Blood Transfusion

Zeno lost the tip of his left pinky in a collision with an entitled birth mother ramming a high end Aprica stroller through a lovely park in Beverly Hills. He skinned his knee too but that’s no big deal. She was wearing a sharp push-up bra with detachable wires for optimal support. The wires may have been picking up signals from sub-orbit. Respectable opinions differ. Whatever forgettable t-shirt and pair of jeans Zeno was wearing was strictly second rate in comparison. The sleek Aprica stroller, the first time mother’s first, came with aggressive gears that required shifting, and thingamajigs standard. Top of the line to the max. She had every right to push hard at high speed. If you don’t push in Beverly Hills, you’re done.

“I’m bleeding.”

“Don’t you dare point that finger near me.”

Zeno would admit to feelings of ambivalence about mothers. Fathers, too. And entitlements. He had been visiting the park to witness a live demonstration of aqua glass blowing and meander on a crowded path among masterful consumers before returning north. Nancy Reagan would have felt right at home wearing red in the setting. It was a sticky Saturday in July. Who knew that AIDS was lurking in blood nearby? No one yet, that’s who.

“This man needs help.”

“Where’s a cop when you need one?”

“There are innocent children watching.”

“Someone help him up.”

“It’s only a little blood.”

“It looks like a lot of blood to me.”

“Someone get him out of here.”

“It’s just a finger. Why can’t he walk?”

The pushy mother, who refused to reveal her true identity, had come out to strut her revealing stuff in a gauzy lycra blend camisole with accessories purchased at the fabulous Jane Fonda Workout on Robertson Boulevard. Working out at a fast and furious pace paid off big time in pounds shed, six gone in only sixteen days. She had gained twenty four pounds during pregnancy, her first to fruition, better than average, but she still had twelve pounds to lose. Average would never do. Everybody knows that. The latest facsimile of Jane Fonda preached a positive outlook along with high kicks, rhythmic lunges, and heavy breathing. It was tres au courant among those in the know on the Westside. Her accessories also included an opal pendant, silver bracelet, and her short husband, an up and comer of a talent agent at William Morris. He did his best to maintain a distance from the commotion.

In the end, which took not much more than an hour to reach, Zeno was informed in the emergency room at Cedars-Sinai Hospital that a tiny bit of finger could not be helped or saved. It had become caught and occluded in the cogs between spinning wheels, craft, and commerce. A doctor defined an occlusion for him in medical terms. That explained it all. Then he was late in checking out of his hotel in West Hollywood and incurred additional charges.

Zeno understood later he had no business to be there on a Saturday. His business in L.A. was done. Several known jerk-offs said they’d get back to him. Yeah, right. Opportunists, parasites, and scavengers hunting prey. He blamed the recession on the idiot Reagan following the idiot Carter. How did they manage to pull off a recession alongside inflation rates of 18%?

By the time he returned almost whole to the Santa Cruz Mountains, it was nearly dark. His arrival elicited no joy among the natives. A young red tailed hawk was crying from the top of a redwood tree. An irate blue jay chased an interloper from the seed of a pear. He smelled skunk. It was what it is. There were lots of other seeds to share in the dirt but there was no one at a higher level to greet Zeno with empathy or a hug.

The most recent woman who used to greet him with plenty of empathy recently claimed he did not listen. The woman before that said pretty much the same thing. Then, there were words. But, how could that be? He listened all right. He heard a whirring noise like a buzz saw. But then what? Was he supposed to jerk a knee and goose step into line? What was so great about worldwide procreation anyway? How did that help to mix and stir a bowl without spilling regrets?

Zeno proved to be a tireless provider of the same incorrect answer to the question. A bowl has limits, any bowl, he reasoned. According to basic logic too much is neither necessary nor sufficient. It’s not just an urban myth that disposable diapers cause clogs in pipes. Am I right or am I right? Which is why he found himself later that night enduring the taunts of a pseudo-blues band with unfortunate disco tendencies at a redneck bar overlooking Rio Del Mar Beach. He was sipping Hornitos reposado, because what kind of tastelss cretin gulps Hornitos, and diligently taking his yellowish pills according to prescribed directions, sort of, for his severely moderate pain. The beer after beer he was drinking merely served to quench his advanced case of dry mouth, a side-effect, no more than that.

He said, “Keep ’em coming.”

Sadly, what kept coming included a mind numbing version of Disco Duck. Isn’t that what led to violence at Comiskey Park? Zeno was shaky on the details. The consideration of that quandary led naturally enough to more beer. What goes around, came. It takes practice to learn how to perform with aplomb. His vision, however, was clear. He observed a pair of white men who did not dance to the music object to a trio of black men who did. There was a little tit for tat back and forth. Several white women also became involved, swaying to and fro along with the incendiary beat. At first, Zeno thought nothing of it. This was a classic redneck bar, after all, in the unenlightened year of 1982. The tide ebbing in Monterey Bay was unfazed. Soap operas like Dallas on CBS still topped the Nielsen ratings. Loony Moonies were getting married en masse. Then Huey P. Newton punched a redneck smart alack in the fucking mouth. Then the huge bodyguard of Huey P. Newton started to kick the shit out of a different, dumber redneck. The bodyguard of Huey P. Newton appeared to be eleven feet tall and weighed a minimum of two trillion tons. The dumber redneck had no fucking chance. When he got up he staggered, both drunk and punchy. Then he was knocked down again. Then he started to crawl before he could walk or run. Then Huey P. Newton pulled out a gun. Then nearly everybody followed an invisible leader and started to lam the fuck out of there. But not Zeno. Zeno continued to observe with wide eyes from his prone position on the floor. Huey P. Newton at the time was a Ph.D candidate at the nearby University of California in Santa Cruz. He was charged later that night with attempted murder. He’d previously been there and done that. What a crock of fucking shit. All he aimed to shoot according to the evidence was a ceiling. Zeno did not need to be told to hit the deck right from the get-go. Which is why his wee frail pinkie started to bleed all over again. And then some.

When the smoke cleared, he opted to visit a second emergency room in a second hospital in a second city on the same day, a first. It made its own sense. But, the joint was jumping on a Saturday night in July. Gang bangers had converged on the Santa Cruz Boardwalk to exchange trinkets without values. Tourist season was peaking under a jaundiced moon. There were puddles of red blood and blue blood all mixed up that looked the same. He was forced to wait his turn. The plastic seat started to become molded to his ass.

Once one day has turned seamlessly into the next, there ain’t no stopping how it is what is is. And here and now. No logic or reason reigns. Hearts were attacked and broken. Babies were born and spit out gobs of goo. Victims of gravity staggered under heavy loads. A small pinkie finger was all Zeno had to offer. It wasn’t much.

He considered his options as the blood slowed to a trickle but stayed put. A reduction in speed may be no less of a hidden trap. Who says inertia has nothing uplifting to offer? Otherwise, the heat would rise, as it does, to frigid heights, as is does, too.

It was not until his tender finger became tended to by a nurse who turned out to possess an abundance of empathy to spare that one finger became enough. Enough trumps too much, too. He not only possessed the right stuff, but at the right time. This, he concluded, must be the place.

One thing led as it does to another. Nursing took no molded back seat to any higher calling. Logic won by a fucking TKO. Necessary and sufficient.

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A Tasteful Song and Dance

Little Michael Jackson all grown up was making a cameo appearance in the spotlight back home where he used to get a good whipping on his behind. He waved his white glove in a graceful arc above his conked head and faked walking backwards into thinner air. He never did quite get who was kidding whom, and where and why, but immersed in the here and now he was all about the yin and yang of in and out and out again. A big bed at Neverland Ranch awaited his naked ass near the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, not far from Lompoc, California. He briefly smiled and bowed, and he twisted like a whiz kid, and slipped, shuffled, swiveled, and swayed, before passing a sequined torch to bigger Stevie Wonder and lammed the fuck out of there. Stevie Wonder showed up every year to wave at the fabulous opening of the Detroit Auto Show and repay perpetual dues. Why would 1986 be any different?

“Sup.”

“Splittin’.”

“Dig it.”

Interested parties from many major continents showed up to wheel and deal in all the bountiful steel and flesh that Detroit had to offer. American autos remained big news in 1986, heavy duty. Nancy Reagan was also there in red just saying no, no, no. She was busy, busy, busy. She said it in the morning, she said it in the evening, and she said it at suppertime. Her red was not just any old red, either. It represented American values somewhere in the untarnished neighborhood between ruby and sapphire. Detroit was an important area to lift up by bootstraps with profits in capital gains and Republican contributors needed help to maintain sway in an important congressional election year amid such squalor. Detroit still looked as if it had been disassembled by a dud of a fragmentation bomb left over from Ho Chi Minh City. Famously, it smelled like a living hell, the real one.

The one and only First Lady in the present tense took a bow and a curtsy as an encore. She was doing a swell bang-up job. Progress was inevitable. Look how far Ronnie had come since starring in Death Valley Days. No one played better in Peoria than Ronnie. Reviews were glowing. The wunderkinds all knew it. To just say no was only a beginning for Nancy. She knew it better than anyone. A late supper was going to include poulet rouge in a juicy avuncular reduction created by the White House chef to coordinate with the shade of chosen lipstick on any given night. It was largely an alcohol free concoction, enabling her to stay on message while flying above it all on Air Force One, and served to feed the starving children as well. She would only need to taste a little while posing for the press corps in order to maintain her girlish stick figure.

She commanded, “Don’t forget a flattering shot in profile.”

If you weren’t bouncing on a glittery go-go stick and making a big splash during the Reagan Boom years, what was wrong with you? Something, that’s what, no matter who you falsely believed you could become by trying out new tricks. Nothing was wrong with Nancy Reagan, that’s for damn sure. She knew Stevie Wonder from way back in the Hollywood Hills when he was still Little Stevie Wonder and a spitting image who reminded her of Sammy Davis Jr., though without the benefit of at least one good seeing eye. But did that stop him from dancing? Fuck, no. Nothing wrong with that. Inflation at 11% was unbeatable. Nor was there anything wrong with the all new 1986 Pontiac Firebird that for the fifth consecutive year had the same unchanged factory fuel injection and four speed automatic transmission as the all new Chevy Camaro. Plus, it could be had for a song. No dancing required.

The insightful First Lady continued to pose in stillness for the slowpokes who needed time to focus and then she too was out of there.

Not for the first time, Zeno never had a fair chance to get close enough to speak with her and self-righteously demand an explanation for her failure to ameliorate his sentence of incarceration at the U.S. federal penitentiary at Lompoc, California. Not one of his several hundred letters had been answered, not even with a formulaic thank-you note that would have falsely appeared in mixed company to be merely polite. Members of the Secret Service had memorized time-lapsed simulated snapshots of how he used to wear his face in order to stand like studs in his way.

Zeno was coincidentally attending the 1986 Detroit Auto Show because Steve Jobs had temporarily succumbed to a bad bipolar snit after his excision from the yearly list of top American billionaires. The list was overseered by slippery Texas oil men with rancid tubs of guts spilling out of extra large sharkskin and alligator suits, many of whom only appeared due to issues of marriage, divorce, inheritance, and fratricide. They just did not get how important Steve meant to become. In order to make ends meet in Detroit he required a constant supply of fresh baked cookies much like those for which Zeno had been unjustly jailed at the federal penitentiary at Lompoc, California. The THC content was higher than any daily requirement but Steve Jobs could take a licking and keep on ticking. He was no fucking wuss. He never got paranoid. If you believe falsely in the existence of coincidence, that is, which is certifiably incorrect. Zeno wasn’t fooled by that malarkey, however. He wasn’t just born yesterday. He knew he was only in Detroit with Steve Jobs for the money. He’d been there before, though never in Detroit.

In what arcane world did it matter that he had no idea what Steve Jobs was supposed to be doing at an auto show rubbing obsolescent wax into fake veneers surrounded by relics? Zen felt strongly like just another punchy working stiff on the clock. He knew how to assume the position and featherbed his nest as well as the best of them. He was unashamed to marvel at the raw marketing skills of grumpy codgers accompanied by leggy models at General Motors. And there was plenty of fossilized beef on the hoof for gawking. They did it on the road every day. That wasted lots of billable hours. He had no reason to question the reason why. It was freezing outside in desolate Detroit and he had nowhere else to run. The seat back to California on a shiny new Apple corporate jet would be cushy. And he was confident the check would not bounce. The sun would come out tomorrow and croon like the round pizza man in the moon. He would be able to start all over again from scratch with yeast and crust. His oven would smoke no less than Michael Jackson with the heat from his flaky pies.

If that did not make him proud to be an American entrepreneur, what would? Nothing, that’s what. By reduction, he would end up a hopeless case. Who wants that?

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The Seating Chart

Steve was wearing his hair slicked back and a bashful bow-tie, but trying to be cocky yet vulnerable. The main event was still fourteen minutes away according to the imposing atomic clock on the table and he was jumpy. No perilous balancing act is ever simple. He might as easily start to choke up as smile. Zeno was reminded of Don Dunphy circa 1964 announcing a fifteen rounder from ringside at Convention Hall in Atlantic City, Sonny Liston and an unnamed loser, an instant Boardwalk classic. The atmosphere backstage at the Flint Center was slightly different however, somewhat tense and quasi-subdued. But who wears a bow-tie in 1984? Oh yeah, that’s right. An amalgamated conglom of nerds was sitting up alertly in assigned seats. The bow-tie of the boss did not stand out alone. A definitive ode to joy was building up from a mere murmur. Anticipation cloyed like a pink packet of saccharine. If that was not electric, then what?

Zeno said “Spiffy bow-tie, Steve.”

“I’m trying hard to make a difference here.”

“And looking good while hard at it.”

“And to rise above.”

“Does that mean, scram?”

“I need my space.”

Assigned seating capacity at the Flint Center was 2405. Seats were filling up fast. Simulated theme music from current East Bay faves, the Pointer Sisters, declared in stylized muzak, “I’m So Excited.” A version of Prince proclaiming, “Let’s Go Crazy,” had been seriously considered by the social committee but ultimately rejected for flouting of rules. 1984 was just getting started. Rules had come this far for a reason.

Zeno had the seating chart crumpled in his pocket. His waiters had been instructed to wait for quiet if not calm before delivering a custom cupcake to each assigned seat. Then a wine spritzer. Not all cupcakes contained spiced apples with bruised cloves, but most. Zeno did not reveal he refused to bake with mushy mcintosh apples and had switched to soulful pippens. Who was going to know?

The calculating gizmo still in the bag had made it all possible by delineating known tendencies. The bag remained covered up on stage. The cupcakes were color coordinated according to a complex code. The number of cupcakes containing cannabis butter had been divided by pi. Most contained the color green. Someone asked, why? Someone said, don’t ask. Someone said, don’t tell. On a need to know basis, Zeno was not one who knew.

Zeno had previously inquired, “What if someone wants to sits next to a good friend and switches seats?”

“These are engineers. Engineers follow rules.”

“But, what if?”

“It won’t happen.”

As it turned out, events would confirm the main man was right as usual. Once he uncovered the bag, the crowd stood and cheered like beasts shedding burdens. The decibel level nearly stretched to a rowdy definition of lewdness. Backs were slapped and pinkies grabbed. After that, what could go wrong? Of course Steve knew. Woz too, probably. If anything went wrong, Zeno would be blamed.

Then Zeno turned the waiters loose with a silly grin and a wave. He read about it next morning in the Santa Cruz Mountains when his newspaper was delivered in the rain.

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The Pen Is Not Mightier

Zeno had a vision in primary colors, not a dream. It occurred a few days before he was due to be sentenced to the minimum security federal penitentiary at Lompoc, California. The horse trading had concluded and the deal was done. He whinnied like a lame also-ran. The government took everything he owned and sent him to jail for baking delicious cookies, cupcakes, and all-natural granola. Not even his collection of lucky pennies inherited from Joe Avirgan was spared. The judge with the porky snout explained how fortunate he was to get such a good deal. Reliable waves from the Pacific Ocean he would never get to hear or feel for the duration were only a mile away. In a Texas prison, he’d be serving twenty years with scorpions. His coupled lawyers made out like bandits as they heartily shook his hand and slipped him dead skin. The dream was different. In the dream there were mothers and sons running. He ran alongside on the left. His head was aiming for the right. South and north had flipped. The nightmare came later. There were Cossacks in a dark forest hunting for sport, and wolves for game.

Later in the same dream, a different mother and son were waiting on his front step, but not for him. He invited them inside out of the frost. The wolves continued to howl. He noticed an indigenous rug had been single-handedly turned upside down and the dyed wool on the geometric sofa had been brushed with wires to face the wrong direction. Plus, the primitive blue in the nappy rug clashed with the front lines in the closed curtains that refused to concede artrificial turf. Compromised circuits could not handle the load. Sirens blew chunks and wads. The primary red was stained with mixed blood and used topsoil.

It was in the vision where he was caught in a transparent web, and clearly surrendered to the surveillance camera, arms up, head down. The focus and exposure were too explicit to deny. There were shiny new chains draped on the backs of stylish steel chairs. His chafed red hands were cuffed. He sat until the itch in his ass began to evolve.

The nightmare as it turned out was closest to the truth, a nebulous shade of black and white that merged into pale gray as it swirled. Time off to suck hard for good behavior moved like glaciers in inches. He still had three more months of stirring drab to serve.

He sat on his semi-detached bunk as he listened for the first clash of metal in the morning, modern locks and keys requiring advanced lubrication. It was time to rise above. He never forgot he was still running hard.

Right off, the guard wanted to know, “What’s on the menu for this morning?”

“Shit on a shingle for a select group of 1250.”

“Man, I love that stuff.”

“I won’t spit in yours.”

“I hope you never get out.”

“You’ll get fatter and your wife will get fed up.”

“I can live with that.”

Zeno was released on a sunny day in February that felt as if Spring had popped a stone fruit, a cherry or a plum. A small envelope discreetly padded with bits of cash was waiting for him in a locker at the Greyhound station. He walked a mile to the sand dunes on the other side of the Pacific Coast Highway that had not rolled over to play dead. Ebb tide still flowed. Cossacks had not chopped off any heads in the vicinity. Rats still picked like pros though piles of human trash. Lying pols kissed, told, and kept score. Nancy Reagan had never responded to his letters from jail. Ronald Reagan was still acting glib.

He crossed his fingers when crossing the road. A gull nearly shit smartly on his head, but missed. Sand still slipped through cracks. He still did not lie to himself.

He bought a tri-tip sandwich simmered slowly with lots of cumin in the dry rub and a six pack of Anchor Steam beer at a bodega in Santa Maria, and a 1976 Datsun with less than 90000 miles on the odometer from a humiliated beauty queen filling in for her insensitive father at the family friendly used car lot on the corner. He picked at pieces of meat that fell into his lap as he drove. The dry rub had seeped through the skin overnight. He followed the San Andreas fault north by northwest. Unsettled rocks lurked on the precipice of a fractured edge. Traffic seemed to shrink behind him. There went one of the California Missions. There went another used car lot. There went another church. There went another prison. Who knew a crappy Datsun had such oomph? The itch in his ass began to devolve as the sun began to dip into healing waters beyond Big Sur.

He did not stop until he reached the Santa Cruz Mountains and finished climbing. No longer a beginning, but nowhere near an end.

The man of the house was there to open the front door before he had a chance to knock. Woz had gained a lot of weight but not as much as he would soon. Some men eat when stressed while others starve.

Woz said, “I recognized the rumble. I used to drive a Datsun. What a piece of crap.”

First, they finished drinking all of the beer that Zeno had brought. Next, out came more.

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Reason Enough

in out   The best waves in weeks were head high and pumping at Pleasure Point, reason enough for a pair of his somewhat more reliable workers to be hours late. It was a common enough occurrence in an environment where no reasonable explanation was to be expected, not from a dedicated Santa Cruz surfer. Landlocked expectations do not technically adhere to moving surfboards when thrashed by sets of gnarly waves originating in the Sea of Japan. Zeno could only hope that at least one of them would show up at some point. No guarantees, though. Even if Zeno’s Rolled and Twisted Dough did have an important deadline to meet by order of prickly Steve Jobs. No one of sound mind or body wanted to be on the wrong end of that spontaneous combustion.

Apple, now a corporation, was celebrating, and Steve Jobs wanted a big cake. Woz too. The company had hit one million dollars in sales for the first time, and it was still only May. They wanted more than enough cake for all comers. They were up to fifteen employees. Plus guests. Plus hangers-on. Plus strays from streets and nearby bars and alleys. They’d all want cake. And an extra piece to take home as a souvenir. The tolerable Steve Jobs would get stoned and smile at his own beneficence. Unlike the prickly Steve Jobs who did not tolerate excuses from the lame and bereft.

But what about those stalwarts Zeno could depend upon to help out in a pinch? Oh yeah, that’s right. There were none.

His predicament therefore called for quick and decisive decision action on the wing and the fly, hardly ever a good idea in astronomy or physics.

He repeated an unoriginal mantra, “I can do this.”

Zeno had no problem with any dire implications of talking to himself. He did not believe he was any more crazy than any other subnormal specimen of an unevolved species. Evolution was an imperfect process, after all, that took lots of time. Mistakes needed lots of time to be made. He was desperate because lots of time was what he lacked.

He added, “If not now, when?”

Not very deep below the surface, however, and wobbly atop it on spanking new crutches tethered to a short lease, Zeno knew he should never have attempted to slither down the steep, rocky grade in the Santa Cruz Mountains to reach his patch of blooming weed near the bottom. Where else was he going to end up other than topsy-turvy in a gully with thorns stuck to his tender ass and stubbled cheeks? He failed to recall a number of important lessons absorbed and passed on by his ancestors in escaping from slavery in Egypt. Follow a path, maintain a pace, hold tight to limbs. Don’t think too fast around sharp objects. Don’t push too hard, or too far, too near a thorny edge. And don’t be stupid and forget about the crutches. Because scuttling down a ridge on a tender ass does not qualify as climbing higher. And stupid always is and does what it is and will be.

The audible shards devoid of all wisdom that rushed like an ill wind out of his mouth while in the act of tumbling, though loud, were hard to understand. What good are cheap words after all the profits in an exchange have been swept up by numbers and pictures? Nothing intelligible he could say was going to be any match for the depths of ancient graves. He gasped from the pain in his sprained and swollen ankle. That was the result of another regrettable mistake in a bar at closing time. Like duh.

But he had plenty of time to scrub his wounds with dirt and revisit his misadventures at the chilly bottom when he could not get up. High noon passed without a smoking gun. He was left with one crutch. He crawled into a ray of sunshine that split the redwood trees. He plotted a comeback. He pulled thorns. He assessed wounds. He licked blood. Periodically, he trumpeted a weak call for assistance.

Maybe Woz would be able to persuade prickly Steve Jobs to calm down. Maybe he worried too much. Maybe it would all turn out for the best. Maybe admission to an intensive care unit under general anesthesia would induce some human kindness. Maybe one crutch was enough. Maybe if he nodded off for a spell. Maybe he’d feel better when he woke up.

Then he was shaken awake. He did not feel better. He started to abruptly feel worse. A sharp toe was attached to a cute boot. It was not tickling him.

He said, “Ow.”

“Wake up.”

“I’m up.”

“It doesn’t look like it to me.”

She kicked him again. She was grinning. She seemed to think there was something about kicking a good man when he was down that was funny. The man must have missed the joke.

“That hurt.”

“What’s wrong with you?”

“What’s wrong with you?”

“I’m the one standing on my own two feet.”

“Everything hurts.”

“What kind of lame answer is that?”

“Is that a sword in your hand?”

“What does it look like?”

“A sword.”

“Hah.”

“It looks like it’s sharp.”

“It’s a machete.”

“Very sharp.”

“I asked you a simple question?”

“Which one?”

“You’re on my property.”

“I fell.”

“You’re still on my property.”

“I didn’t start out here.”

“No one ever does.”

“What’s the machete for?”

“Cutting.”

“Is that really necessary?”

“You’re still on my property.”

“If you’ll help me up, I’ll just be on my way.”

The vast tract of property owned by her family for more than one hundred years surrounded his measly plot of loose dirt that straddled the San Andreas Fault. Her family had grown apples in the Pajaro Valley below the Santa Cruz Mountains for three generations. She had never heard of Steve Jobs or his newfangled computer. She was not impressed with the explanation. The only apples she knew or cared about were sweet and sour and delicious. Her ancestors from Croatia used to hunt the fleeing ancestors of Zeno for the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. They carried swords, not machetes, also for the purpose of cutting. But she reluctantly agreed to help him up and out as long as he enthusiastically agreed to be on his questionable way. He had to promise he would never come back. No problem there. He had just enough time to simmer the weed in the butter for only an hour less than optimal before baking all night. There was plenty of cake.

What a happy Steve Jobs never knew never hurt him.

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Coming In From The Cold

collision3  The Kid was trying to emerge out of static but found only fuzz, buzz, crackle, whir. No matter how he twisted and leaned, the shifty pirate radio station located somewhere near Ukiah that played all night music from the African diaspora eluded his fingers on the shitty radio dial in the shitty sedan from Rent-A-Wreck. It was Spring amid the rocky terrain of Northern California where the only two seasons that mattered were wet and dry, and the slick road lurched through the green hills and gulches of Mendocino. Was it light rain, low clouds, a heavy mist, a patch of fog? The rotation of a minor planet neglected to flex and accommodate changing tastes under a cold, opaque sky. But, how else is a single soul supposed to get properly attuned to a multiverse in motion without jazz after midnight? Where there is no beginning and no end, as there is, awareness in the course of meandering becomes vital to humdrum health and welfare. Even if he was trying foolishly harder than bleary eyes allowed to get back to an empty bed still no less than four hours away. It was his fault the bed would be empty, but still. Contradictions abound despite frail compensations. Unless it was gravity that was once again dropping the ball. Either way, among the many ways to go, it became more than prudent to stay on his side of the flitting white line down the middle. The trunk of the shitty sedan was amply crammed with garbage bags filled with aromatic cannabis sativa to provide extra incentive. It should have been easy to do the right thing. Yeah, right.

Then, amid the blizzard of aural snow, he clearly heard the announcement from colonial Washington

that their endless war in Viet Nam had ended for real, no bullshit this time. The ironic news was recited with requisite bitterness by the on-air deejay, a scathed veteran, who liberally sprinkled John Lee Hooker and Howlin’ Wolf into his mix alongside Captain Beefheart and Tom Waits. Wake up Mendocino County. Read all about it. The emperor after taking a deep dive into chill waters has proven once again to be able to whip it out and show off that small dick to all comers. More like the olds than news, thought The Kid. Next, they’ll claim it was the cold that caused the dick to shrivel, all the dicks. Bite me, he spit.

Tribute paid to the grand wazoo, he mused, never ends. The Man wants your back torqued like a rusty Slinky falling down rickety stairs and those jerky knees scabbed over and gnarled from all the kneeling. But I ain’t marching anymore.

He was too busy assessing the cost of another oven installed in his cramped storefront on Cortland Ave. and how much leafy weed to simmer for how many hours in what relationship to peanut oil for piquant cookies with cinnamon and cardamom. But why stop there? Cardamom and turmeric in banana cupcakes would be something to live for. If that’s not all about balance, what is? Their war was never his war. His war was never meant to end. No more than his desire to lean back and hear Coltrane blow. But, rent was going up on Cortland Ave. Why not move to a larger warehouse on Bayshore Boulevard and sell wholesale exclusively? Who needs the headache of heavy foot traffic? Woz was ordering ten dozen cupcakes for The Homebrew Computing Club each week. The dweebs and geeks at Atari consumed that many moist muffins per day. The word of mouth from the chubby cheeks of Woz was pure gold, straight, no chaser. And not only the moist muffins, but the nutty granola was becoming popular in health food stores in Berkeley, Mill Valley, and Santa Cruz. The Kid was so busy he bought one of those long telephone cords that allowed him to talk while mixing dough on the other side of the room . That was how be became turned around with creamed corn caught between his sticky vanilla fingers the first time he heard from Rock Scully. Plus he had a sick desire to scratch a floury itch on his nose. What a no-no.

Rock Sully asked, “Do you know who this is?”

The Kid explained, “Not yet. It’s your job to tell me.”

“What if I tell you I’m just playing in the band?”

“Do you know you’ve called a bakery?”

“I’m the one who called, didn’t I?”

“A very busy bakery.”

“That’s why I’m calling.”

“This will only be a start if we end up getting somewhere.”

“This is Rock Scully.”

“I like the name, Rock.”

“You still don’t know.”

“You still haven’t told me.”

How was The Kid supposed to know that Rock Scully, the manager of the Grateful Dead, was a big fan of cannabis indica in his cheesy cornbread with jalapenos after a show? Plus, he ordered a large assortment of cookies to last for the duration of a European tour, eleven countries in twenty-one days. And moist muffins for the band and entourage, too. Bob Weir as it turned out was nutty for the granola. Jerry enjoyed carrot cake by the slab.

Plus, Rock Scully backed up his talk with proof in the form of a certified check that walked the walk.

Why else, pondered The Kid, would I be traveling in Mendocino after midnight? Not even the moon has the courtesy to shine. Plus, finessing cardamom is always tricky.

A clue would only occur to him later, after it was too late, and not for the first time, when the proverbial final anti-social straw leading to collapse struck like lightning because material circumstances were past due for a screwing. Gripping a moist wheel with such a loose moral structure during meandering in any evolving multiverse is bound to suck on a wet and winding road. All it takes is one damnable bump to bruise, violate, penetrate, and upset the old apple cart. Everybody knows that. You can’t trust a decent proverb anymore to deliver the goods.

The Kid declared, emphatically, “Fuck me.”

In straying from the straight and narrow, he found all four unaligned headlights fixated on the shoulder of a rocky patch, victimized by a crushed bottle in a paper bag. The multiversal nature of consciousness is such that it only takes a teeny bit of it to trigger an explosive megaton or two of damage. A formerly serviceable rear tire was punctured. He braked to a floppy stop in rimed mud under a drippy manzanita tree. There was justice, no peace.

The Kid added, “Fuck you, too.”

Because The Kid had proved sufficiently prescient, however, to pay top daily dollar for his 1969 Buick Special Deluxe 4-Door Sedan with optional faux gold and chrome, though faded, he discovered a shitty jack where it certifiably belonged, also in the rear. And a shitty spare tire to boot. The path ahead was clearly marked by crumbs. The mud that was going to stay stuck to him no matter what provided the ideal stage for his performance. Best to plunge knee deep without scruples in order to begin. Not even the shitty war in Viet Nam that ruined everything got any deeper than that.

And the big fool said, “Push on.”

As it might be expected, results under less than ideal conditions tend to suck hard. He was sodden, shriveled, shivering, bleeding by the time the last lug nut claimed the last skin on a bare knuckle. Right from the bruising start it was never going to be a fair fight. He kicked dirt and screeched and growled and caused an unholy ruckus. Not even the non-stop static spewing from the speakers could compete. Bare knuckle brawls are never fair to a loser. It only looks that way. That was not shit on the seat of his pants. It only looked that way. It made no sense to allow facts to soil a lofty view.

Still undefeated in his own mind, he snapped, “Outa my fucking way.”

He believed he had nearly finished reversing the direction of his spiritual jacking, even if only on the obtuse material plane, when he heard the eight suspicious cylinders of a domesticated Chevy rounding a curve. It sounded like a full load of gravel dropping into the pit of a parched throat. Only a clunker of a cop car resounded with menace like that.

The Kid glimpsed the flashing lights in plenty of time to do something, as if there was something better than nothing to do. Instead, he squeezed tight like an icicle and dripped. The same sad psychodrama continued to play out with the same pair of shaved legs sported by a fabled soap opera star, one of those underhanded vixens who steal the show. Meanwhile, the lingering smell wafting from the trunk posed a metaphysical dilemma. No mere huffing and puffing was going to rise up and blow away a spiraling tornado. The Kid conjured streaks of red and blue and yellow and green to dwell upon. Anything but the ashen gray of iron bars.

He reiterated, “Fuck me.”

Who was it who proved that base fear and stupidity roil the material plane and tend to ruin the two top dimensions with lids? Oh yeah, it was Einstein. Roil is a law of nature. It figures, as The Kid recalled. I’m fucked.

But, did he dwell some more on the profoundly negative? Why not? What else was he equipped to do while uncontrollably shivering? Until, that is, a glimmer of hope appeared just a few feet away. He discovered he was not alone in suffering. It is often comforting to share misery with mixed company. A fuzzy apparition in black and white appeared in the refracted light. Unless that aura was a halo. An irate skunk reared up higher than the average dancing bear to register a complaint. Was that a final straw of her own she was grasping? Mama skunks do get that way around intruders. What mama wants to put up with a lot of loud noise from a troublemaker that awakens fussy babies? Mamas need their rest, too.

A skunk is accustomed to having its own way. No sly fox will mess with a skunk. No wily coyote, cougar, or big buck. Not even a dancing bear. Any everyday ordinary skunk is able to saturate a moving bulls-eye out of either of two equal assholes without blinking. No biggie. Just aim and let loose. No motion wasted. After forty million years of practice, it’s hard to miss.

But, did The Kid possess the wisdom learned by his more experienced betters? Fuck, no.

As a member of a superior species known to be great self appointed thinkers he acknowledged no betters. So he thought it over in a flash. He and his impulsive kind had been around for a whole hundred thousand years. Did a whole shit load of heavy thinking right from the start. He believed what he did next was bound to be for the best. Ain’t no stopping a hefty human brain in action. This was war. He stood tall and kicked mud in the face of a skunk.

If that’s not a learning experience, what could it be?

And then, when what it is turned sour, and fast, and he began to suffer like an infidel for his ungodly beliefs, because who deserved it more, he started to cry. He knew for sure he was eternally damned. That shit that stinks also burns. It leaves a marked, rancid trail. He tried to abandon the clothes on his back. He would need to cut off all of his long hair. A hole for burying would come in handy. He would need to grow new and improved skin. Maybe a heart and lungs. He puked on his pants and dropped trou and stepped away from his tighty whities. Gross.

Which was the initial image witnessed by the sharp eyes of Mendocino County Deputy Sheriff Rod McDonald as he pulled up to the scene. It appeared at first to be no more than a filthy hippie dancing naked in mud, probably another lunatic on LSD. Hardly worth the paperwork. Rod McDonald patrolled a regular route from Willits to the Sonoma County line at 2 AM most mornings. But it was not a regular night for Rod McDonald. He was born in Boonville and had lived in Mendocino County for all of his twenty seven years. Except for one gung-ho year in Viet Nam. The words still made him gag. He did not need to be reminded. He had no problem with working the late night shift. He did not go out of his way looking for trouble but he knew what to do when he found it.

But when he opened his door, he gagged again. Uh-uh, he decided. Not me, not tonight. This is one filthy hippie who is on his own.

Rod McDonald left the scene, no crime.

Chalk up another victory for Ho Chi Minh. And The Kid.

Maybe he won’t turn out to be as dumb as he looks after all.

.

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Hot and Cold Running

mirage      Impresario Steve Wynn was not easy to satisfy. Big leading to bigger was only a beginning between more to come. But, he was temporarily satisfied so far. The view from the penthouse suite atop his ground-breaking Mirage Hotel sparkled with the astonishing light of his desert. It was his, not hers, or theirs, or yours, because who else would turn nothing into something like that? Add some ultra-hyped zing and some zest, a slew of pyrotechnical gizmos and doodads, jokes, jokers, and royal flushers, a waterfall, a moat, a castle, a clown, and a barrel spilling over the top with scads of monkeys performing razzmatazz with pizzazz, and what do you get? Astounding profit, that’s what, sharp, keen, and straight to the astonishing roundabout point.

“You know me. I’m not going to take no for an answer.”

He poured more champagne and toasted his shrewd guest, Michael Milken. He offered a plate of colorful cookies with oddly spiced cranberry chips as they each pondered the vast potential of growth in endless stocks of shifting sand, and took another cookie for himself. Good, smart cookies were easy to come by, but Michael Milken was a lot smarter then an ordinary smart cookie. He was not afraid to get his hands dirty doing the hard dirty work. He knew how to shake and harvest greenback dollars from neglected trees stripped of bark and leaves. Sticks, and stones, and bones, too, it seemed. How would the grandeur of The Mirage have ever been able to appear out of nowhere without Michael Milken and his glorious junk bonds? Steve Wynn knew how to pick a winner, all right. Less than two months until opening day. He lifted a crystal flute in salute.

Michael Milken admired the view as well, the long view. That, and the champagne, the short view. He knew he was going to prison soon, served up as a scapegoat by jealous competitors and crooked politicians, but he could take it. And he never forgot names and faces. And he knew he would get out, and come out, ahead.

He listened with half an ear as Steve Wynn dispatched a nuisance call with wit and aplomb. Who doesn’t understand what that’s like? You can tell a lot about a man by how he refuses to play nice in a sandbox with others.

Steve Wynn griped, “I need to come up with a better strategy to get rid of this pest Trump who keeps trying to horn in on my action out here.”

“Pest is a nice way to put putz.”

“You know him?”

“Everyone knows him, but no one wants to.”

“He’s got nothing but balls to offer.”

“Half of nothing.”

“Wisdom like Moses there.”

“You probably mean Solomon.”

“Another heavy hitter.”

The Mirage was going to be the biggest, the best, no whining. High rollers needed a lot of room to spread out and flex and shoot off wads. Trump was peanuts back east in Flushing on streets filled with dog shit atop piles of real snow. A faux volcano was going to erupt four times every hour in front of the Mirage when the lights were turned on. Not just any lights but lights the equal to stars. White tigers and straws with top hats to stir the drinks, too. Tap dancing Mr. Peanut Trump was never going to get anywhere close in the long run.

“I only admire persistence to a point.”

“When it’s yours.”

“Or will be.”

“It has to make some sense.”

“I’ve got gnats flitting all over me. You know how parasites are attracted to pure wholesome protein. We’re not even open yet and anyone with the vision to think straight can see from close up Vegas is where it’s going to be at, baby. Who doesn’t want a piece of that? Anybodies and nobodies, too. I got this guy camped out in my waiting room who bakes these cookies and thinks he’s going to get to see me because he knows somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody.”

“Who’s supposed to know something about something you can’t live without.”

“As if I’m ever going to have time to see him”

“Good cookies, though.’

“Good, but not great.”

El Kid knew his cookies were not great. He was still trying to reach far and wide enough to get there. High, too. He knew how to mix, and stir, and blend, and often whir, and how to taste more than a bit of bittersweetness, but not always how to let it be. He was constantly tinkering with his spices, never right, never exactly wrong, as if spices represented the vortex by which gravity pulled the cockeyed earth.

For the lucky seventh time, he approached the receptionist who bubbled behind the gilt desk, and offered, “Have another cookie.”

Who of sound mind was going say no to a pure and natural cookie right out of the box with no strings attached?

She said, “Maybe just one more.”

“Nothing wrong with pure and natural ingredients.”

“It’s tingling my tongue.”

El Kid knew a little bit about how to bite, and scratch, and claw, too. And fake an authentic smile. He was lucky enough to learn that early in a tough town. He thought he was going to succeed in getting to see Steve Wynn not only because he knew Sweet Lady Jane, who had already won unanimous approval for her chocolate tacos, mocha cupcakes, and cinnamon bobka from Steve Wynn, the only vote to count, and not only because Sweet Lady Jane knew Thom Roger, the lead interior designer for The Mirage, who used to have an office on Melrose Ave. next door to her great bakery in West Hollywood, and not only because Thom Roger knew Steve Wynn who had known Roger’s father in Las Vegas for many years, but mostly because he wasn’t going to give up. He had refused to quit while staying put, and he had endured humiliation lots of shitty times before.

“Tingling is good You can put in a good word for tingling with your boss.”

“I’ll do my best.”

She politely kicked him out of her office at five o’clock, though, with the unfortunate message that Mr. Wynn had been mysteriously called away and was gone for the day, which was in fact not a lie, a first.

El Kid might have let slip out at the next opportunity when inside the next elevator going miserably down alone, which was not a question, “What the fuck.”

He crossed The Strip on foot revisiting the eternal loop that skipped in his head, do I stay or do I go? A bus beeped and a minivan blew a warning, beware. He pushed against the nearest revolving door and followed a crooked highway into the bowels of a casino. Speak up, no shirking, you dope. Murderous expectations for tomorrow, about the same. Unintended consequences unaccountable. You won’t find out until the last second before you’re dead. Pick a number, any number. Don’t pretend not to peek.

He was too hot, too dry, too flattened to come up with a convincing response to a nolo contendere plea. Fake trickle down is grueling to harvest when baked on brick pavement by a desert fighting back by any means necessary. He tried not to forget it is what it is.

He took a seat at the sports book at Harrah’s, where seats were many and asses in them few, and perused the odds on the neon board. The pivotal third game of the 1989 World Series was about to begin on an array of screens populating the amphitheater, A’s versus Giants, two sides of the San Francisco Bay. As a recently confirmed resident of the Santa Cruz Mountains, El Kid was a fan of both. South Bay, too. He gulped a free beer that was worth it, and mused, why not a better beer? Why not add spices? The shifting numbers on the board seemed to be slanted at an obtuse dialogue. Unless that was only Socrates getting the shaft again. Lucky for El Kid he wasn’t playing odds.

Baseball is a complex game of decision making in tight situations where simultaneous variables travel at high speed to impact at junctures that hurt. Simple enough. Who hasn’t been spiked, beaned, battered, bruised, broken? Or whiffed on a deceptive pitch and struck out?

El Kid arose from his comfortable seat to place his bet in memory of Joe Avirgan, a man who worshiped at the altar of a home run in the bottom of the ninth. He was betting on not only power but speed. No odds were able to stand up to that.

And then the Bay Bridge fell down on the big screen in front of his wide eyes that would never be able to close in the same way again.

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Kant Say

fib3     The Kid was hoofing it back to his car through a concrete tunnel that smelled like dog shit, cat piss, rancid cooking oil, and the original adobe bricks pitched as weapons against the carbine carrying conquistadors. He was wearing his expensive Italian shoes that hurt his feet, and pleated, itchy wool pants stitched in Bangladesh. He was only partially distracted by calculating the big numbers in his small head from a big day in sales when he experienced a brief unsettling episode of a recurring event, often mistaken for a deep thought, asking where am I? Some recurring questions are perennially hard to answer on a satisfying, ongoing basis. Why wool pants on a hot day in August? It was a highly meaningful personal question worthy of an imperative answer with its derivation deep in the metaphysics of his sweaty balls, but was it universal as well? Or just another contradiction. The cooking oil he smelled was the deadly, hydrogenated kind that clogs arteries, grows nodes, and corrodes bones, the wily cats descendants of mutant coyotes. But, that wasn’t it either. Wool and L.A. are almost never a good combination. He already knew that categorically, which is why he did not recklessly ask why more often than absolutely necessary. It was just as easy and satisfying to blame the heat and smog rising. Sort of.

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A Croupy Toot

tombstone     It was no time for levity. The atmosphere was much too dry. It was no time for fiddle faddle or pussy footing either. That weak shit was so over. But, make no mistake. It was time. The waxed fruits on display were getting no riper. An official brass band blew a rousing croupy toot and the solo President of the United States appeared on stage to adoring pork and bean squeals. Dander mixed with bile and crusted flakes tumbled like confetti from loge seats. Clubs trumped diamonds and high heels stomped spades under crappy tables. There’s nowhere to go but one known way up after that. He was wearing a minor dab of tasteful pancake and blush, a rakish top hat, spats, and a white tail like a lizard.

lizard-in-top-hat

“My fellow Americans,” the solo President crooned,” and I do mean all among you who have no cause to question or doubt, I come before you not to mourn the failure of a transitory and negligible passing, and not to engage in pejoratives, expletives, or negativisms, because why bother with losers, but to get it on. We are going to get it on so far out there we will be able to stay the way we are, swing it back to the way it used to be, and pretend in 3-D omnicast it is simultaneously like it was and will always be for better or worse in sickness ’til we part. You be sure to stay tuned and follow the bouncing balls. With all my power and spleen, I thank you, along with your so-called government that stands lined up straight to unilaterally second that emotion.”

second-that-emotion

The cloudburst of low pressure pouring from the top tier boxes was precipitous. Draggy dress rehearsals were never exciting like this. Chilled penguins wiggled flippers and exchanged secret hand signals while skating on thin ice. A mid-century beauty rubbed latex semi-gloss into a stunning clear veneer on a rotating stage. Cheap imported cameras memorialized events in stylish white with velvety undertones of beige and cream in clotted bulk. Howdy-Doody was there, Flub-A-Dub, Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Jones, Mr. Peanut, Clark Kent, Urkel, Tonto, though no Zorro. The detachable shelves were stocked with discounted merchandise bouncing off of walls into cages. Branded jello molds jiggled with delight. The pork and beans came with a choice of two mashed sides. Voting was with feet. The cameras focused on a giant applause meter that jumped and swayed. Rumors of hanky-panky were naturally exaggerated. Yes, the best side won as always.

“We, as the gloating winners who are good at it, and have all the proof and nothing but the proof we need to prove it, so help us, are good at getting what we’ve won while the getting is good. Who else knows better what it takes and how it’s done? That’s how it looks to me. That’s how it is and supposed to be straight from the source of Gold Almighty. I know all of you who can speak would agree with me if you could. But that’s my job now. And a sweet one it is. There are no leftover spoils here to be had. I got it covered. Everything’s fresh from the can. We boil twice to be sure, spread it thin. But enough idly said. Taste the pudding and pie filling. Grab some cheap pussy on the house. After that, the price goes up on a normal schedule with compounded interest.”

The rakish solo President cut a slashing figure as he joined the joyous bob and weave on ice. He twirled his diamond encrusted billy club with deft sticky fingers and opposable thumbs. Gold flashed sharp and incisively. There is no substitute for diamonds and gold on skates. Until, that is, he slipped on a flap of loose skin and unsightly leakage from a camouflaged plug came undone. A swift cutting edge re-insertion became required by any means necessary. The Secret Service whisked him away to a broom closet for his own self-protection. How else was he going to be able to remain stiff for the good of the country, praise the fucking lord? This benighted man was no robot out of a mold. His medication worked like a charm once it kicked in.

trump2

The band continued to play soft and hard as cover for marching and charging after his premature departure. Talk was cheap and flowed. A conga line formed in triumph to hail. A fragrance gathered underfoot and congealed among exposed toes. Unless that was the limbo. And those poles with sharp points had keen purpose.

The solo President of the United States had a dream that night of staying alive. It had a steady beat and he could dance to it. Fox News covered an interpretation like a blanket of ocher smog. The monotonous chorus would become legend on the gospel trail during the blockbuster Summer season. He appeared as a smoking vision of vitality all night long. His stage too was rotating at no less than a mid-century rate. He was splendidly spent perhaps, but fulfilled by his insertion, and still beige, and clotted, and creamy.

 

 

 

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Blowing

smoke in color     The Kid was afraid but he refused to admit it. He held tight to the wheel with both hands. Even years later he could not bring himself to admit it. That would be the same as conceding defeat. How was he supposed to get where he was going that way? The wind had first started to growl with menace above the Arctic Circle, rising, falling, spreading out like a cluster bomb on the tundra. The wind was ancient, and the wind was here and now. The wind stripped carcasses, left dry bones. Gusts rocked his car with hammers and fists but he was not going to budge. Not now, not then, not ever. Of course the wolves howled alongside. In Saskatchewan and Alberta dogs joined in. The wind foamed from the jaws at the mouth of Lake Superior. Ships at the bottom rock and rolled like cranky old timers, not only the Edmund Fitzgerald. Trees in dark forests snapped like popsicle sticks. The wind cut and dismembered the electricity in Menominee. The assistant deputy on duty at the power plant had a heart attack. His wife had begged him to lose weight. It did no good. It never did. The wind shredded the plate glass window of a bratwurst factory in Racine. Raw, hideous meat oozed and sparkled. Sewage backed up in Peuwaukee, generators failed in Oshkosh, alternators in Prairie due Chien. Milk cows, winter wheat, barn roofs, all fell, and did not get up to beat the count. Then it began to really blow.

The Kid tapped his breaks lightly, careful not to skid on the ice. It was a bigger car than he was accustomed to driving, a green Plymouth Duster with a 443 cubic inch supercharged V-8 engine. He had stolen it earlier that afternoon from the driveway of a split level home in a suburb of Milwaukee. The cute family of four was warm inside eating Campbell’s tomato rice soup and grilled cheese sandwiches around the Christmas tree. The path ahead was as clear as it was going to be. He would park it right up front at the airport and mail the keys back to the owners. He had no problem paying off a debt. It was no big deal really. If it was truly a debt, that is. But threats and extortion was something else. No fucking way he deserved that. He was going where they’d never find him.

Until one day, he finally could. Admit it, that is. It wasn’t such a big deal anymore. Do or not, ebb and flow, but not only. Wisely, he reflected. Choose what makes a difference. Though not too close to any edge.

It took three hours to drive the ninety miles from Milwaukee to Madison. The wind had gained reinforcements on frozen Lake Mendota, on frozen Lake Monona, on frozen Lake Wingra that was cracking up. Trees were down all over town, pine trees, and birch trees, and red maples in the best of neighborhoods. Telephone service was spotty. The Capitol was deserted. The University of Wisconsin was shut up tight. The airport was closed. The stores were stripped of batteries, Marlboros, Meisterbraus, and corn flakes. Model citizens were preparing for the worst. The worst was surely coming. There was ebb and there was flow and then there was this.

The Kid stretched out on the floor of the airport terminal to wait. There was plenty of free parking. All he ever wanted to be most was free. He was confident he left no tracks to follow. Or such obvious tracks, why bother? How many cities was it in how many days? He mailed his letter with the keys wrapped inside. He enclosed cash and an apology. It couldn’t be helped. He believed that sincerely until he no longer did. The lights flickered but stayed on inside the terminal. He was not alone there. Others, too, had nowhere else to go. The building shook, but stayed put. The way he figured, he had it made.

The first flight took him to Minneapolis, and then Seattle. After that, only he would be in a position to know.

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