chicago and makes its way toward Denver," I continued writing, remembering the last two days of the train trek across the nation. "By nightfall I meet one of two or three of the strangest characters, including the zen-master man, a drunk cowboy artist named Charlie, who discussed Reiki therapy, meditation and Swedenborgian metaphysics. He disappeared somewhere in the night, in Iowa, I believe. Then, the next morning, in Denver, I noticed two men, one with a Masonic emblem on his coat, the other leading a doddering elderly gentleman on the train. Curious about the Freemasons after a lot of study and amazement about it in Boston, I asked who the elderly man was. The large man in the coat said he was the Grandmaster of the Freemasons for the entire United States of America.
"So once we headed up a winding trail into Rockies, I handed him my copy of 'Rex Deus.'
"Did Jesus survive," I asked him. "Oh, that's what some say," he said, reading the book for a couple of hours with great interest. But there seemed to be something on this mystery train that was more than I could perceive, his
work on this world pretty much accomplished. Him not offering any new clues. At one other point toward the end of the line, the train stopped for some time, in order to avoid an accident. In the canyons near Gunnison, the observation deck announcer pointed us to a cave in the wall, high up on the cliff. Safe enough place for anything, from anyone, anywhere, be it the President of the United States, or, the DEA. "I suppose you could worry about rock slides. No place is really safe, I guess," I wrote, my last entry of many to come.
Who are you, really? That is is the question. Can you prove it? You may look like an American, speak American and have all of those characteristics that make you seem American, but we have it from (OK, OK, shaky) sources that there's an Al Qaida training base in Somalia stocked with fresh-faced recruits who have been rehearsed to look just like ranch hands from the Western Slope.
Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, authorities have been working hard to punish everything, thoroughly, in sight, and this is especially true in terms of changes to laws regarding identification. Just in case those Marlboro Man lookalikes try to foil our new fail safe systems intended for, yes, your protection.
Seems like the machine mind of American culture has done a pretty good job of making life nearly impossible for everyone but the evil doers. But there are some successes to note.
For example, grandmothers are searched at the airport, and so the government has done an excellent job of preventing terrorist attacks by sleeper cells of senior citizens. The number of these attacks have, indeed, been reduced to zero.
Nowhere is the assault on the common man more apparent than at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Except for at the national banks. The illegitimacy going on at all of these institutions is just more cannon fire in the face of the middle class. Because we all know how the national banks are the pantheons of social responsibility and legitimacy.
Maybe in the next New World Order, banks and the DMVs can be combined.
It's all for your protection (see how well protected we are?). A more than $100 billion bailout backs this up, protecting you. Where is all of this money going? Sorry, too hard to explain. In fact, to all of the Joe the Plumber "everymen" out there, the explanation is buried, hidden from view. In fact, it totally lacks ID. It's your fault, you know: Too many bad checks at the Liquor Barn.
Yeah, real halls of honesty, our financial institutions are.
But even more honestly, a trip to the DMV in Montrose is not for the feint of heart. There should be a sign out front for people with bad tickers. Indeed, if you need to go there, be ready for a fight to prove you exist.
That you are confronted by surly, overworked DMV employees is hardly news. In Montrose, the DMV is a strip mall shack and the driver's license specialist there is more multi-tasked than a McDonald's employee or a convenience store clerk.
That's your tax dollars at work? Not exactly. Your tax dollars are doing something else today.
Most likely, your tax dollars are bailing out the institutional halls of illegitimacy.
Meanwhile, back at the DMV during one recent visit, people were confronted with a confusing, unimaginable list of hassles. One by one, people were denied the ability to receive legal IDs. It was like some gauntlet had been laid down in order to keep ordinary people off the road.
Birth certificate not an original? Sorry, you are out of luck.
Oh, you drove here an hour to get an ID, but you lack all the forms you need to prove you have the DNA of a U.S. citizen. Tough luck. Now go back home and drive, illegally, or, walk to the nearest motel with a phone and a fax and an extra bed for a notary public, stay there for a few weeks, until it gets worked out.
Oh, you have a passport. Sorry, it's been the international standard for a century, but due to the global climate of abject paranoia, that's just not good enough.
What else do you have in your wallet?
Concerned about how legislators have botched this driver's license thing up, well then, you should vote and do something about it.
Oh, don't have a driver's license. Sorry, you can't actually do something about it … because you can't vote without a license or some other form of baffling, cosmically sanctioned ID.
Maybe if you are a CEO for a hall of legitimacy, you can tool around in a limo and be spared the concerns of the rest of us yahoos. No ID needed for that.
"Catch 22," oh yeah, that's the name of that thing. If that's your real name, cowboy.
Made sure the windows
were all wide open
for this brittle haus warning,
God forbid the warming, should we
ever break dead with reclaiming
witches reclaiming their food
for thought and kindness I offered,
them never tasting the bread ...
They insisted they could save me
and then, the saving being done,
called me the devil, the devil,
the devil, three times,
before they were One ...
And compassion is a virtue
sold out in short supply,
gathered in plenty
And there you were, with my backlit
ghost behind the suffused
dark arts behind the computer
screen’s white apple byte light,
the difference between innocence
and knowledge being sub-atomic,
it’s positively Platonic,
allegorical, hysterical ...
when you ask for a cigarette
since it’s my personal policy
to only give out one Spirit
per hour to the hopeless ...
(I mean homeless) ... and if they
claim to have hope I give them three:
That’s how homeless hopelessness can be.
So it’s back to my parking lot for words,
worlds within worlds,
but way far from the gypsy cafes
as Napoleon, fresh face-i-fied,
sleepwalks into Starbucks to be reborn
in its iconic cup of Gaian
corporate glee, which may be good news,
just maybe ... since I saw
a Thunderbird in my dreams,
then his shirt logo of the same
damn military echelon of wings,
eagle spread winking,
he, a soldier sure, retired, moneyed,
yes, a super serene Baby Bomber ...
A crier of you know what? ...
Can’t you hear their birdseye cries,
they are, bling-winged batbirds who cry,
repacking themselves, after landing,
in their imperial cruiser esuvees:
I saw a documentary
on their disappearing, once,
on mah MTVeeee! I guess I need
them more than they need me.
Then one more comes in,
a walking zombie cell phone call
after parking a black hawk
Land Rover, gee ...
she has camo flag pants in tune
to those photos on the big electronic
BBS .. SBB...Bss...BS...Bs...BS...
of Iranian missile launches
all doctored up to be seen
by this property, this land
for you and me ...
(Hey man what’s the plan
what was that you sai-i-i-d
sun tan, sun man, drinking head,
lying there in bed?
You who tried to socialize
but couldn’t seem to find
what just what, Jethro,
you were looking fer,
on your mind)
But a big heron circles
over Starbucks, wide white
sailing, neither failing
with black-tipped wings
... and just as strangely
I almost missed, the ponytailed
programmer in a Prius
as a potential friend
to send this give up, this smoke,
this one-per-hour cigarette of hope
to a guy wearing a turqoise bracelet: Hey! Hey!
I just got a medal in my dream:
A Thunderbird re-e-e-e-ward,
and another laugh, a smile,
from a strong blueish blonde blondee
bird driving a white trash Ford.
A full 61 days after the Floridian dimpled chads were rendered null and void after the year 2000 presidential election in the United States of America, the bad ju ju arrived in Telluride, Colorado, the inevitable do-drop-in of the foul and gassy assassin perched, with a long, long rifle, on the Grassy Knoll of our times. As well as this: Sun spots. Solar storms. War. Winds. Muses, everywhere, muses galore, spinning wild tales as the electromagnetic energy, the very undulation of the earthen core, spun like an out-of-control compass. The first icy thaw of the Dot-Com Bust. Lightning? A load. The Skull & Crossbones War entering the planning stages. Global polarities red-shifting outward, great heaving seas getting colder, deeper; the air, warmer. The warlords, sharpening their knives, sharpening their stones. The Dead rising from their graves. The good spirits returning as the Ghost Dancers had promised. Dogs and cats, living together. Dubya taking his desk as the newly anointed Napoleonic National Executioner. And this: The Savage Pilgrim was fired from his job at the local bakery. This after joking with the owner that he should be sued for selling the locals bad milk. The Pilgrim exercised his free speech, and then paid for what a donut hole really costs. In other words, he was out in the cold in a resort town, in winter, at 8,700 feet above sea level.
Next, he wandered up the street on Colorado Avenue on a sun-drenched spring-like day -- despite it being February at 9,000 feet in the Rockies -- and commiserated with the rest of the high-life wannabe denizens of town, all of who were happy for him and sunning themselves on the smoker's bench in front of the Screaming Bean Cyber Cafe. Still, it hurts. This much we know about the Pilgrim. He's both sensitive and dysfunctional, a canary in the coleslaw mine. That the bad thing can come this far up the hill, isolated as they are in the southern Rockies, only goes to show how deeply entrenched the Machine Mind is on the American landscape.
But, recovery of what's lost is not only possible, it's inevitable. And under the right conditions, the transformation can take place in a blink of an eye.
"I'm getting over it already," the Savage Pilgrim says in movie star sunglasses, wide-open shirt collar and his patented leather pants, shiny as black licorice in the bright sun. "But it's a personal thing. It's the kids. The betrayal. I can understand ... but I cannot ... He gave me a check that said 'zero.' It was just being totally mean."
He hunched down in his seat, back in the glaze of the rejected. Looking at him in a slump of leather pants and mushed hair, it was easy to see how a Pharaoh might react. The Pilgrim, a creative genius with film scripts spinning their way up the food chain in Manhattan, is rendered null and void by the mere failure to fit in as a grunt laborer. He was fired by a man who, by all reports and my own understanding of the story. He was fired by a man who, despite being a devotee of mountain music Americana and a solid citizen in Telluride as entrepreneur and wise political player, is also a cutthroat mine boss of the 33rd degree, the very worst kind of low-paying capitalist exploitation creep. Another former Baked employee, a waster of time and scammer on the streets, now lives in the woods this winter. After being fired for giving free pastries from a throwaway bin to other street people, or "woodsies," one of the many who live in a network of yurts and small cabins nestled in the higher elevations.
A whole sub-culture of people inhabits these places, a Walden Pond ethos. Of course, the Savage Pilgrim is a city slicker, which means he prefers to "couch surf," yet another way to live free or die in Telluride. Sure, it's springy and warm and a guilty pleasure since everything points to still more global catastrophe, but it's colder than hell at night at 10,000 feet in southwestern Colorado.
"Fired from Baked," the Savage Pilgrim groans. "This is what happens when you go to work with leather pants."
OK, OK, it has been well established: They burn their witches everywhere. This is the way of the world, and others have already established that free speech in America is a crock. What's more deeply concerning is the fact that, even in utopia, the very worst are full of passionate efficiency.
Mere donut holes loosed upon the world.
Dec. 13, 2000 will be remembered in history as the day our institutions conspired to fail us. If you haven't already forgotten and moved on to the consoling video stream of the virtual presidency, where President Martin Sheen says all the things we always wished our presidents would say, that drab Wednesday in American history was a very real, certainly material, corrosively visceral version of what we like to call convergence. Or, far better, convergent metamedia, now pouring through the anticipated cataclysm of the future like a bad-- but well publicized, rendered in 3D -- dream.
The whole constipated poop shoot of the dog-eared promise of the New World jammed into the screw-tight orifice of the next century and instilled an overwhelming dreadgeist of collective disappointment. Every human soul within earshot of any report or anguished groan over what the U.S. Supreme Court had failed to do: that is, be Supreme, and all voters, counted and uncounted, felt that gong of doom from the very bowels of hell.
"It Can't Happen Here," apparently, can. That much was obvious. Spreading like a contagion of fire across the networked landscape of the globe via talk shows, television news updates and e-mail flame war preventing even the most modest real estate developer's home page to upload in a slow a sludge ball of bad bandwidth as grief overdosed every pedestrian on Main Street, the deep truth we'd always expected, but never fully understood, pierced the broken heart and fogged the mind's eye of anyone able to read, think, love, hate and - especially -- vote.
If that had been it, from my view, I could of happily moved on, much in the same way that we push forward after the end of the Super Bowl by thinking about baseball or planning a snowboarding trip. But that ceremonial autopsy to the post-democratic ideal, with the suspected murderer, the corporate nation-state, winking like an O.J. Simpson after the verdict, wasn't all there was to it. No, if the end game of the 2000 presidential campaign ended the political playoffs with the bad call by the referees who refused to review the play, every conceivable valued institution of American life -- that is, my life -- joined in a chorus of screaming cats crushed beneath a steam roller called human fallibility.
It all made one think of that line by W.B. Yeats in "The Second Coming" about "mere anarchy loosed upon the world."
The tired fable, taught since grade school along with the story about Santa Claus, that stuff about the basic virtues of home, marriage, commitment, moving on up the ladder toward the protestant work ethic, then to the second floor of American myth of the techno-savvy capitalist as the benevolent shopping site to the world, then the top tier -- that we live in a free country, where speech is free, guaranteed by the First Amendment by the U.S. Constitution -- well, they all crashed like a house of cards.
To my unreliable, shell-shocked psyche, it was a sound much louder than the historic miracle of a mere decade ago, the fall of the Berlin Wall. You remember: When a little meme called "Glasnost," the post-Soviet call for "openness," a tiny word that nonetheless dissolved the antiquated authoritarian regime of a really terrible century in the acid bath of truth, first broadcast, on a daily basis, by Radio Free Europe.
As a result, I did the only thing he had the immediate means to do: I revolted. A private revolution, small yes, but potentially significant. What did I do? Well, it was a three-point strategy intended to disgrace every material bond to the earth within my immediate domain:
First, I refused to ever work in a corporate cube farm again (hah!). I vowed to vacate my cube at Access Internet Magazine, in Needham, Massachusetts, just a bus ride from Walden Pond, where Henry David Thoreau managed to tune out for an entire year, and the site of the "First Shot Heard Round the World," where a small band of well-networked colonials banded to slay the dragon, another guy named George.
Next, I resolved to disown my car, vying instead to work from home in order to write the God's honest truth, as far as my limited faculties could tell, for the remainder of my life (hah!, again). Or, the immediate future, whichever came first.
Finally, as my birthday loomed, Dec. 28, 2000, I refused to renew my driver's license. A small necessity to be declared officially expired, ironically, by the state of New Hampshire, which has the famous motto to mock this entire charade, "Live Free or Die."
By shedding this holy trinity of personal necessities in the hopes of reducing the impossible suffering of well maybe not mankind, but especially my own Job-like trek through Mythville, as well as to slow down the destruction of the biosphere, if just a little, I decided to become a living experiment in what we will now call the "science of descent." By destroying the very box-like weave of systematized ties to the world, this ongoing performance was cast as likely to end quickly or badly or both (true, so true). If there is ever a time to break free, it would certainly be when the System seems to be rendered ever so apparently obsolete.
"Impossible, you say? " I said, wild eyed, mocking my detractors. "I am going no code. Off the grid." Maybe. But for at least a short time, before the digitized deputy dawgs of Urizen hunted me down like one of the over aged guys in "Logan's Run," it has been at all points so far an instructive mapping of the basic problem of the inter-dependent ties to the autocratic demands of America the Database and the centralized city-zone of urban sprawl and decay.
I took a look at his pile of ashes on my desk in the Nugget Building, home of the old theater in Telluride where the soundtracks for the films thunder through the floorboards in the evening (usually a hellish noise, since that's where the popular arts are these days) and thought: "Well then, at least I'm a little farther down the road from my own failed dream of becoming a dysfunctional half-baked employee, a grunt laborer. That is to say, I'd only discovered a few hours before that I was unfit to sell carpets to the public. Overqualified, basically. So I went back up to my office to write some more ..."
And what do I think about (write), having failed to make an honest day's living: "A mere three months ago I was drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes in some grand old Boston hotel, doing research on Dr. Joseph Warren, the Grandmaster of New England, who, as head of the Boston Committee of Safety, sent three horsemen to warn the outlying villages that the Redcoats were coming.
"Well, they are back.
"And what do you know: I find out at the office an hour or so later that I'm too much of a loose cannon to be trusted with the 'vision' anymore. That is to say, my vision was too, um, visionary. It would possibly overwhelm a carefully constructed less-costs-less multi-media paradigm of this, the age of diminished e-expectations.
"There I was, only a few hours away from that point of no return, and I was transcribing the following words about the Jacobin Church in Paris, circa 1790 or so: 'But the chief priest and the speakers of this place, as we said, is Robispierre, the long-winded incorruptible man. What spirit of patriotism dwelt in men of those times, this one fact, it seems to us, will evince: That fifteen hundred human creatures, not bound to it, get quiet under the oratory of Robispierre; nay listened nightly, hour after hour, applausive; and gaped as for the word of life.' "
The effervescent writer, an editor named Tallien, as recorded in "Carlyle's Works of the Revolution, Volume IV, 1884," a scribble found on a great old bookshelf of all kinds of ancient texts at the hotel, described Robispierre as "The Trismegistus and Dalai-Lama of Patriot Men."
A few hours from that momentous post-mortem on democracy, on Dec. 13, 2000, when the U.S. Supreme Court made George W. Bush president by default, I was molesting a 116-year-old book about a still earlier time when a civic leader -- indeed, a revolutionary and visionary -- could be compared to a mythical metaphysical Prometheus and another cat who comes around every century or so like some reincarnated sparrow who arrives, like clockwork, at cosmic San Juan Capistrano.
But a full 61 days after the dimpled chads are rendered void by the Void, more interruptions were on the way.
I remember the sunlight fading as the train headed west through the Berkshires, a cigarette along the plank in Springfield, Mass., supposed birthplace of basketball, most certainly of all the attendant regrets of leaving home after two years of dot-com life, as well as a family, in Boston. Across the white-carpeted forests of the East we moved, with the train sounding off a warning and celebration in each small burgh along the line. With each hour, the light seemed friendlier, less closed in as we left the horizon-less maze of New England. That first night we stopped for a couple of hours in Albany, New York. A line was broken on one of the cars. There was a lot of commotion and confusion about hook-ups and connectivity. The conductors told stories and smoked.
I walked the length of the interior to the dining car, which was pitch black but still serving by candlelight. I thought of the last and only voyage of the Titanic. An elderly woman and a little girl sat down to dinner. It was a bit uncomfortable, at first, but I eased into it, telling the story of how the dragon slain by St. Patrick was really a dinosaur, the last of it's kind.
"In hindsight," I said, playing on the part of the worldly storyteller, "the pre-historic lizard, which had only come out for one brief gasp of air after living for so, so long, deep beneath the earth. Perhaps he would have been more appreciated as a relic from some ancient time, a novelty to draw the crowds. But preservation efforts were unheard of then. And so, the only remaining information about the dragon is this: He tasted a lot like chicken."
Even though I was always one to attempt to blow a small child's mind, I hesitated at the telling of the story of Joseph of Arimethea, who he had been reading about on that headlight into the night toward Chicago, about how he had lost the Holy Grail during sea travel on the way to Albion, as in England. Another book, "Rex Deus," a capably written historical tome, revealed the mysteries of the ancient Rosencruz, or at least that's my take on it. The revelations of the book, that Jesus had sired two children, and may have survived his apparent execution, and that the ruling monarchies of France, England and Scotland were connected to the bloodline of Jesus and King David and so on ... the kind of ancient mystery that makes a Steven Spielberg film laughably imprecise, in terms of the larger universe around us.
Then we were off again. The train's horn is a safety and comfort for all traders in the deal. That such peace could lead anyone to disaster, at that point, especially after a couple of bourbons on the rocks in the observation deck, was well beyond all of the hocus pocus I could imagine.
Until Toledo. A town for which hocus pocus has little practical use. It was 7:57 a.m. on Jan. 23, 2001, dawn at the Amtrak Station in Toledo, Ohio. Drug interdiction hour. Five Federal Agents, although they didn't show much ID to anyone, since the passengers were asleep, rousting the train awake. They hit mostly the Latin-looking men, many of whom could not speak English. They were asked about drugs, about where they were going. Asked if they had tickets. A conductor's job.
The Latinos only gave scared no-comprende nods. Racial profiling was the technique here, even if the agents also rousted the white punk with the blue hair, it was still an alternative tribe to whatever passes for the social norm in the center of god-forsaken Ohio, the ice floes of the river completely encasing the town in a grimy industrial cesspool of gray, bleak permanence.
But I thought I knew my Fourth Amendment rights, presumed it worked that same way for others, and figured the guys sleeping on the train might have access too.
"Improbable cause," I said out loud, in the direction of the melee. "You can't do that. It's a violation of the Fourth Amendment."
They all looked up at me. The evil eyes, the scanners. "You a lawyer or something?" said one. "Watching too much TV," said the other. "Yes," I smarted back. "I went to Harvard." A lie. I attended an internet seminar there once. "You can't do this." He repeated. "You don't have probable cause."
One of the interdicks, wearing a nice suede leather jacket, like the kind a rancher might wear, who said I had been watching too much TV -- when I had in fact been reading too much Alexis de Tocqueville -- started asking questions. Such as: "How would you like to get off the train and stay in Toledo?" I looked out the window. Morning was frozen and the river was one great ice floe covering the state. "No, I won't be staying here," I said. "But you will," muttering under his breath as he flew out of the car.
Out in the Toledo morning air before my so-called "disruptors of descent" really started to show, hurrying out of the train to smoke, thinking about the Pretenders, "Hey, O, way to go Oh-i-I-I-o." And I thought the land of Thomas Paine was bad. Mordor was 1,000 miles away by now. That's what I was trying to get away from.
Back on the train, a West Indian woman started asking me questions, said she wanted to file a report about the raid. It became on ongoing matter of conversation during the day. She was some kind of academic freedom fighter from Berkeley, an attractive Indian or Asian woman with long dark hair, and what had happened had fit a paper she had been writing. The feds had found nothing, and the same group of what turned out to be Mexicans under the supervision of an interpreter, were by this time anxiously waiting for whatever might be in store for them in Chicago.
The remainder of the morning ride consisted of reading the headlines in the smoking car, on the observation deck or in the kitchen. "Bush ends overseas abortion funding," reads the headline for Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2001. "President revives plan on family-planning abroad." Just as I noted this, a guy in the observation car tells his friend, "That dang Bush, he's going to let them drill new oil wells in Alaska."
Another headline: "Four escapees caught, one dead."
Or, from long before, "Four dead in O-h-I-O!"
There was that bulgy woman's face, my ex mother-in-law, screaming at me, "Heathen! Heathen! Why don't you read something good for you, like the Bible? Not those stupidheads you call heroes. They are all screwed up, all of them." Her face is a big and red, blood-dimmed authoritarian swimming pool from God's forsaken lake a fire.
A flood of my life's decisions, mainly the bad ones, ping-ponged through the head. If I'd only done this, resisted my borlerine-strssed-out ego on that, had gotten real on the other. And now this, this fat face in a blond mop of over-the-hill hair, screaming at me about reading Salman Rushdie. Instead of the Bible. Well, let's see, I'd be in an entirely different place, for sure, if I'd been reading the Bible. In fact, from year to year, I'd use it like the I-Ching, let pages open themselves, in hopes they might speak to me. Maybe I'd be married still, in Phoenix, living in the suburbs, like a squirrel counting my nuts for the winter, and still listening to this blather from this charismatic miscreant in my own home, no less.
However, in less time than it took for the U.S. Marines to find Noriega in Panama, I grabbed his soon-to-be-first-ex-mother in law by the arm and ushered her out my front living room door. Once the lock was secured, as she tried to force her way back in, I went back to reading Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses." Or tried to as my hands shook from the adrenalin rush.
Really, it's a hilarious book.
... And if I reacted incorrectly, in this case, to the cruel joke that is that soon-to-be-former life as long as 10 years ago, well then, to leap from a burning train to roll on the hard, hard surface of this terrible terrain is no better or worse. Much closer to the pool of the living, and much saner. What was that Barry Goldwater saying, "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." The only freedom and liberty we ever really get in this world -- and that's the way it's always been -- is what we can hack for ourselves. Usually, if not always, at considerable cost.
For example, just the other night -- fast-backward (forward?) dear readers back to Telluride, Colorado -- I met an incredible woman, many times more intellectually gifted than most of us could ever hope to be, who was incredible in the sense that she had managed to find a way out of the trap of her life's circumstances. Incredibly damaged, she was, the victim of a life-long pattern of sexual abuse since the age of 12 or 13.
"You know," she finally said, hmmm, maybe an hour after we'd wept when she listed all of the men who had sexually abused her: Her grandfather, her father, a priest, a high-school teacher, "I wouldn't walk down a back alley or a bad street at night, because they always teach you to be home and safe. But these were all people I was supposed to trust."
From the age of 13 on, each trusted male abused that very trust. A hell of eternal return she lived with each new family situation, which is the way we usually end up, whatever the reason, within our life cycles. The male of the species had a way of picking her out of a crowd, and then, let the perversity begin...
A lifting energy pulls through him like a tide. It's a weird sensation of apparent chaos revealing itself as truth. One must be very quiet, perfectly still almost, to begin to feel it, then see it. Freedom is there, beyond the desolation, in the blue smoke that rises from the ashes. If this is paradise lost, then maybe the real paradise is found in the land of remembering.
Now I'm back in the desert, with my notes meant for poems written in a green, nine-and-a-half by six-inch notebook. Perhaps if I'd left my thoughts unrecorded in that spring season, I would have never realized the unspeakable loneliness in my marriage. My future X knew it, which is why she eventually burned the notebook in the backyard barbecue. She was, like her charismatic Christian mother, the living microcosm of an authoritarian regime. A real reactionary. A rage-a-holic, most certainly, in disagreement with those words, my so-called "truth."
In my college days at the University of Arizona, I believed I was a poet, but a poet was no longer dangerous to any society. Once, the highest compliment that could be paid to a writer was to be burned at the stake or censored or sent to the Gulag. My ideas would run against the prevailing current, and the government would have no choice but to try to silence me, thus martyring him for future readers, and thus, the world would be moved further along (hah, hardly needed me to do that). Yet, it was hard to see how it could be thus in a technological, democratic, pop-culture driven society. I couldn't make the connection. How could I know that the dissatisfaction as revealed in that notebook would, in fact, ignite a revolution in his small Web of life, and then set me free onto the road to Mythville?
What did I have to be dissatisfied about? A wife, three kids, a crazy dog, a professional career in journalism that basically kept us more than just afloat. Barely, yes, but floating all the same. The Baby Boom was over, after all. The prosperity my mother and father had enjoyed and striven for held little promise as we walked a slow march into a new century. On that spring day, it finally broke loose. I looked at the words in my notebook and wondered why they were so dark: the tone seemed to be that of a prisoner who lived in a state of constant contradiction against my circumstances; a secret self, working beneath the autocratic empire of the bedroom.
I remember being afraid to go home: a place for mental and physical abuse. The long straight city streets leading through the scatterbrained signage of Phoenix hinted at an ugliness of the suburban southwest. Fast food joints, convenience stores, strip malls and every now and then rows of track-homes cross the eyes. At each stoplight, there was back pain, the endless shifting of the truck's gears, and the anxious pressure of being surrounded by the city, of what kind of moods awaited me at home.
I pulled into the driveway and sighed. There were a few boards piled on the front lawn that my son had fashioned into a jumping ramp for skateboards, and a few new dents in the garage door from the past weekend's tossing the baseball around. I opened the door and there was my son, twittering on the nobs of a video game while he lay on the couch. He barely moved and there was a small beeping sound from his hand-held machine. Not expecting a reaction upon arrival, I moved toward the entertainment center console, checking for any mail. There were a few bills, an ominous looking certified letter from the IRS, assorted junk mail, and a couple of packages, no doubt new compact disks to be to reviewed for the rock magazine. I opened the first package immediately, pulling out something post-punk, or, maybe retro. Immediately aware of its unsuitable nature for my censorious wife's scanning eyes, I threw it in the cabinet, putting it beneath a slew of other CDs that would get my attention later that night. I opened the other package, a jazz disc, which would be hard to say anything about since it wouldn't contain any offensive lyrics to hail as the new bad boys of rock.
I threw it on top of the pile in the cabinet as well and gave pause to Iggy Pop.
A decision was brewing inside, moving from the back of the mind to the front. All of those things I'd ever wished for had never actually been considered. I sleepwalked into adult years, reacting to the merely formal expectations of finding a girl, making a marriage, the constant question of whether to have children. One would not call it an expectation, it seemed to happen naturally, as if I were an actor in a play in which the lines had been written from a dependable author who had the essence of life down to a biological science. Survival is everything, ya know, perpetuating the DNA, for what reason we cannot specify.
So that day in my mid 30s, the course I'd led found set me drifting. I sat on the couch, twittered on some poetry, then reaching for the headphones for loud music: a rock critic living in a charismatic Christian's home. The music is by the seminal L.A. punk band, X, the sound of late century central city sprawl in flames. My eyes are closed as I lay on the couch, hoping to find a few moments of disengagement from my own X, to marvel at the dichotomy of the male and female voices from both heaven and hell. Then, I am stunned back to the suburbs by my future X, who is poking me. Her expression has that stormy, bleary eye contact of someone who is ready for a fight. She began one of her usual discourses on my behavior, what she often refers to as Short Attention Span Theater.
"You seem so frantic," she says, her hands on her hips, looking down. "At one time you show up, start reading a book, and then I look up again, and you are on your way out the door, sneaking a joint. Now look at your lazy ass. I've got things to do around the house, you know. I need help."
She has her dishwater blond hair up in a Bam Bam bush on top of her head, wearing a jeans skirt and tennis shoes, very much in her work detachment mode. Soon she would be strutting around the house, slamming cabinet doors and making everyone sure it was busy time in that passive aggressive way. You know: the kind of gal who saw no problem with running the vacuum cleaner into the wee hours of the night.
"You're shifty. You are stuck in sand, sinking in sand, or maybe just trying to avoid sinking in sand," she says. "Look at this place," she thumbs one of the books he's left half opened on couch. "How many books can one person read at once, anyway?
"Sometimes you seem so quiet, and then you are talking so fast it's like you are some drug. Why can't you relax, why can't you stop worrying about where you will be next. You just want to hang out in bars and smoke. I mean, why go all of the way to a public place to spend your time alone, if that's what you are really doing?"
That look in her eye? The bulldog that couldn't let go of those ever-tightening categories of perpetual blame. Angrier words were exchanged, neither side listening, and somehow I managed to leave, though at some cost, her haven taken the notebook and holding it up, scouring, her face with a challenging smile, as if to indicate, "Ah ha, I've got it," as she took it and left the room.
Within a week I'd left her. The notebook had been read then fricasseed, and then an attempt had been made to restore the charred notebook for legal purposes. Then she tried to ram me with her car, chasing me for nearly five miles until I led her right into the police station parking lot. Then, having taken to the streets of Phoenix in the need of disguising my locations, I bounced around like a wannabe TV show fugitive, trying to arrange lawyers, new living digs, dealing with a capably diabolical X, and, the possibility that my soon-to-be ex-wife might try to find him and kill me (yeah, that's where the post-traumatic stress disorder began). The paranoia was running unchecked. At work they called me "McGyver" because I was always looking for alternative exits to the surroundings. There were the urgings of my mother in law, who spoke in tongues and filibustered me future X into devious modes of attack. It was a multi-media event: flyers left on car windows, lies sent out through still-novice Christian advocacy sites, phone abuse. There were ugly late-night phone calls and cruel, teasing seductions. Before long, there would be the assault at my office, she busting in,screaming, throwing things around, the crossing restraining orders, the use of the children as hostages in the marriage, but more than anything else, my descent into the maze of adulterated windows and doors in an exploration of my private novelty gene.
Nonetheless, as I moved West on this fabled railroad line that would eventually take me to the Rockies, the California Zephyr, all of the way to Grand Junction, Colorado, at the base of Grand Mesa, where the Colorado River winds its own sacred trail southwesterly. My destination, a personal Mythville: Telluride, Colorado. Which would require a bus jaunt to Montrose, with a driver who turned out to be a real asshole (but who wouldn't be, taking these routes over and over through such climes), as well as a helpful hitch with a local Jack Jehovah Ute, Leroy Morales, in a big green pickup truck up the San Miguel River Canyon to this mountain resort town, isolated as it is in rocky highlands of the San Juans of southwestern Colorado.
A latter-day Zephyr rider from Telluride didn't fare so well. His experience a month later in the coach car, which ended up on its side, after sliding down a 20-foot embankment, was more harrowing.
"I was just lying down to sleep when I heard a rumbling and a screeching sound -- the brakes maybe," said Noah McKittrick, who had also been bound for Grand Junction. "The lights flickered off and the car tumbled over. We were thrown about. It was incredibly disorienting. When we stopped, I was lying on the windows, which was now the floor of the car. People were crying and their kids were screaming for their parents. It was over in five seconds."
The Zephyr was traveling at 53 miles per hour, which is a lot slower than its usual 80 miles per hour, but anyone who has taken an Amtrak line from Boston to New York, or on the Eastern Seaboard at all, knows fully well the fallen nature of its infrastructure. Before the crash, McKittrick said his dinner companions, experienced train travelers, were commenting on how bad the tracks in Iowa were. "For two hours before the crash, the train was shaking like turbulence on a plane."
You get these kinds of impressions when you are traveling across the states: bad bridges in New England, coarse roads in Missouri, federal highways even, tolls and tolls in Pennsylvania, whole highway networks mangled in a maze of cars, entropy and chaos theory. It sorta makes sense, the accident of it all ...
Spencer was a crazy family dog, most definitely also the beholder of the novelty gene. But he got that from Daisy, a purebred beagle.
On the day the I first landed in the suburbs of Phoenix, when I was just a boy, maybe 15, the heat was 120 degrees and the back yard, a one-acre field of white hot dust. The next day, hail stones the size of Hope diamonds pelted puffs of dust onto the phosphorescent ground as Daisy, Spencer's mother, despite the hellfire from the sky, chased around the yard, pouncing on each poof, steam rising on the sand. Next, a freak tornado tore through the neighborhood, and the only thing in its path, mainly, or house, was left intact.
Daisy was a runner, though. This was before she learned things about the neighborhood on midnight sneak outs. Before she'd gone through the rancheria of back yards, golf courses, a river park basin, the very edges of the desert, places Spencer would explore and go beyond. Well before he'd caused a fight with the family across the street. Well before the subdivision was made safe from the last horny toad lizard, well before my father ran over that same neighbor's pet snake, which had escaped, in the driveway: Long before the paradisiacal and counter-intuitive creation dream of Phoenix, city of the great Sonoran Desert.
As a mongrel beagle of Daisy, Spencer couldn't be trained, thus keeping him the place of the long line of pets that drove my father to distraction.
"Here boy, good boy, here Spencer," he'd say. "Sit, roll, dammit, do something!"
I'd sit and watch this comedy, a young teen in the suburbs, up in a willow. I was always up in trees. Despite the call, all Spencer could do was run up and down the fence, occasionally poking his nose through holes in the ground beneath. Spencer was a barker, too, howling at all hours, never seeming to run out of energy. Spencer had the novelty gene. Or perhaps he'd just learned it from my family.
Spencer was a real bastard.
This is in Colorado, where I am now headed. The Great Plains all too well included in the disasters going on from Coast to Coast, but I thought about adding a few more words, another deck, "and one more at large heading home."
"The California Zephyr begins in Chicago and makes its way toward Denver," I continue, remembering the last two days of the train trek across the nation. "By nightfall I meet one of two or three of the strangest characters, including the Zen-master man, a drunk cowboy artist named Charlie, who discussed Reiki therapy, meditation and Swedenborgian metaphysics. He disappeared somewhere in the night, in Iowa, I believe. He said: Have you seen the sun behind the sun, the trees behind the trees? Then, the next morning, in Denver, I noticed two men, one with a Masonic emblem on his coat, the other leading a doddering elderly gentleman on the train. Curious about the Freemasons after a lot of study and amazement about it in Boston, I asked who the elderly man was. The large man in the coat said he was the Grandmaster of the Freemasons for the entire United States of America.
"So once we headed up a winding trail into Rockies, I handed him my copy of 'Rex Deus.'
"Did Jesus survive?" I ask him. "Oh, that's what some say," he said, reading the book for a couple of hours with great interest. Not ever saying much. But there seemed to be something on this mystery train that was more than he could perceive, his work on this world pretty much accomplished. At one other point toward the end of the line, the train stopped for some time, in order to avoid an accident. In the canyons near Gunnison, the observation deck announcer pointed passenger's eyes to a cave in the wall, high up on the cliff. Safe enough place for anything, from anyone, anywhere, be it the President of the United States, or, the DEA. Solar storms. All the rest.
"I suppose you could worry about rock slides. No place is really safe, I guess."
A full 61 days after the dimpled chads are rendered void by the Void, more interruptions are on the way.
Stephen the Scout, the local half-blood Native American and cinematographer without a camera, whose family comes from big-time money in Oklahoma, has entered the building. His timing, too, is amazing. He's a pony-tailed self-made shaman who is wired as always with the kind of energy and insight that, if I didn't know any better, might be described as superhuman. Whenever Stephen the Scout speaks, which is almost all of the time, the room shakes with the booming voice of a post-hippie pony-tailed preacher on the prairie.
Like the rest of us, without work. Plenty of time on our hands. I wished I had a nickel for everyone I met in Telluride who claimed be a shaman (though, over the years, the claim became less common ... spirituality, even phony, less common). I knew: Those who really were … kept it to themselves.
"We've got to start pimping Waldorf," he says, putting the little dog on his lap and trying on my new beret for size. "Do you know how much puppies of Yorkshire terriers cost? Five hundred bucks, that's how much. I mean, even the dog is a Knights Templar Freemason dog, look at him."
The little tyke, brown and black with a pink tongue and more brains than most four-year-old kids, is a made-for-TV wunderkind. Waldorf is well beyond mere stupid pet tricks and is, in fact, more human than will ever get credit for, due no doubt to his good breeding and the fact his owner is a four-letter control freak. The dog is also the ultimate chick magnet in such watering stations as The Last Dollar Saloon. Now Stephen the Scout is addressing the dog directly in a "little people" whine that only dogs can understand.
"My mom said my whole life, you need to be an architect. If I'd only listened to my mom, but instead, we are dog trainers," he says in his doggie falsetto. "Your dad don't got no happy hour money, so you can't go to the bars and be with your buddies, beggin' for human food."
Oh yeah, the worm had turned. The witches, geeks and cyber sages were on the run, the lost scouts and the down-and-outs, sifting through the trash for food, sifting through the antique stores, the pawn shops, the big deep sleeper closets, the empty spaces, all for a sign of economic viability that they could recycle from the heady days of the so-called Internet Gold Rush. Meanwhile, the local realtors were chasing their down spiral of foiled deals, fat cats pulling out of their agreements, bailing on their rent, selling their ranches considered to be their priceless, cherished dreams only a week before.
In the final analysis, I had come to believe everyone touched by the dot-com bust privately discovered: We are all not as rich as we only too recently, … um … thought.
"But all the same," I say, in one of those annoying, unrealistic, pseudo-positivist mood swings, "we are all rich beyond our wildest dreams, if we can only see the trees behind the trees, the sun behind the sun.
"Because if Mythville is about anything, it's about finding the roots for the new trees now planted in the realm of the invalidated. And believe me, at the end of this foul rainbow, painted by carbon and alien atoms messing with the thyroid glands of everyone who will ever be, living or unborn … there is this deep, broad, humming sound beneath the surface of everything. The sun beams, pelting us, the solar storm causing vibrations … from the collision of atoms … in the very core of the earth. You would have to be numb on a lifetime of ludes, at this point, not to be shaken up by it.
"My problem is I'm not sure if it's the voice of the shaking comes from hell, heaven, or, both.
"If it's the sound of the Machine Mind, well, pay no heed, it's simply the demiurge uncoiling beneath our feet. If it's the sound of the Creator, yes, the thing outside the thing, like a train rolling down a hill, heading for us all, with one last chance offered for redemption, well then, maybe we should listen harder."
Yesterday came suddenly, sang Paul McCartney all those years ago.
I was 12 years old, no doubt watching "Wallace and Ladmo." Little beep, beep, beeps went up on the TV screen (if those weather system warnings on the bulletin bar on the bottom screen actually worked like that, back then).
Hard to remember ...
I had just moved from Texas to the Country Estates subdivision at 58th Place and Shea Boulevard six days before. On the seventh day, the rain came.
Well, not so much rain. At least, not at first. The details of that day still linger. The visual impact the storm of 1972 created is still in my expressions better than any DVD could possibly replicate. It was 32 years ago in 2004. Imagine. See it. Feel it. Almost smell it. The ozone in the days of Oz!
Back then a new plat in the Country Estates subdivision was like a cookie-cutter parcel of the moon. Sure, there was mesquite all over, but once the fences sliced-and-diced the place, all of the new back yards were, until the landscaper arrived, squared-off hotbeds of fine whitish, powdery dust. On that day or any other, the dust would get stirred up into swirls of volatile air, called "Dust Devils."
Arizona still gets "Dust Devils" now and then, but with the paradising effect that's gone on since these bad 'ol days, the name is being lost with all of the horny toads, rattlers and coyotes running for cover from civilization. Suddenly, it gets windy. Then, it's not. You'd hardly notice it. But on that day, June 22, 1972, the whole greater Paradise Valley area, basically the Indian Bend Wash basin, from Mummy Mountain to the McDowell Mountains, was a whirling set of such dervishes, a practical ballet performance, as weather patterns go.
Anyway, I tell this story to newcomers to Arizona a lot because it teaches something about the monsoons (which this wasn't) and the history of Scottsdale (a lost great body of knowledge that exists, if it exists at all, in the archives of the old Scottsdale Progress and the Scottsdale Historical Society).
The story doesn't actually begin with myself watching "Wallace and Ladmo," the old TV kids show, but with what I was doing when I came home as I was watching Wallace, and, of course, Ladmo.
He was mad about something, dad was. Not Ladmo and his Lincoln-esque top hat, where is Waldo shirt. He was upset, you see, because he just got back from talking to some insurance agent. The story begins when my dad said, right after coming through the door: "They wanted us to buy flood insurance. Those (bleeps!). Don't they know this is the desert?"
Country Estates is on the northern banks of the Indian Bend Wash. With the exception of a few golf courses, as it flowed to the Salt River, it was still a desert wash with mesquite and sage and rabbits and mice and prairie dogs. In the spring, lots and lots of butterflies. When it rained, even the slightest, downtown Scottsdale would be in need of Noah's Ark.
The next start of the story, after the beeping TV warning, after my dad's now famous last words, flows in this direction: Hail stones, the size of golf balls, plopping, puft, puft, puft, into super-heated, white hot dust. Then the wind came. Then came some more. Every dot of dust and debris not tied down flew by sideways by the windows, as if the Creator were converting the new suburban environment into something akin to a black day on Mars.
The roof began to wail. Fences picked up and were lifted off as wind sails in a scene from the black-and-white segment of "The Wizard of Oz."
Then, I look out the window, and saw a tower, a dirt vortex, well up into the sky, up and out of the frame, cascading off nearby Mummy Mountain.
Now, even before this, tornadoes have freaked me out. Sure, Dorothy's little house-spin into the air, up and back and down into Oz, always left a strong impression. But also this: Members of his grandfather's immediate family, including his mother and father, had been killed by a tornado in West Texas (and he had to raise his younger siblings by himself as a teen). So, fear of tornadoes is pretty much in the DNA.
So, what did I do? Run? Scream? Duck and cover? No. I decided to go outside and get a better view. Went through the front door. Looked up. It was a big, brown, swirling behemoth. Or, that's what the eyes, as dust bits pelted hid face and sandblasted my hair and my mother screamed "Get back in here!" - that's what my eyes still feel, see and remember.
There was no time to do the classic, heartland-style, get-into-the-cellar maneuver. No time to even get into the hallway, away from the windows. But by God's grace (as well as the seeming lack of it) the tornado hit the house across the street, destroyed a roof, killed their dog, hopped then over the entire Country Estates neighborhood, and then landed again, turning Shea Boulevard and points northward into a Vietnam era-, Robert McNamara-style playground pathway of near total destruction. Hundreds of homes had varying degrees of damage. Uncounted numbers were rendered, national-TV-news style, into images of flattened rubble.
Then, the winds passed. A half-mile away, looking toward Shea, a boulevard named after a Union General at Gettysburg, you could see nothing but the wrecked frames of bombed-out homes and flashing red emergency lights.
Then, it began to rain. In fact, it rained for a day. In fact, it rained four inches in four hours. The Indian Bend Wash became the Indian Bend River. It must have been a mile-wide muddy river, too. But our family never knew. We couldn't even step out of the door for three days as the wash, our street, now a river, flowed on by with every bit of debris and clutter it could pick up. A wash. Indeed! A major Maytag this so-called "Paradise Valley" will always be, say, every hundred years or so.
Now, we could go on and on about not having electricity or water for a week. Or, about how some official landed in a helicopter behind their house, looked around, and then left. How I believe it was the governor come to bless them with his utter and useless amazement. I could thank the Lord for sparing them but punishing the neighborhood with a kind of creative whimsy, and yes, a cosmic sense of timing and selectivity.
It was, after all, right after the first official day of the summer. You could talk about solstices and the equinox and all ...You could ask, why them, but not us? It would be futile, of course, unless you have lived it, to try to fully explain the impact of this storm on me, my family, and yes, this burgeoning city called Scottsdale. The number of times I have told this story to people.
The day he faced the tornado.
So Spencer and had the novelty gene, and on the day the tornado came, I saw it in the window. Dust was blowing all around, but he saw it there, bigger than the black and white version in the Wizard of Oz. He ran outside. He remembers pinpricks of dust hitting his face and his mother screaming at he to get into the house. He leaned into the wind. It ran hot and cold.
The tornado high in my view, he saw it tear a roof off a house down the street, and went back inside, satisfied that his scouting report through the window was correct. We barricaded in the hallway, or tried to, but there wasn't enough time. God knows what was running through my father's mind because his father's family had been killed by a tornado in West Texas. God knows what's in a dog's mind when the sky had been turned upside down. All that is known is after the winds died down, after the new saplings were pulled out of the ground, after it seemed liked the wind picked up their back yard and deposited it somewhere west of their neighborhood ... the change had begun.
There I was, meandering in an automobile's deep sea dive into the cesspool of Boston traffic, on his way to work in Needham, Massachusetts, wondering if I would make it before my kidney burst from drinking too much coffee, and deciding a little research on my book at this classic old hotel in Boston would be better than actually completing the 40-mile commute to my office cube.
Which I could barely look at anymore ... O, the stories I needed to tell ...
So where was I now, then, where ... O ... where? Oh yeah, that's right, near Walden Pond, closer to White Pond, in Concord, where havoc gets played on cell phones when military surveillance craft fly overhead, since this little getaway is directly in the flight path to Hanscom AFB.
But now I am at the train depot in West Concord and some kind of supply or fuel engine is speeding by, blowing through everything so fast along that commuter rail line that it blew the clove cigarette right out of my hands and sent leaves and trash following its wake down the track.
A portentous hue, indeed.
As I waited, I realized: no train fare. One dollar in my pocket, and the check for the recently sold 1990 Honda Civic wouldn't clear for another hour or more. So into the West Concord coffee shop at the depot I went, writing out a check for $44 for a 12-ticket pass, for the upcoming days to get my silly ass and belongings to Mythville.
The commuter rail arrived on time. On their way, I watched the increasingly bare trees go by as the sunlight lit his face brightly down to Boston through Lincoln, Brandeis, Waltham, Cambridge, Porter Square, all of the way to North Station, which is directly below the Fleet Center, which of late had been amply amplified with a stadium-sized wall mural of an American flag, in 2001 one of the most memorable icons of the Hub.
"Now I have a new problem," I state to imagined readers. "While the depot in West Concord would take a check for still more 12-ticket rides to get my silly ass to Mythville, the guy behind the glass at the ticket counter in North Station wouldn't take a check. So there I am, 12 minutes away from my next commuter rail out of town to Mythville, and I have no money. So I figure: I'm in the Fleet Center, right? I have a Fleet account, right? Should be easy enough to just go outside the door and get money at a Fleet machine since by this time the check for the car has cleared.
"O shit, that reminds me. I forgot a key ingredient for this tale: What I packed for the trip. That would be one backpack (black) full of books (heavy), one computer carrying case device that I stuffed fully loaded with my poetry and writings (heavier still since I'm rarely able to lighten up), one black suitcase with wheels, also full of books, which I actually happened to purchase at my as then of yet unrealized Mythville exactly a year ago. Or almost exactly a year ago. Sometimes the mind does get hazy, but not very often when I'm communicatin' in this Mythappropriatin' Nation.
"The first day after I sold my car, which I had purchased two months ago with my last unemployment check from the State of Massachusetts, I carried the license plates with me as I took the commuter rail from town to town. Let's see. That day I did Boston and Beverly and Somerville and Cambridge. Actually, Somerville and Cambridge twice. Total cost: $6.
"Today I opened my mail, sent to me from the civil servants for the town of Concord, Mass., site of the so-called `Shot heard Round the World.' Actually, I got two pieces of mail in Concord over the weekend. The first was a traffic complaint from the town of Hamilton. It said they were suspending my Arizona driver's license, which that state had given me with the agreement that it would last until 12/28/2024. Gets quite a rise out of the pretty girls at the banks when I'm trying to cash my freelance writing checks. The State of Arizona wants people to keep on driving for a long time. So they fail to build much in the way of public transportation, and then people get to drive for a long time. But that's not for me. I guess I didn't tow their line. Or, at least, I didn't in Massachusetts. I mean, I really was on the way to get my car approved, finally, with its inspection sticker. It was going to be the second time I went to the inspection place. Spent a total of $60 on fees, another $60 to get new tires, which they had said weren't safe enough for New England roads (which really are truly unsafe), and now they wanted another $50 because some police officer happened to notice that my sticker was of the wrong color. Plate-tial profiling, I think they call it ...
"Since I gave up my car as an act, OK, OK, an experiment in civil disobedience (and not because I'm a drunk, because I'm not), but also as a statement of global citizenship, I figured this letter in the mail (well, both of them), I figured the letter from the Hamilton District Court signified the beginning of a kind of understated (Hmmm, unstated) social contract. I wouldn't pay their $50 fee, even if I was in compliance (or on the way to buying tires, in order to comply), and they would agree to take care of me by making sure I stayed off the road with anything other than my own two feet. I opened the letter. Laughed. I thought: OK, it's a deal. We will mutually cancel our official ties. I won't need a driver's license, and they won't need to watch for me while I fail to drive.
"Am I missing something here?
"The other letter, from Concord's civil authorities, came in some kind of red paper duplicate format. They asked me to pay some kind of an excise tax, something, since I am relatively new to these parts, that I don't completely understand. Do I pay a tax for the right to breathe, drive, what?
"Since Concord is a hotbed of accomplished liberalism and humanitarian letters, and since Massachusetts is a liberal state, which means there are way too many rules, deeds, covenants, restrictions, laws, organizations of security and plain old control and so on, I took this note to be another kind of serendipitous receipt for a mysterious agreement that had already well been determined when I sold my car as an act of civil disobedience. So, I unsigned on the dotted line, figured that eventually there might be some money in unsigning on the dotted line, if I can just find (by walking) the local office that wages excise taxes to someone who not only had no vote or gave no permission, but doesn't even know what the hell they are charging me for.
"I can't tell: Am I two or three days ahead of, or, two or three days behind the hyenas barking at my heels? Is it time to cash in, or, cash out? I guess I'll just use my old Massachusetts license plates for snow shoes someday and go down to this place, which I have no idea where it is, and see what they say. Hopefully, it's downhill.
"In the meantime, I'll just walk the walk, and, talk the talk ..."
... This was all written at Sullivan Square, Boston, or thereabouts, heading very fast toward Reading, Mass., and further north ... Nov. 19, 2001.
BULL RUN FIRE
Five miles east
wind in my face
and the fire plume,
a violet volcano
Five miles east, but close enough
to see the white washed coat
of burned juniper to force
the Saturn in the nostrils
is fizzling out in a downpour
as monsoon downdrafts
blow ash around a many
We went home and made a list
of what we would need when the call
for evacuation came
Craving disaster to bring
the memories awake,
the dreaming down
Great thing-legged clouds
spiderwalk across the purple ridge,
purple with weather, as our precious
things shake in their cupboard,
as nostalgia elucidates
the decision making process
Lightning pounds th mesas
and the wind pushes down
in atomic bundles and white
orange flares of violence
A curtain on the sun
is a dirty window of light,
as we blow out
pressing the sky,
People can go walking on the Valley Floor now, that is, that 570 acres the Town of Telluride paid for in a condemnation action against Neal Blue, head of General Atomics, which while lighting and heating and glowing up the world is also a major manufacturer of drone bombers and spy planes.
But we will avoid that for just right now. If only because, as Telluride was fighting this battle, and as I was writing about the legal beagleisms all along, the official start of where this official descent into hell, which is where all great literature, should actually begin.
But instead of writing really, really great literature (hah!), I was so busy writing up a bunch of words congratulating everyone about having saved the world in this “VF” matter – as well as the additional news that, as you read this, scientists are on a train to meet in India with the Dalai Lama in order to halt the eternal suffering of mankind – I only had time to drive by the Valley Floor instead, on the way to work at the Telluride Watch.
Yes, some people choose hiking boots. Others go to worship upon the Valley Floor on bikes. Still others fly over “the Floor” in hot air balloons. My weapon of choice was then known in my small circle as the “Blue Bomber,” a rusted, ‘80s vintage Subaru that, quite honestly, no longer really had reverse available as an option, had three out of four doors that were pretty darn hard to open, and about 400,000 million billion miles on the odometer.
I loved to drive the “Blue Bomber” because gravity was its friend. Gliding downhill saves on gas. I hated to drive the “Blue Bomber,” too, because going uphill was well, embarrassing, or would be, if driving this dream machine weren’t my solution to reduce the impossible suffering of mankind, too.
For, you see, as the “Blue Bomber” made regular non-stop flights from Telluride through the friendly skies of the San Juans to my home in San Bernardo, which was originally called Matterhorn in the mining daze of 100 years before, this miracle machine was San Miguel County’s answer to maintaining the speed limit on Highway 145 for both the driver and every high-tech, gas-guzzling, fully loaded, tailgate pressing Imperial (as in the Empire is Real)” Cruiser lucky enough to fall in behind it as we, the great quick-dried community of hurried commuters, construction workers, tourists and so on, paraded our way into town.
I had been driving these jalopies for 10 years now, in order to reduce the impossible suffering of mankind, ever since I was the editor for car coverage at the Robb Report, where one of my jobs was to test-drive high-end automobiles. Don’t own or drive one of those things just right now, though. However, since I was living and working so close to Walden Pond, which was right around the corner from that magazine’s offices at the time in Acton, Mass., a conflict began to arise in my Henry David Thoreau-poisoned skull about losing my sense of social responsibility by pimping, in print, the glories of living large, being insanely wealthy, owning expensive wheels and other kinds of pornography for the rich.
So to keep my feet planted firmly on the ground, I bought a $200 Volkswagen Rabbit and drove it, or, left it in the parking lot at the Robb, when I had to suffer through the guilt of having to drive the latest Porsche, Jaguar, Mercedes or Caddy around, pretending I was rich, too. Honestly, that task was so exhausting it was not uncommon for me to drive the Rabbit at lunch over to Walden Pond (leaving the $90,000 custom Hummer or whatnot in the Robb’s parking lot) and take a short nap.
But now it’s 10 years after and we are going to Disneyland! Usually, as I cranked up the engine beneath the haughty gaze of Sheep Mountain in San Bernardo, we lifted off with three or four people on board. So we were doing our best, as far as the carbon footprint goes, but for four adults it was a hell of a thing to work out, in terms of fares, scheduling and so on.
My great great-grandfather must have worked the caboose for the Gallaping Goose, the old mountain train line moving around ore in the mining days, I think, as the flight fell out of the clouds of the Matterhorn camping area and we descended toward the Ophir Loop, knowing full well this wild curvy ride was really what Walt Disney had in mind for his bumpy roller coaster mountain ride, heh!
Now I’m the tour guide as we spin around the daily rock avalanches of Hwy. 145, Ames far down below, Alta far above, wheeee! ... Too bad Nikola Tesla didn’t consider wind before hydro first ... wheeee! ... Better let this first badass military column of “The Empire Is Real” SUV Cruisers pass! ... wow ... Look at those maniacs go ... geez ... that’s a hell of a drop ... Oh Lord, oh lordy low! ... Most of the cars I saw the high-mountain Peruvians driving in the Wade Davis film at Mountainfilm Film Festival for that week were 20 years newer than mine ... hmmm, Third World indeed, yes, yes ... the “Blue Bomber” will offer Telluride resident, e-Bay CEO and bigtime “Valley Floor” donater of a fund amounting to $50 million to buy the Valley Floor, Meg Whitman free rides whenever she needs ... Oprah, too, another heavy investor and Telluride mainlight, but only if it fits in with our schedule ... Yeah! ... Here comes Lawson Hill, we are landing now, down on the Valley Floor, leading a parade of still more Empire is Real Cruisers as we go easy on the brakes, letting gravity do its work, wheeeeee! Wheeee! Wheeeee! Wheee!
... And then, a big sigh, that “E” ticket item itself: The Valley Floor ... let us pray ... I mean, finally, the Conoco Station! at Society Turn on the Valley Floor, planted just near the headwaters of the San Miguel River canyon’s flow ... Yee-haw!
From high up above, coming down the highway into the San Miguel River Valley, the actual gateway to the Valley Floor, the conglomeration of civilization at Society Turn, could actually be confused with a large U.S. Calvary outpost with a big red corporate logo, a real rarity in San Miguel County (almost as rare as a traffic light), instead of a flag mast where the bugler might stand.
But there were no insurgents anywhere near Fort Conoco, just us consumers, who, if not for the price of gas, all seem to be immune to war. There’s nothing to explode around here but that pressurized bag of chips gas-pushed to us at 9,000 feet from the lowlands by that big ol’ Frito Lay truck belching out its own “Blue Bomb” of electro-petrol hoopla. Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray!
Then, after obtaining a small loan for gas and guzzling up on all the necessary monoculture sodium glutton-o-mate we can absorb, we, the forever “Born to Be Wild,” were ready for the Floor!
First part was a bit of a disappointment, yes, with that mine-tailing remediation site and, of course, the power lines, the channelized river and troubled wetlands. Gotta do something about that, someday. Old habits die hard. Then, the glories of the great field of dandelions, an invasive species, the mountains and the glittering waters of the San Miguel, with a fly fisherman out there, as we headed eastward, invading forward.
Nice thing about this first drive on the, at the time, almost freed Valley Floor (it was finally released to Telluride in full about one year later, but not after the condemnation case was won in the Colorado State Supreme Court), maybe just one court order away then (hah!), this great victory in preservation, was the fact we had so many other people dressed in orange now, along the way, to point out the highlights and, yes, directing us to slow down, as in chill, at 35 mph: Road construction on the Spur, which is road leading to Telluride from Hwy. 145 that’s most likely still deteriorating like another antique paen to the Galloping Goose years ...
Then, at 25 miles per hour, where the first glorious grove woods and road meets, we are forced to slow down even more, due to construction, yes, but with time to appreciate the scenery explode as the whole vista opened wide again with a big fat “Welcome to Yellowstone”-style hello! And there stems the seed of an idea: Maybe it should just all be kept this slow, even after the Large Butted Caterpillar, Beeping Dumper and Asphalt Scorching Beetle-box return safely to their winter breeding grounds. Then Telluride could extend the 15-mph ethic of town further out into the world, creating the drive into as just more well-intended take-a-breath time, eco-tourism wise.
That way, by the time you pass the other slight corporate oil logo, this time Shell, as travelers enter this National Park for human behavior, Telluride, Colorado, the Gunnison Prairie Dogs can be more easily watched and watched for.
This would, of course, have forced a bit of an alteration in the Blue Bomber’s daily flight plans. But we could’ve make up for it with a less intensive tour on the way home after work, after we’d picked up a big bag of chips for the ride back up the mountain: Does anybody remember the license plate number of that smog belching Frito Lay truck? No? It should’ve been reported.
Oh well, as they always say, the good vibe of the sermon only lasts as long as the car ride home from church.
But as rituals really go, the finale for that year’s Fourth of July fireworks display went awry, with all eyewitness versions of this buzz bombing of Town Park being unreliable since even those who were most responsible for the annual incendiary celebration were ducking for cover at the time.
One witness who saw it occur right after having one beer and two shots of tequila claims to have seen a white phosphorescent charge hit the Town Park playground and people running for their lives. An admittedly secondhand street report claimed a baby carriage was blown up. Another report, again carried around by secondhand street mail, featured someone racing to grab a child out of a baby carriage as they themselves ducked for cover.
The best evidence wasn’t carried by word on the street, but by photograph: A shot from down the street by former Telluride Mayor Amy Levek showed the entire park exploding from some kind of beautiful anti-personnel device sending shimmering fragments of spider-webby silver streaks across the grounds.
Like, wow! … Nobody shares a more intimate connection to both nature and explosives than those thousands who come to the base of Bear Creek Canyon in Telluride for the Fourth of July!
According to Telluride Fire District officials, the fireworks display’s very last shot, a 16-inch shell, failed to reach proper height before going off, but certainly delivered the advertised firepower. The additional good news was, of course, that nobody claimed any injuries, and the event itself was shut down without any further incident. The dust cloud of baby carriages simply left without rioting and the unnoticing throng of proud Americans was somehow sated, without demands for any more spectacular displays of controlled violence than what they’d already just experienced.
Another rumor on the street was the actual errant rocket purchased for the event was supposedly banned after 9/11, though one would have to wonder why: It seemed completely effective, in terms of sheer terror, or, sorry, sorry, Shock-and-Awe values.
A visit to Firecracker Hill a couple of days after it was lit up that July 4 evening like a smoky Fort Sumter still turned up some evidence of the rocket red glares, including a scattering of round, purplish cardboard caps and burned-out yellow, AA battery-sized cylinders, plucked right out of a young pine tree like bad fruit, around the compromised hill otherwise covered with small mounds of gravel pits built as launching points for the fireworks blasts. A close look around the trampled, fire-burnished mound revealed that over the years the treetops had all died or been diminished in some way, as if singed by frequent spaceship landings.
No other place in town was allowable for such abuse, and resulting small fires all around the base of Bear Creek were being put out well into the next day. By Thursday night it rained, washing away the any burn scars and, if it ever existed, that apocryphal burned-out baby carriage was secreted away by those in authority.
Forensics aside – sight lines on a bazooka pointed down to Town Park are clear enough to strafe the playground – the real critique here was not that it was lucky nobody got fried. Nor was it that, even in 2007, like the ancient Aztecs, we as a culture were willing to sacrifice the hilltop at the base of a national geologic and primordial treasure such as Bear Creek for our once-a-year ritual of flaming ecstasy (even when, if that canyon ever caught fire, it would be the rough equivalent to setting off a firecracker in ones’ navel).
Nor should we go into the physics of indirect or misguided flight. Nor wax on what gunpowder does, or the fact that the right to blow up such elemental stuff in metal tubes with triggers is guaranteed by nothing less than the U.S. Constitution.
No, what’s really FUBAR about this obviously faux military exercise is that occurs at, of all times, around or near anything like the annual periods of Mercury in Retrograde!
Everybody knows nothing works right during Mercury in Retrograde.
This is not rocket science. This country, born under a bad sign, now celebrates that bad timing with a series of loud, threatening and potentially fire-triggering explosions. All to great applause. No wonder we scare the bejesus out of the rest of the world.
As any decent astrologist will tell you, during such periods of Mercurial misanthropy everything goes bad, from our technological marvels to our planetwide maze of communications. One Web-based wizard put it this way: “At 23:41 UT (Universal Time), just before midnight on June 15, 2007, Mercury, the cosmic trickster, turns retrograde in Cancer, the sign of the Crab, sending communications, travel, appointments, mail and the www into a general snarl-up … This awkward period begins a few days before the actual turning point (as Mercury slows) and lasts for three weeks or so, until July 10, when the Winged Messenger reaches his direct station. At this time he halts and begins his return to direct motion through the zodiac …’’
Of course, planets are never retrograde or stationary; they just seem this way because of this “cosmic shadow-play,” as the astrologers put it. But regardless of what some might see as superstitious nonsense, the metaphor works. There’s the national symbol as mixed messages, the bad communications, the poor shooting, the messed-up rocketry – and there’s shadow-play.
Which brings us to faux generals George Bush II and Dick Cheney, two true-blue retro-graders who just that week in Telluride, were the targets of a local petition drive to have them impeached, at least locally, for launching “Shock and Awe” for all the wrong reasons, and at far too great an expense (a plea the Telluride Town Council later decided to vote to support, being the first Colorado state in town to endorse impeachment of Bush/Cheney, though it never took place).
Of course, this impeachment petition was a symbolic act, but our July 4 fireworks are symbolic as well. Since we are all particles in the same cosmic “Shock-and-Awe” footprint wrought by the White House, let us consider Telluride Fire Chief Jamey Schuler’s statement after the display: “The fireworks went off without a hitch,” he said, “except for that one shell,” which could be parsed like “democracy works in Iraq, except for that one civil war” or even “we are all born free, except for the slaves we own.” By now you should be looking at this and going, gee, not only is Telluride always putting a firecracker in the very belly button of its tourism economy – even worse, this town is annually transmitting cosmically challenged political messages at the wrong astrological time.
My thought was: “Let’s shake the whole thing up next year and declare no more commit pyrotechnical piracy, no more fireworks in our navel, until the current war is declared over. That would be a far clearer symbol than trying to impeach the ‘Shock and Awe’ twins, who barely have a constituency in San Miguel County.
Cancel the fireworks, and therefore the crowds it brings in? Yeah, you bet, I said: “To mitigate the financial impact, we could, say, move the Yankee Doodle Doo-Dah to its proper night, and suggest bringing in, say, Country Joe and the Fish for a special concert and laser-light show in its place.”
But, sadly, those realtors and other elitists who considered tourism the engine in San Miguel County’s regional democracy received this suggestion as happily as news of a drop in Halliburton stock.
But, if such towns really only have one last, big, fat, finale rack, post-9/11, crowd-strafing 16-incher to play with each year, but had misgivings about the war, then why shoot it off at all? Make it the Shot Not Heard Around the World Festival instead, and put the faulty rocket under glass at the museum. Tell everybody each election year, “Hell No, We Won’t Blow.” Let people just stay home fry in the bake and stink and denial of the cities on the Fourth of 2008 until they learn to vote better. Now that would be a shot not heard around riding around the world.