Sunday, August 6, 2017

Diners, Dangers, and Deserts (Part One)

Those early days, the survival plan was all about diners and tourist traps. A pretty girl and a skilled line cook could land anywhere and have money in their pockets. Mrs. Weaver and I fit the bill. Where possible, I waited tables as well. I hate the grease. Unfortunately, many establishments had an ovarian requirement of their wait staff, so it was a good thing I had other talents.

Before corporatism took over the restaurant business, the family diner dominated the landscape of a country that traveled on it's stomach. Anywhere there was an exit ramp, this gastronomic icon of Americana thrived. Diners were both home and hearth to the fellowship of the road. Customers drift in, Employees drift through, nobody asks many questions beyond “Can you work weekends?” or “Can you cook eggs?”.

Watching all those episodes of “Alice” back in the 70's and 80's paid off. We had a real sitcom theme going for a while. Even our names, our earliest pseudonyms: Rob and Laura, were borrowed from The Dick Van Dyke Show.

We fit right in. Actually we were a bit clean cut and naïve in comparison. It all worked in our favor. We played the part of the hard working young couple, seeking their fortune in the big wide world. Our employers ate that shit up.

Mrs. Weaver (Laura) grew to hate it. Waitresses can get ugly, especially when you pocket more than they do. Real ugly. Its also very hard work with little reward. The upside is, wherever you land, there was a diner job waiting, and cash in your pocket that night. You never went hungry.

Casteneda said Don Juan taught him the lesson of losing his self importance by sending him to work at a diner under the guise of Jose Cordoba: Illegal Alien Dishwasher (and wife). Don Juan claimed that the most difficult adversary a man could encounter is that of the “Petty Tyrant”. I located what I believed to be Jose Cordoba's diner, and engaged his petty tyrant.

It was one of those periods when Laura had enough of the situation, and split to the Keys for a few months Her latest gig was waitressing at a diner called “The South Forty”. It was situated outside of Tucson, on the other side of the mountains, right at the base of Big Cat Mountain. I made pizza a half mile further out.

Before she left, we were living at a run down trailer park on the Benson Highway. A strip of 1950's Asphalt Americana dotted with motor lodges. It had seen better days. The kitsch was still visible beneath the dust. The motels had names like “The Lariat”, “The Desert Edge”, and “Sunbeam”. There was a ubiquitous “Wagon Wheel Tavern” where membership in the Sunday Bloody Mary Club earned you dollar drinks and a punch card for the tenth one free.

Our trailer was behind “The Acadia”. It was tucked into the corner of the lot behind the motel. Our nearest neighbors were a biker couple. He was rarely there, and she wore perpetual bikini and a dog collar with a leash that was just long enough to reach the clothesline that connected our trailers. I never knew her name. She wasn't allowed to speak.

They filmed some scenes for “Tin Cup” at a closed motel up the street, but it was a much more David Lynch-like atmosphere.

I had to sell the Plymouth to get Laura to the tropics and that meant I had to find a place to live closer to work. Her boss owned an empty four room motor court next to the restaurant that had never opened. Laura persuaded him to rent me a room, based on her promise to return and work for him. The place had no air conditioning, heat, or ventilation of any kind. The windows would not even open.

Did I mention it was early June in the Desert? And this was my first summer. As the temperature climbed over 110, I needed some respite. The box fan I put in the doorway helped little. I purchased a wading pool and moved the bed against the wall to make room.

I worked the dinner shift at the Italian joint. It was a half mile walk north through some of the most beautiful desert there is. Tucson was east, on the other side of the Mountains. A half mile south was the old Ajo highway and a small market. To the west lay open desert, nearly to California. North was Saguaro National Monument, Old Tucson Movie Studios, and the Sonoran Desert Museum. All three were easily reached by foot or bicycle. I passed my days climbing the mountains, wandering the desert, exploring old mine sites and visiting with the wildlife.

I saw my first mountain lion and my first bobcat. The lion did not worry me, but the bobcat stalked me. (I've posted those stories earlier). The scariest hike I had occurred on a well traveled highway. It was late at night, after work, and I walked down to the all night market on Ajo for a soda. There was no moon, just the light from the stars. I passed dozens of dead juvenile snakes, squashed in the road. Some were partially mashed on the blacktop and writhing. I was in the middle of them before I noticed the extent. Bending down with my lighter as my only illumination, I saw they were baby Diamondbacks. I had wandered into a minefield of poisonous reptiles. I was lucky to not have cut off trail through the desert as I usually did when the moon was out.

I climbed all the peaks from Big Cat Mountain to Star Pass. The northernmost, and one of the highest, is Called San Francisco mountain, not to be confused with San Francisco Peaks in Flagstaff. It would turn out to be my last stupid scary free climb.

I approached from the southeast, and had an easy hike up the lower talus to the shelves and ledges that would take me near the top. There was a higher talus slope, made up of gravel the size you would see in a driveway, that I had to cross before making the final ascent of a hundred yards or so. From the desert below, I had misjudged the angle of the incline making up this bed of stone, and when I reached it, it appeared uncrossable. It was only a couple of dozen yards across, but at nearly a vertical pitch. Even crawling across it created enough force to slide me down several yards in a small avalanche. I lay sprawled, arms and legs wide, clinging to the loose rock. Even lifting my head caused a shift in pressure that threatened to take me down and over the edge.

I stayed there, motionless for a long time. It could have been minutes or it could have been hours. I was clean in the middle of the gravel and about twenty feet from skidding down and over a five hundred foot drop. I slithered, ever so slowly, like a GI Joe action figure. With each movement, I dropped a few inches. I was shaking and slick with sweat and thinking I finally met my match and not so surprised at all.

I made it across to solid ground, but wasn't out of the woods yet. There really wasn't anywhere to go. I had cliffs dropping off on three sides and the gravel to my rear. I sat and caught my breath and smoked a few one hits to gather my wits and figure out how to get down. The weed helped me realize that there was no way down, my only hope was to go up and over and find another way.

Up was a hundred yards vertical, with crevices, but no steps or ledges. Over was a mystery, I didn't know what the back of the mountain looked like. Mentally, I picked out a route where, wedging my arms in the cracks, I should theoretically be able to walk up the face of the rock. I learned that trick years before, and used it once or twice, but my confidence was shaken and that's not a good way to go into a free climb.

I smoked the rest of my weed and ate my lunch. I drank as much of my water as I could and poured the rest out to lighten my pack and reconcile my center of gravity. Up and over I went. My forearms were bloody and abraded. The view was completely spectacular. I am sure that damn few people have been stupid enough to see it. The backside proved as difficult as the front. There were two places where I had to hang and drop a few feet onto unproven ledges. In the end, I was faced with another talus slope, but this one was slightly larger stone and ended not in a cliff but on the glorious, flat, safety of the desert floor.

I knew how to handle this. A friend and I developed a technique up in Colorado, and sought out such slopes for the thrill. I leaped into the scree, causing a small avalanche that began carrying down the side of the mountain. After a few feet, the sliding rock threatened to overwhelm so I jumped up and to the side, out of the path of the slide I created and beginning another one. By repeating this move, its possible to “ski” down a dry desert mountain. It's both important not to let your feet get covered by the stones, and to jump wide enough from the slide so as to not increase it to something too large to control. It's all in the timing.

I made it down, with just minor scrapes, and stuck to the lowlands for a while.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Accidental Mexico and the Mothership (a nice outing)

Mrs. Weaver and I used to do a lot of rock hounding when we lived in Tucson. It was a great way to explore our new state, and provided both recreation and economic opportunities. One of our favorite spots was just a few miles from the Mexican border. Our first visit, on the way home, we saw an unidentified object in the sky. We had to follow it. We'd had grand adventures already that day, but we could not have expected what awaited us.
I bought a bundle of old west tourist booklets at the swap meet, and included among the mandatory “Death Valley Scotty” and “Lost Dutchman Mine” tracts was a book of Arizona Rock and Mineral sites from 1954. People would tell me these places had been picked clean years ago, but a generation later, erosion and percolation would present new material. We also found a lot of good rock exploring near well known areas. We failed to locate either of our targets for the day, but found so much more than if we had.

The page from the map book read “Patagonia Area” and showed two promising sites. One was an Agate collecting area, and the other was an old mining town that no longer existed. Pavement ran out before we were through Patagonia, but the road was very good until our turnoff to the Agates. The side road only traveled about ten feet before it dropped into a creek. We continued south toward the Ghost Town, hoping to find another, more viable side road but nope. That was the one.
I watched the odometer, guessing where this old mining town was, but at the proper mileage, we saw nothing to report. Another half mile and we came to a crossroads, but there were no signs or evidence of tailings or anything so we just kept driving. We were out of the desert now, into some big trees and lush vegetation. We passed moving water twice.

I loved driving the dirt roads. As a fugitive, any time I was behind the wheel was a nervous time for me. If I should get pulled over for anything, it could be my last day as a free man. I didn't sweat it on the dirt. It was my land. It was freedom. I was toking a lefty and just idling through the forest on a two rut track without a care in the world when we passed a small sign, square, just inches across. I backed up to read it.

“U.S. National Border”.

Shit. My illegal ass just snuck into Mexico.

And back.

I'd like to say I had the sense to stop right there and let Mrs. Weaver drive, but I didn't. They had to be watching the fucking border, right? This was a trick wasn't it? DEA Guerrillas in the trees (!) and facial recognition software and oh fuck just look natural and turn this car the hell around. Act natural. Pretend like the doobie is a cigarette. Don't look in the mirror! don't look in the mirror! don'tlookinthe mirror!

There were no Guerrillas in the trees. No Stool Pigeons. No Rats. It was fine. The paranoia passed. We doubled back to the road that dropped in the creek and I got out to breathe and look for dust clouds behind us. No Guerrillas.

The creek flowed north to south, and disappeared around a bend to the west after about a hundred feet. The creek bottom was solid rock, not gravel or sand, and the water was barely over my ankles. I sold the idea to Mrs. Weaver and downstream we drove through the creek, around the corner, and the road popped up on the other side of a low hill after about 150 yards. There was a 70 foot mud cliff where we exited, and I thought I saw something sparkling in the face of it. We got barely another mile, and the road took to a hill that was too much for our sedan to climb. It was made up of big goonie rocks like basketballs. I turned the car around and went to check out that sparkling cliff.

Still no Guerrillas.

Mrs. Weaver set up the picnic, and I set across to check out the geology. The sparkles in the cliff were Selenite crystals. Nice ones; nearly a foot long and clear with globular inclusions of the same clay that made up the cliff. (In years to come I would do well carving these and selling them as wands and athames in the new age shops on fourth avenue). It was a nice afternoon. I've returned to this spot many times. We even brought our daughter as an infant. I considered filing a mining claim there at one point. I still haven't ruled it out.

About two in the afternoon, we loaded up for the return trip. There were some spots at the base of the Santa Ritas I wanted to check out. This time, Mrs. Weaver drove, for legality's sake. North to Patagonia and then northeast to Sonoita. There was a gas station there with the best Broasted chicken, but we didn't know that yet and got a bag of chips and sodas for the ride home. I waited in the car while Mrs. Weaver shopped. That's when I saw it.

At first I thought it was a cloud, but there were a few other sparse clouds and they were moving in unison. This one just hung there. I thought it might be the moon for a minute, but the shape was wrong. Besides, the moon was over there. I forgot all about Guerillas. What the fuck was this? When Mrs. Weaver returned, I ran back through that train of thought and she was as bewildered as I.

It was obviously a mothership and we needed to follow it. Mrs. Weaver took back the wheel, and I commenced to navigating and rolling the stash. If I was going to be an emissary to otherworldly creatures, I was going to vibrate at the right frequency. Also it would be a good way to ditch the evidence before the Guerrillas show up, be they DEA or X-Files. Things were about to get stranger than we expected.

We took the 83 south of Sonoita until it turned to dirt, then just followed the mother ship.
Turning on one dirt road after another headed steadily southeast. This was scrub desert for a while; Creosote bush, Prickly Pear, Cholla. We dropped into a valley and suddenly thought we were on private property. It was an old Spanish Mission, with church, ranch house, and outbuildings. It was populated by little brown people in great striped shirts who stared at us as we idled through. I wondered for a minute if we'd crossed into Mexico again, but we'd gone much farther east than south at this point.

More scrub desert forever, then around a corner and there were Teepees! I was about to warn Mrs. Weaver that we were in Injun Country, when I saw the chuck wagon and about twenty cowboys on horseback riding toward us. We'd wondered into a roundup! They stared us down less friendly than the brown people back the way, so we idled down and waited for them to pass.

Another mile or two and a corner and we dropped down into a lush riperian area and an old covered bridge. Mrs. Weaver stopped on the bridge, and I asked what the problem was. She pointed out that the bridge only went halfway. The roof was all there, as were two I beams spanning the water. But the floor of the bridge only went about fifteen feet across then stopped. I got out to take a look.

The important part of the bridge was made up of two by tens laying across the I beams. After about three feet in front of the car, they stopped. I had an idea, but I thought it was going to be harder selling it to Mrs. Weaver than it was. She was a trooper, and let me move planks from the back of the car to the front as she inched her way across. I was very proud of her that night, she obviously understood the import of chasing spaceships in the Sonoran Desert. The local flora prevented us seeing the sky for a while. It was maybe another five miles before we could see the “mothership” and shortly after that we hit a roadblock.

The road ended at the base of some mountains in a wooden barricade. The barricade was facing the other way, so we couldn't read it. I got out and climbed the fence to read it. It said “Government Property: No Trespassing”. We were on the wrong side! How did this happen? What about the cowboys and little brown people? They didn't look like Feds? Fuck! Now we had to go across that goddamned bridge again! Guerrillas! Guerillas!

Still no Guerrillas. But the mothership was right above us. I scanned the perimeter one more time for Richard Dreyfuss, Teri Garr, or Spielberg, then we headed back. We crossed the bridge in record time (#MrsWeaverisatrooper) and didn't stop until we caught up with the last straggling cowpoke. Exasperated, I implored him for an explanation, which he was happy to give a couple of Hoosier greenhorns like us.

The “mothership” was a spy balloon, one of several watching the border, and monitored by an army base just north of us. Turns out the Guerrillas were watching us. They were just much higher than the trees.

So was I.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Killer Haberdashery at the Mesa Jail

The Officer I turned myself in to eventually came to the holding cell and told me the Chandler jail was full and he was going to have to take me somewhere else. Since I seemed like a nice fella, he said he was going to take me to Mesa instead of Phoenix, because it would be more comfortable. I thanked him, and on the way to Mesa he cautioned me on how to behave when I got there. 

He said they were lazy in Mesa, and shipped people off to the Phoenix Matrix at the drop of a hat if they thought there might be hassles. He said if I had a cold or back ache or broken limb, just to keep it to myself because any malady was reason to send people into the Matrix. He told me to keep my eyes down and not speak unless spoken to. He didn't even cuff me until he was taking me out of the car in Mesa.

Once inside, he handed me over to some police academy dropouts and they deposited me in the drunk tank without ceremony or anal probe. The room was ten feet deep and twenty feet long with a full length window along the front. It was uninhabited except for a bread sack with an orange peel in it on the concrete bench along the back wall. I sat, presumably waiting to be processed into the general population. I was hungry and tired. There was no water or toilet, so I hoped not to be there long.

An eternity or an hour later, I heard voices down the hall and wondered if they were finally booking me in. by smashing the right side of my face against the glass, I thought I could see movement in the next room. Soon after, they brought in another prisoner. It was the doctor who had operated on my arm at St Luke's. Small world. He had beaten his wife.

There must've been a crime wave, because ten minutes later they brought in a couple of young Mexican guys and we could hear them yelling at another prisoner, just out of sight. Then we heard the unmistakable sound of said prisoner getting his ass kicked. It got quiet for a minute, then a guard unlocked our cage and stepped in, threatening to mace us if we didn't move to the far corner. He stepped back out and two others threw the beaten man in and slammed the door. He was a chubby little guy and his appearance didn't seem to warrant the ruckus we had been eavesdropping on. He sat on the bench and behaved. We all did.

There was another interminable wait. The smell of the orange rind had my stomach growling. I figured once their lunch rush was over, they would come process me in. There hadn't been a sound from the guard room, save an episode of the Jerry Springer Show on their black and white T.V. Before I could hear what was on next they came and got the other four and told them the wagon was there to take them to the Matrix. As the guard started to shut the cell, I sneezed and he told me I'd better come too.

They lined us up along a tall counter and frisked us, afterward conducting interviews about our general health. They handcuffed the chubby little guy to a stool in the back of the room. I was standing next to one of the Mexican kids. He was pretty fancy. He was wearing shiny pointy toed boots, a huge belt buckle, and a shirt with silver tips on the collar and about thirty pearl buttons down the front.

While the interviews were going on, a flunky walked behind us and dropped manacles, cuffs, and chains at our feet. Once he did that, he went behind the counter and got a pair of scissors and returned, obviously waiting for something. The guy sitting behind the bar called my name and told me to lift my shirt up to my chest and look away. The flunky came over, stuck four fingers of his left hand down the front of my pants and cut the button off. Then he sealed it in an evidence bag and gave it to his superior. He returned the scissors to their drawer, without mutilating anybody else's haberdashery.

How the fuck was I supposed to keep my pants up? They already took my belt in Chandler.

I remembered I wasn't supposed to ask questions, but I assumed my hay fever had already condemned me to Phoenix, if not Devil's Island. While holding my shorts up with one hand, I posited the natural query: “What was that for”? The pimply flatfoot just looked at me like I was stupid and told me my button could be fashioned into a weapon. He said if I got to the Matrix with that button I would be arrested for smuggling a deadly weapon into a penal institution. Then he turned to the set to catch the next segment of Maury Povich.

I told the Mexican guy with the fancy shirt that he was probably going to get ten years for that shit. He either didn't speak English, or had no sense of humor. It was pretty much a humorless bunch on both sides of the law in Mesa. Jails bad enough. Why not make the best of a bad situation?

The flunky ran chain under my armpits and around my chest and cuffed my hands to it. Then he manacled my ankles. Once he had done this to all but the chubby guy (Bryan), he returned us to the cell (except for Bryan) to wait for our driver to finish doing paperwork or taking a shit or whatever was holding him up.

I had to frog walk back to the cell to keep my pants from falling down, and once there, the orange smell made me hungry all over again. But it gave me an idea. I dumped the orange peels out and set about tying my front belt loops together to keep my britches on. This was harder than it sounded. My hands were trussed up to my chest like a tyrannosaurus, and I could only get within eight inches of my waist.

I had to twist the bag up as tight as I could and thread it through the loops at a distance. It was nearly impossible, and led to more than a few side cramps. Once it was through both loops, I still had to tie it tight. How the hell could I do that from eight inches away? I nearly gave up, then realized with a slipknot I could tie it within reach then pull it tight. The other criminals heckled me through this whole contortionist ordeal, warning me that I was probably going to be arrested. I reckoned I'd rather be arrested than pantless in a crowded jail cell. I hid my wonderbread belt with my shirt tail.

The flunky returned an eternity or two later and added waist chains in his bid for a B&D merit badge, linking us together with about a foot and a half of length between. Then he marched us, Cool Hand Luke style, out to our Paddy Wagon. He opened the back and we saw Bryan was already loaded up into his own private cage toward the front. They had some kind of fencing mask on him, I guess they didn't want him making faces and disrupting class.

The next acrobatic trick they had us perform was getting into the back of the truck. The first step was about a foot and a half high and we only had a foot of chain between our feet. So we had to turn and kind of hop sideways to get up there. If that sounds hard, remember I was also chained to jailbirds both in front and behind. One bad move and we were all going down in a heap. The guy in front of me started to go down and I shouldered him up and in and dove behind him onto my belly, dragging the guy behind me along for the ride. He wasn't happy, but he was all trussed up and couldn't do anything about it. At least I kept my pants on.

The ride wasn't so bad. It took forever. We stopped at several other jails and even the woman’s prison before reaching the Matrix. Everybody else was bitching about the wait, but I figured where I was going, I wasn't going to get any car rides for a couple of decades or so, so I made the best of it.

I'm a creative guy, but still haven't figured out how to make a deadly weapon from the button on a pair of cargo shorts. I just wasn't cut out for prison.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas on Big Cat Mountain.

      Christmas of 1993 found me living as Robert Weaver with my wife Laura in a travel trailer behind the South Forty restaurant at the base of Big Cat Mountain. We were Rob and Laura, a nod to The Dick Van Dyke Show. We had a potted barrel cactus, about three feet high, that we brought in and decorated for the holidays that year. Living there was a major coup for me. Lucky Tailor and I explored that mountain on our first trip to the Southwest. I tracked literary icon Joe Cordoba (Jose Luis Cordoba, also working under an alias) to that restaurant. I thought it quite fortuitous that we lived and worked there.
      Lagartija's mother told me about the legend of Big Cat Mountain, also known as Cerro del Gato, many years before on that first smuggling trip. I have heard different versions of the story since. The Arizona Star ran an article a few years ago and muddied the waters with a feature writer's blend of various legends purported to tell the story of El Gato. I prefer Senora Lagartija's tale, and will relate it as such.
      In the late 1800's, the Butterfield Stage passed through the gap between Big Cat Mountain and Little Cat Mountain. There was a bandit there who would hide and wait and rob the stagecoach, which frequently hauled gold from California or payroll for the mines. No matter how prepared they were for the attack, the bandito would appear suddenly and then disappear into the mountain, defying chase. They say he was like a cat the way he moved on the rocks, and called him El Gato. In Spanish they called it “The Hill of the Cat” Cerro del Gato. Eventually, El Gato (or some say El Tejano) was killed. But his stash of stolen loot was never found. It is said he hid it in a cave at Cat Mountain.
      I've spent thousands of hours exploring that mountain and found much more than I ever looked for. I only found one cave, and I am probably lucky to have survived it.
      A couple of weeks before Christmas, I was following a wash at the base of the north side of the mountain that had previously led me to water at an old stone cattle tank. I hoped to see Javelina there, and track their game trails to see where they would take me. Once in the wash, below desert level, I stopped for water and smoked a joint and ate a Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pie. I continued on, and at some point realized I wasn't in familiar territory.
      The walls of the arroyo closed in. I remembered it as being quite wide, but before long, the wash was barely ten feet across. The dirt walls were maybe ten feet high. Somehow, with the buzz, I had taken an unnoticed fork into the foothills. I am always curious about what is around the next corner, particularly when hiking washes. So regardless of knowing I was lost, I continued around the next corner, then the next.
      At one point, I had just made a ninety degree turn to the left and again about ten feet was a ninety degree turn to the right. About eye level, directly ahead in the dirt wall, was the mall entrance to a cave or dark declivity. It was about a foot and a half high in the middle and stretched to tapered ends maybe ten inches high. It was about three feet long. I approached to about two feet. That's when I saw movement in the hole.
A recent newspaper article had told me about coyote pups suffering from parvo. There was an effort from some organization, to immunize the pups by dropping meat with the parvo vaccine in the desert. I wondered if there were coyote pups in this hole.
      It was difficult to focus on the movement in the dark cave, because the sun was high above the arroyo wall. I squinted into the darkness as my eyes adjusted and the movement took shape. I was looking straight into the eyes of a mountain lion from two feet away. The puma's head filled the central opening to the cave. She squinted back at me.
      For some odd reason I wasn't scared. Continuing on didn't seem wise. I was worried I might surprise her on the return trip. I backed up to the previous turn, and slowly walked away, being careful not to act like dinner.
      But this is a story about a Christmas hike, so we will get back to that.
      Partially because of my experience with the lion, Laura and I chose to traverse the South side of the mountain to a trail head that leads to the summit, where we would celebrate the holiday in solitude far above the valley. Rather than follow the desert to the trailhead, we climbed a few hundred feet up the rock and traversed our way east. Along the way we smelled something rank, and looked around for the carcass of a dead deer. I often found skulls and antlers in the area, and that translated to tourist cash.
      We were about to search for the corpse, when my eye fell on a bush barely three feet away. There stood a young male javelina, seemingly oblivious to us. Javelina are pretty blind. They smell bad too. We edged away so's not to frighten it, and continued on our way. It was a warm day and I took off my shirt. Laura lamented that social mores did not allow her to do the same. I told her out here on Christmas day, the Javelina cared less for social mores, so she continued hiking topless. We took our pleasure then, clinging to some vertical stones (Merry Christmas), clinging for our lives somewhat frightened and high above the Sonoran floor. Such are the dangers of climbing with a topless Laura.
      Once we'd attained the apex of Big Cat, we repeated our endeavors on a long flat rock overlooking the valley, occasionally hearing a large animal moving across the gravels. We dressed hurriedly, sans T-shirts, just in time for a boy scout troop to file past along the peak. Not the large animals we expected. Two of them lingered behind a boulder for another peek. I gave them the thumbs up. They grinned and scurried away. Laura felt forced to adhere to social mores for a bit.
      We returned to our little trailer in the desert with our barrel cactus Christmas tree.She never let me nail her on a mountaintop again.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

From the Mountains to the Barrio (part 1) Fugitive Recovery

Just over a year since my exile, and I found myself living at one of my favorite places on the whole planet. Big Cat Mountain was the place I had climbed with Lucky Tailor, passing the crosses of those who did not make it along the way. It's the place where The Professor and I saw the Woolly Saber Toothed Coyote. It was also the stomping grounds of the famous bandit El Gato and his legendary treasure. On the map of places sacred to me, this one is prominent.

My wife and I had traced the travels of Casteneda to this desert, and believed we had found the restaurant where he and Gorda worked, losing their personal importance. Losing one's personal importance isn't very good for a marriage. We were thinking about doing something different. She had already had to spend a few months in Key West to escape my folly. Then I had an encounter that brought me on board to her desire to move into town and leave my beautiful desert.



We lived in a trailer behind the restaurant, along with about four other trailers, all housing employees of the restaurant and other associated businesses like the general store and video rental. There was one wealthy retiree in the very back. I was Robert then, and the trailer behind us housed a guy named Robert as well and his wife. He washed dishes at a steakhouse down the road. His wife was a waitress with my wife at the Greek place where I cooked breakfast.



I was working stone on the side back then, as a lapidary, and incorporating the stone in sculpture and jewelry. On Tuesdays, I would hike through the lower Tucson Mountains along an old stage coach route into Tucson, where I would ply my wares. I had a route through the downtown where I left things on consignment and picked up money and custom orders each week. On my way home, I would cut through the town of South Tucson and purchase my grass for the week. I would return by hitch hiking the old Ajo Highway, rather than cross the remote mountain trails, populated by all manner of rattlesnake and large cat, at night. I would have my sales cases with me, and occasionally drummed up additional business from the people who gave me rides.



One of my best accounts in town was a new age shop. I had a place near the Mexican border where I was mining Selenite crystals with muddy inclusions. I worked these into wands and stone blades with cactus wood handles and leather trim.



On a fateful Monday, My wife was working, and I took Robert for a hike up Big Cat Mountain and told him about my history there and about El Gato. To my surprise, although he had lived behind the restaurant for over a year, he had not explored the area or hiked the desert at all. He had a banner day, and expressed that to me before he went to work that night. I went in to my house and smoked a joint and watched a couple of episodes of Doug on Nick at Night.



After resting from the morning's climb, and having lunch with the wife, I strapped my machete on and headed out to find some Cholla Cactus wood for the order I had to fill for the new age shop this week. I was maybe five steps from my front door when a white pickup came thundering into the lot and stopped nearest my trailer.



At first I assumed it was somebody I had hitched a ride with, coming to check out my stock. Maybe I was going to make a sale. Neither the wife or I socialized of even had any contact with people outside of the restaurant and the five trailers behind it. Then the door opened and had an insignia on it and the words “Fugitive Recovery”. Before I could even think a dude rolled out in a crazy movie sideways somersault and came up with a big freaking gun pointed at me. “Drop the weapon!” he shouted. He was maybe fifty feet away.



This was the early days of my fugitivity, when I never went to sleep without an escape plan. I was hyper paranoid anyway, and expecting something like this. Subsequently, I never carried weapons, for fear of going down in a hail of gunfire from some overzealous bounty hunter. I was confused. I said “I don't have any weapons!”.



He told me to lose the machete. I told him it was a tool, not a weapon, as I lowered it carefully to the ground. He charged me, and with his gun to my head he rushed me the twenty feet or so to my trailer and sandwiched my head between his pistol and the front door. He said “Robert Mortimer, you are under arrest for evading prosecution (so far so good, but Mortimer? I was Robert Weaver) in Kansas on a charge of burglarizing a pharmacy.”



Well shit, I have only just passed through Kansas. I delivered a few pounds of grass and mushrooms to a motel in Topeka, but certainly had not burglarized a pharmacy. I told him this, with his gun in my temple, leaving out the part about Topeka. “And who the hell is Mortimer? I am Robert Weaver!” “You better have ID”, he replied.



I yelled in to my wife to find my ID. She, of course, told me to get it myself. Still with a gun to my temple, I explained the situation. She soon appeared with my fake swap meet ID claiming I was Robert Weaver. The officer called in my fake social security number and it came up clean. Then he noticed my trailer number was one and he was looking for trailer two. He said “I need to use your house”, and lowered his gun and hastily entered my living room.



I followed. I had left a half ounce of pot in a baggie on the coffee table. As he walked past it to the opposing window, I reached down and batted it onto the floor. Without even turning around he said “I'm not even worried about that”. Then he noticed the number two on the door of the neighboring trailer and rushed off to terrorize the other Robert's wife. She took him to Robert's job where he was arrested for the pharmacy job in Kansas.



The next day she knocked on my door and told me Robert was on the phone and wanted to talk to me. I went to her trailer and he told me the story of how he was paid to lower himself from the skylight at a Kansas pharmacy and steal Dilautids, and he left fingerprints. He said our hike was the best thing that happened to him since he fled and that ultimately it was his wife who turned him in. “It's always a woman that gets you caught” he warned me (although he didn't know how close to his situation I was). He gave me his reclining heated massage chair. I loved that chair. His wife immediately moved in with a wealthy retiree she had been cleaning house for.



I couldn't live there anymore, of course. The wife would have her way and we would eventually move back to the city.



Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Last Time I Saw Mike West

I had probably the worse job of my fugitive career at the time. I was kitchen manager for a pizza outfit with dancing mechanical apes. They knew three songs. People would put tokens in the jukebox and the apes would perform “Achey Brakey Heart” all day long.

It was probably the worse job of my life.

Ensnared in polyester, I stank of chicken grease. The sourness of the fryers associated with newly popular buffalo wings just ruined the pizza business. The singing apes didn't help much either. Old grease replaced the wholesome, bready aroma pizzerias had hitherto been associated with. The boss, one-fifth owner and a refugee from another singing monkey joint, likewise swathed in old poly blends, never swiveled from his office chair to visit my kitchen. I didn't blame him.

Beside me, was a staff of five young Latinos who let me know right away I wouldn't last if I wasn't part of their street crew. I had no idea what they were talking about. I briefly entertained the notion that they were breakdancers, but dismissed it. I still had too much Indiana Boy on me.

They were punks, and I told them that often. Their villainous exploits tormenting the homeless disgusted me. Likewise, they didn't respect my authority, and I rarely knew where to find them. It mattered little. I could better crank out our standard crap for the little Achey Breaky bastards we served without their assistance. They abandoned me to my fate and hid in the prep room and parking lot. I was well stocked, and the lot was clean. Jabba the manager, lights out with his Salem Slim Lights in his rayon office, didn't want to get involved. I didn't either. I was trying to talk the wife into letting me take a flaky art gig I had been offered, so why rock the boat.

When I saw the state of Dave and Mike's hobo camp, I was sure it was these guys.

I seethed, biding my time until I could quit and worrying about Dave and Mike and the others from the hole in the mountain. Before closing time, this kid Diego had told a story about leaning out of his buddies car and beating bums with a bat as they tried to run away.

When I clocked out, he was nowhere to be seen. I left by the back door and found Diego and pals in the shadows around the corner. Diego was leaning on a broom. I asked to see it, and took him out at the knees, continuing to beat the hell out of him as his friends stood there with their mouths open. I dropped the broom and walked to my car without looking back. I fought the urge to run for fear of acting like prey. I made sure nobody followed me home.

For some reason I went to work the next day. I fully expected to get jumped. Diego was a no show. Everybody stayed in the prep room longer than usual without carrying anything out. My nerves were shot. Finally Diego's best bud came out with trays of dough. I had a knife and bowl of flour nearby and wouldn't hesitate to use them. He smiled at me and said “Man, you really fucked old boy up! He won't be messing with you anymore”.

Just when I thought it was all okay, I got the call to go see the boss. He said he heard I hit one of his employees with a mop handle. I told him it was just a broom. He said he had filed a police report. I told him what I thought of Billy Ray Cyrus. We were on the same page regarding my career in mechanical dancing monkey pizza.

I didn't worry about the cops. I used a throwaway name to get the job. One I hadn't used anywhere else. They wouldn't look for me.

I didn't see Mike again for a year or better to learn how their camp was destroyed. By then, the wife and I, baby in tow, were blowing town in the wee hours of the morning. The Social Security people had sent letters informing us that we had ten days to explain why our names and numbers didn't match their records. Thankful for the warning, we collected our next paychecks and got in the wind to find a new town and new identities. I stopped to pick up a hitch hiker north of the city and it turned out to be Mike.

He said it was the cops who smashed their hobo village. He said a few people had gotten arrested but he and Dave lit out and moved to the Days Inn for a while. Apparently the old man in California died and his heirs weren't as tolerant to squatters. I've never felt bad about beating Diego.

Mike said Dave had gone to stay with neglected daughters in Texas and he had been attracting attention so he was moving on. We let him off in Casa Grande, where he had promise of a job. We got as far as Phoenix and the wife and baby were fussy from the car so we decided we were home.

Cleaning up the car at the motel, I found Mike West's flannel on the back seat floor with his social security card and birth certificate. He was just a little shorter than me, a little darker hair, a little older, but he had the necessary brown eyes. I just happened to be in need of a new identity and the Universe provided one. Mike West. My Quest. It was a sign that everything would be okay and I was right where I needed to be. I wondered how long it would last. I wondered how long I would be Mike. I wondered how long the wife would put up with this shit. A week? A month? A year?

We checked in to The Parkview as Mr. and Mrs. West. Within twenty four hours I was managing a downtown pizzeria. We baked our wings and wore cotton shirts and I thrived a while in the ape free atmosphere.

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Day I Met Mike West

I had been checking out the mountains east of Tucson, just before Big Cat Mountain, and noticed a geological peculiarity. It looked like one of the small mountains had been quarried. The next day, I visited that mountain and met Mike West.

I parked at the bottom of a hill, and hiked up the dirt road that led to the declivity. You couldn't see what was ahead until you crested a hill and I didn't want to drive onto somebodies mine claim.

Once I popped past the incline, I saw a flat area a couple of hundred feet to a side, set at the bottom of a quarry of a black marble looking stone. I later learned the stone was quarried for a large downtown office building.

There was smoke, from the lean remnants of a central camp fire. Dotted around the fire were the coolest huts I had ever seen. They were built of fieldstone, maybe a foot thick. They were about three feet high and then a tarp over saplings made up the roof.

I didn't see any movement and so called "Haloo in camp"! I had never seen any shit so organized before and didn't want to appear the scoundrel. I might like this crew. I wanted to see what it was about.

A wizened older fella came out of the first hooch and squinted at me. The desert sun had eaten a hole in his nose. He had long whiskers and long hair. Some of the original color remained, but you'd be hard pressed to name it. He walked over and I stuck out my hand before I saw him good. "Dave! How the fuck have you been"?

I met Dave in Glenwood Springs Colorado. He was a train tramp. In that town, was a community of travelers. Dave helped show me the ropes. He moved on before I did. People got killed riding the trains back then. Probably a lot more than you know. I had worried about him in the years since we drank good stouts and smoked good ganja while hiding in the tall grass at a siding.

What a small, small, world.

He invited me into his hooch, which was remarkably cool, maybe twenty or thirty degrees, and introduced me to his roomate Mike. Mike had brown hair styled like that of a scarecrow, tufting out from under a flopped down boonie hat. We shook hands and he was just a few inches shorter, a few years older, and a few pounds lighter. He had brown eyes. Of course I wasn't thinking like that at the time
.
I bought a sack from Mike that day, and we talked at length about the Arizona Sonora Desert. They said they could get me on as a landscaper with their crew, but I told them I had my own gig. I was glad I parked the Mazda down the hill.

They told me the mountain was owned by an elderly guy in Santa Barbara. He was in a nursing home, and nobody watched his land. They said the cops never came, because it was private property.

I visited every payday, with a sack of hambourguesas, and scored a sack of sexy mexy from Mike. Dave got a hat and his nose got better. They invited me to stay. I blamed my wife for needing an indoor home. A fugitive can't take chances like that. I was jealous. I wanted to live there so bad, but eventually I would not be able to stand to the scrutiny. The mountain was too close to town not to bring prying eyes.

This continued for four or five months. Then one week I finally drove the Protege all the way up and found a scene of devastation. The hooches, down to the stone walls, were rubble. Smoke still rose from the lean remnants of a fire. The pantry was levelled. Canned goods lay stomped and squished. Nothing remained.
I left in tears, that something so beautiful had been destroyed. Were my friends safe? There were children. I had an idea who was behind this. They would pay.