Monday, March 30, 2015

The Hidden Cave on Route 66, continued, with music streams from "Contrary - An Outlaw Tale

copyright by 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 Gardens 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. The old Route 66, the sign actually says, “Prehistoric Route 66,” twisted in a different way. 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 stream bed.
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 limestone 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 you might just 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. Maybe there was a lot of drinking water here. 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 to make his drinking water totally safe. 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 hideout 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 already 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 homeowners, 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 Diogenes’ 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. That money she invested in a string of tattoo parlors.
Needless to say, Kelly took charge. “First of all, this man saved Shelia 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. I’ve already called her. I’ve got you covered.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 all right from there.” Lola couldn’t imagine how he was going to be all right. 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. Wan couldn’t love either country.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 the betrayal of 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.
Wan read the email again. He was to return home to China in one month. He thought he had as much as another year in front of him before this email. A phone call verified the order, but he still didn’t know why. He was in despair.
I’m not going back, he thought. I don’t know how I can get away with it, but I’m going to try. Wan was so upset he decided to pull off Interstate 40 and think. He took the next exit and pulled over to the side of a county road. There was some pavement, a remnant of another road, off to the right. It was blocked by a boulder, but not completely blocked. He walked towards that road and saw the faded sign. “Route 66.”  Wow, neat. I’m going to take a stroll down the Mother Road, he decided.
Wan found some peace of mind as his legs stretched out and his breathing picked up. No solutions, but a little peace. I might as well think about how to stay here in America, he decided. There’s no point in trying some country I’ve never been to. I’m legal here for now. I’ve heard of people getting fake IDs. It’s not impossible. But how the hell can I find the right people, the right contact to buy the papers I’ll need? God, but I’m tired.
Wan walked off the pavement a ways and laid down. He almost drifted off to sleep when he smelled food. He was on his right side. When he turned onto his left side the smell went away. Just for the hell of it he turned back to his right – and there it was again! Like bacon, he thought. There was no one around so Wan started wiggling on his stomach to explore the smell.  Just a little in most directions and he smelled only the sagebrush. But, there was one direction where the smell was stronger. He got on his knees and crawled until he actually felt a little breeze on his face and the smell was strongest. A breeze from the ground? What the hell? It was just too dark to see the hole from which the cave was exhaling, but Wan knew a thing or two about geography and he wasn’t a superstitious type. As he lay there he pretty much figured it out. There’s a cave down there! And, by god, someone is down there cooking bacon! That’s wild! I’m going to come back tomorrow and look around some more.
Now distracted from his immediate problems, Wan walked back to his car and drove on to the next town, one of those sweet little spots that once flourished before I-40 bypassed them. But these great towns are dust jewels in the American West. The old motels with their great neon signs still hung on, many of them purchased and run by families from India. Often, too, there was an old diner or hamburger joint from the 1940s or 50s. Wan settled in at the End of the Trail Motel with a giant cheeseburger and a real vanilla malt. Afterwards, he lay on the bed and looked out the open window at the exhausted Indian and his exhausted horse, both of them hanging forward, about to drop to the ground, but no, just down a little ways were the teepees -  hope at the end of the trail.
Iconic, wan yawned and fell asleep. 

Next morning, Wan walked to the classic old diner with the fat man serving burgers painted all over the building, copying the diner’s neon sign. The motif continued on the cover of the menu.
Iconic, thought Wan and ordered chile rellenos (with red) with hash browns, and one egg over easy. With the first bite he thought, if I hadn’t eaten a chile relleno dinner at Jerry’s in Gallup I would think this was fantastic, but it’s just ok.
Back up the road, Wan exited, parked at the boulder, and walked down the old, abandoned stretch of Route 66. Down below James and Kelly were firing up.
“This is really good. We need to conserve it.” James managed to convey this sentence without exhaling from his lungs, but Kelly understood.
“Have you ever played a didgeridoo?”
“No. Think I’d be good?”
“You’re a natural,” Kelly replied.
“Like you and your tassels.”
“Hey, be nice.”
“Anyways…. Yeah, I know what you mean – about the weed. It’s too good to smoke like we’ve been doing. Two or three hits do it.”
“Oh yeah. One more each then.” James picked up a Colorado bud bigger than his thumb.
“Oh, James, don’t put that whole bud in the pipe or we will smoke it up,” Kelly chastised.
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going, my Dear.”
“You just said we were going to take it easy.”
“Did I? Crazy.”
“Yeah you’re crazy, all right. Our crop is three months away from harvest. We’re going to have to go to Colorado again. Actually, I’d like to get out for a while.”
“The idea is to survive and thrive down here.”
“I know. But, I need some books. Some big long novels.”
“And we’re going to need some more bud,” James conceded. “We didn’t exactly plan how to get around, though. I thought we were set for a year at least.”
“Well, if I dress right we could go into town and I could tell Lola what we’re doing. She can keep a secret.”
“She knows something’s up because she dropped me off at the side of the road.”
“Yeah. Let’s arrange a rendezvous like every three months or so. We can pay Lola. Then we can stock up on stuff. Lola can drive us places.”
“Yeah,” James hissed out after a big hit. “Stock up on “stuff.” But not during the winter. We can’t go out of here during snow season or during the monsoon. Tracks.”
“Okay. Don’t bogart that pipe.”

Up top Wan was crawling around near the spot where he’s smelled the bacon last night. He smelled nothing, but he did hear a muffled bark.
Ely had smelled Wan.
What the hell, Wan thought and burst out laughing. Someone’s living with a dog down there. He moved over a few yards and smelled the pot. Wan, of course, had smelled pot around climbers in the States. He’d never tried it though. But he was very interested in this mystery, however, and intended to dig deeper, so to speak.

The strip club clientele looked almost the same as the last time James was there except for the Chinese guy. But there was only one dancer left from Kelly’s days. “Where’s the old crowd?” James asked.
“There’s just me and Sherrie left. High turnover.”     
“Gosh, I guess. Where’s Lola?”
“Oh dear, you don’t know?”
“Know what?”
“Her wreck.”
“No. Where is she?”
“Albuquerque; rehab.”
“What happened?”
“She drove off the bridge. On purpose.”
“No. No.”
“Here’s the weird part. She didn’t get burned. No explosion.”            “So she drove off that bridge … and hit dirt I imagine?”
“Yeah, no water in the wash as usual. And now she’s in rehab.”
“I want to see her.”
“I have a paper in back. I copied directions and stuff to where she is, but James, she’ll never walk again and she’s depressed. I mean, that’s why she drove over the bridge in the first place. She’d had it. And now she just can’t believe she fucked up suicide. She’s on some heavy drugs. For pain and for her head, you know.”
“I guess so. She’s still in pain then.”
“I think not so much because she’s got that doc wrapped around her little finger and she’s faked him out. The thing is really…”
“I don’t think she feels anything. Anywhere.”
“What the hell. Can she move at all?”
“From the waist up. She’s in a harness-like thing. She can lift herself up working this remote control and swing herself into a wheelchair to get to the bathroom. Then she lifts herself onto the seat, you know. The hoist-thing could lift her there, too, but she’s so strong. Her arms and stuff. I think soon they’ll take her off the pain pills and see how she gets around on her own. But, you know, if she falls she’s stuck. She has to have something strong enough to take her weight. She tried to use the bed once, but it just rolled around. She crawled over to the dresser and pulled it down on her head. Man, they were pissed.”
“Well, what’s she supposed to do?”
“Push a button. Call for help. But she doesn’t want help. I’m not sure but what she’s just going to OD or something when she gets out. She can’t stand help and she’ll never be able to live again without it. You know how it is: she’ll probably have to live in a nursing home, some run-down shit-hole since she has no real insurance.”
“I’ve got to see her. Damn, I wish I had a car.”
“I’ve got one.”
Wan had strolled nearby with his drink. He stepped up. “I’m sorry. I have good hearing. I didn’t even try to hear, but I did. I’m sorry. But really, I’ll drive you to Albuquerque. I’m Wan.” And Wan held out his hand to James.
James squinted in the sunshine as they walked to the car.           
In Wan’s car, James said, “Pull over to the gas station and I’ll buy gas.”
“It’s full.”
“Well, I need a pair of sunglasses and they’ll have those I think. When we get back I’ll top off your tank.”
Wan told James his life story. It took up the whole time of the drive to Albuquerque which was good because James did not know what to talk about. He didn’t know any news; hell he couldn’t even talk about what the weather had been like.
“So you’re, like, almost AOL? China will come looking for you?”
“To some extent. I don’t know how hard, but I’ve got to disappear. Like maybe get fake IDs and live in, say, San Francisco.”
“And work as what? Sales at REI?”
“No. That’s too close to the real me. I’d have to do something else. I have no idea. I do have some money. I’ve hardly spent a dime. I’ve lived totally within my company budget. I could buy into something.” Wan looked at James and James got a queasy feeling.
James said, “You could try to buy into some hard-scrabble ranch and hardly ever go to town.”
“Yeah, those guys would love to have a Chinese cowboy.”
“So you can tie ropes? All that fancy stuff I guess. Have you ever slept on the side of a cliff?”
“Oh yeah. I could take one rope and make a sling in it and go rapelling down the Empire State Building if the rope was long enough.”
“Anything more practical?”
“Yeah, I could design a series of ropes, ladders, and slings for Lola. I could turn her life into an exciting ropes course. I could make a zip line from her bed to the coffee pot if I had the room.
“Hmmm,” James was thinking.
Lola was pretty much the mess James had expected her to be.
“I can’t believe I’m alive,” she said. “I don’t want to die anymore, but I can’t live like this. I’m going to do heroin, I think. I’ll just blitz out until I OD.”
“No, you’re not,” James said.
“Oh, Mr. Take-Charge, huh? No one can stop me. I’ll do just that if I damn well want to.”
“Oh, Lola.”
“Look, you saved Shelia from that asshole…oh shit.” Lola
realized she’d said too much.
“Lola, I’ll chalk that up to the pain pills. This guy over there I came in with? His name is Wan.” James waved Wan over. “Wan is over here from China. He gave me a ride.”
Lola managed to chat with Wan. ‘Lot’s of skill talking with men,’ thought James. ‘She perked up a lot.’ James looked around at the depressing room and all the broken people.
“Lola, can we see your room and the hoist thing?” James asked.
“You know about that? Well, that’s embarrassing. But why?”
“Come on, humor me.”
“What do you think of that Wan?” James asked as they entered the room?
“Oh, it’s good for what it does, but you see how limited the range of motion is? I guess that’s due to the fact that it’s designed to do just one thing – get someone out of bed – and it’s made so that a person can work the controls herself so it’s very, very slow, I’ll bet.”
“It is that,” said Lola. If they’d get me a rope I could pull myself up in a heartbeat.”
“Why won’t they get you a rope and tie it up there?” Wan wondered.
“Maybe afraid I’d hang myself.”
Wan replied, “You could do that with the control wires.”
“Oh, thanks man,” said James.
Lola defended Wan, “You think I don’t know that? Anyway, I said I want to live and I mean it. I mean, I don’t think life will be worth living, but for some reason, now that I have it back, I think I’ll keep it for a while.”
On the ride back, James took a chance. “Wan?”
“I live in a cave.”
“I know.”
“What? I’m not philosophizing here. I mean I found a cave near here and I live in it and nobody knows.”
“I know.”
“What the fuck, you can’t know.”
“You wouldn’t believe it, I mean how, but I know.”
“Right. I’ve seen the medicine-man-who-sees-the-future thing, okay?”
“I took an exit off I-40. I got on old Route 66 until it ended in a mess of upturned pavement.”
“Oh my God,” James blurted out. “Then what?”
“I smelled bacon coming up from underneath a bush.”
“Oh my God.”
Wan paused. “Then I came back and I heard a dog bark and I smelled pot.”
“Oh, Jesus.”
“Yeah. Don’t worry. We both know each other’s secret don’t we? If I tell, you tell and we’re both in jail.”
“I guess you have that right.”
“Can I see it?”
“Well hell …”
James crawled in first to tell Kelly what was up with Wan. Kelly was pretty upset, but Wan, hearing an argument over himself, decided to go on in.

“Well, here he is James. It’s a done deal now.”
“My name is Wan. I’m here to help Lola.”
“How?” asked Kelly.
“ I have built ropes courses and done a lot of climbing. I can make this place something she can move around in just by pulling on ropes and using gravity.”
“Oh, you can, huh?”
“Yes ma’am.”
“Don’t you ma’am me. I’m only old enough to be … your big sister.”
“Yes ma’am,” Wan responded.
So James took Wan around. He was mightily impressed with the catfish pond and the well. Wan also liked the twilight. “I can’t see the ceiling well enough, but even in a worst case scenario I could drive enough metal into the rock to hold my ropes.”
“See that light over there?” James asked. “That’s where we cook, near that window.”
“Yeah, I call the spots where light filters in windows.”
“Well, now you know that is a weak spot.”
“Yes, answered James. And you’ll need to show me exactly where you were up top when you smelled the bacon and the pot.”
“Yes, and heard your dog. Hey where is she?”
“She’s hiding from you, but she’s watching. She’ll have to get to know you.”
“Ok. So I’ll show you where I was. Then what?”
“Then I’ll pick a window far away from that one.”
“And you’ll cook there?”
“Yeah. What else can we do?”
“We need to find a lower level that has air and light.”
“Hey, there’s a pit over here. We just avoid that corner.”
“I can rapel down there and look around.”
Kelly and James gave each other a knowing look after Wan had worked for a few minutes. They could see he was an expert ropes man and fast – Jeeze in no time Wan was hollering up, “Wow, you’ll have to see this to believe it. I want to get a lantern down here to get the whole picture, but so far, so good.”
“What do you see?” asked James.
“I’m in a big room. There’s a level floor. Some big stalagmites. It looks like there are rooms off of it. Whoa.”
“A breeze. A breeze going into this room here.”
The group would never know the true story of this room, but they guessed the basics. There was another exit somewhere up top and it drew air from the cave up to it like a chimney flue. That exit, unbeknownst to them, was up in the sunken crater of one of the calderas in the area. There were a series of these old remnants of volcanic cones and the vent from “Wan’s room” as it came to be known traveled about a mile uphill until it exited in a mass of rock and brush at the top of a sunken crater. “Wan’s room” was never easily accessible except by rope, but for Wan, and Lola later, it was a simple rappel over the edge and down. Wan and Lola would become the cooks and their kitchen was just outside the entrance to the mile-long flue.
So the couple became a quartet. James and Kelly played the low end while Wan and Lola capered about the heights. It was nothing to be reading a book when suddenly an upside down head lowered slowly downward into your field of view. Lola’s style was necessarily an arm thing and so more apelike, which is to say, pretty damn agile. She could work her lower back above the hips and bring her legs and feet up when coming to a wall – a braking technique and, at best, she’d get some rebound, but Lola could not push off.
She could, however, lower herself elegantly down beside Kelly ending in a sweet Lotus position -  back straight, chin up, gravity for a bra.
“Ola, Lola.”
“Ola Kelly. Como esta?”
“Muey Bien, usted?”
“Vivo, mi amigo . Vamos a quemar uno .”
“Not here dearie. Wan can rig me up and we’ll go below to the Keep.”“The Keep?”
“Like in Lord of the Rings.”“Too apocalyptic.”“I know,” Kelly said, “But that breeze Wan found? I think it goes a long way and I don’t think anybody can smell it once it gets up there.”
“We’re safe Kelly, and we’re most safe smoking pot down in the Keep.”
James is lying on his back gazing through a perfectly clear shaft of light above. Occasionally Wan flies by. Don’t get the wrong idea. Wan and Lola are more like an aerial ballet than a rapelling team, but there is a zip line or two in order not to always be hauling oneself up. Wan plays at poses – Superman, angels, once, and once only, a Screech Owl.
‘No, it’s a peaceable kingdom down here’, thinks James. He’s thinking of dinner, a typical one. Catfish from the pond dipped in an egg batter and fried whole. A carrot salad.
“And tatters,” says James aloud.
“Po-ta-toes,” Kelly responds without a pause.
“And bisquits.”
“Yum. Wan,” Kelly yells, “The fish are gutted.”
Wan: “I can take a hint.”
Ely perks up.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Tying up the Constitution with Judicial knots

I get a headache when I try to follow the machinations of the Marbury v Madison Supreme Court decision. This decision has been justified as a logical extension of the separation of powers established by the U.S. Constitution. It is interesting that, like many Supreme Court decisions, the essential justifications must be teased out of the seemingly plain language of the Constitution itself. It is generally argued that, without the ultimate power of judicial review by the "Supremes", democracy in America would be doomed.
I look at this through the lens of early Federalist/Antifederalist disputes plus the ongoing elitist viewpoint that, despite the trumpeting of democracy, the rich founders of America felt the rabble could not be trusted to elect federal Senators or vote directly on important decisions. The true separation of powers was between the educated rich and the toiling masses and the masses came out with the gift of patriotic fervor while the rich came out with "a Republic if you can keep it" (Ben Franklin). Franklin was answering a commoner's question, "What type of government have you given us?" We didn't manage to keep it. For instance, how is it that the United States has been at war ever since WWII without a single Congressional declaration of war? Because the Supreme Court rules against a common sense interpretation of the Constitution in favor of intricate theories of what the founders truly "intended." My how short-sighted could they have been to allow so many strings left untied? Are we not told that the Congress was to tie up the loose ends and is it not true that, in reality the Supreme Court has tied up democracy with the knots of their decisions?

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Devil's Advocate and the Pledge of Allegiance

America is an airport. Watch what you say. Behave yourself. Don't crack wise, buster, not about God's exceptional country or the efficacy of military might in changing hearts and minds.

I taught social studies for 17 years in a public school located on an Indian reservation. I did not begin each day with the Pledge of Allegiance unless it was part of morning announcements. I would have done so had it been a policy although I am against the required citing of a national creed especially in public peer-pressure situations. When I think of flag worship and the worship of military might as an end in itself, I think of WWII Germany and Japan. My students never would have guessed how radical I am because I did not teach my beliefs; I taught history and government spiced with economics and racial justice.
The incident that preceded my receiving of a letter of intent to fire me was not mentioned in the letter. Since my son died the year before I had crossed the line of legitimate muckraking in the school district and become an angry curmudgeon. Before I was funny and right-in-the-facts and the administration might have wanted me gone, but they didn't make the moves against me efficiently. After the Pledge controversy they became a well-oiled machine.

The school year began with the Pledge of Allegiance - in the Dine language. I stood and recited it in English. My students were rather quiet, but most of them stood up that first day. The next day, having noticed some of the "too-cool-for-school" types remained seated, more kids stayed silent and more stayed seated.

I said, "I am not going to have the new principal walk by and see that my class is the only one not saying the Pledge. Is it because you don't know it in Navajo?" A couple of kids nodded yes. "Say it in English like I do." No go. This was a sullen group they had put in my first hour class. Okay, I said. Here is your homework. Tomorrow I want an essay from each of you. I want the first line to be, "For the rest of the school year I will say the Pledge of Allegiance because ..." OR "For the rest of the school year I will not say the Pledge of Allegiance because ..."

As for me, I told them, I would stand, face the flag, and put my hand over my heart as a tribute to our troops, but I would not say the Pledge. I told them I believed the lives of our military were being wasted in needless wars. I was not against the troops. I opposed the top leaders' usage of the troops - right up to the president (G. W. Bush).

Next day all but one student promised to stand and say the Pledge. The one girl wrote that the flag was a piece of cloth and she wouldn't salute it. She sat at her desk. I stood. The rest of the class mumbled their way through the Pledge.

Within a week or so the harassment began. Within a month I packed my stuff so that I could walk out with a moment's notice. Then I was sent home with pay. An ex-marine was placed in my room to substitute and he made short work of yelling that girl into acceptable behavior. She Pledged to that cloth by God. Then I got a long letter describing me as angry and dangerous; the staff feared me. I could have fought, but I was tied up in knots. I quit. It took another year to get over the death of my son and in the meantime I was just a wreck. The loss of my career was nothing in comparison.

My ex-school district had made Navajo language classes mandatory for all students years before this incident, but my eighth graders had not been taught the pledge of allegiance in Navajo. No doubt they had some kind of education about patriotism, but it had not sunk in enough for them to stand and face the flag for the Pledge. I was not expected to teach them these things; I was expected to yell at them until they complied. That ex-Marine was sure a good teacher. He scared the s*** out of them.

Once, a few years before when I was a popular teacher I told the principal a funny story about how I had played "devil's advocate" in a discussion with students. I explained the meaning of devils advocate to the eighth graders as part of the lesson. He said, "Mr. Dunn, those kids will remember mostly that you said the word devil and if grandma asks them tonight what they did in social studies that day, they'll say, "Mr. Dunn talked about the devil."

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Rest in Peace Kent Finlay

Kent Finlay of the eternal Cheatham Street Warehouse is no longer with us. Here is a link to an obituary that does him justice.
I'm so glad I met him and was around him some and right now I'm kicking my ass for not having gone to Texas for the last two winters, all wrapped up in my own issues.
Google him and you'll see the size of the shoes he left to fill. The man gave many a bump to many a career and stood beside many a man when his luck was down.