Care Taking and Taking Leave

Branches

Back east, Lila and Carl, JJ’s best friends in the world, were shacked up in JJ’s farm house, care taking, and failing to care for each other.

“I think we’re done here,” Lila said. “If you can’t even say how you feel.”

“Now I see why he ran away from you over and over and over,” Carl said. “All this processing!” He sat at the table with his head in his hands, massaging his temples, trying to knead something away.

“Who said he was the one? You think it’s easy being around that erratic drunk?” Lila stood in the kitchen doorway, blocking passage to the rest of the house. “I just want to know what the hell we’re doing here?”

“Care taking,” Carl said. “Place holding.”

“Taking care of what? Holding who’s place?”

“Purgatory,” Carl muttered.

“What was that?”

“Nothing.”

“I just want some clarity,” Lila said. “I mean, we’re in his house, he’s away, probably in trouble, and your wife wants you back.”

“There’s no going back. Not after this.”

“After this, what?”

“This…this…What the hell is this?”

“That’s what I want to know!”

They were silent, Carl looking at the table top, trying to divine some message from the wood grain and swirls. Lila stared right through the hunched form of Carl, trying to figure out what had happened these past couple months. It seemed so right in the summer. Right, but wrong, like one more drink on a Tuesday night. Or buying something big and unneeded on credit. The worst part? She couldn’t stop thinking (worrying!) about JJ. Of course, they were living in his house so there were reminders everywhere. But, he had that look the last time she saw him, that dead-eyed autopilot doomed look, like a suicide bomber tying up loose ends before the mission.

“It’s time for you to go home,” she said.

It was heavier now, the silence. The crackle had gone out of the air and the next thing that was said would change everything.

“I know,” Carl said. “I know.” He looked up and grinned at her. “I always knew this was just…”

“Temporary,” Lila said.

“And wrong,” Carl said. “He’s a complete piece of shit sometimes, and maybe we needed to do this, to punish him.”

“But we love him.”

“You love him. I’m just the friend who shacked up with his girlfriend.”

“Is that what this was? Our way of punishing him?”

“Well, after we scratched the itch. After all, we moved into his house!”

“To care take.”

Carl got up and put out his hand. Lila looked at it then laughed and embraced him. They parted and Carl looked at the floor. “Listen, I’ll look after this place so don’t worry.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, since you’re going to Colorado. Don’t worry about JJ’s house.”

Going to Colorado? Lila thought it and knew it was true. What else was there to do?

“Take care,” Carl said and headed out the door, back towards his wife and home. “Let me know when you’re gone and I’ll come get my things.”

            “I will,” she said and went to find her laptop to book a flight to Denver. “It’ll be soon.”

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Sucker?

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Morning. JJ and Tess, a woman he hardly knows, camped at an abandoned mountain ranch. His land. Her land. Whose land?

They leaned on an old fence, eating Pop Tarts. A vehicle approached down the long dirt road to where they were camped, a cloud of dust rising behind.

“Oh shit, that must be Cody,” Tess said.

“Who’s Cody?”

“Just my angry twin brother.”

Oh great. Angry brother. Cody. Twin. Twin telepathy. What kind of gun toting maniac was coming down the road?

“How does he know we’re here?”

“He doesn’t. Or he does. He just comes here.”

“He comes here? For what?”

“To get away,” Tess said. “He doesn’t like people much.”

An old Chevy pick-up came to a skidding stop and just sat there with the engine running. Cody drove angry. JJ couldn’t see him clearly for the glare off the windshield. But he knew Cody was looking at him. The engine shut off and made little ticks as it cooled. Some birds chirped and tweeted from the brush but no one moved. It was midmorning and warm in the sun, not a cloud in the sky. Finally, the door opened.

Cody was Tess with a buzz-cut, only his eyes were harder, solid blue ice where Tess’s were liquid blue. “Who’s this guy,” Cody asked.

“This here’s Jason,” Tess said.

“Is this your boyfriend?”

“No, not really,” JJ said. “We only met a couple days ago. I mean, we’re just friends. New friends.” JJ walked toward Cody with his hand extended. “Nice to meet you.”

Cody looked at the hand like JJ held out a putrefying fish. He looked at JJ’s face. “What are you two doing here?”

Tess walked forward and got between JJ and Cody. “Cody, this here’s a miracle! Jason bought the ranch at the auction. He bought the ranch for us!”

JJ and Cody both looked at Tess. Cody stared with disbelief of the, “here’s some more of Tess’s bullshit” variety. JJ was just trying to keep up.

“I felt something,” Cody said. “Yesterday. I knew something was happening out here.”

The twin telepathy. Fuck.

“Um, yeah,” JJ said. “I bought the ranch.”

“I’m sure it was out of the goodness of your heart,” Cody said, looking at JJ over Tess’s shoulder. “What’re you up to?”

If JJ were honest, he’d say: “I left Massachusetts because my best friend was getting together with my erstwhile girlfriend, who was my other best friend. I tried to write a memoir but instead started drinking, which is really bad for me. I flew to Colorado on the advice of a guy named Shaboo and kept drinking. I’ve been here before, trying to find myself, so I thought I’d try again. Instead I found your twin sister in a blackout. She convinced me to visit the bank where we put in a bid two minutes before the auction ended. Phone calls were made and the remainder of my lottery winnings were transferred from my bank. I signed some papers and here we are.”

Instead, JJ said, “I dunno.”

“Well here’s the deal, man,” Cody said. “This ranch has been in our family since the 1800’s and no fuckin’ boytoy of my sister is going to own it. Where are the papers?”

“Still at the bank,” Tess said.

Cody looked around and seemed to notice the Camaro for the first time. “What the hell kind of car is that?”

“That’s a Hyper Blue Metallic Chevy Camaro,” JJ said with a renter’s pride. He would keep his dignity through all this no matter what, he vowed.

Cody snorted. “Jesus, she saw you coming a mile away. The plates should read, SUCKER.”

Tess said, “It wasn’t like that, Cody. He offered to help.”

Cody chuckled and walked to the Camaro, appraising. Tess whispered to JJ, “It wasn’t like that. We’ll figure something out.”

“I’m sure we will,” JJ said. “Things always work out for me.”

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Detoxing in the Mountain Air

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Withdrawing from alcohol. A mesh of electricity humming just under the skin, complete with unpredictable twitches, some lunatic doctor behind the one-way glass delivering voltage. Also, the feeling (the certainty!) of impending doom and imminent threat. Shadows behind rocks are crouching gargoyles, vigilant and silent. There is a lurking monster behind that tree right over there, some stick figure, an upright mantis keeping very still. And this woman, Tess, next to JJ in a sleeping bag under the mountain stars. They are camped on his land apparently, JJ’s land, in this valley in northern Colorado.

JJ lays on his side, shaky and alert, watching the trees and rocks, and wonders how the hell this happened. He knows the what, where and when. With the last of his lottery money, he bought this old mountain ranch that had once been in Tess’s family. But how? Why? Whither?

Next to him, Tess shifts in her sleeping bag, the nylon rustle amplified in the deep quiet. Is she asleep? JJ can’t get comfortable in his sleeping bag. He’s warm, he’s cold, he’s hot. Clammy nylon sticks to his cheek. His breath is fetid and there is a weird smell coming from his body, like the smell of an examining room in a hospital, some antiseptic cleaner trying hard to cover up the smell of human excreta- sweat, blood, urine, etc.  Also, there’s this rubber glove smell coming from God knows where. He must be getting better if he can catalogue these smells and place them in a hospital. Though, of course, he does feel more like a patient than a healthy human. He is detoxing.

This woman, Tess. Something is off but he can’t put his finger on it. She certainly smiles a lot. That’s never a good sign. She’s attractive, at least physically. Fit and glowing and endowed with…endowments. But, there’s an aura of disaster and chaos around her, an untethered feeling that infects JJ. He feels the same way when watching news footage from the scene of some explosion- whirling police lights and silhouettes moving and milling in a smoky background. You kind of want to be there, to see it, to have a part in it. To help out. That can’t be good. What did Dr. Shays once say to him? “Your attraction to a certain kind of person is automatic. It is machinery that you can’t see working. It chooses what it needs and by the time you catch up, it’s too late. You’re being ground up.”

JJ’s machine likes chaos. That’s why he could never stick with Lila. She’s crazy, but not crazy enough, too grounded to feed the beast.

But this Tess. She’s not right but she’s also very…very…alluring. Mysterious. Unpredictable?  More like erratic.

A voice, muffled coming from inside the horizontal lump of sleeping bag next to him. “Are you thinking about me?”

JJ shifts onto his back and looks into the vast mountain sky. Stars and stars and stars.

“Yes,” he says.

Tess sighs and again the voice muffled, coming from somewhere hidden, beneath the surface.

“That’s good,” the voice says. “That’s really good.”

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SLAP! Presidential Endorsement, Finally

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As the author of SLAP! and the leading advocate for aggro-parenting®, I’ve been asked repeatedly to endorse a presidential candidate. While reluctant to give a formal endorsement, I always direct queries to my book, especially chapter 8, “The Home: Not a Democracy.” Read an excerpt and see if you can figure out who I support for President.

The home is not a democracy. There is no equality in the home, nor should there be. There is one term that always tells me that things are completely out of control: “family meeting”. When I hear that, I know that SLAP! techniques are necessary. The only thing that gets worked out at family meetings is parental authority: it gets worked right out of the house! Giving a voice to all members of the family? Please. Did Stalin ask for input from farmers when he forced them to collectivize, capitulate and starve? No, of course not. You can’t get anything done when everyone voices an opinion. (See Chapter 9, “Papa Joe: The Archetypal Father). It’s okay to shout down ridiculous calls for “equality” or “justice”. “It’s not fair,” they’ll whine. “You’re abusing your power,” they’ll wail. Well, to borrow a phrase from the whiner’s lexicon, “No Duh!”

Children are stupid and you can easily play upon their fears to fortify your authority. Strangers (especially of a different race), bears, liberals, refugees- they can all be easily invoked to terrorize and manipulate small minds, especially when the child has never seen any of these monsters up close in real life. Their ignorance is your boon and you should always use it to get children to work against their own interests. For instance, Lily was just banished from the dinner table after she complained that she was being bullied by some mean girls, thrown up against a locker, grabbed by a boy, and couldn’t mom and dad call the guidance counselor, blah, blah, blah. Now she’s complaining about not eating. The rule is very simple: Complaining is not allowed at dinner! That’s the time to invoke the Syrians. They are coming. They are beaten down and starving. They eat the flesh of 6th graders. Lily has never seen a starving frightened Syrian refugee, so what the hell does she know? As Hitler said, “Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.” (See Chapter 10, “Uncle Adolph: Looking Past the Holocaust”).

I know you’re thinking, “I knew it! Dr. Führland supports Donald Trump!”

Well, No Duh!

(Disclosure: This author is being vetted by the Trump campaign for the position of Secretary of Health and Human Services.)

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Panic Room

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JJ found the car parked around the corner from the bar. It had a ticket under the wiper (meter expired, never fed) but looked intact. Night was falling and there were people going here and there, young people with hope and a bounce in their steps. There was an expectant Friday night feel. He sat on a bench near the car and strove for a post-binge clarity of his position and state of affairs. There were pros and cons.

Pro: He hadn’t lost the car and it appeared to be undamaged. The keys were in his pocket.

Con: He didn’t know what happened during the past three days.

Pro: Except for a sodden dread and a railroad spike of pain in his head, he appeared to be mostly intact. Dirty, but physically intact.

Con: All his cash was gone.

Pro: He still had his wallet and debit card.

First things first. Find an ATM. There’s a bank right over there with the little ATM booth attached near the side entrance. A swipe, a buzz, and the too bright flourescent light. Check balance? (A dreadful stirring and shadowy memories, much too recent.)

Balance: $1,254.88.

Before he left Massachusetts it was $51,000 and change, the last of his lottery winnings.

He stared at the current number. The digits floated a little on the screen, disconnecting then all lining up. He blinked but the number of digits didn’t increase. It took him a minute to do the math as his heart started to pound. The shadow beasts were starting to emerge from the mist.

He was missing $50,000.

Other memories now, little glimpses of a movie in which he was the slow-moving and dimwitted star. A bank. Bank employee in a suit (never a good sign). Phone calls and … signatures? And… And…

A person with him. A woman? Yes? A young woman. The Mountain Dude? That was later, he was pretty sure.

He stood frozen at the ATM until it double-beeped and threatened to end the transaction. He cancelled the transaction and stumbled back against the wall of the ATM booth. Sliding down to a crouch with his back against the wall, JJ tried to piece it all together and pierce the fog of the last three days. The ride from Denver, a liquor store along the way, a hotel off the highway, drinking and watching a baseball game on TV. Restlessness and boredom. Then the fog thickened. JJ, head down in concentration and shame, trying to keep the panic at bay, crouched there for a minute or an eternity.

There was a knock on the glass of the ATM panic room. JJ startled with a surge of fear and jerked his head up. The demons were trying to get in!

He saw a woman smiling at him through the glass. Was it…? Lila? But, no, just for a second there. The shape of her. The hair. But it was not Lila. JJ opened the door.

“I’ve been looking for you,” she said. “I got my stuff. The camping gear.”

“What?”

“Are you alright? We’re driving up to see the land.”

“…”

“The land we bought?”

“…”

“Jason?”

“You drive,” he said and handed her the keys. “And help me up, please.”

 

 

 

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Safe in the Woods

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Emerging from a blackout, one finds oneself in the midst of the strangest scenarios. You re-enter your body like a time traveler and need to catch up quick lest you are discovered.

JJ re-entered his body, sitting on a park bench in Fort Collins, CO. Sitting next to him, hairy and hulking, was the Mountain Dude.

“I dreamt of a broken safe in the woods, full of acorns.”

“Huh?” JJ was disoriented and wondered what had happened. How was he here? Where did the Mountain Dude come from? And, holy shit, where was the car?

“I was walking down a mountainside. Saw an appliance or something down the hill in a clearing.   Got closer and it was a safe, busted open, with acorns spilling out.”

“A safe? Who was safe?”

The Mountain Dude looked at JJ. “Man, you’re really out of it. It was a safe, like where you keep your valuables. In the middle of the woods, busted open, with acorns spilling out. Hundreds of acorns.”

“When did this happen?”

“Dude! It was a dream.”

A dream. Maybe this was a dream, too. How could the Mountain Dude, who JJ instantly recognized as the Mountain Dude from back east, be sitting here in a park in Colorado talked to him about dreams.

“Is this real?”

“I’m real. I’m really real. The dream? What kind of symbol is a broken safe in the woods?”

JJ looked at the park. Late summer, late afternoon. People walked their dogs and threw Frisbees. The foothills of the Rockies rose beyond the town, sage and brown. He felt quavery and dry, his head too big for his body. Standing would be a major issue. Worse, there were knuckle-dragging beasts, just beyond the fog in his head and heart. Feelings and memories chasing him, making threatening movements, shadows in the fog. If that fog clears…

“Precious things are kept in a safe, locked away,” JJ said.

“Right. Not just documents. Gems and jewels.”

“So maybe the things you hold precious, locked up inside, need to come out. Or they’re already out.”

“So the woods are my soul or unconscious,” the Mountain Dude said. “And I come upon this safe that’s broken open.”

“Full of God’s thoughts.”dsc_0789

“What?”

“Acorns are God’s thoughts. Simple and perfect, but not too perfect.”

“Dude. I knew you could do it.”

“You knew? How?”

“You told me. In the bar. An interpreter of dreams you said you were. A seeker of symbols. I pulled you out of there before they threw you out of there.” The Mountain Dude stood up. “And I’ve been rewarded.”

“You’re going?”

“I have to go off and think on these images.”

“What about me?”

“You’ll have to carry on and find your own acorns.”

The Mountain Dude walked down the grassy hill toward the foothills beyond.

JJ stared after him, befogged and befuddled.  What now?  Then he yelled at the departing Mountain Dude, “Have you seen a Hyper Blue Metallic Camaro?”

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Go West

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Thoreau, in Walking, romanticized the instinct to go West as the human impulse toward the wild, which for him meant to be really alive. The West represents the wild urge inside of us that we need to respect and not fuck with. He was leery of settling down, of becoming smug and lame, and mocked his neighbors who were strangely pleased about being rooted in place by their comfort and real estate. He would abhor most of the US today.

I have often fled West to seek a sense of space and newness, to get revitalized. But I always returned east to get devitalized.

I sit on this westbound plane craving alcohol and trying to (not) look down the shirt of the woman next to me. Forty-five minutes into the flight and she has not acknowledged me in any way though we sit six inches apart. I’m working up the courage to go for a full-on glimpse of her bra. I need to know the color!

When the drink cart comes I buy two vodkas and dump them into my airline coffee. That gets her attention and the distance between us grows to seven inches.

Have you ever been to the Denver International Airport? It is a light and airy place, trying for a mood of a whimsical futuristic Colorado with no shale oil or coal mining, only skiing and taxable marijuana. It has a soaring roof that imitates the snowcapped peaks in the distance. It has underground trains that go to various terminals. It takes an hour to get from the arrival gate to the outdoors.

I take a shuttle to the Hertz building where I enter what looks like an Apple Store highlighted in Hertz-yellow and talk to a guy named Brett about renting a convertible.

“Right on,” Brett says. “We usually recommend the full-size SUV if you’re going into the mountains.”

“Is the full-size SUV a convertible?”

He chuckles in a don’t-be-silly way. “Nope. But it has lot of room.”

“Brett,” I say. “Dude. Let’s cut through the upsell bullshit and get me on the road in that convertible.”

“Right on.”

Chevy Camaro. Hyper Blue Metallic. Enough said.

The Denver metro area is sprawling and vast and it takes a while to get that driving in the west feeling of space and possibility. I head north along the Front Range. There’s this headache and my body is crying for more liquor but I’m determined to hold out for a little while until…

The guy at the liquor store is eyeing my Camaro. “That’s a nice one.”

“Just got it,” I say and grab my bottle of whiskey. “Now I’m gonna christen it.”

“Right on.”

By christen it, I mean take a big hit off the Wild Turkey bottle and keep driving.

There’s two levels to me right now, very distinct. There’s Jason, the part that knows I’m fucked, out of control, headed for something painful and unpleasant, probably involving police or hospital.

Then there’s the other part, exultant, insatiable and free. JJ unleashed. Jason knows that this is fleeting, already slipping away even as I howl into the top-down air. But, it’s so good, this rush of doomed possibility. It just is! So, shut the fuck up, Jason! Shut up about the dwindling lottery winnings. Shut up about Lila and Carl and family. Shut up about finishing the memoir.

JJ reserves the right to revel in this pure freedom of road, mountains, and hyper blue metallic rental Camaro. I accept the deal. Pure bliss for an hour or two before the really compulsive drinking takes over and I blackout or gray-out for a few days and do something stupid.

That’s a bargain!

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