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My father’s farm in Virginia is called Oak Hill. When he bought it, not long after he divorced my mother, there was in fact a cluster of enormous oak trees that shaded a white clapboard, nineteenth-century house that stood on the hill in the center of the farm, but the house burned down before my father could move into it. Some of the oaks survived the fire, which occurred on a Halloween night, but despite whispers that the previous owner had torched the house, no charges were ever filed. I remember surveying the charred remains and spotting, not charred even slightly, an old board game called Why, the Alfred Hitchock Mystery Game, which, according to the blurb on the box, involved “real thinking, planning, and memory.” I took the game home with me—I lived a twenty-minute drive from the farm with my mother, brother, and sister—but I never played it, and don’t know what became of it. Maybe my memory wouldn’t be so faulty if I had better developed it by playing Why.

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”
—Karl Marx

One of the first books released by Red Lemonade, the visionary new press brought to life by ex-Soft Skull patriarch Richard Nash, Zazen by Vanessa Veselka is a powerful, political, sometimes humorous, often frightening portrait of a parallel world that lurks in the near future in all of its dystopian glory. Della is caught in an emotional battle, deciding whether or not she should leave the country that is dissolving around her, or help to bring it down faster. Bombs are going off, but capitalism continues unabated. Unsure of what to do, Della starts calling in bomb threats of her own, targeting the companies and locations that offend her the most. When the threats start turning into actual destruction, she questions the her role in these events, the universe wrapping around her, burning martyrs and rat queens shimmering at the edge of her vision.

Last night, I went to a Phish concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion. I’d never been to a Phish show before, and frankly, I expected more hippies. You know, older people with weathered skin and tie-died clothes sitting around nodding slowly as the band plays into the 12th minute of a song, the title of which we have all forgotten because they’ve wandered so far from any recognizable melody. But there were fewer hippies than college kids, and many of those appeared to be frat boys.

The lawn before the show and the bros.

The Dogs of War

By Slade Ham

Humor

Character is what we are in times of crisis or when no one’s watching or some other strange set of criteria. For the last week I have been plagued by visitors in the night, sent to attack me and me alone, determined, I believe, to watch me in action and see how I respond. It feels like a psychology experiment gone bad, like the Milgram Experiment or that Stanford Prison thing. Maybe not that bad, but I still feel as if I’m being toyed with.

I lay in bed at night and I hear them coming. Whispers and clicks in the dark, the invaders peer through the inky black and wait for exhaustion to drag me into an uneasy sleep. They organize and plot and look for the perfect opening, and then they come for my socks.

These fucking squirrels.

But it’s not just the squirrels. The entire animal kingdom seems out to get me. Whether it’s rabid cats, mercenary mosquitoes, or obnoxious birds, I’m like the opposite of Dr. Doolittle.

I moved in late summer to a garage apartment, a perfect little spot for a constant traveler. It’s big by apartment standards and comfortable. There’s a place for my car and my motorcycle and all of my stuff fits exactly as it should. My bookshelf is full of the volumes I’ve collected in the last year punctuated by a thousand trinkets and memories from my travels. My desk sits on one side of the living room, my dual monitors surrounded by speakers. This is a place I can get stuff done. My bedroom faces south so the sunlight is constant. I opted not put up blackout curtains so that it would jar me out of bed and into productivity on most mornings. My brilliant plan to surface at eight or nine has been preempted though.

My apartment sits isolated from my neighbors in the middle of four intersecting backyards and one of those backyards is home to a rooster. A rooster, a rooster, a ROOSTER, inside the loop in Houston, Texas.

It’s more elusive than one would expect a rooster to be, too. It is borderline ninja and I know this because I’ve tried to kill it. I have a really hard time contemplating hurting an animal. I’ve never been hunting and I’m a total sucker for the animals of any sort. I could cause harm to a human much more easily than I ever could an animal, but it’s not a human standing in the backyard cock-a-doodle-doo-ing at 5:00 am, seven days week.

The woman that owns that house is bat-shit crazy. She won’t answer her door for me or the police. For all I know she could be dead herself. The wooden fence around her yard is painted with bright red hearts and catchy little hippie phrases like Animals Are People Too! and One Planet, One Love. The sign on the door that I have beat on every morning for the last month reads I maintain this house for the comfort of my cats. If you can’t deal with that, you can’t deal with me. She places the welfare of these animals above my own, and for that I hate this woman. She is a hopeless PETA-head, and that is why I bought the slingshot.

I’ve collected a good number of small rocks (ball bearings would look too much like evidence) and from my bathroom window I can see into her backyard. The rooster prances up and down a particular path, hidden almost entirely behind the branches of a low-hanging tree. It knows it is safe, but that hasn’t stopped me from rifling pebble after pebble through the leaves in an attempt to hit him. He of course knows this, and waits until I have shut the window and given up. Then he runs up to the fence and lets out another mad cackle before darting back to the cover of the brush. THWOP, THWOP, THWOP. Three more rocks rip through the air and hit nothing. “Goddamn bird!” I yell. “I’m gonna shoot you in your little rooster face.”

I want to drag its carcass to the hippie’s doorstep and bang away until she’s forced to answer. “Looks like people can be animals, too!” I’ll say, with wild eyes and chicken blood running down my arms. What criminal mind houses a yard full of birds and a house full of cats with such disregard for others? Probably the kind of person that would raise an army of attack squirrels. I bet my invaders are the product of her animal friendly lifestyle as well. She probably hand fed them and took them in, and now that she has sixty-three cats they need a new place to hang out, hence the velvet rope and the bouncer outside the squirrel dance club that my attic has become.

And now I am not safe inside.

A few days ago I woke up to the morning crowing and stumbled into the kitchen to make coffee. Bleary-eyed and headachey, I poured my first cup. As I started to gain my focus I noticed a sock hanging out from under the counter. “Did something happen last night that I don’t remember?” I think to myself. “Why would I take my socks off in the kitchen? Did I try to put them in the cabinet? How drunk was I? This makes no sense.”

Pulling the sock out from the opening underneath the base board, I noticed that it had several holes in it. “Squirrels,” I growl. I’ve known they were here for a while. It’s an older place and there are plenty of openings that allow them into the attic. I hear them constantly but I’ve remained unconcerned. Once I knew that they weren’t mice or rats – the piles of nuts in the attic and the sight of actual squirrels hopping from the power lines onto my roof cinched that – I just resigned myself to being a winter refuge for the fuzzy little things.

But now they’re taunting me. They’re literally stealing my socks – as if my clothes dryer wasn’t already doing enough of that. They are strategic. To get my socks requires some investigation. While I will occasionally leave a pair lying in the living room (one of the perks of bachelorhood), they usually end up in my bedroom. None of my other clothes are touched, nor are the dish towels or the beanie I left laying on my desk or the bag of Cheetos Puffs on top of my microwave. They’re selective little creatures. I mean, it takes determination to say no to those Cheetos. Cheetos are delicious.

They seem content to only drag the socks as far as the holes under the cabinets too. They don’t take them all the way inside, but leave them hanging out just enough to let me know they were there. It’s a form of counting coup, I’m afraid, and this is why I feel I’m being experimented on. It’s as if they know that I am incapable of simply trapping them or killing them. They want to see how I’ll react.  They know that boredom will entice me to fight back. I have moved anything cloth-like to my bedroom now and I make sure the door is shut when I leave. Then I place one sock strategically in the middle of my dining room floor before I make my exit or turn in for the night. I have to know if they come, and come they do, but never when I can see them.

I sit on my couch and stare like a child waiting for Santa. Unable to stay awake, my eyes finally close, only briefly, and then snap open again to find the sock tucked neatly in its little cubbyhole under the sink. “How the hell did you do that?!?!” I yell. Somewhere a squirrel rolls around on the floor laughing and high-fiving his friends. I rip the sock out from the hole and throw it back on the floor. “I’m going to bed, you bastard!” I yell at nothing whatsoever. “Come get your stupid sock if you want it!” Then I wake up the next morning to find it sitting exactly where I left it. It’s no fun for them if I don’t care, it seems.

So I have to formulate a plan before I go out of town again. I have to get rid of them. I don’t know if I am up against one rogue animal or a hundred. In my mind, my walls and my attic are now one big Squirrel Kingdom. Buttons and thimbles and scores of socks line the halls of a Secret of NIMH world. Will taking one of these creatures out be enough? Should I trap one and leave it bound in the middle of my kitchen floor as a warning to other squirrels? Should I poison a sock? Buy an owl? I don’t know what to do exactly.

I know that the gauntlet has been thrown down though. They started this, this thing with the socks. “Cry Havoc,” I say, “and let slip the dogs of war!” And maybe that’s the answer – actual dogs. Or a fox. A fox would eat the squirrels and the rooster. I want to put on face paint and get a ghillie suit and hide with my slingshot. I want to set up a box and a stick with a string tied to one of my socks. I want a jet pack and some rocket skates and I want to paint a fake tunnel on my wall like Wile E. Coyote. I want to put the squirrels and the rooster and all their little friends in one big bag and toss it into the ocean – and then blow up the ocean.

I want to win.

Maybe I should focus on the flower child in the house behind me, maybe point my slingshot at her instead. Cut off the head and the monster dies, right? Maybe she’s like the Other Mother in Coraline. Who takes their animals that seriously? Seriously. These things are interrupting my lifestyle and her desire to protect them only makes me angrier. Now I want to cook steak with my windows open so she has to smell it. And I want a fur coat. And I want to beat a baby seal to death with an endangered penguin. Her “Save the animals” mission has clearly had the opposite effect on me.

But for now, I will continue to type, stopping every sentence or two to pause my music and glance into the kitchen and try to catch a glimpse of the cocky little rodent as it mocks me. Because right now I am clearly not winning. Right now I am losing.

And badly.

I can hear the squirrels flitting back and forth on the roof even now. I can hear the rooster too, cluck-cluck-clucking just feet outside of my apartment. I cut my eyes across the desk to the slingshot. “I could go outside and kill them all right this second,” I think.

And I would, too, if only I could find a pair of socks.

90 Miles North

By Tina Traster

Essay

Five years ago my family and I left Manhattan and relocated to a Hudson River town. I have found that sweet spot of comfort. While I tread these familiar waters I take heart my gardener will arrive Wednesday, Didier will bake buttery croissants and Nyack’s librarians will go out of their way to locate any book I ask for. I’m wearing the fuzzy bathrobe, walking in shoes that have molded around my feet.

A couple of weeks ago, I was enjoying a mango margarita at a party down the street, when I was approached from the side by a friendly, neighborhood hippy.

“You know, somewhere on your property, there is an uncut four karat diamond buried by a tree,” she said.

I blinked at Tanya, a woman I know who lives down the road from me. She was dressed warmly in multiple layers of hippy attire for the cool June evening. A pair of purple pants stuck out under a floral patterned skirt and slouched over a pair of Elven-styled shoes fastened by leather straps. A loose knit brown sweater hugged her shoulders.

I smiled. I like Tanya. She is in her early 40s and has long, sandy hair and blue eyes. She stands close to 5’2”, but would probably be closer to 5’4” if she stood a little straighter. Several years ago, she was in a car accident, which left her with a somewhat debilitating head injury. Once she told my husband over a couple of beers that her husband was cheating on her and that he and his girlfriend were plotting to kill her.

“A four karat diamond?” I repeated in a tone not unlike one I use with my children when they tell me they just saw a giraffe in the forest or that a monster named Brian drank all of the maple syrup in the pantry.

“Well,” she hesitated, “it’s either the four karat diamond or a crystal. I can’t remember if I buried the diamond with the iguana.”

“The iguana,” I repeated, taking a long draw from my cup and angling off from the group of neighbors with whom I had been discussing the housing market only moments before. “There’s an iguana buried next to my house?” At 9000 feet in the Rocky Mountains, I was somewhat amused by this thought.

“No, the iguana is buried at my old apartment down in Boulder. I just can’t remember if I put the diamond in the box with the iguana, or if it was the crystal. Whichever one it’s not is buried on your property. It will also be in a wooden box.”

I nodded as if everything was perfectly clear now. A few moments of silence passed between us. Finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore.

“I’m sorry…why?”

“Because he was miserable in his cage – it was so obvious – so I used to let him roam freely around my apartment. It was the middle of winter and I accidentally left the window open and he got out. It was horrible. I found him frozen solid, huddled up against the building.”

I squinted at her.

“The iguana?”

She nodded somberly and pushed a strand of hair out of her eyes.

“No, I meant why did you bury a diamond—or a crystal—on my property?”

“I don’t know,” she began shaking her head. “Maybe it was a ‘put your money with your love’ thing? Derek and I wanted to buy that house and camped out there on the property border several times. We ended up not qualifying for the loan.”

“Oh.”

A few more moments of silence passed between us, but I couldn’t leave it alone.

“So, I gotta know. How did you get this diamond?” And what did it do to you to merit burial?, I completed in my head.

“Oh, this guy I knew gave it to me. He was part of the Rainbow People and we’d had a fling…he had several of these diamonds. He gave them out to a bunch of us. I wasn’t the only one.”

I nodded, imagining vividly the scene in which the Rainbow Man handed out diamonds to all of his hippy lovers. In my mind, they surrounded him in a forest glen with only the moon to light their faces.

I like hippies. That is to say, I don’t dislike them. Living where I do outside of Boulder, I have ample opportunity to comingle with the pagan unwashed. I even know a few by name: Marley. Moonbeam. Dharma. I don’t really know a Dharma, but I know of one. She and her life partner, Greg, live in an eclectically decorated apartment and have unusual friends. They are very funny.

In the small town just down the mountain pass from where I live, there are numerous hippies. It is a virtual hippy haven. When they are not crowded around a trashcan bonfire or on sofas on another hippy’s front porch, they congregate outside of a small diner called The Mercantile. “The Merc”, as it is known by locals, serves up home style vittles to the locals, as well as to a multitude of cyclists who make their way up the canyon trying to get away from the bustling metro-center of Boulder. The Merc offers things on its menu like burgers and jicama fajitas to their equally sweat-caked clientele and smells chronically of coffee and syrup no matter the time of day. It’s lovely. Truly. When Simon Smithson and Zara Potts came to visit recently, this is where we met. They called it “charming”.

I’m relatively content in my current lifestyle, but I imagine that if I wanted to reinvent myself and I had no ties, becoming a hippy would be reasonably attractive:

Certainly, I wouldn’t have to negotiate as much laundry as I currently do.

I could wear organically grown flowers in my hair without pretense.

I’ve never observed a hippy at the gym or jogging down the sidewalk, so I assume I could give up on the guilt I feel for not having a regular exercise program. This is not to say that hippies don’t exercise. As a matter of fact, hippies love kung fu. I love that hippies love kung fu.

I could be unabashedly and unapologetically polyamorous.

I could wear loose-fitting floral print cotton fabric paired with…other loose-fitting floral print cotton fabric.

I could throw myself full-time into causes I believe in and acquire a deep tan.

I could drink mate tea judiciously, eat hummus copiously and fart freely.

I could stop buying diapers for my one-year-old and let him just work it out naturally.

I could trade in my laptop for computer time at the public library where I would write free-style prose in between letters to my local members of Congress.

I could nurse my children openly and uncovered in public, as well as the children of my friends.

But there would be a darker side, too. I would have to force myself to like Reggae, which unlike Slade Ham’s recent experience with a world-class flag waver, might permanently bum me out. I once went to a reggae show in the back of a dirty restaurant in the heart of Boulder and aside from getting secondhand blitz-krieged by the bud cloud in there, I was cooked. Not only could I barely keep my eyes open after awhile from the repetitive rhythm, my knees were shot from repeatedly lifting them in the only reggae dance I know, which involves a sort of funky step not unlike an asynchronous military march. I spent the next 12 hours on somebody’s fully furnished porch waving away flies and some guy named Reefer who kept trying to gnaw on my arm.

I’m also not ready to give up Starbucks. While I’m not a regular there and will naturally gravitate toward the locally owned shop, I do occasionally find myself without a choice and before I know it I’m siphoning that brown mega-corp nectar through a straw like a half-crazed, sleep deprived mosquito. And everybody knows that if I were a hippy – a real hippy – that just couldn’t happen. Real hippies don’t go to Starbucks. They just don’t.

And then there is the body hair issue. It’s one thing to allow one’s leg and underarm hair to grow to the point of resembling a Silverback gorilla, but my face? I have eyebrows. I mean, I have eyebrows. And those little strays that sometimes pop out on my chin. Let’s just say that I am no stranger to tweezers and if I let my eyebrows unfurl across my face like a barbarian nautical flag, I’m just not sure I would be…OK…anymore. As a hippy, I assume that hypocrisy is carefully monitored by the clan, and if they caught me tweezing away at the mirror in the doorless, unisex bathroom – regardless of the fact that I could donate 6-inches of pit hair to Locks of Love – I would be done. Voted off the island. Washed away in a recycled rainwater sea.

In short, being a hippy looks easy to the outsider, but I’m not so sure it really is. People call hippies “slackers” or “lazy”, but I am beginning to suspect that the opposite is true. Modern culture blocks any effort that is less than heartfelt and the modern hippy often finds him or herself bracing against the waves that a counterculture life seems to attract, thus making life harder in the end.

In fact, every aspect of modern life is a blockade to the hippy. Certainly most restaurants don’t fit the dietary requirements. Transportation is limited to automobiles that rhyme with Schmolkswagen and that require regular maintenance and parts replacement due to an unspoken “circa 1965” clause. Hippy parents can find good, holistic education at certain institutions such as Waldorf, but places like Waldorf require money – money which, unless said hippy is a trust fund recipient, is entirely unattainable given the lack of top shelf jobs for people who refuse to shave or wear sleek, black pantsuits. Even entertainment is somewhat limited. Movie theaters are out as there are no hippy-approved snacks at the movie theater snack bar. Plus, they’re air-conditioned, which just seems, well, wrong as I don’t believe hippies mesh well with climate control. Simply put, a life decision to be a hippy is fundamentally a decision against being part of popular culture. This may be an obvious observation, but those who pull it off with any measure of success have my respect and fascination.

Tanya has managed it brilliantly in spite of a partially debilitating head injury.

Realizing that she has a special gift and that the trauma to her brain could very well at some point render further information gathering difficult, I pressed ahead with my interrogation.

“So, where did you bury it?” I asked, quickly adding that I would return it to her should it be found. A little too quickly, perhaps.

“I don’t remember exactly. It was a big tree.”

I nodded. There are hundreds of trees on my property.

“I think it was by the cabin,” she told me. “On the south side. Or maybe the west.”

“Was the tree to the south – or the west – of the cabin, or is that the position of the diamond – or crystal – in relation to the tree?”

“Both. Neither. I don’t really know.”

I nodded, crossing my arms and thinking about what it would take to dig a ring around every tree that fit that description. Surely there were at least a dozen. Or fifty. Clearly, she didn’t care. It was obvious she didn’t recognize or even want the value this could bring, having no doubt decided during her stint with the Rainbow People that American currency holds no power over her. But me, I would know just what to do with that money. Er, diamond. Or crystal. But I bet it was the diamond. Why else would she have said anything? I began making plans about how I would methodically start digging the next day at first light. Better yet, I could tell my 6-year-old that we were going on a treasure hunt and that there was actual treasure beneath one of the trees and that it was her goal to find it. I could bribe her with chocolate. Nilla Wafers. Or even just a non-scheduled private showing of Shrek. When she found it, I would take it straight to an appraiser. I might even stop at Starbucks along the way and wear a sleek, black pantsuit.

Man, I love hippies.

I’ve never been a runner.  Then I moved to Boulder.  This brings to mind an atheist moving to  some similarly-sized Bible belt town.

New arrival: “Hi! I’m your new neighbor. I’m Mark.”

Neighbor: “Howdy Mark. I’m Chad. Great day for the move, eh?  By the way, what church ya’ll looking to go to?”

Except of course the Boulder version goes:

New arrival: “Hi! I’m your new neighbor. I’m Mark.”

Neighbor: “Namaste Mark. I’m River. Gotta love this Colorado weather, right?  So!  You a 5K guy? 10K? Marathoner? Iron man?”

I’ve never been a runner.  It’s the boredom that puts me off.  Just pumping one foot in front of another over and over again with no other real goal is not my flavor.  I do play soccer, tennis and basketball, which involve sprinting and jogging for maybe an hour or two at a time.  I skateboard, and I snowboard hard.  I practice Kenpo a few times a week.  I’m in pretty good shape.  But this is Boulder.  All that’s just dilettante shit.  No run?  No cool.

I’ve dated my fair share of crazy women, or rather women who do crazy things.

I’ve been with a bulimic, an anorexic, a cutter, a girl who went on to smuggle drugs from Mexico into Texas and who went to jail for it.

I’ve dated poets, artists, hippies, Johnson & Johnson reps.

All crazy.

And when I moved to Fargo for grad school, I told myself I was done dating girls who I thought needed saving from their craziness.

But, of course, I found this to be impossible.


I should have known from our first encounter that Emma was not the girl I should have asked out for coffee.

We stood next to each other in the back room of a Moorhead bar, she was this tiny little blond hipster girl wearing a tight track jacket, and we watched a local band fizzle through a set. Emma and I flirted between songs, and before she left for the night I asked for her number so we could do the coffee-date thing.

And then she was gone and I felt all warm inside and the band played on.

But Emma reappeared 15 minutes later, tapping my shoulder.

And when I whipped around I saw there was mascara or eyeliner (all the same to me) all over her temples.

Not in a pattern that made me think Emma had been crying and wiping it onto her forehead, but more in a pattern that made me think she tried to apply her mascara/eyeliner without a mirror and someone kept bumping her elbow.

She craned her neck up at me and I recoiled at the black lines on her head, and in a squeaky valley-girl voice that I would soon come to hate, she asked: “Um, do you have any gum?”

So to recap: Emma left the bar, came back 15 minutes later with shit all over her face, and then asked me as if she had been standing there the whole time if I had any gum.

I didn’t have any gum.

And somehow I didn’t have the intelligence to call off our coffee date.


We went out twice before I told her that I think we should just be friends, and oddly enough she took me up on that friendship offering.

But like any opposite-sex friendship where there had been kissing and heavy petting at one point, there was always the possibility that it could happen again.

And it did.

Friends with benefits, I guess.

All this is to say that I spent a couple months hanging out with Emma, learning more about her family and friends, learning that her deceased father had left her a lot of money.

Like, a lot of money.

Which isn’t a big deal, except that I was pretty damn broke and she always made me pay for our friendly dinners, drinks, anything.

And this isn’t what made her crazy; this is what made her totally frustrating.

What made her a bit crazy to me is that she saw a therapist regularly and that she didn’t seem to change the things she was working on.

At all.

And there I’d be, home working on a paper and she’d call from her therapist’s office asking for me to pick her up.

And she’d say, “Pleeeeeeease. I’ll buy you some ice cream.”

Feeling guilty, feeling the need to help this girl like I’ve felt the need to help all these girls from their craziness, I’d go pick her up and drive us to the ice cream stand… and, much to the dismay of the moths in my wallet, she wouldn’t have any cash on her and I’d have to pay.


Emma often offered to buy me something, or offered to pay me back, but it never transpired.

And my resentment grew.

One night she called me saying that she was sick, that she had thrown up all over her bed and bathroom floor, and she asked me to go to the store for several items (that added up to nearly $35) that would help her clean up and and several items (that added up to $20) to make her feel better.

“I’ll pay you back,” she squeaked into the phone.

She never fucking did.


Near the end of that summer session, I tried hard to avoid Emma.

Didn’t return calls.

Didn’t answer the door.

Didn’t back down from the just wanting to be friends label I pressed upon our shoulders.

But one summer night I answered her call. She wanted to know what I was doing the next day, and I told her I was going to the Moorhead public pool. I had been spending a lot of time there since A) we were in the middle of a brutal heat wave and I didn’t have air conditioning, B) it was right around the corner from my apartment and C) it only cost a dollar to get in.

“If you want to come with me,” I said, “that’s cool. It only costs a dollar so you only have to bring a dollar.”

I mentioned that it only cost a dollar three times in our three minute phone conversation:

“It only costs a dollar so you only have to bring a dollar.”

“The great thing is that it only costs a dollar to get in.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow with your towel and the dollar you need to get in.”

I told myself that if she didn’t bring that fucking dollar, then she would be watching me enter that fucking pool without her.

Emma arrived the next day, we walked to the pool and I waited for her to approach the window first.

But she stayed back.

“Go ahead,” I said, ready to pounce.

“Um, I don’t have any money on me,” she said.

And pounce, I did: “Emma, what the fuck? How do you not have a dollar on you after I told you to bring a fucking dollar? Come on. It’s one fucking dollar that I asked you to bring for yourself because I’m done buying you shit all the time when I’m broke and eating Totino’s frozen pizza and drinking water every night.”

She stared at me on the verge of tears.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I guess I’ll go home.”

I slapped down two bucks and met her poolside, finding a way to relax, finding a way to not be annoyed by her voice.

We went for a dip, and I did what I do every time I leave my belongings unprotected: I kept one eye on my shit and one eye squinting into the sun.


Emma and I made it to the deep end, a couple of dolphins somersaulting and snipping at each other’s tails.

I made a regular belongings check and shook water from my hair like a dog and made another check on our stuff and… holy shit, two little kids were rifling through our bags.

“Some kids are going through our stuff!” I gurgled at Emma.

I splashed and dove underwater, resurfacing only when I had to.

I got to the shallow end of the pool where the two little kids were still digging around in our belongings, and I’m moving as fast as I can.

As fast as one can run through waist-deep water.

My arms, swinging wildly at my sides.

A teenage lifeguard up on her ladder saw me, we made eye contact, and I pointed to the kids and blurted “They’re stealing our stuff!”


I emerged from the pool like a cat who had fallen into a bathtub: claws out, scrambling for footing, hissing.

The little girl, Indian and cute and thin and maybe eight years old, was wrist-deep in the pocket of Emma’s jeans.

I grabbed her elbow and put my face inches from hers and tried to ask her what the fuck she thought she was doing, but all I could manage was “Blaaaaaargh!”

Batman, I am not.

She jumped out of her skin.

Eyes bigger than the red and white life preserver hanging on the fence.

The boy who had been searching my bag froze.

The lifeguard closed in, every sun-bather and swimmer at the pool turned to watch.

“What the fuck are you doing?” I finally managed to ask the girl.

She opened her hand to give me what she had stolen from Emma’s jeans, and that’s when I had this surprising moment of gratitude.

I was about to see how much money Emma actually had.

I was about to see how much of a dupe I had actually been those last couple months, paying for her top-shelf medicine and extra-large slushies with added strawberries.

I was about to see who was crazier, her or me.

Tell me she found a crumpled up dollar bill.

A mobster’s roll of hundreds.

A couple of twenties sandwiched between unopened packs of gum.

The little girl opened her palm over mine, tipped it, and out fell two pennies.

Two pennies.

Clink.

I laughed right into her tiny scared face.

The lifeguard grabbed the shoulders of the little boy and we had our thieves.

The lifeguard wanted to call the police.

Apparently these two were part of a larger group of kids who had been causing trouble the whole summer.

(An hour earlier I had seen a few of them with their arms shoved up inside a Coke machine, hoping to get a paw on a loose can.)

I said that calling the police wasn’t necessary, but she called them anyhow.


When the male cop walked into the pool area ten minutes later and interviewed me from my beach chair–everyone watching, quiet, trying to hear–the cop ended by asking “And how much did she get?”

“How much money? Two cents. The little girl only found two pennies.”

He laughed and repeated, “Two pennies. Nice.”

And I felt sad for everyone involved, including myself, and I said, “The poor thing couldn’t have picked a worse person in the city to steal from. This chick I’m with is totally crazy.”

Leave No Trace

By Slade Ham

Humor

We piled into two vehicles, loaded down with supplies and towing a trailer full of canoes. Six of us were headed across the state of Texas to spend a week paddling through Boquillas Canyon, hopping across rocks, and sleeping under the stars.

It was an eclectic group. I was traveling with two former Boy Scouts, a pothead, his girlfriend, and a hippie type named Allison. Allison was a friend of a friend. Formerly a waitress, she had just recently returned from a three month stint living in a forest. “Oh cool,” I said. “You stayed with a friend who has a house in the woods?”

“No. I actually lived in a forest,” she replied.

“Like a squirrel?”

“No. Like a person, just without a house.”

“So, like a squirrel.” I was very confused.

I was then given the canned anarchist speech about the shackles of societal life and the evils of government in general. I started to comment on the concept of social contract, but was met with the glazed-over eyes of someone that clearly had no interest in a real conversation. “All I know is that I don’t want to work anymore,” she said. “I just want to go back and live in Florida with the rest of the Rainbow Family.”

To be more specific, she meant The Rainbow Family of Living Light. It’s basically nothing more than a large group of homeless gypsies; think Burning Man without the burning man. In their own egalitarian way, they have removed any sense of lower, upper, and middle class, and instead all just choose to live in poverty. They build tent cities in the middle of our national forests, filled with beggars and runaways and, amazingly enough, families with children.

“Children?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “And some of the children were so bad. It was unbelievable. One time a six year old called me a ‘fucking idiot’. At six!”

“Well, he was dragged into the woods to live with crazy people. I can see how he might have seen you that way. You’re a grown woman that lives in a forest.”

* * *

After ten hours on the road and a few hours of uncomfortable napping, we finally pushed the canoes into the current of the Rio Grande. Emery was the trip’s leader. He had been a Boy Scout for as long as they will let you be a Boy Scout and had brought another formerly dedicated Scout friend with him. Though I have grown to love the outdoors in my adult life, I never did any of that type of thing in my youth. I was a baseball and soccer player. I couldn’t build a fire with a flamethrower.

In Scouts they teach you a few core ideals. In addition to things like doing your best and being prepared, Scouts are taught to leave no trace when exploring our nation’s wilderness. This was a tradition that was briefly mentioned to me and one I agreed to casually.

“It’s a Leave No Trace trip,” Emery said to me over drinks a few days before we left. “You cool with that?”

“Sure,” I replied, and then took another shot of Jameson. I only admit to agreeing now because he told me that I did. Still, “no trace” sounded somewhat simple to me. We won’t leave any trash. Yay, look. No trace.

What I did not grasp was the fact that they intended to leave nothing whatsoever. Trash could not be burned; it had to be packed out. If you had to pee, you had to walk 200 feet away from the river and find a spot devoid of plant life. Fires had to be contained, and the ashes brought with us when we left. I couldn’t imagine being in possession of a sack of ashes. “What’s in the bag?” someone might ask.

“A phoenix,” I would be forced to reply.

There could be no leftover food either. If it was prepared, it must be eaten. I was having difficulty by the first night. “I’m not eating your stupid fucking pudding, Emery!”

“You have to. We all have to do our part. Those are the rules.”

“Those are your rules. I’m going to dump it in the river, Emery. I am. Watch me.”

“Dude, that’s not cool.”

“No. What’s not cool is making ten cups of vanilla pudding for six people that don’t like fucking pudding. This is gay.”

“Give it to me then,” Allison chimed in. “I’ll eat some of it.”

“Of course you will,” I fired back. “You’ve been homeless for the last three months.” We were not off to a good start, and there were still four days ahead of us.

* * *

Boquillas Canyon cuts its way through Big Bend National Park, winding some twenty miles as it separates Texas from Mexico. As you approach the canyon, its walls tower ahead of you. The rocky ledges are home to mules and semi-wild horses, as well as what the guidebook refers to as “both friendly and not-so-friendly Mexicans”. That is a direct quote.

The friendlier ones made our trip amazing. As our canoes drifted along the lazy river current, all sorts of characters surfaced. It was a very convincing recreation of Disney World’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride, but with less drinking pirates and more drunk Mexicans. Instead of “yo ho ho” a man wrapped in a poncho sang “ay ay ay,” and then peeled off the next few verses of Cielito Lindo. The sun hovered unthreateningly in a brilliant blue sky and for a moment I forgot that I wanted to drown the hippie girl.

The most wonderful part about camping for me has always been the sky at night. My fascination with the massive expanse of outer space is always amplified when I am removed from the constant glow of city lights. In the back country, the sky begins to resemble a ceiling. You don’t feel like you’re outside at all, but instead lying underneath some richly gilded canopy. The longer you stare at the sky, the more stars appear, and before long you almost become hypnotized.

After eating an entire gallon of lasagna against my will, I would pull my bag out of my tent and find a secluded spot away from everyone in which to gaze out into infinity. Sometimes at dusk bats would flit through the dimming sky, capturing the orange of the firelight on their wings and lighting up just briefly before fading away again. The water trickled and rushed off to one side of me and lured me to sleep in the perfect night air.

Each morning found us breaking down our campsite and piling everything back into the canoes. I was sharing paddling duties on mine with another of the former Boy Scouts named Walt. Walt proved to be an exceptional canoe mate and eventually my co-pilot on our trip back home, but he also was in possession of a lot of useless knowledge. He created crossword puzzles in his spare time and had thus come into contact with several facts that he was more than happy to share with anyone that had ears.

When Allison turned down seconds after a meal one night, she said, “I’m not used to eating this much. I usually eat like a bird.”

Walt saw an opening. “You know, technically a bird can eat more than half its body weight in a single day, which is due to its high rate of metabolism and the amount of energy it takes to fly. Perhaps it would be more fitting to say that you ate the weight of a bird instead of like a bird. Some birds –”

“Walt?” I said.

“Yeah?”

“Shut up, Walt.”

* * *

We carried on like this the entire week. Emery would prepare insane portions of food for the six of us, and then continue to dump it onto our plates until it was gone. Walt could explain the food’s origins. Allison thought it would be better if we grew it organically like they did in the forest. “Well, we grew the mushrooms and the pot,” she said. “We would beg or dumpster dive for the rest.”

The other tagalong on our journey was Von, and Von brought his girlfriend Ashley. Von was, unknown to me at the time, bringing a plastic container full of hash on the trip. His little foil pipe and Tupperware box made their appearance around the fire every night, unnoticed by me because I was busy fighting with his girlfriend, who stood in solidarity with Allison in their hatred for all things civilized. “Stupid fucking drug laws,” she said. “We live in a country that is set up to keep us down. Pot is not dangerous at all but the government hasn’t found a way to make money off of it yet so they keep it illegal. It’s all run by corporations and I don’t want to be part of it anymore.”

“What about things like schools and roads? You drive, right?” I asked.

“Only because I have to. There should be no laws at all, but the government should still have to take care of our basic needs.”

“Are you actually listening to your own words?” I tried.

“Whatever. I would happily live in the forest with you, Allison.”

“You know there are some trees right over there,” I said, pointing a mile off into the distance. “You two could go practice.”

“You’re such an asshole,” Ashley said.

“I know. But you’re a Communist.”

Their desire to take more than they gave weaved its way into our daily regimen. They were both conveniently absent when it came time to break down our camp in the morning, or to set up at night. They both sat in the front of their respective canoes and pretended to paddle, somehow still finding a way to point out that they thought my canoe was lighter than theirs.

“He’s not working as hard as us!” they yelled.

“What? How can I work less than zero?” I yelled back. “It’s impossible. I can’t negative paddle. Even if I were paddling backwards, I would still be doing more work.”

Had Von not been high, he might have felt the need to defend her. As it stood though, I just fell into synch with Walt’s paddling, and we drifted out ahead and away from them. Walt’s voice appeared behind me, “You know that in the Bushi region of the Congo women aren’t even allowed to speak at all in public and for that matter –“

“Hey, Walt?”

“Yeah?’

“Shut up, Walt.”

Despite my career standing in front of massive groups of people, I am not a social creature. I prefer isolation and time alone. I happily contribute my share to any group effort, but all in all, I am not a fan of communal living. I took every chance I could to scramble off amongst the boulders and cliffs along the way, losing myself in the sand and shadow along the river’s edge. It was cathartic and freeing, regardless of the tension between me and the girls on the trip. Night after night, a glimmering strip of sky hung between the canyon walls, daring me to reach up and run my fingers through the starlight. It was remarkable.

* * *

We packed up the trucks after the last day in the back country. Loaded down with equipment and canoes, we began the long trek home. We had left the river in immaculate condition, in some places even cleaner than when we had arrived. We were good little Scouts, all of us. No trace at all. Emery offered to drive first, and with Allison and Walt in the other vehicle, Tom and Ashley climbed in behind me. “I really have to pee,” I heard Ashley say as I drifted to sleep in the passenger seat.

“Too late now,” Emery told her. “You’ll have to wait until we stop.”

Sometime later, I heard a voice I didn’t quite recognize. How long had I been asleep? I cracked an eye open to see the fuzzy outline of a militant looking Border Patrol agent standing at the driver’s side window. I pulled myself up straight in my chair.

If Christoph Waltz’s character from Inglourious Basterds had a Latin cousin, I’d found him. Nothing was out of place on this man’s uniform. It was spotless and polished, and he carried one leather glove that he rhythmically slapped against his open hand. His accent was thick and cocky, but he still looked like a cartoon Mexican Nazi.

“I need zee four of you to step out of zee vehicle,” he said. We all complied, and then watched as Walt and Allison drove past us and on down the interstate. Certainly Walt was telling her all about the history of the United States border with Mexico, while she inquired about the right to live in the deserts on the other side of the Rio Grande.

“Zee reason I have detained you is because our dog has detected, how you say, zee smell of drugs in your vehicle. Now, vee can do this zee easy vay, or I can have my people take your entire car apart and go through all of zee contents until vee find vat vee are looking for.”

Ashley was doubled over as he spoke. “Sir, I really have to go to the bathroom.”

“I’m so sorry. You vill have to vait until vee have sorted this out.” He smacked his gloved and paced in front of us, trying to determine who was responsible. His apathy to her predicament was obvious.

So Ashley peed on herself.

The puddle widened at her feet while she stood as stoically as she could. “Vat exactly are you doing?” the Agent asked.

“I told you I had to go,” she said.

“But zat is crazy, to just, how you say, go on your pants like zat?” As he spoke, I sat down on the ground. I was laughing uncontrollably. He smacked his glove again as he walked over to me. “Is it you? Are you on zee drugs? Is zat vie you are laughing like zat?”

I was dying. I gasped for air as I tried to find words. “She… I mean, I. No… you. Pee. Everywhere. Stop. I can’t… breathe.” I cackled like a maniac as I rolled over onto my back.

“It’s mine,” Von said suddenly, possibly because his girlfriend was soaking wet. “They didn’t know anything about it.” It was a respectable move, and the truth was that no one did know he had carried his stash with him this whole time. I assumed he had finished it long ago, and even if he hadn’t that he would have ditched it before we got to a border check station.

“Vell,” said the Agent, “Vee vill have to put you in, how you say, zee holding cell until vee get zee sheriff on zee phone. Zee rest of you, come vith me.”

We were escorted into the station and held while they went through the car. Von sat in a cell in another room while Ashley, now in a fresh pair of clothes, continued to complain. “This is the problem, man. Stupid fucking laws like this. That’s why I don’t want to live here anymore. See?”

“I totally agree with you,” I said. “This is a stupid law. You know what else is stupid? Bringing drugs through a Border Patrol station. And guess what? The minute they let us go, I’m leaving him here.”

“It was pretty dumb,” Emery said, cutting his eyes at her. “And you peed on yourself. Don’t forget about that. That was awesome.”

We sat there for five hours until Von was taken to jail by the Sheriff and we were released. With no cell phone service, we pulled into the city of Marathon, Texas, proud population of 600. There was only one business open and it was a bar. Walt and Allison were sitting inside as we walked in. Apparently they had befriended the bar owner who had offered them dinner and arranged for them to stay at the bed and breakfast across the street.

“I think I might just stay here for good,” said Allison. “They have an organic garden in town where I can grow things and there is a hostel where I can live.”

“You’re just going to move here after five hours?” I asked.

“I think so. Where’s Von?”

Emery answered her. “We can’t get him out until morning, so I guess we’re just going to stay here until then.”

I, however, was not. “I’m driving, Walt. Give me the keys.”

“Shouldn’t we –“

“Walt?”

“I know. I’ll shut up.”

It was almost midnight when I pulled the trailer full of canoes away from the curb. Walt was asleep in the passenger seat, drunk and snoring, and as the lone light in Marathon faded behind us, I couldn’t help but smile a little bit. It really was like we were never there.

Emery made it back with Ashley and Von a day later, and aside from dropping off a gypsy girl to live in West Texas, we left no trace that we had even passed through the area at all.


So, he dropped me off at the edge of this mountainy type geological formation that was covered in forest. I was glad to be dropped off. The 40 minute drive out to this seemingly random point had been filled with little bubblets of conversation like:

“That’s when I knew that Jeremy was a total psycopath and there was no choice but to pull the trigger. Him or me. Feel that?” He offered his finger for me to examine tactilely. I was assuming it was his trigger finger. There was a nodule. “Got caught in the trigger mechanism. Saved his life. Lucky, huh?”

Uh huh.

Then there was the moment when he busted off the cuff into an acapella rendition of the prayer of serenity set to the tune of ‘Uptown Girl’. Don’t try it yourself. The rhythm doesn’t fit and there’s really no explaining the oral acrobatics it took for him to ‘make it work’.

Worst of all, I was headed, do to novel worthy circumstances that I ain’t about to try and shove into an abbreviated post, somewhere that I never thought in my wildest dreams I would be heading, to a Rainbow gathering.

The short of it was I was stuck in Indiana with no money and needed to get to Memphis. Someone told me that this would be the best place to procure a free ride.

He offered me once more to hit the bong which I’d already thrice refused, the bong which I’d displaced by riding shotgun. I refused it for a fourth time, nodded my thanks and headed up the mountain trail. It was near dark and darkening. I was following the sound of a drum which I assumed made up part of a circle. A drum circle at a Rainbow gathering. Jesus save me.

And oddly enough, that’s just what happened. If bowled over can be considered saved.

A man, whose name I was later to learn was Jesus, a hippy from El Salvador, came running full-throttle down the dark hill and plowed into me from behind, causing me to trip and plunge my head into a little baptismal puddle. Amen.

“Oh, man…” He said, laughing. “Sorry, dude. Puta.”

I got up slowly and wiped the mud from my forehead.

He was in his mid thirties, long hair in a pony tail, beer-bodied, but not fat. He offered his hand. “Jesus.”

Which I shook. “Ryan.”

He led me down to the drum circle, in front of which I tried not to cringe visibly, and introduced me. There was Bazzle, a heavily tattooed ex-con in his Fifties who informed me that he would be on ‘flapjack duty’ come morning, Rake, a very, possibly too, young-ish girl with incredibly pink hair and Chris, who did very little in the way of distinguishing himself which sort of made him stand out. There were others, ten or fifteen, but I don’t remember them beyond as an amorphous populous meandering at the periphery, emitting the occasional howl, or tossing a loose log on the fire.

We stayed up late, deeply involved in fireside conversations about the failure of material possessions to provide meaning, the allure of the road, the entrapments of monogamy, work, technology and all sorts of other awesome hippy metaphysicals, which in truth found me fully engrossed and considering a massive investment in hemp products.

They told me I was lucky to have found them. Bazzle said that he was like a talisman who brought fortune to peoples lives.

I woke up in the morning with a spider on my face. I screamed and swatted at my own nose long after I was sure the beast had been banished. It was then that I realized how quiet it was. How alone I was. How gone all the people that had been there last night were. How gone my wallet and bag were. And I walked to the road hoping there would be something a little better this side of the rainbow.