We went to Encanto Park in Phoenix Arizona, a leader in the flower movement was going to speak and while the whole hippy thing was coming to an end we still thought maybe it could kill another afternoon. The group around the stage was small, forty or fifty people but the speaker was well known. We stood shoulder-to-shoulder eighty feet or so from the stage, about where we would have been forced to stand if the rally had been held in 1968 instead of 1972. Sixty feet of empty green grass separated us from the small group around the portable stage. Piles of black speaker boxes on each side of the platform echoed the spokesperson’s words throughout the park. As we listened a person, about our age with a TV camera on his shoulder stood behind us and started filming. We asked why? He explained that if he put our shoulders in the foreground the group around the stage would appear much larger – like the audience filled the whole eighty feet of space. I placed my arm on my friend’s shoulder, which also put my arm dead center in the path of the camera’s lens. The newsman found another place to make his news. I have never trusted the “News”. I trust the news less now than I did then.
Sitting here. This wooden bench is not uncomfortable; at the same time it is not overwhelmingly comfortable. The train is due soon. People come and go. Families with young children trying to contain their herd look at the seats beside me and hurry past. A bum with a forced humble expression looks down at the ground in front of me with little hope of a hand out. A young girl takes great care not to make eye contact. I sit at the railway station. I pull out my wallet. I make sure I remembered to put in some cash and confirm that I have the proper ticket; a folded pile of twenties is present, the ticket shows the time of departure is as I remembered it, the destination is correct. My suitcase is within easy reach under my seat, my guitar sits in front of me resting on the seat of my chair, between my legs. Leaving home is always hard but I’ve set up a tour that will keep me away for a couple of weeks, just one night stands, just me and the guitar. I’m homesick already. I wish I was home, just listening to music, thinking about whatever, with the love of my life somewhere near by. They’re calling out my train departure on the loud speaker so I snuff out my cigarette on the concrete floor, sling my guitar over my shoulder and pick up my suitcase. I’ll leave the magazine I never opened on the seat for the next guy. I find my seat on the train and sit back in a more comfortable chair as the train gains speed. Gazing out the window I know the next town will look a lot like this one but in the next town I’ll sing the songs I wrote and pretend this is what I want to do.
“They were just laughing and laughing; made me want to slap them upside the head if you know what I mean?” he didn’t look up from what he was reading and I had no idea of what he might be talking about.
“You wanted to hit them on the side of the head with your open hand?” I said just to make conversation.
“What?” he looked up from his book and gave me a puzzled look.
“Slap upside the head,” I clarified.
“Oh,” he shook his head like he was trying to clean his brain of foolishness. “In this book, this author has everyone laughing at everything – they sound like complete fools,” he held the paperback in one hand and waved it around while he talked.
“So…read something else?”
‘“I’ve never not finished a book after reading more than a couple pages. It’s a commitment. If you’re going to start something you should finish it. My dad taught me that, he was a very responsible person. Raised my three sisters and me, never complained a day in his life; at least not about having to take care of us. Hard work, out in the hot sun, they used to start at four in the morning during the summer! He said, “Finish what you start!’”
“I’m sure he wasn’t talking about that book,” I pointed at the book, which took a little effort as it was still waving around in circles.
“Slippery slope,” he said like it was the answer to end all answers, “slippery slope that’s all.”
“Tell me more about this incline with limited traction,” I had completely lost interest in the conversation but if I kept him talking I would have to do less.
“Slippery slope,” I stated without giving it a thought.
‘“Deciding what things need to be finished and what things can be left unfinished. Where does it end? It makes the whole, “finish what you started” thing meaningless! Changes it to, “finish what you want to” and what kind of sense does that make?”’
“I got to go. Good to see you again,” I stood and offered him my hand to shake. He took my hand by the fingers and did a limp fish shake.
“You going to finish your coffee?” he asked.
“What if I get killed?” he looked them over with big brown eyes, the whites of his eyes startling in contrast with his black skin.
“We’ll have people there,” the man in charge answered. “You won’t be alone.”
“But I need to get myself hit?” He already knew he was going to participate, the money being offered had settled that, he just wanted to hear again how much help he was being offered.
“If you don’t get hit you don’t get paid,” he watched for a response. “We take care of all your medical bills”, he still didn’t see the response he wanted. “If necessary, and it won’t be, we take care of you and your family for the rest of your life,” money no longer needed to be considered, money flowed like a mighty river.
Relief filled the dark black face, “I’ll do it,” he said and the man with the offer saw the response he was looking for.
“We’ll get you into position, start out slow, just a hint or two, let the people around you know you’re not a fan. Don’t push anymore than you need to. When they look at the tapes you’re just some poor innocent bystander with freedom of speech. You know it will work.”
“I have absolutely no doubt it will work. I just hope it doesn’t work too well. I have no wish to die today.”
“As soon as the cameras catch a bit of blood you’ll be surrounded by our people, and our people look just like their people, they won’t fight us.”
It sounded like it would work. His family would be fed and housed. For this kind of money he’d almost strap on one of those bomb vests he’d seen on the TV shows; and it was for a good cause right? The man is crazy, right?
Blank. At least it was blank – now there is all this. Acknowledging the blankness created. “And the earth was without form and void and dark.” What is a universal day? The time it takes for our galaxy to spin once? And a year would be the time it takes for our galaxy to spin once around the center of the universe? How long would that take? “Seri?”
“Our galaxy spins once every 226 million years.”
“And around the center of the universe?”
“I do not know the answer to that question. Would you like directions to Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida?
“Scoot up,” feet dangle in space, toes with mud packed between each one wiggle in search of the ground.
“Say the magic word.”
“That’ not today’s magic word.”
“Scoot up!” the seat lowers slowly until the toes touch the grass and the knees bend only to have the feet push the ground and fly back into the air. The teeter totter ascends as the opposite side descends properly, orderly. The lighter goes up, the heavier leans forward and comes down. The heavier holds the lower position. The lighter leans back, sitting on the farthest edge and comes down slowly. The heavier leans forward and scoots as far forward as the seat allows. The lighter hits the ground with a bump, hands fly off and the lighter sits on the grass. The heavier plummets to the ground. The heavier bounces out of the seat and lies on the damp grass. The lever levels itself on the fulcrum and rests. Laughter fills the areas near opposing seats as eyes see only blue sky.
All in all it was not a bad day. It had started badly, as most of my days do. The morning firestorms were nothing spectacular, I think they have become just more of the same. If a firestorm doesn’t take out a very rich person’s home with him or her still in it it won’t even make the news. I remember the uproar when the first storm swept through town; we had been hearing and seeing the light shows in the desert for weeks and were already bored with the coverage, but the first to hit town really caught our attention. All the local news guys were in full fire suits risking burning their eyelashes off so we could see their brave freshly painted faces, talking a mile a minute about the total annihilation of the human race. Now it’s become part of the weather report, “category three firestorms are expected in the a.m., dress your children appropriately”, that sort of thing. They rarely last past ten. I rarely go out before ten. This morning I risked a nine-forty-five run to the tunnel station, that in itself wasn’t so bad, I slipped and covered my self with ash just before I reached the entry bubble but everyone else on the train was covered with ash so it wasn’t that big of a deal. That deep underground everyone feels safer and they loosen up quite a bit, there is always a lot of conversation, a lot of different opinions on how to save our world. Nothing new, but it’s nice to hear people, real people not the caricature talking heads on the box. This girl, Sally, sat next to me for no reason – there were plenty of other seats. She was impressive ‘cause she smelled like flowers, not smoky at all, quite a feat now-a-days. She was talking non-stop to a girl across the aisle about some new spray on coating for the face, she had some on right now, “can you tell?” she asked the other girl. Maybe it was the spray that smelled like flowers. She continued her across the aisle dialogue for a good five minutes but she was so animated that she kept brushing up against my shoulder so way before she acknowledged my existence I’d fallen deeply in love. It’s not that big a deal. I do it all the time.
“So where you headed?” she asked, out of the blue. I was a bit stunned. I didn’t even realize she was talking to me at first. But she sat there staring at me with the brightest blue eyes I’d ever seen until my brain cleared.
“I’m just here for the fresh air,” I answered honestly not having time to make up a more appropriate answer.
“I know!’’ she shouted like it was the nicest thing in the world to find shelter on a train a hundred feed below the surface. “It always is so nice down here!” I had no response. It was just the underground, free transportation, that’s all.
She waited patiently for an answer so I came up with, “it’s nice,” and smiled. The smile was genuine, after all by this time I was deeply in love and planning our future together. She left the train at the next stop. She smiled and waved like we had known each other forever and like she was leaving for another country, she even blew a kiss as she stepped through the doorway. I swear; I could feel it on my cheek. I rode the train until it had completed a full circle. I got off and made the run back to my pod. Not a bad day. The news predicts mild storms in the morning.