Friday, January 23, 2015

A.K.A. Bill the Sailor and One Eyed Peter

I sat with my back to the one way mirror in the interrogation room. Across from me were two of the biggest criminals I had ever been face to face with. On the left, was the one they all called Sarge. The one on my right had the nickname “Jump Street” because he looked younger than his age and often worked undercover.

These two would go on to rob hundreds of accused drug dealers. Sarge rose in rank, enjoying the support of crooked politicians and attorneys. Jump Street was wise enough to use his resume to get out of town before their playhouse collapsed under formal charges, disbandment, and restitution.I think Sarge mows lawns now, and answers phones for somebody.

But at this time they were young, barely older than my twenty five years, and allowed to do as they would. The town had once been known for the corruption of it's police. Many from that era were retired, or soon to do so, and there was a new generation of gangsters with badges aspiring to fill their shoes. The hysteria of The War On Drugs was at it's pinnacle and provided the perfect opportunity for bribes, “forfeitures”, and outright theft. H.W. Was President and Dave had just been elected mayor.

They had me sign a Miranda statement, and were collecting my personal information. Sarge did most of the talking. Jump Street left the room a few times and returned with evidence bags, file folders, and the occasional supervisory agent. One detective, I had known as an outlaw biker and had no idea he was Drug Task Force. It turns out, he had investigated almost every unsolved murder in the previous decade. Many of the victims (women) had ties with law enforcement or politicians through either their jobs or personal relationships. That's a different story though, and for somebody else to tell.

We got to the part where Sarge asked me if I had any aliases or nicknames. Seeing a chance to have some fun, I answered in the affirmative. “Some people call me Redbeard” I told him. “Any others?” he asked, “Sure”, I replied, and really got into it. I told him how in elementary school, I wrote a series of short stories wherein I had super powers and used the name Barno and it had stuck among the boys I grew up with. Then I started playing word games with my names as he listed them. I was born with the name Todd Stuart Christian, so I gave him that one next.

Then I said Stuart Christian, Chris Stuart, Chris Barnes, Stuart Barnes, etc. I went on like this for awhile; enough that he had to turn the sheet over and keep writing. I was able to keep up the charade halfway through a second page before I began running out of ideas. I decided to give up the game. “Lefty”, I said, and couldn't believe it when he wrote it down and didn't even look up.

“Well”, I thought to myself, “might as well see how far I could go with it”. “Bill the Sailor”. I glanced over at Jump Street, who was taking notes as well. Neither of them looked up, both had paused to wait for the next name. I imagined them running all those names through some database and wondered what they would find. I was amazed they were still buying it and had to suppress the giggles.

“One Eyed Peter.”

Sarge wrote it, but Jump Street put his pencil down and whispered to his partner. Sarge looked out the top of his eyes at me and said, perfectly deadpan, “You're yanking my chain aren't you”. Unable to contain it anymore, the laughter burst out of me while they sat there looking at me stone faced.

Sarge asked me if I was on LSD “right now”. “Oh god no”, I responded, “That would be awful”. “Then why are you laughing and joking” he wanted to know, “Most people aren't very happy where you are right now”. “I'm just trying to make the best of a bad situation”, I told him honestly, “You have your job to do and I have mine”.

I figure one day it will all bite me in the ass. Some cop somewhere will run my numbers and all those bogus aliases will show up along with a warrant for Bill the Sailor or ol' One Eyed Peter and I'd better have a good alibi.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Anasazi Bellows Part III

I slept fourteen hours. The nearby white noise of rushing water was not only relaxing, but served to drown out any campground revelry. I probably would have slept even more, but was awakened by a klaxon and rose to investigate.

I found myself in a mesquite grove at the bottom of a mountain. There was a steep rock wall to the rear of my tent, and a slow moving river about a hundred and fifty feet in front of me. There were several camps set up along and in front of my own. The alarm soon ceased and I found it wise to locate the shitter we passed on the way in before investigating my whereabouts.

On the way there, I passed the dog-catcher's truck. I thought it odd that there would be such services this far into the wild. I waved and the woman driving stopped to tell me she had come on the report of a vicious dog and asked if I had seen one, I told her I had not. I later learned that Goat's puppy had bitten somebody and they had gone to town and reported it.

Wandering around, I noticed stuffed animals hanging in the trees and lurking behind rocks. As I continued, I began seeing eggs; both boiled and plastic. I hadn't realized it was Easter.

I spotted some signs and verified that I was at Childs campground on the Verde river. I had studied this area at the library, hoping someday to visit. I hadn't planned on it, as the road was too long and dry to hike (for my purposes anyway). I worried how I would ever get out of here.

There was no vehicle at the camp across from me, but a rafter had drifted in, and older guy, and he crossed the path to introduce himself as Frank. He asked me if I had ever had Apple Pie. I thought that odd. “Of course”, I replied. “No” he said, “I mean APPLE PIE!”. I conceded that perhaps I hadn't. He asked if I had a cup and, producing one for him, he dashed back to his camp and poured me a few fingers. “It's a local favorite”, he told me, and urged me to try it. It was delicious. Cider and apple juice and cinnamon and spices. “It's made with everclear”, he divulged, “Be careful”. And he went on his way.

I sat there, in front of my tent, enjoying my sweet, fruity breakfast. It wasn't long before another gentleman came by with a prosthetic leg and invited me to a pancake breakfast, to which he said the entire camp was invited. I followed him to the shade of a Mulberry tree where indeed, the entire camp had assembled. Ron started on the flapjacks and his wife, Penny, busied herself giving haircuts to the hippies. Barely sprouting stubble, I would wait a year to avail myself of this kindness. I learned that it was Ron and Penny who had hidden the toys and treats for the kids, and that it was an annual endeavor for them.

Johnny, the naked kid from the night before, was there in filthy jeans. Goat was with him and dragging a gallon wine jug full of keg beer on a leash. Goat handed me a sack of grass. “What's this”? I asked. “You said you didn't have any” he said. “Enjoy”. Then he tried to sell me some rocks. I traded some lapis I had worked for a local crystal. That month, everybody I met got a piece of lapis or malachite from me.

The shy guy, in the hat with the fire-dick diagnosis was standing off to the side (as he does) and motioned me to come over. He asked if I had any pot and handed me a carrot.

The strangeness and incongruity of this group of people and the words they used seemed to have no end.

Turn it over” he told me. Turns out, the carrot was a pipe. “Rangers don't think anything of a black old rubbery carrot in the bottom of your pack”. He smiled and pulled a small drill bit from his pocket, explaining that it was better to carry fruits and veggies and a drill bit than a pipe around these parts. “There's a ranger here called Frau Bluecher”, he warned me, “and she's a real ball buster.

Rusty had a white Toyota van and a little dog that looked like a cross between a Jack Russel and a Javelina and behaved likewise. He also wore the most magnificent hat. He called it a Dorfman. While we talked and smoked, a white truck had joined up with Frank. A woman and a young man with coke bottle glasses and an enormous grin got out. Not long after, a Sherrif's SUV showed up at their camp with a Ranger behind.

All the authority this morning was making me nervous. It appeared Rusty felt the same and he suggested we walk. We went south as far as the trail would allow. Rusty would occasionaly dash up a hill or reach into the bushes and retrieve some piece of camping gear he had previously stashed. He gave me a grill grate from up a wash. I still have it, as well as the Dorfman, but the hat didn't come into my possesion for another year.

On the way back to camp, we saw the ranger, in fact Frau Bluecher, with a clipboard writing down peoples license plates. Rusty said “Hey sis! How are you doing”? “Fine”, she replied, “and you”? Rusty gave her a sly look that I would learn often proceeded a sally of wit and asked if she was German by descent. “Why yes”, she said. “Why do you ask”?

Rusty gave her that squinty eyed crosswise look and said “Because you're acting like a fucking Nazi, that's why!”

I walked the other way, pretending not to know him, and asked a few different people how to get to the Hot Springs. I received as many different directions as people I asked. I ended up following footprints north, and actually found it. Turns out the klaxon I had heard was the alert that the power plant to the north was going to open the turbines. It was a warning to steer clear. The white noise that gave me such restful sleep, was the turbines, churning out water from Fossil Creek.

I returned to camp about an hour before dusk. Ron and Penny had left, and Rusty was at Frank's camp with Dee, Mikey, Goat, and Johnny. There was a fire going and people kept blowing through their fingers at the coals to stoke it up when it died down. This was curious to me, as it was a mannerism I had never seen before.

Rusty cut the fat from a pork loin and threw it on the grill grate. It was a sheet about 18 inches square. Vultures circled overhead. We drank Apple Pie and laughed at the vultures. When the fat was cooked, Johnny and Goat fell upon it, gnashing it with their teeth, oils dripping and running down their elbows. Sated, they moved on and Rusty cooked the loin for the rest of us.

By the time it was done, Dee was passed out in her truck and Mikey had bloodied himself falling down while professing for the umpteenth time that “I believe in US man, I believe IN US!”. The Apple Pie was taking it's toll.
I asked Rusty about the blowing through the fingers, because it seemed so affected and I couldn't see how it was effectual. I'd noticed people at different camps doing it.

The Anasazi's came down once, and taught us all that”, he said. Everybody nodded in understanding.

Once again, I was bewildered at the customs and language of these people. I was under the impression that the Anasazi tribe had disappeared or died out a thousand years ago. I stated as much, wondering if there was a lost sect hiding out here.

It turns out the Anasazi Rusty referred to were a group of troubled youth who were sent out to a camp a few miles south to learn responsibility through hardship and survival in the desert. Apparently, they would sneak off in the night and party with the hot springers. Since then, the project had been shut down.

Their technique, silly as it may look, is a very effective way to coax fire from coals.

To do this, take your thumb and index finger and hold them together like you would if holding a joint. Now do it with your other thumb and forefinger. If you push the two together, you will see a diamond shape about one quarter inch across. If you place this diamond to your lips, it has the property of focusing your breath into a concentrated stream. It works really well, and prevents the hyperventilation sometimes experienced by normal blowing on coals. I call it the Anasazi Bellows.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Anasazi Bellows Part II of III First Trip to the Hot Springs

I disembarked from the Greyhound behind a motel in Camp Verde. The sun was behind the mountains and wouldn't show itself until it rose on Easter Morning. I had to go all the way to the other side of town on Hwy 260 and didn't want to be tramping after dark in an unfamiliar municipality. What's more, with my two oversized duffels, I had to hike ahead with one and return for the other; suspicious behavior.

Lacking a government issued ID, I couldn't get a room for the night. I could talk my way into lodging at a mom and pop operation with any number of excuses. “My pocket was picked on the bus” and “I had a fight with my wife and left without my wallet. It's best I wait for her to cool off” are a couple I had used successfully over the years. I particularly liked the one about the pickpocket, because it made me look like a rube. I played the yokel card often. People aren't so wary of hayseeds, yokels, or rubes, and those conditions help cover possible inconsistencies. I often looked to Woody Harrelson for inspiration. His characters in “Cheers” and “White Men Can't Jump” were largely above suspicion with their portrayal of corn fed Indiana innocence; a role I had a face for and can play well. Unfortunately, these motels were all national chains. I learned that if you are poor or on the road, Corporate America could give a shit if they have your business or not. I bet they wouldn't let Woody Harrelson himself stay there without proper documents.

I found a Denny's, left my bags in the foyer, and asked for a booth where I could watch them. I was famished. I hadn't eaten since sun up. I ordered an omelet with everything, well done hash browns, and a side of slaw. I love slaw. Soon, I would have to subsist on hard rations. After my meal, I ordered coffee and asked for the manager.

I told her that I was headed out to hike the General Crook Trail and delays had brought me to town a little late to begin. She gave me permission to review my maps and journals over coffee in her establishment until morning, provided I tip the servers generously.

It was raining when morning came. The waitress who served me most of the night hooked me up with a ride to the other side of town with the night cook. He dropped me off at a combination Shell Station and Indian Tobacco joint called “Ernies”.

I left my bags on the sidewalk in front of the store and went inside. I bought a can of tobacco, rolling papers, lighters, a large cup of coffee, and a six pack of hostess chocolate doughnuts. There were a couple of booths in the store, but I went outside for my coffee and doughnuts so I could have a smoke.

I'm sure I looked bad. My head was sunburnt and peeling and just starting to show stubble. It was my third day on the road in these clothes. My lips were chapped and cracked, and I hadn't slept since Chavez Park. The doughnuts were gone and I was standing under the awning next to my bags with a cigarette and coffee when Ernie showed up. He didn't like the looks of me.

He told me to leave because he wasn't going to have me bothering his customers. I told him that in spite of appearances, I was no panhandler. I had patronized his establishment and was just finishing my coffee and cigarette before I hit the General Crook trail. He became irate. Actually, he was a giant asshole and threatened me with the police if I didn't leave. Thinking I would have been better off at a booth inside, I carried first one bag and then the other to the edge of a bridge over the Verde River where I would resume my journey. I was tired and angry and distraught. I'd had enough of society for a while. It had been a rough couple of days. All I had to do was make it a few more miles, and I could set up camp and sleep.

That asshole Ernie (he didn't look like an Indian to me), must have called the cops because it wasn't long before a white car pulled up with U.S. Marshall emblazoned on it's side.

I've mentioned before my thoughts on the various branches of law enforcement. City and county cops didn't worry me much, but feds are a little smarter, a little more educated, and have a lot more resources. As Americans, we are subjected to the scrutiny of local law almost constantly. It is a matter of course, for both them and us, to interact in an official capacity. Because of this familiarity, and their limited perspective, I had grown more comfortable in explaining myself to them. Feds, on the other hand, scared the crap out of me.

This G-Man exited his vehicle and asked me where I was heading. I told him and he said as long as my ID checked out, he would let me be on my way. I carried two photo ID's. One was from a swap meet, and the other was from a check cashing joint. Both were stamped in bold letters across the bottom “Data Provided by Signatory”, which is legalese for “These Documents are Bullshit”. I'd used both cards on deputies and city cops, but I reckoned a fed would know better and might be curious. I told him I had no papers.

He said “In that case, let's have a look at what's in the bags”. I had those questionable cards in my day pack, and a little grass in a pipe in one of the duffels. I chose the third bag, which contained mostly groceries, and started emptying it.

I'd gotten about halfway down into the bag when a Mexican guy in a truck came around the corner and took out a couple of the traffic cones that marked the beginning of the new bridge. The fed pointed at me sternly and told me not to go anywhere. Then he jumped into his ride and tore off after the pickup.

I shoved everything back in the bag as soon as he was out of sight and stuck out my thumb at the next passing van. It was a brown conversion van from the seventies or eighties and had a back window shaped like a star. God bless 'em they stopped for me. Noticing a girl in the passenger seat, I got in the side door and offered my thanks as I stowed my gear and closed the door. The trail to the rim and to Fossil Springs was nearly within reach.

As if reading my mind, the girl I had noticed asked me if I was going to the springs. When I answered in the affirmative, she produced a cardboard hitch-hiker's sign that read “The Springs”. I had lucked into a ride with people heading right were I was. I thought.

We blew right by my trail head from the 260 and turned onto a dirt road. The driver offered me a Guiness and the girl rolled a joint. I tried not to be nervous that we had passed my turn. The rain was annoying, but not hard. The dirt road they had turned on though, had become mud. We came to one wide bend where the road was a thick red clay and we slid toward the edge of a ravine and I might have yelled a little. Don, the driver, and Leslie, the passenger, thought this was hilarious. I was terrified. I had another beer.

After nearly thirty miles of this, we came to a cattle guard with a sign that said “Nudity Prohibited”, and they announced that we were home.

Just then a bearded homunculus and a naked hippie kid leaped in front of the van, barring our way. They told us there were rangers in camp and suggested we surrender any drugs or alcohol or extra cash. We told them we would take our chances and they walked along side as we eased our way down the precipitous hill to the camp.
Don parked, and I removed my gear and found a spot about thirty feet away to set up. It was pitch dark and I sat a lit zippo on the low branch of a mesquite tree for the little light it offered. The two would-be highwaymen came to my camp and warned me not to have sex with Leslie. I was really in no danger of sleeping with Leslie. The blond, naked guy told me she had raped his friend Goat (to which the homunculus nodded emphatically). It was then that I noticed another guy, older than myself, lurking in the shadows. “She gave me the fire dick” he said shyly. “Good to know” I responded, not knowing what else to say. 

I had no idea where I was. I crawled in my tent and slept like a fugitive that had been pinballing on the road for three days with no sleep.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Anasazi Bellows Part I, Leaving Phoenix (again)

I thought I had already written this story, or parts of it, but I can't find it in the index. I need to be more organized. If it's already posted, well, here it is again. Probably a little different. I wanted to work in The Apache Bellows. I just can't help but think it was already written. I get confused sometimes, because I often work through the telling of these stories orally, to a lot of different people, before I write them. This is certainly a story I tell a lot, and cannot imagine I haven't written it.

I'll lay a little back story out on this version.

After Maya passed and I broke all those bones, I spent a few weeks back in Phoenix, in a tin shed. When I was just healed enough to ride a bicycle, I headed back out to The Forest.

It was March, and brutally cold yet up at my home at Bear Canyon, but a heatwave in the Valley of the Sun.  I was going to have to find a place to lay up until about May. I consulted the fourth floor at Burto-Barr library. I searched the trail maps and topographs for a location the easiest distance I could find from the Mogollon Rim that would provide me with the climate and resources I would need.

Fossil Creek, below Strawberry, seemed my best bet. I could get there via trails I had found that traverse the Matazal Mountains I could always be within three miles of water. Then, when the weather broke to the north, I would leave the Fossil environs and follow The General Crook Trail up to familiar haunts in the high country.

I'm glad now, that the plan didn't work out that way or else I might still be waiting for somebody to find my bleached bones out there in that vast underexplored Matazal Wilderness. We'll get to that.

I acquired a mountain bike and outfitted it with solid tubes. I built a trailer for the bike, and loaded it with water and food and all my gear in two duffel bags and a big rubbermaid container that resembles the tool box of a contractor's truck.  I also carried a few personal Items that I wished not to take. I intended to leave my home at 75th avenue and ride to Chandler Arizona and leave these few mementos and family photos with my friend Sunshine.

I rode down 74th avenue to Broadway and then took 67th avenue across the Salt River and past a farm stand. As I turned onto Southern, my bike trailer collapsed with no hope of repair. I found a piece of cardboard in the ditch and made a sign. “Bike for Sale. Need Help. A truck full of Mexican Landscapers stopped and sold me a four wheeled cart from Home Depot for $50.00 and took the remains of my trailer with them. From here, I had to steer with one hand while with the other I dragged the heavy cart with my gear.

Progressing eastward on Southern, I began to see how rough this would be. It would take me days at this rate to reach Sunshine's place in Chandler. It was more than a hundred degrees. I was sweltering. I turned south on 59th avenue. It being mostly desert I thought I would have to worry little about traffic. I'd gone about a half mile, my arm failing me as a trailer hitch, when I was overtaken and accosted by a stereotype.

I should say here, that I was taking up about a third of the road with my unlikely caravan. I had chosen 59th for it's lack of housing and hopefully traffic. No such luck.

The huge white Cadillac crept up on me silently and laid on his horn. Then he sped up and with a screech of tires, pulled around me and cut me off. A fat white man in his early sixties emerged from the behemoth with the admonition that I knew not who he was. He wore Bermuda shorts, penny loafers with corroded nickle in them, and a Hawaiian shirt. He was right. I didn't know him. My mind wound back through news footage of local authorities and came up blank. His attitude bespoke Sheriff Joe Arpaio, but his face was unfamiliar.

He wore mirrored shades and a Greg Norman Shark hat. The hat failed to hide the fact that he was balding, sweaty, and angry.I could see belly hair between the gap at the bottom of his too-short shirt.

He told me it was illegal for me to be taking up the road like I was and that with a single phone call he would call down upon me a fury of law enforcement the likes of which I'd never dreamed. Then he continued to tell me the numerous indignities and inconveniences I would be subjected to as well as repeating his assertion that I did not know who I was dealing with. He finished his rant by asking me what I thought of it.

I told him I wasn't any happier with the situation than he was. I unfolded the tale of the collapsed trailer and the journey so far. I assured him that at the nearest pay phone, I would make arrangements to ditch the trailer and that I chose this road for it's lack of traffic, pointing out that he had blocked the road completely now for several minutes and no traffic had approached. He returned to his caddy, shouted that he'd see me in jail, and sped off. 

I wondered why an upstanding citizen like him, Greg Norman fan and all, would be in jail. It was probably about then that I realized my newly shaved head was blistering from the sun.

I made Cesar Chavez Park at sundown, and made myself a bed. I woke several times throughout the night with police spotlights in my face, but none ever hassled me further. In the morning, I set up my camp stove and proceeded to make oatmeal when a squad car approached and two officers emerged. Apparently, it was okay to sleep at the park, just not to cook there. They recommended I adjourn to a nearby Circle K to prepare my morning meal and I obliged, thankfully. 

The Circle K at 35th avenue and Baseline is frequented, in the early morning hours, by workmen in search of coffee, water, ice, and gasoline. After breakfast, I sold the Home Depot cart and Rubbermaid container to visiting contractors for the fifty I had in the cart and twenty more. They left me with some milk crates into which I sifted the contents of the container. I called Sunshine to appraise her of my fortunes, and she came and picked up those artifacts I relocated to the crates that she would store for me; saving a trip to Chandler. She wept when she left, professing a certainty that I would never return and it would be our last meeting.

There happened to be a bus stop on the corner, and I loaded up the bike and mounted for the Greyhound station. I had a new plan. I would bus to Camp Verde and then hike to Fossil Springs where I could pick up the trail north. I got off the bus a few blocks from the station, at a spot I knew would have the most traffic. I worked the sidewalk there, until I sold the bicycle.

At the bus station, knowing I had more than the seventy five pounds allotted at the time for luggage, I hooked my toe under each bag in turn on the scale and lifted. My ruse proved successful, as they charged me no extra. While I waited for my bus, I was entertained by INS agents chasing a fella out and around and through the terminal. It was like an episode of Scooby Doo when they run in one door and out the other being chased by ghouls.

Eventually, I got my bus and was able to relax a few. I had no idea how profoundly the next twenty four hours would affect my life.