Monday, June 27, 2011

It Was Thick Water But Never Tasted So Good…

Twisting dust devils drift along the-- Wait that’s good, but not quite what I was looking for… Thorny brush encompassed the jagged rock face as we pushed our way through Skeleton Canyon, and-- Wait, did I just use encompassed? Well, it works, but, okay, this will grab you by the collar and drag you kicking and screaming into my story… “Save the last bullet for yourself… You don’t want to be captured by the Apache…” Sergeant Johnson cried out as he placed the muzzle of his gun to his head. Closing his eyes, he pulled back the hammer with his shaking hand… Now, I have your attention and should if my writing’s worth anything today…

Growing up, my brother David spent countless hours reading books to me, and in large part was the main reason I became a story teller (writer). He mostly read westerns, and stories of the Apache were always high on the list. He knew I was falling behind in school with my reading and although exhausted from working all day, after dinner, he would pick up a book, and the story would begin. The action, the loss, the love, the landscape, the betrayal, everything was laid out before me like a scenic roadmap playing in my mind in the most beautiful way…

So, when I was finally able to visit these faraway places in the west, it was nothing short of the time of my life… Unfortunately, the time of my life was coupled by the flu, and spending a few days in a place like Skeleton Canyon should not be on anyone’s flu-to-do list… The canyon straddles the Arizona / New Mexico border and was a passageway for Geronimo’s band of last fee Apaches fleeing the US Army… Fleeing deep into the Sierra Madre Mountains for safety… Skeleton was also the place where Geronimo would make his final surrender, before his band was shipped to Florida and Mississippi, never to return to their homeland…

Daytime temperatures in the canyon can easily climb into the hundreds and nighttimes plummet to a cold stillness of coyotes howling on the Dark Distant Desert Horizon… Yes, I think I’m one of the few writers left that try to make alliteration work, but it never really does… I think sometimes, I might just have childhood flashbacks of Spiro Agnew giving speeches on the telly, and sometimes I think not…
Upon our arrival, which was a slow car craw over the rocky terrain, we set up camp. My brother David, his wife Gita, Yes, Gita is her name… I think in some language, in some far way place like my mind it means, “pretty cool chick,” and last but not least, my hiking buddy Grizzly Madams, who moonlights as a Roller Derby Girl…

After we settled in, night quickly came upon us. I was really feeling bad by this point running a fever. Lying down and sleeping just wasn’t in the cards for me. So, I stepped out of the tent to a wonderful world of sleep deprivation and fevered chill bumped skin. Alone, I sat in the car looking into the star filled sky. The moon was full and had already began to slip from its crest high in the Arizona skyline. It seem to be so quiet and cold, and my mind was really starting to wander, drift through a lifetime of memories as I sat shaking in the car, wishing the sun would break the horizon. Memories without the luxury of curtains were flooding my weary mind. For there was just me and my thoughts, the audience of the world was out there far beyond the darkness… True thoughts, not Christmas cards at the office because it’s the month of December. You know, like the thoughts you have as you take the last pull from a cigarette on the first ten minutes of the workday. Or the thought of a kiss, you know, the one that seems like it would hold you forever. Finding love, loosing love, all while loosing your mind.

Suddenly, I was awake and looking for water while thinking, wow somehow I got some sleep... Picking up my canteen, I knew we were in trouble, it was light with the last bit of drink, and the sun was climbing along with my fever at that point. Stepping out of the car, I saw Gita busy making coffee and Grizzly checking supplies. Walking over, I told her we were out of water. Bad words for being out there, no, literally “out there…” Her face dropped from expression and she shook her head. All of us were experienced in surviving harsh environments, and knew what no water meant in a place like this… Grizzly said, “This isn’t good. You look like hell, Hodges. We need to get your skinny ass some water…” Then Gita stepped in with reassuring words along the lines of, “Hey, let’s see what your brother thinks…”

After talking it over with him, we all debated driving 2 hours to the nearest town, (30 minutes and forever of crawling over 39876857537698 rocks that could easily shred car tires) or looking for water in the high desert like terrain of Skeleton Canyon… My brother, who has hiked the lower mountains of Arizona for years was pretty sure he knew where water might be… So, we took a chance and went for a walk through the twist and turns of the canyon, with one eye always on the brush for Buzz Worms, (See also Rattlesnakes for a better understanding of my southern slang I find myself using from time to time)…

Finally, we found these giant boulders of granite, roughly the size of cars… On their surface were indentations like big cereal bowls, that were holding rain water from a few days earlier… It was thick water but never tasted so good… A sort time after that we found a watering hole in the ground that held enough to fill our canteens… Dipping my bandana in and bringing it to my neck cooled me in the kindest way. We sat tossing stones for a while, listening to them echo off a wall face. Looking over, I saw Gita snapping moments of time with her camera… At that moment I realize, life is living, and living “out there in the moment”, is the greatest part of all…

Friday, June 24, 2011

I've Gotta Go…

Watching the sun drop from the skyline is a fantastic sight on a twelve hour work day. But watching it rise the next morning on the way to work is not as thrilling. When you make a living pushing a shovel, you have a unique relationship with the sun as it slowly bakes overhead; the winter wind as it cuts through the many layers of clothing you’ve put on to stay warm; or the rain storms that bring streaks of lightning ripping the sky in two and thunder shaking the ground…

Mornings riding to work is the last real moment of rest and, for the most part, the most entertaining. The workers in the truck are hung-over from one thing or another; mostly from life as a Dirt Worker. Poor diets of convenient store breakfasts and long nights of drinking beer, blowing off steam from the work week is usually the culprit… For the most part, the Dirt Worker doesn’t have the luxury of sitting once a week with a psychiatrist telling all, while lying on a couch. They have beer, cigarettes, and each other.

Anyways, this way of life is not the best for the old bowels, and there are way too many job sites with not even a port-a-potty. If you're doing 10 hour days, every once in a while nature's going to come calling.
When you're first starting out in this profession, you do not know these things, but quickly you become acutely aware of the world you are working in. People have told me for years, “Jason, you are so creative.” My reply most times is, “I’m not really creative, I just grew up poor.” Lack of material items will make you think of how to survive… It’s as simple as that. No bathroom and suffering from rock gut, you quickly feel creative. This has gone on for years in the working class. The first time it happened to me I was horrified… There wasn’t anything for miles around… A good friend jumped into action. Digging through my car with speed and agility, he came across an old road atlas… Flipping through franticly as I stood with sweat running down my face, he shouted with excitement… “You ever goin’ to this state?" He called out each name and if I said no, he tore the page out…” Creativity at its best… A few minutes later I took a walk with five or six states in hand.

Although, it was the first time I was caught in a not so pleasant situation, I had been forewarned years earlier by a woman I worked for on a ranch. She had spent many years in the saddle. We were in the backcountry running dogs ( hunting ) when she suddenly stopped and said, “Here take the reins.” She climbed down off her horse and walked off into the brush. I was unsure what was going on. I thought she had lost the tracks of the deer or maybe there was a boar near by. Then, I was even more confused when she came back with the bottom part of her pant’s leg missing… She had to have seen the strange look stretched across my face… She climbed back on her horse and started to explain… Saying what she had done and that missing pant legs was the real reason cowboys wore chaps… “What?” I’m sure was my response. She then explained after a three month cattle drive and cutting the bottoms off their jeans for paper they had Daisy Dukes underneath their chaps… Yes, I know, and you thought I had a sick sense of humor… Still to this day I will spot a laborer with a missing sock and think amateur… Then I will run across a true veteran of the dirt with a missing cargo pocket and say to myself, now he’s got his shit together…  

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Living In An E R

Sitting in an emergency room is almost always entertaining. Right away I spot the homeless man resting quietly in the corner. ER’s are a great place to spend the day but an even better place to spend the night when there’s no where else to go… No one is asking questions in the waiting room because they’re way too freaked out with the situation at hand. He kinda looks new to the street, not as well worn as some of his comrades. Don’t take that the wrong way, there’s nothing wrong with being well worn on the street. He just hasn’t learned all the tricks of the trade yet. Like going into a fast-food joint and grabbing hot water from the coffee maker; then mixing in some ketchup and free crackers from the commons bar… Hobo tomato soup, at least until you’re kicked out by the manager…
Anyways, my name’s Thomas and it seems I’m always in here waiting on a certain someone I know to finish up with her appointment so we can go home. While waiting on her, I found myself sitting in-between a plus plus size woman that looked like a truck driving uncle I had growing up named Grits, and an old lady in a wheelchair, who for some reason held two purses. I thought it was odd, but you expect to see odd things when strolling into an ER to wait on a loved one.

A few minutes later, out of nowhere, she tells the guy sitting across from us that she is not crazy for carrying two purses. Her head leaned forward as she gazed upon him with doll eyes, blank from expression. He smiled and let her continue with her explanation. She said that the doctor told her to bring in all of the medications she was currently on, and then said, “I just grabbed this old purse and filled it up.” He glanced over to the large woman sitting next to me. You know the one that looked like Uncle Grits, hell lets just call her that for the story's sake… Now where were we? That’s right, so Grits gazed back at him with a look of, “What did that woman just say? Two purses… One for medication.”
Then all was interrupted by the charge nurse walking up to the woman in the chair. “Ma’am we’re ready to take you back now.” The woman with two purses replied, “You want-na change my diaper?” “Oh no ma’am. I said we have a room ready for you now.” The nurse then started to push the old woman away. Grits look over at the man again. “She ain’t short on words…” Then Grits started to chuckle making her fussy chin and thick neck dance in the most bizarre, yet amusing way.

Then a man called out to me from across the room. “Thomas.”
Looking up I replied. “Well, well, it’s been a long time hasn’t it?”
“Your wife is finally ready.”
“Well, where is she? I’ve been out here for what seems like an eternity."
The man smiled. “You’ve been out here for ten years to the day I first laid eyes on you. You told me you wouldn’t cross over without your Betty. Well, today’s the day you been waiting for..”
That’s when I saw her walk through the door, her eyes for the first time in years fell upon me, and she began to weep. I put my arms around her and amazingly I could feel her. Her skin was no longer wrinkled, it was smooth and soft. Her smile was now full of life.
“Honey, what’s happened, and who is that?”
“You’ve passed over and he’s The Hand Of Death, you know The Grim Reaper. He’s here to take us to the other side.”
“Wait a minute, that is so last century, we prefer the term, Assistant Assisting The Newly Deceased…”
“What? That’s a horrible name… I would stick with the old stuff if I were you… That just doesn’t sound like the right job title.”
With a groan, he replied, “Thomas, don’t give me any lip… It's time to go. I have to get back here to Assists The, just take your wife's hand and let's get on with this…” He said with another grumble.
So, with my hand intertwined with love of my life, I walked into the great hereafter…

Friday, June 10, 2011

Queen Asha

Show me your friends, and I will show you your future… I’ve learned over the years nothing could be more true about this saying… My early years in school were incredibly tough. Actually, they sucked. But through all the name-calling and the embarrassment of not being able to read or spell, there was one person that I was always happy to see each day. She sat beside me on the school bus and was always incredibly nice. I was shy and scared of everything back then, especially girls, and it felt like at that point there was absolutely no reason at all to go to school except for my soft spoken little friend named Asha that road the bus with me. She would always ask me how my day was going and chit-chat about life. For me, the fifteen minutes I would spend riding on the bus with her to and from school made the eight hours of hell in school worth going. Something else that sticks out to me about this time was her mother always waiting for her, standing in the gravel lot in front of their little fruit market for the bus to stop. She would wear these super cool outfits. Long flowing dresses with many bright and wonderful colors. Asha would get off the bus and her mother would put her arm around her in a loving way. At the time, with my forehead pressed against the glass bus window watching them walk away, I thought, What a wonderful mother she has. This must be where she’s learned to be so caring. I also remember seeing Asha and her mother at Cloth World around this time. I loved to run my fingers through the buttons in the Button-bin and, according to Asha, she loved hiding in the giant boards of cut by the yard cloth…
So, the next year rolled around and I was sent to a school that specialized in kids with dyslexia. All the kids in school were just like me. No one could spell or read very well and most had been through the God awful public school system… I was happy in a way to find so many other kids out there like myself. I could finally let my guard down and relax a little. Although it was a better place for me because I was not being picked on and ridiculed by my classmates, I missed my little friend from the bus… There was a reel void in my life and a yearning for the only friendship I had in such a difficult time. A longing for someone very special.

After spending three years going to school in Gainesville, I returned to public school and my friend was gone… Moved away… She was the first person I looked for… but she was gone and I was right back in the system of latchkey kids and hopeless promises.
So, some how I finished school, got married, and raised a kid. From time to time, I would pass the old fruit market and think of my friend from so long ago… Wondering where she ended up? I would even ask the current owners of the building, when I ran across them, if the original family ever stopped in. I know it sounds crazy, but she was the one good memory I clung to in my mind of a time that was very dark and difficult for me… A memory of happiness that seemed to transcend into a wonderful feeling when I looked back in my mind…Thirty years passed and I wondered if we would ever meet again…
Then came the internet, where the impossible became possible… And after all the years gone by, there she was… Like two kids on the playground, we picked right up where we left off… And it has truly meant the world to me…

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Whispers In The Wind

Not long ago, I took a trip to see the home of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Not much has changed in Cross Creek since Mrs. Rawlings worked vigorously typing out literary masterpieces in the thick humidity of Florida. Although the state has done a wonderful job in preserving her home, it’s the overwhelming feeling I got that Marjorie’s presence is still alive and well that made the day for me.

In a way, being a writer and being yourself is one in the same, but not in the beginning. What I mean by this is, when you first start writing you write what you think people would like to read, and all that you have for training in this craft are the authors that you’ve read growing up. Well, that is if you’re self-taught. As time goes on, you become more free in your writing, relaxed if you will; more like yourself but your influences are always with you. Like a shadow they follow you constantly and are always there to fall back on. Especially during the hard times. Like a surrogate family but better, never scolding, judging, never letting you down. I know this sounds twisted, but if you’d been in my shoes at some points of my childhood you would instantly understand clinging to anything, even books and their writers for survival. Hope is fine and all, but books are tangible. Anyways, M. K. Rawlings was definitely this way for me, at least her writing was, along with William S. Burroughs, and Harry Crews, but that’s another story altogether.

After arriving in Cross Creek, the journey began. Walking through the old iron gate, I could only think of the descriptions of her home she wrote so long ago. As I approached the Orange Grove, I saw bent limbs from the weight of ripened fruit. The smell of citrus hung thick in the air, like a blanket smothering the place with its potent smell. Spanish moss blew gently in the morning breeze as mocking birds chased one another through the thicket of scrub that surrounded the homestead. As I walked a little further, I came upon a two hundred year old magnolia in full bloom, its white flowered petals stood out clearly against the tree’s dark green back drop. It’s trunk was so massive three people could not lock arms around it.

Waiting for the tour to begin, I stopped to take some photos. One in particular grabbed my full attention. As I held the digital camera up and snapped a picture of my wife, the screen went black for a moment casting a reflection of something behind me. A shadowed face seemed to be looking over my shoulder. I turned nonchalantly to see no one there. Turning back to my wife, I said, “That’s strange, I saw a refection of someone behind me.” With raised eyebrows, my wife and I met in a gaze of strange expressions, then grins of, okay, let's move on now.

We began following the guide up to M K’s Home and didn’t think much of the incident. Once inside the tour guide asked folks in the group to turn off their cell phones or put them on mute. I thought, mine’s on vibrate and half the time I don’t know it’s ringing, so I’m not turning it off. As I suspected no one tried to called during the twenty minutes I was in the home. But it seemed some one was trying to get my attention. I keep feeling the slightest brush on my side. It was as light as a fingernail, gently, ever so softly dragging on my skin. Soft as a butterfly taking off from a flower fluttering away in the mid summer’s heat. I didn’t know what to think really. I was a little overwhelmed by this point of the tour being in the same home that M K. Rawlings entertained people like, Robert Frost, Margaret Mitchell, Ernest Hemingway and Gregory Peck. The funny feeling I had grew stronger as we finished the walk through. My wife and I started to make our way back to our car when I though to check my phone for messages. Flipping it open I found it was suddenly dead. At this point, I really started to think something strange was going on, like something had attached itself to me, tightly. So tightly it was hard to breath. My heart began to race, but I didn’t want to say anything to my wife, but at the same time I wanted to scream let's get out of here. Then I was frozen for a moment, sweat gathered on the back of my neck and my hands grew clammy. I felt a woman’s arms wrap around me and her soft lips whisper into my ear, “Jason, you have a great imagination. You must be a writer…”

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Moss Lady’s Gonna Put A Root On You!

The Moss Lady along with the Coach Whip were two fictional charters that roamed the woods surrounding my childhood home. Both were very effective tools used to keep us kids from straying too far or into places we were not suppose to be. The Coach Whip was a snake that, according to my father, had the ability to rise up as tall as a man, wrap around the child, then whip them, with his tail, with no mercy. “He’ll whip you to death, if he gets a hold of you.” I can still hear my father say in the most convincing tone. According to Dad this snake generally hung out in the high weeds of fields long since touched by a plow point. Fields he was trying to keep us out of. Now, The Moss Lady was a different tale of tallness altogether. She was what we called a conjure woman. Someone who could put a root, ( a curse ) , on a child that wondered to far into the woods alone. She lived in the deepest part of the forest, where the canopy was so thick, very little sunlight crept through at all. The rays that did make it through slightly resembled flashlight beams shining through the tree tops. The forest’s floor was covered with clumps of multi-colored Deer Moss, hence the name, Moss Lady. As a kid the last thing we wanted was to get a root put on us, and shrivel up into a piece of moss trapped forever with the strange woman that lived in the woods.

One day my father and uncle were working the fields that bordered the 16 hundred acres of woods where the Moss Lady lived along with every other folk legend thought up by my father. I’d made up my mind that it was probably safe to wander in slightly to the forest and build a tree fort. Surely the Moss Lady would at least let me have a small place in all those woods to play. Borrowing my dad’s hammer I made my way to a suitable spot and started to build. As the afternoon began to disappear, I started to make my way back home. Leaving the darkness of the woods for the open fields of fireflies dancing freely in the warm night’s air was always a nice sight.

Once inside and starting to eat, my father asked a question that stopped me in mid-chew. “Did you bring my hammer back from the woods?” “No Sir,” I replied ever so slowly. “Well, you better go get it, tools cost money.” Flashlights and batteries also cost money, something we didn’t have too much of. So, there I was, wild-eyed, no flashlight, and slowly walking into the darkened woods. It seemed with each step I took the darkness became more and more. The sounds of the night mixed with the creaking of trees up above. I was sure The Moss Lady was somewhere in the shadows that moved in the distance. I wanted that hammer pronto. Finally after searching the ground for what seemed like forever my small hand touched the handle. Thank God, I thought to myself. I immediately turned and started to make my way back home through the darkness. Walking, I thought I heard something behind me, like small sticks breaking underneath someone’s feet. Man, it’s The Moss Lady. I’m not getting no root put on me, I’m out! My skinny little legs made their way out of those woods with the utmost speed, blazing a trail for the house. I was sure I would be able to outrun her. For every time I heard another sound behind me my feet moved that much faster. There was no way I was getting turned into a piece of moss, trapped out in those woods with her. Finally I burst through the door to see my father now with a smile. “Well, looks like you found my hammer…”