BAM!

“Aw, crud.  Here comes Willie.”

Enzo Acosta was looking out through the window of the Central Avenue Recreation Center office where he was seated with Clyde Bartow, Brian Cortner and the new Assistant Recreation Leader, Mary Fillippi.  Over the teeter-totters and beyond the swings  could be seen the large, shambling figure of Willie Starnes slouching toward the nerve center of the place that the neighborhood kids simply called “The Park.”

“Man, why doesn’t his parents move or something?” Clyde asked.

“We should be so lucky,” Brian replied.

“Why didn’t is parents practice birth control?” Enzo asked, and all three boys let out a collective groan.

“Why do you dislike him so much?” Mary asked.  She was the newly-hired assistant recreation leader, recently graduated from Arizona State University and just beginning to climb up the ladder of civil service.

“He’s kind of a jerk,” Enzo replied.  “He thinks he’s being funny all of the time, but he’s the only one who’s laughing.”

“So why don’t you tell him he’s not funny?” Mary suggested.  “Maybe he needs to hear that so that he can change his act.”

“For starters, we don’t tell him that because he can kick our as – – -; our butts, I mean,” Clyde replied.  “He’s not smart, but he’s big and he’s mean.  Nobody wants to be his friend, but nobody wants to be his enemy either.”

“Well, I’m sure that Mr. Peterson doesn’t allow any bullying here at the rec center, and I won’t either.”

“You won’t see it; not really.  He’s careful not to do anything that’ll get him busted.”

“Why do you hang out with him then?  I’ve seen you all shooting hoops or goofing off out in the field.  If you don’t want him bothering you here, just say so.”

“That might make it better here,” Brian said.  “But it would make life just that much more hazardous at school and everywhere else.”

Willie had reached the Park office by this time and, seeing the three boys and Mary  inside, he walked through the door to join them.

“Hi foxy lady.  You must be the new rec leader,” he said to Mary, and as he did so he reached out with his left hand and popped Brian in the back of the head, simultaneously saying “Bam!”

“You can call me Miss Fillippi,” Mary said with a voice tinged with icyness.  “And I will not allow you to hit people here.

“Oh, that’s just a game that we play,” he replied to her, and then looked at Brian and the other two boys and asked, “Isn’t it?”

They all agreed that it was, and in this case what they said was nearly the truth.  The game began as one in which surprise was the point.  A person might throw a large, soft rubber ball at another who was not looking, or perhaps snap someone’s shoulder with a rubber band.  At the point when surprise, and occasionally mild discomfort, occurred, the initiator of the surprise would shout “Bam,” and was thereby excused from retaliation unless and until the victim could create a surprise of their own.

It was a harmless game and fun, at least until willie learned about it.  Then punches in the shoulder or a basketball thrown at your face became the “joke.”  Once, Willie caught Brian leaning back in a folding chair with his feet up on the seat of a wooden park bench.  He was balancing on the two back legs of the chair and had his hands clasped behind his neck.  They were outside of the Park office in a covered area where hop scotch and four square might still be played on infrequent rainy days.

Brian was talking about his plans to study acting and then go to Los Angeles when he graduated from high school in two years.  That really was his dream, and he was trying to impress Mary Ellen Zinner with his knowledge of how Hollywood worked and how he would climb the ladder.  Mary Ellen was quite taken by Brian’s seeming knowledge and Brian was quite taken with Mary Ellen.  In fact, at that moment his whole attention was on her alone.

Willie saw a golden opportunity and removed his shoes and socks.  He filled one sock with sand and tied it off at the ankle.  Then he edged close to where Brian was leaning back and describing one of his life dreams to another of his life dreams.  When he was no more than six feet away he threw the heavy sock at Brian and connected with him squarely in the crotch.

Surprise and pain combined to cause Brian to jerk back, which resulted in him tumbling backwards and hitting the asphalt with the back of his head, right in the middle of the four square court.  “Bam!” Willie shouted and then he laughed.  Nobody else laughed with him, and Mary knelt down and asked Brian if he was OK.  His head and his nuts hurt and he was as embarrassed as he could possibly be, and he briefly considered getting up and punching Willie in the face, even though that would probably amount to something like suicide.  Mary Ellen was showing concern for him however, and that unexpected pleasure gave him pause from getting up and at least trying to beat the living snot out of Willie Starnes; something that he was fairly sure that he could never accomplish.  The memory of that day however would leave a sour knot in Brian’s stomach for a long time to come.

“Come on,” Willie said, interrupting Brian’s reminiscence of that humiliating event.  “Somebody check out a basketball and let’s shoot some hoops.”  Clyde offered Mary Fillippi his wallet for a basketball and soon they had a two-on-two game going on in the basketball court.  Brian ended up on a team with Willie, and between plays Willie asked him, “What’s Miss Prissy-Pants’ problem?”

“Huh?” Brian asked.  “What are you talking about?”

“The hottie in the office.  What makes her so unfriendly?”

“What?  Who?  Mary?  Shoot, I don’t know what you mean.  She’s OK enough with me.  Maybe she doesn’t like to be called a foxy lady.”

“Shit!  Every chick likes to be called foxy lady.”

“I wouldn’t know.  I guess some might like it if they know the person who’s calling them that.  I suppose you would have to ask her.”

“Uh-uh.  Nope.  I’ve got a better idea.  You guys play with yourselves for a while.”

Willie flashed a smirk, thinking that he had just delivered a clever line.  Then he walked through the gate in the corner of the basketball court and disappeared west on Bernardo Street.

“Where’s he going?” Enzo asked.

“Who cares?” Clyde replied.  “Let’s just enjoy his absence.

They continued to play some games that did not require teams, eventually forgetting about Willie.  The break was a pleasant one, but it was much too short.  Far sooner than they would have liked, Willie was seen pushing through the gate and re-entering the court.

“You miss me?” he asked the three boys.

“Does Europe miss the plague?” Enzo replied, and then said “Bam!”

Willie laughed along with the others but punched Enzo in the shoulder anyway.  The look on Enzo’s face suggested that there was an internal debate going on in his mind whether or not the time had come to retaliate against Willie whether he had a chance of doing so successfully or not.  If Willie noticed that look, he chose to ignore it.

“I guess I settled Prissy-Pants’ hash for her,” he said.

“What do you mean?” Clyde asked.

“I went to the Market Spot and bought a potato, and I shoved it into the tailpipe of her car.”

“Why did you do that?” Brian asked.  “What’s that supposed to do?”

“Its stuck tight,” Willie replied.  “When she fires up her car the exhaust will be blocked and she’ll blow out her muffler.  That’ll teach her to play smart mouth with me.”

“Shit, man.  That’s cold,” Enzo said.

“Yeah?  Well, then she should watch who she’s talking to.  Are you standing up for her?”

“Naw, none of my business,” Enzo said, thinking better of getting into it with the much larger Willie.  “She’ll probably guess who did it.”

“Yeah, but she can’t prove it,” Willie said with his incredibly annoying smirk.  “Though I hope that she does guess who did it.”

“Oh, crap.  It’s time for me to go,” Clyde said, looking at his watch.  “My dad’s back from deployment somewhere in the Pacific, and he expects to eat at three thirty every afternoon.  I gotta check the ball in and split.”

“Yeah, me too,”  Enzo echoed.  “Mom told me to be home before she went to work.  I’m cutting out of here.”

“I’ll go with you,” Brian said.  My brother’s going to sneak me into a movie tonight.

“You’re just a bunch of chicken-shits that don’t want to stay around for the fun,” Willie accused.  All three protested that he was wrong, but they still turned and left.  Clyde checked in the ball and said goodbye to Mary, and then the three friends started walking down Bernardo Street towards Brian’s house on Myrtle, three blocks away.

The stories that they had told Willie were, of course, pure fabrications.  They only wanted to put distance between themselves and the Park before Mary finished her shift and started her car to drive home.  As they walked toward Brian’s house, which was a frequent gathering place for the three boys, they discussed their problem.

“Man, we should have warned Mary,” Enzo said.

“Yeah, it’s not cool that he’s trying to screw up her car,” Brian agreed.

“But how could we say anything without Willie knowing it?” Clyde asked.  “I guess we’re the only ones he told, so he’d know that it was us who ratted him out.  I don’t want to deal with that either.”

“Ah, shit.  This is a mess,” Brian growled, and so the conversation went.

Once they arrived at Brian’s house the three boys went to the garage that had been converted into a sort of club house.  Inside were sofas and a small refrigerator, and walls covered with movie posters and other Hollywood memorabilia.  Brian’s brother, Frank, was in the club house when they got there.  He was looking for a place on the wall for the latest poster that he had brought home from his job at the River Bend Theater, where he worked part-time.

“Hey man,” Brian said as he entered.

“What’s up, Frank?” Enzo asked.

“Yeah, what up?” Clyde echoed.

“Hey guys.  How’s it hanging?”

“Ah, you know.  Same old same old,” Brian answered, and then after a moment he asked, “Hey Bro.  What happens when you stick a potato in somebody’s tail pipe?”

“What?”  Frank asked.  “You guys trying to screw with somebody?”

“No man,” Clyde replied.  “We just wanna know.  Somebody did it to somebody else, and he said that it will screw up their car.  Is that true?”

“No,” Frank said with a laugh.  “That ain’t true.”

“How do you know?” Enzo asked.

“Because I tried it,” Frank replied.

“Really?” Brian said in surprise.  “How come you never told me about it?”

“You never asked,”  Frank replied.  “Anyway, it’s no big deal.  Nothing happens.”

“No shit?  So it doesn’t blow out the muffler?”

“No,” Frank answered, laughing again.  “It just shoots the spud out a foot or two, and that’s all.  There’s a lot of compression in a car’s engine, and a spud won’t last very long in a tail pipe.”  The three boys looked at each other without speaking, but with relief washing visibly over their faces.  “Is there something that I should know about?” he asked.

“No, it’s nothing,” Brian answered.  “We’re all cool.  Hey, what’s that you’re hanging up?”

“It’s a poster for the film series that we just finished at the River Bend.  ‘B-Movie Classics of the 50’s and 60’s.’  They made some fine cheese back then.”

The boys gathered around Frank and marveled at the poster that he was in the process of hanging on the wall.  It was a life-size poster of Michael Landon as the Teenage Werewolf, complete with a hairy face, a mouthful of fangs, two large, hairy paws and a high school letterman’s jacket.

“Wow,” Clyde said and whistled.  “He looks like Chewbacca on steroids.”

“Yeah,” Frank said.  “Isn’t he cool?”  Then he left the boys alone in the garage, saying that he had to go into the house and study.  Brian opened the little refrigerator and extracted three soft drinks, which they opened and then sat down on the sofas.

“Man, we gotta do something about Willie,” Brian said.

“Do what?” Enzo asked.  “The guy can take on all three of us at the same time, or at least two of us.  What can we do?”

“Shit, I don’t think that there’s anything that we can do,” Clyde said.  “I may just quit going to the Park.”

“Oh hell no!” Brian replied.  “I think Mary’s starting to like me, but I haven’t asked her to go out with me yet, and there’s no other place where I can hang with her.  The Park’s the only place where we can get together.”

“Go on man.  What’s Mary to you?  Or more to the point, what are you to Mary?  She’s a college graduate, for crying out loud.”

Brian flipped his bottle cap in Clyde’s direction.  “Not Mary Fillippi, pea brain.  Mary Ellen Zinner.”

“Oh, really?  You think that she’s looking at you?” Enzo asked.

“Yeah, I think so.”

“I thought that she had better sense,” Clyde said.

“Yeah.  I thought she was looking a little higher up the food chain.”

“Screw both of you,” Brian said, and they all laughed.  Anyway, I’m not going to let that asshole run me away from the Park.”

“Then what’re we gonna do?” Enzo asked.

“Yeah.  If we can’t get rid of him, I wanna at least have a little pay backs,” Clyde said.

The three grew silent as they pondered the problem of Willie Starnes.  What do you do with a guy who is bigger than most of the rest of the kids, that wants to be one of the guys, but wants to be the alpha male at the same time?  Clyde was studying his fingernails while deep in thought, and Brian was looking absently out through the window.  Enzo was staring at the toothy Teenage Werewolf poster on the wall, occasionally baring his own teeth and curling his fingers into claws.  It was into this setting that Frank walked with a can of beer in his hand.

“Wow, what are you guys so serious about?” he asked.  “I’m not used to seeing this much brain power coming out of this group.”

“We’re trying to figure out a way to get some pay backs on Willie Starnes,” Brian said.  “There’s gotta be some way to get back at him.  I mean, he has to be afraid of something or someone.”

“He’s afraid of him,” Frank said, motioning towards the Teenage Werewolf with his can of beer.  “At least, he’s afraid of some of his friends.”

“What do you mean?” Clyde asked.

“He’s afraid of those movie monsters,” Frank replied.  “Him and his sister came to an evening showing last week.  It was The Creature From the Black Lagoon that was playing, I think, or maybe the House on Haunted Hill.  Anyway, it scared the pee out of him.”

“How do you know?” Brian asked.

I was working behind the snack counter that night and I saw him come out of the theater and go into the bathroom.  I saw it with my own two eyes.  He peed his pants.”

The room fell silent as a tomb, and then erupted into laughter at the thought of big, bad Willie peeing his pants at a movie, and with his sister as a witness.  “Oh man, I wish that I could have seen that,” Enzo said through his laughter.

“Maybe we should invite him to go see a movie with us,” Clyde suggested.  “He couldn’t turn us down without looking like he was chicken.”

“Oh, he’d find an excuse,” Brian said.  “He’s stupid, but he isn’t dumb.  I don’t think he’ll get into a movie house with us if there’s a chance he might pee his pants again.  Dang it!  There must be some way to introduce him to a good monster.”

The three boys, and now Frank too, fell to scheming on some way to take Willie to a monster movie.  They came up with multiple scenarios, none of which was practical.  Finally, however, Brian hit on a plan.  “Guys,” he said.  “If we can’t take Willie to the monster, maybe we should bring the monster to Willie.”

“Huh?” Enzo grunted.  “How do you propose that we do that?”

Brian pointed at the Werewolf poster and said, “That thing’s nearly life-size.  How about we stick that into Willie’s window tomorrow night?”

“Willie lives on the second floor,” Clyde observed.  “How do you propose that we stick that in his window?  You gonna ride on Godzilla’s back?”

“Well, that’s the stuff that we have to figure out,” Brian replied.  “We gotta be smarter than Willie, don’t we?”

“Hey!” Frank interjected.  “How does this sound?  You cut out the picture of the Werewolf from that poster and glue it onto some cardboard from the box that our folks’ new refrigerator came in.  Dad was saving it to put down over some place in the yard where he wants to kill the weeds, but I think that this is a worthy cause. Then we’ll tack Old Toothy there to the end of an eight foot two-by-two, and then join that to another two-by-two.  That’ll give you sixteen feet plus your own height, and you should be able to stick that thing right into Willie’s bedroom window.”

The boys broke out into cheers and laughter as they approved of Frank’s idea.  “OK,” Brian said.  “We have a plan.  Now we have to work out the particulars, like how’re we gonna know when Willie’s in his room?”

“That one might be easier than you think,” Enzo replied.  “Wednesday nights are family night at Willie’s house.  His old man insists that they eat at four in the afternoon and then play cards or dominoes or whatever after that.  He makes the the family stay together until six thirty.  Willie always splits to his room the second that he can get away.  By six thirty-five he will be there.”

“How in the heck do you know all of that?” Clyde asked.  “You been hanging out at his house?”

“No man.  His sister sits next to me in Mr. Hearns’ English class.  She tells me some stuff about Willie that I don’t share much because it could get my ass kicked.  She doesn’t like him much more than we do.  She told me about the family night stuff.  She doesn’t like it very much herself.”

“Did she tell you about him pissing himself at the movies?”

“No, she didn’t.  I guess that was one that even she wanted to stay away from.”

“Hot damn!” Brian shouted out.  “It’s payback time!”

“Whoa,” Clyde said.  “How are we going to join two two-by-twos together end to end?   How are we going to get them to Willie’s apartment?  Most important; how are we going to get away from there without getting our asses kicked or the police called on us?”

“I can help you with that,” Frank offered.  “It shouldn’t be too hard to build a sleeve to act as a connector for the two two-by-twos.  You guys get to work on cutting out the Werewolf and pasting him onto the cardboard.  We can think about the other stuff while we get this done.”

By seven o’clock that evening they had a fairly rigid nearly life-size Teenage Werewolf attached to one end of an eight foot long two-by-two piece of lumber.  On the other end of the wood stick was a pair of one eighth inch thick metal straps that were fastened to the wood by two bolts that ran through holes in the metal and wood that had been drilled by Frank.

The second two-by-two also had holes drilled into it that corresponded to holes in the lower end of the metal straps.  By sliding the second two-by-two between the straps, inserting two more bolts and then tightening them down with a couple of lock washers and nuts, the assembly became a fairly secure sixteen foot pole with a Teenage Werewolf on the top of it.

“So how’re we going to get these to Willie’s house?” Enzo asked.  “We’d look a little conspicuous walking down the street with it.”

“Let me talk to Larry Boortz,” Frank said.  He’s got a truck.  Maybe he’ll let me borrow it tomorrow.”

“Oh yeah man,” Brian said.  “Tomorrow’s the day!  Can you call him now?”

“Sure.  I’ll go inside and see if I can get ahold of him.”

Frank went into the house to find his phone, leaving the three boys literally vibrating with excitement.  “This is what I’ve been dreaming about,” Brian said.  “I’ve wanted to get back at that jerk ever since he hit me in the balls with that sock.”

“Yeah man,” Clyde agreed.  “I wish that I could see him when he pisses himself again.”

“Piss hell!” Enzo replied with a laugh.  “I’ll bet he puts a big, fat, stinking brown log in his underwear!”

They all began to laugh so hard that they had to sit down, and they were still laughing when Frank returned with a big grin on his face.  “The truck’s ours after four o’clock, boys.  We’re in business and we’re gonna do this thing.”

The next day, a day early in November, the boys anxiously waited for Frank to return with his friend’s truck.  By five o’clock they had loaded the wood and poster and hardware into the bed of the truck.  The sun went down at five fifty three that day, so they waited until six.  Then, Frank, Brian and Enzo climbed into the cab of the truck while Clyde laid down in the bed holding tight to the two-by-twos, the ends of which protruded over the tailgate of the truck’s short bed.

Frank drove carefully, trying to draw no attention to the truck and its occupants.  They parked in the middle of the block on Mason Street, equally distant from the street lamps at either end of the block.  Willie’s apartment was reached by going south on Mason to Thirty Fourth Street, then turning right and going to the next corner.

There was a light on that corner, but it was across the street diagonally from Willie’s apartment.  A hedge of oleander bushes grew in a line about three feet from the apartment and parallel to the building, which largely shielded the boys from sight.  A further feature that weighed in their favor was the row of pepper trees that grew in the parking strip along the street.  The light from the street lamp would be shielded at the height of Willie’s window by those trees, leaving Willie without enough light to see anything other than a big, snarling werewolf outside his window.

At Six twenty five they cinched down the nuts on the metal sleeve, creating the sixteen foot-long pole, and crept down the sidewalk with it.  Dusk was settling in with a deep gloom, and nobody saw them as they rounded the corner of Mason and Thirty Fourth.  They quickly ducked behind the oleanders and stepped silently towards the spot below Willie’s window.  Frank had a watch and he followed the second hand.   Slowly it slowly piled up the minutes until it finally read six-thirty.  He held up his hand, signaling for them to get ready.  Six thirty one.  Six thirty two – – -.

At six thirty five he dropped his hand and Brian raised the poster up until it rested motionlessly, flush in the middle of Willie’s bedroom window.  At first there was not a sound.  Six thirty six.  Six thirty seven.  Then a shriek was heard which tore through the screen of the open window and cut into the darkening night.  Brian waved the poster up and down, then side to side, and shriek followed fresh shriek.  Enzo and Clyde were softly stamping their feet, trying to suppress the urge to laugh out loud.  Frank, the cooler of the four, signaled for Brian to pull down the Werewolf and retreat to the truck.

They quickly followed Frank’s lead and ran quietly back to where the truck was parked.  Frank and Clyde jumped into the cab of the truck while Enzo and Brian stuck the pole Werewolf-first into the bed and then climbed in after it.  Frank drove two blocks forward, where they stopped and disassembled their pole.  After that they drove back to Frank and Brian’s house.

The next Saturday the three boys were once again hanging out at the Park, this time outside of the office.  Mary Fillippi was huddled with several of the neighborhood girls talking about nothing that a boy would want to hear.  Once again, Willie was seen plodding across the playground towards where they sat.  The boys carried on their conversation, pretending that they had not seen him.  Finally, as he came close to where they sat, they acknowledged his presence.

“Hey Willie,” Enzo said.  “How’s it hanging?”

“Yeah,” Clyde chimed in.  “What up, man?”

“Hey”, he replied.  “One of you guys want to check out a football and go chuck it in the field?”

“Not today,” Brian said.  “Mary’s busy with Diane and Linda and Mary Ellen and some other girls, and I don’t feel like breaking in on that.”

“Besides,” Enzo added.  “We’re going to the movies.  You wanna go with us?”  Clyde and Brian looked at Enzo as if he had lost his mind.  They had made no such plans that day.  This was the first that they had heard anything at all about going to the movies, and especially with Willie.

“Yeah,” Willie replied.  “Maybe that’d be all right.  Somebody would have to spot me a little change to get in.”

“Yeah, I’ll spring for you,” Enzo replied.  Now the other two boys looked at Enzo with absolute horror on their faces.

“What movie are we going to?” Willie asked.

“The one at the River Bend,” Enzo answered.  He looked at his two stupefied friends and gave a barely-perceptible wink, and then asked them, “What’s playing today?  I think it’s that old one, you know; Fiend Without a Face,” isn’t it?  You know, the one about invisible radioactive brains with the spines hanging out that fly around and land on the back of your neck and suck your brains out?”

Brian realized where Enzo was going with this and stepped up to play his part in the subterfuge.  “No, I think that one was last week.  I think this week it’s The Fly; that one where the guy whips a cloth away from his head and he’s got a big, black, fuzzy fly-head with little mouthparts quivering.”

“Oh yeah,” Enzo responded.  I love the part where David Heddison’s head is on the fly that’s caught in the spider web and the spider is about to eat him.  Vincent Price picks up a big rock and crushes them both.”  He then looked at Willie’s ashen face and said “Oh, are we spoiling this by giving it away?  Well, there’s a second feature that we won’t talk about.”

By now Clyde had caught on and wanted his turn.  “No, no, no.  You’re both wrong.  This week it’s The Tingler.  You know, the one where the big centipede-looking thing crushes your back if you don’t scream when you’re scared and it gets taken out of that mute girl’s bloody back and kills all sorts of people.  I love that movie.”

“Oh yeah!” Brian and Enzo said in unison.  “Let’s see if any of the girls want to come too.  Who knows; they might need a boy to hold their hands.  Are you in, Willie?”

Willie’s face had turned a sickly shade of pale, somewhere between nausea green and deathly white.  He waved both hands in front of himself, signaling a negative reply.  “No man.  I just remembered some stuff that my dad wants me to do.  You guys go ahead on.”

“Too bad,” Brian said and rose up from the bench where he was seated.  “I’ll go ask Mary Ellen and the girls right now if they want to go.”  As he walked slowly towards the office where the girls were gathered, Willie waved to Clyde and Enzo and turned to leave the Park.  After he had fallen out of sight the three boys stood together and looked at one another in silence.  Finally Brian broke into a big smile and said “Bam!”

The laughed so hard that it was almost their turn to pee their pants.  The noise of their laughter reached into the office where the girls were, and they emerged to see what was so funny.  The boys knew that they would have to guard the secret of their sweet revenge until either Willie moved away from the area or one of them grew to be big enough to back him down.

“It’s nothing,” Brian said.  “Inside joke.  You’d have had to be there.”  Then he looked at Mary Ellen with something approaching boldness and said “You want to go to a movie today?”

“Sure.  Maybe,” she answered.  “What’s playing?”

Brian looked over at Clyde and Enzo and asked “You guys know what’s playing?”

“Haven’t a clue,” Enzo replied and looked at Clyde who just shrugged his shoulders.

“We could call it a blind date,” Brian said.  “A really blind one.”

“That sounds like fun,” Mary Ellen replied.  “I’ll call my parents from the office and ask.”

 

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Just Another Morning In Paradise

This morning I sat down in my chair and wrote out all of the things that I intended to get done today. Drive to Sellwood and pick up supplements from my naturopath, return to Vancouver for a massage, get gas, go shopping, and maybe watch some college football. It was going to take some timing, but it could easily be done.

The naturopath’s office opened at nine in the morning, so at eight thirty I jumped into the car and began the thirty minute trip to Sellwood where His office is located. As I crossed the I-205 bridge I felt my pocket, as is my habit, to make sure that I had remembered to bring my phone. I patted up my thigh and then down and, finally, and with considerable consternation, accepted that I had forgotten to bring my phone. “No sweat,” I told myself. “I’ve survived without a phone for most of my life. I guess I’ll do OK for the next hour or two.” So I drove on, exiting the 205 onto Powell Boulevard, and then began to meander through Southeast Portland towards Sellwood.

About half-way down Powell a warning tone came on in the cab of my car and a tire symbol appeared on the dash. I wasn’t perturbed because the darned thing had been going off periodically for the last four months, and the service guys at the local Ford dealership could not find anything wrong with the tires or with the electronics. I had come to accept that my onboard computer was malfunctioning at best, or that it was possessed by a malevolent spirit that was out to make my life miserable. Either scenario was equally believable, although my money would most likely be put on the latter possibility.

Shortly after the alarm went on I stopped for a red light, and when I accelerated again I became aware of an odd flopping noise. This is not entirely unheard of in my Ford Escape. Many times when I’ve been on the highway and had the rear windows down, my ears have been assaulted by the most unpleasant of flopping sounds, so I thought that this might be the same phenomenon.

The windows were rolled up however because it was about fifty three degrees outside and I was wearing only a tee shirt. Also, I was not on the highway. No, the sound came from somewhere else. “Maybe that car next to me,” I thought, so I slowed down and let that car get well in front of me. The flopping sound continued. It wasn’t that car.

At that point I could no longer dodge the fact that I had a tire in trouble. I turned right onto a side street and parked by the curb. Upon getting out of my car I looked at the two driver’s side tires and saw that they were fine. When I walked behind the car and looked at the rear passenger-side tire however, I received the verdict: It was as flat as a board.

“Oh great,” I thought. “Flat tire. Deep into Portland. No phone. What the heck am I to do next?”

At this point some sort of acute stress response reaction set in. This is more commonly known as the “flight or fight syndrome.” I was in a situation here: flat tire, no phone, sketchy neighborhood, wife on a plane to Las Vegas. What do I do next?”

Plan A was to change the tire, but that was not really a valid option. I hate working on cars. When I was young it was expected that all boys could work on cars; that they longed to work on cars. I tried to develop a taste for such activity, but the effort never paid off. Finally, in my later twenties, it became crystal clear that I hated working on cars, and I refused to do it ever again.

Because of this it never occurred to me that I should try to change the flat myself. I might as well try to turn lead into gold. Somewhere in that car was probably a jack, and quite possibly there was also a spare tire. I had no impulse – and I mean zero – to look for either. Cars are dirty, and I don’t like car dirt. Garden dirt is fine. Dirt with tomatoes growing out of it is just peachy. Road dirt? Dirt with old grease in it? Dirt that demands that you scrape your knuckles as a price of admission to play in it? No. Hell no! No damned way. I don’t do that.

Plan B was to return to Vancouver where my phone was and call Triple A. As I said earlier, I was in reaction mode, and going back to where I came from was the first real plan – and it was a visceral plan at that – that came to my mind. Returning to my house in Vancouver would provide me a chance to reset the situation. At that moment I could see a bus approaching that was going in the direction that I wished to go, so I jumped.

I ran across the street and made it to the bus stop in time to board the bus, thanking my lucky stars that I was on my way towards my destination with no delay. I was also thankful that the bus was warm since, as I said, I had left my house wearing only jeans and a tee shirt. No sweat, eh? I’ll be inside all the time!

The bus took me a mile up the road to where I could walk a short distance to the light rail stop, or Max as it’s called in Portland. I walked through a homeless camp and gained the Max platform, only to find that the next train was twenty six minutes away. Weekend schedule. I had no phone, no book, and no pen and paper, and no sweatshirt or jacket, so I chose to walk in long loops around the platform to kill time and try to keep warm.

I made one loop and knocked three minutes off of my wait time. As I began the second loop I remembered that this was a weekend. The train would still run to the Gateway Station, and from there I would board a train that would still run to the Park Rose Station. What I did not know however was if the express bus ran from Park Rose to Vancouver on weekends as it did on weekdays. I would be rolling the dice. It was cold and I was walking on the train platform among trash that was blowing in from the homeless camp, and I did not wish to roll any dice.

No! I would have to stay on the train and pass through Gateway to Lloyd Center, and then walk to the Yellow Line that would take me up to Delta Park. From there I could take the Number Four bus to Vancouver, then the Number 37 to within five blocks of my house.

I made another loop around the platform. Sixteen minutes to go. I began a third loop and in my mind I watched myself arrive at my house. I have a set of keys in my pocket and I will enter through the front door. But – – – wait! Our front door is secured by a multiplicity of locks which includes a manually-thrown dead bolt, and I do not remember whether that bolt has been retracted or remains in place. If it is still in place, all of the keys in the world will do me no good, so I ask myself, “Do you feel lucky?”

Actually I do not feel particularly lucky on this day. There has not been one thing that had happened to me yet that could possibly contribute to any sort of feeling lucky. I stopped and felt completely flummoxed while pondering my options, while a catsup-smudged McDonald’s wrapper blew against my ankle. In a moment my next move became clear: I had to return to my car and retrieve the garage door opener (which I should have removed from the car in the first place).

With a sigh I retraced my steps down from the Max platform, back through the homeless camp, and back to Powell Boulevard. There, I caught a bus that returned me to where I started. I opened my car and retrieved the garage door opener, then locked the vehicle and walked to the nearest bus stop, going now in the opposite direction. The buses were running more frequently than was the Max and I decided to take a bus to where I could more easily catch the Yellow Line towards Vancouver. Also, getting on a bus would get me out of the cold, and I wanted very much to do just that.

While standing at the bus stop and walking in circles, trying to kill time until the bus arrived and I could warm up again, my brain once again began to engage in something reminiscent of normal function. I had a Triple A card in my wallet, and if I had my phone I would have already called them for roadside assistance. But I didn’t have my phone. But somebody must have a phone!

I looked around me and saw nobody except one quintessentially odd Portland couple crossing Powell a half a block east of where I stood, and one tuxedo-colored tom cat in an empty yard behind me. I knew that my odds with the cat were weak, and the couple, both scantily clad with neon hair, piercings in places that gave me a mild case of anal flutter, and the unmistakable look of being stoned out of their gourds, inclined me to suspect that my odds for luck with them would be only slightly greater than were those with the cat.

I looked to the west and saw only a closed neighborhood bar. Since it was only a little past nine in the morning I knew that there would be nobody there. To the east was a row of businesses, and I started walking in that direction to see if I might find one open and the proprietors willing to let my scraggly self come in and use their phone.

A dental office, an accountant, an insurance agent, a wood panel business; all were closed. It was a weekend, or have I already said that? I saw some more businesses across the street, each with a simple neon sign that said ‘Open.’ I thought that I might try my luck there but just a few yards in front of me on my side of the street I saw a barber’s pole and it was moving. I walked up to the building and sure enough, the business was open. I opened the door and walked inside. There, an Asian woman was cutting an Asian customer’s hair. Another Asian customer was waiting for her turn.

The barber spoke very little English. She tried to explain something, but I had no clue what she was saying. I began to relate my own sad story but it quickly became apparent that she did not understand me any better than I understood her. Fortunately the customer waiting for her turn in the barber’s chair understood my dilemma. She offered me the use of her phone and I put in my call for roadside assistance.

Thirty minutes later two gentlemen showed up to remove the flat tire which had been destroyed by a jagged piece of metal, and replace it with the pathetic little rubber donut that functioned as my spare tire. I then limped home, retrieved my phone, and drove to the tire place where I replaced all four of my old tires with nice, new ones with a fifty thousand mile warrantee.

Other than that, it was a fairly uneventful morning.

Achieving The Dream

I have wanted to be a writer for almost as many years as I can remember. Now, at long last, I believe that I can lay claim to having succeeded in that long-held dream. Amazon promises me that on Tuesday of next week, three days from now (but who’s counting?), a book will arrive in the mail; a book titled The Garden. The author is Glenn L. Durden. Me. This event will signify a very important milestone along my life’s journey, and I am going to share a little of that with you now.

It wasn’t easy. Oh, the writing? Not at all. That part was easy enough. I would rise early and go to Thatcher’s Coffee and write until I had finished two sixteen ounce cups of coffee. If the story was really flowing I might write until the buzz began to wear off. The good coffee, the white noise in the moderately-sized room, and the big, comfortable chairs made for a perfect place to allow the creative juices to flow. Sometimes I would write a chapter in a day, but usually I would produce much less. I never really knew where my story was going, so many times I would come to a dead end. Then I would have to back up and start again to see if I would arrive at the place that I wanted to but didn’t know it.

Finally I put the last period after the last word. “There. It is finished!” I said to myself.  I saved all of my chapters on the hard drive and then printed the entire book because I don’t trust hard drives not to fail, and then decided that my work was good enough to try my luck with a publisher. That is when the real work started.

I am not very capable with technology, and nobody wants to see a printed manuscript or any part of a printed manuscript any more. They probably haven’t wanted to see them for many years. Instead, chapters or summaries of chapters or other portions or distillations of my work were required to be formatted and filed and GoogleDoc’ed or DropBox’ed or sent in other manners of digital packaging that looked for all the world to me like the instructions were written in Klingon.

Nevertheless I gave it my best shot. After a few tries I became proficient enough to get samples of my work to a number of publishers. Some were kind enough to give me written rejections. I considered that progress. Eventually I learned that one could advance one’s publishing career all the more quickly by securing the services of an agent. I next thing that I learned however was that the services of agents were not materially easier to secure that were publishers. I found the whole business to so frustrating that I began to lose heart and considered giving up on the whole thing. Then I mentioned my dilemma to a friend named Bob.

Bob lives far away from me now but we stay in contact. He makes a decent living writing guides for expatriates living overseas, and he publishes his own work through Amazon. “Give it a try” he suggested. “It’s easier than you think. They’ll tell you what to do every step of the way.” That sounded very promising, so I decided to take a chance.

 

The first thing that I discovered in the process is that Bob is a lot better with a computer than I am. “Easy” to him is like “Excruciating” to me. First I had to download my novel into a template that fits Kindle and then the paperback version, and they are quite different. Then, relying almost entirely on my wife’s vastly superior computer capabilities, we cut and trimmed and configured until the template actually resembled the real life product.

The next thing that I learned is that I needed a cover. Most books have them. I looked around my home town and learned that a book cover will cost you $500-1,000, and usually closer to the higher end. Well, I don’t have anything like that figure to invest in a hobby that is hardly likely to generate anything close to that in royalties so here I was, stuck again.

One day, while getting a haircut and whining about my problem to my barber (do barbers listen to more people whining about their problems than do bartenders?), I had the answer to my problem dropped into my lap. “Why don’t you go to the local community college and see if one of the graphic arts students can make one up for you?” she suggested.

This was pure genius. I contacted the college and was eventually put in touch with a student who needed a graduation project. We met and I shared some pictures that I had already taken and my general vision for the cover. She soon produced a cover that I believe is the best book cover that I’ve ever seen, although I might be biased about that.

So finally all of the pieces have come together and a paperback containing my words and my name is on its way to my house. It will be placed in a prominent location and every time that I look at it I will be reminded that a dream which existed for half a century has been fulfilled. I can’t linger over my accomplishment for long however. My second book is already under construction.

 

 

The Long Walk Back Home, Chapter 13

Two days later Chris, Pam and Calvin were sitting at a table at the Spice Rack, a popular restaurant in Pacific Beach.  Jackie was expected to join them momentarily after getting off of work.  Chris and Pam had spent the day at the beach; their first date.  Chris was still careful of the sun, due to possible lingering effects of the antibiotics that he had just finished taking.  “Dairy and sunshine are not your friends while you take the” the emergency room doctor had told him, so he had put up a pole and canvas sunshade and placed a blanket under it.  Pam preferred to lie just outside the shade, cooking slowly under the San Diego sun and basting herself with baby oil so that she would roast evenly.  This was San Diego, and your social status was at least partly dependent upon the quality of your tan.

Chris had attached his old racks to his mother’s car and cinched down the surfboard that he had pulled out of mothballs.  With a tee shirt on and his nose slathered in zinc oxide, he would make forays out into the surf.  The waves were from three to four foot high that day, and they were well formed.  Chris enjoyed some pleasant rides and gave Pam lessons, which was even more pleasant.

The sun had just began to drop toward the western horizon and light was creeping  up under Chris’ shelter when it was declared to be time to go.  He washed off the sand at the public showers near the boardwalk and put on another shirt, some shorts and flip flops.  Pam went into the restroom at the Surfer Hotel and washed up a little better.  She emerged in shorts and a blouse tied at the bottom, sandals and her hair pulled back in a pony tail.  Chris stared at her as she emerged from the Hotel and wondered how in the world he hadn’t noticed her when they were kids.

Calvin got to the restaurant before they did.  He had secured a table by the time that they arrived and already had a pitcher of beer when Chris and Pam walked in.  They sat down with Calvin, ordered a soda for Pam, and after Chris had washed some salt and sand out of his throat with a glass of the beer they began to talk.

“Before we say anything else” Calvin began, “I’ve decided that I am going to give college a try.”  Pam clapped her hands and Chris gave Calvin a soft punch in the shoulder.  Calvin smiled, appreciating the encouragement that he was receiving.

“So, what made you finally decide to go that way?” Chris asked.  “Not that I think you shouldn’t.”

“Well” Calvin replied, “I’m not going to work and pay taxes so that only you can go to school on the G.I. Bill.  I’m going to ride on that gravy train too.”  This prompted another round of clapping and another punch in the shoulder.  “But really, I liked being in the Spear the other day.  I think I want to see if that works for me.  I talked with my Mom about it and she’s excited too.  She says that I can stay at her house to save money while I go, but I’m not sure about that yet.  I would be the first in my family to go to college though, and she said she’s proud of that.  Yeah, the more I think about it, the more that I like the idea.”

“Maybe we could form a study group” Pam suggested.  “Jackie has been in some and she says that she always does better when she studies with a group.”

“How would that work?” Chris asked.

“Well, we’d all be starting in our first semester, so we’ll be taking a lot of the same basic courses;  math, English, Physical Ed, you know, the basics.  We could study together, at least some of the time, and help each other out when we’re stuck on something.  Jackie only joins them now for specific classes, but we’re a long way from where she is.”

“And where exactly am I?” Jackie asked as she walked behind Chris and pulled out a chair next to him.  Calvin attempted to stand when Jackie arrived, as he had been trained to do by his mother, and nearly upset the table.  Chris’ beer and Pam’s soda came within an inch of tipping over before Chris reached out and grabbed a glass in each hand to steady them.  Some of the contents still slopped over onto the table top anyway.

“Excuse me!” Calvin spluttered as he sat back down and began to sop up the liquid with some napkins.

“Don’t worry about it” Jackie replied.  At least you have SOME manners, unlike others who are present.”  She playfully slapped Chris on the shoulder as she said it.  Chris’ face reddened and he began to make excuses but stopped when the other three began to laugh.  Later, Chris would reflect that this had been the first time that Jackie had ever joked with him.  It felt like some fences had fallen down.

Jackie ordered a glass of wine and Pam told her about Calvin’s decision to attend college.  “That’s wonderful” Jackie said.  “I don’t think that you’ll ever regret that decision.”  Calvin beamed his pleasure at all of the positive words that he was hearing.    “Pam was talking about forming a study group when you showed up” Chris said to Jackie.  “She says that it’s worked for you.”

“It has” Jackie agreed.  “I’m convinced that all of us in our groups performed better than we otherwise would have.  As time permits I could help yours too, every now and then.”

“That would be great” Chris replied.  “My brother has offered that too.  He’s in grad school though, so he’s way past where we’ll be.”

“I never knew your brother, Chris” Jackie said.  “I didn’t even know that you had one until just the last couple of weeks.”

“Yeah, he’s a couple of years older than me.  He used to hang with a different crowd when we were kids.  Sometimes they’d let little brothers tag along, but not very much.

“Yes” Pam interjected.  “I know how that is.”

“I never ignored you” Jackie protested.

“No, you didn’t” Pam agreed.  “But I didn’t really fit in the group, so I hung back.  It’s OK.  We’re all grown ups now.”

Chris looked at his and Calvin’s beers and at Jackie’s wine, and then at Pam’s soda.  “Well – – -,” he said, drawing out the word.  Pam crumpled her napkin and threw it at him.

The waiter arrived to take their orders, and afterwards they resumed their conversation.  “So, how is your work going?” Pam asked Calvin.  “I was surprised that you could be here this early today.”

“We just wrapped up a job and we’ll begin another on Wednesday or Thursday.  I’m going to lose a lot of money by going to college!”

“You’ll earn it back, and more” Jackie advised.  “You won’t regret it.”

“No, I probably won’t.  It’s just hard to pass up the money now.  The boss wanted us to work through the weekend, but I’ve got other things to do.”

“Like what?” Chris asked.

“I’m going to meet with some of my friends from the Rez” Calvin answered with some hesitation.

“Oh, are they coming into town?” Pam asked.

“Uh, well, no.  They’re not.  Actually, I’m going out there.”

Chris couldn’t speak.  Jackie and Pam knew nothing of their recent experience of being followed back into town.  Nevertheless they were surprised too.  “Really?” Jackie said.  “Are you sure that’s safe?”

“Yeah” Chris said while looking straight into the eyes of his friend.  “Are you sure that’s safe?”

Calvin averted his eyes and pushed the knife on the table in front of him, to align it perfectly between his fork and spoon.  “Yeah, I think so.  I’m going out really early.  Those clowns don’t get up at the crack of dawn, so I’m not too worried about it.”

“Well, what’s so important that you have to risk it?” Jackie asked.  Chris was silent, but the same question was in his eyes.

“It’s a church thing.  Me and some guys I know do church.  It’s sort of our own thing.”

“Don’t you go to church on Sunday?” Jackie asked.

“Yes, I do attend the mass on Sunday.  The Saturday thing is only once every couple of months.  It’s something that me and four other guys do.  We call it ‘Church Our Way’ and it’s pretty special to us.”

“Tell me more” Jackie urged, and Calvin continued.

“For starters, we meditate on a passage of scripture while sitting in a sweat lodge.”  The blank stares that surrounded him told Calvin that further explanation was in order.  “We’ve built a low hut by stretching canvas over supports made of branches, and there’s a hole in the ground in the middle of it.  We go inside naked while one guy who stays outside heats up some rocks.  When they’re ready he puts them into the hole in the ground and we ladle water over them and sweat in the steam.  It’s a cleansing ceremony that’s pretty common in a lot of tribal traditions, and we use it to clean our bodies and clear our minds.

“Whenever the temperature drops, the firemaster adds new rocks and we pour more water on them.  After two rounds of hot rocks we drink some water and then do two more.  When that’s finished we go into a house where we sit in a drum circle and drum while each person gets a chance to sing what he feels like he’s learned in the sweat lodge.  When everyone who wants to has sung, we sing another song to God the Creator and then thank Him for life and all of the good things that he has given to us.”

The other three people at the table were quiet for a while, thinking about what Calvin was sharing.  At length Jackie spoke up.  “I think that sounds pretty cool to me, but I’ll bet that the churches aren’t very wild about it.”

“Yeah, they don’t really dig it at all.  We pray to the Father, the Son and the Spirit, but we do it in a sweat lodge and accompanied by drums and song.  That really freaks some people out.  They think that we’re doing devil worship or something like that.  We’re just doing worship in our own cultural context is all.  We’re pretty sure that Jesus didn’t say “Ye shalt in all ways look like a mid twentieth century Southern Baptist if ye wish to follow me.”

“Well, I have to admit that it sounds a little weird to me” Pam said.  “But from what I know about you, you don’t strike me as being some sort of voodoo guy or something, so I don’t see why anybody else’s opinion should matter here.”

“Thank you” Calvin replied.  “I think.  Well, it’s just that my ancestors didn’t come here on the Mayflower.  They wore animal skin clothing, and little of it.  They used dance and drums to worship Creator.  They cleansed in sweat lodges and they constructed lives out of the land and what Creator gave them.  We don’t think that responding to Creator in our own cultural context is a bad thing.  In fact, I doubt that the first Christians meeting in Jerusalem, or Asia, or Roman Europe, looked like Nebraska Methodists, or prayed like Texas Baptists.  So we do it our own way and it feeds us spiritually, we believe, and honors our God.”

Chris had not said anything while Calvin had this conversation with Jackie and Pam.  Now, when it seemed as if Calvin was finished, Chris spoke up.  “I don’t suppose you’ve forgotten already what happened when we went to get your truck.”

Calvin didn’t respond and the girls looked at each other and then back at Chris.  “What?” Jackie asked.  “What about when you went to get the truck?”

Chris recounted the experience that they had with being followed back to San Diego, at the end of which Jackie replied “Oh, that’s insane!  You have got to do something about this.  You’ve got to go to the police.  There are laws in this country.  People can’t just get away with doing that sort of thing.”

The look on Calvin’s face said “Oh, yes they can,” but he determined that now was not the time to share that insight.  Instead he said “Sometimes things just aren’t as cut and dried as you’d think they should be.”

“Well, you’re not going alone” Chris said matter of factly.

“Oh, God” wailed Pam.  “Are you both out of your minds?  Is there some unwritten law that says that boys are not permitted to use their brains?  You two have got to go to the police, and not go galavanting around the county where you could get yourselves beaten to a pulp or worse!  I haven’t waited nineteen years to find a boy that I think is worth spending time with so that I can see him – – -, so that I can see him – – -.”

Jackie reached across the table and put a hand over her visibly upset sister’s wrist and then looked first at Calvin and then at Chris.  “Pam’s right” she said calmly.  She’s right and both of you know it.  This nonsense has got to stop.  Chris, you showed kindness and thoughtfulness when you first came to us, so I know that you can do better than this.

“And Calvin,”  her gaze switched to him, “You’re no fool.  Now I wish that you would both drop this silliness; no, I’m asking you, as a favor to me and to my sister, that you would listen to me.  You’ve both got parents and families and friends;” at that moment she patted her sister’s wrist, “and someone very dear to me who has a special interest in you, Chris, and they all deserve better than to have you two involved in your own personal war with those people.  Now please.  Please. Tell us that you’re going to go to the police before we go any further today.  Will you do that?  Please?”

Chris looked silently at Calvin.  Calvin looked back at Chris, at the two girls, and then back again at his friend, and then he slightly shrugged his shoulders.  Chris was determined to support his friend, but he also desired to agree to Jackie’s plea.  The conflict had created a struggle in his mind.  He had found that he was attracted to Pam in a way that he had never been before to a girl.  She was an attractive girl, but it was her kindness and genuine concern for others without seeking advantage for herself that drew him to her.

He also realized how much he enjoyed the friendship with Jackie that had begun to grow in the last few weeks; a friendship that was far more satisfying than the romantic juvenile fantasies that he had entertained before his three years in the Army had given him a context with which to compare what had value and what was merely shadow.  Jackie was nearly begging him to go to the police, for Pam’s sake as much as for his own, and he wanted to do as they asked.  But he also had friendship obligations to Calvin, and he respected those obligations.

The conflict played on Chris’ face and Calvin could read it, so he spoke up and came to Chris’ aid.  “Chris is reluctant to go to the police because I am reluctant to go to the police” he said.  “He wants to agree to this for your sake, Pam, and that very much, I suspect.”  He then turned to Jackie and continued.  “And he wants to agree for your sake too.  But he knows that I have some pretty serious doubts that it will do any good, so he is holding back for my sake.”  He then spoke directly to Chris.  “I appreciate that, buddy, and I don’t want to put you into a position of disappointing either side, so I agree to go with you to the police.  It’s not that I believe that it will do an ounce of good, and in fact it might even backfire on me, but I agree.”

Calvin gave Chris a soft punch in the shoulder and Chris looked back at his silverware and napkin, saying nothing.  Jackie broke the ensuing silence and asked “Why on earth wouldn’t you want to go to the police, Calvin?  How could it possibly backfire on you?”

Calvin then spoke of the injustice that his people had come to recognize as the norm.  “When there’s trouble between Indians and white people, the Indian is usually thought to be the cause of the problem.  If the police decide to get involved at all in such cases, it’s us who are likely to end up in jail.  Or dead.  I’m not just whining to you.  We’ve got two hundred years of history to support what I’m saying.

“Now, Chris is my buddy.  We went through some things together in Vietnam that make people stick close to each other, although the truth is that Chris saw a lot of worse things than I did.  The truth is that I never expected a white guy and me to be as good friends as we’ve turned out to be.  Actually, Tom Fielding was the first white guy that I ever got close to, and it was him who showed me that this was possible.  “Anyway, I can see how much you care for Chris, Pam, and you too Jackie.  I know that he wants to listen to you both and put your minds at ease, so I’m good with going to the police.  I’ll tell you right now that I don’t expect anything good to come from it, but I’ll stick with my Bud.  That’s what we learned to do in The Nam.”

Silence descended onto the table in the middle of the noisy restaurant.  Calvin stared at the girls while Chris continued to study his napkin.  Pam and Jackie looked at each other and then back at Calvin and Chris.  Pam reached across the table and placed her hand on Chris’ arm, but said nothing.  It was Jackie who broke the silence.

“I’m sorry Calvin.  I didn’t know any of that.”  She then looked at Chris and continued.  “But I still believe that you should go to the police.  It’s 1969, and things are starting to change.  I think that you should give the system a chance, but I admit that there’s a lot here that I don’t know.  I’m speaking for myself, but I think that Pam will agree with me.  We will worry for your safety – both of your safeties – but we’ll support your decision, whatever it is.  I don’t want to be one more problem for either of you to have to worry about.”

Jackie concluded by saying  “Calvin, we care about you too.  We don’t give a flying damn about Indian or white or any of that stupid crap.  You’re a good person and a good friend.  If you don’t get some justice from the law, I’m going to be really pissed!”

Pam looked at her sister, surprised by her rare use of profanity.  She laughed, and the sound of her laughter broke the tension at the table.  Jackie said “Well, I can be pissed off if I want to” as her face reddened, and then Chris and Calvin laughed at that.  After a few minutes more their food arrived and the four friends fell to eating and laughing and enjoying life, as only the young can do.

The Long Walk Back Home, Chapter Twelve

Chris, Calvin and Sonny were on Interstate 8 headed east the next morning.  Calvin attended an early mass and wasted no time in picking up the other two.  “I’m dying to get my own wheels on the road” he explained.  Chris made introductions when they picked up Sonny, and they drove straight down Fairmont to the freeway.

They drove through the pass between Mount Helix and Grossmont, and dropped into the El Cajon Valley.  Sonny asked if they could pull off of the freeway for a moment and stop at a military surplus store that lay close to the offramp.  Calvin did so and Sonny replaced the blanket that he had given to the shivering diver nearly a week ago.  That purchase secured, they were soon rolling east again.

The day was already beginning to heat up.  El Cajon Valley was always hotter or colder than San Diego, and on this day the gloom that had dominated the area the previous week had failed to blow in from the sea to cool things down.  At this moment El Cajon was merely hot.  In a few hours it would be more like an oven.

“So, you and Jackie seemed to hit it off pretty good” Chris said to Calvin.  “I didn’t expect her to be that open.”

“Yeah, I felt pretty comfortable talking to her.  I could see right away that she was hurting.  I tried to be honest, and I tried to fill in as much detail about Tom’s life as I could.  The little details can say more about a person’s life than the big ones do.  She was very easy to talk to, and that helped a lot.  Man, I know that you and Tom said she’s pretty, but she’s more than that!”

“Except when she’s taking a swing at your face” Chris said.  “She just never did cotton to me at all.”

“Which shows intelligence and good taste” Sonny said, and which comment drew Chris’ right elbow into his ribs.

“She was OK with you, as far as I could see” Calvin said.

 

“We got over a hard place last week” Chris replied.  “I’m not looking for any kind of a relationship with her now, although I tried for that a few years ago.  I just want to be a friend.  I suppose that to her I’m a connection to Tom now instead of competition for his time.  Maybe that gives us room to be friends.”

“Well, she was always friendly to me” Sonny said.  “She never made any stupid pollock wisecracks about me, for which I was grateful then and am grateful today.”

Calvin looked across Chris at Sonny’s large frame that was resting against the passenger door.  “I can’t believe that anyone ever made stupid Pollock jokes about you” he said.

“Nobody did twice” Sonny replied with a grin.

“Oh, great.  I’m the only guy who ever pissed off Jackie!” Chris lamented.

The three young men chattered on as the truck passed through El Cajon and ascended the grade to Alpine.  They stopped for lunch in that town at a cafe with the unpromising name of the ‘Chat and Chew.’  Afterward they continued east, through the Laguna Mountains and on toward the high valley where the Campo Reservation was located.  The banter continued, but it was mostly carried on by Sonny and Calvin.

Chris felt his stomach clamping down around the hamburger and fries that he had just eaten, creating an uncomfortable knot in his gut.  He was remembering what Calvin’s uncle had said about the three goons who had jumped them wanting revenge.  Those three goons lived out here, and they were driving right into their territory once again.

“So what?” Chris asked himself.  “We kicked their butts before and there were just two of us”

  “Yes” the internal dialogue proceeded.  “But they expected us to be pushovers.  They won’t make that mistake again.  And will the bring guns?  Knives?  Clubs?”

     “But there’s three of us this time.”

     “Who says that next time there’ll only be three of them?”

     Fear, or something very much like fear, mixed with some other primeval instincts in Chris’ mind and began to pour adrenaline into his system.  That brew of emotion and chemicals reacted badly with the churning mash of lunch in Chris’ stomach, and with little time to spare he croaked out “Pull over man, I’m gonna puke!”

Calvin swerved onto the shoulder of the road and Sonny jumped out of the car.  Chris barely cleared the threshold of the door before he cut loose, spraying a wave of lunch and beer and bile and stomach acid toward the bush that he had hoped to get behind before the flood occurred.

He wretched three or four times more before he finally sat down on a boulder that Calvin had narrowly missed in his haste to come to a stoop.  “You OK man?” Sonny asked when Chris seemed to have regained his composure.

“Yeah, it’s OK.  I’m cool.”

“What’s up with that?” Calvin asked.

“Ah, it’s nothing.  I used to get carsick a lot when I was a kid.  I still do sometimes.”  Chris was lying through his teeth.

“Man, that was a load” Sonny said.  “I’m glad you didn’t put that in my lap!  You OK to go on?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m good.  Let’s do this thing.”

They got back into the truck and continued to drive into the reservation.  Chris cracked some jokes, projecting a comfort that he did not feel, in an eventually successful attempt to return the mood in the cab of the truck to the cheerfulness that had prevailed before he had gotten sick, and the episode was forgotten by the time that they rolled up the driveway of Calvin’s uncle’s mobile.

Sonny, remembering what Chris had told him about waiting to be invited in, didn’t make a move to exit the truck.  Calvin jumped out of the truck immediately and began to walk around the front of it.  He began to motion for the other two to get out also and then, thinking better of it, held up his hand, signaling for them to stop.  He then continued up the stairs and onto the tiny porch, and knocked on the door.

The door opened almost immediately.  Calvin’s uncle stuck his head outside the door and saw Sonny sitting in the truck.  “You planning on giving every Anglo in the county a tour of the Rez?” he asked.

“It’s all right Uncle” Charlie replied.  “He’s going to help with the towing.  You gonna let me offer them some coffee?”

“Them?”

“Yeah.  Chris is here too.”

“The guy that peed on the cowboy?”

“Yes Uncle.  Chris is here too.  The three of us came so that things would be more equal if we run into John Wayne and his punk friends.”

“That’s probably smart, even if they are white.  Carlson and his bunch want your scalp so bad that they can taste it.  Yeah, you can bring ‘em in.  I won’t stay around though.”

Calvin turned and motioned for them to come in.  Sonny and Chris exited the truck and walked quietly up the porch.  Sonny had figured out that there was tension in the air and was quiet as he approached the door.  Calvin’s uncle looked at him with an expression that would have been appropriate if Chris had emptied his stomach on the kitchen table instead of the side of the road.

Sonny walked past the scowling uncle and Chris followed.  The older man’s expression softened minutely as he gazed at the bruises that were fading on Chris’ face and the clean and healing wound on the side of his head.

“I liked it better with the fishing line” the uncle said, and then walked out of the mobile home.

“He likes you” Calvin said with a laugh after the door had closed.

“Yeah” Chris replied.  “Like he likes a goat head stuck in his foot.”

“No man, I‘m serious.  I haven’t seen him talk to a white person unless he had something nasty to say.  He was impressed that you let me sew you up, and that you helped me in a fight with other white people.  and he really likes that you peed on one of them.  He told me that he’s wanted to do that himself all of his life.”

Sonny looked at Calvin, then at Chris.  “You peed on somebody?”

“So, ‘I liked it better with the fishing line’ doesn’t qualify as nasty?”

“No man.  Context is everything.  That was a term of endearment.”

“You peed on somebody?” Sonny repeated.

 

“Aghh!” Chris exclaimed.  “Let’s get to work.”

“Coffee first” Calvin replied, and poured the coffee that his uncle had already made into three cups.  Later, after Calvin told the story of the fight and Chris’ victory dance over his fallen adversary, they went to work.  It was an easy task attaching the tow bar to the front of Calvin’s truck and fastening it to the trailer hitch on the back of his borrowed vehicle.

While they were closing the garage door Calvin’s uncle pulled to the side of the road in front of the mobile home and stopped.  He walked up the driveway and Calvin met him half-way.  They talked quietly for a couple of minutes and then separated.  The uncle drove away and Calvin returned to where Chris and Sonny were waiting.

“They know we’re here.”  Calvin told them.

“Who knows we’re here?” Sonny asked.

“Briscoe and Dennehey know” Calvin replied.  “Uncle saw their truck, a blue ’68 Chevy.  It drove past here while we were hitching the truck.”

“I didn’t see any truck” Chris said.

“Uncle did, and you can trust that.  They left the Rez to the east, and you can bet that they called Carlson from the first pay phone.”

“Shit! Chris exclaimed.  “Don’t those guys have anything else to do?”

“No, they actually don’t” Calvin answered.  “They’re rich, remember?”

“So how’re they going to stay rich?  Even rich people have to do something besides skulk and look for enemies.”

“Maybe, or maybe those shitbirds will piss all of their parents’ money away and end up poor folk like us.”

“Well, let ‘em start something” Sonny growled.  Maybe it’s ass kicking time for them again.”

“I’d like to avoid that” Calvin said.  “They know that there’s three of us and that two of us kicked their butts the last time.  I’m guessing that they’ll bring some sort of insurance.  We’ll go out the way we did the last time and see if we can get out of here under their radar.”

They climbed into the truck and started the engines.  Calvin pulled slowly out of the driveway and then drove down the lesser used roads of the reservation.  It was quiet in the cab of the truck; the banter of the trip east from San Diego had vanished.

Chris was looking for anybody that might be following them whenever Sonny got out to open and close gates.  In the silence of the drive each was in his own thoughts, and the thoughts in Chris’ head ran to bullets ripping, heads exploding and fists the size of mallets opening and closing.

They came at last to the road which led to the Interstate.  Calvin turned right and drove a few miles per hour under the speed limit, all the while glancing in the rear view and side view mirrors.  Chris noticed that and looked in those mirrors too, from time to time.  He saw nothing suspicious.  At last they came to the on-ramp and soon they were in the thick of the traffic headed west towards the city.

Chris breathed a sigh of relief, and even Sonny relaxed what had been some very tense muscles.  Only Calvin remained vigilant.  “I guess we’re home free now” Chris said.  “Not that I wouldn’t mind administering an ass-whupping to those jokers again if I had to.  I’d just rather that I didn’t have to.”

“Well, you may get your chance yet”  Calvin replied.  “I think we’re being followed.”

That statement sent a shock through Chris and Sonny that caused them both to sit bolt upright.  “You’re shitting me!” Chris said.

“I wish I was” Calvin replied.  “Back three cars in the middle lane.  Shiny blue pickup that nobody’s ever used for real work.  I saw it on the road before we got on the freeway.  Every now and then on the curves he’d come into sight for a minute.  I’m guessing it’s Carlson’s punks, and maybe Carlson too.”

“Well shit” Sonny growled.  “Why don’t we take the next off ramp and get this thing done?”

“I’d like to avoid that” Calvin replied.  “I try to make violence a last resort.  It’s a Christian thing.  I’ll fight if I have to, but I’d rather not.”

“Well my religion is ‘Do unto others before they can do unto you’” Sonny said.  “These guys are persistent.  They’re not going to leave you alone.”

Chris listened to his friends discuss the situation.  Sharp images of his bad dream arose in his mind, and with those images came the desperate panic that he had felt that night.  That urge for survival, bred by years in Vietnam, fueled a desire to strike out; to hit and kick and bit and club and shoot, and do whatever was required to win the next battle and stay alive.  The berserker was once again creeping out of the shadows of Chris’ mind, looking to lead a desperate and bloody charge against his adversaries.

Chris stared into the rear view mirror and struggled to regain control of his own mind.  He looked carefully at the pickup and it slowly registered that it was just a normal pickup truck that could only carry normal sized people.  those people might be carrying any sort of weapon, but they were just people and not iron-toothed, mallet fisted visions from hell.

The rising warrior receded and rational thought regained it’s place in Chris’ head.  “We’ve got to do a little creative thinking here” he said.  “We’ve got a situation and we have to manage it.”  Chris’ wartime experience began to assert itself.  A threat was presented, and a strategy was required to deal with it.

“I don’t think that they want to stop us and fight today” he continued.  “I think that basically they’re cowards, otherwise they wouldn’t have attacked us from behind.  They want to follow us and find out where we live.  These are some evil bastards and they want to get me and Calvin on our own.  We have to figure out how to screw up their plans.”

They sat silently in the cab as the truck rolled slower than the other traffic through Alpine and down into the El Cajon Valley.  It was Sonny who first broke the silence.  “They still back there?”

Calvin looked for the one hundredth time in the rear view mirror and answered “Yep.”

“OK.  Here’s my idea.  We can’t shake them, what with dragging your truck behind us, so let’s take the truck to my place.  They don’t know me from Adam and, for now at least, they don’t have much of a beef with me.  With that load off of your tail you can lose them pretty quick in downtown traffic.  Chris, you get off at my place, and when they go to follow Calvin, you can walk home.  I’ll go with you just in case.  Calvin, you call Chris or me, or both of us for that matter, as soon as you get home safe.  Then we can plan what to do next.”  They debated aspects of that plan but ultimately that’s what they decided to do.

By the time that they had agreed on this they had crossed El Cajon and were rolling down the grade towards Mission Valley.  They passed College Avenue and saw the college that Chris and perhaps Calvin would soon be attending, and came to the 43rd Street off ramp at the bottom of the valley floor.  When the traffic light turned green Calvin progressed up the grade towards El Cajon Boulevard, and as he slowed down for that light he burst out in a peal of laughter.

The laughter made both Chris and Sonny jump in their seats.  “What?” Sonny asked.  “What’s that all about?”

Calvin continued to look into the rear view mirror, beaming with relief.  “Yeah” Chris added.  “What gives?”

“Take a look in the mirror” Calvin said.  Chris and Sonny did as they were instructed and Chris instantly recognized the truck that belonged to Calvin’s uncle.  It had just slipped in behind them, and Chris said “Excellent.  Now there’s four of us.”

“It’s better than that” Calvin replied.  “You see that old Dodge in the lane next to him?  That belongs to Uncle’s friend, Nestor Vargas.  If I’m right, they’re both about to have a little engine trouble right now.”

As he said this the light changed.  Calvin took off down 43rd Street with all three of them looking in their mirrors.  Sure enough, both vehicles sat motionless in their lanes.  The two drivers emerged and raised their hoods and began to gaze down at their engines.  As the three friends sailed through the green light at Orange Avenue they saw the light behind them turn red once again, and when it did the hoods came down and the two drivers reentered their vehicles.

Chris directed Calvin through the neighborhood, through residential streets and alleys, and soon they were backing Calvin’s pickup into the garage behind Chris’ house.  When the truck was safely nestled next to the old Mercury that Chris’ father was restoring Chris said his goodbyes to his two friends.  Calvin left to drop Sonny off before returning to his mother’s house.  Before leaving however, Chris said “We’ve got to talk about what to do.  We can’t let this shit go on.  We gotta go to the police or something.”

“That’s never worked all that well for me” Calvin objected.

“Well, you’re not in this alone now, man” Chris replied.  “If we gotta kick ass and take names to get some help, then that’s what we’re gonna do.”

Sonny agreed and stated that he was with them all the way.  Calvin seemed to be struggling for words, and he simply grasped Chris’ hand and then Sonny’s.  “Let’s go before I start bawling” he said to Sonny.  They reentered the truck and rolled down the alley toward the street that led to Sonny’s home.

 

The Long Walk Back Home, Chapter Eleven

Chris stopped in the middle of the road and looked from there at the property.  There was nothing to indicate that Calvin’s uncle or anyone else was home, and  Chris took what was his first good look at where Calvin had once lived.  The single wide was a faded yellow with a brown metal roof.  The front door was reached by the small porch that he remembered from the last time that he was there.  The kitchen had been to the left as you entered the structure, and the bedroom where Calvin had slept was to the right.

The garage was bigger than the mobile home.  It sat about fifteen feet from the back corner where the bedrooms were, and rose six or seven feet higher.  It was a square structure, nearly as long as the mobile home but that same distance deep.  Two large hinged doors covered openings through which a car could be easily driven, and Chris had no doubt that Calvin’s crippled rides were behind those doors.

“Come on, let’s drive up and see” Sonny urged.

Chris looked at the empty road in front of them and then looked behind in the rear view mirror at the equally empty road behind them.  “I don’t think we’re going to get caught in rush hour traffic here” he said.

Chris continued to examine the property for any sign of occupation.  Sonny began to get fidgety and again said “Come on.  Let’s knock on the door.”

“I don’t know if that’s a good idea” Chris said.  “Calvin’s uncle made it pretty clear that he didn’t like me or any other white people.  I don’t think that he’d be too happy to see me.”

“Well then I’ll knock on the door.  I’m not white; I’m Polish.”

“I think that the difference might be lost on him” Chris replied.  He sat in the road for a minute or two longer and then, muttering “what the hell,” he pulled into the driveway.  Chris rolled up to the steps leading to the porch and stopped, turning off the engine.  He then leaned back in the seat.  Sonny reached for the door handle and Chris told him not to open the door.  “Why not?” Sonny asked.

“Calvin and I talked a lot back in Nam, and I remember that he once told me that the way to do this was to stop in plain sight.  If the person you’re visiting wants to talk, they’ll appear from the door or somewhere.  That tells you that it’s OK to come in.”

“That’s weird.  How long do you plan to sit here?  He might not even be home, or he might not see us.”

“No, maybe he isn’t home.  And if he’s too busy to have noticed that we arrived then he’s too busy to waste time on us.  I know, it sounds strange.  It’s what Calvin said though, so it’s his rules.  Maybe its like how many times you let the phone ring before you decide that nobody’s home, or if they are, they don’t want to talk to anybody.  I give it eight rings.  I guess I’ll give him eight rings.”

“Hmm.  Sounds whacky to me.  So do we leave a note or anything if he doesn’t come out.?”

“Probably not.  I’ll give it another two or three minutes.  You leave too soon and they think you didn’t want to speak to them very much anyway, and you hang around too long, well, you’re just being an annoying bastard.”

“How do you know all of that stuff?”

“Like I said; Calvin and I talked a lot.  When they weren’t trying to kill me over there I had a lot of time on my hands.  That place could get exciting in a hurry, but a lot of the time I spent just sitting around and waiting for the days to pass until I came home.  We talked a lot about our families and stuff, and his was so different from mine that I learned to just shut up and listen.  He’s a better story teller than me anyway, and it was a good way to kill a lot of time.”

Chris looked past Sonny through the passenger window to see if there was any crack in the door, but there wasn’t  “If he invites us in, which I don’t think he will do, he’ll probably offer us coffee.”

At that moment Chris became award of the sound of an approaching vehicle.  It was coming from the opposite direction than the way that they had entered the Rez.  It was a truck; Chris recognized it as the one that belonged to Calvin’s uncle.  The truck didn’t slow down a bit, but instead continued its course down the road.  Chris reached down and turned the key, and the car’s engine rumbled to life.

“We done here?” Sonny asked.

“Yep.  He doesn’t want to talk to us.”

“You sure he’s even here?  Maybe we should wait a little longer.”

“Nope.  That would put us right into the category of ‘annoying bastards.’  We’re done here for now.

“Well, this is all crazy to me” Sonny said.

“Yeah, well it’s crazy to me too.  Let’s get back to the city.”

Chris drove Sonny to his house and dropped him off, and then he returned to his own home.  His mother would be shopping or running errands, or visiting her friend Irene Chang, and Chuck would be hunched over his books.  Chris decided that he might as well learn how to relax and maybe even try to read a book, especially as he was due to begin classes in a little more than two months.

The rest of the week passed slowly.  Chris spent a lot of time indoors avoiding the sunshine, or relaxing in the shade of a large Torrey pine that grew in the back yard.  He had spent many hours of his youth climbing in that tree until he saw a large spider on a branch who’s coloring was a perfect camouflage.  On a later climb in that tree he saw another of the large arachnids, now that he knew how to spot what he was looking for.  Since that time he had been content to remain on the ground and merely enjoy the shade cast by the low but broad tree.

In the afternoons he enjoyed helping his mother in the kitchen, and in the evenings he would retire with his father to the garage.  It turned out that the project he was working on was restoring a 1949 Mercury, just like the one that James Dean played a deadly game of ‘chicken’ in in the movie “Rebel Without A Cause.”

His father had always been a capable mechanic, and had developed an interest in restoring classic automobiles while Chris was away in the Army.  “It kept him busy so that he wouldn’t think about you being over there” his mother told him.  Chris expressed surprise that his father was so affected by him being in a war, since the elder Paine had been in one himself.  “Yes.  He knew what war is all about.  How could that make him worry less?” his mother had asked.  It was with this in mind that Chris lingered in the garage with his father after the evening meal, helping a little but mostly just being with him.  His father, in turn, seemed to be happy to share space with his son.

The thought occurred to Chris during this week that perhaps his father could help Calvin to get his truck running.  He would need a work truck, and maybe his father could help him to save some money on the deal.  His father offered to look at the truck and, if it was not too big of a job, he would help to get it running again.

At last, Saturday came and with it the gathering with Calvin, Pam and Jackie at the Spear’s Point.  Calvin picked up Chris in his borrowed truck at about three in the afternoon.  He had worked a half-day, which is why he had not been free to retrieve his truck that morning and instead had to wait until the next day.  He had cleaned up quickly and, after stopping for Chris, they drove to the college area and parked a block away from the restaurant.

They were early, and so entered the establishment in order to get some food.  The place was not busy, as Pam had suggested would be the case.  They went to a counter where they could order and pay for their food, and were given a number to place on the table.  They each got a beer and picked the table farthest from any other customers.

It was instantly clear why this was considered to be a hangout for the smart students.  On the walls were posters and prints featuring the images of Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, and host of other men and women who Chris assumed were scientists and poets and scholars.  A large model of the solar system hung from the ceiling with the planets wheeling at different rates of speed around the sun, which was the one bright light in the place.

In one booth two students, one black and one white, were engaged in a game of chess.  “Look at that” Calvin said.  “The white guy has the black pieces and the black guy has the white ones.  I like that.”

“I hadn’t noticed” Chris said.  “Man, that solar system thing is cool!”

Calvin looked up at the solar system, then again at the other customers.  Some were engaged in low but earnest conversations.  Others were reading in the dim light or were writing in notebooks.  “You know, I think that I could get to like this stuff” he said.  “It’s like, they have their heads together in here.  No nonsense.  Yeah, maybe I could do the school thing.”

“Oh, hey” Chris said.  “I invited a friend of mine to come with us tomorrow, if that’s OK with you.”

“Sure.  One more white guy on Uncle’s property will really give him a case of anal flutter” Calvin said with a laugh.  “He IS white, isn’t he?”

“Yeah, he’s white.  Well, he’s white and he’s Polish, so he knows a little bit about being on the outside.”

“That won’t cut much ice with Uncle.  He’d be just as glad for your friend to go back to Poland as he would for you to go back to England, or wherever your family came from.  It might be good to have him along though.  Can he handle himself?”

“Yeah, Sonny’s a pretty big guy.  Why?  You think there will be trouble?”

“Could be.  My uncle’s keeping his ear to the ground.  Word going around is that the two punks with Carlson were Dallas Briscoe and Ted Dennehey.  Both of them come from rich families and hang around with Carlson because they’re just as mean and low-life as he is.  They’re swearing that they’re going to get paybacks.”

“Well, they couldn’t hassle us on the Rez, could they?”

“They’re saying that they don’t care about no Rez; that they’ll jump us wherever they can find us.  Folks on the Rez are keeping their eyes peeled for them, and if they do start anything there it’s a federal offense and the FBI will get involved.  Carlson and his friends know that too, and they say that they don’t care, which is probably bullshit, but it wouldn’t hurt to keep our eyes open and bring a little insurance.”

Chris sat silently in his chair for a short while, looking through the window at the traffic on College Avenue.  Was Carlson and his thug friends in one of the vehicles whizzing by?  Were they able to pressure the hotel clerk into revealing Chris’ name and address?  Could they be lying in ambush somewhere between the restaurant and Calvin’s truck?  Would they be a threat to his family, or to Pam and Jackie if they saw them sitting with him in the Spear’s Point?  “Oh, man” Chris said.  “I thought that I left the damned war behind me.”

“I know what you mean, man” Calvin said.  “I wish that you hadn’t got sucked into my personal war.”

Chris stared at Calvin briefly and then replied “Well I’m in it, so let’s win this damned thing.”  They clinked their glasses and drank to that, and as they put their glasses back on the table the door opened and Pam and Jackie walked into the room.

Chris waved and caught their attention.  Both he and Calvin stood up as Pam and Jackie approached the table.  After greetings and introductions Chris asked “Is this table OK?”  Jackie said that she would prefer a booth, and they moved to one that was empty.  The girls weren’t hungry, but Jackie ordered a glass of wine and Pam, being under the legal age, an iced tea.  After a bit of introductory small talk, they got down to business.

Chris began the conversation with “So, as I told you before, Calvin spent several months with Tom before he was reassigned to my base camp.  Ask us anything you’d like to know, or you tell us anything that you would like for us to know.”  Jackie said that she wanted to hear Chris talk about the relationship that he had with Tom when they were young in his own words.

“I always had my own view of it”  she said, “but I want to know how you felt about him; how you treated him in your relationship.  Was he a second fiddle, as it seemed to me?  Sort of a Jerry Lewis to your Dean Martin?  I don’t mean to be bitter or nasty, but that was the impression that I carried with me all of the years that we were young together, and I would like to know the truth of it all now.  Please, tell me anything that you want as long as it’s the truth.  I can take it, I promise you.”

After thinking about his answer for a minute Chris replied.  “Well, the truth is that Tom was never a second fiddle to me.  At least, that’s the way that I saw it.  Yeah, I was a little bit crazy.”  Pam and Jackie both looked at him with an skeptical expression.  “OK, I guess I was more than a little bit crazy.  But I never took Tom for granted.  Look, I was the guy with the surfboard, or the skateboard, or the macho thing, but it covered up what I wasn’t, which was all the things that Tom was.  I admired Tom’s ability to play the piano.  I love music but I don’t have one lick of ability with playing an instrument or carrying a tune, and I knew it then as surely as I know it now.  When Tom would play the piano I would listen and know that he was head and shoulders above me in that department, and that was OK by me.

And when we were just hanging out and there were no cliffs to scale or people to impress I would pick Toms brains about historical and scientific and, well, all sorts of things.  I really liked that stuff.  I still do.  But I was so into doing things that it was painful for me to sit down and read.  It still is, and I’m going to struggle when I go back to school.  I already know that.  Tom would talk about those subjects in ways that made them seem to come alive and I could listen to him for hours, but only when we were alone.  Once a group of people arrived my show would go on.

Tom didn’t mind the crazy stuff all that much either.  At least, he said that he didn’t.  I understood his desire to get out from under his father’s thumb and he understood my trouble with not being any of those things that I admired so much in him.  No, Tom was no Jerry Lewis.  He wasn’t even Dean Martin.  To me he was the producer and director of his own show.  Tom was part of what, or who, I wanted to be, and now, when I’m going back to school, I don’t have him to help me.  I’m going to be on my own.  You know what?  It scares the crap out of me.”

Chris sat back in his chair, having said all that he could think of to say on the matter.  He took a sip of his beer and looked directly at Jackie, inviting her with his eyes to ask more if she wanted to hear more.  For his part, that was all that he could think of to say.

“Well, that’s just weird” Jackie said.  “I always thought that you could hardly wait to finish experiencing one thrill so that you could then run off and find a new one, and you dragged Tom after you.”

“Yeah, you’re right about some of that, but it wasn’t one-sided.  In fact, it was pretty much 50-50.  Tom was not afraid to get out there and mix it up with life.  He would always calculate the odds, whereas I was just peddle to the metal, but he was ready to go if the odds looked good that we’d get out of something in one piece.  It’s like I’ve already said; he hated being under his dad’s thumb and so he was ready to take chances, maybe just not as many as I would.  I think that’s why he went to Vietnam.  I’d be willing to bet that he volunteered for that duty.

“He did” Calvin said, interrupting the flow of Chris’ train of thought.  “He was stationed at some fort on the East Coast and he got tired of missing out on the action.  At least, that’s what he told me.”

Jackie now turned her attention to Calvin.  “So” she said.  “Were you very close to Tom?”

“Not at first.  We were in the same unit but bunked in separate hooches.  Oh, I’m sorry.  Hooches were prefabricated huts that we put together to live in.  Anyway, I’d been there for a couple of months already before he got in-country.  After he was there for a month or two we met at church and found out that we were both from San Diego.”

“Church!” Jackie and Chris said together.  “I didn’t know that Tom went to church” Chris said.

“Me either” Jackie echoed.  “How did that come about?”

“One of the guys in Tom’s hooch was a CA, a Chaplain’s Assistant, named Willy Freeman.  Tom and Willy got to be pretty tight, and it was how Willy lived that appealed to Tom.”

“Uh, so how did this guy live?” Chris asked.

“Willy didn’t just talk about this Christian stuff” Calvin continued.  “He lived it.  Here’s an example.  One day I was at the roach coach with him and Tom – – -.”  Jackie’s stare told Calvin to explain.  “The food truck.  This small truck would come around and you could by sandwiches and soft drinks and snacks from it.  We called it the ‘roach coach.’  Anyway, Tom bought some hard boiled eggs and dug out the yolks.”

“That’s right!” Jackie interrupted.  “Tom hated egg whites.”

“Yeah” Calvin continued.  “So, he dug out the yolk and dropped the white parts on the ground.  Well, before we could leave, an old Vietnamese woman who cleaned the hooches came and asked him if she could have that egg white.  We were all a little stupefied, and then Tom nodded that she could.

She bent down and picked that egg white up and started brushing the sand and dirt off of it, and she was just about to eat it right there.  Well, willy was going to have none of that.  He stopped her and then bought a bunch of eggs and sandwiches and chips and other stuff and gave it to her.

The old gal was amazed, and tried to thank Willy.  We were amazed too, and then we felt like turds in a punchbowl for not having done that ourselves.  Anyway, Willy brushed off the thanks and then emptied his pockets and bought stuff for the other Vietnamese women who worked in our unit area.  Every payday after that he would spend part of his salary to buy things that the Vietnamese workers needed.  It grew to include soap and canned goods and band aids and, well anything that they might need from the PX.

Other guys began to catch on, and whether they went to church or not they joined in the fun.  Those women adored Willy and the others, but Willy said he was just doing what Jesus commanded, which is to love his neighbor.

He was like that with everybody; really living what he believed, and so Tom got interested in spiritual stuff that way.  Sometimes Willy would CA for the Catholic priest who performed the mass in our unit if a Catholic CA wasn’t available.  He didn’t like that duty very much.  Our priest was sort of an asshole; uh, pardon my French.  But he was not very cool at all.  He would call out the stoners who were smoking dope on the hillside behind our unit, tell the congregation that they were not to be like those guys who were all going to hell and stuff like that.

But Willy didn’t buy into that sort of thing.  He was a friend to everyone.  If one of the stoners got a ‘Dear John’ letter, or lost a buddy in a fight somewhere, or was just down because he missed his home and had ten months to go before his tour ended, Willy was there.  He wouldn’t give BS advice or any advice at all unless he was asked.  He just listened and was there for them.

Well, Tom saw something in Willy’s actions that made him want to know what was behind them.  By the time I left he was taking classes and learning who Jesus is and what He really said and what the faith is really all about.  I think that he got baptized pretty soon after I left to go to Chris’ duty station.

Tom was drawn to Willy’s Protestant background but we had different chaplains rotate through our unit, so sometimes he’d go with me when my Catholic priest was there and then I would go with him when the Protestants would preach.  I don’t really care that much; Catholic or Protestant.

“I wonder why he never said anything to me about it?” Jackie said.

“He told me that he wanted to surprise you when he got home.  He wanted to take you to church and express his faith the first Sunday that he was back.  You know, he loved you an awful lot.  I’ve never really had a girl; never really loved one anyway, so I don’t know a lot about that, but I know that he loved you.  He told me that at least once a week.  In fact, I got tired of hearing it, but then like I said, I’ve never been in love.

He darned sure never got tired of saying it!  He was going to walk you right down the aisle at that church where you attend, and he was going to marry you at the front of that church, and you and him were going to raise a family and grow old and fat together.  That’s what he said, over and over.  He loved you and he loved God.  That I can swear to you is the truth.”

The three people in the booth sat silently and stared at Calvin.  Finally it was Pam who broke the silence.  “I knew Tom pretty well, but not as well as any of you did, so I suppose that I’m the least surprised to hear about this.”  She put her hand on Jackie’s arm and continued to speak.  “I really wish that he would have come home.  I would have liked very much to get to know him better.  I will say this though.  I believe that he’s a happy now as he could possibly be, and that he wants for us to be happy too.  I think we can honor him by being happy that he is in a good place and we have time before us to be like he was.”

“Yeah, he would tell you that he already is home” Calvin replied.  “It’s sad for us; I was blown away when Chris told me about it, but that’s how it always is for the ones who have to stay around for a little while longer.  Tom’s dead to this life but he’s very much alive and waiting for us in the next.  Of that I’m certain.”

Chris had no idea what he could say that would add to this conversation.  He was not ill-disposed toward religion in general, but he viewed a lot of Christians as hypocrites who said grand things and then did mean ones.  He didn’t think that mentioning that would be proper at this time.  Besides, the others at the table with him were pretty well grounded people; maybe they were on to something.  He would have to think more about that later.

Jackie and Calvin were soon carrying most of the conversation.  Calvin knew the Tom who had been thousands of miles away from Jackie and navigating himself through a war.  She heard about things that he had said and did that she recognized as coming from her Tom.  She also heard about the things that came from a Tom that she did not know so well; a Tom being forged in the fires of war, being shaped into a man with new facets, new strengths and perhaps weaknesses.  She eagerly dug for details and Calvin readily supplied them when he could.

Pam had little to add to the conversation, and Chris practically nothing at all.  In time they looked at each other and smiled; looked back at Calvin and Jackie and then at each other again.  Chris held up a finger to get everyone’s attention and was successful.  “Hey guys, I think I left something in the truck.  I’m going to go and see.  Then I’m going to get another beer.  Anybody want something when I return?”

Jackie said “No” and thanked him.  Calvin looked at Chris with a quizzical expression and Chris said “I had some papers with some stuff written down that I thought might be useful.  I won’t be long.”  Calvin shrugged and returned to the conversation.  Chris then looked at Pam and asked “You wanna walk with me?”  Pam smiled and said “Sure.”  They rose and walked out of the restaurant.

“You think they know that we’re gone?” Chris asked with a smile.

“Sure.  They know” Pam replied.  “But I don’t think that they care.”

Chris laughed and said “Probably not.  I had no idea that Jackie and Calvin would get along so well.  They’re like old friends.”

“Yes” Pam replied.  “Calvin is just what Jackie needed, I think.  He’s a wonderful storyteller.  It’s like we were watching Tom do all of those things that he’s talking about.  I’m really happy for Jackie.”

They walked a good deal more than a block up College Avenue and then turned around to walk back  “Aren’t you going to the car for some sort of papers?” Pam asked.

“Naw.  There’s no papers there.  I just wanted to let them talk alone.”  Pam looked at Chris and said a low “Hmm.”  Chris looked back at Pam and smiled, and then said “ and I wanted to take a walk with you.”

“Oh” Pam replied, and stared down College Avenue as they walked for a moment in silence.  After a short distance Pam brushed Chris’ arm with her fingertips and said “Good idea.”

The Long Walk Back Home, Chapter Ten

“Well, you always did know how to get yourself into a world of trouble and then back out of it!”  Sonny Russinko shook his head in admiration as Chris told him what had happened in the week since he had last seen him.  The two friends were sitting in the sand at La Jolla Shores, their backs against a concrete seawall that protected somebody’s beachfront home from the occasional extreme high tide.  A road leading to the beach was no more than twenty feet from Chris’ left elbow, and two blocks up that road was a convenience store from which they could replenish their supplies if they ran out of beer.

It was a cool morning for San Diego at that time of the year.  The ‘June Gloom’ of thick fog that would frequently keep the city wreathed in a wet grayness usually began in April and ended by the coming of July.  This year the pattern came and went at random, and on this particular morning the air was thick and wet.  Chris and Sonny had on only light jackets, so they had lit a fire with driftwood scrounged off of the beach.

“It’s not something that I went looking for” Chris replied.  “I just wanted to have dinner with a friend.  I didn’t know that just being an Indian could get people to want to kick your ass.”

Sonny took a swig of beer and stared into the fire for a minute.  Then said “Yeah, if you’re different from the crowd, life can be rough.”  Chris looked at him quizzically, and then Sonny continued.  “I know a little bit about those things.  My folks came here from Poland a couple of years before I was born.  Dad was a weird combination of poet and mathematician.  He said that the two things were a natural match, but I never really figured out how that could be.

Anyway, he got out of Poland a couple of years after the end of World War II.  I don’t know how the heck he did it but he did, and he got his family out too.  Poets were a dime a dozen back then, but the ‘New Socialist Society’ needed its mathematicians.  He never spoke much about that, but he got out and made it to America.  He settled in Cleveland, and that is where I remember living before we came here.

We didn’t live in a Polish neighborhood.  Dad said that we had left Poland behind and he wanted to make a clean break of it.  He still loves his home country and he’s proud of being Polish, and he had a lot of friends in the Polish community, but we lived in the general mix of Cleveland.  Sometimes it could be hard to be a Pollock kid there.”

“I have a hard time seeing you getting picked on” Chris stated.  Sonny was a big man; even larger than Calvin.

“I wasn’t always this big” Sonny continued.  “I was short and sort of pudgy, really.  I heard a lot of Pollock jokes, took a lot of teasing and bullying at school, and learned the hard way that it wasn’t safe to go to the local playground and mix with the other kids.  It would be alright for a while, but sooner or later some kid that I knew from school, or maybe one that I didn’t even know at all, would come along and yank my shorts down, or spit on me, or just punch me out.

“Shit, man.  You never said anything about this before.”

“A guy likes to forget that sort of thing.  Or at least tries to store it away so that you don’t have to look at it all the time.”

“And they did this just because your parents were Polish?”

“Uh huh.”  Sonny took another drink from his beer and looked out across the ocean.

“And this is why your family moved to San Diego?”

“No, not directly.  About the beginning of the eighth grade I began to grow up.  I was just over six feet tall by the end of that year and the fat turned into muscle.  I begged Dad to get me some weights.  He did, and I worked out every day.  By the end of the ninth grade I’d evened a lot of scores.

About that time Dad got an offer to come and teach at the UCSD campus and he thought that sounded like a good deal.  He didn’t like the way that things were going with me and he was tired of the winters in Cleveland too, so out we came.”

“Man, I didn’t know any of that.  You and Calvin might have a lot to talk about”

“Yeah, maybe.  Hey, look out there.  What’s that?”  Sonny was pointing towards two black dots in the water about two hundred feet from the surf line.  The dots appeared to be moving towards the beach.  Soon another dot appeared, and then two more. “That’s divers” he said.  “They’re coming out of the water.”

And indeed, a party of six divers in black wet suits and with snorkels stepped out of the surf and began to walk towards Chris and Sonny.  One of the figures was walking clumsily, with two others helping him along.  The figures walked up to Chris and Sonny and asked “Can we borrow your fire?  Chuck here has some hypothermia going on.”

“Sure” Sonny replied.  “Here, sit on this blanket.”

“I’ll be glad to borrow your blanket” the man said.  “But it would be better used to wrap around our friend.”

“Sonny gave him his blanket while Chris threw more wood on the fire.  “I’ll go and get some hot coffee for you” Chris offered, and the shivering man agreed eagerly.  Two of the divers left to return to their cars and pick up the rest of their party.  Chris and Sonny meanwhile walked up to the store and bought four cups of coffee.  They continued their conversation while they accomplished that task.

“So, me and Calvin are going to drive out to the Rez and pick up his truck this weekend.  You want to come with us?”

“Huh, I’ve never been out there.  Yeah, I’m not doing anything in particular.  I thought you said that his truck doesn’t run.”

“It doesn’t.  Calvin’s mother has a friend with a truck that we can use.  He’ll rent a tow bar and pull it to my place.  My dad’s offered to check it out and see what it needs.  He’s really gotten into working on cars while I’ve been gone.”

They bought the coffees and then returned to the beach.  The two divers that had left had not returned yet.  The three divers who had remained with their cold friend were surprised when they received coffees too.  They offered to pay for them as soon as their departed friends returned with their belongings, but Chris and Sonny declined.  “It’s nothing.  Don’t worry about it.  We’re going to be taking off now anyway.”

The cold diver began to remove the borrowed blanket but Sonny told him not to.  “It’s Army surplus” he explained.  “I can get another one for two or three bucks.  You go ahead and keep it.”  Chris and Sonny were thanked profusely, and then they took their cooler with its remaining beers and drove away.

“So, you’ve patched things up with Jackie?” Sonny asked as Chris navigated through La Jolla, towards Pacific Beach and the freeway on ramp at the end of Grand Ave.

“Yeah, sorta” Chris replied.  “At least she’s not swinging at me.  She got really busted up over Tom’s death.  They were engaged; did I tell you that?”  Sonny shook his head in the negative.  “It’s a fact.  Her little sister, Pam, told me.  You remember her?”

“Yeah, just a little.  I didn’t see her around much back when we were in high school, but I knew that Jackie had a sister.”

“Well, she’s a pretty smart kid, and she’s helped a lot to work things out between us.”

“You always had the hots for Jackie.  You thinking about picking that up again?”

“No, definitely not.  It’s pretty clear that she still doesn’t like me much.  In fact, I didn’t know until recently how much she didn’t like me back in the old days.  I’m mostly into this for Tom’s sake, although – – -.”

Chris paused at that point, thinking about what to say next.  Sonny didn’t feel like waiting too long to hear what was on Chris’ mind though.  “Although what?”

“Uh, well, I think I’m kinda attracted to Pam.”

“Really!  So, if you can’t have one Olsen girl you’ll take the other?”

Chris punched Sonny in the shoulder and said “No, man.  It’s not like that.  She really is a cute girl, and a smart kid too.  I guess I should stop calling her a kid.  But she’s really trying to help her sister, and she seems like a sweet person.”

Sonny began to hum and pretend to be playing a violin, which drew another punch in the shoulder.  “Screw you” Chris growled.  “Just because no girl that doesn’t have calluses on her knuckles would look at you!”  Now it was Sonny’s turn to punch Chris in the shoulder.  “Hey, watch it man.  I’m driving!”

“Chris merged onto Interstate 8 and began the drive to East San Diego.  Sonny spoke again about the plan to retrieve Calvin’s truck.  “So, are you worried about being hassled by anyone if you go back into the east county?”

“I’m not too worried.  It could happen, but probably won’t.  I talked with Calvin yesterday and he said that his uncle asked around.  One of the punks who jumped us is Hunter Carlson.  He’s the son of the guy that owns a big turkey ranch on Dehesa Road.  He’s rich as shit, so his kid likes to lord it over a lot of people.  It turns out that most people don’t like him, so nobody wants to back him up.  Calvin’s uncle doesn’t know who the other two were, but thinks that nobody really likes them either.  Unless we run right into them, I don’t think that there’ll be trouble.

“That’s good.  I’d hate to see your pretty face take on any more black and blue.  Of course, maybe that would make Pam want to nurse you back to health.”

Sonny lurched against the passenger door and deflected an incoming punch aimed at the shoulder.  Chris blushed a little but also laughed.  “I’m going to have to take you to the zoo and get you a girl friend if I’m going to have any peace.”

Sonny laughed and then once again picked up the conversation.  “So, you said that you guys were going to have some kind of meeting?”

“Yeah.  We’re going to meet at The Spear’s Point next Saturday.”  Sonny’s blank look told Chris that he had no idea what the Spear’s Point was.  “It’s a kind of a student hangout right next to the State campus.  Pam says it’s where the smart kids go.  I guess the jocks and the frat rats go somewhere else.  She says the staff will enforce at least some kind of behavior rules there.”

“Sounds like a stone drag to me.”

“Yeah, well, some people have an IQ higher than room temperature.”  It was Chris’ turn to lurch away from a punch, and in doing so he pulled the steering wheel to the left causing the car to swerve in its lane.  “Come on man.  You wanna get us in a wreck?”

“Whah, whah, whah.  Shut up and continue.”

“OK.  Well, this place is usually quiet and Pam says – – -.”

“Pam says, Pam says – – -” Sonny said in a sing-song voice.

Chris sighed and continued.  “Pam says that it’s not going to be real crowded in the summer and it will be a good place to talk, or at least Pam says that Jackie says that.  We’re going to talk about Tom and try to help Jackie get a grip on his death.  Calvin knew Tom well over in The Nam and he can fill in a lot of what his last months were like.  I don’t know how that’ll help, really, but I’m going to give it a try.  Shoot, I’d invite you to come along but Jackie and Pam usually speak with words containing more than one syllable.”

“Yeah, that leaves me out” Sonny said.  “But say ‘Hi’ to her for me.  Jackie was always nice to me and I wasn’t used to that, coming from a smart and beautiful girl.  She was pretty special.”

“Yeah, I’ll tell her.”

“So when are you towing Calvin’s truck back to town?”

“Sunday.  After church we’ll drive out and hitch it up.”

“Church?  You done gone and got ‘lidgin?”

“No” Chris said with a chuckle.  “Calvin goes to church and hey, he’s a pretty cool guy, so I guess he can do what he wants.”

“Just as long as he doesn’t go throwing holy water on me.  I’m a vampire you know.”

“So what’re you doing in the sunlight?”

“I’m a hybrid.  Even vampires in San Diego need to get a good tan to have any social status.  Hey, you got any other plans for today?”

“Nope.  I’m just sort of laying low and staying out of the sun.”

Sonny looked out the window at the sullen, gray sky and said “I don’t know what sun you’re talking about.  But anyway, why don’t we drive up to the Reservation where the truck is?  You can show me where all of this shit went down.”

“What, are you crazy?  My last trip up there wasn’t exactly a church picnic.  I said that the chances of running into those clowns was small, but it’s still a chance.  I don’t know if I want to take it.”

“Come on man.  Nobody’s going to be looking for you.  Heck, the last place that they would expect to find you is right where they live.”

‘Aw, I don’t know.  I’m glad that I got out of there alive.”

“Well, if you really don’t want to do it, that’s cool.  No pressure.  So, what else do you want to do today?”

Chris thought about Sonny’s suggestion, and also thought about the fact that he had absolutely nothing else to do on this day.  Sonny actually did make sense when he said that they wouldn’t expect for him to go right back to where the trouble happened.  In fact, Chris had wanted to go and retrieve his belongings from the Jacumba Hotel, and this might be his best chance to do so.

“OK, maybe you’re right” he said.  I left some stuff at the hotel up there.  Maybe we can go and get that.  I’ll swing by the house and get a long sleeve shirt and a hat.  The doctor said that the antibiotics that I’m on could make my skin susceptible to a bad burn, and I don’t need any more pain just now.”

“Sounds fine to me” Sonny replied.  They exited the freeway at 43rd Street and drive the short distance to the Pierce house.  Chris got his shirt and Chuck’s straw hat and soon they were pointed east on the Interstate.  An hour later they were at the hotel.  His clothes had been stuffed into his suitcase, which had not yet been mailed to the address listed on his registration.

“OK” the clerk said as she recognized Chris.  “We didn’t expect you to come back, or at least not so soon.  The suitcase is in the office.  Wait here a minute.”

Chris fidgeted as he waited for the clerk to reappear with his property.  Was she calling the police?  Was she calling Hunter Carlson?  Heck, for all he knew she was engaged to Hunter Carlson or one of his flunky friends.  After a minute Chris turned to Sonny and was about to say “This was a stupid idea.  Let’s get out of here,” but before he could speak the clerk emerged from the office with his suitcase.  “Thank you” Chris mumbled as he turned to leave.

“Mr. Pierce” the clerk said as he turned, and he looked back and faced her.  “Mr. Pierce, we heard about what happened at Sadie’s last Friday, and we guessed that you were involved.  I just want to tell you that a lot of people feel like Hunter had it coming, and his friends did too.  I want you to know that not everyone out here is a jerk like them.  All the same, I would keep looking over your shoulder while you’re here.  Hunter got it worse than the others and, I don’t know, well, the story was that, uh, well, that one of you peed on him.”  The clerk blushed as she said that, and then continued.  “Well if that’s true, I don’t know anyone out here who deserves it more than he does.”

Chris didn’t know what to say, so he just nodded to her and left.  He and Sonny returned to his car, fired up the engine and pulled out of the parking lot and onto old U.S. 80.  “You pissed on him?”  Sonny asked.

“Well, I might have gotten a little carried away” Chris replied.

“Holy shit!  That’s cold, man.  I mean, it sounds to me like he deserved it.  You probably should have taken a dump on him too.  But phew!  He’s going to be looking for a little paybacks for that one, I’d guess.  You’d probably better be looking over your shoulder while you’re in town, too.”

They drove past Sadie’s and Sonny asked “You wanna go in for a little lunch?”

“Shit!  No way!” Chris replied.  “This is crazy enough as it is. There ain’t no way in hell that I’m poking that bear again.”

“For all you know you could be a hometown hero, man.  They might even buy you a round and give you a free lunch.  Might give me one too.”

“They might give us a knuckle sandwich and boot in the teeth.  Uh-uh.  Nope.  Not happening.”

“Ok, ok.  Don’t get your undies all bunched up, you wuss.  Just show me where the truck is.

A short distance past Sadie’s Chris recognized the turnoff to the road that led into the Campo Reservation.  He saw the brown, bullet-riddled sign that he had seen in his headlights four days earlier announcing his entrance to the Rez.  Chris drove up the two lane road, remembering that he did not turn off of that road until they had arrived at the driveway of Calvin’s uncle’s single wide.  He drove slowly, looking to the left for the trailer and it’s driveway.

Along the road they looked at the poverty and despair that was so evident on the Rez in the light of day.  Decomposing trailers, shacks that looked ready to fall over, and stucco houses that seemed to be returning to the elements from which they were constructed seemed to be the norm.

“Shit, man.  This is depressing” Sonny said as they crept along.

“Yeah, Calvin told me that the people here had their hearts torn out by what they’ve lost over the last two hundred years.”

“Yeah, that’s a bad story, for sure.  But shit, man.  How can you live like this?”

“Calvin says that this is all that they have left.  His people look at the nice farms and ranches around the county and remember that they are on land that was once theirs.  They’ve been left with the most marginal of land and been told to provide for themselves using what they’ve got.  They mostly make it on what the government will give them, which isn’t much, and the only way out is to quit being an Indian and move to the cities.”

“Well shit.  Then I’d quit being Indian if it came to this.”

“Did your father quit being Polish?”  Chris asked.  “I’m not trying to argue with you but really, did your father give up being Polish just to get along?”

Sonny thought about that for a while, and then replied “No.  Dad never quit being Polish.  He wanted to be American, but he was never ashamed of being Polish.  And I’m not ashamed of being Polish either.”

“Well, then, I guess it’s something like that.  These folks seem to be satisfied, determined or resigned to being Indians, even if it means living like this.  Heck, maybe it’s a combination of the three; I don’t know.  But you know what?  I think that maybe I admire them for that.  Even Calvin’s uncle, who hates the ground that I walk on.”

“Hmm” Sonny mumbled thoughtfully as he looked out the window at the ramshackle houses and trailers that they passed.  At last they passed a wood frame house on the right and a scruffy, tan dog raced out and chased them down the road.  Chris remembered that a dog had erupted out of the night and then merging back into it just before he and Calvin had arrived at his uncle’s driveway.  He slowed down even more and looked intently to the left.  In another minute he saw the single wide and the old, weathered garage that housed Calvin’s two vehicles.

“There” he pointed with his chin.  “There it is.”