Freak Zone

Now into some twisty fifty mile an hour curves, the traffic breaks up. Semis in the slow lane Jake braking and a few hot shots zipping by- way over the speed limit- then cutting into slack spots before doing the same move again. It’s the law in Colorado. Fast lane is only to pass. Also, if a vehicle is obviously stopped on the side of the road, State law says you have to get over to the left. Mile after mile of smoothed out, red-streaked rock formations everywhere since the road drops you two thousand feet in about five miles. Coming out of a tunnel into bright sunlight, Rick spots the red sportscar that had the truck from hell on its ass. In a long sweeping left banked curve, I too see her. She’s tucked in between two semis like a chick between a hen and a rooster.

I pass, on the right is our former enemy. We look down from way higher in Tegan’s Dumptruck. She just looks straight ahead. The psycho with the twin flat beds is nowhere in sight. This gal wasn’t chancing it. She was staying right where she was, thank you very much. After a few miles we forget all about her.

Every one worth a damn in Colorado drives a Dodge pickup of some sort. New ones- or close to it. Flat beds, set up for towing fifth wheel horse and stock trailers, service bodies. The big grills and frame make the three quarter tons look like three ton jobs. I’m a Dodge man to the core, but these new Dodges are half tons on steroids. Pull any new pickup into a materials yard and start loading scoops of gravel with a short bucket loader. On any of them a real ton of material will have it looking just like a great Dane looks hunched bent over taking a dump on a lawn. Driving said loader for Jessie, first owner of the Acton hardware, I witnessed many a sad faced owner frantically shoveling sand or gravel out of his bed to get the shocks off the overloads.

I’m at the Boulder DMV with my son-in-law and Scout, my four year old granddaughter. She’s a big deal. A six grandson streak was finally broken. As Jason, Scout’s dad, waits his turn the man about four people ahead of him is heard to say, “I’ll be back in two minutes!” I’m sitting down in one of two dozen wood chairs that line one wall. Scout and I watch the man go past a bunch of busy windows then past the security guard and out the double glass doors. As soon as the doors closed everyone had something to say about what had just gone down. This buzz-headed, inked up bozo in his late twenties, has just slunk out in his low slung shorts and flip flops leaving a kid in a removable car seat on the DMV desk. Hey, it’s Boulder. The license gals have wooden desks you sit down in front of. Pretty laid back. Not this laid back though. You leave your kid? An infant? It was pretty damn funny what everyone in line had to say about it.

This chubby black gal next to us about three chairs over breaks the ice. “You have to be kidding me. Is this dude a friend of yours?” Directed at the fifty or so Latin looking woman wearing a nice shirt and sweater circa 1980’s. Looking dazed at the front doors then scanning everyone staring at her from the closest lines and chairs behind them she pops right out of her daze to defend herself. To anyone who wanted to listen, CLERK: “I’ve a good mind to have the man arrested. I’ve never seen such behavior in 21 years of working here!” OK, she’s now off the hook. The outrage pours out in machine gun burst from all over the room. Even the clerks on each side of her and the people being helped get some shots in.

This cowboy had a couple of good ones. Since he was about six four and three hundred pounds, he could say any damn thing he wanted. In this atmosphere, he had a lot of latitude anyhow. COWBOY: “Were all thinkin’ it. Poor white trash has now reached a new low point!” Now two women approach the baby. One spins the car seat around and tilts it. A cute little white trash baby is asleep. It has a tiny, too-small shirt on that barely covers the top of its chubby tummy. Someone had written. WHITE POWER on its tummy with a felt pen mimicking a tattoo. Swell. Many more comments poured out, then the father was spotted coming back into the double doors. He’s smiling and sort of strolling. His flip flops clapping on the linoleum floor as he comes back to his desk and clerk.

He smiles and starts to say something and gets his legs cut off at the knees by a now enraged clerk. CLERK: “I don’t want to hear anything from that mouth of yours except goodbye. If I hear anything different I will not hesitate to have security arrest you!” All said straightforward and well modulated. This zero made the mistake of looking back for some support. No way. Stone cold silence and frozen glares. I glance down at Scout and see she looks concerned. I whisper, “Don’t worry, the guy’s an idiot being taught a lesson!” She smiles and nods her head. Picking up the car seat, he puts on his sunglasses in defiance and leaves the premises.

Our next stop was GREAT! A really old, really big used book store and vinyl record warehouse. My first stop on the Freak express. I buy my grand kid Simon a six foot backed cut out of Boba Fett, the bounty hunter from Star Wars. Simon is the thoughtful insightful sort. Rare for a Fahey spawn. He says a dejected, “Too bad he died in the Pit of unspeakable horror!” Huh? What bullshit is this? As I fork over ten bucks for the original but beat up display I fill Simon in. Boba Fett kicked in his back pack thrusters, dropped two sonic grenades and was blown free about three minutes after Jabba the hut was choked out by Leia!” No wonder our country is falling apart. Kids don’t know any of the important things that bind us as a society. He perked up at this bit of news. Also, Boba built a ‘Slave Two’, intergalactic bounty hunter ship, but, another time.

If you think I’m off base ask any kid fourteen or younger who John Wayne is. They have no idea what you’re talking about. I have an old movie that has John Wayne asking for war bond donations. He was dressed in his cowboy gear sitting with a high back chair backwards. A lit smoke in one hand. His Stetson was pushed back as he wrinkled that broad forehead of his and said, “I don’t need to tell you who I am, so, lets get down to what I’m on screen for!” Sorry Duke, not any more. I once fixed the phone jack on his ship at the Balboa Island Marina pier off his house while working for Pac Bell. It really was a ship. It had formerly been a U.S. Navy minesweeper. About sixty five foot long with all steel frame and hull, quite a ride to hit the ocean on. It was called, ‘The Grey Goose’. I wish I could have gone on it. Alas, I fixed the phone problem at the pier jack connection. As soon as I replaced a green pitted connection, the phone started ringing on board.

While Simon took the six foot board out to the truck, I watched him through the storefront glass to make sure he got back OK. With all the displays, it was hard to keep an eye on him. As he came back inside, another kid he knew from school comes in right behind him. Night and day. Simon, hippie throwback followed by a pierced Goth in torn black everything. They seem to like each other. As they say adios, one of the owners of the store says, “Hey, Judas!”, while he comes down a crowded book aisle towards us. For some reason he thought I was with the pierced kid. I smile and nod. The owner looks like a young Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead, 1970’s. He accepts me as a friend and says, “You going to the battle of the bands tonight!” I shrug my shoulders and ask Simon if he’s going. Simon says no and heads for the record side of the split building. I go for small talk. “So, kid, did it hurt getting all those pins and studs put in?” He looks bored but gives me a monotone ‘humor the old guy’ spiel. Then I notice the ink peeking out of his shirt collar. I’m stunned. He had to be fifteen if that. The store man is his uncle, it turns out. His uncle says, “Hey, show him how much you’ve gotten done!”

The black hair, streaked with red hair, is exposed as the kid takes off his multicolored Jamaican flop cap and lifts his zombie apocalypse t-shirt over his head. Half of his upper back had a Friday the 13th Jason in an almost colored-in red stripe shirt, stabbing some other gore guy with his scissor fingers up through the stomach. This other undertaker looking guy is coming down with a machete into Jason’s skull in about one second. Muscles bulging with the power he’s putting into the blade’s downward blow. Hey, some lucky gal might marry into this work of art. It can only go up in value. I shake my head up and down and say nothing. My input wasn’t needed for once. The kid puts his shirt down and heads down a book filled isle with his uncle. Not a word said.

Heading back to Tegan’s, I tell Simon and Scout about the special needs kids I talk to all the time at the Tehachapi show and the second hand shop I’m doing my Community Service at. Simon wanted to know what Community Service was. I gave him the short version. “They can’t shoot you after court on compliance codes so they make you clean toilets and scrape gum off the floors with razor blades!” He gave me the thumbs up. Scout once again looked upset. I tell her I also get first shot at all the toys and books that come in from my pickups. This makes her real happy. Back to the special ed kids. Most aren’t kids. Some are in their fifties. All are just like me though. Stuck at sixteen years old mentally. If that. I click with them. On some weekdays, the local theater has half prices. Not only the usual one dollar hot dogs, but breaks on tickets and pop corn.

I go to this four plex all the time. Especially when about twenty of these ‘kids’ have show day. The theaters are really small. Fifty people, max, in each one. I’ve been in it plenty of times sitting all by my self. The last time I went and the kids were there, the new Marvel flick was out teaming up Iron Man, Thor, some kung fu chick, a bow and arrow guy, Captain America, and, the HULK. The doors open late all the time so we were jammed up all in a bunch just like cattle after a stampede. About five groups back all the families are normal with normal kids. Behind them, apart a few paces, are the special kids with their escorts. They just walk down the street from their home at the top of the avenue.

Everyone is well behaved and really excited. In the front of the conga line are two pals I’ve smiled and said ‘Hi’ to before. One is really stocky and looks like a cross eyed, fifty year old Charlie Brown. He’s wearing a HULK sweatshirt that has HULK flying through the air on one of his leaps. His pal is black as black can be and stone cold blind. He has a cane and those rolled back eyes that let you know this kid is really handicapped. The blind kid is attached to his buddy like glue. Arms locked. A matron is right behind them but relaxed. Everyone wants in so the lines start to bunch together. A normal teenager from the front of the line has just broken Charlie Brown’s heart with a statement to his friend in line with him.

It was innocuous enough but a hard blow to hear for the special kid. “You know, the HULK is way over rated. Iron man or Thor could beat him, no problem!” As some vomit came up out of my stomach, I had to put a stop to this kind of blasphemy instantly. I spin and go into attack mode. “First of all, the HULK doesn’t even need these other losers. I heard they forced him to join. Second, the HULK has already bounced Superman like a basketball when they met, running him out of his own town; he destroyed The Thing in three pages of that comic after the fight started; Thor and Iron Man double teaming HULK would just make it easier for HULK to waste them instead of having to hunt them down one at a time. After they’re toast, what is Captain America, some karate gal and Robin hood idiot going to do against a now really pissed guy that gets bigger and stronger the more you beat on him?”

The doors open and in we all go. As I go for popcorn, I pass Charlie Brown and his pal waiting for their tickets. I put up my hand, Charlie Brown high fives me then pulls me over for a huge bear hug. I sat a couple of rows behind them and made comments all through the movie on how HULK was doing all the real fighting, etc, etc. It was fun.

Back home, just last Saturday night, we had bizarre lightening-like flashes coming over the tops of the five thousand foot hills that separate us from the Mojave Desert. Since we heard on ‘Coast to Coast’ that a big solar flare was to be hitting us, we figured that might be the source. We call everyone we can think of in the Antelope Valley and surrounding areas to go outside and report back to us. Except for my sons, no one cared. I was Chicken Little and the sky was falling. Pretty sad. Hey, if the S.H.T.F, we know one thing. We’re calling family and that’s all. Everyone else that thinks the way we do, off grid, own water, self reliant. They won’t need a call. So, we too are pretty much looked on as Freaks. So be it. Queue Hendrix’s anthem for the fade out and let your Freak flag fly.

Oh, while at a Boulder Café, around ten thousand foot up on the mountain behind Coal Creek, I share my table with three Chinese tourists. Only one spoke English fluently. The others nodded their heads a lot. They looked like Chinese Ozzie and Harriet kids. Very polite. Maybe in their early twenties. The other two are male and a thin, intense looking female with tightly pulled back hair. She smiles at me then ignores me. I notice her quiet companion is missing the ends of two fingers on his left hand. Zeng, the only name I can remember of the more fluent of the group sees me looking at the nubs and says a pleasant, “A panda bit them off!” What? A fuzzy little chubby fur ball did that? I tell him that I had just read a book on Wolverines and could see him losing fingers to one of them, but a panda? The man missing the ends of his digits speaks Chinese to his companion. They have a spirted back and forth them I’m filled in. All three are now looking right at me as their companion speaks.

“He says he once thought the same thing. He was shocked to find out their fur is a hard and sharp as a pigs bristles. They also fight off leopards and kill small animals for food. When he was studying them in Bejing, a man went into an enclosure to hug one and have his picture taken. He had his testicles torn off and almost died on the way to emergency!” Gee. Who would have guessed?

One last thing. On those Wolverines. They have fantastic, life-long connections with mates and offspring. From being studied by radio transmitters, fathers years later will hook up with mates, daughters and sons and spend weeks hunting and playing together. If a male shacks up with a pregnant female, when the usually two or less pure white offspring are born, the male will raise them as if his own. Cool! Pound for pound the Wolverine is the most powerful mammal on earth. Only about five hundred or so left in the continental United States. More in Canada, and some colonies still exist in the colder areas of Europe and the Norwegian areas…

To Sqeegan’s near Boulder

It’s six a.m. on the fourth of July. Filling up the dump truck outside of Mojave on the 58 to Barstow. I pull the truck over to the air/water station to give the rig the once over before a 1,000 mile non-stop. Dropping the hood after an A-OK, I see them. Road Demons. Oh yeah. Real Demons. I know the breed. Raised with some of their young in juvenile facilities and half-way house ranch homes. Their boys are usually mean and heartless. They don’t tend to get any nicer as they age. The five men and one woman staring at me from the dirty windows of a beat up stretch van all have the same look. Prey? I give them a pantomime. I use my right fist to make a head bash movement, then, I pretend to bend over and drag someone backwards by their armpits while casting a quick eye around. I then stand up straight and bow at the van. They all nod as one and smile back at me.

As Rick comes out with our road coffees I ask him to check out the van from his rear view mirror as I start the truck and pull around past it. I ask him if anyone is looking at us. Rick says. “Nope”! Every time I sip my coffee I check to see if its behind us. After we hit the 15 to Vegas I lightened up.

It’s a free ride through Vegas. The Fourth is a good holiday to travel. Most prefer barbeques and fireworks to long desert drives. Out of Nevada into Utah, only an occasional spattering of huge rain drops on the windshield from dark clouds miles away finally reaching us. The flat boring desert breaks into some wonderful rock formations and gullies cut by racing waters. No water in them though. Drought and wild fires have the air like dry kindling as you suck it in.

With no stereo and bible thumpers on the radio from Salt Lake City it’s story time. Rick the Great asks me if we could stop at the Calico Mines some time. He was captivated by the road signs promising a great time for the family. I tell him the story of a Widowmaker. Not the King, another story. This was about the F.W.D.

Sometimes the Dead should be left alone about raps its story up in a nutshell. As at the beginning of this story, let’s face it. Some people are just plain bad. The degrees can vary. but they’re out there all right. I would have to say the same goes for a lot of other things. Machines for example.

I had a truck parked at the far end of my Acton ranch that sat there for YEARS. It’s personally killed three men and maimed at least a dozen more. When I asked my truck pal George Sack to come check it out after finally getting it to my place, he didn’t even get out of his Dodge pickup. He stared at it, then me, then told me to hop in and we would go to lunch. I wondered if he would look over my new rig first, I was all excited at making it home in second gear all the way from Aqua Dulce, ten miles away. Putting his truck in drive Sack said a tight lipped, “Fuck you and fuck that truck. It’s a bad luck piece of shit man killer. Get the fuck rid of it!” He then backed to the pavement and left me in his dust.

After some of my own experiences, I left the truck in isolation. To unload it on someone else would just bring me some cosmic bad luck. Until I figured out a better plan, it sat. Battery cables disconnected. With no help from George, I take some photos of it around to various mechanics and truck repair shops wondering if anyone was familiar with the company. Even after the internet almost zip on specs. Info on the F.W.D. company, sure. No spec manuals. Zero. Zip. Nada. I pretty much figured all the controls out on my own. I also figured out how it could have hurt and killed so many guys. It was alive. Oh yeah. I find out later from Sack that he himself had driven the truck to a film shoot in the valley once, years prior. He told me the truck was one treacherous bastard. He would never, ever, drive it again. “It almost killed me a bunch of times. It pops out of gear. The brake gauges show everything is fine then they fail you. The crane controls just go out of control. It has those dual controls on each side of the boom and it feels at times like someone is working the controls the same time that you are. It’s a scary truck. Just junk the fucking thing!”

I had won the truck in a poker game in what was most likely the only case of a guy cheating to lose. The owner tells me after the game I’m responsible for its transport. If it wasn’t gone by the next Saturday he would start charging me storage fees until I did remove it. Fine. I ask if one of his drivers will take it to my place for a fee. He just said a low, “Good luck with that my friend!”, then pointed to a bill of sale laying on the table as he got up and left. I was estatic! I already knew the truck well. Every time I went to the Boston Henry drilling and well shop I would always walk around the faded orange truck parked in the rear yard, all by itself. It sat tall. Real tall. It’s what’s called in the trade a C.O.E. Cab over engine. To access the 612 horse V-8 you had to pull two steel rods just under the drivers seat through some tiny steel steps built into the frame. The steps had pointed teeth welded into the tops. To better catch your heel and plunge you into a head first fall to the ground. Once behind the big steel steering wheel, you were trapped in place. The bench seat was bolted into one position. If over 170 pounds, get used to that four foot around wheel hitting you right in your belly button. Don’t even try to wriggle into any sort of comfort zone. Accept it and get to stage two. Starting it.

Now, you’re thinking of starting your own vehicle. Forget that idea. This truck was built in 1960. Its name on the only ad I could find on it? THE TRACTIONEER!!! Yep. No bullshit. Look it up. Built to go anywhere. Six wheel drive. 14 ton, forty five foot extending boom. Sixteen foot alligator armored steel bed with diamond plate in the middle. A twelve foot long, thirty inch around steel auger to drill holes for power poles. Under the boom, a rear projected forty thousand pound winch with two hundred feet of five eighths braided cable ending in a giant steel hook. At the end of the boom was a grab claw to pick up poles to set them in the new holes you just dug. Just like at the job site at the Calico Mines where it killed its first man. Back in the early sixties, it was owned by Edison. They had to truck it on a lowboy to any really tough job; their regular trucks couldn’t cut it. Its huge engine sucked up fantastic amounts of fuel. It got one mile to the gallon no matter how you drove it. In six wheel drive carrying the end of a seventy foot pole on its bed held by the winch? A half mile to the gallon.

Since it was such a monster to drive, the crews aware of its rep would palm it off on new guys. After a quick lesson on how to work the controls, another sucker was snickered at as he attempted to lift a pole for the first time. Hey, what was the big deal? Some laughs then the guy would give up. Nope. This time the new guy seemed to have a knack. Out went the extender boom. Open went the toothed-with-steel jaws to grab wood pinchers. Fully opened, they gaped forty inches wide. As the forty five foot pole lifted clear, the new driver beamed down at his co-workers while exclaiming, “This is a piece of cake!” Then the boom went out of control right into some power lines way on the other side of the truck. Fighting the controls from his side of the bed, the new guy couldn’t even see the other side of the truck from his position. Some amp sparks, a loud crackle of high voltage then the operators shirt caught on fire as he slumped against the all steel control console. The power surge killed the engine but not the voltage. It was a few minutes until they could knock out the power and get the body down. The F.W.D. had its Edison decals pulled and the truck was sent to be sold at auction. A company in Santa Barbara bought it to do tree trimming work. It maimed and injured so many employees it was traded for an old water truck.

It ends up at another auction. This time bought by Boston Henry in Aqua Dulce. It’s such a pain in the ass the Henrys try to make their money back by renting it out for movie shoots and such. That’s how Sack ended up driving it. To a movie shoot. Two hotshots rent the truck for a job they had lined up. They needed the auger to set some posts for a mini barn and hay storage shed.

Getting to the ranch early, they follow the owner’s directions and back the rig into the edge of some large pepper trees. Circles can be seen showing where the holes are to be drilled. The ranch owner, a nice looking blonde in her thirties wonders if the boys would like a beer. Hell, it was in the 80’s already and it was Saturday. Why not? A six pack later while perusing the handmade sketches for the structure, the men return to the truck, fire it up and set the stantion legs to support the crane. Once the legs are set, you can operate the crane controls. Oh, after you choose your operating gear speed then put the controls to the dual positions on the rear bed behind the tall cab. If the interior gear jumps out, adios rear control. Instantly. Usually it will just stop. Not all the time. It had happened to me before. That’s why I would use number ten ground wire already looped to fit over the tall shifter with the steel knob on top to the brake pedal. Something these guys didn’t know about.

As the man on the ground gave instructions the man on the left side controls started to extend the boom towards the eight by eights in a pile to the left. As the man at the controls started to struggle with the levers the boom started going out all on its own while swinging out of control to its far left. As tree branches started to creak and snap the truck finally shuddered to a stop. Not before the boom hit a 220 line going out to a guest house in back high up in the pepper trees. The boom man died instantly. His buddy died later in the hospital. He had tried to pull his pal free and caught some voltage while standing on wet grass under the left stantion support.

The rig ends up back at the Boston/Henry yard. It’s traded for another truck to Dave Woods. Oh man. Woods. A real piece of work. Shifty. Clever. Knew every con and trick to be known in the drilling trade. Chased by many and wanted in six counties. I loved the guy. I worked for him for a year off and on to pay back a well he drilled for me. Actually, by his nephew, Brian Flowers. Brian stories are really funny. Another time on him.

Woods was this kind of guy: Once I went with him to collect a debt on a well he had drilled. It was up off Hierba road behind the Pepper Tree Market off Sierra Highway. It was around nine at night. Woods and I had just left the Aqua Dulce bar and were pretty lit up. The porch light comes on illuminating the entree, then, pitch black and stars once out of its aura. The man who opens the door is pissed. He towers over the both of us. Woods at first glance looks like a grown up Opie from the Andy Griffith show. It’s what got him over. At first. Fifty grand later you want to punch Opie out.

So, the big man steps past his screen to start berating Woods for a thief and a rip off artist. Something about promised water or whatever. I stay next to Dave but say nada. As the man steps even closer to Dave, Woods suddenly starts to bawl while tearing his worn out white shirt off. The man steps back, his face aghast. In the yellow of the porch light I step forward to see what the man in staring at. From Woods breast bone to his naval is a zig zag blood red wound held together by about a hundred staples close together. HOLY SHIT! While starting to cry, Woods tells the man he did the best he could but his kidney operation had taken all of his cash. That’s why we couldn’t pick up the drop pipe in Bakersfield for his well casing. As we sat in Woods truck outside the bar in Aqua Dulce recounting the ten grand cash the man had given us for the pipe, Woods looked over at me just before shutting off his dome light and smiled that Opie smile while saying, “I knew the scar would seal the deal!”

Before I can finish the F.W.D. story some events happened around us taking our minds off the past and back to the present. While I let off the gas to let an 18 wheeler cut over from the right lane to pass a string of slower semis ahead of him as we turned onto the 70 to Denver, a red BMW cuts me off and also cuts off the big dual trailer truck I was letting into my lane. He has to swerve so hard to miss her his rear trailer swings back and forth making the tires smoke up in billows as he hammered his brakes. I hit the dirt in the meridian since the dump bed blocks a clear view directly behind me. Better safe then sorry. The picture of ten cars rear ending me flashed through my mind as I slid in the gravel, under control but not in a good spot. I check my right mirror, see that all the cars had slowed with no problem, I get back in the fast lane.

About a mile up the road I pass the Cowboy’s truck with the custom dual exhaust stacks. He’s about thirty, wore a Stetson like John Wayne’s in Rio Bravo and had a wild look on his face. He looked down at Rick and I as we rolled past him on a big incline and nodded. Adios compadre. In about five miles I come up on a string of cars stuck behind some suck ass doing fifty right next to a big rig doing the same. You know the type. Some half a fag who beats off to ‘Broke Back Mountain’. The type of fuck wad who enjoys fucking traffic over. This time I loved the little asshole. He had our yuppie gal pal stuck behind him about five cars back. Cool. Now I could maybe get some payback. Not road rage. Just some running off the road into a cement buttress while calm and collected. I don’t get the pleasure. Like the maniac driver in ‘DUEL’, I see an 18-wheeler coming up on my rear getting bigger and bigger with every glance to my left mirror. I hit my brakes and pull behind the truck in the slow lane. I let two more cars do the same in front of me who are hep to what’s coming up behind us. Not yuppie girl. She’s still riding the bumper of the car in front of her.

As the semi roars past me, I hug the line to see what is going on ahead. From the cars hanging back next to me, it had to be something. Couldn’t see a thing as we were now in a curving downhill grade cutting to the right. As the road leveled off, I was able to get behind three cars that passed me. Like ducklings, the cars ahead of me behind the slow load jumped behind my wake. We all saw the same thing at about the same time. Far up the highway as it started to curve to the left was a tiny red car with an 18-wheeler one inch off its back bumper. Both doing over ninety. OH MY GOD IT WAS UNBELIEVABLE! Then, into some canyons they went. The gazelle and the hungry dragon still inches apart…

Mean Streets

I just argued with a black crack head broad over some fifty cent used boxer shorts. She felt they were way overpriced. Since I was still coming down from throwing a phony crippled broad out of the store in her wheelchair, my adrenalin was up a few notches and my “Hey, how are you” persona hadn’t came back yet. I pull two bucks out of my pocket and give it to the gal and tell her to go crazy. Ok, so another satisfied customer.

These phony pukes and there shove it up their ass ‘Handicapped’ license plates. When society goes Road Warrior these fuckers are the first ones I’m smoking for gas for my truck. Next in my sights, 500 hundred pound blimps with cankles the size of fire hydrants driving around on little electric carts. Hey, fatso, try walking and you wouldn’t need the cart. Or, the “I’m so god damned clever” ones that are driving OFF ROAD TRUCKS with the handicapped plates. Blow me you lying pricks. I haven’t seen a real handicapped person get out of one stinking vehicle since doing fifty hours of community service. If Road Warrior scenario happens? I’ll make these plate holders install land mines around my compound for room and board.

My only good times are going for donated pick up items in my truck. My top five pickups? Hmm. Lets see. OK, starting with five and working to number one. I already know number one so it’s hit and miss with the others.

NUMBER 5: After instructions written in Klingon from a retard, I head into the unknown. Since the Thomas Guide I bought at Home Depot only has the rich areas in it, if not in Stallion fucking Springs or the good parts of Old Town, you’re on your own. My own road isn’t on it. It just shows a wiggle into a dead end canyon that’s a faded squiggle. No lie. Glad I spent 18 bucks on it.

So, back to the pickup. With no Thomas Guide, I figure a gas station map will have to do. Same bullshit. No dirt roads if PRIVATE. Swell. I fight the urge to slice my wrists the long way up and try and use the written instructions. Naturally no phone number anywhere on the scrap of paper. I end up asking some kids riding double on a bike near the Circle K. They want me to buy them a pack of Marlboros and they’ll tell me right where the street is. I tell them no way. I end up going to the hardware store and asking the delivery guy at Henry’s. He gives me the low down. An hour later I’m no closer to my pick up and down a quarter tank of diesel. I spot the kids on the bike in a small park as I’m heading back to the 2nd hand store. I slow and yell, “Stay right there, I’ll be right back!” I know they can see me pulling into the Circle K.

I get a bottled water and a Snickers and some Marlboros. Holy shit, smokes are expensive! I shoot back across the street, let these teens see the smokes in the plastic bag as I take out my water and Snickers then toss the bag onto the top of the trash can next to me. They tell me right where the street is and off I go. Holy shit what a dump. I back down a long weed-choked driveway with a guy from Deliverance guiding me back to my prize. I must have broken off thirty Chinese Elm branches with my tall dump bed. At least they smell cool when you snap them. You can put a stick in a bucket of water and they’ll grow roots out in a couple of weeks. The Chinese that built some of our rail roads brought them over to remind them of home. They also shoot out new growths from their extensive root systems.

I get past the trees and I’m in a big yard full of junk. I find a spot to turn around and get this old man at my window pointing out what I’m to pick up. Looks like a big stack of plastic yard bags full of clothing. I shut off the engine and step out to check them out. I pick one up and the bottom falls out. Holding the ripped top straight out I say to the old man, “Hey dude, I’m not the trash man. This is house hold trash!” The old man is indignant at my attitude. He starts waving these scab covered arms around about two feet from my face while starting to curse me. Screw this. As I head back to my truck I spot three old lawn mowers with weeds growing out of their handle controls. I stop him in mid-curse asking him how much does he want for these lawn mowers. He says fifty bucks. I pull out two twentys and say take it or leave it. He snatches em right out of my paw. I load them up and the guy tosses in a rototiller with no wheels.

I fight my way back out his drive and take the stuff right to Murry’s Lawn Mower Repair. I had just gotten a field man lecture on weed eaters from the guy before buying a Dr. Weed mower from him. Well, Pat, my wife, bought it for me on her credit card. My whining about my small hand held one doing five acres finally drove her insane. Anyhow, while getting the low down, Murry had taken me into his back area where he keeps all of his ready to be picked up equipment he has already repaired. He asks me with a wink. “Which brand is there the most of?” Easy to see. Out of ten in a row with the red ‘Repaired’ tags hanging off their controls, eight say Sears on them. I was learning already. Don’t buy Sears.

I ask Murry to give me the lowdown on other brands he has stacked up all over the place. I mean stacked up, too. Some places there’s literally piles of them. I ask him why he keeps them. “Parts, my friend. Just like an auto junk yard, I can part them out and make a lot of dough!” Oh really sez I. I wonder, “Which ones are you always looking for?” He says instantly, “Anything Husquvarna. They’re Swedish, and some models are impossible to find. I can get fifty bucks for some good wheels and rims alone. If a particular model some old farmer is in love with, what ever I want for rebuilt carbs, trannys, stuff like that. If it’s Italian or German, same deal. Keep your eyes open for me and I’ll take them off your hands, no problem!”.

One of the mowers was a Husquvarna, another was an Italian BHP or something. The third was a Sears model. All beat to shit. Solid tires on them so no flats at least. I back up to Murry’s side gate and ask his yard guy to see if his boss will want the stuff in the back of my dump. The kid steps onto my duallys and looks over my side board. “Oh, shit yeah dude. I’ll go get him!” I drop the tailgate.

Murry goes wild. And not over the lawn movers. He’s crazy about the roto tiller. He gives me a hundred bucks for everything and asks me to find more. Hey, a small profit, but that’s how I roll. The D.A. and Judge think I’m some high roller with all the hundreds of tons of material they took three weeks to remove from my old place. Over three weeks. Hey, it took me thirty years mother fuckers, doing little deals like I had just done with the mower guy. Try doing it yourselves. I’d love to see you pull it off. That goes for anyone. Try putting a ten thousand pound, ninety foot long, ten inch wide and fifty inch tall glue lam up into the air and setting it on something that won’t fall over or collapse. It’s not easy. It takes a moron with a dream to even attempt even one. Forget 128 ninety foot utility poles and fifty two such beams. Oh, don’t forget 60 thousand pounds of inch flange steel ‘I’ beams at forty foot long. I am that moron.

Back at the store, I give the sad news about the waste of time household trash. My manager is actually pretty cool. He offers me some fuel money from the store kitty. I decline. I got to have some fun and made some cash. No harm no foul. The store doesn’t handle junked motor anythings. Maybe the odd fridge or stove. I haven’t seen one big appliance since going to the store and I’ve been hitting its books shelves off and on for months. Maybe because THEIR TRUCK IS BROKE DOWN. Telling people such in a small town can kill a lot of donations.

Oh, on making more dough. I get another lecture by my boss about poaching in others’ work areas. The paid employees little turfs and fiefdoms. I cut to the chase and tell him to put me where ever he wants me and enough said. I clear off the outside tables that have boxes full of stuff with five generations of dead black widow males swinging on the last webs they would ever spin. Since it was now summer Momma had moved to shade. I get a little desert. Some people backed into the rear alley area and unloaded a bunch of boxes. I blow through the two tables to get to my desert.

I move all kinds of stuff into separate grocery carts from stores long out of business so don’t think anyone steals. Some might be lazy, worthless scum bags but everyone seems honest and above board. If anyone in the store buys something, it’s rung up and then the receipt is signed by a manager. I haven’t even tried pricing something my self and taking it up front. I let someone else price anything I’m interested in. I haven’t bought anything over three dollars, so don’t call the President.

Into carts go boxes of used snow chains. Not the good ones. The plastic shitty ones that attach to your rims. On the box is a drawn picture of a smiling woman attaching them as she kneels down wearing a DRESS! Yeah, right. Into another cart go glass ware and such. Coffee mugs with whale handles that say Monterey Bay Aquarium, kitchen ware of every sort and make. I put metal in one plastic Kool-aid dispenser and junk into a small cardboard box. Anything wood flies out of the store. Wooden stir spoons with the holes in the spoon end can cause a riot it spotted by shoppers at the same time. Ditto for wood rolling pins and wooden salad bowls. Glass coffee beakers for some 1930 automatic drip coffee maker that runs on DC? Knife fights. No lie. They can get vicious. Metal blender dealies mom’s let kids lick frosting off of are like mini holy grails. Ancient pop out metal temp gauges? “I’ll cut your throat bitch!”, from the mouth of a kindly looking grandma if another gal even tries to look at it in her basket.

Oh man, don’t get me started. Every day I see the same broads perusing the store. Gee, think they own their own stores and are reselling. Nah. One old battleaxe offers me a little tip if I’ll keep my eye out for etched glasses, or, German knives. I tell her first come first serve. Any German knives I’ll tell my wife Pat about. She’s the one who’s the real pro in garage sales and second hand stores. Hell, if we ever have another ice age I can trade the bag after bag of down everything Pat has stashed in our barn for some hot teen age babes that are scantily clad and freezing. Only to help Pat dress deer and bear and hoeing in the garden. I’m only thinking of her welfare.

Inside the store go the carts. Electronics on one cart goes right to Mr. Navy. He’s one of the coolest guys in the joint. He actually works. He shows me how to test like a pro. I pull out a portable CD player I liked. It’s old, but, really heavy- so I figure it’s a quality item. Nope. Mr. Navy straightens me out. “Its heavy because of these!” He flips it over and removes 12 ‘D’ batteries with green corrosion coming out of them. He hands me the unit minus batteries. It almost floats away. It’s also missing the AC cord. My guy has his own personal collection of cords. In goes an old Pink Floyd disc and he tests it. It only works if you hold the power cord in a certain position while you stand on one foot while turning your head to cough. Adios to that idea. Mr. Navy tests three TVs that all work. Two are missing their remotes- a big minus in the second hand world. It will cancel out any sale to the 500 pound crowd. Get up and change a channel? Are you serious? No dice on the VHS players, either. Rick the Great has been looking for one for a year now. The two we tested were bad. Mr. Navy could tell by the way they sounded that the little plastic wheels had busted cogs. He shows me the date on the newer looking one. 1982. No wonder.

A gal that does the womens clothing catches my eye as I go past with a cart filled to the top with plastic crap too pathetic to mention. Envision plastic coffee cups shaped like cowboy boots faded and stained. Enough on that. She wonders how I could be so cruel to toss out wheel chair bitch. I tell her in a whisper, “First off, she’s a fake. Second, she made the cashier cry talking to her so mean and vicious!” I start to leave and am called back by the clothing women. She whispers, “How did you know she wasn’t crippled?” Oh man, some people have such dull protected lives. A wheel chair is one of the oldest scams in Hollywood. I whisper back to her, “Always check out the shoes of anyone in a wheel chair. Most in wheel chairs that are actually messed up just wear slippers. If they have shoes on look to see if they’re scuffed or worn!” Duh.

Enough for now. I’m bushed from redoing the picture frame section. It’s right next to the old ladies used dresses and we don’t need to go down that road. I was snorting Windex straight the last half hour.

Heading for my daughter Tegan’s in Boulder, Colorado in a couple of days so I’ll be have to catch up when I get back. Hope they have the fires out. At the least should have some interesting road tales. Later…

Running With Scissors While on Fire

Ah hour after sorting all the books to be shipped to Bakersfield, I was re-boxing them and loading them into the back of my dump truck. I’m now helping ‘Book Boy’ to steal books. After meeting with him over some coffee at the Circle K gas station, I became an ally. By the end of the day, a fervent follower.

We’ll call him JD. He’s responsible for the church store in Bakersfield. He admitted right off the bat he ships the books to himself. He was amazed I figured it out in one day. Everything I wondered about was true. He sells some of the books to vendors on a regular basis besides stocking his own second hand church store in downtown Bakersfield. Not wanting to blow smoke up my ass, he suggested we load up the latest books then hit the trail to Bakersfield so I can see how large he lives on the stolen loot.

JD is older than me with a frail build and a white ponytail. His eyes look larger through his thick glasses. His glasses are thick, but nowhere near the world record holder in my world, Dean Martin. Boy, you could signal space with Martin’s lenses. Easily an inch thick. Back to JD. We don’t drive straight to his other store. First, it’s multiple stops at markets, stores and bakeries for free day-old food stuffs and dented cans and such. With the dump truck, he goes hog wild. I end up with stacked pies, cakes, brownies, blueberry muffins, boxes of breads and stacked ten high in their hard plastic containers in the crew cab back seat of the truck. JD fills me in on what he does and why.

JD: “The Tehachapi store makes most of its income from donations and clothing sales. Books aren’t that big an item. Incomes are higher and all the electronics and such have book reading tapering off dramatically. Now, in the poorer areas, it’s just the opposite. Books fly off my shelves. Unlike other items in the store, they’re not stolen as frequently. I sell them so cheap, there’s really no need. I go for volume in the store, higher prices to the vendors and vultures for the book stores in competition with me. I take the money as I can get it. Without the book sales the Bakersfield store would fold in a month. In a little while, you’ll understand why I can’t let that happen!”

We small talk and enjoy the pleasant drive through the pass towards the Kern River and the outskirts of Bakersfield. Off to our right, I point out a big yard crane in a used heavy equipment yard. The boys and I had checked it out a few weeks ago for fun at one of the yards sales. When I asked the owner if it would start, he climbed right into the cab and fired the 60-ton behemoth up. It turned over, but didn’t catch. It did cut the leg off of an opossum that had been living under the big engine housing. The uncovered fan had nailed it as the engine firing panicked it.

Our next stop is to deliver some food. I’m given some advice while we wait for a long line of traffic to move. Bakersfield is laid out like a drunken whore on acid. No overpasses to get you over the train tracks is one huge clusterfuck. When a train stops to let an opposing train blow past, you stop, too. I look in my rear view mirror at the miles of cars stacking up behind us. JD took it in stride. It’s normal to him. With the engine off and nothing to do, I look around at our surroundings. Vast fields of used pipes stacked forty feet high. Rusted, stained with goo and tar, just laying in the dirt. Hey, where’s the EPA? Where’s the District Attorneys that tore down my tree house? Not in Bakersfield, I guess. You’re only allowed to live in Bakersfield if you have at least two broken down vehicles and never clean your yard. It’s the law. Huge insect-looking oil pumping machines dot the landscape everywhere you look. Some slowly bobbing up and down like a bored crack whore on her fifteenth customer of the night, to just sitting quietly, leaking hydriodic fluids and covered in grease and gunk. Finally, the train moves.

As we pull into a small beat up churches parking lot in a really tough part of town, no one pays us any mind. As soon as JD steps out of my truck, i’ts as if we whistled for a casting call for a new ‘Dawn of the Dead’. My truck is surrounded by twenty people in two minutes and the crowd only grew. I start to put the dump truck tailgate down and my arm is grabbed in a panic by JD. He shook his head in a fast ‘no’ then nodded for me to get into the bed and hand items over to him to distribute. At my hesitation, he ignores me and climbs into the back on his own. For an older guy, he was a lot spryer then me. In five minutes I regretted not doing as told. The crowd was not happy and calm. Most ate the food as I handed it to them if possible. Some covered their share like NFL running backs going for a touchdown as they juked and jived out of the crowd for home. Once the pies and cakes and such went, the crowd settled down. The older folks and kids moved in for the canned foods and frozen stuff that was out of date. My entire truck was empty in less then ten minutes and more and more people were flowing into the parking lot. Back in the truck and rolling for JD’s store, he fills me in on how lucky we had been. “They didn’t know your vehicle. If you tried to pull in here again so easy, forget about it. Cell phones would have this lot jammed before we turned the last corner!”

On the way to the second hand store, I had to join three street gangs and get the obligatory tattoos. The area only got rougher. I noticed that the Latino ghettos are different from the black ghettos like Compton and Watts used to be. Gee, how would I know? I worked them for thirty years, my friend; plus every other suck shit through a straw area in, above and around L.A. Phone men follow the cables. They don’t all run through Beverly Hills. That dial tone in Hollywood is connected to a cable in Axminister. Figure the rest out on your own.

In the black ghettos, anyone with money has every god damned window covered with steel bars and grills. Every access door has a steel screen type double locked cover, before the actual front or rear door. No grass. It’s all cement front yards, or there’s a big cinder block wall and concertina wire on top of the chained link.

In the Latino ghettos? Completely the opposite. Every area is sectioned off and controlled by familias and neighbors. Each and every one more than happy to beat the living shit out of anyone who doesn’t belong. Doors are wide open. Kids are all over the place. Backyards have roosters crowing, goats bleating and tips of tall corn peeking out over the tops of the beat up fences. Every home, no matter how thrashed, is in some sort of repair mode. Hey, at least they try.

As we pull into the church parking lot, I let out JD to help me back closer to the rear door of the store right next to the church using the same lot, just the other end. Some people wave and nod at us. I wonder why we’re not mobbed like the other place. JD laughed as I drop the heavy tail gate of the dump truck. “They’re not stupid. Who wants to unload books?” Gee, where was my head.

The store looked pretty good. If you’re a zombie with brains on your clothes and wanting a new look. Holy shit, they should have been playing ‘Tobacco Road’ over the paging system to make the scene complete. While carrying books to the book area, I wonder about all the clothes laying on the floor. JD gives me a poor people class while we suck down some bottled water. “Everyone steals here. Get used to it. It’s not like Tehachapi or other areas with some money. Here, there is NO MONEY. They don’t have a dollar for used underwear or baby clothes. Most will try and be polite and change clothes while you’re not in the room or able to see them. We all know what’s going on. I look this way while you do your thing that way. There’s nothing you can do about it. Some bring eggs and cheese. Some work around the store or do sweeping and such. It’s just the way it is. A lot of people’s big deal of the week is to eat at McDonalds!”

On the way back to Tehachapi, a lot of thoughts run through my mind. Our nation is falling apart was number one. How do you explain the abject poverty and hopelessness. The despair and sadness. All right next to gated developments right across the street? I thought getting my place bulldozed was bad. Not anymore. At least I had a shot at happiness. I never finished my project but at least had 30 years to work on it. Not these people. Not these walking dead. No hope. Hassled constantly by cops and Immigration goons. Hey, you don’t like the illegals? Guess what, they’re not too happy about their situation either. Everyone wants a job and a nice place to raise their kids. If I was stuck in Mexico or some other South American hell hole I’d want the fuck out, too. Then, to rub salt in their eyes they get the double whammy. No recourse when ripped off by the powers that be.

JD and I traded horror stories about what our government does to the poor and downtrodden. Since my wife Pat was an immigration attorney for fifteen years, I heard about what really goes down first hand while walking past her at two in the morning as she prepared for the next day’s court loads, tired out of her mind. Why did she kill herself? Say you’re finally on top. You can’t get your papers for a variety of reasons but your lawn mowing business is doing well and you have two family members as employees. You get pulled over. “Hey, Manuel, this I.D. is phoney. Step out of the vehicle please!” Manuel might never see his family and kids for YEARS. Maybe NEVER. Huh? You say. You have recourse. Not Manuel. While he sits waiting to be deported, the Man nails his ass to his own personal cross. Since his Social Security number is fake, he gets NONE OF IT. Seized by the Man. His business is history. With no income and four kids, plus three more kids you’re taking care of from family members in jail, dead or already deported, the house is history soon too.

Back and forth JD and I went. Each story worse then the next. He topped me just as we reached Tehachapi. JD: “I had a really good worker who used to fix any problem I had. Electrical, painting, dryer out of service. Just a great handyman. He gets drunk one night and is in the drunk tank. He gets his prints run. He had been busted for under age sex with a child and had a warrant out for eight years he didn’t know about since he usually stayed under the radar. He goes to a federal pen for twenty years. The under age sex? It had been with his own wife. He was just turned 18, she was 15. They were from the same village where its common to marry at such ages. Now, his wife and kids are all alone. One of his kids gets in trouble with a local gang over some lost drugs he was supposed to move. Can’t go to the cops, so the wife goes to smooth things over. She’s gang raped then tossed nude from a moving car in an intersection in Fresno!”

This stuff goes on EVERY DAY. I talked to the guys in my lockdown when I was waiting to be bailed out. They accept their plight. Jail is no hindrance at all to them. Jail is just “Keep on keeping on, bro!” Inside, outside, everything is normal. Usually locked up for drugs or booze, jail is a place to wait out the next party and catch some new tats.

I’ll be back at my Community Service store on Friday. I can’t wait to steal books…

Community Service

I’ve been there two days and half the people there want me DEAD. No baloney. Why, pray tell? Because I’m there to work. So are some of the others involved, don’t get me off on the wrong foot. I’m giving you a blow-by-blow on some real bullshit that has been going on at my particular second hand store backed by the Catholic Church. Oh, second hand stores are like the Switzerland of junk shops. Everyone is welcome. When nailed by a religious zealot as I stock book shelves, my thirty five years as a Phone man in Hollywood comes in handy. I use the, “Hang on, I have to go to my truck and get a component.” Except now, I use the ‘back room’ instead of my Pac Bell van.

Dave, the fellow who runs the place is a nice guy. It’s not his fault he inherited a bunch of bed-wetting cave trolls handling his store. All the workers I’ve met are cool. It’s the ones I haven’t I’m ready to rock and roll with. Let’s take the electronics area. The entire facility used to be a meat processing plant back in the 1930’s, so all the door ways are huge metal affairs about ten inches thick and massive. You don’t have to worry about most of them. Giant black trash bags filled to literally bursting block them. Along with boxes of everything that starts with an ‘A’. Like, a TV, a metal chest, a tire. Get the picture? I’d love to wreck out the metal curved raceway overhead that was used to roll along halves of beef or entire hogs. Big black bolts holding it all off the ceiling above. Fucking sweet!

Back to these phantom employees. These are paid people. Not the flotsam and jetsam trash like myself and others doing community service to work off debts to society. Being a tree house criminal ranks me like the bank robbers and safe crackers in the big prisons. Next are shop lifters, kids who cut school, stuff like that. We tend to try to associate with the riff raff mingled amongst us at the morning meeting. You know, the drunk drivers, wife beaters, women who left kids locked in the car while in the casino, child molesters who are usually doing truck loading, and stay away from the general public work. Let’s cut to the chase on what really has me on the warpath. Books…

Yep, my favorite thing in the world. Books. Not just any books. Get real. Shit fuck books are anything in paper back or soft bound. Even the ones you can’t find in hardbound. After a few years of taking up valuable space you spot it and sit down to enjoy it again. The piece of crap falls apart in your hands. Cheap pathetic glue and a zero binding. No thanks. Like buying a tool. Get something that will last.

So, back to the books at this store I’m working in. I’d been in it prior to my community service deal. After seeing how pathetic the book selections were, I wrote it off. It’s in a primo location. Middle of downtown, kitty corner from the tiny four plex theater (Hot Dogs a buck!). When early, I can get a good parking spot for the show right in front of the store. So I won’t feel guilty, I always buy something to put in my truck before walking across the street to the show. Usually sans a book. Next choice, something for my wife Pat. Once I bought her something at another store I had donated a few weeks prior. What a retard. Oh, the books…

To dust mopping the floor before opening, I have to find the dust mop. A big, three-foot-wide deal. Someone says it’s in the book area under the stairs. I’m told by Mr. Navy, Mike, I think, how to find it. The store rambles since it was a factory. It has a second story, too. Another time on the second floor. I finally find the book area and my mop. I don’t mop right away though. I’m looking past a yellow ‘Keep Out’ tape at books. Real books. Not the shelf after shelf after shelf of paper backs and crapola books taking up the rest of the shelves on the sale floor. Real pieces of shit. Novels. Any novel sucks ass. I rank fiction just under. Sort of like syphilis, then, down a bit, the crabs. Not under the stairs. I’m looking at ten books I want to buy right off the bat. Hey, it’s the best thing about the joint. You get first shot at the loot.

The first book is a hard bound on knots and weaving. Hard bound. 12″ by 12″. Like new. Inside the cover. Price is from the factory, $39 bucks. Next book I pick up, “The History of Railroad Roundhouses”. HOLY SHIT! I say to myself, “Why in the fuck are these jewels hidden way the hell back here?” It’s a RAIL ROAD TOWN ASSHOLE MR HIDE AWAY. Why aren’t the next bunch of railroad books I pull out on a nice display? Railroad aficionados come from all over the world to photograph the Tehachapi Loop. Really long trains pass each other on it. It rises 18 foot in track height difference from one end to the other. A big deal in railroading. And they think their going to put a bullet train next to it/. Better off trying to inflate a dead whale dick pal. I find more and more FANTASTIC books.

I have a talk with my boss and his associate. They have no clue about the books. They’re busy running the rest of the store and all its fiefdoms. Oh yeah. Pathetic. The knick knack broad controls her ‘area’. Ditto for the used clothing gals. One does pants. The other shirts. Another, dresses and such. Get the picture. You’re not to step foot in these sacred realms. Even if they’re not in the store, they’re to be held sacred. Fuck that. My first day, I had all these electronics tested and on display by one o’clock. After that, it was on some furniture runs. Donation runs are the best. Especially now that I’m using my daughter Tegan’s dump truck to get around. It’s usually in Boulder, Colorado. We still make rock runs to the old place so she’s letting me use it for a couple more months.

So, we have a meeting. Now, these are good, honest, hard-working people that are there to help the church. I’m not talking about them at all. It’s this book deal that has me steamed. I know what’s going on, so I lay it down to them slow and to the point. First step in what is going down? STEP ONE: The book guy is like a fence. He’s stockpiling the good books by jamming the book shelves on the floor with turds, thus making a need to move excess books to the Bakersfield store. I find out about this other store in our little gab fest. A mention is made of the two flats of books in the back alleyway that will be picked up Monday.

Huh? Two flats? I ask if I can check them out. Oh yeah. Five foot high piled boxes of books wrapped in plastic wrap. I slit the plastic off the top and pop open a cardboard box a TV could fit in. I lift out four books. I bought all four books. Now I’m really steamed. I could have been buying these beauties for MONTHS! I ask my boss how long this has been going on. Since he’s been there. Six years. He’s always left the people at the store alone to run their areas.

Oh man, not any more pal. While we’re looking at the stacked books. Mr. Electonic had come into work. He’s furious. “Who has been in my area?” I tell my bosses I’ll handle it. I put out my hand and say a friendly, “Hi, Kim here!” He doesn’t shake my hand. Cool! Now I can be an asshole. I wonder if we can discuss it in his shop area inside. I follow him to his three tables in a row area, formerly covered by electronics of all kinds. Now you can eat your lunch and read a paper on it. As this dough boy in his forties starts to straighten me out, I beat him to the punch. “Hey buddie, save your breath. The boss told me to pick a spot to straighten out so I did. If you don’t like it, tough titty in the big city!” I smile and let him take the floor. He storms out of the store. One down.

Next at bat will be book boy. He’s to come in tomorrow at ten a.m. I’ll be at the store at seven a.m. I’ve been given permission to tear apart the boxes and pick out the good books. I figured I could make a lot of book shelf room in the main sales room by an old ploy taught me by the King of Book stores, Big AL of Hollywood’s, BOOK CITY. You take some fancy bow string, wrap five paper backs together using the string, then price them at five for a dollar. I did thirty of them by two p.m. We closed at three. In one hour we sold six of them. I placed them all over the store. Especially love novels in the women’s clothing section. In the shelves underneath my new displays, I boxed those piece of shit pocket books in plastic tubs. Then I’m going to put those books onto the flats for Bakersfield, getting us to STEP TWO: Why this is going on. MONEY.

Someone at the Bakersfield end is moving these books to a book store pal or another vendor. Hell, maybe to increase the profits at the partner store. Who knows? Right now that is. I’ll know a lot more by this time Monday. Tomorrow morning, I intend to have the under stair area cleared out and books on the newly emptied shelves. By ten. Then, its “HI Bookboy, I’m Kim!” I figure I’ll be seeing someone from Bakersfield real soon. Let the games begin…

Stumbling in the Dark

I’m barely at the chained-off drive up to the Hollywood Bowl’s main parking area, past the brightly lit fountain, when a man is at my door trying to pull it open. As I step out of the truck he’s in like a flash and putting it in gear. He’s gone without a word. He looked to be from the same village as Alice’s desert friend.

I end up walking down Highland. Just as I reached Franklin, I spot an empty cab. I flag him and hop in. Even this late at night, Highland is jumping. I ask him to head for Beechwood under the Hollywood sign, then lean my head back to rest my eyes. In what seemed like one second the driver is waking me saying, “I’m now making a left up Beechwood buddy!” I point out my duplex. I climb out and give him a twenty while thanking him for saving me a long walk. Once inside, I turn on my wall heater, take a shower then hit the sack. I felt like I had been gone a week. My throbbing arm kept me awake for about ten seconds.

Over a week goes by. I call Alice a dozen times, easy. Alls I got was her machine. I already knew better then to go by her place uninvited. I quit leaving messages after the fifth one so I wouldn’t piss her off. Funny how I was twice her size and maybe three times stronger yet I was the one afraid. She would kill and I couldn’t was the deciding denominator I guess. Even though I wasn’t aware of the big picture on her, since the head butting incident I learned the hard way Alice was a way tougher nut then I had ever imagined. Sure, I always figured her for a sharp business gal. That’s why I hung around her. She had made me tons of money in numerous scams.

Her scams. The worst was her as my pimp to a bunch of old sea hags, but, that’s another story. She usually used me as some sort of prop. Half the time I had no idea what was going on. Usually I was ordered to keep my trap shut and just fill my spot. I would arrive, sit, drink a couple of beers or whatever then leave at her whim. Later, I’d get paid. What did I care what she did after some quick pay days. That attitude would change…

Finally, Alice calls me. She says nothing about my three hundred. She needs me to drive her somewhere. I keep it friendly but go right to the money she owes me. Alice blows a fuse as soon as I mention it. She catches herself and tries the honey route. “Oh, god. Is it just money, money, money with us? I thought you were my friend. How about I mail you your pissant three hundred and we just call our ‘friendship’ over with. I’ll call some one else who wants to earn the money I throw your way from now on!” I fall for it and back off. I tell her I have no wheels. My truck’s registration was five months overdue, and my Honda 500 had a cracked cylinder. My phone truck was out of the question. I was already pushing the limit on using my Pac Bell truck to drop off groceries before taking it to the Fuller garage at the end of a work day. I had been catching rides to and from work with co workers or just walking. She puts on a sweet voice informing me that she’ll come by and pick me up.

When Alice shows up, I’m knocked out. She looked like a Hollywood cowgirl. She had on a spangled blouse with the double row of buttons and some calfskin pants she favored cut like riding britches. Her white, calf skin covered cowgirl boots had silver toes to match the two-toned white cowgirl hat with an eagle feather down onto her shoulder. I burst out laughing. She didn’t like that. I told her I was laughing because she looked so great. A good save. In reality, she looked ridiculous. Well, in my eyes. She looked pretty good to every other guy who set eyes on her; some gals, too.

Being long over the jealousy stage, I had learned to go with the “I’m her brother” persona. No kissy face or hand holding like we were an item. With her trim body and nice ass, all men checked her out. This new outfit was really turning heads. Her one Achilles heel was her scowl. Without it she was out and out gorgeous. Sadly, she scowled a lot. I don’t think she was even aware of it. Well, on occasion I would see her force herself to put a fake smile on when she caught her reflection accidentally, so, maybe she was.

Alice had driven up in an older model Cadillac. It was a few years old, but still looked good. It was a convertible with some custom wheels. It didn’t fit her new look at all. Alice glares at me while standing by the car’s passenger door waiting for me to open it for her. Guess I’m now on the clock. As I slide behind the wheel, the car gave off that smell that let you know a smoker drove it every day. It reeked of stale tobacco. The ashtray was over flowing with butts. Alice didn’t smoke. Maybe a joint once in awhile but not cigarettes. I noticed some of the butts had lipstick on them, but not all. The back seat was full of card board boxes all taped up. I fire up the engine and look over at Alice to get instructions.

She stares back at me with a questioning look in return. I raise my eyebrows and say, “Well?” She starts to get that look like she’s going to go off, then realizes she hasn’t told me where we were heading. Her face changes in a flash to nice girl as I’m told to head towards Bakersfield. Her ability to change from silly girl to homicidal maniac seemed to be getting quicker and quicker. I keep my mouth shut and head for Highland and the freeway going North.

It was weird. Now that I was afraid of her, I really wanted to fuck her again. Sad but true. She seemed extra exciting now that she was so dangerous. It’s hard to explain unless you’ve been in the same situation, I guess. My being only twenty years old could have been part of it; Alice was an easy ten years older than me- maybe more. Women can hide the ravages of time a lot better then men. Especially if the woman has a good foundation to work with. I would learn this fact the hard way in years to come.

After dropping down off the 5 North, Alice had me pull into a small town called Lebec. It was a tiny off-ramp sort of town I had once torn the front of a motor home off while a kid. I had been shipped off to one more, “We’ll give the lad a home,” after my last lockup from a boys home in Acton not working out so well. After a light snow, another kid and I were supposed to be driving an old five-ton hay truck from one field to another. Once out of view of any adults, another fifteen year old kid and myself decide to take the truck a couple of miles into town to have some adventure. This other kid is a simpleton sort who went along, no questions asked. Heading towards the gas station, we drive past some teenage girls with their mom standing a bit a ways from a motor home stuck in the mushy snow on the side of the half dirt road. A man is trying to dig out under the rear tires to put some wood underneath. As I do a wide U turn to go back and help, I too am almost stuck. I decide to just back up to the motor home.

The grinding of the gears as I tried to find reverse should have made the man a bit more cautious about our offer of help as I stopped about ten feet from his rig. My buddy hops out and takes a thirty-foot double-hooked tow chain off the bed of the truck’s head board then hooks it up as the man gets into his rig to steer it out. How was I to know this idiot had wrapped the chain around the fiberglass body and not the frame. When I popped the clutch on the big dually-wheeled hay truck, the tires spun in the mush then caught. I rip the entire front end of the body off, headlights and all. I kept going. My pal ran after me to surf the unit now dragging behind me. Around a corner past some big oaks, we unhook the chain as it starts to snow again. Finally getting the truck turned around, we blow past the still stuck vehicle with all the people inside trying to stay warm.

This time, there’s no stuck camper. No snow, either, though it was cold enough to. This time, I had my bomber jacket I had scored at the Army surplus store in Burbank off Hollywood Way. It was huge and ugly, but really warm. It also had a tuck away pull-out hood in a little zipper compartment just behind the big collar. We pulled off the highway and waited. I had to restart the car a half dozen times to warm up our feet before the guys we were waiting for arrived. When they did, I recognized Alice’s Indian friend behind the wheel of a truck that looked just like the little cowboy’s, but a different color. It was towing a huge horse trailer full of horses. The front of the cab had faces I didn’t recognize. All looked like guys right off the Amazon river dressed like cowboys.

As they drove past, I checked out the truck a bit closer. Yep, it was the cowboys truck. It had been painted. So had the camper shell. The truck and camper now looked like a complete unit along with the big trailer behind it. On the door facing me a nice logo said, ‘Rocking Horse Ranch’. Cute. It was written/painted on the trailer, also. A nice homey ranching business from all appearances. Just the way it was supposed to. I tagged along a bit behind them as they drove past in case of ‘accidents’. I knew that much about horses in trailers. Driving along next to the freeway we never got onto it. We end up on a long twisty back road into some really rugged mountains. The higher and farther we went, the more snow I could see packed into the tall ridges between peaks. Wisps of fog and low clouds started to grow denser the higher we climbed. As we wound down into small valleys, the world would reappear. Then, back into some twisty climbing curves it became a world of quick glimpses of tree trunks or an occasional mailbox or gated drive.

Finally we just climbed. It was all fog the last ten miles. I had no idea where we were. I just followed the little red circles of the trailer’s tail lights and kept my mouth shut. When Alice was quiet, I stayed quiet. Suddenly the trailer brake lights glow bright red and stay that way. We had reached our destination, it seemed. A short squat man in a multicolored jacket that went down to his knees shot us a gold-toothed smile as he went between the Caddy and the trailer. I had turned our light on a long time ago. He left our view as he went into the thick fog to open a gate on our left. Another truck drove past slowly heading downhill. An older man with a woman next to him in an old beat up pickup looked down on me in the Caddy. I waved and smiled, illuminated by the interior light Alice had clicked on to check her makeup. He smiled and lifted his pinky off the steering wheel in response.

I end up following the trailer down a long winding dirt drive. We follow the trailer through the thickening fog in a big sweeping circle that sounded like it was gravel based under our wheels. Ending up like a mini wagon train looking to camp for the night, I shut off our engine as the lights go out ahead of us on the trailer. Alice told me to give them a hand. She was staying in the car. She was freezing even with the heater on. Now with the engine off she would really feel the cold. I climb out and instantly zipped up my coat then fumbled with my hood in my pouch. It was really cold and the wind was whipping the moist foggy air through every gap in my clothes. From a constant twenty miles an hour up to larger gusts, it seemed like near night with the fog getting denser and denser.

Alice’s Indian friend and his two helpers didn’t need me, so I faked helping by moving around a lot and calling out once in awhile. She didn’t seem that interested. I could see exhaust coming out of the Caddy’s tailpipe, so I knew she had the heater back on again. I went back to faking work, then follow the last horses unloaded out of the long trailer up a steep drive into a good sized all metal horse barn. It was a one story job with the taller bay in the middle. About ten or so stalls on each side of the bay. Some tack and saddles here and there. A working barn. Only half of the stalls had occupants. I don’t know these other guys at all so I just smile and pull out a fat doob and fire it up. I’m instantly a good pal as I pass it around. We smoke it down saying nothing. Juan, or whatever the boss’s name is, is nowhere to be seen. I leave my new pals with the half a joint and head back out to the car to see what the story is.

Slipping and almost falling in the loose gravel, it was tough to find the truck and trailer in the still thickening fog. Once at the truck, I follow the side of it to Alice’s car. I could just barely make it out past the trailer. As I came within an arm’s length, I realize the car is shaking. Putting my face closer to the passenger window to get Alice’s attention I see she’s being fucked doggie style with her ass in the air parked over the front seat as her hands try to keep her up on the rear seat. A loudly grunting Juan has his hand over her mouth and is pounding her with short jackhammer thrusts. I head back to the barn to wait it out.

As I come back into the barn, the two workers stare at me with weird looks on their faces. I mimic fucking a chick with my hips and give ‘em a wink while I nod my head towards the rigs outside. At this they both start laughing, then ignore me while they spoke Spanish to each other. I walk around and look at the horses to kill time. They looked big and pretty. What more can I say? I don’t know a damn thing about them as far as buying and selling goes. What I know about horses you can put in a thimble and rattle it around. Juan finally comes in. He goes right to his boys then comes over to me. He looks at me with a big grin while he says an almost unrecognizable, “Hey, she’s a hot piece of ass hey compandre!” Not wanting to make any gaffs I just smiled and put up a hand to high five him. That seemed to be a good move. He high fives me back, then spoke rapid fire to his two workers. Since I was being ignored, I head back out to the car a second time.

Coming around to the drivers side I knocked on the glass since I couldn’t see Alice inside from all the glass being steamed over. With no response, I opened the door to get in. The interior light showed a horrible sight. Alice had been fucked. I already knew that. She had also been beaten. Her attempts at damage control were a waste of time. I instantly wanted to kill, yet, I had the sense to know I could do little against the three ass holes in the barn. Just one of them could have kicked my ass, no problem. Real life isn’t like the movies. I was pretty much helpless. Alice already had it all figured out.

At my hesitation at starting the car, she said a low, “Let’s just get the fuck out of here, alright?” I try and comfort her and get cut off. “Don’t make it any worse!” I fire up the car then end up back tracking over our original tracks back to the paved road. At the top, I pulled down the road a ways and asked Alice what I should do about what had just gone down. Alice said nothing. I head for home.

Once off the mountain and within sight of a gas station, Alice informs me we’re not going home. It was the first sound out of her for the last hour or so. I had tried numerous times to try and make her feel better while driving looking straight ahead to try and see through the dense fog. It was no use. I tried the, “It’s OK, I think nothing less of you!” , to, “We’ll have to tell the cops!” No response to my efforts. No sobs. No tears. No shaking or hysterics. Dead silence.

With her seat as far back as it would go and her coat up around her, it was like driving with a mannequin. A faceless mannequin, at that. So, to hear her voice emanate from the void of her jacket hood sounding like it usually did made me get a cold rush chilling me. That voice alone told me Alice wasn’t your average woman. Another man I did phone work for once hinted at Alice being something else past normal, and I hadn’t paid it much mind. Now I knew what he had been trying to convey to me. As I come up on the gas station’s three all-glass phone booths, Alice tells me to pull next to them…

Into the Funnel Web

As I walked behind Alice and her cowboy friend, the brighter lights of the store fronts on the sidewalk ahead illuminated the fabric in the big cowboy hat. It made his tiny head inside look like a gnome’s. A laugh slipped out making Greg look back at me with hate in his eyes. With the gorilla groping Alice’s ass and my goofing, he was ready to blow. I wiped the grin off my face and looked away. Why risk it. Little men sometimes had big knives or guns on them.

Cowboy Greg stops at a beat up green and white Ford F-250 pickup. It’s one of the Club Cab type bodies. You know- behind the front seat, two tiny fold down seats faced each other for kids to sit in? One of those kind. As the door is opened, Alice folds the bench seat forward and puts down a jump seat on the passenger side. They both stare at me. I’m the kid. I climb inside and shove over a pile of dirty clothes and a torn saddle blanket covered with hairs of all colors and sizes. As soon as I sit down, a snarling muzzle slams into the glass separating the back of the cab from the bed. A mid-sized mutt with long hair is snarling and barking at me totally out of control. Cowboy Greg shouts at the dog to quiet down. It only makes the animal go even crazier. Swell. I hoped he trained horses better then he did dogs.

After closing Alice’s door, Greg climbs behind the wheel. He’s so short, he has the front seat all the way forward, so I have plenty of room. A nice surprise. Alice asks him to stop at a nearby market for some beers and whatever. Trapped in the back seat of the truck while Alice ran inside, I can feel the hatred emanating from Greg. He kept looking at me in the window rear view mirror to mad dog me with mean looks. I closed my eyes and waited for Alice to return.

We jump on the freeway and head North. Alice gives Greg a beer then hands one back to me. Greg, once again, gave me a hard look over his shoulder. I wanted to go home.

It was a quiet ride. Usually I can talk for hours. I kept silent. With the moron driving singing along to country western crap, I stared out the window hoping things would get better. Alice seemed deep in thought, so why say anything. Why toss pearls before swine? Witty banter was the last thing the situation called for.

As we swung off to the right onto the 14 freeway off the 5, I perked up a bit. At least we were heading into areas I was familiar with. Father Garret’s ‘home for wayward boys’ was just up the highway off of Soledad Canyon. I spent almost a year there when 15 years old. I guess it didn’t take since I was still wayward. My background sheet, as I was entered into the facility, had in its notations that I was a known biter so I didn’t have to worry too much about Father Garret singling me out in the showers like some of the other new fish.

The overhead signs said Palmdale and Lancaster. Being that the 14 freeway was fairly new, most of the people driving it were owners of the thousands of track homes sprouting up like crazy quilts in every direction. Buying a home they could afford was the main item on most agendas. Checking out the surrounding areas came later. The rat race of commuting, then, making house payments soon kept most in a daily grind. They would never see anything but the freeway exits or the inside of some Home Depot for years to come. Maybe it was for the best. Lots of rough folks surrounded these safety zones of cookie cutter homes and phoney, ‘gated’ communities.

As a kid, the only way out to the high desert had been Soledad Canyon Road, Sierra Highway or rough roads off of the back way to Vegas off the 138. I always tried to stay off the 138. Too many cops and too many head-ons from people fed up with following an 18-wheeler after five drinks and in a hurry to gamble. Hell, in all these years, it’s just as bad. Maybe worse.

Of course, the ‘suicide’ lane on old Sierra Highway had its own charm. Three lanes. Anyone could pass using the middle lane from either direction. What a great idea! After a head-on between a school bus and a big rig killed a bunch of kids, it was finally taken out.

We take another exit that said, ‘Pearblossom’. Not good. I had a lot of people mad at me in Pearblossom. Mainly from stealing fruit from the stands that dot the highway all through town. On our minibikes, we would wait until a vendor was busy, then fly by and grab at will before zooming off. Ditto for shop lifting the local markets and thrift shops. I hoped we wouldn’t actually be going there. There was still a lot of open desert so I wasn’t too worried. Yet…

Littlerock and Pearblossom. You couldn’t tell when one ended and the other began out in the dark of the night. Only the headlights of Greg’s pickup gave you a narrow glimpse of the vast desert beyond. Miles and miles of rolling tumbleweeds and dry dusty stretches of open desert, here and there dotted with a far off porch light or an oncoming vehicle. The thought of my last trip to Littlerock made me smile to myself. I brought a dumb blonde I’d met while putting her phone in off of Barham in the ‘actors’ colony. The studio heads would park guys and gals in these thousands of apartments in complexes differentiated by letters. ‘A’ building then, ‘B’ building. All the way to ‘Z’. Huge. Just down the street was Burbank Studios to the right and Universal Studios and CBS to the left off of Cahuenga. Until banged, dropped or on a sitcom, they were home to a lot of hopefuls with stars in their eyes.

This gal wanted to see some ghost towns and do some treasure hunting. Being out of the running for gorgeous, built babes most of the time I took a shot and promised I knew of one. That Saturday I took her out to Llano, a failed 1930’s pre-hippie colony of communists. The only thing left standing are the stone chimneys of their town hall and store buildings. I borrowed a really shitty metal detector from a buddy at work. Hey, we found an old stove leg and some bottles. They put me over the top with blondie. Alas, I was dumped again after a talent agent got the hots for her and it was adios phone man, hello stardom.

From the back seat I knew we were close to Llano but it was too dark to see the stone columns. I ask Alice for another beer. Nope. Cowboy Greg had guzzled the rest. I wonder about taking a piss. Alice informs me we’re almost at our destination. She suggests I pinch my earlobe with my fingernails. Hey! It actually worked! The pain makes you not have to take a leak for awhile. We make a right at a half fallen over sign that says a barely readable, ‘Sand and Gravel Two miles’. We head where the faded red arrow pointed.

I knew enough about the area to keep quiet about needing a toilet stop. All the roads to the right dead ended sooner or later into some really rough mountains with no roads into them. I also knew there was a cutoff road well before ‘Four Corners’ that would have saved us twenty minutes of driving. I realize Cowboy Greg and Alice don’t know the area very well. I file it away. About a mile off the main highway, we make a left onto a badly rutted washboard dirt road. In between the deep washboards are stretches of sand that make Greg’s truck drift around. He has a two-fisted lock on the steering wheel as the truck lurches to the left and right in the deeper sand. Some Cowboy. We get lost.

I suggest we backtrack and go a bit slower. I end up getting out to help Greg turn around. I finally take a piss. We go back a ways, find the correct turn and end up almost tipping over entering a badly marked circular drive bordered by jagged chunks of volcanic rock about the size of footballs. Backing off the embankment, I stay calm while Alice and Greg freak out. We finally reach our destination. The truck headlights show us a beat up porch and a tiny one-story wood frame house behind it.

Before setting his brake and shutting off the head lights I take in as much as I can. To the left of the old ranch house I can just make out a fairly large cinder block barn type structure. As Cowboy Greg opened his door, a blast of dirt and dust filled the cab. A wind storm was kicking in big time. It was also getting colder. A typical night in the desert. It’s common to have a temperature drop from a sweltering high of 106 suddenly plunging into the thirties not too long after sundown.

Death Valley, three hours away, is even worse. One of the main reasons I moved to Hollywood. Too tough a commute on a cycle. And not a cool Harley either. Usually some piece of crap Honda or Yamaha that barely ran. The wind would blow me all over the place. Your best shot was to suck in behind a Semi and draft his bulk out of the driving wind blasts. Oh, later on if you like Harley Fat Boys? Get ready to eat shit when blasting winds off the side of the desert hit those cool looking SOLID RIMS. Oh man, you haven’t lived until that happens to you. Your blown into oncoming traffic and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. If you survive you slow down and get next to a larger vehicle.

Cowboy Greg stands at the back of the truck to light a smoke. I climb over the front seat, go around the front of the truck and start to help Alice out. I end up denting Greg’s hood to escape his snarling dog that tried to bite a hole in my thigh. He only tore the inside of my 501s, just missing some skin. While I get in a shouting match with Greg over his dog, Alice jumped back into the truck while ordering a still shouting Greg to put his lights back on. She was worried about stepping on a scorpion or a rattlesnake. I started to make a my usual joke to city people about the snakes having to wear sweaters but kept it to myself. Alice was cursing under her breath. I wasn’t in front of a very good crowd. Her voice had that edge I was learning to quell, not bring into flame. The cowboy already hated my guts, so, I jumped off the hood after the dog was put back in the camper and made my way towards the porch, now well lit by the headlights.

As soon as the porch light came on, Alice was out of the truck and inside the front door like an arrow off a bow. As I stepped off the top of the three cement steps, the wooden porch floor felt like I was going to go right through it. I stepped a bit lighter and followed Alice’s lead. Inside the small beat-up front room, Alice was parked in front of a small kerosene heater. I looked around for a place to sit while taking in the room and wondering where the inhabitants were. The place was a dump. Not an abandoned wreck. Just a dump. Whomever lived there was a stinking pig in their living habits. It wasn’t the fault of the little house. It still had all its windows and doors, so it had that going for it. Plus, that little oil heater. Small, but efficient. I had to be happy with a small spot off the side of it. Alice hogged the entire front and wasn’t budging. I would try and get closer as she spun around to warm a different area but was thwarted every time. We went into a little dance like the bees do to tell other bees where the good flowers are. Except this bee in the high heels could care less. Bees are really interesting but most fall asleep as I recount info on them so lets move along with this story.

While trying to stay warm, I ask Alice what we were doing out in the middle of nowhere. She informs me with a quick frown that it’s just for a couple of hours. Some other associates of hers will be meeting us. Once again, I nod my head like the village idiot in agreement. I then ask Alice in a low voice after Cowboy Greg had gone through the living room past us, “What the hell do you need me for?” Alls she said in reply was, “You’re the only man I trust. Don’t screw me over. You’ll make at least five hundred bucks tonight if you keep your big mouth shut and let me run this deal!” I make the closing a zipper move across my lips then toss away the invisible key.

Even with the heater on full, the living room was freezing five feet from the stove. Not Alice. She had pulled a folding chair over from against a wall, put a cushion on it from the beat up sofa across from us then put a jacket hanging on a peg next to the front door over it for a nice padded seat back in front of the heater. She started to file her long nails slowly and effortlessly while ignoring me completely. I stepped from side to side and froze. If I took my hands out of my pockets they got so cold they hurt.

Where in the hell had Cowboy Greg gone? I moved across the room and looked out a couple of the front room windows. Pitch black out. With only the one small lamp on next to the sofa on a beat up crate, I opted to try finding him in the rooms past us. The orb of a lightning bug made me turn my head. The glint of light from a lantern outside the kitchen door had faked me out. The man with the light walked on past the lit back porch light out of my line of sight. I then hear some steps coming back onto the back porch landing. It wasn’t Greg. Into the room stepped a big Indian looking fellow. Not an American Indian like the cowboys fight in the oaters on TV. He was one of those South American ones that look like head hunters when they take their shirts off to play soccer.

This guy stops and gives me a look that said, “You better belong here mister!” Taking a look past me into the front room and seeing Alice in front of the stove smiling at him, he lightened up a bit. I was a bit taller than him, but he was twice as wide as me. I gave him a smile and a nod. He smiled back. All of his front teeth were solid gold. Not a couple. All of them. Later on I was to learn it was a status symbol in his culture. It also meant he had killed a lot of people. Live and learn.

I put out my hand to shake. He seems shocked, then shakes it. He says something over his shoulder to Alice in rapid fire Spanish. She replies just as fast. Huh? Alice is fluent in Spanish? She was full of all kinds of surprises. As the Indian lets go of my hand he goes past Alice to shut off the oil flow to the heater. Squatted down next to Alice he runs his hand up the inside of her tight pants and gives her pussy a caress. I step back and pretend I’m not there. Alice informs me a few minutes later that we’re leaving. Before stepping out the front door back into the howling wind, Alice gives me my instructions. “Drive the pickup to the Hollywood Bowl parking lot. Someone will be waiting for you. You can then walk or take a taxi from there!” Before I can say anything, she puts some money into my hand while she pulls me close to whisper, “There’s two hundred. You’ll get the rest tomorrow!” I tell her a hissed back, “You said five hundred!” Alice jerked away from me to hiss back, “Look you fucking asshole I don’t have it right now. You’re not getting shorted. I don’t have all of Juan here’s money either, you think I’m going to short him too?” I nod and head for the truck.

Since the headlights were still on, I wondered about the battery starting it. Nope. It fired right up. I check the gas gauge first. I’d need some gas. I pulled up next to Alice waiting in the driveway for someone. She looked like she was freezing. I put down my window and asked her what kind of gas Greg put in his truck. She gave me a hard look then said, “I don’t know anyone named Greg!”

I rolled up my window to follow our original tire tracks back out to the highway. Don’t mention Greg again. Hmm. As I turned my attention back to the dirt road I swerve to miss running over a dead dog laying half way into the rutted road. I go around it and look down the wide open expanse of desert to the here and there glow of headlights showing the highway a few miles away. The lights looked like tiny white dots slowly fading out of sight. I get to the Hollywood Bowl around three a.m. I could have made better time but I stopped at a coffee shop off the five for a Denny’s grand slam and some coffee. I hate the taste of coffee. I only drink it when tired and worn out. Like I was at the moment…

Funnel Web

I read about a spider that makes a web like a funnel. The most deadly of the species lives in Australia. I met one even more vicious in Hollywood.

Usually, the longest tunnel of the tube-like nests invariably contains a female of the species. Like the North American tarantula, the male usually prowls around hunting his meals while trying to get into a nest and get laid. Getting out is the hard part. The female has a living compartment behind her funnel trap. As it fills up with the desiccated and sucked dry former victims the female will house clean occasionally in the middle of the night. Haul out the trash so to speak. I know. A lot about an arachnid. But it’s what jarred my mind into realizing that I knew a female human much, much worse than any spider. This two legged life sucker had a cute five-two high body with perky breasts and a slight camel toe in her skin tight calf skin pants. But her actual funnel trap were her eyes…

Those eyes. They changed color with her mood. I swear to god. Since she was usually laid back and serene, they would be a blue gray. If pissed, they went greenish purple. Like she wasn’t a hundred percent human. Sort of like a weird genetic strain from an illicit coupling with a non-human whatever leaving a bit of evidence in her family line. She had two brothers she talked about when I first met her. One was dead and one was missing. On occasion, I would wonder if they were like her with the crazy eyes. When her missing sibling showed up out of the night one Christmas I never wondered again.

I often think about how I escaped the funnel ending most of her beaus ended up in. It had to be only something she would ever know. Sure there had been numerous near misses and close calls with her various would-be suitors. I’d bow out and lay low until the body was buried then reappear at her beck and call. Having actually slept with her, I was always sucking on a big hook in my mouth with a long, 1,000lb test line keeping me fresh and available just a few fast cranks away. Most likely she found me funny or entertaining enough to stay friends with. Plus, my phone man abilities came in quite handy on occasion for some of her business associates. Before I became aware of the true nature of her ways, it was tough on me when a new fly was buzzing around her trap. She would tell me point blank to buzz off and shut down all communications with me. “Find a life jerk!”, then hanging up on me.

The first time she did it, I was devastated. The tenth time I just rewound the VCR tape I was watching to catch what I had missed during another blow off. After the latest prey was sucked dry of money and property I would inevitably get a call from a sorry little girl voice asking if I wanted to come over for a drink and a nice back scratch. With a dick harder than Chinese arithmetic, I would drop anything I was up to and race for her house at light speed. Sex with her was as common as Halley’s Comet coming around, but a back scratch from those talons of hers working my back to bleeding always worked like a charm. Man. Those nails could be nirvana. Not always though. Some girls screw good. Some scratch. Get one of each is my motto.

She would have some chore lined up for me in return for a good scratch. She would spring it on me as I pulled my shirt off. Usually I would have a lit doob in my mouth as I took my shirt off over my head. As an old party trick I’d roll the doob on my tongue and pull it into my mouth until my shirt was past my face then pop it back out with the cherry still on the end after my shirt was past.

She was wise to this stunt. As I did it for the zillionth time, she punched me hard in the stomach as my shirt covered my face. I burnt the shit out of the inside of my lower lip. I called her a little cunt and she came at me. Not slapping or screaming pal. To kill. She took an easy quarter inch deep layer of skin out of my left forearm with all five fingers or her right hand as she tried to get behind me. She didn’t scratch now my friend. She did it to get a better grip on me. Her attack was a chess game of violence. Going for her left hand coming in from down low for the nut sack I instantly went to block it with my own free hand. It was just what she wanted. Off balance, she spun me back around, then headbutted me three fucking times right in my nose. Trying to stop the battering ram, she made her check mate move. A talon grasp onto my cock a great horned owl would have admired. As I went down off the couch onto the floor following the talons lead she was astraddle of me in a flash. Only a voice on her answering machine saying, “Alice, are you listening? If you are pick up, it’s urgent!”.

I guess I should have told you her name from the beginning. Sorry I’m not the hot shot writer. Big deal. I’ve noticed most writers have nothing ever happen to them so they can kiss my ass if I don’t write correctly. Anyhow, I’m still on the floor while she picks up her phone.

I’m totaled. I have a smashed nose that is still oozing thick globs of blood no matter how hard I pinched it to stop. My arm was swelling like five black widows had bit me where her nails had gouged out long deep holes. One of my testicles had to be flat or exploded. I can hear her yakking away in an animated manner from her kitchen wall phone while ignoring my moans from the living room.

Sensing a change in our relationship, I headed for the door after my nuts stopped aching enough to regain mobility. As I tried to walk straight she peered around the corner from her small kitchen. “Hey big boy, don’t leave yet. I still want to play!” She once again had that cute bouncy smile and neat girl next door demeanor. She never fooled me again after this little episode. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Ignoring her, I grabbed up my cycle jacket and helmet. Where’s my new Harley goggles? They were inside of my helmet. It hits me in a flash. Her shit fuck stinking rat crap dog had stolen them again. Brand new. They weren’t as good as the last pair he had chewed up but they said Harley on them. A big deal when you’re a dumb kid. Neither the dog or my goggles could be seen incensing me over the top at this last outrage. Jumping up onto Alice’s brand new sofa I popped the buttons of my worn out 501’s and started pissing into the top of her showpiece salt water aquarium. Since Alice had turned her attention back to the phone call around the corner my calling out, “Gee, I had a swell time!”, got her to look back around the corner into the living room.

At sight of me standing on her new sofa pissing into her pride and joy made her blow a fuse. Throwing the handset from the wall phone at me with all of her might, it almost hit me in the face. Not this time, bitch. The long cord hit its end then retracted back at her with tremendous force hitting her right in the mouth. I laughed as I shot out her front door. Screw her. She deserved it.

I wasn’t laughing about three hours later when two big black Sheriffs arrested me at my little duplex in Hollywood. I wasn’t hard to find. I lived in the same shit hole duplex off of Beechwood Drive for years. Being easy to find when I was wasted was one of its best features. It was located on the same street as the famous Hollywood sign just up the canyon above me. No matter how blasted I could always tell a cabbie, “Just take me below the Hollywood sign!” I could stumble home from there. Worked like a charm.

It also helped the cops. These two at my front door inform me I’m going to be placed under arrest for assault and battery against a woman named Alice. As I stepped out onto my porch, every neighbor I’ve never seen is looking out their windows and doorways at me. Swell. In a neighborhood of junkies, it’s guaranteed my place will get ripped off with me in the slammer. As I try and show the cops my battle damage I’m spun and cuffed with my hands behind my back.

Heading in the cop car back down the hill we make a left on Franklin. I remark from the back seat, “Hey, the Sheriff’s station is to the right on San Viciente, isn’t it?” All’s I get back is a low, “Yeah, you wish chump”, from the husky cop sitting shotgun. Then, both cops started laughing. OK, so I was scared. I’m no one special. Who looks forward to an ass kicking? Besides, I had already had mine kicked by a broad weighing in at 125lbs. What am I going to do with these gorillas? So, I was being taken for a beating in some dark out of the way spot by two pros. Or, a ride to downtown and the L.A. main jail. If it was L.A. downtown, I’d prefer the beating. Most would happily spit out some perfectly good incisors to stay out of that little splice of hell.

As we hit Los Feliz and rolled past the kids steam train ride at the end of Griffith Park onto the overpass into Glendale, it wasn’t going to be jail. It was the beating. So be it. I already planned my strategy. I called it, ‘the opossum’. Take a couple of shots then play dead. You have to let ‘em land a few or they’ll kick you as you assume the fetal position. I felt better now that I had a plan.

Since it was only eight pm on a weekend night, there was still plenty of traffic and movement on the streets. As we drive past a pal of mines bail bonds office, I remark to the cops that its owner, Jay Jackar, is a good friend of mine. This gets the wrong response. From my chauffeur, “You won’t need to call him buddy!” Swell. At every red light I’m the chicken eating circus geek. Kids are staring at me from the back seats of station wagons. I started making myself look tougher, not wanting to let them down. Scrunching my face and showing my teeth to scare them gets the attention of my driver catching me in the act in his rear view mirror. “Hey man are you on drugs? What’s with all the faces?” I look away and say nothing.

We pull into a arched breezeway that led to an enclosed parking area surrounded by two and three story brick buildings. Some of the rear entrances are lit by covered lights illuminating the almost empty lot fairly well. The usual trash bins near personal cement stairways showed that the complex was almost devoid of tenants. Out of twenty stairways, only two had trash bins. Usually all have their own. When you’re a phone man and put your job trash into the wrong trash bin it gets a call to corporate. The little things are what you have to remember.

My car door opens and I’m helped out and then directed over to some stairs. A big hand guides me as I’m in the lead up to an unlocked rear door off the cement steps. Once inside, it’s up three flights to the top floor. At the floor entry door, the cops stop to catch their breaths. I figure they want to be well-rested prior to my straightening out. Climbing poles all day off of Laurel and Mulholland had me in pretty good shape, not so donut boys. I kept my opinion to myself. Once inside the hallway door we step over to a door that says, ‘Janitor’, on it on a little steel plate.

Past this door, the room inside is a suite. The sign was a ruse. A large suite full of boxes of all sizes with brand names of TVs and the new rage, VCRs stacked from floor to ceiling in spots. Having the ability to play your own movies was a big deal. Past the boxes and some stacked furniture, the next room is even larger. It, too, has boxes and goods. It’s different though because of the floor to ceiling mirrors. Told to stand still, as my hand cuffs come off, it comes to me where we are. Some sort of dance studio. I’d done a few around town. This time I would be doing the dancing. I brace myself for what is coming.

Nothing happens. We just stand there. One cop lights a smoke as his partner goes out of view into another room. Hearing approaching footsteps on the polished wooden floor, the sight of Alice coming around the corner smiling sets me aback. Huh? With Alice is a little guy with a big cowboy hat on his head. He also has the big silver belt buckle and the custom cowboy shirt. Alice is holding onto his arm like he craps gold. She has her “I’m fine, how are you?” eyes back, so I relax a bit. The other cop is not far behind them with an empty four-wheel steel cart.

My driver jerks his thumb in my direction while saying, “This your guy, girl?” As Alice nods an affirmation, the two cops start loading TVs and VCRs onto the cart. Alice tells me to give them a hand, while also warning them to use the stairs- not the elevator. Adding, “You can’t be too careful boys!” The cop who rode shotgun messes up my hair while saying, “Now you can shake that turd out of your pants and carry some of this down for us!” I end up carrying almost all but the big TV boxes. They gave me a hand with those. I wonder how we’re going to fit all the stuff into their car. As we finish the last trip a big stretch van pulls next to the cop car. My job finished, it’s back up the stairs solo.

I tell Alice a joke about the cops and she laughs. Not the midget cowboy. He didn’t laugh. He was a tough guy. Too bad for him. That’s probably why it was no problem for Alice to kill him. Kind of jumped a little there, but not too far. Tough cowboy Greg rode into the sunset about five hours after I first met him. That’s where the funnel web spiders come back in.

After the cops had split, I showed Alice that I really hadn’t wet my pants, making her laugh again. She leads me into a rear dressing room off the dance floor. Alice is really sweet and friendly. With blood still caked inside my nostrils I’m still on guard. Who knew what this nut case would do next. As we go into a small office, Alice smiles at her cowboy while asking him to wait outside, “This is private!” is all she says as she pushes me in front of her. The cowboy tough guy glares at me. He starts to say something. Alice cuts him off. “Look sweetie just have another drink and we’ll be out in a minute!” Sweetie? What the hell is this bullshit? I never heard her say sweetie before and I knew her for years.

I first met her doing a phone repair for the Mulholland Women’s and Men’s Tennis Clubs. Alice ran the Womens’ side. She had never, ever called a man by such an endearment before, and I’d seen her with dozens. As Alice went through some ledger books, I started wondering about what I was getting myself into. She was a hot sexy babe, yet I was afraid of her now. She was like a chameleon. I was learning on the job, so to speak, on her ability to appear to a man any way they wanted to see her. Scary. Yet really enticing. As she accidentally backed up against me she gets her desired results. As she reached back, I must have jumped five feet. This really made her laugh. The last time we had been intimate was when I ditched a cop in her Cadillac down Willoughby street carrying Coke for the owner of the ‘Starwood’ Club. Since he’s still around, find out his name on your own. I get some baby talk out of her after she closed up her ledgers and locked them into a file cabinet. I ask her why the police escort?

She turned back into Alice the business woman while saying a curt, “To let you know who’s the boss and to never forget it!” She then tells me to take a seat while she lit a smoke and leaned against the file cabinet. She got right to the point. “We’re going to be partners for awhile. You do as I say and you make some money, okay?” I nod my head around like a moron while I get out of my chair and do a Quasimoto hop like the hunchback of Notre Dame. Her eyes start to change. I stop hopping around and pretend to shape up. I then say, “What kind of business? Hustling midget cowboys for Shetland ponies and big hats?” Finally I get a real laugh out of her. Jesus it had been a long spell. Now she loved me again. When your as starved for love like I am, it’s always appreciated to have someone like you. No matter how evil or twisted. In one respect my mom had been great training for my new position. Alice steps closer for confidence while whispering so Greg couldn’t hear, “We’re going to be selling some horses and I need your experience!”

I’m dumbfounded. Horses? Is she kidding? As I stare into her beaming eyes I see that she’s dead serious. Why in the hell would she think I knew a god damned thing about horses? Maybe from all the bullshit stories I had told her about growing up on state boys homes farms and ranches as a kid? I’d also shoveled about fifty metric tons of lion, bear and elephant crap for my Uncle Melvin Koontz. It sure didn’t make me an animal trainer. I did great as slave labor in various boys homes. Horses? I was afraid of them. Flounder in Animal House was a better choice them me. Horses are big dumb brutes. I’d rather deal with elephants. At least they’re intelligent and will let you know if you’re on their shit list.

I didn’t feel it was the right moment to let her in on these revelations. My arm still had unscabbed holes in it from my last error in judgement with the broad. I tell her a slow, “Yeah, so horses huh. Sounds good. Where are these horses, pray tell?” This is where I officially meet cowboy Greg. Think of a guy even shorter then Alan Ladd acting tough.

Alice opens the door and out I go to meet him. Alice wants us to go through the motions of shaking hands. The guy has a look on his face like he would rather stick a pen knife in me. Since he was a little guy, I went with the soft shake then before I let him go I double crossed him and crushed his fingers. An old school kid stunt. He shouts out like a little baby while jerking his hand free. He then calls me a mother fucker. I tell him he would never say such a silly thing if he knew my mom. He doesn’t swing though. Like I had hoped he was all bluff. Just like me. Only one cop is in the parking lot when we come down the back stairs. He wanted some info on the VCRs. They were new technology back then. They were really expensive when they first came out. Not many movies for them either. Alice took him aside and gave him a number to call for some of the latest movies out. Sort of whispering their goodbyes, the Sheriff grabs Alice’s ass with his right hand and gives her a kiss on the cheek. Alice giggles like a school girl. What an actress. The mini cowboy looks really steamed.

After the cop split, we walk out through the dead quiet driveway out to the street. I’m behind Alice and her beau. I start to laugh as Greg has to get up on his tip toes to whisper into her ear as he walked along next to her. I put a blank look on my face when he shoots a look back at me. His face isn’t blank. It says, ‘take care of you later’. Good luck with that…

Other Guys’ Stories

(Or, OGS, to save time) Up since three am. Met George Sack the Jacknife King in Mojave. Took Sack’s truck on the 58 to Baker, then left into Death Valley. A route I used to have for Pac Bell in 1969. The emergency phones were hand cranks on the side to ring up the Nevada Operator who then transferred the call to where ever. So, back to our mission.

Find some old desert rat who knows how to run a 1931 Axel straightening machine located in a shop in Pahrump. That’s Pahrump, Nevada. This guy Mickey drinks with some real characters. In the tiny town of Shoshone, we hit a trailer park he’s supposed to crash at most of the time. This trailer park’s newest model trailer was a 1958 model. Every other weed-packed driveway had a faded, all tires flat junker of some make of model sitting forlorn and long forgotten. Like it made it to that driveway and no farther. Forever. Mickey isn’t home but his drinking pal, Mo, is. He informs us he’s known as ‘Loco Mo’ in the finer drinking establishments surrounding Death Valley because of his 40 years as a railroad man.

OGS… From Mo’s mouth a few hours ago,”No, Mickey ain’t been around. He falls asleep on the couch and pisses himself, then I sit in it later and it ticks me off. He’s probably in a motor home behind the County truck yard off Death Valley Junction. His ex lets him sleep in her van. You go up there and take a look-see, but, what ever you do, don’t fuck her. She’ll ask you. Just tell her you can’t or something. She’s a real piece of work. I met her the same night Mickey did a long time ago. She ain’t changed one bit. Just one dick-crazy bitch!”

I nod my head in agreement. Since there’s a lull in the conversation, I make the mistake of asking him what had happened that particular momentous occasion. “Oh man , she was getting into her car outside the ‘Chicken Ranch’ (The Pahrump Whorehouse) as we pulled in to check the place out. She saunters over to another engineer friend of mine’s driver window to make a deal with us before we went inside. She says to my buddy that everything we we’re looking for was right in front of them. I’m sitting shotgun in this solid sided panel van that used to be a Winchell’s donut delivery truck. Two more guys from work are in the back with Mickey, putting down whiskey and Cokes like crazy.

Now, I was married at the time and wanted no part of her business, so I was put behind the wheel while everyone else did whatever in the back of the windowless panel truck. She directs me over my shoulder to a longggg desert road and I drove while things sounding pretty wild went on just behind me. It was pitch black in the rear view mirror so only my ears filled me in. As I’m about to complain about our gas situation, this gal is on top of me. I try to shove her back with my head and neck, thinking she’s getting fresh with me now. I was dead wrong. She was trying to throw up out my open window. I blocked her so whatever she had been up to back there, was now all over the back of my head and all over my shoulders. Not much was said as I drove her back to her car. Six months later, Mickey marries the broad!”

I again nod and tell him thanks. I glare at George with his dead pan face that’s quivering to not smile. Off to the ex’s…

ITEM: I meet the ex. It’s 115 in Death Valley Junction. I’ve seen covered wagons in better shape then the trailers in this park. All were shot forty years ago. Well, it is Death Valley. Who plans on retiring here? Sheila answers her battered screen door fixed by an off-sized half sheet of stained plywood. She doesn’t even ask who I am and I’m welcomed inside her humble home. Its dumpy on the outside but neat as a pin inside. She has two small air conditioner window units going and a little fan on her tiny kitchen table blowing the cool air around. It was comfy.

As I stepped past her, I checked out Mickey’s ex. Maybe seventy. Wearing a pair of loose shorts and a loose tank top. At one time she had to have been a looker. If I’d met her in her prime after five drinks, I could see making a pass at her. She obviously had those same thoughts in mind as she pulled her tank top off exposing some pretty darn large breasts. I take a step back towards her bedroom and say, “Hey, I’m just here looking for Mickey, you have the wrong idea toots!” She acts like I’m a flustered school boy and starts to slide off her shorts. I have to nip that in the bud pronto. She stops undressing but makes it even worse by doing this jiggle like the nude dancers do in the top less bars. I start to say something, I forget now. She cuts me off. “Want me to find your little man for you baby?” I start laughing. It’s just too weird. I say to her, “Look lady, you could have a pack of hound dogs and the Sheriffs mounted patrol helping you, and I wouldn’t want the little man found. Just get dressed and we’ll restart our meeting. How about it?” She picks her top up off the table, puts it back on, then offers me a beer. I settle for a Sprite and sit down for a few minutes to be polite.

She cut out the baloney and showed me some photos on her tiny counter. Most of her and Mickey at rodeos and stuff decades ago. I chug my soda and I’m out the door. I tell George what had gone on. He stayed in the running truck to keep the air going so was unaware of the fantastic time I was having just a few feet away. He calls me a liar and to head the truck to Pahrump and his friend’s shop the press is at. Mickey was already at the Nevada shop. He had just been dropped off by a friend. George got a call on his cell phone as I went down memory lane.

OGS…We find the shop in Pahrump. At the end of a long two lane road, then, five more miles on a pretty darn smooth dirt road to the only place at its end. In front of us is the sweetest damn shop I’ve seen in quite awhile. First of all, the back drop to it was breathtaking. Jagged, mean looking multi colored mountains maybe five thousand feet high. Larger ones peeking out above the front rows of what looks to be lava-like swirls ending in up thrusts peaks. No colors at all. Just faded greys, whites and blacks in squiggly mile long strata’s of ink-like rows, one above the other. Really rugged ranges of volcanic rock ridges and valleys. No green. No puffs of red or yellow rocks. All sunbaked lights and darks. Only broken by some ancient smashing of tectonic plates into each other causing mile long fractures and buckling hillsides. Pretty awesome.

Jake, the owner, opens his small shop door and invites us inside. Out of the oppressing heat as fast as we can move then inside the giant shop, as the door closed behind us were suddenly transported into the 1930’s. WHAT A SHOP!!!! As a couple of Jake’s men get the wrecked race car parts from the back of Sack’s truck, George and I stand under the cool blasting air of a ten-foot by ten-foot grill about ten feet over our heads. It’s blowing nice, cool air onto us at sixty miles an hour. Their were three more of the same hanging from the tall ceiling of the 100 foot long, maybe sixty foot wide steel building. As George went over his bent axle and other parts with a hung over Mickey, I’m offered a tour by the owner Jake.

Jake on the tour: “Now, this here is a (Oh, sorry. I took notes. Pat, my wife, won’t be too happy though. The only paper I had in my bib coverall’s are my gas receipts. They’re covered with felt pen scribbles now.) CINCINATTI, tool gripper and finisher. Made in 1945 and still runs like a charm. (I’m looking at, then up, at a machine from a Jules Verne book. It even has a tiny video screen to see x-rays made of parts in process. WOW!) We move along. Every machine seems to be larger and more impressive then the last. “Here’s an ‘OMAX’ 240. It was a state of the art Water Jet in 1939. It sucks the power, but still does pretty damn good detail metal cutting!”

He then picks up a five foot long, twenty inch tall, metal sheet cut out of the Indian Head from the old Indian Motorcycle Logos off their gas tanks. Some of the cuts are paper thin. He shows me this by holding it in front of the overhead lights. We move along. “This old boy is a ‘MAZATROL’ 99. Made in Italy in the late 1930’s. Weighs two tons. I can still press rough parts out of Magnesium and Aluminum with it with very few flaws!”

Now, Jake is creeping up on 70. He’s trim with a hillbilly beard. Maybe 145 pounds. Wears those giant wide suspenders to hold up his Levi’s full of wrenches and gauges of all sorts and sizes. Maybe five seven. Still full of pep and active. More machines come into view. His shop is even larger then I thought. After we go past the, ‘BLIST GRINDER’, 1955, a long row of seven foot tall metal tool boxes cover one ENTIRE wall of this part of the shop. Another longer building telescopes even farther back, hidden by the tool box back wall. In between every other tool box? Huge six foot tall gun safes of all colors and lock configurations. Some have no locks at all and are opened up half way. Inside are metal dies and such of all types. “See those dies? In that safe alone sits about $200,000 worth of custom dies. Mainly for the military and aero space companies!” I count twenty two safes all along the wall and around the shop here and there. I hadn’t noticed them before in awe of all the giant machines. I ask Jake how he can see into the top drawers of the fifty drawer and tray fronted tool boxes. He looks at me like I’m crazy and says a matter of fact, “I get a ladder!” Duh. On we go.

Two side by side ten foot tall and thirty foot long ‘DUTCH SAWS COMPANY’ articulating cut off stamps, lathes of all types, big as a VW Bus, ‘Nugier Air Drill’, a ‘JOHNSON MILL’, an entire room sized booth for a ‘MILLER WELDER’. After the ‘DO ALL’, the ‘LAGUN’ impact torque converter, and the, ‘HERCULES GRINDER’, I ran out of note paper. I also ran out of tour. The other section of the building was family and employees only.

As Jake leads me back to his office, I try and get one last look over my shoulder. Jake stops, then says, “Well, come on out side and I’ll show you a little side project we’ve been working on!” Out a side door, I shoot a glance Sack’s way. He’s in auto repair land with Mickey. Out into the blazing sun we go. I put on my shades and walk right into the back of Jake. He had stopped, and I wasn’t paying attention. I apologize as I spot his project. I look at him and mouth the words, “A Morter?” Jake nods and gives me the low down. “It’s 185 lbs all together. We tried a removable bottom plate. Too dangerous. You want some solid welds on this baby! It’s fired by packets of black powder set off, (crouches down onto his knees next to it) by a conventional fuse shoved into this hole here in the base of the tube. Pretty basic, actually!”

The tube is about four foot tall and about the size around of a bowling ball. Maybe because that’s what they fired out of it. Farthest shot? Four thousand feet. Impact pretty impressive if not hitting soft sand. Jake gets hundreds of bowling balls off the internet from closing bowling alleys all over the U.S. I asked him if I could see it in action. No way. They took it far out into Death Valley to fire it safely. Maybe I could come out on some other occasion? Told him I really would love that. I asked him how they moved it around. It looked pretty bulky and heavy. A lot heavier then 185. Jake points past me towards a giant rear yard full of vehicles. His finger is pointing at something I’ve always wanted. A 1938 “DROTT’ yard crane.

These babies are RARE. I’ve only seen them in photographs. As we walk over to it the urge to offer thousands of dollars I do not have is bitten back by a reality check. I climb up into the battered, but still cushioned, seat and look for the controls. No controls or steering wheel at all. Just toggle switches. Toggle switches? Jake is smiling. He fills me in. “You didn’t know they were all electric, did ya!” I’m blown away. I hop down and Jake shows me how to work it. “Every wheel has its own toggle array. Back, forward, left and right. He turns to his right, and just under the boom extension are about twenty toggles. I can read the faded metal instruction tags under them. You had to turn completely around on the seat to operate the four extender support legs in front of each hard rubber drive wheel. Jake knows what’s coming next and saves my breath. “It’s not for sale. EVER!” That took care of that. This was built in the 1930’s! No fumes in your shop. Quiet. Dependable. Would I trade my 1946 UNIT Crane for it? No fucking way. But, I sure would love to see this baby parked next to it.

Sack and I end up goofing at ‘Terrible Town Casino’, in downtown Pahrump. The place is pretty crowded. I’ve never won anything gambling so I headed for the coffee shop and some iced tea. I ask a tired but nice Latino waitress if it’s always so busy. She informs me that it’s like this on the first of the month. People get their checks and they come to ‘parlay’ them into quick fortunes. As soon as it;s all gone, it’s cat food and food stamps until the next first. “Come by tomorrow. Plenty of seats at the machines!”

George tells her a couple of my old jokes and she hangs out for a few minutes. When my carrot cake is brought by a coworker, she asks me if I would like it a la mode. Our table was five feet from the ice cream machine so I nodded a yes. Under the chrome nozzle goes my carrot cake. She takes a quick look around then covers my carrot cake with six giant loops of ice cream. As she sets it down in front of me she whispers, “Eat it fast before anyone sees!” George helped me. I tell him to back off and worry about his sugar intake. He gurgles out a quick, “Shut up!” We take care of business. Both of us get head freezes. George tips her ten bucks.

Back at the shop, everything is ready to go except the rear end. I have the pleasure of watching a master at work. Using titanium blocks and air powered rams controlled by foot pedals, Jake torques the drive train to Sack’s specs while giving us a running commentary on what he’s doing. Multiple gauges on the machine tell Jake every move he’s making on the newly welded rear end. Really impressive. As my eyes follow his swift moves, he’s like a ballerina. Constant motion with no wasted moves. He had done this dance thousands of times. Glancing at all the gauges, mini blocks placed here and there then pressed by slight taps of his toes on the big steel shoe guides, voila! It was done! Total cost? $400 to Mickey, the rest was between Sack and Jake.

As we put the rear end in the back of Sack’s Dodge truck, Jake motions us to follow him across the large front lot over to his personal residence. Around about an acre is a ten foot chain link fence. Interlaced with lathe strips to block your view. Once inside the solid metal gate, you’re looking at about fifty Honda cars. The old 60’s ones. Ones never sold here. Japanese models. Vans. Trucks. Two doors. Four doors. Some with four flats. Some missing doors and hoods. I’m not a car man and it was HOT. I say some compliments and start to head back to George’s truck. Jake looks hurt. I step back to his side.

“These Honda’s are just a hobby. Inside the garage is what I really want to show you guys!” He unlocks the side door to the house’s three car garage and in we go. It was hotter than hell inside. No open windows and just oppressive heat. Wanting back out, Sack’s open mouth has me look where he’s looking. I start to take notes on my hand and Jake shakes his head no. “This is top secret. Tell no one!” So, I can’t. I can tell you this much. He’s using five types of cars from the 30’s to the 50’s to make this giant Frankencar. It’s hood is seven foot long. A V-16, 24 valve engine, with all sorts of stuff on it that I have no idea what he was talking about. It’s to be completed in five years. Think of a Flash Gordon rocket mating with a Futuristic Batmobile. To open the doors you push in small button like protrusions behind the doors themselves. They then sprang open smooth as butter. Really neat.

ITEM: Back at Sack’s truck, I tell Jake my Richter story. The earthquake measuring is called the, ‘Richter Scale’ to honor him. Forgive the spelling. I’m too tired to look for the dictionary. At Richters big shop in North Pasadena on my first phone repair, I watched sheets of tear off paper coming off a big machine. A metal arm like a spider leg is making squiggly lines back and forth across the wide sheets, then, the sheets continue on, folding themselves into a catch box on the floor. I ask a fresh off the phone Richter if there are earthquakes somewhere. He laughs then tells me they thought the same thing when they first turned it on. Then they found out from the odd hours it came on that there was a rhyme and reason to the hits. It turned out the Lockheed plant in Burbank had a giant press, so huge, that every time it stamped out a one piece frame for an F-18 fighter it caused a 2.9. (Ten years later, I was at that Lockheed plant and saw them taking that big press apart to junk it. It was about twenty five feet tall and even wider. One of the techs gave me an 8″ by 10″ of it in action. I put it in that year’s journal).

Finally heading for home, we drop Mickey off at his ex’s. As she opened the door to let him in, she was dressed in a man’s two piece pajama set. She ignored us and looked happy to see Mickey. We headed for Baker and a Bob’s Big Boy before parting ways back in Mojave. A really fun day…

The Wild Life

It’s 1967. The Hart High lunch line. I just stole 10 hamburgers to sell on the hill later. I’d lean over with my right hand inside a tear in my bomber jacket to boost food from the microwaved catered food trays. Next to me is Frank Angelostro. He has a flowing Hawaiian shirt and some sweat pants since his Levi’s were stolen in gym class. He puts his stolen burgers and cheese burritos in the front of his pants. As I start to pay for a milk and a bag of Fritos, Frank suddenly screams out in pain as he leaps around like a madman while jerking his sweat pants off. I watch in horror as my best pal starts clawing at his testicles covered in molten hot cheese from an exploded burrito cover.

ITEM: Doing Sheriff work camp during the summer Angelostro, Carl Winager and myself are shoveling and raking fire zones around large white buildings at Special Devices Systems off of Placerita Canyon. An explosion about fifty feet away scares the crap out of us. It’s over before we can jump for cover. The entire side of a sixty foot warehouse is blown away. Three men in lab coats are staggering around with blood coming out of their ears. As we drop our tools to help, the Sheriff lead flunkie tells us to pick up our tools and keep cutting weeds.

ITEM: When they shut down Bermite in Saugus, they did no clean up. They just shoved everything into a wide valley in back and covered it all with a zillion tons of dirt. We took lumber from huge stacks at the old site as soon as the security man fell asleep in his trailer. We dragged the wood to three huge oak trees near the train tracks and built a connected tree house. It was the first thing I built the County tore down. The start of a tradition. After they tore it down, they left our Playboys next to the middle oak tree under a big rock. On top was a short note on a torn lunch bag. “NICE JOB KIDS!”

ITEM: After some heavy rains the Soledad wash is careening out of control all the way to the ocean 30 miles or so away. We take a military raft for ten part of the way down it before a Fire Department helicopter is hovering over us as we’re paddling like crazy past Denny’s off Sand Canyon. We turn it over and swim for our lives across from Whites Canyon. Still raining like crazy, one of the O’neal brothers and I escape. It takes me four hours to get home. As I climb through my bedroom window, my overhead light snaps on. A Sheriff is sitting on my bed drinking a Coke. My mom screams, “JUST TAKE HIM!”, as I’m led downstairs to his car.

ITEM: Working at Ace Cains cleaning trout ponds, we find five baby great horned owls in the top of a shed we’re supposed to tear down. I take one home with me. To save time, Johnny M., a proud owner of an M. 40 military truck, drives it through the shed. A 2×6 splinters and goes through his radiator. He’s so pissed he quits. I end up hitchhiking with a baby owl in my jacket biting and clawing me. Later, my step dad comes home from a drinking bout (this was just before he rolled his Half-ton Chevy Pickup off of Placerita, getting thrown through the windshield, then having the truck roll over him- TWICE, and lived!) I had a large cage built in the garage with a perch outside. Owls are nocturnal so night time is their time. The owl, Apache by name, is out on his perch. Bill comes in the garage side door because it’s pretty late. As he take his jacket off, my owl flies to his arm like I had trained him on my own. Not good. Bill Burtis tore that garage up in the dark fighting to get that owl off of him.

ITEM: Bill Burtis was a cement man. Foundations, cantilevered slabs, swimming pools, driveway, tennis courts. All sorts of stuff. He did a park for Canyon Country up Bouquet Canyon. Angelostro and I were hired to strip all the twenty foot 2×4 framing off, pull the cement double-headed nails and clean the cement off before stacking the wood. We get bored and start up a D-6 Dozer sitting near the wash. I tell Frank I can drive it no sweat. I back over one of the new slabs. Not good. We also can’t shut it off. Bill Burtis pulls up with some burgers in sacks for our lunch. He slams them into the ground and looks to the sky with his arms out, silently begging for lighting to strike us most likely.

ITEM: We’re doing a swimming pool for Clayton Moore, the original T.V. ‘LONE RANGER’. He signed an autographed picture for me I still have of him and Tonto sitting on Silver and Scout side by side. I’m about ten years old. I say, “Where’s Tonto’s name?” Moore goes back inside his house, then comes out about five minutes later. Its now signed by Tonto with an ‘X’ under Tonto spelled out in block letters. Moore tells me Tonto was taking a nap and couldn’t come out. He then pats me on the head and asks me, “So little man, who’s your favorite cowboy?” I say a loud, “Tom Mix!” He ignores me and starts talking about a driveway with Bill.

ITEM: I have Tom Mix’s Wedgewood stove. Yep. It came from his old film cutting lab off of Franklin across the street from the Magic Castle. It will go in the new barn’s kitchen. Tom Mix ended in a sad way. Homeless and broke. No one would hire him anymore. He ended up living in his big Bentley or Rolls, whatever. Anyhow, he was driving to Vegas and hit some sand sliding him off the road. A large leather bag full of silver dollars flew from the back seat and broke his neck. Yakima Canutt, my kids Great Grandfather, told me that Mix had a mean streak and could be hard on his horses. I never liked him after that. I switched to Ben Johnson. No one could out ride Ben. Even Yakima said he was the best he ever saw. And that was from a guy who had THREE World Champ all-around saddles sitting on saddle stands in his front room in North Hollywood. I’d watch the fights on Friday nights with him on occasion and he would feed these tree squirrels right out of his hand that came in through an open kitchen window. A great guy!

ITEM: I’m at Buster Keaton’s estate near Malibu. I’m supposed to pull some extra phones out of the giant home to make the monthly bill lower. As I step inside the three-story foyer with the elderly lady of the house, I happen to look down at my white T-shirt as I take my tool pouch off to ease the weight of the belt cutting into me. My shirt is alive with tiny black dots hopping all over. FLEAS! I then smell the cat urine and spot about ten cats looking down at me from beds and perches off the stairs and from landings. OH NO! A CAT LADY! I run outside and strip naked behind my truck while putting my clothes in a large plastic bag I then filled with powdered desiccant we carried just for that purpose. She watch’s me from some rose bushes the entire time.

ITEM: I’m ten miles from a security booth at Edwards Air Force Base at a large six-story high locked building made of steel. The windows are glazed. No one is around. The wind is blowing off the vast empty tarmacs around me about sixty miles an hour in snapping gusts. Lulls, then, WHAM, the wind would howl. I’m to disconnect an old pay phone booth. A bad lunch strikes and I have to go. I mean, NOW! No one around so I drop my pants between my Pac Bell truck and the side of the big building and let nature take its course. I complete my job and drive back to security to sign out. Three big black soldiers are laughing their heads off as I sit in my van awaiting the sign out sheet. These guys are just dying they’re laughing so hard. I lean out of the sun and look inside the air conditioned booth to see what they’re laughing at. It was me, on a 24 inch screen, taking a dump while reading a Ring Magazine and picking my nose. Under the eaves of the building was a telescoping security camera recording me.

ITEM: Bob Sharber and I are at an SCC box in front of the Chevron station across from the big church on Highland and Franklin Street. A guy in a monk robe, shaved head and some white finger paint on his forehead asks us if we have any matches. I give his a small box I had from the Whisky. The guy goes out into Franklin and sets himself on fire. A man in a beer truck put him out with a small fire extinguisher.

ITEM: I’m sitting in my truck across the street from the Chinese theater. A bunch of street kids are putting on a show with their dirt bikes for the long line of people waiting to see the first STAR WARS movie. The line was all the way up to Franklin. Eight kids laid down in the street as two kids stopped traffic inching its way around the block looking for parking. A kid I nicknamed Evel bunny hopped at speed over all the kids, then, bunny hopped his bicycle over the two-foot high block wall around Grahmans side parking lot.

ITEM: I’m at Penny Marshall’s house off of Out Post road. I was replacing her master bedroom phone. She never leaves her bed. She works out of it like most do an office. Jack Lalane lived two houses up from her. The guy from WKRP lived right across the street. I mention her neighbors trying for small talk. She looks above her glasses and says, “Tell me something I don’t already know!” I think for a second then it comes to me. “Well, I was at your dad’s house about a year ago repairing a system down. Your mom has so many nick knacks it took me an hour to move one table to get the pull-down ladder to the phone equipment in the ceiling!” Penny just stares at me looking annoyed. I continue a bit faster. “Well, your dad has all of his people in a big meeting and I kept interrupting him. He finally gets ticked. Outside by my truck he says an angry, “Why are you in the ceiling wrecking my meeting?” I tell him rats have chewed his phone cables. At this he blows his stack. “I just paid thirty grand to have that roof fixed. What do you have to say about that?” I think a second then say, “Well, the rats say its nice and dry up there now!” He orders me off his property. As I pick up my orange traffic cone and chock block, he stops, walks back to me and says. “Finish your job. You really pissed me off, but, you’re pretty funny. You should write for me sometime!” Penny’s dad is Carl Reiner. She laughed and told me to shut up a second. She called her dad and told him what I said. He remembered me. COOL!

ITEM: I get a ticked off customer because I won’t run any wire in a redone bungalow off of Sunset. It says on the face of the order, “No wire runs or drilling walls. Phones go at existing jacks only.” I have to call for a supervisor. Dispatch sends O’neil. A supervisor who already doesn’t like me for a bunch of valid reasons. My super was on vacation. O’neil shows up half crocked and its only one pm. Ripping the work order out of my hand, he tells me to shut my mouth and keep it shut. Up the three steps to the front door of the nicely landscaped four plex, O’neil pounds on the door five times. Three gay guys answer. The one who called to complain about me not putting phones in their bathrooms wonders who George is through the still closed screen making George even angrier.

As the largest of them steps out onto the porch, O’neil sticks the work order in the customers face and screams, “IT’S RIGHT HERE SISSY, IN BLACK AND WHITE, NO WIRE RUNS, GOT IT?” As the big guy- nude, but for a towel- starts to stammer out a reply, O’neil ends the conversation. “ARE YOU RETARDED AND DEAF. NO WIRE RUNS!” Shoving the work order back into my hand O’neil then goes across the freshly planted lawn and kicks the little green wire protector into the street on the way to his company sedan. I look at the guys and say, “Well, there you have it from management. Happy now!”

ITEM: I’m in line at the Laurel Canyon Market waiting to pay for one of their custom deli sandwiches. A man in line just ahead of me looks familiar. Its George Harrison, the Beatle. He turns and looks at me. I say, “Hey, aren’t you one of the Beach Boys?” He nods his head and says a cockney, “Yep, surfs up dude!”

ITEM: I’m talking to the real estate man who owns the building the County store is in. He has a big office under it. As we step outside his office to see where he wants me to run some new wire from the pole for additional lines, a gigantic crash is just above us and out of our line of vision on Laurel Canyon. As we turn to the sound of the crash, two blonde haired kids are sailing through the air right into oncoming traffic. Cars are rear ending and going over the curb everywhere. I couldn’t look. Later on I find out their mom had pulled out of the market parking lot and hit an oncoming car head on. The kids were in the back seat of her Jaguar with its top down and no seat belts.

ITEM: I’m at a huge house off of Mulholland, two houses from then Governor Jerry Brown. In the days when he was dating Linda Ronstadt. I can hear some classical piano music coming from the next room as a maid lets me in for phone repair in the kitchen. I glance in the room while the maid gets the woman of the house. A tiny little girl in a white lace dress is playing a grand piano with custom foot pedals. She’s sliding back and forth on her bench to reach the keys. She sees me in a framed photo’s glass and looks over her shoulder at me. Maybe six or seven. Curls like Shirley Temple. I say a low, “Any Jerry Lee Lewis?” She immediately breaks into, ‘Come on over baby, we got chicken in the barn’, in a fast riff. Her mom storms down some stairs and shouts for her to get back to work. As the little girl went back to Bach or whatever the mom tells me off all the way to the kitchen.