Face to Face

This is the twenty-first 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.


“What’s your name?”

“Haven’t you guessed?”

We sat face to face under a cottonwood in the wash as the morning grew and the rocks turned from gray shadows to red yellow gold all around. A beautiful canyon on a beautiful morning as I sat with evil. We sat cross legged facing each other as if for a powwow. There was no peace pipe.

“Evil Man,” I said and I could feel this opening inside, an unclenching, fear dissipating and replaced by an acceptance of what was next. It occurred to me that something, some inner grip, had been clenched in me for a long time, but only now as it was being released. I felt open and ready for this.

“Evil, yes,” he said. “Power, yes. I am Satan, Santa, and Stalin come to earth to help those with certain gifts. To show them the way. You, my friend, have one of those gifts.”

“The ESP.”

“ESP,” he laughed. “Those are just tiny initials for a gift beyond your understanding that could change the world. Yet you run from that power. Why do you run?”

“It causes too much pain. I can’t be around people. At least not for long.”

“That’s because you shy from the power. No pain no gain. You’re playing a small game when you have the skill to play the biggest game of all.”

“What’s that?”

The sun was cresting the edge of the canyon and the orange light fell on his face. The skin was close shaven and smooth, rosy cheeks and thin prim lips. I could not see his eyes because of his sunglasses but I could see my reflection looking at his face. Him and me right there in his glasses.

“The biggest game of all,” he said. “The biggest game of all, and I don’t want to overwhelm you but I think you can handle it. You may even know it already. The biggest game of all is the battle for the souls of human beings.”

“That doesn’t sound like the kind of game I want to play.”

He sighed. “People for the most part want to be told what to think and what to do. They just don’t know it. They think they want freedom, but they can’t handle it. You have the power, the obligation, to help them to the right way.”

“I’m obliged?”

“Yes. Otherwise you will continue to wander aimlessly and fruitlessly from place to place, heartbroken, fleeing your obligation to help.”

There was a splash from upstream and a man appeared walking in the streambed. He came down the stream peering at the canyon walls and cottonwoods, a camera dangling and floppy hat flopping. Homo Touristicus. I couldn’t tell if I was happy to see him or if I should warn him away.

“Let’s see what Joe Blow from Idaho thinks,” the Evil Guy said.

The tourist heard the voice and turned toward us. “Hey there,” he said. “You fellows having some kind of powwow?”

“You could say that. We need you to settle an argument for us.”

“Sure,” he said. “Name’s Joe. From Idaho.”

“I’m the Evil Man,” the Evil Man said.

“Mountain Dude,” I mumbled.

Joe looked at both of us. “Those are some strange names. More like descriptions. I think I’m going to move on and get more photos.”

“Come sit, Joe. We won’t keep you long.”

Things seemed to slow and I felt stoned like I was observing this scene from up above on the canyon rim. It seemed like I couldn’t move without the greatest effort. Joe plopped down between us in the sand. “That was weird,” he said. “It’s like I was pulled down.”

“Let’s begin,” said the Evil Man with a thin smile.

Desert Solitaire(?)

This is the twentieth 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.


Have you ever been to Arches National Park? I have. It was made famous by Edward Abbey in the book Desert Solitaire, one of those foundation books for grouchy wilderness wanderers. It was a foundation book for me. My favorite line? “To refute the solipsist or the metaphysical idealist all that you have to do is take him out and throw a rock at his head: if he ducks he’s a liar.” Don’t worry, I had to look up “solipsist” too. (remember paper dictionaries?). Then I laughed.

Edward Abbey would hate the park now, I’m fairly certain. He would hate most National Parks. Paved roads, ease of access. Not Edward Abbey’s vision. People, all these fuckin people from all over the place. All these cars. They don’t belong here. So what do I do about it? Avoid. Reduce contact. Circumvent. Above all, avoid parking lots. That’s where humanity is at its worst. Parents and kids, both crying sometimes, as the kids get wrestled into car seats. Kids don’t like to be restrained, go figure. Parking lots are full of anxiety and impatience, men tapping steering wheels with barely controlled rage while waiting for old couples to move (MOVE!) so they can pull in and release their children from the restraints and walk across the searing hot pavement to a polluted bathroom and linger linger hurry up and wait.

Hey people! Staying home is an option too! It doesn’t look as good on social media, but think of all the people you haven’t pissed off by just staying the fuck home.

I digress.

I do not enter the park through the main entrance. This is an advantage of not having a car. I hike up Courthouse Wash and camp (illegally) in one of the side canyons below the Petrified Dunes. It is calm and mysterious down in here. There is water in the wash and shade and many little birds flit among the cottonwoods. Something near to peace descends for the first time since leaving Colorado.

Very early the next morning I hike up the wash intending to hike clear across the Park. There is a main road with a parking lot that I must cross and I hope to do so quickly and anonymously just before dawn. I emerge and cross the road. In the parking lot there is one car. I know immediately

It’s the black BMW with tinted windows.

I turn to head quickly back across the road and down into the wash. But he’s standing right there in the road behind me.

“Come walk with me,” he says. His voice is warm. His clothes are vanilla neat, fitted polo tucked into tapered khakis. He is fit and tan like a golfer and looks completely lost in this Utah desert. But he doesn’t act lost.

“Come on,” he says. “You might want to hear what I have to say about your…power.”

“My power?”

“Your power, your problem, your extrasensory perception.”

We stand in the middle of the road in the dawn gloaming. The sky is reddening in the east. The Courthouse Towers loom nearby like some mad monument to a Martian God. Headlights approach from the south.

“There’s nowhere to run,” he says. “Just come hear me out.”

I think of that preacher back in Salida. “You don’t want to see his face,” he said. I could just start to see the rosy close-shaven cheeks, flushed with success. “Don’t get caught out in the open with him,” the preacher said.

“Cmon,” the man says. “I can help you lose the power. Or use it.”

“Allright.”   I follow him across the road and back down into the wash.

I never did listen to preachers.

Becoming the Mountain Dude

This is the nineteenth 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.


My self-administered therapy is really the ongoing development of my own religion. Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not trying to set myself up as some guru, THE Mountain Dude, a wandering mystic in a modern day wilderness, healing people and proclaiming shit. I lay no claim on anyone. At least I try not to. One does fall into love or friendship now and then and tries to have some control. Some normalcy even. Partnership. But the God that I follow? He has a dark sense of humor. I’ve been granted a power that makes romance or close friendship near impossible. And the people immune from my ESP? I chase them away, getting too close too soon, pursuing as they flee, then pulling back in terror of maybe getting what I want. Wash, rinse, repeat. Wash, rinse, repeat. Hilarious, right? Sad and hilarious.

Before I quit the normal world and started really wandering I tried some lonesome weekend experiments to decompress and get some space from people’s unrelenting thoughts and feelings. Here’s an example:

There was a large state park near my home in New England. It was a heavily wooded mountain park with marshy swales below and rocky ledges above. I got a topographical map of the place and pinpointed a spot right in the center. Then I started walking in concentric circles expanding outward from that central point. My idea was to know the whole mountain, every foot of it. I was into these circles because of this Navajo or Hopi maze image with circular pathways. I figured I would keep walking these expanding circles, no matter the terrain, until I hit someone’s backyard or a road or some kind of civilization. There was this other guy that wandered on that mountain too, a guy I saw a few times there and then once in Colorado. Weird. Once I heard him coming and lay under some brush as he passed inches from me. Another time I spoke to him. He was restless and preoccupied. Shit, I was restless and preoccupied too, but very focused on my project. Looking back now, I see a disturbed and restless soul through the wrong end of a telescope, a small distant figure not unlike an insect scrambling over rocks and through the bracken.

Looking at myself now, I still see a disturbed and restless soul. That could be my religion: The Church of the Disturbed and Restless Soul. All followers take to the road and keep encounters brief.

What did I discover walking my circles? No matter where you go, you’re always there. I emerged one sunny April Saturday onto a dirt road at the base of the mountain where a couple mountain bikers were resting in the shade.

“Hey,” I said. I must have looked rather haunted and scraggly. The concentric circles had taken their toll. I just stood there in front of them, waiting for my grade, my project complete.

“Dude,” one of them said with something like awe.

“Mountain dude,” said the other.

So, you see, you can’t out-walk your true self. But you can try and maybe strip some things away, leaving only the essence.

That’s the day I dropped my given name and became the Mountain Dude.

Fighting the Flow

This is the eighteenth 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.


There was a time when I tried to control it, the ESP and my knee-jerk reactions. It takes so much effort. Fending it off shows on my expression like in a paranormal or superhero movie where there’s mind-striving with an unseen foe complete with facial contortions and beading forehead sweat. Have you and your friends ever made a whirlpool in a round swimming pool? Round and round, faster and faster. Then you turn against the flow and confront the force of the moving water? That’s what it’s like except there’s no slowing the current once you turn against it, at least until you or the subject move out of range. But fighting the flow for even a brief moment is like struggling against some elemental law like gravity or magnetism, something impersonal and beyond mere human strength.

In my early twenties I worked with a Paranormalologist (she couldn’t legally call herself a psychologist) on controlling the flow of ESP. Dr.(?) Ziing would bring her colleagues in to test my progress. “Swim!” she hissed at me as their fears and hopes and disappointments would rush at me, images forming, shimmering and fragmenting like on an old antenna tv screen as I pushed back against the force. “Swim upstream!” I practiced backing or turning away politely instead of stumbling backwards with flailing arms, the idea being to achieve a certain level of social grace. Dr. Ziing was big on social grace.

Here are a couple typical snapshots from that stage of me trying to fit in:

I’m at a party in college. My roommate approaches to introduce a cute female friend from back home. He’s trying to help me out.  The flow from her surges and approaches like a rolling wave ready to crest and I swim against it, a grimacing smile plastered on my face as I back away.

“What’s wrong?” she says. “Am I bleeding or something?” She reaches up to her head looking for the jagged wound that my expression of strained control seemed to indicate. Finding nothing but her intact and pretty face, she looks down at her clothes because surely there must be dog feces or something smeared all over her to explain my backpedaling and corpse-like smile. Finding nothing amiss she looks at my friend and shakes her head and walks away muttering.

“Nice try,” my friend says. “But I don’t think you’re going home with her tonight.”

It did get better with practice. About a year later I go to a job interview and sit down across from the HR guy. At this point, I’m able to fend off the flow and sit across from him through the whole interview while succumbing to no images or insights. A major step forward.

He only asks three times if I need the bathroom. Says I look uncomfortable. Like I’m holding something in.

I didn’t get the job.

Eventually I stopped trying. It was too hard and I couldn’t not react to the images and feelings that I got from people. I would say things, often advice or observations that hit too close to the mark, going from my brain to my voice before I even noticed. People got startled. Or scared. They got angry. They cried. They shook their heads and muttered and walked away.

So I walked away too. Into the woods, into the mountains. I started doing my own therapy.

Winter’s Coming

This is the seventeenth 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.


Cast out. Admittedly deserved. Sven drove me all the way down the canyon so I didn’t have to hitchhike, thereby depriving me of an angry aggrieved retreat and leaving me in his debt forever. The conniving bastard.

“I know this was bad,” he said as I got out in a supermarket parking lot. “But I wish I could’ve got to know you.”

“Please,” I said. “Let me walk away without a hug.”

“Just so you know. I do love her.”

“Well, good luck.”

It was cold as I shouldered my pack and headed into the market to get some supplies. After the rain it turned clear and dry and cold. My plan was to head west and south. Southwest. To the canyon country.

Maybe I could even shake off pursuit. Like a desperado.

In the store, I located the granola and dried apricots and almonds and jerky. My traveling food. I grabbed a fat bottle of red PowerAde because the color made my mouth water. I felt mean and wretched. It came to me then, a voice in my head. From God? My mother?

“Stop being a dick,” the voice said.

And I realized again why I live the way I do. That two nights at Kat’s cabin with her and Sven? That’s how it always goes when I get too close. I become a dick. The Dick. It just floweth from me, the dickishness. As long as I can remember. I want what I want when I want it. I expect things to be a certain way. They never are. Never. So I act out, trying to leave a mark. The ESP doesn’t help. The people I can’t read, like Kat, I pursue and cling to until they tell me to go the fuck away. I run them to ground. Then they turn and fight me off. The ones I can read, they’re easy. I can avoid or engage or provoke or comfort so easily. It’s the ones I can’t read that give me all the trouble. This ESP, this dubious power. Can’t live with it, can’t live without it.

This cycle of thinking is running through my head for the thousandth, ten thousandth, hundred thousandth time.

And, “Stop being a dick!” from somewhere higher and deeper then the thoughts in my head. “Just stop!”

“Can I help you?” the cashier asked. She was a short lovely blonde, just plain and plumpish and lovely and sad, in her early twenties. I approached and got a big blast of a disappointed life, images of a college quad with hurrying students, a beaten-down car driving away, and an overweight mother in a trailer who forgot how to smile.

“Listen,” I said. “I know you think you’re helping. But it’s out of your hands. You’re powerless. Please go and live your life.”

She stared at me and the tears welled. “I can’t,” she whispered. “She won’t let me.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “You can’t go anywhere and I can’t stay anywhere. I guess just do the best you can.”

She sniffled and started scanning my items. “Isn’t that what we all do.”

“Yeah,” I said. “But it never feels like enough.”