Monday, November 5, 2012

BEST FRIENDS


 
          When I was very young, my dog Judy was my closest friend. She remained more than dear to me until her death when I was fourteen, the best listener I have ever known, ever willing to lay on the floor in front of the stove while I told her about my life. When I was about five, however, she stopped answering me. She was still more than willing to listen, but the conversations became one-sided. I needed more than that. My grandparents were too far removed from my five-year-old world to relate to me on that level. No, I needed a friend. His name turned out to be Mike Duke.

Mike’s grandmother, Mrs. Hale, owned the house and land just east of her home and, when I was five, her daughter, her daughter’s husband and their family came to my small town to live in that house, right across the highway from me. Mike, who may have been an accident, had two older brothers who went to the high school at the other end of town. There was nobody in his family close to his age either. He and I were a mortal lock.

Called “Stinky” by his father, a mechanic with a shop behind their residence, Mike was an individual of non-conformity. Summer and winter, for instance, unless he was to be immersed in water, he wore a sock cap pulled down over his ears. To the best of my knowledge it never came off. At least I, his best friend, never saw him without it. Even in the rigorous confines and regimented surroundings of first grade, the cap stayed on. I sometimes wonder if, because he was never without that maroon and gray sock cap, our teacher, Fanny Marie Hopeshell Jervis, simply assumed it was part of his head.

When the rest of us were finally old enough for big bicycles, Mike got a little one, with small wheels. It was nimble and quick, easily out performing my Huffy Heavyweight on corners and curves, stops and starts. Oh, he couldn’t keep up on level straightaways, or match its frightening speed down Pridemore’s hill, but when it came to jumping curbs or tearing through alleys, he smoked me.  Twenty years later, similar bicycles painted bright colors and fixed with “banana” seats became the rage. Stinky had the original.

My first camping trip was with Mike. Huddled in a tiny canvas pup tent in my back yard, we stayed awake all night, fearful of lions and tigers and bears, oh my, until the sun began to rise, and we could actually settle down enough to get some sleep. We swam in the river together, wading out on sandbars until the water was up to our necks, never telling the big people about it, because we knew they would make us stop. We played Tarzan in the woods during summer, swinging on grapevines from tree to tree, looking for Tantor and Cheetah, fearful of Bolgani, the gorilla. We discovered girls together and decided we didn’t like them, built a tree house that fell out of the tree, engaged in B-B gun battles, successfully hiding the welts from our folks, built snow forts together in the winter, rushed to each other houses immediately after opening our presents on Christmas morning, watched the Mouseketeers at his house because his TV could get Disney, played with the dog at my house, because I had a dog. We sat on porches, bounced on inner tubes, crashed on ice skates, rolled in the grass, walked the river, and a thousand other things, because we were best friends. Then he moved away.

When we were nine, after being together since we were five, a long, long time, Mike announced his family was moving to a place called California that was so far away, it would take almost four days to drive there. And they did. Without asking either of us if they could, they did. He and I tried to say goodbye, but didn’t know how. We had never had to say goodbye before. It was awful. We knew we would never see one another again.

A few days after my best friend left, I was riding my bike listlessly up and down the river road, something that was no fun at all without Stinky, and I looked up the road into the setting sun. There, casting an endless shadow in my direction, silhouetted against the glare, was an apparition. I actually thought it was a ghost. Mike came walking down the road. His grandmother had taken suddenly ill, and he and his mother had flown back on a big plane called a Constellation. He was back for a week. We made the most of it. And then he left again.

Eight years later, when we were seventeen, his grandmother died, and again he and his mother flew back. I couldn’t wait to see him. We had not spoken since we were nine. When he arrived on our front porch, we were both suddenly shy. We got in my grandad’s car, and drove to the lake to tool around and stop at the Tastee-Freeze. He wasn’t Mike anymore. He was a teen-ager from California and we had virtually nothing in common. Even the sock cap was gone. It was too uncomfortable for both of us and, even though he was in town for several days, we didn’t hang out. It was just too hard. But, to this day, he remains the best friend I have ever had, the first human being to ever share the intimacy of my fears and hopes. I still see him sometimes, walking out of the setting sun, a sock cap pulled down over his ears…and I am young again, back to the days when a puddle could be a mystery, when dandelions made a beautiful bouquet, and when an RC Cola on the porch swing with my best friend Stinky, was as good as anything needed to be.

Friday, October 12, 2012

ol' LEWIS LIVE

 
 

 Yes, Boys and Girls, the unthinkable is about to happen! On October 21st at 1:00 PM CMT and 2:00 PM CST, ol’ Lewis is going to crawl from his dusty warren and actually appear in public...sort of. Krista Kendrick has been kind enough to ask me to appear on her webcast, A NOVEL IDEA LIVE to discuss writing, books, and writing books. There will be shameless self-promotion and free books galore. Join Krista and me, jump in on the chat box and be part of the program, or just hang out...but don’t miss it. Something like this may never happen again. (and probably shouldn’t)

 

That’s Sunday October 21st at 2:00 PM CST,

A NOVEL IDEA LIVE.

 

Check out the promo and author page at


 

Join the live program on October 21st at 2:00 PM, CST

Friday, October 5, 2012

JACKPINE JOLLY


 Too Tall, Big Fall 

            His name was Roger Brooks, but we just called him Jolly. We called him Jolly partially because of “Jolly Roger”, partially because the Jolly Green Giant was popular in those days and Jolly was a little over six feet seven inches tall, and partially because everybody had nicknames in our little, insular, motorcycle-motivated society. My best friend for instance, Lee Walter “The Duck” Griesheimer. Duck was five feet four. Looking at Jolly and Duck as they stood side by side could make you dizzy.

            All of us were very cool, except Jolly. We were so cool, we kept Jolly around because he wasn’t. Due to his extreme height and the natural awkwardness of youth, Jolly was always good for a little light relief. Whether bumping his head on something that normal people would have to jump to reach, or tripping over his own size seventeen boots, or banging an elbow because his arms were nine feet long, Jolly was ever entertaining. Besides that, we liked him in an overgrown little brother sort of way, and we were all he had.

            We rode motorcycles. Not the loud, low slung drive-in profilers, or the bulbous, chromed highway cruisers. No Harleys, Thriumphs, BSAs, or Nortons for us, we rode for purpose, not effect. Bultacos, Montessas, Osas…we were enduro riders, and we worked at it, conditioning ourselves, training ourselves, trying to be the best we could be.

            An enduro is a cross-country race, run in various classes according to motor size. The object is to get from the beginning to the end of the course, often over 100 miles, and maintain an average speed of 24 milers per hour. Not very fast until you consider that the terrain can consist of dry creek beds, streams, rocky hillsides, swamps, sand pits and the like, and the ride can continue until well after dark.

            The rider is given a fixed number of points at the beginning of the race and encounters several checkpoints along the way where his time on the course is examined by judges. Points are deducted for going too fast or too slow on each segment of the course. The competitor carries a map, a compass, and the enduro rider’s official medallion, a stopwatch. The bike is equipped with lights, knobby tires and two odometers, one to measure the total distance traveled, one re-set at each checkpoint. In many respects, enduro is the most physically challenging and mentally demanding of all motorcycle sports. We rode as many as we could. We practiced on weekends. On weeknights we’d hone our skills and speed at changing tires, replacing chains, changing spark plugs, figuring exactly what we had to carry for emergencies and still keep the bike’s weight as low as possible. The question was never if we would break down, but how many times, and how badly. All of this effort, practice and preparation was for one race, the ultimate challenge, the enduro rider’s enduro…Jack Pine. A two-day, five-hundred mile slice of hell through the wilds of Michigan that drew competitors from all over the world. It was the Holy Grail of the sport and, in 1964, we went. Jolly came too.

            A couple of months before, Jolly had purchased a brand new Honda 305 Scrambler, a motorcycle as tall, ungainly, and ill-suited for enduro as he was. Together, they were a disaster. Obstacles that left the rest of us undaunted, would utterly defeat Jolly and his Honda. He had to work much harder than any of us just to keep up when we were playing, and could not begin to compete when we were serious, but he never quit.

            We arrived at the grounds in Michigan in the late evening after a fourteen-hour drive, on the night before the day of the race. Walking to check in, the six of us marveled at the number of motorcycles and competitors. Over 600 riders were competing in five classes, and we drew numbers to determine where we would start. I was number 77 in a class of nearly two hundred, my friend Duck, number 56. In his class of around 150 riders, Jolly was number 5. Riders were started at thirty-second intervals. Jolly would take to the trail very early the next morning. We worked on our bikes until late in the night, too nervous to sleep, and finally collapsed for two hours or so in the back of the vans, only to rise again and continue to prepare at dawn. This was Jack Pine, the biggest of the big, and we were there.

            The starting line was over fifty yards long, on top of a low hill. Arranged behind it, in loose starting order, grouped in the various classes, was the multitude of bikes and riders. We walked to the line to watch the first riders take off. There, sweating profusely in the early morning cool, regarding a stop watch that he’d accidentally stepped on and broken the night before, sat the very tall Jolly aboard his very tall Honda. He was head and shoulders above the throng, nervously peering about. When he saw us, he grinned a “thumbs up”.

            His number was called, and he moved forward to the starting line. Before him stretched 200 yards of a slight, grass covered slope terminating in woods. In the middle of the slope stood a single tree. Jolly leaned over the handlebars, revved his engine and waited. The flag dropped, he released the clutch, the big Honda tore off down the hill throwing mud and grass in a rooster tail behind it. Then Jolly rode directly into that one and only tree. A 500 mile two day race. Jolly lasted less than 10 seconds and 100 yards.

            When it was all over and we had returned home, we took up a collection and bought him a new stopwatch. The back was engraved, “Jolly Rodger, first to crash and burn, Jack Pine, 1964.”

            It became his most prized possession, proof that for one shining moment, he had ridden the legendary Jack Pine, just like the rest of us.

Monday, September 17, 2012

YARDWORK




Clipping and Flipping  

            There are those to whom mowing grass is a gas, but I find a lawn a yawn. Some feel that heaven is clipping a hedge, but I’d rather camp on a seventh story ledge. Many find flowers their cup of tea, but a dandelion can get the best of me. It shouldn’t be that way. I was raised by a man who took a well-groomed lawn very seriously; he mowed a lot, so did I. I even did a stint for a time as a groundsman on the campus of the University of Illinois, mowing for a living, until I screwed up my knee by falling off an eight-foot wall of a raised yard near the office of non-academic personnel. Employed in the lawn and garden department of a large store one spring, my job was to assemble lawnmowers for the unsuspecting public. Some of them actually worked. I know the difference between Kentucky Blue, Fescue and Zoysia. I know privet when I see it. I can easily determine between Northern Birch and the river variety…I am not ignorant…just ineffectual.

My first paying job was to cut old man Hale’s grass. I was only about seven years old, and he lived just across the street. He promised me two whole dollars for the deed if I would bring my own mower and gas. Reluctantly my grandfather agreed, and off I went, a workingman at last. The yard in question had not been mowed in some time. On the west side of the back yard the grass was over a foot tall, easily concealing the two dozen rare Japanese pine seedlings old man Hale had planted near the fence line. Straining and huffing, I mowed them and the grass down. Realizing my propensity for disaster, my grandfather didn’t press me to mow much after that. In gratitude, some years later I bought him a riding lawn mower. I can vividly remember him practicing wheel stands in the back yard.

            I grew older, got married, rented a duplex, and had a yard of my own. My neighbor, a terribly well organized veterinary-med student with a mousy wife and a thoroughly obnoxious three year old daughter, volunteered to mow the yard weekly if I would trim the hedge. How hard could it be? Then I saw the hedge. Extending around three sides of the back yard, it was an overgrown privet monstrosity. Ten to twelve feet tall and seven or eight feet wide at the top, it had not been clipped in years. I hedged on the hedge. He persisted. I weakened. He insisted. I caved.

            Two weeks later I journeyed to an equipment rental store and inquired about hedge clippers. The man behind the counter produced the average suburban-sized utensil.

            “Too small,” I said.

            He returned with another, a saw-toothed machine with wicked blades protruding from a nasty snout, gleaming with oil and possibilities.

            “There ya go,” he stated, dropping the device on the counter.

            “Not big enough,” I replied.

            He stared at me for a moment, then vanished into the rear of the emporium. Shortly he returned with a colossus of a clipper. A massive, well-worn, multi-fanged Goliath of a hedge trimmer. Its bar was fifty inches long, its incisors glowed with malice, it’s extension cord, only slightly smaller than a hay rope, coiled in bulging black loops. This demon of destruction could easily mow down parking meters.

            “Biggest one we got,” he said.

            “I’ll take it,” said I.

            Back at the duplex I plugged it in. Pulling the trigger for practice, the machine torqued to the right in my hands, it blades flashing in the sunlight, its power coursing through my forearms. My God! If William Wallace had had such an instrument, the Highlanders would have pushed Longshanks into the sea! This was not a hedge trimmer, it was a hedge slayer! A Claymore of a clipper! I scurried to the garage for my five-foot step ladder, climbed it, and set to work.

            Even balanced precariously on the top of the ladder, I found the hedge still to be above my head in places. I also found the clipper to be significantly hard to handle when held at arms length by only one hand. It was August. Sweat streaming in my eyes, displaced bugs sticking to my every pore, I worked, I strained, I endeavored to persevere, I cut privet. Slowly I worked my way down the side yard, slashing the hedge down to about eight feet in height, lurching under the weight of the clipper, reeling in the heat. At the corner, before I started on the segment between my back yard and the back yard of the duplex behind us, I stopped for a glass of tea on the rear stoop. To enter the kitchen in my condition would have been grounds for divorce. As it turned out, the inevitable was only prolonged.

            Moving to the center of the next stretch, the place where the growth seemed to be the thickest and widest, I again climbed the ladder and went to work. Balancing on the top of the ladder and leaning as far forward as possible, I activated the trimmer. The torque pulled me forward toward the hedge. In mindless reflex, I stuck out my free hand to keep from falling, inserting my gloved thumb into the cutting bar. The near decapitation of my thumb caused me to turn to my left, bringing the still whirring bar into contact with the extension cord. The 110 volts surging through my body as the blades cut the cord caused me to launch forward onto the hedge. The spring effect of the foliage propelled me airborne into the rear of the yard behind our duplex and directly on top of the unsuspecting buxom young woman in the two-piece bathing suit who’d come outside to sun herself on a chaise lounge during the lull in the action while I was drinking tea. 

            Yard work? No thanks. Too dangerous.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

ONCE UPON A TIME


Planting the Seed

            “Got a minute?” he asked.
I’d seen him around the area for the past few days. He was busy, landscaping mostly, installing water features, planting trees. He was a hard worker and so old that I couldn’t even guess at his age. It didn’t seem to affect him. He labored like a young man, full of energy, vital. He stretched his back out and walked over.
            “If you’re not busy, I have a job for you,” he continued, wincing a bit as he worked out some kinks. “It won’t be very difficult. I just need a little help to get some things started around here, and I think you’d be perfect. Once you get the ball rolling, it’ll be more of a supervisory position. Mostly just consultations.”
            His eyes seemed to look through me. Lying to this guy would be damned near impossible. I squirmed a little when he looked right at me, but his face was so kind it took the sting out of his gaze. And his voice was so warm it felt sorta like a blanket, ya know? I glanced around.
            “Great job you’ve done to this place,” I said. “Really beautiful.”
            “Hey, thanks,” he grinned. “This garden is the showplace of the whole project. It turned out even better than the sketches. There’s a lot more that you can’t see from here, miles and miles, but this is the highpoint.”
            “You do great work,” I said and smiled. “Seems like a lot of effort, though, for a man your age.”
            He chuckled. “I’ve been around a while, no doubt about that. I think it’s important to stay busy if you wanna stay young. Every now and then I get this creative urge and the years just slip away. Next thing you know, I’m back at it, working my tail off. I don’t know. I need it, I guess.”
            We sat in silence for a while. I could hear water rushing in the distance and the call of a Killdeer. A bumblebee droned by.
            “Well, how ‘bout it?” he asked, putting his hands on his knees and levering himself to his feet. “The job, I mean.”
            “Why not?” I replied. “This is wonderful. I’d love to be a part of it.”
            “Great!” he grinned. He had very white teeth. “But I’ve gotta be completely honest with you. Even though you will be vital to this project, history will judge you harshly, I’m afraid. Over the years you will be much maligned. They’ll probably even forget your real identity. Can you handle that?”
            I didn’t hesitate. “As long as you and I know the truth, who cares?”
            “Wonderful!” he beamed. “I’ve just got a couple of more things to attend to,” he went on, walking off toward the sound of the water. “I noticed some great clay on the riverbank. This won’t take very long at all. Thanks in advance for all your help. You and I won’t be seeing each other again.”
            “Hang on a minute,” I said. “What’s gonna happen?”
            “Oh, yeah,” he chuckled, reining in his enthusiasm a little. “I guess you’d like to know that. There’ll be a couple of people along shortly. I need you to spend some time with them.”
            “Okay, but where will you be?”
            A wistful look came into his eyes. “I’ll be around,” he replied a little sadly. “I just won’t be around.”
            As he headed off down the slope, I shouted. “Yeah, but what am I supposed to do with these people?”
            His yell carried up through the trees.
“Just offer them choices!”

            The ground was a little damp, so I climbed up into a tree to wait. The old man was right. In almost no time at all, a young couple came walking up the trail. I drew back into the branches so they couldn’t see me and watched them for a while. Great kids. Innocent, loving, fearless, happy, not a care in the world. I gotta confess, I was really tempted to just go on my way and leave them to hell alone, but I’d promised the old guy and, as they say, a promise is a promise. Pretty soon the young man wandered off. When the young woman passed under my tree, I eased out onto a branch where she could see me and rattled some leaves. She looked up.
            “How ya doin’?” I said.
            “Oh, hi!” she replied. “I haven’t seen you before.”
            “That’s because I was hiding.”
            “Why would you hide?” she asked.
The bumblebee returned and settled on her shoulder. She gently caressed its wings as it waddled around.
            “I didn’t want to make you self-conscious by openly watching you,” I said. “You’re not wearing any clothes.”
            “That’s okay,” she smiled. “I’m not cold.” The bee lifted off and bumbled away on the breeze.
            “Do you like the garden?” I asked.
            “A lot!” she gushed. “It’s very beautiful.”
            “It is, isn’t it?” I said. “That old guy did a great job.”
            “I love it here,” she said, turning in a circle and stretching, her skin dappled by sunshine through the trees.
            “What about outside the garden?” I asked.
            “Outside?”
            “Sure. There’s a whole world outside this garden. It’s huge. Much bigger than here. Maybe there’s a nicer place than this out there somewhere.”
            “How could there be?” she asked, looking a little pensive.
            “You never know,” I smiled.
            “No, I’m almost sure there isn’t,” she replied, biting her lip a little and glancing around. “This place is fine.”
A butterfly jittered by, circled her, and landed on her left breast.
            “Where’s your friend?” I asked.
            “Uh, I don’t know. He walked off somewhere, I guess.”
            “He left you? Wow.”
            “No, he didn’t leave me. He’s just not here right now.”
            “It’s probably for the best,” I assured her. “It gives us time for a little chat.” I smiled down at the girl. “After all, he doesn’t have to know everything you do. You’re entitled to a little privacy.”
            Her brow furrowed. “I guess,” she said, brushing the butterfly off her breast and swatting at it.
            “Maybe he’s off chatting with somebody else,” I went on. “Maybe he’s learning a lot of stuff you don’t know. I mean, he left you, didn’t he? He went off by himself, didn’t he?”
            “He’ll be back,” she said, peering into the trees.
            “Of course he will,” I smiled. “I can only speak for myself, but if I had someone as lovely as you are waiting for me, I’d certainly return.” I let my eyes briefly roam over her body.
            “Thank you,” she blushed. “Maybe if I put some flowers in my hair I’d be prettier, and he’d like me more.”
            “Now you’re catching on,” I said. I shook the branch on which I lay and a piece of fruit fell to the ground. “Why not have a snack before he gets back, and we’ll talk a while and get to know each other.”
            “Is it ripe?”
            “Oh, Darlin’, more than you know,” I replied.
            A few moments later, when she noticed me watching juice from the fruit as it dribbled across her chest, she covered herself with an arm and turned partially sideways.
            “This is really good,” she said. “It’s so sweet.”
            I gave her my best smile. “Yes, you are,” I said.
            “Thank you,” she giggled, and turned again to face me.
            “You’ll have to share the fruit with your friend when he comes back.”
            “Sure,” she said, “but before he does, we’re going to have that chat, right?”
            “Absolutely.”
            “And,” she continued, “maybe you could help choose some flowers for my hair.”
            I nodded. “That’s what it’s all about, Sweetheart. Choices.”

            It didn’t take long. Those kids were candy. Soon they were keeping secrets, doubting themselves and each other, struggling for power, helping one another be wrong, trying to find happiness in useless things. Hell, you know what I mean. You know exactly what I mean. It’s the same kind of nonsense you go through every day. I’m not particularly proud of it, but I did my job very well. And I’m still doing it. I have amazing job security.

Oh, by the way, I never did introduce myself. It’s very nice to meet you. 
My name is Ego.


Thursday, August 9, 2012

BEATING THE SUN


            The screen door’s wet slam echoes back at me off the rocky hillside a hundred yards away as its spring sings in the early morning air. The sun will rise over that craggy hill in another hour and burn the mist away that lies in the valley at its feet, but I’ll be elsewhere. Stiffly, I walk down the overgrown path toward the barn, awkwardly bending to snap my chaps as they schuss through damp, knee-high grass. My boot soles slip a bit in the heavy dew and prey on my sleepiness to make me stumble. My coffee hasn’t kicked in yet. Lighting a cigarette is easy, there is little wind, and I pause for a moment to watch the smoke rise and shiver a bit. The Levi jacket that will be too much an hour after sunrise is not enough now.

            The pipe gate drips with moisture and the squeak of its hinges is answered by a crow call from the line of thin trees that borders the creek. Supper tonight will be augmented by fresh, peppery watercress from the spring that becomes that stream and waters the horses. They peer through the gloom at me from down the slope, waiting for Houston, a chestnut mare, to take the lead and head for the barn. I slide back the door and greed overcomes them. Breakfast is in the offing and it brings a nicker from Spud, a fat little sorrel gelding who loves his munchies. They trot toward me, blowing and snorting, their breath visible in the growing light, throwing horsey greetings toward the one that will feed them.

            The sweet pungent smell of molasses assaults my nostrils as I open the feed bin and put two scoops of Omaline into each of seven buckets. As I carry them outside, the horses begin to dance and whirl, playing games of dominance as I set the buckets on the ground. They wheel and whinny, stomp and snort. It’s pure sport on their part and I hold my position as thousands of hoof-borne pounds miss me by only inches. When they settle down, they’ll each eat from the same bucket in the same location as they always do, but it’s morning, and they celebrate.

            Back in the gloom and dust of the barn, I sit on a hay bale and strap on my spurs. Picking up a brush, hoof-pick and lead-rope, I walk back out into the yard, enjoying the “chink” of the rowels as my boot heels strike the earth. Cobber, a chunky bay of nearly sixteen hands and dubious quarterhorse ancestry, throws a wary eye my way. I speak to him and he ignores me, grinding away in the bucket. But he hears me. His tail switches and he stamps a rear foot, giving himself away.

            As I approach his left side, he swings his body away from me until we are head to head with the bucket between us. It’s part of our ritual. I move to within arms length and he throws his head, backing up and rolling his eyes. I am inevitable, but he won’t admit it. Then I play my trump card. Picking up his half-finished food, I walk toward the barn. The sound of his hooves clomping behind me tells the story. I turn and toss the lead rope casually over his neck. Broke to death, he freezes as I snap it into a loop, then shakes his head in protest. Right, Cobber. I’ve heard it all before.

            Tucking the free end of the rope when we get in the barn, I give him back the bucket and brush him down a bit, checking for bites and wounds, swelling in his hocks and such. Then I pick his feet, inspecting the frog, noticing that he’ll need new shoes in a couple of weeks. The rocks on this ranch are tough. He leans on me a bit as I work on his rear feet, just to remind me that he’s bigger than I am. As he finishes eating I strap on a little Ruger single action loaded with birdshot. I’ll probably be on foot some today and Copperheads are all to common. Down the slope, the crows wake completely up and the air turns raucous with their cries.

            I shake out the pad and lay it across his back. He prances a bit, flipping his nose at me and knocking by battered old Bailey straw off my head. It’s all part of the game. Next comes the saddle, an elderly Duce Five that fits him like a glove. It creaks and clanks when I swing it up on the pad, protesting with leather groans as I rock it forward onto his withers. Reaching under him I collect and buckle the flank strap, loosely wrap the front cinch, and snap the breast collar in place. Lifting down his headstall, I warm the short-shank snaffle in my hands a moment before I ask him to take steel into his mouth. Once the headstall is in place, I gather up the braided reins and we walk out into the growing light. From up by the house, a mockingbird begins his morning routine.

            I ground-tie Cobber and pull the cinch tight as he pooches out his stomach and chest in resistance. We stand there as I wait while he holds his breath. Finally he blows, and I lean my weight on the nylon strap, pulling the cinch tighter than is necessary. Gradually I allow it to loosen to the desired tension as he inhales again. Honor is satisfied. As I swing a leg over the saddle, he grunts and goosesteps backwards, protesting the indignity of having anyone on his back. I pat him on the shoulder and remind him that he is the best horse I’ve been on all day, and we walk to the gate. After weeks of practice, he slides sideways up to it so I can release the latch then moves sideways away from it, opening the gate as I hold onto the top rail. We walk through, and he reverses the process. An open and shut gate from horseback. Of course, it takes longer than getting off and leading him through, but it’s a cowboy kind of thing.

As we walk toward the distant hill, a rabbit flushes in front of us, a frantic cotton ball bouncing away through the weeds, and Cobber starts, hopping to his left in feigned fright. The murder of crows takes flight from the trees along the creek, the birds heading toward the barn, standing out in silhouette against the brightening sky. The mist is beginning to fade from the valley as we cross it, grays turning green while we pause at the bottom of the hill. Cobber breaks into a short lope when we begin our climb because it’s easier for him, and I give him his head. Right on schedule, we’ll beat the sun to the top.

And that is not a bad way to start the day.

Friday, July 27, 2012

IN THE GRAVEST EXTREME

 
This piece is not the usual fare found on my blog. It is not a story from my childhood or a tale from the heartland. It involves a subject of considerable concern, especially during the last few days. Unlike many of those individuals who struggle on each side of the issue, my opinion is based less on emotion and more on a lifetime of exposure to the pros and cons involved. My desire is not to convert or attack, but to offer observation that is tempered by experience in such matters and bolstered by an understanding of the way things are, as opposed to the way we might like them to be. Volatile to be sure, the subject is guns.  

The recent tragedy in Colorado has, as events of this type do, activated the opposing firearm forces and given both sides the excuse for even more rhetoric. From the idiots who actually believe we can take all the guns away from people and make the whole world sweetness and light, to the lunatics who think they should be able to own .60 caliber machine guns and rocket launchers, there are some really committed folks out there vocalizing their twisted views on firearms. I guess it’s my turn. 

Once upon a time, I was a cop. Back in the days of the Black Panthers, the Weathermen, the S.D.S. and such, I carried the badge, packed the gun, and toted the stick. I’ve been through the riots and burnings, the concertina wire and the National Guard, first hand. Not a voyeur, couch-bound and staring at the tube, but right out there in the weeds, a participant in the madness. Many times I’ve been fired on with automatic weapons, and not in Southeast Asia or the Afghanistan desert, but right here. The good old USA. I’ve had vehicles shot out from under me, humped railroad tracks while taking fire, huddled behind trees as bullets cut through the branches, and dozens of other things I care not to do anymore. I’ve risked my life time and time again for people like you, while outnumbered and out-gunned, and I’ve done it anyway…not because I’m a hero, not because I’m brave…but for the same reason almost anybody else does it. I promised I would.

I worked my first murder scene in 1968, a shotgunning. An eight-year-old boy killed a seven-year-old boy with his father’s twelve-gauge shotgun, a loaded weapon left by the front door because of problems with neighbors. This man was too stupid, too wrapped up in his own macho, too self-centered and uncaring of his child’s welfare to simply unload the weapon and put it away. It was a horrifying, sickening scene, waste beyond wastefulness. As profoundly as it affected me, not for one instant did I blame the gun.

As far as those with the desire to murder are concerned, Jack the Ripper and the Boston Strangler didn’t use guns. Neither did Genghis Kahn, and he certainly managed to kill a few people. If the will is present, the way seethes with possibilities. Even the young man who committed the atrocity in Colorado a few days ago didn’t need guns. He knew how to make bombs. From bicycles to bullets, there are hundreds of ways to kill ourselves or each other. A gun is just another method. 

The problem is not gun laws, we have plenty. I watched a lady on television the other morning as she pointed to a hundred-round magazine and claimed it should be banned because it’s only purpose was to kill people. Wrong. The purpose of the magazine is to contain ammunition. Nothing more and nothing less. 

The problem is not the police. Cops are in a re-active business. Unless you can afford to hire your own force to be with you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the police cannot protect you. Even if you could enlist your own herd of bodyguards, it’s still pretty dicey. Ask the Secret Service. 

The problem is not with guns. By itself, a gun is no more that an expensive paperweight. The lust for, and the thrill of, power is the largest villain. It’s part of our human nature. Most of us control it, or manifest it, in more socially acceptable ways. We become government officials, owners of companies, CEO’s, shift supervisors, high school principals, cops, politicians, and the like. Some of us become grade-school bullies, wife beaters, child abusers, rapists, killers, and talk-show hosts. Some of us even serve our lust for power by trying to do away with all the guns, or advocate owning our own personal arsenal to protect ourselves from the United Nations. 

The statement is trite; the statement is true. If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. The guns are already out there, and all the laws on the planet won’t control those weapons or that tiny fraction of the population that misuses them. 

The true issue is safety. We want to feel safe. We want to know that some severely bent individual will not come into a crowded theater and kill several of us on a well planned whim, bringing sorrow and grief into dozens of families who did absolutely nothing to deserve such horrific abuse. We’d like a guarantee. Sorry. There ain’t none. Safety is an illusion. Of the three big “rights”, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, number three is the only one to which we are entitled. We have no right to liberty or none of us would be in jail. And as for number one, jump out of a boat five miles off the coast of Florida and ask the ocean about your right to life. You will be sadly disappointed.        

Some years ago, I took it upon myself to teach women how to effectively use handguns. I decided to instruct only women because women are that segment of our population most controlled by fear. People, they will hopefully never meet, tell them when they can go out, where they can drive, what time of day they can freely move about, where they can park, what laundromat they can use, on and on. It was, and is, a very rewarding experience for me to watch the empowerment that comes to a woman as she masters the use of a firearm. The loss of perceived helplessness and the gain of confidence is marvelous to see. One thing I did not do was teach self-defense. The very term implies that someone is already a victim. I taught women how to resist violence with overwhelming counterattack. From me they learned, when there is no other choice, when there is no other option, when the situation is in the gravest extreme, how to kill someone attempting to harm them. 

Those wonderful women were prepared to accept the responsibility for their own lives and not blame their fate on an inanimate object. Responsibility is the ability to respond. A lot of whiners don’t want us to have it, just as a lot of fools would have us band together and do it for everybody. The ability to respond in the gravest extreme is not something a group, government, or police officer can do for us. Laws, gnashing of teeth, screaming of platitudes, pointing of fingers…none of that will help. Taking responsibility, or assuming the ability to respond, does. And yet, it seems most of us are more concerned with fighting plaque than fighting for our lives. 

To become a victim does not require us to be victimized. It is a mindset. It is an attitude that is becoming alarmingly widespread. Taking care of ourselves is loosing popularity. Well, understand this: the most certain way for any animal to attract a predator, is to appear weak.


Thursday, June 28, 2012


Well, Boys and Girls, it’s time for an update on the life of me. Don’t panic, this will not be a report on what I had for breakfast or that I finally found that special dress for the prom. I haven’t been that busy. My partner in this escapade, the magnificent Ulva, and I have been working on the website however, updating it with new information and adding another book or two, as well as changing the cover on DEER RUN TRAIL. This website has consumed so much of our time we haven’t been able to play Rugby for weeks. (God, she’s tough in a scrum) 

Anyway...The second in the TRAIL series of books, THE NODAWAY TRAIL, will be out soon. I invite you to visit the website and look things over. I’d invite you for lunch, but I’ve been so busy I haven’t vacuumed in days. 

Yours in literary literariness,

David

Monday, June 25, 2012

CHARGES DISMISSED


           An attorney I know once said to me, and I’ll paraphrase, “It’s good to know the law. It’s better to know the judge.” When I was a rookie police officer, I had the rather idealistic belief that the law was fair… and I was, for the most part, correct. Those who are trusted with the administration of the law can be, at best, as stupid as the rest of us. At worst? Oh my.

            One summer evening in the late 1960’s a man named Elazier Adkins took it upon himself to beat his wife and four-year-old daughter with an automobile radio antenna. Hearing the curses and screams, a neighbor phoned the police. Alone in my squad car, and only a block or two from the scene, I was assigned the call, another two-man unit was dispatched as back-up. When I arrived in front of the house, I could hear the screams and shouting from my position in the street. Deciding not to wait for assistance, I entered the open front door, stepped over the form of a four-year-old child where she lay sobbing on the floor, and moved across the room to where Mr. Adkins was striking his wife as she writhed on the couch. As he drew back his arm to continue the beating, I advised him that he was under arrest and attempted to disarm him. A large man, he then attempted to strike me, and the battle was joined. My back-up arrived as Mr. Adkins and I fell out his front door, rolled across the narrow porch, down three steps, and into his small front yard.

            As is all too usual in domestic violence cases, Mrs. Adkins, screaming for help only moments before, declined to sign a complaint against her husband. I did not. I charged Mister Adkins with disorderly conduct, (his shouting and cursing could be heard all over the street) public intoxication, (he was drunk when we battled our way to the sidewalk, a public place) resisting arrest, aggravated battery, (he got a lick or two on me with the antenna) and interfering with the lawful execution of duties by a sworn officer of the court. I would have charged him with shoplifting and cattle rustling if I could have. He was beating a woman and a child. Shortly thereafter I was summoned to testify at his preliminary hearing. My case was sound. I had witnesses to the screams for help and the subsequent struggle, photos of my injuries, a breathalizer to confirm intoxication, Mr. Adkins statement admitting guilt, and a signed Miranda rights waiver. More than enough to warrant him being held for trial.

            There was a heavy rainstorm in progress outside the courtroom that day as the evidence was presented to the judge, sheets of water sluicing down the windows on a dark and blustery morning. The judge, regal in his long black robes, distinguished in stately spectacles and graying sideburns, his stern visage dominating the courtroom as he weighed all the statements, charges, and depositions carefully. He questioned Mr. Adkins and my back-up officers thoroughly, then turned to me.

            “Officer Lewis,” he said, “you suffered injury at the hands of Mr. Adkins, did you not?”

            “Yes, your Honor.”

            “And you suffered these injuries as he fought with you while resisting arrest, correct?”

            “That’s correct, your Honor.”

            “You entered his residence as a response to seeing Mr. Adkins in the process of beating one LaVina Adkins, his wife, with an automobile radio antenna?”

            “Yessir, I did.”

            “You heard his curses and her screams while outside the home?”

            “Yessir.”

            “And the door was open, was it not?”

            “The front door was standing open, your Honor.”

            “Officer, were you invited into the home?”

            “Nossir.”

            “Did you hear Mrs. Adkins calling for help?”

            “I heard Mrs. Adkins screaming for help, your Honor.”

             He leaned back in his chair and carefully deliberated as he watched the heavy rainfall through the large windows behind the bench, his templed fingers against his chin, obviously in deep contemplation. At some length he turned again to me.

            “Officer Lewis,” he said, “I have just one more question.”

            “Yessir,” I replied.

            “Officer,” he said, indicating the view through the windows, “how much rain do you suppose falls on a city this size, during an hour in a rainstorm of such magnitude?”

            A bit confused by the question, I replied: “I don’t have any idea, your Honor.”

            “Neither do I,” he said. “Complaints are dismissed.” He then stood up and walked out of the courtroom.

            In retrospect, I wish I had said 8million, 792 thousand, 431 gallons. Perhaps then Elazier Adkins would have been tried, convicted, and sentenced to jail time. Perhaps he would not have returned to his home very early the next morning. Perhaps his wife would still be alive. Perhaps his daughter would have seen her fifth birthday.

Perhaps.

One never knows, do one?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

LUNCH AT THE LODGE

  You Want Bear?

            He is a Cherokee Indian, a kind, quiet man, and he and I are friends. I’ll call him John, for if I were to use his real name, he would be embarrassed. Over the years, Laura and I have attended sweat lodges with him, participated in pipe ceremonies, and come to appreciate his humble dedication to his belief system. We enjoy our differences and our sameness a great deal.

            A few years ago, my wife and I traveled to northern Arkansas to attend a black powder Rendezvous. A Rendezvous is a gathering of Buckskinners, modern day Mountain Men, practitioners of primitive arts. In many ways, these men and women are a step apart from the rest of us, spending some of their time amid the trappings and values of the early nineteenth century. At Rendezvous, competitions are held in marksmanship, knife, axe, and tomahawk throwing, fire starting, and other disciplines necessary to life in the wilderness from times long past. Much is as it was, the camp ground full of Baker tents, lean-to’s, and the occasional tipi. Traders hawk their wares of Green River knives and Hudson’s Bay blankets, skins and weapons are bought and sold, beadwork is bartered, and marvelous costumes and authentic clothing abound. It is a slice of the past, with different social rules and regulations than our current society, an etiquette and ambience that presents the visitor with a sense of history surpassing what may be gleaned from books. Many Rendezvous are closed to the general public for a few days of their duration, so the participants can practice their lifestyle and skills in peace from gawkers and tourists.

            On this particular day the grounds were open to all comers, and it was crowded, Reeboks more common than moccasins, shorts outnumbering breechclouts. We strolled through the camp, watching the visitors watch us, and enjoying their gaping. After searching for a short time, we found John and his wife sitting on bear skin robes in front of their lodge. John’s lodge is a sixteen-foot tipi of Sioux/Cherokee design, one of the most versatile shelters ever created by man, a true pine and canvass cathedral. We joined them in front of the lodge, as John surreptitiously ignited a fire with a carefully concealed Bic lighter. Feeding the blaze carefully, he soon had a small cooking fire ready. His wife entered the tipi and returned with an iron pot containing two cans of Dinty Moore Beef Stew. We sat back, jawing, and watched the parade of tourists peer at us. John and his wife were in buckskins and Indian garb, Laura and I in kettle-cloth clothing appropriate to the period, and we were all armed with knife, tomahawk, or both. Picturesque we were, fascinating to passers-by.

            Rules of etiquette demand a cooking fire not be approached by strangers without permission. It is no more acceptable than an outsider entering your kitchen. The rules of etiquette also state that anyone at your fire, or “in the kitchen” must be offered something to eat, if food is ready. Soon after the Dinty Moore stew had begun to bubble, a couple stopped and stared at us. They appeared to be in their early forties, were excessively white, and dressed in matching outfits of madras shorts, sport shirts, and jogging shoes. Fresh from Rotary and the Junior League, with a Taurus wagon in the dusty parking lot, they seemed fascinated that real Native Americans and Mountain Persons were available for easy inspection. They watched us from a distance for a while, then gathered their courage and walked directly to the fire.

            “What’s in the pot?” the man asked, smiling at us. John put on his best impression of Jay Silverheels’ Tonto, and replied.

            “Bear.”

            “Bear?”  the man squeaked.

            “Huh!” John replied. “Bear. You want to eat?” This was unanticipated, and the visitor hesitated a bit. To his credit, he plunged ahead.

            “Ah…sure! Thanks. I’d love to try some bear.”

            John’s wife produced a wooden bowl and iron spoon from inside the lodge and ladled some stew into the vessel. She passed it to our guest. The fellow took a small bite of the Dinty Moore, chewed, swallowed, and grinned.

            “This is good!” he beamed, then shoveled in a big spoonful, and continued. “Bear…wow! C’mon, this is really bear?”

            “Huh!” replied John, never cracking a smile. “That his name when we kill him. That Bear…him one good dog.”

            The visitor regarded John for a moment as this new bit of information soaked in, then shot Dinty Moore Beef Stew all over the fire and my moccasins. He scurried away, wheezing and coughing, as his wife skittered along beside him, attempting to wipe the stew off his shirt and shorts. The four of us collapsed in mild hysterics.

            Was our treatment of this obviously nice man wrong? Probably, but certainly small enough revenge. I think Jay Silverheels would have been proud.

           

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Poodle on the Parkway



When I was a young man, I attended official cop school, otherwise known as The University of Illinois Police Training Institute. Week after week, after week, after week, a select number of young valiants such as I were sequestered from the world, the victims of excessive indoctrination and instruction into the art and function of becoming police officers. A huge amount of subjects were covered, from how to deliver a baby, to public relations, to crime scene investigation, to choosing the correct donut. The amount of subject matter was immense.


The instruction that remains most vivid in my mind after all these years was from an FBI instructor named Kip McLaughlin, who told me two things. Number one: be courteous to all, officer, kind to those who deserve your kindness and, even though you serve the public, remember that you are nobody’s servant. And two: Always remember that if somebody wants to kill you, they have a 90% chance of getting it done. Make your 10% as fat as you can. Those statements were easily worth as much as the endless theoretical facts that were pounded into us because theory is just theory. Practical education can only come on the street. That’s why veteran officers give rookies a hard time. It’s fun, and the rooks, for the most part, can’t find their way out of a crowd of three. Stuff almost never happened in the real world the way we’d read about in all those books.


Eventually, after nearly a year of instruction and study, it was determined by the powers that be that Officer Lewis was fit to be removed from the 7am to 3 pm shift and sentenced to life on the three to eleven shift, or PM watch, the busiest shift of the day. It was late March of 1969, a lovely spring afternoon, and I was spending my last few hours on the day watch with a 20 year veteran officer named George Hyde. George loved running radar, a function of policedom that I personally despised, as was doing so in an older residential area, when the radar alerted us of an oncoming vehicle coming on in excess of sixty miles an hour in a thirty mile per hour zone. When the 1968 Mustang flashed by our position, George fired up the red lights, I kicked on the siren, and we gave chase, more or less.


Our squad car was a two-year-old Chevy with nearly a hundred thousand miles on the odometer, and countless hours of idle time on the exhausted motor. It had roughly the same acceleration capabilities as a school bus. It was nearly four blocks before we closed on the little yellow mustang. Its driver, a blond-haired lady, deep in thought with her radio blasting, remained blissfully unaware of our presence when we finally crept up behind her at sixty-three MPH. As we changed lanes to possibly move up beside the woman and get her attention, we noticed her dog. A gray poodle it was, the mid-sized variety, a miniature as opposed to a toy, hanging dangerously out of the open passenger-side window, its ears wafting and tongue lolling in the breeze.


“George,” I said, “that dog is gonna fall outa that car.”


No sooner had the words left my lips, than the dog left the Mustang. Headfirst, the poor pooch, no doubt enraptured by the passage of wind and scent, fell over the door and onto the street, its small body whirling and bouncing down the pavement like a demented furry dervish. George slammed on the brakes to keep from running over the ill-fated creature and, when he came to a halt, I jumped from the car to see to the dog as he accelerated away to again catch the mustang, whose driver was not only oblivious to us, but unaware her doggie was no longer in her company. The pup, its eyes fixed and glazed, its tongue dangling loosely out of its mouth, hung in my hands like a dishrag. I carried the poor lifeless body to the side of the road and tenderly laid it on the parkway between the street and the sidewalk. Several pedestrians who had witnessed the event approached and stood around me and the dog, silently observing the tableau before them. One lady was even sniffing back tears. It was sad and it was awkward. There was nothing for any of us to do but look at each other and wait for George to return with the lady and her Mustang. For long minutes we stood there, the small crowd growing a bit with curious onlookers. When boredom overtook sympathy, the group began to break up. At that point in time, as Lazarus from the grave, the dead dog resurrected, fixed its manic eyes on me, bared its teeth, and charged.


I had been bitten by dogs. I didn’t like it. I whipped out my trusty nightstick. While I had no intention of bludgeoning a twelve-pound poodle to death, especially in front of ten or fifteen onlookers, it was also not my intent to allow the crazed canine fanged access to my fetlock. Instantly realizing its worthlessness, I pushed all of my police training aside, called upon the hours spent in my youth watching Walt Disney’s Zorro episodes, and began to fence with the perturbed pooch. It thrusted. I parried. It pounced. I retreated. It snarled, I yelled. The crowd, once more fully involved in the incident, began to oooh and aaah, some shouting encouragement to me, others to the dog. The battle raged for what seemed an endless time, and I, because of a now perforated pantleg, was on the verge of shifting my response from Zorro’s technique to something more along the format of Arnold Palmer, when George and the blond lady arrived.


She bolted from her Mustang and, taking sides with the recently dead poodle, joined in the fray. She got in a lick or two, a diamond ring that cost more than my house doing some damage to my right ear, before George managed to lift her off her feet and throw her a short distance away. She was an attractive woman, well dressed and groomed, with a barrage of vocal talent that zoomed from obscene to unintelligible in only a few sentences and, when she charged me the second time, good ‘ol George put her face down in the grass and handcuffed her. The dog, meanwhile, collapsed again.


I returned the dog to the parkway and sat beside it, talking quietly and stroking its head. A tow-truck was summoned for the Mustang, a sergeant arrived and took George and the lady to the station, and I was left with the pup and the squad car. Presently the pooch again opened its eyes, crawled into my lap and began to shiver. I wrapped the dog in a blanket from the squad car’s trunk took it to a veterinarian, then went to headquarters. By the time I arrived, the lady had some control of herself. Her verbiage had reduced to just swearing and abuse, and she was no longer attacking anyone. I advised her of the situation and the fact that the dog was conscious and that I had taken it to a vet.


Her reply, liberally interspersed with negative assessments of my mother’s sexual habits, my family lineage, and my own proclivities, basically indicated that she had been unjustly used, she most certainly had not been speeding, I had effected attempted murder on her pooch, and that I should be glad I took the canine to a veterinarian because I was a public servant, and she was the blankety-blank public! If I had a problem with that, her attorney would make things even more clear to me. We were fortunate that she was not suing us for the way she’d been so badly mistreated. Meanwhile, she was leaving to go pick up her car, which we had unlawfully impounded! George and I looked at each other.


Speeding, disturbing the peace, battery on a police officer, resisting arrest, and wanton endangerment of a domestic animal.


Servant? I don’t think so.


By the way…the dog recovered nicely, and much sooner that its mistress.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

FREE EBOOKS!

The Big eBook Giveaway!

 



FROM 

To promote the opening of our new website, from now through June 10th, these books can be yours absolutely free. Just click on the link below and follow the instructions.  While you're there, look around. Let us know what you think. Happy Reading!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

MY TWO WIVES

Double Indemnity

            As it happens sometimes in my narrow life, a friend started me thinking. It was when she spoke of her husband in his rented tux and she in her linen suit with dyed to match heels, setting out on their road of life together many years ago…and some of the rocks that litter that very road. It brought to mind weddings, two of them to be exact, both of them mine.

            When I was young, too young most probably, the drummer in the band I was playing with at the time had a girlfriend. That girlfriend had a female cousin who lived about 150 miles away who she invited to visit. I was conscripted to join in their company as a blind date for the visiting cousin. Her name was Sharon. An attractive dark-haired lass of startling pulchritude, Sharon dressed conservatively, was demure, rather shy, and quite proper. Over the next few months we saw each other as frequently as the distance between us would allow. A relationship blossomed. After seven or eight months when it seemed we were in love, she relocated to my hometown so that we might be closer together, got a job, and a roommate named Janice.

            Sharon was a rather conservative young woman and quite religious. After taking a year or so off from church, I began to attend regularly again in her company. Everybody liked Sharon and, after nearly a year, I popped the question. She said yes, and the wedding date, four months away, was set. It was a proper wedding.

The ceremony was held in a Baptist church, complete with organist, flower girls, best man and maid of iron, the entire gaggle of ugly dresses and ill-fitting tuxedos, and the rest of the traditional foofarah. The service went quite well with the exception of some misbehavior in the back row by the members of the band I was with. It created enough of a stir when five males with long hair came tripping in with their girlfriends, but when I kissed the bride and that same back row broke into applause and shouts of encouragement, I do believe Mildred Hyde, Minnie Parnell and their ilk felt scandalized. I can understand their feelings. After searching the bible carefully, I can find not a passage where the words “Suffer the long-haired musicians to come onto me” were written. Sharon and I attended church there every Sunday, and I attended choir practice every Wednesday. When the longhaired, hippie freaks did not show up again, I was forgiven and welcomed back into the fold.

After our wedding, I discovered that someone had painted various phrases on my 1964 black Pontiac LeMans convertible with what appeared to be white shoe polish. I did not concern myself with the disfigurement of my auto at that time. It was, after all, my wedding night. We went to our hotel and I watched my new wife drink champagne for the first time in her life. She got hopelessly blasted and passed out on the floor. With little else to do, I checked on my car and found out the white shoe polish appeared to be permanent. With my automobile irrevocably inscribed, and my bride irreparably sloshed, long before the days of cable TV, I spent the night musing on better things to come.

Sharon was somewhat less than chipper the next morning, especially when she found out my car was going to look like that for at least the entire five-day honeymoon, but it was a beautiful day. We put the top down and set off for Indianapolis with hope in our hearts. Shortly after we crossed the Indiana State line, on a 55 miles-per-hour limited access highway, we encountered a U.S. Army convoy of six by six trucks, canvas rolled up, each carrying the maximum load of testosterone-ridden, sexually frustrated young warriors. The convoy was nearly two miles long, and installed with enough troops to take Stalingrad in a short afternoon. Army convoys run 45 miles per hour. We were driving at 55 miles per hour. It takes a long time to pass a two-mile convoy at that speed differential. It takes even longer when your black convertible has things like “hot springs tonite” and “nookeymoblie” written on it in white paint. By the time we actually left the column of soldiers behind and could no longer hear the shouts of encouragement and appraisal the young men offered, my wife was in the fetal position, drooling on the floor mat. Sharon and I were married for two years, three months and two days, and I don’t regret one day of it. I just can’t remember which day that was.

Laura, my second, current, and last wife, moved in with me after our first date. After living in sin for six months, we were married in the county courthouse by Judge Skillman, a man who once asked me in open court, “Officer Lewis, why didn’t you shoot the bastard?” We spent our wedding night at her parent’s home, a consideration we were forced into when we told her mother, who wanted to organize the wedding of the century, there would be no ceremony. When we walked in the front door, Laura’s mom demanded to view the marriage license. She grasped it from out of Laura’s delicate fingers, and neither one of us has seen it since. We have never attended church together, we have been separated twice, and the first time I ever saw my wife, she was so hung over, that had she opened her eyes all the way, she would have bled to death. It has been very challenging, it has been very difficult, it has been very loving, and it has been over forty years since we got married. Having had two wives, I can truly say, the first was small price to pay for the second.