Sojourn

“I woke last night to the sound of thunder; how far off I sat and wondered. Started humming a song from 1962; ain’t it funny how the night moves.” – Night Moves – Bob Seger

My wheels flowed like a current through the sticky grey broth of liquefied snow pulverized to slush. As I watched threatening sky cloud fortresses come marching in from the north; pale shards of moonlight back-lit the waning storm that had settled overhead. Craggy snow flurries illuminated by a finger of light from the gigantic full moon lit the horizon where jagged bolts of lighting sheared the sky with sharp salvos of thunder that followed with coursing bursts of ear-piercing static.

Another chattering night dipping below zero on this first day of spring; snow flakes the size of quarters covered the roads so fast the yellow lines became invisible; fear drove beside me on the unlit magic carpet highway; my spaceship and me a wavy hypnotic knot of color moving in psychedelic slow motion. Hypnotized by the western sky purpling to the color of a mussel shell before turning a sooty black; Thor hammer thunderheads swallowed the few remaining stars in the sky

Hyped-up white knuckle slip sliding held me captive when a hazy apparition appeared in the distance coming slowly into focus until I saw the international symbol for help, an upraised thumb. I pulled over and motioned him in. He was a pug faced pear-shaped man with a thick jet-black pompadour, a broken Roman nose and an air of smugness. The crevices around his eyes and mouth turned his face into a clenched fist as ugly as an exit wound.

His most distinguishing feature were two bushy eyebrows that resembled a single woolly caterpillar crawling across his forehead; looking every bit the Joe Pesci character David Ferrie in JFK. He wore a Viet Nam era head cover and the flak jacket armor of a veteran sprinkled with shiny symbols. He was a man as old man as me; but his weathered skin was as tight as a cheap pair of new boots; it moved like cracked parchment and the lines in his haggard face resembled the veins in a marble statue.

He had jagged teeth like a broken fence made of Chiclets; and though he smelled as ripe as the inside of a leper; like cologne with top notes of sweat and had a steel wool voice so graveled you could scour a stove with it; he spoke in italics like a diplomat. “Where you headed” I said. I noticed a bit of the demon in the corner of his eye as he answered. “Sometimes in the winds of change, we find our true direction” he said.

His name was Joe; a Muskogee Indian from southern Michigan making his way on a 200 mile slog to a powwow, sweat lodge cleansing and ceremonial dance affair. Once I told him I knew Russell Means had recently passed over to the happy hunting ground he opened up and we shared a bit of our infamous exploits. I explained why I’d left the cool clear watery ink blue skies and the smell of eucalyptus and honeysuckle of California for the winter bone chill and smoky haze that overlay the edge of Wisconsin’s rugged wilderness.

He had a way of conversing like the downbeat of an axe and smiled with a diabolical grin like he’d just closed an orphanage. He passed me a photo of himself in his prime looking every bit a stiletto in-fighter with a glowering stare that could crack open an oyster. When dressed up like he was in the photo he looked like a well-kept grave.

He seemed to be narcotized and when he produced and offered me what looked like dried beef turdlets; nuggets I instantly recognized as hydrated peyote buttons, I knew why. I washed the gross tasting buds down with a few good slugs from my whisky flask and it wasn’t long before they kicked in like a freight train; undulating my guts like a washing machine.

“Where are your people” I said. “We’re driving over them” he said. “How do you handle it man” I said. “When it gets worse than I want myself to imagine; I pretend it’s a movie I’m filming. I’m in it and directing my character but the rest of it just unfolds; I watch and I film; disconnected. In the end, when I re-watch the documentary, I hope my character was heroic and I can be proud of how he, I, handled the shit-storm” He said.

“What about you” he said? “Me, well, when it’s good; I prevail. Failing that; I survive” I said. He seemed like a really nice person and I didn’t want to offend him, so realizing I may have just dissed his whole ancestry with my survival comment I recovered. “I have great respect for your people’s fight to the death thing. But I’m not a big fan of falling on my sword, casting myself on the rocks or hanging on a cross for anything. Its pride comes before the fall, so, when I’m outnumbered, over-matched or outflanked I just smile and bide my time. There is always an escape if you insist on the move that will bring you there. It’s that Sun Tzu wisdom; if your enemy is superior, evade him. If angry, irritate him. If equally matched, fight, and if not split and reevaluate”.

We burned for another fifty miles I didn’t notice I’d driven. I wanted to keep going and travel to the powwow with him; but I had reasons tethering me to my spot for another week or so. So when the next turnoff approached I left him at an on-ramp. As he split on his quest we were both feeling pretty good; both knowing that feeling good was good enough. “Be careful Joe; the water gets choppy out your way” I said. “You too brother” he said.

 

Eat the Rich

“We are what we pretend to be; so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” – Mother Night – Kurt Vonnegut 

The afternoon sky was the color of brushed aluminum when a tangerine twilight turned it into charcoal dusk. As evening descended into night the gloaming dove-grey heavens had the macabre formality of a steel engraving. The dark night’s moonlit winds roared in from Canada and blew a banshee typhoon till dawn. The snow devil set down a foot of fluff while I drifted into tender oblivion; dreaming of sunny black sand beaches that would steam my friends and lovers and me like dumplings, when I woke the weather guy claimed wind chills of fifty below zero.

It was a tranquil almost idyllic morning lit by glints of sunlight sending flickers and flashes of reflections glancing up from the white lake; winds had made frozen caps of silvery filigree. I watched fissures among western cloud banks fade from smoky crimson to violet. Donning sub-zero amour for my daily espresso rendezvous at Alley Cats, my chrysalis encased morning feels calved from the atmosphere like an iceberg from a glacier. I sat with the lumberjack clutch this morning, summoned by greetings that were warm and true; attached to faces as pinched as hatchet blades. They look to have shaved with a blowtorch.

Like bullfighter’s; a lot of cape and then the sword, they start conversations in the middle; assured each knows where the other left off; as if coming from no past and having no future. Stress, anger and unspoken pain have taken a toll on each mans face. They work, plow ahead and overcome conflict; they are as tough as sandbags. To call them monotonous conversationalist, debating the virtues of Chevy’s over Ford’s, is to say the poet who penned the Ancient Mariner only needed a moment of your time.

One hundred and fifty odd years ago, just down the meadow from where we sip our black and tan Colombian gold; on these frozen mid-western plains, Sioux Indians met up with a merchant who after refusing them food said; “if they are hungry, let them eat grass.” Months later when hostilities erupted, one remembering Sioux buried a tomahawk in the burgomaster’s head and stuffed his mouth full of prairie grass. These are the descendants of those white pioneering Pyrrhic victors, and like their namesake proclaimed, after vanquishing the foe and losing his soul, “another such victory and we are lost”.

“There are people whose clocks stop at a certain point in their lives.” proclaimed Charles Augustan Sainte-Beuve, French literary critic; but here, at the end of the day, the clock never stops and you can either focus on what’s tearing you apart or what’s holding you together. For these American icons; men with bark on them as hard as the trees they murder, the best way out is always through.

Yet with all their zeal for a passionate normality that leaves me cold; their life experience makes them show more empathy, more pro-social behavior, more compassion than the rich, famous winners of the lucky sperm contest, who are less empathetic, less altruistic and generally more selfish. My coffee slugging mates this morning are actors in a modern-day version of a Depression-era Frank Capra movie; and while the rich gloss over the ways family connections, money and education helped, they serve only to denigrate the very things these noble American blade warriors exemplify.