Tales From the L-Shaped House on the S-Curve Part 1

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The L-Shaped House Today

The compound really was L-Shaped. The curve was maybe more accurately a variation of a Z, as the two sharp corners were at right angles. I believe we referred to it as the S-Curve because there was a yellow warning sign erected by the state up the road from us indicating just such a thing. I think it was the sign that designated the curve as being an S, rather than a Z. These concepts didn’t arise from out of nowhere. We didn’t arbitrarily make such grand proclamations.

Birds-eye View of the S-Curve

Birds-eye View of the S-Curve

And it may be true, too, that the corners weren’t exactly at a tight ninety degrees, but were maybe a bit soft at the shoulders and banked slightly, most likely serving as a means to buffer Chief Shellenbarger’s house from oncoming drunks leaving Monmouth and failing to negotiate that first turn in the road over to Independence—where they would be heading, no doubt to buy beer. Imagine our good fortune. We at the L-Shaped House on the S-Curve were availed of the protection of Independence Police Chief Harvey Shellenbarger, who lived just across the little side road on the east side of our property.

It would seem that our house, situated in Monmouth, Oregon, twenty miles from anything even remotely resembling civilization would not have required the amount of security we were afforded. For, living to the other side of us, on the west side of the house, was Monmouth Police Chief Ron Miller. Chief Miller had a small gentleman’s farm of a few acres behind his property and ours, where sheep grazed peacefully and the skies were not cloudy all day. We never spoke to either of those guys, that I know of, but kept a respectful distance—although at some point they must have become aware of our presence there.


Missourian Sight-seers

Monmouth was a dry town at the time. I think that finally got voted out about ten years ago. Monmouth not selling alcohol was the raison d’etre for the town of Independence. Actually, truth be told, Independence was out there first, when the wagon loads of sight-seers from Independence, Missouri first hit the valley back in the 1840s.

About ten years later a crazy religious faction (who could have seen that coming?) from the Independence party, headed by some guy with a chunk of property, broke off and moved the (then) considerable distance of a couple miles west to found a college and a town, or vice versa. They named it Monmouth—after someone’s hometown back in Illinois.

And, in order to form a more perfect anomaly in the region, the land for the college was deeded to the town with the wild-assed stipulation that no demon alcohol would ever slip the lips of some mid-19th century coed trying to bust out of his or her petticoats. I guess the deed was secured for a thousand years or something, because it took a city-wide vote to finally get booze (legally) into Monmouth—even though the law had never stopped anyone before anyway. I bet that when they legalized booze in Monmouth, the Independence City Council had to have an emergency budget meeting. Gnashing of teeth.

Tap Room Conviviality

Tap Room Conviviality

So, at that time, there was a near constant modern-day wagon train trekking to Roth’s Foodliner for beer and wine, or to the liquor store in downtown Indep for the hard stuff. The Cooler was the first available tavern, about a half a mile from the City Limits sign as you entered from Monmouth. But the Tap Room in downtown Independence was the preferred destination for most OCE students, prices being the key variable, one would suppose—that and perhaps the perpetual atmosphere of alcohol and hormone-fueled conviviality that forever foamed from their doors.

And, as these drunk minions eventually found their way back to their dorms and apartments, and classes the next day, the first structures they would encounter upon entry back into the City of Monmouth would be, from left to right: Chief Shellenbarger’s ugly, landlady green bastion, our white haven of sweet surrender, and Chief Miller’s stately sky-blue pleasure dome plumped upon a little artificial hill, sheep passively foraging about the grounds.

Prior to the arrival of Tom and Doug into the household, the L-Shaped House on the S-Curve was just an ordinary innocuous ‘50s ranch house of oversized proportions. The house itself was a massive drab white, rectangular structure, with a doublewide drive-through carport that adjoined a workshop area that was the size of a small Italian restaurant.

The Pioneer Family Living Out in the Workshop

The Pioneer Family Living Out in the Workshop

Our landlady, Jacki, lived in Salem and had a bunch of stuff stored out there from after the divorce, so we used the space for storage too, as much as was necessary given that there were, after all, college students living there with little more than a pot to piss in. Just the same, empty, that workshop could have comfortably housed one of those pioneer families from the 1840s. It was considerably bigger than the “apartment” Masa, Jeff and I had shared the year before.

Tom and Doug moved in the day after Fred showed them the room—about two hours after Jeff had cleared the nondescript remainder of his belongings from the space. Packing his 1968 Austin Healey Sprite convertible with that last load, Jeff lovingly encouraged his shiny precious red beauty in the driveway to a final, orgasmic wail. And in one effusive burst, he sped off in a spray of gravel with a hearty hi-yo go fuck yourself.

Comparable Ford Van

Comparable Ford Van

The two new roommates arrived presently in a boxy, nondescript pale-green Ford van. The first thing they loaded into the sizable room they were going to share was an enviable record collection. In an instant the ambience within the residence metamorphosed. There were officially four hippies living there­—or hippies by Monmouth standards, anyway. Free thinkers, with crazy notions. Possibly subversive. In a dry town. Four hippies and a tennis bum who was rarely around.

They were from Bend. Doug Sherman was a year older than Tom and I. He had spent his freshman and sophomore years attending Portland State University, working on a Geography major. But, instead of continuing with the program, he impulsively opted to join Tom in Monmouth to become a History teacher. Doug was of moderate height, slouchy, a little mushy. He wore wire-rimmed glasses and had a scraggly beard, with thin, dull brown, shoulder-length hair.

A transfer from Central Oregon Community College, Tom Schiffer was very handsome. He had a close-cropped full beard, with long thick, wavy brown hair that reached his collar. Sturdily slender, nearly six-feet tall—as with so many other guys in my circle, he too had been a wrestler in high school and, built such as he was, probably wrestled in the 170 lb. weight class. He had indelibly blue eyes and a model’s grin. And he happened to be a pretty nice guy, though clearly crafty-sly and quite intelligent.

Doug, of course, was immediately identifiable as a 99.9999 percentile proto-genius. He spoke. In. Biting. Clipped. Clenched. Phrases—which typically concluded with a sarcastic summation and a wry, rattling chuckle, more often than not expressing an ambiguous sense of hopeless futility couched within his dim worldview. His encyclopedic knowledge on practically any subject often came in handy. Valuable and entertaining. He was a footnote factory. A human reference book.

In an apparent attempt to ingratiate us with our neighbors—once they had settled in Tom and Doug conspired with Fred to launch a kegger of titanic proportions. Since I did not imbibe, I had no real skin in that game. However the twist came with Doug’s unique idea to charge three dollars for entry into the affair and maybe make a profit to be put toward rent and bills. For that I was more than willing to chip in fifteen bucks in order to secure a keg from the Cooler, reasonably sure I could make my money back. And anyway, I was just going to stay in my room, so what the hey, let the beer kegs roll!

Kegger: L-Shaped House Style

Kegger: L-Shaped House Style

And that’s precisely what happened. I stayed in my room as well-nigh one hundred people showed up to drink beer in our living room, dining room and kitchen, with the stereo set at volume: stun, and weed enough to keep the magic happening. And there was plenty of room for all of it. That’s how immense just that portion of the house was.

Lonnie Mayne with Frank Bonnema

Lonnie Mayne with Frank Bonnema

It was Saturday night and things were really rolling by nine or so, by which time I was safely ensconced in my bedroom with a quart of Royal Crown Cola and a bag of Doritos, preparing to watch Portland Wrestling on Channel 12. I had taken a liking to the new announcer Frank Bonnema whose cheeky sarcasm and knowing suspension of disbelief suited the inane behaviors of the participants. While pointlessly strumming my trusty 12-string guitar in time to the Hamm’s, the beer refreshing, commercial that preceded the commencement of the program, a rap came at my bedroom door.

I bade entre and in wafted a tall, spare woman in a long, pale blue, flower print dress. Wild, raven, witching hair flew about her face, a country sunny face, with frightened hurt brown eyes. She introduced herself as Mary, whom I surmised to be Tom’s girlfriend, Mary—whose description he had given me on several occasions and she fit.

Hesitantly, she asked if she could hang out with me. She had caught a ride from Bend with a friend earlier in the day to pay Tom a surprise visit at his new domicile. But she was the one dumbfounded by the chaos she encountered upon her arrival, and like a frightened doe sought refuge far away from the frenzied din.

Having always been sympathetic to the plight of miserable panicked creatures, I reluctantly acceded— despite the fact that her presence created an intrusion upon the personal space I so dogged guarded, and was disinclined to frivolously relinquish. But she seemed pretty desperate. So yeah, okay. Sure. C’mon in.

Mary sat down on Varney’s bed, which hadn’t been slept in for weeks, taking stock of the mostly empty room. Like all other aspects of the house, it was grandiosely spacious, with just our two single beds pushed distantly apart to opposing mucus green walls. A ridiculously massive closet lay at the far end of the facility, across a great, yawning canyon of gray-carpeted floor.

A small, sunflower yellow wooden table was situated beneath the window wall between us, upon which I had placed my enormous black, reel-to-reel tape recorder (with its own built-in amplifier and speakers). Next to it, Varney set his portable Philco stereo with turntable and detachable speakers. He had about fifty albums stacked on his side of the table. I had maybe double that many on my side.

As we took in the preliminary matches, Mary gave me a bit of her version of their back-story (I had heard Tom’s, of course). They had gone together in high school, but started to drift apart when they both began attending COCC. During winter term Tom unexpectedly elected to transfer to OCE and move in with Doug in Monmouth. I knew they were on again off again. According to Tom they were off again. But from what Mary was saying she was under the impression they were still on.

The Incorrigible Von Steigers

The Incorrigible Von Steigers

We watched the Von Steigers take on Tony Borne and Lonnie Mayne in a match for the Northwest Tag Team championship. The Borne and Mayne team won on a blatant disqualification: the Von Stigers seemingly incapable of containing their contempt for the rules of the sport. Meanwhile, Mary told me about her childhood spent in the desolate southeastern Oregon desert town of Burns—our conversation seeming as tawny gray and windblown as the days of her cheerless formative years.

That one being an unquestionable success, there were other keggers to follow, each better attended and more efficiently managed than its predecessor. It was a very tightly run operation, in which I participated in the preparation before and the renewal efforts after those events, but in the interval of their duration, I remained safely secreted in my room, secure from any unnecessary inane interaction. And for enduring that occasional imposition, our rent and bills were paid for the entire spring term. What’s more there were residuals, which were used to purchase large quantities of top-grade marijuana. So it was a very happy household, indeed.

With Varney AWOL and Fred spending the preponderance of his time at Campbell Hall making things, Tom, Doug and I pretty much had the hacienda to our selves—the Three Musketeers. We spent afternoons after class smoking weed, watching TV with the sound off, and turning each other on to our favorite albums.

sabathDoug was drawn to the harder, heavier or more primitive bands—MC 5, Steppenwolf, Deep Purple, Sabbath and Vanilla Fudge, the Velvet Underground and the Grateful Dead. Tom was a Zep fan. He loved the Who, Cream, Hendrix, and the Doors. Beginning at the Beatles, I was more of a pop man myself, with a bent toward folk rock. I held Simon and Garfunkel in high esteem and had become quite enamored of the Moody Blues, and the likes of Nilsson, the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, the Bee Gees, and especially Jethro Tull.

So, between the three of us and with what Fred and Varney had—there were well over five-hundred albums in the house, as well as a wide selection of 8-track and reel-to-reel tape recordings. Our rock and roll audio library was comparable in breadth and scope to that found at Alexandria, though there is little doubt that we had the superior selection of Rolling Stones albums.

In the interest of scientific inquiry and my never-ending quest to rediscover the Land of Cartoons, I devised an experiment undocumented in the annals of all recorded music. Quintuple Abbey Road. Others may have attempted to summit that illusory musical mountain in the past. But it was I who had the inspiration, the stamina, the dedication and the abundant free time to conceive and accomplish such a lofty goal.

Abbey Road

Abbey Road

You may well ask and I might be inclined to tell you: what the hell is quintuple Abbey Road? And just such a question would immediately set you apart from the typical American who walks through life unencumbered by such weighty concerns. The simple explanation is this: Quintuple Abbey Road is an inter-dimensional jaunt through the crack in time. Sure. That may sound simple enough. But just try it.

Obviously, five sources with the capability of reproducing sound will be required. And five identical recordings capable of being played on those apparatuses will be essential as well. In my case, I chose the Beatles’ Abbey Road, because I had a vinyl copy, as well as a reel-to-reel version. Doug, Varney and Fred had the album in the vinyl format as well. It was the only album in the house of which we had that many. We had four copies each of Bookends and In Search of the Lost Chord. But, for reasons unknown, five seemed to be the proper number and the Beatles’ Abbey Road seemed to be just the right recording to do the job. And thus it was so.

Inter-dimensional Speaker placement

Inter-dimensional Speaker Placement

Conceive if you will, the notion: sound sources in various locations within a structure simultaneously playing the same album. And you might logically reply: Well that’s not so difficult to do with speakers. Simply intersperse them around your site and voila! Ah, but what I was suggesting was not a single sound emanating from a single source via an array of speakers. I proposed multiple sounds operating from separate sources—invoking the fourth dimension: Time, and the fifth dimension: a perpendicular to that. A definitive audio hologram.

And so I set about accomplishing my task. I equipped each of my sources with their specific versions of Abbey Road. Then, beginning in our room with my reel-to-reel tape recorder as the control mode, I began the process by playing Side Two. “Here Comes the Sun” was the lead track. As George Harrison’s acoustic guitar began to chime through the speakers of the recorder, I set the needle down on Varney’s copy on his turntable. After some effort I synchronized the tracks so that they were essentially in unison. Then I sprinted into Tom and Doug’s room and got another version in sync there on Doug’s modular stereo.

Quintuple Abbey Road

Quintuple Abbey Road

By that time the three recordings had begun to fall out of synch slightly, at varying speeds, so jogging back into my room, I got the two versions coordinated there and dashed back to Doug’s stereo and got that matched up. Then on to Fred’s room to get a fourth copy started, before rushing back to the start to re-synchronize everything. It was like one of those stage acts where the acrobatic entertainer keeps plates spinning on poles.

Finally, with four Abbey Road’s emanating from what sounded like a quartet of separate dimensions, I sped to get my vinyl copy of the album started on Tom’s big stereo system in the living room. And, after another circuit of synchronizations, they were all more or less coordinated. The heavenly choir of “Because” radiated a thousand proclamations, resounding throughout the house. It was as if Abbey Road were beaming from all facets of the entire planet.

I lit a righteous celebratory doobie and strolled the grounds in a state of profound awe. The vortex of sound indistinctly shaded and shifted and faceted with every step. Time itself slowly unspun through the course of “You Never Give Me Your Money,” creating a gaping rip in the fabric of the universe. And, as the various recordings ever so slightly fell out of sequence with one another, massive clouds of sound were slung into the silent void—the sun casting strands of molten plasma into the depths of space. In other words—Cartoons realized!

Dali Pancake

Dali Pancake

It was in that precise moment of matchless rapture that Tom and Doug happened to walk through the front door after a hard day of classes. Except for me, the house appeared empty. Yet the mayhem and bedlam were biblical in proportion—Abbey Road brimming and spilling deluge all over everywhere. The Jericho horn of Joshua pealed thick sonic syrup, which dripped upon the Dali-esque pancakes of all humanity. The boys headed straight for the communal weed basket. Gold-old-old-en-en-en slum-um-um-bers-bers-ers….

After great deliberation I subsequently determined that quintuple Abbey Road was the maximum number achievable in our world. I became convinced that sextuple Abbey Road would cause universal consciousness to collapse in upon itself, becoming a black hole of excessively heavy musical gravity. In addition, there was a new deterrent.  A prohibition had been enacted by the household preventing me from conducting further experiments in the realm of multiple source sound generation. So I sought my kicks elsewhere.

Beyond my own arcane weirdness, that sort of behavior was indicative of a communal penchant for the peculiar that would play itself out in many manifold and myriad ways in the days and months to come. My experiment only served as inauguration to the festivities. Our appreciation for the absurd was boundless, and we never ceased to find new and unique ways to express it. In fact that became our mission in life.

We started slowly. It was a natural progression. We didn’t force things. As a result of the regularly occurring keggers, the L-Shaped House on the S-Curve quickly began to acquire something of a reputation. In a town of seven thousand inhabitants, that wasn’t so hard to do. Especially when approximately eight percent of that population had been to a kegger down at that very L-Shaped House on the S-Curve.

As the impossibly perfect spring unfolded, we determined that we wanted to take the party outdoors for some fun in the sun. Because we had been severely neglecting the maintenance of the extensive grounds, the grass had soon grown to two-feet high beneath the hot daily sun. Even though Jacki had provided us with a rider lawnmower, none among us was much interested in taking the thing out for a spin to knock down some lawn.

So, rather than to tamp down a clearing in our fields, we decided instead to conduct informal afternoon parties on the roof of the house. It was a very wide roof, of course, capable of accommodating twenty or thirty people up there comfortably. We typically shot for a three to one ratio between women and men whom we invited up, with the intent of lending an air of exclusivity to the affairs. Hence, given those parameters, there was always an abundance of scantily clad young women frolicking about the property, a condition to which there were never any objections lodged.

Roof Party Here

Roof Party Here

To enhance the surroundings, we hauled Varney’s stereo speakers up there. With my tape deck hooked up to his system, I’d put extended reel-to-reel tapes on to play all afternoon. And we’d sit up there, drinking beer, smoking cigarettes—but no weed (we weren’t that brazen)—listening to tunes and waving at friends as they drove by in their cars, honking their horns.

Sadly, in early May, Doug thought he detected a bow in the roof, as if a huge load of snow had weighed down upon it for an extended period. After due consideration, we deemed that it would be improper for us, as mere tenants after all, to destroy Jacki’s roof (further) and we were forced to discontinue the roof parties, after throwing maybe only ten or twelve of them. We would have to search for other things to destroy.

That opportunity fell to us a few weeks later, when Jacki asked us to please knock down the grass. She was receiving complaints from the city. So the household, en masse, circled the rider mower with a sense of wonder and fear. None of us were particularly mechanically inclined. Just getting the damn thing started proved to be a challenge. But between the five us, we roommates managed to get it running.

mowerWe alternated at first. Tom captained the maiden voyage, navigating the perimeter of the property with great difficulty. The mower kept clogging with grass and stalling. In the end we ended up setting the blade as high as it would go, with the new plan of making two passes. We determined that in the long run it would save time and it did. The rest of us followed with our own opportunities to operate the machine. After a couple of circuits each, we became rather matter-of-fact about the process, performing occasionally reckless maneuvers in order to impress the others, or ourselves. Somebody.

zamboni2Once the first course was run, the grass was still eight inches high, but manageable at that point, so we prepared for the second tour. Confident that we had the process well under control, and to stave off boredom, we began to devise various gymnastics to perform atop the machine as it mowed the remainder of the lawn. Varney was the first, striking an awkward pose. With one foot planted upon the seat and one hand guiding the steering wheel, Varney hoisted a leg behind himself, and an arm pointing straight ahead, most resembling an ungainly ice skater riding a small Zamboni.

So the horse was out of the barn at that point and the game of one-upsmanship was by then fully engaged. Teams were formed, each creating an ever more farcical spectacle. The coda came with all five of us clustered on top of the poor tin beast. It did its best to bear up under the weight of a half ton, but as we made the final turn, it stopped abruptly, belching a big black cumulus cloud. It wouldn’t restart. Actually we couldn’t even get the motor to turn. It was obviously seized. Uh-oh. Jacki…

hay 3Well, we didn’t tell her about it right away—if we told her at all. But in an effort to ameliorate in advance any effects of our delinquency (if it were to become revealed), the five of us scrupulously raked the yard, gathering the grass into a great six-foot tall heap of clippings right in front of the house, clearly visible to cars making the turn on the S-Curve. When finished, we took turns making flying leaps into the mound. When all was said and done, we reconvened the haystack into a perfect pile.

As a gesture of good faith, I crafted a sign out of a section of wood and a two-by-four. Upon it, with letters ten inches high in bright, day-glo colors I wrote “Free Grass,” and posted it at the top of Mount Lawn. As far as I recall, there were no repercussions with that, other than the Monmouth fire chief coming down from town a month later to tell us we had a fire-hazard on our hands. I think we ended up spreading that straw in the rhododendron beds.

There was a real fire in the neighborhood one day, at a house down Davis Street, the little lane that extended south from Chief Shellenbarger’s house. Jilly Bing was visiting, maybe waiting for Fred. We were still just becoming acquainted at that time—his friend then, in my mind. We were both being hesitant and shy and eccentric. She was sitting on the kitchen counter vacantly staring off into the ether, when suddenly a couple fire trucks went roaring down the tiny road, bells and whistles lit up officiously.

fire1A house located near the very back of our property was aflame and sustaining moderate damage. From the patio we could see a half-dozen heavily protected firemen, drenched with sweat, laboring under the hot sun, as they trudged fire hoses from the trucks in the direction of the fierce blaze. They were making every effort to quell the persistent fire before it could spread over to Chief Miller’s grazing fields behind us.

quikAs she witnessed the swelter of their toil, a pang of compassion suddenly befell Jilly. She sprung to action with the aim of rewarding the fearless firemen. Quickly searching the cupboards, she set about the enactment of her plan. We had to make hot chocolate for them—as according to some tradition I had yet to ever hear about. But, I was not about to question Jilly’s motives when she was undertaking such a selfless cause, I directed her to Fred’s big can of Nestle’s Quik. He loved chocolate milk.

nesbitts1She grabbed the can and ran to the refrigerator in search of milk. Nothing. All we had was one can of evaporated milk, and the remnants of enough powdered milk to shake out about a cup of the stuff. Unless she pulled a loaves and fishes style enhancement of the milk supply the firemen’s hot chocolate was going to be pretty damn watery. Fortuitously, to her way of thinking anyway, someone had stashed a couple 28-ounce bottles of Nesbitt’s orange soda in the refrigerator.

Without hesitation, she snapped up the Nesbitt’s and scurried over to the stove. She filled Fred’s big stockpot with the soda, the milk products, cocoa and a quart of water, heating it to a simmer. Noticing a bag of marshmallows on one of the shelves, she snatched those up and threw a handful of them into the pot to enrich the flavor and texture, as she lovingly stirred the ingredients. Meanwhile I scrounged up every coffee mug and cup we had in the house, grabbing my fake-antique Coca-Cola serving tray somewhere along the way.

cocoa2In an expression of genuine gratitude toward the firemen for their heroic efforts in the face of indeterminable odds and empyrean danger, Jilly very carefully set out eight cups of boiling cocoa, placing marshmallows in each full cup. It was as artistic as it was touching.

By the time she had all that together, the men had put the fire out and appeared to be in the wrap-up stages of their operations. As they were gathering up hoses just next to our driveway, Jilly, with great caution, very earnestly carried the tray of hot chocolate out to the profusely perspiring firefighters. Honestly, they looked at her like she was crazy or high, but I knew her well enough to know she was neither. She was uncommonly special.

And she was pretty. So the guys were more inclined to humor her and cut her a little slack—even if she was pretty weird. One of the braver among the firefighters took a sip of the concoction and fiercely spit it right out, asking what the hell was in that shit anyway. Jilly nonchalantly riffed through the list of ingredients, the orange soda in particular stuck out. Yeah, that’s probably what it was. Orange soda.



All the activity brought Rinnie out to see what the commotion was about. Rinnie lived under the neighbor’s disabled Plymouth station wagon at the house directly across the lane. He was a strange looking little dog—a longhaired German shepherd trapped in a Dachsund’s body. Because he clearly had received no attention other than to be fed periodically, and smelled of axel grease, and probably because he was keenly aware of his unfortunate circumstance in the scheme of all things, Rinnie was slightly anti-social.

He got overly excited in crowds and considered any living entity other than himself to be a crowd. I was the one to christen him Rinnie, after Rin Tin Tin (I don’t know what his real name was, or if he even had one), in hopes of elevating his desperately low self-esteem. It seemed he had internalized several critical issues from puppyhood regarding his stature in the world, issues which had manifest themselves in adulthood as a bad habit of acting out in a negative manner, barking and growling. Lashing out and such.

But he responded well enough to the name Rinnie. I let him come in the house occasionally and he always behaved himself like a little gentleman. He loved government-issue American cheese cubes and crusts from Fred’s home-baked bread. For the most part, he seemed to mean well, despite himself.

So there we were, Jilly and Rinnie and me, standing with the firemen who were holding coffee cups full of some gawdawful substance they wanted to dump on the ground, but were too polite to do right in front of the pretty little lady. But as the inevitable lull ensued, the fireman who had spit out his chocolate unceremoniously dropped his cup on the tray Jilly had cradled in her arms and hied the other fellas: time to head on back to the station.

Heading Back

Heading Back

Seeing that as their opportune sanction, the others respectfully bent over and emptied their mugs on the ground, as subtly as possible, returning their cups to the tray. One of the guys put his hand on Jilly’s shoulder and thanked her little too soulfully, in my opinion. But, eventually, off they went and peace was restored to the valley.

Only a few weeks after that, Jilly who didn’t drive, effortlessly convinced me to borrow Fred’s big Dodge truck so we could rescue her cousin, who was stranded in Lincoln City where she had been abandoned by Rainbow Bob—not the first time he had pulled a stunt of that nature. He was kind of a rat. I wrote a fictional (though true) account of that event and and it’s linked here. It was at that time into which my beloved dog Gypsy entered the picture, there to remain for the next fifteen years.

After the adventure to the coast to save her cousin, Jilly and I bonded and became much closer, spending nearly every day together until the end of June. Several afternoons a week, I would join her as she babysat for a favored instructor, Ram Dosa and his wife Bridget. Professor Dosa was of Indian origin. He had a dark complexion, with very blue features and a sparse black beard. A Hindu, he wore a turban, his forehead thumbed with a white ashpaste smudge.

Liv Ullmann

Liv Ullmann

Bridget was a beautiful blonde Swedish woman, tall and slender, with glacier blue eyes—a dead ringer for the actress Liv Ullmann. She was a teacher’s assistant in the Ed. Department at the college. They were wonderful people. In their mid-thirties. They had one child, a delightful young boy, age four, named Christian. Christian was the most beautiful little boy who ever lived.

His skin was the color of coffee cream, hair honey brown, with a radiant array of golden streaks. His eyes were unbearably limpid blue, wonder wide lagoons that peered out with an air of naïve wisdom that was oftentimes quite unnerving.

With both of his parents at work most days, a sitter was required for little Christian. Jilly had met Bridget in an Ed. class somewhere along the line and they hit it off instantly—undoubtedly because they were both very much alike in their bearing and demeanor. Jilly could have passed for Bridget’s younger sister.

Jilly was selected among only a few other students to be allowed to stay with Christian for five hours or more, while his parents were gone for the day. I knew Ram Dosa well from an Anthropolgy course I was taking from him that year. He was a wise, deeply spiritual man with incredible insights into mankind and the cultures of men around the world.

clouds1Eventually, once his parents had become comfortable with my presence in their son’s midst, I was permitted to babysit Christian a few times. Typically we didn’t do much, staying around the family house, reading books, watching Sesame Street. Or we would sit in his play area in the back yard and confer on matters. When outside, our sessions were more creative. We would identify shapes in clouds, or try to hear what that butterfly over there said.

There were protracted discussions on a host of topics. I regaled the lad with various tales of my feats as a youngster. Seeking to impress him I related to Christian my matchless childhood ability to identify any of our neighbors’ cars simply by hearing the sound of one passing in front of our house. He told me that Jerry’s car made a sound. I gathered that Jerry was a neighbor, but I was uncertain as to whether he was a child or an adult. I inquired further. He replied definitively: “Bunker-tia quink. That’s the sound Jerry’s car makes.”

I could hear that car’s suspension in my mind’s ear. Worn shocks and struts, no doubt. When I was a kid, it never occurred to me to phoneticize the sounds I heard. I just identified our neighbor’s individual cars and found a certain reassurance in those reverberations. On one of the other occasions I stayed with him, I heard the very sound Christian had described. Shushing him, I raised a finger in the air, whispering conspiratorily: Jerry’s car! His eye’s widened and he put his hands up in glee. Yeah, Jerry’s car!

The afternoon before the last day of classes, Jilly appeared at our door, sobbing uncontrollably. Leading her into the living room, I sat her down on one of the couches; wrapping my arms around her in an unsuccessful attempt at consolation. Trying to draw from her the cause of her distress, I kept massaging her shoulder and asking her what had happened.

Brokenhearted, she groaned emphatically. “He’s dead. He died. He died this morning. There was an accident.” Then she burst into tears again. That didn’t sound good at all. I thought maybe Buzz had gotten in a wreck. He drove back and forth between Corvallis and Salem a lot. Shit.

I tried my best to comfort her, but she was moving toward a state of catalepsy. Making every attempt to maintain my own composure in an unaccustomed position of frazzled counsel, I basically had not the slightest idea what to do. But little by little Jilly relaxed. I asked her as gently as possible, who died? She began to sob again, bawling “Ram Dosa. He was in a crash. In Woodburn. He saved Christian’s life.”

strawberriesRam Dosa had taken his son with him over to Woodburn that morning to pick a few crates of fresh strawberries, hoping to surprise Bridget, who loved the fruit with abiding ardor. On their way home, around noon, as they were headed south from Woodburn on Highway 99, an oncoming car suddenly lost control and headed straight for them. Christian’s father’s final deed was to thrust himself in front of his son, who sat in the passenger’s seat beside him—sparing the boy’s life as he sacrificed his own.









The Bible XII

Tower of Babel
Was meant to reach to heaven.
But plans got confused.








From: Jobs I Once Held That Now No Longer Exist

I’ve been devoting a lot of thought, of late, to the myriad-stranded, convoluted web that is my employment history. As I pointed out last summer, the job at Small Egg Roll turned out to be the worst—and by far the most disappointing—of all of them, which is especially disheartening in the respect that it was the one job among all of them for which I actually had considerable aptitude and interest, and for which I was best qualified. In most instances, that wasn’t so much the case.

Reflecting on the “early days” of my nascent career as an adult, I can summon to mind several dubious instances of on-the-job experience, which subsequently afforded me very little in the way of applicable real world skills. What has happened to the call for fir cone dryer workers, for God’s sake?

The Sun

The Sun

Yes. Fir cone dryers. For eons of millenia the job of drying fir cones was left to the sun—always the most efficient at such chores, what with having nothing better to do than burn for billions of years and all. A heat source is, of course, at the core of any drying operation worth its seed.

But then mankind came along. And, as has long been known, mankind is always in a hurry—in a hurry to make the sun burn faster, hotter, longer, stronger, and with better air circulation. Thus the fir cone dryer was born. What would be the necessity of drying a fir cone in the first place you might very well ask?

There was a time when there was no cloning. I know that is very difficult for some to conceive. But it’s true. There was no cloning. Well, technically, Nature has been cloning all along, but for this particular postulate we need to leave things like the sun and Nature out of the equation. It is Man’s endless quest to duplicate these natural devices that have led Humankind to invent important apparatuses to duplicate Nature’s weaponry, just in case we destroy the original model. Hey, it’s happened!


It was probably going on before he came along, but you can blame Gifford Pinchot for implementing the concept of reforestation on a National forest level. Reforestation allowed the big timber companies to feel okay about clear cutting every last stick of original growth timber in the country. It’s okay folks, we’re replanting! It’ll all be replaced. We’ll plant little babies around the stumps of the great giants we cut down. What a system!

So, back in the days before there were clones, seeds were required in order to propagate the species. In the summer, fir trees produce fruit in the form of cones, which bear inside of them the seeds for creating little baby trees. As the cones mature, some will open while on the tree, allowing their seeds to fly upon the breeze, to land where we know not.

Fir Cone

But, as is often the case in life unfortunately, other cones fall from the tree unopened, as yet still fettered full with the seed which they are mandated to scatter. So, down they go, whereupon the sun will continue the process it began when the cone was still attached to the tree. The sun will gently heat the fallen fir cone so that, eventually, after not long at all in sun time, the cone will dry and open, and the seeds will fall out onto the forest floor. Many creatures of the wild (squirrels and rats especially, I might point out) consider fir seeds to be something of a delicacy. But, as these things go in nature, some seeds remain behind to sprout into seedlings and eventually grow into significant bodies of wood.

Such a process, of course, requires a great deal of time by our standards. According to the rings on the trees we’ve cut down, it can take hundreds of years for one to get monstrously huge. Here again, while hundreds of years doesn’t mean shit to a tree, humans are an impatient lot and they want everything yesterday, including their trees and the seeds required to get the ball rolling on fulfilling that desire. Fellas, we need a fir cone dryer!

Main St. Dallas, Oregon

Main St. Dallas, Oregon

Now I came to the fir cone game through the back door. Sally and I had recently quit school and moved to Dallas, Oregon ten miles and a world away from the comparative collegial world, which lay in the Monmouth and Independence vicinity to the east. We chose to move to Dallas, I guess, to find new opportunities, though what opportunities those might have been were apparently not particularly well defined, as I don’t remember. It is the Polk county seat, so potentially there was some allure in that fact, though I doubt it. That doesn’t seem our speed.

Well, we did move out of the house in Independence because, as a newly founded couple, we felt the need to strike out upon our own—leaving behind my college roommates Tom and Doug—to forge in the smithy of our souls the uncreated conscience of our relationship. So, that and the fact that—as was customary in a household with Tom, Doug and me in it—there were at least three (actually five, I believe) dogs and an indeterminable number of cats, in that specific instance, jammed into a little two-bedroom bungalo. So, I suppose the motivation may have been weighted toward Sally’s perspective. It was a long time ago. We relocated.

We moved into a sad little dollhouse in Dallas, which was fine, as we had no belongings to put in it anyway. It wasn’t like we required spacious quarters. I believe the biggest bone of contention (as it were) was that the backyard was fenced, in order to corral Spider and Gypsy, who were wont to roam when given the opportunity. They were themselves a young couple, wild in their ways.

The place was on Southwest 10th Street between Birch and Cherry on the hill overlooking Fairview Avenue by the A&W at the western edge of town. I’m not sure what we did for money at first. I believe rent was $85 a month and bills amounted to about $25, so we cobbled that together from leftover student loan money, I would imagine. Allen moved in for a time into the cubby-hole room in the converted attic, second-story plywood affair. I’m sure we charged him a princely sum to maintain those luxurious quarters. We were merciless.

I don’t think it took very long before it became apparent that a job or two might be required somewhere along the line. My only previous job experience was a mostly failed experiment in the construction trade the summer following my senior year in high school. The only benefit that came of that experience was the fact that it could be noted on subsequent job applications. More about construction adventures another time.

Filberts, For the Pickin'

Filberts, for the Pickin’

At first we tried “picking” filberts (hazelnuts) at an extensive orchard out toward Pedee. That’s a terrific job if you like to be bent over in the autumn dew rooting through fallen leaves for the husk-y little suckers like a truffle snuffer. I think we made like two or three dollars in four hours or so, before it started raining so hard that we quit for the day. We never went back there again, I assure you.

Some Town's Country Inn

A Country Kitchen Kind of Place

Sometime not long after that, Sally found a job at a little restaurant on the other side of town at the Country Kitchen (everything out there is named “Country” something. Hell they ARE out in the country and they are mighty damn hickily proud of the whole damn deal). The place was about the size of a double wide with similar ambience, if you were to fill it with a counter and three or four booths, thirty smelly guys and a palpable layer of cigarette smoke.

I think the only job requirement was to get the orders right and to battle the indefatigable, degenerate advances of the horde of misfit and misbegotten males, relentlessly bent on converting trees into some unrecognizable form. Sally was capable of contending with that sort of bullshit without a lot of undue duress, therefore the job was hers and one aspect of her personality was in its element. She held court.


Waitin’ fer Breakfast

She worked the morning shift at the Country Kitchen, four-thirty to two in the afternoon, serving greasy breakfasts and bestowing endless cups of coffee to loggers preparing to ride the crummy out to the woods of the nearby Pacific Coast range to denude any remaining pristine patches of forest. No sooner was that clan gone, around six, than the guys who worked at the Willamette Industries mill at the south end of town would trundle in. They’d leave around seven-thirty and all the construction crews would show up, seeking fortification before they headed out to their various job sites. It was a regular eco-system. The fellers, the planers, and the builders. Nothing left but saw dust and fir cones.

Stumpy, Three-Finger Bill, and Lefty--Lucky in the Foreground

Three-Finger Bill, Stumpy and Lefty–Lucky in the Foreground

Oh yeah, fir cones. So Sally had her finger on the local employment pulse at the Country Kitchen. She knew too of my limited job history, lack of any real proficiencies, and my incredible phobia for losing digits and/or appendages—a fear that in the community of Dallas was widely scorned and ridiculed by the likes of Lucky, Lefty, Stumpy and Three-Finger Bill. However, despite her diligent efforts, Sally was unable to immediately generate any satisfactory leads for my narrow occupational skill set. Still, I persevered.

Falls City, Oregon when the Town was Thriving

Falls City, Oregon when the Town was Thriving

Through a friend (one of like ten guys named Mike I knew back then) who lived out in the tiny coast range timber dimlet of Falls City, I had occasionally found labor (the term “work” seems so formal), picking Douglas fir cones. Commensurate with my resume, it was a low expectation job, to be sure, one that in many ways bore a distinct resemblance to filbert picking, an occupation for which I had demonstrated some limited capacity, though that was perhaps coupled with a distinct lack of ambition and enthusiasm.

The job responsibilities of a fir cone picker were few. One was encouraged to fill a burlap sack with the things, picked up from the ground by the novice, or expertly plucked from the boughs above by veteran fir cone pickers, such as my friend, Mike. Were one to successfully fill a bag with fir cones—which, while similar to filling a bag with filbert clusters, was considerably easier and less time-consuming to accomplish—an opportunity was thus created for the prospect of fair recompense for the effort. There was the reasonable expectation to get paid a couple of bucks for a filled sack at the fir cone dryer loading dock.

A Fine Fir for Pickin' Cones

A Fine Fir for Pickin’ Cones

Soon I was scaling forty or fifty feet up young fir trees, climbing to the upper limbs where the cones were easy picking. Filling several sacks with cones was easily accomplished up there, especially if one didn’t mind heights. Among my other disinclinations in life, heights ranks chief among them, just behind loss of limbs. However, Mike taught me how to ride the outer boughs, gently sliding down on the furthest limbs from the top of the tree to the ground, assuaging to a great degree my apprehensions in regard to gravity, as encountered from a lofty perch among the firs.

That endeavor went well, as far as it went. But I longed for stability, a future. I longed for permanence. I longed for warmth. Winter was approaching. As it so happened, one day while delivering our load of sacks to the fir cone dryer dock, where we got weighed up and paid. Wild Bill, the boss man of the entire dryer operation, made it generally known that they were hiring. Eureka! I didn’t need to be told twice. It was under cover from the rain. It was warm. It required very little extended effort and even less consistent thought. There was a lot of down time, passed in countless intoxicating ways.

Not long after I was hired, Allen got hooked up working there too, most likely of his own initiative. It wasn’t like I had any pull with Wild Bill or anything. The fir cone dryer lay fixed upon a rolling hill, about a mile out of town on the Kings Valley Highway. It looked like an old, weathered barn—which may very well have been one of its former incarnations. I never asked.

Most likely it was always some sort of dryer. There are plum orchards abounding in that green region of the mid-Willamette Valley. Lots of cherries. Filberts too, of course. All might require a dryer in some instances. I can’t imagine that a fir cone dryer differs very much from something like a prune dryer, the process and preferred outcome being essentially the same.

A Prime Barn for a Fir Cone Dryer

A Prime Barn for a Fir Cone Dryer

The design of the structure thoughtfully utilized the lay of the land. The dryer itself was a segmented wooden shaft enclosed inside a two-story barn. The shaft was about twelve feet wide—divided by two partitions that formed three compartments—and it was six feet high. It descended from the top story to the lower, twenty-five feet in length, at a gradual declining gradient. At the bottom, an oil furnace was mounted in a smaller structure abutted to one side of the barn, with massive air ducts leading into the shaft.

Just off the “highway” at the front, there was a small gravel parking lot. The loading dock and storage area adjoined the building on the town side. There was a cramped office with a door out to the dock and a door opposite that opened into to the work area at the top end of the dryer. Beneath the window between the office and the exterior entry doorway at the other side of the barn, sacks of cones were stacked and served as an impromptu row of seats.

Rookies primarily tended to remain in that vicinity. That’s where you learned the ropes. The demands of the position were few. Those there were involved some occasional moderate exertion and plenty of waiting around—which I was pretty good at, as occupations go.

Somebody's Idea of a Fir Cone Dryer Operation

Somebody’s Idea of a Fir Cone Dryer Operation

The action portion of the day was spent cutting open the twine-sewn burlap sacks of (usually) wet cones and distributing them upon the drying screens. Once the cones were evenly spread upon those trays, a guy would feed each one down into one of the dryer via slots at the sides of the each compartment wall. Five screens could be slid down per slot, and the slots were spaced about a eighteen inches apart, horizontally—so that the hot air of the furnace could circulate among the cones. Altogether there were three chutes twenty-five feet long, with four planes of five trays. A lot of cones! Forty or fifty sacks at a crack.

Typically it took the better part of a couple of hours for two guys to perform the task. One guy would cut open the sacks with a curved knife, dumping the cones on a screen. The other guy would spread them out evenly, and then slide the trays down the shafts.

Each row had to be addressed from top to bottom, as extending too far laterally on any one level would create certain future regretful acrobatics in trying to slide the other segments of screens into place. It was hot work. Even in the chilly, wet late fall, the place was toasty—and fragrant. It always smelled of musty balsamic forest and Christmastime around there.

It could take up to four hours for the cones to bake sufficiently enough for them to open and drop their seed to the floor of the drying shaft. It was a hiatus during which “work,” such as we knew it, would come to a complete halt and “break time” would ensue.

Workin' Hard? Or Hardly Workin'?

Workin’ Hard? Or Hardly Workin’?

Around six-thirty the early birds would arrive to convene the Royal Order of the Fir Cone Dryer Friars social club for yet another evening of merriment. Most came packing a bottle of something stiff or at least a six-pack. Several guys would show up with guitars. Rick. Mike (another Mike) played guitar. So did Allen. Me too. So did Lee.

Lee was a wistful wisp of a man, prematurely old, with a jaunty black moustache and a permanent five-day growth of salt and pepper stubble scattered on a gaunt, hollow-haunted visage. He had a sweet, pudgy, wife with glowing roseate skin, who was very plain; and two cherubic blue-eyed young daughters. The four of them lived in a small, ramshackle yellow rental on Ellendale Loop at the far outskirts of town.

That's Lee in the Back

That’s Lee in the Back

Whenever I read Carlos Castaneda books, I would always picture Lee in the role of Don Juan. He was a restless lonesome wind, sonambulently ambling the dryer premeses like a persistently distracted ghost. I was never absolutely sure of his position there. I thought he might be some sort of watchman—as we worked the swing shift, from four to midnight, and probably needed security—though I can’t imagine what for. Maybe he performed some other function in the grand scheme of things, I don’t know. He just wandered around.

Artist's Depiction of Wild Bill

Artist’s Depiction of Wild Bill

Allen remembers Wild Bill looking like Lee Marvin. I remember him to resemble a red-faced Patrick Dennehy. He probably looked like James Coburn. He was in his late thirties, broad, with sandy graying hair and a certain larger than life quality. We agree that his chief feature was that he popped open a can of Oly at any available opportunity—which was most of the time. Wild Bill served as host when the festivities would get under way. Eventually he would head out to his pickup and down a succession of beers, blankly gazing out the windshield while listening to Charlie Rich and Donna Fargo on the radio.

Yer Everyday Lift Carrier

Yer Everyday Lift Carrier

The Social Club served as a refuge for old-timers and misfits—castoffs from the slowly dying timber industry. With few forests left to fell, or logs left to mill into boards and beams, work had become scarce. It was true they were hiring at the Caterpillar plant and Towmotor. Those two operations pretty much kept Dallas and much of Polk County alive. But most of the Clubbers were too decrepit or inept to be retrained for a position so sophisticated as D2 bulldozer assembly or the manufacture of lift carriers.

Many of the old farts would come by just to get away from the little woman bedeviling them at home and to get a snoot full without her knowing about it. The younger guys turned up to hang out (as well at the dryer as anywhere else in Dallas), get a free buzz on and jam. It was pretty much a nightly affair.

Bucky and his crew of two from down below, didn’t participate in playing music. They’d come up at break and pretty much keep to themselves. They sat bunched together on a row of sacks along the side wall next to the office, chain-smoking cigarettes, staring vacantly into space. Bucky was in his early 30s, round-faced, effusive curly blond hair stuffed under a dirty black Greek fisherman’s hat. He was a typical country clyde, nice enough guy, with a ferrety face and big, wide, buck teeth. He maintained and operated the furnace and oversaw his seed sacking crew of two down at the bottom of the shaft.

So we’d sit around for the better part of four hours getting smashed and playing guitars. There might be as many as twenty guys sitting around doing nothing—although only seven of us were getting paid to do so. Allen was by far the best guitarist. Allen always was the best guitarist in any situation, under any conditions. Mike played with a sort of bluesy, Dead-y, country flair indigenous to the region at the time. I’ve always been pretty much of a strummer, rhythm guitar guy.

Rick was a rhythm guitarist too, but he had a voice that was as big and husky as he was. He was blind in one eye and it had a tendency to wander, so that sometimes its gaze might follow you around while he was looking in a completely different direction. It was often quite unnerving, especially if you had never before witnessed the phenomenon.

I would guess that it was that eye (or the general regional malaise) that prevented Rick from meeting with great success. He wrote wonderful songs. The lyrics were typically meaningless, but the words always sounded very nice together. In most cases something about his “old lady.” “My old lady has green eyes, as green as emeralds in the sea.” I’ll never forget that one.

So, anyway, when he came around. Rick was the song guy. He could get something “formal” going, like a real song with actual structure that everyone could more or less play together on—rather than each of us just showing off the licks we knew in endless jams. But, after a few drinks, even those pointless jams got very interesting.

Merle Travis

Merle Travis

Lee had a very unique guitar style. He wasn’t a good player at all. And he was rather shy as a performer. But he had a distinctive manner of playing that I had never heard before, nor have I since. I would say that it had its roots in Travis Picking (think “Wildwood Flower”), or whatever style it was before Merle Travis popularized it—a certain bluegrass feel—with vague, Arkansasian overtones.

Allen says the music Lee played sounded like Hank Williams retreads. I don’t remember it that way at all. Whatever Lee was up to, his guitar playing was very unique and he probably employed the same technique that Hank Williams and Merle Travis heard and imitated when they began to create their own music. It preceded them. It was an old, rural style that probably doesn’t even exist anymore. I remember his music fondly. Or, perhaps more accurately: I remember being quite fond of Lee’s music.

Eventually, the cones would actually dry and we would have to go back to work. I don’t even slightly recall what my tasks were at that point in the procedure. It’s all a sloshy, dim blue memory. I faintly recall the guys from below sweeping the seeds down the chute with wide push brooms (or maybe that was us from the top). But before that could happen, all the de-seeded cones needed to be dumped from the screens into bags that would eventually go to the bark dust facility, wherever that was. And the trays needed to be collected and placed back on the hand truck up at the top of the shaft. I have no idea how that happened.

wreckThe job at the fir cone dryer didn’t last long—maybe six months. I remember my last night there Bucky didn’t show up. Bucky never didn’t show up. He was always there. He was the most paycheck-motivated character I’ve ever known. But the night before he had tried to drive back home drunk from Salem and he got in a wreck out on Highway 22 near Rickreal. The other driver was killed and Bucky ended up doing seven years in prison for vehicular manslaughter.

When spring came, Allen took off to go live with Juanita in Monmouth. Sally and I moved out of the house on 10th about ten blocks east to the cool, old two-story house on the corner of Clay and Hayter. Tom and Terri moved in to the lower half of the dwelling and it wasn’t long after that Tom and I got jobs doing construction with Mike (yes, a different Mike). Those Days of the Golden Homes were a story unto themselves.




Well, the past year has been full of chaos and turmoil and I’m hoping for things to settle for a while so I can get some work done. I re-edited Unreal Gods last winter and took out three chapters. So now it’s under 600 pages, at least. I think I’m pretty much the only one to read the new version. I think three people (including me) have read the original. The hell with trying to get editors to read the damn thing, I can’t even get my friends to read it. Which brings us to our next installment of biblical haiku.


The Bible VII

Matthew, Luke and Mark

Had an argument with John

The pissed apostle.


I Found A Rock

Preparing to mow the lawn last Saturday, I parked the car out in the street in front of the house. Our street hasn’t been re-paved in at least forty years and we have no sidewalks or gutters, so water tends to run down the steep hill above us in well-defined rivulets off to the side of the street. In the summer I like to park in those channels, as they are off the street, but not part of the yard.

Exposed aggregate,regular view.

There is a lot of gravel in that section of the street, most if it washed down the long hill, a slow migratory sluice. The gravel in front of our house has been compacted by car to the extent that it mostly resembles exposed-aggregate concrete. Pretty solid stuff.

That particular day I parked the car with great care, methodically maneuvering close in next to our grass, while getting as far out of the street as humanly achievable—back and forth several times, eventually placing it in precisely the prescribed position.

Exposed aggregate, close-up

I exited the car and moved toward the back, I’m not certain why. Looking down as I reached the rear bumper, my eye caught sight of a flat rock.  Not that big, it was perhaps an inch and a half in length and maybe three quarters of an inch wide. Black (well, in direct sunlight, a very dark olive green with a faint golden sheen). Though flat, it stood out from the other tire-polished stones. It was smoother, with a different luster. Something attracted me to it.

Flat side

It’s not like I keep a lot of rocks, but I occasionally keep rocks I’m attracted to. Don’t get me started. It’s an element of my extended OCD. The rock in question appeared to be a keeper. The perfect flatness of its exposed surface was quite appealing. I picked it up and headed into the house.

Shaped like Nevada

Upon closer inspection, it soon became apparent that this was no ordinary rock. For one thing, it gave off some sort of benign vibe. Nothing intense, just a mild cosmic warmth. The rock was vaguely shaped like the state of Nevada—if there is any sort of significance to be found in that fact. The surface opposite the flat side is contoured, as are the edges.

To look at it, the rock appears to be nothing special, rather ordinary, but for the antique gloss of its velvety patina. However things change when you hold it in your hand. It takes a while, sorting it slowly between your fingers, to find the proper alignment (there are actually several). But eventually a certain celestial conformity takes place, as one cradles the mysterious object. Its pleasing curves and satisfying roundness perfectly tapered. It’s a stone that demands to be rubbed.

That’s it! It’s a worry stone. But not like any other I’ve ever seen. If you google the term you find a real array of various pieces. All created with a similar intent and purpose, but perhaps, for the Irish wishing stone. Although, who is to say what is to come from any sort of talisman upon which one places a great deal of concentration and energy?

Worry stones

From what I gleaned in my scant research trying to figure out the whole worry stone game, it became readily apparent that the objets have been with humankind for quite some time. Only slightly less older than dirt, I’d say. However this does open for us an important philosophical question. Which came first, the dirt or the rock?

The Argo by Lorenzo Costa

It’s been said that the ancient Greeks kicked off the craze—most likely because their advanced culture was more worrisome than most and they had a lot of free time. The first worry stones are purported to have been smooth sea rocks. Given their seafaring ways (see the Odyssey and Jason and the Argonauts) it’s easy enough to understand that they might have seen an alluring sea rock or two in their time. I mean, check out Jason’s run-in with the Symplegades. But a smooth river rock would probably do you just as well in a pinch.

Now available at a worry store near you

These days, judging by what one is likely to find online, most worry stones are pretty simple affairs: oval-shaped, semi-precious gemstones polished to a glassy sheen, with an indentation in the center. Most of them look like stone re-workings of a half-sucked Original Werthers hard toffee.

Irish wishin’ stone

There are variations. An Irish wishing stone appears to resemble more an outright rock than the other samples, most likely requiring some sincere effortful wishing in order to erode and abrade the hollow to conform to the shape of the thumb and fingers.

Cunningly contrived contours, oh my!

T. (for Tuesday) Lobsang Rampa (oh, we’re not going to get into him right now: http://www.skepdic.com/rampa.html) referred to them as TouchStones ™ claiming— “In far off China, in Tibet, in the holy temples of India, and in the great temples of the Incas, the Aztecs, and the Mayas, priests laboriously shaped stones by hand, stones whose cunningly contrived contours (?) comforted the human brain, and by flooding that organ with comfort and pleasant tactile sensations calmed the whole of the human mechanism.”

Maybe a tad grandiose, but I think what the good plumber monk was referring to was that the things are damn good stress relievers. That seems to be the consensus among all the hierachies of worry stone lovers and aficionados in the Wiccan and pagan communities as well. So the upshot here is that the rocks are fully sanctioned in all the corners of the new age universe—if, indeed, it is possible for the universe to contain corners.

Rounded smooth

While adhering to all ordained worry stone standards, the one I found is far superior to all other examples I could uncover. For one thing, not just the thumb groove but all edges on mine are perfectly rounded—all surfaces maintaining a sublime camber. Rather than by machine, it is obvious that the soothing curves and arcs were all worked by human digits over time. Over a long time. A lot of energy went into the shaping of my stone.

Nagging questions remain: How the hell did the rock get out there in front of the house in the first place? And how long was it lying out there before I discovered it? How does the possessor of one lose a worry stone? If you had it in your hand and were to drop it, you’d certainly pick it up. Was the person standing in front of our house when he inexplicably decided to empty his pockets or try to fish some change from his pocket. Or what? And what was he doing standing in front of our house anyway?

Native American relics and artifacts

We live at the very end of a dead-end street at the bottom of a very steep hill. We don’t receive a lot of passersby. So then, perhaps erosion unearthed the relic from decades of quiet slumber. It bears the quality of a Native American arrowhead or some other such artifact. My imagination prefers this theory. The stone feels old (well, of course it’s old, it’s a rock, fer crissakes!). It feels as if the human energy it stores is old—antique, from another time, long ago.

But some residual guilt persists. I’m not sure what I should do with the thing. Is it wrong to keep a found worry stone?  And what are the ramifications? Will it confuse the stone if I were to worry on it too? I don’t know the rules on such things. Perhaps it deserves a proper re-burial? I don’t know what protocol is in these situations.

I suppose I could go door to door around the neighborhood to see if anyone lost a valuable, semi-precious “object.” Make the possible owner describe the item in specific detail. The other option is to put an ad in Craig’s List or something. That seems like it might be casting too big a net, given our home’s somewhat remote locale.

Nested comfortably between distal interphalageal crease and palmar digital crease

Whatever the case, something needs to happen soon, as I am beginning to become attached to the stone. There is great pleasure in stroking its smooth coolness. The notch on the left edge perfectly fits the distal interphalangeal crease on my right index finger. The slight hollow on the right edge of the stone nestles against the palmar digital crease as if carved specifically for my grip.

But there is no right or wrong way to hold it. Cradle it in either hand, slab side up, or contoured. However it may be held, the special stone finds folds among the fingers and quickly comfortably conforms. See? I’m already developing a fetish for the thing. Why do I feel like this is a mystery that will never be solved?


Novel Publishing Update:

I recently received my twentieth rejection letter from a reputable literary agent for Unreal Gods. I feel like a salmon swimming upstream against the current. I have revised the book, cutting four early chapters. (which I’m not even sure is such a good idea)- but I’m trying to make submissions of the first three chapters or one hundred pages move faster (I’m not sure that is a good idea either). Honestly, writing biblical haiku is easier.

The Bible VI

How Leviticus

Came by such strange ideas

Heaven only knows

Adventures in the Realm of Dog Part 1

I’ve been thinking about Mitt Romney a lot lately. No, not because he is the most wooden excuse for a human entity that ever mechanically laughed at the most inappropriate time. Not because he reeks of rich kid, laizzez faire cynicism: ‘What will be, will be. And it’s gonna be really good for me.”  Not because his hair is dyed the color of a black hole (perhaps disguising a remnant imploded brain of similar hue), or the fact that he wears his (neatly pressed) jeans like a forty-five year old mother of four from Schenechtady, New York. It’s not even because he’s an habitual liar, an inveterate opportunist chameleon, a tool, and a corporate mule.

Though I probably should, I haven’t been thinking about Mitt Romney because he lives on his “capital gains income,” upon which he pays a mere 13.9% tax, while hiding most of his “gains” offshore. I’m not even thinking about him because it would appear that his plan for the nation would be to continue to squeeze the American middle class back to serfdom and bondage, if at all possible. You know, a lot of the old, aristocratic wealth in the Western world is still pissed off about that whole Magna Carta thing. It disrupted a lot of lives.

No, I’ve been thinking about Mittens for one reason only: Seamus the dog, a friendly looking Irish Setter lad. Poor Seamus. I know a lot about dogs and families. I’ve been closely involved with both for most of my life. I consider myself to be something of a learned expert on the dog/family dynamic. And it says so much about Mitt and the whole family Romney that they would even contemplate driving 500 miles or so with a dog stuck inside of a (no doubt) luxury “air tight” carrier, lashed to the top of the Romney family station-wagon.

I have never been witness to the family dynamic between Mitt and the rest of the Romney clan, but out on my limb of the tree of humanity, no self-respecting kid would have gone anywhere near a vehicle where the family pet was being tethered to the top. In my family, my sister would have thrown a royal shit fit at the thought of it long before it would have occurred to the three of us boys. But we would have objected too. Eventually.

And there was no way my mom or dad would have even considered putting our dog in a carrier on top of the car in the first place. Why should they? That’s what the luggage carrier on top of our station-wagon was for–luggage. And really, if we absolutely had to transport something living uptop, my middle brother, the adventurer of the tribe, would have happily volunteered for the position. But that never happened.

We kind of swung the other way when it came to dog issues. My dad had specific ideas regarding how dogs should behave, and it was nothing like anything the AKC ever heard of. Our first dog was Pepper. He was a black puppy, vaguely labrador. He didn’t last long. He got hit by a car he was chasing. We did not live on a busy street. Not at all. And how he developed the car chasing habit is a mystery to me. I was young at the time and as yet not within my full faculties of dog sussmanship.

Car chasing appears to be one of those activities that dogs have managed to evolve away from. Probably by natural selection. The ones that chased didn’t live long enough to procreate. End of the line. Either that, or it’s the leash laws.

Next up was Marty. He was the first in a short series of dogs named after Walt Disney  characters. Marty died a tragic death, the details of which I will not divulge in this particular tale. There will be no wags dogging our tales here, I tell you.

Not long after Marty’s untimely demise, we moved to another part of town. It was just after I’d finished the second grade. Shortly after settling into our new abode, we acquired a dog. I believe we found Tyke (not a Disney-related name) tied to a tree out on the playground at the grade school. At that time, tying a dog to a secluded tree out in the middle of nowhere way at the back of the playground, and deserting it, was an indication that ownership was being forfeited and the first young swagjack to come along that was of a mind (and relatively certain of convincing his caregivers) could have that dog. For free. It was an acknowledged form of canine transaction in those days.

Anyway, one of us ended up bringing Tyke home. I’m pretty sure it was my sister, because her radar for deserted dogs was especially keen. It’s probably a good thing people didn’t leave horses tied to trees at the playground. We didn’t have enough room for that. At some point, during my year in the third grade, Tyke disappeared. I do not suspect foul play. Dogs were allowed to roam at large back then–and we lived in a fairly rural urban area. There were a lot of wide open fields–across the street, and near by. Given the opportunity, dogs are known to wander. Tyke wandered a tad too far, it would seem.

It’s my recollection that we picked up Yeller late in the following summer, just after school had resumed. I’m not sure which of us it was, I suspect it again was my sister (see above), but one of us found him tied to the tree at the back of the playground, and brought him home. I do know that Yeller had formerly belonged to Tommy McDonald. I never found out the circumstances surrounding the necessity for the McDonald family’s surrendering Yeller, but they did.

We named Yeller after a heroic Disney movie dog, the subject of an especially tragic story–one which we kids had held dear for many years, I suppose waiting for Yeller to come along. Whatever the case the name Yeller befell upon that particular dog who was, no doubt, familiar with some other name when he was boarding with the McDonalds. But he was Yeller, and Yeller he was. If all this were taking place now, I’m sure his name would be Joey after the horse in the film War Horse.

Gypsy and Yeller (More about Gypsy in blogs to come)

He was nearly full-grown when we got him, around two years old, not a big dog, maybe thirty-five or forty pounds. Very early on we decided that he was a Golden Retriever/Cocker Spaniel blend. He looked like a small Goldie, but he had Charlemagne Cocker ears. As we grew older we concocted a lot of breed names. Golden Cock, Cockatriever (more on this later, perhaps) etc.

Yeller was a handsome young fellow, and, apparently bearing in mind his uncertain circumstances with the McDonalds, he never once took for granted his place within our family. He aimed to please–especially my sister, whom he loved dearly and completely. Yeller would do (and did) anything for my sister. Those exploits will be detailed at another time. I’m talkin’ about the poor Seamus Romney connection here.

And how it is hard for me to conceive–in my anti-Romneyian universe–of not treating Yeller as a member of our core family. Not a pet, a comrade. He took that responsibility very seriously and for that he was often well-rewarded. Especially when we were having meals at the dining room table. He was small enough that he was able to maneuver unimpeded, and mostly undetected, under the table.

Here’s an example of my father’s somewhat eccentric approach to these not infrequent family connundra within which we were swept by the livestock that freely grazed throughout our household. As Yeller made the rounds beneath the table, we four kids supplied a steady stream of delicious bits. Whatever we had. Bread. Baked potato, macaroni, corn, peas, fat, gristle. Yeller was not at all picky. Pretty much anything that hit the floor, he claimed for his own–an unspoken agreement between us kids and him.

For quite some time there was no impediment to that particular food chain and it conveyed without interruption. Until one day while at dinner, my dad dropped something to the floor, I don’t remember what it was. Maybe his wallet. I don’t think it was food, but I think Yeller thought it was. Before my dad could reach down to pick up whatever it was, Yeller had already snatched it up and pulled back, ostensibly to eat it, if at all possible.

Either my dad actually never knew about the deal we had going on with Yeller, or (far more likely) he was just in the mood for a little entertainment, Clarke-style. Whichever the case, he stood up with a fairly ferocious start, scaring the holy bejeesus out of us and poor Yeller, who was a very sensitive dog. My dad dramatically tossed his napkin down on the table and grabbed an extra chair from the corner bellowing good-naturedly, “If you’re gonna feed that damn dog human food, he can sit at the table and eat like a human, too.”

At that, Dad yanked Yeller out from under the table and plopped him down in the chair. With an odd expression on his face, my father went into the kitchen and fetched a plate and utensils. Then he began to load up the plate. Maybe mashed potatoes and chicken and green beans. Who knows? Scooting us over, Dad slid the extra chair forward, up tight against the table, about chest-high, and placed the plate of food in front of Yeller.

Snatching up a napkin, Dad tucked it into Yeller’s collar. Picking up a fork, he slid the handle between the pads of Yeller’s right paw. Slowly, he helped the mortified dog to scoop up a forkful of food from the plate, guiding it unsteadily toward his mouth. While we kids laughed hysterically, Yeller unenthusiastically ate dinner at the table with the rest of the family. Though he never again was seated at the table, Yeller steadfastly maintained his patrol of the territory beneath. However, he avoided at all costs my dad’s end of the food conveyor.

I’m certain, if it was Mitt and the Romneys, Seamus never would have been allowed in the house in the first place, stationed instead in his apartment at the back of the estate. Seamus couldn’t possibly have lurked under the table, but if he somehow managed to make it that far, the question must be asked: What Would Mitt Do?

Certainly Mitt would have Seamus dispatched forthwith back to his apartment, after a stern rebuke, of course. Probably a few rounds of obedience therapy with the trainer. Maybe the electric dog collar for a few days, just so old Seamus would remember his “boundaries.” We can’t have that dog running around like a wild animal, now can we? Maybe a little kennel time’ll take the spring out of his stride. Oh, he’ll ride on top of the car. Yes, he will. You bet he will. And he’ll damn well love it. Won’tcha fella?

Left to me, I’d let Seamus drive the station-wagon while Mitt rode in the “airtight carrier up top. (Oh he loves it. Climbs up there all by himself! Don’cha boy?). Then again, if it were up to me, I would be far more inclined to vote for a dog than any of the candidates running for the Republican nomination in the 2012 presidential election.

A dog can be trusted. A dog tells the truth and never lies. A dog tries to see the good side of things and to make the most of them. A dog is loyal and unbiased. Prince or pauper, a dog will love you all the same. A dog can sniff out your motivations. If he thinks you’re up to no good, he will let you know of his suspicions. It’s hard to argue with a dog. Dogs are persistent and honorable. Dogs are noble. Dogs care.

Name for me one politician to whom those characteristics might apply. Yeah, I can’t name one either. In fact Mahatma Gandhi was the only name I could think of to fit all the qualifications, the high personal standards of the common mongrel. That’s a pretty sad commentary. But it’s true. And if Yeller were still running around, and running, I’d vote for him.


As part of my ongoing series, attempting to describe to you the time-honored process, wherein, for representation by a literary agent or publisher, one must “query” ahead before you can get anyone to look at the synopsis of your book and maybe a few chapters. Tell your story. What’s your book about? You have fifty words. Maybe a hundred. But really, if you don’t get your point across in the first couple sentences of your query, you’re most likely heading for the rejection pile. Last time, I described the process as like trying to write a haiku to describe the Bible. Try it. I’d love to see other submissions. Here’s my second installment.

The Bible II

John Lennon once said:

“Nothing to get hung about.”

Don’t tell Jesus that.

I’m sorry. I was raised a Catholic.