The Baggage

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


I hate the term ESP. It evokes images of second rate documentaries, complete with gauzy slide shows projected into the mind of a paranormal freak from his spooky muse. I may be a freak, but I don’t feel like that kind of freak. Abnormal, maybe. Unsettled, yes. But, look around. Who the hell wants to be normal these days?

Plus it doesn’t come to me in visions. It’s more like a knowing, like when a word or memory goes missing then comes back, emerging from the blank place fully formed and plain as day. You know the blank place? It’s not a there/their/they’re sort of thing. It’s like when you forget how to spell a common word like “restaurant” and you spell it “resturant” and it looks wrong on the page, feels wrong, but you can’t pull the correct spelling from you brain. It’s in the blank space. Then you remember and it’s there again, unblemished, plain as day.

That’s how the sense about people emerges. The knowledge breaks the surface like a sea creature, a roiling of the water then a sudden appearance.

An example from college. A class in 20th Century European literature. The professor, a younger man with strong opinions passing for passion. He tries to compensate for his lack of gravitas with the affects of the academic. Long hair cut to shoulder length. The glasses. The sweater. The vague smell of pot and cats.

The secret undergrad girlfriend.

How do I know? Because I was in love with her, too.

We were in a class discussion about Thomas Mann, “Death in Venice”, and listing the portents of a descent into fluid unreasonable fetid passion when something was triggered and I just knew that he was sleeping with my friend and secret love Alex. I knew because I felt his worry that she was not in class that day, but his worry had nothing to do with her health or well-being. His worry had everything to do with a recent spat and what she might be doing that very moment that might lead to discovery, humiliation, and termination of his employment.

That son of a bitch.

Standing up there holding forth on these old world authors. Sleeping with my Alex. (Granted, she was no one’s Alex, would never be anyone’s Alex, and that’s one of the reasons I loved her.)

Clearly something had to be done.

Looking back, it’s easy to see that a proportionate response to a common human foible might include sidling up to Professor Pompous Ass after class and just letting him know that I know thus increasing his worry, making him squirm, but not destroying him or his career.

But, I didn’t know about proportionate response. Or about careers. I was just all thwarted love and impulse.

So I followed him after class.

It was midmorning and, sure enough, he headed over toward Alex’s apartment just off campus. There weren’t too many people around, too early for the lunch rush, and I ducked behind a thick tree when he comically turned to scan behind him before entering the building. I waited a few minutes before following him in. At Alex’s door, after pressing my ear to the door, but before barging into the apartment, there was a vague sense that I should just walk away. But…

ESP plus poor impulse control. Not a good combo.

They weren’t having sex. They weren’t embracing. Professor Pomp sat on the couch, leaning forward with his head in his hands. Alex (my Alex!) stood in a bathrobe near the window, smoking a cigarette and looking down at the Professor. It looked like a photo with streaming sunlight from the window, cigarette smoke in the sun rays, her in profile, him straight on in misery. A photo entitled, “The Breakup”.

Of course they were surprised to see me. My righteous anger dissipated almost immediately upon entering and I just stood there and we all looked at each other before I backed out and closed the door and fled.

He kept his job. Alex never spoke to me again. I tried to apologize, once. She said, “Fuck off, creep”. I dropped 20th Century European Literature and then transferred to another school in another state at semester’s end. I moved on.

I’m always moving on.

Simple, but Not Easy

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


I walk into Grandview, a tourist town that’s seen better days. There are abandoned mini-golf courses and abandoned shooting galleries, perfect for a Scooby-Doo mystery. There are still tourists, but they are not looking for quaint pastimes. Why play mini-golf when you can play games on a phone in an air conditioned car? Sad. How will kids ever learn to reduce their siblings to tears without trash talking and gloating at miniature golf?

The abandoned golf courses move me, maybe because they represent the death of the past, a childhood gone forever. Or maybe because they’re just sad and represent a bygone era for us all. Or maybe I just backpacked for a week through some serious mountain terrain and I’m a little bit lonely, a whole lot weary, and a little bit teary.

I should write a country song.

Oh yeah, I’m hungry as hell, too. First things first.

Burger. I crave burger. And beer. But mostly burger.

There’s a place with a patio. Good news for me and the people who may be inside. I haven’t bathed for ten days or so and no one wants to be in close quarters with me. No one. I prop my pack against a fence post and sit down at one of the tables. I’m half expecting to be kept waiting and then for a manager, not a waitress, to be deployed to suggest I move along. This happens sometimes, mostly in the East and Midwest, those bastions of supposed tradition, values, and worry. But this is Colorado where they see a lot a wandering folk in the mountain towns and they don’t much care if you’re dirty or deranged or damaged. Plus they’re generally friendly and curious. At least curious enough to see if you have the money to pay for lunch. So out comes a waitress.

“Hi there, can I get you a menu?”

“Burger,” I say. “And fries.” Did I mention I haven’t spoken to anyone since the lady near the lake and after a week I’ve slipped into mono-syllabic caveman mode? Delightfully, she plays along.

“Man want burger? Man want cheese?”

“Beer too?”

“Many kinds. Man want list?”

“Girl choose.”

And off she goes.

I count that among the best interactions I’ve ever had with a person. She brings a pint and smiles. “Did you just hike through the park?”

“Yeah. It was fantastic.”

“I’ve always wanted to do that. I’ve done a lot of loops but never all the way over.”

And then I get the flash of feeling, the ESP, or whatever you call it. (I call it the sense. The book, of course, will be called “The Sense”.  Or maybe “The Sensing”.  Has that been done before?) Anyway, this golden blonde long legged beauty of a twenty-something Colorado girl, serving burgers and beers at a pub in a mountain town, is simply a very happy person. Unlike most people, there is no hidden sucking pit of despair and fear inside of her.

“What’s your secret?”

“For what? Hiking the park?”

“No. For being comfortable in your skin. For being content.”

“Wow that’s a little deep. Maybe I’m sad on the inside,” she says and smiles. A couple walks over from across the street and sits down so she moves away with a raise of the eyebrows, promising a return with food and maybe an answer.

When she returns with my burger (large, with cheese and bacon(!) and a heap of fries) she says, “It’s not a secret. I just decide every day to be free and grateful. It’s simple, but not easy.”

“I try to do that. But the baggage…”

She looks over at my pack leaning against the hitching post. “Looks like you put it down over there.” She looks back at me. “Enjoy your food,” she says.

And indeed I do. Gratefully.

“What Happened to You?”

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


“What happened to you?”

I get this question more often than I like. If I had scars from facial burning or I was missing a limb, most people would be too embarrassed to ask. Most people would pretend not to see and treat me like I wasn’t damaged at all. They might even whisper about my courage to even carry on in such a condition.

But, I’m a disheveled wanderer who can’t keep my mouth shut. People are bolder when they can’t see the damage or they perceive you as shiftless, possibly dangerous. I’m not rudderless, though. If I had a bumper sticker, it would read, “not all who wander are lost.” Just like Gandalf.

Unlike Gandalf, I have no wizardry other than this emotional ESP that, coupled with my big mouth, doesn’t help at all. I’m not like Johnny Smith in the Dead Zone who can see someone’s future by touching that person or that person’s stuff. I remember in the book Johnny Smith shook hands with some politician and saw clearly that this politician would become president one day and lead the world into nuclear holocaust. The Cold War was in it’s long wind-down and nuclear war was still on everyone’s mind. Anyway, Johnny Smith sets out to murder this politician, therefore saving the world from nuclear holocaust by ending him before he becomes the president who destroys the planet. This was a story from the imagination of Stephen King, of course.

Can you even imagine such a crazy far-fetched fantasy in this day and age?


I can’t keep my mouth shut. And it’s better to walk the earth having fleeting encounters with people. Better for them and for me. When I piss them off irrevocably, I move on.

In high school, I couldn’t just move on. My skills were there but I hadn’t really separated them out from the adolescent surge of hormones, from my own desires and despair. I could perceive things and say things people wanted or needed to hear. I could say just the right thing to teachers. To parents. To girls.

Girls. With them I really had to start honing the response to my perceptions. For instance, I learned pretty quickly to say, “It’s all going to be ok” at just the right moment rather than, “I know you’re heart is breaking but it’s not appropriate to be in love with your cousin.”

Bland generalities, boldly delivered at just the right moment. “It’s ok to cry.” “Life is really hard.” “He doesn’t deserve you.” These generic insights were key to getting to first base and sometimes beyond. “Wow, you really understand me,” some girls would say. The better to get into your shirt, under your skirt, into your bed.

Yup. But can you see that I was learning how to be a fraud? And that being a fraud can get you things? I hadn’t yet learned that the things you get by being a fraud are hollow and make you sad in the end.

“What happened to you?”

One of the things that happened to me in my early twenties: I was riding an Amtrak train across the country. It was the middle of the night and I sat in the upstairs lounge car which is like a big glass bubble with seats facing outward so you can watch the USA speed by. I sat chewing these mushrooms and as the dawn rose and this ecstatic psychedelic depth opened up inside of me I watched the Nebraska prairie emerge from the gloaming. As I sat suspended in the train bubble it was impossible to tell if I was rocketing through the prairie or if I was motionless and the prairie was flying past me as I was dangling above in some weird glass pod. Space and time ceased to exist for an hour or two and I just sat there in a detached suspended bliss until some people came in to eat Hostess cakes and the awful ceaseless sound of crinkling wrappers brought me back to a rather limited reality.

That happened to me, too.

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.


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.


“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.

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.


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.