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.