The Next Right Thing


Lila was in the hotel room, lying on the bed, shoes still on, jacket on, ready to move. She didn’t trust the new front desk clerk to call her but she couldn’t sit in the lobby anymore. The endless drone of cable news. Trump, Hillary and the talking heads. Trump’s supporters, angry and dishonest, Hillary’s supporters optimistic and dishonest. All, Lila thought, missing the point. You just do the next right thing in life. You just do it the best you can and then move on to the next right thing. Mistakes, bad things, they happen. Just do what’s in front of you, then do the next thing. What’s so hard about that?

But what if the next thing is the same old thing? And the same old thing again?

Lila dozed and thought of JJ. She saw him in weird vivid flashes: silhouetted against a campfire, pacing. Ranting about how stupid and dishonest people were. She saw him sitting and reading in a chair, laughing suddenly at something in the book. “What’s funny,” she would ask but she knew how he would answer. “Nothing.” Parts of him, parts of most men, never grow past 15 years old, closed off for good. She felt the feelings of the early days, excitement and rebellion, them against the world. Them against old people who had no clue. He made her question her parents for the first time in her life and that felt wrong but exciting.

The phone rang.

She came to, a little groggy, and picked up the receiver.


“He just came in.” The desk clerk.

“Where is he?”

“He’s talking to the manager.”

“I’m coming down,” she said and hung up.

She went to the door, but caught herself in the mirror as she went past. She paused and looked. Disheveled, rumpled, tired. Lila did a finger comb and a hair patting thing. Then her eyes twinkled and she laughed. She had come across the country to rescue JJ from this latest escapade. He had been on a drunken binge, had probably blacked out, sleeping who knows where, and had left his stuff behind in this hotel. And she was concerned with how her hair looked.

One of the things she loved about JJ, maybe THE thing she loved, was that he always brought home the absurdity of it all.

She laughed again and went out the door.

Radio Nowhere


Driving through the Rockies. The grandeur of endless sky and brooding mountains, unmovable and implacable, sometimes inspiring and sometimes daunting depending on mood, light, and clouds. JJ, alternately hopeful and defeated, turned on the satellite radio of his rental Camaro. Radio nowhere. A news station talked of the coming election he had barely noticed during the past months. Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton. Life was obviously getting more bizarre, not less, outside JJ’s world. He sped along mountain roads, an unwitting landowner, fleeing from would-be modern day marauders. By God, they would not get his land!


“…the furor over remarks caught on tape about groping women…”

“Hillary would be wise to let him have the rope to hang himself.”

“You mean, stay silent? Whether she likes it or not, she’s got to speak on issues that concern women. Unwanted groping, I would say, is a concern to most women.”

“Agreed, but the message has to be a broad message. She doesn’t want to get down in the mud with him. That’s where he lives…”

“You said it, not me…”

“But seriously, it’s an opportunity to widen the conversation about women’s rights, women’s progress…”


JJ changed the station. Classic Vinyl, channel 26. Gimme Shelter. He used to get high with Lila and lip sync Mick and tease her into doing the woman’s soul part, which she hated. The Stones. Their best songs were the best. The problem was, there weren’t a lot of best songs. Gimme Shelter, Shine a Light, Let it Bleed, Tumbling Dice. Maybe a few others. But then you had Start Me Up, It’s Only Rock and Roll, Shattered. Arena rock Stones. Mick Jagger in a football jersey prancing about like some androgynous placekicker doing a parody of Mick Jagger. Lila loved the Stones and would defend them until the end. Even the Harlem Shuffle Stones. Lila always got too close to things, couldn’t see the big picture. She countered that he was too negative, that he ran out of steam on things because he overthought and stayed aloof. He didn’t get close enough, go all the way in. She had a point. But, he thought was right about the Stones. Great for a little while. Then just famous.


Back to the present. Radio off. There were immediate concerns that couldn’t be delayed. Like no wallet and no cash. Like the pursuit of an aggrieved brother and sister who wanted their ranch back. Like…what the hell to do next? First, he had to get his stuff at the hotel. Hopefully they hadn’t thrown it away or given it away or they weren’t owed any more money. The implications of the missing wallet were becoming clearer. “No money, not funny,” he muttered and laughed. Maybe he could make it to town on this tank of gas. Or maybe not.

Had he called Lila from the hotel during his blackout? He thought he had. A vague recollection, her voice muffled and anxious, as if he was buried and she was above ground coaxing him to dig out. But, because of the pressing dirt, he couldn’t even get his arms free to start digging.


Radio back on. Underground Garage, channel 21. The Modern Lovers. Roadrunner, roadrunner! A surge of optimism as sunlight danced on the snowfields of the high peaks. JJ turned up the volume. “I’m in love with Massachusetts. I’m in love with the radio on…” Tears came to his eyes, nostalgic and hopeful. Massachusetts seemed a long way away but he figured he would get back there one way or another.

First, to the hotel.