It was 4:30 p.m. by the time we got on the road. Me, Melinda, and Jane.  The sky over the southern San Joaquin Valley was heavy with rain clouds. I drove. The road was slick.  The San Emigdio Mountains were topped with snow.  “You sure are quiet,” I said to Jane. Normally she was ruling the conversation. She called it a “Janeopoly.” I figured she was plotting out her novel, Puro Amor.  Not long ago she told me she could write entire paragraphs in her head and remember them for transcribing later.

An hour or so later we zoomed down the Hollywood Freeway, took the Highland Avenue exit and headed west onto Hollywood Boulevard, on our way to Book Soup. We were nearly late for the reading.

The bookstore was small, cramped, packed floor-to-ceiling with shelves. The reading area was an aisle essentially, a few folding chairs leading to a podium.  Bunched in the crowd were some writers from TNB, several of whom I’d never met. Kimberly M. Wetherell, filmmaker and writer, wore black glasses, her red hair a fire of loveliness. She mentioned that I was no longer two dimensional—no longer just words on a screen. I said something about being a figment of her imagination.

Duke Haney, author of Banned For Life and Subversia, stood in a corner wearing a black newsboy cap and a leather jacket. He was talking to Rachel Pollon, another TNBer.  She stood about half his size and got shy when I asked her to talk on camera.  “Meet Hank,” Duke said, pointing to another tall guy.  Hank stepped forward and handed me a photo of a face with the word “awesome” on it.

Lenore Zion had long, curly hair—different than when I last saw her.  She looked younger.  She asked what I had been up to. I mumbled something about 2010 being a year to write off and later bought her book, My Dead Pets Are Interesting.

Greg Boose came up and offered me a friendly hello.  He was taller than I expected, and handsome. His wife, Claire Bidwell Smith, was taller than expected, too. Both have striking eyes the color of the sea.  Greg asked me how long I was staying in town. I wanted to say a week. I wanted to say I had a suitcase and was looking for a nice padded bus bench.  “Probably headed back tonight,” I told him.  “Though maybe I’ll just stay and find my way back in the morning.”

Joe Daly, TNB’s music editor, came over and introduced himself.  His hair was shaggy, he was unshaven, he looked like rock and roll.  For some reason I had expected his hair to be short.

I met Ben Loory, too.  He has a gentle soul and a contemplative smile. Later, when he read a story of his called “The Well” and said he might cry, I almost started crying myself.

I didn’t get to meet Victoria Patterson. She read an essay about farts in literature, and her hands were shaking as she read.  It was hilarious.  Everyone laughed and held their gas.

Then there was the master of ceremonies, Greg Olear, author of the new novel Fathermucker.  A dark sweater covered his “Brave New World” T-shirt.  He gave me a guy hug and we made small talk.  I met his wife, Stephanie, too—not a writer, but a ferocious singer.  Steph was all hugs. She talked to a college friend from Syracuse, and they laughed about old times.

 

 

WATCH: GREG OLEAR/TNBERS AT BOOK SOUP

VIEW: JANE HAWLEY PHOTOS FROM BOOK SOUP

 

After the event, many of us headed over to Mirabelle, a nearby bar and restaurant. Brad Listi carried a sack of books and asked what I was up to and where I’d been. I didn’t want to dish out my sob story right then, so I just talked opportunities, my new book of poetry, the interest of an agent in my novel Anhinga, and so on.

Inside the bar, Jane came suddenly to life. She talked and talked and I grew quiet as she and a new friend walked to where Ben, Duke and the others were hanging out. Greg was at the bar drinking a beer. He ordered me some water.  I listened to Stephanie and her friend talking about their college days. I was content.

Melinda was quiet. She used to write (Lenore recognized her from her defunct blog), and she does have a voice. But now, for the most part, she just comes to my Random Writers Workshop, where I prod people like her to write novels and dream big. Jesse from the workshop was there, too. He downed a few drinks and talked shop with Ben Loory.

We were there for about an hour before heading home.  Jane fell asleep in the back of the car and began snoring. Rain poured over Interstate 5, turning into slush as we hit the Tejon Pass, the hump over the San Andreas Fault that marks the downward slide into the Central Valley.

“You okay?” Melinda asked. She could tell I couldn’t see the lines on the road.

“I’m fine,” I told her. “Just gotta see the lanes. I don’t mind driving in storms.”  I was smiling a little, eyes  straight ahead. I felt strangely at ease, like I was passing through a kind of personal storm, releasing it, washing it away on the rain-slicked desert road.

As we rolled back into Bakersfield, Jane woke up. By now it was one o’clock, and still raining.  I pulled into Melinda’s driveway.  We got out.  Jane said a quick goodbye, ran to her car, and drove away.  A pile of leaves in the neighbor’s gutter had caused a flood in front of Melinda’s house. I grabbed a hoe from the garage and started moving the pile. Melinda watched me briefly, then went inside, to bed.  I stayed outside and pushed and pulled and hacked at the pile of leaves and branches until a stream was created.  I stood alone in the rain and watched the water flow down the street.  Rain came down against the lawns and streets of Bakersfield in the night.  It was quiet otherwise, no signs of life, and I stood alone in the rain, content to know that the flood was gone.

 

An hour passed. I sat in the quiet of my office and ordered a bus ticket.

Within two hours I was dragging my suitcase down a street that paralleled Interstate 15. I walked past Palace Station where OJ was caught and thrown in the slammer. I turned east on Sahara Avenue and made my way through the hundred-degree heat over the freeway. The Sahara Hotel loomed in front of me. I’d stayed there for several days when I moved back to Las Vegas. Then I was at John’s house, living in his spare room. Now here I was walking back to the Sahara, pulling my suitcase along a dirty street and looking down at piles of broken glass on industrial rooftops.

That night I sat on the edge of my bed and stared toward the window as darkness flickered with casino lights and hummed with the monorail’s monotone singing.

In the morning I packed my suitcase for the last time. I walked out of my room. No hint of remorse for having quit my job. I simply began my journey as some journeys begin—an invisible string tugged my ass along.

The elevator had a musty odor. The doors opened and I passed the Sports Book and the lobby. The casino was nearly empty. In a few corners sat sleepy drunks. They streamed money into machines. Just a little slower than usual. Rusted automatons.

Outside, an endless sidewalk stretched along a horizon of heat. I started walking and stopped at the corner of Sahara and Las Vegas boulevards. The air was hot. I wore a black backpack that I’d stuffed with my laptop and clothes and dragged a black suitcase that looked like an old pregnant Labrador about to spew a giant litter of cloth puppies. It sagged, but I had a good hold of its flimsy plastic handle.

About that time the transient came.

God said his angels are all around us. They look like people. For all I know street performers are a breed of angels meant to watch us when pretending they’re desperate to be seen. They stuff their big feathery wings into jeans pockets. They tuck ripples of pink-skinned wing muscle, all feathery and silky into raincoats and cloaks, and, though they may be a little below us, carry invisible swords and magical timepieces that compress our paths into mere moments.

Those are the holy jugglers and poet rappers of the Word. The men of sleight of hand flashing jokers, and ministering minstrels with guitar cases open like bloody mouths eating dollars. They are the homeless locust eaters watching us come and go and breathing on us their angels’ breath and God light.

Before the light could change there came the transient talking up a storm. Talking fast. “You’re going somewhere special,” he said. “You’re going somewhere special with bags like those! Hot enough for you? I’m going to see destiny. She’s this way,” he said.

He stepped into the street before the light could change. He looked sun-worn and carried a bag of plastic bottles. His eyes were wild with uncertainty and the cosmic insanity that fills the universe at such moments in the desert. His clothes were urban, old; they fit him like a sloppy dishrag sliced to fit with a dirty butcher’s knife.

My destination was the bus station downtown on Main Street next to the Plaza Hotel. It was the dirtiest place I’d seen in Vegas, with its broken down restroom and shit-coated urinals corralled by strands of yellow tape.

My shoulder was already sore just dragging my life to the corner. Already forgetting about the transient, I stepped into the crosswalk just as the light changed. I crossed Sahara and gazed through car windows at empty morning faces. I looked up at a boarded casino dressed in black awnings. Just past that I saw the Stratosphere Tower. There flew a helicopter, while down on the street a motorcycle with a big moustache riding it roared past. I saw security guards wandering to work. I saw druggies hard up for the question of life to smack them in a fix of morning clarity.

Across the Sahara I made my way down the long snake of Las Vegas Boulevard. I yanked my bag along, which flipped over more than once as I dragged it. I barely missed the toes of bus riders waiting on shaded benches. Hard faces stared into the heat, past me and my bags. Some looked up at the Stratosphere Tower, at its moving amusement park machinery more than a thousand feet above them.

Further along I stopped to rest at an abandoned swimming pool. I snapped a photo and went on my way. My hand and shoulder ached as I walked up and down parking lot driveways and street curbs. Near one casino, the same transient sat on a small cement ledge. If he had angel wings I couldn’t even see a ridge of feathers beneath his shirt. He grinned at me and watched me pass into the heat. I finally took a longer rest by a wedding chapel, only to be passed again by the giggling transient. He rattled his bag of bottles and laughed as if spooking some ghost he saw inside of me.

Abandoned pool on Las Vegas Boulevard taken on day I quit job.

I didn’t have any water and didn’t want to sit in the bright light. So I continued on the sun-baked sidewalk. I reached Charleston Boulevard and crossed it, heading into the old Huntridge District. I cut along streets, and passed through a transient park where bodies littered benches in multi-colored rags, and carts made their slow way, pushed by dirty hands. One group of transients sat against a wall by a fountain. Even in the heat they wore heaps of clothes. Their innermost layers, I imagined, were fused to cracked and caked lesion-covered wings, and to scabs where needles had burnt pools of coagulated blood onto drug-hot arms.

I dragged my bags slowly through, looking to see if the transient from outside the Sahara had made his way here. I looked to see if he was dancing a jig, or had miraculously transformed old plastic bottles into a puppet show of tales of the Vegas underworld: dancing demon can-can 7-Up mermaids, Coca-Cola devils of casino executives, big boss radio Fanta clowns with explosive-painted faces and forked tongues riding a carousel of Papa Johns pizza boxes and McDonalds fast-food toys—all lit on fire from the burning desert slot machine handles pulling reels of endless flames.

Several streets further, outside a Bank of America, my mouth was parched. I had nothing to drink so I just licked my lips and headed up some steps to where I pulled some of my last cash from an ATM. Heading back toward the street, I saw one of the most lonely of women and so smiled at her, the Queen of the Sin City Transients. I’d seen her many times before as she sat on a bench like it was her throne. Surrounding her were bags of food from trashcans, generous well wishers and back alley refuse piles. She was plump, rosy-cheeked and had the brittle hair of a sunburnt aged maiden of fire. She held a carton of soup and drank deeply as pigeons wandered past her feet. Piles of blankets and a cart sat nearby. I was a sweaty mess as I passed. I looked over but she ignored me, except through the farthest corners of her eyes, as little girls do.

I looked back, half expecting my transient friend to be there bowing at her feet and rattling his bag of bottles. I imagined a cloud of fire springing up at her feet, orange reflecting in her once shadowy black eyes, and her waving a wand, casting demons into the desert and demands to be carried out at midnight by fallen angels.

The bus station was close. I scooted on a sidestreet to Fitzgerald’s Casino, where years before I watched green-haired old ladies laugh and spin penny slots. Now the penny machines were even more gimmick-plagued. Their seats were filled with anxiety-ridden souls. It was a New World casino order, where penny slots tricked old ladies out of hundreds of dollars rather than the mere ten bucks they were used to losing. Those days of free martinis and enough cash left over to get a new green wig had gone.

Now I walked among a new generation of forlorn faces. With them I finally sat dehydrated and thankful. I ate at a McDonalds with a blank stare before eventually making my way to find brief refuge in the Plaza Hotel. There, I sat on a bench and changed my shoes and socks and prepared myself for the bus ride to California.

*This piece was written entirely on an iPhone

The bellhop had one eye. He didn’t wear a patch. So I just gazed at the scar.

As if he had a little of Oedipus in him, he looked at me sadly. “Right this way, sir,” he said. “You’ve been waiting.”

“Not very long though,” I said, gazing past him into the Sahara Hotel Sports Book. There were several rows of tables and chairs, and a wall full of TVs. A few days before, a group of Algerian nationals had gathered. They hooted at the television in unison, taunting as if Landon Donovan would never score a goal. Now the Sports Book was nearly empty. Except for one Asian man. His head nodded toward his chest as if he just went ahead and died there.

“Right this way,” said the bellhop. His uniform was golden. It shined against his deep black skin. His hair was slightly receded. He looked like he’d been working the casino for so long that he might have known Elvis, who himself stood in ghostly iconic history in a nearby black-and-white photo that hung poster sized behind the front hotel desk.

The bellhop followed me into the elevator.

“Sorry to trouble you,” I said.

He fumbled with some keys as I punched the nineteenth floor.

“Ain’t no trouble,” he said. “We’re just short staffed is all. I can’t do everything. So some people just gonna have to wait.”

“I hear you,” I said.

The elevator felt old. The building sighed, sagged. The smoky casino had carried itself into these steel walls. When the elevator stopped, my twenty-eight-dollar room was only a few steps away.

Down the hall was a set of rooms where a minor league baseball team was visiting Sin City. Their organization must have struck a deal for cheap rooms. It was just a straight shot down Las Vegas Boulevard to the Las Vegas 51s homefield. There, a parking lot held a ghost town of washed up casino signs. Golden Nugget, Moulin Rouge and Stardust all lay in rust and decay with piles of others. Unlit bulbs in the thousands rimmed the dozens of signs, evidence that history’s lights wink and go out in the bleak asphalt desert.

The bellhop and I walked to my door—right around the first bend from the elevator. I pulled out my plastic room key. I’d taken it down to the lobby once already and got it replaced. But the latest key didn’t work either. “Here,” I said, swiping the key, only to hear a beep and a buzz and see a red light flash. “Just temperamental, maybe.”

“That ain’t no good,” said the bellhop.

I tried not to look at the scar where his eye had been. But who can help staring into mystery? My eyes shifted. I saw a man who had suffered. Behind him I imagined the real Oedipus. He stood down the yellow hall with black holes for eyes. He looked for his mother but could only fumble past two prostitutes scarred with tattoos, suffering all Jesus-like themselves as they disappeared into a room.

“I got a master key,” said the bellhop. He pulled out a metal card shaped like my plastic room key. He swiped it and the red light flashed. “Isn’t that something,” he said swiping his master key again.

I saw beads of sweat on his dark brow. He leaned forward, shook the boxy keylock device attached to the door.

“You’ll get it,” I said.

They oughtta replace some of these,” he grunted.

I’d taken a walk. McDonalds across Sahara Avenue stood next to a black-painted abandoned casino. Another casino wrapped in glitter and Big Mac big screens was really a second McDonalds around the corner on the Strip. Giant cranes stood near that. They hung over tall buildings with shiny grey-blue windows that reflected a decayed urban sky, where even dusty smog seemed to break apart and drift to the earth. It fell from above those of us who walked beneath all the scaffolding on porn-covered sidewalks with nothing more ahead of us than promises of helicopter rides, girls in pits dealing cards at the Riviera and Peppermill pancakes.

My feet hurt from all the walking. The dollar-menu burger had long drifted its way through my gut to more hunger pangs. I just wanted to sleep. I wanted to get inside my room and gaze out the window down at the streets, where the sleek monorail station was a soft whoosh, and the tower where Latoya Jackson lived in a high room upon infinite desert comfort stood over it all.

“I gotta get maintenance,” the bellhop said.

Pancakes weren’t sounding so bad. And the Caravan Cafe was just an elevator ride and a quick walk past rows of empty slot machines anyway. “I’ll get something to eat,” I said.

“It’ll be fixed by the time you return.”

“Ain’t no thing,” I said.

“You just don’t know about these machines.”

“Not your fault,” I added as I imagined both of his eyes gone just then. Behind him I saw Oedipus laughing. I saw the casino; his mother; the city mother. His lover. She was a big glittering sagging bitch with her finger wagging for a few more rings.

As I headed back to the elevator I imagined him in his golden uniform ascend through the floors and sail over the casino, across her glittering eyes and neon breasts.

*NOTE: This piece was written entirely on an iPhone.

I couldn’t get back in the gym. Usually the door was cracked open and I could sneak in through the side entrance.

Not this time. A group of jocks on the other side of the door were pulling it shut. I had no chance. I was just a 105-pound wrestler. One of them was a giggling 200-pound tight end with a scholarship to UCLA. (He later caught a touchdown pass in a Rose Bowl game from Troy Aikman). I was just playtime. No coaching necessary.

The door was in a bit of a cubby. Didn’t matter. I couldn’t hide there. I still had to get back inside. I’d just watched a wrestler get the smackdown in the weight room. It was his birthday too. They caught him while he was benchpressing. They grabbed him, flipped him over. His sweats were yanked down and his ass was whipped with their bear-like hands. I remember his ass was beet red. There were tears in his eyes. The birthday-haze-hungry jocks laughed gleefully.

I don’t know what’s worse. A physical beating? Or this mental game I was suddenly thrown into? They had grabbed me two seconds after my shower and tossed me toward the ravenous teen wolves of my youth.

First bell.

Students began passing by.

They didn’t know this was the dream I’d had countless times. The only difference was I could usually fly in those nightmares. Not like Superman. Just a little air. Slowly rising. The air under my feet barely heated. I could flap my arms as if they were real wings. As if someone were playing that old video game “Joust” and pressing the flap button. Just enough to barely get me off the ground.

I wanted to fly.

In fact, I wanted to flap and fly and sail into the clouds and rest there a while. Right on a big cloudy bed where I could fall asleep and forget the world.

Students passed. They looked and laughed. They pointed.

I had no actual dignity at that moment. But I pretended to have some. I started walking around the gym toward the back entrance. I tried to blend in with the crowd. I pretended I was fully dressed.

Later that day I would be haunted time and again, “Weren’t you the guy in his underwear right after first period?”

Tighty-whitie underwear at that.

That was me. At school in my underwear. That had been the dream.

I walked around the gym and saw faces, book bags, girls hanging on boy arms and voices shrill like siren songs from broken radios blurting static into the cosmos.

I walked along the concrete. I didn’t run. Those faces were like devils. But I didn’t run.

One night I was a guest on the Red Eye Radio show with host John Wessling. It was midnight. I was sitting in a bathroom near Disneyland. I had called in and started telling Wessling how I was on a mission to find out if some of the dolls on the “It’s a Small World” ride were really little people from around the globe who were cryogenically frozen.

“I’m ready to unravel the mystery,” I said.

My family was flip-flopping in the other room on uncomfortable beds, disturbed by my muffled bathroom cries to save the frozen children of Disney.

I was going off the cuff like a mofo (By the way, Wessling is a comedian).

People are drawn to tales of ghosts, Native American myths, UFOs, creepy underground tunnels, corrupt secret government societies, backwoods monsters, bizarre news and legendary crimes. In fact, many bizarre stories have taken on mythical status as urban legends.

Yet, everyone knows urban legends exist all over America. The creepy legends left unproven in the media work their way through bars, coffeehouses, Internet conversations and late-night get-togethers in living rooms.

Even today’s mainstream news often reads like a contest between which agency can report the weirdest story. Just try getting at the truth behind legendary pop star Michael Jackson and his untimely death. In the end, urban legends may well rule his legacy.

TheDenverChannel.com—the leading news site in Colorado—was guilty of reporting UFO-related details in 2008 about a white-faced alien-head peeking in a window. It looked more like a mask than Jeff Peckman’s “irrefutable evidence” of aliens among us. Yet Web traffic likely skyrocketed as a result of posting the story.

It’s almost as if society is just waiting for the smoking gun alien story to happen.

In Bakersfield, California, just mention The Grapes of Wrath and you might hear: “That book was burned in a barrel.” It was. But that was just propaganda for the book being banned in Kern County. It was a political mess. Either way, the legend of a more massive book burning with huge bonfires rests in the imaginations of many.

Such stories, whether harboring full-on freaky lies or hints of truth, tug on the fabric of society’s need for the unexplained to be reasoned.

On Aug. 7, 2009, I got a message on MySpace. A teenage girl said she hated to read but was researching Bakersfield, California area ghost stories. She came across something I had written about area ghosts and wanted to know more. She was ready to read an entire novel (Hallelujah for literacy!).

It’s not that I know much about actual ghosts. I’ve just told a few ghost stories. And I know that people are fascinated by urban legends.

One man used to tell me about his supposed Yokut wolf spirit sightings in California’s Central Valley: a sprawling 300-mile stretch of farmland and gang-infested towns and cities between Bakersfield and Sacramento. He was convinced the wolf spirit I mentioned in the fictional account of the Lords of Bakersfield was one and the same with his own personal haunts.

I wove more than one urban legend into “Lords: Part One.” There’s the Native American wolf spirit that haunted the apocalyptic Bakersfield dust storm of 1977, and the Lords of Bakersfield themselves: creepy prominent men leading dualistic hidden gay lifestyles. They are rumored to have preyed on young men and the apocalyptic fears of a God-fearing community. The Lords have even been tied to recent events in a drowning of a gay real estate agent in 2009, and in 2002, when the assistant DA was murdered by an ex-cop, in part, for accusations of the man’s frolicking with the ex-cop’s druggie son.

While promoting the book I would go on the radio and say, “Hey, this is just a fictional account.” But then I would get the inevitable response asking what percentage of the book was true.

People just want to believe, don’t they? How can you put a percentage on dastardly deeds?

A semi-related book by John Shannon titled “The Devils of Bakersfield” also dabbles in a corrupt secret society of government officials and Satanists. You never know. It could all be true.

The recent film “Witch Hunt” narrated by Sean Penn dabbles in accusations of Satanism and child molestation in Bakersfield. Oddly, while many of the cases were overturned, the DA is accused of being a Lord of Bakersfield himself.

Now add the mystery of the possible existence of Chinese tunnels hidden in downtown Bakersfield and you have yourself a real weird place, where Buck Owens country music and KoRn nu-metal rock often comes second to tales of mystery.

While exploring subjects for my bizarre book, Random Obsessions, a trivia book of strange factoids in history, disease, inventions, science, geography, film, and art, I tackled some of America’s most intriguing urban legends.

In West Virginia, the Mothman legend still stokes the fires of those who remember stories of a red-eyed birdman spawning from the government-run TNT factory area of Point Pleasant. Strangely enough, with the help of a comic book historian I was able to track down a photographer who hunts for the mysterious creature. But even his supposed sightings of shimmering birdman creatures in the woods were too bizarre for the book.

In the section, “Mothman, the Curse of Point Pleasant and Baby Mothman” you can read how the legend got started and how locals weren’t sure if they saw a spirit, mutant bird from a toxic swamp or some kind of reincarnated Indian chief who once cursed the land (Strangely, most of his bones have been lost).

Pick up a copy and maybe the shimmering red-eyed form of the birdman will soon be standing outside your window.

I spent two long summers in Helltown, Ohio—an area of small towns with a collective name that just reeks “urban legend.” I lived just down the street from a cemetery perched atop an Indian mound, which some locals believe has mystical qualities. In the summer there, when the sun dips between the thin trunks of the Cuyahoga woods, you can hear rustling along the remains of the Ohio and Erie Canal. On the cemetery itself a mist sometimes forms. It’s enough to make any city slicker run for the nearest bar and watch the Cleveland Indians get massacred.

I never could muster up the nerve to sneak into the cemetery at midnight and peer at hundreds-of-years-old headstones, marking those who died from pestilence, murder, and in the rare case, old age. I opted for daylight wanderings.

Legends of the Peninsula Python, a giant snake that escaped a circus train in the 1940s mesh right along with the mystical mound and even the thought that toxic mutants once lived nearby. I interviewed one local extensively who used to ride by horseback into a nearby swampy area. She said she saw government workers stacking barrels of toxic goo at a condemned house in the old swamp. It gets creepy when you include the idea that some nearby families have unexplained illnesses. I dated that girl for years. I finally dumped her after she turned into the Swamp Thing. Just kidding.

Yet there’s another urban legend in Random Obsessions worth mentioning.

 In Dan Brown fashion, I couldn’t help but write about the architectural mysteries of Washington, D.C. Just what is the deal about D.C. area reflecting pools and star alignments, or all the countless Dante statues, Athena artwork, the White House glyph and Sirius dome stars?

In a way we’re all hooked on such stories whether we’re sitting in a bathroom cooking them up for a midnight radio show, or just stumbling upon something real and freaky. They’re out there, that’s for sure, and you usually don’t have to look very far.
***********************************
You can read a lot more weird stories from Nick Belardes in Random Obsessions. Pick up a copy from Viva Editions. Intro by Brad Listi, founder of TheNervousBreakdown.com

People have been wanting a place where they can go to read the Twitter novel “Small Places” without clicking through the reverse order on its Twitter page site. Right away, this post is for “Small Places” readers and new fans, and people who want to discuss literary innovation, because here, they will get 14 chapters (of the 25 posted), and a whopping 358 tweets of the nearly 600 posted.

Nearly one thousand miles from home, it was just us and the two Norwegians in their blue pick-up. We took a road out of Santa Rosa that headed away from the red-banded hills near town and into the Chihuahua Desert. I felt a sense of wonder and satisfaction as the truck flew down the highway on what seemed an adventure never before undertaken—deeper into the New Mexican desert than anyone could ever venture. Not even Coronado’s tears could penetrate this place. Far away we drove to a moonscape, a desertscape, under a red glow of sun and blue wisp of desert day.

Eric had been to the airstrip before. He was hiding memories. Tragic and sad-looking, he sat behind the wheel with his sandy hair flipping happily in the wind. But then he was suddenly joyous as he yelled through the back window at us in the cab: “Jordan?!”

“What?”

“Do you love airplanes?”

“Yeah.”

“Wanna go to an airport?”

“Yeah!” Jordan looked at me, his six-year-old eyes as wide as the desert. “Dad, wanna go to an airport?”

“Sure, Jordy. Sounds fun. Let’s do it.”

Eric’s father, Olaf smiled. He stuck his arms straight out and puckered his lips. Strings of hair on his balding head flopped as Autumn, Jordan and I laughed each time he tilted side to side, leaned out the window and waved his arms. “Zoooom!” he yelled.

Autumn and I sat close to each other. We’d gone days without showering, our car dead in the desert in a town miles away. She put her dirty hand on mine and I smiled as her long brown hair flipped in the wind.

Soon we pulled onto a dirt road which took us to the tiny Santa Rosa airport. From there we could see a few buildings—converted mobile homes at best, little tin shacks. We parked and Jordan ran onto the asphalt airstrip. He didn’t seem to look for any planes. He waved his arms and stared at the ground. Then he went hopping and looked into the air like he was about to take off into the clear sky. He ran at full speed—which for him was scooting at best.

I jumped out of the truck too and ran after him, shouting, “Here I come! We’re gonna dive bomb this place!”

“Let’s take off and land, dad,” he yelled. And we did. We both went buzzing like airplanes. We ran side-by-side and waved at Autumn. She walked with Eric along the side of the sad cracked strip. They both looked magical there—her towering over him the way she did me. The sun hit their golden bodies with beautiful beams of light.

There’s a Star Wars kite that flies through my imagination. It fights a plastic parrot over a lonely section of the city. Cars zoom past and we all ignore them. The kites dart and dodge. They batter one another. They’re  not really even there. But I can open the front door of my apartment and see them flying across the apartment tops in a pool of blue sky.

On a rainy day I can still imagine the summer sunlight, the kites fluttering, dipping with each tug, and two little boys with hands wrapped in string.

I suppose it might not mean anything that when I needed to move again, I moved right back into the same apartment where I used to live. In an entire city block of carbon copy apartments it’s the same exact one. About thirty feet outside the apartment is a little area of cement. Dates and initials are carved from the mid 1990s. I lived there with my mom and my sister. My mom died in 1998 from an aortic aneurysm. My sister now lives somewhere in the mountains south of Bakersfield (about 70 miles north of LA). I’d left the apartment around 1996 and thought I’d never look back.

Sometimes it’s really disturbing living someplace I thought I’d left far behind. It’s tough convincing myself that I really did make progress in my life. I’ve seen and done a few things since then.

My mother watched “Singing in the Rain” a lot. I can see her doing that when I’m passing through the living room.

Sometimes I go and kick dirt off the initials in the cement. I think of dreams I once had while living in the apartment the first time. I can still see those too.

On occasion, when the front door opens, like today, I can hear a little boy crying from atop a swatch of grass. I gaze upward as his Star Wars kite breaks off into an uncontrolled arc across the sky. It goes crashing outside of the apartment sea, over a fence and alley, and into a row of homes, never to be found.