“If you’re not broken, you’re not trying”

This is the sixteenth installment of a series about the Mountain Dude, a wandering guy with an ESP-like “gift”.  The Mountain Dude, some readers may recall, made a few enigmatic appearances in JJ in the 21st Century.

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The reason I stayed two nights and not one or three is that we all got along on the first night and we didn’t get along the second day. The reason we didn’t get along on the second day is that I was an asshole. The reason I was an asshole was that I used my ESP on Sven and discovered he was a decent loving person. I got images of a man rowing a boat over placid waters, a bunch of roses in his lap for someone he loved. Kat. He loved Kat.

God how I hated him.

There is nothing worse than feeling like a wretched outsider and encountering a loving and generous heart who has taken your mountain girl away. I really was grateful and appreciative that first night. But then my inner Destructor got going.

He was cooking a frittata and I hated him for that. What the hell’s wrong with scrambled eggs?

“What the hell’s wrong with scrambled eggs?”

“What?”

“I mean, a frittata? What the hell’s a frittata?” I gave him my best deadpan vacuous face, basically my natural resting face, and he couldn’t tell if I was serious or pulling his chain.

But Kat could tell.

“You’re going to come in here and start shitting on us?”

I pointed at Sven. “He’s not wounded!”

“What? So what?”

“That’s suspicious,” I said.

“Not everyone is haunted,” she said. “Not everyone is broken and lost.”

“If you’re not broken,” I said. “You’re not trying.”

“This frittata is ready,” Sven said. “Try some. It will make you feel better.” He approached with two plates and he actually had a an apron on. An apron with a picture of a moose!

It smelled really good. It tasted really good, light yet substantial and savory.

It did not make me feel better.

            Later that afternoon we walked up the mountain a ways. I really wanted to get closer to Kat and at least find out if I should bother ever coming back. But Sven was always there. It seemed that Kat made sure that he was always there, that we were never alone. Even when Sven went off to take a leak behind a tree, I turned to talk to Kat and she had wandered off. We hiked up to this outcropping of rocks with a good view of the canyon below. It was still cloudy and misty but not raining anymore.

“We might as well have this out now,” I said. “Do we have a future or no?”

Kat looked at Sven who looked at her. Then they both looked at me.

“No,” Kat said. “Since we’re being blunt.”

“Listen…”, Sven said.

“No, I get it.” There were tears in my eyes. The view, the travel, the wandering. The denial of a safe homey harbor. “I did this. I get it.”

“That’s the problem with you! It all about you! You didn’t do this or not do this! Me and Sven are doing this!”

“Evidently.”

“Hey, listen…”, Sven said.

“You just show up and I’m supposed to be waiting for you? Fuck that! I’m not waiting for anyone.”

“I can see you’re angry.”

“You wander around and you think like that’s honorable or something. Like you’re fucking dignified or something. That’s fine. But don’t expect me or anyone to love you for it!”

“Ok, I got it.”

“You got it? Good.   Then get out of here!”

“Well let’s just walk down,” Sven said. “And see how we feel.”

We didn’t feel any better after walking down.

I slept on the porch that night.

The next morning, Sven drove me to town.

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If it keeps on rainin’ …

This is the fifteenth installment of a series about the Mountain Dude, a wandering guy with an ESP-like “gift”.  The Mountain Dude, some readers may recall, made a few enigmatic appearances in JJ in the 21st Century.

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Sven could cook, I’ll give him that. That was his name. Sven. Originally from Sweden. A tall and rangy and golden-haired Scandinavian. Manly. Capable. I felt like some renter from the fields come up to the castle to ask for a new plow blade. Sven was completely confident in his position in this love triangle. Or completely oblivious to my role as potential interloper. And why not? He was established in the house while I was dozing on the damp front porch like a neglected pet. It was Kat who kept up a nervous chatter and kept throwing me sidelong glances.

“Yeah so Sven set up this cistern system to catch rain water so we could irrigate the vegetables,” she was saying.

“That’s so hot,” I said.

“Don’t,” she said.

I didn’t. I was surprisingly happy to be warm and indoors.  The rain had picked up.

They were nice to me. They fed me. Roasted free range chicken and roasted garden potatoes with some nice herbs from the cistern-watered garden. Delicious. It was understood that I would stay for one night.

Sven rolled a fat tight joint after dinner. He was good at that, too, the bastard.

We smoked and I leaned back on some cushions near the wood stove.

“So, uh, Sven,” I said. “What are your thoughts on pure evil?”

“I’m not sure what that means.”

“Let’s not,” Kat said with a little giggle. “Let’s not get too deep here.”

“Let’s go real deep,” I said. “I’ve been thinking lately that there’s this reservoir of evil in the world. Depending on the weather up here on the surface, sometimes it’s full to the brim, sometimes it gets low.”

“Oh, you mean something like original evil,” Sven said.  “The serpent in the garden.”

“Yes,” I said. “Something like that.”

“The reservoir seems full,” Kat said. “Overflowing. All the things that are happening. That’s why I came here.”

“I think it’s a cycle,” Sven said. “Progress, then reaction by those left behind. Some people are left out. Like this era, with capitalism and markets. People get…what’s the word?”

“Resentful,” Kat said.

“Yes, resentful,” I said. “They’re suspicious because they’ve been burnt before by scumbag elites. Then they react. The reservoir of evil fills and more can drink.”

“And we three retreat to the mountains and get high,” Sven said.

That was funny. We were quiet after our little laugh. Outside, raindrops pattered the roof.  A vehicle ground by on the gravel road, heading up the mountain. Did it slow a bit as it passed Kat’s driveway?

“Anyway,” Sven said. “If the dam breaks, there won’t be any safe places.”

“If it keeps on raining, levee’s goin’ to break,” Kat said.

“And if the levee breaks,” I said. “Momma you got to move.”

“What are you guys talking about,” Sven asked.

We all laughed some more. We were high and cozy and fed in a mountain cabin. What’s better than that? I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was gaining on me, but it was in the background now, a memory of chill and unease.

In the end, they let me stay two nights.

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“I like chicken, too.”

This is the fourteenth installment of a series about the Mountain Dude, a wandering guy with an ESP-like “gift”.  The Mountain Dude, some readers may recall, made a few enigmatic appearances in JJ in the 21st Century.

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When I finally arrived at Kat’s cabin, she was out. This was a major disappointment. I don’t get excited about much these days but as I walked up the long dirt driveway, I had this giddy mix of exhaustion and expectation (with a dash of lust, honestly). So when the door went unanswered I just kind of slumped down on the porch and looked out over the land. I felt like crying, there was pressure right behind my eyes, but I was all dry and empty from the journey to get here. Plus, I had this feeling of unease, like something was gaining on me. It was getting cold, it was really grey, and it smelled like snow. In fact, flurries were already falling.

The door was locked but I knew I could get in. I had done so in the past with Kat’s blessing. But here is how our last encounter ended:

“You’re just like all the rest,” she said.

“All the rest of what?”

“Men. I thought you were different.”

“Just because I’m a little jealous?”

“You love the picture of me just sitting up here waiting for you as you do whatever. I’m supposed to be chaste and watch for your return like some quivering helpless damsel. Well fuck that. Men owning women. That’s the kind of shit I left behind.”

“Come with me for a few weeks.”

“I said no,” she said. “I have work to do and your need to keep me close by isn’t a good enough reason to leave. I’m building a life here.”

“With your parents’ money,” I said.

A menacing silence.

“That’s none of your goddamn business.”

But I knew it was a sore spot. So I poked again.

“So rebellious,” I said. “So independent and principled.” In my best taunting falsetto I said, “I hate you mommy and daddy, but can you send $50,000 and leave me alone?”

“Get out!”

I think I had it coming. I’m pretty slow to anger but then I stab. It’s been a problem in the past.

That’s how our last encounter ended about six weeks ago. So I didn’t want to break into the house like I had any right. I took off my boots, unpacked my sleeping bag and got in. Then I leaned back against the cabin wall under the porch roof and watched the snow flurries and the trees. I dozed off.

Car tires on gravel coming up the driveway. I looked as the car approached. Two shapes in the front seat, a driver and a passenger. I think I heard myself groan. The car stopped below the porch and two people got out, a man and a woman. The woman was Kat. They went to the trunk and grabbed bags of groceries. The trunk slammed and they came on up the steps.

“I’m going to grill up all this chicken,” the man said. “We’ll have some tonight then I’ll make chili with the rest.”

“Mmmmmm,” Kat said. “Sounds great.”

Then they saw me there, reclined in my sleeping bad against the front wall of the cabin.

“Who are you?” the man said.

“Oh shit,” Kat said.

“Hi guys,” I said. “I like chicken, too.”

I might as well guilt a meal out of them before I hit the road again.

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Buster’s Story

This is the thirteenth installment of a series about the Mountain Dude, a wandering guy with an ESP-like “gift”.  The Mountain Dude, some readers may recall, made a few enigmatic appearances in JJ in the 21st Century.

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“Tell me your story,” I said to Buster on the bus.

“I went to college. I had a family that didn’t understand me but loved me and wanted me to do good things. My grades were good. So they sent me to college. While I was there they died in a car crash and that was it. I was unhooked. I had no reason to be there and I was kind of broken and now saddled with debt. There were one or two good classes. Philosophy of Religion. History. But the rest was shit and most of the kids were shit, just kind of dumb big shots who hadn’t been told they were useless and dumb. But I told them, especially when I drank, and I didn’t make many friends that way. I have a big mouth. It was easy to just slip away. My older sister, she had to deal with the will and the aftermath of my parents’ death and I drop out and can’t handle anything and she just kind of cuts me off, takes the little inheritance and says if I’m not going back to school then too bad, no money. Well, fuck her then. I don’t need any largesse. So I go to work at this place, this property management place. I’m a handy man and cut the grass at a bunch of office buildings and apartment complexes. I meet the HVAC repair guys and let them in. I fix toilets. I fix a lot of toilets. It’s fine. The money’s fine. I have a small apartment in one of the buildings. I play softball. I even have a girlfriend from the team. The boss is a good guy and cuts me in on profit-sharing after a couple years. I guess I was what you would call happy. Or at least not unhappy. 2007. Then the bankers blew up the economy and there were vacancies and people just jumping out on their leases and evictions and soon there was no profit to share, no toilets to fix and no more softball. My boss was crying when he let me go. He was truly a good man but he was into a lot of real estate at the wrongest time ever. My girlfriend? She left. I pushed her away. Whatever. Things all just went to shit. It became clear then all those mortgages were crap, the usual people got rich and got out, and the usual dumbasses like me were left holding the bag. Then the feds go and bail out the banks! That’s when it was all clear. You know how we always joke and get little hot flashes of outrage when the sacks of shit who have all the money and power get away with murder? We shake our heads and vent about it and resign ourselves to our lives, which are good enough, after all. Don’t we all have a big screen tv? Those bailouts for all those bankers who all know each other and understand each other even. Then they’re all up there in Washington with the Fed claiming they saved the fucking economy! The same economy they wrecked!”

“Be quiet!” The shrill lady again.

“I try to wake people up. I’m a street preacher now and I have no illusions that I’m being heard. People are just comfortable enough to move on from the latest shooting, the latest outrage, the latest act of racism, the latest misogyny. Things are good enough for most people. Barely. But I aim to make people uncomfortable. Comfort and convenience are not worthy goals in life, especially with what’s going on. I want to inconvenience and discomfort you and everyone else.”

We were quiet and Buster looked out the window.

“That’s it,” he said. “I’m going to shut my eyes now.”

“All right.”

When we arrived in Denver I moved into the aisle to let him out. I was continuing on but he was going into the streets to preach and inconvenience people.

“You take care,” he said and shook my hand. “You keep wandering around but whenever you get the chance, you make people uncomfortable.”

“I don’t seem to have a problem with that,” I said.

“Well keep at it.”

“By the way,” I said. “You ever see a guy up in the mountains driving a black BMW? Tinted windows. Menacing.”

“You don’t ever want to meet that man,” Buster said. “You keep moving now, especially if he’s already seen you.”

“I plan on it,” I said. And he went down the aisle, down the steps, and I watched him walk into the terminal. He was gone.

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Buster on the Bus

This is the twelfth installment of a series about the Mountain Dude, a wandering guy with an ESP-like “gift”.  The Mountain Dude, some readers may recall, made a few enigmatic appearances in JJ in the 21st Century.

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After my brush with evil, I wanted to be off the road as I headed north to see Kat. I don’t want to disparage any form of transportation, especially since I’m essentially a misanthropic hobo. But the bus sucks. Hitch hiking takes effort and patience, but there’s a dignity and status to being a successful hitch hiker. The train evokes history and romance, especially if you only take it once in awhile. But the train is expensive. Walking is my favorite because it’s free (and you’re free) and you can keep your distance from others. But walking is slow and exposed. I needed cheap sheltered travel, faster than walking. So I took the bus.

I boarded a half-filled bus at a stop in front of a hardware store in Salida, Colorado, and scanned for an empty row. There were none. The problem? I needed to pick a seat partner for the next several hours with no prior knowledge or evidence of what I was getting into. Due to some remnant of childhood manners, I don’t like to sit down next to a sleeping person. But, everyone seems to share this etiquette, and the experienced bus rider knows this, so most of the passengers were either asleep or pretended to sleep in order to keep their single seat. The passengers who didn’t care and looked expectantly at me as I shuffled down the aisle and looked for someone not too obviously talkative or addled, these passengers presented a sort of carnival wheel of crazy people. Just spin the wheel. One seat is just as good (or bad) as any other.

I hate the bus.

I chose a seat next to a man who was peering out the window. I figured his lack of interest in my seat choice indicated a general indifference and perhaps maybe, silence.

Nope. My ass had hardly hit the seat when…

“It’s all going to shit,” he said.

“Oh yeah?” I started to rise and re-shoulder my pack.

“You don’t want to sit with me? I won’t talk.” He turned his head to look back out the window.

I was caught in an awkward crouch, half in the aisle, with my unwieldy gear and I noticed the driver giving me the stink eye for holding up the departure. So I slung my pack into the overhead and sunk down into the seat.

“It’s all gong to shit,” he said.

I sighed as the bus pulled away. Sometimes it’s best to let them have their say. “Oh yeah? What’s going to shit?”

“All of it. Everywhere I go. What’s happening out there?”

“I suppose you’re going to tell me.”

“Modernization. Globalization. Capitalization. The rich getting richer. No one calls them on it because they think they can get rich too. Not likely. Markets. Rigged markets only free when the rich make money but bailed out when they don’t. Pissed off people everywhere. Shooting people. Blowing shit up. Social media. Fecesbook and Shitter. That’s not human progress.

“Did you say Feces…

“People confusing comfort with progress, convenience with human advance. The promised gifts of the modern world are a sham. People are alone, only talking to people who all hate the same things. Makes it easier and easier to hate.”

“That’s all?”

“Oh buddy, don’t get me started.”

I was getting some impressions from this man (not just body odor). A sense of a stormy force growing behind a jagged ridge, seeking for a way over and out, determined and not resigned to being penned in.

“Tell me more about Fecesbook and Shitter,” I said.

“All that bullshit. Tweeting. Keeping in touch, friends doing friendly things. Guess what? It’s also a conduit of evil. I’m not just talking China or Russia or Trump here. It’s a conduit for spiritual evil. Coveting. Soul destroying desire. Let me tell you a story…”

“Keep it down!” A shrill ladies voice from the seat behind. So he leaned closer and I got the dry rot of his breath to go with the moist rot of his body.

“Let me tell you my story,” he said. “But you tell me to shut up if you need a break. Deal?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Name’s Buster,” he said and offered a hand.

“Dude,” I said and took it. “Mountain Dude.”

“Mountain Dude? What’re you running from, Mountain Dude?”

“Tell me your story,” I said.

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Kat’s Canyon

This is the eleventh installment of a series about the Mountain Dude, a wandering guy with an ESP-like “gift”.  The Mountain Dude, some readers may recall, made a few enigmatic appearances in JJ in the 21st Century.

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I met her for the first time on the outskirts of a small crowd listening to a bluegrass band. Old hippies and younger artisan types with their kids twirling in gypsy skirts and bare feet were all gathered around the group, playing with their back to a river in a Rocky Mountain canyon. I was in my infant days of wandering and still craved company after a few days in the wild, just to be around other people and be reassured that they lived and did things like listen to music or eat meals or dance with their kids. Once I had my fill or I drew (or was drawn) too close, I fled back to the wild again. My loner callouses had yet to harden.

I saw her standing there, leaning on a boulder under an aspen, watching. There was a golden glow about her from the fall aspen leaves and I thought of some Tolkien wood elf with a holy beauty beyond sex or desire. I was awestruck and, as I stood staring, music receding into the background, she looked at me and noticed and was aware of me. I felt like I had perverted something, being caught like that and I looked away. When I looked back she was already approaching. The only option at that point would be to turn and run. I was caught.

“What the hell are you looking at?”

“What?”

“You were staring. Gaping. Yes, gaping at me. Groping me with your eyes. What the fuck is the matter with you?”

So maybe she was no Tolkien elf maiden.

“I…uh…I’ve been alone for awhile.”

“So you thought you could just stare and have me like some object or lawn ornament.”

“I…uh…mean that…I’ve been walking in the mountains. My social… are…uh…that’s to say. I’m feeling really awkward around people.”

“So you weren’t admiring me?”

“Well..uh..yeah but not like that.”

“Not like what?”

“Well…not like sexually.”

“You don’t think I’m sexy?”

“Well…yeah, but..”

“So you do want to have sex with me.”

“No. I don’t even know you!”

Now she smiled and I knew she was playing with me. I wasn’t amused. I tried a smile that I’m sure looked like a grimace.

“My name’s Kat,” she said. “And I live in this canyon.”

“I wander,” I said. “I live wherever.”

“Do you have a name?”

“No. Not anymore. I left it behind.”

She rolled her eyes. “So how should I address you?”

“Just call me, Dude.”

She shook her head. “Dude, let’s go smoke a joint down by the river.”

Later, I asked, “You live in this canyon?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you from this canyon?”

“No. I’m from Pennsylvania.”

“So, why…”

She looked at the water, the slanting sun flashing off the rolling current, bluegrass music just audible from up and beyond.

“I’m in exile,” she said. “I hate the world and the people running it. Women haters, racists, shitty rich people. My whole family are shitty rich people. I chose to leave all that. There’s good people here and no one cares who or what your were. I’m home here.”

“Hmmm.”

“Why are you wandering?”

“I can’t be around people. It hurts too much.”

“It hurts them or you?”

“Both.”

So we sat there by that river and I felt small and silly in my selfish wandering next to her stand against a shitty world. But it passed as we watched it get dark in the canyon.

We didn’t have sex that night. That would have to wait.

And I got no ESP into her thoughts or emotions. Nothing. She was beautiful, principled, and closed to me.

I fell in love that day by the river.

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Brush with Evil I

This is the tenth installment of a series about the Mountain Dude, a wandering guy with an ESP-like “gift”.  The Mountain Dude, some readers may recall, made a few enigmatic appearances in JJ in the 21st Century.

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Earlier, I mentioned Johnny Smith and The Dead Zone. I too have encountered evil with my “gift” of perceiving the character and notions of others. You know evil when you feel it. There is the normal stew of human ways of being- sad, optimistic, arrogant, angry, happy, gloomy. Usually, underlying all, is the sludge of fear. In my experience, the most happy-seeming people are also the most terrified. After all, have you looked and listened these days? Have you read the signs? If you’re happy all the time then you’re either willfully ignorant or stupid or dead.

But real evil lacks fear. Or maybe it’s pure fear, untainted by the desire for something warm and noble, only concerned with its own preservation. Real evil sees the world simply, as prey and predator. It has no choice in the matter. Real evil is ice cold, like reptilian eyes regarding you with primordial intelligence. Am I giving you the idea that these Rocky Mountains are a paradise full of well-meaning hippified outdoorsy types and beleaguered park rangers? There is evil out here too, just like everywhere else.

Salida, Colorado may the most Colorado place on the planet. The Arkansas River runs right through the center of town, the headwaters in the nearby mountains. White water rafting, mountain biking, mountain climbing, hang gliding, moose wrestling. If you can think of an outdoor rush then, “Right on!”, it’s here or nearby. There’s a US highway that skirts the quaint center of town with it’s upscale eateries and galleries. On the outskirts are the motor inns, pawn shops, liquor stores, gun stores and churches. You know- The Great American Cultural District. I walked on the shoulder of the road through this fringe wasteland. Cars whizzed by or turned into parking lots in front or behind. All except for a black Lexus with tinted windows that slowed and followed me, matching my pace, half on the shoulder. At first I thought he was turning or rolling to a stop from car trouble. But then I could feel the driver and knew he was fucking with me.

I could feel that he was grinning.

This was not some dumb-ass teenager throwing a beer can out the window and yelling something crude. There was a cold-ass motherfucker behind that windshield and I wanted to get off that road quick as I could and be around some other people.

I was in front of a church. A tough choice loomed. The church? Or tangle with the evil motherfucker following me with ill intent?

I turned up the walkway to the church door leaving the highway behind. The car stopped and I could feel him watching me. Then it accelerated away on the roadside gravel, crunching a memo that time would be bided, that I couldn’t hide forever, that there was nothing for him to do but watch and wait.

I lingered in the church doorway until the chill passed then started back down to the road. I wanted to get resupplied and back to the wilderness ASAP. I felt out-in-the-open and exposed like the slow gazelle in a nature show about lions.

A voice from the church doorway behind. “Changed you mind?”

Shit. Church person.

“No. Yes. Gotta move on.”

“I felt him, too.”

“Him?”

“The guy in the car. Did you see him?”

“No,” I said. “Tinted windshield.”

“You don’t want to see his face. That means you’re too close.”

“What’s it like?”

“Clean shaven. Rosy and boyish. Smiling. Always smiling. Successful.”

“You survived it. Evidently.”

“Barely,” he said. “And then, only because of Jesus.”

“He showed up?”

A wry smile. “My faith in Jesus. My faith always shows up.”

“Hmmm. Sometimes I wish it were that simple for me.”

“There’s nothing simple about it,” he said. “It’s a relationship that needs cultivating. Like any relationship.”

I was feeling nothing specific off this earnest and frank churchman, just a general feeling of security. No, that’s not quite it. Serenity maybe?

“Do you pray?”

“I walk,” I said. “I wander the land.”

“That’s faith, too,” he said. “Wandering is a kind of prayer.”

“What about that evil motherfucker?”

“Avoid him,” the churchman said as he turned to go back in. “Don’t get caught out alone in the open. He feeds on the isolated.”

That’s when I knew I was headed back north to see my Mountain Girl.

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