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Posts Tagged ‘Memoir’

I’ve heard many unusual stories over the years. For instance, a farmer’s wife told me of seeing lightning go through a closed window, pass through her kitchen, through an open door, then out a window in the living room. Another time she told me about a night, not long after her husband died, when she’d been awakened by a bell. A bell he had used to summon her when he was sick. “I shoulda never given him that bell!” Then she felt his side of the bed go down. She asked him to please go—it was very frightening for her—she told him she couldn’t handle it, and he left.

 

When I sold encyclopedias I met an Episcopalian minister who told me that at one time he worshipped the devil. Back in those dark days he used to leave his body and fly with his friends to an enemy’s house to attack them. He also told me that the devil was very powerful and that he was like a light bulb in brightness compared to us who would be like a match. God, however, would be like the Sun.

 

A Mankind Project friend, Fred Cheyette, has compiled a book of stories of the strange and inexplicable things that have occurred to ordinary people; things that seem too amazing to be attributed to coincidence. After experiencing many unusual occurrences himself, he would often relate them to others. They, in turn, would tell him of theirs.

 

Here are some of the stories that will appear in his book:

 

During a trip to Los Angeles I went to the YWCA and had a massage with a woman named Eve, who I had never met before. During the massage she told me things about my family, which amazed me, because I had not mentioned them to her. Two days later I went back to the Y and asked to set up another appointment with Eve because I was so taken with what she had told me. The clerk said that was impossible to do because she had gone back to Hungary six months before!

In the ‘60s I was living in Cambridge, Massachusetts and my brother was living in a nearby town. One night he called me. Since this was before cell phones and speed dialing, he dialed my number manually. However I was not home, but was at a party somewhere in the suburbs. I had come with other people, I didn’t know the house and I had never met the host. At one point I decided to take a break from the party and was sitting alone next to the telephone. The phone rang and on impulse I answered it. It was my brother. I was incredulous. “How did you find me here?” I asked. He didn’t understand what I was talking about. After some discussion, we discovered that he had intended to dial my Cambridge apartment’s number and somehow dialed the number of the house I was visiting.

On September 21, 1938, I was leaving my house in Brooklyn to go to school. I was seven years old and fairly heavy. I closed the front door of the house and walked down the five steps to the landing. As I approached the two steps that led to the sidewalk, a gust of wind picked me up, carried me through the air and gently put me down on my feet on the sidewalk. I looked around and didn’t see anyone, so I walked to school and didn’t say anything about it. The wind that picked me up was part of the most severe hurricane to hit the Northeast in recorded history.

My wife and I were home, sitting in the same room, doing some mundane thing. Suddenly, at the same instant, we both broke out into song. We sang the same song, in the same key and started singing at the same place in the song. It was not a song we had been singing or listening to. It never happened before or since.

His publisher wants him to add more stories to his book before it’s published. If you have a story like the ones I’ve included from Fred’s book (not like mine) and you’d enjoy seeing it in print, email it to Fred at fredcheyette@earthlink.net. Let him know if you’d like it to appear with your byline.

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Why did Grandma die, doesn’t she love us anymore?”

When my mother was dying several years ago, we gathered for a week at her bedside, all eleven of us, her children, coming in from all parts of the country, also numerous grandchildren.

My mother’s body was shot, after living with cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, and a host of other maladies, including my father who now had Alzheimer’s. She’d had enough; it was her time to go.

When I was growing up, we went on weekly picnics in the nice weather.  My mother loved to sing; she had a beautiful voice. She and my father, whose voice was not as exceptional, would lead us in the old songs that they grew up with. We would all sing around the fire at night and on all those drives to and from.

So, around my mother’s bed, we sang these same songs. When we got the words wrong she would jump in and help us. Then she died.

I missed when she passed out of her body and briefly burst into tears when one of my sisters said she was gone.

The next day I was hanging out with my nieces. Jana, a very vivacious eight year old, was very sad and angry.

“Why did Grandma die?” she asked. “Doesn’t she love us anymore?”

She could not understand why her grandma, who had held on until everyone had come in from Illinois, California, Connecticut, and Colorado, would abandon her. Jana sorely missed her.

I explained that Grandma’s body was all worn out, that it was very hard for her to stay alive when she was so old and so sick.

I said it was time for her to leave her body and go on to something else like a caterpillar in a chrysalis becomes a butterfly. “Would you want Grandma to stay the way she is, all sick and broken down, just because you don’t want her to go away?”

Jana’s face changed. Still serious, but now a little lighter, she asked, “Is Grandma a butterfly?”

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My grandfather on my mother’s side (I never knew my other grandfather) was a grumpy, stern man. I can’t ever remember him smiling. Even his wedding picture looked grim. This manner, I always attributed to that famous Germanic humorlessness. As Robin Williams once said, “They killed off all the funny people.”

However, I came to realize that perhaps this brusque, unfriendly manner had its source in something else.

He grew up on a farm in Austria, about 25 miles outside of Vienna. Not far, as it turned out, from my grandmother, whom he met only after coming to this country. My grandparents spoke both German and Hungarian since their territory switched hands so many times in their youth. They acquired English later, here. They both came over on the boat after World War I. My grandfather had been conscripted and fought on the Eastern front on the German side. He was probably 18 at the time. He was captured by the Russians, who, not known for their hospitality towards their enemies, imprisoned him in Siberia for several years. He didn’t like to talk about it. I always pictured an interminable train ride across a bare, forbidding landscape, followed by a long internment in a snowy place far, far from home. I think all he ever said about it was that they cut down trees, and it was cold.

When my giant family (there were eventually 13 in all, including my parents) would visit, we would sleep on a pullout couch, a bed, and cots spread all over the dining/living room of their tiny one-story home.

During the day, my brothers and I would occupy ourselves with riding my parents old balloon-tired bikes, playing wiffleball in the yard, and our all-time favorite, pushing each other in my grandfather’s green wagon with the ball bearing wheels. It was amazingly fast, and steered easily, and we would careen around the tiny sidewalks that skirted his gardens of flowers and vegetables and wended the passageways through his perfectly manicured hedges. It was a blast and we would howl with delight. Grandpa, on the other hand, would yell at us to slow down and watch out for his borders and hedges that we were always crashing into. One time he caught me by the hair, and then shook me by the shoulders after we bashed into and made a serious dent in the front hedge.

In the evening, we would watch TV. My father, who always took over wherever we went, commandeered the recliner. The rest of us would be on the floor, dining room chairs or pullout couch.

One time we were watching a war movie about World War II. My father loved to watch these. He was a signalman in the Navy in the South Pacific during the latter part of the war. However, he was fortunate never to have seen any action.

“Grandpa, why don’t you sit down and watch TV with us?” My father said, with that magnanimous ‘your house is my house’ tone of his.

My grandfather refused, turned around, and headed back to the kitchen. As he left, he spoke in a typically grumpy tone, this time tinged with pain, “I’ve seen enough war.”

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[This is the last  installment of a hitchhiking trip I took in my twenties; see the first  post to read from the beginning]

Tail Ends

I was finally in Minneapolis. I put my pack back together.  The bright sunlight, the proximity of houses and trees whose shadows they cast, cheered me up. It seemed like home—like Michigan where I grew up—after living in California and this ride through the desert, over the mountains, and across the Great Plains.

I hadn’t had much sleep, but I wasn’t tired, just sore from sitting on the Celica’s console for 1500 miles.  I was excited about seeing my friends.  It felt good to be able to stretch, relax and put my stuff back together.  Stuff I thought I’d never see again, like my red pack and down sleeping bag.

It felt good to stretch my personality a little too and not worry about Charlie and Ken disapproving of it.  I had had to be careful.  They were not open to much of what I had to say or feel.  Now I was able to feel anyway I wanted to. Catching a bus for downtown with Kelley’s address and phone number in my pocket, I wanted to surprise my friends by showing up at the door, unannounced.  I only told them that I would try to come.  They weren’t exactly expecting me all the way from California.

I loved these people.  They literally meant “the life” to me.  When I was in school, two of them saved me, and I would never forget it.  Also they appreciated who I was and what I was capable of with my heart and mind.

“Where you going camping?”  An older, rumpled man addressed me.  His jacket and pants were stained.  He was missing some teeth and had a straggly beard.  This was before people who lived on the streets were called “homeless”.

“I’m here visiting friends,” I replied.

The gentleman started to sing, “With a backpack on my back…”

Everyone else on the bus ignored him, but I, as usual, didn’t want to offend.

“You know how to protect yourself from a pack of wolves?”  Not waiting for a response, he continued, “I learned this when I was in Alaska.  You take a knife and you cut yourself with it so’s you get blood all over the blade.  Then you stick the handle in the snow.  The wolves’ll come up to the knife, bite it and cut themselves; the blood’ll drive them crazy.  They’ll attack each other till there’s none left…” he started singing again.

I got up, pulled the cord to get off downtown, at the terminal.

“You remember what I told you, young feller.”  The doors unfolded on his last words.  I was glad to be off the bus.  It seemed I was always trying to escape one uncomfortable situation or another.  I longed to feel at rest, to put away the anxiety that fermented in my chest. I was sure that it was all caused by things outside of me.

I took a bus to the University and got off in an area that looked artsy. Maybe this is where they live.

I called Kelly.

“Hello?”

“Hi, you doing anything?”

“Larry?”

“Yeah, I thought I’d give you a call.  Is the wedding still on?”

“Yeah, sure.  Are you coming?”

“Yeah, could you pick me up?” I continued speaking very casually.

“In California?”

“No, I’m in Minneapolis.  I’m outside the Riverside Café in an artsy fartsy section somewhere near the University.”

“You’re here?” Kelley registered an appropriate amount of surprise. “The Riverside Café’s on the West Bank, stay there.  I’ll come and pick you up.”  The West Bank wasn’t all that artsy as it turned out.  Fartsy was appropriate, later that year I would have some vegetarian chili at that café.  You paid a donation and you got the meal of the day.

“Here you go, Brother,” the hippie behind the counter said.  It wasn’t very good, a lot of beans and tomato sauce—no seasoning.  It was worth what I paid for it, though.

Across the street was another café. It had the best ice cream sundaes.  They would serve you a bowl heaped with vanilla ice cream and a gravy boat filled with your choice of toppings.

Hot fudge was my favorite, and I would get them on a regular basis in spite of my lactose intolerance.

I hummed with energy.  I was eager to see my old friends, happy to have accomplished my destination, and excited to tell the hysterical story of my trip.

I’ve made it!  No more danger or uncertainty.  Not at least until I had to leave for Michigan.  Next stop was Grand Rapids, a town 30 miles from where I grew up, and where my older sister Cathy lived with her husband and son.

For now, my friends would provide me a place to stay and entertainment.

A beige sedan pulled up near me, “Boy, they’ll let anybody into this town.”

“I know,” I said seemingly astonished. “They let anybody drive too?”

“Fortunately for me.  Put you’re pack in the back.  How you doing?”  He was grinning from ear to ear.

“Well, pretty good, now that I’m here.”

“Tell me about your trip.”  Kelly was a very clever fellow with tight kinkified, red hair and a quick wit. He was at the University working on his Masters. At Notre Dame he had been a good friend and, at times, a mentor. A few years later when I was back in California and he was in New York, he gave my future wife, my address. She wrote to me. We’ve been married over 30 years.

I’d envisioned telling the story of my trip with all my friends in a circle around me, surprised, entertained, and impressed.  If I told it here in the car it would lose some of its impact.  Each telling would steal some of its thunder until it was just a light shower, a passing mist amongst my friends.

“Well, I got this ride across the desert in the back of a pickup truck with a guy who had just spent two years in jail for stealing a Pantera.  He was going to…” I told Kelly the whole story, about the cowboy, the cattle lullaby and the trip from Cedar City to Minneapolis—“I got picked up by a couple of guys who wanted to kill me on their way to joining the two million-man-strong New Zion Army in the Colorado Rockies…”

“Well,” said Kelly, when I finished the blow by blow, “That was a good story.”  He paused and arched his eyebrows, “So, you gonna join up?”

“Join up what?”

“The New Zion Army.”

I thought for a minute and then, with a half smile, said, “I guess I probably should after all that.  What do you think?”

Kelly glanced my way as he drove, “Sounds good to me, but why don’t you wait till after the wedding.”

The End

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[This is the 5th  installment of a hitchhiking trip I took in my twenties; see the first  post to read from the beginning]

Road to Minneapolis

 I awoke. Grey light filtered through the blinds throwing a pattern of slits on the bed beside me where Ken slept. A line of white light shown under the door.   Sounds of a car door shutting, muffled voices, and the jingling of keys made me aware of life beyond our motel room.

I was still alive.  I lay there breathing slowly and deeply.  The frightening thunderheads of black thought that had engulfed me the night before, concerning my imminent demise, were gone.  I laughed.

“What’s so funny,” said Charlie, apparently lying awake.

“Just glad to be alive,” I responded.

“Yeah, well, we’re burning daylight.  Let’s get going.”

We slowly got up and packed.

“Get your ass out of bed, Ken.”  Charlie threw his pillow and hit Ken in the head.

“Hey, watch it,” Ken flung it back at him.  Then he got up and went into the bathroom.

“Hurry up, I gotta take a piss too.”

The drive to Provo was cordial.  Charlie joked and bragged to, through, and past breakfast at Denny’s.  I didn’t want to spend anymore money than I had to.  Yet I wanted to be sociable after being allowed to live and all.  So instead of eating the salami and cheese in my pack, I ate with them at Denny’s.

We drove together past Provo and joined I-80 for the trip over the Rockies.  It was getting cold.  Once we got in the foothills it started to snow.  Ken drove.  He was scared.  “They taught us to turn into the skids when we were on the ice.”

“When?” I asked.

“When I was training to be a State Cop.  They had us drive on ice at an ice rink in San Bernardino.”

“Why?  There’s never any ice in L.A.”.

“Yeah but we were training for high speed chases and U turns.”

Both hands gripped the wheel, he had his driving gloves on so I couldn’t see whether his knuckles were white or not.  His steely jaw did not tremble, but I sensed his tension.

“I’m thinking we should just drive straight through to Minneapolis,” said Charlie, “I don’t feel like camping in this shit.”

No longer excited about camping with my two “buddies”, I was glad when I saw the snow and heard Charlie’s reaction to it.  I didn’t think they still wanted to kill me, but I wasn’t sure and didn’t want to see any prairie dogs bite the dust either.

The car wasn’t running as well at the higher altitude.  Sometimes it would slow way down and creep up hill.  Sometimes it would cough and sputter , threatening to die.

Finally it did die.  We had driven through the night.  My tailbone was starting to get sore from the hard console that, in spite of the padding, I could not avoid.  I slept in small stretches as Ken and Charlie took turns driving.  I contributed towards the gas but was not asked to drive.

Finally the car sputtered to a stop just as it came up over a rise.

“Well, shit.  This piece of crap.”

“Hey, that’s my car you’re talking about,” said Charlie.

“Now what?”

“Well, one of us has to get a ride into town to get help.”

“I’ll go,” I said.  “I’ll hitch in.”

There was no disagreement about that.  They were glad to have me do something for a change.  Maybe get rid of me; my money was almost gone.  If I had known I’d be paying for a ride, I would’ve taken a bus.  The only thing is, I would have lost all my earthly possessions.

It was morning; the snow was blowing over the pass, down the interstate.  There were not a lot of cars but I felt confident I would get a ride due to our broken-down vehicle.

I walked and hitched.  The next town was a good 10 miles, and I was trying to stay warm.

A Volkswagen Rabbit with skis strapped to the roof pulled over.  There was a young guy driving, his girlfriend was sleeping on top of all their luggage and coats in the back.

“Hey, how ya doing.”  I recognized the couple.  They went to Notre Dame.  Younger than me, they were still in school, living the dream.  I was hitching across the country, nearly broke, at loose ends.  They clearly could afford a car and a ski trip and school too!

“Hi,” said the driver.

“Hi,” said the girl.

“Could you give me a ride to the next town?  The people I’m riding with’s car broke down.  I need to get some help.”

“Sure, climb in.” said the driver.

“Fancy meeting you out here.  Where you going?” I asked.

“Back to school.”  They looked tired and were not very talkative.  They couldn’t care less about me but they were surprised to see me out of context.  They knew me as a graduating theatre person.  I couldn’t be doing that well if I’m hitchhiking out in the middle of nowhere.  I was forced to compare myself to these people.  The plan, when you graduate from college is, you get a good job, you start a career, you continue climbing up that success ladder.  Everyone expected it of you, everyone is impressed.  I had already gotten off the ladder.

I’m not impressing anybody here, I thought.  I asked them about people they knew and then got real quiet, trying to appear mysterious.  Perhaps they’ll figure there is more to my life than meets the eye.

They didn’t know what to make of me, but they were too tired to wonder why they, of all people, would be helping me, of all persons.

The mechanic from the gas station drove out with me in the tow truck.  “This ain’t nothing.  It sometimes goes down to 40 below with the wind blowing the snow clean through you.”

I thought how there were so many people in the world tougher than I was.  That somehow I was allowed to squeak by unharmed with so many dangers all around me.  Perhaps it was my ability to appear invisible.

“Where are they, son?”

The section of interstate was clear of all cars, not even a moving car in sight.

“I don’t know.  They’re gone.  I’m sorry to drag you out here for nothing.”  I’m never going to see them again.  I started planning on how I would get to Minneapolis without any clothes, food or sleeping bag.  I would hitch as soon as I got back to the rest stop.  Maybe get a bite to eat, but I had to watch my money, I didn’t have much left.

“It’s all right, things are slow at the station now anyway.”

I went into the diner, calculating how much money I could spend.  I was starving.

“Well, look who’s here,” Charlie said.

“How did you get here?  I went back with a tow truck and there was nobody there.”

“The car just started going again, “said Ken, the state cop aspirant, who looked surprised and embarrassed.

“Might as well get something to eat.”  Charlie sipped on a beer.

Cedar City all over again.  I sat on a bar stool and ordered two eggs over easy with home fries and rye toast, $1.75.

“Yep, just started running again.  We kept trying it.  It was getting cold out there.”

“I got picked up by two people I knew.  They’re from Notre Dame.”

“Fancy that,” said Charlie out of the corner of his mouth.

Resigned to finish the journey together, we got back into the car and headed east.  The rest of the way to Minneapolis was uneventful; just a long slow drive at 55 mph.  This was just after 55 mph had been implemented nationally because of the supposed fuel shortage.

The oil companies staged a fake fuel shortage all across the country.  Cars were lined up at the pumps for blocks.  All the while, oil tankers had to sit offshore and wait because fuel storage tanks were filled to capacity.  That was before oil companies became selfless champions of the greater good.

Talk decreased to a bare minimum as the tired cold miles were slowly digested.

It was warm and sunny when we finally hit Minneapolis.  Charlie started making jokes.  “Look at that asshole,” he said, pointing to a bearded, long-haired student standing at a bus stop.  “With all that hair you can’t tell if he’s got shit for brains or brains full of shit.”

Charlie started planning his and Ken’s future.  “We’ll live with my Mom for awhile, get jobs and save a little money.  We could buy a couple motorcycles and ride around together.”

Ken smiled, “Sounds good.”

“Well it’s time to get rid of this asshole,” Charlie laughed.  “I’m just kidding, it’s been nice knowing you,” he winked at Ken while he said this.  “You can catch a bus downtown over at that corner.  Minneapolis has a good bus system; they come every half hour.”

They pulled over and began yanking my stuff out of all the places it had been secreted around the little car.  They put it all in a pile on the sidewalk.

“Take care of yourself.  And listen.”  Charlie’s eyes narrowed, his voice, became serious.  “You watch the news this spring, the Red Chinese are coming, I shit you not.”  He reached his hand out the window and shook my hand.  “Nice knowing you.”

“Yeah, it was a good trip,” said Ken reaching across Charlie to shake my hand too.

“See ya,” Charlie abruptly started the car and gave a slight wave. I waved back, but they didn’t turn to see it. Ken and Charlie were laughing about something as they drove off. It looked as if they’d already forgotten the whole thing.

 

Next Week:

Tail Ends

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[This is the 4th  installment of a hitchhiking trip I took in my twenties; see the first  post to read from the beginning]

After the Prairie Dogs

 Not only were my hosts on their way to join the New Zion Army, they were also stopping in Charlie’s hometown, Minneapolis, so they could live with his mom, get jobs, and save some money.

“Hey,” Charlie said, “When we go up to South Dakota to do some camping, we can do some shooting too. They have those prairie dog towns. You just sit there for a while and wait for them to pop their little heads up.”

“Sounds like fun,” said Ken.

“Yeah, it’s a ball. It’ll help you relax, get your mind off your troubles.” Charlie laughed; they both laughed. “We could use a little fun after Las Vegas.”

I wasn’t sure I still wanted to go camping with these guys. I wasn’t sure I wanted to see prairie dogs splattered all over their mounds. It wasn’t how I liked to experience nature.

The sun set orange over the mountains in the west.

“You wanna drive straight through?” said Charlie to Ken. “We’ll stop when we hit South Dakota.”

“All right,” said Ken.

Ken always went along with Charlie. He looked up to him. Charlie was a very self assured person. He always knew what to do.

The lengthening evening gradually shrank the vistas outside the car windows. There were few lights beyond the head beams of the little Celica and few cars on the interstate.

“I can kill a man with my bare hands,” said Charlie to no one in particular. You just have to grab ‘em by the throat and twist. I did some in Nam…It was fucked up there.” His voice got very dark, like the night outside the windows of the car. “The bastards killed my buddies right beside me. I killed as many as I could. After I finished my tour I signed up for another.”

I was very quiet. I felt sorry for Charlie and all the “Charlies” Charlie had killed. I could understand an anger that can’t be quenched; however, I never killed anyone. As a matter of fact, I’d only been in two fights my whole life. The thought of being in a fight scared me; I didn’t want to get on the wrong side of Charlie.

I could feel some kind of plan that was shared by my two Samaritan friends, but that I was not party to. They had gotten quiet, aside from the occasional curse or bitter remark. Charlie gripped the wheel his eyes knifing into the road ahead. Ken sat at attention, both hands in fists, one arm across his lap, the other under his nose supporting his head, his brow aiding his intensity by pressing down like a collapsed accordion.

“I hope I’m not too much of a bother,” I said.

“No bother,” said Ken.

“Hmmph,” said Charlie, “What?”

“I hope I’m not too much trouble.”

Charlie turned his head, “Nah,” he half smiled then looked forward down the road.

The little car ate up the interstate like a Chihuahua nibbling a midnight snack.

Why did they pick me up? I thought. The glow I’d felt from having my problems solved with a ride clear to my destination, had worn off. I was tired like my traveling companions. I hadn’t had much sleep and we’d been driving for hours. The grim reality of my situation began to dawn on me. They had gone to a lot of trouble to fit me in. There was no good reason for them to pick me up. They were best friends, I was a stranger. They had a cramped vehicle even before I got in. They had guns and other weapons. The driver was nuts and a trained killer.

The blood drained from my face. My heart pounded. I felt they must hear it above the sound of the engine and tires on the road.

They would take me up to South Dakota, way out in the country. They would camp, kill a few prairie dogs, then kill me. They wanted my money.

Many thoughts, like visions of poisoned sugarplums, danced through my head. Maybe they would make me get down on my knees and blow my head off. Maybe they would beat me to death.

I knew I didn’t stand a chance against these two. And, since I wasn’t sure they were going to kill me, that maybe it was just my overactive imagination, I couldn’t try to escape or tell someone. Doing that, would cause a lot of trouble, and that would really piss Charlie and Ken off. In addition, I’d lose all my belongings since they were secreted throughout their car. Besides, I’d be too embarrassed. I would look like a fool if it wasn’t true.

“I’m getting pretty tired,” said Charlie. “I wanted to drive straight through, but maybe we should stop.”

Ken agreed, “Maybe we could all share a room.”

A glimmer of hope lit my manacled brain. Maybe this nightmare would clear up with a good night’s rest and maybe, when they saw I had only traveler’s checks, they’d reconsider murdering me.

We pulled into a Howard Johnson’s. Just as I thought, when I paid my share of the room with a traveler’s check, Charlie let out an annoyed hiss.

I was glad if it ruined their plans. I didn’t want them to benefit from my demise.

We got a room with three single beds. I was given the middle one. When Ken opened his suitcase, he showed me the throwing knives. “I can stop a man at 30 feet with one of these.”

“Yeah, and do you see the blades on those?” added Charlie, “They’re tapered so the wound won’t close. Anybody who gets one of those in him will bleed to death.”

It seemed that Charlie and Ken wanted to be sure that I didn’t try anything in the middle of the night.

I lay in the bed, lights off, peering at the faint ceiling above me. Part of my thought was terrified, panicking, Maybe I should make a run for it, tell the manager, something, another was so tired that it said, Wait till morning, this will probably all clear up in the morning after everybody’s had some sleep.

I was so exhausted I felt I would take the chance they’d at least wait till tomorrow. So I closed my eyes.

 

Next Week:

 Road to Minneapolis

 

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[This is the 3rd installment of a hitchhiking trip I took in my twenties; see the first  post to read from the beginning]

Volunteers for the New Zion Army

 A man going to work took me to Cedar City, a town in southern Utah. I could see I was going to spend a lot of time trying to hitch out of there. A car would go by no more than once every five minutes traveling north on the near empty interstate which lead to Salt Lake City. Since it’s illegal to stand on the interstate, police will give you a ticket and remove you, I had to stay on the on ramp. There, a car would only pass every half hour.

I decided that, since it was warm and I’d be there for a while, it would be a good time to sno-seal my leather hiking boots. I’d been planning to do this for a while but never found the time. I took everything out of my pack—the boots were on the bottom. With my belongings spread out on the grass, I opened up my can of sno-seal, a very slimy substance, and smeared it all over the leather, working it into all the pores and seams. After that I set the slimy, glistening boots in the warm sun so the leather could soak up as much as possible. I intended to repeat this process until the boots could take no more.

After I’d applied the second coat, I sat on my sleeping bag and thought about cracking open a book. It looked like I was having a yard sale. I wasn’t afraid it would hurt my chances to get a ride since there were so few cars anyway. Oddly enough, the very next car pulled over, a Toyota Celica.

“Where ya going?” said the smiling passenger on the driver’s right, a handsome man about 25.

Minneapolis, Minnesota.”

“Really, that’s where we’re going. You want a ride?”

I was thrilled, how lucky could I get. I thought it would be all day before I got a ride even as far as Salt Lake, “Yeah, that’s great!”

It was then I noticed their car was packed to the ceiling with clothes, boxes, shoes, stereo equipment and other flotsam of the human condition—there was no room.

“Where we gonna put my stuff?” The back seat was jammed to the ceiling. Where will I even sit, I thought? I felt my enthusiasm waning. These guys, who were both big to begin with, sure were generous to make this offer, but there just wasn’t room.

“Don’t worry,” the driver said, we’ll fit you in.” He was a stocky ruddy guy with scars on his face left over from adolescence, yet he had an attractive air about him due to his enormous self-confidence. “We can put some in the trunk and some in the back seat.”

They took individual pieces of my gear and clothes and stowed them in nooks and crannies between all their belongings. There were a few pieces that wouldn’t fit so they opened up the trunk. That’s when I saw the rifles.

“We’re hunters, you don’t have to worry, we’ll protect your stuff,” said the driver with a dry laugh.

I took my foam sleeping pad and folded it up to make a seat for myself on the console, the only place left to jam myself between these two six footers. If I was big like they were, I would never have fit.

“Boy, thanks a lot, you guys. This is really great of you to go to all this trouble. My name’s Larry, by the way.” I reached my hand towards the driver.

“Charlie,” he shook my hand.

“”I’m Ken,” said the handsome passenger, he shook my hand too.

We chitchatted a half an hour in the afterglow of finding a joint purpose. More than just a coincidence, I thought, this all came together too perfectly to be just a coincidence—all of us going to Minneapolis. Must be part of some higher plan.

“Where’d you stay last night,” I asked.

Charlie stopped smiling, “Vegas, the fucking assholes, I’d like to go back and blow up the whole damn town.”

He turned and looked at me for a moment to emphasize the weight of what he was saying, “We were trying to get up some money. We quit our jobs and are starting over in Minneapolis. My mom lives there.”

“We shoulda stopped when we were ahead,” said Ken. They both looked at me at the same time.

“Sure is beautiful out here,” I said trying to change the subject, “Ever do any camping?”

“Did all the camping I wanted to in Nam. But, what the hell,” Charlie’s eyes narrowed and his mouth contorted from a grimace into a half-smile, “You want to do some camping along the way? We could stop when we’re up in the mountains for a day or two.”

“That’d be great,” I said, not getting the picture.

We had left Cedar City on I-15 heading up toward Salt Lake City. We stopped in a bar a couple towns up for a beer; there were lots of jackalopes on the wall. The jackalope is a jack rabbit with antelope antlers. I wasn’t sure it was a real animal. I asked the bartender and he said, “Yeah, but they’re pretty rare, aren’t they, Dale?” winking at one of the patrons.

Charlie turned around on his stool and addressed the two ranchers behind him, “I thought you Mormons didn’t drink.”

“Well, if you’re a Jack Mormon, you can drink,” he laughed.

The countryside we were driving through was broad and flat with mountains on the eastern and western horizon. The monotony of the unchanging landscape hour after hour gave me plenty of time to worry. Little things started to occur to me like why were they so eager to share their tiny car, especially since they had to move all their stuff around? Also, when we got to talking about the Vietnam War, which hadn’t been over that long, the driver said something noteworthy in relation to Nixon, “Yeah, I’d like to kill him.”

I had brought the subject up and enjoyed how they immediately got onboard about what a jerk he was, but became concerned with the vehemence Charlie lent to the subject, “I’d like to kill the fucking bastard. And I wouldn’t kill him fast; I’d kill him slow, by the death of a 1,000 cuts like the Vietnamese do.”

He’d been to “Nam” for two hitches—four years. “Yeah, I went over there and so many of my buddies got killed, I was pissed, real pissed, so I signed up to go back and kill some more.”

I got real quiet. Up to that point, Charlie had been confident, funny, and friendly. He was still confident, but confident like a crocodile sizing up his prey. He’d done a lot of killing in Vietnam.

The further we drove, the angrier they got about things. I was very careful to be nice. They told me about losing $300 in Las Vegas, about Vietnam, about being best friends, about their jobs delivering Silver Springs water in Watts, about how Ken was running away from his wife, “Maybe I should call her.”

“Naw, don’t do that. Don’t give the bitch the satisfaction.”

“She might be worried,” Ken was worried. He wasn’t sure he was doing the right thing. His wife didn’t know he was leaving.

The more tired all of us got, the darker their moods became and the more paranoid I became. They obsessed about the money they’d lost in Vegas while trying to develop some cash for their new life. Their eyes were narrow black apertures peering down the road in the twilight. They both looked at me squeezed between them in the middle, sitting on the console, as if I were part of the solution to their problems.

“You hear about the war that’s comin’?”

“What war?” I asked.

“We heard all about it in Watts. We know all about it. The word on the street is the Red Chinese are going to attack in the spring. They’re going to pour over the border from Canada,” said Charlie.

“Yeah,” agreed Ken, “We’re going to go and join the New Zion Army up in the Colorado Rockies.”

“We’ll be a million men strong and we’ll fight the Red Chinese. You want to join us?”

“I don’t think so,” I said, “I’m going to a friend’s wedding and then to Michigan to see my family.”

“Well, then you could come after that.”

“Maybe.”

Next Week:

After the Prairie Dogs

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