Monday, November 29, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 13 - Part 2

B.T. walked over to the far wall and rapped on it lightly with his knuckles to test its thickness. He grinned happily, the wall had been well-constructed and was nearly soundproof. If the professor tried to make a commotion, it would do him little good. B.T. picked up a framed photograph and held it in front of the pale professor. "Is this the lovely Miss Linda Joyce?"

"Yes, that's her."

B.T. whistled with lusty appreciation. "You did pretty well for yourself there, Kenny. She looks like she could give you a real good workout in the rack. Does she moan and groan, or does she like to hold it all in until she explodes all over your ass?"

Ken dropped his chin and closed his eyes. Whatever happened to him at the hands of this madman, he knew it was going to be much worse for Linda. B.T. kicked the professor in the left shin with the pointed toe of his cowboy boot. The pain sent shock waves up Ken's leg and he cried out.

"I asked you a fucking question, Kenny."

Tears rolled down Jarvis' face. He cleared his throat and spit at his inquisitor's bearded face.

"You can go fuck yourself!"

B.T. smiled a lunatic grin and let the spittle dribble down his left cheek. "There you go, Kenny. Show 'em that you got a pair of balls. Yes siree. Go down swinging, that's what I always say. I bet you're learning a lot about yourself today, aren't you?" B.T. patted the professor on the shoulder. "Well, I've enjoyed our little talk, Kenny. I really have. But now it's time for me to go. I have lots of work to do."

B.T. reached over and grabbed the teacher's right ear lobe and squeezed it between his fingernails. When Ken opened his mouth to scream out in pain, B.T. jammed it full of wadded-up bandana. Ken desperately tried to work the cloth rag out of his mouth with his tongue, but B.T. quickly wrapped another bandana around the man's head, securing the gag in place. He held a syringe in the palm of his hand and looked at it lovingly.

"What we have here, Kenny, is some uncut heroin – enough to kill a goddamn horse. Just remember your words of defiance. That was Ken Jarvis at his best, and anything else you said would just be anticlimactic."

Ken's eyes pleaded for mercy as tears streamed down his face. When he felt the stinging touch of the needle on his inner arm, he jerked backward and pissed himself; his recoil so powerful that he almost knocked the chair over. But the needle slid home like an icy splinter. Within seconds he could feel the first hot flash rushes of the morphine mainline; after that, Ken Jarvis ceased to care any more. The world became one of sensual sensation, and conscious thought was just a minor background noise in the sweet symphony of pleasure.

B.T. watched analytically; to die from heroin was to die from too much pleasure. It made for great theater. The victim knew he was dying, but it felt so damn good that it really didn't matter. B.T. almost cried when he saw Ken smile. It was like the professor was thanking him for the gift of eternity.

"You're welcome, Teach." He stroked the soft grey hair of the dying man, took out his small switchblade, and flicked it open. He gingerly cut off a hank of hair and then pocketed the key to The Ritual. B.T. spread his hand on the top of Ken's head and squeezed lightly. He could feel the blood racing through Ken's overloaded brain like liquid electricity. Ken's eyes rolled back in his head as he looked up at B.T. like a grateful dog, and at that instant his heart went red-line. He was dead at forty-six, another casualty of the drug war.

B.T. unhooked the handcuffs. He removed the bandanas and arranged the body so that it looked like Professor Jarvis was just taking a little nap. He deposited an empty heroin ampule next to the dead man's hand. He took in his handiwork, making sure he had left nothing unplanned for the police to discover, and looked at his watch. It was 12:45. He would probably be a little late, but the stop in Cedar City had been worth the time. Now that he knew the girl's whereabouts, he didn't have to bother with poking around Fredonia. House Rock Valley Road was on his way to the Paria; he might just get lucky and run right into her. Now he knew what she looked like; the next time they met, he was going to ring her pretty little neck – slowly. They were going to be neighbors. Maybe he'd see if she wanted to go out on a hot date. Yeah. That would be a lot of fun. After all, she was a lover of predatory birds, so she'd be just crazy about The Ritual.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 13 - Part 1

Ken Jarvis loved Tuesdays. He instructed a senior-level geology course that didn't begin until eleven, giving him the morning to sleep in. The students in the class were all geology majors fully committed to the program; it was always a treat to teach people who were actually interested in the subject. Ken's second lecture period was the exact opposite of his first. The afternoon program was entry-level geology to the members of the football and basketball teams. The class was affectionately known as "Rocks for Jocks", and it was a guaranteed C for all who attended class.

Jarvis was a slight man in his late forties, with greying hair but a lean body that came from constant exercise. Ken jogged a three-mile circuit around the college every day and prided himself on his flat chest and athletic appearance.

Ken hurried home for lunch, anxious to see if the government grant he was trying for had finally been approved. He had expected to hear from the government bureaucrats by the previous Friday, and he was sure it would be there when he got home. It just had to be. The shaded street was empty of people, a typical weekday morning in a sleepy little college town. As Ken neared his home, he noticed a large man with a bushy beard and long red hair walking quickly down the sidewalk toward him. Ken flashed the vacant smile face that he used when walking by students on campus. The stranger smiled a toothy smile and waved. Ken nodded hello and turned down his front walk. He opened up the top on the black aluminum box and reached a shaky hand inside for his mail. There were only two letters in the box, both of them bills. "Shit!" How long were these government slugs going to keep stringing him along?

As he inserted his door key into the lock, he felt the hard metal barrel of a gun jabbed against his back.

"I need a little tutoring, Professor."

"You can have anything that's mine, just don't shoot. Okay?" pleaded Ken, starting to turn.

B.T. Saunders hated whiners. He planted his left knee on the man's backside and pushed him forward. "Just shut up, Teach, and get in the goddamn house. It's time for class to come to order." They entered the living room.

B.T. raised the sleek, black 9mm handgun and aimed it between the eyes of the terrified teacher. "Rule Number One, Kenny: I ask the questions, and you give the answers. You ask me one question and I'm going to put a large hole through your goddamn forehead. Got it?"

Ken nodded his head up and down as he chewed on his lower lip. "I understand."

"That's great," smiled B.T. as he scanned the contents of the living room. "I just knew you'd be a fast learner. Have a seat in that chair by the desk."

Ken had no idea what this man wanted from him, but he sensed that he was in real danger. He did not want to do anything to aggravate this psychopath.

B.T. replaced the 9mm in a leather shoulder holster, donned a pair of work gloves, and then removed a pair of fur-lined handcuffs from the back pocket of his jeans. He walked over to the seated geologist. "Put your hands behind the back of the chair."

"Look, I told you I'd give you anything you want. There's some money upstairs in my bedroom dresser."

B.T. chuckled. "I don't want any of your stinking money, Teach. Hell, if I was a robber, I wouldn't pick a college professor to rob. What do they pay you? Thirty thousand a year? Fifty? Shit, I can make that much in a month, Kenny." B.T. handcuffed the shaking professor's hands to the wooden slats on the back of the chair. He liked to use the fur-lined cuffs he had bought in a Vegas porno shop, because they left no marks on the victim's wrists. They were sort of kinky, too.

"I'll tell you whatever you want to know," said Ken as he looked nervously over his shoulder at the intruder.

"Oh, I hope so, Kenny, cause I got another rule: I can tell when a person is lying to me, so if you try and bullshit me, you're going to feel more pain than you ever thought was possible. Torture is my middle name." B.T.'s green eyes blazed with excitement and the friendly smile never left his face as he spoke. "You wouldn't even believe what a sharp pencil inserted in the ear feels like, Kenny. And, trust me, you don't want to know."

A frightened whimper escaped from the professor as B.T. picked up a freshly sharpened Number 2 pencil from the nearby desk. He twirled it in his right hand like a baton and laughed.

"Tell me about Linda Joyce."

Jarvis instantly knew what this was all about. "You're the man she saw kill the Indian!"

"Well, I see that my reputation precedes me. When did she call?"

Ken's eyes darted madly around the room, but he knew there was no way out. "This morning. She called to tell me about the murder this morning."

"How nice. What else did she have to say?"

"She said she was worried, that it had been a terrible ordeal. She said you almost caught her when she was down in the canyon."

"Yeah, I bet I did. What else did she have to say?"

"Nothing, I swear to God. We just talked about personal stuff – things that wouldn't interest you."

"Everything interests me, Kenny. And it's been my experience that whenever people start swearing to God, they're lying."

B.T. ran the pencil in ticklish circles along the edge of the professor's ear lobe. Ken tried to pull his head to the side, but wherever he moved, the pointed pencil followed.

"She said she was going back to work!"

"Did she say anything about police protection?"

"No," cried the horror-stricken teacher, "I'm pretty sure she said she was going to be alone."

"Where is she planning on working?"

Ken Jarvis was so scared that he didn't think to protect Linda. All he cared about was his own survival. "She said she would be at House Rock Valley."

B.T.'s eyes widened. "Do you mean the House Rock Valley that's just to the west of the Paria Plateau?"

Ken swallowed hard. "That's the one. It's located on the eastern edge of the Kaibab Mountain."

B.T. tossed the pencil back on the table. Now he had everything he needed from this worm. It was time to get down to serious business. The air seemed to crackle like it was electrically charged, and the smell of death came to him like a heavenly perfume. He could faintly hear the voices of the gods whispering behind his back. All eyes were now upon him. And Ken Jarvis' spirit hung in the balance.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 12 - Part 3

"I'm just tired of listening to my friends and neighbors telling me it's okay if they piss on the past like it was their own. 'Cause it ain't. The Anasazi weren't your people, and you got no right to steal their history and then pretend like it was nothing more than a shiny penny you happened to stumble upon on the street."
"Well, when you frame it like that, I guess I don't," said Billy as he crushed his sandwich wrap into a tight ball. "But I ain't the one in the chopper. And I ain't killed no Indians, neither. But I'll tell you what. This chopper business leaves a real bad taste in my mouth. These people are looters, for Christ's sake. They fly in here in their fancy helicopters and steal the local culture. And then they fly back out to some big city shithole and sell the whole load to some Japanese sonofabitch. I saw a thing on the TV the other night about how these goddamn vandals have been raiding old Indian sites all over the San Juan River drainage for the past couple years, and they end up shipping everything out of the country; most of the stuff winds up in Japan or Europe."
Billy put his trash into his lunch box and slammed the lid shut. "And that ain't right. I mean, when a local takes something home, it stays in the area at least. But when these pots are sold to someone out of the country, you know damn well that they ain't never gonna be seen here again."
"It's unlikely," agreed Dwayne as he finished his soda and tossed the can into the truck bed.
"But now here's the thing, Dwayne. I've been seeing a lot of goddamn helicopters flying around here lately. Since we brought the cows up here in the spring, I've seen more of the damn things than I can shake a stick at. My boy Ethan remarked the other day that it sounded like a goddamn airport around here."
"What day was that?"
"Oh hell, it'd have to have been Sunday, I guess. But that don't do you no good, does it? I thought you had all the trouble yesterday morning?"
"That's when we first learned about it. But it happened on Sunday."
"Well, on Sunday we were stringing fence and we heard this one helicopter for a solid hour – must have been late in the afternoon, on towards sunset. Never saw it, but you could hear it real clear, off to the northwest – out by Jumpup. And I’ll tell you something else. I know who owns the two I've been seeing around here all summer, and that's ASN."
"The uranium miners?"
"That's them."
"Billy, are you sure about this?"
"A hunnerd percent. I seen their choppers at the Fall Carnival the past couple of years. That's how I know it's them."
"They have any markings on them, anything that says it's from ASN?"
"Not that I recall."
"Well, how the hell can you be certain then?"
Billy coughed as he gave Dwayne a dirty look. "Like I said, I seen the sonsabitches parked out behind the goddamn grade school at last year's fair, and I know they're the same ones that have been flying all over here and back. If you're so fucking smart, then where do you think they come from?"
"I don’t know. But you go accusing people, Billy, you better be sure. That's all I'm saying."
"I'm sure," said Billy with an icy stare.
"Then that's good enough for me," said Dwayne with a nod.
Billy stood up stiffly and faced the seated ranger. "Well, I guess I outghta be gettin' back to work now. I've jawed with you long enough."
Dwayne rose slowly and adjusted his cowboy hat. "Wouldn't want to slow you down on such a fine day as this." Dwayne closed the Ford's tailgate. "Now about this fence-cutting. Billy, promise me you won't do anything stupid."
"If somebody messes with the cattle, or I see that big redheaded sonofabitch in the chopper, they're gonna get a real big taste of frontier justice."
Dwayne shook his head with sad resignation. "Talking to you, Billy, is like talking to the goddamn wall."
"Ah yep, save your breath, lad."
"Well then, let me leave you with this little piece of advice, and I'll deny ever having said it, so don't even think about using it on me, if you get your ass in a sling. If you're gonna play the fool, then you better make sure you kill whoever you shoot. That way you can tell your side of the story and there ain't no one to contradict you. You know what I'm saying?"
Billy laughed. "Well now, I think I got it. You want me to aim low, shoot high, and take no prisoners, right?"
Dwayne looked up at the cloud-draped, high noon sun and shuddered with the realization that his home was fast becoming a bonafide war zone, and all he could seem to do was issue a bunch of half-assed warnings.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 12 - Part 2

Dwayne took a sip off his Coke and shook his head. "Now Billy, you know I can't tell you that it's okay for you to take the law into your own hands like that."

"Nope, and you can't spend all day and night protecting my cows, neither. I can appreciate that, Dwayne. And you know that I don't hold you personally responsible for the damage. Look, we've had this conversation already if I recall, and I say we just leave it as is. There ain't a jury in this state that's gonna convict me for standing up for what's rightfully mine. And if they do, then they can just kiss my fucking ass."

"I hear you, Billy. And all I can tell you is that you better shoot low, 'cause if you kill somebody, you're gonna be in real hot water."

"Been there before," said Billy as he stomped out his cigarette in the dust and belched loudly. "Goddamn heartburn. Half the time, it feels like I got a fire in my gut."

"That's what being such an ornery cuss'll do to you," replied Dwayne.

Billy laughed and belched again. "What the hell went on down in Jumpup yesterday? Christ, the whole town's talking about it."

Dwayne shook his head and exhaled loudly. "Willie Meeks, you know, from up at the Paiute Reservation? Well, he took a round in the back of the head at close range."

"How come?"

"You got me, Billy. Looks like he might have been working as a pothunter and got double-crossed by his partner."

"A pothunter, huh? Any idea who pulled the trigger?"

Dwayne looked down at the ground as he spoke. "It was some real big white guy with long red hair and a thick beard."

"Shit, that's a big club."

"Tell me about it," complained Dwayne. "Mining the Anasazi's big business these days."

Billy nudged the dirt with the toe of his boot as he considered his next words. "I probably shouldn't say this, you being an officer of the law and all. But it ain't no secret that most of us around here have picked up an arrowhead, or maybe a pot or two, in our travels. Hell, the old timers used to dig into sites until they found themselves a nice collection of pots, and then they'd drop 'em off a ledge just to watch 'em bust apart."

"I hope you ain't bragging, Billy," said Dwayne with contempt, "'cause that kinda shit really burns my ass. It ain't harmless fun. It's STUPID!"

Billy held up his hand as if signaling for a stop. "I ain't never done that sort of thing. And I ain't telling you nothing you don't already know, Dwayne. The point is: most every local I know – myself included – usually look at the stuff left behind by the Anasazi as being pretty much finders-keepers."

"Well it AIN'T, Billy!" said Dwayne as he slapped his cowboy hat against his knee in anger. "Indian artifacts are protected by the federal government."

"Ah yep, just like my fucking cows are, right?" Billy winked. "Look, why don't you pull the burr out of your saddle and listen to what I got to say. You might even learn something, lad. What I'm trying to tell you is that I've never paid much attention to the laws that said you couldn't pick up what you found on the ground. I don't give a shit whether you call it federal land or not. And personally, I don't see how your paid archaeologists are any better than me. I find an arrowhead and I take it home and polish it up and it ends up being displayed on a shelf in my house. Your people would pick up the same damn arrowhead and take it back to the office and store it away in a goddamn box in some warehouse. Now, you can justify that in the name of the public good, or science, or even some highfalutin' standard of morality, if you want to. But the way I see it, that goddamn arrowhead is still gone, no matter how you try and slice it."

"If you think that archaeologists are no different than yourself, then you're dumber than I thought," Dwayne replied. "You wouldn't let some idiot off the street tell you anything about running cows, so what gives you the right to pretend you have any idea what you're talking about when it comes to cultural resources? You're a goddamn thief if you pick up an artifact and take it home. You might just as well smash it right there where you find it, 'cause once you remove it from where it was found, it's meaningless. It might as well have come from the goddamn moon."

"Calm down, little pardner," replied Billy with genuine concern. "I had no idea that you felt so strongly about this shit, Dwayne."

Monday, November 15, 2010

Richmond Rocks!

Richmond Rocks!

I hadn’t been back there since 1973, when I went to summer school at the University of Richmond after getting discharged from the Navy.

Inna and I left a little before noon on a gloriously sunny and warm Veterans Day and took the long way, a scenic drive through South County and US 301, with a stop at Captain Billy’s on Pope’s Creek, for the worst fried food EVER. It’s a scenic spot along the Potomac, but the greasy food stayed with us for the rest of the day, and not in a good way.

We drove over the Governor Nice Bridge and into Virginia with its bright red cardinal welcome sign, past Dahlgren and Fort A.P. Hill, a land still pretty much like it was 30 years ago – mostly forests and fields. We stopped in Ashland for a brief walk around my old alma mater Randolph-Macon College. Inna thought it was cute, and not much has changed – the big fountain, the motel dorms a bit upgraded, Moreland Hall where I once lived, fraternity row, everything tidy and in it’s proper place. It made me want to light a joint and take a nap.

We pushed on for Richmond and went directly to the Visitors Center on Third Street, where a gracious old Colonial Dame broke out maps and told us the best places to visit while warning us that there was going to be a marathon on Saturday and the town would be impossible to get around in. Run away! She was very helpful but she should have been wearing a button that read “Richmond Sucks!”

We headed over to Monument Street and checked out the giant statuary of the Confederacy’s fallen heros. We walked along the wide grass median where rebel champs arose into the blue sky every few blocks. There was J.E.B. Stuart, Robert E. Lee, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, and Matthew Fontaine Maurey on stone horses, with Jefferson Davis in the middle giving a speech. Ornate and immaculate houses lined the stately boulevard with its maples, ginkos and willow oaks turning the world a fiery yellow and red. The fall colors were at their peak and the residential streets were like glowing tunnels. The ginkos, in particular throbbed a golden yellow like underwater coral.

When the sun went down, we drove west to the Days Inn on Dickens Road. We unpacked, loaded up on drink and spice, and then headed back into town to Shocktoe Bottom, Richmond’s version of Baltimore’s Fell’s Point, where the former industrial bottomland is being transformed into trendy restaurants, jumping juke joints, and upscale townhouses. Inna had cashed in some of her credit card miles for restaurant discounts and we headed over to a place called Posh which was not open. We hit the very nice SUMOSAN restaurant on Cary Street for some Sapporo beer and fresh fish. Inna gave the dining certificate to our waitress as a tip.

The next day we grabbed a barely edible – but free – breakfast at the hotel before starting into town. The grey-haired docent at the Visitors Center had given me what turned out to be a gold mine map from a 6-mile charity walk called the “Anthem Stride Through Time” around the historic core, starting at the American Civil War Center Visitor Center at Tredegar on the James River, where the Park Service and others have preserved the five main areas where the industrial might of the south was put to the ultimate test.

We started our trek on the Canal Walk along the river on a sunny day with temperatures in the low 60's, past gleaming bank skyscrapers and the historic flood wall that protected the downtown core from the James River.

After about a mile, we left the waterfront and headed past the somewhat inexplicable Holocaust Museum and back into Shockoe Bottom, and then up to Church Hill to the white-framed St. John’s Church, where the rabble-rousing rebel Patrick Henry delivered his infamous “Give me liberty, or give me death” speech against King George and the British. The views of the city from the east end of Church Hill reminded me of Glasgow and Richmond lay before us like a shiny carnival ride.

We bushwacked down a hill back into Shockoe Bottom, past the Edgar Allan Poe House (Richmond’s oldest house) and had a tasty lunch at LuLu’s, right next to the historic 17th Street Farmers Market which was bustling with activity as the African-American vendors hawked their produce to the sounds of soul music oldies.

We started a long walk along East Main, up the big hill back into city center, stopping at the red, brick and sandstone Gothic Main Street train station and the Reconciliation Statue which was erected in recognition of the city’s dark connection to slavery. At the top of the hill stood the magnificent, gleaming white Georgian state capital building and Governor’s mansion. On the back side of the Capital there was a peaceful lawn much like the national capital in Washington, where statues to the African-American struggle for freedom and the Founding Fathers lined the grassy, tree-lined park and the gothic Old City Hall towered above us like a Scottish castle.

We continued north, past St. Paul’s Church, the Library of Virginia, the glass and steel new City Hall, Monumental Church, and the VCU School of Medicine. We had covered over four miles at this point and we needed to give our feet a break, so we grabbed an empty table next to the fountain behind the Valentine Richmond House. Inna took off her shoes and we basked in the warmth of the sun.

The café patio closed at 2 and we continued our urban walk past the Georgian-styled John Marshall House, Abady Festival Park, the Arabesque Carpenter Theater, Richmond Coliseum, and the Richmond Region Visitor Center where we had mapped out our visit the previous day.

It was beer-thirty, so we stopped at the Marriot for a cold brew on the outdoor patio, across from the Richmond Center Stage on East Broad Street. There was a nice electric fire place and we people watched while we drank our IPA’s and remarked how nice everyone seemed and how clean and attractive Richmond was – unlike Pennsylvania’s Harrisburg which we had visited a few months before. The residents have a real sense of happiness and pride and the city is a treat to explore.

We headed back down the hill on Fifth Street to the Tredegar Iron Works and hopped in the car. On the way back to the hotel, we scouted out a biker Jazz bar on West Broad Street known as Emilio’s. We had been told it was a great place to hear jazz but the place looked a bit sketchy and the Hell’s Angels book signing sign in the window didn’t exactly ring our bell. Back in our hotel room, we rested at the hotel and regrouped for the evening. After out 6-mile hike over much of Richmond, our heads were spinning and our feet were hurting.

We finally summoned the strength to dress for dinner and then drove down to 301 Franklin where Inna had yet another restaurant discount coupon. We had a yummy dinner and then took a walk around the neighborhood, taking in the Victorian houses on a beautiful fall evening. We took a side trip around the very urban and attractive VCU Monroe campus and then over to the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart which lit the night like a huge white flower.

The next day was the Richmond Marathon, so our plan was to steer clear of downtown until noon when the streets would no longer be closed for the runners.

We headed about five miles north of town to the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. They wanted $10 to tour a garden that was hardly in bloom, so we ate brunch in the empty café, overlooking the glass-domed botanical garden. If it had been $5, we would have stayed, but $10 for a dormant garden was too much to pay.

Still wanting to avoid the Marathon, we stayed on the southwest side of the City and visited some of the historic mansions overlooking the James River, stopping first at the red-bricked Wilton House, which was moved fourteen miles upriver from its original location to make way for a factory that never materialized and which is now being run by the Colonial Dames of Richmond, who charge $10 for a tour. We once again declined.

We headed a few miles east to the Agecroft and Virginia House mansions that sit side-by-side on tree-lined bluffs above the James River.

Agecroft is a giant Tudor mansion that looks out of place in the Antebellum world of Richmond. It dates back to the 16th Century England and the windows, roofing tiles, beams and furniture were brought to Richmond in the 1930's when the tobacco baron industrialist T.C. Williams purchased Windsor Farm and decided to build a Tudor village. The depression nixed that plan and other than Virginia House, a 15th Century castle that was transported from England to it’s current location, the neighborhood is comprised of million dollar Georgian mansions built in the 1960's. We walked around the ornate gardens of Agecroft and Virginia House and marveled at the tranquil beauty of these recreated gems.

Around noon, we drove through new-money communities on the west end of town where smiling families played in giant leaf piles and waved as we drove past. We parked just off of Monument Street and walked around The Fan, a residential mix of diversely-designed houses lined by magnificent street trees that were in the peak fall glory. We walked for about an hour around The Fan, and once again, we were struck by the tidy nature and genial hospitality of everyone we met. Whenever we stopped to look at a map, someone – blacks and whites – came up and asked if they could help us find what we were looking for.

We walked over to Carytown where head shops, consignment shops, and trendy stores were bustling with activity. Well-dressed hipsters ambled along the flag-draped boulevard and we stopped at a sushi restaurant for some $2 Pabst Blue Ribbons and raw fish. After lunch, we walked along Cary Street, stopping to check out the funky stores.

As the sun began to set, we hopped back in the car and hopped onto I-95, heading north to Annapolis. Two hours later, we were home.

Richmond is a wonderful weekend getaway and a place where history and the present come together with both grace and style. The people are unbelievably friendly and the city is clean, safe, and chock full of interesting places to play. We are definitely going back.

To see our trip photos check out

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Anasazi Strip - Chapter 12 - Part 1

By the time Dwayne located Billy Mangum and his fencing crew, it was almost noon. High, wispy cirrus clouds were smeared across the sky like thin white paint. The weather didn't seem to know what it wanted to do. For weeks, Northern Arizona had been on the edge of several fast-moving fronts, bringing little precipitation and highs in the middle seventies and lows in the high thirties. All in all, a summerlike October, with winter staying two hundred miles north, near Salt Lake City. Dwayne honked his horn at the four cowboys just breaking for lunch. They all waved back, their faces streaked with sweat and dirt. Each one wore a battered Stetson. A stoop-shouldered man in his early fifties broke away from the group, lunch pail in hand. He shuffled along the dirt road with a bowlegged stiffness that looked almost painful.

Dwayne steered his Ford Ranger into a wide pullout and shut it off. He was suddenly glad he had decided to stop on his way out of town to pick up a ham & cheese sandwich. He was famished after no breakfast. He got out of his truck and hailed the approaching rancher. "How goes it, Billy? I see you got the boys there working their asses off."

"Ain't nothing but an honest day's work, lad. Course, to a pampered government pup like yourself, it probably looks like something special," replied Billy as he spit in the dirt.

Billy Mangum smiled a gap-toothed smile and placed his lunch box in the bed of Dwayne's truck. He took off his hat and wiped his brow with a blue bandana. His snow white hair was cut military-short and his forehead was deeply creased. He was the last of a dying breed. Billy had spent his entire life running cattle on the Arizona Strip, as his daddy had done before him. He didn't know any other kind of life. He had never held another job. Billy knew how to fix any engine ever built. He could construct a ranch house big enough to hold a Mormon family of twenty and had a deep contempt for book learning. He had barely gotten out of high school. Billy thought he knew everything that was important to know. He was king of his world, and he loved to let everyone else know what was wrong with theirs, and usually in the foulest of terms.

Billy Mangum was what known as a Jack Mormon. He liked to drink liquor, smoke cigarettes, and swear like the devil himself. Jack Mormons comprised about a third of any small Mormon town. If pressed, they'd admit to believing in the Mormon gods and general principles, but they never went to church and they thought their neighbors were nothing more than simple-minded hypocrites. The average Jack was indifferent to religion or politics. But some of them – Billy's Uncle Loomis for instance – had been so cocky and inspired, they splintered apart from their orthodox cousins and founded their own towns. They declared themselves prophets and practiced polygamy. Jacks were the black sheep of the close-knit Mormon family, but they were tolerated oddities, like some genetic mutation in the pure racial strain in which the Mormons ultimately believed. Jack Mormons had one thing in common with one another: they didn't give a damn what anybody else thought. A very little bit of Billy Mangum could go a long, long way.

"Let's eat some lunch, old timer, and you can tell me all about your fence problems." Dwayne flipped down the tailgate of his truck and took a seat.

Billy stuck an unfiltered Camel in his mouth and struck a kitchen match off his zipper. He blew a thick cloud of smoke up at the sky and joined Dwayne on the tailgate.

"Sheee-it, there ain't much to tell, Dwayne. It's the same as the time before, and all the times before that. The bastards cut the fence and then hightailed it out of here like chickenshits – probably some of them environmental assholes who get their kicks sticking it to a rancher."

Billy unwrapped the tin foil around a large roast beef sandwich and began to eat hungrily, staring off at the brightly colored plateaus rising in the north.

"Were there any tracks?"

"Oh, you bet your ass," chuckled Billy. "Tracks on top of tracks on top of tracks. Hell, these folks ain't dumb. The place where they decided to cut the fence was right next to the goddamn road and there's been plenty of traffic since then. So there ain't nothing to go on. You gotta catch the sonsabitches doing it, Dwayne. And there ain't much chance of that unless you camp out here with the cows. I mean, they don't just slice some fence to slice some fence. They purposely want to set the cows free."

"Well it wouldn't be any fun if the cows weren't there, Billy."

"Ah, yep, if they want to play the game that way, then that's the way we'll play it. Either me or one of my boys is gonna be camped out here with the herd until we move 'em off the mountain in another three weeks or so. And if we see somebody fucking around with our cattle, they're gonna find out that the way we play it is with a 30-06 slug right up the ass."

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sanity Rule (one day)

Lordy, Lordy, you should have seen the Rally to Restore Sanity & Keep Fear Alive hosted by comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. It was a sight to behold. I've been to many of the big events in D.C. – the Bicentennial Celebration in 1976, every presidential inauguration, Folk Life Festivals, and Indian Pow Wow's – but the Rally for Sanity was the mother of all events ever held on the Washington Mall. No contest.

Many of my friends from Annapolis were on the road before the sun in hopes of finding a parking place somewhere near the monuments. No one wanted to try Metro because it broke when the two trains collided last year and no one has figured out how to put it back together.

We got a late start and drove in via Kenilworth Avenue and East Capital Street, past all of the busses that were parked at RFK. There was no traffic and we snagged a free parking place on C Street right next to a neighborhood market where we bought snacks and sandwiches. Then we walked down the west side of Capital Hill to the Mall as people of all colors, ages, shapes and sizes poured out of Union Station. When we finally got a clear view of the spectacle below, we could see the entire Mall was filled from the Reflecting Pool to the Washington Monument.

It was beautiful fall day. The large Japanese Pagoda trees and oaks ringing Capital Hill were turning golden and a piercing blue sky tinged with cathedral light made the white Capital Dome seem almost mythical in its majesty. I kept pinching myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming.

Everyone we encountered from beginning to end was smiling. These were not angry teabaggers, looking for a fight. The vibe was laid-back and totally chill.

It looked and felt like Woodstock and the signs of freedom were everywhere.

Americans For ... Oh Look, It's A Puppy
Discourse then Intercourse
Reality Has a Well-Known Liberal Bias
Relax, People, I Think We’ll Be OK
Kittens Scare Me - Kittens Are Taking Over Our Government - Kittens Are EVERYWHERE - RUN!
Team Sanity
Leave Scary to Halloween Not Politics
[Citation needed]
I Can See Sanity From My House
Uncle Sam Wants YOU to Stop Being Afraid of Other Americans, Religions, Classes, Nations, Ideas. You’re Americans - Act Like It!
Things Are Pretty OK
Yes We Can ... but
I Think We Still Could
I Think I’m Right ... but
I Love Being Right So Much I Change My Mind When I’m Wrong
Separation of Corporation and State
Keep It Sane Stupid
I Hate Pointless Signs
THEY Took Our Jobs!
I Was Told There Would Be Cake
I Support Signs
Don't Be A FOXhole
FOX News - Keep Fear Alive
Jesus Died 4 Our Signs
Palin/Chaney 2012 - The Mayan Prophecy Fulfilled
Libraries are Prisons for Books
Bacon is Good For Me!
America – Let's Take it Down A Notch
Death To All Fanatics!
This Sign is Too Damn Big.

We couldn't get near the stage area and there were fences to herd the crowd into the Mall at 7th Street. People sat atop every porto-potty and perched in the trees to get a better look at the stage – it was a total free-for-all zoo.

We couldn't stop laughing. Everywhere we looked was something amusing. It was like the zany creative spirit of America had been unleashed upon Washington for a mind-blowing throw-down party.

Halloween was the next day, so many people were in costumes. There were the usual political masks, werewolves, vampires, and other grisly ghouls, but some people really pulled out all the stops.

There was a toaster carrying a sign that read Toasters United Against Teabaggers.

A Flying Spaghetti Monster kept letting people rub their heads on her springy foam pasta while a nearby human vacuum cleaner with flood lights guarded one of the food tents.

Space aliens surrounded a giant walking Statue of Liberty.

An old man in a tweed suit stood silently with a sign that read Retired CIA Analysts for Sensible Drug Policy and at his feet was a huge St. Bernard, sporting a Canines for Cannabis sign with a whiskey barrel around its neck covered in pot leaf decals.

There were jugglers, unicyclists, colonial patriots, and various comic book super heros,

There was a woman in Colonial garb with a sign that read Party Like It's 1776 standing next to a red-lipped zombie in Colonial dress with a sign saying I Can't Die - I'm Different Than You.

There were lots & lots of animals: bears, dogs, cats, big pink PETA pigs, chickens, ducks, and chipmunks.

Pot was very popular, both in signage and substance. We especially liked the fellow with the Nixon mask covered in cannabis leaves carrying a sign that said Cannabis Causes Violence, Deafness, Blindness and Absence of Taste.

A real show stopper was the a huge walking head of the Iranian President, sporting a sign that said I’m GAY for the USA and there was woman leading him along carrying a sign that read Do We Look Brown? Should We Show You Our ID’s?

One guy hung out the entire time, walking up and down the steps of the National Gallery with a bulging pair of pants and carrying a sign saying I Have a Pre-Existing Condition In My Pants. We figured he was just trying to get laid.

We liked the Roman gladiator who was waving his sword and sporting a ballistic missile coming out of his forehead like a unicorn.

Several American Indians carried signs saying Take Back America?

There was a person dressed like a yellow-headed, smiley-face robot and on his chest plate it read FCK H8

There were Guantonomo prisoners in orange jumpsuits parading back & forth in chains. They were at the Obama party on January.

One of the more amusing sights was a couple standing next to one another. The guy held a sign that read Aimee Will You Marry Me? And she stood there proudly with a big engagement ring on her finger.

There was a crowd of people being lectured to by a guy dressed like a master chef, and one of the onlookers was wearing a jacket draped in chains and penises.

There was a happy couple in full-on Islam garb, sitting in lawn chairs and carrying a sign that read Where Are the Moderate Muslims? (with an arrow pointing down at their heads).

The Blue Men were there.

We spotted lots of people dressed like Jesus and priests –- maybe they were the real deal. Who could say for sure?

And one guy in particular weirded us out. He had fashioned a costume after a Southpark episode and had a snarling baby zombie coming out of the right side of his head. He carried a brightly-colored sign that read This Is Not A Good Sign.

Interestingly enough, there were very few police and the ones that were there were either on horses or segways. They seemed to be having a ball and everyone wanted to get their pictures snapped standing next to them, which they gladly obliged.

Most folks were using their phones as cameras and the cell phone network shut down well before the show began because everyone was trying to send photos to their friends, tweeting, texting, or just trying to find their lost compadres. It was very easy to get separated.

We walked over to the National Gallery where the steps were filled with happy people, packed in like spectators at a wondrous stadium. When we got to the top of the museum, we walked out onto the edge of a flat platform on the wings of the ornate building where we had a panoramic view of the Mall. The scene before us literally took our breath away. The costumed crowd was packed like sardines on the grassy interior of the Mall, a seemingly-endless mass of comical patriots, watching the Jumbotrons and hooting it up. People danced and pranced below us on the street and it was a never-ending freak show.

We did the Wave across the entire length of the Mall, arms stretched to the sky and rippling like human corn. We practiced animal noises and jumped up and down in a synchronized move like there was an earthquake.

The official show began promptly at noon. We could hear it, but the stage was out of sight. It didn’t really matter that we weren’t plugged into Stewart, Colbert and the various bands – The Roots, Kid Rock, Cat Stevens, Ozzy Osborne, Sheryl Crow, Mavis Staples, and Tony Bennett. The real show were the people, and they paraded below us like a non-stop carnival. Several times I found myself on the verge of tears – proud, glad to be an American, tears.

The creepiest sight I saw was a guy carrying a big black & white American flag. It took me a second to realize what it was. At first, I thought the sun was playing tricks with my eyes. But when I realized what it was, a chill went right up my back. It sent a very strange and compelling message indeed.

Several things jumped out at me during our travels. The first was how happy people were. There was no anger of hostility. People were there to have a good time and blow off some steam in these times of great tribulation. And people had come from all around the globe. We met folks from almost every state and country, carrying their home flags.

The crowd was mostly white and young. But there were plenty of grey hairs like myself, along with grizzled Vietnam Vets, straight-looking geezers, and grannies on motorized wheelchairs. It was like every kind of American had eaten a hippie pill and were high on life.

The prime time show ended at three, but the fun and games continued for many hours as people roamed around the Mall, taking in the sights and sounds. No one wanted to break the magic spell by leaving. One guy took off his clothes and went skinny dipping in the frigid Reflecting Pool. Many people picnicked in the grass or basked in the warm sun like lazy lizards. Many people openly smoked pot. It was an irregular hootenany.

As the sun began to set, we decided to head over to Eastern Market to grab a beer and some food. At the Japanese Memorial, we picked up a sign that was in a garbage can. It read: Blame Canada, with pictures of Nickelback, Celine Dionne, and Justin Bieber. Inna and I took turns carrying the sign the rest of the day and wherever we went –even into stores and restaurants – it was a huge hit. Everyone got it.

And I think that’s the key. You either understand that America has made some really bad mistakes, but is still the best place on earth to live, and that we will only get out of this mess if we can come together and embrace our diversity and ingenuity; otherwise, we’re all doomed to be forever pissed off at dark-skinned people and everyone who isn’t Christian, conservative, and homophobic.

My feelings about the rally can best be summed up by the fellow who was carrying a sign that read Can’t We All Just Smoke A Bowl? He was standing next to a Park Police car, with his arm around the cop who was flashing the peace sign.