Surge Flow

This is the eighth 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.


I camped in the transition zone, the dune apron, between the dunes and the mountains. A Medano Creek ran along the base of the first tall dunes. I sat on the bank and watched the strange pulsing water move along the sandy bottom. The water has a kind of tidal rhythm as little sand bars are formed upstream then suddenly erode sending a quiet surge of water downstream, every twenty seconds or so, a condensed version of so many cycles. Aren’t we all forming and holding on against the pressure, then breaking down and letting go? Over and over and over again. At least I am.

The suck of the past.

There was a time when I thought I would be someone. A famous writer or thinker or public intellectual. Do public intellectuals even exist anymore? Are they just those dumbasses on tv holding forth on the latest utterings of cruel politicians? Or partisan bull-shitters swimming in some toxic think tank?

Anyway, there was a time when I wanted to be like Emerson, sharing my original personal not-handed-down experience of the world, self-reliant with the knowledge that great men wrote those great books sitting and struggling as I was trying to write a great book. Grandiose? The unrealistic dreams of youth?

Of course!

I wrote a short story in a college writing course about a group of young men, one of whom would die by gunshot. I was very proud of the story. It had a wallup. It was austere. It was a black and white interior photo of some uncluttered room, a good well-balanced photo of young men at a table laden with beer bottles and playing cards that left you wondering about the fate of such young men as these. One of them shows the others a gun which, by the Chekhov rule, means that someone has to get shot by the end of the story. In my story, there is no obvious conflict but, after the card game ends, one of the men, the one who showed the gun, tortured by an unnamed occurrence in his past, parks his car on the way home and shoots himself in the head.

That’s it.

I was very proud of this story. It had flowed out of me after a period of not having any ideas, of losing a girlfriend and hating my roommate’s hippy girlfriend ( and then my roommate), of being confused and alone in the world.

The writing “teacher” and most of the other students were not happy. I was accused of emotional ambush, of treating the reader with disdain, of minimizing suicide. They did not hold back and I was not capable of receiving criticism. I sat there and took it, but on my way back to the dorm I stopped in a little grove of trees and sat down on a bench. I decided that I would not be a writer anymore. There was no fight in me, just resignation. In fact, I resolved to leave college that day and pursue my own education, on my own, future be damned.

Someone had followed me from class to the little grove. A woman from the class. Clara or Clarise or Cherise. I hated her writing but she was kind and sensitive. She was a little heavy, hair dyed black, dressed all in black, and had this way of displaying her cleavage like, “I reject all color and levity!  Now look at my boobs!” I appreciated that.

I wanted to wallow. I DID NOT want to feel what she was feeling. I tried to shut off the valve of the sensing. Too late.

Sadness pulsed toward me. But also firmness, bedrock below the typical sadness and loneliness of most humans. An image of a mountain rising beyond a foggy lake. She was solid. Sad and solid.

“They were pretty harsh,” she said.

“Yeah. Fuck ‘em.”

“Are you coming back?”


“So what are you going to do? Wander the earth?”

“Hmmm. Yup.”

“And write about it?”

“I’m done with that.”

She leaned over and put a hand on my arm. She was earnest and really cared and I tried so hard to look at her face and not down her shirt. I think I may have succeeded.

“Don’t stop writing,” she said. “Don’t ever stop no matter what you do.”


But I still left college that night.

The Non-Writing Yurt


It’s clear to me now- I’m no writer. The sitting still! The sustained effort! Not my strong suits.

I’m in Shaboo’s writing yurt. The gracious and generous Shaboo has let me stay here for two months to write my fictional memoir. It’s stalled out and all I do now is drink and walk in the woods.

Yes, I’m drinking. Alone. Yes, I’ve talked to Carl and Lila after my most recent assholery. They’re housesitting for me. Together. “Seriously,” you ask? Yes, it’s true. My on again/off again soul mate and my longtime college bud- my two best friends in the world- are shacking up in my house on my farm. The best part? It’s a little fuzzy, but I think it was my idea! That’s how I am when I drink. I create the conditions necessary for self-pity so I can justify my own destruction. Alcoholism 101.

Shaboo has cranked out some good stuff in this writing yurt in the Berkshires. There’s a little shower and privy outside with plumbing, the only nod to comfort or civilization. No electricity. No wifi. He writes longhand then revises as he types into a computer back in town. That fucker published two novels like that! One was about below-decks love and murder on a whaling vessel. The other was about fascist sleeper cells in the US waiting for a charismatic bamboozler to appear, get elected president and make America white again. Very sinister stuff. Shaboo, successful novelist, is the same guy who wandered campus catatonic on acid half the time, looking hard at things, staring at trees, people, rocks, then wandering off to look some more. I took acid with him once and I was like, “Let’s go holy shit to the cemetery and read the gravestones whoaaaa”. And he just looked at me then wandered off.

I’m not doing so good here in the yurt. Peanut butter, crackers and Blue Label Smirnoff is my main fare. After I won the lottery, this was my fear: grinding to a halt, fog rolling in, a destructive inertia like a resigned wildebeest stuck in the mud.

The news from the outside world can’t be good. Here are some of the words and phrases I glimpsed on newspapers the last time I went to town: Death Toll, Rampage, Police Anguish, Coup Attempt, Supreme Court, #deflategate. I tried not to look any deeper. Clearly the world is going mad. It begs the question: Why even try?

“Why even try,” I asked Shaboo the other day when he came to check on me (check on the yurt).

“You have to cooperate in your fate,” he said. “Otherwise, the symptoms appear.”

“What symptoms?”

“Drinking, chronic masturbation, eating like shit, palpitations, Shadenfreude…”

“Shay done who?”

“That’s German for taking pleasure in the failure of others.”

“That’s a symptom? I thought that’s just the way of life.”

“Not everyone feels that way.”

It looks like I got me some symptoms. The diagnosis?

“You have soul sickness. You need to care for your soul,” Shaboo said and glanced around the yurt. “Maybe a trip away…”

“Out west! Back to Colorado!”

“That sounds abrupt but good,” he said.  “Maybe you can rediscover yourself.  Or even find that old love of yours.”  He pulled an empty vodka bottle from between the sofa cushions. “I can drive you to the airport right now, pardner.”

Tweaked and Compressed


JJ finished talking.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“What do you mean?”

“Let me get this straight.” Shaboo leaned back and looked hard at JJ. “You came in here to get drunk and escape two friends that make you uncomfortable and may or not be fucking with your implied consent?”

“Yeah, but…”

“And you cut you’re yearlong road trip short after two months because you couldn’t stand being around this woman you supposedly love.”

“Yeah, but we go back…”

“And you won a million bucks and bought a farm and you don’t farm but you live there and do…what? Putter around?”

“Well, at first…”

“And you moved back from Wyoming or wherever to find yourself after your real true love jerked you around for a few years?”

“We were close…”

“And that real true love, what was her name again?”


“After Lucille convinced you to live in a tent in the mountains to escape the Rocky Mountain Mafia.”

“She was trying to help. As it turns out…”

“And you were fleeing the Rocky Mountain Mafia because you stole a bunch of money from nine-fingered Miguel?”


“And this Matias was some kind of Dear Leader to Lucille and she introduced you so you could sell pot for Matias?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, I was looking for pot for me. At first.”

“And you moved out there because you ran from some cops at a traffic stop in Connecticut and just kept running?”

“Yeah, well, I had been drinking. I think there’s still a warrant.”

Shaboo paused. “That explains why you disappeared from college so quick.”


“So there’s only one question here.”

“What’s that.”

“Why the hell aren’t you writing this down?”


“Dude, you got like three novels right there. What the fuck!?”

“That’s just my life. Those things really happened.”

Shaboo stared at JJ. “What do you think fiction is? It’s just shit that really happened, tweaked and compressed.”

“It’s as simple as that?”

“Yeah. No. The work…” Shaboo trailed off and looked away. His face became vacant and pained, like a veteran recalling the meaningless loss of comrades in headlong assaults. “The work takes a toll. If you do it right.”

They were quiet and the tavern crowd was thinning.

“But, is it worth it?”

Shaboo’s face came back. The twinkle, the head cock, the direct look. “Yeah, it’s worth it. What else you gonna do?”

The next day, JJ got to work.



JJ surveyed the room from the tavern entrance. Square bar in the middle, full tables all around. TVs showing baseball playoffs and college football. A cozy Fall buzz in the room, chilly outside, warm inside. Saturday night. A good feeling for most, but this was not what JJ had in mind. The conviviality was toxic. He turned to leave.


JJ looked to his left and there in the corner was a large hairy figure with a semi-familiar sideways leaning posture and a twinkle in the eye. Holy shit, was that Shaboo? He said the name. “Shaboo?”

“As I live and fuckin’ breathe. Get over here and sit down,” Shaboo bellowed and several people turned to behold the beast and its prey.

“Quiet down, Shabby Boo,” someone yelled and several people at the bar laughed.

“They tolerate me here,” Shaboo said as he took JJ in an immense embrace. Shaboo’s flannel smelled of cut wood and mammal. He was a head taller than JJ and beamed down at him. He shepherded JJ to the corner table where books were stacked next to an open laptop. The top book was, “Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution”. Shaboo noticed JJ noticing. “I write in here sometimes,” he said. “Gets me out of my dank cave. There are actual folks in here.”

JJ had a strange feeling of interruption, of something happening of which he had not, could not, account for in his FUCK-IT! plan of self-destruction. He did not, could not, resist. Shaboo was a college friend and a force of nature. JJ knew he lived in the Berkshires but hadn’t thought of him in years. If he did think of him, it was with a smile at some old capers and a twinge of envy. Shaboo had published two pretty good novels. That twinge of envy would be full-on hatred if it was anyone but Shaboo. JJ hated earned success, especially writerly success.

“Shaboo. It’s like you appeared just for me.”

“You want anything?”

JJ thought of his original intent. The imperiousness of his urge to get completely wasted was starting to dissolve a little in the presence of Shaboo. “Just, um…Just, no. I can’t drink.”

“Well, shit, that’s alright. Mind if I get another Guinness, though?” He gestured to a waitress. “It’s so funny, I was just thinking of you.”


“Yeah, that writer’s workshop we took. Remember old Fontenblach? What a piece of shit!” Shaboo laughed. The waitress appeared with a pint for Shaboo and looked at JJ.

“Just…just a ginger ale.”

“Are you still writing?”

“Not really.”

“Why the hell not?”

What was he supposed to say? That he had drifted aimlessly? That he had moved back home to find himself and had won the lottery instead? That he had taken a drunken money bath? That nothing filled the oozing hole in his soul?

“I bought a farm,” he said.

“Holy shit! So you’re a farmer?”

“It’s not that type of farm. Listen, I’m kind of in trouble here.”

“I could kind of tell that.” He took a deep foamy swallow of his pint and leaned in. “Shaboo is listening.”

JJ started talking.