The Walking Dead and the Mountain Dude

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Monday after a rainy Sunday. A drippy morning, skies clearing slowly.  Most people went off to work but JJ commuted up his road and hiked the mountain in the mud.

He and Lila binge-watched The Walking Dead yesterday and now he imagines if he would survive the zombie apocalypse and all the damaged humans left behind. All that roaming and desperation. Would he be hard enough? Could he and Lila survive? And, what about Carl? Carl would no doubt be that obnoxious philosopher dude, the one with the camper and the scruples. He would stay aloof, floating above the fray, until a dead hand from some leaf pile or gaping manhole reached up to show him it didn’t pay to think so much. Or, maybe some “friend” would just shoot him in the back.

A stick cracked and JJ turned to see the Mountain Dude walking down the hill, off-trail, coming right towards him. No lurching zombie, the Mountain Dude. He came straight down, nice and smooth, absorbing the terrain, taking what he was given.

“It’s been awhile,” JJ said.

“But I’ve seen you all winter and spring,” the Dude said. “From a distance and up close. You almost stepped on me once.”

“Um, ok. So why’re you approaching me now.”

“This is where I cross the trail. You’re in my way.”

JJ looked up and down the trail, level and straight in this little valley. Lots of trees, no landmarks, no other trails. “You cross right here?”

“Today I cross here. Yesterday I crossed there.” The Dude pointed to a spot ten feet back down the trail. “Tomorrow I cross there.” He pointed to a spot ten feet up the trail.

They were quiet. Then the Mountain Dude moved on, passing very close to JJ as he crossed the trail to start up the other side of the little valley. As he brushed past, JJ smelled moist forest, all wet sticks and ferns.

“So,” JJ said. “Why?”

The Dude stopped but did not face JJ. “Concentric circles from the summit of the mountain. Ten feet out each time.”

“And…why?”

“A journey in place. I want to walk all the ground on this mountain. And I want to expand outward from the center.”

“What about the ridges? And the swamps?”

“Sometimes you scramble. Sometimes you slog. I’ll get through.”

“So, that’s life?”

“That’s nature. We’re all just animals who think too much. Maybe you should consider a purposeful journey.”

And now he moved off up the hill, curving slightly to hug the mountain, picking his way with grace and flow.

“The Mountain Dude would survive the zombies,” JJ thought. “I would have to be the tagalong who slowly grows on him. Or gets left behind.”

The idea of a purposeful journey, though. That sounded about right.

A Polar Plunge: The Girl with the Curls

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Cold. And colder still. JJ squinted out his kitchen window at the whiteness and the harsh sun glare from the icy field in back. Gusty winds kicked up snow that swirled and sparkled in the air. Fairy dust of frost, enchanting no one. Except…

… Another cold day in the 90’s. JJ regained consciousness on a strange couch after a night of acid and Pink Floyd. Alone in someone’s apartment, everyone gone. Who was that guy? And that girl with the curls and the sweater. Oh my God. Tripping nicely, he had watched her watching The Wall. Her, luminous and ripe. Him, deranged and all aflutter. “So ya, thought ya, might like to…go to the show.”

He drove home after guzzling some orange juice from the strange fridge. A bright and sunny bluster of a day. Eight degrees? Ten? The heater in his beater of a Sentra blew air that was slightly warmer than outside. His feet felt like two ice blocks. The road was gruel gray, salt streaked with white, like the cracked surface of some playground for ice krakens. JJ was spent, dazed and dull. When he got home he burrowed into his blankets and slept for twenty hours.

The phone rang. His mother, dead now. “Where are you?” A cousin’s First Communion (in the winter?), missed. A sacrament. Well, he had taken his wafer, hadn’t he? Actually, two paper wafers. And he had drunk prodigiously from the Wild Turkey. Communion for the wayward, blotter and booze, body and blood. It did the trick.

That night he went to the bar to watch the Patrick Ewing Anthony Mason Knicks. Something light- draft Budweiser and cigarettes. You could still smoke in the bars then. And he did, like a chimney.

Carl came in. “What the hell happened to you the other night?”

“When?”

“The other night.”

“You mean after?”

“Yeah. Where’d you go?”

“There was this girl.”

“The girl with the curls?”

“Yeah.”

“Holy shit. You didn’t…?”

“No.”
“Then, what?”

JJ thought of that part in The Wall when Pink really starts losing his shit, disillusioned and drug addled, holed up in some hotel room hell.

“So nothing. We watched The Wall.”

“That movie sucks. What about the boyfriend?”

“He watched too.” JJ thought of the girl with the curls, how a golden light emanated, how they smoked a joint and watched the movie while the boyfriend dozed. She turned and caught him watching her but just smiled. He had almost fallen off the couch. “What was her name?”

“Kelly or Kayla or something,” Carl said.

“Kara,” JJ said, remembering now. “Kara.”

Carl looked at him. “What the hell is the matter with you?”

“I think I’m in love.”

“Well get in line.”

“First in line,” JJ said. “I’m first.”

On the TV, Starks hit a three and the announcer said, “After missing his first nine, he’s really starting to heat up now. Hot and cold, as usual.”

JJ knew what he meant.

…In the present, the blowing snow settled until the next gust. Kara, the girl with the curls, is an alterna-crunchy personal trainer in Pennsylvania (Spirit Flex™). She’s married to an accountant and they have two kids. (He tracked her down on Facebook, hoping for pictures. Like we all do). Carl is a bagel baker right here in town. And JJ is JJ, also right here.

The boyfriend? Who the hell knows.

Finally, Again

JJ Triangle

Waiting for JJ at the Dollop Café. Lila, his girlfriend, and Carl, his best friend, are catching up. JJ is the only shared area in their friendship Venn. Meaning they only hang out when Lila and JJ are together. Except for that one time, of course.

Lila asked, “Still baking the bagels?”

“Yup,” Carl said. “Someone has to do it. They sell them here, in fact.”

“Oh yeah? Doing any writing?”

“Working on the novel.”

“Who isn’t?”

“I don’t know. Most people just blog. They blog about not writing their novel. And the pain of not writing their novel. And they don’t have time to write their novel.”

“You don’t have a blog?”

“I used to,” Carl said. “It was called BageLit. It was about bagels and literature.”

“Ummm.”

“I would start by describing a type of bagel, ingredients, and the finished product. Then compare it to a piece of literature. Usually a poem.”

“Such as?”

Birches, by Robert Frost. That’s like a cinnamon raisin bagel toasted with butter. Comforting and nostalgic. Simple. Evocative of the way things ought to be. A reset after a tough spell.”

Lila looked at him, this rough-around-the-edges-bagel-baking-freak. “You always did march to your own drummer.”

“What are the options? The prevailing beat sucks.”

The waitress brought them that good Dollop Café dark roast and they fixed their coffee in silence.

Lila asked, “Did you ever tell him about that one time?”

“Did you?”

“No, it would just thicken the plot. He doesn’t need that.”

“No one needs that.”

“How do you think he’s doing?”

“Obviously better not drinking,” Carl said. “But…”

“But what?”

“He’s somehow more and less at the same time.”

Lila sighed. “I think I know what you mean.”

“I mean, it’s good, right. But something…creepy maybe? About him sober.”

“Shh, here he comes.”

JJ was coming toward them, moving through the tables, a man feeling good, in the flow. He reached the table and smiled down upon them.

“Worlds collide,” JJ said. “Finally.”

“Finally again,” said Carl.

“Yeah,” JJ said. “Finally again. But it’s different now.”

“That’s for sure,” said Lila.

“This is what’s important,” JJ said and took the seat next to Lila. “This is what I’m grateful for.”

JJ read the menu while Carl and Lila shared a look. “More and less at the same time,” their glance confirmed.  “Exactly.”

The waitress came back. “I think I’ll have a cinnamon raisin bagel,” JJ said and put the menu back in the stand. “Toasted with butter.”

Honor Your Inner Stalin

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New Year’s Eve day, pale sunshine and no snow. So, JJ and Carl hiked from the farmhouse to the top of the mountain.

“In 2015, I plan to honor my inner Stalin,” Carl said.

“That’s your resolution?”

“Yeah. I plan to honor all of me, the light and the dark.”

“Will that make you a better person?”

“I think so,” Carl said. “It will make me a more complete person. I think we repress the dark stuff and that’s where we get into trouble. It’s still in there and needs to be recognized.”

“But what about the genocide? And the Cold War paranoia?”

“Don’t you sometimes wish you had the power to wipe out certain people? Or populations? Aren’t you paranoid and suspicious?”

“All the time.”

“Well, there you go.”

JJ looked out over the town. They sat on a cliff above the valley and no leaves on the trees meant big views all around. Too many people and houses down there, even in this smallish city. Too many people burning fuels, making trash, fucking up the planet. Many just worthless parasites, taking up space.

“But,” JJ said. “You can’t just declare yourself and start the process. You need a plan.”

“I’m talking about my inner Stalin. The psychopath inside. I’m not going to hurt anybody. On purpose.”

“What the hell have you been reading?”

“Emerson. His big thing is that there’s Jesus in all of us. There’s Socrates in all of us. There’s a poet in all of us.”

“So, there’s a dictator in all of us, too.”

“Exactly.”

Some images of Stalin came into JJ’s mind. Uncle Joe at Yalta, sitting smug with a regal FDR and a fading Churchill. Military Stalin, pockmarked with that moustache, iron-willed and cruel, watching the tanks parade in Red Square. Hitler, with his fussiness and silly moustache seemed like a jester in comparison.

JJ said, “My resolution is to not live in comparison.”

“In comparison to what?”

“Other people. I’m sick of giving a shit what other people think.”

Silence, except for the distant and constant hum of cars on streets, cars on highways, and a few stray horns. “I didn’t think that was a problem for you,” Carl said. “You’re one of the oddest people I know.”

“There’s things I want to do. But I always talk myself out of them.”

“Such as?”

JJ looked out over the town and thought of taking a stand about something. A nameless dread about the Other was always with him and something or someone out there was to blame. Rich people? Religious fanatics? Patriots fans?

“Maybe I’ll start a Gulag,” JJ said.

“There you go. With my inner Stalin and your lottery money, we can make some changes around here.”

“Then you can have me shot after it’s up and running.”

“I’m way ahead of you, man.”
“Happy New Year, asshole.”

“Same to you,” said Carl. “And many more.”

 

 

Dinosaur Tracks

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“Wow,” Carl said. “They’re everywhere.”

JJ said, “Where? I don’t see.”

“There and here and there.” He pointed at different sized depressions in the rocks that slanted down towards the river. And then JJ saw the three-toed footprints and Carl was right. They were everywhere.

“What kind of dinosaurs were these?”

Carl cleared his throat. “Funny you should ask. These footprints were made by Eubrontes giganteus about 200 million years ago. They were carnivores, predecessors of the T Rex.”

“How do you know that stuff?”

“I know stuff.”

“I know you know stuff. You’re always telling me the stuff you know.”

“What’s wrong with knowing stuff? You know, there’s a long tradition of amateur naturalists knowing stuff.”

“I’m sure there is. For me, it’s enough that they were here and now we’re here 200 million years later in the same spot. That’s reassuring to me.”

Carl looked at JJ. “Reassuring?”

“Yeah. These footprints mean…I mean, they take the pressure off. It’s no big deal. They were here and now they’re gone. We’re here now and we’ll be gone. No big deal.”

They were quiet a moment. Carl spoke. “That’s either the deepest or most depressing thing I’ve ever heard.”

“I think there’s two kinds of things in this world. Those that endure and those that flame out.”

“Which are you?”

JJ thought of a time, years before, when he aimed his car at someone’s driveway but it turned out to be an embankment down to a small stream. He caromed down the hill, somehow missing trees large enough to stop the car, and skidded to a halt with the front wheels in the stream. 2:28AM the dashboard clock said, even when he turned the engine off.

“I used to think I would flame out but now I think I’m going to endure.”

“That’s not always a good thing. Think of the Rolling Stones. Or Dick Cheney.”

“True. But I’m thinking more like an old oak, like that one over there.”

“That’s a maple.”

Some people were coming down the path to the footprints. They were laughing and clowning and shouting conversation. “Fuckin” this and “that’s bullshit”. One of them dropped a cigarette on the rocks and stamped it out. Another yelled, “Wait, wait.” And he reached down to move the cigarette butt into one of the footprint depressions. “That’s what killed the dinosaurs!” Moronic guffaws. They didn’t even notice JJ and Carl.

Carl said, “My point is, there’s a third type of person. Those who should flame out but endure anyway. Don’t be one of them.”

“I’ll try,” said JJ. “I’m trying.”

“I know. Now let’s get outta here before a meteor hits those jackasses.”

“I think we were those jackasses once.”

“Nah,” Carl said. “We would have been quieter.”

“You mean more stoned.”

They walked up the path away from the river, away from the triassic tracks, emerging from the trees into a 21st century parking lot.