Eugene, Lost on the River

I had a lump in my throat and was trying not to cry. Two Sheriff cars were at the pickup point and people were hollering. My eyes scanned the river. Fucking Eugene!

We were just kids but we could really instigate fun. This particular Saturday afternoon we had cajoled an adult to drive us to a jump-in spot along the North Platte River in South Central Nebraska.

When I was tiny the school had books about Boy Scouting adventures staged during WWII when the men folk were off to do business with the enemy so the Boy Scouts had to take care of themselves and the women folk. Great books by the way beings how the books were written before Boy Scouts of America sissified the club to satisfy the cravings of a miserable  bunch of weaklings to make Scouting ‘safe’. As an adult I volunteered with the Scouts but Scouting has weakened now to the point that the adults are doing everything for the kids. It ought to be called the Adult Scouts Baby Sitting Club of America.

Back then we were always wishing we had a Scout Master so we could have more fun but since we didn’t, we made due with a Pathfinder Manual which is a watered down Scout Handbook made for churches. It was good enough so off we went.

For the most part no one cared what we did as boys as long as we didn’t piss anyone off. Three times the local paper had an ad offering a $500 reward to catch who ever had performed our mischief but that’s not bad considering how much time we had and how much we did plus that was a small price members of the community had to pay to produce such capable adults.

Anyway, we were floating, wading, and occasionally swimming down the river for a 4 hour jaunt.

I was the youngest by at least 3 years and wasn’t in high school yet but I seemed to be responsible for making most of the stuff we did happen. I also put a lot of pressure on myself to make sure things stayed OK. Keeping track of these guys was a lot like taking big dumb dogs for a walk through the grocery store. It usually produced the kind of miserable fun that gave us stories to tell to the grand kids.

About half way down the river Eugene started getting tired. He was a fair amount lower on the smart scale than Forrest Gump and had a mean disposition towards me. I liked him OK and since he wasn’t at all bright and he was awful looking most kids were mean to him. I would have been mean I suppose except I was making up for being mean to a retarded girl when I was in 2nd grade and still felt bad about it. It took a lot of convincing to get the adults to let me bring Eugene with us and now I was starting to get concerned.

He kept getting slower and further behind and the other guys were getting tired as well and they were getting interested in finding the bridge where someone was gonna pick us up. I kept hollering at Eugene to hurry up and he started telling me to fuck off. The other guys were getting way ahead and no longer had any interest in waiting for Eugene and me.

Even as a little kid I knew better than to be alone in the river with evening coming on and something primal understood that if you can’t make it, you die. I started grieving his possible demise and started busting hump to get caught up with the guy that waited the longest. I didn’t see him for a long time though. I ran in the shallows and lunged into the deep and swam with the urgency that consumes a young boy alone on the river, all along looking back and praying to God to take care of Eugene.

Finally I saw the next guy and he was heading for the South shore. Coming around the bend, the bridge came into view. “Where’s Eugene?” “He’s way back there somewhere. Why didn’t you guys wait for me?” “You guys were too slow.”

We waited and worried at the bridge and tried to figure out how to fix this mess when the pick-up car arrived about an hour late. “We can’t find Eugene!” The story was told and they waited around for about 15 minutes before heading off to find a farm-house to borrow a phone. Our ride showed back up and a half hour later a couple of Sheriff cars came skidding in. Now the story was pretty well rehearsed so they got the polished version.

Now these two Sheriff Deputies were as good as any and they yelled through the bull horn and ran the sirens in short bursts to hopefully draw in a lost boy but to no avail. I felt a lot of emotion and a few tears slipped out. This might have been the last time I ever felt this much grief about the possible suffering of another human being. It was strong.

One of the Deputies took off and I had walked up close to the remaining Sheriff car and overheard the Deputy talking with the State Patrol about Eugene’s description: We’re looking for a 16-year-old white male with a brown afro that sticks straight up. He is about 5’5″ with a pot belly and they said he is dressed in shorts and had an inner tube around his waist. From what they said he ain’t too bright. We might be looking for a body.

I went back to the rail and started looking for a body. Every emotion I knew how to have was running up and down the scales but it didn’t distract me from realizing that if Eugene was dead everyone was gonna blame me. I was done grieving Eugene and was now grieving myself. The whipping for killing Eugene was gonna be bad, not like the ones you pay extra for in Las Vegas. I was calculating how long it was gonna take to catch the Wyoming border on a bicycle.

An hour later a horn started honking and the Deputy call us over with a bullhorn. THE STATE PATROL JUST FOUND A YOUNG PERSON WITH THE FOLLOWING DESCRIPTION: (He described Eugene in perfect detail) THIS PERSON WAS FOUND WALKING AGAINST TRAFFIC ON THE FREEWAY HEADING TOWARDS CHEYENNE. WE WILL HAVE TO WAIT TO CONFIRM BUT I THINK YOUR BOY IS SAFE!!!

Turns out he got out of the river a few hundred yards from the bend where he would have seen us at the bridge. It was a ways through the brambles and over a few barbed-wire fences. He was barefooted and still had that stupid inner tube around his waist. Sunburnt, scratched, and totally at peace with the world as the sun was setting.

I was real happy to see him but I still waited to cancel my plans for heading for Wyoming. Nothing much came of it since the Deputies insisted to the adults that we did everything right. After that though, I was much more careful about bringing someone along ‘just to be nice’.

I wonder what ever happened to Eugene.

Post Script: This might seem like a good reason to sissify the Scouting program. Maybe, but I’d still rather die or be permanently injured being fully alive and fully human than live for eternity by someone else’s idea of safety.

Post Post Script: In case you’re wondering, no, we did not get caught for our mischief.

White Privilege

“What??? I have to pay??!! I was hoping to get money back!” Mom (my wife) handed him his tax return papers. “You guys are kidding me right? Is this a joke?” “Nope, it’s the real deal kid.”

My youngest son worked part time last year but skipped going to college and made decent money for the work type. Since he stayed with us to reduce bills while getting a car and other semi necessary items ready for this year of schooling he didn’t have the needed write-offs.

“Yeah man, but don’t worry about it. Mom and I decided to pay it for you this year.” “How much was it?” “Two bucks.” “Two bucks?” “Yup.” “God! I can’t believe I have to pay. I had plans for that money.” “Don’t we all.”

Just then his older brother popped in for a quick visit on his way home. His brother is a tax whiz. “Look at this, I have to pay this year!” His older brother looked it over and laughed. “Yeah, you gotta claim Zero or they won’t take out enough.”

“The good thing is that you are paying your share. For the rest of your life you will feel ownership in the system, your opinion matters by virtue of being one of the people who pays into it.”

He is right you know. Most of us pay pretty darned little considering the value of the system and all. You know, roads, sewer, water system, emergency systems. Government waste sucks a little but, whatever.

“You’re a man now mister.” I punched his arm. “You know the White Privilege you hear so much about? Well, this is it. Welcome to White Privilege.”

 

Tales of Darkness 1

Continued from The Valley of the Shadow of Death

Ghosts, spirits, demons, horrifying dreams. They are guardians of the gateway.

Remember the Great Story of the Garden of Eden? You must not eat of this fruit unless you desire knowledge. The knowledge of Good and Evil.

Witches and witchcraft, supernatural disasters, ordinary disasters blamed on the supernatural.

Well-meaning warnings based on ignorance and superstition abound, preventing most from becoming curious and keep the curious from searching deeper. Deeper into the meaningful.

Some of us looked…. at death…. and felt fear. And looked again, deeper. The fear fell away with understanding only to be replaced with a new fear, a different fear, or both. Eventually and often with Great Terror… look now and you’ll remember a time. You know terror now, don’t you, but one time the Great Terror fell away and …… nothing. Understanding. That fear is gone. The first time is disorienting, an anomaly. Don’t worry, it will happen again.

Don’t get too smug though, understanding doesn’t necessarily make a person any better, just different.

This happens in an evening or over a 25 year span. You don’t really keep track, but.. you do, don’t you. Some part of you. Until…. you start looking for fear, to understand. Understanding feels good. It’s addictive. You need more fear to understand more. We get some version of what we think about and the feelings of fear intensify. You begin to cycle faster, you recognize the cycle don’t you. You’ve seen it before in your life or someone else’s, until… you stop fearing fear. Or it starts driving you mad. Oh, it’s good to    Stop fearing fear.

I wish it was this quick. Nope. Like Hercules drinking from the Cup of the Giants that kept refilling itself because it was attached to a huge lake, you will face thousands of fears you don’t even know exist within you. Your moments will be swirling with depression, fear, anxiety and worry, interrupted only by sex, TV, sleep, books, and more sex and fantasies of suicide. You will get discouraged, you will give up hundreds if not thousands of times, you will walk The Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Early along the way you will begin to question, maybe because it’s funny, then over time more seriously. Easy now… it will suck you in. Then maybe in anger, or genuine curiosity. Careful, those questions are dangerous. Those questions bring attention. Those questions entertain the drunk, stoned, and bored. Those who have given up the quest become uncomfortable, concerned, afraid, angry.

Those who have read about people who question try to analyze and declare your mental illness, and, failing that, they will try to find others like you that they can study to make themselves famous for ‘discovering’ a new ‘illness’. These weaklings NEED you to be a victim to help them feel strong. They feel the pull of the darkness. They want it but they feel afraid so they send you. They judge you for your uncertainty while stoned on their delusions of shared echo-chamber smartness that is lewd, reckless, and stupid backed up by a degree.

Careful… don’t look into the dark. What you find might remove your fear forever. Or, maybe you will choose instead to give up, keep your fears, and instead travel church to church as a paid guest speaker, calling upon all to heed your warning, STAY AWAY FROM WHAT YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND! Maybe you’ll become a therapist longing for the bravery of the souls who come to you for answers. You don’t have answers though do you, so you ask “how does that make you feel?” and “Are you taking your medication?”

But then, you meet a person here and there who has been here and there. They understand, they encourage. You’ve finally found someone that sees your world. And maybe you are THEIR someone who understands.

It gets lonely as only the most drunk or the most stoned are interesting or interested.

I would encourage you to look away, if that makes you happy. Sure, why not? I always cringe when I see some poor soul circling the drain like a washrag in the toilet. They’ve got a shit storm ahead of them. They’re not likely to make it. There’s no clear map. They’ll eventually become more insistent in their search for answers and for help. All will try to drag them away from their dark obsessions or medicate them. If properly medicated a soul will lose its highs and lows. Try to be a ‘good boy or girl’. Get back to work and STAY MEDICATED.

I can only wish an early death for that poor soul caught forever in human purgatory.

However…. for the few who make it all the way….. you will NEVER be the same again. Life is just like it was before, but YOU’RE NOT. Napoleon Hill suggested that most men who do anything extraordinary with their lives don’t get started until 45-55 years of age. It takes about that long to clear the misunderstandings developed in early training, to clear your head of superstition and ignorance. If you are going for it, keep one foot nailed to the floor of sanity so that you are free to look at truth.

But.. talk as little and to as few as possible about the strains of truth you find. All except few will try to convince you that you are wrong, that you are crazy. Well maybe, but only until you’re not. If what you find is true and you seek truth, you’ll know. Keep at it and you will emerge unflappable, unsinkable. People with the greatest education will come to you for advice. You’ll have none but your best understanding of the compilations of shards of truth that you will package and offer with humble hope that it will lighten their load.

As I tell this long story I hope you look away and read something light-hearted and fanciful instead. If you read this you will see the path ahead, the path you’re on, the path behind you, or if you aren’t out frolicking with new-found freedom, you might read about the path you have successfully traveled and finished. Out the other side.

My question today is: When you emerge (an unlikely IF) will you help others? Oh, who gives a shit. The next entry of this series will get the train a-rollin’.

What the hell?!! Oh, the cat is wearing a green ribbon while leaping after a feather. It must be Saint Patrick’s Day.

Erin Go Bragh

Or as my Father-In-Law always would say ~ Erin Go Bra-Less….

 

 

 

Retirement Planning

My wife’s jaw was set, lips thinning, arms crossing, and foot beginning to tap. I was too far in now to stop or back out. I had a plan.

We had a mess of guys working for us doing interesting things that were mostly intentional but not often profitable. Somehow in the process I noticed that not only did I overpay them most of the time but Uncle Sam seemed to believe he ought to overpay them as well.

I don’t always know how I managed the time necessary to do my part but my wife was popping out kids like a commercial for the Salad Shooter. Between doing that and work, it was harder and harder to dodge the extortionist that the Department of Labor and Industries was sending after me.

“How the hell do you do it?” I asked one of the guys. “God-dang, I pay you a lot but not THAT much! “Oh, we’re on welfare” “Does it pay pretty good?” “Yeah. It’s great Boss. You should go apply.”

After a few day of thinking I went down and did some digging and a plan started to emerge.

If I got a divorce and kept the house, my wife could get on welfare and rent the house for free using Section 8. Heating assistance, free medical and dental, free phone, food stamps, special food bank privileges, and public transportation were all on the table. BUT WAIT FOR IT!!!!! I could live with her as her dead-beat boyfriend!

I could get a part-time job for only 45-50 hour a week and we could be rich! This was my big break. This was WAY more money than this bumpkin was used to and we wouldn’t have ANY BILLS!

I was so stoked and practiced the plan in my head all the way home. I finally made it. Finally hit the big time.

She was curious about the excitement then started looking like Tucker Carlson on Fox News when he’s trying to understand his interviewees. I was telling her all the great stuff we were going to do with this enormous wind-fall including all the time off.

She was wiggling around like she had something important to tell me but her expression didn’t mirror any appreciation for genius.

“Well? Wadda you think?!”

“If you want a divorce, You can go FUCK yourself.”

“Oh”

 

 

 

Silent Death: The Drowning Girl

“HEY, HEY!”   I was shouting at my son. “Help that little girl!” The mighty Columbia River was silently culling it’s prey.

Water has always had a piece of my soul. The first time I found myself floundering was in Thermopolis, Wyoming. Head tipped back and toes barely touching the bottom as the next kid went down the slide, swam past me, and then another. Finally, gasping and knowing that I’d had a close one, my hands grasp the rough concrete edge of the pool.

The reservoir North of Casper also made several passes at me. Each time, trembling from exertion, wanting to cry, I promised myself not to go so far next time. Before I turned twelve, 2 of my friends met the Grim Reaper in that very water.

Turtle Creek reservoir in Kansas wanted young meat for the larger fish to nibble on in the depths under the frozen surface of winter and it drew me seductively past my abilities. Again, I made it passed death’s grasp.

Strangely and in my own mind I wondered how no one ever seemed to notice, no one seemed to care. Every single time was a little boy’s silent battle for life. Each close call caused a deep internal sobbing, less now from proximity to death and more that no one seemed to care. As a young child I became comfortably close to death in my casual thoughts. Dreams of death from falling was as common as any child but drowning haunted my dreams. Pictures of water, no mater how peaceful, gave fuel to a mind determined to slip thoughts of a slowly sinking victim giving their soul to Davey Jones.

It is the silence that haunted me the most. Was I wanting to die? Was I too lazy to call out? My dreams of drowning were so common that eventually I found myself enjoying the call. Drowning… what a nice way to die.

Later in life while canoeing I’d find myself half halfheartedly enjoying the capsize, wondering if this was my final ride. Smiling to myself sitting on the shore I’d talk quietly to the river. “Not this time my friend.”

Enter the Reader’s Digest. They had an article about drowning and how the drowning person falls silent, conserving energy and drowns passively among the other swimmers rather than the thrashing and screaming seen in movies. Yup, it’s just like that I thought. With pictures and description, the Reader’s Digest laid the most private of my near drowning experiences convincingly bare to the reader.

Some years later I was walking with the family along the river where families were splashing in the water and lounging on the grassy slope designed by U.S. Corp of Engineers. I walked out onto the dock with my wife and the dog and was coaxing the dog to jump off the dock to retrieve a stick.

Thank God for the Reader’s Digest! My eye spotted and brought my attention to the girl. I paused for a few seconds to confirm. I felt her posture, quiet then loud as the waves from passing boats covered her ears then off. “HEY, HEY!! Help her! I pointed directly at the girl. While my son was trying to comprehend my yelling, her dad lunged into the water and grabbed her up, pulling her out.

“What happened” he was asking. She collapsed crying into his arms and began the panic-relief sobbing that follows near death from drowning.

She was slowly and torturously drowning surrounded by friends and family. I wonder if she occasionally questions that no one seemed to care, why didn’t anyone notice? Well, maybe not. Someone did notice.

We walked on, her memory burned into my mind. I’ve had no drowning dreams since.

They Hate Me Because I’m Jewish

The Army barracks suddenly went silent. Horowitz opened and closed his mouth in stunned rage. Dammit! I did it again.

I was 18 and enjoying camping and hiking with my friends in Basic Training. I was no Forrest Gump but I did my best.

The guy a few bunks over and to the right was a small skinny fellow named Horowitz. Horowitz was a fun guy that liked to show touched-up portraits of himself that gave a clear complexion. Sadly, military food gave the poor chap an ungodly mess of acne. It gave me an equally ungodly case of gas but I was of an age that I thought it was funny so no harm done.

Seemed like just about every day someone was mad at Horowitz. The days wore on and it finally got to him and he started picking little fights with anyone who would take the bait. I could hear him sobbing and talking to himself the way I used to talk to our dog Tippy when times were hard so I went around to his bunk to offer some encouragement.

“THEY HATE ME BECAUSE I’M JEWISH!”

“What!!? What the fuck does that mean?”

“I’m Jewish. That’s why everyone hates me”

“What does being Jewish mean?”

He looked startled and started trying to explain what being Jewish was.

“Nobody hates Jews!”

“Yes they do. That’s why everyone is so mean to me. It’s because I’m Jewish.”

He went on for awhile about how his whole life was filled with hateful, horrible Jew bashing.

I had absolutely NO IDEA that I was suppose to hate Jews. I didn’t even know what they looked like. A whole new world was opening up and the learning curve was gonna be steep.

My mind reeled. I wanted to be a good Christian and hate all the right people but this is getting stupid.

Goddammit. Now I had to hate someone else??!! I was taught to hate the Russians cause they were gonna nuke us, The Vietnamese because of the conflict, The Koreans because of that conflict, The Chinese, Japanese, and the Germans because of WWII, The Blacks, well… no one ever fully explained that, but now I have to hate the JEWS as well???!!

Jesus!! Not to mention that I was raised in the bible belt so I had to hate everyone who didn’t go to our church, everyone that smoked, drank, smiled, or in any way showed an appreciation for life. NOW HOROWITZ SAYS I’M SUPPOSED TO HATE THE GOD-DAMNED JEWS!!!!!!

“God DAMN you Horowitz! People don’t hate you because you’re a Jew. They hate you because you’re an ASSHOLE!”

His mouth opened and closed for a few seconds like a fish just before you whack it with a stick and gut it.

Someone closed a locker door ending the awkward silence. A few chuckles started and one of the Blacks said “Gaww DAY-YUMM!” and clapped his hands. A couple guys laughed as well and a general applause spread through the barracks.

Someone came around and clapped him on the back. “yeah man, no one hates you man, you’re just an asshole.”

Several more came around and punched his shoulder and smacked his back the way guys do.

Over time things relaxed and we became great friends.

 

 

Late for Church

Warm water flowed past my body where I laid in the gutter. My back was hurting and my legs were on strike. Sirens got closer and I wondered about what might be in store if my injuries were serious.

I lived in South Central Nebraska just a few minutes after getting out of the Army. When you live in rural areas it is common to put in a few miles when searching for a mate. This particular Sunday I was heading for Columbus for a date but since we lived in the bible belt I had to go to church as part of the vetting process her dad was putting me through.

It was roughly 90 miles from my house to Columbus in a steady light rain. Being late summer meant warm rain which is nice when riding my 1986 Honda 700 Magna compared to the cold, nasty rain the poor souls suffer through in the Pacific Northwest.

The coffee was putting a lot of pressure on my bladder but I couldn’t risk being late for  church being how important church is after all but I did finally stop for a minute to put on my helmet due to the sting. 60 mph rain hurts like hell. So much for being a tough guy.

I had nearly caught up with the front of the storm when Columbus rolled towards my bike. The steam was rising because it was a hot sunny morning with a fast-moving storm front. As they say “Quick to come, quick to go.” So the front moved in and dumped rain on hot streets making it a temporary steam spa. Man, I had to pee!

Back before smart phones and GPS navigation, folks had to memorize directions, ask, or use a map. I used all three in general but this time I had memorized so I knew the church was well within my time structure. Suddenly my eyes swerved to the right to memorize the way a set of back pockets were stretched over some woman’s backside. (Just another map to remember in case I’m in the area again and need to know my way around).

Too late… I should have been texting. It would have been safer. Some woman was waiting patiently for traffic to clear and I ran smack into the back of her. A witness commented that I did cartwheels like a kitten tossed from the car window but I was more worried about how bad I had to pee which was worse because now I was lying in warm water.

Ahhh. The sirens were for me.

After a lifetime of reading in the Reader’s Digest about how gentle the ambulance drivers move people with possible back injuries, I got a dose of a different reality. Riding in an ambulance does make you feel pretty special knowing that people have to pull over but I’d rather be in the Presidential motorcade.

Mrs. Robinson was taking scissors to my wet blue jeans against my wishes. Well, truthfully,  I was hoping to have my jeans removed when I headed out this morning but this ain’t what I had in mind. Now I’m out another 20 bucks.

Now Mrs. Robinson was real young and real pretty. I casually noticed all the other nurses had their REAL names on their name tags but she was using a fake name on her tag. See, the girls that parted innocent lads of excess military pay tended to use names like Midnight Fyre, Scarlette Fever, or Shania Twain. Funny, now that I think of it, no one has EVER used Hillary as a name to denote any kind of attractiveness. Anyway, Mrs Robinson was doing the exact opposite to push away flirty advances. I was in no mood to flirt however, I had to pee.

The folks that make a living interrogating injured people wanted to know if I was on drugs or alcohol and even though the answer was clearly stated they seemed unconvinced and wanted a urine sample. NOW they were talking my language! Mrs. Robinson brought in a tiny little Dixie Cup as exhibit A for any potential trial and I told her “That ain’t gonna be big enough. You got something a bit bigger?” She brought back a stainless steel lemonade pitcher and left the room.

I gave them a sample that they are probably still using today. A girl came and picked it up and said “oh my!” and as she left I heard laughter coming from out in the hall. Whoo! Finally.

After a bit of imaging magic and a double dose of morphine I was good to go. The girl who I was supposed to be meeting was at the hospital. They could hear the racket of all the sirens at church and with  a bit of small town gossip they were pretty sure why I hadn’t shown up.

“Well, you still want to hang out?”

“No, I can’t.”

“Why Not?”

“Daddy says I can’t date you because you were late for church.”