Monthly Archives: May 2016

Mattie Lennon- CYBERBULLYING

CYBERBULLYING

By Mattie Lennon

    Cyber bullying is a major problem worldwide.  It can be defined as,  “unwanted messages, images, audio or video sent by electronic means to threaten, abuse or harm someone. “

   Many institutions are doing their best to combat cyberbullying  but none  is more innovative than Cyber Smarties. They  are “ . . . committed to developing technology which educates positive behaviour on a practical, safe platform for Primary School children and young adults with Special Needs, to ensure that all can learn safe, fun and positive social networking skills which promote self-confidence, self-esteem and eliminate cyber-bullying. The Core Values that guide us are collaboration, excellence and creativity.”

   CEO Diamuid Hudner told me, “Cybersmarties.com is the FIRST SAFE EDUCATIONAL SOCIAL NETWORK designed specifically for Primary & Special Needs Schools. Through in-built behavioural technology, CyberSmarties.com allows kids to use social media in a controlled, supervised and safe environment without the fear of harassment or cyber-bullying.  Cybersmarties.com uses technology to educate children in a practical way in positive online behaviour, to protect their own well-being, to make friends with other kids safely and promotes netiquette and empathy.  It is the first social network to use behavioural technology combined with education to teach children to use social media responsibly and protect their online presence. For more information please contact www.cybersmarties.com

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Randy Ford Author- MARGO

MARGO

by Randy Ford

Margo circled a day on her calendar.  Margo circled a day on her calendar that she looked forward to for a long time, a very long time.  A special day in her mind but not in anyone’s mind she knew.  Though she circled it, she hadn’t made plans except she knew she was leaving home on that day. And all Margo knew was that she had to get away, get away from home, from all she knew.  After Margo graduated from high school, she turned eighteen and gave her parents notice. What could they say?  Margo was eighteen and wanted to be on her own. She wanted to leave Richmond.  How could her parents stop Margo?  Margo was eighteen, eighteen and her parents had to let go.  Yes, they had no choice after she gave them notice and that was more than could be said for her brother.

Conflict with her parents turned Margo into a rebel, but she never wanted to disappoint them. She wanted to make a clean break but didn’t want to upset them. And she wanted her parents’ blessing, though she knew that she probably wouldn’t get it. Still, she tried.

After liberation, Margo adopted a plan when a letter from a friend arrived from Chicago.  It contained an invitation and offered of a place to stay. Place to stay in Chicago!  Chicago!  Chicago! Chicago was to be Margo’s destiny.  Chicago was to be Margo’s home.  Chicago, close to home, yet far away.  And why Chicago? Chicago. It was simple: Chicago wasn’t far from Richmond, yet far enough away.  And Chicago was a big city, and it not far from Richmond. Margo could’ve chosen Indianapolis, but Indianapolis wasn’t far enough away.

That winter was unusually cold, unusually cold for windy Chicago but invigorating. Without cold, cold wind, people of Chicago wouldn’t have anything to complain about.  Complaining, Chicago, complaining. Complaining Used to snow and cold, cold wind … still complaining.  Margo felt pushed, rushed, pushed by crowds and her boss’ clock, as she came and went from work in darkness. People hurried to unknown destinations while clocks ate up time. Margo, thinking about her new freedom, she knew that she was no longer the same person she was in Indiana.

Margo escaped to a small brownstone apartment.  First night, Margo slept on a hard wood floor.  She survived that night, next night, and the next without a bed and, in spite of her mother’s worst predictions, established herself in Chicago. She found a job by looking through The Chicago Daily News and discovered what brazen idiots did for a living. Margo hated what most brazen idiots did for a living.  Margo’s first taste of reality came when she discovered jobs were hard to find. Her second taste of reality came when she was handed her first job. Who could blame her for not wanting to work in a gas station (her father owned one)? She wouldn’t accept just any job, yet like a brazen idiot she did.

Thank goodness Margo’s mother was no prophet, but she never let on that she was impressed by Margo’s success. With persistence the young woman found a perfect job for her … for someone who enjoyed people, who wrote books, drew pictures, and played instruments, and enjoyed writers, painters, and musicians. A sucker for authors and artists, she worked behind a counter at Book Mart, one just off Michigan Avenue, and near the Art Institute. She could be at the store most afternoons, exchanging courtesies and during lulls nibbling on sandwiches and reading novels. She also spent too much time dreaming

She dreamed big dreams. Margo dreamed big dreams, and many of them came true. In Indiana, before she left home, Margo didn’t know many dreams would come true, and when she left home she didn’t know she left behind her inspirational source.  And Margo’s hometown was the main reason for her flight.  When working at the bookstore. she started an epic poetic drama, an autobiographical, psychological study of a young woman. In her poem, her treatment of her brother and parents, and other people Margo knew, embarrassed them.  She wanted to expose their foibles and retaliate for unnamed crimes.

For one reason or another her poetry never jelled. She struggled too much, too much to find the right words, which led to a predilection for procrastination.  Struggling for words, struggling for the right word, led to waiting for inspiration.  Waiting for inspiration led to frustration.  Frustration led to end of a day. To write such a poem, Margo would have to reach beyond herself, beyond grievances, beyond feelings, beyond experiences and write something new, something totally new.  Something new, something new, something she wasn’t prepared to do. Without inspiration, Margo pretended to be writing, pretended, pretended, and pretended until she lost her identity, and along the way, while working in a bookstore. she met other writers with the same problem.

With similar problems, most writers Margo met remained unknown. Okay, it didn’t matter, didn’t matter to her.  It didn’t matter to her, to Margo because she also was like them, unknown.  They were aspiring, aspiring writers, aspiring writers like Margo, aspiring for something out of reach, out of reach except for Margo.  Some of them were so self-occupied that they were never satisfied.  Because of temperament, most of them wouldn’t recognize acclaim if it were handed to them, most of them said they weren’t after acclaim, and most of them considered themselves members of the avant-garde.

There wasn’t a way to judge the Michigan Avenue gang. Not really.  Not really, until Margo arrived.  When she arrived, their work was dismissed, or only appreciated by a select few.  People they knew, and a few other people.  Friends.  People who accepted their art for what it was!  In many ways, the Michigan Avenue crowd was like the Top Hat Gang, the Top Hat Gang, a high school gang that attracted Margo.  Both gangs lacked direction. But had a Cezannes or Hemmingway shown up it would’ve been different. It would’ve changed everything, changed everything, everything changed forever, everything in a minute, everything, everything, just as Chicago changed Margo.  People who followed them … even when they were disappointed … showed appreciation for their art.

At first Margo didn’t show her work to anyone. She was too unsure of herself to show her work to anyone.  She was too afraid, too …  too, too … too full of excuses.  There were hundreds and hundreds of reasons that made it impossible. She considered it bad luck to show it.  An inner voice made it impossible. Fear of criticism made it impossible. She was aware of her weaknesses and felt her weaknesses showed.  Showed!  But Margo was more aware than anyone else. She was afraid she would never be ready. So she wrote and waited, waited and wrote as she waited for her eighteen birthday.  And she waited and pretended she didn’t care. And she pretended that she didn’t care as she beat herself up.  Then one day she was discovered while she always played it down

Then Margo began helping friends.

For a while Margo liked the image of starving writer, though she never starved.  An enthusiast, an amateur, a talented young woman, with an artist’s eye, she experienced ups and downs as would most young women turned loose for the first time.  Helping someone else might not have occurred to Margo had her own writing caught fire. Helping was not in her DNA, and Margo never thought herself inspirational. She kept saying, “I’m not worried about those who are naturally talented.  It’s the rest of us who deserve it” while never explaining what “it” was.

Was it possible to fall in between? Margo was a bit too apologetic, but she loved being the center of attention. She was lucky to have an outlet.

Her first apartment, before she knew Chicago, was on Addison, one block west of Wrigley Field. It was convenient. It wasn’t far from the L, the L her only transportation, and when she was running late it was only a short jog to a train. However, most of the time, instead of running, she chose to be late. And when she had time she wandered around without a purpose because she enjoyed glory of wasting time. Escaping the common place was one of her goals.

Dressing like a gypsy didn’t last long. It was something she embraced for several months. By wearing something weird and strange like Druid stones, and dressing in green and scarlet like Hungarian gypsies, she thought she could become part of a clique that came in the bookstore. To find similarities, however, between Margo and members of the clique was a stretch. For example, when Jasper tried to seal their friendship with “apo miro dadeskro vast!” or “by my father’s hand,” she, after asking what it meant, visualized her daddy chasing her with a hickory stick. Then with coins and pieces of silk woven in her hair, she began to view such exhibitionism with disdain. Cultivating a special jargon spoken ungrammatically seemed like a sham to her. It became apparent that she rejected conformity by rejecting nonconformity. Her rejection of Jasper, however, didn’t stop her from keeping bangles and rings he gave her or from cultivating an appreciation for Sartre and Liszt.

Instead of a writer she would rather be a gypsy. Already enthralled with romance, she imagined swarthy men making love to her. Hearing gypsies called drunks or harlots made her angry.

When they couldn’t find what they wanted, Margo’s regular customers relied on her. They knew her because she often interrupted them with questions and answers. Protocol called for a less direct approach. (During winter conversations materialized more often because people browsed longer.) Some people felt uncomfortable with her friendly manner and avoided eye contact. Margo accepted this as a challenge.

In spite of herself, she brought baggage with her from Richmond. She needed to tone it down. Considered a gift in some places and more appropriate for a soapbox, her deep voice commanded attention. She had just escaped the land of The New Testament, and she brought with her optimism and zeal of a new convert. It meant that she sometimes sounded pious.

On cold nights she read Eliot and Sartre. No longer in the fold, she forgot her Bible and tears of repentance. It was what brought her to her knees, while books filled a void. As for anger, she pretended indifference. She tried to be pleasant. Her bravado, called brazenness, fell somewhere between being a brat and a free spirit. Often she went overboard. She took great pains to match a person’s personality with a book, and before she left her bookstore job she could count on a steady stream of customers.

Having time to read, she almost only read modern classics, and her command of the English language separated her from her parents. This was how she began her journey. But with disdain for small towns and afraid to leave Chicago, she woke up one day feeling trapped.

Always on the lookout for something new, Margo’s appetite for change grew.  She never read anything straight through and read more novelists than poets, and Englishmen more than Americans. Heavier the volume the more pains she took to read it. James Joyce topped her list. Field of aesthetics, so boring to so many, excited her. She also delved into philosophy of art. She gave lectures about “naïveté in judging” and “common place directives that were central to modern letters.” Her lectures never attracted many people.

At odd times, a gem came out of her mouth. It was usually an unconventional remark. And often it tickled someone’s funny bone. Pretty much everything she said had a bite to it, and as she grew older and more critical she turned nastier. Her frankness gained her respect. It also turned friends into enemies.

Artists Margo knew craved attention. Posing was essential for them. By dressing like gypsies or acting like Bohemians and by being different, they made statements. Often their actions bordered on insanity. They could also be nominated for a fashion parade. Yet, unless because of some quirk, they didn’t have a chance in hell of becoming famous. But it never stopped them, and for the most part they wouldn’t think of prostituting their art, while their heads swelled from adulation of friends. That was how they became preoccupied with outward appearances. This often led to craziness that gave the group cohesion. “Entertaining.” Yes, “entertaining” was how they described evenings they spent together reading poetry. When Margo read her epic poem “Alfred”, they all said they liked it.

After adoration she felt let down. She knew it was an inferior work. She called it trash. She then gave a treatise on sound and sense and deception of trash and dismissed her work as mere entertainment. Too much was now at stake for flattery. Flattery seemed like a slap in the face to her. Anticipating failure, she had a dreadful week. Accepting failure, she felt like killing herself. It was followed by another week of misery, and returning to a job was painful for her. She learned that no amount of hard work assured success.

That whole day, and into the night, she wrote unconnected phrases. Words didn’t come without expletives, and as her desire to write grew she struggled more and more. Silly words were mistaken for substance. Her second try, however, pleased her more. Outside snow began to fall, and it was easy to see why Chicago earned its nickname. A strong wind off the lake made walking unpleasant. There was no better excuse for staying inside and writing, especially since she began to enjoy it. Here then was what kept her from going insane.

For a whole month snow fell. She had graduated to writing vignettes. She wrote a piece about a happy family around a dinner table eating corn on the cob. In it she expressed all her hopes and dreams. It was how families were supposed to work and was the opposite of her experience. From an early age a part of her died every time she apologized for something. Chances of her becoming another Virginia Wolfe were indeed slim, but she certainly had material for several novels.

Margo noticed Harriot before Harriot noticed her. Harriot was a strong athletic girl who lived next door. Great many of their peers attended college and, during all seasons of the year, were preoccupied with pleasant froth, but these two were more interest in creativity. Harriot, more than Margo, had an appetite for sunlight and color. Her surprising enthusiasm, say for example, for a bright plumage of birds drew her into hat decoration, which made an immediate impression on a rather somber writer.

They probably would’ve dismissed each other had their meeting not been serendipitous. On the day they met Margo was brooding over her unfulfilled destiny. Noticeably able to enjoy each other these women shared a chemistry that sealed their friendship. Curiosity led to long conversations. Sharp debate and definite opinions enlivened discussions.

Now Margo, all heart, longed for adventure, while Harriot tried to convince her that Chicago rivaled Paris. A tour of the city settled the matter. Everywhere the guide found something to prove her point. To a couple of artists sights and sounds of Chicago were well worth it. While Harriot loved light, Margo heard screams and noises and knifings and hawking of pizza. Harriot and Margo went together but often reached different destinations. Where Harriot saw gilded furniture, gilded-framed pier mirrors, and crystal chandeliers, Margo marveled at shapes and texture of brick, wood, and glass.

There was something else they shared, something surprisingly pleasant, but something that made Margo nervous. Back in Indiana it would’ve been unacceptable. Her parents would’ve been horrified. They would never have accepted it. Now, while Margo evolved plots around bricks and mortar and Harriot did the same thing around birds and butterflies, the two women frequently held hands. Margo soon realized that her new friend expected affection. This affection led to her wondering where this obligation would lead. Without talking about it, several times Margo came close to bolting. But Harriot reassured her. Margo, as their friendship grew, had to face biases from her past.

At this early stage Margo came close to receiving recognition, recognition she desired. It pretty nearly ruined her. Praise never helped. Praise only exasperated her. She didn’t believe it. She didn’t believe people were telling the truth. She could’ve easily kept Harriot’s friendship, but she came to believe that because of her artist’s temperament she couldn’t have a close friend. Consequently, she neglected to invite Harriot to an opening of her epic drama.

Most Saturday nights they walked arm in arm down Halsted Street. They enjoyed lazily walking down Halsted Street, down crowded sidewalks getting lost in crowds. As they walked, they looked for ice cream. Both of them loved ice cream and ate it daily. Margo didn’t have a weight problem, so it didn’t matter how much ice cream she ate. Harriot had a weight problem, but it didn’t make any difference to her when it came to ice cream. So she put on pounds. Another thing about Margo was her appetite for shadiness, which in Chicago wasn’t hard to find. And she never worried about risks. Over eating, the two women shared it in common.

Sometimes they went to dives to listen to black men play saxophones. They knew they shouldn’t go alone, but this didn’t matter because the spotlight wasn’t on them. Bands played jazz, and between sets singers smoked tiny, brown cigars. From about nine at night until two in the morning, bands played jazz, singers smoked tiny, brown cigars, and lost souls danced to whip-like rhythms.

To find it Harriot and Margo followed a circuitous route through Gates of Hell. It took between fifteen minutes and half an hour to reach the club. It was dark and scary. “Kind of swell, don’t you think?” “Going No Where,” while everyone was in a daffy mood and easily satisfied. Their main concern was pleasure and rarely found enough of it. Margo felt like they had entered into Henry Miller’s Black Lace Lab and wasn’t knowledgeable enough to write about it.

A gentleman that she just met blew smoke in her ear. He talked tough about cheaters and swell-looking dames. Four or five other men vied for her attention, but none of them said that they waited all their life for her like he did. He looked familiar, almost certainly was, and who could tell if he told her the truth. With such a big, handsome guy Margo felt flattered but at a disadvantage. Margo never knew how much she drank. Someone said that she should eat something. Swell.

With no time to lose Margo fired the first salvo. This stopped him cold. He hadn’t heard of Henry Miller and didn’t appreciate hearing a woman curse. His companions slid away and then rushed women who were still available. Thundering sound of ten studs all chasing after five mares gave an impression of a charge of a cavalry troop. With boots and spurs they descended upon a bevy of women. Then Margo heard herself say, “Everything’s swell; I’m telling you.”

Instinct told her that she shouldn’t dance. He wanted to hold her tight, and as he expected it proved easy. Harriot turned her man down. Margo suspected that she preferred a soprano on stage, a well-known singer. Her friend didn’t say anything all evening. Margo saw her standing there with the same posture, the same disinterestedness. Indifferent or not she should have had more fun. Instead her situation seemed to go from bad to worse. By now Harriot expected to be abandoned. It was like she could read Margo’s mind. Maybe Harriot already planned to walk home by herself.

Margo felt bewildered and sad for her friend and said, “I intend to get drunk. Won’t you join me?” Under different circumstances Margo might’ve humored her, but this time she wasn’t going to allow her friend to dictate her mood and ruin her evening. It wasn’t fair. It was never fair. She was always ruining her evening. Margo loved crowds, loud music, and love-me-love-songs. Harriot never liked forced encounters. She shut down when she saw her friend enjoying herself.

A few songs later and after the place filled up Harriot got worse. To Margo nothing was more interesting than bedlam and molls and guys sucking up to each other. Then a fight broke out. Rivals attacked each other, which was why Margo would go back there. A fight broke out, and someone got hurt. “Can you beat it? The Band’s still playing. God must love a good fight. And someone got hurt.”

So as not to alert police the saxophone player played even louder. A red-hot horn in his hot hands razzed and dazzled for two consecutive hours. After that midnight came around and a mood that stayed around until pretty near dawn, and Harriot seemed determined to ruin everyone’s evening. She wouldn’t stop staring at the floor. Never for a moment did anyone distract her.

It was funny how dying suddenly became important to Harriot. Moans came from somewhere inside her and rose in intensity and followed moods and rhythms of the saxophone. Thinking of death inspired her. It always inspired her. While still young and an only child, idea of dying became an obsession. She fixated on a violent end and as it grew more intense it energized her. Finally, she gave into an impulse, and it set her heart on fire.

Imprudently instead of stabbing herself, she slit her wrist with pieces of a broken mirror. If she really wanted to die, she would’ve stabbed herself. So we see her rushing into the women’s restroom and finding a way to break a mirror. But she didn’t have guts enough to do herself in. If she really wanted to die, she would’ve bought a gun. The last thing she remembered hearing before she lost consciousness was “The Beale Street Blues.”

They rushed Harriot to Pullman Psychiatric Hospital, one of Chicago’s great institutions. Fanfare over her attempted suicide gave her attention, attention that she was looking for, but she never understood why there was such a fuss. Her hospitalization made her laugh, and no one could be sure that she wouldn’t try again.

Like drones in a glass jar, patients stuck to an unreasonable schedule. Often, while they smoked, watched television, or become involved in some other time-filling activity, everything stopped. It was like they all lost something. Someone then invariably shrieked or started a monologue about a doctor’s use of a goofy diathermy machine, or that his or hers threats of killing his or herself weren’t serious. With thorazine most of them got better … became obedient … docile and obedient. Access to the hospital grounds was used as a bribe. Compliance meant privileges. Sometimes to keep them from hurting themselves (or hurting others) they were given tranquilizers or restrained.

There was a varied population there. After a few days most of them looked and acted quite normal. With psychiatric care and bingo and square dancing, and music and soft ball, tennis, talent shows, art shows, dancing, television, movies, public speaking and a lot more, almost all of them got better. Like with thorazine, they got better. Someone might sing “Moonglow” in a monotone. Their lack of expression might indicate schizophrenia or a lack of talent. One would hope they weren’t judged by their singing.

What motivated Harriot to begin painting? Was it attention she received at the hospital? She requested that people not fuss over her or consider her painting tigers crazy. She asked people not to comment on them. As a whole her paintings represented a body of work totally unprecedented for the hospital. Her doctor encouraged it. He told her painting was good therapy and important self-expression.

Her tigers obeyed her, and she felt proud of them. What a painting meant to her was frequently missed. No one knew that she felt responsible for her tigers. And what interested her most was that she could control them. She had tigers living with her, and it didn’t seem strange to her.

Margo visited daily, while Harriot hid in her room. Day after day she grew more defiant. She always responded in the same way. Was she afraid of her friend? No. Instead, she gravitated toward the blankness of a clean wall, toward blank canvases, on which she painted more tigers. When she was painting, no one could touch her. When she was painting, no one better touch her. But though she hid, she hid in vain. To touch her again proved useless. Praise depressed her and shut her down. There lay pain. Everyday Margo appeared, there would be the same unprofitable battle. It was painful. As a matter of course Margo thought Harriot’s tiger paintings were superb and felt that she had to own one.

Margo saw it as if she were paying off a small debt. But for Harriot there couldn’t have been a more affective ploy than blaming someone else for her suicide attempt … even an embarrassingly blotched one. Only blood and pain were real. By the same token landing in Pullman was more humiliating to her than death.

It wasn’t surprising then that Harriot’s bitterness became a major source of creativity for her. When she painted, she painted with madness and frenzy. The wildest expression of vengeance directed her brush. These beasts could never be trusted or considered cute or cuddly. They were dangerous. They were dangerous and could bite her head off. Indeed, they were ferocious. Harriot used them instead of guard dogs. But long before her discharge boredom of the hospital got to her. And as unreal as it may seem she accepted money for her first tiger. Margo proved her mettle too. She bought the painting, signed and dated, though it frightened her. Hanging it in her apartment had an extraordinary effect on her. Her desire to buy art was thus born. It was art of a friend that got her started.  She was pleased. Pursued by a host of friends Margo soon learned that she preferred to buy art than receive acclaim.

The big fellow had charm, and Egisto Rossi’s connections with Sicilian bosses gave him an additional advantage. He overlooked what his friends did and for the most part never got into trouble. Egisto ran a lucrative business but never made big money. He became renown for selling pasta by the pound.

He never thought that he would marry an outsider. However, as he’d say, “Those things happen.” Margo frequented his restaurant. They shared a passion for Italian food. Egisto was so bold as to ask Margo her name. She flirted with him, and one thing led to another. Margo was flattered by his attention, and he was equally flattered when she flirted back, and once it got started, they didn’t know how to stop it. In short, Italians don’t mess around.

One bright day, as it grew hotter, Margo sat with Egisto and raised her eyes to watch birds sunning themselves on the breakwater. Just as happiness to a fisherman meant having faith in a half-inch minnow, Egisto believed in the law of probability and that he would eventually catch a fish in Lake Michigan. Even catching a small one made him happy. For Margo had come to Municipal Pier, not to fish for a fish but to fish for a man she thought was a millionaire.

Their marriage, however, never fulfilled the promise of their first few dates, or promises they made to each other. It was a continual challenge; but he gave her a comfortable life.

At the very least Egisto made a good living selling pasta by the pound. Margo liked it when his customers greeted him with “your Excellency.” It meant that he had at least four cents in his pocket and nobody could mistake him for a doctor or a priest.

Egisto ran his establishment in such a way that nobody worried about prices and nobody went home hungry. Besides providing him with a living the restaurant became a form of recreation, and he never worried about where to go on Saturday night. Pushing himself to become a cut above rabble or riffraff (the mob), he often said, “Snobbery is a necessary thing. Society has to have differences in order to run properly.”

He rambled that way and promised Margo a home. He usually kept his promises. He gave her examples of what he could offer her, and again he usually kept his promises. (Still their marriage didn’t live up to its promise.) She saw that he really worked hard. (It was encouraging.) He worked hard and earned every penny he ever made. In many ways he reminded her of her father. Harking back to his roots he often sang arias from ID TRAVATORE. People who knew him weren’t surprised to hear him also sing something from LA DOLCE VITA, while Margo played in her head with an idea of becoming a nymph or a faun … on a solitary beach, or in a secluded cave … where she could bathe in the nude, drink wine out of sea shells, and eat messy food with her hands. He consorted with “contadini” and fishermen. In Chicago, forget it! Parts of Chicago may have had enough Italians to be called Little Rome, but parts of the city were also as far from the Vatican as you could get.

From the beginning Egisto stated his motives. Love according to him was delicious. He loved to eat and loved to make love. He liked nothing better than taking her clothes off. Liked it better than cooking and eating. Yes, it was okay. Priests endorsed it. She, however, sought a combination of sensuality and sincerity. And in the morning sex with fireworks! He would stand there, ogling and curling the tip of an imaginary mustache. “You’re sweet,” “delicious,” or simply, “mmm,” those were his words. Then by snapping his fingers he made her susceptible to a unique form of gallantry.

By and by he would get around to asking her about her day. It would get her talking, and he couldn’t stop her. A revival of PASSAGE OF INDIA just opened at the Goodman Theater with marvelous reviews. She expected her husband to share her enthusiasm. His mere attention was never enough. She wanted him to recognize what was important to her.

First her achievement as a poet gave her connections and self-assurance to become a patroness.  First paintings (of tigers and other wild animals) she purchased, as she often proudly said, were only a start. In turn she actually launched Harriot’s career. It helped her friend overcome reality and poverty that most painters faced. Margo might’ve been famous herself had she not been so distracted by limited successes of her friends.

But this was only conjecture, conjecture that increasingly haunted her and made her question her talent. Maego only wrote three or four plays, which in some circles was considered phenomenal. Though measuring success was difficult she unfortunately and unjustly grew more and more dissatisfied with her work.

The couple often seemed sad. Often as they stared out over the lake, their conversation turned away from the god-almighty theater and the arts to volumes about nothing. But always there was confusion over Egistos’ drinking. Too often they pretended that his heavy drinking was necessary. Too often they pretended that he had to have a drink to have a good time. A great game called sympathetic drinking drew Margo into it. It was one of the things Egisto succeeded at. Often with an empty glass in her hand she endorsed her husband’s drunkenness. Wearing tinted-glasses she would ignore an evil genie … drinking. She was easily seduced, seduced by places having fun took her, from the arms of Henry (as in Miller) to mad sex with Egisto, and the clamor, glitter and shrieks that came her way from being with celebrities.

With help of pain and misery Egisto, always playing host, fast approached now the last stages of a disease. Literally he drank himself to death. He could always afford another drink. He could always find a drinking buddy. He often drank with his customers.

Up until the end friends congregated around Egisto to eat homemade pasta, drink great wine, and sing his favorite songs. They were generally people he knew, knew most of his life because he chose his friends well and never let them down. These people he nightly welcomed to his restaurant, but few of them sent Margo condolences. To Egisto, however, the possibility of death never seemed real.

Sometimes Margo worked beside her husband; and this was easier for her than one might’ve imagined. Often celebrities came for dinner, actors, writers, and singers, from the Opera company, Geridine Farrer and Marie Callas, people who Margo always personally served. Like at the bookstore, she served actors, writers, and singers. Egisto claimed he once out drank Hemmingway, though the famous writer never came into his restaurant. Meanwhile Egisto felt that he and his friends, many of them immigrants, were living an American dream and realized that it shouldn’t be taken for granted. Secrets they kept not only included pasta and pavlova but also crime.

Egisto knew Boo Boo, Max, Duffy, and Bugs. Preferring neutrality, he however never joined a Mafioso family. Instead he catered to them by offering cards, cigars, and meals. Rival bosses held celebrations at his restaurant, often ostensibly to raise money for the Maritime Society or a Catholic charity. Of course Egisto enjoyed prestige. Those who knew him thought he would make a great mayor or another Caruso or Tamagno.

He strutted and changed table clothes with the snapped of a wrist. Instead of war medals, he wore carnations. All the time, while serving his customers, and with hundreds of plots and thousands of characters, he carried on extended conversations. He shared with them joy, sorrow, hope, anger, relief, boredom, despair, love, and disappointment, which made him instantly likeable. Egisto could have been elected lamico degli amici, a friend of friends, or un gran signore. Again, he could’ve been elected mayor. By not saying much Margo allowed her husband to be flamboyant, juvenile, and often ridiculous. And generally he gave in when he saw that he couldn’t control her, but he increasingly stood in her shadow.

Margo’s tiny coffeehouse and gallery on Washington Street near Market offered unknown talent a shelter away from critics. Each evening, around eight o’clock, a responsive audience gathered. They sat around small tables, sipped hot chocolate or various kinds of coffee, sipped, talked, watched, and listened. Margo’s business attracted a mixed crowd. They came to hear and to see the gang, a group of artist and friends who sang, told fortunes, improvised plays, and basically performed their own work. Within this crowd Harriot’s popularity grew. Everyone knew her. Everyone applauded her, and her paintings began to sell. Her works were sensitive and sexually ambiguous.

Egisto gave his wife’s project his blessing. He did it without profit in sight. As far as he was concerned, owning a billiard hall or selling cigars on a street corner made more sense, but he still gave her his blessing. Rules and expectations to Margo were more inconsequential than distortions and excesses in modern art.

Each night her customers could expect a shock or two. For three hours, performers delivered and dared to do things that artists elsewhere merely contemplated. Nightly skits outraged some people, while most people enjoyed them. It was one place where people could be themselves. Soon Margo found herself leading Chicago’s avant-garde.

Then Margo turned to social realism and decided the best use for Egistos’ money was to produce a movie of Upton Sinclair’s novel THE JUNGLE. All attempts to discourage her failed. No one could stop her. Nothing ever stopped her after she made up her mind to do something. No one could keep her away from slaughterhouses and slums. Such experiences kept her awake at night. Sleeplessness came with the creative process, but Margo’s work shared the same deficiencies as Sinclair’s novel.

Within some circles she was labeled a communist. While many writers of proletarian literature faced congressional hearings and were blacklisted, she never became prominent enough for it.

Caught up in Sinclair’s straightforward descriptions of meatpacking and pork-making, the whole process, the grisly accidents and the industrial diseases, “singe and smell of mass-produced death and dismemberment,” she shared the author’s ideas about humanity’s future. She wanted to capture rivers of blood and stench … unwashed walls, rafters and pillars caked with filth … a plague of flies descending on Packing Town … cattle driven through chutes … the killing bed … cleaver men, knockers armed with sledge-hammers, and butchers with long knives, men cutting, splitting, gutting, and scraping. A grisly scene, and cruel. She wanted to capture it all. At the same time Egisto was struck with pain and for the life of her Margo couldn’t sympathize.

But soon she ran into problems endemic to the movie business. The more the movie and her personal life became intertwined, the more difficult the juggling act became. It also soon became clear that she didn’t have enough money. From the beginning she didn’t have enough money. At no time did she have a realistic picture of a budget.

At the same time Egistos’ showed cautious enthusiasm for her work, which had to be placed in the context of a hospital stay. Pain returned, and he hadn’t stopped drinking. For Margo his death couldn’t have come at a worse time. And disappointingly, before she had a chance to complete her film, a backer backed out and doomed the project. This blow hurt Margo more than anything else.

Here ended her fling with Henry and Upton. Everyone, innumerable people rallied around her and tried to cheer her up. She needed a fresh start. But less importance was placed on her lifelong dream of creating a major work. As her dad would say, “No setbacks, no gain.” But subsequent projects wouldn’t be as long and painful as THE JUNGLE.

Margo felt old, as she viewed death as a cruel joke. She knew that her mother viewed death as a fulfillment of a lifelong dream. “Robbery!” she cried. Her husband’s death caught her off guard and made her wonder where she had been. She couldn’t say that she knew him, while people who did know him gathered around in a reverent manner. They only had nice things to say about him. From their conversations Margo couldn’t tell whom they were talking about. Maybe they were all mixed up, or not telling the truth. The truth about what? She didn’t have an answer, and everything seemed muddled. He suffered a great deal, and she hadn’t been there for him. She was incapable of it, and so he wasn’t your typical man. And it was humiliating for Margo. His epitaph simply read, “For God has called, and I must go and leave you all.” Simple. Nothing else could be said.

It was quite a spectacle. Mourners gathered and filed past the casket for one last look. Among them were Sicilian-bosses Boo Boo, Max, Duffy, and Bugs. Margo’s parents didn’t say a word about them, and she wasn’t quite sure whether they would or not. But most likely they wouldn’t. She was burying her husband, and they weren’t likely to confront her then. The slightest indiscretion hurt her.

She saw Egisto lying there in a tweed suit, as she came up to him. That was his Excellency, but she knew very well that he wasn’t there. You see, she was crying; he was gone; he had meant so much to her and no doubt everyone could see it because she shook the whole time. Excuse her for shaking. She hadn’t had a long cry yet; Margo’s time had come; she took the time for a long farewell to his Excellency, as a soprano sang his favorite aria from ID TRAVATORE.

Thinking of her dad, what changes did Margo see in him, suggested by changes along US 40? Whenever she went home she spent time with him at the gas station. Why? Why not! Why not spend time with him, her father and her mother? It shouldn’t shock anyone that Margo didn’t remember US 40, except for names of towns…. Greenfield, Indianapolis, Brazil, and Terre Haute. Not that she’d recognized her hometown after a 1968 explosion totally leveled two downtown city blocks and spread destruction over a fourteen-block area. But while it upset all her family, she saw devastation in a way that the rest of them couldn’t. She tried to speak to her mother about it, but timing was wrong, which always seem to be the case. She concentrated on carrying on and kept her mind busy.

“Our journeys to the land of promise, varying in distance, takes us in unexpected directions. And when one wanders as a stranger in an unfamiliar place, or, when, not knowing what else to do, after settling on specifics, we cling to a few tangible things.” But Margo concerned herself more and more with intangible things and seemed filled with regret when she couldn’t do more.

Randy Ford

 

 

 

 

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Randy Ford Author- ICURUS

ICURUS

by Randy Ford

Harry thought highly of himself and thought he was tolerant of others.  That wouldn’t last.

There seemed at the time as though Harry thought so highly of himself that he thought that he was incapable of having a negative thought about anyone else.  Harry felt he was almost sure that he was not prejudice, and he tended to blame other people when they looked down on others because they were different.  He was pretty sure he wasn’t bigoted or racist and would deny feelings that showed that he was just as intolerant as anyone else.  Perhaps he placed too much stock on how he thought highly about himself, perhaps, perhaps.  It gave Harry great pleasure to think of himself in this way.  It gave him a high, and then flying high, he looked down on people.  From on high, Harry looked down on people he considered prejudice.

Getting ready to go to college was what he was up to … “getting ready,” yes, but more like waiting not merely because it technically was still summer and the semester hadn’t started, but he hadn’t been accepted in college yet. So waiting it was, in fact, it was a long wait.  He waited all summer.  It was a long summer for him.  It was a long summer for Harry because he hadn’t made good grades in high school and hadn’t been accepted in college yet.  And it was harder for Harry because having to wait was contradictory to ideas Harry had about himself.  Harry wasn’t used to waiting.  Harry wasn’t used to waiting for anything.

But this did not become evident to Harry that summer until it looked as if he wouldn’t be accepted into college, a college he wanted to go to, a college that excited him and a college he thought would challenge him.  Friends of his would not go to college, but he didn’t want to be the same as those friends.  And ever since he could remember his parents stressed importance of college, stressed need for college, planted in his brain need for college, so now as he waited and waited, waited all summer for an acceptance letter Harry panicked and kicked himself for not studying in high school.

He always wanted to go to college.  It was true that he wasn’t prepared to go, to go to college but he wanted to go anyway. Now time had come for him to leave the family nest, which with some reluctance he planned to do, realizing that he would have to study for the first time in his life. Harry didn’t know what to expect from a roommate. He never had a roommate before.  He didn’t have a brother.

This summer Harry worked and saved for college, and waited and fretted, waited and fretted.  This summer Harry didn’t go on a vacation.  This summer Harry didn’t go with his family on a vacation.  This summer he stayed home and worked, worked and waited, waited for an acceptance letter he thought would never come. This summer Harry work and waiting, worked and saved for college.  And there was nothing he could do about it, or was there?  And so he decided to visit the college he wanted to go to and talk to the Dean of Admissions.

This was easy enough, and it payed off.

Opening the letter was easy enough, while anticipating what it said was harder.  Harry fumbled as he opened it.  Yes, yes, yes!  Hey, Harry!  Harry got excited, really excited as he read his acceptance and name and address of his future roommate.  There was name of his future roommate.  There was name of Harry’s future roommate and his future roommate’s address in Ranger, a small town a little more than a hundred miles away.  “Hey, Harry, your future roommate lives a little more than a hundred miles away.  Let’s go.  Let’s go see him.  Let’s meet him.”  And as quick as that, Harry decided to drive to Ranger and meet his future roommate.  “Yes, it was that quick.”  Without hesitating, Harry decided to go, go to Ranger to meet his future roommate.

Harry figured he could drive to Ranger, meet his future roommate, and drive back home without missing work.  It seemed easy enough.  He wouldn’t have to miss work.  He wouldn’t miss work.  He felt as if he could drive to Ranger and not miss work.  It was important that he didn’t miss work.  He couldn’t afford to miss work.  Harry couldn’t afford to lose his job.

Night before he took off, Harry couldn’t sleep.  Night before, he didn’t pack anything.  Night before, he didn’t pack anything because he knew he had to get back.  Harry didn’t pack anything because he knew he had to get back for work that evening.  Harry worked the nightshift, so he had to drive back from Ranger that afternoon to make it back for the nightshift.  “Okay.”  And he didn’t want to speed.  Harry didn’t need another ticket.  He couldn’t afford another speeding ticket.  Harry left home in the dark, so that he could drive to Ranger and still make it back so that he wouldn’t miss work.

So Harry couldn’t sleep. He hadn’t slept. It was three a m, and Harry couldn’t sleep.  There was an acceptance letter, name, address, address in Ranger, and Harry was itching to go.  He wanted to meet his future roommate.  He wanted to meet his future roommate in Ranger.  “Good idea.”

He got up.  He sat up and got out of bed.  Dressed.  Hurriedly dressed.  Didn’t bathe.  Bathe night before.  He was thinking he would drive to Ranger without stopping.  Harry gassed the night before and thought he would drive to Ranger without stopping.  Drive by himself.  Without stopping.  Without stopping except for stop signs and stop lights.  Harry was pretty excited because he hadn’t driven that far in one stretch before.  “Yeah!”  Freedom.

Considering that he had to go through a major city, the drive would take a little more than two hours.  Surely, Harry could drive that far.  Surely, Harry could drive it in a little more than two hours.  Surely, … Harry was not convinced.   “I’ll have to hurry” he said to himself with a smile. “But I don’t want to get there too early.”  Getting there early didn’t particular appeal to him.
He said “but I don’t want to get there too early” as he left the house, tiptoeing to keep from waking his parents. He planned to eat breakfast in Ranger, but he still would have time to kill. If he got there too early, he would have time to kill.  He was excited.  He was nervous.  He was excited and nervous, even anxious. Of course he wanted to meet his future roommate. He could picture him, though he hadn’t seen a photo of him. He couldn’t be certain, though Harry could picture his future roommate.  How could he be certain what he looked like?  He hadn’t seen a photo of his future roommate. Certain?  As certain as he could be.

Now feeling more confident than before he received an acceptance letter, he drove through the night.  It was pretty well settled.  He was going to college, and he felt pretty good about it.  He was still uneasy about meeting his future roommate, but Harry managed to concentrate on his driving.  He took letter with him.  He didn’t want to rely on memory so he took the all-important letter with him, the letter that had his future roommate’s address on it.  He almost forgot it.  He almost forgot it but remembered it at the last moment.  He remembered it in time.  He also had to make sure he had his billfold, his billfold with money in it.

Day before, Harry planned to get an early start, so he gassed up and studied a map.  Ranger.  Yes, he could drive there in a little more than two hours.  It really wouldn’t be hard.  He would have to tell his parents he was going.  He decided to leave them a note.  He decided to leave them a note so that they wouldn’t worry about him.  He didn’t want his parents to worry about him.  Then he went to bed, hoping he could sleep.

Sleep, sleep, sleep.  Except he couldn’t sleep.  Except, would he go?  Except, did he want to meet his future roommate?  Did he want to know his future?  He was jittery.  When he thought of the future, Harry felt jittery. Yes, he would go.  Yes, he wanted to meet his future roommate.  Yes, yes, did he give a damn?  “Yes,” he gave a damn.  He then felt exuberant; and all trace of uneasiness disappeared.  Yes, yes, he would drive to Ranger.  Yes, he would drive alone to Ranger.  Yes, he would drive further than he ever drove before.  Yes, he was about to go on an adventure, a great adventure.

Time passed slowly.  He couldn’t sleep.  He figured he would stay in bed until dawn, but he couldn’t sleep.  He was really too nervous to sleep.  Ultimately Harry lost interest in sleeping.  Finally, he got out of bed and, already dressed, stumbled out door.

“Damn it!” he cried, as he stumbled on stoop because of lack of sleep.  If he had to, he could always pull over to side of road. “Here’s nothing!”

Harry was finally behind the wheel.

At this point he felt…well…well, he really didn’t know (remember he hadn’t slept) which didn’t mean he wouldn’t get in touch with his feelings. Put the pedal to the metal. You’ll be all right, and let’s hope cops don’t stop you…and stoplights are coordinated…Careful, can’t afford to get a ticket.  His car responded.  Harry, no doubt, was now sleepy; but- sleep? Was sleep necessary? If he were going to make it through college, he needed to learn to function without sleep. Oh, well. Enough is enough is enough. And so he took off.

Staying awake was harder for Harry than he thought it would be.  He didn’t know how he managed to stay awake.  He stopped for coffee.  It was an achievement.  Staying awake was an achievement for Harry.  It was hard.  He couldn’t keep his eyes open until he had to pull over to the side of the road.  But with a few winks, Harry was back on the road.  He didn’t want to waste precious time. Then compared to other achievements, his struggle to stay awake, with help of coffee, may not seem like much, but it was a miracle just the same. He barely made it to Ranger.

Now to find the right house and meet Martin Goldberg.  Hey! He had to meet him, meet his future roommate, had to know what he was like, and whether he liked Martin Goldberg and whether they had anything in common. Couldn’t help but be curious.  Couldn’t help it.

Harry got there early.  Harry got to Ranger before he expected he would.  He had ample time to fool around.  He had time to kill.  He had too much time.  He had too much time on his hands.  Ranger was a small town, so at that hour there wasn’t much open.  Getting there early meant that he could close his eyes and sleep, if he could find a spot to park…sleep at last. And wouldn’t it have been better had he called ahead?  It could have saved him trouble. Calling ahead might have made it easier.  It might have meant Harry knew they were home and knew he hadn’t driven a little over two hundred miles for nothing.  Calling ahead would have been polite.  Calling ahead might have been appropriate. They might not be home, or it might not be a good time for them. It was a chance he took, and he could well pay for it. Harry clearly manufactured the situation he found himself in and caused him so much grief. He wondered, in retrospect, what got into him.

Now he slept.  He slept and slept.  Couldn’t remember when he slept so soundly.  Couldn’t recall.  Success of getting to Ranger forgotten.  Well, can’t recall.  Success and pleasure produced by sleeping.  Before he knew it, it was almost noon.  Now he needed to hurry.  Harry hurried. What if they weren’t home?  Becoming bolder, Harry drove down their street.  Then fretted about it and could still backed out, even after driving around block, even after drive a little more than two hundred miles.

The idea, though it had merit, was impulsive, and Harry, if he could do it over, would’ve called or written Martin before driving to Ranger and thus would’ve avoided a predicament he faced. But he came all that way and was only a few blocks from Martin’s home. Becoming bolder as he drove around.  And around.

A mistake, everyone has to agree, was made; a mistake he and possibly only Harry would’ve made, and it had nothing to do with reason he decided to make the trip. The reason and the mistake were miles apart. Therefore, fretting wouldn’t solve anything, so as far as Harry was concern, he would have to go through with it and hope for the best. Then he swallowed hard and looked for Martin’s house. It wasn’t hard to find. But what if he and Martin didn’t get along? What if they didn’t like each other? Or if… Or suppose… Then coming all this way would be a mistake, and the embarrassment wouldn’t be worth it. And what about embarrassment? Wasn’t it better to be embarrassed then rather than later? It didn’t seem right. If only he called or written him in advance. He could kick himself for not thinking ahead or showing more consideration for his future roommate! He could kick himself for not calling or writing.  A mistake.  A mistake.  A mistake.  Was there a bigger mistake than leaving a bad impression? After he drove so far … after he drove a little more than two hundred miles, witness him kicking himself and grasping situation he was in. What if…what could be more humiliating than arriving just as they were leaving, leaving, leaving for a wedding or a funeral…or say for a grocery store?

But Harry had come this far and couldn’t back out now.  By then he was positively heady.  By then he had regained his courage.  By then he regained something he lost.  By then he was wild-eyed and arrogant.  There was, so to speak, a swagger in his step. He couldn’t stand suspense any longer. He had to meet Martin, Martin Goldberg, his future roommate.  And if we put ourselves in his shoes, we could see why he couldn’t change course. A fool, it is said, is born every minute. And if we’re looking at a fool, we wouldn’t have found a bigger fool than Harry. Surly, since he was a fool, a loveable fool, and would always be one, he threw caution to the wind and hurried up onto Goldberg’s porch and rang doorbell. Then he waited, while planning what he would say to Martin, Martin Goldberg, his future roommate. And he waited and waited some more. And while he waited, he hoped no one was home. And if no one were home, they would not know how big a fool he was.

When Harry didn’t get a response from ringing the door and was about to leave, Martin’s mother came around from back of house and greeted him. She caught him as he was about to walk off.  She caught him when he was about to give up and leave, which increased his feeling awkward. Harry felt awkward and couldn’t explain it.  He thought he needed to break the ice but couldn’t come up with anything.  He wished he could laugh or something.  He wished he could come up with something.  He felt like saying something obscene but didn’t … didn’t say anything for half a minute.

“Yes?” Martin’s mother asked.

Harry could have called or written and avoided this. Yes…a thousand times, yes, Harry could’ve. Yes, it was another example of Harry’s impulsiveness. Yes, he was more likely to do something without thinking than most people were, yes, jump in over his head, more likely jump in over his head than most people and not realize it, not realize it until it was too late. But now…as he stood in front of Martin’s mother, who he was meeting for the first time…and who wrongly thought he stuttered, as he stammered around, Harry introduced himself. Stupid! Stupid!  Stupid!

Silence that followed didn’t help his cause.  Harry knew it was mistake.  Harry knew he made a mistake.  We all know it was a mistake.   And we all know Harry was human and was allowed to make mistakes. He didn’t have enough sense to play it cool.  He didn’t play it cool. Truth compels us to say it and feel sorry for him.  Harry didn’t play it cool.

Then the only thing he could do was smile, smile and put on a happy face. Then there was business of explaining who he was, then there was a pause. A long pause. Quite a shock: a long pause.  Why hadn’t he called?  Why hadn’t Harry written or called… let them know he was coming?

She was only thrown off for a moment.  She was thrown off for a moment before she invited him in. Another pause. Then realizing that he was on someone else’s turf, after realizing he had entered someone else’s territory, Harry tried to be courteous.  He was as courteous as he could be.  He wished he could retreat.  He wished, he wished, he wished he could retreat, but it was too late.

She offered him a chair and asked if she could get him something to drink. Presumably he had eaten or else she would’ve offered him leftovers, but there was no sign of Martin. She asked him if he would like juice, soda, or water. Time passed, as she fetched a glass of water, water instead of soda or juice because he had had enough soda for one day.  Harry slowly drank water instead of soda.

Clock on wall told him time. Where was Martin? What if Martin wasn’t in town?  What if Martin had gone somewhere?  How much had Martin changed since photo on mantel was taken?  We all change.  How much had Martin changed?  (Harry assumed boy in photo was Martin.) Harry’s mind came up with other questions he couldn’t answer, simple ones, simple questions, such as “where was Martin.” What if Martin wasn’t in town?  “Oh, he should be back soon.”  Martin’s mother said her son would be back soon.   Good!  Then it wasn’t a wasted trip.  Then it wasn’t a wasted day.  Then it wasn’t end of the world, as he foolishly half expected it to be. Fool, fool, what to ask next? She seemed nice. Now Harry wanted Martin to hurry up.  If only Martin would come home.

Let’s go over it again, then, why this morning he drove to Ranger, why he drove more than two hours, more than two hours to Ranger and was in a hurry to meet his future roommate? And without hemming or hawing, asked why he hadn’t called or written and avoided awkwardness (who was a bigger fool than he was then?). And then thinking what if he and Martin couldn’t get along?  What if he and Martin couldn’t get along?   Fool, fool, fool! What a fool he was! And then playing a part, as he sat on his hands and knew he made a mistake, made a big mistake, made a big mistake when he didn’t call or write … when he didn’t let Martin know he was coming.  What could he do or say now? Remember he couldn’t wait until light before he set out. Fool, fool, fool!  Fool, fool, fool!

Often we end up living with our mistakes, living and in some cases dying with them, and kick ourselves when we find out that we’ve made them, and then think how stupid. But rarely can we go back and we end up asking, “When will we ever learn?”  When would Harry ever learn?   And another questions for Harry are “would he ever learn” and “does it pay to fret?” So why not accept Harry for who he was then?  Except he should’ve called or written before he jumped in his car and drove a long way. Then he would have had lunch.  Then Martin’s mother would have had lunch waiting for him, and Martin would’ve been there. Funny, funny, funny.  Yeah, funny.

At this moment, but not quick enough for Harry, Martin headed home and on the way stopped for gas. “Fill her up!”

His mother did her best to entertain Harry. There was lemon for his water and cookies. Martin took his time, took his time filling his gas tank, while Harry felt uncomfortable while he waited, while he waited with Martin’s mother.   “If I make high enough grades, I plan to go to law school!”  Harry planned to say, “if I make high enough grades, I plan to go to law school.”

Here was an example of how Harry liked to toot his horn, or perhaps he actually thought he wouldn’t want to go to law school.  But there was no reason for her to question him. At length she replied, “Martin is interested in accounting. He’s always been good with numbers.” The way she said it showed that she was proud of her son. Harry half expected her to produce an award for math, and if Martin had actually won an award she would’ve shown it to him, but would it make a difference?  It would’ve been framed, but would it make a difference? It would be prized.  It would hang on a wall if not in the living room.  Hung on a wall with pictures of Martin, but would it make a difference?   Pictures of Martin everywhere. And if Harry looked at any one of them he would notice that Martin had a surgical scar on his upper lip.  Had Harry looked closely at any one of them he would’ve notice a surgical scar on his upper lip.   It was lamentable that he hadn’t, it was lamentable that Harry hadn’t closely looked at one of those pictures so that he wouldn’t have been shocked when he saw Martin in person.  Harry would have seen a surgical scar if he closely looked.

The service station where Martin bought gas wasn’t that far from his home or anywhere else in Ranger. He bought groceries and filled car with gas.   Martin loved driving and always went the long way around so that he could drive longer. A strange car sat in front of his house when Martin drove into driveway and into garage. He unloaded groceries before he went into living room and was introduced to Harry.  When he paid attention, he heard his mother talking to someone, heard his mother talking to someone he didn’t know.  “Pray God,” he thought (remembering that they weren’t expecting company and that Martin didn’t recognize car sitting in front of his house), “Pray God, it’s not a salesman.” For it would be annoying, if it were a salesman.  Then he remembered that they had a new paper deliveryman. By then conversation in living room would have shifted somewhat; while Harry hoped Martin would hurry up.  Harry wanted Martin to hurry so that he could make it to work on time.

Then Martin came in.

Oh, but Harry wouldn’t see him yet because he had his back to kitchen door. Harry didn’t see Martin immediately.  How could he break the ice? he wondered.  He fretted.  Harry fretted and rehearsed what he would say the same as he rehearsed driving to Ranger.  That was before Harry saw Martin.  That was before Harry saw Martin’s face and surgical scar.  Everything changed when Harry saw Martin’s surgical scar.  “They were out of roasted chicken, mom!” Martin said.

Pause.

“They were out of roasted chicken mom,” Martin repeated.

Long silence.  Shock and silence.

Harry looked at Martin’s face and only saw a surgical scar, and instead of a pleasant smile Harry only saw a surgical scar; instead of a pleasant face, a surgical scar, a surgical scar.  Instead of a pleasant face, Harry only saw a surgical scar.  A surgical scar.  A surgical scar.  Harry couldn’t get passed a surgical scar.  And Martin’s voice seemed too whiny, too strident, too nasal, too grating, and too creepy to Harry … for Harry.  Shrillness was too grating to Harry, as Martin walked into the room.  Though thoroughly benign, Martin’s whiny, strident voice hurt Harry’s ears.  Then how could Harry stand such a whiny, strident voice?  How could he?  How?  And then how could he live with Martin?  How could he?  How?  Hearing such a whinny, strident voice and seeing such a deformed face, Harry wondered how he could live with Martin.  He was about to yell out but thankfully stopped himself.  He checked himself before he yelled out.

With a sudden urge to run away, he was stopped by Martin. Martin standing in the way. His eyes focused on surgical scar and he instantly knew he made a mistake.  Harry knew he made a mistake.  He knew it was a mistake to drive to Ranger.  He shouldn’t have come! He knew it! He shouldn’t have come.  He knew it!  Now there was no way to run, nowhere to run and surrounded and bugged by pictures of Martin … and surrounded and bugged by pictures of a surgical scar.  And Martin talking and asking questions while his voice hurt Harry’s ears. And while Martin’s mother tried to be nice.   was trying to be nice.

Harry didn’t have anything personally against Martin.  He didn’t have anything personally against him.  But holy God, Harry couldn’t stand Martin’s voice, and he was bugged by a surgical scar.  As he reflected later on why he requested a new roommate, Harry might have realized that Martin would have been perfectly justified in rejecting him instead of the other way around.  So Harry talked funny?  So Harry once had a split lip?  So Harry had a surgical scar? So?  So what?  This question later gave Harry pause: “What would it have been like had it been the other way around?”  What if he acquired Martin’s voice … what if he had Martin’s surgical scar … what if he experienced prejudiced the same as Martin did?  What if Martin became his roommate?  What if Harry got too close to Martin?  What if?   Would he crash the same as Icarus?

Randy Ford

 

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Randy Ford Author- ICKY’S TOOLBOX

ICKY’S TOOLBOX

by Randy Ford

CHARACTERS
Jane
Tommy
Icky (An infant)
Bartender

(A couple of weeks before Christmas: interior and exterior of a back unit of Paradise Motel.  Paradise Motel is not paradise. A seedy room in a seedy motel, with a door to bathroom prominently placed in center. A double bed with bare mattress sits downstage and up against invisible wall and next to door. To one side there is a closet; on other side, odd table and couple of chairs. The room also comes with hot plate and tiny refrigerator and small, black-and-white television. There’s running water in bathroom and running water in large sink that occupies small alcove in rear. There’s always water running, running in toilet and dripping in shower. Consequently, besides dirt and grime, walls are covered with mold. Smelly, crowded, and cluttered, and with belongings of occupants and garbage and trash thrown on floor, room couldn’t hold much more.

At rise: Sounds of birth of child come from bathroom. Jane is in there, alone, giving birth to a boy while sitting on toilet. Because she has been drinking, she endures incredible pain.  Audience knows what’s going on from sounds.  It becomes clearer to them when a baby cries.  Jane curses throughout process of giving birth.

Tommy enters from street, carrying rake, hoe and six- pack of beer. Dressed in shabby work clothes, he looks dirty and beat. He doesn’t rush because he doesn’t know girlfriend’s situation. He fumbles for his key and drops rake and hoe. Having worked all day and walked a fair piece, he decides to rest for a minute in a lawn chair outside room.

Meanwhile, Jane shuffles in, carrying her newborn swaddled in a sheet. Having given birth by herself, she has stopped bleeding with a towel, tied it in place with a shredded piece of a slip. She doesn’t own robe, so she’s in faded muumuu. With her eyes transfixed and in pain, all her attention and concern is focused on infant. She is exhausted, inebriated, and pleased.)

Jane
Oh, my! My baby! My baby! Don’t cry baby. Baby, baby.  Don’t cry.
(Walking through trash, she coos.)
Googoo gaga! Googoo! Daddy won’t forget you.  Daddy won’t forget us.  He’s at work.  He has to work for us.
(She places infant in center of bed.)
Sweeeetie, don’t you go anywhere! Don’t go pee-pee poo-poo. Mommy will be right back. Daddy forgot Pampers. Won’t he be surprised!  Surprised, surprised, surprised, you’re here.  Don’t go anywhere.  Don’t move!
(She is sore and moves slowly. She goes to bathroom, flushes toilet, and reemerges with another towel.)
Hellooo, sweeetie! Goo, goo, goo.
(Laying the towel out on the bed)
Smiiile, pretty baby! Pretty baby. Where did you get your blue eyes? Not from me. Not from Tommy. Let me see!
(She places the infant on the towel and removes swaddling.)
Cootchie! Cootchie goo! Don’t cry! No binkie. I’m sorry. No binkie. No Pampers. Oh, my God! A ding dong! Oh, my God. A ding dong. And blue eyes. Tommy! Tommy! A ding dong!
(She yells and cries at the same time. Tommy finally hears commotion and can’t unlock door fast enough.  Then he stops.  By then Jane has placed a pacifier in her infant’s mouth.

Jane

How was it?

Tommy

Hard.  Hot.  And for you?

Jane

I haven’t had a good day.  I haven’t had help.  Well, I needed help.

Tommy

Here I am.

Jane

He has a dang dong.  He’s a boy.  A boy.  Tommy, you have a boy.  Not a girl.  Tommy, you wanted a boy.

(Tommy sits on bed, takes his son, and begins counting his fingers and toes.  Jane watches him with a big smile.)

Tommy

Ten toes, ten fingers, and one dang dong.

Jane

Yes.  Yes, you have a son, Tommy.  Now what kind of day did you have?

Tommy

Still hard, hot, and long.  And you haven’t had a good day.

Jane

I’ll tell you what, though.  It was also a glorious day.

Tommy

Yes.  Go on.

Jane

Why do I need to explain?  Why?  Only a while ago, where were you?  I know … I know …  Where were you when I needed you.  I know … I know.  You were working, and I didn’t ask for help.  I didn’t need your help.  Then I needed your help.  It wasn’t a good day.  Then it was a glorious day.

Tommy

I have to work.  I had to work.  Work, work, work.  There is no work, so I had to work.  We moved from Prescott because there was no work.  Now we’re here, and there is nt work.  So I work, work, work, work in heat.  Work day by day without knowing if I’m working tomorrow.  But of course, you know this.

Jane

I know you had to work.  I know you needed to work.  I know you work hard.  I know you had a hot, long day.  Then when I could’ve used you, you weren’t here.  I know, I know, you needed to work.  We needed you to work.  We needed money.  We need money to live.  You need to work.  Work, work, work.  You needed to work.  We needed you to work.  But I worked, worked, and worked and worked and worked … pushed, pushed, and pushed today … today too.

Tommy

I’m sorry.

Jane
I’m sorry.  But see what you did!  It’s a boy with a ding dong! And blue eyes! Oh, my! Where did he get blue eyes?

Tommy
Idiot! Why didn’t you tell me! I would’ve stayed home, stayed home from work today.

Jane

You heard me tell you, didn’t you?

Tommy

Yes.

Jane

Well?

Tommy

Yes.  It’s a boy.

Jane

Well?  What do you say?  You get to hold him.

Tommy

It’s different when you’re a father.  I’ll work hard.  I’ll have to work harder, but there aren’t jobs here … no work.

Jane

Yes, there are no jobs, and you have to work.  But I just had a baby, stupid.

Tommy

Yes, a baby.  I am stupid.  I thought I was sensitive.

Jane

Are you?  Then do you part.

Tommy

I do.  Where does our money come from?  And where does it go?  Now I have to work more, when there are no jobs.  I was lucky to get picked today.  I was lucky today.  He’s crying.

Jane
And no binkie.  And no Pampers.

Tommy
I noticed.

Jane
And no Pampers.
Tommy
Yes.  No Pampers.  I’ll run get some.

Jane

Okay.

Tommy

I’m in charge.

Jane

You are head of the household, are you?  Yes, I’ve noticed.  We should’ve had Pampers.  I thought you would’ve thought of it.

Tommy

I did.  Only I didn’t expect … not today … not here today … today … today, or else I would’ve stayed home.  Pampers?

Jane

Pampers.  And a binky, if they have them.

Tommy

Right.

(Tommy hand Jane baby, runs out door, and off stage.}

Jane

Let me down again.  Up in Prescott; now here.  We’re not married, see.  We have a baby, and we’re not married, see.  I met this guy, Tommy.  And I fell in love with this guy, Tommy.  We couldn’t wait to get married, so we didn’t wait until we got married, and I got pregnant.  Well, it has been an inconvenience, an inconvenience.  I’m trying, trying, trying to make the best of it, and trying to make it the best inconvenience I have ever had.  Always kind to me.  Anytime I asked Tommy has always been kind to me.  Very kind to me.  He has been my best boyfriend.  I have never been without a boyfriend.  Now Tommy has been my best boyfriend.  He’s gone now.  Went.  I am alone now.  I am alone again.  Went to get Pampers.  And left me alone with this.  What am doing with this?  What am I doing with a baby?  He knew we would need Pampers.  Pampers?  Why didn’t he think of Pampers?   My life now depends on Pampers.  It’s life and death to me: Pampers.  I had to get pregnant.  Now this.  What happened to Tommy?  I used to know Tommy.  He was my best boyfriend.  Do you know what that bastard did to me?  See what that bastard did to me.  See what that bastard left me with.  Can’t change it now.  Nothing worse.  I said to Tommy, look, we have to make the best of it.  I said to Tommy, look, you’re no good for me, but we have to make the best of it.  Look, look, look, what you did, what you did to me, and we have to make the best of it.  Now, look I’m your old lady, for better or worse, I’m your old lady and look where we are.  Look what you are doing.  Look here, I said, I’m not asking for much but now look where we are … look at what you are doing.  Working temporary labor because you can’t find a job.  There are no jobs, so you are working temporary labor.  Get out and find a find a job, a real job, and now it cost you to work.  You have to work, so you can’t find a job.  There are no jobs.  I went out looking for job, see.  Job they wouldn’t give me.  Job they wouldn’t give me because I’m p g, p g, and whose fault is it?  Some stranger, some stranger took me to his bed.  I ran away with some stranger.  I ran away with some stranger and didn’t finish school.  Right, I got p g because of a stranger.  I ran away with a stranger.  I didn’t finish school because of a stranger. Then I said “what does that make me?  What?  Who am I?  Now tell, who am I?  Tommy, tell me, who am I?  To run off with a stranger, who am I?  To get p g by a stranger, Tommy, tell me, who am I?  I’ve got a mind to report you to my parents.  I’ve a mind to report you, Tommy.  Tommy, I’ve a mind to report you for not taking care of me.  Look!  Look around!  Look, look, what do you see?  Look, what you did to me!

(Tommy comes into room with Pampers.)

Tommy

Here I am!  Pampers!   They are right, right?  They had only one brand.  Pampers!  Where’s my boy?  My boy.

Jane

Here.

(Jane hands him his son)

Tommy

Cootchie! Cootchie goo! How you doing son? How do you like this world? Special, isn’t it? Jane! What are we going to do?  Jane, what are we doing here?  Jane, what are we doing with a baby?

Jane
Hell, I don’t know. But you going to run the store. He’s already squirted.

Tommy
He’s hungry. You haven’t fed him yet? And he’s mad. See he’s all red and screaming.
Jane
My milk hasn’t come in yet.  I can let him suck, but my milk hasn’t come in yet.

Tommy

Ay, well then … I’ll run and get some milk.

Jane

No!  No, I’ll get it sorted out.

Tommy

Meanwhile, he’ll starve.  Pretty soon, we’ll have to start thinking about college.

Jane

My milk will come soon … pretty soon now.  Breast milk is the best for babies.

Tommy

Where will he sleep?

Jane

Here.

Tommy

Not in our bed.

Jane

Then where?

Tommy

We’ll get a crib.  We need a crib.  I should have of it.  We need a crib.

Jane

Oh, I see.  Well, it’s good that you’re thinking of it now.  I tell you what … No, I’ll let you do the thinking.  You’re the thinker of this household.

Tommy

I’ll pick up one tomorrow.  I’ll work tomorrow and pick up a crib after work.

Jane

A crib should come in handy.  Meanwhile?

Tommy

Meanwhile, he sleeps here.  Meanwhile, our son sleeps with us.

Jane

I’m glad that’s settled.  Little things like that upset me.

Tommy

Now what?

Jane

What?  He’s yours.  I’m exhausted.                                                                                                                                            (She gives him the infant.)
You don’t care about me.  You don’t care about our son.   Here I’m split open, still bleeding, and you don’t care.

Tommy
I do. I do care.  What you did was heroic.

Jane
You think so? He scared me. He came too fast. My water broke. The joke was on me. I thought I had time.

Tommy
I’m sorry … very sorry.  What can I do?

Jane
Take care of him, while I rest.

Tommy
I don’t know about this. He’s a baby.  He’s your baby.  He’s my baby.  He’s our baby.  Look healthy.  Healthy in unhealthy situation.  You need a car, man.  You’ll need a job to buy a car.  You’ll need a job to raise a family.  You don’t deserve this mess … this dump … this mess.  Son, I like working with my hands.  But son, you don’t have to be like me.  Son, you can be whatever you want to be.  Son, you do what you want to do.  Son, you can be who you are.  Son, you don’t have to be like me.  It’s your choice … your choice.  What do you think?  It’s okay.  It’s okay with me.  Yes, I was pleased when I heard you were coming.  It made me happy.  This is where you will sleep.  Here.  With daddy on one side and mommy on other side and you in middle.  You’ll keep mommy and daddy separated.  I give you my hand.  Here.

Jane
That’s right Tommy! He’s our baby. Yours and mine. A baby. Our baby.  We don’t deserve one. I’m a mess. You’re a mess. And in there…there’s a bigger mess in the bathroom. A big mess!

Tommy
(Indicating the room) And we share it
Jane
You see … you see, Tommy, we can’t live like this.  With a baby we can’t live like this.

Tommy
I know.  I’ll clean it up.

Jane
Clean it up?  It’s too much.  That’s what you always say.  You always say you’ll clean it up,  You’ve said it for weeks.

Tommy
This could be a nice place.  We could clean, clean, clean it up.

Jane
Oh, yes.  Yes, yes, yes.   Welcome to Heaven on earth. Welcome to paradise …  Paradise Motel.

Tommy
Don’t worry about anything.

Jane

Tommy, what are we going to do?  We can’t live without money.  We can’t live here.   We can’t raise a child without money. We can’t raise a child here.   How can we raise a child without money?

Tommy

Well … if you want the truth.  We can’t live without money.  We can’t raise a child without money.  We need money.  We’ll need money.

Jane

Thank you!  I’m glad we have that straight.

Tommy

It’s what it is.  I’ll work.  I’ll find a steady job, and I’ll work.  I’ll start tomorrow.  I’ll start looking for a real job tomorrow.  Yes, it’s what it is.

Jane
If only something would turn up.  Look at me. Look! I’m bleeding. Little man ripped me apart.  I’m a bloody mess.

(Jane goes into the bathroom, leaving the infant with Tommy.)

Tommy
Where you going?

Jane
I’m going cookoo!

Tommy

Your what?

Jane

I’m going crazy?

Tommy

Should I call 911?  Why didn’t you call 911?

Jane
911? And have them see this! See this mess.  We live in a mess!  We are a mess.  I want to keep him, so I didn’t call 911.

Tommy
Mess.
(Beat)
Jane, what do you call him?

Jane
Boy.  I call him boy.

Tommy
You can’t call him just Boy. He needs a real name, a real name.  He needs a real name.

Jane
(Appearing briefly in the bathroom door)
Tommy!  I want to call him Tommy.

Tommy

Tommy.  We can’t call him Tommy.  If we call him Tommy, there will be too much confusion.  There will be too much confusion in the family if we call him Tommy   I have rights to the name.  Look, let’s call him something else.  Let’s give him some other name.  But I can live with it.  I can live with calling him Tommy.  I don’t have strong feelings about it.

Jane

You do.

Tommy

I don’t.

Jane

You do, or else you wouldn’t have objected, objected to begin with

Tommy
We will name him Tommy.  We will name him after me.  It’s settled.  We will name after me.  He will be honored.

Jane
I know it will do no good to object.  But I didn’t have anything to do with it.

Tommy

Do you have a better name?

Jane

Of course not.

(Pause}

Tommy
From the beer cans, it looks as if you had quite a party.

Jane
If only you were here!  We would have so much to share.  But you had to work.  You took a hole, you took a rake, and you went to work.  You worked all day without a break.  You get it implanted in your brain.  I worked all day, I worked all day long, and gave you a son without help.

Tommy

How long did it take you?

Jane

All day long.

Tommy

All day long.

Jane

All day long without help.

Tommy

How long?

Jane

All day long without help, and I’m exhausted.

Tommy

Anytime you want to go to bed, I’ll take care of our son.

Jane

Well, I think I will.  I think I will.  I’m exhausted.

Tommy

(Indicating the Pampers)

Should I put … yes, I should.  I see I should.  Squirted.

Jane

Yes, but wait ..  I see he squirted.  God, I’m exhausted.  You know nothing about exhaustion.  You know nothing about pain.  You don’t know what it means to be a mother.  You weren’t around when Icky decided to come. Now it’s your turn.  But you have to be careful with him.  He had already had a rough time. Tommy, or Icky, take your pick!

(He struggles with a pamper.)

Tommy
Let me do it.

Jane
He needs tubby-time.

Tommy
We all do! We all do! We’ll clean, and we’ll clean.

II

(Six days before Christmas.  Physical location hasn’t changed; only now motel room has been spruced up with a new coat of paint. Debris has been removed. Belongings of occupants are in closet and out of sight. There are clean sheets on bed. No more leaks. No running toilet. In contrast with previous scene, everything is clean, neat, and orderly.
Room has been rearranged to accommodate, along with supplies for the baby, a crib, changing table, and rocking chair. There is also small, fully decorated Christmas tree, and placed around it are a small number of presents. Finally, in a prominent place, is a large photo of smiling couple and their infant with Santa Claus.

At rise: with his infant son in his arms, Tommy is rocking. As he talks, he smiles, while audience also hears shower.)

Tommy

What?  How long has it been, Tommy?  My how you’ve grown.  Must be … must be weeks … three weeks … three weeks old.  Any time you want to … any time you want to walk … any time you want to crawl … any time you want to run.  Eh, well Tommy, I’m proud of you.  Tommy, Tommy … your old man is proud of you.  Guess what?  Tommy, your old man got himself a job … a real job … not a temporary job … a real job, a real job as a carpenter’s helper.  Well, well, what do you think?  A carpenter’s help, a real job, a real paycheck and a real tool box.  A real tool box, and I’ll soon have my own tools: hammer, saw, level, plumb line … my own tools.  Not bad.  Not bad.  I have it from certain sources Tommy: your old man is about to become a carpenter’s helper.  Not bad.  Not bad. And then he’s moving up.  And guess what, I’ll bring you something for Christmas.  And I’ll bring home a ham for Christmas … a ham for Christmas.  A big ham for Christmas.

Jane
(Coming out of the bathroom in a robe and drying her hair with a towel)
Were you dreaming or something?

Tommy
Dreaming?

Jane
Yes, it’s like a dream, isn’t it?

Tommy
Yes.  Yes, I have a job.
(He gives her the baby.)

Now you have a job.

Jane

Tommy!

Tommy

Just kidding.

Jane

You don’t kid.

Tommy

I do now.

Jane

Now wait a minute.

Tommy

Why are you laughing?

Jane

Me?  Not me.  I wasn’t laughing.

Tommy

Caught you.

Jane

Caught?  Me?

Tommy

Yes.

Jane

I don’t laugh.  What would I be laughing about?  Why would I be happy?

Tommy

I don’t know.

Jane

Oh, Tommy.  I’m so happy.

Tommy

Maybe.  Maybe, we can move out of here.  Maybe, maybe, soon.

Jane

Do you think…think…maybe … maybe …?  I’ll go with you.

Tommy

Where?

Jane

Wherever you go. Wherever you want,

Tommy

Anywhere that’s up.  That’s my opinion.

Jane

I better go with you.

Tommy

You better.  I love you, Jane.

Jane

And I love you, Tommy.  And you Icky.  I love you Icky.  So I wasn’t dreaming.  I never dream.

(Tommy moves to door.)

Where are you going?  Going somewhere?  I better come with you.  We’re going up.  Going somewhere?

Tommy

No.

Jane

Why?

Tommy

Well, I don’t want to tell you.  Maybe it’s a secret.

Jane

A secret?  We don’t have secrets.

Tommy

Secrets can be … can be …

Jane

Can be what?

Tommy

I think I’ll take a stroll.

Jane

And do what?

Tommy

Stroll and …

Jane

Stroll and what?

Tommy

It’s a secret.

Jane

Bastard.

Tommy

Maybe I’ll buy something that’s very useful.

Jane

Buy?  Buy? Buy?  That’s it.  You’re going to spend money we don’t have.

Tommy

If I buy, buy something, I will only spend money we don’t have yet.

Jane

Wait!  Wait!  Wait at least until you have a paycheck … until you have your first paycheck.

Tommy

I’ll buy a ham.  I’m going to buy you a ham.

Jane

On credit?

Tommy

Credit.  Well, well, if it comes down to it.  Remember it’s Christmas, and I know where they are giving away hams.  Jane, do you have a recipe for ham.

Jane.

You know, I was sitting here watching television the other day.  I happen to be sitting here nursing Icky.  Well, we were watching a cooking show about cooking for the upcoming holidays; it was here that I learned how to fix a ham.  You need cloves and pineapple, toothpicks and pineapple.  Anyway, we were just sitting here, having this conversation … Icky and me talking.  He was telling me stuff, telling me stuff about what he wanted to be when he grows up … then suddenly the cooking lady started explaining how to fix a ham … so she said it was easy.  So get out of here.  And don’t hurry.

Tommy

Well, I’ll hang around for a while.

Jane

I hope so.

Tommy

Well, I’ve been around, you know.

Jane

I knew it.

Tommy

You didn’t mind.

Jane

I did, and I didn’t.

Tommy

I was …

Jane

I know what you were.  I knew.

Tommy

I’m not proud of it.  Going back … I’m not proud of it.  Not a good way … you know … not a good way … not a good way to start.

Jane

What do you want me to say?

Tommy

Nothing.  You don’t have to say anything.  It wasn’t a good way to start.  Women.

Jane

Stop.  I don’t want to know.

Tommy

You said you knew.

Jane

I did, and I didn’t.  Tommy, he’s ours. Icky is ours.

Tommy

I wish you would stop calling him Icky.

Jane
Life’s good. It’s sure good to have a baby.

Tommy
And it’s good to have my baby back.

Jane
What do you mean?  What do you mean by “it’s good to have my baby back?”

Tommy
You’re smiling.  You’re smiling more.

Jane
Well, how about that?
(Looking at her baby.)
Hiiii, sweeetie. I’m so proud of you. Gosh, yes. I know it must sound funny hearing me talk to him like that. But it’s true! I’m proud of him.  I’m proud of our son.

Tommy
I don’t get credit … credit I deserve it.  Credit, credit, we deserve it.

Jane
Yes, we did it.  He’ll do better than us.

Tommy
Smarter! So that he won’t end living at the Paradise.

(Tommy leaves)

Jane
Helloooo, sweeeetie. Give me a big, big smiiile. I bet you’ll be just like your old man. Ornery and good. You better be. Here’s your binkie. No, Icky wants his cow. And then you’re gunna learn your abc’s for mommy. You’ll love animals just like I love daddy. Someday you’ll go googoo and gaga and go googoo and gaga over some gal. Oh, yes you will. Play perty. Poop and…poop …. Oh, my God, I think you’ve pooped a stinky poo.
(She places her son on the changing table, removes the full Pamper and replaces it with a fresh one.)
Talk to me. Say poop! That’s what you do best. Poop!

III

(Christmas Eve of ’82: bar at Cow Palace. It’s late, and the place is empty except for Jane and bartender. She sits on a stool at bar, while bartender listens to her sorrow. While drinking, she has cried and cried until she can’t cry anymore. Jane is now smartly dressed in black pants and a black top. She also wears a flat, black hat with a wide brim, which she refuses to take off.)

Bartender
That’s it for you Miss.

Jane
Go away.

Bartender
Eh?

Jane

Yes. Go away.

Bartender

This might be Christmas Eve.

Jane

Christmas Eve.  Is this Christmas Eve?

Bartender

Yes.

Jane

I’m glad it’s Christmas Eve for you.  It’s nice it’s Christmas Eve for you, but it’s not nice for me.

Bartender

Sorry.

Jane

Terrible!

Bartender

I didn’t stay open so some fool could get drunk and kill someone.

Jane
Kill someone.  No, no, no, go away.  You remind me it’s Christmas Eve.  You won’t let me get anymore drunk.  This is a bar, and you won’t let me have more to drink, so go away.   Have to forget.  Want to forget, forget, forget, forget.  Go away.

Bartender

Okay.

Jane

No.  No, no, don’t leave me.  You don’t know.  You can’t know.  You don’t know.  You can’t know.  Very much like his dad.  That was it.  Very much like his dad.  But he didn’t get a chance.  Icky didn’t get a chance.  Didn’t get a chance to crawl.  Didn’t get a chance to walk.  Didn’t get a chance to run.  Didn’t get a chance.  Didn’t get a chance.  Didn’t get a chance to grow up.  Day after he was born … day after Icky was born everything changed, everything changed for us.  Day after Icky was born Tommy changed, I changed, we both changed.  Couldn’t live in a mess anymore.  Couldn’t live in filth, filthy mess anymore.  Icky needed changing table.  Icky needed crib.  Icky needed talcum powder.  Icky needed Tommy.  Icky needed me.  Icky needed his daddy.  Icky needed his mommy.  Icky needed this.  Icky needed that,

Bartender
Listen!  I don’t know who you are!  Listen, I stay open on Christmas Eve for people like you.  I stay open because …

Jane

I don’t care.  Icky slept in his crib.  Icky always slept in his crib.  Police asked us … Icky always slept in his crib.  Icky never slept with us.   Police asked if Icky slept with us, Tommy and me.

Bartender

I don’t know who you are.  I haven’t seen you before.  You haven’t been in here before.  I know you haven’t been in here before.  I would remember you … remember your face … if you had been in here before.  I never forget a face.

Jane

Believe it or not.  Police asked us all kinds of questions.  Actually I think they thought we did something to Icky.  Actually I think they thought we hurt him, hurt Icky, hurt our baby.  Actually thought we neglected our baby.  Actually thought we allowed something to happen to our baby. Well, of course, we felt guilty.  We feel guilty, guilty of something, guilty of hurting our son, guilty of neglecting our son, guilty of allowing something to happen to our son.  Police came, police came and asked questions.  Naturally we look guilty.

Bartender

What’s the matter Miss? I watched you all night, and …

Jane

What?  I’ve cried?

Bartender

Yes.

Jane

Cried, cried and cried all night?

Bartender

Yes, you cried, cried all night.

Jane
I cried.

Bartender
Shouldn’t you go home?

Jane
I don’t have a home.

Bartender
You were brought here.

Jane
Tommy.  Where’s Tommy?  My boyfriend. My little… He was supposed to be back by now.

Bartender
Who’s Tommy?

Jane

The man I live with.  He …

Bartender

He dropped you off …

Jane

That was Tommy, the man I live with …

Bartender

And you don’t have a home?

Jane

He was working.  We had a place to live … a place to live … in the Paradise … Paradise Motel.  He brought me here.

Bartender

And he will pick you up?

Jane

Are you worried about it?

Bartender

No.  But it is getting late, and I’ll be closing soon.

Jane

You from around here?

Bartender

Yes.

Jane

Born and raised here.

Bartender

Yes.   And you?

Jane

No.  Prescott.  Tommy went to the bus station to buy two tickers … no, buy three … and do something else.

Bartender
Going far?

Jane
No, just to Prescott.   Have I been sitting here long?

Bartender

A long time, and drinking.

Jane

What time is it?  We’ll miss our bus.  And you’re closing soon?

Bartender

Soon.

Jane

And he’ll hate me.  He hates me.  He’ll hate me all right … he …  I’ve come to the conclusion Tommy will hate me.  I wasn’t a good mother, and he’ll hate me because I wasn’t a good mother.  You were meant to be a mother.  You don’t have what it takes to be a good mother.  You got no business thinking you could be a mother.  I know, I know, I know I didn’t havea chance.  One day I had Icky, one day I could hold Icky, One I day I could feed Icky … then, then … I went to his crib.  In the morning, I went to his crib and …  But my milk never came through.  Here I am, and my milk didn’t come through.  Does it embarrass you when I tell you my milk didn’t come through?  I don’t why it should embarrass you.  If you are at all inquisitive you would want to know why my milk didn’t come through.  Tell me, don’t you want to know why my milk didn’t come through, why I was dry and couldn’t breastfeed Icky?  Tell me, I would like to know.  I’m sure police would like to know.  They were looking for answers.  I wanted answers.  They questioned us and questioned, questioned us.  There were no answers, no answers, no answers, and no proof, no proof that we did anything, anything wrong.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  Well, we’ll miss our bus, and he’ll hate me.

Bartender

You can’t stay here.  If he doesn’t come for you, you can’t stay here.

Jane

He’ll come.  He’ll come.  I know he’ll come   Another beer!  What good are you? Can’t you see this is the hardest thing that I’ve ever had face in my life!  Can’t you see that this was the hardest day of my life?

Bartender
I can see you’re upset.

Jane
Upset! Shit!

Bartender
Shit?

Jane
More than shit.

Bartender
I won’t unless you tell me. But you don’t have to. I stay open on Christmas Eve for a few stragglers like you. To listen. Christmas can be pretty tough.  Christmas can be pretty sad.

Jane

Right! Tough! Real tough!  Sad!  Real sad!   I hate Christmas. It’s supposed to be a happy time. No they got it wrong about Christmas. The police came. They waited for medical guys to make a case against us. SIDS that was what it was. SIDS.  SIDS was what they said it was.  Couldn’t pin it on us.  Couldn’t pin anything on us.

Bartender
SIDS?

Jane
You know babies die from SIDS. When they can’t find an explanation they say it was SIDS.  That’s what got Icky! SIDS! And they tried to blame us.  They tried to blame it on us.

Bartender
I’m sorry.

Jane
Sorry? You can’t know how it feels.  You can’t know how it feels to be accused of something.  You can’t know how it feels when you were accused when you did nothing.   How numb it makes you when you can’t cry any more! Tommy should be back. Tommy, Tommy, Tommy, he hates me. No, you don’t know what it’s like to lose a kid. And police came. He was so handsome. Icky was so beautiful. You don’t say a boy’s beautiful…you don’t do it.  No you don’t.  You don’t say a son is beautiful.  Tommy would throw a fit if you did. Don’t you see how terrible it is to lose your baby? So terrible that … I might … I might. You don’t know what I might do. I guess Tommy is taking care of everything. There! Now you see why I’ve cried so much. At the same time, I drink and drink and can’t get drunk, can’t get drunk enough.

Bartender

Where are you going now?

Jane

We’ll get down at Prescott.  We’re going home.  And right now Greyhound owns the rest of the world. Tommy should be back by now.

Bartender
Just to Prescott?

Jane
It’s what I said.  You’re not listening.  It shows what kind of bartender you are.

Bartender
If you drink anymore, they won’t let you on the bus.

Jane
I like you.

Bartender
It won’t work.
Jane
Okay. Tommy and I were truthful. We told the police the truth. I was always nervous about Icky. He didn’t get a good start.  I told the police the truth.  Icky didn’t … didn’t … only once slept with us and that was before we had a crib.

Bartender
Sorry.

Jane
Yeah. It wasn’t his fault.  It wasn’t Tommy’s fault.

Bartender
I don’t imagine it was.

Jane
Icky didn’t get a good start.  You don’t know what it feels like.

Bartender
No, I don’t know what it feels like.

Jane

You don’t know how it feels like to be a mother.  You don’t know what it feels like to be a mother and lose a child.  You don’t know what it feels like to be a mother and see your baby for the first time … to hold your baby for the first time.  I never knew such joy.  I never knew such sadness.  I never knew.  Now it’s something I can take with me.  Now it’s something I will always remember.  Now it’s something I will always have.  You know, you see, I have something you’ll never have.  Pain … pain of birth and pain of death … pain of a mother during birth and pain of a mother because death of a son … death of a son … death of son before he had a chance to live.  I had a queer feeling before I went to check on him in his crib.  I knew something wasn’t right before I went to check on him in his crib. I knew something was wrong.  Mommy didn’t forget you.  Mommy didn’t abuse you.  Mommy didn’t neglect.  Icky, Mommy didn’t hurt you.  Mommy wouldn’t hurt you.  He was already cold … blue … stiff … stiff … blue … cold.   I was scared.  I screamed.  I screamed.  Cops came. They took him away.  They pulled …  cut my heart out. Of course they asked a lot questions and did a lot of things to Icky.  I think they did a lot of things to Icky … you know … you know … cut him up and things … weighed his heart … weighed his little heart and things.  I can imagine a lot of things, you see, if I let my mind go there.  And they found nothing … nothing … nothing … so they called it SIDS.  And even before they gave his body back to us, we had a yard sale in front of the motel to buy a little casket … sold everything we had to buy a casket and pay for bus tickets.

Bartender
Nothing wrong with that.

Jane
No, there’s not. No, no, no!  Now we’re trying to get him to Prescott, so that we can bury him alongside my folks. They told me that I never should’ve placed him on his stomach and let him go to sleep that way. They were trying to blame me. No, no, no.  No, they can’t blame me.  I would never hurt my baby.  I never abused my baby.  I never neglected my baby.  I am a good mother.

Bartender
Yes … well, I don’t know about that sort of thing, you see.  Things like that are not within my domain.  They say bartenders often take the place of priest, but things like that are not within my domain.  That’s what I know.  All I know is that we can’t be right all the time.  And we have to forgive ourselves.

Jane
So here I wait. I hope Tommy won’t leave me.   I hope Tommy will stand by me.

Bartender
He won’t leave you.  He’ll be back for you.

Jane
You don’t know him.  You don’t know Tommy.

Bartender
Tomorrow is Christmas.

Jane
For me it won’t be a holiday.

Bartender
I suspect not. It won’t be for me either.

Jane
We don’t have nothing else better to do than to get little Icky to Prescott … our little man.  We’ve lost everything now. And now that you won’t serve me another beer … God knows I have nothing … But what’s it to you?

Bartender
To me? You’re right. When I close up tonight, I’m going home. Died of SIDS?

Jane
Yeah! Go ahead and tell me I’m a rotten person.  Tell me I’m not a good mother.

Bartender
That’s not me.  It’s not for me to say.

Jane
Who are you then?

Bartender
Listen, and I know this is not the same thing at all but… I remember what happened to me when my best friend died. Didn’t expect it, and it blew me apart. Now, when my dad died, it set a bomb off under me, and that’s how come I’ve got this bar.

Jane
We can’t all be lucky. There I was with no wipes, no Pampers, no crib, nothing. Crap all over the place. So Icky decides to come! I was alone.  Tommy was working, and I was alone.  I was alone and afraid to call 911.  I was afraid to call for help.  Afraid, afraid, scared, afraid.  You don’t know what a mess he made! He tore me apart.  There were hours that I didn’t care if he lived or died. It seemed like hours, like hours that I didn’t care if I … he lived or died. Then he was a healthy baby.  Then he died.  Then he died.  And it has to be my fault.  I wanted to be a good mother.

Bartender
I don’t know. I’ve heard lot of theories and listened to lot of people who think they know … lot of people who think they know.  I don’t know though.  I can only hope.  I hope. I hope. I hope. I hope for your little boy’s sake that he’ll have a place to play. With swing sets, slides, and hobbyhorses. Personally, if there is a Heaven, I hope it’s not stuck way out there somewhere. You’d like to have your kid close by, wouldn’t you?

(Jane nods. Tommy enters the bar, carrying a small coffin on his shoulder.)

Jane
Here’s Tommy now.

Bartender
What’s that?

Jane
Icky.  And he still has…

Tommy
(After setting the coffin on the bar.)
The coffin. There. I’m Tommy

Bartender
How heavy is it?

Tommy
Not very. But he’s not an it! He was only weeks old, but healthy.  But dead.  Dead now.  Died.

Jane
Tommy!

Tommy
If I haven’t introduced myself, I’m Tommy.

Jane
He’s Tommy. Tommy, you look sick.

Tommy
I am sick.
Jane
What’s going on? I thought you left without me. We’ll miss our bus. Are we set?

Tommy
No. If we were set, I wouldn’t be carrying little Tommy around, would I? I didn’t want to come back with him. I know how you’d be. So I sat there in a café at the bus station trying to figure something until they ran me off and closed shop. For Christmas Eve, they were really grumpy.

Jane
You still have him.

Tommy
They won’t accept a coffin on the bus.

Jane
My poor baby.

Tommy
People were standing in line, a long, long time, and the ticket guy was so, so slow. There were kids, and a long-haired cowpoke with a guitar. It’s not my fault, Jane. We’re screwed. Really screwed. Greyhound and their stupid rules! Laws!  Stupid laws!  The ticket guy told me they only transport live bodies. Ha! Ha! Screw him!

Jane
Now I am upset. Shit! Before I was just upset. Now I’m really, really upset, more than really, really upset. What are we going to do?

Tommy
I wish I knew.

Jane
We can’t leave Icky. Leave without him.  I am not going to leave Icky.

Tommy
Jane, stop it! Icky! His name is Tommy. What are you thinking?

Jane
I’m tired of thinking. I just want to go home.  I want to go to Prescott.  I want to take Icky to Prescott.

Tommy
We don’t have a home anymore.

Jane
I know. So we got to get him to Prescott. We’ve got to bury him in Prescott.  We’ve got to bury our son in Prescott.  That’s it.

Tommy
I’ve got tickets. But they won’t take Tommy.  We can’t take Tommy.  They won’t ship a body.  It is against the law to ship a body on a bus without … I don’t know.  I don’t know what.  It’s Christmas Eve, and I don’t know what.

Jane
I’m not going without Tommy. What are we going to do?

Tommy
I don’t know.

Bartender
I have an idea.

Jane
What?

Bartender
I’ve solved your problem. Excuse me.

(For the purpose of the performance, wrapping paper, tape and scissors should be handy so that a break in action is kept at a minimum. Throughout his last speech, the bartender carefully wraps the casket.)

Butcher paper. Christmas wrapping paper. Tape. Scissors.
(To himself and pleased with himself)
Oh, yes, you’re too generous. Too, too generous. Just so happens that you bought your dad a toolbox for Christmas. I always play Santa Claus and wrap a lot of presents. Now you’re looking at a professional … a professional wrapper.  You also need a good story. Let’s say you bought your dad a heavy box of tools.

Tommy

A tool box … hammer, level, plane, saw, and plumb line.  Yes, a heavy tool box.

Bartender

And your dad deserves it. He’s a wonderful man, who has worked hard all his life and loves tools. We’ll fool the bastards. How’s my wrapping? Let’s hope the bus is crowded. And if paper doesn’t tear, we’ll be in good shape. My dad loved tools. Just say it’s a toolbox full of something precious and your dad loves tools. Let’s hope bus is crowded. And don’t…don’t look driver in eye … don’t look driver in eye, remember.   Sorry about paper. Rudolph, red nose reindeer. Well, I don’t believe there’s anyone same as Rudolph to get us through. Mostly we got to get there by ourselves. It’s sad, but it’s true. Except maybe ever once awhile. You know…like tonight. Hearts do seem to open up on Christmas, when they don’t otherwise. You know what I’m saying? That’s kind of why I stay open on Christmas Eve. I could talk on and on about it, and you’d miss your bus. After this, what kind of Christmas would it be? Well, I want to be cremated. No box for me. I don’t care what they do with my ashes. That much I know and the rest we can negotiate. If I behave, I may have something to look forward to. But I’m not religious. No, sir, I’m not. I can’t visualize a real Heaven or Hell. But I don’t think you care what I think. You just want to get on a bus and get this puppy safely home. Just remember me. You know that guy who wrapped Icky’s toolbox…I mean, Tommy’s toolbox. You’ve got to take care of tools, and if you don’t, well… But if you do, well, they’ll last you a lifetime. So here’s wishing you good luck. Here, like a professional, I finished. Now, get out of here. You’ll miss your bus. I’ve done my bit. I’m closing as soon as I get rid of my last customer. And I hate it when people thank me.
(As the bartender finishes speech, he finishes wrapping coffin. Tommy picks it off the bar and, because of the wrapping carries it in his arms.)

Jane
Thank you.

Bartender
Get out of here before I report you to the police. Just remember: it’s a toolbox. And if you want to get in trouble with me, look driver in the eye. And there’s something else: just remember I hate Christmas. Ask me why: it’s just too sad for too many people.

CURTAIN

Randy Ford

 

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Filed under ICKY’S TOOLBOX A Christmas Play (Revised February 2016)

Randy Ford Author- HIM

HIM
by Randy Ford

(Along with HIM, two girls are waiting for a school bus)

Kay: Him.
May: Him?
Kay: Yes, you know… Him.
May: I see who you mean. (Frowning) Ooooo! Him again.  Him.
Kay: Don’t look at him. Ugh!  Him.
May: Yes, it is….  Him.
Kay: You’re looking at him.
May: Am not!  I am not looking at him.
Kay: If it’s not him you’re looking at….
May: I’d rather die than look at him.
Kay: Yep, it’s him.
May: Are you sure?  Are you sure it’s him.
Kay: Everyday it’s him.   Everyday it’s him.  You know it is … him.  Him.
May: Him and no one else.
Kay: And that other guy.
May: The other guy is not as bad as him.  No he’s not as bad as him.
Kay: Or worse.  Or worse than him.
May: Or mean.  Or mean as him.
Kay: I hate him.
May: I could do without him too. The other guy. You’re staring.
Kay: I can’t help it.  I can’t help looking at him.
May: What is it about him?
Kay: I don’t know. He’s… You know. Him.
May: I don’t fancy being like him.
Kay: You don’t have to worry. You can’t be like him.
May: Him or the other guy?
Kay: You’re right, May. If I was brave, I’d go over to him and….
May: What?
Kay: I’d tell him, tell him to mind his own business. Write down his name.
May: You wouldn’t do it.
Kay:   Write down his name.  You don’t know his name.  There’s something not right about him.  There’s something odd about him.
May: Just looking at him you’d think….
Kay: What do you think? What is it about him?  What’s odd about him?
May: I don’t know. But it’s there. Something, something odd about him.  Something not right about him.  Kay, you’re way too obvious. If you keep staring, he’ll…he’ll say something to us.
Kay: I’m not staring at him.
May: If not him, who then? Boy, you’ve done it now. He’s staring back.
Kay: Who’s winning? Him or me?
May: Him.
Kay: Huh!
May: I can’t believe you’re flirting with him.
Kay:  I’m not flirting at him.   Oh, what am I doing? (She slaps her own hand.) I wouldn’t want him to think….  No! He’s more interested in you.  No!  He’s more interested in you.
May: His eyes aren’t directed at me. You’re the one he’s looking at.  He’s looking at you.
Kay: No, you’re wrong.  He’s looking at you.
May: It’s certainly not me.
Kay: Gosh!
May: What?
Kay: Look at him!
May: Him?  I wish he’d stop. Oh, he’s…turning this way. I told you, don’t look at him. Now you’ve really done it.
Kay: It’s not me.  He’s not looking at me.
May: You turned around, and…. Gosh! You’re way too obvious … too much makeup … too much …. everything. He’s going to think. Him! He’s the creepiest!  Him!  He’s the creepiest!
Kay: Him!
May: Scariest guy!  He’s scariest guy!
Kay: Him! I don’t know what!
May: Him, him, him! He’s coming…coming… Oh, no! No! He’s walking this waaay! Him!
Kay: Let’s go.
May: It’s too late.
Kay: He’s going to say something to me; I know he will.  I know he will say something to me.
May: No, he won’t.
Kay: Yes, he will.
May: Not to you.
Kay: Yes, me.
May: No, no. Never in a million years. You never …. Never, with someone that ugly.
Kay: Yes, he’ll … Him! Then I’ll ignore him.
May: You can’t.  You can’t ignore him.
Kay: I will.
May: You won’t?
Kay: You’re right. I won’t. I’ll put it out of my mind. He’s too ugly.  He’s too ugly for me.
May: Pretend you don’t see him. Walk right through him.
Kay: Sail by him. Walk! Look stuck up. Boy, that was close.

CURTAIN

Randy Ford

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Filed under HIM A Award-winning Two-minute Play

Randy Ford- EL CORONEL JEFE

Randy Ford Author- EL CORONEL JEFE

Impetuous El Coronel Jefe professed a fondness for women.  El Coronel Jefe loved women, and he always expressed his love for women, though likelihood of him establishing a relationship with a woman in Jolo was slim … slim, slim, very slim.  He was Christian, and there were few Christians, very few Christian women in Jolo.  “We’re Christians,” he wrote his sister, who lived back home in Manila within the walls of Intramuros. ”Understand I wouldn’t do anything immoral such as take a slave.  I am a Christian.  There are few Christians in Jolo.”

Later feeling trapped by her father in his harem, Sariah remembered her mother telling her, “before you take a young man by the hair, make sure that you smell good and look good. He shouldn’t see anything ugly in you and shouldn’t smell anything but a pleasant smell. On the other hand, a woman should admire a man for how well he sits on a horse and loves competition of a close race.”  Sariah took her mother’s advice to heart.  Sariah was her mother’s young woman.
Sariah’s father won her gratitude by teaching her how to hunt with a slingshot.  Sariah became a good shot and knew she could survive with a slingshot.  Sariah was a good shot and was forever thankful her father taught her how to use a slingshot.  Sariah’s father told her, “a man who can hit small birds or knock down fruit from treetops with a rock has tools to survive.”   With a slingshot she could survive.   Thanks to her father she could survive. Sariah knew she could survive.  She was a survivor.  Outside the Spanish garrison, Sariah’s father ruled the island and ruled the island chain.  It wasn’t easy to rule an island chain, nor was it easy to raise a daughter, particularly an independent-minded daughter such as Sariah, when and where independence for women wasn’t condoned.  And giving that Sariah’s father was expected to choose her husband.

Leaving safety of the garrison, El Coronel Jefe watched a young woman he saw before and found himself lost in reverie. He watched her as she stood on the third-story veranda of the Sultan’s palace. From where he stood behind a volcanic rock wall, he thought she looked perfect, dressed in her royal gown. He knew that he shouldn’t stare but couldn’t help himself. He shouldn’t stare, he knew.  He knew he shouldn’t look at her.  He knew he shouldn’t peek at her.  There were rules as to how to proceed, or how to back out and save face. There were rules in Jolo, harsh and fast rules.  But certainly this young woman (his heart raced ahead of any decisions) demanded attention.  A young woman as beautiful as Sariah demanded attention.

El Coronel Jefe was one who believed in intractability of first impressions, intractability of first impressions, and would always find great significance in how and when he first saw Sariah. He first saw this pure flower. This pure flower while she rode with her father without short stirrups. But custom dictated that he couldn’t directly look at her, that he could look at her, that he couldn’t peek at her.  Now he walked seven and three quarter miles from town to get a glimpse of her, to peek a glimpse, a glimpse of her.  He needed a great deal of courage to do it.  He needed a great deal of courage to come this far out of town, this far out of town alone, alone to see her.

As he approached the palace wall to get a glimpse of her, he forgot what he represented.  Forgot, forgot, forgot, now helpless, hopeless, helplessly in love, he hoped no one saw him leave the garrison, which if you think about it was totally impossible. Seriously, he forgot himself and sang to her. In all sincerity, he called out to her, called out in song, singing …

”I salute thee, pure flower!”

Then with all his love.

”Beautiful maiden, in thy bower.
I am unworthy of thee, jasmine sweet,
E’en to kiss thy feet.”

Looking at him through an eyeglass, she was pleased but pretended indifference.  She had to pretend indifference.  She had no choice but to pretend indifference.

“Listen to my pleading and to my tears.”

He was willing to brave a downpour, if it came to it.  He was willing to brave rain.  He was willing to endure heavy rain.

“Give thy hand to this wretched one,
Who knows no joy.”

There would be no rainbow for him that day.

“But is full of sorrow until loved by you.”

Ridiculous as it was, and without rain, he sang in verse. He couldn’t conceal how he felt about her, a sweet, beautiful virgin.  He knew she was a virgin, had to be a virgin.  Her beauty was too pure to be otherwise.  As if proof of her chastity, she wasn’t married; and, when she saw that he was singing to her and appropriately covered her face, he read innocence into her reaction. She was truly beautiful, beautiful, truly beautiful. To be truly beautiful, a woman couldn’t be too dark. Her skin had to be the color of weak tea.

She was then eighteen, only eighteen, and not betroth; and as El Coronel Jefe soon learned, not a concubine but daughter of the Sultan of Jolo (a father, who already had plans to give his daughter to the son of another Sultan). As the daughter of a Sultan, Sariah would fetch a high bride price. As a Spanish soldier, there wasn’t a chance in hell that he could ever pay it.  On his pay, El Coronel Jefe could never pay a high bride price.

El Coronel Jefe may have been naïve. He hadn’t considered vast differences between his family and the Sultan, the differences in status and cultures, and what the implications were. The Sultan had a tremendous amount of social and political influence, the Sultan had tremendous wealth whereas El Coronel Jefe was an officer of an occupational force. At the very least, a future husband was expected to come from the same social strata as his bride-to-be. But El Coronel Jefe wasn’t thinking of that. He wasn’t thinking or was only thinking about how much he loved her.

Before proceeding, El Coronel Jefe knew that he’d have to employ a spokesman, someone who spoke the same language and could speak for him in a humble tone.

“Molingkod ug magpahaluna man….
We shall accept your offer….
ning salog mopahamutang….
and seat ourselves on the floor.
Kay magasaysay kani nung tujo
We shall lay bare to you our mission,
ug magpahayag ning kanahauglan.
with your very kind permission.
Dili daytan ni unsa man;
It is not a tale of woe,
butang kini bahin gugma;
this thing we shall tell to you.
Batasan so sinugo magtuman,
It is over all things and above,
sa tugo nga gisugo kanamo.
it is a message of true love.”

After he left Sariah standing on the palace veranda, poor El Coronel Jefe felt rejected and knew he would need to be patient and wait, wait for a chance. She seemed pleased with his singing. El Coronel Jefe saw she was pleased with his singing.  But nothing could discourage him. He read everything he could into her apparent interest, interest in him. She seemed inquisitive; why else did she use a spyglass? She wouldn’t have to cook, wouldn’t have to wash and clean, wouldn’t have to do anything if she lived with him. and her pretty face (color of weak tea) would be admired by all. What a find! He found himself feeling flushed and hot; and as he thought, he tried to think of other ways to attract her.

He knew a korporal who could teach him more songs in Sariah’s language. God, how he hated this korporal. Not only could this korporal sing better than he could but he could also play a guitar.  Not only play a guitar and sing, sing better than he could, the koeporaL knew more songs in her language than he did. Thinking of the korporal and Sariah in the same breath, thinking of this korppral and Sariah together, El Coronel Jefe suddenly felt an urge to not only show himself equal to the korporal but, when it came to begging for love, prove himself superior.

One day in the middle of a downpour, Sariah noticed a gallant looking stranger ogling her and, by his manner and how her father treated him, knew an introduction was about to take place. Her father had invited him to the palace, and she knew her father had important business with this gentleman. She had seen them talking and holding hands, as was custom there. This much she knew from casual observation, this much she knew from how they talk, but she also felt a peculiar sense of power that she realized she had and could coyly use. With seductiveness of a full bosom that had never been imprisoned by stays and large dark nipples, a pair of alluring legs that she later learned to flaunt, worldly legs with henna dyed hands, she had assets that she was only supposed to show to a husband. Her magnificent body clamored for costly silks, something revealing and transparent; and, these were silks that her mother insisted that she wear that day.

With no freeing of heart, and on important business too, a stranger entered the palace as a guest. He brought news from his father, Sultan of Johor, and a regular issued appointment form, signed and dated, using current Malay and Mohammedan dates combined, because Sultan of Johor wished to win loyalty of the Sultan of Sulu, and hoped to establish an alliance. And with an alliance, somehow expel the Spanish.

Such, and so suddenly, had the stranger’s heart been struck, wrought by a troubling, driving desire that engaged him in explicit thought, and left him pondering and dreaming of acts of lust, that he felt suddenly overwhelmed. Indeed, overwhelmed, driven by hot emotions of Oriental blood, fond of sensuality was he. And indeed when he saw Sariah, he heard loud screams of delight and joy … screams of delight and joy … screams of delight and joy.  He, who could picture beautiful Bedouin women in Arabian deserts wearing red dresses, could see Sariah in a smooth sea of silk. He could see that she had a flexible, delicate waist, sculptured arms and soft curvaceous hips.  He saw her full bosom with dark nipples.  He saw her running with tempestuous fury and couldn’t relax until he tasted her lips. His desire for her could at once be translated into how again the Koran was correct: that men were created inherently weak. The stranger became very thirsty and was dying of thirst, dying of thirst for Sariah.
Again Poor El Coronel Jefe stood before the Sultan’s palace, but this time prepared with the korporal and his guitar. How easy it was to misread a glance or a look, to not see true feelings because of a pretty face with skin the color of weak tea. That the young woman he loved perhaps was groomed for someone else never crossed his mind. He couldn’t see the young woman he loved was groomed for a Sultan’s son. Then when he realized it she became nothing to him but a “cheap woman, a bundle of bones and paint, an old woman of no more than eighteen years old… thin, emaciated, and toothless… ugly and a disappointment, a wilted flower and a whore.”

While getting up courage (and getting assurances from the korpora), had the beauty… lips he wanted to kissed disappeared? Could she be a butterfly, who flirted and showed her calves and thighs for attention? As amateur of love, he couldn’t yet differentiate between sincerity and being fooled.

Cloudy skies and continuous rain delayed harvest of rice, especially an early crop. At any other time, this much rain at harvest time would’ve been a disaster. Not being able to work in the fields might be ruining them; but for Sariah rain left time for newly discovered pleasantries. But for El Coronel Jefe, pleasant it was not; nor for the korporal, who he tagged along. Yet getting drenched, standing in hard driving rain, standing there drenched, looking undignified, wouldn’t be worst of it. Reality slowly sunk in. After suffering through long moments of anxiety and doubt, while he sang and exhausted himself, crooned as the korporal played and have a string snap, El Coronel Jefe’s worst fears were realized. What happened should never have happened.

“A simpleton or not a simpleton, however a fool.” Whether a moron or not, El Coronel Jefe felt deeply shamed that the korporal saw his trial. Obviously, the mistake was his. In a sense, his life ended when his folly became known. At the most, satisfaction was required, meaning the korporal would have to be disciplined. A bit touchy the situation was. To avoid a disaster, he would have to act fast.

The gantlet was tossed down when the Sultan suddenly came out onto the veranda and stood behind Sariah. The exact details are gone, but let’s just say El Coronel Jefe was embarrassed. And afterwards, it struck him that his options were few. A saber duel would’ve been an honorable path, the preferred out, except for one hitch. He was El Coronel Jefe of the garrison and the pretty face belonged to the Sultan’s daughter.

Of course, there was a Rule of the Spanish military against fraternizing and the old adage “an unmarried man and woman are never alone because Satan becomes a third party.” What was happening to El Coronel Jefe? Had he forgotten who he was?  Had he forgotten he couldn’t reveal himself?  Had he forgotten he couldn’t reveal his love?  Had he forgotten he could couldn’t confront a Sultan?

There soon followed litigation. Sultanate “A” filed a suit against El Coronel Jefe “B” over “disputed” property. Well, then Sultanate “A” taking advantage of his status and “his sense of dishonor” petitioned the Royal Governor of the Philippines denouncing El Coronel Jefe as a dishonest criminal of the worse type: thus this was why the latter was relieved of his command. The local court then naturally ruled in favor of “A” the Sultanate of Sulu.

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Randy Ford Author- CRASH

CRASH

by Randy Ford

That summer Mike and I decided to ride bicycles across America. Yes, Mike and I decided to tour America by bicycles.  We decided to take off work.  Yes, we decided to take off work and leave our wives at home.  We decided to take off long enough to ride across America.   It meant leaving our wives to fend for themselves and our children, while we took off on our great adventure.

Mike and I bought new bicycles, ten speed bikes, light weight touring bikes and bought panniers and camping gear, heavy camping gear.  But we soon realized that gear we bought was too heavy, so we started over with two tarps, two ground clothes, and two sleeping bags.  We didn’t plan to cook, so we didn’t bother with a cook stove.  We didn’t bother with many things we once thought were necessary.

It was hot that summer.  Why wouldn’t it be hot: it was summer?  It was June, June in southern Arizona.  And we soon found we weren’t in shape, in shape to ride all day, ride during the day in Summer, in Arizona.  The first day we rode only thirty miles and sought shade a number of times while sleeping for a stretch.  Remember it was hot, unusually hot that summer.

I generally rode behind Mike, and on the first day we soon exhausted ourselves and had to get off our bikes and walk, pushing our bikes up hills.  A mistake, maybe … walking and pushing our bikes up hills made a long, hard day, a long, hard thirty miles, and we never learned to work together, as bicyclists (never drafted each other or stopped when the other wanted to), and as…well, we were friends but we didn’t know each other. Another mistake, perhaps; if I knew what I know now, maybe … a big mistake.  Meanwhile, imagine two out of shape, middle-age farts riding heavily loaded bicycles out of Phoenix in June, in June!  Torture!  June!  Murder!

But we were wise to begin before sunup and head north into mountains…a couple of old farts who underestimated their endurance and strength and found themselves stuck in the middle of desert and steep mountains.  What were we thinking?  We weren’t thinking when we faced the first long, steep grade.   Maybe we should’ve seen right then that we weren’t supermen and that we were a couple old, middle aged farts and should’ve called our wives to pick us up.  I ask myself now what if we made those phone calls, what if we called our wives to pick us, would Mike be here today? Neither one of us had a clue what we were in for.

A long hot afternoon. We walked most of the way, pushing our heavily bicycles, sweating and swearing at mountain grades, grades we needed to climb. When we could ride we used our small sprockets as we climbed long false flats.  Previous day we only rode thirty miles before it got too hot, hot, hot to ride and spent the rest of the day sleeping  under an underpass, sleeping on top of bat droppings. That evening, in sober reflection on our first day in the saddle, we planned our next day, which we expected to be harder than the first one. Bats flew around our heads (prudently we covered our faces with T-shirts), and for a couple of discouraged farts, bats were a distraction. We tried to sleep but couldn’t and took off around midnight hoping that we wouldn’t get run over by a car or a truck, started that early because we didn’t want to get stuck in heat and desert again.

Before the trip, like I said, Mike and I really didn’t know each other, didn’t know each other the way we would, the way we would despite being acquainted for several years, and with him seemingly having everything a man could want and with me a little envious of him. Before the trip we had our differences, of course; but we solved them as they came up.  As they came up, we worked them out.  As for choosing a route, it was our first debate, and since we wanted to stay off major highways, our options were limited.  It was a heated debate.  Desert verses mountains.  Desert in Arizona during June or mountains.  Mountains.  Mountains won out.  So we climbed out the desert and had our hardest day near the beginning of our trip. We were, of course, tempted to hitch a ride with tuckers, hitch rides up long, hard grades.  But we didn’t hitch rides as we wanted, all right, just as we didn’t do a lot of things we should’ve. Should’ve, could’ve, wanted, yeah.  Every project requires decisions, some easy, some hard, and as it turned out choosing a route was one of the easier ones.  But let’s not jump ahead. Nature of what happened, what I’ve always called mishaps caused me to keep many details to myself. Many details would’ve been too hard to face.   Many details of our trip woud’ve been too hard for Mike’s wife to face.  Many details would’ve been too hard for Mike’s family to fac.  And if I had recognized Mike’s problems sooner, had known what to do, and had made right decisions, maybe…just maybe…maybe Mike would be … now I’m getting ahead of myself.
Sad, sad indeed, bicycle trip, now a sad memory, relegated to memory.  Relegated to memory, thank God.  Thank God.

I’ve gone over it in my mind, gone over it over and over again. When and where did it begin? On a highway somewhere, somewhere … in Show Low or Springerville … on the road, somewhere, somewhere, somewhere?  But where?  Where was somewhere?  Surely not in a ditch where it came to a head, or before our trip.  Back when, somewhere?  Before our trip.  Surely, before our trip.  Our trip, our trip, our bicycle trip, it couldn’t have begun on our trip.   I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know when it began, but I suspect bicycling and me had nothing to do with Mike’s problems, though exertion may have triggered something.  I don’t know.

The color of his face was red, the grade was steep, and the summit wasn’t in sight.  In a world of his own, Mike was (though he said he felt fine) … he was struggling as much as I was but otherwise he seemed fine; and when we spotted a campsite on a curve, we decided before the day was half over, decided to call it a day.

It had been a hard day.  Mike was outgoing and likeable, a good man who seemed to have everything going for him, a home, a wife, children, and a job. Although we had been friends for several years, we didn’t know each other well. We didn’t know each other’s quirks.  We didn’t know each other’s likes and dislikes.  We went on a few short training rides before our trip and swapped a few horror stories about bicycling, so I thought he was in better shape than he was. I don’t know which of us came up with the idea of touring across the country, but getting away from hectic jobs sounded appealing, appealing to me. Moreover, we both set personal goals for the trip: as much as I hated to admit that I was overweight and was asking for a heart attack. But whatever happened to the adventurous notion of accepting a challenge simply for a challenge and enjoyment of it?  Goals?  Hell, why did we have to have goals?  Wasn’t riding bicycles across America, a big enough goal?

There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and in spite of fatigue, heat and fatigue, we were feeling pretty confident…except we were running out of water. Mike was a long way ahead of me. Off in my own world, I was pushing as hard as I could, but I still couldn’t catch him…and I couldn’t see how he could keep going at that pace. As would surely come to pass, he ran out of energy. Then I had to wait for him.

I didn’t resent his prowess. Mike was serious about training, had trained more than me, and was (after all) in better shape. Although, as it turned out, there was something driving him more than a desire to race me, something more, something more that drove him, something that made him not want me to forget that he wanted to come out first … to always be first … to always win.  Now I never wanted to compete.  It didn’t matter to me.  It didn’t matter if he reached top of a hill before I did.  It didn’t matter and never mattered.

To me winning didn’t matter, and I always reminded him that we agreed that we would never rush or try to make a specific destination on a particular day. Moreover, I didn’t envy his prowess as much as I wanted to get in better shape. I wanted to ride up mountains rather than push my bicycle up them. I wondered whatever happened to the idea of sharing an experience and working as a team?  Whatever happened to the idea of building a friendship?  Why was he racing me?  Why was he racing himself?  Why?  Why?  Why did Mike always have to try to outdo himself?  Why? I wondered.

I stopped trying to stay up with him, because there was no way I could.  Why try, try and try to stay up with him when it was impossible.  Why try, as he got stronger and stronger. Both of us, by late afternoon, wanted to get where we could spend the night, he without a doubt with a specific destination in mind, and me without one. I worried too that he might collapse…have a heart attack or something, and as I said, we were almost out of water and he was racing. Racing himself.  What would I do if he suddenly collapsed? I wondered. Thank goodness we were coming to a junction, where I knew there was a gas station. Of course, Mike got there first.

But we had three or four hours left before dark, and there wasn’t a good reason to stop yet. So mile after mile I continued to chase him: “Not for any particular reason, I raced him.  Heck, I didn’t want to get too far behind.  I felt discouraged and didn’t want to be left behind.  My legs, my legs, bless them…from somewhere I got the legs…persevered, yes…persevered and raced down Salt River Canyon and dragged myself up the other side, rode up it without stopping. I could honestly say that I was getting stronger. A risk taker by nature, I flew down the south side of the canyon…look mom, no brains… and huffed up the north side, but I saw no point in trying to catch Mike, who naturally made it up the north side first.

At the top he aired his feet out. Took off shoes and socks, his smelly socks.  He farted and removed his smelly socks.

My idea of camping wherever we landed won out that evening simply because I refused to ride after dark. I didn’t ask Mike…this was where we were going to bed down, and I didn’t care whether he liked it or not. We carried emergency rations with us. I refused to cook (please, cooking was too dangerous), so all we did after we found a place where we could hide was spread out our ground clothes and unroll our sleeping bags. Easy enough, I thought. Unsatisfied, however, Mike wanted a hot meal and a shower, which by my reckoning was more than twenty miles away. Fists clenched, Mike clearly wasn’t happy, touché, for me touché. If we’d been closer to Show Low, maybe I would’ve been willing to risk it. A hot meal, a warm shower, and a bed with clean sheets was enticing.

But how could we make it across the country on money we had if we splurged, splurged in Show Low? And hadn’t we agreed to mostly camp and only stay in motels when it was critical? And hadn’t we been on the road less than week and had four or five weeks ahead of us? I still agreed that Show Low, after desert and climbs, might be a good place to recoup, recoup energy and wash cloths. It would all depend on how we felt when got to Show Low if we recouped or not, which I calculated would be fairly early in the morning and, if we decided to stop there, it would basically make a rest day. There were plenty of options, I knew, and I kept telling myself we weren’t in a hurry. Show Low, a pleasant mountain town, was just a place to establish a precedent and bring sanity back to our trip, and I was determined not to let Mike make all decisions. If on balance we both could agree on something like spending almost a whole day in Show Low, it would be worth a stay.

And I was enlivened by cool, mountain air.  After heat and heat, sweat and heat, I was enlivened by cool, mountain air, which with gentle breezes, scent of pines, and as tired as I was, made for great sleeping. To this day I don’t know why Mike, bless his soul, screamed in the middle of the night and scared the wits out of me. It had been so peaceful, peace, so peaceful, sleeping and then Mike screamed.  Only sound of wind, wind in pines and an occasional vehicle until Mike screamed, screamed like something or someone attacked him.  It took all my strength to show restraint.  To show restraint took all my strength.  I was sure Mike’s tendency to exaggerate came into play when he screamed.  And it was an explanation I clung to for the next few days.  A reference to Big Foot clinched it for me. A footprint! I didn’t see one.

Or did something else set Mike off during the night and caused him to scream and insist that it was Big Foot, something I missed, and while I couldn’t believe it and didn’t see footprints, much less believed he saw them, he was obviously frightened by something.  There were no footprints.  There was no bigfoot.  I was sure of it.

At any rate, I wasn’t sympathetic, as he tried to prove that there was something. Why couldn’t it have been an animal that I didn’t hear because I was sleeping so soundly? Or maybe he had a nightmare. Regardless, it seemed awfully juvenile to me.  It had to be a nightmare, or why else did Mike scream?  I hated him for it.

If someone doesn’t understand what’s going on with someone else, he or she…even though they might be friends…might not be as tolerant as they should be, and at that moment, all I wanted was to go back to sleep.

But Mike wouldn’t stop.

I told him he had to stop. I told him he had to stop.  He wouldn’t stop.  It wouldn’t have hurt if I had talked to him, though, in order for me to know what was going on, I would’ve had to have been a psychologist.

There was no way that I could’ve looked inside Mike’s brain and seen what was going on. There was no way that I could’ve known that there was a disease at work, so I went back to sleep without saying another word. In hindsight, I kick myself for not being more alarmed. I should’ve paid more attention to Mike and his distress. Maybe then I wouldn’t have been blindsided, but how was I to know…know that I was dealing with something serious. Mental illness was something I knew nothing about. In route to Show Low, rolling along through the pines, it was so pleasant that I put the incident behind me. Mike turned on the gas, and we actually raced for the first time until I relented and turned off the gas just as we reached the outskirts of town, and…? He headed straight for a restaurant…hollered “Real Food!” as if he hadn’t had anything to eat for a week. Took our bicycles inside, smelled bacon frying and the coffeepot was on, breakfast upstaged everything else, thus putting off the forces Mike couldn’t control for another day.

After a rest day in Show Low and a good night’s sleep in a bed, next morning would be relatively easy and was a welcome gift; about twenty or thirty miles across a high plateau.  We had climbed as much as we were going to.  But the cool air and easygoing didn’t keep me from worrying about Mike, who decided to ride without his helmet and rode slumped over his handlebars in a way uncharacteristic of him. My attention however was diverted by scenery, which included a mountain lake, high chaparral, and several cinder cones. At one point I thought I might score a point or two by passing Mike, after I stayed on his wheel down a great down, near the bottom I shot past him, and tried to make it up the next hill before he did. More importantly, even if I didn’t beat him, it felt good that I could finally keep up with him. This alone should’ve eased tension between us (now we could help each other, switch off while we drafted each other), and by doing this I felt we really might remain friends.  I could see road stretching before us with wind at our backs, our heavy loads lightened along the way, and when it rained, we enjoyed it, enjoyed each other, enjoyed it together.

After Big Foot, or perhaps because of it, I tried to ignore Mike, tried to ignore Mike when he yelled, “See there, a jackalope!” I remember now how unsympathetic my response was, as we peddled into Springerville, and would think nothing of it had what happened afterward not happened. Jackalops!  Everyone knows Jackalops are fictitious. Truth was I didn’t believe in jackalopes any more than I believed in Big Foot, both fictitious.  As with any fictitious animal I never expected to see a jackalope,, and I didn’t think Mike saw one either, so I had two options, either humor Mike or ignore him … either way I felt jerked around and didn’t like it. But there was also a possibility, a possibility if I stuck to my guns and pretended that I never heard him, maybe he wouldn’t do it again. Then think what would have happened had I totally agreed with him and had taken off chasing a jackalope (imaginary or not) across a field; what would it have done to him. What was his problem anyway? I didn’t know then. I didn’t know he had a problem and wasn’t pulling my leg.

The problem, I sadly admit (which is hard without blaming myself), was that I couldn’t believe that he wasn’t pulling my leg and that he really believed that he saw Big Foot and then two days later saw a jackalope. Now I’ll never know what he actually saw, or that I might’ve been wrong because he might’ve seen something. If I had taken him seriously and stopped him then, maybe then he wouldn’t have gone on and on and ended up … well, ended up the way he ended up.  True, but we’ll never know, will we?  Assuming that there are jackalopes on earth and Mike saw one along a highway east of Show Low (the jury may be out), I’m certain I didn’t see one.

“What an imagination,” I thought as we bade goodbye to our pleasant morning of cycling, which I’ll always remember for how Mike and I enjoyed each other’s company. Then he yelled “jackalope,” which perturbed me. I tried to ignore him, tried but he wouldn’t let me. Excited and persistent, he did everything he could to get my attention (“overreacted” would be a kinder way to put it), gestured and pointed at rabbits in a field, and yelled “a herd of jackalope.” A herd of jackalope! A herd! Jackalope! And not huge ear jackrabbits we saw all day. The mythical critter itself that has been described as a jackrabbit with antelope horns was supposedly inspired by sightings of rabbits infected by disease, diseased rabbits, but I wouldn’t put stock in that explanation any more than any other (in spite of having heard of a stuffed one somewhere). I might’ve humored Mike if it hadn’t been for his previous theatrics (Big Foot, my eye!), but now jackalopes!  Jackalopes or diseased jackrabbits depending whether you believed in them or not). I liked Mike indeed, indeed I did; hadn’t we agreed to spend five or six weeks riding bicycles, riding bicycles together across America? We peddled into Springerville as planned; he going his way and me going mine: he wanted to explore Springerville, and I wanted to find a city park. Planning to save money by staying out of restaurants, we agreed to eat lunch in a park, so I thought I’d claim a picnic table while I had a chance. I also needed a break from Mike. I however didn’t get much of one …but recognize Springerville wasn’t very big, though I had to chuckle when Mike pulled up to the picnic table before I could unzip my panniers. All right I didn’t expect him to stop anywhere; but have him say the whole town was against us was quite a stretch. Anyhow, I appreciated his help with lunch.

What began as a peaceful lunch ended up an ordeal (during which I thought Mike would get himself killed) and with us having to cut lunch short. A lunch on the run instead of a leisurely one (all because Mike got involved with a motorcycle gang) didn’t leave us with a good impression of Springerville, but this was more so for Mike than for me because he still claimed the town was out to get us. I now think it had nothing to do with Springerville.

They came roaring up on their huge machines and took a break under a tree near us and had a sidecar with a little boy and a little girl in it. They gave us dirty looks, gave us dirty looks from the start, which wouldn’t have mattered had Mike ignored them. Although they weren’t very interested in us, they had an attitude … an attitude … an attitude.  I’d call it a nihilistic attitude … something that even I didn’t like, but still Mike should’ve ignored them. God did they appear rough, tough as if they didn’t give a fuck; with black leather jackets, tough, fuck, fuck, fuck.  Mike had to wave and yell, “Halloo!” I wanted to disappear.  I wanted to run, hide, disappear when Mike greeted them. He was not at all inhibited; didn’t see that they didn’t want to have anything to do with us; given the circumstances he should’ve kept his distance … a wrong word and Mike could’ve ended up in a hospital.  I knew a wrong word and Mike could’ve ended up in a hospital, and it could’ve ended our tour, so I was glad to hear one of them ask Mike, “Is this your first time through here?” And then add, “Not a bad little town. Better than some places.”

“Friend, it’s filled with armed crazies,” answered Mike, without hesitating. Note: the motorcyclists were armed.

In all of my life, I haven’t felt more threatened than I did then, and I could tell that the motorcyclists weren’t all too pleased with Mike.  While showing it in different ways, they all seemed annoyed with him, but it didn’t seem to bother Mike. This would’ve been a difficult situation if he had had all of his wits about him.  I’m sure it would’ve been different.  I’m sure of it.  Mike should’ve seen how they were, seen that they were armed, and I felt scared for him. Bikers don’t come in one model or one size; they can be moms and pops or hell-raisers, or fall in between. They could be trigger happy (some were…packed firearms on their hips…as a statement, I suppose) or bring along their kids (these bikers had…that could’ve meant they wouldn’t harm us), or they don’t give a fuck, as this gang apparently didn’t. Or they could be totally unpredictable; one minute they could be a nice bunch, and the next minute they could blow your head off. Thus I was unnerved.  Unnerved.  Unnerved. Then Mike walked up to the biggest dude and said, “It’s true, guys.” Then this dude looked at Mike in a way that seemed to say, “What’s with you?” And at the same time, “Scram!” And Mike persisted, telling him how people around Springerville had told him that they didn’t like motorcycle gangs because “two weeks ago a motorcycle gang rode though here and tore the town up. “So if I was you, I’d keep going.” And this really pissed the biggest dude off, and Mike still didn’t seem to know when to make a hasty retreat. As a friend then, I intervened, and we were lucky to get out of there alive …  Devil take Mike and his big mouth.

Even then, it hadn’t dawn on me that there might’ve been something wrong with Mike, and even when later that afternoon he moved from obsessing on jackalopes to taking on tigers. He told me he made friends with tigers, which I assumed happened at the Phoenix Zoo; but now I don’t know, and it was something that resurfaced that night after a climatic race for the state line and we camped in New Mexico.  Welcome New Mexico.  I’ll never forget what happened during that trip though New Mexico.

“Hunted by a tiger,” Mike talked about trying to escape, while we set up camp for the night. And as we lay there under the stars he wondered out loud, almost in passing- about his wife- “Tiger against me! Ever wrestled a man-eating tiger?”

“So,” declared Mike the following evening while camping at a major junction behind a service station, where we had the campground to ourselves: “My wife is a man-eating tiger. She knows when to pounce.” He pointed at me before he said, “You better stay away from her.”  I didn’t know Mike’s wife.
He started sobbing, and I wasn’t used to seeing grown men cry. I gradually managed to calm him down.  It took a while but I gradually managed to calm Mike down.   His four kids were grown; a tragedy for him really; according to him they weren’t supposed to grow up. But his wife refused to get pregnant again.  He said he loved babies, and babies loved him.  It didn’t seem to occur to Mike that his wife might’ve been too old to have children. It didn’t seem to occur to Mike that his wife, at her age, didn’t want to have any more children.  It didn’t occur to him; never occurred to him. Unexpectedly, Mike accused her of poisoning him and turning his children against him.  Unexpectedly, Mike accused his wife of slowly poisoning him over the years.  His accusations surprised me because I knew he and his wife were still together; but what did I know? I knew that too often walls of seemly happy, normal homes hide unspeakable horrors. Quite aside from the obvious there was too often the unexplainable; that however didn’t mean that there was validity to what Mike said about his wife, still I didn’t know him well enough to know whether he was generally a truthful person or not. All the same, his behavior over the past few days was anything but rational. Mike’s world, and his behavior, to say the least, seemed strange to me, and I planned to talk to someone about it as soon as we got somewhere where there was someone who could help. There was something else. I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue our bike trip.

There were times when my friend withdrew within himself. Watching him, I couldn’t tell what he was thinking or what he’d do next, as he withdrew within himself.  “She tried to poison me, man,” he went on, speaking to me in confidence. “Ever since we first got married she was conspiring against me.  I know she has been slowly poisoning me with slow-active poison.  I know she has been. I know it.  I know it.   I’m positive, and several times she almost succeeded … although I have no proof.”
Mike stopped sobbing when he started talking about his wife plotting to kill him.

“I suspected her,” he said, “for a long time. You don’t know her,” he went on. “If you did, you’d see that by the way she treats me that she doesn’t want me around anymore. She has pushed me aside, aside, locked me out. I’m onto her, and I’m onto you, Bill. I’m onto you both.  I am onto to you.  I am onto you both.”

At that point I decided to say nothing else, or not until at least I could get help.
Mike now, compared to me, was a huge man, like a gentle giant was how some people later described him. “Huge and a person with a big heart,” I heard them say that he was a man with a big heart, but they didn’t know the Mike I knew. He could whip anybody’s ass, or so I thought. I’m confident he could, could whip anyone’s ass. It wasn’t long before I saw how unpredictable he was; unpredictable and explosive, and I didn’t know but he might’ve been a danger to himself. I came to think it … that he was a danger to himself.   The next day would prove it, I think; more so than previous days, as he got worse and worse, but I still didn’t know what was going on.
That morning I had a full breakfast in a café connected with a service station at the junction, and Mike ate a whole avocado. Then he took off before I could get on my bike. Off and running, racing, I didn’t get it.

I couldn’t have predicted what happened next, after I decided that I wasn’t going to chase after him. By then I had it with him.

I should’ve called for help then, for he needed to be in a hospital, but I didn’t know it. He needed to be restrained, for he was out of control and no one could predict where he would land. When the brain is short-circuited and the pressure inside the skull is released, nightmare that follows can be, and often is, explosive.  Nightmare, including sightings of Big Foot and jackalopes, and tiger attacks and a wife poisoning him, would culminate that day in a culvert along the highway. But before then, keeping on the lookout for Mike, I proceeded at my own pace.

My experience hadn’t prepared me for what I was about face, which I rated a ten, when ten was as difficult as it could get, and my gut feeling was that I would never face anything like it again. Like I’ve said, I wasn’t prepared, but who would be. Back on the road, I decided not to break any records, but I wanted to get to Socorro before dark and even planned to treat myself by staying in a motel. As far as I was concerned, Mike could fend for himself, so I let him get as far ahead as possible; maybe I’d get lucky and never see him again. But that wouldn’t happen.  I knew it wouldn’t happen. He may get to Socorro before me, but he’d surely be waiting for me on the outskirts of town. Should I have turned around, do you think? If I did, I could go a different route. Head north and then across…

…had this feeling, after last night…

As I rode along that morning, I thought about how Mike said his job wasn’t going anywhere and how his department head had turned against him. Maybe…

My friend had lashed out at me, “You’re like the rest of them!” he yelled. Okay, so I’m not perfect. “There was a time not so long ago,” he said, “when I would’ve fought it, man, because it seemed so unfair; seriously I’m finished and I know it. It doesn’t matter now. I’m beyond it. But I’ve forgiven you because if I hadn’t I would’ve hurt you. I would’ve taught you a lesson. So watch your back, watch your back, dear friend. You may be done with me, but I’m not with you, so watch your back. Sleep well, meanwhile. Tomorrow’s another day. But watch your back.”

He turned on his side and in a different tone concluded, “Speaking of friends, you’re the only one I have left, but you can’t count on me.”

I ought to have been more alarmed because he threatened me. Instead, in the morning I merely asked him if he felt better.

“Sure! Bring ‘em on. I’m not ready to bail yet.”

“Good. Then how about breakfast?”

“Breakfast sounds good.”

“But listen, man.”

“What?”

“Oh, never mind.”

I let him get ahead me. Mike could get as far ahead as he wanted. I no longer cared. I had not established a rhythm (a comfortable cadence for me was 75 rpm); didn’t expect any major hills that day; had almost forgotten that I had a touring buddy, and it wouldn’t have upset me if I didn’t see him again. For once I was determined to enjoy myself.

“For once I was determined to enjoy myself,” but hadn’t I enjoyed riding through pines and a stretch of road between volcano cones? But now Mike wasn’t in sight. “Without Mike,” I asked myself, “would I continue trip?”

Mike? Well, honestly, he was getting on my nerves. Nightmares repeated (if only I could shake him, wake him) without emotion he described them in great detail. Nonsense about Big Foot and jackalopes must seemed real to him, and all about a town being against him, all added up to something, but what? Saying those horrible things about his wife and me. In a word, crazy! Me?  Insane.

Me! I wasn’t the one who was insane. “Certainly seemed sane this morning, let’s say, okay. We can hope he stays that way.”

“I do hope he’s okay.” Without emotion and all over the place, he pointed to things I couldn’t see: God on a motorcycle, penguins in the desert, squirrels as drunk as skunks, aliens on a roof, and eggs for eyes. Violation of my space by a guy I hardly knew. I couldn’t get away from him, and then he was nowhere in sight.

Friends?

Friends. One of my warmest, personal friend, we met one day, I believe, on a bike path, Mike Creed and we agreed to share our summer. Where were we now? Somewhere in New Mexico with the National Radio Astronomy Via Telescopes on both sides of the highway.
You know I didn’t know what had gotten inside his head … what was going on inside his head.  What he could hear from outer space. Was there life out there? Nothing that came in loud and clear.  Nothing.  And not in a voice that you would recognize. Nothing hospitable. “God.” God?  Inhospitable.

God. Messages picked up by the big ears on both sides of the highway; location of a culvert in which I next saw Mike’s bike, lying on the ground next to highway.   Mike was nearby.  Where was Mike?   But who really knew what he heard, who could get inside his brain, what was inside his brain, and our route just happen to take us through 27 antennas of a radio telescope, and they were just as distinctive as cinder cones were. Mike said he talked to God. Heard God speak, I believe he was sincere.  Now he was surround by ears, ears!  Did he hear God talk back?

Were his tears real? I felt embarrassed for him.

Get off it, Mike.

Other voices.

Static again, which I couldn’t hear; never did. Lots of attempts, come to think of it. In church, and out of church. Even on a bicycle tour when it got dicey; but I picked it up on my own, not from Mike.

Leave God out of this.

Aliens too, friendly or not. Emission from stars, galaxies, and quasars, though I never heard them myself. It had been a perfect day. It had been a good morning, and I remember it started out with Mike saying he expected to live forever. Something about eternal life. Going to heaven. Hymn singing. Praying. Preaching. Et cetera.

Religion. Old time religion. Get right with God, Bill. Was this Sunday?

Preaching, preachy: looking forward to death and at the same time yearning for some way to get out of it…some way to get out of death, and I had my moments too…who I could’ve been. I could still look ahead and see a future, a future.  I saw I had a future.  I thought I had a future.  I thought I could forestall death for a while.  Would a while be enough, I wondered, but I was relatively happily married … had our spats, our ups and downs but relatively happily married and had a job I could count on.  It was important: a job I could count on.  Then I saw what Mike was going through and wondered what he meant when he said, “I’m afraid my wife is dead.” I knew that wasn’t true because she saw us off…along with my wife and son, in Phoenix, in front of the state capital building. Alive, and pleasant, too. A nice lady, pleasant, not a hag, a nag from what I could tell. My gut feeling was that I misunderstood Mike when he said, “I’m afraid my wife is dead.” While I knew a thing or two about how hard it was to keep a marriage alive, so I worked out to my satisfaction an explanation for Mike’s statement about his wife dying. “Until death do us part and through sickness and heath” I knew it was sometimes a tall order under the best of circumstances. “Until death do us part,” a tall order. Then we did have something in common.

Other things?

What?

We were a couple of middle-age men. We had careers and could afford to take a summer off, break away and see America. Mike impressed me with his intellect. What other things did we have in common?

Overachievers, easily that. True for me, for quite a while one, and reason enough to go on a bicycle tour…halfway through life when I was ready for a change and well enough off to afford a break, thankfully my wife understood. But even then I hated to take time off. So I made myself get in shape and made it so I couldn’t back out.  I didn’t want to back out.  The last thing wanted was to back out.

“I know the first four days will be tough, Bill. Until we climbed out the desert.”

The desert in June, the hottest, longest days of the year and incredible climbs, how big a toll did it take on Mike? How many times was he tempted to call it quits, call it quits with the hardest part at the beginning of trip…but we pushed on in spite of extreme heat, in spite of exhaustion, and possibility of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. It was a risk we took, I believe, and though we both lived in desert and endured many summers, endured many Junes in southern Arizona, in deserts, even though we considered ourselves desert rats, and maybe because of that, we thought we were macho. I’m astonished how we ignored symptoms, even when it got scary, and yet we survived. Absent common sense, we pushed on, with Mike in the lead, so I didn’t have any idea what it might’ve been doing to him.

Mike impressed me with his intellect; I assumed he knew his limits. I certainly thought I knew mine.

The epitaph Mike composed for himself…though I didn’t appreciate the significance of it when he shared it with me. Even though it was a strange thing for him to bring up then, I shake my head now because I dismissed it. Was he even then thinking of taking his life? It never occurred to me that he might be.  Went over my head, but by that time I was trying to pay less attention to him and didn’t really hear him. He said something like “they’ll be sorry.” Who’ll be sorry? What was he talking about? It made as much sense to me as the other things he said and how the day before he went on about carnage, ferocious cats, and road kill… rodents, snakes, turtles, and the like, smashed by cars and trucks.

Aha, but nothing he said surprised me by then…though now it all makes sense.

I wasn’t totally stupid; just didn’t know what was wrong with Mike. That’s all.
Were there other signs? Yes. Something besides being sunburned and dehydrated? Yes.
Something darker.

Like what?

You were there. You should know.

Come on. Hey, you said you knew something wasn’t right. You had to have known. Out there in the middle of New Mexico, not far from where they first exploded the atomic bomb, and you were riding along with someone who was about to explode and you were off somewhere else?
I know.

While he ate his avocado, we sat juxtaposed to gas pumps of a busy service station situated in the middle of a Y at a junction of two major highways. Then he took off. But by then I didn’t care.

The night before I hadn’t slept very well. I thought about Mike, considered my options, what I could do, how I could confront him. He seemed to be getting worse and worse, just as I was beginning to get in shape. He was spoiling everything. “You hold the trump card, Mike; I’m only here for a ride. Who thought we could ride across America, anyhow?”

Then I would have to bide my time with care and hope for the best…we were in the middle of nowhere, after all: and there were no cell phones in those days. It was how we wanted it, I guess…a time away from considerable burdens, pressures, and problems, “out of a pressure cooker and into a frying pan” was how I later saw it. I don’t think either of us intended it to be that way. We both came from a world where persistence, optimism, and hard work paid off, but now we were confronted with a situation in which none of that mattered. Ignorance on my part, I add in passing, may have been my excuse, but it doesn’t ease my conscience now. There were those who would say that I managed Mike as best I could within my capabilities: asked for help, which I did and insisted on help, which I didn’t. In hindsight, I should’ve recognized an emergency when I was confronted with one. In Show Low I should’ve been willing to end our tour.

In short, I was wrong about Mike. He wasn’t playing games.

So you were wrong about Mike…but you shouldn’t blame yourself. Even when you could’ve ended the tour with a phone call or two, and gotten help for Mike in Show Low, and he was hospitalized, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there would’ve been a different outcome. You weren’t responsible.

I still plead ignorance.

Plead ignorance, then.

So I’m not to blame.

For what?

You’re not to blame.  You’re not to blame.

Mike was my friend; or else we wouldn’t have taken off on our bicycles together.

Heading east, yes. Once Mike told me “You can be either against me or for me, but don’t be neutral. Neutrality is equivalent to death and should be filed away as such.” And I had gotten around to opening a file: thinking how I’d gotten sucked in: sucked into ups and downs of Mike’s saga, when I started thinking about how I’d been suckered in. Terribly wrong, which I found out the hard way.

Crazy talk about different ways of dying (that is to say, poisoned, shot, or attacked by tigers) notably having same outcome, and as Mike attempted to explain, he compared life to a bubble…virtually everything he said toward the end had something to do with fragility of life and permanency of death. It started with him fixating on mythic creatures, Big Foot and Jackalope, and later and more expansively on tigers and people, and finally on his wife and me. According to Mike, we were trying to do him in.  According to Mike, we were killing him.

That was what he was talking before he took off after finishing an avocado. I didn’t think much of it at the time because I no longer wanted to be suckered in, so I took my time getting on my bike, thinking he would slow down whenever he got whatever it was out of his system. “And if I don’t see him again, good riddance!” Saying “good riddance” was liberating.

Suddenly I became aware of all jackrabbits. Jackalope! I cackled.

“Goodness, Mike!” He was flying, or else I would see him in the distance. Then I found myself trying to catch up. No, no, no! “No wonder he’s driving me crazy.  Crazy, for so he was driving me crazy, or I was approaching end of my patience (we would make Socorro by dark), and I was determined not to pass through the town without doing something about Mike.
I enjoyed solitude except for an occasional vehicle.  Enjoyed it.  Many more pickups than cars. There was a town up ahead. I planned to treat myself there with lunch in a restaurant. I knew a place was on a corner, on the north side of the highway. Is it any good? Excellent home-cook food and I wasn’t going to worry about Mike.

“Nice idea.” But it never worked out.

Who said it would? What would keep Mike from ruining a perfect day, with a cool breeze at my back? Free from the pressure of compassion and understanding, it was too late, too late, too late. “When I catch up with him, he’ll get an ear full from me: it’s time to put all of this nonsense to bed.” I was thinking how nice it would be to not have to worry about Mike, but I knew that wasn’t possible: not for a while anyway. “There still might turn out to be a simple explanation for Mike’s behavior and the tour for us both still might go on the way we planned; that’s why I kept going. Then too, as long as he doesn’t drive me nuts who cares if the guy’s a little crazy? We all have quirks. But Mike has got to control himself.”

I’d lost count of how many days we’d been in the saddle. Spin! Spin! Spin! Still no sign of Mike, but then I didn’t care if I ever saw him again: damn, where was he? It was a long flat highway… open range got to me because I thought I’d see him. Could see for miles, but still couldn’t see him. I began to worry in spite of myself but tried not to for the next several miles.

Now, then (except for a huge mailbox and a long dirt road that took off from the left and disappeared up over the horizon) with nothing: to break silence I sang “Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong, under the shade of Collibah tree…” Mike was still out of sight. Now that he was ruining my day (for which I wasn’t about to forgive him), whereupon I started cursing, yes, I thought I was about to lose it, while not knowing how I was going to cope, I tried to set aside my grudge long enough to come up with a plan. Somehow I had to get rid of Mike. Somewhere along the way that morning I decided I didn’t want to have anything else to do with the guy.

But before I could think of some gentle way of letting Mike down something unexpected happened that changed everything. Before I could follow an internally guided course, outside events interceded, and just as he prophesied, Mike crashed.

Still no Mike. I had no warning before I saw his bike lying beside the highway. Mike would be in a ditch…actually coming out of a culvert…when I came up; I first thought a vehicle hit him. As you can imagine, it was scary, a scary moment, and my heart leapt to my throat. I don’t know how Mike ended up in a ditch, but I do know I was thoroughly pissed.
To the best of my recollection, I don’t think I was really thinking of Mike at this point. Instead I was thinking about ending our Grand Tour, and I was going to confront Mike and not wait until Socorro. Would I have?

Yes.

Three utility men pointed at the entrance to a culvert, as Mike crawled out. I felt like saying I didn’t know him. I wished I didn’t, didn’t know him.

Come again? What’s going on? (I hated Mike by then.) When he emerged, he had no shirt and no shoes on, and seemed wild to me.

What was new? The world wasn’t coming to an end, but Mike was acting as if it were. My friend was stepping with bare feet on broken glass and sharp rocks while no longer in control of himself. He was screaming, laughing, sobbing, and trembling all the same time and throughout the whole ordeal he never let up. Sadly he didn’t stop until he exhausted himself.
Exhausted himself.

Right. I was persuaded then by what I saw that this friend of mind was totally insane and that I couldn’t handle him. So I was glad to hear that the State Police had been called and that they were on their way and would be there in more or less thirty minutes. Meanwhile, Mike was down on his hands and knees, in a fathomless daze…talking to himself…laughing, everything to an extreme. On his third go-round I thought he needed to be restrained, but there wasn’t anyone to do it. After that Mike calmed down.

I went down into the ditch  to talk to him. Talk wouldn’t do any good. But I didn’t know it wouldn’t.

In one syllable, I wish I had strength to walk away…Yes, I would’ve been better off had I walked away.   But Mike was already sucking me in again, starting with how he looked at me with tears in his eyes and telling me how much he was hurting … telling me how much he loved me.  “Love you, pal!”  Was this any way to show love?  But by time State Police arrived, he was totally calm and rational.

By then he stopped talking about spiders crawling all over him, diagnosing red bumps all up and down his arms and legs as spider bites, and he balked at the suggestion that maybe he needed to be in a hospital. He refused when asked by the police. “Our hands are tied,” one of them then explained, “he has to be a danger to himself or to others before we can do anything.  He doesn’t look as if he is a danger to himself or others.”
By then Mike found his shirt and shoes and had them on. And then he said he was ready to go and asked what the holdup was before he got on his bike again. All this for the police, I suppose. Now then remember we were in the middle of nowhere…really over fifty miles from Socorro and our destination that day. And what was I to do but to get on my bike.

Slowly at first (caution, fear, and resentment set in) my friend stayed in front. And then I wasn’t about to stop for lunch unless he suggested it because I was afraid of what he might do. Et cetera: it was all up to Mike. Now then: Mike had me, but I’m not sure he knew it. I wasn’t sure of anything…what I should do next…whether to stop then or not…

I didn’t know just where we were. The words “mystery” and “tragedy” came to mind, as I road in my friend’s slipstream. “Easy now, take it easy,” I kept saying over and over again, while not wanting to upset anything, while not wanting to upset him.  After what happen, I didn’t want to upset him, and then cursing at the situation…not at the person, but at the situation.

My apprenticeship hadn’t ended by the time we reach Socorro. We both needed showers, and I decided it wasn’t wise to camp. Mainly, I didn’t think it was safe to camp and thought that maybe I could control him better in a motel room. Here I was again trying to hang on to as much as possible. Somehow I slipped back, slipped back into thinking I could control Mike, could control the situation, and the culmination of everything I’d been through the last few days hadn’t hit me yet. All that from Mike and when we got to Socorro and after he apologized, I was ready to give him another chance.

“What’s going on, man?”

Mike lowered his head. “Here’s where it gets difficult, and tomorrow is another day, and we’ll be in Santa Fe tomorrow, right? Neither you nor anyone else knows the hell I’ve been through. You have to acknowledge that it hasn’t been easy; that first there was heat, then long climbs, and finally thin air; it was a combination of these things that almost did me in. But now you can see I’m better and have returned a new man, after having routed the monsters and lived to tell about it. No one but me knows what it’s like…what it’s like to confront your worst enemy, to fight to the end and face death and almost lose; that there are inevitably distortions coming from the brain when it misfires and transmission is broken up, and what comes out… Well, you were there with me. Depending on how you look at it, it’s either a comedy or a tragedy, or both. At least, no one got hurt. Anyway I’m okay now, and there’s no need for the Calvary because I have a handle on it. I’m back…and from now on, I won’t cause you any troubled. If there’s one thing I’ve learned is that… Como? I’s been silly. “  Silly?

We returned to our motel room after we filled up on carbohydrates. After a hard day we always made it a practice to take in as many carbs as we could. Full of pasta, absolutely stuffed, and satisfied. “I bet I’ll sleep well tonight.”

“Yeah, hey, thank you for putting up with me and for all you did out there, for sure and then some. Look: For all the things that happened…I’m sorry, really sorry.”

“I know.”

“Forgive me?”

“What can I say? Of course, I forgive you. I have to, don’t I? Now don’t bother me.” He sat on his side of the bed, and I sat on mine. “I’m still here, aren’t I?” He lay there in his riding shorts and with his biking shoes on, with the television remote in his hand. “So let’s try to sleep, okay?”

“You helped me today,” he told me. “More than you realize, probably.”

“I didn’t do anything.”

“For one thing, I learned the importance of the buddy system. Imagine what would’ve happened if I had been out there alone,” he said soberly.

“You wouldn’t have been alone for long.” Though I may not have sounded like it, I felt pleased and relieved that he was talking sensibly. “But you’re right. We’re in this together, man. We’ll make it now. We don’t have a choice. It’ll certainly be something to tell our grandchildren about.”

If we have grandchildren.

He looked over at me. “This hasn’t been a picnic, especially today. At least you didn’t murder me. You hung in there.”

“Yeah.”

“The ride tomorrow.”

“The ride tomorrow, right.”

“On to Santa Fe. It should be an easy day.”

“Right. It depends on wind.”

“Do we have to go through Albuquerque?”

“I think so.”

“Good. It hasn’t been a picnic so far. I’ll make it up to you.”

“Then let me get sleep.”

“I sympathize with you.”

“Go to sleep.”

“But I’m afraid…”

Afraid? It was something that I shouldn’t have ignored. Give me credit. I didn’t totally ignore it. We try to justify our actions, or inaction, when something goes wrong, don’t we? And pay a price later, if there’s a price to pay. I wanted to keep my distance in a bed that took up most the room, yet in a bed that never felt big enough for the both us. A room with a Bible and a telephone in it…could’ve called someone, but didn’t think it was necessary. Wasn’t thinking. So what does that make me? An accomplice? Mike started again, and I admit now that I realized it.

Who could I have called? When had I last called my wife, or called and asked her advice? Right enough, I should’ve called someone! After the last few days, I should have. I should’ve recognized the beginning of a cycle and should’ve known it would grow in intensity. In intensity…and also potentially violent, depending on how long it went on. And/or without intervention… Again I didn’t have a crystal ball; again every day was a struggle, as I…
blame. What’s more it’s what a psychologist told me: that it wasn’t my fault and I know it…know I couldn’t have stopped him. I knew it without him telling me, knew it without a psychologist telling me. Figured it out on my own. It took two or three days. Yes, it troubled me. The town reminds me of it now, especially when I go through it, especially when I go through Socorro, when I go down the main drag and pass the same motel, but I by no means blame myself. Talking to a psychologist helped. A day or two afterwards.

Every so often a train went through town. No one welcomed us. No one knew us in Socorro.  No one knew us from Adam. Why would anyone know us?  Why would anyone know us in Socorro?  Only a flickering neon motel sign promised us something. WELCOME VACANCIES.  Only a neon sign welcomed us.  That would change.
Going over what happened in my mind. We had all expected amenities, I couldn’t think of anything else we needed. Of course, our bikes and gear came inside.

Showers. Then sleep. Sleep would’ve been nice. Sleep, sleep, only if I were allowed to sleep.  Sleep, sleep, soundly sleep.  I decided to take a room with a single bed because I wasn’t certain of Mike.  I knew I had to keep close track of Mike so I decided to take a room with a single bed.   I don’t know what I was thinking, and that could pertain to the bicycle trip, a bicycle trip across America.

Sleep. Neither one of us, however, really slept.  I couldn’t sleep.  Mike couldn’t sleep.  Mike was too restless to sleep, his tossing and turning kept me awake.  He wrestled, wrestled with himself and me, and I had to restrain him.

He tossed and turned and tossed and turned that night, and never stopped. I could hear a train and traffic noise; some mouse escape from its hole, while doubts mounted and seemed to call for an end to our trip.  I couldn’t shut out the neon sign.  Then around midnight, he started to have spasms and it pressured me to let him get out of bed. In a manner of speaking, I was trying to hold him (or restrain him) against his will.

That he was stronger than me was evident. A test of strength no doubt. In bed a mighty struggle. Finally, I gave up. But hey, no one could say I didn’t try. Then he started tearing up the room. I should’ve called the police then.

Who could’ve known then that he wouldn’t calm down after he exhausted himself? The day before he calmed down; of course, he calmed down, and then he apologized.  He apologized and was perfectly normal by the time we rode into Socorro. I knew what to expect or thought I did at that point. But shit I was wrong, dead wrong. We were in the farthest room from the office. The people in the room next to ours were already up and packing their car, so I don’t know why they didn’t call police.  I would’ve called police.   Just as he did the day before, Mike went on a rampage without his shirt or shoes and socks. Then before I could do anything he ran out the room, screaming, screaming, and screaming like a lunatic. Though I was alarmed (and not very appreciative of Mike’s behavior), I shouldn’t have chased after him, but instead should’ve picked up the phone and called police.  When I ran past people packing their car I… Where was I, for pity’s sake? Why did they just stand there?  Why?  Why didn’t they call police?

A hundred yards from the highway. Mike ran straight for it. Sadly…

This haunts me to this day, which I know it is insane, but I knew I couldn’t catch Mike. This I’ve replayed a thousand times, at least a thousand. The question that remains is what could I have done had I caught him?

Questions remain: what could I have done differently?  Questions remain …  Questions remain …  So many questions remain.  What if?  What if?  What if always comes up?  And then … there is always then.  What if and then …

First and finally! Did I think I could stop Mike? Maybe. I don’t know. It was insane.  He was insane.  Maye that answer is too easy.   But by the time I reached the highway, it was too late.

After he ran in front of a truck and was killed, I felt …  It was too late, too, too, too late.   I don’t have words for it.  I couldn’t stop him.  I couldn’t stop him … I watched him run in front of a truck.  I was there.  I watched him … I watched him run in front of a truck.  I watched him kill himself.  I watched him, and I don’t know if he knew, knew what he was doing.  I watched him kill himself and don’t know if he knew what he was doing or not.  There was nothing I could do … could do … could do.  Nothing.  Nothing.  Nothing.

Then I felt obligated to call his wife.  Someone had to call her, and I felt obligated, obligated, obligated to do it.  And I decided to keep details to myself.

And what about the bicycle tour? I finished it. A year later I finished it in honor of Mike. Went all by myself, but Mike was there. Listen to what I’m saying; that until I finished the bicycling tour I couldn’t move on. There was no way I wouldn’t finish it.  There was no way I could move on.

Started in Socorro and headed north to Santa Fe. Fought wind whenever road turned south and flew when it turned north. I didn’t have a single flat tire.  All summer I didn’t have a flat.

Randy Ford

 

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