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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Hoodoos and Weird Stuff and Models O My – Another Trip To The Bisti

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on February 21, 2017

So, this happened a while back: another trip to the 45,000-acre Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness in northeastern New Mexico.

Big Badlands stitch 1.jpg

Met up with a group of photographers and models, although I’m really most intrigued by the fantastic scenery. It was the background for a scene near the end of the 1977 U.S. movie Sorcerer, which was a remake of the 1953 French movie called The Wages of Fear. Georges Arnaud wrote the original source material, Le Salaire de la peur. The 1953 film did not not use the Bisti as a backdrop. Both movies are available from Netflix.

So, without further ado, the photos follow. Click on any one to view it larger, then you can use the arrows to slide through all the photos in a larger size.

(Note: added a few more in a second set below.)

 

2nd set:

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Bride of Burning Man in Pennsylvania

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on October 9, 2015

Sat down to write but there was a cat sitting on the desk. I was unwilling to chase him off since I’m only a day back from having been gone for a week, but I ended up picking him up and relocating him to another part of the desk. For a cat that used to live on a golf course, and only saw familiar faces once a week, he seemed to take my absence hard. I had thought, if he hadn’t disappeared, that he’d be happy to see me, but he remained sitting in my chair after I had first entered and closed the front door. A very talkative cat, he remained quiet as I petted him. His eye seemed to have been unusually leaky, with a large dark spot of something in the white fur underneath the eye. He sat so quiet and unmoving I thought he must be sick. Perhaps the eye was infected? I gave him a few treats. He had been fed treats at the golf course, and expected them daily. However, he would not eat them. That’s when I decided he must be sick, and I resolved to get him to a veterinarian, first thing in the morning.

In the morning, he was different, much like his regular self. He sought me out, and I gave him treats. He ate them. His eye looked better. He is active again, well, as much as he usually is. For a young cat, he sits and sleeps a lot. So, anyway, I sat down today to write about my trip to Pennsylvania.

It was very wet there. Joaquin Joaquin was a hurricane threatening the U.S. East Coast when I arrived on October 1. It is now a dissipating tropical rainstorm, aka a post-tropical cyclone. It rained all of the day I arrived, although I meant to run when I arrived. It rained all of the next day too, and it was still raining early Saturday morning. Not only did I need to run, as I have been training to run my first full marathon, but my sister and her family were planning their annual burning man party for that evening. All of the wooden pallets for the giant figure were soaking wet. Artists showed up and were working diligently in the garage to create a face for the burning man, although this year it would be a woman, with the face of the bride of Frankenstein’s monster. 100315 (2) The Bride of Burning Man. Those are firecrackers in her hair. There was a body too, to be attached to the wet pallets already stacked, and two huge balloon boobs to be tucked into her cloth blouse. 100315 (18)

I had left with my brother-in-law to do some shopping, and he asked me to help with the final assembly when we returned. The rain finally slowed, and had mostly stopped. I said I would help, but it was then 11 am, and I waited until 3:30 pm, without any action on the pallet creature, so I took off on a run. As I passed the field with the Bride of Burning Man, it was finally being worked on from a huge metal scaffolding. I, however, needed desperately to run, and run hard. I ran a mile up the country road in front of their house and found, past the turnoff for that road, that the road continued. After I’d run that mile I found a small track in a park built by a tiny elementary school. It measured less than one-third of a mile, so I’d have to run around it 3 1/2 times for each mile. Given that the roads around that remote countryside were all two-laned, without runable shoulders, I opted to run that little track instead. To top it off, there were portable outhouses on site, an essential part of running for an almost 65-year old. My birthday was days away, and this marathon ten days after that was to be my birthday present to myself: Take that old age!

After 32 times around that little track, I’d had enough. I had run steadily, relentlessly, and I was tired, with one more mile to go to return to my sister’s house. I had been charged by my running coach to run 18 miles, but it was late, lightly raining, and it had turned cold enough that I’d had to wear a jacket for the last couple miles, and it would soon be dark. I resolved to run the next day and the next. However, my back was very sore, and my body ached all over the next day, and the next, so I put off running for two days, and only ran another 6 1/2 miles. It would have to do.

The party was awesome. There was plenty of food and drink. My sister makes her own beer, and there were two small kegs of her beer on tap, 100315 (47) as well as bottles of her reserves, and other beer that people brought, as well as wine. There were some fine dishes to sample, spicy fried chicken, and some nicely spiced home-cooked shrimp. My sister had also prepared a Hungarian goulash in a huge kettle on a fire outside.  100315 (46)

The face was dropped on the way to attach it, but it looked only slightly changed for that. Due to the high winds and problems with one arm, it was not attached. However, even with one arm, she looked good. The burning was preceded by women with flaming hoops, a man with a flaming bucket, and even one woman with a flaming whip. There was a soundtrack for the whole thing, and the music built to a nice crescendo to coincide with the burn. Before the burn, people had assembled some gunpowder “bombs” to go off during the burning. Some were constructed to simply add smoke and fire, while others, as had been done for the 4th of July, were made for noise. It took some doing to get the burning going. A lot of accelerant was used, but even so, it looked doubtful the Bride would completely burn. One man even used a commercially available personal flamethrower to help things along. The booms from the noise bombs were not only loud and startling, but I felt the shock wave from 80 feet away, including the heat of each explosion. Powerful little suckers. The next day, there was a story in the local paper that people had heard two or four explosions in the area, and one woman, on a street some distance away, claimed one of her windows was broken by a shockwave. Police are said to be investigating. The police, however, where about 7/10 of a mile away from the burning of the Bride of Burning Man, and they did not drive over to see if the explosions had come from that.

My step-brother, however, is prepared to reimburse the woman with the broken window. As well, it was decided not to use the loud booms for any future burning man parties, as local dogs were spooked, and even though they did not appear to have been affected, there are also horses in the area. Perhaps the booms will return for the next 4th of July party.

It was a spectacular event, all the more notable for its huge flames after days of cold rain and high winds in the area. One woman came to the small track while I had been running; she said she simply had to get out of the house. Photos follow:
LOTS OF PHOTOS; CLICK TO CONTINUE

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Going To Mars, Wine, Wine

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on March 2, 2012

MARCH 2, 2012

        

As much as I’d like to go to Mars, and work in a habitat, it’s not likely; the earliest populated mission to Mars is in 2037.  However, I have applied to the Cornell/University of Hawaii Mars Analogue Mission and Food Study. Applications are now closed, and about 700 people applied; only eight will participate. It’s a 120-day Mars exploration analogue mission that will take place in early 2013 on the big island of Hawaii. I’m psyched! Actually, studies of the effects of living in an enclosed environment for long periods of time have already been done. Between 2007 and 2011, a crew of volunteers lived and worked in a mock-up spacecraft. The final stage of the Mars-500 experiment, which was intended to simulate a 520-day manned mission, was conducted by a crew consisting of three Russians, a Frenchman, an Italian and a Chinese citizen. The experiment helped plan the mission, identifying possible problems and solutions. The mock-up facility simulated the Earth-Mars shuttle spacecraft, the ascent-decent craft, and the martian surface. Volunteer crew used in the three stages included professionals with experience in fields such as engineering, medicine, biology, and spaceflight. There have been many other similar studies and more underway, in Antarctica, Europe, Russia, China and Australia.

520 days! Holy crap! That includes a round-trip flight time of between 400 to 450 days. What will we do in space that long? I’m trying to imagine what 120 days in isolation will be like, and that’s only in a contained environment on Hawaii. However, the habitat part of this mission doesn’t involve psychological effects or exploration. It’s all about the food!  People on long missions typically eat only prepackaged meals, or concentrates. No matter how tasty the food, a type of fatigue sets in, a food monotony, and astronauts not only lose interest in the food, but also eating meals altogether. Additionally, prepackaged meals contribute more weight to a mission already starved for mass. Every bit of mass taken on a spaceflight must be boosted into orbit, at tremendous cost with limited storage space. There are other problems: prepackaged meals have a shorter storage life than the individual ingredients. Moreover, all of the crew members have scientific and exploratory goals, and time spent in food preparation and cleanup is time lost to research.

I think this type is thinking is short-sighted. I know exploring Mars will be exciting. I know the prospect of living on another planet will be exciting. I also know that there is such a thing as job fatigue. One cannot spend all of one’s time on the mission. I don’t mean just that all work and no play makes the Mars explorer dull. I mean that everyone needs a break from their own work. I propose that each member of the crew take turns preparing meals and cleaning up, say one day a week for each person. Perhaps one day a week, assuming there is a six-member crew, be a non-cooking day. The crew could simply eat prepackaged meals on that day, and everyone gets a break.

I’m sure that the experience of preparing meals will benefit every member of the crew. There will be the benefit of eating freshly prepared foods. There had better be a small array of spices! Salt, pepper, red chile powder, garlic powder, onion flakes, maybe some packaged shallots, and other spices as crew members might suggest. Nothing helps break the monotony like different spices; and dried powders are very light. Will there be cooking oil, I wonder?  How about some sesame oil and chile oil too? Certainly some oil is a necessary part of our diet. Instant butter! Mmm.

One thing I’d recommend: high fat, great tasting food.  One does not get fat or malnourished by eating good foods. One gets fat or malnourished by eating too little or too much food. Period. These programs might be making the mistake of assuming all the food must be low-fat, low-salt and low-sugar. No, my friends, I don’t think so. If portion size is strictly controlled, one can have snacks and deserts and still maintain a healthy diet and weight. I’m sure the calorie-intake needs of each person can be measured, and such a group of dedicated explorers, knowing how limited their food supplies are, will adhere to strict guidelines for food consumption. There should be enough leeway to allow for the occasional party, with some special food and drink.

What will these intrepid explores drink by the way? Water is extremely heavy to ship into space. In an ideal situation, the Mars explorers will find ice or other trapped water on, or close to the surface. But we do not live by water alone. I’m sure there are some powdered drinks to break up the monotony. Coffee, PLEASE! But you know what makes digestion go better, and livens up the entire eating experience? Wine! How’s that for an idea?  I know a lot about wine, particularly food-pairing. I am a partner in the Anasazi Fields Winery in Placitas, New Mexico. We pair our fruit wines with a wide variety of foods. Apricot wine goes extremely well with fatty fish and aged cheese, for example. Cranberry wine goes quite well with roast chicken, turkey and mild cheeses. I’m not just talking about a connoisseur’s point of view. I find that certain foods, like venison, soft and/or aged cheeses, for example, bring out intense fruit flavors in wine. The wine itself alters the palate so that the food itself is more flavorful. How about that, mission control? Can we have wine with our meals? We need it. Can wine be freeze-dried and retain its alcohol and flavor? I don’t know. Alcohol is usually the first thing to go when dehydrating liquids. The alcohol would sublimate from even frozen wine. I don’t know how to solve this problem, but I’m telling you all right now: if you want those souls trapped in a hostile environment to always enjoy their meals, they will need wine. Put it in individual lightweight boxes, like those ubiquitous boxed fruit drinks. Put it in small bags. Put it in anything lightweight, but bring it!

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MARCH 3, 2012 – Walking to Mars (Mars reached the closest point to the Sun in its orbit)

On Wednesday, February 29, after I had sent my application off the night before, I went hiking into the Sandia Mountains. Short hike; just fours miles up and back the Domingo Baca trail. The entire time I kept thinking that I need to get in better shape. I still have to pass a Class 2 flight physical. Of the 700+ people who applied for this mission, 30 will be selected and notified to get the physical. I expect the physical will help prune that number down to the remaining eight. We still don’t know when we will hear anything. In the meantime, I need to keep walking. Today, March 3, I went on another 4-mile hike, but climbed 1200 feet in elevation in one hour! My hiking group hiked to the Eye of the Sandias. It was painted in the 1960s, refreshed in the 1990s and it looked as if it had been touched up within the last two years as well. The Eye looks out at Albuquerque, monitoring its growth, according to legend. It was a good hike. We started at about 7200 feet and climbed to 8400 feet to take a break at the Eye. I took some photos and we went on back down. I suspect I’m going to have to increase the number of hikes I go on, and get back to those 9 to 12 mile hikes I was going on two years ago. Time to get this old body back into shape, and I’d better hurry. I’d hate to be selected and fail the flight physical. Anyway, here are some pics from today. Some are looking out across Albuquerque to Mount Taylor, some 90 miles away. Other shots show my hiking companions, the Eye itself, and parts of the trail. One shot shows I-40 snaking eastward though Tijeras canyon, even as we were able to view Albuquerque and Mt. Taylor. It really is a good place for an eye.

As viewed from the Sandias, 90 miles away.

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MARCH 5, 2012 – News & Information

Finally, some information: “The selection panel is currently going through the applications to determine a short-list of candidates, who will then be asked to get an aviation medical exam (at our cost), and to provide references. We expect to be able to inform you whether or not you are on the short-list by the end of March.” Good to know.

In case some of you are wondering why the hell the Mars mission itself is important, there is this:

http://www.npr.org/2012/02/27/147351252/space-chronicles-why-exploring-space-still-matters

Exploring space, especially the planets around us, IS important to our future, not only for our nation, but for the survival of our planet.

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MARCH 7, 2012 – It’s a not-in-Kansas-anymore twister! 

Half a mile high! Image from the high-resolution camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. More info: http://bitly.com/zNeD5P

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MARCH 9, 2012 – posted on HI-SEAS:

“As we go through the applications, we are blown away by the caliber and the passion of the applicants. You all are amazing.”

Of course! 🙂

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MARCH 12, 2012 – The Case For Space

Please read this article: The Case For Space

 In it, the author makes a logical, but also very compelling pitch for the United States to go to Mars sooner, not later, and to revamp its space program now. A hazy “commitment” to Mars sometime in the late 2030s is not going to keep us on track. President Obama said that the Apollo program “produced technologies that have improved kidney dialysis and water purification systems; sensors to test for hazardous gases; energy-saving building materials; and fire-resistant fabrics used by firefighters and soldiers. And more broadly, the enormous investment of that era — in science and technology, in education and research funding — produced a great outpouring of curiosity and creativity, the benefits of which have been incalculable.” Of course, according to author Neil deGrasse Tyson, there is much more to that list of revolutionary spinoff technologies, including digital imaging, implantable pacemakers, collision-avoidance systems on aircraft, precision LASIK eye surgery, and global positioning satellites. Even in troubled economic times, the author states, the United States is a sufficiently wealthy nation to embrace an investment in its own future in a way that would drive the economy, the country’s collective ambitions, and, above all, the dreams of coming generations; in 1969 the United States went to the moon while fighting two wars — one cold, one hot — during the most turbulent decade in American history since the Civil War.

Imagine the excitement when NASA, bolstered by a fully funded long-term plan, starts to select the first astronauts to walk on Mars. Right now, those science-savvy future explorers are in middle school. As they become celebrities whom others seek to emulate, the United States will once again witness how space ambitions can shape the destiny of nations.

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MARCH 28, 2012

No news yet; just this post from HI-SEAS:

“We expect to have an update for applicants next week. Thank you for your patience as we give your applications the attention they deserve.”

I’m patient, but next week seems so far away now. 🙂

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APRIL 7, 2012 NEWS!

Received this today:

Thank you for your interest in the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and
Simulation. As you may know, we received almost 700 applications for
this mission, for only six crew positions. Because of this huge
response, we have had to add one more stage to the process (as
originally described in the call for participation). At this point, you
are one of the candidates for a potential
education/journalism/outreach/art/social-media position on the crew.
However, we will have to narrow the total pool down further before
moving on to interviews, references and medicals. We expect to be able
to notify the ~30 crew semi-finalists by mid-April.

This must be what waiting for a launch window is like: “end of March”, “next week”, and now “mid-April”. I’m pretty damn excited! I feel like a kid waiting for a holiday.

APRIL 20, 2012 Final News

My last message from HI-SEAS:

“Dear HI-SEAS Applicant,
Thank you again for your interest in the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog
and Simulation. I am sorry to inform you that you have not been selected
for the interview stage of the application process. We had a very large
number of highly qualified applicants, and it was extremely difficult to
narrow the pool down.
We expect to be able to run further HI-SEAS missions, so even if you
will not participate as a crewmember this time, we will keep you on file
for future opportunities. If you would like us to delete your
application from our files, let us know.
Thanks again for your application, and for your commitment to human
space exploration.”

Oh, well, and my hopes were so high. This was the first thing I’ve been excited about in years.

Posted in coffee, current events, health, Mars, opinion, space, spices, Travel, wine | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Hoodoos and Petrified Wood: Bisti / De-Na-Zin Badlands in New Mexico

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on February 2, 2012

I went hiking in the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness recently. I thought people might be interested in seeing some photos. After you click on one, you can use the arrows to view all of the photos. They are high resolution photos, so give each one time to fully load before moving on to the next one. It was fantastic hiking there.

Posted in hiking, photography, Travel | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

40 Years and a Retirement Hike

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on November 2, 2009

After spending nearly 40 years of my life working, post high school, I retired from my last job after 25 years there.  unm_logo

In high school I flipped burgers, but after leaving high school, my first real job was running equipment in a physics lab at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. JHUPhysicsLab-1 It was a good job, working with a machine that used x-rays to measure molecular spacing in crystals, like silicon and germanium, which would prove vital to computers later on.  It was, however, boring and repetitious, but I took night classes for free there.  I stopped working full time to attend the University of Maryland Baltimore County UMBC_Seal for two years, but continued working part time as an independent contractor.  I simply typed up a bill for my time every week.  As good as that was, I was also involved in anti-war and anti-government protests, as well as volunteer work with a free clinic, caduceus classes with a chapter of the Black Panthers, Free Breakfast Program and experiments with sex and drugs, so college work seemed irrelevant.  The University finally told me my grade-point average was too low to continue, so I’d have to drop out for a couple semesters.  Instead, I left town with my bicycle, riding through parts of Michigan, Canada, Wisconsin and North Dakota.  Short of money, I took my second real job, as an electrician’s assistant for a large mid-western carnival: Murphy Brothers Mile Long Pleasure Exposition. Murphy Brothers 001 I spent a full season with them, running cables to rides, troubleshooting, and maintaining the generators.  Then, when my final pay was stolen by Toothless Lester, so he could go on a binge, I stayed on and worked small fairs in Oklahoma and Florida.  Florida in winter is nice, and I got to swim in the ocean in December, but the ride I was with didn’t get enough business, for the four of us it took to set up and run, for us to eat all that well.   I split to Virginia to visit people I’d met in Canada.  The only work I could find there was helping out on a small goat farm, so I passed on that, and hopped a train back to Baltimore.

I got another job at Johns Hopkins LogoJhu after a short search, and this time I was preparing genetics and developmental biology laboratory materials for the pre-med students there.   That job got short circuited when a graduate student opened a drawer in a chicken egg incubator, and left it open.  The large rotating drum full of dozens of drawers full of eggs then tilted forward, and the drawer slid out.  It didn’t have far to go, and could have slipped back in, but ventilation was maintained by aid of a wooden blade revolving around the drum.  The graduate student was long gone by the time the wooden blade slammed into the open drawer, jamming the whole device, and causing the premature hatching of 50 to 60 chicks.  I was blamed.  As it was, there had been complaints from the students of contaminated agar plates, which was also blamed on me, even though the students did not follow instructions very well, and violated every protocol they were given to prevent contamination.  Another job down the tubes.  I knew exactly what to do: get on the bicycle again.  This time I left Baltimore directly, and rode west to Arizona.  After hiking across the Grand Canyon and back, I ended up in Scottsdale, Arizona, working for a crafts foundry run by Paolo Solari, a visionary architect building an “Arcology” in the desert.  I made bronze wind-bells, melting bronze, ramming clay/sand mixtures around molds and then pouring the bronze, cleaning up the raw products, assembling and even selling them. arco-santi-bells Sometimes I helped out by giving tours to tourists and other visitors.  It was a fine job, but I met some bicyclists traveling through who were doing advance work for a cross-country bicycling/networking trip.  I agreed to join them when the group arrived from California.

That was my longest break from working ever, although it involved riding a bicycle nearly every day for six months.  Sometimes we did odd jobs to supplement our communal income, and we all gave workshops in our specialties. ProjectAmerica1976 Mine was bicycle maintenance and repair.  The tour ended, and I tried working for a solar contractor in Philadelphia, but that didn’t work out.  I hadn’t enough experience in carpentry (none with solar panels) to satisfy my boss, who had wanted to have me work unsupervised.  So, I traveled to New York City.  I knew a few people there and had a place to stay.  Then began my fourth major job: bicycle messenger.  I pedaled letters, packages, advertising films and even artwork all over Manhattan on my trusty metal steed. traffic However, I had met a fascinating and very sexy woman in Albuquerque when the bicycle group had stopped there for ten days.  Although I had met several woman in my travels, she seemed like the one.  She wanted me to move there, and I wanted her, so I found my way back to New Mexico.  Unfortunately, there weren’t many jobs available in the Land of Enchantment.  After six months of looking, working odd jobs, and hanging around the unemployment office, I finally got a job at the University of New Mexico as a mason’s helper.  cement_worker For a couple of years I replaced broken sidewalks, mixed hod for block walls, and even laid a brick floor in the University President’s house.  There was also some remodeling and jack hammer work.  I transferred to a job at the Cancer Center for about a year and half, injecting and implanting, respectively, tumor cells or tumor chunks into rats and mice.  Then I would treat them with radiation and drugs, monitoring them, weighing them, and dissecting them. whitelabrats It was OK work, but the Director, and my boss, the Associate Director, took their grant money and moved to Philadelphia.  I had no desire to go there, much less to the east coast, so I was out of work for another six months, doing odd jobs, and even collecting unemployment while I searched for work.  I finally found a good part-time job, analyzing electroplating baths for a printed-circuit board manufacturer, plating which gave me a chance to take University classes again.  I did that for four years, but my quality control position was dropped, and I was looking for work again.  This time I ended up back at the University, working initially with mice, removing their glands for analysis and isolation of immunoglobulins, the wonderful molecules that protect our bodies from disease. Lab_mouse

This time the job lasted 25 years.  It changed continuously though.  I stopped working with mice, and ran machines again exclusively.  There were machines for determining the amino acid sequence of a protein, sequencing for purifying such proteins, generic HPLC for making short versions of such proteins, Peptide Synthesizer for analyzing the total amino acid content of biological samples, aaa and determining the purity of all of the above.  That changed too, as we obtained new machines: first, a machine for creating synthetic DNA.  Cool.  394 Then a machine for determining the sequence of various DNA samples. 3130xl That became my job then: making and sequencing DNA.  Interesting at first, but ultimately boring and repetitive, fraught with problems.  The problems could be fun to isolate and resolve, but dealing with an ever-changing clientele of Ph.D.s, graduate students, post-graduate students, undergraduates, and dealing with all the budget balancing was sometimes frustrating.  As this last and final job wound down, I went through the motions, doing the best job I knew how, but increasingly disinterested.  I could barely force myself to go to work, much less work all day, every day.  In the end, I suddenly decided I’d had enough, and retired.

So, what do I do the day after retirement? I went hiking in the Sandia Mountains here.  Hiking the entire 18-mile length of the Faulty trail from Placitas, New Mexico to Tijeras, New Mexico. palomaspeak It was fun, with beautiful views, a clear blue sky and leftover snowfall from a snowstorm four days earlier. Faulty Trail has a mysterious origin. Diamond blazes appeared on trees marking its route before any official Forest Service recognition, and it was unofficially called the Diamond Trail. Probably an old herding route, it was apparently cleared by a horse club. The Forest Service took it over and renamed it Faulty Trail in honor of the dikes—fissures filled with igneous rock that moved up from a lower fracture and created the limestone blocks—that appear alongside the trail. Working in a laboratory for twenty-five years, however, does not really prepare one for hiking rolling hills 18 miles at almost 8000 feet above sea level, even with some hiking experience over the last year.  I saw wild turkey, Turkey_trackrabbit, rabbittracks raccoon, coonwalking deer, tracks and even fox tracks fox_tracks in the snow and mud.   Many of the trees date to the 1700 and 1800s, and some have been cored and marked with their age,  so that is a wonderful experience.   I even saw a large black coyote near the crest of the mountain. black It was one hell of a long day however, from the meet-up at 7 a.m., to the timely lunch break halfway, to wandering off the trail for a bit, to the final late, forced steps on the darkened trail in the light of a full moon at 7:30 p.m. (2 1/2 hours beyond schedule).  Tired, sore, and as hungry as a bear, I ate, went home, and crawled into bed early that night, and slept the longest I have in fifteen years: 8 and 1/2 hours non-stop!

Now that is worth retiring for.

Posted in Bicycling, hiking, Life, My Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Where would I go now?

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on January 14, 2009

I watch so many, many movies these days.  The TV is useless for much of anything else.  I don’t know what I see in the movies.  I like to escape, of course, but that is less appealing than it used to be.  There are so many stories to see, ideas to hear, intrigues, and mysteries, and wonder. Still, I find it hard to sit still for movies anymore.  I wander off and read, or check my email or auctions or Word Press stats, or play solitaire, and watch some more.  It’s not so much the movies themselves, but that I am restless again, as restless as I was in 1973 and 1975 when I rode away from jobs and family and stability.  I rode away the first time, but came back and tried again.  In 1975 I rode away for good.

Movies seem to have relevance sometimes, but I am tired of extrapolating them into the myriad ways that they reflect my own life, or comment on it, or condemn it.  They’re not as much fun as they used to be for me.  Neither is my job, and my life, which once had purpose.  It’s time to return to the carnival.  We, most of us, speak of running away to join the circus, and that’s what I did so many years ago, although it turned out to be a carnival: no animals, well, live ones anyway.  There were always the two-headed goats and five-legged cows, but they were actually in jars of formaldehyde, which you would only find out after you paid your money to see ’em.  The marks always lined up to see those kind of things, and the painted signs outside always made it seem like the animals were real, and just inside.  But, a carnival doesn’t put on animal shows, just people shows.  Mostly it’s all “punk” kiddie rides and ferris wheels, and all  the other mechanized thrill rides, with music blaring from giant speakers.  No big top, no tents really.  Lots of trucks, motor homes, and trailers.  And electrical generators, of course. Need power for all that stuff.  All those lights.  All those popcorn “poppers” and games-of-chance “joints”.  Try your luck, but you’re really buying cheap fluff.  Hotdogs and ice cream and sodas. Eat and spend. Eat and spend.  The real American dream.  Carnies epitomize our values – buy low, sell high. Maximize profits. The ideal is to get the most for the absolute least you must provide in return.  Provide thrills and escapism; promote gluttony for empty calories.  Cheap thrills. cheapthrills

When I left the carnival, I realized that much of the world around me was the same, even Universities.  It’s all sleight of hand, and manipulation, and cheap thrills.  Education, sure, it’s important, but secondary to research grants that pay the bills.  Stationary carnivals.  My brain is tired from trying to keep it straight.

I went back to work, and finished college.  I pay my bills, I eat a lot.  I watch movies. I marry and divorce and marry and divorce again, and buy and spend and work and buy and spend.  Cheap thrills.  I am viewed as more respectable than a carny, but the differences are slight.  Some towns only sit in one place, some move around, but we stay the same either way.

I can’t imagine I’d really want to work a carnival again.  But, traveling is always good.  Hiking? Bicycling? The physical activity is liberating.   As you put distance behind you, it feels like a new world, a new beginning, and you can’t go back.  All that walking or biking would be a waste if you went back.  But, one doesn’t have to travel in the opposite direction to go back.  I’ve been back to visit, but I live 1675 miles away.   Where would I go away to now?

Posted in 2000s, Life, madness, My Life, rambling, Random Thoughts, Travel, World | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Day 15 – a very slow day.

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on January 3, 2009

Well, here I am, 3 days into the new year of 2009, day 15 of my vacation from all things work related.  I’m trying to see what I’ve accomplished.

1.)  Replaced the remaining three almost-bald tires on the car – they have whitewall stripes too, matching the car (well, actually it’s cream colored).

2.) Took the rear tire off the motorcycle, scraped the grease off the gear and rim, and replaced the tire, which was stark-raving mad, er, nude, er, uh, bald.

3.) Broke a link out of the stretched-out bike chain (had to use a cold chisel); cleaned, adjusted and greased the chain.

4.) Went hiking around To’hajiilee, just west of Albuquerque. Hiked beyond my comfort level, took some nice pics.

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5.) Had lunch with my 1st wife.  Learned she thought I wanted the divorce; I thought she did.

6.) Had dinner on Xmas day with my step-daughter; made a kick-ass chile with Italian sausage, green chile, and black beans. We both enjoyed it.

7.) Went hiking in San Lorenzo canyon (near Socorro, New Mexico); hiked just past my comfort level; took a few pics.

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8.) Bought a digital picture frame; learned I haven’t beaten my eBay addiction yet.

9.) Read several books: Titan’s Daughter, by Sci Fi author James Blish; Ballroom of the Skies, a Sci Fi novel by crime/mystery novelist John D. MacDonald; Please Write For Details, also by John D. MacDonald, Wild Traveler, a 1967 story about an adopted coyote by A.M. Lightner; Jack of Eagles, by James Blish; Berlin (2): City of Smoke, graphic novel by Jason Lutes; graphic novel David Boring, by Daniel Clowes; graphic novel Far West (Vol. 1), by Richard Moore; the screenplay of Ghost World, by Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff; a wierd “art” graphic novel Jellyfist, by Jhonen Vasquez and Jenny Goldberg; and Aya of Yop City, a graphic novel by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie.

10.) Finally watched: 2010: The Year We Make Contact, the new 2008 Journey to the Center of the Earth, the orignal Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959), Transsiberian, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, Outer Limits: The 2nd Soul, the animated Superman Doomsday, anime Kai Doh Maru, Bridge to Terabithia, a dumb anime: Fencer of Minerva, Chap. 1, and The Incredible Hulk, with which I easily identify.

11.) Learned how NOT to make chocolate chip cookies.

12.) Went out to dinner with an old girlfriend on New Year’s Eve; played 2 games of chess, took her home at 10:00 pm (She goes to bed early).

13.) Went hiking 5 miles up the La Luz Trail in our Sandia Mountains; took the old trail back down; got off the trail; had to bushwhack and slide through snow to the bottom and hike back up to the trailhead.  Went beyond any comfort level I thought I had before. Had a GREAT time, because my step-daughter and her boyfriend went with me. (Hope they forgive me for leading them astray.)

Did NOT pass Go, collect $200, fall into or out of love, or have sex, but I  least I kept myself busy.  What a demented way to live. 🙂

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Trippin’ Through the 70s – Chapter Fourteen

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on December 5, 2008

Sean could see the carnival lights miles away, as a bright glow.  It was like coming up on a small town in the dark.  Instead of crowds and barkers and food, however, it was a scene of furious activity.  It was the last night of this fair, and the carnival needed to move on.  They would be expected in the next town or city the next night.  It was bright.  The lights were shining in colors, red, yellow, green, white and blue, on every ride, and floodlights mounted on towers on top of trailers lit up the entire field.

The sign on the office trailer read: “Murphy Brothers Mile Long Pleasure Trail.”  Sean asked about work and they told him to help tear down the small wheel.  Sean found the ride foreman and started climbing up and taking the long multicolored fluorescent bulbs out of their sockets, so they wouldn’t break.  Then each seat had to be removed and lifted onto the truck. ferris-wheel After all the lights and seats were off, hydraulics lowered the ride slowly down into the trailer, while Sean and a few others lifted the braces out and away from the ride.  After the ride was safely lowered into its trailer, they lifted each heavy brace and tucked it into the other trailer, the one that would carry the individual seats as well.  When that was done, the foreman told Sean to ask the office what else he could do.  When Sean told the man in the office window the wheel was finished, he looked surprised.  “Look over there. See that big generator with the light tower on it? Ask for Duane.  He’s the electrician.  He needs help.”  Sean trotted off and found Duane.  Duane was a short, muscular young man, with short blond hair and a bushy mustache.

“Yeah, OK,” he said. Here. Take this speed wrench, and start pulling the wires out of these junction boxes.  Leave the ones on this side that go to the generator, but take the ones off the other side.  Don’t let the wrench touch two poles at the same time.  Pull the wires out slow. You don’t wanna touch the sides. Got it?”  Sean said, “Sure,” and went at it.

The wrench was wrapped heavily in black electrical tape.  Each wire had a large one-holed lug crimped onto the end. The hole let the lug be dropped over one of the threaded poles in the junction box, and a large hex nut held it in place.  Sean dutifully unscrewed the lug nuts, finding that the nut tended to stay in the wrench.  When it dropped out sometimes, it fell into the box and Sean had to carefully fish it out without touching the live junction poles. He pulled the wires out carefully, but even though there was still power to each wire, the hole was insulated with a small plastic sleeve, so there wasn’t too much danger.  Unfortunately, the plastic sleeves had a habit of falling off through repeated handing, and Sean had to move real slow when there was nothing but bare metal to pull the wires through.  He did real well for a while, moving from each battered orange junction box to the next as fast as he could.  He felt rushed by all the frantic activity around him.  Sean pulled a wire slowly through a bare hole, but he slipped and let it touch the side.  The wire never made it out. electrical-spark With a nearly blinding flash of giant sparks, the wire welded itself to the hole, and simultaneously the lights went out as Big Bertha, the giant generator, popped its main breaker.  Rides still being turned or lowered shut off.  There was a sudden dark silence. Sean heard curses.  Duane ran over. Sean said, “Touched the side. Sorry.”  Duane yanked the wire hard, away from the box and ran for the generator.  He threw the breaker and that section of midway lit up again, noise blaring from rides and cheers from the workers stuck in the near dark.  “Just be careful OK?”  “Sure,” Sean said, relieved.  He thought he’d screwed up badly already.  Just after the lights had come back on he’d heard someone yell, “Hey, we got a new electrician.”  He took each wire off slowly after that.  He was no longer in a hurry.  Later Duane had him pull the wires, bundles of three one inch copper wires, and a 3/8″ ground wire, into a trailer and coil each one, layering the coils in the truck.  Sean could barely lift the hundred-foot-long bundles at first. Usually he pulled the wires over to the truck and threw one end in.  From inside he could pull the wires into a neat coil.  He spent the night doing that: disconnecting, pulling, coiling, back and forth all over the midway.  At the end, the generators, for there were more than one, had to be turned off, and the trailers closed up in preparation for the long drive.  Duane paid Sean for the work.  Sean turned to go, happy to have picked up some money, but Duane stopped him.  “Say, you want to work for us?”  “But I shorted out the generator.”   “No biggie.  You’re alive, ain’t ya?”  “Well, yeah.”  “Well, you want a job or not?”  “Yeah, sure.”

Sean wasn’t sure he really wanted to travel with a carnival.  He still wanted to ride his bike to California.  This would change everything.  However, money was money, and Sean was looking forward to having money to buy food again.  “What’s it pay?” he asked.  Duane told him it was $75 a week.  Good enough. Of course, Duane didn’t tell him that the carnival kept $15 every week until the season ended.  Then he’d get all of that as a bonus. $60 still bought a lot of meals, even at carnival prices, so Sean was happy.  If he saved some money, he could resume his trip.   Next stop: Minot, North Dakota, home of the world’s largest open-pit mine, and proud of it.

“Cocaaaaine. Cocaaaaine. Here boy. Cocaaaaine.” After the carnival had reached Minot, and everything was set up again, Sean was relaxing, taking a much deserved rest after the hard electrical work, when he heard that young woman yelling.  She was the Snake Girl.  snakegirl The caller, or mike man, played it up to the hilt, saying she’d grown up with snakes, that they were all poisonous and deadly, but only she could handle them.  He was pretty funny to listen to.  She sat in a trailer full of snakes, handling them, and letting them slide all over her body.  Supposedly, they were all highly dangerous, venomous snakes, and people paid a couple dollars to line up and walk through the trailer gawking at her and the snakes, many hoping to see her get bitten.  A pretty young woman.  Sometimes, instead of being the Snake Girl in some towns, she was Devil Woman, telling her tale of drug abuse, needles and overdoses.  It was a living.  Right now it was too early for customers, the ‘marks’ who would flock in,  gawking, eating, gambling, throwing balls and darts, riding rides, and generally parting with the most money the carnies could get without giving much in return.  Snake Girl was just looking for her dog, a pure white samoyed-husky mix she named cocaine.  Sean wasn’t sure she was just looking for her dog, because she did know an awful lot about all kinds of drugs.  The dog looked wolf-like and fierce, so few people bothered her if the dog was with her.
Sean stepped out of the cable trailer and saw her looking around under everything, still calling for Cocaine.  “Interesting name for a dog,” he ventured.  She stopped.  “Yeah, and he’d better turn up soon, or I’m gonna be pissed. You haven’t see ‘im have you?”  “No. I haven’t seen ‘im at all. Do you need help looking?”  “No, no, that’s OK. I’ll find ‘im.  Well, I’ve got to get going.  He’s got to be around here somewhere.  I’ll talk to ya later.”  She never did.  She was always with one sharp-looking dude or another, usually tall and decked out in leather hats and vests, so he never got to get to know her like he hoped.

There were other women around, usually local girls would come around.  Sean met a Minot girl a few days later.  She was pretty cute, and also pretty young, but Sean was feeling lonely out there by himself, so he walked the carnival with her, and then they sat behind a trailer for awhile making out.  Man that girl can kiss! Sean thought.  After awhile they talked some more and Sean found out she lived nearby with her mom.  She came by every day after that, and kissed some more and Sean was really getting excited, but she held him off easily.  By the time the carnival was nearly ready to jump, she asked Sean to stay behind.

Sean might’ve done that, except that he hadn’t cut his ties to Baltimore, not just yet.  He still wrote to Judy.  Judy White was a young hospital technician at the same time Sean was working in the physics lab.  They’d stopped seeing each other after Sean told her he loved her.  Actually, he didn’t, and Judy was smart enough to know that.  She told Sean they shouldn’t see each other anymore.  That was after Sue had told him the same thing.  Sean, was, at that point simply interested in sex.  He’d been teased to the point of exploding with the Frederick woman, and he was ready.   He hadn’t really known Judy very long. She was the daughter of a co-worker of Sean’s father, who had given her number to him.  Sean had been really freaked out when his father had suggested he call some strange woman like that.  Maybe his father thought he hadn’t had any dates?  High school had been a barren time for Sean, but then there had been Kathy, and Sue, and Sharon.  What Sean didn’t know was that his old roommate had called his parents once, trying to embarrass Sean, and Sean’s dad suspected Randy of having the interest in Sean that Randy did.   Sean’s dad was no dummy either.  Sean, well, Sean was still trying to learn social skills, and there was a lot he didn’t know about human behavior.
However, Sean had called Judy.  He had no idea what a blind date would be like, but he thought it might make his father happy.   Judy had turned out to a very good-looking woman, and Sean hadn’t regretted it, but he had pushed his luck too soon.  It wasn’t long after that he lost he virginity with Geri, who wanted a nude model, but Geri was gone, living in a mental ward in Texas.  Leah had been great for sex. She and Sean had fucked night and day.  Sean sent her a few postcards on his way through Canada, but there had never been more than a sexual relationship, so there wasn’t much to say, and she couldn’t reply while he was traveling, so he had thought.

He had written a letter to Judy.  Now, he could get mail back. Far enough away, she could write back without fear of encouraging the horny bastard.    Sean would write often, since he was able to send Judy their schedule and mail could be delivered to the local post office at each town they stopped in.  He would tell her about the sideshow fat man, who, behind the trailers, didn’t look so fat – in fact, he simply had a ton of loose skin. He would tell her about Snake Girl, and the sleazy mike men who gave money away to entice people to buy junk at inflated prices. “I’m giving away five dollars here.  Who wants five dollars?” And they’d give a few people five dollars.  And people would stick around and the crowd would grow as more things were given away.  And sometimes you could buy something they had with the money they’d given you, plus a few bucks more.  It was fun to watch.  He would write to her all the time, relishing the replies.  It was a connection with home, and he enjoyed that.

Minot Girl wanted him to move in with her and her mom.  She was pretty, and pretty young, but it was tempting to Sean.  No one had ever seemed to want him before; it had always been the other way around.  Working the mines in Minot was not what Sean had in mind, however.  He had a lot to see yet, a lot to do.  He told her he’d think about it and maybe he’d come back later.  She didn’t want that.  She said he had to come with her now.  Sean told her no. He looked for her on jump day, thinking she might try to come along, but he never saw her again.
At least I didn’t get her pregnant, he thought as he rode in the cable truck with Duane.  Duane didn’t ask any questions.  Nobody did.  Carnies aren’t like that.  If you want to hide out, a carnival is your best bet.  No one rats you out, no one has ever seen you or heard of you.  Sean would meet some interesting characters, and the stories they told…. murphy-brothers-003

Posted in 1970s, Bicycling, My Life, relationships, Travel | Leave a Comment »

Trippin’ Through the ’70s – Chapter Thirteen

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on October 27, 2008

Now I’m the criminal the border agents expected me to become, Sean thought.  “Public drunkenness, failure to pay a fine, theft.Time to get the hell out of Dodge. Sean headed back to the US, to the border between the Sault Sainte Maries.  So much for Canada, he thought.  At least I’m still headed west. He had to deal with the border again.  US customs this time.  Well, at least I don’t have anything they can arrest me for.  I wonder if they’ll ask me for my draft card? I’m screwed if they do that.  I mailed the ashes back to the draft board long ago. What if they don’t let me back in? A man without a country, that could be me.

The customs agents weren’t used to seeing a man on a bicycle crossing the bridge.  They saw the bulging yellow bags on Sean’s bike, and they knew he had dope.  “It’s all these kids go to Canada for,” agent Stimson said aloud, to no one in particular.  Everyone had heard it all before.  Everyone had pulled dope out of car trunks, glove compartments, door frames, and spare tires.  They’d seen it all.  Almost.  No one, including agent Stimson, had ever seen anyone brazen enough to load a bicycle full of dope and just ride right up to them.

“We’ll have to inspect those bags,” he told Sean, hoping this hippy would run, hoping he’d have a little fun.

“What’s this?” he asked Sean.  “Oh, those are soybeans,” Sean told him, and Sean was enjoying this. “And this is brown rice, and this is granola, and these are alfalfa seeds.”  Sean smiled.  He saw the agent frown, “We’ll have to open these.”  Sean didn’t like the idea of having his food pawed through, but he knew there was no choice.  Nevertheless, he complained, doing his best to make the clown think he was hiding something.  “Well, I’d rather you didn’t, you know, it’ll be messy.”  The agent took the bait, dumping each bag out one at a time, sifting through each one, but there was nothing there but soybeans, brown rice, granola and seeds.  “What did you say these were again?” he asked.  “Alfalfa seeds.”  Stimson could tell this hippie was jerking him around.  He’d could always have the jerk held, say he’d detected an odor of cannabis.  Instead he said, “We’re gong to have to keep these.  Can’t tell where you got ’em, or even if that’s what they are.  Too risky.  Agricultural rules.  Well, Sean thought, that takes care of that. God knows when I’d ever have been ever to stop somewhere and sprout them.  I can’t eat them this way. The less weight the better. He smiled.  Agent Stimson saw the smile, and he wasn’t about to let a hippie get away with anything.  “We’ll have to inspect your bike,” he said.  What’s in these tubes.” “Tubes? You mean the frame?” Sean bleated. “Yeah,” agent Stimson said, “you could have all kinds of things inside the frame.”  Sean just stared.  It wasn’t something that had ever occurred to him.  “How could I, where, how could I get anything in?” he stammered.  “Well,” agent Stimson said, calmly, “what about right here under the seat.”  He bent down and looked underneath.  Hmm, well, nothing here, damn it.

“Have a seat,” he told Sean.  “We’re going to take a look at this. I’ll bet this seat comes off.  Who knows what we’ll find.”  He imagined the hippie was squirming now, sure he had him.  Sean, however, was not looking forward to reloading all his gear.  Stimson took the bike into the interrogation room. Sean pulled out a paperback from his back pocket and read.  Stimson took the seat off, and looked inside, tapped the frame all around, and decided that was enough.  He kept his eye on the hippie, but he was too young to be so calm if he was hiding something.  “Alright,” he told Sean.  “Here’s your bike, and all your stuff is on that table.  You can go.”

Sean grabbed a leaflet he found and used it as a scoop to get all the grains back in their respective bags.  At least they didn’t mix everything up, he thought.  He reattached the saddlebags, gathered up all his tools and loaded them back into the small basket under the handlebars.  He refolded all his clothes, and had to roll the blanket up again, laying it out on the floor and pulling it tight, banding it with bungee cords.  He strapped it down under the spring on his luggage rack, in between the saddle bags.  Giddy up, he thought.  And, Hi-yo Gypsy, away.  He rode back into the US, back into Michigan.

There wasn’t much to see in Michigan’s upper peninsula that wasn’t beautiful: lots of birds, water, and trees, but on the road and along it there were also lots of trucks with camper shells, and lots of Winnebagos, the RVs, not the Indians.   It was cold at night.  Sean began the afternoon in shorts and a t-shirt, but ended up with a long-sleeved shirt and long pants by nightfall.  He rode for days, weeks, crossing into Wisconsin,   then quickly into Minnesota. Every state looked the same close to Lake Superior.  Beautiful, Sean thought.  Gorgeous country up here.  I had no idea.  Looks more undeveloped that I thought anyplace in the US was. And colder.  The nights seemed to be getting colder as he went.  He rode, days and nights, stopping to buy a piece of fruit and a small carton of milk for his granola every morning.  In the afternoons he continued cooking brown rice and soybeans, then cooking some more for dinner.  He slept out of sight.  There weren’t many towns, gas stations, or restaurants as he got farther from the lake.  He stopped in a bar one chilly night, on the road to Hibbing, Minnesota, asked if they had any coffee.  They didn’t.  Didn’t seem very friendly to Sean either.  That night he wore socks, two heavy shirts, and long pants over his shorts.  It was getting harder to pedal with all that on.  The lights of towns and homes were farther and farther apart as he continued west.

It became routine.  Get up, ride for awhile.  Stop and eat. Ride for awhile. Stop and eat. Ride as far as he could, eat, sleep, get up and start it all over every day.  The miles flew by, and Sean was happy.  Sometimes he stopped to wander through old ruins of houses.  Sometimes there was a pond he could jump in.  He sang songs, thought about things he’d forgotten, nursery rhymes, Captain Kangaroo’s riddles, and Tom Terrific. Rocky Jones and the Space Patrol with the booming voice over.  He sang songs out loud: I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy, Bingo, Eency Weency Spider, The Farmer in the Dell, Hickory Dickory Dock, Hokey Pokey, If You’re Happy and You Know It  (clap your hands),  Ring around the Mulberry Bush, Old MacDonald Had a Farm, Row, Row, Row Your Boat, She’ll be Comin’ Round the Mountain (when she comes), Take Me Out to the Ballgame, This Old Man, Three Blind Mice, and even Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.  It didn’t matter what.  I didn’t even know I knew those songs, he thought.  There was something about the rhythm of the pedaling, the steady push and pull.  Sean decided it was like meditation.  He had never tired that, but decided it must be something like this.  Get your mind off of everything stessful; let it go; spinning, caroming through the dusty corridors. He felt better than he ever had his whole life.

I’ve always lived by others’ rules, he thought.  He had always done what he was told. The nuns and priests had told him to love God is to obey God, so he had.  They told him that heaven was the goal of his life and hell waited for him if he failed to follow the rules, the commandments, the laws.  So he had.  He had aspired to heaven, to see God, to experience the bliss and rapture of this God being’s presence in his life.

His parents told him to go to school, to do his homework, to babysit, to do as they said, so he had.  The priests and nuns had made it very clear that, after God, one must obey one’s parents, and the law.   Rules and laws told everyone what to do with their lives, he had understood that.  His parents told him that, as the oldest, he must set an example for the younger kids, so he had.  He did what he was told to do.  Through countless sinks full of dishes scrubbed spotless, linoleum floors that shone cleanly through the Johnson’s Floor Wax, the near-spotless bathrooms, the hand-waxed hardwood hallway, the lawn manicured with a push mower, and the weed-free beds of flowers and tomatoes, he had done as he was told.  He was as perfect as he could be, although his parents would dispute that.  He had thought of himself trying to be the perfect son, the pious altar boy, the virtuous boy scout.  Good grades, but bad dreams.

Often, in his dreams, he had been chased.  At first there had just been the wolves waiting in the shadows, waiting for the hand to fall alongside the bed, or for eye contact.  Sometimes Sean had lain awake hours at a time, trying not to look, holding his body stiff, arms tight against his sides, afraid the wolves would strike if he moved.  In his peripheral vision he could sometimes see their eyes shining in the night.  He knew they were there, snarling, waiting to bite and tear bloody pain into him.  He kept his breathing even, and stared straight up at the ceiling until he passed out into fitful sleep.  As he dreamt, he was still terrified.  He was pursued by dark, threatening things that towered over him, chasing him until he fell into holes, terrified of pain at the end of the sudden stop at the bottom, but the darkness went on and on, and it terrified him, this endless falling.  He never stopped, but he would suddenly know he was awake, and see the grayness of dawn.  Sometimes he woke up sooner, with the urgent need to pee, but when he went to the bathroom it wouldn’t start, and he knew it was his fault, and he tried to relax, to let it happen, and eventually it would.  The relief was wonderful, and he was happy, relishing the relief, the warmth, but he was still in bed, still half-asleep, and he knew he had to get up then, and tell his mother.  She didn’t want wet sheets on the bed all night.  And it got cold anyway.  After awhile all that stopped.  He sometimes had dreams about a girl in his class, and she lay there in bed with him, and they kissed and snuggled their bodies together. He didn’t learn what sex was for some time after those dreams started, but when he did, he finally understood the dreams.  Sex, however, was forbidden, especially to teenagers, and girls didn’t like him anyway.  Sex was just for marriage and making babies.  Sean had decided he’d like to be married and make babies.

Maybe.  Sean wasn’t so sure of that anymore.  The world was facing enormous problems due to overpopulation.  He didn’t want to add to that.  He learned how to have sex without making babies, and that was just fine by him.  Right now, however, he was all by himself, and, he was running low on money.  Pretty soon he’d have to find work.  He stopped at a gas station in the middle of nowhere one evening.  The guy there told him to check out the carnival down the road.  “There’s always work to do tearing it all down.  Tonight’s their last night; they’ll be looking for people.”  Sean thanked him, and practically burned rubber.

Posted in 1970s, Bicycling, crime, Dreams, faith, family, Life, My Life, rambling, sex, Travel, Writing | 1 Comment »

Trippin’ Through the ’70s – Chapter Twelve

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on September 4, 2008

Riding along trans-Canadian highway 69, Sean had no specific place to go anymore, no one to visit.  He set up goals, having not totally accepted a directionless life as yet.  He picked Sudbury as a good place to stop. There was a youth hostel there.  Sudbury, Ontario.  Sudbury is Canada’s largest mining and metal smelting and refining center.  There are 17 mines that provide about 16 per cent of the world’s nickel. The smokestacks were visible miles away.  He arrived late in the afternoon the next day, and after getting directions for the hostel, headed down a steep hill. That was some hill. He coasted for miles. Then the pavement ended. Shit! I’m lost! Where the hell am I now? Fortune smiled on him, however, because there was a women picking berries by her house.
“Excuse me. I’m lost. Can you tell me the way to the youth hostel?”
“Oh sure! You just go up this hill about five miles, turn left, and you’ll see a sign for it about half a mile down the road.”
“Up the hill? O.K. Thank you ma’am.” Jeez. I’m not up for climbing that hill. He slumped down next to a tree until he could talk himself into heading up the hill.
“Are you alright?”
“Huh? What’s that?”
“I said, ‘Are you alright.’ You don’t look very good.”
“Oh, I’m O.K. I’m just real tired.”
“Would you like to come in for some iced tea?”
“Sure!”
“How about a sandwich? You look hungry.”
“I do? Yes. Thank you. I am hungry.” He chowed down a sandwich. Then she startled him by asking: “Would you like some pie?”
“Ma’am?”
“I’m making a blueberry pie. If you’d want to wait until it’s done you’re welcome to a piece.” Lord! This is wonderful! I’ve never even tasted blueberry pie, and here it is, fresh and hot!
He sat talking with this woman, drinking iced tea and telling her about the trip as far as he’d been. She wore a simple white dress over her firm tanned body. He guessed her age at about forty-five or so, and decided that she was more attractive than he would have expected someone that old to look. She bustled about the kitchen, cleaning and chatting. He had begun to wonder why Anne had invited him in. She was so friendly. His limited experience with people told him that she must want something. Could she be that lonely? No, she had told me her kids still lived with her. Is it possible that I’m attractive to her? Would we get it on? He’d had two sandwiches and a fourth of the pie, and he was washing the dishes, when she surprised him: “My husband will be home soon.”
Her husband! I’d better get out of here quick. “I’m sure he’d like to meet you,” she said, “Won’t you stay for dinner?” He wondered if all those years of dish washing at home might be paying off. Lord, I’ve done a hell of a lot of dishes – there were nine of us – by the time I’d left home. I miss my brothers and sisters. Potlucks at the Free Clinic had replaced family meals. I suppose that’s why that place had become my new home, and the staff had been so like a family to me.
Anne’s husband came home, with two teenaged boys in tow. After introductions they all sat down to dinner. Sean wasn’t real hungry, but he enjoyed the company. These people are really nice. They actually enjoy conversation at dinner, and I’m in the mood to provide some. I hadn’t eaten with too many people outside my own family before. It surprised him that he felt relaxed. There was no shouting and everyone talked. Dinners at home had been times to remain silent, “unless spoken to,” and they had to remain sitting until plates were clean. Anne’s husband Stan was a retired farmer. After dinner he took Sean out back to the sauna he’d built. Sean had cut up some wood earlier. They sat out there pouring water on the rocks and soaking up some steam. They took a breather every once in a while, and stood outside watching the stars. This is perfect, Sean was thinking.
“We have a friend from the States,” Stan said, “He useta come up here every summer. Haven’t seen ‘im for a couple years. You know, you’d be welcome to visit anytime.”
“But you don’t even know me.”
“Don’t matter, I figure we know you well enough. Anytime you get up this way, you stop by. You’re always welcome here.”
In the morning, after – of course – one hell of a breakfast, Anne and Stan’s kids put his bike in their pickup, and drove to the top of the hill. He decided to pass on the local hostel, and check out one in the next place he came to. He wasn’t really sure where to go next, and he didn’t know how much longer he should stay in Canada. He spent that night by the side of the road, and woke to find a tent next to him. There were three young women in it from Virginia. They were packing up already, ready to hit the road again, but in the direction he’d just come from. They talked about traveling. Sean talked about bicycling.  He gave them directions to the hostel he’d passed up in Sudbury and they invited him to come visit them in the Appalachian mountains.  They were beautiful. There was the quiet, serious, dark-haired one, the light-haired one with the directions to their place who insisted he visit, and the blonde bubbly laughing one. They were all living on a farm, growing organic vegetables. “We can all kinds of food,” they said, “and we’ve got chickens and a cow, and horses.” That sounded pretty ideal to Sean, and he promised he would visit, if he could get down there. As if anyone could keep me away from such a vision of paradise. He traveled on that day, reluctantly, since all he could think of was a farm in Virginia and three lovely young women.
He found another hostel that night and checked in. It was Sunday. He took out a book, Prairie Fire: Notes from the Weather Underground. He thumbed through it, looking at the drawings of women holding guns high in their hands, reading the quotes of famous revolutionary rebels, and day dreaming of utopias. But I’m not helping to build any perfect society anymore, I’m running away. True, I had revolutionary ideals, but I‘m not there anymore, I’m not where it’s happening. He spent the day and night at the hostel, lazily, dreamily, in perfect isolation from all that he had been. He didn’t know who he was anymore.

Here I am – on a bicycle! – riding across Canada. Am I the same boy who had to run to the sink with the hot water running – so many times – and stand under a towel, trying to suck in the delicious steam that might open my paralyzed throat and kickstart my lungs? The same eight-year-old boy lying in a hospital bed recovering from blood poisoned by a ruptured appendix? The same seven-year old pushed into the darkness of a cellar in a half-built house? That was Eddie. How could I ever forget? We were friends. Pick Up Sticks and serious checker games. Me and Eddie Knight and my brother John walking through the field to the new apartment foundations. Picking up stones and throwing them into the muddy pool of water at the bottom of new cellars not yet filled with concrete. We had to hunt for stones that got bigger and better as we competed for bigger and better splashes. Eddie found a big one. The foundations of the apartment were almost as high above the ground as we were, so he had to put the rock up first and climb up. I couldn’t resist. I grabbed the rock and dropped it in. Eddie was mad. He came towards me. “God damn you!” he screamed. I fell. Did he push me? I remembered nothing except Eddie’s parents carrying me across a field, then lying on a couch, then the urgent whining of an ambulance, then stitches in my head. I never saw Eddie again. I guess he ran for his parents. My brother had pulled me out of the water. He said I had been laying face down and he thought I was dead. I would have been, except for him. I read every rescue story I came across after that. The Boy Scouts taught me how to save drowning people, give artificial respiration, stop bleeding and make a tourniquet.
I learned more from John. He had been scared out of his six-year-old wits, but had saved my life. No medal for him, we weren’t in the scouts then. He was too young for speeches or flowery words, but I paid him back, I did. Years later, he slipped off the concrete by a sewer outlet, in a deep pool of trash-filled water, and panicked. We were teenagers then, we could both swim, but he couldn’t get his footing, couldn’t get out of that slimy hole. I found something for him to grab and I held on to a pole until I had half pulled him, and he had half crawled, out. I missed him now, on this great adventure, so mature in his family responsibilities, so far away. I’m still the boy I’d been, I’ve never grown up. I still believe in rescues and heroes, in revolutions and saving the world.

“I’m sorry. You’ll have to go now.”
“What? I thought I could stay here?”
“Well, you can stay on weekends and overnight, but on weekdays this is a day camp for boys from town. If you’d like, you can leave your bike here and take the shuttle bus back to town.”
Sean had a bowl of oatmeal that the camp provided, and took the ride to town, to downtown Sault Sainte Marie. There wasn’t much to see or do, that he could find, so he stopped at a park. He had brought his sleeping bag with him. “Always be prepared,” was his motto, and not coincidentally, also the Boy Scout motto. He looked out west across Lake Superior. It looked like an ocean, although part of Michigan was visible to the south, back in the U.S., which he had hoped to be farther away from. There were factories there, spewing out clouds of smoke. Lenny had told him about the fight between Canada and the U.S. over pollution of the U.S. side of the Great Lakes. The U.S. was unwilling to spend money cleaning up a shared resource. The Canadians had already cleaned up their side and had strong nonpartisan legislation that prevented further pollution.
“Hey. You want a beer?” distracted him from his reveries. Two men, Indians, were waving him over. They looked to be bums, but then again, so did Sean. They were pretty friendly. They talked about Canada, the Lakes, and pollution, and Sean had a beer. He figured that it would help fill his stomach until he got back to the hostel for a free dinner later. They offered another beer, and for some reason, Sean drank it. Then they pulled out the wine, and by then Sean couldn’t think of a good reason to refuse, so he helped them finish the bottle. He was pretty loaded and they suggested coffee. They went to a cafe together. He looked down at the cup of coffee in front of him – and ran for the bathroom. He dumped the contents of his stomach, repeatedly. He couldn’t stand up. The owner came in after awhile.
“You’ll have to clean this up.”
“I can’t move.”
“If you don’t clean up, I’ll have to call the police.”
“Go ahead,” he said. He didn’t care, he couldn’t move.
“Sir?”
“Yes?”
“The owner says that he asked you to clean this mess up?”
“Yes, but I can’t get up.”
“Sir, if you don’t get up, I’m afraid we’ll have to arrest you.” Sean thought about that. He tried to get up again, but just couldn’t do it. He knew that he was in trouble. “Go ahead,” he said. They pulled him up and took him outside. Air! Thank God! But he couldn’t stand up without supporting himself on the dirty red bricks wavering in front of him.
“Sir, if you’ll go back in and clean up your mess, we’ll let you go.” He moved, and the world was spinning, his head was too heavy to hold up, and he tasted stomach acid. “I can’t,” was all he could say. They dragged him to their car and drove him to a jail. He was led into a single cell. It was comforting to Sean, just to lie down. He never got to sleep, however. It was cold. There were no sheets or blankets on the steel cot, and then he noticed it. Or rather, it noticed him. It was a camera. On an oval track, it slowly traveled the length of the cellblock, checking out each individual cell. He could hear it whirring along all night. He was shaking, shivering. He focused on that camera, waiting for it to reappear, waiting for it to pass. He never saw another soul. There was nothing else in the cell except a toilet. The walls were freshly painted, there was not even the usual graffiti to read. He was thirsty as hell. He was dirty, covered with bits of oatmeal puke. He felt wired, somehow. The appearance of a guard in the morning was blessed relief, but he was taking Sean to a judge.
“Can I clean up first?”
“No, I’m afraid not.”
The judge fined him twenty bucks for public drunkenness. Since all his money was with his gear back at camp, he convinced the judge to let him go to the hostel. He did. He went back to the cafe first and apologized to the owner. The owner apologized for calling the police. He didn’t have Sean’s sleeping bag. He said one of the Indians took it with him, that he didn’t know it was Sean’s. He went back to the hostel for his bike. I need that bag, he whined to himself, but he had little hope of ever seeing it again.
He bicycled back into Sault Sainte Marie, and headed for the park to see if those guys were there. Before he even got there he saw one of them.
“Oh, yeah, I remember it. Thomas has it. I can give you his address, if you want it. That Thomas is a mean one, I wouldn’t want to mess with him. I don’t think you’ll get it back.”
“I’ve got to try.”
Amazingly enough, he found Thomas’s place quickly. Thomas had a room on the second floor of a house in a quiet, pretty city neighborhood.
“Thomas?” God, he does look mean. “I was drinking yesterday with you and your buddy.” He started to lose his nerve – the look on the man’s face was anything but friendly. “He says you have my sleeping bag.”
“Yeah? What of it?”
Summoning up his courage he said, “I need it back.”
“I like it, I’m using it as a pillow.”
“It’s all I have to sleep in, I really need it back.”
Thomas laughed and slammed the door.
Nice. Sean went back to the hostel that night. In the morning he packed up one of their blankets with his gear.
I have to have something to sleep in, he reasoned.

Posted in 1970s, Bicycling, Life, My Life, Travel, Writing | Leave a Comment »

Trippin’ Through the ’70s – Chapter Eleven

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on September 4, 2008

It was around midnight when Sean passed through Detroit and stopped for a cup of coffee. It was cool and calm in the motor city. There was the occasional cry of a cop siren, which Sean thought sounded like cats in heat. Someone was racing their hot wheels around and around the block somewhere near, like a rat on a treadmill.  A radio blasted from a pink convertible passing by. In short, it didn’t seem any different from Baltimore. Sean had a couple mugsful of steaming pick-me-up and left. The road outside of town was quieter and much darker. He rode until he was ready to drop, then conked out in his sleeping bag.
He was up at dawn. He smiled, thinking, Canada today! By mid afternoon he saw the bridge, pedaled across it, and got in line at customs. There were a lot of funny looks directed his way. Perhaps it was the long ponytail, the bandana around his forehead, or the bright red beard. But then again, it could have been the bicycle, basket in the front, the bright yellow panniers and the sleeping bag over the rear wheel. Anyway, he waited his turn. “You’ll have to bring your bike inside,” he was told. The old clerk gave him some forms.
“Country of origin?” “Purpose of trip?” “Length of stay?” “Date of return?” “Address?” “Birth date?” “Name and address of employer?” Sean rushed through it and handed it back to the clerk, who told him, “Have a seat.” Another guy came out and took Sean to his desk. He questioned Sean about his plans, so he explained the purpose of his trip. He told him of his plan to travel across his country to the coast, and then head on down to California. The clerk’s face was expressionless. He wanted to know how much money Sean had.
“I have eighty dollars, why?”
“Oh, you know, we have to be sure that you have enough money to take care of yourself.”
“How much do I need?”
“A lot more than you have actually. We don’t want any more people on welfare.”
“Welfare? I’m just traveling through. I don’t need much money. I’ve got food, and I’m going to be visiting a friend in Toronto.”
“Well, I can see that you won’t have the same expenditures as most people, but the guidelines do ask that you prove self-sufficiency for the entire length of your stay.”
“What can I do? Go back to Baltimore? now?”
“Nah, it’s alright. I think I can make an exception, considering your circumstance.”
“Thanks.”
“Is that your stuff?”
“Yeah.”
“We’ll have to inspect your bags.”
“Sure.”
“What’s this?”
“Alfalfa.”
“What?”
“They’re alfalfa sprouts, I mean, seeds, for sprouting.”
“Yeah?”
“Honest. I needed some kind of greens.”
“And these?”
“Soybeans, and that’s granola, and that’s brown rice.”
“Hey, Bill, look at this I found in the basket.” Oh no!
“Smells funny, what is it?”
“Seeds. It’s just some more seeds.”
“Hmmm, what kind of seeds?”
“Well, actually, yeah, they are marijuana seeds.”
“What are you doing with this?”
“Nothing. I forgot I had ’em.”
“What were you going to do with it?”
“They’re just seeds. I thought I’d throw ’em somewhere.”
“Where?”
“Anywhere. Just alongside the road.”
“Why didn’t you do that before you got here?”
“I forgot. I just plain forgot.”
“Come with me.” He showed Sean to a small room. “Wait here.” Two men came in a few minutes later.
“Where are you from? Where are you going? What were you planning to do with the marijuana?”
“I wasn’t planning anything. I forgot I had it. It’s just seeds.”
“Strip.”
“What?”
“Remove your clothes.”
“Everything?”
“Everything, now.”
As Sean took off my clothes, he was immediately reminded of his pre-induction physical. The army makes you strip down to your underwear first. Then they run you around, weighing you, measuring you, taking blood. “Pee in this cup.” You fill out forms, and answer questions about your health. Then they line you up in a room and tell you to drop your shorts, bend over, and spread your cheeks. Kind of symbolic. Then this guy in a white coat takes a little flashlight and runs down the whole line, somehow looking into every butt hole, or pretending to.
“Bend over.” Oh no, not again.
“OK, you can get dressed.”
“What was that all about?”
“We had to look for drugs.”
“In there?”
“You’d be surprised what people can carry in there.”
“You’re right, I would.”
“Why were you carrying a deadly weapon?”
“A what?”
“Is this yours?” 

“My knife. Yes. What are you doing with my knife?”
“This is classified as a deadly weapon.”
“What do you mean?”
“Anything over six inches is considered a deadly weapon. This is seven inches.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“What were you doing with it?”
“I brought it along for protection.”
“Protection? Against who?”
“No one. I was planning to do some camping. I thought I might need it.”
“What for?”
“What for? Well, I’d use it for hunting and skinning. And I thought I might run into a bear or something.”
“Do you know that you could go to jail for seven years?”
“No. I don’t understand. What for?”
“Possession of narcotics and attempting to smuggle a deadly weapon across the border.”
Jesus! I’m dead now. What a trip. I’ve barely gotten started, and I’m going to jail. How can I ever go back? How can I face people? Damn, I can’t even survive on my own for a week. What a god-damned failure I am. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
“Wait here, we’ll be back.”
Goddamn! what am I gonna do? Who should I call? God! I don’t want to go to jail. I couldn’t stand it. How can people live in a cage? I’ll go crazy. So much for wilderness!
They came back. “Well, you can go. We’re not filing charges. But we’ll have to deny you entry.”
“Of course. Thank you. Uh, what about my knife?”
“Sorry, but we’ll have to keep that.”
Shit! That’s such a good knife, too. The old clerk came in and took Sean back to his bike.
“You know, you can always cross at the next station.”
“What? Won’t they know about this?”
“Oh, don’t worry about it, the paperwork won’t be finished for a few days. It might even take me a week to file it.”
“Thank you. Thank you very much.”
“You have a good trip.”
“Yes sir.”
He gave Sean directions to the next crossing point, but by the time he was back on the highway it was already dark. He couldn’t find a safe place to sleep, so he pulled into a couple of bushes not far off the road, and snuggled into his sleeping bag with the bike chained to his arm. Try and get that! he challenged the world. He watched the stars, wondering which ones had life, and what they were like. That old guy sure was nice. After all that, there was one nice thing. I guess he approved of my little adventure. Maybe he just felt sorry for me. I’m glad there’s people like him.
He was up at dawn again, excited, full of energy. Canada today! As soon as he rolled up the bag he bungee corded it across the back of the bike, and took off. One mile after another he pedaled along. Push with this foot, pull it back up, and push, pull, push, pull, and don’t stop, keep going, don’t stop, and use your back, and push, pull, don’t lean forward, and push, pull, and push. Alright! I’m gonna make it.
“Get off the road!”
“Roads are for cars, that’s why I pay taxes.”
“Get outta my way!”
Middle finger salutes often followed these greetings. Sean cheerfully returned the feeling. His special contempt, however, was reserved for those mindless honking geese that followed him for miles, refusing to pass. One such goose was the one who shouted: “Roads are for cars…” as he finally roared past and pulled back right in front of Sean. It often seemed as though some of the idiots wanted to kill him. They came close. Sean wondered if he could shoot them. Maybe I could claim self-defense? They were threatening me with deadly weapons – and that’s assault. Blam! Blam! Blam! He started blowing holes in engine blocks. Blam! Got another one. Blam! Whoops. He’s still coming. Blam. Blam. Got the bastard. He tired of that game after awhile – the danger was too real. Besides, it was soon time for lunch.
The sign read: “Picnic Area. No Fires Except In Grilles.” He gathered kindling, broke up some thick branches, and boiled some water. Soybeans first; they take a long time. Then some brown rice. Unfortunately, without spices, butter, oil or margarine, it was bland fare. It was filling, however, and the ritual of building the fire and cooking gave him a pleasant rest. He sat for awhile after eating, sipping sassafras tea.  No one bothered him. In fact, people seemed to be making a wide berth around him. He thought it might be his appearance, but his hair was neatly pulled back into a ponytail, and his beard was neat and clean. As he ambled over to the water pump to wash his pan out, the people there moved out of the way. He said “Hello,” and they helloed him back, but coldly. A boy asked him why he was riding a bicycle and he explained his trip again, while the boy’s mother kept a tight grip on him. Finally, she summoned up the courage to suddenly blurt out:
“I thought you might be one of those Charlie Manson types.” 
“Uh, no. Why do you say that?”
“Well, you look so much like him. You just never know.”
Sean laughed. “You should have heard what someone called me once. I was walking toward a woman one night. Just before we would have passed each other, she pulled back, staring at me bug-eyed, and said: ‘Are you Jesus?'” The boy’s mother laughed.
“I see the resemblance. Better to look like Him, I suppose.”
“You know, I tried to convince her that I wasn’t Jesus, but I don’t think I did. She kept staring at me, even after I said goodnight and walked away.”
“Well, good luck on your trip now. Come on Jimmy, let’s get back to the trailer.”
Sean packed up, put what was left of the fire out. He heard the woman calling.
“Would you like some sandwiches? We’ve got way too many.”

“““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““

By mid-afternoon it was hot.  Sean pulled into a gas station to change clothes and clean up.  He stripped down to a pair of shorts and a t-shirt.  Miles later, he realized that he’d left everything that’d been in his pockets at the gas station, including money.  He backtracked real quick, but the station attendant said he hadn’t found anything.  When God passed out brains He surely shorted me.  Damn. Damn, Damn! He was stupefied, looking through the bathroom, under and behind everything, again, and again, and again.  Fifty bucks, fifty bucks I couldn’t really do without, gone.  My stupidity is beginning to even amaze me.  Could I really do this to myself? Fortunately, he still had thirty dollars stashed in his shoe, so he decided to continue.  What choice do I have anyway? he thought, I’m not going back now.
The next border crossing was close by.  He went through almost the same rigmarole, until they got to the money business again.
“I have eighty dollars,” he told them.
“I’m sorry.  That’s not enough.”
“But, that’s been enough before.  I won’t be staying long.”
“That’s the rule.  I don’t know who let you in before, but there’s nothing I can do about it.  Eighty dollars won’t even pay for a hotel for two weeks.”
Why am I doing this? he wondered, not for the last time.  At a phone booth in a supermarket parking lot, he gambled some money on a call to his old friend Lenny in Toronto.
“Hi Lenny, this is Sean.”
“Sean?  Where are you?”
“Almost in Canada.”
“You are?  Are you coming here?”
“Yeah, if I can ever get across the border.”
“Why, what’s wrong?”
He explained the problem he was having and where he was.  Lenny said he’d check into it, and to call him back in the morning.
“In the morning?  What can I do until then?”
“I don’t know, what have you been doing?”
“I can’t roll out my sleeping bag here in a parking lot.”
“Don’t you have any money?  Can’t you stay at a motel?
“No, not really.  I don’t have that much money, I have just enough for food.”
“Sean, there’s nothing I can do until morning.  I’m sorry.”
“It’s OK Lenny, thanks for helping.”
“Talk to you tomorrow.”
“Yeah, talk to you then.”
Now what?  He sat for awhile, then got up and started riding the bike around in circles.  He didn’t know what to do, where to go.
“Hello.  Where are you headed?”
“What?  Oh, hello.  I’m trying to get across the border into Canada, but I’m having a hell of a time doing it.”
“Do you have a place to stay?”
“Nah, ‘fraid not.  I haven’t figured out what to do just yet.”
“Why don’t you come to my place?  You can stay there tonight.”
“Sure.”
“Here, I’ll give you directions.  By the way, name’s Mike.”
“I’m Sean.”
“Well, I’ve gotta go; see you soon.”
On the way to Mike’s Sean couldn’t help thinking that he might be making another mistake.  Why should a total stranger take such an interest in my welfare?  Should I be more cautious?  I don’t have much money and my bike isn’t fancy.  I can’t believe Mike is just a thief. Sean knocked on the door of a small, old house.  Mike seemed surprised to see him, but welcomed him in and introduced him to his wife Carla.  Sean was surprised.  Mike seemed so young.  Sean couldn’t imagine being married so young.  After dinner they all sat around the tube watching the “Watergate” hearings.  Mike was fascinated by the whole thing.
“Who’d have believed Nixon would be involved in something like this?”
“I believe it,” I said.
“Why’s that?”
“Oh, you know, Nixon’s such a jerk.”
“It looks that way, now.  But you know, I voted for him.”
Whoops! “You did?  Why?”
“He said he would end the War.  I didn’t want to go to Vietnam.”
“Yeah, me neither.”
“You?  But, how old are you anyway?”
“Twenty-two.”
“You are?  I thought you were much older.”
Mike’s wife spoke up for the first time: “Yeah, Mike told me he had met an old man who was bicycling ‘cross country.”  She smiled.  Mike looked disappointed.  So he thought I was some poor old man that needed help.  How funny.  As he was thinking about Mike’s error, he was still looking at Carla.  She was smiling at Sean.  Mike glared at her, and she scuttled off.  “I have to clean up,” she said.  Sean thought of offering to help, but the look on Mike’s face convinced him otherwise.
“Maybe I’d better get back on the road,” he said.
“Oh, no.  It’s way too dark.  I said you could stay the night.  We have a cot you can sleep on.  You should get a good night’s rest.”
Mike was up early for work, and Sean left with him.  Before he left, however, he called Lenny.
“It’s all taken care of.”
“That’s a relief.  How’d you do that?”
“I knew someone that worked there.  He got the paperwork OK’d, but I had to take responsibility for you.”
“Thanks Lenny.”
“You’ll have to take a train to get here.  I live in Scarborough.  It’s a suburb of Toronto, and it’s not close.”
“I don’t understand, it won’t take me long to get there by bike.”
“Listen,  I’m responsible for you.  If you get into any trouble, my ass is grass.  I don’t need any more problems in my life.”
“OK, OK.  I’ll take the train.”
He got off the train in Scarborough and found Lenny’s apartment.
“Sean.  You made it, I see.”
“Yeah.  How ya doing Lenny?”
“Listen, I can’t talk now, I’m late for work.  Make yourself at home.  There’s food in the fridge and a T.V. in the bedroom.  See ya later.”
Later they went to a bar and sampled Canada’s Moosehead beer.  Lenny was involved in Canadian politics.  He was helping to elect a Liberal Party candidate.
“I watched T.V. all day and all I saw were political ads.”
“Did you see anyone you liked?”
“I don’t know.  There was this one guy from the Conservatives who was promoting bicycle paths.”
“That’s what you’ll find here.  The most conservative of the Conservatives are more liberal than most U.S. liberals.”
“So you’re pretty happy here.”
“You bet.  I’m getting to be part of the local government.  How about that?  Can you imagine me in a position of power?”
“Actually no.  Seems a little frightening.”
“Oh, you.  Still a little creep huh?”
“And you?”
“I’m doing fine.  Better than fine actually.  You wouldn’t believe how accepted I am here.  And you wouldn’t believe how many people like me there are in government.”
“That’s why you’re in politics!”
“It’s a good reason, you little fucker, but no, that’s not the whole reason.  I’m happy here.  I’m involved in making things happen.  People respect me.  I’ve got power.”
“Why don’t you run for office?”
“Oh I will, I will, when the time’s right.  Look, why don’t we head on home?  I’ve still got to get up early.”
Sean was nervous when he undressed and climbed into his bag.  He remembered what Lenny was like.  He could tell he was still a horny bastard, and he could get violent.  He remembered the way Lenny could react if he pushed him too far.  They could be having a discussion on just about any topic, and if Sean didn’t accept Lenny’s logic, he’d smash his huge arm down on the table, and then he’d be up and screaming about how stupid Sean could be.  He’d jump up and down like a little kid having a temper tantrum.  I wonder if he’s still on tranks?  But the night passed uneventfully.
“Hey, Sean? I’ve gotta go.  Make yourself some breakfast, but take it easy on the eggs and bacon.  It’s all I’ve got.”
“What’s this stuff?”
“It’s Canadian bacon. Didn’t you ever have it?”
“No, I’ve never seen it before.  Looks like ham.”
“It’s bacon here.  You’re such a babe in the woods.”
“Hey, I thought you were doing real well?  As a matter of fact, I was hoping to borrow a few bucks.”
“No way.  I don’t even get paid until next week.  Listen.  I can’t afford to feed you, I can barely afford to feed myself.  Especially if I’m not getting anything in return.”
“What do you mean?”
“Think about it.”
Sean thought about it.  I am imposing on him. What should I do?  I suppose I owe him.  I’d never have gotten across the border without his help.  Can I really do it?  He’s so repulsive.  Damn.  What else can I do?  I do owe him.  Damn.
Sure enough, when Lenny got home, really late that night, he seemed to be expecting something.
“Well, did you leave me any food?  How long were you planning to stay?  I really can’t afford to keep you.”
“Yeah. I know.  Look, I thought about it, and I need to be going, but I know I owe you, and I need to repay you.”
“Oh yeah?  How are you going to do that?”
“Anyway you want.”
“Really?”
“Really.”
“You know what I want?”
“Yeah.”
“Let’s go.”
This was it.  I’ll find out now if I’m repressing my attraction to men.  Maybe I’ll enjoy it, but then again, maybe not. His best friend Bonnie in college had said that heterosexuals were abnormal; that bisexuality was the only real sexual freedom.  He’d been in love with her, even though she was gay. She’d always implied that maybe she’d be interested if I was bisexual.  “Well, come on Sean, let’s get some action here.”
He looked at Lenny’s huge butt and he looked at his limp penis.  No, this wouldn’t work. Sean decided he just wasn’t able to do it, couldn’t fake it, and that was that.  And, there was no way in hell he was going to suggest any other options to Lenny.   Lenny said, “Just forget it,” and Sean got into his sleeping bag.  Really time to go, he thought, and zipped the bag up to his chin.

Sean headed North, as in Great White.  He was just leaving Toronto’s city limits, had, in fact, just passed the last streetlight, when he heard the cat-wail of his siren and a cop pulled in behind him. What could he possibly want? God damn! I’ve never been pulled over on a bicycle before.
“Yes?”
“Could I see your driver’s license, sir?”
“For a bicycle?”
“I need to see some I.D. Did you know that you have to have a light on your bicycle to ride at night?”
“Well, no. But I do have a light, I just hadn’t put it on yet. It was pretty bright back there.”
“Baltimore, eh?”
“Yeah, I’m on a cross-country trip.”
“Mmmm. Well, O.K., here’s your I.D., Sean. Don’t forget to use your light.”
“Yes sir.” Strange. I wonder what that was about? I wonder if Lenny had a hand in that? Nah, I’m just being paranoid. Although, he did have to promise Immigration that I wouldn’t be staying long, in order to get them to allow me in.  Officer McMurphy. Nice Irish name.
After awhile he set up camp off the road. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes were incredible! He had never considered what it would be like to be so close to a lake. He built the greenest, smokiest fire he could without discouraging them. He sat in the middle of the smoke, without success, and it was hard to breathe in there. He gave up, got back on the highway. He rode until he started weaving. There was still some truck traffic, so he got off the bike and walked. Soon, he thought he heard footsteps. Just like in a movie, every time he stopped, the footsteps would stop. As he would resume walking, he’d hear the steps. These are not echos! The sounds didn’t seem to quite match his cadence and he could hear twigs snapping and leaves crunching too. He searched through his tools until he found his exacto knife – at least it had a razor blade. He used a leather thong to hang it around his neck. He kept walking, faster and faster, but the noise got louder. Just as he started to cross a small bridge, SPLASH! One hell of a loud splash convinced him it was time to get back on the bike. Fear banished his fatigue. He rode down the center of the road; there wasn’t any more truck traffic. Several miles away he saw a sign for a campground, still another five miles away, and he made for that. There was a ranger at the gate, and he asked if he could stay there. The ranger told him he could sleep on one of the picnic tables.
“What’s that around your neck?” he asked.
“Oh, I thought something might be following me, it sounded big, like a bear.”
“And you were going to stop it with that?”
“It’s all I have.” He decided not to mention the problems at the border.
He slept well, convinced that the ranger would notice a bear. When dawn crept through the trees he was back on the highway riding the white line on the edge. Trans-Canadian highways have no shoulders and only one lane for each direction of traffic. The force of the air being pushed by a tractor-trailer followed by a bus followed by another truck sometimes pushed him right off the road into the gravel, but he managed to stick to that borderline most times, like a wolf to a scared rabbit. He got used to it, and the truckers tried to give him a wide berth. Sometimes they couldn’t move over due to oncoming traffic, so he steeled himself for the blast of air and held on.

After a few days, he thought about human company again.  His path wasn’t random, after all.  Back in college, he had known a woman who had given him directions to a summer camp where she taught. He hadn’t known Lynn very well, but she’d been friendly and had encouraged him to visit when he’d told her where he was going. He found the turnoff for the camp and had reason to regret the decision. The road abruptly headed up a mountain. Oh well, at least it’ll be worth it to see a friendly face. Who knows? maybe something good will happen.
There was a bend in the road ahead when he heard a truck coming up the hill behind him. Should I get off the road? Nah, I’ve never had a problem before, why should it be any different now? I’m talking to myself! When have I ever argued with myself like this before? I know! I remember. I was wrong. I thought something was going to happen, dismissed the possibility that I could know something like that, and I was wrong! He pulled off the road just as the truck passed. It’s wheels rolled over the exact space he had been riding. The truck hadn’t moved over. Next time I’ll listen to that voice, if there is a next time.
He found Lynn at the camp and she was exited to see him. Her boyfriend, Bob, wasn’t. There goes that possibility. They showed him the camp, and offered to let him stay overnight, but he left after dinner in the mess hall. He had happened to overhear a whispered conversation between Lynn and Bob on his way back from peeing. Bob said, “He’s the BMOC you told me about?” Lynn had shushed him. What could that mean? I wasn’t any big-man-on-campus, I didn’t even know there was such a term around anymore. He rode away wondering how he had impressed Lynn that way. What had I done?
Sean had plodded through the usual classes at the University of Maryland, and ended up doing badly. Perhaps Lynn was referring to my articles in the school paper. He’d written a few things on the meat boycott, child care, and bicycling, but never thought people even read ’em. Of course, I’d helped organize that teach-in on the War. That was sad. We’d not generated anywhere near the excitement of the sixties’ strikes and boycotts, but at least some people, like Lynn, had gotten involved. I remember showing movies about the War. People just wandered in and out. I remember that guy saying, “This is nothing new, I’ve seen all before.” I guess we all had, but hell, the war wasn’t over just because U.S. soldiers weren’t dying anymore. He came away convinced that the whole thing was a failure, but people like Lynn hadn’t seen it that way.
That’d been such a bad time for me. Besides attending demonstrations and organizing meetings, and working at the Free Clinic, Sean still had his job on the weekends. His best friend Bonnie was lesbian. They managed to have some laughs over a few joints, and studied together sometimes, but it was frustarting too. I sure as hell wasn’t happy. Life was too complicated. I could never figure out how to please everyone. Don and Joan were too busy with each other to help me out. I had introduced them – of course – and asked them to room with me.  I could’ve hooked up with Joan joanfisher07-74-1 if I hadn’t gone off to Chicago after Marilyn.  By the time I came back, she and Don were a couple. They had their lives, I had mine. Don said my Catholic background was the reason I took everything so seriously. Well, I sure as hell ain’t taking anything very serious now. I‘m on the road, free, but still alone.
The night after he left the camp where Lynn worked he learned how to deal with the mosquitoes. As long as he pedaled late enough into the night, the mosquitoes would eventually disappear.  But, the blackflies were something else. They followed him some days, all along Trans Canadian highway 69.

Posted in 1970s, Bicycling, Life, My Life, Travel, Writing | Leave a Comment »

Trippin’ Through the ’70′s – Chapter Ten

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on September 3, 2008

Sean was sitting in the Free Clinic one day when another volunteer, a tall, heavy-set red-haired guy, started talking to him. “Hey, Sean, did you ever think about posing nude?”
“What? Well, no. What the hell are you talking about?” It was an odd question, especially twenty feet away from the Women’s Center.
“I’m serious. There’s a lady I know needs a male model. She wants to do a nude painting.”
“You’re serious? Hell, why don’t you volunteer?”
“She’s a friend, I couldn’t do something like that.”
“Well, I guess I don’t have any objections….”
“Good! Hey, here’s her number. Her name’s Geri.”
Sean called when he got home, and she asked him to come out to her place a little later. The city bus left him right in front of a Fish’n’Chips. Geri’s apartment was around back, up two flights of stairs. A grossly fat woman answered the door. Oh well, what the hell. “Geri?”
“No.” Thank God! “She’s not here.”
“I was supposed to meet her here. Did she say she’d be back soon?”
“No, I really don’t know when to expect her.”
“Could I wait for her here?”
“No,” she said, “I have to go to work. I work right downstairs, and I have to go now.”
Sean took the next bus, and it was the same driver, end of the line, and he had just gone around the block to turn around. Heading home again. Another bus. Another dead end, Sean thought.
Well, shit. Maybe it’s just some kind of joke, he thought, but Geri called later, apologized for not being home, and offered him dinner to make up for it. Then she asked if she could come over tomorrow night.

“Do you like liver? she asked.

“Sure,” Sean answered, and he laughed.

“What’s so funny?”

“Did you ever read Portnoy’s Complaint?”

“Yeah! I did. Oh, yeah, you’re thinking about what he did with his family’s dinner.”

“And then they ate it!” They both laughed.
He cut up some onions and made dinner with the liver Geri had brought. They made small talk while they ate. Geri was in Nursing school.

“So, you’re going to be a nurse?” he asked her. Sean was not much of a talker.

“Maybe,” she said, “I haven’t made up my mind. I like to paint.”

“Really? What all do you paint?”

“Well, I paint people, mostly nudes. I could really use a model.”

“Sign me up.” Sean was getting really excited.

He noticed scars faintly sculpted on Geri’s lonely face, “From a bad case of acne,” she told him. As they were finishing dinner, Geri asked, “Do you want to hear some music, Sean?”
Sean moved over to the stereo to put some music on, but Laurie stopped him. “No, wait. I have a guitar in my trunk. Do you want to hear my singing?”
“Yes! Definitely. You’re pretty talented, aren’t you?”
“You haven’t seen anything yet,” she promised. Sean thought about that while she was getting her guitar, and he threw the dishes in the sink, and filled it up with hot soapy water. Laurie came back in, and Sean joined her on the couch. Sean didn’t know what to expect, but she really knew how to play, and her voice was angelic, so sweet. She sang love songs. Sean wondered what her wild, curly red hair felt like. He ran his eyes up and down her body. He imagined his arm wrapped around her waist. The slight Southern drawl in her Texas voice made him think of Scarlet O’Hara, humorous and intriguing. Sean was impressed. Sean was also impatient.
“You have a gorgeous voice,” he told her, and he reached over and caressed her throat with the back of his fingers. He turned his hand over and reached along the back of her neck. He pulled her towards him and kissed her.
“Let’s go upstairs,” Geri urged.
Sean laughed. “That’s my line,” he said, and he led her upstairs to his room. He was still nervous, however, as anyone would be for their first encounter with the big S,E,X.
Sean had bought into the mystique surrounding waterbeds, and had built one for himself instead of a conventional bed. “Ooh, you have a waterbed,” Geri said, “I’ve never tried one of these.” They took their own clothes off, and climbed under the sheet. They touched each other’s bodies, experimentally at first, then rubbing against each other. Sean fumbled a bit getting his penis into Geri, not knowing how this was supposed to work exactly. He moved his penis back and forth slowly at first. Then, as he tried to pick up the pace, the waterbed mocked him, moving in a counter rhythm of it’s own. It was hard to match. His penis popped out a few times and he kept having to push it in again. After a while, they lay still, letting the bed bounce and slosh around, until it was just a slow ripple under them.
“Sorry Geri,” he said, “The bed was moving around too much.”
“Would you like a massage, Sean?”
“Yeah! That’d be real nice!” he said, relieved. “I, I’m just not used to this bed.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Geri said, and got out of bed.

“Where are you going?” Sean asked.

“You just relax, I’ll be right back,” she said, and went downstairs. She came back with a sauce pot of oil that she’d warmed on the stove. She worked it into Sean’s body, rubbing a little on his penis. Sean didn’t find it relaxing. His penis signaled it was ready for action. They gave it another try, and managed to substitute erotic for erratic. Sean kept his rhythm even as long as he could, only gradually moving faster as he found he couldn’t control himself anymore. Spent, he lay there satisfied and happy, luxuriating in Geri’s soft warm body for a space of time he couldn’t have measured. He felt drowsy. One moment Geri was lying next to him, but the next, she was up, getting dressed.

“Geri? Where’re you going?”
“I have to go home, Sean. No commitments, right?” she said, but it sounded less like a question than resignation.
“What? I guess, I mean, I know we just met….”
“Well, good night Sean. Thank you. I had a very nice time. Bye.”
“Bye…?” Sean sputtered, “Wait. I’ll walk you out.”

“No, that’s OK,” she said, “Please don’t get up,” and with that she skipped quickly down the stairs. By the time he climbed out of the bed and hit the stairs, she was out the front door. He walked to the door naked and looked out as she pulled away. Did I screw up that bad? Shit! He went back to his bed and drifted off to sleep easily, not wanting to think about it too much, but convinced he’d never see her again. The next day, however, she called. She invited him out to her place for dinner. They ate dinner with her roommate Laurie, and after some talk, Geri and Sean said goodnight to Laurie and went to Geri’s room, closing the door. Sex this time was much better, smoother, and more satisfying. They had a fucking good time. Real beds are far better suited to real movements. Afterwards, lying in the sudden quiet, they laughed quietly at the bed squeaks and moans coming from Laurie’s room. Laurie was alone.
Geri was indeed an art student, and Sean promised to pose for her. As soon as he got off work the next day, he made a beeline for her place. When he got there she was packing. Her canary-yellow Volkswagen was already full of clothes and boxes.
“Geri, what’s going on?”
“Oh, Sean, I’m sorry. I should’ve called you. I thought it would be easier this way.”
“What?” he blurted, disbelief etched in his face, disappointment etched in his heart.
“I’m going back to Texas.” Sean didn’t know what to say.

“Uh, you’re going to drive all the way back there?” he finally asked.

“Oh, no. I’m meeting my father at the airport.”

“Why? I don’t understand. You never mentioned this before. What happened to the posing? to nursing school?”

“I’m sorry, Sean. It’s just something that came up.”

“But, what is it?” Sean pleaded.
“I can’t explain right now. I’ll write to you, Sean, OK?”
She kissed him, and got in her car.
“Bye,” she called out, and drove away.

Sean returned to his monkish existence for awhile. Then he met Leigh. They were thrown together, literally. Kathleen was a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, and told Sean he should come to a tournament. She came by and picked him up. Her boyfriend was with her, so Sean had no illusions there. He climbed into the back of the van where another woman sat. Leigh introduced herself, but Sean was not interested in anyone with Kathleen so close by. He still fantasized about her. The van took a sharp turn and Sean and Leigh ended up sprawled all over each other. “Hey, what’s going on back there you two?” Kathleen laughed. Sean and Leigh looked and each other, and didn’t move out of their accidental embrace. “Nothing,” they both said at once, and everyone laughed.
Leigh took Sean in tow and explained the costumes and swords and regalia of the tournaments, with their knights and royalty. Afterwards they dropped Leigh off first, but she lived just five blocks from Sean, so he got out too, saying he’d walk from there. Leigh took Sean right up to her bedroom. Sean was thrilled. It’s taken me seven painful years from puberty to get this far. Leigh had an operatic voice and loved to yell and squeal, but when she came she cried, every time. Sean asked her why, but she said she didn’t know. Her skin was smooth, with a little too much fat for someone her age, but he loved the feel of her. Her practiced hands and mouth kept him stimulated. She was amazingly insatiable. They fucked and fucked until they were exhausted every night for the next two months.
Sean still had a dilemma, however: trying to do what was important. He thought everything was important, and that he could do anything, but he was wrong. Demonstrations took priority, the Free Clinic was next, his part-time job at the Physics lab was next to last, and studying took last place. He wanted to complete his education. He knew that he wasn’t doing a good job of it, but didn’t think he should quit. One day he received a letter from the University of Maryland Baltimore County. His grade-point average was too low; he was being suspended for six months. UMBC had finally decided for him. He could apply for readmission in six months, but his savings from working in the Physics lab were almost gone, and there’d be no more scholarships or loans now. It was time, he decided, to take that long trip across country he’d dreamt about.
Leigh said that he could stay with her until he found full-time work, but Sean really didn’t want to do that. Leigh had already told him that she didn’t want to get serious, and, he didn’t know what kind of a full-time job he could find or when. He didn’t want anyone’s charity, and he wasn’t about to just waste time at some boring excuse for a living. Baltimore was already issuing pollution alerts like L.A. Sean was sick of dark little row houses, with their mildewed basements and closets and the legions of cockroaches breeding in the damp. He wanted out. There has to be something better, somewhere. He’d also gotten a letter from his old roommate a few weeks back. Lenny had moved to Toronto, and was going to become a Canadian citizen. Sean would visit him, see Toronto, then head across Canada to the West coast and on down to California. I could do odd jobs, bail hay, pick apples, or something. Yeah, I can do this!
He fine-tuned the bike, bought tough black & yellow saddle bags, and collected tools and spare parts. When he was almost ready to go, he rode over to Leigh’s. He left his bike in her back yard and walked across the street to the People’s Food Co-op. He picked up five pounds each of granola, brown rice, and soybeans. “You’ll need some greens,” the manager of the Co-op said, and talked him into taking some alfalfa seeds to sprout on the way, somehow. He took his supplies back to Leigh’s kitchen, looked out the window, and saw that his bike was gone. Gone? He ran out and looked around, but there was no one, and no trace of the bike in any direction. “How can you do this to me?” he screamed at the world. He knew people on every block from his years of work with the Free Clinic. How could someone take the bike I had just gotten, the day before I was to leave? He was crushed, defeated before he started. He didn’t have enough money left to buy another one. He’d seen his other bike crushed from the car that had slammed into him, dragging the bike across two lanes of street. The driver had bought him another bike. Now it was gone too.
Then he heard from a friend at the Clinic that some guy had a bike he’d lend him. Sean had seen the guy around before, Michael: tall, thin, with a long beard and usually wearing a white turban. He didn’t know what he was, nor did he care to ask. He did give Sean his Gitane. It was a French bike. He told him that gitane meant gypsy. Ready for lift-off! Beam me up, Mr. Spock. He finished loading his things onto the bike. A tool basket in front, sleeping bag over the rear tire, and saddle bags full of food and clothes. Cleaning out the refrigerator, he happened to see a small film container of marijuana seeds gleaned from various bags of cheap dope. He had hoped to try growing them. What the hell, I’ll take ’em with me, maybe I can find a nice place to sprinkle ’em. Not a good idea, as he would soon find out. He also went to the army-navy surplus store and picked up a good knife. Also, not, as it turned out, a good idea either. Border agents are not happy to see such things.
Finally, he went to Leigh to say good-bye. However, she offered him a ride as far as Ohio. He resisted. He didn’t want to cheat like that. He was eager to pedal his way across country.
“Come on,” she insisted. “There’s that Sci Fi convention in Columbus. You’ll like it. I already have a room booked. You can stay with me.”
Now that was enticing. He and Leigh hadn’t known each other long, but he’d miss her. He’d certainly miss the sex. “OK Leigh, let’s go to Ohio.”
“This convention is not a serious one,” Leigh explained on the way, “It’s more of a just-for-fun type of thing. You’d be amazed at what goes on at these things,” she said. As soon as they arrived, he saw green-skinned belly dancers parading through the halls. There were star ship captains by the pool, and unicorns, trolls, and Hobbits buying and selling. He’d be even more amazed at what happened later to bring him crashing back to planet Earth.
He returned to Leigh’s room from a late-night swim, hoping to find her there. In all the party hopping, he’d lost track of her. Or she of him. Well, there she was, in bed, and certainly not alone. What to say? What to do? It wasn’t like they had a commitment to each other, and he was going to be leaving for Canada. Still, it rankled. Leigh just laughed and introduced them, without turning on a light.
“Sean, this is Dan, an old friend. We haven’t seen each other in ages.”
“Uh, hi Dan.” I’m thrilled.
“Dan, this is Sean, a friend from Baltimore, he doesn’t have a room, so I told him he could sleep here.”
“Hi Sean.”
“Uh, Leigh, am I interrupting?”
“Not at all. Why don’t you stay? We’re about to go to sleep. There might even be room up here, if you’d like?” Jesus Fucking Christ.
“No thanks. I’ve got my sleeping bag. I can sleep on the floor.” Oh, Great. He pulled his sleeping bag out of his gear and climbed in. “Comfortable down there, Sean?” Leigh asked.
“Yeah, I’m OK. I feel a little like a dog down here though.”
“Well, what does rover have to say?” Leigh asked.
“Woof, woof,” was all Sean replied and Leigh and Dan laughed, but he went to sleep wishing he’d growled, which was the way he felt.
Next day, he was up early, hunting down breakfast, when Leigh found him. “Sean, I’m sorry. Dan is an old lover of mine. We hadn’t seen each other in a long time, and things just happened.”
“So you said. I thought that’s why we had the room together.”
“Sean, that’s my room, I paid for it. You’re just a guest of mine at this hotel.”
“Well, I’m leaving anyway.”
“Listen, Sean, I’ve got some friends that are driving up to Toledo in the morning. Why don’t you go with them? I spoke to them and they’d be happy to take you with them. Detroit’s not far from there, and you’d be able to cross right into Canada there.”
“That might be a good idea. I’d like to get to Canada as soon as possible.”
“OK, I’ll tell them. You know, Sean, we could go back up to my room for awhile?”
“No thanks, Leigh.” She turned and marched stiffly away. Well, this was a slightly different parting than I’d imagined, he thought, bitterly. The Williamsons found him later on. “Leigh says you’re headed for Detroit?”
“Yeah. Actually I’m on my way into Canada. I plan to bike across the country to the west coast and on down to California.”
“That’s fantastic! We’re leaving early in the morning. Can we take you as far as Toledo?”
“Thank you. Sure. I’d like that.”
Sean spent part of the day wandering around, looking at exhibits and watching the free Sci Fi movies. “Clatou, veratis Nictos”. He ran into one of the Williamsons, Mary, all by herself. She asked him what he was doing, and took him with her to her room so he could take a shower there. Sean didn’t want to go back to Leigh’s room. When he came out she was lying on the bed so he joined her. Her toddler son was asleep nearby. Mary rolled over next to Sean. She looked at him, Sean looked into her eyes, and was won over immediately. They wrapped themselves around each other, and Sean started pulling her clothes off. Suddenly, her son was awake: “What are you doing to my mommy?” he wanted to know. Bummer.
“You see why I end up by myself a lot,” she said. She quieted her son down. Her husband was always off at these conventions, and often screwing around, but she was stuck with her child 24 hours a day.
“Sean, will you take me with you?” she asked.
“How?” Sean said, “I can’t really take you on the bike with me.”
“Oh, I don’t know. Why don’t we just throw your bike in the van and we take off, right now?”
“But, but, your husband? Won’t he be mad?”
“Yeah, I suppose, but I don’t care. I really want to get away from all this. I’m sick of it.”
Sean thought about it. After Leigh’s behavior, he was ready for anything. A woman and a child, he thought. I don’t know if I’m ready for that. A life on the road? What? How? He was silent for too long, because Mary said, “Oh, you’re right, it’s a terrible idea.”
Sean tied his bike to the Williamson’s van and went to sleep early, in his sleeping bag. Leigh wasn’t in bed, but he didn’t want to be there when she came back with someone else. In the morning she was there, alone. Sean tried to slip out, but she was awake.
“Morning, Sean.”
“Morning, Leigh.”
“Good luck on your trip. Don’t forget to look those people up in San Francisco. I know they’ll put you up.”
“Thanks. Well, I’ve got to go. The Williamsons are waiting.”
It didn’t take long to reach Toledo. He thought about Leigh, wishing that he’d spent those last nights with her. Damn. I sure wish she had waited until I’d left. He and Mary shot glances at each other from time to time. Damn, Sean thought, That sure would have been nice.
He also thought about Geri. His plan was to head back to Texas from California. He might see her then. She had written, to tell him that she was in a psychiatric hospital. She said that she was being treated for chronic depression. Strange woman, Sean thought, but I want to see her again.
The Williamsons said good-bye, wished him luck, and left him on a road to Detroit. He pedaled away, looking back at Mary, who waved. Bique (bike) is French slang for penis. Sean was riding a “gypsy” Gitane. He was wondering what he could do with his gypsy penis, and entertained himself with that poor little joke into the night.

Posted in 1970s, Bicycling, Life, love, madness, My Life, relationships, sex, Travel, Writing | Leave a Comment »

THREE

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on August 29, 2008

In two thousand and three

three thousand dollars

bought three weeks in China

meals hotels and travel.

Beijing and Shanghai

Gulin, Xian, Hong Kong

Rivers Yangtze and Li

the Grand Canal in Suzhou

markets and pandas

and cormorants too

lacquerware silk

acrobats motorcyles

museums and gardens

flowers and ponds

temples and factories

and thousands of

the national bird

the construction crane

are everywhere.

Curious white masks

more and more we see

worn on bikes in shops

in cars on buses

an epidemic – SARS

Meanwhile

the USA invades Iraq

no weapons are found

bloody pictures posted

on walls, fences, bus stops

of Iraqi children.

Chinese express sympathy

for us poor Americans

our country is at war.

I wear my peace symbol

on my lapel as I travel.

Anxiety

returning home

will they let me return?

will SARS close US borders?

is peace treasonous?

But

all they ask is

did I have contact with

anyone, anyone with SARS?

and I have to remove

my shoes

pass through x-rays

and my bag is searched.

I’m home.

O’Maolchaithaigh 2008, ’09

Posted in Life, My Life, poem, poetry, Travel, World | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A New Bike

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on February 9, 2008

flying.jpg There I was: flying – nothing around me at all. Air – I could feel air under me. I knew I was gonna die. It’s a very comforting feeling – when you know you’re going to die. You just relax, you let it happen, you don’t fight it. I’ve heard that in such moments, your whole life flashes before your eyes. All I thought of was that I was going to be late. I thought about the classes I’d miss. Maybe I didn’t have that much time to think.
I don’t remember anything from the realization that I was airborne until I found myself lying on the ground, wondering where I was. I was lying down, I might be in bed, dreaming. I was outside. I wasn’t in a bed. I wanted to get up, find out. I realized I didn’t know who I was! Now that was scary! I remember telling myself (whoever I was): Just lay here. Relax. Let it come. It was like trying to remember something on the tip of my tongue: think of something else, don’t think about what it was I’d forgotten. I closed my eyes.
I remembered the construction site, the hole in the floor for the cellar steps to be added later, being pushed, falling, waking up to a headache, being carried across a field, blood on my face, getting stitches above my eye. metwo1957.jpg I remembered standing outside the tree house, trying to cover a hole in the roof on a rainy day, slipping, falling, coming to with a terrible sharp pain in my arm, the visiting relatives in our house, the ride to the hospital, the plaster cast.
It came back to me. Pumping my bicycle down that hill, hell-bent for speed. Traffic. Lots of traffic, rush hour traffic. A whole lane to myself. I was keeping up, moving pretty fast. Warp factor seven, Scotty. Suddenly there is a car coming across the lane to my left, pointed right at me. A big white whale of a car. I see a panicked woman’s face through the windshield, her mouth open, her eyes wide. The car is trying to cut across traffic into a driveway I don’t know is there, to my right. It is practically on top of me as I stare into the woman’s eyes, then, I’m here.
So I knew where I was – in the street. Somehow I’d survived. I opened my eyes to a typical Baltimore grey-blue sky. I knew who I was, forgot that I’d forgotten.
Voices. There were people talking somewhere. “Now, don’t you worry about it none. I saw the whole thing,” I heard a man say – I could hear an eager concern in his voice – “It wasn’t your fault. I’ll testify in court for you.” Now, why would someone say that? I wondered. Someone else – I remember a deep gravelly voice – asked, “What about him?”
Another voice: “Him? He’s dead,” with a definite certainty in the tone. Nice!
It was time to get up. My leg muscles were strong from bicycling every day. I usually spring to my feet, like a cat, I imagined. So, I popped up off the street suddenly, wondering why I was alone, why no one had come to help me. firemanrest.jpg Through the traffic I saw firemen sitting in lawn chairs in front of their station on the other side of the street. They weren’t looking my way. It was almost too much. No pain, but my left leg felt weak, wanting to give way, to not support my weight. I spun around on my right leg, and saw a car, the car, the white whale, an impressively long car, a Lincoln Continental Mark IV. lincoln_continental_mark_iv.jpg It was empty, door open. There was a crowd on the sidewalk, maybe ten feet from me. Men, black and white, in denim overalls, with grey lunch boxes, brown bags and silver thermos bottles were arranged in a ragged circle around a white woman with her head hanging down. She was heavy, not fat, but matronly, motherly looking, with blond hair. Her dress looked expensive. As I started moving, she looked up in my direction, staring at me, her mouth open again, or was it still? I limped towards her. She practically jumped off the sidewalk and headed for me.
“Hear, sit in my car,” she insisted, softly, and gave me her arm for support. I let myself fall into the car, sinking into the plush rear seat.
She left me there. I looked around. It was an expensive car. Besides the softness of the seat, the colors were unusual. 73markivpict5.jpg The interior and the seats were all the same light tan color. In 1973, it was the fanciest car I’d ever been in, except, perhaps, for the limousine I’d ridden in after my grandfather’s funeral mass. That had been some car. I remembered playing with the electric windows, thrilled to be in a black limousine, even one going to a cemetery. I was 12. I didn’t play with the windows this time. I was 22 years old. I knew the windows would be automatic. I knew the car was expensive, and I wondered if this woman would take me to the hospital. There was pain shooting up my leg from my foot now. The pain was increasing every moment. The woman’s face appeared at the door. “Are you all right?” she asked. There was a hint of worry, and fear, in her voice. “No,” I replied, “I’m not. My foot hurts. It hurts a lot. I don’t think I can walk on it.” She disappeared again. I laid back on the seat, trying to ease the pain. A fireman appeared. I told him about the pain. The swelling was very visible now. He told me I should go to a hospital, get it x-rayed. I said OK. He left for a couple of minutes, and came back with a piece of plastic. He put it on over my leg like a sleeve, and it filled with air, somehow. The pain seemed to lessen a bit. He asked me if I could walk. I said, “No, my foot hurts real bad.” He told me to lay back down. After a few minutes people grabbed me, helped me up and out of the belly of the beast, into an ambulance.
At the hospital, I lay on a gurney for quite some time. I thought accident victims would get immediate treatment, but I was wrong. First they ask questions: “Do you have insurance? Can you pay for this visit?” Then I get a clipboard with papers to sign. “Sign here, and here, and here.” Then nothing. The pain was intense, like the time I’d broken my arm. It worried me. No one seemed to care that I was in pain. Nearby, I heard children crying. I looked over. One of them had a head wound, another had a broken arm. They had to wait too. I did my best to be patient. When someone finally came to see me, I asked if I could get an x-ray. “Yes, as soon as it’s available.” The x-ray didn’t show a break. The doctor said the upper part of my foot was sprained. Nothing serious. I called my roommates to see if they could come get me. They were very nice. Don and Joan. I walked out of the hospital with an arm around each of their shoulders. I still couldn’t put any weight on the foot. I don’t know where they got the car, because none of us a had a car. Afterwards, the hospital sent me a bill, for x-rays and crutches. I couldn’t believe they billed me for crutches. No one had offered me crutches, or even mentioned ‘em.
I stopped by the Free Clinic where I volunteered and they found me a pair I could borrow. A lawyer called me. He called on behalf of the woman who had hit me. That was strange, as I’d given Mrs. Penn-Central-Fruit-Company my number, and had been expecting her to call. He acted like it might have been my fault, but that’s what lawyers do, I’ve since learned. lawyers.gif He asked me how I was, and what had happened. I explained the situation. He said he’d call me back. When he did, he asked me what I wanted. I told him I’d lost my Schwinn ten-speed – it had been dragged across the lane under the car; one pedal arm had been bent backwards into the spokes, and the 16 gauge steel tubing was impossibly bent in a couple of places. I needed one to get to school. I told him I had a bill from the hospital. He said that his client had already offered to pay that – just send it to her. I told him she shouldn’t pay for the crutches on the bill, as they hadn’t given me any. He said he’d see about getting me another bike. I got a check. It was enough to buy a new ten-speed. I picked out a tough, German-made one, as soon as I was able to ride again. All my friends told me I should have sued the woman, but I had a new bike, and no expenses as a result of the accident, so I never considered doing that.

However, a couple months later, someone stole it from my girlfriend’s backyard, even as I was planning a cross-country bicycle trip. A friend of a friend at the Free Clinic came by with his Gitane bicycle, said I could use it. I told him I didn’t know when I’d be back. He said not to worry about it. It was a really nice bike. I’d had enough of Baltimore, of mildewed row-houses and cockroaches, of bumper-to-bumper traffic and pollution alerts. School was not working out very well. I was studying calculus, organic chemistry and physics, writing for the school newspaper, marching in demonstrations, going to meetings, and volunteering one night a week at the Free Clinic. My grades were terrible. I helped organize a teach-in at my school around the continuing war. We called a student strike, but few people boycotted classes. I missed a key genetics lab. A teaching assistant told me, “You’d better decide what’s important.” I figured everything was important, that I could do everything. The school finally decided for me, dismissing me on probation for six months. That was when I’d decided it was time to go. I’d quit my job to go to school full time. My savings were almost gone; the scholarship and loan were over. My girlfriend told me I could stay with her until I found work, but the idea didn’t thrill me. I didn’t want charity, and I didn’t know what kind of job I could find or when.

I traded my waterbed for a sleeping bag. Bought 5 pounds each of brown rice, soybeans, and granola. Threw in some alfalfa seeds for spouting too – needed greens. Took two pair of jeans, two long-sleeved shirts, some t-shirts, and some basic tools. I asked my mom to repay a loan I’d given her. She came by my girlfriend’s house and gave me part of it. I had about $80 altogether now. I headed west with my Gitane. gitane.jpg A French racing bike. Gitane is French for gypsy. Bike (bique) means penis in French, I’d been told, so I wondered what I could do with my gypsy penis. I didn’t have much else.

Posted in Bicycling, Life, My Life, rambling, Travel, Writing | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Painting for Her

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on January 21, 2008

2,215 words

It’s easy to die in The Big Apple. nycstreet.jpg Asphalt flows like taffy under the weight of gridlocked traffic. gridlock.jpg In winter, the black taffy hardens, ripples, and cracks. Gargantuan trucks and buses rumble along the scarred, warped surface. Taxis buzz around like hornets, cutting in and out of lanes, indifferent to all. A city bus in front of me belched a thick cloud of inky smoke, so I zipped out from behind it to pass. I heard the hiss of an air brake over my left shoulder. As I turned to look, the sun was eclipsed by the biggest trash truck I’d ever seen. It pulled up alongside me and pinned me against the bus. My ten-speed was trapped, wedged between tons of unyielding steel. Traffic was backed up, as usual, so I sat in the semidarkness waiting for something to happen. I didn’t get off — hell, that bike was my livelihood. Fortunately, when the light changed, the trash truck angled left, so I escaped. I was lucky that day. I rode those streets in the winter of 1976.
New York mornings are bitterly cold. Damp ocean winds blow across the island, picking up excess moisture from all the rivers and bays. It felt as though the cold seeped its way through my skin, past muscle, and into bone. I left for work early, one such grey, windy morning. A package in the large red pouch across my shoulders — a late pickup from the previous day — banged against my side. steam.jpg Steam seeped from manhole covers. My breath formed a cloud around my face. Ice formed on my mustache, and I felt the damp cold penetrating my beard.

Traffic was light. I raced along the streets, my feet spinning in smooth, even circles. Man, I felt great! I was sucking up oxygen, pumping it into my brain. My muscles were warming up. It was going to be a great day. Until. Until, without warning, the right side of my handlebars snapped off. I let go of it. With the brake and shifting cables still attached, it just hung there. I stared at it. Disbelief froze my brain. As I watched, the errant handlebar swung into the spokes of my tire. The bike jerked to a stop. I had time to think about how lucky I was to still be on the bike, but momentum caught up with me. I pitched over the handlebar, onto the street. It should have been painful, but I jumped right up — the street was far too cold for me to savor the moment right then — draped the handlebar over the center stem, and finished my delivery. Neither rain, nor hail, nor frozen street would stay this courier from his appointed rounds.
Of course, I didn’t work for the Post Office. I was a lot faster than that. As a bike messenger for Mobile Messenger Service, I delivered anything I could carry, from anywhere in Manhattan, to anywhere in Manhattan, the same day. For ten bucks extra, you got it in thirty minutes, guaranteed, a feat the Post Office couldn’t even touch. It was a popular service. I delivered letters and small packages to office buildings, including skyscrapers like the empire_state_building.jpg Empire State Building, and the World Trade Center. wtc-look-up.jpg Dark-suited men and women swarm those lobbies, frantic and impatient. When an elevator opens, the swarm attacks. It’s a crowded ride, but the express elevators take you fifty floors without stopping! I don’t think those dark swarms enjoyed it, but I had a great time: Beam me up — the life forms are hostile!

Bicycles are indispensable to the advertising folks on Madison Avenue too. They needed their commercials run to and from developing labs all day. I met one of ’em, the director of the Mr. Whipple (“Please Don’t Squeeze the Charmin”) ads. I told him those were the worst commercials on TV, and his chin dropped. Hey, it’s for wiping shit off your ass. Who wants to hug it? 
Running around like that, in and out of offices, studios, and film labs, you never knew who you might run into. The dispatcher sent me to an apartment building for a pickup. Guy name of Plimpton invited me in. He was still getting some papers together, stuffing ’em in an envelope. He told me he was a writer; said he wrote about sports. He’d actually played with professional teams: baseball, football, and hockey, just to write about it. What a life a writer has.
One afternoon, after I’d finished delivering a letter to an office in Rockefeller Center, I called the dispatcher to see if there was a job waiting. There was. I had to get to the Met (the Metropolitan Museum of Art) and pick up a package. Funny thing was, there was no deliver-to address. I would get instructions at the museum. I’d never been to the Met, so I enjoyed the experience. pretzel_in_new_york.jpg It’s a huge place — takes up several city blocks, cutting off a lot of streets. There were hundreds of people clogging the sidewalk; and hot-dog carts, pretzel wagons, and balloon vendors competed for their attention. I u-locked my bike to a pole and ran up one hell of a lot of steps.
Inside, I collected a brown-paper-wrapped painting, and squeezed it into my bag. The delivery address was on 5th avenue, alongside Central Park. Faan-cy. Bunny M. was sending a painting to one J. K. Onassis. Now this was exciting. How many of those could there be? Better yet, she had to sign for it! 5thaveapartment.jpg The building was old, wrinkled with elaborately chiseled cornices. The doorman looked just as old. He made a phone call before he’d let me in that marbled lobby. hoteldoorman.jpg I was escorted to an elevator by a much younger, dark-haired dude in a starched white jacket. He looked like a cook. He got in, punched a button, and stood by the panel, staring into space. I stood by the door, eager for it to open. I felt like a cab at a traffic light, gunning my motor. We rode up a few floors, and it opened into a kitchen. My leg moved forward, but my foot didn’t touch down. I realized there was something across my chest, holding me back.
I turned my head. It was the guy in white. His arm felt like the steel bar of a subway turnstile when you forgot to put a coin in. I began to suspect he was neither a bellhop, nor a cook. His eyes were cold, with a steady glare. “I will take the package,” he said. His voice reinforced the threat in his eyes. “It has to be signed for,” I said, hopefully, and with as much authority as I could muster. “I will take care of it,” he insisted, in a tone that most people wouldn’t disobey, and “You stay here.” I wasn’t going to move from that spot.
He took my package, and my clipboard, and disappeared through a doorway on the right. I was disappointed, of course. I’d never meet the apartment’s famous occupant. I stuck my head out — there was no one around. I had let my excitement build up as the elevator crawled to this place. Now, I was reduced to standing in a little steel box. I saw through the kitchen doorway to a polished hardwood hall, hoping to see a figure there, hoping to see Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

I heard footsteps. They were too heavy for her. It was the chef/bellboy dude. But, behind him, she came. She looked heavier than I’d imagined, but it may have been the bulky sweater obscuring her figure. When she saw me, she stopped. “Oh!” she cried out. There was fear in her eyes. Perhaps it had always been there, ever since Dallas in ’63. She seemed to collect herself, and said, “I didn’t know he was right here.” “Sorry, ma’am. I shouldn’t have brought him up.” She smiled at me then, and the look of fear was obscured by the beauty of those eyes. “Thank you,” she said to me. “It’s my job, Ms. Onassis,” I said. “Nevertheless, I appreciate your promptness, and the care you took.” “You’re welcome,” I stammered, “You’re very welcome, of course, anyway.”
“Please come in,” she said. jackiekennedy.jpg
I stepped off the elevator. The door didn’t close behind me. “I just made some coffee. It’s so cold today. Would you like some? Oh, that’s silly of me. You probably must go on with your deliveries?” “No ma’am. I, I didn’t know where I was going when I was sent to the museum, so I don’t have any other stops to make until I call in.”
“Well, then, sit,” she insisted, with a smile I couldn’t have refused. “You too, Alex,” she directed at her protector? It was a command, and I enjoyed the worried look on his face. I suppose Secret Service agents are like that. I’d decided that’s who he had to be. The way his arm shot across my chest; that look in his eyes — no, this was no servant.
Jackie set out a plate of brownies. I was nervous. I stuffed half a brownie in my mouth. This was the woman married to President Kennedy. This was the woman in the car with him when his head was blown apart. This was the woman who scooped up some of his brain, and carried it in her cupped hands to the doctor. This was also the same woman who’d married a Greek millionaire. He was dead now too. Jackie was one of the rich and famous, and she was sitting right there across a table from me, talking to me. I gulped at my coffee to wash the brownie down, and burned my tongue.
“I do appreciate the care you took with my delivery. Did you know it was a painting?” “Well, it sure looked like one, ma’am,” I blurted out, slurring the “looked” into something like booked. “You mean it traveled like one?” she asked. “Uh, I don’t, Oh! I see. Yes, well, no, I mean, it looked like it could be from the shape of the package.” “Yes, it was from my friend Bunny. She knows I like Egyptian art, and she found a wonderful painting for me.”
“I’m sure glad it was me who got to bring it to you really am glad to meet you,” I rushed out. Pause. Silence. I finished my coffee, and two more brownies. Jackie looked kind of embarrassed by the combination of hero worship and sweat oozing from me. I needed to say something, anything. “Do you collect art, Ms. Onassis?” “Well, yes. I suppose I do. Would you like to see some?” “Sure! I mean, yes! of course, thank you, yes, I would.”
I followed her to another room off of that hallway I’d seen through the kitchen, Mr. Secret Service somehow always between us. There were small Egyptian statues, and paintings, as I expected, but also shelves full of books, books about Egypt. Egypt? Books always impressed me, more than anything else. books.jpg “I see you admire my books.” “Yes ma’am. Are they all about Egypt?” “Well, no, but I am fascinated by Egyptian literature, you know.” “No, I didn’t know that. I don’t really know what it is you do at all.”
“Are you a writer?”, she asked me. I laughed. “Um, no. Can’t say I am.” “Oh, OK,” she said, smiling, “I thought you might be a reporter or something.” “Oh, no. No ma’am”, I said. “I’m just a messenger.” “I suppose you think I take lazy cruises, sunning myself on exotic beaches, and living an easy life?” she asked. I imagined her in a bikini. I imagined her without a bikini. “Well, uh, the thought had crossed my mind,” I said. She laughed. Jackie had laughed at my little joke. I liked her. “Actually,” she said, still smiling, “I’m working right here in New York, just like you are. I work for a publishing house, Viking. Do you know it?” I didn’t know who published anything, so I had to say, “No.” “Well, no matter,” she replied, “It’s real work, something I’ve always wanted to get back to someday.”
It was hard to imagine her working. It was also hard to imagine leaving her. I wanted to spend the rest of the day just in her presence. I watched her lips moving. Her lips were temptingly moist. I felt warm. She was looking at me. I thought I saw a question in her stare. Suddenly I realized I’d lost track of what she was saying. “I do have work to get back to,” she said. “Me too,” I said, in a higher pitched voice than I expected. She slipped me a George, and thanked me again for being punctual and careful with her package. Alex took me back down on the elevator. I called in to Mobile Messenger from the lobby. “Where’ve you been, dude?” the dispatcher asked. “I’ll tell you when I get back — you won’t believe it,” I said. “Have you got anything for me?”

“Yeah. It’s a rush job. Can you make it to the Bowery in ten minutes?”  bowery.jpg “Sure.” But I didn’t.

Posted in Bicycling, fiction, Life, Travel, Writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Do you think you could satisfy me?

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on January 16, 2008

“Do you think you could satisfy me?” she asked. What a question! I had never dreamt someone would ever ask me that. It was certainly my intention, but I wasn’t going to say anything lame like, “I think so,” or anything along those lines. Who would say no? Perhaps she just meant to clarify the nature of our relationship. I’d only just met her, having stopped briefly in Manhattan, Kansas on a bicycle tour of the US. I first saw Marti talking to Bob as I came down the stairs of the community center that was putting up our little bike group. She looked up at me, and stopped talking. I took advantage of the moment to drink in her visage. She had a Mae West shape, if Mae West had been a brunette: curvy, substantial, intense. I liked her right away. I don’t however, interrupt people. Marti did that for me, asking, “Who is that?” Bob briefly introduced me as a member of the group. Of course, that would be obvious, deeply tanned as I was, wearing little more than sandals on the muscular legs sticking out of my cutoff jeans. 1976.jpg I left the two of them talking, thinking I would probably never meet the woman again. Yes, I was wrong.
She showed up at a dinner for the group later that day, sponsored by the community center. She was getting food, so I walked over to her, and started filling a plate for myself.

“So, what brought you tonight?” I asked. (I’m not a brilliant conversationalist)

“Bob invited me.”

“Are you staying for any of the workshops?” I asked.

“No. I can’t, really. I’ve got a lot of studying to do tonight.”

“That’s too bad. I was hoping to get together with you. I, I’m really interested in you.”

“I could tell.”

“When can we see each other?”

“I told you I’m real busy.”

“What about tomorrow?” I asked.

“I’m still really busy.” I was disappointed, and must have looked it, because she said, “Well, I do have a little free time.”

“When?”

“How about, say, one o’clock?”

“Sure! Where?”

“Would you mind meeting me at the Silver Mine? It’s a bar, if that’s alright?”

“I’ll be there.”

“OK,” she said, stuffing the last of her food in her mouth, “See you then.” She got up. “I’m sorry, but I really have to go now.”

I was disappointed. Did she really plan to show up? I wondered. Have I misread her?

I met her there outside that dark alcohol cave on that next gloriously sunny summer day. She seemed very nervous. She had dark glasses on. We went in. She said she didn’t really drink, but this was an out of the way place. She kept her glasses on. I asked her why she wanted to come there. She said she didn’t want anyone to see her. Why? She said it was a small town. Curious. We talked about life, pollution, and politics. I told bicycle stories. beer.jpg After we each drank a beer, and refilled our glasses, the conversation turned to casual sex. I love talking about sex, especially if that might make it happen. Marti asked if I believed in monogamy.

“Well, no,” I said. ” I think that if two people are attracted to each other, regardless of their other attachments, they should act on it.”

“Regardless of the consequences?”

“There are always consequences.”

“You know what I mean!”

I took a long sip of my beer and leaned back on the wooden bench. “As far as I’m concerned, there’s no problem. I mean, as long as you take precautions – you know – to prevent pregnancy, or disease.”

“And you would be willing to take such precautions?”

“Of course!”

“Then I have another question.”

“Shoot.”

Marti leaned across the sticky formica table right up close to my face and asked that question. I wasn’t prepared for that question. What would anyone say to that, I thought, except, yes? But, who could know whether or not someone could be satisfied? Is she testing me? trying to see if I’m experienced? naive? or both? I told her: “Yes. I don’t see why not. But, why do you ask such a question?” I was not expecting anything like her answer.

“Because I don’t usually fuck men. My lover right now is a woman. Does that bother you?”

Thoughts caroomed from synapse to synapse through different banks of my memory, like the unrequited passion I’d felt for Bonnie, my best friend in college. She lived with her lover. We’d come close to having sex while stoned and drunk, but it had never happened. Marti’s sexual preference was no shock, but I felt like I’d been there before. “No,” I told her, “But, why do you want me then?”

“Well,” she said, “It’s been a long time since my last relationship with a man.” I was a little puzzled, but I accepted her story at face value. All the time, however, she was nervous, looking over her shoulder, and watching the door. The bar, I had discovered, was quite some distance from the University, and, from the looks of it, not frequented by students. “Do you live around here,” I asked.

“No, I live in the dorm,” she told me. I was impatient by then, so I said, “Well, let’s go.”

“No! I mean, not now. I, I have studying to do,” she said in a low voice, “Would you like to come over about seven?” She was smiling at me, nervously playing with her glass, and starting to get up. “Room 10,” she said, and stood up. I pushed the bench back to get up, but she said, “No. Why don’t you stay, and finish the beer?” We had ordered a pitcher. She turned and hustled out the door.

I hope I don’t just end up talking about sex with this woman, I thought.

I showed up at the dorm after dinner the next evening, and who is leaving the dorm but Bob? “Hey Bob, what are you doing around here?”

“Oh, hi Sean, he said, “I came to shower. They have plenty of hot water, soap and towels here.”

“Sounds great!” I said.

“Yeah, it is. Are you going for one?” he asked me.

“Of course. Catch ya later.” I said, leaving aside the reason why I might be there if I hadn’t known about the showers. Men are such doofuses. This was getting stranger. I knew Bob was here seeing Marti. Why hadn’t he said so? Why would he hide it? Was Marti up to something? Why the two men if she was gay? Were there other men too? I was very clear on why Marti wanted me to come by. Perhaps I was too late. I knocked on her door. No response. I knocked again. She answered. She opened the door, looked surprised to see me, and looked up and down the hallway, before pulling me in and locking the door.

“Why’d you do that?’ I asked.

“Well, we’re all pretty open here. People feel free to just wander in anytime.”

“Oh, yeah. I saw Bob leaving when I got here. Said he’d come for a shower.”

“You did? Yeah, he was here. There’s other showers, but I told him he could use mine.”

“That’s all?”

“He also wanted me to go out with him tonight.”

“What’d you say?”

“I told him I was too busy.”

“Hmmm. And how is your work going? Do you have time for me?”

“Of course, silly. I’ve been working all afternoon so that I’d have some free time.”

I smiled. I said, “Com’ere.” We kissed, for a delightfully long time. She pulled me onto the the bed. I kissed her face and neck and my hands roamed over her breasts and arms. I started to stroke her thigh and mound. She touched her hand to my crotch briefly. I guess she was checking to see if I was ready. Was I ever! She pushed me away then, gently, and got up. “Hold that thought,” she said, “I’ve got to do something.”

She popped into the tiny bathroom. She came out nude. I pulled my clothes off in an instant and joined her on the bed. I had brought my ‘precautions’ and started to unroll one. “No. Don’t. I already took care of it.”

“Then why did you ask…?” She put her finger on my lips. Sometimes I don’t know when to shut up. ” It doesn’t matter,” she said, “Fuck me.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Her body was taut but smooth. She was amazingly responsive and excitable. I’d never known a woman to seem so surprised when I entered her. She moaned right away. adventures_of_don_juan.gif I wasn’t all that much of a Don Juan, but she really, really, seemed to like it. I worried, for a moment, that her moans and yells would bring someone to the door. She seemed to enjoy every second, thrusting up at me, and rotating her hips. I didn’t ever want to stop, but eventually I had to, after the most intense orgasm I’d ever experienced. I decided that I would never need to get stoned ever again. This was way better, beyond compare.

We separated for a few minutes, to cool down in the hot July evening, and then I snuggled up to her, thinking about later, thinking about sleeping in a soft bed with a soft woman.

“Sean,” she said, “You can’t stay.”

“”Why?” I asked.

“Oh, Sean, I’d like you to, but it’s just not a good idea. I could get into serious trouble.”

“You’re a grown woman. Surely you can do as you want?”

“Not here, I’m afraid. This University is pretty liberal, but not that liberal. This isn’t California.” I felt myself take offense. “I’m not from California,” I said.

“Where are you from, anyway?”

“Baltimore, Maryland, originally.”

“Really! I’m from Annapolis – you know, the Naval Academy, and all that.”

“You a Navy brat?” I asked.

“Yeah, sure am. I’ll be going back there too.”

“When?”

“Well I still have to write my thesis. I’ll be doing some research in New York first, but I’ll be going home in December.” I started thinking I might want to head east. “Sometimes,” I said, “I think I’d like to live on the Eastern Shore. It’s so beautiful there. I’d like to get a boat so I could crab and fish and sail.”

“Have you been to Annapolis?” she asked me.

“Just briefly, when I was in the Scouts. It’s a nice looking place.”

“I’d love to show you around. You could even stay with me.”

“I’d like that.”

“I’ll send you my address and phone number in New York. Call me when you get to the coast.”

That was that. Unfortunately, my bicycle group was leaving town in the morning. We were on a schedule.

I saw her again, one night about a year or so later, when I happened to be in New York. We had written to each other a little, and she was very surprised to see me, but just as nervous as before. She indicated she was ‘with’ someone. I told her I had just wanted to see her. That seemed to make her even more nervous. She told me I could stay at her place overnight. She didn’t. Horndog that I was, I had been hopeful. She asked me not to answer the phone. I gave her a number where she could contact me next day. She rushed off. I never heard from her. She never wrote again either. Perhaps I hadn’t lived up to her image of me from that one encounter? That was OK, since I was in love with the woman I lived with in Albuquerque.

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