I had turned 30 that October and, if you can believe what I was writing in my journal, I was making the most of the freedom that being young and single would offer. I lived alone—mostly—and it suited me. Others of my age and position were engaged in starting a family and/or still trying to find themselves in life, location, and work. I was exploring my own possibilities as well as recognizing certain proclivities. Some of these made sense and brought pleasure, confidence, and hope. Some were on the shady side, some overly daring, and some just plain wrong-headed and stupid. “Thirst-quenching” was kind of both.

March 27th, 1979 My journal entry—sketched in red felt-tip pen—begins with a sequence where a lone vagrant goes drinking in a number of seedy but welcoming taverns between Ponders and downtown Tacoma, Washington. Yes: me. Having earlier dropped off my grades at the college, I was celebrating the beginning of spring break. I had recently acquired a shiny used Corvette (because I had fallen deeply in love with a beautiful woman who came by hers in a divorce) and was cruising to nowhere in particular stopping every few miles to sit at a bar, drink a beer or so, people watch, play country-western on the jukebox, and red pen my thoughts. Maybe come up with something out of the ordinary.

The increasingly scribbled account of that dark damp evening tells the story of my increasing intoxication as the ideas and possibilities for adventure flowed forth with the beer. Sometime after midnight I apparently felt I was sufficiently equipped to drive to SeaTac airport, park the car, walk up to the Continental Airlines desk and ask when the next plane took off. The nice agent lady wisely asked, “To where?” I told her it didn’t matter. I was quite serious. And she sold me a (non-smoking) seat (21F) on a jet (727) leaving for Portland in (25) minutes. It cost 17 dollars. I still have the boarding pass fastened to a page in my journal amid the by then indecipherable scribbled narrative.

This story tells of a young man who was harboring a fear of flying. My last airplane ride was five years previous as I remember. I was returning from a student dental meeting in Atlanta. Since the university was paying for it, I decided to route my return through New Orleans having never been there. I posted a note on the student bulletin board at Georgia Tech and scored a lift to Louisiana which only cost me my share of the gas. And spent two evenings on Bourbon Street—you guessed it—drinking, listening to music, and meeting people just to hear them talk in patois. Connecting through LAX, I changed planes and found a window seat in a brand new 747 that was about 30% full.

The reason for my flight anxiety these years later is unknown. I speculate it arose from my uptight and demonstrative mother and brother and their clear distaste for air travel on several family vacations in the fifties and sixties. Just as likely it was only a lost familiarity with the concept of riding in a fragile aluminum tube five miles overhead. Either way, I found a helpful solution on this evening to help me face my fears as the plane took 45 minutes to take off and land without even leveling off. And I was cured.

It was 2:30 a.m. when I told the sleepy-eyed taxi driver—and I remember this quite clearly—to “drive me to the cheapest hotel he knew near the Portland railroad station.” A total dive! It was just perfect! My diary reports checking in with a duffel bag, a half empty quart bottle of Olympia Beer, a ten dollar bill (from which I was given change), and making long distance phone calls to a couple girlfriends back home to tell them I was alright. They knew better though. As if they cared.

The next day I rambled the scruffy backside of Portland with my fellow streetwalkers and paper bag-toting ‘outdoorsmen.’ I laid out three bucks for a multi-colored tweedy sport jacket at St. Vincent de Paul and just kind of ambled along smoking a cigar, smiling a wtf smile, and handing out carnations that some poor waif was selling on the sidewalk and a few dollar bills when the carnations ran out just to be annoying. It was kinda like I was exploring the bottom so in the future I would know when I hit it. At 2:30 the Amtrak arrived to roll me to Tacoma. I don’t remember how I got from Tacoma to the airport parking lot. But on the drive home (or to wherever I went) I’m sure I  thought about how much I now love to fly. And how fortunate last night’s “next flight out” wasn’t a red-eye to Cleveland.

The End of the Road — 2020

Time To Put this Book Together!……..

“I don’t think anybody should write his autobiography until after he’s dead.” —Samuel Goldwyn

As I close out this humble memoir, I’m drawn by the need to write the ending. It seems so critical to me to close the loop so to make my dubious legend whole. So you ask, how do you write the end of the story of your life when, according to low-whispered rumors, you still walk the earth?  The best I can come up with is that you make an agreement with yourself that there is no more to write.  And then, you know….end your life.

Travels With Lefty

I woke slowly in the van, warm and rested after a parade of inscrutable dreams. I had made the exactly 1000 miles to Death Valley from home in 2 days. The October sun was rising over the Armargosa Range as I brewed coffee in the back of the rig.  Just like John Steinbeck would as he roamed the country with his dog Charley sixty years ago.  I shared my morning brew break not with a dog but with a faithful stuffed octopus named Lefty.  Lefty came from Catalina Island and is a ‘rescue octopus’.  I saved him from a sale rack at the end of the tourist season in 2017.  A great traveling companion, he protects me from intruders and evil spirits, doesn’t shed, never needs to be taken outside in the middle of the night, and is flealess, barkless, and pensive.  Always watching silently with his big plastic eyes as the miles go by.

After two propane pour-over lattes, I stepped outside as the sun began to warm the desert. Surrounded by the vast illogical beauty of Death Valley, I began to ponder the prominence of this most interesting of years. Today I would co-opt the world’s confusion, fear, insecurity, rage and insanity with denial and transcendence. I will finish myself as I please. Not literally of course, but in writing. Because who better than oneself to assure their story ends happily?! 

Tearing Down the House

I therefore testify that I am the most peaceful and content, awakened and saved person I know of.  I wouldn’t trade my life with anyone. Never have I wanted to.  Never will.  That said, disclosure requires me to fuss about aging and other derived and self-inflicted maladies.  Sharing health status is what we elders do after all.   (A friend referred such conversations as “the organ recital.”)

Running down the ‘preflight checklist’, in no particular order of importance, we have arthritis, dermatologic ‘oddities’, neuritis, neuropathy, fatigue, thinning hair, and presently a stuffy nose from the dry heat.  My hands are shakin’ and my knees are weak. I can’t seem to stand on my own two feet. I have ‘aged out’ of regular physical exercise and eating properly. In fifty years I have consumed enough beer to, as the old saying goes, float a battleship. I’ve no tattoos or piercings, but sport (so far) one artificial knee.

It gets better: I’m due for a new right hip next month.  I took a photo of my pelvis x-ray in the surgeon’s office while he shook his head and stared at me over his thick glasses.  He told me the left hip is also trashed, but that since the right joint was only barely identifiable as such, we better swap it out first.  The ball on the top of the femur looked like it belonged to a blind golfer.  It was covered with those golf ball pimples as well as scabs and scars at being repeatedly mis-struck by a flailing sand wedge. Speaking of legs…

Rising Above It All

The second leg of my lone journey took me to Joshua Tree National Park. I arrived at sundown and cruised the 45 miles border to border through the sharp high desert scenery smiling and singing out loud. I found a campsite at Cottonwood Springs and tucked away. The next afternoon I rattled to my feet, grabbed my trekking poles and ascended a small ridge at days end. I carried my well-seasoned body up the trail as the sun lowered in autumn orange, brightening the cactus, yucca trees, and creosote bushes. 

Grateful for my still sturdy heart and lungs, I reached the top of a ridge to watch day’s end. I whooped a salute, and headed back down on painful rickety hinges with make-believe balance.  My gait was just like a half-inflated football rolling down a dry water slide. I chunckered back to camp in the dusk for a half Vicodin, two gabapentin, and several rapidly consumed Budweisers as Lefty looked down from his perch with reproachful silence.

Life Is Short. And Then We Try

It is said this world is but a fearful fiction, and we can get a glimpse of the loving dream beyond this life while we are still here by awakening just enough to the truth of who we truly are in spirit.  This is a time we can step back, look at all the fragments and that see real truth lies in the perceptions, intentions and values that stitched everything into one.

My best teaching ever was the most simple of parables.  It was so clearly obvious, I was incredulous it hadn’t been put before me sooner.  Steven Covey, in his hugely popular book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People,” led into his advice on living a full and purposeful life by advising the reader as follows: Close your eyes and imagine yourself on a quiet hillside where you are witness to your own burial….and to listen closely to what those at your graveside are saying about the deceased.

And, as for a written obituary: “John died. Boat for sale.”