Evolution or Devolution? The Mountain Dude’s not in the Mood

This is the third installment of a new series.  The Mountain Dude, some readers may recall, made a few enigmatic appearances in JJ in the 21st Century.

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I met an older woman, lean and tan and fit, hiking above Lawn Lake. She’s a mountain woman who’s been hiking forever, unfazed by steep trails, wildlife or the presence of an unkempt grumpy Mountain Dude.

“I believe in evolution,” she said. “And I don’t mean growing a longer snout to eat burrowing bugs.”

“What do you mean, then?”

“I mean, evolution is happening, like it or not. You can either help or hinder. That’s our choice.”

“Do you mean stop acting like children, grabbing all we can, as fast as we can and fuck everyone else?”

“Hmm. I don’t like the F-word.”

“Sorry. I’ve been thinking about something similar.”

“Cursing is a choice. We choose our words. Otherwise we’re unconscious.”

I was beginning to regret our conversation.

She sat on a rock and opened her pack. I expected a baggie of gorp but she had some jerky instead. She held out a strip to me. “Elk,” she said.

Elk jerky as a peace offering? That’s a start.

We chewed our jerky in silence.

“Don’t be so afraid,” I said. “The world isn’t that bad.”

“Who said I’m scared? Aren’t you scared?”

The residue of the world was all over me, still, from the towns and cities I came through to get here. Civilization. The people, the tourists, the park ranger, all indifferent or demanding, they just get in the way.

“I’m not scared. But I’m concerned.”

“’It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.’” She sang this in a mock cracked voice.

“Dylan?”

“Who else?”

“I have trouble getting past his whole Christian period.”

She chewed and looked into the trees. “Yeah, but he was…is… on the side of evolution.”

“Is it really either/or?”

“Pretty much. We will evolve or die off. Some fight it. Many fight it, these days. Most people it seems. It’s fashionable to fight it and be proudly sinking.”

“Fuck ‘em,” I said with a little too much emphasis on the F-word.

She stood up. “I told you I don’t like that word. What’s wrong with you?”

“I’ve been cast aside,” I said. “And I can’t shake it off today.”

“You’re angry.”

“And you’re rigid. Life can only disappoint the rigid and righteous.”

She gathered her stuff and moved off down the trail.

“And cursing doesn’t mean shit,” I said. “It’s just expression.”

Suffice it to say, we agreed to disagree. Or at least I did.

Later, I pitched my tent and sat watching darkness fall. One thing about the mountains. Once the summer sun sets behind a ridge or peak, the temperature drops immediately. That’s unlike the humid eastern mountains where the heat lingers in the thick air. That heavy heat has no where to go, the valleys trapping it, forming puddles of swampy June air. Up here, in a high Rocky Mountain valley, it’s easier to shake it off because the air is thin and much of the heat just lifts away.

At least that’s what I tell myself. But I’m no scientist.

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The Mountain Dude: “Why is Everyone so Angry?”

This is the second installment of a new series.  The Mountain Dude, some readers may recall, made a few enigmatic appearances in JJ in the 21st Century.

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I watched a National Park Ranger talk down a tourist from Ohio who was enraged that you couldn’t just stop your car in the middle of a busy road to take a picture of deer in a meadow. The driver clearly did not want to consider parking forty yards away and hauling the bulk of himself and family out of the car for a clearer look and contemplation of the beauty at hand.

I emerged from the trees where I had been watching the deer and contemplating the beauty at hand. “That was really hard for you,” I told the ranger after the car harrumphed away. “You just want to be liked.”

“Excuse me?”

“Sorry, nothing. Why are people so angry?”

“I think they just want what they want when they want it.”

We watched the deer, unhurried and silent, eating in a sunset meadow backed by 12,000 foot mountains.

“The internet,” I said. “We’ve confused convenience with an advance in civilization.”

“That’s a bit of a leap.”

I had to concede that he was right. It’s one of the traps of wandering alone most of the time. You’ve already filled in all the logic between observation and conclusion and take it as given, very tidy in your own head. Hence, tourist is angry in national park because of the internet and it’s illusion of easy attainment. I often get that puzzled look from people when I present my conclusions without my logic. Not that they want to hear my logic either. Still, I try.

“Guy from Ohio and his family want to get off their couch and have a vacation. They research national parks online because that’s getting back to nature. They read reviews and read about wildlife and stupendous scenery. They miss the parts about crowds and altitude. They use a GPS. They have no adventures on the way, except when little Daisy drops her plastic tray of gas station nachos and the flourescent cheese sauce gets on the upholstery. Dad is pissed. They get here to discover traffic in the gateway town. Straight-up traffic. And it’s hot. Then they go to the hotel to watch TV. The WiFi is spotty. The continental breakfast is free and there are as many sausage patties as you can eat. By the time they get out of there, it’s 9:30 or so, the same time that every other family is leaving their hotels. They discover another traffic jam at the entrance. Then there’s no parking at the lake they want to see and they have to take a shuttle which is packed like a New York subway at rush hour. On the way back to town, they see these deer, these beautiful tranquil deer grazing with a backdrop of awesome mountains. They slow down and stop to take pictures. Then you, the ranger, comes to move them along.”

“We’ve made it too easy to get here. Now we do crowd control all summer.”

“It’s supposed to be hard to get here. Instead of a physical challenge it’s a game of patience.”

“You don’t seem challenged.” He looked at my backpack. “Where are you camping?”

“Up there,” I said and gestured with my chin to the mountains.

“In the backcountry?”

“Where else?”

“Can I see your backcountry permit?”

I fished it out of my pocket and he looked at it.

“This is supposed to be displayed on the outside of your pack.”

“I don’t like the sound it makes when it flutters.”

He thought about this a second. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll let it go.”

I started off, away from the road, down the trail.

“Hey,” the ranger said. “Be careful up there.”

“You be careful down here,” I said as another car slowed and stopped so mom could lean out of the passenger side window and take a picture of the ranger in the meadow with deer in the background.

“Move along please,” the ranger said. “You can park right over there.”

“Jesus Christ,” the mom said and dad gunned the engine and the car leapt away.

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The Mountain Dude

This is the first installment of a new series.  The Mountain Dude, some readers may recall, made a few enigmatic appearances in JJ in the 21st Century.  Let’s pick up his story…

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After I left that troubled man, I resumed my walking. First to the food store for a big bag of almonds and apricots. That’s my walking food.

The girl behind the counter needed a little nudge. “It’s okay,” I told her. “To want things.”

“But it feels so shallow,” she said, tearing up a little.

“It’s only shallow if you make the things you want too precious.”

She sniffled and looked into my eyes. “Thank you,” she said.

It’s a gift and a curse, this knowing what people need, this sensitivity. I’m not always nice about it either. I told a guy last week that his loud obnoxious muscle truck couldn’t compensate for his lack of, ahem, physical intimacy.  “You’re really lonely,” I said.  “You need to connect.”

“Fuck you,” he said.

You’re welcome.

People call me the Mountain Dude and I’ve started to think of myself that way too. I do a lot of walking, but not just in the mountains. I walk on the streets, on the highways, through fields and over hills. I walk in the city and the country. I try to avoid the suburbs. I walk in the wilderness and sometimes I walk on water.

Just kidding. I’m not that kind of walker.

A therapist once called me a “holy fool” saying I’m a type of person who has a lofty set of principles that are out of step with those of the regular culture. The therapist said, “the holy fool is usually naïve about the ways of the real world.”

I am not naïve about the ways of the real world. Have you looked around?   The level of self-centeredness, self-promotion, self-congratulation? We are infected with multiple terminal cancers and we call that normal.

Don’t get me going.

All I try to do is break the endless cycle of rumination that infects most people in our country. That’s the level of involvement that works for me. I can’t stay in one place because I will hate or love, or hate AND love everyone nearby.

And I can’t keep my mouth shut. So I keep moving.

Sometimes though I encounter a person over and over again, in different places, at different stages of their own journey. “Are you real?” they ask.

Yes, I’m real.

Take that tortured bastard I just left in the park. I saw him in New England several times. A big ruminator, that guy. Then I saw him in a bar here in Colorado, about to get his ass kicked. I ushered him out and sat with him until he came to.

I think he’s going to be all right, but you never know. I may see him again someday.

I may see you someday, too.

 

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The End or “It’s Going to be All Right.”

DSC_0972This is the last installment of the JJ story.  Thanks to all the readers who’ve stuck with it and offered encouragement and criticism over the years.  I’ve pulled all the entries together and, with some fleshing and spackling, I think I’ll have a pretty good book for you in the not so distant not too near future.  Take care and honor your inner JJ.  -Dave

Later, after work and a shower and falling asleep at 4:00 AM next to Lila in bed, JJ had a dream.

He was in his family’s house, as it was when he was a child. He was downstairs, alone, but aware of an adult presence upstairs. He felt like he had done something wrong, something that would be found out, and he had an urge to confess. He needed to preempt the discovery and control the story and consequences to follow. He went upstairs.

The door to his parent’s room was ajar and AM radio was playing. WCBS New York. Phony hectic newsroom sounds and top of the hour news chimes. Something about a beheading in the Middle East and an early snowstorm in the Northeast. He nudged the door open and saw Donald Trump looking out the window to the backyard. Trump turned and beckoned. “Look at all this,” he said. “It’s going to be all right.” JJ joined him at the window that usually looked out over the back driveway and basketball hoop, out over the houses on the street behind. Instead there was a vast American prairie, a rolling golden prairie as far as the eye could see with a dazzling blue sky marred only by a great plume of smoke rising on the horizon. “It’s going to be all right,” Donald Trump said and put his hand on JJ’s shoulder.

JJ woke. It was light and he was alone in his own bed, in his own house, on his farm that wasn’t a farm. Out the window, the trees were bare and there was light snow falling. The distant hilltop looked indistinct and gauzy because of the falling snow. He heard footsteps downstairs then the sound of a spoon in a cup or bowl.

Lila. Living with Lila.  Present day.

It was 10:12 on a Saturday morning in mid November. He would get dressed and have breakfast with Lila. Then off to the noontime meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, where other people, more or less just like him, would talk about the Bermuda Triangle of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. He and Lila would go to lunch or a movie and make holiday plans and maybe bigger plans, too. Then, he would go to work with Carl to bake all those bagels for Sunday morning.

Later on, at the coffee shop, JJ and Lila sat across from each other. They had visited the used bookstore and they read and sipped as people talked and moved past them. JJ tried to read Rousseau, A Discourse on Inequality, on Carl’s recommendation. Too much discourse, not enough getting to the point.  Lila read a novel by Anne Tyler.

JJ looked up. “Before we go home, maybe I’ll buy a lottery ticket.”

Lila kept looking at her book. “How’d that work out the last time?”

JJ smiled. “I’d do things differently this time.”

“If it were only that simple,” Lila said.

“Things are never that simple.”

“Things are never simple,” Lila agreed. “You can set things in motion…”

”And then you’re just a bozo on the bus, along for the ride.”

“Or you’re just a bozo.”

JJ could only smile and nod and sip his coffee.  It was going to be all right.

 

 

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“It’s All Political Now”

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JJ and Carl, reconciled, waiting to bake the bagels.

They stood behind the bagel shop, Carl smoking and talking, JJ looking across at the empty skate park bathed in yellowish street light. The trees were mostly bare of leaves now and the scene looked bereft and jaundiced, some long suspected inner disease finally showing itself on the surface.

“It’s all political now,” Carl said. “Everything. You can’t even stand in line at CVS without thinking, ‘Did he vote for him?’ ‘Did she?’ It’s like trying to spot vampires in daylight. And you know they’re ashamed.”

“They’re not monsters.”

“But the results will be monstrous.”

“They’re just people. People are angry.”

“Yeah. They want simple answers for a complex world. They want what they think was promised them without realizing they grew up in a relatively peaceful time in our nation’s history of blood and mayhem. Post WWII. Then post Cold War. But the rest of the world doesn’t care. The rich don’t care about the American Dream for everybody else. They’ll allow the average Joe just enough to have an Xbox or flat screen or some shitty pickup truck. But they’ll keep the rest and convince those ignorant suckers that they care about making America great. News flash: America’s never been great for a lot of people.”

“You’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this,” JJ said with a smile. “I suspect the last baker didn’t do a lot of listening.”

“Yeah well, he was limited. He could talk about online gaming and that’s about it. I don’t even know what that is. I may be a baker but I read Marx, I read Thoreau, I read Rousseau. This shit going on today? It thrives on ignorance.”

JJ looked at the empty skate park and thought back to summer nights when there were kids skating out there until after dark with their languid movements and sudden bursts of energy required for their tricks. They wore wool hats, even in the heat. It all seemd pretty simple. Enjoy yourself, do your work, think about places to go and how to get there.

“How’s Anne?”

“It’s good at home,” Carl said. “But, y’know what? I think she voted for him. She says she didn’t, but I think…I think she shows the signs. She wants people to pay.”

“Hmm.”

“You’re not surprised?”

JJ thought of Tess and Cody and the keystone cops desperation of their scheme to get their ranch back. “Nothing surprises me.”

“Nothing?”

“It’s a blessing and a curse.”

They heard the oven buzzer go off through the closed back door. Preheating was done, baking temperature had been reached, 550 degrees.

“It’s time,” Carl said.

“194 dozen?”

“No dude, we’re booming. 222 dozen these days.”

“This is going to hurt,” JJ said.

“It’ll come back to you. Muscle memory. Your body remembers the old patterns.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of.”

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The Money’s Gone

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The house on the farm that wasn’t a farm had the cold feel and smell that uninhabited houses have, like faded memories of people, their presence gone stale and uncertain. JJ thought of that town in Japan where the earthquake caused the reactor to melt down, breakfast bowls still on tables and backpacks still in neat circles on classroom carpets.  He turned on the heat to move some molecules and get rid of the chill. They had gone to the bank on the way over. In all his accounts, not counting the value of the farm and the ranch, he had just over $1100 to his name. He was…what’s the term? Illiquid? Yes. He was illiquid and reliant on the ranch rent of an equally poor and unreliable brother and sister in Colorado.

“Hey,” Lila said. “We’re going to be all right.”

“Yup.”

“Really,” she said. “We’ll go back to work.”

“Yup.”

They walked together through the rooms of the house. The last people who lived here were Lila and Carl, who were caretaking. And taking care of each other. A tiny ember inside that he was not even aware of glowed suddenly and started to smolder. The resentment, kept at bay by motion and drama, now flamed up.

“Don’t,” Lila said.

“He hasn’t even called.”

“He’s afraid.”

JJ knew this was true, but the resentment was flaring and consuming the oxygen of his reason. He tried to stifle it for fear of letting the blaze get out of control. Too late…

They drove him away. They drove him out to Colorado where he got drunk and blew the rest of his money. She came to rescue him and tricked him into declaring love. He was dimly aware that he was being consumed by a lie of his disease and he know that he had to do something. He turned away and looked out the kitchen window.

The old view. The barn and the hill sloping down behind. The steeples and water tower in town, visible because the leaves were mostly down. The moodiness of the fall. It reminded him of the previous falls, disappointments, false starts and…rebirths?

“I have to make a call,” he said.

“Oh. Okay.”

He walked out the door to the porch and dialed the number. Two rings. Three rings. A mixture of relief and despair. He had tried.

“Hello.”

“Marty, it’s Jason. From the meeting.”

“Hey, what’s going on?”

And JJ shared the resentment. How Lila, who he loved, and Carl, his best friend from forever had shacked up when JJ got erratic, drunk and angry. How he couldn’t forget it and how it was consuming him. How he loved Lila. Yes, he had told her. But how could they be together with this this…thing, between them. It all came pouring out of him, spilling over like water in an overfilled vessel when it actually raises above the brim before spilling and flooding a table and floor.

“Listen,” Marty said. “Get down on your knees, right where you are. Right now.”

“…”

“Are you on your knees?”

“You mean while we’re on the phone?”

“Yes. Right now.”

JJ looked in the window to see if Lila was watching. He couldn’t see her so he got down on his knees.

“I’m down,” JJ said.

“Good. Now repeat after me. God, I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing.”

“What?”

“Repeat it!”

“God,” JJ said. “I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing.”

“I don’t even know if you’re real or not.”

JJ repeated, “I don’t even know if you’re real or not.”

“But please help me not to drink today. I beg you to help me not to drink today.”

JJ repeated it.

“Good,” Marty said. “Now go inside, hug your girl and tell her you’ll see her after the 6:00 meeting.”

“You’ll be there?”

“You bet. I’ll see you there.”

“Ok, thanks.” JJ got off his knees and went inside to hug his girl.

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JJ in AA, Again

 

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A church basement. Upstairs is for those who fear going to hell. Downstairs is for those who’ve already been there. At least that’s what some people say.

After the meeting, Professor Tom stood with some members, laughing at the absurdity of the drinking life and the miracle of getting to live a sober life. JJ waited near the exit door, nervous, feeling he was lying in ambush. The meeting was good, his third since returning from Colorado. Lila was at the Al-anon meeting down the hall, her third since the return, too. It was early, but so far, so good. He hadn’t seen his old sponsor yet and was resolved to clean things up and get back to recovery work.

“I’m glad you waited,” Tom said as he approached JJ at the door. JJ put an awkward hand out but Tom brushed past it and embraced JJ. “Some never come back,” he said next to JJ’s head.

“I’m back for good,” JJ said.

“Or just for today.”

JJ smiled. “Yeah, just for today. A daily reprieve, right?”

“Based on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.”

“Yeah, about that. I need to get back to work on the steps.”

“Listen,” Tom said. “I’m really glad you’re here, but I can’t sponsor you anymore. I’ve got three other guys and I can’t take time from them.”

“Oh,” JJ said and tried to disguise his disappointment. It was one of those moments, so common for him, when the path forward looked straight and clear, but then the world was revealed as more complex and contrary than assumed. He felt like a child discovering that all that stuff- the house, the car, the water(!)- actually cost money. There was always a price to be paid.

“What I can do is introduce you to a few guys.”

“That would be good.”

“Marty,” Tom called across the room. “C’mere for a minute.”

A guy, younger than Tom, closer to JJ’s age, broke off from another group of people and came over.

“This is Jason,” Tom said. “He just got back from…”

“Out there,” JJ finished, gesturing with his thumb out the window. “And Colorado.”

“Oh yeah? Welcome back,” Marty said, and they shook hands. “I lived there for seven years. The greatest and worst times of my life.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, man,” Marty said. “Listen, a few of us are going to get coffee. You’re welcome to come.”

Once again, a fork in the road. Take the easy way and scurry home to comfort with a residue of shame and self-loathing? Or go out and brave the company of actual people who are trying to do better?

“Last suggestion,” Professor Tom said. “Discard that first instinct. That’s usually your disease.”

He was right, of course. That’s the thing about these sober people, at least the ones who actually work it. They’re always fucking right.

“All right,” JJ said. “I’ll go. I just have to tell my girlfriend.”

“Great,” said Marty. “We’ll meet you in the parking lot.”

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