“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.

Under the Dirt Floor


Lila and JJ were in bed.

“It’s too hot,” she said. “Don’t you have a fan?”

“Yeah, somewhere.”

“Well, summer’s here.”

“Not yet,” JJ said. “This is just the beginning.”

“Well the sticky is here. And I don’t like sweating in bed.”

JJ looked toward the window, still and dark out there and, yes, humid. No breeze from outside. No moonlight. The hot and hazy days come suddenly and then you wait for the breaks. You wait for the thunderstorm and the dry breezy day after when everyone says “what a relief” and “I can live with this”. But, we still have to live through it all, JJ thought. Or we should try.

“Did you ever think we’re supposed to sweat? Maybe it’s supposed to be hard to sleep.”

Lila got out of bed. “Where’s that fan?”

“In the basement.”


“I’ll get it,” JJ said and rolled out of bed. The basement floor was dirt in this old farmhouse without a farm, and she hates it down there. She thinks there are bodies beneath that dirt. JJ thought of an old Stephen King story as he walked down the two flights. An old Nazi, living anonymously in the American suburbs, rediscovers his penchant for killing. Old habits, old lusts, reawakened. The old Nazi starts with animals, cats from the neighborhood, and buries the bodies in his cellar. The old Nazi may have buried a person down there, too. Maybe Lila had a point.

He returned with the fan and plugged it in. It was a box fan and it fit nicely on the window sill to pull in the fresh air. “How’s that?”

Lila was stretched out on the bed in a long t-shirt, spread-eagle on her stomach. She spoke into the pillow. “Now I’m cold.”

JJ pulled the sheet, which they had kicked into a crumple at the foot of the bed, over her. He got the light blanket and left it folded in half at the foot of the bed, ready to be deployed for a 3:00 AM chill. “How’s that?”

She rolled over and looked at him. “You’re nicer than you used to be. It freaks me out a little.”

“Yeah, well, fuck you.”

“That’s better. Don’t get too nice. Don’t go all docile on me.”

It could never work between them the old way. Their past was always in the background with it’s relentless patterns and ways of being. Bags in the hall. A reversion to the mean. You try to change, you try to bury it and move on, but a hand comes up through the dirt and grabs your ankle. You can only pull free so many times.

“Let me tell you what’s buried in my basement.”

“You know that freaks me out.”

JJ got into bed and turned out the light. “I’ll never be too nice,” he said and reached for her.