It is said in some legends out West that when God finished creating the world that the Devil complained that he wanted a chance to show what he could do to express himself with what was already created. God gave him a little patch to play with. Just so happened it was that part which is today called Texas. Diablo rubbed his hands together and engaged his awful imagination.
He scattered sand over much of the beautiful territory and then changed some of the plants and animals. The birds he tweaked were vultures, screech-owls and magpies. The plants were prickly pear cactus, yucca, poison oak, poison sumac, saw-grass, loco-weed, creosote, cockle-burrs and poison ivy. When he got to the snakes he changed four in particular. The rattlesnake, the cotton-mouth, the coral snake and the copperhead.
He put alkali in most of the water holes in the Pecos and alligators in the Eastern rivers. He sprinkled all this with tarantulas, black widows and scorpions. Not satisfied with this, he sharpened all the rocks and along the coast he put jelly-fish, stinging catfish, sharks and rays. He doubled the usual size of the moths and made their caterpillars bristle with poisonous stinging hairs.
Along the coast, he introduced cannibalism to the Karankawa peoples. He lassoed the sun and roped it in a little closer to make the heat more unbearable and fixed it so that the thunder-heads were bigger and the lightning bolts more powerful. He put sour gas and petroleum under the thin crust of sandstone to be discovered later and turned into money for people to fight over.
Such are the tall tales spun by the newcomers to this part of the world in an attempt to comprehend the vastness stretched out before them. First thing the Europeans noticed was that this place bit back. I behooved one to watch where they placed a foot when walking and a hand when climbing. It was well to shake out ones boots before putting them on in the morning and if something like a rattlesnake had the decency to warn you first, it was your fault if you got nailed.
A similar legend could have been woven for Louisiana's swamps. Just add more water and make the mosquitoes, cockroaches, water rats and alligators twice the size. Diablo changed the soil to Gumbo mud, a type of blue-gray clay that would suck the boots off your feet. It is said when he got to the Sabine River, he was getting tuckered out from his exertions of fixing Texas. He left a few wonderful things alone. In this lapse of malice he left alone the Magnolia flowers that smelled like a pretty girl from a mile away, honey-suckle vines and the thick fragrant Spanish moss hanging from all the trees.
I decided at around four years old in Texas that I was going to be an entomologist. I started collecting insects and carried this hobby over into Louisiana when I moved there. I had all the Herbert S. Zimm books and had memorized all the Latin names of many insects.
There was a plethora of insect life that I have only seen equaled in the Philippines and in Guatemala. My collection grew and was duly labeled and placed on Styrofoam frames for display. My greatest specimens were a type of ground-dwelling wingless wasp we called a cow killer in Texas. It is the size of a man's thumb and can sting repeatedly with its barb-less sting. Another prize was a very large cicada killer.
There were stick bugs that resembled every type of tree or shrub you could imagine and if they didn't move you could walk right past without knowing they were not made of wood. The butterflies and moths were numberless and of astonishing variety and beauty. My favorites were pipe-vine swallowtails and tiger swallowtails.
As is the climate, vegetation and fauna, so are the people. A hard place produces hard people. In Louisiana's school playgrounds this became abundantly evident. Children there at that time were not instructed to “use their words.” They were expected to use their teeth, nails, fists and feet. Recess was either thirty minutes of fighting or a half-hour of watching a fight. It was usual to come home with half a shirt and a patch of hair missing. I wrestled but I never hit back. I knew what it felt like.
I took up running laps around the perimeter of a cane-field behind the football field in the first year. It was a good release of pent-up energy and much like Forrest Gump, there wasn't any mother's son who could dream of catching up to me. Three years later, I took up exercising on the parallel bars between runs and I drew a little heat from a sixth-grader. I had the pain tolerance of a Gurkha and absolutely ignored dozens of little jabs and shoves.
One Spring our area of Baton Rouge was treated to an infestation of Buck-moth caterpillars. They marched across the hard-packed sun-baked clay in long black trains. These strands of fast-moving hunger would mount every tree in the vicinity and cloak the entire thing in thick tents of silk. Then they stripped it bare and formed up a column to descend the denuded tree.
The children and adults were very disgusted with the whole affair as the caterpillars had a horrible habit of dropping off trees onto people. It was on some days impossible to walk without murdering hundreds underfoot and woe to the unshod foot, for these worms were covered in hard spiky poisonous bristles.
A mere bump was enough to pierce the skin, break off the hollow hair and release a strong poison. Most people so stung reacted with welts, a rash and a nasty red patch that continued to hemorrhage for several days, if the individual had a good immune system. Some people got nauseous and very ill. It stung like fire when it was new and itched like hell for days afterward.
Most people had had at least one encounter in their life and gave these bugs a very wide berth. I was interested in them and spent quite a few recesses watching what they did and how they did it. I had guitar string callouses on my fingers and discovered that I could pick them up ever so gently without getting my skin pierced by the spikes. Because they had been given the European misnomer of “stinging caterpillars” it was thought by most people that they actively darted you, which was not the case. Of this they were incapable.
One day I collected a dozen or so and arranged them on my bare arms facing wrist-ward. I walked slowly around the parallel bars and out onto the baseball diamond, the football field and made sure everyone saw the spectacle. Within minutes, I was transported back in time to the first “medicine man.” From the various ethnic groups and education levels represented at my school, a gumbo of fears, awe and superstitions began to be voiced by my schoolmates trying to make sense of the unbelievable. In the end, everyone believed what they were most comfortable with personally.
Several fights broke out when two differing explanations were at logger-heads and the professors of these differing theories were deeply convinced of the rightness of their own interpretations. I had the monkey bars all to myself for a good week after that. I had the Voodoo, the Mojo, the Medicine and people didn't want to get too near.
Except for that one dang sixth-grader. The whole caterpillar affair put him in fit. It just wouldn't be the same joy coming to school if he didn't have me to bump around. It took him a week to get over his own superstitious fear and come to mess with me. I was hanging upside down by my knees and checking out what the world looked like from that perspective, when the scoundrel walked up briskly and flipped my two feet up over the bar.
I remember hitting the hard clay straight on top of my head. It was for this good fortune that I wasn't injured. I was, however, put over my tolerance level. I could have fought the guy many times with good reason for doing so but I abhorred violence and was used to taking abuse. Something in the way I hit my head elicited a response. Now that I had caterpillar mojo, I knew that magic was science not yet understood. I also knew it didn't work on the unimaginative, like my determined self appointed nemesis.
Faster than either of us was comfortable with, I was off the dirt and perched on this guy's chest. I swung four times with my right hand. My targets were his left eye, his right eye, his nose and finally his mouth. I hesitated for a second not wanting to break the symmetry and was hoisted aloft onto the shoulders of a friend of that boy for a victory parade around the school yard. No one could believe their eyes. When I saw the boy stand up I felt mighty bad but his own friends assured me and his teacher that he had asked for it.
One day I came home from elementary school in North Vancouver. My little sister and I walked home together. When we got inside my mother told us that we would moving to Texas to stay with my Grandparents. I had just left Louisiana six months before and all the friends I had made up to that point in my life. I had left my Scout Troop and all my possessions. The house we left in Baton Rouge we had occupied for five and a half years. It was my longest stay at one address up until the apartment where I write this today.
My father wasn't going to be coming along with us. I had very many reactions on very many levels to this news of imminent change. There was relief at being away from my father as well as distress for the same reason. There was the angst of going to yet another new school and making new friends that would surely be left behind in the next family emergency move. I was happy to be near my beloved Grandparents but I was not overjoyed at being a permanent resident in their town, Beaumont, as I had never lived there more than a few weeks at a time.
The gap between the hearing the news and being driven to the airport by my father was very short and there was no time to process any feelings on the matter. We were dropped off and I remember my father looked sad but not overly worried. We arrived some hours later and were quickly settled into the duplex portion of my Grandma's house. It was a one bedroom, so my sisters and I slept around the living room.
We were checked into school and I found out that I was to have the same history teacher that my mother had had when she was a little girl, nineteen years earlier. I knew a few neighborhood children from seeing them during summer vacations on visits from Louisiana. There was much rejoicing at first but also a terrible tension running through everything.
I was given a stern lecture by my mother prior to starting the first day at the new school. I was under no circumstances to get in the car with my father if I chanced to see him in this neck of the woods. I was to escort my baby sister and make sure she knew also to avoid her father. I was told that he had threatened to kidnap and kill us children. My mother was convinced that he meant it. We were not to speak to him, follow him, talk on the phone with him, write to him or go near him.
The only bright spot was that he had two and a half thousand miles to cover first. I was struck by the lack of input from my Grandmother or my Grandfather, who was at home between voyages. It was as if they didn't know all this new information I had received. I recently found out that they in fact didn't know. My father's behavior up to that point in my life of twelve years was such that I was worried for my life on one level, while a wiser part of me suspected bullshit.
A high state of tension ensued. Like all children I internalized it and like some children with particular “training” I blamed myself for this. Several years before on the occasion of my first friend's sleepover in Baton Rouge, my parents had engaged in a loud embarrassing argument. I assured my friend that this was not the usual case. A few days after the fight, I was woken up and asked what I thought about my parents getting divorced. I was maybe nine or ten and I remember asking them what the word meant.
When I was told, I freaked out and cried at the thought of such an arrangement. In the back of my mind was the picture of the girls going with their mother and me going with my Dad to a life of spit-polishing twenty pairs of alligator shoes between beatings. I had never felt safe in my family since I was in diapers and the thought of having no witnesses even of the silent variety was overwhelming.
I really put on a show and although I cannot say it was my performance that kept the split from happening, I always imagined it had a lot to do with it. Thus I bore yet another misplaced guilt on my young shoulders as being responsible in part for the present situation in Texas. Most of the events like this in my life occurred at holiday times perhaps because it is easier to switch schools at that time of year. I saw no joy in the trappings of holidays from a very young age.
My Grandparent's house was in an old neighborhood and over the years, the borders that naturally set up between races and ethnic groups had shifted closer to their street. One had to be on one's guard for psychotic fathers and prejudiced individuals of other races when going about on foot. Every walk to and from school became like the final dash to the woods from the tunnel opening under the barbed wire in a military prison.
I remember a rich man, younger than my father, taking my mother, sisters and I around town. We went to a golf course and other fancy places. He asked me how I would like to live in that world as his son. I couldn't find any words. I became somewhat withdrawn. One day I couldn't find my favorite socks in a chest of drawers. I slammed the drawer shut and demanded to know who had stolen them. I discovered that it felt good to slam the drawer.
I slammed it again and it still felt good. I slammed it again and again in a primitive rhythm and with increasing force. My mother came to investigate the commotion. She told me that she would rather see me dead than see me behave as or turn out like my father, whom my fit reminded her of. I stopped cold and took that statement inside to build brand new future illnesses with.
One adrenaline day very near to my little sister's birthday, I came up the white cockle-shell driveway and nearly buckled at the knees. My father's car sat in the drive like a gunslinger's horse tied outside a saloon full of good people. It had only taken a matter of days. He was in bed sick with the flu and my mother was taking care of him. It was a Kafkaesque arrangement.
The next day or so I was playing football with the boys who lived across my Grandma's back fence. My neighbor's big brother tackled me and I went down hard in a sitting position. My back froze solid and I wouldn't let anyone touch me to help me up. I walked bent over to the chain-link fence, crawled up it like a crab and dropped to the garden below. I staggered like Quasimodo into the house. My Dad took me to the Doctor, who pronounced me perfectly fit. Just a pinched nerve.
A few days later we had a little birthday party for my sister and within a week or two we had rented a vacant house two doors down. There were no tears, testimonials, healing nor explanations. It was business as usual. A good old-fashioned family Christmas was had by all just before we moved to an apartment across town. I had to give away my rabbit, which I found out several years later had won first place in the local agricultural fair.
Many fathers and sons could fill volumes with the activities they shared. I can say with truth that I could narrate all my activities with my father in one article. Yet many others could probably chronicle such togetherness in a paragraph. The first vignette I may offer is going to a pool hall in Louisiana somewhere to shoot my first game of eight-ball. I was not quite tall enough to line up a proper shot and I remember being quite impressed with my father's patience at my sloppy play. I learned to like Cajun music.
After this I remember being suddenly summoned on a frosty morning one Christmas in Baton Rouge to accompany my father for a ride in the car. It was usual for the family to go on a Sunday drive but to be the only one to go was unusual and thus it stands in my memory. I had been happily putting together a balsa wood model of a Japanese Zero and I remember being annoyed at having to leave my work.
I wasn't told where we were going nor why. This was usual, so I just waited to see. We drove for twenty minutes or so whereupon we crossed a railroad track and parked down a slope that ran into a dry swamp. My father said we'd go for a walk. We walked about a hundred yards and he pulled out a pistol from his underarm holster. It was a WWII German officer's pistol.
He cocked the gun and said he was going to let me fire it. I remember being not too interested nor happy about it. It was a sort of activity though and I decided to see what is was like. As he was showing me how to hold it, a man came over the railroad tracks from the same direction we had come and was wearing a belt holster with a large pistol.
He looked like an off duty cop and he nodded at my father and me. We had no target and I remember asking my Dad what I was supposed to shoot at. He said anything you want. All I saw that seemed appropriate was an empty Styrofoam cup laying frozen in a puddle. I aimed and pulled the trigger. The concussion rang in my ears and a tiny hole appeared in the cup which didn't move beyond a slight trembling. I was somehow disappointed at the lack of excitement that this exercise produced.
More on my mind was the fact that my hearing seemed to be permanently damaged.. My ears rang like church bells and I had to shout to hear myself speak. I fired about three more rounds into the dirt so as to satisfy whatever my father's reasons were for the outing and was relieved when just as quickly as we had come, he said we could go.
I waited about three days to get the ringing out of my ears and decided that I didn't like guns due to the noise they made. I remember one other father and son outing in Louisiana. I was told to get in the car and accompany my father one Saturday. I was about 11 or 12 at this time. I wasn't told why or where we were going. When we got out of the driveway, my father lit a joint, rolled the windows up and took a few puffs. Soon the car filled with a dense cannabis cloud. I knew what it was and used my YMCA Minnow Swim training to hold my breath for as long as possible between tiny gulps of air.
I managed to keep from getting stoned before we arrived at our destination. It was an apartment building I had never seen. We got out of the car and went into an apartment. It was nicely if not plushly furnished and had shag carpets. There was some old men sitting on a couch and my Dad nodded at them and directed me to the kitchen. He went into the living room and I lost sight of him.
There was a Formica bar like we had in our house and I sat on a bar-stool. There was a young woman clad in turquoise panties and bra making tacos. She had a friendly voice and offered to make me a taco. I told her I wasn't hungry. She asked me if I wanted a Coke. I didn't trust anything so I asked for a glass of water which I watched her fill from the tap. One of the old men called me over to the living room. He showed me a Polaroid picture of himself on that same couch, naked and with a fat blonde woman performing oral sex on him. He and the other old man on the couch snorted and laughed and told me that the picture was taken just the day before.
The front door opened and a young, red-faced man came in. He seemed very tense and upset. He wore the same shoulder holster that my Dad wore and unbuckled it and laid it on a side table. The lady in the kitchen gave him some tacos which he devoured and then made a comment about having the master suite this particular day. My father had disappeared up the stairs without a word while I had been called over to the couch to see the picture. I went back to the bar-stool and talked to the young lady about what I was learning in school. After a while my Dad came downstairs and we left for home.
After that I recall no further outing with my Dad until I was about thirteen or fourteen. We were in Houston, Texas and I began to hear talk of my father going on a holiday to Mexico. Over the course of a week I heard it mentioned at the dinner table that I might get to accompany him. I never asked to nor lobbied him for this privilege.
I was teased about going there a virgin and coming back a man. I found this very distressing yet I could not honestly say I would not dearly love to see a foreign country firsthand. As the date of his departure drew nearer, the table talk turned to worries by my father that I would “cramp his style.” I assured him I wouldn't and made it known I would like to go if he would have me.
Finally it was set that we two would go. I was elated and apprehensive. We were going in his Delta 88 and it was a smooth ride. He lit a joint and smoked it as we got on the freeway. He turned on the radio. It happened to be a talk radio show. The topic happened to be physical child abuse. There was a guest speaker and he gad written a book. Everything he said made sense and was irrefutable. This crashed my Dad's high and before punching up some Led Zeppelin driving music on the eight-track, he told me he wasn't proud of the “way he had treated me.”
I knew deep inside that there was a reason that that particular show had come on at that particular time and I told my Father that it was OK. As we passed through Goliad, Bexar and the other towns on the way to the border I told my the history of each place from the perspective of Texas history as I had been learning it in school. We stopped to eat only after getting across the border. I was greatly embarrassed after my father began making idiotic gestures to the young Mexican waitress and licking his lips like a bear after raiding a honeycomb.
Just over the border we passed a abandoned railroad siding in the chaparral that had a half dozen boxcars on it. They had been converted to living quarters. There was a goat tied to one of the ladders and children playing around a patch of pintos. A woman in a colorful moo-moo stood by the door of one boxcar and hung some clothes on her clothes line. I took my first picture of this scene. I remember envying these people and their happy family units away from the wicked city.
We journeyed on into Monterrey. We drove past the bullring and the Cuatemac Brewery and came to light in the underground parking lot of a large hotel. We got a room on the second floor. It was large and by my standards at the time pretty fancy. We hadn't much luggage and as my Dad smoked a joint and looked out the window, he began to ask me if I would like to have him bring some girls to our room.
I told him that I didn't want that. He said that maybe I misunderstood him and erroneously thought that he meant old ladies. He assured me that with only a few minutes conversation with the desk-clerk or a taxi driver he could get some young girls, even ones my age. I told him I wasn't interested, this time with increasing conviction in my voice. He softened his own tone and told me that it was normal that I was nervous but I needn't worry as he could show me how to do everything.
I told him I didn't need to be shown what to do. I knew what to do. I had had access to his Playboy subscription for six years already. I had also been given the 1960's version of sex education in school. There was also the picture my mother had drawn for me when my father had refused to tell me the “facts of life” some years earlier. It was a real Picasso and I remember being troubled by only one aspect of the whole affair. I understood completely what it was I was to do but it was beyond my understanding how any female would consent to allow such a thing to be done.
He tried a few more tacks and I finally told him that I was not interested and that furthermore I was waiting until I got married to enjoy this part of life. He snorted and laughed til I thought he was going to choke. He looked at his watch and I could sense his analytical mind going at full speed. He shaved and showered and when he was dressed we went downstairs to the restaurant.
I had my first set of Huevos Rancheros and have been a fan ever since. We had fresh pineapple juice, gourmet coffee and hand-made tortillas. As we ate, my Father wrote something on a napkin. It was the address of the hotel and our room number. Below that was the the words “Restaurant 7PM.”
He told me that it was clear that we were not compatible on this holiday, so our routine was to be thus: We would breakfast together at the Restaurant and then we would go our separate ways until 7PM. At such time I was to meet him back at the Restaurant for dinner and then we would go to our room to sleep. I was scared and relieved at the same time.
I had some money from my busboy job and could hold my own in Spanish in the present tense. On my first foray into the city I walked for miles and miles. I saw many things familiar and many things strange. I wandered into a big produce market. I went up and down the stalls gawking at all the exotic fruits and vegetables. At one table there was a man with a big mustache. He reached into a basket of tiny green things and seemed to pop some into his mouth and chew. He rolled his eyes and rubbed his stomach. He offered me some. I took two and crushed them between my teeth.
My nose ran snot, my eyes dropped fat tears and my stomach heaved as the heat of the bird's eye peppers worked its way through my system. The man was on the floor rolling with laughter and slapping the leg of his greasy trousers. I stood still trying to focus my eyes. Two old ladies about my grandmother's age gave me a jar of gray water which I downed in spite of the wigglers swimming in it.
I staggered out of the market to the roars of laughter. In an hour or so I was going along a street and saw an interesting Spanish carved wooden door in an adobe wall. I pushed it open and discovered a whole new world inside. It was a huge courtyard with a fountain and covered porches running the full length of a city block around a square. There were darkened doorways every ten feet or so. The dwellings inside had no electric light and it was getting dark.
I saw a few children standing languidly against some of the the doorposts. Somehow I became disoriented and couldn't find the door to the street outside. I made several circuits being watched by many eyes seen and unseen. It was twilight now and I started to get panicky. I remember deciding to drop my pride and ask for directions to the street. I wanted to ask an adult so I walked along to a doorway where I saw the silhouette of a woman sitting on a cot. I walked right into her house and told her I was lost in Spanish. She turned around in the dim light of a Hurricane lantern to face me. I recoiled in horror. Where her right eye should have been was a huge black tumor the size of an apple hanging unceremoniously on her cheek. It wobbled as she gave me directions to Zaragoza Street.
Thus ended my first day in Mexico and I made it to the Restaurant only thirty minutes late. I was given a lecture about the importance of being on time and we had dinner. We had shrimp so large that a person could not hold more than six. I had bought a Time Magazine in Spanish and it was the same issue my Father had in English back at the room. I read the article in these magazines that night before bed and discovered that they said different things for different audiences. It was my first lesson in how journalism is used to manipulate the masses.
The next day after breakfast, I went walking again. It was a lovely day. My father had told me he had found some willing young girls and asked if I had changed my mind. I told him I hadn't. I found a little cafe not far from the hotel and went to get a coffee. I asked the lady if I could take the mug outside to sit on the curb if I promised to bring it back. She said yes. I went and sat on the curb watching a traffic cop do his white glove ballet in a busy intersection.
Not far away against a wall was a very skinny man. He looked old but really wasn't. He was just worn out. He motioned me over and asked if I would buy him a coffee. I said yes and went back to the cafe for another mug. The waitress watched me give the cup to the man and smiled at me through the window. I got to know Flaco.
His real name was Fulgencio and he used to be a produce truck driver into Texas. We became friends. He was friends with the traffic cop and he told me we would both be safe on that corner because of his friend. It became my regular routine to spend most of the day sipping coffee with Flaco and learning many things. The waitress got to know me and always had the coffee ready when she saw me coming down the street. I took mine black and Flaco always dropped two Benzedrine tablets into his before drinking it.
One day I returned to the produce market and purchased a few peppers from the man with the mustache. That night I tried to fool my Dad and he wouldn't fall for it. I read Mexican comic books and newspapers till bedtime. I wanted to do something to impress my Dad and finally came up with a plan. I would buy some weed for him without getting busted.
It took me only a few hours to find a dealer and set up the meet. The local boys sold homegrown wrapped in newspaper comics and called these rolls, cartones. The stems and seeds were all there but the amount was many times more than you would get in Texas. I bought three after negotiating down to three dollars each. The two teenagers who sold it to me were going to set me up to be busted at the hotel or the airport and collect a reward from the Federales in addition to the money I had paid.
Flaco had filled me in prior so I told the the two batos that I was from Canada and my father and I were staying at a different hotel. I further told them that we were to be at the airport the following morning at 730 AM. I even told them the fake flight number when they asked. The exchange was conducted in a playground near to where the two lived. I felt safer there and the adults who watched were happy for the local boys to make a little money for their families. They didn't burn me mostly because of the prospect of getting a further reward after leading the cops to the hotel room or airport and collecting their reward. Why spook the quarry?
That night I gave my Dad the yerba and he rolled one up and smoked it in the room. He asked me how I'd done it and I told him the details. He pronounced it “good shit” and patted me on the head for being clever. Next day I was pleasantly surprised to learn that as a reward for the gift, I was going to be treated to a day of doing whatever I wanted. I couldn't believe my luck. First up, I had been poring over maps and I wanted to go to the next town. It was called Saltillo and it had figured in early Texas history. I asked if we could drive there and look around.
My Dad said we could and true to his word off we drove. We arrived in short order and we parked the land yacht on a dirt street. We got out to walk. There were no other cars in sight in either direction. Two or three men came out of a cantina and looked at us hard. They looked like banditos from an old cowboy movie. My Dad grabbed my shouldered and ushered me back to the car, locked the doors and took off. I learned that my Dad wasn't so tough when out of his element.
Since this foray had been aborted, we went back to Monterrey and I was asked what else I might like to do. I answered straightaway that I would like to see the daily bullfight and I already knew the address of the ring and the admission price and the time of the contest. My father gave me a lecture on cruelty to animals and that he was very much opposed to this practice but he had given his word and we went. I also felt sorry for the bull but it was incredible to see the ancient dance of brains against brawn done in Iberian style by mestizo matadors.
After this we walked up the only mountain I could find until the town petered out and we were among adobe huts, goats and prickly-pear cactus. Some barefoot boys were kicking a soccer ball in the gathering gloom of evening and one of them kicked the ball to my Dad. He kicked it to me and I kicked it to the boys again. I'll never forget the feeling of this split-second of healthy playing with my Dad.
We wandered downhill to the hotel and had a big supper. My Dad had a hot bath and I had an ice cold bath. I told him it was healthier and he told me I was crazy. The next day we checked out. We went to a store and my Dad bought enough cartons of Delicado cigarillos to fill the trunk of the Delta 88. When we got to the border and the Mexican Border Patrol asked if my father had anything to declare he replied in the negative. The man asked him to please pop the trunk. I tensed up in my seat. My Father took out some banknotes he had ready in his shirt pocket and held his hand with his Masonic ring showing on the window ledge. The guard took the wad and politely waved us through.
The Great Spirit knows what we need before we do. All that is required is patience to see the Hand at work. This story is but one small example out of many. Adolescence is a difficult time for people. My own view is that it is the same the world over and through all time. Older cultures have rituals in place to aid and mark the passage of the young person into adulthood. The modern world has garbled this up beyond all recognition. Children are now expected to be adults before their time and adults are encouraged to remain childlike forever. This story starts in Texas and winds up on a mountaintop in British Columbia. I found one of my many teachers when I was working as a letter carrier.
When I was going through my passage into the realm of adulthood, I was living in Texas. My country was at war. Most of the boys in my Oak Forest neighborhood were on average six years older than me and I watched them get drafted to serve in Vietnam. Many of the guys who made it alive through their “tour of duty” came home with heroin addictions. Certain boys from certain families didn't have to go. The same methods of brainwashing the public in a country which is being used as cannon fodder were employed in the Sixties as they were in the Boer War and all the others.
For my part, I did not believe in killing people who were not threatening my life directly or that of a loved one or friend. I knew the propaganda was just that. During the “Cold War” the flow of “secret information” from the West to the enemy in the East was proceeding unabated and was aided and abetted at every turn. The whole affair was stage managed by bankers and other Internationalists for the furtherance of very old agendas of control.
The left wing and the right wing flap away but it is the head of the bird that they are joined to which should be watched. The public where I lived was kept in constant tension and fear of the Communist threat. From this fear, taxes were levied in unprecedented amounts to fund research and development of new bombs and planes to counter those of the enemy. In reality, which I saw first hand when I came to Canada was that the enemy couldn't feed itself and thus was sold our Alberta and Saskatchewan wheat at attractive prices.
The horrific weapons they possessed were handed to them one micro-fiche at a time. There were men who regularly visited the Iron Curtain and even kept apartments there when it was forbidden to travel to these countries for anyone else. It just wasn't publicized and their academic and business credentials made them untouchable at any rate.
Much the same tactics were used when it was decided to put into practice a next step in the old agenda. That of building up China to be the world's manufacturer. On the outside it appears they have lifted themselves out of the dark ages when in fact they have been given purposeful advantages of every kind to ensure their success. For a time. Their people will see when it is too late that they have been played like a fish by little men in bow ties.
Back in Texas, I being an adolescent philosopher began to ponder on war in earnest. My graduation from high school was looming closer and I had no plans for attending university, so if the war was still on in three years time, I would be in Country. I tried to come up with a solution that I could live with.
The solution of going to jail was not for me. No one should volunteer to go into a cage. I wasn't a member of a recognized “conscientious objector” religion though I was a Christian to put it in general terms. I knew that deep inside, none of the guys wanted to go who had already gone. It was surreal to watch them being patted on the back by their parents at going away parties and told the usual tripe about being a man and making their fathers proud who had served in WWII and Korea.
My own mother was a Dalton Trumbo fan and had arguments with the other ladies about the dubious honor of serving in the current war. This was a very unpopular view to take. I cheered her but this going against the mainstream didn't fix my problem either. I also suspected that Johnny Got His Gun was a propaganda piece designed to help usher in a perfect utopian socialists control grid. A world where nice men looked after people from conception in a test-tube to recycling at death.
Most parents were quite happy for their sons to go kill in a jungle 15,000 miles away from their backyard. Just like the parents today who are happy for their boys to kick in doors in the Middle-East and blow away the inhabitants. This in itself was unsettling to me at fourteen years old. I took up smoking near this time as I pondered these things. I
wondered how many soldiers would be willing to fight and die protecting their actual homes and families from an actual invasion. I wondered if the Commandment about “Tho Shalt Not Kill” had been altered from a possible original “Thou Shalt Not Murder.” Obviously, there were situations in which a person may be given no other option than to kill another in order to preserve their own life or that of their spouse or other loved one. God couldn't have overlooked this.
I wound up being moved to Canada before I would have been drafted. While this was not the reason my family moved, it was a relief of sorts. I felt a bond with all the poor guys from my streets who had to go. I felt a bond with those who did not return and those who returned as cash machines for pushers.
In some piece of boy still stubbornly hanging on inside myself, I felt a misplaced guilt that I had been spared. I carried this pretty far beneath the surface at a place where I didn't let myself think about too much. Yet it was there like a wrinkle on my Texas soul. It was illogical, destructive and had more than a little Cherokee behind it.
Many moons later I had been working as a letter carrier and raising a family. I was paying lawyers and I was paying landlords and I was paying child support. I saw a new guy at my postal station who people said was a real mountain climber. I had always wanted to do that. One day the fellow stopped me on my route and hailed me over to his beat-up faded red Toyota. He asked me if he could give it to me as he had heard I was without wheels. At this point we hadn't been formerly introduced. I thanked him and declined his offer on the grounds that I couldn't even afford the brake job that was imminent for that car.
That is how I met Al. He had been climbing mountains since he was about seventeen he told me. At work we began to chat when we had time. I wanted to ask him if he would teach me to climb mountains. One day I brought some photos of some places I had “hiked” to and asked the maestro if he would take me along on a “real” climb and he asked me who had taken a particular picture that I had handed him. I told him I had taken it.
“Mike, you idiot, that is Mt. Matier Glacier. A “real” mountain. So is this other picture. I know all these mountains. You have already climbed some mountains.”
I was flabbergasted. The pictures I had shown him were from places where I had stopped my car without any previous planning or equipment and went for a little walk uphill to relieve some stress and sniff around the woods. I counted none of it as official mountain climbing.
After many weeks and months with nothing more said I received an invitation to accompany my new friend and his wife and one of their close friends to climb the Black Tusk. It is the core of an extinct volcano whose softer rock has worn away over the years and left a column of black friable stone thrusting 7700 feet skywards. I was elated. A “real” mountain at last and in the company of a real mountain climber.
The golden morning came and I met Al and his wife at their townhouse. We drove the hour or so to the base of the hill in Garibaldi Park and met the other friend, a farmer from the valley. It was a magical day. One of the things that happens when people climb mountains is that all the crap in a persons system, be it physical, mental or otherwise is cast into the furnace to provide energy to continue. As we ascended, all the toxins in my body and blood worked their way out in sweat. The mental toxins came next and though subtle, they popped up in all of us present.
Al had some Daddy issues as I had and though we didn't chatter, we did talk in spurts as this was the first time we ever did something together and outside of the work floor we hardly knew each other. One of the emotional burps that I belched up at about 6000 feet was quite a surprise to me. I realized that I felt guilty for not having gone to serve in Vietnam as many of the boys in my Houston and Baton Rouge neighborhoods had.
We talked about it as we huffed up the grade. Al had something similar that he had made peace with and before we got to the part where we were stepping in fine volcanic dust and slipping backwards two feet for every foot of gain, I let this guilt come to the surface in my conscious thoughts where it had to fend for itself against rationality instead of festering like a bag of shrimp shells in a garbage can.
At the near top was the exposed column. It was very cold up there and the crack we had to negotiate was notorious for falling rock. I got the honor of going second. I only remember that I reckoned that any one can do anything with proper training and equipment, attitude and desire. Although I am terrified of man-made heights, I have no fear of God-made heights. I scampered up like a squirrel. The others joined me and I got to go down first after our brief rest on top in the howling ice on top.
I was a few hundred feet down the crack and had veered way off onto what I would call the apron of the mountain. If I could have seen where I was in the mist, I would have frozen in panic. Al saw what I had done and in the most casual of tones suggested that I traverse a wee bit to the left. I happily and immediately complied as I was being watched by three real mountain climbers and didn't want to look like a fool.
When the party was a hundred feet below where I had been when corrected, Al stopped and showed me what he had meant. It was a horribly exposed bulge that would have dropped me a couple of thousand feet if I'd gone a few yards further. I made several mental notes. We went to a pub in Squamish after the climb and as we watched some local loggers playing pool, Al asked if I didn't feel superior to those mouth-breathers and suggested that I go start a fight with one as he probably deserved it anyway.
I didn't know if it was a test of my character or a prescription for my own well-being from one who knew some of my trials first-hand. I used to live in Squamish and was on home turf in a way. I could see no reason to lay a finger on someone who hadn't wronged me in any way and I said so to my group. They quaffed their beers and we left in good spirits.
Al told me later that of all his work friends, his wife had liked my company best. I was very honored to accompany Al several more times. After several more trips with my teacher, I struck out alone and climbed all the mountains in the Lynn Watershed in North Vancouver. I took my own sons and my wife when she was still frisky enough to do it. I have taken sisters and nephews as well. One local mountain here is Grouse Mountain. It is a ski mountain and has a tram from the base to the chalet at the top where one may take ski-lifts to the actual peaks.
It is around 3000 feet tall and over the years it became a popular training exercise to hike up underneath the tram, getting a great workout at the same time as saving cash on the ticket. In the old days, anyone who did this “Grouse Grind” was given a free ride down. I used to do this on my way to climb some of the peaks in the watershed beyond such as Goat Mountain, Little Goat Mountain and Crown Mountain.
One day I was just topping the last few yards onto the shelf of land that houses the chalet and it was the height of tourist season. I wormed my way through the crowd to line up my ascent of Grouse off to the side of the lift and then head off north-west to climb Crown. It was an easy go from the chalet to Grouse Peak and once there I usually stopped to sip from my thermos and get attuned for the coming climb.
A big man and his little wife walked up to me holding hands. They had just gotten off the lift and were getting ready to take pictures of the peak. I was pulling on my first layer as I had come up the Grind shirtless so as not to ruin my clothes with sweat. The man was about mid-fifties and as soon as he spoke I knew he was from either Texas or Oklahoma. He was weathered, neatly shaved and if you'd have hit him with a mop handle it would have snapped in two.
“Son, I been watching you and I want to know how you got up here.”
“I climbed up, Sir. From the bottom of the tram. Now I'm heading for that mountain over there.”
I pointed out Crown Mountain and the camel-shaped rock next to it
“Son,” he said looking me straight in the eye and talking very slow and purposeful, “ I am a Drill Instructor for the US Marines and I want to tell you that you would have made a damn good Marine.”
I thanked him for the kind words and we shook hands. His wife snapped a photo and I was off. That piece of misplaced guilt that had been buried in my psyche, then unearthed on my first climb with Al to become a little Devil on my shoulder had just had its ass thoroughly kicked by a Southern Drill Sergeant. It couldn't have happened in a more perfect place, the message couldn't have been delivered by a more perfect messenger and I have never been nagged by that silliness since that day.
Guys who climb together don't always nor do they usually socialize together. They may not even keep in touch between climbs yet they trust their lives to each other in the bush. My teacher Al had a daughter and moved to a different station. I never saw him again and heard through the grapevine that his wife had passed away. As far as I know he is still active in search and rescue. I know he has seen the Hand at work in his own life. I know that he does what he must. I know that the sight of his head-light coming through the mist has been a blessed life changing event for some poor souls lost in the rocks and trees. Al, I know that you would have made a damn good Marine. God bless you brother and teacher. There is a mountain in my heart and you and your daughter are sitting on top of it smiling.
We all have terrible things happen to us as we pass through our short lives. Many of mine were experienced when I was very young and were at the hands of my father. During these trials, especially for children, it is impossible to see any logic or cosmic sense in what is taking place. We cannot imagine why it is happening to us and what we could have done to deserve it. This conundrum leads many down the well-worn but man-made path of a karmic explanation of things by the time they are young adults and begin sifting through such material. I looked there and found out the following.
It is known that outsiders came to India and invaded the Dravidian peoples there. These people spent some time watching and taking notes of the indigenous population before carefully crafting what has come down to us as the Hindu Religion. The purpose? Control. Tailor-made for this particular population's temperament while serving the needs of the new overlords. The caste system and a belief in karmic debt being key parts of the control mechanism. A man who believes from birth that he is less than another man will not cause any trouble. A man who believes from birth that he will be re-incarnated will not try to save his own life. A man who believes from birth the concept of karmic debt will not bat an eyelash when someone dear to him is killed for no reason for he believes they had it coming. No matter how low a person is, there is someone lower they can mistreat and this is the sadomasochistic dynamic that was well known before the Pyramids were built.
There have always been a certain percentage of humans who prey on their own species and there always will be. Before law and order (when common sense ruled) most of these met a quick violent end and a kind of balance was maintained. Thus it may be successfully argued that with time, patience and know-how, victims can be raised like so many sheep. Indeed it is a rare human that will attack a healthy member of the same species. Far better to choose a sick, weak, elderly or young victim.
The techniques recorded by Pavlov were very well known in certain circles before that sadistic fake “scientist” was put up to trying to dignify something reprehensible by publishing his “findings.” No, people are not dogs but normal healthy mammals do share many traits across the species boundaries. The people who busy themselves at this sort of study are anything but altruistic. We also know from the work of Lobaczewski that the people we call psychopaths can detect people out of a crowd who have previously been victims of violent crimes.
There is a physical level and a spiritual level in understanding these topics. In my estimation and way of explaining things with the hindsight afforded me, I have to conclude that people who prey on other people, especially on children have become something other than human. They are mere vehicles of something ancient and elemental that preexists their dark deeds. Like a slumlord who rents to anyone with money in hand, they have given over occupancy of their hearts, minds and bodies to principalities which may be understood by some as concentrated, magnified destructive energies. These energies act like powerful drugs on the person possessed of them. Instant gratification that always falls short of satisfaction and leads to a stronger need for instant gratification. A type of Mobius strip. This arrangement appears to benefit the person who has laid their humanity aside for a time. Many of the worst characters maintain a youthful unblemished seemingly healthy physical husk. Like The Picture of Dorian Grey, as soon as they fall short of a fix, the unutterable ugliness inside will manifest.
Before I began elementary school and before I began kindergarten I was trained by my father to take a physical beating without crying out. Other than the sound of the leather on my flesh, the only other sounds made during these sessions were his labored breathing and a strange kind of snorting that I would recognize again years later in a different place. I was told to undress and wait in my room before each session and to contemplate the “reason” for my “punishment”. I would be asked to indict and to incriminate myself for a non-existent crime before the beating would commence. I was learning shame, guilt and fear all in one step. During the hours awaiting the familiar footsteps, I learned to be very creative at fabricating misdemeanors to furnish up. Each time I would then be told that the process was going to hurt him much more than me. I was sometimes brought hot chocolate chip cookies afterward by my sister. I had a plaster picture of a cow jumping over the moon over a dish running away with a spoon and another with two hands praying. In my child way, I prayed.
I was being trained to be a victim but I knew it not at the time. It was working though. I remember going for a walk once in the back of our lot when we lived for a time in the country and two older boys ran up, grabbed my arms and legs and tossed me into a canal. I was already mentally making excuses for them as I climbed out of the mud.
I was walking out by White Bayou one morning in Houston and came upon the charred remains of a cat that had been tied with newspaper string to five stakes and burned alive inside a pentagram of chalk. Now I was about five years old and I was disgusted at the sight and horrified by the idea of the suffering endured by the poor critter. I was nauseated at the thought that one of my species had done this to an innocent creature. I asked around for who had done it. I was told by other children who it was. It was a boy about ten years old in our neighborhood. I asked where his house was because I wanted to see what a person looked like who could be that evil. When I got to his yard, there hanging from a tree were frogs, lizards, snakes and other small creatures all impaled with corn-cob holders. I didn't see the boy that day but I did later. He looked pudgy and soft. His complexion was pale and he talked real loud. You could feel something cold around him like you had stepped into a shadow.
When I was about eight, my father took me one day to the Mississippi River levee. We were then living in Baton Rouge. He parked on the one lane dirt top with the river on my side and the sharecropper shacks on the other side down the slope. He told me very clearly not to leave the car for any reason. He walked away. After awhile, I heard some voices. Then a clod of dried clay hit the window. A group of black children of various ages from teens down to my own age appeared. They surrounded the car and demanded I get out. More from fear of retribution of disobeying my father than from fear of the kids, I locked the doors and sat like a stone lion. They pelted the car and slapped the windows and door panels while giving me the verbal “dozens.” I learned to hold my mud.
“You so ugly, yo momma hafta feed you wit a sling-shot.”
“You so ugly, they hafta tie a poke-chop roun' yo neck, jus ta get the dawg ta play wit ya.”
It seemed a long time before I heard the crunching footsteps of my father's alligator shoes. The same heel-taps I had learned to associate with a beating from age three or so now were the sound made by my rescuer. As if on cue, the kids ran away as he approached. I wonder how much he paid them for this exercise in cognitive dissonance. Another Pavlovian technique. I didn't know it but I was learning to be loyal to my tormentor.
From five to twelve, there were frequent events staged by my father involving animals. We always had big dogs of one kind or another and my father would catch a stray cat for example and throw it in the living room to fight for its life against two Chow-Chows. He would snort and giggle while us children screamed at the blood spectacle. After a dog got a ripped nose or a cat got a fang hole in its leg he would relent and stop the proceedings. Once he set a giant Texas snapping turtle loose in the living room. We kids had to stay on chairs to avoid getting a finger or toe snapped off by the annoyed animal.
As I grew, the punishments and humiliations varied but the important groundwork had been laid. I was as loyal to my tormentor as a wolf. Yet I wondered constantly, Why me? I invented back stories for my father and attempted to justify his treatment of me by imagining unknown villains who must have treated him worse. There possibly was some truth in this but as I matured spiritually, I came to know that although we might not choose what happens to us, we do choose everything that we do. We bear responsibility for our own actions, not those of others.
When I was in Grade nine and in my last year in Texas, we lived in two Houston neighborhoods known as Spring Branch and Oak Forest, both near The Heights where I was born. In Spring Branch my family lived in a large apartment complex which had three hundred units, three pools, three launderettes and an on-site cocktail bar. I worked in a Mexican Restaurant.
When we left the apartment complex we moved a short distance away to Oak Forest, where we lived in a rented house. I changed jobs to become a bag-boy at a local grocery store. We had not been long in that house before the incident that follows. It was 1971-2.
I was walking to work one hot sunny day when a big car pulled alongside on the boulevard and the window rolled down. A man in his thirties smiled and made a comment about the heat of the day and asked if I would like an air-conditioned ride. I said yes and got in the front seat. I remember thinking that it was about time someone did something nice for someone.
The man asked where I was going and said no more after I answered. I was fourteen and had a head full of my own problems and dreams so I didn't mind the silence. When we got to the turn for my workplace, the man did several things at once. He retracted all the door locks, changed lanes, gunned the motor and started the labored breathing and inhuman snorting I recognized from so long ago. A few seconds later we were on the Loop. A few moments later we were far from any streets I even recognized.
More than twenty boys my age had disappeared from my area of Houston over the past several years. No bodies had been discovered and the head count was rising all the time. I instantly knew deep within that I was potentially living the last hours of my life. There was no time to scold myself for being so self-absorbed as to take the ride and to ignore the daily headlines. A calmness came over me that I could not account for. I found myself mouthing carefully crafted words with no hesitation and using a very particular exact tone, inflection, punctuation and gestures. It was me but I couldn't have choreographed it if given a week to prepare. I knew in my deepest recesses that I was not alone without help. The ex-human beside me was already dead and I was having a parley with something Other. In those conversations, there are very strict rules and the Adversary gains only such advantage as you give up.
I mentioned as a matter of fact that we had missed our turn. He let out an ugly laugh and began to masturbate violently. I said that I would be fired if I was late and that I would get my ass kicked if my father found out I had gotten fired. I spoke as if I hadn't noticed any aberrant behavior at all. The only hint of concern in my voice was reserved for my being late or being fired.
The wretched creature asked if I liked parties. It's voice was mechanical sounding as if something was only borrowing the former human's vocal chords to make ugly hissing and grunting sounds. As indeed, I believe was the case. I answered in the affirmative and added that if I lost my job I wouldn't be going to any party. The more I kept a calm voice, the less power I detected in the snorts, sneers and other drivel coming out of the soulless husk driving the vehicle.
I was asked if I liked wine. I was asked if I liked marijuana. I answered affirmatively, with some enthusiasm, a hint of surprise and a faint gilding of gratitude in my voice, bespeaking my supposed surprise that an adult would be willing to furnish a mere boy with those exotic things. In fact, I had had the job of cleaning the seeds and stems out of my father's supply of that herb. It was nothing alien nor exciting to me and though I didn't drink, I had been taught by my Grandfather to make wine. I had five gallons of red in the garage at the house. I had given bottles to my co-workers and to a fellow who was delivering advertisements to my building. It was that delivery dude who taught me to play Blues harmonica one summer day.
I then began to question the Beast. I asked if he would really get me some wine and pot or if he was just bluffing. He became quiet and almost calm. He finished his business and put both hands on the wheel and took the bait. I was asked if I had any friends who liked to party. I answered in the affirmative and added with a note of frustration in my voice that it didn't matter anyway because I was going to be so late, I was going to get fired and then be grounded. I was asked how many friends I could get to come to a party. I said, “Two” and this set the hook. I was asked what time I got off work. I told him seven PM, which was two hours later than I actually did.
He suddenly pulled onto an exit ramp and parked at a Seven Eleven. He went inside without a word and I sat like a stone lion. I held my mud. He came out with a big Lime Slurpee and seemed different. Like an overgrown infant who was dreaming of his next feeding seconds after having his last. He started the car and drove me straight to the supermarket with a promise to be waiting at seven for me and my two friends. I acted relieved for not loosing my job and still having a chance to party. He pulled away smiling and waving. I said not to forget enough wine and enough pot for three guys.
Inside I apologized to my supervisor for being slightly late and then I told three of my co-workers who were several years older than myself what had just gone down. They gave me a switch-blade which I carried from that night until I left Houston. They had seen the car pull away and I was told that when they got a hold of the creep, he would need a new car when and if he was ever released from hospital.
I never saw the ghoul again in person and I never told anyone else about the encounter. Very shortly after that incident, my family moved to Canada for a second time. I hadn't been long in the North when a big news story broke from Houston, Texas. A man had been shot dead by a boy. When an investigation was conducted into the homicide, it turned out that the dead man was responsible for the torture, rape, mutilation and murder of 38 boys from age 14 – 18 mostly from The Heights neighborhood. The shooter had been one of two teenage accomplices who had taken active parts in many of the murders and helped to procure many of the victims. Sometimes even tricking their own schoolmates into going to the “Candy Man's” house.
The Candy Man had several properties and held several rented apartments as well. Plywood torture boards with steel cuffs were found in some of these apartments by the police later on in the investigation. The two youths who confessed their parts in this horrid partnership showed several of the burial sites used by their leader. One of these was on a peninsula called Bolivar, where I played and fished in the Gulf of Mexico every summer. The bodies exhumed were all tortured , mutilated and sexually violated. I got a real shock when I saw the first photo of the Candy Man. I recognized the face instantly.
A second shock came when an address was published of one of the last habitations of the Candy Man. I won't print it here but it was a unit within the apartment complex in Spring Branch where I had lived only months before my encounter. But for the grace of God, who turned the cruel training I had received from my father into just the right words, tones and non typical reactions to quell the blood-lust of a killer and entrain its greed against itself, I may easily have been number 39. There was a reason I was spared and I take no credit for my safe deliverance. I simply give my thanks to my Creator and acknowledge my responsibility to make everyday left to me count for as much good as I can.
I visited the Bolivar Peninsula in 2007 for the first time since these happenings and about a year later a massive hurricane blew it into the Gulf of Mexico. The picture above was sent to me by a friend in Texas after that hurricane. One house alone remained. My Grandfather's cabin is in the Gulf Stream.
I looked up the old news stories of this case the other day and saw that some young fellow from Houston had made a film of the whole evil thing. He went to the prison where the two helpers are still incarcerated and got their blessing and also some of their clothing that they wore while committing their unspeakable deeds. I learned that he had shot the film in one of the actual locations of many of the murders and that his actors had worn the real murderer's garments. I found a video clip of him talking and when he finished with “Hail Satan” I thought of the charred cat. People can choose anything they want from any age and many have chosen the fool's path.
Fear, anxiety, terror and other strongly negative emotions are the food of dark things, to put it simply. The previously human person causing these emotions is not the recipient of such evil nourishment. No, they are already dead husks and serve only as minions to harvest this foul crop for the sake of something non-corporeal they have established a relationship with. Their temporary rewards are like a stolen car that gets waxed and washed everyday for a week while the thief uses it to rob banks and then sends it off a cliff into a lake when it no longer suits him. A Cherokee and a person of the Book may use different words to describe this teaching but they are both saying the same truth which is as old as the hills. All that has changed is our technology.
Some people wonder why I smoke. Some people wonder why I don't like parties and alcohol. Some people wonder why I try to treat everyone I encounter like a brother, sister, father or mother if I detect that they are holding onto their humanity. Some people wonder why I strive to be honest in my dealings. Some people wonder how being gentle as lambs and wise as serpents applies to today's world. Like old Mrs. Goldberg on my postal route says, “ We might as well be good to each other, our life is a short couple of days but we are going to be dead for a long long time.”
It has come to my notice more than once that you are a regular reader of my writing. Moreover, that you enjoy it. I want to acknowledge this and tell you that without ears to hear, there are no stories, only unexpressed experiences. Thus, it is you the reader who comprises the other necessary half of the endeavor. We are all in this together. So, this next segment of the Trail of Tears is dedicated to you. It is called, Don't Wipe Your Moccasins and I hope you like it. Find it on the True Stories Page under the Category : Postal Stories. Erinnern Sie sich an, daß ein würdiges Buch an irgendeiner Seite öffnen sein kann.
When I was about nine years old in Louisiana my best friend got a guitar. One look at it and I was in love. The following Christmas it was my turn. It was 1966, if I recollect correctly. I was over the moon happy. My parents gave me lessons right away which I attended on Tuesdays with Mr. Johnny Gutweiler.
After two lessons, I was done with that nonsense. I could only read the high e and the b strings. My homework was to play Rueben, Rueben I've Been Thinking on these two strings. My friend was playing classical Spanish pieces like a professional. I am still musically illiterate.
I quit the lessons. I was listening to WLCS Baton Rouge on my radio and playing Lightnin' Hopkins records at this time. My guitar was steel string and the action was so high it tore the flesh from my fingers. Looking back, it was perfect for learning on. Even then, I knew if I could make that box sound halfway nice, when I ever got my hands on a good guitar, I could make it sing.
I rejected the theory of music completely and developed a method of figuring out songs that I loved so much I was willing to spend hours and hours practicing until I could express them in my own way according to my own techniques. I supplemented this with reading about different players and their methods.
For many years I had not much to show for my efforts. When I moved to Lynn Valley in British Columbia I took my guitar to school and met some other pickers. I had given my box a new paint job of red, white and blue, which I had seen on a Merle Haggard album cover. This didn't go over to well in the True North Strong and Free.
That original guitar finally got replaced when I bought my first Yamaki with my own wages. My buddy Howard Young, a cousin of Neil by the same last name, purchased a Martin from the same little shop on Lonsdale. I knew one day I sure wanted one of those Dreadnaughts when I had the money and figured I was worthy of the instrument.
The Yamaki accompanied me everywhere. It was a desk, a pillow, a table, a friend and a companion. I dragged it across Canada, the USA and Mexico. I wrote all the songs I have ever written on it. I plastered the case with stickers from everywhere I traveled. This was something I had seen on a Hank Snow album cover.
Once I was in Portland Oregon, coming back to Canada from San Francisco. I was sitting in a park and had just applied the last possible sticker to the guitar case. It was a Red Rose of Portland and covered the last open centimeters of the case. A man walked up with his dog to listen to me play and as I played Old Man by Neil Young. As I played and the man swayed and tapped his foot on the grass, his dog cocked its leg and relieved its bladder square on the Rose of Portland.
The guitar met its fate one day after my second wife used it to make a point in an argument. I saw the body descending in an arc to my head and put my elbow up instinctively. My elbow easily cracked the mahogany and I had a choice to make. I was more attached to that instrument than anything else in my life thus far. To treat it such was the greatest insult that could be done to me at that time. I was Viking angry. Thus I could take it out on a woman or something else.
I took it out on the guitar. I vacated the apartment and went to he back yard. I smashed and crushed the beloved instrument into pieces no bigger than pebbles. A man heard the commotion next door and watched from his balcony. Our eyes met briefly.
“Good day for smashing up a guitar, I figure,” he said tentatively.
I never replaced that guitar and hence never played for more than a decade after this. I had two children and they only saw me play once or twice growing up. When I got married to my third and proper wife, I went to a little old music shop in New Westminster and found a Yamaki, very similar to the one I had lost. I bought it and sat it in a closet while I raised my family.
One of my sons took up the er hu and the other younger one took up the harmonica and the guitar. He is left-handed and he taught himself to play guitar right-handed. He now has a couple of bands and has chosen the musical road to walk. He is self accomplished and probably only saw or heard me play less than a dozen times in his life. He convinced me to have my Yamaki refurbished by a wonderful Ukrainian luthier in town. I did this and the instrument rang like a fifty year old Martin. I put it in the closet.
When I was playing daily, my biggest fan was my Grandmother in Texas. She always sat me down on a kitchen chair and made me play whatever I'd written for her while she cooked us up some grub. She always told me I could make the radio if I tried. She would even call her friends over to drink beer and sing along.
One day in the summer of 2012, I was minding my own business on the couch after my shift as a letter-carrier. I became aware of a presence and felt a very strong urge to get up and do something. What was it? It was the presence of my Grandma and the message was to go get a microphone and record the songs I had written decades ago before I lost them.
I jumped up, went and bought the cheapest microphone and raced home to plug it into my computer. I got the guitar out of the closet. I sat down and started to see if I could remember anything. The first thing I discovered was that I couldn't use a flat-pick anymore. In the past I always had unless I was finger picking in particular. This time I found to my own surprise that I could only use my bare hands or nothing, even when not finger-picking.
I sat and let the songs roll out one by one. I played my best because I could feel my Grandmother sitting there with me. It was like a concert for the other side. I had to work a Friday shift the next morning and I returned home and didn't get up til it was done many many hours later. My wife brought me pineapple juice and when I discovered what it did to my voice, I requested some honey. I ate globs of honey and washed them down with the pineapple juice. Together they made my voice possible.
After an all-niter when I was done, I had seventeen tracks. Nine were my own compositions and eight were some of my favorites of other song-writers. I took a picture of my guitar in the early morning sun on my wife's Celtic shawl and tweaked the colours, named the whole project Chicory and burned about a hundred copies.
I sent copies to friends all over the world whom I had played with or played for. Some of the tunes are forty years old and were the expression of the young man I was at that time.
No guitarist knows what he sounds like when he's playing. When passively listening to a recording afterward, he may hear all kinds of little nuances and accents that he wasn't previously aware of. When I sat back to listen to Chicory a few days later, I heard red-wing blackbirds, freight trains, cicadas, my Grandpa's Swedish-Texan lilt-twang, the Mississippi, the Fraser Canyon, the Sabine, the Gulf of Mexico and wind in pine trees. My intent as I made it was nothing more than since I could do it, why not share it. My desire is that somewhere someone may get a warm clap on the back from one of my songs when they need it most.
Listen to Chicory here :
Michael Hawes was born in Texas, raised in Louisiana and lives in British Columbia.