Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Hidden Cave on Route 66, an escapist fantasy story by Burl Dunn ... continued

copyright by Larry Burl Dunn
People don’t credit the American Southwest and that’s just how I hope it stays. I can drive on state and county roads for over an hour and not pass another car. I can pull into a “natural attraction” and be the only person there. I mean, like ones with lined parking lots and those functional national park toilets. I hate the current bullshit that says the United States of America will not pay to have, say a once a week inspection and, if necessary, cleaning of these simple, but essential constructions. We’re probably paying Halliburton a million dollars a shot to throw them up all over Iraq or Afghanistan. Hum, on second thought, we’re probably paying Haliburton a BILLION dollars a shot to throw up anything - but something half as useful.
         I’ve seen some locked toilets on federal highways where folks just must say “F*U*” and the ground is disgusting. You may say, “Oh these disgusting people,” but I think they’re, like, “I pay my taxes and I can’t even find a place to take a s***!”
“This is America?” says James out loud to his dog Ely pronounced (LE). They hike up the trail whose parking lot this is and do the natural in more discreet locations, in holes James digs with the heel of his boot.
        James learned the distance/people ratio years ago when he hiked the Grand Canyon several times a year. The further one walks away from pavement, the fewer people there are. I mean, like, even in a huge international tourist attraction like the Grand Canyon. Less than a mile down the Bright Angel Trail (the two-lane highway of Grand Canyon Trails) you leave behind about 90% of the people who set foot on the trail at the rim. A full mile down and you're in the elite 1%. Keep going past the Indian Garden campsite (about halfway to the bottom) and you are one of the few, the proud, the Intrepid Travelers. In fact, if you are an American who is sick of your fellow Americans, the ones that are on TV and news, you know ... just take a hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and you can meet a delightful bunch of young Europeans and Asians. The few Americans in the mix are most likely the cool ones.
        James was sick of his fellow Americans.
One album (over and over) and four hours later, James and Ely pull off an exit of I-40. The next right-turn and they’re on old Route 66! But then, Jim sees a real old Route 66 sign out his passenger side window. There is a little blockade, easily driven around, and the two are on the Mother Road!  It’s pockmarked and twisty. I mean 15 mph twisty. They descend. There’s some lava rocks, some big, but hidden by the lush growth of bushes. There’s some stream-bed smooth rock. Then a big hole and it’s time to turn around. Or get out. James and Ely get out. Ely bounds around like a pup as James heads down the smooth stone.
        It was once a riverbed. You can see the signs of a high-water event and imagine… Off to the sides you are surrounded by lava tubes and lava rocks. It is the El Malpais of New Mexico – but outside the Park Service and BLM jurisdictions. Once among the lava there had been some ancient limestone. And now there were  some ancient caves. James cavorted in and out of shallow cave after cave, but it was when Ely disappeared that the wonder had been rediscovered.
The wonder of one kid in the 1800s they later called Billy… Damn it, it’s New Mexico. I don’t have to make this shit up… This cave had a bunch of air holes over about 80 acres. The land on top was bad as bad can be. But if you happened to find yourself way out here, over a mile from the old 66 I should add, you might collapse from heat exhaustion right by an old cactus. And hidden by that cactus is a golf-ball size hole and from that hole you feel a cool breeze. Ely started with that, except she was nowhere near doggie heat exhaustion. Her massive tongue was a sight to see and it was only half out as she lithely bounded around.
Then she found the opening. Before Billy there had been a young Dine boy … a Navajo ashkii who later spent his last years chanting and praying in that wondrous cave with the tiny opening. Before that there must have been some Anasazi. Pot shards were there, the treasures of the Four Corners that must always remain where they are found. Ely went in and barked. James heard the muffled echo and freaked. “Ely! Ely!” Ely emerged and licked his hand. And James had seen from whence she had emerged like some ancient story of a creation myth, like some baby emerging from Mama. 
      Only in this story one is reborn by crawling back INTO Mama!
 James crawled in.

You could stand up within three feet, but nothing larger than a back pack or a guitar would fit the entrance. Inside were many rooms. And a well. At high water  there was a pond over the well. At very high water would the entire cave fill? James was already thinking along these lines.
While wandering the rooms in the cavern looking for high spots and signs of safety from flooding, James began to notice that there were light sources from the ventilation shafts. Some had a bright light for a short time. Most had at least a filtered light  all day. Finally, James came to another well only this one was more of a pit. It seemed that high flowing water might drop down and out at this point. So James decided to chance it.
      He began weekly trips stashing the cave with baking soda, pinto beans, lard, and flour  – all the simple old pioneer basics. He could have been getting ready for a wagon train trek in 1800. On a whim he bought some catfish fry and put them in the pond. He sprinkled the top with cheap dry cat food to feed the fish. He bought some cheap water filters. Under one of the ventilation holes he set up a small cook stove. Cooking would be a night time activity. He would carefully make hot fires that put out the least smoke.
As he stocked the cave he didn’t think about living there, but rather having a hide-out in which to escape the world from time to time. Some people spend a million dollars on a vacation home. James wasn’t even close to spending a few thousand yet and he was running out of things he might need down there. His kitchen and larder were set. He was adding grains like Buckwheat groats and rice. Coffee, sugar, canned milk -  all his food was in  tight containers and would keep well. His sleeping area was high and dry.
He was learning the network of “windows” as he called them and had a routine of moving from room to room to enjoy the light as the day progressed.
Ely, of course had her stash of food and a little bed. After almost 6 months of establishing his underground bunker James began to wonder about the logistics of living there. When he had the place fully stocked what could he reasonably expect? To live there a year? Then what? He didn’t know, but he put a thousand dollars in a safety deposit box. “Coming out money,” he called it. To get a motel room, clean up, get a haircut and look for a job.
Who am I kidding? Who will hire me? What do I say about the missing year? Pretty hit or miss. And it’d be a hard thing to leave the cave and then become a homeless street bum in Albuquerque.
There needed to be a grubstake. One thousand dollars is not a grubstake. One Hundred Thousand sounded better. But how to get it?
James never had a criminal mind before, but he was starting to think about victimless crimes. He couldn’t  imagine getting away with robbing a convenience store. They have cameras. Hell, you have to assume that there are cameras everywhere these days. Some put up by cops, some by business and home owners, and then there were the digital legions who could shoot the vid and have it posted on facebook in ten minutes. All the great crimes are over. It’s all inside jobs now. Big business, big lobbying, Wall Street rigging. Shit you go into Congress a mere millionaire and if you don’t come out a billionaire you’re either  a putz or one of the few men left for Diogenes to find. I’ll bet his lantern is getting pretty dim.
      He spent a lot of time dreaming about coming up on single vehicle Brinks armored car rollovers with no one alive to save and money, money, money lying around for the taking. An overturned marijuana or cocaine shipment might work. 
James needed some rest.

James was nursing a beer one night in a pretty dicey joint when some asshole started beating up on the stripper. Some in the audience cheered at first thinking it was a new twist in the act. Then the place started to clear out fast. No one was helping the stripper except other strippers. Billy picked up a full bottle of liquor from the bar and walloped the jerk above the ear.
The chicken-shit manager was out in the street calling 911 on his cell. Only 5 strippers witnessed the end. The asshole was clearly dead. Machine Gun Kelly was the oldest, wisest stripper from the bunch. She was way old style, her main skill being the twirling of her nipple tassles in opposite directions, but she only did it as she was “firing” her “tommy gun” wearing the sexiest imaginable pin stripped suit cut down to - not much. She was also the financial advisor to any girl who would listen. “Listen, kid, most of you girls live high, blow your money on drugs and lousy boyfriends and you leave the life with nothing but damaged minds, fake tits, and wrinkles. If you ever want to know how to make some money and keep it, talk to me.”
Machine Gun Kelly had over two hundred thousand dollars in the bank. When she left the club every day she looked like she was headed for mass – and she was. She lived in the same cheap apartment for years; she NEVER gave out the address, but she would accompany a date to a motel when her instincts told her it was safe. “Date money” had always gone into savings. She lived on her tiny wages and decent tips. She gave a lap dance that left men panting and searching for the nearest bathroom This money she invested in a string of tattoo parlors.
Needless to say, Kelly took charge. “First of all, this man saved our friend and we’re getting him out of here. Nobody got a good look. It all happened too quick. He was just another average size man in blue jeans with a cap pulled low over his head. Now, you, mister go out the back. My friend Lola just pulled up for her shift, but is not coming in and is going to leave because of the confusion. She’ll take you wherever you say. And you lay low. Then, we’re out of it, see? You were never here and we never saw you before. Thanks, but don’t come back here ever. Got it? Now get.”
Lola was a bit surprised at how little James picked up from his apartment – just a backpack and a dog. “Head down I-40 West. There’s a place you’ll set me out and then drive on. I’ll be alright from there.” Lola couldn’t imagine how he was going to be alright. From the side of the road in all directions there were no houses – nothing but cactus and lava. That's where James got out. She drove off and when she was out of sight, Ely and Jim sauntered off the highway, down into a gulley, and then over to the cave. “This is it, girl. We’ve got maybe a year in here and then I just don’t know.”
In they went, Ely went straight to the pond and caught a 12 inch catfish in her jaws. “Well, thought James, maybe we’ll last longer than a year. Good dog.”
James started nocturnal excursions to bring back dirt. He planted mostly greens in likely places near the light. He planted pot in 5 gallon buckets and hauled them from bright light to bright light as the day progressed. He played guitar. He had a decent library. And God bless playful dogs. For some of us they provide the most human companionship of our lives.
Still, feeling lonely led him to take a chance. He tied Ely up by the pool one day, leaving food and after a loving talk,  hitchhiked to Albuquerque where he hoped to find some weed to tide him over until his crop was ready. Lola recognized him on the street. “Hey, you still alive?” “Yeah”, he answered. “Thanks for what you did for me. How’s Kelly?” “She’s pretty scared. She thinks the IRS is on to her money. She’s thinking of taking it to Mexico and hoping to live quietly.” “Tell her I’ve got a better idea. She can live cheaper than Mexico. Tell her I’ll meet her tomorrow for lunch at that restaurant right there if she wants to hear my plan. I owe her.”
Well Kelly could hardly believe it. “A cave? With a catfish pond? You’re growing pot there? Really, how can I not believe this? It’s too good for a crazy person to make up. And listen, I’m a day or so away from losing it all. I just feel it. So, if you’re offering me a chance, I’ll take it.’
“Just bring a few things. A nice outfit that will stay in a suitcase for when it’s needed. Some rugged clothes. Good shoes. Your money all wrapped up so it can’t get ruined by moisture. Lola can drive us at night to where we just walk off into the wilds.”
“Jesus. Okay. Let’s do this.’
And they did.
Wan is on his way back from climbing at Yosemite. He is a 40 year old Chinese native. His company sent him to America to climb famous sites using the gear manufactured by his company, China Rocks. He hadn’t wanted to come, but he was the most qualified to represent his company both as a climber and with public relations. Wan had appeared on television in California, Alaska, and Colorado extolling the quality of China Rocks climbing ropes, carabineers, and other gear. Of course, in addition to demonstrating the quality of ropes he praised the close working relationships of his government with the United States. It was all an act. I mean the China Rocks equipment was as good as anyone’s, but the act was all about praising U.S. /China relations. You see, Wan’s brother had taken him to Tienamin square in 1989. He pointed to Lady Liberty and said, “America will see that we, too, want freedom. That we, too, are created equal and that we need help to gain our inalienable rights. Nixon came to China to open Mao’s Communist regime to the world and that is impossible unless we have democracy, just like in the United States.” Wan had seen the lone man standing in front of a huge tank. He had believed – right up until the night the troops cleared the square. Right up until his brother never came home.
Wan believed his brother was dead right up until he learned about Guantanemo. Then it hit him – his brother was just as likely to be alive in some rendition-style prison, in some Chinese Guantanemo, a gulag where men are forever tortured and locked away because their government deems them to be irredeemable. He had always believed his country did such things; and now he knew that even the God Almighty United States of America did them, too.
Sure, it hit him like a ton of bricks at first, but then he thought that, logically, his brother was dead. Why would he be kept alive? It was comforting in a sick kind of way to think that his brother might have been killed instantly or, at least did not suffer too long. The other ton of bricks – that the United States did not give a fuck for the words they used: “equality,” “freedom,” “inalienable rights” – you don’t get more blatant than Tienamin Square. The whole world knows that behind the freedom-loving lies put forth by the American government is a system of kidnapping, murder, and torture worthy of any Communist or other totalitarian state. With every passing day the United States and China were becoming more alike. It’s no accident that China and the U.S. lock up a higher percentage of their citizens than other countries.
As Wan drove down a segment of old Route 66 he was thinking about the crazy irony that every poor country on earth knew how to keep the United States from getting what it wants. Oh, it’s brutal. It can’t be done unless your government is either on your side or else uninvolved. But Viet Nam, Afghanistan, and Iraq have proven it. The United States cannot win a war. They can kill and ruin everything, but they can’t win unless you surrender. They will stay until the corporations have made enough money from selling weapons of war and then they will leave. The hue and cry will arise from the U.S. to stay and “Kill them all.” But, you see, some peoples have been down for so long that they don’t give a fuck. “Kill me. Go ahead. You killed my children, my parents, my wife. I will fight you until I die. I expect to die. But I will not surrender.” And therein lies the secret. The poor expect to die, and the Americans still think they can win.

Wan needed some rest.
to be continued

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